A FANTASTIC WOMAN (Una Majur Fantastica, 2017)

February 24, 2018

 Greetings again from the darkness. A few years ago, Chilean filmmaker Sebastian Lelio and his co-writer Gonzalo Maza delivered a terrific little indie entitled GLORIA (starring Paulina Garcia). It told the story of a single woman in her late 50’s navigating a society not designed to provide happiness for her. This time out Mr. Lelio and Mr. Maza collaborate on the story of another interesting woman, in what could easily be described as a companion piece to their previous film.

Trans actress Daniela Vega stars as Marina, a waitress who moonlights as a singer. The film begins quietly with Orlando (Francisco Reyes), a distinguished gentleman enjoying an afternoon spa treatment, before heading over to catch Marina’s singing act. See, Orlando and the much younger Marina are a couple. Their connection is obvious as they spend an evening dining, dancing, and heading to bed. Tragically, Orlando suffers an aneurysm and Marina rushes him to the hospital. When he dies, she is subjected to questioning, accusations, and a true lack of respect by most everyone – doctors, nurses, police, and Orlando’s family.

Marina is questioned by a sex crimes detective (Amparo Noguera) about her relationship with Orlando and whether she was paid or abused. The implication being that she was likely a prostitute. Orlando’s brother Gabo (Luis Gnecco), son Bruno (Nicolas Saavedra) and even ex-wife Sonia (Aline Kuppenheim) have reactions that range from passive-aggressive to threatening towards Marina and forbid her from attending the wake and funeral, and won’t even let her take the pet dog.

Cinematographer Benjamin Echazzarreta uses effectively uses light and color, and quite often has Marina front and center – either head-on or from behind. Marina’s visions and dream-like sequences allow us to understand how the stress of the situation is affecting her, and just how much she misses Orlando. She displays much inner-strength and dignity in the face of hatred and disgust … even while being treated as a criminal and/or victim – really anything except the partner she was.

The film has been nominated for the Best Foreign Language Oscar, and it’s easy to see why. Beautifully photographed with a knockout lead performance from Daniela Vega, the story emphasizes how we so often strive for “normal” that we lose our empathy and humanity in how we treat others. Music is put to good use – even the quite obvious use of Aretha Franklin singing “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman”, and there is even a clever use of a McGuffin (a locker key). This well-made film with a powerful message is a reminder to ‘keep on keeping on’.

watch the trailer:

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NERUDA (Chile, 2016)

January 19, 2017

neruda Greetings again from the darkness. There is little offered by the history of the country of Chile that would lead you to believe that some laughs, giggles and chuckles are in store if you watch director Pablo Larrain’s film about Pablo Neruda. But that’s exactly what happens as we watch a police inspector hunt down the Nobel Prize winning Chilean poet and Senator. While you would probably not describe it as an outright comedy, it’s a serio-comedy that will educate (a little) and entertain (a lot).

The opening scene takes place in the men’s room as a most serious Senate debate has flowed into an inappropriate locale. Apparently there is no relief during this time of relieving. It’s here that Neruda’s spoken words are as important as those he writes, and those spoken words lead directly to his need to go on the run. The poet/senator and his artist wife Delia del Carril become fugitives in their own country, and most of the film has them negotiating the Chilean underground.

Set in 1948, three years after the end of WWII, a fascinating game of cat and mouse between hunter and hunted evolves. Director Larrain and writer Guillermo Calderon employ a generously creative license, and play quite fast and loose with facts resulting in a delightfully complex quasi-detective story.

Luis Gnecco plays Pablo Neruda, and actually looks very much like the Chilean icon who was influential, but also a bit prickly and burdened with his own sense of entitlement. Gael Garcia Bernal plays Inspector Peluchonneau, who is charged by the President to hunt down and capture the now enemy of the state. It’s a wild chase that involves up to 300 policemen in support of the Inspector who romanticizes the chase. The filmmakers have more fun with traditional story structure as the Inspector’s internal dialogue questions whether he is the lead character … an idea that would never be considered by the man he is chasing.

The film has a retro look and feel, and borders on farcical at times – the shots inside a moving car appear right out of the old 1940’s detective movies. But the harsh realities of the times are never far removed. It could be a Picasso speech or a concentration camp director named Pinochet (soon to play a more important role in Chile). Neither the Inspector nor the fugitive make for a trustworthy narrator, but their different perspectives constantly provide us with more bits to consider.

Luis Gnecco, Gael Garcia Bernal and Mercedes Moran (as Delia del Carril) are all excellent in their roles, and the use of music is spot on … especially the score from Federico Justid (whose work I noted in Magallanes and The Secret in Their Eyes). Director Larrain also released the high profile Jackie (with Natalie Portman) over the holidays, and deserves to be discussed as one of the more creative filmmakers working today. It’s pretty tough to name another contemporary film that blends an oddball inspector, a tough woman losing touch, and a narcissistic fugitive – all with bases in reality, while never settling for something as mundane as the truth.

watch the trailer: