Expertly constructed wham-bammers (i.e., “what you see is what you get”) sell tickets and give less sensitive audience members a good time, but they don’t linger. The ones that do always deliver the undercurrent stuff, “the things that are not said.” Michelangelo Antonioni‘s L’eclisse and L’Avventura deliver this in spades; ditto Florian von Henckel Donnersmarck‘s The Lives of Others and Cristian Mungiu‘s Four Months, Three Weeks and Two Days.
One level below this (and this is flattery I’m dishing here) are the ones that may not have a churning river underneath, but they keep the emotional content in check. They hold their cards to the chest and let the audience absorb what’s there rather than show or explain it or use a laser pointer and say “here it is…see?” (Either you get it or you don’t, but you’d have to be an idiot to miss it.) This is what Ben Affleck‘s Argo does superbly. He never tips the bucket over and spills the water out and leaves puddles on the floor. He always ladles it out just so, concisely and succinctly and yet making sure that the water has all the right nutrients and effervescence. In a word, he believes in brevity. And that is a welcome thing.