Miami Film Festival – Day Four

Readers will hear more about Xavier Dolan’s It’s Only the End of the World as 2017 unfurls.

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Afterimage
Director: Andrzej Wajda
Where and When: 3/6, Regal 17, 7:30 p.m.

When Andrzej Wajda died last October, the obits didn’t exactly pile up. Despite their availability in typically sparkling Criterion editions, the Polish director’s films deserve rediscovery for their commitment to linear narrative. While contemporaries experimented with or abjured storytelling altogether, Wadja saw Kanal, A Generation, and Man of Iron as rebukes to a communist system based on lies. This is how the truth should look, these films suggested.

Afterimage is a fitting epitaph, for better or worse. This account of the hounding of artist Wladyslaw Strzeminski has no fat. Or ambiguity. A professor in Lodz’s School of Visual Arts, Strzeminksi refused to kowtow to Soviet realism, at its apogee or nadir at the beginning of the 1950s; he correctly judged it kitsch. Bit by bit the Polish Communist Party exacted revenge, first by stripping him of his school duities, then not issuing vouchers for food, and, in a final indignity, refusing to let him purchase art supplies. The situation’s inherent pathos gets Wadja off the hook several times. It’s not that Afterimage lacks nuance or doesn’t find a form commensurate with Strzeminski’s radical art: it’s that Strzeminski remains an ideologue, a symbol of resistance — obstinately so.

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It’s Only the End of the World
Director: Xavier Dolan
Where and When: 3/6, Coral Gables Art Ciema, 9:30 p.m.

Few directors drive filmcrit colleagues into a frenzy as much as Xavier Dolan does — a frenzy that his slim, minor output hardly warrants. The French Canadian has one excellent film: 2010’s Heartbeats, one of the few movies about hedonistic twentysomethings to position explicit homo lust as locus; Heartbeats suggested that lust of any kind has no meaning without queerness stimulating it or provoking it. Considerably less frantic, It’s Only the End of the World nevertheless imports his usual preoccupation with Tolstoyan family dynamics into an adaptation of Jean-Luc Lagarce’s play. It’s not a total success, but Dolan continues to experiment — fruitfully, fitfully.

From its smothering widescreen closeups to the putatively magical realist ending in which a cuckoo precipitates Louis (Gaspard Ulliel of Saint Laurent, who won a César Award for this performance) stepping out into dense golden light to the accompaniment of Moby’s “Natural Blues,” It’s Only the End of the World tests audience patience. Visiting his family to break the news about an illness allows Louis, playwright and gay, to re-imagine himself as the passive receptor of thirty years of angst. He has never met his younger sister (Léa Seydoux). His older brother Antoine (Vincent Cassel), a mean, sardonic blowhard, is responsible for most of the tension; Louis’ presence disgusts him. Antoine’s wife Catherine (Marion Cotillard, wan) is more sympathetic.

It’s Only the End of the World‘s sensual centerpiece, a heterosexual fantasy by a curtain, takes sexual ambivalence too far. But in the film’s would-be climax, set by a window, mother Martine (Nathalie Baye) reminds Louis of his responsibilities to the family. “Still living in that gay ghetto?” she hurls at him. Martine smokes, Louis pouts. It’s a draw. The film should have ended there, not with the cuckoo hooey.

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