A Fantastic Woman [Una mujer fantástica]

(Chile 2017)

“The thing is, Orlando started feeling sick. And he died.”

— Marina

“When I look at you, I don’t know what I’m seeing.”

— Sonia

Whichever meaning of the word fantastic is employed, A Fantastic Woman is a fitting title for Sebastián Lelio’s latest film; some might consdier the protagonist a fantasy (i.e., not real) or think her head is in the clouds, but she’s definitely marked by her extreme individuality. She also proves to be quite amazing.

Things are good for transgender singing waitress Marina Vidal (Daniela Vega): she just moved in with her older lover, Orlando (Francisco Reyes). He took her to dinner for her birthday (and surprised her with plane tickets). They have a dog, Diabla (Diabla).

Everything changes when Orlando has an aneurysm and dies in the hospital. Marina is forced to deal with Orlando’s son, Bruno (Nicolás Saavedra); his ex-wife, Sonia (Aline Küppenheim); the police, who keep insisting that she had something to do with the wound on Orlando’s head (he hit it against the wall when he fell down the stairs on their way out to the hospital); and mourning her profound loss — something no one but Orlando’s brother, Gabo (Luis Gnecco), will give her the space to do.

A mysterious key and a need to say goodbye to Orlando’s body are the impetus of the story. Lelio and Gonzalo Maza’s screenplay is not what makes A Fantastic Woman compelling; Vega’s sorrowful and quietly defiant performance does. Faced with a string of indignities over the course of two days, Miranda handles herself smartly with toughness and grace, giving in when she needs to but always pushing back — or at least ahead.

Benjamín Echazarreta’s sharp cinematography places Marina dead center in every frame, bathing her in color and shadow. The look is fluid, underscoring a water motif that runs throughout the story. Lelio’s dream sequences and hallucinations add a hazy, otherworld quality. This is eloquent.

With Amparo Noguera, Trinidad González, Néstor Cantillana, Alejandro Goic, Antonia Zegers, Sergio Hernández, Roberto Farías, Cristián Chaparro, Felipe Zambrano, Erto Pantoja, Loreto Leonvendagar, Fabiola Zamora, José Raffo, Pablo Cerda, Moises Angulo, Veronica Garcia-Huidobro        

Production: Fabula, Komplizen Film

Distribution: Sony Pictures Classics

104 minutes
Rated R

(Music Box) B

http://sonyclassics.com/afantasticwoman/

https://youtu.be/PJHex4ZitgA

Loveless [Nelyubov]

(Russia 2017)

With his 2014 film Leviathan [Leviafan] [Левиафан] (https://moviebloke.com/2015/01/18/leviathan-leviafan/), director Andrey Zvyagintsev presented a glum picture of a city in decline. He continues on that trajectory with Loveless [Nelyubov] [Нелюбовь], a glum picture of a family falling apart.

Zhenya (Maryana Spivak) and Boris (Aleksey Rozin) are in the midst of a nasty divorce. Still winding down their marriage, both have moved on: Zhenya spends nights with her boyfriend (Andris Keišs) and Boris is expecting a baby with his girlfriend (Marina Vasilyeva). The problem of their introverted and sad 12-year-old son, Alexey (Matvey Novikov), their only child, prevents them from turning the page. Neither wants custody, and they bicker over it. Constantly. He hears it all.

One morning when she gets home, Zhenya gets a call from Alexey’s teacher: he hasn’t been to school in two days. No one has seen him. He seems to have vanished. The police aren’t helpful, dismissing the matter as a case of a runaway who will be back in a few days. Frankly, Zhenya and Boris have been absobed by their own affairs and haven’t noticed Alexey much lately. They hire a group of volunteers to trace his steps and find him.

Loveless is an improvement over Leviathan, which was also a good film. Partnering again with Oleg Negin on the screenplay, the pace here is better and the story is a lot more engaging. No love is to be found here, and the adults are why. Shallow and selfish, they’re incapable or maybe just uninterested in seeing how their own toxicity adds to a bad situation. I have the impression that nothing changes at the end of the ordeal.

Spivak’s coldheartedness is chilling, and it’s hard to listen to her admit in one scene that having Alexey was a mistake and she should’ve had an abortion. Her mother (Natalya Potapova) — Alexey’s grandmother — is even worse. Novikov is another standout, bawling quietly behind a bathroom door or letting a tear stream down his cheek as he doesn’t eat his breakfast. Cinematograpger Mikhail Krichman, who gave Leviathan its crisp gloomy grey, does the same here, but somehow makes the whole thing look even bleaker.

With Aleksey Fateev, Sergey Dvoinikov, Artyom Zhigulin, Evgeniya Dmitrieva, Natalia Vinokurova, Djan Badmaev, Yanina Hope, Maksim Stoyanov, Denis Tkachev, Yuriy Mirontsev, Oleg Grisevich, Aleksandr Sergeev, Varvara Shmykova

Production: Non-Stop Productions, Why Not Productions, Fetisoff Illusion, Senator Film Produktion, Les Films du Fleuve, Arte France Cinéma, Eurimages, ARTE France, Canal+, Cine+, Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR), Wild Bunch

Distribution: Sony Pictures Classics (USA), Altitude Film Entertainment (UK), Pyramide Distribution (France), Academy Two (Italy), Golem Distribución (Spain), Alpenrepublik Filmverleih (Germany), Wild Bunch (Germany), Cinemien (Netherlands), Seven Films (Greece), Against Gravity (Poland), Albatros Film (Japan), The Klockworx (Japan), Star Channel Movies (Japan)

127 minutes
Rated R

(Music Box) B

http://sonyclassics.com/loveless/

The Leisure Seeker

(Italy / France 2018)

Paolo Virzì’s last film, Like Crazy (https://moviebloke.com/2016/10/17/like-crazy-la-pazza-gioia/), won me over with its quirky lead characters, their wacky antics, and the surprisingly moving turn the story takes. His follow up, The Leisure Seeker, which also happens to be his first English language feature film, employs a similar template — Massachusetts golden girl Ella Spencer (Helen Mirren) has arranged a trip with her husband, John (Donald Sutherland), a retired literature professor, to Key West. The purpose of the trip is to see the Ernest Hemingway House, something John always wanted to do but never got around to it. They board their trusty old Winnebago from the Seventies — they named it “The Leisure Seeker” — and slip away without telling anyone.

While reigniting passions and having revelations over the course of their excursion, what really prompted the trip becomes apparent: John is suffering a bad case of Alzheimer’s that gets worse by the day. Ella is dealing with the effects of her own condition as well. Naturally, their middle aged kids (Christian McKay and Janel Moloney) freak when they find out what they’re up to.

Based on Michael Zadoorian’s novel of the same name, the topic here is a worthy one: deciding when to call it a wrap. Mirren and Sutherland give fine performances with strong chemistry and realistic intimacy, and the best moments are just as tender as the ones in Like Crazy. Still, The Leisure Seeker somehow comes off as diluted, perhaps aiming too hard for a wide audience. It shows in the screenplay, which has a lot of weak spots and relies on sentimentality too heavily for its own good.

The situations Ella and John get into might be sweet, but they don’t move beyond silly hijinks. They’re pretty easy, actually. Hilarity ensues, for example, when a cop (Robert Walker Branchaud) pulls John over for swerving, when a roadside punk (Sean Michael Weber) tries to rob the couple while they wait stranded for a tow, and later when John wanders into a Donald Trump rally. The Leisure Seeker isn’t quite the compelling film it had the potential to be.

With Dana Ivey, Dick Gregory, Leander Suleiman, Ahmed Lucan, Gabriella Cila, David Marshall Silverman, Lucy Catherine Haskill, Joshua Hoover, Kirsty Mitchell, Mylie Stone, Joshua Mikel, Rayan Clay Gwaltney, Matt Mercurio, Marc Fajardo, Wayne Hall, Denitra Isler, Carl Bradfield, Roger Lee Bright, Chelle Ramos, Joe Hardy Jr., Jerald Jay Savage, Nicholas Barrera, Danielle Deadwyler, Robert Pralgo, Lilia Pino Blouin, Rusty Hodgdon, Ariel Kaplan, Geoffrey D. Williams, Carlos Guerrero, Karen Valero

Production: Indiana Production Company, BAC Films, Rai Cinema, Ministero dei Beni e delle Attività Culturali e del Turismo (MiBACT), Regione Lazio

Distribution: 01 Distribution (Italy), BAC Films (France), Sony Pictures Classics (USA), Concorde Filmverleih (Germany), Filmcoopi Zürich (Switzerland), Filmladen (Austria), Imagine Filmdistributie Nederland (Netherlands), Imagine (Belgium), Norsk Filmdistribusjon (Norway), StraDa Films – Seven Films (Greece), United International Pictures (UIP) (Poland), GAGA (Japan), Shaw Organisation (Singapore)

112 minutes
Rated R

(AMC River East) C-

Chicago International Film Festival

http://sonyclassics.com/theleisureseeker/

 

Call Me by Your Name

(Italy / USA / France / Brazil 2017)

“Call me by your name and I’ll call you by mine.”

— Oliver

Very seldom does a film leaves me speechless, but that’s just what Call Me by Your Name did. For me, it’s one of this year’s most unexpected cinematic pleasures.

Set during the summer of 1983, precocious and solitary 17-year-old Elio Perlman (Timothée Chalamet) is spending another summer with his parents at their Italian villa. It looks like business as usual — reading, writing, and playing piano — until ruggedly handsome and tan American graduate student Oliver (Armie Hammer) shows up. Oliver, with his penchant for being overly casual (particularly with his use of “later” to bid farewell) and his love of the Psychedelic Furs, will be staying in Elio’s room for the summer while working as an intern for Elio’s father (Michael Stuhlbarg), a professor who’s finishing up a book.

Wow. Director Luca Guadagnino hits the nail right on the head on so many things he gets at here: the perversity of male adolescence, the confusion of sexual awakening and lost innocence, the single-mindedness of desire, the thrill and frustration of seduction, and the agony of loss, all of it before a gorgeous and sunny Italian backdrop. He’s sensitive to the subject matter, which centers on sexuality, but he doesn’t cheapen the story or its characters. It’s a tricky feat.

The pace may be frustrating at times. However, being an act of seduction itself, Call Me by Your Name is nonetheless erotic, intimate, honest, and ultimately heartbreaking. That’s an awful lot to fit into one film, but Guadagnino does it, and he does it exceptionally well. It helps that he recruits excellent actors, particularly Chalamet, who brings a credible vulnerability to his character. The final scene is beautifully simple, effective, and hard to watch even while the credits roll.

I had a remarkably similar experience as Elio when I was barely 18 years old. Call Me by Your Name is more romantic, but seeing it play out reminded me of someone from my own past. I never go back and read a book after seeing its film adaptation, but I’m compelled to read André Aciman’s novel now.

With Amira Casar, Esther Garrel, Victoire Du Bois, Vanda Capriolo, Antonio Rimoldi, Elena Bucci, Marco Sgrosso, André Aciman, Peter Spears

Production: Frenesy Film Company, La Cinéfacture, RT Features, Water’s End Productions

Distribution: Sony Pictures Classics

132 minutes
Rated R

(Landmark Century) A-

http://sonyclassics.com/callmebyyourname/mobile/

Toni Erdmann

(Germany/Austria 2016)

Toni Erdmann is not a real person; he’s the alterego of retired divorced schoolteacher Winfried Conradi (Peter Simonischek). When Winfried, a weird old hippy jokester, appears onscreen in a shaggy wig and bad fake teeth, he certainly gives the impression that those around him have to excuse his relatively harmless but tiresome—and often annoying—penchant for silliness. He is caretaker of his elderly mother, and death surrounds him. Perhaps that explains it.

Winfried’s daughter, Ines (Sandra Hüller), a young corporate sellout working on a project in Romania, drops by for a birthday. She’s on her phone most of the time, distracted by work. She’s so serious—and severe. Predictably, she doesn’t stick around long.

When his dog dies, Winfried flies to Bucharest and stalks Ines in the lobby of the office building where she works. She sees him and takes him to a reception, where she networks with Henneberg (Michael Wittenborn), an oil company executive she wants to make a deal with. The weekend is bizarre, filled with small talk, blank stares, and uncomfortable silence. Ines doesn’t bother to pretend she’s happy to see her father; in fact, it’s pretty clear she’s relieved to see him leave.

This is where Toni Erdmann gets interesting: Winfried doesn’t actually leave. Instead, he becomes “Toni Erdmann, life coach,” and sets out to reach Ines through her professional contacts. Funny thing: it actually works.

Writer/director Maren Ade has a solid grasp of strained relationships and embarrassing situations, and a sick sense of humor to boot. It’s a winning combination in Toni Erdmann, which has its share of quite a few awesomely cringeworthy moments. Your goofy dad upstaging you at a networking opportunity? Check. Naked birthday party—with coworkers? Check. An Easter party that includes an apoplectic performance of Whitney Houston’s “Greatest Love of All”? Check. A cum-soaked petit fours? Um, check.

For all its distance, Toni Erdmann turns out to be a surprisingly emotional film. It takes nearly three hours to get to it, but it ends on a whallop. It’s touching in a way I didn’t see coming. The final scene offers all anyone needs to see about this dysfunctional father/daughter relationship. And it’s beautiful.

With Ingrid Bisu, Lucy Russell, Thomas Loibl, Trystan Pütter, Hadewych Minis, Vlad Ivanov, Victoria Cocias

Production: Komplizen Film, coop99 filmproduktion, KNM, Missing Link Films, SWR/WDR/Arte

Distribution: NFP Marketing & Distribution (Germany), Soda Pictures (United Kingdom), Enfilade (Austria), Sony Pictures Classics (USA)

162 minutes
Rated R

(Music Box) B-

http://www.komplizen-film.de/e/toni-erdmann.html

http://www.sonyclassics.com/tonierdmann/