February 2022 Capsules

Who’s Stopping Us
There’s a scene in here that feels almost like a lo-fi version of the go-fast boat to Cuba in Miami Vice, two characters acting on an urge to kayak briefly across to Portugal. Though they have to return sooner rather than later, that spirit of freedom within certain limits feels so resonant with the experience of teenagehood, of all these characters moving in and out of focus as Trueba’s style shifts in response. Talking heads, voiceover, extensive hangout scenes, all of them feel integrated yet disruptive, a steady stream of insights and bullshitting that doesn’t aim to necessarily take any of the events (fiction or non-fiction) at face value. It is about the experience, the cross-section of life and vitality that gets at so much more.

Tree of Knowledge
The key moment early on (among many) is the journey of the dissected fox, first seen in long shot as the children, quiet and respectful for once, gather around the table in a circle. Gore is liberally shown but never gleefully, and the emphasis remains on the children, who have a certain awe at seeing this mini-spectacle. Two of the boys then take it, attempt to scare girls with it — only succeeding with the outcast Mona — then take it home to attempt to recreate the experience themselves. If Tree of Knowledge is as much a film about education as it is about the cruelty of children, this moment demonstrates it most clearly: a startlingly visceral punctum that breaches the bawdiness of its society that leads them to want to imitate their future selves. Unfortunately, some futures are more grown-up than others, and therein lies the essential, awful problem.

The Gospel According to St. Matthew
Everything comes forth from Pasolini’s early decision to convey the Sermon on the Mount in a seemingly endless series of forward tracking shots, framing Jesus the Anointed in front of a boundless and blank sky. It gets to the heart of what makes the New Testament such an oddly difficult collection of books to adapt to a different medium, even the nigh-universally known gospel. Pasolini’s great genius was to lean into that almost anecdotal quality, the procession of incident and teaching that the Book of Matthew provides, in doing so emphasizing the inherent integrity and value of each moment. The words spoken in each sentence of the Sermon function both in tandem and separately, and by placing them in formal conversation, by having them spoken directly to the viewer, their power is interpreted and conveyed with a stark impact.

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