Tuesday, September 15, 2015

New York as Cinema Paradiso writ large

It’s my annual sojourn to the US eastern seaboard and that means regular day trips into New York City. Of course New York is an independent cinema enthusiast’s paradise. There are several well-known and venerable art houses with line ups of films that go well beyond the art house circuits in most North American cities. On Sunday, among other New York activities, I managed to get to a couple of films, one at the IFC Center on Sixth Ave., the other at Cinema Village on E 12th Street.

At an IFC Center 10.40 am screening I caught Alex Ross Perry’s Queen of Earth (pictured) starring Elizabeth Moss and Katherine Waterston. It’s been awhile since I’ve seen a film that dives deep into emotions, trauma, paranoia and fear - especially of women’s psyches - reminiscent of Bergman’s 1966 Persona and other Bergmans, and of Cassavetes’s 1974 A Woman Under the Influence, though Perry says he was influenced by Fassbinder's women-centered pictures. Such is Queen of Earth. Moss as Catherine, after the breakup with her boyfriend, is invited to the summer house of best friend Virginia (Katherine Waterston). Distraught, she has sought a reprieve and delves into her painting in this most bucolic setting. Virginia at one point is reading Phyllis Chesler’s Women and Madness. Catherine has been emotionally brutalized by her lover who has cheated on her. Meanwhile Virginia is having a summer fling with next door neighbour Rich (Patrick Fugit). Catherine and Virginia’s relationship is by turns consoling and confrontational. The source of Catherine’s emotional scarring is mirrored in the almost constant presence of Rich. Cutting and wounding words are exchanged as Catherine spirals down seemingly into the earth itself in this gestalt of psychological stripping. A first class film, and Moss and Waterston are equally impressive.

Later in the day at Cinema Village I caught The Moving Creatures (Caetano Gotardo, 2013), a Brazil-Portuguese film depicting three slices of contemporary family life and indeed mothers’ laments. The first story involves a young man, a bit of a laggard if somewhat whimsical, suspected of a hideous crime. We wouldn’t have known of his alleged behaviour if we hadn’t seen the police knocking on his family’s door. Indeed his mother breaks into a private song that whatever her son’s guilt that wasn’t all he was, and we can understand that. The next story is about a weary confused professional, a recording engineer, who one day has had a lapse in caring for his child. The delight of a nurturing family is shattered, again told by a mother’s song. The third story is more uplifting, about a parent and child reunion many years after the child went missing. The initially tension-filled rendezvous brings events full circle and loving satisfaction, about which the mother, quietly, sings. 

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