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: ‘The Worst Person in the World,’ starring Renate Reinsve, Anders Danielsen Lie and Herbert Nordrum

February 14, 2022

by Carla Hay

Herbert Nordrum and Renate Reinsve in “The Worst Person in the World” (Photo by Verdens Verste Menneske/Oslo Pictures/Neon)

“The Worst Person in the World”

Directed by Joachim Trier

Norwegian with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in the Norwegian cities of Oslo and Hønefoss, the comedy/drama film “The Worst Person in the World” features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: Over a period of about four years, a restless woman in her late 20s to early 30s is torn between two very different men who are her love interests.

Culture Audience: “The Worst Person in the World” will appeal mainly to people who like quirky European films with social commentaries on how women navigate society’s pressures and expectations when it comes to love, committed relationships, and if or when to have children.

Renate Reinsve and Anders Danielsen Lie in “The Worst Person in the World” (Photo by Kasper Tuxen/Oslo Pictures/Neon)

“The Worst Person in the World” centers on a female protagonist who actually isn’t a horrible and cruel person, but she often makes selfish and impulsive choices that hurt other people, including herself. It’s a sometimes-funny, sometimes-melancholy story about a free-spirited but complicated and insecure young woman who’s awkwardly trying to figure out who she is and what she wants in life. Some of this 127-minute movie tends to wander a bit too much, but the cast members’ intriguing performances and some bold filmmaker choices make “The Worst Person in the World” a fascinating film to experience.

Directed by Joachim Trier, “The Worst Person in the World” is Norway’s entry for the 2022 Academy Awards, where the movie was nominated for Best International Feature Film and Best Original Screenplay. Trier co-wrote the movie’s richly layered screenplay with Eskil Vogt. “The Worst Person in the World” made the rounds at several prestigious film festivals, including the 2021 Cannes Film Festival (where the movie had its world premiere), the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival, the 2021 New York Film Festival and the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.

The central character in “The Worst Person in the World” is Julie (played by Renate Reinsve), who turns 30 years old during the course of this movie’s story, which takes place over a period of about four years. Julie lives in Oslo, Norway, and it’s clear within the first 10 minutes of the film that’s she’s intelligent but very fickle. The movie (which has a prologue, 12 chapters and an epilogue) has occasional voiceover narration by an unidentified woman, who tells Julie’s story as an observer who knows Julie’s thoughts. Ine Janssen is the actress providing the voiceover narration.

Viewers first see Julie as a 29-year-old college student, who switches her major from biology to psychology to photography. All of these changes seem to happen within the space of a year. The narrator comments that Julie’s sudden switch in majors happened because “She felt trapped in the role of a model student.” It’s unclear if Julie ever graduates, because she is never shown in college again. She makes money working as a sales clerk/cashier at a bookstore called Norli, which is located on the university campus.

There’s a montage of Julie seeming to enjoy her part-time work as a photographer (she mostly does fashion-oriented portraits) and having meaningless flings with some of her male models. She’s on a date with one of these models at a nightclub/bar when she meets a man who will become her live-in boyfriend. Julie doesn’t think twice about ignoring her date when she finds herself attracted to another man.

The man who charms Julie is Aksel Willmann (played by Anders Danielsen Lie), a well-known artist whose specialty is adult-oriented graphic novels that he creates. Aksel, who’s 15 years older than Julie, is the proverbial life of the party who attracts attention almost everywhere he goes. Aksel’s most famous graphic novel character is a randy and rude cat called Bobcat, who is the star of Aksel’s successful “Bobcat” graphic novel series. Viewers later find out that Aksel uses Bobcat to be crude and sexist through a fictional character, in ways that Aksel wouldn’t be able to get away with in real life.

Aksel and Julie have an immediate attraction and flirtation at the party. It isn’t long before they hook up, and then she moves into his place. Shortly after becoming a couple, Julie finds out that the age difference between her and Aksel could be a problem. She doesn’t want to have children at this point in her life, but Aksel is ready to start a family. Not only does Julie feel that she’s not ready to become a mother, she’s also pretty certain that she never wants to have kids.

Julie and Aksel have some disagreements over this family planning issue, with Julie and Aksel both coming to a stalemate about how the other partner is handling the issue. Julie thinks Aksel is being overbearing and trying to bend Julie’s will into what Aksel wants. Aksel thinks Julie is making weak excuses because he tells her that no one is ever really ready to have kids, and people just figure out parenting as they go along.

There are other issues in Julie and Aksel’s relationship: Julie also doesn’t fit in very well with Aksel’s circle of friends, who are mostly in his age group. During get-togethers with Aksel’s friends, Julie often feels left out of the conversations. Askel’s friends are very sophisticated when it comes to art and literature. Julie often feels that her taste in the same things don’t really match the tastes of Aksel and his friends.

She also feels somewhat inadequate around Aksel and his friends because she has less life experience and can’t relate to some things that people in Aksel’s generation can relate to with each other. For example, Axsel can remember a time when the Internet and cell phones didn’t exist. He wistfully says that tangible objects are becoming less important to people’s memories, as technology has made more things go digital.

At a house party hosted by two of Aksel’s friends—a married couple named William (played by August Wilhelm Méd Brenner) and Karianne (played by Helene Bjørneby)—Julie gets interrogated by Karianne about when Julie plans to have a career and children. William mildly scolds Karianne for being so intrusive, but it’s a question that Julie tends to get from people in a way that makes her feel like they’re silently judging her for not saying that she’s looking forward to becoming a mother.

At the same time, Julie is judgmental too, because she seems to have a little disdain for people who think being a parent is the greatest thing that could ever happen to them. Over the course of the movie, Julie shows a pattern of being afraid of anything that would require a long-term commitment, whether it’s marriage, parenting, or sticking to one career choice. Some viewers might interpret it as being commitment-phobic, while Julie would describe as it wanting her freedom.

During a book launch party for Aksel, the discontent in his relationship with Julie becomes obvious. While Aksel is being fawned over by partygoers, Julie feels like an ignored and underappreciated sidekick. She spontaneously walks out of the party and wanders on the street until she impulsively walks in uninvited to a wedding reception where she doesn’t know anyone. It’s at this wedding reception that she meets Eivind (played by Herbert Nordrum), who’s about the same age as Julie. Eivind, who is at this wedding reception by himself, quietly observes Julie mingling with people at the party before he and Julie begin talking to each other.

As an example of the mischievous side of Julie’s personality, she strikes up a conversation with two women at the party and lies to them by saying that she’s a doctor. One of the women gushes about how happy she is to be a mother and how she loves to cuddle with her children. Julie then tells her that cuddling with kids can turn them into drug addicts. She lies and says there is medical research to prove it. When the woman expresses skepticism about this research, Julie insists that it’s true. Eivind watches this conversation with some amusement.

Julie and Eivind end up meeting each other and immediately begin flirting with each other. Eivind tells her that he overheard parts of the conversations that she was having, so he thinks that Julie really is a doctor. She doesn’t tell him the truth about what she really does for a living, but Julie does confess to Eivind that she doesn’t know anyone at this wedding reception. She tells him she crashed this party on a whim and that she has a live-in boyfriend.

Eivind tells Julie that he’s romantically involved with someone too, but he doesn’t go into details. He also says that he hates infidelity, because he’s been hurt by it before. However, because Eivind and Julie feel a noticeable attraction to each other, Eivind suggests that they can do things together that are “not cheating.”

This flirtation leads to one of the more memorable scenes in the movie, where Julie and Eivind play games with each other, by pushing the boundaries of intimacy without kissing or doing anything sexual. Julie starts off by telling Eivind, “Let me smell your sweat.” And he lets her. Julie and Eivind are both drinking alcohol during the party, so it explains why their inhibitions are lowered.

And during the party, they both go into a bathroom together and watch each other urinate. They have a laugh over it and laugh even more when Julie farts during this bathroom encounter. Later, when they’re both outside, Julie blows cigarette smoke in Eivind’s mouth. At the end of the night, Julie and Eivind part ways without telling each other any more personal information.

One day, Julie is working at the bookstore, when she’s shocked to see Eivind in the store. He’s there with his live-in girlfriend Sunniva (played by Maria Grazia Di Meo), who’s a yoga instructor looking for a specific yoga book, which she asks Julie to find in the store for her. Julie is at the cash register when Sunniva buys this book. It’s how Eivind finds out what Julie really does for a living.

Immediately after Eivind and Sunniva leave the store, he comes back by himself. Eivind tells Julie that he pretended to Sunniva that he left his sunglasses in the store, but that he really just wanted to come back to tell Julie that he can’t stop thinking about her, ever since they met at the wedding reception. Eivind tells Julie that he works as a server at bakery cafe called Apent Bakeri, and he invites her to come by and see him anytime that she wants. The rest of the movie follows Julie’s journey as she makes a decision on whether or not to choose to be with Aksel or with Eivind.

There’s also a subplot about how Julie’s family background has affected a lot of the insecurities she has about love, marriage and raising a family. Her parents are divorced and split up when Julie was a child. Julie has a tension-filled relationship with her father Harald (played by Vidar Sandem), who lives in the suburb of Hønefoss with his current wife Eva (played by Marianne Krogh) and their teenage daughter Nathalie (played by Sofia Schandy Bloch), a tennis player who competes in tournaments. Julie is annoyed that her father never wants to visit her, and she always has to visit him if she wants to see him. He also tends to forget Julie’s birthday. Julie has a polite but distant relationship with her stepmother and half-sister.

On her 30th birthday, Julie has a small get-together with Aksel, her mother Kathrine (played by Anna Dworak) and Kathrine’s mother Åse (played by Thea Stabell) at Kathrine’s home. It’s during this birthday scene that the movie has a montage (with voiceover narration) of family photos with the narrator listing what Julie’s mother, maternal grandmother and their mothers from previous generations were doing at age 30. The purpose of this montage is to show how Julie’s life at age 30 compares to the women on her mother’s side of the family in previous generations.

At this milestone age, Julie’s mother was divorced for two years and working as an accountant at a publishing house. Julie’s maternal grandmother was an actress who played Rebecca West in “Rosmer Sholm” at the National Theatre. Julie’s great-grandmother was a widow with four children. Julie’s great-great-grandmother was married and the mother of seven kids, two of whom died of tuberculosis. Julie’s great-great-great-grandmother had six kids and was in a loveless marriage.

With life expectancies getting longer in each generation, and with more planned parenthood options in a post-feminism world, women are feeling less pressure to get married and have kids by age 30. But the montage clearly shows that Julie hasn’t had many of the life experiences that other women in her family had by the time they reached 30 years old. Julie is still struggling with finding out what she thinks her purpose in life should be.

Because it isn’t entirely clear what career Julie wants to have, she dabbles in some writing. There’s a “chapter” in the movie called “Oral Sex in the Age of #MeToo,” which is also the name of a personal essay that Julie writes. She reads this sexually explicit essay to Axsel, and he’s very impressed. He tells her that she’s a very good writer. Julie ends up getting the essay published on a media website, where the essay goes viral.

But this moment of self-confidence is fleeting. Julie wonders if she’s letting life pass her by. And she worries that when she’s in a relationship, she will end up feeling pressured to do things that she doesn’t really want to do. During the scene where Julie and Aksel disagree about if or when she should start having kids, Julie says with frustration in her voice: “I feel like a spectator in my own life! I feel like I’m playing a supporting role in my own life!”

The movie has some unexpected whimsical moments too. During a turning point in Julie’s love life, she makes a decision that leads to a fantasy-like sequence that shows her being able to stop all movement by turning on the light switch in her kitchen. She walks through the streets of Oslo as everything around her is frozen in motion. It’s her way of making time stop to make a fantasy of hers come true.

After she fulfills her fantasy, she goes back to her home, switches off the kitchen light, and life goes on as if no one else knows that they were frozen in time. But Julie knows. And she knows what she did, which leads her to tell other people about the decision that she confirmed for herself when she fulfilled her fantasy. The light switch can be seen as symbolic of Julie having a moment of clarity in her life, illuminating what she wants to do, and giving herself permission to do it.

Most of the movie’s comedic scenes have to do with some of the witty banter that Julie exchanges with people. But there’s a laugh-out-loud funny scene where she takes psychedelic mushrooms during a house party and has inevitable hallucinations. It’s a peek into Julie’s subconscious mind. Not all of it is light-hearted, since there are a few images in this hallucination that some viewers might find vulgar and nauseating.

It’s easy to see why Reinsve won the Best Actress prize for “Worst Person in the World” at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival. Julie is full of contradictions, and that’s not easy to portray in an acting performance. Julie is unpredictable in many ways, but she’s predictable when it comes to feeling uncomfortable with stability that she thinks is boring. She wants to be seen as an independent woman, but she deliberately puts herself in situations where she is in a co-dependent, “arrested development” emotional state when it comes to her love life and career.

The two men who are the focus of Julie’s affections are also very different from each other. Aksel is self-assured with a successful career, but does he really accept Julie for who she is? Eivind is socially insecure with a dead-end job, but does he emotionally have what it takes to hold fickle Julie’s interest? These are some of the dilemmas faced by Julie, who has to come to terms with how much she wants a relationship to define her happiness, when she often struggles with her own self-esteem issues. Nordrum as Eivind and Lie as Aksel are very good in their roles, but their characters are not as complicated as Julie.

This movie is called “The Worst Person in the World” not because Julie is the worst person in the world, but she often thinks that she’s the worst person in the world when she knowingly does things to hurt people. The last third of the movie has the most tearjerking parts of the story. The movie’s ending might not be what a lot of viewers are expecting, but it’s a conclusion that’s an example of how “The Worst Person in the World” defies conventions in movies about self-identity and love relationships. Julie’s life is often messy by her own design, but it’s a mess that’s compelling to watch, no matter how everything turns out.

Neon released “The Worst Person in the World” in select U.S. cinemas on February 4, 2022. The movie was released in Norway and other countries in 2021.

Review: ‘Benedetta,’ starring Virginie Efira, Charlotte Rampling, Daphne Patakia, Lambert Wilson and Olivier Rabourdin

February 5, 2022

by Carla Hay

Daphne Patakia and Virginie Efira in “Benedetta” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

“Benedetta”

Directed by Paul Verhoeven

Culture Representation: Taking place in 17th century Italy, the dramatic film “Benedetta” features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy who are connected in some way to the Roman Catholic Church.

Culture Clash: A nun, who claims to have visions of Jesus Christ visiting her, gets involved in a taboo sexual relationship with another woman living in the convent.

Culture Audience: “Benedetta” will appeal mainly to people who are interested in movies that have provocative but ultimately not very groundbreaking depictions of how religion and sex are handled by the Catholic Church.

Charlotte Rampling (pictured in front, at far left) in “Benedetta” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

“Benedetta” is not as subversive as perhaps the filmmakers want it to be, because this dramatic depiction of a true story is often campy and predictable. The intrigue is in the cast members’ performances, which are never boring. In its observations about religious hypocrisy and misogyny, “Benedetta” also strives to have more meaning than just being known as a “lesbian nun” movie. “Benedetta” (which also has the title of “Blessed Virgin,” depending on where the movie is released) had its world premiere at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival and its North American premiere at the 2021 New York Film Festival.

Paul Verhoeven directed “Benedetta” and co-wrote the movie’s screenplay with David Birke. The movie, which takes place in 17th century Italy, is based on Judith C. Brown’s non-fiction book “Immodest Acts: The Life of a Lesbian Nun in Renaissance Italy.” That “lesbian nun” is Benedetta Carlini (played by Virginie Efira), who is eventually labeled as “insane” by church officials because of her adamant claims that Jesus Christ appears to her in visions. Benedetta also claims to have stigmata wounds, as proof that she communicates with Jesus. About the same time Benedetta has been branded as mentally ill, Benedetta is revealed to be having a sexual relationship with a nun-in-training who’s living in the same convent: Bartomolea (played by Daphne Patakia), who was the one who initiated the affair, according to how this movie depicts it.

“Benedetta” essentially leaves it open to interpretation if Benedetta would have been treated as harshly if there was no sexual activity in her scandal. Would she have been viewed as just a harmless oddball with an active imagination of communicating with Jesus Christ? The movie could also make people think about the implications of gender inequality: When a (male) Catholic priest is caught breaking the vows of celibacy, is the Catholic Church (and society in general) more likely to overlook it or be quicker to forgive a priest, compared to a (female) Catholic nun who does the same thing?

One point the movie definitely makes is that women can be just as misogynistic as men can be when it comes to judging other women. “Benedetta” predictably has a “battle-axe” villain nun named Sister Felicita, the Abbess (played by Charlotte Rampling), who is all too eager to get involved in the downfall of Benedetta, because Benedetta dared to question Sister Felicita’s authority. There are also obvious signs that Sister Felicita felt threatened that the younger and more physically attractive Benedetta would become more popular with the male clergy in charge of making decisions in the convent’s power structure.

Another antagonist to Benedetta is a nun named Sister Christina (played by Louise Chevillotte), who is the first person in the convent to find out about the secret affair between Bendetta and Bartomolea. And it happens around the time that Benedetta’s visions of Christ have made her a rising star at the convent. It all leads to a predictable showdown of back-and-forth accusations and female cattiness, presided over by an all-male group of Catholic Church officials who will decide who’s telling the truth and what will happen to Benedetta.

Two of the officials who will decide Benedetta’s fate are Alfonso Cecchi (played by Olivier Rabourdin) and the Nuncio (played by Lambert Wilson), who doesn’t have a first name in the movie. Alfonso, who has ambitions to become a bishop, is more inclined to believe Benedetta’s claims. The Nuncio, who acts as a government messenger/ambassador for the Pope, gives a lot of weight to the opinions of Sister Felicita, who wants to be his political ally. Even though the Nuncio has taken the vow of celibacy, there are hints that he has violated of that vow, such as having sex with prostitutes and getting his maid pregnant.

“Benedetta” takes perhaps a little too much time in the beginning of the movie to over-explain Benedetta’s restrictive childhood. The movie shows that Benedetta was a very devout Catholic who adhered to the tenets of the Catholic religion, but she was already claiming to have special communication with deities. One of the more interesting aspects of “Benedetta” is how it keeps viewers guessing over whether or not Benedetta was really a non-conformist “psychic,” a mentally ill eccentric, or a very skilled con artist.

At 12 or 13 years old, Benedetta (played by Elena Plonka) travels with her father Giuliano (played by David Clavel) and her mother Midea (played by Clotilde Courau) to the city of Pescia so that she can get her confirmation veil. On the way there, the family is stopped by some soldiers, who steal a necklace from the family. Benedetta scolds the soldiers that they will be punished by the Virgin Mary for this theft. And just like that, bird excrement lands on the face of the soldier who has the necklace, and he gives it back. It’s one of many campy moments in the movie.

Viewers soon find out that Benedetta’s parents have essentially sold her to a convent. Because a nun is considered a non-sexual “bride” of Jesus Christ, Giuliano wants to be a hardball negotiator with Sister Felicita for how much of a “dowry” he can get from the Catholic Church. Giuliano asks Sister Felicita: “Is the bride of Christ worth less than 100 [in currency]?”

Another campy moment arrives when an adolescent Benedetta (who is now living at the convent) begins praying to a statue of the Virgin Mary, which is wearing a veil that extends down to the Virgin Mary’s chest. Suddenly, the statue falls on Benedetta, and the statue’s veil comes off to expose the Virgin Mary’s naked breasts. Benedetta than starts sucking on the breasts. This movie is not subtle at all in telegraphing what will happen later in the story.

The movie then fast-forwards 18 years later. Benedetta is now a headstrong nun who often clashes with Sister Felicita. One day, a woman in her early 20s bursts into the convent because she is being chased by her abusive father (played by Frédéric Sauzay), who calls her a “harlot.” The frightened woman is Bartomolea, who will eventually become Benedetta’s lover.

Bartomolea begs to be taken into the convent, but an unsympathetic Sister Felicita says that Bartomolea can only stay if her father pays a dowry. Her father (who doesn’t have a name in the movie) reluctantly obliges. Bartomelea than begins to live in the convent as a novitiate. Bartomolea and Benedetta share the same bedroom space, where their beds are separated by a thin curtain.

At first, Benedetta treats the younger Bartomolea as somewhat of a friend/protégée. Bartomolea confides in Bendetta, by telling her that after Bartomolea’s mother died in an unnamed plague, Bartomolea’s father made Bartomolea become his “wife.” In other words, Bartomolea was the victim of incest rape. Having a domineering and controlling father who abandoned them in a convent is something that both Bartomolea and Benedetta have in common, so it seems to strengthen their bond that the two women start to develop with each other.

Bartomolea has not taken the vows of celibacy as a nun, so she’s not as invested as Benedetta is in abstaining from sex. Bartomolea also isn’t as timid as she first seemed when she arrived at the convent. It isn’t long before Bartomolea makes it known to Benedetta that she’s sexually attracted to Benedetta. Benedetta thinks it’s sinful for a nun to act on any sexual urges, so she resists Bartomolea’s sexual advances. Benedetta also tells Bartomolea that she has visions of Jesus Christ saying that it’s a mortal sin to break her vows.

Over time though, Benedetta’s visions change. In Benedetta’s new visions, Jesus Christ begins to tell her that the previous Jesus that Benedetta was seeing is a false prophet. And soon afterward, Benedetta and Bartomolea are having secret sexual trysts in their bedroom. One of the more talked-about aspects of “Benedetta” is how a figurine of the Virgin Mary is used as a sex toy. The movie’s sex scenes leave no mystery about what goes on in these sexual encounters.

Regardless of how audiences might react to the movie’s explicit sexual content, one of the best things about “Benedetta” is that it shows how sex and religion are both used as ways to have power and control over people. Efira’s opaque performance as the rebellious Benedetta and Charlotte Rampling’s assured performance as the imperious Sister Felicita are fascinating to watch for these reasons. For all the attention that this movie is getting about the sex scenes, it’s worth noting that no matter what happens between Benedetta and Bartolomea, the power struggle between Benedetta and Sister Felicita will have a more lasting impact on all of their lives.

Benedetta’s visions of Jesus Christ aren’t all sweetness and light. She has a recurring nightmare that she’s being hunted down by men who try to rape her, and Jesus comes to her rescue. Of course, anyone can interpret these scenes as the would-be rapists being symbolic of patriarchy trying to take power away from Benedetta and any woman. At first, Benedetta sees the Catholic Church as her savior (with Jesus coming to her rescue in these visions), but eventually she’s conflicted and disillusioned over how much she should believe in the Catholic Church.

These attempted rape scenes are part of a pattern of filmmaker Verhoeven’s fixation on showing the rape or attempted rape of women in almost all of his movies. He’s gotten a lot of criticism over the years for his very “male gaze” films, where women’s naked bodies are used for explicit, full-frontal sex scenes and/or violence, but the men in Verhoeven’s movies almost never have full-frontal nudity. It’s a double standard that Verhoeven doesn’t seem interested in acknowledging or ending in his movies.

As much as Verhoeven points out in “Benedetta” how the patriarchy of the Catholic Church is responsible for a lot of sexual hypocrisy that shames women and absolves men, Verhoeven has made an entire career of doing films about some type of female exploitation. If not for the quality of talent that Verhoeven works with in casts and crews, many of Verhoeven’s so-called “artsy” movies would be B-movie schlock. That’s why “Benedetta,” although it has very good acting, is by no means a cinematic masterpiece.

IFC Films released “Benedetta” in select U.S. cinemas on December 3, 2021. The movie was released on digital and VOD on December 21, 2021.

Review: ‘Memoria’ (2021), starring Tilda Swinton

January 17, 2022

by Carla Hay

Tilda Swinton in “Memoria” (Photo courtesy of Neon)

“Memoria” (2021)

Directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul

Some language in Spanish and Italian with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Colombia, the dramatic film “Memoria” features a predominantly white and Latino cast of characters representing the middle-class and working-class.

Culture Clash: A Scottish woman, who’s visiting her sister in Bogotá, Colombia, tries to find out why she is hearing mysterious “sonic boom” sounds that no one else seems to hear.

Culture Audience: “Memoria” will appeal mainly to people who are fans of writer/director Apichatpong Weerasethakul, star Tilda Swinton and abstract movies about memories.

Tilda Swinton and Juan Pablo Urrego in “Memoria” (Photo courtesy of Neon)

Here’s some advice to anyone who watches “Memoria,” written and directed by writer/director Apichatpong Weerasethakul: Watch this movie if you think there’s no chance that you’ll fall asleep. Weerasethakul is known for his slow-paced and meditative films that aren’t traditionally structured in three acts. Instead, his movies flow in a dream-like pace that might bore viewers looking for a more straightforward and obvious approach to storytelling. “Memoria,” which screened at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival (where it won the Jury Prize) and 2021 New York Film Festival, is Weerasethakul’s first movie that’s not in the Thai language.

Despite having a pace that can induce drowsiness, “Memoria” is worth a look for anyone interested in a densely layered story about how memories affect the way that people live their lives. There’s also a sci-fi/mystery element that adds a level of intrigue to the movie. With a total running time of 136 minutes, “Memoria” requires patience and a certain amount of curiosity to see how the movie is going to end. “Memoria” was selected as Colombia’s Best International Feature Film category entry for the 2022 Academy Awards, but the movie didn’t make the shortlist.

The central character in “Memoria” is Scottish botanist Jessica Holland, whose specialty is orchids. Jessica lives in Medellín, Colombia, and has gone to Bogotá, Colombia, to visit her sister Karen Holland (played by Agnes Brekke), who is in a hospital because of an unnamed respiratory illness. During one of Jessica’s visits to Karen in the hospital, Karen confides to Jessica that she’s been having dreams about a dog that she rescued that’s in Karen’s home. Karen says half-jokingly, “The dog has put a curse on me.”

Jessica asks Karen if Karen wants Jessica to check on the dog. It’s somewhat of an odd question to ask, because Karen has two people who live with her: Her partner Juan Ospina (played by Daniel Giménez Cacho), who’s a college professor, and their son Mateo Ospina (played by Jerónimo Barón), who’s about 7 or 8 years old. Eventually, Karen recovers from her illness and is released from the hospital.

The movie’s opening scene shows that strange things are happening around Jessica. She wakes up suddenly in a dark room, as if she was startled by a nightmare. Outside a run-down building that’s a billiards hall, several cars parked outside have their alarms start to operate at the same time. And then, when Jessica arrives in Bogotá, she hears a loud thumping noise, similar to a brief sonic boom, at random times and in random places.

Hearing this mysterious noise has caused Jessica to have trouble sleeping. It becomes so disruptive to her life that she becomes consumed with finding out what is causing the noise, which no one else around her seems to hear. Is Jessica mentally ill or does this noise really exist outside of her mind?

Jessica’s quest to solve this mystery leads her to a variety of people and places. Some of these encounters appear to be more random than others. The movie doesn’t show it in obvious ways, but all these encounters are somehow connected.

Through a mutual friend, Jessica is put in touch with a sound engineer named Hernán Bedoya (played by Juan Pablo Urrego), who is asked to try to find the sound that Jessica keeps hearing. Jessica visits Hernán at his studio, where he has a library of sounds and sound effects that he plays for Jessica to find the sound that best matches the sonic thump that she keeps hearing. At one point during these sessions, Jessica describes this mystery sound as “like a rumble from the core of the earth.”

Jessica’s encounters also include a meeting with an archeologist named Agnes Cerkinsky (played by Jeanne Balibar), who shows Jessica some bones in a science lab. Agnes tells Jessica that the bones are about 6,000 years old, and she asks Jessica to guess the gender of the person whose bones are on the table. Jessica incorrectly guesses that it was a man. Agnes tells Jessica that the bones are actually of a young girl, whose skull has a hole drilled into it to it, which was probably an ancient ritual to release evil spirits.

Jessica also ends up in a jungle spending time with a middle-aged man named Hernán (played by Elkin Díaz), who is scaling a fish when they first meet. Somehow, Jessica gives him some of her Xanax pills. Hernán passes out and appears to be dead. But then, Hernán regains consciousness. Jessica asks him how heaven is. He says, “Fine.” Jessica tells Hernán that she’s sorry for giving him the pills.

And it gets weirder. There’s a dream sequence of Jessica hiding underneath a bed with other people. She describes the dream later by saying, “They searched for us all night.” Later, the Hernán from the jungle tells Jessica that he can read memories, and he makes this comment: “I’m like a hard disk. She’s like an antenna.”

“Memoria” has several scenes meant to confuse viewers on whether or not Jessica is delusional. When she goes back to sound engineer Hernán’s studio after her first visit, she’s told that no one of that name and description has ever worked at the studio. Observant viewers will remember that sound engineer Hernán told Jessica in their conversation that he’s in a band called the Death of Delusion Ensemble.

Another scene where Jessica appears to be delusional is when she has dinner with Agnes, Mateo and Juan. During the dinner conversation, Jessica mentions someone whom she says died the previous year. However, Agnes and Mateo insist that Jessica is wrong and the person she’s talking about is still alive. Jessica reacts with disbelief because she’s sure she’s correct.

Jessica also visits a psychologist named Dr. Constanza (played by Constanza Gutiérrez) to tell him about her problem with this mysterious noise. Dr. Constanza advises her that in high elevations, people sometimes can hear a “pop”-sounding noise. “It’s not a pop,” Jessica says to Dr. Constanza about the sound that she keeps hearing.

“Memoria” is not the type of movie that will be remembered for its acting. The cast members give capable performances, but this movie doesn’t really have any big personalities and snappy banter where the cast members can flex their acting talent. The main attraction in “Memoria” is to try to figure out what the movie is trying to say with this mystery of the thumping noise.

“Memoria” eventually reveals why Jessica keeps hearing this noise and how it’s connected to the overall story. There are clues along the way, but they are often subtle or obscure. If there are viewers who prefer movies that reveal clues in more obvious and literal ways, then those viewers probably won’t like “Memoria” very much. But for anyone who’s up for the challenge of watching a surreal and slow-paced mystery with some observations of humanity and Colombian history, then “Memoria” might be an interesting and unique viewing experience.

Neon is releasing “Memoria” in the U.S. in one movie theater per city in a cinema tour of the movie, beginning in New York City on December 26, 2021. Sovereign Films released “Memoria” in several cinemas in the United Kingdom and Ireland on January 14, 2022. The filmmakers have announced that “Memoria” is being released only in cinemas.

Review: ‘Parallel Mothers,’ starring Penélope Cruz, Milena Smit, Israel Elejalde, Aitana Sánchez-Gijón, Rossy de Palma and Julieta Serrano

January 2, 2022

by Carla Hay

Milena Smit, Penélope Cruz and Aitana Sánchez-Gijón in “Parallel Mothers” (Photo by Iglesias Más/El Deseo/Sony Pictures Classics)

“Parallel Mothers”

Directed by Pedro Almodóvar

Spanish with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Madrid, Spain, from 2016 to 2019, the dramatic film “Parallel Mothers” features an all-Hispanic cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: Two single mothers (one middle-aged and one teenage) and the teenager’s mother find their lives intertwined and affected by secrets and lies.

Culture Audience: “Parallel Mothers” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar, star Penélope Cruz and well-acted movies that explore the highs and lows of family histories.

Penélope Cruz and Milena Smit in “Parallel Mothers” (Photo by Iglesias Más/El Deseo/Sony Pictures Classics)

“Parallel Mothers” is more than a drama about the relationship between two single mothers. On a much broader level, it’s about how secrets can be damaging to families. Written and directed by Pedro Almodóvar, “Parallel Mothers” is one of his most emotionally moving and effective movies in his illustrious filmography. “Parallel Mothers” had its world premiere at the 2021 Venice International Film Festival, where “Parallel Mothers” star Penélope Cruz won the Volpi Prize for Best Actress. The movie’s North American premiere was at the 2021 New York Film Festival.

“Parallel Mothers” (which takes place from 2016 to 2019) begins and ends with a very personal family quest by a Madrid-based photographer named Maria Janis Martinez Moreno, also known as Janis (played by Cruz), who is trying to find the anonymous mass grave where her great-grandfather was buried, after he was murdered in the Spanish Civil War. Janis, who is 39 when this story begins, comes up against a lot bureaucratic stonewalling from government officials who seem to want to erase this shameful part of Spanish history where thousands of murdered people were buried in unmarked graves without notifying the dead people’s family members. It’s important for Janis and her family to give her great-grandfather’s body a proper burial, according to their Catholic traditions.

The only details that Janis knows about the grave are from what her grandmother told her: It’s an unmarked grave, where 10 men were buried. Janis’ grandmother gave her the names of the other men who are said to be buried in the same grave. Janis’ great-grandfather was not in the military during the Spanis Civil War, which lasted from 1936 to 1939. He was a teacher and a photographer, who went missing during the war. The family got the news that he was murdered, but his body was never found.

During her search for this grave, Janis ends up doing a studio photo session with a forensic entomologist named Arturo (played Israel Elejalde), who works for the Association for the Recovery of Historical Memory. It’s a group that decides its projects years in advance, and it has the authority to decide which unmarked graves can be excavated. Janis asks Arturo what he can do to help her start the process to excavate a grave that she’s fairly certain is where her great-grandfather is buried. Arturo says he can talk to his management supervisors about this issue.

There’s some sexual attraction between Janis and Arturo. Not long after this photo session, they begin having an affair. Although Janis is completely single, Arturo is not. He’s up front in telling Janis that he’s married, but he and his wife are having marital problems. The movie later has some back-and-forth drama over whether or not Arturo and his wife (who is never seen in the film) will break up or not.

Soon after Janis and Arturo begin their affair, Janis unexpectedly gets pregnant. Janis is at an age when she thought she would never have children, so she’s elated by this unplanned pregnancy. Arturo is not. In fact, he questions if he’s the father of the child and asks Janis to consider having an abortion.

Janis is so insulted that she breaks up with Arturo and tells him she wants to raise the child without any financial help from him. Janis also tells Arturo that she won’t have a paternity test done for the child, and that she doesn’t Arturo in the child’s life. Arturo accepts this decision, but he seems hurt that Janis wants to completely cut him out of her life. Without giving away too much information, it’s enough to say that Janis and Arturo aren’t completely out of each other’s lives after she gives birth to their child.

When it comes time for Janis to give birth, she checks into a maternity ward at a local hospital. Janis knows that her baby will be a girl and already has decided that her daughter’s name will be Cecilia. Janis’ roommate is another single, expectant mother who’s about to give birth to her first child that was the result of an unplanned pregnancy.

Janis is sharing a room with Ana Manso (played by Milena Smit), who’s about 16 or 17 years old. Unlike Janis, Ana is not excited to be a mother. Ana is terrified and reluctant about parenthood. Ana doesn’t feel that she’s ready for this big change in her life. Ana also tells Janis that she regrets getting pregnant, while Janis tries to get Ana to think about the positive benefits of being a parent.

Janis has her somewhat-comical best friend Elena (played by Rossy de Palma) as a support system during this pregnancy. Ana is under the care of her divorced and domineering mother Teresa (played by Aitana Sánchez-Gijón), who greatly disapproves that Ana is going to be an unwed, teenage mother. Teresa thinks that Ana is headed down the wrong path in life, and she frequently berates Ana about it.

Teresa is a busy actress who often has to travel for her job. She does a lot of work on plays that tour. It’s not stated what Teresa’s ex-husband Alex (Ana’s father) does for a living, but he makes enough money to give financial support to Ana and Teresa. During Ana’s stay in the hospital, Ana says to Teresa that Teresa should tell Alex that he needs to increase his child-support payments, now that Ana is about to become a mother who is still underage.

Despite their very different attitudes about their impending motherhoods, Ana and Janis become fast friends in the maternity ward. Their bond becomes stronger when they both end up giving birth to daughters on the same day. Ana names her daughter Anita. Ana is overwhelmed by being a new mother, but she loves Anita and wants to do what’s best for her. Janis is also a doting mother to Cecilia.

The friendship between Ana and Janis continues after they both leave the hospital. When Ana’s mother Teresa temporarily goes away because of a job in a play, she thinks it’s a good idea for Ana to stay with Janis, who has plenty of room in her home. Janis also has a comfortable living situation because she has a nanny and a housekeeper to help.

Janis and Ana become closer and eventually confide some secrets to each other. Ana, who is a self-admitted “wild child,” tells Janis how she really got pregnant. Janis tells Ana that Janis’ seemingly upstanding family has some shady history: Janis’ father was a Colombian drug dealer. As a sign that Ana wants to start a new life and possibly appear to be more mature, Ana cuts her hair short and dyes it gray.

Ana and Janis initially bond over being two mothers of two daughters who share the same birthday. Their friendship turns into a more intimate relationship when Janis and Ana become lovers while they live together. They do not put a label on their sexuality. Janis has told Ana about Arturo from the beginning. It should come as no surprise when Arturo seems to want to come back into Janis’ life, Ana gets very jealous.

But the real test of the relationship between Ana and Janis is when Janis finds out a shocking secret that she knows could very likely ruin her relationship with Ana if Janis tells Ana. Much of the suspense in “Parallel Mothers” is about whether or not Janis will tell anyone this secret. And if she does, what will happen?

During all of this drama, Janis still has not lost sight of looking for her great-grandfather’s grave. Janis learns more about her family history from her Aunt Brígida (played by Julieta Serrano), who keeps a lot of the family’s ancestral mementos and records. One of the most emotionally moving aspects of “Parallel Mothers” is showing how the Spanish Civil War and its aftermath resulted in thousands of missing people who were presumed murdered but whose families never got proper closure over these disappearances. These disappearances and the untold number of unmarked graves have left an immeasurably sad impact on families and on Spain as a country.

“Parallel Mothers” is not a political film that points fingers at the right-wing Nationalists who won the war, or at Francisco Franco’s regime that ruled Spain until Franco’s death in 1975. Instead, the movie brilliantly weaves the stories of Janis, Ana and Teresa together as examples of what can happen when dishonesty, love and pride have long-term effects on relationships. And what Almodóvar does so well, in very nuanced ways, is show that the “Parallel Mothers” is also about another mother—a mother country called Spain and the effects of dishonesty, love and pride on this mother.

All of the cast members do commendable jobs in their roles, but Cruz is a clear standout because of how authentically she expresses the range of emotions that her Janis character goes through in this story. Simply put: Cruz gives one of her best performances in “Parallel Mothers,” which has a knockout ending that will stay with viewers long after seeing the movie. Considering the movie’s subject matter and Janis’ secret, “Parallel Mothers” could have easily devolved into into a mawkish soap opera. But under Almodóvar’s artistic and thoughtful guidance, “Parallel Mothers” makes an impactful statement about trying to heal from emotional scars, whether they are from personal battles or national wars.

Sony Pictures Classics released “Parallel Mothers” in select U.S. cinemas on December 24, 2021.

Review: ‘The Power of the Dog,’ starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons and Kodi Smit-McPhee

December 11, 2021

by Carla Hay

Kodi Smit-McPhee and Benedict Cumberbatch in “The Power of the Dog” (Photo by Kirsty Griffin/Netflix)

“The Power of the Dog”

Directed by Jane Campion

Culture Representation: Taking place in Montana in 1925, the dramatic film “The Power of the Dog” features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A bullying rancher, who is secretly gay and who comes from a wealthy family, tries to make life miserable for his younger brother’s new wife and her young adult son from a previous marriage. 

Culture Audience: “The Power of the Dog” will appeal primarily to fans of star Benedict Cumberbatch, filmmaker Jane Campion and well-made Westerns where the challenges are more psychological than physical.

Jesse Plemons and Kirsten Dunst in “The Power of the Dog” (Photo by Kirsty Griffin/Netflix)

“The Power of the Dog” gives an unflinching and riveting portrait of toxic masculinity, homophobia and family tensions. Even though the movie is set in 1925 Montana, the themes are universal and timeless. Written and directed by Jane Campion (who adapted the movie from Thomas Savage’s 1967 novel of the same name), “The Power of the Dog” is a masterfully made film on every level. Many parts of the movie are not easy to watch, but unless you have a heart of stone or only want to watch mindless junk movies, it’s nearly impossible not to be affected in some way after seeing “The Power of the Dog.”

The story of “The Power of the Dog” essentially centers on four people, who end up being caught up in a maelstrom of mistrust and hard feelings. There are varying degrees of love and fear that drive the motives behind these characters’ actions and words. The four characters who are the focus of the story are:

  • Phil Burbank (played by Benedict Cumberbatch), the aggressive alpha male rancher, who seems ultra-skilled at almost everything except staying in a healthy and loving relationship.
  • George Burbank (played by Jesse Plemons), Phil’s mild-mannered younger brother, who is the opposite of Phil in almost every way.
  • Rose Gordon (played by Kirsten Dunst), the widow restaurateur who becomes of one the targets of Phil’s scorn, especially after Rose marries George.
  • Peter Gordon (played by Kodi Smit-McPhee), the sensitive, young adult son from Rose’s first marriage, who also gets Phil’s wrath because Peter is unapologetically effeminate.

Many other characters come and go in “The Power of the Dog,” but the most interesting and best parts of the movie are about the four main characters. Campion (who is also one of the movie’s producers) wisely pared down the “Power of the Dog” novel by choosing the parts that have the most cinematic impact. If everything in the book had been adapted to the screen, the “The Power of the Dog” would’ve been a miniseries, not a feature-length movie.

Still, the deliberately slow pacing in the beginning of the movie might be a bit of a turnoff to people with short attention spans. The first third of the movie takes place before Rose and George get married. She’s the sole owner/manager of a small eatery called the Red Mill restaurant, which is her only source of income since her first husband, Dr. John Gordon, passed away. Dr. Gordon was a loving husband and father, by all accounts. Peter helps out at the restaurant as a waiter/busboy.

Phil (who is in his mid-40s) and George (who’s in his early-to-mid 30s) come from a wealthy rancher family and live together on the family’s expansive ranch property in Montana. (“The Power of the Dog” was actually filmed in New Zealand.) Their parents are both deceased. Phil (a never-married bachelor) is in charge of the ranch, where he shows off his cowboy skills to his underlings. Phil oversees the ranch’s day-to-day manual operations, while the better-educated George handles the ranch’s business affairs. But if push came to shove, everyone knows that Phil is really the boss of the ranch.

Phil isn’t just talented at ranch responsibilities. He also plays the banjo, which he learned how to play with ease and speed beyond what the average person would be able to do. Later in the movie, Phil uses his banjo playing as a weapon to emotionally torment Rose. Because Phil is so multi-talented and has a charismatic side (he’s well-known for enrapturing people with his storytelling), he gets away with a lot of appalling things with people who seem to both admire and fear him.

Rose and Peter (who’s in his early 20s) are still grieving over the loss of Dr. Gordon, but they do what they can to survive in an often-harsh world. They experience some of this harshness when Phil and his rancher cronies come into the restaurant and put their toxic masculinity on full display. Phil is a bully who likes to taunt and insult people he thinks are vulnerable, just so he can feel superior to them.

Phil makes obnoxious and cruel comments to Rose and Peter while he’s a customer at the restaurant. Phil’s rancher buddies just laugh and do nothing to stop Phil. These weak-willed enablers often join in on Phil’s bullying. One day, at the restaurant, Phil’s bad behavior becomes potentially dangerous, when he deliberately sets fire to a bouquet of paper flowers that’s on display on the restaurant table. The fire doesn’t spread to cause any significant damage. However, this arson is the first sign that Phil has destructive tendencies.

During this restaurant meal, Phil leads a group toast to his deceased best friend Bronco Henry, who died in 1904 at the age of 50. Bronco Henry (who is not seen in flashbacks) is described as a mentor to Phil. As time goes on, there’s a pivotal scene in the movie that reveals that Bronco Henry was more than a best friend/mentor to Phil. It’s the scene that reveals that Phil is gay and in the closet about his true sexuality. It’s left open to intepretation if Phil and Bronco Henry had a sexual relationship, but it’s clear from this scene that Phil was in love with Bronco Henry.

Until that scene happens, the movie drops big hints that Phil’s homophobia is masking his own self-hatred about being gay. The biggest indication is in how Phil zeroes in on Peter for Phil’s worst bullying. Peter, who is shy and very intelligent, is contemplating going to medical school. He has no interest in a job that would require athletic prowess. Therefore, Phil delights in calling Peter a “sissy” and other derogatory names so that Phil can let it be known to everyone that he thinks Peter is probably gay.

Peter’s sexuality is not identified or defined in “The Power of the Dog,” because Peter doesn’t state what his sexuality is, and he doesn’t show interest in dating anyone at this point in his life. Peter is definitely a “mama’s boy” though, and his mother is very protective of him. Having an annoying and homophobic customer who comes into the restaurant is one thing. Having him become part of Peter’s family is another.

And so, it’s with growing dread that Peter (who does voiceover narration in the movie) notices that Phil’s younger brother George has taken a romantic interest in Peter’s lonely mother Rose. George is very smitten with Rose. The feeling isn’t mutual, but she likes George enough to entertain his amorous attention.

There’s an ulterior motive for Rose to consider marrying George: She needs money to pay for Peter’s medical school fees. Her restaurant is also struggling, and she wouldn’t have to work outside the home anymore if she married this wealthy rancher. Rose appreciates that George is kind to her, but she doesn’t have the same romantic passion for him that he does for her. She’s also living in an era when a woman’s financial stability depends largely on what kind of man she marries.

Peter isn’t the only one who doesn’t really want Rose to marry George. Phil tries to discourage George from marrying Rose. During a private conversation between the two brothers, Phil reminds George that they’ve had fun together when they visit prostitutes. Phil also warns George about not being seduced into paying the “nancy boy’s” medical school fees. George is undeterred in his pursuit of Rose because he’s truly in love with her.

Under these circumstances, it doesn’t take Rose long to decide she’s going to marry George. Rose and George have a whirlwind courtship, they get married, and she and Peter move to the Burbank family ranch. It’s during this life transition that things start to get ugly for Rose and Peter. George is often away on business, so he’s at first oblivious to what goes on at the ranch when he’s not there. And he’s sometimes clueless about the trouble that’s brewing, even when he’s at the ranch.

Because of George’s trusting nature, he lives life in an open and transparent way. By contrast, Phil is very secretive and highly manipulative. Phil sees life almost like a chess game where he always has to end up as the winner. George tends to dismiss the bad things that he hears about Phil, partly because Phil is his only sibling (and closest living relative) and partly because George likes to think that all people are essentially good.

Rose is a talented piano player, but Phil is the type of egomaniac who can’t stand the thought of anyone outshining him in any talent, especially in his own home. And so, one of the more fascinating aspects of the movie plays out, when Phil engages in psychological warfare with Rose, by using the music he plays on the banjo, how he plays it, and when he plays it. The marriage of Rose and George also threatens the closeness that Phil and George once had but is now changed because most of George’s attention is now on Rose, not Phil.

You also don’t have to be a psychiatrist to see that Phil is also jealous of George because George has found love and is with a spouse who makes him happy. It’s something that Phil knows he can never experience as a gay man, when homosexuality is forbidden in every way in this 1925 society. Over time, Rose starts to care deeply for George, and that makes Phil even more jealous.

A warning to viewers who are sensitive about seeing animal abuse depicted in movies: There’s a shocking and disturbing scene where Phil takes out his anger by brutally and repeatedly punching a horse. This act of animal cruelty is not entirely shown on camera, but the sound effects are sickening. And there are other scenes of horses being mistreated when Phil and his ranch workers use rough methods to “break” a horse in training. (There’s a disclaimer in the movie’s end credits that confirms that no animals were harmed in the making of this movie.)

People who abuse animals usually abuse other people too. Needless to say, Phil tries to make Peter’s life a living hell at the ranch. And when Peter temporarily goes away to attend medical school, Rose gets the brunt of Phil’s animosity. While on a break from medical school, Peter comes back to the ranch to visit. Rose is shocked and fearful when Phil suddenly starts treating Peter like a protégé.

Even though Phil has stopped overtly bullying Peter, Rose is suspicious that Phil’s sudden transformation into being a “nice mentor” is all an act, and that Phil is setting up Peter for something sinister. Rose confides in George about her suspicions, but George doesn’t really know what to think. Peter seems happy and grateful that Phil is no longer bullying him. The movie delivers a knockout punch to audiences in showing how all of this turmoil is resolved.

All of the cast members give terrific performances, but the biggest standouts are Cumberbatch, Dunst and Smit-McPhee. Dunst and Plemons are a couple in real life, and they have an easy chemistry together. Where things really get really shaken with unease is in how Phil, Rose and Peter navigate their relationships with each other in this very uncomfortable blended family situation.

Rose and Phil predictably don’t get along with each other. But what Dunst portrays so well is being emtionally knocked-off balance when she sees that Phil and Peter, who could easily be enemies, are now starting to become close to each other and could possibly become friends. Phil knows that Peter is the person whom Rose loves the most, so what better way to disturb Rose than to gain the loyalty and trust of Peter?

It’s easy to see why Rose would feel emotionally betrayed by Peter too. Peter is starting to assert his independence, so he seems to want to ignore his mother’s increasing apprehension that Phil does not have good intentions for Peter. The tension is ramped up even more in scenes where Peter and Phil spend time alone together. As the hard-to-read Peter, Smit-McPhee probably has the most diffcult character to play because Peter doesn’t express his emotions as easily as the other main characters.

Cumberbatch gives one of the best performances of his career as the ruthless and complicated Phil. This character is by no means an “anti-hero”—he’s a villain, through and through. But the movie can inspire thoughtful discussions over how much homophobia plays a role in Phil’s deep-seated hatred and bitterness. If Phil had been able to live his life openly as a gay man, would he still be a jerk? That question is definitely open to debate.

It’s one of the many aspects of Campion’s version of “The Power of the Dog” that make it intriguing cinematic art. The movie does not offer easy answers and weaves a rich-enough tapestry in the story that’s open to interpretation. The movie’s cinematography, production design and musical score enhance the film’s ability to be both hypnotic and suspenseful. It’s easy to see why Campion won the Best Director prize at the 2021 Venice International Film Festival, where “The Power of the Dog” had its world premiere. The movie also screened at other prestigious film festivals in 2021, such as the Toronto International Film Festival and the New York Film Festival.

“The Power of the Dog” gets its title from Psalm 22:20 in the Bible: “Deliver my soul from the sword; my darling from the power of the dog.” In the movie, a mountain range can be seen from the ranch, and the characters talk about how the mountain has a specific rock formation that resembles a dog, if looked at in a certain way. Phil represents any toxic force that threatens to ruin someone’s life. And the powerful message of the movie is that you can either fear this toxicity and look away, or you can look at it directly and confront it head-on.

Netflix released “The Power of the Dog” in select U.S. cinemas on November 17, 2021, and on Netflix on December 1, 2021.

Review: ‘C’mon C’mon,’ starring Joaquin Phoenix, Gaby Hoffmann and Woody Norman

November 19, 2021

by Carla Hay

Joaquin Phoenix and Woody Norman (center) in “C’mon C’mon” (Photo by Tobin Yelland/A24)

“C’mon C’mon”

Directed by Mike Mills

Culture Representation: Taking place in various U.S. cities (including Los Angeles, New York City and New Orleans), the dramatic film “C’mon C’mon” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans and Latinos) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A never-married, middle-aged bachelor, who works as a radio producer, finds out for the first time in his life what it feels like to be a parent when he takes care of his estranged sister’s 9-year-old son for an extended period of time.

Culture Audience: “C’mon C’mon” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching emotionally intimate, well-acted movies about family relationships.

Woody Norman and Gaby Hoffmann in “C’mon C’mon” (Photo by Tobin Yelland/A24)

What does “family” mean to you? The answer depends on who’s answering the question. The dramatic film “C’mon C’mon” (written and directed by Mike Mills) is an emotional portrait of three family members coming to terms with their individual identities and what the concept of “family” means to them. The movie also takes an equally impactful, broader look at children’s various perspectives of the world, because the male lead character (who’s a radio producer) travels across the U.S. to interview children about the world for his radio show.

As the three family members who go through various ups and downs in the story, Joaquin Phoenix, Gaby Hoffmann and Woody Norman give noteworthy performances that will make more than a few viewers shed some tears, but not in a manipulative, melodramatic way. The acting in the movie looks natural and somewhat effortless. In some ways, “C’mon C’mon” is a road trip movie, but the real journey is how the three main characters discover new things about each other and themselves.

“C’mon C’mon,” whose cinematography is entirely in black and white, was filmed from November 2019 to January 2020, before the COVID-19 virus infection rate turned into a pandemic. However, the movie seemingly aims not to identify the story by any particular year in the early 21st century. “C’mon C’mon” made the rounds at a few film festivals (such as the Telluride Film Festival, Chicago International Film Festival and New York Film Festival), because of the movie’s pedigree as an awards contender. The entire story of “C’mon C’mon” takes a low-key approach, so don’t expect extreme plot developments or surprising twists to happen.

In the movie, Phoenix is a radio producer named Johnny, who lives in New York City, but he travels a lot because of his job. Johnny is a never-married bachelor in his 40s, he has no children, and he’s currently not dating anyone. Later on in the film, it’s revealed that Johnny hasn’t had a special love in his life for quite some time. He’s essentially “married” to his work. He’s good at his job, but he doesn’t seem emotionally attached to anyone. That’s about to change.

Johnny is currently working on a series that interviews children from all over the United States. In the interviews, Johnny asks them things such as “What do you think about the future?” or “What scares you?” or “What makes you angry?” Sometimes, the children are interviewed with their parents in the room, while other times no adults are in the room except Johnny and a co-worker. Throughout the movie, various children are shown being interviewed by Johnny. Most times, they appear on screen, but other times, Johnny is seen playing back snippets of these audio interviews.

“C’mon C’mon” opens in Detroit, where Johnny is doing some of these interviews. A 13-year-old girl who’s being interviewed says that adults have to pay more attention to what’s around them. Throughout the movie, many of the children’s comments express a hopeful but concerned outlook on life. Many of the kids worry about some of the problems that they have to deal with (a decaying environment, racism, economic insecurities) that they think will become heavier burdens when they are adults.

One day, when he’s in a hotel room, Johnny gets a call from his estranged younger sister Viv (played by Hoffmann), who is is only sibling. Viv, who is a single mother living in Los Angeles, has called to tell Johnny that she needs him to come to Los Angeles to temporarily take care of her 9-year-old son Jesse (played by Norman), who barely knows Johnny. Viv explains that Jesse’s father Paul (played by Scoot McNairy), who moved to Oakland (which is about 370 miles north of Los Angeles), is going through some personal issues, and Viv wants to be there for Paul. Viv and Paul (who were never married) are no longer a couple, and she has sole custody of Jesse.

The conversation is polite but strained. There’s obvious tension between Johnny and Viv, which they don’t want to get into over the phone. However, it’s revealed in this phone call that Johnny and Viv have some lingering resentment toward each other over their mother, who died about a year ago after an extended period of being in ill health. Eventually, viewers find out that Johnny and Viv disagreed over how their mother should be cared for in her final months of life and whether or not taking her off of life support should be an option.

Johnny agrees to put some of his work on hold to go to Los Angeles and look after Jesse. When he arrives at Viv’s home, Jesse is shy with Johnny, an uncle he hasn’t seen for years. However, Jesse is aware that Viv and Johnny have barely spoken to each other and have had an estranged relationship for quite some time. And this family discord isn’t just because of Johnny and Viv’s mother.

The tension between Viv and Johnny is also because Johnny disapproves of Paul. Not everything about Viv and Paul’s history with each other is revealed, but enough comes out in conversations for viewers to find out why Johnny considers Paul to be a disruptive force in their family. It’s implied that Johnny never really thought that Paul was good enough for Viv, especially because of the emotional pain she went through by being in a relationship with Paul.

Paul is bipolar, which is not specifically said out loud in the movie, but it’s implied based on his symptoms and other clues in the movie. For example, Jesse has a children’s book called “The Bipolar Bear Family: When a Parent Has Bipolar Disorder,” written by Angela Ann Holloway. Paul has been in a psychiatric facility before to get treatment for his mental illness.

Paul apparently doesn’t have any close relatives who can look after him, because Viv seems to be the only person in his life who’s taken on the responsibility of getting him the treatment that he needs. And because Paul and Viv were never married and are no longer a couple, it explains the murky situation that comes about when Viv has to make certain decisions about Paul’s medical care. Paul is shown briefly in the movie in present-day scenes and in flashbacks.

Paul is a symphony musician, who moved to the San Francisco Bay Area because he wanted to work for the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra. As Viv explains to Johnny, “the transition fucked him up,” and Paul is having some kind of breakdown. Viv needs to go to the San Francisco Bay Area to see about convincing Paul to check himself into another mental health facility again. She would rather that he get treatment voluntarily, because she doesn’t want to be the one to force him into an involuntary admission to a psychiatric institution.

Meanwhile, Jesse is aware that his father has bioplar disorder, but no one in the family has ever told him any specific details about why Paul’s illness is severe enough that he has to get in-patient treatment for it. (The word “suicidal” is never mentioned to Jesse, but it’s implied that Paul has been a danger to himself.) All Jesse knows is that his father sometimes has to go into a hospital when he has another episode that needs treatment. The stigma of mental illness is realistically portrayed in “C’mon C’mon,” as something that family members feel secret guilt or shame about, because they often try to hide or deny the illness.

During the course of the movie, Viv has to stay in the San Francisco Bay Area longer than she expected. And so, Johnny ends up taking care of Jesse for longer than Johnny expected. The majority of “C’mon C’mon” is about how Johnny and Jesse’s uncle/nephew relationship evolves to the point where Johnny becomes the closet thing that Jesse has to a father figure. At one point, Johnny contemplates whether or not he should move to Los Angeles.

Johnny’s caretaking of Jesse doesn’t happen in one, long continuous stretch. There’s a point in the movie where Viv returns to Los Angeles and then has to go back to the Bay Area again, but Johnny can’t be in Los Angeles because of work commitments. Jesse begs Viv to let him stay with Johnny in New York City and then travel with Johnny on the job. Johnny and Jesse’s travels are not spoiler details, because they’re shown in the movie’s trailers.

Jesse is a precocious and curious child who loves to read. Viv encourages Jesse to be a free thinker and allows him to question things. It’s why Jesse asks Johnny some questions that make Jesse uncomfortable, such as why Johnny isn’t married. Johnny says that he was with someone named Louisa, but she broke up with him. Johnny says he still loves Louisa, who is not seen in the movie.

One question that’s harder for Johnny to answer is why he and Viv stopped talking to each other for a long time. Johnny tactfully explains to Jesse that it’s because he and Viv couldn’t agree on the caregiving for their dying mother. The mother’s cause of death is never mentioned in the movie, but there are flashback scenes of Viv and Johnny visiting their mother on her deathbed.

There were resentments and jealousies between the two siblings before their mother got sick. Viv always felt that she never got the full approval of her mother and that Johnny was the favored child. Johnny felt like Viv’s tension with their mother was the reason why Viv seemed to not be as compassionate with their dying mother as Johnny thinks Viv should have been.

Johnny doesn’t want to badmouth Viv to Jesse, so he doesn’t tell Jesse these things. However, Johnny and Viv do confront their bitter feelings for each other with arguments over the phone. Paul’s current mental breakdown has also triggered bad memories of when Johnny told Viv to break up with Paul in the past, when Viv wasn’t ready to end the relationship. Viv thinks that Johnny meddled too much in her relationship with Paul.

Soon after Johnny begins taking care of Jesse, Jesse tells Johnny that Viv correctly predicted that Johnny would be a little awkward with Jesse, but that Johnny will eventually get used to Jesse. During the time that Johnny spends with Jesse, he finds out that taking care of a child is a lot harder than he thought it would be. Viv has certain bedtime rituals for Jesse that Jesse wants Johnny to do too. Jesse also shows signs of hyperactivity, so Johnny calls Viv for advice on how to get Jesse to go to sleep.

Another thing that Johnny has to learn is how to be a responsible caregiver when it comes to children’s meals. Like a typical bachelor who lives alone and travels frequently, Johnny has a refrigerator that is not stocked with much that’s appropriate for a child. When Johnny takes Jesse with him to go grocery shopping, Johnny gets a scare when Jesse wanders off and Johnny frantically tries to find him.

The movie shows in a lot of tender and quiet moments how this uncle and nephew eventually learn to trust each other, like each other, and eventually become friends with each other. Johnny and Jesse find out that that they have a lot more in common than they originally thought. They both love Viv but they both dislike how she lets Paul’s problems consume her. Johnny and Jesse are also more comfortable talking about things outside of themselves rather than their innermost feelings. When Johnny tries to interview Jesse for his radio show, Jesse is very reluctant and says no.

However, Jesse notices that Johnny likes to make audio diaries, so Jesse starts making his own audio diaries too. Johnny also shows Jesse how to operate Johnny’s professional audio equipment. There’s an adorable scene that takes place on California’s Venice Beach where Johnny and Jesse discover that Jesse not only likes operating this equipment, he could end up having a passion for radio. When Jesse arrives in New York City, Johnny introduces Jesse to two other radio producers who work closely with Johnny: Roxanne (played by Molly Webster) and Fern (played by Jaboukie Young-White), who are both very friendly to Jesse.

One of the most effective aspects of “C’mon C’mon” is how unpretentious it is in showing that learning and protection between adults and children can go both ways. Too often, dramas with a story of an adult taking care of a child for the first time will put an emphasis on what the adult is going to teach the child. However, “C’mon C’mon” shows that Johnny learns a lot from the children he’s in contact with, whether it’s someone he met briefly during an interview, or a nephew who turns out to be a special and unexpected friend. The movie has a pivotal scene in New Orleans that’s an example of how powerful a child’s emotional protection and wisdom can be.

The black-and-white cinematography gives “C’mon C’mon” a timeless vibe to it that looks best in the New York City scenes. In other scenes, such as in the vibrancy of a New Orleans street parade or in the sunny glow of Venice Beach, some viewers might wish that the movie had been in color. The movie’s lack of color doesn’t take away from the exemplary performances and screenplay for “C’mon C’mon,” which have such authenticity, it will resonate with viewers.

In “C’mon C’mon,” Phoenix gives an understated and nuanced performance as a “regular guy” (the type of character that he usually doesn’t play), who finds out from a child that he’s not as emotionally mature as he thought he was. In the role of perceptive Jesse, Norman gives a breakout performance that will stand as one of the best from a child actor in a 2021 movie. Hoffmann brings heartache and grit to her performance as Viv, who feels conflicted and guilty over the messiness in her life, while doing her best to make what she thinks are the right decisions.

“C’mon C’mon” could have been a very sappy movie that goes off in very phony directions. Fortunately, it is not, although some viewers might be a little bored if they’re expecting more exciting action in this movie. As for the movie’s most emotional scenes, there are some genuinely sentimental, tearjerking moments, but this is not a tragic story. There are no over-the-top villains or crazy adventures.

It’s a story grounded in reality about people trying to get through life in the best way that they can. What inspired the title of this movie? It’s from one of Jesse’s audio diary entries, where he says that when unpredictable things happen in life, you just have to “c’mon c’mon.” This human resilience is celebrated eloquently in “C’mon C’mon.”

A24 released “C’mon C’mon” in select U.S. cinemas on November 19, 2021.

Review: ‘The Tragedy of Macbeth,’ starring Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand

September 24, 2021

by Carla Hay

Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand in “The Tragedy of Macbeth” (Photo by Alison Cohen Rosa/A24/Apple TV+)

“The Tragedy of Macbeth” 

Directed by Joel Coen

Culture Representation: Taking place in Scotland and England in the 1600s, the dramatic film “The Tragedy of Macbeth” features a cast of white and black people representing the working-class, middle-class and royalty.

Culture Clash: A ruthlessly ambitious husband and wife lie, cheat and murder their way into becoming king and queen of Scotland, but their sins eventually catch up to them with deadly consequences.

Culture Audience: Besides the obvious target audience of fans of William Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” play, “The Tragedy of Macbeth” will appeal primarily to fans of Oscar winners Denzel Washington, Frances McDormand and Joel Coen.

Denzel Washington in “The Tragedy of Macbeth” (Photo by Alison Cohen Rosa/A24/Apple TV+)

“The Tragedy of Macbeth” gives William Shakespeare’s play “Macbeth” the minimalist treatment, laying bare the raw intensity of the story, which is masterfully channeled via powerhouse performances from Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand. Joel Coen (McDormand’s husband and longtime artistic collaborator) wrote and directed “The Tragedy of Macbeth” as a striking hybrid of an observational filmed stage play and an immersive cinematic experience. At a relatively brisk run time of 105 minutes, the movie defies the notion that movies made from Shakespeare’s work have to be pompous, self-indulgent bores. “The Tragedy of Macbeth” had its world premiere at the 2021 New York Film Festival.

Filmed in black and white, “The Tragedy of Macbeth” stays faithful to the source material but rolls out as a more streamlined piece of art that makes this version of the Macbeth story more accessible to people with short attention spans. People interested in watching the movie probably have some familiarity already with Shakespeare’s “Macbeth,” a tragic play that was first performed in 1606 and first published in 1623. Most people would agree that “Macbeth”—with its timeless themes of how a corrupt pursuit of power can destroy lives—remains among the top three of Shakespeare’s best and most well-known work.

There’s really no need to rehash a plot that a lot of viewers will know before seeing this movie. The story is essentially about a married power couple who want to rule over Scotland as king and queen, no matter what the cost. Washington portrays the title character as a man on a mission to get what he feels is owed to him after years of feeling unappreciated as a loyal lord to Scotland’s King Duncan (played by Brendan Gleeson), who is about to be viciously murdered.

The mastermind of this assassination is Macbeth’s wife Lady Macbeth (played by Frances McDormand), whose power and intelligence is underestimated by most people because she is a woman. However, behind the scenes and behind closed doors, Lady Macbeth is a master manipulator who is in many ways more cold-hearted and single-minded in her ambition than her husband is. When he has doubts about any of the dastardly deeds that she has in mind, she pushes those doubts out of his mind and motivates him to follow through with her plans.

Clawing one’s way to the top of Scotland’s royal hierarchy, without being a blood relative of a royal, means that a lot of people will have to die. (The killing scenes aren’t too gory, but there are a few non-explicit scenes involving child murder that might be disturbing for very sensitive viewers.) King Duncan has two adult sons: elder son Malcolm (played by Harry Melling) and Donalbain (played by Matt Helm), who are dutiful but unprepared for the destruction inflicted by the Macbeth couple. As the body count piles up, false accusations will fly, paranoia reaches a fever point, and certain people face a reckoning that seems to ask the question: “Was all that backstabbing worth it in the end?”

Other characters in the play that are also in the movie include Banquo (played by Bertie Carvel), Macbeth’s close ally and a general in King Duncan’s army; Fleance (played by Lucas Barker) Banquo’s son, who’s about 10 or 11 years old in the movie; Macduff (played by Corey Hakwins), Thane of Fife; and Lady Macduff (played by Moses Ingram), Macduff’s wife. Macduff is the first one in the king’s inner circle to suspect that Macbeth and his wife might be up to no good.

Just like like in the “Macbeth” play, the catalyst for Macbeth thinking he has a right to take the throne comes early on in the story when he envisions three witches who tell him a prophecy that he will become the king. However, the introduction of these witches in the movie doesn’t follow standard convention. At first, there’s the appearance of one witch (played by Kathryn Hunter, who plays all three identical witches), who is first seen with her face down in a sandy and barren area, like a vulture who’s hunched over from dehydration.

This witch, just like her look-alikes, is dressed all in black has bird-like mannerisms and even caws like a crow. She contorts her body and flaps her arms, like an ave from hell. And later, when she is joined by the other two witches, they transform into large and menacing black birds.

Washington’s portrayal of Macbeth is as a hothead who is prone to losing control of his emotions and stomping around and shouting as a way to intimidate people. Macbeth is all about short-term gratification. McDormand’s depiction of Lady Macbeth is as someone who is more likely to think long-term and see the big picture.

The difference between Lady Macbeth and her husband is that Lady Macbeth knows when to keep her mouth shut and not give away too much information. Witness the brilliant facial expressions of McDormand as Lady Macbeth in a scene where her husband Macbeth is ranting about something to a group of people in the king’s court. Lady Macbeth thinks he might let some valuable information slip, but she says nothing in order to keep up a façade of ignorance. However, the look on her face shows a brief flash of alarm, as if she’s thinking, “He better not say anything stupid!”

Lady Macbeth has a temper too. She just doesn’t show it to people who could use this “unladylike” demeanor against her. And when McDormand’s Lady Macbeth gets angry, she bellows and barks in a voice that’s deep enough to sound like a man. McDormand’s interpretation of Lady Macbeth is that she knows her own power and strength. She’s not a fussy and frilly wife but one who’s willing to blur the lines of gender roles by showing a more masculine side than how other female actors might interpret this character.

“The Tragedy of Macbeth” has some recurring visual motifs that work well for a movie that was filmed in black and white and has a mild fascination with flight in open skies. First, there are multiple scenes that have a starry night as a backdrop. In a memorable moment, Lady Macbeth let’s go of a burning piece of paper, which flies out the window and into the night. And when the witches turn into birds, which happens more than once in the movie, it also exemplifies the type of flight that conjures of images of dark forces that hover and can’t be tamed.

Another effective visual technique that’s used in “The Tragedy of Macbeth” is conveying the feeling of being spied on and targeted. A scene with Banquo opens with what looks like a spotlight resembling a bullseye lens. The camera zooms up to show an aerial view of Banquo in this spotlight. It’s a foreshadowing of what happens later to Banquo, because he indeed becomes a target. And later in the movie, the three witches are perched on wooden square beams, as the witches look down like vultures ready to pounce.

Because there have been so many different adaptations of “Macbeth,” Coen succeeds in the intent to offer Macbeth through the lens of living in a world where generations of filmmakers and movie audiences have been influenced by the nightmarish lighting contrasts of German Expressionism. The movie’s cinematography (by Bruno Delbonnel), production design (by Stefan Dechant) and visual effects (supervised by Michael Huber and Alex Lemke) are stark and compelling, ranging from set pieces that look like they were made for a theater stage to the majestic simplicity of a cliff that becomes a pivotal location.

And when Lady Macbeth literally lets her hair down in private moments, she can be disheveled—more frump and happenstance than pomp and circumstance. Occasionally messy hair aside, Lady Macbeth’s wardrobe and the rest of the characters’ clothes are completely on point, thanks to stellar costume design by Mary Zophres. The costumes in “The Tragedy of Macbeth” might be the only reason to wish that this movie hadn’t been in black and white. However, the film’s monochromatic pallette is understandable, in order to reflect the dark despair that permeates throughout the story.

The members of this movie’s international cast use their natural accents. Most of the cast members are British. Washington, McDormand and Hawkins are American, while Gleeson is Irish. The varied accents are not a distraction, because the words of Shakespeare make everything sound very much of the era in which it was written. Accents just sound more classical when quoting Shakespeare.

All of the supporting actors in “The Tragedy of Macbeth” play their roles well, with Hawkins being a standout as the intuitive Macduff, a good man who loves his wife and kids and who finds himself in the crosshairs of death and betrayal. It’s hard to go wrong with a Shakespeare classic, a cast of this high level of talent, and a director who consistently makes films whose quality is above-average. The “Macbeth” story is a well-worn road for enthusiasts of performing arts, but “The Tragedy of Macbeth” makes this familiar ride very entertaining.

A24 will release “The Tragedy of Macbeth” in select U.S. cinemas on December 25, 2021. Apple TV+ will premiere the movie on January 14, 2022.

2021 New York Film Festival: talks and panels announced

September 22, 2021

The following is a press release from Film at Lincoln Center:

Film at Lincoln Center announces Talks for the 59th New York Film Festival (September 24 – October 10). All NYFF59 Talks are presented by HBO®, supplementing festival screenings with a series of free panel discussions and in-depth conversations among a wide range of guests.

With last year’s NYFF events taking place entirely in virtual and socially distanced drive-in settings, this year’s Talks promise a much-needed and long-awaited return to in-person gatherings, with a robust lineup of spirited and engaging conversations between moderators, filmmakers, and audiences.

2021 marks the birth centenary of NYFF co-founder Amos Vogel. In recognition of this milestone, which is being celebrated with a Vogel tribute in the NYFF59 Spotlight slate, the festival will present the first annual Amos Vogel Lecture. Filmmaker Albert Serra (The Death of Louis XIV, NYFF54; Liberté, NYFF57), whose singular and transgressive approach to cinema epitomizes the vision of Vogel’s landmark text, Film as a Subversive Art, will deliver this inaugural edition of the lecture. The Amos Vogel Centenary Retrospective and lecture are sponsored by MUBI.

Additional highlights include career-spanning Deep Focus dialogues with director Mira Nair, star Sarita Choudhury, and cinematographer Ed Lachman on the making of Revivals selection Mississippi Masala, moderated by novelist Jhumpa Lahiri; Jane Campion in an extended conversation with Sofia Coppola about Campion’s NYFF59 Centerpiece selection The Power of the Dog and its mesmerizing exploration of masculinity; Ryûsuke Hamaguchi on his two Main Slate selections, Drive My Car and Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy; and Apichatpong Weerasethakul in an in-depth conversation about Memoria, his first film set outside of Thailand and his first outing with an international star, Tilda Swinton.

Crosscuts returns after its successful launch last year with pairings of filmmakers across NYFF sections, genres, and styles. This year’s lineup includes conversations between Mia Hansen-Løve (Bergman Island) and Joachim Trier (The Worst Person in the World) as well as Silvan Zürcher (The Girl and the Spider)and Alexandre Koberidze (What Do We See When We Look at the Sky?), with more events to be announced in the coming days.

Roundtable discussions highlight thematic trends within the program and consider the films in the context of wider cultural conversations. Among these: Cinema’s Workers, which will explore past and ongoing labor movements within film and art communities with panelists Abby Sun, Dana Kopel, Kazembe Balagun, and filmmaker Ted Fendt (Outside Noise, NYFF59); and two Film Comment Live conversations presented by the reputed publication. The Velvet Underground &the New York Avant-Garde brings together Todd Haynes, Ed Lachman, and critic Amy Taubin to discuss the making of The Velvet Underground and Songs for Drella, and the enduring legacy of the historic moment of artistic innovation they so vividly capture, while Festival Report enlists a group of critics in a lively wrap-up discussion with Devika Girish and Clinton Krute, Co-Deputy Editors of Film Comment, about the NYFF59 lineup.

Talks are organized by Devika Girish and Madeline Whittle, in collaboration with Eugene Hernandez and Dennis Lim.

Free tickets for NYFF59 Talks will be distributed on a first-come, first-served basis beginning one hour prior to each event at the corresponding box office. Tickets are limited to one per person, subject to availability. For those unable to attend, video from these events will be available online on Film at Lincoln Center’s YouTube channel at a later date.

NYFF59 will feature in-person screenings, as well as select outdoor events. In response to distributor and filmmaker partners and in light of festivals returning and theaters reopening across the country, NYFF will not offer virtual screenings for this year’s edition.

Proof of full vaccination will be required for all staff, audiences, and filmmakers at NYFF59 venues. FLC requires all guests to maintain face coverings consistent with the current CDC guidelines inside their spaces regardless of vaccination status. Additionally, NYFF59 will adhere to a comprehensive series of health and safety policies in coordination with Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts and state and city medical experts, while adapting as necessary to the current health crisis. Visit filmlinc.org/safety for more information.

Presented by Film at Lincoln Center, the New York Film Festival highlights the best in world cinema and takes place September 24 – October 10, 2021. An annual bellwether of the state of cinema that has shaped film culture since 1963, the festival continues an enduring tradition of introducing audiences to bold and remarkable works from celebrated filmmakers as well as fresh new talent.

DESCRIPTIONS


THE 2021 AMOS VOGEL LECTURE: Albert Serra

2021 marks the birth centenary of Amos Vogel, the pioneering film programmer, author, and co-founder of the New York Film Festival. As the flagship event of NYFF’s corresponding tribute, the festival is inaugurating the Amos Vogel Lecture, to be delivered annually by an artist or commentator who embodies the spirit of Vogel’s cinephilia and brings it into conversation with the present and future of the medium. For this first edition, we are proud to welcome the filmmaker Albert Serra (The Death of Louis XIV, NYFF54; Liberté, NYFF57). Serra’s singular and transgressive approach to cinema epitomizes the vision of Vogel’s landmark text, Film as a Subversive Art, whose French edition features a foreword by the director. Serra’s original lecture will be followed by a conversation with the programmers of the NYFF59 Spotlight sidebar devoted to Vogel’s curatorial legacy. Sponsored by MUBI.

Tuesday, October 5, 4:00pm, Walter Reade Theater

DEEP FOCUS

In-depth dialogues with festival filmmakers & their collaborators

The Making of Mississippi Masala

Moderated by Jhumpa Lahiri

Released in 1991, Mira Nair’s Mississippi Masala endures as a breakthrough work of American independent and diasporic cinema. The rare film to explore relations between South Asian and African-American communities in the South, Nair’s second fiction feature stars Sarita Choudhury as a Ugandan Indian refugee who falls for a self-employed carpet cleaner played by Denzel Washington, cueing familial and communal tensions and pitting passion against tradition. To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the film’s release and the premiere of its new restoration in NYFF59’s Revivals section, join us for a conversation with Nair, Choudhury, and cinematographer Ed Lachman, moderated by the writer Jhumpa Lahiri, whose novel, The Namesake, Nair adapted in 2006. Sponsored by Turner Classic Movies (TCM).

This event will take place in Damrosch Park immediately following the September 25 screening of Mississippi Masala and will be accessible to ticket-holders.

Jane Campion

Moderated by Sofia Coppola

Following her Best Director win at this year’s Venice Film Festival, Jane Campion returns to NYFF with her first feature since 2009’s Bright StarThe Power of the Dog, the Centerpiece selection of NYFF59. Known for her incisive portraits of womanhood, Campion turns her lens to masculinity in this new film, which adapts Thomas Savage’s 1967 novel of the same name. The results are thrilling: The Power of the Dog is a mesmerizing, psychologically rich variation on the American western, and a compassionate examination of repressed sexuality and the fragility of patriarchy. We are thrilled to welcome the legendary New Zealand director for an extended conversation with filmmaker Sofia Coppola (On the Rocks, NYFF58) about this latest entry in Campion’s masterful, decades-spanning career.

Saturday, October 2, 4:00pm, Amphitheater.

Ryûsuke Hamaguchi

Making his return to NYFF with not one but two Main Slate selections, Japanese filmmaker Ryûsuke Hamaguchi (Asako I & II, NYFF56) affirms his stature as a true rising star of world cinema, and one of the foremost chroniclers of the ebbs and flows of human relationships. With Drive My Car and Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy—a pair of vividly realized and ceaselessly surprising emotional epics—Hamaguchi demonstrates his singular talent for tracing the intricate workings of the heart amid the perennial paradoxes of modern life. Join us for an in-depth conversation with the writer-director to explore the resonances and shared preoccupations of his new films and his prolific body of work.

Sunday, October 3, 7:00pm, Amphitheater

Apichatpong Weerasethakul

For over two decades, Apichatpong Weerasethakul has been celebrated as one of world cinema’s most original auteurs, with films that constantly refract and reinscribe the contours of narrative, reality, and temporality. His new feature—which comes six years after 2015’s Cemetery of Splendour (NYFF53)—reaffirms his peerless status even as it takes the Thai auteur into uncharted territory: Memoria is Apichatpong’s first film set outside of Thailand, in Colombia; his first English- and Spanish-language venture; and his first outing with a bona fide international star, Tilda Swinton. We are thrilled to welcome the filmmaker for a deep-dive conversation about his extraordinary oeuvre and the elliptical novelties and familiar mysteries of his latest masterwork.

Thursday, October 7, 6:30pm, Amphitheater

CROSSCUTS

Conversations between filmmakers across festival sections, genres, and styles

Mia Hansen-Løve & Joachim Trier

With their respective NYFF59 Main Slate selections Bergman Island and The Worst Person in the World, Mia Hansen-Løve (Things to Come, NYFF54) and Joachim Trier (Thelma, NYFF55) achieve new creative heights in their parallel trajectories as two of the preeminent European filmmakers of their generation. Both artists have spent the last 15 years interrogating, with great compassion, the moral and emotional crosscurrents that undergird human behavior, and their latest films refine these inquiries with an invigorating reflexive frankness. Join the two writer-directors for a conversation about their influences and inspirations, their distinctively personal and philosophical approaches to cinematic storytelling, and the endlessly generative themes of romantic ambivalence and evolving self-knowledge that animate their new films.

Monday, September 27, 7:00pm, Amphitheater

Silvan Zürcher & Alexandre Koberidze

In an NYFF lineup with a record number of new and emerging filmmakers, Alexandre Koberidze’s What Do We See When We Look at the Sky? and Ramon and Silvan Zürcher’s The Girl and the Spider—both sophomore features—stand out for their sui generis approaches to cinematic narrative and form. Formally assured and intellectually audacious, the two films, in their own unique ways, electrify the quotidian with currents of desire, romance, and modern myth. We’re excited to bring Silvan Zürcher and Koberidze together to discuss their filmic inspirations and aspirations; their trajectories within Swiss and Georgian cinema, respectively, and in world cinema at large; and their experiences at the renowned DFFB (the German Film and Television Academy Berlin), which all three directors attended.

Saturday, October 2, 7:00pm, Amphitheater

ROUNDTABLES

Panels and discussions that connect the festival to the themes of the moment

Cinema’s Workers

Moderated by Gina Telaroli

The phrase “dream factory” has long been invoked to capture the magical, transporting allure of the American film industry, but too often, as consumers, our fascination with the dream obscures the factory: the workforce that breathes life into the movies and delivers them to audiences. Behind the glitz and glamor of cinema is the labor of seen and unseen workers across the fields of production, distribution, exhibition, and curation. As questions of labor and equity take center stage in art communities in New York and beyond, this roundtable brings together a multifaceted group of film workers to discuss past and ongoing labor movements in cinema. Panelists include Abby Sun (curator, the DocYard, My Sight Is Lined with Visions), filmmaker Ted Fendt (Outside Noise, NYFF59), Kazembe Balagun (project manager, Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung—New York Office), and Dana Kopel (writer, editor, and organizer).

Sunday, September 26, 7:00pm, Amphitheater

Film Comment Live: The Velvet Underground & the New York Avant-Garde

Two films in this year’s NYFF lineup take us back to the ‘60s heyday of the New York avant-garde: in the Main Slate, Todd Haynes’s The Velvet Underground offers a revelatory portrait of the milieu that gave rise to the eponymous band and its boundary-pushing music, while in Revivals, Ed Lachman’s Songs for Drella captures Lou Reed and John Cale in concert, paying tribute to the late Andy Warhol with riveting intimacy. Presented by the editors of Film Comment, this special roundtable brings together Haynes, Lachman, and critic Amy Taubin to discuss the making of the two films as well as the enduring legacy of the historic moment of artistic innovation they so vividly capture.

Sunday, October 3, 4:00pm, Damrosch Park

Film Comment Live: Festival Report

For the festival’s final week, a group of critics will gather together for a spirited wrap-up discussion with Devika Girish and Clinton Krute, Co-Deputy Editors of Film Comment, about the movies they’ve seen in the NYFF59 lineup. Panelists include Molly Haskell (critic and author), Bilge Ebiri (staff critic, Vulture), and Phoebe Chen (critic and scholar).

Saturday, October 9, 7:00pm, Amphitheater

FILM AT LINCOLN CENTER

Film at Lincoln Center is dedicated to supporting the art and elevating the craft of cinema and enriching film culture.

Film at Lincoln Center fulfills its mission through the programming of festivals, series, retrospectives, and new releases; the publication of Film Comment; and the presentation of podcasts, talks, special events, and artist initiatives. Since its founding in 1969, this nonprofit organization has brought the celebration of American and international film to the world-renowned Lincoln Center arts complex, making the discussion and appreciation of cinema accessible to a broad audience and ensuring that it remains an essential art form for years to come.

Support for the New York Film Festival is generously provided by Official Partners HBO, Campari, The New York Times, and Vanity Fair’sAwards Insider; Benefactor Partners Netflix and Citi; Supporting Partners Topic Studios, Hearst, and Radeberger Pilsner; Contributing Partners Dolby, Turner Classic Movies, Manhattan Portage, NYC Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment, and UniFrance; and Media Partners Variety, Vulture, Deadline HollywoodThe Hollywood Reporter, WABC-7, The WNET Group, and IndieWire. All NYFF59 Talks are presented by HBO. American Airlines is the Official Airline of Film at Lincoln Center.

2021 New York Film Festival: venues added beyond Lincoln Center include Brooklyn Academy of Music and Anthology Film Archives

September 1, 2021

Brooklyn Academy of Music (Photo by Sam Polcer)

The following is a press release from Film at Lincoln Center:

Film at Lincoln Center announces an expanded footprint for the 59th New York Film Festival (September 24 – October 10), partnering with local arthouse theaters to bring NYFF59 films to new audiences.

NYFF has partnered with Anthology Film Archives (East Village); BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music) (Fort Greene, Brooklyn), Jacob Burns Film Center (Pleasantville, Westchester), and Maysles Documentary Center (Harlem) to screen a selection of films from the 59th edition throughout the festival—complete list of films and showtimes below. These screenings allow filmmakers to share their work with passionate filmgoers across New York, and provide flexibility for movie lovers citywide and beyond.

The festival will also present four outdoor screenings at Damrosch Park on the Lincoln Center campus, offering audiences another way to experience the festival. Programming is subject to change at all venues as well as Damrosch Park.

Director of NYFF Eugene Hernandez said, “Last year, we brought NYFF to drive-in screenings in Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx, ensuring that New Yorkers could attend the 2020 festival safely. But taking the Festival to neighborhoods beyond the Upper West Side remains our goal and this year as we celebrate cinema in a communal setting and on the big screen, we’re pleased to partner with four nonprofit cinemas. Thank you to our friends at Anthology, BAM, Maysles, and the Burns Film Center for working with us to connect the festival to new places and people! And of course, we’re also delighted to present outdoor screenings in our own backyard at Lincoln Center’s iconic Damrosch Park.”

Tickets for screenings at Anthology Film Archives, BAM, Jacob Burns Film Center, and Maysles Documentary Center will go on sale on Tuesday, September 7 at noon ET. Learn more here. Support of the New York Film Festival benefits Film at Lincoln Center in its nonprofit mission to promote the art and craft of cinema.

A limited number of tickets for the Damrosch Park screenings will be made free to the public. Information to register or claim free tickets is forthcoming. Damrosch Park tickets are also available for purchase beginning September 7 at noon ET. Learn more here.

PARTNER VENUES AND FILMS

Anthology Film Archives

32 2nd Ave. New York, NY 10003

Outside Noise

Dir. Ted Fendt

Friday, October 1, 8:00pm

Social Hygiene

Dir. Denis Côté

Thursday, September 30, 8:00pm

BAM

30 Lafayette Ave. Brooklyn, NY 11217

Flee

Dir. Jonas Poher Rasmussen

Thursday, October 7, 6:00pm

The Lost Daughter

Dir. Maggie Gyllenhaal

Tuesday, October 5, 7:00pm

Passing

Dir. Rebecca Hall

Wednesday, October 6, 7:00pm

Sambizanga

Dir. Sarah Maldoror

Thursday, October 7, 8:30pm

Jacob Burns Film Center

364 Manville Rd. Pleasantville, NY 10570

Marx Can Wait

Dir. Marco Bellocchio

Wednesday, September 29, 5:00pm

The Souvenir Part II

Dir. Joanna Hogg

Tuesday, September 28, 7:00pm

The Tsugua Diaries

Dir. Maureen Fazendeiro and Miguel Gomes

Wednesday, September 29, 7:30pm

The Worst Person in the World

Dir. Joachim Trier

Monday, September 27, 7:00pm

Maysles Documentary Center

343 Malcolm X Blvd. New York, NY 10027

Chameleon Street

Dir. Wendell B. Harris Jr.

Screening with:

James Baldwin: From Another Place (An NYFF58 Selection)

Dir. Sedat Pakay

Monday, October 4, 8:00pm

Futura  

Dir. Pietro Marcello, Francesco Munzi, Alice Rohrwacher

Wednesday, October 6, 8:00pm

Damrosch Park

Amsterdam Avenue and W. 62nd Street, New York, NY 10023

Assault on Precinct 13

Dir. John Carpenter

Sunday, October 3, 7:00pm

Mississippi Masala

Dir. Mira Nair

Saturday, September 25, 7:30pm

Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song

Dir. Melvin Van Peebles

Sunday, September 26, 7:30pm

The Velvet Underground

Dir. Todd Haynes

Saturday, October 2, 7:00pm

NYFF59 will feature in-person screenings, as well as select outdoor and virtual events. In response to distributor and filmmaker partners and in light of festivals returning and theaters reopening across the country, NYFF will not offer virtual screenings for this year’s edition.

Proof of vaccination will be required for all staff, audiences, and filmmakers at NYFF59 venues. FLC requires all guests to maintain face coverings consistent with the current CDC guidelines inside their spaces regardless of vaccination status. Additionally, NYFF59 will adhere to a comprehensive series of health and safety policies in coordination with Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts and state and city medical experts, while adapting as necessary to the current health crisis. Visit filmlinc.org/safety for more information.

Presented by Film at Lincoln Center, the New York Film Festival highlights the best in world cinema and takes place September 24 – October 10, 2021. An annual bellwether of the state of cinema that has shaped film culture since 1963, the festival continues an enduring tradition of introducing audiences to bold and remarkable works from celebrated filmmakers as well as fresh new talent.

FILM AT LINCOLN CENTER

Film at Lincoln Center is dedicated to supporting the art and elevating the craft of cinema and enriching film culture.

Film at Lincoln Center fulfills its mission through the programming of festivals, series, retrospectives, and new releases; the publication of Film Comment; and the presentation of podcasts, talks, special events, and artist initiatives. Since its founding in 1969, this nonprofit organization has brought the celebration of American and international film to the world-renowned Lincoln Center arts complex, making the discussion and appreciation of cinema accessible to a broad audience and ensuring that it remains an essential art form for years to come.

Support for the New York Film Festival is generously provided by Official Partners HBO, Campari, The New York Times, and Vanity Fair’sAwards Insider; Benefactor Partners Netflix and Citi; Supporting Partners Topic Studios, Hearst, and Radeberger Pilsner; Contributing Partners Dolby, Turner Classic Movies, Manhattan Portage, NYC Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment, and UniFrance; and Media Partners Variety, Vulture, Deadline HollywoodThe Hollywood Reporter, WABC-7, The WNET Group, and IndieWire. American Airlines is the Official Airline of Film at Lincoln Center.

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