The Girl in the Book (2015): Wayward Tales

It’s sort of ironic that I happened to watch The Girl in the Book and Diary of a Teenage Girl completely unpremeditated within the same week. Both revolve around statutory rape and portray strong female protagonists, but the stories they are a part of highlight different levels of artistic accomplishment. Also, let’s be honest here, I only came across TGitB due to Emily VanCamp, whom I have adored in a totally non-obsessive way ever since Everwood. As chance would have it, she has been involved in several mildly successful small movies (Carriers, Norman, Beyond the Blackboard) and this one is the latest in a series from which I would most recommend Beyond the Blackboard (2011).
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Unfortunately for TGitB, it does not take the time to achieve more. As we get to know Alice, both in her youth, when she is abused by a mentoring writer, and in her young adult life, when she is handed the job of overseeing the re-release of the same writer’s magnum opus, it becomes apparent that her disheveled present is rooted in this particular past. Detached, self-destructive and incapable of forming lasting relationships, she struggles for meaning and purpose in the hope of ultimately rediscovering her love of writing, her joy for living.

This gloomy predicament is anchored in Emily VanCamp’s strong performance, but at a mere 86 minutes runtime, it’s not enough to convincingly build her character’s transformation. The worst hit is her redeeming romance with young and idealistic Emmett, your very own Marty Stu character type, which goes from zero to “one hundred reasons you should forgive me” within twenty minutes. It’s a shame that for all its melodrama, it avoids dramatic weight with a vengeance, in a story bow-tied ending you see coming from miles away.

Fortunately, the film is not so much about the narrative arc, as it is about its central character, so its faults are bearable. But it’s a shame, because it does little with a variation on the Gone Girl scenario about the dividing line(s) between degrees of fictional characters. The escape it sets up is therefore neither original enough, nor thorough enough to elicit your utmost attention and care at all critical junctions.

**

Originally posted on imdb.

Ronaldo (2015): Competent. Inauthentic. Fascinating.

Having watched de la Iglesia’s Messi documentary, I thought of going all in and looking at Ronaldo’s as well. And although this one tries so hard that it frequently seems inauthentic, at least it provides direct feedback from the horse’s mouth: there are no doubts about what Ronaldo feels and believes – but only concerning carefully selected themes that build up his persona.

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The film follows the Real Madrid star for parts of the 2014 season, in between his two Ballon d’Or wins. Given that it was one of the most successful years any player has ever had in club football, the timing is just right for Ronaldo. We get a glimpse into his past, his circle of friends, his family, the relationship with his son, the ambitions driving his career. It is a competent, well structured documentary, even if it fails to inspire. That’s already more than can be said about the Messi docu – both released in a (suspiciously) narrow time frame between each other.

Ronaldo’s directorial control over the final output here feels heavy handed. His story, like most rags to riches stories, lends itself to dramatization, but without a wide-angled perspective from a neutral third party, much of this comes across as a vain attempt of self- aggrandizement. The absolute low is probably the World Cup episode, where claims like “I’d feel better if we had three Cristiano Ronaldo’s” surface, all the while justifying the team’s failure with Ronaldo’s injury. The good thing is that the more you want to control something, the less you actually manage to control it, because the orchestration required to do so renders you myopic to the meaning of what you are putting out there. It takes a very talented filmmaker to run such a tight ship in an artistic fashion.

What I do appreciate is the no-crap attitude towards how important his goals are for him. Sure, one can always judge it and dislike such a cynical approach towards achieving something for one’s own sake, but you can’t ignore the success story and the reality that magnanimity isn’t objective. A 360 approach to the professionals around Ronaldo would have made for an interesting case study in an ideal world, but the odds of acquiring something authentic would be very low at the curated pinnacle of the football world.

This is the paradox: while the movie feels directed, the amount of direction is a means of characterization. And this will always trump reconstructions and a lot of the time it will be superior to third party fables about the man. The superstar cult lives and breathes here. So for all it’s worth, Ronaldo’s docu tells a story about him. Also, we actually see original Messi footage in it, something “his” own documentary fails to include.

Originally published on imdb. 

Autobiografia lui Nicolae Ceausescu (2010): The Spectacular Reality of Nicolae Ceausescu

Having been born at the end of the 80s, my recollection of communist Romania is negligible. So for me, this wealth of archival footage represents less an excursion into dreary eyed nostalgia, but rather a fascinating, vicarious experience. It is unfathomable to think that this is a part of our human heritage, and the film leaves the impression of being a document of society, culture and politics that’s out of this world.
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This other-worldliness is achieved through the exclusive use of archival footage, to the detriment of any present-day commentary. The biographical tale of Ceausescu leads us through several decades of communist Romania, and is bound by the trial and execution of the former dictator. Surprisingly, although my knowledge of recent Romanian history is fairly limited, there was little actual information in the the events and moments portrayed which I was unfamiliar with. I’m not sure that’s a good thing, for such a long runtime – all it says, to me, is that you should probably not watch this documentary if your aim is solely to gain a straightforward understanding of history.

What it does do very well, is synthesize the essence of what the public frame of mind was at the time. It ebbs and flows beautifully, from the fascination of the Western world with Ceausescu after his stance on the invasion of Prague, to his ultimate isolation within the communist block. In this, as well as in much of the propagandistic materials made for public consumption, there is a strong sense of falsehood meshed together with a (willing) naivety of the everyday folk. The film is at its best when it manages to effectively contain these paradoxes of truth, the double-standards of pre-89 communist dogma, and the absurdity of turning a mildly charismatic, semi-literate individual into an egomaniac with absolute power.

In between all these moments, you’ve got Ceausescu delving into sheer silliness – with the cherry on top being his speech on how Romania will only return to capitalism when “pigs fly”, then joking on the advances of genetics only to realize this is not quite the right thing to say and reinforcing the initial statement with raised pitch and ample gesticulation. There are many scenes like this, of various sizes, that shape Ceausescu as a character and the warped world-view provided by public television. At three hours, one could argue the documentary is overlong, as certain elements become repetitive. One can also argue that in their repetitiveness, these elements bear different meanings, according to the wider context of their occurrence, sort of a seasonal aspect of the biographical story.

Whichever way you look at it, there is so much to see and experience in Andrei Ujica’s film, that you are guaranteed to not be left indifferent by it.

****

Originally posted on imdb.