Rec Room: Inarticulate Dreamers And A Quiet Apocalypse

Toward the end of Andrew Bujalski’s Mutual Appreciation, newly-minted New Yorker and aspiring rock star Alan Peoples (Justin Rice of the band Bishop Allen) drunkenly confesses to his friend Ellie (Rachel Clift): “See, you have all this potential, but then, you know, the more things you make…the more you get closer to, I don’t know…failure.”* And that’s when I cringe, and curl up in a ball on my couch. Way too close to home, I think. I feel the same way about Liz Lemon. I’m not sure if I would love this movie as much if I were watching it twenty years from now…It’s a small, artfully made little film–there’s no doubt that Bujalski is a talented director. But it feels a bit like a hidden-camera version of my own life. I don’t think I’ve had the same starry-eyed view of New York culture as Alan, who sees it as one big hipster love-in. But I certainly have had that same view of my own future, and I’ve spent more than my fair share of time wandering around Brooklyn in varying states of sobriety, trying desperately to figure out what exactly it is I want to do with myself. In any case, I have a feeling that Mutual Appreciation will probably strike a chord with a lot of 20-somethings in the grand tradition of Slacker, and Reality Bites–so make sure to check it out (easy for those with Netflix instant-viewing capabilities) before you watch it and think “It’s just a lot of inarticulate, navel-gazing children–I don’t get it.”

Recommended if: You like minimalist indie films where not much happens, swoon at Justin Rice’s disarming grin, and want to see what this whole “mumblecore” thing is really about.

Not for you if: Watching self-involved college grads angst, play guitar and indulge in long, awkward pauses is your idea of cinema-hell.

*I’m paraphrasing because I didn’t have the wits to write this quote down at the time. Generally though, I’ll do my best to transcribe directly, since misquoting is a giant pet peeve of mine.

Watching Michael Haneke’s Le temps du loup (Time of the Wolf) turned out to be a fitting complement to finishing Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (the film version of which I can’t wait to see). Both present a disquietingly familiar picture of the apocalypse, unexplained except through hints. Both show previously civil people alternately resort to desperate and inhuman measures to survive, while others attempt to retain some semblance of humanity. The main difference between the two is that Haneke’s film does not isolate its protagonists as McCarthy’s novel does, but throws them in the mire with the other stragglers.

I have a strange affinity for Haneke’s filmmaking, as masochistic as it can be. Perhaps because he takes an unusual approach to horrifying topics (murder, incest, torture, and sadomasochism to name a few). Where writers are told to “Show, don’t tell,” Haneke takes the approach of “Divert, don’t show,” so that the few moments of on-screen brutality are all the more disturbing for their sparsity. Take a scene where a mother is grieving at the burial of her child. We see the little mound of earth with its wooden cross, but the mourning family is shown only from the knees down. We hear the woman’s keening intensify, almost unbearable to listen to as slowly the rest of the group walks away and the scene grows dark. As the mother finally leaves, still sobbing, it’s only then that we see torches moving slowly toward us over the hillside. Of the five Haneke films I’ve watched, this is probably the least affecting, or perhaps just the least stomach-turning. But it’s powerful nonetheless, and it’s interesting to watch the incredible Isabelle Huppert (probably my favorite French actress working today) play such a subdued, somehow fiercely fragile character.

Recommended if: You love dark (literally and figuratively–I could barely see the first 20 minutes of the movie) foreign films with inconclusive endings, Michael Haneke, and not-so futuristic depictions of the end of the world.

Not for you if: Any amount of violence makes you squeamish, or you can’t handle slow pacing (for it is veeerrrry slow at times).

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