Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A Whole Universe of Melancholia

Melancholia is an intensely subjective film. However there are no hints in its formal schema to indicate this. The camera is omniscient: There are no POV shots, no subjective flashbacks and it is not wedded to any one character in particular. In this way no one characters' perspective on the world is allowed to dominate. Indeed the film is structured in two sections so that it can first study the clinically depressed Justine's reaction to an intensely happy event (her marriage) and then secondly the ordinary Claire's reaction to an intensely unhappy event (the end of the world), while contrasting their demeanour with that of the other.

But despite its apparent even-handedness the game is rigged from the start because the film is expressionistic: the universe that Claire and Justine live in is not ours and it is built to conform to the depressive's worldview. For me the key to realising this is the scene in which Justine insists that she knows things and then is shown to be right three times in quick succession. The world embodies her worst imaginings: Nearly everyone at the wedding fails her: they're either ill-intentioned (her boss), totally unhelpful (her mother), frivolously self-interested (her father, her brother-in-law) or well-meaning but hopelessly misunderstanding (her husband). More importantly Melancholia's improbable arrival and impact validate her central belief: Life and whatever attendant happiness it may bring is quickly swept away.

Remembering Kevin

The entire past storyline of We Need to Talk about Kevin is told subjectively. There are any number of devices along the way which indicate this but the what makes it absolutely certain is the final scene in which Eva asks Kevin why he did it. It's at this moment that, if you hadn't realised it earlier, it becomes clear that her remembrances of the past have been an attempt to ascertain what it was that led him murder his fellow students.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Defending the Block

Seeing a "youth-orientated" film at a big chain cinema made for a different trailer viewing experience to the one I've grown accustomed to. On one hand I avoided the enervating promo for The Woman on the Sixth Floor, on the other hand I was bombarded with the sheer cynicism with which teen marketers approach their task. It seems they feel kids are easy prey for generic fantasies, so long as they throw in some shaky-cam to make it all feel real; either that or they think that by doing this, removing the titles and credits and inserting a link they can build “viral buzz”.  

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Quote of the Day

"The concept of “obscenity” is tested when we dare to look at something that we desire to see but have forbidden ourselves to look at. When we feel that everything has been revealed, “obscenity” disappears and there is a certain liberation"

“ cutting and obscuring, you have made my pure film dirty”

-Nagisa Oshima as quoted in "In the Realm of the Senses: Some Notes on Oshima and Pornography" by Donald Richie

Monday, November 14, 2011

My BIFF in Lists

Lists are such a terribly reductive, unnuanced way to reflect on films but seeing as I've written 15 reasonably substantial reviews over the course of BIFF I feel like I've earned the right to indulge in every film lover's guilty pleasure. I'm not even going to attempt to add meaning to my list as Brad Nguyen did with his themed MIFF breakdown. Instead I'm simply going to rank them using Nick Davis' patented system of brackets headed by song titles, enhanced (or debased) by the addition of numbered rankings. Unlike Mr Davis I'm not much of a fan of pop divas so I'm going with the delightfully wonky titles of one of my favourite bratty indie bands. After the break the rankings are:

BIFF Reviews: Who Said Class Was Dead?

Even the Rain: This film can best be likened to using a blunt instrument: it gets the job done but using a finer tool might have resulted in a better finish. This problem is compounded by its over-ambitious set-up, in which a film crew arrives to tell the story of Columbus’s oppression of the Indians and the priest who set himself against this colonialism. The historical context of the story is established as a parallel, not only to the film crews’ heedless exploitation of the present day Indians, but also to the government’s privatisation of the water supply.*

Sunday, November 13, 2011

BIFF Reviews: The Running Away Edition

Good Bye: People often say they’d pay to watch their favourite comedians read the phonebook. Well it turns out that I’ll gladly pay one of my favourite auteurs to make a political thriller comprised largely of people sitting around in waiting rooms. I had been afraid that, without an Iron Island or the White Meadows to lean on, Rasolouf might struggle to create the breathtaking and pointed pictorial beauty of his earlier films. This is not at all the case, in fact in he has, without changing his master shot style at all, made the most powerful images of his career.*

Saturday, November 12, 2011

BIFF Reviews: Kawaii Edition

I Wish:

“What does “Indie” mean?”
“I think it means you have to try harder.”

Fans of Kore-eda may fear that his latest, a narrative about kids attempting to reunite their split family by the power of a wish granted by a bullet train, may represent an avowal of the above sentiment. It has, after all, been payed for largely by a bullet train company and both the tone of the advertising and its early reception have hinted that it might be something of a “sell out” film.

Friday, November 11, 2011

BIFF Reviews: My Persona is a Tyrannosaur

Tyrannosaur: This is the kind of film which I quite enjoy while watching it but which doesn’t tend to stick with me or demand that I write about it. It’s a well observed, superbly acted slice of lower class, kitchen sink drama. The kind of film that tugs relentlessly at your heartstrings but, despite a surfeit of anguish and hard won deliverance shot in close-up, is well enough balanced by a believable milieu and rounded characters to avoid being shamelessly manipulative. Still, one can’t help but feel that while all three stories in Tyrannosaur might be believable enough on their own they feel a little forced when taken together.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

BIFF Reviews: Policing Israel

Policeman: Hot on the heels of my current festival low point comes a new contender for my BIFF favourite. Policeman, structured like a diptych­­­­, contains my two favourite things in film: bold, nuanced politics and strong direction tailored to the subject matter at hand.

Monday, November 7, 2011

BIFF Reviews: Taking Shelter under Las Acacias

Take Shelter: Serious spoilers to follow; you really don’t want to read this if you have any intention whatsoever of seeing Take Shelter. Spoilers can really suck, I know, but this is one of those films which is simply impossible to discuss without talking about the ending.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

BIFF Reviews: The New Batch

Mysteries of Lisbon: I went into Mysteries excitedly anticipating a gorgeously mounted, twist-filled melodrama and that’s exactly what I got. Yet even as you cheer for me – you are cheering for me, right? – shed a few tears for the poor soul who didn’t realise he was making a four hour commitment. Still he didn’t have it so bad: Mysteries is an entrancing film.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

15 Films, 7 Days and 1 Boy

1. Mysteries of Lisbon dir: Raoul Ruiz
2. Le Havre dir: Aki Kaurismaeki
3. Mystery Fantastic Film!
4. Take Shelter dir: Jeff Nichols
5. Las Acacias dir: Pablo Giorgelli & Blue dir: Stephen Kang
6. Policeman dir: Nadav Lapid
7. Tyrannosaur dir: Paddy Considine
8. Persona dir: Ingmar Bergman
9. I Wish dir: Hirokazu Kore-eda
10. Good Bye dir: Mohammad Rasoulof
11. Another Earth dir: Mike Cahill
12. The Kid with a Bike dir: Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne
13. Even the Rain dir: Iciar Bollain
14. Elena dir: Andrei Zvyagintsev
15. The Yelllow Sea dir: Hong-jin Na

Notes: While I'm not going to be able to catch 25 films this time around I'm still insanely excited about this year's festival. Particularly given that I've received a late breaking reprieve from some work I was expecting to have to do which has allowed me to expand from 7 films to 15, and include the much anticipated Mysteries of Lisbon.

Aside from what promises to be 4 and 1/2 hours of twisty, fluidly directed period drama I'm also looking forward to Kore-eda's latest (I'm a pretty rabid fan of the Japanese master of low key, gentle character studies) even if its premise seems to be less ambitious than usual. Andrei Zvyagintsev has had my attention too, ever since I saw his gorgeously lensed, genuinely haunting The Return and by all accounts this one could be even better. Ingmar Bergman completes the top tier of my most anticipated films - I've never seen anything by him before (I know!) so seeing one projected in all its glory seems to be the right way to investigate.

My prospective list this time around is probably less adventurous then last time as I'd heard of, and had been anticipating, most of these films for quite a while now - although Policeman was a late breaking addition based on some emerging buzz out of NYFF. Still, the only thing that's causing me any trepidation this time around is the secret screening but that's mixed with equal parts excitement at seeing a real mystery film (ie one where you have no idea what the thing is until it begins to unspool rather than one where you find out a couple of days before). To some extent this is a bit of a shame - it's not good to feel safe with every film you walk into and Caterpillar turned out to be a really nice, albeit bracing, surprise last year.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Remaking Films Across Langauge Lines

When I saw Infernal Affairs it was the first time I'd seen a non-English language film knowing that there was a remake and thinking that if I was only going to see one it might have been a better idea to see Hollywood's version (Scorsese's The Departed). There's no doubt that Infernal Affairs effectively milks its ostensibly ludicrous premise for enough tension to give you hypertension and that Tony Leung Chiu-Wai is as terrific as ever. However the dialogue is rarely more than functional (or, at least, the subs are), the women are never more than plot/thematic devices (an issue somewhat fixed by the sequal) and the slow-mo black and white flashbacks are often either cloying or unnecessary. These are all areas in which it is often said that the Scorsese version excels: there's a lot of talk about its colourful Boston slang, Vera Farmiga is apparently given a chance to shine and well, Scorsese is Scorsese.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

A Wildly Over-Ambitious and Under-Thought Post on Pina

The question that is often asked of performance films is why people shouldn't just trundle along to the live show. Notwithstanding the difficulties of seeing one of Pina Bausche's routines live, unless one lives in the right cities or has some cash to burn, the answers given by Wender's Pina is that cameras offer you a multitude of perspectives that you would never have from a static seat in a theatre, that you can experience radical, astonishing violations of space and time, and that he can build fluid, nested narratives.

Saturday, April 30, 2011


I'd heard rumors that 13 Assassins was going to bypass theaters and go straight to DVD in Australia but a quick look at Icon's site today turned up this "…and stay tuned for an announcement of the Australian cinema release date". Now I just have to hope it arrives before or after my overseas jaunt.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

An Architecture of Loss: Liverpool

I went into Liverpool fearing an "unmediated slab of quotidian reality"* and hoping for an Uncle Boonmee-like revelatory experience. What I actually experienced was something that, while not reaching (or to be fair even grasping) for Boonmee's intense mysticism, imparted a not dissimilar sense of a regrettable past embedded in the present. Unlike Boonme the loss is etched in run down, occasionally skeletal, buildings and faces. Lisandro Alonso finds a great deal of pathos in simply placing his prodigal son in what were clearly once familiar surrounds and people, or in quietly evoking the wider world outside of the small, isolated village.

Despite this I didn't find it an entirely gratifying experience. Alonso's use of non professionals ensures some very restrained performances which occasionally become flat. It's probable that this hyper-naturalism is exactly what Alonso was hoping to achieve but for me, raised on traditional acting, the ability to read the tiniest flickers of emotion in the actor's faces was missing and I couldn't stop thinking about how the film might have played with someone like Samantha Moreton in the lead.

*This wonderful phrase is stolen from Shane Danielsen who deployed it in his critique of Joe Swanberg. His piece is here.

Monday, April 18, 2011

A Short Note on Incendies

Incendies has the one thing I prize in cinema above all else: a director with a strong personal style who can tailor it to the subject matter at hand.  Unfortunately Denis Villeneuve's style is deployed in the service of a pot-boiler of a story. At first it's merely forgettable stuff: a mechanistic cycle of violence told through the prism of a straightforward detective story in which neither the detective nor her quarry emerge as anything more than plot tokens. But by the time it piles on its last lurid, contrived twist it becomes truly risible: an art house exploitation film in which the most painful, improbable scenario its makers could contrive is made palatable through an ostensibly laudable, yet astonishingly wrong-headed, paean to forgiveness.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

French Double Feature

There are innumerable features built around the coming of age story of a teen-aged protagonist. A substantial portion of them are centred around protagonists with separated parents. Love Like Poison stands out by virtue of its unusual emphasis on pubescent body anxiety, and its intersection with relationships (romantic, friendly and familial) and religious faith. I don't think I've ever seen a more honest or probing examination of this part of adolescence: too often film-makers focus entirely on the emotional difficulties of negotiating new relationships and forming an adult identity.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Two-Lane Blacktop...

is as much a film about obsession as it is about racing cars across America. It's about two people who rarely speak to others and who, even when talking amongst themselves, are more comfortable with the language of carburettors and tire grip than anything outsiders might recognise as the patios of casual conversation. Indeed the only real pleasure these two can find in words is in the smack talk they use to set up a race. Outside of this the pair use language in a strictly functional way and are embarrassed when it's used to describe feelings. GTO is quickly shut down when he opens up about his past and the most heartfelt words the Driver offers the Girl are, "You can't do it" or perhaps, "We're going to Ohio". This is not merely the behaviour of enthusiasts, it's that of obsessed individuals for whom the world outside of their narrow area of expertise is a distant difficult space.

This portrait of the main characters is an essential part of why the last sequence works as well as it does. In many ways it's as much of a retreat as the ending of The Wrestler. Except that instead of being underpinned by a sense of despair; "Fuck that shit, this is all I'm good at", it comes out of a sense of comfort; "Fuck that shit, this is what it is all about". Although it's telling (and somewhat frightening) that, regardless of outlook, they're both totally alone in their final shots.

*I was so proud of this reading that googled "Two-Lane Blacktop" and obsession just to see how common it was and whadda you know; everyone reads it in pretty much these exact terms.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Youth, Speed, Trouble, Film*

Wasted on the Young, for all its deliberately overblown genre conceits, is the best observed high school set film I've seen in a long time. It's also a rare example of a piece of modern commercial cinema with a highly distinctive visual language devised with more ambitious intentions than simply creating pretty pictures. If it stumbles occasionally it is nonetheless a worthy attempt to blend "social commentary" with "genre sensationalism".

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Form and Function: A short observation on The Puppetmaster

The Puppetmaster is a rather singular film. It is certainly the most direct translation of the literary memoir form into a visual medium that I can think of. Its frequent use of narration from the film's subject (Tianlu Li), accompanied by either associational visuals or by a medium shot of the narrator, emphasises the importance of the spoken word and gives precedence to the recalled experiences of the speaker rather than the film maker's visual interpretations of his past. Similarly the past tense of his reminisces emphasises that the events of the film are historical. There is very little of the immediacy granted to history by more conventional biopics and more of a sense of a very particular, and now vanished, time and place.

This assertion of a historical past jibes well with the narrative's attention to such detail, which often takes precedence over the personal. While the family's visits to the opera and puppet shows could be inferred to have infused the young Tianlu Li with a love for the arts there are never any close-ups on his rapt face to emphasis this. Indeed in the first opera scene the most salient object is the soldier who is placed in the centre of the frame and obscures the figures on stage. The scene is more concerned with Japanese efforts to force their subjects to renounce their connection to the Qing dynasty and embrace Japanese culture than with any personal developments of the young puppeteer.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Catfish: Secrets and Lies

The veracity of Catfish has been thoroughly interrogated but after seeing it I'm find it difficult to credit that it is a deception. Nonetheless I can understand why people might question it. Firstly the the film-making is very accomplished despite the cruddy look of the digital footage. The film-makers' system, of using a mini-cam for close-ups and another for wider shots works very well and their resulting images are not only well framed but also make good use of natural light. Secondly there is the fact that it is itself the tale of a deception - the fact that this unlikely hoax succeeded for nine months makes the viewer aware that they may be being taken in by a meta-lie. 

Thirdly the hoax appears quite transparent. People have argued that while the events may be be broadly accurate they must have been re-staged to create a more exciting narrative. How else, it is argued, could these guys have been fooled for so long? I would argue that it is not unusual for people to be deceived by ostensibly silly claims. I think humans tend to be quite trusting of information unless given a very salient reason to be suspicious, particularly when some sort of reward is offered. How else to explain all those people who happily send money to Nigeria on the strength of an unsolicited E-mail? Then there is Occam's Razor. Which is the most likely explanation - that one person has created an elaborate web of Facebook profiles and is contacting him on multiple phones using multiple voices or that he really has been contacted by a real family?

Furthermore Nev seems rather vulnerable to this scheme. I suspect his big city upbringing leads him to be more credible about 8am whole family breakfasts and other such unlikely tales. His astonishment that a chicken lays an egg every day, while probably included for incidental humour, is nonetheless pretty revealing. It's clear that Nev doesn't have a whole lot of understanding about how life goes on outside of New York. There is also the suggestion that he's a pretty lonely guy. There's a rather telling interview sequence where he appears to grasp on to just about any suggestion of a connection with his new pen pal.

However despite all this rationalisation my belief in the basic honesty of Catfish (I say basic because it's obviously very well edited to create a three act structure) comes from the little details of human interaction in the piece. The way that Nev responds to his brother's accusation that he was fooled strikes me as very true to life. It's patently obvious that he was indeed tricked but his reaction; a vigorous but incoherent denial, is something I recognise. No one wants to be seen as naive and  there's always a sense after one has been tricked that the other party didn't play by the rules. Similarly the characters reject certain documentary clichés. Nev asks, "Did you want to be found out?" in an echo of prepared talking heads talking about pathological liars and Angela dismisses this pat bit of pop psychology instead of confirming it.

Of course the story is an incredible one and the extraordinary woman at the centre of the film's final act - who offsets her sense of wasted potential and her demanding home life by living out her fantasies - is a rare, astonishing find. The claim that this happened, and that a pair of capable documentary film-makers were on hand to capture it, is ostensibly pretty astonishing. But given the number of people that use Facebook and the potential for distortion that it allows (I doubt that the woman who serves the film-makers is the only one with such a story) one suspects that this was likely to happen, sooner or later.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

A Small Plea

Can we import fewer Hollywood, French and Oscar foreign film winning mediocrities and more Asian cinema in general? Please?

EDIT: Lest anyone think I have some kind of unthinking bias against French Film (or the Oscar's foreign film selections) I should mention that this year's Alliance French Film Festival has an incredible selection. Love like Poison, Of Gods and Men, Outside the Law, Potiche, On Tour and Carlos are all on my list as must-sees. Although Carlos is a butchered 2 1/2 hour cut which makes me glad I caught the full 5 1/2 hours at BIFF.

(I also like plenty of Hollywood films, I just think these categories are over-represented)

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Capsule: Tokyo Sonata

Tokyo Sonata is nothing if not ambitious. In following the travails of a middle class family it aims to paint a portrait of modern Japan. It sets out to encompass the plight of middle managers who are the first to go in difficult times and the least qualified to find other work, the nature of family affairs in which social expectations about gender roles and duties stifle both men and women, the United States - Japan alliance and what it means for young people and many other similarly weighty social matters.

Unfortunately in doing so it's bitten off more than it can chew - while some thematic elements find themselves well serviced others fall by the wayside and the average scripting is not up to the task of coping with some of the more esoteric strands. Similarly, while the family's secrets and multiple falls from grace are fairly well plotted, their final bottoming out and eventual acceptance of their new roles is clumsily handled via some unnecessary and tonally jarring plot mechanics.

Still, Kurosawa's direction of his ultimately awkward scenario is never any less than assured. Astutely chosen framing and lighting turn otherwise unremarkable office blocks and bus stations in to cut-rate versions of purgatory and many of the confrontations at home are choreographed elegantly; employing depth staging to quiet effect.

Capsule: The King's Speech

A surprisingly amiable film as many of the biopic/period clichés are effectively underplayed or absent entirely. As noted elsewhere Tom Hooper attempts more than the kind of paint-by-numbers approach usually found in such projects. He is committed to finding some visual interest in his frame - the initial therapy session with Rush's character is shot in such a way that there is an uncomfortable amount of negative space in the frame, effectively putting the viewer on edge. However there are moments when he bows to cliché. For example the way the final speech is shot, with its cutaways to every character who is even remotely important - and several that aren't - is tiresome. Surely it might have been more effective, and more in keeping with the film's low key tone, to stay locked on Rush and Firth and emphasis the constant personal  struggle of giving the speech?

The aforementioned low key tone is a great relief. Rather than the usual portentous declarations of importance the film generally downplays whatever negligible impact the speeches of King George VI might have had. Of course this approach also means that what we're left with is the story of a friendship between two loving family men but the performances and dialogue make it a fairly charming affair. If there's nothing particularly refreshing in the story of the eccentric who helps his new uptight friend live a little there's nothing particularly objectionable about it either.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Courtesy of SBS: Time

The common knock against science fiction writer Greg Egan is that, for all the fascination inherent in his scenarios, he is unable to create characters. I've always found this claim to be unfair - it's not that he doesn't create characters, it's just that those characters are always first and foremost a function of the scenario. The only part of their history, of their personality, that we get to see is the part that has a direct bearing on the philosophical question at hand. They're highly detailed people; they're just very narrowly detailed people.

I don't think there's anything wrong with this approach. There might be if Egan were attempting character studies but he's not. He's interested in exploring the personal and philosophical conundrums that rapidly changing technology presents. To my mind that's as valid a mission for an artist as creating complex personal portraits is.

It's a mission that, on the basis of Time anyway, Kim Ki-duk shares. To be fair Ki-duk isn't really interested in the possibilities and pitfalls of plastic surgery and what they might mean for us on a realistic level, but he does seem interested in very narrow philosophical questions of intimacy, novelty and identity and his character's traits are subordinated to exploring those questions.

Time is about the desire to enjoy intimacy with one person "till death do us part" and yet also the need to constantly be surprised and excited by that person. To maintain her lover's (Ji-Woo) interest the female protagonist (Seh-Hee) undergoes plastic surgery to make her self unrecognisable and enters his life again as a new person.  

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Quote of the Day

"Multiplexes, with their glorified video screens and tatty decor, are unimpressed by cinema. The Gaumont is of an age when film was still a miracle. It was a cathedral."

-From Looking for Jake by China Mieville

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind

This is very much early Miyazaki. Early in the sense that he seems to have difficulty trusting the audience, instead ensuring that characters tell us what they are seeing and explain it - twice if necessary - so that there is little room for misinterpreting the potentially confusing scenario. Miyazaki in the sense that it is fully committed to its environmental message in a way that manages to be simple without being simplistic.

Like many environmentally concious films it's about being able to live in harmony with nature and respect it rather than struggling against it. Unlike many such films its message is never presented in such direct, cliched tones and the destructive impulse to be struggled against is not as simple as the commonly trotted out sin of greed. Rather than a parable of avaricious humans destroying the natural world out a myopic desire to enrich themselves it's about people trying to make life comfortable for themselves without understanding the environment they're manipulating. It's harder to boo and hiss at the bad guy while remaining confident of one's own good nature when everyone is acting out of recognisably common impulses.

It's also a pacifist film - as has been noted elsewhere much of the narrative is driven by Nausicaä's desire to atone for her early killings by attempting to resolve conflict without bloodshed. As with the environmental message Miyazaki avoids the easier strategies of polemic. While the hero is (of course) triumphant, the narrative is not naive about the possible consequences of attempting to face up to armed soldiers with bare hands and honest words.

The earlier noted combination of early difficulties and precocious assurance is repeated with the visuals. The animation, in keeping with the lower budgeted productions of Japan at the time, is often minimal and occaisionally awkward. However the art is as lush as ever and one can see, in the design of creatures, people and craft, many of the same aesthetic ideas pursued in later Ghibli films.

While uneven it's the strengths of Nausicaä that linger longer than the weaknesses. Once the audience is comfortably orientated in his world Miyazaki does let the story flow more smoothly with less intrusive hand holding and the story's strengths and even some of his humour emerge.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Dear The Australian

In the future please don't pay someone to write about film when they (a) utalise the phrase "Awkward Alert" in order to sound hip and snappy, (b) think Hollywood is another way of referring to the entire American film industry, (c) think Apatow comedies are about the limitations of institutionalised romantic commitment, (d) think Just Go With It and No Strings Attached will not have conventional happy-ever-afters and (e) call their mythical trend of realistic romcoms "extreme date movies".

Friday, January 7, 2011


Somewhere is a fairly restrained, if not exactly subtle, study of a man who - by personal temperament and because of impersonal structures - is pathologically incapable of forming relationships. Much of the film is given over to showing us the professional cocoon that surrounds Johnny and the personal routines he's built. The former's ever present, ever sycophantic but never personal presence is largely anonymous even when it is present in person. The latter's stultifying sameness and its lack of fulfilment is conveyed largely through visual metaphor: the endless parade of identical hotel rooms and buxom blonds, the car that races around and around and around.

This visual language remains consistent with the narrative of the film right up until the final shot. For example the stylish suite that breaks up the monotony of endless hotel rooms serves both its metaphoric function; the monotony of his routine having been broken by Cleo, and its plot function; a place for them to stay while they're in Italy. However this harmony breaks down at the end. While the final shot provides a neat counterpart to the opening one - instead of driving around and around he's leaving the safety of his cocoon and walking somewhere with purpose - it makes zero sense on a story level. He's decided his life is hollow but has been utterly at a loss as to how to fix it. The last shot suggests he's found a sense of direction but the narrative is at a complete loss as to what it might be. It's a cheat that somewhat sours the rest of the film's modest achievements

On the positive side it is at least as not relentlessly editorialising or as nakedly ideological as its spiritual partner Up in the Air. Unlike Ryan, Johnny lacks self awareness. As such he doesn't feel the need to develop a coherent philosophy to explain himself to others. This results in a film that feels less concerned with argument and debate and more concerned with the emotions of its protagonists. It's the difference between someone who decided that there is a trend of depersonalisation in modern society which needs to be exposed through popular entertainment and someone making a picture about a person in trouble.