FilmSnap: Jackie

FILMSNAP: A film review that is 300 words or less.

Pablo Larrain’s first of two biopics released this year (The second being Neruda) is a tamely unorthodox character study of Jacqueline Kennedy, following her husband’s assassination. Using an interview as a rather unnecessary framing device, Jackie details her anguish and subsequent resilience to lovingly memorialise him, visualised through a series of flashbacks that agitatedly shift between settings. She’s holding her dead husband in her lap, ingraining a grotesque, lingering image. She’s confiding her insecurities to a priest, played by John Hurt, in sequences too brief to impact. And she’s arguing with several members of the White House regarding her husband’s funeral.

This argument forms the crux of Jackie’s narrative, an axis on which to apply themes of legacy, grief, and letting go. Natalie Portman stays true to the character, and her despair is certainly believable. Yet the performance is inherently flawed: Portman, in attempting to resurrect Jacqueline Kennedy with a desperately faithful performance, draws attention to the unnaturalness of the character’s mannerisms, and, most noticeably, her accent. It’s a loyal depiction, sure, but it’s hard to pry the celebrity away from the figure when the accent disengages the viewer from the drama.

Shot on 16mm, Jackie is framed and textured to recreate its era, archaically draining the image of its colour and sensibly placing Portman in bold, sanguine shades. The intent is clear: it’s Jackie in isolation, disembodied from normality, left to grasp at what’s left of reason in the face of her husband’s death. This idea is furthered via Mica Levi’s score, a deliciously foreboding melody that phonetically encapsulates Jackie’s friable state of mind. Crescendoing to a forceful and resonant finale, Jackie ends strongly, but you can’t help but feel that Larrain’s artistry is too subdued to memorialise the film with the same vigor that Jackie memorialised her husband.

-Gus Edgar

FilmSnap: The Fits

FILMSNAP: A film review that is 300 words or less.

When a film pose questions, do they have to be answered? The Fits stages a mystery – a girls’ dance troupe is plagued by a series of seizures that have no discernible explanation – but doesn’t seem all too interested in figuring it out. The film instead uses these fits as a backdrop to explore the identity and development of its central character, Toni, an eleven-year-old tomboy played with tremendous vulnerability by Royalty Hightower.

She slowly involves herself in the dance group, gradually learning the moves and straying further away from her initial routine of training in the boxing ring with her older brother. She makes friends, gets her ears pierced, and plays in empty swimming pools. It’s a simple, contained story, exemplified by director Anna Rose Holmer’s decision to stage most of her narrative in a single location: the sports facility. Yet The Fits isn’t entirely grounded. Its eccentric score overrides its mundanity, and the fits are filmed almost as dance sequences. There’s an element of the supernatural to the seizures, an awareness of the metaphorical significance that they possess, despite several people, notably adults, treating it as a very real and scientific threat.

The film shares many similarities to Carol Morley’s The Falling: they both sculpt their narrative around seizures in a group of girls, and tie them to themes of self-discovery and sexuality. But The Fits is The Falling’s less woozy American cousin, a more placid interpretation that trades complexity for focus. It may lack dramatic intensity for the majority of its runtime, but its admirable restraint lets loose in its final, euphoric moment: an ambitious stab at surrealism that both conflicts with its tone and makes perfect sense. It may not answer its own questions, but The Fits doesn’t need to when its final image speaks for itself.

-Gus Edgar

FilmSnap: Endless Poetry

FILMSNAP: A film review that is 300 words or less.

Alejandro Jodorowsky’s second installment in his planned quasi-autobiographical quintet is an opulent odyssey, utilising his trademark brazen surrealism and contortion fetishism to full, nauseating effect. His younger self, played at first in his youth by Jeremias Herskovits, and then soon after by his actual son, Adan Jodorowsky, is a self-obsessed man with the ambition to become a renowned poet.

His quest sees him abandon his parents, join a group of artists, and begin an unconventional romance, but nothing his character ever says or does should be taken literally. There are strands of meaning, concealed visual cues that support and substantiate the film’s tangled narrative, but to uncover its metaphorical tenacity is like traversing treacle. The motif of passersby wearing expressionless masks that strip them of identity and signify the protagonist’s blatant solipsism is relatively easy to work out. His anarchic portrayal of a self-loathing clown pointing to his frustration with not being taken seriously as a director is manageable, but also flawed in its concept by eventually urging the audience to laugh. And the film’s monologues on the meaning of life are more often than not lazily profound babble. It’s an uneven hodgepodge of ideas that is similar to an exuberant fever dream, but the ideas are so exciting, if occasionally impenetrable, that Endless Poetry always remains at least interesting.

At 128 minutes, it also boasts the contradiction of being both overstuffed and overlong. Endless Poetry resembles the blueprints of Jodorowsky’s swan song, the veteran director cramming his film with as many ideas as possible, and exhausting his audience in the process. Yet, while it may not be quite the concentrated cinephiliac ecstasy he conjured up with his magnum opus, The Holy Mountain, Endless Poetry is nevertheless a heady and stirring delve into the mad, mad mind of Jodorowsky.   

-Gus Edgar

FilmSnap: A Monster Calls

FILMSNAP: A film review that is 300 words or less.

Here’s something refreshing: a story involving a cancer patient that doesn’t baselessly lie to its audience (Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, though I do love that film in spite of it), nor dumb down the tragedy into palatable mush (nearly every other filmic incarnation involving a patient with a terminal illness). J.A. Bayona is certainly accustomed to tearjerkers, having directed the deceptive horror-drama The Orphanage and the tsunami-weepie, The Impossible. A Monster Calls is no different, building on his penchant for sob stories with a thrillingly original perspective.

Based on Patrick Ness’ book of the same name, A Monster Calls follows Conor O’Malley (Lewis MacDougall) as he summons a beautifully-rendered Monster (Liam Neeson) in order to come to terms with his mother’s (Felicity Jones) imminent death. It’s Pan’s Labyrinth-esque escapism, though less gothic and more colourful than the 2006 fantasy. Through the animated sequences in the film, their brash, painterly styles contrasting superbly with the sedate real world, O’Malley unearths parables on morality and blame that ease him towards accepting what the Monster refers to as ‘the truth behind his nightmare’. Whether these stories firmly relate to O’Malley’s sufferings when held up to scrutiny is questionable, but if you disregard their lack of focus, these segments serve as delightful interludes to the morbidity Bayona musters up in his primary narrative.

When the ‘truth behind his nightmare’ does finally reveal itself, however, these fantastical elements suddenly seem so distant. The film doesn’t need a wobbly subplot concerning bullies to conjure up the raw emotion Bayona is seeking; the film delivers on its smartly-paced buildup with its powerful, unexpected reveal, and Lewis MacDougall’s astonishingly convincing emotional release, rising above its genre’s ilk by managing to be emotionally devastating without being visibly manipulative.

-Gus Edgar