Cinema is still the cheapest and most effective form of travel—not just to places, but even through time, and into people’s heads and hearts. That truism is proven once again when you survey a few of the titles on offer in the international cinema section of Cinema One Originals, which began last Friday:
(Directed by Robert Eggers; starring Willem Dafoe, Robert Pattinson).
Robert Eggers’ follow-up to his Puritan horror film, 2015’s The Witch, may be less ambitious in scope, but it is still effective…and funnier too. Like The Witch, The Lighthouse is a period piece, following two keepers who are crammed in close quarters on a remote New England island in the 1890s, and then trapped together when a storm cuts them off from promised relief. Willem Dafoe plays the garrulous Thomas Wake (“Ye love my lobster! Say it!” will probably go down as one of the funniest lines of 2019), exerting his authority over the new lad Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson), who may be running from a shady past.
Less supernatural chiller and more a deranged take on the story of terrible roommates who drive each other insane by their inability to define boundaries, The Lighthouse not only displays Eggers’ assured hold on style—the stark black-and-white photography and the square aspect ratio both drive home the inherent claustrophobia of the story—but also his uncanny knack for inhabiting the minds and bodies of people who existed long before him.
And speaking of bodies: The Lighthouse isn’t exactly a body horror piece, but it does deal with the horror of bodies. You can almost smell how pungent these men are, how the toxicity of their masculinity must manifest in the odors emanating from their sweat and bodily secretions and waste. (There is a sequence, both hilarious and horrifying, where Ephraim throws their shit-filled bedpans out into the sea…only to have the wind blow the contents back into his face.) The Lighthouse is a tour de force that traces two men’s descent into insanity, a tale so hallucinatory you might swear that the film leaves its own smell on your skin.
Remaining screenings: November 13, Wednesday, 7:30pm, Gateway; November 16, Saturday, 7:30pm, Glorietta 4; November 17, Sunday, 6pm, TriNoma.
(Directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda; starring Catherine Deneuve, Juliette Binoche, Ethan Hawke).
If Kore-eda’s Palme d’Or-winning Shoplifters was about strangers pretending to be family, then the Japanese director’s follow-up is about a family who are strangers. A screenwriter named Lumir (Juliette Binoche), who has made a name for herself in America, returns to Paris with her recovering alcoholic actor-husband (Ethan Hawke) and precocious bilingual daughter (Clémentine Grenier) to celebrate the memoir of her famous mother Fabienne (Catherine Deneuve), a lioness of French cinema who is playing a supporting role in a maudlin sci-fi movie about, you guessed it, a dysfunctional mother-daughter relationship.
In certain ways, The Truth is an ambitious step forward for Kore-eda, who is directing a self-conceived screenplay in a language and culture that is foreign to him. But in other ways, it is a scaling down too: The film-within-a-film is an on-the-nose symbolism, and The Truth falls neatly into that obvious French impulse of adoring their preeminent actresses. (Witness Isabelle Huppert playing a thinly disguised version of herself in Frankie.) The good news is, unlike Frankie, The Truth doesn’t feature characters who seem to be abstract representations of actual people. Rather, the passive-aggressive—or, in the case of Deneuve’s deliciously acidic Fabienne, purely aggressive—family dynamic in The Truth has the characters unable to connect because of their memories and preconceptions of each other. Lumir doggedly believes her mother to be cruel, Lumir’s husband struggles to be the ideal father to their daughter. And through it all is the divine Deneuve, the actress playing a part not just in a movie but in her family’s story as well: the egotistical center that attracts criticism and condemnation, even as her sadness threatens to overtake her line readings. In one scene, the beautifully put upon Binoche asks her mother, “Do you love yourself or do you love film?” And Deneuve nonchalantly replies, “I love the movies I’m in.” That line alone is worth the price of admission.
Remaining screenings: November 15, Friday, 7:30pm, Gateway; November 16, Saturday, 12nn, Ayala Malls Manila Bay; November 16, Saturday, 5pm, Glorietta 4.
PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE
(Directed by Céline Sciamma; starring Noémie Merlant, Adèle Haenel, Luàna Bajrami)
Oh, how differently women see the world! That much is apparent from Celine Sciamma’s quietly revolutionary Portrait of a Lady on Fire, a seductive and ultimately devastating look at how women struggle to fight against the strictures society places upon them, no matter how society ends up breaking them down. The title implies that the focus will be the subject—a defiant 18th-century Frenchwoman of nobility named Heloïse (Adèle Haenel) who refuses to pose for a marriage portrait—but the film is also about Marianne (Noémie Merlant), the artist hired to be Heloïse’s prenuptial companion but is secretly tasked to observe her features and commit them to canvas.
The fact that these two women eventually fall in love and have a brief, passionate fling isn’t even the point—it’s the fact that, for the first time in their lives, being deprived of choice and fighting a masculine-dominated society, these two women are truly seen by each other. And by Sciamma, who never lets the finery of her period setting distract from her gentle but probing gaze. She even expands her focus to include the predicament of scullery maid Sophie (Luàna Bajrami), whom the two women support as she faces a potentially ruinous pregnancy. Portrait of a Lady on Fire is a story of women being a bastion for each other; of lovemaking being beside the point next to true love and intimacy. Those simple ideas, still, in our current century thirsty for equal representation in cinema, make this a subversive film.
Remaining screenings: November 14, Thursday, 10:25pm, TriNoma; November 16, Saturday, 2:30pm, Ayala Malls Manila Bay; November 16, Saturday, 10pm, Glorietta 4.
MATTHIAS & MAXIME
(Directed by Xavier Dolan; starring Xavier Dolan, Gabriel D’Almeida Freitas, Anne Dorval)
Xavier Dolan’s most recent projects set in his native Quebec, 2014’s Mommy and 2016’s It’s Only the End of the World, were talky affairs revolving around the drama of dysfunctional family; he’s like the Eric Rohmer of Canada, if Rohmer were armed with a hip soundtrack and a taste for dramatic pyrotechnics. Matthias & Maxime continues along the vein of Dolan’s dialogue-heavy, intimate chamber pieces…and yet it feels like something entirely new for the Canadian enfant terrible. For one, it’s a love letter to friendship, or more specifically, friends as the family we choose. And for another, it’s about the hidden tenderness in male yearning.
Matthias (Gabriel D’Almeida Freitas) is a straitlaced lawyer working his way up his firm’s career ladder, at home with his longtime clique of school friends and their privileged upbringing. Maxime (Dolan) is a have-not with a giant birthmark on his face, grappling with the manipulations of an addicted mother (Anne Dorval, in what is essentially a reversal of her ferocious, self-sacrificing mother role in Dolan’s Mommy) and whose unassuming nature has allowed him to form a surrogate bond with his friends’ doting mothers. A few weeks before Maxime is due to leave for a new life in Australia, the two friends are corralled to act in the student film of a friend’s little sister; the complicating factor is, they have to make out on film. That playacting kiss will confuse the methodical Matthias, whose reawakened feelings frighten him even as they prevent him from expressing his love for the sweet Maxime, who is desperately deserving of that love.
There is a newly revealed depth to Dolan the director in Matthias & Maxime, not just in the ways he shows men feinting and distracting from showing how they actually feel, but in implying how this matter of conflicted sexuality has world-changing repercussions on the cozy dynamic of longtime friendship. And, more touchingly, how those bonds can withstand a little earthquake like two friends realizing they actually love each other. There is such a gentle ache to Matthias & Maxime, you’ll almost be tempted to hail Dolan as the balm to pop culture’s toxic masculinity.
Remaining screenings: November 12, Tuesday, 7:30pm, Gateway; November 13, Wednesday, 10:30pm, TriNoma; November 15, Friday, 10pm, Glorietta 4; November 16, Saturday, 8pm, Ayala Malls, Manila Bay