Indie Focus: Facing uncomfortable truths with ‘The Square,’ ‘Novitiate’ and ‘Joan Didion’

Hello. I’m . Welcome to another edition of your regular field guide to a world of Only Good Movies.

The reckoning of Hollywood’s self-image as a place of open-minded inclusion and the undeniable reality that it has long been a horrible place for women continued this week following . Beginning with 38 women but with disturbingly similar allegations, the reports depict Toback, a one-time Oscar nominee, as having harassed and abused women for decades with his position as a filmmaker as part of his lure and cover.

Though Toback gave just before The Times’ stories published, when recently reached by a Times reporter by phone, Toback said, and hung up.

And and how talent agencies and guilds can better protect people vulnerable to harassment and abuse.

A very exciting screening event has come together very quickly. On Monday, we’ll have a screening of followed by a Q&A with director and co-screenwriter Richard Linklater. Keep an eye on this space for updates on future events, or go to .

‘The Square’

Winner of this year’s Palme d’Or at Cannes, Ruben Östlund’s is a movie that has very much found its moment. In its story of a Swedish museum curator named Christian seeing his self-assured veneer stripped away layer by layer, the film is, among other things, about the corrosive residue of privilege and male power, the ways in which those who wield it often don’t understand the damage they do. The movie is also very, very funny, with a remarkable lead performance by Claes Bang and supporting turns by Elisabeth Moss, Terry Notary and .

In his review referred to “its scalding wit, its disarming playfulness [and] its ability to blur the lines between viewer discomfort and pleasure.” He added, “It affirms that art, this movie very much included, can tell us things about ourselves that we’d prefer not to know.”

For sat down with Östlund, Bang, Moss and Notary to talk about the film’s unusual strategies.

“People ask if my intention is to create an uncomfortable feeling [among moviegoers], and the answer is yes,” Östlund said. “ ‘Awkward’ is the word most Googled on the internet. I think we like it because we get an adrenaline rush. We can look and it doesn’t have to be us.”

But in looking to push a few buttons, it is inevitable Östlund also would push a few people the wrong way. Reviewing the film wrote, “You could say that Mr. Ostlund’s commitment to illuminate what it mocks from within is a mark of integrity. He doesn’t stoop to facile condemnations of art and its acolytes, and his view of Christian is affectionate as well as punitive. ‘The Square’ is ultimately a long version of Christian’s rambling apology, ostentatiously smart, maybe too much so for its own good, but ultimately complacent, craven and clueless.”

At added, “The film’s pièce de résistance, though, is an extended scene at a donor dinner party at the museum, in which a performance artist roams the gilded hall, his act becoming more invasive and inappropriate while the black-tie crowd struggles to look the other way. Most of ‘The Square’ elicits a chuckle or an embarrassed groan; here it becomes both impossible to watch and absolutely riveting.”

‘Novitiate’

The fiction feature debut from writer-director Maggie Betts, stars Margaret Qualley as Cathleen, a young woman who joins a convent just as the major reforms of Vatican II are about to sweep through the Catholic Church in the early 1960s. The story becomes a tale of love and passion and commitment and transformation. Melissa Leo delivers a powerful performance as the head of Cathleen’s convent, and Julianne Nicholson is quietly stirring as her mother.

Reviewing the film wrote that the film “conveys a keen sense of the powerful lure of a religious vocation, of what that way of life was like, why people wholeheartedly embraced it and what its pitfalls might be.” As well, the “elegant imagery conveys the outward tranquility and order of this cloistered world.”

I recently moderated a post-screening Q&A with Betts, Qualley and Nicholson on the film. You can .

Writing after the film’s premiere earlier this year at Sundance, said, “ ‘Novitiate’ captures something many religious people can understand: the idea that beating oneself (both figuratively and, sometimes, literally) as an act of devotion will make God love us more than he loves other people. This is a complicated matter, and I suspect one has to actually be Catholic to get the full weight of the movie. … It ends without resolving every question, exactly the right choice.”

‘Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold’

In certain Southern California cultural circles, writer Joan Didion has become something of a sacred figure as a seer and a survivor. The new documentary has been directed by her nephew, actor and filmmaker Griffin Dunne, and has a rather startling up-close immediacy that somehow manages to be both revealing about its subject and to further burnish her now mystical persona.

Reviewing the film wrote, “The closeness with Dunne, as well as his complete familiarity with the boldface-names life she and her husband led in both Los Angeles and New York, has given this film a quality of personal intimacy that makes it moving and involving.”

about the film. Asked what he learned about Didion in making the movie, he said, “I’ve come to see that Joan has always been a person that everyone worries about. It’s been like that for a long time, but the other thing I learned is why she’s outliving everyone. She’s strong. And not just tough-minded, gimlet-eyed, shrewd. Just formidably strong.”

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