Sometimes we watch stuff that we want to talk just a little bit about, not a full review worth. These are those films. If any of the films reviewed are available on Netflix Instant Watch (US or Canada) or HuluPlus (US only), we’ll note that by putting a direct link below the capsule.
1967 USA. Director: Mike Nichols. Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Anne Bancroft, Katharine Ross.
When it comes to classics of American cinema, I usually find myself as something of a sheep – I tend to adore the majority of the classics, oftentimes chalking my opinions up to the consensus existing for a reason. That is not to say that I have not disliked any classic, but rather that I am more willing to overlook the faults and embrace the sense and mood of the halcyon days. With The Graduate, however, I was decidedly underwhelmed, and mostly disappointed. It is essentially a two-part film, half brilliant, half pathetic. The relationship between Ben (Hoffman) and Mrs. Robinson (Bancroft) is wonderfully executed, with their almost palpable shared desire and intimacy. Their interactions – in particular, their reactions to each other’s ebbs and flows within the scope of the affair – are not only believable, but almost voyeuristically so. And, in general, the filmmaking is quite good. However, as the story ventures into the relationship between Ben and Elaine (Ross), the film loses itself in a haze of poor pacing and inexplicable character actions. The crux of the film, at least for me, is this unexpected romance between Ben and Elaine … a romance that is never really explained or explored, finding itself out of place. As a result, I am left with a wholly unsatisfactory climax and conclusion, left wanting for the promise birthed by what came before.
The Turin Horse
2011 Hungary. Director: Béla Tarr, Ágnes Hranitzky. Starring: János Derzsi, Erika Bók, Mihály Kormos.
Over a blank screen we’re told the famous tale of Nietzsche seeing a horse being beaten in the streets of Turin, running to the horse, and throwing his arms around its neck, weeping – the beginning of a mental breakdown from which he never fully recovered. But what of the horse, asks Béla Tarr, and of its owners? Instead of the heady philosophy or dramatic psychosis you’d expect from a story that begins with Nietzsche, Tarr gives us a mundane, human, and deeply moving glimpse into a very difficult and despairing existence. The man and his daughter depend on the horse for their lives, such as they are – and we see them throughout a week as the horse, stubborn because of illness, gets weaker and weaker and their own hold on existence gets more and more tenuous. You don’t (or shouldn’t) sit down to a Tarr film without knowing what you’re getting into, and this one is nearly two and a half hours long of basically watching these two people do mundane chores over and over in very long takes. When things are so much the same, the differences become enormous, and Tarr maximizes that by varying camera placements, or by using slight changes in demeanor or action to telegraph the changing states of mind and being of these extremely taciturn people. Settling into the film’s rhythm yields an experience that makes mundanity into something transcendent, and by the end, seeing these two simply sitting at their roughhewn table was enough to bring me to the brink of tears. Tarr has said this will be his final film, and if that’s true, it’s a pretty masterful work to go out on.