We Need To Talk About Kevin (Lynne Ramsay, 2011) -- B+
Surfaces and depths become indistinguishable from one another in Lynne Ramsay's most provocative film to date - We Need To Talk About Kevin emits a suffocating, claustrophobic intensity throughout, even though there's nary a sequence that seeks to exploit the central quandary - what compelled Kevin Khatchadourian (Ezra Miller) to go on a high school killing spree and, more intricately, what blame is felt by his mother Eva (Tilda Swinton)? Ramsay slyly goes a tongue-in-cheek route to these issues, suggesting Kevin as a Damien-esque monster, not a kind, empathetic bone in his body, though grounding both his utter indifference (Kevin collects computer viruses for fun, "for no reason,") and piercing perception (a scene where he predicts every word Eva plans to say over dinner is of particular note) as a demonstration of societal disconnect and savvy. He knows what people desire, their weaknesses and emotion, but feels none of it himself. He is not evil, so much as empty. When asked at the end of the film why he committed such a heinous act, he says: "I used to think I knew, but now I'm not sure anymore." In a sense, Kevin is Ramsay's built in defense for her own film, based on the bestselling novel by Lionel Shiver, since every potential rebuttal to his portrayal, to psychoanalyze him, must run head-on into the fact that any reason, suggestion, is arbitrary in that it cannot achieve a universally affirmative causation for moral breakdown and absence. Ramsay tells the story more sensory than causal too, refracting memory, color, sight, and sound through Eva's broken, post-homicide body - pale, sickly, abject. Ramsay's craft convincingly constructs Eva's subjective disembodiment, if less so Kevin's social environment (Ramsay refuses to provide any context outside of the home). A kindred spirit to this year's Martha Marcy May Marlene and, more obviously, Elephant, Ramsay's film is more to be felt than examined, since it sees psychopathology much like a dog chasing its own tail.
My Week With Marilyn (Simon Curtis, 2011) -- B-
My Week With Marilyn epitomizes a cinematic trifle, but director Simon Curtis deserves credit for making it a breezy, handsome, and generally mawkish-free one. It's no surprise from Curtis's filmmography (which consists solely of British television enterprises) that he relies primarily on actors over affect to propel the based-on-a-true-story account of aspiring filmmaker Colin's (Eddie Redmayne) stint on the set of The Prince and the Showgirl, with a chauvinist Sir Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) directing and starring alongside a distraught, confused Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams), whose erratic behavior (and new-found interest in Colin) puts the production in jeopardy. Curtis has little vision beyond star-gazing, fascination and small moments of human empathy, and he keeps the film on a rather general plane of cadence and progression. Fortunately for him, Williams's bravura turn, which is neither showy, imitative or histrionic, but carefully managed and subtle, keeps the wheels chugging with enough energy and goodwill, that gusto marginally prevails over the lacking gall to attempt anything a bit more irreverent.
Le Quattro Volte (Michaelangelo Frammartino, 2011) -- C
Precious idiosyncrasia, through and through, Le Quattro Volte, Michaelangelo Frammartino's second feature film, writhes in its dulled, pastoral sentimentality, rejecting any sort of piquant, eclectic sensibilities (absolutely stagnant mise-en-scene). Conveying birth and life through stillness flaunts mere contradiction and engages esoteric artistry of the worst sort. Shame on critics for falling over this nostalgia-porn drivel.
Poetry (Lee Chang-Dong, 2011) -- B+
Lee Chang-Dong makes sprawling, expansive films about individuals grappling and seeking meaning at various stages in their lives. His films are about duration, temporal, geographical motifs abounding, in Poetry seen through the deteriorating health of Mija (Jeong-hie Yun), whose early onset Alzheimer's symptoms compel her to join a poetry class, to reclaim her individuality. Far from the soapy smile-and-cry hokum a brief synopsis may suggest, Chang-Dong uses Mija's condition to address numerous other issues, among them the intrusion of technology within youth culture, which deteriorates emotive expression just as much as Mija's memory loss. Micro and macro intersect, one of many subtle, intelligent moves made by Chang-Dong's steady, mature directorial hands.
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2011) -- B+
An instant-classic of sorts (though that certainly depends on who you're asking), Apichatpong Weerasethakul's (I'll stick with Joe) latest patience tester returns him to Tropical Malady form, engaging another Thai folk legend as the central conceit for family strife - this time, red eyed, furry creatures who allegorize the dieing recollections of Boonmee (Thanapat Saisaymar), which, in turn, gives the film a highly episodic nature, each development more bizarre, fascinating, and worthwhile than the last. Elliptical and meditative, there is an essence, an evocation consistently present, attaining intimation through suggestion rather than direct or obvious statements, which keeps the family dynamics unstable, the filmmaking responsive.