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LFF Review: Seberg / Krabi, 2562 / The Lighthouse

Kristen Stewart in Benedict Andrews' Seberg
Kristen Stewart in Seberg

Think good thoughts! Here's a good thought: Kristen Stewart as Jean Seberg. It makes sense - each one of their generation's most interesting performers, each first receiving a level of acclaim befitting their abilities in France, despite commencing their respective careers in the U.S. Here's a not-so-good thought: Benedict Andrews' biopic Seberg, with Stewart playing the fascinating 1960s cross-cultural icon, doesn't make much sense. It's a sensitive portrait of a complex character butting heads with a tense political thriller, crammed full of famous faces and sumptuous sets, a prime example of prime Hollywood gloss, so glossy it slicks away all the substance from what is, indeed, a most substantial story. American starlet, after ditching an abusive industry for France, returns to her homeland only to immediately align herself with the Black Panther Party and come under FBI surveillance. It's a brilliant subject for a movie of its own - perhaps a bit too brilliant, as Seberg may have proven.

Essential to the success of this story on the screen is the audience's sympathy for Jean, something which writers Joe Shrapnel and Anna Waterhouse seem to have had trouble integrating properly into their screenplay. A plot takes less attention - throw it out there in a succession of scenes delineating a succession of connected narrative points in a manner that takes meaningful root in the brain - but a transference of emotion from concept through script into movie and, finally, off the screen and into the audience's hearts takes serious, considered nurturing, and that's missing in Seberg. One feels for Jean, naturally, not least because Stewart evidently feels deeply for her, in spite of the rota of cliched scenes she's forced to go through here, ordinary steps through an extraordinary life. But as the movie tries relentlessly to make progress with that plot (whose inherent interest is, indeed, only due to its principal character, and thus blatantly must take secondary status to her development), maybe we begin to feel for her a little too much. Poor thing, not having a second to herself, having to dance to the beat of someone else's plot. It's a good thought, this movie, but too little good work was put into filling it out, and as a result it's not such a good movie.

Siraphan Wattanajinda in Ben Rivers and Anocha Suwichakornpong's Krabi, 2562
Siraphan Wattanajinda in Krabi, 2562

An insider's view of her home country intertwines with an outsider's view in Krabi, 2562, an accessible experimental work from Anocha Suwichakornpong and Ben Rivers. She brings the esoteric introspection, he brings the ethnographic exploration, and the mix is refreshing, beguiling and sufficiently oblique to linger, open-ended in the memory, though not so oblique as to dissipate as soon as solutions to its curious little teases fail to materialize. From the outset, this promises to be a subtly strange, slippery movie, casually folding together uniformity with disorder, dutifulness with flippancy, forceful formal discipline with playful indifference. It's an experimental work, though not aggressively so, sourcing its innovation from its conceptual diversity and its reluctance to signal any clear path for the viewer through its collage of creative impulses; in the diegetic material of each scene, it's a work of simple pleasures, laid out in a relaxed, informal manner that seems to utterly erase the boundary separating documentary from fiction. Neither Suwichakornpong nor Rivers has, to date, expressed themselves with such carefree clarity in their work - this is new ground for both, and the common ground they find therein is fertile indeed.

Whether the meaning behind all the mystery in Krabi is pointed and personal or objective and analytical - whether said meaning even fully exists or not, and if so in what form - the mystery itself is a perfectly acceptable diversion over its 90-odd minutes. In fact, its essential mysteriousness is one of its most attractive qualities, whether it's intentional or not. The directors arrange an array of figures in times and places in Thailand's Krabi province, exploring situations of varying degrees of verisimilitude, including apparently factual encounters and cutely comic sequences involving a commercial shoot and a pair of prehistoric humans. Parallels or connections between plots are minimal, and their closest evident bond is manifest simply by forming separate parts of the same single movie. Were the directors' artistic and technical skills not so persuasive, the lack of connective tissue might be merely enervating, not least in that the integrity of each scene would be compromised, but there's a palpable purpose behind every artistic decision made here, even if its nature isn't always totally plain. Again, it's the mystery that's so attractive.

Quite plain, however, are those aforementioned skills; I've seen Suwichakornpong deploy them superbly before, though for me, Krabi represents the apex of what Rivers has achieved in his career to date. Aesthetically, it's a strikingly simple movie, almost suspiciously so, though aurally, it's a vibrant, inventive one. Suwichakornpong and Rivers propose a new world, perhaps inspired by the province's arresting geographical features, with an expressive soundscape that's largely derived from off-screen sources, building a landscape that stretches far beyond the edges of the screen and into and around the audience's minds. Somehow, an immersive trip to an exotic (for me, alas, in grey old London) corner of the world feels so familiar and so regular in their hands, though it's filled with wondrous images and startling experiences. Softly, they take us on a grand journey through their imaginations and on to new fields of inspiration for experimental cinema, and now that I'm home again, all I wanna do is go back!

Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson in Robert Eggers' The Lighthouse
Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson in The Lighthouse

I've spilt my beans for Robert Eggers' The Lighthouse, and they've gone EVERYWHERE. Eggers proved his solid comprehension of the language and technique of cinema in 2015's The Witch, which was rigorous and exacting. No doubt, there's remarkable rigour to be found in The Lighthouse, crafting order out of chaos, precision-mining it for its peculiar rhythms, its surprising shapes and symmetries, but otherwise Eggers appears to have chewed up the language and technique he displayed previously, spat it out, spat on it again, doused it in chalk, beaten it to a bloody pulp on the side of a cistern then pissed on its ravaged carcass. And then farted for good measure and bad taste.

The texture of this movie, its perfect period detail, its refusal to aestheticize the grim mundanity and thus its fabulous aesthetic quality! The ferocious power of its deranged monologues, the brutality of its crass sense of humour, the ruthlessness of its whip-crack editing! Just when you think you've gotten a handle on its bleak Tarr Bela atmosphere, it whirls you around a few times and lands you in daffy Guy Maddin territory, absurd and absurdly indifferent to whether you can make sense of it or not, and then it chews you up too, spits you out, plies you with mechanical oil, buries an axe in your shoulder then tells you it's fond of your lobster. And you know what? You are! The Lighthouse is the most formidable structure of rickety ruin on these shores or any other, and who knows what to make of it, but who cares?! My beans are all over the place, fodder for the gulls now, and it's all Robert Eggers' fault!

Image credit: MovieStillsDB (Seberg) / (Krabi, 2562 / The Lighthouse)

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