Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Anatomy of a Fall: An Intellectual Dissection of a Broken Marriage

 By José Alberto Hermosillo 

"Anatomy of a Fall" is a sublime, thrilling, and transcendental modern work of art - masterfully written, directed, performed, photographed, and edited.
The family courtroom drama focuses on a freak accident, its repercussions, and the unsettled battle of the sexes continuing after death.

The 2023 Palme d'Or winner contains three familiar and robust characters who speak in different languages - French, German, and English, as common ground. Despite their blood ties, the three members of the family are drawn into life-changing circumstances where death, entrapment, and murder play a significant role in their lives. But absolutely none of them plays the victim in this well-rounded, multi-layered story.
Up in the snowy mountains of Grenoble, France, the apparently harmonious family composed of a successful and busy German author named Sandra Voyter (Sandra Hüller), a frustrated French writer/teacher, Samuel Moleski (Samuel Theis), and their son Daniel (Milo Machado-Graner).
Milo Machado-Graner is a young and promising actor with a successful career in French movies such as "Stuck Together" and "Waiting for Bojangles." The talented actor is extraordinary in "Anatomy of a Fall." He portrays a legally bling, independent teenager who likes to hike with his service dog, Messi, on the snowy trails of the Dauphine Alps, where they live.
Later in the film, we learn that the intellectual couple constantly fights because they blame each other for their child's accident that left him with impaired vision and how to manage their "precious time" to take care of their eleven-year-old son. 
Because of the accident, Daniel developed a high sensitivity to light exposure, which made him partially blind. He is independent but still needs adult supervision. Regardless of his impediment, Daniel plays the piano beautifully and walks daily by the mountain trail with his trained dog.
The dog Messi from "Anatomy of a Fall" at the Oscar Luncheon.
Le chien, Messi has been recognized as the absolute winner of the "Palm Dog" Award for his performance in this movie during this past edition of the Cannes Film Festival. He is making big waves on the red carpets in Hollywood during the 2024 award season.
After Samuel's tragic death, Daniel continued his piano lesson rehearsing "Asturias" (Leyenda), which was composed by Issac Albéniz. The strident music played during "The Fall" and replayed during the gathering of evidence is bringing more confusion and chaos. The music is recurrent and a pivotal part of the narrative.
"Anatomy of a Fall" is divided into three structural parts, the day of the accident, the trial, and the unexpected resolution.
The film cleverly builds tension in some scenes; in others, it lingers through the beauty of the natural locations thanks to Simon Beaufils's gorgeous cinematography ("My Donkey, My Lover, and I," "Knife + Heart).
After the "fall," the trial is immediate. The pace of the film progresses rapidly, as the family has no time to grieve. Furthermore, we see the wife in the house training with her lawyer on what to say or not to say before the trial and how she has to justify the bruises on her arm.
After examining all the evidence and collecting the people's statements, the prosecutors find some discrepancies that may alter the cause of death, whether the case can be considered an accident or murder. Even though the film clearly stipulates the legal repercussions of the "questionable death" happened a year later.
The prosecutors found the husband's recordings with some of the most recent couple's fights playing in the courtroom. That surprisingly new piece of incriminating evidence may point against the famous writer.
The struggle between the two writers becomes a battle of the sexes, with the evident husband's frustration with his wife's success making him look like he is igniting and manipulating those intense discussions. 
The recordings were made without her consent or knowledge, which is considered illegal in some States of the United States. Still, in France, they are used as contentious proof of the couple's instability.

In European films, children are usually treated as adults, no matter how complex or disturbing situations they have to endure. The legally blind boy becomes the key witness in the case. 
For a child, it is devastating to lose his father, witness his mother's trial, listen to the recordings of his parents' fights in court, and give his crucial testimony that may incriminate or save his mother.
Testifying as an adult makes Daniel aware of the situation, and he must decide whether he would like to save his mother or help the prosecutor bring her to justice.

The performance by German actress Sandra Hüller ("The Zone of Interest," "I'm Your Man," "Toni Erdmann") is impressive. She displays a wide range of emotions, and even when she lies, we think she is telling the truth.
In "Anatomy of a Fall," French director Justine Trier cleverly plays with the perception of the truth according to each player's needs, interests, and points of view. Justine Trier graduated from the Paris School of Fine Arts and is an Oscar nominee for Best Director; she has an extraordinary filmmaking career with solid previous projects such as "The Age of Panic," "Sibyl," and "Victoria." In all her films, she has three recurrent topics: family, writers, and legal matters.
Justine Triet, Palme d'Or Winner, Cannes 2023. Photo: Par Par Francois BECKER et © 2023 AFP

With the theory of the phenomenon of the unreliability of the eyewitness, "Anatomy of a Fall" can be related to Akira Kurosawa's "Rashomon." A few years later, in 1964, Hollywood came out with the remake of the Japanese classic called "The Outrage" with Paul Newman. This particular Western, directed by Martin Ritt ("Hud," "Hombre," and "Norman Rae"), is another clear example of how the truth can be distorted according to the witnesses' point of view, background, beliefs, and personal experiences.
In 1957, Sidney Lumet's "12 Angry Men" rounded off the perceptions of twelve jury members who had to deliver the conviction or acquittal of an eighteen-year-old boy accused of murder. They had reasonable doubts and concluded that there was not enough hard evidence to prove the boy's guilt.
Since its premiere in Cannes, "Anatomy of a Fall" has collected numerous awards worldwide. In the US, the film has been nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Editing.
In France, the film won six César Awards, including Best Picture. In England, it won the BAFTA Award for Best Original Screenplay. In Spain, it won Best European Film at the Goya's Ceremony, and the list of recognitions for the French/Germain join goes on.
In this legal matter, winning or losing the case in court would not bring peace to the souls of the people involved. Still, it raises more questions about what is next when they lose someone they love in a freak accident and if the accident was intentionally planned or a successful suicide attempt. It all is up to the viewer to figure out what really happened.
Regardless of any conspiracy theory, the film is open to the public interpretation. Let "Anatomy of a Fall" sit for a while to process an unforgettable film that is making big waves around the world for its enormous quality in storytelling.
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Festival in LA ©2024

Monday, February 12, 2024

Shayda; “A Separation” in Australia

By José Alberto Hermosillo

AFI FEST FILM REVIEW: “Shayda” is a thoughtful and profoundly moving family drama. It chronicles the journey of an Iranian mother and a daughter going through a painful separation from their abusive husband in Australia in the 1990s.
Paraphrasing the title of the Oscar-winning 2011 Iranian film “A Separation” directed by Asghar Farhadi, another story of the separation of Iranians comes to the screen -- “Sayda,” based on the personal experience of first-timer Iranian Australian director Noora Niasari, remarkably delivers a vivid portrayal of an abused Iranian single mother and her daughter roaming in a foreign land.

Director Nooria Niasari, Australia. Photo ny José Alberto Hermosillo. Copyright © Festival in LA, 2023
The collaborative effort took six years to come to fruition. Noora’s mother was not only her inspiration but a person who stood up by her side during production. Academy Award-winning actress Cate Blanchett, who worked as an executive producer, was an essential part of the project, said Niasari at a Q&A after the screening of her film during the AFI Fest in Los Angeles in 2023.
The Persian-born director Noora Niasari, who grew up in Australia, went back to Iran at the age of nineteen to learn more about her roots and cultural identity and other elements that would help her to enrich the film. The symbolism of Shayda’s clothes, shapes, and colors represents the emotional journey and a transformation, making Shayda’s silhouette become a butterfly, visually speaking. 

In terms of place and time, the film powerfully analyzes how immigrants lived in Australia during the 1990s.

The film strongly suggests Shayda’s darkest moments, including the reference to when she was beaten, raped, and sent out to the street with her six-year-old daughter, Mona. To overcome adversity, she seeks refuge at a women’s shelter where she finds counseling, legal aid, and friends who live in similar circumstances, who taught her how to empower herself to confront her husband and his family.
Over the Persian New Year Celebration, Shayda would like to take comfort in the Nowruz rituals that symbolize a new beginning. But real life takes work. Escaping domestic violence and her country’s totalitarian ideology. Sayda needed to recapture her cultural identity by keeping in touch with her Iranian food, poetry, music, dances, traditions, and, above all, with the Iranian people in Australia.
In this stressful cat-and-mouse drama, Shayda must be as far as possible from her abusive husband, Hossain (Osamah Sami), but the law does not grant her wishes. The patriarchal Australian system, without knowing that the father wants to take his woman and daughter back to Iran to preserve his misogynist dominance, rules favor the father’s visitations.

Actress Zar Amir Ebrahimi, Photo by José Alberto Hermosillo. Copyright © Festival in LA, 2023

Staring Teheran-born actress Zar Amir Ebrahimi (“Holy Spider” & “Tatami”) is as remarkable as Shayda. She displays a wide variety of emotions, playing a mother who is aware of her daughter’s well-being but who also needs some empathy for herself.


Actress Zar Amir Ebrahimi & Selina Zahednia, Photo courtesy of Sony Classics, 2023,

Mona, the little girl, is confident and expressive; young actress Selina Zahednia plays her. She understood acting from the beginning. The mother-and-daughter relationship looked natural in front of the camera due to Selina and Zar Amir’s chemistry. They bond together by practicing their scenes in a child-friendly environment for two months.
“Shayda” is a woman-driven story that describes the repercussions of the Australian immigration system and resonates as part of the image of the Great Southern Land we have not seen before.
Noora Niasari dedicated her first work to her mom and all the brave women of Iran. She will continue working on her trilogy and just announced that her next project is an adaptation of Mahsa Rahman’s novel “Raya” in North America.

“Sayda” is an affectionate female-driven film with a sense of belonging. This cathartic project reflects the challenges experienced by a single mom during her separation from her abusive husband, moving away from her totalitarian country to find shelter and personal fulfillment for her and her daughter in a new land that represents a new beginning for both women who dream of a better future. 

Director Nooria Niasari & film critic José Alberto Hermosillo. Copyright © Festival in LA, 2023

Actress Zar Amir Ebrahimi & film critic José Alberto Hermosillo. Copyright © Festival in LA, 2023

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 Festival in LA ©2024

Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Perfect Days: Even a Japanese Toilet Cleaner Got the Blues

 By José Alberto Hermosillo 

“Perfect Days” is a chant to the working class where simplicity is one of the greatest gifts a human can have.

Veteran German filmmaker Wim Wenders merges the Eastern and Western cultures in a compelling, multi-layered, observational drama of intrinsic beauty.

Set in Tokyo, the Japanese German co-production unveils and underlines a cohesive social narrative with moral values that reach universality, such as honesty, self-respect, self-discipline, and self-love.

“Perfect Days” inquires about the ideological topics of self-preservation in a society where, in some cases, individualism leads to isolation and loneliness. Still, those self-made situations are not an obstacle for someone to have perfect days and be happy with small incentives.

What would be the perfect day for a toilet cleaner in Tokyo or any other city in the world? To have lunch sitting on a bench contemplating with passion the spilling of the sunlight through the branches and leaves of the trees, snapping a shot with a film camera to preserve the natural beauty of his environment. Those are invaluable moments that last forever.

Younger people usually interact with Hirayama in the same way. They do not distance themselves or treat him with excessive respect as other countries do because of his age. They look at him as one of their own. The generational gap is the same, as they also wonder about the outdated gadgets the man possesses and reproduced. They know he has the knowledge to bring happiness and, at the same time, give them instant emotional satisfaction with American music.

Hirayama is a unique character, different from his wealthy sister or his curious, runaway niece. He enjoys a simple life and likes to meticulously read William Faulkner's Modern and Gothic American literature and Patricia Highsmith's novels every day.
“Perfect Days” is a character-driven film that explores Hirayama’s dreams and memories more linearly and artistically, like a trip to the Meta-verse. Wender’s wife, Donata, created those recurring images of his dreams.
On his way to work, he enjoys listening to American music on a cassette player. Themes as “The House of the Rising Sun” by The Animals, “Brown Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison, “Perfect Day” by Low Reed, and “Feeling Good” by Nina Simone made the “Perfect Days” soundtrack unforgettable, and valuable for the curious young Japanese generation.

Veteran Japanese actor Kōji Yakusho skillfully and elegantly plays Hirayama, a role that earned him the Best Actor award at Cannes 2023. We remember him from 1996, in the original film “Shall We Dance?” Richard Gere and Jennifer Lopez made the American version more commercial. He also had an immense participation in “Babel” and in other iconic films such as “Cure” and “13 Assassins.”
Wenders recently released another extraordinary documentary, “Anselm,” which is about the work of the German iconoclast Anselm Kiefer. Win Wenders is a well-known director since his evocative works “Win of Desire” and “Faraway, So Close!” in Germany, where he also made “Pina,” a documentary that pays tribute to the German Choreographer Pina Bauch, and “The Salt on Earth,” another marvelous documentary on the work of world-renown photographer Sebastiâo Salgado. He also led other independent and transcendental features such as “Paris Texas” and “Don’t Come Knocking in the United States.
Other contemporary and memorable films addressing the working-class subject are Ken Loach’s Palme d’Or winner “I, Daniel Blake” and Pablo Larrain’s “Tony Manero” from Chile. Gabriela Pichler's “Eat Sleep Die” from Sweden.
With “Perfect Days,” Japan reached its fifteenth Oscar nominations with two wins. The first Oscar went to “Departures in 2008, and the second win was with “Drive My Car” in 2021.
The Japanese entry for Best International Feature Film at the 96th Academy Awards, “Perfect Days” portrays the city of Tokyo as another character with towns or districts where people get together to eat in a nearby Market, buy music in an antique record store, bathe in a public sauna, or go out to a bar for dinner. 
Tokyo’s urban landscape is intriguing, as we see the highways, buildings, and especially the active broadcasting facility of Tokyo’s Skytree Tower, shown in the film a few times as a cardinal symbol of the city’s skyline.
We must remember that no job is degrading or demeaning, and Japanese people know that. You can be a toilet cleaner, a table cleaner, or flip burgers in a restaurant anywhere in the world. As long as you can do it with dignity and respect, you can find satisfaction as an ultimate goal by doing plenty of other activities that bring you happiness outside of your working schedule.
Something the people of Tokyo must be proud of is the cleanliness of their city, especially the toilets because dedicated and professional people like the endearing character of Hirayama take care of them. 
Have you ever wondered if a Tokyo toilet cleaner can have a perfect day? The answer is yes. Even a hard-working toilet cleaner can have his “Perfect Days” in an automated city with individuals who follow a fast-paced lifestyle. 
“Perfect Days” reaches universality by appealing to all workers who do their jobs with dignity and self-respect and enjoy the little things that make their lives happier.

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Festival in LA ©2024

Monday, February 5, 2024

Best Original Music & Song Nominees 2024

By José Alberto Hermosillo

The Music Branch of the Academy is in charge of voting for Best Original Song and Best Original Score. In 2024, the selection has been more difficult due to the enormous quality of the songs and soundtracks. 

The Music Branch is one of the most progressive branches of the Academy, which sometimes selects a controversial song that many are not pleased with, such as Eminem’s rap “Lose Yourself” from “8 Mille.” Uruguayan singer Jorge Drexler, with the song in Spanish, "Al otro lado del río," from "The Motorcycle Diaries." Two Hindu songs, one from “Slumdog Millionaire,” “Jai Ho,” and “Naatu Naatu” from “RRR,” both winners also created controversy. 

To select the Best Song winner, that particular song needs to speak about the story of the film in the lyrics and connect with the audience. 

The 96th Academy Awards Best Original Song winner will come with controversy and breaking record statistics, such as Diane Warren’s fourteen Oscar nominations, “The Fire Inside” from “Flamin’ Hot,” sung by Becky G. If she wins, it will be her first time; if she loses, she becomes one of the persons with the most nominated composer without a win in Academy history.

“I’m Just Ken” is the most popular song of all the five nominees, but lead singer Ryan Gosling does not want to perform during the Ceremony due to his disagreement with the Academy for declining to nominate “Barbie’s” director Greta Gerwin and lead actress and producer Margot Robbie.

“It Never Went Away” from multi-Grammy winner Jon Batiste has a long shot in this category. The theme song from the Netflix documentary “American Symphony” sought to earn a nomination for Best Documentary but managed to be nominated for Best Song.

“Wahzhazhe (A Song for My People”), from “Killers of the Flower Moon,” is the least known song, but it may take the gold when the Academy branch sometimes favors the underdog. 

“What Was I Made For?” from “Barbie” by Billie Eilish is the frontrunner, primarily for her most recent Grammy win for Song of the Year, Best Song Written for Visual Media, and a Golden Globe. Billie Eilish’s song “No Time to Die” won in 2021 for the James Bond movie with the same title. 

If both Barbie songs cancel each other, “The Fire Inside” can be the biggest surprise of the night. 


“The Fire Inside” from “Flamin’ Hot”
“I’m Just Ken” from “Barbie”
“It Never Went Away” from “American Symphony”
“Wahzhazhe (A Song for My People),” “Killers of the Flower Moon”
“What Was I Made For?” from “Barbie.”


“American Fiction”
“Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny”
“Killers of the Flower Moon”
“Poor Things”

“American Fiction,” Laura Karpman.