Though drier than it should be, “The World to Come” is a moving, engrossing period drama about the plight of two farming women trapped in unhappy marriages. The friendship they form, which flowers into love, is, when the movie’s shining brightest, a thrill to witness.
Directed by Mona Fastvold (“The Sleepwalker”) from a screenplay by Ron Hansen and Jim Shepard, and based on Shepard’s same-titled short story, the film (streaming on demand starting Friday) brings to mind Celine Sciamma’s “Portrait of a Lady on Fire,” Francis Lee’s “Ammonite” and Sebastian Lelio’s “Disobedience” with its female love story and observations on the plight of women in the featured setting. Fastvold’s film transpires in upstate New York.
Reserved, well-read Abigail (Katherine Waterston) lives on a farm with her decent but detached husband, Dyer (Casey Affleck). The two have had no romantic connection since the months-ago death of their young daughter. Dyer offers her another child, but, feeling isolated, Abigail longs to own an atlas. She views self-education as essential to coping with her unhappiness.
As a complement to the methodical Dyer’s farm ledger, which contains only facts and figures, Abigail keeps a journal in which she details her perceptions and feelings.
“The water froze on the potatoes as soon as they were washed,” is a winter entry. “With little pride, and less hope, we begin the new year.” Such text, read aloud by Abigail, serves as narration.
Bleakness becomes joy when new neighbor Tallie (Vanessa Kirby) enters Abigail’s world. Tallie who, like Abigail, married into a life that offers women little opportunity for joy, has red hair and an exciting uninhibitedness, and she and the intelligent, learned Abigail fascinate each other.
The two become close friends and soon find themselves in love.
So exhilarated are they by what is happening to them that they barely acknowledge the dangerousness of the situation. Interestingly, the filmmakers express concern not about homophobia in society but about jealousy and possessiveness in husbands. The top threat, in that regard, is Tallie’s controlling husband, Finney (Christopher Abbott).
Finney constantly chides Tallie for not performing her “wifely duties.”
The drama darkens as it progresses.
Compared to Sciamma’s movie, which radiates emotion, Fastvold’s is a dry affair, hampered by romantic montages and, especially, Abigail’s Terrence Malick-style voiceovers. The frequent narration disrupts rather than enhances the capable actors’ interactions.
But plenty of vitality exists, and it gives rise to a satisfying period romance.
Waterston is believable as a 19th-century woman who rides in covered wagons, milks cows and quotes Shakespeare, Abigail is a kick as, inspired by Tallie, she comes out of her shell.
Kirby’s Tallie, while she seems too modern a creature to exist in the mid-19th century, is such a force of elan that credibility issues hardly matter. She invigorates Abigail, and the movie. Together, the women generate some splendid sparks.
The film also contains painterly outdoor scenes, rustic interiors, an expressive clarinet score by Daniel Blumberg, and, reflecting the atlas theme, cartography lettering.
The World to Come
Starring: Katherine Waterston, Vanessa Kirby, Casey Affleck, Christopher Abbott
Directed by: Mona Fastvold
Written by: Ron Hansen, Jim Shepard
Running time: 1 hour, 38 minutes
“Stray” — streaming starting March 5 in Roxie’s virtual cinema and at Fort Mason Flix drive-in on March 10 — follows three homeless dogs as they roam the landscape of Istanbul, and, in capturing their everyday existence, director Elizabeth Lo also reflects on the Turkish city’s unwanted human denizens. This isn’t the first film about the plight of stray dogs — last year gave us “Space Dogs” and “Marona’s Fantastic Tale,” for starters. But Lo’s take on the subject has produced a uniquely thoughtful documentary.
Filmed in the streets, parks and squares of Istanbul, a city where killing stray dogs is illegal, and lacking narration and “Kedi”-like interviewees, the film presents urban life largely from a dog’s-eye view. Tan mixed breed Zeytin, the anchor dog, and costars Nazar and Kartal lead the way as a close-to-the-ground camera films them searching for food, drinking from fountains, clashing over a bone, enjoying a pat on the head, getting sprayed by a detractor’s hose, and, in a priceless scene, howling.
Dog-related quotes from ancient-Greek philosophers comment on canine inner character.
Overhead voices recorded by Lo, of couples, tourists, authorities, pro-equality female protesters, and to scarily young homeless glue-sniffing Syrian refugees — topics range from work permits to drain cleaner — represent Istanbul’s human current. At one point, the Syrian boys, wanting a dog for companionship, steal Kartal from the construction site where guards watch over pooches.
You won’t find much action or narrative here. If the film were longer than its 72 minutes, we might get bored.
But by considering the plight of the canines Zeytin in conjunction with that of Istanbul’s human refugees, immigrants and other inhabitants regarded as inferior beings, the film solidifies into a moving rumination on what it means to be an outcast, and on our tendency to equate worthiness with social acceptance and validity with documentation.
With: Zeytin, Nazar, Kartal
Directed by: Elizabeth Lo
Running time: 1 hour, 12 minutes