Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 17, No. 5, 2018
  Current Issue  
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Robert J. Lewis
  Senior Editor
Bernard Dubé
  Contributing Editors
David Solway
Louis René Beres
Nick Catalano
Lynda Renée
Gary Olson
Howard Richler
Oslavi Linares
Chris Barry
Jordan Adler
Andrew Hlavacek
Daniel Charchuk
  Music Editors
Nancy Snipper
Serge Gamache
  Arts Editor
Lydia Schrufer
Mady Bourdage
Chantal Levesque
Denis Beaumont
Emanuel Pordes
  Film Reviews
  Bowling for Columbine
Shanghai Ghetto
Talk to Her
City of God
Magdalene Sisters
Dirty Pretty Things
Barbarian Invasions
Fog of War
Blind Shaft
The Corporation
Station Agent
The Agronomist
Maria Full of Grace
Man Without a Past
In This World
Buffalo Boy
Shake Hands with the Devil
Born into Brothels
The Edukators
Big Sugar
A Long Walk
An Inconvenient Truth
Sisters In Law
Send a Bullet
Banking on Heaven
Chinese Botanist's Daugher
Ben X
La Zona
The Legacy
Irina Palm
4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days
Poor Boys Game
Finn's Girl
Leaving the Fold
The Mourning Forest
Beneath the Rooftops of Paris
Before Tomorrow
Paraiso Travel
Necessities of Life
For a Moment of Freedom
Blood River
By the Will of Genghis Kahn
The Concert
Weaving Girl
Into Eternity
When We Leave
Le Havre
Presumed Guilty
A Separation
Take This Waltz
Beyond The Walls
The Place Beyond the Pines
The Past



So far, A & O film critic Robert J. Lewis has seen the following films. Here are his ratings and critical commentary, always out of 4, reserving 2.5 or more for a noteworthy film, 3.5 for an exceptional film, 4 for a classic.


3.0 -- ROMA, Alfonso Cuaron                 
[reviewed by Robert J. Lewis] In the hands of the gifted director, who is able to combine exceptional vision and loving attention to detail, the mundane, the banal, the quotidian can command the awe accorded to the highest art. Alfonso Cuaron's Roma is a homage to memory, in particular childhood memories of Mexico City in the early 1970s, and to the style and tempo of Italian director Federico Fellini and French writer Marcel Pagnol (My Mother's Castle). Through the accumulation of small but striking details, we gradually enter the lives of two women from opposite ends of the class spectrum who live together. Sofia, the wife of Dr. Antonio, is the mother of four children. The live-in maid Cleo cooks for the family and tucks in the children at night. Both in turn are abandoned: Sofia by her husband who skips town to join his mistress in Acapulco, and Cleo by her martial arts boyfriend Firmin when she advises him that she's pregnant. Over the course of the film, the two women discover that they not only depend on each other but in their daily struggles to get their lives back they are stronger working together instead of predictably defaulting to the dictates of class. The film is masterfully shot in black and white. Every scene is meticulously framed and poetized: the wide angle shots of the sere vistas of the Sierra Madres recall the austere photography of Ansell Adams. The crumbling lives of Sofia and Cleo are mirrored by the surrounding chaos and violence of street protests and an earthquake. In one of the film's most wrenching scenes, Cleo, about to give birth, is rushed into the emergency ward. The accompanying 12-tone fugue-like acoustics are harrowing. With the volume turned up, the urgency of the medical team is contrasted with the calm of the support staff quietly reading out the vital chart numbers against the ebb and flow of the violence and gunshots from the street below. Most of the films effects are generated by stark contrasts and juxtapositions with the camera held on leash while recording family life and then let go during periods of upheaval and celebration. From the film's opening sequences, the succession of situations overwhelm any notion of there being a plot or storyline, which requires tremendous skill and unfaltering confidence, both of which Alfonso Cuaron has in abundance. Roma could have been, but falls short of being a great film, in part because the character of Sofia, unlike that of Cleo, remains too sketchy until the end of the film, and there are too many aimless scenes of the adults interacting with the children. Perhaps Cuaron, who directed the very cool Gravity, has sacrificed on the altar of style and virtuosity memories and emotions that are either too personal to deal with or ones that he is purposely setting aside for a sequel.

2.8 -- HOLIDAY, Isabella Eklof                 
[reviewed by Robert J. Lewis] Everyone is on holiday except for Sascha, the moll, or mistress of mobster-gangster Michael and his henchman. Michael has rented a luxurious villa on the Aegean, in Turkey's exotic Bodrum peninsula. In Isabella Eklof's striking debut film Holiday, the conventional vacation tropes are subsumed by an in-your-face exposé on the relationship between of power, money and sex. The sun-drenched setting and amoral characters recall Jonathon Glazer's unsettling Sexy Beast.
Kinky Sascha has just arrived in Turkey and is met by a driver who immediately slaps her around for overspending. This scene sets the tone for the entire film in respect to those who give orders and those who are paid to obey. From the opening frames, the camera adores Sascha's long legs, usually set off in tight, white shorts or butt-high beachwear. She loves glamour, expensive jewelry and likes to look at herself in the mirror. For the sake of a care-free life-style, she'll do whatever tickles Michael's perverse fancy. She allows him to drug her cocktail, after which he plays with her inert body like a doll before subjecting it to violent sex. He routinely beats her up, humiliates and degrades her, after which she always apologizes. Michael orders one of his henchman to beat to a pulp one of his disobediant employees. The beating is so severe all of brute's knuckles have been scraped to the bone. Wrapped up in bandages, the employee profusely apologizes. Wild and impuslive in the meting out of reward and punishment, Michael lavishes gifts on those he has abused. When everyone gathers for a meal, they don't speak to each other; they are vapid and without any interests in life other than their material obsessions. Michael allows Sascha to wander around town alone. She meets and takes an interest in the younger Thomas, who lives on a boat. But after Michael humiliates her in front of Thomas, the latter tells her to get lost and get professional help. True to the abused becoming the abuser, Sascha doesn't take kindly to Thomas's rejection. As the film concludes, we realize that she is cut from the same brute and bloodied cloth as Michael.
Holiday is both an indictment and no-holds-barred meditation on the nature of power and servitude. It is a character study that has in its crosshairs the lives of the damned and depraved at their ugliest. That the narrative is static is more than compensated for by the intensity and self-sufficiency of the individual scenes, their composition and vibrant block colours. By film's end, and taking liberty with a Beatles lyric, we ask "all the ugly people, where do they all come from?"

2.6 -- LEMONADE, Ioana Uricaru                 
[reviewed by Robert J. Lewis] There is no shortage of films that deal with immigrants desperate to get into the country they hate: the USA. If it weren't for its inconsistencies, Lemonade (Ioana Uricaru's first film), could have been one of the better ones. It features a trenchant script and two memorable performances from the two leads: Malina Manovici in the role of Mara, and Steve Bacic as Moji. The latter is the examining immigration officer, the former is applying for a green card -- a once in a lifetime shot at the American Dream. Mara, whose young son has just arrived from Romania, had been working at a rehabilitation clinic where she met and tended to David, with whom she quickly fell in love and married just a few days before her visa expired. Moji suspects marriage fraud and subjects Mara to a harrowing and humiliating interrogation, digging deep into her sexual relationship with her new husband David whose accident has apparently left him temporarily impotent. After Mara confesses that she had lied about her relationship, Moji, with the threat of denying her a green card, forces her into sex. When she foolishly confides this blackmail to her normally soft-spoken, solicitous husband, he goes ballistic, accuses her of being a whore and tosses her out. This and other unconvincing scenes, on top of which the film relies too heavily on the standard immigration tropes, detract from what is otherwise a compelling storyline that smartly remains neutral on whether or not Mara is exploiting or is in love with David. By the fact that Mara is horrified by the degradation she is subjected to, cares very much for her young son, and is capable of extraordinary sacrifice, makes the case that any country would be better off with than without her, and that the arbitrariness in the system does not serve the national interest.

2.9 -- WOMAN AT WAR, Benedikt Erlingsson                 
[reviewed by Robert J. Lewis]There's something to be said for filmmakers that don't play by the rules, that follow their muse, their vision and imagination -- come what may. Risking everything (budgets, reputation) they dare to go where most fear to tread, knowing in advance that more often than not it comes to naught. But when it works, as it does so unforgettably in Benedict Erlingsson's over-the-top Woman at War, we marvel at the invention, the unstoppable stream of creative energy that seems to come out of nowhere.
Halla, a woman in her forties, is a one-woman radical, terrorist environmentalist. When she's not conducting a choir or working as a yoga instructor, she's out in the breathtaking Icelandic hinterland blowing up power grids, sabotaging industrial plants and severing power lines. Thanks to sweeping panoramas of Iceland's remote but haunting landscapes, fascinating rock formations and glacial surfaces often bathed in steam and mist, the viewer doesn't have to be told what she is fighting for.
Availing themselves of all the resources at their disposal, including sophisticated drones, the authorities are conducting a nation wide search as Halla's life becomes more complicated when she is told that after a 4-year wait she can adopt a child from Ukraine. But that means she has to give up her noble cause.
If the story line sounds straightforward, there is nothing conventional in the way Erlingsson delivers the goods. The sound track consists mostly of percussive organ, bassoon and drum and sometimes a choir of three. The musicians are on screen dressed in traditional garb. If at first the ploy seems gratuitous, by the time the film ends, one comes to expect it. The musicians are real people inspired by the events they are witnessing. Halla, known as the Mountain Woman, roams the countryside like a Robin Hood. Her daring escapes from the authorities are at once humorous and surrealistic. Her relationships with her sister, friends and accomplices are somehow off-center, but easy going. They recall the infectious quirkiness in the films of Aki Kaurismaki, one of the country's all time great directors.
However entertaining and jumpy are the many odd bits and pieces of this film, the message is deadly serious -- to save the planet from the ravages of industry -- which is why the ending doesn't totally satisfy. Halla is eventually caught but in a light-weight, unconvincing prison escape she ends up in Ukraine only to find herself and her adopted daughter caught in yet another world weather event. The flawless performance of Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir in the role of Halla is matched by the entire supporting cast.

2.7 -- LOS SILENCIOS, Beatriz Seigner                 
[reviewed by Robert J. Lewis] In the long war between government forces and Columbia's FARC rebels, the majority of the victims were rural peasants, forced to swear allegiance to either one side or the other at the threat of death. Many had to flee their villages. Beatriz Seigner's modest but rewarding film Los Silencios opens in the dark of night, following the prow of a dugout gliding over the blackness. A mother (Amparo) with a son and daughter are greeted and led to a rickety structure where the grandmother lives. They have fled to an island on a river that borders Brazil and Columbia and are applying for refugee status. There are many bureaucratic obstacles in their path, including a lawyer that pretends to want to help them but is only interested in helping himself to financial compensation due to them after the bodies of her husband and daughter have been identified. The camera faithfully follows Amparo's daily struggles to make a new life for her family. She can only find a man's work hauling heavy sacks of fish and is worried her small son is being groomed by a local contraband gang. Since she can't afford to pay for her son's compulsory school uniform she has to scrape together material and sew it at home. An important village meeting is called because a developer wants to purchase all the homes but is offering only paltry financial compensation. The villagers aren't sure if they even have a choice not to sell. The setting is impoverished but sumptuous. Many of the wooden structures are on stilts, as are the network of walkways raised above the wild grass, climbing vines and spectacular root systems. Deep into the film we discover that the daughter, who is mute, and the appearances of the husband are mental projections, a coping mechanism against loss and grief. In the local belief system, ghosts are real and the dead don't really die. True to the struggle and hurt the people carry quietly inside them, the lighting is dim and the colour scheme is mute. The film concludes in a haunting ritual on the water where the villagers, in their lamp led dugouts, congregate to honour the deceased. Los Silencios is a small film made large by unassuming villagers whose dignity is assured in their refusal to be held captive to the past.

3.1 -- STYX, Wolfgang Fischer                 
[reviewed by Robert J. Lewis] In Greek mythology the river Styx separates Earth from Hades (Hell). In No Exit, existentialist philosopher Jean Paul-Sartre famously said: "Hell is other people." Wolfgang Fischer's film Styx honours both points of view.
In the opening scenes of one of the year's most conscience-wrenching films, the camera follows the easy ambulation of a macaque monkey effortlessly descending the exterior stair ladder of a high rise, ambling along a deserted street in Gibraltar, then effortlessly scaling a tall wall. The creature is preternaturally at ease in its unnatural habitat. A few minutes later, the camera is observing the deft movements of Rike, a woman in her late 30s, who has decided to treat herself to a 5,000 km sailing adventure from Spain to the Island of Ascension in order to escape the pressures of her medical profession. Like the macaque, she too is totally as ease in an unnatural environment (the sea). The camera moves in close as she expertly adjusts the rigging, spins the winch, hoists the sails. We marvel at her agility, dexterity and concentration: a majestic glide in blue. From high on up, we observe her tiny 12 meter boat -- a mere speck in the dark, foreboding waters. For much of the film, there is no dialogue. Instead, we follow, are mesmerized by her movements like listeners under the spell of inspired speech. The diagetic soundtrack that accompanies a brutal storm which tests her mettle creates an unnerving immediacy: we hear the rain slashing down against the boat, the battering of the wind, the violence of the waves crashing into the fragile vessel, swamping the deck. When the storm abates, Rike finds herself a couple of hundred meters away from a leaking trawler that is packed with desperate African refugees. She informs the coastguard who orders her to stay away since she is not equipped to deal with the disaster. In the meanwhile, she anguishes observing desperate refugees jumping into the water and drowning. Averting her eyes from the tragedy, she spots a small semi-conscious boy on a floater and manages to haul him up and attend to him. When the boy in broken English asks her why she doesn't return to the trawler to save his sister, she is mute, at which point he begins to resent his rescuer. She manages to contact another nearby boat only to discover that it is under strict orders not to help refugees. And when she realizes that the help promised by the coastguard is slow in coming, she has to pretend her own boat is sinking; only then help arrives. The film ends with body bags being unloaded from the trawler to the rescue boats.
What sustains this wonderfully crafted film is that we are so taken up with the performance and agility of Susanne Wolffe as Rike, and the efficiency of her sailing craft (she has anticipated every disaster except the human one) her story, her bravery and troubled conscience do not get swamped by the political message. And where you would expect it most, Fischer wisely does not give in to sappy sentimentality: the boy refuses to bond with his rescuer. It's one thing to ignore the cry of the stranger just outside your door, but it's altogether something else when you are forbidden to do the heart's bidding in the midst of a disaster.
Styx plunges the viewer into one of the insolvable dilemmas of our times where there are no easy answers and far too many victims of the arbitrary protocols that determine the way things are done and not done.

3.1 -- SHOPLIFTERS, Hirokasu Kore-Eda                 
[reviewed by Robert J. Lewis] In the tradition of Not One Less (Zhang Yimou), one of the great Chinese films of the past quarter century, the Japanese film, The Shoplifters, directed by Hirokasu Kore-Eda, through an accumulation of small deeds and acts of kindness that speak large, makes a unassuming philosophical statement of what constitutes meaning and happiness in life. In the smallest of apartments Osamu lives with his wife and daughter (Aki), the grandmother, and Shota, a 7-year old homeless kid they have taken in after finding him sleeping in a car. Returning from a shoplifting expedition, Osamu and Shota hear the cries of a small girl, who has been abused and neglected by her well-to-do parents. Despite the claustrophobic quarters, persistent money problems and fear of being accused of kidnapping, Osamu and the family decide to take in the 4-year-old Yuri. Much of the film takes place in the small confines of the apartment where they all sleep on mattresses on the floor. Osama's wife works in a laundry from where she steals. The daughter Aki works in a peep show arcade. That they are all up to no good belies the goodness in them. They share all their ill-begotten gains, they care for each other, the adults care for children which are not theirs, showering them with the love they never had before, all the while living on the edge of the law. In the midst of poverty and the most trying of circumstance, their commitment to family is inviolable, which makes Shoplifting an indictment of modern Japan, its rampant consumerism and declining values. With its emphasis on family and unconditional sacrifice, the film recalls The Man Without a Past (Kaurismaki) and the Canadian television series, the infamous Trailer Park Boys. Shoplifters is a film with a strong message that manages to avoid preachiness and bathos. When Shota is caught stealing, the family unit collapses. The little girl Yuri is sent back to her family where she once again finds herself neglected. Osama's wife is sent to prison and Shota to a foster home. After discovering that she isn't the real daughter of Osamu but was taken in like the others, Aki returns to the only real home she has ever known only to find it deserted. So much for the spirit of the law in a land bent on growing a spiritual deficit equal to the number of modern gadgets at its disposal. This gem of a film is owed to Hirokasu's resolute focus and for allowing his small but expertly composed interior sets to set the tenor and tone for day to day life in the Osamu household.

3.0 -- THE REPORT ON SARAH AND SALEEM, Muayad Alayan                 
[reviewed by Robert J. Lewis] It's not quite as rough going as Love in the Time of Cholera but infidelity between an Israeli woman and a Palestinian man in the divided city of Jerusalem is a sure formula for disaster as well as a cautionary tale. In Muayad Alayan's gripping The Report on Sarah and Saleem, the latter, a delivery man, and Sarah, a café owner, are having an passionate affair that consists of furtive once a week meetings in the back of Saleem's van. Despite the greater conflict swirling around them, none is particularly interested in politics, even though Sarah's husband is an ambitious colonel in the Israeli army. None seems aware of the surrounding political realities threatening to burst their little bubble of lust: decades of suspicion and mistrust, accusation, betrayal and counter-accusation, and mutual hatred. One night Seleem invites Sarah to join him in an evening delivery of contraband to Bethlehem, and then to have a late evening drink. After Saleem excuses himself to use the washroom, Sarah is approached by an aggressive Palestinian, and when she bends down to pick up something she dropped, her Star of David slips out of her blouse. From here on in, their affair begins to unravel and then spiral totally out of control. Israeli intelligence accuses Saleem of trying to recruit Sarah as a spy because he signed a paper to that effect in order to get himself out of a financial jam while Sarah's husband looses his security clearance. Both marriages break down and Saleem ends up in prison, albeit as a hero to the Palestinians for his efforts. The film succeeds in part because the director, Muayad Alayan, does not allow the heavy handed regional politics to overwhelm the storyline, which centers on two very average looking people who in and of themselves are not nearly as interesting as their situation and its ramifications. As the movie concludes, a very interesting sub-plot develops between the two wives, who handle their deteriorating situation very differently than the men. Since the grid is Jerusalem, viewers will get a good look at the historic city, including a view from Saleem's apartment that overlooks the wall and a sprawling, modern Israeli settlement. Top marks go to casting and for keeping the "beautiful and the damned" of Hollywood out of the picture.

2.9 -- BURNING, Lee Chang-dong                 
[reviewed by Robert J. Lewis] In the mad frenzy of a typical shopping day, Hae-mi has spotted Jong-su while at work; she's paid to attract customers by dancing in a skimpy outfit. Once an ugly duckling but now as cute as a button with a coltish body, it doesn't take long for city wise Hae-mi to seduce the shy and awkward Jong-su, whom she then convinces to look after her cat while she visits the bushmen in Africa.
Welcome to the new and digitally hip 21st century Korea, another consumer's paradise where tightly packed stores and advertisements hurtle the masses along surfeited narrow pedestrian ways in veteran Korean director Lee Chang-dong's beguiling film,
Burning. As the jostled camera negotiates the streets of Seoul and lingers in the interiors of the rich and not so rich, we are reminded of how homogenized the world has become, and no less so in matters of avarice, envy and ennui.
The first half of the film concentrates on family dysfunctionality, the class divide and the changing nature of relationships in the digital age. Both Hae-mi and Jong-su come from the same small village from single family households and are struggling to make ends meet in Seoul, the city that promises everything but delivers only to the privileged few, one of whom is the mysterious Ben, who is with Hae-mi when Jong-su comes to pick her up at the airport. Ben is everything that Jong-su isn't: rich, debonair and immaculately self-composed. He apparently doesn't work, but drives a Porsche, and he gets his kicks by burning down greenhouses in the countryside. Emotionally flighty Hae-mi enjoys attention from both her suitors, but ends up spending most of her time with Ben, who nonetheless, like the Korea's version of the Great Gatsby, invites Jong-su -- the competition -- to expensive restaurants and sumptuous dinner parties.
Throughout the film our interest is sustained because we're never quite sure of the facts and the true nature of the relationships, only that Jong-su loves Hae-mi.
Jong-su is hound dog handsome and naïve. He wants to be a writer but can't write because life is too much of a mystery. Hae-mi, who is studying pantomime, is sensuously ebullient and happy-go-lucky while Ben is aristocratic and calculating. As it turns out, Hae-mi isn't all that she seems, and when she disappears, there's a letdown as the plot morphs into the more conventional mystery film. We incrementally learn that Ben's penchant to burn down greenhouses might be the least of his idiosyncrasies, but even that is in doubt despite Jong-su's accusation.
Much of
Burning's atmospherics and suspense are owed to a highly original soundtrack comprised of haunting bass and bell. In its off-beat contrasts and unusual juxtapositions (Jong-su's farm is next to the North Korean border), Lee's film offers a mother lode of analogies and metaphors, and despite the length -- running time is 148 minutes -- Burning breezes by on the strength of its aesthetics and agile camera work, the strong performances of the three leads (especially Jeon Jong-seo in the role of Hae-mi) and the bewitching promptings from both the past and present that make the characters go tick tic tick.

3.0 -- ALL GOOD (Alles Gut), Eva Trobisch                
[reviewed by Robert J. Lewis] Men's defense of rape has been typically spun out of the tightly wound yarn of provocation and permissions. The Accused, with Jodie Foster, examined in graphic detail the provocation defense, and was one of the first films to argue that NO MEANS NO. In All Good, first time director Eva Trobisch examines rape through the permissions lens, but with a twist: the rapist isn't defending himself (he in fact apologizes). Instead, the victim implicitly faults herself only to discover that the blame game is alibi that cannot sustain the weight of fact. In rural Bavaria, we meet Janne and Piet, a couple in their early 30s, struggling with their finances and their relationship. She accepts a position in the nearby city, and shortly thereafter is invited to a school reunion. At the party, she meets Martin where they begin to consume large quantities of alcohol while enjoying each other's company. She invites him to sleep it off on the couch at her place. After she has prepared the bed, she lets him kiss her, he fondles her, and then she lets him place his hand between her legs for five seconds before telling him to stop. Permission interruptus. But it's too late. He begins to rape her. She doesn't resist. When he's finished, he quietly dresses and leaves. She is silent throughout. The next day, her first day in her new position, she is introduced to the man who raped her who is now a colleague at work. Feeling awkward in her presence, he takes her aside and apologizes and invites her to talk it over. She refuses, insisting that it's nothing, that she's OK. For the remainder of the film she tries to convince herself that she really is OK, blaming herself for leading him on, we assume? But there are cracks in her mostly whimsical and happy façade, such as when she suddenly erupts in anger, or breaks down in tears, or is irrationally stubborn over a small matter. When she discovers she's pregnant, she decides to abort even though the child might be from her husband. Janne, wonderfully played by Aenne Schwarz, is the centerpiece of the film. The camera follows her face like a loving cat wrapping itself around the leg of its mistress. Trobisch trusts the actress to reveal her conflicted soul in her quietest moments, when she's alone. Her face, sometimes filling the entire screen, positively glows when she smiles -- and she smiles a lot -- and just as suddenly turns dark when troubled thoughts crack the surface. All Good is a debut tour de force that belies the director's age (she's in her early 30s). If all goes well in her life, we'll find out sooner than later what she can do with real budget.

2.5 -- THE HEIRESSES, Marcelo Martinessi                 
[reviewed by Robert J. Lewis] If you have just finished reading Hemingway's Men Without Women, Marcelo Martinessi's The Heiresses will hit with the full force of a paradigm shift: Males are mostly absent or ghosts throughout the entire film. This detailed character study sheds light, or rather claustrophobic shadows, on the life of two elderly lesbians, who appear to be living sexless lives under the cover of aristocratic privilege. We meet Chela and Chiquita in hard times. The latter is in debt and will soon go to prison for fraud, which obliges Chela to sell off her expensive silverware and furniture. The living room in which much of the film unfolds, despite its trappings of wealth, has been drained of light such that it appears drabby and lifeless, much like the occupants who are physically slow and long past their prime. When Chiquita is finally incarcerated, Chela is obliged to get out more and ends up driving her friends to various functions. She is eventually persuaded to convert her Mercedes into a taxi to help with the finances. While chauffeuring she meets Angy, a younger sensuous woman who appeals to both sexes. Angy, the only woman in the film who is not grossly overweight, awakens in Chela lustful feelings that have long been dormant, but the latter cannot act on them, a prisoner of her long-term passivity and protected life. Chela and Chiquita and their lesbian friends, in their insularity, represent a quiet rebuke to Paraguay's patriarchy and the implicit homophobia theirein. Martinessi's disciplined lens stays the course in respect to lighting and the prevailing dreariness of the interiors where the inhabitants seem to be going through the motions of life. I suspect The Heiresses' limited focus might prove to be too limiting for most viewers. But for those who enjoy confining period pieces, this film will definitely satisfy more than my take-it or leave-it grade

3.3 -- IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK, Barry Jenkins                 
[reviewed by Robert J. Lewis] To the point of singularity, Florida born director Barry Jenkins is obsessed with race, what it's like to be black in America, refracted through childhood and sexual orientation in his award winning Moonlight (2016), and once again in his latest film, a tragic and uplifting love story based on the 1974 James Baldwin novel, If Beale Street Could Talk.
In both films, his mostly laconic characters and the timely inclusion of gray (grace notes) in the stark black and white that is America allow for a strategic retreat that softens some of the film's mannerist shortcomings and diffuse the black anger that had it been allowed free reign would have taken the film in an entirely different direction. Both films recall Tod Haynes's heart-sundering
Far From Heaven.
Tish and Fonny have known each other since they were kids and now they are a couple planning to make a life for themselves, accepting whatever work they can get, with Fonny dreaming of becoming a sculptor. Their plans are abruptly shattered when Fonny is set up and falsely accused of raping a Puerto Rican woman. In prison, Tish announces that she is carrying their child. In their regular meetings through the glass, we learn of the family's doomed efforts to find justice in a rigged system. Through the glass darkly, their faces glow and we can't take our eyes off them.
The film is deceptively non-linear because the narrative trajectory is so expertly contoured and directional; the syntax is provided by the emotional bonds that nourish the young couple's hopes and attenuates their despair. When the two families meet over the news of Tish's unplanned pregnancy, religious and class differences break out in an explosive scene rife with accusation and recrimination. The black on black experience is no less unforgiving than the white on black. Despite the indictment in both
Moonlight and Beale Street, Jenkins refuses to play the role of messenger or agenda breaker. His influences are as far and large and complex as America is good, bad and ugly. Jenkins is not an advocate but an artist of the highest order, a willing servant of his aesthetic imperatives. Every scene is exquisitely calibrated to tantalize the eye, awaken the pulse and challenge our values and limitations. If we are puzzled by his already significant achievement, the vague promptings upon which his art turns, it is because he grants America the possibility of transcendence in the most unlikely circumstance, and persuades us that in the heart of darkness the engine of love (between couples, families, communities) is a power that, if it cannot right systemic wrong, is so right unto itself it can create its own laws and streams of small happiness. The sets, the almost palpable colour schematics and the deft music score all contribute to the notion that where there is love there is hope. The jazzy soundtrack, that includes lots of priod jazz, perfectly mirrors the film's emotional track except when Jenkins allows the film's most poignant moments to be fleshed out with classical chamber music that is so uplifting and disarming, the heart dissolves, the sadness becomes less sad and the dignity of all human beings is confirmed. I'm not sure what else you can ask of a film.


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