A Sunday in the Country ( Bertrand Tavernier – 1984) A-

This is in the category of those movies that revolve around a family spending a day or weekend together, a few meals and things start coming up; family secrets, resentments and unsaid words. I can think of at least two other movies like that (Still Walking, A Christmas Tale) on this blog but I’m sure there a lot more. I love this style of movies. Not a lot happens yet we learn so much about the characters and their lives. Set in the early 20th century, we have the old man, Monsieur Ladmiral, a successful painter living in the country in a beautiful home with his astute long-time housekeeper, Mercédès. He is expecting his son and his family for a visit. We walk with him to the train station to greet them. He is a bit late (he thinks because the train is early, his housekeeper knows it is because he is getting old and walking slower) and runs into his son, wife and two boys as they are heading his way. The wife (he is not crazy about his daughter in law yet he is polite and nice) stops for yet another mass (“oh, she is still very devout”). They enjoy lunch, the son clearly think he is a disappointment to his dad and maybe to himself. They take aperitifs in the garden. He is not as “cool” or free-spirited as his sister, Iréne, who never visits and yet dad loves her. Of course today she does stop by, like a whirlwind of energy and chaos as everyone was taking their afternoon nap. She drives a car, works in the city, and also deeply privately sad in her own way. Ladmiral himself, on a long walk and stop at a café with Irene is not without regrets. He is a successful artist and seems to have built a nice life from his painting but he also is no new-modernist or impressionists that are all the rage now. None of those people are terribly bad or really unhappy with major issues. A Sunday in The Country shines a light at a set of complex an interesting human beings with their ups, downs and complex emotions both said and unsaid.

Days of Heaven (Terrence Malick – 1978) A

Set in the early 20th century and tells the story of a trio, Bill (Richard Gere), Abby (Brook Adams) and Linda (Linda Manz), who leave Chicago to make more money as farmhands during the wheat harvest in the Texas pan handle. Bill and Abby pretend to be brother and sister because that was considered safer in their environment. We know that from Linda who narrates off and on throughout the film in her throaty voice and curious dialect. That narration feels like the spirit of this movie, I loved it. Soon, the wealthy farmer whose land they are working falls in love with Abby. Bill convinces Abby to marry the farmer since he heard that said farmer (we never learn his name…I wonder if Linda ever knew his name) is dying. This way within a year they will literally inherit the farm. Things however get a bit more complicated when the farmer seems to be doing well a year after they marry. It’s an excellent movie that has some spectacular haunting imagery, excellent performances and interesting characters.

My Octopus Teacher (Pippa Ehrlich, James Reed – 2020) B+

You would not think a human being can actually form a bond with a cephalopod. In this sweet and beautiful documentary, Craig Foster a film maker from South Africa, during a tough part of his life starts free diving (without an oxygen tank) and happens to find an octopus that grabs his interest. For about a year he dives every day and at first observes, then interacts then becomes sort of a friend to this fascinating amazing creature. We are along for the ride (or dive) and we see really beautiful imagery and touching story.

Nomadland (Chloe Zhao – 2021) B+

It’s quiet a coincidence that I had only seen Into the Wild less than a month ago. I could not help but draw some comparisons between the two films. In this one, Fern played by Francis McDormand is not driven to the nomad life -at least initially- by choice as McCandless did. She was living in a company town called Empire in Nevada. The whole town was wiped out when the only employer goes out of business and Fern also loses her husband to cancer. We do not see any of that. What we see is the movie starting after all that, Fern hits the road in her van. She works in various places and meets other nomads and interesting people. Like Sound of Metal this is a film about a community that we never or barely knew existed. Fern does seem to have options to “settle” yet she does not. This is not a movie with a plot, and it blends documentary with fiction as well as awesome cinematography and an excellent performance by McDormand to make a unique portrait about grief, finding one’s place in life, what is important and moving on.

Into the Wild (Sean Penn – 2007) A-

I enjoyed this film quiet a bit. `I sympathized and could relate a bit to Chris McCandless, the subject of this movie. It stayed with me even if his actions were very extreme in abandoning all that he has on life after graduating from Emory and setting off on a nomadic life of sort hitchhiking, doing various jobs, and making his way to Alaska. It did not end well for him due to a mistake he made foraging in Alaska and possibly some miscalculation. Yet, what we see on the screen by and large is a young man who traveled the country, met interesting people and did not ask for much. Beyond the philosophical or social points of view though, this is a beautiful movie. It looks great and is very well made. Emile Hirsch delivers an excellent performance and exudes passion and love for life throughout (I had to rewind a scene where he is basically eating an apple!). I quiet liked how Sean Penn who directed and wrote this chose to tell the story of McCandless starting from the point of him getting to Alaska and then flashbacks of his sister, parents, privileged upbringing and the long road that got him here.

Judas and The Black Messiah (Shaka King – 2021) B+

Very well-made film about the Black Panther’s Chairman Fred Hampton and the FBI informant Bill O’Neil who played a key part in his assassination. Daniel Kaluuya delivers and amazing performance as Hampton and the movie plays like a thriller with excellent pace. It is good to learn a bit more about the Panthers as a whole. They were not as one dimensional as most portrayals of them in movies seem to show. It is also terrible of how Hampton was literally hunted by the FBI and J. Edgar Hoover and how O’Neill -who was 17 at the time- was used/coerced to help.

Tenet (Christopher Nolan – 2020) A-

I saw this a few weeks back and will definitely be watching again, ideally in an IMAX theatre once and if that ever becomes possible. It is probably the most challenging Nolan film. It’s convoluted, ambitious and maybe it makes no sense yet I enjoyed it a lot. He takes his fascination with playing with timelines and perspective to a whole new level here. We have seen this thread before starting from his first movie Following through The Prestige and Inception. Even what should’ve been a straightforward war story in Dunkirk had some odd timelines and story telling. All that is to say that this Nolan dialed up to 11 and it will not work for everyone. It worked for me.

The Dig (Simon Stone – 2021) A

A perfect sweet little British movie about digging in someone’s backyard for a buried treasure right around the start of World War I. It’s a story about doing something and doing it well since there is so much more to digging an ancient artifact besides just…digging. I loved the beautiful cinematography, nuanced subtle performances all around and solid restrained direction that eschews overdramatization or splash. We will be checking out the Sutton Hoo exhibit if we ever make it back to London.

%d bloggers like this: