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.

Review: ‘The King’s Daughter,’ starring Pierce Brosnan, Kaya Scodelario, Benjamin Walker, Rachel Griffiths, Julie Andrews, Fan Bingbing and William Hurt

January 22, 2022

by Carla Hay

Pierce Brosnan and Kaya Scodelario in “The King’s Daughter” (Photo courtesy of Gravitas Ventures/Universal Studios Home Entertainment)

“The King’s Daughter”

Directed by Sean McNamara

Culture Representation: Taking place in 1684 in Versailles, France, the fantasy drama film “The King’s Daughter” features a nearly all-white cast of characters (with a few black people and Asians) representing the working-class, middle-class and royalty.

Culture Clash: King Louis XIV wants to get immortality by taking the life force from a magical mermaid, but the king’s rebellious daughter Marie-Josèphe does everything she can to prevent this mermaid’s death.

Culture Audience: “The King’s Daughter” will appeal primarily to people who like watching tacky and poorly made fairy-tale movies.

Kaya Scodelario and Benjamin Walker in “The King’s Daughter” (Photo courtesy of Gravitas Ventures/Universal Studios Home Entertainment)

“The King’s Daughter” is a laughably bad movie that seems like a parody, but with no self-awareness about how truly awful it is. It’s a fantasy drama filled with hokey dialogue, cheesy visual effects, and high-society women in 1680s France who dress like 1980s prom queens. Some of the scenery and production design are nice to look at (parts of the movie were filmed at the Palace of Versailles), but everything else is so bottom-of-the-barrel predictable and corny, it’s an embarrassment to everyone involved in making this horrendous flop.

Directed by Sean McNamara, “The King’s Daughter” is adapted from Vonda N. McIntyre’s 1997 novel “The Moon and the Sun,” which was a combination of science fiction and historical romance. Barry Berman and James Schamus adapted the novel for “The King’s Daughter” screenplay, by hacking up “The Moon and the Sun” and turning it into a screenplay equivalent of a cheap and vapid romance novel. “The King’s Daughter” takes place in 1684 in Versailles, France, but the movie looks like the filmmakers just wanted to stick the movie in a palace setting, hire some well-known actors, and then hope the audience doesn’t notice how phony everything looks. “The King’s Daughter,” which was originally titled “The Moon and the Sun,” was filmed in 2014, and went through several studio ownerships before being released in 2022. It’s easy to see why multiple movie studios didn’t want to release this movie for all of these years.

The makeup and costume design in “The King’s Daughter” can best be described as careless, with too many modern details that make the movie look confused about the century in which this story is supposed to take place. Things aren’t much better with how “The King’s Daughter” has wildly uneven acting that ranges from campy to bored. Maybe it’s because the dialogue that the cast members have to work with is so cringeworthy. Somehow, the filmmakers convinced Oscar-winning actress Julie Andrews to do some voiceover narration for “The King’s Daughter.” Someone should’ve told Andrews that this atrocious movie makes “The Princess Diaries” look like an Oscar-worthy masterpiece in comparison.

“The King’s Daughter” has a muddled story about King Louis XIV (played by Pierce Brosnan, hamming it up in a long-haired wig) wanting to live forever, because he’s so egotistical that he thinks France will go downhill if he dies. “My immortality secures the future of France!” King Louis XIV pompously declares. King Louis XIV, who is also called the Sun King, feels more urgency to find the secret to immortality after he survives a botched assassination attempt upon his victorious return from a war. This assassination scene is sloppily acted: The king gets shot on the side of his abdomen, but then he’s able to get up, as if he just has a slight bruise.

The king’s personal physician Dr. Labarth (played by Pablo Schreiber) tells him that in the underwater Lost City of Atlantis, there’s a fabled female sea creature that could hold the secret to immortality. In order for the immortality magic to work, the creature’s life force can only be taken when the sun meets the moon—in other words, a solar eclipse. The king’s other close advisor is a priest named Père La Chaise (played by a William Hurt), who thinks it’s a bad idea to try to mess with nature and matters of life and death. The priest’s warning doesn’t stop the king from ordering a ship of naval subordinates to find this sea creature in Atlantis.

Captain Yves De La Croix (played by Benjamin Walker) is the ship’s leader. It doesn’t take long for Yves and his men to find two mysterious sea creatures and capture them. The creatures are a mermaid (played by Fan Bingbing, also known as Binging Fan) and a merman, who are a couple with an infant child. The merman is let go, but the mermaid (who’s never given a name) is brought back to an underground grotto area at the king’s palace. Later, it’s shown that the mermaid quickly gave the infant to another mermaid for safekeeping when she saw her male partner being captured and she knew she would be next.

Meanwhile, the beginning of “The King’s Daughter” shows a feisty young woman named Marie-Josèphe (played by Kaya Scodelario), who has grown up in a convent by the sea, being scolded by some nuns for Marie-Josèphe’s penchant of wanting to swim in sea. Rachel Griffiths has a cameo as the convent’s head abbess. Marie-Josèphe’s unnamed mother (played by Tiffany Hofstetter, in a flashback) died when she was a baby. Marie-Josèphe’s father is King Louis XIV, who knows about Marie-Josèphe, but he never claimed her because she’s an illegitimate child.

Marie-Josèphe has grown up not knowing who her father is, but she’s about to find out. Faster than you can say “stupid fairy-tale movie,” Marie-Josèphe is summoned to the palace by the king, who has no other children and is thinking about his legacy in case he can’t live forever. Eventually, Marie-Josèphe finds out that the king is her father, but he orders her not to tell anyone that he’s her father. The movie tries in overly contrived ways to make Marie-Josephe look like a “relatable princess.” For example, Marie-Josephe clumsily falls in a fountain outside of the palace the first time that she meets the king.

The big conflict in the story comes when Marie-Josèphe finds out about the captured mermaid and wants to free the mermaid from captivity, against the king’s wishes. “The King’s Daughter” awkwardly wastes a lot of time getting to this big conflict. After Marie-Josèphe discovers the captured mermaid in the grotto and starts to befriend her, Marie-Josèphe suddenly gets the urge to play the cello. The music that Marie-Josephe plays is the music she can hear the mermaid communicate. Yes, it’s that kind of movie.

When she’s not playing in a string orchestra on the palace lawn, as if she’s some kind of wedding performer, Marie-Josèphe is secretly visiting the mermaid. The strange moaning and shrieks that come out of the mermaid’s mouth can only be described as sounding like a mutation of a whale and a dolphin. The mediocre visual effects for the mermaid are often obscured by the water. The mermaid also glows in the dark.

Marie-Josèphe also hangs out with her lady-in-waiting Magali (played by Crystal Clarke), who is kind of an airhead. This is what Magali says to Marie-Josèphe when Magali finds out that she and Marie-Josèphe both grew up without their biological parents: “Trauma at the start of life often inspires greatness.” The casting of Magali is racially problematic because she is the only black person with a speaking role in the movie—and she’s a servant character who’s essentially a “mammy” stereotype seen in outdated and racist movies.

The movie’s grossly inaccurate fashions are random and very distracting. The society women and men of the king’s court sneer at Marie-Josèphe when she first arrives at the palace, because she’s dressed like a peasant. But some of the women are styled to look like Goths who got rejected from a Siouxie and the Banshees music video from the 1980s.

The fashion mistakes don’t stop there. Marie-Josèphe starts to dress more like a princess, but her gowns are the types of dresses that high school girls in 1980s teen romantic comedies would wear in scenes for proms or homecoming dances. Magali sometimes wears a plastic headband that looks like it was bought at a corner drugstore, not something that belongs to a lady-in-waiting in 1680s France. Yves sometimes wears a modern-styled leather jacket, as if he’s about to go on a motorcycle ride in a century when motorcycles weren’t even invented.

Every princess movie has a love story. In “The King’s Daughter,” Yves and Marie-Josèphe make goo-goo eyes at each other almost as soon as they meet, when he catches her hanging out in the grotto with the mermaid. Their courtship plays out exactly like you expect it would. Scodelario and Walker have some on-screen chemistry together (probably because they became a real-life couple because of this movie and got married in real life), but the romance in the movie is very dull.

Predictably, Yves is under orders from the king to keep the mermaid in captivity. Marie-Josèphe wants to set the mermaid free. As Yves and Marie-Josèphe fall in love, his loyalty is torn between King Louis XIV and Marie-Josèphe. You know how this is is going to end, so there’s no suspense.

Marie-Josèphe gets a serious injury on her right arm after falling off of a horse. Dr. Labarth recommends that her arm be amputated. But lo and behold, Marie-Josèphe goes down to the grotto to visit the mermaid, who heals Marie-Josèphe’s arm completely. It makes the king even more determined to steal the mermaid’s powers during the upcoming solar eclipse.

And because this movie is filled with clichés, there’s a love triangle. A haughty rich guy named Jean-Michel Lintillac (played by Ben Lloyd-Hughes) is making King Louis XIV feel guilty because Jean-Michel’s military father was killed in the war, and Jean-Michel blames the king. To get this complainer off of his back, the king offers Jean-Michel the title of duke. Later, the king arranges for Marie-Josèphe to marry Jean-Michel because the king doesn’t want Marie-Josèphe to be romantically involved with a commoner like Yves, who has some kind of past feud with Jean-Michel.

As the feisty and plucky Marie-Josèphe, Scodelario seems to give a sincere effort to embody her character, but her scenes with Brosnan are undercut by his campy over-the-top acting. Jean-Michel and Dr. Labarthe are just cardboard-like villains, although “Sons of Anarchy” alum Schreiber as Dr. Labarthe should be given some credit for playing a character outside of his usual “working-class tough guy” persona. Meanwhile, Oscar-winning actor Hurt (as Père La Chaise) looks embarrassed to be in this movie. Viewers who watch this train-wreck film might be embarrassed too at wasting their time with this junk.

Gravitas Ventures released “The King’s Daughter” in U.S. cinemas on January 21, 2022.

Review: ‘Hell Hath No Fury’ (2021), starring Nina Bergman

January 7, 2022

by Carla Hay

Louis Mandylor, Nina Bergman, Luke LaFontaine and Timothy V. Murphy in “Hell Hath No Fury” (Photo courtesy of Well Go USA)

“Hell Hath No Fury” (2021)

Directed by Jesse V. Johnson

Some language in French and German with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in France from 1941 to 1944, the war action film “Hell Hath No Fury” features an almost all-white cast (with one African American) representing the working-class, middle-class, and wealthy Europeans and Americans who are caught up in the brutality of World War II.

Culture Clash: A French woman who is the mistress of a Nazi military leader is held captive by American soldiers, who force her to lead them to buried treasure that was stolen by Nazis.

Culture Audience: “Hell Hath No Fury” will appeal mainly to people who are interested in World War II movies with a lot of suspense and violent battles, even if the movie has some noticeable flaws.

Nina Bergman in “Hell Hath No Fury” (Photo courtesy of Well Go USA)

“Hell Hath No Fury” is one of those action movies that makes up for some clunky dialogue and mediocre acting with plenty of suspense and a memorably fierce lead performance by Nina Bergman. She plays a mysterious French woman named Marie Dujardin, who has been imprisoned during World War II. Marie keeps people guessing on her loyalties and allegiances. This political intrigue makes “Hell Hath No Fury” slightly better than the average movie about a woman being held captive for nefarious reasons.

Directed by Jesse V. Johnson and written by Katharine Lee McEwan, “Hell Hath No Fury” opens in 1941 in Aubagne, France. Two lovers are canoodling the back seat of car that’s being driven through a wooded area at around 10 a.m. The two lovebirds in the back seat are Colonel Von Bruckner (played by Daniel Bernhardt) and Marie Dujardin. He asks her, “Marie, are you okay?” She answers, “Tell me again.”

Von Bruckner then tells her: “If we are ever separated, no war, no injury, no challenge will be enough. You see, I know that you are waiting for me. I will find you, and I will love you. Love is stronger than death.”

This amorous moment is interrupted when four French Resistance people (two men and two women), who are armed with guns, ambush the car. The car driver is immediately killed. A woman in the group sneers at Marie, “You’re the German’s whore.”

A shootout ensues that leaves all the French Resistance people dead, because Von Bruckner is an expert marksman. Von Bruckner and Marie escape with their lives. This scene reveals that Von Bruckner is a Nazi, and Marie is considered a French traitor by being his lover.

After this narrow escape from death, the movie fast-forwards three years later, in 1944. Marie is being held captive by American soldiers in a prisoner-of-war camp. They soldiers shave off Marie’s hair into a buzz cut and paint a Nazi swastika on her forehead. She’s then taken by four of the men into a heavily wooded area.

The men don’t want to torture her or force her to tell them any political secrets. They’ve brought her to the woods because they think she knows the location of buried gold that was stolen by Nazis. The Americans want Marie to lead them to this treasure so that the Americans can steal the gold for themselves.

The leader of these rogue soldiers, who could get court-martialed for what they’re doing, is Major Maitland (played by Louis Mandylor), who’s the greediest of the four men. The other men in this group of captors are Chris (played by Luke LaFontaine), a trigger-happy hothead; Jerry (played by Timothy V. Murphy), a ruthless, middle-aged soldier who wants to rape Marie to get information out of her, but Major Maitland won’t let this sexual assault happen; and Vic (played by Josef Cannon), the only one in the group who shows signs of having a guilty conscience about what they’re doing.

There are also two French Resistance soldiers named Clement (played by Dominiquie Vandenberg) and George (played by Charles Farthy) who are key players in this story. And what exactly happened to Von Bruckner? That’s revealed in the movie, which eventually shows how and why Marie got involved with Von Bruckner.

“Hell Hath No Fury” isn’t dull, but the movie has some gaps in the story that needed filling. Although there are some flashbacks, there could have been more explanation over what happened in the three years in between Marie and Von Bruckner’s escape in the woods and her capture as a prisoner of war. Marie’s family background is quickly mentioned near the end of the movie. Her family history explains many of her motivations.

The movie’s dialogue is at times stilted and corny. For example, when Marie tells Major Maitland that the gold is cursed, he snarls at her: “I’m American, Marie. We don’t believe in spirits. We don’t believe in curses. In gold we trust.”

However, what makes “Hell Hath No Fury” watchable is figuring out the mystery of Marie, and seeing how Bergman skillfully depicts this character who has a lot of secrets. As a villain, Major Maitland is fairly generic. None of the work in this movie is award-worthy, but it’s not a terrible or entirely predictable film.

The fighting and shootouts aren’t particularly innovative, but the pacing serves the movie well. The filmmakers also made good use of the locations to create the sense of isolation in the woods that takes up most of the movie. The intrigue of “Hell Hath No Fury” is seeing if or how Marie can outwit her captors when she’s outnumbered. As the movie’s title suggests, someone who seems to be a vulnerable victim should not be underestimated.

Well Go USA released “Hell Hath No Fury” on November 5, 2021, and on digital/VOD on November 9, 2021. The movie was released on Blu-ray and DVD on December 21, 2021.

Review: ‘The Only One’ (2021), starring Jon Beavers and Caitlin Stasey

December 29, 2021

by Carla Hay

Jon Beavers and Caitlin Stasey in “The Only One” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

“The Only One” (2021)

Directed by Noah Gilbert

Culture Representation: Taking place in various parts of France, the dramatic film “The Only One” features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: An American winemaker, who owns a vineyard in France, finds his world rocked when a British ex-girlfriend who dumped him six years earlier suddenly comes back into his life.

Culture Audience: “The Only One” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching a tedious and predictable drama.

Hugo Armstrong in “The Only One” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

What would you do if an ex-love who abruptly left you unexpectedly showed up in your life again when you’re single and available? That’s the dilemma presented in the drawn-out and lackluster romantic drama “The Only One,” which makes it too easy to see how everything is going to end. In addition to the bland story, the movie fails to have interesting characters. In fact, the woman who’s supposed to be the movie’s charismatic heartbreaker is actually a selfish and flaky bore.

If you watch “The Only One,” it’ll be hard not to fall asleep or to resist the urge to fast-forward through the many dull scenes in the film. Some viewers might not even have the patience to finish watching the movie. This impatience would be understandable because it’s all too obvious what’s going to happen in this movie. The two main characters haven’t changed much or learned important life lessons after not seeing each other for six years.

“The Only One” (directed by Noah Gilbert and written by his brother Seth Gilbert) has the dubious claim of setting a romantic movie in France when the movie isn’t very romantic at all. Viewers with enough life experience can easily see that the mismatched, would-be couple at the center of the story is just a hollow prop for the “will they or won’t they get together” gimmick that’s the shaky foundation for this movie. In order for a movie like this to really connect with viewers, people have to care about the would-be couple in the first place.

It seems like “The Only One” filmmakers were going for a vibe that’s similar to director Richard Linklater’s 2004 romantic reunion drama “Before Sunset.” Linklater and “Before Sunset” co-stars Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy earned an Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay for the movie. “The Only One” is nowhere near as witty, charming and intriguing as “Before Sunset” but is actually just the opposite in almost every way.

“The Only One” begins with the arrival of a British woman in her early-to-mid-30s named Tom (played by Caitlin Stasey) at a mid-sized vineyard somewhere in France. The first thing she sees is a dead horse in a field on the property. It’s later revealed that the horse was named Gwen and belonged to the vineyard owner David (played by Jon Beavers), who is American and Tom’s ex-boyfriend. Tom has shown up at this vineyard unannounced and uninvited.

As she casually saunters into the vineyard house where David lives, Tom appears to be somewhat smug when she encounters David and he’s surprised to see her. “I hate to be a bummer,” Tom says to David, “but your horse is dead.” David tries to play it cool and answers, “I know.” There’s a tedious part of the movie where David finds a new horse to replace the dead one, which died of old age.

Over time, it’s very obvious that David (who is in his mid-30s) can’t hide that he’s still in love with Tom. Through conversations and flashbacks, it’s revealed that David and Tom met in Dublin six years earlier during a bonfire party. David fell hard and fast for Tom, who is a longtime drifter. The movie tries to make Tom look like a “free spirit,” but she’s really just a soul-sucking manipulator who refuses to make any real commitments or have any real responsibilities in life.

Tom and David began living together during their time in Dublin. One day, she told him that she was going out for some cigarettes. And she never went back or said goodbye. She also never made contact with David or an apology for this cold-hearted breakup until she tracked David down six years later by finding out on Instagram where he was living. Even though Tom could’ve contacted David on social media, she chose not to and decided to show up at the vineyard as a “surprise,” without really knowing how David would react to seeing her again.

In the six years since they last saw each other, David ended up living in France, where he found work at a vineyard owned by an elderly man, who became a mentor to David. When the vineyard owner died, he left the business to David in his will. David says that the old man was an “asshole” but he treated David well enough to trust him with the vineyard. David also tells Tom that the vineyard’s previous owner has two estranged daughters who definitely were not in consideration to inherit the vineyard. These daughters also seem to have no interest in the business because they’re never seen in the movie or mentioned again.

Tom gives David a brief update on what she’s been up to in the six years that since they last saw each other. She mentions that she worked for a time as a barista in Auckland, New Zealand. Tom also that she signed a home lease with “an Argentinian chick” she was dating, but Tom left this lover too. “I’ve been everywhere man,” Tom says to David, as people with empty, aimless lives do when they want to appear more glamorous than they really are.

David has a little bit of pretension about himself too. He likes to brag that his vineyard is completely organic and operates exactly how it did when it was built more than 200 years ago. That means the vineyard and everything else on the property doesn’t have electricity. David is proud of the fact that he has no modern technology, but it seems like a questionable way of doing business when this lack of technology will just make things harder and more expensive for him.

Eventually, it’s revealed that Tom’s real name is Natalie. She began calling herself Tom shortly after she met David, because she had been drinking Old Tom Gin when they met. Not much is told about Tom’s family background except that her father was in the military, which might explain why she’s accustomed to moving around a lot. It doesn’t explain why she’s such so self-centered and unreliable.

Tom/Natalie is the type of heartbreaker who gets by and gets away with a lot because of her good looks. Based on the little information that’s revealed about her, she has a pattern of using lovers for a place to live, and then she suddenly leaves them when she grows bored with them. Whatever she wants from David, it’s obviously for her own selfish reasons.

Not everyone is charmed by Tom. David’s brother-in-law Rob (played by Hugo Armstrong) intensely dislikes her not just because she owes Rob money but mostly because of how she broke David’s heart. Rob is married to David’s older sister Em (played by Blake Lindsley), and Rob is the social media manager for David’s vineyard. Em and Rob live with their two sons (one is 7, the other is 4) somewhere in Oregon, but it just so happens Rob and Em are in France to visit David at the same time that Tom shows up. The children are not with Rob and Em on this trip.

Needless to say, Rob isn’t happy to see Tom at all. In private, Rob sarcastically asks David, “Do you think it’s a coincidence that she showed up hours after Gwen [the horse] passing?” Rob is also very suspicious of what Tom wants from David. Understandably, Rob doesn’t want Tom to hurt David again.

Meanwhile, David seems to easily forgive Tom and is embarrassed when Rob mentions in front of Tom how deeply hurt David was when Tom left him. Out of pride, David downplays how devastated he was by the breakup. And even if he told Tom how much she hurt him, she doesn’t seem capable of fully understanding the type of emotional wreckage she leaves behind when she decideds to leave lovers on a whim.

At one point, David and Tom discuss why their relationship ended. This conversation just further proves how self-obsessed Tom is. He asks her, “Why did you bail on me in Dublin?” She replies, “I wanted to see Asia.” She adds, “I’m sorry … I really did go out for cigarettes.” And as if to justify the awful way that she treated David, she reminds him: “I told you I suck at dating.”

Much of “The Only One” is about the tensions that Tom stirs up with her unexpected visit. Tom, David, Rob and Em have a somewhat awkward lunch where Em tells Tom she admires and somewhat envies Tom for having the freedom to go wherever Tom wants to go. Rob can barely contain his disgust because he can see Tom for who she really is: a homeless drifter who’s come back in David’s life to see what she can get out of him.

And what exactly does Tom want from David? She tests his willingness to drop everything to hang out with her. There’s a long stretch of the movie where he ditches his vineyard responsibilities to go off and travel with her. They “borrow” Rob’s motorcycle without his permission when they go on this impulsive trip.

A major problem with “The Only One” is that Tom is very shallow and doesn’t have a captivating personality. Most people who’ve traveled and lived in several countries learn a lot about different cultures and have fascinating stories to tell. Not Tom. She mostly talks about herself and tries to get David to think that he’s become boring, now that he’s found a steady job that he likes.

Meanwhile, viewers won’t have much respect for David either, because he acts like a spineless, easily manipulated wimp when he’s with Tom. Do people act this way in real life when they’re madly in love with a narcissist? Of course. But if you’re going to make a movie about it, at least make the dialogue intriguing, not a monotonous slog. All the warning signs are there about what will happen if David decides he wants to rekindle his romance with Tom.

“The Only One” has a rambling quality to it where viewers will keep wondering where the story is going and what kind of statement this movie is trying to make. There’s a useless character named Madame Gerard (played by Niseema Theillaud), a lonely, elderly neighbor who has lunch with David every Tuesday. She adds nothing to the story, unless the filmmakers wanted to have a token French character in a movie set in France but most of the main characters are not French.

“The Only One” has some nice scenic shots of France. But that’s not enough to make a movie interesting. “The Only One” doesn’t have much to offer, in terms of memorable characters and an engaging story. The acting and direction are mediocre. And most of all, this very un-romantic movie that’s supposed to be romantic will just make viewers feel like they wasted their time watching a pointless and forgettable story.

Vertical Entertainment released “The Only One” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on December 10, 2021.

Review: ‘The Last Duel’ (2021), starring Matt Damon, Adam Driver, Jodie Comer and Ben Affleck

October 7, 2021

by Carla Hay

Adam Driver and Matt Damon in “The Last Duel” (Photo by Patrick Redmond/20th Century Studios)

“The Last Duel” (2021)

Directed by Ridley Scott

Culture Representation: Taking place in France from the years 1377 to the late 1380s, the dramatic film “The Last Duel” features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and royalty.

Culture Clash: Two former friends, who fought battles together in the French military, face off in a violent duel after one of the men is accused of raping the other man’s wife.

Culture Audience: “The Last Duel” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in violent medieval-era dramas where some of the acting and dialogue are too modern be considered authentic, and sadistic machismo is put on the highest pedestal.

Jodie Comer in “The Last Duel” (Photo by Patrick Redmond/20th Century Studios)

When watching “The Last Duel,” it might be annoying or amusing to see Matt Damon in a mullet, as he fumbles attempts to be a medieval Frenchman, by having a modern British-American accent. Ultimately, the movie has nothing new or insightful to say about violent machismo. If you really need to see the same rape of a woman depicted twice in a movie, just for the sake of showing the rape from the perspectives of the rapist and the victim, then “The Last Duel” is your kind of movie.

Directed by Ridley Scott, “The Last Duel” is written by Damon, Ben Affleck and Nicole Holofcener. They adapted the movie’s screenplay from Eric Jager’s 2004 book of the same name. Scott, Damon, Affleck and Holofcener are among the producers of “The Last Duel” movie. All of them have considerable talent, but all of them have made much better movies than “The Last Duel.”

It’s worth noting that “The Last Duel” is the first movie screenplay that Damon and Affleck have written together since their Oscar-winning original screenplay for 1997’s “Good Will Hunting,” a better-quality film about masculine identity. (Damon and Affleck also co-starred in “Good Will Hunting.”) “The Last Duel” certainly has the top-notch production design and cinematography that viewers have come to expect when Scott does a period movie, but it’s no “Gladiator.” In addition, “The Last Duel” has too much subpar acting from Affleck and cringeworthy dialogue in several parts of the movie for “The Last Duel” to be an Oscar-caliber film.

People familiar with the medieval era already know it was a brutal and violent period in history, when women were treated as nothing more than property to be bought and sold for marriage, with husbands having the legal right to “own” their wives. All of that misogyny is accurately depicted in “The Last Duel.” The problem is that the movie has a tone of showing hatred and degradation of women with a little too much enthusiasm.

It’s as if the filmmakers felt that just by having the movie take place during this ancient era, it was enough of a reason to show this misogyny so gratuitously. Any attempt to show any female character with some kind of inner strength is rushed in the last third of the film. This half-hearted nod to female empowerment doesn’t come across as genuine but rather it seems manipulative. It’s the equivalent of filmmakers putting a little dab of cleaner on the avalanche of dirty, sexist muck that’s poured all over the film.

Based on true events, “The Last Duel” takes place in France (mostly in Paris) from 1377 to the late 1380s. But if you were to believe this movie, women couldn’t possibly be as smart or as powerful as men. It completely refuses to acknowledge that women had positions of power and minds of their own in France during the medieval era—most notably Eleanor of Aquitaine, who was a leader more than 200 years before this story takes place. “The Last Duel” is so insistent on shutting out any depictions of intelligent women in power (even if it’s power in their own households) that when Queen Isabeau (played by Serena Kennedy) appears in the movie, she doesn’t have any lines of dialogue and is just there as a spectator sitting next to her king husband (who does talk) during the jousting match that is the movie’s namesake.

“The Last Duel,” is told in three chapters, each from the perspective of the three people involved in a rape case that is the reason for this jousting duel:

  • Jean de Carrouges (played by Damon) is a domineering, middle-aged knight, who has fought many battles in the Crusades. He has the scars on his face and the rest of his body to prove it. Jean’s first wife and son died during the bubonic plague known as the Black Death. His second marriage is to a woman who is the story’s rape victim.
  • Jacques Le Gris (played by Adam Driver), a roguish playboy who’s about 10 years younger than Jean, has risen through the military ranks to become a captain. Jacques is a never-married bachelor who has never had a committed love relationship.
  • Marguerite de Carrouges (played by Jodie Comer), Jean’s second wife, is about 20 years younger than Jean. She comes from a well-to-do family that has fallen on hard times because her scandal-plagued father has been branded as a traitor. Marguerite accuses Jacques of raping her.

Each of the movie’s chapters is titled “Part One: The Truth According to Jean de Carrouges,” “Part Two: The Truth According to Jacque Le Gris” and “Part Three: The Truth According to Marguerite de Carrouges.” Unlike Showtime’s 2014-2019 drama series “The Affair,” “The Last Duel” doesn’t have wildly different memories of the same incidents from the three people involved in a love triangle. The memories and perspectives do have some differences, but they add up to a generally consistent overview of what life was like for the three people who are at the center of the rape case.

Someone who can influence the outcome of the rape case is the hard-partying Pierre d’Alençon (played by Affleck), who is the presiding judge and a close ally of Jacques. Pierre is also the much-older cousin of King Charles IV (played by Alex Lawther), who is portrayed as a brat in his 20s who doesn’t have the maturity to be an effective leader, but he’s tolerated by people around him because he inherited the title of king.

One of the biggest problems with “The Last Duel” is that it’s filled with modern lines of dialogue that sound like they’re straight out of a foul-mouthed movie written by Quentin Tarantino. Certain people, especially Pierre, like to say the words “fuck” or “fucking” a lot. That doesn’t mean that cursing didn’t exist in the medieval era, but the way the words are used in a contemporary-sounding dialogue context is just not accurate for those times.

And it doesn’t help that Affleck and Damon (who are both American) struggle with their fake European accents. Damon has entire scenes where he sounds American and British every time he talks. Driver (who is American) does a much better job at having a European-sounding accent, while Comer doesn’t have to pretend at all, since she’s British in real life.

For a movie that’s supposed to take place in France, it’s kind of pathetic that there are very few French people in “The Last Duel” cast, and none of these French actors has a large role in the film. (“The Last Duel” was actually filmed in Ireland.) This lack of significant French representation in the movie’s cast is an indication that “The Last Duel” director Scott (who is British) has an ethnic bias when it comes to who he wants in his movies. It’s also obvious that he didn’t care about having accurate language consistency for “The Last Duel” characters, since the stars of the movie sound British and American instead of French.

And in case anyone mistakenly thinks “The Last Duel” is a prestigious, Oscar-caliber film, think again. The movie goes into borderline softcore porn territory. Under Scott’s direction, “The Last Duel” seems enamored with showing in more than one tacky scene that Pierre and Jacques regularly participated in orgies together with willing women. One of the orgy scenes has a very “male gaze” to it, because it lingers on three women on a bed having sex with each other, while they wait for Pierre to join them. It’s such a predictable stereotype in these types of movie orgy scenes that same-sex hookups always comes from the women, not from the men.

Pierre is married with eight children, but he seems to think his family life just gets in the way of his sex parties. He even started to have an orgy in front of his pregnant wife Lady Marie Chamaillart (played by Zoé Bruneau), who seems to know what’s about to happen and quickly leaves the room. After having this orgy, Jacques asks Pierre if he wants to spend time with his wife. Pierre scoffs at the idea and says that Marie is “pregnant and hysterical. I’d rather take my chances with the wolves.”

This 152-minute movie plods along in showing Jean’s transactional marriage to Marguerite, whom he hopes will bear him a son so that he can have a male heir again. Jean drove a hard bargain for Marguerite’s dowry, by convincing Marguerite’s disgraced and financially desperate father Sir Robert de Thibouville (played by Nathaniel Parker) to give him a coveted strip of land as part of the deal. Sir Robert reluctantly agrees.

Jean is very patriotic and proud to serve in the military. Jacques becomes a close companion of his during their military battles, and Jean even saves Jacques’ life on one occasion. When Jean is not away from home for war duties, his occupation is being a landlord, but the Black Death caused many of his tenants to die, so he’s been struggling financially and is heavily in debt. Pierre later takes advantage of Jean’s financial woes when Pierre decides that Jean has become his enemy.

Marguerite handles the landlord transactions when Jean is away from home, and she finds out that he’s been an irresponsible business manager by not bothering to collect rent when he was supposed to do it. However, Marguerite is in the type of marriage where she can’t really speak up and point out these mistakes to Jean because his huge ego would just dismiss her concerns. She is constantly reminded by people in society that she should not speak up about problems that would be considered “embarrassing” or “disobedient” to her husband or other men.

Jacques and Marguerite meet at an outdoor party, where Jean introduces his new wife to his friend and tells Marguerite to give a friendly kiss to Jacques. Marguerite ends up kissing Jacques on the lips, and he looks at her in a way that shows it’s attraction at first sight, with that kiss causing some kind of spark in him. Marguerite admits to some of her female friends at the party that she thinks Jacques is handsome, but she doesn’t trust him because of his “bad boy” reputation.

Marguerite is well-read, while Jean is illiterate. In more than one scene in the film, Jacques and some other people express surprise that Jean allows Marguerite to read books. Jacques uses this information to his advantage when, shortly after he meets Marguerite, he flirts with her and tries to impress her with his knowledge of literature.

Later, it becomes clear that Jacques’ lust for Marguerite has turned into obsession, although he claims several times that he’s deeply in love with Marguerite and it’s the first time that he’s ever felt this way. It doesn’t justify him raping her. The movie leaves no ambiguity that this rape did occur.

Up until the rape (which is depicted in a disturbing way that might be too upsetting for sensitive viewers), “The Last Duel” becomes a soap opera filled with clichés that you might find in a cheap and tawdry romance novel. There’s the pretty housewife who’s lonely and bored because her husband is away from home a lot. And when he’s at home, their sex life is passionless and he doesn’t seem to care about what her needs are.

There’s the workaholic husband who’s so preoccupied with his work and self-image that he doesn’t see how unhappy his wife is. He thinks that all he needs to be a good husband is to be a good provider. He’s also annoyed with his wife because she hasn’t gotten pregnant as quickly as he wanted. After five years of marriage, she still hasn’t conceived a child.

There’s the tall, dark “bad boy” who’s just waiting for the right moment to “seduce” the lonely wife. The fact that the husband used to be the bad boy’s best friend makes the bad boy’s lust for the wife even more taboo. Driver is perfectly adequate in this villain role, but he’s limited by this two-dimensional character, and therefore it’s not an outstanding performance.

Also part of this parade of soap opera clichés is the bad boy’s “wingman”/sidekick, who gleefully helps with the scheming because he wants to cause some chaos too. In “The Last Duel,” the “wingman” character is named Adam Louvel (played by Adam Nagaitis), and he plays a pivotal role in Jacques’ planning of the rape. Just like Jacques, he’s a shallow character with no backstory.

The extra strip of land that Jean was promised as part of Marguerite’s dowry becomes the subject of a legal dispute when Jacques, in an effort to impress Pierre, seizes the land and hands it over to Pierre. It results in a messy lawsuit, with Jean suing Pierre and Jacques. Pierre grows increasingly alienated from and irritated with Jean because of this legal dispute. Meanwhile, Jacques tries to put the lawsuit behind him and makes the first move to repair his broken friendship with Jean.

However, any attempts for Jean and Jacques to become friends again get obliterated when the rape happens. “The Last Duel” gives harsh but realistic depictions of the victim blaming and victim shaming that rape survivors experience when they come forward and try to get justice for this crime. Complicating matters, Jacques admits that he had a sexual encounter with Marguerite, but he says it was consensual. He vehemently denies that it was rape. For many people who hear about Marguerite’s accusation, it’s a “he said/she said” situation.

The movie shows in chilling details how victim blaming/shaming reactions to a rape story are universal and timeless and don’t just come from men. Jean’s mother Nicole de Carrouges (played by Harriet Walter) believes Marguerite, but she scolds Marguerite for not keeping quiet about the rape. Meanwhile, Marguerite’s best friend Marie (played by Tallulah Haddon) doubts Marguerite’s accusation, because Marie thinks Marguerite was attracted to Jacques and that Marguerite might have done something to make Jacques think she was willing to have sex with him.

In her depiction of Marguerite, Comer gives an admirable performance of a woman who often has to suppress her emotions, out of fear of being labeled as a “hysterical” wife who might embarrass her husband. Through tearful eyes that still show steely determination, she achieves a balance of being emotionally vulnerable but mentally strong. Marguerite is going to need that inner strength when she gets an onslaught of criticism from many people because she went public with this accusation.

Marguerite tells Jean about the rape before they decide to go public with this accusation. Jean’s initial reaction isn’t to comfort Marguerite but to get angry that Jacques has betrayed him again. Jean eventually takes Marguerite’s side, but he’s motivated more by defending his own honor and reputation than defending Marguerite’s. Because it’s not spoiler information that “The Last Duel” is about Jean and Jacques’ jousting showdown about the rape, the movie just becomes scene after scene that builds up to this battle. Marguerite’s feelings and trauma get pushed to the side, while the movie ultimately gives more importance to the feuding between Jean and Jacques.

Although the movie shows Marguerite’s considerable bravery, it’s Jean who’s supposed to be the “hero” of the story for defending his wife. We know this because the viewer catharsis in the movie is supposed to come mainly from the jousting battle, which centers “The Last Duel” back on the men. The movie ends with scenes showing Marguerite, but make no mistake: “The Last Duel” is very much a movie about egotistical men and the violence they commit to get what they want.

20th Century Studios will release “The Last Duel” in U.S. cinemas on October 15, 2021.

Review: ‘Ma Belle, My Beauty,’ starring Idella Johnson, Hannah Pepper, Lucien Guignard and Sivan Noam Shimon

September 10, 2021

by Carla Hay

Lucien Guignard, Idella Johnson and Hannah Pepper in “Ma Belle, My Beauty” (Photo by Lauren Guiteras/Good Deed Entertainment)

“Ma Belle, My Beauty”

Directed by Marion Hill

Some language in French with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place mainly in an unnamed city in the south of France, the dramatic film “Ma Belle, My Beauty” features a nearly all-white cast (with one African American) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: An interracial musician couple (she’s African American, he’s a white Frenchman) try to navigate the changing dynamics in their marriage when a woman from their past polyamorous relationship shows up for a visit at the spouses’ home in France.

Culture Audience: “Ma Belle, My Beauty” will appeal mainly to people who like watching talkative romantic dramas about adult relationships that don’t fall into the typical romantic movie characteristics of heterosexual monogamy.

Sivan Noam Shimon, Idella Johnson, Hannah Pepper and Lucien Guignard in “Ma Belle, My Beauty” (Photo by Lauren Guiteras/Good Deed Entertainment)

“Ma Belle, My Beauty” asks this intriguing question: “What happens when a husband and a wife, who are trying monogamy for the first time in their relationship, are visited by a woman who used to be in a polyamorous relationship with the spouses but dumped them?” Is three a crowd for the people who used to be in this polyamorous three-way relationship? “Ma Belle, My Beauty” doesn’t give easy answers on monogamy or polyamory, but viewers will be taken on an engaging and sometimes uneven ride where love partners have to decide if they’re going to be truthful about their boundaries and desires.

Written, directed and edited by Marion Hill, “Ma Belle, My Beauty” had its world premiere at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, where the movie won the Audience Award: Next prize. “Ma Belle, My Beauty” doesn’t tell a conventional love story that’s usually found in mainstream movies. Therefore, “Ma Belle, My Beauty” isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea, especially for viewers who prefer more formulaic fare. At the very least, this movie has some gorgeous cinematography of the south of France, where the movie takes place.

The story of the couple, whose marriage is tested by the arrival of their former polyamorous partner, takes a few twists and turns—some more predictable than others. For the most part, the movie has a natural flow in how it reveals the personalities and quirks of the main characters, who are all in their 30s. The person who’s the most complex is the woman who was at the center of this former polyamorous trio.

Bertie (played by Idella Johnson) is an American singer who’s in the same band as her French husband Fred Carnot (played by Lucien Guignard), a multi-instrumentalist who plays guitar and trumpet. Bertie and Fred write songs together and tour with their band, which performs jazzy pop music. Bertie and Fred have been married for less than two years, and they moved to France around the same time that they became spouses.

Before they got married, Bertie and Fred lived in New Orleans, where they had a three-way relationship with a free-spirited American lesbian named Lane (played by Hannah Pepper), until Lane “ghosted” them and never explained why she cut herself off from Bertie and Fred. After Lane was no longer in their lives, Bertie and Fred got married to each other and moved to the south of France. Bertie doesn’t put a label on her sexuality, while Fred identifies as heterosexual.

The story comes out in bits and pieces of conversation, but the way this three-way relationship is described is that Bertie and Lane fell in love with each other around the same time that Bertie and Fred fell in love with each other. Instead of choosing one partner over the other, Bertie convinced both Fred and Lane to be in a simultaneous relationship with her. Fred and Lane were never sexually intimate, and they agreed to this arrangement because Fred and Lane genuinely liked each other as friends.

Things were going well in this three-way relationship, until Lane abruptly stopped communicating with Bertie and Fred, and Lane ignored Bertie and Fred’s attempts to contact her. Fred and Bertie haven’t seen or spoken to Lane in about two years. During the course of the movie, viewers see that this breakup deeply hurt and confused Bertie more than how it affected Fred. Bertie isn’t sure if she wants to forgive Lane or not, while Fred has already forgiven Lane.

Bertie’s breakup blues have apparently been affecting her relationship with Fred, who secretly contacts Lane and invites Lane to visit and stay with him and Bertie at their home in France. When Fred picks up Lane at the train station, she says to Fred with some trepidation about Bertie: “What if she doesn’t want to see me?” Fred answers, “She loves surprises.” Lane says, “She hates surprises.” Fred replies, “She’ll be fine.”

However, when Bertie sees Lane again for this surprise visit, Lane’s prediction turns out to be true: Bertie hates this surprise. And when Bertie finds out that Fred was the one who invited Lane to stay in their home without Bertie’s consent, Bertie gets angry at him, and it causes more tension in their marriage. Bertie doesn’t want to be rude, so she agrees to let Lane stay in their home, since Bertie knows this living arrangement will be temporary.

Apparently, Lane isn’t just flaky when it comes to her love relationships. She also doesn’t have a steady job or a career in anything. It’s mentioned a few times in the movie that Lane doesn’t really know what she wants to do with her life (she’s tried many careers that didn’t work out), and her finances are too unstable for her to afford staying at a hotel. Lane says that her latest career endeavor is she’s thinking about doing massage therapy training in Barcelona.

Bertie is the type of person who doesn’t want Lane to know how much Lane’s breakup hurt her. However, the two women have unresolved feelings for each other. Eventually, Bertie asks Lane why Lane “ghosted” Bertie and Fred. But even before this heart-to-heart talk happens, there were problems in Bertie and Fred’s marriage. Bertie is becoming emotionally distant from Fred, and it’s affected their sex life.

That’s not the only tension in the household. There’s a lot of sexual tension between Bertie and Lane, who tries to kiss Bertie one day when Fred is out of the house and Bertie is playing the piano. Bertie rebuff’s Lane’s advances, but Lane doesn’t give up so easily.

The fractures in Bertie and Fred’s marriage deepen when Bertie announces that she doesn’t want to do a concert tour that has already been booked. Fred can’t understand why Bertie is being so difficult, but observant viewers can easily see that it has to do with Bertie’s lingering feelings for Lane. Meanwhile, in a slightly hilarious moment, Bertie and Fred’s housekeeper Marianne (played by Sarah Taupneau-Wilhelm) says that she’s a singer and offers to substitute for Bertie on the tour. Her offer is politely declined.

After Bertie rejected Lane’s sexual advances, Lane doesn’t waste time in finding a sex partner in France. At a house party thrown by one of Fred and Bertie’s friends, Lane makes eye contact with Noa (played by Sivan Noam Shimon), who is an athletic-looking Israeli army veteran. The two women flirt with each other and go for a drive in a borrowed two-seat red convertible that’s owned by one of people at the party.

Noa says that she has a girlfriend, who doesn’t mind if Noa sleeps with men, whom Noa calls “dildos with a pulse.” It’s implied that Noa’s girlfriend would have a problem with Noa sleeping with other women though. However, Noa and Lane aren’t going to let that get in the way of their immediate attraction to each other.

During Lane and Noa’s first private conversation together, Lane tells Noa about her history with Bertie and Fred. Lane admits that the three-way relationship could be challenging at times. Lane also says something that explains a lot of people’s actions before and during this story takes place. She mentions that in the three-way relationship, Bertie was the one who called the shots.

These issues of control and jealousy come out in different ways in this story. Lane and Noa predictably end up having sex soon after they meet. And the first time that Lane and Noa hook up with each other, it’s in the guest bedroom where Lane is staying at Bertie and Fred’s house. Bertie and Fred can hear Lane and Noa’s loud sexual activities. Bertie tries to not let it show that it bothers her, even though it’s obvious that it does.

Noa spends the night, and the next morning things are a little awkward at breakfast, even though Bertie tries to play it cool. Noa isn’t a one-night stand though. Lane and Noa continue to hang out together and sometimes go on double dates with Bertie and Fred. One day, when all four of them are at a swimming hole, Bertie and Lane have some alone time where Lane puts some sunscreen on Bertie. And then, Bertie makes this confession: “I miss having sex with women.”

Although the characters in “Ma Belle, My Beauty” are very open about their sexualities, the movie has a lot of nuanced dialogue. Fred and Bertie consider themselves to be a hipster couple with open-minded views of various sexualities, and they can candidly talk about sex. However, in their own marriage, they hit some roadblocks because they’re failing to communicate about emotional intimacy.

It’s open to interpretation if Lane is just using Noa to make Bertie jealous. Why did Lane agree to this visit? Does she want to rekindle a romance with Bertie? And is that a good idea when free-spirited Lane obviously resents Bertie’s need for control? As for Fred, he just wants Bertie to be happy, and he knows that Bertie was happy when Lane was in their lives. Fred tells Lane that he misses Lane being in their lives too.

There are no “heroes” or “villains” in “Ma Belle, My Beauty.” It’s a story of flawed people trying to find love and happiness in the best way that they can while staying true to themselves. Johnson’s portrayal of Bertie is what makes this movie worth watching (she’s also a very good singer) because Bertie isn’t so transparent about her emotions in the way that Fred and Lane are. Johnson is very skilled at using eye contact and body language to convey Bertie’s true feelings. The movie’s emotional tone is also enhanced by Mahmoud Chouki’s jazzy musical score.

“Ma Belle, My Beauty” makes some mention of Bertie being the only black person in the social circles that she now has in France. There are hints that she sometimes wonders if she made the right decision to leave her family and friends behind in America to start a new life in France, where Fred already knows a lot of people. It’s this feeling of isolation that further fuels Bertie’s angst.

Pepper’s portrayal of impetuous Lane is that of someone who’s capable of real love but seems ambivalent about her own ability to commit to a long-term relationship. Lane shows signs of underlying insecurities that she’s not as accomplished in her life as her peers. As a coping mechanism, Lane just jumps around from job to job and relationship to relationship. As for Fred, he’s the least complicated character in this trio. And that might be a good thing for Guignard, because his acting skills just aren’t on the same convincing level as his co-stars.

Viewers will get the impression that Bertie is not used to being rejected, so she’s trying to heal her bruised ego without wanting to admit how wounded she really is. Bertie doesn’t want Lane to hurt her again, but Lane’s arrival reminds Bertie of all the good times they had together. Lane is unapologetic about wanting to have her sexual needs met, which is why she hooks up so quickly with Noa. But is Lane capable of making the kind of commitment that Bertie would want if their romance is rekindled?

“Ma Belle, My Beauty” is often visually stylish, but a little rough around the edges when it comes to the acting and story arc. That’s not to say that the movie needed a neat and tidy ending. However, there are some parts of the movie that tend to wander and drag out the question of “Will Bertie and Lane get back together or not?” It’s not quite a soap opera, but “Ma Belle, My Beauty” has enough messy relationship drama that viewers instinctively know that things won’t easily be resolved in the few weeks that this story takes place.

Good Deed Entertainment released “Ma Belle, My Beauty” in select U.S. cinemas on August 20, 2021.

Review: ‘Deerskin,’ starring Jean Dujardin and Adèle Haenel

August 1, 2021

by Carla Hay

Jean Dujardin in “Deerskin” (Photo courtesy of Greenwch Entertainment)

“Deerskin”

Directed by Quentin Dupieux

French with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in unnamed locations in France, the dark comedy “Deerskin” features an almost all-white cast of characters (with one black person) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A man who’s temporarily homeless buys a deerskin jacket and invents a filmmaker persona for himself, resulting in some bizarre and unexpected experiences.

Culture Audience: “Deerskin” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching quirky European movies that blur the lines between slapstick and satire.

Jean Dujardin and Adèle Haenel in “Deerskin” (Photo courtesy of Greenwch Entertainment)

French writer/director Quentin Dupieux continues his brand of offbeat filmmaking with the dark comedy “Deerskin,” which is a biting social commentary on the extremes that some people will take in order to feel important. On another level, “Deerskin” is a portrait of a man driven insane by loneliness. The movie is also a depiction of how life-changing moments can happen at the most absurd and most unexpected times.

In “Deerskin,” the protagonist is Georges (played by Jean Dujardin, who won an Oscar for the 2011 silent film “The Artist”), a middle-aged man traveling alone by car. Viewers later find out that Georges is temporarily homeless because, at his unnamed wife’s request or demand, he has left home and she doesn’t want him to come back anytime soon. Georges’ wife is never shown on screen, although she is briefly heard on the phone when Georges calls her during his aimless road trip.

During their short conversation, Georges asks her if she wants to know where he is. She coldly says no and adds, “You don’t exist.” The movie never reveals what caused this marital breakdown. However, it soon becomes obvious that Georges feels very alone in this world. And that loneliness isn’t exactly helping his mental health.

In the very beginning of the movie, George stops to get gas and uses a public restroom. And it’s the first indication that he’s got some mental problems, because he takes off his jacket, stuffs it into the toilet, and then flushes the toilet. The jacket is too big to be flushed, so Georges leaves the restroom with water overflowing from the toilet.

Where is Georges going? He stops off at a stranger’s house because he’s there to answer an ad about an item for sale. The friendly elderly man who answers the door is named Mr. B (played by Albert Delpy), and he’s eager to show Georges the item that he wants to sell. It’s a brown, fringed deerskin jacket that Mr. B says he hasn’t worn for years, ever since it went out of style.

“Here’s the beast,” Mr. B. tells Georges, who immediately loves the jacket, even though it’s too small for him. Mr. B. mentions that everything about the jacket is still intact from when he first got it, except the jacket no longer has the “Made in Italy” tag. Georges pays €7,500 in cash to Mr. B for the jacket. And even though it’s €200 less than the asking price, Mr. B is happy with the sale.

And he does something unexpected: He gives Georges a digital video recorder as a bonus item in this sale. After Georges buys the jacket, he needs to find a place to stay since he’s no longer welcome in his home.

Georges checks into a small inn, where he tells the receptionist (played by Laurent Nicolas) that he plans to stay for one month. However, there’s a problem: Georges has some banking problems that won’t be cleared up until the next day, so he can’t pay by credit card. As a solution, the receptionist agrees to Georges offer to temporarily take Georges’ gold wedding band as a guarantee of payment.

When Georges gets settled into his room, he admires himself in his recently purchased deerskin jacket and remarks to himself that the deerskin jacket gives him “killer style,” which is a phrase that’s mentioned repeatedly throughout the movie. There’s a double meaning for this phrase as the story gets darker and weirder. Georges is so enamored with himself in this jacket that he wears it whenever when he’s out in public.

The jacket seems to have given Georges some newfound confidence. When he walks into the a nearly deserted bar that’s within walking distance of the inn, he sits by himself, but it doesn’t take long for him to strike up a conversation with the only other people in the bar: a bartender in her 20s named Denise (played by Adèle Haenel) and an unnamed middle-aged female customer (played by Marie Bunel), who is sitting near Denise at the counter.

Georges, who is several feet away at the same counter, asks the women if they’ve been admiring his jacket. They give him a puzzled look and say no. The female customer remarks to Georges that he’s obviously not a local. Georges admits he’s not from the area, but then lies and says that he’s a filmmaker and he’s in town because he’s directing a movie.

After Georges leaves the bar and is walking back to the inn, the female customer drives near him and asks him if he wants a ride. Georges politely declines and says that he’d rather walk. The woman then says that if he needs any “bitches for his porn movie,” she’d be willing to offer her services because she said she did some porn about 20 years ago. “I’m still hot, right?” she asks Georges.

Georges is slightly offended and asks her why she thinks that he’s a porn filmmaker. She replies that it’s because he doesn’t look like someone who directs “real movies.” The conversation gets a little heated, she calls him a “loser,” and then she drives off in a huff.

This encounter seems to have triggered something in Georges, because when he goes back to his room at the inn, he starts having an imaginary conversation with his deerskin jacket while it’s hanging in the room. Georges provides the voice of the jacket while he speaks out loud to it. He makes small talk with the jacket, such asking where the jacket is from, and the jacket “replies” that it’s from Italy. And Georges films this conversation.

Georges is about to fall on hard times. He finds out from his bank that his wife has frozen all of their joint bank account, so he can’t get access to any of his money. He ends up scrounging for food in garbage cans because he spent all of his cash on the deerskin jacket. And he begins to talk out loud to the jacket as if it’s a real person. The jacket “talks back” to Georges and has a persona of being a confident motivator for Georges.

In desperation, Georges goes back to the bar to see if he can find a way to scrounge up some money. Denise the bartender is working, and Georges starts talking to her again. He tells her about the insulting porn proposition that the customer gave him the previous night. Denise says that she’s not surprised because the customer, who’s a regular patron of the bar, is a prostitute.

Georges continues to pretend that he’s a filmmaker, and he gives a fake sob story about how he’s been cut off from funds because the producers he’s working with are stuck in Siberia. Denise mentions that she’s an aspiring film editor. She tells Georges that for fun, she once edited “Pulp Fiction” to make all the scenes go in chronological order. Georges shows his ignorance in modern technology when he marvels at how Denise could do that kind of editing, and she asks him (with a skeptical look on her face) if he’s ever heard of digital editing.

However, Georges needs money, so he concocts a story that he will hire Denise on the spot to edit his movie if she can give him some advance money to help finish the project. It’s an obvious scam, and Denise finds it hard to believe that Georges doesn’t want to see any of her editing work before hiring her. However, Denise is so eager to get work in the film industry that she doesn’t hesitate to withdraw cash from her bank account, and she gives the money to Georges.

There’s a limit to how much cash she can withdraw per day, but it’s eventually shown how that problem is dealt with in the story. The movie takes another bizarre turn when Georges is alone with his jacket in his room and a mutual confession comes out that changes Georges’ purpose in life. The jacket “confesses” that it wants to be the only jacket in the world, while George confesses that he wants to be the only person in the world who owns a jacket.

What follows is Georges’ insane quest to steal as many jackets as possible and film it all. Denise is given much this footage to edit, and she thinks Georges’ movie is some kind of mockumentary. His ways of stealing jackets become increasingly maniacal.

One of Georges’ schemes to steal jackets is by enticing people into auditions for his “movie” and telling them to bring all the jackets they own to the “audition.” Once these unsuspecting victims arrive for the “audition,” they’re told that they have to act out a scene where they throw their jackets into Georges’ car trunk while saying this line: “I swear never to wear a jacket as long as I live!”

Georges films them during this “audition” and then drives off with the jackets. If anyone gives chase or tries to object, he tells them that he has them on video saying that they never want to wear a jacket again. But then, things start to get really violent and ugly.

What does Denise think about all of these dirty deeds? She thinks it’s hilarious, and she encourages Georges to go to even more extremes. It’s revealed at the end of the movie how much Denise might or might not have been fooled by Georges’ lies.

In the meantime, in true Dupieux style, the movie has several comedic moments that are meant to make viewers feel uncomfortable. For example, there’s a scene where Georges has to retrieve his gold wedding band, and it involves him having to suck the ring off of the finger of a dead person. It’s actually a lot funnier to watch than how it might be described.

Throughout the course of the story, Georges gets more brown deerskin clothing items (such as a cowboy hat, boots, trousers and gloves) that all happen to match his beloved deerskin jacket. As he accumulates each of these deerskin clothing items, he becomes more emboldened to do the heinous acts that he ends up doing in order to steal more jackets. His obsession with stealing jackets coincides with his obsession to film himself during these thefts, as well as film his imaginary conversations with the jacket.

At just 77 minutes long, “Deerskin” is a brisky and eccentric romp taken to over-the-top levels that would wear very thin if this movie had been stretched to more than 90 minutes. It can be left up to interpretation how much the jacket influenced Georges in a supernatural way, or how much of his madness had already been brewing and Georges used the jacket as an excuse to act in the way that he does. “Deerskin” is best enjoyed by adventurous viewers who don’t mind comedies that don’t give characters much of a past because what these characters do in the present is enough to defy explanation.

Greenwich Entertainment released “Deerskin” in the U.S. on digital and VOD on May 1, 2020. The movie, which was released in several other countries in 2019, is also available on HBO and HBO Max.

Review: ‘Two of Us’ (2021), starring Barbara Sukowa and Martine Chevallier

February 7, 2021

by Carla Hay

Martine Chevallier and Barbara Sukowa in “Two of Us” (Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures)

“Two Of Us”

Directed by Filippo Meneghetti

French with subtitles

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

Culture Clash: Two elderly women who have been longtime secret lovers have different ideas on when to make their romance public, and then one of them has a stroke that takes the relationship in another direction.

Culture Audience: “Two of Us” will appeal primarily to people are interested in compelling dramas that deal with issues of LGBTQ people who are afraid to reveal their sexual identities and issues about health care for elderly people.

Léa Drucker and Martine Chevallier in “Two of Us” (Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures)

The French dramatic film “Two of Us” shines an emotionally powerful light on an issue that’s almost never covered in mainstream films: What happens when LGBTQ partners have a health crisis that needs caregiver aid, but one partner has no legal right to care for the other? The issue becomes more complicated when the couple’s romance has been kept a secret and the ailing partner wants to keep the relationship “in the closet.”

“Two of Us” is the first feature film from writer/director Filippo Meneghetti, who shows a knack for telling this story in an artful and respectful way. There are a few unexpected twists and turns in the movie, but it’s also a film that is entirely believable. Thanks to an intriguing screenplay and convincing performances from the cast members, “Two of Us” touches on universal themes about the freedom to love openly and how that freedom is often restricted by bigotry and fear. It’s no wonder that “Two of Us” was France’s entry for the 2021 Academy Awards.

“Two of Us” tells the story of retirees Nina Dorn (played by Barbara Sukowa) and Madeleine Girard (played by Martine Chevallier), who live across the hall from each other in an apartment building in an unnamed city in France. To the people they know, Nina and Madeleine seem to be platonic neighbors. But in reality, Nina and Madeleine (whom Nina has affectionately nicknamed Mado) have been secret lovers for about 20 years.

Madeleine is a native of France, while Nina is originally from Germany. It’s revealed later in the story that Nina used to be a tour guide in various countries, and it’s implied that Nina met Madeleine this way. Madeleine is a widow whose husband has been dead for a few years, so Madeleine is now the only owner of her apartment.

It’s mentioned more than once in the film that Madeleine’s marriage was an unhappy one, and her late husband was abusive to her emotionally and possibly physically. But now that Madeleine’s husband is dead, she and Nina are free to have sleepovers at each other’s place. They have keys to each other’s apartment.

Nina is the one who usually goes to Madeleine’s apartment, where in one of the early scenes of the movie, they have a lovers’ tryst that shows their passion for each other hasn’t dwindled. In another scene, Madeleine and Nina slow dance closely to the love song “Chariot (Sul Mio Curro),” which is their favorite song as a couple. It’s a song that they like to play to get in a good mood.

Madeleine and her late husband have two children, who are now in their 30s: daughter Anne (played by Léa Drucker) and son Frédéric (played by Jérôme Varanfrain), who visit Madeleine on a regular basis. Anne has a son named Théo (played by Augustin Reynes), who’s about 10 or 11 years old. Madeleine is much closer to Anne than she is to Frédéric, who seems to resent Madeleine because he suspects that Madeleine was unfaithful in her marriage.

Anne is a stylist at a hair salon, and so she’s naturally her mother’s hair stylist too. When Ann does her mother’s hair, it’s their time to catch up on “girl talk.” Anne thinks that she and her mother have the type of relationship where they can tell each other anything. But it won’t be long before Anne finds out that there’s a lot she didn’t know about her mother.

In the beginning of “Two of Us,” Madeleine and Nina are blissfully happy but have reached a crossroads in their relationship. Nina has been bringing up the idea for them to move to Rome and get a place together. Madeleine is more cautious about that idea, but she has agreed to sell the apartment and to finally tell her family about the true nature of her relationship with Nina.

There is very little revealed about Nina’s background. She doesn’t mention having any family members or former lovers. It’s implied that Nina left everything behind in Germany to move to France. Nina is a lot more comfortable with the idea of living openly as a lesbian, but Madeleine is the one who’s resistant to “come out of the closet” because Madeleine is afraid that her children will be upset and reject her.

One day, Madeleine has a prospective buyer come over to look at the apartment. (Apparently, Madeleine is acting as her own real-estate agent, since no agent is seen or mentioned every time she discusses selling the apartment with anyone.) The prospective buyer is a professional-looking man in his 30s named Mr. Brémond (played by Hervé Sogne), who makes an offer of €250,000 to buy the apartment.

Nina plays the part of a nosy neighbor who invites herself over when Madeleine is showing the apartment to Mr. Brémond. Nina’s tells Mr. Brémond that she and Madeleine are friends and her apartment layout and size are identical to Madeleine’s apartment, so Nina says she’s curious about what a prospective buyer would think. Privately, Nina has told Madeleine that she’s saved up enough money for it to be realistic for them to move Rome. Nina’s dream is to live near the Tiber River.

While all of these plans are going on, Madeleine has a small birthday celebration in her home with just her children Anne and Frédéric and grandson Théo. It’s here that Madeleine plans to tell her family that she and Nina are lovers and that they plan to move to another country together. But Madeleine can’t bring herself to tell them. The celebration hits a sour note when the subject turns to Madeleine’s late husband, and Frédéric angrily tells Madeleine that she couldn’t wait until her husband died.

The next day, Nina asks Madeleine with anticipation how Madeleine’s family took the news. “They agreed,” Madeleine tells Nina. It’s a lie of course. And Nina inevitably finds out when she happens to see Mr. Brémond outside the apartment building, and he tells her that Madeleine changed her mind about selling the apartment.

Just at that moment, Madeleine is looking out her apartment window and sees Nina talking to Mr. Brémond. She quickly goes outside to try to diffuse the emotional explosion that’s about to happen. But it’s too late.

Nina furiously confronts Madeleine about her lies and says she can’t take hiding their relationship anymore. Nina then asks Mr. Brémond if he has a problem with two “old lesbians.” A flustered and embarrassed Mr. Brémond says no. Nina then rips into Madeleine some more and ends the argument by calling Madeleine “pathetic” before Nina storms off.

The next day, Nina is over at Madeleine’s place when she notices an unattended frying pan that’s lit on the stove. She senses that something is wrong and looks for Madeleine in the apartment. The next thing you know, an ambulance is called to take Madeleine to a hospital.

Nina and Anne go to the hospital, but since Nina isn’t considered a family member, she can only wait to find out what happened from Anne. In the waiting area, Anne tells Nina that Madeleine had a stroke and the prognosis isn’t good. Although Madeleine is in stable condition, the doctors say it’s unlikely that Madeleine will be able to speak again.

It’s devastating news. And Nina gets even more distraught when she finds out that Anne and Peter have hired a live-in caretaker named Muriel (played by Muriel Bénazéraf), who firmly declines Nina’s offers to help Muriel look after Madeleine. Muriel is also very strict about when Nina can come over to visit Madeleine, by limiting the visiting hours only to during the day. At this point, Muriel and Anne have no idea that Nina has a key to Madeleine’s apartment.

The first time that Nina tries to visit Madeleine when she comes from from the hospital, Muriel tells Nina to come back at 8:30 the next morning. Nina can’t wait that long though, so she sneaks into the apartment while Muriel is asleep. Nina rushes to Madeleine’s side and tells her that she’s sorry for the insulting argument that she had with Madeleine. Unfortunately, Madeleine stares ahead and gives no indication that she’s aware of what Nina is saying or even knows who Nina is.

The movie then shows a forlorn Nina sitting in her apartment the next morning and waiting for the clock to get to 8:30. Nina is careful about appearing too over-eager because Muriel and later Anne begin to show signs that they’re suspicious of Nina. They think it’s odd that Nina shows a little too much interest in being around Madeleine.

Now that Nina can no longer come and go whenever she wants into Madeleine’s apartment, Nina has to decide how she’s going to handle being able to see Madeleine on a daily basis. Nina’s comes up with two options in her plan: win over Muriel or try to get Muriel fired. In the limited time that Nina now spends with Madeleine, she notices that Madeleine seems to be aware of her presence and her physical abilities seem to improve.

Aside from the pressing matter of how much Madeleine can be rehabilitated, there’s the lingering question of how much longer Nina and Madeleine’s relationship can be kept a secret. Nina knows that Madeleine wasn’t ready to tell her family, but should Nina make the decision for her, now that Madeleine can’t speak? And would the family negatively react if they found out the truth?

Madeleine has her stroke about 25 minutes into this 95-minute film, so the rest of the movie really shifts to Nina’s perspective. Her turmoil is compounded by the fact that she has no one she can turn to for help, since Nina and Madeleine really kept their secret love affair only to themselves. It’s enough to drive anyone a little crazy. And there are some things that Nina does that indicate she might be slipping close to that edge.

“Two of Us” has a some melodrama, but not enough to take away from the emotional sincerity of the film. It’s a somber meditation that shows how homophobia can often affect LGBTQ partners from living openly and legally being able to take care of each other if someone in the relationship needs round-the-clock caregiving. From Nina’s perspective, her heartbreak also comes from wondering if the woman she loves is gone forever, because Madeleine can no longer speak and no longer has the personality she used to have.

Sukowa anchors the film with a quiet intensity that takes viewers through Nina’s emotional nightmare and increasing desperation. And although Chevallier’s Madeleine character is a stroke patient for most of the movie, she delivers an impressive performance where she must act primarily with her eyes when Madeleine becomes otherwise physically incapacitated. Before the stroke, Nina seemed to be more the more mysterious one in the relationship since her personal history is very vague. But by the end of the movie, Nina is the character that viewers will end up feeling like they know better, for obvious reasons.

“Two of Us” writer/director Meneghetti doesn’t make any preachy judgments on what happens in the movie. Anne and Nina end up clashing with each other over decisions on how to handle Madeleine’s rehabilitation, but the movie doesn’t try to be heavy-handed about who’s right and who’s wrong. People can see both sides of the argument and find reasons to see why each woman believes strongly that she knows what’s best for Madeleine. In its own heartbreaking way, “Two of Us” is an example of how true love can endure, but it’s better when that love can be expressed openly and honestly.

Magnolia Pictures released “Two of Us” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and on VOD on February 5, 2021.

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