Today in NYFF reviews: Nick Schager on The Paperboy and Our Children.
Directed by Lee Daniels
Crass southern-fried exploitation with laughable pretenses toward gravity, The Paperboy takes as its inspiration Pete Dexter’s novel about a 1969 true-crime tale and drenches it in sweat, blood, spit and piss — the last via the already notorious sight of Nicole Kidman saving Zac Efron from a potentially fatal jellyfish sting by peeing on his face.
That’s just the most salacious element of this wantonly tawdry film, in which Miami journalist Ward Jansen (Matthew McConaughey) returns to his backwater Florida hometown to exonerate gnarly convict Hillary (John Cusack) of a murder rap, a plan that comes to involve Ward’s brother Jack (Efron) and Charlotte (Kidman), who’s struck up a letter-writing romance with Hillary and for whom Jack not-so-secretly pines.
Racism coats everything in Lee Daniels’ follow-up to Precious, from Ward and Jack’s father (Scott Glenn) and his fiancé blatantly mistreating their maid Anita (Macy Gray), to Ward’s London-born writing partner Yardley (David Oyelowo) suffering condescension and the “n” word from various sources. Like the film’s consuming carnality and brutality, those concerns are dialed to eleven and coated in a cartoony southern twang.
Daniels shoots with self-conscious ’70s-style affectations – heavy grain, split screens, superimposed imagery, varying film stocks – to further amplify the material’s atmospheric hysteria. Decked out in trampy short dresses and hot pink lipstick, Kidman’s redneck Barbie doll oozes cheap erotic filth. Yet while one character rightly opines “This is a circus,” Daniels eventually can’t also help aiming for high-minded import, thereby halting any wild-and-crude momentum and exposing this grotesquerie of broad caricatures, nasty intolerance and deep, dark secrets as merely wannabe-trash with unwarranted ambitions to mean something beneath its gleefully tasteless sex and violence. (Nick Schager)
Directed by Joachim Lafosse
Screens October 12 and 13
A domestic drama of escalating instability and madness, Our Children suggests tragedy in its opening frames before then masking its true direction through careful day-to-day consideration of Belgian couple Mounir (A Prophet‘s Tahar Rahim) and Murielle (Rosetta‘s Emilie Dequenne), and their life residing with Mounir’s adoptive father and lifelong benefactor André (Niels Arestrup).
That existence first involves marriage and, later, four children, each born in a home fraught with increasing tension due to Murielle’s growing anxiety and volatility born from frustration over her dependency on both Mounir and André. Director Joachim Lafosse jumps forward in time without transitions, creating a sense of spontaneous forward progress that seems to speak to the lack of control Murielle feels over her developing circumstances as a teacher, wife and mother.
Habitually arranging his characters in dynamic push-pull arrangements and framing them in doorways and via other people’s foreground heads in tense close-ups to suggest constriction even during happy times (such as the birth of the couple’s first daughter), Lafosse creates intense intimacy without ever partaking in hysterical melodrama. His placid Dardennes-inspired aesthetic allows for contemplation of the forces at play – resentment, self-doubt, and feelings of subjugation and loss of identity – on Murielle’s increasingly fragile mind and heart.
Arestrup and Rahim prove able paternal figures of simultaneous love and callousness. Yet it’s Dequenne who dominates the film, slowly allowing angst, unease and finally psychosis to creep into her initially round, happy face, culminating in a magnificent single take of uncontrollable tears that paves the way for a final shot of such heartbreaking tragedy that the film, to this point having maintained physical closeness to its characters, can only recoil in horror by literally exiting the family premises. (Nick Schager)
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