All posts by mostlyindies

Eugene Ashe Revisits Old Hollywood glamour in Sylvie’s Love

It’s both a shame that a movie like Sylvie’s Love had to be made now, and both a blessing and confirmation as well. In the 1950s a movie depicting Black love would have definitely raised some eyebrows. The closest the studio system got to make such a film was in 1957’s Island In the Sun, starring hot commodity (but criminally underused and underappreciated) Dorothy Dandridge in a biracial romance that barely survived the censors.

While Eugene Ashe’s movie doesn’t delve into biracial topics, it simply contents itself in depicting a story that has been told over and over since the history of movie-making with increasing amounts of gloss and sheen to add to the allure, the magic of meeting, falling in love, and losing love. At its heart, it’s a basic story of star-crossed lovers who simply met at the wrong time and whose paths have them dovetail, but never truly blend together.

When we meet Sylvie (Tessa Thompson, who smolders during every second she is on the frame and needs to break out into major stardom, not just Westworld fame), she’s a gamine with a fashionable 50’s pixie cut that perfectly frames her wide eyes drenched in the expression of the young. She works at her father’s record store, but we infer that she longs for more than just her immediate reality by the way she gushes over I Love Lucy episodes. In essence, Ashe has created a Black counterpoint to the type of beauty Audrey Hepburn encapsulated — a lovely work of art just aching for a moment under the camera lights, dressed in Valentino or Balenciaga.

Into Sylvie’s life walks Robert (Nnamdi Asomugha), a young saxophone player who also has ambitions of being a jazz player in the vein of Coltrane (which becomes a running motif during the film). Both meet, and boy, do sparks fly, Their conversation yields more erotic tension than any sex scene. When it is over, there is a sense of incompleteness, of something left unfinished. It is frustrating, but in the best of romantic movies, this plot point is essential to keep the story edging on suspense.

It turns out that even when both Sylvie and Robert clearly belong together, they’re already separated by class and societal expectations. Sylvie has a fiancee who is in Korea, and Robert… really can’t offer her more than what he has, high hopes, and the rosy aspects of love. However, life and destiny has other plans in sight, and while they do separate, it is not before they share a moment of passion that itself generates a secret she must keep, and Ashe, a director stepping into the shoes of Jacques Demy or Douglas Sirk, makes it effortless, breathless, and bursting with repressed desire.

Ashe then diverges his characters into separate storylines, in another classic move in which we are meant to see a guy and a girl morph from idealistic young adults into their more rigid counterparts. Her story gets a little more flare than his; she makes quiet (but important) history when she lands the position of assistant to a TV producer who is Black and female. Eventually, Sylvie’s career has her rising the ranks while Robert’s flounders in a move not unsimilar to that of A Star is Born, but Ashe’s movie never loses its focus, which is to keep both Sylvie and Robert connected by a bond that will last the test of time, and hopefully, survive by the time the story begins to wrap its threads up and close.

As I said at the start, it is both a shame and confirmation that Sylvie’s Love could only be made now. To think of the possibilities of having seen a version of this movie starring Diahann Carroll (who Thompson seems to be channeling) and Sidney Poitier, just to name two actors of the time who could have carried a movie of this magnitude on their shoulders. It is criminal to look back and see that Hollywood as a movie-making money machine could not fathom anyone of color having their own story. Instead, they were reduced for the longest time to being “specialty” or playing maids and butlers and an occasional shady character in a blink-or-miss spot, such as Theresa Harris in Jacques Tourneur’s Out of the Past.

Even so, Ashe’s movie takes on a story made popular by White Hollywood to make his own version. It’s not that he succeeds; you never once see Sylvie or Robert or anyone onscreen as a symbol of African Americans under any trauma from race relations. These are fully realized characters with rich internal lives who make the wrong choices in life and still manage to pick up the pieces.

At times the story veers into the artifice of prepackaged romance. I’ve come to believe this is a deliberate move in order to capture the gloss and sheen of the types of “women’s pictures” that were made during the era. Everything has the element of a studio picture down to the smallest detail. Even a tangential rival gets thrown in for good measure and we chuckle because we get it — “She can’t compete with Tessa Thompson; look at her.”

While it may be a bit too soapy for some, this is a type of movie that does not get made anymore. The last time anyone made a picture of this type was back in 2002 when Todd Haynes made Far From Heaven. Even so, Sylvie’s Love is a must-see for anyone seeking a movie that looks and feels like The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. This is a movie with big emotions that ebb and goes with the tides of its passions, it is very old-school, even a tad clunky in some expositions, but that is its magic.

Sylvie’s Love is available on Amazon Prime. [A]

SFIFF: Censor

One of the aspects I enjoy the most from the horror genre is the manner in which it uses imagery to convey a deeper brushstroke. Prano Bailey-Bond’s movie Censor is a neat hat trick in which the director focuses on the same media she is using to tell a story about mourning. She focuses the spotlight on her heroine, Irish actress Niamh Algar, whom she then has play a movie censor who has to determine what snippets of horror movies are a bit much and need to be excised in order for the movie to be palatable. Think of her as the person or team behind ratings or standards and practices. If a scene is too gruesome, she’s onboard to command that it be edited out.

It is when Algar’s character, who by the way has the unfortunate and schoolmarmish name of Enid Baines for a reason, receives news from her own parents that her sister, who went missing years ago, has been declared dead when Censor starts to build up the dread. Enid, who already takes her job a slight too seriously, starts to have bad reactions to certain scenes, and some memories which she seems to have had repressed come to the forefront in menacing ways. Enid watches a movie sent to her and sees someone who resembles her sister down to a science (had her sister grown up, that is). Convinced that the woman, her sister, is still alive, Enid begins to find a way to get her back, and with that, her grip on reality begins to crumble.

Censor is a sharp piece of movie-making that manages to convey how a tight grip on one’s psyche can merely be an illusion. Enid, the lone person whom we can hold on to here, is a tight drum dressed in antiquated attire, her brown hair in a bun, eyes behind studious glasses. She seems to have survived something horrific from her childhood, and this job, which lands her in hot water with the public at one point, comes with the promise of escaping a dour reality and progressively delving into something darker, richer, and more exciting.

Watching Censor, I couldn’t but keep getting references to Peter Strickland’s Berberian Sound Studio — and no, this is not a cheap comparison to that film. Strickland’s movie also dealt with the act of creating a horror film and often employed visuals and sounds that were often chilling. Censor executes a similar act with the editing process, but also with sequences that reenact a traumatic moment that Enid simply has not processed correctly. I loved that the movie, shot in drab colors (except when presenting its horror movies which are lit in bright neon tones reminiscent of Giallo), progressively comes brightly lit itself. It is as though Bailey-Bond herself was using the editing process as a way to make the film itself shed its old skin and reveal the screaming horror underneath.

I also loved the slow progression of its story. There is only one jump scare during the entire film, and it arrives completely justified. I would even say that it becomes essential that Enid get that sort of visceral shock, because it shakes her out of her weird reverie. Once the violence arrives, it feels as though a can of black, emotional worms have been released. Only that this time, they come drenched in neon and a sense of complete disorientation that Bailey-Bond employs to maximum effect down to the film’s last scene.

Censor will arrive to US cinemas in June of 2021.

Grade: B+

SFIFF: Franka Potente’s Home tackles redemption in a small town

Instinct would say that you can never go home again, but when you have unfinished business, an ailing parent, and nowhere else to go, then home might be your only option. Franka Potente (the star of Run, Lola, Run) steps behind the camera to direct this heartfelt, but sometimes a tad on-the-nose drama of a convict who, released from prison for a terrible crime he committed years ago, decides to come home to start over.

Marvin (Jake McLaughlin) is a man of no resources of his own; all he has is the sheer determination to survive and hopefully make some form of amends. His mother Bernadette (Kathy Bates, as usual, excellent), isn’t too open to the idea. She’s been on her own forever and not much has changed since he walked out of her life. To add conflict, the town itself has little in the way of sympathy for Marvin — after all, the crime he committed was truly heinous and had no reason or logic. The family members of the woman he killed, led by hate-filled Russell (James Jordan) are living in arrested development, caught in the spirals of that unresolved crime, and are basically in wait for Marvin to arrive.

In the middle of this, is a young woman named Delta (Aisling Franciosi, of The Nightingale) who was a child when Marvin committed the crimes. Her story has her going nowhere fast as a small-time drug pusher barely surviving on the scraps she makes. Somehow, Potente figures out a plausible way to have Delta and Marvin somehow meet in the middle, purely by chance, and have their barely budding friendship be a harbinger of better things to come.

Jake McLaughlin and Kathy Bates in Franka Potente’s Home

Potente’s movie shows a promising director attempting to tell a story that seems to stem from the heart. While that is good for the most part, because it establishes a deep mother-son bond early on, it also saps the story from a little bit of tension. She at first sets up a potential showdown that grows and grows… but fizzles. At first, I thought, what was the purpose? and then realized that perhaps it needed to go that way to expand the story from its potential and predictable showdown, complete with Western overtones.

Potente instead veers the story towards Marvin’s rehabilitation through his encounter with Delta and his friendship with Jayden (Lil Rel Howery), a man who takes care of Bernadette. We see the movie go into Marvin’s character development in which he comes out of his shell and finally seems to be the man he should have, far removed from his old, more violent persona. McLaughlin manages to convey Marvin’s transformation through his soulful eyes and vulnerable body language — he doesn’t even attempt to defend himself in a crucial early scene.

Home isn’t perfect, though. One of its blunders is not knowing what to do with Wade (Derek Richardson). Wade is the one who knows Marvin the best and might be considered his ride-or-die friend. The problem is, Potente keeps him in the film for much longer than she needs to, and that in essence, slows the movie down to a crawl. One scene would have been more than enough to inform us that yes, these two have a deep bond, and as broken as they both are, they can still cling to each other for support.

Its ending also resolves itself in a religious setting which probably will push the limits of belief with some viewers. It’s not that movies can’t have a slight religious overtone, but Potente’s script calls for an almost Biblical intensity to a moment where a character can finally achieve some form of resolution, and it shouldn’t have happened that way, at least, not credibly. I, for one, was not too moved by this sequence. It just seemed to belong in one of these religious movies that are tailor-made for Christians and star Christian actors. However, this is the movie that Potente wished to release, and there it is, imperfections and all.

Home is awaiting distribution, so it has no release date yet.

Grade: C+

SFIFF: An investigator gets drawn into a mysterious death and unearths demons from his own past in “The Dry”

It’s been a minute since Eric Bana made a movie (that was a success on this side of the globe). You can imagine my surprise when he teamed up with Robert Connolly, a fellow Australian (whose work has never been officially released here except in a few film festivals), for a movie version of Jane Harper’s novel The Dry, set to premiere in the US on May 21st. via IFC theaters.

Every small town has its secrets and the town of Kiewarra is teeming with them. An act of shocking violence that leaves an entire family except for its infant daughter dead opens the story. The (now deceased) father is a former childhood friend of Aaron Falk, a detective who grew up in Kiewarra and has returned upon being summoned by the friend’s parents to clear their son’s name. However, Falk has another connection to Kiewarra that is much darker and lingers on throughout the entire film like a festering wound waiting to release its noxious contents.

For the most part, The Dry is a solid procedural with Bana at the helm, accompanied by Keir O’Donnell as the police officer also assigned to the case. There are moments of genuine suspense and a plausible red herring that somehow doesn’t quite pan out in the way it should, but the flashbacks to when Falk was a teenager are on-spot, filled with dread. A tad bit of ambiance and mood could have helped give this incursion into Gothic a sense of land gone tainted and lives gone to waste. The movie’s flashback sequences, while informative, pop up a bit much and rob the movie of its more disturbing nature of the perpetuation of evil that can pop up in any form. It makes me think that a bit less would have helped more.

Even so, Connolly keeps the movie going, never pausing too much except when the story itself needs to. The Dry might not have a chase sequence typical of American thrillers and is probably a closer portrayal of how an actual procedural works, which keeps it grounded. However, it is compelling, polished, anchored by solid performances all around. Also, and this is not a spoiler, it does have a killer double denouement that has to be seen — they’re both that good. [C+]

SIFF: Bebia, à mon seul desir

I hate to say it, but I left the most confounding movie from the entire film festival for last even though this was one of the first. I was able to see this one in pieces, pausing, resuming if at all to grasp its significance and digest its symbolic imagery, and while at times the film alienated me in more ways I’d like to admit, I felt in whole that I had seen an extremely personal, but somewhat self-indulgent film about death and linking your ancestors to their final resting place.

The movie itself, with its strange title Bebia, a mon seul desir, is mystifying. A teenage runway model named Ariadne (Anushka Andronikashvili) learns that her grandmother has passed on and must return home for the wake and burial. Once she arrives, the disconnect is clear. A family friend, Temo (Alexander Glurjidze), picks her up and escorts her home, but instead of there being any emotional greetings yielding to sympathetic exchanges, the two remain stiff and separated from each other.

When Ariadna arrives home her alienation is made deeper by the appearance of her forbidding and perpetually angry mother (Anastasia Chanturaia) who has little time for affection but spends her onscreen time lashing out. We wonder what may have transpired between her and Ariadna to engender such barely repressed hostility. The movie doesn’t go there, but instead, lets it fester, untreated, which in a way is satisfying. Not all loose ends have to be tied, so to leave this part of family dynamics up in the air is a good move.

When the time of mourning arrives Ariadna becomes confronted with tradition and it makes her laugh before she cries. Female mourners sit next to Arifdna and begin to wail painfully, their voices going louder and louder until the priest has to tell them to stop. It’s only then when Ariadne’s composure, which began complete with an eye-roll and a nervous chuckle collapses. It is her only moment of emotion.

Ariadna learns that tradition has it that she has to take a ball of yarn and walk from the house to the place where her grandmother died in order to link her soul with her grave. Ariadna then starts the trek over an open expanse of land with Temo beside her. Here is where the movie, which has worked up until now, starts to lose focus. A ritual of any kind has to open your senses to something greater than yourself even when the said ritual may seem silly or unnecessary. Ariadna’s walk through miles of land transpires without much emotional gravity. It’s so performed as though Ariadna herself was suffering from a type of disassociation by proxy. While she may be, in fact, completing a cycle of life, there is no emotional arc that plays here, no act of heroism, or even selflessness.

Director Juja Dobrachkous gives enough information that may explain the disconnect between Ariadna and her mother’s home. It may even — and I’m overreaching here — form a parallel between other stories in which a person who leaves a country finds his or herself at odds with the place of birth and its customs, now seem as borderline barbaric or plain ridiculous. Her use of inserts of the past (she claims they are not flashbacks) also confuses rather than enlighten. They don’t seem to add anything new to this elliptical tale, which is a shame because the opportunity was clearly there from the onset to make a great mediation about roots, and the loved dead.

Aside from that, Bebia, a mon seul desir is striking in black and white in a manner reminiscent of Pavel Pawlikowski’s Ida, and many shots that focus not on characters but on no specific subject, in general, come off also a bit like that film. It’s a dreamy experience that seeks neither to enlighten nor to reveal, but to let you in on a strange, symbolic labyrinth.

Bebia, a mon seul desir is also playing at the New Directors / New Films festival. It has no US release as of yet.

SIFF: A blundering biopic of Sonja Wigert in The Spy

Female spies were all over the European map in World War II, but one that you might not know of was Swedish actress Sonja Wigert. That might be because during her natural life that aspect of her career was never revealed until a quarter-century after her death in 1980. It seems appropriate, then, that the powers that be would make a movie about her life in a ways to honor her work against the Nazi regime.

It would make sense, then, that one of Norway’s biggest female stars, Ingrid Bolsø Berdal, would get pulled into Jens Jonsson’s movie, simply titled The Spy, which makes its bow at the SIFF. You might have seen Bolsø Berdal in the first two seasons of Westworld, but she was rather under-utilized in that series. In Spy, she plays Sonja Wigert, Sweden’s biggest box-office draw who gets recruited by her government to spy on the Germans, who in turn unknowingly use her to spy on the Swedes, with poor results for obvious reasons.

Jonsson’s movie could and should have been better, but instead, it falls back into familiar spy movie tropes that are so on-the-nose, so blatant, you can practically sleepwalk through the entire affair and not lose a beat. That’s not a good thing, because in a spy thriller, the need for suspense, even when its main character clearly survives the ordeal, even when you know the story well, is paramount. It just doesn’t seem as though Wigert is in any real danger, and one red herring does not exactly save the movie from its color-by-numbers development.

Adding to this, the movie never knows what period it takes place. If you are a stickler of detail as yours truly can be, you will notice that while the movie takes place in the late thirties and early forties, much of the hair and outfits seem a bit all over the place, as if the intent was to make it look of the period, but not be of the period. If we sum this to Bolsø Berdal’s committed but somewhat undefined performance, we get an actress playing an actress that seems to be not sure where her alliances are. Sonja Wigert deserves a better movie.

The Spy does not have a release date as of yet.

Grade: C

SIFF: The Gentle Irony of a holy place that is anything but in The Unknown Saint

So, you’re a thief and you’ve made a killing in gold. However, as life would have it, the cops are hot on your tail. You’re in the middle of nowhere and realize you’re going to face the music. Quick reasoning, you decide to hide your stash in a way that the cops will never find it — only you, when you get out.

The problem is, that while you do your time, when you get out, and go back to claim your stash… it’s not only not there/available, but there’s a monument that’s been erected over it.

The premise of Alaa Edit Aljem could not have been more ironic if you won the lottery the very same day you also got terrible news from the doctor. A film that delves into the gently absurd, The Unknown Saint posits an unlikely situation and the ramifications stemming from it like a blessing in disguise.

Trailer

Several plot threads convene into a grand comic whole in which the Thief (Younes Bouab) finds himself returning to the scene of the crime only to find out that the place is now a place of worship and that he’s regarded as a scientist. Yes, you read that right, and that is only the tip of the iceberg. Along the way there is the Brain (Salah Bensalah), the Thief’s accomplice, continually blunders his attempts at retrieving the loot. A sexy, handsome doctor (Anas El Baz) has come to be the village’s doctor only to find out that the village has no need for him (except for entertainment), and a farmer and his son pray for rain, and get a lot more than they bargained for.

I find it refreshing that movies like these exist. I really loved how the desert, and the shrine at its center, become an all-knowing character hiding precious treasure in lieu of a miracle, but also, and in spite of the irony, a source of riches beyond the material. This is a gentle comedy in the Ealing style that initially makes you root for the Thief but, as the story progresses, you feel more empathy for the poor deluded folk who live in ignorant bliss. I especially love the universality of its story: this could have very well been a comic Western with slight magical realist overtones. As it is, The Unknown Saint is a fable with a slight moral lesson dressed in the trappings of a crime caper and a clever, empathetic Ealing comedy. [A–]

SIFF: A Political Thriller moprhs into a reflecting image about the power of peaceful protest, and a cry for “Freedom and Dignity” in THE TRANSLATOR

It is incredible when you walk into a movie that illustrates a situation happening thousands of miles away and realize that its events are much closer to the ones happening right at home, or in my case, in my own Dominican Republic, a country where I lived in for almost 20 years and who had its own shares of political violence against its resistors and who is today, trying to rebuild itself from the ashes of a dark yesterday.

Rana Kazkaf and Anaz Khalaf’s The Translator posits a stark reality for its exiled protagonist. Sami (Ziad Bakri), a Syrian exile living a life of privilege in Sydney, Australia, becomes drawn back to his country of origin when his brother Zaid goes missing following an arrest. The arrest seems to be linked to the 2000 Olympics when Sami (allegedly deliberately) mistranslated a blink or miss passage that sealed his fate. Having to see a video that shows Zaid being hauled off to an unknown fate (and potentially be disappeared as his own father was years ago when Sami was a boy) shakes Sami out of his zone and leads him into action.

Upon arriving, however, Sami has little time to breathe and becomes witness of just how dangerous the situation is. Reconnecting with his sister Karma (Yunna Marwan) is bitter; she blames his absence and that as a translator he is a hider — one who doesn’t speak his own words, when words equal the truth. Sami attempts to seek help anywhere he can, but it seems, no one can be trusted, and the more he stays, the less likely he might be able to leave.

If I had not seen the Q & A following The Translator I would have assumed this was based on actual facts. That is how sharp, how urgent, how “ripped from the headlines” Kazkaz’s and Khalaf’s movie looks. You could almost confuse it for actual news, or a risky, guerrilla-style documentary, with every shot filled with tension, its characters in a vicious struggle against oppression while those who do so loom over the narrative and give the movie a sense of inescapable doom.

The movie’s true meaning reveals itself later in the movie and it will resonate at a global level. A book containing documents of peaceful protests that get squashed by the military and the police becomes a weapon of truth — a truth we all know too well. The famous Kent State picture of Mary Ann Vecchio screaming over the body of Jeffrey Miller makes a striking cameo appearance. We then realize this is not just a “Syrian” problem but ours as well, and it reflects itself over and over into recent history when seeing how Charlottesville ended and how our own peaceful protests have been targeted for being dangerous.

The Translator has no release date in the US. If it shows up at a film festival near you please go see it. [A]

Rendezvous with French Cinema: Slalom and Summer of ’85

A teenage ski prodigy navigates sexual abuse in Chàrlene Favier’s zeitgeist drama Slalom, and François Ozon returns to his earlier oevre in Summer of ’85. Also seen at the Philadelphia and Seattle International Film Festival.

Prepare to be repulsed by Slalom. I came into it naked and unprepared for the levels of insidiousness that the character played by Jérémie Renier’s ski instructor character Fred would impose on his protege Lyz (a compelling, but sometimes maddening Noée Abita). From the word go we are drawn into Lyz’s harrowing story in which she, a skier with the potential to win big, becomes the unhealthy target of Fred’s obsessive training style which borders on the transgressive and would label him a criminal in the US (if reported). From the moment he lays his eyes on Lyz, her fate is set. Vulnerable, her isolation from her never-there mother (Muriel Combeau) makes her an easy target to mold to his standards of what he deems perfect. A predator who operates so casually on his instinct, perhaps because he’s been operating freely without any supervision, he treats Lyz like cattle, ordering her to undress in order to get her measurements. Lyz, strangely, acquiesces, perhaps because she hasn’t realized how love-starved she is. That we get to see progressive acts of transgression in which Fred eliminates the natural and logical boundaries between himself and Lyz in order to get her under his total control becomes almost unbearable to watch. This is an ugly movie to watch. It is also doubly important not to shy away from it. Too many men (and shockingly, women) in power have got away with these acts of degradation with the excuse of being a harsh teacher. Favier displays it all on camera, shot in shades of mostly chiaroscuro. We can only look and be outraged. A ferocious debut. [B+]

François Ozon has, for the better part of the past decade, been moving away from his early queer movies which were a bit lighter and experimental in tone and embracing a darker side. I think the moment that his cinema changed was in 2000 when he released Sous le sable (Under the Sand) and began to create narratives ripe with queer sensibilities but without being necessarily gay or lesbian, the exception to that trend being 8 Femmes (8 Women).

Summer of ’85 is based on the YA novel Dance on my Grave by Aidan Chambers. Summer tells the story of 16-year-old Alexis Robin (Felix Lefebvre), who’s on the verge of being arrested for being a suspect in the death of his 18-year-old friend David Gorman (Benjamin Voisin). Much of the movie transpires in extended flashback sequences as Alexis starts to tell his story which proceeds to let us in on how he met David, and what exactly happened between the two.

Much of Summer of ’85 moves rather rapidly, almost as if Ozon himself were trying to gloss over the rough pages and let us in only on the meat of the situation rather than trying to let the situation itself breathe on its own. That in many ways is fine — the chemistry between Lefebvre and Voisin practically leaps off the screen. The problem lies in that while their progressive evolution from simply friends to something more intimate is rife with suspense and erotic tension, once the inevitable happens, the movie veers into a forced situation involving a female British tourist. That in itself takes the story into unexpected terrain, and we are left with a somewhat unsatisfying coming of age with an ending so tacked on it almost looks like it could belong in another movie.

On the plus side, Summer of ’85 is a gorgeous view — from the scenery to its two young male leads who are polar opposites but fit together like a glove to a hand. Voisin resembles a young Nicolas Cage at the start of his career with his deep-set, soulful eyes and swagger. Lefebvre is more internal, and because he has the more difficult part, he has to evolve from an insecure, dependent young man to someone who could effectively be on his own and find the right guy. Ozon brings in frequent collaborators Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi and Melvin Poupaud in supporting parts — she as David’s clueless mother; he as Alexis’ teacher. [C+]

Slalom is available to stream on virtual cinema. Summer of ’85 will have its US release on June 18, 2021.

SIFF: The Heist of the Century, SanRemo, and This Town

Every so often we get movies that try to capture the magic of Sidney Lumet’s A Dog Day Afternoon but wind up looking either like artificial constructs like Now You See Me, or rehashed versions of other, better crime capers dating back to the 1950s. Ariel Winograd’s The Heist of the Century (El robo del siglo) treads a middle ground between crowd-pleasing and rehash but is mainly a solid two hours of entertainment. Its story, like Dog Day, is based on true events. On a hot summer day in 2006, a group of thieves led by Fernando Araujo (Diego Peretti)_and Luis Mario Vetetti Sellanes (Guillermo Francella, last seen in 2015’s The Clan) execute one of the greatest heists ever in Argentinean history. How they orchestrate such a massive break-in I’ll leave you to see for yourself, because it is as insane as it is audacious and often times flat-out funny. Winograd keeps the action constantly pumping with little time for contemplation and draws his pack of conspirators in enough of a sympathetical light to keep some focus on the men instead of rooting for the cops to eventually bring their shenanigans to a halt. If the story itself falters, it’s that once you realize that everyone involved will eventually meet their moment of justice, you start to forget the movie altogether. I had a hard time truly relating to the events of the film shortly afterward, which is probably due to having seen so many movies of the same kind over the years. It says something when the only movie I can recall almost scene-by-scene is Lumets, but then, Dog Day is a classic all its own. [C]

poster for SanRemo

When we meet Bruno (Sandi Pavlin), he’s trying to borrow a bike from a woman minding her own business because he is trying to get home to his dog. It doesn’t take long for us to realize that Bruno has escaped the senior-citizen home, and judging from the faces of the attendants coming in to take Bruno back, he’s done this thing before.

Later on we see him again, observing an. elegant older woman as she enjoys some exercise that ends when the sprinkler system goes off and she, instead of leaving, lets the water rain down on her as if in a blessing. Duša (Silvia Gušin) and Bruno start a tentative friendship although at times she seems a bit prickly, as if she wouldn’t remember him but does. A shared bond over a song develops, but they continue to meet over and over again for the first time.

Shades of Away from Her and The Mole Agent are all over Sanremo, and I mean that in a good way instead of looking for a cheap comparison. Sanremo establishes rather firmly that Bruno suffering from dementia and his repeated attempts at escape only make matters worse for him. He has a loving but strained relationship with his visiting daughter, who is conflicted with the sale of a house that contains so many memories. And of course, there is the presence of Duša, who gives Bruno a fleeting sense of hope.

Miroslav Mandic’s movie is one of great compassion for its characters. While we get that they have to be treated with a somewhat firm hand by the staff members of the home, it never deviates into potential cruelty. The look of the movie is desaturated, with dense fog opening the story. The fog may be an on-the-nose symbol of the state of Bruno’s mind, but an increased clarity in scenes and a gorgeous but somewhat surrealistic finale indicate that Bruno may have reached a sense of closure, even when his character winds up in a rather odd place. [B]

Arriving from New Zealand is a mockumentary in the style of Taika Waititi and Christopher Guest movies called This Town. Written and directed by David White, This Town tells the story of Sean (White again), a young man wanting to find true love and settle down. It’s just that he’s got a little bit of baggage which might be a deal-breaker. Several years ago he was not found guilty of slaughtering his entire family; however, just because a judge ruled in favor, it still doesn’t clear you of the crime. Or so Pam (Robyn Malcolm) thinks. She’s the former sheriff hot on his trail who’s turned her entire house into a network of clues and news clippings and recordings on 8-track in a last-ditch effort to nab Sean for good.

While Pam slowly manages to tie up the knots on her boundary-pushing investigation, Sean finds love with Casey (Alice Connolly). However, the town doesn’t do much to stand in between Sean and his rebuilding his life. This somewhat amounts to a bit of a problem in a movie that is often funny but not laugh-out-loud hilarious. Midway through, the movie loses a bit of steam and it seems as though perhaps it might be stretching itself a bit thin in order to meet a runtime. Even the comedic presence of Rima te Wiata — always welcome — feels a bit misguided and forced. By the end, once the end credits roll, I was having a bit of a time remembering White’s movie mainly because after a strong beginning it just didn’t know where to take itself and kept relying on too much of Malcolm to keep the conflict up. That in itself makes me rate This Town a C.