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Manhattan, Kansas (2006)
Finally, a documentary that truly dives, headlong, into what it means to be family
On the surface, Tara Wray's debut documentary MANHATTAN, KANSAS appears to comment on the seemingly indefinable notion of sanity; its subject being Evie, Wray's mother, the psychological "condition" of whom remains undiagnosed. What's fascinating here is that the doc seems to suggest that this is a woman who defies diagnosis itself; Evie's erratic, yet exuberant personality making it virtually impossible for anyone watching the film to judge her. Perhaps the only one in the world who can be granted that right is her daughter. But, rather than passing judgment on her mother, Wray masterfully chronicles their reunion with such thorough intimacy that the documentary ultimately achieves, astonishingly enough, a certain level of objectivity. This is accomplished by Wray turning the camera on herselfa choice not of self-indulgence, but of unguarded personal disclosure. The result is not only an honest and indelible look at the fragile relationship between a mother and a daughter, but also an examination of the nature of love itself. This extraordinary little film gives you complete access to the most private moments of these lives, and forces us to take a hard, good look at how we all express our love of those for whom we truly care. An exceptional work that pulls no punches, MANHATTAN, KANSAS is one of the best documentaries I've ever seen.
Ajde, dan... prodji... (2006)
honest, bold and human
Matija Klukovic's astonishing feature debut SLOW DAYS ushers in a new cinema alive with humanity and vision. Following the lives of over twenty individuals, the multiple narratives presented here are bound by relationships and common emotions that introduce us to a population of lost souls; everything from a retiree who plans to live until he's 150 (and keeps his nail clippers in the fridge) to a waitress addicted to repositioning furniture. Klukovic's superb examination of the personal purgatories belonging to these people never allows us to grow comfortable or complacent in our relationship with them. They are, after all, human beings. Not merely characters, or predictable one-dimensional facsimiles of people, the picture's masterful cast beautifully embodies living, breathing individuals grappling with a seemingly endless array of strengths, vulnerabilities and confusions that spin them in circles under the backdrop of a modern-day Zagreb. However, what's significant here is the fact that these stories can occur anywhere. In essence, the film seems to suggest that this unrelenting need for change and departure without the means of achieving it is universal. Sometimes, we rob ourselves of these means. Other times, our only opportunity to escape and grow and live is taken from us by those closest to us. Your average audience might have a problem with the fact that some of these people are connected solely by this condition of permanence. Some might suggest that these stories are composed of characters who do nothinga film that details the desperate lives of those without ambition. And yet, that is the very point; it is, after all, entirely human to complain and dream without actually taking action. Not everyone comes equipped with a singular goal in life. And those who do have aspirations often fail to see them realized. As humorous as it is dramatic, SLOW DAYS presents us with the notion that it is quite common for us to find ourselves stuck in a rut of physical and emotional inaction; whether it be the result of a job, a romantic relationship or a familial obligation. Klukovic's interest in the many types of love that exist amongst these characters is as complicated as the characters themselves, as the film leads us through the unpredictable and sometimes impossible nature of how we connect with one another. As suggested by a middle-aged bar patron who hasn't given up on both complimenting and insulting women, "everybody's got their own logic. That's why nobody understands anybody." Added to this, it seems as though the logic that these characters covet is also always in transition, as demonstrated by virtually every relationship in the film. Alen, a harmonica player, and his restless girlfriend Jadranka cover the full range of emotions in one single exchange, traveling from "I worry
" to "I hate..." and ending with "I feel fine... ", all within a few moments. One even asks of the other; "take those glasses off so I can see what you're saying. I can't hear you." This notion of ceaseless miscommunication-another purgative state-- is further illustrated in the relationship between the insomniac Martin and his mother Martina (exquisitely played by Visnja Pesic); at one point, she fetches him only to explain that she's "not sure if she wants to talk to him." Ultimately, SLOW DAYS offers honest insight into not only our own emotional stasis, but also the inevitable holding patterns that punctuate life itself.
Montag kommen die Fenster (2006)
the best film I've seen all year
The term "exquisite" is largely insufficient here. Ulrich Koehler has accomplished nothing less than a cinematic masterpiece with WINDOWS ON Monday; a patient and poetic look at the linear nature of human behavior, as well as an observation on the anatomy of the relationship between man and woman disclosed elegantly in images that have the tonal and luminary texture of classical paintings. Rather than rely on expository dialog to detail the all-too-common predictable series of plot-points that plague most of modern cinema, this filmmaker and his astonishing cast instead illustrate the power of subtlety within a story that never ceases to captivate and fascinate; a choice that rings very true and very human (without losing an extremely unique dreamlike quality that saturates the film as well). Tarkovsky, Antonioni and Kieslowski come to mind here, although Koehler maintains a style all his own. Those with small attention spans and little patience for a film that refuses to spell everything out explicitly to its audience will doubtlessly be frustrated with WINDOWS ON Monday. The fact is, life itself is not predictable, nor is it always fast-paced; it is sometimes calm, yet full of confusion, contradiction, uncertainty and distraction. And, as Koehler masterfully demonstrates, love is also made up of such things. Both humorous and austere, surreal yet human, vulnerable and bold
this is true cinema, and truly art.
The Last Romantic (2006)
I refuse to compare this superb film to any other, as it truly stands alone.
You have two poems, a shocking deficit of pocket change, a bad night's journey into day and all of paternal New Yorkwith its unrelenting absurdities and primordial pool of transparent opportunitieswaiting, with bated breath, for your verse. Just waiting. And you're ripe for the picking. And you're Calvin Wizzig. And maybe fascinating women with intimidating pillow-lips will notice you if you give them one of your poems. Or if you buy them milk. Or if you marry them. Or, maybe you'll just end up with a ball-point pen. THE LAST ROMANTIC is what happens when artists with vision draw upon something personal and true, and make the film themselves. That is to say, something this unique couldn't have arisen from an adaptation, remake or star- studded Hollywood formula. This rare variety of cinema embraces stories that defy expectations with layered, complex characters and a signature visual style, the aesthetics of which stay with you long after having left the theater. And Adam Nee's portrayal of Calvin Wizzig reminds us of why we go to films in the first place; to feel something. The audience is not led by the hand or told how to feel. The characters here aren't easily placed into clean stereotypes. Their dilemmas, hopes, feelings and actions never allow us to categorize or judge them. Similarly, I find it difficult to classify the film itself for the same reasonsits comedies and tragedies run together, allowing it to become believable and carry with it an honesty that is, frankly, irresistible. This is merely the beginning for the Brothers Nee.