Palatable: Tricked

Tricked (2012)
Directed by Paul Verhoeven
Written by Kim van Kooten, Paul Verhoeven, Robert Alberdingk Thijm, Anne Karina Westerik, Esther Schmidt, Kenneth Dingens, Tamara Bosma, Renee Van Amerongen, Martijn Daamen, Fleur Jansen, Sander Blom, et alia
Produced by Mardou Jacobs, René Mioch, Justus Verkerk
Starring Peter Blok, Gaite Jansen, Ricky Koole, Robert de Hoog, Jochum ten Haaf, Pieter Tiddens, Sallie Harmsen, Carolien Spoor, Ronald van Elderen

“Few men would be deceived if their conceit of themselves did not help the skill of those that go about it.”

–Marquis of Halifax, Cheats

Viewers of this brief feature’s first few prefatory minutes scripted by Van Kooten submitted thousands of continuative scenarios, from which diegetic devices were garbled, then integrated into the densely, tidily plotted shooting script of Verhoeven’s first good flick in twenty years. The semicentennial birthday of a shaky construction firm’s founder and CEO (Blok) is disrupted by attendances of his scheming partners (Haaf, Tiddens) and erstwhile, evidently enceinte mistress (Harmsen). In its aftermath, their revelations threaten to profitably unravel his professional life and business, but a backstair percontation by his stolid son (Hoog) and the flirty friend (Jansen) of his his dumpy, drunken daughter (Spoor) exposes connivance, though almost everyone involved is peccant for deceit. Staged, shot and acted with polished assurance at a brisk pace, this small production finds Verhoeven back in good form after his wearisome succession of doltish, bloated blockbusters stateside and in his native Netherlands, wasting not one of its sexy, silly fifty-five minutes, even if half of the twists recurring every five are too predictable.

Palatable: Brother

Brother (1997)
Directed and written by Aleksey Balabanov
Produced by Sergey Selyanov
Starring Sergey Bodrov, Yuriy Kuznetsov, Svetlana Pismichenko, Viktor Sukhorukov, Mariya Zhukova, Vyacheslav Butusov, Irina Rakshina, Sergey Murzin, Tatyana Zakharova

“I knew wherever I was that you thought of me, and if I got in a tight place you would come – if alive.”

–William Tecumseh Sherman, letter to Ulysses S. Grant, 1864.3.10

Not to be confused with Kitano’s underwhelming, cross-cultural Yakuza flick shot stateside a few years later, Balabanov’s grimy crime drama was a domestic hit as much for its depiction of Russia’s chaotic zeitgeist as its crafty economy. At the insistence of their mother (Zakharova), a tough, resourceful young veteran (Bodrov) of the First Chechen War peregrinates to St. Petersburg to reunite with his big brother (Sukhorukov), a freelance assassin employed by local gangsters. For his enterprise, martial invention and tactical cunning, he betters his sibling’s success as a slippery gun for hire, but soon finds that urban life is as spiritually insidious as remuneratory. When he isn’t greasing culprits of low character, the gifted gunsel beds a battered housewife (Pismichenko), troops with a trendy druggie (Zhukova) and an aging, weathered, German chapman (Kuznetsov) who resides in a Lutheran cemetery, and fixates on, attends a performance by and encounters at a party his new favorite band, Nautilus Pompilius, who provide most of the picture’s music. Armed to kill with discrimination checked by rectitude and a CD steadily spinning waist-high in his Discman (an accessory of any upright young man in the ’90s), Bodrov’s felon is for his farouche humor, adaptability, fraternal fidelity and uncertain circumstances an embodiment of the plights and pertinacity that typified the ethos of young Russians during their nation’s post-Soviet tumult. Practiced portrayals and St. Petersburg’s backdrop contribute to this little landmark’s plausibility, but its youthful audiences came for excitement and returned to see one of their own heroized for a principled criminality.

Recommended for a double feature paired with Three Days of the Condor, Le choc or Brother 2.

Palatable: Encounters at the End of the World

Encounters at the End of the World (2007)
Directed and written by Werner Herzog
Produced by Randall M. Boyd, Henry Kaiser, Tree Wright, Julian P. Hobbs, Andrea Meditch, Erik Nelson, Phil Fairclough, Dave Harding
Starring Werner Herzog, Samuel S. Bowser, David Ainley, Clive Oppenheimer, William McIntosh, Olav T. Oftedal, Regina Eisert, Libor Zicha, Kevin Emery, David R. Pacheco Jr., Jan Pawlowski, Peter Gorham
For mundivagant Herzog, Earth’s final, frigid frontier was an inevitable destination nearly a century after explorers Roald Amundsen, then Robert Falcon Scott planted their respective Norwegian and British flags at that desolate destination. This documentary’s finest sights are transcendent for meditative shots of chaste polar landscapes and watery wonders, but it’s too often derailed when Herzog’s narration or worst subjects digress absurdly. Vintage footage of the terminal impasse that stymied Ernest Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition and destroyed his ship Endurance, and the subsequent hardship of his crew’s grueling passage to South Georgia Island is cleverly juxtaposed with that of a humongous omnibus driven for the convenience of passengers at McMurdo Sound by one Scott Rowland, who relates one of his adventures in Guatemala. Rowland and McMurdo station’s forklift operator Stefan Pashov are two of numerous roving professionals who seem to constitute a majority of Ross Island’s population; the latter fancifully proposes that zetetics are by commonalities impelled to convergence at their southernmost post. In the austral summer’s five months of constant daylight, the station’s industrial hideosity contrasts with the stark beauty of Ross Island and the Ross Sea. To escape it and its amenities (dully comfortable residential quarters, a bowling alley, an aerobic studio) that repulse him, Herzog departs for several field camps after one Kevin Emery mandatorily trains him and other newcomers in the rudimentary construction of snowy trenches and igloos (wherein trainees are required to sleep overnight) and cooperative navigation via lifeline in conditions where visibility and audibility are null. Nutritional ecologist Olav Oftedal and his crew study the dietary peculiarities of docile, roly-poly Weddell seals, extracting with a forcible yet harmless method from nursing cows a milk of uncommon viscosity and chemical composition noted by physiologist Regina Eisert. An utter silence common to the vicinity of Oftedal’s station is often broken by phocine vocalizations in waters six feet beneath it: resonant whirrs, burbles, blips and howls that could be mistaken for those generated by an analog synthesizer. At the mainland’s coast, cellular biologist Samuel Bowser quietly exudes either anxiety or melancholy on the occasion of his last antarctic dive, during which he observes exotic fauna and flora in gelid immersion. From another dive ensuing toilsome drilling and detonation elsewhere, three captured specimens are genetically determined by zoologist Jan Pawlowski to be of theretofore unknown foraminiferal species. Slow and static shots of Shackleton’s hutch reveal it unchanged over a century, one of a faded empire’s innumerable proto-civilizational relics. Further, a monument erected alongside the numerous flags raised at the south pole commemorates Amundsen’s and Scott’s pioneering attainments…though Herzog can’t help but bemoan this progress and a presumptive loss of its site’s pristine serenity, a value that’s never qualified. Cocks of a waddle wait on eggs for hens to return at Cape Royds, where Herzog interviews eremitic marine biologist David Ainley, who graciously replies to an asinine question regarding homosexual penguins with his observations of polyamory and transactional congress in the colony. A visit to Mt. Erebus finds volcanologist and geochronologist William McIntosh displaying and demonstrating the functionality of a rugged observational camera designed to withstand explosions, emplaced to monitor the volcano’s lava lake. Tasked with examination of the volcano’s gaseous emissions, his subordinate colleague Clive Oppenheimer historically contextualizes the relative severity of known volcanism. Our impressionable filmmaker’s existential despondence, now inspired by climatic pseudoscience repeatedly reworked and consistently unproven over the course of a half-century, spoils what could’ve been a pleasantly amusing scene: in a frozen subterranean passage leading to the precise center of the South Pole, two workers deposit a frozen sturgeon in a niche opposite another garlanded with strung popcorn, containing little floral prints…while Werner the doomsayer verbalizes a stale, silly scenario in which extraterrestrials visit the niche perhaps a millennium following mankind’s extinction. Finally, physicists led by Dr. Peter Gorham launch an enormous balloon to loft instruments constructed to detect neutrinos above any distractions of terrestrial electricity.
Sublimed by the ethereal vocal plangency of Dragostinov’s Planino Stara Planino Mari performed by The Philip Koutev National Folk Ensemble, and Alexander Sedov’s rendition of Bortnyansky’s Retche Gospod Gospodevi Moyemu, among others, this picture’s underwater and underground highlights are extraordinary for deft exhibition of the former’s magnificent aquatic biota, and in both icy formations submersed and caverned — those latter accessed though fumaroles by McIntosh’s spelunking team. If these speechless sequences characterize Herzog at his best, redundant commentary by his interviewees and his pestilentially pessimistic narration represent the worst he has to offer. Some of Pashov’s philosophical musings are mildly interesting, while others are as negligible as the dreams that glaciologist Doug MacAyeal recalls before addressing his far more intriguing surveyal of a calving iceberg (B-15). David Pacheco is McMurdo station’s demonstrably adept plumber, who bloviates about his allegedly Aztec ancestry and more environmental paranoia, but not his duties there. Linguist William Jirsa recounts how he came to keep the station’s greenhouse, and he’s only marginally more occupying than Karen Joyce, whose African and South American extravagations decades before was surely as perilously imprudent as it’s tediously told. Earlier scenes show two seemingly pathetic penguins mysteriously, intractably bound for the mainland’s interior and their likely quietus; one can imagine Herzog’s apposition of these apparently disoriented birds with the errant baizuo vacuously reporting their own misadventures. Those subatomic particles that Dr. Gorham tracks and describes are enthralling, but his own gushing fascination with them is not. One bright exception is Libor Zicha, a machinist still visibly haunted by trauma suffered during the Cold War, who keeps an impressively comprehensive survival kit in a rucksack at his side at all times. An extraneous interview of irritatingly ingenious publicity hound Ashrita Furman comprises a most glaringly inapposite aside.
This might’ve been another of Herzog’s documentary masterworks, but it’s marred by the trendy and sentimental faults that so endear it to Anglophones. His undue familiarity, rambling, risible ruminations and desultory indulgences might be apropos to one of Errol Morris’s features, but for them this 100 minutes is a fifth padded and hardly so graceful than it should be. Unlike the foregoing sacred music, Henry Kaiser’s and David Lindley’s score is almost unbearably grating. So untypically personal, unprofessional and subjective is it that its conclusive dedication to Roger Ebert comes as no surprise.

Recommended for a double feature paired with Into the Inferno or Cave of Forgotten Dreams.

Palatable: Cube

Cube (1997)
Directed by Vincenzo Natali
Written by Vincenzo Natali, André Bijelic, Graeme Manson
Produced by Mehra Meh, Betty Orr, Colin Brunton
Starring Nicole de Boer, David Hewlett, Maurice Dean Wint, Nicky Guadagni, Andrew Miller, Wayne Robson
Natali’s cult favorite requires little introduction, but that anglophonic score who’ve yet to see it probably won’t be disappointed by this misadventure of a seasoned recidivist (Robson), police officer (Wint), draftsman (Hewlett), student (de Boer), physician (Guadagni) and autist (Miller) mysteriously waking within and collectively struggling to escape from a massive matrix comprised of interconnected cubic rooms. For whoever can decipher them, the integral or Cartesian signification of triplex trinumerals printed within each room’s six doorways seemingly signify which contain deadly traps not necessarily more hazardous than the strange sextet’s internecine umbrage and paranoia. Not as sophisticated as it’s become, Natali’s tolerable direction isn’t half as imaginative as his, Bijelic’s, and Manson’s script, as much for its geometrically Gordian setting and diegetic twists as its characterizations of distinct personal types altered by extreme pressure in prickly situations: the pessimism of Hewlett’s omega gifts him with a surprising fortitude; at first wholly dependent, de Boer’s beta proves herself as essential a mathematician as an intermediary; Robson’s sigma is laid low early to leave the survivors without their most resourceful member; at first a natural leader, Wint’s alpha is reduced by petty indignation and encroaching madness into a Procrustean tyrant; Guadagni’s skittish, shrewish gamma unearths an unexpectedly quasi-maternal affection for Miller’s autistic savant, who’s in possession of a vital verve he can’t use alone. Against Jasna Stefanovic’s superbly impersonal, industrial production design, the cast’s porcine performances contrast oddly well, and for what they lack in realism and restraint, they compensate with photogenic presence. Comparably, CG by effects firm C.O.R.E. is noticeably artificial, but smartly designed. This sleeper found its audiences via home video and nonstop cablecast on the Sci-Fi Channel in the ’90s; it’s now just as omnipresent on streaming channels and worth watching — first for fun, then again for details you might’ve missed.

Palatable: One of Us

One of Us (2017)
Directed by Heidi Ewing, Rachel Grady
Produced by Heidi Ewing, Rachel Grady, Alex Takats, Liz F. Mason
Starring Etty, Ari Hershkowitz, Luzer Twersky, Chani Getter, Yosef Rapaport
Ostracism and contingent harassment await whoever dares to leave Brooklyn’s Hasidic community, as explicitly related by a trio of such deserters in extensive interviews and observations. Pseudonymous Etty struggles to retain custody of her seven children after forsaking a routinely ill-arranged marriage to an abusive and unloving husband, and finds some comfort in a support group organized for therapeutic congregation of other whilom Hasidim. Still reeling from the harrowing humiliation of his public pedication and shunned by former friends, Hershkowitz revels in newfound freedom before and after his recovery from an addiction to cocaine. Aspiring actor Twersky ekes emolument as a driver for Uber where he’s resettled in Los Angeles, residing in a parked RV and willingly typecast in Hasidic roles to assert his individuality and distance himself from the ex-wife and offspring he’s left behind. Ewing’s and Grady’s prior feature on religious extremists was the amusive, hyperbolically marketed Jesus Camp, which presented a laughable evangelical summer camp and its silly, sanctimonious attendees as unduly significant, and was strategically edited either by the filmmakers or their co-producers to nearly omit extensive evidence of their subjects’ unrequited fealty to Israel. Slickly shot, scored, cut and titled, this dour documentary finds them in better form, exploring how the cultish Hasidic tribe sustains its traditions, security and continuity by means both kind and cruel, commanding private schools, ambulances and a police force to support one another and enforce their precepts while domiciled in Brooklyn’s best subsidized housing. Both the mistreatment they’ve suffered and curiosity concerning the outside world fortify the resolve of these three anathemas, who pine for past fellowship while basking in the United States’ secular liberty. None of them were at all prepared for life beyond Brooklyn, all speaking English second to Yiddish, nearly innumerate for the calculatedly selective deficiencies of their education, and as ignorant of the Internet for its proscription — a bitter irony in light of the Ashkenazic affinities for mathematics and online entrepreneurialism. Geller (who organizes the aforementioned support group) expounds how the uncompromising stringency of Hasidic piety and insularity is as much a reaction to the sect’s decimation during the Holocaust as devoted abidance by its tenets. Reactions of Hasidim to those who’ve abandoned their fold vary depending on their circumstances. Etty’s persistently terrorized by her husband and his family, and threatened with the loss of her parity because nomistic Hasidim can collectively afford the lawyers she can’t. All but isolated for his abandonment, Hershkowitz is advised by one of his community’s friendly yet firm elders (Rapaport), who voices compunction for his adversity and disapproval that it wasn’t redressed, but also admonition for his relatively liberal lifestyle and existential and theological inquisitiveness. Those few acquaintances from whom Twersky isn’t estranged only treat him with stilted civility. Outside the Islamic world, tergiversation is seldom met with such alienation, but these are not apostates: notwithstanding Hershkowitz’s doubts of divinity, they’re all practicing Jews more dedicated to dogma than most. This picture’s portrayal of Hasidim discloses of them qualities seemingly paradoxic: they’re at once scholarly and stagnant, loyal yet parasitic, neurotically fanatical in their crusade to resist modern, godless progress in a manner less extreme but far more aggressively adamant than that of the Amish. Ewing, Grady and their interviewees impart that this enclave needs to change — not to neglect or degrade their customs or consecration, nor to intromit outsiders or their culture, but to mend and forfend ingrained cycles of domestic and institutional abuse. If a stable society requires accountability, then a fortiori is it indispensable for any so closed.

Palatable: The Panic in Needle Park

The Panic in Needle Park (1971)
Directed by Jerry Schatzberg
Written by James Mills, John Gregory Dunne, Joan Didion
Produced by Dominick Dunne, Roger M. Rothstein
Starring Kitty Winn, Al Pacino, Alan Vint, Richard Bright, Kiel Martin, Michael McClanathan, Warren Finnerty, Marcia Jean Kurtz, Raul Julia
No PSA, educational short or after school special yet produced has matched the gruesome verisimilitude of this monitory classic. From a failed relationship with her former inamorato (Julia) and the traumatically unprofessional abortion to which it culminated, a jaded, ailing, aimless miss (Winn) rebounds into the sphere of a charming drug dealer and petty thief (Pacino), who shares with her a mutual affection and appetite for heroin that she readily adopts. Their complete immersion (with the audience) into a decisive, dehumanizing, sordid stupor dependent on every critical, forthcoming fix provokes degradation, disloyalties and disasters, draining from them both love and liveliness to leave a relationship first radiantly adoring a vacant and toughened husk. Mills’ graphically harrowing, bipartite, photographic exposé on narcotic subculture published in Life constituted the basis for his novel fictionalizing the notorious lifestyles of addicts who congregated regularly at Verdi Square and Sherman Square in Manhattan’s upper west side; after Dominick Dunne purchased the book’s filmic rights from Avco Embassy to extend his cinematic career, his brother John and famed sister-in-law Didion aptly adapted the realism of its terse dialogue and sickening squalor to a script as fit for cinéma vérité as any realized during the begrimed blossom of New Hollywood. Schatzberg’s own career as a top-flight photographer is evinced in his compositional expertise and dispassionate manner. A broad latitude accorded his players sunk his debut feature of a year anterior, the handsomely crafted but dramatically inert Puzzle of a Downfall Child. In their leading premieres, Pacino and Winn flourish for Schatzberg where Faye Dunaway flailed, so perfectly, personably plausible that certain inobservant theatergoers mistook this gritty fiction for a documentary. From his junkie’s disarming sweetness to raging desperation, Pacino hasn’t a sour note in him to spoil this first great performance, itself quietly overshadowed at every turn by Winn’s wide-eyed vulnerability, best expressed in silent shots yet brimming with laconic import. Of course, this success was followed by decades of his superstardom and her cult renown on stage and screen. Bright shone in sleazy roles paired with or without everyone’s favorite diminutive Sicilian, here credibly scummy as Pacino’s brother, who’d sell his family or anyone else’s for diacetylmorphinic respite. A half-century since it’s launched two fine celebrities, no other movie (certainly not Aronofsky’s clownish, grossly overestimated Requiem for a Dream) so vividly pictures the vile vitiation heroin afflicts upon one’s morals, mind and body.

Palatable: Train to Busan

Train to Busan (2016)
Directed by Sang-ho Yeon
Written by Sang-ho Yeon, Joo-Suk Park
Produced by Dong-Ha Lee, Yeon-ho Kim, Woo-taek Kim
Starring Yoo Gong, Su-an Kim, Dong-seok Ma, Yu-mi Jung, Gwi-hwa Choi, Eui-sung Kim, Woo-sik Choi, Ahn So-hee, Soo-jung Ye, Myung-shin Park, Seok-yong Jeong, Hyuk-jin Jang
Conformable to the deadly undead of O’Bannon’s and Boyle’s classics, twitching, predatory zombies in Yeon’s first live-action feature rush ravenously to bloodily propagate their pandemic, imperiling within its cramped linear quarters a bullet train’s passengers (Ma, Jung, Choi, So-hee, et al.), who can only survive by manipulating the ghouls’ cognitive limitations and stimuli. Trauma and teamwork educe an uncharacteristic heroism in one such traveler, a callous careerist (Gong) in transit with his daughter (Kim); in slightly unlike circumstances, one cruelly unscrupulous executive (Kim) inversely preserves himself at the fatal expense of his acquaintances. With substantial characters credibly rendered by a solid cast, inventive suspense tautened in a swift situational succession, and action deftly choreographed, shot and cut, this glossy international hit justifies both its hype and sociopersonal themes as overt as Romero’s to chastise corporate cupidity and baneful self-interest with characterizations more believable than any that celebrated, satirical schlockmeister ever penned. A horde of flailing and gnashing supernumeraries complement the leads well with uninhibited mordacity, especially in a few instances when their numbers swell scrambling, scrabbling, snarling by dint of CG superior to conspicuously artificial graphics beheld in Hollywood’s overbudgeted, superheroic trash. That this past decade’s only zombified flick worth watching is a South Korean production seems unavoidable, and though some of its sentiment’s sweetened saccharine by that schmaltz from Seoul during heartfelt moments and especially its emotive climax, it’s relatively palatable when expressed by a refreshingly appealing dramatis personae unimaginable in a contemporary, major motion picture produced anywhere in the Anglosphere. Even better, Yeon dispenses with that slush for a truly moving conclusion.

Recommended for a double feature paired with 28 Days Later or Seoul Station, Yeon’s animated prequel.

Palatable: Would You Rather

Would You Rather (2012)
Directed by David Guy Levy
Written by Steffen Schlachtenhaufen
Produced by Zak Kilberg, David Guy Levy, Maura Anderson, Ivy Isenberg, Gus Krieger, Andre Royo, Hector Tinoco, Brittany Snow, Morgan Conrad
Starring Brittany Snow, Jeffrey Combs, Enver Gjokaj, Charlie Hofheimer, Jonny Coyne, Eddie Steeples, Sasha Grey, Robin Lord Taylor, June Squibb, Lawrence Gilliard Jr., Robb Wells, John Heard, Logan Miller

“Too many people have decided to do without generosity in order to practice charity.”

–Albert Camus, The Fall

Unemployment, suddenly deceased parents, their home to be sold, and an ailing brother’s (Miller) mortal need of a costly transplant are cumbers shouldered by a young woman (Snow) invited with seven other unfortunates to a soiree hosted by a wealthy, convivial sadist (Combs) whose regale is tainted by his humiliating exploitations of their frailties — a preamble to the titular parlor game that incites their capacities for malefaction to win far more than patronage from their gleefully twisted benefactor. At its best, Levy’s thriller excites in viewers its victims’ palpable pressures and dread for his subtly effective direction, Schlachtenhaufen’s wickedly felicitous script and a cast of fresh and familiar faces that hit nearly all their marks within the polished, luxuriant sumptuousness of Frank Brown’s artisanal mansion, Artemesia. Least among them is the consistently wooden Grey, aptly cast as the most trashy, cruel, candid contestant, whose transitional participation was clearly earned by her alternative oral competency. Diametrically, the hilarious and masterful flamboyance rendered by veteran genre ham Combs keenly characterizes his nabob’s iniquitous indulgence formalized with casual etiquette and rationalized as a sincere fascination with the transgressive extremes of social psychology. Taylor’s nearly so risible and repulsive as his rankly rotten scion, whose vicious addiction to wanton abuse clashes with daddy’s decorous depravity. A few instances of propagandistic portrayal and proximity fulfilled by racially calculated casting are as conspicuous as anything one might see on network television; Combs’ and Coyne’s WASPy villains are less inaccurate than passé in an era when those most egregious of our intriguing, inept elites are as disproportionately, plainly porkless as the director and some of his co-producers. Withal, it’s no less a morbidly droll or direful entertainment that brutally fictionalizes the sheer, stratified vice lurking behind so many charitable veneers. Only a handful of movies produced outside Japan and Korea compel indurated audiences to wince and laugh in alternation or simultaneity; this one does well before you’ll realize that the losers of its competing guests aren’t leaving alive.

Palatable: Ridicule

Ridicule (1996)
Directed by Patrice Leconte
Written by Rémi Waterhouse, Michel Fessler, Eric Vicaut
Produced by Frédéric Brillion, Philippe Carcassonne, Gilles Legrand
Starring Charles Berling, Jean Rochefort, Fanny Ardant, Judith Godrèche, Bernard Giraudeau, Bernard Dhéran, Carlo Brandt, Jacques Mathou, Urbain Cancelier, Albert Delpy, Bruno Zanardi, Marie Pillet, Jacques Roman, Philippe Magnan, Maurice Chevit, Jacques-François Zeller, Gérard Hardy, Marc Berman, Philippe du Janerand

“An aristocracy was […] by definition a class of both obligation and privilege, the one validating the other.”

–John Keegan, The Mask of Command

In the final days of his reign, Louis XVI (Cancelier) enjoys a monopoly ex officio for the dispensation of stingy subvention representing his kingdom’s terminal dearth of noblesse oblige, so the only recourse for a provincial baron (Berling) who meditates to restore the health of his province’s land and liegemen by draining its malarial swamps is a sojourn in Versailles, where he’ll entreat his regent’s largesse. A highwayman’s assault and theft proves felicitous, leaving the compassionate lord to the treatment, lodging and counsel of a marquis and physician (Rochefort) who instructs his canny junior of conventions and decorums: the application of moderate maquillage, necessity of nonstop frivolity, chaff’s optimum utterance, gaucherie to be avoided and joviality’s effect in tasteful measure. Though his peerage accords admission, only by the young nobleman’s plied talent for extemporized repartee may he petition the king after insinuating himself into the city’s stratified society: a periwigged and lavaliered, decadent and viciously vituperative gentry wherein a duke’s wily widow (Ardant), and a cunningly contemptuous abbot (Giraudeau) are to be met with craft by riposte. Waterhouse’s, Fessler’s, and Vicaut’s screenplay cleverly depicts the late aristocracy as a pampered pack of jackals sneering behind their pro forma facade of phony pleasantries and protocol, whose social currencies of jeux d’esprit and florid vitriol elicit and declass statuses. Their lordly despite is contrasted with the gracious charity of Berling’s baron, Rochefort’s kindly marquis, and the abbot Charles Michel de l’Épée (Mathou), a selfless pioneer of education for the deaf. Greater nuance is indued to an engaged couple who respectively import their failing patriciate and succeeding Enlightenment: stodgy and jaded but not at all without a distant sympathy, an aged, wealthy widower (Dhéran) is opportunistically betrothed to the marquis’ fetching and dexterous daughter (Godrèche), whose preoccupation with inceptive technologies is incarnated as her construction of and experimentation with a diving suit comparable to Freminet’s. Every sensible director of a period picture balances recondite authenticity with some accessible modicum of modernity, and Leconte succeeds here by stagily interpreting this solid script by a top-flight cast who emphasize without exceeding expression. As consistently funny as fascinating, painstakingly costumed by Christian Gasc and lensed by Thierry Arbogast in sprawling Panavision against and within the extravagance of Villiers-le-Bâcle, Châteaux de Maisons-Laffitte et Vaux-le-Vicomte, and Versailles itself, this fable of a cruelly corrupt, historical elite established by lineage and preserved with sex, wit and wealth observes one of its moral members striving to access a royal fisc and rescue his vassals, who suffer for survival and servitude.

Recommended for a double feature paired with Valmont.

Palatable: We Need to Talk About Kevin

We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011)
Directed by Lynne Ramsay
Written by Lionel Shriver, Lynne Ramsay, Rory Stewart Kinnear
Produced by Jennifer Fox, Luc Roeg, Robert Salerno, Philip Herd, Andrew Warren, Christopher Figg, Paula Jalfon, Lisa Lambert, Norman Merry, Andrew Orr, Lynne Ramsay, Christine Langan, Michael Robinson, Steven Soderbergh, Tilda Swinton, Robert Whitehouse, Suzanne Baron, Michael Corso, Molly Egan, Simon Greenall, Anthony Gudas, Leslie Thomas
Starring Tilda Swinton, Ezra Miller, Jasper Newell, John C. Reilly, Ashley Gerasimovich, Rock Duer, Siobhan Fallon Hogan, Alex Manette

“It is not attention that the child is seeking but love.”

–Sigmund Freud

Nobody does, so the unbalanced son of a mundivagant author (Swinton) and her purblind husband (Reilly) grows from an unstill baby into an insolently incommunicative toddler (Duer), then a child (Newell) whose unchecked petulance finds expression in contumelious conduct and a refractory destructivity that hardens during inattentive and irrespondent years into the incisive opprobry and underhanded abuse by which he’s characterized as a teenager (Miller), and an atrocity’s augured. Her first visit stateside finds Scotland’s preeminent directress exploring what everyone should yet so few will after every murderous spree, picking the kernel of Shriver’s novel to condemn the excessive liberality and negligence typifying whatever presently passes for parenting, manifest maddeningly as pleasant lies, quiet reluctance from conflict, an absence of corporal punishment, acquiescence to pettishly puerile vagaries and unremitting disaffection, here initially attributed to postpartum depression, which aggravates acrimony reciprocally. Swinton’s anathema silently suffers public persecution as penance in the aftermath of her son’s ultimate trespass, and meanders mnemonically in flashbacks dreamily, anachronically interconnected as Leone prescribed, which demonstrate her failures to love, to chasten, to relate, to communicate, while her oblivious husband refuses to acknowledge but one of his son’s many misdeeds. Ramsay excels in the exhibition of commonplace frailties and their worst consequences, always guiding her leads to extremities without falsity. Her careerist’s frigidity and parental ineptitude are registered keenly by Swinton, who’s weirdly, unnecessarily, crinally and ocularly embrowned to adopt some maternal semblance to Duer, Newell and Miller, all of whom plausibly exude their malfeasant’s cunning and antipathy. Always approaching his dramatic roles with an everyman’s realism contrary to his famously clownish comedic characters, Reilly likewise creates without caricaturing his oafishly obtuse father. If only to preserve the primacy of their story’s pathological burden, neither Shriver nor Ramsay stooped to contribute to the irrational, pan-Atlantic, leftist “conversation” concerning firearms; by assuming the archer’s posture, their antagonist affirms the determining significance not of means but madness. Punctiliously cut by Herzog’s preferred editor Joe Bini, and swollen with sanguine symbolism, Kevin exposes without homily how abominations are conceived behind suburban veneers.

Recommended for a double feature paired with Elliot Rodger’s mortifying videos.