Friday Flicks: High Life, Little and Sunset

M.V. MoorheadApril 2019
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At Harkins Camelview: 

High Life

It starts like the ultimate struggling single parent story: Robert Pattinson is aboard a spaceship on its way to a black hole, caring for a baby girl all by himself. In a flashback, we see that he was originally part of a crew of young criminals and social outcasts — who look like Benetton models — being used as reproductive laboratory subjects by creepy white-coated scientist Dibs (the memorable Juliette Binoche). Things do not go smoothly. This space opera from Clare Denis of Chocolat is undeniably atmospheric; it has the moody flavor of some “existential” ’70s-era sci-fi dramas like Tarkovsky’s Solaris or Douglas Trumbull’s Silent Running, but with a more overtly sexual tone and with lovely, old-school special effects. I just wish it was more fun. There are scenes of potent eroticism, but these were overridden, for me, by the pervading sense of despair and helplessness, and by scenes of horror, like the discovery of another spaceship full of feral dogs. High Life is a striking work, certainly, but not a high time.

Sunset

This Hungarian drama is set in a high-end store in Budapest, but The Shop Around the Corner this ain’t. It’s 1910, in the turbulent period before World War One, when our heroine Irisz Leiter (Juli Jakab) applies for a job as a milliner at the hat shop that was once owned by her parents before a tragedy took their lives. The new owner (Vlad Ivanov) initially rebuffs her application, but Irisz is relentlessly determined, both to find a place at the store and to probe the mystery of her elusive brother, who is notorious as a killer. The secrets she begins to grasp, which involve the connection between marketing to women and the marketing of women, are queasily Gothic, but also disturbingly plausible. Director and co-writer Laszlo Nemes gives the film an effortlessly convincing sense of period and an epic scope. Yet despite its more than two-hour length, the movie also has the urgency and intimacy of a thriller, spinning off from time to time into sudden and shocking violence. Nemes stays close to his leading lady; an extraordinary amount of the movie consists of the camera gazing into Jakab’s wide-eyed, set-jawed face, or following her around as she hurries through the streets, panting audibly. It’s doubtful that any actress has had this many close-up shots since Falconetti in The Passion of Joan of Arc. But she makes the most of them, creating a deeply admirable heroine.

In wide release:

Little

It’s another addition to the perennial genre of comedy-fantasies in which kids find themselves magically grown up, and/or grown-ups find themselves, well, little. This time it’s an abusively mean Atlanta tech boss (Regina Hall) who gets wished back to the physical age of thirteen. Wackiness ensues, as her put-upon assistant (the charming Issa Rae) finds herself with the upper hand of adulthood. The script, by Tracy Oliver and director Tina Golden, is episodic and scattershot, but the movie works anyway, as a showcase for Marsai Martin of TV’s Black-ish, who gives a spectacular turn as the little version of our heroine. Decked out in mini designer outfits, with a halo of hair around her head like a storm cloud, Martin is so self-possessed that she doesn’t have to do anything to get laughs; she can crack you up just by sitting there.

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