Again Once Again (De nuevo otra vez)


Hugs communicate so much.

(2019) Drama (MUBIRomina Paula, Monica Rank, Ramón Cohen, Mariana Chaud, Pablo Sigal, Denise Groesman, Esteban Bigliardi. Directed by Romina Paula and Rosario Cervio

 

Motherhood is a beautiful and wonderful thing. Most women aspire to it, and most women who become mothers will tell you that as difficult as it is, it is something they wouldn’t trade for anything in the world. But that difficult part…it can be overwhelming, especially for first-time mothers. Every mom wants to be the perfect mom, but there really is no such thing – but that doesn’t mean the attempt isn’t made. Women submerge their own needs into the needs of their child and their families until it’s hard to tell if they even exist as an individual anymore. Sometimes, it feels to them like they don’t.

Romina (Paula) who lives in Cordoba, Argentina with her boyfriend and son, has taken her son (Cohen) to Buenos Aires to visit her mother (Rank) – but she’s not sure if this is just a visit, or a signal that her relationship with her boyfriend (Bigliardi) is over. Although her son is three, she feels like she has disappeared – “I can’t see myself,” she admits to her mother.

Her mother, who raised her speaking German as her mom’s family had emigrated from Germany in the early 20th century and spoke it in the home, is only too happy to have her grandson and her daughter back. “Stay as long as you need,” she urges and Romina takes her up on it. Her mom urges her to go out, take some time for herself – and she does, going to parties with her friends Mariana (Chaud) and Denise (Groesman). She dances, flirts, and has deep discussions about her feelings. Her mother from time to time criticizes Romina in that passive-aggressive way mothers do with their daughters, but Romina feels adrift, trying to find herself, wondering if it is even possible.

This is one of those rare films that has to do with a woman’s mid-life crisis. It looks at the feelings with no little bit of intellectual discussion This is a largely autobiographical film – Paula plays a fairly thinly veiled version of herself, and one gets the sense that she’s using this film somewhat as therapy. It’s not easy to resent the effect a child has on your life, as much as she clearly loves her son. When her mother gently prods her daughter that her son needs to socialize with other children as well as her socializing with her friends, you get the sense that this is a discussion the two women have had in real life.

The performances here are pretty solid, from a largely non-professional cast (Paula herself is the exception). The situations are mainly mundane and there isn’t a whole lot of action, although there is  lot of talking and inner monologues are displayed in clunky fashion against slide shows as Romina narrates her family history and talks about her relationships. We could have done without those.

For a first-time film director, Paula does a pretty good job, and delivers a rarity – a great ending. It symbolizes her change from a woman who is following in the shadow of her man, to a woman embarking on a new and unknown journey on her own. As she turns to walk away from the camera, she flashes an enigmatic little smile. It’s just perfect.

There isn’t a lot of catharsis here, and as far as insights go, the film requires you to work for them a little bit, which is something American audiences aren’t always willing to do. However, this is a very strong debut and a very interesting movie that held my attention for its entire length, not an easy thing to do these days. I highly recommend it, and MUBI subscribers, who already tend to be fairly adventurous in their film choices, are going to love it.

REASONS TO SEE: Very thoughtful very smart. A wonderful final scene.
REASONS TO AVOID: Romina’s uncertainty can be maddening.
FAMILY VALUES: There are some drug references as well as some sensuality.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Romina’s mother and son are played by her real-life mother and son.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: MUBI
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/15/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 75/100, Metacritic: No score yet
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Sleepwalkers (Los sonambulos)
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
CREEM: America’s Only Rock and Roll Magazine

Starting at Zero: Reimagining Education in America


Education shouldn’t and doesn’t begin at kindergarten.

(2020) Documentary (Abramorama) Steve Bullock, Cynthia Jackson, James B. Hunt Jr., Ralph Northam, Phil Bryant, Kay Ivey, Aaliyah Samuel, Jeana Ross, Kathrine B. Stevens, Misty Blackmon, Pamela Northam, Diana Mendley Rauner, Todd Klunk, Archie Jones, Jeff Coleman, Diane Schanzenbach, Rebecca Berlin, Rachel Wagner, Amy Dunn, Sunny McPhillips. Directed by Willa Kammerer

 

A documentary often exists to present a specific point of view. If you asked Michael Moore why he doesn’t present the conservative response to his films, he would probably say “that’s not my job” (only much less politely, I think). Some documentaries, though, need to present more than one viewpoint in order to be effective.

Starting at Zero: Reimagining Education in America isn’t really a movie: it’s a PowerPoint presentation. It’s an avalanche of talking heads that drown you with information and sound bites until it starts leaking out of your ears and nose. Kammerer’s heart is in the right place, certainly; more attention needs to be paid to early childhood education, particularly for those families less able to afford quality child care. The Saul Zaentz foundation, established by the late Hollywood producer and jazz label founder, has undertaken that as a mission.

I think there was some confusion in regards to mission; the film opens with a graphic stating that the film is apolitical, not subscribing to a particular political party nor any specific state’s method of doing things, then spends more than half the film’s brief run time taking a deep dive into the success of the program in Alabama. That’s right, Alabama; not a state most people would associate with good education has the best record for early childhood education in the United States. I admit to being floored by that.

The talking heads – made up of state governors and former governors, other politicians, educators, academics, researchers and business leaders – stress the economic benefit of early childhood education. Getting kids started on socialization skills and learning how to learn from a very young age will help our kids do better in school and eventually, allow them to get better, more demanding jobs and contribute economically to the betterment of our society. In a way, it was chilling; are we interested in turning out intelligent citizens able to think for themselves, or automatons who are slaves to the wheel, as the saying goes. Given how certain politicians couldn’t wait to get people back to work during a pandemic, it would be forgivable if you assumed the latter.

Not to say that this isn’t a slick piece of work; there are plenty of charts and graphs accompanying the talking heads, interspersed with laughing, playing children in day care centers being taught how to play and problem solve. However, we don’t get a ton of specifics as to how, only that it must be done. We do hear some information about brain development but it gets lost in the noise of the constant barrage of people declaring how this is the Most Important Thing In the Country.

And I get it – this is a very important subject. Educating our children and preparing them for adulthood is one of the main functions of any society. However, there are documentaries that cover this subject that are much more effective. I suspect this was meant for showing to politicians at education conferences, or educators and academics at similar conferences. For general viewers, this is a hard slog to get to an important point. It’s pretty in the sense of the graphics and the happy, smiling kids but at the end of the day, unless you have a small child or are planning to have one, there may be very little interest in the subject for you and the movie won’t generate any – but it should.

REASONS TO SEE: An important subject we should all be invested in.
REASONS TO AVOID: Not so much a movie as a PowerPoint presentation.
FAMILY VALUES: Suitable for all parents.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Alabama is one of the only states in the union to have a dedicated cabinet member for early childhood education.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Virtual Cinematic Experience
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/14/20: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet: Metacritic: No score yet
COMPARISON SHOPPING: No Small Matter
FINAL RATING: 4/10
NEXT:
Again Once Again

The Chambermaid (La camarista)


Reflections of the invisible ones who clean our hotel rooms.

(2018) Drama (Kino LorberGabriela Cartol, Teresa Sanchez, Agustina Quinci. Directed by Lila Avilės

 

There is something about staying in a hotel that makes one feel a bit pampered; we don’t have to clean up after ourselves, the beds are magically made while we are out and everything seems softer and more luxurious than what we are used to at home. That’s not true for every hotel, of course, but certainly when it comes to the high-end luxury hotels, it’s true.

Eve (Cartol) works as a chambermaid in an unnamed five-star luxury hotel in Mexico City She has exclusive care of the 21st floor, supplying amenities, replacing towels, tidying up and of course making the beds. She is good at her job, well-versed in how to clean a room quickly and unobtrusively. Her manager tells her that she has a shot at getting the 42nd floor, a job that would give her more perks and a wealthier clientele.

She moves in and out of the rooms like a ghost, vanishing when hotel guests come near. She has little interaction with them other than to serve their needs; to bring extra amenities when called for, to press an elevator button for a guest whose religion won’t allow him to, even caring for an infant while the mother takes a shower.

Aviles, a first-time feature director, based the film on a stage play (which was in turn inspired by a photographic exhibition) but to her credit despite the claustrophobic setting (the movie is set entirely within the environs of the hotel from the guest rooms to the service areas where laundry is dropped off, amenities are stored and employee lunches are eaten. We get little sense of who Eve is personally; little dribs and drabs of information come out. She has a four-year-old son that she leaves in the care of a neighbor while she works. She comes to work early to attend an adult education class to help her get her high school equivalency.

She also carries on a wordless flirtation with a window washer who peers in from the outside like a voyeur. she strips naked for him in one unexpectedly poignant scene, almost as if she’s declaring that she’s not  invisible, crying out that she’s a person, a woman and demands to be given the regard due her. We are led to suspect that Eve isn’t satisfied with her lot in life despite her outward demeanor; there are chinks in the armor, so to speak.

Cartol does a fine job portraying Eve, whose work ethic is beyond reproach but whose job requires her to be little more than a smiling helpful robot to the outside world. There are no great emotional revelations in the film, nothing that pierces the quiet nature of the film which is mostly the whispering of sheets being put on beds and the soft thud of pillows being plumped. When boisterous co-workers, led by Eve’s lone friend Minitoy (Sanchez) chatter loudly while playing with a fidget spinner, it’s almost an affront to our ears.

This is a movie that requires a fair amount of patience; there’s an awful lot of bed-making here and the scrubbing of bathroom appliances and this might well be the film’s Achilles heel; there’s not a lot of ways that you can make that kind of repetitive task interesting for an hour and a half.. Younger, more OCD audiences may have a hard time focusing on the film which is a bit of a shame; it releases tantalizing glimpses of who Eve is but you have to be paying attention and not everyone has the capacity to do that these days. People who tend to watch movies with a smart phone at the ready should probably give this a miss.

That leaves those cinephiles who yearn to look in on lives that are not their own, to see how other people live, to share in their lives for just an hour or two and to gain some insight into the human condition and maybe, even their own condition. This is a remarkable film currently playing this week at Miami’s Tower Theater on the Miami Dade College campus; it won’t be long before it’s available on streaming or VOD however and once it becomes available, I strongly urge cinephiles to seek this out. It’s a hidden gem, not unlike finding an amazing chocolate mint on your pillow at bedtime.

REASONS TO SEE: Takes a very minimalist, almost documentarian approach that works really well with the subject matter.
REASONS TO AVOID: At times seems to dwell too much on the drudgery.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity as well as brief nudity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie world premiered at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/9/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews: Metacritic: 77/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: ROMA
FINAL RATING: 8/10
NEXT:
Blink of an Eye