My goal to catch up with the year’s best films has started earnestly. Today I offer you two reviews that touch upon films that are, in different measures, both successful and entertaining. Although Incendies was officially released overseas late last year, its incursion into American cinemas did not happen until this year. For that reason, the following films will be considered, in my view, as 2011 movies.
Incendies (Denis Villeneuve- 2011)
The critically-acclaimed Canadian film directed by D. Villeneuve, is a harrowing drama of epic proportions that encompasses several countries and generations of a tragic family history.
As a tale, the film offers us plenty. It shifts elegantly from the 1960s and 70s to modern-day Lebanon. The yuxtaposition of eras certainly enriches the cinematography, combining the harshness of the war, with the far more orderly, though still scarred, Lebanon of today. The story is also one of great improbability set against a context that feels powerfully real. The duality, however, is not altogether bothersome because it allows the characters to embark on a journey that rivals the scale of a big-budget film filled with mystique and cultural richness.
Among the film’s most powerful elements is its very emotional ending. It comes to us as a surprise that is revealed to us slowly and indirectly so that we get a sense of it with almost the same intensity as those playing the part on screen.
The film does drag a bit before it takes off, owing a great deal of its success to the restrained yet fiery performance of Lubna Azabal as Nawal Marwan. The Belgium-born actress portrays a woman of will who reacts to the unfortunate circumstances she’s confronted with again and again, until it finally breaks her as an older lady, once the ultimate tragic turn is revealed. Her cool demeanor as a woman who survives it all is certainly one of the most realized tragic figures a film has offered in recent years.
Rating: 4 out of 5 (very good)
The Help (Tate Taylor – 2011)
One of the biggest box-office hits of the year also happened to be one of the best films of 2011.
Emma Stone stars as Skeeter Phelan, a wannabe journalist who, after getting a job in the local paper of a small town in Mississippi, decides to interview the African American women who worked as maids for white families, otherwise known as “the help”.
Viola Davis captures the spotlight as she once did in her breakout role in “Doubt” as the polite and soft-spoken Aibileen Clark who, after being a victim of racism for most of her life, finally decides to set free by agreeing to talk about her tragic experiences as a maid in the South.
It should come as no surprise that the film became such a big draw given its controversial subject matter that remains a relevant part of the American dialogue. Unlike recent less successful films that have explored racial relationships in America, “The Help” portrays the injustices derived from racism without overdoing it, showing a willingness to explore the black experience by seeing the virtue of their endeavor and how much of a positive effect they had on the families they worked for.
There are, however, a few moments in which “The Help” feels compelled to state the obvious, not letting the images speak for themselves. There are also a few minor detours in the story that don’t seem to add much, making the film feel unnecessarily bloated. There is, for example, the brief romance between Skeeter and an out-of-town businessman. Its inclusion in the story seems to respond a Hollywoodesque checklist that requires a female lead to have some sort of romantic interest, instead of making of it a vehicle that adds more depth to an otherwise powerfully crafted script.
Overall, “The Help” is an inspiring and compelling piece of film-making set in the midst of the civil rights movement in America that is definitely worth watching.
Rating: 3.5 out 5 (good)
Stay tuned for my next post in which I will be reviewing “Submarine” and “Win Win”.