Tabu, a Portuguese film from a few years back, is unapologetically art-house: black-and-white, layered with meaning, no spoken dialogue in its second half; it incorporates some features of F.W. Murnau’s 1931 silent film, Tabu: A Story of the South Seas. Miguel Gomes’s film starts with a short prologue, the tale of a man whose loss in love set him wandering the world in sorrow and loneliness. Part 1 (“Paradise Lost”) concerns three women in modern-day Lisbon: a social activist, her elderly neighbor, and the neighbor’s caretaker. The neighbor, Aurora, is lonely and embittered; at times she treats her caretaker like an indentured servant. She is also in declining health, but before she dies she sends for an old acquaintance, Gian-Luca, who narrates Part 2 (“Paradise”). This takes us to Mozambique during the days of revolt against Portuguese colonialists. Young Aurora (Ana Moreira) and her husband run a plantation; Aurora is also a crack-shot big game hunter. A young crocodile Aurora keeps as a pet wanders off. In searching for it, Aurora meets young Gian-Luca (Carloto Cotta), who is starting a nearby tea plantation. It’s not much of a spoiler to reveal that the two become lovers, or that the Mozambique story ends badly.
It’s a diverting, puzzling film, with plenty to argue about. What does the crocodile symbolize (if anything)? Does the film ignore the horrors of colonial rule? See it with a group of film buffs, and discuss afterward over dark-roast coffee.
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The Kindergarten Teacher, set in Israel, shows the title character becoming increasingly obsessed with one of her students, a six-year-old boy who seems to be a poetic prodigy. What spoiled the movie for me was that I never found the child credible. When seized with inspiration, he would pace rigidly back and forth, reciting a new poem, start to finish, without stumbling or correction. The poems may as well have issued from his mouth on ticker-tape. And they seemed impossibly subtle and adult (although the director claims that the poems used in the film were actually written by himself at around six years of age); they didn’t fit with the child’s behavior when he was not spewing poetry.
In Your Eyes gives us two young adults, Dylan and Rebecca (Michael Stahl-David and Zoe Kazan), on opposite ends of the country who suddenly realize they can communicate telepathically and feel one another’s experiences. Of course they are attractive; of course they fall in love; and of course one is imperiled, and the other must fly to the rescue.
The film, using a script written by Joss Whedon in 1992, got its festival premiere in April 2014, so it’s a little unfair to compare it with Sense8, which came out a year later. I’m going to be a little unfair, because I saw the film after seeing the Wachowski series. The film is pretty weak stuff. At one point Dylan says he’s figured out why the two are psychically connected: “Why not?” Sometimes you can get away with hanging a lantern on a story’s flaw, but here it’s like putting dressing-room lights in a latrine.
Now for another go at Apichatpong Weerasethakul: This time I had a look at his Cemetery of Splendour (as it is spelled in the film). A school is being built over an ancient royal burial ground, and Thai soldiers at the site are conking out, Sleeping-Beauty style. A few women who claim to be supernatural beings explain that ancient, buried kings are draining the soldiers’ energy so that they can carry on their squabbles.
Normally I am fine with fantasy films, but this director’s movies just don’t move me; I don’t respond correctly. In this film there is a scene where a group of visitors in viewing the sleeping soldiers, arrayed on cots. One of the actors playing a sleeping soldier gets an erection. The visitors play around a bit, all but literally hanging a lantern on it. Critics say this shows the director’s great sense of humor. I think it mars the story; it was time to call “cut” and let things calm down. (Okay, maybe the scene could play over the closing credits.)