Murina

Murina is the story of Julia, a teenage girl under the thumb of her controlling, abusive father. They live on this idyllic Croatian island, across the sea from Italy. Everything looks like paradise, but for Julia, it’s a gilded cage.

At the start of the movie, Julia goes along with her father’s commands, but her compliance is more the weary exhaustion of an unpleasant status quo. Inside her spirit is unbroken. She knows her father is wrong, she believes her and her mother deserve better.

Then better seems to arrive in the form of Javi. He is her father’s old friend, from their days as young men. He seems to have been a rival for her mother’s affections back in the day. He is a billionaire now, and her father has brought him to the island to bilk him for money with a phoney investment.

When Javi shows up, Julia looks at her mother like, “You had a chance to marry him, and you chose Dad?!” Javi is everything her father is not, kind, considerate, romantic, charming, proficient and wealthy. He is encouraging of Julia and praises her qualities. Julia’s clearly not had this much positivity in her life for a long time, and despite her initial hesitancy, begins to think he is her way out.

Her mother’s a bit more of a dark horse. She and Javi have history, and although she flirts with him and remembers their time together, she is not serious about running away with him. Unlike Julia, she doesn’t have an idealised version of who he might be, she knows who he is. And for whatever reason, has chosen her husband over him. At first she and Julia are on the same page, being charmed by Javi, but they start to diverge as she realises Julia is serious about getting away. She tries to warn Julia that Javi is full of pretty words, but he won’t be there for them, unlike her father. For her, she would rather stay with an abusive man who is determined to keep her, than a kinder man who might let her down and leave her.

Leon Lucev expertly plays the repugnant father. He is narcissistic, petulant, bragging, spiteful, and domineering. He has the mood swings and temper of a child. He sees his wife and daughter merely as extensions of his will whose purpose is to meet his wants and wishes. Despite his rigid control over his wife, he allows her to flirt with Javi as an ends to luring the money from him.

The opening scene of the film is Julia and her father spearfishing murina, the moray eel. While it hides in rocks and crevices, it is a violent prey, and if trapped, will bite at its own flesh to free itself. Julia is the murina of the film’s title. This story is how she bites at her confines, and the lengths she is willing to go to to be free.

The Outfit

A stylish noir locked room drama. Taking place entirely inside a tailor shop in 1950s Chicago, it follows Leonard, played by the excellent Mark Rylance, as he tries to survive the night.

The Boyle Crew are at war with the La Fontaines, and are paranoid about a rat in their midst. Leonard and his receptionist and pseudo daughter, Mable, live a relatively quiet life plying their trade, despite more than a few of their customers being the city’s gangsters. But that boundary is crossed one night when the son of the head of the Boyle crime family bursts through the door with a gun shot wound. Aided by his lieutenant Francis, played to perfection by Johnny Flynn, the bleeding Richie demands to be sheltered and helped by Leonard. Added to the ticking clock of Richie’s wounds, is the valuable cassette in Francis’s suitcase, which will supposedly reveal the identity of the rat.

The twists and turns of the night keeps Leonard on his toes. While the mobsters are tooled to the teeth, he must survive using nothing but his wits.

I liked watching this, I liked its look and the tension in the scenes. I liked Rylance and Flynn’s performances as well as that of Simon Russell Beale as the Boyle mob boss. It’s a really enjoyable watch and it keeps you going through the 2 hours easy.

But. It actually doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. The twists go back and forth long after it stops making sense. Like, if you were actually to sit down and say what happens, it just sounds like a series of highly unlikely coincidences and illogical decisions. Now that’s fine, coz it’s fun. But it takes a lot of cloth wholesale from Rope and Bound and others of that ilk. And unlike those films, where the villain essentially undoes themselves through their own character flaws, their arrogance, their pride, The Outfit’s villains don’t really have characters, they’re just tropes of the gangster genre. They’re undone by being outsmarted by Leonard, rather than their own faults, which I think gives Leonard too much power and downplays the peril.

All in all, a really enjoyable and slick watch. Just don’t think about it too much.

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.

If you like this…

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.

If you like this

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.