Tag Archives: lesbian

The Perplexing Love Affair of vita & virginia

VITA & VIRGINIA. Country: Ireland – UK. Director: Chanya Button. Screenwriter: Eileen Atkins, based on letters between Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West. Cast: Elizabeth Debicki, Gemma Arterton, Isabella Rossellini. Language: English. Release Date: August 23, 2019. Runtime: 110 minutes. Venue: Quad Cinema.

Movie:

I’m sitting here s bit at a loss of words. While I love the topic of movies based on the somewhat libertine writers from the beginning of the last century — who today would not be a bit out of place between swingers and pansexuals — the somewhat stilted while gorgeous looking (and badly titled) Vita & Virginia arrives a bit dead in the water. Sure, it has an elegant look that is equal parts Merchant-Ivory at their gayest (think Maurice) and equal parts anything you would see come Massterpiece Theatre. The problem is, that the movie is being marketed as the “fascinating love story between socialite and popular author Vita Sackville-West and the now celebrated Virginia Woolf”.

Reader, I am going to say that Vita & Virginia is not anything vaguely fascinating, or sexy, or sensual, certainly not even tawdry. I would have tolerated tawdry, sordid, if in fact these two women had had such a relationship. [They did not.] I’m a bit… disappointed that Eileen Atkins would take the letters of both Sackville-West and Woolf and use this as the sole basis for the entire movie. In this approach, Atkins’ script turns the love affair between the women into a series of awkward meets where the extroverted and assertive Vita (played boldly by Gemma Arterton), upon seeing the alluring but distant Virginia at a party, decides she has to have her. Her husband, Henry Nicolson (Rupert Henry-Jones), also bisexual (although it’s not central to the plot or real life events), warns, “She’s rather hard work,” He’s not wrong.

Virginia Woolf as played by Elizabeth Debicki comes across as a woman that is so withdrawn she could be mistaken for her own shadow. Perhaps the real Virginia Woolf was in fact, this introverted — she certainly had some psychological damage done to her as a child, which informed her of her own adult experiences and was also bipolar. When we see her, we truly wonder what it was that would have attracted the likes of someone as sophisticated as Vita to someone diametrically different to her as Virginia. And nowhere does the movie or the script delve into the aspects of this on again off again love affair that eventually morphed into a lifelong friendship that pushed both women to create the best of their literary work.

This is a shame; I would have wanted to see more bonding, more density, more gravity to the friendship and the love between both women. As it is, the movie prefers to remain in a watery stance, lovely to look at, at times a bit staid, narrating a love affair through tight closeups of eyes and lips, peppered in a weird electronic soundtrack completely inappropriate for this movie and where both women produced some of their strongest literary work, Even Woolf’s own Orlando gets muddled into a stiff production that really never comes alive. That would have been a novel within letters within a cinematic treat!

THE GROUND BENEATH MY FEET is caught between tWO SCHIZOPHRENIC STORYLINES THAT NEVER MEET.

Valerie Pachner, caught between her personal and professional life in Marie Kreutzer’s psychodrama The Ground Beneath my Feet. [image from The Hollywood Reporter]

THE GROUND BENEATH MY FEET. Country, Austria. Director, Marie Kreutzer. Screenwriter, Marie Kreutzer. Language, German, English. Cast: Valerie Pachner, Pia Hierzegger, Mavie Horbiger, Michelle Barthel, Marc Benjamin. Runtime, 108 minute. Venue: IFC Cinema. Mostly Indies: D

Here we have a movie that boasts a trailer that makes it look and feel like we are going to walk into a thriller filled with dread and portent. Marie Kreutzer’s The Ground Beneath my Feet announces itself as a story about a woman haunted by the almost omniscient presence of her sister who may be closer than she would like it, and points at this woman potentially losing her mind as a result. So imagine my surprise when expectations turned to disappointment when the movie failed to deliver on all accounts, settling on a tepid psychodrama so cold, so devoid of life, it may as well been stillborn.

[Image from Cinema Austriaco]

This is what pains me when I see feature films like this. I respect the intent and the artistry behind the final product because it’s clear the director has something to say. I also respect a story that seems to point at something, only to unfold into something completely unexpected. The problem I have here is simple: movies that become festival darlings and then go on to get released all over the world, and film critics who throw caution to the wind and hail praise and accolades and announce a “strong new voice” when, frankly, and maybe I’m missing something, there isn’t.

The Ground Beneath My Feet is a massive disappointment at all levels. It tells the story of Lola Wegenstein (Valerie Pachner), a rising young business consultant who is so committed to her job, so stoic about her emotions, and so minimalist in her personal space she makes Diana Christensen from Network seem like an Earth mother you would gladly confide your darkest secrets to. Often framed maniacally jogging, often before dawn, or riding stationary bikes, pushing her body to the extreme, Lola is an example of the workaholic at the most extreme. Barely ever in her own apartment, she is often seen at work in hotels, her own office, and even airports, constantly discussing business with robotic zeal. The fact that we find out that she’s romantically involved with the company’s owner — her boss Elise (Mavie Horbiger) brings next to no warmth even when the couple exchange gestures of affection. Dressed in perpetual black and both looking like ice princesses, this is not a relationship borne out of love but mutual, financial interest.

The point of interest in the story occurs when Lola’s sister Conny (Pia Hirzegger) attempts suicide (off camera), and has to be committed to a mental hospital. Lola, who serves as her caregiver, continually expresses almost no affection towards her sister, and keeps this piece of information solely to herself. When Conny starts calling Lola at all times, complaining of staff mistreatment, Lola does not make this own to Elise who demands that personal affairs not intrude into the workforce.

[image from Another Gaze]

So far, so good. This I could completely understand and buy into. However, for some unexplained reason, Marie Kreutzer veers the story into some strange territory. For almost the entire first half we are slowly and inexorably drawn into a feeling of uncertainty, where nothing seems to be what it is. Lola gets informed that her sister cannot be calling anyone as she doesn’t even have access to any phones. However, the calls continue, and in one scene, Conny appears to have followed Lola all the way to Rostock. In another sequence, an elevator malfunctions (in a more restrained fashion than the insane elevator sequence from Neil Jordan’s Greta). She spies Elise doing research on schizophrenia on her laptop upon learning her family secret (and getting bumped off a project). Lola has a confrontation with a homeless woman who accosts her at the airport and raises her own paranoia. At another point, Lola gets informed that she is supposed to be at a meeting, and had completely forgotten about what day it was.

What is happening here? Is Lola living a parallel life? Could this woman, who keeps everything bottled and under control, be on the verge of losing it? Could madness, then, be inherited? Will her sister’s illness, now that it’s been discovered, be the cause of her failure as a power exec?

Marie Kreutzer answers none of these questions since this thread gets dropped midway and the movie then turns into a more straightforward drama of a woman attempting to micromanage every aspect of her life and succeed at all costs while her sister collapses, mostly off-screen. In return from the initial suspense we get a half-baked story of sexual politics at work in which one colleague comes onto Lola at dinner (which could be in her head), and another exposes himself to “show her who’s in charge). Meetings with Conny become more typical of estranged sisters, and seem a bit repetitive and bring none of the pregnant tension from the movie’s promising start. It’s as if the movie had forgotten where to go, and decided to turn around and seek for the blandest resolution.

Most egregiously, is Lola’s own character development. For the most part she is supposed to be cold, restrained, but not inhuman. Her fears seem real, her need to succeed feel like filling the void left by her familial failure. So, when Lola encounters the same homeless woman and callously throws her a bill, what are we supposed to feel then for her? That she’s somehow better than the poor woman asking for money? It comes at odds when at a key moment, Lola faces her worst fear this is a well-crafted character study, and its inability to define itself as a psychological thriller or a psychodrama only accentuate its flaws. Because of this, The Ground Beneath my Feet comes as a colossal misfire at all angles.

SWEET SWEET LONELY GIRL

SWEET SWEET LONELY GIRL
USA
Director: A. D. Calvo
Runtime: 76 minutes
Language: English

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

What is it about fragile young women and old Victorian mansions with windows so menacing they almost look as though they have an evil intelligence that goes so well together in the makings of Gothic horror? I’ll only guess that it has to be the fact that someone less impressionable might not be as ripe for a gradual possession as someone more withdrawn and in-tune with their inner lives and what only they themselves can see, but what do I know? Ultimately, however, what haunts Adele (Erin Wilhelmi) is not the supernatural, but her own aching loneliness — she’s been sent to care for her aging aunt Dora (Sally Kellerman), a woman who’s become a complete and utter recluse, who’s left Adele a series of notes with instructions as to the management of the house and groceries written in handwriting so ornate as to seem from another time completely. Adele, none too happy with her situation, complies, not without a faint sense of “why me”.

And then she bumps into Beth (Quinn Shephard). The two girls could not be more dissimilar. While Adele is as waifish as they come, with long, golden hair parted severely in the middle and landing in exact geometric length halfway down her back, Beth is darker, more assertive, and worldly. The two take a liking to each other that seems almost too perfect to be true . . . fated, if you will. And  yet, the story moves along at its own pace, letting these two women breathe, share stories, experiences, and information that is vital to the bond that seems to be getting stronger between them. In the meantime, any attempt to reconnect with Aunt Dora goes unfulfilled–it seems as though something terrible has transpired in a time and a place before Adele was even born, yet has trickled down upon her head like an inherited crown of thorns.

But, back to the relationship between Beth and Adele. Because this is a horror movie — slow burn, creepy as all get out and with a palette completely drained of life, making even its bright 70s colors seem dusty and remote — it’s inevitable that whatever the two get into will not end well, and I really don’t want to give too much away because . . . well, you have to see it for yourself. If you get references as wide and varied as Robert Wise’s The Haunting of Hill House, Ingmar Bergman’s Persona, and made-for-television fare such as Burnt Offerings in which a house seems to turn its people into something darker, you will enjoy Sweet Sweet Lonely Girl. The three actresses are perfect in their roles — with both Shephard and Wilhelmi complementing each other to near perfection, and Kellerman making the most of her barely-there scenes. I won’t call it a masterpiece — it’s certainly not — but it’s a work that pays homage to a kind of horror that was more rising dread and what-the-fuck endings that were quite common for a time in the 60s and 70s and have since been making a slow but steady comeback with films like The Witch, The Duke of Burgundy, Darling, and The Eyes of My Mother.

Sweet Sweet Lonely Girl is currently playing at Shudder.






THE MEDDLER

The Meddler:

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

 

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She’s the friendly woman not averse to dispensing motherly advice to anyone who will listen. She’s often helping other people in need, even to the point of giving them expensive gifts that they could eventually use. She talks to anyone who will talk to her. She radiates a comfortable warmth, and yet, she’s alone. And lonely.

What a wonderful picture The Meddler is. It’s not often that I get to see a movie that will show me someone I could easily relate to, and also show me someone I could feel repulsed about, and that is what I experienced while at the Angelika. Susan Sarandon starts the movie in pure Earth-mother form as Marnie and stays there, warm, open, not a mean bone in her, a mass of smiles and open gestures, wanting the best for her daughter Lori (an equally excellent Rose Byrne) who’s trying to make it as a screenwriter in Hollywood. When the movie starts she’s apparently narrating the events of what will be the film, when in reality, she’s just leaving Lori a voice message, albeit a long, long, very long one. [I know mothers like that; I had a mother who did this to me on a regular basis. Yes, it drove me mad, but more about that later.]

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Lori, on the other hand, has just ended a relationship with her boyfriend Jason and doesn’t exactly want any kind of help from Marnie, but Marnie can’t seem to take no for an answer and is, as a matter of fact, completely oblivious to Lori’s need for independence. Another film might have made this a rather creepy picture of a clingy mother and her smothered daughter, but The Meddler is different. It presents to you, the viewer, a sense that this is what you will be witnessing — with the requisite blown-out argument somewhere near the climax of the film, something reeking of 80s sensibilities. Nope. The Meddler brings that event much closer to the start, and Marnie, while shaken, doesn’t let this get to her: she gets right back on her feet and while Lori is in New York securing a job, Marnie has her own adventures where she insinuates herself into the lives of others who see her as a blessing rather than a nuisance.

And then she meets a man (well, two, one played for laughs by Michael McKeon), a former cop who now moonlights on the set that one day she wanders into (of which she becomes a part of in a cute film within a film). Zipper, as he’s named, played by J.K. Simmons, openly flirts with her old-school style, and wait until you see how he later in a scene where he takes Marnie to his humble place and introduces her to his chickens (who have a penchant for Dolly Parton covers, go figure) expresses falling smack on his face in love for her. You would love her, too — she’s that kind of woman.

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Eventually, The Meddler manages to address that all this being nice to others is really just a ruse for Marnie to negate her own feelings, and here is where the movie starts to reveal layers that an ordinary sitcom-intensive plot would have avoided. Marnie is truly a helpful person, and wherever she goes she leaves an enormous smile on people’s faces, but she’s also lonely. She misses her husband. And she can’t seem to reach out to Lori.

This is a wonderful movie to watch and I could completely identify with it. Having lost my own mother five years ago to a heart condition, I now miss our arguments, one trying to up the other, how she would very much like Sarandon “meddle” with my life even though I would tell her, “Mom, for Christ’s sake I’m a grown man. I’m 40!” Nope–that would fall completely on deaf ears. To her, I was a kid, and I was her boy. How I miss that.

The Meddler is as gentle as it is deep and everyone has their moment to give performances that shine and shed light to others. It’s a wonderfully funny little picture that benefits from its three leads and never veers too far into sentimentalism. Sarandon has never in my eyes been better than she is here, playing the character I came to know as Mom and giving her a fully-blown personality, loving and carefree.  It’s a picture of finding love and acceptance within ourselves, finding the good within ourselves, a picture of helping others whom we encounter, and how wonderful is that when it happens?