July 14, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. Leslie Manville is one of those actors we take for granted. She’s so talented and versatile and typically “perfect” in the supporting roles she embodies. For us followers of British filmmaker Mike Leigh, we’ve been treated to numerous Manville performances over the years, but it’s likely she’s most widely recognized for her Oscar nominated performance in Paul Thomas Anderson’s PHANTOM THREAD (2017), where she played Daniel Day-Lewis’ sister and business partner with an icy efficiency that added heft to a terrific film. This time, Ms. Manville embraces the lead and delivers a turn as a Mrs. Harris that we would all welcome into our lives.

Writer-director Anthony Fabian (SKIN, 2008) co-wrote the script with Carroll Cartwright (WHAT MAISIE KNEW, 2012), Keith Thompson, and Olivia Hetreed (GIRL WITH A PEARL EARRING, 2003), and it is based on the 1958 Paul Gallico novel, “Mrs. ‘Arris goes to Paris”. There were four books in the series (leading to speculation of sequels), and Mr. Gallico also wrote “The Poseidon Adventure”, from which the 1972 disaster movie was adapted. We first meet Ada Harris (Manville) as she makes her rounds cleaning the homes of upper crest society. She rides the bus with her best friend Vi (Ellen Thomas), and occasionally meets up for an end of the day drink at the local pub, where Archie (Jason Isaacs) flirts a bit with her. Mrs. Harris has been biding her time for news of her beloved Air Force husband, MIA for 12 years. It’s a simple life she leads, but it’s one filled with optimism and hope and determination to live the right way.

The film shifts into ‘Adult Fairy Tale’ mode when one day Mrs. Harris falls hard for a couture Dior dress purchased by one of her clients. It’s a symbol of the beauty and opulence that has eluded Mrs. Harris her entire life. At that moment, she commits to saving enough money to purchase her own Dior dress … something that she has no rational use for. It’s mostly just a way for one ‘invisible’ woman to fulfill her own fantasy by experiencing a taste of dreamlike luxury … a rare pursuit of pleasure for this woman. A somewhat comical chain of events occurs in montage fashion as Mrs. Harris scrimps and saves (and gambles) her way to the monetary goal that puts the dress in play.

Once she arrives in Paris, the film becomes a fish-out-of-water story, as Mrs. Harris seemed to think she could stroll up to the House of Dior and have a dress wrapped up for the trip home. Claudine Colbert (the always great Isabelle Huppert), the gatekeeper of Dior, will have none of this … Dior is only for those who are deserving, not the riffraff. The scenes with the two women expertly highlight the personality differences. Mrs. Harris immediately begins to win people over with her nice demeanor. One of the keys is Marquis de Chassagne (Lambert Wilson), who takes a liking to her and invites her to view the new line as his guest. Another is Andre Fauvel (Lucas Bravo), the young accountant whose cutting-edge ideas are ignored by the “old school” stodgy types in charge. Lastly, there is supermodel Natasha (Alba Baptista), as the “Face of Dior”. She admires Mrs. Harris’ tenacity and kindness, which assists Natasha is discovering her true self.

Seeking to reach her own goal, Mrs. Harris ends up affecting the future of many others, as well as the future of the House of Dior. She has the kind of demeanor and spirit that draws in other people, while inspiring goodness. This is less about exposing elitism than applauding niceness. People are drawn to inherently nice people. As an adult fantasy, the film is likely to hold the most appeal for middle-aged women, and should be a perfect day at the theater for mothers and their adult kids.

Opening in theaters on July 15, 2022


5 to 7 (2015)

April 5, 2015

5 to 7 Greetings again from the darkness. Somewhere along the line, the magic of movie romance has been lost. Love stories these days tend to take either the direction of snark or sap (or whips). Ever so popular in the 1940’s and 50’s, well-written sentimentality for the big screen would best be described these days as passé’. And that’s what makes writer/director Victor Levin’s little film such a pleasure to experience.

We begin with a narrator proclaiming that some of the best writing is found on the tribute plaques attached to the benches within Central Park. Those plaques are used a few times throughout the film to drive home a particular situation or status within the story. The narrator is Brian (Anton Yelchin, Star Trek), a 24 year old struggling writer whose parents want him to give up his writing dream and head to law school.

One day, while walking through the city, Brian catches a glimpse of striking woman smoking a cigarette. He crosses the street and the two exchange some clever banter. Just like that … the story begins and their lives are forever changed.

The woman is Arielle (Berenice Marlohe, Skyfall), and she is French, older than Brian, and married … 3 things that are equally problematic according to his dad (Frank Langella), though his mom (Glenn Close) is just thrilled someone likes her boy. As the flirting escalates, Arielle proceeds to explain to Brian that she is open to seeing him daily between the hours of 5:00 pm and 7:00 pm. Familiar with French language, but unfamiliar with customs, Brian is brought up to speed on “cinq a sept” affairs – a tradition in France, where a married person’s whereabouts are not questioned during the period after work and before home.

As you might guess, the affair does wonders for Brian as he is finally experiencing the world … passion … connection. Arielle opens his eyes and mind to many things, and Brian is especially taken aback as the lines blur between family and outsiders. This leads him to meet Jane (Olivia Thirlby), who is not just a rising young editor, but also the mistress to Arielle’s husband Valery (Lambert Wilson). Yes, it’s a tangled web that’s woven.

Mr. Levin’s script is remarkable in its effectiveness at providing the awkward situations with a dose of humor; and his targets include Jews, the French, and Americans and their customs. It’s impossible not to think of the classic film The Graduate, or even Linklater’s “Before” franchise, but this one is different … it does not shy away from sentimentality, romance or emotion. The film wears its heart on its sleeve – or more aptly, the screen. We feel (good and bad) right along with the characters.

The camera only uses close-ups when it must, and instead allows the scene and the characters to breathe. There is a simple looking, but wonderful shot of Brian and Arielle walking through Central Park directly towards the camera. They are in discovery mode towards each other, and it’s fascinating to listen and watch.

Anyone who fancies themselves a writer will tip their cap to no less than eight lines that are near perfection. Being “too happy to write” is certainly a relatable emotion, but few films feature better last lines than this one … if only we could each be that one reader to which the line refers. If you are open to some heartfelt sentimental romance, then give this one a watch. If not, you’ll certainly find no shortage of reviews from caustic critics so quick to rip a film lacking in snark and sarcasm.

watch the trailer:


OF GODS AND MEN (des hommes et des dieux, FR)

March 26, 2011

 Greetings again from the darkness. This film may be tough for much of the American audience. There are long stretches with minimal dialogue and more filmed prayer than I ever recall seeing. This is based on the true story of eight Trappist Monks who are caught in the middle between some 1996 fundamentalist terrorists and the Algerian-Muslim village that the monastery serves.

The driving theme is the dilemma facing the dedicated monks … should they remain in the monastery and support the village or should they retreat and live to serve another community? The film does a terrific job of examining the strength of faith among this group who are still just human beings … men who don’t wish to die.

 The government has ordered them to leave and the military has offered to protect them. The group, led by Christian (Lambert Wilson), declines the military offer and continually discuss the idea of leaving. The wisest of the monks, Luc (Michael Lonsdale), is in failing health. He is also the doctor and can’t imagine leaving the villagers with no medical care.  Their is a tremendous exchange as one of the monks states they are like birds on a branch.  A humble villager replies that the monks are the branch and the villagers are the birds.  Good stuff.

Director Xavier Beauvois (Le petit Lieutenant) creates a fantastic scene where the Monks make their final decision to stay. Their dinner and wine event is set to the tune of the Black Swan symphony. Really something to behold as smiles and relief make their way around the table. Of course, as with most of the foreboding hymns sung throughout, we understand that their fate is decided.

 The sparseness and serenity of the monastery is offset by the inner turmoil each of the monks face. This is presented very effectively but I do think the film misses an opportunity to shed more light on the overall political struggles of the time. We are really left in the dark on these issues and it becomes a very intimate, narrow focus on these 8 men.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you can appreciate the delicate balance between faith and a human desire to live

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: watching 8 monks pray and sing hymns is a bit dry for your tastes, even if they end up taken hostage