Then Playing — The Day I Will Never Forget; Örökbefogadás; The Nest

The Day I Will Never Forget (Kim Longinotto, 2002). I don’t think I’ve encountered a documentary as uncompromisingly grueling as The Day I Will Never Forget. Director Kim Longinotto favors plain, direct reportage, which makes the film’s most harrowing moments hit all the harder. The subject is female genital mutilation in Kenya, an act of grotesque cruelty perpetrated in the name of upholding cultural tradition. Granted astounding access by those she turns her camera on, Longinotto captures the terrors inflicted on young girls, even filming the brutal procedure as it takes place on the floor of a family home. It’s an instance when my usual admiration for an unflinching eye was strongly countered by the desire for the mercy of edit. It’s difficult to watch. That’s the point, of course, because it is far, far worse to endure it, and a crime is more likely to be addressed when it has witnesses. Longinotto is able to offer some solace in the story of a group of girls who flee the families all too ready to force them into this barbaric practice, but her storytelling is too truthful to offer a sustaining hope. All too often, as she shows, the offhand disregard for women, and the sanctity of their very being, is cemented into the social working of the community.

Örökbefogadás (Márta Mészáros, 1975). This Hungarian drama follows Kata (Katalin Berek), a toiler at a woodworking factory, as she decides in middle age that she’s ready to be a mother. Unfortunately, the man in her life (Laszlo Szabo) is married to someone else and angrily resistant to fathering her child. Spurned by him and otherwise largely alone, Kata strikes up a friendship with an unhappy girl (Gyongyver Vigh) from the local boarding school. Through that relationship, Kata discovers her ability to nurture doesn’t necessarily require a blood connection. Márta Mészáros directs Örökbefogadás with a measured clarity, shaping scenes with patience and an acute attentiveness. She takes the time to show how connections build, deeply developing the characters and guiding the actors to moving, naturalistic performances. In a way that feels very European and of the era, Mészáros demonstrates how intense feeling can be found in resolutely subtle, restrained storytelling.

The Nest (Sean Durkin, 2020). Set in the nineteen-eighties, the second feature from writer-director Sean Durkin casts Jude Law as a jabbering, financial-district huckster whose prospects in the U.S. are dwindling, leading him to cart his family back to London in a last-ditch effort to revive his fortunes. Carrie Coon is his skeptical wife, worn down by fault promises and desperate reinventions. Occasionally operating with the simmering intensity of a horror film, The Nest is hindered by a script that is a mass of bungled contrivance. The film sags into tedium because of the predictability of the various plot turns, but the main problem is that Durkin can’t quite find the right tone. It requires the fearless floridness of a Yorgos Lanthimos or the emotional vividness of a Todd Haynes. Instead, The Nest flops into a middle ground, wasting strong performances by Law and Coon.

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