Diary of a Country Priest (Robert Bresson, 1951). A feat of cinematic austerity, this French drama follows a youthful man of the cloth (Claude Laydu) as he struggles presiding over a rural parish populated by congregants who dismiss him or even treat him with outright hostility. There are no jolts to the film and precious little that can be termed action, even under the most generous dramaturgical interpretation of the word. It is awash in mood and muted emotion, though, and the film insinuates itself with its existential ache. Diary of a Country Priest is constructed with a purposeful distance that prevents it from being fully engaging, but it’s a fascinating artifact of a very different time in global cinema, when visual authors were routinely defining the parameters of the form.
Pacific Rim: Uprising (Steven S. DeKnight, 2018). A retain a significant affection for Guillermo del Toro’s original toy box upending that yielded combative entanglements of giant robots and roaring monsters. Even when I was most in thrall to its bombastic charms, I never really thought that what the universe needed was more Pacific Rim. It’s a stroke of luck to ensnare crackling lighting in glass one time. Trying to set up a bottling line is a fool’s business plan, which Pacific Rim: Uprising soundly proves. The plot particulars are negligible and largely treated as such by first-time director Steven S. DeKnight, who also worked on the script. John Boyega stars as a reluctant hero who steps into the fray, mentoring a robotics prodigy teenager (Cailee Spaeny). Any human interaction or character development is mere Styrofoam peanuts around the supposed prize of more rock-em-sock-em action sequences. DeKnight lacks del Toro’s combination of effusive spirit and grand visual invention, making the resulting film nothing more than joyless clamor.
The Rider (Chloé Zhao, 2018). Drawn from the biographies of the actors she cast in it, writer-director’s Chloé Zhao’s depiction of life on the fraying social landscape of the American West has a resonant power. At the center is Brady Jandreau (Brady Blackburn), a rodeo rider recovering from a brutal head injury. He’s warned that returning to his former life could exacerbate the damage to his brain, but Brady doesn’t have a great fallback plan. His whole life — his whole identity — is built around a connection to horses. Concentrating on small encounters, Zhao renders the story with sensitivity and a laudable lack of pathos. The film doesn’t press for pity, nor invite judgment. With lovely images and intimate attention to the way emotional devastation can leave deeper scars than physical wounds, Zhao crafts a work of moving truthfulness. The Rider is exquisite.