2 Movies Like The Whale (2022) On Criterionchannel

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Chasing the feel of watching The Whale ? Here are the movies we recommend you watch right after.

At one point in The Whale, Brendan Fraser’s Charlie —  a morbidly obese, reclusive teacher — describes an act of abject cruelty as “not evil” but “honesty.” Darren Aronofsky seems to believe the same about his movie, but alas, he's gravely misled, because The Whale is flooringly glib. From the outset, the film actively and incessantly tries to choreograph audience disgust for Charlie, all so that it can pull off a manipulative “he’s human, actually” swing later on — a “twist” that won’t work if you, you know, already accept people’s humanity irrespective of their appearance. Cinematography, makeup, and score all conspire to paint Charlie as grotesque: the camera laboriously over-emphasizes his size and mobility issues, while histrionic music chimes in to frame trivial moments (like Charlie reaching to pick something up from the floor) as grand, tragic dramas. Even if you ignore all its needless cruelty, The Whale — which is adapted from a play — can never shed its stagy origins: the writing frequently reaches for transcendence, but its efforts are as subtle as its evidently retroactively-shoehorned-in-title. If it’s as sincere as it purports to be, this is one of the worst movies of recent years, and if it’s not — which is almost preferable — then it’s a landmark exercise in trolling.

The Iranian director Jafar Panahi has faced constant persecution from his country's government for over a decade, for his career of sharply political films speaking truth to power. In fact, No Bears—which was shot in secret, in defiance of the government banning him from filmmaking for 20 years—had its initial festival run in 2022 while Panahi was in prison. Evidence of Panahi's drive to keep making his movies, no matter what, are clear in this film's limited resources and occasionally inconsistent video quality. But even those obstacles can't get in the way of his vaulting ambition.

No Bears operates on several different layers that all express Panahi's growing frustration with—but also his commitment to—making art that only ever seems to put himself and other people in harm's way. At its base level, this is a suspenseful small-town thriller, as an exiled Jafar Panahi (playing himself) tries to evade suspicion from the villagers around him. At the same time, Jafar is struggling to direct a film remotely, which creates a strain on his production crew. On top of that, the characters in his film undergo their own drama, seeking asylum out of Turkey. All of this is edited together under a stirring screenplay written with heart, humor, and the hope that the institutions that try to scare us will never keep us in the dark forever.

Genre: Drama, Thriller

Actor: Jafar Panahi, Naser Hashemi

Director: Jafar Panahi

The Promise has all the trappings of a sleazy crime drama, but there's a sense of innocence buried underneath all the dirt that helps set it apart. Even as Igor helps his father do the shadiest things to exploit the illegal immigrants under their care, you can see the boy slowly wake up to the realization that life can't just be a series of transactions, rewards, and punishments. As writers and directors, the Dardenne brothers present Igor's coming of age with frankness and without pretension—even when a hint of the mystical begins to compel him to tell the truth. It might not seem all that complex at first, but the details that make up this world are fully immersive from start to finish.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Frédéric Bodson, Jean-Michel Balthazar, Jérémie Renier, Norbert Rutili, Olivier Gourmet, Sophia Leboutte

Director: Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne