Strange sum­mer of cin­e­matic dis­con­tent

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - CULTURE - By ELIZABETH KERR

It’s been a strange sum­mer. Com­ing into the home stretch, the num­bers seem to say “sure things” aren’t so sure (clearly we’ve had enough

and girls can — gasp — suc­ceed ( Atomic Blonde, Won­der Woman) de­spite what board­room suits think, and Mar­vel is get­ting lazy. Late Au­gust is a tra­di­tional dump­ing ground for way­ward, un­mar­ketable films, and as such has be­come a hot­bed of pleas­ant cin­e­matic sur­prise.

This year’s Golden Bear win­ner at Ber­lin, On Body and Soul, comes from the same school of un­con­ven­tional ro­mance as Last Life in the Uni­verse, Lars and the Real Girl The Lob­ster. other. The next images come from a si­mul­ta­ne­ously pris­tine and bloody slaugh­ter­house, where the re­tir­ing, re­signed En­dre (Géza Morc­sányi) works as fi­nance di­rec­tor. Start­ing that day is the plant’s new qual­ity in­spec­tor, the icy, dis­tant, and rigid Mária (Alexan­dra Bor­bély), who does noth­ing to en­dear her­self to her co­work­ers. When a ran­dom break-in and police in­ves­ti­ga­tion leads to psy­chi­atric eval­u­a­tions for all staff, the sig­nif­i­cance of the deer in the for­est is re­vealed. En­dre and Mária are shar­ing the same re­cur­ring dream, and it unites them in a tremu­lous, cau­tious ro­mance.

On Body and Soul tells a story as old as the movies: One about two dam­aged in­tro­verts ever so ten­ta­tively mak­ing an at­tempt at the kind of hu­man con­nec­tion they’ve long given up on but nonethe­less des­per­ately crave. But like Shake­speare, old sto­ries are all in the telling — and in this case per­for­mance. Morc­sányi and Bor­bély, whose film it re­ally is, turn in finely cal­i­brated, eco­nom­i­cal per­for­mances that keep writer-di­rec­tor Ildikó Enyedi’s mawk­ish in­stincts from get­ting out of con­trol. A slyly life-af­firm­ing film, On Body and Soul is care­fully poised on the ra­zor’s edge of emo­tion, com­ple­mented by monochro­matic vi­su­als and an em­pa­thetic, melan­choly Bor­bély who car­ries the day.

The lat­est en­try into the bur­geon­ing Con­jur­ing fran­chise, Annabelle: Cre­ation is the fol­low-up (in prac­tice a pre­quel) to the creepy doll spinoff from James Wan’s sur­prise 2013 hit, The Con­jur­ing. The first en­try, Annabelle, was an ex­e­crable ex­am­ple of cyn­i­cal, clin­i­cal film­mak­ing that re­lied on the sil­li­est of hor­ror tropes with zero thought to cre­ative ex­e­cu­tion. Thank­fully this time, David F. Sand­berg steps be­hind the cam­era to a much bet­ter ef­fect. Sand­berg made his de­but with ac­com­plished if un­re­mark­able Lights Out, and here he dou­bles down on moody cin­e­matog­ra­phy, de­lib­er­ately lay­ered ten­sion and old-school at­mo­spher­ics, all but guar­an­tee­ing a third in­stall­ment.

In what ap­pears to be the mid1950s, toy­maker Sam Mullins and his wife Es­ther (An­thony LaPaglia, Mi­randa Otto) open their sprawl­ing desert home to Sis­ter Char­lotte (Stephanie Sig­man) and six or­phaned girls in her charge. The youngest, the po­lio-stricken Jan­ice (Talitha Bate­man) and her best friend Linda (Lulu Wil­son), are im­me­di­ately ban­ished to the lit­tle girls’ room, and feel­ing iso­lated al­ready, Jan­ice starts ex­plor­ing the labyrinthine house and its var­i­ous crawlspaces. Even­tu­ally she makes her way into the room that be­longed to Mullins’ de­ceased daugh­ter. Cue de­monic hi-jinks.

Com­pared with the un­der­stated On Body and Soul, Annabelle: Cre­ation is a mess of outré emo­tion and cra­ni­um­pound­ing tele­graph­ing, but each film is ef­fec­tive in its own way; both know ex­actly what they’re out to ac­com­plish, and do so with aplomb. Nei­ther is per­fect: Cre­ation leans heav­ily on by-the-num­bers hor­ror con­ven­tion, and is saved by an en­dear­ingly plucky cen­tral duo, par­tic­u­larly Wil­son as the de­voted, re­source­ful buddy. Body is a bit of an odd­ity as Ber­lin win­ners go, and on first glance seems a cu­ri­ous se­lec­tion. Af­ter sag­ging in the sec­ond act and some tonal in­con­gruity, once it’s left to sim­mer for a while, a bit­ter­sweet love story emerges from the murky for­est where much of the film is set. It could be called a dark feel-good movie — quite ap­pro­pri­ate for one of the odd­est sum­mers in moviedom in re­cent mem­ory.

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