Review of reviews: Art & Film
Exhibit of the week
Martin Luther: Art and the Reformation
Minneapolis Institute of Arts, through Jan. 15
When Martin Luther nailed a 95-point critique of the Catholic Church to a church door in Wittenberg, Germany—or at least sent the paper to a local bishop—the former monk “fractured Christianity forever,” said Mason Riddle in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Nearly 500 years later, Luther and the movement he sparked is the subject of a major exhibition in Lutheran-friendly Minneapolis that offers “a rare opportunity to explore the art, theology, and politics of 16th-century Europe.” Pamphlets from the period indicate how the relatively new printing press helped transmit Luther’s radical ideas to the masses. Art, too, was a crucial medium. German Renaissance master Lucas Cranach the Elder painted portraits of Luther that did more than flatter the accused heretic—they “gave a face to the Reformation movement.”
The exhibition offers glimpses of the excesses that so angered the renegade theo- logian, said Drew Word in Mpls.St. Paul magazine. Artifacts on display include filigreed depictions of saints, an “absurdly ornate” pilgrim’s robe worn by Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I, and an indulgence voucher—a get-out-ofpurgatory-quick card sold by the Catholic Church. We also see the Lutherans’ simpler approach to spreading Christianity, in a hand-colored Bible that Luther translated into everyday German, and in the 157-panel Gotha Altar (circa 1540), whose paintings focus on the life and teachings of Jesus rather than on tales of the saints. But it was Cranach who provided the Reformation with arguably its most memorable images, said Andrew Pettegree in Apollo magazine. While working as court painter to Frederick the Wise—the local ruler who shielded Luther from the wrath of Pope Leo X’s followers—Cranach churned out images of the Protestant reformer that functioned as effective propaganda. In a 1520 etching, Martin Luther as an Augustinian Monk, the theologian comes across as a simple man of faith, “resolute in the face of adversity.”
But the show is no hagiography, said Peter Schjeldahl in The New Yorker. It “forthrightly confronts Luther’s notorious anti-Semitism,” which verged on the genocidal in late writings such as 1543’s On the Jews and Their Lies. Luther died in 1546, and a copy of Cranach’s Martin Luther on His Deathbed “shows the fleshy Reformer tranquilly at rest on cloud-like pillows.” Even that picture was propaganda: The image was intended to counter Catholics’ claim that the hell-bound Luther died in agony.
Directed by Paul Verhoeven (R)
A rape survivor embraces her demons.
“Is there a better living actress than Isabelle Huppert?” asked Chris Nashawaty in Entertainment Weekly. That’s a question you’re sure to ask yourself while watching her “unforgettable” performance in this “slightly trashy” French arthouse thriller from the director of Basic Instinct. Huppert plays an unflappable Paris business executive who is raped by an intruder in the opening scene and chooses not to report the brutal crime. As the character wrestles with the emotional fallout and begins pursuing a handsome, young, married neighbor, she is “never easy to read, which is exactly what keeps us reading,” said Stephanie Zacharek in Time.
Already hardened by a dark incident from her childhood, this steely Parisienne “doesn’t just confront demons; she welcomes them.” And beneath the film’s “cool, glassy” elegance lie “roiling” questions about guilt, sex, power, and female desire after 50. “It’s confrontational, terrible, and glorious. You almost can’t believe such a picture exists.” Some will leave theaters arguing about what they just saw, said A.O. Scott in The New York Times. “A nasty, exploitative spectacle of a woman’s victimization, or the celebration of her resistance?” Whatever you decide, there’s no denying the “astonishing, almost terrifying talent” of its star.
The Edge of Seventeen
Directed by Kelly Fremon Craig (R)
A drama queen gains perspective.
“Pick a god, any god, and thank them for this movie,” said David Ehrlich in IndieWire.com. “Wryly hilarious and unflinchingly honest,” it’s the sort of quality teen comedy that’s become rare in this era of young-adult wizards and vampires. Hailee Steinfeld plays a high school misfit whose popular older brother ruins her life when he hooks up with her best friend. Though many scenes could have come across as schematic, none do, and when the siblings clash, Steinfeld and Blake Jenner make the friction so freighted and real, “it almost seems alien to the genre.” Steinfeld’s Nadine isn’t always easy to like, said Jon Frosch in The Hollywood Reporter. “Brimming with insecurities and hostilities,” she’s a teen prone to overdramatization. But the movie takes her self-loathing seriously, and glides along on its clear-eyed empathy and brisk humor. Whenever Nadine’s self-absorption tries our patience, Woody Harrelson “comes to the rescue,” said Steve Pond in TheWrap.com. Playing the teacher Nadine chooses to confide in, Harrelson makes himself such a laconic voice of reason that he “seems to be delivering a delicious comic performance in his sleep.” His “crackling” scenes keep the film afloat until, at long last, its heroine “turns into the kind of person we can stand to be around.”