By Roger Costa
THE PAINTER AND THE THIEF
As a reaction towards a painting reflecting himself, mixed with self contemplation, anguish, enlightenment, and pain, a struggling addict falls in tears, and refuses an act of affection, a hug offered by the woman whose painting he once stole. Marked by these sort of sudden affecting reactions between two people who develop an unusual friendship based on commitment and mutual respect, this documentary develops as an observation on the human condition, on the practice of solidarity and compassion, on the practice of loving, caring, stepping into someone else’s shoes, hugging people, and also pointing to the risks and losses of all of that. Intrigued by the guy’s testimony in court regarding the allegations that he cannot remember the locations of her stolen paintings, she joins him for debates trying to understand his perspectives and memories of that night, while she is analyzing important elements of her journey as an artist and a person. The relationship evolves into an open diary of themselves, exposing their dilemmas, traumas, loneliness, inner battles and the strong desire and fascination they share for both living and dying. While her paintings depicts dark, violent and explicit situations, he has lived a dark life himself, with involvement in criminal actions, heavy drugs and personal demons. Their fascination with such elements are a reflection of the suffering caused by abusive traumas from violence, abandonment, rejection and separation. And their lives are unbelievably connected for a long term as they delve into each other’s personal crisis, and especially when their mental and physical stability are jeopardized. Capturing this unlikely, strong, incredible relationship with candid eyes, director Benjamin Ree conceives a powerful statement on compassion and the elements that unify human virtues, despite the turbulence of our times. Raw and inclusive, it’s a unique experience as never seen before.
(NEON. Playing on Museum of Moving Image’s Online Cinema. Go to http://www.movingimage.us/programs/ for details.)
Elisabeth Moss gives another ravishing performance in this imagination on the life of the infamous Horror writer Shirley Jackson. Director Josephine Decker’s follow-up to her brilliant “Madeline’s Madeline” proves her to be a stylish, innovative and fully committed filmmaker. Shot in a dreamy atmosphere, this seductive, complex psycho-noir centers on the turmoil of her marriage to a renowned professor (the always amazing Michael Stuhlbarg), gaining more fuel by the arrival of newlyweds played by Odessa Young and Logan Lerman, who came to help the professor with a project. Everything seems to be an excuse to give Shirley a little hand out of bed, as she’s been into a depressive condition, unable to write or to help herself to the basics of living. Also some help with their financial problems, as the couple is kindly suggested to perform the just-dismissed housekeeper’s tasks. Soon Shirley will be able to break her own limits as she engages on the conception of a masterpiece, while increasingly involving herself into new pleasures. Mixing provocative images of her creative process to the cocktail parties among society, the intimacy of her solitude and unconventional relations, Decker crafted an intense, somber and beguiling work.
(NEON. Playing on Museum of Moving Image’s Online Cinema. Go to http://www.movingimage.us/programs/2020/06/05/detail/shirley/ for details.)
Writer-director Jeremy Hersh’s feature debut is a refreshing, authentic and truthful look on this generation’s quests for parenthood, professional stability, equality and acceptance. Through the story of a strong friendship between a young African-American woman and her two gay friends, Hersh paints an efficient portrait on issues related to our times, when people are struggling to be heard and to find freedom. Jasmine Batchelor plays Jess with charm and convincing dramatic techniques. She is the egg donor for her friends, but they reject it, when they learn the baby will have Down Syndrome. They agree on an abortion, but turns out she wants to keep it, and decides to convince everyone to help her out when the baby arrives. But everyone is against her, including those who were designated to keep the baby. Fighting against all odds, her family, her friends, and the rules established by society, she remains irreversible and will face anything to survive it. Beautifully observed, with insightful takes on the characters’ reactions and motives, extremely honest and tender, Hersh extracts pitch-perfect performances from the trio of actors as they explore dogmas, issues and alternatives, based on humanism and values. A triumphant, realistic and very promising debut.
(Monument Releasing. Playing on Museum of Moving Image’s Online Cinema. Go to http://www.movingimage.us/programs/2020/06/12/detail/the-surrogate/ for details.)