Review: ‘Perfect Days’ (2023), starring Kôji Yakusho

February 15, 2024

by Carla Hay

Kôji Yakusho and Arisa Nakano in “Perfect Days” (Photo courtesy of Neon)

“Perfect Days” (2023)

Directed by Wim Wenders

Japanese with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Tokyo, the dramatic film “Perfect Days” features a predominantly Asian cast of characters (with a few white people and black people) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: An elderly sanitation worker, who is a quiet loner, spends his days and nights trying to live a harmonious existence when he’s with other people, but he sometimes battles loneliness and being misunderstood. 

Culture Audience: “Perfect Days” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in a “slice of life” movie that focuses on a specific individual.

Arisa Nakano and Kôji Yakusho in “Perfect Days” (Photo courtesy of Neon)

“Perfect Days” is a “slice of life” movie about an elderly sanitation worker who is a quiet loner. Viewer appreciation will rest entirely on whether or not this person is worth watching. For most people, the answer is “yes.” However, because “Perfect Days” is a slow-paced movie, it won’t have much appeal to viewers with short attention spans or those who have no interest in seeing this insularly focused movie about this type of person.

Directed by Wim Wenders (who co-wrote the “Perfect Days” screenplay with Takuma Takasaki), “Perfect Days” had its world premiere at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival, where star Kôji Yakusho won the prize for Best Actor. The movie then made the rounds at numerous film festivals in 2023, including the Telluride Film Festival, the Toronto International Film Festival and the New York Film Festival. “Perfect Days” was nominated for Best International Feature Film for the 2024 Academy Awards.

Yakusho, who stars as “Perfect Days” protagonist Hirayama, gives the type of performance where he has to do a lot of acting with his facial expressions and body language, since Hirayama doesn’t talk at all for a great deal of the film. When he does talk, he does so sparingly, without saying his inner feelings out loud. It’s the type of performance that will make viewers want to know more about Hirayama—not in a way where the movie feels incomplete, but in a way that indicates there’s a lot more to Hirayama than he shows to the people he sees on a regular basis.

“Perfect Days” shows what amounts to about two weeks of Hirayama’s life. He works for a company called The Tokyo Toilet, and his job is to clean outdoor public toilets in Tokyo, where he lives. He is very responsible, prompt and thorough in his work. It doesn’t take long for viewers to see that Hirayama likes to keep his life uncomplicated and is happy with finding comfort in life’s simple pleasures.

Very little is known about Hirayama before this story takes place. What were his hopes and dreams when he was younger? Has he been married? Does he have children? What types of jobs did he have before his current job? Don’t expect answers to these questions, although because Hirayama lives alone and doesn’t mention having any children, it can be assumed that he’s a bachelor with no children.

A few things become apparent about Hirayama from his interactions with people. He’s kind, he’s generous, and he likes his daily routines. He has a pattern that he sticks to of going to his job, a local park for lunch, his favorite cafe and bar when he’s not working, and then going home. He likes listening to classic rock, reading, and taking outdoor photos. He keeps his photos neatly filed in boxes labeled according to the months that the photos were taken.

Hirayama shows his generosity by lending a co-worker in his 20s named Takashi (played by Tokio Emoto) some money so that Takashi can court a girlfriend named Aya (played by Aoi Yamada), whom Takashi wants desperately to impress. Takashi gets the money by whining to Hirayama that the Tokyo Toilet job doesn’t pay Takashi enough money to take Aya out on the dates that he thinks Aya deserves. At first, Takashi tried to persuade Hirayama to sell off a large part of Hirayama’s music collection (he has mostly cassettes and vinyl albums) to get the money, but Hirayama decides to just give Takashi the wanted cash instead. Takashi shows up late for work sometimes. When Hirayama has to pick up the slack for Takashi’s flakiness, Hirayama does so without complaining.

Music is a big part of “Perfect Days,” since Hirayama listens to classic rock from the 1960s and 1970s for enjoyment, and it becomes a way that he bonds with certain people in the movie. Patti Smith’s breakthrough 1975 album “Horses” is prominently featured as part of the story. Other music heard in the movie’s soundtrack (which is the soundtrack to Hirayama’s life) are songs such as Lou Reed’s plaintive 1972 ballad “Perfect Day,” Van Morrison’s classic 1967 love song “Brown Eyed Girl” and the Kinks’ 1966 jaunty hit “Sunny Afternoon.”

A turning point in the story comes with the unexpected visit of Hirayama’s teenage niece Niko (played by Arisa Nakano), who shows up at Hirayama’s home because she’s having problems with her mother, who is Hirayama’s younger sister. This visit is a catalyst for Hirayama to look at his life from Niko’s perspective, and it opens up some old emotional wounds and certain feelings in Hirayama. “Perfect Days” is not a perfect movie, but it’s a wonderful example of a contemplative movie about someone who usually isn’t the main character of a movie and is the type of person who is often overlooked or forgotten in real life.

Neon released “Perfect Days” in New York City on November 10, 2023, with a wider expansion to more U.S. cinemas on February 9, 2024. The movie was released in Japan and other countries in 2023.

Review: ‘Saltburn,’ starring Barry Keoghan, Jacob Elordi, Rosamund Pike, Richard E. Grant, Alison Oliver and Archie Madekwe

November 17, 2023

by Carla Hay

Barry Keoghan in “Saltburn” (Photo courtesy of Amazon MGM Studios)

“Saltburn”

Directed by Emerald Fennell

Culture Representation: Taking place in England, mostly in 2006, the comedy/drama film “Saltburn” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few black people) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A mysterious Oxford University student becomes infatuated with his rich male classmate, who invites him to spend the summer with him at his family’s sprawling estate, where mind games and chaos ensue. 

Culture Audience: “Saltburn” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the movie’s headliners and movies that skewer the upper class of society.

Jacob Elordi in “Saltburn” (Photo courtesy of Amazon MGM Studios)

“Saltburn” seems inspired by “Brideshead Revisited” and “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” with a touch of “Absolutely Fabulous. “Although not as great as these inspirations, “Saltburn” has memorable performances and eye-catching scenes. The ending has a major plot hole. This plot hole might be easily overlooked during the sequence of events that are meant to shock viewers, but it’s a plot hole that nearly ruins what could have been a completely believable conclusion. Hint: “Saltburn” ignores the fact that coroners exist.

Written and directed by Emerald Fennell, “Saltburn” is her second feature film as a writer/director, following her 2020 feature-film directorial debut, “Promising Young Woman,” which won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. “Saltburn” has many recycled plot points from other movies, so “Saltburn” is not really all that original, but it does have some scenes that are fairly unique. “Saltburn” had its world premiere at the 2023 Telluride Film Festival.

“Saltburn” (which takes place mostly in 2006) begins by showing the arrival of a new student at Oxford University in England: Oliver Quick (played by Barry Keoghan) has joined the graduating Class of 2006 sometime in December 2005, close to the Christmas holiday season. Oliver is a loner who is the type of overachieving student who will read every book on a professor’s recommended list, even though he doesn’t have to do all that work.

One of the first people Oliver meets at Oxford is one of his roommates: Michael Gavey (played by Ewan Mitchell), who wants to be Oliver’s friend and is even nerdier and more socially awkward than Oliver is. Michael is the type of dork who will bark out demands that Oliver prove his knowledge of answers to random questions that Michael verbally throws at him. Michael likes to feel intellectually superior to almost everyone, even though he secretly craves acceptance from the popular students in the school.

The most popular clique in the class is led by a wealthy heartthrob named Felix Catton (played by Jacob Elordi), who uses his good looks and charm to get whatever he wants. The Catton family’s opulent and sprawling estate is called Saltburn. The other students in Felix’s clique are also affluent and/or come from prominent families.

The opening scene of “Saltburn” shows Oliver saying, “I wasn’t in love with him. I loved him, of course, Everyone loved him … I protected him … But was I in love with him?” Before he answers that question, the movie shows Oliver’s arrival at Oxford.

The “him” in Oliver’s opening monologue is Felix, of course. Oliver seems instantly infatuated with Felix the moment that he sees Felix. Oliver admires Felix from afar, until one day, Oliver is riding his bike on campus, when he sees Felix looking dejected as Felix is sitting near a tree-lined bikeway path. Oliver stops and asks Felix what’s wrong. Felix says that his bicycle has a flat tire.

Felix explains that he’s already late for a class, which is too far away for him to walk in order not to miss most of the class session. Oliver generously lets Felix borrow Oliver’s bike. A grateful Felix later invites Oliver to hang out with Felix and his inner circle at a local pub. It’s the beginning of a friendship between Felix and Oliver, who quickly shuns Michael after Oliver is accepted into Felix’s clique. Michael isn’t too happy about this rejection and later makes some hilarious cutting remarks to Oliver about Oliver’s social climbing.

Someone who also isn’t happy about Oliver joining the group is Felix’s American cousin Farleigh Start (played by Archie Madekwe), who sees Oliver as a socially inferior interloper. Farleigh already had a grudge against Oliver, who embarrassed Farleigh in front of one of their teachers named Professor Ware (played Reece Shearsmith), when Oliver showed he knew more than Farleigh about the topic of discussion.

However, Farleigh still has some clout with the professor, who confesses that Farleigh’s mother (a famous actress named Fredrika Start, who’s never seen in the movie) was his crush when he and Fredrika were students at Oxford. People who watch “Saltburn” shouldn’t miss the first 15 minutes of the movie, which quickly explains the backstories of Farleigh and Oliver, who end up having a rivalry over Felix’s attention.

Farleigh’s mother moved to the United States, where Farleigh was born and raised. She had some kind of mental breakdown and has financial problems, so she sent Farleigh to live at Saltburn, because her brother is Sir James Catton (played by Richard E. Grant), who is Felix’s father. Farleigh’s father is not in Farleigh’s life. It’s mentioned Farleigh has been expelled from many schools for getting sexually involved with male teachers. Farleigh feels a lot of resentment and shame for having to ask his uncle James for money.

As for Oliver, the word has gotten around to many students at the school that he’s on a scholarship. Oliver tells people that he is an only child, and his estranged parents are heavily involved in drugs. According to Oliver, his father is a drug dealer who’s been in and out of prison. His mother is a drug addict and an alcoholic. Oliver hints that he experienced a lot of abuse and trauma in his childhood. Oliver makes it clear that he wants nothing to do with his parents.

“Saltburn” breezes by the academic year to show the graduation of Oxford’s Class of 2006. With no immediate plans after graduation, Felix invites Oliver to stay for the summer with the Catton family at Saltburn. The best parts of the movie take place at Saltburn, which is not only a playground for the family’s indulgences but also a prison of bottled-up resentments, sexual manipulation, and psychological warfare. Oliver gets swept up in it all.

The other members of the Catton family at Saltburn are Felix’s self-centered and vapid mother Elspeth Catton (played by Rosamund Pike) and Felix’s jaded and insecure late-teens sister Venetia Catton (played by Alison Oliver), who have some of the best lines in the movie. Elspeth is the type of person who will smile and pretend that her insults are compliments. Venetia, who has an eating disorder, is both rebellious and needy.

All of the Catton family members don’t do much at Saltburn except smoke, drink, eat lavish meals, lounge around, and have parties. When the younger members of the family play tennis, they wear tuxedos and party clothes. The family has a longtime butler named Duncan (played by Paul Rhys), whose “stiff upper lip” mannerisms suggest that he’s heard and seen a lot of unmentionable things at Saltburn, but he is loyally discreet.

Carey Mulligan (the star of “Promising Young Woman”) has a small supporting role in “Saltburn” as Elspeth’s tattooed friend Pamela, who is staying at Saltburn after getting out of drug rehab. Pamela has overstayed her welcome, but Elspeth won’t come right out and tell Pamela to leave. The snappy rapport between redhead Pamela and blonde Elspeth will remind “Absolutely Fabulous” sitcom fans of the rapport between “Absolutely Fabulous” substance-abusing fashionista friends Edina “Eddie” Monsoon (the redhead) and Patricia “Patsy” Stone (the blonde).

“Saltburn” unpeels the layers of Oliver, who at first seems in awe and somewhat overwhelmed to be in the presence of the Catton family’s wealth. Slowly but surely, it’s revealed that there’s a lot more to Oliver than what he first appeared to be. And there are some things he does in the movie (especially those involving bodily fluids) that are intended to make viewers uncomfortable.

Keoghan gives a fascinating performance as Oliver, who is quite the chameleon. Madekwe is compelling in his depiction of the very snarky Farleigh, Oliver’s main adversary. Pike and Oliver are also standouts for their portrayals of a mother and daughter who are caught between smug vanity and crippling self-doubt. Look beneath the physically attractive surfaces of Elspeth and Venetia, and you’ll see two women who hate that their worth is defined by how they look and how much wealth they have.

Elordi is also quite good in his role as Felix, who is shallow but is a less-toxic member of the Catton family. “Saltburn” plays with viewers’ expectations of whether or not ladies’ man Felix will acknowledge Oliver’s obvious infatuation with Felix. And if so, what will be done about it? And what if Oliver gets rejected?

“Saltburn” has some stunning cinematography (by Linus Sandgren) that alternates between bright hues of idyllic luxury and the shadowy darkness of secrets and decadence. The movie’s production design and costume design are also noteworthy. “Saltburn” has some intense emotional scenes that are well-acted with clever dialogue.

Where “Saltburn” stumbles the most is in the last 20 minutes of the movie, which will be divisive to viewers. The concluding part of “Saltburn” is very suspenseful, but when answers to mysteries are finally revealed, they are rushed through the story and just create more questions that the movie never bothers to answer. Still, there’s no denying that the cast members’ performances are worth watching. And the movie’s flaws are outnumbered by the areas where “Saltburn” excels.

Amazon MGM Studios released “Saltburn” in select U.S. cinemas on November 17, 2023, with an expansion to more U.S. cinemas on November 22, 2023. Prime Video will premiere “Saltburn” on December 22, 2023.

Review: ‘The Holdovers,’ starring Paul Giamatti, Da’Vine Joy Randolph and Dominic Sessa

October 25, 2023

by Carla Hay

Dominic Sessa, Da’Vine Joy Randolph and Paul Giamatti in “The Holdovers” (Photo by Seacia Pavao/Focus Features)

“The Holdovers”

Directed by Alexander Payne

Culture Representation: Taking place in Massachusetts, from December 1970 to January 1971, the comedy/drama film “The Holdovers” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans and a few Asians) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A professor, a student and a cook (who all are associated with an elite boarding school for boys) form an unlikely bond over their loneliness and personal problems during a Christmas holiday break.

Culture Audience: “The Holdovers” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of director Alexander Payne, star Paul Giamatti and above-average movies about unique characters who are find themselves spending time together under unexpected circumstances.

Dominic Sessa and Paul Giamatti in “The Holdovers” (Photo by Seacia Pavao/Focus Features)

Filled with acerbic wit and superb talent, “The Holdovers” is an engaging comedy/drama about finding personal connections with unexpected people. It’s more than a Christmas movie. It’s an authentic portrait of humanity. “The Holdovers” had its world premiere at the 2023 Telluride Film Festival and then had its Canadian premiere at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), where it came in second place for TIFF’s top prize of the People’s Choice Award.

Directed by Alexander Payne and written by David Hemingson, “The Holdovers” takes place in Massachusetts, from December 1970 to January 1971. (The movie was filmed on location in Massachusetts.) “The Holdovers” is a very impressive feature-film debut for screenwriter Hemingson, whose previous experience has been in television, with credits that include the TV series “Whiskey Cavalier” and “Kitchen Confidential.” “The Holdovers” was originally conceived as a pilot (test episode) for a potential TV series.

In “The Holdovers,” the three characters at the center of the story all have a connection to an elite boarding school for boys called Barton Academy, which is located in an unnamed suburb of Boston. Adjunct professor of ancient history Paul Hunham (played by Paul Giamatti), a longtime Barton Academy faculty member, is grouchy, strict and very demanding. Angus Tully (played by Dominic Sessa), a 17-year-old student, excels in Paul’s class, but Angus is a moody and rebellious loner who is often rude and sarcastic to people. Mary Lamb (played by Da’Vine Joy Randolph), the chief chook at Barton Academy, is sassy but compassionate and generous.

Through a series of circumstances, this unlikely trio of misfits find themselves alone for the Christmas holiday season at Barton Academy, while almost everyone else has gone away on vacation. The people who are left behind at Barton Academy during this vacation period have the unflattering nickame of “the holdovers.” It’s considered a stigma to be stuck on campus during this holiday break, because the assumption is that people in this situation don’t have any loved ones or friends who want to be with them for the holiday season.

Paul, Angus and Mary find out that they are all in emotional pain, in different and similar ways. Paul is a very cynical bachelor with a troubled past. Paul lives alone, has never been married, and he has no children. Angus (who is an only child) feels abandoned and neglected by his mother Judy Clotfelter (played by Gillian Vigman), who would rather spend this holiday season on a honeymoon with her new husband Stanley Clotfelter (played by Tate Donovan).

Mary is a single mother who is grieving over the recent death of her college-age son (and only child) Curtis, a Barton Academy alum who was drafted into the Vietnam War and died in combat. Curtis’ father Harold, who was Mary’s fiancé, died in a shipyard job accident when Curtis was very young. Harold and Curtis both died before they were the age of 25. Mary doesn’t want a lot of people to see her suffering, so she’s been somewhat avoiding her loved ones, including her boyfriend Danny (played by Naheem Garcia) and her sister Peggy (played by Juanita Pearl), who lives in Boston.

“The Holdovers” has sharp writing, directing and acting throughout the movie, but it takes a while before the movie gets to the best scenes. The first third of “The Holdovers” is a series of scenes establishing the personalities of the three main characters, while the last two-thirds of the movie unpeel some of the layers of their lives, thereby revealing flaws, secrets and emotional damage that they’ve experienced. As already shown in the trailer for “The Holdovers,” there’s a point in the story where Angus and Paul spend time alone together, and Paul starts to feel like a fatherly mentor to Angus.

Giamatti has played many curmudgeonly and jaded characters before (including in Payne’s Oscar-winning 2004 dramedy “Sideways”), but Giamatti’s performance in “The Holdovers” is probably the best of the bunch. Sessa makes a very admirable feature-film debut as the complicated Angus. Randolph gives a performance that is both amusing and heartbreaking.

The first third of the movie shows these three characters within the context of how they want to present themselves to other people in Barton Academy culture. But as more Barton Academy people go away for the holidays, the vulnerabilities of Paul, Angus and Mary start to become more apparent. And these three characters become more open among themselves in showing these vulnerabilities.

There are some interesting side characters in “The Holdovers,” but their impact on the story isn’t as powerful as the relationship that evolves between Paul, Angus and Mary. Barton Academy employee Miss Lydia Crane (played by Carrie Preston) is one of the few people at the school who likes unpopular Paul. She invites Paul and Angus to her home for a crowded holiday party, where Paul and Angus start to see different sides to each other.

Paul’s boss Dr. Hardy Woodrup (played by Andrew Garman), who is Barton Academy’s headmaster, is often frustrated with stubborn and ill-tempered Paul, who is harsh and tactless in the way he communicates. However, Paul prides himself on having high ethical standards: He is the type of professor who doesn’t give special treatment to his students, based on the clout and income of the students’ parents. An early scene in the movie shows Hardy and Paul having a tense conversation, where Hardy says he disagrees with Paul’s past decision to flunk a student son of a senator, who is one of the school’s biggest donors.

Angus has a contentious or aloof attitude toward his fellow students. The student he clashes with the most is a racist bully named Teddy Kountze (played by Brady Hepner), who is a spoiled and entitled rich kid. Other student characters who are featured in “The Holdovers” include a long-haired star athlete named Jason Smith (played by Michael Provost), an amiable introvert named Alex Ollerman (played by Ian Dolley) and a quiet immigrant named Ye-Joon Park (played by Jim Kaplan). Alex is a holdover because his parents are Mormon missionaries who are busy traveling. Ye-Joon is a holdover because is parents are in Korea, and they think he is too young to travel by himself to Korea.

“The Holdovers” is filmed as if it’s a time capsule from the early 1970s (the opening title card sequence is a tribute to this era of cinema), but the themes explored in this gem of a film are timeless. It’s the type of story that doesn’t need to be made into a TV series, as it was originally conceived. The conclusion of this film is just right the way that it is.

Focus Features will release “The Holdovers” in select U.S. cinemas on October 27, 2023, with a wider expansion to more U.S. cinemas on November 10, 2023. The movie will be released on digital and VOD on November 28, 2023. Peacock will premiere “The Holdovers” on December 29, 2023.

Review: ‘The Zone of Interest,’ starring Christian Friedel and Sandra Hüller

October 9, 2023

by Carla Hay

Christian Friedel in “The Zone of Interest” (Photo courtesy of A24)

“The Zone of Interest”

Directed by Jonathan Glazer

German, Polish and Yiddish with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Poland, in 1943, the dramatic film “The Zone of Interest” (based loosely on the novel of the same name) features an all-white group of people representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: Auschwitz concentration camp commandant/Nazi official Rudolf Höss and his family live with casual indifference near the concentration camp, where about 990,000 Jewish people were murdered during his reign of terror.

Culture Audience: “The Zone of Interest” will appeal mainly to people who are fans of filmmaker Jonathan Glazer and people who are interested in unconventional Holocaust movies.

Sandra Hüller (pictured at right) in “The Zone of Interest” (Photo courtesy of A24)

Most Holocaust movies are shown from the perspectives of the victims or the rescuers. “The Zone of Interest” is told from the perspective of a Nazi leader who thought his job of committing genocide on Jewish people was perfectly normal. It’s a different type of Holocaust movie because it shows with unflinching clarity how the shameful horrors of the Holocaust were casually accepted by Nazi families, such as those of commandant Rudolf Höss. Concentration camps were treated like factories.

Written and directed by Jonathan Glazer, “The Zone of Interest” had its world premiere at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Grand Prix Award (which is the equivalent of second place) and the FIPRESCI Prize. “The Zone of Interest” has since made the rounds at other films in 2023, including the Telluride Film Festival, the Toronto International Film Festival, and the New York Film Festival. “The Zone of Interest” is loosely based on Martin Amis’ 2014 novel of the same name.

The title refers to the term “used by the Nazi SS to describe the 40-square-kilometer area immediately surrounding the Auschwitz concentration camp on the outskirts of Oświęcim, Poland,” according to the production notes for “The Zone of Interest.” Approximately 990,000 Jewish people died in Auschwitz, which existed from 1940 to 1945. In real life, Höss was the longest-serving commandant of Auschwitz from 1940 to 1943 and from 1944 to 1945. He was eventually convicted of war crimes in 1947, the year that he died at age 45 by an execution hanging.

“The Zone of Interest” takes place in 1943, before Rudolf (played by Christian Friedel) is transferred to another concentration camp. On the surface, “The Zone of Interest” looks like it’s just about the mundane activities of a family. But the movie intends to show how deceptively “normal” people who commit heinous crimes can look, especially when they are surrounded by family members. An early scene in the movie shows Rudolf having a carefree picnic with members of his family near a lake.

Rudolf’s family members who are shown in the movie include his moody wife Hedwig Höss (played by Sandra Hüller), who is kind and loving to her children but rude and demeaning to the family’s housekeepers. Rudolf and Hedwig have five children, ranging in ages from infancy to about 14 years old. They are son Claus Höss (played by Johann Karthaus); son Hans Höss (played by Luis Noah Witte); daughter Inge-Brigit Höss (played by Nele Ahrensmeier); daughter Heideraud Höss (played by Lili Falk) and baby daughter Annagret Höss (played by Anastazja Drobniak, Cecylia Pękala and Kalman Wilson).

Later, Hedwig’s mother Lina Hensel (played by Imogen Kogge) comes to visit. Hedwig tells Lina in a bragging tone of voice, “Rudi says I’m the queen of Auschwitz.” It’s one of a few scenes in the movie where the Nazi followers show their antisemitism like a badge of honor. A cliché movie would have had the Nazis constantly spewing verbal hatred of Jewish people. “The Zone of Interest” more accurately shows that evil bigots don’t often say their most heinous prejudicial thoughts out loud several times a day.

Most of the “The Zone of Interest” takes place in the medium-sized home of the Höss family, where they live close to the death camp known as Auschwitz. The movie was filmed in the same vicinity where the real Auschwitz existed. Rudolf and Hedwig have no problem with the idea that their family is living near a place dedicated to torturing and murdering innocent people. There’s a disturbing scene where the Höss house is shown in a wide shot on a very sunny day that looks perfect—except in the background are the unmistakable smoke fumes of gas chambers being operated at Auschwitz.

The Jewish victims of these atrocities are never seen on screen in “The Zone of Interest.” It’s the movie’s way of saying that when these Nazi perpetrators were at home, Jewish people were “out of sight, out of mind.” However, Rudolf can’t help but take remnants of his work into his home. In one scene, he’s hunched over a bathroom sink as he blows black ash out of his nose into the sink. In another bathroom scene, he carefully washes his penis out of view of his family, with the obvious implication that he committed the type of rape that leaves damning stains.

Another scene shows a close-up of Rudolf standing up at work with only his body in the screen frame. But in the background are the harrowing sounds of people screaming and gunshots. It’s left up to “The Zone of Interest” viewers to speculate what type of crimes against humanity were being committed out of view. Much of “The Zone of Interest” is filmed as if it’s a cinéma vérité-styled documentary about a “typical” family in Poland at this time.

During another scene in the movie, Hedwig is talking at a kitchen table with a few visiting female friends, who are engaging in some gossip. In the next room, Rudolf and some of his SS colleagues are seated at table with their own conversation that is much more sinister: They are discussing the best way to engineer and place gas chamber equipment.

The Nazi men also talk about gas chamber procedures: “burn, cool, unload, reload.” They discuss it as if they’re talking about a regular assembly line routine at a factory, not burning people to death, letting their dead bodies cool off, dumping the bodies, and then bringing in more innocent people to murder in a gas chamber. The Höss family dog is treated with more kindness and respect than these hateful bigots ever had for the Jewish people they slaughtered.

There’s another scene where Rudolf makes a phone call to berate someone into making sure that the lilac bushes at Auschwitz get special care. He makes a threat to say that anyone who makes the lilac bushes “bleed” will be punished. (In other words: “Don’t get any blood on the lilac bushes.”) The Höss family home has a beautiful backyard garden, where the flowers get more care than the people who are starved, tortured and murdered in Auschwitz. It’s another example of how Jewish people’s lives are disregarded by Adolf Hitler devotees such as Rudolf and Hedwig.

Many movies about the Holocaust would want to recreate these disgusting crimes. However, “The Zone of Interest” effectively shakes people up into remembering that the Holocaust was allowed to continue for as long as it did because it was considered a “normal” way of life for many non-Jewish people who chose to look the other way if they didn’t directly participate in this antisemitic genocide. It’s the movie’s reminder that the Holocaust didn’t happen suddenly but in increments. Jewish people were targeted, their rights were gradually taken away, and then they were left vulnerable to being harmed in the Holocaust.

Not everyone in the movie sides overtly sides with the Nazis. The Höss children seem to be completely oblivious to the fact that they are living next to an antisemitic murder facility, although it’s implied that their parents are teaching these children to hate Jewish people. The Höss family has two housekeepers in their late teens or early 20s: meek and passive Marta (played by Martyna Poznańska) gets most of Hedwig’s wrath, while sturdy and reliable Aniela (played by Zuzanna Kobiela) is quietly rebellious and secretly helps feed the starving Jewish people at the concentration camp.

At night, Aniela rides her bicycle to the concentration camp to drop off apples in the dirt where the laborers will find them. She also drops apples into the underground bunker prisons where many of the captured people are being held. Aniela knows which areas to go where she won’t be seen by the soldiers keeping guard. When she’s doing these secretive activities, the movie shows her in night vision-type lighting, as if she’s under secret surveillance by a camera with night vision.

Rudolf and Hedwig talk about things that seem ordinary and typical for people in a middle-class household. Hedwig mentions that she’d like him to take her to a spa in Italy. Rudolf is seen reading a children’s book to one of his daughters in bed. It’s not exactly the movie saying, “Nazis: They’re just like us,” but it’s the movie’s way of letting viewers know that people who believe in this extreme bigotry don’t look like monsters on the outside. They could be the harmless-looking people next door.

In a scene toward the end of movie, Rudolf is standing alone near a stairwell of a government building when he dry heaves and spits on the ground. It’s a scene reminiscent of near the end of the 2012 Oscar-nominated documentary “The Act of Killing,” in which former death squad leader Anwar Congo, who participated in the Indonesian mass killings of 1965 to 1966, begins uncontrollably dry wretching, as if he’s overwhelmed by the memories of what his atrocities looked like and smelled like. In “The Zone of Interest,” a present-day scene at the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum shows some of the devastating museum displays that have evidence of the many lives lost in the Holocaust.

Friedel and Hüller give capable performances, but “The Zone of Interest” doesn’t have big, showoff acting for a reason: The point of the movie is not to be about scene-stealing dramatics or to have cartoonish villains. It’s about showing how extraordinary cruelty can be condoned in plain sight and be rendered “ordinary” by the people who enable it to happen.

A24 will release “The Zone of Interest” in select U.S. cinemas on December 8, 2023.

Review: ‘Poor Things,’ starring Emma Stone, Willem Dafoe, Mark Ruffalo, Ramy Youssef and Jerrod Carmichael

October 8, 2023

by Carla Hay

Emma Stone and Mark Ruffalo in “Poor Things” (Photo by Atsushi Nishijima/Searchlight Pictures)

“Poor Things”

Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos

Culture Representation: Taking place in Europe and in Egypt, sometime in the 1890s, the fantasy/comedy/drama “Poor Things” (based on the novel of the same name) features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some Asians and black people) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A pregnant woman who committed suicide is re-animated from the dead by a scientist, who transplants her unborn child’s brain into her head, and she goes on journey of self-identity and exploring her sexuality, while most of the men she knows try to control her. 

Culture Audience: “Poor Things” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of director Yorgos Lanthimos and star Emma Stone, as well as anyone interested in watching offbeat, sexually explicit and very artistic portrayals of human relationships.

Ramy Youssef and Willem Dafoe in “Poor Things” (Photo by Yorgos Lanthimos/Searchlight Pictures)

Bold and uncompromising in its vision, “Poor Things” is cinematic art at its finest. Emma Stone gives a tour-de-force performance in this enthralling and sometimes amusing story about power, control and independence in gender dynamics and female sexuality. Make no mistake: This movie is not for everyone. “Poor Things” isn’t appropriate viewing for people who are too young to watch or are easily offended by full-frontal nudity (male and female) in sex scenes. Many of the movie’s themes about personal freedoms versus society’s restrictions are meant to be thought-provoking, but some viewers won’t like the dark comedy or the way these themes are explored in sometimes unconventional ways.

“Poor Things” is the second movie collaboration between director/producer Yorgos Lanthimos, actress Stone and screenwriter Tony McNamara, after they previously collaborated on 2018’s “The Favourite.” Unlike “The Favourite,” which has an original screenplay, “Poor Things” is adapted from Alasdair Gray’s 1992 novel of the same name. “Poor Things” had its world premiere at the 2023 Venice International Film Festival, where the movie won the festival’s highest prize: the Golden Lion, which is the equivalent of Best Picture for the festival. “Poor Things” had its North American premiere at the 2023 Telluride Film Festival and has made the rounds at other film festivals in 2023, including the New York Film Festival and the Zurich Film Festival.

The “Poor Things” movie takes the book’s original setting of Scotland and relocates it to London. The movie’s story is told in chapters, according to whichever city the protagonist happens to be at the time. This protagonist is Bella Baxter (played by Stone, one of the producers of “Poor Things”), a woman with a mysterious past and living in a re-animated body whose age does not match the much-younger brain that she has in her head. Viewers of “Poor Things” are taken on a journey of Bella’s transformation as her brain and cognitive abilities begin developing and maturing.

The movie’s opening scene shows Bella jumping off of a bridge to commit suicide. It’s later revealed that Bella was pregnant when she jumped off of the bridge. A deeply troubled and controlling scientist named Godwin Baxter (played by Willem Dafoe) has rescued her and brought her back to his secretive lab in his isolated London mansion. He decides he will re-animate this mystery woman and transplant the brain of her unborn baby into her head. Godwin (who wants to be called God) gives this re-animated woman the name Bella. The movie shows whether or not Bella ever finds out about her re-animated origins.

Bella’s intelligence and knowledge develop at a rapid pace, but she still starts off with the maturity and brain power of an infant child. The infancy stage of her brain is not shown in the movie. When viewers first see Bella eating at a dinner table, she has the body of a woman but the mannerisms of a human who’s about 2 or 3 years old. She can eat, sit up, and stand on her own, but her body movements are often uncoordinated. She eats food with her hands when most people would use utensils to eat the same food. Her vocabulary is also very simple.

Godwin has no interest in teaching Bella a lot of society’s norms and etiquette, because he intends to never let Bella far from his sight. Godwin knows that what he is dong with Bella is a highly unethical and illegal scientific experiment, so he wants to keep Bella a secret at all costs. (Godwin does other transplants of body parts on animals, as evidenced by the pets on his property, such as a goat with a duck’s head and a chicken with a pug dog’s head.) As Bella’s brain matures, she becomes more curious about the outside world, but Godwin forbids her from going into the populated part of the city. At first, Bella views Godwin as a protective parental figure, but then she starts to feel resentment and rebel against his domineering control of her life.

Bella doesn’t have basic manners that people are taught when they become old enough to speak. Her “no filter” dialogue and actions are supposed to be among the movie’s funniest or the most uncomfortable moments. Bella has “grown up” watching Godwin do autopsies on people, so she develops a fascination with the human body. Later, Bella shows inclinations that she wants to become a medical examiner.

When she discovers masturbation by inserting objects into her vagina, it awakens Bella’s sexuality and becomes the catalyst for many things that occur during the rest of the movie. Because she has not been taught what is right or wrong when it comes to sexual acts, Bella grabs the crotch (out of curiosity) of Godwin’s loyal housekeeper Mrs. Prim (played by Vicki Pepperdine) in front of Godwin, who at least has the decency to tell Bella that she can’t grab people’s crotches without their consent.

Mrs. Prim is one of the few people who know Godwin’s secret about Bella. Godwin soon lets someone else in on his secret: a village doctor named Max McCandles (played by Ramy Youssef), who is hired by Godwin to be his research assistant/protégé and is sworn to secrecy about this job. Max is a polite gentleman who is immediately awestruck and infatuated with Bella. Max treats her with kindness and respect.

Before Max acts on his romantic feelings for Bella, he asks Godwin if Godwin has a sexual interest in Bella. Godwin assures him that he sees himself only as a father figure to Bella. Godwin also confesses to Max that Godwin is sexually impotent and has a traumatic past of being sexually abused by Godwin’s father. Godwin also has severe facial scars that look like his face had been slashed. Godwin says his father was the one who mutilated him.

In his own twisted way, Godwin wants to create a perfect family by keeping them confined to his mansion. And so, he encourages Max to court Bella and gives Max his blessing to propose marriage to Bella—on one big condition: Max can’t leave the mansion either after he marries Bella. Max agrees to this demand.

During this tender and sometimes awkward courtship, a brash and arrogant visitor comes into the household and throws these marriage plans into disarray. He is an attorney named Duncan Wedderburn (played by Mark Ruffalo), who has come to visit because he has the legal contract that Max must sign for Max’s marriage to Bella. At this point, Bella doesn’t fully understand what love is about, but she understands lustful sexual desire and how it can often be a way that some people manipulate others.

Duncan, who is a playboy bachelor, finds Bella to be very attractive and makes lecherous sexual advances on her. He also loves to brag about what a great lover he is. When he finds out that Bella is yearning to explore the outside world, Duncan promises to whisk her away on an adventure trip through Europe, beginning with Lisbon, Portugal. Despite the objections of Godwin and the heartbreak of Max, she eagerly accepts Duncan’s offer and goes away with Duncan.

During this trip, Duncan and Bella have a sexual relationship, but it’s not a relationship based on mutual respect. Duncan treats Bella like a sexual plaything, while she acts like a student who’s eager to learn. And even though Bella wanted to escape the possessive control of Godwin, she finds out too late that Duncan is even more possessive than Godwin. Duncan flies into jealous rages if he thinks that Bella might be sexually interested in other men.

Bella’s journey also takes her to a cruise ship going to Alexandria, Egypt, where she experiences more attempts by Duncan to control her life. During this cruise ship excursion, Bella meets a middle-aged wealthy woman named Martha Von Kurtzroc (played by Hanna Schygulla) and her platonic younger companion Harry Astley (played by Jerrod Carmichael), who give Bella a new, open-minded perspective that women and men can be friends with no sex involved. Martha tells Bella that she’s been celibate for 20 years and is content with having a life with no sex, which is a mind-blowing concept to Bella, who has been led to believe by Duncan that a woman’s primary purpose in life is to sexually pleasure men.

That doesn’t mean that Bella is willing to give up sex, because she likes sex a lot and wants to learn as much about sex as she can. But by coming into contact with a more diverse group of people with various lifestyles, Bella becomes more aware that she has many more options than she ever thought she had. One thing that hasn’t changed about Bella is her innate resistance to being confined and being told what to do with her life.

When Bella and Duncan are in Paris, she makes a life-changing decision that is an assertion of who Bella wants to be as a person capable of being in control of her own life. In Paris, she meets and befriends a heavily tattooed brothel madam named Swiney (played by Kathryn Hunter) and a brothel sex worker named Toinette (played by Suzy Bemba), who pass no judgments on any of Bella’s life decisions. Paris is where Bella truly blossoms. She is no longer trapped in a childlike or teenage mindset but expressing herself as a fully formed adult in her intelligence and emotional maturity.

Back in London, Godwin has moved on to finding another young dead woman to re-animate and control. He names her Felicity (played by Margaret Qualley), but this time, Godwin purposely wants to keep her passive, so he gives Felicity a brain where she probably won’t be able to think as independently as Bella can think. Max is still Godwin’s assistant, because Max is pining over Bella and hopes she will return to London and possibly get back together with him. Meanwhile, a military general named Alfred “Alfie” Blessington (played Christopher Abbott) shows up in the last third of the movie and causes yet another major change in Bella’s life.

“Poor Things” is truly a visual feast filled with a potpourri of great acting. Stone takes on the role of Bella with pure gusto that never gets overly hammy but looks organic and genuine to the Bella character. Aside from the physical demands of this role, the emotional arc that Stone shows in Bella’s evolution is absolutely exceptional. Ruffalo, Dafoe and Youssef also give high-quality performances, while Newton makes a memorable impact in the short amount of screen time that she has the movie.

“Poor Things” will get inevitable comparisons to “Frankenstein,” but the biggest difference in each story’s re-animated character is that Dr. Frankenstein’s creation never has a brain that develops beyond a child-like level. Frankenstein’s monster also never has to deal with the minefield of sexual demands and discrimination that Bella experiences, simply because she’s a female. Even though “Poor Things” is not a horror story like “Frankenstein” is, “Poor Things” holds up a gilded mirror to society to show a different type of horror story: The problem of people trying to control and dictate what women do with their own bodies and with their own lives is not oppression that is stuck in the 1890s but is still very much going on today, with no end in sight.

Aside from the gender issues about sexuality, “Poor Things” has astute observations about gender issues and financial freedom. There comes a point in time when Bella finds out that men aren’t the only people who can choose what to do to make money. Bella also makes a big decision in Alexandria when she is confronted with the harsh realities of poverty and income inequality.

In “Poor Things,” the stunning cinematography by Robbie Ryan (who uses a lot of “fish eye” lens camera work), exquisite production design by Shona Heath and James Price, and the gorgeous costume design by Holly Waddington all give the movie the look of a fantastical Gothic Revival alternate universe that takes place in the 1890s but with touches of modern flair. It’s a world that sometimes looks like a picture book come to life. The movie bursts with sumptuous hues and settings that evoke an “Alice in Wonderland” for adults.

However, Bella’s story is not presented as a typical female-oriented fairy tale where her ultimate goal in life is to find someone to be her soul mate/love partner. She begins to understand that she doesn’t have to be dishonest about herself in order to please others. And if she happens to find true love, it’s only worth it when mutual respect is part of the relationship. “Poor Things” is a work of fiction, but it shows the realities of how society can be both vulgar and civil, how life can be filled with pleasure and pain. It’s a cinematic experience like no other and has cemented itself as one of the best movies ever made by this talented principal cast, crew and other filmmakers.

Searchlight Pictures will release “Poor Things” in U.S. cinemas on December 8, 2023.

Review: ‘All of Us Strangers,’ starring Andrew Scott, Paul Mescal, Jamie Bell, and Claire Foy

September 29, 2023

by Carla Hay

Andrew Scott and Paul Mescal in “All of Us Strangers” (Photo by Parisa Taghizadeh/Searchlight Pictures)

“All of Us Strangers”

Directed by Andrew Haigh

Culture Representation: Taking place in England, in 2017, the sci-fi drama film “All of Us Strangers” (based on the novel “Strangers”) features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A man, who was orphaned at the age of 11 when his parents died in a car accident, goes back to his childhood home to visit the ghosts of his parents, around the same time that he begins dating another man who lives in the same apartment building. 

Culture Audience: “All of Us Strangers” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the movie’s headliners; the novel on which the movie is based; and uniquely told love stories.

Jamie Bell, Andrew Scott (with back facing camera) and Claire Foy in “All of Us Strangers” (Photo courtesy of Searchlight Pictures)

“All of Us Strangers” is literally a haunting meditation on grief over the death of loved ones. This well-acted drama might be too slow-paced for some viewers, but the movie’s themes and performances are worth watching. Some of it gets repetitive though.

Written and directed by Andrew Haigh, “All of Us Strangers” is based on Taichi Yamada’s 1987 novel of the same name. The movie’s present-day scenes takes place in 2017, but there are also some flashbacks taking place in 1987. It’s a moody and mysterious film that unpeels in layers until its emotionally powerful conclusion. “All of Us Strangers” had its world premiere at the 2023 Telluride Film Festival before showing at the 2023 New York Film Festival and the 2023 BFI London Film Festival.

In the present-day scenes, an openly gay screenwriter in his early 40s named Adam (played by Andrew Scott) is living by himself in a sleek high-rise apartment complex in London. Viewers will eventually notice that no one else seems to live in the building except Adam and a neighbor named Harry (played by Paul Mescal), another gay or queer bachelor who lives by himself. Harry, who is about 15 years younger than Adam, makes the first flirtatious move when introducing himself to Adam.

This apartment building could have previously been a hotel, because it has a common hotel feature of windows that can’t open, in order to prevent people from jumping or falling out of the windows. “How do you cope?” Harry asks Adam about the isolation of living in the building. As time goes on, viewers will see that the building is a symbol of being in emotional confinement.

At first, introverted Adam is polite but aloof with Harry. Adam has his guard up and doesn’t seem too interested in getting to know Harry better. But then, when Harry shows up at Adam’s door one day, Harry persuades Adam to let him into the apartment. Harry shows signs that he’s interested in Adam sexually and then comes right out and asks Adam if Adam is queer. The answer is yes.

Adam seems hesitant about starting a sexual relationship with Harry, who is more confident and forthight about what he wants. During their first date, which is at Adam’s apartment, Harry and Adam smoke some marijuana together. And once again, Harry makes the first move, and they become lovers. That’s only part of the story.

Adam has a secret: He has been taking train trips to the suburbs to go back to his childhood home to visit the ghosts of his dead parents (played by Jamie Bell and Claire Foy), who passed away in a car accident in 1987, when Adam was 11 years old. (This is not spoiler information, since it’s a big part of the movie.) Adam’s parents have the same physical appearance of how they looked in the year that they died, except his parents know that they are dead and are seeing the adult Adam, who has no siblings.

Much of “All of Us Strangers” is about Adam juggling his present-day life and escaping back to his past at his childhood home, where he wants to hold on to the memories of his parents and communicate with them, even if he knows that they are dead. Viewers must ponder if Adam has psychic abilities, or if he’s mentally ill and is imagining it all. As the romance between Adam and Harry heats up and they become closer, Adam has to decide if he will tell Harry his secret or not.

“All of Us Strangers” is the type of movie that is more about emotions than about a step-by-step plot. Through conversations that Adam has with his parents and Harry, viewers find out that Adam was a loner when he was a kid. He was bullied as a child for being effeminate. His bullies were other schoolkids who suspected that Adam was gay.

Adam’s parents, especially his father, are not hatefully homophobic, but they don’t quite know how to handle having a gay son when adult Adam comes out as gay to them. (Adam tells his mother first, and she tells Adam’s father.) Adam was also overweight as a kid. As an adult, Adam tells Harry, “When you’re fat, they don’t ask you why you don’t have a girlfriend.”

As for Harry, the only thing that he reveals about his family is that he has a brother who just got married and a sister who has a child. Harry tells Adam that Harry’s parents accept that Harry is gay, but “I don’t go home much. It’s inevitable, really.” The flashback scenes of Adam as a boy (played by Carter John Grout) show happy experiences, such as Adam and his parents at Christmas time.

However, Adam also has sad memories of his childhood. One of the more touching scenes in the film is when Adam and his father have a heart-to-heart talk about what the father remembers about the times when Adam would be in his room crying because of how Adam was bullied at school. It’s a scene that speaks volumes about how parents of LGBTQ+ children sometimes unwittingly cause emotional damage by being in denial about their children’s sexual/gender identities.

Adding to the 1980s atmosphere for much of the movie, “All of Us Strangers” has a very good soundtrack, with multiple songs from Frankie Goes to Hollywood and Fine Young Cannibals. (Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s 1984 hit “The Power of Love” is played during the movie’s tearjerking finale.) The production design for the movie is also stellar, contrasting the somewhat austere and imposing modern building of Adam’s present-day life with the cozy clutter of Adam’s childhood home.

Because of the small number of people in the movie’s cast, “All of Us Strangers” gives enough room for character development, even if the plot of the movie is fairly simple. Scott does a fine job of portraying Adam, who is a bundle of repressed emotional baggage. Mescal has roguish charm as Harry, who gets Adam to see life in a way that is more hopeful of the future.

Foy’s portrayal of Adam’s mother is realistic in her curiosity of how Adam’s life turned out as an adult. Bell shows a balance of parental strength and quiet remorse as Adam’s father, who is emotionally conflicted about Adam being gay. One of the admirable things about “All of Us Strangers” is that it doesn’t just ask if Adam can move on from his past. It also asks if his parents can move on from the past too.

Most of all, “All of Us Strangers” is a worthy depiction of how grief is a process that has ebbs and flows. Grief can keep people stuck in a certain debilitating mindset, or it can be a painful journey to personal growth and healing. People who don’t know how the movie will end might be surprised by a certain turn in the story, but it’s an example of how love can endure even in the midst of unexpected loss and struggles.

Searchlight Pictures will release “All of Us Strangers” in select U.S. cinemas on December 22, 2023.

Review: ‘The Royal Hotel,’ starring Julia Garner, Jessica Henwick, Toby Wallace and Hugo Weaving

September 20, 2023

by Carla Hay

Jessica Henwick and Julia Garner in “The Royal Hotel” (Photo courtesy of Neon)

“The Royal Hotel”

Directed by Kitty Green

Culture Representation: Taking place in South Australia, the dramatic film “The Royal Hotel” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few Aboriginal people and one Asian) portraying the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: Two young female tourists from Canada take a live-in bartending job at a shabby and sordid pub in a remote, male-dominated mining town, and they experience various levels of danger and harassment.

Culture Audience: “The Royal Hotel” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star Julia Garner and movies about subtle and not-so-subtle sexual tensions and power-based dynamics between men and women.

Ursula Yovich and Hugo Weaving in “The Royal Hotel” (Photo courtesy of Neon)

“The Royal Hotel” is a realistic observation of how two female friends can have very different reactions to being in the same male-dominated environment. Despite a few story flaws, the movie accurately shows how people try to dismiss harassment as “joking.” “The Royal Hotel” had its world premiere at the 2023 Telluride Film Festival and its Canadian premiere at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival.

Written and directed by Kitty Green, “The Royal Hotel” touches on many of the same themes that are in Green’s 2020 film “The Assistant.” Both movies are about how women navigate in an enviroment where men have almost all of the power, and most of the men in that environment abuse that power through misogynistic harassment or violence. Julia Garner stars in both movies.

“The Assistant” is based partially on real-life experiences of administrative assistants of Harvey Weinstein, the disgraced entertainment mogul who became a convicted and imprisoned rapist. “The Royal Hotel” is also inspired by real events: The movie is based on the 2017 Australian documentary “Hotel Coolgardie,” which is about two young Scandanavian women who became trapped in a remote mining town in Australia.

That’s what happens to Canadian tourists Hanna (played by Garner) and Liv (played by Jessica Henwick), who are best friends leading a nomadic existence. Hanna (the responsible and cautious friend) and Liv (the free-spirited and spontaneous friend) aren’t really on vacation, but they don’t have any immediate plans to go back to Canada. They both like to party, but Hanna doesn’t drink alcohol. It’s later revealed that Hanna’s mother abused alcohol when Hanna was a child.

In the beginning of the movie, Hanna and Liv are partying at a nightclub somewhere in Australia when Liv discovers (after her credit card is declined) that they have run out of money. Hanna and Liv are in a work/travel program that helps people find temporary jobs in places where they are visiting. It’s never made clear in the movie how long Hanna and Liv have been living this way.

At an office appointment, an unnamed woman (played by Bree Bai), who works for this program, informs Liv and Hanna that the only immediate job opening available is a bartending gig at a pub in a converted hotel in a remote mining town in Australia. This office worker tells Liv and Hanna that the job, which includes free lodging for the pub employees, involves a lot of “male attention,” because most of the people who live in this area are men. The office employee describes the job as something that attracts a lot of young women. She tries to make it sound like it would be adventurous to work there.

From the beginning, Hanna feels uneasy about this job offer and is reluctant to take the job because she thinks it might be dangerous. Liv doesn’t have any of those concerns and asks out of curiosity about this remote location: “Will there be kangaroos?” Because they are desperate for money, Hanna and Liv accept this job offer. It’s a decision that they will later regret.

Because Hanna and Liv can’t afford to have their own car in their current circumstances, the pub’s manager Carol (played by Ursula Yovich) gives a car ride to Hanna and Liv to this unnamed, desolate town in South Australia. (“The Royal Hotel” was filmed on location in South Australia.) At first, Carol has a gruff and unfriendly attitude toward the two pals. The pub is located in a shabby place that used to be known as the Royal Hotel. Hanna and Liv plan to live and work there for only a few weeks to make enough money to go back to their carefree lifestyle of partying while traveling.

Hanna and Liv will be replacing two other young women: Jules (played by Alex Malone) and Cassie (played by Kate Cheel), who are close friends and originally from Great Britain. Jules and Cassie are “party girls” too, but Jules is more talkative and more extroverted than Cassie. Hanna and Liv first meet Jules and Cassie in the living room of the messy suite area where Hanna and Liv will be staying. Cassie and Jules are startled out of a drunken stupor when Hanna and Liv arrive. Jules laughs when Hanna and Liv asks if this place has WiFi, because there is no WiFi service in this area. Cell phone service is also spotty and rare.

During the course of the movie, Hanna and Liv are targets of hostile sexism from men who are used to getting away with it. However, Hanna and Liv react differently. Hanna thinks it’s offensive and often isn’t afraid to say so. Liv makes excuses and says it’s just part of the “culture” where they are. “The Royal Hotel” has many examples of how women can often be unwitting or deliberate allies and enablers to sexists who want to treat women as inferior to men, thereby helping perpetuate this vicious cycle.

The warning signs about this awful job are obvious from the beginning, when Hanna and Liv first meet Billy (played by Hugo Weaving), the disheveled owner of this struggling business. The shower that Hanna and Liv have to use isn’t working properly, so Billy (who is in his 60s) angrily storms into the room to fix it, and he strikes up a conversation with his two new employees. During this conversation, Hanna mentions that she can speak some Spanish and Portuguese. In response, Billy calls Hanna a “smart cunt,” in a tone of voice that makes it clear that he thinks Hanna is being uppity. Hanna is so shocked by this insult from her new boss, she doesn’t say anything to him about it.

Hanna and Liv know nothing about bartending, so Billy has to train them. Hanna figures out very quickly that she and Liv (and the other young female employees before them) were only hired to be objectified by horny male customers. Liv knows it too, but she doesn’t seem to care, because she thinks they can have a good time anyway. Liv often scolds Hanna for being too “uptight” over the increasingly alarming and hostile actions that the two women get from some of the customers. Liv convinces Hanna to stay just a few weeks so they can make enough money to go to Australia’s Bondi Beach.

The pub’s customers consist mostly of men in their 20s, 30s and 40s. The vast majority of them work in a nearby mine. One of the rare women in the pub is a regular customer named Glenda (played by Barbara Lowing), who is about the same age as Billy. Glenda, who is often drunk, craves attention from the men in the pub, where the atmosphere (not surprisingly) is often rowdy and vulgar. Glenda has an outdated and harmful attitude that men should be allowed to get away with sexual harassment just because they’re men.

On the last night before Cassie and Jess leave the area, they both get very drunk and dance on the pub’s countertop, much to the delight of the male customers. At one point, Cassie and Jess (who are both wearing skirts) lift up their clothes to flash their naked private parts on their upper and lower bodies. The two women don’t want to be groped in their private parts and have to fight off the men who try to commit this sexual assault, which is excused as “drunken antics.” Liv smirks when she quips to a horrified Hanna: “That will be us in a few weeks.”

One of the young male customers named Matty (played by Toby Wallace) plays a prank on Liv by telling her that he wants a drink called Dickens Cider. Liv says she’s never heard of that drink. It takes Liv (who’s not as street smart as she thinks she is) a few minutes to figure out that Dickens Cider is not a real drink but a pun for “dick inside her.” Liv laughs off the joke, while Hanna doesn’t think it’s so funny.

It soon becomes apparent that Matty is attracted to Hanna. In an effort to impress Hanna (who rebuffs his advances), Matty eventually says he’s sorry for his crude prank. Matty can see that Hanna is repulsed by a lot of what she sees in the pub, so he quickly switches gears and tries to give the impression that he’s the “nice guy” in the group. Meanwhile, another young customer named Teeth (played by James Frecheville), who is often teased by the men for being socially awkward, develops a crush on Liv.

And in a sleazy place like this pub, there’s always at least one creep who gives the impression that he’s just one drink away from committing rape. In this pub, this cretin is Dolly (played by Daniel Henshall), a hate-filled loner who likes to bully and harass people for no reason. Dolly will get no sympathy from “The Royal Hotel” viewers when they see what he does.

It would be very easy for any outside observer to say, “Why don’t Hanna and Liv just leave?” It’s not that simple. Hanna and Liv have no money and no means of transportation (the nearest public transportation is too far away to walk), so unless they can find someone in this land of strangers to drive them out of this hellish place for free, they’re out of luck. Carol won’t help because she needs Hanna and Liv to stay as bartenders for the pub.

All Hanna and Liv have to do is get paid and then use the money to leave, right? Wrong. After a while, Hanna and Liv find out that Billy is an alcoholic who hasn’t been paying anyone to whom he owes money. A local vendor named Tommy (played by Baykali Ganambarr), who delivers food and drinks to the pub, hasn’t been paid by Billy for the past three months. Billy owes Tommy $4,300. And eventually, Hanna and Liv see that Billy has no intention of paying them either.

Billy isn’t doing anything to help his failing business. There’s a scene where the phone rings in the nearly empty pub. Billy picks up the phone, and without even finding out who’s calling and why, he rudely shouts, “We’re busy!” And then he abruptly hangs up the phone. Through conversations, it’s revealed that Billy inherited and ruined this once-thriving family business, which was started by his paternal grandfather.

And where is Carol during all of this mess? Carol, who is Billy’s lover, keeps mostly to herself in the small trailer where they live next to the pub. It’s never really explained why Billy and Carol live in a trailer when there are plenty of rooms in this former hotel. However, considering how run-down the place is and how some of the equipment keeps malfunctioning (with unreliable Billy being the only repair person), it can be assumed that most of the rooms in this place are uninhabitable. Carol has a no-nonsense attitude and isn’t as terrible as she first appears to be.

Unfortunately, the trailer for “The Royal Hotel” shows too much of what happens in the movie, even if these spoiler details are just brief glimpses in a quick-cutting montage. Viewers will probably enjoy “The Royal Hotel” more if they haven’t seen the movie’s trailer first. Regardless of how much people know about this movie before seeing it, the acting throughout is above-average and makes this movie worth watching.

Garner and Henwick give riveting performances as two friends who find their loyalties to each other tested by their contrasting attitudes toward misogynistic sexism. The movie also has very authentic depictions of how sexual harassers and horrible bosses often test the boundaries of what they can get away with and go further past those boundaries if they aren’t stopped. Hanna (who is obviously the story’s hero) finds out that she has more courage and inner strength than she originally thought she did.

“The Royal Hotel” is not without its flaws. In the last third of the movie, someone suddenly makes an appearance that doesn’t really ring true. It looks a little too contrived. The movie also doesn’t do a very good job of explaining Liv’s background and why she puts up with so much blatant and unacceptable harassment. There’s a slight hint that Liv is running away from something traumatic when she’s asked by a customer how she ended up in this remote place, and Liv replies that it’s because it’s far away from where she used to live.

Hanna’s background is also vague. The only information that viewers will learn about her past is that she grew up with a mother who was probably an alcoholic (even though Hanna denies that her mother’s drinking problem was that serious), and Hanna studied business and marketing while she was in college. It’s also never really made clear how long Hanna and Liv have been friends. However, Hanna and Liv certainly find out what kind of friendship they have in these tough circumstances.

Overall, “The Royal Hotel” is a capably written and skillfully directed movie that shows how victims can be trapped in horrendous situations where the people who could help them are the same people who don’t want the trapped victims to leave. The movie also serves as a warning that abuse is abuse and should not be dismissed as “gray areas” or “blurred lines.” “The Royal Hotel” can keep viewers guessing about what will happen next, but by the end of the movie, there should be no uncertainty about who and what caused the worst problems.

Neon will release “The Royal Hotel” in select U.S. cinemas on October 6, 2023.

Review: ‘Empire of Light,’ starring Olivia Colman, Micheal Ward, Toby Jones and Colin Firth

December 11, 2022

by Carla Hay

Micheal Ward and Olivia Colman in “Empire of Light” (Photo courtesy of Searchlight Pictures)

“Empire of Light”

Directed by Sam Mendes

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily on the southeast coast of England, from December 1980 to August or September 1981, the dramatic film “Empire of Light” has a predominantly white cast of characters (with some black people) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A white woman in her late 40s and a black man in his early 20s, who work together at a movie theater, become intimate friends as she deals with mental illness and he deals with racism. 

Culture Audience: “Empire of Light” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of filmmaker Sam Mendes, star Olivia Colman and movies about misunderstood misfits that overload on melodrama that doesn’t always look authentic.

Pictured from left to right: Micheal Ward, Roman Hayeck-Green, Olivia Colman and Toby Jones in “Empire of Light” (Photo courtesy of Searchlight Pictures)

Considering that so many Oscar winners were involved in making the disappointing drama “Empire of Light,” it’s unfortunate that the movie’s story devolves into an overwrought mess and then rushes to clean everything up in the last 10 minutes of the movie. Too late. The cast members, led by Olivia Colman (who won a Best Actress Academy Award for 2018’s “The Favourite”), give impressive performances. However, “Empire of Light” becomes too bloated with heavy concepts and preachy messages that often look forced and clumsy in the screenplay and direction.

The “Empire of Light” team also includes writer/director/producer Sam Mendes (Oscar-winning director of 1999’s “American Beauty”); cinematographer Roger Deakins (who won Oscars for the 2017 sci-fi sequel “Blade Runner 2049” and Mendes’ 2019 World War I drama “1917”); and costume designer Alexandra Byrne (who won an Oscar for 2007’s “Elizabeth: The Golden Age”). Their talents and the admirable skills of the production design team (led by Mark Tildesley) make “Empire of Light” look visually striking. But visuals alone don’t make a great movie.

Unfortunately, “Empire of Light” tries to cram in too many storylines of complicated real-life issues—mental illness, racism, workplace sexual misconduct—that eventually get the “soap opera” treatment in “Empire of Light,” when these issues deserved so much better care in a movie with filmmakers and cast members of this high quality. “Empire of Light” had its world premiere at the 2022 Telluride Film Festival, followed by screenings at several other major festivals, including the Toronto International Film Festival and the BFI London Film Festival.

“Empire of Light” is not unwatchable. However, there are quite a few moments that are unintentionally cringeworthy—particularly when “Empire of Light” tries to make appreciation of movies and ska/rock music as some sort of “one size fits all” panacea for some of the characters’ major problems. The movie’s central relationship takes an “opposites attract” approach that doesn’t ring completely true, mainly because it’s intended to look like true love between friends, but it actually looks more like dysfunctional co-dependency.

“Empire of Light” takes place mostly in an unnamed city on the southeast coast of England. (The movie was actually filmed in Margate, England.) The story’s timeline spans from December 1980 to August or September 1981. Therefore, expect several references to the United Kingdom’s sociopolitical issues under prime minister Margaret Thatcher’s rule, such as the rise of racist skinhead culture; economic instability (often blamed on immigrants) stemming from the U.K.’s recovery from the 1970s recession; and fears about nuclear war.

It’s in this environment that Hilary Small (played by Colman) lives a very emotionally disconnected and lonely life in the beginning of the movie. Hilary is a never-married bachelorette in her late 40s. She has no children, no family members she’s in contact with, and no friends.

Hilary lives alone in a small apartment and spends her free time not doing much but staying in her apartment and occasionally going to a senior center, where she’s one of the youngest people there. An early scene in the movie shows Hilary being sociable enough that she participates in the senior center’s dances. However, she doesn’t make any meaningful emotional connections with anyone at this senior center.

Viewers soon find out that Hilary has been prescribed lithium by a public health professional named Dr. Laird (played by William Chubb), who encourages her to get psychiatric therapy counseling. (Lithium is commonly prescribed for bipolar disorder.) Hilary takes the lithium, but she doesn’t take the doctor’s advice to talk to a therapist. About halfway through the movie, more details emerge about Hilary’s mental state.

Hilary works as a duty manager/concessions supervisor at a movie multiplex called the Empire Theatre, located in an Art Deco-styled, seaside building that also used to have a combination ballroom/restaurant. As of now, the Empire just has three movie screens, but they are in large rooms decked out in red and gold Art Deco finery that has seen better days.

The unused parts of the building have gone into a state of disrepair and are off-limits to the public. Because the Empire has a limited number of screens, and the dilapidated ballroom is inoperable, the Empire doesn’t get rented out for a lot of events. However, England’s South Coast premiere of “Chariots of Fire” will soon be held at the theater. This premiere gala is the focus of one of the most dramatic scenes in “Empire of Light.”

The Empire has a small staff of people. In addition to Hilary, these staffers include:

  • Donald Ellis (played by Colin Firth), the Empire’s general manager, who is Hilary’s lecherous boss and who’s about 15 years older than Hilary.
  • Norman (played by Toby Jones), the theater projectionist, who is in his 50s and who takes his job very seriously.
  • Stephen Murray (played by Micheal Ward), a ticket taker/usher in his early 20s, who is the newest member of the staff, charming when he wants to be, and the only employee who isn’t white.
  • Neil (played by Tom Brooke), a box-office worker in his 40s, who is compassionate, witty and wryly observant of many things going on in this workplace.
  • Janine (played by Hannah Onslow), an 18-year-old ticket taker, who is a Mohawk-wearing party girl.
  • Frankie (played by Roman Hayeck-Green), Brian (played by Brian Fletcher) and Finn (played by Dougie Boyall), who are all ushers in their 20s, and who don’t say or do much in the story.

It’s shown early in the movie that Donald and Hilary are having a secret sexual relationship, with their trysts taking place in Donald’s office. Donald is married, and Hilary knows it, but Donald tells her that he and his wife Brenda (played by Sara Stewart) are in a passionless marriage where they no longer have sex. Donald expects Hilary to always say yes to him whenever he calls her into his office for their private “meetings.”

At first, Hilary seems to like the attention from Donald. But one evening, she’s alone at a restaurant and sees Donald and Brenda walk in and get seated at a table near hers. Seeing these two spouses together seems to trigger something in Hilary, and she quickly leaves the restaurant before ordering anything on the menu. Over time, Hilary starts to resent Donald for treating her like a meaningless fling. Her anger and resentment come out in different ways.

Meanwhile, Stephen has caught the attention of Janine, who tells Hilary and some other employees during Stephen’s first day on the job that she thinks Stephen is a hunk. Janine doesn’t notice that Hilary seems attracted to Stephen too. Hilary is very insecure about her physical appearance, so she thinks Stephen wouldn’t be attracted to Hilary. Whenever Hilary sees Stephen giving attention to or thinking about other women, Hilary pouts like spoiled schoolgirl.

Hilary gives Stephen a tour of the building on his first day as an Empire employee. He’s curious to see the top floor, which used to be a ballroom and restaurant. The top floor is roped-off with restricted access only meant for the theater’s management, but Hilary takes Stephen to the top floor anyway because he’s eager to see it. Even though this section of the building is run-down, Stephen is in awe of what used to be the grand architecture for this ballroom.

The top floor, whose windows have broken or missing glass, has become a home for several pigeons. Stephen notices that one of the pigeons has a broken wing. He rips his socks and uses them to construct a makeshift sling for the pigeon and asks Hilary to hold the pigeon while he wraps the sling around the bird. Hilary says she doesn’t really like pigeons, but she holds it, beause she wants to impress Stephen. Her spark of attraction to Stephen grows when she sees that he can be kind and gentle. She’s also surprised at how she likes holding this pigeon after all.

Later in the movie, another scene with this pigeon becomes another turning point in Stephen and Hilary’s relationship. These pigeon scenes are used as an obvious metaphor: Stephen helping the physically wounded pigeon is just like how Stephen helps an emotionally wounded Hilary. This metaphor is the movie’s obvious ploy at sentimentality, but it’s too “on the nose.” And to make things look even phonier, other things in “Empire of Light” present Stephen as almost saintly in the way he puts up with Hilary’s moodiness and nasty temper tantrums that she often inflicts on him.

New Year’s Eve is coming up, and Janine has invited Stephen to hang out with her and some of her friends at a nightclub to ring in the New Year. Stephen and Janine ask Hilary if she wants to join them, but Hilary politely declines by saying that going to nightclubs isn’t her thing. Hilary says her New Year’s Eve plans will be to watch annual New Year’s fireworks alone on the theater’s roof. Observant viewers will notice from Hilary’s facial expressions that she’s jealous that Stephen and Janine are going on a date for New Year’s Eve.

Later, Hilary takes her anger out on Stephen, when she notices Stephen and Janine mocking an elderly customer behind the customer’s back because the customer is hunched-over and walks slowly. Hilary shouts at Stephen in private for being unprofessional, and she tells him that being rude to customers is unacceptable. She also gives him a loud scolding for forgetting to give her the day’s ticket stubs at the end of his work shift.

On the night of New Year’s Eve, Hilary is on the roof, when she gets an unexpected visitor: Stephen. He tells Hilary that he left the nightclub where he and Janine had been partying because he doesn’t know Janine’s friends, and he felt uncomfortable that some people at the club were staring at him. (It’s Stephen’s way of saying that he felt that some people were being racist without coming out and saying it.)

Hilary is touched that Stephen would want to ring in the New Year with her. And this New Year’s Eve meet-up is the turning point in their relationship. Stephen says he’s sorry for being unprofessional on the job, while Hilary says she’s sorry that she yelled at him. And with that mutual apology, the ice is broken, and the beginning of a relationship starts to take shape.

During this conversation while they watch the New Year’s fireworks (it’s one of the movie’s highlights), Hilary and Stephen talk a little bit more about their lives. And they discover that they are two lonely and restless people who want more from their lives than what they are currently doing. Stephen is an aspiring architect who has been rejected by all the universities where he’s applied. Hilary tells him not to give up his dream and to keep trying to get into a university of his choice.

Hilary is feeling an emotional connection to Stephen, so after the New Year’s fireworks begin, she gives him a quick romantic kiss on the lips. He looks startled by this display of affection. An embarrassed Hilary makes a profuse, stammering apology, and quickly leaves, even though Stephen tells her that she doesn’t need to make an apology. The movie shows what Hilary and Stephen do about this mutual attraction that is both confusing and exciting for them.

Here’s where the movie has a big disconnect and failing: Viewers never find out anything meaningful about Hilary that’s not related to her job, her mental illness and her “daddy issues.” Hilary is unhappy with her life, but she never really articulates how she wants to change her life.

She hints that she didn’t expect to be working in a movie theater at her age. Hilary doesn’t even show an interest in the movies that are at the theater. What did she want to do her life then? Don’t expect “Empire of Light” to answer that question.

There are multiple scenes in the movie where Hilary goes on a rant about not wanting men to control her. As she blurts out in a manic confession to Stephen, it has a lot to do with her being a “daddy’s girl,” but her father cheated on Hilary’s abusive mother, and he asked Hilary to lie and cover up this infidelity. During another rant, she lists the names of random men whom she says have wronged her. But these are the only clues into what Hilary’s life was like when she was a girl or a young woman.

Hilary is irrationally jealous and insecure. She will have temper tantrums out of the blue, usually triggered when it looks like Stephen is thinking about other women. It happens in a scene where Hilary and Stephen take a trip to a deserted beach, go skinny dipping, and then make sand castles together. While making sand castles, Stephen mentions an ex-girlfriend who broke his heart, and he admits that he still thinks about this ex-love. When Stephen asks Hilary if she’s ever been in love, she avoids answering the question. And then almost immediately, Hilary verbally lashes out at Stephen with a man-hating tirade.

But the movie then abruptly cuts to Stephen and Hilary leaving on a bus, with both of them being pleasant with each other and acting like this awful argument didn’t even happen. It looks like bad film editing, but it’s really the movie’s awkward way of trying to show viewers that both Stephen and Hilary have serious issues with denial about Hilary being a loose cannon. Stephen will show time and time again that he’s a better friend to Hilary than she is to him.

Hilary’s jealousy of Janine, as well as Janine’s attraction to Stephen, are inexplicably dropped as a subplot when the movie later shows a montage of Hilary, Stephen and Janine hanging out with each other like they’re best friends forever. These three pals do things like go to a carnival and a roller skating rink together. Janine then gets sidelined in the movie for no reason at all. It’s an example of how “Empire of Light” has an erratic portrayal of these characters’ relationships.

That’s not the movie’s only problem. “Empire of Light” tries to make a big statement about the racism that Stephen experiences. But it’s with the tone that it matters more how Hilary is affected by having her eyes opened to racism, rather than placing more importance on how Stephen (who actually experiences racism in many painful ways) is affected by racism. The racism issues begin in the movie when Hilary, unbeknownst to Stephen, sees Stephen getting racially harassed by some white skinheads when Stephen is walking outside and minding his own business.

Later, Hilary witnesses Stephen encountering a racist customer named Mr. Cooper (played by Ron Cook), who lets it be known that he doesn’t want someone who looks like Stephen telling him the Empire’s rules of no outside food and drinks being allowed inside the theater. During a tension-filled exchange where Stephen maintains his composure and Mr. Cooper loses his temper and holds up the line of people behind him, Hilary tries to smooth things over and placate Mr. Cooper by telling him he can finish his outside food and drinks in the lobby.

Stephen nearly walks off the job in that incident, because he thinks that Hilary didn’t stand up for an employee being mistreated by a rude and racist customer, and instead Hilary was trying too hard to accommodate this toxic person. Hilary tries to make an excuse that what Mr. Cooper did wasn’t bad enough for Stephen to quit, but Hilary is missing the point: Stephen, who did nothing wrong and was following the rules, shouldn’t have to be the one to feel like he was guilty of doing something wrong, while the guilty person is being coddled by a manager who’s in charge of handling the situation. When Stephen points out this disparity to Hilary, she admits that he’s right, makes an apology, and begs Stephen not to quit.

Even though this scene accurately portrays how white people and black people can sometimes look at racist incidents differently, “Empire of Light” goes right back to treating Stephen as the character who’s supposed to make a very messed-up Hilary into a happy person. Hilary has some deep-seated issues that come to the surface and existed long before she met Stephen. It’s also no surprise when in the last third of the movie, “Empire of Light” uses racism as a way to contrive a melodramatic plot development that viewers can see coming as soon as this scene begins.

In addition, “Empire of Light” has a double standard in the problematic issue of a supervisor getting sexually involved with a subordinate. The movie makes Donald the “villain” because he abuses his power to have consensual sex with Hilary whenever he feels like it. Even though the sex between Donald and Hilary is consensual, it’s always at the demand of Donald.

However, when it looks like Hilary and Stephen are headed for a consensual sexual relationship, the movie doesn’t question the ethics of Hilary getting sexually involved with one of her subordinates. Stephen’s employment status at the Empire Theatre is also vulnerable because he’s a new employee. Hilary knows she’s got the upper hand and more power as Stephen’s boss, but the movie excuses Hilary for taking advantage of this imbalance of power when it comes to Stephen.

And frankly, based on the way Hilary sometimes treats Stephen like a doormat for her selfish purposes, it’s questionable how great this relationship is, even though “Empire of Light” desperately tries to put a “female empowerment” spin on it. Stephen does a lot for Hilary emotionally, but he doesn’t get much from her in return except companionship and some generic words of encouragement. None of this imbalance is given much scrutiny in the movie, because Stephen’s thoughts and feelings are treated as secondary to Hilary’s thoughts and feelings.

Stephen is never shown doing anything that proves he’s passionate about architecture, except mention that he wants to get a college degree in architecture. The last third of the movie makes a half-hearted attempt to show that Stephen has a life outside of his job. He gets re-acquainted with his ex-girlfriend Ruby (played by Crystal Clarke)—the ex who broke his heart—after she goes to the Empire to see a movie and unexpectedly finds out that Stephen works there. Stephen’s single mother Delia (played by Tanya Moodie), who’s an immigrant nurse from Trinidad, eventually meets Hilary under some stressful circumstances. But it’s forced into the movie as part of a subplot where it all comes back to putting an emphasis on how Hilary is affected.

“Empire of Light” shows Stephen being a dutiful and awestruck student of Norman, who teaches him how to operate the theater’s projector. The magic of the movies is a recurring theme in “Empire of Light,” which simplistically has Stephen encouraging Hilary to watch movies at the theater as a way to have some escape from her problems. Likewise, when Stephen (who’s a fan of interracial ska/rock bands like The Beat and The Specials) gets Hilary to listen to music from interracial ska/rock bands, the movie tritely shows Hilary telling Stephen that she now understands his culture after listening to some of these albums.

“Empire of Light” wants to be filled with important messages about life. And certainly, the cast members deliver adept performances when called to do their parts in scenes that look good on a technical level but fall short on an emotionally authentic level. No matter how much “Empire of Light” wants to portray it, you can’t truly understand a culture just by listening to a few albums. And you can’t force viewers with enough life experience to believe that Hilary and Stephen’s lopsided relationship is one where she ever really thought of him as an equal.

Searchlight Pictures released “Empire of Light” in select U.S. cinemas on December 9, 2022.

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: ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ (2022), starring Emma Corrin and Jack O’Connell

November 28, 2022

by Carla Hay

Jack O’Connell and Emma Corrin in “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” (Photo by Parisa Taghizadeh/Netflix)

“Lady Chatterley’s Lover” (2022)

Directed by Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre

Culture Representation: Taking place from 1918 to 1919, in the United Kingdom, the dramatic film “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Lady Constance Chatterley’s sex life with her husband comes to an abrupt end after his World War I injuries leave him with paraplegia, and he encourages her to get pregnant by another man because he wants an heir, but the two spouses are not prepared when she unexpectedly falls in love with her secret lover, who is the couple’s gamekeeper employee.

Culture Audience: “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” will appeal mainly to people who are fans of the D.H. Lawrence novel on which the movie is based, as well as people who are interested in erotic love stories that are set in the early 20th century.

Emma Corrin and Matthew Duckett in “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” (Photo by Seamus Ryan/Netflix)

Gorgeously filmed and terrifically acted, this version of “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” is the best movie adaptation of the book so far. Emma Corrin and Jack O’Connell give sensuous and romantic performances as the secret lovers who are the story’s main characters. Everything about the movie is authentically detailed to the story’s setting of the United Kingdom in 1918 and 1919, even though the movie’s pace tends to drag in some areas. This movie version of “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” should please fans of D.H. Lawrence’s 1928 novel of the same name (on which this movie is based), as well as viewers who might not have read the book but are interested in early 20th century stories about torrid love affairs and women who unapologetically live their truths. “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” had its world premiere at the 2022 Telluride Film Festival in Colorado and then made the rounds at other film festivals in 2022, including the BFI London Film Festival and AFI Fest in Los Angeles.

Directed by Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre, “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” is the fourth movie adaptation of the D.H. Lawrence book. The first “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” movie is director Just Jaeckin’s 1981 drama, starring Sylvia Kristel as Lady Chatterley and Nicholas Clay as Oliver Mellors, who becomes Lady Chatterley’s lover. Then came director Pascale Ferran’s 2006 French-language film “Lady Chatterley,” starring Marina Hands and Jean-Louis Coullo’ch as the two illicit lovers. There’s also the 2015 BBC TV-movie “Lady Chatterley’s Lover,” directed by Jed Mercurio, and starring Holliday Grainger and Richard Madden as the lady and her lover.

The 2022 movie version of “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” directed by de Clermont-Tonnerre is a cut above the rest, in terms of overall quality on all levels. This movie is also faithful to the plot and tone of the book. As the non-conformist Lady Chatterley, Corrin’s wonderfully expressive performance skillfully conveys the inner turmoil and outer frustrations of an aristocratic wife who is often emotionally stifled in an environment where her husband and society dictate how she must live her life. As the movie’s title character O’Connell is pitch-perfect as the working-class employee who is acutely aware of the social-class minefield he is entering by having an affair with his wealthy employer’s wife.

“Lady Chatterley’s Lover” begins with the 1918 wedding of Constance “Connie” Reid to Clifford Chatterley (played by Matthew Duckett), a wealthy heir to a fortune made from mining. Because Clifford has the title of lord, Connie will have the title of lady when she becomes his wife. The wedding is a happy occasion, because Connie and Clifford seem to genuinely be in love.

But there are some clues about possible trouble in this marriage. On Connie and Clifford’s wedding day, Connie’s older sister Hilda (played by Faye Marsay) has a private conversation with Connie, who had her heart broken by a German ex-boyfriend. It’s implied that Clifford is a rebound relationship for Connie, and they had a whirlwind courtship. This courtship is never seen in the movie.

Hilda tells Connie with concern in her voice, “I don’t want you to get hurt again.” Connie assures Hilda that she made the right decision to choose Clifford as a husband: “He’s kind and thoughtful, and he makes me feel safe.” But is there romantic passion between Connie and Clifford? Connie is about to find out that her marriage to Clifford will come up very short in that area.

At the wedding reception, Clifford’s widower father Sir Geoffrey Chatterley (played by Alistair Findlay) gives a toast to the assembled guests. Observant viewers will notice that behind Geoffrey’s cheerful smile and pleasant mannerisms are a few signs of discontent. One of the signs is when Geoffrey has thanked many of the guests who donated their butter and sugar rations “to help us celebrate.” It’s an indication that although the Chatterley family is wealthy, World I has taken a toll on the family’s finances.

Before making the toast, Geoffrey also makes a snide remark about Connie marrying Clifford (who has no siblings) for the Chatterley family’s sprawling and rural Wragby estate, located in the Midlands of England. Connie laughs off this possible insult and tells Geoffrey and the rest of the crowd that she and Clifford have married for love. Geoffrey’s comment is also an indication that Connie was into a lower-ranking artisocratic family. Connie’s father is Sir Malcolm Reid (played by Anthony Brophy), who approves of the marriage and is briefly shown in the wedding scene. Geoffrey’s toast includes this statement: “To the next heir of Chatterley.”

After the wedding, Connie and Clifford live in London. In their bedroom, she asks him, “Do you want children, Clifford?” He answers, “Yeah, someday. I’m assuming you would.” Connie replies, “I think so, yeah.” The movie doesn’t ever show Connie and Clifford having sex, but it’s implied that they had a healthy sex life before Clifford went off to serve in the military for World War I.

Clifford goes away to war soon after the wedding. “I’ll write to you every day,” he promises Connie at the train station. But when Clifford comes back from the war, after it ends in November 1918, the marriage will be changed considerably. Clifford was wounded in the war and has paralysis from the waist down. He has to use a wheelchair to move around. Clifford’s widower father Geoffrey died during the war, and Clifford has inherited the Ragby estate.

Clifford and Connie both seem to take his paraplegia in stride and agree that he needs to be in a less hectic environment than in a city. They move from London to the Ragby estate, which had largely been unoccupied since the death of Clifford’s father. “I think he died of chagrin,” Clifford says of his father not living long enough to have a grandchild.

At the Ragby estate, Connie and Clifford promptly hire several new employees, now that Clifford and Connie will be living there full-time. One of the people they hire is Oliver Mellors (played by O’Connell), who served as an army lieutenant in the war and has been hired to live and work on the Ragby estate as a gamekeeper. When Connie and Oliver first meet, there’s no attraction between the. It’s strictly an employer/employee relationship.

At first, Clifford seems to be good spirits in adjusting to his post-war physical condition. He’s a writer who decides to expand a short story that he started while attending Cambridge University into a novel. The novel gets published, but Clifford goes into a state of self-criticism and despair after he reads a newspaper article that has a negative review of the book. Connie tries to cheer him up, but this negative review has seemingly damaged Clifford’s self-esteem and confidence as a writer.

Clifford is also feeling insecure because his paraplegia has made him sexually impotent. Connie is as understanding as possible when her attempts to have sex with him end with Clifford stopping and saying, “I can’t.” But this lack of a sex life eventually has serious repercussions on their marriage.

Clifford expects Connie to be his nursemaid because he doesn’t want to pay to hire someone to do this work. (it’s one of many signs that Clifford is a cheapskate.) But the strain of taking care of him has left Connie in poor health. She lost an alarming amount of weight, which has lowered her energy level and immune system.

Hilda comes to visit and is so horrified by Connie’s physical condition, she insists that Clifford hire a nursemaid. Hilda thinks the best choice is a middle-aged widow named Mrs. Bolton (played by Joely Richardson), who was Clifford’s nanny when Clifford was a child. Hilda is strong-willed and very opinionated. Hilda lets it be known that she thinks Clifford could be a more considerate husband to Connie.

With Connie now having more free time without the stress of being Clifford’s nursemaid, her health starts to improve, even if the couple’s sex life hasn’t. But then, Clifford drops a bombshell proposal on Connie: He tells her more than anything, he wants to have an heir (preferably a son), so asks her how she would feel about getting pregnant by another man.

Connie is completely shocked and says she can’t do have sex with another man because she and Clifford are married. However, Clifford cheerfully tells her that he will have her blessing to have an extramarital affair, as long as she’s discreet about it. He also tells Connie that she can choose who her lover will be, but he doesn’t want to know who it is or any other details about the affair. He also compares this arrangement of having sex with a man who’ll impregnate her to “like taking a trip to the dentist.”

At this point in the marriage, Connie just wants to make Clifford happy. And although she’s uncomfortable with this plan, she goes along with it because she also wants to become a parent. Connie takes a mild interest in Oliver, who is a polite and reserved employee who lives in a cottage with his dog Flossie. Connie asks a schoolteacher acquaintance named Mrs. Flint (played by Ella Hunt) what Oliver’s story is.

And that’s how Connie finds out that Oliver is married but separated from his wife Bertha. According to Mrs. Flint, Bertha cheated on Oliver with several men when he was serving in the war. And now, Bertha is living with another man, but she won’t give Oliver a divorce. Connie’s German ex-boyfriend also cheated on her, so she immediately feels empathy for Oliver.

Connie comes up with excuses to visit Oliver or walk near his cottage. The first time she shows up at his place, she’s impressed that he’s reading a James Joyce novel. Over time, Connie discovers that Oliver is a caring and emotionally intelligent person, but he’s very wary about what Connie wants from him and how risky it would be for his employment status if they had an affair.

Of course, it should be no secret to viewers that Connie and Oliver eventually become lovers. When they begin their affair, she doesn’t tell him that Clifford gave her permission to have a lover so that she could get pregnant. She doesn’t tell Oliver because she doesn’t want to hurt his feelings by making him feel like he’s being used like a stud.

However, what Connie thought would be a “no strings attached” sexual relationship turns out to be much more complicated when she and Oliver start to fall in love with each other. Just as Clifford requested, Connie keeps the relationship a secret from him and other people. But the more emotionally distant Clifford gets, the more emotionally intimate Connie and Oliver get with each other.

Clifford seems to care more about writing, listening to the radio, and spending time with Mrs. Bolton (whom he sees as a mother figure/confidante) than he cares about spending time and paying attention to Connie. The movie has more than one scene of Connie being in a room with Clifford, and he acts as if she’s not really there. Feeling neglected and unappreciated just fuels Connie’s passion for Oliver even more because he’s completely present and attentive to her every time that they are together.

When the novel “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” was first published in 1928, it was controversial because its erotic content was considered too risqué, which resulted in the book being banned in some places. The Connie/Oliver sex scenes in 2022’s “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” gradually get more explicit as they fall deeper in love with each other. The lover scenes include occasional full-frontal nudity (male and female), but the nudity and sex scenes are artfully filmed and never look exploitative.

One of the most striking aspects of this version of “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” is Benoît Delhomme’s immersive and beautiful cinematography, whose use of certain palettes (especially blue and green) give the movie a rich vibrancy that is perfectly suited for this type of movie. Also impressive are the production design led by Karen Wakefield and the costume design by Emma Fryer. The attention to detail is impeccable.

All of these technical aspects of the movie just complement how well all of the cast members play their roles. Oliver and Connie might come from different social classes, but they are both an emotionally wounded in their own ways and find unexpected love with each other. The question is how far their loyalty to each other will go.

Connie also begins to understand that the true definition of “class” should not be defined by how much money someone has but what type of character that person has. Clifford is spoiled, self-centered snob who believes that aristocrats should treat non-aristocrats as inferior. Connie feels the exact opposite way and thinks that people should be treated fairly and equally.

It’s later revealed that Clifford exploits his workers by paying them well below a living wage. The movie doesn’t go too much into these worker exploitation issues, although there are indications that Connie becomes more aware as time goes on of the Chatterley family’s role in worker exploitation of the miners in the community. For example, when Connie first meets Mrs. Flint on the street during May Day, Connie is disturbed by the sight of a miner strike/labor protest that briefly becomes volatile. Mrs. Flint tells Connie that these miners have come from out of town, but Connie finds out that the miner’s problems actually hit much closer to home than she originally thought.

One of the main reasons why the “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” novel was so controversial at the time it was published is because it’s about a woman in search of autonomy over her sexuality. The right to control and the freedom to express sexuality have gender double standards that haven’t completely gone away just because there’s been progress made in female empowerment issues since 1928. People can certainly debate the morals of marital infidelity (especially if a spouse gives permission for the other spouse to have sex outside the marriage) and how marital infidelity is presented in this story. However, what this movie demonstrates so well is that the real morality issue in “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” is whether or not Connie can truthfully live according to how she really feels.

Netflix released “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” in select U.S. cinemas on November 23, 2022. The movie will premiere on Netflix on December 2, 2022.

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