Paul Schrader’s bracing, bruising First Reformed is the filmmaker’s most urgent offering in years, and one of 2018’s best. A warped retelling of Bresson’s Diary of a Country Priest filtered through Schrader’s trademark fixations, First Reformed focuses on something curiously absent from contemporary stories, even as it animates many moments of our public and private lives: despair at climate change, and almost paralyzing anxiety over the world we leave behind.
Carl Th. Dreyer
One of cinema’s great ironies is that, for all the talk of representation and making the hidden visible, much of its power comes from withholding instead. Certainly this is true of slow cinema, of that poetic tendency which, in his landmark 1972 treatise, Paul Schrader called “the transcendental style in film.” The eternally self-lacerating Taxi Driver scribe’s brilliant latest, First Reformed, deserves a chapter in the updated edition – and the boxy image of a despairing reverend, mixing whiskey and Pepto Bismal while researching suicide vests on a laptop in a parsonage, should go on the cover.
A woman approaches a witch in her lair, hoping to score a potion to seduce a cleric. She imagines how this will play, and we watch her reverie: he puts down his knife and meat long enough to check her out.
It is an article of faith among your more generous cinephiles that you should never be embarrassed by the classics you haven’t yet seen. Everyone has blind spots, no one has time to see everything, and a gap in your viewing only indicates how much you have to look forward to!