Film

Tracking Shots: This Week in Film

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The Village Voice reviews most movies opening in New York. Here are some you may have missed.

The Light of the Moon
Written and directed by Jessica M. Thompson
Imagination Worldwide
Opens November 1, IFC Center

Amid the flood of Harvey Weinstein allegations and the national conversation about sexual harassment and assault, Jessica M. Thompson’s The Light of the Moon feels ultra-relevant. Here’s a film, written and directed by a woman, that throws into sharp relief one woman’s experiences of surviving sexual assault.

After a night out in Brooklyn, Bonnie is forced to mark time in a new way: life before her brutal assault and everything after. Unwilling to be victimized even more, she initially tells everyone that she was mugged. Only her boyfriend knows the truth, and bears the brunt of her frustration. Stephanie Beatriz delivers a masterful, considerate performance as Bonnie, who swats at her bouts of paranoia and doubt with sarcasm and anger. Before the attack, Bonnie trusts that she can freely drink, do coke bumps, and blast her headphones at night without worrying who’s in the shadows. Afterward, she encounters patronizing behavior from friends and co-workers who don’t even know the full extent of her pain. Thankfully, Thompson’s script isn’t sanctimonious, even as its protagonist grapples with regret, self-blame, and the overwhelming urge to confront another woman walking alone at night.

The Light of the Moon aims for realism, but doesn’t pretend or presume that Bonnie’s experiences and recovery are universal. From Bonnie’s thousand-yard stare to her first forays into intimacy after her rape, the frank ways in which Thompson and Beatriz channel Bonnie make it clear that there’s a lot of respect for this complex character navigating life-altering trauma. Tatiana Craine


Maya Dardel
Directed by Magdalena Zyzak and Zachary Cotler
Orion Pictures and Samuel Goldwyn Films
Opens October 27, Village East Cinema
Available on VOD on November 14

Is Maya Dardel serious? The regal Lena Olin plays her with frank ferocity and arrogant certainty, but so much about the grandiose poet borders on parody. Co-writers and directors Magdalena Zyzak and Zachary Cotler originally called their elegant, irksome film A Critically Endangered Species, a reference to Dardel’s cultural importance during an era when writers were both influential and famous.

After using an NPR interview to announce her impending suicide, this Dardel interviews young men who are vying to become the keeper of her literary legacy. She excoriates a pompous postmodern poet for his obvious pride in attending the Iowa Writers’ Workshop: She believes the program had cachet when she was there; now, it’s just a rubber stamp in the corporate publishing pipeline. During these encounters, Zyzak and Cotler seem to be skewering the eager literary lion cubs, but sympathy shifts to them when Maya employs emotional manipulation and casting couch humiliations.

Maya made it clear that women need not apply because she dislikes their writing, and cynically tells her hippie friend (Rosanna Arquette) that suicide was an effective career path for Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton. A woman could fulfill Dardel’s requirements, but might have called out her bullshit, so this queen bee chooses to groom a drone to oversee her hive.

The finalists, hypersensitive Ansel (Nathan Keyes) and brutish Paul (Alexander Koch), join Maya in her exquisitely appointed Santa Cruz Mountains retreat. They see the artful remnants of an illustrious, successful vocation, without ever comprehending why Dardel no longer values it or herself. Serena Donadoni

 

 

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