Updated: Oct 14, 2022
"Sharon, I'd never have made up such a thing!" Just when you think you've figured Bertrand Bonello out, he goes and makes another movie. Straying yet further from the paths of common sense, common decency and common laws of filmmaking, Coma is a most uncommon of movies, an assemblage of disorienting scenes of bizarre nature and uncertain purpose. Bonello plays here in the sandpit of invention, rummaging through false realities the modern human invents in lieu of a more palpable reality: a teenager in lockdown gradually loses herself in dreams, in a doll's house, in the seductive unreality of an influencer's YouTube channel. From his own imagination spill forth irreverent, abstract, always compelling snapshots of fantasy and reality in creation, in production, in eventual expression, their boundaries collapsing and merging, the message ultimately as indistinct as the movie is distinctive.
This is Bonello relinquishing the taut control he held over his work for a time, the curious little indulgences that broke through the otherwise solid surfaces of films like House of Tolerance and Nocturama now very much the substance of his output. Not that Coma sacrifices the intensity of those movies - not at all, as this is one of his most arresting movies to date, punctuated by riveting sequences of stylistic bravura and moments of considerable emotive heft. One minute it's absurd and cheeky and quite hilarious, the next it's utterly bone-chilling. Its intent eludes me, and I'm still not sure what its effect on me was either, but I've no doubt Bonello is simply working on wavelengths I haven't the intellect nor the artistic sensitivity to connect to, so if Coma hasn't fully convinced me it's a work of outright genius, it's only because I clearly lack the capacity to recognize outright genius!
Patricio Guzman's My Imaginary Country has, since I saw it, almost turned into an imaginary movie for me. It is, at once, entirely in keeping with the style and tone of his other works, yet quite distinct from them - it's less active, more reflective, less passionate, more optimistic. I wonder if the old master has gone soft, or run out of substantial statements to make, yet this remains a lovely movie to watch. It captures a spirit of hope in revolution, of a protest movement as buoyed by enthusiasm and determination as by fury and discontent. Guzman again sources that spirit in the singular, understanding social movements through the stories of the individuals they seek to represent, and champions thus the power of tiny things to make enormous differences.
It's just all a little tiny itself in its own power. This is a gentle movie reminiscing on momentous events, and indeed even witnessing them, which makes its gentleness rather jarring. And that has the effect of rendering such momentousness somewhat impotent; a more thorough documentary might have turned its reminiscences around and attempted to examine the likely impact of the change it observes. It's there in the corporate logos watching over the record-breaking protests, there in the resigned acceptance of political oppression once regarded as dictatorial and intolerable. It's just not there in Guzman's rosy reflections, which still strain too hard for the poetic. But every word in here is honest and every image is true, and the sound of saucepans still rings out, the sound of la libertad, not imaginary at all.
Logging this here since it's an official Screen On Screen LFF 2022 watch, but my full review is up on Awards Watch, and I've little more to say about this sorry attempt at metaphorical horror than I've already said there. Nikyatu Jusu is clearly a talented director, and Anna Diop undoubtedly a talented actor, but they both deserve better than this. And, indeed, Jusu is largely to blame for that herself - she tries too much and succeeds in too little, and Nanny winds up wildly unfocused as a result. Hollow, shallow, and dispiritingly ordinary.