Seemingly tangential, but I'll eventually bring this around to the thread topic:
I had to say goodbye to a theatre last weekend: the Lincoln Plaza Theatre, an underground sixplex which has sat opposite Lincoln Center since 1981. The first movie I saw there was My Dinner with Andre. Over the next three decades-plus, I must have seen hundreds of films there. It's had its share of big boppers (12 Years a Slave, Boyhood, and Manchester by the Sea, in recent years), but it's been most notable over the years as the showcase spot for prominent non-American films -- Oscar winners like Crouching Tiger, Son of Saul, and The Salesman, but also less publicized titles, like Reprise or After the Storm -- as well as most documentaries. Any Friday I went to see something there, I'd run into a line of (it must be acknowledged) older Upper West Siders, buying tickets to whatever foreign effort had been reviewed in the Times that morning.
The theatre is closing, allegedly, so structural work can be done on the surface building, but no one really believes it's about that -- it's far more likely part of the landlord greed that has afflicted the neighborhood in recent years, shutting down long-established businesses in favor of another bank or Duane Reade. I'm not sure where even the biggest foreign films are going to go now. There's a far smaller complex of 2-3 theatres on 65th Street, and I see A Fantastic Woman is opening at one of them on Friday. But the loss of 6 venues has to be devastating to the niche; the fear is these films'll now only be viewable at home. Losing this theatre is like having a beloved restaurant shut down.
Anyway, to finally get back to the thread topic: my final visit to the theatre, last Friday, was to make my first dip into this year's foreign film race and see The Insult. I can't say I was terribly impressed. The film is a lively enough watch, but it struck me as quite shallow. The central event -- an argument/insult/minor assault that escalates into a nationwide media frenzy -- clearly wants to be a metaphor/allegory for the general situation in Lebanon (or, by extension, the entire Middle East), but the characters' actions/words are so blunt, I felt I was listening to the Lebanese equivalent of Fox News/MSNBC in alternate ears, everyone shouting tired old arguments to the point I wanted to shut them all up. There are occasional flashes of people offering shades of gray (usually one guy's wife disagreeing with him), but they're wedged in in such ham-handed fashion that even the nuances feel didactic.
The film also has a number of borderline ridiculous plot developments, that seem thrown in at intervals to prevent us getting bored. You'll never guess who the public defender turns out to be! Guess what the defendant did 35 years ago! One guy overworks himself to such a state that his pregnant wife... (I won't finish that sentence, because SPOILER -- but, at that moment, I found myself recalling Thelma Ritter's "Everything but the hounds yapping at her rear-end"). I also had a big problem with the scenes inside the courtroom, where everybody seems to speak at random with no admonishment from the judge. Either the writer/director have no awareness of courtroom procedure, or the Lebanese judicial system is screwed up beyond redemption. (If it's the latter, I wish the film had made something of that.)
And then, in the end, the film tells us both sides have a point, they'd all get along if they just listened to one another -- and seems to feel this is a big discovery on their part; like no one else has ever noted this before. This wrap-up feels gooey sentimental, which is kind of insulting after two hours of didacticism. There's actually a brief moment -- involving a stalled car -- that touches on this idea in a less-head-pounding way, but the film holds the moment a bit too long, making it, too, excessively sentimental. I thought to myself, I'd love to see this same scene played with a touch more bite, or even irony -- but that amounted to asking for a different filmmaker.
I'm otherwise unexposed to this year's nominees -- I hope to get to at least The Square and A Fantastic Woman prior to the Oscars -- but if this should win, it'd be one of the weaker choices of recent times.
Last edited by Mister Tee
on Tue Jan 30, 2018 5:20 pm, edited 1 time in total.