Thursday, October 17, 2019

‘Cyrano, My Love’ A Fine French Comedy of Love and Errors

By José Alberto Hermosillo
COLCOA FILM REVIEW: ‘Cyrano, My Love’ is an exhilarating, crowd-pleasing, subtle French comedy.

The success of “Shakespeare in Love” inspired young French actor/director Alexis Michalik to write “Cyrano, My Love,” an opulent period piece set at the end of the 1800s.
Alexis Michalik, director. Photo by Jose Alberto Hermosillo. Festival in LA ©2019
When Michalik was ready to produce the movie, he had no one backing up the project. Before he gave up, he traveled to London - where he saw the play version of the 1998 Best Picture Oscar winner "Shakespeare in Love." It was then when he decided to adapt his script to the theater. “Cyrano, My Love” becomes one of the biggest hits in French history and still playing in Paris for more than three years.
Alexis Michalik, director. Photo by Jose Alberto Hermosillo. Festival in LA ©2019
Thanks to the play, Michalik was able to direct his first feature. Unfolding in the world of the Parisian live theater in 1897  - “Cyrano, My Love” chronicles the frantic struggle of young playwright Edmond Rostand to deliver his entire play in verse, ‘Cyrano de Bergerac.’ The problem was that Edmond only had the title and nothing else.
Thomas Solivérés is magnificent playing Edmond Rostand. His histrionic characteristics have the potential to reach up to the level of the great Buster Keaton. His elegant performance connects with the audience rapidly. The young and talented French actor also worked in other great films like “The Intouchables,” continuing his ascendant career with “Les gorilles,” “The Tournament,” “Love at First Child,” and “Honey Bunny.” 

In the story, Edmond must leave behind his previous flops, jealous wife, two children, and move on into something bigger than life to fulfill his destiny. He only needs divine inspiration, a muse, a pal, or an event that could ignite his passion for writing. The luck will be on his side – he will have more of what he bargains for in a series of fun-to-watch trials and errors.
The task of writing a brilliant piece won’t be easy, the constant pressure of the legendary performer Constant Coquelin, magnificently played by the prolific actor Oliver Gourmet (“Conviction,” “Madame Bovary,” “Violette,” “Black Venus”).  

Coquelin challenges Edmond to have the play done as soon as possible. In the mise-en-scene, the ambition of the Corsican producers has no limits. They impose an elderly diva for the female lead. Everyone's reputation and prestige are in peril without a script. They also need the theater’s permits another necessary point to accelerate the pace to have the promised play ready for the Holidays,

In the writing process, Edmond Rostand was satisfied with the first and second acts. Feeling motivated, he continues adding three more to this masterpiece - written in rhyming couplets and Alexandrine verses.

Cyrano de Bergerac is the fascinating story of the tragic hero with a very prolongated nose who wants to gain the love of his cousin Roxanne. In literature, “to be considered a “Tragic Hero,” a character must have to arouse pity from the audience, have a downfall, and possess admirable traits.”

Alexis Michalik’s passion for theater started since he was three-year-old. In “Cyrano, My Love,” he mixes accurate historical facts surrounding the life of such a talented writer and actors with literary liberties that make this piece enjoyable and fun-to-watch.
Alexis Michalik, director. Photo by Jose Alberto Hermosillo. Festival in LA ©2019
For Michalik, the hardest part to make the film was to adapt the screenplay to the stage because theater has other specifications and arrangements for actors to deliver their lines. He had to place on hold the movie he had in mind due to the lack of interest of the potential producers. The talented director added. “It was an excellent experience to do the play before the movie because everyone involved in the film saw how the story evolves in the theater.” - Both a huge success.
CYRANO, MY LOVE. LA PREMIERE. Festival in LA ©2019
“Cyrano, My Love” was shot entirely in the Czech Republic, said Alexis Michalik in a Q & A after the screening of his U.S. Premiere during the COLCOA French Film Festival. For Michalik, acting and directing in his first film was easy. Michalik considers himself an excellent auto-critic even though, sometimes, he is harsh to himself.
Alexis Michalik, director Festival in LA ©2019
“Cyrano, My Love,” a highly gratifying romance. The farce and the entanglements are funny  - not only for the talented actors who played their parts stunningly but for audiences around the world who felt under the romantic spell of Cyrano and his pursuit of love.
 Alexis Michalik, director. José Alberto Hermosillo, a film critic. Festival in LA ©2019
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Thursday, October 10, 2019

“Parasite” Accomplishes the South Korean Dream

By José Alberto Hermosillo
“Parasite” is the most outstanding, hilarious, intense, and politically diverse movie of the year.

After “Mother” and “Snowpiercer,” Korean award winner director Bong Joon-ho presents another class-consciousness magnum-opus Palme d’Or Cannes champ.

In “Parasite,” Joon-Ho shows no mercy picking out the differences between rich and poor. Joon-Ho's humanistic approach is undeniable, maintaining a high level of respect for his characters, regardless of their economic status, nor to their true intentions – since none of them are genuinely evil by nature or completely uncorrupted.

The Korean story takes epic proportions resembling an authentic Greek-tragicomedy thru a Universal theme of class-struggle and life-irony. The symbolism of this film has a truthful meaning accordingly to their social-status. For a wealthy family, the rain represents a natural way of cleansing and abundancy. For the poor, it represents a catastrophic chain of events that can wipe them off the face-of-earth – it is almost like fumigating insects or “parasites.”  
Parasite still courtesy of Neon
The incredible journey of trickery and scams begins with Kim Ki-woo performed by the young and talented actor Woo-sik Choi (“Okja,” “Set Me Free”). The sneaky college-age guy takes the opportunity to work as an English tutor at the Park’s residence.

As is usual, poor people’s ambition has no limits. It is almost like rich people’s desires for more wealth, as well. Ki-woo also sees the chance to have his sister Kim Ki-jung (So-dam Park) work in the house as an art teacher for a disobedient preschooler, who is interested in surreal self-portrait painting, and American Indian wildness.
Parasite French poster. Cannes 2019.
Kim’s family determination causes the firing of other key members of the Park’s staff. Renowned actor Kang-ho Song (“A Taxi Driver,” “Thirst,” “The Host”) is extraordinary playing the father Kim Ki-taek. The patriarch of the Kims enters the house as the chauffeur. He is aware of not crossing the line, but his body odor of chip soy sauce causes the repugnance of the wealthy family.

The sense of smell reveals social status, jobs, food, and behavior. In the real world, rich and poor can't get that close because of the smell. In Korea, people responded to the sense of smell right away. The scent is something we can't talk about in public, but it is an inherent characteristic of all human beings.

Describing the genre of this extraordinary piece, Joon-Ho says that when he writes a script, he is never aware of a specific style, because he let the story take the direction itself, without boxing it in one particular category. Everyone can classify his film accordingly to their perception.

The idea of making “Parasite” came out in 2013, during the post-production of “Snowpiercer.” While he was working as a college tutor, he met an impoverished boy who was employed in a wealthy family’s house. He went over, the guy took him upstairs, and the director couldn’t believe how proud he was of working in somebody else's house. This anecdote and other personal experiences motivated him to write his magnificent piece.

The Oscar® hopeful director admits with a good sense of humor: that he is not a “control freak” but likes to control everything. During the pre-production, he did the entire storyboard himself, and it was a big help.

The Park’s house has a bunker in its basement, like many other Korean wealthy families. They built those shelters in case of an atomic attack by North Korea leader “Little Rocket Man,” Kim Jong-un. By the way, the jokes about the commander are part of the hilarious political satire of the film.

The interiors and some of the streets of Korea were built in a studio set exclusively for this movie. That includes epic rain and flood. The work done by the department of set-design is monumental. The whole shooting took seventy-four days. A long time, considering that an average film takes twenty-four days.
Bong Joon-Ho, director of Parasite. Photo José A. Hermosillo, Festival in LA ©2019
In a Q&A, after the screening in West-Los Angeles, the director spoke about his film. He said: "In most cases, microaggression towards the dignity of the underprivileged, damages our society." He continued: "When we watch the news, media and audience won’t dig a little bit more into the case - what are the motives, the necessities, or genuine intentions of people implicated."

Bong Joon-Ho worked with some of the same actors in his previous films. They know each other, and in that sense, it is easier for actors to give an authentic performance for a perfectionist director. “Parasite” has exquisite and natural performances by the entire cast.

Funny but true, Kim’s mother quotes: “It's such a luxury to be kind. If I were rich, I would be kind.” The director says it's not morally correct, but it's a straight forward line.
Bong Joon-ho, director of Parasite. Photo José A. Hermosillo, Festival in LA ©2019
In society, the essence of family is to stay together. The punishment for their crimes is to end up scattered away. The audience cannot hate the Kim family because they have their charm. Actually, the expectations rule for the poor, making the Kims a very likable antihero.
         
For the sound-design, Mr. Bong Joon-ho got the inspiration from Alfonso Cuarón’s Oscar® winner “Roma.” Joon-ho achieved the same Dolby Atmos sound quality. Only because “Parasite” is also an intimate film and not necessarily a movie with special effects. His approach has to make emphasis on the difference of classes – noisy for the poor, quiet for the rich.

The morality of the film doesn't justify the act of killing and is open to an interpretation. Just remember, none of the characters are criminals, circumstances bring them together – but the calamity reaches all.

Some people may see “Parasite” as socialist propaganda, I see it as masterwork that reproduces reality in a very divided society.
José A. Hermosillo, a film critic. Festival in LA ©2019
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Friday, October 4, 2019

“Pain and Glory” Almodóvar's Blast from The Past

By José Alberto Hermosillo
“Pain and Glory” is the boldest and most exquisite Almodóvar work in recent years. 

In "Pain and Glory," Antonio Banderas delivers the most elegant and insightful performance of his career.
Pedro Almodóvar. Photo José A. Hermosillo, Festival in LA ©2019
It is trendy for Latin-filmmakers to make a movie about their childhood. We saw it last year in Alfonso Cuarón's “Roma,” and a year before in Alejandro Jodorowsky's “Endless Poetry.” Now, Pedro Almodóvar presents “Pain and Glory,” an intimate portrait of himself, his infancy, and midlife crisis in this semi-autobiographical work.
Antonio Banderas in Pain and Glory. Photo: courtesy of Sony Classics.
At a certain age, the symptoms of loneliness, depression, and physical agony dent the creativity of the genius filmmaker Salvador Mallo (Antonio Banderas). Salvador submerges himself in the middle of a tranquil swimming pool where nothing happens, only the memories we see in vivid flashbacks of his infantile years.
Penélope Crúz in Pain and Glory. Photo courtesy of Sony Classics
When Salvador was a child, he had a conflict with his beautiful mother (Penélope Crúz) over his future studies in a Catholic seminary. At that time, Spain didn't have other options for higher education for a kid with a prodigious mind.

Religion has been a theme for many Spanish filmmakers. In the opening narration, Mallo recalls: “The days I feel many excruciating aches, I pray to God. The others, when I feel only one little twinge, I’m an atheist.” Similar to a famous Luis Buñuel phrase: “Thanks to God, I’m Atheist.”
Culturally speaking, “Pain and Glory” is a very Spanish movie, although Almodóvar goes global. His universal approach is present in dialogs, music, and images throughout the entire film. 

Enhancing the cinematic experience, the movie mentions of some notable Hollywood stars, such as Marilyn Monroe and Liz Taylor. Evoking a passage of his life in Mexico, the characters listen, Chavela Vargas, while drinking tequila. Images from Lucrecia Martel's “The Holy Girl/La niña santa” are present while getting high. Those images represent the lover who went back to Argentina and broke his heart in pieces. Finally, the infatuating song “Come Sinfonia” is courtesy of the extraordinary Italian singer Mina.

After a casual encounter with an actress Zulema, played by Cecilia Roth (“All About My Mother,” “Talk to Her”), Mallo reconnects with his early years as a filmmaker. The National Cinematheque is doing a premiere of Mallo's restored first feature.

The movie event is an excuse to put to an end to an unsettled account with Alberto Crespo, Asier Etxeandia (“Velvet,” “Ma ma”). For both, Mallo and Crespo, shooting that film was painful. Crespo felt into drug addiction. Now, Crespo visualizes his comeback to the stage in a solo performance using one of Mallo's most personal writings.

Mallo’s health condition worsens due to heroin addiction. He portraits himself as a junkie with dignity. He remembers his conservative mother with love and admiration. She only wanted a better future for her gifted son. His only regret was that he could “came out” to her, at the end of his mother’s life, and not earlier.
Alberto Iglesias, music composer. Photo José A. Hermosillo, Festival in LA ©2019
“Pain and Glory's” extraordinary soundtrack is haunting, revealing, and inspiring. Longtime collaborator Alberto Iglesias (“The Skin I live in,” “Volver,” “The Constant Gardener”) composed the music - emphasizing the dramatic moments without being melodramatic. The cellos, piano, and Spanish guitar made the transitions seamless and stimulating. 

If you are young enough not to know all the work of this prolific director, you may miss important clues of the true meaning of Almodóvar’s passions and desires, and how the director reached that level of creativity and glory. I suggest starring watching "Law of Desire/La ley del deseo."

Pedro Almodóvar. Photo José A. Hermosillo, Festival in LA ©2019
If you are old enough to know Almodóvar’s body-of-work, the sentiment of nostalgia for the 1980s is right there. The evocation for lost love will leave you yearning for more time to amend the past.

In Almodóvar’s films, nothing is casual – one circumstance takes you to the next one, making the most of every element, symbolically speaking. 

In “Pain and Glory,” Almodóvar pulls strings together to resolve in a conciliatory tone the disagreements with his mother, religion, desires, homosexuality, drug addiction and sex, and the love of his life. 

More than melancholia, Pain and Glory” is a brilliant piece of life, nostalgia, and reconciliation - a catharsis from the tormented soul who will heal and shine again, poetically speaking.

“Pain and Glory” is an intimate masterpiece written and executed with honesty and the grandiosity that only directors of the level of Pedro Almodóvar can accomplish.


The President of the Jury, Alejandro G. Iñárritu congratulates Antonio Banders for his Best Actor win in Cannes: Photo: Cannes 2019
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