The Green Knight (2021)
This was a film that I was really interested in seeing when the trailers first popped up in 2020, but it was delayed due to Covid until 2021 and then I dragged my feet and finally saw it this year. Which, while the Covid delay sucked, director David Lowery did take six months re-editing the film into a version he was more satisfied with so there was that silver lining at least.
The film is a beautiful reimagining of the poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and every aspect of the production is utterly gorgeous. From cinematography to set and costume design to script and to acting, it's a really breathtaking example of a passion project that cohesively comes together into a definitive vision from the director. It also doesn't hurt if you enjoy the sandbox of Arthurian legend to play in, and while this stays true to a number of elements in the story it takes a lot of inventive liberties that weave in a number of engaging themes and moral explorations.
One of the elements that I really loved about it too is that it invited a lot of great discussion with the person who lent me their copy, as there are plenty of ambiguities in the film that invite plenty of interpretations. This is definitely more of that type of movie instead of a fantasy adventure, because while it does have elements of fantasy (which feel more like horror in general) it doesn't focus on action to any degree that a casual viewer would probably enjoy. This is more the type of film that will leave an impression where you'll feel the need to reflect on, do some research, and find a friend to chat about it with. And that's worth way more to me than a generic swords and sorcery that I'll immediately lose the details of the next day.
So if you're not in the mood to be utterly depressed, maybe don't search this one out. I still recommend it because it's beautiful in its genuine depictions of poverty, family dysfunction, and coming of age. Ramsay's command of the visual medium is also impressive considering this was her debut feature film. The Criterion collection also features Ramsay's previous short films including Small Deaths (1995), Kill the Day (1996), and Gasman (1997). Besides being a great package deal, it was interesting to see her development from these short pieces towards Ratcatcher, and her consistent focus on many of the same themes centering around family dynamics.
The story revolves around a family living in the impoverished public housing schemes in Glasgow in a major garbage strike 1973. While the schemes were already suffering from a lack of hot water, no indoor plumbing, and other major problems, the piling up of garbage causes a major boom in the rat population and an increase in health issues. The main character is a young boy named James, who neglected to raise the alarm when another young boy he was playing with in a nearby canal drowned. Plagued by guilt, the films follows James and his family as they just try to get by while waiting to be re-housed.
It's a very sullen and quiet film, and often times the quiet is what will really pull you in as the characters just stew in their boredom, depression, angst, and alcoholic dysfunction. Again, something you have to be in the mood for, but it's all enhanced with Ramsay's keen eye for pacing and composition. So many of her scenes feel like a form of visual poetry, and it's very easy to be pulled in by the silence that frames every interaction and event.
If you're not too familiar with Ramsay's work, there may be a better chance you caught her films We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011) or You Were Never Really Here (2017). If those did catch you then I would really recommend checking Ratcatcher out and viewing this collection of her early works. Then again, I do enjoy soul crushing films, so if you're not in the mood you may want to just put this in the queue until your in a better place for it.
The Devils (1971)
And talking about soul crushing.
I had never heard of this until the Youtube channel In Praise of Shadows touched on it as they were overviewing the history of witches in film and they gave it such high praise. Luckily Shudder had it (or they had it for a while, got rid of it by the time I was looking for it, and then got it back up again soon after I bit the bullet on Shudder anyway), and while it is the trimmed down version it quickly became a new favorite.
The film is a highly stylized and dramatized version of the historical account of a 17th-century Roman Catholic priest accused of witchcraft in Loudun, France. While the settings and sequences of the film are incredibly surreal and over the top, the overall depiction of the brutality of the witch hunts are very accurate. The focus on the power struggles and corruption of church and state are very engaging as well, and when combined with the visually striking set-design, costuming, and cinematography the overall package is just engrossing. Toss on top of that the great acting (Reed and Redgrave are amazing throughout), and it's really frustrating that the film saw so much negative backlash and censorship when it was released.
You do have to be in the right mood to sit down and watch this harsh subject matter, but as someone who never heard about this until recently and just discovered it I really can't recommend it enough. It's a visual treat as well as just a great film, to the point where I would say it helps set a higher standard for what I look for in movies overall.