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Recent Movies: Loving; Cameraperson; Neruda

January 22, 2017

Recent Movies

Loving

Based on a true story: In rural Virginia in 1958, Richard Loving and Mildred Jeter (Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga) are an inter-racial couple who live in a state where inter-racial marriages are illegal. They live through personal struggles while eventually getting legal help for their plight.

Director Jeff Nichols has created a fine film in that every scene has a certain edge – not just those including nasty law enforcers but even the day-to-day activities of the couple and their respective families. He is greatly assisted by Edgerton and Negga who not only give strong individual performances but they also share a great chemistry together. They are the essence of the film. Edgerton shows a quiet desperation in his face as he quietly goes about his business. Negga displays a dignity in her shyness and even shows a comical impishness in her enjoyment of media attention in the second half. Another fascination is that the two main players of this film are both introverts who are fully able to draw in the viewer – a rarity in a medium that is usually more fascinated with extroverts.

“Loving” is a fine film overall though it has more edge in its first half. The second half is easily comparable to other recent films (“Selma”, “The Butler”) involving U.S. civil rights battles in the 1960s. As the bar continues to get higher in this genre, it gets more difficult to surpass it. But “Loving” certainly meets it.

In the second half, there are occasional references to “the right to marriage” without being specific. It makes one wonder if the phrase is referring to another civil rights battle on marriage that would take place a half-century later.

RATING (out of four stars):   * * *


Cameraperson

Kirsten Johnson, an American cinematographer, directs this documentary using footage she has collected during the past thirty years.

This film’s most praiseworthy attribute is its uniqueness. In snippets that last only a few minutes, each little story (over twenty of them, many of them revisited during the film) say so much in such a short amount of time.

The subjects vary as well: the effects of ethnic cleansing and gang rapes in Bosnia, the troubles relating to Al-Qaeda, a heinous crime in small-town, Texas. Johnson also focuses on troublesome domestic situations in her home country including her mother’s fading health and mind.

While there seem to be many stories, they all seem to relate to a common theme of tragedy whether it be at the worldly or the personal level. Johnson has the great skill of giving the viewer just enough information to feel empathy but without being overwhelmed and numbed. In other words, she brings the viewer to her own deep level of humanity.

RATING:   * * *


Neruda

Part fact / part fiction:  based on the life of renowned Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, the film takes place in the 1940s when Neruda (played by Luis Gnecco) is a communist senator being hunted by a detective (Gael Garcia Bernal) as communism has just become illegal.

Director Pablo Narrain approaches his film with techniques that are very much like that of a poem – very appropriate considering the title character is a poet. Such techniques include dark rooms that are lit only with sunbeams streaking through windows, outdoor shots where the camera faces the sun which makes the actors into silhouettes, film-noir music, carefully crafted camera movements, voice-over narration by the main characters – all in very brief scenes.

With the deliberate choice of style over substance (though there is much substance), “Neruda” comes off as more a director’s film than one that highlights story and performances. This limited scope ends up having a limited result for a film that might have been more. But if the choice was to turn film into poetry, Narrain must be given credit for a successful venture.

RATING:   * * *


Upcoming movie reviews:  Jackie, Hacksaw Ridge, Julieta, Nocturnal Animals, Force One, Lion, La La Land, Hidden Figures

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