Writer-Director Marin Ade’s Toni Erdmann, Germany’s entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2016 Oscars, is a profoundly strange and wonderful film. It wanders between awkward comedy, heartfelt drama, and outright farce with a complete control of its own voice and tone. It’s an impressive and weird movie, and even though it stretches to nearly three hours in length, it never bogs down or loses focus on the central relationship between Ines and her father Winfried.
Is there anything in life more enigmatic than the haphazard paths that lead us into the another’ arms? Makoto Shinkai’s anime Your Name. (Kimi no na wa) explores these paths by way of a fantastical body-swap comedy. But, there is a genuine seriousness at the heart of the film that coalesces romance, connectivity, memory, and identity into a cohesive story about time, space, and the hidden strings that surround us all. Your Name. sports a lavish animation style, energetic soundtrack, and intelligent use of imagery and metaphor, all of which contribute to an absolutely breathtaking experience. Shinkai’s film amazes constantly, and is right at home alongside other pinnacles of this oft-celebrated style.
You’d generally forgive a zombie movie for being shallow and uninventive, as long as the story generates the proper tone and mood. Writer-director Yeon Sang-ho’s Train to Busan deserves commendation for not only nailing the bleakness of and terror of a zombie apocalypse, but for infusing such a story with genuine heart, emotion, and intriguing subtext. It is rare that a zombie flick can elicit tears as readily as screams, but Train to Busan is the rare example of the complete package.
Weird, exciting, and vibrant, Park Chan-wook’s The Handmaiden is an erotic tour through a world of subjugation, trickery, and betrayal framed by a bizarre love triangle. The story was inspired by the novel Fingersmith by Welsh writer Sarah Waters, with Park and his co-writer Chung Seo-kyung adjusting the setting from Victorian England to Japanese-occupied Korea during the 1930s. The structure of the film is cyclical, re-telling the story three times from different viewpoints and revealing new truths with each telling. There’s an unreliability to the narrative, as truth and facade alternate with each new perspective. But ultimately, The Handmaiden has an fervent romanticism about it, as the heart of the story is about love, sexual exploration, and self-discovery – all with a tinge of deviancy.
Paul Verhoeven’s Elle opens with a blank screen and the sickening sounds of sexual assault. The first image of the film is of a cat, casually witnessing the rape. Only after this introduction does Verhoeven confront the audience with the actual struggle: a man clad in dark clothing and a ski mask, dominating an older woman and having his way with her. Once he is gone, we’re introduced to Michèle Leblanc (Isabelle Huppert) wordlessly; she picks herself up, straightens her clothing, cleans up some broken glass, and then takes a bath. The blood floats up from between her legs to color the bubbles with a crimson wisp.