In this Palme d’Or-nominated French production from 2021, offbeat auteur Bruno Dumont constructs a puzzling, ironically attractive portrait of a TV star, a celebrity newscaster named France de Meurs (strikingly played here by French star Léa Seydoux). She is by turns a fatuous and narcissistic media star, a daring investigative reporter, a virtual stranger to her novelist husband and their young son, and yet also a woman of conscience and bold social action. Her clownish, ratings-crazed producer (Blanche Gardin) serves as both daffy enabler and loyal sidekick. Dumont builds brooding drama out of the TV celebrity’s crises, contradictions and blind spots in ways that seem to challenge the audience’s perspectives as well.
The Quiet Girl
In rural Ireland circa 1980, the title character is 9-year-old Cáit, a very quiet and rather solitary child in a bedraggled family with five kids and another on the way. Her harried mother sends her to spend the summer with relatives, a childless couple whose attentive ministrations as temporary foster parents open Cáit’s eyes to what she’s been missing at home, and to her own sense of self worth. She blossoms, but the changes make her return to her own family—the prelude for further complications.
The film is based on a Claire Keegan story, and writer-director Colm Bairéad gives it all a gently poetical alertness. Young Catherine Clinch is fine in the title role, and Carrie Crowley is especially good as the temporary mother. Irish Gaelic and some English are spoken in this Oscar-nominated gem.
Little Richard: I Am Everything
When Richard Penniman (aka Little Richard) passed away three years ago, I was a little surprised to find that I had stronger feelings about the man than with any of the others among my old-time rock-’n’-roll favorites.
Lisa Cortes’ superb new documentary makes a similar impression by way of a brilliantly expansive biographical portrait that extends into the dynamics of race, sexuality, religion and music in America. Cortés builds a fascinating two-hour narrative out of archival materials, film and TV clips, testimony (from John Waters, Tom Jones, Mick Jagger and others), reminiscences and insights (from friends, relatives, colleagues and critics), and—most and best of all—Richard’s own observations and outbursts.
The now-imprisoned Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi plays a version of himself in this documentary-style tale about a clandestine effort to make a film at a remote location near Iran’s border with Turkey. Filmed in the director’s amiable, casually observant style, No Bears exudes a gentle-humored, and almost leisurely, kind of courage while never losing sight of the everyday challenges and perils in this dissident filmmaker’s activities.
Panahi has made entire films with dashboard cameras inside automobiles (compare the wonderful Taxi from 2015, for example). Here too, the methods are minimalist, but a generous, tough-minded humanism is the prevailing impression.
That sly character actor Bill Nighy is featured in this portrait of an aging bureaucrat, a dried-up English gentleman who begins to see life differently when he’s diagnosed with a soon-to-be fatal illness. Based on a classic Japanese film, Akira Kurosawa’s Ikiru (“To Live”), it’s a thoroughly Anglicized version of Kurosawa’s original, which was itself based in part on Tolstoy’s novella The Death of Ivan Ilyich.
Tom Burke and Aimee Lou Wood play key characters in the old gent’s late-life renewal. Nighy’s eloquently low key performance is enhanced with bent posture, cramped gestures and a half-whispery speaking voice. The screenplay adaptation is the work of novelist Kazuo Ishiguro.