FilmReview

Emertainment Monthly Takes on the Boston Underground Film Festival

Wesley Emblidge ‘17 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

The 2014 Boston Underground Film Festival wrapped up last Sunday night, after five days of showing bold, daring independent movies at the Brattle Theater in Cambridge. Staff writer Wesley Emblidge offers his take on two of the night’s closing films.

 The Congress

Robin Wright in The Congress.
Robin Wright in The Congress.

Director: Ari Folman

Starring: Robin Wright, Harvey Keitel, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Jon Hamm, Danny Huston and Paul Giamatti

Director Ari Folman made a big splash with his 2008 animation/documentary hybrid Waltz with Bashir, which garnered immense praise and an Oscar nomination for best foreign language film. Five years later, Folman is back with the most audacious film released since Cloud Atlas, the latter of which both landed on my top 10 of the year list and was called the worst film of 2012 by Time. The Congress is just as messy and is bound to be just as divisive. The film starts as a satire of Hollywood’s move towards a heavy reliance on technology, with Robin Wright (giving this film her all in an exposing performance as herself) negotiating a contract to be scanned digitally into movies for the “Miramount” corporation. The film eventually expands into a broader critique of humanity’s focus on technology development as a whole, and how we’re allowing the real world to decay as we spend most of our time improving the virtual one.

Those are just the main ideas explored here, and Folman has plenty of others on his mind. He’s working loosely off of Stanislaw Lem’s novel The Futurological Congress and jumps back and forth between live-action and animated sequences, the latter representing the chemically induced hallucinations that people in 2030 rely on. The live-action sequences are painful to get through, as Folman is clearly not very comfortable in that medium. But when the film makes its transition into the animated world, it’s a gorgeous madcap universe overflowing with imagery reminiscent of a drug-induced hallucination. The movie, much like Cloud Atlas, is still a bit of a mess, with characters and subplots that really don’t work (particularly Wright’s son, played by Kodi Smit-McPhee) and a runtime that makes the film wear out its welcome. But Folman clearly has so much passion for the vast array of ideas he’s putting on screen that you can’t help but be wowed by at least the design of it all, as well as Max Richter’s evocative score.

Overall Grade: B

Watch The Trailer:

Blue Ruin

Macon Blair in Blue Ruin.
Macon Blair in Blue Ruin.

Director: Jeremy Saulnier

Starring: Macon Blair, Devin Ratray, Amy Hargreaves and Kevin Kolack

There’s a lot of power in avoiding dialogue in your film and sticking to conveying things visually, something too many directors forget or just choose to ignore. In his sophomore effort, writer/director Jeremy Saulnier sticks strongly to this principle, relying on long sequences of silence and very slowly revealing information about the basic plot. Dwight (Macon Blair) discovers that the man who was imprisoned for killing his parents, Wade Cleland, is being released, and he goes off to seek revenge. But it’s not until after Dwight kills him, when he confesses to his sister (Amy Hargreaves) in their first full dialogue scene, that we fully understand why he did it. The film doesn’t end there, of course; Dwight then has to face the consequences of his revenge, in the shape of Wade’s family.

It’s brutal and tense, but most of all, it’s simple. The film is low-budget, but it never feels that way because it only seeks to accomplish what it knows it can. Big, uneasy set pieces are staged at family homes and in empty fields, taking advantage of the gorgeous, rural Virginia setting. In many ways, it’s the opposite of previously reviewed film The Congress; by shooting for less, Blue Ruin actually ends up achieving more.

Overall Grade: B+

Watch The Trailer:

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