The Films of 2015: Two short takes

As 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 wildly.   

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.

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