This film is inspired by – but is a fictionalized account of – the 2007 Amanda Knox murder trials in Italy. The key word here is fictionalized, for the country has been changed from Italy to France, as has much of the gripping context of the story.
The gist of the film is a father’s odyssey from his hometown of Stillwater, Oklahoma to Marseilles, France to try to help his convicted daughter who has all along maintained her innocence.
Tom McCarthy, the award-winning director of such fine films as the gentle “The Station Agent”, the touching immigrant tale, “The Visitor” and the journalistic expose, “Spotlight”, has concocted here a very human story about a father’s insistence on his daughter’s innocence, despite their fraught relationship. What makes the film both moving and intense is the wonderfully understated acting of Matt Damon as the simple, but determined father.
And McCarthy has added a loving French mother and little daughter duo who take good care of this non-French-speaking newcomer to Marseilles. The mother is played by the highly visible Camille Cottin (in “Mon Legionnaire”, “The House of Gucci” and the upcoming “Golda”), from the Netflix series, “Call my Agent”.
Stillwater beautifully balances the American and French experience and differences without any cliches, as it accentuates the human relationships and the mounting suspense towards a possible resolution. A worthwhile, satisfying film.
POWER OF THE DOG **1/2
Despite the vast western vistas (actually filmed in New Zealand), a haunting soundtrack and the magnificent cinematography of threatening skies and cattle roundups on rolling hills, this latest Jane Campion film is really about internalized personal struggles.
Two wealthy, very different brothers run a huge ranch in Montana in the mid-1920s. One is a brilliant but harsh, manipulative taskmaster, played by Benedict Cumberbatch. The other is a gentle soul who falls in love with and marries a delicate widow (Kirsten Dunst) with a teenage son.
From that moment on, out of resentment and jealousy, the cruel brother makes life so miserable for the new bride that she turns to drink. Her son is also taunted mercilessly. The pace is deliberately slow as the mood becomes ever more menacing and the underlying tensions reveal new aspects of the different characters. It is intense and mysterious as the story unfolds with a surprising yet logical ending.
Carefully calculated to mesmerize, its grandeur somehow left me untouched, unlike Campion’s multi-award winning 1993 masterpiece, “The Piano” which was mind-blowing, sensual and unforgettable. Most critics have been calling her latest a triumph, due mainly to the fact that the sure-handed Campion, who is a New Zealander, is revered for being the first female director to win a Palme d’Or back in 1993.
AMANTS *** (vo French)
Actress, screenwriter and director Nicole Garcia (“Mal de Pierres”, “Un balcon sur la mer”) knows how to create atmospheres that meld romance full of passion and sensuality with a certain air of mystery and even crime. She evokes moods with much longing and twists of fate.
Here she gives us an amorous triangle that starts off with two young lovers who have known each other since adolescence. They live happily together until Simon’s illicit drug business leads to an accidental overdose of a client and he has to flee the country. He disappears without a trace. Lisa is completely lost without him, but after years of painful waiting she meets a wealthy older man who wants to give her the world, and they marry. She is loved, pampered and somehow content, until she accidentally meets Simon on a holiday with her husband on a faraway island.
I will say no more, except that Pierre Niney and Stacy Martin as the young lovers, and Benoit Magimel as the patient husband are all excellent, as is the simmering tone of this gripping thriller.
HAUTE COUTURE *1/2 (vo French)
Despite the elegant title and the always convincing Natalie Baye, this tale about an older women who takes a dubious upstart under her wing to somehow replace a lost daughter, falls far short of greatness.
There is not enough meat to this scenario about the finesse of haute couture, as it falls into sentimentality and contrived pathos. This is certainly no “Phantom Thread”, and it’s a pity.
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.