November – Part 1

Vlad Ivanov and Catrinel Marlon in The Whistlers

When I thought about writing up the various films I watched in November I saw it as a 30 minute job, a task that wouldn’t be particularly taxing. Looking back on how I started November with Corneliu Porumboiu’s The Whistlers and finished with Hong Khaou’s Monsoon, you might assume I only watched quiet contemplative films, minimal and striking in equal measure. However not only are both of these films starkly different despite their leisurely pacing and beautiful scenery but it has drilled the notion that although these reviews will be small, they will be no easier to whittle down than a full length feature. Therefore welcome to a newly expanded series of mini reviews, a three part series that runs the gamut from The Tax Collector to The High Note to Never Rarely Sometimes Always. Here are the first four.

The Whistlers

As mentioned above Porumboiu’s latest feature is a quiet story, one of Romanian gangsters and corrupt cops and a heist requiring the use of a long forgotten whistling language. Following the increasingly trapped Romanian detective Cristi (Vlad Ivanov) as he tries to escape his place in the middle between the gangsters that think they own him and the police that want to use him. While there is a soft introspection to Porumboiu’s story, it is also a campy action film, a compelling thriller and a striking look at the difference between opulence and poverty. Not only is Ivanov a perfect lead, a cynical, aged man who is fed up of just merely getting by, Porumboiu’s eye for detail and beauty in Cristi’s surroundings suck you into a tale of conspiracy. The awe inspiring use of light in a film shrouded in dark mystery brings out not only the differences between Cristi’s Romanian prison but also the bright freedom that comes from the possibility of escape. While not your conventional love story, Porumboiu’s minimal script plays with the simple idea of language, be it how we hide things from ourselves or others while giving ourselves away with our body language. Visually full and brazen in its storytelling, The Whistlers is one of the year’s best crime films.

Camino Skies

Camino Skies

Fergus Grady and Noel Smyth’s documentary about six Australian and New Zealanders walking the Camino De Santiago (Way of St James) in northern Spain is film that is more than the long walk it entails. Most of all it is a film about letting go and honouring the past in equal measure. Each of them is walking for their own reasons, be it one last hurrah due to a quickly failing body or a way to work through the grief of a sudden loss or the simple honouring of a family member no longer with us, Camino Skies is a film with the best of intentions and the warmest of hearts. However it is also trapped by its own design, a set finish line and a failure to look at the faith that makes this punishing trek so cathartic and important even today. Coincidentally a film about missing the lost feels like it is itself missing something, a much needed context outside of why these people have ended up in this place. Despite this absence, Camino Skies, much like its participants is everything from destructive, joyous, heartbreaking and lost. It is a strongly felt film with some striking transitions from comedy to tragedy and a cast of strong willed and empathetic subjects well worth following for 90 minutes.

Nat Wolff in Mortal


There is a lot to unpack in this Norweigian supernatural drama and while some of it works, most is a scattershot approach to storytelling that does this simple low budget thriller a disservice. Following Eric (Nat Wolff), a man who has been hiding out in the mountains since he began exhibiting strange and uncontrollable powers, Mortal is a tale about the inherent humanity in even the most fantastic of us. André Øvredal’s film is interested in the very human effects of trauma but is constantly bogged down in the supernatural minutea of a story that really isn’t that complicated. All it really amounts to is a vibrant light show in search of a deeper story, always on the cusp of finding one but too enamoured by the thunder and lightning of Eric’s burgeoning powers to ever really dig deep into who he is. It doesn’t help that Wolff here dives so deep into Eric’s closed off character almost every line of dialogue is a forced mumble, a meaningless string of unintelligible muttering passed off as inner pain. It isn’t a bad performance but the sound mixing makes it a slog getting any sense of real understanding. Mortal flounders in the hunt for the right balance, something I fear never existed in the first place.

Sidney Flanigan and Talia Ryder in Never Rarely Sometimes Always

Never Rarely Sometimes Always

Telling the story of two teenagers Autumn (Sidney Flanigan) and Skylar (Talia Ryder) who travel to New York from rural Pennsylvania so that Autumn can have an abotion, Eliza Hittman’s film is all about the toxicity of not just the American establishment when it comes to women’s rights but also how around every corner lies a danger for young women just trying to find their place in the world. Anchored by two different but equally impressive performances and a script light on dialogue but full of consistently unnerving encounters, Hittman strikes upon a raw nerve and just keeps pulling her audience to a breaking point. This is a film all about individuality in a place constantly trying to strip you of what makes you you, Never Rarely Sometimes Always might plod along but its horrors sneak up on you, its subtle tale of enduring female companionship and familial bonds constantly hanging over every frame while never given voice. This is minimalist cinema at its best and most cruel. Most of all it is a wake up call, a reminder that female empowerment is all well and good but it all comes down to how young girls are taught, what they are taught that brings out the best in them and in a country actively trying to shy away from these lessons, the world they inhabit becomes one of unexpected dangers and women living in fear. Both Autumn and Skylar are strong women and Hittman gamely shows that by villainising the society that seeks to ostracise them. It might not be for everyone but Hittman’s cutting voice that breathes life into a haunting story well worth watching.

I hope you enjoyed these shorter snippet reviews and will come back for Part 2. Please leave a comment or subscribe if you enjoyed reading them.


2 thoughts on “November – Part 1

  1. Pingback: End Of Year Review Part 1: The 10 Worst Films of 2020 – The Sardonic Romantic

  2. Pingback: End of Year Review Part 3: The 25 Best Films of 2020 (20-11) – The Sardonic Romantic

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