Bacurau (Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles, 2020). A wooly mash-up of a modern Western, a riff on The Most Dangerous Game, and a roaring revenge potboiler, this Brazilian film is gonzo is all the right ways. Well, it’s probably more accurate to downshift that observation to most of the right ways, since Bacurau, both co-written and co-directed by Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles, also has a tendency for overindulgence in its frothing mania, leading to a running time that would have benefited from some pruning and tightening up. The film’s title refers to the name of the backcountry town where a series of bloody skirmishes take place, mostly due to the incursion of international trophy hunters who’ve decided to train their rifle sights on human beings, arrogantly ignorant to the idea that these humble folk might be more than capable of responding in kind to the aggression. What elevates the film above its grindhouse instincts is a fiercely firing central nervous system of anti-colonialist commentary. The film offers a welcome and timely condemnation of capitalistic instincts that make moneyed individuals expect to operate with impunity.
Maiden (Alex Holmes, 2019). The skillful documentary recounts the voyage of the good ship Maiden. An aspiring sailor who was frustrated by the chauvinism she faced when trying to join established crew for major competitions, Tracy Edwards made her own opportunity, assembling a group of women to participate in the Whitbread Around the World Race, in 1989. With modern interviews and a plethora of old footage, director Alex Holmes tells the trailblazing story with assurance, tacking into the real details that play like gripping Hollywood heroism, including the elbow-grease refurbishment of a dilapidated ship and the mix of heartbreaking setbacks and spirit-boosting triumphs experienced by the Y chromosome–free tars. If someone isn’t already scrambling to mount a fictionalized film version with Florence Pugh as Edwards, then the movie business simply isn’t working right.
Through a Glass Darkly (Ingmar Bergman, 1961). This Ingmar Bergman family drama nabbed the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, giving his work the prize in back-to-back years. The film follows a family at their rustic island vacation home. They’re trying to settle into some warm, affectionate time together, but there are lingering shadows, partially due to the emotional distance of the author patriarch (Gunnar Björnstrand), but mostly because of lingering worry about the mental health of Karin (Harriet Andersson), who was recently institutionalized. As usual, Bergman navigates tricky terrain with a grim astuteness, capturing the large and small ways troubles come to the forefront, especially as people try to hold them in. Blessed with a part that calls for boldness, Andersson gives it her all, tearing into the heaviest, hardest moments with a bracing fearlessness. The great Max von Sydow gives a performance of graceful understatement as Karin’s husband, who struggles remain calm and positive despite mounting certainty that there’s no good outcome for him and Karin.