January 2017, arsenal cinema

Symphonies of Everyday Life – The Films of Kenneth Lonergan

MARGARET, 2011

It is rare to speak of an oeuvre when a filmmaker has created only a few films, but Kenneth Lonergan (b. 1962) is a special case. Thus far, the director, screenwriter and playwright has made just three feature films, whose finely honed dialogues, impressive acting and deeply moving plot twists have resonated with both filmgoers and critics. Lonergan's dramas have not shied away from the big themes such as family, loss, trauma or moral responsibility – embedded in closely observed everyday situations, they are always treated in an organic and realistic manner. Even when his characters come from different social backgrounds, they share certain traits – a penchant for inconsistent behaviour and a tunnel vision that is often their undoing, a weakness for swear words – which at times make them seem unappealing, but all the more human. Much like the classical music that often suddenly interrupts the events on screen, there is something symphonic about Lonergan’s films themselves: a variety of themes, moods and tensions alternate unexpectedly and always intuitively, without the last movement necessarily bringing resolution. To coincide with the German release of his new film "Manchester by the Sea" (USA 2016), the Arsenal will be showing Lonergan's previous films, which are scarcely known in Germany.

YOU CAN COUNT ON ME (USA 2000, 23 & 24 & 26 Jan.) Bound together by the early loss of their parents, siblings Sammy (Laura Linney) and Terry (Mark Ruffalo, in his first major role) have taken very different paths in life: She is a single mother and bank clerk in their home town in the Catskills, while he lives from hand to mouth in Florida and has spent time in prison. When Terry visits his sister for the first time in years, their expectations are equally disparate: He wants to borrow money and make a quick getaway, while she hopes for intimacy and affection. In the weeks that follow, they slowly grow closer, while it becomes increasingly clear that they are similar enough to drive each other insane. Against the backdrop of the sunny, green landscape of upstate New York, a subtle, intimate drama unfolds, which alternates gently and effortlessly between humour, rage and longing and has a good deal to say about sibling relationships: Especially when we love each other too much, it is often extremely hard to bear being together for too long.

MARGARET (USA 2011, 21 & 25 & 28 Jan.) The snarky, heretofore carefree 17-year-old Lisa (Anna Paquin) is torn out of her privileged Upper West Side existence: She witnesses or perhaps even partly causes a deadly traffic accident, which Lonergan stages with a power and precision that is painful to watch. Lisa tries unsuccessfully to get over these events and starts to lash out emotionally: She sneers at her mother's new relationship, tries to seduce her teacher (Matt Damon) and joins forces with a girlfriend of the accident victim, leading to the dismissal of a bus driver (Mark Ruffalo), who was also involved in the accident. But ultimately, redemption cannot be bought with rage and retaliation, a message that applies equally to the city of New York, which is still under the spell of 9/11 and repeatedly appears in impressive street panoramas (camera: Ryszard Lenczewski). Although Lonergan's second feature film was completed in 2005, it was only released in US cinemas in 2011 in a 150-minute version, following six years of arguing between the director and the studio over the final cut. We are showing the 186-minute director's cut, which appeared on DVD and Blu-ray in 2012. (jl)

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