MSPIFF Review: In Between (2017)

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Directed By: Maysaloun Hamoud
Written By: Maysaloun Hamoud
Runtime: 1 hour 36 minutes

There aren’t many female-led films in Hollywood that aren’t cheesy romantic comedies or Lifetime Network-levels of stupid femme fatale stories. Fortunately, there are some that break the mold, including In Between. Writer and director Maysaloun Hamoud has created a film featuring three women with unique, compelling stories.

In Between follows the lives of three Palestinian women sharing a flat in Tel Aviv. Layla (Mouna Hawa), a carefree party girl by night and shrewd lawyer by day, has recently started a relationship with a young man whom she eventually realizes isn’t quite as accepting of her wild lifestyle. Salma (Sana Jammelieh), a bartender with dreams of being a famous DJ, suffers through her conservative Christian family’s attempts at finding her a husband while she develops a romance with another woman. Nour (Shaden Kanboura), a devout Muslim and university student working toward a degree in computer science, struggles to maintain her independence and work toward her own dreams while her controlling fiance pushes her to abandon her big city life for an obedient, domestic one.

This movie’s greatest strength is its three lead characters. They are all so well-written and well-acted. The flatmates have wonderful chemistry, especially polar opposites Layla and Nour, who develop an almost sister-like bond throughout the movie. Both Layla and Salma are refreshingly unapologetic about their lifestyles while still being incredibly likable, and Nour never gives up her sweet, demure nature, even after escaping her abusive relationship. She does come out of her shell a bit by the end of the movie, but her personality isn’t drastically changed, which I really like; in too many movies, they have the “shy” character do a complete 180, so it’s nice having a character who becomes a stronger person without giving up who she is.

That said, this film had one major problem: its pacing. It never stays on one character’s conflict long enough to establish the problem. For example, we only see Salma’s home life once at the very beginning before everything comes to a head toward the end, and there isn’t even hint of any romantic interest until right before that, so there’s not much time for the tension to build when she brings her new girlfriend to visit her family. Layla’s plot line feels similarly rushed; she mentions about halfway into the movie that she and her boyfriend have been dating for a while now, but nothing has indicated that passage of time, and when it becomes apparent that she is too liberal for him, it feels like it comes out of nowhere because no time was spent establishing that earlier in the movie. The majority of the focus of the film is on Nour, which is understandable as hers is the storyline with the highest stakes, but that doesn’t excuse the other two women’s plots being rushed.

Despite some lack of focus, In Between is an impressive film that is worth checking out. Maysaloun Hamoud shows a lot of promise, and I hope this is the beginning of an illustrious career for her.

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Have you seen ‘In Between’? Well, what did you think? 

Guest Review: THE INNOCENTS (2016)

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Directed By: Anne Fontaine
Cast: Lou de Laâge, Agata Buzek, Agata Kulesza
Runtime: 1 hr 55 minutes

Most war films recount history as if women were never involved or their experiences not worth mentioning. That is just one of many reasons why The Innocents (2016) stands out in the war film genre: it is about, for, and made by women. The result is a soulful essay about atrocities committed against a group of nuns during the second world war, portrayed as a complex metaphorical struggle between religious faith, medical science, and evil.

The linear plotline is as austere as the film’s narrative. We meet a serene and devout convent of Benedictine nuns in Poland who go about their daily prayer with quiet conviction and meticulous adherence to ritual. The serenity is shattered by the scream of a nun about to give birth. One nun fetches a French Red Cross medical intern Mathilde Beaulieu (Lou de Laáge) who sneaks out of the aid mission to help. She learns that Soviet soldiers had raped the nuns and several births were imminent. Mathilde is a non-believer yet is bewildered by the strength of the nun’s faith and compelled to help. The nuns believe they are complicit in sin, and some are unable to even submit to medical examination while others do so with deep shame. The tension between sin and evil erupts when the baby is born and Mother Superior takes it out for fostering but instead leaves it in the forest. With more births coming, a convent full of babies cannot survive under Soviet occupation. It is Mathilde who finds an ingenious solution that ensures their survival.

Within this narrative arc, there are several strands that explore the nature and practice of faith by a group of women with varied backgrounds and different relationships with their god. Throughout the story, the tension between belief and logic creates a haunting presence. Young Mathilde struggles in a vortex of faith, science and evil, and comes to learn that there are no absolutes. The dystopia of war shatters all, yet faith survives in love and devotion to helping others. She grows emotionally with the experience just as the nun’s learn tolerance of those who do not share their faith.

While the film has a strong cast of fine performers, it is Lou de Laage who shines brightly in a difficult role. She seamlessly traverses a wide emotional range from inspired awe to resolute determination to help, including restrained romantic explorations with a senior colleague. The portrait-like cinematography conveys the bleak landscape and convent solitude with a sympathetic lens that avoids despair. The film is a tribute not only to the violated nuns but to women of all nationalities mistreated at the hands of military forces. Rape in war continues in modern times, with many nations in denial and others struggling with unresolved shame. This is not an entertaining story, but a dark episode of history on which light has long been needed.

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cinemuseRichard Alaba, PhD
CineMuse Films
Member, Australian Film Critics Association
Sydney, Australia


Have you seen ‘The Innocents’? Well, what did you think? 

FlixChatter Review: Martin Scorsese’ SILENCE (2016)

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To close out his trilogy of religious theme film that includes The Last Temptation of Christ and Kundun, Martin Scorsese has spent over 20 years on trying to bring his latest picture to the big screen. Based on the novel by Shusaku Endo and technically a remake of a Japanese film that was directed by Masahiro Shinoda from the early 1970s, it’s his most passionate film and will test the patience of many of his devout fans.

After receiving a letter from Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson), detailing his difficult times in Japan when he and other priests were trying to bring Christianity to that land in the 1600s. His two students Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Garrpe (Adam Driver) decided to make a trip from Portugal to the Far East in order to find out what happened to their mentor. Upon arriving in Japan, the young priests are exposed to a secret world of local Christians who has to keep their faith under wraps because it’s consider a crime to believe in Christ. Both Rodrigues and Garrpe need to stay in low profile to avoid being seen by the Japanese authority. But soon Rodrigues was captured by local shoguns and brought before Inoue (Issei Ogata), an inquisitor who insists the priest renounce his faith by stepping on bronze image of Jesus. Refusing to break as he searches for Ferreira, Rodrigues is exposed to many horrors and extended captivity, left with only his searching, questioning mind to keep him focused on God’s love.

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Clocking in at nearly 3 hours long, it may test the patience of some of the most devout Scorsese’s fans out there. The film does feel slow at times and about 20 minutes could’ve been cut out. But on an artistic level, it might be Scorsese’s best work since The Age of Innocence. It’s beautifully shot and he even decided to not use any music in any of the more dramatic scenes, in fact I don’t recall hearing any theme music in the entire film. Anyone expecting to see some kind of graphic violent sequences will be sorely disappointed. He wisely focuses on the emotional suffering of the characters as opposed to showing the tortures in graphic details.

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Performances by the actors were great; Garfield seems to be on a roll this year. He’s been asked to carry the entire film and I thought his performance was superb. Here’s a man who truly believe in his faith and yet he has to witness some of the most horrific things that people would ever do to one another. It’s an emotional performance that I don’t believe many young actors in his generation can achieve. Driver has a smaller role and he’s decent here as a priest who seems to be questioning the existence of God. Issei Ogata gave an interesting performance as the aging shogun, he’s truly believes in his mission to eradicate any western influences to his homeland. Yôsuke Kubozuka also was very good as the slimy character that betrayed Rodrigues several times yet asked for his forgiveness. Asano Tadanobu showed up later in the film as the interpreter and tried to convince Rodrigues to renounce his faith. Lastly, Neeson gave a kind of laid-back performance but I think it fits what his character went through.

This is a heavy film and Scorsese doesn’t bring his usual stylistics to the picture, remaining more observational, relying on editing to experience the journey. Filled with beautifully-shot sequences and great performances, it’s a film that deserves to be seen but I wouldn’t call it an entertaining one.

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So have you seen SILENCE? Well, what did you think?