Friday, 17 February 2017

The Baftas (not) and some foreign treats

I really can't be arsed to write in any detail about this year's BAFTAs. They have become a B-movie version of the Oscars, trying to slavishly prophesy the probable winners to come. This comment is not just my deep-rooted fear of a "La La Land" landslide; but when the Brits begin nominating films that have not yet been released here -- case in point "Moonlight" which only hits the theatres this week -- a sorry state has been reached. This is probably why Dev Patel (the only British winner) was gifted best supporting actor, since no one here knows who the heck Mahershala Ali (the probable Academy winner) might be. As for the host (for the umpteenth time) Stephen Fry, I just can't put up with any more of his luvvie twittering. If he is such a 'national treasure' he should be stuffed and exhibited in the British Museum. Even the Fellowship award (usually bestowed on a British worthy) was given to Mel Brooks, who was wheeled on looking the worse for wear. Bah, humbug!

The week was not, however, without its pleasures -- largely in the form of three lovely foreign-language movies, none of which are going to win any awards. First up was "Our Little Sister", a gentle 2015 Japanese film, reminiscent of Ozu's family sagas. Three very different, but loving, grown-up sisters discover on the death of their estranged father that they have a young teenaged half-sister.. Since she has been left with no blood relatives, they encourage her to come to live with them. Hers is a happy transition and the sisters' love for their new sibling infuses further warmth into what potentially could have been a troubled household.  Nothing much happens but we too are left with a warm glow and affection for these well-rounded characters.

I found the Brazilian film "The Second Mother" (2015) somewhat annoying at first, since it depicts the outcome of disrupting the sense of 'knowing one's place'. Regina Case plays Val, the faithful housekeeper for Dona Barbara, her husband, and her spoiled and lazy son. Val has virtually raised the now l7-year old and still showers him with kisses. Meanwhile her own daughter, whom she has not seen for years, has been raised by others, financed by the wages that Val sends 'home'. When the daughter arrives in Sao Paolo from the North, Val's employers agree that she can stay for a few days while studying for university entrance exams and have even paid for a new mattress to be placed on the floor in Val's spartan bedroom. However the feisty daughter soon inveigles herself into the luxury guest bedroom, eats at 'their' table, ingratiates herself into the husband's affections, scoffs up the son's special ice cream, and even has the audacity to swim in their pool! Val is beside herself with embarrassment and is not surprised when Dona B insists that the daughter leave and live elsewhere.

When she passes the entrance exams with flying colours (Val is more than chuffed) and the son of the family flunks his -- and is subsequently dispatched to Australia for six months, Val begins to realise how she has become the family's indispensable non-person. She now wants to re-establish the missing relationship with her own child, joyfully goes for a splash in the partly-drained pool, and finally hands in her notice to the family for whom she has sacrificed all. There is something heroic in Val's new-found freedom.

The last of the three movies is the least 'worthy' but probably the most entertaining. In the French film "Up for Love" (2016), the debonair leading actor Jean Dujardin (who charmed the world in 2011's award winner "The Artist") is shrunk from his normal height of just under 6' to a petite 4'5" by the magic of cinema. He plays a confident, rich, and successful architect who woos lawyer Virginia Efira (an attractive Belgian actress I've not seen before); she is estranged from her soon-to-be-divorced husband and law firm partner Cedric Kahn. Despite herself, she finds that she is falling for the charming Alexandre, who is not a midget per se but whose lack of growth results from a pituitary problem, and who only just reaches to her bust. She is well aware of the staring and giggling that this mismatched couple attracts -- even her mother who is remarried to a comically deaf husband and the jealously-possessive Kahn cannot imagine the two as a potential pair. The question is can Efira reconcile her feelings with the realities of a life with her diminutive lover.

There is probably too much slapstick included, especially as the oversized St Bernard belonging to Alexandre's normal-sized son bowls him over each time he enters the house, greeting him with slobbering affection. But it made me laugh... Both the Japanese and the Brazilian films have garnered much higher ratings on IMDb, but this French movie wins hands down for its clever optical effects and general rom-com feel-goodness.
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