Movies of the Week #1 (2017)

New year, new ambitions, old habits. But I tried, I really did, and ended up with an almost mainstream-free week, populated by several movies about the passing of time. It’s funny, in a way, because the first and the last choices are, unwittingly, at opposite ends of the spectrum in how they deal with loss – Almodóvar’s dramatic flair contrasting Hansen-Løve’s restraint, the Latin spirit against French rationalism, yum.

Movie of the Week:

Little Men (2016)

little-men

Monday

  • Julieta (2016): Most of Almodóvar’s movies have strong, divisive, dramatic female leads and Julieta is no exception. In exploring the title character’s separation from her daughter, we are transported back in time to when Julieta first met Xoan, the to-be father, to witness the beginning of a spectacular romance. It’s pretty and passionate, with fidelity, duty and love intersecting in the most interesting of moments. Based on the stories of Alice Munro, whom I’ve been meaning to read ever since a friend gifted me one of her books five years ago, Almodóvar peppers the cast with the familiar faces of Rossy de Palma and Darío Grandinetti, alongside Emma Suarez and Adriana Ugarte, who share the protagonist, as well as Feliciano Lopez’s look-alike (come on tennis fans, I know you’re here), Daniel Grao, playing Xoan. For whatever reason, I rated Todo sobre mi madre (1999) with a mere seven, so I felt constrained to go no higher here, which is justifiable, as Julieta is not air-tight, nor totally consistent. But I liked it. 7/10

Tuesday

  • Little Voice (1998): Being a big Robbie Williams fan, I’ve always had his cover of Things, with Jane Horrocks, well set in my mind. Implicitly, watching Horrocks’ performances has been on my to-do list for a while now. After thoroughly enjoying Mike Leigh’s Life is Sweet (1990) at some point last year, I also wanted to indulge in Little Voice, a movie populated with some big name actors: Michael Caine, Jim Broadbent and Ewan McGregor. Funnily enough, the one who shines most is Brenda Blethyn, garnering her second Academy Awards nomination after the one for her performance in another Mike Leigh movie, the *insert preferred superlative here* Secrets & Lies (1996). But I digress – the story is about an extremely shy girl, nicknamed Little Voice (LV), who is brought up by her hysterically abusive mother. When the latter hooks up with a no-frills talent agent, it becomes apparent that LV has a gift for singing, something that could be exploited by those in the know. Needless to say, things get rough and dark, in spite of the comedy label attached to the IMDb page. What I liked most was how the movie stood in the corner of the quiet ones, with a romantic kind of dignity, especially in the face of so much noise. The atmosphere worked well enough to help me get over some of the more mundane moments throughout. 7/10

Wednesday

  • Truman (2015): I recall traveling somewhere when I came across the poster of Truman and it piqued my interest that Ricardo Darín and Javier Cámara were headlining it. Having seen Darín in Relatos salvajes (2014) and El secreto de sus ojos (2009), I knew he was a strong lead, while my affection for Cámara goes all the way back to his performance in Almodóvar’s Hable con Ella (2002)It’s a small (Spanish speaking movie) world. Truman is a about a couple of friends reuniting, when one is in the latter stages of his (failed) cancer treatment. All the movie really does is follow the two around over a few days, as they both come to grips, anew or for the first time, with what is to come. But we’re not there yet, we’re seeing them as they cherish each other and they cherish life, in an understated, calming manner. Frankly, it’s one of the most serene movies I’ve seen on acceptance, and while it does not stand out in terms of story, it gets all the little touches right and feels intimate and warm. 8/10

Thursday

  • Un coupable idéal (2001): Or Murder on a Sunday Morning. Winner of the Academy Award for Best Documentary, I didn’t actually choose it for this reason. I spent a few weeks last year watching Jean-Xavier de Lestrade’s The Staircase (2004)the arguably superior precursor to recent hits like The Jinx (2015) or Making a Murderer (2015). So this was next, a docu following the arrest and trial of Brenton Butler, a teenager accused of murdering a tourist in a failed armed robbery one Sunday morning. It’s one of those preposterous situations where the accused was picked up solely based on racial stereotyping and a case ensued following the conviction of the victim’s husband, the sole eye witness to the crime, that Brenton was the killer. That a sixty plus year old man might have poor memory recall is one thing, but the lax investigation conducted by the detectives in charge is what should really worry the American taxpayer. Brenton had the chance of being defended by Ann Finnell and Patrick McGuinness, the latter proving a real bad-ass maverick attorney, in a tightly fought case that makes for compelling court room drama, with memorable characters. I do have to wonder, however, if de Lestrade’s movie really stands out enough to deserve the Academy Award, especially as it ran against a more intricate, tragic tale in Children Underground (2001), which looks at the homeless children born in Romania, a heritage of the communist population growth policy. Well, it’s just an Oscar, so who cares. 8/10

Friday

  • Little Men (2016): One of the most praised indie movies of the year, Little Men is a sad, but honest tale about families, feuds and friendships, with undertones of social/ethnic commentary. Perhaps ethnic is improperly said, maybe it’s cultural, if one is to differentiate at all. Or perhaps it’s just about how life can sometimes be adversarial and there’s no way out of it. I’ll keep it high level here and say that, ultimately, there’s an element of segregation at work, as urbanization 2.0 has lead to the outpricing of those who are not in privileged positions of ownership. The ripples go far, to the point that they are imbued with deterministic powers, in particular shaping the lives of future generations. Little Men does well in painting this picture, with powerful characters that are easy to empathize with although they happen to be at odds with one another. Quite special. 8/10

Saturday

  • Frankie and Johnny (1991): I got a bit sloppy, but I deserved something light. Too bad Frankie and Johnny, while light to some degree, was not the light I needed. The movie helped me come to the realization that I don’t much admire Al Pacino as a loverboy, because he feels strangely one-dimensional. Strangely, as the term ‘one-dimensional’ is something I would normally not associate with Pacino. But alas, that’s how it is. All I’m saying is that if you’ve seen it once, you’ve probably seen enough. Maybe my gripe is with his character, who came across as a tad all over the place, contrasting with Michelle Pfeiffer’s considerably superior persona. She’s the reason why the movie works a lot of the time and it helps that the conclusion is on the sweet tunes of Debussy’s Clair de Lune. Not enough for me, though. 6/10

Sunday

  • L’avenir (2016): Things to Come (English title) is a profoundly introspective movie, carried across sterile emotional plains by Isabelle Huppert’s intimidating performance. Playing a philosophy teacher, she is faced with several life-turning moments, yet comes out on top through sheer power of will, drawing on her depth of knowledge, in the spirit of intellectual liberation. It’s a movie of contrasts between youth and the sagesse of age, the rapport and the expectations one fosters with society, with ones aspirations of self-actualization, with life. Not a lot happens narratively and the characters embody a certain austere emotionality, making Mia Hansen-Løve’s picture feel sparse. I’m not sure why it failed to make me engage properly, because I normally thrive on these cerebral excursions about the self. Perhaps it’s as the protagonist herself quotes from Rousseau’s Julie, ou la nouvelle Héloïse: “We enjoy less what we obtain, than what we desire and are happy only before becoming so.” 7/10