Nobody’s Fool (2018)


A buncha girls in cars.

(2018) Romantic Comedy (Paramount PlayersTiffany Haddish, Tika Sumpter, Omari Hardwick, Mehcad Brooks, Amber Riley, Whoopi Goldberg, Missi Pyle, PJ Morton, Michael Blackson, Jon Rudnitsky, Chris Rock, Nev Schulman, Max Joseph, Adrian Conrad, Courtney Henggeler, Candace West, Crystal Lee Brown, Peyton Jackson, Al Hamacher, Victoria Ealy. Directed by Tyler Perry

 

Tiffany Haddish is one of the hottest comedians in the world. Tyler Perry is literally a brand name in African-American cinema. It would seem to be a match made in heaven. Instead, it’s a godawful mess.

For one thing, Haddish is basically an extended cameo. She plays Tanya, the recently released from prison sister to affluent, successful Danica (Sumpter) who has just landed a big contract at the marketing firm she works at, and is long-distance dating Charlie (Brooks), a man she has never seen or been in the same time zone with. Tanya thinks she’s being catfished – ironically (or not) a program on MTV, which is owned by Paramount’s parent corporation. Tanya even gets the hosts of Catfished (Joseph and Schulman) to investigate. Meanwhile, there’s lovesick Frank (Hardwick), the coffee house owner who is completely smitten with Danica but doesn’t quite measure up to Danica’s succinct list of qualities her husband must have. Apparently in Tyler Perry’s world, all single women have such a list.

The problem with the movie is that it really isn’t very funny, and when you’re talking a rom-com, that’s half the promise. Oh, there are a few momentary chuckles – mostly supplied by Haddish – but she’s a fish out of water here. This really isn’t a movie that utilizes her talents very well and quite frankly, there have been damn few of them that she’s been in that have. It’s like she’s trying to out-Madea Madea and we all know that’s just not possible.

Sumpter does a lot better. She’s a natural rom-com lead and while she looks somewhat flustered when she’s with Haddish, she does the upscale African-American woman maybe better than anyone. Sadly, the plot goes meandering into all sorts of different territories – a Perry trademark, and like most of his films it hits and misses. This one is much more of a miss; it’s one of the weakest movies in the Tyler Perry catalogue and it shouldn’t have been. I think he would have been better served to make a movie around either Haddish or Sumpter – but trying to do both doesn’t serve the film well, and since Haddish is absent from nearly the entire second half of the movie, it leaves audiences giving puzzled looks at their TV screen, wondering where their star went to. I’ll tell you where she went – she’s on an extended coffee break in Frank’s shop. Watching her do that would have made a better movie than this one.

REASONS TO SEE: Sumpter has real talent and should be getting better parts.
REASONS TO AVOID: Too many rom-com clichés. Too much overacting from Haddish.
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity (including sexual references) as well as sexual situations and some drug material.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is Perry’s first film for any studio other than Lionsgate.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AMC On Demand, AppleTV, Epix, Fandango Now, Google Play, Hulu, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/29/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 24% positive reviews: Metacritic: 39/100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Why Did I Get Married?
FINAL RATING: 4.5/10
NEXT:
Murder Death Koreatown

Pick of the Litter – March 2020


BLOCKBUSTER OF THE MONTH

Mulan

(Disney) Yifei Liu, Donnie Yen, Jet Li, Li Gong. Disney continues their series of live-action remakes of animated classics with an intriguing addition. While Mulan was never one of their biggest hits, this one might actually outpace the original as they reimagine the animated fantasy as a martial arts epic. Here, the daughter of an elderly man who is being conscripted into the army takes his place, hiding her identity as a girl. March 27

OTHER WIDE RELEASES TO WATCH FOR

Onward, March 6
The Way Back, March 6
Bloodshot, March 13
The Hunt, March 13
My Spy, March 13
A Quiet Place Part II, March 20
Saint Maud, March 27

INDEPENDENT PICKS

The Burnt Orange Heresy

(Sony Classics) Elizabeth Debicki, Claes Bang, Donald Sutherland, Mick Jagger. An ambitious young art dealer, aided by an alluring American, gets embroiled in an art heist from an enigmatic painter. Things being as they are, nothing is what it seems to be in this Giuseppe Capotondi erotic neo-noir thriller. March 6

Sorry We Missed You

(Zeitgeist/Kino-Lorber) Kris Hitchen, Debbie Honeywood, Rhys Stone, Katie Proctor. Legendary English director Ken Loach looks at the economics of the English working class in the 21st century with this stark drama about a family, caught up in the gig economy, tries to make ends meet in an increasingly vicious marketplace. March 6

Spenser Confidential

(Netflix) Mark Wahlberg, Winston Duke, Alan Arkin, Iliza Shlesinger. Ex-cop and ex-con Spenser gets out of the slammer after being framed for a crime he didn’t commit, and with the aid of his roommate, the mercurial Hawk, aims to take down the corrupt cops and politicians who put him behind bars. This version of the Robert B. Parker character, formerly played by Robert Urich in Spencer: For Hire is the latest collaboration between Wahlberg and director Peter Berg. March 6

Swallow

(IFC) Haley Bennett, Austin Stowell, Denis O’Hare, Elizabeth Marvel. A newly pregnant housewife, frustrated by the control exerted on her life by her husband and his family, feels compelled to swallow dangerous objects. March 6

The Dog Doc

(Film Rise) Marty Goldstein, Jennifer Lenarz-Salcedo, Jacqueline Ruskin, Randie Shane. Veterinarian Dr. Marty Goldstein uses holistic healing methods that he practiced when battling cancer to use on dogs who have terminal conditions with astounding results. March 13;

Lost Girls

(Netflix) Amy Ryan, Gabriel Byrne, Dean Winters, Lola Kirke. Frustrated by police indifference when her daughter disappears, a mother does her own investigating and discovers that her daughter isn’t the only girl missing. Based on actual events. March 13

Human Nature

(Greenwich) Jennifer Doudna, Hank Greely, Dolores Sanchez, Emmanuelle Charpentier. One of the most amazing and controversial scientific discoveries of the early 21st century is CRISPR, which gives scientists the ability to manipulate genes. This could be used to eradicate certain diseases – and fundamentally change the human race from the DNA up. The ethical debate behind it may well determine the course of human evolution. March 13

The Roads Not Taken

(Bleecker Street) Javier Bardem, Elle Fanning, Salma Hayek, Laura Linney. A man floats through alternate lives he hasn’t led, while his daughter wrestles with her own future. The acclaimed Sally Potter (The Party) wrote and directed this. March 13

Deerskin

(Greenwich) Jean Dujardin, Adéle Haenel, Albert Delpy, Coralie Russier. A man who has been ignored and ridiculed buys himself a deerskin jacket which becomes an obsession. When he gets noticed, he attributes his change of fortune to the jacket and soon turns to a life of crime and murder. This one got a lot of attention at Fantastic Fest in Montreal last year. March 20

Dosed

(Golden Teacher) Adrianne, Paul Stamets, Nicholas Meyers, Tyler Chandler. A desperate and suicidal woman, addicted to opioids and homeless, uses illegal psychedelics to help cure her anxiety and desperation after prescription medication has failed. March 20

Military Wives

(Bleecker Street) Kristin Scott Thomas, Sharon Horgan, Jason Flemyng, Emma Lowndes. A group of military wives, whose husbands have deployed to the Middle East with the British Army, form a choir in order to give themselves something to do. They become media sensations and originators of a global movement. Inspired by true events. March 27

Resistance

(IFC) Jesse Eisenberg, Ed Harris, Edgar Ramirez, Clémence Poésy. Before he became the world’s most beloved mime, Marcel Marceau was a member of the French resistance who helped save the lives of ten thousand orphans, a story from the Second World War that few remember today. March 27

New Releases for the Week of February 28, 2020


THE INVISIBLE MAN

(Blumhouse/Universal) Elisabeth Moss, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Harriet Dyer, Aldis Hodge, Storm Reid, Michael Dorman, Benedict Hardie. Directed by Leigh Whannell

When her abusive ex takes his own life, Cecilia is at first relieved. When he leaves her his fortune, she becomes uneasy. When a series of unlikely coincidences turns lethal, she begins to suspect that her ex may not be dead but hiding in plain sight.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website
Genre: Horror
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: R (for some strong bloody violence and language)

Blood on Her Name

(Vertical) Bethany Anne Lind, Elisabeth Röhm, Jared Ivers, Will Patton. When a woman accidentally kills a man, she panics and hides the body. When her conscience demands that she return the body to his family, things really spiral out of control.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Suspense
Now Playing: Studio Grill Sunset Walk
Rating: NR

Disappearance at Clifton Hill

(IFC Midnight) Tuppence Middleton, Hannah Gross, David Cronenberg, Eric Johnson. A troubled young woman with a checkered past returns home to Niagara Falls. While there she is compelled to investigate a mystery that has plagued her since childhood, but that investigation will take her into a conspiracy of silence that runs deeper than she could possibly fathom.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Barnstorm Theater
Rating: NR

Emma.

(Focus) Anya Taylor-Joy, Johnny Flynn, Bill Nighy, Mia Goth. Jane Austen’s beloved tale of a queen bee in a small town who seeks an equal to marry, discovers that sometimes you have to earn your happily ever after.

=See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: PG (for brief partial nudity)

Guns Akimbo

(Saban) Daniel Radcliffe, Samara Weaving, Ned Dennehy, Rhys Darby. A mild-mannered video game developer gets caught up in a real-life streaming deathmatch, waking up with guns grafted to his hands. He’s up against the game’s most successful killer and his usual fallback. of running and hiding won’t help him.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Action Comedy
Now Playing: Barnstorm Theater, Studio Movie Grill Sunset Walk
Rating: R (for strong bloody violence throughout, pervasive language, drug use, sexual references and brief graphic nudity)

Impractical Jokers: The Movie

(truTV) Joe Gatto, James Murray, Brian Quinn, Sal Vulcano. The merry pranksters of truTV make the break for the silver screen, starring in a movie that involves their attempt for redemption, competing in hidden camera challenges that will help overcome a high school mishap that hangs over the lives of three of them.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall,  AMC Avenue 16, AMC Classic New Smyrna, AMC Disney Springs, AMC Lake Square, Cinemark Orlando, Cinepolis Polk County, Cobb Grand Winter Haven, Cobb Merritt Square, Cobb Plaza Cinema Café, Epic Theaters of Clermont, Epic Theaters of Lee Vista, Epic Theaters of Titusville, Epic Theaters of West Volusia, Fashion Square Premiere, Regal Port Orange Pavilion, Regal The Loop, Regal Wekiva Riverwalk
Rating: PG-13 (for suggestive content, language, some drug references and brief nudity)

Premature

(IFC) Zora Howard, Joshua Boone, Imani Lewis, Jimmy Lee Gary Jr. Two young people in Harlem – a poet getting ready to go to college in the fall, and an aspiring music producer, meet and fall in love. But the fantasy turns real as they – and particularly her – must deal with the consequences of their relationship

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Romance
Now Playing: Barnstorm Theater, Cinematique Daytona
Rating: NR

Seberg

(Amazon) Kristen Stewart, Jack O’Connell, Anthony Mackie, Colm Meaney. Actress Jean Seberg was the darling of the French New Wave cinema, but her involvement in the civil rights movement brought her to the attention of the FBI who did their best to derail her career and tarnish her reputation.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, Old Mill Playhouse, Regal Oviedo, Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: R (for language, sexual content/nudity and some drug use)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Forensic
Hit
My Hero Academia: Heroes Rising
Nuuk
Thappad

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE/KEY WEST:

Forensic
Hit
My Hero Academia: Heroes Rising
Nuuk
Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and the Band
Thappad
Viral: Antisemitism in Four Mutations
Zombi Child

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG/SARASOTA:

Baahu
Forensic
Hit
My Hero Academia: Heroes Rising
Nuuk
Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and the Band
Thappad
Viral: Antisemitism in Four Mutations

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Forensic
Hit
My Hero Academia: Heroes Rising

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Disappearance at Clifton Hill
Emma
The Invisible Man
Viral: Antisemitism in Four Mutations

FILM FESTIVALS TAKING PLACE IN FLORIDA:

Bonita Springs International Film Festival, Bonita Springs FL
Vero Beach Film and Wine Festival, Vero Beach FL

Standing Up, Falling Down


Billy Crystal still looks mah-velous!

(2019) Comedy (SHOUT!) Billy Crystal, Ben Schwartz, Eloise Mumford, Grace Gummer, Nate Corddry, Jill Hennessy, Caitlin McGee, David Castañeda, Leonard Ouzts, John Behlmann, Debra Monk, Kevin Dunn, Wade Allain-Marcus, Kate Arrington, Mike Carlsen, Charlie Hankin, Nathan James, Hassan Jordan, Glenn Kubota, Kelsey Reinhardt. Directed by Matt Ratner

 

It’s not easy to make it out there. These days, it is not uncommon for kids to move back home with their parents when things don’t go their way in a career. I know I did that when I was younger; so did my own son. Most everyone knows someone who has been in that boat at one time or another.

=For Scott Rollins (Schwartz), that ship is on an indefinite cruise. After his attempt to become a stand-up comedian in Los Angeles crashed and burned, he has moved back home to Long Island – not the Hamptons part – with his mom (Monk) who is absolutely thrilled to have him home, his Dad (Dunn) who is disappointed and his younger sister Megan (Gummer) who trades acid-tongued barbs with him and is likely none-too-pleased to see him – her life isn’t going much better than his, although she does have a really great boyfriend (Castañeda).

Scott is 34 years old, with no direction in life and an uncertain future. Although his mom is pushing him in the direction of a post office job – which he is absolutely against – he doesn’t really have much in the way of a plan B. He is pining over his ex-fiancée Becky (Mumford) whom he left to go to the West Coast for. She has since married a mutual friend (Behlmann) and still lives in town.

>He meets the very drunk Marty (Crystal) in a bar bathroom; Marty is drunk enough to be pissing in a sink but not so drunk that his aim is off. He notices a skin condition on Scott’s arm and recommends a dermatologist. As it turns out, he’s the dermatologist. A more sober Marty treats Scott’s “stress hives” and the two develop a friendship.

Like Scott, Marty is damaged goods. He is totally alone and both of his marriages didn’t go the way he wanted. His son Adam (Corddry) can’t stand the sight of him and Marty knows he drinks far too much. But as it turns out, Marty and Scott are good for each other and help each other out in ways neither one of them could have anticipated.

The movie doesn’t break any particularly new ground; the concept of a thirty-something year old kid returning home in failure to his folks’ house has been done a number of times. There aren’t a whole lot of emotional highs and lows here although to be fair the ones that are here are handled well, particularly a scene between Marty and his son late in the film.

What the movie has in spades is charm which is mainly due to the casting. All of the actors, from Parks and Recreation vet Schwartz to the legendary Crystal all exude it and Ratner wisely lets them do their thing. In particular, Crystal is outstanding. This is some of his best work since his SNL days; it’s wonderful to see him display his impressive talent and screen presence again. He’ll be 72 in March but he’s still as funny as he ever was.

Schwartz, not so much. His stand-up routines are kind of flat, even when he’s supposedly killing it; there’s a fundamental lack of understanding of what makes a stand-up funny here. The filmmakers might have been better served picking a different occupation for Scott. However, to be fair, Schwartz has some screen presence and charisma going for him and even if his stand-up material doesn’t work so well, he does a commendable job in his role.

=Definitely, the attraction here is Crystal and fans of his should flock to see this. It is available on the major streaming services now with more to come I’m sure, and at the same time it is making a brief theatrical run including here at the Old Mill Theater in the Villages for those who would prefer to see this on the big screen. This isn’t going to be a movie you can’t live without, but it has enough warmth to make it worth your while.

REASONS TO SEE: There’s enough charm here to see the picture through. One of Crystal’s best performances ever.
REASONS TO AVOID: Is a little bit formulaic. Has a been there done that feel
FAMILY VALUES: There is more than a little profanity and some drug use.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The crash scene into the pizza parlor was so well-staged that residents in Long Island called the police.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/25/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 85% positive reviews: Metacritic: 69/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Comedian (2017)
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Nobody’s Fool

A Private War


War is actually hell.

(2018) Biographical Drama (Aviron) Rosamund Pike, Jamie Dornan, Stanley Tucci, Tom Hollander, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Jérémie Laheurte, Alexandra Moen, Amada Drew, Corey Johnson, Hilton McRae, Greg Wise, Mo’ath Sharif, Raad Rawi, Diana Mohammad, Pano Masti, Ahmad Yassin, Maha Al-Tamar, Rami Delshad, Bassam Hanna Touma, Fady Elsayed, Natasha Jayetileke.  Directed by Matthew Heineman

 

Marie Colvin was, in every sense of the word, a hero. She brought to light the atrocities of war, putting her life at risk by going to some of the most hellish places on Earth – Kosovo, Lebanon, Iraq, Syria – until it finally caught up with her.

Colvin (Pike) didn’t go unscathed by what she saw; she suffered from nightmares and PTSD and relied on binge drinking and chain-smoking to dull the pain. She lost an eye covering the Tamil Tigers but gained a trademark – the distinctive eye patch she wore for the rest of her life. The incident is shown early on in the film.

Pike delivers here; her intensity is palpable as is her despair. This is not an iron-jawed war correspondent who is after the scoop more than speaking for the voiceless; this is a fragile, sometimes caustic woman who paid the price for her daring, eventually paying the ultimate price in Homs, Syria in 2012.

Heineman, who previously directed the Florida Film Festival entry Cartel Land, delivers footage that looks authentic; many of the locations may as well have been on the moon, so desolate are they. These feel like war zones, or at least how you’d imagine a war zone to be like. On the flip side, he also shows Colvin as a woman coping as best she can with the things she’s seen and not always succeeding. At an awards banquet, Colvin is dressed to the nines in a cocktail dress and heels but still she stomps through the venue like she’s marching through Fallujah. It is a telling moment.

I’m not sure that this is the definitive biography of Colvin. There is a bit too much attention paid to her sexual liaisons for my taste, which I found to be unnecessary. Nevertheless, this is a powerful film that gives you at least the spirit of Colvin, although you might want to check out the documentaries on her to get to know her public persona better.

REASONS TO SEE: Pike gives an intense portrayal as Colvin. Gritty and realistic depictions of war.
REASONS TO AVOID: There’s a little bit too much prurient material for my liking.
FAMILY VALUES: There are violent images, some sexuality and brief nudity, as well as profanity throughout.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Taron Egerton was originally scheduled to play Paul Conroy, but dropped out of the production. Jamie Dornan was hired to replace him.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AMC On Demand, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Microsoft, Redbox, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/25/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 88% positive reviews; Metacritic: 75/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Under the Wire
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
Standing Up, Falling Down

Viral: Antisemitism in Four Mutations


Bullet holes and bibles: a message from God?

(2020) Documentary (Dark StarBill Clinton, Tony Blair, Julianna Margulies (narrator), Fareed Zakairia, Deborah Lipstadt, George F. Will, George Soros, Ben Novak, Viktor Orban, Yair Rosenberg, Brad Orsini, Rabbi Jonathan Perlman, Eric Ward, Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, Rabbi Elisar Admon, Luciana Berger, Johnathan Weissman, Ken Livingstone, Rachel Riley, Valerie Braham. Directed by Andrew Goldberg

 

Antisemitism is nothing new. It has been around as long as Judaism has been, or very nearly. After the end of World War II, there was a feeling that now that Nazism was gone, so would be antisemitism. That hasn’t proven to be the case; in fact, antisemitic hate crimes have been on the rise over the past few years.

Emmy-winning filmmaker and journalist Andrew Goldberg takes four very different types of antisemitic behavior and tries to explore each one. There is state-sponsored antisemitism, which is going on right now in Hungary where billionaire George Soros has been demonized as a “laughing Jew” trying to overrun Europe (and Hungary in particular) with Muslim refugees. A public smear campaign against Soros in particular and Jews in general is taking place there, which is disturbing to watch; 42% of Hungarians, according to the film, display at least one form of antisemitism.

There is also the sort we see here in America as practiced by the far right, which is an offshoot of neo-Nazism and has led to the tragic mass shootings in synagogues I Pittsburgh and California, as well as numerous defacing of Jewish cemeteries and synagogues with Nazi swastikas and anti-Jewish slogans.

In the UK, the Labour party has been rocked by a move towards what is described as antisemitism; there have been several Jewish politicians, television personalities and journalists who have been subjected to savage antisemitic hate mail. While there is nothing wrong with disagreeing with Israeli policies vis a vis the Palestinians, linking Hitler with Zionism as one former London mayor has done, or insisting that Jewish people are loyal to Israel first and the UK second is actually pretty condescending. Are then Lutherans loyal to Germany first, Presbyterians to Scotland first, Episcopalians to England first? Of course not.

Finally, an intense wave of antisemitism has swept through France, largely through the Muslim community. Radical Muslims there have carried out acts of terror against Jewish businesses, including one Kosher market where four people of the Jewish faith were gunned down before Parisian police killed the shooter.

Goldberg has explored this territory before in his TV doc Antisemitism in the 21st Century: The Resurgence which I haven’t seen. This seems to be a deeper dive into the subject, with lots and lots of interviews, from well-known politicians like Clinton and Blair, journalists like Zakaria and Will, academics like Lipstadt, and survivors of hate crimes. I would have liked a little less hagiography in the UK section; disagreeing with Israeli political policies doesn’t make you an anti-Semite and that’s where the left-leaning Labour party’s issues really began, but they went over the line and you see that happening in left-leaning places here like Berkeley as well.

The movie opens up with police communications that occurred during the Tree of Life synagogue massacre in Pittsburgh, where 11 Jewish worshipers were murdered by a far-right white supremacist. There is an interview with Valerie Braham, a young woman whose husband died in the kosher market in Paris. She breaks down several times recalling that terrible day, and then matter-of-factly states that she feels she has to hide her and her children’s Jewishness when they go out in public. She is terrified and has every right to be.

Things tend to be cyclical and we’re entering an era of global nationalism. It’s easy to blame Trump for some of these things – and his rhetoric certainly bears some responsibility as far as fanning the flames goes – but this is a global phenomenon, not just an American one and the rise of antisemitism can’t really be laid at the feet of just one man. It is, very sadly, part of who we are as Christians. When we learn to accept those who are different as us as no better and no worse than us, maybe on that day Jews and Muslims and gays and dark-skinned minorities won’t have to live in fear. Until that day comes, it seems only prudent to be cautious.

REASONS TO SEE: Chilling footage of police taking down a white supremacist in Paris, as well as the police band chatter from the Tree of Life massacre. Very intelligent throughout.
REASONS TO AVOID: A bit scattershot and lacks context from time to time.
FAMILY VALUES: There is adult material, some of it fairly disturbing.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Lipstadt is the woman upon whose experiences Denial was based on. She was played by Rachel Weisz in the film.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/24/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 71% positive reviews, Metacritic: 46/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Antisemitism in the 21st Century: The Resurgence
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
A Private War

Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Portrait de la jeune fille en feu)


Love in flames.

(2019) Romance (NEON) Noémie Merlant, Adele Haenel, Luána Bajrami, Valeria Golino, Christel Baras, Armande Boulanger, Guy Delamarche, Clément Bouyssou, Cécile Morel, Michéle Clément. Directed by Céline Sciamma

 

The Darkwave band Black Tape for a Blue Girl did a song “A Love That Dare Not Be” which is heartbreaking in nearly every respect; the music itself creates a melancholic mood and there’s the realization that few people have ever heard the song and it so deserves to be heard.

In fact, their Ashes in the Brittle Air album dovetails nicely with Portrait of a Lady on Fire, the latest from French writer-director Sciamma and her most exciting work to date. It is a period piece, set in the mid-to-late 18th century in an isolated chateau on the seacoast of Brittany.

Marianne (Merlant) has been commissioned to paint a portrait of Hélöise (Haenel), the daughter of the countess (Golino) who lives there. Hélöise has just been yanked out of the convent to take the place of her sister in a marriage to a Milanese nobleman; the portrait is to be used to pique interest in the girl as potential marriage material. However, Hélöise is wise to the game and refused to sit for a portrait with the previous painter, who grew frustrated at her obstinance and quit.

Marianne is there in the guise of a companion to accompany Hélöise on walks around the chateau. The countess is concerned that Hélöise might suffer the same fate as her sister, who fell from the cliffs. The house’s sole servant, Sophie (Bajrami) believes it was suicide because the girl didn’t utter a sound on the way to her death.

Marianne is meant to paint surreptitiously in the evening hours. Her canvas and painting supplies are hidden behind privacy partitions. During the day the two women hang out and soon develop a friendship. Marianne is forced by circumstances to notice the details of Hélöise; the curve of her neck, the cartilage of her ears, the elegance of her fingers. Before long, the friendship develops into something deeper – the proverbial love that dare not speak its name.

This is one of the most beautifully shot movies I’ve seen in a while and I’ve seen some good ones. The composition is exquisite, done with a painter’s eye. Whether it is Hélöise standing alone in front of crashing waves on the shore, or Hélöise, Marianne and Sophia cresting a hill at dusk in the wild light of sunset, or Marianne alone before the fire, naked and puffing on a pipe contemplatively, each shot has purpose, each shot conveys emotion.

The emotions are at the center of the performances of Haenel and Merlant. Both are up for Best Actress awards at the César awards that are being presented this coming Friday – the French Oscars. Either performance is award-worthy, although I don’t know how you would choose between the two. Haenel is more reserved, somewhat more melancholy. Merlant has the advantage of being the narrator and setting the tone in that sense. The chemistry between them is natural and believable.

\Throughout the film there are references to the legend of Orpheus – he’s the bard whose love Eurydice died young, so he made the perilous journey into the underworld to beg Lord Hades for him to release her back to the world. Hades, moved by Orpheus’ artistry, grants the request with the caveat that Orpheus must lead the way and not turn back until both of them have left the Underworld; if he obeys, they will live whatever time they have left. If not, Eurydice goes right back into the afterlife, not passing go nor collecting $200. Human nature being what it is, Orpheus looks back as the end is in sight and loses his girl forever.

Hélöise, Marianne and Sophie discuss the meanings of the myth but there are also some other references; appearances of paintings based on the myth and near the end of the movie, as Marianne is leaving the chateau with her Hélöise promised to another, she hears the admonition to turn around and beholds Hélöise in a white wedding-like dress behind her. As Marianne shuts the door, Hélöise disappears from view.

There is a lot of depth here, too much to get into in one article but enough that you’ll be talking about it with your film buff friends for a long time to come. The two-hour movie takes a bit of time to get going, but once it hits its stride it holds your attention firmly. This had a one-day theatrical preview event back in December but is just now hitting a general release. Their distributor, which is still in a celebratory mood after one of their films won the Best Picture Oscar, can start celebrating again; this is another amazing film for their library and one which could very well be part of next year’s Oscar conversation.

REASONS TO SEE: A master class on camera composition. A haunting choral piece really heightens the mood. Wonderful use of the Orpheus myth.
REASONS TO AVOID: A little bit too long; it drags a bit in the beginning.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some nudity and sexuality including one brief scene of graphic sexuality.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: During the festival scene, the women sing a choral version of Non Possunt Fugere which is Latin for “They Cannot Escape.” The song is repeated during the closing credits.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/24/20: Rotten Tomatoes:98% positive reviews: Metacritic: 95/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Breathe In
FINAL RATING: 8.5/10
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Viral: Antisemitism in Four Mutations