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NYFF: "First Reformed" and "Let the Sunshine In"

by Murtada

First Reformed
A middle aged priest in crisis sits down with a young man suffering from his own disillusionment with the status of our current world. Once the pleasantries are done with and the futility of existence and our doomed world become the topic of conversation, the alarm sirens start going off. It took the audience at the New York Film Festival screening a few moments to realize that the sirens are not part of the movie unfolding, but an actual false fire alarm asking us to vacate the cinema.

That’s how deeply engrossing Paul Schrader’s First Reformed is...

Ethan Hawke plays the priest who is called by young pregnant parishioner (Amanda Seyfried) to advise her troubled environmental activist husband (Philip Ettinger). The story immerses its characters in deep political and spiritual debates. Schrader is in argument with himself, his characters and his audience. He withholds music, photographs without flourish and directs his actors to minimize gestures. The audience wants to know more because they are given so little, so it becomes a dialogue with the film.

Middle-age agrees with Hawke, giving him the pathos we've been discovering in his last few performances. First Reformed might become his definitive performance. It was funny to hear Schrader allude to “awards season” at the screening, when explaining why the film will be held back to next spring because Hawke would’ve given this year’s crop of best actor hopefuls a run for their money.

Grade: B+

Let the Sunshine In
What do you think of when you think of a Claire Denis movie? Besides them being bold transporting film experiences. Maybe a pivotal scene set to a music and dance number a la "The Rhythm of the Night" in Beau Travail? Maybe a long gobsmacking scene that ends the movie and leaves you disoriented well past the credits stop rolling? Well both are in Let the Sunshine In, making it undoubtedly a Denis’ film despite being a romantic comedy. Or, rather, a wry deconstruction of the romantic comedy.

Loosely inspired by Roland Barthes’s A Lover’s Discourse, Sunshine has Juliette Binoche as Isabelle, an artist of a certain age searching for love in Paris. Not any love will do -- she’s looking for The One. Elliptical in structure the film follows Isabelle as she meets one romantic possibility after another. Binoche charts the hopefulness, ultimate disappointment and sometimes utter confusion on her glowing face. Binoche and Denis don’t temper down Isabelle’s self-indulgence, giving us a hard-edged portrait of someone who is perhaps most fascinating to themselves. It’s a curious but thoroughly engaging trick for a romantic comedy. Appearing briefly but to crackling effect is Gerard Depardieu. He has made confounding comments about Binoche in the past, giving their scene together added disconcerting context. Oh and the song Denis uses memorably here is Etta James’ "At Last". One more reason not to miss this movie.

Grade: B

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Reader Comments (4)

denis is always interesting, but of these two, first reformed is my choice. interesting and bold!

October 15, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterPHIL

I'm really looking forward to seeing First Reformed. Schrader's work is always fascinating, and Hawke is indeed maturing beautifully in his performances.

And Let the Sunshine In sounds like a must-see too: Binoche and Denis!

October 16, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterEdward L.

Oof, Just read Depardieu's comments about Binoche. Have to wonder if she knew he'd be in the film when she signed on. What a classless boor he is.

October 16, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterDJDeeJay

The content is a veru useful one for the students who are studying this Defence Jobs

June 14, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterbivalvan

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