Sound Of My Voice is a little film and that is a good thing. It is a curious film in how it is extremely and deceptively simple; a couple is making a documentary on a cult. He is a substitute teacher and his co-filmmaker girlfriend is a former party girl who has cleaned up her act. They go into expose a mysterious cult leader but first they have to find their way into the arms of the cult.
Christopher Denham and Nicole Vicius co-star as the would-be filmmakers and the mesmerizing Brit Marling is Maggie, the mysterious cult leader. Marling co-wrote the script. Marling was also co-writer of the film, Another Earth (which she starred in). This film is a much better, tighter effort than the previous one. Maybe that is due to Zal Batmanglij or maybe Marling and her partners have just honed their skills.
This film focuses in on the basics. There is very little set-up. We do not know how the couple first became aware of the cult. We don’t know how the original cult began even. There are a number of details that the viewer has to figure out themselves. While some conclusions are not really open to interpretation there are others that are—and these are the more human aspects of the story. What does it mean?
We find out who these humans are in small snippets of their lives—as they describe them to others. We believe what they do and the conflicts. While it is focused there is no attempt to tie it all up and show what happens to everyone. There is no place for that in this film. It is a very “indie” production. It isn’t trying to spell it all out.
But let’s get back to Marling. She is not the star of the film but she steals it as the cult leader who is beautiful, seductive, threatening and even a little cruel. But all this is displayed with subtlety that leaves the audience guessing. Part of the guessing also comes from Marling’s performance. She is an ethereal, otherworldly presence. You can believe people would believe her—even when her logic is dubious.
But that is part of how cults work? They work like con artists; they convince people silly things are true. But what if they were true?
Denham’s character is vaguely annoying. It isn’t that the actor is annoying; the character, Peter, is. Denham plays it well with small ticks and increasing neurosis. You probably find out more about Peter than any other character in the film. You don’t hate him but you seriously wouldn’t want to have a beer with the guy.
Vicius’ Lorna is a less sexy (using the term figuratively) role but Vicius certainly does everything she has to in bringing her character to life. In a subtle movie with three main characters hers is the character that is least defined. Lorna’s demons are not paraded publicly but are shown as an aside, a flashback. She has less to work with script-wise but makes the role come to life.
If you are fans of smaller films, of indie films, this is one that will appeal to you. If you need explosions it will not. If you need a bad guy who “gets theirs” at the end? Likewise you should look elsewhere. More than anything else the film may be the one people look back on when Marling writes and or stars in a film that reaches a large audience. You will hear from her again.
There is something extremely likeable about Where Do We Go Now?
, the Lebanese/French/Egyptian/Italian film about a small town divided between Christians and Muslims trying to get along in the midst of unrest in the outside world. The film is a sort of modern day Lysistrata
but it is a tad less focused (to be charitable).
Directed and written by Lebanese actress Nadine Labaki
, the movie focuses on the effort of women to keep sectarian violence from breaking out in their town. The town is isolated by a destroyed bridge that will only let a moped in and out. The women strive to keep the hot headed men from killing one another after religious tensions from outside flare and there are several incidents where a mosque and Christian religious icons are profaned. They try deceit; they try (improbably) hiring exotic dancers to distract the men and various other tricks. None of these seem to be particularly well conceived or effective. But this may be intentional. Getting the men under control seems like something of a fool’s errand.
It is probably best to think of this as allegory in any case.
The previews are a problem for this film—they make it seem like a wacky comedy. It isn’t. It has comic elements but these are subtle and not at all what the previews imply. This is a drama. Many scenes work. One scene where Labaki’s character, Amale, tells the men, fighting in her café to “go die at home” rings particularly true. And when the shamed men leave, she is left with her child—also a boy. Will he be part of the cycle? Labaki is a real presence on the screen and the acting is all professional and believable.
It is also a good idea to keep in mind that Westerners may not be the intended audience. Americans especially like neat films with all the loose ends tied up. In this film there is no “bad guy” and you never find out who does any of the things that light the fuse of a potential powder keg. That isn’t the point. Although sometimes it can be a little difficult to discern what, precisely the point is. Again, this may well be intentional. The problems, the reasons behind the turmoil under the surface, are in the film and real life not easy to pin down.
One truth is easy to pin down; men are singled out as the root of the problem. It is hard to argue against this, be it in the real world or in the film. Women, with a few exceptions, are not the one’s starting wars or even localized sectarian violence.
Interestingly the film begins and ends in a graveyard, one side Christian and one side Muslim. Apparently men in the village have killed one another before and even though they seem to coexist more or less peacefully. There is no real attempt at showing real closeness between the men—more tolerance. The women are another matter, they are friends; they joke and laugh together in a more intimate manner than the men. This isn’t to say the men initially seem hostile but just not close.
The film breaks out into song now and again (one funny song and one about love) in a way that will make the average American filmgoer roll their eyes. But this sort of scene is common in films from various places around the world; from Egypt to India. It seems odd to Americans in a film like this these days. But it wasn’t so long ago dramas and comedies alike had musical “numbers” in them.
This is not a great film but it is a good one.
When a film comes out of the Middle East and is directed by a woman there is a justifiable tendency to give more praise than is merited. In this case praise is merited—with caveats. The film meanders and frustrates. There are a lot of characters and they are hard to keep track of and hard to feel much for specifically. You can care as you would for any human being but there is not a great deal of character development.
It lacks focus but it is still a likeable film especially in the discussion it raises. Unfortunately the people who need to see films like this most are not likely to be in the audience. Nor would it get through to them if they were. And that is a shame.
The Kid With A Bike is a Belgian film starring the lovely Cecile De France as a hairdresser who takes on a boy abandoned by his father. He keeps running away from the group home he lives in to find his father--often using his missing bike as an excuse for his departures. He will not accept proof. He will not accept that his father has abandoned him.
Enter De France (who was also wonderful in the under-appreciated Clint Eastwood film, Hereafter). She takes pity on the kid and brings him his bike and even agrees to take him on weekends.
But she quickly finds out the bike is not the issue.
The film is a "slice of life" affair. I initially thought John Cassavetes but that is not really accurate and is more of a knee-jerk for any film that depicts real life on a small scale. This film lacks the figurative claustrophobia of a Cassavetes film. It isn't suffocating, there is an openness to it. There is also more hope in this film and less desperation.
The audience of this film will, at least initially, feel a certain anger toward the kid. Why does he do these things? Why doesn't he face facts. He is SOOO annoying.
This is what makes it real. While you watch you are annoyed by him but if, afterward, you take the time to think about it his reaction isn't anything out of line. Imagine your father abandoning you and--at length--telling you he doesn't want you around. Imagine all the justifications for his actions you would make. Imagine how you would try to find acceptance elsewhere. This is what rings true about the movie--the kid.
De France's character is missing something, however. We have no backstory. We do not know why she, out of the blue, takes on this child. Maybe she is just a generous person but aside from the kid we never see her in any context that shows this. She seems to be a little cold toward the man in her life (whose character is not particularly well defined). It isn't a big problem but it nags a bit and it could have been solved by showing one act of disconnected kindness by her character.
Perhaps the idea is to show the connection she has to the boy--that unlike his "real" parent she will do anything for him. Maybe she is supposed to be a symbol of what a real parent SHOULD be. In that case? My arguments are moot (and a little silly).
The film is worth a visit to the theater--or grab it on DVD since it is likely not going to be around the cinemas much longer. There is no one wearing tights in it.