Archive | Spirit Matters

The Essential Stillness of ‘Love Is Strange’

We Americans pretty much never shut up anymore. With all the technological advances of the last 20 years, there are virtually no moments left in which we have to sit and grapple with the sadness that can lurk in modern life. Only an increasingly rarified strain of cinema offers the stillness our days so sorely lack, and, at their best, such films allow us to channel ourselves with a quiet that we moviegoers crave more than we realize.

European filmmakers have always proved quite handy with quiescence; the confidence and depth it requires distinguishes such masters as Bergman, Fellini and Tati. Not surprisingly, Americans emulators have produced more varied results, as if we’re such a young nation that we’ve yet to stop fidgeting. (Woody Allen’s efforts in this area are especially awkward; his Bergman knockoffs are best forgotten.) Of today’s American directors, only Richard Linklater and Ira Sachs seem fully capable of burrowing into that cinematic silence which can yield old-soul lessons and pleasures, and I believe it’s no coincidence that their latest projects have proved the film events of the year so far. In “Boyhood,” Linklater slows us all down by making time itself his central character.  Now, in “Love Is Strange,” Sachs has created a moving picture that looks and feels like a still life—a happier sort of “Scenes From a Marriage,” if that film were an enlivened oil painting featuring an older gay New York couple. Continue Reading →

Rush-Hour Sorrow, Rush-Hour Sweet

Checking my phone tonight on a rush-hour train, I discovered an unwanted email from an ex with whom I still have an unhappily charged dynamic. I did what I always do with messages from him these days–I deleted it–but not before his brief email walloped me in the chest. Surrounded by people in the packed sardine can of the subway car, I couldn’t shake the shock of the unsolicited reminder of everything I (we) had lost, couldn’t exhale as deeply as I needed to without making a scene, couldn’t just curse the heavens. So I froze, silently imploring the tears in my eyes not to run down my cheeks, and felt lonely in a way I never feel when actually alone. A hand tapped my shoulder then, and I looked up to see a young woman in full Muslim garb and orange high-tops smiling gently at me. “It’s ok,” she mouthed, and my eyes widened at her vigilant kindness, as well as the palpable warmth of all the other commuters regarding me with concern. This, during a week marked by sorrows on every level, too.

But that’s just another day on the IRT, as they used to say. Really, it amazes me that visitors ever accuse this city of harshness. From the minute that I moved here, New York has been my truest, steadiest heart. I cannot count the times that its denizens have matter-of-factly shored my grief.

The Bold, Biblical Agenda of ‘Calvary’

Calvary begins with a close-up of a priest in a confession booth. “I was seven years old when I first tasted semen,” an off-screen voice announces. “Certainly a startling opening line,” the priest (Brendan Gleeson), who is known as Father James, responds. We could say the same of this film, which boldly lays out its agenda – witness its name, after all – not to convert us so much as to incite us to ponder our own agendas instead.

The unnamed voice goes on to say that, in a week, he will kill Father James because he is not a malfeasant like the priest who sexually abused him for years: The death of a “good priest” will make a statement. Cards thus on the table, James is left to sort out his affairs as well as the identity of his would-be killer. Consider this as a pre-crime procedural, then (the press notes describe it as a “who’s-gunna-do-it”)–one that is so formally constructed that we may surrender to James’ soul-searching in both senses of that term.

If all this sounds awfully literary – a sort of Swedish mystery set afire with ancient Irish angst – that’s not a coincidence. At a recent Q&A at The Museum of the Moving Image, writer/director John Michael McDonagh described himself as a “failed novelist.” But while many films of such portent might benefit from being a book instead, Calvary is ideal in its current medium. Its claustrophobic interiors, contrasted with the surf and sky of the Irish sea town where it is set, wordlessly remind us of the harsh beauty and isolation that is the human condition. And that world beyond words, the one that exists beneath the nattering of daily life, better evokes the divine experience, which is precisely what this film invites us to ponder during its 100 minutes. Continue Reading →

"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy