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FilmWatch Weekly: Murder afoot with Cannes winner ‘Anatomy of a Fall’ and David Fincher’s ‘The Killer’

Also screening: Steven Soderbergh's "Divinity" and a slew of frightful flicks for the end of October.

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A scene from Anatomy of a Fall
A scene from “Anatomy of a Fall”

Homicide is the hot topic these days at the movies. Killers of the Flower Moon, now in its second week of release, chronicles an unspeakable spate of real-world killings in 1920s Oklahoma in an epic fashion that lays bare the violent core of American racist capitalism. Less expansively, two films opening this weekend center on murderers, one of the merely accused variety, the other a stone-cold professional. Each inhabits a particular subgenre but attempts, with varying degrees of success, to imbue a garden-variety storyline with complexity and style.

Justine Triet’s Anatomy of a Fall won the top prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, and belongs to that European tradition of the “elevated” courtroom drama. The opening scenes, as they must, set the stage: In the remote Alpine village where she lives, acclaimed author Sandra (Sandra Hüller) is giving an interview to a fawning graduate student, despite the intrusion of a cacophonous steel-drum song being played upstairs by her husband Stephen (Stephen Theis). (Press reports indicate that this is in fact a calypso cover of a song called “P.I.M.P.” by 50 Cent, for what it’s worth.) Later that day, Stephen’s body is discovered, having plummeted from an upstairs window, by the couple’s visually impaired son Daniel (Milo Machado Graner).

Was it a suicide, or a case of marital defenestration? That question is probed by the next two-plus-hours of procedural drama, enhanced by the truly excellent performances of Hüller and Graner and the novelty of seeing the French legal system in action. Triet uses the language barriers between the German Sandra, her French accusers, and the English they have in common, to smart and disorienting effect. And as the case proceeds, there’s a morbid fascination to the unpeeling of the onion of Stephen and Sandra’s relationship, making this a crime drama that’s much more about character than whodunit. (In fact, the conclusion may leave many literal-minded viewers unsatisfied.)

And yet, ultimately, Anatomy of a Fall doesn’t break any new ground. It’s a skillfully made, wonderfully acted examination of a particular death and the domestic resentments that may or may not have played a part in it. Hüller, who gave one of the great cinematic performances of recent years in 2016’s Toni Erdmann, is having a well-deserved moment with this film and the upcoming Zone of Interest from director Jonathan Glazer. And she’s the primary reason to check this one out.

(Cinema 21, Salem Cinema, Metro Cinemas in Eugene, opens Nov. 3 at Living Room Theaters and Tin Pan Theater in Bend)

From an intimate look at the ways love might curdle into murder to a tightly wound take on the nihilistic world of a hired gun, we arrive at David Fincher’s The Killer. With an approach as spare as its title, the film follows an amoral, unnamed hit man played by Michael Fassbender (looking as scarily toned as he did in his breakthrough role in Steve McQueen’s Hunger) as he deals with the fallout after his heretofore perfect success rate gets spoiled.

This is a Robert Bresson-meets-Paul Schrader approach to the subject matter. The Killer (as he’s billed in the credits) is a mechanistic cipher prone to portentous voiceover and a fondness for The Smiths who we meet as he’s preparing for a job in Paris, setting up a sniper’s nest in an abandoned WeWork space like some sort of 21st century Lee Harvey Oswald. When all his breath control and murderer mantras nonetheless lead to a botched job, he retreats to his safe space in the Dominican Republic, only to find that his lady love has been assaulted by men who were looking for him.

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From there, it’s a standard plot of climbing the criminal ladder to get to the person responsible for this heinous violation of the personal space of, um, a serial killer. This is the sort of movie where we’re not supposed to worry about whether The Killer is ultimately responsible for this intrusion by choosing to engage in such a reprehensible occupation, but merely to admire his hyper-competency in exacting revenge for it.

Fincher is undeniably a cinematic stylist of the highest order. The sound design of The Killer is especially notable in the way it uses the staccato interruptions of background noise by hermetically closing doors or the closing of a window to signal a disconnected mental landscape. And the movie’s one extended fight scene, in a Florida compound, is extraordinarily brutal and clumsily balletic. But there’s nothing here to reverse the impression that the director is a masterful craftsman who has very little interest in the interior lives of the characters he puts through their motions. (Hollywood Theatre)

ALSO OPENING

Divinity: Steven Soderbergh presents this arty, black-and-white dystopian sci-fi about a world where reproductive freedom is a thing of the past. Hard to believe, right? (Regal Fox Tower)

Five Nights at Freddy’s: The video game that traumatized at least part of a generation hits the big screen, and you’ll never look at Chuck E. Cheese the same way again. (wide)

Freelance: John Cena, Alison Brie, and Christian Slater star in an action flick about a military dude who comes out of retirement to rescue a journalist from war-torn Colombia. (wide)

ALSO THIS WEEK

FRIDAY

  • Beetlejuice (Academy, through Thursday)
  • The Boogey Man [1980] (Academy, on 35mm, through Thursday)
  • Carrie (Kiggins, through Sunday)
  • A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (5th Avenue Cinemas)
  • Rocky (Kiggins, through Sunday)
  • Shaun of the Dead (Salem)

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SATURDAY

  • Elvira, Mistress of the Dark [1988] (Hollywood)
  • Hot Fuzz (Salem)
  • Nosferatu [1922] (Eugene Art House, with live musical score by Mood Area 52)
  • The Phantom of the Opera [1925] (Hollywood, 2 p.m., with live pipe organ accompaniment)
  • Raging Bull (Cinema 21, 11 a.m.)
  • Ringu (Clinton St.)

SUNDAY

  • Beauty and the Beast [1944] (Living Room Theaters)
  • Dracula [1931, Spanish-language version] (Hollywood, 3 p.m.)
  • The Haunting of Julia [1977] stars Mia Farrow in an adaptation of a Peter Straub novel (Hollywood)

MONDAY

  • Dr. Caligari [1989] (Clinton St.)
  • An Egypt Affair is the latest film from Eugene filmmaker Marlin Darrah, a thriller shot entirely in Egypt (Eugene Art House)

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Portland Opera Puccini in Concert Keller Auditorium Portland Oregon

TUESDAY

  • Hellraiser (Hollywood)
  • The Shining (Kiggins)
  • Tremors and Attack the Block! (double feature, Eugene Art House)
  • The Unknown [1927] (Darkside Cinema in Corvallis)
  • Zombieland (Salem)

WEDNESDAY

  • The Portland Latin American Film Festival presents the 2022 Mexican maternal-horror film Huesera: The Bone Woman (Hollywood)

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Photo Joe Cantrell

Marc Mohan moved to Portland from Wisconsin in 1991, and has been exploring and contributing to the city’s film culture almost ever since, as the manager of the landmark independent video store Trilogy, the owner of Portland’s first DVD-only rental spot, Video Vérité; and as a freelance film critic for The Oregonian for nearly twenty years. Once it became apparent that “newspaper film critic” was no longer a sustainable career option, he pursued a new path, enrolling in the Northwestern School of Law at Lewis & Clark College in the fall of 2017 and graduating cum laude in 2020 with a specialization in Intellectual Property. He now splits his time between his practice with Vérité Law Company and his continuing efforts to spread the word about great (and not-so-great) movies, which include a weekly column at Oregon ArtsWatch.

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