Director/screenwriter/producer Jennifer Fox (left) and actress Elizabeth Debicki on the set of The Tale, 2015. (Photo: IMDb)
Here are twenty-four new movies due to be released in theaters or via other viewing platforms this May, all of which have been directed and/or photographed by women. These titles are sure to intrigue cinephiles and also provoke meaningful discussions on the film world, as well as the world in general.
MAY 1 (streaming on Netflix): A Life of Its Own: The Truth About Medical Marijuana (dir. Helen Kapalos) – Synopsis from the film’s official website: “Award-winning journalist Helen Kapalos takes the audience on a journey through the complex issues around the medicinal cannabis debate. The film was inspired during the making of a network news TV story which unwittingly unearthed a silent majority – personal stories of patients suffering a range of illnesses, from intractable epilepsy to rare genetic diseases. Around the world the debate is being mobilised by a people movement from those who’ve experienced success from the plant as medicine – with calls to make the wider community, aware of its potential therapeutic value.”
MAY 4 (NYC), MAY 18 (LA): Angels Wear White (dir. Vivian Qu) – RogerEbert.com review by Peter Sobczynski: “For anyone watching the new Chinese drama Angels Wear White, it will be all but impossible to regard its bleak and harrowing storyline without thinking of the #MeToo movement and all of the attendant scandals involving horrific cases of sexual misconduct that have been brought to light in its wake. On the one hand, since the film had its premiere at last year’s Venice Film Festival just before all of the news broke, this is merely a coincidence. On the other hand, it adds an extra level of resonance to this hard-hitting drama that shows how such misbehavior is not limited to the corridors of power in the usual places but can even be found in the sleepy little seashore resort town in China where this particular film takes place.
“There, not far away from a beach that features an enormous statue of Marilyn Monroe in her famous upskirt pose from The Seven Year Itch, resides a semi-seedy motel where Mia (Wen Qi), a 15-year-old undocumented migrant works cleaning rooms and doing the other jobs that no one else wants to do. One night, her older co-worker Lili (Peng Jing) takes off to meet with her punk boyfriend and she ends up manning the front desk, at one point checking in an older man and two schoolgirls into a couple of rooms. Later that night, over the security cameras, Mia witnesses the man force his way into the room with the girls, an act that she records on her phone. As it turns out, not only are the girls underage but their attacker is none other than a high-ranking police official and when word of the assault gets out, the town is rocked by the ensuing scandal.
“At this point, the narrative spins off into three but equally important directions. Mia, who has been struggling to obtain an all-important ID card, could break the case wide open by turning over her video of the incident but is afraid that if it does, it would expose her undocumented and underage status and cause her to lose what little she has. The two girls, Wen (Zhou Meijun) and Xin (Zhang Xinyue) find themselves being mistreated and sold out by the very people who are supposed to protect them—Xin’s upwardly mobile parents are perfectly willing to set justice aside in exchange for a big payoff that will secure her future and avoid tarnishing her reputation while Wen’s neglectful mother (Liu Weiwei) openly blames her own child for the entire incident, going so far as to slap her around and chop off most of her hair as punishment. By comparison, Hao (Ke She), the attorney assigned to Wen and Xin’s case, has it easier than the others but as she doggedly tries to put a case together, she is reminded—as if she really needed to be—that the justice system’s lofty ideals are often no match for the roadblocks that are too often put in the way of those who persist in doing the right thing instead of just looking the other way.
“The film has an engrossing and powerful drama that is all the more effective for writer/director Vivian Qu’s refusal to keep the story from spinning off into lurid melodrama—all of the story points on display have the harsh bitterness of truth to them. After a while, it becomes evident that Qu is less interested in pursuing the details of the specific crimes done to the two girls as she is in charting the cruelties that women face on a regular basis just because of the casual sexism found in their daily lives. For example, Mia is informed early on by Lily’s sleazy boyfriend (Wang Yuexin) that he knows plenty of people who would pay well to claim her virginity. As for the mothers of the two girls, it becomes evident that they are less heartbroken over what has happened to their daughters than the fact they will no longer be seen as good marriage prospects because of the loss of their virginity. Even the more worldly Lily is not immune to this way of thinking, at one point undergoing a painful surgical procedure to reconstruct her hymen so that she may one day end up in a respectable marriage.
“Qu keeps the story moving along in a manner that generates no small amount of tension without ever coming across as overamped and she is aided by a number of strong performances across the board. Wen Qi is excellent as Mia, which is easily the film’s trickiest role for the way that she has to figure out how to engender audience sympathy despite doing any number of things that would seem to go against that, albeit always in the name of self-preservation. Ke She is also quite good in one of the film’s only two unambiguously noble roles, that of the lawyer determined to find some degree of justice. The other, also very good, is Le Geng as the initially estranged father of Wen who ultimately proves to be the only one of all the parents involved to be truly concerned solely with finding some justice for his child instead of just a payoff.
“Angels Wear White has a few moments where it is a little too on-the-nose for its own good, such as the lugubriously symbolic Marilyn Monroe statue and a couple of cuts to signs in the police station reading ‘SERVE THE PEOPLE’ at times when something else entirely is being served instead. For the most part, however, this is a tough and unsparing drama that vividly brings to light the kind of narrative too many people have endured over the years, in a manner that will be recognizable and relatable to viewers regardless of where they may be from. It’s hardly a barrel of laughs, to be sure, but this film is more concerned with making audiences angry at what has been the status quo for far too long and determined to bring about some much overdue change. In those key aspects, it is an undeniable success.”
MAY 4: The Desert Bride (dirs. Cecilia Atán and Valeria Pivato) – Village Voice review by Bilge Ebiri: “Though it runs a mere 78 minutes, The Desert Bride is strikingly languorous and open-ended, its graceful silences and unhurried rhythms speaking to the intriguing identity crisis of its protagonist. Cecilia Atán and Valeria Pivato’s picture unfolds largely as an aesthetic experience — one in which the way the camera explores a space, or frames a face, is more important than words or actions in conveying the story’s central drama. That makes for an occasionally challenging but ultimately rewarding experience.
“The film follows Teresa (Paulina García), a middle-aged woman who has spent most of her life as a live-in maid for an urbane, well-to-do Buenos Aires family. That family, however, is now selling their house, and Teresa, whose sense of self has been wrapped up in her work for all these years, is being politely but swiftly dismissed. Atán and Pivato represent the house as a series of hard angles and antiseptic rooms — was it always this blank, or has it merely been emptied of character and meaning now that they’re leaving? Still, there are vestiges here of the life that Teresa made possible, including the wall on which she charted the growing height of the family’s son, now a grown man. What little mark she has made in this world, it seems, was in service of others.
“We see images of Teresa’s former life in brief glimpses, and flashbacks. Most of the story takes place in the desert, as Teresa, on her way to a new job in the distant town of San Juan, has become stranded. When her bus makes a rest stop, she wanders into the van of an eccentric traveling salesman named El Gringo (Claudio Rissi) and accidentally leaves her bag behind. El Gringo himself drives off with it, and Teresa embarks on a journey to find him and retrieve her belongings. El Gringo is an oddball, and it’s initially hard to figure out what to make of him, but he does also seem more attentive to this woman — this momentary acquaintance in the middle of nowhere — than the people to whom she dedicated so much of her life ever were.
“Atán and Pivato turn this simple tale into a lovely existential journey, one whose modesty of scale betrays the profound nature of the ideas at play. The desert is spellbinding: A viewer can get lost in its vast blankness and its delicate silences, where every soft, sandy footstep can seemingly be heard from miles away. These aren’t so much the sensuous dunes of Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Sheltering Sky (a film with which The Desert Bride shares some thematic similarities) as they are the airy, empty spaces where Teresa can finally confront who she is, and who she wants to be.
“The story works largely on the level of metaphor, but it’s never overbearing or suffocating; there’s life here. A lot of credit should go to the actors, particularly the lead. As the film moves along, García’s face seems to change dramatically. The Chilean actress has already demonstrated her tremendous range in films like Sebastián Lelio’s Gloria and Ira Sachs’s Little Men. Here, she hasn’t been given a lot of dialogue or incident to work with, but no matter; she seems able to transform herself on an almost molecular level, as Teresa’s tension gradually dissipates and her expression softens. I swear I thought I was literally watching a different person by the end of the film. And in some senses, I was: The whole movie is about the process whereby this woman finds her own identity and claims her humanity.”
MAY 4: Everything Else (dir. Natalia Almada) – New York Times review by Jeannette Catsoulis: “Everything Else (‘Todo lo demás’), the first narrative feature from the documentary filmmaker Natalia Almada, is a low-key character study whose gently repetitive rhythms mask an unusually keen sense of nuance and subtlety.
“With laserlike focus, the movie observes the monotonous daily rituals of Doña Flor (Adriana Barraza), a 63-year-old government clerk in Mexico City. For more than three decades, in the same nondescript department, she has processed applications for voter-identification cards. With metronomic efficiency, she checks documents and unspools red tape before returning to her drab apartment and beloved cat — her sole companion.
“Aside from Doña’s daily subway rides and occasional, unnerving glimpses of the city at night, Everything Else unfolds in a closed loop of office, apartment and a public pool where Doña silently watches children swim. The film’s discipline and quotidian dreariness can be wearying. Yet between Ms. Barraza’s impressive performance and Lorenzo Hagerman’s beautifully textured photography (he also shot Rick Alverson’s Entertainment, another hyper-focused study of psychological pain), the story’s tragedy gradually accumulates.
“A portrait of extreme isolation, Everything Else is also a movie about women, their bodies crammed together in subway cars and reported, missing or abused, on the evening news. Their comradeship at the pool is a solace that Doña Flor seeks even when she can’t enter the water; and with each cycle of her routines, her actions become merely the bass line of a slow song of awakening. Her barriers are being shaken, not by cataclysm, but by the steady drip of a loneliness that she can no longer abide.”
MAY 4: The Guardians (dir. Xavier Beauvois) (DP: Caroline Champetier) – Film Comment review by Kristin M. Jones: “In Xavier Beauvois’s latest feature, his understated, visually compelling storytelling unfolds with patient precision. Although The Guardians is set during the First World War, the battlefield appears only in an opening shot of corpses lying on dead leaves and in a dream sequence later on. The narrative takes on the rhythms of a peaceful countryside, where geese fly over fields and forests. Amid natural splendor, young men appear and vanish like ghosts.
“Based on Ernest Pérochon’s 1924 novel, the film follows women who struggle to maintain a family farm, doing backbreaking work and buying new equipment while trying to envision life after wartime. Their emotions are set against somberly radiant landscapes and interiors, which DP Caroline Champetier captures as sensitively as she did those of Beauvois’s Of Gods and Men (2010), another story of an isolated community threatened by external forces.
“As the matriarch, Hortense, and her daughter, Solange, Nathalie Baye and Laura Smet (Baye’s real-life daughter) contribute fine performances. In her film debut, playing Francine—a sturdy, incandescently appealing young woman Hortense hires to replace a male farmhand—Iris Bry is a wonder, electrifyingly conveying quiet depths of feeling.
“Francine, it becomes clear, is an extraordinary character. Initially content to toil uncomplainingly, she is good-natured, devout, and ardent, but never an idealized or tragic figure. When her trust is cruelly betrayed, she refuses to be shamed. All of the women persevere in the face of hardship and grief, but Francine’s unshakable self-assurance evokes a bracing freedom from the past.”
MAY 4: RBG (dirs. Julie Cohen and Betsy West) (DP: Claudia Raschke) – Vulture review by David Edelstein: “Ruth Bader Ginsburg is the tiny, monkish, soft-spoken, octogenarian Supreme Court justice who bestrides the world like a colossus; in their documentary RBG, directors Julie Cohen and Betsy West stride right behind her with a camera and a microphone. It is only right, only prudent to shut up and listen. Both the film and the ‘notorious’ figure at its center are the best imaginable retaliation to mansplaining.
“The movie opens with Ginsburg’s confirmation hearings before Joe Biden and his hair transplants. He does better with her than he did a few years earlier with Anita Hill. But then, even Utah Republican Orrin Hatch finds Ginsburg impressive. As she tells her story, Cohen and West show us pictures of the young, radiant, blue-eyed Ruth Bader growing up, heading off to Cornell, and meeting Marty Ginsburg, who’d spend 56 by all accounts joyous years at her side. There are few downbeats to this story.
“Yes, RGB is a hagiography, but it has its cheeky aspect. It begins with a montage of government landmarks, many in the shadow of the Washington Monument. Sometimes a Washington Monument is just a Washington Monument, but one could be forgiven for watching the film and thinking that our nation’s capitol operated for 200 years under a sort of penile code. Ginsburg’s victories over that code took a lot of hard preparation. She was one of nine women in her Harvard Law School class of 500. After graduation, no New York law firm would hire her — or any other woman. But she didn’t go, shall we say, balls out to attack the system’s sexist underpinnings. Her mode was and is less brash, her maxim, ‘Be a lady and be independent.’
“Cohen and West make clear that those things were once mutually exclusive. A true lady wouldn’t speak up, says Sharron Frontiero, a lieutenant in the Air Force who in the early ‘70s found out she didn’t qualify for certain military benefits given automatically to men. Beginning in 1973 with Frontiero v. Richardson, Ginsberg (representing the ACLU) took a chisel to centuries of encrusted male privilege. It was her first argument before the U.S. Supreme Court — a ‘captive audience,’ she recalls, with delight. The movie has the audio. It’s thrilling.
“RBG’s talking heads — with the exception of Donald Trump (and what an exception) — are affectionate bordering on worshipful. When Ginsburg is shown being interviewed onstage, audiences (particularly young women) are visibly overwhelmed, seeming to lean back in awe even as they lean forward to hear their superhero (Gloria Steinem’s word) answer questions and read from her momentous arguments, majority opinions, and dissents.
“NPR legal correspondent Nina Totenberg does some of the onstage interviewing and much of the movie’s expository heavy lifting, but the young Notorious RBG co-authors Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik provide vivid color; the professor Arthur Miller recalls the early lives of Ginsburg and the gregarious, supportive Marty, who would sometimes drag her away from the office for dinner; and Brenda Feigen — a differently styled feminist — adds wonderfully tart details. I especially liked her comments about the late reactionary firebrand Antonin Scalia, with whom Ginsberg bonded over their passion for opera. Ginsburg, says Feigen, has the ability to compartmentalize; ‘I don’t have close friends who are right-wing nutcases.’ I commend right-winger Ted Olson for agreeing to be interviewed along with his formidable hair about a case in which he went up against Ginsburg and lost. Not all men in his position would face a largely female documentary crew under such circumstances. Perhaps he’s feeling more confident with liberals these days, having had too many principles to be on the wrong side of history re: gay marriage. Scalia’s dark suggestions that it could lead to bestiality didn’t sway him, somehow.
“Even with such rich material, the movie can be a tad prosaic. But as you listen to Ginsburg reads her words, you begin to perceive the secret of her power. As someone in the film puts it, she mounted her attack on gender inequality case by case, a little at a time: ‘It was like knitting a sweater.’ Ginsburg says that in the ‘70s she saw herself as ‘a kindergarten teacher … [the male justices] didn’t get gender laws.’ Those are stereotypically feminine roles — the sweater-knitter and the kindergarten teacher — but they left justices (and frequently, her opponents) speechless. Every revolution needs someone hitting the books until 4 a.m. while others march in the streets.
“Apart from Scalia and their mutual opera fandom, Ginsburg follows Supreme Court etiquette and doesn’t speak about her colleagues. Too bad. Having styled her legal activism on the young Thurgood Marshall’s, it must be doubly depressing to sit beside George H.W. Bush’s replacement for Marshall, Clarence Thomas. But opposite such smug reactionaries, she found her voice a second time as perhaps the most eloquent dissenter in the court’s history. When it gutted the voting rights act by 5-4 on the grounds that its protections were no longer needed, Ginsburg wrote, ‘It is like taking away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you’re not getting wet.’ Words like that inspired the Notorious RBG meme and T-shirts in which her head sits atop the body of Wonder Woman. Felicity Jones — last seen delivering Death Star specs to R2D2 and dying a hero’s death — will play her in an upcoming biopic.
“Although Marty is gone, Ginsburg is shown having fun with her granddaughter (a Harvard Law School grad in a class that was 50-50 men and women), surveying her collection of collars, and appearing live onstage in an opera. One watches RBG and hopes that a composer and librettist will create a Notorious RBG opera and that she will be there opening night. One can imagine playful but scorching duets with the tenor playing Nino Scalia. And one could imagine her dissents set to music. They already ring in our ears.”
MAY 4 (NYC), JUNE 1 (LA): Strangers on the Earth (dir. Tristan Cook) (DP: Iskra Valtcheva) – Under the Radar review by Ashley Naftule: “Between Saint Jean Pied de Port in France and Spain’s Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia lies 500 miles of sacred foot traffic. Known as the Camino de Santiago, pilgrims from around the world search for meaning, miracles, and God while walking the long trail that takes them to the shrine dedicated to the apostle Saint James the Great.
“For cinephiles with an affinity for Surrealism, the Camino de Santiago should sound familiar: Luis Bunuel made it the setting for his 1969 film The Milky Way. Bunuel’s film follows two travelers on ‘the Way of Saint James.’ The film is a road movie, but one that isn’t interested in showing what the actual Camino looks like; instead, The Milky Way takes scenic routes that wind and twist their way through centuries of weird religious heresies. Bunuel’s travelers can’t walk more than a few feet without tripping over a forgotten saint or mad theologian.
“Half a century later, another director took his camera down the Camino. In 2010 Breakfast Club star Emilio Estevez wrote, produced, and directed The Way, a drama that followed a Camino pilgrim played by Estevez’s father Martin Sheen. Bunuel’s film was a caustic and brilliant examination of faith; it wasn’t exactly a call to action for folks to hit the road to Compostela. The Way is another story: one of the pilgrims in Tristan Cook’s Strangers on the Earth admits that watching Estevez’s film inspired her to take the pilgrimage.
“Cook’s documentary travels the length of the pilgrimage, chronicling the natural splendours of the Camino while giving us an impression of what it’s like for people to undertake this arduous walk. The closest thing the film has to a narrative focal point is an American cellist named Dane Johansen. Announcing his ambition through a crowdfunding video to travel the Camino with his instrument on his back, Johansen visits the churches and shrines dotting the landscape of the Camino to play cello pieces by Bach.
“While Cook checks in with Johansen from time to time and spotlights a few of the cellist’s performances, the director wisely doesn’t linger on him for too long; Johansen doesn’t really become a compelling presence until the end of the film. Dozens of other pilgrims get their time in front of the camera, sharing their reasons for going on a walk that can last for weeks and turn their feet into masses of yellowing blisters.
“For some of the pilgrims, the Camino is an opportunity to seek the divine. For others, it’s a way to process grief: one pilgrim tells a deeply affecting story about experiencing visions of his dead sister while walking the St. James way. And for some pilgrims, it’s just a taxing yet picaresque hike. One self-proclaimed ‘Camino snob’ throws shade at these people, bemoaning the secularization of the Camino. In one of the film’s funniest edits, the camera cuts to a pilgrim getting out of a taxi mid-route while the snob’s voiceover grumbles about people who’d rather take a bus than endure the physical suffering and trials that are supposed to be a part of the pilgrimage experience.
“Tracing the lines on a scallop shell, the symbol of St. James, a Camino local explains that there are many routes and reasons that bring people to the Camino. But like roads to Rome, all these lines arc and terminate at the Compostela. And so does the film, arriving at the shrine for a contemplative moment before heading off to the beach at Finisterre for a final coda.
“While the film is full of pilgrims eager to share their experiences, the real star of the film is cinematographer Iskra Valtcheva. ‘Walking to Santiago is like passing through a rainbow,’ a pilgrim says wistfully. From luminous stain glass windows to golden wheat rippling in a breeze and poppies spread out over lush grass like pools of blood, Valtcheva’s camera revels in all the colors of that rainbow.
“But Valtcheva and Cook also find beauty in the works of man: the almost supernatural speed of Johansen’s fingers running up and down his cello strings; a censer on a long chain, billowing incense, swinging like a pendulum through the inside of the Compostela; and the image of pilgrims walking through a fog-shrouded road while cyclists and cars quietly drift by them.
“While the film’s meditative pace can make it easy for your attention to waver after awhile, the beauty of its visuals is enough to pull you back in. The greatest compliment one can pay it is that it’s bound to eclipse The Way as the film that people will say inspired them to put one foot in front of the other and make their way to pay Saint James a visit.”
MAY 11: Boom for Real: The Late Teenage Years of Jean-Michel Basquiat (dir. Sara Driver) – Synopsis from the film’s official website: “Boom for Real: The Late Teenage Years of Jean-Michel Basquiat follows Basquiat’s life pre-fame and how New York City, the times, the people and the movements surrounding him formed the artist he became. Using never-before-seen works, writings and photographs, director Sara Driver, who was part of the New York arts scene herself, worked closely and collaboratively with friends and other artists who emerged from that period: Jim Jarmusch, James Nares, Fab Five Freddy, Glenn O’Brien, Kenny Scharf, Lee Quinones, Patricia Field, Luc Sante and many others. Drawing upon their memories and anecdotes, the film also uses period film footage, music and images to visually re-recreate the era, drawing a portrait of Jean-Michel and Downtown New York City – pre-AIDS, President Reagan, the real estate and art booms – before anyone was motivated by money and ambition. The definition of fame, success and power were very different than today – to be a penniless but published poet was the height of success, until everything changed in the early 1980s. This is New York City’s story before that change.”
MAY 11 (digital & on VOD), MAY 15 (on DVD): The Honor List (dir. Elissa Down) (DP: Catherine Goldschmidt) – Lionsgate synopsis: “The summer before high school, Piper (Meghan Rienks), Sophie (Karrueche Tran), Isabella (Sasha Pieterse) and Honor (Arden Cho) are inseparable; by senior year, they barely speak. When tragedy strikes before graduation, the former best friends reluctantly put their differences aside and reunite to complete a forgotten bucket list. The Honor List explores the complexities of friendship, family, love, loss, and high school.”
MAY 11: I Had Nowhere to Go (dir. Douglas Gordon) (DPs: Jonas Brinker, George Geddes and Katharina Kiebacher) – Anthology Film Archives synopsis: “The latest film by renowned artist Douglas Gordon – whose previous forays into theatrical filmmaking include Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait (2006) and K.364: A Journey by Train (2010) – I Had Nowhere to Go is a feature-length portrait of Jonas Mekas, filmmaker, poet, artist, and Anthology’s co-founder. Though numerous documentaries have been made about and with Mekas, Gordon’s film distinguishes itself both by focusing on the ‘godfather of the American avant-garde cinema’s’ experiences prior to his emergence as a major figure of New York’s underground cultural scene in the 1950s, and by its radical formal approach. Taking its title from Mekas’s extraordinary memoir of his youth in Lithuania, his years spent in forced labor and displaced persons camps during and following WWII, and his eventual emigration to the U.S., I Had Nowhere to Go features a soundtrack devoted primarily to Mekas reading from the memoir, while the visual track is almost entirely imageless (save for brief and infrequent flashes of imagery). The result is a hypnotic work that harnesses the power of the human voice to bear witness, to conjure a wealth of imagery that renders photography nearly superfluous, and to achieve a form of storytelling that conveys not only experiences but the traces left by those experiences.”
MAY 11: The Last Horsemen of New York (dir./DP: Mary Haverstick) – Haverstick Films synopsis: “During his mayoral campaign Bill deBlasio vowed to eliminate the New York carriage horse industry. Our cameras followed this story as the working class carriage drivers fought to save their historic industry. Opponents of the industry rocketed Mayor deBlasio to the top of the ticket and into City Hall, but making good on his promise proved harder than anyone expected.
“The film follows carriage industry spokespeople Christina Hansen and Stephen Malone in their day to day struggle to fend off extinction. Leading the charge for the carriages in the media is well known actor and New York resident Liam Neeson. But a much broader story emerges about powerful interests against the common man and the role of secret unaccountable money that corrupts the political system.”
MAY 11: Mountain (dir. Jennifer Peedom) – Village Voice review by Alan Scherstuhl: “Jennifer Peedom’s seventy-minute big-screen reverie Mountain inspires something that the biggest, purportedly most ‘awesome’ movies of our era just can’t stir: awe. The subject of Mountain, of course, is mountains, their fearsome majesty, overwhelming deadliness, and harsh indifference to us. But from the extraordinary opening shots — after a quickie behind-the-scenes intro establishing that, yes, the film truly is scored to the sounds of the Australian Chamber Orchestra and the narration of Willem Dafoe — a more dramatic concern seized me. How the hell did they film this? Behold the tiny, fragile human climber midway up the endless rock face, feeling around for the next hand- or foothold, proportionately something like an ant traversing the flat expanse of a movie screen.
“Then swallow back your lunch as Mountain cuts to a shot from above, peering down at a climber from a precipice. This is vertiginous filmmaking from the top of the world, a rhapsodic fugue shot from vantage points that — this cannot be stressed enough — our bodies aren’t equipped to survive. (Renan Ozturk, a climber of note, served as director of photography.)
“Mountain surveys, without narrative or title cards, slopes and cliffs and apexes around the globe. We often see climbers but never follow them for more than a shot or two. The camera, aided by drones, skims so close over craggy peaks that I swear sometimes my feet tickled. The film was crafted in collaboration with the ACO, whose selections — Beethoven, Grieg, Vivaldi — shape the material. Rather than simply scoring what we see and cueing us to feel more deeply what the images already suggest, the music in Mountain plays like the film’s organizing principle, as if the many shots of ascents and vistas have been arranged to illustrate it. The relationship between image and music, here, proves more rich and rewarding than the movies generally offer today, as one is not clearly subordinate to the other.
“Its heights might on occasion yank your stomach to the theater floor, but much of Mountain is a bit of a bliss-out, a chance to contemplate the planet’s most remote and dangerous places and our relationship to them. Dafoe’s narration is spare, the words taken from the work of Robert Macfarlane, author of 2003’s Mountains of the Mind. The book is a study of the cultural history of mountains, how over centuries they shifted, in the consciousness of humanity, from foreboding or divine to places of sport and leisure and rah-rah self-improvement. Macfarlane’s book is excellent, but the filmmakers have given Dafoe only the plummiest poetic bits to intone, tasking him to muse without context about the ‘siren song of the summit’ or ‘a testing ground on which the self can best be illuminated.’ The words are lofty but, unlike the marvels on display before us, not solid or monumental, not rooted in the Earth.
“Mountain’s other examples of humanity leaping too far, too wildly, are more pleasurable: an extraordinary extended montage of people descending the slopes, on skis or motorbikes, or vaulting off cliffs to glide or parachute. Through inventive camerawork and adeptly chosen music, the filmmakers showcase daredevils dancing with gravity itself. And in fleeting, thrilling moments, you can almost sense in your seat what it would be like to participate yourself.”
MAY 11: Raazi (dir. Meghna Gulzar) – Excerpt from Times of India’s Meghna Gulzar interview by Anshul Chaturvedi: “War, espionage and covert operations often inspire action-packed thrillers or outlandish spy films on the big screen. Rarely does it so happen that a spy mission – and the responsibility to thrill – rests on the delicate shoulders of a newlywed, amateur 20-year-old, who is plucked from college and planted behind enemy lines. Meghna Gulzar’s Raazi, that stars Alia Bhatt as a Kashmiri girl married into a Pakistani family by her father to spy for India before the 1971 war, splinters the narrative that has been written so far for women in spy thrillers – she’s not a lethal weapon, nor a femme fatale, nor the honeytrap. She’s a vulnerable, scared but determined girl who makes this ‘frightful’ decision, and lives by ‘very high principles’ despite her deception.”
MAY 11 (in theaters & on VOD): Revenge (dir. Coralie Fargeat) – The Hollywood Reporter’s Toronto International Film Festival review by David Rooney: “With the unequivocally titled Revenge, newcomer Coralie Fargeat gains instant entrée into the halls of Gallic extreme horror in the vein of Haute Tension and Inside. Genuflecting to the giddy exploitation delirium of I Spit on Your Grave — right down to calling the protagonist Jen — this is a rape retaliation thriller both tautly controlled and wildly over-the-top, executed with flashy style, sly visual humor and a subversive feminist sensibility. Acquired by AMC’s Shudder streaming service ahead of its Toronto bow in the Midnight Madness section, this mostly English-language pop-art carnage opera will make genre fans squeal and squirm.
“Fargeat from the outset signals her darkly playful take on the ‘video nasty’ rape-thriller subgenre. An early shot from ace cinematographer Robrecht Heyvaert starts with an epic desert landscape then cuts back to reveal that widescreen vista in the lens of aviator sunglasses worn by Richard (Kevin Janssens), a handsome dude exuding smugness from every pore. Over his shoulder, about to alight from the chopper that brought them there, sits Jen (Matilda Lutz), a sex kitten with a uniform of crop tops, short shorts and plastic star earrings, sucking on a Lolita lollipop.
“Their destination in an unnamed country (Moroccan locations were used) is an isolated luxury pad, full of aggressively modern statement art like a pair of all-seeing optical eyes and a doleful green Madonna, her hands raised in supplication. Production designer Pierre Queffelean has a field day with the house, its neon-colored glass terrace doors providing woozy filters and its white sectional sofas and shag rugs practically begging for a bloodbath.
“Following a tumble in the sheets, Richard reveals how casually he deceives women by taking a call from his wife back home, presumably in France, praising her finesse at choosing the right canapés for a gathering of society heavy-hitters while claiming he’s enjoying some alone time before his buddies show for their annual hunting trip. Jen pouts for a minute, but is soon back to flouncing around the house in a teeny, hot-pink I Love L.A. T-shirt and a thong with all the coverage of dental floss. She’s a magnet for ass-grabbing.
“The early arrival of Richard’s skeevy friends, Stan (Vincent Colombe) and Dimitri (Guillaume Bouchede), puts a crimp in the romantic mood, but Jen shrugs off their thirsty leering and gets into the party spirit with some provocative dancing out by the pool that night. The next morning, with Richard off seeing to their hunting licenses, rodent-like Stan wants the party to continue. He won’t take Jen’s ‘No’ for an answer, especially after she makes the mistake of belittling his height.
“Fargeat establishes early on that she has no use for subtlety, with shots of fire ants crawling over a rotting apple, or a pool-cleaning device that’s like a lurking reptile. The most obscene image is the chocolate marshmallow treat being obliterated in lard-ass Dimitri’s mouth as he takes in Stan’s violation of Jen and then walks away, turning up the TV to drown her screams. When Richard returns in the wake of all this, he offers Jen not comfort but compensation, and her threat to spill the beans to his wife and ruin him makes him turn ugly.
“The less revealed about what follows the better, but the extent to which Jen is considered a disposable chattel is quite breathtaking — literally so when her near-death involves another kind of violent penetration. However, the three men don’t count on her phoenix-like rebirth, which Fargeat orchestrates not as a supernatural feat of zombification but the result of a fierce human survival instinct, with reserves of strength and mental focus that no amount of blood loss can extinguish. Some resourceful self-surgery involving a beer can, cigarette lighter and a peyote painkiller also helps.
“About that blood: The sheer volume of red goop escaping each body as Jen turns the tables on her attackers while they separate to hunt her down goes outrageously beyond the boundaries of reality. Fargeat acknowledges that with a brazen wink, thumbing her nose at credulity as her naive Barbie-doll heroine becomes a vengeful, quick-thinking terminator, like a desert snake shedding its skin for greater speed. If Jen’s presentation of herself as a sensual plaything means the men feel entitled to objectify and dehumanize her, their macho posturing as hunters in a rugged land makes them fitting prey once she finds her wounded-warrior mojo.
“The gripping cat-and-mouse game builds to an inevitable final showdown between Jen and Richard back in the house, its maze of white halls awash in blood. In a droll touch, Richard is fresh out of the shower and naked throughout the ordeal, making for equal-opportunity ass exposure.
“Shot with muscular agility, sizzling colors and lots of virtuoso tracking sequences, and fueled by a ballsy techno score in the John Carpenter/Dario Argento tradition, Revenge is nothing if not relentless. Those who go with its splashy, Grand Guignol theater of death will have a vicious good time. Will it stoke the usual arguments about graphic violence in response to rape being just another form of exploitation? Sure. But having a woman at the helm for once also gives a certain license for excess, and Fargeat and her game actors run with it.”
MAY 11: What Haunts Us (dir. Paige Goldberg Tolmach) – Cinema Village synopsis: “The 1979 class of Porter Gaud School in Charleston, South Carolina graduated 49 boys. Within the last 35 years, six of them have committed suicide. When Paige Goldberg Tolmach gets word that another former student from her beloved high school has killed himself, she decides to take a deep dive into her past in order to uncover the surprising truth and finally release the ghosts that haunt her hometown to this day.”
MAY 18 (streaming on Netflix): Cargo (dirs. Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke) – Tribeca Film Festival synopsis by Matt Barone: “In the aftermath of a global pandemic, Andy (Martin Freeman) is focused on keeping his wife and their infant daughter alive as they travel across the Australian Outback. A terrible accident, however, forces him to set off on foot: A zombie bite has given Andy a mere 48 hours before he, too, is undead. Andy struggles to both find a refuge for his child and stave off the disease as the clock runs out on his humanity. On his journey, Andy crosses paths with an indigenous youngster, Thoomi (Simone Landers), who brings him into her Aboriginal community and offers a much-needed bit of hope: Her people may have a cure for the sickness.
“Filmmakers Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke defy genre fans’ zombie-based expectations with their co-directing debut. Cargo pulls no punches in its intensity, yet the duo’s thoughtful film offers a deep, emotional meditation on intimate issues, like a parent’s love, as well as larger themes, like environmental protection and cultural strife. Injecting fresh life into zombie cinema’s often cold bloodstream, Cargo is tailor-made for sophisticated horror fans.”
MAY 18 (in theaters & on VOD): Hurricane Bianca: From Russia with Hate (dir. Matt Kugelman) (DP: Jih-E Peng) – Synopsis from the film’s official website: “After winning over the staff and students of Milford High School, chemistry teacher Richard Martinez aka Bianca Del Rio (Roy Haylock) sent her nemesis Vice Principal Deborah ‘Debbie’ Ward (Rachel Dratch) to jail in a flawlessly executed plan. When Debbie is released from jail, she conjures up a scheme to do away with Bianca Del Rio once and for all, by luring her on a dangerous journey to Russia to accept a teaching award and cash prize. Filled with laughs, celebrity cameos and America’s drag superstars, Hurricane Bianca: From Russia with Hate is packed with surprises and unlikely partnerships that spark friendship and acceptance.”
MAY 18: The Most Unknown (dir. Ian Cheney) (DPs: Michael James Murray and Emily Topper) – Quad Cinema synopsis: “A celebration of those who make science their vocation, this stunning documentary—with Werner Herzog no less serving as an advisor—brings together nine experts from a variety of disciplines who spend their lives pursuing the intangible realms of our planet and the universe beyond. From grappling with the revelations of consciousness research to the thrill of deep sea exploration in the Pacific, director Cheney’s subjects each share the joy of the scientific process, even when the answers elude them.”
MAY 18: Pope Francis: A Man of His Word (dir. Wim Wenders) (DP: Lisa Rinzler) – Focus Features synopsis: “On March 13, 2013, the Cardinal of Buenos Aires, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, became the two hundred and sixty-sixth pontiff of the Catholic Church. He is the first pope from the Americas, the first from the Southern hemisphere, the first Jesuit as bishop of Rome, but most of all the first pope to have chosen the name of Francesco, after Saint Francis of Assisi (1181-1226), one of the most revered Christian saints and reformers who dedicated his life to ‘Sister Poverty’ and to a deep love of nature and all living beings on ‘Sister Mother Earth.’
“Pope Francis – A Man of His Word, written and directed by three-time Academy Award® nominee Wim Wenders, is intended to be a personal journey with Pope Francis, rather than a biographical documentary about him. A rare co-production with the Vatican, the pope’s ideas and his message are central to this documentary, which sets out to present his work of reform and his answers to today’s global questions from death, social justice, immigration, ecology, wealth inequality, materialism, and the role of the family.
“The film’s direct-to-camera visual and narrative concepts engage the audience face-to-face with the pope, creating a dialogue between him and, literally, the world. Taking questions from people of all walks of life, Pope Francis responds to farmers and workers, refugees, children and the elderly, prison inmates, and those who live in favelas and migrant camps. All of these voices and faces are a cross section of humanity that join in a conversation with Pope Francis.
“While this ‘symphony of questions’ provides the backbone for the film, it also shows the pope on his many journeys around the world, with footage of him speaking at the United Nations, addressing the Congress of the United States, mourning with those gathered at Ground Zero and at Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem. He speaks to prisoners in correctional facilities and to refugees in Mediterranean camps. We see him travel to the Holy Land (Palestine and Israel) as well as to Africa, South America and Asia.
“Throughout the film, Pope Francis shares his vision of the Church and his deep concern for the poor, his involvement in environmental issues and social justice, and his call for peace in areas of conflict and between world religions. There is also a presence of Saint Francis in the film, connecting back to the pope’s namesake, through accounts of legendary moments in the Saint’s own life as a reformer and ecologist.
“In an era of deep distrust of politicians and people in power, when lies and corruption and alternative facts are the order of the day, Pope Francis – A Man of His Word shows us a person who lives what he preaches and who has gained the trust of people of all faith traditions and cultures across the world.”
MAY 25: The Gospel According to André (dir. Kate Novack) – Tribeca Film Festival synopsis by Liza Domnitz: “André Leon Talley—unmistakable in his regal stature, his fiercely original way with words, and his incomparable historical knowledge of couture—has been a fixture of the fashion world for more than 40 years. A mentee of the legendary editor Diana Vreeland, Talley called Vogue home for years; he served as news director, creative director, and, finally, editor-at-large, until 2013. As he drifts effortlessly from the front row at fashion weeks across the globe to television appearances and New York Times assignments, one begins to wonder how such an original as Talley came to be.
“In Kate Novack’s thoroughly moving film, the viewer is invited back to his childhood in Jim Crow-era North Carolina. His beloved grandmother, Bennie, raised him, schooling him in decorum, religion, and, unsurprisingly, clothes, sparking an early and powerful love for all things fashion. This led him to New York City, where he battled—and continues to battle—both racist and homophobic assumptions about black men in the industry. With great insight, Novack pulls back the curtain on this towering icon, revealing new and beautifully vulnerable moments with Talley—as well as endlessly hilarious ones—as he discusses his storied career and the women who helped him achieve it.”
MAY 25 (NYC/LA), JUNE 1 (on VOD): Mary Shelley (dir. Haifaa Al-Mansour) – The Hollywood Reporter’s Toronto International Film Festival review by Deborah Young: “Mary Shelley is a luscious-looking spectacle, drenched in the colors and visceral sensations of nature, the sensuality of young lovers, the passionate disappointment of loss and betrayal. But above all it is a film about ideas that breaks out of the well-worn mold of period drama (partly, anyway) by reaching deeply into the mind of the extraordinary woman who wrote the Gothic evergreen Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus when she was 18. Making Mary into a woman in control of her life and choices rather than a victim of cruel and insensitive men, director Haifaa Al Mansour shows how the struggles of her youth swiftly matured her understanding of women’s place in the world. It is the point where the film has the most chance of connecting with audiences open to the message.
“Despite some weaknesses in the story and pacing, Al Mansour and star Elle Fanning achieve a lot of good things. The actress’ vivid portrayal of the writer as a young author shows an understanding that, for all its sadness and distress, her life shone with greatness. She is a survivor who has gone through hell and come out on the other side, scarred but wiser, while the famous men in her life have to hang their heads and acknowledge her talent. And Fanning stirringly articulates, in a surprisingly resolute London accent, the lessons she has learned.
“It’s not hard to see a continuity here for Al Mansour, who leapt into the spotlight with her liberating first film Wadjda, set in the oppressive society of her native Saudi Arabia. Both films deal with the determination of a female protagonist to accomplish an important goal that will confirm her independence. In Wadjda, the heroine was a 12-year-old tomboy whose heart was set on a bike of her own. Here, 16-year-old Mary wants to become a writer, following in the footsteps of her mother, the feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, and her politically radical father William Godwin (Stephen Dillane).
“Enamored of ghost stories, she begins scribbling a tale fraught with burning eyes and icy faces. Her mother died soon after she was born and her father, who has educated her to think outside the box, tells her she needs to find her own voice. To clear her head, he sends her to the wilds of Scotland and to the spacious home of his fellow radical William Baxter. There Mary is befriended by his daughter (Maisie Williams from Game of Thrones) and soon finds herself smitten by a handsome young poet passing by on a visit, Percy Bysshe Shelley (a winning performance from the darkly romantic Douglas Booth of The Riot Club), who is already celebrated at the tender age of 21.
“Only later, when he follows her back to London, does she stumble onto the truth: He is married but has abandoned his wife and young daughter on the pretext that he is a free spirit who can’t be bound by the ties of marriage. It should be a warning to Mary, but she is too young and her attraction to him is too strong to resist. She elopes with him one night, taking her step-sister Claire (Bel Powley of The Diary of a Teenage Girl) along with her.
“Since Percy’s aristocratic father has cut him off (mainly over his radical political beliefs about redistributing his wealth to the needy, though the film doesn’t go into that), they end up in ratty basement lodgings which are just fine for Mary. She is with the man she loves and out of her father’s oppressive household. The free-thinking trio cavort like latter-day hippies, indulging in claret parties and, of course, living outside marriage and the social conventions of the day.
“Mary believes that people should live and love as they wish. The problem is that she wishes to love only Percy, while he wishes to love other women. He seems happy when she informs him she’s pregnant, but there in the distance looms his wife Harriet with his abandoned daughter, staring at them like a curse. Their baby dies soon after it is born, and Mary is inconsolable.
“Al Mansour and screenwriter Emma Jensen take liberties with the historical record, leaving out the trio’s journey through France and Italy, for example. In the film they are still living in London when they meet Lord Byron at the theater. With his eyes rimmed in black and a wandering lascivious hand, Tom Sturridge’s Byron is a jarring caricature of the English poet and peer, an unappealing heel who takes advantage of Claire’s foolishness and gets her pregnant. While staying in his sprawling mansion in Switzerland, Mary’s eyes are fully opened to Percy’s unfaithful nature; it is there that she is stimulated to express her feelings of extreme loneliness and abandonment in the story of Dr. Frankenstein’s monstrous creature.
“The final irony is that, although both Percy and her father recognize her novel as a milestone and a “message for mankind,” the only way Mary can get it published is anonymously, given that many people in literary circles believe Shelley really wrote it, not her. Fanning’s Mary storms into the final scenes in a cold-burning fury at the way she is treated just because she’s a woman.
“There are some annoying historical anomalies in the dialogue (‘I have no problem with that,’ ‘I’m waiting to reach out,’ ‘We’ll meet amazing people’), but they are glitches; most of the film’s lines ring truer to the period. As horns lock between Mary and the increasingly dissolute Percy, she comes to a sober realization of the cruelty of men and the consequences of her mistakes. Yet still she can look him in the eye and say, ‘My choices made me who I am. I regret nothing.'”
MAY 25: Summer 1993 (dir. Carla Simón) – Film Society of Lincoln Center synopsis: “In the summer of 1993, following the disappearance of her parents, six-year-old Frida (Laia Artigas) moves from Barcelona to the Catalan countryside with her aunt, uncle, and younger cousin Anna (Paula Robles). Although her new family embraces her, Frida struggles to adjust in an environment that seems mysterious and estranging. Winner of the Best First Feature Award at the 2017 Berlin International Film Festival, Simón’s autobiographical drama is a captivating, emotionally frank reflection on family relationships and childhood loneliness, anchored by moving performances by its two young stars.”
MAY 25: Who We Are Now (dir. Matthew Newton) (DP: Dagmar Weaver-Madsen) – Toronto International Film Festival synopsis by Jane Schoettle: “Tough, compassionate, and so very wise, Who We Are Now, Matthew Newton’s fourth feature as writer-director, is a declaration of faith in our capacity for change. When we first meet Beth (Julianne Nicholson) she is delivering a little gift to a young boy, a gesture that clearly gives her as much pleasure as it unsettles the child’s caregivers, her sister and brother-in-law. How this circumstance arose and where it will lead is the crux of the story, its potent intricacies masterfully revealed.
“Beth’s complex past will determine her future unless she can find an ally, and soon an unlikely one appears in the form of lawyer Jess (Emma Roberts). Opting to toil for a struggling firm dedicated to pro-bono cases instead of pursuing a more prestigious law career, Jess is the black sheep of her affluent family, and Beth’s best available option.
“Beth’s pathway to justice and stability forms the core of the film, but her story doesn’t unfold in a vacuum. This is an ensemble film, and even supporting characters — such as the traumatized veteran and divorcé portrayed by Zachary Quinto — are complicated people working through damage and reparations, conviction and compromise. But it is Julianne Nicholson’s performance as Beth, whose flinty exterior masks a frail heart and a burning soul, that imprints itself upon the viewer. Who We Are Now is a film grounded in the understanding that this thing we call the self is always going to be determined by a confluence of circumstance, awareness, and damned hard work.”
MAY 26 (HBO): The Tale (dir. Jennifer Fox) – IndieWire’s Sundance Film Festival review by David Ehrlich: “‘There are no bad horses, only bad riders.’ There are any number of unnerving moments in Jennifer Fox’s The Tale, a landmark cine-memoir that’s as powerful and profoundly upsetting as any film since The Act of Killing, but they all seem to hatch from that tainted pearl of wisdom, passed down from a beautiful riding instructor to her naïve tween student before things go terribly wrong. It’s a coded message from an adult woman to a young girl, a pointed insistence that life is hard for the fairer sex, and that pain is just something they all push through. It’s a sinister ethos that makes victims feel ashamed of the violence they’ve suffered, and inspires them to refashion their worst traumas into badges of honor. It’s biasing the kinds of stories that someone might need to hear from their own body, and allowing for — if not tacitly permitting — another generation of rape.
“That lesson was imparted to Fox in the summer of 1973, when she was 15, and it’s shaped so much of her self-image ever since. It’s the crux of a story so disturbing that the filmmaker — whose acclaimed documentary work includes Beirut: The Last Home Movie and My Reincarnation — has been unable to tell it to herself for much of the last 40 years. Not anymore. Now, that story is the subject of Fox’s first scripted feature, a staggering and radical work of self-analysis that’s also a remarkably lucid piece of autobiography. As she paradoxically dramatizes her own experience in order to explore how dangerous that can be, she also reveals how difficult it can be for people to see themselves.
“The Tale opens with a destabilizing line of narration: ‘The story you are about to see is true… as far as I know.’ The voice belongs not to Fox, but — unmistakably — to Laura Dern, embodying her director with great sympathy and a crinkled hint of self-loathing. A 48-year-old documentary filmmaker who’s spent most of her adult life traveling the world and telling other people’s stories, Jennifer appears to be doing all right for herself. She shares a spacious Manhattan loft with her long-time fiancée (Common), enjoys a decidedly active sex life, and sustains herself between projects by teaching non-fiction cinema at a local university. Then her mom (Ellen Burstyn) finds an essay that Jennifer wrote in grade school, and everything starts to unravel.
“‘I’d like to begin this story by telling you something so beautiful’ the essay begins, the first line of a loving, starry-eyed ode to the two grown-ups who noticed her when she was a pre-pubescent tomboy, invisible to the world. At least, that’s how Jennifer remembers it. Reading the assignment for the first time, her mom has a very different reaction. To her eyes, it’s nothing less than a young girl’s first-hand account of predatory and unambiguous sexual assault. Jennifer laughs that off as the overprotective paranoia of an old Jewish mother who’s got nothing left to do but kvetch and worry, and yet… there’s something there, begging for her attention like the last flake of dead skin at the edge of an old scab. ‘When I was a child, I was obsessed with changing myself,’ Jennifer says, ‘but now I can’t remember how I got here.’
“And so, a natural chronicler of personal histories, she finally begins to investigate her own. Fox dedicates roughly 40 percent of The Tale to flashbacks of 1973, the extreme fallibility of which is established with an exclamation point when Jennifer is reminded that she was actually 13 years old that summer, and the teen actress playing her (Jessica Sarah Flaum) is abruptly recast with a much younger one (11-year-old Isabelle Nélisse, all too believable in the role). Just like that, the low-grade nausea simmering beneath the film foments into a steady boil. The guileless little girl, of course, can’t feel a thing; she’s defiantly headstrong and ready for her life to begin.
“Her wish is granted when she starts taking horseback riding lessons at a rural farm that’s run with a cultish touch. Neither Jennifer nor her dad can see that strange energy, the both of them blinded by Mrs. G (a sickeningly good Elizabeth Debicki), the statuesque Brit who runs the place like Brienne of Tarth in riding chaps. Jennifer remembers her as ‘the most beautiful woman she’d ever seen.’ Mr. G isn’t much of a factor, but an unsettlingly fresh-faced man named Bill (Jason Ritter) is always hanging around and recruiting girls for his track team. Jennifer forms a strange bond with these two, staying through August and traveling back to the farm every weekend once school starts up. Eventually, Mrs. G and Bill confess to the girl that they’re lovers, an ominous admission that opens the door to a number of much darker secrets.
“The Tale liberally cuts between past and present, Fox scraping away at her own memories as though she’s dusting off a buried relic she once hid from herself. Shooting the flashbacks through an idyllic haze that stands in sharp contrast to the drab grays of the modern scenes, she galvanizes the dynamic between then and now by forcing the two into conversation with each other, Nélisse and Debicki often speaking directly into the camera as adult Jennifer interrogates the echoes that are pinging around her brain.
“The closer that she gets to the truth, the more harrowing these self-reflexive tics become. As grim as the 1973 bits get (Ritter endowing his obscenely thankless role with a Cheshire Cat creepiness that will make you glad to learn that certain scenes were shot with an adult body double), the most painful moments of all find Jennifer in dialogue with these shadows in her soul. These unspeakably moving scenes provide Fox the perfect mechanism to confront some of the darkest notions she ever repressed; few films have ever had the courage or the context to so lucidly wrestle with the enabling power of silence, or the idea that abuse is even more pernicious when it’s pleasurable. The pride that Nélisse expresses as young Jennifer is almost as wrenching as the complicity that Debicki displays as her teacher. At one point, Debicki stares into the lens and delivers a line so loaded with violence that it will make your skin crawl right off your bones.
“An immense, brave, and genuinely earth-shaking self-portrait that explores sexual assault with a degree of nuance and humility often missing from the current discourse, The Tale is undeniably primed for the #MeToo movement, but it’s also so much bigger than that. While the film triple underlines the vile nature of these crimes and the vital importance of our growing solidarity against them, to fully conflate Fox’s achievement with a political movement (even such a necessary one) could only diminish the personal scope of its power. The Tale is a film about women, but it’s also a film about one woman in particular, a woman who tells herself two very different stories in order to trace the path between them and learn who she is, and how she got here.”