This film is, in fact, a sort of sequel to Amour, following variations of Jean-Louis Trintignant and Isabelle Huppert’s characters from that film (some names and other details have been changed). But Haneke does not pull these elements together into a statement of any strength, or to provoke in a new way, or to resonate thematically that much. The film is less a refrain than a distant echo of his earlier work.
Setting aside the runny tar pacing, some lazily motivated plot turns (I could not explain to you why Paul takes one action that sets the last act in motion) and the uncountable ways in which the sci-fi is poorly thought out (the shrinking is a medical procedure, so how do they debiggen trees???), Downsizing fails to draw meaning from its premise. The shrinking could be replaced with any “green” high concept involving people segregating themselves in self-contained communities, and the story wouldn’t change. That’s because the movie isn’t about size-changing as a metaphor or even the environmental concerns it pays lip service to, but rather uses those merely as a backdrop for yet another mediocre middle-aged white man to find himself some self-fulfillment (with the help of a plucky foreign woman).
To watch PROTOTYPE progress is like seeing a photograph being emulsed in brackish water, slowly becoming soggy, decaying, and then its melted bits swirled about with the surrounding muck. The stereoscope pictures are incredibly sharp, the 3D granting the post-apocalyptic landscapes a frightening immediacy. It is the moment after the storm. From then on, Williams simulates how the passage of time engineers the corrosion of collective memory. Each new scene jars the audience into bewilderment, and then slowly reacclimatizes viewers into meditation on the film’s progression, before it does the same thing all over again. The ending then snaps the audience back to reality, with photos of a modern Florida beach. Even without the meta knowledge of hurricanes bearing down on that landscape today, it serves as an ominous reminder of how the images we circulate today will in their own way evolve from immediate to remote as we move into the future.
Zama is the kind of historical film (the number of which have increased in recent years, which I believe to be a good thing) that refuses to concede even the smallest positivity to the history in question. The only way to pretend life in a 1700s colony was in any way a great time is to focus on myths of white male heroism to the exclusion of literally everyone else’s experience, to say nothing of the gross pre-modern conditions even those men lived in. There’s no better way to deflate a romanticized archetype than to show what it was like to get sick during their time (there’s a lot of shit-filled buckets and pantaloons).
You will likely find future Oscar contenders and boutique theater releases at the Toronto International Film Festival, which is now in its 41st year and runs through this weekend. But the festival also curates a choice selection of experimental works under its Wavelengths banner — choice fare for cinephiles looking outside the box, or who don’t care for the box at all. And Wavelengths lead programmer Andréa Picard calls the section’s four annual shorts programs its crown. Each screening consists of short films from some of the most daring artists working today from around the world. These are among the standouts.
In fact, the most interest that can be gleaned from the film is wondering about how much self-awareness is in play – so much so that a viewer might not just wonder how much it’s toying with them, but also how much it knows that we know that it knows, and even further complications of paratextual ponderings. For example, China is introduced slinking around Glen’s apartment in a bikini. The camera blithely ogles her, but the clear Lolita reference paired with the over-the-top thirst makes the wink to the viewer evident. But of course, even ironically leering at an underage girl is still leering. But the movie may be aware of that, too – and so could it then be said to also be commenting on ironic objectification? Maybe. Or maybe C.K. is just pissing on an electric fence, deliberately throwing out stuff he knows will get the clickbait flowing.
“Action like this is something very specific to surveillance camera footage. These cameras are rolling 24 hours, so they are able to record these types of events, which take place in one or two seconds, which normal film crews cannot catch, not as easily. Seeing all these accidents, it made my vision of the world change a bit. It shows that as a society, we cannot control everything. Anything can happen at any minute. This film is about a very classical, intimate love story between two people. I wanted to put that story inside this dangerous world, and see how all this danger can have an effect on this simple love story.”
Iannucci has said that he’s done with satire now that Donald Trump is president, but even this isn’t really satire. Who thinks that Stalinist Russia somehow needs to be taken down a peg? This film is a comedy set against a particular historical backdrop, but only a fraction of the humor is derived from the specifics of that setting, and most of those jokes don’t provoke much thought about the Soviet Union (unless there’s deeper wit to backgrounding casual dialogue with sounds of executions than I caught on to). There will almost certainly be thinkpieces comparing Stalin to Trump, making references to alleged modern Russian interference in Western democracy, or both, but those can be safely ignored as shallow. I truly can’t dig a stronger meaning out of this film than Iannucci and his collaborators simply spotting a story that seemed ripe for their brand of comedy and having fun with it.
Outshining all of them is the cinematography by indie camera god Sean Price Williams, whose askew framing lends the movie a consistent sense of unwell, like in a scene featuring the world’s most awkward blowjob. The imagery is washed in giallo colors, with lots of nightmare yellow-greens. Vivid and mordant, Thirst Street imperfectly defines its lead, but makes her journey distinct.