Idle thoughts on cinema in 500 words (give or take a few). by Ian Scott Todd
The Films of 2015: Two short takes
the year draws to a close, I’ve been catching up with some of this year’s films
that I missed the first time around.
Here are two that I screened this week.
Hard To Be a God(dir. Aleksei German).Forget
It Follows: this is obviously the
year’s most horrifying film, a literal slog through a medieval hellscape
flooded with mud, piss, shit, and rotting animals. Hard To
Be a God is more mordantly funny than Tarkovsky and more hideous than Tarr,
though it resembles both of these filmmakers’ work at different points, as
German’s constantly roving camera moves through spaces that are as eerily
beautiful as they are repugnant. While Hard To Be a God is more or less
incomprehensible on a plot level (officially speaking, it’s about a scientist
exploring another planet, the human inhabitants of which appear to be stuck in
the Dark Ages), it’s difficult not to be staggered by the density and visceral
power of the world of the film, which was made over the course of some thirteen
years and the completion of which coincided with German’s death. Critics as formidable as Glenn Kenny and J.
Hoberman have called it profound and transcendent; I was more impressed with it
as a triumph of cinematography and mise-en-scene. Mileage for this one is sure to vary
Tangerine (dir. Sean Baker). “Merry Christmas, bitch.” Tangerine—which
takes place in L.A. on Christmas Eve and concerns the efforts of a transgender
prostitute to avenge her boyfriend’s infidelity—is a holiday movie in the key
of John Waters. (Not surprisingly,
Waters has listed it as one of his ten favorite films of the year.) Instead of roasting
chestnuts over an open fire, Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) and Alexandra (Mya
Taylor) gossip at Donut Time on Santa Monica Boulevard; rather than gathering
around the tree, they spend the evening at a bar where Alexandra sings Christmas
songs before an all-but-empty house.
The film celebrates L.A. at its most cheerfully sleazy: even the title
refers to an orange-scented car freshener, an impromptu Christmas present from
Alexandra to the Armenian cab driver who is both a friend and a regular client. Tangerine
is rough around the edges and about fifteen minutes too long, but its
roughness is part of its charm.
Spirited, funny, and a little tacky, the film is also a welcome
corrective to the kind of nauseatingly tasteful portraits of transgender people
being sold elsewhere in cinema and on television. I’ll take the raucous, sharp-tongued Sin-Dee
and Alexander over Eddie Redmayne’s Danish girl any day.