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Those Silently Screaming Banshees Of Inisherin

Characterization in The Banshees of Inisherin (2022) is not exactly ideal, but Martin McDonagh‘s film is spiky and probing and absorbing all the same. Here, on an isle off the coast of Ireland in the 1920s, Colm (Brendan Gleeson), chooses pragmatism over morality and good manners by suddenly dropping his close friendship with the “dull”—but usually inoffensive—Padraic (Colin Farrell). Padraic refuses to accept this and mopes a lot.

As with Madame Bovary, there is provincial boredom and disconnectedness. There is loneliness. The “banshees” of the isle, Inisherin, do not scream to herald the death of a family member, but they’re there. They’re represented by a disagreeable old woman called Mrs. McCormick. Death? Along with one literal human death, there is on the isle the death of hope. Colm tells the local priest he is still harboring despair. Indeed, clutching to himself a kind of pragmatism makes sense, but it is still a bad choice. Banshees is a painful tragicomedy from an artist who has come a long way since his limp play The Beauty Queen of Leenane.

“The Quarry” Is Close To The Right Track

Scott Teems is to be congratulated for trying to summon a Christian vision for the films he directs and co-writes. He scripted The Exorcist: Believer, about which I know nothing, but The Quarry (2020) and That Evening Sun (2009) are his would-be artistic pictures. Although the former is a failure, based on a novel, at least it is fundamentally religious; and for a long time a good drama.

It begins with a stumbling, failed preacher (Bruno Bichir) picking up in his van an unconscious man (Shea Whigham) who must elude the law. The preacher senses that the man, now conscious, needs to confess something. He does, but is annoyed by the preacher’s urging and ends up inadvertently killing him. All this is sobering footage, sensitively directed by Teems.

About an hour after this, The Quarry goes awry. Practically everything that is done with a Hispanic fellow called Valentin (Bobby Soto, one of the film’s dandy actors) puzzles us. Teems ought to study a bit the sophisticated, truly Christian novels of Mauriac and Bernanos if he wishes to craft the personal screenplays of a believer. I hope he receives the opportunity to be on the right track.

Woman In And Out: “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore”

A woman, Alice Hyatt (Ellen Burstyn), is married to a bullying husband who dies and leaves Alice to deal with common independence. So be it. But Alice has a badly behaved 12-year-old son, Tommy (Alfred Lutter), and hopes to be a bar or eatery singer, departing from her dead hubby’s town to try her luck. It isn’t easy. The only permanence is found in a waitress job at a luncheonette, where Alice meets a cordial man, Kris Kristofferson‘s David, with whom she can seemingly begin a serious relationship.

This is a Martin Scorsese film, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1974), which he made rather arty. But the real problem is Robert Getchell’s amateurish writing. The dialogue can be insipid and vulgar (Tommy: “Life is short!” Alice: “So are you!”), and the everyday consorting of mother and son constitutes the angry, nonstop comedy routine of which John Simon correctly complained. Burstyn is first-rate—Lutter is beyond passable—and we do care about Alice. However, I don’t know what to make of the ridiculous Flo and Vera, waitresses at the luncheonette. What I make of the first rush hour scene at the luncheonette is that it’s an overplayed dud. The eatery looks like a hellhole. Alice is the follow-up feature to Scorsese’s Mean Streets, but neither mean streets nor Alice on the road offers me a comfortable cinematic place.

Sinister Shadow: “The Shadow on the Window”

In the thriller The Shadow on the Window (1957), “three young thugs rob a farmhouse, kill the owner and take his stenographer hostage but the woman’s estranged husband, a police detective, starts investigating her disappearance” (imdb.com). Something needs to end the couple’s estrangement. Tony the police detective’s (Philip Carey) investigating does just that. A very young Beaver Cleaver—I mean Jerry Mathers—plays the couple’s small son, shocked into silence after witnessing what the thugs are doing. It is his mother, Linda (Betty Garrett), who is taken hostage.

Directed by movie and TV director William Asher (the movies were often bikinis-at-the-beach items), Shadow largely makes sense and is fun. It competed with TV by being low-budget, but it also means business. It’s dramatically quite fine.

“The Stoning of Soraya M.” In All Its Horror

2009’s The Stoning of Soraya M., directed by Cyrus Nowrasteh, dramatizes the true story of a woman who was victimized in an “honor killing” in an Iranian village.  The charge of adultery against Soraya was false, but her vile husband wanted her dead so that no financial support would have to follow a desired divorce.  A verdict was reached and Soraya was put to death by stoning.

Don’t act like the hypocrite,

Who thinks he can conceal his wiles

While loudly quoting the Koran.

These words by a 14th-century Iranian poet are written on the screen before the film begins.  Hypocrisy both religious, represented by a phony mullah and the village mayor, and nonreligious, represented by the husband, is attacked in Soraya M. So, of course, is the backward, depersonalizing attitude toward women in the Islamic world.  Soraya’s energetic aunt, played by Shoreh Aghdashloo, tries to save her niece from what is being plotted, but is constantly pushed to the side.  As the stoning begins she is nearly hysterical:  she understands the horror of this brutal treatment.  The stoning sequence is one of the most disturbing things I’ve seen in a movie–infuriatingly bloody and ugly.

Nowrasteh’s film is worthy of comparison with the neorealist cinema of De Sica.  It is a straightforward, grim, compassionate indictment of theocratic authorities in Iran.  Mozhan Marno is first-rate, with her fortitude and anguish, as Soraya.

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