Tilda Swinton and John C. Reilly in We Need to Talk about Kevin. Photograh courtesy of BBC Films.
One of the best films of 2011—and the most unfairly ignored at last Sunday’s Oscar ceremony—is the third feature from Scottish director Lynne Ramsay, based on the novel by Lionel Shriver. Ramsay is a director of startling sensitivity and subtlety, who was initially tapped to direct the big screen adaptation ofThe Lovely Bones before Peter Jackson took over. Judging from the way she handles the difficult themes of Shriver’s novel—which is perhaps even more shocking in its depictions of youth and violence—one can’t help wishing the earlier film had remained in her hands.
With Kevin, Ramsay takes on a fractured narrative that in its original form took place entirely through letters from a mother, Eva Khatchadourian ( Tilda Swinton) to her absent husband, going over her memories of the upbringing of their son, Kevin. Ramsay ditches the epistolary structure but keeps the fractured narrative, delivering a master class in nonlinear storytelling. There’s something not quite right about Kevin, and Ramsay’s impressionistic approach slowly reveals more and more about his character and history, all the while hinting at the horrific event that leaves Eva, in the movie’s present, alone and outcast by her community. Swinton is as brilliant as her director in a film that is masterful both as a psychological thriller and as a thoughtful character study.
You can read my complete review at The Atlantic here.
The Rendez-Vous with French Cinema series is a longstanding tradition at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, and this year it appears in a number of other cities, giving audiences here the opportunity to see a wealth of contemporary French films that largely didn’t receive distribution locally. Six of the films will be featured at the AFI in the coming week, starting on Saturday with Delphine Gleize’s Moon Child, about a child with a genetic condition that leaves him unable to withstand exposure to daylight. On Sunday, the series syncs up with the Lincoln Center screenings for a presentation of Alain Cavalier’s Pater, a political drama starring the director as a French president. Cavalier is doing a Q&A in New York after the screening, which will be simulcast at the AFI. The rest of the films include a horror movie, a period piece, and two directorial projects from performers better known for their acting than their directing, Daniel Auteuiland Mathieu Amalric.
Tomorrow would have been the 108th birthday of Theodor Geisel, the author known as Dr. Seuss, and it marks the release of the big-screen animated adaptation of the author’s environmental fable The Lorax. Published in 1971, the story has garnered its fair share of controversy for that environmental message—criticisms that have popped up once again with regard to the film version. Danny DeVito stars as the titular creature, a small, orange, mustachioed being who watches over the colorful forest of Truffula trees that the short-sightedness of the humans threatens to destroy forever.
The National Gallery of Art kicks off a month-long retrospective of the work of French filmmaker Robert Bresson with a double feature that starts with his very first film, 1943’s Angels of the Streets, followed by one of his best-known and -loved films, 1959’s Pickpocket. Angels is slightly unusual in Bresson’s filmography, a more conventional film than those he would come to be known for, featuring a straightforward story and a cast of completely professional actors (as opposed to the austere and contemplative tone and amateur actors that typified his later work). In the more typical Pickpocket, Bresson casts a nonprofessional actor as the lead, a man who develops a fixation on the act of theft, tempting fate and risking capture out of a deeper, almost sexual compulsion. Taking inspiration from Crime & Punishment in both the story and his greater message about humanity, Bresson influenced scores of future filmmakers with this film.
Washington Psychotronic Film Society is going to the dogs for the month of March with a series of canine-centric cinema “classics” throughout the month. It gets started with Dogs, a 1976 entry in that popular trash-movie genre of animals gone wild, done in more classy fashion by Hitchcock in The Birds before filmmakers stretched the formula to the limits of usefulness and plausibility. Director Burt Brinckerhoff, who had a long career in television directing many episodes of sitcoms ( Alf, Three’s Company) and popular dramas ( 7th Heaven, Matlock), did a few cultish thrillers earlier on, this being perhaps the best-known (though that’s admittedly not a high bar). The residents of a university-adjacent Southwestern town find their furry companions banding together and turning on them en masse, and if you already guessed that perhaps there’s some research going on at that university that could be causing the anomalous behavior, then you’re probably already familiar with the kind of movie we’re talking about here.
Blu-ray/DVD Pick of the Week: Hugo
Hot on the heels of a successful (if not top-prize-winning) showing at the Oscars on Sunday, Martin Scorsese’s loving tribute to the birth of cinema hits home video this week. While this is one of the few films of the current 3D resurgence I would have recommended actually catching in 3D, no doubt Scorsese’s richly colored, gorgeously detailed storybook visuals are nearly as impressive and gorgeous in high definition. Adapted from Brian Selznick’s children’s book The Invention of Hugo Cabret, the story weaves together the reality of the post-WWI life of filmmaking pioneer Georges Meliés with the invented tale of Hugo, an orphan living in a Paris train station, trying to find a secret message he believes was left to him by his father through a clockwork automaton. While the source material and the brightly colored trailers might make this seem like an oddly kiddie-centric project for Scorsese, the actual film is less a children’s adventure and more a film about the imaginative wonders that cinema can hold for people of any age. As such, younger viewers might find the film, particularly the second-half fascination with Meliés, a little out of their depth, but adults and even teens with a genuine love of film should be enchanted.
Special Features: Featurettes on the making of the film, on its real-life inspiration, Georges Meliés, and on the clockwork automaton central to the plot, plus a short interview with Sacha Baron Cohen, who plays the film’s slapstick train station police officer.
View the trailer.