The films of Abbas Kiarostami have only become more austere and cerebral since his brush with art-house success over a decade ago with Taste of Cherry and The Wind Will Carry Us. Who thought he had something like this in him? Funny, sexy, intellectually rigorous but full of simple pleasures and captivating from its first frame. British opera singer William Shimell is James, an author giving a lecture in Italy on the subject of his new book, a meditation on the relationship of copies vis-a-vis originals in art. Juliette Binoche is Elle, a fan who offers to take James on a car ride through the Italian countryside before he departs. What follows is nothing more or less than two beautiful people talking about art and love and life. Never for a moment boring and with more than its share of subtle surprises, Kiarostami’s script asks us to examine love as something that seems unique to each of us and yet is felt the same by everyone.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt is the eponymous Hesher, a beyond-delinquent headbanger who worms his way into the lives of a father and his 13-year-old son who have suffered a recent tragedy. All matted hair and crazed eyes, Gordon-Levitt makes Hesher into a remarkable real life cartoon -- he is nothing but raw id seething with uncontrolled rage. It’s a shame, then, that the film feels the need to neuter him so that he may impart a lesson on the importance of letting go of the past and moving on with life. The film could have said much the same without resorting to sentimentality and cheap scare tactics (there is an especially gratuitous reenactment of the tragic moment in question, so late in the film and so long after the audience knows what has happened, that it's truly insulting). The film would have been much more effective if it had played for laughs straight through instead of trying so hard to pull at the audience’s heart strings. With a nice turn by Piper Laurie as the boy’s grandmother.
Ah, the French and their L’amour Fou. Kristin Scott Thomas is a housewife in the south of France who falls deeply, madly in love with the Spanish laborer who comes to work on her home office. Her well-connected doctor husband (Yvan Attal) is devastated and plots to make life impossible for the two doomed lovers. At an economical 85 minutes, the story moves briskly and yet rings true thanks to impassioned performances by Thomas and Sergi Lopez as her lover. There’s just enough of a hint of madness in Thomas’ Suzanne that the melodramatic ending winds up seeming earned rather than exploitive. And unlike most love stories, the film doesn’t shy away from the economic factors that often come to bear on a relationship. By no means revelatory, Leaving is nonetheless a sharp, well-drawn study of what happens when love is destined to fail for reasons outside our control.
A Buddy Story
I really wish I could find something pleasant to say about Philadelphia native Marc Erlbaum’s film. But this slight, dull and contrived feature is a compendium of damn near everything that’s insufferable about indie film today. Characters don’t so much talk to one another as tell each other enigmatic stories filled with quirky details you then sit and wait to reappear (she loves marshmallows and Doctor Seuss! His turtle has a shell protecting him from the harsh world!). Buddy (Gavin Bellour) is a singer-songwriter who takes his shy-bordering-on-asperger’s neighbor on one of his sad little road trips where he plays a cute array of the worst shows imaginable all so they can find love in the end. Elizabeth Moss (of "Mad Men" fame) tries hard, but the roles are so poorly written there’s little she can do to save this. On the bright side, there is some lovely fall foliage to look at as they two cruise through eastern PA. But not enough to make it worth watching when it eventually shows up on the Sundance channel on a Sunday afternoon.