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 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.

Review: ‘The Wonder’ (2022), starring Florence Pugh

November 16, 2022

by Carla Hay

Tom Burke, Florence Pugh and Kíla Lord Cassidy in “The Wonder” (Photo by Christopher Barr/Netflix)

“The Wonder” (2022)

Directed by Sebastián Lelio

Culture Representation: Taking place in 1862 in the Midlands of Ireland, the dramatic film “The Wonder” features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A Nightingale nurse from England is hired to go to Ireland to find out the reason why an 11-year-old girl has reportedly been able to survive for four months without eating and without any signs of starvation.

Culture Audience: “The Wonder” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star Florence Pugh and movies that make pointed observations about how religion can control and influence people’s lives.

Josie Walker, Toby Jones, Kíla Lord Cassidy, Niamh Algar and Florence Pugh in “The Wonder” (Photo by Aidan Monaghan/Netflix)

“The Wonder” will test the patience of viewers with short attention spans, but the movie’s subtlety, nuances and Florence Pugh’s standout performance are great rewards for people who want to see a drama about religion and moral hypocrisy. This is the type of movie where some of the biggest revelations don’t happen in loud, bombastic moments but occur in hushed tones and whispers that are sometimes engulfed in shame.

Directed by Sebastián Lelio, “The Wonder” is based on Emma Donoghue’s 2016 novel of the same name. Lelio, Donoghue and Alice Birch co-wrote the adapted screenplay for “The Wonder.” Although the movie is set in a rural Irish community in 1862, many of the themes in “The Wonder” transcend time and location and can apply to the past, present and future of any community where religion is the driving force of how people live. “The Wonder” had its world premiere at the 2022 Telluride Film Festival, and then had its Canadian premiere at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival.

The beginning of “The Wonder” has an unusual location of a movie set of props where no one is present, but viewers can hear this voiceover saying: “This is the beginning of a film called ‘The Wonder.’ The people you are about to meet, the characters believe in their stories with complete devotion.” The camera then moves from the prop-filled set to a movie-set replication of the inside of train, as the story begins and transports viewers back to the year 1862.

On the train is the central protagonist of “The Wonder”: Lib Wright (played by Pugh), a Nightingale nurse from England, who is traveling by herself to the Midlands of Ireland. A devoutly Catholic community (which is unnamed in the movie) has hired Lib to watch over an 11-year-old girl named Anna O’Donnell (played by Kíla Lord Cassidy), who has been in the news for being a “miracle girl.” Anna has reportedly not eaten for the past four months and has no signs of starvation or any weight loss.

Lib is a compassionate and strong-willed nurse who is very skeptical that Anna hasn’t eaten any food for the past four months. When she arrives at the boarding house where she’ll be staying, she finds out that she has to share a room with a nun named Sister Michael (played by Josie Walker), who will be sharing the work shift duties of watching over Anna. When Lib expresses some disappointment that she will have to share a room with a nun, instead of having her own room, the boarding house’s matriarch Mrs. Maggie Ryan (played by Ruth Bradley) quips, “Welcome to Ireland.”

In her first meal at the Ryan family home, Lib is polite, observant and somewhat guarded about herself. The Ryan family consists of Maggie; her husband, Sean Ryan (played by David Wilmot), who works as a publican; and their five daughters (played by Darcey Campion, Abigail Coburn, Carla Hurley O’Dwyer, Juliette Hurley O’Dwyer and Carly Kane). Maggie tells Anna that the eldest four daughters are Sean’s daughters from his marriage to his first wife, who is now deceased. The youngest daughter is the biological child of Sean and Maggie.

Sean is on a five-man committee overseeing Lib and Sister Michael in the women’s job of observing Anna. The other men on the committee are Dr. McBrearty (played by Toby Jones), Father Thaddeus (played by Ciarán Hinds), landowner John Flynn (played by Brian F. O’Byrne), and Baronet Sir Ottway (played by Dermot Crowley). Dr. McBrearty is the most outspoken of the five men and is the one who’s most likely to give orders. It should come as no surprise that independent-minded Lib will clash with Dr. McBrearty the most.

In Lib’s first meeting in front of the committee, she is adamantly told that her job is to observe and talk to Anna and do nothing else. Lib is not allowed to give Anna any food, water or medical attention. Lib is concerned and uncomfortable with this command, but Dr. McBrearty reminds Lib that she’s being paid a considerable amount of money to do whatever the committee tells her to do. Lib is told that after 15 days, Lib and Sister Michael will be required to give separate testimonial reports about what they each believe is the cause of Anna’s seemingly miraculous condition.

When Lib meets the O’Donnell family, she finds a deeply religious clan who’s emotionally haunted by the death of Anna’s older brother Pat, who passed away nine months earlier. A recent photo of Pat in the family home shows that he was about 15 years old. Pat’s cause of death is never fully explained, but it’s described in the movie as being a sudden death.

Anna’s parents Rosaleen O’Donnell (played by Elaine Cassidy) and Malachy O’Donnell (played by Caolán Byrne) appear to be humble and unassuming. Rosaleen is very devoted and nurturing to Anna, whom Rosaleen calls “a jewel, a wonder.” However, Lib can’t help but notice that Anna’s parents accept money from people who want to see this “miracle girl” up close. Lib thinks this practice is distasteful, and she sometimes sends these visitors away because Lib is more concerened about Anna’s health.

The O’Donnells have a housekeeper named Kitty (played by Niamh Algar), who is in her 20s, and who has recently started learning how to read. Kitty might not have a lot of formal education, but she is very knowledgeable about her surroundings and the people in the community. Kitty is usually the one to tell Lib some of the personal backgrounds of the people in the community. In other words, Kitty knows a lot more than people think she does.

As for Anna, she’s a mostly quiet child who will answer any questions about her condition by saying that it’s all coming from God. When Lib asks Anna how she’s been able to not have any physical effects of not eating, Anna insists that she’s getting “manna from heaven.” Lib asks, “How does it feel?” Anna replies, “Full.” That’s not a good-enough answer for Lib, who is very doubtful that Anna has not eaten anything for the past four months. Lib is determined to find out why.

Someone else who wants to get to the bottom of this mystery is Will Byrne (played by Tom Burke), a reporter for the Daily Telegraph in England. Will is visiting this community to investigate, so it’s inevitable that Lib meets Will. Kitty tells Lib that Will grew up in the community but moved to England for his university education and to pursue a career in journalism. According to Kitty, Will’s parents were so heartbroken that he left Ireland and didn’t keep in touch with them, so his parents locked themselves in their home and starved themselves to death during the Great Famine.

The Great Famine, which devastated Ireland from 1845 to 1849, resulted in about 100,000 people dying from starvation and disease, stemming from blighted potato crops that also caused an economic crisis. The village where the O’Donnells live was hit hard by the Great Famine, which is why Anna’s seemingly miraculous starvation survival has a particularly emotional resonance in this religious community. The voiceover in the beginning of the movie comments: “The Great Famine casts a long shadow, and the Irish hold the English responsible for all that devastation.”

It doesn’t take long for Lib to become frustrated by her employers’ orders not to help Anna in any way. One night, when she’s off-duty and hanging out at Sean’s pub, she angrily asks him: “What kind of backwards village imports a professional nurse for something like this?” Sean responds with equal ire and says to Lib, “Prove it’s nonsense, and then fuck off [and go] home.”

There’s some underlying tension between the Irish villagers and anyone they consider to be an “outsider,” especially those from England. Will, who has now made England his home, experiences a certain amount of mistrust from the villagers too, because Will is considered somewhat of a “traitor” to abandon his Irish home to move to England. At first, Will and Lib seem to be in hostile competition to find out what’s going on with Anna, but Lib and Will eventually discover that they actually like each other, and they bond over their “outsider” status in this village.

And who exactly is Lib? She slowly reveals information about herself to certain people. Viewers find out that she served in the Crimean War. After the war, she was married to a man who disappeared and is presumed dead. And she is in deep emotional pain over the death of her baby daughter, who passed away at three weeks old. Lib later confides in Anna that Lib’s husband left Lib shortly after the death of their child.

When Lib is alone in her room, she takes out a towel that has a pair of baby booties and some liquid opium. She has a secret self-harming ritual of getting high by drinking the opium and pricking an index finger until she sees blood. She then sucks the blood so that no stains appear anywhere. When Anna shows Lib a bloody tooth that has fallen out of Anna’s mouth, Lib wonders if Anna is also engaging in self-harm.

Observant viewers will notice that it’s mentioned early on in the movie that Anna has stopped eating since her 11th birthday. “The Wonder” has recurring themes and references to being reborn and people going through different transitions of life and death. Certain people in the story are obsessed with who is going to heaven or hell and who might be stuck in purgatory.

Lib, whose birth name is Elizabeth, is asked by Anna if she likes to call herself by any other names, such as Elizabeth, Beth or Liz. Later, after Lib reveals something about herself, Lib will ask Anna if she could be another person, what her name would be. Anna says she would choose the name Nan.

“The Wonder” often reflects the slow pace of a rural village, so this movie might be too sluggish for some viewers. However, the performances of the cast members are admirable, while the mystery of Anna’s condition can keep viewers curious enough to find out what will happen next and how the movie will end. Pugh is a solid anchor for “The Wonder,” which is not a movie that has her flashiest, awards-bait role, but it’s testament to how talented she is that her portrayals of various characters seem so natural.

Even though Pugh performs the role of Lib in an authentic way, others part of the “The Wonder” have a few authenticity flaws and disappointments. For example, this community is ruled by the teachings of the Catholic Church, but “The Wonder” inexplicably does not show enough of Father Thaddeus’ influence on this community. Father Thaddeus is a mostly silent member of the committee that is supervising Lib and Sister Michael. It’s an unfortunate waste of the talent of Oscar-nominated actor Hinds.

Lib also does something very dangerous toward the end of “The Wonder.” And how it’s staged in the movie looks rushed and somewhat hard to believe. The movie doesn’t deviate from the book in what happens, but the cinematic version of this conclusion seems crammed quickly into a movie that took its time to linger on other less meaningful parts of the story. These flaws are minor and don’t ruin “The Wonder,” which is a distinctive psychological drama that effectively portrays the conflicts that can occur between comforts of religious faith and the discomforts of harsh reality.

Netflix released “The Wonder” in select U.S. cinemas on November 2, 2022. The movie premiered on Netflix on November 16, 2022.

Review: ‘Good Night Oppy,’ starring Steve Squyres, Rob Manning, Doug Ellison, Jennifer Trosper, Kobie Boykins, Vandi Verman and Bekah Sosland-Siegfriedt

November 12, 2022

by Carla Hay

A digital recreation of the robotic rover Opportunity in “Good Night Oppy” (Image courtesy of Prime Video/Amazon Content Services)

“Good Night Oppy”

Directed by Ryan White

Culture Representation: Taking place in California and Florida and on Mars, the documentary film “Good Night Oppy” features a predominantly white group of people (with some black people and one person of Indian heritage), who are current and former NASA employees, discussing the journey of two identical roving robots—one named Spirit, the other named Opportunity—that NASA sent on a mission to explore Mars, in a journey that began in 2004.

Culture Clash: Spirit had frequent technical problems and other obstacles, while Opportunity (nicknamed Oppy) survived and thrived much longer than most people expected.

Culture Audience: “Good Night Oppy” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in documentaries about space exploration and overcoming seemngly impossible odds.

NASA employeees in “Good Night Oppy” (Image courtesy of Prime Video/Amazon Content Services)

“Good Night Oppy” informs, entertains, and gets people emotional about robot exploration on Mars. This impressive documentary is a perfect example of how science and technology are much more meaningful when they don’t lose their humanity. One of the best things about “Good Night Oppy” is that people don’t need to have any knowledge about outer-space exploration to enjoy the movie. People who don’t think they have any interest in this topic will probably be surprised by how engaging “Good Night Oppy” can be in telling this unique story.

Directed by Ryan White, “Good Night Oppy” had its world premiere at the 2022 Telluride Film Festival in Colorado. The documentary is told entirely from the perspectives of the NASA team members who were involved the journey of two physically identical robots named Spirit and Opportunity (nicknamed Oppy) that were sent to Mars (also known as “the red planet”) for an exploration mission. “Good Night Oppy” uses visual effects to recreate much of what Spirit and Opportunity saw and experienced on Mars. The movie also features many of the actual photos of Mars that the twins sent back to Earth, as well as archival footage of what was happening on Earth during this journey.

At first glance, it might seem like “Good Night Oppy” is a very one-sided documentary because it interviews only people connected to NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration). However, by the end of the movie, it’s obvious that it would have been a mistake for the “Good Night Oppy” filmmakers to overstuff the documentary with too many interviews of people who didn’t have direct knowledge of this history-making Mars exploration. The current and former NASA employees who tell this story have intimate details that no outside expert would be able to tell in such an informed way.

Even before this exploration of Mars began in January 2004, it was a long and often-frustrating road to get there. Steve Squryes, the principal scientist of the project, said that for about 10 years, beginning in the mid-1980s, NASA rejected his proposals about having robots explore Mars and doing things such as send images and other information about Mars back to Earth. When one of Squryes’ proposals was finally accepted, it took several more years for the robots to be designed and built up to NASA standards. Finally, the robots were ready to be sent to Mars in 2003.

Much of this work was done by NASA’s Mars Program at Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. It’s explained in the documentary that an ideal window of opportunity to send a robotic rover to Mars comes along once every 26 months. Ashley Stroupe, a rover driver responsible for the movements of NASA’s rovers on Mars, comments: “The overall goal of the Mars program has been the question of, ‘Did Mars actually have life?'”

Two special robots named Spirit and Opportunity were about to find out and let people on Earth know what was discovered. Spirit and Opportunity are described as robotic rovers that were built as identical twins, but they ended having very different “personalities” and experiences on Mars. Both rovers were given the female gender when assigning their pronouns.

Each rover was 5’2″, which is the average height of a human being. But that’s as far as the similarities went to how much the rovers physically resembled human beings. Atshitey Trebi-Ollennu, a robotics engineer, explains in the documentary that the rovers’ arms were designed to have “multiple instruments to take measurements and microscopic images, like a Swiss Army knife.” Each rover also had six wheels for movement on the ground.

From the beginning, Spirit was the one who ran into the most problems. Spirit failed the first major test, while Opportunity passed the same test. As camera operations engineer Doug Ellison says in the documentary, “Even before they left this planet, Spirit was troublesome. Opportunity was Little Miss Perfect.”

Eventually, the twins were ready for their trip to Mars with their launch at Kennedy Space Center on Florida’s Merritt Island. Spirit launched on June 10, 2003, and landed on Mars on January 3, 2004. Opportunity launched on July 7, 2003, and landed on Mars on January 24, 2004.

Due to extreme weather conditions on Mars and any unforeseen events, the rovers were expected to last about 90 days on Mars. Spirit and Opportunity lasted much longer than 90 days. And one of them lasted even longer than most of the NASA scientists and engineers even thought was possible. (How long Spirit and Opportunity lasted will not be revealed in this review, so as not to spoil this information for people who don’t know and want to find out when watching “Good Night Oppy.”)

The documentary mentions that NASA’s Mars program team would make bets on if either, both or neither of the robots would still be functioning the following year. During every bet, Squyres admits he always pessimistically predicted that Spirit and Opportunity would not make it to the following year, in order to be prepared for this disappointment. But contrast, lead systems engineer Rob Manning says that he always optimistically predicted that Spirit and Opportunity would survive through the following year.

Spirit and Opportunity landed on two very different parts of Mars, affecting each rover’s journey. Spirit landed in Gusev Crater, experienced freezing temperatures that would kill any human being, and had several malfunctions and setbacks along the way. By contrast, Opportunity landed in a small crater in the Meridiani plains, she traveled in much more moderate temperatures, and she had malfunctions that were minor, compared to Spirit’s malfunctions.

Mission manager Jennifer Trosper quips in the documentary, “Oppy was at the equator, like the vacation spot of Mars.” Earlier in the documentary, Trosper comments on why people on Earth put so much effort into outer-space travel: “Something I think we all wonder about as we look up into the night sky is if we’re really alone in this universe. And trying to understand that is one of the great mysteries we have.”

One of the main priorities of this mission was to see if Mars had any evidence of water that would be drinkable to people on Earth. Spirit’s exploration found no evidence of water on Mars. By contrast, Opportunity found evidence that there used to be water on Mars, when hematite was seen in her landing space. It’s explained in the documentary that the water from hematite had qualities like battery acid, but it was still water nonetheless. Oppy would later make an even bigger discovery related to water on Mars.

In other words, Oppy became the “star” rover of this mission, but that didn’t mean that people inside and outside of NASA didn’t get emotionally attached to both rovers. There were nerve-wracking moments when the twins experienced the same problems at different times—signals that got lost, tornado-like winds that forced the mission control team to temporarily shut the rovers down to save on battery energy, and emergency reboots that were never guaranteed to work.

“Good Night Oppy” gives a riveting behind-the-scenes look at the anxiety, joy, fear, sadness and hope that went into this mission. The movie also shows and tells in easy-to-understand details how Spirit and Opportunity were controlled by the team on Earth, and how these two rovers were given autonomy to make their own decisions.

Vandi Verma, one of the rover drivers, explains what was like to operate a rover: “It’s not like regular driving, because it takes four to 20 minutes for a signal to reach Mars. We send the commands, we go off and sleep. And the rover will execute the drive that day. And by the time the drive is done, we come back and get the results and start the planning.”

Spirit and Opportunity also had “diaries” during their journey, which are intermittently narrated in “Good Night Oppy” by Angela Bassett. The narration gives a very calm and authoritative human voice to the thought processes and actions of rovers that weren’t humans but who acted like living beings capable of making their own decisions. It’s no wonder that people got so emotionally attached to Spirit and Opportunity.

Ellison comments, “Yeah, it’s a robot, but through this robot, we’re on this incredible adventure together, and she becomes a family member.” Squyres describes how he felt when the robots he dreamed about and planned for all those years were finally completed and ready to go to Mars: “To say it’s like a child being born is to trivialize parenthood, but it sort of feels like that.” Mechanical engineer Kobie Boykins comes right out and says that Spirit and Opportunity were like his “babies,” and when they went to Mars, it was similar to how a parent feels when a child grows up and leaves home to live somewhere else.

“Good Night Oppy” does a very good job of giving the interviews a personal touch, by letting each person interviewed talk a little bit about how and why they became passionate about outer-space exploration. Boykins mentions that when he was a kid, “Star Trek: The Next Generation” character Geordi La Forge (played by LeVar Burton) was a huge inspiration for him. Trosper’s father used to work on space missiles, and she credits him with encouraging her to pursue her dream of having a NASA career at a time when many girls and women were told that technology-related work at NASA was a man’s job. Trebi-Ollennu, who is originally from Ghana, talks about his earliest memory of being interested in engineering came from his childhood, when he was fascinated by how a radio works.

Planetary protection engineer Moogega Cooper says that when she was a child, she entered NASA’s contest to name the twin rovers before the rovers were sent to Mars. She chose the names Romulus and Remus, the twin sons of the god Mars from Roman mythology. Deputy project scientist Abigail Freeman was one of the 16 high school students from around the world who were chosen to be in the mission control room when Oppy’s first images of Mars were sent to Earth. Years, later Freeman would be working in NASA’s Mars program as a scientist.

Some of the interviewees talk about the parallels between what Spirit and Opportunity experienced and what was going on in their own personal lives. Verma says that she was pregnant with twins during part of the time that she spent as a rover driver during the mission. Flight director Bekah Sosland-Siegfriedt, who says that Opportunity was the reason why she wanted to become a space engineer, shares a poignant story of how her grandmother was living with Alzheimer’s disease at the same time that Opportunity was getting older and losing her memory.

In addition to having stunning visual images and heartfelt stories, “Good Night Oppy” makes excellent use of music, with an emotionally stirring score by Blake Neely and some well-chosen soundtrack song choices. One of the rituals during the mission was a morning wakeup song that usually fit the plan (or intended plan) of the day. Songs like The B-52’s “Roam,” ABBA’s “S.O.S.” and Billie Holiday’s “I’ll Be Seeing You” are featured prominently in some of the documentary’s pivotal scenes.

“Good Night Oppy” has all of the elements of a better-than-average documentary and excels in areas where similar documentaries might stumble. “Good Night Oppy” can educate people without being a boring or condescending lecture. It tells a story that involves some of the highest levels of science, but they’re described in ways that people of many different backgrounds and ages can relate to and understand. And, most importantly, “Good Night Oppy” shows that inspiration, camaraderie and possibilities can have no borders and can extend well beyond planet Earth.

Amazon Studios released “Good Night Oppy” in select U.S. cinemas on November 4, 2022. Prime Video will premiere the movie on November 23, 2022.

Review: ‘TÁR,’ starring Cate Blanchett

October 9, 2022

by Carla Hay

Cate Blanchett in “TÁR” (Photo courtesy of Focus Features)

“TÁR”

Directed by Todd Field

Some language in German with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in Berlin and New York City, the dramatic film “TÁR” features a cast of predominantly white characters (with some Asians) representing the middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: An internationally famous classical music conductor finds her life spiraling out of control when her past actions come back to haunt her. 

Culture Audience: TÁR” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star Cate Blanchett, writer/director Todd Field and well-acted movies about powerful people who experience a scandalous fall from grace..

Cate Blanchett and Nina Hoss in “TÁR” (Photo courtesy of Focus Features)

Cate Blanchett’s riveting performance in writer/director Todd Field’s “TÁR” makes it a psychological minefield of a drama. It’s an absorbing portrait of someone intoxicated by her own power and facing a reckoning that’s as unwelcome to her as a nasty hangover. Blanchett’s Lydia Tár character is a classical music conductor who has reached the top of her field, which makes her public downfall such a disastrous mess. Viewers can decide for themselves if this downfall could have been diminished based on how it was handled by the movie’s central character.

“TÁR” is Field’s first movie as a writer/director/producer since his Oscar-nominated 2006 drama “Little Children,” another movie about how a woman is affected by a sex-related scandal. Whereas “Little Children” told the story of a private citizen in a suburban U.S. neighborhood, “TÁR” is about a public figure who is an internationally famous entertainer. “TÁR” had its world premiere at the 2022 Venice International Film Festival in Italy and subsequently had premieres at the 2022 Telluride Film Festival in Colorado, and the 2022 New York Film Festival in New York City.

In “TÁR,” Lydia fits every definition of a type-A personality who’s an overachiever. The movie’s opening scene takes place at The New Yorker Festival, where writer Adam Gopnik (playing a version of himself) is interviewing Lydia in a one-on-one Q&A in front of the audience. It’s a laudatory interview, where her accomplishments are listed like badges of honor: She graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Harvard University. Lydia is also a piano performance graduate of the Curtis Institute, and she has a Ph.D. in musicology from the University of Vienna, specializing in music from the Ucayali Valley in Eastern Peru.

At one time or another, she has been a conductor for all of the “Big Five” American orchestras: New York Philharmonic, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Philadelphia Orchestra and Cleveland Orchestra. Lydia is a rare entertainer who is an EGOT winner: someone who has won an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony. She considers herself to be a New Yorker, and has a home in New York City, where she still visits on a regular basis. However, for the past seven years, Lydia has been living in Berlin, because she has been a conductor for an unnamed German orchestra.

Lydia, who describes herself as a “U-Haul lesbian,” lives with her German domestic partner Sharon Goodnow (played by Nina Hoss) and their adopted Syrian daughter Petra (played by Mila Bogojevic), who is about 6 or 7 years old. Sharon is a violinist in the German orchestra that Lydia conducts. It’s the first sign in the movie that Lydia has a tendency to blur the lines between her job and her personal life.

Lydia is a loner who doesn’t have a close circle of friends, so Sharon is Lydia’s closest confidante. Sharon knows a lot of Lydia’s secrets. However, Sharon eventually finds out that she doesn’t really know everything about Lydia. Two American men also have an influence on Lydia, and they give her advice, whether she wants to hear it or not.

Eliot Kaplan (played by Mark Strong) is an investment banker and amateur conductor, who has financed a non-profit program called the Accordion Conducting Fellowship, which is led by Lydia. The fellowship gives apprenticeships and job opportunities to aspiring female classical music conductors in this very male-dominated field. Near the beginning of the movie, Lydia tells Eliot during a lunch meeting that she’s thinking that the program recipients shouldn’t just be one gender.

The other man who plays an influential role in Lydia’s life is her mentor Andris Davis (played by Julian Glover), who was her predecessor at the German orchestra that Lydia currently conducts. Andris was the one who recommended her for the job, although it’s made clear throughout the movie that Lydia’s talent is so highly respected and sought-after, she probably didn’t need to a recommendation to get the job. What started out as a temporary job for Lydia to be the guest conductor position at this German orchestra turned out to be a long-term, permanent position.

If viewers believe the narrative that Lydia tells people, one of the reasons why she and Sharon decided to settle in Berlin was to be closer to Sharon’s family members who live in the area. But as the story unfolds, it becomes pretty obvious that Lydia might have had a reason to avoid living in New York full-time. It turns out that Lydia has a “stalker” who lives in New York City.

Lydia’s French assistant Francesca Lentini (played by Noémie Merlant) knows who this “stalker” is, because this person has been sending obsessive and threatening email messages to Lydia. Francesca has permission to access these messages, because Francesca screens Lydia’s mail. Francesca is an aspiring conductor who greatly admires Lydia and considers Lydia to be her mentor.

Over time, based on the way that Francesca acts and what she says, Francesca seems to assume that she will be Lydia’s first choice if any big job opportunity comes along that Lydia can help Francesca get. Lydia expects unwavering loyalty from Francesca, but Francesca expects the same loyalty in return. There’s some sexual tension between Lydia and Francesca that will make viewers speculate if or when the relationship between Lydia and Francesca ever became sexually intimate.

Just like a lot of hard-driving, ambitious and accomplished people, Lydia is a perfectionist who is just as hard on herself as she is on other people. A very telling scene is when she is a guest teacher in a classical music class at the prestigious Juilliard School in New York City. The students seem very intimidated by Lydia’s reputation for being merciless in her criticism, but she’s also full of praise for anyone who meets or exceeds her high standards.

During this class session, Lydia singles out a student named Max (played by Zethphan Smith-Gneist) and asks him, “What are you actually conducting?” Max is so nervous in her presence, one of Max’s legs is literally shaking as Max talks to her. However, Max isn’t so afraid of Lydia that Max won’t challenge some of the things that she lectures to the students.

For example, Lydia tells the students any great conductor or musician can find something to relate to in the music of classical icons Johann Sebastian Bach or Ludwig van Beethoven. Max disagrees and tells Lydia and the rest of the people in the room: “As a BIPOC [black, indigenous, or person of color], pan-gender person, it’s impossible to take Bach seriously.”

Lydia tells Max that she doesn’t know what BIPOC and pan-gender means, and her attitude is that she doesn’t care to know. She treats Max dismissively, like an ignorant young person whose opinions matter very little to her, because she’s the more experienced, older person. Finally, a fed-up Max gets tired of feeling belittled by Lydia, and Max walks out of the class. Before leaving the room, Max tells Lydia, “You’re a fucking bitch.”

In response, a stone-faced Lydia calls Max a “robot.” Throughout the movie, Lydia mentions that she dislikes it when people act like robots. During her lunch with Eliot, she says, “There’s no glory for a robot. Do your own thing.” Ironically, when Lydia’s world starts to come crashing down on her, she represses her emotions and turns to rigid routines (such as rigorous jogging and boxing) to cope, and thereby acts very much like a “robot,” in an attempt to tune out her troubles.

Lydia is under enormous career pressure when things start to fall apart for her. The German orchestra is preparing for a Deutsche Grammophon live recording date of Mahler’s Symphony No. 5, which will be a major accomplishment in her career. In addition, Lydia is working on writing an original classical piece. However, she seems to be having writer’s block, and she doesn’t really want to admit this problem to anyone.

While in Berlin, Lydia meets a Russian cellist Olga Metkina (played by Sophie Kauer), who is 18 or 19 years old. Olga acts like a star-struck fan with Lydia, who is flattered. Lydia also seems to be sexually attracted to Olga. Meanwhile, Olga seems to be aware of this attraction and makes it clear that she’s eager for any opportunity to work with Lydia.

“TÁR” is fascinating to watch for how it unpeels the layers of Lydia’s contradictory character that is capable of hiding a web of lies and secrets. Lydia can be charismatic and funny, but she can also be ruthless and cruel. She is a workaholic who doesn’t spend a lot of quality time with her daughter Petra, but Lydia quietly threatens the girl at Petra’s school who has been bullying Petra.

Lydia claims to be open to collaboration and hearing different ideas, but when anyone dares to question her ideas or decisions, she gets revenge in passive-aggressive ways. An elderly orchestra member named Sebastian Brix (played by Allan Corduner) finds out the hard way how vindictive Lydia can be. What happens to Sebastian sets off a certain chain events that will accelerate the scandal that could lead to Lydia’s downfall.

In telling the story of this complex person, Field also uses haunting flashback techniques that resemble a fever dream, where Lydia remembers things related to the scandal that threatens to end her career. Lydia also sometimes wakes up in the middle of the night to random sounds, such as a metronome that seems to have started on its own. It further fuels the sense that Lydia is being haunted. How much of it is her own doing? As the tension builds and things get worse for Lydia, the movie’s cinematography (played by Florian Hoffmeister) and the music (by Hildur Guðnadóttir) become more foreboding, creating a sense that the proverbial walls are closing in on her.

The character of Lydia is so well-written and embodied with such realism by Blanchett, people who don’t know anything about the world of classical music might mistake “TÁR” for being a biopic based on a real person. All of the other cast members play their parts well, but the movie would not be as effective without Blanchett’s masterful performance. (Field has said in interviews that he wrote the “TÁR” role only for Blanchett.) It’s the type of virtuoso, top-notch performance that would make Lydia Tár very proud.

Focus Features released “TÁR” in select U.S. cinemas on October 7, 2022, with an expansion to more U.S. cinemas on October 28, 2022.

Review: ‘Marcel the Shell With Shoes On,’ starring the voice of Jenny Slate

June 21, 2022

by Carla Hay

Connie (voiced by Isabella Rossellini) and Marcel (voiced by Jenny Slate) in “Marcel the Shell With Shoes On” (Image courtesy of A24)

“Marcel the Shell With Shoes On”

Directed by Dean Fleischer Camp

Culture Representation: Taking place in Los Angeles, the animated/live-action film “Marcel the Shell With Shoes On” has a nearly all-white cast of characters (with one Latina) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A young male seashell and his grandmother, who are living by themselves in an Airbnb rental house after their other family members have gone missing, have to adjust to a new life when a documentary filmmaker moves into the house.

Culture Audience: “Marcel the Shell With Shoes On” will appeal primarily to people who like quirky films that blend animation with live action.

Marcel (voiced by Jenny Slate) and Dean Fleischer Camp in “Marcel the Shell With Shoes On” (Image courtesy of A24)

“Marcel the Shell With Shoes On” could have been an excessively cute film about tiny sea shells with human-like characteristics, but this unique movie is an offbeat charmer with an appealing mix of comedy and sentimentality about life and love. The movie has an artistic blend of live action and stop-motion animation that looks organic, not forced. And although there are some parts of the film that get repetitive and not all of the jokes land well, the positive aspects of “Marcel the Shell With Shoes On” far outnumber any of the movie’s small flaws. “Marcel the Shell With Shoes On” had its world premiere at the 2021 Telluride Film Festival and made the rounds at other film festivals, including South by Southwest (SXSW), the Seattle International Film Festival and the San Francisco International Film Festival.

The origin story of “Marcel the Shell With Shoes On” is self-referenced throughout the movie, which has a plot that’s similar to how the movie’s title character first became an international sensation. In real life, filmmaker Dean Fleischer Camp and actress Jenny Slate did a series of short comedy videos called “Marcel the Shell With Shoes On,” beginning in 2010. In these videos, Slate voiced the character of Marcel, a talkative one-inch sea shell with one eye, human feet and a wryly observant and inquisitive view of life. Based on the way that Marcel talks, he has the intelligence and emotional maturity of a human boy who’s about 9 or 10 years old.

These videos about Marcel became a worldwide hit on the Internet and inspired children’s books written by Slate and Flesicher Camp. And now, there’s an entire movie about Marcel. The feature film “Marcel the Shell With Shoes On,” directed by Fleischer Camp (who co-wrote the movie’s screenplay with Slate and Nick Paley) takes viewers on Marcel’s often-emotional journey to find his missing family members. Marcel lives in a middle-class house somewhere in Los Angeles, where the unmarried human couple named Larissa (played by Rosa Salazar) and Mark (played by Thomas Mann), who previously occupied the house, had a bitter breakup. The house is now being used as an Airbnb rental.

Marcel’s wise and practical grandmother Connie (voiced by Isabella Rossellini) is Marcel’s only family member who hasn’t gone missing. Among the those who have gone missing in Marcel’s family (they are all one-eyed small shells with feet) are Marcel’s parents Mario and Connie and Marcel’s brother Justin. What bothers Marcel and Connie the most is that they didn’t have a chance to say goodbye, and they have no idea where the other family members went. Marcel and Connie have photos and illustrations of their family members as visual mementos.

Marcel and Connie have a very close relationship. She often teaches Marcel things about life, often in answer to Marcel’s seemingly endless stream of questions. Connie and Marcel also love to watch “60 Minutes” together and are big fans of “60 Minutes” correspondent Lesley Stahl. Marcel describes Connie as very independent and resourceful. For example, Marcel says that Connie taught herself how to farm. Connie also loves to garden and spends a lot of her time in the home’s garden.

At times, Marcel has a childlike wonder and curiosity about the modern world. Other times, he has a simple clarity about how to react to difficulties or problems because he doesn’t have as much emotional baggage or insecurity as someone who is an adult. Throughout the movie, there are whimsical moments and more serious moments where Marcel’s personality and quirks get various reactions to those around him.

In the beginning of the movie, Marcel says that he and Connie are living by themselves in the house, along with their pet lint named Alan. Their solitude ends when an Airbnb renter moves into the house with his white terrier mix dog named Arthur. He’s a mild-mannered filmmaker named Dean Fleischer-Camp (playing a version of himself), who needs a new place to stay because he has recently separated from his wife. In a case of art imitating life, Slate and Fleischer Camp (who used to spell his surname as Fleischer-Camp) got married in 2012 and then got divorced in 2016.

As expected, Marcel is curious about the house’s new human resident, and the feeling is mutual. It takes Marcel much longer to get used to Arthur, Dean’s dog, since Marcel is sometimes annoyed by how the dog smells and keeps interrupting Marcel like a curious and playful dog would do. Marcel shows Dean around the house, including the potted plant where Marcel sleeps on a slice of bread. Marcel describes where he sleeps as his “breadroom.”

Marcel might seem like a precocious child, but he doesn’t know a lot about modern technology. Dean tells Marcel that he’s making an online documentary. Marcel’s response is “Online? You lost me.” Eventually, Dean shows Marcel how the Internet works when Dean begins posting videos of Marcel online. The videos become an international sensation, with Marcel developing a huge fan base. (Sound familiar?)

Marcel is overwhelmed and often flabbergasted by all this newfound attention. However, he thinks it can be put to good use when he asks Dean to help get the word out about Marcel’s missing family members. You can easily predict which TV news show might get involved. Someone who doesn’t really want to get too caught up in the fanfare is Connie, who is very skeptical of the Internet and all modern technology.

The first third of “Marcel the Shell With the Shoes On” seems like a series of skits weaved together, with a lot of wisecracking remarks from Marcel, as he and Dean start to get to know each other and eventually become friends. The other two-thirds of the movie begin to have more substance when the story focuses more on the search for Marcel’s family members. The movie has themes of love, heartbreak and grief that are handled with sensitivity without being mawkish.

For example, Marcel begins to notice after a while that Dean is very curious about Marcel, but Dean is very reluctant to talk about himself. And it’s not just because Dean wants to be an journalistic documentarian. Dean is having difficulty processing the breakup of his marriage. Dean’s preoccupation with Marcel’s problems are a way for him to cope with or avoid his own personal problems.

The movie doesn’t fully show Dean on camera until a pivotal part of the story when he’s essentially forced to talk about himself. It’s a clever way that the movie has Dean “coming out of the shadows” that reflect his own willingness to be open up more about himself and show more vulnerability. Fleischer Camp gives a solid performance, but the character of Dean seems to know that Marcel is the real star of the show.

“Marcel the Shell With Shoes On” has terrific voice work from Slate and Rossellini, who make an endearing and believable duo as a grandparent and grandchild. Connie isn’t a new character, but this movie is the first time that Connie gets her own backstory and story arc. Not everything in “Marcel the Shell With Shoes On” is comedic, since the movie has some tearjerking moments that might catch some viewers by surprise. In a cinematic era when animated/live-action hybrid films are so focused on dazzling viewers with big adventures that are visual spectacles, it’s nice to have a movie like “Marcel the Shell With Shoes On” that focuses more on everyday emotional connections and appreciating loved ones during life’s ups and downs.

A24 will release “Marcel the Shell With Shoes On” in select U.S. cinemas on June 24, 2022, with an expansion to more U.S. cinemas on July 15, 2022.

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

April 23, 2022

by Carla Hay

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

“Petite Maman”

Directed by Céline Sciamma

French with subtitles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 19, 2021

by Carla Hay

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

“C’mon C’mon”

Directed by Mike Mills

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2019 Telluride Film Festival: programming slate announced

August 29, 2019

by Carla Hay

The 46th annual Telluride Film Festival—which takes place August 30 to September 2, 2019 in Telluride, Colorado—has announced its lineup of movies. They include the world premieres of “Judy,” starring Renée Zellweger as Judy Garland; “Ford v Ferrari,” starring Christian Bale as a race-car driver and Matt Damon as a car designer who team up to build a champion race car; “Waves,” an African American family drama, starring Sterling K. Brown; and “Motherless Brooklyn,” a crime drama starring and directed by Edward Norton as a private investigator involved in a murder case.

The Telluride Film Festival, along with the Venice International Film Festival in Italy and the Toronto International Film Festival in Canada, can be considered one of the most important Oscar-contender launching pads from August to September. Unlike other major film festivals, which announce their movies weeks in advance, the Telluride Film Festival keeps its slate of movies a secret until a day or two before the festival begins.

Because the Telluride and Venice film festivals overlap in time frame, they both tend to have a lot of the same films, with Venice (the larger festival) usually having the edge in getting world premieres. For example, in 2018, both festivals had “Roma,” “The Favourite” and “First Man”—three movies that had their world premieres at Venice, and went on to win to win several awards, including Oscars and Golden Globes. In 2018, Telluride had the world premiere of the mountain-climbing documentary “Free Solo” (which won the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature) and the true-crime drama “Can You Ever Forgive Me?,” which received three Oscar nominations.

The 2019 Telluride Film Festival will also have a tribute to the late Belgian French filmmaker Agnès Varda, who died on March 29. The last film she directed, the documentary “Varda by Agnes,” will screen at the festival.

In addition, the festival’s 2019 Silver Medallion Awards (given to those who’ve had significant achievements in movies) will go to Zellweger; actor Adam Driver (whose movies “Marriage Story” and “The Report” are at the festival); and writer/director Philip Kaufman, who will have two of his  movies screening at the festival “The Right Stuff” (1983) and “The Wanderers” (1979).

Dolby Laboratories will receive the festival’s 2019 Special Medallion Award.

Also at the festival is the Aretha Franklin concert documentary “Amazing Grace,” which was filmed in 1972 but wasn’t officially released in theaters until 2018 for a limited run, followed by a wider release in 2019.

Here is the complete lineup of feature-length movies in the “Show” main program at the 2019 Telluride Film Festival:

“The Aeronauts” (Directed by Tom Harper, U.S./U.K.)
“The Assistant” (Directed by Kitty Green, U.S.)
“The Australian Dream” (Directed by Daniel Gordon, Australia)
“Beanpole” (Directed by Kantemir Balagov, Russia)
“The Climb” (Directed by Michael Angelo Covino)
“Country Music” (Directed by Ken Burns, U.S.)
“Coup 53” (Directed by Taghi Amirani, U.K.)
“Diego Maradona” (Directed by Asif Kapadia, U.K.)
“Family Romance, LLC” (Directed by Werner Herzog, U.S./Japan)
“First Cow” (Directed by Kelly Reichardt, U.S.)
“Ford v Ferrari” (Directed by James Mangold, U.S.)
“A Hidden Life” (Directed by Terrence Malick, U.S.)
“The Human Factor” (Directed by Dror Moreh, U.K.)
“Inside Bill’s Brain” (Directed by Davis Guggenheim)
“Judy” (Directed by Rupert Goold, U.K./U.S.)
“The Kingmaker” (Directed by Lauren Greenfield, U.S.)
“Lyrebird” (Directed by Dan Friedkin, U.S.)
“Marriage Story” (Directed by Noah Bumbach, U.S.)
“Motherless Brooklyn” (Directed by Edward Norton, U.S.)
“Oliver Sacks: His Own Life” (Directed by Ric Burns, U.S.)
“Pain and Glory” (Directed by Pedro Almodóvar, Spain)
“Parasite” (Directed by Bong Joon-Ho, South Korea)
“Portrait of a Lady on Fire” (Directed by Céline Sciamma, France)
“The Report” (Directed by Scott Z. Burns, U.S.)
“Tell Me Who I Am” (Directed by Ed Perkins)
“Those Who Remained” (Directed by Barnabás Toth, Hungary)
“The Two Popes” (Directed by Fernando Meirelles, U.K.)
“Uncut Gems” (Directed by Josh Safdie and Benny Safdie, U.S.)
“Varda by Agnès” (Directed by Agnès Varda, France)
“Verdict” (Directed by Raymond Ribay Gutierrez, Philippines)
“Waves” (Directed by Trey Edward Shults, U.S.)
“Women Make Film: A New Road Movie Through Cinema” (Directed by Mark Cousins, U.K.)

Here is the complete list of films for the “Backlot” selection of documentaries at the 2019 Telluride Film Festival:

“63 Up” (Directed by Michael Apted, U.K.)
“Billie” (Directed by James Erskine, U.K.)
“Chulas Fronteras” (Directed by Les Blank, U.S., 1976)
“The Gift: The Journey of Johnny Cash” (Directed by Thom Zimny, U.S.)
“Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice” (Directed by Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman, U.S.)
“Nomad: In the Footsteps of Bruce Chatwin” (Directed by Werner Herzog, U.S.)
“Soros” (Directed by Jesse Dylan, U.S.)
“Uncle Yanco” (Directed by Agnès Varda, France/U.S., 1967) + “Black Panthers” (Directed by Agnès Varda, France-U.S., 1968)

Guest Director Pico Iyer, who serves as a key collaborator in the festival’s program, presents the following revival programs:

“Late Autumn” (Directed by Yasujirō Ozu, Japan, 1960)
“The Makioka Sisters” (Directed by Kon Ichikawa, Japan, 1983)
“Mr. and Mrs. Iyer” (Directed by Aparna Sen, India, 2002)
“The Phantom Carriage” (Directed by Victor Sjöström, Sweden, 1921) — new 35 mm print
“Under the Sun” (Directed by Vitaly Mansky, Czech Republic-Russia-Germany-Latvia-North Korea, 2015)
“When a Woman Ascends the Stairs” (Directed by Mikio Naruse, Japan, 1960)
“The Wind” (Directed by Victor Sjöström, U.S, 1928)

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