The Master & the masterpiece
My rule of thumb for good movies is, “If the movie still lingers in your mind days after watching it, then it’s a good movie.” Many survives the mind-lingering test that now shelved in my “Great movies” collection in the corner of my mind (and some in my MUBI favorite movies list), usually mainly because of three reasons:
1. The visual presentation is simply astonishing, whether it’s the production design, shot composition, or VFX. See: The Darjeeling Limited.
2. The story engrosses the viewer in ways beyond what is depicted on screen. See: A Separation.
3. The atmosphere invoked upon watching lasts with even the slightest reminiscing of any scenes in the movie. See: The Double Life of Veronique.
Of the last year’s glorious galore of cinema, three movies fit each of the criteria like proper shoes: first, Moonrise Kingdom, second, Holy Motors, third, Amour.
Moonrise Kingdom was made as if Wes Anderson himself had said, “Well, fuck those critics, I’m gonna make the most Wes Anderson-y film ever they would not even be able to grind a single teeth”. It was dreamy, cheerful, unreal — something that he wonderfully achieved through amazing shot composition and microscopic attention to set detail. The result is something you wish so badly what your childhood were like.
Holy Motors takes on the cryptic Merde segment on the three-piece Tokyo!, bringing the monsieur to an even wilder adventure that might or might not be his real life. Everything in here is debatable, from his concealed sanity to the period where the story is set. Is it a metaphor of reality television, a sci-fi that doesn’t need questioning, or a complicated character study? It is up to the viewers to decide, and the debate rolls on as each of us embraced the magic of the endless interpretation of cinema.
Amour is wholly different in that it is devoid of any attempt of explaining. Amour is a work of art that needs to be experienced and survived. Amour is more than an observation, it tries to grab your hand and make you feel the heart that keeps the feeling strong. Amour is love, in its many expressions. You have to watch it and let the tears run dry to really devour Amour.
But then again, as all of the above confine themselves by my definition towards one criteria only, I found out recently that in 2012, there was a movie that is a complete package of cinema. A movie that forced me to rethink and create the fourth criteria: A movie that entwines its story, cinematography, and mise-en-scène with such finesse that it is impossible to not think about it afterwards.
What is it about? A WWII veteran missing a few screws from his head is wandering aimlessly, rejected by society until a founder of a new cult-like movement met him by chance. Their relationship grows like magnets shaped like a gorilla and a carrot: Not exactly a pair, but still sticks anyway. Actually, recounting the story made me wish I had seen this on a local cinema. If it ever made its way to Indonesia, I’m definitely seeing it again the proper way it’s meant to be watched, on the biggest screen possible. Watching The Master, I succumbed into visual petite mort last experienced when I watched There Will Be Blood, another movie made by none other than Paul Thomas Anderson himself.
Every scene contains mixes of colors so subtle you need to distance yourself from the story to really appreciate it: cornflower blue and cream white, sunshine gold and burnt sienna, mainly. The spectrum made it way closer to 2002’s Punch-Drunk Love than it is to There Will Be Blood: obvious hues without implying any obvious correlation to the story. Yet, when you can finally take your eyes off the vibrant scenes, what lies below is an enigmatic character study between Freddie Quell and Lancaster Dodd, both characters soaking wet with power until it doesn’t matter who the main character is. Philip Seymour Hoffman is fantastic (as always) as the charismatic cult leader, but Joaquin Phoenix’s eyes truly radiates crazy as the deranged veteran Quell. Every exchange made is an example of an exquisite script paired with the best actors possible. As the title suggests, The Master is a demonstration of exertion of power, trying to dominate one over the other: Who embodies the id, ego, and super ego?
On top of that, The Master invokes a sense of acuity even with questions left unanswered — a feeling that you have just watched a very comprehensive piece of cinema. It’s everything a drama should be and modern cinema wants to be, a feat only achieved partially by today’s A-list directors. As with PTA’s previous efforts, There Will Be Blood, both movies will forever be remembered as early 21st century masterpieces.