The flipside to Drafthouse Films' more outrageous (Klown) and face-ripping (Miami Connection) sensibilities is our fascination with the darker truths of the human condition. Michael Roskam's testosterone-fueled Bullhead explores the inner bruised masculinity of a man haunted by his tramatic past. Wake In Fright, an existential "horror" masterpiece set in the Australian outback, follows a schoolteacher's demoralizing descent into self-discovery at the hands of drunken, deranged derelicts. Ron Morales' Graceland (spine No. 10) and Kim Ki-Duk’s Pieta (spine No. 11) explore some of those themes and their arrival on home video perfectly timed to counter the sunny weather.
Graceland, a “nerve-shredding” (NYT) Filipino neo-noir, showcases the seediest elements of Manila and the desperation of a working class family man as he attempts to rescue his wrongly-kidnapped daughter. Morales’ second film proves himself as a burgeoning directorial talent as he evokes moving performances from his actors, namely the tortured protagonist Marlon Villar.
With Graceland’s portrayal of the corruption of the Manilan upper-crust and its effects on the lower classes, Variety’s Richard Kupiers describes the film best: “A potent combo of hostage thriller and high-impact morality play.” From corrupt politicians to seedy underage prostitution, there’s a complexity to the unraveling of morality - the structure goes beyond a simple downward spiral, as the film eventually indicts almost each of its characters. While Hollywood films spin such ambiguity as a gimmick, Graceland treats it as an absolute, brutal fact of life.
Winner of the Golden Lion at the 2012 Venice International Film Festival, Kim Ki-Duk’s eighteenth feature Pieta fits thematically with the rest of his oeuvre. Kang-do (Jeong-jin Lee) is a nihilistic loan shark with no purpose in life besides his sadistic work, until a woman claiming to be his mother (a powerful Min-soo Jo) appears at his doorstep. What initially seems like a story about the relationship between mother and son, the film is equally about the relationship between money and life.
Pieta is certainly not for the faint of heart. At a screening of Pieta at the Smithsonian Institute, we were informed of a couple of fainting incidents: “Both people apparently just stumbled out into the lobby and collapsed. One guy said something about the intensity of the images causing all the energy to drain out of his body.” But it should be noted that Pieta is far from your average South Korean revenge film: while the suggestions of it are intense, the actual violence occurs off-screen, and style is continually trumped by pathos. It keeps much more in line with a tragedy than a thriller.
Both film are likely to stick with you for a long while. Pre-order Pieta here and Graceland here.
And check out both reversible sleeves designs, Graceland by Jay Shaw and Pieta by AllCity Media: