Fail to Appear
Dir. Antoine Bourges
Bourges impressive feature conveys through a highly restrained formal structure how bureaucracy plays a role in the dehumanization of those caught in the system. His near mathematical use of long still takes paired with silence encourage the viewer to reflect inwardly; a sense of introspection forwards the film’s harmonized rhythm from beginning to end—a remarkable quality for a young director. Deftly handled, the minimalist visual design allows a maturely realized script and notable performances to shine through, ever more affecting due to Bourges restrained style.
A calm and moderately tempered film, Fail to Appear details the relationship of a well composed caseworker (Deragh Campbell in a fitting role) and the young man she is tasked to support through trial for theft (compellingly portrayed by Nathan Roder). Isolde’s empathetic nature and desire to truly help Eric takes backseat to her professional obligations. As part of the system, her emotion much be checked, as human connection has no place in bureaucracy.
Another notable feature is its near symmetrical narrative structure. The film begins with a long still take devoid of humans. This follows with Isolde’s arc, a person and professional using a computer to communicate with her client. She then meets her client, Eric, and a sequence of the two together takes place. This follows with Eric’s arc, a miscreant further dehumanized by a flawed system whose only moment of genuine interaction comes in the form of ‘joy’ texted in an e-mail. The film closes on yet another long still take devoid of humans.
While there isn’t much overt drama, the film’s subtlety is highly affecting, and its uniquely calm temperament stays with the viewer long after the curtains close. Such a quality tends to make a film even better on reflection—something which the late Abbas Kiarostami regularly advocated for. Fail to Appear has this reach because it is perfectly authentic; there is an immediate and knowable transparency in its narrative, and the genuine story, characters, and quotidian happenings resonate well with audiences.
BPM (Beats Per Minute)
Dir. Robin Campillo
This year’s Blue is the Warmest Colour. I say this not merely because it is LGBTQ positive or because it is French, but because their formal structures and social impacts resonate—powerfully handles the aids crisis in Paris by following a political group made up primarily of infected activists who are frustrated at the laws, regulations, and actions of research labs and the unconstitutional laws they hide behind in regards to release of information and treatment.
The characters suffering from aids are in a state of emergency; their needs must be met right now; they don’t have the time to be patient, which the politicians and labs request from them. They might die while information and treatment which could save them lay unused in pre-trial form. This isn’t treatment for something you can wait around for, like a wart; this is life and death.
BPM takes on a rhythm justifying its title. It has a great deal of heart and a great sense of urgency. Hearts beat faster and faster as political upset roars on, as sexual flights of passion are engaged, and as the need to party and live and make the most of their short time carries on. A pulsating electronic score drives the film’s urgency, as do many of the impassioned performances, most notable Sean (Nahuel Perez Biscayart), a sympathetic and courageous hero who enters martyrdom when his death demonstrates the need for change RIGHT NOW.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer
Dir. Yorgos Lanthimos
Yet another uproarious film from the wickedly dark mind of Yorgos Lanthimos, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is a film dense with metaphorical aphorism and may be his best yet. A play on pagan ritualism, the game here—Lanthimos is always playing games—is that a wrong has been done and a sacrifice must be made to appease the Gods. In this case, a doctor (Colin Firth) kills a young boy’s (Barry Keoghan in an incredibly disturbing role) father on the operating table, and he must now kill one of his own family members in order to appease the boy. Raising the stakes is Lanthimos’ penchant for the supernatural, giving young Martin a God like ability to punish the stubborn Steven and his family.
What works in this film, and didn’t in The Lobster, is that the world which Lanthimos’ transforms is only perceptible to the few involved; the rest of the world remains unchanged. One may even interpret it all as metaphor, with guilt being the driving force of Steven’s actions. Deer is also markedly funnier, darker, and more effectively satirical.
Besides all this, however, the film’s most remarkable feature is its formal design, in particular its use of sound. While ominous camera movements, such as slow cranes towards and against objects at slightly canted angles, convey feelings of the uncanny, the bombastic score composed of music, effects, and a whole lot of surround buttress this feel of the uncanny to surreal territory. The atmosphere that its formal-antiformal structure creates recalls Bunuel and brings Lanthimos to new heights.