Daniel Espinosa's "Child 44" is a meandering, gloomy hybrid that successfully merges the murder-mystery thriller against the stifling backdrop of Stalin's early 1950's regime... a period in time where individual thought, personal expression and cultural shifts of the West were contained and punished behind a frightening curtain of fascist control. Even the idea of murder- considered a "capitalist" act- is forbidden here. This dire, oppressive state is where "Child 44" begins, following respected soldier Demidov (Tom Hardy) as he struggles to justify his intentions to solve a series of child murders while trying to maintain orders from his superiors (Vincent Cassel) and subordinates (namely Joel Kinneman) who only seem to care about progressing their own futures. Much of the criticism leveled at the film thus far is its pace and mood- both factors I found absorbing and compelling. Yes, the jump start into the procedural aspect of the film takes a while, but it's the build up and eventual justification for Demidov (and wife, played by Noomi Rapace) to buck the system and try to do what's right that gives the film its emotional purpose. "Child 44", like Ingmar Bergman's "The Serpent's Egg" and Michael Haneke's "The White Ribbon", brilliantly presents the notion that certain times and places in history are melting pots for violent actions that not only reflect the moral vacuum but are existential outcries against the time itself.
Clouds of Sils Maria
After the opening few minutes where we observe the jittery, technology-fixated personal assistant Kristen Stewart field calls and report back to her actress-icon boss (Juliet Binoche), Olivier Assayas' latest film, "Clouds of Sils Marie" settles down for what may be his most patient, unhurried film yet. His ability to capture incandescent facial ticks and near-perfect moments of realization, connection and raw emotion are still present, but they're buried within three great performances from the above mentioned actresses as well as the troublemaker-cum-trainwreck young star played by Chloe Grace Moretz. Dealing with the personal and professional crisis of Binoche when her filmmaker turned mentor dies, "Clouds of Sils Maria" is essentially her film as she struggles with the decision whether to accept the role in a sequel to the film that once made her a star or stumble back into her life of hushed whispers and token Hollywood CGI starring gigs. The interplay between her and Stewart is natural, unforced, and as the layers of life versus unreal cinema life bleed into each other, Assayas maintains a steady (almost ethereal) grasp on the whole thing. It's not one of his masterworks, but even a solid Assayas film is better than 90% of what's out there.