By Marshall Shaffer
Abderrahmane Sissako’s “Timbuktu” shows the consequences of radical Jihadist rule in a small north African village to gripping effect. No one goes untouched by their moralistic scourge as the fundamentalists clamp down on basic liberties and freedoms. The violent authorities tolerate no view or action milder than their deeply entrenched extremist stances, and anyone who crosses them must pay at the hands of a barbaric punishment they mete out.
Sissako’s canvas is vast and wide to show how pernicious and pervasive the power of the group truly becomes. Yet, at the same time, he also layers in various personal strands that allow “Timbuktu” to hit home on a gut level. The film only runs 100 minutes, an economy which is usually a virtue. Here, however, the length works against it as the timeframe only permits real intimacy with one family of cow farmers on the outskirts of the town.
Everyone else seems real enough, but they lack the screen time to really forge a meaningful connection with the audience. The poignancy and the tragedy of “Timbuktu” would easily earn another 30 or 40 minutes. Sissako’s unflinching look at dignity lost in the face of an inhumane regime confidently commands attention and respect. It gets that – and then some.
Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland adapted “Still Alice” from a novel by Lisa Genova. But had I not known that going in, I would have assumed the film was based on a play.
The directors shoot the film with a gentle, soft, and unobtrusive light. The lines flow nicely. The scenes feel distinct and compartmentalized. Heck, the film even ends by literally ripping out the final page from “Angels in America,” one of the American dramatic classics!
What ultimately separates “Still Alice” from the stage, however, is the masterfully detailed performance of Julianne Moore. She stars as Alice Howland, a 50-year-old linguistics professor stricken with early onset Alzheimer’s disease, and the camera-eye of the cinema is necessary to observe her slow deterioration. Since seeing the decay of her brain is impossible, her illness has to manifest itself in the tiniest twitches of Moore’s face.
Like fellow 2014 release “The Theory of Everything,” which followed a physical rather than a mental degeneration, “Still Alice” derives its very narrative motion from discerning which faculty will disappear next. In other words, the filmmakers invite gaping and marveling at the technically proficient acting on display behind the figurative glass cage of the screen. The film plays almost as suspenseful in its measured anticipation of a firm break from reality by Alice, and credit Moore for turning in a performance so gentle and full of integrity that her character’s normalcy inspires unease.
As the protagonist inches towards her inevitable end, “Still Alice” proves quietly devastating. How much of this heartbreak comes from Alice herself, as opposed to all the iconography Julianne Moore brings with her to the role, is entirely debatable. At one point towards the close of the film, Alice proclaims, “This is not who we are, this is our disease.” Yet Glatzer and Westmoreland largely do away with exposition and cut straight to the harsh reality of her condition, thus reducing Alice to little more than her condition.
Nonetheless, “Still Alice” does a great job conveying just how scary it can be to struggle with – not suffer from – Alzheimer’s. This fight does not limit itself to Alice herself, of course; it also affects her immediate family, from slightly aloof husband John (Alec Baldwin) to her free-spirited daughter, Lydia (Kristen Stewart) on the opposite coast. I find it hard to dislike a movie that advocates for something of value. Whether its cause célèbre is Alzheimer’s research or Julianne Moore’s Oscar campaign, though, provides another topic of debate altogether.
Both of these films are currently playing at a/perture Cinemas downtown. Go HERE for screening times and tickets.
Still Alice- trailer