THE TRUTH (La Verite, France, 2020)

July 2, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. Surely every movie lover will savor the chance to watch two of France’s screen titans go at each other as combative mother and daughter. Catherine Deneuve and Juliette Binoche don’t disappoint in this latest from writer-director Hirokazu Koreeda, who was previously Oscar nominated for SHOPLIFTERS (2018).

Ms. Deneuve stars as Fabienne Dangeville, an aging French Oscar winning actress who has recently published her memoir. To celebrate the book, her daughter Lumir (Ms. Binoche) is coming with her family for a visit. Husband Hank (Ethan Hawke) is a self-admitted second rate actor, and their daughter Charlotte (newcomer Clementine Grenier) is awfully cute and meeting her grandmother for the first time. Lumir is a scriptwriter, and harbors less-than-favorable childhood memories of dear old mom.

The personalities of mother and daughter are pretty easy to ascertain. Fabienne admits “I’d rather be a bad mother, a bad friend, and a good actress.” She’s a petty and sometimes nasty woman, who’s quite self-aware. Lumir is the type that has critiqued her mother’s memoir with post-it notes throughout, and calls her out on the false claims of being a doting mother. Most of the movie deals with memories, honesty, and family relationships. It’s not just Lumir who is bothered by book. Fabienne’s long time handler Luc (French screen veteran Alain Libolt) reacts strongly to being omitted entirely, as if he never existed.

Fabienne waves off the criticisms by claiming she’s an actress, so the naked truth is not expected … whereas interesting stories are.  The film opens with Fabienne being interviewed by a journalist (Laurent Capelutto, “Black Spot”), and between this interview and what we learn of the memoir, we can’t help but chuckle at some of the real life similarities. First, Ms. Deneuve’s real middle name is Fabienne, and there are teases of her multiple lovers and “almost” movie with Alfred Hitchcock.

A large portion of the film is spent on the film-within-the-film that Fabienne is working on. It’s a science-fiction film (from a short story written by Ken Liu) that focuses on an unusual and difficult mother-daughter relationship. Lumir spots the obvious symmetry, but we are never really sure if Fabienne does, as she’s so busy firing barbs at the lead actress played by rising star Manon Lenoir (the first feature for Manon Clavel). For the elder Fabienne, acting has always been about being a star, so she struggles seeing the younger actress take a role she herself would have embodied 50 years prior.

Other supporting work comes from Christian Crahay as Jacques, Fabienne’s live-in cook (and more); Roger Van Hool as Pierre (man, not turtle) as Lumir’s father who is listed as deceased in the book; and Ludivine Sagnier (SWIMMING POOL, 2003) who plays a younger version of Fabienne’s character in the film-within-the-film. One key character we never actually see is Sarah, a deceased woman who was a friend and fellow actress to Fabienne, and a kind of surrogate mother to Lumir when she was a young girl. Sarah’s memory still hovers over the lives of Fabienne and Lumir, and may be at the heart of any possible reconciliation. Koreeda is a terrific director, and watching the performances here is quite entertaining. We do have the feeling that the script could have gone deeper emotionally had it not attempted to tackle so much. Additionally, many scenes felt like they were begging for more biting comedy than what was there. This is mostly played straight, which leaves Ms. Deneuve and Ms. Binoche to carry the load – a burden they handle quite capably.

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EXIT PLAN (2020)

June 11, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. Euthanasia, ‘Dignity in Death’ or assisted suicide. Whatever you prefer to call it, those against the idea have likely never been in the situation where medical treatment provides no hope. Max Isaksen (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, “Game of Thrones”) is an Insurance Investigator. After his most recent scan, the doctor informs him that his brain tumor is growing and surgery is not an option. His bodily functions will slowly and mercilessly dissolve until death takes him.

Max is a non-descript kind of guy. The usually dashing Coster-Waldau is hidden behind old style wire-rimmed glasses and a mustache. He’s happily married, but can’t bring himself to tell his lovely wife Laerke (Tuva Novotny, ANNIHILATION, 2018) about the tumor or his inner thoughts. He’s frustrated that the special diet and app monitor didn’t ‘save’ him, so now he’s suffering with speech issues, headaches, and other ailments that serve as a reminder of the ultimate outcome.

While working with one of his clients, Max learns about the choice her husband made – Hotel Aurora, which promises “a beautiful ending.” It’s an enterprise that excels in secrecy and efficiency. Their sales pitch is an end to life that fulfills your fantasy. Just know that once you execute the agreement, there is no changing your mind. Instead, you are immediately given a sedative and put on a private plane where you are whisked away to the Danish-modern hotel in a remote, stunning setting. Support work is provided by Kate Ashfield (SHAUN OF THE DEAD, 2004) as the fake mother, and Jan Bijovet as Frank, the director of Aurora.

Denmark-born director Jonas Alexander Arnby and writer Rasmus Birch worked together on WHEN ANIMALS DREAM (2014) and here they explore an existential question about life and death, and whose choice it is. There is also the question of saying goodbye to loved ones and choosing the terms at the end. It’s a somber story that twists reality and dreams, and we can’t help but find some similarities to Yorgos Lanthimos’ THE LOBSTER (2015), although that one was infinitely more bizarre. There are a couple of moments of levity – such as asking for tips on tying a noose, and we do learn that Poppy Tea tastes best with lemon. Speaking of beverages, I lost count at the number of scenes featuring wine, juice, water or some other ingestible liquid. Sometimes it’s a bonding experiencing with a toast, while other times, it’s a biological need. Whatever the reason, taking a sip is somehow tied into the circle of life. As The Eagles sang in “Hotel California”, ‘you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.” Welcome to the Aurora, where we never have to ask, ‘how was your stay?’

Available on VOD June 12, 2020

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TORPEDO: U-235 (2020)

May 18, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. “Desperate times, desperate measures” is a phrase that dates back to ancient Greek physician Hippocrates (he of the Hippocratic Oath), and has been applied in many and varied situations since … war strategy being one of the most common. We hear the phrase a couple of times in the War Room during an early scene in the feature film directorial debut of writer-director Sven Huybrechts submarine movie. The term “submarine movie” is used with the utmost respect, as I’m a huge fan of the sub-genre.

Opening with a well-orchestrated attack on Nazi soldiers, we are soon in the midst of a group of resistance fighters – a rag tag bunch committed to wiping out as many Nazis as possible. In the War Room scene, this group is referred to as “The Bad Eggs”, and everyone from all sides seems to want them stopped. However, there is a problem – this group is made up of the only ones crazy enough to accept the current ‘suicide’ mission: delivering a Uranium filled submarine from the Belgian Congo to the United States, where the cargo will be used for the Manhattan Project.

The cast is excellent, led by the ongoing conflict between two outstanding and renowned leads: Belgian actor Koen De Bouw as Nazi-hater Stan, and German actor Thure Riefenstein as captured U-Boat Captain Franz Jager. Co-writers Huybrechts and Johan Horemans effectively use the dangers and claustrophobia of the submarine, and are truly expert in their pitting Stan against Jager. Stan’s beautiful (and sharpshooter) daughter Nadine (Ella-June Henrard) is also on the mission, but it’s Stan’s tragic backstory (which we see in tension-filled flashbacks) that have filled him with a lust for revenge and over-protectiveness.

Training for submarine crews typically lasts a year, and this group of misfits has only three weeks to prepare. Some of the early soundtrack reminds of the iconic Elmer Bernstein theme to THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, which comes across a bit misplaced, but that’s a minor quibble for a film that gets most everything else right – except for a too-good-to-be-true sequence near the end. Along the way, we see vivid images of the brutality and cruelty of Nazis, which helps us understand why all of these folks are so committed to the mission.

Working with a low budget, the film still manages to deliver the danger and tense situations we expect from a submarine during WWII. There is even a sub vs sub battle for some underwater action. The lineup of other worthy submarine movies over the years include: Jules Verne’s 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA (1954), THE ENEMY BELOW (1957) with Robert Mitchum, RUN SILENT, RUN DEEP (1958) with Clark Gable and Burt Lancaster, ICE STATION ZEBRA (1968)  based on the Alistair MacLean novel, the nerve-rattling DAS BOOT (1981) from Werner Herzog, THE ABYSS (1989) from James Cameron, THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER (1990) from Tom Clancy’s novel starring Sean Connery, CRIMSON TIDE (1995) pitting Denzel Washington against Gene Hackman, U-571 (2000) with the great Thomas Kretschmann, and BLACK SEA (2014) with Jude Law. And let’s not forget the 1968 classic featuring The Beatles animated, YELLOW SUBMARIINE.

This latest begins in 1941 and the final scene takes place on August 6, 1945. Huybrechts’s film could be described as a cross between INGLORIOUS BASTERDS and DAS BOOT, and it includes plenty of material for conversation on race, religion, nationality, and duty.

Available VOD beginning May 19, 2020

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OUR MOTHERS (Nuestras madres) 2020

April 30, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. Every war is ugly and devastating, and few lasted as long as the Civil War in Guatemala, which ended in 1996 after many years and many deaths. Its history tracks back to the early 1960’s, and the fighting between the government and various leftist rebel groups was violent, resulting in more than 200,000 deaths (mostly Mayan) in the 1970’s and 80’s. In his first narrative feature, writer-director Cesar Diaz chose not to examine the causes of war, but rather the fallout … the tattered lives left in its wake.

Armando Espitia stars as Ernesto, a young anthropologist at the Forensic Foundation – an institute that specializes in locating, identifying, and carefully packaging the remains of the casualties of war. It’s 2018, and the news reports we overhear call this an “historic moment”, as war criminals are brought to trial. The film opens on Ernesto as he is assembling the skeletal remains taken from a mass burial site that the Institute was recently permitted to excavate. We soon learn that Ernesto has his own personal mission – finding out what happened to his father, who is identified only as a guerilla fighter. Ernesto’s mother (Emma Dib), with whom he lives, discourages him from searching for his dad. He states ‘I need to know’, while she says ‘I don’t wish to remember.’

Director Diaz includes a gut-wrenching sequence of women in a local village. It’s almost like a series of photographs … a lineup of local woman who are victims of the war. The work of cinematographer Virginie Surdej is extraordinary in this sequence. These aren’t actors, but rather natives to the area – women whose weathered faces show the story being told by the movie. They lead Ernesto to a mass grave on private land where many of the slaughtered men and children are buried. The atrocities toward the women were often worse than death, and now they are going about living, fully aware that their loved ones never received the respect in death that is so valued.

Ernesto takes statements from the women, and is so devoted to finding his father that his social life consists of sleeping in his car and fantasizing about the local bartender. Ernesto and the women, who are the face of war, are simply looking for closure. They want dignity for the dead, and he wants to know his roots. There is much family pain and pride, and often when family secrets gets solved, the result is more pain than relief. Director Diaz was born in Guatemala and delivers a mostly quiet film that is only 78 minutes in run time, but its message rings loud and clear … the horrors of war don’t end when the war does. The film was a multi-award winner at Cannes, and justifiably so.

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THE SHARKS (Los Tiburones, Uruguay, 2020)

April 13, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. Uruguayan writer-director Lucia Garibaldi has seemingly designed her first feature film specifically for film critics at festivals (it was well received at Sundance). I can’t recall a coming-of-age film with a less-accessible lead character, nor one that displayed that awkward phase between child and adult in a harsher manner. Watch that emotional step – it’s a doozy!

First time actress Romina Betancur plays 14 year old Rosina. The opening finds her running from her angry father right into the sea. It’s at this point she spots the dorsal fin of a shark. Of course no one believes her because sharks are not known to swim around this fishing village in Uruguay. We also learn that Rosina has recently caused an eye injury to her sister Mariana (Antonela Aquistapache), and Rosina claims it was an “accident.” It becomes apparent that her actions are not always the result of wise planning.

Rosina begins working on one her father’s labor crews as the town prepares for the summer visitors. Also on the crew is Joselo (Federico Morosini), an older boy in whom Rosina shows an interest. After their unconventional “date”, Joselo bores of the youngster, while she is rendered both curious and confused. Rather than a sexual awakening, Rosina seems to experience internal prods of which she is unsure how to handle. This transition phase is shown through the perspective of an awkward 14 year old girl who seems to handle everything with a constant stone-face … the envy of any poker player.

Once Joselo’s interest level shifts to others, Rosina fights back in what apparently is her dark nature. Some could call her a psychopath, as her instincts prove ill-advised at best, and possibly even flat out dangerous. Her quiet predator similarities to the shark are obvious, even as the question of ‘shark or no shark’ cloaks the community. Life in this area is not easy. Water is scarce, and these folks have no time to wrestle with Rosina’s twisted ways. Her mother is opening a new salon, and even a pregnant dog has a role in Rosina’s revenge plan.

Uruguay’s rocky coastline and wooded forests make for a picturesque background, and Ms. Garibaldi and cinematographer German Nocella take full advantage. The many tight shots of Rosina are meant to emphasize her isolation and separation, but at times it felt like this shot was used a bit too frequently. The electronic music was often distracting, and the slow pace certainly could have worked if the character development of Rosina had allowed us to better grasp her emotions and thoughts. Instead, the film is either restrained or dull, depending on your taste … although the flashes of humor certainly help. Director Garibaldi may relate to Rosina, but we never do. We are left thinking this could have been an extraordinary short film.

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THE LIGHTEST DARKNESS (Samaya svetlaya tma, Russia, 2019)

February 12, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. In the movie world, good things rarely happen on a train. In fact, whether it’s the train whistle, the train depot, or the passenger compartment, it’s a warning to viewers that this journey is troubled. So brace yourself. This may be the first feature film for Russian writer-director Diana Galimzyanova (known for video and documentary shorts), but her visual flair and nods to cinematic history are evident and welcome.

It’s billed as the first female directed Russian noir, and it’s clear Ms. Galimzyanova offers up a tip of the cap to Alfred Hitchcock (and others) in this homage to 1940’s Film Noir. Filmed in stark black and white for dramatic effect, the film features a very interesting story structure. Events move forward for the characters on the train, but their individual backstories are revealed in reverse chronological order via flashbacks and recollections. It’s both linear and reverse linear … requiring the viewer to pay attention and keep up!

So, who are these characters? We have Ruslan, the OCD private detective played by Rashid Aitouganov. The self-described “Crime Solver” has his frustrations at being unable to solve a case playing out with him compulsively wiping his hands. Next we have arrogant and judgmental concert pianist Elina played by Marina Voytuk. Elina boasts that her face is recognizable from the marketing posters for her concerts. Lastly we meet screenwriter Arina, played by Irina Gevorgyan. Arina claims she is researching for her computer game being written from the perspective of the murderer.

What murderer you ask? Well it turns out there is a serial killer nicknamed The Fruiterer, who is responsible for 6 murders over the last 6 months – all on the same train route that our 3 characters find themselves on. The nickname stems from the fresh strawberry the killer leaves by each body. If you enjoy the armchair detective work that goes along with murder mysteries, you’ll get a real kick out of this. Processing the interaction between the characters on the train, and blending in the details we pick up from the flashbacks leaves us filtering out what matters and what doesn’t. During the flashbacks we meet an unconventional therapist name Izolda (Kolya Neukolin) who seems to have a strange power over clients. Izolda is a key character, and also entertaining are the two knockout train conductors who have quite the side gig going on this route they refer to as “murder express.”

The opening of the film shows us a suitcase being packed with instruments of destruction. As with most mysteries, each clue must be taken with a grain of salt. Strangers, suitcases, secrets and strawberries all play a part in keeping us off balance. The film works thanks to the psychological uncertainty as we attempt to assess each character and what each tidbit means. When one of the characters says, “I can’t stand to talk to grieving people. They are so self-absorbed”, we understand each of these people has their flaws, but no one jumps out as the obvious killer.

The black and white photography, harsh lighting with shadows, and story structure add elements to the suspense and the surreal tone of the film. The camera angles and shots via mirrors, as well as the disconcerting score (often harpsichord) add intrigue to the bounty of clues and fake clues. It’s a fun movie to watch and a challenge to try and solve ahead of the reveal. For fans of murder mysteries and/or Film Noir, it’s a train ride worth taking.

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CORPUS CHRISTI (Boze Cialo, 2019, Poland)

February 6, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. There are two camps of thought. You either believe people don’t change, or you believe that people can change. This feature film from Poland has been Oscar nominated for Best International Feature Film. In this film inspired by true events, director Jan Komasa and writer Mateusz Pacewicz will challenge your thoughts on people and change, as well as the role of Faith.

Twenty-year-old Daniel (a powerful and mesmerizing Bartosz Bielenia) is being paroled from the Juvenile Detention Center he’s been at since committing a violent crime. While incarcerated, Daniel has experienced a spiritual awakening, and is disappointed when Father Tomasz (Lukasz Simlat) informs him that his criminal record bars him from attending Seminary and becoming a priest. After a night of partying with his old buddies and attending to other releases not permitted at the center, Daniel eschews the provided job at a sawmill. He then stumbles into a temporary spot as a priest in a small community where the elder vicar’s (Zdzislaw Wardejn) health issues require him to take some time off.

Wearing a stolen priest collar, Daniel studies feverishly in order to lead mass and hear confessions. He falls back on what he has seen and heard from Father Tomasz, and even assumes that name for identity. Daniel has stepped into a community that is still reeling from a tragic car accident that took the lives of many locals. The widow (Barbara Kursai) of the “other” driver has been ostracized by the community, while mourners gather at the same site each day. Daniel befriends Marta (Eliza Rycembel), the sister of one of the victims, and he is assisted with his duties by Marta’s mother Lidia (Aleksandra Konieczna), who is suspicious of young Daniel, and still carrying much anger towards the man (and his widow) responsible for her son’s death.

Of course we know, even if Daniel sometimes forgets, that his past will eventually catch up with him. In the meantime, his enthusiasm and sincerity and youthful wisdom win over many in the community, and start the healing process among those who didn’t think it possible. These are people desperate for guidance, and they find themselves drawn to this young man so devoted to helping. Some of the most interesting scenes include the town mayor (Leszek Lichota), who also runs the sawmill. He’s a power broker for the town, and Daniel instantly recognizes his arrogance.

What is true Faith? Has Daniel turned a new leaf or is it an act? We know violence is in his make-up, but we also see that he is actually helping folks – he’s making a difference. There is a funeral procession that is quietly affecting, and the theme of forgiveness is crucial throughout. Mr. Komasa’s terrific film has been very well received at festivals, and it is sure to inspire many deep discussions. People are drawn to those who will assume the pulpit, and though the ending is brutal and crushing, we are reminded that no feeling compares to doing good for others … it’s addictive.

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STOLEN (Japan, 2020)

February 5, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. As the film opens, we are informed that since 1977, there have been 13 confirmed cases of Japanese citizens being abducted by the North Korean government. No reason is known, and countless other “disappearances” are suspected to fall under this same crime. Writer-director Taka Tsubota’s first film could be described as a political drama, a family drama, societal commentary, or international crime mystery. While it touches on each of these, the film, at its core, is a look at the turmoil and anxiety that strikes when a family member goes missing. Importantly, it’s inspired by real life events from within Japan.

The Hiiragi family is a mess. The youngest son, Tetsuya, has gone missing – presumed abducted by the North Koreans, given the history and that no ransom has been demanded. What we witness is the fallout: how each of the family members reacts, how the media treats the story, and how society as a whole leans toward victim-shaming. The father and mother are played by Takahiro Ono and Miwako Izumi, respectively. Dad has a background as a conservative journalist, and the couple experienced some bumpy marital times a few years prior. Both of these items come back to haunt them as the media pokes and prods for a story.

Kaede (played by Mizuki) is the daughter, a hard worker who gets fired from her job due to concerns for her employer’s image. Yuichi (Yuki Kawashima) is the oldest son, and we see him obsessed with boxing. His reasons are initially unclear, but become the heart of the film’s conclusion. Of course, the media (and others) interpret his focus on boxing as indifference towards his missing younger brother, adding fuel to the fire that this is some elaborate hoax meant to attract attention to the father’s political beliefs.

Guilt, confusion, and frustration are spread throughout the family as the media and society turn against them. Their lives are picked apart – past and present – and anything that can possibly be twisted as evidence is thrown at them. Is anything more disturbing than having personal family issues on public display? It’s fascinating to see the many reactions … especially those of the individual family members. Sometimes a family only has each other, and a reminder of this can arrive in many ways – some of which are emotionally draining. Although director Tsubota’s focus is on the Japanese culture, it’s very easy to see the similarities within American society. Victim-shaming is an easy sport in which to participate … just pray the full force is not aimed at you.

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INCITEMENT (Israel, 2019)

January 30, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. Since November 4, 1995, the day that Yigal Amir shot and killed Israel Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, speculation has existed that there could have been peace in the Middle East – if only the assassination had not occurred. The film opens on the first Oslo Peace Accord in 1994. Why was there a segment of the population concerned about possible peace? They were angry at the idea of surrendering their “promised land” to Palestinians and the Chairman of the PLO, Yasser Arafat.

Writer-director Yaron Zilberman and co-writers Yair Hizmi and Ron Leshem aren’t focused on what an end to the hostilities might look like today. Instead they offer up a psychological study of Yigal Amir (played by a forceful Yehuda Nahari Halevi) and what drove him to take the fateful action that changed the course of history. The film is presented as a slow-build thriller, and it mainly takes us through Yigal’s transformation from activist to assassin … a giant and significant step.

Yigal is a Law student at Bar-Ilan, and the college campus is filled with protests and tables dispensing information on all sides. Soon enough, Yigal is seeking counsel from rabbis who seem to be on board with revenge. When someone becomes obsessed, it’s not uncommon for them to ‘hear what they want to hear.’ Yigal sees Rabin fitting into the Jewish law of “pursuer/Rodif and Informer”, and he believes himself to be guided by Talmud and rabbis. The film is not about Yigal’s glory, but rather WHY he did it.

Alternatingly charming and frightening, intelligent and foolish, Yigal organizes a rebel movement for what he sees as a coming war. To him, there is no line between religion and politics. With archival footage of Netanyahu speaking out against Rabin and the peace project, it just pushes Yigal that much closer to action. There are three women who cross paths with Yigal and have varying impacts on him. His mother convinces him he is due for greatness (again, he interprets in his own way); Nava (Daniela Kertesz) is attracted to him, but can’t come to grips with his beliefs; and Margalit (Sivan Mast), who respects Yigal and understands how to lead him deeper down his chosen path.

There is a terrific scene between Yigal and his father, where the parent is emphasizing to the son he knows he’s losing that only the hand of God should determine Rabin’s fate … not an idealistic young man. The Oslo II accord from 1995 leads Yigal to conclude that Rabin is a traitor, and that it’s God’s will for Yigal to “let him go out like a tyrant.” This is all chilling to watch, and it helps us comprehend the vicious cycle of violence that plagues the Middle East. The film was Israel’s official submission for Academy Award consideration.

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January 16, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. Daniel Alfredson directed two of the three films in the original “Millenium” trilogy by fellow Swede, the late Stieg Larsson. He handled THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE and THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNET’S NEST. Alfredson has now signed on to direct a trilogy of films based on Hakan Nesser’s “Intrigo” novellas. This is the first in the series, with “Dear Agnes” and “Samaria” coming soon (each with completely different casts).

Nesser’s stories have been adapted for the screen by Alfredson and Brigitta Bongenheim, and they face the challenge of all crime stories making the move to movies … how to create an equal level of suspense. Benno Furmann (JOYEUX NOEL, 2005) stars as David, a translator by profession who has written his first novel. We first see David on vacation with his wife Eva (Tuva Novotny, ANNIHILATION, 2018), who spoils his plans by telling him she is leaving him for her therapist. We next see him planning or imagining her death.

Flash forward three years and David has arranged a meeting with successful writer Alex Henderson (Sir Ben Kingsley, Oscar winner for GANDHI, 1982) in hopes of receiving advice on his debut novel. Their meeting takes place at Henderson’s isolated island retreat, which serves as his primary residence away from ‘people’, the lot of whom he readily admits he doesn’t much care for. Henderson agrees to let David read passages of his novel, and the ‘cat and mouse’ game is afoot.

David has been contracted to translate the final book of Austrian writer Germund Rein, who recently committed suicide (mysteriously) while at sea. As the twists and turns unfold, David begins to wonder if there is a connection between Rein and his own story. A simple cough heard while listening to a radio concert sends David on the road. He discovers a code within Rein’s manuscript, and the film bounces between the multiple stories and layers.

When David’s fiction crosses over with his own reality, it’s our job as viewers to keep up and distinguish between the two. It’s not always easy as the structure seems designed to confuse. On the other hand, some of the aforementioned twists and turns might as well have neon signs explaining what is about to happen, why it happens and how it is related to what has already happened. Because of this, the film lacks the tension suspense and conflict necessary for this type of story. Storytelling is the focus, but it’s that storytelling that is the film’s downfall. While it’s always fun to watch Kingsley tear into a role, and some of the scenery is drop-dead gorgeous, we do hope the next two chapters of Nesser’s books transfer better to the screen.

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