★★ / ★★★★
“Requiem” was based on the real-life story more commercially covered in “The Exorcism of Emily Rose.” Michaela (Sandra Hüller) had been plagued by chronic seizures ever since childhood but the picture instantly suggested there was something far worse happening to her. So when she was finally accepted to attend the university, her parents (Imogen Kogge, Burghart Klaußner), especially her mother, did not want her to leave home. In college, at first things were fine despite her occasional–and natural–loneliness quickly remedied by a nice boy (Nicholas Reinke) and a classmate from high school (Anna Blomeier). But as the year pressed on, she slowly lost control of her body to the point where she was unable to reach religious symbols or even pray. After I saw this movie, I did not like it because I expected a more obvious approach in telling a story about a possessed girl that lead up to an exorcism. In other words, I expected a horror film. However, when I separate my expectations from what the film had to offer, the more I thought about it, the more I enjoyed it because it tried to stray from the obvious. I loved the fact that her condition was not an obvious demonic possession. I can even argue that she wasn’t possessed at all. From her symptoms, I can argue that she had schizophrenia because of the paranoia and imaginary visions and sounds. Then I turned to her very sheltered environment–how she was raised and the sexual repression she endured over the years. But then the movie commented on how we could easily turn to science for an explanation of things that we couldn’t fully understand. It added one layer of complexity after another while remaining true to its naturalistic also documentary-like style. Her progression from a normal girl to someone who reached a mental break was subtle and frightening in its own way. However, I thought the film needed more work on delivering more consistent payoffs. The first half relied heavily on setting up the background with small rewards dispersed few and far between. It would have been more terrifying if the camera allowed us to see through Michaela’s eyes and seeing the things she saw or hearing the voices she heard. By having more scenes that actively blurred the line between the real and the supernatural, the project would have been more frightening. Written by Barnd Lange and directed by Hans-Christian Schmid, “Requiem” was an interesting psychological drama with a lot of promise. It did not completely work for me because the first half was somewhat difficult to sit through but once it started picking up in the second half, my eyes were transfixed on the screen.
★ / ★★★★
Five groups of people were the focus of “Gomorra” (or “Gomorrah”), directed by Matteo Garrone, and, unfortunately, none of them worked. I expected a lot from this movie because I assumed that since it was over two hours long, it would really have a chance to explore the psychologies and motivations of the characters. Not to mention it received glowing reviews from critics and audiences alike. I should have known to lower my expectations because I just don’t have good experiences with movies that show people being involved or growing up in a life of crime (like the overrated “City of God”–a decent movie but overrated nonetheless). With such movies, I feel like internal exploration is often sacrificed for grittiness, griminess and melodrama when instead all of those elements should be working together to make a trascendent, if not moving, picture. Come to think of it, I don’t even remember the names of the characters in this movie because I was just so uninterested with was happening on screen. In my opinion, the characters got what they deserved in the end (whatever they may be) because throughout the movie’s running time, they often thrusted themselves in unnecessarily dangerous situations. I read one critic mention that these people do not have a choice in being involved with the life of crime. I completely disagree. We have a choice to not dump toxic waste in illegal areas which pose a threat to the health of others; we have a choice to not put a gun on someone else’s ahead and pressing the trigger; we have a choice to not be chained to the bad reputations of our neighborhoods and strive for something more in life. I know this because I know how it’s like to grow up in a poor neighborhood. Another element that really bothered me was that the disparate stories never really aligned. More than halfway through, I constantly wondered where the story was going or if it was even planning on going anywhere. I feel like the picture had some sort of a thesis deep inside its walls but it was never really tackled head-on until those notes appeared prior to the credits. This was definitely a different movie-going experience and I would have liked it a lot more if it had flowed better. I’m not saying that it should have conformed to the Hollywood standards. In fact, I would have disliked it just as much if it did. But a chaotic storytelling that confuses its audiences and not letting them in is not a trait of a good film. There were some glimmer of potential here and there (and that’s pushing it) but those weren’t enough to draw me in and keep me interested. To be honest, I felt like watching it was a waste of my two hours.
Kings & Queen (2004)
★★★ / ★★★★
“Rois et reine” or “Kings and Queen” tells the story of a man and a woman who were going through their own problems in life. Initially, the two camps seemed to be unconnected because of their predominantly disparate tones–one comedic and one tragic. Nora (Emmanuelle Devos), who lives with her third husband-to-be, visited her son Elias (Valentin Lelong) and father (Maurice Garrel). After Nora’s father confessed to her that he has been having some stomach problems, she took him to the hospital and found out that he was terminally ill. This caused a great interruption on the life she desperately wanted to believe was going great because she now had to deal with where to put her son because he and the third husband do not get along. She also had to deal with her sister who only used their father for money and what the father really thought of Nora. On the other hand, Ismael (Mathieu Amalric) was sent back to the mental hospital against his will. In there, he found amusing ways to cope such as finding romance and discussing his psychology with a psychiatrist. Although this film was about a many things at once, it impressed me because in a span of about two hours and thirty minutes, it was able to balance comedy and drama throughout. What’s more impressive was Arnaud Desplechin’s, the director, ability to cut to one genre to another when things began to feel suffocating. So, in a way, it worked as two different but good films but the connections that the two had made it that much more enjoyable. Just when I thought everything was going to wrap up in a neat little package when Devos and Amalric finally had a scene together, more problems began to appear because two had a history. Many questions were then brought up such as when one’s responsibility should end when a relationship has been mutually agreed upon as over, whether the mother is doing the right thing by indirectly choosing her third husband over her only child, and the pros and cons of keeping a certain knowledge a secret when the burden is too much to bear. There was a certain organic feel in the film which made me believe that the events portrayed could have happened in real life. I thought one of the strongest scenes in the movie was its ending–the conversation between Amalric and Lelong–because it remained true to itself: with every negative comes a positive (and vice-versa). “Rois et reine” is the perfect film for those who love character studies of individuals who have many imperfections but still have certain reedeming qualities.