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Culture Choices 2022: Film

Still from "Decision to Leave"
Credit: Moho Film

Culture Choices 2022 is an annual series by Roar’s Culture section in which staff writers select their favourite albums, films, books, and TV shows of the year.

 

Leo Benham: “Aftersun”

Charlotte Wells’ debut feature “Aftersun” is unquestionably a film for the future that stands out as one of 2022’s most simple, yet striking, cinematic contributions. The film’s duo, Calum (Paul Mescal) and Sophie (Frankie Corio), take a father-daughter summer trip to Turkey and explore the limits and boundaries of loneliness and unity, all seemingly retold from the standpoint of an older version of Sophie’s self.

The film’s atmospheric building is nothing short of a masterclass in contemporary British realism. It unites a brilliant 90s pop-hits soundtrack with stunning familiarity through hand-held digital video blogging from a young Sophie. Alongside, Greg Oke’s camerawork stuns, capturing the deep blues of solitude and the bright yellows of childhood summertime earning him the Best Cinematography award at the BIFAs. All of this, combined with performances from 2 to-be stars, results in tonal brilliance that makes you forget that what you are seeing on screen isn’t a true event.

Critic’s comparisons with the likes of Lynne Ramsey and fellow collaborator Barry Jenkins are no doubt generous for Wells’ early-stage career yet are stunningly valid for a debut of this calibre. She has affirmed her status as one of Britain’s most promising young filmmakers, hopefully earning the film some reward in the upcoming Awards season.

 

Lydia Leung: “Decision to Leave”

“In the Mood for Love” meets “Memories of Murder” in Korean director Park Chan-wook’s spellbinding new romantic crime procedural “Decision to Leave”. Making waves when it debuted at this year’s edition of the Cannes Film Festival, it earned him the award for Best Director, despite being markedly different to the rest of his filmography. Park Hae-il stars as the insomniac “good cop” Hae-joon, investigating the death of a man from an apparent climbing accident. Upon meeting the victim’s Chinese widow Seo-rae, played by Tang Wei (making her return to the international stage after 2007’s “Lust, Caution”), it becomes obvious the case isn’t as clear-cut as a simple suicide, and the film slowly draws you into its embrace as the story twists and turns.

The chemistry between the two leads is undoubtedly one of this year’s best, as we follow Hae-joon’s descent from disciplined detective to a lovesick man ruined by obsession. Complicating matters further is Seo-rae’s foreign identity: her stilted, formal expressions introduce a level of uncertainty rarely seen in mystery films. Is there a hidden message behind her words, or is it merely a language barrier? Equally remarkable is the innovative role of technology; phones, smartwatches and voice notes all come into play, blending seamlessly with the action to create a seductive, Hitchcockian noir that keeps you wrapped around its finger throughout.

Kim Ji-yong’s cinematography bathes the film in gorgeous shades of blue and green, employing unorthodox movements and compositions that give it a sense of heightened realism. As Hae-joon spies on Seo-rae through his binoculars, the camera slingshots into the room with her; in another scene, it looks up at the detectives from the perspective of the dead man as an ant crawls over the screen. Combined with expert editing by Kim Sang-bum, this is a film that utilises the full potential of the cinematic medium. Performance, cinematography, editing and sound all come together in service of a beautiful, unconventional love story, cementing director Park’s reputation as one of the finest
filmmakers working today.

 

Rena Hoshino: “Everything Everywhere All At Once”

Released in May this year, “Everything Everywhere All At Once” was received with praise from every direction: nominated for fourteen Critics’ Choice Movie Awards and six Golden Globe Awards, it’s a movie that critics and viewers alike seem to agree is unmissable. It features a predominantly Asian cast of Michelle Yeoh (Evelyn Quan Wang), Stephanie Hsu (Joy Wang), Ke Huy Quan (Waymond Wang), and James Hong (Gong Gong); the audience follows Evelyn, a Chinese immigrant, as she is thrown into an adventure through multiverses to defeat Jobu Tupaki.

But the story is much more than a simple action film. Among the non-stop action and comedy are scenes of fragile intimacy and heartache, the distance of a mother from her daughter, and an all-consuming nihilism versus a hopelessly optimistic absurdism. The majority of characters are iterations of each person from parallel universes, keeping the same cast performing different versions of themselves. This allows the actors to really shine in their versatility- Ke Huy Quan’s reprisal of a major role after his last debut in the Indiana Jones franchise is a statement piece, shining as both Alpha Waymond and normal Waymond. The costuming, too, does not disappoint – it was a joy seeing the everchanging outrageous fashion of Jobu Tupaki and the wonderfully unique wardrobe for Evelyn’s various lives. “Everything Everywhere All At Once” is a film which breaks chronology and storyverse rules, and the layers of action happening simultaneously may initially seem too complicated to keep track of and even harder to understand. However, it is a film that becomes even more enjoyable upon rewatch- its chaos allows meaning to be uncovered as you notice new components of its form and narrative. Combine all this with a beautifully tender musical score by Son Lux, and you have a movie that challenges and embraces you, that makes you cry as hard as you laugh.

“Everything Everywhere All At Once” embraces the normality of life, hand in hand with strange and chaotic universe potentialities; At the same time as creating new and eternal variations of parallel worlds, it emphasises the idea of an unchanging human love through them.

 

Rena Hoshino: “Nope”

“Nope” is the third original film written and directed by Jordan Peele, focusing on a classic horror trope with a sci-fi twist: alien invaders. Peele works to subverts the genre’s past whiteness by centring people of colour in his casting; Daniel Kaluuya features as Otis “OJ” Haywood, alongside Keke Palmer (Emerald “Em” Haywood), Steven Yeun (Ricky “Jupe” Park), and Brandon Perea (Angel Torres) in their encounter with a strange UFO that haunts Haywood ranch. Like his previous films, “Nope” was nominated for several accolades, notably winning an American Film Institute Award for “Top 10 Films of the Year”.

It’s easier to make a cheap horror movie than a well-executed one – you may think of the franchises that rely on repeat jumpscares that stop being scary by the end of the film. “Nope” is anything but easy jumpscares. By layering tension and fear in the viewer through carefully curated sound design, ominous cinematography, and a simultaneously awe and terror-inspiring musical score, there’s no question of the engagement the audience will have with this film. The cast do a great job of embodying multi-faceted, likeable characters who you’ll find yourself genuinely rooting for. Keke Palmer in particular does an excellent portrayal of an enthusiastic, charismatic, but nevertheless sensible sister to Daniel Kaluuya’s quieter, devoted-to-a-fault older brother act. Their bond is less obvious, yet powerful, while also making space for the uniquely invested supporting cast.

“Nope” is self-aware of the implications of what it means to be filming something, to be capturing a narrative and selling it to be consumed by a hungry audience. The inclusion of several scenes of staged action within it all point to an overarching question: how far will humans go in the pursuit of spectacle? The horror of this film emerges when the consequences of this are answered by animals, humans, and other-worldly creatures that reflect the question to you; the consumer.

 

Lydia Leung: “The Worst Person in the World”

The final film in Joachim Trier’s Oslo Trilogy, “The Worst Person in the World” spans four years in the life of a young woman as she navigates the troubled waters of her career and love life. In a whirlwind of sunrises, sunsets, and cigarette smoke, twentysomething Julie (played by Renate Reinsve) searches for an answer to humanity’s most universal questions: who am I, and what do I want?

Reinsve is unquestionably the beating heart of the film, giving a career-making performance that won her Best Actress at the Cannes Film Festival. She imbues the role with an endearing naïveté, crucially lending Julie an air of likeability as she makes one bad decision after another. As a flawed, yet endlessly relatable protagonist, Julie is a perfect heroine for the modern age: life is messy, and so is she. Anders Danielsen Lie (a frequent Trier collaborator) and Herbert Nordrum star opposite her as Julie’s two great loves, taking her through the emotional highs and lows of their respective relationships.

It’s a testament to the strength of the screenplay that this film, arguably, makes cheating on your partner look good. Co-written with Eskil Vogt (as with the rest of Trier’s films), the story is divided into twelve vignettes, recalling Jean-Luc Godard’s “Vivre sa vie”. Two standout set pieces punctuate the cinéma verité aesthetics: in the first, Julie runs through the streets of Oslo as time comes to a standstill (also the origin of the much-discussed poster still), and in the second she hallucinates after consuming psychedelic mushrooms. This element of magic realism sets “The Worst Person in the World” apart from its rom-com peers, asking more questions than it answers. And what could be truer to life than that?

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