2 July 2021.
THE UNITED STATES vs BILLIE HOLIDAY ***
Billie Holiday, the jazz legend who struggled through an abusive childhood which led to drug and alcohol addiction that ended her turbulent life at age 44. “Strange Fruit”, the achingly painful song about the lynching of blacks in the American South that she was not allowed to sing, yet would not stop singing. And then there’s Lee Daniels, the director, who has made films like “Precious” and “The Butler” which lay bare the pain of being black in America. An impassioned combination.
There have been quite a few films concerning the hypnotic Lady Day, including the 1972 “Lady Sings the Blues” with Diana Ross, and the 2019 documentary “Billie”. This one takes the angle of how the U.S. government and the FBI hounded her on drug charges during the late 30s and 40s, especially to silence her incendiary “Strange Fruit” which they felt was a call to revolution in those highly racist times. It also portrays, sometimes crudely, how she switched heartless partners, let down friends and lived according to her own rules, however detrimental to her own well being. Though from completely different cultures, her life could somehow be compared to that of Edith Piaf’s – unforgettable voices, tumultuous lives, legions of fans, early deaths.
The debut performance of singer Andra Day as Billie is the saving grace of this uneven film with a muddled scenario. Not perfect, but nevertheless a gripping, important work.
SOEURS *** (vo French)
This film about three French sisters who were born and partially raised in Algiers is a journey by Yamina Benguigui into the psyches of those torn between both tender and violent memories of their childhood in a land long left behind.
With Rachida Brakni, Maiwenn and Isabel Adjani (who manages to look 30 at 66, while being the only French actress to has won an impressive 5 Césars), director Benguigui has managed to assemble a trio of actresses, who like herself, are all products of double heritage.
The film starts off in France where the sisters come together for a trip to their origins to find their long-lost younger brother who was kept in Algeria by their terrorizing father. There is their mother who tries to calm down the highly temperamental sisters, each set in her own ways. There are flashbacks of the harrowing war years before they left Algeria, and now the play that the older sister (Adjani) has written and is producing about their difficult family history. The idea of this testament laying open all their hidden wounds is very divisive for all involved.
The guilt trips between the sisters resurge while rediscovering what they left behind in the still-divided country that is today’s Algeria. Both emotional and political, the film is an intense study of the difficulties of being raised in two cultures.
And between the three actresses, there’s certainly a lot of hair…
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.