Still catching up on notable 2006 releases.
The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (Cristi Puiu, 2005)
Man, this movie is just brutal. It's exactly as it sounds from the title - a nearly real-time, painstaking account of the death of one man. For two and a half hours, the title character deteriorates from having a headache and stomachache to ... well, you can guess. Along the way he is ignored by doctors and family members, passed from hospital to hospital and misdiagnosed several times. Although many reviews indicated that this is a scathing indictment of the Romanian healthcare system, the truth is that at least as many people try to help Mr. Lazarescu as ignore him, and Puiu throws up several no doubt rare roadblocks to his protagonist's getting help. At the same time, it seems mostly accurate, and indicative of the general indifference of the world to the suffering of those who have no one to care for them. My kind of film.
A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints (Dito Montiel, 2006)
I expected a sort of bland coming-of-age tale from this movie, but while it does have some unfortunate hallmarks of earnest first features (pretentious voiceovers, pointless jump cuts), those are rather minimal, and overall Montiel does an excellent job of evoking his locale (Queens), era (1986) and time of life (late teens, of course). There's not much of a plot, which means that the overly weighty ending kind of comes on too abruptly, but for most of the film, it's a bittersweet and genuine portrait of the highs and lows of hard-scrabble teenage life.
The Proposition (John Hillcoat, 2005)
Although this has a really effective somber tone and some chilling, matter-of-fact violence, it all felt a little aloof for me to really be affected by it. Guy Pearce mumbles his way through the lead performance, and there are a lot of really pretty shots of the Australian countryside that seem to stand in for things like character motivation and dialogue.
Shortbus (John Cameron Mitchell, 2006)
Graphic sex aside, this is a seriously lame movie. It's basically any low-budget, poorly acted, New York-set indie movie about whiny people's relationship problems, except with explicit penetration shots. I never saw Mitchell's first film, Hedwig & The Angry Inch, which is supposed to be a brilliant genre-busting musical, and it may very well be. But the only thing brilliant about this movie is the way it uses the novelty of explicit sex scenes (which, I admit, are handled artfully and with enough playfulness to be enjoyable to watch, unlike the dreary slog of 9 Songs) to distract from its amateurish writing, poor character development (which was done improvisationally between Mitchell and the weak cast) and rather ugly look.