Spring Blossom

Spring Blossom is a film about a 16-year-old schoolgirl’s first love. It’s written, directed and starred in by Suzanne Lindon, so this is obviously her vision of a youthful romantic fantasy. Trouble is, the object of her affection is a much older man.

I guess in France there are different sensibilities about these things. Young love and age gaps are maybe not inherently viewed with suspicion the way they are here. But her love interest, Raphael, is never mentioned to be a specific age, which kind of strikes a note of wariness. I mean, he looks like he’s in his mid-30s. I wondered if they were trying to pass him off as 25, just as Suzanne’s character is obviously younger than she is. He certainly isn’t 20 or something approaching excusable. Certainly Raphael seems to be going through some kind of mid-life crisis, or lull, so you would expect him to be in his 30s at least. Looking up the actor who plays him on IMDB, I see he’s 36. So, yeah, over twice the age of this love interest.

While Lindon is obviously writing a romantic fantasy from the perspective of a naïve girl who finds the experience mesmerising and positive, I can only write from my own perspective, and it gave me the ick. The idea a man this age would take an interest in a schoolgirl, the fact he would pursue her even after he finds out how young she is, the fact he’s an actor and she’s his teenage fan, just yuck yuck yuck yuck yuck. Also at one point she buys a 10-pence mix-up, and he says she looks cute eating sweeties. Boke. He at no point addresses the age difference or has any reservation or thoughts about entering a sexual relationship with a school-aged teenager. There is a scene where they dance together which is clearly meant to be a metaphor for her first time, and at one point she drops to her knees and he guides her head with his hands in visual metaphor for fellatio, and everything about the scene, the music, the way it’s filmed, the graceful, half-sleepy dance of the actors, is supposed to tell you this is beautiful, but it just made my skin crawl.

Spring Blossom is a film very much in the French tradition, it’s romantic, it’s carefree, it revels in discovery and coming-of-age, it’s more fantasy than reality. If that’s your thing, wire in.

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First Cow

Pleasant story of friendship on the frontier. Cookie teams up with King-Lu and they try to make a living out in Oregon in the 1820s. King-Lu is an ideas man and an entrepreneur, and Cookie is, well, a cook and a baker. When the rich English dandy in charge of the territory brings the first cow into the region in order to have cream in his tea, Cookie and Lu take to milking it at night in order to sell cakes at market.

First Cow is really a folk hero tale. It’s the little guy sticking it to the big guy. But anyone familiar with folk hero legends know they only end one of two ways.

When Lu is introduced, you really find out everything you need to know about this story, about who Lu is, about what kinda place this is. Also the movie overtly starts with the end, so there’s no surprises. Still a nice yarn. Got a warm and kindly feel to it.

Also, for Rene Auberjonois fans, he has a very small part in this, but it is lovely to see him in his last role.

The Mauritanian

Okay, so I saw the trailer for this, and was like, “They’re making a story about the torture and imprisonment of Guantanamo prisoner Mohamedou Slahi, and the heroes are the fucking Americans?!” My thoughts immediately went to the film The Psychosis of Whiteness, and the example of the courtroom drama Amistad, where the torture and mutilation of black and brown bodies are used as props in the introspection, soul-searching and redemption of white characters.

And this film is exactly what I thought it would be.

While I commend Tahar Rahim’s performance, more time is spent on the white characters discussing him than on him himself. He is held up as exceptional, and special for deserving our sympathy. As opposed to typical of America’s treatment of people of colour wherever it goes around the world, in their hundreds and thousands.

I’d recommend instead Eminent Monsters where you get to hear the real Slahi speak in his own words. I suppose The Mauritanian gives an overview of the case from his arrest to his release, but there’s so much side salad.

Minari

This is a beautiful film. I loved the family. There is such warmth. I loved the granny most of all.

Minari is the story of Jacob and Monica, who chase the American dream by settling down to make their own farm in Arkansas. Their two children David and Anne take to it and love discovering this rural bounty, as a change from the city in California. Their grandma soon joins them, and they get to work on their future.

The drama in the whole film hangs on how invested you are in seeing this family succeed. This little nuclear family, 2.5 kids, adrift in a sea of fields, cling together and attempt to thrive in a new element. This film wouldn’t work were it not for the warmth that radiates from their little home, and how endearing the characters become. Only then can the peril of such everyday stakes such as debt and drought take such a riveting hold.

I loved the relationship between David and his grandma. She is brilliant. She sits around watching wrestling, teaches him how to play cards, and swears when she loses. He is shy of her at first, thinking she is not like the grandmas are on tv, but eventually warms to her as she encourages his more adventurous and mischievous nature, and they become close. Makes your heart ache.

It reminds me of things like Jean de Florette and Willa Cather’s book O Pioneers! because despite being set in the 1980s, the message of toil, sacrifice, and attempting to build a better life for yourself and your family is timeless.

How To Build A Girl

A fuck-yeah coming-of-age based on Caitlin Moran’s memoir of being a teenage music critic.

A movie about self-discovery, self-invention, self-destruction, self-reflection, and self-reinvention. Johanna from Wolverhampton becomes rock diva take-down artist Dolly Wilde, providing for her broke-ass family and making a new identity for herself. It makes her bold, it makes her sexy, it makes her adventurous. But is it making her a good person?

A film about learning to speak out, but remembering to use your own voice when you do.

Proxima

Proxima is a film about the relationship between an astronaut and her daughter. Unlike most movies about space and astronauts, it focuses almost entirely on the training and preparation for going into space, which is gruelling. The main character’s journey as she prepares to leave Earth is mirrored in the emotional journey as she prepares to leave her daughter.

I don’t know what I was expecting, but it had a more ponderous pace than I expected. It is very grounded in the daily grind of training, of the work you have to put in, and can’t skip or montage your way out of. Similarly motherhood has no skips and so much is just being there every day, putting in the emotional labour.

Less pew-pew, more sweat and tears.

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Hotel Mumbai

Hotel Mumbai is a nail-bitingly tense dramatisation of the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks.

Now, my main concern about this movie was this that it was going to be a It Shouldn’t Happen To A White Guy movie. This is when a movie is made about an event that affected the lives of hundreds of people of colour, but the movie follows the one white guy who lives through it. Luckily this was not the case. A handful of white people have lines and only two could be said to be major characters. The main character is Arjun, the hero of the piece, a sikh waiter who stays behind to save the guests of the hotel, at risk to his own life.

This is something that I hadn’t really grasped at the time in 2008. The hotel staff were initially able to escape as the attackers at first were not aware of the staff stairways, exits and entrances. Many staff in fact stayed behind voluntarily in order to clear the guests out the hotel. Many of them paid for this with their life. Over half the casualties inside the hotel were staff members.

This film is brutal and intense. I had to decompress for a bit after seeing it. But it isn’t a film that comes off as exploitative or gratuitous, but a film that genuinely attempts to pay tribute to the bravery and heroism of the Taj Hotel staff. 

Yuli

A biopic of dancer and choreographer Carlos Acosta. Such a beautiful film. It tells his life and journey alongside the actual Carlos Acosta dancing and directing his own pieces based on each period in his life. I just loved this mode of storytelling because with each struggle, you are seeing the actual outcome that they’re fighting for. Dance is not an abstract, it’s there for you to see what he achieved.

A big theme in this film is dislocation. Geographically, because he grew up in Cuba but had to travel the world to get his education. Socially, because his family struggle by in poverty but he ends up in a relatively privileged position living in London. And also within the family bonds, as the son struggles with the life that his father has chosen for him, a path he would not have picked but which has had undeniable benefits.

Race is also a big theme throughout the movie. His father pushes him so hard because he wants to see Carlos break down barriers, which he does. He becomes the first black dancer to play lead in a number of roles, including Romeo in Romeo and Juliet. If that doesn’t sound like much, Carlos himself is biracial, and one incident in the film shows his mother’s family emigrating to America and offering to take her and her light-skinned daughter, but not her 2 children that have inherited their father’s dark skin. So for Carlos to play Romeo and kiss a white woman on stage and have everyone applaud is kind of a big deal.

Having just seen White Crow last night, it was a refreshing change in Yuli to see a dancer who was not driven, not ambitious, not consumed with a need to dance. As a child he shirks and bunks off and rebels. It is the decisions and sacrafices of others who put him in dance school and it is only once he is there, alone without family or friends, that dance becomes all he has.

After Yuli, Girl and White Crow, one thing I’ve learned about ballet is that to be good at it, it must destroy the rest of your life. Everyone in ballet needs to chill.

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The Public

The Public is an American movie about homeless people occupying a public library one night during winter. Before the occupation starts, the depiction of what it’s like to work in a library is TOO TRUTH. Defo recognisable to anyone who’s worked in one.

The occupation starts out of humanitarian need, but becomes politicised during the city’s mayoral race. It’s lead by Michael K. Williams (that’s Omar from The Wire to you and me) and aided by the librarian, played by Emilio Estavez, who also wrote and directed the movie. Despite an A-list cast including Jeffrey Wright and Alex Baldwin, the performances are flat and feel fake. It also doesn’t help that almost nothing that happens makes sense. The librarian spends the evening negotiating with the police despite not having any leverage. No one is armed, no one is a hostage, this is exactly the time when the polis just boot fuck out you and drag you outside. Like every American movie with an explicit left-wing political message, it’s heavy-handed and overly long.