- A FANTASTIC WOMAN
From Chile comes a little film that came out of nowhere to capture the hearts of the audience.
Transgender waitress/nightclub singer Marina Vidal (Daniela Vega) and her older boyfriend Orlando (Francisco Reyes) were planning to travel to Iguana Falls. But on her birthday, Orlando feels ill and falls down a flight of stairs. She gets him to the hospital, only for him to die from aneurism. But her struggles have only begun. The bruises Orlando received from the fall is mistaken for signs of sexual abuse, attracting the suspicion of Detective Adriana Cortes (Amparo Noguera). Orlando’s family has banned Marina from his funeral and his wake. So, begins Marina’s fight for her dignity and her right to mourn the man she loves.
We witness the indignities transgender people endure through Marina’s struggles. Marina is not only mis gendered by cops, but she’s forced to be photographed in the nude by Det. Cortes. But that’s nothing compared to the cruelties of Orlando’s family. Each family represents a different aspect of mistreatment transgender go through. Orlando’s ex-wife Sonia (Aline Kuppenheim) regards her in a passive-aggressive, banning her from the funeral. Orlando’s son Bruno (Nicolas Saavedra) is outright hostile to Marina, regarding her as a perversion. Gabo (Luis Gnecco) is the only one who’s nice to her, but you could argue he’s an enabler who only plays lip service to Marina. In one frightening scene, the most bigoted members of Orlando’s family abduct Marina.
You feel for Vidal through her struggles thanks to Vega’s powerful performance. Being a real life transgender woman, Vega brings her own struggles into her character. She also brings a presence to her character just from the way she looks at a mirror. Plus, she’s got an excellent pair of pipes.
Co-writer/director Sebastian Lelio uses powerful imagery in key moments. There are moments of enchanting fantasy, especially when Marina imagines a glittery dance number while alone in a nightclub. There are also moments of strong humanity when Marina sees the Orlando’s spirit through glass and mirrors.
A Fantastic Woman has captured the heart of many moviegoers with its powerful, resonant story.
- THE INSULT
From Lebanon comes a courtroom drama about an argument that escalates into a trial that takes the media by storm.
It all started with an argument between Tony Hannah (Adel Karam), a local Christian and Palestinian refugee Yasser Abdallah Salameh (Kamel El Basha). But as Yasser goes to apologize, Tony says something that drives Yasser to assault him. Now Yasser is on trial.
This trial soon becomes a media sensation.
I haven’t seen this movie, so I can’t really make any judgements. But I do notice similarities between this film and director Ziad Doueiri’s earlier film The Attack. His films seem to focus on the Israel/Palestine conflict through genres like political thrillers and crime dramas. At the core of his previous film was an Arab man discovering the truth about his wife. Will the Insult have a similar emotional core? I won’t know until I see it.
From Russia comes a brutal domestic drama from Andrey Zvyagintsev, the director of Oscar nominee Leviathan.
To say Zhenya (Maryana Spivak) and Boris (Aleksey Rozin) have fallen out of love would be a gross understatement. They regard each other’s existence with pure contempt. They haven’t even signed the divorce papers and they both already have another person in their lives. Caught in the middle is their son Alexey (Matvey Novikov), who finds himself ignored by his parents. After hearing one too many bitter arguments, Alexey finally runs away from home. Now the bitter couple is forced to work together to find their soul.
I haven’t seen this film, so I will have to go by director Andrey Zvyagintsev’s previous film Leviathan. The previous film was relentless in its cynicism, drawing from the Book of Job to portray the undoing of a fisherman at the hands of a corrupt mayor. He also used this story to go after Putin’s corrupt politics. He seems to apply the same cynicism and satire here.
- ON BODY AND SOUL
From Hungary comes a magical romance of two socially awkward employs connected by a dream.
This is the story of two lonely people. Endre (Geza Morcsanyi) is a middle aged financial director of a slaughterhouse who has long given up on love after losing the use of his left arm. Marina (Aleandra Borbely) is the socially awkward, unassuming new quality inspector who alienates her new co-workers with her high standards and social distance. She prefers to sit alone next to her computer than have coffee with her employees. After a police investigation forces psychological evaluation of employees, Endre and Marina find out they share the same dream of being deer in a frozen winter. Could this be a sign? Endre and Marina decide to see if they can become an item.
From the opening image of a buck and a doe grazing in a winter wonderland, writer/director Ildiko Enyedi enchants us with magic realism; a blend of realistic environments with fantastical elements. Don’t expect any heartthrobs or Hollywood dazzle in this film. What we get is a realistic world surrounded by ordinary people. But then you have the two leads dreaming they are the buck and doe I’ve mentioned and suddenly, we have hints of something magical hiding in this realistic world. Adding to the supernatural elements is a flashing light in the sky early in the film. Is there some special destiny working to bring these two together?
Destiny may have brought them together, but in the end it’s up to them to stay together. As Endre and Marina get closer, the deer of their dreams ironically drift apart. Soon, these two starts find their own obstacles between them. Endre worries about a disrespectful new employee stealing Marina behind him. Marina has the most struggle with this relationship. Its clear she has Asperger’s syndrome with lack of social skills and intricate attention to details. In one scene, she recites exact sentences Endre said to her, even remembering the 17th thing he said. Another trait of Asperger’s is an aversion to touching, which makes it difficult for Marina to sleep with Endre. But Marina practices making herself comfortable with touching in an adorable moment when she sleeps with a plushy panther.
What I wished the film had done is for it to be revealed she had Asperger’s. She was analyzed by a freaking Psychologist. That psychologist should have saw the traits. It would have added an arc with Endre learning to adapt to living with someone with Asperger’s.
You can check this movie out on Netflix.
- THE SQUARE
From Sweden comes the recent winner of Cannes’ Palme D’or; The Square.
In the X-Royal Museum, curator Christian (Claes Bang) and his team are preparing for their latest exhibition; The Square. It’s already a challenge to garner an audience these days. How do they sell an exhibit that’s basically a glowing square on the ground? But that’s not the only thing on Christian’s mind. He’s just been pickpocketed and brings his co-worker Michael (Christopher Laesso) to find the thieves. He also wants the catch the eye of American journalist Anne (Elisabeth Moss). That’s just the start of many his problems.
This film draws a lot of influence from Federico Fellini’s magnum opus La Dolce Vita. Both that film and this one centre around suit clad, promiscuous men basking in high cultured lives only to find chaos and emptiness. From interviews to his attempt to seduce Anne, Christian tries to keep his life going according to plan. But writer/director Ruben Ostlund undermines Christian’s plans with mundane interruptions. His speech gets cut off by a cell phone ringing. An interview with a renowned artist (Dominic West) gets interrupted by an audience member with Tourette’s syndrome. His date gets undermined when he has trouble remembering Anne’s name.
These are just a few of the first of many bathos that runs throughout the film. Ostlund also loves to throw wrenches at those classic tropes. You remember those classic speech moments when the hero puts aside his speech and his glasses, so he can “speak from the heart?” We see Christian practice his “speak from the heart” moment. When Christian schemes to get his wallet and phone back, you’d expect some exciting hairbrained schemed. What we get is the tedious task of mailing letters throughout a 16-floor apartment. It doesn’t help that it leads to a quarrel with a kid. But that’s nothing compared to the hilarious moment when a car chase is immediately stopped when Michael accidently scratches Christian’s car. The result is glorious absurdity.
Ostlund uses that absurdity to comment on many issues, from social media marketing to homelessness. But what stood out the most to me was when he brings up the question of boundaries. Artists are expected to push boundaries for the sake of art, but at what point do you draw the line? No scene brings this up more than in a scene of dinner/performance art. During a classy dinner, patrons are treated to performance art consisting of a man acting like a chimpanzee. It starts out as fun for the guests. But the actor is way too committed to the role, making this more uncomfortable by the minute.
Despite the absurdity, Ostlund and cinematographer Fredrik Wenzel still delivers some beautiful imagery. In an opening interview, Christian stands in front of a neon sign saying, “You Have Nothing.” The museum brings many eye-catching set pieces. And then there are the montages of homeless people that undercut the high cultured settings.
The Square is a complex satire that uses the art museum to examine the cultural elite.
Who Will Win?
The favourite for audiences will be A Fantastic Woman. It’s guaranteed to capture the audiences heart the way Brokeback Mountain did; They bring LBGTQ lives in context in a way that’s universally understood.
 Though as a museum curator, Christian arguable has a more noble business than a paparazzo.