Among Mario Monicelli’s greatest gifts as a director was the expressiveness, specificity, and stubborn physicality of the worlds he creates. This textured, tactile realism is potent in The Organizer (1963), his epic tragicomedy about the nascent labor movement in late 19th-century Turin.
Paul Verhoeven’s psychosexual hall of mirrors remains worthy of a steel-plated prize for the best use of a kitchen utensil in a motion picture . . . Basic Instinct finds both men and women culpable in a time-honored mating game that has no clear rules barring the foolhardy pursuit of pleasure.
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.
Despite Mills’s best efforts, his fussed-over films can teeter into preciousness, especially in the concluding reunions and resolutions that cohere a little too neatly. Patness isn’t exactly the problem in C’mon C’mon—its ending is actually one of the more open-ended in Mills’s filmography—as much as its dubious blending of fact and fiction.
The viewer may anticipate a contest between Phil and Rose for the boy’s heart and mind, a kind of moral tug-of-war, and Rose’s physical deterioration as her son’s fortitude develops enhances the misdirection. But in the end, it’s Peter’s conception of masculinity, as encapsulated in the film’s opening voiceover, that prevails.
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 Do We See? operates like a kind of benevolent human magic: it splits our attention between two poles, one natural, the other personal, between the coherent order of the natural spectacle and the driving personality behind it.
Everybody is the victim of a patriarchal, homophobic, and capital-driven society. It might sound terrifying or hilarious, depending on the point of view, but The Beta Test sends a plausible message: people are now just scrapeable data.
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?