• A very impressive piece of cinema from Hungarian director Kornél Mundruczó
  • After a date “September” title and landscape shot (a New York bridge beginning to be built) the film opens with a long take, Mundruczó’s camera drifting around a construction job site as we’re introduced to Sean, played by Shia LaBeouf, building said bridge
  • The first few scenes after that, Mundruczó and screenwriter Kata Wéber are unveiling the relationship between the young couple (Sean and Martha- played by Vanessa Kirby) and Martha’s mother played by Ellen Burstyn- the fractures in their relationships as they discuss a car purchase.
  • After those opening moments, a 22-mintute long take ensues and captures a home birth in real time. It is an extraordinary shot. This is 1917, Victoria, Children of Men with all the discomfort of a 4 Months 3 weeks, 2 days or Irreversible. The birth scene in Roma certainly comes to mind as well. It is crucial to the visceral immediacy of the scene and moment that this is captured as one take. It breaks with Shia going out the door to the ambulance as the camera brilliantly holds on the ambulance door and fades, first to black, then to the film’s title card—30 minutes into the movie… very strong.
  • Many critics note that the film never reaches that cinematic high again–  and that may be true—but there’s still much to praise in what remains—this isn’t a great scene in a bad movie by any stretch.

For starters, Mundruczó uses formal markers- the chapter breaks landscape shots of the progressing months of the calendar as the bridge is being built- brilliant. Shia’s Sean gives a monologue about resonance, a bridge with a bad foundation.

  • The domestic drama which follows is really Blue Valentine, Marriage Story or Bergman’s Scenes From a Marriage with a mother thrown in to make it all even more difficult. The failing marriage has many metaphors beyond just the bridge—there’s the wilting plants in the apartment, and the apples/seeds that take on a representation of Martha’s psyche.
  • Gorgeous Fassbinder/Ozu-like doorway frame within a frame device at least three times – not just pretty for the sake of pretty—but capturing Kirby’s Martha in isolation, in quiet rage and freefall…

  • It isn’t just the one long take either- most of the shots are held for a longer duration- a high ASL – average shot length. There’s a scene of the camera floating around Burstyn’s character’s house as if to embody Kirby’s zombie-like trance as her husband drinks and speaks in banalities (though potent writing- like the White Stripes faking a relationship) with others in the room

Mundruczó often frames Kirby and LeBeouf (this is strong work from both actors) in discordant ways:  closeups of her neck at the trial, a microphone to shot her distorted relationship with reality. There’s a shallow focus shot on Kirby with an edgy, recovering-alcoholic Sean (Shia) in the background, fuzzy, shouting at a doctor… powerful.

  • It isn’t a fatal flaw of the movie- but though she’s an all-time great actress- Ellen Burstyn is simply miscast. She’s 55 years the senior of Kirby and looks it. Glenn Close (very good at playing icy characters and is 14 years younger than Burstyn) is an option I thought of—though Annette Bening (26-years younger than Burstyn) feels like the best choice. It is a better movie with Bening in the role.
  • Highly Recommend/Must-See border