Vaguebande is a column by Vague Visages founder/editor Q.V. Hough.
In the past week, I finally experienced one of the most acclaimed films of the year (Todd Haynes’ Carol) and randomly chilled, so to speak, with an Indian superstar in Deepika Padukone, yet it was a sobering indie flick that kept me thinking less about the Fargo cold and more about cinema’s ability to connect.
With my renewed column “Vaguebande”, I’ll be covering my viewing experiences from week to week and how independent, mainstream and international productions shape my cinematic ideals.
The Revenant and Carol
With all of the awards season backlash surrounding the Alejandro González Iñárritu’s The Revenant, I’d say that no one has captured my feelings better than Brian Tallerico, the Managing Editor of RogerEbert.com.
Nice to see The Revenant backlash fitting firmly into the “You Like That? Fuck You” model of Twitter 2016.
— Brian Tallerico (@Brian_Tallerico) January 11, 2016
I’ve yet to compose a full review on the oh-so-easy-to-patronize Leonardo DiCaprio film, but what’s so incomprehensible within the scope of “film twitter” has to be this idea that one must choose between The Revenant or Carol. Nah. See, that’s how easily offended cinephiles are spinning the awards season narrative of 2016, and as Tallerico communicated, some feel the need to drive an accusing finger into your chest if you somehow have the audacity to connect with The Revenant.
After viewing Carol last Friday at Fargo’s West Acres Cinema, I could easily understand why the film topped so many year-end lists. There’s the love story, of course, however the filmmaking itself beautifully captures the feel of a specific time and place through a longing sense of nostalgia. Carol displays a sharp aesthetic across the board. Given the framing and slow movements of the leads (Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara), Haynes’ film truly has that unique quality in which each single frame stands alone on its own. When Mara’s Therese puckers those lips, one can’t help but think of today’s selfie-snappers (and how the concept of self-awareness has changed over the decades), while Blanchett conveys her usual elegance that works so magically within the scope of the narrative. Carol projects a timeless (and timely) vibe, and if you’ve seen the film, take a moment to reflect on that lovely turnaround shot of Carol. And now imagine Carol with a selfie stick.
From my perspective, however, the collective experience of Carol didn’t quite resonate with me like The Revenant. And that’s ok… right? Let’s say this: I appreciate the performances, story and filmmaking of Carol, but I felt Inarritu’s film based on a variety of different reasons — my mother’s work as the North Dakota Victim Witness Coordinator for the United States Attorney’s Office, my brother’s life as a modern day fur trapper, my collegiate background studying Midwestern Native American history and my own upbringing in small town Minnesota before living in the Dakotas. We all bring our own life experiences to the cinema and connect in different ways, yet supposed education-hungry viewers conveniently scoff at The Revenant because it doesn’t fit with how they project themselves to the world. Now, if you want to huff and puff about the marketing campaign of The Revenant, well, fine. Just remember that all #trending films are fair game as well, regardless of how one may identify with the subject matter.
I highly recommend checking out the directorial debut of Charles Poekel on VOD. In Christmas, Again, Kentucker Audley plays Noel, a likable yet deeply upset man from upstate New York who spends one month selling Christmas trees in The Big Apple. For me, this type of film showcases a wonderful eye for cinematic visuals ala Carol, yet Christmas, Again also contains a raw grittiness that I can identify with ala The Revenant. Poekel — an actual Christmas tree vendor in Greenpoint, Brooklyn — doesn’t inject any millennial bravado into his plot, as he gives us a character far removed from the concept of social posturing. Audley’s Noel hustles each day in his own down-and-out way, and he finds someone to connect with in the form of Hannah Gross’ Lydia, a mysterious girl who winds up in Noel’s trailer after passing out on a New York City bench. I’m all for more independent films starring Audley and Gross, and I’m certainly down for more productions from Mr. Poekel. As one determined to write and direct a film based in the Fargo-Moorhead region, Audley and Gross have spots at the top of my list for ideal casting choices.
Deepika Padukone… that is all. Game over. Thanks to my daily exploration of Instantwatcher, I found Shoojit Sirdar’s 2015 dramedy and had my first brush with perhaps India’s most beloved modern movie star. I went in cold, yet when Padukone’s titular character first appears on screen, I knew that both Piku and Padukone were the real deal. In the film, Piku’s ailing father demonstrates a knack for hypochondriac ramblings, and he also discusses his daughter’s sex life with awkward clarity in public situations. But like Bruce Dern’s Woody Grant in Nebraska, this man needs to get somewhere (Kolkata) and Piku will be going along for the ride, along with a surprised and slightly disturbed taxi driver played by Irrfan Khan (Slumdog Millionaire, Life of Pi, The Lunchbox). For a film based heavily on a central theme of poo (Howdy Ho!), Piku emits an uplifting positive energy, fueled by the charm and charisma of its star.
Abre los Ojos, Dil Dhadakne Do and [Rec]
Surrealism, family chaos and horror. For some, this might be a normal Sunday, and all of such themes can be found in Zoya Akhtar’s three-hour Bollywood film Dil Dhadakne Do, the Spanish [Rec] (Jaume Balagueró, Paco Plaza) and certainly Alejandro Amenábar’s 1997 film Abre los Ojos (the inspiration for Cameron Crowe’s Vanilla Sky). But while the first two films take place in contained settings under the genres of comedy and horror, respectively, Amenábar’s film provides the most challenging viewing experience as a charming businessman confronts his worst nightmares within the cityscapes of Madrid (or so it would seem). With a young Penelope Cruz in a supporting role, Abre los Ojos showcases a star in the making, guided by the wonderfully head-scratching direction of Amenábar. I don’t exactly feel the need to watch Dil Dhadakne Do a second time (entertaining as it may be), and while [Rec] offers easy scares, neither production affected my psyche quite like the surrealistic Abre los Ojos.
Uncle John and It’s Us
Last Wednesday, I wrote my first Vague Visage review in a couple months on Colin Thompson’s independent romcom It’s Us (read the review HERE), and a couple days later, I woke up at 6 a.m. and found myself watching Steven Piet’s Wisconsin-based film Uncle John. Both films connected for different reasons (I grew up in the Midwest and spent six years living down the street from Hollywood Boulevard on Sycamore Avenue), and each film scared the shit out of me in their own unique ways. On one hand, the characters of It’s Us represent what might’ve been if I hadn’t gotten out of dodge (L.A.) a couple years ago, and on the other, the titular Midwestern character of Uncle John reminds of so many passive-agressive personalities that roam the Upper Midwest. The Hollywood types of Thompson’s film thrive on daily verbal warfare, however someone like Uncle John speaks softly but carries a big stick…ok, many sticks.
As I wrap up this piece, I’m reminded of a former Hollywood co-worker who once took a friendly jab at my love for “obscure” movies. As any self-respecting cinephile can attest to, it wouldn’t hurt for some to put the personal agendas aside and “Abre los ojos.”
Q.V. Hough (@qvhough) is a freelance writer and founder/editor of Vague Visages. He graduated from Concordia College (Moorhead, MN) in 2004 with bachelor degrees in Communication-Mass Media and History, and from 2006 to 2012, Q.V. (Quinn) lived in Hollywood, California. He now resides in Fargo, North Dakota.