This time around we cover a very cosmic documentary, a dark yet surprisingly not too depressing teen dramedy, and a French Holocaust film...sort of. It's a stronger mix of films than it sounds like. Let's start at the bottom and work our way up to best in show:
Sarah's Key - I found this movie to be very uneven. It tells the story of a contemporary reporter doing an article who stumbles upon a mystery centered around a Jewish family who was rounded up in occupied France. The film is almost half told in flashback, however, showing us said family living out the story as the modern day reporter uncovers it. Good, solid premise.
There was actually some buzz about Kristen Scott Thomas getting an Oscar campaign for this movie. Watching the movie, this blew my mind because it was the modern day segments of the film that I found losing my interest time and again. I won't say that she did a bad job, but I spent most of my time watching her waiting to get back to the family.
The star of Sarah's Key, to me, was Melusine Mayance, the young girl who played the title role. She is captivating. She runs through a tremendous array of emotions over the course of this movie and never wavers, never lacks in believability.
The appearance of Niels Arestrup is a supporting role is welcome, as always, but his performance is more War Horse than A Prophet (which translates as charming and well acted, but not mind blowing).
The movie is worth watching to see Mayance play Sarah. And to solve the mystery. It's a good one. Available on DVD and Netflix Instant Play. 3 1/2 of 5*
Restless - Let me admit at the outset that I am a fan of director Gus Van Sant. I've followed him since before I knew the identities or filmographies of many directors who were not household names, since I first put together that Drugstore Cowboy and My Own Private Idaho were directed by the same man. His newest, Restless, is not one his best, but it does have many redeeming features.
Its best feature, by a mile, is lead actress Mia Wasikowska, who had a great year in 2011 between this film, Jayne Eyre, and Albert Nobbs. She got less notice for Restless, but she shines in it. There is a certain radiance to her acting, a blend of likability and vulnerability that is hard to look away from. She is quickly carving out a niche as one of the most talented new young actresses in Hollywood.
Unfortunately, her co-star (relative new comer Henry Hopper) pales a bit in comparison. He does appear to have potential, and there is some chemistry between the two on-screen, but he is ill prepared to hold his own opposite Wasikowska, and the film suffers for it.
This is the freshman script from screenwriter Jason Lew, and it is conceptually interesting: Boy (obsessed with death) meets girl (fighting cancer) and they fall in love. Somewhere in the progression of things the story gets a little lost. But I liked the film a lot better than most critics did. Maybe its because I'm just a fan of Gus Van Sant. Available on DVD. 3 1/2 of 5*
Nostalgia For The Light - This is my first exposure to the work of documentarian Patricio Guzman, and I was duly impressed by this film. It is a wholly unique creation, very ethereal in tone and abstract in nature. More than once while watching it, I thought, "It's the Tree of Life of documentaries." It really kind of is, and that makes it a difficult beast to explain.
What is "Nostalgia"'s topic or subject? Well, it's about astronomy, archaeology, the past, the origins of man and the universe, the Atacama desert, the victims of Pinochet's regime and their families' need to put them to rest, the Chilean people, the whole world, and the interconnectedness of all things. It sounds all over the place, and it is, but ingeniously focused at the same time. The sundry topics that the film addresses are only indirectly related, but by the film's end, you feel that they are all connected. You see the interconnectedness of all things, in a way.
It is also well worth noting the cinematography in this film as interviews are interspersed with stark but powerful shots of the Atacama landscape and stunning photos from light years away.
It is hard for me to tell you much more beyond that I highly recommend this picture. I found it very affecting in a way that crept up behind my consciousness. It is a little "cosmic" in tone, but highly rewarding if you give it a moment to lull you into Guzman's worldview. Available on DVD. 4 1/2 of 5*