6 December 2019.
THE TWO POPES ****
The first time I heard about this film I thought it was based in the 14th century when there were two popes, in Rome and Avignon. Well it is not. It is about the two last living Popes, Benedict and Francis. Revealing a secret meeting they had before the Argentinean became Pope, as well as several ongoing, fascinating conversations between the two, it somehow explains why one is no longer the pope, and the other is the present Pope.
The German and the South American are in opposite camps in their view of the Catholic Church and its doctrines, and completely different in character, yet these discussions show two men who care profoundly about their vocation and beliefs, though from different angles. In treating them as ordinary, troubled human beings, this excellent film directed by Fernando Meirelles and superbly written by Anthony McCarten brings us into their hermetic world. One is in the corridors of power, inside the Vatican and the inner workings of the Church, yet it feels incredibly personal and intimate.
Benedict confesses to Francis his innermost feelings, while Francis tells of the cross he bears from his time under the military junta in his native Argentina. It is a deep catharsis of two men weighed down by demons and responsibilities. And yet at the end, they are shown watching a football match on TV between their respective countries, almost as two ordinary friends.
Anthony Hopkins plays Pope Benedict while Jonathan Pryce is Pope Francis, and if it was up to me, they would receive ex aequo Oscars for their understated, outstanding performances.
If Netflix makes great and varied films like this one, or “The King” and “The Irishman”, more power to them. But they should respect the importance of public cinema vs home entertainment, adjust fairly their schedules of release dates to both, and not bring about the demise of the original ‘silver screen’. We can only wait and see what ‘the powers that be’ decide…
LA MEILLEURE RESTE À VENIR **** (vo French)
I could go out on a limb and say this is the best French film of the year. But then there are “J’Accuse”, “Gloria Mundi” or “La Belle Époque”, amongst others. It has certainly been a rich year for French cinema of all genres. This one stayed with me for it is both entertaining and thought-provoking, marvelously acted by Fabrice Luchini and Patrick Bruel, and cleverly written and directed by Alexandre de la Patelliere and Matthieu Delaporte, the duo who created the hugely successful “Le Prénom”, both as a play and a film.
It is about two friends who are complete opposites – Bruel plays the reckless playboy who is often broke, while Luchini is a serious, organised doctor. They have known each other since childhood and boarding school, but an accident and some mixed-up X-rays create a serious dilemma between them. This fast-paced, touching comedy delves into mishaps, friendship, trust and dying. It may have you laughing one moment and teary-eyed the next. Don’t ask for more, just run to see it.
GLORIA MUNDI **** (vo French)
Here we are in the world of veteran French director Robert Guediguian who, as usual, has his heart and his trusty team of actors in his beloved Marseilles. They include his wife Ariane Ascaride, the fine actors Jean-Pierre Darroussin and Gérard Meylan, with a few young actors thrown in this time (Anais Demoustier and Robinson Stevenin).
One could call Guediguian the French Ken Loach, for he always makes films about the working class. Decent people going through the hardships of their everyday lives. He infuses them with such humanity that they seem very familiar to us. Just like a neighbor down the road, depending on which part of town you live in, of course…
The arrival of Gloria, a first grandchild in the family of Ascaride’s character, seems to bring some joy. Ascaride, who won the Best Actress award at the Venice film fest, works several jobs as a cleaning woman, while having to deal with union strikes and other miseries. Her husband has recently lost his job as a bus driver, as has the baby’s father, who dreamt of having his own car service.
Her first husband has just been released from prison and has come back home, where her present husband receives him with great generosity. These are good people, trying to do the best they can with what they have. There are the usual family lies, tangles, and jealousies between sisters. There are moments of torment, moments of much tenderness and a final, grand sacrifice. And Marseille is an ever present character in all this.
Here is a touching, beautiful film that will leave your heart both troubled and full. It is one of Guediguians’s best films.
MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN **1/2
Edward Norton is an exceptional actor, tackling each role with an authenticity and ferocity that remains with you. He was brilliant in his first film “Primal Fear”, the 1996 thriller with Richard Gere; horrific as a skinhead in “American History X”; hugely troubling in “Fight Club”, amusing in “The Grand Budapest Hotel”. He has been Oscar-nominated three times and has won quite a few awards.
He has now decided to write, produce, direct and star in his latest film, in the genre of a film noir. Based on a 1999 book by Jonathan Lethem, that is quite a challenge. The story covers New York City and its boroughs in the 1950s during the time of big bosses such as Robert Moses, who changed the outlines of the city, moving whole neighborhoods to build vast roads, bridges and parks. Race, or rather economics, often played a dark role in these manoeuvrings, or so alludes the film.
There is a power-hungry character played by Alec Baldwin, a weaker, decent brother played by Willem Defoe, and his best buddy briefly played by the cool Bruce Willis. There are shadowy crooks, dark jazz clubs, corrupt politicians and convoluted clues. Norton himself plays a lonely, tenacious gumshoe who has a severe case of Tourette’s syndrome, which he tends to exaggerate in the beginning, then toning it down to an occasional funny stream of muffled obscenities.
The film is clichéd, too long, quite obvious where it’s leading halfway through, with a lot of overacting. But it is entertaining as a ‘noir-ish’ melodrama.
Maybe a great actor should stick to acting and leave directing to the pros. Except for Robert DeNiro, with his exemplary “A Bronx Tale”. Of course, one could also cite the likes of Clint Eastwood or Robert Redford. Good though not great actors, they became fine directors.
Superb **** Very Good *** Good ** Mediocre * Miserable – no stars
Neptune Ravar Ingwersen reviews film extensively for publications in Switzerland. She views 4 to 8 films a week and her aim is to sort the wheat from the chaff for readers.