Vague Visages Writers’ Room: Weekend Vibes 4.6.18

Weekend Vibes is a Friday column about streaming recommendations, new release hype and entertainment events. 

Caroline Madden (@crolinss)

Al Pacino’s long-delayed Wilde Salomé and Salomé continue their run at the Quad Cinema as the culmination of the marvelous Pacino’s Way retrospective, which featured nearly 30 of his classics (Dog Day Afternoon, Serpico) and even some misfires (Revolution, Cruising). Wilde Salomé is an experimental documentary about the lunacy of staging Oscar Wilde’s play in 2006 at the Los Angeles Wadsworth Theater, filming said play and then making a behind-the-scenes movie about it all. “I’m just trying to save you guys money,” Pacino self-mockingly jokes in the doc. During a Q&A after the film, Pacino said Wilde Salomé is meant to be seen as an abstract impression of Wilde’s work or sketches of his feelings towards the play. There are clips from the stage production (which received flack for being a reading rather than a full-fledged mounting, an artistic decision made to heighten the text’s stylization), a home dramatization of King Herod’s elaborate dinner party and flashbacks of Wilde (played by Pacino in a bad wig) on his last days before imprisonment. Pacino also scours the Mojave Desert to create some establishing shots for the Salomé film (camels included) and visits both Ireland and London to learn more about Wilde as a man, and the inspirations that informed his text. In this mosaic of artistic triumphs and frustrations, Pacino’s lifelong commitment and love of theatre shines through.

Salomé is a narrative film of the play and (technically) Jessica Chastain’s debut feature. She stars as the titular nymphet, deftly tracing her journey from an innocent virgin princess to a manipulative and vengeful woman demanding the severed head of Jokanaan after he refuses to kiss her. It is a phenomenal performance that should not be missed, and Pacino even describes it as Brando-like. On the other hand, Pacino plays King Herod with a strange accent and flamboyance that, as he proudly boasts in the Wilde Salomé doc, is meant to be subtextually bisexual. Nevertheless, Salomé is an engrossing work, and you can see why Pacino became so enraptured by it. These companion pieces display the wild idiosyncrasies that make Pacino such a captivating star.

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Walter Neto (@wfcneto)

There’s a scene in Ava DuVernay’s 13th Amendment when one of Donald Trump’s speeches is heard over images of white supremacists’ attacks and other footage of hate crimes. By combining a 2016 audio track with visuals from the 50s, the documentary showcases the power of moving images. That is cinema. And this remembrance was triggered by a short film that uses a similar technique: Kevin Rios’ Home Movies, a minute-long shot film about gay couples’ daily lives. Rios contrasts images of people sharing intimate moments, kissing, talking and hugging each other, but the narration suggests that homosexuality is an enigma, a harmful sin, some sort of danger to society. Images and audio tell two different stories, and the contrasting effect resulted in one of the most moving experiences I recently had with movies.

Devika Girish (@devikagirgayi)

I usually use my flights to India and back as an excuse to delve into the intersection of the “movies I’d like to check out but wouldn’t spend money on” and “movies I can process while jet-lagged on an 18+ hour journey” categories. And that means I usually end up binging through large chunks of the MCU or watching the most commercial Bollywood blockbusters. During my flight home for Christmas, however, I chanced upon a wonderful little gem called A Death in th Gunj, a (mostly) English language indie from India. Directed by actress-turned-filmmaker Konkona Sen Sharma (daughter of legendary actress-director Aparna Sen), the gripping, atmospheric drama is set in the 1960s and centers on a Bengali family’s holiday in the northern town of McCluskieganj. An interesting ensemble of characters makes up the family: the central couple, Bonnie and Nandu, and their young daughter Tani; the seductive, but lonely Anglo-Indian cousin Mimi; and Nandu’s boisterous alpha-male (or, less politely, fuckboy) best friend Vikram, played by Sen Sharma’s real-life ex-husband. In the midst of them all is protagonist Shutu (Indian soap-star Vikrant Massey), Bonnie’s quiet, intelligent cousin who is coping with a personal tragedy and starts to unravel as he’s pushed around and ridiculed by the others over the course of the trip. The film reminded me of Trey Edward Shults’ SXSW breakout Krisha (2015) or perhaps an Indian version of the Amazon series Transparent, but made richer by the period and cultural setting. Sen Sharma beautifully captures both the aesthetic and the social vibe of the freshly postcolonial Indian bourgeoisie and imbues each (impressively acted) character with rich and meticulous detail. The ending is a bit of a fizzle-out, but the slow-boiling dysfunction that builds is engrossingly watchable, not least because of the wonderfully naturalistic chemistry between the actors (they’re all Indian indie veterans and BTS friends). Check it out on Amazon Prime!

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