Luca Guadagnino’s dark road trip drama — divided not by chapters but by two-letter State abbreviations — follows Maren’s journey to learn about her past which leads her to meet Lee, a hustler fuelled by the same dark hunger which resides in her. Taylor Russell is immediately captivating, drawing us into Maren’s reality with the adolescent confusion of newfound desires, and the sense of losing control. Although violence is frequent, Bones and All doesn’t revel in gore, showing just enough to be disquieting before the camera shifts, lingering instead on the perpetrators in the messy aftermath with crimson-soaked clothes or Chalamet’s sharp jaw and neck stained in faded red matching the dyed tips of his hair. These are blue collar monsters in the vein of Near Dark, transient and trying to survive in a world that neither sees nor cares for them. It is suggested that most of their kind stay isolated because being around others forces you to see yourself, a stark counterpoint to Three Thousand Years of Longing’s desire to be seen. Chalamet is a slightly odd fit for Lee, his presence will no doubt attract viewers but the light swagger of his performance conflicts with a character burdened by trauma that he refuses to share. Guadagnino has a consummate skill for presenting deep connections that feel somehow doomed, although Bones and All lacks the perfectly controlled pacing of Call Me By Your Name — it meanders too long toward a conclusion that is hurried and unsatisfying.
“There is a particular sad beauty… well-known to the companionless foreigner as he walks the streets of his adopted preferably moonlit, city. In my case, Ennui, France.”
Whilst there has always been a literary chic aesthetic to Wes Anderson’s films, The French Dispatch is an ode to the art of long-form journalism — rather than being divided into chapters, this is really a collection of short films masquerading as articles. The fictional French town of Ennui-sur-Blasé (literally “boredom on apathy”) is fittingly named, and even the colour palette eschews the bold saturation one expects from Anderson; yet within this disaffected community, the writers seek out — and perhaps manifest — absurdly colourful tales. The quality is distinctly uneven, Anderson seeming to have little to say with the content of the stories so much as their loquacious delivery. The most creative is also the most entertaining, a food review that morphs into an unpredictable heist. Although that earns the film a strong closing, it cannot resolve the disconnected narrative of a vapidly kitsch tale of student protest or a bizarrely aggressive travelogue. Fans of Wes Anderson will find plenty of details to enjoy, together with the de rigueur stellar ensemble cast, but The French Dispatch does not rank amongst his strongest work.
“Dreams make good stories, but everything important happens when we’re awake.”
Creating an epic space opera without “Star Wars” in the title is a financially risky proposition, and the chief criticism of Denis Villeneuve’s Dune is that it tells only half a story if its A-list cast fails to attract a wide enough audience for the second film to be made. I approach the film as a fan of the director rather than Frank Herbert’s novels but the script maintains the rich political intrigue between the familial houses laying claim to desert-planet Arrakis. The scenes of violence and war are always in service to that story. Timothée Chalamet is an excellent choice for Paul Atreides, making him seem vulnerable despite his lineage and skills. This is a man driven by dreams and visions, a storytelling device that I always find less compelling on screen than in writing, an indulgence detrimental to pacing. Nevertheless, Villeneuve’s own uncompromising vision is evident in almost every frame, from the ruggedly realistic clothing and stark geometric sets to the insect-inspired vehicle designs and a desaturated colour palette so tightly controlled that merely seeing green on Arrakis comes as a shock. Indeed the inhospitable world of Arrakis is utterly absorbing (even as the plot slows) in a way I have not felt since Avatar‘s Pandora, but the rest of the galaxy feels strangely empty — we may see large armies on different planets, but there is no sense that these are living, populated places. Dune is beautiful in its detailed grandeur which excels on the big screen but it can also be sluggish and bleak, held back from greatness by an ultimately unsatisfying ending, even if there are thematic justifications for where the line was drawn.
“I suppose marriage has always been an economic proposition. Even in fiction.”
Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of Alcott’s classic novel blends a wonderful cast with modern feminist sensibilities. Where Gillian Armstrong’s 1994 version was a direct translation of the novel, Gerwig is more ambitious in her approach. The most obvious change is choosing to tell story out of order, creating a meta narrative in the way scenes are juxtaposed. Introducing the women as young adults also reduces the inclination to infantilise them as children. It works best for those already familiar with the material as the chronology can feel slightly disjointed. Hearing of Laurie’s failed proposal at the start also robs the scene of any power when it finally arrives late in the film, but it also alters the way one views his childhood relationship with the girls. The key casting is Saoirse Ronan and Timothée Chalamet (both of whom starred in Gerwig’s Lady Bird). Ronan makes Jo’s proud wilfulness overtly dislikable in some scenes, trusting that we will come to understand her as the film proceeds. Meanwhile, Chalamet’s Laurie is both charming and brusque, with nuanced variation to his relationships with each of the sisters. The ambiguous ending, seemingly introduced by Gerwig as something of a critique, may offend purists, but it is entirely fitting for this adaptation.
“The meaning of the river flowing is not that all things are changing so that we cannot encounter them twice, but that some things stay the same only by changing.”
What better description of adolescence, and of those who enter our lives for a time? Call Me By Your Name, adapted from André Aciman’s novel, is a beguiling romance set against the idle heat of a summer in 1980s Italy. The film’s most striking feature is its confident control over pacing to match its narrative, with some scenes drifting lazily as a summer afternoon whilst others lurch forward suddenly as clumsy youthful affection often does. Timothée Chalamet is captivating as Elio, wordlessly depicting both his yearning and his confusion. Elio’s parents are aware of what is occurring but take a largely passive role. And yet, the inevitable experience of heartbreak is all the more profound for his father’s words of support.
“I want you to be the very best version of yourself that you can be.”
An alternative coming-of-age film, the focus is Catholic high school girl Christine (who has adopted the name “Lady Bird”) and her turbulent relationship with her mother. This is an unusually well-realised mother/daughter relationship, in which they both know they love one another, yet their strong-willed personalities frequently grate. Saoirse Ronan deftly avoids portraying Lady Bird as quirky for its own sake, instead making it a believable element of her awkward teenage self-expression, whilst still anxious about the perception of her wealthier peers. Religion largely takes a back seat to the more human elements of the story, in what struck me as a female counterpoint to Richard Linklater’s films about male adolescence.