Review: ‘Women Talking,’ starring Rooney Mara, Claire Foy, Jessie Buckley, Judith Ivey, Ben Whishaw and Frances McDormand

December 3, 2022

by Carla Hay

Michelle McLeod, Sheila McCarthy, Liv McNeil, Jessie Buckley, Claire Foy, Kate Hallett, Rooney Mara and Judith Ivey in “Women Talking” (Photo by Michael Gibson/Orion Pictures)

“Women Talking”

Directed by Sarah Polley

Culture Representation: Taking place in 2010, in an unnamed part of the United States, the dramatic film “Women Talking” features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: At a patriarchal religious colony, the colony’s women have conflicts in deciding what to do next when almost all of the men in the colony have temporarily left because they are dealing with legal problems related to several of the colony’s men being arrested for drugging and raping the colony’s women and girls. 

Culture Audience: “Women Talking” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the Miriam Toews book on which the movie is based; the stars of the movie; and well-acted dramas about female empowerment in oppressive and misgoynistic environments.

Ben Whishaw, Rooney Mara and Claire Foy in “Women Talking” (Photo by Michael Gibson/Orion Pictures)

“Women Talking” is an accurate description for this tension-filled drama, because most of the movie centers on conversations rather than a lot of physical action. Sarah Polley directed and wrote the adapted screenplay of “Women Talking,” which is based on Miriam Toews’ 2018 novel of the same name. The movie comes across as a stage play in many areas, but it’s a worthy cinematic adaptation of the book, mostly because of the admirable performances from the talented cast members. The pacing is sluggish in some parts of the movie. However, viewer interest can be maintained if people are curious to see how the story is going to end.

The “Women Talking” movie, which is set in 2010 in an unnamed part of the U.S., makes some interesting and unexpected changes to the book, but largely remains faithful to the story’s plot. (The movie was actually filmed in Canada’s Ontario province.) “Women Talking” had its world premiere at the 2022 Telluride Film Festival in Colorado. The movie than made the rounds at several other film festivals in 2022, including the Toronto International Film Festival, the New York Film Festival and the BFI London Film Festival.

One of the main reasons why “Women Talking” looks so much like a stage play is that the movie is mostly confined to the rural and isolated property where this religious colony lives. Several of the movie’s best scenes take place in a hayloft, where crucial decisions (and several arguments) happen during a crisis that will affect the future of the colony. “Women Talking” is a fascinating psychological portrait of what oppression can do to people and how people can deal with trauma in different ways.

The movie begins with this statement: “What follows is an act of female imagination.” Even if viewers don’t know anything about the “Women Talking” book, the movie tells viewers in the first 10 minutes what the crisis is in this colony. Several men in the colony have been drugging and raping the colony’s women and girls. As a result, most of the men of the colony have been arrested, while the other men who have not been arrested have gone to the city to get the men bailed out and attend to other legal matters.

Before these rapes were discovered, the women and girls who were raped were told that by the men that their assault injuries were the work of ghosts or part of the rape victims’ imaginations. Much harder to explain were the underage pregnancies that resulted from these rapes with girls who were supposed to be virgins. Some of these rapes were also incestuous. Toews (who was raised as a Mennonite) has said in interviews that “Women Talking” was inspired by a real-life Mennonite colony in Bolivia, where several men were arrested in 2009 for drugging and raping the colony’s women and girls.

“Women Talking” never shows these rapes—only the aftermath. It’s a wise decision on the part of Polley and the other filmmakers, because what’s more important is for the movie to show how rape survivors can try to heal from the trauma instead of recreating the rapes in ways that could easily become exploitative. The movie never names the religion of this colony, but it’s implied that it’s an extremist Mennonite community, just like it is in the book.

In this community, the people are taught that the male gender is always superior to the female gender. The women of the colony are not allowed to get a formal education and don’t know how to read and write, whereas the men are allowed to be educated. The colony also preaches that anyone who disobeys what the men want will have eternal damnation in hell.

The women have an emergency meeting in a hayloft to vote on one of three options: (1) Stay and fight; (2) Leave; and (3) Do nothing. The first and second options get the most votes, but the votes are deadlocked in a tie. Most of “Women Talking” shows the women trying to break this stalemate by getting a majority vote for one of the options. Things are also complicated because some of the women have underage sons, so if the women choose to leave, they also have to decide if the boys will go with them.

There are three families involved in this grueling process:

Family #1

  • Agata Friesen (played by Judith Ivey), a level-headed matriarch, is emotionally torn because her two daughters have very different opinions about what to do.
  • Ona (played by Rooney Mara), Agata’s bachelorette eldest daughter who is pregnant by rape, is open-minded, believes in female empowerment, and is inclined to make the decision to leave.
  • Salome (played by Claire Foy), Agata’s married younger daughter, also believes in female empowerment, but outspoken and feisty Salome wants to stay and fight, because she’s furious about her 4-year-old daughter Miep (played by Emily Mitchell) being raped.
  • Neitje (played Liv McNeil), Agata’s granddaughter, who is in her mid-teens, is being raised by Salome because Neitje’s mother Mina (the younger sister of Ona and Salome) committed suicide after Neitje was raped.

Family #2

  • Greta Loewen (played by Sheila McCarthy) is a soft-spoken matriarch who is inclined to want to leave.
  • Mariche (played by Jessie Buckley), Greta’s elder married daughter who is sarcastic and cynical, wants to stay, but she is very skeptical that the women could win against the men in a fight.
  • Mejal (played by Michelle McLeod), Greta’s younger bachelorette daughter, is inclined to stay, and she’s considered the most rebellious and “unstable” of the group because she smokes cigarettes and sometimes has panic attacks.
  • Autje (played by Kate Hallett), Mariche’s daughter, who is about 13 years old, is the best friend of Neitje.

Family #3

  • Scarface Janz (played by Frances McDormand), a stern matriarch, is adamant about her decision to do nothing and firmly believes any other option will doom the women to an afterlife in hell.
  • Anna (played by Kira Guloien), Scarface’s adult daughter is quiet, passive, and seems to be living in fear of her domineering mother.
  • Helena (played Shayla Brown), Anna’s teenage daughter, just like Anna, doesn’t say much.

One of the movie’s departures from the book is that Neitje is the narrator, and she is speaking in the future to Ona’s child, who has now been born. Near the beginning of the movie, Neitje says in a voiceover narration: “I used to wonder who I would be if it hadn’t happened to me. I don’t care anymore.”

Only one man has been left behind on the property while the other men are in the city. His name is August Epp (played by Ben Whishaw), a kind and gentle teacher who has been allowed to come back to the colony to teach the boys of the colony. August spent most of his childhood in the colony, but when he was a boy, his parents were excommunicated from the colony for questioning the authority of the colony’s leaders. August helps the women by taking notes during the meeting and doing any other reading and writing that the women might need.

August has an additional motivation to help the women: He’s been in love with Ona for years, but she just wants August as a friend. August stays neutral during the women’s arguments and debates. However, it’s very obvious that he wants to be wherever Ona is.

Also part of the story is a mild-mannered teenager named Nettie (played by August Winter), who likes taking care of the colony’s younger kids. Nettie identifies as a transgender male who prefers to be called Melvin. (Winter is non-binary in real life.) Because this colony is isolated from the rest of society, the colony members (including Melvin) don’t know what transgender means, so many of the colony members treat Melvin as a girl who likes to dress and wear her hair like a boy.

Because this colony is very insular and doesn’t believe in using modern technology or cars, “Women Talking” often looks like it takes place in the mid-20th century. The biggest indication that the movie takes place in the 21st century is when a census employee drives his truck on the road near the property and uses a speaker to remind the residents to take the 2010 census. The Monkees’ 1968 hit “Daydream Believer” memorably plays on the speaker and is heard again later in the movie during the end credits.

The colony’s women hide themselves inside buildings when this census employee drives by, but Neitje and Autje run to the truck to have a friendly chat with the census taker. Things aren’t so friendly inside and outside the hayloft, as the debate continues over what to do, and as time is running out before the colony’s men return to the property. Some of the women think that if they stay, they can demand new rules for the colony, such as the right to be educated and to be treated equally. Others think the women and children are better off leaving and starting a new community on their own.

In this showcase for powerhouse acting talent, Foy and Buckley have the flashiest roles as the women who clash with each other the most. Salome is filled with defiance and rage and shouts things like, “I will burn in hell before I allow another man to satisfy his urges with the body of my 4-year-old daughter!” Mariche raises her voice too, but she also expresses her anger in some “are you insane” expressions on her face that are very entertaining to watch.

Whishaw’s sensitive and nuanced performance is thoroughly believable and sometimes heartbreaking, as August experiences unrequited love. Because he is the primary teacher the boys of the colony (who are all homeschooled), there are glimmers of hope that these boys will be raised to have more respect for women and girls than how they were taught before August returned to the colony. Rooney’s performance as Ona, who speaks in calm and measured tones, is very good, but Ona is often overshadowed by the sassiness of Salome and Mariche.

One aspect of “Women Talking” that might disappoint some viewers is that McDormand is only in the movie for less than 15 minutes. She’s one of the producers of “Women Talking” and shares top billing, but her on-screen appearance in the movie—although effective—still doesn’t seem like enough for someone McDormand’s high caliber of talent. In the production notes for “Women Talking,” McDormand explains: “I did not option the book with the idea of acting in the film, I optioned it because I wanted to produce a film based on the book, with Dede [Gardner, one of the producers] and Sarah [Polley]. But I love Scarface dramaturgically.”

Even with all the friction and arguments between the women, Polley’s thoughtful direction never lets the movie devolve into a “catfight” story. The women might not know how to read and write, but they are very articulate in exposing their wants, needs, hopes and dreams. Luc Montpellier’s brown-tinged cinematography in “Women Talking” might look dull to some viewers, but it’s supposed to be a reflection of the drab existence that the colony’s women have experienced for too long. Observant viewers will notice that scenes that have more hopeful emotions have more vibrant lighting.

“Women Talking” is not a man-bashing film, as some people might mistakenly think it is. It’s a movie against gender oppression and against sexual violence. The villains of the story are not given the type of agency and screen time that other filmmakers would choose to put in their version of “Women Talking.”

“Women Talking” is not the type movie that people will quickly forget after watching it. Whether people like or dislike the movie, “Women Talking” is the type of film that will inspire thought-provoking discussions for viewers. And that’s an indication of cinematic art that can make an impact.

Orion Pictures will release “Women Talking” in select U.S. cinemas on December 23, 2022, with an expansion to more U.S. cinemas on January 20, 2023.

Review: ‘All the Beauty and the Bloodshed,’ starring Nan Goldin

November 25, 2022

by Carla Hay

A 1970s photo of Nan Goldin (pictured at left) in Boston, with her then-roommate Bea, in “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed” (Photo courtesy of Neon)

“All the Beauty and the Bloodshed”

Directed by Laura Poitras

Culture Representation: The documentary film “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed” features a predominantly white group of people (with one African American and one Asian) discussing the life and career of New York City-based artist/photographer Nan Goldin, who became an activist speaking out against the wealthy pharmaceutical Sackler family’s role in creating the opioid epidemic in the United States.

Culture Clash: Goldin (who is a recovering opioid addict) led protests and boycotts to remove the Sackler family name from prominent buildings, to have Sackler family donations rejected, and for the Sackler family to be held accountable for flooding the marketplace with prescription opioids, while also using her art and celebrity to express her greatest passions. 

Culture Audience: “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in learning more about Nan Goldin and how artists become activists.

Nan Goldin in a 1978 self-portrait in “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed” (Photo by Nan Goldin/Neon)

The documentary “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed” is a fusion of a revealing biography of photographer Nan Goldin and an impressive chronicle of her activism against pharmaceutical moguls, especially Purdue Pharma’s Sackler family, whom she blames for the opioid crisis. Goldin is very candid about being a recovering opioid addict and about other struggles in her life, including her mental health issues, her turbulent love life (such as being a domestic violence survivor of an ex-boyfriend), and her still-unresolved turmoil about the suicide of her older sister Barbara. “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed,” which was filmed mostly from 2017 to 2021, shows what happens when an artist does more than just talk about making a difference in social justice issues but actually becomes an agent for change in these issues.

Directed by Laura Poitras, “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed” had its world premiere at the 2022 Venice International Film Festival, where it became a rare documentary to win the Golden Lion, the festival’s top prize. “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed” has since made the rounds at several other festivals, including the Toronto International Film Festival, New York Film Festival, the Austin Film Festival and DOC NYC. It’s a documentary that covers a lot of issues, sometimes in a way that’s jumbled and messy, but no one would ever describe Goldin’s life as neat and tidy.

Goldin, who was born in 1953, is the narrator of the documentary, which jumps around in the timeline of her life story. Goldin has a gravelly voice that comes from years of smoking cigarettes, fast living and surviving traumatic experiences that would kill many other people. She comes across as jaded but hopeful, world-weary yet determined to fight for the causes that mean the most to her. The scenes of Goldin being an activist are interwoven with her telling stories about her personal life.

“All the Beauty and the Bloodshed” opens with a visually striking scene of a Goldin-led protest at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City on March 10, 2018. In this scene, dozens of protestors have gathered in a museum atrium to throw empty prescription bottles in a water fountain while chanting, “Temple of money, temple of greed!” and “Sacklers lie, people die!” The atrium is in a section of the museum named after the Sackler family, the wealthy American clan that owns Purdue Pharma and Mundipharma. Purdue Pharma is the manufacturer of OxyContin. The protesters have gathered to demand that the museum remove the Sackler family name from anywhere in the museum.

The protesters lie down on the floor to represent the people who died from overdoses of OxyContin and other prescription drugs. As far as the protestors are concerned, any the Sackler family’s donations and philanthropic actions are tainted by “blood money” generated from the millions of lives destroyed by addictions to OxyContin and other opioids manufactured and marketed by the Sackler family’s pharmaceutical businesses. The protesters are eventually escorted out by the museum’s security personnel, but the documentary shows what eventually resulted from these kinds of protests.

In 2017, Goldin and some of her colleagues founded Prescription Addiction Intervention Now (P.A.I.N.), a group dedicated to preventing and reducing harm from prescription drug addiction, as well as shaming the greedy people who over-sell and over-prescribe these highly addictive drugs to vulnerable people. “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed” documents how P.A.I.N. staged protests at museums in various international locations, including the Louvre in Paris; the Victoria & Albert Museum and the National Gallery in London; and the Guggenheim in New York City.

P.A.I.N. put pressure on these museums and other institutions to refuse donations from the Sackler family and to remove or prevent the Sackler name from anything associated with these institutions. This activism created worldwide awareness about the Sackler family putting the Sackler name on philanthropic causes, in the family’s attempts to deny or avoid responsibility for the opioid crisis. Goldin comments in the documentary about the Sackler family: “We will target their philanthropy. They have washed their blood money through the halls of museums and universities around the world.”

The U.S. government’s legal prosecutions of certain members of the Sackler family have been well-documented, but “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed” puts a spotlight on Goldin and P.A.I.N.’s grassroots work in getting this prosecution to even take place. This behind-the-scenes look has the added benefit of Goldin’s participation, because her narration gives a very personal and touch that would be missing if she had not been actively involved in making the documentary. Goldin and Poitras are among the producers of “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed.”

Early on in the documentary, Goldin comments: “It’s easy to make your life into a story. It’s harder to sustain real memories. The difference between the story and the real memory: The real experience has the smell and is dirty and is not wrapped up in simple endings. The real memories are what affects me now. Things can appear that you don’t want to see. You’re not safe.”

In “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed,” Goldin dredges up a lot of unsafe memories, beginning with her childhood, which she describes as living in a “claustrophobic suburb.” Goldin was born in Washington, D.C., but spent most of her childhood living in the Boston suburbs of Swampscott and Lexington in Massachusetts. Her father was Goldin’s father worked in broadcasting and was the chief economist for the Federal Communications Commission. Her mother was a traditional homemaker.

Goldin’s older sister Barbara, who was seven years older than Nan, was a lesbian and was shamed by their parents about her sexuality. It was during a time when homosexuality was considered a mental illness, so Barbara was forced into a psychiatric institution for a certain period of time. Goldin believes this institutionalization caused further damage to an already mentally fragile Barbara, whom Goldin says had depression and anxiety. Goldin remembers that their mother used to say about Barbara’s sexuality: “Don’t let the neighbors know.”

Goldin shares fond memories of Barbara, whom she considered to be more of a mother figure to her than their own biological mother. “Barbara had a wildness to her,” Goldin says. “You couldn’t hold her back … She trusted me with all of her secrets.”

Goldin also remembers Barbara’s talent for playing classical music on the piano. “You could always tell how she felt by how she played,” Goldin says. “I felt very close to her, but she was in and out of institutions for most of her childhood.”

Tragically, Barbara committed suicide in 1964, at the age of 18. Goldin says with some bitterness, “I heard my mother say, ‘Tell the children it was an accident.’ She didn’t want us to know the truth. That’s when it clicked.” Goldin says in the documentary that Barbara probably wouldn’t have committed suicide if Barbara had a support group for LGBTQ teenagers and other young people. Those support groups didn’t exist in most places in 1964.

By the age of 13 or 14, Goldin left home. At 16 years old, she was enrolled at Satya Community School in Lincoln, Massachusetts, when a school employee introduced Goldin to photography. Thus began Goldin’s lifelong passion for telling visual stories through photos. She began documenting her life in photos, long before it became a common way of life for people in the era of the Internet and social media.

By the time Goldin was in her late teens, she was living in Boston as part of an avant-garde artist scene that she chronicled in her photography. Long before drag queens became part of mainstream media, Goldin had a particular affinity of taking photos of drag queens and transgender women, many of whom were friends of hers. In the documentary, Goldin talks about being in awe of a transgender woman named Bea, who became Goldin’s friend and roommate. Goldin’s first solo exhibit in Boston was in 1973, when she was 20 years old.

Goldin eventually relocated to New York City, the center of the art world in the United States. Life wasn’t glamorous at all in those early years when she was a a struggling artist. Goldin talks about living in New York City’s seedy Bowery district and having a drug-fueled lifestyle that included abuse of cocaine and methamphetamine. To pay her bills, Goldin says she became a nightclub go-go dancer then later became a brothel prostitute.

Goldin says, “Sex work is one of the hardest jobs you could ever have.” She also mentions that she wanted to talk about her past as a sex worker in this documentary, in order to get ride of the stigma and shame that is often associated with sex work. Eventually, Goldin became a bartender at the women-controlled nightclub Tin Pan Alley, whose owner hired people who wanted to transition out of sex work. Author/playwright Darryl Pickney says that Tin Pan Alley was very racially integrated and cut across social class boundaries.

One of the people in the New York City art scene who had a bg influence on Goldin was Cookie Mueller, whom Goldin describes in the documentary as “the center of downtown life. “The mid-1980s was when I was closest to Cookie.” Their friendship changed somewhat after Mueller married Italian artist Vittorio Scarpati in 1987. Tragically, Mueller and Scarpati died of AIDS-related illneses, just two months apart in 1989.

The documentary includes footage of Goldin’s activism in AIDS causes, including working with fellow activist/artist David Wojnarowicz. They were both heavily involved in the AIDS activist group ACT Up. In the documentary, Goldin describes Wojnarowicz as “my spiritual guide, my political guide.” (The 2021 documentary “Wojnarowicz,” directed by Chris McKim, has more information.)

Goldin and Wojnarowicz worked on an AIDS-themed artist installation that was scheduled to be at the Artist Space Gallery in New York City’s Tribeca neighborhood from November 1989 to January 1991. However, the National Endowment of the Arts controversially cancelled its grant funding for the project after getting pressure from conservative religious groups. Goldin says of the AIDS installation: “It was about the loss of community and trying to keep people’s legacy alive.”

She describes her history of drug abuse in matter-of-facts terms. Goldin says that she went to rehab for the first time in 1988. For a period of time that she does not fully disclose, she says she was addicted to OxyContin, a drug that went on the market in 1996. Goldin says that she is now clean and sober, but she firmly believes that she and an untold number of OxyContin addicts were deliberately not properly informed by medical professionals about how addictive OxyContin is, because too many people were and still are getting rich from OxyContin sales.

Goldin, who identifies as queer, also opens up about her love life. She talks about being in an abusive relationship with a man called Brian, whom she says she dated from 1981 to 1984. “I fell in love with him,” Goldin comments. “We had very good sex, and that can keep people together for a long time. And then, we started fighting.” Their troubled relationship included domestic violence.

Goldin describes a trip that she and David took to Provincetown, Massachusetts (a popular vacation spot for LGBTQ people), and jealousy issues arose because Goldin says she fell in love with a woman during this trip and photographed this woman constantly. Goldin, who does not name the woman, describes her as an “oddball” who would wear pearls at the beach. Goldin says about the early-to-mid-1980s: “It was a time of freedom and possibility. That’s when I did my first slide shows.”

Although Goldin’s career was on the rise in the early-to-mid-1980s, her relationship with David wasn’t getting any better. Goldin says that David broke up with her because he found out “I’d been with this girl.” (Goldin does not name this other lover.) She goes on to say about David, “He punched me in the face repeatedly.” To add insult to injury, David burned a lot of Goldin’s photos.

Most victims of domestic violence would hide this abuse, but Goldin made the very bold and unusual decision to do a photo exhibit showing her bruised and battered face from the injuries that David inflicted on her during this vicious attack. These photos were included in her ongoing photography collection “The Ballad of Sexual Dependency,” which started out as a slide show exhibition and film in 1985, and then became a published book in 1986.

More than 700 photos are in “The Ballad of Sexual Dependency,” which Goldin describes in the documentary as “the struggle between autonomy and dependency.” “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed” includes many samples of Goldin’s work over the years, including photos from “The Ballad of Sexual Dependency”; “The Other Side,” a photo collection of drag queens from 1992- 2021; and “Sisters, Saints and Sibyls,” a photo collection from 2004 to 2021. The photos showcase Goldin’s penchant for documenting herself and other eccentrics in ways that can be gritty, glamorous or both.

In the documentary, Goldin gives a reminder that back in the 1970s and 1980s, she got a lot of resistance to her art because of sexism. She says many people told her, “Nobody photographs their own life.” And it was even rarer for women to want to make a living from this type of photography. Goldin says for some people who were born after the 1970s and 1980s, “It’s hard to understand that could’ve ever been radical.” Long before Instagram was even invented, Goldin was ahead of her time.

Because “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed” weaves in and out of telling Goldin’s stories about her personal life and her activism, the film editing sometimes gives the movie a rambling tone, but it never derails too far off course. One of the documentary’s highlights is a videoconference call in which Goldin and other people affected by OxyContin addiction confront David Sackler and his aunt Theresa Sackler (two of the Sackler family defendants named in many lawsuits) to give a victim/survivor statement. Even though the Sacklers were not allowed to respond to these statements during this conference call, it’s a powerful moment that contrasts the Sacklers’ emotional aloofness with these survivors’ emotional pain.

Goldin, who has never been married and doesn’t have children, has this to say about her personal life: “The relationships that have mattered the most to me for probably my whole life have been my friends.” The documentary gives the impression that most of Goldin’s closest friends are also her P.A.I.N. colleagues.

Some of the P.A.I.N. members interviewed in the documentary include P.A.I.N. deputy Megan Kapler, artist Maria Berrio, P.A.I.N. deputy Harrison “Harry” Cullen and psychiatrist Annatina Miescher. The documentary includes a segment about how some of the P.A.I.N. activists believe that they were stalked and spied on by people hired by the Sackler family. Kapler shares footage of an unidentified middle-aged man who followed her and photographed her without her consent. He also staked her out in his car outside of her home.

Other interviewees in the documentary include Ad Hoc Committee of Accountability attorney Mike Quinn, who does a lot of pro bono work for P.A.I.N.; Robert Suarez of the Urban Survivors Union, a non-profit support group for drug addicts; Artforum International magazine editor-in-chief David Velsaco; TruthPharm executive director Alexis Pleus; set designer/interior decorator Noemi Bonazzi; actress Sharon Niesp; writer Patrick Radden Keefe; and actress Maggie Smith.

“All the Beauty and the Bloodshed” also shows the next big initiative for P.A.I.N. is removing the stigma of doctors treating opioid addicts who are in clean needle programs. And one of the final scenes in the film shows P.A.I.N. raising $35,000 for Urban Survivors Union to purchase a machine that gives drug users an analysis of the content in their drugs. This machine does not encourage drug use but is aimed at preventing deaths when people unknowingly ingest drugs with lethal content.

People who know about Goldin before seeing “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed” might not be as surprised by her unique personality, her artistic talent and her unwavering commitment to the causes that she cares about the most. However, what will resonate with viewers the most is how someone who has experienced as many highs and lows as Goldin has can take those experiences and turn them into something positive that can help other people. No matter what type of backgrounds that people have, “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed” is an inspirational story that shows the true meaning of persistence and hope.

Neon released “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed” in New York City on November 23, 2022. The movie’s U.S. release expands to Los Angeles and San Francisco on December 2, 2022, with more cities added on December 9, 2022.

Review: ‘Bones and All,’ starring Taylor Russell, Timothée Chalamet and Mark Rylance

November 19, 2022

by Carla Hay

Taylor Russell and Timothée Chalamet in “Bones and All” (Photo by Yannis Drakoulidis/Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures)

“Bones and All”

Directed by Luca Guadagnino

Culture Representation: Taking place from 1988 to 1989, in various parts of the United States, the horror film “Bones and All” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few black people) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: After being abandoned by her single father, an 18-year-old loner who has a terrible secret (she’s a cannibal) becomes a nomad and falls in love with a young man who’s also a nomadic cannibal, and they go on a road trip where they feed their deadly desires.

Culture Audience: “Bones and All” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of stars Taylor Russell and Timothée Chalamet; filmmaker Luca Guadagnino; and gruesome horror movies that know how to make people squirm.

Taylor Russell and Mark Rylance in “Bones and All” (Photo by Yannis Drakoulidis/Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures)

“Bones and All” is more than just a gory horror film about a cannibal couple. The movie also has clever social commentary about the pitfalls of judging people by outward appearances. Taylor Russell and Timothée Chalamet portray the attractive young couple at the center of the movie, but supporting actor Mark Rylance steals the show with a creepy performance as a middle-aged cannibal with a sinister obsession. Sensitive viewers, be warned: “Bones and All” is not a cute horror romance. This movie has very explicit scenes showing human cannibalism.

Directed by Italian filmmaker Luca Guadagnino, “Bones and All” is his first movie filmed in the United States. Chalamet and Guadagnino previously worked together in 2017’s “Call Me by Your Name,” starring Chalamet in his Oscar-nominated breakout role as a 17-year-old American in Italy who falls in love with a 24-year-old American man who works as a college teaching assistant. “Bones and All” is based on the 2015 novel by Camille DeAngelis. David Kajganich wrote the “Bones and All” adapted screenplay. “Bones and All” had its world premiere at the 2022 Venice International Film Festival in Italy, where Guadagnino won the festival prize for Best Director, while Russell won the Marcello Mastroianni Award, a prize given to emerging actors and actresses.

Taking place in 1988 and 1989, “Bones and All” begins in 1988, in an unnamed U.S. state. Shy and introverted 18-year-old Maren Yearly (played by Russell), who is in her last year of high school, has been invited to a slumber party by a fellow student named Sherry (played by Kendle Coffey), who is a popular student in the school. Maren doesn’t have any close friends at this school, so she’s very surprised by this invitation. Maren tells Sherry that Maren’s overprotective father won’t allow her to go this party, but Sherry suggests that Maren sneak out f Maren’s home at night.

Maren takes this advice and goes to the slumber party, where the female teenagers in attendance are curious to know more about Maren, who is fairly new to the area. Maren and her father Frank Yearly (played by André Holland) have moved around a lot, and they currently live in a trailer in the working-class/poor part of town. Maren recently moved to the area from “the Eastern shore.” She tells the other girls at the party that she doesn’t have any memories of her mother, who abandoned Maren and Frank when Maren was a very young child.

Maren has a big secret about herself that will soon be exposed: She has an intense craving to eat human flesh. The party starts off as festive and friendly. However, Maren’s urges take over, and she suddenly lunges at Sherry and bites off one of Sherry’s fingers. While Sherry and the other partygoers scream in horror, Maren runs back to her home in a panic.

As soon as Frank sees that Maren has come home in a distressed state of mind, he immediately figures out that she snuck out against his wishes and has revealed her cannibal ways. It’s only a matter of time before the police show up at their door. Maren tells Frank that she’s sorry, but he is visibly annoyed and doesn’t want to hear any excuses.

Maren and Frank quickly pack up what they can and leave that night, with no intention of ever going back. Frank and Maren hide out and stay at a motel in Maryland for a few days. It’s not the first time they’ve had to suddenly leave an area because of Maren’s cannibalism.

One morning, Maren wakes up in the motel room and finds out that her father has abandoned her. Frank has left a note saying that he can no longer be around her because he doesn’t know how to deal with her anymore. Frank has also left behind these items for Maren to keep: Maren’s birth certificate, some cash and an audio tape of Frank’s diary-like messages.

In his farewell note, Frank asks Maren to destroy the tape after she’s finished listening to it. In his audio recordings, which Maren plays throughout the movie, Frank tells Maren that when she was 3 years old, she killed her babysitter. Frank covered up that crime and many other cannibal-related crimes committed by Maren. He says after the babysitter’s murder, he changed the family’s surname.

Now completely on her own and homeless, Maren spends the majority of the story as a nomad. Maren is deeply ashamed of being a cannibal, but she also won’t ignore her cannibalistic urges. And now that Maren has her birth certificate, she’s determined to find her mother, whose name is Janelle Kerns (played by Chloë Sevigny).

One night, Maren is out on the street when she meets a soft-spoken, eccentric man named Sully (played by Rylance), who tells her that he’s a cannibal too. Sully says that he knew that Maren is a cannibal because cannibals can smell each other. He also tells Maren that he can tell that Maren has not eaten human flesh in months.

Sully, who is middle-aged and speaks in a Southern drawl, has a very unusual appearance of wearing long, braided hair and a fisherman’s vest. Later, viewers find out that Sully has a gruesome fascination with braided hair: After he eats a human, he takes the dead person’s hair, braids it, and keeps it in a collection.

Knowing that Maren is hungry for human flesh, Sully invites her to go with him to a house where a dying, elderly woman lives alone. Upstairs in her bedroom, the woman is barely conscious. Sully tells Maren that he found the woman in this condition. Sully convinces Maren that if they kill the woman, it will be a mercy killing. And you can imagine what happens next.

Sully tells her a few things about cannibal life that Maren did not know: He says that the most important rule is that cannibals should not eat other cannibals. Sully also warns Maren that her cravings for human flesh will increase as she gets older.

Sully lives in a small, unassuming house. He invites Maren to stay with him for as long as she wants. At first, Sully gives the impression that he wants be a protective father figure to Maren. But it soon becomes apparent that Sully is sexually attracted to Maren and will eventually expect them to be more than friends. Maren knows it too, which is why she secretly gets on a bus to leave the area without saying goodbye to Sully.

The bus is going to Minnesota. Maren’s plan is to eventually travel to Ohio, the state where Maren has her mother’s last-known address. Along the way, she meets another wayward cannibal named Lee (played by Chalamet), who’s a runaway in his late teens. He’s originally from Kentucky and has been living on his own since he was 17. Lee has a truck that he stole from one of his victims: a bachelor named Barry Cook from Centerville, Indiana. Lee invites Maren to travel with him, and they take turns driving.

Lee is not as conflicted as Maren about giving in to his cannibalistic urges. He also tells Maren that he prefers to kill someone who lives alone so he can steal that person’s car and other belongings. As if to justify his crimes, Lee says he usually chooses victims who do something awful to show Lee that these victims “deserve” to be killed.

Lee knew that murder victim Barry lived alone, so he and Maren go to Barry’s home to look for things to steal. Because the vehicles that Lee steals will eventually be reported stolen, he says that’s the motivation he needs to find and kill other people who have cars that he can steal. It’s a vicious cycle that puts Lee and Maren at great risk of getting caught.

Maren isn’t entirely comfortable with what Lee does, but she goes along with everything because she’s lonely and very attracted to him. Lee and Maren become friends and eventually lovers during their extended road trip. During this trip (which takes them to states such as Missouri and Iowa), Lee and Maren experience a lot of highs and lows.

Over time, Lee and Maren share some of their previous cannibal experiences. Lee says that his first cannibal victim as his babysitter. He remembers feeling a like a “superhero’ the first time that he killed and ate her. Maren shares an experience she had when she was 8 years old and went on a camping trip, where a boy was one of her victims.

A memorable part of the movie is when Lee and Maren encounter two other middle-aged cannibals named Jake (played by Michael Stuhlbarg) and Brad (played by David Gordon Green). Over a campfire, Jake and Brad tell Lee and Maren that eating a body, “bones and all,” can give a cannibal an ecstatically powerful feeling like no other. Stuhlbarg, who co-starred with Chalamet in “Call Me by Your Name,” has a much smaller role in “Bones and All,” but his screen time in the movie is still meaningful.

One of the most pivotal parts of “Bones and All” takes place at a carnival, where Lee decides to target a booth worker (played by Jake Horowitz), for reasons that are shown in the movie. This experience is a turning point, because it’s the first time that Maren sees firsthand what Lee is capable of doing. She has to decide if it’s worth staying with him, or if she should continue her journey on her own.

“Bones and All” has stellar acting and a few surprises that make this movie better than the average horror flick. Russell and Chalamet are believable as an emotionally damaged couple who find comfort with each other but are always on edge because of the terrible secrets that they have to keep. Lee and Maren make an interesting pair who are opposites in some ways. Maren is quiet and doesn’t like to call attention to herself, while talkative Lee (with his magenta-streaked hair) has a way about him that practically screams, “Look at me!”

Unlike Maren, whose parents abandoned her, Lee has chosen to abandon his family. Lee has a backstory involving his turbulent relationship with his younger sister Kayla (played by Anna Cobb), who has a lot of resentment toward Lee for leaving the family. Lee confides in Maren that he feels guilty about leaving Kayla behind when he had promised her that he would give her driving lessons.

Chalamet (who is one of the producers of “Bones and All”) is perfectly fine in the role of a troubled young rebel, but it’s the type of character that’s been seen and done in many other movies and TV shows. Russell has the more difficult role, since Maren is very guarded and insecure about her feelings and not a typical wisecracking or sweet ingenue character that would usually be the female love interest in this type of story. Russell capably expresses many emotions through facial expressions and body language because Maren is often afraid of saying what she’s thinking out loud.

And although Sully is not in most of “Bones and All,” his scenes in the movie are what might disturb people the most. Rylance is riveting as this utterly sleazy character, who deliberately disarms people into thinking that he’s just a harmless oddball. On a different level, Lee is a con artist too, because he presents himself as a down-on-his-luck charmer to his victims, who are fooled into thinking that he won’t hurt them.

“Bones and All” has a total running time of 130 minutes, which is a little long for a movie that could have easily been a little under two hours. Although a few scenes in “Bones and All” weren’t entirely necessary, the overall film will still leave a big impression on people. One of the movie’s biggest strengths is that it could have ended in many predictable ways, but it has a twist that many viewers won’t see coming. “Bones and All” goes down a path that will no doubt upset some viewers, but it’s bold enough to not take the easy way out in how to end this grisly and often-heartbreaking story.

Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures released “Bones and All” in select U.S. cinemas on November 18, 2022, with an expansion to more U.S. cinemas on November 23, 2022.

Review: ‘The Inspection,’ starring Jeremy Pope, Raúl Castillo, McCaul Lombardi, Aaron Dominguez, Bokeem Woodbine and Gabrielle Union

November 18, 2022

by Carla Hay

Jeremy Pope and Raúl Castillo in “The Inspection” (Photo by Patti Perret/A24)

“The Inspection”

Directed by Elegance Bratton

Culture Representation: Taking place in 2003, on Parris Island, South Carolina, and briefly in New York City, the dramatic film “The Inspection” features a racially diverse cast of characters (African American, white, Latino and Middle Eastern) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: Based on a true story, a 26-year-old African American gay man enlists in the U.S. Marines to escape from homelessness, and he has to deal with rampant homophobia and bullying during his boot camp training. 

Culture Audience: “The Inspection” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of stars Jeremy Pope, Gabrielle Union and well-acted dramas about LGBTQ people in the U.S. military.

Bokeem Woodbine and McCaul Lombardi in “The Inspection” (Photo by Josiah Rundles/A24)

Even when “The Inspection” becomes a little too repetitive in its drama, the movie shines brightest where it matters the most. Elegance Bratton tells a very authentic, heartfelt story of homophobia that he experienced inside and outside the U.S. military. The movie is based on Bratton’s real-life triumphs and traumas during his boot camp training in the U.S. Marines. There have been other movies about LGBTQ people who tried to hide their sexualities in the military, but “The Inspection” is a rare movie were the gay protagonist in the military is an African American cisgender man.

Bratton wrote and directed “The Inspection” as a semi-autobiographical film where the protagonist goes through many of the same things that Bratton went through in real life. Several characters are based on real people, while some characters are fictional. “The Inspection” had its world premiere at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival and its U.S. premiere at the 2022 New York Film Festival.

The movie takes place in 2003, during the era when the U.S. military banned any sexuality that isn’t heterosexual, but there was a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy when it came to disclosure of the sexualities of people in the U.S. military. In the beginning of the movie, Ellis French (played by Jeremy Pope), who prefers to be called French, is a 26-year-old homeless man. He lives in New York City, and he has been homeless for about 10 years. When he was 16 years old, his very homophobic mother Inez French (played by Gabrielle Union) kicked him out of their home because French (who is an only child) is gay. All of this happened to Bratton in real life, as he has said in many interviews.

French has no other relatives he can turn to for support. He never knew his father, who abandoned Inez when she was pregnant with French. French has a tight-knit group of friends, many of whom are also openly queer, but he’s become tired of having an unstable and dangerous lifestyle on the streets. It’s mentioned at one point in the movie that some of his friends have died from violent crimes, while others have died from AIDS, and others are in prison.

French doesn’t want to end up in any of these situations. His mother Inez works as a corrections officer at a prison, and she already thinks that French is a major disappointment. French does not want to risk doing anything that could further alienate his mother. French goes to his mother’s apartment unannounced to ask her for his birth certificate. Why? French has decided that he’s going to enlist in the U.S. Marines to receive training in a career so he won’t have to be homeless anymore.

Inez and French have been estranged for years, but French never stops wanting his mother’s love and acceptance. When he shows up at her door, she’s not happy to see him, because she knows he’s homeless. Inez immediately asks French, “Are you in trouble?” Inez mentions that she’s been getting “notice to appear” courtroom documents addressed to him in the mail. He tells her about his life as a homeless person: “You have no idea how hard it’s been … Something has to change.”

When French tells her the reason for the visit, Inez laughs at the thought of French committing to something as demanding and strict as the military. She is also skeptical that French will be able to hide the fact that he’s gay. “What about your lifestyle?” she asks, as an indication that she thinks homosexuality is a choice.

At first, Inez doesn’t want to give him his birth certificate, but she eventually does when she sees that French is serious, and he’s not going to change his mind. Even though the vast majority of “The Inspection” takes place during French’s training on Parris Island, South Carolina, he continues to make attempts to connect with his mother in New York. His attempts are usually rejected.

When French is at his former home with his mother, she tells him exactly what she thinks about French: “I made peace with losing you.” When she gives him the birth certificate, Inez tells French: “This piece of paper is all I have left of the son I have birth to. If you don’t come back, consider this birth certificate void.” There are indications that Inez has misguided hope that somehow, being in the military will turn French into a heterosexual.

French is so determined to leave his homeless life behind, before he leaves for boot camp, he gives his cell phone to an elderly homeless man named Shamus (played by Tyler Merritt), who was French’s friend on the streets. Shamus, who calls himself an “old queen,” comments to French about French’s enrollment in the U.S. Marines: “You don’t have to do this. You can be anything you want to be.” French replies, “You and I both know that’s not true.” Shamus adds with stern words of encouragement, “I better not see you back here.”

French’s boot camp training is depicted exactly how you think it will go, based on how boot camp has been portrayed in many other movies and TV shows. There’s the shouting, macho drill sergeant, who uses his superior position to bully new recruits, especially those he thinks are the weakest emotionally and physically. This cruel tyrant is named Laws (played by Bokeem Woodbine), who constantly hurls abusive insults and who looks the other way when his underlings physically assault each other in their attempts to impress Laws and each other.

Laws, who is in his 40s, served in Operation Desert Storm. He the type of drill sergeant who snarls at his underlings: “I hate recruits, but I love Marines.” Later, in another scene, Laws says, “We don’t make Marines. We make monsters.” Although “The Inspection” has many emotionally raw and realistic-looking scenes, the movie occasionally falters with these types of corny statements from Laws.

Even though the U.S. military has a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in 2003, Laws breaks that policy by yelling at French in front of his fellow recruits: “Are you now or have you ever been a homosexual?” French is afraid of “outing” himself, so he shouts back, “No, sir!” It’s a lie that will eventually be exposed.

In addition to having a mean-spirited drill sergeant, another predictable aspect of “The Inspection” is the protagonist having a jealous rival, who is also a bully. His name is Harvey (played by McCaul Lombardi), who is very competitive and wants to be the “alpha male” of the recruits. Harvey expresses his homophobic views early on in the boot camp process. There are also big hints that Harvey (who is white) is racist against people who aren’t white. Harvey’s ego gets even more inflated when Laws appoints Harvey as the squad leader of the recruits.

At first, French thinks he can hide his sexuality, in order to avoid homophobic bullying and possible expulsion from the military. When the other recruits talk about their girlfriends and wives, French pretends that he has a female love interest too. The “special woman” he’s writing letters to is really French’s dismissive mother Inez.

French’s secret about being gay is eventually revealed when he and several other recruits (ncluding Harvey) are in a public shower. French starts thinking of a sexual fantasy about a good-looking drill sergeant in his 40s named Rosales (played by Raúl Castillo), who is Laws’ second-in-command. And the next thing French knows, his fellow recruits have noticed that French has an erection. French makes a half-hearted attempt to deny that he’s gay, but the secret is out. It gives Harvey and the rest of the homophobes even more of a reason to target French.

And so, for most of the movie, French is either shunned or abused (including beatings) by Harvey and some other recruits for being gay. Laws finds out and does nothing to stop this cruelty. In fact, when French tries to stand up for himself and threatens to report this abuse, Laws lets it be known that he hates snitches. Considering that Laws will be the one to decide which recruits will graduate from the training program, it puts French in a very precarious and vulnerable situation.

There are some bright spots to French’s traumatic and bleak experiences as a bullied recruit. He befriends another “outsider” recruit named Ismail (played by Eman Esfandi), who is harassed and insulted for being of Middle Eastern/Islamic heritage, during a time after 9/11 when hatred against Middle Eastern and Islamic people was encouraged in the U.S. war against Iraq and Afghanistan. Ismail is one of the few people who’s willing to stick up for French when things get very rough.

Another recruit named Castro (played by Aaron Dominguez) doesn’t really befriend French, but Castro doesn’t fully participate in the bullying against French either. Castro is someone who “goes along to get along” and tries to stay under the radar and not alienate anyone. But there’s a pivotal scene in the movie where Castro is forced to take a side, and he has to make a decision that will test his ethics and show his true character.

The person in the Marines who has the biggest emotional impact on French is drill sergeant Rosales, who is battling some personal demons of his own. Rosales wants to be a friendly mentor to French. However, French is sexually attracted to Rosales and wants a physically intimate relationship with him. Rosales is in a troubled marriage to a woman and is conflicted about his own sexuality. You can probably guess what that means in terms of the movie’s plot development.

French is often underestimated as being a “sissy,” but he proves to be a resilient and physically adept recruit who’s a fast learner. As his skills improve in the boot camp challenges, so does his confidence. And that’s a problem for Harvey, who doesn’t like to see French excel. Harvey is a stereotypical “villain” in this movie that doesn’t give him much of a backstory.

“The Inspection” greatly benefits from having a very talented cast, with Pope, Union and Castillo giving the standout performances. Their respective characters are also the best-written in the movie as fully formed human beings, instead of shallow stereotypes. Even with all the blood, sweat and tears that French experiences during boot camp, Pope’s soul-stirring performance never lets viewers forget that French’s real heartbreak comes from being rejected by his mother.

Union doesn’t have very many scenes in the movie, but when she’s on screen, she brings depth to her Inez character. Inez has self-righteousness about her homophobia because Inez genuinely believes that French’s sexuality means that he’s doomed to be in hell on Earth and elsewhere. Her anger toward French has other reasons too: As a single mother who had financial struggles in raising him, she somewhat blames him for giving her a harder life than she thinks she deserves.

Castillo’s Rosales character doesn’t talk much, but Rosales does a very credible job of expressing Rosales’ inner turmoil. Rosales is a good listener and observer who, unlike Laws, has a compassionate side. One of the best scenes in “The Inspection” is when Rosales asks French why French puts up with all the abuse he’s getting in boot camp and why French wants to be a Marine. This scene is partially shown in the movie’s trailer.

French candidly replies, “I’ve been raising myself since I was 16. My mom won’t even talk to me, If I die in this uniform, I’m a hero to somebody.” Although the story in “The Inspection” is mostly limited to French’s boot camp experiences, the movie shows some hints that French is a talented camera operator—a foreshadowing of Bratton’s future career as a filmmaker. In real life, Bratton got his first experiences in filmmaking as a camera operator in the U.S. Marines.

“The Inspection” doesn’t have a lot of dazzle or artsiness in the movie’s cinematography because this emotionally gritty film doesn’t need it. This is not a movie where people should expect to see a lot of insight into anything other than the world as French sees it in this specific period of his life. Viewers will feel his isolation in the midst of being surrounded by people.

This movie isn’t about how U.S. Marines prepared for war in the Middle East in the early 2000s. It’s about how people can be at war with themselves and their insecurities. “The Inspection” has moments of despair and hope in telling this memorable story. The movie also effectively shows how sometimes a person’s biggest strength is having nothing left to lose.

A24 released “The Inspection” in select U.S. cinemas on November 18, 2022, with an expansion to more U.S. cinemas on December 2, 2022. The movie will be released on digital and VOD on December 22, 2022.

Review: ‘EO,’ starring Sandra Drzymalska, Lorenzo Zurzolo, Mateusz Kosciukiewicz and Isabelle Huppert

November 15, 2022

by Carla Hay

EO (played by Tako) in “EO” (Photo courtesy of Janus Films and Sideshow)

“EO”

Directed by Jerzy Skolimowski

Polish, Italian and French with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Poland and Italy, the dramatic film “EO” features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A former circus donkey named EO experiences highs and lows and different levels of freedom and captivity during his travels. 

Culture Audience: “EO” will appeal primarily to people interested in an emotionally moving film that follows the life of a specific animal for a certain period of time.

Lorenzo Zurzolo and EO (played by Tako) in “EO” (Photo courtesy of Janus Films and Sideshow)

“EO,” a dramatic film made to look like a documentary, tells the fascinating and sometimes-harrowing story of a lovable donkey named EO, whose life becomes uncertain after losing his circus home. The “EO” film is so impressive with its realism, some viewers might think that it’s a non-fiction movie. Of course, one of the biggest indications that “EO” is a fictional film is that Oscar-nominated French actress Isabelle Huppert has a role as a fictional character in the movie. Her screen time in “EO” is less than 15 minutes, but she makes her screen time very memorable, as she almost always does in her on-screen roles.

Directed by Jerzy Skolimowski (who co-wrote the “EO” screenplay with Ewa Piaskowska), “EO” is filmed cinéma vérité-style, shown entirely from EO’s perspective. “EO” had its world premiere at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival, where the movie won the Jury Prize and Cannes Soundtrack Award for Best Composer. “EO” composer Pawel Mykietyn’s score is certainly the musical soul of the film, because there are some sections of the movie with no human dialogue. “EO”—which also screened at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival and the 2022 New York Film Festival—is Poland’s official entry for Best International Feature Film consideration for the 2023 Academy Awards.

“EO” begins in Poland, where is EO performing in a circus tent with his handler, an actress named Kasandara (played by Sandra Drzymalska), who treats EO with kindness and respect. Kasandra’s boyfriend is a circus co-worker named Wasyl (played by Maciej Stepniak), who is controlling and mean-spirited. An early scene in the movie shows Wasyl hitting EO because he doesn’t think EO is moving fast enough. Sensitive viewers be warned: There’s even worse animal cruelty later on in the movie.

The circus is under pressure because animal-rights activists are protesting outside while the circus operates. The activists want the circus to be shut down because they think that circuses and carnivals have rampant animal torture and other animal abuse. Early on in the movie, the circus goes bankrupt, so all the circus’ animals are repossessed. Kasandra is devastated.

The rest of “EO” shows what happens in EO’s life as he goes from place to place. His journey takes him from Poland to Italy. And his travels include living on a farm; being a stray animal; encountering a truck driver named Mateo (played by Mateusz Kościukiewicz); and befriending a young nomad named Vito (played by Lorenzo Zurzolo), who is training to be a priest and has a history of being the lover of an unnamed wealthy countess, played by Huppert.

There’s a lot more that happens in the movie, but it’s best if people know as little as possible about “EO” except the basic concept of the film and why EO ended up as a donkey without a permanent home. Viewers will be swept up in the suspense over what will happen to EO. And although it’s not really accurate to say that the movie’s donkey (whose real name is Tako) is acting, he certainly shows enough personality for viewers to feel empathy for him.

One of the standout characteristics of “EO” is the stunning cinematography by Michal Dymek. Many of the scenes are drenched in rich hues, such as red and blue, making the movie sometimes look like a very artsy nature documentary. And because the camera angles are often from the donkey’s perspective, viewers will get EO’s outlook on the contrasting beauty and horror at that exists this world for animals that are treated like property instead of like a member of Earth’s ecosystem family.

“EO” isn’t a completely perfect film, because the movie is occasionally slow-paced and has scenes that seem to drag on a little longer than necessary. However, the point of “EO” is that life for animals (especially when living in harsh conditions) can often be depressing and dull by human standards, even if the animals are surrounded by a gorgeous landscape. This isn’t the type of fantasy movie where a stray animal has to find a home and almost every scene is an adventure scene. “EO” is a striking and effective reminder that how we treat animals represents the best and worst of humanity.

Janus Films and Sideshow will release “EO” in select U.S. cinemas on November 18, 2022.

Review: ‘Armageddon Time,’ starring Anne Hathaway, Jeremy Strong, Banks Repeta, Jaylin Webb and Anthony Hopkins

October 30, 2022

by Carla Hay

Banks Repeta and Anthony Hopkins in “Armageddon Time” (Photo courtesy of Anne Joyce/Focus Features)

“Armageddon Time”

Directed by James Gray

Culture Representation: Taking place in 1980 in New York City, the dramatic film “Armageddon Time” (inspired by director James Gray’s own childhood) features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: An 11-year-old, middle-class Jewish boy, who befriends a working-class African American boy from school, learns some of life’s harsh lessons about bigotry and privilege. 

Culture Audience: “Armageddon Time” will appeal primarily to people interested in retro movies that explore the loss of innocence in childhood.

Jaylin Webb and Banks Repeta in “Armageddon Time” (Photo courtesy of Focus Features)

The talented cast’s performances elevate “Armageddon Time,” a drama that apparently wants to condemn racism, antisemitism and social class snobbery. Ultimately, the movie doesn’t have anything new to say about people who enable these types of bigotry. The cast members’ acting should maintain most viewers’ interest, but parts of “Armageddon Time” (written and directed by James Gray) might annoy or bore viewers who feel like they’ve seen this type of “loss of childhood innocence experienced by a future movie director” many times already.

That’s because there have been several movie directors who’ve done movies based on their real childhoods, with the childhood versions of themselves as the protagonists of the movies. In these semi-autobiographical or autobiographical films, these directors depict their childhood selves as inquisitive, imaginative and often misunderstood by many people around them. The child has at least one parent who usually doesn’t encourage the child’s artistic inclinations, because the parent thinks it’s not a good career choice to be any type of artist.

All of these clichés are in “Armageddon Time,” Gray’s dramatic retelling of what his life was like for a pivotal two-month period when he was 11 years old. “Armageddon Time”—which takes place from September to November 1980, mostly in New York City’s Queens borough—can be considered semi-autobiographical, because the characters in the movie are based on real people without using the real people’s names, except for members of Donald Trump’s family. At a certain point in the movie, viewers can easily predict where this movie is going and what it’s attempting to say.

However, because the cast members deliver good performances and have believable chemistry with each other, “Armageddon Time” has moments that can be entertaining and compelling. “Armageddon Time” had its world premiere at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival in France. The movie then made the rounds at several other film festivals in 2022, including the Telluride Film Festival in Colorado, the Zurich Film Festival in Switzerland, and the New York Film Festival in New York City.

The story is told from the perspective of 11-year-old Paul Graff (played by Banks Repeta, also known as Michael Banks Repeta), who has talent for drawing illustrations of people. Paul has a mischievous side where he makes caricatures or illustration parodies of people he knows. He’s also a science-fiction enthusiast who has created an original superhero character named Captain United.

In the beginning of the movie, it’s September 8, 1980—Paul’s first day of school as a sixth grader at P.S. 173, a public school in Queens. One of the first things that happens in a classroom led by a cranky teacher named Mr. Turkeltaub (played by Andrew Polk) is that Mr. Turkeltaub has found a drawing that depicts him as a turkey. An infuriated Mr. Turkeltaub demands to know who made the drawing, and Paul eventually confesses that he did it.

Just a few minutes later, a classmate named Johnny Davis (played by Jaylin Webb) tells a harmless joke as a reply to the teacher’s question. Johnny’s flippant response gets Mr. Turkeltaub even angrier. He hisses at Johnny as he points to Johnny’s head, “You’ve got nothing up here.” Johnny snaps back, “Look who taught me.”

Paul and Johnny both get mild punishments for their disobedience, as Mr. Turkeltaub orders them to clean the chalkboard in the classroom. Johnny and Paul become very fast friends from this shared bonding experience. Their friendship is defined by a lot of the rebellious things that they do together.

Johnny and Paul also share a passion for outer space. Johnny dreams of becoming an astronaut for NASA, while Paul wants to illustrate comic books about space travel. Although both boys talk about a lot of things with each other immediately, they’re not as up front about each other’s home lives when they first meet.

Paul’s family is middle-class, but he lies to Johnny by saying that his family is rich. Johnny, who doesn’t like to talk about his parents, comes from a low-income household and lives with his grandmother (played by Marjorie Johnson, in a quick cameo), whom Johnny describes as “forgetful.” (It’s implied that she has dementia.) Eventually, Johnny opens up to Paul about what’s really going on with him at home, but Paul keeps up the lie about his parents being rich for as long as Paul can keep telling this lie.

Paul’s tight-knit family at home consists of his energetic mother Esther Graff (played by Anne Hathaway), who is the president of P.S. 173’s Parent Teacher Association; his stern father Irving Graff (played by Jeremy Strong), who is an engineer; and Paul’s smug older brother Ted Graff (played by Ryan Sell), who is about 15 years old and almost the opposite of Paul. Ted is a popular, outgoing student at his private school, and he gets good grades. Paul is introverted, somewhat of a loner, and an average student, even though he has the intelligence to get better grades in school. Paul is much closer to his mother than he is to his father, who has a bad temper and tells Paul that being an artist is not a wise occupation.

Frequent visitors to the Graff home for family dinners are Paul’s grandparents, aunts and uncles. Esther’s father Aaron Rabinowitz (played by Anthony Hopkins), who is from the United Kingdom, is Paul’s favorite of these relatives. Grandfather Aaron is kind and patient with Paul, who feels like Aaron is the only family member who truly accepts Paul for who Paul is. Aaron is also the only one in this family who teaches Paul the realities of antisemitism and racism and how not to be a bigot.

Many of the Graff/Rabinowitz family members, including Aaron, are originally from Europe and survivors of the Holocaust. Aaron’s mother was a Ukrainian refugee who eventually settled in England. Aaron and his wife Mickey Rabinowitz (played by Tovah Feldshuh) are both retired schoolteachers. Other relatives who are in the story are Paul’s aunt Ruth (played by Marcia Haufrecht) and uncle Louis (played by Teddy Coluca), who are both very opinionated.

Family conversations around the dining room table reveal that although members of this family have experienced prejudice for being Jewish, many of the adult family members are racists who don’t like black people. Some of the family members are more blatant about this racism than others. Aaron is the only adult in the family who doesn’t come across as some kind of bigot or difficult person. He’s not saintly, but the movie depicts Aaron as the only adult who comes closest to having a lot of wisdom and a strong moral character.

Meanwhile, at school, Johnny and Paul get into some more mischief. In Mr. Turkeltaub’s class, Johnny tends to get punishment that’s worse than what Paul gets. Johnny is a year older than his classmates because he’s had to repeat sixth grade. Johnny usually get blamed first by Mr. Turkeltaub if there’s any student trouble in the classroom.

It doesn’t help that Johnny sometimes curses at the teacher in response to being singled out as a troublemaker, whereas Paul tends not to go that far with his disrespect for authority. However, Mr. Turkeltaub seems to deliberately pick on Johnny to get him angry. There are racial undertones to the way that Mr. Turkeltaub treats Johnny, who is one of the few African American students in the class.

Through a series of events and circumstances that won’t be revealed in this review, Paul transfers to the same private school where Ted is a student: Kew-Forest School, located in the affluent neighborhood of Forest Hills, Queens. Paul is very unhappy about this transfer because he will no longer get to see Johnny at school. Paul also experiences culture shock, because most of the students come from upper-middle-class and wealthy families.

Members of the real-life Trump family are major financial donors to Kew-Forest School and sometimes stop by the school to make speaking appearances to the assembled students. “Armageddon Time” shows Fred Trump (Donald Trump’s father, played by John Diehl) and Maryanne Trump (Donald Trump’s older sister, played by Jessica Chastain) in cameos, as they give condescending lectures disguised as pep talks at Kew-Forest School. Maryanne Trump, who inherited her fortune from her father, even has the gall to say in her lecture that she worked hard for the wealth that she has.

Because “Armageddon Time” writer/director Gray didn’t change the names of Fred Trump and Maryanne Trump in the movie, the only conclusion that viewers can come to is that Gray wanted to show some kind of disdain for the Trumps in the movie, by depicting them as out-of-touch rich people whom he did not like or trust, even as a child. The only other semi-political statements made in “Armageddon Time” are scenes where the 1980 U.S. presidential election is in the news and discussed in the Graff family home. Irving and Ethel Graff are Democrats who want incumbent Democrat president Jimmy Carter, not Ronald Reagan (a Republican), to win the election.

Because “Armageddon Time” takes place during the height of the nuclear arms race between the United States and Russia (then known as the Soviet Union), the movie makes some references to the fear that many people had that a nuclear war could be imminent and would cause an apocalypse. In the production notes for “Armageddon Time,” Gray says that the movie’s title was named after the reggae song “Armagidion Time,” which had a cover version released by The Clash in 1979. (The Clash’s remake of this song is in the “Armageddon Time” movie.) Gray further explains in the production notes that the movie is about Paul’s personal Armageddon.

It’s during Paul’s experiences as a new student at Kew-Forest School that he begins to understand how race, religion and social class are used as reasons for bigots to inflict damaging prejudice on others. When Johnny shows up near the Kew-Forest School playground to talk to Paul, it’s the first time that Paul is fully aware that many of his peers at Kew-Forest school look down on someone like Johnny, just because Johnny is a working-class African American. One of the Kew-Forest students uses the “n” word to describe Johnny, and Paul is shocked.

Paul’s mother Esther also disapproves of Johnny, mainly because she blames Johnny for being a “bad influence” on Paul. There are some racial undertones to Esther’s dislike of Johnny, mainly because Esther wants to deny that Paul is a willing and active participant in whatever rebellious and rude antics that he and Johnny decide to do. Paul, who has an angelic face, is not as “innocent” as Esther thinks he is.

Repeta skillfully plays the role of Paul, a boy who starts to see life in ways that Paul did not expect. His performance is an admirable anchor for the movie, which at times is hindered by writer/director Gray’s self-indulgent nostalgia. And although Hathaway and Strong give solid performances as Esther and Irving, Paul’s emotional connections to his parents at this particular time in Paul’s life are secondary to the emotional connections that Paul has with his grandfather Aaron and with his new friend Johnny. Hopkins and Webb deliver fine performances as Aaron and Johnny, but much about how these two characters are written (the wise grandfather and the rebellious kid) are reminiscent of characters seen in many other movies.

One of the problematic elements of “Armageddon Time” is that Johnny is often treated as a “black token” in the movie. He has all the negative stereotypes of what many racists think black boys are: troublemakers who can’t be as accomplished or as intelligent as their white peers. It would have been better if the movie had at least a few other African American people in prominent speaking roles for some variety (after all, this movie takes place in racially diverse New York City), instead of putting almost all of the African American representation in the movie on a troubled adolescent boy.

There’s a point in the movie where Johnny runs away from home, because he suspects that child protective services will put him in foster care, and he asks Paul for help in having a place to stay. Paul’s reaction is realistic, but it seems like Gray wants to gloss over how Paul contributes to a lot of Johnny’s pain. “Armageddon Time” is less concerned about the root causes of Johnny’s problems and more concerned about making Aaron the noble sage who preaches to Paul about the evils of racism. However, the movie doesn’t actually show Aaron helping anyone from an oppressed racial group, or even caring about having anyone in his social circle who isn’t white.

“Armageddon Time” is a lot like watching people say repeatedly, “Isn’t bigotry terrible?” But then, those same people don’t really do anything to actively stop the bigotry that they complain about. The Graff household also has some domestic abuse that seems to be put in the movie for some shock value, and then the matter is dropped completely. The ending of “Armageddon Time” could have been a lot better, but the movie has enough good acting and memorable characters to make up for some scenes that wander and don’t serve a very meaningful purpose in the movie.

Focus Features released “Armageddon Time” in select U.S. cinemas on October 28, 2022, with an expansion to more U.S. cinemas on November 4, 2022.

Review: ‘Descendant’ (2022), starring Kamau Sidiki, Emmett Lewis, Joycelyn Davis, Vernetta Henderson, Veda Tunstall, Ben Raines and Ramsey Sprague

October 29, 2022

by Carla Hay

Kamau Sadiki in “Descendant” (Photo courtesy of Participant/Netflix)

“Descendant” (2022)

Directed by Margaret Brown

Culture Representation: Taking place in Alabama and briefly in Washington, D.C., the documentary film “Descendant,” which was filmed from 2018 to 2021, features a predominantly African American group of people (with some white people and one Native American) talking about the historical impact of Clotilda, the last-known ship that illegally carried enslaved Africans to the United States in 1860.

Culture Clash: The enslaved Africans on this Coltilda voyage were brought to Alabama, where many of their direct descendants try to come to terms with the ramifications of their families’ legacies and how white supremacist racism still affects their lives.

Culture Audience: “Descendant” will appeal mainly to people who are interested in seeing impactful stories about African American family histories and the damaging repercussions of slavery and racism in the United States.

A scene from “Descendant” with Ramsey Sprague (front row, fifth from left), Joycelyn Davis (front row center, in green shirt), Joe Womack (back row, center, wearing hat), Mary Elliott (front row, third from right) and Kern Jackson (far right). (Photo courtesy of Participant/Netflix)

“Descendant” is a triumphant declaration of an important part of African American history that some people literally tried to bury. There’s a lot of heartbreak in this documentary, but there’s also a lot of hope. “Descendant” had its world premiere at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival, where it won the U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Creative Vision. “Descendant” also made the rounds at several other film festivals, including the 2022 SXSW (South by Southwest) Film Festival and the 2022 New York Film Festival.

When “Descendant” director Margaret Brown began filming the documentary in 2018, people had been searching for the remains of a ship called Clotilda for decades. As explained in the beginning of the movie, Clotilda was the last-known vessel to carry enslaved people from Africa to the United States, in an illegal voyage that took place in 1860. The international slave trade was abolished in the United States in 1808. In 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation legally freed enslaved people in the United States.

It is believed that Clotilda carried about 110 enslaved people to Alabama. The voyage was led by Captain William Foster, the owner of Clotilda. A wealthy business owner named Timothy Meaher reportedly bought many of the enslaved people from this voyage. Because this voyage and transaction were illegal, Clotilda was reportedly blown up to destroy evidence. Whatever was left of Clotilda was said to be buried in the water, off of the coast of Mobile, Alabama. (“Descendant” director Brown is originally from Mobile.)

Many of the descendants of the Clotilda captives still live in Mobile, which has a section called Africatown, where many of these descendants live. Karlos Finley, a municipal court judge in Mobile, says that from 1860 to about 1960, people in the area could get in a lot of trouble if they publicly talked about Clotilda. The ship was treated “like a dirty little secret,” according to Garry Lumbers, a descendant of Clotilda captives. The U.S. civil rights movement and the passage of U.S. civil rights laws in the mid-1960s led to more African Americans becoming more active in Black Pride activities, including finding out more about ancestral histories.

And for the descendants of Clotilda captives and other interested people, that meant finding what was left of Clotilda, in order to have a tangible and historical evidence linked to the legacies of an untold number of people. Many people in the United States can trace their family histories back to years before the United States became a nation in 1776. African people who were captured and enslaved in America had their personal histories erased with enslavement. And therefore, the descendants of these enslaved Africans don’t have the privilege of being able to trace back their family histories to the years before their enslaved ancestors were forced to live in America.

“Descendant” shows how, in July 2018, “local, state and national organizations coordinated a first-of-its kind search for Clotilda’s wreckage. Without the physical evidence, the story of the ship’s arrival in 1860, and the 110 captives it carried had been maintained largely by word of mouth,” according to a caption in the documentary. One of the biggest obstacles in finding the remains of Clotilda was conflicting information about where the remains were buried along the coast. In July 2018, the search began in Plateau, Alabama.

Throughout the years, a major resource for the history of Clotilda’s enslaved people came from historian/filmmaker Zora Neale Hurston’s book “Barracoon: The History of the Last ‘Black Cargo’,” which was originally meant to be published in 1931, but it stayed locked in a vault and unread by the public until 2018. “Barracoon” features extensive interviews with Cudjoe Lewis (1840-1935), the last-known survivor of Clotilda’s enslaved captives. Lewis was the unofficial leader of his community when the Emancipation Proclamation outlawed slavery, and formerly enslaved people had to navigate life as people who were legally free but still oppressed by white supremacist racism that denied equal rights to people of color in America.

Emmett Lewis, an Africatown resident and a direct descendant of Cudjoe Lewis, shares stories in the documentary about how his father, Emmett Lee Lewis (who died in 2008, at the age of 61), would take him as a child to a local graveyard in Mobile after midnight and teach him the family histories about their ancestors and other people buried there. “Descendant” has poignant footage of Emmett Lewis returning to this graveyard and visiting his father’s grave. The weight of his emotions can be seen on the screen.

Vernetta Henderson, one of the descendants of Clotilda’s last enslavement voyage, is seen in the documentary commenting in 2018 on the search for Clotilda. She says that she would feel a certain completeness if the remnants of the ship were found, because it would fill the void of unanswered questions. She adds, “The ship is evidence that it took place. It’s a story worth sharing with the whole world.”

By contrast, Joycelyn Davis, another descendant of Clotilda captives, is shown in 2018 commenting on the search for the ship: “I could care less about the ship. Ask the family who built the ship.” Although a few descendants of Clotilda owner Foster are shown and interviewed in “Descendant,” an epilogue in the documentary says that descendants of Meaher did not respond to requests to participate in the documentary.

It’s not spoiler information to say that remnants of Clotilda were eventually found in 2019, and were scientifically confirmed, as shown in the documentary. A documentary caption states, “Clotilda is the most intact wrecked slave ship to exist in America.” This historic discovery was big archaeological news and began a new chapter in the history of the Mobile area.

“Descendant” includes interviews and other footage of journalist/diver Ben Raines, who is largely credited with uncovering the crucial evidence that led to finding what’s left of Clotilda. Not surprisingly, Raines wrote a book about his Clotilda experiences: “The Last Slave Ship: The True Story of How Clotilda Was Found, Her Descendants, and an Extraordinary Reckoning.” The book was published in January 2022, the same month that “Descendant” had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival.

The discovery of Clotilda changed how Alabama (particularly Mobile) began to view Clotilda. No longer was it just a local legend that couldn’t be proven. The discovery of the ship also became a tangible piece of the puzzle for many people’s family histories. Imagine being part of a family that was told for generations that there was no proof that the ship that carried your enslaved ancestors even existed, because that ship was believed to be buried at sea. And then that ship was finally discovered.

The documentary includes a scene where a National Geographic-commissioned painting of that 1860 Clotilda voyage is unveiled at a press conference, with the painting showing the enslaved people naked and huddled in fear at the bottom of the ship. Even with the tragedies, abuse and human rights violations associated with slave ships such as Clotilda, the discovery of Clotilda also became a potential moneymaker for those who wanted to profit off of this discovery. Even before Clotilda was found, there were plans to turn whatever was found into a tourist attraction.

What makes “Descendant” a great documentary is that it goes beyond this historic discovery and looks at the bigger picture. It would have been too easy for the movie to focus only on the feel-good aspects of this story. The documentary points out uncomfortable truths about how Clotilda represents the shameful legacy of slavery and white supremacist racism in America.

“Descendant” shows and tells in no uncertain terms that Africatown (and, by extension, many communities where with the majority of the population consists of African Americans) is surrounded by industrial operations that bring pollution to the area. As pointed out in the documentary, the Meaher family is a powerful clan that owns or rents out much of the land and property that is believed to cause this pollution. It’s mentioned that Africatown has a high rate of cancer-related deaths that are believed to be caused by this pollution.

And so, although slavery is no longer legal in the U.S., “Descendant” makes viewers aware that there are other ways that African Americans are being harmed by decisions made by labor-related groups that are largely owned and controlled by white people, many of whom are descendants of people who enslaved Africans and African Americans. Many people in Africatown and similar communities are dying because of these decisions. The documentary gives considerable screen time to this issue in a way that is factual and not preachy.

Land ownership still plays a role today in the “haves” and “have nots” of society, just as it did when slavery was legal in America. Ramsey Sprague of the Mobile Environmental Justice Action Coalition explains why land ownership and environmental zoning are relevant to the legacy of Clotilda and the descendants affected by Clotilda’s last voyage: “The fight over zoning is the fight over destiny.”

The majority of the land in Africatown is owned by the state of Alabama. However, large swaths of the land are owned by the Meaher family, whose Chippewa Lakes company leases the land to industrial companies known for heavy industrial waste. If you think it’s nauseating for the documentary to show how Africatown is surrounded by factories pumping chemical smoke into the air, imagine what it’s like to live there.

Africatown resident Davis, who is living with cancer, went from being apathetic about Clotilda in 2018, to becoming an activist involved in Africatown’s environmental justice issues. She wants people to know about the entire legacy of Clotilda and other ships that carried enslaved people from Africa. Davis says the discovery of Clotilda has now given her more pride about her ancestors, as well as regret that she previously felt some shame about being a descendant of enslaved people from Clotilda.

In one of the highlights of the documentary, Davis goes to Washington, D.C., where she is given a tour of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture by museum curator Mary Elliott. It’s an eye-opening and emotionally moving experience, where Davis can see for herself how Clotilda and Africatown are part of many similar stories of African American families and legacies. Elliott encourages Davis to be inspired by the museum and take what she’s learned to the work that Davis is doing to bring more attention to Africatown’s history. The documentary’s epilogue includes an update on Africatown Heritage House (a museum that’s set to open in the fall of 2022) and the Africatown Welcome Center, which is planned to open in 2025.

And although “Descendant” shows that Mobile declared a Descendants of Clotilda Day on February 8, 2020, to honor these descendants, the documentary never lets viewers forget that the irreparable damage caused by slavery still has lingering effects. Michael Foster, one of the descendants of Clotilda owner William Foster, is shown at this ceremony, where he is introduced to Robert Lewis, a descendant of Cudjoe Lewis. The two men have a cordial and brief conversation that is a little awkward. In a separate interview, Foster comments, “It’s kind of odd, because my relative caused all of this. I wouldn’t have come down here if I walked in that room and people were throwing rocks at me.”

After Clotilda is found, Kamau Sadiki, a master diver from the Slaves Wrecks Project, says emphatically, “Now, it’s time for justice.” Mobile municipal judge Finley says that although no one can be criminally prosecuted for Clotilda’s last voyage, there’s a possibility that members of the Meaher family, whose fortune was built from the work of enslaved people, could be held liable in a civil case. The issue of reparations comes up in “Descendant,” but most of the people who talk about reparations in the documentary say it would be very difficult to decide the amount that should be paid, when it should be paid, and to whom.

Henderson’s daughter Veda Tunstall, an Africatown descendant of Clotilda’s enslaved people, comments on the idea of getting and distributing reparations: “I have no idea how it’s supposed to work. As long as Timothy Meaher is not here, I don’t think there’s anyone to punish.” As for any measure of justice, people in the documentary say that, at the very least, historical figures who fought to keep slavery legal in the U.S. and/or were members of white supremacy hate groups should be not be celebrated by having things named after them or by having statues erected in their honor.

Other people interviewed or featured in the documentary include Africatown community leader Cleon Jones; folklorist Kern Jackson; National Geographic archaeologist in residence Frederick Hiebert; marine archeologist James Delgado; Yorktown Missionary Baptist Church pastor Chris Williams; “Barracoon” editor Deborah Plant; Alabama Tourism Department director Lee Sentell; reporter Nick Tabor; East Bay Automotive owner/Mobile resident Joe Turner; Clotilda captive descendants Lorna Woods, Patricia Frazier, Bobby Dennison and Darron Patterson; and Africatown community activists Joe Womack, Mae Jones and Anderson Flen.

“Descendant” doesn’t ignore these questions: “Who benefited the most from slavery and white supremacist racism? And who still benefits, even if it’s indirectly?” “Descendant” shows that events about Clotilda that involve money-making opportunities or media attention tend to attract a lot more white people than meetings intended to help marginalized and oppressed racial groups, such as meetings held by the Clean Health Educated Safe Sustainable group, which aims to bring solutions to the industrial-area Africatown pollution problems that disproportionately affect African Americans.

“Descendant” is the type of documentary that some people will never watch because they just don’t want to see any documentaries that remind anyone of the ugly history of slavery in America. Some people might think that movies like “Descendant” just fuel racism and bring up things that should be left in the past. But people who actually watch “Descendant” can see that it shows, through these very personal stories, racism actually thrives when people want to deny that it exists, but there’s a chance for healing when there are open and honest discussions about it.

Netflix released “Descendant” in select U.S. cinemas and on Netflix on October 21, 2022.

Review: ‘Aftersun’ (2022), starring Paul Mescal and Frankie Corio

October 23, 2022

by Carla Hay

Frankie Corio and Paul Mescal in “Aftersun” (Photo courtesy of A24)

“Aftersun” (2022)

Directed by Charlotte Wells

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in Turkey in 1999, and briefly in the United Kingdom in 2019, the dramatic film “Aftersun” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some Middle Eastern people) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: Through home movie footage, a Scottish woman looks back on the last childhood vacation that she took with her single father in 1999, when she was 11 years old and not fully aware of his personal demons.

Culture Audience: “Aftersun” will appeal mainly to people who are interested in watching a well-acted dramatic movie that doesn’t tell a straightforward narrative but trusts the audience to piece together the meaning of the film.

Frankie Corio and Paul Mescal in “Aftersun” (Photo courtesy of A24)

It’s best if viewers know up front that “Aftersun” is mostly a series of “slice of life” flashback scenes shown through videos taken during a family vacation in Turkey in the 1990s. What’s more intriguing is the melancholic mystery behind these flashbacks. The story is told in fragments, so viewers who have the patience and curiosity to figure out what the movie is trying to say will be emotionally moved by the quietly devastating implications of why these home videos are on display. “Aftersun” had its world premiere at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival, and has since made the rounds at several film festivals in 2022, including the Telluride Film Festival, the Toronto International Film Festival, the New York Film Festival and the BFI London Film Festival.

“Aftersun” is a boldly unique feature-film directorial debut from writer/director Charlotte Wells. Most filmmakers telling a flashback story with an adult looking back on childhood memories would make the predictable choice of having the adult narrating the story in a voiceover. “Aftersun” doesn’t do that. The adult who’s doing the reminiscing is not at the forefront of the story, almost as if she wants the happy childhood memories that she’s conjuring to overshadow the sadness and vulnerability that she is feeling now.

In the production notes for “Aftersun,” Wells says that the movie was inspired by an experience she had when she was looking at childhood photos of a vacation that she took with her father, and all the memories that came flooding back about this vacation. However, Wells says that “Aftersun” is not an autobiographical film. The movie has something to say about anyone who has experienced looking back at a cherished moment in time with a loved one that turned out to be the last time being with that loved one.

The beginning of “Aftersun” shows video footage a 11-year-old Scottish girl named Sophie Patterson (played by Frankie Corio, also known as Francesca Corio) making a home video of herself and her single father Calum Aaron Patterson (played by Paul Mescal) while they’re on vacation together in Turkey. It’s 1999, and Sophie has a very good relationship with her father, even though she doesn’t see him as often as she would like.

Throughout this trip, Sophie is usually the one filming with the video, but Calum also does some filming too. Other times, the video footage scenes are just recreated memories of the adult Sophie (played by Celia Rowlson-Hall), who is seen in the movie occasionally looking sadly at these old videos that she took 20 years before. Why is Sophie looking so glum? Those answers aren’t obvious, but they are hinted at in fleeting glimpses throughout the flashback scenes.

In the footage shown in the movie’s opening scene, Sophie states her age and jokes to her father that he’s 130 years old. Calum is actually 30 years old, but he looks young enough to be mistaken for Sophie’s older brother, which occaisonally happens during this father/daughter trip. Sophie lives in Scotland with her unnamed mother, who is never seen or heard in the movie. Calum moved to England an unspecified number of years ago. (“Aftersun” was filmed on location in Turkey and the United Kingdom.)

It’s unclear if Sophie’s mother and Calum were ever married, but their breakup happened long-enough ago that Sophie has gotten used to living apart from Calum. She knows about some of the women whom Calum has been dating, and she openly discusses his love life with him. Durng this vacation, Sophie asks Calum what happened to a woman he was dating named Claire. He matter-of-factly tells Sophie that the relationship is over because Claire decided to get back together with a previous boyfriend. Calum seems disappointed by the end of this relationship, but not devastated.

Sophie is a naturally curious child. She asks Calum why he still tells Sophie’s mother, “I love you,” even though they’re not a couple anymore. Calum answers that it’s because he still considers Sophie’s mother to be like a family member. Sophie also teases Calum when she mentions one of her female schoolteachers, and Calum admits that he remembers this schoolteacher because he thinks she’s pretty.

Calum and Sophie are staying a middle-class resort in Turkey, where most of the resort’s other guests are also white Europeans. Many of them are families who have underage kids. The home videos show that Sophie ends up hanging out with some teenagers, who are impressed with her skills at playing pool.

Sophie also has a mild flirtation with a boy close to her age named Michael (played by Brooklyn Toulson), whom she first meets when they play a race car simulation game together. Michael initially acts like a brat with Sophie, but later she notices that it’s all an act, because he’s attracted to her. When Sophie and Michael are alone together at a public swimming pool, they kiss each other for the first time.

Viewers who look beyond the surface can see the signs that this vacation is not the fun-loving getaway that it might first appear to be. At first, Calum seems to be a loving and attentive father. There are moments when he shows some impish qualities, such as when he and Sophie are watching a singing performance while having dinner at the resort, and Calum comes up with the idea to harmlessly throw food toward the stage and quickly run away like pranksters. Calum also appears to be interested in spiritual wellness, since he’s avidly practices tai chi (which 11-year-old Sophie misidentifies as martial arts) and has many self-help books about inner peace and personal enlightenment.

Early on in the movie, Sophie tells Calum how she copes with not being able to see him as often as she would like. She explains that she sometimes looks up into a sunny sky and thinks about if he is looking up at the sky too, wherever he is. Sophie says to Calum, “We’re both underneath the same sky, so we’re kind of together.” As soon as Sophie says that, it’s easy to know why this movie is called “Aftersun.”

Eventually, the cracks begin to show in this seemingly idyllic vacation. First, there are signs that Calum is living beyond his means but is too embarrassed to admit it to Sophie. When he and Sophie visit a carpet shop, he tries to pretend that he can afford the merchandise, but they eventually leave without making a purchase.

Later, in a pivotal scene, Sophie and Calum are watching some other people at the resort doing karaoke. Sophie defies Calum’s wish for her not to get up on the stage and do a karaoke performance. She goes on stage anyway and sings a very off-key and stiff rendition of R.E.M.’s 1991 hit “Losing My Religion.” Something about the song’s lyrics triggers Calum, but it’s not quite obvious at first.

After the performance, Calum tells Sophie that he can pay for her to get singing lessons if she wants. Sophie is slightly offended and asks him if that means he thinks she’s a terrible singer. Calum says no, but Sophie snaps at him: “Stop offering to pay for something when I know you don’t have the money!” Calum is stunned into the silence and seems deeply hurt by this comment.

After that karaoke performance, Calum is seen by sobbing by himself. And there’s a time on the trip when Sophie goes back to their resort room and finds Calum fully naked and sleeping face down asleep on his bed. The implication is that he’s passed out while drunk.

Earlier in the movie, there’s a more subtle sign that Calum might be abusing substances, or at least is on some type of medication, when the video footage picks up the off-camera sound of Calum opening a bottle of pills. Calum also has a cast on his right arm during this vacation. How he injured is arm is never really explained, which implies that he doesn’t want to talk about it.

The movie also reveals that Calum is perhaps haunted by an unhappy childhood. When Sophie asks him what his birthday wish was when he was 11 years old, Calum seems uncomfortable answering the question. However, Sophie asks him again, so he tells her that no one remembered his birthday when he turned 11. He tells Sophie that when he reminded his mother that it was his birthday, she got irritated and told Calum’s father to take him to a toy store to buy a birthday gift for Calum. Calum says he chose a red phone as his toy.

The movie has some scenes that are not video footage but appear to be a montage of the adult Sophie’s memories speculating that Calum was spending some time at nightclubs during this vacation while Sophie was asleep. These nightclub scenes show Calum on the dance floor, with strobe-light effects, and are filmed like fever dreams that mix the past and the present, since the adult Sophie is seen in these visions. There’s a particularly revealing sequence of this “nightclub fever dream,” with David Bowie and Queen’s duet “Under Pressure” playing on the soundtrack, where the adult Sophie shows some anger at her father.

Viewers should not expect to find out much about the adult Sophie. There are brief hints of of what her current life is like as a 31-year-old in 2019. She’s in a live-in relationship with a woman, and they have an infant son together. And whatever Sophie’s memories are of her father, they are bittersweet. It’s not said out loud, but the emotional tone of the film is that this vacation in Turkey was the last time that Sophie and her father were together.

“Aftersun” is not the kind of movie that will please people who want a more traditional narrative structure for a movie that relies mostly on flashbacks to tell the story. Some viewers might get bored at what seems to be a compilation of meandering home video footage. However, observant viewers will notice that in order to fully appreciate the story, it’s about understanding that this footage is being looked at by an adult Sophia to make some sense of what happened to her father, to see if there were any clues that she missed in the video footage that she took back in 1999.

Mescal and Corio give riveting and believable performances as father and daughter Calum and Sophie. There’s nothing that looks fake or contrived in their depiction of this relationship, which is filled with love, tenderness, a little bit of mischief and some underlying tension that is sometimes expressed and sometimes left unsaid. In other words, it’s a lot like many parent/child relationships, but the relationship that a 11-year-old girl has with her father is usually not explored as the central story in a movie.

One of the other standout qualities of “Aftersun” is a nostalgia-driven soundtrack of well-placed pop hits from the 1980s and 1990s. They include Chumbawamba’s “Tubthumping” from 1997, Los Del Río’s Macarena” from 1993, and Blur’s “Tender” from 1999. Each song enhances the mood intended for the scene and doesn’t come across as “needle-drop shilling” for the movie’s soundtrack.

“Aftersun” is not a movie that’s filled with big, dramatic, emotional scenes. The story shows that much of life’s biggest lessons are not necessarily “in your face,” but are presented as subtle clues that a child might not be old enough to fully understand until adulthood. The storytelling of “Aftersun” also takes this subtle approach and offers a quiet commentary about appreciating loved ones while they’re still alive and being aware of the not-always-obvious signs that someone might be crying out for help.

A24 released “Aftersun” in select U.S. cinemas on October 21, 2022. The movie is set for release in the United Kingdom and Ireland on December 18, 2022.

Review: ‘Stars at Noon,’ starring Margaret Qualley and Joe Alwyn

October 23, 2022

by Carla Hay

Margaret Qualley and Joe Alwyn in “Stars at Noon” (Photo courtesy of A24)

“Stars at Noon”

Directed by Claire Denis

Culture Representation: Taking place in Nicaragua and Costa Rica in the early 2020s, the dramatic film “Stars at Noon” features a cast of white and Latino characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: An American journalist, who’s stranded in Nicaragua and doing sex work for money, gets involved with a mysterious British man, who has shady people chasing after him.

Culture Audience: “Stars at Noon” will appeal mainly to people who are fans of filmmaker Claire Denis, but this frequently dull misfire of a film will disappoint anyone looking for an intriguing, well-written story.

Joe Alwyn and Margaret Qualley in “Stars at Noon” (Photo courtesy of A24)

“Stars at Noon” is a messy and boring drama that’s an example of the worst type of pretentious self-indulgence, not only from the main characters but also the filmmakers. The dialogue is awful and unrealistic. And the acting isn’t much better. The cast members who portray the would-be couple at the center of the story do not have believable chemistry with each other. “Stars at Noon” had its world premiere at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival in France, and its U.S. premiere at the 2022 New York Film Festival in New York City.

Directed by Claire Denis, “Stars at Noon” is adapted from Denis Johnson’s 1986 novel “The Stars at Noon.” Denis, Andrew Litvack and Léa Mysius co-wrote the “Stars at Noon” adapted screenplay. The screenplay is the weakest link in this dreadful movie, which is filled with cringeworthy conversations that sound very fake and nonsensical. Denis’ direction also falters in “Stars at Noon,” by making what should have been an engaging thriller into a sluggish and annoying jumble of self-important garbage that rambles and stumbles until the movie’s underwhelming conclusion.

“Stars at Noon” irritates from the moment that viewers find out it’s peddling a “Pretty Woman” fantasy, where an irreverent sex worker expects one of her male customers to come to her rescue and save her from a life of desperation and degradation. That’s essentially what the entire movie is about, even though the filmmakers try to dress it up and fool audiences into thinking it’s an adventerous story about two “outlaw lovers” on the run. The “Stars at Noon” movie changes the book’s 1980s time period, so that the movie takes place in the early 2020s, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. The era might have been updated for the movie, but “Stars at Noon” is filled with a lot of old-fashioned misogyny.

The misogyny is very apparent in how lead character Trish Johnson (played by Margaret Qualley) is written and presented as a whiny ditz who gets herself into predicaments and doesn’t have the common sense to get herself out of them. Trish is an American who’s stranded in Managua, Nicaragua, because a police officer called Subtenente Verga (played by Nick Romano) has taken her passport. Why? Verga suspects she’s doing an undercover investigation as a journalist.

“The Stars at Noon” book was set in the backdrop of the Nicaraguan Revolution, during the Contra War phase, when the left-wing Sandinista National Liberation Front overthrew the right-wing Somoza dictatorship. The entire Nicaraguan Revolution spanned from 1961 to 1990. Because the “Stars at Noon” movie takes place in the early 2020s, the Nicaraguan political turmoil is never fully explained. There are some vague references to Trish trying to uncover government corruption.

Trish calls herself a journalist, but she doesn’t do any journalism work in this movie. All she does for money is have sex with men, including Subtenente Verga, because she’s hoping that having sex with him will convince him to give her passport back to her. It isn’t necessarily misogynistic to show that Trish is doing sex work for money. (Sex workers are often desperate people who shouldn’t be judged too harshly by society.) What’s misogynistic about this portrayal is that Trish (who likes to tell everyone how smart and resourceful she is) is made to look like an idiot who hasn’t figured out other ways to make money where she doesn’t have to sexually degrade herself.

Trish speaks fluent Spanish. Apparently, it never occurred to her to get work as a translator/interpreter. And as a so-called journalist, she’s so lacking in basic common sense, it’s embarrassing. You don’t have to be a journalist to know that if you’re an American citizen whose passport is lost or stolen in a foreign country, you can go to the U.S. embassy in that country to get an emergency passport re-issued. Trish does none of these things, of course, because there would be no “Stars at Noon” movie if Trish actually had the intelligence that she thinks she has.

Trish has a very off-putting way of trying to make people she interacts with seem inferior to her, when her whole life is such a train wreck, she’s in no place to judge. She actually doesn’t have a journalist assignment to be in Nicaragua. Trish apparently went there hoping to find something to “investigate” and then sell the story later.

A scene that comes about midway through the movie shows that Trish is also a failure as a journalist. She makes a videoconference call to an unnamed American magazine editor (played by John C. Reilly, making a cameo), and she begs him to give her an assignment. The editor works at a monthly magazine about sustainable, high-class travel. Trish pitches a story idea to him, by saying she can do an article about a nature reserve in Costa Rica.

The editor gives Trish an emphatic “no” to her pitch. He also reminds Trish that the last time he gave her an assignment, she just took the advance money and never delivered the assignment. In other words, Trish has burned her bridges with this editor. He tells her to lose his number and never contact him again.

Before this unpleasant conversation happened, Trish had gotten sexually involved with a British man named Daniel DeHaven (played by Joe Alwyn), whom she met at a bar in Managua. Daniel, who likes to dress in immaculate white suits, tells Trish in their first meeting that he’s a consultant for a British oil company named Watts Oil. Daniel isn’t really telling the truth about his identity. It soon becomes apparent that some menacing-looking people are chasing after Daniel.

This is the vapid conversation that Trish and Daniel have when they first meet in the bar. Daniel tells Trish that he’s from London, and he asks her where she’s from. Trish replies, “From here, there and yonder.” She then tells him, “You have the kind of manners that can get you killed out here.” Trish then says that she’s a special correspondent in “the north area.”

Daniel asks her, “Are you for sale?” Trish replies, “I’m press.” Daniel says that he’s a member of the press too. (He’s really not.) Trish answers, “Then, we’re all for sale.” Trish asks him to have supper with her, but Daniel declines because he says it’s too late in the night. Trish then bluntly tells him, “For a price, I’ll sleep with you.”

Trish insists that Daniel pay her in American dollars. Her price? A measly $50. It’s just more of the film’s misogyny on display. And to make Trish look like even more moronic, she doesn’t get the payment up front, like a street-smart sex worker is supposed to do. She gets the money after she has sex with Daniel.

So what does this tell audiences about Trish? She’s not only stupid, but she also sells herself short as a sex worker. And yet, throughout the entire movie, she acts like a know-it-all, when she actually knows very little. It’s very hard to respect any character who is this aggressively obnoxious and dumb.

During the first sexual encounter between Daniel and Trish, this is the type of mindless conversation that they have. Trish tells him, “Your skin is so white, it’s like being fucked by a cloud.” Is that supposed to be a compliment?

At some point during this encounter, Daniel tells Trish that he’s married. “I commit adultery often.” Trish doesn’t care. After Daniel pays her, Trish tells him, “I’m not here for the dollars. I’m here for the air conditioning.”

If you have the patience to sit through all of “Stars at Noon,” get used to more of this eye-rolling, mind-numbing, extremely aggravating dialogue, because the movie is full of it. Of course, since the movie is pushing a tale of “outlaw lovers on the run,” it isn’t long before Trish finds out that Daniel has dangerous people who are after him.

Because Trish is desperate to get out of Nicaragua, and she knows Daniel has the type of money that she doesn’t, Trish figures that she can go on the run with Daniel, and he can help her in some way get back to the United States. Daniel and Trish commit some crimes and end up in various places in Nicaragua and then Costa Rica. And the movie tries very hard to convince viewers that Daniel and Trish fall in love. But it’s never believable.

Trish is just a self-absorbed flake who complains a lot. Daniel is a blank void who hides a lot of information about himself and never comes across as someone who could genuinely fall in love with someone like Trish. Qualley seems to be making an effort to bring sympathy in her portrayal of this very silly and selfish character, but Trish is just too much of a babbling mess for most viewers to care about her. Alwyn seems to be going through the motions in his performance.

Daniel sees right through Trish’s insecurity, and makes some cutting remarks to her in a scene that happens shortly after they had sex for the first time. In this scene, Daniel and Trish are hanging out together in a bar in Nicaragua. Trish is acting superior to him, as usual. But then, Daniel tells her that prostitutes like to think that they’re in control of their customers, when they’re not, because the prostitutes depend on their customers for money. There’s enough truth in this statement that it leaves Trish (temporarily) speechless, because she can’t think of a snappy comeback.

It’s one of the few times in “Stars at Noon” where a conversation actually resembles something that could take place in real life. But the vast majority of this bloated movie (which has a too-long total running time of 136 minutes) is just a shambolic and tedious slog of Daniel and Trish trying to avoid capture while sometimes arguing and having sex. The Daniel/Trish sex scenes, which are very monotonous and generic, fail to convince that Daniel and Trish are together because of passionate lust.

The supporting characters in “Stars at Noon” are so hollow and underdeveloped, most of them don’t even have names or distinctive personalities. An unnamed Costa Rican cop (played by Danny Ramirez), who’s one of the people chasing after Daniel and Trish, does a lot of predictable sneering and smirking. An unnamed CIA operative (played by Benny Safdie), who’s also looking for this “outlaw couple,” spouts horrendous lines of dialogue while looking smug.

This what the CIA operative says when he comments on female sex workers: “They’re all as lonely as widows. They haven’t had a man’s hand on their thighs since Jesus was in diapers and Moses had a pacifier.” If this the type of trash screenwriting that you think is quality filmmaking, then perhaps you might like “Stars at Noon.” Everyone else is best advised to steer clear of this horrible movie.

A24 released “Stars at Noon” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on October 14, 2022. Hulu will premiere the movie on October 28, 2022.

Review: ‘Decision to Leave,’ starring Park Hae-il and Tang Wei

October 14, 2022

by Carla Hay

Tang Wei and Park Hae-il in “Decision to Leave” (Photo courtesy of MUBI)

“Decision to Leave”

Directed by Park Chan-wook

Korean and Chinese with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in 2020 and 2021 in the South Korean cities of Busan and Ipo, the dramatic film “Decision to Leave” features an all-Asian cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A police detective becomes emotionally involved with a widow whom he investigates in the suspicious death of her wealthy husband.

Culture Audience: “Decision to Leave” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of filmmaker Park Chan-wook and well-made psychological dramas that keep viewers guessing about what will happen in the story.

Park Hae-il and Tang Wei in “Decision to Leave” (Photo courtesy of MUBI)

“Decision to Leave” plays with any viewer’s preconceived notions on how the story is going to end. The pacing sometimes becomes too slow, but this well-made movie skillfully blends noir, romance and mystery with talented acting. It’s a cinematic rollercoaster ride that offers food for thought about how people handle power, wealth, loyalty and love on individual levels and in society at large.

Directed by Park Chan-wook (who co-wrote the “Decision to Leave” screenplay with Jeong Seo-kyeong), “Decision to Leave” is does not take sex and violence to explicit levels in ways that can be seen in two of Park’s most well-known previous psychological thriller films: 2003’s “Oldboy” and 2016’s “The Handmaiden.” Much of what is going on with the “Decision to Leave” characters isn’t “in your face” obvious, but rather is lurking underneath the surface and can be intelligently observed through facial expressions, body language and unspoken thoughts that are later revealed in certain characters’ actions. It’s why the movie’s principal cast members deserve a lot of credit for bringing complexities to these characters that look authentic.

With a total running time of 138 minutes, “Decision to Leave” is the type of movie that requires patience and perhaps more than one viewing in order to fully appreciate many of the subtleties in this drama. “Decision to Leave” had its world premiere at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival in France, where the Park won the prize for Best Director. The movie has since made the rounds at several other film festivals, including the Toronto International Film Festival; Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas; and the New York Film Festival in New York City. “Decision to Leave” is South Korea’s selection to be a contender for Best International Feature at the 2023 Academy Awards.

“Decision to Leave” begins iin 2020, in Busan, South Korea, where a police detective in his 40s named Hae-jun (played by Park Hae-il) is shown at work asking for a transfer to the smaller city of Ipo. Viewers later find out that Hae-jun has made this request mostly because his wife Jung-an (played by Lee Jung-hyun) thinks being a big-city cop has taken a toll on their 16-year marriage.

Jung-an wants to Hae-jun to work in a smaller city, where she thinks his work will be less stressful. She tells him half-jokingly that “55% of all sexless marriages end in divorce. It’s the first indication that the sex life of Hae-jun and Jung-an has dwindled. Later, this apathy is shown when she tries to be sexually intimate with Jung-an, and he shows a lack of interest. Jung-an feels insulted by this rejection, but she also seems to not be surprised by it.

What becomes obvious after a while is that Hae-jun is a workaholic, so moving to a smaller city won’t automatically end his addiction to police work, nor will it automatically fix the problems in his marriage. Before his transfer officially takes place, Hae-jun and some of his colleagues are called to the scene of a mysterious death. The deceased body of man in his 50s named Ki Do-soo (played by Yoo Seung-mok) has been found at the bottom of the cliff. Was this death caused by suicide, murder or an accident?

Investigators find out that Ki Do-soo was a part-time interviewer at a South Korean immigration office, but he was also wealthy. His widow is a Chinese immigrant named Seo-rai (played by Tang Wei), who doesn’t seem shocked when the police arrive at her home to tell her that her husband is dead and to interview her. In real life, Tang is much older than the Seo-rai character whom she portrays in the movie. Seo-rai is supposed to be in her 30s and is presented as a “trophy wife.”

Hae-jun (who is leading the investigation) is both puzzled and intrigued by Seo-rai’s calm, cool and collected demeanor during the police interviews. Hae-yun’s younger hothead cop partner Soo-wan (played by Go Kyung-pyo) immediately believes the theory that Ki Do-soo was murdered, and he zeroes in on Seo-rai as the prime suspect. Hae-jun doesn’t want to jump to any conclusions until he gets all the facts and evidence that he can.

Seo-rai, who is a hospital nurse, tells the investigators that she had nothing to do with Ki Do-soo’s death. She says she doesn’t speak Korean very well, but viewers later see that doesn’t mean Seo-rai isn’t highly intelligent and manipulative. She reveals to investigators that not only did her husband Ki Do-soo physically abused her and that she also had self-inflicted injuries. Seo-rai has recent bruises and medical records to prove it, as well as photos of past injuries that she said were made by herself and Ki So-Doo.

Seo-rai also tells the investigators that she and her husband argued because she didn’t like him to take these mountain hiking trips because she thought they were too dangerous. They also argued about her self-harming activities and would get into physical fights over it. (Their volatile marriage is shown in some flashbacks.)

Seo-rai is told by the cops that another person’s DNA was found underneath Ki Do-soo’s fingernails. And so, Seo-rai explains that if her DNA is found underneath his fingernails, it was probably because of one of the physical fights that they had before he went on the hiking trip that resulted in his death. Throughout much of “Decision to Leave,” viewers are kept wondering if Seo-rai is really a victim, a villain or both.

More suspicion falls on Seo-rai when the investigators find out that she is the only heir to her dead husband’s fortune. Until the cause of death can be determined, Seo-rai because the most likely person of interest if the medical examiner rules that Ki Do-soo’s death was by murder. In the meantime, Hae-jun decides to put Seo-rai under surveillance, and he’s the main person doing the stakeouts outside of her house.

As time goes on, Hae-jun becomes more obsessed with Seo-rai, who sensed from ther first meeting that he was romantically attracted to her. And Seo-rai, who seems to be starved for compassion, seems to be feeling the same way. Meanwhile, Hae-jun’s wife Jung-an become increasingly agitated that he’s spending so much time working on this case. Hae-jun won’t tell Jung-an many details about the case, but she begins to suspect that Hae-jung is having an affair.

Seo-rai has seemed to stirred up some long-dormant feelings of romance in Hae-jun, who goes to great lengths to show her that he is a gentleman and doesn’t want to betray the ethics of his job and his marriage. Another change has come over Hae-jun as he gets to know Seo-rai better: Before Hae-hun met Seo-rai, he seemed to be an incurable insomniac. After he met her, he began to sleep better.

What happens in the rest of “Decision to Leave” revolves around how Seo-rai and Hae-jun affect each other, as the story continues into 2021. It’s enough to say that even after Hae-jun transfers to Ipo, Seo-rai is still a part of his life. And his experiences with Seo-rai in Ipo cause even more confusion and angst.

“Decision to Leave” is a very stylish film to look at, thanks to stellar cinematography from Kim Ji-yong. The movie, which uses water in some pivotal scenes, is often awash in various shades of blue. Depending on the scene, these blue palettes contribute to feelings of melancholy or hope.

Even with a possible romance brewing between Seo-rai and Hae-jun, “Decision to Leave” never lets viewers forget that this relationship could be dangerous for either or both Seo-rai and Hae-jun. Whose motives are really pure and genuine? Through the immersive storytelling in “Decision to Leave,” that question hovers throughout as a reminder to viewers that in this movie, just like in real life, not everything is what it might first appear to be, and people can be taken to unexpected places.

MUBI released “Decision to Leave” in select U.S. cinemas on October 14, 2022. The movie was released in South Korea and France on June 29, 2022.

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