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

July 10, 2022

by Carla Hay

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

“Lux Æterna”

Directed by Gaspar Noé

Some language in French and German with subtitles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yellow Veil Pictures released “Lux Æterna” in select U.S. cinemas on May 6, 2022. The movie was released on digital and VOD on June 10, 2022.

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

July 5, 2022

by Carla Hay

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

“Anaïs in Love”

Directed by Charline Bourgeois Tacquet

French with subtitles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: ‘Happening’ (2021), starring Anamaria Vartolomei

May 29, 2022

by Carla Hay

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

“Happening” (2021)

Directed by Audrey Diwan

French with subtitles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 19, 2022

by Carla Hay

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

“Downton Abbey: A New Era”

Directed by Simon Curtis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The “Upstairs” People

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

The “Downstairs” People

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

The Newcomers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 23, 2022

by Carla Hay

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

“Petite Maman”

Directed by Céline Sciamma

French with subtitles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 23, 2022

by Carla Hay

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

“Cyrano” (2021)

Directed by Joe Wright

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 the 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 a little too much enthusiasm when showing hatred and degradation of women.

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.

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