Though this is perhaps the ultimate Spielberg film, it does not move or feel like one. He is going for something else: a thoughtfully unshowy aesthetic that heightens one’s awareness of being a viewer. Watching, we’re rarely thinking about what the camera is doing, but rather what it is showing and why.
I cannot imagine seeing something more compositionally thought-through and artfully constructed in the current cinema, or something that more compellingly refuses to divulge its secrets while also maintaining a constant engagement with so many legible ideas.
Mungiu maintains his penchant for slow-building narrative tension, gradually revealing dramatic stakes, yet rather than focus exclusively on one or two characters clearly wending their way through an economically dramatized moral dilemma, he takes a more panoramic approach.
Cinematically it is neither here nor there, sandwiched between agreed-upon renaissances. There were marvels, there were duds, there were mediocrities, like any year... Yet we discovered 1981 feels as much like a turning point as it does a middling cinematic interzone.
Even after his string of fictionalized autobiographical films, Davies featured surrogates whose experiences allow him to come to terms (philosophical, aesthetic, moral, sexual, always personal) with a world that has too often betrayed, disappointed, and made shame out of beauty.
Noe uses two cameras to capture all of their travails in intimate close-up, allowing us to see them both at once using split-screen. Such a formally rigorous approach tends to call attention to itself, naturally inviting questions of aesthetics and perception.
Defining (and redefining) contemporary fascism may be a losing game, but identifying the destructive forces of moral conservatism remains as depressingly easy as ever. Another thing that remains vivid: the misogyny at the corrupt core of modern patriarchal life.
It’s never confirmed that the film’s “right” Chinaman is a statue whose head stands still and straight. Yet this remains all a matter of perception, as well as interpretation. The object is thus tactile yet vaguely defined, and leads to a larger question: if the Chinaman doesn’t belong here, then what, or who, does?
What does giving such primacy to the nonhuman and inanimate mean for the other elements onscreen, specifically the human or the animal? What does an object convey? What is its meaning within an art form that is itself so given to fears of impermanence?
I am left with the feeling that Many Saints is an expression of Chase’s archness run amok, rather than an invitation to immerse myself in a universe like that of The Sopranos, where, like our own, everyone feels put upon, can’t see past their pain, and therefore fail to notice the pain of others.
His movies are about fraught relationships and breakdowns in communication, but without any histrionics; they often fracture time and chronology, but not in a cloying or self-consciously experimental way. They are so emotionally transparent that they run the risk of being mistaken for simple-minded.