MOVIES

Nuns face ex­treme penance in Novi­tiate; Killing of a sa­cred deer is oddly blood­less; tech­nique turns to te­dium in Won­der­struck; Una chal­lenges with timely sub­ject mat­ter.

The Georgia Straight - - Contents -

NOVI­TIATE Star­ring Mar­garet Qual­ley. Rated PG

2Reli­gious im­pulses are hard to

cap­ture in movies, so ku­dos to Novi­tiate for at­tempt­ing to im­part some of the in­te­rior mo­tives driv­ing the spir­i­tu­ally minded to be, well, not so driven by so­ci­ety.

De­spite hav­ing been raised with no par­tic­u­lar re­li­gion in the 1950s, one ru­ral young­ster is drawn ever closer to the church. Young Cath­leen is played ini­tially by Sasha Ma­son and then by Mar­garet Qual­ley—andie Mcdow­ell’s model-turned-ac­tor daugh­ter, who has ex­pres­sive eyes but not a lot to say. Her schol­ar­ship to the lo­cal Catholic school leads her to a nearby con­vent, where she even­tu­ally signs on to be a novice, or nun-in-train­ing.

Cath­leen gets some guid­ance from a benev­o­lent nun ( Glee’s Dianna Agron). But she starts butting up against the or­der’s tough Mother Su­pe­rior (Melissa Leo), who has a se­ri­ous sadis­tic streak; she en­cour­ages the new­com­ers to con­fess sala­cious sins, and keeps a braided whip handy, for “ex­treme penance”.

This is all rea­son­ably en­gag­ing. First-time fea­ture direc­tor Mar­garet Betts has a strong feel for her pro­tag­o­nist’s moral dilem­mas. But the largely pedes­trian di­a­logue is packed with TV mod­ernisms, like “What’s with these habits?” And there’s lit­tle sense of the Cold War en­vi­ron­ment these novice are es­cap­ing.

When the sub­ject of Vat­i­can II fi­nally comes up, the Rev­erend Mother tries to sup­press it, but we don’t nec­es­sar­ily get what the big deal is.

It’s a meaty role for Leo, who im­bues the num­ber one nun with a mod­icum of sym­pa­thy, but it’s not clear why we’re sup­posed to care. In the end, you sim­ply have to won­der if Cath­leen’s ul­ti­mate de­ci­sion to stay or go isn’t re­ally re­li­gious, but sim­ply a ques­tion of man­age­ment styles.

> KEN EISNER WON­DER­STRUCK Star­ring Ju­lianne Moore. Rated G

2Su­per­stylish direc­tor Todd

Haynes is bet­ter known re­cently for high­fa­lutin, if camp-tinged, fare like Carol. But his first fea­ture, Su­per­star: The Karen Car­pen­ter Story, was told en­tirely with Bar­bie dolls, and there’s a strong el­e­ment of play to his work. So it didn’t seem too un­likely for him to take on a youthaimed story like Won­der­struck.

More wor­ri­some was the fact that screen­writer Brian Selznick also penned the story that turned into Martin Scors­ese’s in­suf­fer­ably sticky Hugo, and, in fact, many of that pe­riod piece’s gooiest fea­tures are re­peated here, al­beit with more vari­a­tion of tone and mood—even if ev­ery­one keeps end­ing up at var­i­ous mu­se­ums, cin­e­mas, and cu­rio shops pre­sented as repos­i­to­ries of all wor­thy hu­man en­deav­our.

The new film op­er­ates on two time tracks, one set in the sum­mer of 1977 and the other ex­actly 50 years ear­lier. The dom­i­nant part cen­tres on Ben (Oakes Fe­g­ley), a ru­ral Min­nesota boy who has grown up fa­ther­less and then loses his li­brar­ian mother (Michelle Wil­liams, in flash­backs) just af­ter his 12th birth­day.

The other, set at the end of the silent-movie era, in­volves a sameaged Hobo­ken, New Jersey, girl who hap­pens to be deaf. She’s played by Mil­li­cent Sim­monds—who in real life is hear­ing-im­paired—in a sub­plot told in black and white with no di­a­logue. The seem­ingly moth­er­less girl is stuck on a fa­mous ac­tor ( Ju­lianne Moore) glimpsed in mag­a­zines and on mar­quees. In fact, she finds her when she runs away to nearby New York City.

Ben, too, heads to then-grungy Man­hat­tan in search of that ab­sent daddy but not be­fore suf­fer­ing a freak ac­ci­dent that like­wise leaves him deaf—one of nu­mer­ous co­in­ci­dences, most of which are un­nec­es­sary and re­quire la­bo­ri­ous voiceover ex­pla­na­tions at the end.

The kids are all right, and it’s ob­vi­ous that Haynes en­joys the jux­ta­po­si­tion of rad­i­cally dif­fer­ent film styles, with the 1920s ma­te­rial sup­ported by Carter Bur­well’s pur­pose­fully melo­dra­matic mu­sic and the faded-ko­dachrome sections beefed up by David Bowie songs.

The fi­nal act in­cludes a mas­sive dio­rama and small, an­tique-style pup­pets as a bonus. But the con­stant cut­ting back and forth for two hours grows tire­some, and there’s noth­ing in the script to match the won­der of what’s on-screen.

At least when Ben Stiller’s around, mu­se­ums come to life. Here, they just sit there and look im­por­tant.

> KEN EISNER

THE KILLING OF A SA­CRED DEER

Star­ring Colin Far­rell. Rated 14A

The Killing of a 2Part­way into

Sa­cred Deer, some­one mirth­lessly watches a scene from Ground­hog Day. No one can say Greek film­maker Yor­gos Lan­thi­mos—writer-direc­tor of thorny art-house fare like Dog­tooth— isn’t well versed in mythol­ogy or western tropes, since the scene is one in which Bill Murray asks Andie Mcdow­ell if she can be sure he isn’t god.

A god com­plex meets Sisyphean pun­ish­ment as a skilled heart sur­geon sees his life sud­denly un­ravel. Re­turn­ing from Lan­thi­mos’s English-lan­guage de­but, The Lob­ster, a bush-bearded Colin Far­rell plays Dr. Steven Murphy. In an un­named city, he shares a su­perdeluxe sub­ur­ban dwelling with his glam­orous oph­thal­mol­o­gist wife, Anna (Ni­cole Kid­man). Teenage daugh­ter Kim (Raf­fey Cas­sidy) has mu­si­cal tal­ent and long­haired pre­teen son Bob (Sunny Suljic) is a bit of a scamp.

For rea­sons ini­tially hard to grasp, the good doc­tor spends an in­or­di­nate amount of time with a strange 16-year-old named Martin (Barry Keoghan). Some­times the kid ap­pears to be an id­iot sa­vant, other times just an id­iot. Again, dif­fi­cult to know for sure, since ev­ery­one speaks in po­lite com­mon­places shot through with oc­ca­sional bouts of TMI, as when, on their first meet­ing, Kim tells Martin she just had her first pe­riod.

In Lan­thi­mos’s world, ev­ery­one seems to be im­i­tat­ing nor­mal hu­man be­hav­iour, from the blood­less speech pat­terns to the Mur­phys’ sex life. Long, Kubrick-ian track­ing shots take us down spot­less hos­pi­tal cor­ri­dors as first Bob and then Kim col­lapse from mys­te­ri­ous mal­adies that only Martin seems to com­pre­hend.

There’s some­thing here about di­vine ret­ri­bu­tion, and this takes the movie into vi­o­lent genre ter­ri­tory. But view­ers are un­likely to feel fear or em­pa­thy in a tale so drained of sense and sen­si­bil­ity. The sac­ri­fi­cial ref­er­ences to Iphi­ge­nia and Isaac el­e­vate the tone but don’t re­ally bring ex­tra mean­ing to a tale that is cruel and vaguely satir­i­cal with­out re­ally be­ing about any­thing at all.

> KEN EISNER

Mar­garet Qual­ley plays Cath­leen, a young wo­man in 1960s Amer­ica who signs up for life in a con­vent for rea­sons not made en­tirely clear in Novi­tiate.

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