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Review: Majority

3.0

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Majority
Photo: FSLC/MoMA

As much a portrait of incipient fascism as it is a tale of young love thwarted, Seren Yüce’s Majority acts as something like a quad erat demonstrandum of the way the Turkish ruling classes perpetuate themselves. Son and heir of an Istanbul construction magnate who has mapped out the young man’s life before the kid’s had a chance to live it, Mertkan’s (Bartu Küçükça&#287layan) reluctance to follow in his father’s footsteps takes on the form of an extremely passive rebellion. Tall, a tad overweight, ill at ease in his body, the young man spends his time getting drunk with friends, driving around aimlessly in the family SUV, and talking about getting laid, only to wind up at home masturbating. Working at his father’s office, he comes in late or not at all, plays solitaire on his computer and shows not the faintest interest in his old man’s business, or really, much of anything at all.

Expertly constricting the twentysomething within the dual confines of fixed camera setups and the tight corridors of his family’s apartment, Yüce makes palpable Mertkan’s discomfort at being fitted to the Procrustean bed of paternal expectations. (Slight relief is provided by the lively Istanbul streets, but even when the young man ventures out, he just as often ends up hemmed in amid a nightclub crowd or his car’s interior.) Subject to casual humiliation at the hands of his occasionally brutish father, Mertkan’s efforts to strike out on his own take the form of an incipient romantic relationship with a Kurdish “gypsy” girl, giving rise to jeers from his friends and ultimately insurmountable paternal disapproval. The word of the father is law here and the lessons the construction magnate offers his son are the height of domineering patriarchal assertion, whether communicated by deed (contemptuously flinging cash at a cab driver to settle a traffic accident) or by word (lecturing Mertkan on the importance of associating with the right kinds of people, i.e. not Kurds who are “trying to divide the country.”)

Against this neo-fascist insistence on ethnic majority male privilege is set the quiet sadness of the film’s women. Although primarily a film about men, Majority lingers tenderly on the circumstances of both Mertkan’s girlfriend Gül (Esme Madra)—eking out a living at a café while ducking a family friend who’s trying to kidnap her back to her hometown—and his mother. That long suffering woman carries her burden without complaint, until finally lamenting her son’s absorption of her husband’s callous ways. “How did I surround myself with these unfeeling men?” she wonders. Caught in between the prerogatives of the two sexes, Mertkan has clearly internalized his old man’s racism/classism, but Yüce is also at pains to show how the youngster is always at least one step out of concert with the representatives of his father’s world, never more effectively demonstrated than in an early mosque-set scene in which Mertkan lags a split second behind the other worshippers in his devotional movements.

Ultimately weak-willed and lazy, Mertkan may lack the power to break the pattern of patriarchal domination, but it’s clear that his father’s offhand brutality doesn’t come natural to him. If the repressed youngster will be brutal, one imagines there will be nothing casual about it, a fact suggested by a starkly ambiguous series of late scenes which propose via juxtaposition two paths the young man might follow. And it’s to his credit that Yüce leaves open one of these routes toward a vaguely graspable redemption, even as he makes clear the violent, desperate assertions of manhood which inevitably result from a steady diet of equal parts humiliation and machismo-fueled indoctrination.

Cast: Bartu Küçükçağlayan, Settar Tanriöğen, Nihal Koldaş, Esme Madra, İlhan Hacifazlioğlu, Cem Zeynel Kiliç, Feridun Koç Director: Seren Yüce Screenwriter: Seren Yüce Running Time: 102 min Rating: NR Year: 2010

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Review: MS Slavic 7 Grapples with the Existential in the Simplest of Ways

In its balance of a wispy narrative and long, quiet episodes of textual close reading, the film feels incomplete in a productive way.

3

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MS Slavic 7
Photo: Lisa Pictures

For a film shot on the intangible medium of digital video, writer-directors Sofia Bohdanowicz and Deragh Campbell’s micro-budget investigative drama MS Slavic 7 is remarkably preoccupied with what its protagonist repeatedly describes as “objecthood,” or the value that archived materials carry beyond their ostensible content. In her repeated trips to a Harvard University library, Audrey (Campbell) obsesses over her deceased great-grandmother’s letters and poems, in which she hopes to find deeper traces of a woman she never knew, such as the nature of her relationship with the male poet with whom she regularly corresponded. However, her painstaking attention to primary sources, which the film dryly dramatizes in real-time passages of reading, photocopying and exegesis, seems as much an archaeological exercise as a literary study—a pursuit analogous to that of a film archivist, who can discern the life cycle of a reel through its permutations of decay.

Can physical materials be separated from their intended utility to tell audiences something about the time and place in which they were made, and especially the affective states under which they were produced? By attaching such concerns to a slim but nonetheless deeply felt narrative, Bohdanowicz and Campbell’s film, which is named after a library call number, ushers these matters out of the realm of the esoteric and into the immediate and personal.

In an ingenious sleight of hand not immediately apparent to the viewer, Audrey is positioned as a stand-in for Bohdanowicz, whose own extended family appears in a series of group gatherings that punctuate Audrey’s solitary research excursions. Shot largely in disembodied close-ups and telephoto long shots, these scenes strike a cold, detached tone that’s nowhere more apparent than in Audrey’s increasingly combative interactions with an aunt (Elizabeth Rucker) who opposes her niece’s research for reasons clearly related to her own stake in the family estate (though which she cloaks in the language of journalistic ethics). These familial tensions are implicit in Audrey’s stoic, seemingly despondent presence, and go some way toward explaining her desire to seek emotional succor in the past.

If Audrey uses her research as a way to assuage her alienation from her family, there are also intimations that her larger social life is also depleted. The few people who Audrey interacts with beyond her callous aunt are either unfriendly, as is the case with the terse librarian (Aaron Danby) who dispassionately recites to her the institution’s rules and regulations, or barely responsive. In one static-camera setup repeated three times over the course of MS Slavic 7’s seemingly compressed chronology, Audrey recaps her findings and reflections to a silent and unseen interlocutor off frame—if there even is one there.

As examples of extended, seemingly off-the-cuff intellectual deliberation, these monologues represent the peak of Campbell’s nuanced performance, yet their content—considerations of Audrey’s Polish heritage, romantic life, and relationship to nature—is obscured somewhat by the filmmaker’s ambiguous staging. Suspicions that Audrey is speaking only to herself are partially resolved in a sudden third-act “twist” that recontextualizes the question of her social life and proposes an alternate dimension to her research, but many questions linger.

In its balance of a wispy narrative and long, quiet episodes of textual close reading reminiscent of the work of Straub-Huillet, MS Slavic 7 feels incomplete in a productive way, giving us just enough of the outline of a young woman’s psychological existence to project the rest into the implied absences in her great-grandmother’s poetry and prose. As Audrey searches for a spiritual bond with her long-dead ancestor, Bohdanowicz and Campbell reflect the commingling of past and present in the aesthetics of the film itself, which has the hard, sharp neutrality of digital photography; the film takes place in sterile hotel rooms and public spaces but also incorporates blasts of baroque organ music (an anachronism it shares with Ricky D’Ambrose’s similarly academic Notes on an Appearance.)

Are the delicacies of Audrey’s research project—in its meticulous emphasis on the artisanal, the implicit, and the unreproducible—somehow antithetical to our modern world? And does that dissonance help explain Audrey’s own sense of being out of step? In a breezy 64 minutes, MS Slavic 7 evokes these existential riddles with just the simplest of means.

Cast: Deragh Campbell, Aaron Danby, Elizabeth Rucker, Mariusz Sibiga Director: Sofia Bohdanowicz, Deragh Campbell Screenwriter: Sofia Bohdanowicz, Deragh Campbell Running Time: 64 min Rating: NR Year: 2019

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Watch: Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood Gets Teaser Trailer

When it rains, it pours.

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Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Photo: Columbia Pictures

When it rains, it pours. Four days after Quentin Tarantino once more laid into John Ford in a piece written for his Beverly Cinema website that saw the filmmaker referring to Ford’s She Wore a Yellow Ribbon as Tie a Yellow Ribbon, and two days after Columbia Pictures released poster art for QT’s ninth feature that wasn’t exactly of the highest order, the studio has released a teaser for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. The film was announced early last year, with Tarantino describing it as “a story that takes place in Los Angeles in 1969, at the height of hippy Hollywood.”

Set on the eve of the Manson family murders, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood tells the story of TV actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) as they try to get involved in the film industry. The film also stars Margot Robbie as actress Sharon Tate, the late Luke Perry, Damian Lewis, Dakota Fanning, Emile Hirsch, Timothy Olyphant, Kurt Russell, and Bruce Dern in a part originally intended for the late Burt Reynolds.

See the teaser below:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Scf8nIJCvs4

Columbia Pictures will release Once Upon a Time in Hollywood on July 26.

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Review: The Load Offers an Oblique Portrait of the Toll of War

Ognjen Glavonic conveys the devastation and numbness that results from atrocity without resorting to exploitation.

3

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The Load
Photo: Grasshopper Film

Were it not for a text crawl identifying the drab, undistinguished setting of Ognjen Glavonic’s The Load as Yugoslavia at the outset of NATO intervention in the Kosovo War, it would be difficult to know where we are. The war is glimpsed only in the margins, heard in the distant rattle of automatic gunfire or seen in flashes of missiles cutting through clouds like heat lightning. Indeed, even the plot is vague and amorphous, though the subject can be easily gleaned by those familiar with Depth Two, Glavonic’s documentary about bodies being transported across Yugoslavia to mass graves during the war.

The film centers on one of the drivers tasked with toting bodies across the country to a waiting grave in Belgrade. Of course, Vlada (Leon Lucev) has no idea what he’s carrying when hired by some suspicious men to drive from Kosovo to Belgrade with strict instructions to not look in the cargo bed. This doesn’t seem to stoke Vlada’s curiosity, though he’s scarcely unique in his aversion to courting trouble. When Vlada pulls over early in his journey to ask a group of men for directions, we see the general attitude of people living under wartime; other people are as circumspect as Vlada, and in general most of them tend to avoid direct eye contact. One gets the sense that this is a nation of people who’ve learned to mind their business at all costs, and even those who tell Vlada the way to Belgrade do so as if trying to say as little as possible.

Only Paja (Pavle Cemerikic), who asks for a ride to Belgrade is remotely personable, though Vlada initially turns him down before reconsidering and giving the young man a ride. Why Vlada does so is a mystery, as he clearly doesn’t desire much companionship, though the silence left between the two makes it all the more striking when the sound of something falling (or moving) can be heard from the truck bed, prompting both men to reflexively glance back at the cargo they cannot see, only to look forward again and drop the matter.

Glavonic favors these long stretches of uncomfortable silence as Vlada trudges across the countryside, only revealing the character’s depths in flashes. He keeps a decrepit, barely functioning lighter for sentimental value and showing his first emotion in the film when he freaks out after someone steals it after he stops his truck in order to call his sick wife. The handheld camera, relatively sedate up to this point in The Load except for the expected wobbles here and there, suddenly moves in animated fashion as it follows Vlada as he chases the thief, often circling around him to catch glimpses of the thief ducking detection.

It’s the film’s sole moment of true action, the one instance where Vlada shows enough emotional investment in something to drop his mask of dispassion. The brief foot chase is a stylistic outlier in a film that otherwise hews closely to the established art-house tropes of contemporary Eastern European cinema. People are ashen and drab, and buildings sport pale mold on dull concrete walls. Chromatically, The Load makes Saving Private Ryan look like The Band Wagon. Yet Glavonic still manages to convey the devastation and numbness that results from atrocity without resorting to exploitation. Trauma is approached obliquely, more a subliminal fact of life than a single psychological rupture to be confronted and mended.

Vlada tries in the end to give some voice to his disgust and horror, dispiritedly comparing this “video game war” to his father’s prouder service in WWII, but it’s Paja who most directly contends with the present-day conflict. Intent on reaching the West, Paja at one point gets a glimpse of the escalating war when he hears a battle in the distance and sees the aerial dancing of tracer rounds fired from anti-aircraft cannons. Though far removed from the action, the young man is overwhelmed by the hopelessness of it all and, confronted with a reminder of the omnipresent carnage rending his country apart, can only collapse into a swing in a children’s playground, immobile from the shock of being unable to outrun his despair.

Cast: Leon Lucev, Pavle Cemerikic, Tamara Krcunovic, Ivan Lucev, Igor Bencina Director: Ognjen Glavonic Screenwriter: Ognjen Glavonic Distributor: Grasshopper Film Running Time: 98 min Rating: NR Year: 2018

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