By Anne Brodie
Oliver Hermanus’ shimmering character study Living with its cinematic beauty and equally beautiful story – and score – will pierce the hardest heart. A reworking of Akira Kurosawa’s 1952 film, Ikiru, is set in London’s financial district. Herds of men in pin-striped suits and bowlers flood the tube and sidewalks streaming to their respective buildings. Bill Nighy is Williams, a long-serving city employee in the Parks department who oversees his team. He’s a beacon of civility in the frustrating job, as little is approved for local parks upkeep given the area is recovering from post-WWII bombings. A group of women is agitating for a children’s playground but bureaucrats stymie them, preferring to tuck the file away “where it will be safe”. Williams learns he has just 6-9 months to live. He doesn’t tell his dismissive son and daughter-in-law or his co-workers. New hire Margaret (Aimee Lou Wood) and his colleagues are alarmed when their clockwork boss fails to show up. He’s gone to the coast where a compassionate young playwright befriends him, learns of his situation, and treats him to a fun-filled night out when Williams confesses he “doesn’t know how” to enjoy life. Once home he seeks out Margaret and they go on friendly outings, and he experiences a human connection after years of mourning his late wife. He returns to work a new man keen to get the children’s park underway. He’s going to start breaking rules. Hermanus’ style is extraordinary -a triumph of fresh ideas born of traditional elements and moments in the score that sound like a royal funeral dirge. And only Bill Nighy, his manner, expression, and vocal work would make this kind of impression; he’s given over to Williams with deep compassion. Don’t miss it. In theatres Jan 20.
Directors Gillian Jacobs, Gia Coppola, Boma Iluma, Ryan Heffington, Xan Cassavetes, Julian J. Acosta, Ken Jeong, and Alex Takacs shared chapters in the Roman Coppola-produced experimental film The Seven Faces of Jane. We follow Jacob’s Jane (she also stars) navigating a few days of freedom after packing her daughter off to camp. It feels episodic and the directors’ styles are sometimes jarringly different because none of them knew what the other was doing under Coppola’s instructions. Each was encouraged to stay within his or her own style, pace, tone, genre, and other concerns; they were given a premise, and a timeframe, in a game of “exquisite corpse”, created separately, without context to create a whole. Great idea, sounds like fun if the results are less than engaging. It definitely feels like a mishmash, startlingly so at times, but bound together by Jacobs’ heartfelt performance. She had an exacting job to do, to find a unifying thread to bring her character along in radically different chapters. First, Jane’s driving out of the city after dropping her daughter at school. She meets a man who ghosted her ten years earlier and wants her back, then she meets a man with whom she had a one-night stand years ago and he’s not interested in resuming it. Jane picks up a lone female hitchhiker she leaves in a dicey state at a desert gas station, meets her doppelganger and more random and diverse situations. The randomness of it actually adds to a sense of tension and fear, we worry about her driving alone, and her state of mind, as she finds a few days of freedom. It’s an unusual and bold experiment. Select theatres and TVOD.
Florian Zeller’s The Son explores the emotional fallout of divorce on a teenage boy left reeling by it. Hugh Jackman’s Peter has abandoned his wife Kate (Laura Dern) and Nicholas (Zen McGrath), for newer model Beth (Vanessa Kirby). Kate shows up at Peter’s door one day with alarming news about Nicholas. He’s in a long, dark mood and has skipped school for a month with forged notes. When asked what he did in that time, he says “nothing” or “walking” adding that “this life is getting me down”. McGrath’s expression of pain is effective even if he can’t name what’s bothering him. He asks to move in with Peter and Beth and as devastated as she is, Kate allows it. It’s OK at first but Peter misses the mark with his son, much as his distant father (Anthony Hopkins) did with him. But the pattern is set. He defends leaving Kate and Nicholas to be with the woman he loves and is surprised that his son is so profoundly hurt. He and Kate take him to a psychiatrist who recommends he be hospitalised immediately. Nicholas is outraged and betrayed a second time, but they give in and let him come home, untreated. Complicating this is the impending birth of Beth’s child and a new job that will take Peter and Beth to a new city. Tough going, and provocative but we are reminded that children go through their parents’ divorces with fewer tools to cope. Zeller brings it home clearly. In theatres Jan 20.
Ken Burns’ jaw-dropping documentary series The U.S. And The Holocaust rips the lid off the systemic evil in America that cost untold numbers of Jewish lives during WWII. Peter Coyote narrates the incredible study of the roots and open anti-Semitism taken for granted in a so-called Democracy. Presidents espoused keeping Jews out in political speeches, even though news of extreme, violent policies against Jews under Hitler and the Third Reich had reached America. It was a humanitarian, anti-immigrant crisis of epic proportions we have not discussed openly as a North American society. Eugenics, the theory that a nation should reduce reproduction in “undesirables”, like Jews, to purify its people, was practiced openly in Nazi Germany and was a popular idea in the US, openly discussed by people who would surprise you. Fascinating series that casts a dark shadow over the promise of the Statue of Liberty – “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Just breathtaking. CBC and CBC Gem
Heads up for the wonderful four-disc, 99 film (silent shorts and features) compilation in Kino Lorber’s Cinema’s First Nasty Women, from a collective of female filmmakers who scoured the globe for silent films by and starring early feminist disrupters. Its a blast, celebrating rebel women, the smashing of the patriarchy, the rejection of the kitchen, exploding things belonging to others, gender fluidity, cross-dressing, women in action films doing dangerous saints, pipe-smoking lesbians, straight women who have had it up to here. Meet dozens of incredible talents who have been suppressed in Hollywood history, from all backgrounds, Europe, America, First Nations, Black and Scandinavian. The world. These Nasty women (the name Trump have Hillary Clinton during the election campaign, were everywhere, as comediennes, filmmakers, actors, and sh*t disturbers. They lived it up and weren’t afraid to act up in a time of deep social repression and dependence on males. Do yourself a favour and get a hold of this wonderful compilation and run wild. It comes with a terrific book detailing the movement and the women.
Take a look at this, published Jan. 6 in Variety: