First Reformed

First Reformed ★★★★½

Trembling in face of an indifferent decaying world. Schrader has made many variations into this template, lonely man in crisis contemplating their sick void, an empty material world, salvation in form of some renewed faith and a woman, First Reform is impressive in how unadorned it is, there's very spare minimum fuzz to its images, lots of cinephile callbacks for sure (Bresson, Bergman, Schtader's own), but the images are just blunt and direct. The big scene with Seyfried's husband, the springboard for everything tha happens aftwrworld is shot in as flat a cinematography as a guy with strong visual sense could stomach, like any attempt of emblishment to the dual crisis at hand would be a betrayal. The movie adress as a whole is very direct, things are always called for what they are, there's an existential crisis for Hawke and he carries the deep guilty of sending his son to war (one constant in Schrader's work of the last 15 years is the certainty that one can't seriously deal with American society current malaise without confronting its moral complicitness at Middle East wars), but the movie keeps a balance between the spirirual emptiness and the world material sickness in a way his similar efforts are not. Like Gere or Dafoe, Hawke is trapped by the limits of his service job, but by making him an actual man of the cloth this idea carries a new weight, when your service is guarantee that God will bail a dying world out, there's a different urgency. The movie as while feels much more expansive. Rewatching it now, I feel it strikes a better balance between the war and environment material, that they feel equally weightier. The ending still don't quite come off as well as it should (save from Sarandon in Light Sleeper the woman on those Schrader's films are always a bit too much of an idea instead of lived in people), but the overall emotive tone after the big scene with Cedric the Entertrainer (who is trully wonderful throughout this) just offers an intriguing counterpoint to the more introspective film so far. Schrader has always been a very excessive filmmaker, but one that shift gears between recessive sobriety and emotive excess and doing it so late in the film an intriguing formal gambit if not a fully succesful one. One observation: this is the one variation on this Schrader theme that doesn't bother to add some form of crime plot on the margins of the action, like he is certain that Hawke acknowledgement of the illness around him is so overwhelming there's no need for extra pulp urgency.

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