After venturing to the Amazon in The Lost City of Z (2016) and to the edge of the solar system in Ad Astra (2019), James Gray has come home to the New York of his childhood, and specifically, to the autumn of 1980 and the eve of the election that put Ronald Reagan in the White House. The “big idea” in Armageddon Time is “that the racist and xenophobic political madness that has overtaken the United States in the Trump era has its roots in Donald Trump’s home turf of Queens,” writes the New Yorker’s Richard Brody. “Gray is a fanatical observer of the details of his milieu, and his cast incarnates the gestures, the accents, the inflections, the very air of the place and time with a fervent precision to match.”
As Paul, a stand-in for Gray, and Johnny, his best friend, Banks Repeta and Jaylin Webb “give two of the best kid performances in recent memory,” writes IndieWire’s David Ehrlich, adding that “you might have to go back to Moonrise Kingdom to find another American movie that required a pair of pre-teens to do this much, and inspired them to do it so well.” When the boys are caught sharing a joint, Paul’s punishment is to be sent to a stuffy private school, while Johnny, who comes from a struggling Black family, ends up homeless and sleeping in a shed in Paul’s yard. “Gray has taken a dicey risk here, by thinking through white guilt from such an unapologetically personal place,” writes the Telegraph’s Tim Robey. “In this retrospective mea culpa, he’s trying to be honest about his own conscience and childhood regrets, but also examining the multiple failures of education that set these two kids on such divergent paths.”
Armageddon Time is “clearly a work of great love, emotional authenticity, and gratitude, qualities that breathe life into every widescreen frame of cinematographer Darius Khondji’s appropriately unflashy visuals, with their grainy textures and muted colors,” writes the Hollywood Reporter’s David Rooney. Paul’s parents are played by Anne Hathaway and Jeremy Strong, and Anthony Hopkins portrays his wise and loving grandfather. “The family scenes are gorgeous,” writes Rooney. “Messy and alive, they’re notable for their seeming casualness in capturing moments where nothing of major plot import might be happening but the director nonetheless is subtly sketching in a whole complex dynamic of distinct personalities.”
The Eight Mountains
Belgian director Felix van Groeningen (The Broken Circle Breakdown,Beautiful Boy) has teamed up with his partner, actress Charlotte Vandermeersch, to write and direct an adaptation of Paolo Cognetti’s award-winning novel The Eight Mountains, another story of the friendship between two boys. This one, though, spans thirty years. Pietro and Bruno are eleven when they first meet in a tiny mountain village in northwestern Italy. It’s home to Bruno but thrilling and new to Pietro, who has grown up in Turin. Over time, jealousies threaten their bond, which is reinvigorated in adulthood when Pietro (Luca Marinelli) and Bruno (Alessandro Borghi) build a house together.
Take a look at that Screen grid. Ratings for The Eight Mountains range from bomb to best, the latter grade coming from Peter Bradshaw, who writes in the Guardian: “This is a movie with air in its lungs and love in its heart.” For David Rooney, though, it’s “a pleasurable enough watch . . . though ultimately, it lacks weight.” In the Los Angeles Times,Justin Chang calls The Eight Mountains “the rare movie that understands how tied we are to the physical and psychological spaces of childhood, how our families and the traditions they raised us with can be both nurturing and limiting. More than anything, it brings a little-seen world to life with an almost palpable physicality, even as it reminds us that to live and work with one’s hands—to milk a cow, to build a house, to scale a mountain—is for some merely a romantic ideal and for others an implacable reality.”
In Variety,Jessica Kiang finds that the film resonates “on that chimingly deep level that usually only literature can access. But it lives and breathes in beautifully cinematic terms, with each one of Ruben Impens’s stunning academy-ratio pictures worth a thousand words. Although this classic bildungsroman may have been nipped and tucked in the transition from page to screen, in terms of scale and sweep and emotion, little appears to have been lost in translation.”
Let’s shift now from the competition to the Directors’ Fortnight and the film that opened the independent program, Scarlet. Freely adapting Alexander Grin’s 1923 novella Scarlet Sails, Pietro Marcello (Martin Eden) sets his story in rural France at the end of the First World War. Raphaël (Raphaël Thiery) returns from the front to find that his wife has died and left him an infant daughter, Juliette, in the care of Adeline (Noémie Lvovsky). The three form an ad hoc family, albeit one ostracized by the local townspeople, and Juliette grows up to be a young woman (Juliette Jouan) who dreams of leaving Normandy. When a pilot, Jean (Louis Garrel), drops from the sky, she plays with the idea that he may be just the ticket.
“While the film’s sense of place and time is engraved in every pore of its cast and their surroundings, impeccably rendered by Marco Graziaplana’s grainy cinematography and Christian Marti’s production design, the story itself is slight and an overly romanticized look at rural life in interbellum France,” writes Marc van de Klashorst for the International Cinephile Society. This is “vibes-forward filmmaking,” writes Filmmaker’s Vadim Rizov, and “to what thematic end, if any, is unclear.” But on Twitter, Mark Asch calls Scarlet a “postmodern Pagnolian slice of French life” and “a historical-materialist fairy tale whose every setup contains enough imagination to reinvent the film from scratch.”
One Fine Morning
In Mia Hansen-Løve’s eighth feature, One Fine Morning, Léa Seydoux plays Sandra, a freelance translator raising an eight-year-old daughter (Camille Leban Martins) alone in a small Parisian apartment while caring for her aging father (Pascal Greggory), who is losing his sight and his memory to a rare neurodegenerative disease. When she bumps into an old friend, Clément (Melvil Poupaud)—a married chemist with a son—an initially tentative flirtation quickly escalates into a passionate affair.
As Vadim Rizov points out, autobiographical details are tweaked and then woven into all of Mia Hansen-Løve’s films, but “where her best works proceed from one tersely dramatized scene to another, this is a baggy catch-all of anxieties.” In the Hollywood Reporter, though, there’s no holding Jon Frosch back as he writes that One Fine Morning is “an immensely satisfying collaboration that finds both auteur and star further solidifying their spots among the greats of their respective fields.”
For Guy Lodge in Variety, the filmmaking “here feels as comfortingly lived-in as a hand-me-down cardigan, from the soft ecru textures of Denis Lenoir’s 35 mm lensing to Marion Monnier’s relaxed, sociable editing to the director’s usual musical patchwork of favorites spanning Schubert, Dinah Washington, and the plaintive folk balladry of Bill Fay. Few would accuse the director of pushing herself in One Fine Morning, but there’s much to be said for cinema that feels this at ease—at home, even—with itself.”
Seven years ago, Saela Davis and Anna Rose Holmer cowrote their first feature, The Fits, which centered on an eleven-year-old tomboy who hung out in a Cincinnati boxing gym. Davis edited and Holmer directed. Now, working from a screenplay by Shane Crowley, they’ve codirected what Guy Lodge calls “an unexpected pivot of a sophomore feature,” God’s Creatures. Aileen (Emily Watson) is among the villagers mourning the death of a fisherman on a remote swath of the Irish coast when her son, Brian (Paul Mescal), returns from Australia unannounced. Aileen is thrilled, and he basks in her adoration.
When Sarah (Aisling Franciosi) accuses Brian of sexual assault, Aileen lies, giving him an alibi and herself an anguished conscience. “What initially plays out as a grim social realist portrait of hardscrabble lives in a traditional Irish fishing village, soon segues into a disturbing feminist thriller,” writes David Jenkins at Little White Lies. “All the interlocking plot fragments are so perfectly aligned that the film ends up feeling stifling.” At the Film Verdict, Stephen Dalton grumbles: “Take away the Celtic trimmings and this gloomy slow-burner could almost be a vintage slab of Ibsen or Strindberg.”
But in the Notebook, Leonardo Goi finds that God’s Creatures “echoes its predecessor’s unsettling aura and escalating sense of mystery.” Chayse Irvin’s “widescreen cinematography captures the rural environs in all their belittling, baleful beauty—an apt decision for a tale that draws much of its tension from the omnipresent threats of the elements (tides rising in the blink of an eye, the wind howling, the mist ebbing down the mountains). But God’s Creatures is as fascinated by the vastness of nature as it is by the secrets of the human face, and Davis and Holmer know how to turn a few close-ups into landscapes themselves, holding the camera on Brian, Aileen, and Sarah’s faces long enough to see them soak in the revelations and traumas the film unfurls.”
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