Playing Catch-Up — Greta; A Warm December; Veronika Voss

greta

Greta (Neil Jordan, 2019). Neil Jordan’s first feature film in six years is a trashy, inane thriller that’s miles removed from his best work. Except for the requisite appearance by Stephen Rea, it doesn’t even bear much resemblance to the Irish auteur’s previous gigs that seemed driven by paycheck considerations above all. In Greta, a New York City waitress (Chloë Grace Moretz) finds an unattended purse on the subway. Her good samaritan instincts kick in, and she returns the handbag to its owner (Isabelle Huppert), gleaned from identification found inside. Lonely since the death of her mother, the young woman accepts the overtures of friendship put forth from the grateful older lady who misplaced the bag. The situation quickly turns dark. Still in her early twenties, Moretz is an old pro at being terrorized onscreen, and her put-out exasperation plays well against Huppert’s default cold indifference. Jordan has a moment or two that he stages with amusing floridness, but most of Greta is remarkably rote.

 

warm december

A Warm December (Sidney Poitier, 1973). The second features directed by Sidney Poitier, A Warm December fits right into the template of dewy-eyed, tragedy-tinged romance that was set for nineteen-seventies filmmakers the moment Ali MacGraw tearfully explained to Ryan O’Neal that love forestalled the need for apologies. Poitier casts himself as Dr. Matt Younger, an altruistic physician with a penchant for dirt bike racing. On a trip to London, the good doctor meets Catherine Oswandu (Ester Anderson), the niece of an African diplomat. Her initial reluctance to bond too closely with the doctor falls away, and a whirlwind romance begins. Poitier is relentlessly charming in his role, and Anderson is radiant. As a director, Poitier’s visual language is sometimes overly reliant on bland, interchanging close-ups, but there’s a laudable sincerity to his storytelling. The film shifts into lesson mode as Catherine’s medical backstory emerges. Once again, it’s Poitier’s earnest nature as a storyteller that elevates the material above mere didacticism.

 

veronika

Veronika Voss (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1982). German filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder overdosed on barbiturates and cocaine three months after Veronika Voss debuted, making it his final directorial effort to be released in his lifetime. (The drama Querelle opened in his home country a little more than three months after he died.) Inspired by the life of German actress Sybille Schmitz, is like a cross of Sunset Boulevard and Frances (the latter was released out the same year) with arch, European arthouse stylings thrown in. Veronika (Rosel Zech) is a movie star past her prime who desperation is further complicated by drug addiction. She’s basically incarcerated by ruthless figures posing as therapists, stringing her along with morphine shots in a long con to take all her money. Fassbinder’s storytelling is adequate, but it’s mostly a means to stage images so sharply beautiful and inventive in their manipulation of light that they’re practically magic tricks. Xaver Schwarzenberger provides the magnificent cinematography. Zech is impressively committed in the title role, but the film’s best performance belongs to Cornelia Froboess, who finds endless reserves of amused animosity as the girlfriend of a sportswriter (Hilmar Thate) who becomes wrapped up in Veronika’s damaged life.

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