indie films of the summer

As one of my favorite hobbies is seeing indie films (i.e. movies that often lack intricate plot lines, traditional action scenes such as car chases or explosions, and could even be considered to be about nothing) I thought I would review a couple that I’ve seen and enjoyed this summer.

The Lobster:

One of the most inventive and genuine films I’ve seen lately that has stuck with me, was Yorgos Lathimos’ The Lobster, a satire of both the shallowness of modern relationships and the regimentation of emotion and love, set in a dystopian society that marginalizes the unattached individual.

In Lathimos’ futuristic world, finding a partner is motivated by more than just societal pressure to pair up, but by the more imminent fear of avoiding being turned into an animal, the punishment to folks who fail to find their better half after forty-five days at a special hotel for singles. Such high stakes to finding one’s soulmate prove to produce pairs that are founded on rather shoddy bedrock. A central theme in the film examines the extent to which we can “fake it” when it comes to love, explored by relationships of many of the hotel guests, and through David’s unsuccessful attempts to convince an unfeeling, psychopathic woman of their shared cold-blooded apathy. He initially piques her interest when he sits motionless next to her while she feigns choking to prove the he too lacks any human emotion. However, eventually his true colors and  empathetic nature bleed through.

The film is successful in depicting a world that parallels the shallow and forced nature of relationships that often occur in modern society. Pursuing a love interest based on mutual tendency to get nosebleeds (the basis of Ben Winshaw’s character’s relationship with another hotel guest) is hardly more absurd or preposterous than the unromantic notion of finding love by way of algorithms; matching with prospects based on mutual friends, superficial common interests and other depthless details gathered by the plethora of dating apps and websites which now govern modern romance.

Just as the management of the hotel poses unrealistic pressures and deadlines on it’s guests to find a partner, the rebel group in the resort’s surrounding woods, known as the “loners” are similarly constrained by their rulers to remain unattached. Through Colin Farrell’s character, David’s, formation of a clandestine relationship with a loner, played by Rachel Weisz, (the only genuine and human relationship we see throughout the film) Yathimos illustrates again and again that real love, whatever that may be, is rarely capable of following a formula or rule book, and often goes against any sort of methodization.

 

Cafe Society:

Woody Allen’s Cafe Society explores the theme of unrequited love, and hints at examining the shallowness of Hollywood and her petty characters, against the backdrop of 1930’s Los Angeles and New York City. The central conflict revolves around a love triangle involving Bobby Dorfman (Jesse Eisenberg)  who upon his arrival in L.A. becomes enamored with Vonnie (Kristen Stewart), the secretary of his Uncle (Steve Carrell), who is secretly dating the married Uncle Phil.

Phil jerks her around telling her he loves her but can’t leave his wife of 25 years, until he eventually comes to the realization that he cannot live without Vonnie. At this point, Vonnie and Bobby are beginning to make plans to marry and move to New York together, when Phil intercedes. The romantic in me couldn’t help but feel disappointed when Vonnie gives up the pure, uncomplicated love that Bobby offers in favor of a proposition from the indecisive, perpetually confused Phil. Bobby eventually moves on (or does he?) by marrying a beautiful New Yorker who is also named Veronica, but their relationship lacks any of the palpable chemistry that existed so effortlessly between him and the first Veronica, or Vonnie.

What this story of unrequited love seems to leave the audience with is the less than groundbreaking notion that ghosts of lovers past have a way of remaining in the corners of many peoples’ memories and dreams. Maybe the theme would have made a greater impression had the characters evolved into more vivid, three-dimensional people in the process of telling us this. I had some trouble staying invested in what happened to either Vonnie or Bobby as we slowly see that neither of them seem to mature much, despite Vonnie’s new occupation as a Hollywood wife and Bobby’s new role as a businessman, husband, and father. By the scene where Vonnie visits Bobby’s club and entreats him to sit down at her table for “just five minutes,” launching into a diatribe about a glamorous party of late, she has become merely a poster child for the shallow, ‘larger than life,’ Hollywood style that she initially condemned in her charmingly girlish, down-to-earth confidence exuded in earlier scenes. This is how much of the dialogue between the main characters starts to feel by the end of the film: flat as a poster.

The film is still highly watchable and worth of the investment of ninety six minutes. What is lacking in the script and plot is made of for to some degree by the beautiful period clothes and sets, and by Vittorio Storaro’s stunning cinematography (evoking more of a nostalgia for a glamorous old Hollywood than the characters do), making it if not an especially innovative story, at least a pleasurable film.

Joanna Urban

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