A Bigger Splash (2015)

Impression: I really don’t get Luca Guadagnino! I remember watching his other highly acclaimed film I Am Love during what was probably the best week of my life and feeling underwhelmed. While it was beautifully filmed, and I knew that it was critically acclaimed, I just didn’t get it. It seemed somehow empty, nothing really happened (and I’ve watched many movies in which nothing happens, and been fine with it), and I did not care about the characters. So it took Tilda Swinton in the lead role as an aging rock star who lost her voice and high placement on quite a few best-of-the-year lists to lure me into another Guadagnino film. And…. Same exact result: beautiful people, gorgeous setting, but no plot, and no connection to the characters. Sure, no one can pull off a lead role in which they don’t speak quite like Tilda Swinton, and the awkward dancing by Ralph Fiennes alone was worth the price of admission, so it was not a complete waste of time. But I am still intrigued by what it is Guadagnino’s movies are trying to say that I am just not getting.  This one has the female rock star and her younger boyfriend taking it easy on the Italian coast, when her ex-lover and his daughter show up. There is some sexual tension and dislike between almost everyone in the foursome, and eventually one of them ends up dead. Towards the end of the movie it turns into a bit of a thriller, dealing with the cover up of the murder.  In the background, the European refugee crisis is taking place, and is related to the plot only tangentially. In general, the story seems to be about rich people living completely inside their bubble and unaware and unconcerned about the world around them.  If this is the point, I am sure I must be missing the depth of the insight the film is going for.

Facts: An aging rockstar loses her voice and relaxes on the Italian coast with her boyfriend, when an ex-lover shows up with his daughter and someone ends up dead.


Mountain (2015)

Impression: Who knew all kinds of kinky things go on on the Mount of Olives at night? Beautifully shot, and amazingly acted, it’s kind of a Virginia Woolf novel set in an Orthodox Jewish family, but with a more sinister ending. Manages to touch on more individual themes of loneliness and isolation, but in a very subtle way also on politics. There is very little dialogue, but there are a lot of long scenes showing the main character’s boredom, and unhappiness. A small cramped house at the edge of the cemetery on the Mount of Olives is kind of a perfect visual metaphor for the smallness of the world she inhabits. But she soon discovers nefarious activities going on just outside her front door at night, and becomes intrigued. She is introduced to a whole different world, and the inability to communicate with her husband (a Yeshiva teacher who studies late into the night and never has time for her) becomes more and more intolerable, until she finally takes decisive action. This was a stunning debut feature, and I am excited to see more from the same director, Yaelle Kayam.

Facts: A woman in an unsatisfying marriage and four kids, discovers people leading very different lives come to hang out just outside her cramped world in a tiny house at the edge of a cemetery.

Our Little Sister (2015)

Impression: This one was good but odd. I felt like I was watching a beautiful, thoughtful film which kept switching to a soap opera/sitcom/cartoon. Kind of like a Japanese Gilmore Girls, but with three older sisters instead of a mother and their younger half sister sharing a beautiful but crumbling old house with a garden in a seaside town. The coolness/cheesiness line was tough to walk sometimes. There are some visually stunning sequences here. The bicycle ride through the cherry blossom tunnel is pretty high on the list of most beautiful scenes ever filmed. Not much of a plot, but definitely a mood and leaving with a feeling of having just spent 2 hours in Japan, in that town, in that house. At the Q&A all was explained: it was an adaptation of a manga. Had it been animated I would have been much more in tune with some of its quirkiness, but maybe it would have also lost something. Not sure I did it justice, still a movie very much worth seeing.

Facts: Three Japanese girls in their 20’s meet their teenage half sister and decide to adopt her.


The Wait (2015)

Impression: The best movie I saw at TIFF 2015, and the best movie I’ve seen in a long time, and it’s Piero Messina’s first feature. He was the assistant director on The Great Beauty, though. From the first stunning spiraling shot of a Jesus statue, to the ending shot of Juliette Binoche, this movie is not only gorgeous throughout, but it masterfully builds tension. And it’s not because you don’t know what will happen, it’s exactly because you DO know from a few minutes into it what must happen, that this is incredible. It’s hard to say anything more about the plot without ruining it, so I will stop there. Oh yeah, and Juliette Binoche is the greatest living actor. There is an amazing preview of this one on youtube which shows you how gorgeous it looks but reveals absolutely nothing of the plot. Watch it!
Facts:  A woman in a gorgeous Italian villa hosts her son’s French girlfriend.  No more can be said without revealing the plot.