17 05 2017

Perhaps the worst claim that can be leveled against Fatih Akin’s “The Cut” is that it fails to elicit a reaction proportional to the scope of its production. This story of a father, Tahar Rahim’s Nazaret, rendered mute during the Armenian genocide of World War I trying to reunite with his long-lost daughters has an epic scope. Take a look during the end credits, which run well over 10 minutes, at just how many crew members in how many countries came together to bring this story to life. This is a journey spanning decades, and Akin gives his film the sprawling canvas it needs.

And yet, while watching the film, I never really felt overwhelmed and enveloped by the sheer magnitude of “The Cut.” The film never flags in the forward motion of its storytelling or the firm humanist rooting of Rahim’s performance. I was compelled by every minute. Still … I wanted a little something more from it.

Akin’s direction is missing a sense of urgency. (It’s still leagues better than most filmic depictions of genocide – heck, many big-budget tentpoles downplay or flippantly dismiss it!) I’ll note that “The Cut” is not a film about the Armenian genocide so much as it’s a story of a father’s love diverted by the atrocity. But when you brooch such a weighty subject, you can’t just respond in the size of the production. It must also resonate in the gravity of individual decisions. B

F.I.L.M. of the Week (September 10, 2015)

10 09 2015

A ProphetThe Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) gets underway today, and plenty of films vying for Oscar glory will be seen for the first time.  Other holdovers from Sundance, Berlin, Cannes, and Venice will also get a moment in the sun, a reintroduction for North American audiences.

One film of the latter variety is Jacques Audiard’s “Dheepan,” the controversial Palme D’Or winner at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.  Many people chalked up the film’s unexpected victory to its director simply being due for the prize after coming up short numerous times.  One such missed opportunity was back in 2009 when Audiard debuted “A Prophet.”

I first watched the film after it received a nomination for the Best Foreign Language Film award at the Oscars back in 2010 … and found myself quite underwhelmed.  For whatever reason, I just could not connect with it.  But once “Dheepan” took the big prize in Cannes, I felt obliged to give it another go.  The second time around, I was actually quite taken by the film.  I still think “Fish Tank” deserved the Palme D’Or, but “A Prophet” is certainly worth of my pick for the “F.I.L.M. of the Week.”

Audiard’s film is a patiently paced prison drama that goes for slow, longitudinal change rather than explosive incidents.  Think “The Shawshank Redemption,” but as an art film instead of something so commercial.  “A Prophet” follows Tahar Rahim’s Malik, a most curious double agent, as he games both sides of a Corsican/Muslim prison gang tussle.  He wants to make a big move one day in the future – even though that forces him to assume a subservient position for the ruthless, spineless Corsican ringleader (Niels Arestrup).

Audiard was smart to cast Rahim, a novice actor when he filmed “A Prophet.”  A well-versed thespian might have tried to slip hints towards a greater intellect humming beneath the surface of Malik.  Rahim, however, plays him as a rather ordinary man of no particular intelligence, just sort of making it up as he goes.  He’s playing the long game, not necessarily because he focuses on the ends but mostly because he cannot sufficiently navigate the present.

Malik’s rise to power, when watched in the right state of mind, makes for truly riveting cinema.  While it might not always be pulse-pounding action, the novel-like breadth of its narrative provides a rich experience for serious-minded movie lovers.