31 January 2020.
JUST MERCY (La voie de la justice) ***1/2
This account of the terrible, continued injustice in the American criminal and judicial system is a more up to date version of such excellent films as “Selma” or “12 Years a Slave”. And like those two works, it is a true story, this one based on the book written by Bryan Stevenson, the black Harvard lawyer who has dedicated his life to saving numerous innocent men on death row.
Instead of taking a cushy, lucrative job up north, he chose to go down to Alabama in the 1980s to work pro bono for those who needed it the most. The film recounts his struggle against entrenched Southern racism, and more specifically is about one of his first cases, covering Walter McMillian, wrongly accused of having killed a Southern girl and sentenced to death.
The young, handsome Michael B. Jordan, who was brilliant in the indy film “Fruitvale Station” and the more commercial “Creed I & II”, plays Stevenson with a conviction that springs off the screen, conveying the utter frustration of blacks who continue still today to be abused both emotionally and physically, mainly in the Southern states. His look and his demeanour resemble a young Denzel Washington, with the same force and presence.
McMillian, sitting unjustly on death row, is played with tense understatement by Jamie Foxx. The film, directed by Destin Daniel Cretton, covers not only McMillian’s case, but some of his fellow inmates, as it follows them both in prison and in the courtroom as Stevenson confronts rigid, ingrained prejudice that is simply appalling. The acting of the whole cast is heartrending as the story and situations unfold. Nominated for many awards, this is a film that should be shown in all schools, especially those in the South.
JOJO RABBIT **1/2
In Germany during WWII there’s this little kid (Roman Griffin Davis) and his chubby best friend who belong to the Hitler Jugend, which was a sort of Boy Scouts for the Führer. Jojo is a fervent follower of Hitler, so much so that he sees him all over the place, talking to him almost as a friend and following his orders. In the meantime, his widowed mother (Scarlet Johansson) is a defiant anti-Nazi, and is harbouring a Jewish girl in a hidden attic in their home.
If this has shades of Anne Frank, it is treated in this film by New Zealander Taika Waititi (who also portrays Hitler), as a farce, making a parody of a terrible moment in history. It seems much of Hollywood, film critics and enthusiasts have taken this as a brilliant gem of a film, nominating it in many categories to the Oscars and other award shows. Maybe because it’s a mix of Anne’s diaries and Lubitsch’s “To be or Not to Be” given a Mel Brooks treatment.
I was not entirely convinced as it veered from broad slapstick comedy to gentle, romantic pathos on a sensitive subject. My emotions were confused and I was underwhelmed after all the hype I had heard. It is mildly funny and also vulgar, but then these days nothing is taboo.
Just to add that Sam Rockwell (Oscar-winner from “Three Billboards…”) is hilarious as the stereotypical drunken Nazi officer, but other clichéd types do not fare so well. This is one to see and ponder on…
L’ESPRIT DE FAMILLE *** (vo French)
Here‘s a touching, tender film about a father who has just passed away and his eldest son who keeps seeing him everywhere, literally. He follows his son constantly and converses with him, giving him advice, talking to him as they never did when he was alive. It obviously rattles the son, who as a self-absorbed writer never gave much time to his father, nor anyone else for that matter. Those around him also find it bizarre, as he now talks into the air around him.
With the sweet-faced Guillaume de Tonquedec as the bewildered son, Francois Berleand as the charming, deceased father and the always brilliant Josiane Balasko as the quirky mother, this film covers three generations of a family who have always loved each other, though were often not capable of showing it. Until a dead man hangs around so they may see the light…
There are a few silly exaggerations along the way, but the amusing, well-rounded tale, the glorious setting of their isolated country home, and the depth of the sentiments will leave you with a warm feeling in your heart and a few thoughts about improving your own relations…
LES TRADUCTEURS ** (vo French)
Here’s a supposedly elegant, stylized whodunnit concerning the literary world, a multilingual translation of a thriller under atrocious circumstances, and the intrigues and back-stabbings of the rival translators.
It is finally too snobby, convoluted and unreal to be taken seriously. Sort of an intello “Usual Suspects” that isn’t fascinating. A waste of talent for the likes of Lambert Wilson, Olga Kurylenko and Ricardo Scamarcio.
LITTLE JOE *1/2
You’d be wise to miss this cold tale about a new plant that has been developed in a huge, sterile laboratory to be marketed as a happiness drug. But its qualities are not quite benign, as one of the lab technicians discovers when she takes the plant home to her son, who names it Little Joe.
The premise of profits versus ethics, and the hangups of the scientific crowd, could have been intriguing, but its dull fantasy treatment here by the Austrian Jessica Hausner will only leave you chilled, bored and perplexed.
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.