December Film Reviews: Take a closer look

Sometimes we see films that draw us in while viewing them, but then tarnish when thinking about them afterwards. Sometimes a film can be annoying and confusing but on contemplation reveals complex and interesting layers. Then sometimes we laugh all the way through a film, only to be grounded later on by the weight of its subject matter.

Directed by Luca Guadagnino, Call Me By Your Name (★★★★) is a seductive film set in Northern Italy in 1983. For 17 year-old Elio Perlman (Timothée Chalamet), the lazy summer days at his family’s affluent 17th century villa are filled with reading, classical music and exploring sex for the first time. Elio’s father is a professor investigating recently discovered Greco-Roman sculptures and the camera lingers over the sensual nudes. When a twenty something American doctorate student Oliver (Armie Hammer) arrives to assist the professor, the sexual tension between him and Elio is palpable.

It is not long before casual touches, hesitant fleeting smiles and flirting looks become bike rides along deserted tracks, swims in idyllic waterholes and lying in sun-drenched fields eating fruit, with the lingering camera drawing obvious parallels with the classical sculptures. The alluring tale runs for two hours and it is difficult not to be enveloped by the heady romance in each scene. It is only afterwards when the dreamlike euphoria subsides that questions arise about the casualties in the Garden of Eden and also the casualties of not having one’s identity on display.

The Florida Project (★★★★★), directed by Sean Baker is one of those films that attacks the viewer. Precocious six-year old Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) who lives with her mother Halley (Bria Vinaite who Baker discovered through Instagram) in a run-down budget, purple painted Florida motel ironically called Magic Castle. Filmed on existing locations with largely untrained actors, there is a documentary feel as the camera follows Moonee and her friends getting up to mischief, oblivious of the struggles that their parents face. The kids beg for money to buy ice-cream, explore abandoned discount stores and a housing complex that was never completed and test limits while compassionate caretaker Bobby (Willem Defoe) tries to protect the unsupervised children.

As Moonee’s single tattoo-covered mother hustles tourists to pay the rent I kept thinking that something bad was going to happen. Then it dawned on me that it already had and the unfolding lives of the people in the motel next door to Disney World show the desperation of trying to survive from day to day in an abandoned part of the society. It challenges the audience to take a closer look at the dead Disney dreams.

When Norwegian scientists discover how to shrink humans to the size if insects, it is hailed as the solution to overpopulation and drain on resources and futuristic Lilliputs spring up all over the world. In Downsizing (★★★★), directed by Alexander Payne, Omaha couple Paul (Matt Damon) and Audrey Safranek (Kristen Wiig) decide to join Leisureland “a self-sustaining community of the small” to escape the pressure of continual debt. This thoroughly original concept is hilarious as people are prepared for the downsizing and the laughs continue when discoveries are made in the miniature lives.

It is only when Paul spends time with his hedonistic Balkan neighbour Dusan (Christoph Waltz) that the audience begins to see the contradictions but this also introduces the chance for more humour. Paul’s idyllic life is further challenged by Dusan’s cleaner – Vietnamese political activist Ngoc Lan (Hong Chau) who was downsized as punishment. Both Waltz and Chau steal all the limelight from the conservative American as he becomes the brunt of their humour and I love it when discoveries are made about the wall surrounding the community. This tale about small people embodies some huge social issues.

Lezly Herbert

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