Wednesday, June 5, 2019

The best film I've seen in weeks

The best film I have seen in recent weeks has been the Netflix-produced The Motive (Manuel Martin Cuenca, 2017), yet another Netflix original made in Spain. (Nothing against Spain, I personally love the place and love watching films set there, but the country must offer some mighty awesome film tax credits.) I suppose you could say this film is Hitchcockian but I hate too many references to the suspense master. Yet there’s no question there’s an homage to Hitch’s Rear Window (1954). The Motive is more a psychological thriller than anything else, with our antihero Álvaro (Javier Gutiérrez), a notary and would-be writer, descending into a kind of madness over his writing. Admonished by his creative writing instructor (Antonio de la Torre) that he apes popular novelists and must write from his own experience, Álvaro takes him to heart - a little too much. He begins spying on neighbors and creates elaborate manipulations to set up scenarios which would make ideal plot points. My only quibble with the film is towards the end when the police lay a charge against an individual but it’s questionable whether that individual should in fact be charged, therefore falsely extending the film’s own plot point.

The White Crow (2018), which I caught at The Maple Theater last month but which is no longer screening but will be coming to WIFF’s year-round line-up in July, is a competently-made third film from the man we usually think of as an actor, and he acts in this movie as well. It’s about the early life of Rudolf Nureyev, from his discovery in the old Soviet Union in the 1950s up to his defection in Paris in 1961. Ukrainian dancer Oleg Ivenko is a great stand-in for perhaps the most famous ballet dancer of the last century. And Fiennes is convincing as his instructor Alexander Pushkin. The sets and costumes are authentic but what comes across most is Nureyev’s steely individualism, wrapped in arrogance, that breaks through the Soviet state’s bureaucracy and wins freedom to the West.

I Am Not an Easy Man (2018) another Netflix original, set in Paris, directed by Éléonore Pourriat and starring Vincent Elbaz as Damien, is a film I’d been avoiding because it seemed a little too post-modern cute. But I succumbed and watched and was rather delighted. It’s a bizarre, very quirky film with a plot you’re constantly trying to get your head around but mainly leaves a smile on your face – throughout. I’m not entirely sure what the point was but Pourriat plays with all kinds of gender stereotypes and in fact massively reverses roles with men assuming the status of victims and trying to promote their “masculism” efforts, a mirror of feminism. Is the film using irony to make a point about women’s current status? Probably. But this script is far from politically correct and in fact the theme is so joyfully convoluted and sliced and diced you can read all kinds of interpretations into it, if you can interpret it at all.

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