Eastern European miserablism strikes again in Miroslav Slaboshpitsky's "The Tribe", except this time its long-take gaze interrupts the lives of deaf teenagers in a derelict boarding school acting out their base intentions with little repercussions or explanation. Adding to the extremism is the fact the film disregards subtitles and allows the story to be carried out through its characters use of sign language. In between the sobering depictions of hierarchical violence, prostitution, and an especially abrasive scene that rivals the unquestionably tough abortion moment in Cristain Mungiu's "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days", the film's subtle power comes from its silence. Emotions are expressed through small emissions of sound or the rapidly expressionistic thumping of hands and fingers as words are conveyed through the air. It's an especially unique narrative twist. That gimmick aside though, "The Tribe's" hall of terror these kids go through- partly out of economic strife and basic emotional indifference- doesn't quite rank with the indescribable, sad observations of Mungiu or Cristi Puiu because they're simply empty ciphers beyond their physical disability....or more specifically, they're pointed metaphors for the troubled situation of the Ukraine itself. "The Tribe" puts one through the ringer, but it lacks the residual effect of the sadness achieved in similar efforts simply because Slaboshpitsky wants to attack rather than delineate actual people caught up in the margins.
Like "The Tribe", Claudia Llosa's "Aloft" belongs squarely within the framework of a particularly listless style of filmmaking.... that being the heavy handed 'indie', complete with redemptive story arch, metaphorical allusions (Cillian Murphy's character trains falcons but can't control or return to his own lost childhood) and a nervous handheld camera. Remarkably, "Aloft" overcomes all these redundancies thanks in part to three strong performances by Murphy, Jennifer Connelly and Melanie Laurent plus a committed sense of time and place. Tracking two separate timelines in the life of Ivan (Murphy)- the first dealing with the tragedies facing his ten year old self and complicated matters of mother Connelly and the second jumping ahead in time thirty years when French woman Laurent comes searching for answers connected to the mysterious aura of his family- "Aloft" deflates some of its power through the awkward hand of writer-director Llosa as if she were trying to incorporate every gesture and feeling before someone woke up and tugged the slight Hollywood rug out from underneath her. Regardless, she aligns herself supremely capable of capturing immense pain in the faces of her three actors and what emerges is a moving and fierce confrontation between mother and son that kind of bowled me over unexpectedly.
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
Having not seen "The Fault In Our Stars", I can't attest to the oncoming rise of teen sickness weepies, but if that film is half as moving or sincere as Alfonso Gomez-Rejon's "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl", then I'm really missing out. As the "dying girl", Olivia Cook is all bright eyes and a bundle of pixie love, so its easy to see why Greg (Thomas Mann) and his movie-drunk partner Earl (RJ Cyler) slowly gravitate towards her atmosphere. Not only does her sickness encourage the pair to create one of their gleefully anarchaic and no budget movies to her, but the film we watch is endlessly name dropping and half camera shot stealing within itself. Based on a script and novel by Jesse Andrews, "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl" penetrates the clouds of twee that often circulate the films of fellow homage crafters like Richard Aoyade or Michel Gondry by creating a generous core of attachment between its three central characters. Even as the finale wound to its conclusion, I had prepared my defenses, believing the film hadn't quite burrowed into my head, and then there's a moment between Rachel and Greg as images roll across their faces that not only establishes the grace and humility we all deserve to experience with someone in our lives but also emphasizes the unexplainable power of moving images and the thunderous sway they often hold over us.