THE BRIDE (2016, La Novia, Spain)

February 16, 2017

the-bride Greetings again from the darkness. The pitch for this movie might have come across as blending a Greek tragedy with a romance novel, and then adding a dash of revenge. Fortunately director Paula Ortiz’s vision for the Federico Garcia Lorca play “Bodas de sangre” is more poetic and lyrical than such an overview would suggest.

Love triangles are the core of many stories and movies, but it’s the opening sequence here that clues us in that the trouble has already occurred, and though it removes some of the suspense of “what”, it certainly sets the stage for an interesting “how” and “why”.

Inma Cuesta plays Novia (billed only as the titular bride) who is engaged to Asier Etxeandia (billed only as Novio, the groom). The abundance of family stress (on both sides) has little to do with the wedding plans, and more to do with Leonardo (Alex Garcia). Leonardo is more than the local hunk who is always lurking about on horseback; he’s also the third wheel who can’t let go of his desire for Novia … in spite of his young child and pregnant wife. To make things messier, Novia seems to answer his heightened desire for her with her own uncontrollable passion for him.

It’s Yin and Yang. Safe and Dangerous. The bride’s conflicted choice leads the groom’s mother (Goya winner Luisa Gavasa) to be a foreboding presence throughout, and keeps most of the village on edge. Additionally, there is an element of mysticism as Maria Alfonsa Rossa appears periodically as the figure of death – and we are never quite sure of the motivations behind her advice.

Goya winner Miguel Amoedo provides beautiful cinematography that balances between fantasy, harsh realities, and the romance of the moment. There are many intimate close-ups, as well as some stunning desert wide shots of Leonardo riding the horse. The score and soundtrack are terrific, including Soledad Velez with a haunting version of Leonard Cohen’s “Take this Waltz”.

The concept of destiny vs. choice hovers over most scenes, and the twisted family and childhood histories give the film a Shakespearian feel. Last year, the film received numerous Goya nominations (including Ms. Cuesta, Ms. Ortiz, Mr. Garcia) are resulted in the wins for Ms. Gavasa and Mr. Amoedo. It may not make the best Valentine’s Day date movie, but it is an interesting watch from the romance-tragedy-revenge-horseback genre.

watch the trailer:



May 1, 2016

Dallas International Film Festival 2016

a song for you Greetings again from the darkness. It’s difficult to believe now, but Austin City Limits was once “the little engine that could” … and now it’s the longest running music program on television. Willie Nelson played the 1974 pilot, and the rest – as they say – is history … and continues to be history in the making.

This is a show about music.” That simple quote from the film says a great deal. There is no place to hide on the small stage in the small studio with the audience right on top of you. These aren’t music videos, but rather these are the artists performing their songs live in an intimate setting (with the ever-present TV cameras).

Director Keith Maitland, who also presented his powerful documentary Tower at the festival, spends a great deal of time allowing producer Terry Lickona to reminisce and tell stories about how the show has always walked a fine line between success and the threat of cancellation … what’s also known as life in public television.

Much of the structure of the film is around the show’s 40th anniversary and the formulating of the initial class of the ACL Hall of Fame. As interesting as it is to listen to Mr. Lickona and ACL founder Bill Arhos, it’s the music that shines here. There are too many clips to name here, and certainly some of the choices speak to the age of the director, but the highlights include a soulful Townes Van Zandt in 1976, a spirited Lightnin’ Hopkins in 1979, Ray Charles (and a shot of my head in the crowd) in 1980, the infamous Stevie Ray Vaughn show in 1983, and the always smooth and debonair Leonard Cohen from 1989. There are also clips of The Pixies, Radiohead, Dolly Parton, Buddy Guy and, well, just too many to name … yet somehow not enough.

We also see Lyle Lovett’s show which was the final filming in the original Studio 6A, before ACL got a building/studio designed just for them (one a bit more fire code friendly). It’s a wonderful trip down Memory Lane for someone like me who spent many a night in the old studio, and for those of us who have so appreciated the straightforward approach to music that the TV show has maintained through the years.

a song for you2


May 21, 2015

felix Greetings again from the darkness. This movie is filled with quiet and stillness. Maybe moreso than any movie I can recall. With a backdrop of Montreal, New York and Venice, and a theme of forbidden love and self-discovery, the quiet of the actors belie the undercurrent of emotion driving the three leads.

Meira (Hadas Yaron) is a Hasidic Jew living with her husband Shulem (Luzer Twersky) and their toddler daughter within an Orthodox community where women are forbidden from listening to “outside” music, creating art, or even looking men directly in the eye. Their mission in life is to serve their husband, have lots of babies, and respect the religion. While many women in the community seem fine with their lot, Meira hides records under the sofa, draws pictures in a pocket-sized notebook, and longs for the excitement and color of the real world.

One day, by happenstance, the paths of Meira and Felix (Martin Dubreuil) cross in a neighborhood corner store. He compliments her on her drawing, as she tries to ignore him. By the time they next meet, we have witnessed the painful bedside farewell of Felix to his dying father. It’s difficult to tell which is the stronger emotion here – guilt or grief.

Soon enough Felix and Meira are finding ways to meet, but there is no crazed display of passion between the two. There is a devastating scene as Felix patiently waits while Meira musters the courage to actually look into his eyes. It’s like 50 Shades of Restraint. It turns out, for different reasons, these two lost souls share a common bond of loneliness. Meira‘s individuality and creativity are stifled by religious oppression, while Felix is coming to grips as the black sheep of a family that no longer exists. When Felix says of his father, “He hated me to death. And then he died.”, we understand it’s the missed opportunity that weighs on him more than the passing of a long-lost parent.

Music plays a vital role in how director Maxine Giroux presents the characters and the story. Wendy Rene’s “After Laughter Comes the Tears” is used beautifully, as is Leonard Cohen’s “Famous Blue Raincoat”. Heck, even a mousetrap becomes music to the desperate ears of Meira. As stated before, the film is incredibly quiet, and I challenge any movie lover to come up with a more painful argument than the one featuring Meira and Shulem whispering at each other from separate beds, or a more powerful scene with fewer spoken words than Shulem and Felix at the kitchen table. On the bright side, watching her walk around in her first ever pair of jeans is a freeing sight to behold.

Mr. Giroux presents something very real, yet outside the bounds of what cinema usually brings when forbidden love, religion, loneliness and grief are involved. Ms. Yaron delivers an astounding performance, and it’s little wonder this has been such a hit on the festival circuit.

watch the trailer: