Notes from my “stream-and-dream” ledger for the past month:
When the home-made sex video of a schoolteacher (Katia Parscariu) gets exposed on the Internet, tabloid scandal and cultural controversy erupt. The scandal-mongering spills over into parent-teacher relations, and soon her professional standing is in peril.
In Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn, writer-director Radu Jude (Romania) tells the tale via three contrasting parts: a socially realist account of the teacher’s daily life just as the scandal begins to break; an illustrated “dictionary” of words and phrases pertaining the film and its issues; an open meeting of the teacher and school officials with a wildly diverse group of concerned parents and family members.
The climax of this serious-minded comedy satire comes via a provocative trio of provisional “endings.” A thematic undercurrent has to do with the apparent “Americanization” of urban life in Romania; that and the pandemic-era setting combine with the cultural controversies to give Jude’s sardonic comedy a rousingly caustic contemporaneity.
At least three other recent films with lengthy titles are also worthy of special mention:
Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy (directed by Ryusuke Hamaguchi, Japan) tells three surprising and exquisitely nuanced stories of relations between pairs of women. The segment titles—“Magic (or Something Less Assuring),” “Door Wide Open,” “Once Again”—hint at the mysteries within each of them. A gentle, soulful attentiveness shines in all three.
In Preparations to Be Together for an Unknown Period of Time (directed by Lili Horvát, Hungary), a doctor (Natasa Stork) is aggrieved and mystified when a lover (also a doctor) she’s met only once fails to show up for a romantic meeting a year later and then claims not to know her when she tracks him down. A fascinating psychological mystery tale ensues, with Stork and several supporting players delivering quietly complex performances.
How I Fell in Love With a Gangster (directed by Maciej Kawulski, Poland) is a seriocomic epic, a rambunctiously stylish account of the life of Polish gangster “Nikos” Skotarczak (Tomasz Wlosok). It’s long (three-plus hours) and bulky, but kept very much alive by Wlosok’s cheerfully roguish performance and Kawulski’s playfully exuberant style (narration by a “mystery woman,” comical pacing, characters addressing the camera directly, etc.).
Also in the queue, a Steven Soderbergh double bill: Kimi is a brisk, flashy and suspenseful high tech thriller in which an isolated tech worker (Zoë Kravitz) finds herself in great peril after discovering evidence of a violent crime in a data stream she’s monitoring; and No Sudden Move is an extravagantly convoluted crime story with Don Cheadle, Benicio del Toro and a large and handsome supporting cast (Jon Hamm, Brendan Fraser, Kieran Culkin, Ray Liotta, Bill Duke and, briefly, Matt Damon) caught up in the extended fallout of multiple double crosses. Two contrasting genre films, both with scathingly sardonic tales to tell.
Last, The Tragedy of Macbeth (directed by Joel Coen) is a compact and starkly stylized rendering of Shakespeare released on Apple TV+, with Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand in the lead roles; superb black-and-white cinematography; and expressionist visual design that generates maximal impact with an apparent minimum of means. McDormand has some terrific moments, and Kathryn Hunter’s portrayal of multiple witches is a masterpiece in its own right. Like David Lowery’s The Green Knight (2021; adapted from an even older English classic), Coen’s Macbeth has a primal aura that feels both ancient and richly contemporary.
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