Just after experiencing a devastating loss, Anna (Juliette Binoche) hosts Jeanne (Lou de Laâge) for several days at a Sicilian villa as they await the arrival of Giuseppe, Anna’s son and Jeanne’s lover. They spend their time meandering the grounds and dining well together as Jeanne grows increasingly suspicious of Giuseppe’s absence and Anna waits to share with Jeanne the true reason for her grief.
“L’attessa” (aka “The Wait”) is the feature directorial debut from Piero Messina, who clearly prefers dialogue to be sparse and for imagery to tell much of the story. He leans heavily on Binoche’s ability to communicate emotion with facial expression and body language and tries to amplify dramatic moments with musical crescendos. Suspense is built on multiple fronts: the audience is probed to wonder about the true whereabouts of Giuseppe, his and Jeanne’s history, and when, if ever, Anna will bring Jeanne out of the dark about what so intensely upsets her.
Binoche and de Laâge do more than enough to lend credibility to their interactions, but the film is dripping too profusely with contrivances to maintain a comfortable level of drama. At one point, we see Anna attempt to squeeze every last drop of air from an inflatable pool toy, as if the effort from doing so will allow her to shed the burden of her grief. It’s reminiscent of Messina’s effort to inject feeling into every frame, so much so that the experience is nearly stifling.
This week on Drink in the Movies Michael & Taylor discuss their First Impressions of Vivos & State Funeral and the Documentary Titles: Man with a Movie Camera, Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound, and Ex Libris: The New York Public Library.
“I don’t underestimate audiences’ intelligence. Audiences are much brighter than media gives them credit for. When people went to a movie once a week in the 1930s and that was their only exposure to media, you were required to do a different grammar.”
The Outside Story is currently seeking distribution.
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About halfway through Sound of Metal, Ruben (Riz Ahmed) is given a sign name in American Sign Language: a hand curled to form a “C” held up beside the right eye. The reason this becomes Ruben’s sign name is obvious the second you see Riz Ahmed’s enormous brown eyes in action, so big and expressive they seem to swallow the screen. He looks, as one character remarks upon, a bit like an owl, a trait that makes it difficult to look away when Ruben appears on screen.
Sound of Metal follows Ruben, a recovering addict who replaced heroin with music and a girlfriend, Lou (Olivia Cooke, with unfortunate bleached eyebrows for most of the film). As a drummer in a punk rock band with Lou, Ruben bombards his ears every night with loud guitar riffs and screeching, until one day he suddenly finds he cannot hear anything. Disoriented, distressed, Ruben tries to act like nothing has changed, and goes back onstage that night. Worried that he might relapse, Lou checks him into a facility for recovering addicts populated entirely by deaf people, run by the tough yet empathetic Joe, played by Paul Raci, who turns in an excellent, understated performance.
Ruben struggles without his music and without Lou; he can never bring himself to truly embrace his new identity, and flounders as he tries to avoid facing his situation head-on, finding inventive ways to keep his brain thinking about anything but his newfound deafness. Eventually, he begins to settle into a new life—learning ASL, teaching the drums to deaf children at the local school, and drawing raunchy tattoos for a friend—but no matter what he does, he cannot completely quiet the noise that remains in his head. He dreams of getting back to “normal,” and always remembers what he has lost even as he finds moments of joy in his new life. If the actual plot mechanics sound threadbare, that’s because they are, but the character work is rich.
As Ruben, Ahmed gives a nuanced and powerful performance, deftly portraying Ruben’s raw pain and rage while never drifting into melodrama. He is helped by first-time feature director Darius Marder (co-writer with his brother, Abraham, and Derek Cianfrance), who walks along a razor’s edge here with surety, avoiding pandering, easy answers and working hard to accurately portray sensitive topics without schmaltz. Ahmed’s best co-star, however, is not Cooke, but the entire sound department.
From the opening beats and screams of a punk rock song, the sounds immerse us. The whir of a blender, the drip of a coffee pot, and then, suddenly, a high-pitched ringing in the middle of bombastic drumming that drowns everything else out. Like Ruben, we are thrown into disarray, struggling to understand the world around us, straining to make out coherent noises through the fog. We slip and panic with Ruben. Sound flits in and out for the rest of the movie; sometimes we hear as Ruben does, sometimes we hear what he cannot, but always we are intensely aware of the sound or lack thereof. For those who have ever wondered—like me, back before I learned better—why “boring” sound editing and sound mixing are categories at the Academy Awards, here is your answer.
It’s not a perfect movie; it has its lulls, and Lou, while an important presence, seems thinly sketched, and we are told that she is interesting rather than shown. But these quibbles do not detract too much from the film: Sound of Metal handles its quiet, personal story with grace, making us both yearn for chaos of noise and appreciate the stillness that comes with absolute silence.
By ditching the phantasmagoric color that animated Argento’s beloved classic and foregrounding the political turmoil of late 1970s Germany, Guadagnino steeps his reimagining of Suspiria in reality, only to send it dancing into the depths of a beautifully twisted nightmare at the drop of a silver hook.
Call Me By Your Name‘s warm and inviting Italian countryside setting is a distant memory in the halls of the Markos Dance Academy, which feels more like a mausoleum than the home to a group of lithe, young, female dancers. With its labyrinthine corridors draped in greys, browns, and blacks, it’s cold and forbidding; hardly the atmosphere in which one can imagine feeling emboldened to perform with the kind of carnal and instinctual drive that Suzie Bannion does. As Suzie, Dakota Johnson’s physicality is tantalizing, and the razor sharp cross-cutting between one of her first dances and her fellow dancer Olga being contorted and folded like a pretzel is an unforgettable display of weaponized art.
Borrowing only the bones of the original, Guadagnino’s Suspiria is wholly his own. For all the death, rot, and decay that seems to sit beneath the dance floor, the film’s vision is new and fresh.
–Michael Clawson originally posted this review on Letterboxd 11/09/18
“I see little of more importance to the future of our country and of civilization than full recognition of the place of the artist. If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him.”
On Episode 72 of the Podcast Michael & Taylor discuss their First Impressions of: Present.Perfect. & Mother. Followed by the Documentaries: 17 Blocks, Midnight Family, and What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael.
On Episode 70 of the Podcast Michael & Taylor discuss their First Impressions of: True History of the Kelly Gang & Capone. Followed by the the Titles: Never Rarely Sometimes Always, Les Miserables (2019), and Sorry We Missed You.