Forget humming the song of the same name from "Hair," and start stamping your feet in the name of justice. That's what Dona Clara would do as she stands in front of her apartment building, defending it against developers, who want to raze it to build The Aquarius.

This is not the dawning of a new age for 65-year-old Clara but the knell of a golden age for the widow of 17 years. She raised her children in her apartment. She worked as a music critic from that building -- and music swirls throughout the film. She could swim in the ocean off the beach fronting her apartment. And she'll be darned if she's going to sell it to unscrupulous developers, who want to turn the two-story building into a skyscraper. They try to sweet talk her into something she knows is wrong. 

The building stands in Recife, Brazil, the birthplace of the film's writer and director, Kleber Mendonça Filho. He has a bone to pick with authorities, and he does it with a fierceness befitting his protagonist.

Sonia Braga plays Clara. She covers a range from sweetly adoring gramma to tough momma with chiding children, from a political beast to a woman longing for physical love. Braga raises her voice as Clara rarely, so listen when she does.

Filho cleverly begins the story in 1980 at a birthday party to show that Clara's foremothers would have understood her politics and her perseverance and her sexiness. Filho's use of flashbacks for sex scenes is erotic and unexpected but meet and right especially contrasted with the developers' gaucheness. Aquarius has been controversial for sex and drugs and politics in Brazil and at the Cannes Film Festival.

 


The film simply titled Christine offers an absorbing, at times mesmerizing, and ultimately mystifying character study. How could anyone wholly explain Sarasota television reporter Christine Chubbuck's live, on-air suicide in 1974? But credit to director Antonio Campos who carefully charts the nooks and crannies of Christine's complex, troubled personality and Rebecca Hall in an Oscar worthy performance.

With Christine anchoring every scene with only a few exceptions, Hall must segue convincingly through vulnerability informed by determination, ambition struggling with paralyzing stress, and assertiveness undermined by self-criticism. Hall is pitch perfect: clashing with her unhelpful mother Peg with whom she still lives, arguing with TV station boss Mike who channels his own '70s sexism, attracted to on-air anchor George but incapable of relaxing with him, and cool to her colleague Jean who tries to show support. Hall's stiff body posture, slightly tense jawline, and arrhythmic delivery communicate one aspect of Christine's persona. This contrasts with the calm, relaxed, modulated verbal and nonverbal presentation when Christine performs with her hand puppets for children at local hospitals.

Through a 70s television monitor, director Campos introduces Christine, practicing and questioning her interview technique. And the demands of if-it-bleeds-it-leads journalism is never let off the hook as Christine argues for more than her human interest beat. As the station boss, Tracy Letts expresses a simmering and at times explosive frustration with Christine. Equally good are Michael C. Hall as TV anchor George, Maria Dizzia as colleague Jean, and J. Smith-Cameron as the mother. The art direction expresses Christine's demoralized moods with muted colors from costumes to surroundings.

Most important for this subject, Campos refuses to sensationalize the suicide, focusing instead on effecting an empathetic approach to Christine. He watches the reactions and ineffectiveness of everyone involved up to their shock at Christine's action. I thought of the disbelief and distress expressed repeatedly when individuals act out in violent ways. Christine sheds light on one such person without pretending we can ever quite understand. At Landmark's Plaza Frontenac Theatre.

Footnote: At the 2016 True/False Film Fest, director Robert Greene also took Christine Chubbuck's suicide as his subject matter. From another perspective, in Kate Plays Christine he investigates the event through Kate Lyn Sheil who is playing Christine Chubbuck in his film. Ethical concerns over dramatizing this event and the toll it takes for Sheil to play Christine add more layers to remembering such a horrific event as Chubbuck's suicide. Kate Plays Christine will screen at the St. Louis International Film Festival, held November 3 to 13.

 

 

 

At the center of the Swedish film A Man Called Ove is an unapologetic curmudgeon. He's gruff, uncooperative, even hostile. Moreover, at 59 years of age, forced into early retirement from his warehouse job of 43 years, Ove is not likely to change, nor does he for one second think he should.

Ove has decided it's time to exit this world to join his beloved, recently deceased wife Sonja, and so he plans his suicide, with interruptions from a new family moving into his housing complex, especially from the pregnant wife Parvaneh of Iranian descent. A bit reminiscent of Clint Eastwood's Walt Kowalski in "Gran Torino," Ove will predictably mellow but not before some amusing and sobering events unfold.

Faithfully adapted by director Hannes Holm from Fredrik Backman's hugely popular novel, A Man Called Ove stars Rolf Lassgård as Ove, a role he so perfectly embodies that, as was so often said about Spencer Tracy, it's impossible to see him acting. Director Holm wisely knows exactly where the interest and depths of emotion lie as he lets Ove physically and psychologically dominate the film, his personality driving the drama through every vertiginous twist and turn. We've probably all known someone like him, or, as the director Hannes Holm has written, perhaps, if we're honest, we recognize at least a bit of ourselves.

Unified in every element, all the location and art direction choices enhance the character study. For example, cinematographer Göran Hallberg shoots the film with an unobtrusive camera, that is, he avoids shots calling attention to themselves as opposed to serving the story. And what becomes clear as we come to know Ove is that we, certainly in his case, can't judge a book by its cover. As Ove's backstory unfolds, gradually revealed through nicely interspersed flashbacks, Ove becomes a much more complex and empathetic man than at first glance. In fact, we know this so often to be true as details of an individual's life explain behavior. Here we're greeted with a bracing series of revelations I won't reveal. 

A Man Called Ove is Sweden's submission for the Best Foreign Film Oscar and has already won Sweden's equivalent of our Academy Award for the film and for Rolf Lassgård as Best Actor, an honor he also won at Seattle's Film Festival. In Swedish with English subtitles, with an exclusive engagement at Landmark's Plaza Frontenac Theatre.

 

With the film Certain Women director Kelly Reichardt proves again that she is as much a poet as a storyteller. What I mean is that Reichardt focuses not on events but on the minutiae of everyday life for her characters, here four carefully observed women. Some would argue that her minimalism lacks drama.

In fact, the intensity of Reichardt's scrutiny shows there is more going on in a glance, a slump of shoulders, or a transitory grimace than in all Hollywood's car chases and bomb blasts. The explosions here are emotional and implosive as the women suppress their overt reactions. The four individuals so introspectively captured share the small town of Belfry, Montana but only tangential personal connections. In a strong performance by Laura Dern, lawyer Laura Wells attempts to convince a workman's comp client that his appeals case is over. She treads a fine line between supportive and professional in a world steeped in sexism.

Laura has had an affair with Gina Lewis' husband though that's largely irrelevant to Gina's situation. As Gina, Michelle Williams wordlessly but profoundly registers the tensions among her, her husband and daughter as they work, quite symbolically, to construct a new home. The third act and the relationship most developed involves another lawyer, Beth Travis, who drives four hours each way from Livingston, Montana, to lecture a handful of teachers on education law. Jamie, an isolated woman who tends to horses on a local ranch, wanders in and returns repeatedly, enamored of Beth. The repressed interaction between Jamie (Lily Gladstone) and Beth (Kristen Stewart) is heartbreaking in its overwhelming longing.

Adapted by director and editor Reichardt from three Maile (My Lee) Meloy short stories, the film uses the stark Montana landscape to metaphorically express these isolated women's experiences. Details of dress and décor reinforce the psychological and physical attributes of their lives. Similarly, Jeff Grace's music, used sparingly but well, adds subtle texture to the mood.

Certain Women is a rarity in several respects. It is wholly Reichardt's vision with naturalistic acting that draws you into real lives. I wanted to follow them all and learn more from them even as they prompt insight into our own lives. It's quietly one of the best films of the year. At a Landmark Theatre.

 

In Southampton County, Virginia, August 21, 1831 Nat Turner led a roughly 48-hour rebellion of an estimated seventy enslaved and free African-American men. Using their farm implements, axes, knives and swords, they killed approximately 60 white men, women and children. White slave owners, local militias, and federal troops retaliated, targeting blacks whether involved in the uprising or not. pa

Over two hundred black men and women of all ages were casualties: executed outright, tried and hanged, beaten and tortured, traded to owners in other regions or states. Nate Parker's The Birth of a Nation dramatizes plantation slave Nat Turner's experiences leading to this uprising. Director, writer/producer and star, Parker purposely invokes D.W. Griffith's 1913 racist film of the same title which glorified the KKK's formation. Showing restraint himself, Parker prefers suggesting rather than explicitly depicting most of the horrific barbarity against the slaves, though there's no question about inhumane treatment, including rapes, whippings, beatings, and pervasive humiliation. Proving less can be more, one of the most haunting, chilling images shows a white girl running out of the front door of her beautiful home with a black girl running behind her at the end of a loosely held rope, a noose around her neck.

While Nat was literate and an effective preacher, Parker uses poetic license, as almost any historical drama does. In the film, Nat's owner Sam Turner is paid for Nat to deliver sermons to rein in disgruntled slaves. Parker imagines hallucinatory nightmares for Nat and includes scenes of African shamanic activity. Contrary to history, Parker shows Turner nobly surrendering when he learns of unmerited attacks on innocent blacks. In fact, Turner was captured when a farmer accidentally stumbled upon him. Along those lines, except for Nat's ineffective owner, a composite of several he had, the white men come off as malevolent caricatures. To Parker's credit, the slaves' lives show the complexity seldom granted them. Similarly, though the romance is completely traditional, it's also fresh in that it's granted to slaves.

On balance, in a powerful, rousing film, The Birth of a Nation tells an important story, one too often ignored in history. Let's hope its plea for humanity and peace for all impacts and improves on today's injustices. Check local listings.

Footnote: Nate Parker has himself has been the subject of controversy. In 1999, as a student at Penn State, he was charged with rape but was subsequently found not guilty in court. The woman who charged Parker and his friend committed suicide at age 30. Because this has received attention from 60 Minutes, among other places, I add this in the interest of clarification should readers hear about the controversy and want to pursue more information.

 

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