Michel Franco: a burgeoning auteur (who basically no one has heard of).
Well, now’s your chance to rectify that, with his new movie in theaters: Sundown, starring Tim Roth and Charlotte Gainsbourg.
Paired with Franco’s New Order from last year, his hallmarks are starting to take shape: a distinctive (if not distinct) visual aesthetic, with stories set against vaguely political backdrops of wealth-based social stratification in Latin American (think: the haves vs. the have-nots), with a pervasive air of always being on the brink of stark violence about to break out.
What most fascinates me about his storytelling, however, is his drip…drip…drip approach to giving the audience even basic information as to what we’re watching. In New Order, we never learn the history of the class struggle before us, the specific nature of the old order compared to the insurgent new order. In refusing us this, we can’t precisely place ourselves within the structure of the larger story; without any sort of macro view, we’re left to our own devices, twisting and turning along with the characters to figure out what the fuck is going on.
Similarly, Sundown avoids the cinematic exposition that usually starts a story; even Franco’s showing doesn’t resolutely tell. For much of the movie, we’re deprived of Tim Roth’s backstory, including his family history that directly informs his character’s choices. How do we interpret behavior when we’re not privy to what exactly motivates anyone’s actions? Each scene reshapes in real time our conception of the story, which might frustrate those who need clarity to engage; one person’s annoyance can be another person’s intrigue.
And yet, both New Order and Sundown left me a smidge disappointed. We glean what the movies are about by their conclusion, but once the full picture comes into focus, I couldn’t help but wonder if it was all much ado about nothing? As if Franco masks the truth of his stories for as long as possible to distract us from realizing they’re not all that? Which challenges my belief that art is more about the how than the what; can we separate the two if “the how” is designed to obscure what “the what” lacks? No matter how compelling the story’s unfolding proves in the moment, the audience’s long-term perception of the movie will still be predicated on the overall story, and what it ends up being, and/or not being.
With that said, I’m still betting on Michel Franco’s future; greatness lies ahead for him. So jump on the bandwagon now, and look cool to your friends when he makes it big.
Who doesn’t like a good “I told you so…” / “I was a fan back when…” / etc.
What a “Forget About Dre” year for Tim Roth! After becoming primarily associated with over-the-top performances (the Quentin Tarantino effect?), Sundown and the recent Bergman Island remind us that he’s just as adept at more measured, restrained turns.