AFTER LOVE (2016): Review by Katusha Jin

After Love, originally titled L’Economie du couple, depicts a couple that is finally reaching the end of their relationship after fifteen years of trying to build a life together. Director Joachim Lafosse partners with writers Mazarine Pingeot and Fanny Burdino, and together, they deliver a feature where the reality of the stresses and burdens of everyday life replace romance. (KIZJ: 4/5)

Review by FF2 Associate Katusha Jin

“Marie Barrault” (Bérénice Bejo) is a working mother who bears the bulk of the financial burden in her relationship with occasional help from her well-to-do mother, “Christine” (Marthe Keller). “Boris Marker” (Cédric Kahn) is a middle class architect who is out of a job and is having financial troubles. The two are parents to a pair of young twins, “Jade Marker” (Jade Soentjens) and “Margaux Marker” (Margaux Soentjens), and despite Marie’s efforts to live a life without Boris, the four of them spend most of their time living together.

Marie tries to enforce a schedule for sharing the kids, but Boris often doesn’t follow it and comes as he pleases. He refuses to move out unless he is given his fair financial share of the apartment. Marie, on the other hand, insists to her friends and her mother that she simply does not love him anymore and detests her husband’s presence. His inability to be financially stable drives her further and further away from him.

Amidst the crossfires between the Marie and Boris, Lafosse doesn't forget to incorporate the realities of parenting and how it adds weight to their already strained relationship. Even with all the arguing, the parents still have to check the kids’ homework, ensure they wash after school, and take the children to soccer practice on time. All of these daily activities show how tiring the endless responsibilities as a parent can be. Nevertheless, both parents fight over their time with the children and this becomes yet another thing they cannot agree on.

Lafosse is incredibly successful in his use of space. Even though the space of the apartment is limiting, the director and his cinematographer, Jean-François Hensgens, make sure that this does not affect their story. The two are able to seamlessly follow each character in their actions and interactions in the apartment throughout the film. The film is told almost completely from the premise of their apartment, which is a smart choice made by the writers Pingeot and Burdino as it becomes a symbol of the main constant in their life thus far. It is the place where they used to live together as a couple, the place where their children are growing up, and now it is the battleground of their spiteful conflicts. Ironically, the ownership of the apartment is also the cause of the dragged out separation process. Pingeot, Burdino, and Lafosse develop a screenplay that is able to overlap the safe environment intended for the children with the tiring and stressful place of the adults. This claustrophobic environment created by Lafosse enables both Bejo and Kahn to give true-to-life performances as a couple falling out of love.

Although the acting is of a very high quality and there are many commendable moments in this film, it isn’t without fault. The screenplay is slow at times and lacks a climax, which would be more enticing for an audience of a feature film. There is also a lot of mystery about the relationship between the two lead characters, as the writers do not go beyond explaining its current state. A lot about the history of Marie and Boris remains ambiguous. Nonetheless, the film is well acted and shot, which make it a very pleasant watch.

© Katusha Jin (8/11/17) FF2 Media

Top Photo: Bérénice Bejo as Marie Barrault.

Middle Photo: Boris with his two children, Jade and Margaux, on the living room couch.

Bottom Photo: Marie, Boris, Jade, and Margaux dancing in the living room at night.

Photo Credits: Fabrizio Maltese

Does After Love pass the Bechdel-Wallace test?

Yes.

There are multiple occasions where Marie talks to her two girls, Jade and Margaux, about homework, bathing, and soccer.

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PLANETARIUM (2016): Review by Giorgi Plys-Garzotto

Directed by Rebecca Zlotowski and starring Natalie Portman and Lily-Rose Depp, Planetarium follows two American sisters in pre-war France who make their living performing as mediums. They are hired by a French movie studio head who wants to document their abilities, and who becomes increasingly obsessed with them. (GPG: 3.5/5)

Review by FF2 Contributor Giorgi Plys-Garzotto

“Laura” (Natalie Portman) and “Kate” (Lily-Rose Depp) meet “Andre Korben” (Emmanuel Salinger) when he approaches them after they perform a seance in a Paris nightclub. Korben is the head of a failing French movie studio, and he wants to rejuvenate French cinema by including real paranormal phenomena in his studio’s films. The sisters are cast in a film about a medium falling in love with a man who hires her to contact his dead wife, but Korben also films them performing seances with different types of cameras designed to capture ghosts on film.

Korben moves Laura and Kate, who were financially struggling, into his lavish house so they can perform seances for him when they’re not on set. He also introduces them to the famous actresses and executives who he socializes with at the opulent parties he throws at his home. The sisters fit right in with Paris’ A-listers, who recognize them as rising stars. Trouble begins, though, when they discover that Korben is not just casually interested in their seances, but seemingly sexually aroused by them, and as they are entangled deeper into his social circles and the French movie business, they are unsure how to extricate themselves without losing their newfound fame and wealth.

Planetarium is an absolutely beautiful film—every set piece, every lighting scheme, and every costume are dripping with detail and nuance. The problems with Planetarium aren’t in with details, but rather, with with grand scheme of things. The real conflict of the film is elusive, and we dwell on the plot of the films Korben and the sisters are making so much that we often lose track of their lives. While this gives us some opportunity for abstract meditations, in terms of actual character development Planetarium is lacking.

The performances are great in each individual scene, but the parts don’t add up to a real whole—while some characters’ fortunes change drastically, it feels like they don’t actually learn anything or change as people. Without a clear arc in either the characters or the film itself, Planetarium feels formless and meandering. Ultimately, though, it is an engaging film with plenty to recommend it moment to moment. I, for one, don’t feel cheated out of my time by the lack of a big picture vision, because Zlotowski makes each moment pleasurable enough that the experience overall is a good one.

© Giorgi Plys-Garzotto (8/11/17) FF2 Media

Photo Credit: Les Films Velvet.

Top Photo: Laura and Kate outside Korben's lavish house.

Middle Photo: Laura on her way to set.

Bottom Photo: Laura and Kate enjoy Korben's luxuries.

Q: Does Planetarium pass the Bechdel test?

Yes!

Laura and Kate talk to each other about a lot of different things, and they speak to other named women characters as well!

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THIS TIME TOMORROW (2016): Review by Brigid Presecky

Writer-director Lina Rodriguez follows the life of a single family living in Colombia’s capital city in This Time Tomorrow (Manana a esta hora). Her straightforward direction and simplistic storytelling create a moving look at the minutiae of everyday life, but makes for an ultimately slow moving-going experience. (BKP: 4/5)

Review by Managing Editor Brigid K. Presecky

Rodriguez depicts the small victories and immeasurable tragedies of a Colombian family, “Francisco” (Francisco Zaldua), “Lena” (Maruia Shelton) and teenage “Adelaida,” played masterfully by young Laura Osma. The small family is not without its flaws - there are occasional fights and long discussions between the three main characters that indicate Adelaida’s typical teenage qualities.

All of the small details that make up family life are slowly developed as viewers observe conversations, meals and chores that make a house a home. Just when you think Adelaida and her parents live a pretty typical life, everything they hold dear comes grinding to a screeching halt. When father and daughter must face life without the glue that previously held them together, the small moments of their daily lives shift in tone from routine to a dizzying new world with a glaring hole at its center. The jarring transition from living life one way to suddenly having to carry on with a completely unexpected burden to bear is depicted in a sincere and refreshingly honest way. The obvious missing pieces that follow their loss make those earlier details even more important - the person and the “normal” that they took for granted has been turned completely upside down.

Painting a picture using small brush strokes is what makes This Time Tomorrow memorable. Though some audiences might struggle with its slow pace and long silences, the appeal will depend on a viewer’s appreciation for life’s smaller, more monotonous moments. Whether those should be part of a narrative film arc is debatable, but Rodriguez pulls it off beautifully in depicting Francisco and Adelaida’s journey.

Despite its disjointed narrative, the subtle and accurate portrayal of everyday familial life will resonate with viewers. Both parents and young adults can relate to the tug of war of holding on and letting go, something Rodriguez taps into with ease. Tragedy, too, will remind viewers of the pain we all experience in our lives at one point or another - the unexpected kind that cuts deeper and takes longer to heal. While so many feature films show a broad, typical approach to the struggles of family life and the heartbreak of loss, This Time Tomorrow hones in on the details - the small silences, the adjustments, the recognition of moments and memories taken for granted. Its gut wrenching acknowledgement of this pain makes up for its slow, uneven pace.

This small, independent film reassures audiences that what we have in common far outweighs the things that separate us. Watching a movie as a family, spending the day in the park, coming together when that’s all there is left to do. These experiences are not Colombian or American, but rather human. A message that is most welcome.

© Brigid K. Presecky (8/2/17) FF2 Media

 

Top Photo: “Francisco” (Francisco Zaldua), “Lena” (Maruia Shelton) and teenage “Adelaida” (Laura Osma)

Middle Photo: Teenage “Adelaida” (Laura Osma) and her friend  

Bottom Photo: Lena, Adelaida and Francisco together as a family

Photo Credits: Courtesy of Rayon Vert

Q: Does This Time Tomorrow pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test?

Yes!

Writer-director Lina Rodriguez follows the life of teenage “Adelaida” (Laura Osma) and her relationship with mother “Lena” (Maruia Shelton). She accurately depicts the relationship between the two = the common love/hate moments of adolescence.

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AN INCONVENIENT SEQUEL (2017): Review by Elyse Thaler

Full Title = An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power

An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power, directed by Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk, picks up where the 2006 Academy Award-winning documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, leaves off. The powerful sequel follows longtime climate activist, Al Gore, as he continues his mission to educate the world about climate change, while focusing on efforts to unite humanity through the Paris Climate Agreement of 2015. (EBT: 4.5/5)

Review by FF2 Contributor Elyse B. Thaler

 The majority of An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power centers around The Paris Climate Agreement as Al Gore works tirelessly to convince all countries to band together for positive change, especially those in the developing world. In particular, India is reluctant to dedicate their precious resources to renewable energy. Being a poor nation with so much of its population still not having access to energy on a day-to-day basis, their priority is to provide energy first, a luxury that first-world countries have had for quite some time. Without a monetarily efficient way to provide renewable energy to its population, India cannot agree to the terms of the Paris Climate Agreement.

This opposition is what drives Al Gore to travel the world, presenting his slideshow to one group at a time, explaining what global warming is, what it is doing to the Earth, and how we can stop it. Gore’s Oscar-award winning documentary, An Inconvenient Truth (2006), puts his slideshow presentation on film so that he can reach a larger audience. Though the slideshow is referenced in his latest endeavor, the sequel spends more time allowing the audience to watch lectures where Gore is empowering activist groups to spread the urgent message of global warming and inspire others to make positive change.

There are moments within the documentary that leave the viewer feeling defeated, especially if you are watching it after having also seen the original film. One such moment is when Al Gore is speaking to a group about the most controversial segment of An Inconvenient Truth, where a computer animated sequence portrays the effects of rising sea levels and the potential for the World Trade Center Memorial to flood. In 2006, people were outraged over this image, citing it as a preposterous claim. Gore revisits this idea in the sequel by showing images of the damage the 2012 storm Hurricane Sandy had on New York City, including video footage of water rushing into the very same 9/11 Memorial Center that many believed could never be flooded. Points such as this one bring out feelings of helplessness. Has humanity gone too far in their addiction to environmentally dangerous fossil fuels? Are we at the point of no return?

However, between these moments of despair, there are also moments that bring out hope. In one scene, Al Gore travels to Georgetown, Texas, to speak to the city’s mayor, Dale Ross. Ross, a larger than life Texan and Republican, is leading his city to become the first in Texas to work off of one hundred percent renewable energy. Ross is in stark contrast to other Republican politicians shown throughout the film as they dismiss the idea that climate change is real and happening.

While An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power should have ended on an uplifting note, with India finally agreeing to join the Paris Climate Agreement after months of Al Gore pleading and negotiating, unfortunately, with the United State’s regime change of our own 2016 election, the film ends with disappointment. Thus far, with Donald Trump as president, the US has taken steps backwards on the climate front. In the past few months alone, President Trump announced that the US will pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement, signaling to the world that our doors are closed on this issue. Though the clips of Trump at the end of the documentary almost feel like a punch in the gut after the rollercoaster of events the film takes the audience on, it does help amplify the urgency needed in order to fix the climate problem that humanity has created.

Therefore, An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power delivers a clear message to its viewers that the clock is ticking on global warming and the fight to save our planet. Though it is unlikely that many fervent climate change deniers will knowingly step into theaters to see this film, it still has the ability to empower those who are already believers to go from sitting idly by to taking action. Directors, Cohen and Shenk, along with Al Gore, provide a strong argument that, while not always pleasant to watch, is imperative that you do.

©Elyse Bunt Thaler  (08/01/17) FF2 Media

Top Photo: Al Gore explaining how global warming works.

Middle Photo: The aftermath of a storm in the Philippines.

Bottom Photo: Al Gore the moment India joined the Paris Climate Agreement.

Photo Credits: Jon Shenk

Q: Does An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test?

No.

Almost every scene includes Al Gore speaking to either a group of people or a specific person. At no point do two women have a conversation within the documentary.

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DETROIT (2017): Review by Jan Lisa Huttner

Kathryn Bigelow (the first woman to ever win an Oscar in the Best Director category) gives her all to capturing a critical incident from the urban race riots of the late 60s. But despite using most of her Oscar-winning team from The Hurt Locker, this time she provides more heat than light.

Set in the city of Detroit (Michigan) in 1967--when much of America still thought of it as the musical marvel Motown -- Detroit is long and brutal, but ultimately too duplicitous and confusing to carry the weight of its extraordinary historical relevance. Sad to say, this time Bigelow has let us all down. (JLH: 3.5/5)

Review by FF2 Editor-in-Chief Jan Lisa Huttner

Sometime after dark on the night of July 25, 1967, Detroit police officers, Michigan state troopers, and members of the Michigan Army National Guard thought they heard shots fired from the Algiers Motel. Since members of Detroit's African American community had already been rioting for almost 48 hours by that point, nerves were frayed and tempers were short. Heavily armed, they stormed the Algiers Motel (which was located close to where GM--General Motors--had its worldwide headquarters at that time), and by daylight three young African American men were dead.

In 1968, Pulitzer Prize-winning author John Hersey published a widely distributed book called The Algiers Motel Incident based on interviews with many of the individuals who had been in and around the Algiers Motel on this infamous night. There were several trials, but no one was ever convicted for killing Carl Cooper, Auburey Pollard, and/or Fred Temple, and after awhile, the details were lost in the sands of time.

However, in the wake of outrage over the murder of Trayvon Martin in Florida in 2013 and riots after the murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson (MO) in 2014, and the growing visibility of the Black Lives Matter movement, a fiftieth anniversary film about the Algiers Motel "incident" seemed to be an imperative. And when I learned that such a film was in development -- to be directed by Kathryn Bigelow based on a script by Mark Boal -- I cheered. Surely, if anyone could bring the highest possible cinematic skills to this essential moment in American history, it was the team who had already brought us The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty.

So it is with both sadness and confusion that I must report that Detroit misses its mark. The direction is uneven and the screenplay has huge holes. The urban riots of 1967 in general, and the Algiers Motel incident in particular, definitely deserve better.

Of course there are many positive things I could say about Detroit. I doubt it is possible for Bigelow and Boal to make a "bad" film, and by the standards of our day, this one is better than most (far better, for example, than Christopher Nolan's tedious Dunkirk which currently reigns as #1 at the box office).

But sometimes good is not good enough. In this case, with so much at stake, Detroit needed to be a great film... and Detroit is not a great film. Furthermore, the violence in Detroit is so excessive, so painfully brutal, that I doubt many people will see it. Specifically, I doubt that many women will see Detroit -- and it pains me to say I cannot urge women to see Detroit -- pains me personally precisely because I campaigned so hard for both The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty. (Read more on this below.)

With Detroit, Kathryn Bigelow has, in essence, dissed all of the women who cheered for her the night she became the first woman in history to win a Best Director Oscar. Why did it have to be this way? 

Detroit is graced with two terrific, breakout performances by John Boyega (who plays "Melvin Dismukes" (a security guard inadvertently drawn into the chaos at the Algiers Motel on the fateful night) and Algee Smith (who plays "Larry Reed" the lead singer in an up-and-coming Motown group who sees dreams vanish before his eyes on the night that was supposed to be his big break-out).

As portrayed by Boyega and Smith on screen, both Melvin Dismukes and Larry Reed feel like real people with back stories and character arcs that are credible, convincing and tremendously poignant.

But the film is stolen away from them by British actor Will Poulter, as a Detroit police officer who is so evil, toxic and venomous that it is impossible to believe that he actually existed... and, in fact, he didn't.

One of my rules as a film critic is to always enter every theatre as dumb as possible, so I am as open as I can be to the story that is being told in this particular film by these particular filmmakers. Of course, no one is a "blank slate" (especially after 65 years on Planet Earth, over 50 of which have been spent at the movies), and in my case, I had actually lived through the riots in Newark, NJ that directly preceded the riots in Detroit. (The riots in Newark lasted from July 12 to July 17. The riots in Detroit started a week later on July 23.)

But even so, I took pains not to read anything about Detroit before I went into the screening room. So while I did not know for a fact that Krauss (Will Poulter's character) was a "composite," I certainly felt it in my gut. For all his research, Mark Boal had presented Kathryn Bigelow with a cardboard villain, and instead of throwing the screenplay back at him for rewrites, Bigelow upped the ante, directing Poulter as if he were the heir apparent for Anthony Hopkin's Oscar as "Hannibal Lecter" in The Silence of the Lambs. No. No! No!! No!!!

This is so wrong for so many reasons that I cannot continue on with positive comments about Barry Ackroyd's  kinetic cinematography, Jeremy Hindle's deft production design, Paul N. J. Ottosson's extraordinary sound design, and all the other technical elements we have come to expect from a film by Kathryn Bigelow.

No, I cannot stay silent... Not even for Kathryn Bigelow... Especially not for Kathryn Bigelow. She has let all of us down -- including me -- and it hurts.

© Jan Lisa Huttner (7/27/17) FF2 Media

Top Photo: John Boyega as "Melvin Dismukes," a real security guard inadvertently drawn into the chaos at the Algiers Motel on the fateful night.

Center Photo: Will Poulter as "Krauss," a "composite character" who stands in for blind, ignorant racism and has as much "reality" as Hannibal Lecter's infamous fava beans 🙁

Bottom Photo: Algee Smith as "Larry Reed" faces an empty auditorium. Reed, the real lead singer in The Dramatics (an up-and-coming Motown group) saw his dreams vanish before his eyes on the night that was supposed to be his big break-out.

Final Photo: Kaitlyn Dever as "Karen" (foreground) and Hannah Murray as "Julie" (background) survive Krauss's brutal interrogation, but we never know who they are or why they happen to be in the Algiers Motel that night in the first place.

Photo Credits: Francois Duhamel. Courtesy of Annapurna Pictures. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Q: Does Detroit pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test? 

Yes... but barely 🙁

In 2009/2010, during the long build-up to the OscarBowl on 3/7/10, many stupid things were said about Kathryn Bigelow -- personally and professionally -- and those of us who were actively campaigning for her (Yes, Virginia: People "campaign" for Oscars just like for every other major prize.) had to keep fighting real and imaginary alligators. When March 7, 2010 finally arrived, I was so nervous that I had to stay home so I could grieve in private if need be. Really. Who knew?

One thing many people said that was not true was that Bigelow had never made any films about women that starred strong actresses in kickass roles. Anyone who had actually looked at her filmography would know for a fact that this was not true. But what was true was that The Hurt Locker itself had no significant female characters. And so, when Bigelow became the first woman to receive a Best Director Oscar, she won for a film with virtually no women in it. One could say this was "ironic," I prefer to think of it as "indicative."

But then Bigelow came roaring back with Zero Dark Thirty, a film that was all about women in kickass roles (not just Jessica Chastain but also Jennifer Ehle)... and she got swiftboated 🙁

I ended up writing three stories about all of this in HuffPo, the most laborious of which debunked the "Bigelow Endorses Torture" myth. All of this cost me weeks of effort and taught me much about cyberspace trolls (useful for putting what happened to Hillary Clinton in 2016 in context), but I gave up on HuffPo after that and never submitted another post.

Sadly, Bigelow seems to have learned her lesson too. Even though there are two very important female characters in Detroit, Bigelow abuses them shamefully by ogling their bodies on screen without ever providing coherent back stories, motivations, or character arcs. If I weren't already so angry about the fact that she implicitly elevated Will Poulter as Krauss over John Boyega as Melvin Dismukes and Algee Smith as Larry Reed, this would enrage me. But it is simply what it is = more bad judgment.

So yes, technically, Detroit passes the Bechdel-Wallace Test because Kaitlyn Dever as "Karen" and Hannah Murray as "Julie" talk to each other a little bit about stuff like money, but really? No. And let's not even ask why all of the African American women in Detroit end up on the margins of this story. The fact of it is just too painful. I must move on now before I start to cry 🙁

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FROM THE LAND OF THE MOON (2016): Review by Roza Melkumyan

Based on Milena Agus’s novel of the same name, From the Land of the Moon (Mal de pierres) tells the story of a passionate woman’s decades-long search for happiness, and the deep sorrow she endures along the way. Languidly paced, save for moments of intense passion, writer and director Nicole Garcia’s period film shines with breathtaking cinematography and compelling performances. (RMM: 4/5)

Review by FF2 Intern Roza Melkumyan

We first meet “Gabrielle Rabascal” (Marion Cotillard) in the late 50s as she accompanies her husband, “José” (Àlex Brendemühl), and their 14-year-old son, “Marc” (Victor Quilichini), to a national piano competition held in Lyon, France. On the way to the competition, however, Gabrielle recognizes the name of a street and immediately leaves the car in search of a particular address. On a resident list hanging in an apartment building she finds a name, and tears begin to form in her eyes.

The film flashes back to a small village in the south of France during WWII: a teenage Gabrielle develops an intense infatuation with her school teacher, who has lent her his copy of Wuthering Heights. Passionate and rebellious, she takes this gesture to mean that he desires her. At a communal village dinner, Gabrielle gives him an erotic letter, but he refuses her advances exclaiming that “it was just a book!” Enraged, Gabrielle shoves him and runs off.

Seeking to curb her daughter’s disobedience, her mother “Adèle” (Brigitte Roüan) decides to marry Gabrielle off to the honest, hardworking Catalan laborer José. Having recently fled his hometown in Spain due to the Spanish Civil War, José could use a fresh start. Adèle offers to set him up with his own contracting business by the sea if he will marry Gabrielle and bring her with him. Seeing the offer as his best option for financial stability, José accepts. However, upon hearing the news of her marriage, Gabrielle reminds Jose that they are strangers and asks him why he would choose to be unhappy. Understanding that her parents want to be rid of her, she ultimately agrees to the marriage on the condition that the two do not have sex. From then on, they barely speak to each other.

After the married couple settles into their new home, Gabrielle realizes that José spends part of his income on brothels. In order to save money, she agrees to have sex with him. When Gabrielle suffers a miscarriage due to kidney stones, or “stones sickness,” a doctor informs the couple that if they wish to have children, this illness must be cured. Though Gabrielle does not seem interested in a cure, José wants children and agrees to send Gabrielle to a spa in the Alps for treatment. There, Gabrielle meets “André Sauvage” (Louis Garrel), an injured veteran from Lyon who served in the Indochinese war. The two share a connection, and Gabrielle spends her days comforting André through his pain. The pair begins a passionate affair, which is cut short when the doctors tell Gabrielle she is cured and can return home to her husband. André vows that he will send for her as soon as he can, but his words are tested when Gabrielle finds herself sending him letters that go unanswered.

The actors in From the Land of the Moon succeed immensely at portraying their characters with an honesty that is deeply moving. Marion Cotillard’s brilliant performance invites the audience to feel empathy for the passionate Gabrielle. The vulnerability and sorrow reflected with such clarity in her eyes allows audiences to truly feel her pain. Àlex Brendemühl manages to make me feel Jose’s own pain, though his character speaks little and remains reserved, with subtle changes in facial expression that reveal his feelings. The cast as a whole skillfully conveys those emotions which are difficult both to endure and to witness.

Along with beautiful cinematography – the shots of the lavender fields are especially breathtaking in the sheer vastness they convey – From the Land of the Moon artfully shows the pain and desperation that exist in its characters’ longing for intimacy and love. Though she infuses her film with passion, Garcia, along with collaborator Natalie Carter, communicates the universal desire for a deeper connection and the silent heartbreak that people endure when they fail to achieve it.

© Roza M. Melkumyan (7/28/17) FF2 Media

Top Photo: Gabrielle looks towards the sea.

Middle Photo: Gabrielle and José leave the church.

Bottom Photo: Andre and Gabrielle sit together.

Photo Credits: IFC Films

Q: Does From the Land of the Moon pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test? 

Yes!

At the spa, Gabrielle and “Agostine” (Aloïse Sauvage), a maid, bond over the fact that they are from nearby villages. Agostine makes Gabrielle feel closer to home.

 

 

 

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THE LAST FACE (2016): Review by Brigid Presecky

Charlize Theron and Javier Bardem star in a love story between an activist and a physician who struggle with relief efforts in West Africa.

The Oscar winners expectedly bring the best out of writer Erin Dignam’s script (a story unanimously panned across the critical board). If viewers look beyond the criticism surrounding its famed director Sean Penn, however, The Last Face sheds light on the lives of those who actually deserve the attention. (BKP: 3/5)

Review by Managing Editor Brigid K. Presecky

International aid agency activist Wren (Theron) and relief doctor Miguel (Bardem) examine both their relationship and their relationship to the people around them as they experience the horrors and hopelessness of surrounding refugees.

They try to save the day, over and over again, with tearful eyes and outbursts of aggression. We learn more about their romantic history through happier, sunnier flashbacks that jump through unmarked time. Although unremarkable, the romance is elevated because of its portrayers, both adding depth and drama to their given dialogue. Theron, specifically, in a role burdened with a unique and unnecessary accent.

The cinematography overshadows any romance or action, though, capturing the refugee camp in Sierra Leone and the disastrous ruins in which these people live. Yet, it’s shot with bright sunrises and sunsets, making the world feel warm and picturesque despite the horrendous ongoings of its citizens. The juxtaposition of light and darkness is an odd filmmaking choice, one that negatively impacts the tone of the film.

Beneath the “beautiful” scenery is an environment full of violence, disturbing imagery and blood-soaked villages. It’s raw, it’s heartbreaking and it’s very much real. But combined with a lackluster romance and a dramatic storyline borderlining on offensive, you can understand the disconnect with general audiences.

The criticism received at Cannes Film Festival may or may not have impacted its low score on tomatometer (a ranking that should be taken lightly); but within two hours and 10 minutes of screening the drama, the percentage had plummeted to five percent fresh.

Had viewers been unaware it was directed by “celebrity” Sean Penn, fewer pitchforks would have been thrown, guaranteed. Although the film is far from perfect, the negative consensus is unfairly harsh. If bringing awareness to impoverished people is the only thing a film did right, I would say that’s enough.

© Brigid K. Presecky (7/28/17) FF2 Media

Photos: Charlize Theron and Javier Bardem in The Last Face

Photos courtesy of Saban Films.

Q: Does The Last Face pass the Bechdel-Wallace test?

No.

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RUMBLE: THE INDIANS WHO ROCKED THE WORLD (2017): Review by Giorgi Plys-Garzotto

Director Catherine Bainbridge’s Rumble is a dynamic music history lesson, giving much-needed credit to Native American traditional music for its influences on the rock and jazz that make up American culture today. It also draws much needed attention to the vicious oppression that has shaped how Native American music developed, and has kept its contributions out of the spotlight. (GPG: 4/5)

Review by FF2 Contributor Giorgi Plys-Garzotto

“Be proud you’re an indian, but be careful who you tell,” was a motto among Native American musicians trying to get popular, described by one of the interview subjects in Rumble. “[Becoming a star] just doesn’t happen for people like us,” he continues, repeating what he was repeatedly told as a child when he dreamed of making a career out of his music. Despite the fact that Native American musicians have been uncelebrated, though, they have absolutely been influential in musical development—and some have become famous, though without their roots being widely known (presumably having been careful who they told).

“Rumble,” a song almost everyone will recognize but few, including myself, know by name, is the only instrumental song that has been banned due to its potential to incite youth violence. Link Wray, a musician with Native American ancestry, wrote the song (or so the story goes) while improvising music to cover up the fact that he didn’t know to play “The Stroll,” another popular ‘50s song. The strident chord progression and use of distortion paved the way for punk—Iggy Pop and band members from the Ramones describe hearing it for the first time and being in awe.

From that jumping-off point, we get to learn about the highlights of Native American contributions to rock: Charlie Patton, a “pre-blues” musician who played guitar in a percussive manner because he had learned to play from people who weren’t allowed to own drums, and Mildred Bailey, a jazz singer who got famous at speakeasy gigs because her band members, all people of color, weren’t allowed to play more high profile venues. The most notable profile is that of Jimi Hendrix, whose distinctive guitar style, as well as his fashion, is extremely tied to his Native American roots—and finally the end of the film gives memoriam to Randy Castillo, one of the most influential heavy metal drummers of the ‘80s.

Rumble covers Native American influence on musical genres and eras as far back as slave spirituals, through Woodstock, Guns N Roses, and even up to the Black Eyed Peas. As a viewer, the throughline is clear; you can hear among your favorite Bob Dylan songs the rhythm in the traditional song that begins the film, and you leave with a much expanded appreciation for American musical tradition—as well as a greater awareness for the violence that formed that tradition.

© Giorgi Plys-Garzotto (7/27/17) FF2 Media

Top Photo: Link Wray.

Middle Photo: Buffy Sainte-Marie.

Bottom Photo: Robbie Robertson.

Photo Credit: Rezolution Pictures

Q: Does Rumble pass the Bechdel test?

Yes!

While a documentary typically doesn’t pass the Bechdel test due to the format of the genre, there are several all-women vocal groups featured in the film that are shown singing and chatting together.

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SLED DOGS (2016): Review by Georgiana Presecky

Director Fern Levitt’s 80-minute documentary Sled Dogs is an in-depth look at the dogs who run in Alaska’s annual 1,000-mile Iditarod. The men and women who oversee their breeding, training and care offer commentary and necessary explanation, but the dogs are the stars of the show and will leave viewers divided over the necessity of tradition and sport versus the well-being of the animals. (GEP: 4/5)

Review by Social Media Manager Georgiana E. Presecky

“There aren’t many places left in the world where you can see the terrain, the geography and the topography that Alaska presents,” according to the Iditarod’s chief veterinarian Dr. Stuart Nelson in the opening minutes of Sled Dogs, but he’s quick to indicate that “the dogs are the focus of it all.”

The Iditarod is an essential part of Alaskan history. Though a tourist draw and a national spectacle, residents outside of “the 49th state” are probably not aware of the dogs’ background. They are trained from as young as three months old to become exceptional athletes, and Levitt does an excellent job of informing the viewer without throwing out arbitrary facts and statistics. She shows without telling, which is likely not an easy feat when your subjects are furry four-legged friends.

From the dogs themselves and trainers (or “mushers”) to caretakers and spectators, Levitt is quick to expose the tough conditions dogs are sometimes exposed to during the off-season. According to the film's talking heads, Alaskan tourism makes it appear that the animals are well-trained and well-taken-care-of, but footage shows that it’s not always the case. The documentary does become agenda-driven in its second half, but both sides of the equation are presented in the beginning - from tough disciplinary tactics to even killing animals that can’t run, abuse is evident and unregulated at some kennels. But other mushers claim that they have a special bond with the dogs they raise, like Patrick Beall, who is clearly in awe of the ability of these animals and has created what he calls a symbiotic relationship with his “buddies.”

Though Sled Dogs focuses heavily on abuse, it's clear the race and its training has become a way of life for these animals and trainers. It's clearly not worth the sometimes-horrible mistreatment and even merciless killings of some of the animals (according to what Levitt and her Humane Society subjects expose here). Some could argue that it’s unlikely that human Olympic athletes are ever truly comfortable, but they at least make the choice to train, a point emphasized by Dr. Paula Kislak, the board president of the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association. Who speaks for these dogs? Fern Levitt does, as well as Humane Society experts and witnesses to the atrocities some of the canines face after they’ve served their “purpose” in the Iditarod - an event that has changed drastically and disturbingly over the course of time.

Sled Dogs is an informative, frustrating, fascinating documentary about an aspect of Alaskan culture that viewers in the lower 48 might not understand. It’s sometimes uneven in tone, working to show both loving mushers and appalled bystanders. This takes on a somewhat-bumpy emotional quality, making you wonder why some dogs are supposedly so beloved and enthusiastic while others are beaten, imprisoned in tight cages and even killed once their owners are finished with them as their “property.” Disturbing images of dog carcasses being excavated and examined are a bit much when weighed against black-and-white reels of the Iditarod’s supposedly lauded history. I believe that a lot of these animals are treated unfairly and harmfully, but I also believe in interviewees like Beall, who genuinely seem to love their work and their dogs, which makes for an even more unsettling and unsure viewing experience.

Thankfully the explanation of Alaskan law and the horrifying legality of the dogs’ mistreatment clears up any moral ambiguity and will have viewers wondering why this practice even still occurs. Though lovingly portrayed in the 2006 film Eight Below and used as a comedic tactic in Snow Dogs (2002), it’s clear that these dogs are either brutally abused or truly loved - but without a doubt, another example of human behavior hurting others for sport and spectacle.

© Georgiana E. Presecky (7/28/17) FF2 Media

Top Photo: Promotional poster for Sled Dogs.

Middle Photo: According to laws in Alaska and British Columbia, dogs are allowed to be kept in chains for extended periods of time.

Bottom Photo: The annual Iditarod is a 1,000-mile dog run.

Photo Credits: CCI Entertainment

Q: Does Sled Dogs pass the Bechdel-Wallace test?

A: Does kennel owner Gena Pierce bonding with dogs named Lucy and Lydia count?

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STRANGE WEATHER (2016): Review by Katusha Jin

Writer and director Katherine Dieckmann creates a beautiful lead role for actress Holly Hunter in Strange Weather. And filled with female roles both on and off-screen, the directing, writing, acting, producing, music, and editing were all done by female artists and filmmakers. The film centers on the growth of a Southern woman, “Darcy Baylor” (Holly Hunter), who goes on a road trip with fellow Southerner, “Carrie Coon” (Byrd Ritt), in search for answers about her son’s death. (KIZJ: 3.5/5)

Review by FF2 Associate Katusha Jin

“Darcy Baylor” (Holly Hunter) works as an Administration Assistant at a small college in Mississippi. For years, she has been plagued by questions about her son’s death. Having always thought of herself as a wonderful mother, she cannot comprehend why her son had to die at such a young age. One night, “Carrie Coon” (Byrd Ritt), Darcy's best friend, tells her about an acquaintance who has offered to help fund the last few credits she needs to earn her college degree. Soon after, she finds out that said acquaintance is, in fact, her son’s friend, “Mark Wright” (Shane Jacobsen). More importantly, Darcy discovers that Mark founded a family hot dog restaurant chain that follows the same business plan her son, “Walker Baylor” (Ransom Ashley), made during school.

These findings provoke Darcy to delve deeper into the mystery of how this business plan ended up with Mark, and if he played a role in Walker’s death. After interviewing Walker’s old friends, she embarks on a trip to New Orleans to confront Mark. Joined by her close friend Carrie, the two women travel down a road that awakens past memories and opens up old wounds. The journey teaches Darcy that even though she thought she knew her son well, there were still sides of him that she did not know at all. Humans often hide parts of themselves they don’t want others to see, in the shadows.

Hunter fully embodies a grieving mother through the nuances of her subtle, yet powerful performance. Her growth from denial to gradual acceptance and understanding of Walker’s death is echoed clearly in her delivery. The lighting is consistent in its tone and often uses shadows to hide elements in the frame. Dieckmann creates a very memorable shot where Darcy has her hands placed in front of her with one hand in the light, while the other is in the shadows. Using shots like these, the director is able to show Darcy’s fragility and confusion. Although the script had its emotionally impactful moments, such as the final confrontation towards the end, the script was too wordy and many lines could have been cut. Nevertheless, Dieckmann’s movie takes us back to a classic style that is now a rarity on our screens.

© Katusha Jin (7/27/17) FF2 Media

Top Photo: Darcy standing outside her truck.

Middle Photo: Darcy on her truck during her road trip.

Bottom Photo: Darcy runs into the arms of “Clayton Watson” (Kim Coates), a man who loves her.

Photo Credits: Great Point Media

Does Strange Weather pass the Bechdel-Wallace test?

Yes.

Many scenes with conversation are between Darcy and her best friend, Carrie. The two are also co-workers and neighbors, which gives them plenty of screen time to discuss other topics, such as Darcy’s college degree and job.

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