Arguably the most controversial film in this fall’s series, Arteta’s dramatic treatment of cultural/class difference in America will give you lots to talk about over your post-screening lattes. A superb cast steps up to situate holistic practitioner Beatriz (Hayek) in the affluent SoCal mansion where she regularly rolls out her massage table. Fate brings her to join the owners’ dinner party, an inherently explosive social setting at which wealthy white Californians share social notes. Beatriz could not be further removed from or even interested in their class privilege. Hold the chilled wine and pass the conversational animosity. A parable for our time, BEATRIZ AT DINNER also features the indomitable John Lithgow as one of those men who likely voted for you-know-who.
This is one of those film blurbs that must be committed to not telling you anything. We can say that it’s about the passage of time and the experience of grief. We can also say that it features Casey Affleck as the ghost of a man who died young, leaving his wife (Mara) in the deepest sorrow. If you read the online reviews you will see that viewers hate it or love it. But if you have patience, appreciate the existential films of Antonioni, can let go of your desire for causal explanations, then you will love this film. It’s a journey in time itself—all 92 minutes of watching images that night not necessarily ‘add up’ to what you are used to. Director Lowery has taken a huge risk, relying on our childhood notions of ghosthood and turning them inside out, sideways, and upside down. Casper, we hardly knew you.
This is a film about a world we know only on the outside: the Hasidic community of New York City. MENASHE takes us deep inside that world to offer a fascinating glimpse of what is essentially a universal story of human frailty. The title character is what in Yiddish is called a schlemiel, a well-intentioned, hapless man to whom unfortunate things happen. Menashe is largely responsible for all of those things, but he is a hugely sympathetic character, impossible not to root for as he struggles to gain custody of his son after his wife dies. Weinstein cast non-actors for all the roles here, and so the film has an uncanny realism to it, even though we know we are seeing ordinary people act a profoundly sensitive script. Critics have compared MENASHE to MOONLIGHT, both films focusing on the specific to narrate a deeply moving story we all recognize as the human condition.
MUN Cinema Series isn’t all about existential dread and loss (see above). It is also a chance to see raucous comedy at its best. THE LITTLE HOURS boldly riffs on Boccaccio's 'The Decameron,' in which a young man pretends to be a deaf-mute in order to work at a convent with famously horny nuns. You read that right. The handsome, dark-eyed Massetto enters this world with youthful optimism but inevitably discovers how exhausting a world of desiring women can be. These nuns are simply impossible. Try to control them at your peril. Yes, we’re in the 14th century, but this crowd talks 21st century trash and therefore the extended anachronistic joke fuels the comedy. Think R-rated Mel Brooks, but with a subtler purpose. This is a robust farce, sure, but it’s also a study of the consequences of a worldview that promotes the virtue of shame. Denying the experience of pleasure can kill the spirit.
A deliciously sensual movie, BEACH RATS turns the male gaze back on itself with an anxious, moody intelligence. We are back in NY City, but this time in the beachside neighbourhood of Brooklyn, Coney Island. Frankie is a young man who hangs with other young men, all of whom inhabit a rather relentlessly unambitious lifestyle. They spend their time smoking weed and preening for each other through time-honoured notions of masculinity. But Frankie is also drawn to other men and he hooks up with them late at night, far from the homophobic eyes of his friends. The world of his family and friends is far too rigid to imagine alternative routes to adulthood, and so the film explores what can only be called the agonizing limbo of his 19-year-old identity. Late adolescence is a bitch at the best of times. British actor Harris Dickinson assumes the inarticulate longing of a Brooklyn teenager with uncanny credibility. That guy is going places—way beyond his character’s inchoate longing.
Screening as part of the 28th St John’s International Women’s Film Festival, LANDLINE was huge at Sundance this year, as director Robespierre follows successfully on her smash debut film OBVIOUS CHILD. Set in the pre-smartphone ‘nineties, the aptly named LANDLINE is a serious comedy about communication. Two sisters are at decidedly different points in their evolution, but their mutual suspicion is underscored by their parents’ uneasy relationship. Is there anything Edie Falco can’t do? Here she plays the pant-suited mom to John Turturro’s artistically inclined dad, two adults nearing the expiry date on their marriage. As much about divorce as it is about sibling rivalry, LANDLINE is both a highly amusing take on an all-too familiar situation and an insightful drama about the ease of making all the wrong choices. Please turn your phones completely off to see this movie.
Well, if you know your Shakespeare you know that the titular character of this film is, um, complicated. But the film is actually based on a Russian novella about the stifling, repressed world of the 19th century, especially for women. So it is that we open on the wedding day of 17-year old Katherine, forced into marriage with—you guessed it—a joyless, much older man of means. Life becomes one continuous corseting, until one day Katherine starts to explore the world beyond the straight-angled austerity of her home. The contrast beyond the lean interiors and the fecund moors of the English countryside is as obvious as that between the Earnshaws and Heathcliff. Not surprisingly, Katherine finds relief from her confinement in that wild natural landscape, taking up with the swarthy groundskeeper, and unleashing a set of consequences in which she plays a singular vengeful role. Consider this a revenge tragedy as told from the point of view of she who can’t see, let alone drink, a lot of the milk of human kindness.
Seems we really can’t get enough of the life and death of Vincent Van Gogh. It’s as if each filmmaker who takes on the subject hopes s/he can get to the bottom of the mystery. If for nothing else, the film is a triumph in its recreation of all those famous landscapes the beloved Vincent brought to life on canvas. If you know even a little art history you’ll fondly recognize so many famously caught tableaux. Over 100 artists were commissioned to hand paint this feature animation, using leading-edge technology in the service of a daunting project. It’s a tour de force all of its own. The film is largely an inquiry into the circumstances of the artist’s death, largely through interviews with those who might harbor a clue or a secret to this 125-year or so puzzle. See what you think.
If, like many, you are interested in the elusive life of J.D. Salinger then have we got a biopic for you. Based on a 2010 Biography of the famous author, the film must nonetheless wrestle with the lingering mystery of Salinger’s elusive personality. Nicholas Hoult plays the young author with admirable subtlety. The reliably brilliant Spacey plays the writer’s mentor and editor, Whit Burnett. Their relationship is astonishingly important. Central to an understanding of what the film describes as Salinger’s character is the traumatizing experience of WWII, a life-changing period in the author’s life that doubtlessly fed his art as well as his anxiety. How did all of that inform the writing of Catcher in the Rye, you might ask? The film more than hints at the effects of violence on Salinger’s ostensible disorder. Eschewing fame most of his life, Salinger is probably rolling in his grave at the ongoing preoccupation we have with his author-celebrity status.
You might find this glorious documentary in the ‘sports’ genre category, sure, but it is more reaching than that category would suggest. This is about a guy who has dedicated himself to doing Big Things, like taking on the biggest waves in the ocean. Director Kennedy, she of the famous family, by the way, was attracted to the subject for many reasons, not the least of which is that it is a quintessentially American story of bravado. We are less likely to admire it for that reason as for its stunning cinematography and the sheer appeal of its clearly fearless surfer-hero. What makes someone like Laird Hamilton tick in the first place? Of course, if you know anything about him, you know Hamilton didn’t just surf but he also changed the nature of surfing itself, pushing new approaches to go way beyond what had been the tradition of this big wave sport. He also lives to tell the crazy tale. It’s a totally riveting experience which is best appreciated in the still comfort of a darkened theatre, not hurtling over some 80-foot monster in the Pacific.
This film is about as far from THE LITTLE HOURS as it gets, but it does reveal our ongoing fascination with the subject. The story is set in the nineteen sixties, during the era of Vatican II. It has a spectacular debut at Sundance this year, cementing its status in the pantheon of great films set in convents. Cathleen is the main subject, seeking escape and peace from her severely troubled home. But, as with all things, appearances can be deceiving and the life she thinks she is choosing turns out to be more complicated, as troubled in its own ways as the life she left behind. Vatican II was radical in its testing of the traditional pathways of belief, and it threatened those who feared the changes it would bring to the Church. The always superb Melissa Leo plays the Reverend Mother with a fierce and determined hold on the old ways and on the novitiate’s evolving journey. The ensuing tension between young and new informs this highly compelling drama.
The ‘Trip’ series is fast becoming a franchise, based largely on the irresistible charm of its two leading gentleman trippers, Coogan and Brydon. This time the boys head out to the sunny climes of Spain, doing what they have done so well and enviously in the Lake District and in Italy—cruising from one gorgeous village to another, tasting drool-worth food, and taking affectionate pot shots at each other all the while. The film is so much fun as it flirts with the real-world identities of its two protagonists, even while adding a fictional friend or relative or two. None of it matters because, ultimately, we are entertained by these two clowns bantering and competing with each other for the biggest share of audience approval. Never has tilting at windmills seemed so satisfying.
We are really proud to be ending the fall MUN Cinema season with this hugely admired film from acclaimed Finnish genius filmmaker Kaurismäki. His award-winning masterpieces are known internationally for their wit and humanity. Here he continues his exploration of the vexed global village by focusing on a familiar reality: the way immigrants are compelled to adapt to a new society—and how that society itself adapts to its strangers. Set in and around the seaside port of Helsinki (one of the world’s coolest cities in every sense of the word), the film tracks two lives through the trials and temptations of cultural dissonance. Wikhström is in transformation, leaving his wife and seizing a new career path; Khaled, a Syrian refugee, finds his own path crossing quite accidentally with Wikhström’s. What follows is a smart, warm fable for our time. Please don’t miss the opportunity to see this work of sheer brilliance. It will make you feel much better about the world, a sheer gift right before the holidays.