Moving Pictures
May 21, 2024, 06:29AM

Urge for Going

Taking in Joanna Arnow's debut and Evil Does Not Exist and AGGRO DR1FT back to back the following night at the Charles Theatre.

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Maybe it was a post-film fest slump, because I couldn’t find anything to do on a string of days off than go to the movies. That urge comes and goes, the same with any interest—writing, reading, etc.—it’s in fits and spurts, and right now I’m back in the movies.

Car again in the shop, I walked down to the Charles to catch Joanna Arnow’s debut The Feeling That the Time For Doing Something Has Passed. A low-key, aging millennial self-examination built out of humiliation and alienation, The Feeling is the kind of “romantic” and “comedy” that awkwardly defined a generation running down the entropy of getting older. Borrowing the wide-angle mise en scene of Roy Andersson and elliptical scenarios of early Jarmusch, Arnow’s first feature is languid and punctual simultaneously, finding much of its humor in hard-cutting out of a scene at the moment you know Arnow’s character will look back on in embarrassment while lying awake at night. It’s hard to say this is the kind of film that doesn’t get made anymore—obviously, it did—but it does leave me with the feeling that the awkward-millennial comedy is in its dying days as the minds behind them are getting older to the point where it’s not cute anymore (Zoë Eisenberg’s Chaperone, which recently played at the Maryland Film Festival, posits something similar). But having The Feeling play at the Charles late in the spring of 2024 shows, despite the bleak outlook for independent cinema and the broader film industry, some sort of niche holding out within the culture.

The next day I was back for a double-bill, starting off with Hamaguchi’s Evil Does Not Exist and seeing all the same trailers I saw the night before for the summer weirds: the kind of hack biopic indicative of a successful actor becoming a vanity director, a baffling magical-realist family drama where the “revelation” Julia Louis-Dreyfus (as one of the pull quotes tries to claim of an actress who’s been incredibly famous and acclaimed for the last 30 years) deals with her daughter’s terminal illness by talking to some sort of angelic (demonic?) parrot-like beast, and a new Mad Max movie that looks less like a daring new jump in the series as The Road Warrior (1981) was from the original and more like a retread and expansion of the exercise of the previous film, as happened with Beyond Thunderdome (1985). Luckily Hamaguchi’s latest far surpassed the summer slop of the trailers.

Even if arthouse audiences weren’t familiarized to Hamaguchi with Drive My Car (2021), his Chekhovian influence would be made completely apparent by Evil Does Not Exist. Hamaguchi’s drama, set in a small Japanese village as an outside firm seeks to establish a glamping site on the outskirts of town, doesn’t show its hand until the very end. It’s the kind of narrative weaving that’s often more popularly employed in theater, yet Hamaguchi imbues every moment of his shockingly heavy drama built from an ostensibly easy-flowing frame with cinematic heft: the world bends itself around his camera, as if it’s naturally creating the film rather than Hamaguchi carefully considering the images. It lends an extraordinary sense of truth to Hamaguchi’s film that’s built around the idea that “everything flows downstream,” and that even the most seemingly mundane interactions or apparently unthreatening questions can lead to dire consequences as their repercussions become anything but banal.

After Evil Does Not Exist I went straight to Aggro Dr1ft, a screening which Nicky Smith described on Twitter as “all the stars” coming out for, which coincided funnily with me getting an emphatic (if sometimes resentful yes) from Film Twitter when asking if people in cities with big rep scenes run into their mutuals constantly—in a certain way I guess that means Baltimore’s on the map. And there’s no doubt, too, that the hunger for seeing something different is here: the two screenings of Aggro Dr1ft last week have led to the theater considering booking more screenings. That enthusiasm is justified, too: Harmony Korine is the real deal. The thermal images in Aggro Dr1ft seem like they could be easily phoned in as a curiosity in the hands of a lesser filmmaker, but Korine finds a similar kind of poetry of motion and memory as Terrence Malick does with his post-Tree of Life (2011) digital trilogy. While exploring digital grit and unexpected beauty in Julien Donkey Boy (1999) and Trash Humpers (2009), since Spring Breakers (2012) Korine has developed a similar kind of flowing mise en scene and elliptical editing style that Malick was pioneering.

Instead of a medium of light, Korine makes heat the stuff which his cinema is made of Aggro Dr1ft, exemplifying the fluidity of spirit. For a piece of media that is “filtered through the vernacular of video games,” as Korine has said, the digital artifacting and VFX interjections that can turn men briefly into machines is surprisingly full of life. On its face it's ridiculous, yet its surface is also made up of poetry. Recently I wrote that the excitement of motorsports has interested me much more in recent years than anything released in theaters, but this weekend is the first time in a while where a couple of trips to the movies was as thrilling and unexpected as Bump Day at the Indy 500.


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