Schrader’s return from the desert: a metaphysical meditation for the world we live in, a summa cum laude of the director’s obsessions and tastes, and literally a film you did not see coming.
Seeing a sneak preview of this back in February the screening had such a visceral impact due to Hawke's performance and Schrader's ability to give us a character encapsulating the emotional state of the nation in Trump America, via the climate change McGuffin. Seeing it again I'm amazed at how accessible Schrader's screenplay succeeded in making religion dramatic for the audience by being with this main character.
This Bernanos adaptation is not a Bernanos adaptation. Because it is so aesthetically remarkable and because it grapples nobly w/ the most central of central issues, I'm inclined to overlook that it is hard not to read FIRST REFORMED as partially a phallocentric movie about the imperative of heterosexual coupling; instead I will choose to see sexual coupling as but a localization of the drive for spiritual communion.
I was so enjoying Paul Schrader's screenplay and its ruminations on faith and despair that I almost resented the third act's necessitation that something climactic happened. Regardless, I don't think I've ever seen a stronger performance from Ethan Hawke. Schrader's generosity to his characters is exemplified by Cedric Kyles' pastor, a role that could have easily led to parody but remains sympathetic throughout.
An exceptional film that explores the bleak search for hope in a world filled with despair. The framing of each scene is deliberate and captivating, and the narration channeled through the journal is particularly effective. I felt frozen as the credits started to roll.
Paul Schrader, unlike his New Hollywood contemporaries, feels nostalgic for foreign cinema of the 40s and 50s- namely the films of Bresson and Dreyer. This film, while far from sentimental, is a call to return to that mode of filmmaking and he decides to push the ideas that were central to the aforementioned filmmakers further, revealing there is still much to explore with this mode of filmmaking.
Somber in tone, but consistently gripping, FR dissects the dangers of good intentions led by an excessively disquieted mind, and delves deep into what it means to have faith at a time governed by social media, cultural turmoil and extremism. Borrowing from his own Taxi Driver script, Schrader imbues the film with a lingering anxiety and an overarching dread that builds towards a rewarding and visceral conclusion.