The premise of Lina Wertmüller’s Love & Anarchy [Film d’amore e d’anarchia, ovvero ‘stamattina alle 10 in via dei Fiori nella nota casa di tolleranza…’] has the ring of something from Federico Fellini or maybe Pedro Almodóvar (though Fellini makes a lot more sense because she actually worked as his assistant for a spell).
Freckly yokel farmer Tunin (Giancarlo Giannini) learns that his friend was murdered. Why? Because he was an anarchist who was plotting to assassinate “ll Duce” Benito Mussolini. What’s more, Mussolini’s fascist police killed him. To avenge his friend’s death, Tunin takes up his cause.
Tunin ends up at a brothel in Rome. He spends a night with Salomè (Mariangela Melato), who reveals that she’s a co-conspirator for her own reasons. As the story progresses, it becomes clear that the coup is a harebrained idea.
Salomè takes Tunin to a rural spot just outside Rome with her and another prostitute, Tripolina (Lina Polito). Salomè distracts Spatoletti (Eros Pagni), the head of Mussolini’s police, while Tunin checks out the area; they then devise a plan to execute the mission.
Meanwhile, Tunin and Tripolina fall in love. Convinced that he isn’t going to make it past the assassination alive, he persuades Tripolina to spend the next two days with him.
The same radical spunk that Wertmüller exhibits in The Seduction of Mimi is just as prevalent in Love & Anarchy; this film is loaded with decadent, sexy hijinks. However, it also its share of some really tender moments—that surprised me. Love & Anarchy turns out devastatingly sad—I left the theater literally bummed out. For all its ridiculous sociopolitical and sexual shenanigans, it’s a far more powerful film.
With Pina Cei, Elena Fiore, Giuliana Calandra, Isa Bellini, Isa Danieli, Enrica Bonaccorti, Anna Bonaiuto, Anita Branzanti, Maria Sciacca, Anna Melato, Gea Linchi, Anna Stivala, Roberto Herlitzka
Production: Euro International Film, Labrador Films
Pedro Almodóvar has his own voice and his own vision, and he’s stayed true to both from the beginnning of his career. He’s an incredible story teller with no shortage of stories to tell; in fact, he once said that he “can make a thousand different movies about the same subject” (https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/p/pedroalmod587571.html). His frank treatment of sexuality is as bold as his visual style, and his characters are all memorable. His plots are intricate, loaded with twists and turns and weird things that throw in a wrench that takes the whole thing somewhere you never saw coming. He’s a master of exaggeration—it works just as well in his comedy as it does in his melodrama.
Julieta, Almodóvar’s current film—his twentieth feature—is no exception. Like most of his movies, particularly his post-millennial work, this one centers on women. Inspired by three short stories (“Chance”, “Soon,” and “Silence”) from from Alice Munro’s 2004 book Runaway, Julieta is, in simplest terms, the story of one woman’s search for her estranged daughter. There’s a lot more to it, of course, and Almodóvar slowly reveals it all, layer by layer.
Julieta (Emma Suárez) is a middle-aged woman who lives in Madrid with her boyfriend, Lorenzo (Darío Grandinetti). They’re packing to move to Portugal. Julieta has a secret: she has a daughter, Antiá, who checked out of her life more than a decade ago. She happens to run into Beatriz (Michelle Jenner), an old friend of Antiá, on the street. Beatriz gives Julieta some small information about Antiá, prompting Julieta to drop all plans in the hope of her daughter returning. She begins writing a journal, which turns into a flashback that tells us what happened.
Some 30 years before, young Julieta (Adriana Ugarte) meets scruffy fisherman Xoan (Daniel Grao) on a train. He’s married, but his wife is in a coma. He knocks up Julieta, who receives a letter from him and visits him at his home in a small Spanish fishing town. They decide to raise Antiá together there. When Antiá (Priscilla Delgado) is a teen and away at camp, Julieta and Xoan have a fight that leads to disaster. Julieta doesn’t tell Antiá everything, and it comes back to bite her.
Nothing by Almodóvar ever sucks, but I’ve found his work to be up and down after All About My Mother. It’s to be expected from an artist with a long career, Madonna being a good example. His last project, 2013’s I’m So Excited, was fun but certainly not his most compelling. Julieta, however, is solid—I say it’s his finest hour and a half since Volver. It’s not a light film—it’s an elegant, emotional slow burner that deals with regret, omission, and forgiveness. Ugarte and Grao are both hot, and they have a palpable chemistry. Casting Rossy De Palma as Xoan’s longtime passive-aggressive housekeeper is a nice touch.
With Inma Cuesta, Blanca Parés, Pilar Castro, Tomás del Estal
Production: El Deseo
Distribution: Warner Brothers (Spain), Pathé, 20th Century Fox
I don’t get many opportunities to see Mexican films, which is strange considering the huge Mexican population in Chicago. I tend to like the ones I see, though—a lot. Generally speaking, the storytelling in Mexican films often has a distinct breeziness to it, and the humor a wry and dark undertone with some weight. It’s a different experience than, say, a Pedro Almodóvar film.
The Noble Family is no exception. It’s a cute riches-to-rags story about appreciating the value of money and all that goes with it. Germán Noble (Gonzalo Vega) is a wealthy businessman who built a financial empire. His wife died years ago—“May God keep her close to Him”—leaving Germán to raise his three children on his own with the help of a housekeeper (Mary Paz Mata). He’s taken aback when he notices how they live their lives: his dumb elder son, Javi (Luis Gerardo Méndez), blows money on lame ideas for businesses and on partying; his spoiled daughter, Bárbara (Karla Souza), demands everyone jump when she says so, including her father when she reveals her intention to marry a shady gold digger (Carlos Gascón); and his younger son, hipster Charlie (Juan Pablo Gil), just got expelled from university after he was caught having sex with a teacher in her office. None of them are good at anything—or particularly gracious.
Germán suffers a minor heart attack when he sees how much money his kids are spending. He devises a plan to teach them a lesson—he orchestrates a takedown of his empire, which he claims is due to union troubles and an embezzling business partner (Mario Haddad). The Nobles flee to a ghetto in Mexico City to hide out in a run-down house that Germán’s father owned. For the first time, the kids have to support themselves—which means they have to get jobs. Unbeknownst to him, a lesson awaits Germán as well.
Directed by Gary Alazraki, The Noble Family is a fun satire of rich kids. It’s not mean-spirited, but it makes some serious points about social class, racism, and working hard. The characters are great—all three kids are convincing as fish out of water, especially snippy Bárbara and her constant griping, disdainfully comparing her surroundings to Venezuela, Cuba, even Thailand. Lucho (Ianis Guerrero) is a relatable catalyst, getting the kids jobs and showing them how to take care of business. A subtle subplot involving a cat plays into the moral of the story—no doubt because one of the film’s backers is Whiskas cat food. Weird.
“I do not endorse a way of life but describe one, and the audience is left to make its own decisions and judgments.”
“Even when I feel like shit, they still love me.”
“Yeah. It ain’t all fucking hunky-dory.”
“I know I’m not the best singer and I know I’m not the best dancer, but I’m not interested in that. I’m interested in pushing people’s buttons, in being provocative and in being political.”
In Richard Linklater’s Slacker—released the same year—an Austin, Texas, townie (Teresa Taylor) hocks a jar she claims is a “Madonna pap smear,” talking it up as an item “closer to the rock god than just a poster.” Up close and personal, that’s essentially what Truth or Dare is: a Madonna pap smear, figuratively speaking.
Truth or Dare is Madonna showing us all how cool she is. It encapsulates an exceptionally interesting time—the best time for her to do something like this, as proven by her later tour documentary, the painfully dull I’m Going to Tell You a Secret, in 2006. Certainly no run of the mill performer, it’s only fitting that Truth or Dare is no run of the mill concert film. Shot at the zenith of her career during the Blond Ambition Tour in 1990—a banner year for an artist with a long track record of controversy and success—Madonna allows director Alek Keshishian unprecedented (though not complete) access behind the scenes, and he in turn gives viewers a lot of juicy nuggets to feast on. For fans, Keshishian shows that Madonna really is—or was—all that, and more: she’s snappy, saucy, snide, mischievous, rebellious, witty, tough, and through it all ridiculosly entertaining (and I imagine a lot of fun if you’re on her good side).
The live stuff is superb. Keshishian picks all the showstoppers from Madonna’s most iconic tour: “Express Yourself,” “Holiday,” “Vogue,” a what-the-fuck version of “Like a Virgin” inspired by an ancient Egyptian orgy, and my favorite despite its unfortunate truncation, a Bob Fosse meets A Clockwork Orange take on “Keep it Together.” Views from both the floor and onstage present the show in all its over-the-top glory. Using color in an otherwise black and white film makes the live pieces all the more special.
The backstage shots on tour—the nightly prayers, the stress and snafus, the post show parties—are even better. The shade Madonna thows at other celebrities—Oprah Winfrey, Belinda Carlisle, Zsa Zsa Gabor, and of course Kevin Costner—is uncalled for but hilarious, sometimes uncomfortably so. Personal events like her spat with Warren Beatty before the Dick Tracy opening in Orlando (she calls him an “asshole”), a phone call with her father to arrange tickets for a show in Detroit, meeting a childhood friend, even attending Pedro Almodóvar’s party in Madrid all uncover multiple sides of Madonna.
But Keshishian goes deeper (and deeper): for every cringeworthy contrived scene that rings hollow—like visiting the cemetery to see her mother’s grave—is an honest one revealing the flawed and complicated person Madonna is. My favorite moments in Truth or Dare are the small events that show her human side. She’s generous with her dancers and her family—the scene where she sings “Happy Birthday” to her father onstage is precious. Her conversation with Sandra Bernhard where she admits she’s bored is illuminating and oddly relatable. I still find her comment that “everyone talks about how fame changes a person, but they never talk about how fame changes the people around them” her most poignant statement—and Keshishian demonstrates what she means. Often, Madonna doesn’t have it all under control: it rains on the Asian leg of her outdoor tour, her headset keeps shorting out during a concert, the police pop up to arrest her at her show in Toronto, her brother Martin doesn’t show up at her hotel suite when he’s supposed to, her throat gives out, a member of her entourage is drugged and assaulted, a dancer (Oliver Crumes) goes AWOL. These scenes stand out because they reveal a lot about how Madonna handles tough situations—and she’s not always good at it. Moreover, she doesn’t have everything she wants: phone messages, Antonio Banderas, Slam and Gabriel, to name a few.
Madonna has admitted she was shady and a horribe brat in Truth or Dare (http://www.ew.com/article/2015/08/07/madonna-truth-or-dare). What makes it richer and more thorough, though, is that the focus is not solely on her. Madonna’s dancers are given ample space to show who they are and let some of their stories come out. Bringing out their homosexuality, especially during the age of AIDS, is a bold move that points to the topics and issues that clearly color(ed) her work. Truth or Dare got me to see Madonna more as a performance artist than a pop star.
There are loads of truly fun moments here. Plus, we get to see a flash of her boobs. In the end, Madonna shows us a good time but still leaves us asking, who’s that girl? It’s a strategy that’s served her well throughout her career.