“Queen of Katwe”–Queen of Chess

Queen of Katwe

Queen of Katwe, an  indie film based on a true story, features 10-year-old newcomer Phiona (Madina Nalwanga) living in the shanty town of Katwe in Kampala, Uganda. She is an impoverished little girl who is in a constant struggle to survive along with her mother Harriet (the extraordinary Academy-Award-winning Lupita Nyong’o of “12 Years a Slave” and “Black Panther) and younger brothers. Queen of Katwe movie

 

After Phiona meets Robert Katende (David Oyelowo of “Selma”), a missionary who teaches children how to play chess, her outlook becomes more aspirational than selling vegetables at the local market. Under Katende’s guidance Phiona develops into a chess prodigy, becoming not only a champion player but also a scholarship student in  an elite school. She now has an opportunity to escape the misery of her family life. She refuses to let her gender, social status, or lack of an education interfere with her dream to become Uganda’s national chess champion.

One of the more emotionally authentic subplots in Queen of Katwe is the tenuous relationship between Katende and Phiona’s mother. As the mother begins to worry about her daughter’s promising future distancing her, we see a mother-daughter relationship pictured as loving but also awkwardly threatening. Under the direction of Mira Nair, there is no artifice, subplot cliches, or unnecessary romance.

Queen of Katwe is appealing to all ages, and a positive domestic vision of a family with a single mother living in squalor. This film is first and foremost about a young girl’s empowerment and her mother’s unconditional love and acceptance.

The actors are standouts: Newcomer Madina Nalwanga exudes the authenticity and spirit essential for evoking truth. Oyelowo further establishes himself as a powerful presence. And, of course, there is Lupita Nyong’o who must take a stock mother-figure role and turn it into something else, setting every scene with a fire-in-the-belly strength to match Oyelowo. This acting triumvirate makes Queen of Katwe a crowd-pleasing family film for the holiday season.

 

“The Invisible Guest”–What You See is Not What You Guess

 

The Invisible Guest 

The Invisible Guest (2016) (Spanish: Contratiempo) is a 2016 Spanish crime thriller by director and writer Oriol Paulo. The intricate plot will leave the viewer spellbound .

Adrián Doria, a successful business entrepreneur, husband and father, is knocked unconscious, and wakes up in a locked hotel room to find the dead body of Laura Vidal, his married lover. Charged with murder but wealthy enough to be out on bail, Adrian soon learns that his lawyer, Félix Leiva, has hired the renowned defense attorney, Virginia Goodman, to represent him. She visits him late one evening to inform him that a witness has come forward to testify against him. He must tell the whole story quickly so she can prepare his defense. Goodman pulls no punches in the resulting cat-and-mouse game.

No spoiler alerts here! Suffice it to say that you must pay attention with every scene, even though–as in many foreign films–the pacing sags in the middle. The viewer will be rewarded, however, with clues and red herrings that are purposeful and complex, not suspecting how the interconnections make sense. The Invisible Guest requires more than the usual demands on the viewer’s attention in order to follow the plot.

Just when you think you have a reasonable explanation for what has taken place and who the probable perpetrator is, a new scene with a different point of view enters, and you are wondering again who is guilty of the crime. The story becomes so populated with different points of view and arguments back-and-forth with Virginia Goodman that the viewer is engaged up to the final reveal.

The narrative and plot remind me of Gone Girl with a number of unreliable versions of the crime scene. This masterpiece consistently changes the game, raising more questions than it answers. Consequently, the viewer parses the dialog and several accounts of the crime into puzzle pieces– but they don’t fit. The Invisible Guest is crafted so well that you don’t  see the intricately woven web  unravel as it does. There is always the who before the why.

The Invisible Guest is a winner! This Spanish gem is thrilling, suspenseful, mind-blowing, an edge-of-your-seat riveting tour-de-force for thriller/mystery enthusiasts and psychological film-noir fans.

Note: Available on Netflix streaming.

 

“Colette”–A Woman Ahead of Her Time

 

Colette movie

Guest reviewer: Barbara Donsky, author of the memoir, Veronica’s Grave

 

“Colette,” opens in the countryside of rural France as we meet the young Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette (Keira Knightley) at home in Burgundy. In short order, a successful Parisian writer known as “Willy” (Dominic West) pays a visit to Saint-Saveur-en-Puisaye, and before long he and Sidonie are enjoying an energetic romp in the hayloft. Soon after, Sidonie (destined to be known simply as ‘Colette’) is installed as his wife in Paris.

But when Willy begins having problems with creditors, he convinces her to write a novel under his name. In fact, he locks her in a room! “Write!” he bellows. So she pens a story about a sassy country girl, “Claudine,” which becomes a literary sensation. Willy wants yet another novel from her and another. And so it goes. She will not write a book under her own name until she breaks with Willy, a wily philanderer, in 1906.

In fin de siècle Paris, Colette will go from enabling wife to the grand-mere of feminist literature and a bisexual adventuress. In this beautifully filmed biographical drama, you can track her transformation by her clothing—from the yellow country dress to the mannish suits. When her husband buys her an expensive Parisian gown— at a time when society ladies were dripping in jewels and wearing extravagant designs— she wants no part of it. Indeed, her idol was Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin, who wrote under the pen name George Sand and preferred wearing men’s clothing.   Colette the movie

Colette’s self-confidence changed a country girl into a fashion icon, the most photographed woman of her time. Doing so, according to the director Wash Westmoreland, at a time when a woman could have been arrested in Paris for wearing men’s clothing.

The film is a joy! Oscar-whispers are circulating for Kiera Knightley.

 

Note: Barbara Donsky’s last review for us was “Cezanne et Moi” –Artistic Jealousy (June 27, 2017)

“The Wife”–The Invisible Woman, or…Stand by My Man

The Wife movie

The Wife, based upon Meg Wolitzer’s bestselling novel by the same name, opens with a sixty-something affluent couple, Joan Castleman (Glenn Close) and her husband, Joe (Jonathan Pryce), waiting for the phone to ring in the middle of the night. A perhaps futile hope that the Nobel Prize committee will grant Joe his dream of a lifetime–the Nobel Prize in literature.

Like two kids, Joan and Joe jump on the bed, ecstatically holding hands, singing “I won the Nobel.” Or was that a “we?” It is 1992 and Joe and Joan Castleman’s lives are about to be changed irrevocably.

A raw unfolding of secrets, infidelity, resentment, self-sacrifice, delusion, and rage erupt from the couple’s souls and that of their son, who is reminded by his father that he is merely a shadow of his own greatness. What a wonderful homage to father-son, and to husband-wife! The complexities of their relationships reveal a whirlwind of bliss and toxicity (not unlike Ingmar Bergman’s classic “Scenes from a Marriage”.) Contradictory emotions can coexist in a marriage: warm and playfully tender, or dark and destructive.

The Wife is, first and foremost, about the wife who stands by her man, often as a character alibi: ‘My husband is a good person in spite of what I know.’ But what happens when the secrets twist around like snakes: the talent is not where the husband thinks it should be? And the wife feels compelled to prop him up.

In several scenes Joe and Joan are at gala events to celebrate his reputation as a world-renowned author–at university gatherings, book events, and finally in Stockholm for the Nobel Awards ceremony. An entire unspoken code of power is expressed simply by who’s standing where and who is recognized as worthy of eye contact. The wives make eye contact of their own. At one point when asked the dreaded question –what do you do?–Joan Castleman responds: “I am a king maker.”

Enter Nathaniel Bone (played perfectly by Christian Slater,) an ambitious young writer who wants to dig deep into the enigmatic life of Joe Castleman. He’s done his research and speculates that there is considerable backstory to Joe Castleman’s literary success.   In a series of lengthy flashbacks of the younger Joe and Joan (played by Annie Stark, Glenn Close’s daughter), their early years of marriage promised their lives would be content and fulfilling.  On the other hand, Nathaniel suspects that Joan was a king maker in ways she hasn’t revealed.

The Wife delicately yet powerfully eviscerates the vulnerability of the narcissistic male ego and how it destroys all those nearby. The son suspects he knows the family hellscape.

Glenn Close’s almost supernaturally subtle, superbly self-controlled face in close-up says it all, communicating emotion and intention: resignation, understanding, sacrifice, love, and not-quite imperceptible rage transforming and flickering in and out in mere seconds. This is acting at its finest.

The Wife is one of the best films of 2018 and offers viewers a chance to observe one of the finest performances Glenn Close has ever given.  I predict she will be nominated for an Academy Award for this role.

Note: Currently playing in theaters.

 

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie SocietyThe Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society   is a Netflix historical drama based on the 2008 historical best-selling novel of the same name by Mary Anne Shaffer and Annie Barrows. Set on the island of Guernsey in the English Channel, a year after the end of the Second World War, we see Julie Ashton (the talented Lily James –Lady Rose in “Downton Abbey”), a London author writing under a male pen name. She yearns for a writing project in her own voice.

Ashton gets a letter from Dawsey Adams, a Guernsey pig farmer, who has a used book with her name and address. Exchanging letters with residents on the island of Guernsey, which endured Nazi occupation, Ashton accepts an invitation to read to the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, a book club that was actually part of the underground resistance.

Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Intrigued by how much books mean to this isolated community, how reading kept everyone sane during the war, Ashton decides this book club and its history would be the perfect subject for a London Times article, the writing project of her dreams. But all is not as it seems. There is betrayal, a romance or two, and escape into the world of books for solace.

The original Guernsey novel is completely in a “letters” or epistolary format, mostly letters between Ashton and Adams, so the visual and sense of place is severely lacking. The film’s best moments, on the other hand, provide a keen sense of 1946 island life in a small British community. There is a sense of community after suffering a shared loss during the Nazi occupation.

The Guernsey book club is similar in feel and sense of identity and community as “Downton Abbey”. We see the bravery of the underground as they resisted the Nazis and yet we come to understand the price of war for all involved and the need for forgiveness.

A feel-good movie with three other “Downton Abbey” actors in key roles, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is entertaining, although not as engaging as the “Downton Abbey” PBS series.

“BlacKkKlansman”: Part of the American Fabric?

 

BlacKkKlansman movie

A  Spike Lee film about white supremacy, BlacKkKlansman is based on Ron Stallworth’s 2006 memoir, which eviscerates the hideous social structures of racism in the US.

In 1979 Stallworth (played by newcomer, John David Washington, son of Denzel Washington) becomes the first black detective in Colorado Springs’s police department. The police chief warns Stallworth:  “We’ve never had a black police officer. So you’ll be the Jackie Robinson of the Colorado Springs police department.”

Assigned to be an undercover cop at a black power student rally, Stallworth is to gather intelligence in what his boss implies may be a terrorist movement. Stokely Carmichael, Black Panther leader, will be giving a speech.

The rookie police officer is deeply affected as he watches young black college students take pride in what Carmichael is saying. He understands their rhetoric but his superiors are threatened by the Black Panther political movement. Stallworth suggests that the real terrorism stems from the KKK as well as perhaps the Black Panthers. Both are kindling for explosive violence.

With footage from the notorious 1915 film, “The Birth of a Nation”,– a homage to the Ku Klux Klan,– we are pulled into a clandestine operation where Ron’s colleague, Flip Zimmerman (an endearing Adam Driver), goes undercover as the white version of Ron at KKK meetings. Scenes of Flip’s own victimization by Klansman for suspecting he is a Jew triggers the empathy he has for Stallworth’s experience.

John David Washington, Adam Driver

Toward the end of the movie, Spike Lee uses original footage of the horrific scenes of the Unite the Right rally and Heather Heyer’s death in Charlottesville, Virginia, to show that little has changed from the racism of the 70s. BlacKkKlansman’s  terrifying message is loud and clear: What you see is a story taking place in 1979, but this is not only a period piece about those days. That was then but also here now too. Little has changed.

BlacKkKlansman is both a conversation-starter and conversation stopper. It will leave you deeply moved!

 

Note: BlacKkKlansman opened in theaters on the anniversary weekend of Heather Heyer’s death.

 

The Devil’s Backbone–Peter Pan meets “The Shape of Water”

Devil's Backbone

The Devil’s Backbone (2001) (Spanish: El espinazo del diablo), directed and co-written by Guillermo del Toro, was independently produced by Pedro Almodóvar and foreshadows his Academy Award winning “The Shape of Water” (see my March 19, 2018 review).

Set in 1939 during the final year of the Spanish Civil War, we see in the opening scene an orphanage in the middle of a solitary dessert. A deactivated bomb is standing in the courtyard.

An unexpecting twelve- year-old, Carlos, is left by his guardian and almost immediately bullied by two other orphan boys. On a dare to sneak to the kitchen for water, Carlos hears a chilling whisper from an unknown ghost, Santi, appearing as a boy about the same age.

This is a mythic tale of love and revenge, greed, the loss of family, mixed with a potent dose of magical realism del Toro conveys in all of his films (including his masterpiece, “Pan’s Labyrinth”.) Carlos, who fearlessly wants to know the truth, and Santi, whose demise is shrouded in mystery, eventually make a pact. As the war begins closing in on the orphanage, violence and desperation erupt and Santi’s prediction comes true. The abandoned boys must band together if they hope to survive.

Dr. Caseres shows Carlos how the orphanage raises funds: by selling a spiced fluid preserved from deformed aborted or stillborn fetuses that “remedies” many ailments including impotence. The exposed fetuses in fluid are “the devil’s backbone”, an elixir with miraculous power. A visual metaphor illustrating how war entraps, just like insects in amber and fetuses in jars, The Devil’s Backbone exposes the horrors of war and fascism through the lens of fantasy.

This film, after a sagging middle with slow camera movements leading nowhere but to the orphanage basement, eventually evolves into an extraordinary dramatic narrative of tension and dread. It is a coming-of-age story combined with a tale of enormous deception resulting from misjudging human character.

Fantastic cinematography, –some sepia-toned scenes evoking the lighting of a Velasquez painting,– is well-worth viewing on its own merits. The opening underwater sequences will remind the viewer of del Toro’s later cinematic undertaking, “The Shape of Water”. The mark of del Toro is everywhere in evidence. Watching The Devil’s Backbone now within the context of having seen “The Shape of Water” allows a glimpse into the imagination of a very original filmmaker!

 

“20 Feet From Stardom”–Stellar Performers

 

20 Feet from Stardom

In the wake of the passing of Aretha Franklin, Queen of Soul, 20 Feet from Stardom will resonate more than ever. The mainly female backup singers featured in 20 Feet From Stardom are all daughters of preachers, as was Aretha Franklin, who fine-tuned their extraordinary singing voices in the church choir while very, very young. Director Morgan Neville connects Gospel, Blues, and Soul to these roots of Rock and Roll.

You may not recognize the names or faces of Darlene Love, Lisa Fischer, and Merry Clayton, but you will surely recognize their unforgettable voices. Love has been elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Fischer still works as a backup singer, touring with Chris Botti, Sting and The Rolling Stones. However, the heart-stopping climax of the film belongs to Merry Clayton, as we are treated to her mind-blowing performance on the single “Gimme Shelter”. Hearing her raw voice blast out “Rape. Murder. It’s just a shot away” is gut-wrenching.

Twenty Feet from Stardom creates a visual and auditory record of these great soul singers and in the memory of Aretha Franklin, the time to watch this documentary is now. This film is groundbreaking, with the archival footage of performances we have heard but not witnessed. It is a joy to understand the sacrifices that creatives make for the love of their art, even if their dreams are not fulfilled. 20 Feet From Stardom is a documentary about a secret that needs to be told. And unfortunately,  the backup singer is rendered even less significant as music employs advanced recording and sound technology to emulate the gifted backup singer’s voice.

While we see personal frustration, regret, and betrayal we also witness a passion for music and a personal need to share their vocal gift with others. Most importantly perhaps, we understand the underappreciated gift their voices have brought to the music world.  Some of the stars truly recognize the valuable and indispensable contribution these backup singers gave to their success. Interviews with Bruce Springsteen, Bette Midler, Sting, Stevie Wonder, Lou Adler, Chris Botti, and Mick Jagger underscore the music-composing elements these virtuoso singers created . We also see Luther Vandross as a back-up singer to David Bowie and Sheryl Crow, who worked as Michael Jackson’s back-up/lead female. These are the examples of the back-ups who became well known later on. But 20 Feet from Stardom is focused upon those whose dreams did not come true.

My only criticism of 20 Feet from Stardom is structural. The first part of the film repeats the performances and sacrifices of the backup singer’s role. Each of the individual stories is very similar. So each singer’s personal story did not have to be told in such detail that it slows the film almost to a grinding halt.

But be patient. The poignant, fascinating sociological study of the cost of pursuing fame instead of excellence is eye-opening and well worth waiting for the personal reflection on the price of success. This would be a great evening’s watch along side Muscle Shoalssee my July 19, 2015 review  and Searching for Sugarman. Even the fictional Birdman ties into the main theme: neglecting the efforts of the team who supports and holds up the main attraction.

Note: Available to stream on Netflix.

 

The Tunnel–Seasons 2 and 3

 

The Tunnel Seasons 2 and 3 continue the tension from the first season, with a British and French detective partnership (Karl Roebuck and Elise Wasserman respectively) again working to solve a heinous series of crimes. (See my August 7, 2016 review of season 1: The Tunnel–Turf War or Building Bridges”.) Both season 2 and 3 seamlessly continue the tension, though by different writers and directors.

In Season 2 (“Sabotage”) the main plot is trying to figure out why a commercial airliner was hacked to override the autopilot, crashing in the ocean, killing everyone on board. The crash might be connected to other strange incidents including the abduction of the parents of a five-year-old girl while in the Chunnel.

The Tunnel Season 3

There are many plot twists  and subplots: connecting all the dots and understanding the motivation of each character, including the detective team. The narrative becomes quite convoluted. The sexual lives of Karl Roebuck (the excellent Stephen Dillane from “Game of Thrones) and Elise Wasserman (Fleur Delacour in “Harry Potter”) are revealed to be more complicated than in season 1. A sinister and mysterious mastermind, as well as a chemist who could rival the Nazi Mingele in his experiments, will keep the viewer on edge. No spoiler alerts here, but be prepared for nail-biting terror. Twisted ideologies, revenge, spies, terrorism, “marriage for sale”, sex trafficking, the vulnerability of love and loss, and the insidious nature of high-tech equipment in the hands of malevolent actors all make this second season of “The Tunnel” just as spellbinding as the previous season.

The Tunnel Season 3

Season 3 (“Vengeance”) stands on its own from the previous seasons with again, a new director and writer. In the anti-refugee hysteria of our times, we see the desperation of a mother looking for the  child she gave up decades ago during the war in Croatia.   An escalating refugee crisis and the exiled souls who experienced unspeakable tragedy seek relief from a society which mostly has turned its back.

Playing on the “Pied Piper” who purportedly promised a better life for the children who followed, we see the two intrepid investigators try to make sense of grisly sexualized murders, cyberstalking, a plague of rats echoing the Pied Piper,  and a macabre medieval enactment of murder. There is a subplot of a past cold case that still haunts Elise, also involving a child: missing children, children found, abandoned, troubled, and redeemed overlay the subplots and involve deceit, corruption, and trauma.

All of the disparate strands of this drama come to a tightly woven, shocking climax in the final episode ending this phenomenal three-season thriller. Few hints of what is to come in the finale prepare the viewer for the resolution, part satisfactory and part disconnected.

Highly recommended! And worthy of a repeat viewing, because the plots are so difficult to follow at times.

 

Note: Available on Amazon Prime (first two seasons) and Netflix (all three).

 

 

Calibre–A Bullet Through the Heart


Calibre movie

This bloodpressure-raising thriller opens with two best buddies, Vaughn Carter (Jack Lowden) and Marcus Trenton (Martin McCann), deciding to go on a guys’ weekend hunting trip to a remote village in the Scottish Highlands. Nothing could prepare them…or us… for what happens. Calibre tests the friends’ relationship and their moral character as Vaughan has to deal with his future as a father (with his expectant wife almost due to deliver) and his drug-addled best friend Marcus.   In its best moments, Calibre is part “Deliverance” and part “Dogville”. It attacks your nerves, ratcheting up the tension and suspense.

The hunting trip is Marcus’s idea, a way to celebrate Vaughn’s “last few days of freedom” before fatherhood, but Marcus is also intent upon drinking, having sex with local women, and drugs. Vaughn, on the other hand, is inexperienced as a hunter and doesn’t join in Marcus’s rowdy night-time antics the night before they stalk deer. He does get hungover, however.

Calibre Netflix Original

The opening is a terrifying hook setting the stage for horror and violence the viewer knows is inevitable. The village locals, hopeless men sporting thick beards, thick accents, and even thicker sweaters, begrudgingly welcome the two buddies to their economically depressed town.

From there, Calibre becomes a study in guilt, fear, vengeance, and toxic masculinity. An increasingly hostile and suspicious community leader (Tony Curran) becomes the tribal judge for what comes next. Now, Vaughan and Marcus must scheme and plot at every turn, reassessing what their friendship and survival are suggesting.

The ending is twofold–one expected and one perhaps not so much,– making Calibre a white-knuckle, teeth-clenching film to watch.  Calibre touches on the “me-against-them” classic set-up but with a complex nuance in recognizing the problems of a village where their livelihood is now obsolete, development non-existent and the young are restless and desperate, holding on to their tribe for stability and belonging. This is not a straightforward “evil local-yokels menace innocent city slickers” story, even if Calibre plays at times with those stereotypes. All characters are flawed in this intricately complicated and menacing spellbinder!

Note: Available on Netflix streaming.

 

“Three Identical Strangers”–Triplets and Eugenics

Three Identical Strangers

Three Identical Strangers raises difficult questions about how a 1950’s and 60’s psychological study was never made public, even to this day. Much of the data and conclusions remain unclear. In this study by respected psychologist Peter Neubauer,  unsuspecting subjects were parents and their adopted sons who were systematically studied and tested. The abuse of power, lasting two decades in the name of science, is the underlying theme of Three Identical Strangers.

Neubauer himself died in 2008 and bequeathed over sixty boxes of interviews, film footage and other raw data to Yale University with the proviso that it be sealed until 2066. His purported goal was to gather empirical data on children with the same genetic background in order to analyze parenting styles (“authoritarian” versus “permissive”) and address the issue of nature vs. nurture. Due to controversies over ethics and public opinion, Neubauer never published his research and the data remains sealed.

The film starts in 1980 when three teenage boys accidentally discover they are triplets. Although they were intentionally placed with families of different socioeconomic classes, in different parts of New York State, the three nevertheless become aware of each other.

The focus in Three Identical Strangers is on parenting rather than genetics. While the study was the only triplet study at that time, which followed siblings from infancy, many twin studies had been conducted in Nazi Germany as well as in the United States.  The Neubauer researchers carefully controlled the assignment of infants to parents, withheld information about their biological parentage, and didn’t disclose that the children being adopted were part of triplets or twins, or had other non-identical siblings. Instead, the adoption agency told the families that their children were being followed for a study about child development. At a time when the zeitgeist is to explore one’s chromosomes through services such as 23andMe or family ancestry through organizations like Ancestry.com, Three Identical Strangers taps into our curiosity about DNA versus environmental predispositions.

The film needed to reveal much more backstory about the relationship between the three sets of parents, and the adopted boys. This omission truly weakens Three Identical Strangers and leaves us wondering: What makes siblings differ radically, even if they share identical DNA?   We also wonder what the ethical and legal standards were at that time. An historical perspective on how psychological studies have changed in the past half-century, as well as the legal rights of subjects, would have rounded out the film. Does Yale have any duty to unseal the study? Should researchers review the findings and share them?  This is worthy of renting, but not leaving the house for the theater.

La Mante–The Praying Mantis

La Mante

This  must-see French suspense thriller focuses on   an imprisoned female serial killer, recruited to help solve a string of copycat murders, but only if her son, Damien, now a policeman, works with her on the case.  The mother is nicknamed “La Mante”,  the praying mantis.

First, it may be helpful to understand the biological nature of the praying mantis: the female camouflages herself and often ambushes the males and eats them live.

The levels of tension just increase from the beginning till the end as the viewer watches the stalking and the violent killing. All victims in La Mante are men.  Is the serial killer a woman?

Mom–Jeanne Deber (the beautiful Carole Bouquet)–is serving a life term without parole for the brutal murders of eight men. We do not know the motivation for her heinous killings. She has been serving a prison sentence for twenty-five years as La Mante opens, and we flash back to her abandonment of her young ten-year-old son as the police drag her her sobbing little boy away. The viewer will understand the motivation and unhealed wounds Jeanne suffered by the final episode’s thrilling climax.

Damien, now a senior investigator in Paris, is ordered to investigate a series of killings nicknamed the “Copycat Mantis”. He is deeply wounded by the purported death of his mother (whom, at first, he does not know was the notorious “Mantis”). Desperate to help catch the killer and prevent future murders, Damien reluctantly agrees to be involved in the police investigation at great cost to his personal life and his relationship with his young and incredibly understanding wife.

The twists and turns in each of its six episodes never fail to be compelling. With echoes of “The Silence of the Lambs” and “Hannibal” this dark and very bloody thriller never holds back with even the most gruesome shots of corpses. La Mante is certainly not for the weak of heart; if your stomach isn’t the strongest, I’d recommend passing – or watching the more bloody sequences with one hand over your eyes. The suspense and performances at their core, however, make La Mante well worth every hard-to-watch scene. The clever red herrings and false starts at identifying the copycat mantis are tightly woven into the subplot of the mother-son relationship and the son’s own misgivings about ever becoming a parent. Very dark, troublesome, and pathological areas of human relationships are explored–sometimes venomous, toxic and unforgivable.

La Mante is another success in French cinema–especially well-focused on the mother-son relationship, or the possible murder of a relationship from lying to those we leave behind.   As in real life, the criminal mind is traced back to events and backstory in childhood. La Mante is an astonishing opening of ruptured wounds traced back over a quarter of a century ago. Astonishing, provocative and gasp-worthy. Warning: not for all tastes!

 

Note: Available to stream on Netflix.