I haven’t yet seen “The Silver Linings Playbook,” but I’m glad to report that Jennifer Lawrence is getting excellent reviews for her portrayal of the tough but depressed young widow who bonds with Bradley Cooper’s teacher after he leaves a mental hospital. Ms. Lawrence was unsmilingly resolute in “Winter’s Bone,” the spare Ozarks drama that announced her, and she made a mettlesome Katniss Everdeen, even during the overdressed prelude to the lethal competition in “The Hunger Games.”
In time, Ms. Lawrence could prove a steelier Julia Roberts. She shows every sign of being a more significant role model for teenage girls and young women than Kristin Stewart, whose natural understatement invariably involves some passivity. In short, there’s nothing about Lawrence I don’t like, except her taste as a moviegoer.
In a recent interview with the 22-year-old actress in The New York Times, she told Melena Ryzik about visiting Walmart to buy some Rob Schneider films. Ryzik quoted her as saying, “‘I like making movies, but that doesn’t mean I want to watch a black-and-white, freaking boring’ — here she amped up the sarcasm with an unprintable word — ‘silent movie.’”
It’s not clear, of course, whether she was referring to the collected works of Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, and Douglas Fairbanks, masterpieces like “The Wind,” “The General,” and “Sunrise,” or last year’s Oscar-anointed “The Artist.” I don’t doubt, though, that Ms. Lawrence wouldn’t have much tolerance for the two films – neither silent, but both strongly influenced by the silent cinema aesthetic with its necessary concentration on images – that could be the year’s best.
Undeniably, Béla Tarr’s “The Turin Horse” (a February release) and Miguel Gomes’s “Tabu” (opening December 26) are difficult films. “The Turin Horse,” which I reviewed here, takes its cue from an anecdote about the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, who supposedly went into a terminal decline after he stopped a Turin hansom cab driver from whipping his recalcitrant horse on January 3, 1889.
Tarr’s 146-minute, black and white movie, which he has said will be his last, depicts the daily rituals of a Hungarian farmer and his daughter, who own a similarly stubborn beast, in their isolated homestead as a relentless gale threatens nothing less than the end of the world.
“The Turin Horse is about the heaviness of human existence,” Tarr said in an interview with Cineeuropa. “How it’s difficult to live your daily life, and the monotony of life. We didn’t want to talk about mortality or any such general thing. We just wanted to see how difficult and terrible it is when every day you have to go to the well and bring the water, in summer, in winter… all the time. The daily repetition of the same routine makes it possible to show that something is wrong with their world. It’s very simple and pure.”
I can imagine Ms. Lawrence being driven to distraction by Tarr’s movie – it does require endurance in the viewer to watch the mostly wordless father and daughter doing the same domestic chores over and over again. Little happens: a neighbor shows up to buy some palinka and delivers the film’s one speech, about the destruction of the nearest town; some boisterous gypsies pass by and give the girl a mysterious book; the pair try to leave the farm but find they can’t – there’s nowhere to go.
Yet, it’s a film of ineffable poetic beauty. Tarr’s cinematographer Fred Kelemen fills the screen with haunting images as the sound team fills the track with the East European equivalent of a mistral. One exterior shot of the daughter looking out of a window as if in anticipation of the permanent night that will fall is humbling. What has mankind and nature wrought?, it says.
The first half of the Portuguese “Tabu,” another black and white film (named for and influenced by F.W. Murnau’s bifurcated 1931 South Seas drama), would also likely exasperate Ms. Lawrence. After a mystifying prologue in which a white hunter in Africa sacrifices himself because he can’t get over losing the woman he loved, writer-director Gomes transplants the action to a chilly modern-day Lisbon. Pilar, a devout middle-aged human-rights activist, frets about the erratic behavior of her increasingly senile neighbor, Aurora, who has been blowing her money at a casino. Santa, Aurora’s taciturn black maid, sets her mistress to tedious tasks and is unwelcoming to Pilar when she brings her a birthday cake.
Gomes sustains interest in these lonely women through ambiguous details – Pilar hovers in a movie theater, Santa improves her English by reading “Robinson Crusoe,” Aurora says she has “blood on her hands.” It is sympathetic, doleful, a little humdrum. But then something miraculous happens. Pilar and Santa meet an elderly gentleman, who narrates in voice-over a virtual silent movie depicting his and Aurora’s shared past in colonial Africa. The second part, which explains the psychological state of the older Aurora, is narratively and tonally different to the first. Together, they make for a sublime mix of melancholy (the Portuguese quality of “Saudade”), comedy, and sexual passion. But, like “The Turin Horse,” “Tabu” has to be seen to be believed, Jennifer Lawrence.
Image: Top: Still from The Turin Horse/© 2011 Cinema Guild, Left: Actress Jennifer Lawrence/Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images