On Thursday, Pedro Almodóvar was awarded the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement. In his acceptance speech he said:
“I never claimed to change the world (I have never been that presumptuous) but I have tried, I admit, to explain my own, little world I have lived in, and I have always done so with absolute freedom, independence and innocence. In my world people suffer, but they also rejoice without prejudice, they are passionate, diverse, flawed and generous, with an immense capacity for survival, yet fragile and vulnerable, all of them endowed with great moral autonomy. As the creator of their stories this was the least I could give them. The same freedom that I myself enjoyed.”
What a rollercoaster this has been.
The last couple of months feel like a dream to me. And not a good one. Anyway, cinema always puts me back together, at least films like the last two I watched do. They somehow erase the cynic in me, and recharge the woman and lover who has been wronged by the world.
Saudi filmmaker Haifaa Al Mansour’s ‘The Perfect Candidate’ should be called “the perfect package of a film”. I mean, I was skeptical at first I’ll admit it. I could see her American husband Brad Niemann’s touch — he co-wrote the script with her — and those cultural, almost folkloristic touches that felt a bit forced to the still-cynical me. At one point during the screening, just as I was thinking “too much folklore,” there was a shot featuring a truck full of camels! My angry, uninvolved, tired of this ungrateful job self said a silent “come on!” And yet, after that moment something magical started happening. I found the poetry and forgot the folklore and realized that within the Saudi traditional music, the wondrous courage of the female protagonists and the charming, old fashioned ways of the leading men in the film, there was a heart of gold pulsing through the film!
The ending will leave you breathless and the film will make you think for days.
In plain terms, ‘The Perfect Candidate’ is the story of a young woman, a doctor, who decides to run for her regional council elections. But this is not the US, Maryam is not Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and getting a dirt, wet road paved in front of the clinic where she works — her running platform — is obstructed by more than simple bureaucracy. This story takes place in Saudi Arabia, a country where a woman political candidate can’t even talk live in front of an audience of men. And where, until very little time ago, she couldn’t even drive herself to work.
Al Mansour herself has done so much with her film career to further the cause of Saudi women. She has come a long way since directing her first feature ‘Wadjda’ from the back of a van. And her own path has inspired many of the reforms in the Kingdom, including women’s right to drive and the new cinema culture, fueled further by the opening of actual movie theaters in the country. While Saudi does seem like a country of contradictions, if one woman could be credited for all the occasional goodness, it definitely should be Al Mansour. Cinema does change the world, it’s just that you may not realize it when that happens. But I’m here to remind you, so don’t worry.
And now for something completely different!
‘Marriage Story’ is the quintessential NY story, even if most of it doesn’t take place in New York City. It’s also one of the most heartbreaking love stories I’ve seen on the big screen in a long time, because it doesn’t talk about the start of love, but rather the end. While on this game of things meaning the opposite of what they seem, Noah Baumbach’s film isn’t about a marriage, rather about a divorce. See, it’s all upside down, and yet it’s one of the first press and industry screenings I’ve been a part of in my career where people clapped enthusiastically at the end. This is a jaded, typically silent bunch and there was a roar of applause.
Yes, it’s that good.
Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver prove simply perfect, also because they split the audience into supporters of him or her. As a woman, I found Driver’s Charlie more sympathetic, and yet I feel like men will gravitate naturally toward's Johansson’s Nicole. That’s the special magic of ‘Marriage Story’.
Other strokes of genius casting include Laura Dern, Alan Alda and Ray Liotta as divorce attorneys — eek — Julie Hagerty as Nicole’s ditzy mom and Wallace Shawn in a cameo role as a self-involved playwright. Simply brilliant all around! But then again, Baumbach is always wondrous with his touch of genius casting as well as the choice of words. I remember interviewing him in Cannes a few years ago, and he talked about the vibrations of words. Apparently he doesn’t let his actors improvise on his script, it needs to be performed exactly as it is written.
‘Marriage Story’ is a Netflix film and at the start there were a couple of jeers and whistles in the audience. It’s still baffling to me why a company that gets great cinema and rocking series made would be the bad guy, but of course, that could just be me. And my logical logic.
Yeah, I’m a stickler for things that make sense, call me silly.