Friday, October 14, 2016

New York Film Festival Screenings 4

Thematic spoilers only

Staying Vertical (Alain Guiraudie, 2016)
Before the screening, Guiraudie mentioned that there would be one shocking shot in the film. So after a graphic birthing scene early in the film, we thought we were in the clear. Oh boy were there plenty more shocks to come! (Guiraudie admitted he was joking at the Q&A after with Dennis Lim. Such an imp!) In any event, Staying Vertical continues Stranger by the Lake's radical equation of queerness with the countryside. Its allegorical thrust renders it a tad more corny than his previous masterpiece (the title refers to standing firm in the face of life's difficulties, particularly lack of inspiration). But it's wackier and more unpredictable than Stranger by the Lake and Guiraudie forges some new equations, e.g., Pink Floydesque prog rock blaring out oppressively over a quiet country lane (and over undoubtedly the most shocking scene).

The Ornithologist (João Pedro Rodrigues, 2016)
These two films were shown one after the other Wednesday night and they couldn't have been better paired. Both traffic in religious themes. Both engage in conversations with nature rather than treating it as an inert force. And both are head-scratchingly queer. The Ornithologist casts the hunky title character as a modern Saint Anthony of Padua and as the least churched person imaginable, I took advantage of this useful Variety review to learn about references to Doubting Thomas and Saint Sebastian as well. Rodrigues himself stands in for the ornithologist in blurry shots from the point of view of various avian beings and eventually takes over the character towards the end of the film. In Saint Sebastian mode, the ornithologist sports an impressive erection through tighty whities. In Doubting Thomas mode, he penetrates the knife wound of a cute boy he's had sex with. There's also a baptism of sorts in urine, a scary fireside ritual in the endangered language of Mirandese, Amazonian archers speaking Latin, and two Chinese Catholic girls, first terrifying, then sweet. Even wackier and more personal than Staying Vertical, it may also have something to do with artistic creation seeing as how Saint Anthony of Padua is the patron saint of lost things.

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