Saturday, November 28, 2020

Adam: A window to the inner world of women

 

Adam is, as the cliché goes, based on a true story. Writer/director Maryam Touzani drew on personal experience to craft this very moving film. It is set in the narrow streets of Morocco’s Casablasnca medina, where widow Alba and her young daughter Warda reside. The arrival of homeless and very pregnant Samia changes their settled and seemingly dreary life.
We share the lives of three females of different ages and experience: mother, child and mother-to-be. The actors' backgrounds also mirror their characeters' life experience. Lubna Azabal, who plays widow Alba, has an extensive filmography. It includes numerous awards such as the 2014 Magritte for best actress in Incendies. Nisrin Erradi, as pregnant Samia, is an up-and-coming star of Moroccan cinema and has gained international recognition for her role in Adam. Douae Belkhaouda, as Warda, gives the natural performance we might expect from a first-timer who brims with confidence. Maryam Touzani found her playing in an alley.
Aziz Hattab, who plays Slimani, delivers the only significant male role as Alba's admirer with a gentle touch.
The tension between the two women is the key ingredient of the story. In often highly charged exchanges, each woman helps the other to face her personal predicaments and choices. The lack of music during the film heightens the impact of these clashes. The music that is present is usually a key part of the process of their opening up.
Cooking is the main device that brings them together. Alba supports herself by selling prepared food through a counter window. Samia is a skilled cook who helps her with recipes and preparation. The dough kneading scene encapulates its emotional importance.
Most of the action takes place in the confined space of Alba's house or the narrow streets and alleyways of the medina. Touzani has described the atmosphere as being 'akin to a theater stage, with the shop window being their one opening onto the world'.
I highly recommend that you join this inner world. It is no surpirise that this film was featured in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard and was Morocco's 2019 entry for the Acadmeny Award for Best International Feature Film.
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Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Can You Ever Forgive Me? - Too good to be true



Can You Ever Forgive Me? has been a sleeper of sorts down under, despite its international acclaim. Its limited release is really a shame as it's a real gem. The film is based on a true story of biographer and literary forger Lee Israel.

Melissa McCarthy plays surly Lee with aplomb. Her drinking buddy cum partner in crime, Jack Hook, was a role tailored (in both senses of the word) for Richard E, Grant.

Lee is chalk to Jack's cheese. He is a charmer while she has had a charm by-pass. Her wit is caustic, his self-mocking. He is ostentatiously stylish to her drabness. In addition to their homosexuality, they share a great deal. They are eccentric misfits who have reached the bottom of the barrel, financially and socially. Alcohol oils their collaboration.

As always, New York City provides wonderful sets: the sleazy bars alongside the romance of quality bookshops and book dealers.

For most people in the early 90s, it's just the dawn of the digital age. Letters, handwritten or tapped out on typewriters, are still the norm. Email is still to come for most.

The targets of Israel's scam are easily fooled in this pre-information age, despite the high quality content screaming that it's too good to be true. Many see what they believe, some turn a blind-eye through greed, others are collectable devotees. It was a tribute to Lee's writing skills.

Director Marielle Heller 's second feature film maintains a good balance of drama and comedy.

This is not Wall Street fraud and in many ways they are victimless crimes. To really enjoy this film as I did, it is best not to dwell too long on the ethical aspects of this story. Like the protagonists, the celebrity authors are long gone.
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Monday, August 6, 2018

BLACKkKLANSMAN: In black and white



Definitely enjoyed Spike Lee's BLACKkKLANSMAN. It's a bizarre scenario, supposedly a true story based on Ron Stallworth's autobiographical book. In keeping with his description of the film as a 'joint', its highs are not necessarily the anticipated ones.

Ron is the black hero of this tale of a black cop masquerading as a white man to infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan in early 1970s Colorado. John David Washington carries off this unlikely role with a winning combination of playful humour and the earnestness that the topic rightly deserves.

Adam Driver as Washington's alter-ego Flip Zimmermann, is the perfect partner. He seems to stroll through his part with ease.

You may feel just a tickle of guilt when laughing at comic elements given the deadly serious subject matter. But don't. Lee does not just tread lightly.

The message of his movie is hardly subtle. If you're still in doubt about its currency, the 2017 news footage is a stark reminder that the alt-right (including the KKK) is thriving in Trump's America. Its inclusion by Lee is a bit of an overkill, no pun intended.

It's a very strong supporting cast, especially Topher Grace as Grand Wizard David Duke and Laura Harrier as black activist Patrice Dumas. Harry Belafonte's cameo is as skilful as it is disturbing.

Lee made this on film rather than digitally, perhaps to capture some of the texture of the times. The flares, afro hairstyles and clashing colours may seem exaggerated but rang true for this babyboomer.

BLACKkKLANSMAN's 135 minutes are just a little more than necessary but don't be put off. One well worth considering as they say in the racing game.



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Monday, July 16, 2018

Breath: 'You wouldn't be dead for quids'



Simon Baker's film adaptation of Tim Winton's award winning Australian novel Breath is a couple of hours well spent. Baker and Winton shared scriptwriting with Gerard Lee. Tim is also the adult voice of schoolboy Pikelet (Samson Coulter).

Samson and fellow first-timer Ben Spence fill their contrasting roles like veterans. Coulter's performance as a sensitive and troubled teen stands out. Spence certainly does justice to his in-your-face, reckless character Loonie.

The grownups do a pretty professional job too. Simon Baker gives a fairly reserved performance as Sando, an ageing surfie with a pro-surfing past. He looks the part but does not deliver the emotional range to really develop the character as we might want. He uses a middle class accent laced with some genuine Aussie: 'You wouldn't be dead for quids', 'Wonder what the ordinary people are doing?' It was customarily "poor people" so that's a deliberate thematic twist. Apparently, Baker has a surfing background from his youth on the East coast.

Elizabeth Debicki brings more depth as the damaged, brooding Eva. Richard Roxburgh is solid as Pikelet's father, with Baker using understated visual cues rather than dialogue to flesh out his role.

Set in the 1970s, the film was shot in the Great Southern Region of Western Australia, the area where Winton spent his teenage years. It's best experienced in a cinema, not just for Rick Rifici's stunning surfing sequences but also for Marden Dean's classy cinematography.

Friendship is the central element of this coming-of-age story. It opens with Loonie daring his mate Pikelet to take foolish risks. When Sando takes the boys under his surfing wing, he challenges them to "go for it", to confront their fears by tackling increasingly dangerous waves. He urges Pikelet to reach out beyond the ordinary, to "surrender" to the moment. That's also good advice for the audience.

Overall, Simon Baker should be pleased with his debut as director.
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Thursday, April 19, 2018

1945: Stirring Our Collective Memory



1945 is a Hungarian film that uses the personal to focus on the highly charged topic of the holocaust. Just after the atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki and the Soviets declared war on Japan, two orthodox Jews arrive in a small Hungarian town. They bring two boxes with them, which supposedly contain fragrances. Their arrival sparks panic and confusion amongst many of the locals who fear that they have come to reclaim their property.

The Jewish father (Miklós B. Székely) and son (György Somhegyi) say almost nothing, yet their silence says everything as they honor their dead family members.

During a Q&A session Director Ferenc Török has described the film as “a powerful, basic story”. Its black and white format carries the audience into the brief time between the holocaust and the communist decades. Our collective memory is jabbed by haunting images evoking photos and film from the immediate post war period.

The impact of the visual imagery strongly reinforces the key themes.

Hermann Sámuel (Iván Angelus) and his son (Marcell Nagy) arrive via train to a small 
village in Hungary full of secrets - Photo courtesy  Lenke Szilagyi / Menemsha Films

Two brief images of a photo album touch on a history of friendship and betrayal. Moreover, the use of smoke during the film connects poignantly to the holocaust’s crematoria.

The local authorities, in particular the town clerk, the police officer and the priest, seem to have been the leading collaborators with the Nazis. However, many others were complicit and benefitted by the removal and extermination of the Jewish community.

However, the villagers are divided, with families torn apart by the events of 1944. Some sympathised with and even helped their neighbours. Others are wracked by guilt for their part in the final solution. There are also those determined not to give up what is, for some, newly acquired prosperity.

1945 has an exceptional cast. Péter Rudolf as the powerful town clerk István and Eszter Nagy-Kálózy as his tormented wife Anna are outstanding. Apparently the pair has been married in real life since 1990. Another veteran actor, József Szarvas, gives a faultless performance as the tortured alcoholic Kustár.

Neither the cathartic climax nor the departing steam train, with all its distressing symbolism, brings real resolution. The coming clouds of communism hang over the community, with the “new world” promised by local Soviet sympathizer Jancsi (Tamás Szabó Kimmel) not far over the horizon. But that’s another story.

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