Wild Tales sp – Damiean Szifron is a young Argentinian director and playwright who had a drawer full of short screenplays all of which have an element of revenge that more or less spins out of control. He put six of them together for an anthology that ended being the Argentina entry in the Academy Awards for the best foreign films. Out of the 82 entries from all over the world, this became one of the six nominated in this category for an Oscar. By taking each storyline to a point of seeing the main character or characters losing control, Szifron also has created at times a hilarious comedy. The acting is great as apparently some of the best actors in Argentina were drawn to this project. It starts off with a airline flight where the passengers realize that everyone is in some way connected to the same guy from their past who they learn has taken over the cockpit of their plane.. The movie concludes with a wedding scene that you will never forget and may even have some elements in it with which you will identify. Although they are not all very pretty, they will have you laughing. Each of the sections of this movie, while different in content, do flow together. The editing is crisp, the camera views are thoughtful, the music appropriately carries the mood and the subtitles are very readable if you don’t understand Spanish. It is a most creative, brilliantly executed film that is well worth seeing! (2015)
Force Majeure- rm- This is Swedish film with English subtitles and some English dialogue. Since it is quite clever and subtle, much of the credit should go to the Director and writer Ruben Ostlund. A couple and their two children go for a ski holiday at a French resort. They are suddenly faced with what seems to be a terrifying avalanche and how they act in a split second occupies much of this film. The film stars included Johannes Kchnke, Clara Wettegren and Kristofer Hivju. What emerges from this seven day holiday is an examination of relationships as well as the question of how comfortable are we with our self image especially when it is reflected back to us by someone we care about. The frank portrayal between the husband and the wife, another forty something man and his 20 year old girl friend as well as still another married women at the resort with a boyfriend all are viewed through a lens that is perhaps more Swedish then contemporary USA, if one can generalize. When the characters are in conflict they tell us or show us what they are feeling as well as the horns of their dilemmas. Several of the scenes, especially those with tension, seem to be drawn several beats longer that we thought were necessary. This seemed to lead us to be intellectualizing the action rather than feeling it. In any case we felt we were in the hands of a skilled filmmaker who kept us thinking about the characters and empathizing with their pain. There also was much to talk about after the credits rolled which is always the sign of a stimulating film (2014).
A Five Star Life-rm – Can you picture a woman in her 40s who feels that she pretty much has things going very well in her life? She has a dream job where she travels and gets treated extremely well. Although she broke up with her boyfriend, they are best friends and frequently spend time together. She seemingly has a great relationship with her sister who is married with two kids who she sees quite a lot. She is quite attractive and she appears ready to have another relationship with a man. That is the situation with Irene Lorenzi (Margherita Buy) who has the unique job to travel to the world’s most luxurious hotels as the “mysterious guest” and evaluate and report to the management every aspect of their supposedly immaculate service for their guests. This is an Italian film directed by Maria Sole Tognazzi who also shared in the writing credits. The setting is the most beautiful parts of the world and the comfortable life style that exists for certain travelers. It shows us a view of the top of the line service that is offered in these 5 star hotels. Not only is your suitcase delivered to your room, but the bellboy will unpack it and put things away for you. For some reason you don’t even seem to tip them at least for each individual service. If you are living in such a pampered life style what would it require for you to do a self evaluation. In this case, it is a brief chance meeting with an author Kate Sherman (Leslie Manville) who is making some television appearances to talk about her views about intimacy, shortly before she departs and leaves the hotel. This limited encounter, and the circumstances surrounding it, bring about a self reassessment of the main character. If this film is successful you will question if things are always what they seem to be and even more important, is it possible to change? (2014)
Oranges and Sunshine-nf This film is a good example of how we might rate a film 3/5 and yet highly recommend it as one that should be seen by anyone who cares about social injustice. There are many better examples of dramatic films with unforgettable performances by talented actors and directors, which will win Academy Award nominations. But this Australian film directed by Jim Loach with a screenplay by Rona Munro plods along but rivets our attention because it tells the true story of a historical event that we and we are sure many other people had no idea had occurred. It is about a British social worker by the name of Margaret Humphreys who in the 1980s stumbles upon the situation that in the 1940s and 50s the British government deported to Australia young children born to troubled poor mothers who couldn’t care for their kids. The mothers were often told that the children were being adopted in England by various couples although if they did make efforts they would not be able to track them down. The truth was that they lived in various orphanages in Australia in very dire circumstances, were treated very badly and many were abused. During this blight on British history there were 130,000 children who went through this pipeline to Australia. They never had a chance to find out who their mothers were and whether they were still alive. Margaret Humphreys (played by Emily Watson) at first took on the task of trying to help some of these now adults find their mothers. She then devoted herself to exposing this great injustice in addition to reuniting these adults with their mothers when possible. We see how she set up a program in Australia where most of these orphans lived and held some reunions with each other. We also see a scene in a monastery, which may have been the site of some of the stories of abuse. There was a scary episode where an intruder who seems to be warning her to cease her efforts, threatens Ms. Humphreys at night. It is a weakness of the film that we never learn more about the nature of these threats. Ms. Humphrey made efforts to publicize the story of these mass deportations in the media and to get the government to help in her endeavors. She spent an increasing amount of time in Australia, away from her own family. Some of the horrors that the children went through are related in excellent performances by Hugo Weaving and David Wenham. We learn during the credits at the end of the film that it was not until 2010 that the British government acknowledged its mistake and the Prime Minister apologized. It was at that point that we learned of the tremendous number of children that had gone through this disruption of their lives with all its repercussions. As a sidebar we are reminded of the large number of films that we have seen as well as some true life stories that we have heard, which in some way recount the desire to reunite with one’s biological parents. Of course in the situations recounted in this film, these people did not have parents who adopted them. Some discussion of this topic can be found in MB’s blog http://www.psychiatrytalk.com/2014/04/the-search-for-a-persons-biological-identity/ (2011)
**** Strawberry and Chocolate-nf (Spanish with subtitles) Prior to our first trip to Cuba several friends told us that we have to see this award winning movie. (It won the Goya Award for the best Spanish language film in 1994 and was nominated for an Academy Award for the best foreign language film that year. There was a long waiting list for it on Netflix so we couldn’t catch it before we left. While being shown around Cuba by a young Cuban guide, we were taken to dinner up a beautiful staircase in Havana, which we were told was part of the main location for this movie. He also highly recommended this film. When we finally caught up with the film, we not only appreciated the specific location in Havana, which we had visited but some of the conflicts, which the film portrayed so well. David (Vladimir Cruz) is a college student very appreciative of this communist revolutionary government, which has allowed him, from a poor family to go to college and choose to study political science. David subsequently is having chocolate ice cream in a public square and he meets Diego (Jorge Perugorria) who is symbolically having strawberry ice cream since it turns out that he is clearly gay and very attracted to David who we learn early in the movie is clearly attracted to women although rejected by one (Marilyn Solaya) who married someone else while he remains a “virgin “. Diego is not only gay but he is someone who is a free thinker in regard to art music, literature and invariably in regard to politics. He loves Cuba but can’t love the revolutionary Cuban government, which rejects all types of creativity from the non-communist world and of course completely rejects homosexuality. David’s college roommate Miguel (Francisco Gattomo) is a rigid pro government ideologue who encourages David to befriend Diego in order to spy on him and turn him in. Nancy (Mirta Ibarra) is a neighbor and friend of Diego who may be a prostitute, with a “heart of gold.” The inflexibility of some people in their views on homosexuality are used as a metaphor for rigidity of the supporters of the Cuban government to consider the contributions of other non-communist cultures and vice versa. There also is depiction of the ability of human beings to love and connect with each other that goes beyond sexual and political orientation. These are special ideas and Directors Tomas Gutierrez Alea and Juan Carlos Tabio made this story with a very sensitive touch. This included many scenes of the characteristic grandiose but now decaying Spanish architecture as well as the lovely settings by the water of this historic island. (1994)
Ida – sp We are pleased to report that for some unknown reason there are a number of readers of this blog who are from Poland. So we hope we will get some comments at the end of this review from them. This movie won The Eagle, which is the Polish equivalent of the American Oscar. It is in Polish with English subtitles. We understand it is also dubbed with the local language rather than using subtitles in many European countries, as it was in France, where is was a big hit. The setting is Poland in the 1960s. A young woman who is studying to be Nun in a convent is told by the Mother Superior that before she takes her vows she must go and meet her aunt, her only known family member (previously unknown to her) since she was brought to the convent as a baby during the war. She travels to the city where her aunt is located and finds out that she is Jewish. The two of them set off on a haunting road trip to find out what happened to her parents and where they are buried. The aunt, played by veteran Polish actress Aguta Lulesza, is tough as nails on the outside but has her own secret pain which is ripping her apart. Ida the novitiate, also known as Sister Anna Ida, and now with a last name Lebenstein, is played by a first time actress who was discovered in a coffee shop by the director. Her name is Agata Trzebuchowska. She is beautiful, and now burdened with a dilemma of what to do with her new insight into her origin. She also has to decide whether to go forward and take her vows, which of course includes chastity. It should be mentioned that on her road trip she does meet a handsome musician (David Ogrodnik) and we do detect some chemistry between them. The ambience of this film befits the subject matter. It is in black and white using a 4×3 format (almost square) with many close-ups. The locations are old bleak buildings, churches, a cemetery, and old roads with a lot of snow. The dialogue, although in Polish with subs, is sparse. There is a Polish 60s musical background that is mostly ambient rather than with a soundtrack. There are reminders of the role of communist rule in post war Poland. Everything is not spelled out for the viewer but there is little doubt about the story and the internal pain that our characters are feeling. It will awaken feelings about atrocities in WW II, which are still not far from the surface in many people, some now two generations removed from it. Although director and screenwriter Pawel Pawlikowski in a post film discussion said he had no doubt about how this 80 minutes film should end, there is another point of view on this subject. Finally, this movie is one of many films that have a theme which shows the immense struggle that people have to connect with a biological parent or vice versa. A discussion and summary of this issue can be found at http://www.psychiatrytalk.com/2014/04/the-search-for-a-persons-biological-identity/ (2014)
Tasting Menu- sp- This film is mostly in Catalan with some English and has English subtitles. It is an ensemble movie nicely blended together as a well-crafted meal. None of the characters or their stories is very heavy with details but they are combined into an absorbing tale, lightly sprinkled with some comedy and some touching emotional moments. Chef Mar Videl (Viventa N’dongo), who has won the award for the world’s best chef three times, has her world famous restaurant which only seats 30 on Spain’s Costa Brava with her partner Max (Andrew Tarbel). They have decided to close their restaurant and move on to other things but will serve one last sensational meal. One couple has a reservation there on the final night for over a year. However, they split up but neither wanted to give up their table so Rachel, (Claudia Bassols) a famous writer and Marc, a young prominent pediatrician, (Jan Cornet) do attend this last meal. So does Danny (Timothy Gibbons), Rachel’s editor and wannabe boyfriend who wangles a reservation to be in this select group. There is the Countess (Fionnula Flanagan) who in her healthier younger days would eat there many times with her illustrious husband who will attend this time in the form of his ashes in an urn. Two competing businessmen, ( Toto Igawa and Akihiko Serikawa) from Japan, who want to reopen the restaurant in their country are in attendance as is Mina (Marta Torne), their guide for their visit to the U.S. The final main character and perhaps the most mysterious and interesting of all is Walter (Stephen Rea) who we never quite figure out. Before we get to the dessert there is a boat lost at sea which includes the musicians who were to play that evening and this unlikely group might even try to save them. There is very little logic to this screenplay by Roger Gual who also directed it but the chances are you will come away satiated with a good feelings and delighted by its charm. (2014)
Like Father, Like Son- sp This Japanese film with subtitles was an extremely successful in Japan earning so far more than 30 million dollars and is about to be released in the United States. It won a major award at the Cannes Film Festival where Steven Spielberg was the Chair of the committee that gave the award. Spielberg then optioned the rights to it and plans to make an English version. What is it about this movie that seems so captivating? In Japan it helps that the male lead is played by one of most popular singers and actors currently in Japan and that is Fukuyama Masahuro. Just as important is the screenplay written by the director Kore-Eda Hirokazu which presents a fascinating human dilemma which rarely happens in modern times but one to which just about everyone can relate. Early in the film, a young married couple with a six year old son, who is a bright, very delightful boy, learn that their son was switched at birth with another child born in the same hospital on the same day. They meet the other family and the differences between them, especially the fathers become very apparent. They must decide what will they do (in addition to suing the hospital). Will they switch children and how will they come to this decision? As we try to relate to the dilemma and see how the parents and children react to this situation, we get the impression that some of the responses seem to be culture bound. Of particular note was the depiction of the passivity of the women and the obedience of the 6 year-olds. In a post film discussion, we learned that in the 1970s when hospital practices in Japan in labeling newborn children were not as exacting as they are today, there were incidences such as the one depicted in the movie. Interestingly, we were told that 100% of the children were returned to the biological parent even in cases of 6 year olds! Director Hirokazu did a sensitive job of showing us the evolution in the thinking of one of the fathers as he leads us to the ultimate outcome of this dilemma. He also brought to the screen two delightful children who played the kids who were switched at birth.
The theme of this movie is a variation of the successful 2013 film Philomena, as well as other movies which we have reviewed and discussed this interesting psychological variable . These include The Kids Are All Right, People Like Us, Stories We Tell, , Admissions, and Mother and Child. One of us (MB)has also discussed this elsewhere with real life case examples (Psychiatrytalk.com). Each of these movie reviews and the psychiatry blog can be reached directly by clicking the words in this paragraph. (2013)
The Broken Circle Breakdown –sp (In Flemish with subtitles) This will be Belgium’s bid for the best foreign film of the year. Early on in the movie you learn about a married couple, very attracted to each other, have a 5 year old child who is dying of cancer. Elise is a tattoo artist (played by Veerle Bactens a very popular Belgium actress who can also sing quite well ) who joins her husband Didier (Johan Heldenberg) and his bluegrass musical group. Their grief over the loss of their adorable daughter Maybelle (Nell Cattrysse) tears them apart and they turn on each other. The anger and the hurt that they inflict on each other breaks up this wonderful relationship. This is one of the points of the film. Number two would seem to be the difference in how people deal with such a loss. Elise would like to believe that their daughter’s soul or spirit might reappear as a bird or is living on in some way whereas Didier believes that when you are gone you are gone! The third point we get from the film seems to come out of left field but is connected to the storyline. That is related to former President George W. Bush who vetoed stem cell research in the US and all the people who on religious grounds might have agreed with him. Didier in the film ridicules this point of view and goes on a tirade against it since he feels such research can save lives such as that of his daughter. The final point we believe that is made is that some people can never recover from such a tragedy, leaving one to believe that you should enjoy life while you can because you never know what terrible thing is around the corner . These are all worthy themes for a movie but we felt that they were dealt with in a relatively superficial manner thereby missing the opportunity to leave us with memorable film. Certainly the acting was outstanding. The movie was directed by Felix Van Groeningen who also wrote the screenplay with Carl Joos, after he saw the story written and directed on the stage by Johan Heldenberg who played Didier in this film. Van Groeningen showed the sexual chemistry of the couple quite well. He also used flashbacks, which is often the vogue in today’s movies but which we thought was somewhat overdone in this one. Whatever shortcomings the film may have had was made up by the effective intertwining of some terrific country bluegrass music throughout the film which included vocals by the two stars. This is particularly interesting because we learned that bluegrass music is not yet a popular genre in Belgium today. (2013)
You Will Be My Son-sp -(French with subtitles) This is an intense drama involving family relationships, specifically fathers and sons. The characters and their personalities are clearly defined through the story line and the great acting. There is Paul de Marseul(Niels Arestrup) owner of a magnificent French winery who is self centered, arrogant and insensitive to the desire of his son to please him and follow in his footsteps. Martin de Marseul (Lorant Deutsch) is the owner’s son, college trained in the science of wines, married to Alice and living on the grounds of the winery. He is emotionally tortured by his father’s neglect. Alice (Anne Marivin) is Paul’s beautiful and supportive wife. Francois Amelot (Patrick Chesnais) is the Estate Manager of the winery, the man who has been the brilliant wine expert who knows when and how to harvest . He has been vital to the success of the business. He also lives on the grounds with his wife and is slowly dying of pancreatic cancer. Phillip Amerlot (Nicolas Bridet) is Francois’ son, an up and coming wine expert himself who has just left his last job and visits his ill father. Paul de Marseul the owner and honcho clearly likes Phillip and favors him over his son to take over the fading Francois’ position and ultimately the winery. The movie is filmed and framed in the lush French countryside. The winery itself is a character in the movie played by a vineyard estate with endless fields of growing grapes, modern harvesting equipment including shaking machines which remove the picked grapes from the vines, large temperature controlled vats where the wine ferments deep in the vast cellars where there are also thousands of stored bottles of valuable wine. There are close ups of the interesting attractive faces of all the characters as well as of the swirling glasses of wine which they are frequently analyzing and drinking during the dialogue. Wine aficionados will particularly appreciate the banter about wine and how the two sons seem to be measured by Paul de Marseul based on their knowledge in this regard. However even deeper insight into his feelings about his own son due to some unresolved grief comes out in a brief cemetery scene. Sometimes we complain that characters are too underdeveloped. In this case who they are is very clearly put forward, perhaps a tad too much. A little more subtlety in the writing and direction by first time director Gilles Legrand might have made this film even better than it turned out. Overall it was thought provoking, unpredictable, out of the ordinary and worth seeing. One more thought which is not very important for the enjoyment of this movie but worth contemplating when the film is over. That is the question of whether cell phones would work in a wine cellar? (2013)