Still catching up on Thanksgiving movie releases? Waiting for The Hobbit? The studios haven’t given you many alternatives this week, or us much to review, so I thought I’d take this time to preview two offbeat little movies that are sure to start arguments.
That’s right: thorny discussions of topics such as gender, courage and moral responsibility. Conversations that might lead to yelling — or to revelations about yourself and your loved ones.
Take the scenario at the heart of Craig Zobel’s indie drama Compliance (screening on December 20, 7 p.m. at Main Street Landing Performing Arts Center in Burlington, see State of the Arts, this issue; and on DVD January 8). If you received a call at work from someone who identified himself as a police officer, told you your employee was a suspected thief and instructed you to strip-search her, what would you do?
When similar situations played out in real life at 70 fast-food restaurants around the country, more than a few managers complied with the caller’s requests. Inspired by the most notorious of these incidents, which led to trauma, a broken engagement and lawsuits, Compliance is not easy to watch.
Zobel dramatizes the events in graphic detail, an approach some viewers have found exploitive. But three powerful performances — from Ann Dowd as the stressed-out, well-meaning manager; Dreama Walker as the teenage employee; and Pat Healy as the caller — keep the film anchored in believable human emotions.
For better or worse, Compliance is the only film of 2012 that had me actively booing its villain — a mundane monster who doesn’t need to touch his victims to scar them for life — and cheering for the person who becomes its hero by default. Some viewers will angrily insist that no heroism was required, because anyone of reasonable intelligence would have simply ... said no. But can we be sure?
Likewise, it’s tempting to think that, faced with a potentially deadly threat, you’d make the selfless, courageous choice without having to think it over. But would you?
I can’t say more without spoiling the only real action in The Loneliest Planet (upcoming at the Savoy Theater in Montpelier), the second feature from writer-director Julia Loktev (Day Night Day Night). This minimalist film about an engaged couple (Gael García Bernal and Hani Furstenberg) traversing the Caucasus Mountains with a Georgian guide (Bidzina Gujabidze) has little plot or spoken dialogue; some viewers may find it an endurance test. Others may be mesmerized by the lush strangeness of the landscape and fascinated by the eloquence of the characters’ body language as their relationships undergo startling realignments. Furstenberg, whose expressive face serves as a barometer of those changes, is an actress to watch.
While The Loneliest Planet is a self-conscious art film, with long, wide shots reminiscent of Meek’s Cutoff, it’s also true to the experience of being a stranger in a strange land. Anyone who’s had occasion to use Lonely Planet guides is likely to recognize some of the awkward, ambiguous situations occasioned by a culture clash or a language barrier. But speaking the same language doesn’t prevent the central couple from realizing, as they approach the end of their journey, that even people in love will always be, in some sense, alone.