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April 7, 2020

Midsommar (2019)
Director: Ari Aster
Actors: Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, William Jackson Harper

Midsommar" review: The sophomore offering from filmmaker Ari Aster ...

Synopsis: Recently bereaved of her entire family, Dani (Florence Pugh), accompanies her distant boyfriend and his friends on a summer trip to rural Sweden where a once-in-a-lifetime midsummer festival is taking place.

Review: Ari Aster is such a formally accomplished director and he totally understands that the medium is all about spectacle and sensation, but, similar to the feeling I derived from his debut film, Hereditaryhe struggles a touch in trying to blend the psychoanalytical import of his narratives into that aesthetic.

Similar to Hereditary, the opening to Midsommar is masterly. In Hereditary it was more to do with the cinematography, but, with Midsommar, a lot of the uncanny frisson transmits from the editing. There’s the fraction of a split-second shot of the parents, seemingly slumbering but actually in gargoyle-like poses, and then there’s the opening exposition of Dani and her boyfriend Christian’s telephone call. The cut from a forensic focus on Dani to Christian (exactly when the call ends) cleverly accentuates the divide between the couple and how Dani’s turmoil over her family juxtaposes to Christian’s reticence and greater desire to be integrated in the more carefree pursuits of his friends.

Although cleverly outed in this opening contrast, once the action shifts to Sweden, the undercurrent of relationship politicking feels less convincing. I’ve read some commentators calling this a strange type of ‘breakup movie’ and I don’t really buy that. If anything, the shocking midsummer happenings seem to parallel the repressed abyss Dani cannot yet give voice to in her psyche; perhaps that’s why, symbolically, she’s better able to cope with what happens than the five other, more conventionally presented tourists.

Aster’s cinephilia is on display here too, and to mainly pleasing effect. It’s easy to detect a wry nod to Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man throughout, and especially in the sequence where the protagonists fly over the seemingly tranquil, pastoral landscape of rural Sweden (just as Sergeant Howie commences The Wicker Man with a picturesque glide over the Hebrides), contrasting ironically to the malevolence that will undercut that placid demeanour. And Aster clearly likes the apparition or personification of the occult – much like the dwarf at the end of Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now, and Charlie in Aster’s own Hereditary. Here it is a deformed soothsayer figure, a child born from incest, who is given special credence in the midsummer cult, and who seems to cast a haunting, implacable eye over the increasingly violent acts committed at his behest. A fitting icon for a filmmaker who truly understands the iconographic potential of cinema. (April 2020)

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