Think good thoughts! Here’s a good thought: Kristen Stewart as Jean Seberg. It makes sense – each one of their generation’s most interesting performers, each first receiving a level of acclaim befitting their abilities in France, despite commencing their respective careers in the U.S. Here’s a not-so-good thought: Benedict Andrews’ biopic Seberg, with Stewart playing the fascinating 1960s cross-cultural icon, doesn’t make much sense. It’s a sensitive portrait of a complex character butting heads with a tense political thriller, crammed full of famous faces and sumptuous sets, a prime example of prime Hollywood gloss, so glossy it slicks away all the substance from what is, indeed, a most substantial story. American starlet, after ditching an abusive industry for France, returns to her homeland only to immediately align herself with the Black Panther Party and come under FBI surveillance. It’s a brilliant subject for a movie of its own – perhaps a bit too brilliant, as Seberg may have proven.
Essential to the success of this story on the screen is the audience’s sympathy for Jean, something which writers Joe Shrapnel and Anna Waterhouse seem to have had trouble integrating properly into their screenplay. A plot takes less attention – throw it out there in a succession of scenes delineating a succession of connected narrative points in a manner that takes meaningful root in the brain – but a transference of emotion from concept through script into movie and, finally, off the screen and into the audience’s hearts takes serious, considered nurturing, and that’s missing in Seberg. One feels for Jean, naturally, not least because Stewart evidently feels deeply for her, in spite of the rota of cliched scenes she’s forced to go through here, ordinary steps through an extraordinary life. But as the movie tries relentlessly to make progress with that plot (whose inherent interest is, indeed, only due to its principal character, and thus blatantly must take secondary status to her development), maybe we begin to feel for her a little too much. Poor thing, not having a second to herself, having to dance to the beat of someone else’s plot. It’s a good thought, this movie, but too little good work was put into filling it out, and as a result it’s not such a good movie.
I’ve spilt my beans for Robert Eggers’ The Lighthouse, and they’ve gone EVERYWHERE. Eggers proved his solid comprehension of the language and technique of cinema in 2015’s The Witch, which was rigorous and exacting. No doubt, there’s remarkable rigour to be found in The Lighthouse, crafting order out of chaos, precision-mining it for its peculiar rhythms, its surprising shapes and symmetries, but otherwise Eggers appears to have chewed up the language and technique he displayed previously, spat it out, spat on it again, doused it in chalk, beaten it to a bloody pulp on the side of a cistern then pissed on its ravaged carcass. And then farted for good measure and bad taste.
The texture of this movie, its perfect period detail, its refusal to aestheticize the grim mundanity and thus its fabulous aesthetic quality! The ferocious power of its deranged monologues, the brutality of its crass sense of humour, the ruthlessness of its whip-crack editing! Just when you think you’ve gotten a handle on its bleak Béla Tarr atmosphere, it whirls you around a few times and lands you in daffy Guy Maddin territory, absurd and absurdly indifferent to whether you can make sense of it or not, and then it chews you up too, spits you out, plies you with mechanical oil, buries an axe in your shoulder then tells you it’s fond of your lobster. And you know what? You are! The Lighthouse is the most formidable structure of rickety ruin on these shores or any other, and who knows what to make of it, but who cares?! My beans are all over the place, fodder for the gulls now, and it’s all Robert Eggers’ fault!
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