Please baby please and have mercy on me Amanda Kramer!
please baby please
Directed by Amanda Kramer
With Andrea Riseborough, Harry Melling, Demi Moore, Ryan Simpkins, Karl Glusman and Mary Lynn Rajskub.
Have pity on me!
Directed by Amanda Kramer
With Sophie von Haselberg
The films directed by Amanda Kramer can often be boiled down to a few generalizations. The message of the piece is clear and thought-provoking, the sound design is quite spectacular, the story is creatively told in a short time frame, and yet it still feels like there’s a lot dead space. Maybe it’s because Kramer makes his point so well and so quickly, and the mid-sections of his films quiet down because you kind of know what to expect from there.
This is the case of the years 2018 ladyworld, for example, which saw a group of teenage girls trapped underground after an earthquake. Rotate lord of the flies, Kramer’s approach is not at all simple, and yet the result is not surprising. But it must be said that no director would take the same electrifying and bewitching path as Kramer to achieve his ends. With two new films released this week at the Rotterdam International Film Festival and her own dedicated ‘Focus’ section at the festival as well, Kramer is on her way to becoming one of the most exciting filmmakers in the world.
The festival opened with please baby pleasea stylish and absorbing psychosexual alternative to West Side Story. Set on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, the film sees a Detroit lace-up couple forever changed after witnessing a murder by a gang of boys dressed in 1950s leather jackets. new feelings both in Arthur, a discreet clarinetist, and in Suze, a loving housewife. Arthur, played wonderfully by Harry Melling, fixes and fantasizes about one of the gang members, lamenting his upbringing as a man forced to be masculine. And Suze just wants more attention from her husband. Andrea Riseborough is magnetic in the role, mesmerizing from second to second with her New York accent and expressive eyebrow makeup. “What is our marriage then?” A strange kind of friendship that started with a few sexual privileges? Suze asks a friend, increasingly desperate for an answer.
please baby please is beautifully crafted, from the villains’ T-bird style costumes to the vintage decor of the apartments, not to mention Suze’s shiny hair and makeup. But the whole world that Kramer conjured up here is complex and awe-inspiring. Arthur works part-time at a movie theater showing silent films—including a scene of two men fighting underwater—which are presumably illegal in this world. Suze envies a wealthy upstairs neighbor (a delightful Demi Moore trick) for her dishwasher. It’s a familiar, nostalgic setting turned upside down, highlighting the city’s vulgarity and dirty underbelly – somewhat reminiscent of movies like Pickup on South Street Where The asphalt jungle in this direction.
There are times when Kramer seems focused on illustrating the setting, and you may find yourself wishing the character or plot development would move forward. But there’s a lot to absorb as the film takes its time to come to a conclusion. Kramer examines our ideas of gender identity and attraction, through Arthur’s plight but also with the excellent casting of Ryan Simpkins and Mary Lynn Rajskub in ostensibly masculine roles. Not to mention the occasional musical break – the John Waters-esque icing on a compelling, if frustratingly slow-paced, piece of cinema.
As you would expect from Amanda Kramer, Have pity on me! is a completely different kettle. Sissy St. Claire has her first-ever Saturday night variety special, and it’s going to be wild. A cacophony of 80s America, Have pity on me! sees St. Claire trying to cope as something malevolent tries to invade the series. We see music and dancing, over-the-top patriotism and glittering outfits – it’s an 80-minute show. But the film is certainly best when the Sissy segments go slightly askew and the sinister forces rear their ugly heads; particularly strong is a section featuring the host reading letters received from his adoring fans. At the center of it all, Sophie von Haselberg’s impressively controlled turn keeps both the special and the film together, allowing for great understanding and character development in a short amount of time. Still, that doesn’t stop the film from feeling like a collection of vignettes, rather than a trip to St. Claire. The tension rises and falls without giving much thought to consistency and fades completely before the end. Here, Kramer gets carried away with the concept, and the story and structure aren’t well thought out. It’s a nice watch and very well produced: the production seems brilliantly frozen in time, and St. Claire is always engaging.
Amanda Kramer’s work is so varied and interesting; it’s no surprise that the director was chosen for a Focus section at a prestigious film festival like IFFR. With these two new pieces, Kramer reaffirms everything we already know about her new strength as a creator and director, and improves on some of the flaws of her other works. At the end, Have pity on me! feels like a minor work, literally a TV special that could almost be a mean video if it indulged in a little more gore. please baby please is more masterful, more expressive, more statement-making, and could become one of Kramer’s most notable films. This double outing, tantalizing as it is, only heightens the anticipation for whatever Kramer films next. Because one thing can be said about this director and the work she produces: no one in the world makes films like these.
please baby please – Scintillating Myth Rating – Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Have pity on me! – Scintillating Myth Rating – Movie: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★