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Review: The Calming

Last night, I watched The Calming, my first digital screening of this year’s hybrid (part drive-in, part online) edition of the New York Film Festival.

Recently, I’ve made a conscious effort to remove the horrendously reductive term “Ozu-esque” from my vocabulary... but the languid pace and minimalistic plot of this keenly observed slice-of-life drama make the comparison nearly unavoidable. Like the revered “tofu chef,” director Song Fang understands the inherent value of subtext; she knows that the most compelling conflicts occur in the banality of small talk, in the pregnant ellipses between lines of dialogue, in the monotonous ambient noise underscoring a moment of quiet self-reflection (usually set against the backdrop of a gorgeous landscape, from the snowy mountains of Japan to the glittering skyline of Hong Kong). Her stylistic restraint, emotional authenticity, and microscopic attention to detail also evoke other great auteurs, including Chantal Akerman, Hong Sang-soo, Hou Hsiao-Hsien, and Abbas Kiarostami. I realize that statement probably sounds hyperbolic, but trust me: she absolutely belongs in the company of such esteemed cinematic titans—and this is only her sophomore feature! Narratively uneventful, but never thematically insubstantial, The Calming is a genuine Zen masterpiece.

Best. Impulse purchase. Ever!

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