Already having proven himself a master of the intimate domestic dramas Andrew Haigh (Weekend, 45 Years), with Lean On Pete he takes a stab at something a little bigger, adapting Willy Vlautin’s thoughtful coming-of-age neo-western. 15-year-old Charley (Charlie Plummer), living with his affectionate, well-meaning father who can’t make ends meet, gets a job caring for local racehorses owned by Del (Steve Buscemi), including underdog quarter horse Pete—who Charley instantly warms to. However when Del starts mistreating Pete and, after a few losses, attempts to sell him, Charley steals him and goes on the run from Portland to Wyoming.
Simultaneously a quiet fable about a ‘boy and his horse’ and a gut-wrenching depiction of poverty, Lean On Pete is essentially the lone drifter cowboy story—in the vein of Anthony Mann’s The Man From Laramie or George Stevens’ Shane—updated for the pain and sadness of the modern American class struggle. Haigh stumbles a bit with the transition into a vérité, slice-of-life structure, especially when he eventually still falls into some trope-y dramatics regardless, but any misgivings with the film are ultimately overshadowed by its sensitive and powerful depiction of the crushing, collapsing nature of poverty and the preservation of human dignity.
JEANETTE, THE CHILDHOOD OF JOAN OF ARC
Perhaps the most radical film of the year, Jeannette, the Childhood of Joan of Arc is an existential French art drama about one of France’s greatest historical figures (who has made it to film more than a few times in the hands of some of France’s best filmmakers) and also an electro-metal musical featuring mosh head banging and dabbing. It’s incredible.
Director Burno Dupont captures the spiritual and patriotic awakening by placing the young Jeanne in wide, careful framing, while the indifferently elemental landscape contrasts the raw emotions of her expressive singing, intentionally amateur choreography and intense bass drum kicks. It implicitly echoes the final words of Terence Davies’ Sunset Song “the land endures” as we watch some of humanity’s biggest struggles (war, religion, labor rights, personal and national duty) unfold through the emotions and moral devotion of a child. She also has an uncle that raps.