Wednesday, September 22, 2021

TIFF Wavelengths Shorts First Drafts

Complete first drafts written for In Review Online.

Dear Chantal After something of a breakout with last year’s delightful meta feature Fauna, Nicolás Pereda returns with “Dear Chantal,” a short created as part of the “Las cartas que no fueron también son” project, an omnibus initiative by the Punto de Vista International Documentary Film Festival that commissioned eight well known filmmakers, including Deborah Stratman, Raya Martin, Lynne Sachs, Jessica Sarah Rinland, and Pereda, to make a “cinematic homage to a colleague they have never personally met.” As can be guessed, Pereda’s was the great Chantal Akerman, for whom he fashioned a curious, distinct tribute. Running an exceptionally compact five minutes, it consists solely of supposed letters written to Akerman by Pereda concerning the temporary rental to her of his sister’s two-bedroom house in Mexico City. Her responses are never heard, only intimated, as this hushed voiceover plays out over images of Pereda’s sister Catalina slowly furnishing the bare house, sweeping leaves off the skylight, and placing books and a painting within the abode, as the latter of which, an abstract swirl of light blue and deep read, becomes a focal point. With these stripped down parameters — Akerman’s replies are never heard, though they are certainly hinted at in Pereda’s letters — “Dear Chantal” emphasizes above all the underpinning emotions behind the fundamental stillness in a way both reminiscent of Akerman and starkly different: the consciously posed close-ups feel more akin to Bresson than the wide shots that typify the Belgian director’s work, although a brief still of her in Je, tu, il, elle at the beginning of the film. Amid the mundanity of water filters and converting the second bedroom into an office, Pereda mentions in passing that Catalina has had some difficulties in the past, and it’s certainly significant, and at least a little moving, that the last line and shot goes to her. The Capacity for Adequate Anger Vika Kirchenbauer effectively established herself on the international experimental scene with her short “Untitled Sequence of Gaps,” from last year, an intriguing rumination on varieties of light and how they inflect understanding of societal traditions. With “The Capacity for Adequate Anger,” that sensibility has been noticeably sharpened, pairing a distinctive set of stills with more directly personal narration. One cornerstone of her style is the narration: though she is German, Kirchenbauer narrates her films in English with a tremulous accent that inherently connotes a certain fragility and uncertainty, which strongly influences the affect of her words. Here, the words concern her upbringing and her anxieties over her art practice, perspective, and her interpersonal relationships, including with her father and grandmother. The connections that she draws are frequently startling: a throughline about AIDS connects her childhood adoration of Freddie Mercury, Magic Johnson’s temporary retirement from basketball, and a dental inspection. These musings are augmented by a wide variety of still images, including of childhood drawings, mass media photos, and posed art pictures, along with the sole, unusual source of moving images: a childhood fantasy cartoon of unknown provenance. While loosely sectioned, as signaled by a recurring ambient music cue, “The Capacity for Adequate Anger” maintains a certain flowing train of thought, which ensures a spontaneity to the subjects broached. More than a conceptual boldness, it is in Kirchenbauer’s paradoxical assuredness that the disparate elements will connect together: the title phrase is uttered twice, once in relation to the AIDS epidemic and once regarding her uneasy relationship with her father. Such a stark yet elusive phrase provides a useful, fitting summary of the fascinating elements of this ambitious work, full of information without feeling dense. Inner Outer Space Laida Lertxundi has cemented her reputation as one of the foremost active short filmmakers with films that maintain a certain relaxed California mood while suggesting a whole constellation of potential associations. With “Inner Outer Space,” that methodology is effectively made literal, as it consists of three fairly distinct shorts which together function as an elliptical, intriguing exploration of a new setting for Lertxundi: her native Basque. In truth, four parts might be a more accurate description, as the short begins with a series of miniature installations comprised of images fastened to cardboard, with one piece resembling a television screen. Afterwards, a brief, fragmentary exchange between two women takes place via subtitles, followed by them looking at a series of sills printed on paper, which briefly take life as their own cutaway shots. Without a discernible transition, the second short seems to begin, as people are led blindfolded to a secluded cliff and asked to first describe their surroundings without looking at them, and then draw the area. Following an unexpected presentation of the credits in full, the final short unfurls in one shot, as two women in swimsuits sway with their backs to the camera in front of projected images of waves. As might be gathered, the ultimate point of connection in “Inner Outer Space” lies in the processing and manifestation of mental images, and Lertxundi’s ability to evoke these connections so glancingly forms a key part of her work’s appeal. While the obvious fragmentation means that the typical fluidity of her films is somewhat muted here, a sense of unity ultimately prevails: in the warm 16mm, the skillful deployment of cut-ins, the mystery of the precise meanings of each individual section, which of course is entirely the point. “The red filter is withdrawn.” Kim Min-jung’s “The red filter is withdrawn.” draws upon a host of spirits from the past throughout its deceptively minimal construction. After a brief introduction with three strobing colored rectangles, the film settles into its main focus: various natural and man-made structures on Jeju Island in South Korea, including military bunkers and craggy caves. While the locale appears to be calm, the credits indicate a darker side: the island was inhabited by Imperial Japan, and acted as the site of the infamous April 3 Incident, in which thousands of Communist insurgents were killed in the lead-up to the Korean War. While this history would be compelling by itself, and indeed does become more apparent towards the end of the short with images of graveyards and flags, Kim grafts on another fascinating element: Hollis Frampton’s performance piece “A Lecture.” Throughout “The red filter is withdrawn.”, Kim intersperses subtitles written in both Korean and English from the lecture, which posits that the white rectangle of light that forms the essence of the projected cinema image has existed long before and will continue long after any given person’s life. Correspondingly, the film finds intriguing correspondences within these landscapes, most clearly the bright sunlight shining through large square holes in the caves. Over these images, shot in what appears to be some mix of digital and 16mm, are laid certain effects, including, yes, a red filter, which casts the verdant grass in an entirely new light. “The red filter is withdrawn.” properly ends with Frampton’s exhortation to discuss films in darkness, but Kim’s use of numerous other sources suggests a more suitably ambiguous, complex, and ongoing discourse centered on elements hidden just below the surface.

Friday, September 17, 2021

Memoria First Draft

Complete first draft written for In Review Online.

Frequent In Review Online contributor Evan Morgan once posited a more refined version of the slow cinema paradigm that has come to dominate festival films over the past two decades: hammock cinema, in which films that appear to reject storytelling actually rely on a tightly woven narrative structure, upon which the more readily apparent free-floating atmosphere and extended shots are given an elegance and order. His lodestar is Apichatpong Weerasethakul, quite probably the most important director to make his debut in this century. Despite just six fully fledged feature films in twenty years, the Thai director has exerted an enormous influence on festival cinema, with his use of forested landscapes and unconventional story structures in order to create a sense of the somnambulant that ties into an interest in the supernatural and the violent past of his nation. After six years since his last film Cemetery of Splendour, Apichatpong has returned with Memoria, his first film outside Thailand, with professional actors, and in a foreign language, or rather two — Spanish and English. It follows Jessica (Tilda Swinton), a British orchidologist living in Colombia who, while visiting Bogotá, begins to hear a mysterious, loud, thudding sound at seemingly random moments. Her interactions weave in and out of relation with this developing affliction, including with her temporarily bedridden sister (Agnes Brekke), her brother-in-law (Daniel Giménez Cacho, of Zama fame), a forensic archaeologist named Agnes (Jeanne Balibar), and Hernán (Juan Pablo Urrego), a sound engineer. In an especially hypnotic scene in a film practically filled with nothing else, he helps Jessica recreate the sound that has been haunting her, working from a movie sound effects library and shifting the echo, bass, and shape of the wave to form, in Jessica’s words, “a rumble from the core of the earth.” As might be suggested by this, Memoria focuses on a single main character to a greater degree than any of his previous films; even while Jenjira Pongpas served as the pensive anchor of four of his previous films, her presence was intertwined and mixed with various other focal points. Befitting her arthouse star status, Swinton, in easily her greatest performance in years, takes the center stage for practically every scene in at least the first half of the film. Her signature, slightly alien presence, which has admittedly run the risk of parody in recent years, is wondrously molded by Apichatpong; in the first scene, when she is awoken by the loud noise, her movement suggests a ghost, or perhaps a zombie — Jessica shares the same name as the ethereal figure of Jacques Tourneur’s iconic I Walked With a Zombie (1943). Her manner of movement, lithe but tentative, frequently blending in during the many long shots, only accentuate an acute difference in setting from the endless Thai forests: in the first half of the film, there is a new, pronounced focus on architecture and the city, shown both with teeming throngs of people and at a standstill. Working again with regular DP Sayombhu Mukdeeprom and on 35mm for the first time since Syndromes and a Century (2006), Apichatpong finds the textures in these spaces, in the unpredictable dance of light that gives further shape to the series of strange incidents peppered throughout: a popped tire that causes a pedestrian to drop to the ground, car horns that go off for no apparent reason, a hospital bench as a makeshift lock. In response, his style has shifted somewhat: there is a greater emphasis on duration, on a certain kind of pensive distance that his disciples from afar have adopted. But this is unmistakably Apichatpong, not only in his total willingness to vary his approach as the shot and scene necessitates it, but in the rich sense of character and circumstance, each scene and camera placement contributing, whether elliptically or directly, to a sense of the world that this woman is inhabiting and attempting to understand. About the second half, which is solely made up of an encounter Jessica has in the rural municipality of Pijao with a mysterious man (Elkin Díaz), the less that can be said the better. Suffice it to say that this last hour is one of the most extraordinary, focused, and sustained sequences of the past decade, a slow unfurling of personal and national pasts that intermingle and mutate, conveyed via the most entrancing of means. It all comes back to the sound: not only that indescribable slam, but also the snatches of music, the vaguely unsettling ambiance. If one of the principal pleasures of a hammock is how it can sway in the wind, then Apichatpong understands how to capture the essence of that entrancing motion.

Monday, September 13, 2021

El Gran Movimiento First Draft

Complete first draft written for In Review Online.

Bolivian filmmaker Kiro Russo made his feature debut with the intriguing, loosely structured Dark Skull in 2016, which centered on the inhabitants of the rural town of Huanuni, including Elder (Julio César Ticona), a young ne’er-do-well who begins working in the local mine and struggles with the harsh work and his alcoholism, and was conceived as something of a hybrid film, taking place mostly in the dark depths of the countryside and mine. His new film, El Gran Movimiento, begins almost literally where his previous one left off: the miners, after rumblings in the prior film of displacement, have undertaken a seven-day voyage on foot to La Baz, the de facto Bolivian government, in order to agitate for their jobs. After a startling moment in which César Ticona appears to give an interview as himself, including a reference onscreen to him being the lead actor of Dark Skull, he assumes the role of Elder once more. As the film unfolds, he and two other companions end up staying in the city and attempt to find work in the city, while he grows more and more sick from some mysterious combination of heat, elevation, exhaustion, and other ambiguous, potentially historical or mythological sources. Such a description provides a good baseline for El Gran Movimiento, but it feels woefully inadequate to capture the currents that swirl through the film. While Dark Skull was limited in some way by the scale necessitated by the small-town setting and adopted a spare approach to structure and narrative aside from the miners and their relatives, Russo consciously expands his focus to encompass the inhabitants of practically the entire capitol. Alongside Elder’s tale of misfortune, he also includes a thread that eventually becomes practically as consequential to the film’s purposes: an older local man named Max (Max Bautista Uchasara), a shambolic figure who appears to live in the caves and hills around La Paz but who frequently ventures into the city, having established an easy rapport with the women running the open-air market stands. He also may or may not have healing powers, possibly connected to the motif of a white dog, a symbol that appears with increasing frequency in the second half of the film as Elder’s situation worsens. Russo implicitly draws these parallels between young and old, outsider and local, in order to structure his wider gaze, which at first manifests itself in brief little interactions that stretch outside of the world previously established in his last film — a large group watching a professional wrestling match on an outdoor screen, a group of market women laughing at Elder’s ineptitude, and, most significantly, an old woman who takes in Elder as her godson even though they never appear to have met. All this is conveyed under the same watchful camera eye that typified his previous film, though while Dark Skull preferred a fascinating sense of gliding camera movement, somewhat uncommon in the arthouse veins that Russo is mining, here the camera very slowly zooms forward in the bulk of the shots, first established in a lengthy pre-title card sequence that gazes at different buildings and elements within La Paz. Gradually, as El Gran Movimiento proceeds down its trajectory of bodily decay, the ruptures in the carefully drawn aesthetic become ever more frequent and unexpected, culminating in a furiously and rhythmically edited sequence that appears to mix footage from both films, along with a flurry of faces and streets. It is in this moment that the great movement is revealed: this is a thoroughly idiosyncratic and elliptical approach to the city symphony, one rooted in character and in which the spirit of the city — and, thanks to the presence of Elder and his compatriots, the country — is vividly evoked through the highs and lows of living.

Friday, August 13, 2021

Petite Solange First Draft

Complete first draft written for In Review Online.

It’s perhaps unfair to say that divorce dramas have had too great a resurgence in recent years. It is by its nature a prime, extreme avenue for filmmakers to explore questions of family, separation, and bureaucracy, but this vehicle for Big Themes can frequently falter if the subject is taken merely on face value, and not burrowed into and inhabited. In that sense, Axelle Ropert would seem to be an ideal director for this sort of endeavor: she directed Tirez la langue, mademoiselle (2013, also known as Miss and the Doctors), one of the finest romantic comedies of recent years, which constantly expanded outward from its love triangle of brother doctors slowly falling in love with the same woman to capture the sense of city life and ineffable connections. Ropert’s newest film, Petite Solange, playing in the International Competition at Locarno, falls under more conventional lines. Its eponymous character, a 13-year-old played by Jade Springer, leads a relatively average life with her parents Antoine (Philippe Katerine), a music store salesman, and Aurélia (Léa Drucker), a theater actress specializing in wronged women, along with her bookish elder brother Romain (Grégoire Montana). Indeed, aside from an evident brightness of spirit, the most distinctive factor about Solange initially is her last name, Maserati, an Italian name inherited from her father which is commented on numerous times throughout the film. But the family begins unhappy, with Antoine engaged in a surreptitious affair with his coworker and Aurélia frequently absent, and only worsens as the film goes on. What sets Petite Solange apart from a run-of-the-mill divorce film, however, is the question of Ropert’s interest. Solange remains front and center throughout the film, with most of the divorce aspect conveyed in overheard shouts, tentative tête-à-tête conversations with her parents, and the normal vagaries of familial interaction. More than anything, this is a patient, quotidian film; for much of it the only substantial shift in these dynamics is Romain practically fleeing to the relative refuge of a graduate degree program. Instead of constant struggle, Ropert opts for a certain creeping sense of unease, a slow evolution in Solange’s character and outlook on life. Sometimes, this runs the risk of cliché: a certain subplot with Solange becoming more and more troublesome in school as a result of domestic stress feels too pat. But more often, Ropert’s signature interest in little subplots, reflecting the unsettled and capricious nature of life, comes through, especially in a tentative flirtation Solange has with a piano-playing bad boy at her school. All of this builds to a sudden release, a rupture in the film’s final twenty minutes that jumps an indeterminate number of years to a greatly changed Solange. Springer’s performance shifts radically in this moment, and it illuminates the extent to which the film principally relies on her initially ebullient presence, along with Ropert’s careful sense of direction and the beautiful 16mm cinematography by Sébastien Buchmann. This is not a radical film about divorce, but it continually demonstrates an interest in burrowing just a little deeper, going in a slightly more interesting direction, and the agglomeration of these choices results in something gratifyingly warm and complex.

Days First Draft

Complete first draft written for Hyperallergic.

Tsai Ming-liang exists in a curious position within the cinephile consciousness. One of the greatest Taiwanese directors and a foremost practitioner of the very loose movement known as slow cinema, which arose in the late 1980s and early 90s, predominately in Asian countries, his feature films all share distinctive attributes — extended, static long takes; frequent presence of rain or water flooding; a patient eye dedicated to a decaying, ultramodern Taipei, where he has set most of his films — that have become so ingrained that it can obscure some of his most interesting recurring elements. In addition, while Tsai himself is well-known, and a certain number of his films are commonly seen, relatively speaking — including Goodbye, Dragon Inn (2013), Vive L’Amour (1994), and Stray Dogs (2013) — others are underseen, lost in the vagaries of poor quality windowboxed DVDs and ultralimited distribution. This isn’t to say that his vaunted aesthetic unity — which, it should be said, is disrupted when needed, such as in the unconventional musical sequences in The Hole (1998) and The Wayward Cloud (2005) — isn’t a key factor of the films, but it is too often favored in comparison to the great narrative unity that his films present. For Tsai is one of the most teleological of directors, concentrating a step-by-step, film-by-film procession focused upon his muse Lee Kang-sheng, who has been in all his feature films, ever since his debut with Rebels of the Neon God (1991). Understanding Lee’s role is crucial, and not just because his distinctive, halting manner of movement and speaking sets a kind of template for all of Tsai’s actors: Tsai is openly gay, and the backbone of his films is his necessarily unrequited longing for Lee, who is straight but often plays a queer character. In effect, the films are tortured by this central relationship, resulting in narratives of outsiders, Lee most of all, longing for some sense of meaning and companionship in a world that is changing before their eyes; the title of I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone (2006) could scarcely be more apropos. Lee’s presence, in addition to recurring male and female actors like Chen Shiang-chyi, Miao Tien, and Yang Kuei-mei, is crucial to this: he plays more-or-less the same character in all these films, initially named Xiaokang but eventually being named just Kang (xiao is Chinese for small). While taking Tsai’s career as a totally coherent continuous narrative isn’t strictly true, it does very much feel like his oeuvre was leading directly to the last two shots of Stray Dogs, a twenty-minute tour-de-force where cinema itself seems to come to a final standstill. It’s no surprise that Tsai initially announced that he was retiring from narrative feature filmmaking after that film. While he has continued to make short and mid-length works in fiction, documentary, and even gallery settings, Tsai kept his promise until Days, which premiered last year in Berlin. One of Tsai’s most stripped-down, direct, and moving works, and one which heralds the start of an exciting new chapter in his career, it was conceived under unusual circumstances for him. Lee was undergoing severe neck pains a few years ago, reflective of Xiaokang’s affliction in The River (1997), and Tsai journeyed with him to film his intense treatments without any specific reason. At the same time, Tsai met a Laotian immigrant to Bangkok, Anong Houngheuangsy, and began filming him as well as he went about his daily work, including extended moments of cooking. From these roots came the first half of Days, which crosscuts between these two strands of footage formed from roughly three years of filming. While these were filmed without any specific concept in mind, they remain as brilliantly shot as any of his films, patiently and lovingly watching these people doing their quotidian tasks. This suddenly pivots at the hour-mark, where Kang and Anong come together in a hotel room for an erotic massage encounter. The effect is stark and entrancing: it has been decades since Tsai had a male lead performance alongside Lee’s continual presence, and to see these two men locked in such intimacy, whether transactional or not, over a period about half an hour, is unprecedented in his work. The summative effect of Days’s elements, especially the long, fading conclusion, is of a melancholy as potent as his other films, but there is something new: a genuine fulfillment, a belief in deep, life-changing connection, even if it is only for a single night.

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Deep End First Draft

Complete first draft written for In Review Online.

Jerzy Skolimowski had a distinctive output well before he ended up in London. He began his film career in his native Poland with three successive features from 1964 to 1966 — Identification Marks: None, Walkover, and Barrier — which acted as semi-autobiographical accounts of his experiences under the communist system. The first two starred Skolimowski himself as his alter ego Andrzej Leszczyc, both relatively rough-and-tumble films featuring a good amount of tracking shots and evocative shadows, while the latter opted for a more surreal and dreamlike aesthetic. These two approaches were effectively fused in his next film Le Départ (1967), a Belgian film starring Jean-Pierre Léaud as an auto-obsessed hairdresser, which inserted into its pleasurably loose progression various ruptures, including a final projector breakdown as effective as its contemporary Persona. So where does one go after such a decisive break? For Skolimowski, it was to the deep end, or rather, Deep End, his 1970 film and his first effort in the UK. Its focus remains resolutely on Mike (John Moulder Brown), a 15-year-old who gets his first job as a shower room attendant at a public bath, and the object of his burgeoning obsession, his 25-year-old coworker Susan (Jane Asher). In the midst of this central dynamic runs all manner of unnerving, frankly presented encounters and characters, including Susan’s fiancé Chris (Chris Sandford), her lover and Mike’s former physical education teacher (Karl Michael Vogler), and all manner of vaguely or sometimes overtly sinister figures in London society. For Deep End is a film all about sex, or more specifically the absolute terror of sexual perversions, and how quickly it can warp the minds of those around it. This is not to say that Skolimowski is a scold or a prude by any means: he clearly sees sexuality and comfort with it as a spectrum — albeit within a strictly hetero framework, concerning the characters in this film — wherein Mike and Susan are on roughly opposite ends. Mike is very clearly confused by anyone’s advances as long as they don’t concern the woman of his affections, whereas Susan almost sees sex as an a priori, constantly teasing Mike even as his behavior gets more and more unnerving, though there are certain lines drawn for her: she eventually gets fed up with the constant pestering that various men enact upon her, she objects when her fiancé drags her to an adult education film. Like Peeping Tom from a decade before it, Deep End almost sees London as a nightmarish dystopia of sex gone mad, seeing both the bathhouse and the nightlife as a hotbed of strange and unsettling people. Skolimowski’s role here is essentially one of modulation, and he does so here by essentially bifurcating the film. The first half of the film largely takes place in and around the bathhouse, leaving aside the trip to the porn theater, and the interactions that Mike has with clients, including an especially memorable one where an older woman repeatedly pushes his head into her breasts while discussing association football. While sequences like that are willfully extended and acted out in discomfiting long take, the second half takes that strategy and expands it dramatically, first in a 20-minute sequence that follows Mike attempting to spy on Susan and her fiancé, which involves him eating something like ten hot dogs from a Chinese cart owner to give himself a justification for staying in the area, stealing a standee of a nude woman who resembles Susan, and taking refuge with a sex worker with a broken leg, all scored to music from “The Can.” The remaining 25 minutes of the film are taken up by a sequence of even greater absurdity, as Mike and Susan, huddled in the empty pool, boil five large bags of snow in a small kettle and strain it through her stockings in an effort to find her engagement ring’s diamond. What’s emphasized throughout Deep End is the forcefulness of Mike’s teenage fixations, and how they can be expressed in often violent tantrums that go unrecognized until it’s far too late. It’s entirely to Skolimowski’s credit that the final action here is as willfully strange yet visceral as the rest of the film: an almost inexplicable result, augmented by a fundamental damning motivation that resonates with a clanging horror.

Monday, July 26, 2021

Trust First Draft

Complete first draft written for In Review Online.

Hal Hartley occupies a curious position in the American film scene. While he might reasonably be called an icon of the independent film scene and has remained a fixture of prestigious film festivals like Sundance and Cannes since the late 1980s, he has never had the true breakout success or mainstream recognition of someone like a Whit Stillman, let alone a Quentin Tarantino. True, his style and interests have shifted over the years, but aside from a few circles, Hartley’s visibility has waned considerably, to the point where he is rarely mentioned amid the independent heyday of the 1990s. This is a shame, because in a just world, 1990’s Trust would rightly be regarded as one of the most significant American films of the decade. It was Hartley’s second film after the prior year’s The Unbelievable Truth, and in essence the two form a loose diptych, centering on the yearnings and anxieties of characters played by Adrienne Shelly. In this case, Shelly plays Maria Coughlin, a 17-year-old high schooler who begins the film in rip-roaring fashion: she announces to her parents that she has dropped out of high school and that she is pregnant, then slaps her father, who drops dead of a heart attack. Her counterpart is Matthew Slaughter (Hartley stalwart Martin Donovan), an older man with a troubled past who lives with his abusive father, and in his first scene quits his job fixing cheap electronics and puts his supervisor’s head in a vise. The extremities of the described events help to begin the process of typifying what makes Hartley’s style so unique and invigorating; while Hartley’s first three films (including 1992’s Simple Men) belong to the so-called Long Island Trilogy and identifiably exist in that space, all cool tones and wide expanses of concrete, the actual world that Hartley illustrates is one as prone to bursts of surreal behavior and emotions as his 1991 short “Ambition,” wherein a walk to work is punctuated by three separate brawls, including with a woman holding a submachine gun. Crucially, these moments are received with the same heightened deadpan equanimity that characterizes almost all of Hartley’s interactions, ensuring that they blend into the texture of the film rather than jut out from it. And just as crucially, the burgeoning romance that develops between Maria and Matthew is just as strange, just as thrilling in its development as these moments. The two don’t meet until almost half an hour into the film, and their first interaction is undertaken out of necessity: she has been kicked out of her house, and unlike the other men in the film he takes pity on her and offers her a place to stay for the night. Hartley conceives of love as not necessarily an innate force that can conquer all, but as something born from desperation and loneliness which is subject to the very destabilizing and vindictive forces that first caused it to come into being. For Maria, it is her mother Jean (Merritt Nelson) and her now ex-boyfriend Anthony (Gary Sauer), and for Matthew his father Jim (John MacKay) and the general state of Reaganite capitalism and its erosion of principles of quality and integrity. These factors are well in place by the time the two finally meet, so when they do it registers with a great gravity, a relief that the rest of the film both challenges and ultimately upholds. Trust is filled to the brim with subplots and obstacles, like Maria spending much of the film trying to find a frustrated housewife who stole a baby from a bus stop, which are ultimately less about the central romance and more about a certain way of being, an almost moral sense that Hartley infuses the film with. His philosophical discussions, like the one that gives the film its title — Maria sees love as being formed from respect, admiration, and trust, while Matthew is unable to let go of the material facts of their situation — are conveyed with a prosaic directness and flesh out what drives his characters down certain paths. This extends in large part to his supporting cast, who all are given a quirk of behavior, a shade of characterization that further deepens the concerns of the film, especially characters like Maria’s sister Peg (Edie Falco) and Karen Sillas as a weary abortion clinic nurse. But at the end of the day, the film belongs to Donovan and especially Shelly, and their two acting styles mesh incredibly harmoniously with Hartley. Donovan, in his first of many performances for Hartley, leans into the inherent artificiality of the dialogue, delivering his lines with a brusque intelligence that projects a downbeat confidence in his convictions and hopes. By contrast, this would be Shelly’s last performance for Hartley in a tragically short life, and what begins as a bratty arrogance in the first third of the film stunningly metamorphosizes into a tenderness, a considerateness that is informed by her maturation, her need to grow up in a world that tries to smother young women like her. Though Trust is one of the great American romance films, in no small part because it is the story of two messed-up, lonely people who connect because there is no one else who can truly understand them, it is just as much an achingly observed, ultimately ebullient Bildungsroman, an act of self-assertion that speaks so much to Hartley’s compassion and his ability to wring immense pathos from his signature, too-little-seen stylizations.