By William Wolf
AUGUSTINE Send This Review to a Friend
Directed by Alice Winocour and shown earlier at the 2013 Rendez-Vous with French Film series, “Augustine” is based on a real case story dating to the 19th century and concerning a famous French neurologist, under whom Freud studied. The concern here is with the relationship between Dr. Jean-Martin Charcot and Augustine, his teenage patient. It also concerns the popular diagnosis of hysteria applied to women at the time.
Augustine, movingly played by Soko, who works as a kitchen maid, suffers from seizures. At the psychiatric hospital to which she has been sent, Dr. Charcot, played by the excellent Vincent Lindon, notices the physical pleasure she gets from one of her seizures, which results in partial paralysis. The doctor is fascinated by the sexual connection. In the course of his fund-raising efforts for his work, he callously uses Augustine as his example before groups of doctors to demonstrate what happens to her under hypnosis.
The patient, kept in the dark about how the doctor intends to cure her, becomes enamored of the doctor and he, while attempting to keep his distance, cannot help but be intrigued and sexually aroused by her.
The film is impressive in the way it carries us along in its grasp, including by the various experimentations and results. A climactic ending, perhaps inevitable given the circumstances, is likely to arouse controversy and discussion, making the film especially provocative in terms of its doctor-patient relationship and ethical considerations.
This is a serious, fascinating exploration rooted in medical history but also dramatically compelling in our own time, and the film is expertly constructed and involving. A Music Box Films release. Reviewed May 17, 2013.
THE GREAT GATSBY Send This Review to a Friend
When the noise of “The Great Gatsby” shuts up and we get a chance to zero in on conversation minus the onslaught by director Baz Luhrmann, with his oppressive use of the wrong music and hectic editing, we get a glimmer of quality. Otherwise, this is a film that gives you more headache than heartache. What emotion there is becomes overwhelmed by the director’s terrible taste.
It is the height of wrong-headedness to provide a hip-hop score to a story that takes place in the jazz age, with the imposed music in opposition to what is happening on screen. In the Wall Street Journal, in a piece by Will Friedwald about music cited in the writing of F. Scott Fitzgerald, he observes how Fitzgerald made very specific references to jazz. This renders the use of hip-hop by Luhrmann all the more absurd. But let’s face it—this film version is more about Luhrmann than Fitzgerald.
And what’s with the 3-D? Apart from enabling higher admission charges at the box office, 3-D makes no artistic sense in terms of added effects. There are no tigers roaring at us—just actors, fast cars and bacchanal scenes that we could take in quite normally without having to endure the uncomfortable ritual of special glasses.
The performances, when freed from Luhrmann’s warped vision, can be quite effective. Leonardo DiCaprio is fine delineating the mystique of Gatsby and his love for Daisy, whose allure is captured by the attractive Carey Mulligan. Tobey Maguire does well as Nick Carraway, carrying the film’s perspective via his memories, as written in the screenplay adaptation credited to Craig Pearce. Joel Edgerton makes a strong possessive and unpleasant Tom Buchanan, resisting Gatsby’s efforts to take Daisy away from him.
There is not much sense in having Nick reflect during treatment at a mental institution, where he manages to write what in effect is Fitzgerald’s novel. But why expect sense in a film that will substitute hip-hop for the jazz of the period? Visually there are some striking scenes, and I have encountered women, subjected to the promotional hype, who say they are eager to see the clothes worn in the film. I suppose that’s as good a reason as any to go.
See the film and make up your own mind if you care to make the expedition. But from my vantage point, perhaps the film should have been titled (cynically, not qualitatively) “The Great Luhrmann,” given how overshadowed Fitzgerald is. Reviewed May 10, 2013.
STORIES WE TELL Send This Review to a Friend
Canadian writer-director Sarah Polley has made an unusual documentary investigating the history of her family, and the result has broad ramifications. It may make you wonder what secrets are buried within your own family history. This is an unusually creative excursion into personal lives and the perceptions that linger. Along the way there is a major surprise with an unexpected revelation. I won’t spoil it for you.
The focus of the film is Polley’s mother, Diane, an actress who died when the director-to-be was 11 years old. She recalls her mother from her childhood memories, family photographs, home movies and film clips. She also enlists family members, key acquaintances and actors to fill out details. The film is exciting, never static.
Everything is so convincing that only at the end, when the credits roll, will you be able to discern who the actors were as opposed to the real people fleshing out the stories. On the one hand, you may feel a twinge of having been taken, but on the other, you are likely to admire how convincing all of the story-tellers are.
Polley also appears in the film as the director and instigator of the project. The effect is seamless, and we are quickly immersed in the Polley family, its history and the magnetism that Polley’s mother possessed. As the portrait gets more and more fleshed out, we see Diane as a spirited, talented woman carving out her own life independently of what others may have expected of her.
The mix of real persons with those portraying them makes the film highly unusual in terms of documentary-making. The result is a level of creativity that renders the film such absorbing an exploration, marked by humor as well as drama. Polley deserves immense credit for having pulled this off so well. She is an impressive director, as was seen in her 2007 film “Away From Her.” “Stories We Tell” offers an entirely new take on her talent. A Roadside Attractions release.
WHAT MAISIE KNEW Send This Review to a Friend
Based on the novel by Henry James, “What Maisie Knew” tells a story of adult dysfunction through the eyes of a child, who is victimized as a result. The performance by Onata Aprile as the six-year-old Maisie in this contemporary update is letter-perfect in delineating the hurt inflicted. Aprile makes Maisie convincingly observant along with understating the pain she feels and the result is often heartrending.
The joint direction by Scott McGehee and David Siegel, from a screenplay by Nancy Doyne and Carroll Cartwright, adheres to Maisie’s perspective, which makes the film especially powerful. Maisie’s parents living in New York are played by Julianne Moore as Susanna, a musician, and Steve Coogan as Beale, an art dealer. They have bitter arguments, and the result is competition for custody of Maise when they split.
Although each professes love for Maisie, their own self-involvements make their protestations hollow. They are completely incapable of decent parenting, given their own problems. Maisie is caught in the middle, and we get a portrait of her instincts for self-preservation in the face of the adult world with which she is saddled.
Beale develops a relationship with Margo, nicely played by Joanna Vanderham, who was Maisie’s nanny. But Beale is no more a good match for Margo than he was for Susanna.
Margo develops an attraction for a decent chap, Lincoln, portrayed forthrightly by Alexander Skarsgard. Maisie, of course, watches all of this.
But there is potential salvation for her in the genuine affection that Margo has for her. And Lincoln also treats her kindly. Will Maisie ultimately find a home with this promising couple?
Our sympathies throughout are naturally with Maisie, as they should be. There is an endearing sincerity about this film, as well as a troublesome undercurrent of disturbance.
No child should have to endure what Maisie does, and yet, as we know, such is the situation in this age of coupling, uncoupling, divorce and custody battles. The film captures all of this extremely well. A Millennium Entertainment release. Reviewed May 3, 2013.
LOVE IS ALL YOU NEED Send This Review to a Friend
Although Danish director Susanne Bier and screenwriter Anders Thomas Jensen have tossed everything but the proverbial kitchen sink into “Love is All You Need,” the acting and the film’s ultimate romantic charm make for pleasurable viewing. Setting most of it in Italy’s Sorrento doesn’t hurt.
Romantic juxtapositions and entanglements fuel the plotline. Trine Dyrholm as Ida gets the distressing news in Denmark that she has cancer. She also finds her boorish, insensitive husband in an affair with his young but vacuous accountant. All this comes at a time when Ida’s daughter Astrid, played by Molly Blixt Egeland, is about to get married to someone she has known for a short time--Patrick, portrayed by Sebastian Jessen. Patrick’s father, Philip, is played by the ever-appealing Pierce Brosnan, whose wife’s tragic death in an accident has left him bereft and in a state of repressed bitterness. The wedding is to take place at Philip’s huge home in Sorrento.
Unknown to each other, Ida and Philip happen to meet in Denmark in a fender-bender.
Turns out they have being mother of the bride and father of the groom in common.
You can guess where all this is going, but the fun lies in getting there, with all of the permutations and family angst exploding in the course of the wedding plans.
Ida’s creep of a husband has the nerve to show up with his new love. Also, there is the presence of over-the-top Benedikte, Philip’s former sister-in law, played flamboyantly by
Paprika Steen, who has long had the hots for Philip and isn’t ready to give up. Philip’s son adds to the complications with a surprise of his own.
What keeps the film affably afloat, apart from the location's seductiveness, is the acting by Dyrholm as Ida and Brosnan as Philip. Dyrholm has a freshness and forthrightness in delineating her character, who is facing her illness with candor. Brosnan projects his typical screen charm as he builds Philip’s character convincingly. One, of course, roots for them to find happiness with each other.
Director Bier keeps the film bubbling with its ambiance and plot ploys. Despite the excess of ingredients, or maybe because of them, “Love Is All You Need” is all you need for a colorful movie-going diversion. A Sony Pictures Classics release. Reviewed May 3, 2013.
POST TENEBRAS LUX Send This Review to a Friend
You can undergo brain strain if you try too hard to decipher meanings in “Post Tenebras Lux,” a film written and directed by Carlos Reygadas, a Mexican filmmaker with a penchant for the obscure. However, Reygadas excels at providing striking imagery and there are scenes in this opus that will remain in your mind. You will also appreciate moments that juxtapose class differences.
His main characters include Juan, an architect played by Adolfo Jiménez Castro, his wife Natalia, portrayed by Nathalia Acevedo and Seven, a worker, played by Willebaldo Torres, whose marriage has been messed up and who is engaged in renovating Juan’s
village house. There is an undercurrent of violence in Reygadas’s scheme of things.
One scene that stands out especially in my mind is a bathhouse orgy, filmed explicitly. Juan and his wife participate, first as voyeurs, but then getting into the swing of things—or shall we say swinger of things. There are various rooms, the idea being that each participant choose one’s favorite. Reygadas is deft at getting the atmosphere right and showing how pleasure is achieved.
There is also the depiction of the devil turning up at home, probably via the vision of a child. Other scenes that stick involve desecration of trees for personal purposes,
a lethal confrontation and Seven’s encounter with his estranged wife, whom he has mistreated
Make what you will of all of this, if you wish to try, but you will take away memorable doses of the writer-director’s visions. A Strand releasing release. Reviewed May 1, 2013.
THE RELUCTANT FUNDAMENTALIST Send This Review to a Friend
The persistent question of how a person forms political or religious views and how events in life can weigh heavily and turn someone toward a particular direction are examined in a dramatic film by director Mira Nair. Using a screenplay by William Wheeler, Ami Boghani and Moshin Hamid, based on Hamid’s book, the talented Nair has plunged deeply into making the story come alive for moviegoers, thriller style.
If you know Nair’s work, you can reliably expect that her film will be packed with atmosphere and impressive visuals wherever she is filming. This tale begins in Lahore, where an American journalist (Liev Schreiber), also secretly functioning as a CIA operative, is listening to the story by a Pakistani man named Changez, portrayed by Riz Ahmed. The film flashes back a decade to the United States and Changez’s life in America.
Changez is pursuing the American dream. After university, he has begun working his way up on Wall Street. He has a girlfriend, Erica, played by the attractive Kate Hudson. The future looks bright indeed. But with the attack on the Trade Towers on 9/11, Changez’s dreams start to fall apart.
Nair boldly follows what has happened in America as paranoia set in following the attack on American soil. People begin to look with suspicion on those with a background like that of Changez. Thus perceived, he is humiliated and questioned as if he were a terrorist lurking in the country and perhaps connected with 9/11 or planned assaults. His plight illustrates what civil libertarians have been crying out against, the unjust treatment of totally innocent individuals.
Instead of protecting the country, the authorities launch a process that can achieve what they fear, turning a decent human being into an enemy. Kiefer Sutherland and Om Puri also have roles in this thought-provoking and exciting story told with Nair’s special flair. Throughout, Riz Ahmed gives a moving and perceptive performance that earns our admiration. Inherent in he story is a clash of cultures and viewpoints, presented provocatively, and viewers will find the film especially interesting in light of recent events that focus on terrorism. An IFC Films release. Reviewed April 26, 2013.
PARADISE: LOVE Send This Review to a Friend
This film by Austrian writer-director Ulrich Seidl, the first of a trilogy to be released, has some of the most explicit scenes to be found in mainstream cinema. After an oddball start, with mentally and physically challenged people supervised by the film’s heroine racing about in amusement park bumper cars as if in a Monty Python sketch, the film inches toward the real business at hand. Magarethe Tiesel as Teresa, who is the mother of an annoying teenage daughter, heads for a resort in Kenya where the tourist sport is having sex with African young men.
Friends of hers are also there for the sex tourism. The ritual begins with women on the beach who venture toward the water being surrounded by the Africans aggressively trying to sell souvenirs. But the real action follows with the locals leading the willing women into having sex.
Teresa is rather pathetic. She is chunky and physically unappealing, and also plagued by being pitifully naïve. She is looking for the pickups to express genuine affection for her and is disappointed when, after not demanding any quid pro quo price, they wind up with stories of money needed for sick relatives. Despite her disillusionment, Teresa keeps going back for more. Her sex scenes aren’t exactly pretty to look at.
There is one long, explicit encounter when her women friends decide to give her a birthday gift—a young African male, who strips totally and is supposed to service Teresa. The women play at trying to arouse him, which fails to happen. They tie a ribbon around his private part and do everything they can think of to achieve his readiness. There is something downgrading to see someone used as a toy this way, but then again, he is earning money for his efforts.
As for the women, they appear to be a pathetic lot. But although they are not especially appetizing and are engaging in sleazy behavior, one shouldn’t judge them harshly. They are only doing what men do as routine. This is a case of women out for a good, sexy time. Why begrudge them the effort to have fun? A Strand Releasing release.
IN THE HOUSE Send This Review to a Friend
Showcased as part of the 2013 Rendez-Vous With French Cinema and now in commercial release, “In the House,” written and directed by François Ozon, is a sly film that concerns the relationship between a high school teacher, Germain, played with customary effectiveness by Fabrice Luchini, and a 16-year-old student Claude (Ernst Umhauer), who shows promise of being able to write well. Under the teacher’s encouragement, he writes of his experiences.
Claude insinuates himself into the household of another student, Rapha (Bastien Ughetto), and while at first welcomed, he becomes a nuisance as he abuses the hospitality and more and more takes advantage of the situation.
For one thing, Claude becomes attracted to Rapha’s mother, played by Emmanuelle Seigner. She is attractive, and we begin to see the sexual feelings building up in Claude. Making a move would be daring and risk his acceptance in the household. But Claude is a risk-taker.
Claude’s written work, continuing to impress Germain, is a mix of fiction and fact reflecting his bizarre experiences. Which is true and which stems from his imagination? The teacher makes a serious ethical mistake, and one wonders if a teacher in such circumstances would really do what he does in the film. In any event, the act will later have dire results.
Adding to the fine casting is that of Kristin Scott-Thomas as the teacher’s wife. She becomes increasingly skeptical of Germain’s involvement in the dangerous situation that has developed. Ozon builds the drama carefully, leading to its unsavory consequences. The film is a very French entanglement with the various threads coming together cleverly, ultimately leading to an uneasy feeling at the conclusion. Ozon surely knows how to tell a story. A Cohen Media Group release. Reviewed April 20, 2013.
THE ANGELS' SHARE Send This Review to a Friend
You don’t have to worry about understanding the Scottish brogue in director Ken Loach’s delightfully entertaining new film “The Angels’ Share,” expertly written by Paul Laverty. It has English subtitles, and believe me, it’s a big help. I also saw the film without them, and the second time around, I found the titles most welcome. So is the film itself. It is an infectious comedy, and if you know the work of Loach, the social significance is implicitly there too amid the laughter and the sly character studies.
The film starts with a group of Glascow misfits in court being sentenced to community service for their assorted deeds. One of them, Robbie (Paul Brannigan), has perpetrated a vicious beating. He has a pregnant girlfriend, Leonie, (Siobhan Reilly), whose family wants to get rid of him and doesn’t even want him to see his newborn son after Leonie gives birth. But Leonie is willing to stick by Robbie if he mends his ways.
Robbie and the others under court sentence become the charge of supervisor Harry (John Henshaw), who dispenses tough love and guidance. Scenes in which Robbie and the others have to do manual labor involving plastering and painting are amusing, but not as funny as when they try to disguise themselves as casual tourists by wearing kilts in connection with the caper they later plan.
On an educational trip Harry takes them to view a malt whisky distillery, where they learn some interesting things about booze, such as two percent of whisky at the bottom of the barrel disappears in the aging process. It’s known as the angels’s share. They hear talk about the value of a very rare special whisky that can bring big bucks at an auction. Robbie gets an idea of siphoning off two percent to sell to a wheeler-dealer—a victimless crime because nobody will miss the stolen whisky.
The film has plenty of enjoyable atmosphere, with all the talk about the nose for good liquor and the world of expertise. But the ingenuity of the film lies in watching the lives of the group change for the better in a demonstration that there is hope for those with a rotten start in life if they are given the opportunity. Harry becomes an anchor for them and there is a touching moment when he is gently repaid with a token of appreciation.
There is one especially emotionally involving scene in which Robbie, in a formal justice proceeding, must face the victim of his assault, a lad who has lost an eye as a result. The performance of Brannigan as Robbie is especially effective throughout in a startlingly good film debut. And everyone else is good too, as Loach, with his gift for getting the best out of his cast, achieves his trademark depiction of realism even while venturing into more comedic territory than usual. “The Angels’ Share” is among the best films to come along so far this year. A Sundance Selects release. Reviewed April 12, 2013.