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LFF Review: The Deathless Woman / Honey Boy / Death Will Come and Shall Have Your Eyes

Noah Jupe in Alma Har'el's Honey Boy
Noah Jupe in Honey Boy

Crimes buried in the shallow graves of the recent past rise to the surface of the poisoned earth, carrying with them the cold clarity of truth to cut through the pain that has tormented a continent for 80 years. Roz Mortimer's sorrowful yet startling documentary The Deathless Woman delves into the topic of Nazi massacres in Eastern Europe, initially with tentative, inquisitive curiosity, eventually with a protracted, dolorous wail of rage - a rage of several generations, swollen to bursting point now that Europe takes a sudden, sickening turn back toward the extremism that first caused it. Mortimer is cool-headed in her analytical yet sensitive approach, allowing for the feverous heat of her impassioned anger to burn even more intensely as it makes itself ever clearer. What makes this such a distinctive take on the topic, though, is Mortimer's vibrant experimental style, manipulating form and visual content to peculiar but highly effective purposes. The theme that emerges is that of how egregious atrocity is manifested over time, while the process of relating it is a specified one centred around the idea of a murdered woman, buried alive by the Nazis, whose spirit has remained intact since her death. It's a fascinating angle, and it provides The Deathless Woman with the requisite formal and stylistic interest to overcome the clunkier aspects of its documentary recreation segments. Mortimer hadn't made a movie in over a decade until this; may it bring her career the kind of boom it needs to keep her turning out more innovative work like this with far greater frequency!

In broad, bold strokes of stylistic whimsy, Alma Har'el tackles the complex though promising prospect of a Shia LaBeouf life story both written by the man himself, and starring himself as a fictionalized version of his father. Honey Boy is, as expected, a most personal movie, but where vividly personal content can, in the right artistic hands, be transformed into remarkably universal, the aggressive specificity with which LaBeouf exorcizes his many demons here never feels especially relevant to anyone but Shia. Har'el specializes in grand visual and physical flourishes, and in associating them with psychological states in a graphically cinematic display. It's evocative and ephemeral in reliably effective fashion, but this collage of intense impressions has the timbre more of a particularly artful series of therapy diary entries than a screenplay properly primed for the screen... and perhaps that's because that's what it is. It's an affecting, enormously compassionate movie, acted excellently by all (Noah Jupe and Lucas Hedges playing the LaBeouf stand-in at different, formative stages in his life), but also shapeless and oddly inconclusive for something that feels so cathartic.

Julieta Figueroa and Amparo Noguera in Jose Luis Torres Leiva's Death Will Come and Shall Have Your Eyes
Julieta Figueroa and Amparo Noguera in Death Will Come and Shall Have Your Eyes

Making rather less of an impression is Jose Luis Torres Leiva's Death Will Come and Shall Have Your Eyes, a stylistic exercise so determined in its pursuit of artistic purity that it sterilizes itself into inconsequentiality. From the outset, Torres Leiva's command of sound, of image, of all the essential elements in film craft is evident, yet it's the only thing that's evident - this slow, unfortunately un-insightful movie glacially glides over a minimal plot with minimal attention to supplementing anything substantial for what it lacks narratively. The premise has an affective potential that's just left to evidence itself in stolid scenes of stares and silence; two partners face one's encroaching death to an unnamed illness with largely unclear symptoms, and a heart-wrenching scenario is rendered dull and devoid of the kind of emotive detail necessary to make all those tears seem deserved. It's not just banal, it's banal in its banality, a pallid, soporific trudge to an inevitable end. There are, mercifully, two extended sojourns beyond the confines of the central narrative, detours from a path that wasn't going anywhere anyway - these can't exactly be characterized as vigorous, but they provide welcome relief, an opportunity to engage with something that at least suggests it's getting at something significant. Torres Leiva essentially tells three vaguely connected stories here, keeping two to a manageable duration and extending the other far, far beyond its limits.

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