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*This review contains spoilers*

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Directed by: Natalia Leite

Written by: Natalia Leite

Stars: Dianna Agron, Paz de la Huerta, Chris Zylka

We focus on a girl, dancing alone in silence at a night-club. Lights flash and we see her face illuminated by a spotlight; she looks almost directly at the camera. The girl desperately snorts coke in the bathroom, our first introduction to the abrasive lighting that carries into the next scene, at the grocery store. It is here we meet our main character, a young woman named Sarah. Even outside of the supermarket, in Sarah’s own home, the screen is drenched in white. Outside, overcast skies follow.

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Sarah is quiet, the timid dreamer, in need of direction. Angelic light trails her every move, until she meets  Pepper, a drunken, wayward woman without a home. It’s not that Pepper necessarily draws in darkness (both in the technical, cinematic sense and more metaphorically). But she adds a shadowy complication to an already jaded Sarah. I wanted more from Pepper, more spark and intrigue, rather than the frankly boring character we are handed. She’s eccentric by small-town standards, an outcast in the New Mexico town. On one hand, I can understand Sarah’s attraction to Pepper; she’s never met anyone as free. But we as the audience (who have presumably stepped foot outside of our hometowns) have a harder time falling for Pepper and can sense the inevitable disappointment from the get-go.

So instead of enjoying bearing witness to a developing love-affair, I found myself instead waiting for the collapse. And when their romance did disintegrate, it was unsurprising, anti-climactic. That being said, I think the development of Sarah and Pepper’s relationship is realistic in that they move slowly, uncertainly, always with a subtle danger building in the background. (Almost like “Carol,” if Cate Blanchett played a homeless drug dealer.)

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“Bare” moves softly, but is full of spaces, empty like lives of its characters. Luckily, the film is (at least, in part) redeemed by three things: interesting lighting, a feminist queer narrative and its discussion of small-town sex workers.

In a frankly half-assed adventure, Pepper takes Sarah to Reno, an electrical cityscape lit by loud neon. The girls escape to casinos, their hedonism fueled by flashing lights, bright sounds and colors. The grey is gone, along with the loneliness and metonymy of their home town. Noticing her bewilderment, Pepper says to Sarah, “You should see Vegas.”

Soft light is brought back in an intimate sex scene, powered by Pepper’s truck headlights. This feels real (or at least more real than the famed nine-minute-long sex scene of Abdellatif Kechiche’s Blue is the Warmest Color.)  Here is where the perspective of a female director shines through.

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Whether intentional or unintentional, I was appreciative of the feminist agenda behind Bare.  Sarah’s boyfriend continually tries to “save” her as he notices her changing– she starts stripping and enters a lesbian relationship– but all he knows is that she isn’t the same scared girl he knew before. Her boyfriend tells her she isn’t being herself, that she needs help, thus attempting to define her. Meanwhile, Sarah is more free than she has ever been, which means she is a threat in the eyes of the patriarchy. Sarah is routinely shamed by men; first her boyfriend and much later the cops, who treat her like a dejected animal.

Sarah often watches women, including her mother, smoking alone. To me, this image speaks to the culturally inflicted isolation of American women, who are raised to be lost without a partner (man) and/or children. Of course, these things are changing in our society (!!) but I think the image is still a very powerful, sad one. In one scene, Pepper says to Sarah: “If you don’t make your own choices in life, life makes them for you.” By life, we can presume Pepper means fear, socially constructed expectations and, ultimately, men.

Sarah is afraid, but for good reason. Taking charge of your life is no easy task. Sarah starts her journey by having a smoke with her mom, under the soft light of the sun. (Before running away, of course.)

 

— SDC

 

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Directed byYorgos Lanthimos

Written by: Yorgos Lanthimos, Efthymis Filippou

Stars: Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Jessica Barden

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If you are considering seeing The Lobster, you may want to keep this short anecdote in mind:

On my way out of the theater, I overheard a woman behind me say to her friend, “I am so sorry for bringing you to see that.” Half the audience would have probably grumbled in agreement while the other half would have simply laughed (which I did). Morale of the story is that I loved The Lobster. But I wouldn’t blame you if you hated it.

Some films are meant to make us laugh, some to make us cringe, and others to make us unbearably uncomfortable. Yorgos Lanthimos’ first English-language film falls somewhere in between black comedy, drama, sci-fi thriller and romance. The Lobster is quick-witted and unexpectedly funny, but I wouldn’t classify it first and foremost as comedy. Rather, humor acts as glue to keep the whole thing together (and, admittedly, to keep the audience in their seats).

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Within the confines of The Hotel, guests have 45 days to find their “match” or will be consequentially turned into an animal of their choice. These animals are then sent to The Woods, an area also inhabited by Loners, or those who have escaped the hotel and live illegally without partners. Ironically, the very place that houses humans is the least humane; guests must follow strict protocol or face the consequences (David’s friend was caught masturbating and must stick his hand in a toaster).

The Woods, rampant with social outcasts and misanthropes, is far from a lush Utopia. Human relation to nature in The Lobster is quite removed; the Loners, with their stolen technology and weather-ready apparel, seem displaced in the wilderness. Interestingly, many animals in the Wood are entirely out of place: we even see a peacock roaming about in the background in one scene.

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This purposeful displacement seems to be a theme throughout the film. First, the main character David’s search for eternal love takes place in a highly controlled, potentially dangerous environment (i.e. the hotel). The juxtaposition of something as wild and pure as love against a manipulated backdrop is startling. And then there is the fact that David himself is out of place. Even after he flees The Hotel, David struggles to find belonging amongst The Loners. It is not until he meets the Short-Sighted Woman (played by Rachel Weisz) that he finds his home.

Similarly, misplacement, irony and absurdity power the film’s dark humor. Bizarre, disturbing lines are delivered deadpan; characters nonchalantly continue conversations in the midst of bloodshed. Yet there is an oddly playful element to The Lobster. I think the Short Sighted Girl’s voice-over throughout the film keeps it from dipping too far into the dark. The narration is purposefully redundant and honestly a bit annoying at times. It’s almost as if the writer couldn’t decide between making a bedtime story or a twisted drama.

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All in all, there is nothing clear-cut or logical about The Lobster. Maybe that’s what makes it so great, because there is nothing clear-cut or logical about its subject matter: love. So it should come as no surprise if The Lobster leaves you feeling a little out of sorts. Actually, that might not necessarily be a bad thing.

 

SDC