Harrowing Melodrama in “A Different Man”

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Alex Barasch
Culture editor

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If you’re planning a date night (and your date has less of an appetite for tragedy than I do), tread carefully: recent cultural offerings on the subject of love are a bit of a minefield. For the protagonists of Lucy Prebble’s play “The Effect,” in a sleek production running at the Shed through this weekend, the first symptoms are physiological: an elevated heart rate, difficulty sleeping, and, as a doctor monitoring their responses puts it, “a constant state of neural excitement.” These indicators are also inherently suspect. Tristan (played by Paapa Essiedu) and Connie (Taylor Russell) meet at the start of a clinical trial for a next-gen antidepressant. Once their flirtation escalates, they’re led to wonder whether it’s the drug or a natural attraction that’s brought them together—and whether, given the force of their feelings, the answer actually matters. As in any whirlwind affair, irrational behavior ensues.

Tristan and Connie’s dilemma is nothing compared with the issues plaguing the couple at the heart of Bertrand Bonello’s new film, “The Beast” (in limited release starting April 5), a tripartite romance spanning Belle Époque France, twenty-tens California, and a placeless, dystopian future. The story opens in the year 2044, where Gabrielle (Léa Seydoux, in a knockout performance) has elected to undergo an operation that will excise pesky human emotions, helping her to keep pace with A.I. counterparts in the workforce. A nonsensical premise—the procedure involves “purifying” her DNA by dredging up memories from past lives—yields an utterly unique, unexpectedly affecting drama. In every time line, Gabrielle meets a version of Louis (George MacKay), turning the treatment into a double-edged sword: the more she sees of their seemingly cosmic bond, the less certain she is that she wants to cut herself off from it.

“Jerrod Carmichael Reality Show.”

Photograph courtesy HBO

“Jerrod Carmichael Reality Show,” which premières Friday on HBO, involves an equally nightmarish-to-me emotional experiment. The comedian, who won an Emmy in 2022 for his confessional coming-out standup special, “Rothaniel,” has devised an even more vulnerable means of processing his relationships in front of an audience: attempting what he calls a “self-‘Truman Show,’ ” he’s allowed his interactions with everyone from his Christian mother to his Grindr hookups to be documented on camera. Carmichael’s tendency to treat the people in his life like props makes for great television with slightly dubious ethics. The series is riveting, excruciating, and, at times, headspinningly meta: one scene involves his boyfriend, Mike, realizing that he’s being lied to because of the way a crew member rushes in for a closeup. “I knew then that they know something that I don’t,” Mike later explains to their couples therapist. Carmichael—both acutely self-aware and compulsively exhibitionist—may be revealing more than he intends to the rest of us, too. But his quest for connection is a worthy one—and you might also emerge with a deeper appreciation for the person watching and wincing next to you.


Photograph courtesy A24Movies

A prime offering in this year’s “New Directors/New Films” series, playing April 3-14 at MOMA and Film at Lincoln Center, is the opening-night work, “A Different Man,” written and directed by Aaron Schimberg. It stars Sebastian Stan as a struggling New York-based actor whose career and social life are hindered by a medical condition that causes tumors on his face. His prospects brighten when he meets a friendly new neighbor (Renate Reinsve), a playwright; he undergoes an experimental treatment in hopes of a cure, and it changes more than his appearance. Further complications ensue when he encounters another actor (Adam Pearson) with the same condition. Schimberg’s wide-ranging satirical film encompasses allegorical fantasy, anguished comedy, and harrowing melodrama of inner and outer identity.—Richard Brody

About Town

Off Broadway

The remounting of Clubbed Thumb’s Obie Award-winning play “Grief Hotel” is exquisitely weightless: Liza Birkenmeier’s covertly romantic flotsam bobs along for a swift seventy minutes, funny and graceful, only occasionally indicating bleaker currents below. Aunt Bobbi (Susan Blommaert) talks to the audience as if we’re in her marketing class—she proposes a hotel that caters to the traumatized—while her niece’s friends and their lovers drily text and call one another about infidelity, loss, and death. The director, Tara Ahmadinejad, presides over a tremendous cast, including the mischievous spirits Nadine Malouf and Susannah Perkins. Even the pale, slice-of-room set design seems light as a blade of grass; it rests there diagonally, as if it has just blown into the Public and will be tossed away again by the next breeze.—Helen Shaw (Public Theatre; through April 20.)


The repertory of the Dutch troupe Nederlands Dans Theatre, which was led for a quarter century by the choreographer Jiří Kylián, tends toward the hyper-abstract, the minimalist, and the monochrome. “The Point Being,” by the brother-and-sister team Imre and Marne van Opstal—both former N.D.T. dancers—is a case in point: an exploration of synchronicity set within a mistily lit kinetic installation, by the Dutch design studio DRIFT; in it, dancers move through a chiaroscuro space like mysterious beings from another dimension. The company also brings William Forsythe’s quartet “N.N.N.N.,” from 2002, set mainly to the live sounds of the dancers’ breath.—Marina Harss (New York City Center; April 3-6.)


Art work by Sonia Delaunay; Photograph by Bruce M. White © Pracusa

The most delightful thing about Sonia Delaunay may well have been her playing cards. At a new exhibition of her work, “Living Art,” they are the brightest, most pulse-racingly colorful objects from an œuvre in which color is both the principal tool and the supreme ideal. Delaunay, born in 1885, borrowed from Cubism and Fauvism to find idiosyncratic ways of producing movement with complementary hues. The results of her experiments included paintings, but also dresses, curtains, furniture, and theatre sets. A proud democracy of color governs them all: there are no high or low art forms, just different ways of pleasing the eye. Delaunay was a rare species, an unfairly neglected artist who managed to live long enough to enjoy significant, belated acclaim. Let’s keep it going.—Jackson Arn (Bard Graduate Center; through July 7.)


One thing that can make good piano playing so spellbinding is the auditory spectacle of an artist in conversation with themselves: left hand teases right, right wanders off, left interrupts and the two play on together. In a duet, that conversation is between two pianists, playing shoulder to shoulder at the same eighty-eight keys. Schubert, whose greatest pleasure was to make music with his friends, wrote more than sixty duets; Mitsuko Uchida and Jonathan Biss, both formidable soloists and, together, the directors of the Marlboro Music Festival (they must have plenty to say to each other), present a program of four of them, including the affectionate Rondo in A Major and the blithely exoticizing “Divertissement à la hongroise.” Two hands good, four hands better?—Fergus McIntosh (Carnegie Hall; April 9.)

Tropical Electro-Cumbia

Photograph by Devyn Galindo

The singer and guitarist Fabi Reyna and the producer Nectali (Sumohair) Díaz—united as the duo Reyna Tropical—spent the past half decade tinkering with a sweeping, buoyant sound of the tropics. Their music was really coming into focus when Díaz died, in 2022, in the midst of work on their full-length début, “Malegría,” leaving Reyna to finish in his wake. The album born of this transition considers our relationship to the earth and celebrates musical customs from Congo, Peru, Colombia, Mexico, and beyond, reimagining the duo’s influences to create a style that’s both far-reaching and traditional. Bright moments draw out Reyna’s wispy voice, and the rhythmic yet soothing songs of renewal wash over you like a cool mist.—Sheldon Pearce (Public Records; April 6.)


The four-film “Hong Kong in New York” series that’s newly streaming on the Criterion Channel parses the experiences and ideals of émigrés from mainland China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong, while also depicting American freedom as reckless frenzy. Clara Law’s 1990 drama, “Farewell China,” stars Maggie Cheung as Hung, a Chinese woman who moves to New York in order to send money back to her husband, Nansan (Tony Leung Ka-fai), and their young son. Instead, she vanishes, and Nansan arrives in the city, undocumented, to search for her. Law tells the story freely and flamboyantly, with flashbacks and fantasies, following Nansan through a clandestine underworld that’s as exploitative and violent as Hung’s capitalist struggle is soullessly desperate.—Richard Brody

Pick Three

The film critic Justin Chang shares current obsessions.

1. The ongoing furor over Jonathan Glazer’s Oscars acceptance speech has brought only greater attention to his movie “The Zone of Interest,” which rightly won the prize for Best International Feature. That work would form an exceptional double bill with Glazer’s enigmatic 2014 thriller, “Under the Skin” (streaming on multiple platforms). Starring a never-better Scarlett Johansson as a come-hither alien, it is, like “Zone,” a mesmerizing exploration of the empathy void, set to a demonically beautiful Mica Levi score that takes possession of your brain.

Illustration by Raj Dhunna

2. Years before “The Woman King” (2022), the director Gina Prince-Bythewood made a splendid feature début with the tender and kinetic 2000 coming-of-age romance “Love and Basketball” (streaming on Netflix). The movie wonderfully pairs Sanaa Lathan and Omar Epps, as childhood friends turned high-school and college sweethearts, chasing each other as well as their own dreams of basketball stardom. It’s a classic, and a March Madness perennial.

3. The death of the great film scholar David Bordwell last month, at seventy-six, represents an incalculable loss to all of us who benefited from his brilliant, generously illuminating writing on cinema. As a mystery enthusiast, I’ve been savoring his final book, from 2023, “Perplexing Plots: Popular Storytelling and the Poetics of Murder,” a deeply researched dive into the history of crime fiction on the page and on the screen. It’s a perfect capper to a career that revelled in the intricate, puzzle-like nature of film construction—the way that shots, cuts, sounds, and images clue us in to deeper patterns of meaning.

P.S. Good stuff on the Internet:

  • “You Don’t Need to ‘Decant’ Your Groceries”
  • “Andrew Huberman’s Mechanisms of Control”
  • Joni Mitchell’s back on Spotify

Sourse: newyorker.com

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