Argentine filmmaker Lucia Puenzo takes a clever look at her nation's history with this charming but subtly chilling drama about events that never happened, but could have. As with her previous films XXY and The Fish Child, this story explores issues of identity and physicality from a young girl's perspective. And what it reveals about society at large is just as telling, mainly because the story is so intimate and honest.
It's set in 1960 Patagonia, where Eva and Enzo (Natalia Oneiro and Diego Peretti) are moving to the mountains to open a hotel along with their three children: teen Tomas (Alan Daicz), tiny 12-year-old Lilith (Florencia Bado) and youngster Polo. They drive north with German doctor Helmut (Alex Brendemuhl), who becomes the first long-term guest in their lakeside hotel. He also becomes fascinated by Lilith's underdevelopment: she looks like an 8-year-old, and he starts secret treatments to help her look closer to her true age. But his interest in the family continues with Enzo's doll-making hobby and, even more interestingly, the fact that Eva is pregnant with twins.
Early in the film, it becomes clear that Helmut is actually the escaped Nazi Josef Mengele, and that he's continuing his human experiments on this unsuspecting family. But since the story is told through Lilith's eyes, it's difficult to see Helmut as anything but concerned and helpful. Indeed, the entire community seems to be aware that Nazis are hiding all around them, but they don't really care as long as they're productive members of society. So it's Brendemuhl's subtly layered performance that reveals Helmut's darker willingness to break rules to fuel his research. Plus the interest of a local photographer (Elena Roger) who just might be a Nazi hunter in disguise.
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That said, the actors are all terrific, most notably the magnetic Rahim, through whose eyes we watch the events unfold. He beautifully plays Younes' quiet discovery of each layer of truth, from his initial carefree lawlessness to agreeing to help the authorities and ultimately to risking his life to save people he perhaps should be shunning. But the film beautifully points out that Islam isn't about hating the Jews: it's about respecting human life.And there's a lot more going on in the story. Strong subplots involving both Leila and Salim are only barely touched upon and could actually be expanded into much more engaging movies than this one. And this is a refreshingly restrained depiction of the Nazis. Sure, they're tenacious and inhuman, but they're also never vilified into cartoon villains, which subtly makes them even more chilling. And even if it lacks any real kick, the film is an important account of normal, flawed people doing what they can in terrible circumstances.
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In southern France, Suzanne (Scott Thomas) is a wife and mother who, bored with her bourgeois life, decides to go back to work. But when beefy builder Ivan (Lopez) arrives to work on her home office, she starts flirting with him. This eventually turns into a lusty affair, and she decides to leave her husband Samuel (Attal) and teen children (Vidal and Broom). But exchanging financial stability for passion isn't easy; when money runs short Samuel tries to exploit her need for security. And things get very messy indeed.
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The strange update of An Affair to Remember goes like this: A dazed and neurotic French woman named Fanette (Catherine Deneuve) is so obsessed with Affair that she sneaks into the movie theater constantly to see it. (You can still see An Affair to Remember in Paris theaters?) An old flame resurfaces -- she thinks -- and a mysterious note arrives suggesting she meet him in three days at the top of the Empire State Building, just like in Affair!
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