Michel Gondry holds the distinctive cachet of a director like Wes Anderson. Everything he does is fraught with whimsy, and the characteristics of an auteur. Thus, it can be difficult for a fan to admit when Gondry has ventured too far out of his ordinary wheelhouse, which is the case with his latest film, Mood Indigo (or L'Écume des jours in French, meaning Froth on the Daydream, also the title of the Boris Vian novel on which it is based). Like The Science of Sleep and Be Kind Rewind, Mood Indigo favors the fantastical in terms of special effects, layering them on much more thickly than the aforementioned films. Promotional poster for Mood Indigo

Gondry and co-writer Luc Bossi remain largely faithful to the premise of the book, which focuses on the affluent Colin (Romain Duris, of The Spanish Apartment and Russian Dolls). Colin's wealth mercifully keeps him from working, as he concentrates on more important things like playing a rare instrument, called the pianocktail, that makes cocktails while you play it. His friendship with Chick (Gad Elmaleh), a literary fanatic obsessed specifically with the works of Jean-Sol Partre (yes, a spoonerism for Jean-Paul Sartre--and how often do you get to use the word "spoonerism," by the way?), begins to shift when Chick meets a woman, Alise (Aïssa Maïga), with his shared passion for Partre.

http://youtu.be/38ugyccL5zU

Alise, who also happens to be the niece of Colin's servant, Nicolas (Omar Sy), helps nudge Colin toward the woman of his own fancy at a party. Chloé (Audrey Tautou, who, for some strange reason seems to be having trouble making a comeback), instantly allures Colin, though he feels tongue-tied and awkward upon their first encounter. Before going to the party, Colin specifically practices a dance to Duke Ellington's "Chloé." Incidentally, "Mood Indigo" is also the title of another Ellington song. Once the two start dancing together, their love is cemented, quickly leading to marriage and even more rapidly leading to Chloé contracting a strange illness while on their honeymoon. This illness involves a water lily growing inside of her, wreaking havoc on her lung. Colin goes bankrupt trying to give her the best medical care, only to lose her in the end anyway.

Awkward love

With a mood that shifts between light-hearted and utterly depressing, the severe contrast in tone doesn't quite carry off when viewing the movie as a whole. Of course, the cinematography, music and effects are what manages to salvage what the story lacks. As Gondry's seventh film, one would expect a bit more in the way of cohesion. However, it could be that adaptations are not what works for him. With Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind as the benchmark for what he's capable of directorially, Mood Indigo falls noticeably short.

 

Every so often, a movie from India comes along that forces you to reassess your own priorities (I know, for me, the last one was Gurinder Chadha's Bride and Prejudice. Seriously.). Ritesh Batra's--previously known primarily for his short films--debut, The Lunchbox, is the type of movie to affect all the senses (except, of course, touch). Centered around the lonely lives of a widower named Sajaan Fernandez (Irrfan Khan) and a neglected wife named Ila (Nimrat Kaur), the two find themselves brought together by the unusual circumstance of Ila's lunchbox being delivered to the wrong address. And so, instead of winning back the affection of her husband through her cooking, she ends up currying (no pun intended) favor with Sajaan. Promotional poster for The Lunchbox

After being counseled by her "Auntie" (a term of respect for the more geriatric set in India) on how to cook an amazing lunch, Ila knows her husband, Ranjeev (Nakul Vaid), won't be able to resist her once he tries her latest recipes. She puts two and two together when Ranjeev's reaction to the food is lackluster. Thus, she decides to send a note to the person who is actually receiving her lunches. This strikes up a consistent daily correspondence that both Ila and Sajaan take pleasure in. Sajaan's highlight of the day, in fact, is Ila's masterfully prepared cuisine. So intense is his enjoyment that he can't even be bothered to train Mr. Shaikh (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), the man who is supposed to replace Sajaan when he retires.

Ila, as she prepares her Indian delicacies

Shaikh is an enigma in his own right, claiming to be a seasoned accountant, only to later be found out by the head of the department as a fraud. In the time before that, however, he manages to get into the good graces of Sajaan, who is both in need of a friend and takes pity on Shaikh when he tells him he's an orphan. They begin having lunch together most every day, giving Shaikh the opportunity to notice the glow Sajaan has about him when he eats Ila's food and reads her notes.

http://youtu.be/IJIGJtb_N7E

The most remarkable aspect of The Lunchbox is the manner in which it highlights how much easier it is to share a connection with someone you barely know, particularly in a city of millions. There is something simultaneously beautiful and melancholic about this fact, and how easy it is to drift apart from those who you're supposed to be closest to. In Sajaan's case, though, his wife was lost to death rather than Ila's somewhat more tragic circumstance of losing her husband on both an emotional and physical level. Her distance from him augments when she realizes he's having an affair--merely fortifying her interest in and attraction to Sajaan (mentally speaking, of course).

Riding to work in close quarters with Shaikh

As close as they feel to one another, revealing their innermost thoughts and observations of the world around them, a meeting between the two falls through when Sajaan has the realization that he's become an old man, smelling his residual malodorousness when he returns to the bathroom that morning to give himself a touch-up shave. And so, instead of approaching Ila when he sees her at the restaurant in which they're supposed to rendez-vous, he simply watches her, admiring her for her spirit and youth. In response to what she presumes is his callousness instead of his consideration, she sends him an empty lunchbox the next day.

Ila waiting for Sajaan

Very much a statement on Indian culture--with dialogue like "this country has no place for talent"--The Lunchbox is a much needed glimpse into the everyday life of denizens struggling to make a connection in spite of being constantly and quite literally pushed together. The closest resemblance to it in America is, of course, New York--but even that saturation of humanity doesn't compare to the kind in cities like Mumbai. How the love story ends between Ila and Sajaan isn't necessarily the point of the film. It's that they found each other at all.

Hany Abu-Assad is no stranger to creating provocative political films centered around the West Bank. One of his best known movies, 2006's Paradise Now, also brought up tense issues focused on Palestinian-Israeli relations. In his latest feature, Omar, Abu-Assad returns to the difficult, essentially unsolvable problems of those living in the Occupied Territories. Following the complex web of deceit in the life of a baker named Omar (Adam Bakri), Abu-Assad shows us a world where trust is an illusion and love is still the only thing worth fighting for. Promotional poster for Omar

Baking by day and plotting the overthrow of the occupation by night, Omar strategizes with his two best friends, Tarek (Eyad Hourani) and Amjad (Samer Bisharat). "Strategizing," of course, almost always means target practice. Tarek's sister, Nadia (Leem Lubany), does her best to remain oblivious to the trio's plotting, instead more preoccupied by her clandestine romance with Omar, who must climb the barrier between his side of the territory and hers in order to meet with her in secret.

The frequently stoic countenance of Omar

Afraid of Tarek's reaction, Omar continues to hold off on telling him about his desire to marry Nadia. The night that Tarek, Amjad and Omar finally decide to go through with their plan to kill an Israeli soldier, Omar is the one who spurs them on to do it in the wake of being harassed and physically abused by some soldiers after coming back from seeing Nadia. Although Amjad is the sole shooter, it ultimately comes back to all three of them when military and government intelligence intervenes to find them. Right at the moment Omar is at last ready to confess his love for Nadia to Tarek, a group of soldiers bursts through the restaurant they're at to capture them. Omar is the only one to be imprisoned.

Clandestine is key

While in prison, Omar is tricked into admitting his involvement in the shooting. The lead agent on the case, Agent Rami (Waleed Zualter), strikes a deal with Omar: In exchange for his freedom, he must lead the officials to Tarek, seen as the leader of a powerful terrorist organization. When he goes to find Nadia, he stumbles upon her talking to Amjad, who he's always suspected her of having a dalliance with. Upon seeing Omar again, Nadia is elated. Tarek, however, is suspicious of his friend's easily gotten freedom from jail. Rather than obey Rami's requests to lead them to Tarek, Omar tries to evade them, only to be caught and arrested yet again.

Beat down by life in the West Bank

Somehow, Omar coerces Agent Rami into freeing him one last time. However, once out for the second go-around, no one among his inner circle is willing to trust him, not even Nadia. It is at this point that Omar begins to veer in the direction of a sordid love triangle, plagued with murder, heartache and a questioning of paternity. Omar as a character ultimately proves himself to be a fundamentally good person forced into engaging in morally questionable actions by the misfortune of his country's circumstance. In the end, the film illuminates the value of self-sacrifice, both for love and for country--even when said self-sacrifice has the likely chance of backfiring (no gun pun intended).

 

Argentine writer/director Sebastián Lelio's fourth feature film, Gloria, shows us the woes of romantic dalliances during female middle age. Whimsical, confident Gloria Cumplido (Paulina García) is a divorcee who still loves to have fun and refuses to settle down again with just anyone. Her penchant for dancing in nightclubs leads her to encounter a seemingly like-minded spirit named Rodolfo Fernández (Sergio Hernández), who eventually proves himself to be an utter disappointment. The unshakeable confidence of Gloria

Although Gloria tries her hardest to stave off loneliness--an attempt compounded by the constant bitter rantings of her upstairs neighbor--it is a lingering sensation that creeps in when she wants it to least. With her children out on their own, Gloria does her best to stamp out the void. Moreover, in this particular film, little emphasis is placed on the what Chilean people actually do for a living, and Gloria's nondescript office job is only occasionally mentioned or shown. Thus, it appears she has nothing in the way of fulfillment through a career either.

Gloria with her ex-husband.

Spanish/South American culture is also strongly present in terms of how comfortable Lelio is with showing copious amounts of old people nudity/sex. The very first night Gloria encounters Rodolfo, she's all about pouncing, and the result is the sight of several minutes of flaccid flesh, which continues to be a running visual motif throughout the film. Like Gloria, Rodolfo also has a family: two daughters and an ex-wife. The difference between the two of them, however, is that Rodolfo allows his children to control his life far more than Gloria. His lack of total focus on her leads him to abruptly leave a birthday party for Gloria's son, an action that enrages Gloria and causes her to break up with him.

Promotional poster for Gloria

Almost a foreshadowing of their broken relationship is Gloria listening to the radio and hearing someone request Jeanette's "Why Are You Leaving?". In spite of her contempt for Rodolfo, she lets him worm his way back into her semi-broken heart. This time, he takes her on a romantic getaway, leading her to believe that he's finally taken into account her feelings about his over involvement with his children. However, she is duped once again after she throws his cell phone into a bowl of soup and tries to laugh it off as a joke. This prompts Rodolfo to excuse himself to go to the bathroom, though of course he simply vanishes to tend to an emergency with his ex-wife.

http://youtu.be/h9PrVESAYeA

Feeling shamed and jilted by Rodolfo's desertion, she goes on a bender involving gambling, makeout sessions with inappropriate men and waking up with a hangover alone on the beach. It becomes clear at this point that Gloria is dealing with some very real shit. Not to mention the fact that her eye doctor has recently informed her that she's showing early signs of glaucoma. To make matters worse, Gloria's beloved daughter, Ana (Fabiola Zamora), is moving to Sweden to be with her boyfriend. Enveloped by isolation, Gloria triumphs over her own forlornness--mainly through the film's incredible soundtrack--and shows that it's possible to enjoy oneself even during the bleakest of circumstances.

The highly talked about, subjectively scandalizing Blue is the Warmest Color proves one thing: Even lesbians use the "I'm on my period" excuse to get out of sex. Except in a lesbian relationship, one of the women is actually in tune with when your cycle is and won't believe the lie, but instead read immensely into it. Not only that, but being a lesbian doesn't exempt one person in the relationship from being more into it than the other--not that we really needed writer/director Abdellatif Kechiche to tell us that. In fact, Kechiche's male gender is perhaps the most controversial aspect of Blue is the Warmest Color (unless you're new to the scissoring game). Love at first sight.

Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos) is a bi-curious high school student whose eye is drawn immediately to the charismatic, blue-haired Emma (Léa Seydoux). Confident and self-assured, Emma attends the Beaux Arts college to pursue her passion for drawing. The connection between Emma and Adèle is unignorable--primarily for Adèle, who is still grappling with the notion that she might not be straight. Her first sexual encounter with a fellow male student proves lackluster to Adèle, prompting her to call things off with him. With the help of a friend, Valentin (Sandor Funtek), who takes her out to a gay club, Adèle finds herself wandering into a lesbian bar nearby where she fortuitously runs into Emma.

http://youtu.be/Y2OLRrocn3s

Although Emma is in a relationship and Adèle fears total banishment from her friends/conventional society, the two fall into a hopeless romance that ultimately results in Adèle's utter isolation as Emma throws herself into her art. Even among Emma's friends, Adèle feels awkward and out of place. More and more conscious that her true identity is just as ambiguous as her sexual identity, Adèle gives into the temptation of sleeping with a male colleague who teaches a class at the same school. Emma finds out about her indiscretion and throws her out without a second a thought. It is also during this scene that we learn lesbians aren't opposed to calling their girlfriends "slut" and "whore" either.

La tendresse.

It's difficult to say if Blue is the Warmest Color (which is actually titled La Vie d'Adèle – Chapitres 1 & 2 in France and based on Julie Minoh's graphic novel) would be nearly as riveting without the same sex element and explicit sexual content. Its NC-17 rating, however, still comes off as absurd when compared to the R rating of The Wolf of Wall Street. While the love story between Adèle and Emma is moving, it is, by no means, epic. The only reason it comes across as such is due to the length of the film and the tragedy of the couple not ending up together.

Promotional poster for Blue is the Warmest Color

After their breakup, Emma and Adèle meet again. While Adèle tries to coerce Emma (who is now in a relationship with her friend, Lise) into infidelity, Emma rebuffs her advances, but affectionately tells her: "I have infinite tenderness for you. I always will. All my life long." It is with this sentiment in mind that Adèle accepts Emma's invitation to her art show, where she re-encounters a gallery owner, Joachim (Stéphane Mercoyrol), who showed interest in her previously at a party for Emma. Because the two had talked about New York and Adèle's desire to go there, he inquires as to whether she ever made the trip. She tells him she never did. But then, New York and France are two sides of the same coin--and it is this duality and sameness that mirrors Adèle's own explorative sexual saga.

Blue nails.

Although the film is saturated in blue--blue nails, blue jackets, blue dresses, blue hair, blue walls, etc.--it is invariably the pink (that's code for vagina in case you didn't get it) that has drawn so many moviegoers (read: straight people) to this particular narrative. It is, at best, maudlin and, at worst, falsely and exploitively avant-garde.

 

Sebastián Silva got off to a quick start with movie industry success (which, in this case, refers to recognition as opposed to financial gain). His 2009 film, The Maid, received plenty of critical accolades, allowing Silva to continue creating movies with artistic freedom. Crystal Fairy (or, as its alternately known Crystal Fairy & The Magical Cactus and 2012) is a mythical, spiritual, intellectual tale that follows an unapologetic gringo named Jamie (Cera) and his band of Chilean friends as they seek the hallucinogenic nectar of the San Pedro cactus. Along the way, they are distracted by a spirited woman by the name of Crystal Fairy (the much under appreciated Gaby Hoffman) who enhances their journey without them truly realizing it until it's all over. Promotional poster for Crystal Fairy

Crystal Fairy floats into Jamie and his friend Champa's (Juan Andres Silva) life at a party where she's seen prancing around in what Jamie dubs to be an embarrassing fashion. Coked out enough to approach her, he tells Champa that he feels compelled to help her stop humiliating herself. At first uncertain of her heritage (due to her dark features and thick hair--later a characteristic that garners her the name "Crystal Hairy"), Jamie is surprised to learn that Crystal Fairy is an American. Feeling an inexplicable sense of camaraderie in his drug-addled state, Jamie invites Crystal on his quest to find the fabled San Pedro cactus, a glorious plant filled with pure, potent mescaline (so of course it's outlawed in the U.S.).

http://youtu.be/E7nInvUzAI8

The next day when Crystal calls up Jamie to take him up on his offer, he is slightly hazy on the details of ever having met her. Champa and his brothers, Pilo (Agustin Silva) and Lel (Jose Miguel Silva), however, are more than open to the notion of meeting Crystal in the town square where she says she'll be. When they come across her, she's in the midst of an argument with a group of cutthroat Chilean women after she tries to pay for something with a drawing. Jamie, already vexed by her slowing them down, is immediately offput by not only the drama Crystal causes, but her New Age/hippie persona. Only later does he comprehend that this over-the-top version of herself is a defense mechanism she uses against her past.

Preparing the innards of the San Pedro cactus

As the trip progresses and their hunt for a cactus intensifies, Jamie--called "the Pollo" by the band of brothers he's with--only grows more irritated by what he views as Crystal's crackpot theories and sentiments slowing them down. From helping to purge their chakras to walking around in front of them naked, Crystal upsets the balance of what Jamie had in mind for the trip in many different ways. It isn't until they actually head to a deserted beach to enjoy the fruits of their beloved plant that Jamie finally begins to appreciate Crystal.

On the beach.

Shot in a method that calls just enough attention to its low-budget nature, there is something about Crystal Fairy (both the film and the person) that keeps you captivated throughout--even though, for the most part, very little is actually happening. Perhaps this is because Silva based Crystal on someone inspirational from his own life, a woman who barely graced it, yet influenced him profoundly. In an interview with Movieline, Hoffman noted:

"There were biographical things about her that he told me. You know, he’d actually had this experience with this woman, so, I don’t want to reveal too much, but elements of the character, like the story she tells at the end, are factual. But, for me, it was more about taking those facts and making her dynamic instead of one-dimensional and cliché, which she could easily have been."

Tripping IRL

Among other life imitating art factors in Crystal Fairy is the fact that the actors were legitimately tripping on mescaline during the filming of the movie. This detail shines through minimally on film, and perhaps because the performances are so understated, you realize that the experience of and the rapport between the actors is real. In blurring the lines (goddammit, Robin Thicke) between where the acting begins and the improvisation ends, it makes sense that Crystal Fairy would be the project to reignite Hoffman's interest in acting and offer Silva a chance to pay homage to someone significant in his life.

Ah, the airplane comedy. A tried and true staple of the film industry ever since Airplane! in 1980--with a brief awkward phase post-9/11--Pedro Almodóvar's I'm So Excited! proves that plane crash potential can still be hilarious. As the follow-up to 2011's La Piel Que Abito (The Skin I Live In), a highly controversial, sensational film involving an unwanted gender conversion, I'm So Excited! comes as something of a surprise. The Spanish title of the film, Los Amantes Pasajeros--meaning both "the fleeting lovers" and "the passenger lovers"--indicates a plotline ripe for farcical character relationships. As Almodóvar is a consummate master at capturing the absurd, particularly with regard to human sexuality, the comedic timing of I'm So Excited! never misses a beat. The flamboyant promotional poster for I'm So Excited!

Opening with cameos by Antonio Banderas and Penelope Cruz as León and Jessica, two airline employees who get distracted from the tasks of managing the plane's undercarriage. After Jessica swerves her carful of luggage to avoid crashing into another airline employee, her husband, León, rushes over to her to assure she hasn't been harmed. It then comes to light that she's pregnant, drawing even more attention away from ensuring the security of the plane. The captain of the plane, Alex Acero (Antonio de la Torre), is thus horrified to learn that he is flying the aircraft with faulty brakes. The flight attendants (or stewards, as they're so politically incorrectly referred to) resolve to drug the economy class passengers--calling it Economy Class Syndrome--so that they won't ask any questions. This leaves only the business class passengers to deal with. Joserra (Javier Cámara), the "chief steward," is the first to display signs of a breakdown, especially with regard to his fear of Norma Boss (Cecilia Roth), a widely known call girl, with a penchant for complaining and general divadom.

Antics on the set.

Joserra's fellow stewards, Ulloa (Raúl Arévalo), and Fajardo a.k.a. Fajas (Carlos Areces), are in a similar k-hole mode, choosing to combat thoughts of death by drinking heavily and spiking their drinks with mescaline from a passenger they refer to as The Groom (Miguel Ángel Silvestre)--as he is aboard the plane with his new wife. Others among the still conscious passengers include a psychic woman named Bruna (Lola Dueñas), who is convinced that she can smell death everywhere, a B-rate actor named Ricardo Galán (Guillermo Toledo), a corrupt banker fleeing the country named Sr. Más (José Luis Torrijo), a mysterious "financial adviser" named Infante (José María Yazpik) and Benito Morón (Hugo Silva), the sexually confused co-pilot. With such a zany, neurotic mix of characters, it's easy to understand how a scene of the three flight attendants dancing to a perfectly choreographed "I'm So Excited" by the Pointer Sisters seems completely normal.

http://youtu.be/TPpgmXaGS-I

Although Almodovar has been quoted as saying "it's my gayest film ever," there is far more to this movie than sexuality and queer jokes. I'm So Excited! mirrors the political climate of Spain. The economic downturn in Spain has long been an issue--so much so that nearly a quarter of Spaniards are unemployed. After all, it's no coincidence that the aesthetic of Almodovar's film is decidedly 70s porno; and, as we all know, the 70s were one of the worst economic periods for most countries. Spain's current prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, has stated that the financial crisis that has occurred during his administration was impending long before he took office. As for the characters in the film, they each seem affected by some sort of event that relates back to government corruption and inefficacy.

http://youtu.be/7apqoZ3MbgA

The metaphor of a plane circling sans any specific direction with no place to land is also a bit too real when it comes to Spanish government analogies. In addition, the separation between the classes is extremely poignant--with the business class passengers engaging in decadent debauchery and the economy class passengers slipping in and out of a carefully calculated stupor. And so, what I'm So Excited! proves with regard to Almodovar is that, no matter how "light-hearted" his films may appear, there is always something deeper and more meaningful beneath the surface.

Pablo Berger’s third film, Blancanieves, finds the classic tale renvisioned as a silent film and a sorrowful epic. There is no solace for the young Carmencita (Macarena García) from the day she is born as her mother, Doña Concha (Ángela Molina), watches her husband, Antonio Villalta (Daniel Giménez Cacho), brutally gored by a bull during one of his highly attended bull fights. Doña Concha’s mother (also played by Molina) accompanies her to the hospital along with Antonio, and helps her daughter deliver her baby under the stressful condition of knowing her husband is badly injured. Just as Carmencita is delivered, Doña Concha dies, leaving Biancanieves under the care of her Abuela. In the meantime, Antonio finds himself paralyzed and immediately falls victim to the charms of his nurse, Encarna (Maribel Verdú). Evil to the core, Encarna does not allow Carmencita to live with them once she marries Antonio, even though Carmencita’s greatest wish is to be with her father. Promotional poster for Blancanieves

Set in the Andalusia of the 1920s, there is something about Blancanieves that is far more in keeping with the macabre tone of the original Brothers Grimm tale than the Disney version we’re so often peddled. Rather than the occasional inconvenience, you know, like being followed into the woods by a huntsman, Carmencita faces tribulation after tribulation. Her next tragic life event occurs when her Abuela drops dead while dancing to Doña Concha’s record. In a surreal, almost cartoonish scene that only a silent movie could carry off, Abuela falls to the floor, the life leaving her body just as the record ends (which is just one of many brilliant parables in Blancanieves).

http://youtu.be/HanTDiiZLpg

With no one else to care for her, Carmencita is sent to live with Encarna, who provides her with dungeon-like accommodations and immediately cuts all her hair off into a boyish style. The only thing that offers Carmencita any modicum of comfort is her pet rooster, Pepe, who she visits in the chicken coop where he has been banished. One day, as she’s collecting eggs from the coop, Pepe escapes and makes his way into the house, where he leads Carmencita to the second floor—an area Encarna had specifically forbidden her from entering. Following Pepe into a large, dim room, she sees her wheelchair-bound father and at last finds the familial comfort she’s been looking for. Although the two must meet in secret for fear of Encarna’s wrath, Antonio teaches her everything he knows about bullfighting, while also reading her other Brothers Grimm fairy tales like Little Red Riding Hood (real self-referential, I know).

Encarna schemes to take Blancanieves down

But, as the cliché goes, all good things must come to an end. Ultimately discovering what Carmencita has been up to, she makes a point of inviting her to the dinner table one night and serving her chicken. What Carmencita does not realize until she’s already eaten it is that Encarna has killed her rooster and served it to her on a silver platter. She then warns that she’ll do the same to her father if Carmencita ever disobeys her again. Defeated and distraught, Camencita spends her days performing menial tasks, practicing bullfighting in one seamless transition that sees her as a young girl hanging sheets to a young woman wielding the sheet as a bullfighter’s cape.

http://youtu.be/Z_oKCvcjRqM

Although she never sees her father anymore, she is devastated by the news of his death (Encarna pushed his wheelchair down the stairs, quelle surprise). Following his demise, a photographer comes to take photographs of the mourners with Antonio (apparently one of those old school creepy funeral customs). Carmencita is the last to be photographed with him, forcing a tearful smile as she sits on the sofa with him in his bullfighter’s uniform. With Antonio out of the picture completely, Encarna takes it upon herself to get rid of her once and for all. Under the pretense of sending her to the woods to gather flowers for her father’s grave, Carmencita travels very far, unknowingly pursued by a huntsman who strangles her in a river bank. She is eventually found by six dwarves (that’s right, six, not seven) who revive her and take her under their collective wing. Traveling under the moniker of "The Bullfighting Dwarves," Carmencita--who has no memory of her identity--decides to join them. They dub her "Blancanieves" ("just like in the tale") and take her to a bullfight where she ends up intervening to rescue one of the dwarves from certain death.

"The Bullfighting Dwarves"

Her natural knack for bullfighting leads her to gain fame quickly, rising up the ranks to star in her own show. Encarna learns of Blancanieves after she usurps her from having the cover of a magazine that did a feature on Encarna’s home. As Blancanieves’ tour makes its way to Seville where Encarna lives, she disguises herself to attend the show and see what this attention-stealing whore is all about. Just before Blancanieves is about to enter the ring, one of the more spiteful dwarves (jealous that she has taken their spotlight for herself) switches out her bull for a more fearsome one. Although everyone else in the crowd is surprised when they see the size of the bull, Blancanieves merely stares at it stoically just as her father taught her to do. In the end, the audience asks the bull to be pardoned, a request that Blancanieves obliges much to their delight. Now that she remembers whose daughter she is, she relishes the applause and accolades from the crowd—taking her rightful place as Spain’s new premier bullfighter.

Born to bullfight

Recognizing who she is, Encarna poisons an apple using a needle (in one of the most memorable visual effects from the film) and hands it to Blancanieves in a congratulatory fashion. Not recognizing who she is behind her veil, Blancanieves bites into the apple, signaling her untimely death. It is at this point in the movie that you start to understand how much grittier the Spanish are willing to get as Berger deviates from the standard prince rescuing the princess solution. Instead, Blancanieves is used by the dwarves as a carnival spectacle that charges spectators five cents to give her a kiss and see if they can revive her. Using a smoke and mirrors tactic to make it seem as though she rises when the right man kisses her, the Blancanieves spectacle is quite successful. At the end of the show, the dwarf that was closest to Blancanieves retouches her makeup and sleeps next to her in her glass coffin. Leaning over to kiss her before he goes to sleep, Blancanieves’ eyes remain shut, but we see a single tear flow down the side of her face.

Foreshadowing

What Blancanieves achieves cannot be underestimated as it is very challenging to make a captivating silent film in the twenty-first century. The subject and themes, however, are the kind to transcend the need for dialogue. Just as another recent modern silent film, The Artist, showed us, emotions are powerful enough to be conveyed visually—while still remaining subtle. And there is perhaps no better classic story to indicate this than that of Snow White.

 

 

Matteo Garrone is no stranger to the grim. His breakout film--meaning the one that got U.S. attention--was 2008's Gomorrah, a harrowing glimpse into the innerworkings of the mafia in Naples. In Reality (Il Grande Fratello), Garrone revisits the distinct people and vibe of Naples with Big Brother (known as Il Grande Fratello in Italy, and also the first reality show to make its way to said country) as the backdrop for the world of fishmonger Luciano (Aniello Arena), a happy-go-lucky sort who seems content enough as a family man in spite of his financial struggles. His simple life is interrupted when one of the former stars of Il Grande Fratello, Enzo (Raffaele Ferrante), makes an appearance at a wedding reception where Luciano and his family are also guests. Promotional poster for Reality (Il Grande Fratello)

Known for putting on campy drag acts (it's Italy, there is no underestimating the pervasiveness of camp), Luciano is encouraged by his niece to put on a different act besides his usual "bag lady" fare. Once in the reception hall, Luciano comes face to face with Enzo. Enamored of his celebrity status, Luciano and his daughter run after him before he leaves the next wedding reception in a different part of the venue that he was booked to make an appearance at. The seeds of irony are planted early on in the film as Enzo bandies the catch phrase "Never give up! Never let go of your dreams!" Initially, it is Luciano's children that are most interested in the show, especially when they discover that the casting interviews are taking place at the mall in their town. Begging their mother, Maria (Loredana Simioli), to coerce Luciano into coming to the mall, she calls him to tell him about the auditions.

Don't be a drag, just be a queen.

In the midst of conducting Naples-style business that can essentially be likened to a pyramid scheme, Luciano insists he is too busy to get away, but ultimately can't resist the temptation. By the time he reaches the mall, the auditions have ended, but seeing that Enzo is there, he presumes to ask him for the favor of letting him get in front of the camera anyway just so he doesn't disappoint his kids. Because they have met once before and Enzo vaguely remembers it--mainly thanks to Luciano's detailed description of where and how they met--Luciano is allowed to audition. A few days later, he is called back for a second audition in Rome, fueling the fire of his previously dormant excitement. His family, too, is equally as elated, choosing of course to accompany him to Cinecitta Studios in Rome in their most ostentatious Neapolitan garb.

Aniello Arena as Luciano

After his audition, in which he talks to a psychologist for an hour, Luciano is consumed with the belief that he will be chosen. However, when the show begins to air without him, Luciano’s certainty that he will be picked still doesn’t waver after the announcer assures that two more cast members have yet to be chosen. Even his family—apart from his wife—encourages him to keep believing. One day, as Luciano is angrily yelling at a homeless man who tries to steal a fish, he notices a strange man at the marketplace next to his fish stand. Instantly assuming that the man is a spy from Il Grande Fratello, Luciano amends his ways to start acting more benevolent toward the poor—so much so that he starts to give away most of his family’s possessions.

Let us pray.

This is the final straw for his wife, who becomes so enraged by his foolishness and stupidity that she leaves him to his own devices. Unfazed, Luciano continues to perform the same "kindness" to strangers, even going so far as to ask some random old Italian ladies in a cemetery if he should keep going in order to gain entry into the house. Assuming that he is referring to the house of God, one of the old ladies asserts, "Death is the only problem without a remedy, everything else will work itself out."

http://youtu.be/j21LZ5CKvlw

Convinced that the old ladies are an omen, Luciano persists in obsessively watching the show while simultaneously acting as though he himself is being watched. With nothing to occupy his time since he sold his fish stand (thinking he wouldn’t have time to run it due to the months he would be gone for Il Grande Fratello filming), Luciano goes a bit off the deep end, to say the least. He even points out to his family that there is a cricket on the ceiling—a creature that had never been in the house before until now—meaning it has to be a hidden camera. Maria ultimately returns to Luciano, unable to see him suffer without her help. Although she takes him to see a doctor, the only solution he can offer is that Luciano will recover once the show is over (but Maria isn’t quite convinced).

http://youtu.be/10yZa2_yJPM

Acquiescing to the outreach of the community, Luciano starts going to church more frequently, getting so involved as to start volunteering at a homeless shelter and even going on a pilgrimage to Rome to pray with a massive crowd of Catholics. We soon learn that Luciano’s true motive in going to Rome was to sneak onto the Cinecitta lot and make his way onto the set of Il Grande Fratello. At this point, his delusion is complete and profound as he walks through the house gawking wondrously at each cast member—none of whom seem to notice his existence. Making his way to the backyard, Luciano begins laughing to himself, as though he has somehow proven something in spite of the fact that no one is aware of his presence. Finally sitting back and lying on a chaise lounge, Luciano erupts into all-out laughter (the type you would expect of an insane person).

http://youtu.be/l2pcYREEExk

Aniello Arena’s performance as Luciano makes perfect sense when you consider that Garrone cast him after seeing his performance in a prison theater troupe. Convicted for taking out a hit on someone while in the mafia, Garrone originally wanted Arena for a role in Gomorrah. But perhaps it was cinematic fate that the role of Luciano later arose, for it is difficult to imagine anyone else playing him with such a deranged naivete. His acting eloquently mirrors back to us the hollow values we have come to hold dear: Fame, self-obsession and egotism.

 

Audrey Tautou's three year break from her mainstream outing as Coco Chanel in Coco Avant Chanel has been almost torturous, for there is no modern actress--French or otherwise--with as much charisma and natural beauty. It never seems to matter what role she is inhabiting as she can make any character seem interesting. In co-directors Stéphane Foenkinos and David Foenkinos' Delicacy (based on David Foenkinos' novel of the same name), Tautou is showcased at her best: As a vulnerable, uncertain widow unsure if she can trust that true love is possible for a second time in her life.

Nathalie Kerr (Tautou) has had the rare privilege of finding the love of her life in François (Pio Marmaï), a man who shares her every passion and desire. As the film opens with a long shot of Nathalie serenely walking down a cobble-stoned road to make her way to a cafe, the self-possessed pacing of the film is established. When she finally arrives at the cafe, we see her walk past François, who we assume Nathalie has not met yet. When she sits down, we hear François run through all of the possible drinks she could order in his mind. He promises himself that if she orders an apricot juice, he will talk to her. Of course, this is the exact beverage she chooses. Later, when Nathalie is leaving the cafe, François follows her out and grabs her by the arm to kiss her. It is then that we realize they are celebrating the anniversary of the day they met each other.

With their relationship at its strongest, François proposes to Nathalie, using his key ring to slip on her finger as an engagement ring. Once they are married, Nathalie gets a job at a firm specializing in Swedish products, largely, it would appear, because of the Director of Operations', Charles (Bruno Todeschini), attraction to her. Nathalie is able to ignore this glaring fact until François is hit by a car while going for a run and Charles is allowed the opportunity to tactlessly make his move on the now grieving widow.

As Nathalie deals with a new life that excludes the person who made it worth living, she is forced to bluntly tell Charles that she may never be capable of being with someone again, but if she was, it definitely would not be with him. Reluctantly, Charles accepts her feelings, still furthering her advancement within the company by promoting her and putting her in charge of an important project that requires her to oversee a group of both Swedish and French employees. One of the Swedes, Markus Lundell (François Damiens), is especially shy and cautious around Nathalie. So it comes as a huge shock to him when, one day--out of nowhere--Nathalie rises from the chair in her office and kisses him. For Markus, it is a kiss of death, causing him to become completely and utterly consumed with the thought of her.

When Nathalie acts as though nothing has happened between them, Markus confronts her about it. She apologizes and explains that she was daydreaming when he walked in that day, and wasn't conscious of her actions at the time. Not willing to just let the incident pass, Markus asks Nathalie to let him take her to dinner. He promises that if she still wants to forget about the kiss after their date, then he will never mention it again. To Markus' delight, Nathalie agrees. Just as surprised by the date as Markus, Nathalie finds that she is actually enjoying herself at dinner. She even shares personal details of her past that she never would have considered sharing with anyone else (e.g. her obsession with Pez when she lived in the United States as a child).

In spite of their undeniable compatibility, Nathalie is not one for rushing into something just because it is the first time in three years that she has felt any kind of emotion for a man other than François. Mirroring the process of bereavement itself, Delicacy can feel drawn out at times, but, ultimately, every plot point has a purpose: To make Nathalie's ability to move on seem more authentic.

Regardless of being ousted by the Iranian film, A Separation, in the category for Best Foreign Picture at the Academy Awards, Footnote is an incisive study of the classic battle between father and son, especially when the father and son in question are members of the same competitive profession. As the fourth feature from writer-director Joseph Cedar, Footnote is a story that could only be told by someone who has inhabited the alternate world of Jerusalem. Being that Cedar was born in New York and then moved to Jerusalem where he studied at a Yeshiva High School and later went on to serve in the Israeli Army as a paratrooper, the depth and clarity with which Footnote is conveyed could not have been better suited to any other filmmaker.

As rival professors at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Eliezer Shkolnik (Shlomo Bar'aba) and his son, Uriel Shkolnik (Lior Ashkenazi), both take a different approach to their Talmudic research. However, Uriel's methods have actually gained him recognition and favor among scholars and students alike, whereas Eliezer's methods have merely alienated him from almost everyone. What is more, Eliezer's most fervent nemesis, Professor Yehuda Grossman (Micah Lewensohn), is the person in charge of deciding which of the elected candidates in the realm of Talmudic research studies will receive the coveted Israel Prize. Grossman is also, incidentally, the man responsible for eradicating Eliezer's lifetime of work after confirming the results of his studies before Eliezer had a chance to publish them.

For this, and numerous other reasons, Eliezer holds nothing but contempt for those in the field of philology. In spite of this contempt, he is still at war with the concept of being accepted and revered by the members of his profession. Thus, when he receives a phone call from the Minister of Education informing him that he has won the Israel Prize, Eliezer suddenly becomes much more open to the credibility that comes with rising from obscurity.

Unfortunately, the adage, "If something is too good to be true, it is," proves to be correct in Eliezer's case as the Israel Prize committee contacts Uriel the next day to discuss an urgent matter with him. Irritated by the secrecy, Uriel complies with the committee's request to meet with them immediately. Upon arriving at the microscopic meeting room (a setting that allows for comedic gold to ensue), Grossman and the other committee members tell Uriel that there has been a mistake and that the prize was intended for him, not his father. Knowing full well the ramifications of this error, Uriel insists that they all go on as though the prize was meant for Eliezer. Grossman, on the other hand, is vehemently opposed to such disrespect toward the honor of the Israel Prize. Nonetheless, after much arguing (including coming to actual physical blows), Grossman agrees to let Eliezer have the prize so long as Uriel types the judges' recommendations and promises to never submit his own work to win the prize again.

In the wake of letting Eliezer believe he is the true winner, Uriel learns how easy it is for his own father to betray him by slandering his reputation in an interview printed in Hebrew newspaper Haaretz that deems Uriel's work cursory and childish, essentially amounting to nothing in the Talmudic studies field. Regardless of his father's callousness, Uriel maintains the secret, sharing it only with his mother in a moment of rage. Unluckily, Uriel fails to realize the obsessiveness with which his father can study a phrase. It is through Eliezer's meticulous attention to detail that he figures out his own son wrote the judges' considerations. This epiphany sends him over the edge in a sequence surreally delivered through Cedar's direction.

http://youtu.be/8dwe7GR9kO4

Tormented by the reality of his situation, Eliezer acts as though he is out of his body in the moments leading up to the award acceptance ceremony. Whether or not Eliezer gives in to his vanity and takes the prize is left at the viewer's discretion. And it is this ending that makes Cedar's study in character so fascinating. For Eliezer to willingly receive the award knowing who the true recipient was meant to be would make him the ultimate hypocrite and go against everything he stands for. But to admit the truth would be to admit being more mediocre than his son.

Taika Waititi, known for his work with fellow New Zealanders Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie on Flight of the Conchords, has returned with his sophomore feature, Boy. Succinctly titled, the story is emotionally complex--a juxtaposition against the simplicity of the title. Set at the height of Michael Jackson's popularity in 1984 (the year Thriller came out), Boy is one of the most non-trite coming of age tales to emerge from any country--New Zealand or otherwise--in a long time (or at least since Richard Ayoade released Submarine).

Nicknamed "Boy" (James Rolleston) of his own volition, Alamein (derived from his father who was named, presumably, after the town of El Alamein in Egypt), has a talent for embellishing scenarios with his vivid imagination. Those scenarios are also generally somehow centered around Michael Jackson. Considering the desperate and destitute existence he lives with his brother, Rocky (Te Aho Aho Eketone-Whitu), it is no small wonder that Boy has a tendency to make shit up. Especially to his pet goat, Leaf.

Although most of what he tells people is an overblown form of reality, one of the falsities he spouts actually comes true: His father, Alamein (Tahikia Waititi, looking more and more like Julian Barratt from The Mighty Boosh every day), really does get out of prison and comes back with two of his friends (a gang he calls The Crazy Horses)--though the motive for doing so is somewhat impure. What Alamein really comes back for (apart from the smokescreen of bonding with his sons) is a stash of money he buried; the only problem is, he can't remember exactly where on their vast property he buried it.

Boy, however, doesn't seem to notice any of his father's foibles until being first abandoned by him again and then publicly shamed by him when he returns. It is at this point that Rocky and Boy's sentiment toward Alamein shifts--Rocky, who initially expressed no interest in getting to know his father, now has a more vested concern in keeping him around. Boy's conflicting emotions about Alamein are compounded when he finds the money and stashes it away in a defunct car in front of the fence where Leaf is usually penned up. Since Boy doesn't find the money until after Alamein takes off, he conceals his discovery from anyone else--after spending a generous portion on popsicles for his friends.

When Alamein returns for the second time, he resorts to selling weed after Boy brings him a handful of it that he found among the plants in the field near their house. As Boy tries to be more like his father, he starts to stray away from his original group of friends, including Dynasty (Moerangi Tihore), who, upon learning of Boy's ties to the drug selling scene, cautions him not to become like the others as "they laugh at nothing at cry at everything."

http://youtu.be/RwqfR8g-Qow

In terms of Waititi's development as a director, Boy is a story that seems much more personal than his campy debut, Eagle vs. Shark. As one of the most prominent figures in the filmmaking industry in New Zealand, his attention to detail in portraying one of the most underrated countries is unmatched. The quirk of Flight of the Conchords is present, but there is an added blend of seriousness and kitsch. Obviously, that is the  only description you really need to be sold on the goodness of this movie.

Miss Bala is not your typical beauty pageant movie. Granted, there are often drugs and clandestine violence involved in U.S. beauty pageants, the nature of how a pageant is run in Baja, California deviates somewhat from the norm. While, obviously, Miss Bala was intended to address a serious subject matter (drug trafficking in Mexico), I can't help but wonder what a more satirical version of the film might have entailed--specifically in the vein of Michael Patrick Jann's 1999 masterpiece, Drop Dead Gorgeous.

The heroine of Miss Bala, Laura Guerrero (Stephanie Sigman), starts out as a naive and unwitting sort of contender, much like Amber Atkins (Kirsten Dunst) in Drop Dead Gorgeous. Her friend, Suzu (Lakshmi Picazo), tries out for the competition with her, and when both are accepted, Laura believes she really has a chance to positively represent Baja. What she doesn't realize is that being at the wrong place at the wrong time will change her life forever. Kind of like Tammy (Brooke Elise Bushman) after Becky (Denise Richards) blows up her tractor.

http://youtu.be/g357MHuj8WE

Writer-director Gerardo Neranjo's action-packed script, paired with his equally fast-paced directorial style, leaves little room for dialogue. Had it reflected the tongue in cheek mockumentary created by screenwriter Lona Williams in Drop Dead Gorgeous, there might have been more room to poke fun at the absurdity of Mexican drug/gang lords. And in any case, the out and out violence method can never be surpassed by Fernando Meirelles' 2002 epic, City of God.

http://youtu.be/Y3bSHaLxaxU

The other problem with Miss Bala is how much it strays away from the beauty pageant angle until the third act. The very title of the film suggests that this would be the crux of the story. Naturally, it would be difficult--but not impossible--to convey the intent of the movie without focusing on the drug/gang lord in question, Lino Valdez (Noe Hernandez), who develops an overt obsession with Laura, making awkward sexual advances toward her and forcing her to cross the border with a fuck ton of money strapped to her stomach so that she can give it to Lino's cohort in the DEA, Jimmy (James Russo). In many ways, Lino's sort of like the Kirstie Alley figure in this movie: Out to destroy whoever gets in the way of his reign.

The tragic conclusion of Miss Bala is designed to awaken its audience to the horrors of the Mexican drug trafficking industry (which, according to the epilogue, nets 25 billion dollars a year). With both Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal attached as producers of the film, the subject was obviously a personal one to all parties involved with it. I just think a little suffusion of beauty pageant mockery meets the innovative ways that drug traffickers come up with to smuggle their contraband could have been a nice touch.

Somewhat disappointingly, Pedro Almodóvar's latest cinema gem is not a demented concoction straight from his mind, but one based on a play called Tarantula by Thierry Jonquet. It is disappointing merely because it is so tailor made for Almodóvar's canon of work and would have only served to further impress audiences at how balefully inventive he is. But I guess acknowledging the auteur's genius in adapting the play must suffice on its own.

Opening with Dr. Robert Ledgard (Antonio Banderas) giving a seminar on the importance of a person's facial structure, particularly a burn victim, it is instantly evident that this is a man in a position of power within the medical community. That power fuels his subdued arrogance, the belief that he can experiment as freely as he wishes--setting the tone for what is to come.

As far as revenge stories go, only Almòdovar possesses the courage to “go there” with regard to the level of derangement it takes to fully elucidate Ledgard’s fury over the death of his only daughter, Norma (Blanca Suárez). A calculated and precise man who has already endured the colossal tragedy of losing his wife essentially twice—once when she left him to run away with his brother (though he never finds out that Marilia, his house servant, is his mother, and thus never finds out that her son is his brother) and got in a disfiguring car accident, and a second time when she killed herself upon seeing her reflection in the mirror in the aftermath.

Incidentally, her body landed in front of Norma, still only a child at this point in time. This event, naturally, scars Norma for life, causing her constant anxiety and a general mistrust of anyone she encounters. After being released from a psychoneurological observation facility (which is just a fancy way of saying loony bin), she ventures with her father to a wedding—her first interaction with a mass amount of people in quite some time. At first, it all goes swimmingly and, as Robert watches her leave with a group of peers, in particular a guy named Vicente (Jan Cornet), he feels confident in his daughter’s recovery. That is, until he realizes she has been gone for an extended period of time.

When he finds her (sequestered deeply in the woods), he notices a motorcycle fleeing hurriedly. Reviving her from her unconsciousness, Norma automatically associates her father with Vicente, her rapist. So sets in motion Robert’s quest for vindication. He kidnaps Vicente and tortures him passive aggressively by leaving him in chained isolation and only refilling his water when Vicente is asleep, so that he has absolutely no human interaction. After Norma commits suicide as a result of the rape trauma, Robert ups his sadistic game by giving Vicente a vaginoplasty, the first step in an intricate gender reassignment process that transforms Vicente into "Vera Cruz" (also the name of a prominent member of Andy Warhol's Factory posse).

Initially hateful of her imprisoner, Vera seems to develop an acute case of Stockholm Syndrome that is solidified after Robert's brother, Zeca (Roberto Álamo), rapes her, prompting Robert to shoot him in the back while he's still on top of her. What would an Almodóvar movie be without these elaborate, telenovela-like plot points?

The perverse quotient intensifies as Robert finally gives in to the fact that he has created Vera in his dead wife's image. Vera, familiar with his past thanks to his house servant and undercover mother, appears to be fine with going along with the charade. After all, what can Vera really go back to now that she is no longer Vicente? But, of course, the final twist in the film is what reveals the heights of human determination and endurance--even when the most surreal and unpleasant circumstances are thrown in our path.

So few movies detail the (apparently) angst-ridden lives of Welsh youth. Submarine, directed by Richard Ayoade (who you may know better as Maurice on The IT Crowd and as the glorious co-writer of Garth Marenghi and The Mighty Boosh), however, does just that. Taking a helping hand from Joe Dunthorne's 2008 novel of the same name, this foreign amalgam of Juno, Thumbsucker, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind focuses on the humdrum existence of Oliver Tate. In Oliver's mind, he is objectively chic, intelligent, and alluringly aloof. In reality, his classmates think he's kind of a pretentious tool.

To distract himself from the drudgery of Wales, he hones in on a girl named Jordana Bevan (Yasmin Page), who he believes is his equal in terms of social status. Somewhat mean-spirited and not at all the sentimental type, Jordana is at first immune to Oliver's attempts at reeling her in (chiefly, bullying a fellow classmate named Zoe Preece, played by Lily McCann, who is often tormented based on her weight and her refusal to pass notes in class). But when Jordana stumbles upon Oliver stopping at Zoe's house to bequeath a handbook on how to evade further torture, she uses the information to blackmail Oliver into kissing her as she takes pictures of them with his Polaroid camera. She then instructs Oliver to put the photos in his journal and leave it at school for someone to find so that her ex-boyfriend (who cheated on her) will find them.

Her plan to make the silly berk jealous doesn't quite work out as she had hoped, and Oliver ends up getting the shit kicked out of him for refusing to call Jordana a slut. This unexpected defense of her honor is what changes Jordana's mind about Oliver. She kisses him under non-blackmailing circumstances as he walks her home after the fight is over, prompting him to ask immediately, "Does this mean you're my girlfriend?" She responds, "I'll think about it."

Oliver and Jordana quickly slip into a montage of contentment--literally. Oliver views their initial two weeks together as a Super 8 clip show of good times. It is at this point when Oliver's school friends (acquaintances really) start to goad him for not having slept with her yet. Jordana, who is no maudlin prude, is receptive to Oliver's proposition and agrees to go to his house on the night his parents, Jill (Sally Hawkins) and Lloyd (Noah Taylor), go to the cinema. This particular plotline provides an altogether different subset of problems for Oliver as his mother agrees to bring their next door neighbor, Graham (Paddy Considine, whose shiteous mullet makes him almost unrecognizable from the In America days), who also happens to be Jill's ex-boyfriend and first love. And thus, to quote Bridget Jones, "It is a truth universally acknowledged that when one part of your life starts going okay, another falls spectacularly to pieces."

This is why, after having sex with Jordana (the first time awkwardly and the second time successfully), Oliver fears his mother is teetering dangerously close to infidelity. It is also around this time that Jordana, now feeling comfortable enough to express emotion to Oliver, informs him that her mother has a potentially fatal brain tumor. Feeling her issue trumps his, Oliver keeps his own parental conundrum to himself. In taking on the burden of spying religiously on his mother, as well as routine searches of his parents' bedroom, Oliver begins to neglect Jordana in her time of need; this negligence includes not showing up to the hospital on the day of Jordana's mother's surgery after she specifically asks him to be there. As is often the case when shit gets too real, Oliver could not resist the inclination to bail.

Consequently, Jordana breaks up with him in a letter, leaving Oliver utterly heartbroken and full of regret. The issues between his parents having resolved themselves (though his mother "gave a hand job to a mystic"), Oliver can now only think of Jordana (who already has a new bloke. Bitch works it.) and all he has lost as a result of his waffling. His parents console him by telling him that none of this will matter when he's thirty-eight (I'm guessing that's the age they are, so that's why they pull that number out). Oliver allows this small comfort to placate him for a time, but then ultimately decides that this will matter when he's thirty-right. Because he genuinely and truly is in love with Jordana (what do you expect? Wales has a very minuscule population).

The romance of Submarine is accented by the scenery of a country that is often relegated to the role of being a poor substitute for England. I mean, fuck, if the U.S. had half as much picturesque coastline, there would be a new love story in theaters every week. But no, most of our backgrounds feature a Wal-Mart. Also adding to the romance factor is Alex Turner of Arctic Monkeys comprising most of the film's soundtrack. So yeah, it's a double threat of romance. Be careful. You might get the idea that it could happen to you.

One does not usually associate Catherine Deneuve with satire. The illustrious siren of French cinema is more often than not known for her salacious roles in films like Belle de Jour, Zig-Zag, and Luis Bunuel's La Femme aux Bottes Rouges. But perhaps with age comes greater concern with the statement a film makes rather than how one's physical appearance will come across in it. Written and directed by François Ozon, the youthful Frenchman who also brought you Swimming Pool and 8 Women, Potiche is set in the year 1977 at the height of communist tensions in France. As you can imagine, this setting is rife for Ozon's parody.

Opening on Suzanne Pujol running through the woods in a color coordinated running suit (what could establish her trophy wife status more accurately?), she stops in a clearing to write an unbelievably maudlin poem about a squirrel and then scampers back to her stately manor where Robert Pujol (Fabrice Luchini), her surly husband, awaits her. Already miffed by the fact that Suzanne has given the maid more time off, Robert tells her it isn't her place to make breakfast. Suzanne then asks, "If my place isn't in the kitchen or at Badaboum [a strip club her husband frequents], where is it?" This is the query that presents the entire thesis of the movie: Where does a woman belong? And it is a query that is still as relevant in 2011 as it was in 1977.

As tensions amid workers at Robert's umbrella factory mount, they take Robert hostage, refusing to release him until their nominal demands are met. Desperate to ensure her husband's freedom, Suzanne turns to her old flame Maurice Baubin (Gerard Depardieu), the current mayor, for assistance.

Maurice and Suzanne's reunion reignites old passions, especially after Robert suffers a breakdown and goes on a cruise to Greece, leaving Suzanne to take over in his stead. Maurice starts to think that Suzanne is genuinely in love with him, but, when Robert returns from his forced bout of R&R, the details of Suzanne's less than unblemished past begin to surface, revealing that she is not exactly as pure or fond of marital fidelity as everyone had previously thought. As a matter of fact, her son is not even Robert's--that's how much of a trick she is. But, trick or not, this trophy wife knows how to adequately run an umbrella factory.

Ozon's inspiration for Potiche stemmed from the play that the story is based on, written by Pierre Barillet and Jean-Pierre Grédy, and originally slated the narrative to be more of a commentary on the recent political career of Nicolas Sarkozy. Ozon chose to write the story in the backdrop of the late 1970s because of how incredibly divided France was politically at that time, both classwise and ideologywise, making it easier to create as many over the top scenes and lines of dialogue as possible.

The culmination of the film is intentionally hokey, following the rise of Suzanne's hastily patched together political campaign in the wake of being ousted out of her 55% share of the umbrella factory by her own daughter. Ozon, who has turned to Deneuve in the past to carry a film, shrewdly chose the screen goddess to enhance the incongruousness of Madame Pujol as the answer to France's governmental woes.

With the last installment in the incredible tale of Jacques Mesrine, Mesrine: Public Enemy #1, it is easy and somewhat impossible not to draw comparisons to the style of Quentin Tarantino. To begin with, the story has two volumes, just as Kill Bill does, and the bloodshed can, at times, seem to be displayed just for the sake of display. The entire motif of guns, girls, and gangsterdom kind of falls into the early Tarantino realm as well. But this is a French movie and, as much as the French may respect Tarantino's characteristic approach, they rarely appreciate comparisons to others, least of all Americans. So back to Mesrine.

When we last left him in Mesrine: Killer Instinct, he had just fled from yet another prison after he and his girlfriend were extradited to Quebec for the kidnapping of a millionaire named Georges Deslauriers, who had previously employed him as a chauffeur. Public Enemy #1 finds us in 1979, the year of his death, just before he is about to be essentially executed by the French police. But before this happens, director Jean-Francois Richet flashes back to 1973, in yet another instance of Mesrine being apprehended by French authorities. He was not to stand for being caged for very long though. That's the thing about bona fide criminals: When you cage them they're liable to implode or explode. Mesrine preferred the latter action, affecting everyone around him with his knack for cultivating and severing alliances as new situations arose.

Once Mesrine is contained and put in a maximum security prison called La Santé (which ironically translates to "the health"), he meets one of those strategic alliances, Francois Besse (Mathieu Amalric). Besse, too, has miraculously beaten the odds of maximum security prisons and broken out three times, the same amount as Mesrine. The two formulate a plan to escape together, biding their time until the right moment, which comes five years into Mesrine's twenty year sentence.

Never contented with his achievements, Mesrine cannot simply enjoy the success of being prematurely free--he has to engage in some type of crime again. His methods start to wear on Besse, especially after Mesrine meets and romances Sylvie Jeanjacquot (Ludivine Sagnier), a much younger woman who he picks up in a bar one day after following her through the streets for several blocks (and yeah, that is as creepy as it sounds, but French people make unbridled lust seem way more acceptable and just plain natural). Without Besse to harness in Mesrine's antics with the press and his erratic decision-making, the illustrious bank robber's days look as though they will be one-digited.

What differentiates Public Enemy #1 from Killer Instinct is that the former gives far more insight into the nature of Mesrine's persona and what inspires and spurs him to the insane courses of action he takes. In an interview with a French reporter, Mesrine is asked, "Why are you doing this?" The response is shockingly akin to how a large majority of law-abiding, menial job-holding people must feel: "I don't like the laws and I don't want to be a slave of the alarm clock my whole life. I don't want to spend my entire life dreaming. I don't want to always think how I have to work half a year just so I could buy something."

And so Mesrine does not. He does not live a life of ordinariness and silent contempt. But he pays a price for it, just as normal citizens of the world pay a certain price for allowing themselves to be herded like sheep. Yet somehow, Mesrine's price seems slightly lower than ours.

What defines a good person? I'm not sure. In fact, I'm probably the last person you should ask, but I do know that Jacques Mesrine, the notorious French gangster whose specialty was in executing bank robberies (usually peppered with a bit of assault and murder) is not quite the best candidate for humanitarian. But then, that's what makes him such an interesting character to watch come to life onscreen. The first film in the dyad about the life of Mesrine is entitled Mesrine: Killer Instinct or, if you're French (or want to be, like me), Mesrine: L'instinct de Mort. With the artful combination of Abdel Raouf Dafri's writing and Jean-François Richet's stylized directing, Mesrine actually transforms into a character we want to see evade the law, who we can forgive for pointing a gun in his wife's mouth in front of his son.

Rather than addressing Mesrine's brief period of normalcy before joining the French army while the Algerian War was going on, giving him a taste for what it felt like to kill, Dafri chose to commence the film in 1959 when he was just getting out of the army. This leaves out the subject of his first marriage to Lydia De Zouza in 1955, a union that didn't last for more than a year. I suppose I can't blame Dafri for leaving some of Mesrine's women out of the story; there were, after all, a litany of them. But in leaving out this piece of information, it makes less sense why Mesrine would have a predilection for living a life of crime. Had there been a brief scene of him being miserable with the conventional beforehand, it would be more understandable why he would jump at the chance to work for Guido (played by Gerard Depardieu, who will never die and will somehow always crop up in every French movie in existence), a major player in the crime underworld of France.

Once he gets involved, it becomes easy to see why he would find the life of a gangster so alluring: Free money, no specific work schedule, prostitutes who like him so much they don't charge, and access to a gun. But there is a theory--and don't ask me what it's called because I don't know (I might just be fabricating it that's why)--that once you get away with something, you'll only keep escalating until you get caught. This is most definitely the Mesrine's affliction. After marrying a Spanish woman (named Sofia in the movie), Mesrine has two children with her, yet this does not slow him down or make him think twice about returning to the seductiveness of delinquency.

His second wife ultimately leaves him (and why wouldn't she? This is the one who got a gun pointed in her mouth), allowing Mesrine to fully lavish in his depravity. On one particular spree, he meets a woman named Jeanne (Cécile De France) who is just as game as he is to wreak havoc, inspiring them to knock off a casino together. This, unfortunately, does not go unnoticed, and the owner's minions unsuccessfully try to take a hit out on Mesrine, who is merely shot in the shoulder, but otherwise unscathed. In the wake of the attempt on Mesrine's life, Guido encourages him to leave France with Jeanne until the incident is forgotten.

At this point, you might start to comprehend the need for a follow-up to Mesrine: Killer Instinct, called Mesrine: Public Enemy #1. The story is just too epic to conclude in one film. Fuck that Scott Pilgrim shit about an epic of epic epicness. This ribald tale of violence, evasion of authority, and transcontinental mayhem far surpasses any "action" movies of the past year. And even though one of the best lines is already delivered in the first installment, "Nobody kills me until I say so," one is left with the sense that Mesrine (who Vincent Cassel is, let's just say it, way too sexy to play) has quite a few more tricks up his bullet-riddled sleeve.

Italy has struggled in recent decades to recapture the film glory of Cinecittà. The infrequency of quality films from the country that once put everyone else to shame with its bold and innovative productions is rather saddening. So when a film like The Sicilian Girl comes along, it really floors you, or at least me anyway since I have something of an obsession with my Italian heritage. But even for those who have no kindred ties to the country, this movie will still affect you in a pointed and incisive way. The ubiquitousness of the mafia in Sicily at this particular time in history is something that everyone should be cognizant of, because factions--and the inescapable hopelessness wrought by those factions--can form anywhere.

The film opens in a choppy, overly edited manner, showing snippets of Rita (Veronica D'Agostino) as she reluctantly gives her father Michele's (played by Marcello Mazzarella) gun to her brother Carmelo (played by Carmelo Galati) so that he can use it to kill the man responsible for Michele's death, Don Salvo (I know, everyone has badass names, right?). After this brief introduction, we are taken back seven years to 1985, just before Michele was killed. At this time, Rita is twelve, still naive to the corrupt and crime-ridden world around her, in spite of the fact that Don Michele is at the forefront of this criminal activity. For all of Don Michele's underhanded dealings, there is no dubiousness about his love and affection for Rita, which is not something that can be said for Rita's mother, who seems to loathe her even in the innocence of childhood. One example is when Rita writes on one of the sheets that is hanging out to dry on the clothesline with tomato sauce. As Rita's mother chases after her to give her a beating, her father comes out onto the terrace to interfere. Rita tells him, "I'm learning to write." Don Michele turns to smile at his wife and say, "That's a good thing. Do you want her to be as ignorant as we are?"

The bond Rita has with her father is cut short after a run-in Don Michele has with another mafioso named Fiorebella, who intimates that the mafia is moving toward crime that is centered around drug trafficking. Even though Don Michele tries to squash that notion by killing Fiorebella in an intricate way that involves some rope, Don Salvo retaliates by having Don Michele killed in a public square of their small town just before Rita's communion. Rita is the only one who rushes to his side as everyone else retreats into their homes or shops to avoid becoming a party to the conflict. From this moment forward, Rita is consumed with avenging her father's death.

When Carmelo tells her that Don Salvo is responsible, she yells at him, saying he is a coward for not gunning him down on sight. But Carmelo convinces her that they must bide their time and wait for the right moment. It is at this juncture that the film flashes forward again to 1992. She and Carmelo anxiously sit at the table as their typically subservient mother glides in and out of the kitchen to bring them food. During her absences from the table, Carmelo excitedly tells Rita that the time has finally come: He is close enough to Don Salvo's clan to make a move. Rita shares his excitement but is uncertain about whether he should jump at such an uncertain chance. Carmelo cannot wait any longer, however, assuring Rita that everything will go as planned. So naturally, it doesn't. The next morning, Carmelo's body washes ashore and Rita's boyfriend Vito (played by Francesco Casisa) has to restrain her from killing Don Salvo on sight. Vito, who is also closely knit to Don Salvo's clan, betrays Rita by telling Don Salvo that Rita has gone to the chief prosecutor in Palermo to report the incident. To redeem himself though, Vito warns Rita that she must leave Sicily immediately.

Under the custody of the state, Rita is relocated to Rome under the new name of Silvia. More unsettled and dejected than ever, Rita has no one to turn to or confide in except the chief prosecutor who she risked everything to tell her story to. One of the best moments of Rita's voiceover occurs during this period of loneliness, when she remarks, "People say time heals your wounds. But it really just gives them time to grow deeper." Before justice can be administered, more carnage and loss must transpire in the already tragedian life of someone so young (Rita was seventeen years old in 1992).

True to the events that happened, writer-director Marco Amenta concludes the film with Rita's suicide. But before she jumps off the building of her fake apartment that belongs to her fake life under another fake identity (this time the witness protection program changes her name to Elena), she tells Vito, "This time, the mafia loses. This time, I win. Rita wins." It couldn't be a better way to state how much she sacrificed to take a stand against the sordid, cruel world of the mafia.

On the heels of the Audrey Tautou biopic about Coco Chanel, Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky strives for a somewhat uncharted approach to tackling the career-oriented portion of Coco Chanel's life. Based on the 2003 novel by Chris Greenhalgh, the film focuses so comprehensively on the affair between Chanel and Stravinsky that the nuances are almost unfathomable.

The opening night to Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring" in 1913 Paris is a categorical failure (and to be honest, I'd be a little belligerent too if I was one of the Parisians who had to suffer through its creepiness). One of the few members of the audience that can appreciate the esoteric nature of the work is Coco Chanel. At the time, Chanel was still deeply in love with Boy Capel, a well-known English polo player who met Chanel while she was still acting as the mistress for a wealthy Frenchman named Etienne Balsan. Thus, her brief attraction to Stravinsky is ignored until seven years later, when they meet again in the wake of Boy's death.

Coco, never one to mince words or desires, tells Igor he should bring his family (including an ailing wife and a fucking gaggle of children) with him to her villa and work for the summer. When you're Russian, the choice is obviously: "Yeah, I think I will stay in France, what with Vladimir Lenin running my homeland right now." And so Igor and his family set up camp in La Maison de Chanel, where their feelings are forced to boil to the surface in such close proximity to one another.

It should be mentioned that the visual transitions and segues designed to reveal each new component of the plot are often times cunningly subtle, never flat out delivering a distinctive scene change (except for the almost pornographic sex scenes between Mads Mikkelsen and Anna Mouglalis). This well-crafted technique by director Jan Kounen mirrors just how covertly the affair between Coco and Igor began and persisted.

Apart from being mildly tainted by the recent release of Coco Avant Chanel, Coco & Igor doesn't really invite any comparisons to that particular biopic because its story tells a vastly different account of another period in Chanel's life. And, in truth, the couturier probably needs about four separate movies to unravel the varied stages of her existence. More than anything, Coco & Igor is a visual triumph with a paucity of words. Its sole error in relying on what is observed by the eye is when, at the end of the film, Chris Greenhalgh (who managed to snag the role of screenwriter instead of being relegated to literary limbo) takes things in an extremely bathetic direction, flashing forward to when Coco and Igor are both one cigarette away from a collapsed lung; Igor holed up at the Essex House in New York (though, mind you, it is well-documented that he preferred Los Angeles and lived there for the majority of his latter years) and Coco rotting in one of her infamous Chanel suits in Paris. I think we all know they didn't romanticize the affair half as much as the movie does.