Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Wed Nov 08, 2017 9:51 am 
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Lynne Ramsay's Cannes prizewinning You Were Never Really Here, which got the Scottish writer-director the Best Screenplay award at the festival and its star Joaquin Phoenix Best Actor for his performance as a saintly, suicidal tank of a hit man, is a tightly woven concentrated gem, one that will disturb you and lodge in your head. If of this adaptation of a Jonathan Ames novella (the author of "Bored to Death" did this?) it may be claimed it was thrown together at the last minute for Cannes - whatever speed and shortcuts the process involved - this is an amazing movie whose elegantly fused, hallucinatory and riveting story, acting, music, editing and directing create something like a wholly new experience. Though ostensibly set and shot in New York, I kept thinking of the South, and the images evoked the color still photography of William Eggleston. This is a sign of how many separate, but fused, levels the film works on, and a tribute to the eye of dp Thomas Townend, but also to the set designers and location-hunters (the governor's mansion is wonderful, a dreamy thing out of World of Interiors). The score rivets and staples everything together with a neat blend of hitting you over the head and creeping up on you. It's by Jonny Greenwood. The editor is Joe Bini, and I don't mind that at moments I said to myself, "That was a neat edit!" as I watched: that's part of the separate-togetherness that is the miracle of this movie's collaborative fusion.

Phoenix moves through this like a clumsy steamroller, and only subtly shows changes of feeling, but the movie is about him even if we seem to be spying on him, even from surveillance cameras, as when he goes through the pedophile wing of a brothel to liberate a young girl and inflict pain on the employes of this gruesome place. As he would not look too closely at the mayhem, the camera rarely does. (We see the hammer he wields.) Also, he uses only the minimum words, as when he calls his boss from a pay phone and says only, "It's done." Only that line memorably signals the theme of disorder because, mainly, it's not done. It's undone.

But sometimes there are flashback glimpses of an abused childhood that give him a special link with this girl, Nina (the excellent Ekaterina Samsonov), the daughter of a politician State Senator Williams (Alessandro Nivola) who has hired him to save her.

Certain images stick, though I'd say this is a movie that, however searing and unpleasant, obsessive and brutal, it is, also may need to be rewatched and studied closely - savored - to ponder further, not its plotline or its "meaning," but the beauty of its edits and sound and image. But one image is Joe (Phoenix) taking off his shirt, uncomfortable, confined, unable to bear being covered any more; of him in a steam bath, framed up close (many of the images of him feel tight and confined). Another of course is the much-commented-upon one of Joe lying on the floor hand-in-hand with a man he's just fatally shot, while they bleed and sing Charlene’s “I’ve Never Been To Me." And of course it all starts with the homely image of a face choking inside a plastic bag, in one of Joe's numerous unsuccessful (experimental?) suicide attempts.

Another key and unique element of the film/story is that Joe is a brutal steamroller of a fixer-punisher-killer, but also sweet and filial; that he is humanized by returning when off assignment to his childhood home in Queens with his mother (Judith Roberts), whom he takes tender slightly humorous loving care of.

The story is of order turning to disorder. Joe deals with and in disorder, but his job is to restore order. But when the vice ring turns out to touch high places, the center will not hold, and all separations of job and private fall apart.

This is also a world of hallucination, perhaps the hallucination of a war veteran; at moments one may wonder if everything we are watching is a hallucination. Wouldn't it be nice to think so?

The style isn't that of a horror thriller; it's above that. Its horror is also more that of a first-time crime movie, or an art film. But because it's working on all twelve cylinders every minute, you will never think of the fey detachment of what the words "art film" suggest. It's just that Ramsay works a little outside commercial convention in crafting her murder and mayhem. And Here is the better for that.

The French release title is A Beautiful Day and is 90 minutes long. . The AlloCiné press rating is 3.4; there is admiration, but Cahiers du Cinéma calls it a "turkey." Wider and English-language reviews are a lot warmer: Metacritic 88%. Opened in France 8 Nov. Watched opening day at MK2 Saint Germain. Coming to the US 23 Feb. 2018, UK 9 Mar. 2018. [Actually US limited release began 8 Apr.]

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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