Tilda Swinton confronts the ghosts of her family’s past in Joanna Hogg’s new film “The Eternal Daughter.”
The AFI Film Festival ended this past Sunday on another packed day. There were plenty of interesting films to catch, from the latest auteur projects to remakes of classics. Without further ado, let’s dig into the final titles…
The Eternal Daughter (Dir: Joanna Hogg)
Midway through the movie, our protagonist’s mother comments that “rooms hold memories within them” and you’re never sure whether you’ll encounter a happy one or a sad one. Joanna Hogg’s most recent feature has all the trappings of a ghost story. The floors creak, the windows clang, dogs bark and not everything is as it seems. What haunts this English bed and breakfast? It’s merely the past and the power it holds over us. The Eternal Daughter is a beautifully contemplative work that perfectly dramatizes the relationship between child and parent and how, no matter you age, you can’t shake these formative roles and dynamics.
Tilda Swinton does double duty in the film, playing both Julie Hart, a childless filmmaker, and Rosalind Hart, her mother. Julie, Rosalind, and their dog Louie are on holiday for Rosalind’s birthday. They’re staying in an old family home from World War II which has been converted into a bed and breakfast. It becomes clear to Julie that they are the only people at the manor, other than an incredibly inattentive front desk woman (Carly Sophia-Davies).
While Rosalind sleeps through the night (thanks to sleeping pills in an adorable tchotchke box), Julie, a ball of nerves, is unable to sleep. She finds herself wandering the grounds trying to place an implacable racket. So many things unnerve Julie, who is always trying to please her mother. In a more standard film, Rosalind would be a withholding monster that encourages Julie to self-flagellate. Instead, Rosalind is pensive and distant. She appreciates how her daughter dotes on her, but is often overcome by her own memories.
The disturbances and the eeriness build, but never reach a fever pitch. Ghosts and apparitions in The Eternal Daughter aren’t meant to terrorize us. Instead, they are reminders of things both good and bad that we can’t shake. If anything intensifies, it’s the small little indignities of hotel life: spotty wifi, missing kettles and passive aggressive comments from the front desk clerk.
Joanna Hogg has made a beautiful and personal film that expertly uses gothic horror tropes to simultaneously communicate love and pain. One of the main directorial choices seems born from practical necessity at first.; Julie and Rosalind (both played by Tilda of course) are shot separately through almost the entirety of the film. Though that might have made the shoot more practical, it’s also an incredible visualization of the gulf Julie feels between her and her mother, one which she can’t seem to close. Distance isn’t about apathy, it’s about unknowing. How well do we ever know our parents or their experience? Even the title The Eternal Daughter speaks to Julie’s experience. As old as she gets, she’ll always be Rosalind’s daughter. She’ll always be following her, soaking up her stories, yet missing something and chasing after what’s ethereal and elusive. A-
The Eternal Daughter will be distributed by A24. No release date has been announced.
Akira Kurosawa’s classic “Ikiru” gets the remake treatment with “Living,” starring Bill Nighy.
Living (Dir: Oliver Hermanus)
What would you do if you found out you only had months to live? That’s the predicament that Mr. Williams (Bill Nighy) finds himself in Living, an adaptation of Akira Kurosawa’s classic Ikiru. This central premise has been done a number of times, often in lighthearted comedies like Last Holiday and The Bucket List where characters “live like they’re dying.” Living stays true to Ikiru’s more humble flexes, for better and worse. As good as it is to see Bill Nighy get the starring role he deserves, Living is on life support just moments past its delightfully retro opening credits.
Every day, Mr. Williams boards the same train to go to his bureaucratic job where he and his workers shuffle papers around and get nothing done. One afternoon, Mr. Williams takes off a bit early for a doctor’s appointment. The prognosis is grim, it’s cancer and it won’t be getting any better. He begins to behave less predictably, skipping out of work, travelling to the sea, taking his coworker Margaret (Aimee Lou Woods) to a fancy lunch. Even as he lives large (or larger than usual), Nighy never lets Mr. Williams’ restrained demeanor drop. Before the prognosis, he walked through life as a “zombie” (Margaret’s words). After the prognosis, he’s only partially reanimated.
It’s hard not to feel like a grump watching a sweet old man enjoy his life. There’s sweetness, sure, but where is the life? Compare this to Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris, another British tale of a person getting a new lease on life. While Mrs. Harris isn’t dying that’s also a story about an older person reframing their life around a dream. In this case the dream doesn’t spring from Mr Williams’. In fact, it’s never clear where Mr. Williams’ passion lies. It doesn’t seem to be his family, as his son and daughter-in-law are mere afterthoughts. Very little of the indulgences bring him pleasure. At the end of the day, his death sentence gives him the gumption to… do his job? Even though this film is still set in the 50s, why retell it now? How does its satire of ineffective bureaucracy apply to us today? C-
Living will be released on 12/23 from Sony Pictures Classics.
Taylor Russell and Timothee Chalamet star as cannibals in love in “Bones and All,” by Luca Guadagnino.
Bones and All (Dir: Luca Guadagnino)
There’s always been a cinematic attraction to the traveling outlaw. Films like Bonnie and Clyde and Natural Born Killers (and many many more) have romanticized and skewered couples living outside of the law. Just as the latter upped the crimes from the former, the only way Bones and All could up the ante is if it involved cannibals. The adaptation of Camille DeAngelis’ novel of the same name, definitely breaks new ground in the time honored road trip romance genre. Much of that is due to the gruesome nature of the subject, but also for how much it is able to overcome that limiting factor.
When we first meet Maren (Taylor Russell), she seems just like any other teenager. Once she attends a friend’s sleepover, her urges burst forth. She bites off a girl’s finger, revealing herself to be a cannibal. Her and her Father (André Holland) flee town quickly, but soon he abandons her leaving her with only some money and her birth certificate. Maren books a greyhound bus and begins a long and winding journey towards Michigan, where she was born. Along the way, she meets fellow cannibal Lee (Timothee Chalamet), who commands her attention (and ours) as soon as she sees him sauntering through a grocery store. Chalamet once again proves he has a once-in-a-generation charisma, akin to a ’90s Leonardo DiCaprio or a young Warren Beatty. For her part, Russell ably sells the complex love story between cannibals as the two of them hit the road, but she never fully sells Maren’s drive.
As we journey along the road, we meet many other “eaters” played by actors such as Mark Rylance and Michael Stuhlbarg. The only thing they love chewing more than humans is the scenery. They epitomize the film’s mix of purposefully conflicting tones. Maren and Lee want to exist somewhere in the world, while these colorful figures remind them they they’ll never be more than outcasts. Yet, this world just-outside our own isn’t developed enough to understand the draw of it. If the movie is trying to draw a metaphor with addiction or drugs, it feels half baked. So many craft elements call attention to themselves and would be positive in isolation. The cinematography by Arseni Khachaturan makes beautiful use of the wide open midwestern vistas. When combined with the grand score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, the result can be overpowering. Similarly, as stylized as the gore sequences are, it remains tough to watch people, well, eat other people. A memorable jump scare midway through the movie jolts the meandering movie alive. Yet, it loses its way shortly thereafter.
Perhaps the journey lies in the contradictions. Luca Guadagnino’s latest film is a perfect example of execution not quite meeting intention. What makes the film interesting might also be its great misfire. Guadagnino insists on making this a realistic road trip through the Midwest. It’s an interesting challenge to mix cannibal horror conventions with realism. Yet, if we are placing these characters so intently in the real world, it becomes harder to relate or empathize. Real cannibals exist in this world, as we just saw dramatized in the exploitative Ryan Murphy series Dahmer. In eschewing genre and not heightening the character’s behaviors, the movie asks us to take these cannibals seriously as “real” people. By that logic shouldn’t we take their victims seriously, too? In the end, Bones and All is a one-of-a-kind, complicated misfire that is still sure to find a passionate fanbase. C+