Review: ‘Saint Omer,’ starring Kayije Kagame and Guslagie Malanda

January 1, 2023

by Carla Hay

Guslagie Malanda (far right) in “Saint Omer” (Photo courtesy of Super LTD)

“Saint Omer”

Directed by Alice Diop

French with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in 2016, in Paris and Saint-Omer, France, the dramatic film “Saint Omer” (based partially on a true story) features a cast of white and black people representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A writer/teacher becomes obsessed with attending the trial of a Senegalese immigrant woman accused of murdering her own toddler daughter. 

Culture Audience: “Saint Omer” will appeal primarily to fans of courtroom dramas that reflect larger issues in society.

Kayije Kagame (center) in “Saint Omer” (Photo courtesy of Super LTD)

“Saint Omer” skillfully draws parallels between the gripping drama of a courtroom trial and how mothers are judged by society, when it comes to race, class and privilege. The movie is partially inspired by director Alice Diop’s real-life experiences of becoming obsessed with the case of Fabienne Kabou, a Senegalese immigrant woman accused in 2013 of killing her own baby girl by abandoning the infant on a beach at the rising tide in Berck-sur-Mer, France. Diop traveled from Paris to attend Kabou’s trial, which was held in Saint-Omer, France. Saint-Omer is located about 131 miles (211 kilometers), or a four-hour train ride, from Paris. It’s the same plot presented in “Saint Omer,” which was co-written by Diop, Marie N’Diaye and Amrita David.

“Saint Omer” had its world premiere at the 2022 Venice International Film Festival, where it won the Silver Lion Grand Jury Prize. The movie then made the rounds at several other high-profile film festivals in 2022, including the Toronto International Film Festival, the New York Film Festival, the BFI London Film Festival and AFI Fest. “Saint Omer” has been selected as France’s official entry for the Best International Feature Film for the 2023 Academy Awards. “Saint Omer” is also Diop’s first narrative feature film. She previously directed the 2022 documentary “La Permanence” and the 2016 documentary “We.”

“Saint Omer” opens in 2016, with the introduction of a Paris-based writer/teacher named Rama (played by Kayije Kagame), who teaches a film class and is also working on a novel. Rama and her supportive husband Adrien (played by Thomas de Pourquery) are happily married. She is also close to her two sisters Khady (played by Mariam Diop) and Tening (plauyed by Dado Diop) and their mother Seynabou (played by Adama Diallo Tamba), who are all of Senegalese heritage. The only hint of sadness in the family is when the family members look at old home videos and talk about Seynabou’s late father, who unexpectedly passed away of an unnamed illness. It’s mentioned when they watch these videos that he doesn’t look sick in the videos.

Rama’s world is about to be rocked to the core when she becomes caught up in getting the latest news about a 36-year-old Senegalese woman named Laurence Coly (played by Guslagie Malanda), who is accused of murdering her own 15-month-old daughter Adélaïde in 2015, by abandoning the child on a beach during a high tide. Laurence was raising Adélaïde as a single mother. The prosecution says the motive for this murder was that Ph.D. student Laurence didn’t want the burden of raising a child while working on her thesis.

Rama is struck by how much she and Laurence have in common, in terms of being Senegalese French women of the same age and educated with graduate degrees. Rama is also pregnant, but doesn’t reveal that information right away. And just like Laurence’s child, Rama’s child will be biracial, by having have a black mother and a white father.

Rama is compelled to attend the trial every day, so she travels to Saint-Omer by train, and she stays at a hotel for however long the trial will take place. She tells Adrien and her family that maybe the trial could be an inspiration for her next novel. However, it soon becomes obvious that Rama is going to the trial for more than just informational purposes or research. She’s going to see what kind of person Laurence is and how she will be treated by the criminal justice system in this trial. So much of Laurence’s case is subtly and not-so-subtly focused on how Laurence’s race and immigrant status might have affected what she’s been accused of doing.

The majority of screen time in “Saint Omer” consists of the trial proceedings, especially the riveting testimony of Laurence, who essentially tells her life story under questioning. It’s a story of a woman whose life is a mess of contradictions: She sought to gain social-status privilege but was also repelled by social-status privilege. She hates her dysfunctional relationship with her unavailable father, but she also got involved in a dysfunctional relationship with an unavailable older married man, who was the father of Adélaïde. She’s educated about the psychology of people but also ignorant about how she should treat her own mental-health issue of depression.

Laurence’s father Robert is a United Nations translator, who was in a relationship with Laurence’s mother for seven years, but they never married, and he ended the relationship to be with another woman. Robert financially supported Laurence up until a certain point, but he was never emotionally available to her, according to what Laurence says in her trial testimony. Laurence says that her single mother put a lot of pressure on her to succeed. In 1998, at the age of 18, Laurence moved from Senegal to France, because she wanted to get away from her parents.

Laurence’s ex-lover/Adélaïde father Luc Dumontet (played by Xavier Maly) and his wife Cécile Jobard (played by Charlotte Clamens) also testify in the trial. But it is Laurence’s testimony that captivates the courtroom spectators (and the viewers of “Saint Omer”) the most. Rama feels such a strong connection to Laurence, when Rama happens to see Laurence’s mother Odile Diatta (played by Salimata Kamate) randomly outside the courtroom, Rama impulsively strikes up a conversation with Odile and tries to get to know her better.

Malanda’s transfixing performance as Laurence is really the centerpiece of “Saint Omer,” because Rama’s story takes a backseat when the movie focuses on Laurence’s testimony. However, viewers get to see how this trial is affecting Rama when she goes back to her hotel room and has conversations with Adrien about it. Keeping her pregnancy a secret starts to take its toll. Rama eventually reveals in a powerful scene why she kept her pregnancy a secret. Kagame’s performance as Rama is very good, but Rama is not as complex as Laurence.

The underlying tone of “Saint Omer” asks viewers to pay attention to the clues of how people in the movie react to Laurence as a defendant in this case. There’s a stereotype that women who are accused of murdering their children usually have a financial motive, either because they can’t afford childcare or want to get insurance money. Laurence doesn’t fit that stereotype, so it adds fuel to the public’s fascination with her.

Laurence also doesn’t fit the stereotype of an underprivileged, undereducated “angry” black woman who gets accused of a violent crime. There are racial implications in how people react to Laurence’s demure image, eloquence in speaking and calm demeanor when she’s on the witness stand. Does it unnerve people that Laurence comes across as mournful and defeated instead of angry and defiant? And what does that say about how people think black women “should” act in the situation that Laurence is in during this trial?

By extension, Rama feels some of this racial judgment in Saint-Omer, a city that has a large population of working-class white people. How do many of these people feel when they encounter or see well-educated immigrants who are of a different race? The voir dire process shown in “Saint Omer” gives an insightful look into people’s attitudes among the pool of potential jurors before they even hear a word of testimony from Laurence.

The trial in “Saint Omer” is a symbol for larger issues of how the criminal justice system treats people of different races who are accused of the same crimes. Who deserves mercy and redemption? There are no easy answers, but there are patterns to how a defendant’s fate in the criminal justice system is largely determined by the defendant’s race and socioeconomic status. “Saint Omer” is also a thoughtful warning of what can happen when mental health problems go untreated, which is an issue that transcends all cultural boundaries.

Super LTD released “Saint Omer” in select U.S. cinemas for a one-week limited engagement on December 9, 2022. The movie’s release expands to more U.S. cinemas on January 13, 2023. “Saint Omer” was released in France on November 23, 2022.

Review: ‘Some Like It Rare,’ starring Marina Foïs and Fabrice Eboué

October 24, 2022

by Carla Hay

Marina Foïs and Fabrice Eboué in “Some Like It Rare” (Photo courtesy of Brainstorm Media)

“Some Like It Rare”

Directed by Fabrice Eboué

French with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Melun, France, the horror comedy film “Some Like It Rare” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some black people and people of Middle Eastern heritage) representing the middle-class and working-class.

Culture Clash: After a married couple’s butcher shop is vanadalized by vegan animal-rights activists, the spouses get revenge by becoming cannibal serial killers who mostly target vegans.

Culture Audience: “Some Lke It Rare” will appeal mainly to people who are interested in watching dark horror comedies that are satires of social issues.

Fabrice Eboué, Marina Foïs and Tom Pezier in “Some Like It Rare” (Photo courtesy of Brainstorm Media)

“Some Like It Rare” is a brutally funny satire that lampoons the cultural divide between meat consumers and vegans. A horror comedy about cannibal serial killers could have been mishandled, but “Some Like It Rare” is a skillful balance of macabre and mirth. It goes without saying that viewers who get easily squeamish by cannibal horror should use their own discretion on whether or not to watch “Some Like It Rare,” because this movie has some very bloody and graphic scenes that are not for overly sensitive viewers.

“Some Like It Rare” is a memorable showcase for the talent of Fabrice Eboué, who directed the movie and is one of the co-writers and main stars. Eboué co-wrote the film with Vincent Solignac, who is a fellow prolific actor/screenwriter. Through its a very dark comedy, “Some Like It Rare” has incisive observations about how different perceptions of what type of life is valued the most can affect the way that people treat each other and also perceive themselves. “Some Like It Rare” can occasionally get very repetitive, but the story moves along at a pace that should keep viewers interested.

In “Some Like It Rare” (which takes place in Melun, France), Eboué portrays Vincent Pascal, a mild-mannered butcher who co-owns and co-operates a butcher shop called Boucherie Pascal with his wife Sophie Pascal (played by Marina Foïs), who is much more assertive and outspoken than Vincent. (“Some Like It Rare” was actually filmed in Le Havre, France.) Vincent and Sophie have hit a rough patch in their marriage, where their sex life has become non-existent. Adding to this tension, their butcher shop is financially struggling.

Sophie isn’t shy about expressing how unhappy she is in the marriage. She complains to Vincent that he gives more attention to their shop’s meat and to their pit bull Chubster than he gives to her. Sophie tells Vincent one day that she thinks that they should separate. He doesn’t put up much resistance to this idea. However, before Vincent and Sophie actually go through with the separation, something happens that will change their lives forever.

One day, a group of four people wearing masks and white jumpsuits storm into Boucherie Pascal, splash red paint all over the shop, and yell at Vincent and Sophie for being murderers for selling meat. Vincent chases them out of the store and gets into a tussle with a few of them. One of the men’s masks comes off, so Vincent is able to see his face. Before running away and getting into their van, one of the men in this group of vandals yells, “Vegan Power!” It’s another obvious indication that these are extreme vegan activists.

Vincent and Sophie don’t report this crime to police. Later, Sophie and Vincent have dinner at the home of their best friends Marc Brachard (played by Jean-François Cayrey) and Stéphanie Brachard (played by Virginie Hocq), a materialistic and pretentious couple who love to brag about how they’re doing financially better than Vincent and Sophie. Marc and Stéphanie are also in the meat-selling business, but they have a number of profitable shops, compared to Vincent and Sophie, who are barely surviving financially with their one shop.

Sophie confides in Stéphanie that a bank recently turned down Vincent and Sophie’s request for a loan. It’s just one more reason for arrogant Marc and Stéphanie to have the dinner conversation revolve around Marc and Stéphanie yammering on about their recent luxury vacations, their six-figure household income, and how they’re thinking about buying a home in Morocco. During this dinner, Marc gives a rifle to Vincent as a gift, but Vincent is reluctant to take the rifle, since he doesn’t have a gun permit. Marc makes derogatory comments about black people and hipster vegans, and then he tries to show that he’s macho by taking the rifle and shooting an inflatable toy duck in the swimming pool.

While driving home from this emotionally draining dinner party, Vincent and Sophie are on a deserted road when the car accidentally hits a man (played by Alexis Pujol), who suddenly appeared in front of their car. He is instantly killed. And when Vincent and Sophie get out of the car, they see that the man they hit is wearing the same white jumpsuit as one of the vandals who invaded the store. Vincent instantly recognizes him as the man whose mask came off.

Vincent’s guilt about this accident quickly turns to smugness. Vincent quips about the man dying instantly: “If he had eaten meat, he might have been tougher.” Sophie is a true-crime aficionado who knows a lot of trivia about serial killers. She suggests to Vincent that they not report the crime, dismember the body, and let the police think that this death was caused by a serial killer name Michel Francois, a city hall worker who is known for dismembering his victims and leaving the body parts around the city. It’s a shaky plan at best, but Vincent goes along with it.

After the body is dismembered, Vincent and Sophie get rid of the body parts by secretly grinding them up and selling these remains in the butcher shop as “Iranian pork.” When customers ask where Sophie and Vincent get this “Iranian pork,” Sophie and Vincent say that their supplier is a farmer whose identity they want to keep a secret because they don’t want their competition to find out. The “Iranian pork” becomes a big hit in the community, and the butcher shop starts to thrive financially.

But it results in Vincent and Sophie needing to get more of this “special meat,” which they try for themselves and find out that they actually like to eat human flesh. And so, their serial killing begins, as Vincent and Sophie decide to target vegans (especially vegans who come across as self-righteous and preachy) as their murder victims. Vincent (using the rifle that Marc gave him and meat cleavers) does the actual killing, while Sophie eggs him on and is usually the one who decides who the next victim will be. During this murder spree, Vincent and Sophie sometimes pretend to be vegan activists to infiltrate the places where vegan activists congregate.

Around the same time that Vincent and Sophie begin their secret lives as cannibal serial killers, their teenage daughter Chloé Pascal (played by Lisa Do Couto Texeira), a college student who doesn’t live in the same household, introduces her new boyfriend to her parents. He’s an agronomy student named Lucas (played by Victor Meutelet), who is a very strict vegan. Chloé announces to her parents that she’s now become a vegan too. Vincent and Sophie meet Lucas for the very first time in a comical scene where Lucas is invited over for dinner in the Pascal home, but he rejects every dinner item that is served because it violates his vegan standards.

Over time, Vincent and Sophie’s shared bonding about their secret life puts the spark back in their marriage, and their sex life is revived. Vincent and Sophie call off their planned separation and decide to stay together. But at what cost? Vincent is alarmed to find out how far Sophie is willing to go to get “fresh meat.”

For example, Sophie has no problem with wanting to murder women and children, but Vincent is initially appalled by this idea. Sophie is also more cold-hearted when it comes to the mostly male victims whom they choose to kill. For example, Vincent and Sophie target an overweight man named Winnie (played by Tom Pezier), but Vincent hesitates to kill him when Winnie says he was bullied as a child as he begs for his life. Sophie is unmoved by this childhood sob story, and Winnie becomes one of the couple’s murder victims.

“Some Like It Rare” makes a lot of obvious comparisons between what Vincent and Sophie do to what human hunters do when they hunt for animal meat. The movie also has an intentionally ironic montage sequence that juxtaposes archival footage of wild animals killing and eating other wild animals with footage of the murderous activities of Vincent and Sophie. As time goes on, Sophie gets more fanatical during the murder spree, but the story won’t necessarily go in the direction that some viewers might think it will go. Real-life French TV host Christophe Hondelatte plays a version of himself, as a TV host of a true-crime news show that talks about a lot of the serial killers who fascinate Sophie.

As this serial-killing couple, Eboué and Foïs show a talented ability to bring the right tone to this very dark parody that walks a fine line between being clever and being crass. Beyond the murder aspect of the story, “Some Like It Rare” also explores what greed and financial desperation can do to people. And although Vincent and Sophie are equally guilty of these murders, there’s a point in the movie where it becomes evident that their loyalty to each other will eventually be tested in a big way.

“Some Like It Rare” doesn’t take a stance either way in support of meat eating or veganism. Rather, it shows that people are capable of extreme ways of defending their choices of what to eat and drink, as well as how to possibly profit from those choices. “Some Like It Rare” poses these provocative questions that can cause debate: “What kind of vegan or vegetarian thinks it’s okay to commit violence against humans in the name of animal rights? Why do meat eaters consider certain animals as acceptable to eat and not other animals?” The answers, just like who might enjoy watching “Some Like It Rare,” really depends on the individual person.

Brainstorm Media released “Some Like It Rare” in select U.S. cinemas on October 7, 2022. The movie was released on digital and VOD on October 14, 2022. “Some Like It Rare,” originally titled “Barbaque” (French for “barbeque”), was released in France in 2021.

Review: ‘Waiting for Bojangles,’ starring Virginie Efira, Romain Duris and Grégory Gadebois

September 3, 2022

by Carla Hay

Romain Duris and Virginie Efira in “Waiting for Bojangles” (Photo courtesy of Blue Fox Entertainment)

“Waiting for Bojangles”

Directed by Régis Roinsard

French with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place briefly in 1958 and mostly in 1967, in France and Spain, the comedy/drama film “Waiting for Bojangles” features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A longtime con artist and a seemingly free-spirited woman fall in love and have a son together, but she is battling a serious mental illness that threatens to ruin their relationship.

Culture Audience: “Waiting for Bojangles” will appeal mainly to people who don’t mind watching tonally imbalanced movies that have irresponsible depictions of mental illness.

Solan Machado Graner, Romain Duris and Virginie Efira in “Waiting for Bojangles” (Photo courtesy of Blue Fox Entertainment)

The cast members look committed to their roles, but the comedy/drama “Waiting for Bojangles” has an off-balance tone that carelessly tries to make mental illness look like a cutesy personality quirk. The movie’s manipulative ending is awful. The only people who will like the ending of “Waiting for Bojangles” are viewers who are willing to go along with and overlook all the bad parenting on display in this annoying movie that tries to make a lot of excuses for adults’ horrendous actions.

Directed by Régis Roinsard, “Waiting for Bojangles” is based on Olivier Bourdeaut’s 2016 novel of the same name. Roinsard and Romain Compingt co-wrote the movie screenplay for “Waiting for Bojangles.” The novel has also been made into a theater production and a comic book geared to adults. On the surface, the movie might look like a lighthearted romantic comedy, but it takes a very dark and unpleasant turn in the last third of the film.

The opening scene in “Waiting for Bojangles” begins in 1958, at an upscale party attended by society people in an unnamed city in southeastern France. The party is being held at a mansion overlooking the French Riviera. A raconteur named George Fouquet (played by Romain Duris) doesn’t know anyone at the party, but that doesn’t stop him from being charming and sociable with the people he meets at this soiree. Georges smiles a lot and exudes confidence, which make him look attractive and friendly.

Within the first 10 minutes of the movie, viewers will see that Georges is telling people different stories about who he is. He tells some people that he’s from Romania and that his father was an important auto dealer in Detroit. He tells some other people that he’s originally from Spain.

A few people notice that Georges speaks perfect French, with no trace of an accent from another country, but he has an explanation for every question that people might have about him. Word gets around the party about this intriguing stranger. And before you know it, some of the people who think that Georges is from Romania start speculating that he’s a direct descendant of Count Dracula.

Why is Georges lying about who he is? He’s a longtime con artist, and he’s actually an uninvited guest who crashed this party. One of the first people he meets at this soiree is a pretty and lively blonde woman (played by Virginie Efira), who refuses to tell Georges her name when he asks her. She jokes that her name is Jean-Paul.

Georges tells her that he’ll call her Antoinette, because he says that women named Antoinette are usually glamorous. She takes Georges’ comment as the compliment it was meant to be. And so begins the flirtation and joking banter between Georges and “Antoinette” at this party, where they drink champagne and end up dancing with each other.

“Antoinette” tells Georges that he reminds her of a portrait painting that she has of a handsome Prussian hussar. (As soon as she mentions this painting, you just know this painting will be seen later in the movie.) Georges reacts by making up an entire story about how he is the hussar in the painting, and he proceeds to talk about this fabricated life. “Antoinette” goes along with this obvious joke.

Many of the party attendees begin talking to each other about Georges, so it’s eventually discovered that he’s been telling conflicting stories about himself. Numerous party attendees surround and corner Georges at the same time to demand to know who he really is. Georges admits that he was never invited to this party. And just as he’s about to be thrown out, “Antoinette” jumps into the nearby Mediterranean Sea as a distraction. Georges jumps in after her, to show her that he’s just as much of an impulsive daredevil that she is.

And the next thing you know, Georges and “Antoinette” are driving off in Georges’ car, she suggests they get married, they find an empty chapel somewhere in the mountains, and they “marry” each other in a private, non-legal ceremony with no one else but Georges and “Antoinette” in the room. The chapel just happens to be lighted with candles and “Antoinette” somehow has a white bridal veil, even though the movie never explains where she got that veil. Get used to “Waiting for Bojangles” having a lot of scenes that raise a lot of questions that remain unanswered.

“Waiting for Bojangles” is filled with a lot of these unrealistic scenarios, because the movie tries hard to convince viewers that this relationship started off as a whirlwind, “fairytale” romance. Even after getting “married,” the woman whom Georges calls “Antoinette” still hasn’t told him her real name or anything about herself. “Waiting for Bojangles” keeps pushing the warped idea that this deceit and secrecy are supposed to make the couple’s relationship look exciting, with a hint of danger, when it’s actually just a ticking time bomb waiting to explode.

After having sex on the chapel floor, Georges and “Antoinette” spend the night in the chapel. He wakes up to find her gone, and two elderly women looking shocked when they see naked Georges (who somehow found a mattress to sleep on) in the chapel where the two women have arrived to pray. Georges makes a hasty exit, drives back into the nearest town to look for his new “bride,” and within minutes he finds her.

“Antoinette” is really a very troubled woman named Camille. Georges finds out her identity by going to his middle-aged playboy friend Charles (played by Grégory Gadebois), who knows people at the party that Georges crashed. Georges asks Charles to help Georges find this mystery woman. Charles is a member of the French Parliament, and Georges finds him in a hotel room after Charles has been entertaining two women who were Charles’ sexual conquests. It turns out that Charles knows Camille, who works at a flower shop, because she’s a longtime friend of his.

Georges goes to the flower shop where Camille works and sees her in a conflict with her boss (played by Christian Ameri), who accuses her of stealing money. Camille angrily throws a small tub of water at the boss and yells at him, “I quit!” Georges witnesses this spectacle, and he grins as if he’s proud of Camille.

As she walks out of the flower shop in a huff, Georges catches up to Camille and starts talking to her as if he’s not bothered at all that she walked out on him and left him behind at the chapel. Georges confesses to Camille that he’s a chronic liar and a con artist but that he’s fallen madly in love with her. Camille tells Georges, “Congratulations. You’re a scoundrel. I’m the queen of lost causes.”

During this conversation on the street, Georges convinces Camille that they should be a couple, even though she cynically tells him that people rarely end up with the loves of their lives. Georges replies by saying that she hasn’t met the love of her life yet. He predicts that the love of her life will be a son they have together named Gary, named after actor Gary Cooper.

The movie then abruptly fast-forwards nine months later. Camille is in a hospital ward giving birth, while Georges and Charles are in a waiting area outside. Camille gives birth to a boy. And you already know what Georges and Camille will name their son: Gary.

“Waiting for Bojangles” then does another sudden time jump, to 1967. Gary (played by Solan Machado Graner) is now 8 or 9 years old. And he’s being bullied by some boys at school because Gary has inherited his parents’ habit of telling lies and making up grandiose stories about themselves.

There’s a scene in the movie where Camille tells Gary, “When reality is a banal and sad, make up a fabulous story.” In other words, she’s advising her son to tell lies to escape from reality. It’s a horrible way to teach a child to cope with life’s difficulties.

Eventually, it’s also revealed that Camille (who is a homemaker) doesn’t really care if Gary attends school on a regular basis. Instead, she is more concerned about making Gary think that life can be one big party with no real responsibilities. And for a while, Camille and Georges live this way, by throwing large and boisterous house parties with eclectic groups of people that range from aristocrats to working-class poor people as guests at the same party.

Georges has gotten an unnamed sales job that barely pays for this lavish lifestyle that Camille and Georges want to have. Camille doesn’t really like that Georges has the responsibility of an office job with strict working hours, but she tolerates it as long as she thinks Georges doesn’t become too “boring” for her. Georges just want to make Camille happy.

Because Gary has no friends and Camille doesn’t seem to care that he’s socially isolated, Camille gets him a Demoiselle crane named Miss Superfétatoire, nicknamed Mademoiselle. The movie never explains how this Demoiselle crane came into the family’s possession, but it’s treated like a dog that they walk around on leash. This Demoiselle crane becomes Gary’s closest friend. Charles pops in and out of this family’s life, usually to help out when things get rough for Camille and Georges.

Things eventually do come crashing down for this family. And not just because Georges and Camille get heavily in debt. Camille has a secret that Charles already knows about but eventually Georges finds out when he sees her sudden and extreme mood swings. She has a mental illness that is not named in the movie, but it looks like bipolar disorder, based on what Camille says and does. And she does some heinous things that put herself and other people in danger.

“Waiting for Bojangles” gets its name from the fact that “Mr. Bojangles” is Camille’s favorite song since childhood, because it reminds her of happier times in her youth. Camille and Georges also dance to this song as often as possible because they consider it to be their couple’s song. The problem with this plot device is that in real life, “Mr. Bojangles” was originally recorded by Jerry Jeff Walker in 1969 and released in 1970—after the events in this movie take place. It’s one of many sloppy aspects of the writing in “Waiting for Bojangles.”

In real life, artists such as the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Sammy Davis Jr., Nina Simone and Bob Dylan had well-known cover versions of “Mr. Bojangles” in the 1970s. People with knowledge of this music history might be confused over why “Mr. Bojangles,” which wasn’t released until the 1970s and is most associated with the 1970s, is supposed to be a childhood favorite song of a movie character who was supposed to be born sometime in the 1930s. The “Waiting for Bojangles” novel is set in the 2010s, and is told from the perspectives of Gary as a child and his father. The “Waiting for Bojangles” movie foolishly changes the time period setting to the 1950s and 1960s, even though the movie’s centerpiece song is a 1970s song.

The production notes for “Waiting for Bojangles” has a Q&A-formatted interview with “Waiting for Bojangles” director Roinsard, who says he chose to have the movie take place in the 1950s and 1960s, because “I have a weakness for these two decades … and the ’80s too.” Roinsard also says in this interview that he wanted to have the movie take place during a time before cell phones existed. Then why not just set the movie in the 1980s, and have it be Camille’s favorite song from her younger years? At least the 1980s would be a decade where the “Mr. Bojangles” song existed in real life.

The incorrect timeline for the “Mr. Bojangles” song is not the only thing very wrong with the “Waiting for Bojangles” movie. It drags on for too long, with a total running time of 124 minutes. At least 20 minutes could have been cut from the movie if the filmmakers decided to shorten some of the repetitive party scenes that don’t do much for the story. The pacing becomes tedious in scenes where it’s just a rehash of Camille and Georges trying to avoid their obvious troubles.

The cast members’ performances aren’t really a problem, although at times the acting is too affected and self-aware of the cameras. As the volatile and unpredictable Camille, Efira does what she’s supposed to do in portraying a mentally ill person who goes through a wide range of emotions. Duris is quite watchable as Georges, until his character becomes a bit too one-note. Viewers with enough life experience will not see the Georges/Camille love affair as endearing but will see it for what it really is: a dysfunctional and delusional train wreck.

The movie doesn’t give a lot of background information to explain why Georges and Camille ended up as they people they are in this story. The only thing that viewers will learn about the people who knew Georges before he met Camille is that he briefly mentions that his parents have now disowned him because he and Camille are living together and have started a family without being married. (In the “Waiting for Bojangles” book, the couple is legally married.) The movie tells absolutely nothing about where Camille comes from and who were her loved ones before meeting Georges.

The movie’s character development is very flimsy. Camille becomes increasingly unstable, while Georges (who’s often in denial about Camille’s mental illness) becomes an increasingly helpless bystander to Camille’s out-of-control meltdowns. The strain of taking care of a mentally ill partner eventually diminishes a lot of Georges’ zest for life, although he tries to put up a happy front for Gary. The movie doesn’t have character development as much as it just has a series of scenes where this family has to deal with chaos (almost always inflicted by Camille) that gets worse over time.

“Waiting for Bojangles” has a tinge of misogyny, because Camille is the only female character with a significant speaking role in the movie—and she’s a mess with a violent temper. For example, when a male debtor stops by the family home to tell Camille and Georges that they’re about to lose their home, Camille reacts by viciously beating this stranger with an umbrella until he leaves in fear. Georges witnesses this crime but does nothing to stop it and does nothing to admonish Camille for this cruel violence. After a while, the movie turns Camille from a loving but difficult woman into a problematic and dangerous quasi-villain.

“Waiting for Bojangles” is also a very “straight male gaze” film, because even though Camille and Georges have nude scenes, only Camille has full-frontal nudity in the movie. It’s a double standard that implies that male directors don’t want to see the genitals of their male actors on screen, but these male directors tell their female actors to get fully naked and show their entire nude bodies on screen. This double standard is usually an example of sexist exploitation of women by directors.

Although the movie has the benefit of some gorgeous cinematography and aesthetically pleasing production design, “Waiting for Bojangles” has a very off-putting way of telling the human part of the story. It starts off as an absurdist romantic comedy and ends up as a heavy-handed tragedy, with a final scene that is overly contrived to be a tearjerker. Avoid watching “Waiting for Bojangles” if you don’t want to see a very misguided and borderline offensive portrayal of mental illness.

Blue Fox Entertainment released “Waiting for Bojangles” in select U.S. cinemas on September 2, 2022. The movie was released in France on January 5, 2022.

Review: ‘Both Sides of the Blade,’ starring Juliette Binoche, Vincent Lindon and Grégoire Colin

August 6, 2022

by Carla Hay

Vincent Lindon and Juliette Binoche in “Both Sides of the Blade” (Photo courtesy of Curiosa Films/IFC Films)

“Both Sides of the Blade”

Directed by Claire Denis 

French with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in the French cities of Paris, Vitry-sur-Seine, and Bayonne, the dramatic film “Both Sides of the Blade” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few black and biracial people) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A woman and a man, who have been in a nine-year, live-in relationship, have their relationship tested when the woman starts to think about getting back together with her most recent ex-lover, who was her current lover’s best friend.

Culture Audience: “Both Sides of the Blade” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star Juliette Binoche, filmmaker Claire Denis and well-acted movies that take their time exploring the intracacies of conflicted feelings about love triangles.

Grégoire Colin and Juliette Binoche in “Both Sides of the Blade” (Photo courtesy of Curiosa Films/IFC Films)

“Both Sides of the Blade” is so immersive with the stifling tedium of staying too long in a dead-end relationship, viewers might be bored by the movie’s slow pacing. The performances depicting a love triangle make this introspective drama worth watching. “Both Sides of the Blade” (formerly titled “Fire”) is not the movie to watch if people are expecting a lot of neatly resolved storylines or a movie where there are clearly defined “heroes” and “villains.” The movie doesn’t pass judgment on who’s “right” and who’s “wrong” in this love triangle, but instead presents what happens in an observational way.

Directed by Claire Denis, “Both Sides of the Blade” (which takes place in France) is based on Christine Angot’s 2019 novel “Un tournant de la Vie,” which means “a turning point in life” in French. Angot and Denis co-wrote the “Both Sides of the Blade” screenplay. “Both Sides of the Blade” had its world premiere at the 2022 Berlin International Film Festival, where Denis won the Silver Bear prize for Best Director.

The story is essentially about a couple who got together because of infidelity and betrayal, and the woman in this couple starts to wonder if she made a mistake and should go back to her ex. The movie’s biggest strength can also be considered its biggest weakness: It realistically shows the back-and-forth indecision that some people have in love triangles about if, how or when they should end a relationship, in order to choose one person over another. Some viewers will be frustrated by this indecision seeming to drag throughout most the movie, while other viewers might be curious to keep watching to see what until the very end of the movie.

In “Both Sides of the Blade,” radio journalist Sara (played by Juliette Binoche) and sports agent Jean (played by Vincent Lindon) are a Paris-based couple who are in their late 50s to early 60s and who have been living together for the past nine years. The movie’s opening scene shows Sara and Jean frolicking together in a large body of water during what appears to be a romantic vacation. Jean and Sara later have sex. Everything looks like they are a loving couple in a healthy relationship.

But it isn’t long before the cracks in the relationship begin to show. And the trigger seems to be when Sara unexpectedly sees her ex-lover François (played by Grégoire Colin) on a street, but he does not see her. Sara seems so overcome with emotion after seeing François, when she’s at the radio station, she leans against a wall and whispers repeatedly, “François,” as if she’s pining for a long-lost lover.

When Sara is at home with Jean, she casually mentions to him that she saw François, just to see what Jean’s reaction will be. He doesn’t seem phased either way. Sara seems like she wants Jean to have more of an emotional reaction, or even some curiosity, at this news. She’s disappointed that this sighting of François doesn’t affect Jean as much as it’s affected her.

The story of this love triangle is revealed slowly in “Both Sides of the Blade,” with no flashbacks but with descriptions of the past that are discussed in conversations. When Sara met Jean, he was married to another woman who is now his ex-wife. Sara was living with François, who was Jean’s best friend and co-worker at the time. On the first or second occasion that Sara and Jean met, the three of them (Sara, François and Jean) went to a house party together.

Sara vividly remembers that at this party, Jean watched her and François dancing together. Jean was looking at a computer, but he was also noticing Sara and François. Sara was emotionally struck by how happy and contended Jean looked at that moment. And she felt a spark of attraction to Jean.

This trio left the party together by sharing a taxi. Rather than wait for the tax to drop off Sara and François at their place first, Jean decided that he was going to walk back to his house because his wife was waiting for him at home. The presumption is that Jean couldn’t wait to see her. Sara remembers feeling at that moment that Jean’s wife must be very lucky to have a spouse who’s so devoted to her.

At some point, Jean became attracted to Sara too, and this attraction turned into mutual love. Not too many details are given about the breakup of Jean’s marriage and the end of Sara’s relationship with François. But what is clear is that Sara and Jean left their respective partners to be with each other. And there was enough messiness and hard feelings that Jean’s unnamed ex-wife (who’s never seen in the movie) no longer speaks to him.

François has also been out of the lives of Sara and Jean for quite some time. Until now. And later, Jean has some bombshell news for Sara: François is starting his own sports agency, and he wants to bring on Jean as a partner. This news sends Sara on a path of inner turmoil and confusion that she tries to hide from Jean.

Her emotional agitation is also mixed with curiosity about how seeing François again on a regular basis will affect her life and if she can handle it. As far as Jean knows, his relationship with Sara is pretty good, although not as passionate was it was in the beginning. Over time, it becomes obvious that Sara feels differently from Jean: She thinks her relationship with Jean has hit a rut and that the relationship isn’t necessarily worth saving.

It’s not that Jean is mistreating her in any way. But perhaps Sara has been falling out of love with him and doesn’t quite know how to tell Jean. For Sara, seeing François again has made Sara think that maybe she made a mistake in leaving François for Jean. Her anxiety goes into overdrive when Jean makes the decision to start working with François. Sara knows that this work relationship will affect all three of their personal lives.

“Both Sides of the Blade” has a somewhat awkwardly placed subplot about Jean’s estranged relationship with his 15-year-old son Marcus (played by Issa Perica), who is in his second year of high school. Marcus lives with Jean’s mother Nelly (played by Bulle Ogier) in Vitry-sur-Seine, which is about five miles from Paris. Marcus’ mother currently lives in Martinique and is not really in contact with him, implying that she abandoned him.

Marcus is currently having problems because he’s been stealing money from Nelly, and he’s been getting into fights with other boys at school. Marcus is close to being expelled at school. Marcus tells Jean that he if he drops out of high school, he’ll probably will go to a trade school, because he has no plans for a university/college education. It’s unclear if his parents’ divorce caused Marcus to have any emotional problems, but his interactions with Jean are very strained. Marcus (who is biracial; his mother is black) claims that he’s being bullied at school because he’s not white, and he says the black kids and Arab kids at school get treated the worst.

Jean doesn’t show much empathy and makes a racist comment to Marcus by asking why black people and Arab people can’t think independently of their own skin color. (It’s very easy for anyone who benefits from white supremacy to have the attitude that Jean has.) Jean then lectures Marcus by saying that Marcus needs to be his own person. There seems to be no real point to this scene, except to show that although Jean might be very loving to Sara, he’s not a very good father to Marcus.

One of the movie’s flaws is that it doesn’t show or tell much about Sara’s life outside of her home and work. She apparently doesn’t have any close friends, and she doesn’t confide in anyone about her unresolved feelings for François. Mati Diop has a quick and thankless role as a pharmacist name Gabrielle, who seems to be an acquaintance of Sara’s.

There’s no real mention of Sara’s family. She seems to be completely uninterested in having any type of relationship with Marcus. And that’s not surprising, considering that Marcus probably blames her and Jean for the breakup of his parents’ marriage.

Even less is told about François, who is in the movie fleetingly, as Sara eventually ends up spending some private time with him. “Both Sides of the Blade” is told from Sara’s perspective the most. The movie seems to make François look mysterious and intriguing as a way of Sara trying to relive that heady feeling when someone want to start a romance but it’s unknown if the other person really wants the same thing.

Is Sara one of those people who likes the chase and then becomes bored after she gets what she wants? Binoche’s performance is fascinating because it will keep viewers guessing about her motives and whether or not she really thinks that being with François will make her happy. Lindon also gives a nuanced performance as Jean, but Jean’s story arc is ultimately more predictable than Sara’s.

“Both Sides of the Blade” is far from being a masterpiece. It will probably never be considered a classic film either, because so many other movies have covered similar “love triangle” stories in much better ways. But if you have an interest in movies where talented cast members skillfully portray people with messy love lives, then “Both Sides of the Blade” is a fairly solid option.

IFC Films released “Both Sides of the Blade” in select U.S. cinemas on July 8, 2022. The movie is set for release on digital and VOD on August 23, 2022.

Review: ‘Lux Æterna,’ starring Charlotte Gainsbourg and Béatrice Dalle

July 10, 2022

by Carla Hay

Béatrice Dalle and Charlotte Gainsbourg in “Lux Æterna” (Photo courtesy of Yellow Veil Pictures)

“Lux Æterna”

Directed by Gaspar Noé

Some language in French and German with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed city in France, the comedy/drama film “Lux Æterna” features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: One the film set of a movie about a witch hunt, the atmosphere of the set quickly descends into chaos. 

Culture Audience: “Lux Æterna” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of filmmaker Gaspar Noé, star Charlotte Gainsbourg and visually striking movies that don’t follow a traditional narrative structure.

A scene from “Lux Æterna” (Photo courtesy of Yellow Veil Pictures)

People who watch the boldly unconventional “Lux Æterna” will get more out of it if they know it’s a satirical fever dream that unfolds in “real time.” In other words, forget about getting to know the characters in depth during this 51-minute movie. Underneath the rambling dialogue and chaotic scenes, “Lux Æterna” is a snapshot of how a movie set can reflect gender politics in society.

Gaspar Noé wrote and directed “Lux Æterna,” which had its world premiere at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival. People who are familiar with arthouse movies might already know that Noé is a very divisive filmmaker. The central characters in his movies tend to be very “unlikable.” Regardless of how people feel about Noé as a filmmaker, his movies are unquestionably memorable.

If “Lux Æterna” had been at least 90 minutes, it would have been a complete chore to watch. But a 51-minute running time for this movie just enough time for “Lux Æterna” to make a point without being repetitive. There’s not much to the screenplay (which looks very improvised), except to show—in a mockumentary cinéma vérité style—how quickly a movie set can shatter illusions that the movie set is a safe “bubble” but can actually cause a lot of the same chaos that exists in the “real world.” All of the “Lux Æterna” cast members portray versions of themselves with the same names.

“Lux Æterna” opens with director Béatrice Dalle having a freewheeling discussion with actress Charlotte Gainsbourg on the set of a movie they’re doing together. This unnamed movie, which is about a witch hunt, is being filmed in an unnamed location in France. Before they begin filming a scene where three witches will be burned at the stake, Béatrice asks Charlotte, who portrays one of the witches: “Have you ever been burned at the stake?” Charlotte says no.

The two women then discuss their careers and romantic entanglements that they’ve had during film shoots. Béatrice tells Charlotte: “I’ve never seen you in shit films.” Charlotte replies, “Oh, sure. I’ve done loads.”

Charlotte then talks about how she had a sexual hookup with an unnamed younger male co-star, who ejaculated on her leg during a sex scene that they filmed together. “The director told him he should’ve jacked off beforehand,” Charlotte adds. Charlotte then reveals that this younger co-star was 16. (In most of Europe, the minimum legal age of consent to have sex is 16.)

Béatrice mentions her difficulties with two producers, whom she calls Tic and Tac. She describes them as creeps who are “my Fagin and Scrooge,” in reference to the villains in Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” Later, Béatrice will experience a new slew of agitations on this film set.

In the lead-up to filming the “burning at the stakes” scene, Charlotte is interrupted more than once by an actor named Karl (played by Karl Glusman), who wants to talk to Charlotte about starring in a movie called “Danger,” which will be his feature-film directorial debut. Charlotte politely tells Karl that she’s too busy to discuss his movie, but he still bothers her about it. Charlotte is also pestered for an interview by a middle-aged man who works as a journalist for a magazine called Cinematic Eye.

Meanwhile, an actress named Abbey (played by Abbey Lee), who’s playing a witch in the movie, expresses discomfort and annoyance that she has been asked to do a nude scene that she didn’t agree to in her contract. The movie shows how Abbey’s concerns about this unexpected nudity are constantly dismissed. The more she speaks up, the more she’s made to look like she’s being “difficult” and is holding up the production, until she finally relents and agrees to do the nude scene.

“Lux Æterna” shows a lot of people talking over each other and sometimes shouting as the atmosphere on the set grows more hostile and disorderly. What does this say about director Béatrice, who eventually has a meltdown? Did she lose control of the film set because she’s incompetent, or was she outnumbered by too many people on the set who disrespected her authority?

“Lux Æterna” lets viewers make up their own minds, but the movie set depicted in “Lux Æterna” is clearly intended to be a microcosm of how women are often treated in a male-dominated world. The last 10 minutes of “Lux Æterna” have a lot of strobe light flashing that’s intended to make viewers very uncomfortable. (The beginning of “Lux Æterna” has a viewer discretion warning about these flashing lights.) The final images in “Lux Æterna” send a powerful message that when women are often shamed, demeaned or misunderstood for being who they are, they won’t always get a fairytale ending of someone coming to their rescue.

Yellow Veil Pictures released “Lux Æterna” in select U.S. cinemas on May 6, 2022. The movie was released on digital and VOD on June 10, 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: ‘Happening’ (2021), starring Anamaria Vartolomei

May 29, 2022

by Carla Hay

Anamaria Vartolomei in “Happening” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

“Happening” (2021)

Directed by Audrey Diwan

French with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in France, in 1963, the dramatic film “Happening” has an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A literature student, who is close to graduating from college, experiences an unplanned and unwanted pregnancy, and she becomes increasingly desperate to get an abortion, which was illegal in France at the time.

Culture Audience: “Happening” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in realistic movies about what women with unwanted pregnancies often have to go through when it is illegal to get an abortion.

Louise Orry-Diquero, Luàna Bajrami and Anamaria Vartolomei in “Happening” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

Based on a true story, the realistic drama “Happening” shows without judgment what a college student in 1963 France experienced when she wanted to terminate an unplanned pregnancy, at a time when abortion was illegal in France. It’s not a movie that takes sides in the abortion debate, but it does show that people can look at the same story and have different views of who gets to decide which life is interrupted when a pregnant woman wants to terminate her pregnancy. Although the protagonist of “Happening” grows increasingly desperate to have an abortion, the movie admirably does not put forth the usual melodramatic hysterics that are often in dramas with the same subject matter.

Directed by Audrey Diwan, “Happening” is based on Annie Ernaux’s 2001 novel of the same name. Although the “Happening” book is a work of fiction, it’s inspired by Ernaux’s real-life experiences of when she had an unplanned and unwanted pregnancy when she was a college student in the early 1960s in France. Diwan and Marcia Romano co-wrote the adapted “Happening” screenplay. “Happening” won the Golden Lion Award (the top prize) at the 2021 Venice International Film Festival.

“Happening” (which takes place in 1963 in an unnamed part of France) begins with three university roommates/best friends getting ready for a carefree night out at a local pub. All three pals attend Cité Universitaire and live on campus. Anne Duchesne (played by Anamaria Vartolomei) is the most independent and ambitious of these three pals. She’s a literature major at who is very intelligent and who excels in her literature classes. Anne, who is 22 and will turn 23 on September 1, is in her last year of studies before she graduates.

Anne’s two roommates/best friends at the school are extroverted Brigitte (played by Louise Orry-Diquéro) and introverted Hélène (played by Luàna Bajrami), who have immense admiration and loyalty to Anne, because they think she’s the smartest and emotionally strongest out of all three of them. Anne is loyal to her friends too, but she’s more guarded about what she tells them about her love life. On this particular night, the three friends aren’t thinking about much except going to the pub to dance, drink alcohol, and possibly meet some men they might want to date.

At the bar, Anne shows that she’s not willing to go with any man who pays attention to her. A guy tries some pickup lines on her, and she just walks away. One of the other people at the bar is her closest male friend Jean (played by Kacey Mottet-Klein), so she goes over to talk to Jean after she rejects this potential suitor. For the rest of the night, Anne is content to just spend time dancing with her friends.

Life won’t be so lighthearted for Anne when she goes for a routine visit with her gynecologist, Dr. Ravinsky (played by Fabrizio Rongione), who asks her if she’s had sex in the past month. Anne knows that she has missed her latest menstrual period, but she says hasn’t had sex in this time period. The doctor knows that she’s lying, because he then drops bombshell news on her: Anne is four weeks pregnant.

Anne tells the doctor that she doesn’t want to be pregnant. She pleads with Dr. Ravinsky to “do something.” However, the doctor refuses because he says that he could lose his medical license for performing or being involved with an illegal abortion. The rest of the movie chronicles Anne’s journey as she tries to terminate her pregnancy.

Over the course of the movie, viewers find out who else Anne tells about her secretive pregnancy. Anne also shows that she’s not the self-pitying type and has a lot of pride about solving her own problems. There comes a point when someone offers to give her money for an abortion, but Anne refuses this offer and instead decides to sell many of her possessions to get the money.

“Happening” also has an unflinching portrayal of the emotional and physical toll that this unwanted pregnancy takes on Anne. Her grades start to suffer. She has problems sleeping and eating. And, not surprisingly, when she can’t find a doctor to give her an abortion, she looks into more dangerous options. “Happening” also prefaces scenes with captions showing how many weeks Anne is pregnant, thereby increasing the tension in seeing what’s going to happen next.

The movie also shows the realities that although men often like to dictate what women and girls should do about unwanted and unplanned pregnancies, these women and girls (especially those who don’t have partners) are often really on their own. And they frequently get shamed by people (of any gender) for having unwanted pregnancies, while the men who get the women or girls pregnant are not judged as harshly. This shaming happens to Anne. It comes from catty female students, who see her in a public shower and call her a “loose woman” because they notice that she looks pregnant.

And it also comes from people whom Anne thinks are supposed to help her. During another appointment with Dr. Ravinsky, Anne explains why she’s not ready to become a mother at this time in her life: “I’d like a child one day, but not instead of a life [of my own]. I could hate the kid for it.” Dr. Ravinsky then tells her in a condescending tone to go through with the pregnancy: “Accept it. You have no choice.” Anne doesn’t believe that she has “no choice.”

Anne experiences paranoia and mistrust, because she is at risk of being arrested if she gets caught having an abortion or trying to get an abortion. She finds a medical professional in the phone book named Dr. Guimet (played by François Lorique), who seems willing to help her, but then he tells Anne how much he charges for medication to induce a miscarriage. What Anne experiences with Dr. Guimet is an example of how licensed medical professionals can take advantage of pregnant women and girls who are desperate to terminate their pregnancies.

By showing Anne’s pregnancy journey, “Happening” starkly presents the question: “When a man gets a woman pregnant and doesn’t want the child either, how much should he get involved with what the woman should do about the pregnancy?” There are no easy answers, of course, because a lot depends on the circumstances and the people.

The father of Anne’s child isn’t revealed until about halfway through the movie. His name is Maxime (played by Julien Frison of the Comédie-Française), a political science student whom Anne met at a bookstore while he was visiting from Bordeaux. Anne’s pregnancy is a result of her and Maxime’s brief fling. Maxime’s reaction to this pregnancy news is exactly what most people might expect from a college student who doesn’t think he’s ready to become a parent. However, Maxime is hurt and confused that Anne didn’t tell him sooner, because he thinks he should’ve had a say in her decision.

Vartolomei’s performance as Anne makes this movie worth watching because it’s riveting in all of its nuances. (It’s easy to see why Vartolomei won the Best Female Newcomer prize at the 2022 César Awards, which is the French version of the Academy Awards.) Anne has a quiet determination to do what she thinks needs to be done while she tries to hold on to some dignity in a system that often tries to make her feel powerless and demeaned. Perhaps as a way to deal with the stress, Anne sometimes acts like she wants to forget that she’s pregnant. But she can’t ignore her pregnancy, and her decision about what to do leads her down a path that’s terrifying for her.

“Happening” is not an easy movie to watch in the scenes where Anne’s desperation leads her to do some extreme things. Abortion has been a divisive political issue, but what most people can agree on is that it’s also an important health issue. “Happening” shows that whether abortion is legal or not, a decision on what to do about an unwanted pregnancy comes with an emotional cost that cannot be regulated by any laws.

IFC Films released “Happening” in select U.S. cinemas on May 13, 2022. The movie is set for release on digital and VOD on June 21, 2022. “Happening” was released in France and other countries in Europe in 2021.

Review: ‘Downton Abbey: A New Era,’ starring Hugh Bonneville, Elizabeth McGovern, Michelle Dockery, Maggie Smith, Hugh Dancy, Dominic West and Robert James-Collier

May 19, 2022

by Carla Hay

Hugh Bonneville, Elizabeth McGovern and Laura Carmichael in “Downton Abbey: A New Era” (Photo by Ben Blackall/Focus Features)

“Downton Abbey: A New Era”

Directed by Simon Curtis

Culture Representation: Taking place in 1928, in the United Kingdom and in France, the dramatic film “Downton Abbey: A New Era” features a nearly all-white cast of characters (with a few black people) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: In order to pay for extensive mansion renovations, the wealthy Downton Abbey clan of England reluctantly allows a movie to be filmed at Downton Abbey, while matriarch Violet Crawley finds herself embroiled in a battle over inherited property, health issues, and questions over who really fathered her son Robert Crawley.

Culture Audience: Aside from appealing to “Downton Abbey” fans, “Downton Abbey: A New Era” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of movies about 20th century upper-crust British people and their servants.

Hugh Dancy (second from left), Kevin Doyle (third from left), Alex Macqueen (second from right) and Michelle Dockery (far right) in “Downton Abbey: A New Era” (Photo by Ben Blackall/Focus Features)

“Downton Abbey: A New Era” is more comedic and bolder than its predecessor movie. It takes a less insular view of the world, from the central family’s perspective, thanks to encounters with the 1920s movie industry and a trip to the south of France. The wealthy British clan is impacted when a movie is made on the Downton Abbey estate (located in Yorkshire, England), while members of the Downton Abbey family go to the south of France and learn more about their ancestral history, which might be intertwined with a French aristocratic family.

“Downton Abbey: A New Era” is a sequel to 2019’s “Downton Abbey” movie (directed by Michael Engler), which was in turn a continuation of the British “Downton Abbey” TV series, which was on the air from 2010 to 2015. (In the United States, the award-winning “Downton Abbey” series began airing in 2011.) “Downton Abbey” creator/showrunner/writer Julian Fellowes, who is also the writer of the “Downton Abbey” movies, makes each part of the franchise seamless without making it confusing to viewers who are new to the franchise.

In other words: It’s not necessary to see the “Downton Abbey” TV series (which takes place from 1912 to 1926) and 2019’s “Downton Abbey” movie (which takes place in 1927) before seeing “Downton Abbey: A New Era” (which takes place in 1928), although it is very helpful to see all things “Downton Abbey” before watching this movie sequel. As a bonus, “Downton Abbey: A New Era” has an introduction by Kevin Doyle, who plays valet Joseph Molesley, better known as Mr. Molesley. In this introduction, he catches viewers up to speed by providing a summary of what happened in the 2019 “Downton Abbey” movie. A “Downtown Abbey” TV series recap, although not part of “Downton Abbey: A New Era,” is available online and narrated by cast members Jim Carter and Phyllis Logan, who portray Downton Abbey servants Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes.

Directed by Simon Curtis, “Downton Abbey: A New Era” continues with the central family’s preoccupations with class status, royal titles, property ownership and who is (or who should be) the rightful heirs of various inheritances. The “Downton Abbey” franchise, just like much of Fellowes’ work, explores the “upstairs/downstairs” cultures, with the “upstairs” people being the wealthy employers and the “downstairs” people being the employers’ servants. What makes “Downton Abbey: A New Era” stand out from previous “Downton Abbey” storylines is that the “upstairs” and “downstairs” people of Downton Abbey, who usually only deal with British aristocrats, interact with two very different types of cultures: showbiz people and French aristocrats.

Because there are so many characters in the “Downton Abbey” franchise, here’s a handy guide of who’s who in “Downton Abbey: A New Era” and how their relationships affect each other:

The “Upstairs” People

  • Violet Crawley (played by Maggie Smith), also known as Violet Grantham (her maiden name) or Dowager Countess of Grantham. Violet is the widowed family matriarch. She is feisty, sarcastic and strong-willed when it comes to deciding the family’s power structure. Violet is the mother of two living children: son Robert and daughter Rosamund. Sir Marmaduke Painswick, one of Violet’s three children, is deceased and was never seen in the series.
  • Robert Crawley (played by Hugh Bonneville), 7th Earl of Grantham. Robert is Violet’s only living son. He is generally friendly but also very opinionated on how family matters should be handled.
  • Lady Rosamund Painswick (played by Samantha Bond), Violet’s other living child. Lady Rosamund usually defers to her mother and her brother, when it comes to major decisions for the family.
  • Cora Crawley (played by Elizabeth McGovern), the Countess of Grantham. She is Robert’s kind, patient and dutiful wife. Robert and Cora are the parents of three daughters, one of whom is deceased.
  • Lady Mary Josephine Talbot (played by Michelle Dockery), previously known as Mary Crawley. Fair-minded and even-tempered, she is the eldest of Robert and Cora’s three daughters. In the “Downton Abbey” movie, Violet put Mary in charge of all Downton Abbey management decisions, but Mary struggles with having confidence in deciding what is best for Downton Abbey and the family. Mary experienced tragedy with the 1921 death of her first husband Matthew Crawley (played by Dan Stevens), who was a distant cousin. Matthew died in a car accident shortly after Mary gave birth to their son George Crawley (played by twins Oliver Barker and Zac Barker), born in 1921. In 1925, Mary wed her second husband Henry Talbot (played by Matthew Goode), who is not seen in “Downton Abbey: A New Era.” Henry is dashing and charming but often inattentive to his family because he frequently travels to attend car racing matches around the world. Mary says of Henry: “He’s in love with cars, speed and adventure.” Mary and Henry have a daughter together named Caroline Talbot (played by twins Bibi Burr and Olive Burr), who was born in 1926.
  • Lady Edith Pelham (played by Laura Carmichael), previously known as Edith Crawley), Marchioness of Hexham. She is the middle daughter of Robert and Cora. Edith is happily married and has been mainly preoccupied with raising children, after previous issues with conceiving. She is a journalist who still wants to continue her dream of owning and managing her own magazine. In late 1922 or early 1923, Edith gave birth to her daughter Marigold (played by twins Eva Samms and Karina Samms), whose biological father was The Sketch magazine editor Michael Gregson (played by Charles Edwards), whom Edith met when she wrote for the magazine. Edith and Michael were never married because he could not divorce his mentally ill wife. Michael died in 1923, during the Beer Hall Putch in Germany.
  • Herbert “Bertie” Pelham (played by Harry Hadden-Paton), 7th Marquess of Hexham, an amiable real-estate agent/military man. He is Edith’s second husband and the stepfather of Marigold. Bertie and Edith, who were wed on New Year’s Eve 1925, have a biological son together named Peter, who was born in 1927 or 1928.
  • Tom Branson (played by Allen Leech), an Irishman who used to be the Downton Abbey chauffeur, but he became part of the family when he married Sybil Crawley (played by Jessica Brown Findlay), Robert and Cora’s youngest daughter, who died from childbirth complications in 1920. Tom and Sybil’s daughter, born in 1920, is named Sybil “Sybbie” Branson (played by Fifi Hart).
  • Lucy Branson (played by Tuppence Middleton), Tom’s second wife, whom he began courting in the first “Downton Abbey” movie. Lucy is a former maid and formerly secret illegitimate daughter of Maud Bagshaw, who is a wealthy distant relative of the Crawleys. Maud has made Lucy the heir to Maud’s entire fortune. “Downton Abbey: A New Era” opens with the wedding of Tom and Lucy.
  • Maud Bagshaw (played by Imelda Staunton) is a steely socialite who has had a longstanding feud with Violet, because Violet thinks Maud should have made Violet son’s Robert the heir to Maud’s fortune, since Maud has no sons of her own. This feud reached a temporary halt when Lucy and Tom got married, since this marriage puts the Crawleys in close proximity to Lucy’s inheritance, because Robert’s granddaughter Sybbie is now Lucy’s stepdaughter.
  • Isobel Merton (played by Penelope Wilton), the droll-talking mother of the late Matthew Crawley. Isobel frequently trades sardonic barbs with Violet.
  • Lord Merton (played by Douglas Reith), Isobel’s laid-back second husband. He is usually a bystander in the family drama.

The “Downstairs” People

  • Thomas Barrow (played by Robert James-Collier), the Downton Abbey butler. He is somewhat rigid and uptight but not afraid to stand up for himself if he feels that he is being disrespected. Thomas is also a semi-closeted gay man. Only a few trusted people at Downton Abbey know about his true sexuality.
  • Daisy Parker (played by Sophie McShera), a Downton Abbey kitchen maid. She has a fun-loving and energetic personality. Daisy suffered a tragedy when her first husband William Mason (Thomas Howes), a second footman for the Downton Abbey family, died from World War I combat wounds.
  • Andy Parker (played by Michael Fox), the Downton Abbey second footman. Daisy and Andy fell in love and got married circa 1928. Andy is prone to get jealous and insecure, but Daisy likes that Andy is willing to go to extremes for their love.
  • Mr. Carson (played by Jim Carter), the on-again/off-again Downton Abbey butler. As the most experienced butler at Downton, he often sees himself as the unofficial leader of the staff, whether they want his advice or not.
  • Mrs. Hughes (played by Phyllis Logan), the Downtown Abbey head housekeeper, who is prim, proper, and frequently involved in keeping secrets to prevent Downton Abbey from being embroiled in scandals.
  • Mrs. Patmore (played by Lesley Nicol), the Downton Abbey chief cook. She has a no-nonsense attitude that keeps the other kitchen staff in check.
  • Mr. Bates (played by Brendan Coyle), the Downton Abbey valet. His arrogance sometimes alienates other members of the staff.
  • Anna Bates (played by Joanne Froggatt), wife of Mr. Bates and the maid to Lady Mary. She is generally well-liked but sometimes gets caught up in the Downton Abbey gossip.
  • Mr. Molesley, the aforementioned Downton Abbey valet who has a tendency to bumble and be socially awkward.
  • Phyllis Baxter (played by Raquel Cassidy), the lady’s maid for the Countess of Grantham. Phyllis and Mr. Molesley become each other’s love interest. “Downton Abbey: The Next Era” shows how far this romance goes.

The Newcomers

  • Jack Barber (played by Hugh Dancy), the director and producer of “The Gambler,” a drama film, set in 1875, about a seductive gambler who’s a con man and a heartbreaker.
  • Guy Dexter (played by Dominic West), the male titular star of “The Gambler.” Guy is charismatic, flirtatious, and might be secretly attracted to Barrow, the Downton Abbey butler.
  • Myrna Dalgleish (played by Laura Haddock), the female star of “The Gambler.” Myrna comes from a working-class background and has a thick Cockney accent. She is very conceited and rude to almost everyone.
  • Mr. Stubbins (played by Alex Macqueen), the sound engineer for “The Gambler.”
  • Montmirail (played by Jonathan Zaccaï), a French marquis from a wealthy family.
  • Madame de Montmirail (played by Nathalie Baye), Montmirail’s mistrusting mother.

It’s a lot of characters to take in for one movie, which is why viewers who know at least some basic “Downton Abbey” background will enjoy “Downton Abbey: A New Era” the most. “Downton Abbey: A New Era” also has two main storylines:

(1) British Lion Film Corp. Ltd. asks to film “The Gambler” at Downton Abbey for one month. Some members of the family think it would be crass and tacky to allow a movie to be made at their home, but Mary ultimately decides that the family could use the money to do extensive renovations at Downton Abbey, including the roof that has been leaking for years. After all, why use the family money for this refurbishing when it can be paid for by a movie studio?

“The Gambler” was originally going to be a silent film. However, the movie studio shuts down production of “The Gambler” because talking pictures are becoming popular. Mary comes up with the idea to make “The Gambler” a talking picture by dubbing in the audio with a separate recording.

However, Myrna’s speaking voice is considered too “low-class” and unacceptable for the role, and she says her lines of dialogue in a stiff and unnatural manner. A reluctant Mary is then recruited to be the speaking voice for Myrna’s character in “The Gambler.” Myrna predictably gets jealous. Most of the comedic scenes in “Downton Abbey: A New Era” revolve around the making of “The Gambler.”

(2) Violet finds out that she inherited a villa in the south of France from Montmirail’s marquis father, whom Violet spent just a few days with when she traveled to France as a young woman. This Montmirail widow is contesting this will and is threatening to take legal action against Violet. Robert, Cora, Edith, Bertie, Tom and Lucy all travel to France to meet the Montmirail widow and her son, to settle this matter, and to see the villa. Meanwhile, speculation abounds over why Violet got the inheritance. Was it because she and the marquis were secret lovers? Meanwhile, Violet is dealing with health issues that were mentioned in the first “Downton Abbey” movie.

“Downton Abbey: A New Era” keeps much of the snappy dialogue that’s characteristic of the “Downton Abbey” franchise, while the movie’s screenplay still maintains an air of intrigue and mystery of how the story is going to go. (Needless to say, the movie’s cinematography and production design are gorgeous.) And all of the cast members play their roles with considerable aplomb.

Violet, as usual, gets the best zingers. She’s one of the Crawley family members who is appalled that showbiz people have populated Downton Abbey to film “The Gambler.” Violet is particularly unimpressed with Myrna. Violet quips about Myrna: “She has all the charm of a verruca.” Violet also finds movies to be an uncultured form of entertainment. “I’d rather eat pebbles,” she says about watching movies.

If watching a film about stuffy British people and their servants isn’t something that you don’t want to spend two hours of your time doing, then anything to do with “Downton Abbey” is not for you. But if you want to see an intriguing and multilayered story about the dynamics between a complicated family, then “Downton Abbey: A New Era” is worth your time, especially if you know about who these characters are before watching the movie.

Focus Features will release “Downton Abbey: A New Era” in U.S. cinemas on May 20, 2022. The movie was released in the United Kingdom on April 29, 2022.

Review: ‘Petite Maman,’ starring Joséphine Sanz, Gabrielle Sanz, Nina Meurisse and Stéphane Varupenne

April 23, 2022

by Carla Hay

Joséphine Sanz and Gabrielle Sanz in “Petite Maman” (Photo courtesy of Lilies Films/Neon)

“Petite Maman”

Directed by Céline Sciamma

French with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed city in France, the dramatic film “Petite Maman” features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: An 8-year-old girl meets another girl of the same age who is eerily similar to her.

Culture Audience: “Petite Maman” will appeal primarily to people are interested in unique movies about families and time travel.

Nina Meurisse and Joséphine Sanz in “Petite Maman” (Photo courtesy of Lilies Films/Neon)

The very memorable drama “Petite Maman” takes an insightful and endearing look at parent-child relationships and how personalities are formed in childhood. It also depicts the rhetorical question: “What would you do if you met one of your parents as a child but didn’t know it right away?” The results are fascinating, charming and often sentimental without being mawkish.

Written and directed by Céline Sciamma, “Petite Maman” clocks in at a brisk 72 minutes, which is really all the time needed for this engaging cinematic story to be told. “Petite Maman” (which takes place in an unnamed city in France) made the rounds at several top film festivals in 2021, including the Telluride Film Festival, Toronto International Film Festival and the New York Film Festival. Sciamma has made a name for herself as a filmmaker who does female-centric movies about authentic personal relationships. “Petite Maman” (which translates to “Little Mother” in English) is Sciamma’s first movie where the central female characters are pre-teen girls.

“Petite Maman” is a movie with a relatively small cast of characters (less than 10 people have speaking lines), because it’s a fairly simple story that’s rich in detailing the meaningful experiences of an 8-year-old girl who meets her mother when her mother was also 8 years old. There’s no elaborate science-fiction explanation for this time-traveling experience. Observant viewers will figure out the mystery fairly early on in the story, but it’s a delight to watch the unwitting girl discover what her mother was like at her own age.

In the beginning of “Petite Maman,” 8-year-old Nelly (played by Joséphine Sanz) is visiting a nursing home where her maternal grandmother, who was a widow, has passed away. Nelly asks her unnamed mother (played by Nina Meurisse) if she can keep a stick that used to be owned by Nelly’s grandmother. Nelly’s mother says yes.

Nelly then accompanies her parents to the house where Nelly’s grandmother used to live. It’s also the childhood home of Nelly’s mother. The house (which is located in a wooded area) is going to be sold, and most of it is already packed up, except for some essential furniture, most of it wrapped up in sheets. The kitchen is the only room in the house that looks like it hasn’t been packed up or wrapped yet in the process of the house getting a new owner.

Nelly’s mother and Nelly’s father (played by Stéphane Varupenne) have stopped by the house for some final moving arrangements. They decide to stay in the house for a few days. Nelly sleeps in the bedroom that her mother had a child. When Nelly’s mother tucks her in before Nelly goes to sleep, she mentions to Nelly that when she was a child, she didn’t like being in the room at night.

It’s soon revealed that although Nelly is a fairly obedient child, she’s more of a “daddy’s girl.” Nelly is more likely to get into disagreements with her mother, who has an unspoken air of sadness and regret about her. Nelly’s parents also don’t like to talk about their childhoods very much. Nelly’s father explains that the only thing they like to discuss about their childhoods is the Christmas presents that they received when they were kids.

But one thing that Nelly knows about her mother’s childhood is that her mother had a special hut that she built in the woods. This hut was her place where she could go when she wanted private time to herself. One of the first things that Nelly asks her mother about when they arrive at the house is: “Mom, where was your hut? Can you show me? I want to make one.”

Nelly’s mother seems too distracted with grief to grant this request. However, one day, Nelly is out walking in the woods when she sees a girl who looks exactly like her making a hut out of tree branches. The girl, whose name is Marion (played by Gabrielle Sanz, the identical twin of Joséphine Sanz), asks Nelly for help in building the hut. Nelly notices that Marion has the same name as Nelly’s mother.

It’s the beginning of a friendship where Nelly develops a deeper understanding of Marion and her childhood. Viewers find out that Marion grew up with a mother who was very overprotective. In her childhood, Marion had an operation to correct a problem that she might have inherited from her mother. Marion’s mother (played by Margot Abascal), who walks with a cane, is shown in a scene where she’s scolding Marion for playing outside because it’s against doctor’s orders.

“Petite Maman” has a plot twist revealed at the end of the movie that is emotionally poignant, especially for people who feel that this story of friendship within a family is relatable on some level. Sciamma’s telling of this story is at times whimsical but always genuinely observant of the nuances in how people relate to each other as children and as adults. The casting of identical twins Joséphine Sanz and Gabrielle Sanz (who are both very good in their respective roles as Nelly and Marion) is an inspired choice because it makes viewers pay more attention to how to tell these girls apart, in terms of their personalities.

“Petite Maman” also touches on the issue of what friendship can mean between a parent and a child. Parents of underage children often have to show or tell their kids, “I’m your parent, not your friend,” in order to set discipline boundaries. What “Petite Maman” does in a special and creative way is show that every parent’s inner child is never really lost but becomes part of who that person is as a parent and a possible friend.

Neon released “Petite Maman” in select U.S. cinemas on April 22, 2022, with an expansion to more U.S. cinemas on May 6, 2022. The movie was released in several European countries and in South Korea in 2021.

Review: ‘Cyrano’ (2021), starring Peter Dinklage, Haley Bennett and Kelvin Harrison Jr.

February 23, 2022

by Carla Hay

Haley Bennett and Peter Dinklage in “Cyrano” (Photo by Peter Mountain/Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures)

“Cyrano” (2021)

Directed by Joe Wright

Culture Representation: Taking place in France sometime in the 1600s, the musical “Cyrano” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some black people) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A highly intelligent and articulate soldier named Cyrano de Bergerac is secretly in love with a maiden named Roxanne, who has a mutual infatuation with Christian, a soldier who befriends Cyrano and asks Cyrano to write love letters to Roxanne for him. 

Culture Audience: “Cyrano” will appeal primarily to people who are inclined to like movie musicals and are fans of star Peter Dinklage.

Haley Bennett and Kelvin Harrison Jr. in “Cyrano” (Photo by Peter Mountain/Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures)

Elegantly designed but with song lyrics and dialogue that can be corny, the musical “Cyrano” features above-average performances that elevate the movie’s tendency to sink into old-fashioned stodginess. Based on Edmond Rostand’s 1897 “Cyrano de Bergerac” play, the movie can be enjoyed by people of many different generations, but some viewers might think the tone is too earnestly sappy. Love it, like it or hate it, “Cyrano” director Joe Wright, screenwriter Erica Schmidt and this movie’s talented cast give this version of “Cyrano de Bergerac” their own unique and heartfelt stamp.

The story is essentially about an unorthodox love triangle between an intelligent but insecure man named Cyrano de Bergerac, who’s hopelessly in love with a woman who is his friend, but she loves someone who is considered more physically attractive by society’s standards. The more physically attractive man has intelligence shortcomings, so he asks the lovelorn man to write letters to the woman to impress her. How long the two men can keep this secret depends on how the story is adapted. Different versions of “Cyrano de Bergerac” also vary the time periods and occupations of the three people in the love triangle.

In the “Cyrano” musical, which takes place in France in the 1600s (and was actually filmed in Italy), Cyrano de Bergerac (played by Peter Dinklage) is an unlucky-in-love cadet who has been secretly in love with maiden Roxanne (played by Haley Bennett) for her entire adult life. Roxanne only sees Cyrano (who works for the King’s Guard) as a friend. She appreciates his wit and his creativity. He writes poems, and they both share a love of literature.

The movie’s timeline of Roxanne and Cyrano’s relationship is vague. Conversations in the movie suggest that Roxanne and Cyrano have known each other since their childhoods. Even though the “Cyrano” filmmakers try to pass off Cyrano and Roxanne as being fairly close in their ages, it’s impossible not to notice the 19-year age difference between Dinklage and Bennett.

In the beginning of the movie, Roxanne and her lady-in-waiting Marie (played by Monica Dolan) are getting Roxanne ready for a date with a wealthy duke, who is taking her to see a theater play. Roxanne is financially broke and behind on her rent. Marie advises Roxanne to marry the duke for his money. “Children need love. Adults need money,” Marie quips.

The problem is that Roxanne’s suitor Duke DeGuiche (played by Ben Mendelsohn) is an overbearing, pompous lout whom Roxanne can barely tolerate. Roxanne is a romantic who would prefer to marry for love. While Roxanne and DeGuiche drive by carriage to the theater, a wayward man on the streets named Christian Neuvillette (played by Kelvin Harrison Jr.) sees Roxanne. And it’s infatuation at first sight for Christian, but he’s told by someone on the street that Roxanne is “way above your station.”

This movie’s Cyrano is not the bashful sad sack that he’s depicted as in other “Cyrano de Bergerac” adaptations. Cyrano is still self-conscious about his physical appearance, which is an intrinsic part of his personality. However, this version of Cyrano has a feisty and combative side that he shows during this theater play. Cyrano is at this theater venue because he wants to be the star of the show.

On stage, Cyrano confronts an actor named Montfleury (played by Mark Benton) in an imperious voice: “What are you doing here? I sent you a letter last week urging you to retire.” Montfleury snaps back, “I received your letter, and I burned it!” Cyrano’s response is to chase Monfleury off of the stage. The audience is amused when Cyrano announces about Montfleury’s departure: “I have saved you from seeing a fiasco!”

But things soon get dangerous when a man in the audience named Valvert (played by Joshua James) calls Cyrano a “freak.” Valvert and Cyrano end up fighting with swords on stage. Their duel ends with Cyrano’s victory. Cyrano then makes this self-deprecating comment to the audience: “What you heard is not a rumor. I’m living proof that God has a sick sense of humor.”

However, Valvert is a very sore loser. He lunges at Cyrano, a tussle ensues, and Cyrano stabs Valvert, who dies. Needless to say, all the chaos and violence have abruptly ended this show, as people in the audience leave, with many of them feeling horrified or in shock.

One of the people who’s disgusted by what took place is De Guiche, who tells Roxanne on the way back home that Cyrano went too far. Roxanne tells De Guiche that Cyrano was only acting in self-defense. She says that Cyrano is her oldest friend, and she knows him as someone who would never intentionally murder someone. De Guiche is not impressed, and he advises Roxanne to end her friendship with Cyrano.

Cyrano has another close confidant. His name is Captain Le Bret (played by Bashir Salahuddin), who is also a member of the King’s Guard. Cyrano has confided in Le Bret about his love for Roxanne and has sworn Le Bret to secrecy about it. For all of Cyrano’s bravado in public, he’s still very insecure about expressing many of his private feelings, especially when it comes to love.

When Christian becomes a newly recruited soldier for the King’s Guard, Roxanne sees him for the first time. And she’s convinced that it’s love at first sight. Christian wants to act on his attraction to Roxanne, but he doesn’t think he’s smart enough for her. Christian and Cyrano become friends, and Christian notices how Cyrano is an excellent writer. And so, Christian asks his new friend Cyrano to pretend to be Christian in writing love letters to Roxanne. After some reluctance, Cyrano obliges.

People who know the original “Cyrano de Bergerac” story will know how the rest of the movie will go, because this musical adheres fairly close to the source material. The love letters work their charm, but Roxanne is confused over why Christian is so inarticulate in person, compared to his letters. Cyrano is torn about whether or not to tell Roxanne the truth, because Cyrano’s role in this deception could permanently ruin his relationship with Roxanne. Meanwhile, the love triangle saga plays out on battlefields, in bedrooms and in the neutral meeting place of Cyrano’s baker/poet friend Ragueneau (played by Peter Wight). Ultimately, difficult choices must be made.

Dinklage, who is immensely talented and has a wonderfully expressive face, makes some of the scenes almost heartbreaking to watch. Dinklage’s Cyrano isn’t a flimsy caricature but rather complex in how Cyrano deals with his inner turmoil but often puts up a brave front to the public. Bennett performs well as Roxanne, while Harrison is good but a little generic in his role as Christian. Harrison is the best singer of the three cast members portraying this love triangle.

The rest of the cast members in supporting roles are serviceable but stereotypical. Salahuddin plays a predictable loyal sidekick. Mendelsohn portrays yet another villain in a long list of movie villains that he’s depicted in his career. Still, there’s that touch of swagger that Mendelsohn brings to the role of De Guiche that makes this character somewhat amusing to watch.

“Cyrano” has 13 original songs, with music written by twin brothers Bryce Dessner and Aaron Dessner and lyrics by Matt Berninger and Carin Besser. The Dessner brothers also wrote the movie’s musical score. Berninger, Bryce Dessner and Aaron Dessner are all members of the rock band The National. The music of “Cyrano” carries the story along just fine, but it’s not an exceptional soundtrack. Where the movie falters the most is in how the lyrics for these original songs are sometimes cornball and trite, like something written for a school production.

In De Guiche’s big showcase song “What I Deserve,” he pouts as he bellows these lyrics: “Come, Roxanne, am I asking for too much? Why should I have to beg for what everybody wants? Take me right now. I don’t care if I have your love. I don’t have fear. Nothing’s even, nothing’s fair. Roxanne, I didn’t ask you to be here. I’ll pick the lock, I’ll draw the knife. I’ll climb the walls, I’ll crash the gate, because I deserve a happy life.” This is supposed to be the defining song for the movie’s chief villain? No thank you.

And although the movie’s dialogue is thankfully not too flowery, sometimes it veers too much in the opposite direction of being overly simplistic and dull. This is what Roxanne has to say when she begins to see that Christian isn’t as smart as she was expecting: “He might be an incredibly beautiful man with the mind of a rabbit. He can’t be. I need him not to be.” Maybe those lines might pass muster in a TV soap opera, but they just sound a little out of place in a movie with such lavish costumes and elaborate production design.

“Cyrano” keeps a fairly good pace throughout the story, but there are still a few moments that drag monotonously. Some viewers might be disappointed that there aren’t more scenes of Roxanne and Cyrano together. Because this version of Cyrano has a personality that’s less predictable and more volatile than other movie interpretations of the character, Dinklage really carries the film when it comes to keeping viewer interest. For all of the movie’s flaws, Dinklage’s riveting performance is a memorable and spirited interpretation of a character that is often portrayed as self-pitying and borderline pathetic in other versions of “Cyrano de Bergerac.”

Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures released “Cyrano” for a limited engagement in Los Angeles, beginning on December 17, 2021. The movie is set for a wide release in U.S. cinemas on February 25, 2022.

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