A film can often feel like a test to see if an audience is convinced by the identity of a character matching their inner arc. The sympathy implored from an audience directed towards what identities do or don’t work in our time and how they correlate to actions (usually around a routine) that we can attach to a sort of noble idea, or the opposite if we want a tragic narrative. With every historical condition, new stable identities appear that we think are right until another subjectivity requires accommodation. But how to assert an identity that must be inevitably left behind? The tragic consequences of pitting together two equally weighted truancies is the major dramatic concern of Yasujiro Ozu’s films. The parents of his films build their identity around an established idea of their culture only to find the world their children inhabit changes what was once established. The children don’t stop this process, nor can they, they do what is necessary to exist in the post-war, modern capitalist age. There are variations of stories: kids that want to leave, or don’t want to leave, or want their parents to leave; want to leave but the parents are stubborn so they run away. Whatever the scenario, the parents have to play the role of letting go despite the suffering it might cause them. Nothing convinces that it is the best thing to do, it’s just the way it is. There’s no blame to be apportioned or any attempt to convince anyone of another way. They just don’t speak the same language. The times change and with it the values or stable universals are impotent. In the new world they can only exist as shadows.
Dir: Luca Guadagnino, Italy/USA, Sony Pictures Classics.
Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name (2017) is a film unable to formally follow through on the subjective desires of its protagonist. The film also has a simple premise, a teenage boy, Elio, falls for an older man, Oliver, who is visiting his parent’s villa in Northern Italy. Unlike in Good Time though, the language of the film never catches up to its protagonists shifting subjectivity instead staying regressively stuck in Elio’s initial fear and hesitation over his burgeoning attraction, even as he begins to make the decisive steps towards closing the torturous gap between himself and Oliver. In the moments where Elio’s feelings are most firmly expressed, the camera pointedly shies away and removes our access, never able to risk the same difficult step Elio does with his feelings for Oliver.
Dir. Josh and Benny Safdie, USA, A24 Films.
Recalling the films of John Cassavetes and early Martin Scorsese, Josh and Bennie Safdie’s Good Time (2017) has a simple premise that belies its rigorous formal execution. As the film’s protagonist Connie resourcefully attempts to post his brother Nick’s bail through a succession of impulsive and conniving decisions that leave a path of destruction in his wake, we’re given access to an intimate subjectivity that is neither sympathetic nor contemptuous, revealing more about Connie than any external plot pressure would. As he slickly moves from one opportunity to the next with claustrophobic close ups, over a pulsating soundtrack and through a dystopian Queens, we’re barely given a second to recalibrate our uncertainty towards him, kept as acutely in the moment as he is. It’s only when this moment to moment exhaustion overwhelms and our perspective shifts back to Nick that we can take a breath, look back at how we got here, and begin to see Connie for what he really is. Whether he will ever do the same remains ambiguous.
Written/directed by the talented Andy Nguyen.