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Elizabeth Olsen stars as Thérèse, a young woman whose domineering aunt, Madame Raquin (Jessica Lange), forces her
to marry her cousin, Camille Raquin (Tom Felton), despite that she's not in love with him. Her heart belongs to her true love, Laurent LeClaire (Oscar Isaac), with whom she has a romantic, sexually-charged affair behind her husband's back. She and Lauren hatch a scheme to kill Camille, but little do they expect the emotional consequences in the aftermath of their murderous plan.
Based on the novel "Therese Racquin" by Émile Zola, In Secret seamlessly combines the elements of steamy romance, suspense and emotionally-charged drama. Writer/director Charlie Stratton takes his time to introduce you to the characters and to the dynamics of their relationships so that by the time that Thérèse has an affair with Laurent, you not only feel their chemistry palpably, but you understand why she chooses to engage in that affair. Madame Raquin may not seem likable at first, but part of what makes this film so extraordinary is the complexity of its characters; in no way does she, Thérèse or Laurent seem bad in a cartoonish way. In other words, they're fallible human beings with anger, regrets, remorse and, above all, a moral conscience. Once that conscience comes into play, In Secret grows increasingly interesting and riveting.
The casting directors deserve kudos because everyone nails their part perfectly; no one feels miscast. Elizabeth Olsen sizzles in her role of Thérèse and tackles the nuances moments of fragility with conviction. Her eyes reflect many deep human emotions concurrently which enriches the film. Jessica Lange, one of the greatest actresses of our time, delivers a mesmerizing, magnificent performance and sinks her teeth into her role quite smoothly. She's very effective at conveying a lot of thoughts and feelings with nuances sans words even when the film gets into dark territory. How she managed to shake off this role emotionally is a whole other matter, but what's certain is that, like any great actress, she has dug deep enough to find her character's core--her truth--successfully. You won't soon forget Lange and Olsen's haunting scenes together later in the second act. To top it all off, In Secret also offers exquisite cinematography, costume and production design that further adds to the authenticity onscreen. At a running time of 1 hour and 49 minutes, In Secret is spellbinding, intelligent and suspenseful.
58-year-old Gloria (Paulina García), a divorced mother of two
adult children, goes to a singles club where she meets Rodolfo (Sergio Hernandez), a divorced father who also has two adult children. They start to have feelings for each other, date and have sex. He, unlike Gloria, is seven years her
senior, newly divorced and still remains emotionally connected to his his ex-wife and has an unhealthy relationship with his children, though, who are unemployed, live with his ex-wife and rely on him for money. She, unlike Rodolfo, has a boring office job; he owns an amusement park where he introduces her to the game of paintball for the first time. Is their relationship meant to last? Are they both in love with one another? Are Gloria and Rodolfo truly happy, for that
Writer/director Sebastián Lelio provides you with enough character details so that you can come up with different answers
to the questions above. Both Gloria and Rodolfo enter their relationship with some emotional baggage, although Rodolfo seems to have more baggage than she does and handles it less maturely despite that he's older than her. Perhaps suffers from a certain degree of narcissism and uses Gloria as his supply to fill some kind of void. Lelio leaves that up to interpretation, focusing just on Gloria and Rodolfo's interactions. Rodolfo seems nice and sweet, but the more you get to know him, you realize that he's insecure, immature and, perhaps, unctuous. His actions at a dinner party isn't particularly nice, but you can say the same for the way that Gloria treats him from the moment they enter the party. Such complex relationships are very rare to find onscreen, especially with characters over the age of 50. Like a great filmmaker, Lelio finds just the right balance between entertaining the audience and provoking them emotionally as well as intellectually. The brief moments of comic relief work effectively, and, most importantly, Lelio shows Gloria with pure, unadulterated humanity and warmth while letting you judge her for yourself. She may have changed by the end credits or she may have remained the same person she was before she met Rodolfo---decide that for yourself. Regardless of whether she's likable, unlikable or somewhere in between, she's a very interesting and intelligent woman. If there were more roles for women like Gloria, the film industry would be treating both men and women fairly.
No review of Gloria would be complete without mentioning Paulina García bravura performance in the titular role. She tackles the character's fierceness and fragility convincingly, and isn't afraid to be both emotionally and physically naked. Just by smoking a cigarette and staring at something or someone, she conveys a wide variety of emotions through her facial movements which speak louder than words. In other words, she as the right skills as an actress, and, most likely, depth as a human being, in order to sink her teeth so smoothly into this complex, memorable role. Yes, this is a Chilean film that remains focused on two very specific characters, but its themes are both universal and relatable---if you don't relate to it now, just wait until you reach Gloria and Rodolfo's age. At a running time of 110 minutes, Gloria manages to be warm, wise, sophisticated and deeply human. Paulina García is a revelation. It's the kind of film that will linger in your mind for weeks.
Like Father, Like Son
Ryota (Masaharu Fukushim) lives with his wife, Midori (Machiko Ono), and their 6-year-old son, Keita (Keita Yukari). He works as an architect and has gained enough wealth to be part of the upper class. Yudai (Franky Lily), his wife, Yukari (Yoko Maki), and three young children, on the other hand, live in an impoverished part of town and belong to the lower class. What do both families have in common? Their sons were switched at birth with each other. Keita is Yudai and Yukari's real son while Ryusei (Shôgen Hwang) is Ryota's real son, but neither son grew up with their real family. The plot gets more complex when Ryota doesn't just want his real son: he also wants to keep his custody of Keita, but in order to do so he has to prove that Keita's real parents aren't fit to be his parents.
Writer/director Hirokazu Koreeda, known for I Wish, Still Walking, Nobody Knows and After Life, has a knack for creating character driven stories about families and for making each of those characters, young and old, deeply human. He knows how to cast the right actors who capture the depth of their roles and make it even more genuine. It should come as no surprise, then, that the child actors in Like Father, Like Son are all superb, especially Keita Yukari. No one hams their performance in and, fortunately, Koreeda avoids veering into the realm of melodrama or schmaltz. In other words, every emotion feels genuine and well-earned so that you don't feel manipulated----every movie is manipulative at its core, but a great director/screenwriter masks that manipulation with a sensitive screenplay such as the one found here. You may find yourself liking Ryota at first and then disliking him for the way that he treats Yudai and Yukari, but then you might finding redeeming qualities about him: it's hard to put him into a box. That complexity makes the film all the more interesting and true-to-life.
Although Like Father, Like Son does have a tender, understated and sensitive screenplay, it does slightly drag toward the end of its roughly 2-hour running time. Tighter editing and a little bit of trimming during the final 30 minutes or so would have helped make the film consistently entertaining. That issue, though, is systematic rather than systemic, so it's forgivable and doesn't caused the film to come crashing down like what happens during many Hollywood movies. This isn't the first foreign film to tackle the storyline of children from different families swapped at birth, and it probably won't be the last either: The Other Son also treaded that ground recently, although the comparisons end there because it was a dramatic thriller, and one family was Palestinian while other other was Israeli. Like Father, Like Son ultimately manages to be a genuinely poignant, compelling and well-acted family drama.
Marie (Bérénice Bejo) lives with her fiance, Samir (Tahar Rahim), and her three children, Léa (Jeanne Jestin), Lucie (Pauline Burlet), and Fouad (Elyes Aguis), in a Parisian suburb. Léa and Lucie are from her 1st marriage to a Belgian husband; Foaud is her and Samir's son. She hasn't officially divorced Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa), her second husband though, and Samir's wife remains hospitalized in a coma. Matters become further complex when Ahmad arrives to sign the divorce papers and when Lucie blames Marie for the reason why Samir's wife is comatose because her affair with Samir began long before his wife's coma.
Once again, writer/director Asghar Farhadi deals with the dynamics of dysfunctional family that may seem simple on the surface, but a lot happens to be going on beneath its surface alter the way you perceive its characters. Bérénice Bejo gives an powerful, emotionally-charged performance as Marie and tackles the complexities and nuances of the role with conviction. The same can be said for the rest of the solid cast. Farhadi deserves to be commended for writing a screenplay that feels true-to-life and filled with intricate details that humanize its characters without leading to boredom. He also knows what information to expose to the audience explicitly and implicitly as well as what to withhold from them thereby providing some suspense/mystery like he did so well in A Separation. Like many great directors, he trusts your intelligence as an audience member.
The Past does tug at your heartstrings, but not in a schmaltzy or melodramatic way. Not a single moment rings false. You'll find yourself emotionally invested in these characters lives and debating whether or not you like them or trust them for that matter in spite of their flaws---like all human beings, they're fallible. While the plot does become increasingly intricate and complex, it never becomes complicated, confusing or contrived even when certain crucial revelations rise to the surface later in the second act. Yes, The Past clocks at 2 hour and 10 minutes, but unlike most 2 hour plus films that opened this year, you won't feel the weight of its running time because you're so genuinely engrossed and captivated. It's one of the best films of the year.
Blue is the Warmest Color
Adapted from Julia Maroh's graphic novel Blue Angel, Blue is the Warmest Color centers on the evolving sexually-charged romance between two lovers, 15-year-old Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos) and a college art student, Emma (Léa Seydoux). Adèle has tried sleeping with boys, but they don't fulfill her sexual or emotional desires as much as Emma does. Both of them come from different kind of families. Adèle's parents seem reserved and cold compared to Emma's warm, Bohemian parents. One can see why blue-haired Emma turned out to be so free-spirited and true to herself. Their relationship hits a few bumps as it progresses because love, after all, is complicated, comes in many different forms, and sometimes fades away beyond one's control. Adèle has a lot to learn about her first experience with love.
To label this film as merely a coming-of-age story would be to undersell it because it's much more than that. Writer/director Abdellatif Kechiche captures the mind and soul of Adèle with so much attention to detail that you can't help but care about her immensely as a human being. They're not caricatures nor are they easy to put into a box; they're both complex and fallible which makes them all the more interesting. Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux give radiant performances that feel entirely authentic and genuinely moving. When Adèle cries, you can grasp her innate pains, regrets and longings especially by paying attention to her eyes. She's truly an actress who must have depth because it takes someone who's deep to tackle such an emotionally complicated role. The same can be said for Léa Seydoux who's very well-cast here. Both Adèle and Emma are the kind of characters that linger in your mind long after the end credits long after the end credits which is a true testament to the film's power.
Rarely has the love between two characters onscreen felt so palpably real. Kechiche depicts their relationship unflinchingly and thoroughly so that by the time the end credits commence after 179 minutes, you feel as though you've watched a documentary about Adèle and Emma. You even get to meet their parents, although there are very few interactions between Adèle and her parents, so at least Kechiche leaves room for interpretion there. He also includes beautiful cinematography and uses thought-provoking symbolism, i.e. the many different shades of blue found in the film. What hasn't been mentioned yet, though, is the very explicit sex scenes which gives the film its NC-17 rating. Those scenes aren't shocking or disgusting or perverse because they're authentic and true to the characters of Adèle and Emma. Perhaps the sex scenes come across as surprising given the fact that it's not just sex, it's sex with intense, palpable emotion involved. Blue is the Warmest comes alive because of its raw, pure, unadulterated emotions displayed unflinchingly onscreen.