“Buen Día, Ramón” –The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow

 

Buen Dia Ramon

The German-Mexican co-production, “Buen Día Ramón” (“Good Day, Ramón”) tells the unusual story of a poor young Mexican immigrant named Ramon who emigrates to Germany after having incredibly bad luck in his multiple attempts to emigrate to the US illegally. Desperately in need of finding work to support his mother and provide medicine to his grandmother, he decides, on a friend’s advice, to travel to Germany.

Ramon’s remarkable openness to accept the kindness of strangers and begrudge none of his hardships is rendered believable. Struggling to survive on the street, he sleeps in a train station, and becomes increasingly desperate to earn money to send home. Yet he never builds defenses, remaining optimistic and determined, with an innocent enthusiasm that is, at times, astonishing in its emotional generosity and guilelessness.

On an ordinary day shopping for something to eat, the young Mexican meets Ruth, a lonely senior.   Soon, she befriends Ramon and lets him sleep in her apartment basement, even though another tenant disapproves. In one especially poignant scene, Ramon has prepared a Mexican dinner for Ruth and they sit down to enjoy the meal together in her apartment. Ruth gradually reveals secrets she has never told anyone else. In turn, Ramon conveys his deep felt gratitude to her for changing his life. Confiding in each other in German and Spanish, neither understands the other in language but in emotion. Their bond is unbreakable.

I have to admit I am drawn to bicultural co-productions. The layers of complexity in navigating and directing actors with different cultural and linguistic points of view enriches the movie-viewing experience. “Buen Día, Ramón” exemplifies this. The alternating points-of-view are not only character-based but culturally based.

The actors who play Ramon (Kristyan Ferrer) and the German Ruth (Ingeborg Shöner) are understated, with such charm and poignancy that the incredible friendship becomes credible.   Ramon’s story is an unexpectedly lyrical tale of perseverance, tenacity, and generosity. “Buen Día, Ramóín” considers how friendship develops despite all sorts of challenges in a deeply affecting manner. This movie is a simple pleasure that no one should miss.

 

Note:  Available on Netflix

“The Past” (Le Passé)—Does the Past Define Us?

The Past

THE PAST (LE PASSÉ) was nominated for the 2013 Cannes Film Festival Palme d’Or award, the Iranian entry for the Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award , and a Golden Globe. Directed and written by Asghar Farhadi of “A Separation” fame (winner of the 2011 Academy Award for Best Foreign Film).

 Ahmad, an Iranian man (the remarkable Ali Mosaffa) deserted his French wife Marie Brisson (the sublime Bérénice Bejo of “The Artist”) and her two children from a previous marriage. Now living in Tehran, he is asked to return to Paris to finalize his divorce because Marie wishes to marry a third time–to Samir (played by Tahar Rahim) who has a young son, Fauod. In the opening scene Marie meets Ahmad at the airport, they embrace, and they run through the rain to their car. In the rear window Marie doesn’t have a clear view and she almost hits another vehicle. This small scene is symbolic of what follows: looking back at events in the past, and not getting a clear view of their meaning.

“The Past” is a a web of intrigue of Rashomon proportions. Everyone tells their version of the truth, but they do not explain everything, and the viewer is puzzled by intentions, motives, and history. As “The Past” unfolds, each character is imprisoned by his or her own version of the past. Opportunities to move forward are constantly threatened by each character’s backstory.The past seems to dominate and destabilize, reminding us of our own mistakes and unintended consequences.

The movie, “The Past”, conveys Pedro Almodovar’s brilliant comprehension of women’s journeys: looking back at past turmoil without understanding how the past can define them if they let it. Here, in “The Past”, each female voice is counterpointed by an equally compelling male one, drawing us ever more deeply into understanding very flawed characters, involving shifting of point of view and perspective that we see in the very best novelists.

The mid-point of the drama hits a few speed bumps, but the plot twists command the viewer’s attention and the personal drama packs quite a punch with the impending day of reckoning for each character. The camera refuses to give us any relief even at the very end, when the most essential question of the drama is raised. “The Past is an emotional head-spinning ride that won’t leave anyone indifferent.

 

“The Innocents”—And War

Guest blogger: Barbara Donsky, author of the memoir Veronica’s Grave,  and blog owner of www.desperatelyseekingParis.com  For the unedited version of this review go to Barbara Donsky’s blog

 

Les innocentes
Les innocentes

Writers and film-makers continue to successfully mine stories stemming from World War II. “The Innocents”  is such a film—a Polish-French venture by the director Anne Fontaine that takes place in December 1945. Based on real events as described by Madeleine Pauliac, a French Red Cross doctor who had served with French troops in war-torn Poland, the film illuminates the various crises of faith that befall a convent of nuns who have been ravaged by marauding Russian troops who forced their way into the monastery and raped the helpless women.

Traumatized by their harrowing experiences, the nuns, having taken vows of chastity, are incapable of dealing with the violations of their bodies and their vows. None escapes the humiliation and shame of what has befallen them, no matter how unwarranted that shame might be.

How can God, in all His mercy,  allow such a terrible thing to happen to these unprotected sisters? What is the meaning of this diabolical turn of events? And what’s to become of the children?

The steely Reverend Mother (Agata Kulesza) is, above all, concerned that this scandal—a convent filled with pregnant nuns—not become public, as it could shred the authority of the Catholic Church. As the film engages the viewer from moral, spiritual and institutional perspectives, it brings to mind more recent scandals and institutional crises involving the Catholic Church that have, indeed, contributed to a weakening of religious institutions.

Filmed in muted tones by Caroline Champetier, the spare observational cinematography is magnificent—perfectly in keeping with the prayerful calm and simplicity of a Benedictine monastery, with the silence observed by the nuns at meals, and with the purity of the Angelus as sung at break of day, noon and evensong.

If the upbeat ending is unexpected, “The Innocents” is a blistering war movie by talented women about strong women looking out for one another and doing what needs to be done to survive.

Note:  “The Innocents” (Les Innocentes) is now in limited release at theaters nationwide.

“Closed Circuit”—We’re Under Surveillance

Closed Circuit 2

“Closed Circuit” (2013), an adrenaline-pumping political thriller, portrays corrupt government forces who will stop at nothing. It’s an exciting genre. The title “Closed Circuit” is designed to raise the alarm over both the injustice of closed court hearings and the use of surveillance technology. Covert surveillance amplifies the sense that London has become a police state with ubiquitous security cameras. We don’t know who’s watching or how they’re using what they see.

The opening scene provides the hook. After a truck explodes in London’s bustling Borough Market, killling 120 people,   authorities at MI5 swiftly arrest a Muslim immigrant, Farroukh Erdogan based on closed circuit surveillance. The government assigns two separate lawyers to represent the accused, one for public sessions, the other for secret sessions. The government argues the evidence is so sensitive that national security pre-empts due process. (Think Patriot Act). Martin (played by Eric Bana) will try Erdogan’s case in public and Claudia (Rebecca Hall), will present evidence in front of the judge during the closed sessions of the trial, evidence the defendant himself is not allowed to hear. Martin and Claudia, however, are ex-lovers but fail to recuse themselves, since the case is so compelling. Moral questions on all sides begin to proliferate as Martin and Claudia dig deeper.   They soon realize that their client is not who the prosecution is making him out to be.

Closed_Circuit_3

The acts of terrorism depicted in “Closed Circuit” are meant to justify national security agencies’ means and methods of indicting and trying the accused. “Closed Circuit” depicts the injustice of power wielded by MI5 in secret, in contrast to the MI5 that British society permits to bend rules for their citizens’ protection. The overriding theme of “Closed Circuit”–when the powerful makes the rules, all everyone else can do is play along.

This taut film represents a style of conspiratorial “nobody-wins” storytelling seldom seen since the days of “No Way Out” and “Ides of March”.  Here, the Power is represented with chilling smarminess and ruthless insincerity by Jim Broadbent. A New York Times reporter (Julia Stiles), the MI5 administrator (Ann-Marie Duff), and solicitor (Ciaran Hinds) all add to the intrigue, with unexpected plot twists. Everyone’s allegiances are suspect, and surprise betrayals abound.

“Closed Circuit” is definitely worth seeing, if you want something more cerebral and something that will bother you a bit afterwards. This British courtroom thriller challenges the validity of policies that shield key evidence from public scrutiny.

 

“The Family”—A Plot of the Broken-Hearted

 

Guest blogger: Emily Lewis, founder of MrsMommyBookNerdsBookReviews.com, a fantastic blog reviewing novels focusing on the themes of  family and parenting, as well as children’s books.  Go check it out!

The Family
The Family

The ABC drama– THE FAMILY— is a psychological thriller that showcases a family trying to recover from a tragedy that occurred a decade before.  The politician’s young son disappears when she is campaigning near their home and presumed dead.  None of the family members have recovered from the loss and all are fighting their own demons.

This television series follows a broken family. A local politician, the mayor of a small Maine town, (played by the incomparable Joan Allen) is trying to move up the ladder to governor. An older son struggles with alcohol and guilt, and a driven daughter (Alison Pill), who is also her mother’s campaign manager, has secrets of her own.   The father (a very subtle performance by Rupert Everett) strives to rebuild his unhappy marriage that was shattered when their son disappeared.  Out of nowhere a mysterious young man, suspected to be the missing younger son, reappears and things get turned upside down.

So many secrets are slowly revealed through flashbacks and present day encounters.  It is very compelling TV!  I could not help but to put myself in each of the character’s shoes and wonder how I would feel and react to each of their circumstances. This is a story about family dysfunction, a mix of secrets and lies with a dash of suspense.  THE FAMILY is, most of all, about the strange and complex bonds that families have: the fierce loyalty and the unwavering connection that a family shares despite all the heartbreak and tragedy.  I truly loved this show and unfortunately this show was not renewed by ABC, but I have hopes that another outlet will pick it up.  It will soon be available on Netflix.