I Blame Society (2020)

Quick Synopsis: A struggling film-maker (Gillian Horvat) realises that the skill set to make a movie is the same to commit a murder.

Obviously I had to see this. From the first time I saw the tagline, I knew I had to watch this. The concept was unique, being dark and twisted in a way I really appreciated. It could only go one of two ways: one of my favourite films of the year, or one of the most disappointing.

Thankfully this is squarely in the first camp. It makes the most of the concept, it’s something new and exciting, and the script is incredible. I say that with certainty because it passes one test on whether I love a film or not: it annoys me that I didn’t write this. It seems very me as a concept, and I’m so glad it was handled by someone as talented as Horvat (who directed/wrote this film as well as starring in it). Her background is in short films, and I guess the concept here is best suited for that, there are a few moments where the film seems uncertain of what it’s doing, the ending in particular doesn’t quite hit as it needs to. It also feels quite low budget, but personally I think that works for it. It feels home-made. That’s something that would put a lot of people off, but it really appealed to me and helped bring me into the world. It’s shot like a documentary (of which Horvat has a lot of experience in as a director, and it shows), and it’s not exactly a subject which would allow a big budget as a documentary. In universe, the documentary is not funded by a studio, and she doesn’t have a large crew on which to fall on, it’s pretty much just one woman and a camera. So you do have moments where she sets up a static camera, then people move out of the centre of the frame. There are awkward setting up of shots, the camera isn’t always steady when she’s moving and the lighting isn’t always great. But that all makes sense in universe. It doesn’t seem like “oh, this is low budget and the film-makers don’t know what they’re doing”, it feels more like “this was a stylistic choice to improve the believability of the film”, and I love it.

Now onto the performances, there are a lot of performers in this, but it’s definitely Horvat’s showcase, and she carries it off well. There are a few moments where she doesn’t seem sure what she’s doing, but that feels more like character-work than bad performance. It’s not the best performance of the year by a long shot, but it is one of the most believable. I have no idea what she’s like as a person, but her performance makes me think she’s almost exactly like the character in the film (just less murder-ey, maybe). Again, it’s not something everybody will like, but it really worked for me. It helps with how well-written her character is, so that even when she’s doing horrible things, you root for her. And even when she’s doing stuff that shouldn’t make sense, you can see her logic for it. It’s all very well done.

Another polarising aspect will be the plot. It’s very feminist, and isn’t shy about displaying that. That will be off-putting to some, but I doubt those people will be watching low budget movies anyway because they’re too busy crying that “I displayed basic human dignity to a human female, and she didn’t fuck me. I hope she dies”. With films like this, Lucky, The Power, and Promising Young Woman (which I still really need to see), this is definitely a year of women fighting back in films. A year where they are displaying how fed up they are with dealing with the bullshit they have to on a daily basis, and want to power back against the systems that hold them down. On the one hand: it’s brilliant that those voices are now being amplified and listened to, so that’s great. But on the other hand, it’s depressing that those things still needed to be said.

So yeah, I loved this film, as you can tell. It’s so damn funny and brilliant. It’s a film that will split opinion, but those who like it will really like it. A cult hit that needs a bigger audience, and I genuinely think it deserves it. A film that continues 2021’s streak of fantastic womens films. I will freely admit that Mouthpiece was a much better film, but I have more love for this (and considering how many times I’ve put that film over this year, that says a lot).

Nomadland (2020)

Knew nothing of this film going in, that’s becoming a running theme with these reviews lately. Truth be told I don’t actively seek out films, I don’t go onto film sites and search for recommendations. My knowledge of what films to see come from four sources:

  1. Trailers at the cinema
  2. Personal recommendation (is why I watched Love And Monsters)
  3. If it gets nominated for a lot of awards (Sound Of Metal)

My fourth one is the one I’ve used the most this year. And if you ever wondered how the hell I found some random films, it’s likely to be from this. I go onto https://filmdistributorsassociation.com/release-schedule/this-weeks-releases/ every week to look at the films that have been released that week, if I haven’t heard of it at all I’ll quickly google it and see if it intrigues me. That’s why I end up hearing about films such as Come True (very much yay), Blithe Spirit (very much not yay), and I Blame Society (I don’t know yet as I haven’t seen it, but it looks great). When I say “it intrigues me” I mean that I read a quick one line synopsis, if that hooks me I usually just add it to the list. So there’s a lot of films where I haven’t even seen the trailer (if I had then I wouldn’t have seen Mouthpiece as I’ve since watched the trailer for that and it did nothing for me, which is a shame as it would have meant missing out on one of my favourite films of the year).

So yeah, despite it being one of the most critically acclaimed films of the year (well, technically last year. I’ll stop using parenthesis soon I swear), I went into this knowing very little. Highly recommend going into it this way as seeing everything unfurl in front of you is a delightful experience. I say “delightful”, it’s actually horrible. This has the tone and look of an apocalyptic future. It resembles a word in the near future left ravaged by war. So when is this film set? 2011. That’s a stunning indictment of American capitalism.

But that’s not really what this film is, it’s not about dystopia and bleakness. It’s ultimately about humanity and hope. It’s about beauty and life. It’s about everything and nothing all at once. It feels all too real, but sometimes that realness gives you a warm glow inside.

The feeling of reality is helped by the cast, mainly because Chloe Zhao decided to cast non-actors, instead reaching out to people who actually live the nomadic life. Risky strategy, but it definitely works. These characters know the perfect way to play every single piece of dialogue, bringing the characters to life in a way that few other films could. I should also mention the way that Zhao shot a lot of it. She doesn’t go to make it look like a dramatic film, it’s shot almost like a documentary. Again, this makes everything feel real. It doesn’t often feel like you’re watching a film, but more like you’re standing there alongside them, it truly makes you feel like part of a community (then the film finishes and you’re back to a reality where you’re alone with just a cup of tea for company, and you cry). Considering this film stars Frances McDormand, one of the best performers around, making you forget that she’s an actor is something incredibly difficult to do. But both the talent of the film, and the talent of McDormand herself, make that easy to do.

I suppose it is also helped by being based on a non-fiction book (Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century) which I now need to read I think. You’d think being based on a non-fiction book would mean it lacks narrative. It kind of does, but also doesn’t. It’s not a standard “A leads to B, which leads to C” style plot. It’s the cinematic equivalent of just wandering around somewhere (almost nomadically you could say) and observing. Sometimes you meander, taking stock of what’s in front of you at that moment, sometimes you move forward quicker, and sometimes you stand still. It’s the moments where characters just sit around talking which are the highlights. A key example of this is a guy explaining how his son committed suicide. He talks about how living on the road means you never say goodbye, because you know you’re going to see everybody further down the road. That’s why he does it, because he feels it means his son hasn’t said goodbye, they’ll always meet each other later on. Just writing that bit and remembering it almost brought me to tears just now. That’s how powerful it is.

In summary, you really need to see this. It’s one of the most compelling things I’ve seen all year, and it deserves everything you could give it. Plus it’s available for free on disney+ right now so….yeah.

Mouthpiece (2018)

I put the original release date in the titles of all reviews on this site, not entirely sure why but it’s something I started doing so it’s now something I can’t stop as it’s the house style. Usually I end up with the previous years date in the title until about mid-June due to US films getting them before us, never had one 3 years out though. If you look at the poster you’d be forgiven for thinking this was a Scandinavian film with English subtitles. It’s actually from Canada, lead exporter of hockey pucks, politeness, and sexy Ryans.

I’m not really sure why it took so long to get a UK release, especially on demand. Maybe it’s the non-sexual nudity, or the female masturbation scene (women enjoying themselves sexually is something cinema is still not comfortable with for some reason). I hope that’s not the case, and it’s probably not, but there’s like a 1% chance that is the case. Either way, it got released on various VOD platforms in the UK this year, and better late than never, if this film came out years ago when lots of stuff was released there’s a chance I wouldn’t have seen it as it wouldn’t have caught my eye. That would have been a real shame as this is the first genuine hidden gem of this year so far and it’s hard to imagine a film I know nothing about impressing me quite as much as this one did.

I often see films described as “performance art”, and that is never more true than this film. It features two actors playing the same character simultaneously, so everything they do is in sync in some way. It’s a GREAT gimmick and it really helps display the inner turmoil of the character and the duplicity of humanity which resides in all of us. There’s a moment where a guy is creepy to her (them? I have no idea whether to refer to the main character as plural or singular, it’s a unique film). One of her swears at her, but the other thanks him.

Now onto the negative, I feel this film could have been smaller. It’s adapted from a play so I expected it to make the most of the gimmick and have the two sides of the character interact with each other but it doesn’t do that too much, instead it introduces a lot of other characters, which slightly detracts away from the core story of a person losing their mother. When I saw what the film was about I expected it to be incredibly isolated and mainly be the two of them conversing with each other. Maybe that’s on me for it not being what I expected, as it doesn’t exactly make the film bad, it’s still a great watch.

As I mentioned, this film was based on a play, and I want to see it now as I’m curious as to how it worked. There are moments here which never would have worked on stage. An example of this is the characters walking around a shopping mall discussing the funeral when it goes into one of them imagining doing a musical number (with subtitles) at the funeral, which then leads to an argument from the two characters (well, two people, as I said, they’re the same character). I have no idea how that could work on a stage but it really works here. The sense of depressive playfulness is great. There are other moments which I’m curious to see how they were done on stage (if they were done at all), mainly the extensive flashbacks. This is how play to film adaptations should be done, they should recognise the differences between the two formats and use it to do things that weren’t possible in the original that enhance the story. I believe the two main actors were also the ones in the play, and that really helps the film as they GET the characters. Would it have been more successful if they cast bigger actresses? Probably. Would it have made the film better? Not a chance. The performers, Norah Sadava and Amy Nostbakken, wrote the original play. So they know the material, and they know how to play every single moment in the most perfect way possible. Seriously, I cannot praise their performance enough, they’re a key part to this working.

I wish this film hit slightly harder, it didn’t leave me a complete emotional wreck, it just made me feel bleak for a while. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t hit hard occasionally, the funeral scene is a highlight in terms of staging and performance. It starts with the two versions of her fighting to get to the one to deliver the eulogy, then the one who wins is physically unable to make it up to do it as they keep being pushed back by an unknown force. The two then embrace and walk up, delivering it together. Starting with them alternating dialogue, and then in tandem. It’s thematically the best way this film could end, in terms of narrative, in terms of film style, and in terms of character, you will not find a more deserving ending to a film than this.

Some people will resonate with this film a lot more than I did, and for some it won’t mean anything at all, but I recommend everybody gives it a go, you may love it, you may hate it, but it’s an experience you need to go through. Is it better than Soul? No. But if someone asked me to recommend a film from this year, I’d go with this first, purely because I believe it to be a film more people need to be aware of.