Films I Neglected To Review: "Friendship's A Gag, But Trifles Are Serious!"
By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 04/09/21 13:00:24
Please enjoy short reviews of "Awaken," "Slalom" and the return of Eric Rohmer's "Tales of the Four Seasons."
In the past, Tom Lowe has worked as a cinematographer for the likes of Terrence Malick and Godfrey Reggio, whose credits include the gorgeous cult favorite "Koyannasqatsi," and so it probably should not come as a surprise that his director debut, "Awaken," should in many ways serves as an homage to those two filmmakers (both of whom are credited as executive producers). The film is a plotless, freeform documentary shot in 4K over a period of five years capturing footage from around the world ranging from a solitary ballet dancer in the field to a view of a mountain range from above to (in a moment that essentially renders the entire thing into a nostalgia piece) thousands and thousands of people dancing the night away at a packed rave. Much of the footage is gorgeous, of course, but unlike a film such as "Koyannasqatsi," which used its visuals to tell a story of how mankind and technology were threatening the delicate balance of nature, there does not seem to be any true governing principle behind the footage as presented here--one could rearrange the scenes into a wildly different order and it would scarcely make a difference. Lowe also employs many of the same visual tricks that Reggio utilized in his film--slow-motion, time-lapse photography and the like--but since he deploys these tricks in practically every scene, whether they require them or not (even Brian De Palma would think there is a little too much slo-mo here), it offers viewers nothing more than a certain surface prettiness that gets a little tiresome after a while. Lowe's primary Malick connection comes in the form of a few scattered lines of portentous voiceover murmured by Liv Tyler every once in a while--a conceit that adds nothing to the proceedings and which could have been easily dispensed without anyone (possibly including Tyler) noticing or caring about its absence. As a film that is trying to be, to quote the IMDb summation, "a celebration of the spirit of life, an exploration of the Earth and an ode to the Cosmos," it is way too muddled for its own good and never makes its points clear in the way that "Koyannasqatsi" did. However, if all you want to do is sit back and let an array of undeniably trippy visuals wash over you for 75 minutes, "Awaken" manages to get that job done.
Set in the high-pressured world of competitive skiing, "Slalom" tells the story of Lyz Lopez (Noee Abita), a 15-year-old skiing prodigy who has just been accepted to her first year at a prestigious and highly intense racing academy where she is expected to dedicate her entire being to perfecting her sport. Although an undeniably gifted athlete, the combination of the program's intensity and parents who are largely out of the picture leaves her emotionally vulnerable off the slopes. This is an opening that her coach Fred (Jeremie Renier) takes full and horrifying advantage of, first pushing her to extremes in his coaching, which does pay off when she begins winning, and then insinuating himself into her life elsewhere in increasingly creepy ways that eventually culminate in sexual abuse. Obviously, Charlene Favier's film is a work that may simply be too grim and wounding for many viewers but what is impressive about it is that it is neither a simplistic #MeToo narrative or a sleazy exploitation film leering over the sex crimes that it is ostensibly condemning . Instead, it is a smart and complex coming-of-age story charting Lyz's journey from being an easily manipulated puppet into a more fully developed and self-aware person and this is effective captured in Abita's beautifully modulated performance. The performance by Renier is also quite impressive in the way that it presents him in a manner that finds some interesting shadings to his compulsions while in no way excusing his loathsome actions. Like I said, "Slalom" is a hard film to watch and even those who make it all the way through will find it hard to shake for a while. However, it is a well-made and eminently necessary one that tackles an important, if discomfiting, subject with an intriguing combination of restraint and anger that makes it well worth watching.
The last major cycle of films made by the great French director Eric Rohmer was "Tales of the Four Seasons," a group of four films produced between 1990 and 1998 that used the seasons as leaping-off points for typically Rohmerian musings on life, love and the complications that both engender. Now Janus Films has given the four films 2K restorations and they can now be seen in some theaters and online via streaming services like musicboxdirect.com "A Tale of Springtime" (1990) tells the story of pianist Natacha (Florence Darel) and how she attempts to manipulate new friend Jeanne (Anne Teyssedre) into pursuing a romantic relationship with Natcha's father as a way of getting rid of his current and much-younger girlfriend. "A Tale of Winter" (1992) finds Felicie (Charlotte Very) trying to decide between which of her two lovers she will go off with while still holding out for the possibility that the true love of her life (Frederic van den Driessche) might return to her. "A Summer's Tale" (1996) features Melvil Poupard) as a musician who visits a seaside resort in Brittany and finds himself torn between the romantic possibilities offered by three different women (Amanda Langlet, Aurelia Nolin and Gwenaeile Simon). "An Autumn Tale" (1998) is more of a straightforward romantic comedy involving a number of friends and family as they attempt to find a new love for the widowed Magali (Beatrice Romand). While "An Autumn Tale" is probably my favorite of the bunch--it manages to be light and charming throughout without ever becoming silly despite its occasionally farcical leanings--all four of the films are quite good and definitely worthy of rediscovery.