Revisiting Romanian New Wave

“Dupa Dealuri”

(Beyond the Hills)

dir. Cristian Mungiu (2012)

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Two young women, who grew up in the same orphanage, are reunited at one’s home monastery but discover that their relationship is being torn by their conflicting desires and attachments. Their situation becomes chaotic when the monastery’s nuns and priest try to help the two friends.

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In case you aren’t already acquainted with this filmmaker’s style (director of ‘4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days’), Mungiu seems to really like stories about characters caught in a desperate act, pushed into a corner by old societal pressures and failing institutions. This film examines the failures of both church and state, and, also, the divide between them as a parallel to Voichita and Alina’s strained relationship.

The awkward tension between Voichita’s new identity as nun and past life is noticed by Alina when she fails to communicate what she really wants and seems to simply echo what she has been taught at the monastery. The nuns misunderstand Alina and her acts of anguish and desperation. Only Alina, who also stands out in wardrobe, is expressing herself honestly and bluntly to the point that it shocks the other characters. The failures in expression and understanding are purposeful in this brilliant screenplay.

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I love Mungiu’s directing and the precise cinematography of this film. The only real ‘cues’ to what a character is thinking is the camera angle and focus, such as when Voichita watches the priest and nuns pray over Alina and she stands out as observer (above).

The story ends in a confusion of judgment, I thought. There is no ‘good’ character, everyone is guilty of something connected to the ending, but no one is an antagonist, either.

I’ll close with a quote from Mungiu from an interview in FilmComment: “My responsibility is to present the situation and [let] the audience interpret it. I don’t think cinema should pre-interpret things for people. It is important that the story triggers the audience’s desire to meditate upon values and on their own position on the situation I have presented. Ideally, this is what cinema should be about.”

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Discovering Shane Carruth

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UPSTREAM COLOR (2013) dir. by Shane Carruth

Definitely a new favorite director & writer of mine. WOW, Carruth. Consistently gorgeous, distinct cinematography and a bizarre, fresh story.

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Almost the entire film is quick, 3-4 second shots, lots of cuts and variations on camera angles in the same scene. Very montage-like, and dreamy, especially with the soft, muted colors and lighting that add a calming effect (?) to the film even during the most eerie scenes.

I think its an intentional peaceful mood, despite the chaotic and confusing storyline, that adds a reassurance, for the audience, that it is all part of a planed, controlled cycle or, maybe, it creates the sense of a distance between the audience and the characters’ experience.

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“So much of the film is nonverbal.” -Shane Carruth (pictured below)

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The storyline is unclear at first, but everything begins to fall into place slowly, although there isn’t quite a definite explanation of what the characters are going through or what is ‘real’ or just metaphor? But I liked this. What matters is that you begin to see how things and the characters are intertwined, there is connection in cycles, sound and shared memories.

It’s on Netflix, go check it out. I’m excited to see his other film, “Primer” (2004).

Continued Thoughts (with spoilers):

Sound is a big part of the film. The sounds that attract the hosts are repetitions, cycles of random sounds, a wave-like soundtrack used to lure the hosts, much like the worm movements of the parasite. The CYCLE of the parasite and hosts is broken at the end when the parasite is removed, no longer allowed to affect the flowers and get passed on to the hijackers. The characters seem to create their own narrative after the pig farmer is killed, who isn’t even an antagonist…? But they don’t seem aware of what actually happened, just trying to take over the narrative.

Then there’s Thoreau’s “Walden”. It’s no coincidence that some of the themes in Walden are meditations on transcendence of human existence and letting oneself be immersed in nature. In the film, there is a literal fusion of the worm parasites with the human and pig characters and a transcendence of the characters’ identities and willpower as they become one and are hypnotized into becoming one. It seems that the book’s call to ‘transcendence in nature’ is tied to the ending, when the characters go back to the pig farm and take over the care of the pigs. The different bodies come together in one mind and memory. But then again, I like that there’s no ‘point to the story’ or lesson being taught, which is what Carruth tries to avoid in his films.

“Love is a Roarrr”

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Cutie and the Boxer (2013) by  Zachary Heinzerling

Recently released on Netflix (and after me putting off seeing it for so long), this film explores the 40-year marriage and artistic impacts of Ushio & Noriko Shinohara in NYC since the 70’s.

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While ‘the Boxer’, Ushio was the spotlight artist since his early work in  Japan and continuing on in NYC, I really like how Noriko, ‘Cutie’, and her art steal the show in the film. Their devotion to art is what brought them together, and it is a bittersweet relationship that forms out of their identities as ‘opposite’ artists, according to Noriko, together.

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Noriko’s art centers on her ‘Cutie’ character & Bullie, which is implied to be based on her & Ushio’s relationship. Some parts of their life story are told with an animated version of Noriko’s art works, which I like because it allows for the rough chapters of their marriage to be told in a more gentler, light-hearted way. And it is her way of telling the story.

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It is a showcase of Noriko and her stepping out in the art world, regaining her independence as artist while remaining at his side in their relationship.

I also loved the original soundtrack; it’s a sort of jazz version of traditional-sounding Japanese music…?

Despite how their relationship is presented as a bitter struggle and Noriko admitting to her regrets and resentment, it is one of my favorite love stories. The ending is so, so sweet to me. 

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Do You See What I See?

Her (2013) dir. by Spike Jonze

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Great cinematography (applause to Hoyte van Hoytema) and, WOW, how it matched the film’s predictions for the styles and technology of the near future.

Just look at how soft all the lighting is, bringing out soft, neutral-ish colors, allowing only Phoenix’s bright-red wardrobe to act as slight contrast to the muted L.A. background. Why does this matter?…->

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As I watched, I realized the ‘future’ in the film is a retro-future, based on today’s obsession with recycling the past. Every man is wearing high-waisted trousers, and the overall recycled-vintage-style is still going strong. So, the cinematography, too, is warm and nostalgic, adding to the effect of a familiar future, one where our interactions are so tied to our computer ‘operating systems’ that it is normal to walk around talking only to one’s bluetooth-like device.

I could say a lot about how the film presents the concepts of love apart from the experience of physical bodies or how Samantha, the personalized operating system, seems to embody the idealized ‘pure’, non-prejudiced person that learns to love with Theodore, but I’m still thinking about all of it, so I hope you can see it for yourself and decide what, if anything, the film is saying.

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ALSO:

If you’re looking for a Noah Baumbach comedy, recently released on Netflix, about a young woman loving the barely-making-it-in-NYC life despite all of the awkward transitions she goes through, then

FRANCES HA (2012)

is the one for you.

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Greta Gerwig is so natural in the role of carefree Frances, and the wandering of her character through the city and the changes in her life translates onto the way that the story is narrated. It may seem aimless or inconsistent in pace, but maybe it’s because Frances doesn’t intend to ‘arrive’ or settle anywhere.