28 January 2022.
This week we have a troubling trio of films that you may either love or hate. Here’s my take on them. And as usual, I may stray from the majority of opinions.
Director Pablo Larrain of Chile likes to take public figures, usually deceased (including Pablo Neruda and Jackie Kennedy), and create his own, often dark and twisted, vision of their lives. He tends to cater to sensationalism, making him a favorite of the critics.
Here he has fabricated three days of Princess Diana’s life, taking place at Christmas in Sandringham. He declares in the credits of the film that it is “A fable from a true story”, so he has himself covered. He goes on to make her into a thoroughly messed-up individual, not to mention the botched-up characters he has created for the royal family, from the Queen down to Prince Charles and the pre-adolescent sons. None of them are real people, just caricatures coming from the director’s distorted imagination. It is simply despicable and even immoral how he presents the troubled young woman as a fragile basket case due to her jealousy of Camilla and the coldness of Charles and his family.
It is well known that Diana was a doting and loving mother to William and Harry. Here she is portrayed as an utterly egoistic woman, almost oblivious of her children as she dwells on her own loneliness, her outfits, her eating disorders, and her obsession with the dilapidated Spencer domain adjacent to Sandringham. Whether any of this is true or not doesn’t matter to Larrain, for only his own warped version of the three imaginary days of pure hell for Diana counts for him.
Kristen Stewart does a good job of feigning a brooding, tortured soul, the cinematography is dullish grey throughout, there is a penchant for the kitchens, pantries and toilet bowls of the vast palace, and the whole production is reminiscent of the paparazzi that hounded her to death. I wonder how the sons feel about this portrayal of their beloved mother.
C’MON, C’MON (Nos âmes d’enfants) **1/2
Another disturbing but brilliantly acted film is this one by Mike Mills (known for his indie films) concerning a devoted mother who needs to look after her mentally troubled, estranged husband, so she asks her brother (Joaquin Phoenix) to take care of her precocious son (an astounding Woody Norman) while she is away.
Phoenix’s character is a freelance journalist who travels around the country interviewing young people about their hopes and aspirations. The gist of this black & white, very naturalistic film is how young people feel about their lives and their future.
But the crux of the story is the interaction between uncle and nephew, full of caring but also striving to manage a kid with definite eccentricities who is used to having his own way. It’s a balancing act between love and trying to handle a spoiled, highly intelligent child.
The film starts off with great promise and originality – almost like a documentary – but gets bogged down in too much of today’s trend of adults pandering to the every whim of their children, without any thought of discipline. Good but heavy.
PERSIAN LESSONS/ LES LEÇONS PERSANES *** (vo French, German, English, Italian, Farsi)
This film by Ukrainian/American Vadim Perelman (“House of Sand and Fog”) is the most troubling of the three, as it is about the tragedy of life, death and survival in a Nazi interim camp during WWII.
In desperation, one young Jewish detainee (Nahuel Perez Biscayart) claims to be Persian so that he will not be executed. But it won’t be easy for him, as one of the German officers (the charismatic Lars Eidinger) asks him for Persian lessons, since the officer’s dream is to go to Iran after the war is over.
His having to teach a language of which he has absolutely no idea, and the curious relationship that grows between the two unequal men, is what keeps this very grim and brutal film fascinating. It’s a twisted but touching cat and mouse game in this at times too graphic depiction of the inhuman conditions in the camp.
Despite some highly clichéd side players, the excellent acting of the two main characters and the justified ending brings this saga to a satisfying conclusion.
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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.