ON BLU-RAY / NETFLIX
Graduation: Writer/director Cristian Mungiu’s latest finds him working in something of an Asghar Farhadi mode, telling a domestic drama — a father wants his daughter to do well in school so she can leave Ceausescu-era Romania for university abroad — in which the tiniest act is met with devastating consequences. And like Farhadi, he’s a complicated moralist; his characters are presented with conflicts and choices that cause them to examine their very beings and self-perception. “All that counts is getting to a normal world,” insists the father at its center, to which his wife responds, “How you get there matters too,” and that’s the fundamental question at the heart of this thoughtful work. He takes no shortcuts as a director – his visual M.O. is the long scene played in an unbroken medium-wide shot, in which neither the audience nor the characters are offered escape, and our flawed protagonist must watch his tenuous existence spin further out of his grasp. Intelligent, angry, and, in its own quiet way, hopeful. (Also streaming on Netflix.) (Includes interview, press conference, deleted scenes, and trailer.)
Beyond the Hills: Mungiu’s previous feature also joins the Criterion Collection, dramatizing the true story of a young woman whose attempted exorcism (though the word is never uttered in the film’s entire 150 minutes) at a Romanian monastery became a national scandal. Mungui is less interested in the sensationalistic aspects of the story than he is in the motivation for it — why was this woman there, and why did she subject herself to this? As a writer, he has a gift for discerning what to articulate in dialogue and what to leave unsaid, for undercutting expectation, and for making his themes clear without smashing us over the head with them. Simply put, it is a story of faith, friendship, and responsibility — and the difficulty of choosing between them. Leisurely but involving, and given tremendous weight by the deeply felt (and keenly contrasted) performances of lead actresses Cosmina Stratan and Cristina Flutur.
A Fistful of Dollars: The facts of Sergio Leone’s 1964 (though not released in America until 1967) smash are well known: how he fused Kurosawa’s Yojimbo and the tropes of the American Western to create a whole new subgenre, the Spaghetti Western, and made an international movie star out of Clint Eastwood in the process. Those are the reasons Dollars is important – what makes it great is its frisky energy and low-budget ingenuity (Leone made it for a paltry $200K), and the offhand cool with which Eastwood does his thing. It’s been on Blu-ray before, but as with Kino Studio Classics’ release of The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly last summer, they’ve gone and done a spiffy new 4K restoration, so, sorry, you’re just gonna have to go buy it again. (Includes audio commentaries, interviews, featurettes, outtakes, TV spots, and trailers.)