What do we do when we travel, if not compare the new experiences we're acquiring to expectations culled from past experience and consumption of stories, images, and films? "We record everything," says Amy Adams's wife-behind-the-guy in The Master
. "Through all lifetimes." By "we," she means not just her fellow devotees of "the Cause," but also humans; the Master's teachings merely give those who sign up the mechanism of playback. The idea that we can flip back and forth through collected experience like scrolling a clip would seem to offer the key to unlocking both Terrence Malick's creation-spanning The Tree of Life
, and his much more intimately scaled TIFF entry, To the Wonder
. Starring Ben Affleck as a man who marries an exotic Frenchwoman and also falls in love with a lady from his hometown, the film revitalizes Malick's long obsession with man as both a creature of nature and nature's enemy, by setting heightened, hyper-real depictions of men and women in primal states against the banality of the modern real world. Apparently substantially autobiographical and elliptical almost to the point of self-parody, Wonder
is both solipsistic and, in its portrayal of seemingly mild-mannered adults as wild animals struggling within an over-engineered society, it's as radical a portrait of this American moment as The Master
is of its.
"Shouldn't revolutionary cinema employ a revolutionary style?" asks a character in Something in the Air
, Olivier Assayas's autobiographical drama about a teenage artist and activist torn between creative instincts and political subculture in post-'68 Euro-Bohemia. This movie's style is distinctly Assayasian: a slow accumulation of interconnected character and period detail (including audacious soundtrack choices), spinning on the axis of a sprawling party scene. From its early depictions of vandalism for the cause and sex as foreplay to art criticism to a tragedy of literally explosive carelessness and the burnout that follows, it delivers the encapsulation of the intangible that the title promises, even if that means that, like the movement it's set within, Air
seems to lose its thrust and thread as its protagonists mature.
But no film I saw embodied this marriage of revolutionary style and spirit better than Spring Breakers
, Harmony Korine's avant-garde trashy-party-flick-meets-post-Scarface
-gangster-tragedy, set in an America engaged in a turf war between right and wrong, between total nihilists and anyone Pollyannaish enough to believe that a social contract is still applicable in late capitalism. With the narrative logic of a feature-length music video, Spring Breakers
' sensibility is ironic, but hardly flippant. It's hilarious and terrifying.
A similar swirl of emotions runs through The Act of Killing
, a horrifying work of art-film-as-activism in which the perpetrators of a genocide in Indonesia in the mid '60s (celebrated by that country to this day; celebrated back in the day by the U.S. as righteous Commie-killing) gleefully re-create their crimes--which they claim were influenced by Hollywood movies--for director Joshua Oppenheimer's camera. I talked to several people who walked out of the film at TIFF before its narrative arc completed, which is a mistake: Without spoiling too much, it becomes evident that Oppenheimer's intention is to make these war criminals feel the moral weight of what they've done and thus give them the punishment and shaming their country won't. Is it too little too late? Probably, but it's better than nothing.