In the decades since documentarians like D.A. Pennebaker and the Maysles brothers took their cameras off the tripod, the handheld aesthetic has become synonymous with gritty, hard-hitting realism. But while any hack can wave a camera around, it takes talent to make it feel like something besides a desperate attempt at immediacy. In his searing film Requiem (scroll down to 5/12 for review), director Hans-Christian Schmid tells the story of a young girl who was believed to be possessed by the devil, and who died as result of an exorcism. This same true story was the jumping off point for 2005's The Exorcism of Emily Rose, but whereas the Hollywood film was an Exorcist knockoff crossed with a courtroom drama, Requiem hearkens more to movies like Breaking the Waves. The most fascinating aspect of Requiem is the ambiguity of the storytelling- Schmid and his magnificent leading lady Sandra Hüller never quite reveal whether Michaela is legitimately possessed or simply mentally ill, and compelling cases could be made for both possibilities.
A true story with further-reaching consequences was revisited in United 93 (scroll down for review), Paul Greengrass' re-enactment of the events of 9/11. Whereas Oliver Stone's 9/11-themed World Trade Center practically twisted itself into a pretzel in order to find a happy ending for its story, Greengrass' primary goal was immediacy. And damned if he didn't pull it off- there's never a time when the movie seems to be telling the story in hindsight, which is all the more startling given that we all know how the story ends. I also loved the procedural aspects of United 93, which showed us the inner workings of the air traffic control system, in which we saw the controllers going about their daily business only to be overwhelmed when everything went very, very wrong. There are some elements of grief porn and exaggerated hero-manufacturing in the film's final reel, but the onscreen action hits so hard you scarcely notice.