How to be good? This was the question that seemed to tie together most, if not all, of April’s film viewing. From the sun-saturated capers of Hitchcock’s To Catch A Thief (great fun, but certainly one of the master’s less memorable efforts) to the pulse-quickening horrors of Bryan Fogel’s The Dissident (an important piece of work, to be sure, but why do such documentaries have to resort to bombast?) each of the seven movies that hit my home screen tackled, to varying degrees, the age-old question of how one navigates the realities of the world while maintaining some integrity.
Ron Howard handled the issue in characteristically by-the-numbers fashion in Hillbilly Elegy, based on the life of J D Vance and his attempts to break away from the influence of a toxic, Appalachian childhood. A more original take on the American Dream was presented by Lee Isaac Chung in Minari, which saw a young family of Korean origin trying to find their place in the Arkansas countryside. The performances were wondrous here, but so was the gentle bravery with which difficult truths were presented.
Virtue and honesty were channeled through an aural metaphor in Sound Of Metal (dir. Darius Marder) which, aptly enough, employed an excellent use of sound to tell the story of a drummer coming to terms with the sudden onset of deafness. Riz Ahmed deserves all the plaudits he’s received for the lead role.
Speaking of which, more plaudits should have been heaped on Kevin Macdonald’s The Mauritanian. Perhaps some critics were irritated that the film isn’t what they wanted it to be: a courtroom procedural. Instead, it adopts a more philosophical angle to study its central characters’ struggles to hang on to decency and humanity in increasingly challenging circumstances. The set-piece depicting the torture techniques used at Guantanamo Bay is an unsettling standout.
Finally, there was Promising Young Woman, Emerald Fennell’s striking tale of a person trying to come to terms with loss without surrendering to self-destruction. It’s the tonal shifts here that are such a triumph, guiding the viewer from black humour to psychological probing to quirky indie-style kookiness to lip-biting terror, sometimes within the span of one short scene. It’s also wonderful to see a modern movie not shying away from moral complexity. No-one ever said that being good is easy, and Fennell deserves praise for showing just how impossible it can be.