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,/Edmond” 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 film, he had no one to back him up. 

Before he gave up trying to find the money, 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 film script to the theater. “Cyrano, My Love” becomes one of the biggest hits in French theater history. The play is still running in Paris for more than three years.
Alexis Michalik, director. Photo by Jose Alberto Hermosillo. Festival in LA ©2019

Thanks to success of his comedy in theater, Michalik was able to direct his first feature. 

Unfolding in the world of Parisian theaters in 1897  - “Cyrano, My Love” chronicles the frantic struggle of young playwriter Edmond Rostand to deliver an entire play in verse named, ‘Cyrano de Bergerac.’ The problem was that Edmond only had the title and nothing else.
Actor Thomas Solivérés is magnificent playing Edmond Rostand. His histrionic characteristics have the potential to reach up to the level of the great Buster Keaton. Solivérés elegant performance connects with the audience rapidly. The young and talented French actor also worked in other transcendental French films such as, “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,” and “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, and 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” is a character who 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 some 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 2019 COLCOA French Film Festival. 

For Michalik, acting and directing his first feature film was easy. Michalik considers himself an excellent auto-critic even though, sometimes, he is too harsh to himself.
Alexis Michalik, director Festival in LA ©2019
“Cyrano, My Love” is a highly gratifying romance to watch. 

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 spell of Cyrano and his pursuit for 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 -
“Parasite” is the most outstanding, hilarious, intense, and politically diverse movie of the year.

After “Mother” and “Snowpiercer,” Korean director Bong Joon-ho presents another class-consciousness magnum-opus 2019 Palme d’Or Cannes winner.

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 utterly uncorrupted by the system.

The South 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 abundance. For the poor, it is a catastrophic chain of events that can wipe them off the face-of-earth – it is almost like fumigating “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 dropout 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, they can't stop working because they desire more wealth. 

Ki-woo also sees the chance to have his sister Kim Ki-jung (So-dam Park) tutoring art to a disobedient preschooler, who is interested in surreal self-portrait painting, and American Indian wildness. 
Parasite French poster. Cannes 2019.
Kim’s family's determination to take over the house causes the firing of another key member of the Park’s staff. 

The patriarch of the Kims, Ki-taek, is played exceptionally-well by the renowned actor Kang-ho Song (“A Taxi Driver,” “Thirst,” “The Host”). He enters the house as the chauffeur. Aware of not crossing the line, his body odor of poor people causes wealthy family's aversion.

In the real world, rich and poor can't get that close because of the odor. The smell reveals social status, type of job, quality of food, behavior. In South 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.

The idea of making “Parasite” came out in 2013, during the post-production of “Snowpiercer.” While Joon-Ho worked as a college tutor, he met an impoverished young student employed in a wealthy family’s house. The director went over, the student took him upstairs, and he couldn’t believe how proud the guy was working in somebody else's house. This anecdote and other personal experiences motivated him to write his magnificent piece. 
Bong Joon-Ho, director of Parasite. Photo José A. Hermosillo, Festival in LA ©2019
The Oscar® hopeful director admits with a good sense of humor. 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 for this linear story.

Like many South Korean wealthy families, the Park’s house has a bunker in its basement in case of an atomic attack by the North Korean leader “Little Rocket Man,” Kim Jong-un. By the way, the jokes about the North Commander are part of the hilarious political satire. 

The art department work is monumental; they built the interiors and some of the streets inside of the studio. That includes the well-controlled epic rain flooding. The whole shooting took seventy-four days, three times more than an average film schedule of twenty-four days. 
After a screening in West-Los Angeles, during the Q&A, the director spoke about his film candidly. 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."
At that time, I asked Mr. Joon-Ho to describe the genre of his extraordinary piece. Adding 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.

Bong Joon-Ho worked with the same actors in his previous films. They know each other for a while and feel more comfortable for actors to give a perfectionist director an authentic performance.

The performances in “Parasite” are exquisite and natural. The entire cast shines on the screen for long-lasting delight.

“Parasite” is an intimate film, not necessarily a movie with special effects. For that reason, Bong Joon-ho achieved the same Dolby Atmos sound quality of Alfonso Cuarón’s Oscar® winner, “Roma, emphasizing on the difference of classes – noisy for the poor, quiet for the rich.

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 straight forward.
Bong Joon-ho, director of Parasite. Photo José A. Hermosillo, Festival in LA ©2019
In society, the essence of family is to stay together. In"Parasite," the punishment is to end up scattered away. The audience cannot hate the Kim family because they have their charm. The spectators rule for the poor, making the Kims a very likable antihero.        

The morality of the film doesn't justify the act of killing and is open to 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 a masterwork that reproduces reality in a very divided society.
José A. Hermosillo, a film critic. Festival in LA ©2019
Renowned actor Kang-ho Song (“A Taxi Driver,” “Thirst,” “The Host”).
Film critic Jose Alberto Hermosillo.
Festival in LA ©2019
Woo-sik Choi & Sun-kyun Lee, and film critic Jose Alberto Hermosillo moments before #ParasiteMadeHistory 🥂CONGRATULATIONS 🇰🇷🍾 Festival in LA ©2019
#Parasite cast and crew at the #Oscars2020 red carpet. Photo José A. Hermosillo, 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 with Hector Babenco in "My Hindu Friend," 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 all 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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Thursday, October 3, 2019

Synonyms: A Good Jew in Paris

By José Alberto Hermosillo

“Synonyms” is an urgent cry for freedom, sublime, and obsessively poetic. Unmissable and beautiful. Pure Bertolucci!

Recently, antisemitism, Far-right politics, and extreme Nationalism are increasing activities in Europe, many French-Jews are fleeing back to Israel.

Ironically, young Joav, who is magnificently played by newcomer Tom Mercier. Upon his arrival in Paris, he felt the urgency to become a French citizen. 

Joav is an Israeli army deserter suffering PTSD. His memories of abuse and brutality experienced in his nation blend in with an explicit dehumanization of his persona.
"Synonyms" ©Berlin Film Festival
When Joav arrives in the city, he falls asleep in the bathtub of an empty apartment located in a fancy neighborhood of Paris. When he wakes up, all his belongings are gone. Back to the tub, and to a near-death experience of hypothermia, a Good Samaritan young couple comes to rescue.
"Synonyms" ©Berlin Film Festival
Emilie (Quentin Dolmaire “Godard Mon Amour”) and Caroline (Louise Chevillotte) are a wealthy pair who want to fulfill their intellectual needs by playing dangerous games with Joav, recklessly. 

They feed him, dress him, give cash. At one-point, Emilie wants Caroline to marry Joav to become a French citizen sooner. What a lucky boy! Their generosity comes with an exorbitant price tag because in life, nothing is for free.
"Synonyms" ©Berlin Film Festival
“Synonyms” is an existentialist masterwork with a series of complicated events that inspires its audience to dig more into the true meaning of friendship, origin, nationality, dignity, and self-respect.

While working at the Israeli Embassy, Joav creates chaos by trying to help people in need of shelter. The symbolism and political-correctness of the film reach its climax through an extreme event that pushes boundaries and international borders, metaphorically speaking - comparing Joav's liberal actions versus the politics of Israel towards Palestinians.  

Joav’s only weapon is a French/Hebrew dictionary, where he can find a plethora of words to recite. The only way to survive in the classist French society is to speak Victor Hugo's language to perfection, because Joav knows that it is never too late to save his soul.
Nadav Lapid winning the Golden Bear for "Synonyms" ©Berlin Film Festival

Graduated in philosophy from Tel Aviv University, visionary Director Nadav Lapid (“Kindergarten Teacher,” “Policemen”), went to live in Paris at the end of his military training in Israel. He had a mission, to clear his mind, and to become a French-citizen, something reflected in his compelling body-of-work, mostly in his latest work, “Synonyms,” a masterpiece!

"Synonyms" ©Berlin Film Festival
To write the 2019 Berlin Golden Bear winner, Lapid centralizes the story on the main character's journey and his wealthy friends. 

The director's semi-autobiographical work shows many layers of the story through Joav’s conflicting personality. Not only the inner force and self-determination of maintaining his goal till the end, but it contradicts in purpose the preservation of Israel Zionism as well - because his background plays a big part in his life. 

As a paradox in the story, Joav is a soldier who deserted his country, then emigrated to France to be alienated by the Parisians as well.

When Joav’s father went to Paris to bring him back to Israel. Joav does not want to hear the message from his mother, nothing can change his mind. He maintains himself reluctant towards his Israeli nationality. 

In the Land of Israel, the confrontational attitude of generations is evident - the older adults speak Hadith, the younger Hebrew. Now in France, the new immigrant sings the Marseillaise better than any French-born citizen.

“Synonyms” appeals to the human spirit by showing the vulnerability of the main character in a very dehumanized society.
"Synonyms" ©Berlin Film Festival
“Synonyms” is a social and political manifesto.

The controversial film shows an idealistic young man’s struggle adapting to a new country, managing the conceptualization of freedom, opportunity, equality, indulgence, range, unrestrained, and rope. Under other conditions, he could implement loyalty, gratitude, and righteousness upon his persona.

When the rich abuse the poor, is when the thin line of trust breaks. A moment of awareness plays a big part, and it is when the player doesn't want to play anymore. 

In the new land of opportunities, no man should continue pushing his luck in detrimental conditions.

In “Synonyms,” one important question arises, how far a player can carry on the dangerous "game of life" affecting the lives of others viciously and without any rules?

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