August 31, 2010
Beeswax (2009) ****
Directed by Andrew Bujalski
Beeswax (2009)- Funny, frustrating and dark, Bujalski's intriguing look at two passive twin sisters is solid mumblecore. **** out of 5
Beeswax may very well be my favorite mumblecore movie at this point, but that in itself isn't really saying much. I've written before about my skepticism regarding whether or not mumblecore has value as a genre. Beeswax didn't fully sell me on the merit of non-actors improvising their way through dialogue and story. It's hard to argue against the fact that the whole thing comes off like a rough draft, and the gimmick of the style stifles the quality of the final product. Could Beeswax have been even better? Yes it could, but it's admittedly a pretty great rough draft. The story centers around identical twin sisters. One sister, who is wheelchair bound, is struggling with a vintage clothing shop she owns with a friend who is drifting out of her life. She's worried that her friend will sue her and take away the one thing that occupies just about all of her time and has become part of what she sees as her purpose in life. The other sister just broke up with her boyfriend and is looking to start her life fresh by teaching English overseas. The problem with both sisters is that they're not used to standing up to the difficulties of the world, and as such, they're struggling to maintain control when problems arise instead of retreating deeper into themselves. Meanwhile, a law student acquaintance of the sisters takes a romantic interest in the shop owner. He's not a bad guy, and he clearly has the best intentions at heart, but it's pretty clear that he's not the ideal candidate for a boyfriend. In reality, neither sister wants him in their lives at this point, but he's fairly insufferable which might be due to the stress of the fact that he's right in the midst of taking the bar exam. Beeswax is all about the fences people put up to keep others from getting too close. The fate of these sisters is left up in the air at the end, but the forecast doesn't look too promising especially for one of the two. Life must be lived actively, and when passivity reaches its breaking point, it's hard to see things getting better. The actors are really excellent, and these characters do feel quite real. It was a pleasure spending time in the world that Bujalski presents. He seems to know how to make mumblecore work. I'm still waiting, though, to see an example of the genre that doesn't feel like it could have been even better with more polish.
The Beaches of Agnes (2009) ****1/2
Directed by Agnes Varda
The Beaches of Agnes (2009)- Eclectic, eccentric & entertaining self-meditation of a cinema legend & creative genius. ****1/2 of 5
At over 80 years old, it's astounding to witness a creative genius still at the very top of her game. Varda was one of the pioneers of the French New Wave in the 1950s and 1960s. This eccentric autobiographical exploration perfectly matches the gumption of such an eccentric auteur. Varda could have written a book about her life, but I can't imagine the prose being as breathtakingly gorgeous as the visual flourishes and quirky surprises seen here. She talks about her childhood and her family with a bit of emotional disconnect, which may make the first hour of the film difficult to sit through for many viewers. It's when she delights in her recollections of her young adulthood, her film career and especially her marriage to the great French director Jacques Demy who died of AIDS in 1990 that we really feel the sincerity emanate from the screen. There are a handful of moments where Varda recreates memories of her past either as a participant in the recreation or as an onlooker while others perform that do sometimes miss the mark. Still, Varda never comes off pretentious, which is saying something considering how provocative many of the images within The Beaches of Agnes are. Agnes Varda is a creative genius, often misunderstood, and all this and more is on pure display in what's ultimately a wonderfully colorful personal documentary.