Review, ‘Our Father, the Devil,’ starring Babetida Sadjo, Souleymane Sy Savane, Jennifer Tchiakpe, Franck Saurel and Martine Amisse

November 19, 2023

by Carla Hay

Souleymane Sy Savane and Babetida Sadjo in “Our Father, the Devil” (Photo courtesy of Cineverse/Fandor)

“Our Father, the Devil”

Directed by Ellie Foumbi

French with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Lucho, France, the dramatic film “Our Father, the Devil” features a cast of white and black characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A nursing home chef is disturbed when a Catholic priest is a visitor at her job, and she is convinced that he is the same person who caused trauma to her in her childhood. 

Culture Audience: “Our Father, the Devil” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in suspenseful dramas about people with dark secrets.

Souleymane Sy Savane in “Our Father, the Devil” (Photo courtesy of Cineverse/Fandor)

“Our Father, the Devil” is a well-acted psychological drama that offers a fascinating portait of a woman’s complicated feelings about revenge, religion and redemption. The movie also explores issues regarding PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and long-term effects of childhood trauma. “Our Father, the Devil” is a slow-burn story that effectively shows how pent-up emotions can erupt in ways that lead to problematic consequences.

Writer/director Ellie Foumbi makes an assured feature-film directorial debut with “Our Father, the Devil,” which had its world premiere at the 2022 Venice International Film Festival. The movie then made the rounds at several festivals in 2022 and 2023, including the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival, where it won the Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature. In addition, “Our Father, the Devil” was nominated for Best Feature at the 2023 Film Independent Spirit Awards.

“Our Father, the Devil” takes place in Lucho, France, where protagonist Marie Cissé (played by Babetida Sadjo) is an African immigrant working as the head chef of nursing home. Marie, who is a bachelorette with no children, is very good at her job. Marie keeps mostly to herself and lives alone in a small apartment. Marie’s closest friend is a co-worker named Nadia Benoit (played by Jennifer Tchiakpe), who works as an orderly at the nursing home.

Nadia confides in Marie about her fertility issues. Nadia and her husband want to start a family, but Nadia hasn’t gotten pregnant. Nadia worried about her chances of getting pregnant after her husband will move out of the home for a long-distance job. Marie is a compassionate friend who comforts Nadia when Nadia gets emotional about these worries.

Marie’s boss is nursing home manager Sabine Leplanche (played by Maëlle Genet), who is demanding and shows hints of being xenophobic. In an early scene in the movie, Sabine goes in the nursing home’s kitchen to taste some of the food before it gets served to the residents. Sabine scolds the sous chef for making soup that is too spicy for Sabine’s taste. Sabine tells the sous chef in a condescending tone: “We’re not in Algeria,” Sabine comments. “The sous chef replies defiantly, “Good thing I’m French.”

One of the nursing home residents named Jeanne Guyot (played by Martine Amisse) has taken a liking to Marie, who has a good rapport with Jeanne. When Jeanne’s adult son Thomas Guyot (played by Maxence David) makes a rare visit to Jeanne at the nursing home, it’s obvious that mother and son have a tension-filled relationship. Later in the movie, Jeanne makes a confession explaining why she thinks she sees a lot of herself in Marie.

One day, Jeanne tells Marie that Nadia recently changed her will to cut Thomas out of any inheritance. Jeanne then surprises Marie by giving her the keys to Jeanne’s guest home, which is in remote wooded area. To Marie’s shock, Jeanne tells Marie that Jeanne has signed over the deed to the house to Marie. Jeanne insists that Marie accept this unexpected gift.

Marie seems comfortable around women, but she shows obvious discomfort and sometimes hostility in the company of men whom she thinks are giving her unwanted attention. An early scene in the movie shows Marie at a cafe, where a server named Arnaud Charpentier (played Franck Saurel) tries to flirt with her, but she’s standoffish and rebuffs his attempts to engage in a friendly conversation with her. Based on this brief and uncomfortable talk, Marie is a regular customer, and Arnaud has been noticing her for a while, because he knows what she likes to order.

Another scene shows just how “on edge” Marie is. She’s walking down a street by herself at night, when she notices a man walking behind her. She thinks this stranger is following her. And when he walks close enough to her, she pulls a knife on him. When Marie sees that the stranger means no harm, she quickly makes an apology. What would cause Marie to be so paranoid and combative?

The answer comes a little later in the movie, when a Catholic priest named Father Patrick (played by Souleymane Sy Savane) visits the nursing home to give a sermon. Marie looks like she’s seen a ghost when she first sees Father Patrick, who says he’s from Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Marie goes to a computer and finds an article with the headline “Young Warlord ‘The Oracle’ Found Dead in a Bush.”

The sight of Father Patrick has unnerved Marie so much, she asks Sabine for a few days off, but Sabine declines the request because the nursing home is currently understaffed. In the nursing home’s cafeteria-styled dining area, Marie has to serve Father Patrick. Marie is visibly uncomfortable in his presence. Later, after the nursing home’s kitchen is closed, he goes to the kitchen to ask Marie if he can have more of the stew that he was served earlier. This conversation changes the course of the story.

Without giving away too many details, it’s enough to say that Marie is certain that Father Patrick is actually someone she used to know from her past. She thinks Father Patrick is someone who caused a lot of pain and trauma in her life. Father Patrick vehemently denies Marie’s accusations and insists that she has him mistaken for someone else.

There’s more to the story than this identity mystery. The truth is eventually revealed in a gut-wrenching emotional scene. Although all of the principal cast members give skilled performances, the movie’s emotional heart is in Sadjo’s riveting performance. For her role in “My Father, the Devil,” Sadjo was nominated for a 2023 Gotham Award for Outstanding Lead Performance. Foumbi’s absorbing writing and directing make viewers feel that they are right in the middle of the emotional journey that Marie goes on in the movie.

“Our Father, the Devil” raises provocative questions about how much people should be defined by past actions, how much people might be able to change, and how much trust can be put into people who might not be showing their true selves to others. Although some extreme things happen in the movie, “Our Father, the Devil” maintains a realism about it all that looks credible. This memorable film shows in intriguing ways how people judge themselves when they are judging others.

Cineverse and Fandor released “Our Father, the Devil” in New York City on August 25, 2023, and in Los Angeles on September 1, 2023. The movie was released on digital and VOD on October 10, 2023.

Review: ‘The Miracle Club,’ starring Laura Linney, Kathy Bates, Maggie Smith, Agnes O’Casey, Mark O’Halloran, Mark McKenna, Niall Buggy, Hazel Doupe and Stephen Rea

July 9, 2023

by Carla Hay

Eric Smith, Agnes O’Casey, Kathy Bates and Maggie Smith in “The Miracle Club” (Photo by Jonathan Hession/Sony Pictures Classics)

“The Miracle Club”

Directed by Thaddeus O’Sullivan

Culture Representation: Taking place in 1967, in Ireland and in France, the dramatic film “The Miracle Club” features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: Four women, who are from a working-class suburb of Dublin, travel to Lourdes, France, in search of personal miracles in their lives, but the trip becomes more about confronting their grief and resentments.

Culture Audience: “The Miracle Club” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the star headliners and are interested in watching somewhat sentimental European dramas about different generations of women.

Laura Linney and Mark O’ Halloran in “The Miracle Club” (Photo by Jonathan Hession/Sony Pictures Classics)

“The Miracle Club” offers no real surprises in this retro drama about four women who travel together to Lourdes, France, and confront their pasts. The lead actresses’ performances, especially from Laura Linney and Kathy Bates, are worth watching. “The Miracle Club” is the type of drama that’s a dying breed, simply because it takes a very traditional/old-fashioned approach to telling this story cinematically. There’s an audience for this type of movie, but it’s the type of audience that prefers movies that were made in the 20th century.

Directed by Thaddeus O’Sullivan, “The Miracle Club” had its world premiere at the 2023 Tribeca Festival. Even though the movie’s story is centered on four women, “The Miracle Club” has an all-male team of writers: Joshua D. Maurer, Timothy Prager and Jimmy Smallhorne wrote “The Miracle Club” screenplay. When a movie about women is written and directed by men, the movie sometimes has a very patriarchal tone. There’s a whiff of that patriarchal tone in “The Miracle Club,” but the heart of the movie is how the women interact with each other without influence from husbands or clergymen.

“The Miracle Club,” which is set in 1967, opens in Ballygar, Ireland, a working-class suburb of Dublin. A senior citizen named Lily Fox (played by Maggie Smith) is looking mournfully at a cliffside memorial plaque dedicated to her son Declan Fox, who drowned at sea in 1927, when he was 19 years old. Declan was the only child of Lily and her husband Tommy Fox (played by Niall Buggy), who is now retired.

Declan’s death has left a void that Lily and Tommy don’t like to talk about. Lily has a cranky and very judgmental personality that is outmatched by Tommy’s cranky and judgmental personality. When Lily comes back from visiting the memorial dedicated to Declan, she gets this scolding from Tommy: “You’re not visiting our son. You’re visiting a pile of rocks and sand that don’t mean anything.”

Lily is in an amateur singing trio with two friends who live nearby and who all know each other from going to the same church: Eileen Dunne and Dolly Hennessy. (They are all devout Catholics.)

Eileen (played by Bates) is a middle-aged married mother of six children. Eileen’s oldest child is inquisitive Cathy Dunne (played by Hazel Doupe), who’s about 15 or 16 years old. Eileen’s husband is Frank Dunne (played by Stephen Rea), who likes to think he’s the head of the household, but outspoken Eileen is really the one who runs things in this crowded home.

Dolly (played by Agnes O’Casey, in her feature-film debut) is sweet-natured and in her 20s. She’s also a married mother. Her husband George Hennessy (played by Mark McKenna) is very bossy and impatient. Dolly and George have two children together: Their son Daniel Hennessy (played by Eric Smith) is about 5 or 6 years old, and he happens to be mute. Their daughter Rosie Hennessy (played by Alice Heneghan) is an infant.

George gets annoyed when Dolly asks him to donate some of their money to the church. The family is on a tight budget. Dolly and George’s marriage is also under some strain, because George has become disappointed and frustrated that Daniel is mute. Dolly is hopeful that Daniel will eventually begin talking, which she thinks can happen with the right amount of prayers and encouragement. George, who has grown cynical and bitter about Daniel’s muteness, doesn’t think religion will have anything to do with getting Daniel to talk.

Lily had a longtime best friend named Maureen. Their dream was to take a trip to Lourdes, France. It’s a city whose main claim to fame is the Grotto of Massabielle (also known as the Grotto of the Apparitions), which has a reputation for being a place where miracles happen, ever since the Virgin Mary reportedly appeared to a local woman in 1858. Unfortunately, Lily and widow Maureen won’t be going to Lourdes together because Maureen has recently died.

In Ballygar in 1967, Maureen was on the church’s committee for an upcoming fundraiser: a local talent contest where the winner gets a trip to Lourdes. It’s been decided that the fundraiser will go on in Maureen’s honor. (Brenda Fricker has the voice of Maureen when one of Maureen’s letters is read on screen after Maureen’s death.) Lily, Eileen and Dolly choose to become a “legitimate” singing group and enter the contest. They name their group the Miracles.

Even though all of their husbands think that the Miracles have little to no chance of winning, viewers already know from what’s revealed in “The Miracle Club” trailers that Lily, Eileen and Dolly end up going to Lourdes anyway, with Daniel also along for the journey. (This review won’t reveal whether or not they won the contest.) It’s a bittersweet trip, since they all wanted Maureen to go on this trip too. It will be the first time that Lily, Eileen and Dolly will travel outside of Ireland.

There’s someone else who’s going on the trip with them to Lourdes: Maureen’s estranged daughter Chrissie Ahearn (played by Laura Linney), a middle-aged bachelorette who has been living in the United States and hasn’t been back in Ballygar since 1927, the year that Chrissie moved away as an outcast. Chrissie has reluctantly come back to Ballygar for Maureen’s funeral.

The only person in town who seems to welcome Chrissie is Father Dermot Byrne (played by Mark O’Halloran), who is the chief priest at the local church and the officiator at Maureen’s funeral. Lily and Eileen react to Chrissie’s hometown visit with a lot of hostility toward Chrissie, because of something that happened in 1927. Dolly, who wasn’t even born when this grudge happened, tries to stay neutral, but Lily and Eileen tell Dolly to stay away from Chrissie. Father Dermot takes on the role of peacemaker and suggests to Chrissie that she go on the trip to Lourdes, not just as a tribute to her mother but also to possibly heal old emotional wounds with Lily and Eileen.

Eileen, Chrissie and Declan used to be the best of friends. But something caused a rift in this friendship that led to Chrissie abruptly moving away and cutting off contact with almost everyone she knew in Ireland. Eileen felt abandoned by Chrissie and hasn’t forgiven her.

As already revealed in the trailers for “The Miracle Club,” Chrissie tells Eileen that Chrissie didn’t abandon anyone but Chrissie was “banished.” Chrissie’s “secret” is very easy to figure out before it’s revealed. It’s the most obvious reason why a teenage girl would be sent away from her home in 1920s Ireland.

That’s not the only secret being kept before there’s the inevitable confession to the rest of the group. Lily wants to go to Lourdes for miracle help with her grief over Declan. Dolly wants her miracle to be for her son Daniel to talk. Eileen wants a miracle that has to do with a secret that Eileen is keeping. Eileen’s big secret is also not very surprising.

“The Miracle Club” goes through the expected scenes of discomfort as unwelcome travel companion Chrissie has awkward and tension-filled interactions with Lily and Eileen. It should come as no surprise when Chrissie has to share a hotel room with Lily, who has the most unresolved issues with Chrissie. It’s explained that the hotel is booked up, so there’s no other room available. It’s a very contrived scenario for a movie, because Chrissie could have stayed at another hotel.

“The Miracle Club” doesn’t really waste time, but it doesn’t have any genuine suspense about Chrissie’s secret, which is the main source of the conflict between Chrissie and Lily. Eileen doesn’t find out this secret until much later. The banter between the women is often realistic, but the scenarios around them sometimes look too phony.

“The Miracle Club” pokes fun at male egos by showing how the husbands of Lily, Eileen and Dolly have trouble coping with household duties while their wives are away. Suddenly, these “macho” men find out that they’re kind of helpless and ignorant about a lot of things that they thought were easy to do, just they because they’re thought of as “women’s responsibilities.” It’s the movie’s obvious way of showing that spouses shouldn’t take each other for granted.

The issue of Daniel’s muteness is handled with sensitivity, but it often takes a back seat to the main story about the feuding between Chrissie, Lily and Eileen. Chrissie is the only one of the four women who isn’t religious. She’s grown disillusioned about religion because she thinks religious people are very hypocritical. (Her disillusionment is another big clue about her secret.)

Linney and Bates, as estranged friends Chrissie and Eileen, have the most realistic dynamics in the movie and give the best performances. Smith is doing yet another “grumpy old woman” role that she seems to be stuck doing in the later stages of her career, although the character of Lily has some emotionally impactful scenes toward the end of the film.

O’Casey makes an impressive feature-film debut as Dolly, who is somewhat of “third wheel” to Lily and Eileen. At times, it’s not quite convincing that Dolly could be close friends with Lily and Eileen, because Dolly seems more like a sidekick than someone whom Lily and Eileen treat as an equal. O’Casey brings some very good nuance to this role portraying a mother who tries to be cheerful to everyone on the outside but is worried sick about her mute son.

“The Miracle Club” is not the type of movie where people should expect outrageous things to happen. There’s also no supernatural element to the story, even though much of it takes place in “miracle destination” Lourdes. The Miracle Club” has solid performances and a story that’s the equivalent of familiar comfort food. It’s not going to change the world, but it can be entertaining to people who like this type movie.

Sony Pictures Classics will release “The Miracle Club” in U.S. cinemas on July 14, 2023.

Donatella Versace and Dua Lipa team up for La Vacanza collection for women

May 4, 2023

Dua Lipa and Donatella Versace (Photo courtesy of Versace)

The following is a press release from Versace:

The Versace “La Vacanza” fashion show, will take place on Tuesday, May 23, 2023, in Cannes, France. The show will feature a women’s collection co-designed by Donatella Versace and Dua Lipa.  The “La Vacanza” collection will be available in store and on-line on Versace.com immediately following the show.  

“I have always been inspired by a collaborative design process. Working with Dua on this collection has been very exciting and I love the dynamic between us. Dua is strong, fearless, and free and her creative vision is exceptional. Summer is a magical time. We will capture this feeling and the colours of that time of the year with a truly special and intimate fashion show in Cannes.” – Donatella Versace, Chief Creative Officer, Versace

“I am absolutely thrilled to have co-designed the women’s “La Vacanza” collection for Versace with Donatella. She and I have formed such a strong bond over the years, and I’m so grateful for the support I’ve received from her and the whole team since the very beginning of my career. For her to give me the honor of co-designing this collection and letting all my summer inspirations go wild has been a dream. I am so very proud of this collection and cannot wait to debut it in Cannes.” – Dua Lipa

https://dam.gettyimages.com/universal/

Review: ‘Smoking Causes Coughing,’ starring Gilles Lellouche, Vincent Lacoste, Anaïs Demoustier, Jean-Pascal Zadi and Oulaya Amamra

May 2, 2023

by Carla Hay

A scene from “Smoking Causes Coughing” (Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing)

“Smoking Causes Coughing”

Directed by Quentin Dupieux

French with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in unnamed cities in France, the sci-fi comedy film “Smoking Causes Coughing” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few black people) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: Five superheroes called the Tobacco Force, whose mission is to combat people who cause pollution from smoking, are sent on a team-building retreat while a lizard villain threatens to take over the world.

Culture Audience: “Smoking Causes Coughing” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching quirky European movies that blend societal observations with bizarre comedy.

Oulaya Amamra, Vincent Lacoste, Anaïs Demoustier and Jean-Pascal Zadi in “Smoking Causes Coughing” (Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing)

“Smoking Causes Coughing” has some amusing satirical things to say about pollution and the concept of utopias. It’s not writer/director Quentin Dupieux’s best movie, and the ending is underwhelming, but most of the movie is entertaining to watch. Unlike his other films that have a overall cohesive narrative, “Smoking Causes Coughing” is more like a series of sketches compiled for a movie. “Smoking Causes Coughing” had its world premiere at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival and later played at other film festivals in 2022, including Fantastic Fest and AFI Fest.

“Smoking Causes Coughing” (which takes place in an unspecified future in unnamed cities in France) begins by showing a road trip being taken by an unnamed mother (played by Julia Faure), an unnamed father (played by David Marsais) and their teenage son Stéphane (played by Tanguy Mercier), who are passing by a remote desert-shrub area in their car. Stéphane wants to stop the car because he has spotted five “celebrities” he wants to meet: a group of “superheroes” named the Tobacco Force, who all dress in outfits that are similar to Power Rangers outfits, but in blue, white and gold.

When Stéphane and his parents stop the car, Stéphane runs closer to see the five members in this desert-shrub area. The members of the Tobacco Force have surrounded a giant mutant turtle called Tortusse (played by Olivier Afonso), who moves like a human, and are fighting this creature. Laser-like gas comes out of the Tobacco Forces’ fists until Tortusse explodes, with the body splatter flying in all directions, including on Stéphane and his parents. (Part of this scene is already shown in the trailer for “Smoking Causes Coughing.”)

This star-struck family is unfazed by being covered in gunky remains of an animal. They want to take photos with the Tobacco Force. All of the members willingly oblige and happily pose for pictures with these strangers who have gunk on their faces and clothes. And then this family gets back in the car and is not seen again for the rest of the movie.

The Tobacco Force’s five members, whose ages range from 20s to 40s, have a mission to save the world from pollution, specifically pollution from people smoking. They are also told there is a constant threat of villains trying to destroy the world. The villian who is their biggest threat is named Lizardin (played by Benoite Chivot), who is said to be much more dangerous than Tortusse. The Tobacco Force has a small robot sidekick named Norbert 500 (voiced by Ferdinand Canaud), who does all of the cleaning up after the Tobacco Force’s inevitable messes.

All of the members of the Tobacco Force are named after ingredients found in cigarettes. The oldest member of the Tobacco Force is Benzene (played by Gilles Lellouche), who acts as if he’s the leader of the group. Nicotine (played by Anaïs Demoustier) is flirtatious and bubbly. Ammonia (played by Oulaya Amamra) is sassy and assertive. Mercury (played by Jean-Pascal Zadi) is cautious and a married father of two underage children. Methanol (played by Vincent Lacoste) is the group’s quietest and youngest member. Benzene says that Methanol reminds Benzene of how Benzene used to be when he was Methanol’s age.

The Tobacco Force has to report to a boss named Chief Didier (voiced by Alain Chabat), who is usually just called Chief. This cranky boss looks like a human-sized rat and constantly has green ooze drooling from his mouth. The costumes in “Smoking Causes Coughing” are deliberately made to look like they’re from a tacky, low-budge sci-fi B-movie. For example, Tortusse’s costume looks like it’s ready to fall apart at any moment. Chief is obviously just a cheap-looking puppet.

A running joke in the movie is that Chief (who has a personality as slimy as the green ooze the drips from his mouth) is a ladies’ man who has no shortage of women in his bed. (He is seen with a different lover in every scene.) It’s the movie’s way of commenting on how power can be an aphrodisiac and can make someone look more attractive.

And not even Nicotine and Ammonia are immune to this attraction. Another running joke in the movie is that Nicotine and Ammonia both want to be the “favorite” employee of Chief and probably date him, but Nicotine and Ammonia don’t want to admit it to each other. Still, Nicotine and Ammonia sneakily try to find out what Chief says and does when he’s alone with the other woman. Nicotine and Ammonia also pretend not to be jealous when they see Chief with any of his girlfriends.

The Tobacco Force has been having some in-fighting recently, so Chief orders this quintet to go on a team-building retreat, which is also in a desert-shrub area. The best way to describe their living situation at this retreat is it looks like a high-tech camp. The group members are supposed to be by themselves at this retreat, but it should come as no surprise that they get some unexpected visitors.

A large part of “Smoking Causes Coughing” is about people sitting around a campfire and telling their scariest or most unusual stories. Benzene tells a story about two married couples—spouses Bruno (played by Jérôme Niel) and Agathe (played by Doria Tillier) and spouses Christophe (played by Grégoire Ludig) and Céline (played by Adèle Exarchopoulos) going on a camping trip together. Someone in this group of spouses gets alienated from the other three people, and choas ensues.

“Smoking Causes Coughing” has a total running time of about 80 minutes, which is a good-enough length, because this movie doesn’t have much of a plot. The performances of the cast members are mildly engaging but not particularly outstanding, People should not be fooled into thinking that the “superhero” costumes are indication that “Smoking Causes Coughing” is an adrenaline-packed action movie. This is a film that is for viewers who like seeing movies with unusual characters, eccentric comedy and the appeal of some very unexpected things happening.

Magnet Releasing released “Smoking Causes Coughing” in select U.S. cinemas, digital and VOD on March 31, 2023. The movie was released in France on November 30, 2022.

Review: ‘Chevalier’ (2023), starring Kelvin Harrison Jr., Samara Weaving, Lucy Boynton, Minnie Driver, Sian Clifford, Alex Fitzalan and Ronkẹ Adékoluẹjo

April 21, 2023

by Carla Hay

Kelvin Harrison Jr. and Joseph Prowen in “Chevalier” (Photo by Larry Horricks/Searchlight Pictures)

“Chevalier” (2023)

Directed by Stephen Williams

Culture Representation: Taking place in France, from the 1750s to the 1790s, the dramatic film “Chevalier” (a biopic of musician/fencer Joseph Bologne, also known as Chevalier de Saint-Georges) features a predominantly white group of people (with a few black people) representing the working-class, middle-class and royalty.

Culture Clash: Bologne experiences racism, an illicit love affair and treacherous politics in his journey to becoming a celebrated musician and fencer. 

Culture Audience: “Chevalier” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of history-based biopics and classical music and don’t mind if a movie set in 1700s France has some modern touches that didn’t exist in that century.

Kelvin Harrison Jr. and Ronkẹ Adékoluẹjo in “Chevalier” (Photo courtesy of Searchlight Pictures)

“Chevalier” has its share of corny “only in a movie” moments, but the essential truths of oppression and racial barriers in society have the most resonance in this story. Kelvin Harrison Jr. gives an admirable performance. The costume designs are gorgeous. You don’t have to be fan of classical music to enjoy the movie, but it certainly helps. History purists will be wincing through some of the story, because it’s yet another biopic that takes liberties with facts, in order to make the movie more dramatic.

Directed by Stephen Williams and written by Stefani Robinson (who is one of the producers of the movie), “Chevalier” (which takes place in France, mostly in Paris) tells the story of Joseph Bologne, also known as the Chevalier de Saint-Georges, who lived from 1745 to 1799. He the first black person to conduct a major orchestra in France. He was also renowned for being a champion fencer. The movie depicts Joseph mostly in his 20s, 30s and 40s, but there are flashback scenes to his teens and younger childhood. “Chevalier” had its world premiere at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival.

The movie tells viewers right from the beginning that Joseph (played as an underage teen and as an adult by Harrison) was so phenomenal, he outshone Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (played by Joseph Prowen) in concert. The opening scene shows Mozart conducting an orchestra in Paris, sometime in the 1780s, and asking the audience for requests. Joseph confidently strolls into the concert hall and asks to play the violin alongside Mozart.

Mozart looks slightly amused and asks, “Who put you up to this?” Joseph says, “Myself, monsieur.” Mozart calls Joseph a “dark stranger” and smugly says, “I hope this won’t be too embarrassing for you.” They proceed to play the violin, as if it’s a dueling competition of musicianship.

And in the end, Mozart is the one who’s embarrassed, as Joseph proves that he’s the more talented violinist. Joseph is so masterful, the crowd gives him a standing ovation. An infuriated Mozart runs off stage and fumes, “Who the fuck was that?” Clearly, “Chevalier” is not a movie that wants to look historically accurate.

This scene is a perfect example of how “Chevalier” tries but doesn’t always succeed in balancing hokey drama with regal gravitas. It’s a movie with a lot of 1700s pomp and circumstance, but with a modern approach to melodrama that takes viewers out of this time period, especially in a lot of the dialogue that sounds too contemporary. The movie’s messages about racism sometimes get bogged down in too much exposition, but luckily the cast is talented enough to elevate the material.

If some of the scenes in “Chevalier” look over-the-top and fabricated for a movie, that’s because the real life of Bologne did not get a lot of historical documentation. However, you don’t have to be a historian or a classical music expert to know that the opening scene definitely looks fake. Mozart running off stage in humiliation because of a newcomer rival—if it happened in real life—would have gone down in history as one of the most notorious stories about him.

What the movie does depict that is historically accurate is that at the age of 7, Joseph (played by Reuben Anderson) was taken by his white French American father to live in France, where Joseph was educated and lived for the rest of his life. Joseph’s father was a wealthy plantation owner named Georges de Bologne Saint-Georges, and his mother was an enslaved black woman named Nanon, who was originally from Senegal. In real life, Georges de Bologne Saint-Georges lived in the Caribbean archipelago Guadeloupe, which was a colony of France at the time.

The “Chevalier” movie changes the location of Joseph’s birthplace from Guadeloupe to Louisiana. His father’s name has the English-language spelling of George Bologne (played by Jim High), a French American who spends time at his plantations in Louisiana and Guadeloupe. Joseph’s mother Nanon (played by Ronkẹ Adékoluẹjo) is depicted as being originally from Senegal and brought to North America in enslavement, just like in real life. The “Chevalier” filmmakers perhaps made Joseph have a connection to Louisiana because Harrison is American, and his American accent can be heard in much of the dialogue.

Before abandoning his son in France at the private Academie de La Boëssière, George instills the belief in Joseph that Joseph must be the best at anything he does if he is going to survive and succeed. The academy’s owner Tessier de La Boëssière (played by Ben Bradshaw) reluctantly enrolls Joseph in the school and warns George that Joseph people at the school will not be kind to this “Negro bastard.” In real life, Joseph had an older white half-brother named Pierre (they had the same father), who was already enrolled at the academy when Joseph was admitted as a sudent. However, the “Chevalier” movie erases Pierre, probably to make it look more dramatic that Joseph felt isolated by not knowing any at the academy as a new student.

“Chevalier” shows the expected racist bullying that Joseph received throughout his life. But the movie also shows how he achieved greatness, despite many obstacles put in his way. Expect to see several montages of him practicing his music or fencing, as if his life depended on it, because in many ways, his life really did depend on it. Joseph eventually became well-known for his talents and got respect from members of high society.

This notoriety resulted in a volatile friendship with the fun-loving but very spoiled Marie Antoinette (played by Lucy Boynton), the queen of France, who introduced him to powerful members of her inner circle. This inner circle includes Marie’s cousin Philippe (played by Alex Fitzalan), the Duke of Orleans. Philippe becomes Joseph’s close confidant, and their friendship leads to an important political alliance.

As already revealed in the trailer for “Chevalier,” Nanon reunites with Joseph around the time that he becomes a famous musician and a champion fencer. The reunion doesn’t go smoothly at first, because Nanon represents a part of Joseph’s life that he wants to keep in the past. Eventually, Nanaon and Joseph become close when he begins to understand that he should embrace and appreciate his African American heritage.

“Chevalier” is not subtle in its messages about how black people who achieve success in a predominantly white culture have to decide how much “black culture” will be part of their identity when interacting with white people. The way that Joseph chooses to wear his hair in public (African-styled cornrow braids or European-made wigs) is a manifestation/symbol about how much of his “black” or “white” identity that he wants to express.

Some of the best aspects of “Chevalier” have to do with Joseph confronting his “assimilation” into white French society and what that assimilation will cost him, in terms of his self-respect, his relationship with his mother and his career. Joseph has to deal with constant condescension from white people who think that Joseph will never be equal to them, simply because he is not white. Marie Antoinette often treats him like “charity case” who needs her and other white people to “save” him. At one point, Joseph assertively says to her: “Not everything is about you people.”

The movie’s strongest non-musical scenes are those between Joseph and the women in his life: his kind and patient mother Nanon, his unpredictable friend Marie Antoinette, and his conflicted lover Marie-Josephine (played by Samara Weaving), an opera singer who is an unhappy marriage to a cruel and wealthy man named Marquis De Montalembert (played by Marton Csokas). Marie-Josephine was the one who introduced Joseph to her husband, who could immediately sense that there was an attraction between her and Joseph. Privately, Marquis De Montalembert tells Joseph (who has a reputation for being a ladies’ man) that he doesn’t “wish for my Marie-Josephine to become a whore.”

Joseph also has to navigate the power and politics of getting investments for an original opera that he is composing and plans to conduct. Marie-Josephine’s cousin La Guimard (played by Minnie Driver), who is a rich opera singer, expresses interest in being an investor, but she enjoys manipulating Joseph, because she knows she has the financial upper hand. Joseph ends up wanting Marie-Josephine to be the star of his opera. Marquis De Montalembert doesn’t want Marie-Josephine to take the job, for obvious reasons.

Another affluent potential investor is Madame De Genlis (played by Sian Clifford), who believes in Joseph’s talent, but she wants some creative control that he’s reluctant to give. She says she will finance the opera if he bases it on a story that she wrote. Observant viewers will notice that no matter how exceptional Joseph can be, it causes resentment among racist people who will use any excuse to try to tear him down.

“Chevalier” does not make Joseph look like a saint. He can be stubborn and arrogant to a fault. His affair with Marie-Josephine is an example of his selfish recklessness. And even though Joseph thinks he loves Marie-Josephine, it’s pretty obvious that people will get very hurt by this love affair. The movie takes an abrupt turn into some melodrama that comes as a result of this extramarital relationship.

Despite some cringeworthy lines of dialogue in “Chevalier” and occasionally slow pacing of the movie, Harrison holds everything together and keeps things watchable in his intriguing portrayal of this complex character. Boynton has some memorable moments in her performance as the imperious and fickle queen Marie Antoinette. The movie’s costume design by Oliver García and production design by Karen Murphy are truly feasts for the eyes.

The music of “Chevalier” is also noteworthy, including a vibrant original score by Kris Bowers and production and musical arrangements of Bologne’s music by Michael Abels. In terms of overall storytelling, “Chevalier” is no masterpiece. However, the movie has enough compelling moments and good acting to maintain viewer interest in this very dramatic version of an extraordinary and talented life.

Searchlight Pictures released “Chevalier” in U.S. cinemas on April 21, 2023.

Review: ‘John Wick: Chapter 4,’ starring Keanu Reeves

March 22, 2023

by Carla Hay

Keanu Reeves in “John Wick: Chapter 4” (Photo by Murray Close/Lionsgate)

“John Wick: Chapter 4”

Directed by Chad Stahelski

Some language in French, Japanese, German and Russian with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in the United States, France, Japan and Germany, the action film “John Wick: Chapter 4” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some Asians and African Americans) representing the working-class, middle-class, wealthy and criminal underground.

Culture Clash: Notorious mercenary John Wick fights several opponents in various countries, in order to be released from his servitude punishment from the High Table, a council of 12 crime lords who oversee the underworld’s most powerful criminal groups. 

Culture Audience: “John Wick: Chapter 4” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the “John Wick” franchise, star Keanu Reeves, and action-packed movies that can get very violent.

Donnie Yen, Bill Skarsgård and Marko Zaror in “John Wick: Chapter 4” (Photo by Murray Close/Lionsgate)

“John Wick: Chapter 4” is the most stunning and stylish-looking of the “John Wick” movies. Elaborate fight scenes are the movie’s biggest assets, but there’s also plenty of suspense, well-placed comedy and a meaningful story of humanity at the heart of this ultra-violent movie. “John Wick: Chapter 4” is an ending chapter of this franchise, but an end-credits scene in the movie hints that the saga will continue in another storyline.

Directed by Chad Stahelski, “John Wick: Chapter 4” was written by Shay Hatten and Michael Finch. The movie had its world premiere at the 2023 SXSW Film & TV Festival. It’s an epic movie (with a total running time of 169 minutes) that is filled with adrenalin-pumping action that is never boring but can be overwhelming or offensive for people who have a low tolerance for violence in movies. At this point, most people who want to see a “John Wick” movie already that “John Wick” movies have a lot murders and mayhem. Everyone else should be prepared for ths onslaught.

It’s not necessary to see the previous “John Wick” movies, but it helps give better context to some of the relationships in the movie. The plot of “John Wick: Chapter 4” is fairly simple: Notorious mercenary John Wick (played by Keanu Reeves) fights several opponents in various countries, in order to be released from his servitude punishment from the High Table, a council of 12 crime lords who oversee the underworld’s most powerful criminal groups. The current leader of the table is a ruthless sadist named Marquis (played by Bill Skarsgård), who is based in Paris. Even among these criminals, there are rules and codes of conduct that must be followed.

John’s quest leads him from his native United States to various other countries, including Japan, France and Germany. Some of his allies can turn into enemies, while some of his enemies can turn into allies. The characters he encounters include Winston (played Ian McShane), owner of the Continental Hotel in New York City; Continental Hotel concierge Charon (played by Lance Reddick, who died on March 17, 2023, one week before the release date of “John Wick: Chapter 4”); and Bowery King (played by Laurence Fishburne), leader of the Soup Kitchen, a New York City-based underworld intelligence network that is disguised as a homeless shelter.

In “John Wick: Chapter 4,” John has two hit men who have been hired to kill him: blind assassin Caine (played by Donnie Yen) and bounty hunter Tracker (played by Shamier Anderson), who is accompanied by his loyal German Shepherd. While in Japan, John interacts with Shimazu (played by Hiroyuki Sanada), the manager of the Continental Hotel in Osaka, as well as Shimazu’s daughter Akira (played by Rina Sawayama), who is a high-ranking manager at the hotel. Also in the movie are a Russian mafia princess named Katia (played by Natalia Tena); Chidi (played by Marko Zaror), who is Marquis’ second-in-command henchman; and Harbinger (played by Clancy Brown), who is a high-ranking member of the High Table.

Visually, “John Wick: Chapter 4” is the most vibrant of the “John Wick” movies. Dan Laustsen’s exquisite cinematography has gorgeously rich hues and eye-popping camera angles. Some critics might argue that this movie makes violence took glamorous, but there’s no denying that “John Wick: Chapter 4” is an achievement in visual arts for action films. And let’s be clear: The movie has no ambiguity in rooting for who the “good” characters are.

“John Wick: Chapter 4” takes on many qualities of a comic book come to life, such as the way that word fonts look on screen, how the action scenes are choreographed, and the manner in which some of the villains are portrayed. (And to its detriment, “John Wick: Chapter 4” has very simplistic dialogue, similar to a comic book.) Scott Adkins plays a German crime boss named Killa (the leader of the High Table’s German operations), who is a character that looks like he was inspired by the Kingpin villain in Marvel Comics. Killa is a massive thug who wears a business suit and has gold-plated front teeth. You can imagine how those gold teeth will be used as comic relief in one of the fight scenes.

“John Wick: Chapter 4” certainly has some very cartoonish violence. However, the violence gets much more realistic in the last third of the movie. There’s an unusual and somewhat comedic action sequence involving a long flight of stairs that is sure to be one of the most memorable aspects of “John Wick: Chapter 4.” And the last 15 minutes of the movie just might make some viewers cry. “John Wick: Chapter 4” goes beyond what typical action movies do by not just offering unique fight scenes but also stirring up complex emotions for the main characters in ways that can be unexpected.

Lionsgate will release “John Wick: Chapter 4” in U.S. cinemas on March 24, 2023.

Review: ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ (2022), starring Felix Kammerer, Albrecht Schuch, Aaron Hilmer, Moritz Klaus, Edin Hasanovic, Daniel Brühl and Devid Striesow

March 12, 2023

by Carla Hay

Felix Kammermer in “All Quiet on the Western Front” (Photo by Reiner Bajo/Netflix)

“All Quiet on the Western Front” (2022)

Directed by Edward Berger

German and French with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Germany and France, from 1917 to 1918, the World War I dramatic film “All Quiet on the Western Front” (based on the novel of the same name) features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A teenager loses his innocence after he becomes a soldier in the German Army during World War I, while a ruthless general and a liberal politician have different ideas about how Germany should handle the war. 

Culture Audience: “All Quiet on the Western Front” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of realistic war movies and Erich Maria Remarque’s 1929 novel of the same name.

Daniel Brühl (pictured at far right) in “All Quiet on the Western Front” (Photo by Reiner Bajo/Netflix)

Told from a German perspective, this version of “All Quiet on the Western Front” is the most brutal and harrowing in showing the horrors of World War I. The movie has well-crafted technical assets, but the personalities of the characters are underdeveloped. The main protagonist is a teenage German soldier. The actor portraying this character has less than 15 minutes of dialogue in this 147-minute movie.

Directed by Edward Berger, the 2022 version of “All Quiet on the Western Front” is based on Erich Maria Remarque’s 1929 novel of the same name. Berger co-wrote the adapted screenplay with Lesley Paterson and Ian Stokell. It’s the third movie version of the novel, following the 1930 version (directed by Lewis Milestone) and the 1979 TV-movie version (directed by by Delbert Mann).

The first two movie adaptations of “All Quiet on the Western Front” were American-made and starred American actors portraying Europeans. The 2022 version of “All Quiet on the Western Front” (which was filmed in the Czech Republic) is a German production and has German actors in the majority of the starring roles. The movie had its world premiere at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival.

In the 2022 version “All Quiet at the Western Front” (which takes place in Germany and France from 1917 to 1918), viewers see the transformation of teenage German soldier Paul Bäumer (played by Felix Kammerer) from being a naïve recruit who’s eager to participate in the war to an emotionally devastated war veteran who has been worn down by all the death and destruction around him. Meanwhile, the movie shows how two very different government officials have contrasting views on Germany’s actions during this war. One is a liberal politician who wants to negotiate to end the war, while the other is a ruthless general who wants Germany to win the war at any cost.

“All Quiet on the Western Front” begins in early 1917, by showing a young German soldier named Heinrich Gerber (played by Jakob Schmidt) fighting on a battlefield. The movie does a freeze-frame, right when he’s about to attack a French soldier. What happened?

Viewers then see that Heinrich has died, because his body is dumped in a truck that is transporting the corpses of other German military men. The movie then shows that Henrich’s former military uniform has been sent for repairs to a factory in Germany. His name tag is still on the uniform.

In the spring of 1917, quiet and amiable 17-year-old Paul is joyously celebrating his graduation from an all-boys high school at a ceremony attended by by fellow classmates. The school’s headmaster gives the graduates a patriotic pep talk about Germany’s involvement in World War I. Whether or not Paul was thinking about joining the German Army before this pep talk, Paul enlists in the army soon after his graduation.

When he gets his military uniform, Paul notices right away that it has the name tag Heinrich Gerber. He tells the person who gave the uniform to Paul that there must be a mistake, because he was given someone else’s uniform. The uniform is taken away, and Paul is given another uniform. Paul is given an explanation that the uniform that Paul was given by mistake was probably discarded by the previous owner because the uniform was too small.

Of course, viewers (but not Paul) know that the Henrich is dead. And the fact that the German Army is recycling a dead man’s uniform is a symbol of how impersonal and “assembly line” a war can be, in terms of how thousands or millions of soldiers on the front line are treated. Paul is about to find out the hard way that he’s just another number in this vicious war. The movie also shows this “assembly line” symbolism when Paul is assigned the task of collecting military identification tags from dead bodies on battlefields.

Paul and his troop are eventually sent to France, which is occupied by Germany at this time. The expected horrific battle scenes ensue, with graphic depictions of killings and other deaths during combat. But amid the madness and mayhem, Paul bonds with some of his fellow soldiers. The movie’s brightest and most endearing moments come from scenes showing these friendships.

One of Paul’s army buddies is Albert Kropp (played by Aaron Hilmer), who is about the same age as Paul and who becomes Paul’s best friend in this war. Albert, who sees himself as somewhat of a charming ladies’ man, often talks about how he can’t wait for the war to end so he can go back to being around women. As a new recruit, Albert is terrified and very nervous, compared to Paul, who starts off being very enthusiastic and confident about serving his country in this war. But that confidence is then destroyed by several traumatic experiences.

Four other men from Paul’s troop become part of a tight-knit circle of close acquaintances, including Paul. Stanislaus “Kat” Katczinsky (played by Albrecht Schuch), who is in his 30s, likes to portray himself as a cocky “alpha male” type. However, there’s a very poignant scene where Kat (who cannot read) asks Paul to read a letter from Kat’s wife. The letter reveals that Kat’s somewhat arrogant demeanor actually masks a lot of personal pain.

Two of Paul’s classmates from high school are also part of the troop: Franz Müller (played by Moritz Klaus) and Ludwig Behm (played by Adrian Grünewald). Ludwig doesn’t hesitate to show how afraid he is about being in combat. While hiding out with other troop members in a bunker, Ludwig cries out for his mother. He gets some insults from a few of the soldiers, who think Ludwig is being wimpy, but Paul can understand this fear because he feels it too.

Tjaden Stackfleet (played by Edin Hasanovic), who is in his late 20s or early 30s, is a military police officer who dreams of being promoted to the position of corporal. Kat scoffs at Tjaden by saying, “You’ll never be a corporal.” Tjaden (who is deeply insecure) takes this comment as a personal insult but attempts to brush it off, so as not to let it show how much this comment hurt his feelings.

Through it all, Paul tries to hold on to his humanity when the harsh realities of war fighting force Paul and other people in combat to do some very inhumane things. Just like almost every movie that has a lot of war combat scenes, the soldiers face moral dilemmas and have to make split-second decisions that could mean life or death. And for all-male troops, there are machismo issues about who can look the toughest and the bravest.

“All Quiet on the Western Front” is not subtle at all in contrasting the filthy and dangerous living conditions of the soldiers on the front lines of combat and comparing all of it to the pampered and safe living conditions of the leaders who cause these wars. The movie cuts back and forth betwen these contrasts in several scenes. It’s a way to put an emphasis on who really benefits financially from war, which can be a profitable business for some people.

Libeal politician Matthias Erzberger (played by Daniel Brühl) wants to end the war by having Germany peacefully negotiate with France. He meets with France’s Marshal Ferdinand Foch (played by Thibault de Montalembert), who offers a deal that is non-negotiable, with Germany given a deadline of 72 hours to respond to the deal. Erzberger is put in a tough situation: He doesn’t want to give in to these demands too easily, because he knows he might be branded as a traitor to Germany. France’s Generalmajor Maxime Weygand (played by Gabriel Dufay) also plays a role in these tense German-French war discussions.

Being open to negotiating a truce is in direct contrast to what’s desired by General Friedrich (played by Devid Striesow), who is usually shown dining in mansions that are far removed from the war. General Friedrich wants to use the war for his own personal gain, so that he can achieve military glory and all the financial rewards and fame that come with it. Needless to say, General Friedrich is fanatical about Germany winning the war, no matter what the human cost of Germans who die.

“All Quiet on the Western Front” has top-notch production design, cinematography, original score music and sound editing/sound mixing. Where the movie isn’t as stellar is in some of the film editing (which makes the story look a little choppy and abrupt in some scene transitions) and in the screenplay, which has dialogue that tends to be over-simplistic. The screenplay makes many of the movie’s principal characters a little too vague or stereotypical.

Most of the perspective of “All Quiet on the Western Front” comes from Paul, but viewers don’t really get to know a lot of basic things about him during this lengthy film. For example, the movie never shows or tells who Paul’s family is, or what Paul wants to do with his life after the war. And because he doesn’t talk much in this movie, the Paul character could have easily been no more complex than a character in a video game.

However, thanks to the admirable talent of Kammerer in the role of Paul, this character becomes more than just a generic soldier. Kammerer (who has a background in theater/stage acting) makes his feature-film debut in “All Quiet on the Western Front.” He is very effective at showing Paul’s feelings through his eyes, facial expressions and body language.

Paul is the heart and soul of the movie, but it’s a heart and soul that the filmmakers have shrouded in a certain amount of mystery. Even with some things about Paul remaining enigmatic, there’s no mystery over how emotionally shattered Paul becomes during the course of this story. By the end of “All Quiet on the Western Front,” viewers will be emotionally affected too, no matter what people think about war.

Netflix released “All Quiet on the Western Front” in select U.S. cinemas on October 7, 2022. The movie premiered on Netflix on October 28, 2022.

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 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.

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