Sunday, January 28, 2018

A Fantastic Woman; Love, Grief, and Compassion in Santiago

By Jose Alberto Hermosillo
“A Fantastic Woman” is stunning! A film about love, grief, and compassion – timely arresting, controversially fierce, and undeniably moving. A modern masterpiece.

“A Fantastic Woman” is this year’s underdog to win the Oscar for Best
Foreign Language Film.


In 2010, the favorite picture to win the Oscar for Best Foreign Language was Michael Haneke's masterwork The White Ribbon - the Argentinean insightful film The Secret in Their Eyes took the gold. This year, the Swedish Palme d'Or winner The Square is the front-runner, but South American transsexual venture can be the big surprise of the night.

This year's Chilean contender elevates the public into the universal paradigm of what will happen if the person you love dies in your arms?

Marina Vidal is reliable and, at the same time, a vulnerable transgender performer - a hard-working waitress who dreams about one day becoming a “Torch Singer.” 

"A Fantastic Woman," Daniela Vega as Marina Vidal, photo courtesy of Sony Classics 2017
What makes this insightful film more authentic and relevant Marina's person (Daniela Vega), a real transgender actress and a wonderful singer with a beautiful voice.

Orlando (Francisco Reyes), a 57-year-old divorced owner of a textile company, is Marina’s lover. The camera pans him admiring Marina while she sings, “Your Love is Yesterday's Newspapers.” After that, the loving couple celebrates Marina's birthday over Chinese, where he professes his love to her. 

"A Fantastic Woman," Daniela Vega as Marina Vidal, photo courtesy of Sony Classics 2017

Later that evening, Marina rushes him to the hospital. The first perplexing moment in that chaotic situation asphyxiates her, as she has to deal not only with the pain of losing someone dear to her but with the scrutiny of doctors, police, and the detective officer from the sexual offenses unit. All of them want to implicate her in a crime that did not occur, just for the simple fact that she is a transsexual woman.

AFI FEST, a standing ovation for A FANTASTIC WOMAN, photo Jose Hermosillo, Copyright FestivalinLA 2017.

What follows after the initial shock of Orlando's sudden death is even worse than the regular business of dying. When Marina wants to go to her lover’s funeral, his ex-wife disagrees. She has to explain to the singer that Marina and her ex-husband's relationship is an act of perversion.

Her effort to keep Marina away from the family becomes a campaign that involves humiliation, abuse, an attempt to arrest her.

Orlando suffered head wounds from a fall as she was trying to get him to the hospital. The family, ashamed of their father's “immoral” conduct, will try to break Marina's spirit. Their imagination runs them wild.

Through Maria's experience, we can see social injustice. She has to confront society and its laws. Marina is not a criminal, a prostitute, nor the monster everyone thinks she is. She is a hard-working human being with dreams and emotions like everyone else, as she proudly says: "My name is Marina Vidal, do you have a problem with that?

Chilean filmmaker Sebastián Lelio (“Gloria”) has an innovative storytelling style that focuses on women's issues with heightened awareness, sensibility, and respect. 

Leilo’s humanistic approach is impactful.
Sebastian Lelio, 'A Fantastic Woman.' Photo by Jose Hermosillo ©2018 FESTIVAL IN LA 

Influenced by the magic-realism of the Chilean writer Isabel Allende (“The House of the Spirits”), Sebastián Lelio and his co-writer Gonzalo Masa developed the main character with universal appeal mixing this traditional drama with magic-realism and hyper-realism.

Director Sebastian Lelio, 'A Fantastic Woman' Photo Jose Hermosillo 

In like manner, Linda Bloodworth-Thomason’s documentary “Bridegroom” (2013) addresses the touchy subject of “domestic partners” and the absence of their legal rights in hospitals with their outdated rules and bureaucracy. In Marina’s case, the film exemplifies how in Chile, as in many other places globally, transgender people and, in general, the LGBTQ community are unprotected by the law.

“A Fantastic Woman” is an exquisite film comparable with Pedro Almodóvar’s “All About My Mother.” The most powerful scene comes when a strong wind tries to erase Marina from the earth while she, stoically, remains attached to her destiny.

Daniela Vega in A Fantastic Woman, Chile. Photo courtesy of the Berlin Film Festival 2017.

The striking visuals, the richness of colors, reflecting mirrors, and perfect framing are the responsibility of the talented cinematographer Benjamin Echazarreta, whose arresting images creates the right impact for the viewer.

The Iguassu Cascades' opening sequence is evocative and visually contrasting with the modern part of the city, in the similar style of Venezuela’s hyper-realistic Golden Lion winner “Desde Allá/From Afar.”

The beauty of the film resides in Marina’s evolution into the perfect woman she wants to be. As she sings Aretha Franklin’s cover, “You Made Me Feel Like a Natural Woman,” she attempts to take all that negativity out of her system.

"A Fantastic Woman," Daniela Vega as Marina Vidal, photo courtesy of Sony Classics 2017

Very few movies center on a real transgender person as genuine as in “A Fantastic Woman.” Prejudices and public humiliations represent homophobia. Those stigmas are similar to the ones shown in the relationship between a transgender woman and a U.S. Army Officer in the 2003 TV movie (based on a true story), “Soldier's Girl” by Frank Pierson.

During the film’s conception, actress Daniela Vega worked as a script consultant to bring authenticity to the project - until one day - the director wrote her a letter of invitation to take Marina's lead. Daniela jumped on the spot.

Daniela Vega, 'A Fantastic Woman' Photo Jose Hermosillo ©2018 FESTIVAL IN LA 

Daniela Vega’s spectacular breakthrough performance in “A Fantastic Woman” deserved an Oscar© nomination.

Producers Juan de Dios and Pablo Larrain, Daniela Vega and Sebastian Lelio ©2018 Festival in LA

 Producers Pablo and Juan de Dios Larraín ("No," "Neruda," and "Jackie") invested in a risky film that is taking the world by storm.

“A Fantastic Woman” is classy and a gripping film about the transgender community who have been struggling for quite some time and don’t give up with their fight for "equality and justice" in a closed-minded society.

"A Fantastic Woman," Daniela Vega as Marina Vidal, photo courtesy of Sony Classics 2017

The problems presented in the film need to be addressed in a personal manner with openness. 

Orlando's unexpected passing sets the grim tone of this Latino, tropical-flamboyant movie from the very beginning. And, its artistic touch makes out of “A Fantastic Woman” an inspiring story.

Marina's ordeal challenges its audience, providing the right tools to explore, expand, and connect with empathy and respect with the brave people who choose to be as different as Marina Vidal in “A Fantastic Woman,” 
a colorful, classy, and mind-blowing film.

Director Sebastian Lelio, 'A Fantastic Woman' Selfie by Jose Hermosillo ©2018 FESTIVAL IN LA

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“The Square” An “Exit Through the Gift Shop” 

“In the Fade” “Revanche” in Hamburg


Copyright © 2018 Festival in LA

The Square: An “Exit Through the Gift Shop”

By José Alberto Hermosillo

“The Square” is brilliant, intellectually and emotionally entertaining.

This sophisticated and well-told story centers on the Stockholm museum’s director and curator, Christian (Claes Bang), who through a new and provocative exhibit, falls, elegantly, into a personal and professional catastrophe.
Pretending to be a role model, a good father, and a fantastic lover, he thinks he can take any woman to bed. In this case, an American reporter (Elisabeth Moss), who is covering the story of the museum’s new opening. After a few drinks, the reporter and the director have one of the funniest after-sex scenes ever.
“The Square” is a wonderful satire placing humans in implausible situations blown out of proportion. As Christian says, “We, as a museum mustn’t be afraid to push boundaries.”
Actor Claes Bang as Christian. COPYRIGHT 2017
The humor has irony within. The mockery on sophisticated people that look like standup comedians is real. The sarcasm pushes everyone into corners of the arena.
Ruben Östlund, The Square. Photo Jose Hermosillo COPYRIGHT  
Swedish director Ruben Östlund is the perfectionist who doesn't mind to do more than twenty-five takes until he gets what he wants from the actors. He says, in five takes you can't get the precise reaction from the performers.

In a conversation we had with Mr. Östlund, he freely expressed his thoughts on violence in a film, “We love violence in cinema because it doesn’t represent a treat or physical damage to us. Same with dark comedy, it has horror and amusement as well.”

In the director’s previous work, “Force Majure,” the conflict between husband and wife is do because of the husband’s passivity and inability to take action to protect his family from an avalanche, that makes him the most hated character in the story, from the wife and everybody else. In contrast with “The Square,” the male character is as susceptible and vulnerable as his female counterpart, regardless of his inability to make the right decisions.

In the director' body of work, notorious is the influence of Lina Wertmuller’s misogynist film “Swap Away” (1974) with its battle of the sexes. And another subtle reference is the surrealistic Oscar winner “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie” by Luis Buñuel.

The film, far from been condescending, is a rigorous critic of today’s society.
The audience who assisted to the world premiere at the famous French Riviera Film Festival saw themselves reflected in the big screen because the actors in the movie were also wearing tuxedos and nightgowns. The spectators identify with the actors because they looked alike.

The story went furthermore when the performers representing the rich people in the scene, contemplate a man acting like an orangutan. He, aggressively, started capturing the patrons' fear with his hunting instinct, pushing boundaries to the limit.
While making the invitation to discover what is inside “The Square,” the director added to the conversation, “Human beings are very simple and easy to change their behavior.”

Anarchy is represented through animal behavior, contrasting with the people’s right intentions and also with the true meaning of art.
Ruben Östlund, film critic Jose Hermosillo COPYRIGHT 
Pretentiously conceived to win the Palm d’Or in Cannes, the film aspires to perfection with its terrific cast and original story, but its narrative pushes its theme so hard that misses its substance internally – Then the movie becomes conceited and hard to believe.

The 2017 Palm d'Or winner is elegant and fun to watch, but you can't depend too much on what is real and what is not. The question is if you dare to enter to see and experience “The Square” at a museum or opt out to "Exit Through the Gift Shop."

Film Critic Jose Alberto Hermosillo, Copyright

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In the Fade; “Revanche” in Hamburg

By José Alberto Hermosillo
“In the Fade,” an intense, game-changing thriller that will make you see humanity with a whole new perspective. 

This year's winner of the Golden Globe and the Critics’ Choice Awards is a brilliant German feature directed by Fatih Akin (“Goodbye Berlin,” “The Edge of Heaven,” and “Head-On”).
Fatih Akin, director of "In the Fade," photo Jose Alberto Hermosillo. 2018, COPYRIGHT FestivalinLA 
The story begins with a fun and loving, interracial German-Turkish couple in Hamburg. Their lives are about to change by a tragic event perpetrated by a White Supremacist.

After a terrorist attack outside of the couple's office, Katja (Diane Kruger) is beyond consolable and loses herself to a deep depression where suicidal thoughts seem to be her only peace. 

The arrest of the two suspects in the case of the murder of her son and husband will confront her with them in court, only to further hate.

When justice eludes the victim, vengeance is an obsession, and it becomes a drug of choice. Not thinking clearly and out of options, she firmly believes that retribution is now hers to execute.

Winner of the 2017 Best Actress award in Cannes, Diane Kruger’s performance is terrific, emotionally intense. Her tremendous energy creates an electric connection with the audience.

"In the Fade" has a very well-researched script, displaying through its legal jargon, a very vivid German courtroom scenes with their proper cultural actions as every character unfolds entirely in the story.

Turkish-German Director Fatih Akin made a film very personal by adding to his vision, a racial struggle of his own.

Without being unapologetic, the film presents the raw and sad sentiment of racial intolerance that is darkening the world these days.

For instance, the word “Neo-Nazi” was meticulously mentioned only in two crucial moments of the story. The director was sure to never show swastikas and other fascist symbols. He cleverly removed all the free propaganda that only benefits those radical groups, by saying, "We are aware of them, and we are not afraid."

American films rarely touch this controversial subject as sordid and vividly as Europeans do. Perhaps the different realities influenced, differently, the way they tell their stories. 

It is worth mentioning two great American landmarks, "American History X" (1998), and the documentary "Oklahoma City" (2017). 

The European and Middle-East productions are much bolder. Those films are essentially more authentic about domestic terrorism, such as the French productions "Made in France," "Les Cowboys," and "Carlos."

Oscar nominees "Paradise Now" and "Omar" from Palestine are transcendental regarding what we can learn from their history of violence.

"The Attack" from Lebanon is also another powerful film about an endless war within. 

Israel also has many terrific films on the issue such as "Bethlehem" and "Adjami." Morroco produced "Horses of God" and "Death for Sale" portrayed their restless youth in like no other country could do.

"In the Fade" is told in chronological order, its structure is in two acts - a courtroom drama, and an intense psychological thriller. Its assembly is not creative enough to make its linear structure less predictable. 

More daring editing needed with a back and forth narrative, that could add a more thought-provoking concept, similar to the composition and complexity of films like “Pulp Fiction,” “Babel” or “Irreversible.”

"In the Fade" is a well-recommended flick, it has won many awards around the world but failed to get the Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film in 2018. It must be a reason why the Academy members to skip this award winner German import.

"In the Fade" is a tough project that works well as catharsis about the pulsing of a modern World immersed in a Social Crisis.
Film Critic Jose Alberto Hermosillo
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Saturday, January 6, 2018


By Jose Alberto Hermosillo
Foreign-Language Film Symposium. Photo Jose Hermosillo
The Hollywood Foreign Press Association and the American Cinematheque presented the best Foreign-Language Film Symposium, 2018.

Mike Goodridge moderated the panel.

The five Golden Globes foreign-language nominees are,

A FANTASTIC WOMAN from Chile, directed by Sebastian Lelio.
FIRST THEY KILLED MY FATHER from Cambodia, directed by Angelina Jolie.
IN THE FADE from Germany/France, directed by Fatih Akin
LOVELESS from Russia directed by Andrey Zvyaginstev.
THE SQUARE from Sweden/Germany/France, directed by Ruben Östlund.
Foreign Language Nominees 2018. Photo Jose Hermosillo.
"A Fantastic Woman" Team, Photo Jose Hermosillo
Sebastian Leilo, director, "A Fantastic Woman" Photo Jose Hermosillo
Angelina Jolie, director "First They Killed My Father" Photo Jose Hermosillo.

Film Critic Jose Alberto Hermosillo
The winners will be announced live at the 75th annual Golden Globe Awards on Sunday, Jan. 7.

Watch it again:  2018 Golden Globe Foreign-Language Nominees Panel at the Egyptian Theatre

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