Screening Room: ‘Les Miserables’

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(Amazon Studios)

French director Ladj Ly’s scorching new movie, Les Misérables, is set in the same poverty-stricken outer neighborhood of Paris as Victor Hugo’s novel and involves many of the same themes of systemic oppression, but the story is Ly’s own.

Les Misérables is opening this week and will be available later on Amazon Prime. My review is at Slant Magazine:

The giddy joy and strong sense of unity that pulsates throughout the opening montage of Ladj Ly’s Les Misérables is as stirring as it is fleeting. A black kid dashes with his friends onto the Paris Metro, flying over turnstiles like a superhero as they rush to a crowded bar to watch France compete in the World Cup. They roar along as their team wins and pours out into the streets to join the crowds in front of the Arc de Triomphe. One of the boys wears a tricolor flag like a cape, joining what looks like a unifying wave of national pride. Several minutes later, Ly makes it clear that this sense of comity is little more than a bad joke…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Bacurau’

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‘Bacurau’ (Kino Lorber)

In the haunting new movie from the director of Aquarius and Neighboring Sounds, a remote Brazilian village fights off mysterious invaders.

Bacurau had its U.S. premiere this week at the New York Film Festival. My review is at PopMatters.

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Non-Fiction’

In Non-Fiction, the newest movie from Olivier Assayas (Clouds of Sils Maria), a clutch of Parisian intellectuals have affairs, drink wine, and talk about the state of publishing and reading in the modern era. One of them is Juliette Binoche, who always makes things better.

My review is at PopMatters:

“Fewer readers, more books.” “I reject this materialistic society.” “These are narcissistic times.” Those are just a few of the cheery bon mots being lobbed around in the opening minutes of Olivier Assayas’s argumentative but thin wannabe literary salon of a movie…

Screening Room: ‘Woman at War’

In the new Icelandic movie Woman at War, a Reykjavik choir director wages a secret one-person eco-sabotage campaign against the forces of polluting industrialization, taking down one power line at a time with her trusty bow.

Woman at War is playing now. My review is at PopMatters:

This is a movie where the line between real and unreal is as porous as a Greek comedy, so a little bit of tweaking from [director Benedikt] Erlingsson and his co-writer Olafur Egilsson isn’t unwelcome if it gives the heroine some more time on the loose…

Screening Room: ‘Ash is Purest White’

(Cohen Media Group)

The latest release from the great director Jia Zhang-Ke (A Touch of Sin, Mountains May Depart) is an ambitious modern-day Chinese crime epic.

Ash is Purest White opens this week in limited release. My review is at PopMatters:

When Qiao (the everyday elegant Tao Zhao) sweeps into the grey and smoky mahjong parlor at the start of Jia Zhang-Ke’s downbeat epic Ash Is Purest White (Jiang hu er nü) she’s greeted by the thronged kibitzers and gamblers as both a being apart and yet just one of the guys…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Transit’

An adaptation by Christian Petzold (Barbara) of Anna Seghars’ novel about refugees fleeing the Nazis somewhat roughly and surreally adapted to modern times, the romantic, disturbing drama Transit opens this week in limited release.

My review is at PopMatters:

It’s a sign of the times, maybe, that when one of the characters says at the start of Christian Petzold’s Transit, “Paris is being sealed off,” the first thought is not of war but of terror…

Screening Room: ‘Roma’

Alfonso Cuaron’s latest movie, Roma, is playing now in limited release and on Netflix. If at all possible, see it on the big screen.

My review is at PopMatters:

You could argue that Alfonso Cuarón’s gorgeously imagined and intimate epic Roma invokes politics when convenient for dramatic impact but ignores their context in order to move forward with the family melodrama at its core. Why, for instance, does nobody talk about why the students are protesting in the massive street demonstration that some of the characters are shocked to be caught up in?…

Here’s the trailer: