Words: Rob DeStefano

Nightcrawler (2014)

Nightcrawler (2014)

All American High Revisited
Film is a perfect weapon for studying time, the trivial actions of a day or the progression over decades. Boyhood framed this into a beautiful fantasy, but documentaries have long been fascinated with this. All American High Revisited is actually two movies. The first, a cinema-verite observation of High School. We enter into the Fall of 1984 through our conduit, Rikki, a Finnish exchange student. Director Keva Rosenfeld and his camera listened in on class discussions, attended keg parties, and honored the usual ceremonies throughout these suburban Californians’ senior year. Rosenfeld returned to his subjects, at least the ones he was able to track down, which was the surprising majority, to learn how their aspirations panned out roughly thirty years later. Rikki remains the focus in his Revisited section; we gaze at her family as they play the original film, the effect of which is expectedly tender.

All American High Revisited goes down easy. It’s pure surveillance, avoiding any condemnation on the education system or the anarchic spirit of the 80s. Rosenfeld’s editing is partly to thank for this. His timing and orientation of segments infuse great hilarity. It certainly helps that his subjects are charismatic and uninhibited on film, but even the way he manipulates a graduation speech, cutting in on the valedvictorian so that we hear her asking her audience an unending series of questions, adds tremendous personality to the project. The reveals in Revisited are a joy, but it’s Rikki who gives us the greatest poignancy. Watching her younger self, she keeps speaking to the television, calling out, “Oh, little Rikki.” There’s no room for regret here, only a sweet affirmation of growing up. [Interview with filmmaker Keva Rosenfeld coming soon]

Elephant Song
Adaptations of the stage don’t always translate so well to film – thinking back to August: Osage County. Luckily for Elephant Song, Julia Roberts isn’t present to ramble about fish or Meryl Streep’s vagina.

The conceit is superficially simple. A psychiatrist, Dr. Lawrence, goes missing, and Dr. Green (Bruce Greenwood) counsels with Lawrence’s patient Michael (Xavier Dolan), who is apparently withholding information. Most of Elephant Song is a conversation, though more of a game, between Michael and Green. The tension never falters, which is a testament to his actors’ abilities; especially Dolan, who hits maniacal, feeble, and disturbed, without overacting (cough, August: O). The plot’s wrap-up isn’t as interesting as it wants to be, but there’s plenty of pathos occurring in the periphery to cement Dr. Lawrence’s disappearance as a mere Macguffin. While all the players are intriguing, including supporting roles by Carrie-Anne Moss and Catherine Keener, director Charles Biname gives us our necessary character anecdotes and then closes the curtain. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, just the kind of movie this wishes to be. Personally, I would have favored a more speculative conclusion if Elephant Song wanted to leave an impression post-credits.

It’s not an X-Men spinoff, unfortunately, but it is another showcase for Jake Gyllenhaal’s impressive conviction. First time director Dan Gilroy takes the chair (previous credits include subpar screenplays) and creates a seedy, all engaging character-thriller, albeit one that wouldn’t work nearly as well without his lead.

Lou Bloom (Gyllenhaal), what a perfect name, stands in for the corrupted American Dream. He’s the stock broker who jumped on a questionable acquisition, the cop who turned a blind eye, the med student who murdered and dismembered her classmates in the name of better placement. Lou retains information well, and he’s a God of observation, so using these skills to score cash, he prowls nighttime Los Angeles with a camcorder and an impulsive attitude. He graduates to a regular stringer for Nina’s (Rene Russo) graveyard TV shift, filming breaking news that reflects the motto “If it bleeds, it leads.” Need not search hard for the relevance.

Lou is a complete sociopath. The film opens with him beating a security guard and absconding with his watch. So when his actions escalate, as any good screenplay requires, it’s never all that shocking. The lack of profundity is glossed over with cinematographer Robert Elswit’s (There Will Be Blood) bewitching camera, giving LA’s moonlit streets a character of their own. Nightcrawler’s final act is a bit of a stretch, but there’s plenty of tension and well-timed humor throughout to provide both slick and precise entertainment.

Breathe (Respire)
Breathe. Hot damn. I did not expect this coming-of-age film, of two 17-year-old girls, to be the biggest ride of the festival thus far. This is acclaimed actress Melanie Laurent’s adaptation of the French novel, and what a crafty blood boiler she imagines.

The first half is somewhat of a chore, as Charlie (Josephine Japy), feeling overly despondent, slogs through her daily existence. Her parents’ imploding marriage and High School’s pangs are made bearable after new student Sarah (Lou de Laage) comes to town. Their road to BFF status is compressed, and before we know it, Sarah’s lush lips and spontaneity have fully consumed Charlie. Sadly, relationships of this age are prone to infection.

Laurent first piqued my interest with a long and revealing tracking shot that travels from window to window along an apartment complex. It was then an impeccable gym class scene that really expunged any doubts I had about this film. Laurent works with the full medium, exploiting its sounds and visual compositions like a veteran filmmaker – when you can use “We Are Young” by Fun to a satisfying end, you’re doing something right. Aside from the visceral experience, Breathe proves to be an intelligent picture of ailing love. And what an ending it has.

[Day 3 notes will include Clouds of Sils Maria, Banksy Does NY, and Two Days, One Night]

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