Da 5 Bloods
On the Record
I May Destroy You
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It's been said that J.J. Abrams makes movies for the shareholders. If that's the case, welcome to the board meeting to end all board meetings. No one ever said that pleasing everyone would be easy, but with The Rise of Skywalker, the director pretty much nails it. That is to say, this film --much ballyhooed as the Final Chapter in the nine-part, forty-two-year-running "Skywalker Saga" -- is, aside from everything else and the kitchen sink, an entirely, deliberately, innocuously, agreeable film.
As the galaxy reels from the realization that the thought-dead shriveled and perpetually cackling Sith Lord, Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid), is back and up to his old tricks, the chronically displaced heroine Rey (Daisy Ridley) is deep into her Jedi training on a new woodsy obstacle course planet. Kylo Ren (the great Adam Driver), the new Supreme Leader of the First Order and evil son of Han Solo and Leia Organa, has set about looking for Palpatine, all the while also looking to continue his Dark Side seduction of Rey. In the course of Disney's Star Wars "sequel trilogy", the downright weird relationship of these two characters has taken center stage. It all comes to a glowing, lightsaber-clashing head with The Rise of Skywalker, with both Ridley and Driver giving this resolution their devoted all.
Thoroughly independent in its financing and creation, An Unmarried Woman nevertheless has a certain tactile urban scope that opens the movie beyond what could, in other hands, be a walled-in drama. Critically, it goes down more the way a comedy would; somehow light on its ballet feet and altogether digestible, but devoid of one-liners or gags.
This is Mazursky's ingenious touch as writer/director. Paraphrasing author Sam Wasson in his new, brief video interview contained on the recent Criterion Blu-ray edition as a bonus feature, Mazursky wasn't the most cinematic of filmmakers, nor was he the funniest. But he understood human ticks and foibles in raw, real, and subtle ways, and knew how to put his actors at ease enough to deliver these key things through their performances. At the same time, it's a tight film, devoid of that "improv-y" decompression that haunts the work of Judd Apatow and other later filmmakers who sometimes lean into his style.
Thematically, Through the Olive Trees is undeniably rich. As a film in and of itself however, it's moderately flimsy. Of the three films included in this so-called Koker Trilogy, this is the one that stands alone the least successfully. Although technically one needs to see the two films that directly envelope it, much of the richness of the story, if taken out of context, would be reduced to the tale of a poor young non-actor trying to get the girl while making a movie. As compelling as Through the Olive Trees can be in Kiarosami's, that's the film's take-it-or-leave-it ultimatum.
Much of the beginning of the film is simply watching the world pass by out of a car window. Left to right, left to right, left to right… in time, the stubborn search takes them literally off the beaten path and onto the omnisciently viewed zigzagging dirt pathways that would become a Kiarostami visual signature.
As the driver heads into the scene of the recent major earthquake, scores of aid workers and volunteers are seen clearing rubble and attempting to help those in need. (View from the car window is an unbroken master shot of the flurry of activity. Not one body is static as we move passed the desperate scene of crumpled structures and multilayered destruction.
And then, the first obvious bit of Kiarostami's conceptual onion skinning makes itself apparent. In this movie, the other movie is a movie. Eventually, we learn that the driver is a film director and the boy is of course his son. The "film director" is actually carrying with him a small French poster of Where is the Friends House?, displaying a large picture of its youthful star. He shows it several villagers along the way, asking if they've seen the boy. In this film, this man, not Kiarostami directed Where is the Friends House?. Everyone is familiar with the film, referencing the shoot itself. Some even recall having been in the film as an extra. Now though, the director is just another desperate guy in a car looking for someone.
Homework (Mashgh-e Shab) is a feature-length documentary made shortly after Where is the Friend's House?, attempting to get at the problems which the titular concern inflicts upon students and their families. The film is a series of talking-head exchanges with kids and the occasional parent. Kiarostami apparently selected an Iranian school for young boys and set up an interviewing station with a cameraman and a few lights pointed at a chair for his subjects. Kiarostami himself seems unaware of the interrogation-like scenario he's cultivated. The kids all appear to be various levels of deeply scared, traumatized, and just plain intimidated by the dark room, the hot lights, and this stern director in dark sunglasses asking them questions.
One comes away from Homework rather depressed and concerned about the effects that their school's educational model has had on these children now that they've presumably reached adulthood.