A Summer’s Tale (1996)
Just in time for the dog days, Eric Rohmer’s third installment of Tales of the Four Seasons has been restored and released for the first time in America. Why so long? Perhaps it fell into some cinematic crack, but the timing couldn’t be better. With July simmering around us, there’s no better antidote than this survivor of a movie. So let’s go to the beach…
But not the sun-drenched, saturated-color glamour
of the Cote d’Azur, where you pick our way toward the Mediterranean while looking around to see who’s in the water. No. This summer’s tale plays out on the lesser-known and everyday Atlantic, near La Rochelle. It’s cool, in every sense of the word. The film’s crisp, restrained palette of rocks, sun and sand, the middle-class ambiance of the beach and the pale bodies of its citizens are rendered as an alternative to the heat of the Riviera. And what a relief!
Rohmer himself is a relief, too. We have missed his adolescents talking out their problems on long walks, or over the ubiquitous red wine that lubricates their opinions. It’s always about relationships–monogamy or the thrill of the chase and the unknown–talk is life to his self-obsessed young adults. What makes Rohmer so special is his fondness for the angst that never dies, expressed with eloquence and reticence. And how, in his young, heartfelt protestations of probity are delivered so that the audience is in on the joke and the layers of denial and emotional need that frame every conversation.
A Summer’s Tale begins simply enough, with Gaspard (Melville Poupaud) arriving on the beach looking for his girlfriend Lena (Arélea Nolen) who is traveling to meet him. But she’s still in transit. Soon Gaspard is deep in conversation with Margot (Amanda Langlet), a charming waitress/graduate student, about his relationship. And–what do you know–the waitress professes friendship, and suggests he meet Solène (Gwenaëlle Simon), a friend of hers who might be just right for him while he waits.
No sooner has he begun to explore the possibilities of Solène’s “rightness,” then his capricious girlfriend shows up to tantalize–just as the waitress decides that perhaps Platonic might not be the way to go.
There are no ultimatums or slamming doors, but eventually the lovelorn soloist has become the pivot of an increasingly lively menage à quatre. It’s complicated: all sincerity and self, with incrementally elaborate deceptions necessary to maintain equilibrium. The comedy is sly, but
consistent, and just as we wonder exactly how Gaspard will extract himself from what has become an embarrassment of riches, he finds a solution. Won’t give it away, but it’s worth waiting for and drew appreciative, knowing laughter from the sophisticated crowd. Definitely the right movie for right now. Look for A Summer’s Tale and thank Big World Pictures for bringing it back.
Human Rights Watch Festival
Compared to the scale of last year’s political turmoil https://apollosgirl.wordpress.com/?s=human+rights+watch, 2014 offered a different aesthetic: small-scale, tightly focused, and intense. Often quieter. But no less affecting. One of the most powerful choices was the Sundance Audience Award-winner, The Green Prince, directed by Nadav Schirman.
It transcends the you-can’t-make-stuff-like-that-up category with a real-life journey that, against all odds, generates a deep friendship between a young Palestinian zealot and the Shin Bet officer assigned to recruit him as a double agent for Israeli intelligence. It is, in fact, a terrifying story, with implications that remain troubling long after you leave the theatre. Schirman has figured out how to enhance the essentials with a combination of archival footage (chilling) and occasional reenactments designed for maximum impact. The Green Prince pulls no punches and, given the current news from the Middle East, is a must for anyone who sustains even a scintilla of hope that coexistence is an option. Though still on the festival circuit, it will be in general release later this year. Find it! (From Music Box Films)
Private Violence (Director: Cynthia Hill) The tag line of Private Violence is “…the most dangerous place for a woman in America is her own home,” and ample evidence for the statement is offered repeatedly in this harrowing, disturbing account of the truth behind many marriages, and not just in America. Many of the victims are disadvantaged, but the pattern of violence and escalation is not confined to the 99%. One of the most shocking interludes reveals a highly respected doctor with a long history of domestic violence screaming imprecations at his wife and those who would restrain him. If that doesn’t unsettle you, the narrative thread of one woman’s terrifying attempt to find justice should forever answer the question “Why didn’t you just leave?” She eventually finds an ally with a similar history who is able to navigate the judicial labyrinth and bring the case to trial, with a verdict of guilty that will make you cheer while you weep. This is one instance where states’ rights are an almost insurmountable obstacle to a good outcome. (HBO: October, 2014)
Siddharth (Director: Richie Mehta) is narrative fiction, generated by the reality of child trafficking that forms a horrific bridge between the haves and have-nots in the Third World. Needing extra money to subsist, a father “sells” his adolescent son through a relative to work in a distant factory, rationalizing the arrangement as a necessity, but only temporary.
Due to come home for the holidays, the son never returns. With the growing fear that something has gone terribly wrong, the father sets out to cross India and reunite with his boy. He encounters realities far beyond his simple existence and is unable to find anything more than the likelihood that Siddarth has been kidnapped and forced into an unthinkable life. Siddharth (like Mehta) has both gravitas and modesty, but the understanding that Siddharth will never be found shakes the father and mother, and its understated sorrow has greater magnitude than a more sensational film could ever provide. (Zeitgeist Films: In national release.)
The Beekeeper (Der Imker) Director: Mano Khalil
Another gentle and understated story—of a Kurdish beekeeper (Ibrahim Gezer)who has been granted asylum in Switzerland. Only gradually does he reveal to his new friends the horrors that led him to flee Turkey (his entire family was killed), and find the strength to take up his old profession despite the Swiss laws—generating a hilarious sequence of the absolute and well-meaning correctness of Swiss bureucracy versus the beekeeper’s real need. The bees are his salvation, and he will pass his knowledge on to the next generation. But The Beekeeper, without a domestic distribution, will remain unseen in America.
Always a pulsing grab-bag of unexpected goodies, the current Latinbeat scores with two debuts: Casa Grande (Director: Fellipe Barbosa) is an unsparing coming-of-age story that offers one of the most arresting (and original) opening sequences in cinema history.
Forget that car on the road going endlessly toward the horizon! Casa Grande’s beginning tells you everything you need to know about one of the essential players (the father): his conflicts, goals, and the house he has acquired for his family that is a source of pride for him, and a burden for his rebellious son. It is dusk; he paddles in his Jacuzzi, cools off in his pool, dons his expensive terrycloth bathrobe and heads across the patio to his house. He switches off the music that we mistook for a background score, then methodically turns out the lights that blaze through the windows as he climbs from the entry to his bedroom. The house is comfortable and welcoming, and will turn out to be built on sand.
The economic and social issues that plague modern Brazil are navigated well and imaginatively here, without short-changing any of the human drama, or the seriousness of what lies under the surface of suburb and favella. Barbosa keeps all the complex threads in motion so we can see the fabric of society unraveling without requiring explanation. It’s what movies can do in the right hands.
And now for another understated gem that simply sneaks up on you: Natural Sciences (Director: Matías Lucchesi) and yes, another example of how to tell a story by making the camera dialogue’s equal partner. The story is simple—a young girl’s obsessive quest to find the father she has never known—and, at 77 minutes, brief. But every second counts. At its center, and its alpha/omega, is (the then) 11-year-old Paula Hertzog, co-winner of Best Actress Award at the Guadalajara Film Festival. More, Natural Sciences also won Best Film and Best Screenplay there, then went to Berlin and walked off with its Generation Kplus Grand Prix. But you know, it’s not about the statuettes and crystal plaques; it’s about what happens on the screen and how you feel about it.
The old saw about not appearing with child actors does not apply here. As spectacular as Hertzog is, and will be (the camera really, really loves her!), the ballast is shared with her co-star, Paola Barrientos, who (while never stealing a scene) manages to provide a compelling and beautifully nuanced portrait of a teacher who recognizes her pupil’s gifts and is determined to help her find herself, whatever the cost. You might call it a buddy movie, or a road movie, but it’s just a movie that will stay in your mind for a very long time. You will probably cry, too, but you will be happy.