Another week chocked full of excellent 2013 releases, including an additional one now available on Netflix Instant Streaming. The fall DVD slate sure is a bounty of indie rewards, particularly as the mainstream theatrical releases improve. Add onto all that a Criterion Collection release that ensures you get more for your dollar and it’s a pretty great week to swing the shopping cart around the local video store.
Top 5 New Releases
One of the first films I reviewed here at Film Misery, and at last year’s New York Film Festival no less, Fill the Void was a more than modest delight, managing both a sense of humour about its Haredi Judaism community and an honest intimacy with the plight of its protagonist. Newcomer Hadas Yaron turns in a beguiling turn as a girl thrust into the socially-divisive decision of an arranged marriage, the future of her family oppressively resting on her choices. I may argue writer-director Rama Burshtein plays it a bit clean and indecisively in her depiction of a situation that’s not so uncommon as one might assume, but that certainly matches the crucial indecisiveness of its lead character. That said, it’s far likelier to affect more emotionally susceptible viewers than I, which isn’t to say it throws any low balls. Fill the Void is entirely legitimate in its emotional decisions.
Continuing the theme of young adults experiencing frightening changes in their lives, Sally El Hosaini’s debut feature is all the more surprising for how well it has maintained the core twist that enters it into its second half. Most often such a thing would be exploited and spoiled in marketing and reviews, so it pleases me that this sprightly charged gangland drama can still be experienced in all its persuasive honesty. The story of two brothers trying to find an honest future for themselves outside the gangster lifestyle that surrounds them, My Brother the Devil has a sneaky double-meaning behind its title, and not the one you’d expect. With strong performances by James Floyd, Fady Elsayed and Letitia Wright, I would not recommend shying away from this impressive debut feature of Hosaini’s.
When I briefly reviewed this film over the summer, my passion for the film’s subject and characters was unduly lessened by the Advocacy vs. Art debate that plagues documentary cinema too often. I was typically on the side proudly defending art, and since then I’ve found that pride was perhaps too overbearing, because Call Me Kuchu serves deeper purpose and stronger impact than it could have had as more of an art piece. Call Me Kuchu at once strives for a sense of objectivity, its directors at first making no statement on the extreme prejudice towards LGBT individuals in Uganda, letting us make up our decisions on our own. Even from that onset, however, it would a viewer defiantly unaware to not see the intense cruelty of that social situation in Uganda. More than most films this year, Call Me Kuchu has stayed with me and refused to stop glaring me in the eye. It’s an urgent statement viewers would be remiss in ignoring.
I feel certain that Francois Ozon’s In the House will make it through to the year’s end without me entirely settling on what I think about it. Having chosen it for our Best Movies of 2013 So Far Q & A, you’d think I’d become more firm in my position on the film, but In the House is anything but an obvious cinematic triumph. Its skills lie not in cinematography, production design, editing, or really any major flourishes to speak of, but its apparent plainness is ever so disquieting and repeatedly disrupted by Ozon’s truly ingenious screenplay. By year’s end I may have doubled back on my statement of it exceeding even Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window, but it’s doubtful I will ever fully double back on how distinctly transfixing I find it. Seek it out now before it’s undeservedly drowned out by the prestige fall films dropping like flies.
This weeks longest title in release is, well, not a single title at all. In a rather refreshing move by the Criterion Collection, they have opted to release not just one, but all three film collaborations between Italian director Roberto Rossellini and Swedish actress Ingrid Bergman. Criterion seems to be rather fond of Ingrid Bergman this month, just last week showcasing her work in Ingmar Bergman’s Autumn Sonata. It’s hard not to agree wholeheartedly with their fondness for the actress, and this new set offers a complete look at an effective director-star collaboration across four years, from disaster film Stromboli to upper-class romance Europa ’51 to crowning achievement Journey to Italy. It’s hard to turn your nose up at just one film. How can we resist all three?
Okay, I suppose if you’re on the populist end of things then we have something for you too. Obscure little film about an billionaire who loses everything when his house is blown up, Iron Man Three? It’s got Ben Kingsley in it, so I assume it’s not hilarious at all. You what actually isn’t hilarious at all? The Kings of Summer, a comedy which had strong following after Sundance, but left me morally revolted to a dispiriting degree. Jason Statham tried on his dramatic chops this summer on Redemption, which was a notch above your typical Statham action assault. There was plenty interest around Kubrick-investigation flick Room 237, but I’ve heard it does more theorizing than actual film theory. Finally there’s V/H/S/2, a mostly sub-par found-footage horror anthology, but with a single segment of insane astonishment in its third segment. All that and it allowed “film critic”/performance artist Rex Reed to send us into a conversation of when we’ve disgracefully walked out of movies.
Steaming Pick of the Week
Available for Instant Streaming via Netflix
“The film’s French title is Apres Mai (After May), which was quite understandably changed for the American release of the film.” That’s how I started my review of the film at NYFF last year, not thinking American viewers would understand the relevance of May, 1968. Me of little faith. The time since has proven vital in growing the film’s place in my heart, the significance of that era and event to the evolution cinema only truly occurring to me once I’d delved deeper into that era of film history. The movie is a time capsule, though I admit it’s not exactly an impassioned diary. For all its characters fight for their beliefs and artistic passions, they’re oddly lacking in more distinctive character qualities. Olivier Assayas remains a fantastic, immaculate director, but is better when imbued with fully formed individuals heading up his films. On that note, he’s making a film starring Juliette Binoche and… Chloe Moretz and Kristen Stewart? If that gives you pause more than excitement, you’re crazy beyond what I can fully comprehend.