Review: ‘All That Breathes,’ starring Nadeem Shehzad, Mohammad Saud and Salik Rehman

Salik Rehman in “All That Breathes” (Photo courtesy of Sideshow and Submarine Deluxe)

“All That Breathes”

Directed by Shaunak Sen

Hindi with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Delhi, India, the documentary film “All That Breathes” features a group of working-class Indian men involved in rescuing pollution-affected and injured birds, especially black kites.

Culture Clash: The members of this rescue group face obstacles such as civil unrest in India, a shortage of funds, and some disagreements about the direction of the group, when one of the members wants to relocate to the United States.

Culture Audience: “All That Breathes” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in unconventional documentaries about animal rescue groups and the environment.

A scene from “All That Breathes” (Photo courtesy of Sideshow and Submarine Deluxe)

With immersive cinematography, “All That Breathes” offers contemplative moments that tell more than just a documentary story about rescuing birds. Viewers can look at the bigger picture of how people’s decisions on what to save can affect our ecosystem. Rather than preaching what people should think, “All That Breathes” lets the story unfold so that viewers can make up their own minds by watching this moving and effective story about humanity and nature.

Directed by Shaunak Sen, “All That Breathes” focuses on a specific group of people in a specific place, but the themes in the movie are universal. The movie centers on three men involved in the grassroots group Wildlife Rescue, which was founded in 2010 by two brothers who live in Delhi, India. Older brother Nadeem Shehzad is the group’s intellectual leader, who plans to temporarily relocate to the United States to get more training on animal rescuing. Younger brother Mohammad Saud (who prefers to be called Saud) is the most extroverted member of the group featured in the documentary.

Nadeem (who gives voiceover narration) and Saud have had a specialty in rescuing birds, particularly black kites. As Needem says in a voiceover, they were teenage bodybuilders when they first noticed an injured bird. They took the bird to a veterinary clinic, which refused to give the bird medical treatment because it wasn’t a “vegetarian bird.”

The brothers’ bodybuilding experience gave them some knowledge of bandaging muscles and treating injuries, so they rescued the bird and gave it medical treatment on their own. It led to the formation of Wildlife Rescue, a makeshift animal sanctuary/clinic, which they operate out of their home with a great deal of compassion and care. The brothers have since rescued thousands of birds that have been sick or injured. Because of Delhi’s rampant air pollution, there’s been a crisis of black kites and other birds being afflicted with pollution-related diseases and injuries.

A third person who’s part of the Wildlife Rescue is Salik Rehman, who started volunteering for the group in 2010, and he officially became a staffer in 2017. The documentary shows that Nadeem has taken on most of the administrative duties, while Saud and Salik do most of the “leg work” in going out and rescuing birds that need help. Salik is not as confident as Saud, who often trains Salik or gives him encouragement when Salik wants to do something where he feels he doesn’t have enough experience.

Of the three men, Salik is the most tech-savvy, almost to a fault. Nadeem says in a voiceover, “Salik belongs to the digital age. He doesn’t understand mercury monitors.” Salik is also the one who’s the most caught up in social media. He has an easygoing, sometimes goofy personality that can lighten the mood when things get grim. And things do get very grim.

During their rescue efforts, the members of this tight-knit group of Muslims grow uneasy about the increasing civil unrest in India, where Muslims are being targeted over citizenship issues. Just as the black kites and other birds are at risk of being displaced from the sky because of air pollution, so to do the Wildlife Rescue team start to feel that toxic elements are making them uncomfortable about where they live. It shouldn’t be lost on viewers of this documentary why the members of this Wildlife Rescue Group can relate to the animals that are under siege from life-threatening factors.

If “All That Breathes” were a conventional nature documentary, it would go into much more detail about the technical aspects of these rescue efforts. And there would probably be at least one bird who would get its own story and possibly even a pet name. Although some information is given about black kites (for example, they use cigarette butts as repellents to attacking insects), and there are some scenes of birds getting medical treatment, this isn’t a documentary where viewers will learn a lot of about ornithology. After all, Wildlife Rescue is not a group of scientists.

“All That Breathes” has made the rounds at several film festivals, including the 2022 Sundance Film Festival (where the movie won the jury prize for World Cinema Documentary), the 2022 Cannes Film Festival (where the movie won the GoldenEye Award, the festival’s top documentary prize) and the 2022 New York Film Festival. The movie doesn’t have a lot of dialogue and gives a lot of screen time to showing visually striking scenes of the beauty and the grime of a crowded big city such as Delhi. If the point of “All That Breathes” isn’t made clear enough, Nadeem sums it up when he says in a voiceover, “Life is a kinship. We are a community of air.”

Sideshow and Submarine Deluxe in association with HBO Documentary Films will release “All That Breathes” in select U.S. cinemas on October 21, 2022. HBO and HBO Max will premiere the movie on February 7, 2023.

Review: ‘Enys Men,’ starring Mary Woodvine

October 1, 2022

by Carla Hay

Mary Woodvine in “Enys Men” (Photo courtesy of Neon)

“Enys Men”

Directed by Mark Jenkin

Culture Representation: Taking place in 1973, off the coast of Cornwall, England, the horror movie “Enys Men” features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A volunteer researcher goes through mysterious rituals while studying a group of wildflowers, as nightmarish visions from the past seem to haunt her.

Culture Audience: “Enys Men” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching artsy and enigmatic horror movies where the movie’s plot is a mystery for viewers to solve.

Mary Woodvine in “Enys Men” (Photo courtesy of Neon)

Steeped in 1970s cinema nostalgia, “Enys Men” is a unique horror movie that’s presented as a puzzle for viewers to figure out on their own. People who want a straightforward horror story will be disappointed. Viewers who like mysteries will be challenged. It’s a movie that looks deceptively disjointed, but it actually requires complete attention from viewers, in order for the clues to tie everything together as the story goes along.

Written and directed by Mark Jenkin, “Enys Men’ reunites Jenkin with Mary Woodvine and Edward Rowe, who also co-starred in Jenkin’s BAFTA-winning 2019 drama “Bait.” In “Bait,” Rowe played the role of the movie’s protagonist. In “Enys Men,” Woodvine is the movie’s central character. “Enys Men” had its world premiere at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival in France and its North American premiere at the 2022 New York Film Festival in New York City.

Jenkin is also the cinematographer and editor of “Enys Men.” He used 16mm film to make the movie look like it was actually filmed in 1973. In this strange story, where all of the characters do not have names, Woodvine plays a character listed in the end credits as The Volunteer. She is woman in her 50s, living by herself in a remote cottage located off of the coast of Cornwall, England.

The movie, which takes place from April to May 1973, shows that The Volunteer has a journal, where she’s been keeping a daily record of what she is there to observe. In each journal entry, she notes the outdoor temperature, which ranges from 14.2 to 14.5 degrees Celsius, which is about 57 degrees Fahrenheit. However, what she’s really observing is a group of wildflowers growing on a cliffside near the cottage.

Up until a certain point in the movie, her journal entries note “No change in temperature” next to each listed temperature, even though the temperature does slightly change during the course of the month. The Volunteer also wears the same clothes every day: a red wind jacket, a beige sweater, blue jeans and hiking shoes. She usually walks on the same path every day to get to the flowers on the cliffs.

Every day, she also goes through a ritual of dropping a rock into a nearby well. The water in the well can be heard when the rock splashes into it. The Volunteer has a CB radio, which she uses to communicate with unnamed people and where she also receives messages. early on in the movie, The Volunteer gets a message from a man on the radio. He tells her that he’ll be there before the end of the week. She gives a small smile in response.

Throughout “Enys Men,” there are visions of other people who disrupt The Volunteer’s daily routine. The movie plays guessing games with viewers over whether not these people are ghosts or are hallucinations from The Volunteer. Look beneath the surface, and the story can eventually be pieced together.

A teenage girl (played by Flo Crowe), who’s listed in the movie’s end credits as The Girl, keeps appearing. The Volunteer sometimes sees this girl, who does not speak. A major clue about who this girl is revealed later in the story. Hint: It has to do with a diagonal scar across her abdomen and how she got the scar.

Meanwhile, The Volunteer tells The Girl: “Please don’t climb up there. I don’t want to keep telling you, but I have to.” The Girl seems to have psychic abilities because she knows in advance what The Volunteer is saying and ends up repeating the same words simultaneously.

The Volunteer also encounters a character listed in the end credits as The Boatman (played by Rowe), who visits The Volunteer and seems to have a romantic interest in her. (There’s a brief scene of The Volunteer and The Boatman having sex up against a wall.) At one point, The Boatman sees a wildflower in a drinking glass of water on a table in the cottage. The Boatman tells The Volunteer, “I thought you weren’t supposed to pick them.” She answers, “I’m not. I’m not here on my own.”

In a nearby chapel, The Volunteer sees a dedication plaque listing the names of the seven men who were lost at sea on a lifeboat in May 1897. And when seven men in identical hooded fisherman’s outfits suddenly appear on the cliffs, it’s easy to deduce who they are. But what exactly are they doing there?

“Enys Men” has several references to lichen, a plant-like organism that has symbiotic association with algae or cyanobacteria. It’s another big clue that makes sense when certain visuals are presented in the movie. A scene with a preacher (played by John Woodvine, Mary Woodvine’s real-life father) in the chapel is a pivotal moment.

“Enys Men” is not supposed to be a showcase for memorable conversations, since most of the movie shows The Volunteer by herself, and the movie intentionally wants viewers to feel a sense of foreboding isolation in a remote area that The Volunteer eventually feels. Because there isn’t a lot of dialogue in “Enys Men,” viewers have to carefully observe the actions of the movie’s characters. It’s also a slow-paced movie that doesn’t have a lot of jump scares but is more of a psychological mystery.

“Enys Men” has some haunting images that will either intrigue or frustrate viewers (or maybe do both), because this movie does not present easy answers about the story’s narrative and what it all means. It might seem chaotic and confusing, but there’s a method to the madness. The purpose of “Enys Men” becomes clear to viewers who have the patience to pay attention and deduce what this movie is trying to say about human beings’ connection to nature.

Neon will release “Enys Men” on a date to be announced.

Review: ‘Moonage Daydream,’ starring David Bowie

September 12, 2022

by Carla Hay

David Bowie in “Moonage Daydream” (Photo courtesy of Neon)

“Moonage Daydream”

Directed by Brett Morgen

Culture Representation: Taking place in various parts of the world (but particularly in London, New York City, Los Angeles and Berlin), the documentary film “Moonage Daydream” features a compilation of archival footage of entertainment superstar David Bowie (who died of cancer in 2016) and his various admirers and colleagues, who are mostly white, but include some black people, Latino and Asians.

Culture Clash: Bowie’s life as an artist is chronicled in this montage-styled film, including his unconventional stage personas and lifestyle; his insecurities about his work; and his personal struggles with finding true love. 

Culture Audience: “Moonage Daydream” will appeal primarily to Bowie fans and people interested in seeing a visually immersive documentary about an entertainment icon.

David Bowie in “Moonage Daydream” (Photo courtesy of Neon)

Die-hard fans of David Bowie will not learn anything new from the all-archival documentary “Moonage Daydream.” The movie skips over some big parts of his life, but it’s a visually immersive experience that shows Bowie’s music and talent in an artsy way. “Moonage Daydream” is the first feature-length documentary authorized by the Bowie estate since he died of cancer in 2016. Bowie was 69 when he passed away.

Directed by Brett Morgen, “Moonage Daydream” includes voiceovers from some of Bowie’s media interviews that serve as intermittent narration. The documentary is a mix of media footage, live concert footage and music videos. Much of this footage is presented in Andy Warhol-influenced montages. “Moonage Daydream” had its world premiere at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, France.

The “Moonage Daydream” documentary gets its title from the Bowie song of the same name that’s on Bowie’s 1972 album “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.” Bowie (who was born David Robert Jones in London, on January 8, 1947) was famous for frequently changing his image and musical styles over the years. During his “Ziggy Stardust” period, he performed as an outer-space alien rock star named Ziggy Stardust, whose backup band was named the Spiders from Mars.

Becoming the Ziggy Stardust persona was a pivotal period of time in Bowie’s career. He went from merely being a hit artist to a superstar know for celebrating acceptance of all sexualities, at a time when it was still very taboo for entertainers to openly embrace or be any sexuality that wasn’t heterosexual. To legions of fans and other admirers, Bowie represented people who wanted to express themselves and their genders in whatever ways they wanted.

Bowie was a recording artist from the 1960s until his death in 2016, but what he created in the 1970s was considered his most influential and therefore gets the most screen time in the “Moonage Daydream” documentary. Out of all all the 1970s footage in “Moonage Daydream,” the documentary features the “Ziggy Stardust” area the most. The “Moonage Daydream” documentary has several clips from director D. A. Pennebaker’s 1979 documentary film “Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars,” which chronicled a 1973 concert that Bowie and his band did in London.

Unfortunately, for people who are unfamiliar with Bowie, “Moonage Daydream” does not tell Bowie’s story in chronological order, nor does the movie identify years in which any of the footage was taken. For example, one section of the documentary goes into Bowie’s work in the early-to-mid-1980s, but then jumps back to talking about his work in the late 1970s when Bowie collaborated with Brian Eno in Berlin. This jumping around in the timeline is one of the documentary’s flaws. The only people who can truly appreciate the historical context of the footage shown in the documentary are people who know what years Bowie’s songs and albums were released, or people can discern what year the footage was taken, based on what Bowie is wearing and his hairstyle in the footage.

However, the documentary greatly benefits from having several Bowie songs, as any credible film about Bowie should. “Moonage Daydream” has many of Bowie’s biggest hits, including “Space Oddity,” “Ziggy Stardust,” “Diamond Dogs,” “Changes,” “Starman,” “The Jean Genie” “Life on Mars?,” “All the Young Dudes” (a Bowie-written song made famous by Mott the Hoople), “Heroes,” “Let’s Dance,” “China Girl” and “Modern Love.” Also included are some of Bowie’s lesser-known songs, such as “Moonage Daydream,” “Cracked Actor,” “Serious Moonlight,” “Outside” and “Earthling.” There’s also a brief snippet of Bowie performing the Beatles’ “Love Me Do” on stage in 1973 before launching into “The Jean Genie.”

“Moonage Daydream” dutifully includes mentions of Bowie’s acting career, including showing movie clips from 1976’s “The Man Who Fell to Earth,” 1983’s “Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence” and 1986’s “Labryinth.” There’s also some quick footage of Bowie’s Broadway acting debut, in his starring role as the title character in “The Elephant Man,” which he played from September 1980 to January 1981. David Bowie’s 1980s musical duets with Queen and Tina Turner fly by in quick snippets that don’t do these collaborations justice. Bowie’s work as the lead singer of experimental rock band Tin Machine (from 1988 to 1992) is not in the documentary at all, but the documentary includes some footage of Bowie as an illustrator artist.

What you won’t see in “Moonage Daydream” are any mentions of his first wife Angie Bowie (they were married from 1970 to 1980); his son Duncan Jones (formerly known as Zowie Bowie) from that marriage; and his daughter Alexandria “Lexi” Jones, from his marriage to second wife Iman. In fact, Iman (a supermodel/beauty entrepreneur who’s originally from Somalia) is the only woman mentioned in the documentary as someone Bowie fell in love with in his life. It’s obviously very selective information. Iman and Bowie were married from 1992 until his 2016 death.

Except for some brief audio and video interview clips, “Moonage Daydream” offers very little insight of Bowie talking about his personal life. He mentions his distant relationship with his mother; his schizophrenic older half-brother Terry Burns, who was the first person to influence Bowie’s interest in art and music; and his soul mate Iman, whom he says he fell in love with at first sight. There’s some archival footage of a divorced Bowie in the ’80s, where he talks about living a nomadic existence for years and confessing that falling in love is scary for him.

In the 1970s, Bowie was seriously addicted to cocaine, which was an addiction he candidly talked about years later in interviews. However, don’t expect “Moonage Daydream” to go into details about sex and drugs in Bowie’s life. Even without these explicit details, anyone can see in the early-to-mid-1970s archival footage there were plenty of signs that Bowie was a cocaine addict, including his sniffing and constantly touching his nose, his fidgety mannerisms in some of his interviews, and his unhealthy physical appearance.

In addition to footage of Bowie, “Moonage Daydream” also includes a lot of pop culture and news clips that somehow relate to whatever music is playing. For example, footage from the documentary “Apollo 11” is briefly shown in keeping with the “moon” theme. The closest to anything “new and orginal” that “Moonage Daydream” offers is some brief sci-fi footage bookended at the beginning and ending of the movie. This footage shows a woman with an animal’s tail while she’s on the moon and looking at a skeleton in an astronaut suit.

It seems that “Moonage Daydream” director Morgen went out of his way not to do a conventional documentary, since Bowie was not a conventional artist. But in doing so, the documentary loses some coherence. After a while, “Moonage Daydream” looks like a mishmash of montages resembling a very long music video. “Moonage Daydream” also has some editing that’s sometimes frustrating to watch. There are at least three different times it looks like this 140-minute movie has ended, and then it drags on some more.

People who are casual fans of Bowie will be intrigued by “Moonage Daydream” but might occasionally get bored. “Moonage Daydream” is worthwhile but not essential viewing for Bowie fans. For any Bowie fans who saw the outstanding “David Bowie Is” museum exhibition world tour that took place from 2013 to 2018, that museum exhibition remains the ultimate Bowie multimedia experience since Bowie’s unfortunate passing.

Neon will release “Moonage Daydream” in select U.S. cinemas on September 16, 2022, with an expansion to more U.S. cinemas on September 23, 2022. The movie is set for a sneak preview in select IMAX theaters on September 12, 2022.

Review: ‘Funny Pages,’ starring Daniel Zolghadri, Matthew Maher, Miles Emanuel, Josh Pais, Maria Dizzia, Stephen Adly Guirgis and Ron Rifkin

September 1, 2022

by Carla Hay

Matthew Maher and Daniel Zolghadri in “Funny Pages” (Photo courtesy of A24)

“Funny Pages”

Directed by Owen Kline

Culture Representation: Taking place in New Jersey, the comedy/drama film “Funny Pages” features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A teenager defies his parents’ wishes by dropping out of high school and moving out of the family home to become a professional comic-book illustrator, and he meets a very eccentric would-be mentor along the way.

Culture Audience: “Funny Pages” will appeal mainly to people who are interested in low-key, quirky comedy/drama movies about comic book enthusiasts.

Daniel Zolghadri, Michael Townsend Wright and Miles Emanuel in “Funny Pages” (Photo courtesy of A24)

The comedy/drama “Funny Pages” is a very offbeat love letter to comic book fanatics and the extreme decisions some artists will make to pursue their dreams. The movie’s tone is inspired more by Charlie Kaufman than by Kevin Smith. “Funny Pages” had its world premiere at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, France.

“Funny Pages” is the feature-film directorial debut of writer/director Owen Kline, who is also known as an actor who had roles in 2001’s “The Anniversary Party” and 2005’s “The Squid and the Whale,” when Kline was a child. These experiences as a child actor no doubt informed the creation of “Funny Pages” protagonist Robert Bleichner (played by Daniel Zolghadri), an eccentric teen who wants to grow up fast and become an illustrator of comic books and comic strips that have sexually explicit, raunchy comedy.

Robert, who’s about 16 or 17 years old, lives with his parents Lewis (played by Josh Pais) and Jennifer (played by Maria Dizzia) in a typical middle-class home in Princeton, New Jersey. The beginning of “Funny Pages” is an indication of some of the weirdness throughout the movie. Robert is in a private meeting at the home of his art teacher Mr. Katano (played by Stephen Adly Guirgis), who is a fan of the type of rude and raunchy illustrations that Robert wants to draw.

Robert confides in Mr. Katano that he plans to drop out of high school, because Robert thinks that the places where he wants to work will only care about his talent and portfolio, not if he has a high school diploma. However, Mr. Katano doesn’t think that Robert has a strong-enough identity that comes through in Robert’s drawings. Mr. Katano tells Robert: “Everything in your portfolio needs to be clearly coming from who you are … Who do you draw for?”

Robert doesn’t have a definite answer to that question. Mr. Katano knows that Robert likes to draw pictures of naked people. The meeting takes a very unorthodox turn when Mr. Katano asks Robert if he wants to draw Mr. Katano. Robert says yes, and without hesitation, Mr. Katano taks off all of his clothes, except for a pair of socks. He stands up on his desk and tells Robert to do a nude sketch of him. Robert is a little surprised, but he does the sketch with a little discomfort.

Even though there was nothing sexual about Mr. Katano’s offer, it’s still extremely inappropriate for a teacher to get naked in front of an underage child who’s a student of the teacher’s. Mr. Katano knows it, and he has second thoughts about what he just did, especially after Robert finishes the sketch and quickly leaves because Robert says that he has to be home by a certain time. While Robert is walking home on a street near an expressway, Robert sees that Mr. Katano is following Robert in Mr. Katano’s car.

With the car window rolled down on the driver’s side, Mr. Katano tells Robert that he wants to make sure that what happened with the nude sketch session wasn’t something that made Robert feel threatened or embarrassed. Robert assures Mr. Katano that he thinks everything is just fine, and that what happened won’t change their student/teacher relationship. And then, out of nowhere, Mr. Katano’s car gets hit by another car speeding in the opposite direction. Mr. Katano is killed instantly.

After the funeral, Robert breaks into Mr. Katano’s home to steal some personal items that he’s sure that Mr. Katano (who lived alone and had no known relatives) would want him to have. A house alarm goes off, and Robert is arrested for the break-in. He has a public defender named Cheryl (played by Marcia DeBonis), who thinks Robert is an adorable and misunderstood kid, even though Robert is not as meek and nice as Cheryl initially thinks he is. She is able to get the charges dismissed by arguing to the court that Robert did the break-in out of grief, and he only took items that he thought were rightfully his. (Apparently, Mr. Katano didn’t leave a will.)

Mr. Katano’s death, Robert’s legal problems and the dismissal of Robert’s criminal case all happen in the first 20 minutes of “Funny Pages” and shown with some choppy editing. By the end of those 20 minutes, viewers will either be turned off from seeing the rest of this movie or curious to see what will happen next with this very unusual teenager. Many people in Robert’s life are skeptical that he will “make it” as a professional illustrator, but he is unwavering in trying to make his dream come true.

Much to his parents’ disapproval, Robert is so eager to get started on this career, he drops out of high school, moves out of the family home, and gets his own place: a rented room in a dirty and dumpy house in Trenton, New Jersey. Robert’s creepy and disheveled landlord Barry (played by Michael Townsend Wright), who also lives in the house, knows that Robert is underage, but Barry doesn’t care as long as Robert pays the rent. Robert shares the room with another weirdo tenant named Steven (played by Cleveland Thomas Jr.), who doesn’t talk much, but when Steven does talk, it’s often out loud to himself.

In his quest to become a comic book illustrator and in order to pay his bills, Robert takes a part-time job working at a comic book store. Robert also gets a part-time job working as an administrative assistant to Cheryl, who is highly amused when she finds out that Robert expresses his naughty side in his illustrations. Robert’s best friend (and only friend) is a former classmate named Miles (played by Miles Emanuel), a mild-mannered nerd who is in awe of Robert being able to have so much independence at a young age.

It’s through Robert’s job with Cheryl that Robert soon meets a hot-tempered, mentally ill man named Wallace Schearer (played by Matthew Maher), who was an assistant colorist at Image Comics. Wallace, who is one of Cheryl’s clients, got into trouble for having an emotional meltdown at a pharmacy and committing vandalism on the property. Robert meets Wallace when Wallace arrives at Cheryl’s office for an appointment.

Even though Wallace clearly has mental health problems, Robert is immediately intrigued when he finds out that Wallace used to work for Image Comics. It’s at this point in the movie that you know Wallace and Robert will go back to the pharmacy where Wallace committed his crime. Former “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman” star Louise Lasser makes a disturbing cameo as a drugged-out and drooling pharmacy customer named Linda, who demands that Robert give her a Percocet. Ron Rifkin also makes a brief appearance in “Funny Pages,” as Robert’s unnamed grandfather.

Because of Wallace’s experience working at a well-known comic book publishing company, Robert becomes fixated on getting Wallace to mentor Robert. The rest of “Funny Pages” involves Robert’s strange encounters with people in the Trenton area and his desperate attempts to become Wallace’s student/protégé. Although none of the acting is terrible in “Funny Pages,” don’t expect to see a lot of pleasant characters in this movie.

There’s some violence, nudity and very dark comedy in this odd little film, but for people who are open to this type of movie-watching experience, “Funny Pages” has enough to hold viewers’ interest. “Funny Pages” is both a satire and a tribute to the single-minded passion that can consume artists to express themselves in their art. The movie has several mentions about whether or not an artist’s work has “soul.” In provocative and peculiar ways, “Funny Pages” examines if artists who pour their souls into their work might also lose their souls in the process.

Review: ‘Three Thousand Years of Longing,’ starring Idris Elba and Tilda Swinton

August 28, 2022

by Carla Hay

Tilda Swinton and Idris Elba in “Three Thousand Years of Longing” (Photo courtesy of Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures Inc.)

“Three Thousand Years of Longing”

Directed by George Miller

Some language in Hellenic with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Turkey, the United Kingdom and other parts of the world, the fantasy film “Three Thousand Years of Longing” features a racially diverse cast of characters (white, black, Asian) as human beings and magical beings representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A Djinn (also known as a genie) is set free from a bottle by a loner middle-aged divorcée from the United Kingdom, and he tells her stories of how he was trapped inside the bottle at various times over 3,000 years. 

Culture Audience: “Three Thousand Years of Longing” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of stars Idris Elba and Tilda Swinton, filmmaker George Miller and adult-oriented fantasy movies.

Tilda Swinton in “Three Thousand Years of Longing” (Photo by Elise Lockwood/Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures)

“Three Thousand Years of Longing” is not as weird and edgy as the movie’s trailer would suggest. It’s a sometimes-rambling yet visually striking adult-oriented fairy tale about a genie and the stories he tells to the scholarly divorcée who frees him from a bottle. The film is not a masterpiece, but it’s entertaining enough for people who can engage with a fantasy movie that’s more about storytelling than about fast-paced action scenes.

Directed by George Miller (who co-wrote the movie’s screenplay with Augusta Gore), “Three Thousand Years of Longing” is based on A. S. Byatt’s 1994 novel “The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye.” Although the movie is narrated by British scholar Alithea Binnie (played by Tilda Swinton), viewers will learn a lot more about the electromagnetic genie called the Djinn (played by Idris Elba) whom Alithea accidentally releases from a bottle. That’s because almost the entire movie is about the Djinn telling Alithea about three major times in his life that he was imprisoned in a bottle.

In the beginning of the movie, she says in a voiceover: “My name is Alithea. My story is true. You’re more likely to believe me if I tell you it’s a fairy tale.” Swinton is quite good in the role of Alithea, but she’s portrayed many uptight and quirky British women before in other movies, her work in “Three Thousand Years of Longing” is just more of the same, but not as quick-tempered and unhinged as some of her other eccentric characters in other films.

“Three Thousand Years of Longing” opens with Alithea (who lives in London) arriving in Istanbul, Turkey, for a storytelling conference. (“Three Thousand Years of Longing” was actually filmed in Australia, Turkey and the United Kingdom. The movie had its world premiere at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, France.) In addition to being a scholar, Alithea is an enthusiast of fantasy storytelling. Ever since she was a child, she had an active imagination and kept journals of her fantasy writings and illustrations.

A flashback in the movie shows how Alithea at about 10 or 11 years old (played by Alyla Browne) as a social outcast at her all-girls boarding school. During her childhood, Alithea had an imaginary male creature friend named Enzo (played by Abel Bond) that she wrote about and drew in her journals. Alithea could see and hear Enzo but no one else could. Enzo would often comfort her when she was feeling lonely and sad. Don’t expect to find out anything about Alithea’s family, except to know that she has no siblings.

Now in her late 50s or early 60s, Alithea is now a professor of narratology who has been divorced since she was in her 30s. She’s still a loner who writes and draws in journals what comes up in her vivid imagination. Alithea also still sees visions of various magical creatures that look real to her, but no one else can see them.

For example, when she arrives at the airport, she sees a short, odd-looking man who tries to help her carry her suitcase, but she refuses, and he disappears into the crowd. When Alithea tells a male professor colleague (who’s sharing a car ride with her) about this strange experience, she describes the unusual man as “hot to the touch” and “musky.” Alithea’s colleague suggests that she might have seen a ghost.

Alithea is one of the speakers at the conference, where she says that stories about mythical gods have been a part of human hstory for ages. (In the background on the conference stage is a collage portrait of comic book superheroes, to illustrate her point.) During her speech, Alithea sees in the audience a vision of ghost-like elderly man wearing all white in an ancient royal outfit, including a crown.

Suddenly, this mystery spirit lunges at Alithea. And the next thing she knows, she’s being woken up by people on the conference stage because she’s been told that she fainted. Alithea has no memory of passing out. And she insists that she’s feeling perfectly fine.

In her hotel room, Alithea takes out a blue-and-white stripped bottle that looks like a perfume bottle. A brief flashback show that she purchased the bottle at trinket shop in an Instanbul bazaar. The bottle had burn marks on it, but that just makes her more interested in buying. “I like it,” she tells the shop owner. “I’m sure it has an interesting story.”

Alithea takes a toothbrush to try to rub off some of the burn marks. And that’s when the Djinn come out of the bottle, in clouds of purple smoke. At first, the Djinn appears in giant form, but eventually, he shrinks himself down to the form of a human. He begins speaking to her in Hellelnic (a language that Alithea knows), btu then eventually spends the rest oft he time talking to Alithea in her native English language. Alithea is convinced that that the Djinn is part of her imagination, but the more he talks to her, the more she’s convinced that he’s real.

The Djinn essentially says that he’s been trapped in the bottle for nearly 200 years. And in order for him to gain eternal freedom, he tells Alithea that he must grant three wishes to her. There are some caveats to these wishes. She cannot wish for eternal wishes or anything that would end suffering. Her wishes must also be heartfelt and sincere, not taken as a joke, in order for the wishes to really come true.

Alithea insists to the Djinn that she’s perfectly content with her life and doesn’t have any wishes. She has no loved ones and is happy with her job. Alithea only opens up about her her past experiences with love and heartbreak when she briefly tells him about her lonely childhood and her divorce. It’s the only glimpse into Alithea’s personal life.

Alithea was married to her college sweetheart Jack (played by Peter Bertoni, in a flashback scene) for a period of time that appears to be less than 10 years. Alithea and Peter had many things in common, and she thought that they were soul mates. At one point, Alithea got pregnant and was far-enough along in the pregnancy that she knew she was going to have a boy. Alithea and Jack were going to name the child Enzo.

All of this information can be deduced from a brief flash of a pregnancy test vial showing a positive test result. Alithea had kept this pregnancy test vial as a memento in a scrapbook and had written the name Enzo on the vial. When Alithea tells the Djinn about her marriage, she never goes into details about happened to this pregnancy.

However, it’s implied that she had a miscarriage, since the child is never seen in the flashbacks. Alithea says that she and Jack eventually drifted apart (with the implication that the loss of the child was a big reason why), and they got divorced. Jack eventually married a younger woman named Emmaline Porter (played by Lianne Mackessey), and Alithea has seen the happy couple together in London on at least one occasion.

The Djinn has his own stories of loss and heartbreak to tell. His first story of being imprisoned in the bottle is about when he was the servant/lover of Africa’s Queen of Sheba (played by Aamito Lagum), who did not love the Djinn in the way that the Djinn loved her. A love triangle developed when a visiting king named Solomon (played by Nicolas Mouawad) began courting the queen. You can easily guess how this love triangle ended.

The Djinn’s second story of being “incarcerated” in a bottle takes place in the 1530s, during the rule of Turkey’s Ottomon Empire. The story begins with a destitute and enslaved young woman named Ezgi (played Pia Thunderbolt) releasing the Djinn from a bottle. The Djinn grants Ezgi’s wish to marry Prince Mustafa (played by Matteo Bocelli), who is next in line to inherit the kingdom.

However, a power struggle breaks out between Prince Mustafa, his younger brother Ibrahim (played by Jack Braddy) and their father Sultan Suleiman (played by Lachy Hulme). Ibrahim has a sexual fetish for plus-sized women. One of the women in Ibrahim’s harem plays a role in Djinn’s fate.

The Djinn’s third story is supposed to be the most impactful, but it’s the most underdeveloped and seems too rushed in the movie. In this story (which takes place in the mid-19th century in Turkey), the Djinn talks about Zefir (played by Burcu Gölgedar), a woman whom Djinn describes as perhaps the greatest love of his life. The Djinn says that he loved Zefir more than he loved the Queen of Sheba.

At the age of 12 years old, Zefir was forced to marry a Turkish merchant, whose name is not mentioned in the movie. This merchant is old enough to be Zefir’s grandfather. Zefir is the merchant’s third wife in his harem. His other two wives, who are close to the merchant’s age, are very jealous of Zefir and treat her like an outsider. A lonely Zefir eventually finds the bottle where the Djin was kept and frees him.

All three of the Djinn stories involve a woman freeing him from a bottle and some kind of power struggle that ensues. Djinn describes himself in his relationships as loyal and accommodating. And he is that way with Alithea too, but only after she begins to trust him. He can be impatient with Alithea when she’s indecisive about if or when she wants to make a wish.

Because the movie reveals up front that Djinn’s three stories are about how he got trapped in a bottle on three separate occasions, viewers aleady know that each story will not end well for the Djinn. And therefore, the movie’s only real question that needs to be answered is: “What will Ailthea’s wish for, if she chooses to make any or all of the three wishes?”

Alithea thinks that all stories about wishes are “be careful what you wish for” cautionary tales, so she’s afraid of making any wish that could be a big mistake. Through the Djinn’s stories, she starts to understand that life can be a very dull existence if risks aren’t taken. Alithea also learns that it’s not always selfish to ask for what you want.

“Three Thousand Years of Longing” has the look of an ambitious fantasy film, but thankfully is only 108 minutes long. The visual effects and cinematography are well-done, and the acting is perfectly fine from all involved. However, the movie is not without its flaws.

The three stories are unevenly paced to the importance each story has to the Djinn’s life. The second story that takes place during the Ottoman Empire should have been shortened and the time used to expand more on the third story about the Djinn’s relationship with Zefir. There’s not much in the movie to show why Djinn considers his relationship with Zefir to be a great love affair.

Zefir and the Djinn are not shown connecting on any emotional level. The Djinn essentially does what Zefir wants, including making himself disappear, especially when her husband is around. And, as previously mentioned, Alithea remains a bit of a mystery throughout the entire. The only other insight into Alithea’s personal life is when she returns to London and shows disgust for the racial and ethnic bigotry expressed by two nosy, elderly women who live in the house next door.

“Three Thousand Years of Longing” is not going to appeal to people who are expecting any comedic moments. It’s a brooding movie that’s not overly intense or gory, but it’s far from being lighthearted and whimsical. It’s probably one of the most serious-minded gene movies you’ll ever see, Viewers might get some enjoyment out of the acting and the storytelling format of the movie, which has a timeless message about valuing love, no matter where and when someone exists.

United Artists Releasing/Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures released “Three Thousand Years of Longing” in U.S. cinemas on August 26, 2022. The movie is set for release in Australia on September 1, 2022.

Review: ‘Official Competition,’ starring Penélope Cruz, Antonio Banderas and Oscar Martínez

July 9, 2022

by Carla Hay

Antonio Banderas, Penélope Cruz and Oscar Martínez in “Official Competition” (Photo by Manolo Pavon/IFC Films)

“Official Competition”

Directed by Mariano Cohn and Gastón Duprat

Spanish with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in Madrid, Spain, the comedy/drama film “Official Competition” features a cast of Spanish characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: An eccentric filmmaker, who has been hired by a rich businessman to direct a movie, takes pleasure in playing mind games with the two famous actors whom she cast as co-stars in the movie. 

Culture Audience: “Official Competition” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of stars Penélope Cruz and Antonio Banderas and films that have a satirical “movie within a movie” plot.

Oscar Martínez, Penélope Cruz and Antonio Banderas in “Official Competition” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

With a total running time of 115 minutes, “Official Competition” drags on for a little longer than it should, but this slightly offbeat comedy/drama has some sharp observations about how celebrities can be coddled and exploited in the movie industry. The movie shows in many acerbic ways how people will enable those with a certain level of fame and fortune to humiliate or bully others, in the name of creating “art.” There are no real heroes or villains in “Official Competition”—just a lot of very flawed and damaged people who have questionable (or no) boundaries.

Directed by Mariano Cohn and Gastón Duprat (who both co-wrote the screenplay with Andrés Duprat, Gastón’s older brother), “Official Competition” takes place in Madrid, but the themes in the movie are universal to wherever movies financed by wealthy people can be made. “Official Competition” made the rounds at several film festivals including the 2021 Venice International Film Festival (where the movie had its world premiere), the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival and the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival. In many ways, “Official Competition” is an incisive parody of rich people who think they can buy their way into artistic creativity and any accolades that come with it.

It’s why wealthy pharmaceutical tycoon Humberto Suárez (played by José Luis Gómez) decides to go into the movie business, shortly after his 80th birthday. Humberto wants his legacy to be more than just his success in the pharmaceutical industry. He wants the glamour and cachet of making a movie with famous filmmakers and celebrity actors.

After his 80th birthday party that was held at his company headquarters, Humberto asks a subordinate executive named Matías (played by Manolo Solo) how people perceive Humberto. Matías replies, “As a man who started from nothing, and today is a leader in the pharmaceutical industry, and feeds almost 10,000 families.”

Humberto says, “I’ll tell you how they see me: as a millionaire with an obscene fortune but without prestige … I want to be remembered differently.” Humberto contemplates either donating to the state a bridge named after himself, or financing a movie. He chooses to finance a movie.

Humberto decides to be a financial backer/producer for the latest movie of the artsiest filmmaker he can find. He wants someone who’s edgy enough to be considered innovative, but mainstream enough that this person is capable of winning prestigious awards. And the person whose name comes up immediately and whom he chooses is avant-garde filmmaker Lola Cuevas (played by Penélope Cruz), who is known for her extreme ways of rehearsing and making a movie.

Lola, who has been making movies since 1996, has a 2015 movie called “Haze,” which is considered her “masterpiece.” One of her quirks is that Lola doesn’t give interviews. Therefore, she doesn’t give a lot of public insight into her filmmaking process. By keeping an aura of mystery about herself, Lola has made herself more in demand to certain people who want to work with her.

Humberto meets with Lola, and he agrees to Lola’s demands that she have complete creative control over the movie. Lola hires the two actors who will be equal co-stars in the film that she’s writing and directing and which Humberto will be financing. These co-stars are Félix Rivero (played by Antonio Banderas) and Iván Torres (played by Oscar Martínez), who are opposites in many ways.

Félix, who is a restless bachelor playboy, is more caught up in being a movie star than in being a serious actor. And he has a filmography of commercial blockbusters to prove it. Iván, who’s been in a stable, longtime marriage, takes the craft of acting very seriously. Iván is famous for being in highly respected stage productions that don’t necessarily make a lot of money but they are often award-worthy. Iván also teaches a college course in acting to eager students who admire him. The only college-age people Félix wants to teach are the young women he takes as his lovers.

In Lola’s meeting with Humberto, she explains the plot of this movie, which is a story about a love triangle between two brothers and a woman who’s a sex worker. In this story, older brother Pedro is “rich and self-confident,” while younger brother Manuel is “dull and introverted.” The movie takes place in 1970, in a country town.

Manuel is driving a car with his parents as passengers. The car gets into a horrific accident that kills the parents, but Manuel survives. An embittered Pedro makes sure that Manuel goes to prison for this accident. (It’s never stated what the crime was in this car accident.) While Manuel is in prison, Pedro lives his life freely, and he starts a romance with a sex worker named Lucy.

Pedro has a successful foundry business, but people in the community are suspicious of how he’s actually made his fortune. Meanwhile, Manuel is released from prison, and he starts having an affair with Lucy. However, Pedro has more money than Manuel. And so, when Pedro proposes marriage to Lucy, she chooses to marry Pedro.

But there’s more drama in this love triangle, because Lucy finds out she’s pregnant. Manuel or Pedro could be the father. The brothers eventually reconcile, but Lola says that there’s more to the story. Viewers of Lola’s movie will have to find out if the child’s paternity is confirmed and what ultimately happens in this love triangle.

In Lola’s movie, Iván has the role of older brother Pedro, while Félix is cast as younger brother Manuel. The movie’s very first “table read” (where the actors sit at a table to read a script together, usually with the director in attendance) takes place in a conference room at the headquarters of Humberto’s company. Lola is at this table read with Iván and Félix as the only cast members in attendance. This table read is the first time that Iván and Félix meet each other and rehearse together.

As an example of their different personalities and styles of working, Iván has already prepared a complex psychological portrait of his Pedro character. By contrast, Félix has no such preparation, because he thinks that his Manuel character doesn’t really have a backstory. During this table read/rehearsal, Lola makes it clear to both of these actors that she has a very specific idea of how they should act out their lines of dialogue. She makes Iván and Félix repeat the dialogue with her suggestions on how to change their delivery until Lola thinks they get it right.

What follows is a series of mind games that Lola ends up playing on these two actors, whom she often pits against each other. And sometimes, she sets up situations where the two actors are pitted against her. “Official Competition” tends to be a little repetitive in showing how all three of these people irritate each other, but the performances remain compelling throughout the movie.

Cruz is the obvious standout, even if her portrayal of Lola sometimes veers into being a caricature of manipulative directors. However, considering some of the wild and true stories of extreme manipulation tactics that some directors have used on cast members in real life, what Lola does in the movie isn’t too far off the mark. The unpredictability of “Official Competition” is almost entirely dependent on the Lola character.

Banderas is perfectly fine in his role as an actor who balances doing big-budget blockbuster movies with “prestige” low-budget independent films. (It’s something that Banderas does in real life too.) Martínez gives the most realistic performance of the three “Official Competition” stars, because many “serious actors” are just like Iván: They think that acting on stage is the real test of an actor’s talent, and doing on-screen work is just filler to pay the bills.

One of Lola’s mind games is to make Iván and Félix rehearse under a giant boulder that is being held over their heads by a crane. It puts Iván and Félix on a nervous edge, but Lola insists that they will have a better rehearsal this way. But surprise! After the rehearsal, Lola reveals to Iván and Félix that the boulder was really made out of cardboard.

Another of Lola’s manipulations includes asking Iván and Félix to bring all of their awards to the rehearsal headquarters. She brings the awards that she has won too, including the Palme d’Or, the top prize for the Cannes Film Festival. During this meeting in a small auditorium, Lola asks Iván and Félix to talk about their awards and what these trophies mean to them.

And then, Lola tells Iván and Félix to sit in the audience chairs in the auditorium. An employee then encases Iván and Félix together in Saran wrap until only their eyes and noses are left uncovered. Having been rendered unable to move, Iván and Félix watch as Lola does something that enrages them, but they’re physically helpless and can’t do anything to stop her.

“Official Competition” shows a constant tug-of-war over power and control, not just for Lola’s movie but also for how the principals involved want to be perceived in life. The name of Lola’s movie is never mentioned in “Official Competition” because the name doesn’t have to be mentioned. The ego battles are not about Lola’s movie but are about the people at the center of the battles and how they choose to handle difficult situations.

“Official Competition” also has sly depictions of nepotism and how sexuality is used as a way to exert power and control. Humberto’s daughter Diana Suárez (played by Irene Escolar), who’s her 20s, has been cast in Lola’s movie in the role of Lucy, the woman in the love triangle with brothers Pedro and Manuel. Diana has very little experience as an actress, and she isn’t particularly talented, so it’s not hard to figure out why she got a co-starring role in this movie.

Lola is a control freak and probably resents being pressured into casting Diana in this role. And so, there’s a scene where Lola tries to exert her power and control in a way that makes Humberto feel very uncomfortable. It happens when Humberto has stopped by to watch rehearsals of the movie.

Lola has placed dozens of microphones on the rehearsal stage to amplify whatever sounds are being made on the stage. She tells Iván and Félix to each take turns passionately kissing Diana, since they are both portraying brothers in love with the same woman. Humberto doesn’t seem to have a problem watching two famous actors passionately kissing his daughter in these rehearsals, as the sounds of their smooching fill the auditorium.

But then, Lola (who is openly queer) tells Iván and Félix that they’re not getting the kissing scenes done in the way that she thinks meets her standards. Lola then steps in and tells them she’ll show them how she wants the kissing scenes done. And then, Lola begins passionately kissing Diana. The two women get so caught up in their makeout session, they begin rolling around on the floor while kissing. This spectacle makes Humberto very uncomfortable, and he quickly leaves the room—just the way Lola probably planned it.

Lola and Diana then being a real-life affair with each other. It’s questionable if this relationship is love or just lust. But the movie makes a point in showing how easy it is for directors to get sexually involved with cast members in consensual relationships. It just so happens that the director in this case is a woman in a male-dominated field, and this woman acts exactly how people act when they use their power as sexual enticement to their subordinates who want some type of career advancement.

Even though Iván and Félix know that Lola prefers to have women as lovers, that doesn’t stop these two actors from sexually flirting with Lola. Félix is more forward about his intentions, by kissing Lola sensually on the neck in an encounter in a dressing room. Meanwhile, Iván tries the tactic of attempting to give Lola a massage. It’s not said out loud, but viewers will get the impression from the way that Iván and Félix are acting with these flirtations that they’re not accustomed to taking orders from a female director, so they try to get some of their own masculine control with Lola by testing her sexual boundaries.

Lola also shows her insecurities in her relationship with Diana, who likes to do aerobic exercises and dancing on social media, sometimes while Lola is watching. When Lola is alone in her bedroom, she’s seen trying to imitate these exercises and dance moves. It’s an indication that Lola might be trying to keep up with the much-younger Diana.

“Official Competition” doesn’t give much insight into Lola’s personal history for viewers to find out if she’s going through a mid-life crisis or if she’s ever found true love. Lola is a loner whose only real constant companion is her assistant Julia (played by Nagore Aranburu), who has to be ready to accommodate Lola’s unusual requests and whims. Observant viewers will notice that Lola has a mostly female crew, which is an indication that outspoken feminist Lola practices what she preaches about female empowerment in the movie industry.

There’s an amusing scene near the beginning of the film, where Félix tells Iván that a woman has been standing outside the building, as if she’s waiting for someone to come outside. Félix makes a bet with Iván that this mystery woman is probably someone who’s dating Lola. As Félix and Iván walk outside and see the woman, Iván casually introduces the woman to Félix. The woman is actually Iván’s wife, Violeta (played by Pilar Castro), a well-known author of children’s books. An embarrassed Félix now knows he made a wrong assumption.

Making wrong assumptions about other people is the catalyst for much of the comedy and drama in “Official Competition.” In a profession (the movie industry) that is all about making people believe what they see on screen, “Official Competition” doesn’t always succeed in making some of these antics and tricks look believable. Where “Official Competition” fares best is in showing the infuriating or funny ways that people in this make-believe profession get caught up in fooling others and themselves.

IFC Films released “Official Competition” in select U.S. cinemas on June 21, 2022. The movie’s release date on digital and VOD is August 2, 2022. “Official Competition” was released in Spain on February 25, 2022.

Review: ‘Anaïs in Love,’ starring Anaïs Demoustier, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, Denis Podalydès, Jean-Charles Clichet, Xavier Guelfi and Christophe Montenez

July 5, 2022

by Carla Hay

Valeria Bruni Tedeschi and Anaïs Demoustier in “Anaïs in Love” (Photo by Karl Colonnier/Magnolia Pictures)

“Anaïs in Love”

Directed by Charline Bourgeois Tacquet

French with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Paris and in Brittany, France, the comedy/drama film “Anaïs in Love” features a nearly all-white cast of characters (with a few Asians) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A 30-year-old graduate student, who has a history of avoiding long-term commitments, gets involved in a love triangle where she seduces a much-older man and his live-in lover. 

Culture Audience: “Anaïs in Love” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in movies about people who have messy and complicated relationships.

Denis Podalydès and Anaïs Demoustier in “Anaïs in Love” (Photo by Karl Colonnier/Magnolia Pictures)

The title character of “Anaïs in Love” blurs the lines between being a free spirit and being a selfish flake. Whether or not viewers will like her or dislike her, Anaïs keeps people interested in seeing what she’ll do next. In this comedy/drama, 30-year-old graduate student Anaïs (played by Anaïs Demoustier) is someone who’s still got a lot of growing up to do, but her childlike playfulness is a huge reason why people are attracted to her. It’s a dichotomy that is entirely realistic to the way many people are, but it leads to a very messy personal life.

In other words, don’t expect “Anaïs in Love,” which takes place in France, to be a conventional movie about romance. “Anaïs in Love” (which had its world premiere at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival) is also a reflection of French culture, which tends to have more lenient views than American culture about open relationships, infidelity and non-monogamy. Not too many American filmmakers would want to make a movie about a young American woman who does what Anaïs does in her pursuit of love and sexual relationships.

Charline Bourgeois-Tacquet wrote and directed “Anaïs in Love” almost like an observational portrait of Anaïs, to show without judgment how Anaïs is living her life within a certain period of time. The movie takes place over the course of about one year. In the beginning of the movie, Anaïs is working on her thesis, she’s struggling financially, and the rest of her life is in a state of flux.

The opening scene shows Anaïs restlessly fluttering around her Paris apartment while her patient but frustrated middle-aged landlord (played by Marie-Armelle Deguy) is in the apartment and trying to find out when Anaïs will be paying her rent. Anaïs is two months behind on her rent, and she’s currently unemployed, but she tells the landlord that she’s getting unemployment benefits and might be getting a job with her thesis supervisor. After a few minutes of Anaïs avoiding the subject of paying the rent, it becomes obvious that Anaïs is one of the people who talks quickly with a big smile on her face, pretending that everything is okay, when everything is not fine at all.

In between rambling about things other than when she’ll have the rent money, Anaïs tells the landlord that she and her boyfriend Raoul have recently made a change in their relationship. Raoul used to live with Anaïs and helped pay the rent, but now he has moved out for reasons that Anaïs won’t tell the landlord. All that Anaïs will say is: “Raoul and I haven’t really parted. We just don’t live together right now.” Later, viewers find out that the landlord’s son knows Raoul.

As a distraction, Anaïs quickly changes the subject to talk about the landlord’s love life. “How do manage, after centuries with your husband?” Anaïs adds, “Do you think I have a problem? That I don’t know how to love? If I was in love, really in love, I’d be happy to see the other person every day, morning, noon and night.”

And then Anaïs asks the landlord if it’s “normal” to want to sleep in the same bed for years with the same person. The landlord, who is visibly uncomfortable with where this conversation is going, says to Anaïs: “There is no normal. We do what we can with what we are.”

Keep in mind that all the landlord wanted to do was find out when Anaïs would have the rent that she owes. Instead, Anaïs bombards the landlord with a lot of personal information about herself and a lot of borderline intrusive questions about the landlord. After a while, viewers will notice that Anaïs has a tendency to “overshare” about her personal life with people she barely knows, so she asks questions with no tact when expecting other people to “overshare” with her.

It’s the first clue that Anaïs doesn’t really care about personal boundaries. She says whatever is on her mind, even if she sees that it causes discomfort to other people. Over time, viewers will see that Anaïs applies this attitude to anyone she finds sexually attractive. She will express that attraction to them, regardless if that person is in a committed relationship or not. When she wants to start a sexual relationship with someone, she doesn’t really care if it might hurt other people.

Anaïs is also one of those people who always seems to be running late. People who are chronically tardy often can be considered irresponsible, but many people who have a bad habit of being late also tend to be narcissists who don’t respect other people’s time. They often like the idea that when they show up somewhere, they might have kept people waiting. People who usually show up late also want to give the impression that their lives are so busy, they’re doing people a “favor” by spending time with them.

One evening, Anaïs goes to a cocktail party in an upscale apartment, where she doesn’t really know anyone, but she’s at this party out of obligation to her parents, who know the party hosts. Most of the people at this somewhat stuffy party are at least 25 years older than Anaïs. One of the party guests is a book publisher named Daniel Moreau-Babin (played by Denis Podalydès), who is a 58-year-old divorced father of an adult son.

Anaïs and Daniel first see each other in the elevator on the way to the party. And when they’re inside the party, Daniel and Anaïs start a conversation with each other. It turns out that Anaïs and Daniel are indirectly connected. Anaïs’ younger brother Balthazar (played by Xavier Guelfi) is engaged to a woman named Rebecca, who attended the same college as Anaïs. Daniel is the book publisher for Rebecca’s father, who is an author.

Daniel mentions that the spouses who are hosting the party have downsized to this apartment, after living in a big house for years. Anaïs says that there’s no such thing as having a house that’s too big. This domestic arrangement leads Daniel to talk about his personal life. Daniel tells Anaïs that he and his ex-wife were married for 12 years until he decided to break up with her because he felt he outgrew the marriage.

Daniel has been living with a 56-year-old successful writer named Emilie Ducret (played by Valeria Bruni Tedeschi) for the past 12 years, but he says their relationship has now gotten too routine and stale for him. Daniel wonders aloud to Anaïs if 12 years is the maximum length of time that he can be in a committed relationship. He tells Anaïs all of this personal information while looking at her in a way that makes it obvious that he’s attracted to her.

Anaïs picks up on the attraction right way. And so, it should come as no surprise to viewers that the next time that Anaïs sees Daniel, it’s for a secret tryst at his apartment, where they have sex for the first time. It’s obvious why Daniel is interested in hooking up with a younger woman who’s pretty, but what is Anaïs getting out of this sexual relationship? Apparently, she’s having sex with Daniel just because she feels like she can.

But what about Anaïs’ boyfriend Raoul (played by Christophe Montenez), who is close to Anaïs’ age? What is he all about? Raoul says he loves Anaïs, but he remains somewhat of a mystery to viewers. Don’t expect much insight into what the relationship between Anaïs and Raoul was like before he moved out of their apartment.

Anaïs doesn’t tell Raoul that she’s sleeping with another man, but she does tell Raoul a secret that she’s been hiding for weeks. It’s the most obvious life-changing secret that a woman can keep from a man she’s had sex with but isn’t sure how he’ll react if he finds out the secret. Raoul’s reaction to this secret is a turning point in his relationship with Anaïs.

Anaïs and Daniel continue their clandestine affair. Over time, Anaïs sometimes acts very jealous and possessive, as if she wants more of a commitment from Daniel that he’s not willing to give to her. Daniel sometimes call Emilie his “wife,” but he and Emilie are not legally married and are in a common-law spousal situation.

Anaïs doesn’t seem to think too much about Emilie (who doesn’t know about the affair), until Anaïs meets Emilie by chance on a street. When Anaïs approaches Emilie out of curiosity, she pretends to be fan of Emilie’s novels and compliments her effusively. Emilie is polite but seems to be a little distracted because she says she’s on her way to an appointment. What catches Anaïs off-guard is how much she’s attracted to Emilie.

After this random encounter, Anaïs starts to become more interested in finding out about Emilie. She begins reading Emilie’s novels and finds an emotional connection to Emilie through Emilie’s writing. Later, Anaïs finds out that Emilie has decided to go out of her comfort zone as a novelist to adapt an opera called “Knight of the Rose” into a theatrical stage play, because Emilie needs the money. Anaïs’ attraction to and interest in Emilie seems to grow as Daniel and Anaïs quarrel even more, because he’s unwilling to tell her if he will leave Emilie to be with Anaïs.

It leads to a part of the story that is probably the most divisive thing about the movie. Anaïs finds out that Emilie will be a guest speaker at a writers’ retreat in Brittany. And so, Anaïs decides to go to this retreat too (even though she can’t afford it), with the intention of possibly seducing Emilie. It’s basically stalking, but don’t tell Anaïs that, because she thinks it’s a romantic gesture.

Anaïs’ intentions are also very manipulative, because even though she doesn’t tell Daniel about her plans to seduce Emilie, any adult with life experience can see that Anaïs has an ulterior motive of wanting to make Daniel jealous. Anaïs knows that Daniel will eventually find out that Anaïs wants to have a sexual relationship with Emilie. He already seems to sense it because of the way Anaïs has been recently been asking him a lot of personal questions about Emilie.

“Anaïs in Love” is somewhat scatterbrained and unfocused, just like Anaïs, because there’s a subplot to the movie about Anaïs’ family that doesn’t flow as well with the main story. Before going to Brittany, Anaïs spends some time with her brother Balthazar, who has a pet lemur named Gilbert, which provides some comic relief. The main purpose of Anaïs’ scenes with Balthazar is to show that Anaïs feels somewhat insecure that her younger brother has a more stable life than she does.

In a more serious part of the movie, Anaïs visits her happily married parents (played by Anne Canovas and Bruno Todeschini), who tell her some devastating news. Anaïs’ parents are briefly in the movie, but it’s enough time for viewers to see that Anaïs is insecure about being considered a “disappointment” to her parents for not really committing to any job or relationship. Anaïs’ way of coping with this self-esteem issue is to lean into the image that she’s a “free spirit,” even though her arguments with Daniel suggest that she wants more commitment in her life than she’s willing to admit to other people.

But does Anaïs really want a long-term commitment with anyone? Or does she just like the challenge of getting someone who is “hard to get”? Those questions can also apply to Anaïs’ intentions of getting closer to Emilie. Observant viewers can see that Anaïs doesn’t have any close friends. It’s easy to speculate that it’s because she’s wrecked a lot of friendships with her pattern of being a participant in infidelity.

The movie uses Anaïs’ financial problems for some comedic scenes. To help pay for her trip to Brittany, Anaïs rents out her apartment to a vacationing couple (played by Seong-Young Kim and Estelle Cheon), whose native language is Korean and whose knowledge of French is limited. Just like she does with a lot of people she first meets, Anaïs “overshares” by telling too much personal information when she shows the couple her apartment and they decide to rent it. You can bet that something will go wrong in the apartment while Anaïs is too far away to do anything about it.

Anaïs still doesn’t have enough money to go to the retreat for the entire duration. She’s about to get kicked out of the retreat, but she talks her way into staying by offering to do free cleaning and upkeep work on the property to make up for the portion of the retreat fee that she can’t pay. A handyman named Yoann (played by Jean-Charles Clichet), who’s an aspiring playwright, is assigned to be her supervisor. There are a few comedic scenes where Anaïs tries to spend alone time with Emilie while Anaïs hides from Yoann to avoid doing the work she promised.

When it comes to looking for love and sex, Anaïs can be whimsically charming but also frustratingly self-absorbed. A lot of viewers will be turned off by Anaïs’ nonchalant way of disrupting relationships to satisfy her own personal needs. The movie doesn’t try to excuse this awfulness but merely points out that heartbreakers like Anaïs exist in the world. In Brittany’s romantic countryside and beach setting, Emilie’s reaction to Anaïs’ seductive charisma is not surprising at all.

It’s to the credit of writer/director Bourgeois-Tacquet that she doesn’t present Anaïs as a hero or as a villain but as a flawed human being who doesn’t always make the best decisions for herself and ends up hurting other people in the name of “love.” Demoustier, Bruni Tedeschi and Podalydès portray the three people in this love triangle with considerable skill. These three people are presented with options, when it comes to love and sex. However, “Anaïs in Love” asks these provocative questions: “How much of this love and sex really makes them happy? And how long will that happiness last?”

Magnolia Pictures released “Anaïs in Love” in select U.S. cinemas on April 29, 2022. The movie was released on digital and VOD on May 6, 2022.

Review: ‘Crimes of the Future’ (2022), starring Viggo Mortensen, Léa Seydoux and Kristen Stewart

June 4, 2022

by Carla Hay

Léa Seydoux, Viggo Mortensen and Kristen Stewart in “Crimes of the Future” (Photo courtesy of Neon)

“Crimes of the Future” (2022)

Directed by David Cronenberg

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed city, the horror film “Crimes of the Future” has a predominantly white cast (with a few black people and Asians) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: Two performance artist collaborators, who multilate bodies and perform organ surgeries as part of their act, encounter people who have their own bizarre agendies on how to change this act. 

Culture Audience: “Crimes of the Future” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of filmmaker David Cronenberg and squeamish-inducing movies that don’t offer easy answers.

Scott Speedman in “Crimes of the Future” (Photo courtesy of Neon)

“Crimes of the Future” is not a crime drama but a body horror movie that has something unique to say about a society that becomes numb to mutilations. The movie’s striking visuals and enigmatic story can intrigue viewers who are ready for a slow-paced cinematic challenge. “Crimes of the Future” is definitely not writer/director David Cronenberg’s best movie, and it’s sure to be divisive, depending on people’s expectations before seeing this film.

“Crime of the Future” takes place in an unnamed part of the world where most people speak English with an American or Canadian accent, but there are plenty of people with accents from other places outside of North America. (The movie was actually filmed in Athens, Greece. “Crimes of the Future” had its world premiere at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, France.) Wherever the story takes place, it’s in an unnamed era when certain people’s bodies have evolved to be immune to pain, and they have the ability to grow organs that are outside the “norm.”

As such, it’s become a form of entertainment for live, invasive surgeries to be performed on these people. If a new organ is discovered during this type of surgery, it’s extracted and treated almost like a rare jewel or a prized trophy. These organs are then put on display. At the same time, a secretive National Organ Registry exists to find and register these taboo organs, which are often tattooed for identification purposes. The National Organ Registry keeps records of as many tattooed organs as it can find.

One of the people who has this ability to grow new organs is Saul Tenser (played by Viggo Mortensen), a solemn and pensive type who walks around wearing a black hooded cloak when he’s in public. If Saul had a scythe, he would look like he’s in a Grim Reaper costume. At home, Saul spends a lot of time in an OrchidBed, a half-cocoon-like device with tentacles, where he is routinely examined for possible new organs growing inside of him. Saul also uses a chair called the Breakfaster, which has arm rests that resemble and move like human arms.

Saul lives with his work partner Caprice (played by Léa Seydoux), a former surgeon who left the medical profession behind to become a full-time performance artist. Caprice is someone who does livestreamed surgeries as part of her performance act with a willing Saul. They both think that what they are doing is high art, but Caprice is much more fanatical about it than Saul is, and she’s the one who often does internal body examinations of Saul. Caprice and Saul’s act is called “Body Is Reality.”

Meanwhile, the beginning of “Crimes of the Future” shows the murder of an 8-year-old boy named Brecken Dotrice (played by Sozos Sotiris), who was smothered to death with a pillow by his mother Djuna (played by Lihi Kornowski) while Brecken was sleeping in his bed. Before he was killed, his mother observed Brecken eating a plastic garbage can in the bathroom, in a way that suggested that she’s seen him do this before. After Djuna killed Brecken, she called someone to come pick up the body.

“It will be here, but I won’t be,” Djuna said matter-of-factly to the person she was talking to on the phone. But when she hung up the phone, she started crying. The scene then shows that the man who arrives at the house to retrieve the body is Lang Dotrice (played by Scott Speedman), Brecken’s father. When Lang sees Brecken’s body, he also starts to sob. What is going on here? It’s explained later in the movie, which also shows what happened to Djuna and Lang.

The harvesting of organs has become a lucrative business. Some people see it as art, while others see it as a crime. But what concerns law enforcement the most in this story is that people with the ability to grow organs abnormally can pass down this ability genetically, thereby possibly creating a population of mutants. It’s the movie’s way of commenting on how eugenics play a role in this society.

During the course of the story, three people are heavily involved in finding and investigating people who have these “mutant” genetics. The National Organ Registry is operated by a stern agent named Wippet (played by Don McKellar), who calls “desktop surgery in public” a “fad” and “repulsive.” Wippet has a subordinate colleague named Timlin (played by Kristen Stewart), who is scientifically curious and less judgmental about these surgeries. And there’s a law enforcement officer named Detective Cope (played by Welket Bungué), who’s on the lookout for people with mutant genes. All three of these people encounter Saul and Caprice at various times during the movie.

Detective Cope works for a department called New Vice. He jokes to Saul that the department got that name because it sounded “sexier than Evolutionary Derangement.” Detective Cope adds, “Sexier gets more funding.” The detective also has a personal reason to hunt for mutants, because he believes that one of his colleagues was deliberately killed by a mutant. It has to do with a plastic candy bar that looked like real chocolate and was ingested by this cop, who died from eating this fake candy bar.

The live surgeries attract elite crowds that have the money to see this type of “high art.” The movie is a not-so-subtle commentary on how morality boundaries can change in a society that reaches a point where something such as paying to see live surgeries is acceptable, as long as it makes a lot of money. At the same time, anything that makes a lot of money is open to getting scrutiny from those who want to regulate and control it.

“Crimes of the Future” also shows how anything that makes a lot of money is often deemed sexy and desirable. More than once, people make a comment that says that this type of surgery is “the new sex.” There are multiple scenes that show how open surgery wounds or surgery scars are considered erotic.

One of the movie’s more visually memorable images is of a man—who has ears that look like skin growths all over his body—getting his eyes and mouth sewn shut before he does a provocative dance for an audience. And there’s a subplot in “Crimes of the Future” about the concept of internal organs being “inner beauty,” with Saul being encouraged to enter an “inner beauty contest.” If all of this sounds too weird to watch in a movie, then “Crimes of the Future” is not for you.

Many scenes in “Crimes of the Future” are meant to make viewers uncomfortable. The live surgery scenes are not for viewers who get easily squeamish. On the other hand, the movie is not as gruesome as many other “blood and guts” horror films. What might make people more uncomfortable than the sight of seeing someone’s intestines being poked, prodded and extracted is the fact that the society in this movie is so casual about these procedures being so public.

“Crimes of the Future” is by no means a perfect movie. The story gets somewhat repetitive in making its point about how art, commerce and morality can get twisted into something unfathomable by the standards of today’s society. It can be labeled science fiction, but it’s not too far off from reality, when in this day and age in real life, there are plastic surgeons who make money from doing livestreams of their surgeries, with the participating patients’ permission to do these livestreams.

Some of the acting and dialogue in “Crimes of the Future” can be stiff and dull. In fact, one of the movie’s biggest flaws is that the characters could have used more depth to their personalities. Mortensen’s Saul is the only one of the main characters who’s written and performed as someone who has more on his mind than these surgeries and mutant genetics. Stewart, who whispers a lot of her dialogue in a way that will thoroughly annoy some viewers, portrays Timlin as fidgety and often insecure—in other words, someone who’s a lot like other characters that Stewart has played before in movies.

The movie introduces a few subplots that ultimately go nowhere, including a possible love triangle between Saul, Caprice and Timlin. Caprice tells Saul almost from the moment that they meet Timlin that she doesn’t trust Timlin. Caprice has a reason to be suspicious, because as soon as Timlin finds out that Saul and Caprice are not lovers, Timlin lets Saul know that she’s romantically interested in him. It’s never really made clear if Caprice is secretly in love with Saul or not, but Caprice acts very possessive of Saul throughout the movie.

Another useless subplot is the introduction of two technical experts named Berst (played by Tanaya Beatty) and Router (played by Nadia Litz), who don’t add much to the story. Berst and Router do repairs on the devices that Saul uses, such as the OrchidBed and the Breakfaster. The last time Berst and Router are seen in the movie, they’ve climbed naked together into an OrchidBed because they want Caprice to do some kind of surgery on them.

“Crimes of the Future” is a very “male gaze” movie, because Caprice is in another scene where she’s shown fully naked too. It’s a scene implying that Caprice is getting sexually aroused by a surgical procedure. Meanwhile, there is no full-frontal male nudity is this movie at all. Caprice could have been a more fascinating character, but she’s very underwritten. She’s coldly clinical for most of the movie, except for scenes that have a sexual context.

Lang ends up seeking out Saul and Caprice for a reason that’s revealed in the last third of the film. This reason is sure to turn off many viewers of the movie, but it’s an extreme example of how far people in this “Crimes of the Future” world will go to get attention for these live surgeries. The messages and themes in “Crimes of the Future” are sometimes delivered in a disjointed and muddled way, but the movie serves up some uncomfortable truths about how human nature can be fickle and how ethical standards of society can fluctuate.

Neon released “Crimes of the Future” in U.S. cinemas on June 3, 2022.

Review: ‘A Chiara,’ starring Swamy Rotolo

June 3, 2022

by Carla Hay

Swamy Rotolo in “A Chiara” (Photo courtesy of Neon)

“A Chiara”

Directed by Jonas Carpignano

Italian with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in the Italian region of Calabria, the dramatic film “A Chiara” features a nearly all-white cast of characters (with one black person) representing the working-class, middle-class and criminal underground.

Culture Clash: After her father disappears, a 15-year-old girl finds out that her tight-knit and loving family has dark secrets. 

Culture Audience: “A Chiara” will appeal primarily to people interested in a well-acted coming-of-age stories about people born into families leading double lives.

Claudio Rotolo, Giorgia Rotolo, Grecia Roloto, Swamy Rotolo and Carmela Fumo in “A Chiara” (Photo courtesy of Neon)

“A Chiara” presents in stark and haunting ways how a family can be destroyed by secrets and lies, and how a child caught in the crossfire can try to heal from the trauma. This two-hour drama needed better film editing, but the performances are compelling. Viewers need patience to get through some of the repetitive aspects of “A Chiara,” but the best sections of the movie outweigh the weaker sections. “A Chiara” had its world premiere at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Directors’ Fortnight Award.

Written and directed by Jonas Carpignano, “A Chiara” (which means “To Chiara” in Italian) takes place in Italy’s Calabria region and mostly in the city of Gioia Tauro. The Guerrasio family lives in Gioia Tauro, in what seems to be a tranquil, middle-class existence. This tight-knit and loving clan includes Claudio Guerrasio (played by Claudio Rotolo), his wife Carmela Guerrasio (played by Carmela Fumo) and their three daughters: Giulia Guerrasio (played by Grecia Rotolo), who turns 18 years old in the story; Chiara Guerrasio (played by Swamy Rotolo), who is 15 years old; and Giorgia Guerrasio (played by Giorgia Rotolo), who’s about 5 or 6 years old.

Chiara is an energetic, curious and athletic child. She’s first seen doing rigorous exercises in a school gym. And later, it’s shown that she’s on the school’s track team. Chiara has a small group of friends at school. Chiara’s closest pal is a girl about her age named Giusi (played by Giuseppina Rotolo), who frequently joins Chiara in their semi-secretive habit of vaping.

At home, all seems to be going well. Chiara, Giulia and Giorgia like to horse around in a playful manner. But amid all this family fun, there are ominous signs that Chiara senses that something is wrong. While she’s alone in the living room one evening, Chiara sees her father outside the house, and he’s talking to another man in a very intense conversation. They are too far away for Chiara to hear what they’re saying, but she senses that they want to keep the conversation private. She says nothing and goes back into another room.

In other parts of the movie, when Chiara sees things that she knows she’s not supposed to see, the movie’s sound becomes muffled, as if she’s trying to block out what she’s witnessing. “A Chiara” uses hand-held cameras (with cinematography by Tim Curtin), to give the film more of a “home movie,” intimate feel. Some viewers might not like all the shaky cam footage in “A Chiara,” but the filmmakers seem to be going for a vibe where a viewer gets to tag along like a documentarian, rather than “A Chiara” looking like a slick and overly polished drama.

Life seems to be blissful for the Guerrasio family during Giulia’s 18th birthday party, which is being held at a restaurant, with about 30 guests at the party. The movie has a segment of about 15 or 16 minutes (a little too long and needed tighter editing) showing this party, where it doesn’t show much except people talking, eating and dancing. Everyone is in good spirits, and things go very smoothly during this celebration.

At the party, there’s a dance contest where Claudio, who is among the four “judges,” casts the deciding vote between final contestants Giulia and Chiara. He votes for Giulia, who is declared the winner. Later, Claudio dances with Chiara and tells her that he had to vote for Giulia because it’s her birthday. A smiling Chiara says that she understands.

Despite the party being a joyful celebration, there are some more subtle clues that Claudio is troubled. During the group dinner, Claudio is asked to make a birthday toast to Giulia, but he refuses. Instead, he insists that his brother Pasquale (played by Pasquale Alampi) say the toast. At the table, Claudio tells Giulia that he’s proud of her. “You are my life.” They both get emotional and start crying.

About three or four rough-looking men, who are not family members or friends, also show up at the party. Later, when Chiara and Giusi go outside to smoke, four other men approach them on the street and start scolding the teens for smoking. Chiara defiantly tells them to mind their own business, and things start to get tense. But then, the group of men see another group of four men, and their attention turns to these other men for a possible confrontation.

Chiara and Giusi are relieved that this encounter with these men didn’t escalate into something dangerous. As Giusi and Chiara walk back toward the restaurant, they both see Chiara’s father Claudio on the street in a heated conversation with the rough-looking men who were at the party. The men seem to be following Claudio, who sees Chiara and makes a hand gesture, as if to tell her to go away. Claudio then quickly gets in his car alone and leaves.

At home later that night, Chiara hears her parents having a panicked discussion. Chiara spies on them, but the viewers can’t hear what’s being said, because the movie’s sound is muffled. Chiara follows her parents outside without them seeing her. Chiara sees her father jump over a wall and leave.

When Chiara goes out on the street a short while later to look for her father, she sees a man on a motorbike pass by her father’s car and throw something at it. The car almost instantly blows up in flames. Luckily, no one was in or near the car. However, Chiara’s mother runs outside and frantically takes Chiara in the house with her.

When the police arrive to investigate, Chiara overhears her mother tell the cops that she didn’t see anything and that the family did not receive any threats. And where is Claudio? Carmela tells Giulia, Chiara and Giorgia (who are all huddled in fear in the same bed): “Everything is under control. Don’t worry. I just spoke to the police.”

When Giulia asks about the sisters’ father, Carmela replies, “Your father is out there, taking care of everything. You know your dad.” But do they really know their dad? Claudio doesn’t come home.

And when Chiara goes to school the next day, she notices that some of the students are avoiding her or talking about her behind her back. It isn’t long before Chiara finds out her father’s big secret and why he disappeared. Chiara goes home and angrily confronts her mother, who essentially admits that it’s true. Claudio’s secret isn’t too surprising to viewers who see all the clues for what they are, but the secret is shocking to Chiara.

Much of the movie chronicles Chiara’s efforts to find her father. She skips a lot of her school classes to play “detective,” and this truancy has consequences that are shown later in the movie. The mystery-solving part of “A Chiara” is a little duller than it should have been. That’s because Chiara repeatedly goes back and talks to a shop owner named Antonio (played by Antonio Rotolo), once Chiara quickly figures out that Antonio knows a lot of her father’s secrets.

“A Chiara” is told from Chiara’s perspective and her determination to find out the whole truth, even if it hurts. Therefore, not much insight is given to how other members of the family are dealing with Claudio’s disappearance. There’s a powerfully acted scene where Chiara confronts Giulia about how much Giulia might have known, but that’s the limited extent that Chiara is shown having an emotional conversation with either of her sisters about their father’s disappearance.

What’s a little odd about the story is that Carmela seems surprised by how Chiara found out about Claudio’s secret, when it’s the most obvious way that anyone with access to a TV or the Internet could get this information. The only conclusion that viewers can reach is that Carmela is the type of person who likes to be deep in denial about things. It’s open to interpretation if this denial is to unselfishly protect her children or to selfishly cover up some complicit misdeeds.

“A Chiara” is a story inspired by real-life family members, who act as various versions of themselves in the movie. And that’s why the chemistry between these cast members looks so authentic. The movie is about a teenager who has to grow up very fast, but “A Chiara” at times lumbers along in how it tells this story, with the last 10 minutes of the movie looking quickly crammed in to have a rushed ending. This uneven pacing doesn’t detract from Swamy Rotolo’s memorable performance, which will keep viewers interested in finding out what happens to this teenager whose life and family are forever altered by her father’s bad choices.

Neon released “A Chiara” in select U.S. cinemas on May 27, 2022. The movie was released in Italy in 2021.

Review: ‘Cow’ (2022), starring Luma

May 1, 2022

by Carla Hay

Luma in “Cow” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

“Cow” (2022)

Directed by Andrea Arnold

Culture Representation: Taking place in England, the documentary film “Cow” features a cast of white people who are farm employees (and secondary characters) in this non-fiction film about a cow named Luma, who lives on a farm.

Culture Clash: The ups and downs of Luma’s life are documented, as she gives birth to two female calves that are taken away from her soon after she gives birth to them. 

Culture Audience: “Cow” will appeal primarily to people interested in seeing what life is like for a cow on a farm, no matter how uncomfortable it might be to watch.

Luma in “Cow” (Photo by Kate Kirkwood/IFC Films)

“Cow” is not always an easy documentary to watch, because it shows the often-harsh realities of being a cow on a farm. The starkness of this reality is fascinating because it can be heartwarming in some ways and disturbing in other ways. Directed in an unfussy style by Andrea Arnold, “Cow” was filmed at a place in England called Park Farm, and the movie focuses on a black-and-white cow named Luma. The documentary does not have an obvious agenda for people to become vegans or vegetarians. Instead, the movie’s intent is to reveal what a typical cow goes through on a farm, and for viewers think about it when it comes to choices in the food that we eat.

“Cow,” which had its world premiere at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival, might get some comparisons to “Gunda,” another cinéma vérité-styled documentary about farm animals in Europe. “Gunda” (which was filmed in Norway) focused on a pig named Gunda, along with her piglets and some of the farm’s cows and chickens. The ending of “Cow” is a lot more impactful than the ending of “Gunda.”

Realistically, the consumption of meat is big business that won’t be going away anytime soon. “Cow” also doesn’t try to present Luma in a cutesy way to make her look as human as possible. When the camera shows Luma bleating when she has a newborn calf taken away from her soon after giving birth the calf, viewers can certainly think that she’s crying out in distress. There are also moments when Luma’s eyes can be interpreted as showing emotions that humans have, such as fear, sadness, joy or contentment.

“Cow” does not pass judgment on what Luma might or might not be thinking. It’s a true cinéma vérité documentary that chronicles what happens in an observational style, without adding any narration, interviews or other commentary. The only dialogue heard in the film is background talk from the farm employees, who are not identified by name in the movie. The farm employees shown in the documentary are a mixture of middle-aged men, young men and young women.

It’s during one of these snippets of conversation toward the end of the film that viewers find out that Luma is a not a young cow. One of the farm employees can be heard saying that Luma is getting old, and that the older Luma has gotten, the more protective she’s been of her children. Nothing else about Luma’s background, including her age, is revealed in the movie. Based on the farm routine, these children are taken away from her almost as soon as she gives birth to them. The farm employees feed the calves with bottles containing Luma’s milk until the calves are old enough to be weaned away from the milk.

Luma is shown given birth twice in the movie. The birthing is done with the assistance of farm employees. Both of her calves are female. The first one is mostly white. The other is nearly all black. Luma barely has time to bond with them before the calves are taken away to a separate fenced-in area where Luma cannot see them. Sensitive viewers should be warned that there are scenes where Luma appears to be in distress because she’s calling out for her children. It’s all open to interpretation, but that’s what it looks like.

“Cow” also has footage of the mundane routine of Luma and other cows being milked in a dark, warehouse-styled part of the farm, where milking tubes are attached to the cows’ udders, as the cows stand in cramped stalls. It’s literally a dirty job, because this milking facility has floors usually covered with mud. None of this footage should be surprising to people who know that most of the milk consumed by humans is cow milk.

Sometimes when they work, the farm employees also like to listen to pop music, which can be heard in the background. Songs in the documentary include Billie Eilish’s “Lovely,” Soak’s “Everybody Lives You,” Mabel’s “Mad Love” and the Pogues’ “Fairytale of New York.” Some of the pop music that’s upbeat is in marked contrast to the dismal scenes of cows and steers being penned up in dark and dirty rooms and/or they are confined in areas where they barely have space to walk around. The cows and steers on this farm aren’t treated like this all the time, but there’s enough shown where it’s obvious they spend many hours of each day in these living conditions.

Luma shows flashes of her personality in how she greets some of the other cows. Her social and friendly nature is most evident in the happiest parts of the movie, when the cows are allowed to roam free in a field, under the supervision of the farm employees. Many of cows, including Luma, gleefully run and frolic in the field. There are also scenes of them lounging in the fields, much like how people lounge on a beach. Luma occasionally stops to nudge and rub against her fellow cattle and let out the occasional “moo,” as if she’s saying hello to them.

One of the funniest parts of the movie is a “courtship” scene where a big black steer is put in a fenced-in area at night to be alone with Luma. The two of them are alone because the farm employees want the steer to impregnant Luma. It just so happens that fireworks are going off in the sky at that time.

The steer approaches Luma by gently licking her on her back (you can call it “cattle foreplay”) and then mounting her, as the fireworks crackle in the distant sky. It’s unclear if that encounter is the one that led to Luma getting pregnant. But by the time the movie shows her giving birth to the second calf, it’s implied that the black steer is the father.

People watching “Cow” will have varying degrees of emotions, depending on how viewers might feel about eating meat and how people feel about farms where most animals are raised for the sole purpose of being killed for their meat. Fortunately, the documentary does not have any scenes of animals being beaten or mass slayings of animals. And the farm employees, especially the women, talk in friendly tones to Luma and the other cattle when they have to herd them or get the animals to do certain things.

However, the cramped and dirty conditions in which these animals live for most of their existence will upset some viewers who don’t want to see images of this depressing reality. The ending of “Cow” is intended to be a massive jolt to viewers. It serves as an uncomfortable reminder that livestock animals on farms are treated as business products, not pets.

IFC Films released “Cow” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on April 8, 2022. The movie was released in the United Kingdom and Ireland on January 14, 2022.

Copyright 2017-2023 Culture Mix
CULTURE MIX