Marwencol, Dogtooth, Leaving: Three film reviews

Cinema Guild

EXACTLY THE SORT of mysterious and almost holy experience you hope to get from documentaries and rarely do, Jeff Malmberg's Marwencol begins with context: In 2000, Mark Hogancamp, an upstate New York resident, was beaten outside a bar by four men so badly that he incurred a brain injury and woke up to a life he barely remembered. Seriously disabled mentally, he has existed since by mopping floors and making diner meatballs in his destitute little trailer town. Having run out of insurance for therapy, the artist reverted to a childhood impulse and began building a miniature town in his yard, simulating a World War II Belgian village filled with action figures of GIs, Nazis, vamps, brutes, barmaids, and simulacra of his friends, relatives, and neighbors. Enraptured by his idealized world, Hogancamp began photographing it and was soon discovered as an artist, a primitive born out of trauma. Malmberg is sensitive to the art's significance, but he's also sensitive to the man, a naive, socially inept misfit eventually terrified by his own press coverage and a rather spectacular show in a Village gallery. Life and fantasy are scrambled for Hogancamp. Inevitably, his alter-ego doll is disabled by a Nazi beating, and the now-feted but still deeply ill artist creates a mini-Marwencol within Marwencol. What happens next? You can't help but wonder if Malmberg may have violated outsider art's version of Star Trek's "prime directive"—is Hogancamp self-consciously producing art now? And when's his next show? —Michael Atkinson

IN HER RECENT English-speaking roles, 50-year-old, bilingual Kristin Scott Thomas has gamely endured the fate of most actresses her age, cast as the fretful mother of Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson in The Other Boleyn Girl and the pinched, sexless guardian of Aaron Johnson's John Lennon in Nowhere Boy. Her French projects, even one as overcooked as Catherine Corsini's Leaving, at least don't neuter her. KST's Suzanne Vidal, a Nîmes homemaker married to imperious physician Samuel (Yvan Attal), with whom she has two teenage children, falls for Ivan (Sergi López, Gallic cinema's standby sexy prole), a Spanish ex-con remodeling a room in the blindingly white Vidal residence for Suzanne's planned physiotherapy practice. In its first half, Leaving offers the delight of watching Scott Thomas expertly negotiate doubt and propriety, slowly giving in to lust; Suzanne and Ivan's midday rutting feels truly emancipating. But the sequence of ridiculously desperate events triggered after Suzanne leaves her vindictive spouse—foretold by a gunshot in the film's flash-forward first scene—call for Scott Thomas to transform from complicated bourgeoise to unbelievable desperate housewife. In any language, the actress does what she can to best serve her scripts, even when they're hopelessly beneath her. —Melissa Anderson

A 2009 CANNES WINNER, Dogtooth is hyperrealist sci-fi detailing an (anti)social experiment gone awry. The matriarch and patriarch of an upper-class Greek family have taught their three nameless, college-age offspring an alternate language ("A sea is a leather armchair, like the one we have in the living room. A pussy is a big light") to protect a larger deception: that the world outside the family's high-walled home is so dangerous that the "kids" won't be mature enough to explore it until one of their canine teeth falls out. The clueless guinea pigs while away their days playing mostly innocent if bizarre games of endurance and submission, often monitored by their father, who offers sparkly stickers as prizes for jobs well done—and enforces the boundaries of the closed state with violence. But this dictator's efforts are no match for the trifecta of threats to his fascist regime: free-market trading, sex, and American popular culture. Director Giorgos Lanthimos lays out the rules largely through action rather than exposition, which allows Dogtooth to play as a richly satisfying, blackly comic mystery. This pastel-colored portrait of disaster capitalism was made long before the Greek economic crisis, and that's something of a relief: Straight parable could never feel as urgent and unexpectedly moving as the eldest daughter's desperate drive to escape into Hollywood movies—not just by watching them, but by pretending to live them. —Karina Longworth

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