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The Human Voice

Cocteau according to Almodóvar
Jean Cocteau's play La Voix Humaine (The Human Voice) opened at the Comédie Française in 1930 as a atar vehicle for Belgian actress Berthe Bovy, then popular in Parisian stages. The work involves a woman, only identified as Elle = She, speaking on the telephone with his lover of several years, who is leaving her.for another woman. Her interlocutor is silent for the duration and we don't even know for sure if he is listening or if the connection has been broken.

The play had an enduring popularity, and has been since in the repertory of many theater companies. It was put on screen several times, among them by Roberto Rossellini (first episode of L'Amore 1946: actress Anna Magnani) and by Ted Kotcheff (1966: actress Ingrid Bergman). It even had a second life as an opera by Francis Poulenc in 1958, which has been as well accepted as the play and is still being staged and recorded.

This being the Almodóvar version, we may expect some off the wall happenings. One is a very funny scene where the protagonist browses for axes in a hardware store that seems to have an unusually large inventory of the item. On another, the axe in question is used in a hilarious way. We are shown mid-movie that She's apartment is actually a set in a sound stage which is perhaps a gentle dig at he artificiality of the play. And, last but not least, we have the director's trademark, cinematography in gloriously saturated colors. Tilda Swinton does an outstanding job as She; she tones down the melodrama and borders on the humorous at times. All in all, a refreshing take on the play and the best version I have seen.

Herschel und die Musik der Sterne

Missed opportunity
I was intrigued by this film. The IMDb page shows no average rating, no user reviews, no critic reviews. Same with the Amazon Prime page. A Google search yields only one short review So, out of curiosity I gave it a view.

The subject: In the summer of 1792 composer Franz Joseph Haydn, during the first of his two sojourns in England visited astronomer Friedrich Wilhelm Herschel in the town of Slough, a few miles from London. Together with his sister Caroline and his brother Alexander, Herschel had assembled there a gigantic refracting telescope, by far the largest in the world at the time. Haydn was a conservative Catholic and the movie imagines Herschel's cosmic experiences colliding with the composer's traditional worldview. Haydn later claimed that his experience at Slough had helped him to compose his oratorio The Creation in 1798.

I liked the script, but not the way it was put on screen. The director tells the tale using tricks such as split/fragmented screen, unnatural colors, blurry images, characters artificially lighted, dark or lighted blobs that move around the screen. Then there are special effects, mostly stellar/galactic views that probably aim to duplicate what Herschel (and Haydn) saw through the telescope. The effects are clumsy, at the level of a low budget B-movie or a home movie. True, in 1986 digital magic had not yet invaded the screen, but many films of the time do effects better using conventional means. All in all, the movie doesn't make it.


Witness to a literary titan
Céleste Albaret, born in 1881 in provincial France moved to Paris in 1913. At the suggestion of her husband, a taxi driver that counted Marcel Proust among his clients, Céleste began to run errands for the writer and eventually became his live-in housekeeper and later his secretary. Her job was no sinecure; as a housekeeper she had to adapt to Proust's nocturnal habits, and her secretarial duties included sorting and pasting loose manuscript pages so that they were ready for the publisher. She also managed Proust's dwindling social life. Later, as the writer's health deteriorated, she also took dictation. Céleste was present in Proust's cork-lined bedroom when he died in 1922. There are elements of Céleste in some Proust characters like the housekeeper Françoise.

Céleste was fiercely loyal to Proust's memory and never tried to cash in on her privileged knowledge. Almost fifty years later she was rediscovered by the literary establishment and persuaded to put her remembrances in writing. She accepted, her main motivation being that others had written about Proust not always truthfully, and she wanted to set the record straight. She had many taping sessions with journalist Georges Belmont and the result was the book Monsieur Proust, published in 1973.

Director Percy Adlon's job of making a film out of this work is not an easy one, since there is scarce action, and everything happens inside Proust's flat except for shots of the seaside Grand-Hôtel in Cabourg (inspiration for the fictional Balbec) and of the hazy light over the water that figures prominently in Proust's writing. Adlon rises to the challenge; the movie is slow and deliberate but nowhere boring and there is no hint of filmed theater. He is supported by outstanding cinematography, excellent acting (especially by Eva Mattes, playing the protagonist) and a flawless recreation of time and place. A superior movie.

Comment je me suis disputé... (ma vie sexuelle)

Odious characters
A meandering story about disagreeable, unlovable, humorless people that seem to have a knack for ruining their lives and those of their friends. Relationships that could mean something are squelched, friends and lovers are betrayed and grudges are held with ever increasing intensity leading to public humiliation, violence and unhinged dreams/fantasies. It appears the director originally wanted to name this movie "How I got into an argument with Eric Barbier" (the latter a fellow moviemaker). He was judicially prevented from doing so, but included nstead a supremely distasteful personage named Rabier (!).

The protagonist is named Paul Dedalus. Since the Daedalus of Greek mythology is a symbol of wisdom. Knowledge and power (all absent here) the name may refer to Joyce's Stephen Dedalus and his labyrinthine, clumsy search for meaning. Or not. The tale is told in three hours, not because the material warrants the length but because many scenes are extended beyond reason. Acting is good all around, but some actors are dragged by the script into over-the-top situations.

Given the fact that people like these exist, you may enjoy this movie and its prequel My Golden Days (2015). I could not overcome my distaste of the characters.

Kruty 1918

Dubious history, flawed movie
Production values and special effects are OK except for some silly (and unnecessary) shots of toy trains on fake snow. Acting is acceptable, but the script has lethal flaws, such as the depiction of Bolshevik General Mikhail Muravyov as a ghoul that would scare a James Bond villain. The tone is as propagandistic and grandiloquent as that of some Soviet films of the thirties, with heroics deaths and flag waving aplenty.

The backdrop is the short lived Ukraine's People's Republic = UPR, that declared independence in January 1918 and lasted until the end of Russian Civil War in 1921. The subject is the battle of Kruty, where Ukrainian forces 400 strong, consisting mostly of cadets and students with a few professional soldiers faced a Bolshevik army almost ten times its size near the railway station of Kruty, about 120 kilometers northeast of Kiev. The battle (in which half the Ukrainians were killed) ended when prospective reinforcements changed sides and there was a Bolshevik uprising in the Arsenal Factory in Kiev (the latter the subject of Dovzhenko's movie Arsenal, 1928).

The history of the People's Republic is a tangled web and probably the movie contains some truths. It shows briefly European meddling. It also shows that the UPR was mainly supported by intellectuals, students and some professional soldiers; popular enthusiasm was scarce. There are glaring omissions; two of the founding fathers of the UPR, Mykhailo Hrushevsky and Symon Petliura are seen delivering stirring speeches, but there is no mention of Petliura's responsibility for numerous and bloody pogroms perpetrated by the UPR army under his command. At the end, Ukrainian independence was abolished and its its territories divided among Russia and Poland with other countries (Romania, Hungary) grabbing minor spoils. This lasted until the end of WWII, when the historic boundaries of the Ukraine were restored.

I found the beginning and ending particularly objectionable. We are shown one of the characters at a memorial dressed in a secondhand American uniform, which clearly seeks to link heroic deaths with the present artificial state of "war" between Ukraine and Russia. Dangerous and misleading.

The Mountain Minor

Kentucky bluegrass
The core of the story couldn't be simpler. The scenario is rural Kentucky during the Depression. Charlie, a pre-teen boy is interested in bluegrass and learning the art of fiddling from his elders and neighbors in his spare time. The family moves to Ohio where there are job opportunities for Charlie's father. In another time frame, Charlie is a grown man in Ohio and longs for returning to his roots and his birthplace in Kentucky. As for the title, "mountain minor" is a way to tune the banjo used in bluegrass.

Director Dale Farmer has woven a fascinating film from this story casting the main roles with professional bluegrass musicians like banjoist and fiddler Dan Gellert, singer and banjoist Elizabeth LaPrelle and singer and guitarist Ma Crow. As the director (a musician himself) remarked, "musicians would be better actors than actors make musicians" The idea works like a charm. The professionals make beautiful music, do their acting chores flawlessly and the wittily scripted dialogues touch upon the magic of folk music and its relations with one's family, life and roots. The ending is an improvised, exhilarating family hoedown. I enjoyed every minute of this movie.

Solnechnyy udar

The sweet life before the Russian Revolution and its aftermath
This is in fact two movies shown alternately and loosely connected (one character figures in both). The first is based in a story by Ivan Bunin. The scenario is a paddlewheel steamer plying the Volga in 1907 and the characters the Lieutenant and the Strange Woman. The Lieutenant parades around in his stain proof white uniform and seduces (or is seduced by) the Strange Woman into a one-night stand which is overly romanticized. There are stops in river villages where the locals live in dignity and bearded Jews, dressed ilike Tevye stroll around without attracting undue attention.

The time frame of the second story is 1920, just as the defeated White Army commanded by General Wrangel has evacuated the Crimea and the south of Russia. Several hundred White officers are left in a prison camp in he peninsula and two evil Bolshevik commissars (one the Hungarian Béla Kun, the other the Russian Rosalia Zalkind, both real characters) are carrying out a devilish, complicated and time consuming plot to dispose of the officers. We are duly informed that both Zalkind and Kun are Jews. This story is also based on material by Bunin and consists mostly of endless, repetitive discussions among the captive officers. Subject: how the idyllic Russian Empire fell apart, Bolshevik atrocities. And the senselessness of violence. No reference to White atrocities or to the massive material support given by the Allied Powers to the Whites, plus direct invasion of Russian territory by British, Canadian, Italian, Japanese, French and American forces and proxy armies like the Czechoslovak Legion. Without this imperialist outrage, the Russian Civil War could have been shortened by years and millions of deaths (lamented at the end of the movie) could have been avoided. Also, the subsequent Bolshevik government might have been less paranoid toward the West, which opens fascinating historic possibilities.

As to the movie: gorgeous cinematography, excellent acting, but Bunin's material is not compelling and some scenes are slow and extended beyond reason. Boredom rears its ugly head, and the final feeling is one of emptiness.


Adolescent woes
Quilicura, founded at the beginning of the 20th century was originally a town on the outskirts of Santiago de Chile but due to urban sprawl is now part of Santiago. Its residents are mostly middle class families. Although open spaces remain, they have not been greened into parks as in wealthier neighborhoods and there are open junkyards nearby.

The main characters are adolescents Martín, Charly and Sol. Martín is in the last year of high school. He doesn't seem to be interested in anything the school can offer; his only love is rap and the hip hop culture. He owns expensive gear and cuts tracks in his apartment. His family faces dire cash flow problems, which Martin seems to ignore. At the invitation of a professor he offers a rap demonstration to his class, but gets into trouble due to the obscenity of some of the material. Charly shares Martin's indifference to learning and passion for hip hop. He has a job he hates and has fathered a child whom he seldom sees and does not support. Finally, Sol comes from a family of higher economic level. She is more integrated in the school (plays in a soccer team) but hangs around with Martin and Charly. Sol's mother is beginning to worry about Sol's growing involvement with a tattoo artist several years her senior and probably having other girlfriends.

Out of this material, director and script writer Luis Pérez García weaves a tale that catches our interest and never lets go. The script avoids sentimentality and does not romanticize or judge; the approach is low key, realistic, compassionate and often humorous. The characters' aimlessness and lack of realism (Martin plans to make a living from rap) perhaps reflects the lack of opportunities to integrate in society that teenagers face everywhere.

The Spanish spoken in this movie is witty and full of colorful colloquial terms. Acting is first rate both from professionals and first timers and cinematography supports and provides atmosphere to the action. A quality film.

Diego Star

Against the system
The Diego Star is a dilapidated freighter stranded in a shipyard on the St. Lawrence River due to engine failure. The ship is in dire need of a complete overhaul but the owners just want to patch up the machinery so that ii can take to the high seas, even in precarious conditions.

Traoré (Iwaaka Sawadogo), of African origin, is the second engineer of the Diego Star. He is unfairly accused of causing problems by the chief engineer. Traoré, as a Ken Loach working class hero, tries bravely to do the right thing for him and his comrades by warning the port authorities that working conditions in the ship are dangerous and that repairs that are in the books have not actually been made. He is crushed by the system; the port management ignores his arguments, his fellow workers (constrained to choose a dangerous job over no job) desert him and he loses his position, then his lodgings, finally his freedom.

Fanny (Chloé Bourgeois), a single mother living just above poverty level, works at the shipyard's cafeteria where she meets Traoré. She offers him lodging. Through her conversations with Traoré we learn something about what makes him tick; against his feelings he has been forced to accept a job that keeps him away from his family as the only way to provide for them. He tries to help Fanny and is gentle and fatherly with her child.

Director an script writer Frédérick Pelletier weaves a fascinating tale of an honest man brought down by the system. Script is spare and precise and direction is fluid. The backdrop of the unforgiving Québec winter, perfectly captured by cinematographer Philippe Roy adds poignancy to the story. A quality film.

De Jueves a Domingo

Life and nothing but
The characters are Fernando and his wife Ana, a well-to-do couple in their mid thirties and their children, pre-teenager Lucia and Manuel, a few years younger. The movie opens with last minute predawn preparations for a trip from Santiago to the arid north of Chile in the family car. For much of the movie we witness family conversations in the car and soon we get hints that the couple is in the process of dissolution, a situation that Lucia senses and tries to understand with mixed success while Manuel, in his childish universe, is oblivious to the underlying tension. Through various happenings we learn a few things about the past and present of the couple. They run into Jorge, Ana's old friend (and possibly old flame) in a road stop and arrange to camp together. An incident that Ana relates involving Jorge and a guitar hints of some wildness in Ana's past. She obviously has serious issues with Fernando but hints are vague and sometimes contradictory. That's all we get: there is no outside point of view, flashbacks or explanations. In the end the car is sitting in a dusty road in the bleak Atacama desert, with Fernando and Ana apparently unable to plot their next moves.

If this movie could be classified, it would be in the genre minimalist road movie that comes naturally to Latin American directors; e. G. Famiia Rodante (2004) by Pablo Trapero, El Camino de San Diego (2006) by Carlos Sorin, Las Acacias (2011) by Pablo Giorgelli and El Silencio es Bienvenido (2017) by Gabriela García Rivas. Director and scriptwriter Dominga Sotomayor weaves a tale where situations and characters develop organically and at a steady pace. Cinematography by Barbara Alvarez provides the right atmosphere for the action. Last, but not least the acting is outstanding, not only from the professional actors but from the children playing Lucia and Manuel, who count this film as their only acting credit. An excellent work by any standards.

O que arde

The truth 24 times a second
The title O Que Arde means "what burns," which has been translated as "The Fire will Come" with some change of meaning. Yes, there is a plot but it could be told in a couple of lines and is not important after all. What we watch in this movie is life in a small town in Galicia, in the northwest corner of Spain. The language is mostly Galician with a few Spanish interpolations. Actors are local people, play themselves with their own names and go about their everyday chores apparently oblivious to the camera. The are glimpses of Galicia's reality such as migration of young people to the cities, excessive logging of forests, dedicated firemen with woefully few resources, a villager trying to improve a ruined dwelling into a casa rural (rural house) fit for prospective tourists. The climate is mild and rainy but the summers are dry, facilitating forest fires that are sometimes the result of arson. Both the melancholic winter landscapes and the summer fires are strikingly put on screen.

Director and scriptwriter Oliver Laxe, scriptwriter Santiago Fillol and cinematographer Mauro Herce have joined forces to produce a masterpiece where the boundary between living and acting is blurry and where we find ourselves in the middle of the action for the duration of the movie. An exceptional work that makes us reflect on the nature of cinema.


The viewer as observer
The movie opens with a furious argument among the couple Nahid and Masoud, heard over a dark screen. They are visitors in the country house of Sharareh (Nahid's sister) and her husband Kamran. They storm out the house, and their car's headlights reveal for a moment a bedroom where Arshia, their preadolescent son, is unsuccessfully trying to sleep. Arshia, who seems to be no stranger to his parents' bickering finds refuge under the covers. The next scene is the morning after, and we learn that Nahid and Masoud have been killed in a car accident.

Sharareh and Kamran are both deaf. They communicate with each other using sign language, gestures and occasionally mouthing words so that the other can lipread. They also communicate with other people talking, although they have problems making themselves understood (this is humorously shown when Kamran is trying to get help for his stalled car). For the rest of the movie, besides some road incidents and contacts with policemen, repairmen and fellow travelers, we witness the interaction of the couple and Arshia. They drive him back to Tehran where he used to live with his parents. He faces an uncertain future, and the couple have not told him the truth. They discuss Arshia's options believing that he does not understand; in fact Arshia probably suspects the truth from the beginning, can decipher gestures and claims he can do a bit of lipreading. From the couple's conversations we get hints of their past and present problems and choices as well as of Sharareh's relationship with her sister.

Out of this outwardly meager material, director Morteza Farshbaf has assembled a minimalist masterpiece. There is no God's eye view; what we see is what we get, and the rest we imagine. We never see Nahid and Masoud, even in a photograph, or learn the details of their accident. There is a striking panoramic shot of Kamran's car driving on a dusty, winding country road, and we "hear" the couple's conversation in subtitles. The ending is open; nothing has been solved and even greater problems loom. Acting is first rate, and this movie seems to be the only credit for Sharareh Pasha (Sharareh). Kiomars Giti (Kamran) and Amir Hossein Maleki (Arshia). The script by Anahita Ghazvinizadeh is precise and spare, avoids excess sentimentality and carries forward the story at a steady pace. Cinematography by Hamid Ahmadi captures the feeling of rural Iran, both landscapes and people.

Ave Maryam

Religion and feelings
The scenario is a Catholic monastery for aged nuns and their caregivers in the city of Semarang, on the north coast of Java. One of the caregivers is Sister Maryam, and the subject is her forbidden romance with Father Yosef, a visiting priest.

The movie proceeds slowly and deliberately, with outstanding cinematography by Ical Tanjung (there is an striking Magritte shot full of meaning). The atmosphere of the monastery and the loving care of the old nuns is recreated perfectly. Acting and dialogue are as as minimalist as in a Bresson movie, but we are given a vivid picture of both characters (and also of the nuns and priests) through small touches, gestures and snatches of dialogue. We learn that Maryam is sincerely torn apart between her vows and her feelings for Josef. The picture of Josef is less complimentary. He is the director of a lively amateur orchestra, charismatic and outwardly kind but seems to be the one that initiated the relation. He does not fool the rest of the nuns; he is seen as an interloper and deeply mistrusted.

The ending surprised me and brought back memories of my Catholic education. What is actually happening depends on two questions: If the priest administering the Sacrament of Penance is in a state of mortal sin, is the sacrament valid? And, can a priest refuse to hear a confession? The answer to the first question is Yes. According to Church doctrine a sacrament does not depend on the virtue of the human minister. The answer to the second is No. Confession cannot be denied except if the priest perceives that the petitioner is "not properly disposed to receive the sacrament."

Script by director Robby Ertanto is precise and spare. Everything is essential. Direction and cinematography mesh smoothly to produce a story superbly told. Acting is restrained and moving. Perhaps music should have been used more sparingly.

I heard of this film as criticizing religion. If so the target would be the almost superhuman celibacy rules of the Catholic Church. Perhaps the Church of Rome should take example from her Greek Catholic sisters.

Une saison en France

Illegal immigration
In recent years France (like other ex-colonial nations) began to understand that the wave of illegal immigration from Africa and Asia swamping Europe is due in large part to Europe's misdeeds during and after the colonial era. The result was a more open attitude towards refugees. Of course, other motivations included public relations and the need to import foreigners to do the jobs natives avoid. A similar situation: the US vis-à-vis Latin American countries.

Enjoying the "season in France" are Abbas, an African immigrant, his half-brother Etienne and his pre-adolescent children Asma and Yacine. They have been admitted in France temporarily as refugees and must now face the big hurdle, the application for permanent residence. They have fled their country of origin barely with their lives, and face the usual lot of the penniless immigrant: substandard and exploitative living conditions and menial jobs with drastic diminution of status; both Abbas and Etienne were teachers in their home country. The whole is compounded by their dark skin, which unlocks racism lying just below the surface and results in blaming immigrants for every crime in the book including terrorism.

Sandrine Bonnaire plays Polish immigrant Carole, Abbas' love interest. Carole had the same experience years ago but now has citizenship papers. Bonnaire, in her fifties has the same luminous screen presence of her youth and plays an engaging character; Carole is supportive, cheerful and full of resources. What Carole does is very brave; she faces a monstrous French law that threatens five years in jail and a fine of 30.000 euros for "assisting an illegal immigrant." The rest of the actors do a flawless job.

Chadian director Mahamat-Saleh Haroun has assembled an excellent movie out of these elements. It is simple (in the positive sense of the word) and to the point. It has many scenes full of magic such as the celebration of Carole's birthday by the whole family. Not to be missed.

Scener ur ett äktenskap

Sarcasm, abuse, recrimination
The movie opens with a brilliant scene where Marianne (Liv Ullmann) and Johan (Erland Josephson) are being interviewed by an elegant journalist straight out of some Swedish version of Cosmopolitan. Her cliché questions are answered mainly by Johan with cliché answers. A dinner with another couple follows. The visiting couple abuse each other in elegant, sadistic, low key Bergmanesque put-downs that would make Martha and George blush. The visitors laud Marianne and Johan as the perfect couple, which telegraphs the director's intentions.

Sure enough, in an hour or so we learn that the Marianne/Johan couple is in the process of dissolution, ostensibly due to Johan's latest unfaithfulness but actually the result of multiple deep seated grievances towards each other. The process is put in motion in pretentiously titled episodes, and for the test of the movie (almost two hours) we are witnesses to disagreeable conversations between the couple. Ullmann is required to emote endlessly in extreme close-up while Josephson delivers his lines with an irritating, sarcastic self-assurance combined with bursts of self-pitying, whining and fits of violence. I grew tired of both actors after a while, but it's not their fault; they are portraying disagreeable manipulative characters self centered to the point of navel-gazing and devoid of even a vestige of sense of humor or sense of family; the two daughters of the couple appear shortly during the initial dinner, are put to bed and heard of no more. They are only mentioned from time to time by Marianne to blame Johan for forgetting their birthdays.

The end has echoes of previous Bergman movies, in particular Gycklarnas Afton (1953), where couples reach some kind of understanding, security and appreciation of each other through mutual betrayal and humiliation, a process that Johan characterizes as a "textbook on life." Depends on your definition of life.


The second life of an Ukrainian
Firecrosser (the original title is The One who Went Through the Fire) deals with a real caracter, Ivan Datsenko. He was born in 1918 in the village of Chernichy Yar, district of Dykanka, Ukraine. A veterinarian by profession, he was drafted into the Red Army and graduated in 1940 from the School of Aviation at Orenburg. He served as fighter and bomber pilot and was awarded many decorations, among them the Order of the Red Banner and the coveted title of Hero of the Soviet Union in 1943.

Datsenko was shot down in 1943 over the Western Ukraine, near the city of Lviv. The Soviet Government declared "he died a hero's death." His memory was venerated during and after the war, although the attitude of the Soviet government towards Datsenko was curiously ambivalent; probably there was a secret order to play down these commemorations.

In the eighties there were rumors that Datsenko did not actually die in 1943 but was taken prisoner by the Germans and had a second life in Canada in rather unusual circumstances. This was later corroborated by witnesses (although there never was absolute proof). This movie reconstructs Datsenko's life, perhaps fancifully at times. Actors as well as production values (cinematography, special effects, music) are excellent. Director Illienko moves the story along with good pacing; the only (minor) objection could be that, at times, one may have some difficulty telling what actually happens and what happens only in the mind of a character (this probably would be clarified by a second viewing). This movie is well worth watching and shows that the level of the Ukrainian film industry is up to the best in the world.

Eva Perón

Argentine history
María Eva Duarte (later known as Evita) was born out of wedlock in 1919 in the village of Los Toldos in Buenos Aires Province, the youngest of five children. Her father (as that of her siblings) was a wealthy married landowner who allowed the children to carry his name, but they were cut off from Duarte's family, lived in borderline poverty and were shunned as illegitimate, a serious stigma at the time.

In her late teens she moved to Buenos Aires and had considerable success as a model and radio actress. She had a short lived film career, but none of her movies were hits (they can be seen in You Tube). She met Colonel Juan Domingo Perón, an up-and-coming politician at the time Secretary of Labor, and married him. The military, wary of Peron's growing popularity among workers arrested him on October 1945. A few days later half a million supporters gathered in front of the Government House and demanded Peron's freedom. The military, scared, complied. Perón was a candidate in the 1946 elections at the head of his own party, and won by a landslide.

Perón's government was populist (not understood as a negative). Working conditions were ameliorated and worker's rights were taken seriously. Certain professions (e. G. rural and domestic workers) were regulated by the first time. There was much progress in public health: the number of hospital beds was duplicated and endemic diseases like malaria were eradicated. New hospitals were built, some in remote regions until then deprived of medical care. Trade unions were supported, but also controlled by the government. Eva, now Evita, was a very visible First Lady. She started the Eva Peron Foundation, a charitable organization that built homes, hospitals and schools in underprivileged areas and assisted the poor in various ways. Evita was a complex personality. She was instrumental in ensuring women's right to vote in Argentina, sanctioned in 1947, and tirelessly supported women's participation in politics. Yet, in her only book, La Razón de mi Vida, The Reason of my Life she stressed her subordinate role next to Peron. She was warm and generous with friends but a dangerous enemy.

Evita's death from cancer in July 1952 elicited the largest outpouring of grief ever seen in Argentina. Not from the military and moneyed classes though; among them her passing was celebrated. Her demise took the wind out of the sails of Peron's government; it grew increasingly corrupt and oppressive until was overthrown by a military uprising in September 1955. The subsequent military dictatorship was as afraid of Evita dead as alive; they feared her tomb would become a place of pilgrimage. Her embalmed corpse was stolen and, after various vicissitudes interred under an assumed name in a Milan cemetery. Finally, in 1970 her remains were repatriated and now rest in the Duarte family vault.

After her death, Evita's memory was relentlessly reviled. A overheated "biography," Woman with the Whip was published in 1952, its ludicrous fabrications echoed by the Argentine mainstream press after 1955. A cartoonish Eva Peron based on the book was presented in the musical Evita (1976) and put on screen in 1996. Today, a more sensible view prevails, exemplified in this movie. Script writer José Pablo Feinmann does not try for a complete biography but enough is shown to give a good picture of Argentina under Peron. Although the film is broadly favorable to Eva, it is not a whitewash; the good and the bad are there. Acting is excellent. Victor Laplace has been made up to look uncannily like Peron and has captured all his mannerisms. Esther Goris does an outstanding job of reconstructing Evita in public and private settings. All in all, a balanced and fair look at an important historic personage.

Une cage deux oiseaux

Springboard for the viewer's imagination
Sophie is an elegant, urbane woman in her thirties. She is in a dead end relationship; her partner David has been unable or unwilling to leave home for years and stares constantly at his laptop screen. He almost always ignores Sophie's patient attempts to communicate. The couple lives in a decent flat in a suburb of Paris and Sophie tries to make ends meet working in a café-restaurant.

One day David leaves without explanation. Sophie crosses paths with a couple of Middle Eastern homeless illegal immigrants, Aicha and Murad. They have a baby and are taking care of a preteen girl not their own. The result of this encounter will alleviate Sophie's solitude for a while.

I was fascinated by every minute of this movie, not only by what is shown on screen but by what is implied, suggested and left for the viewer to imagine; sometimes an entire tale can be spun out of a few scenes. Who is the old lady (and why is she) pushing an empty pram? Has the immigrant couple contracted with a smuggler to enter France and is friend Ismail the smuggler's enforcer? What was the nature of Sophie's relation with her sister (whom we see only briefly)? Why does Sophie reject her father so radically? What is the nature of David's problem and why is there a profound sadness in his gaze?

The final effect is that of getting to know real people in the real world. There are a few indisputable facts, but the rest of the information is incomplete; there are just hints which we transform in a overall portrait with much guessing (and possibly incorrectly), in the way we join points with a curve whose shape we don't know. This is my first contact with Turkish director Mustafa Ozgun's work and my impression couldn't be better. Script by the director is precise and spare and acting is excellent all around with Eléonore Boccara carrying most of the weight. She does a brilliant job. Direction is fluid, supported by excellent cinematography (also by Ozgun) and music is used sparingly and very effectively. I hope more of the director's work becomes available in the streaming services.

Teorie tygra

Men and women
Jan, a wealthy veterinarian in his sixties, has had his everyday life tightly organized and controlled by his wife Olga. That seems to be in her genes; Olga's mother and her late husband were in the same situation, and so are Olga's daughter Olinka and her husband Erik. The dichotomy freedom/security is unsubtly stressed by forcing us to watch the castration of a cat in the first scene.

Jan decides to strike for freedom. His plan: to simulate the onset of Alzheimer, so that Olga will be forced to place him in an institution from which he can escape (!). Problem: his Alzheimer number would not fool a child, much less his doctor, and should Olga buy Jan's act her obvious reaction would be to hire a caretaker for Jan rather than interning him. Jan is supported in his quest for freedom by his son Pepík and by Erik, who are in on the plot.

The basic premise seems to be: Olga is impervious to reason, a control freak and any attempt to argue with her is useless. The same applies to Olinka; women in this movie are unthinking petty tyrants (except for Alena, Pepík's wife, but she has special reasons) and all men are sincere, tolerant and wise especially Jan, played by Jirí Bartoska, who delivers his lines with irritating assurance; he has no doubts about anything. There are some positives (good acting, good cinematography) but they are not enough to rescue this movie. To find a more negative picture of women one would have to rewind back to Laurel & Hardy and their ferocious screen wives, but at least they were funny. A miss.


The weight of the past
Thomas, a young man, returns from Montréal to the farm in the southeast of France where he grew up. He has been away for ten years. His mother is terminally ill and his father is staying with her in the hospital and seems unable to cope with day-to-day chores. Thomas' first impression of the farm is discouraging; livestock have been sold to cover debts, irrigation pipes are in disrepair, and rooms are cluttered and in need of tidying up. Thomas meets Mona, his brother's widow and their son Alex. Mona is trying to manage the farm, with the alternative of losing the land to debt never out of sight. She struggles to provide security and education for Alex, and makes ends barely meet with a job in a nearby town.

The movie is a tale of relationships where, as in real life, motivations are unclear or unseen, characters are known from partial information and feelings (love, gratefulness, the search for security, the need to alleviate one's solitude) mix in unpredictable ways. Thomas renews old acquaintances and friendships and from conversations we learn (perhaps unreliable) stories about the family during his absence. Things don't fall into place neatly; the reasons for Thomas' estrangement from his family are never clear, although there are tantalizing hints involving his father and late brother. The ending is open and all choices are difficult.

All in all, an excellent movie. It garnered a well deserved Venice Horizons Award for Best Screenplay (by the director Jessica Palud, Diastème and Phillipe Lioret) and was nominated for Best Film. Acting is excellent all around, direction is fluid and the cinematography captures the harsh, high contrast summer landscapes of the Drôme, a region near Valence.

L'aquilone di Claudio

A family under stress
The Italian title L'aquilone di Claudio means Claudio's Kite. Claudio is the only son of Andrea, a hospital nurse and his wife Marina, who used to be a successful model and now runs a casting agency. Andrea and Claudio share a passion for elaborate kites that they fly in the park; in the first scene we see Andrea assembling one of these as a birthday present for Claudio.

One day, Claudio has an unexplained episode of dizziness. The incident occurs again and again and Claudio's mobility is affected. Andrea and Marina see doctor after doctor with elusive (or plainly erroneous) diagnoses. The infirmity progresses slowly but surely, and Claudio, now a teenager begins to find it difficult to walk and perform his everyday chores. His illness is finally identified as an irreversible form of ataxia. However, there is a glimmer of hope at the end in charge of Gloria, a schoolmate and childhood friend of Claudio.

I liked this movie. Ir shows realistically the stresses on a couple caused by a child's sickness. It is moving but not maudlin. Some episodes are in fairy tale territory (such as those involving Marta, a homeless woman and Mr. Testa, a patient of Andrea) but that only adds to the film's charm.


If you don't succeed, keep trying
Eliseo is a talented composer. A work of his, Rapsodia Macabra = Macabre Rhapsody (!) has been associated with two traumatic incidents in his life and the shock has unhinged him. He has destroyed part of the score and is interned in a mental institution. Ricardo, an opportunist, dishonest musician is trying to rescue the missing parts of the Rapsodia to present the work as his own.

The problem is, Ricardo's quest is described in a series of disjointed and often incoherent happenings, with secondary characters that add nothing to the tale. The worst parts are perhaps the episode of the floating platform, which makes one suspect that the movie has switched to the black comedy genre, and the ending, where melodrama explodes with megaton force. Good actors are not given a chance. Gaston Pauls as Ricardo is constrained to play a villain/sleaze from Central Casting and Benjamín Vicuña as Eliseo is forced to emote endlessly; he doesn't get a single lighthearted line. And last but not least, we get to hear parts of the Rapsodia Macabra with the inevitable outcome: why the fuss about this?

Fortunately, this mess was not career-ending for director Pablo Larrain. He went on to direct a string of good movies, the best perhaps The Club (2015) with Post Mortem (2010), No (2012) and Neruda (2016) following close behind in quality. Even his Hollywood movie Jackie (2016) was solid. So, if this was your first Larrain movie, don't give up; the others are also in the streaming services.

Plaisir d'amour

Island of love
The protagonist Guillaume de Burlador is the last descendant of Don Juan, the epitome of seduction (in his original Spanish version Don Juan is called El Burlador de Sevilla, the Trickster of Seville). In the first scene Burlador, universally hated by husbands, parents and brothers harbors suicidal thoughts and has a confrontation with the supernatural (like Don Giovanni in Mozart's opera) but this time he is not cast into Hell. Again as in the opera, he keeps a catalog of his conquests (at the time, 1003).

In the next scene we see Burlador exiting a rickety seaplane in front of a remote island. He has been hired by the owners of a plantation as the tutor of a 13 year old girl. The owners are three women, the daughter (Flo's sister), the mother and the grandmother. There are no hints of husbands or love interests. The three women are the only people in the plantation (except for two quirky servants and a real estate agent that pops in an out). Flo is supposedly having a vacation abroad. She is expected to arrive in one of the seaplane's flights, but she never does; her letters are a clue to her adventures. There is only a faded photo of her in the house.

Doing honor to his lineage, Burlador seduces (or is seduced by) the three women and adds them to his list. However, he becomes increasingly obsessed with the absent Flo. Finally, suspicions arise that Flo doesn't exist; she may have been conjured out of thin air as a pretext to attract "tutors" to the island. Burlador the trickster has been tricked and he may not be the only dupe.

I rather liked this film. Perhaps the tale is too thin for a long movie and some material is not as funny as it should be but the final balance is positive. The French title, Plaisir d'Amour is that of a classical song known to everybody in France and popularized in this country by Joan Baez an other singers.

Charles et Lucie

Engaging comedy
Charles and Lucie are a fiftyish couple (apparently childless) living in the northern suburbs of Paris. Charles was an antique dealer. He went bankrupt long ago and is now reduced to sell the few remaining family possessions; he ekes out a meager living as a concierge. He dreams about winning the lottery. Lucie had some success as a chanteuse in her youth, but she is now reduced to take menial (and sometimes humiliating) jobs such as cleaning up after a lecherous old man in a wheelchair. Charles and Lucie's relation has suffered under such stress, although some of the old feelings remain.

One day they are approached by a courtly gentleman, a law clerk working for lawyer M. De La Madriguière (Spanish speakers will catch the joke). They are told they Lucie has inherited from a distant relative a vast seaside estate in the resort town of Hyères, on the Riviera not far from Marseille. There are other perks, such as a lifetime pension. They are provided with a flashy car and drive in search of the mansion. Things don't go as expected, and they are plunged in a series of episodes in and around Marseille. Some of these adventures are dark, other funny and whimsical, still others in the domain of fairy tales. Forced to live by their wits and occasionally helped by strangers, their waning relation strenghtens; love is reborn in adversity. Finally, everything falls into place via a substantial deus ex machina and the couple discovers to their surprise that their tribulations are of interest to others.

I liked this movie with some reservations. There are too many mawkish songs and the script has weak points (for one, the happening that propels the plot presupposes an out-of-this-world naiveté from Charles and Lucie) but if the movie pleads fairy tale some of these objections can be put aside.

Les routes en février

Family issues
The movie opens with Sara, a twentysomething residing in Canada, on the way from Montevideo to visit Magda, her paternal grandmother. Magda lives in a town (really a group of houses) so small and lost in the Uruguayan countryside that the only way to reach her without a car is taking a bus to a nearby town and then waiting for somebody to drive in the right direction.

Nothing much happens on screen. The center of the movie are the conversations between Sara and Magda. Through them we learn something about the family, especially about Sara's father. He died of an unspecified illness and his relations with his daughter and his mother were obviously conflicted, with issues left unresolved. We also hear a passing reference to a brother of Sara. Other hints are nonverbal, such as the rather cool and formal reception of Sara by Magda. There is some action involving Sara's bicycling to a nearby town and connecting with locals.

Director Catherine Jercovic, born in Canada to an Uruguayan mother and a Croatian-Argentinian father grew up in Belgium and Uruguay. She is a filmmaker in Montreal. This is her first feature-length work, and her debut couldn't be more auspicious. She is supported by excellent camerawork by Nicolas Canniccioni. His shots catch the torpor and the harshly contrasting light/shadows of midsummer days as well as the modest interiors of the houses of Magda and her friends, shadowed against the heat. There are images of haunting beauty such as Sara phoning in a darkened room, an abandoned railway depot and Sara riding a bicycle on a dusty road and being slowly overtaken by five horsemen. Music is used sparingly and unobtrusively.

There may be autobiographic elements; the director and her main character Sara have similar family backgrounds and similar last name. I was enchanted by every minute of this movie, and hope for further work from Jercovic.

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