Non-Fiction (2019)

non-fiction-movie-review.jpg

Direction: Olivier Assayas
Country: France

French auteur Olivier Assayas, an important figure in the European contemporary cinema since the ‘90s, tells a conversational modern-day tale, slightly inspired by Eric Rohmer's The Tree, the Mayor and the Mediatheque (1993) and containing some pertinent observations about hypocrisy in the art world - the emphasis is on literature and cinema - and the effects of the ever-evolving technology. Non-Fiction stars a talented ensemble cast with Juliette Binoche, Guillaume Canet, Vincent Macaigne, and Nora Hamzawi embarking on extensive dialogues that oscillate between well-rounded and routine.

Canet’s Alain Danielson is an ambitious Parisian publisher totally immersed in the digital development of literature. His wife, Selena (Binoche), is a successful TV actress who complains about being a hostage of her profession. While the husband is sexually involved with Laure (Christa Théret), his freewheeling young assistant, the wife maintains a long-standing affair with the struggling writer Leonard Spiegel (Macaigne), who prefers chaos to authority and stutters every time a journalist makes him uncomfortable questions about his books.

non-fiction-2019.jpg

The latter almost never agrees with his busy, often insensible wife, Valerie (Hamzawi), but they have fun together, nurturing their relationship with enthusiastic discussions about art, politics, and Leonard’s real-life-inspired writings. Valerie works for David, a left-wing political candidate, whose transparency becomes blurred after a sex scandal. In order to spice things up, Alain refuses to publish Leonard’s new work, considering it repetitive and boring.

Loaded with multiple discussions and personal opinions, the film sometimes lacks some sort of empathic envelope, playing the extramarital affairs as enhancers for tension. However, it finishes much better than it starts, gradually creating a lived-in sense of roominess to expose the world of the characters.

Shot in 16 mm, this Assayas’ satisfying yet unremarkable effort is not as strong as The Clouds of Sils Maria (2014) or Personal Shopper (2016), but becomes exquisitely affecting in its final third. Non-Fiction’s main strength is perhaps the non-judgmental posture together with the acceptance of life, with all its complex phases, as it is. Yet, I felt this was the type of story that Truffaut would make look charmingly witty, whereas Chabrol would turn into a pseudo-thriller.

3.jpeg

Styx (2019)

styx-movie-review.jpg

Direction: Wolfgang Fischer
Country: Germany / Austria

In Greek mythology, Styx is a deity and a river that forms the boundary between Earth and the Underworld. You won’t find a deity or a river in Austrian Wolfgang Fischer’s sophomore film, but the immense sea and an unforgettable, shocking discovery that will forever mark the life of an adventurous woman sailor.

The experienced, hands-on 40-year-old doctor Rike (Susanne Wolff) resolves to abandon the stress of emergency medical night shifts in Gibraltar to embark on a solo sailing trip to the small tropical island of Ascension. She learned about the place's artificial jungle from a book by Charles Darwin. Expecting to find some sort of paradise on Earth, it’s hell that appears in front of her, not due to a storm that after a certain time shook her yacht with violence, but when she faces the sad reality of a fishing boat overloaded with dehydrated, famished, and sick African refugees. Several attempts to ask for help were made via radio and all she got was a voice saying: “back up and don’t intervene”. That’s when Rike envisions a risky scheme to force the authorities to get involved and do their job.

styx-movie-still.jpg

The monstrosity of letting debilitated people dying in the sea is disgusting. This is just an episode amidst many that show the cruelty of the world we’re living in. Should some lives matter more than others?

Fischer puts you right in the middle of the action, infusing tension and anguish with a story that demonstrates the complacency of developed countries in the face of painful realities lived by human beings in other parts of the world.

The film has been compared to J.C. Chandor’s All is Lost, yet Rike felt powerless and helpless rather than really lost at sea and with her life in danger. The ending didn’t exceed expectations, but this was a piercingly realistic cinematic experience based on an outrageous true story.

3.jpeg

Long Way Home / Temporada (2019)

long-way-home-review.jpg

Direction: André Novais Oliveira
Country: Brazil

Although unfurling slowly and feeling somewhat turgid in its behaviors, Long Way Home / Temporada, a project by André Novais Oliveira, offers warm, friendly vibes along the way that might keep you connected. One of the strongest aspects of the film is the unexpectedness of a plot bolstered with credible performances from Grace Passô and debutant Russo Apr.

At the center of the tale is Juliana (Passô), a married woman who leaves her small-scale Brazilian hometown, Itaúnas, to embrace the bigger metropolitan town of Contagem, where she was called for a coveted yet poorly paid governmental job within the public-health department. She becomes a fighter in the arduous endemic control of the Dengue mosquito. Her husband is supposed to join her after she settles down but vanishes without a trace.

Meanwhile, Juliana befriends her immediate superior Russão (Apr), a nice, funny guy who plans to open a barber shop and, against all the expectations, finds out he is a father.

long-way-home-movie.jpg

Every co-worker has a story and a cross to bear, but they find support in one another with an empathic understanding and abundant compassion. After all, Juliana is forced to a fresh start. With her arms wide open, she embraces a new life where everything is unfamiliar and uncertain. Yet, there’s always something to discover in each and every experience.

Disillusion, frustration, and affliction counterbalance friendship, self-discovery, and hope. Oliveira’s direction is virtuous and his vision substantiates humanity. Still, he could have included the violence theme, a major problem in Brazil, in order to make this snapshot even more authentic. Although I didn’t get completely fulfilled in the end, the film has quite a few fascinating moments and is worth seeing.

3.jpeg

Sauvage / Wild (2019)

sauvage-wild-2019-review.jpg

Direction: Camille Vidal-Naquet
Country: France

Abstaining from any preconception or modesty, first-time writer/director Camille Vidal-Naquet portrays a painful existence in the raw, unsentimental drama Sauvage/Wild. The story follows Léo (Félix Maritaud), a 22-year-old male prostitute with self-destructive behavior. He is impassive in the face of his decaying health as he beats the streets dirty and lascivious for small cash. Homeless and sick, he sells his body to buy drugs, but what he actually seeks is love and tenderness. Far from being a likable hero, the young protagonist is completely adrift, entangled in a downward spiral that makes him standing at the edge of an existential cliff.

Léo nurtures feelings for Ahd (Eric Bernard), the toughest of the prostitutes circling around the area, but his love is not reciprocated. Ahd is not even gay, and yet he found an older man who is taking him to Spain. It’s his chance to have a more stable life.

sauvage-movie-pic.jpg

Léo also gets a golden opportunity to get on the right track when someone honest gives him a hand and shows intent to stay with him. Does he have the reasoning to grab this chance and leave the streets that expose him to multiple dangers?

At once unpolished and corrosive, Sauvage/Wild is immersed in a grim reality. This character study forces us to reflect on behaviors and choices, and ultimately fear, emptiness, and loneliness.

Fueled by Maritaud’s impressive performance, this sunless tale builds something more than just sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll. In the end, it’s almost impossible not to think about the poor Léo and how he could transform his life into an easy ride.

3.jpeg

Lemonade (2019)

lemonade-movie-review.jpg

Direction: Ioana Uricaru
Country: Romania

Identity and immigration are two intimately related topics in Romanian Ioana Uricaru’s debut feature, Lemonade, which also addresses xenophobia and abuse of power. The film’s main character is Mara (Mãlina Manovici), a thirty-something Romanian nurse and single mother, who, living in the US, struggles to make a new life for herself and her nine-year-old son, Dragos (Milan Hurduc). In five weeks, she fell in love and got married to Daniel (Dylan Smith), an American landscapist whom she treated after a severe work accident. She applied for a Green Card, but is still not allowed to work in American soil until the case is approved, what makes her financially dependent on Daniel. The process can take years and everything depends on Moji Wijnaldum (Steve Bacic), the US Immigration official that interviewed her.

lemonade-still.jpg

When the prepotent Moji calls her, mentioning a problem with her application, it was inevitable to cogitate about sexual favors. Because her son was with her, Mara gets late to the meeting and naively agrees to get in Moji’s car to be interrogated, an illegal procedure aggravated by the subsequent sexual assault. She is also informed that her husband has a record, a past case related to an offense against a minor. And because misfortunes never come singly, she finds the police at her door since her best friend, Aniko (Ruxandra Maniu), left Dragos temporarily alone at home to go to work. No need to say that serious family problems arise as soon as Daniel finds out what happened.

It’s easy for us to involve in the drama of this woman. However, the film, co-produced by celebrated writer/director Cristian Mungiu (4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days; Graduation), weakens in its second half when both the inquisitiveness and uneasiness gradually fade out to give place to humiliation and legal strategy. It’s a well-acted, if too polished, exercise tinged with sadness and hope alike. Still, the valid ideas had a considerable margin for improvement.

3.jpeg

A Vigilante (2019)

vigilante-movie-review.jpg

Direction: Sarah Daggar-Dickson
Country: USA

Despite the interesting topic, Sarah Daggar-Dickson’s directorial debut didn’t exceed my expectations, becoming a minimally involving slow-burner set in upstate New York that essentially relies on Olivia Wilde’s convincing performance to elevate it slightly above the levels of mediocrity.

After a ruining past experience that made her endure physical abuses and lose a child at the hands of a violent husband, Sadie (Wilde) found the strength to abandon the depressive state she was immersed into. She resolved to turn her life from passive to active and act fiercely against domestic abusers. Although occasionally exposed to panic attacks that contrast with the ice-cold expression she evinces while in action, the skinny Sadie prepared herself physically to apply the same brutal violence that husbands and neglecting parents use against their frightened and weaker relatives. She still attends the support group meetings that set out a whole world of physically abused women, who, despaired, don’t know how to escape their aggressors. Sadie finds relief by making them pay for their misconduct.

vigilante-movie-still.png

After a few rescues, including a devastated kid whose brother was violently harmed by their mother, Sadie faces the worst of her nightmares: the return of her cruel husband (Morgan Spector).

The idea in this classically suspenseful story sounds a lot better than its execution. The director cooks it slow and steady, balancing the tension throughout. Yet, she never provides that spine-chilling effect one constantly seeks in a film of this nature.

3.jpeg

3 Faces (2019)

3-faces-2019-review.jpg

Direction: Jafar Panahi
Country: Iran

Even facing a 20-year filmmaking ban imposed by the Iranian government, director Jafar Panahi continues to employ up-to-the-minute techniques as a mean to tell interesting stories, where the pivotal simplicity never discards any emotional peak or tension. He really knows how to blur the line between fiction and reality, and 3 Faces, the fourth film to be released under his filmmaking interdiction (the others were This Is Not a Film, Closed Curtain, and Taxi), is another step forward.

Panahi plays himself, as well as the popular actress Behnaz Jafari (Blackboards). The latter receives a startling video message from Marzieh Rezaei, a young actress wannabe from the rural Northwestern village of Saran, whose conservative family strictly opposes her going to Tehran to study acting. Impulsively, Jafari asks the director to drive her to that village in order to assure that nothing happened to the desperate girl. According to her loved ones, she had vanished three days before without a trace.

After discussing if the video was posteriorly edited or not, the pair experiences a reality that has nothing to do with their lives. Interesting happenings keep us alert - an elder woman lies down in the grave she just dug for herself; in a first phase, the villagers think the visitors are there to solve their gas and electricity problems; they learn that the village has more parables than inhabitants and have too many gardens but no doctors. In fact, these people are stuck in traditions and it's no wonder that Marzieh’s older brother considers her aspirations dishonorable.

3-faces-pic.jpg

During the investigative examination, there are some funny moments. I’m remembering when Panahi is forced to honk while driving to be given passage in a narrow road, or when he gets a phone call from his mother, who demands some attention and asks him about the rumors of a new film.

Ms. Jafari doesn’t know how to react. She feels scared for the girl, but at the same time dragged into a manipulation. There’s a moment she even suspects Panahi, who told her that his next film would be about a suicide case. While she is emotional, he is sober and rational, and that contrast works perfectly.

Panahi refuses to abandon his art; and if his film meditates about cultural tradition, it also works as a metaphor by targeting those who disregard artistic life, seeing it as a minor craft. He gets everything under control with his camera, which, observing quietly, inflicts a decent low-key treatment in a peculiar road movie marked by slightly intriguing moments. Who told you this wasn't the truth?

3meio.jpeg

Girl (2019)

girl-2019-review.jpg

Direction: Lukas Dhont
Country: Belgium / Netherlands

Lukas Dhont’s Girl has the young Victor Polster shinning with a solid first performance. He plays a 15-year-old trans girl entangled in a morose and emotionally devastating process of sex transition while pursuing her dream of becoming a professional ballerina. Sharing the writing credits with Angelo Tijssens, Dhont sought inspiration in the real story of Nora Monsecour, a Belgian trans woman who, on top of collaborating in the script, came to the director's defense when the controversy arose regarding a self-mutilation scene and the excessive exposition of the main character’s genitals.

Lara (Polster) was born Viktor, and is now in the process of changing the incorrect male body for what her mind and soul always told her to be. Although expressing some doubt about her sexual orientation, she is absolutely sure of her sexual identity. She pierces her own ears - an old dream - and tapes her private parts to attend ballet classes at a prestigious Dutch academy. Her best friend is her supportive single father, Mathias (Arieh Worthalter), an open-minded taxi driver who keeps encouraging her to talk unreservedly about feelings and concerns.

However, the world is not perfect, and Lara gets moody and frustrated while undergoing hormone therapy. Moreover, schoolmates and fellow dancers are not always polite in their impertinent curiosity, and their subtle yet excruciating hostility simply reflects an unprepared society to deal with differences and individual choices.

girl-2019.jpg

Having to wait two long years for the operation, disillusion becomes a thick, fast-growing layer placed between what she really wants to achieve and the limiting reality. The perturbation is of such order that she asks the doctors to increase the hormone intake. The desperate angst of feeling displaced in a body that is not hers, leads to radical measures to accelerate the procedure.

Despite ambitious and perfectly plausible in its complexity, the story could have taken the tension further, never entering into a thought-provoking territory. What I found most interesting here was the father/daughter relationship, while the rest remains standardized and somewhat guessable. Notwithstanding, the young Polster bravely steps into an exceptional role that makes the film watchable, while Dutch cinematographer Frank van den Eeden gives the gorgeously composed frames a coruscating, warm look.

3.jpeg

The Realm (2019)

realm-movie-review.jpg

Direction: Rodrigo Sorogoyen
Country: Spain

Teaming up for the second time in their careers, director Rodrigo Sorogoyen (Stockholm; May God Save Us) and actor Antonio de la Torre (Cannibal; A Twelve-Year Night) star in The Realm, a fast-paced political thriller set in Spain. The film packs a wealth of revelatory truth about the way things really unfold in political spheres, working as a wake-up call for dirty political schemes that accommodate high-end lifestyles as well as a character study that exposes a shameless corrupt and tenacious snob.

The charismatic regional vice-secretary Manuel Lopez Vidal (de la Torre) devised an illegal stratagem to fill his pockets fast, but is unmasked when his close friend, Paco (Nacho Fresneda) is accused of corruption. Recordings of compromising phone conversations are leaked and, suddenly, the prosperous, easy life of the politician is jeopardized by a thorough investigation that can send him to jail.

Prepotent and arrogant, Manuel detests being discarded by the members of his own party, but things get much worse when Amaia Marin (Bárbara Lennie), a fearless reporter, decides to uncover his misconducts publicly. Even so, this perfidious man thinks that confidence and persuasiveness can save him.

realm.jpeg

In front of everyone are the usual scandals that bring politicians down: luxurious vacations in exotic destinies, bribery and fraud, influence peddling and money laundry, conspiracy and corruption, and even those long, exorbitant lunches stuffed with roly-poly prawns and pretentious poses.

Although the dramatic heat is limited and the final section - the one infused with some action - is a bit strained, there are details deserving attention. The Realm doesn’t cover new ground in the shadier tactics of politicians, but is ingeniously acted and well-meaning in its efforts to denounce their outrageous behaviors, impudent attitude, and obsession for power.

3.jpeg

Long Day's Journey Into Night (2019)

long-day-journey-review.jpg

Direction: Bi Gan
Country: China / France

This particular Day’s Journey Into Night has absolutely nothing to do with the famous Eugene O’Neill's play turned into a classic drama film by Sidney Lumet in 1962. Instead, it is an art house effort that marks the second directorial feature film by Bi Gan, a Chinese filmmaker, poet and photographer born in Kaili, Guizhou province.

The follow-up to Kaili Blues (2015) is stylishly rich in influences, carries a good-look charm and an intriguing noir mood that lingers. Like its predecessor, it has the director’s hometown as a point of departure for a dreamy, sort of out-of-the-body experience where false and true memories blur a labyrinthine reality. The director got credit for changing to 3D at some point, after which he shot a nearly one-hour take.

The secluded Luo Hongwu (Huang Jue) talks in his vivid dreams. He calls himself a detective as he searches for Wan Qiwen (Tang Wei), the girl in his dreams, the one who marked his life in such a way that it's impossible to forget her. He doesn’t know what happened to her since he left Kaili 12 years before. However, his father’s death forces his return to that city, an opportunity to investigate more about his mysterious former lover.

long-day-journey-night.jpg

This man is willing to undertake wacky trips where several encounters with strange people occur under intriguing ambiances. There’s an abandoned old house transformed into a shallow pool by a leaking ceiling, a rusty wall clock with valuable info inside, a green book with an inspiring love story, a decrepit porn theater with a passageway to a secret basement from where it’s difficult to find a way out, a dark place for gaming where he gets locked up with a girl from his hometown… all these elements push us to walk through a gauntlet of sensory, obfuscatory mystery. If the cinematography is great, the score led by Jia Zhangke’s first choice, Lim Giong, is no less essential.

The film occasionally strains to connect in all its languor and wistfulness, but when it does, it can be fascinating. This is a minimal story structured with deliberate entanglement; therefore, don’t expect things to be served easily. It’s puzzling like Tarkovsky, romantic like Wong Kar Wai, and painful like Tsai Ming Liang.

Bi Gan presents us impasses and ambiguities along the way that by no means are resolved. I take my hat off to him in terms of filmmaking, yet the experience would have been better if the script had a less blurred nitty-gritty and more bite.

3.jpeg

Clergy (2018)

clergy-2018-movie-review.jpg

Direction: Wojciech Smarzowski
Country: Poland

A rabble-rousing glimpse into clerical scandals become disturbing on several levels in Clergy, an unexpected Poland box-office hit directed by Wojciech Smarzowski, whose works always feel like tough nuts to crack for the ones in command of that country. The director is known for his severe tone and denunciatory bluntness, aspects mirrored in previous efforts such as The Dark House (2009), a bitter look at corruption and greediness in the communist Civic Militia, Traffic Department (2013), where the weaknesses of a debased Warsaw Police Department bare naked, and Rose (2011), a historical drama with the ethnic nationalism that crushed the Masurian people as the topic.

Even though this film is categorized as a black comedy, there are very few reasons to laugh as we follow three Catholic priests, all survivors from a devastating fire, being caught in a series of embarrassing transgressions that are systematically covered up by sovereign ecclesiastics.

clergy-2018.jpg

Father Andrzej Kukula (Arkadiusz Jakubik) is accused to rape an altar boy and now faces the wrath of the local people; the supercilious Father Leszek Lisowski (Jacek Braciak) is a curia worker who deliberately sins through bribery and greediness; the alcoholic Father Tadeusz Trybus (Robert Wieckiewicz) gets his younger housekeeper pregnant, encouraging her to abort. Each of them has corruption staining their souls, just like the opulent Archbishop Mardowicz (Janusz Gajos), who wants to build a sanctuary with dirty money.

With the polemics invading a country that is right-winged and predominantly Catholic, Smarzowski now deals with vigorous accolades on one hand and serious threats on the other. He seems to have put the finger right in the center of the wound with this strongly thematic bleak tale. Although far from outstanding in its execution, the film served to re-initiate inflamed yet necessary debates about well-known abuses in the Catholic Church worldwide.

3.jpeg

24 Frames (2018)

24-frames-movie-review.jpg

Direction: Abbas Kiarostami
Country: Iran / France

24 Frames is an experimental posthumous work by Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami. To form the base of this interesting, if unconventional, experiment, the latter first employed famous paintings before switching to his photographs. That media, representing an instant and unique capture of the reality, becomes the framework over which he expresses his imagination of what could have happened before and after that particular moment.

Introduced by fade-ins and culminating in fade-outs, the frames exhibit nature in various forms. You may indulge yourself in wintry landscapes populated by wildlife and occasional human activity, or interior shots in which birds, lingering on the other side of a window, become the main subjects, having contrasting trees composing the beautiful black-and-white images. Intrinsically, some of them impel us to reflect on life and death, while others, made me think about how the humankind affects nature.

24-frames-still.jpg

Whereas some segments are repetitive and a bit monotonous, others feel melancholically rich in its minimalism. Once in a while, there are surprises that force you to look at and think further about what was put in front of your eyes, but it’s mostly sadness that reigns. As an exception to this rule, a specific frame comes to my mind, where six persons, with their backs turned to the camera and facing the Eiffel tower in Paris, are too absorbed to pay attention to the other pedestrians. The liveliness of the people’s movements is reinforced by the melody of Les Feuilles Mortes.

Although 24 Frames is attractive to the eyes and senses, it requires patience since there are no characters or even a plot to follow. Kiarostami prefers simplicity to opaqueness, and his method is pure, almost symbolizing the vision of a child. Not for everyone, these art forms are to stare at, relax, and enjoy.

3.jpeg

Museo (2018)

museo-2018-review.jpg

Direction: Alonso Ruizpalacios
Country: Mexico

Museo, the sophomore feature from Mexican writer/director Alonso Ruizpalacios, is a gorgeously shot, character-driven heist film inspired by the 1985 Christmas Eve robbery of the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City. It is only occasionally that its mild tones go beyond the expected, yet even so, it stands as a low-key fun overall with some refreshing takes on the genre.

Gael Garcia Bernal stars as thirty-something Juan Nunez, a college dropout with a sharp taste for and massive knowledge of anthropology. Moreover, Juan is subversive, selfish, and manipulative, a man capable of driving crazy not just the members of his family, but also Benjamin Wilson (Leonardo Ortizgris), his submissive college mate, follower, and best friend. Ambition is another important feat of his personality and that’s why he decided to steal invaluable Inca pieces from the National Museum of Anthropology, where he used to work part-time to pay his leisure time. His idea consists of escaping from the boring suburbs and the control of his vehement father, Dr. Nunez (Alfredo Castro). He and his friend just dreamt of building their own paradise. Sounds great, right?

museo-2018-still.jpg

Christmas Eve means celebration and, consequently, implies critical breaches in the museum’s security. Juan and Benjamin knew exactly what they wanted to pick. Among the stolen pieces is the funerary mask of King Pakal, which, by itself, makes them multimillionaires. Nonetheless, what seemed obvious to them becomes shrouded in uncertainty, and what should be the simplest part of the plan - selling the art - becomes a nightmare. Juan had the courage to do it. Does he have the courage to fix it?

Ruizpalacios, who did a more consistent job in his 2014 debut drama Gueros, combines adventurous theft, archeology lessons, family aloofness, and a vitiated friendship all in one. The lens of cinematographer Damián García attractively captures all of this, but part of the energy accumulated during the journey wasn’t always canalized in the right direction. It wouldn’t hurt if the relationship between the two leads were further explored or if Juan’s night of excesses was depicted with a bit more creativity.

3.jpeg

Vice (2018)

vice-2018-movie-review.jpg

Direction: Adam McKay
Country: USA

Unfolding like a documentary, but adapted to the dynamic style of director Adam McKay (The Big Short), Vice tells the true story of former US vice-president Dick Cheney, whose quietness couldn't dissimulate a maniacal thirst for power. Encouraged by his controlling and super ambitious wife, Lynne (Amy Adams), Dick became one of the most powerful and shadowy leaders in American history. The character gains an interesting dimension thanks to Christian Bale (American Hustle; American Psycho; The Machinist), who put a lot of effort - he gained 40 pounds for this role - in another glorious appearance.

Structuring the film in a bold way, McKay uses a fictional narrator, an ex-war vet named Kurt (Jesse Plemons), who connects to the main character in an unthinkable way. This was sort of amusing during the first quarter of the film, especially since he puts forth some mordant lines. However, as the story advances, the facts become serious and the jokes lose their purpose. McKay showed indecision about which kind of tone to infuse, the critically informative or the inconsistently satirical. He simply didn’t give up any of them.

vice-2018-still.jpg

After the introductory part, the story winds back to 1963, making us aware of Dick’s alcoholic problem when young, a deciding factor that hampered him from graduating at Yale. However, under the protective wing of Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carell) and following his own opportunistic instincts, he gradually becomes an influential political figure in several Republican administrations, working with presidents Nixon, Ford, and George W. Bush. It was with the latter in command, between 2001 and 2009, that he took hold of the vice-presidency, enjoying unprecedented power in a position that is usually more figurative than active.

Even moderately bored with the adopted tones and unable to find real tension throughout, I never lost interest in knowing more about this calculating man, who, among health problems, sees his gay daughter Mary (Alison Pill) fall out. In fact, and after thinking for a bit, I found these people uninteresting in all their cynicism. McKay captures everything at an accelerated pace and doesn’t miss an opportunity to play with the viewer. He even mounted a fake ending with credits and everything, just to make the film proceed a minute after.

Vice informs galore as it attempts to make the humoresque narrative work in its favor. It doesn’t always succeed and the scenes lack the heebie-jeebies that make political dramas triumph. For these reasons, mixed feelings arise whenever it comes to my mind.

3.jpeg

Happy New Year Colin Burstead (2018)

happy-colin-burstead-review.jpg

Direction: Ben Wheatley
Country: UK

Ben Wheatley is known for his subversive wittiness and distinct filmmaking style, aspects that earned him not just general acclaim but also some cult status with works such as Sightseers (2013), High-Rise (2016), and A Field in England (2014). His new film, Happy New Year Colin Burstead is nothing we haven’t seen before, depicting one of those nerve-wracking family reunions with equivalent portions of love and hate. Despite the familiarity of the tone and the slightly fussy dynamics, it still punches some impactful hooks through moderately uncomfortable situations.

During the first minutes, Colin Burstead (Neil Maskell) occupies the center of the stage, as he welcomes his relatives to a luxurious country manor he rented to celebrate New Year's Eve. As you are probably picturing in your head, the film includes a bunch of peculiar characters that, moved by assorted conflicts and disputes, take the party in unplanned directions. The principal focus of tension here is Colin’s brother, David (Sam Riley), who arrives from Berlin with his German girlfriend Hannah (Alexandra Maria Lara). Invited in secret by his naive sister Gini (Hayley Squires), David finds his brother and parents, Sandy (Doon Mackichan) and Gordon (Bill Paterson), still disgusted with the fact that he carelessly abandoned wife and children to embrace a new life in Germany.

happy-colin-burstead.png

If the pugnacious Colin argues with his father about financial predicaments, David charms his mother by playing on the piano a sentimental song he wrote for her. It’s nothing but a game of power, where everyone claims attention. The coolest figure is uncle Bertie (Charles Dance), an eccentric who dresses in woman’s clothes and nurtures a genuine tenderness for everyone. He was the only one that made me laugh.

Commanding a handheld camera, Wheatley orchestrated this comedy with delirium-free, improvised-like routines that bring it closer to the experimental genre. Moreover, he consolidated his script with additional material by the cast. Some of the film’s passages struggle with unevenness and the watching is more relaxed and fluid after the sometimes arduous task of identifying who is who.

3.jpeg

Araby (2018)

araby-2018-review.jpg

Direction: João Dumans and Affonso Uchoa
Country: Brazil

Establishing a tidy, if uncommon, structure, Araby, has something commendable to say about life on the streets and the hardships of getting and maintaining a job in Brazil. To tell their message, the pair of directors, João Dumans and Affonso Uchoa, take us to a smoky little town in Ouro Preto, state of Minas Gerais. There’s sadness all around and elderly people needing care. This is the village where Andre (Murilo Caliari) was born, a solitary teenager who is neglected by his ever-traveling parents. He takes care of his sick young brother with the help of an aunt, nurse Marcia (Gláucia Vandeveld), and seems to have an erratic personal life.

When we thought Andre would be the central character of the story, the camera shifts its focus to Cristiano (Aristides de Sousa), a hardworking ex-con who is employed in the old metal factory, guarantor of the town's financial stability. After a serious work accident, Cristiano is taken to the hospital and remains there unconscious. During this time, Andre goes to his place to get some clothes and finds a handwritten notebook with descriptive points of view and past episodes of Cristiano's life.

araby-still.jpg

Memories and states of mind were tossed in those pages, and that’s how we get to know more about a humble man who once had to steal to eat. He worked in a variety of fields - from civil construction to fruit picking to weaving factory - and stained his hands with blood, although, in an involuntary way. Yet, nothing had been so insuperable to him than experiencing disillusionment in an amorous relationship. The last pages reveal how tired and consumed by frustration he was.

Toggling between the feverish and the vulnerable, Araby is contemplative in the tone and depressive in the message. Its shots are unconventionally composed and some of the sequences are roughly edited, displaying live acts of Brazilian folk music that linger for quite some time. It has a penetrating narrative spell, though, that puts us in a sort of trance.

Even with all its flaws, you will be moved by its humanity, but don’t be surprised if a deep feeling of solitude invades your spirit.

3.jpeg

Daughter Of Mine (2018)

daughter-mine-review.jpg

Directed by Laura Bispuri
Country: Italy

Laura Bispuri’s sophomore feature Daughter Of Mine takes mother-daughter relationships to an interesting level. Lifted by the sharp performances of its ensemble cast, this is an emotionally resonant tale that, still, could have offered more than just some modest pleasures.

The story centers on Vittoria (Sara Casu), a bashful 10-year-old who lives in a quiet Sardinian village with her mother, Tina (Valeria Golino), and father, Umberto (Michele Carboni). One day, she finds out she was adopted at birth and that her biological mother is Angelica (Alba Rohrwacher, the younger sister of prestigious director Alice Rohrwacher), an alcoholic young woman who spends her nights at the local bar asking men to pay her drinks. The good-hearted Tina has helped her financially since the kid was born, but now the young lady faces an eviction order that has no solution in sight.

Meanwhile, Vittoria starts visiting Angelica without Tina’s knowledge. The tactless, irresponsible young mother seems pleased for having the kid around before departing for good. In such a way that Tina becomes distressed with the idea of losing her only daughter. It’s sad when we conclude that this sudden bond has ulterior motives.

daughter-mine-still.jpg

Interesting dynamics emerge from this triangle and there are a few ignominious situations to which a 10-year-old shouldn’t be exposed. They serve as emotional shockers in a journey that feels at once tough and merciful. After all, Vittoria is a victim of the circumstances.

If Golino convinces without enchanting, Rohrwacher, in her second collaboration with Bispuri, gives one of her best performances by shaping her character as it should be - with no structure, no reliability, no will to change. As far as the young Casu is concerned, this is an agreeable surprise with the qualified newcomer revealing strong acting skills as she personifies the object of dispute between the mothers.

Whereas Bispuri’s direction is guileless and focused, the script, co-written with Francesca Manieri, could have been slightly adjusted, especially in its final section where the complexity of the situation spins no payoff and got me a bit frustrated.

3.jpeg

22 July (2018)

22-july-film-review.jpg

Directed by Paul Greengrass
Country: Norway / Iceland / USA

English director Paul Greengrass has a knack to recreate real-life events on the big screen, a faculty mirrored in brilliant films like Bloody Sunday (2002), United 93 (2006), and Captain Phillips (2013). Recently, he has turned his eyes to the Norway attacks of July 22, 2011, where a far-right terrorist diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder killed 77 people.

Charismatic actor Anders Danielsen Lie (Oslo 31; Reprise; Personal Shopper) impersonates the monster with a convincing and indispensable coldness in a dramatic thriller based on the book One of Us by Åsne Seierstad. Despite featuring an exclusively Norwegian cast and crew on behalf of credibility, the film is English-spoken, which I see as an inconsistent choice.

In spite of this debatable choice, the account starts one day prior to the attack as we follow the silent Anders Breivik (Lie) preparing meticulously a double onslaught. In the first place, a car bomb explosion in Oslo, quite close to the Prime Minister’s office, and then after that, a mass shooting on the Utoya island during a Workers' Youth League (AUF) summer camp, an event organized by the Labor Party. He performs the massacre dressed in a police uniform, vociferating words of hate against Marxists, liberals, and members of the elite.

22-july-film-still.jpg

Following Breivik’s arrest, 17-year-old Viljar Hanssen (Jonas Strand Gravli), who survived the tragedy along with his younger brother Torje (Isak Bakli Aglen), becomes a central figure, having his rehabilitation, frustration, and trauma captured by Greengrass' agile lens. In parallel, Breivik’s court proceedings clarify his political view based on a deep disdain for immigrants, also demonstrating his self-gratification for the evildoing and general aloofness from the rest of the world. For me, Geir Lippestad (Jon Øigarden), the lawyer specifically appointed by Breivik to defend him is the most intriguing element of a plot whose intelligible narrative facilitates the perception of the entire picture.

On the one side, Greengrass touches the melodrama through the use of some emotional manipulation, but on the other side, he creates a visceral impact with the horrifying scenes. As a thriller, it can be an entertaining watching and the adrenaline rushes as a consequence of the nightmarish carnage. However, whenever our mind focuses on the idea of reality, it’s pain and sympathy that envelop us. Having that said, and in spite of a certain number of aspects that could be ameliorated, the dramatization works more often than it doesn’t.

3.jpeg

Private Life (2018)

private-life-movie-review.jpg

Directed by Tamara Jenkins
Country: USA

I struggled with mixed feelings after watching Private Life, Tamara Jenkins’ third feature (Slums of Beverly Hills; The Savages) about a middle-aged married couple in a desperate quest for a child. When regular fertility treatments don’t seem to be a solution for their problem, Richard (Paul Giamatti), 47, and owner of a theater company, and Rachel Grimes (Kathryn Hahn), a respected playwright, turn their focus to one last possible solution before going for adoption: In Vitro Fertilization.

After the initial reluctance, the procedure becomes a vital factor to refine the meaning of their marriage and goal as a family, but for this, they need an egg donor. As a consequence of frustrating online scams, their choice couldn’t fall on someone more problematic than Sadie (Kayli Carter), their young niece who is going through an emotional crisis. How will her parents, Cynthia (Molly Shannon) and Charlie (John Carroll Lynch), react to the idea?

private-life-still.jpg

Even granting that the smart script was matched by assuring performances, the repetition of the idea and static tone made me moderately disinterested as I got more and more disentangled from the characters’ obsession. There’s a vein of seriousness and poignancy, which Jenkins attempts to balance with awkwardly comedic moves. She also portrays the characters’ complexities with no exaggeration and that becomes the reason why the film wobbles but doesn’t disintegrate.

It’s a grown-up, patient look at infertility that, even enchanting here and there, misses that little spark that leads to the heart.

3.jpeg

The Wife (2018)

the-wife-movie-review.jpg

Directed by Bjorn Runge
Country: Sweden / UK / other

Bjorn Runge’s The Wife is a mature, if reserved drama that evolves at a steady pace without that dramatic punch that would make it memorable. Jane Anderson (It Could Happen To You) wrote it based on the 2003 novel of the same name by Meg Wolitzer, in a fair attempt to describe a few acerbic days in the life of an American couple shaded by a public lie and a mix of sacrifice, ego, and surreptitious resentment.

Joan Archer (Glenn Close) is a gifted writer discouraged by the prejudice of the editors against women. She has been dedicating all her life to her husband and former teacher, Joe Castleman (Jonathan Pryce), whose success depends exclusively on her skills. John is informed by phone that he is the new Nobel Prize in Literature. While he celebrates effusively like a child, she acts far more reserved and slightly distant, seeming a bit disturbed with the communication.

Through flashbacks, we learn the shocking truth. She was, in fact, the true author of all his novels. The narcissistic Joe becomes overwhelmed with the success, whereas Joan, devastated inside, tries to deal with the unbearable pain of living in the shadow for so many years. The couple heads to Stockholm, where the Nobel Prize ceremony takes place, accompanied by their son David (Max Irons), who also aspires to be a writer.

the-wife-pic.jpg

Once there, things quickly become a nightmare with Joe flirting with a young photographer, and Joan being troubled by Nathaniel Bone (Christian Slater), an impertinent biographer who suspects she is the real talent of the household.

Despite the potentiality, this embittered love tale and domestic drama film never exploded because neither of its characters exploded when they needed and were supposed to. In a number of times, I wished the story were tempered with a bit more sarcasm. Showing some tackiness in the maneuvers, the Swedish director only gets the film flowing because of the mesmeric leading performances. Ms. Close, in particular, a six-time Academy Award-nominated actress, is irreproachable in the role of an emotionally hurt giver who refuses to play the supportive wife any longer. It is thanks to her that The Wife remains fairly acceptable.

3.jpeg