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Refreshingly gorgeous picture
Ida is a memorable film filled with meticulously shot scenes. They are real feast for the eyes. I wouldn't expect someone who wrote and directed 'My Summer of Love' and 'Last Resort' to come up with this carefully crafted artistic black and white picture. Not that I think the two artistically inferior or bad, in fact I love them both, especially the former, but Ida is totally different from the two stylistically. Watching Ida is like looking at interestingly beautiful paintings or artistic photographs. By maximizing the use of visuals, Ida successfully communicates its atmospheric and melancholic feeling. But, the story itself is a bit too premeditated to me. The aunt's decision to accompany Ida to find her parents' burial site (and the aunt's son's) that led to Ida's encounter with a love interest seems heavily choreographed and artificially constructed for Ida's later spiritual doubt and dramatic decision. There was no discernible reason why the aunt hadn't tried to find her family's burial site before since she was quite adamant, pushy, and persistent. I just feel that the story relies heavily on this weak premise. Still, it's an interesting beautiful film that's worth seeing.
Gimmicks and nothing else
A not so unique mind that's responsible for polluting the world of cinema with an abomination that is the 'Before...' trilogy strikes again. By filming 2 child actors and 2 professional actors over the span of 12 years or so, Linklater has succeeded in producing a flick that's dramatically and cinematographic-ally equivalent to average TV movies. Contrary to what most naysayers have said about it, Boyhood is actually loaded with drama and sentimentalism instead of nothingness. The single mother, the unreliable father, the domestic violence, the divorces, the mother's plight in raising her two kids while attending college and finally getting a degree and becoming a teacher are some of the dramas that--as clichéd as they might be--could have been utilized as dramatic device. Yet, the forced banalization of these events by jumping ahead year after year without actually showing how the characters process them made them almost invisible and frankly posses little to no emotional impact. However, it's an admirable attempt to give the movie a touch of realism and accentuate how life could feel meaningless sometimes despite of the dramas that surround it. Still, Boyhood fails in making the events other than a few slides in a Power Point document for the reason mentioned before. Moreover, Linklater seems to realize this and tries to compensate it by forcefully including some laughable scenes that are intended to make viewers think that the characters' lives are anything but meaningless or boring. For instance, the scenes with the restaurant manager who thanks the mother for her advice looks too much like one of the scenes from insipid motivational movies. It's a sad effort to make us appreciate small victories in our everyday lives (not to mention quite condescending; as if the viewers are a bunch of emotionally and spiritually challenged individuals who have no ability to realize such sophomoric life insight). The last scene with the mother loosing her composure and starting rambling about how meaningless her life is (despite of the ups and downs and all of dramas she has experienced) just because her son is leaving for college reads like a desperate attempt from the director/writer to give a sense of climax and closure. Lastly, since the title of this flick is Boyhood and the premise is a deeper look into a boy's life from his perspective, Boyhood couldn't have been more distant in depicting the central character's inner turmoils. Well, it was probably quite a task since the Boy was so boring.
Le temps du loup (2003)
Haneke is one of my favorite directors and 'La pianiste' is on my top ten list of the greatest movies of all time. But, this particular installment from him left me cold. Even though starting up promisingly in the first 5-10 minutes, 'Time of the Wolf' was quickly progressed into a disappointing slog-fest. I have to admit that the sudden burst of violence resulting in the death of the main character's husband was very unexpected and interesting (at first). However, I couldn't form any reasonable reason of the inclusion of the unfortunate happenstance except for Haneke's indulgence to be shocking for the sake of being shocking. The killer didn't seem to be psychotic enough to do the unreasonable killing in the presence of his helpless wife and children. He looked like a reasonable guy who was able to keep his family together until the end of the movie. He also didn't gain anything significant from killing the protagonist's husband. He could have just stolen anything he wanted from the protagonist's family and just gone away with his family without forcing them to witness such unnecessary horrible violence. Moreover, it wasn't an accident either. Why? I was lost, I still am. The most peculiar thing was that he let the protagonist and her two kids live. It would have been understandable if he also killed the protagonist and left the kids live. It could have been understood as an episode of paranoia in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. But as it was, the scene was there for a shock value and a poor dramatic license to accentuate the protagonist's unfortunate adventure.
The rest of the film wasn't really a disaster, but it was disappointingly pointless. It was simply an unappealing repetition of hysteria, moral confusion of the mass, threatened sense of humanity and identity, desolation, hopelessness, and helplessness endured by characters in post-apocalyptic fictions. There's no new insight or captivating description of the horrible things that were faced by the characters in the film. Maybe some people enjoyed and found it to be deeply moving and visceral. But, as sad as I am to say it, I can't describe this film as other than just another uninteresting generic psychological tale of a post-apocalyptic society.
The Cunning Von Trier!
After watching Synecdoche, New York, I lost the expectation to be able to find movies that would offer me the same level of catharsis that's incited by Synecdoche, New York. But Dogville was the proof of my false assumption.
However, emotional release is probably the last thing that speaks the greatness of this movie. How Von Trier deceives and plays his audience like puppets through Dogville are things that make me consider putting this movie side to side with Synecdoche, New York.
Through this movie, Von Tier invites you to a seemingly sophisticated discussion on human nature and morality. He treats you like an equal colleague and nods in an agreement on whatever ideas you proposed while gently directs you to ideas and point of views that will be employed to make his point. He will provoke you a little and then discuss your reaction to the provocation before supporting your rationalization with an inaudible patronizing tone.
In the end, he will hand you a gun and tell you that you have made a perceptive point. You'll start blazing that gun to all directions. And you know that it's already too late when you hear a tiny giggle coming from behind. You maybe dismiss that victorious giggle altogether and delude yourself into believing that you only do what you're doing for humanity. Or, you can laugh in a horrible excitement without noticing Von Trier's giggle and accept his view on humanity. Either way, you lose.
Synecdoche, New York (2008)
Kaufman speaks honestly
Some people who dislike Synecdoche, New York, consider that this film is self-indulgent and pretentious. Some also describe it as nothing but an artistic masturbation. I reckon that the seemingly uncontrollable surge of symbolism, the inexplicable connection between a symbol and another, and the hazy theme of the film have a major part in generating the negative reception. Nevertheless, the aversive outlook is a misjudgment of the film and could mislead potential viewers. In my opinion, Synecdoche, New York is far from so-called artistic masturbation. In fact, this film is truthful in its narration and delivering of its ideas. It is not trying to be complicated and artsy in order to be complicated and artsy. It is neither a shenanigan from a naughty artist who already has a big name with the object of pleasing himself.
Those who have seen and enjoyed Kaufman's previous works can understand that he likes to scrutinize his own mind (and ours in process). We can see how he longs for the understanding of his mind, which he seems to believe holding the key to understanding the world or maybe to coming closer to the truth. This explains the themes he often uses in his works; the concept of soul in Being John Malkovich, the adaptation of the mind to the well-constructed representation of reality in Adaptation, and the meaning of identity and being in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
Unlike in his prior work, Adaptation, Kaufman doesn't try to "play" in Synecdoche, New York. I don't refer to his using of his alter egos in Adaptation, but to the way he plays with his ideas (Btw, I love that well-executed playfulness of his in Adaptation). In Synecdoche, New York, he doesn't leave the second half of his script to Donald Kaufman (although that's how he stays faithful to the main theme of Adaptation). He also doesn't bail on ideas he has put forward in order to wrap the ideas with the main idea he intended to make. This time, Kaufman is very patient in exploring and dwelling in his labyrinthine mind without taking a glance at the seduction of his playfulness (maybe a little bit). It is a long and painful road he's taking. However, this road doesn't lead to any certain conclusion. Yet, it is neither a journey into the abyss of nothingness.
Synecdoche, New York is purely philosophical but without neglecting the aesthetic value and entertaining elements for audience to enjoy. It seeks to find the ultimate reality by using established philosophical notions (especially post-modernists' ideas about ultimate reality and meaning). Nevertheless, it doesn't merely borrow the notions. It puts them into a test and shows us how they work. It focuses on a process of how the ideas of schools of philosophy emerge. We can see how Caden (powerfully played by Hoffman) tries to recreate reality in order to see and understand the meaning of his life, but more importantly the nature of meaning itself that raises questions such as: can we really hold it with our minds? Is it something that exists only in the horizon of endless ocean? Or does it really exist? Which one is real, meaning or the signifier? Which one is the first, meaning or the thing that represents it? And how can a signifier of certain meaning produce several meanings that generate new meanings in order to repeat the same process? In the end, after bopping around from one metaphysical idea to another (from the belief that a sign constitutes a meaningmetaphysical presenceto the impossible existence of meaning, from the idea about the world that represents nothing but the representation of signs with many layers of signs to the idea about interpolating signifiers into other signifiers that causes the lost of meaning ), this film, in the same perspective with Derrida, asserts that ultimate reality and meaning may exist but to find them is an eternal search.
I know that it is reductive to sum up a movie that is emotionally powerful and schools of philosophy that have rich histories and ideas just in a few sentences. And i'm aware that my perspective and short analysis on this film may not be true but it's just one of possible ways to see it. Moreover, these metaphysical and philosophical understandings are useless if one cannot enjoy the film and feel captured by it.
However, if you are not familiar with postmodern philosophy you are still able to identify with characters' confusion, agony, and anguish. Synecdoche, New York is so powerful in transferring its dark, gloomy, and mysterious emotions that will leave you with almost unbearable feelings. You will feel exhausted but grateful for it. This film will stay in your head for days. You will feel that this film talks to you in a strange language that you can't fully comprehend. Yet, you are sure that you completely understand it although it is hard for you to articulate your understanding.