Phoenix (Christian Petzold, 2015)
The biggest tragedy within Phoenix, which deals with a central woman Nelly, who just got out of experiencing the most horiffic tragedy of modern times (The Holocaust), is the nonchalance Nelly’s friends, former acquaintances, and most noteably, her fiance express in the aftermath of the Holocaust. It is dealt in the manner of a ‘skeleton-in-the-closet’ rather than an expression of sincere and devestating grief. Nelly comes back to see her husband, who believes she died in the camps, and her starvation and abusive experience has changed her appearance to the point of not being recognizeable to him (a phoenix, risen from the ashes). What is most hurtful is that he is hatching a plan to get all of her money and uses her (not knowing its his wife, but just a stray homeless woman). The façade here is ironic because it is he, in the end, who is being played. But Petzold’s film isn’t some twisty thriller drama, it is paced, its languid, and it treats its characters such that they would act in real time. Nelly has many opportunities to tell her husband that the woman he mistakes for a stranger is really her, but as she ventures down his rabbit hole, she realizes that the Holocaust has hidden something dark within her, but also exposed the darkness and sheer lack of sympathy amongst her friends. They talk in elitist stilted speech, drinking expensive wine, and when they meet her at the station for the first time since she was taken away, they greet her with the most underwhelming concern… the kind you’d express if one of your friends had a bad break-up, not the kind if they had just nearly escaped a ruthless genocide. Phoenix tells a genuinely sad but ultimately satisfying tale of the different faces we wear, but its greatest achievement is the searing criticism of those distanced from the Holocaust because of their status, race, religion, and national allegiance. It is a reminder of how those of us in our glass castles, protected from the horrors of the world can be so far removed as to be numb to even the greatest of evils.
As We Were Dreaming (Andreas Dresen, 2015)
There is nothing here worth noting in terms of historical significance. The movie takes place just after the destruction of the Berlin Wall, but the reckless youth in this film could honestly be from any European country. Instead, As We Were Dreaming forgoes any sense of connection with its very fertile time-period and place for just a teen angst drama in which a bunch of juveniles get into more trouble than they can handle. We have seen this many times before, but these characters are boring, they curse, they drink, they run around beating people up, but it never amounts to anything. There’s no sense of shock the way Harmony Korine dredged up in Kids, or the care to create eternally compelling characters as in Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting, or any effort to draw socio-political undertones like Matthieu Kassovitz’s La Haine. This movie aims at nothing and still misses.
The Wolfpack (Crystal Moselle, 2015)
I love movies about people who love movies, and The Wolfpack is the latest ode to filmmaking to really come in a very affecting package. The Angulo Brothers, a group of youths who since birth have been fed and raised in the cultist Hare Krishna movement of which their father is a leading follower have been basically locked away from human society for their entire existence. Their lives within a small NYC appartment is filled with nothing but beige walls, dirty carpets, and an incredibly diverse and extraordinary collection of movies. Many filmmakers and critics say that film is their life, but for the Angulo Brothers, it is associated this way in a very literal sense. It is the only thing which connects them to any semblance of an existence. Crystal Moselle’s expose on their lives may be viewed by some as intrusionist and by others as crass exploitation, but in reality, the emotions and passions that these brothers express on camera for movies and for the hope of rejoining society, falling in love, and being able to join the world again, is very genuine and it is filtered through the emotions of film characters. As Govinda, the oldest son, stands in a Batman costume, looking from his bedroom window, his cage, his prison, out into the New York streets he associates Bruce Wayne’s fear of bats and obsessions with avenging his parents death to his own fear of society and one day, avenging the seclusion and abusive totalitarianism his father’s beliefs had in the near death of Govinda’s own life. For many of us, cinema is the greatest thing, but for The Wolfpack cinema, in many respects, is the only thing.
Cop Car (John Watts, 2015)
In the tradition of movies which have a title that is literally the whole plot of the movie, a la Snakes on a Plane and Hot Tub Time Machine, here we have a Kevin Bacon thriller, Cop Car, which is not a comedy, or even an intentionally cheesy display of action thrills, but rather, a darkly fun, genuinely genre-inspired, low budget and high guts thriller which expresses itself in the true sense of independent cinema:
A car, a couple kids, a couple guns, and a cop who’s got a bad attitude. You do the math.