A Nice Place to Film, but Heavens, Not to Live

The essential American soul,” D. H. Lawrence once wrote, “is hard, isolate, stoic and a killer. It has never yet melted.” To judge by a handful of notable foreign films opening this season, it still hasn’t.
In these films, that soul is also self-aggrandizing, self-satisfied, self-assured (self is its favorite word), as well as adolescent. Eager to leave skeletons in closets and bodies in graves, this hard, isolate soul has a problem with history and when push comes to shove – as it does so often – it is willing to add to the body count.
In their new films, directors like Wim Wenders, Lars von Trier and David Cronenberg are holding up fun-house mirrors to America, creating reflections that are alternately quixotic and grotesque, and at times wincingly true. In Mr. Wenders’s “Don’t Come Knocking,” Sam Shepard plays an over-the-hill movie actor, a boy with a face full of wrinkles, who suddenly goes searching for a past he ditched long ago. In Mr. Cronenberg’s latest, “A History of Violence,” Viggo Mortensen plays a small-town American paterfamilias, equal parts Marlboro Man and Terminator, whose past comes searching for him in turn. Meanwhile, in “Manderlay,” the second film in Mr. von Trier’s trilogy about America following “Dogville” – and like that cinematic screed, shot entirely on a soundstage – the country’s history of slavery is repeated, this time as farce and in blackface.
A Nice Place to Film, but Heavens, Not to Live – New York Times

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