For Reel

Shadows in Paradise (1986)
August 16, 2017, 3:38 pm
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Director: Aki Kaurismäki
4 Stars
Shadows in Paradise.jpgAki Kaurismäki’s third film plays with the tropes one might expect of an American romantic comedy—a man and a woman, who are both at a dead end in their lives and have seemingly abandoned all hope, find solidarity in each other that quickly becomes romantic. Nikander’s (Matti Pellonpää) affection seems clear from the beginning, if only because Ilona (Kati Outinen) holds his blank stare for half a second longer than most anything else, but she is flummoxed by him when he doesn’t make a move on her as soon as he takes her home. Like the films of Jim Jarmusch, Shadows in Paradise both dwells in working-class existentialism and savors itself in nostalgia—dingy bars, jukeboxes, and cigarettes evoke a noir atmosphere by way of Nordic deadpan tragi-comedy. Amusingly, the film deals with two people who seem to develop a genuine connection, and yet their romantic highpoints are entirely absent from the film. Instead of pleasant first dates, Kaurismäki shows the couple expressionlessly struggling to communicate. The film ends with a cruise sailing off in the distance—in a Hollywood comedy, this would be a romantic image, but in this world, both the cruise and the horizon seem impossibly grey and depressing.

Routine Pleasures (1986)
December 29, 2016, 3:43 pm
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Director: Jean-Pierre Gorin
3.5 Stars
routine-pleasuresOften in Jean-Pierre Gorin’s pastiche American landscape, the filmmaker refers to Manny Farber’s writings on Howard Hawks, which generalized the filmmaker’s action films as, “powerfully interested in the fraternal groups that he sets up, sticking to them with an undemonstrative camera that is always eye level and acute on intimate business, and using stories that have a straight-ahead motion and develop within a short time span.” As is typical in Hawks criticism, Farber championed the sheer functionality of Hawks as a storyteller—if Farber romanticizes the nuances (he is a particular admirer of gestures in a Hawks film), there is a suggestion that the sheer efficiency of his storytelling was not only a satisfying mode of narrative, but decidedly an American device. Gorin’s Routine Pleasures attempts to argue in the same vein about a similarly efficient mode of storytelling, only his involves obsessive, quirky hobbyists who use a warehouse at the Del Mar Fair Grounds in San Diego as the dreamscape wherein they enact train engineering fantasies. Kent Jones’ essay on the film for Criterion reveals that Gorin intended to make a film about the type of person that might have voted for Ronald Reagan, and in the fetishization of preserving a structured moment, the metaphor is compelling. Regardless, however, Gorin never condescends to his subjects—in fact, it is surprising just how enchanted he becomes by the rhythms of the hobby, suggesting that it is manifestation of American mythologizing, or as Gorin puts it, the “conservative imagination.”

Summer (1986)
July 12, 2012, 12:02 am
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Director: Eric Rohmer

Eric Rohmer’s Summer is surely one of the best movies ever made about loneliness. Titled The Green Ray (after Jules Verne’s novel) outside of North America, the picture follows a Parisian secretary who has just gotten out of a relationship and struggles to find someone to spend time with during her vacation month of August. There is not much more to the plot than that – it is a picture of quiet observations and invigorating non-sequiturs, creating a rich portrait of a woman whose isolation is self-inflicted due to her particularity about whom it is that she spends her time with. Early on, she must explain to her well-meaning hosts that she will not eat any meat products, only before declining to accompany them on their boat due to her penchant for seasickness. It is a moment that is both character-building and surprisingly devastating, suggesting what is likely her pattern of being wrongfully interpreted as stand-offish and unpleasant. As much as Rohmer mourns her loneliness, however, he champions her independence – the mysticism associated with Vernes’ titular phenomenon attributes a hopeful note to the otherwise melancholic progression, suggesting that she has not completely resigned herself to her fate. Particular though she may be, she will never grow despondent.