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Noir-cember? 2015: Stakeout on Dope Street

Posted by martinteller on December 12, 2015

An arrest gets ambushed by thugs, leaving the suspect dead, one cop dead and another cop in intensive care. And also, lying in nearby weeds, a briefcase containing two pounds of uncut heroin. The case ends up in the hands of three kids: would-be boxer Nick (Steven Marlo), aspiring artist Jim (Yale Wexler) and all-around goofball Ves (Jonathan Haze). When the youngsters realize what they’ve got, they imagine it to be their ticket to wealth. But how to profit from their treasure when both the cops and the criminals are hunting for the stuff? Enter Nick’s co-worker Danny (Allen Kramer), a two-bit junkie who knows how to move the dope.

This is one of the movies I didn’t get around to watching for Noir-vember, but better late than never. Because it’s surprisingly good. I don’t want to get too effusive with my praise (when digging through lesser-known noirs, you’re thrilled to find one that ranks above mediocre), so I’ll start off by saying it’s far from a masterpiece. Let’s start with the premise. Comedian John Mulaney has a hilarious bit about how cops in the old movies are shockingly lax about their detective work. Here we have a briefcase sitting within throwing distance of a major crime scene — a scene where a policeman was murdered — and apparently not one cop sees it, or if they do, they don’t bother to check it out. Even for 1958, that’s pretty hard to swallow. The performances aren’t great, and each of the three actors playing “kids” is around 30 years old and they look it (the characters’ ages are never explicitly mentioned, but they’re clearly supposed to be teenagers… 20 at the most). And the moralistic messages of the story can be rather ham-fisted.

But it’s got a lot going for it. The dialogue is well-polished, with a lot of contemporary lingo and snappy lines. Some of it is actually kind of laughable but that’s part of the fun. The cinematography is by the great Haskell Wexler (working under a pseudonym because it was a non-union picture), working on one of his first films. Right from the opening, with its grimy alleyways and low angles, it’s a very nicely shot picture. Some of the scenes are a little flat, but for the most part it’s got a lot of style. In the editing as well, such as a late scene that makes sudden cuts between vicious beatings and the violent rhythms of bowling balls and pinballs. The music — by the “Hollywood Chamber Jazz Group” — is really fantastic, too. A lot of driving jive with insistent high-hat and standup bass, sometimes venturing from cool jazz into the realm of the avant-garde.

Also remarkable is a 7-minute sequence narrated by Allen Kramer (the only performance in the film that rises above average) as Danny tells Jim about what it’s like to be on heroin… and more importantly, what it’s like to try to kick the habit. While The Man With the Golden Arm had been released a few years earlier, this still feels remarkably honest and realistic for its time. Few films were addressing drug use in such detailed terms, especially without seeming like a square’s idea of it. It’s a gripping sequence with dramatic camerawork, bold not only for its style but also for daring to take us out of the immediate narrative for such a long period. Others may find it a distraction, or heavy-handed scare tactics, but I was impressed with the nerve of it.

The movie covers a lot of noir territory, all of it competently. The finger of fate intervening and tempting the innocent to crime. The frustrated desires of the lower/middle class to stand out and make it big. The relentlessness of the corrupt. Desperation, moral ambiguity, being trapped, feeling unable to rely on the usual authority figures. The film isn’t especially grim, but it does have darkness in it. It’s definitely noir.

None of the actors in this movie went on to greatness, or anything of much note. However, it was the first feature film by Irvin Kershner, who would later make a name for himself directing another movie about three reckless kids flirting with danger: The Empire Strikes Back. Rating: Very Good (84)

IMDb

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Pather Panchali (rewatch)

Posted by martinteller on December 5, 2015

I have been waiting for this for a decade. I first saw this movie 12 years ago, and was instantly won over, despite the wretched print that was available. It was my intro to Satyajit Ray, and I rapidly absorbed as much of his work as I could (I have now seen everything he ever directed, and he’s tied with Bergman as my favorite director). I watched the film again a couple of years later. It still held its incredible power, even when seen in such shabby condition. But there was word of a massive restoration being done on “The Apu Trilogy”, and that Criterion would eventually release it. So I held my breath. I told myself I wasn’t going to watch it again until I could see it in its restored glory. I passed up an opportunity to see it on the big screen — a decision I regret — but I knew it was coming to Blu-Ray.

And at last, it is here. And yes, it looks astonishing. Working from damaged source materials, there are still spots that are rough, but it’s a massive improvement over the muddy, battered, poorly-subtitled version I first saw. Ray’s poetic artistry — all the more impressive for being his first film — shines in this presentation, highlighting all those little things he wants to observe. The wave of the tall grass, the start of a rainstorm, the skin of a guava, the play of kittens.

But more than natural delights, Ray observes people. People going about the business of being human. Jealousies and suspicions among neighbors. The antics of child siblings… sometimes playful, sometimes bitter. A mother trying to motivate her naive dreamer of a husband. Or a husband who has naive dreams of writing for a living. Past glories, future hopes, daily struggles and whimsical diversions. Ray at his best takes all of life and puts it on his canvas, unadorned. Polished, perhaps, with a veneer of kindness, understanding and empathy. Satyajit Ray makes you love his characters so deeply, it’s almost magical. There is no guiding conflict driving the narrative foward. There isn’t a problem to be solved in a thrilling climax. It’s just spending time with people and seeing what makes human beings so endearing.

It is called “The Apu Trilogy” but that’s a misleading label. If the story of Pather Panchali is about anyone, it’s about Durga (wonderful performances at different ages by Runki Banerjee and Uma Das Gupta). She’s not a special little girl. She isn’t gifted with exceptional intelligence or a unique talent. She doesn’t spew witty dialogue, in fact she doesn’t even have all that many lines. She’s just an ordinary child. But you can feel everything she’s going through, her triumphs and joys and her disappointments and shames. You can feel her love for “Auntie” Indir, her protectiveness of Apu, her resentment towards her mother (who is perpetually stuck in the role of being the stern parent, while the father — when he’s actually around — always gets to be the nice guy). You don’t realize how close you feel to Durga until late in the film. Because even in his bluntest moments (like the mother talking about how she, too, once had dreams) Ray has a gentle touch, one that warmly invites you to stand with him and observe.

And oh man, I haven’t even mentioned Ravi Shankar’s amazing score. So good. Really looking forward to revisiting the other two films. It’s been far too long. Rating: Masterpiece (98)

IMDb

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We Are the Best!

Posted by martinteller on November 30, 2015

Bobo (Mira Barkhammar) and Klara (Mira Grosin) don’t fit in with the other 7th graders. Their rebellious attitude and love of punk music makes them outcasts… and they don’t care. They pretend to have a band just to wrest control of the youth center rehearsal room from an annoying rock group. But their prankish whim turns into a hobby. And when they recruit Hedvig (Liv LeMoyne), a reserved Christian, to play guitar, it becomes something more.

I promised myself I wasn’t going to draw a bunch of comparisons to Linda Linda Linda. That’s one of my top 5 movies, it just wouldn’t be fair. Both films are about school-aged girls in an amateur band, and both also use that framework to facilitate an exploration of youth and youth culture in general. But there’s no need to go pointing out parallels or contrasts. Let’s discuss Lukas Moodysson’s movie on its own terms.

The film employs Moodysson’s usual handheld technique to its usual effectiveness. There is a realism and honesty here that grounds the generally light-hearted proceedings. The drama is never overblown, and for the most part these feel like genuine kids dealing with genuine problems. The lengthy subplot about Bobo and Klara competing for a boy’s attention felt a little contrived (and familiar) and it was by far my least favorite section of the film… but I can’t say any of the interactions came off as particularly phony.

The actual business of being in a band takes a backseat to the story of three girls trying to carve out identities for themselves. Punk music is the perfect milieu for them, it embodies an outlook that rejects everything you’ve been told by adults. Punk can be childish and adolescent, but what is more fitting for children on the verge of adolescence? The attitude can make them unlikable — Klara especially — but I appreciate that Moodysson isn’t afraid to let kids make the mistakes that kids frequently make. Klara’s snotty confrontation of Hedvig’s religious beliefs makes you cringe a little bit, but you have to accept that youths are going to try on different personas and attitudes, and that punk youths especially are going to be kinda shitty about it.

The soundtrack is entirely Swedish punk music. I was afraid it might be a parade of the usual suspects — Sex Pistols, Clash, Buzzcocks, Dead Kennedys. Instead it was all bands completely unfamiliar to me, but I assume would be known to any Swedish punk fans circa 1982. It wasn’t especially good punk, but it was refreshing nonetheless. I also liked the reference to the documentary A Respectable Life.

In all, it was a pleasant film about three interesting kids who are determined to live on their own terms. I would have liked less of the love triangle, and a little more about Hedvig, but overall it’s pretty enjoyable. And in its own punky way, sweet. Rating: Good (75)

IMDb

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Noir-vember 2015: Revolt in the Big House

Posted by martinteller on November 14, 2015

They’ve finally managed to make a charge stick against big-time baddie Lou Gannon (Gene Evans), and he’s sent up to the pen for 20 years. But he doesn’t intend to stay there long. He teams up with the reigning bully in the prison yard, Ed “Bugsy” Kyle (Timothy Carey) and they start smuggling in gun parts. But when one of their crew gets a bad case of nerves, they look for a replacement. Enter Lou’s cellmate, Rudy Hernandez (Robert Blake), a naive kid who unwillingly drove the getaway car during a liquor store robbery. Rudy’s got a good chance of getting out in three years… until Lou hatches a plot involving Capt. Starkey (Walter Barnes), the racist head guard. A plot that makes Rudy a little more angry, and a little more desperate.

You may have already guessed why I wanted to see this picture. I’m a big fan of Tim Carey, who never fails to command the screen with his huge, often bizarre, performances. Here he’s once again pulling focus every chance he gets, all lunatic sneers and Brando mumbles. There’s just no holding this guy down, and my biggest complaint is that there’s not enough of him in the movie. Blake playing a Hispanic character may raise an eyebrow or two, but he does it with admirable sensitivity and restraint… a slight accent, not cartoonish enough to be truly offensive. As for Evans, he’s fine but didn’t do a lot for me. He’s good enough for a secondary role, but doesn’t have the stuff for a lead.

The film is routine jailbreak stuff, nothing you haven’t seen in earlier, better pictures like CrashoutBrute Force or Riot in Cell Block 11. But the familiar can still be enjoyable, and neither the script nor the direction (R.G. Springsteen, primarily a Western director) falters in any major way. And the film pulls off a neat trick with its bookend scenes. The widescreen cinematography is fine, although the sets definitely look pretty cheap.

Unlikely to top anyone’s list of great prison movies, but an all-around decent flick and an enjoyable way to kill 80 minutes. Rating: Good (75)

IMDb

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Noir-vember 2015: No Man’s Woman

Posted by martinteller on November 12, 2015

Carolyn Grant (Marie Windsor) owns an art gallery. A lot of people would like to see her dead. First there’s her husband Harlow (John Archer). They’ve been separated for two years, but Carolyn won’t grant him a divorce unless he pays an exorbitant settlement. Then there’s Louise (Nancy Gates), the woman Harlow wants to marry, and Harlow’s father (Douglas Wood), who can’t stand to see his son’s happiness being held captive. Not to mention Carolyn’s assistant Betty Allen (Jil Jarmyn) and her beau Dick Sawyer (Richard Crane), who have been torn apart by Carolyn’s eff0rts to seduce Dick. And don’t forget Wayne Vincent (Patric Knowles), the art critic who she’s been dating, but only to use him for the free publicity. Yeah, a lot of people would like to see Carolyn Grant dead. So who killed her?

I guess you can call that a spoiler, since the murder happens more than halfway through the 69-minute film. But it’s given away by the few other reviews on the internet and pretty much by the film’s own poster. Besides, once the killing occurs, you could probably shut the movie off. All the best stuff is Windsor being awful and manipulative. It’s similar to (but not as fantastic as) her role in The Killing, a real snake of a woman. As a Marie Windsor fan, I lapped it up.

Unfortunately, after that it becomes a ho-hum whodunit, with Archer taking on the role of detective… doing the work that you’d think the cops would be doing, but they seem content to let him do all the footwork. The answer to the mystery is neither satisfying nor unsatisfying. It just is what it is, and who cares because the one great character is gone. None of the technical aspects are worth mentioning, and for noir atmosphere there’s not much to chew on. Almost every scene takes place in bright sunshine or a well-lit interior. There’s some good dialogue, but it dries up once Carolyn is out of the picture. Rating: Fair (62)

IMDb

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Noir-vember 2015: The Face Behind the Mask

Posted by martinteller on November 10, 2015

Janos Szabo (Peter Lorre) is a wide-eyed Hungarian watchmaker newly arrived in New York City. He’s full of dreams, hoping to earn enough to bring over his fianceé. On his first day, things are already looking bright. He makes a friend, police detective Jim O’Hara (Don Beddoe). He finds a reasonable place to live, a resident hotel. And he gets a job, washing dishes in the hotel cafe. But that night, a fire rages, and Janos’s face is horribly disfigured. No one will look at him or talk to him, much less give him a job. At his most destitute, he meets the genial Dinky (George E. Stone), a two-bit chiseler. Dinky coaxes him into a life of crime, and armed with his mechanical skills and a prosthetic mask, “Johnny” becomes rich. Rich and hardened. But then he meets Helen (Evelyn Keyes), a girl who sees the real Janos… despite her blindness.

I’m giving this a “good” rating, but it’s on the edge of meh. This is an early noir, coming right between two important Peter Lorre pictures: Stranger on the Third Floor (considered by many to be the first noir) and The Maltese Falcon (generally regarded as the first “major” noir, and undeniably a landmark of the genre). This one isn’t nearly as impressive or memorable as either, but it’s elevated by Lorre’s performance. He can play ruthless with a chilling edge and he can play earnest with endearing charm, and here he gets to do both. He’s fully engaging as both the naive, lovable Janos and the cold, quick-tempered Johnny.

The movie runs a lean 68 minutes. I probably gave away too much of the plot, but that’s what happens when you don’t introduce the leading lady until halfway through the film. The story doesn’t pack many surprises, but it is abnormally bleak for the time. The ending is really dour, although a couple of the details are pretty contrived or farfetched. It just felt like something was missing from this film. The performances are all fine (I especially liked Stone) and the cinematography is fine. I think it just needed a bit more fleshing out to be effective. More development of the Keyes character and her relationship with Janos. Less suddenness in the ups and downs of the story.

For a 1941 film, this is an unusually cynical look at the promise of the “American Dream”, and fans of Lorre will find much to enjoy. It just doesn’t quite come together. The script needs work. Rating: Good (71)

IMDb

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Noir-vember 2015: Larceny

Posted by martinteller on November 8, 2015

A pack of con artists, led by Silky Randall (Dan Duryea), has a new fix in mind. Silky wants to fleece Deb Clark (Joan Caulfield), a wealthy Californian war widow, into sinking a bunch of money into a war memorial… a youth center that will never actually be built. He sends his man Rick (John Payne) to win her over. But Silky has a weakness: his girl Tory (Shelley Winters). Rick’s been seeing Tory on the sly, and Silky’s suspicions are raised. He plans to send Tory to Havana while Rick’s putting in the fix in Mission City. But Tory’s got a mind of her own, and threatens to gum up the works for everyone.

My viewing habits have changed lately, to put it mildly. Movies are no longer the priority they once were for me, and what was once a 40-to-50 per month habit has trickled down to 2 or 3. But I couldn’t let a November pass without trying to squeeze in a few noirs. It just wouldn’t feel right.

This one, directed by George Sherman, was a random pick from my watchlist. I had no idea what to expect, but what I got was a solid genre piece. The opening scene tries to establish our con men as masters of their craft, but it’s unconvincing. The way they try to keep their mark from running to the cops doesn’t hold much water. Beyond that first stumble, however, I have no major complaints. Caulfield is bland, but that’s to be expected from the good girl role. Although one would hope for more Duryea, he’s in good form during relatively brief screen time. One doesn’t often see him in the boss role, but I like how he handles it, with an edgy caution.

The best scenes, however, are those between Payne and Winters. There’s something about Shelley Winters in a noir that pushes all the right buttons. Her hard-boiled delivery of the script’s best line is the star of the show. Payne doesn’t match her intensity (nor should he try), but he helps keep things moving, fielding her zingers with a hardened weariness. And while Payne isn’t the first person you’d think of when you try to imagine a ladykiller (every gal he comes near seems to fall for him), he sells it well enough to make it believable.

Common noir themes are present and accounted for: postwar cynicism, the corrupt taking advantage of the well-meaning, honor (and lack thereof) among thieves. Like I said, it’s a solid entry in the genre. It could use bolder cinematography, better music and a few more interesting angles to really shine, but the script is good and it’s worth watching for Winters alone. Good fun. Rating: Good (77)

IMDb

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Across 110th Street

Posted by martinteller on October 31, 2015

Three hoods have a plan. Ringleader Jim Harris (Paul Benjamin), an ex-con with no prospects and a bad case of epilepsy, recruits sidekick Joe Logart (Ed Bernard) and freewheeling wheelman Henry Jackson (Antonio Fargas) to steal $300,000 from the mob. But things go awry (don’t they always?) and they leave 7 bodies in their wake, including two police officers. Now they’re wanted by the mob — led by the boss’s son-in-law, Nick (Anthony Franciosa) — and the cops, especially aging Capt. Mitelli (Anthony Quinn) and the up-and-coming Lt. Pope (Yaphet Kotto).

An appropriate film to watch on the eve of Noir-vember. Barry Shear’s blaxploitation cop drama is drenched in noir style, and noir cynicism. There are corrupt cops and virtuous cops and cops just walking a beat. There are criminals from the desperate to the kingpin. There are the innocent bystanders and long-suffering wives and lovers, collateral damage in the urban struggle for dominance, status, control. And goddamn if Franciosa isn’t channeling Burt Lancaster.

I’m just gonna namedrop a bunch of movie titles here, because that’s often how I process films. First there’s the parade of recognizable faces. Benjamin’s is unforgettable and I instantly thought “Hey, it’s ML from Do the Right Thing!”.  Fargas as well has a distinctive face, I probably know him best from I’m Gonna Get You Sucka. There’s Burt Young from the Rocky franchise in a very small role, and Charles McGregor from Blazing Saddles. A couple others I recognized too. And there’s Quinn, whose simmering brutality recalls La Strada, and Kotto, flashing forward to Agent Mosely in Midnight Run.

Various other movies came to mind while watching. The racial politics of In the Heat of the Night and No Way Out (the Poitier/Widmark one, not the Costner one). The central scenario — cops and criminals on the same manhunt — is vaguely reminiscent of M. Criminals hiding out of course brings to mind any number of noirs, but in particular I thought of The Burglar when Jim is talking about his tropical dreams. Benjamin’s performance at the end made me think of Jack Palance in Panic in the Streets. But enough of that. In the end, Across 110th Street is its own movie and just listing other movies do not a review make.

A lot of the thematic content is familiar territory, and to some degree the film traffics in well-worn clichés. But not in an overly tiresome manner. While I wouldn’t say it feels fresh, it does feel real. Characters are given more depth than you might expect. Some of them are mere archetypes and stereotypes, but others are given a little more meat on their bones. Pope’s struggle to be taken seriously as a cop, paralleled nicely by Nick’s struggle to be taken seriously as a gangster. Mitelli faced with being nudged into retirement. Harris battling his affliction as well as his bitterness about a society that has no place for him. Which one makes his lip tremble so? Probably both.

In 1992, a CD came out called Pimps, Players and Private Eyes. At that point in my life I’d never seen a blaxploitation film, but as a fan of soul & funk (especially Curtis Mayfield) I picked it up. The compilation leads off with one of its best and most memorable songs, Bobby Womack’s “Across 110th Street”. It’s a passionate, anthemic tune that kicks off the movie. None of the other music in the film lives up to it, but it’s pretty decent. Likewise, cinematographer Jack Priestly pulls off some good shots… and a few great ones, especially when emphasizing power relationships.

Ultimately, I wasn’t enthralled by the movie. Perhaps a bit too nihilistic for my tastes, without much of a point of view beyond “everything is terrible”. Which is a very noir sentiment, but this is a shade more depressing than the cynicism of noir. Maybe the execution needs a little more panache, a solid hook, or some sparkling dialogue. But it’s a solid watch, and one of the better examples of the blaxploitation genre that I’ve seen. Rating: Very Good (80)

IMDb

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Spirited Away (rewatch)

Posted by martinteller on October 3, 2015

I didn’t buy the Blu-Ray editions of Princess Mononoke or Kiki’s Delivery Service because they don’t include literal translations of the original Japanese dialogue.  They have the Japanese soundtrack as an option, but the only subtitles are for Disney’s English dub, which I find very irritating.  Hopefully one day they’ll get it right.  However, for this movie, a more faithful translation was included.  Nonetheless, I started watching it (my first viewing in 12 years) with the English dub.  Many anime fans find this an acceptable — even preferable — practice, arguing that 1) it allows you to concentrate more on the visuals and 2) technically, the original dialogue is a dub, too.  But after 15 minutes, it just didn’t feel right.  I had to switch to the Japanese audio and translation.  I want to have an experience as close to the original as I can attain, and I find many of Disney’s choices questionable, even damaging.  I watched a featurette about the dubbing process afterwards, and there was a moment near the end where they make Chihiro say to Haku: “I knew you were good!”.  That’s such an un-Miyazaki line.  He never boils the world down to “good” and “evil”.  It’s one of the things I love about his work.  But of course Disney has to dumb everything down.  Sigh.

Having made that decision, I was able to enjoy the film properly.  Usually when we say something along the lines of “it feels like they were making it up as they along”, it’s meant as a negative.  It implies the writer is lazy and just throwing stuff out there to see what sticks.  Spirited Away feels like it’s being made up as it goes along.  The rules of this universe come off as arbitrary or spontaneous.  You could even say certain elements are “weird for the sake of being weird”.  But it still works.  It still enchants.  Because like the Japanese offspring of The Wizard of Oz and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (both of which seem like clear inspirations) the story remains grounded through its little girl protagonist.  The challenge Chihiro faces is understanding how this society functions or what different beings are capable of, but it’s also a question of maintaining her basic humanity in this environment.  It’s her compassion and decency that allows her to persevere, and keeps her in the heart of the viewer.

The animation, of course, is breathtaking.  Miyazaki’s fanciful imagination is brought to life exquisitely, with each supernatural element behaving just as you would expect it to.  The amount of detail is stunning, and the orchestrated movements must have taken staggering work to plan and execute.  And Joe Hisaishi’s score is gorgeous, bringing a sweet melancholy that is absolutely appropriate.  The emotional moments connect, and when Chihiro cries in despair, it’s genuinely touching.  For all the bizarre randomness of the proceedings, Spirited Away holds your attention because of this realistic character and her capacity for kindness.  Rating: Great (91)

IMDb

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Deux jours, une nuit (Two Days, One Night)

Posted by martinteller on September 17, 2015

This movie had extra relevance to me.  I was laid off from my job last month.  It came at a particularly bad time.  After I got the call, I wept.  It’s actually the third job in a row that I’ve been laid off from (over a span of 15 years, so not too tragic), not through any apparent fault of my own.  It’s because business is down, or because some larger corporation took over and made changes.  You know how it is… “it isn’t you, it’s us”.  It’s impersonal.  The Dardennes have put their protagonist in a more personal scenario (one that frankly seems a bit unlikely, but who knows how they do things in Belgium).

In my last job, I couldn’t have gone around to my fellow employees and asked them to give up their bonuses to save my job.  I worked remotely, from home.  Most of them I never met.  The ones I worked closest with never saw me face-to-face.  Why should they care about me?  And unlike Sandra (Marion Cotillard, who is spot-on perfect), my welfare wasn’t really at stake.  I made good money and would surely find a decent job before long (which I did), and my wife makes good money… we wouldn’t suffer.

Likewise, if the shoe was on the other foot, I can easily say I’d vote for Sandra.  But what if my family was struggling?  What if that bonus made a huge difference in our well-being?  Things are rarely so cut-and-dry in the Dardennesiverse.  Ethical questions have many facets, and as always, the brothers do a thorough job of exploring them from every angle.  The film’s structure — a series of conversations/confrontations with Sandra’s co-workers — help to ensure that.

I’ve realized I often have a soft spot for directors who work in a distinctive idiom and/or milieu. Ming-liang Tsai, Aki Kaurismaki, and Wes Anderson come to mind.  The Dardennes and their moral dilemmas are appealing to me, as is their no-frills style.  The performances they elicit are particularly honest, and the characters are rarely simple sketches.  And then there’s the focus on the working class.  While watching this, I thought of Woody Allen.  Because one of the things that puts me off about Allen’s movies even the ones I like) is that he so often focuses on highly-paid professionals, or artists & academics who are (often inexplicably) wealthy.  The realities of needing to work to survive seem to be completely alien to him, and irrelevant to his stories.  The blue collar world of the Dardennes is much more grounded and relatable… even though my own salary puts me in the upper-middle class.  Their stories feel far more worthwhile, and certainly more enlightening about the human spirit.

There is a Big Moment in the third act of the film.  It’s jarringly out of place, and although it doesn’t really do any harm, it definitely doesn’t help anything.  It’s just completely unnecessary and I was stunned that the Dardennes would go there.  And then it’s followed up by a minor character making a Huge Life Decision, which only compounds the problem.  If it wasn’t for this issue (and the mildly implausible premise), this film might be up there with their best work.  Instead, I rank it as one of their weakest, only above Lorna’s Silence.  But for these guys, that’s not saying much.  It’s still a riveting film, with excellent performances and a great ending.  Rating: Very Good (84)

IMDb

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