ADAM – movie review

ADAM
Strand Releasing
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Maryam Touzani
Writer: Maryam Touzani in association with Nabil Ayouch
Cast: Lubna Azabal, Nisrin Erradi, Douae Belkhaouda, Aziz Hattab, Hasnaa Tamtaoui
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 2/11/21
Opens: March 5, 2021

Adam (2019)

You don’t want to know what happens in some Muslim societies to women without husbands who become pregnant. Happily for the characters in “Adam,” Morocco is not what of the ultra-conservative countries but is in fact wide open to Western film-makers who want to take advantage of its fascinating cities (Fez, Marrakesh, and Meknes particularly) and desert landscapes. “Adam”, is a Moroccan-made film by a Tangier-born director, Mayam Touzani, who is known for co-writing “Razzia,” five stories that come together in Casablanca. “Adam” is her first feature film, though you would think it’s a work by a director with an extensive résumé. It’s a woman’s story whose only men other then as customers of a woman’s snack food is a suitor, Slimani (Aziz Hattab) and the title character (uncredited) in his debut performance. (Adam shows his acting chops, able to cry on cue and dissolve into pure pleasure in the presence of a woman.)

Lubna Azabal in the role of Abla and Nisrin Erradi performing as Samia have about equal time in front of Adil Ayoub and Virginie Surdej’s lenses. Both are living in Casablanca in a section that’s considered poor but which American visitors would label quaint, with its narrow sidewalks and a plethora of vendors. Abla, a single mother with an eight-year-old daughter Warda (Douae Belkhaouida), sells pancake-like snack foods like rziza and msemmen right from her modest home but so far appears to have only a moderate clientele. That will change when Simia, in her eighth month of pregnancy and homeless, asks for work, any kind, and receive a tentative welcome from the dour Abla. Taking homeless people into your residence is not a popular pastime in the U.S. but Abla, feeling sorry for Samia who is sleeping outside, takes her in for one night. The invitation is extended when the adorable Warda takes an immediate liking to the new guest and when Samia proves to be an excellent chef, turning out better rziza and msemmen because when she kneads the dough, she feels it.

Not much happens during the first hour or so. Abla loses patience with Samia, kicks her out, then races through the Casablanca streets to find her and coax her back. In the film’s most poignant scene, Abla, who continues to grieve for her dead husband, is forced by Samia to listen to Abla’s favorite music on the radio, one that might be considered in the American culture to be a couple’s wedding song. Approaching that point, Samia takes charge of her hostess and boss, forcing her to listen carefully, to close her eyes and sway, and loosen up on her wicked witch act. For comic relief, now and then Abla’s suitor Slimani (Aziz Hattab) has marriage on his mind, asking Samia to tell her boss that his father had always had hair and that Slimani’s receding hairline constitutes the most locks that he will ever lose.

Maybe in the U.S. and Sweden, where one born out of wedlock is called a love child, at least by progressives. In Morocco, such a baby is dirt, although as Samia advises us, the baby himself is wholly without sin. Because of this, Samia seems determined to give Adam up to a good family despite Abla’s suggestion that she keep the infant. The women—Abla, Samia, and the precocious Warda, are fleshed-out human beings who have emotional ups and downs and happily, their relationship has changed them for the better. As the uneducated country girl with an eight-month unborn child, Nisrin Erradi stands out, a woman who has had to go from house to house asking for work and ending up with an inadequate resolution to her dilemma but able to turn her uptight hostess into a more caring person.

You may not want to live in Casablanca’s old Medina, but for Abla, the neighborhood provides work without a commute and for little Warda the chance to make something of herself by taking her studies seriously under her mother’s watch. A charming, low-key adventure well worth your custom.

98 minutes. © 2021 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+
Acting – A-
Technical – B+
Overall – B+

 

TRUE MOTHERS (Asa g Kuru) – movie review

TRUE MOTHERS (Asa g Kuru)
Film Movement
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Naomi Kawase
Writer: Naomi Kawase, Izumi Takahashi, based on the novel by Mizuki Tsujimura
Cast: Hiromi Nagasaku, Arata Iura, Aju Makita, Reo Sato, Hiroko Nakamima, Tetsu Hriahara, Ren Komai, Taketo Tanaka
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 1/20/21
Opens: January 29, 2021

‎True Mothers (2020) directed by Naomi Kawase • Reviews, film + cast •  Letterboxd

Well known for her film “Hikari,” about a film writer for the visually impaired who meets a photographer who is losing his eyesight, director Naomi Kawase continues on a similar lyrical vein with “True Mothers.” This drama, which relies largely on displays of the emotions of its characters, is framed throughout by a setting in Japan that gives the area an idyllic look. Those who consider Japan to be a nation of ultra-polite people, the angle of whose bows reflecting the differences between the people they are greeting, will not be disarmed. There is a sense of order throughout. Even the wrenching features on the principal characters never get overblown as they might be, were this am American melodrama or soap opera. Instead, “True Mothers” is a lovely take on the subject of motherhood that could feel just right no matter where you live. The care and focus of women on their children is universal.

Editors Tina Baz and Yôichi Shibuya’s mixture of time, flashing back and leaping forward to display meetings of people and then explaining how they got there, can be confusing. There should have been no problem dealing with the story in chronological order. This deliberately paced dramatization is predictable at first, but has its share of twists which ultimately leaves the two woman in principal focus trying to work out their problems.

The tension develops when Kiyokazu (Arata Iura) tells his wife Satoko (Hiromi Nagasaku) that he is unable to have a baby because his semen does not carry the requisite amount of sperm. The surgery he is offered—to undergo a painful extraction of sperm directly from his testicles—could be a setup for an American broad comedy, but is here taken as just another of life’s sad situations. After refusing her husband’s suggestion that they file for divorce, they visit “Baby Baton,” an organization founded by Mrs. Asami (Miyoko Asada), which pairs birth mothers who cannot raise their babies with couples who are ready to adopt. Through that group they become adoptive parents of Asato (Reo Sato), who we see when he is preparing to enter kindergarten.

You can imagine Satoko and Kiyokazu’s surprise when Hikari (Aju Makita), the teen-aged birth mother turns up, demanding the return of her boy, although money instead would be fine. As for why money is so important, Kawase switches us to Hikari’s story, which takes on the more interesting half of the film. When the fourteen-year-old is approached by her classmate Takumi (Taketo Tanaka), who asks whether she would go out with him, her response, “What does ‘go out’ mean”? turns out to be more than his reply “to go to movies.” The two are quickly infatuated, nature takes its course, and Hikari finds herself pregnant. (She did not have a clue since at her age she had not developed menarche.) Takumi takes off, and Hikari’s family send her off to the home for unwed mothers as her pregnancy, being over 24 weeks, is too late for an abortion.

Hikari gains some maturity through her relationship with her roommate, Tomoka, a sex worker, who takes away some of Hikari’s innocence with a facial makeup—which makes her unrecognizable to the young boy’s step-parents who believe that she is not the biological mother but a scammer. By the final frame, we in the audience come away with a sense that there are two heroes in the story: the self-sacrificing Satoko and the teen Hikari; and some villains, namely Hikari’s prejudicial parents and the spineless father of Hikari’s baby. Call this a women-empowerment movie if you wish, but most of all, this is a soulful treatment of a situation into which many an altogether-too-young woman has a baby that she lacks the time and maturity to care for but who rise deliberately to the occasion.

“True Mothers” is Japan’s submission to the 93rd Academy Awards. In Japanese with English subtitles.

140 minutes. © 2021 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B
Acting – B+
Technical – B+
Overall – B+

 

NOEMÍ GOLD – movie review

NOEMÍ GOLD

Topic Original Film
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Dan Rubenstein
Writer: Dan Rubenstein
Cast: Catalina Berarducci, Martina Juncadella, Amelia Repetto, Alexandra Velascom
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 12/4/20
Opens: November 20, 2020

Poster

Dan Rubenstein in his freshman entry as a writer-director tells a rambling coming-of-age story of a woman in her twenties with a Master’s Degree in architecture, who is pregnant and a resident of Buenos Aires in a country that does not allow abortion. In Latin America, in fact, only Uruguay and Guyana permit the procedure, which makes us think immediately that her solution is either to take the abortion pill which can be obtained on the black market or hop a ferry to Uruguay.

The title character, Noemí Gold (Catalina Berarducci in her first role in a full narrative film), is featured in this tale of an intelligent, educated woman whose boyfriend denies impregnating her and though he allegedly has money is unwilling to come up with the $500, half the price needed for a Uruguay procedure. She first asks a local gynecologist for help, is lied to that “there has been an emergency requiring a 45-minute wait,” and is confronted by the police, who let her go because she is still pregnant.

As she goes through her 27th year, seeming to be barely worried about what to do with the pregnancy, distracted as she relates to various people in her life including her laid-back cousin David from L.A. who is funded to make commercials on his smart phone, her grandmother, who comes up with the money, and her extroverted friend Rosa (Martina Juncadella). There is not much of what most American moviegoers consider drama, since Dan Rubenstein is more involved with looking into Noemí’s psyche, her mood, often morose though picking up emotional energy when on a ferry she meets a young man that she once knew, the two of them working out their specialties: she will teach him drawing and he will instruct her in guitar—when they meet again.

This is not summer vacation, but nobody appears to do any work. Why should an architect in her late twenties be unable to come up with $500 that she needs so badly? And what’s she doing hanging out for even an hour with a rich guy who denies that he is the prospective father of her baby? (She should have threatened him with his obligation to pay child support until their joint creation is eighteen, an investment far greater than the $500 she seeks from him.)

While people in their twenties are physically in their prime and should have no worries, some sociologists insist that it’s one of the most worrisome decades in our lives, as they try to fit into professions, worried much of the time about holding on to the jobs and advancing. The are often short of money and often having to go back to living with our parents as many young people find now during the Covid 19 crisis. “Noemí Gold” comes off as a shaggy dog story, a slice of life that does not follow the usual trajectory involving twists and suspense; just a bunch of young folks going about their business, or rather, their leisure. The film is, what can we say, just OK, neither experimental nor completely conventional, and Catalina Berarducci in the major role is believable.

80 minutes. © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – C
Acting – B
Technical – B
Overall – B-

 

DIVINE LOVE – movie review

DIVINE LOVE (Divino Amor)
Outsider Pictures & Strand Releasing
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Gabriel Mascaro
Writer: Gabriel Mascaro, Rachel Daisy Ellis, Esdras Bezerra
Cast: Dira Paes, Juliio Machado, Antonio Pastich, Rubens Santos, Clayton Mariano
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 10/21/20
Opens: November 13, 2020

Divine Love' Review: Gabriel Mascaro's Neon Brazilian Dystopia - Variety

Maybe it’s grandiose to think that directors outside the United States are using cinema to channel their disgust with customs and politics here in the United States. Maybe Brazilians never heard of Trump. When I was in Panama, I asked people on the street whether they were familiar with John McCain, who as born in Panama’s Canal Zone—at the time that he was running for President. Nope. Never heard of him.

Still it’s convenient to wonder whether Gabriel Mascaro, who gave us the wonderful film “Neon Bull” about a rodeo hand who dreams of working in his region’s blossoming clothing industry, is thinking of Trump’s faux conservatism in making the allegorical “Divine Love,” but it’s more likely that he’s sending up Brazil’s autocratic leader Jair Bolsonaro who is among our President’s heroes. More specifically, Mascaro takes aim at his country’s conservatism, which like that sensibility in the U.S. favors religious oppression. (Brazil has outlawed abortion with almost no exceptions.)

However, reactionary anti-abortion notions are the flip side of the coin here. The leads in “Divine Love,” Joana (Dira Paes) and her husband Danilo (Julio Machado) are not looking for abortion. On the contrary they are desperate for a baby. Emílio de Melle is their drive-through pastor, regularly consulted by Joana, who makes her living as a notary who deals with divorce documents, but who uses her position to sneak in advice to divorcing couples as she is eager to save their marriages. The pastor advises them to pray for a baby, as God is listening. Joana’s own nuptials are fragile, since try as they may, Joana and Danilo cannot conceive. In a bizarre train of events, the couple take part in a practice by an evangelical group called Divino Amor, a cult believing that to bring back the spark in couples, they should swing. Yes, swing. The members have sex, then switch partners. Hey, I’m not complaining, but Mascaro so much wants us in the audience to believe that they really are swinging that he indulges in long takes with full frontal nudity in a display of soft-core porn.

Say what you want about the excesses of evangelism, but Joana comes through during the third act. Or does she? When she gets what she thinks she wants, her anxieties increase, she is virtually threatened with excommunication, and her husband is ready to bolt. Is “Divine Love” really a criticism of Brazilian extremist politics, a put-down of evangelism with its concurrent hypocrisies? Viewers will likely leave the theaters with much to discuss in a film that introduces many questions with fewer answers. All is told with the benefits of cinematographer Diego García’s vivid colors to complement the sensuality, and best of all a riveting performance by Dira Paes who, like many women worldwide obsessed with getting pregnant, throws the dice with conservative Christianity.

105 minutes. © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B
Acting – B+
Technical – B+
Overall – B

 

MY WONDERFUL WANDA – movie review

MY WONDERFUL WANDA (Wanda, mein wunder)
The Match Box
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Bettina Oberli
Screenwriter: Cooky Ziesche, Bettina Oberli
Cast: Agnieszka Grochowska, Marthe Keller, Birgit Minichmayr, Jacob Matschenz, André Jung, Anatole Taubman
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 4/15/20
Opens: TBD at Tribeca Film Festival in New York

Wanda, mein Wunder (2020)

A 2013 film by Bettina Oberli, “Lovely Louise,” shows how a charismatic American, arriving to the home of a taxi driver living quietly with his mother, turns their lives upside down. Similarly, the Swiss director in a stunning entry to be shown at this year’s Tribeca Festival, shows how the arrival of a caregiver in Poland to a wealthy family in Switzerland turns the lives of an elderly man, his wife, his son and others will upset their staid but lavish home life while at the same time getting more than she bargained for as well.

Set in three chapters and an epilogue, the Swiss language production “My Wonderful Wonder” finds Wanda, the title figure, barely able to cope back in Poland with parents who, despite their education, are not employed but who are taking care of her two children while she is away on her new job. Since Josef (the Luxembourg-born André Jung), the seventy-year-old Swiss paterfamilias, is bedridden having suffering a stroke. He needs to be fed, exercised and bathed, and who better to do that not his wife Elsa (Marthe Keller), but the thirty-five-year old Polish helper, Wanda (Agnieszka Grochowska). Now Josef may be ill but he’s not dead and, despite the stroke has sexual needs which Wanda fulfills (the extra CHF’s will come in handy).

Once Wanda is pregnant, she puts the family in such a tizzy that only their dog Mephisto takes things as calmly as ever. Secrets are revealed regarding Elsa’s inability to have a child, and in a dinner party that begins to take on reverberations that we’ve seen in the Danish film “Celebration), the master’s son Gregi (Jacob Matschenz), due to take over the corporation upon his father’s death, is shown to be as incompetent as our own chief executive. At the same time Sophie (Birgit Minichmayr), suspicious of the alleged conspiracy by the maid, pressures her to go back to Poland.

As Wanda is accused of theft of the money from the household and a belief that she will blackmail the household for a large payment, several twists appear. When Wanda’s Polish parents show up, charges and countercharges show that there is much business to settle before the newborn baby’s fate is sealed.

“My Wonderful Wanda” is a delightful comedy of manners satirizing people previously living in insulated contentment with their spectacular Swiss villa by a lake, their complacency shattered by events led by a poor Polish woman who can speak fluent German despite the low pay she initially accepts. The dialogue is sharp and revealing, though English subtitles, too small and too indistinct to be followed easily, are about as bad as you’ve ever seen. Perhaps when the film is shown on the big screen—should the Tribeca Festival be revived after its postponement from the coronavirus—the translation will show up with greater clarity.

111 minutes. © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+
Acting – A-
Technical – C (because of poor subtitles)
Overall – B+

NEVER RARELY SOMETIMES ALWAYS – movie review

NEVER RARELY SOMETIMES ALWAYS
Focus Features
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Eliza Hittman
Screenwriter: Eliza Hittman
Cast: Sidney Flanagan, Talia Ryder, Théodore Pellerin, Ryan Eggold, Sharon Van Etten
Screened at: Park Ave., NYC, 2/18/20
Opens: March 13, 2020

Never Rarely Sometimes Always

In her third feature movie, writer-diector Eliza Hittman continues to explore people who are vulnerable, youths who are missing the proper guidance in life and who are put into positions that they would not have found themselves if they had the proper direction. In the director’s “It Felt Like Love,” a young woman dreams of emulating the sexual exploits of a more experience person, putting herself into a dangerous situation. In “Beach Rats” a teen “experiments” with drugs and looks to meet older men. Now with “Never Rarely Sometimes Always,” Hitmann focuses on “Autumn” (Sidney Flanigan), a seventeen-year-old girl who must deal with a pregnancy that she never wanted but with the good luck to have a friend like Skylar (Talia Ryder), who acts more like Autumn’s older
sister willing to go the distance with Autumn during a difficult time in the younger girl’s life.

After Trump was elected president largely with the support of rural Americans, voters in small towns and farms complained that city people consider them racists, sexists, homophobic and the like. We would like to think that this is true, yet as Hitmann portrays small-town Pennsylvania, at least through the eyes of people on the cusp of mature adulthood, a large number of these Americans are what they say they are not. For example, when Autumn is performing in a talent show, one guy yells out “slut” in the middle of her song, and the attendees including even Autumn’s young parents, appear to think nothing of it.

Autumn, who appears not to realize that she is pregnant until eighteen weeks have passed since her last menstrual period, tries to self-abort the fetus by taking a slew of Vitamin C pills, then punches her belly without much result save for some large bruises. Stealing some money from the supermarket with the help of her cousin, she takes a bus to New York, not even considering that she would need to get a round-trip ticket, that she lacks money for a hotel, that she would have to stay in New York two nights. On the bus Skylar is hit on by a young passenger (Théodore Pellerin), who will try to encourage Skylar to go with him “downtown” and who the girls will later exploit for money.

In this slice-of-life drama, Hittman takes us first to a rural clinic, the agent explaining that there are alternatives to abortion, that there are people who would gladly adopt the future child. Since it’s too late for Autumn to get an abortion in her area, she and Skylar take two buses toward New York’s Port Authority Terminal, going to Planned Parenthood on 44 Court Street in downtown Brooklyn, and back up to a Manhattan facility which would be able to conduct the procedure.

Autumn has no particular support from her parents, and in fact by showing us the youthful age of the father and mother in the audience of the talent show, Hitmann may be making the point that they too had babies while they were teens. Hélène Louvart films all in 16mm, from the broken-down areas of rural Pennsylvania to the chaos of New York.

Here is an ideal slice of life drama. No melodrama, no frantic behavior, with Autumn’s emotions showing only when she began to cry during a social worker’s interview. At that meeting, she is asked a series of questions such as “Were you ever forced to have sex when you did not want to” for which she needed to answer “Never, rarely, sometimes or always.” In Hitmann’s hands, the two young performers, Sidney Flanigan and Talia Ryder relate to each other as though they knew each other for a decade. But even to her cousin and best friend, Autumn never opens up. She does not tell her even that she’s pregnant, just that she has “cramps.” These are inarticulate people, the sort that just might vote for politicians who do not necessary offer much but who are grand showmen who can entertain and who do not evoke articulate responses from their audience.

101 minutes. © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+
Acting – B+
Technical – B
Overall – B+

INVISIBLE LIFE – movie review

INVISIBLE LIFE (A visa invisível)
Amazon Studios
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Karim Aïnouz
Screenwriter: Murilo Hauser, Ines Bortagaray, Karim Ainouz based on a novel y Martha Batalha
Cast: Carol Duarte, Juilia Stockler, Gregorio Duvivier, Fernanda Montenegro, Barbara Santos, Flavis Gusmao
Screened at: Critics’ DVD, NYC, 12/9/19
Opens: December 20, 2019

Invisible Life

Sisterhood is powerful. That’s a good slogan for our own time but had a different meaning in the 1950s. With “Invisible Life,” director Karim Aïnouz follows up on his “Praia do Futuro” about a doomed relationship to reveal the long story of two sisters who cannot get enough of each other but who are separated in Brazil’s famed city of Rio never to meet again. An American watching the picture can’t help thinking that the fifties, which despite prosperity marked a dull, conventional era in the U.S., has its reflection in the manners of a family in Brazil.

The film feature two women whose bond is obvious in the opening scenes when sisters Guida (Julia Stockler), now twenty years old and Euridice (Carol Duarte) now eighteen, making it all the more tragic that they are fated to be separated by Manuel (Antonio Fonseca)a mean-spirited father whose tyranny, supported by a patriarchal society, is unchecked by man’s passive wife Ana (Flavai Gusmao).

In one fateful night, Guida sneaks out of the house to attend a dance club with Yorgos (Nikolas Antunes), a Greek sailer. Euridice, a classical pianist, looks forward to traveling to Vienna to audition for a conservatory, an ambitious plan especially considering the need to travel by ship to a far-off city. Believing that she will marry her Greek boyfriend, Guida discovers that Yorgos (Nikoas Antunes), after making her pregnant, is off to find more sexual conquests. Guida returns home to a father who, seeing her daughter with child, disowns her and throws her out of the house. What’s more her conservative dad lies, telling her that Euridice had gone to Vienna. Little do the two young women realize that they may never cross paths again.

Guida, having no skills and no home, becomes a sex worker, mentored by an older hooker Filomena (Barbara Santos), who becomes her lifeline given the absence of her own family, while Euridice fares just a little better, having married a brute of a man via arranged marriage from her father, who sees that the young man has money and can treat her well. While Guida does marginally well, her sister, refusing the numb life of church, children and home, has a barrier put in the way of her feminist ambitions.

A Hollywood movie would doubtless have the two women find each other, surely by the close of two years or more. In one clever twist, the desire of the two sisters to meet is thwarted by a creative ploy, leading Euridice, now in her seventies or eighties, ultimately understanding why she is unable to meet up with her long lost sister. Yet director Aïnouz and her co-writers Murilo Hauser, Ines Bortagaray, adapt the novel by Martha Batalha to show the resilience of the two women, a trait that might make you think of how #Me Too people have spoken up, leading to the firing of major celebrities. A musical score that include Chopin and Liszt, and cinematography that brings out the period nature of the piece, help to make this film the obvious choice of the film people in Brazil to set up this candidate for end-year awards.

141 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B
Acting – B
Technical – B
Overall – B