Monday, June 19, 2023

The Current Cinema 23/3


The twisted beauty of Zachary Wigon's "Sanctuary" is that it's a film of two people, sitting in a room and talking. Well, it eventually devolves into a maddening, cerebral examination of the push-and-pull between the said two people (Christopher Abbott and Margaret Qualley), and it doesn't help matters that the relationship is based on the paid expectation of a dominatrix session. "Sanctuary" is even more jarring because anyone expecting a cheap, lurid thrill based on the word "dominatrix" will be sorely lost as the film (literally) tosses the script early on and becomes a trenchant power play where words, ideas, and threats quickly replace the commodity of sexual gratification. Abbott and Qualley (typically) excel in their high-wire roles.... he as Hal, the recently uber-rich heir to a hotel fortune and she, the paid escort who takes his wishes to end their relationship in very menacing stride. Written by Micah Bloomberg, "Sanctuary" thrills from beginning to end with its allusion that domination-as-therapy has its thorny limits. And in the heavily committed performances by Abbott and Qualley, the film could also be seen as domination-as-therapy filmmaking itself.

Past Lives


Celine Song's debut is a film that owes its heartfelt lineage to the films of Julio Medem, Richard Linklater, and Wong Kar Wai..... all filmmakers that certainly believe in true love, but not in the traditional way, but in how love manifests itself across the unreachable barriers put up by the universe's cosmic sense of humor. In "Past Lives", Na Young (Greta Lee) and Hae Sung (Teo Yoo) meet as kids and then spend the next 24 years hopelessly trying to rekindle what they once shared on the steps of a building, each going their own direction. Song and her actors etch so much fragility, honesty, and emotion into the vagaries of their relationship that, when the two meet again in New York for the first time as adults, their reactions are so organic and heartfelt, I felt guilty (like an interloper) for watching the film. But once that feeling passes and "Past Lives" continues to weave its magical spell of yearning (plus facing the uncomfortable but blazingly honest performance of Nora's now husband played to perfection by John Magaro) I ultimately felt grateful for the beauty of a film willing to allow us to share in all the uncomfortable silences that build up over (possibly) thousands of years between people. I can't stop thinking about this one.