MOVIES: Woody's 'Midnight' masterpiece; 'Cave' art illuminated; 'Incendies' secrets
Following are Susan Granger's reviews of the latest movies in area theaters:
"MIDNIGHT IN PARIS"
In this fanciful fable, writer/director Woody Allen ruminates on nostalgia: a bittersweet longing for idealized things, persons or situations of the past.
Successful-but-dissatisfied Hollywood screenwriter Gil Pender (Owen Wilson) is in Paris, diligently working on his first novel, yet insecure about his serious literary ability. His protagonist runs a memorabilia shop and, like Gil, wistfully yearns to have lived back in the 1920s, the unabashedly romantic era reflected in Cole Porter's music. One night, as Gil is walking back to the hotel by himself after dinner in a restaurant with his shrill fiancee (Rachel McAdams) and her bourgeois parents (Mimi Kennedy, Kurt Fuller), an extraordinary thing happens. As the clock strikes midnight, a vintage yellow Peugeot pulls up and a festive young couple beckons him inside. To his amazement, it's Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald, drinking Dom Perignon and inviting him to join them at a party. Thanks to magical realism, it turns out to be the most amazing evening of Gil's life, as he hobnobs with the cultural and artistic giants of the Lost Generation, along with a lovely damsel (Marion Cotillard) who, in turn, yearns for the Belle Epoque. Eager to repeat the incredible experience, Gil returns to the same street at midnight, night after night. To tell you whom he meets, what they say to him and what happens would ruin the surprise.
Charming, shaggy Owen Wilson epitomizes Woody Allen's idealistic and self-absorbed sensibilities. The illusion-versus-reality concept evokes memories of "Purple Rose of Cairo," in which a mousy housewife (Mia Farrow) flees from the brutality of real life into the imaginary world of movies, along with the Americans-abroad ambiance of "Vicky Cristina Barcelona."
The acting ensemble is superb, particularly Kathy Bates as Gertrude Stein, Corey Stoll as Ernest Hemingway and Adrien Brody as Salvador Dali. In a cameo, French First Lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy is a Rodin Museum tour guide.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Midnight in Paris" is an amusing, whimsical, time-traveling 10, an inventive cinematic celebration of the iconic City of Lights.
"CAVE OF FORGOTTEN DREAMS"
Such synchronicity! Coinciding with the publication of Jean Auel's "The Land of Painted Caves," in which her Ice Age heroine Ayla explores many painted caverns in the south of France, including the extraordinary Grotte Chauvet in Pont d'Arc, comes Werner Herzog's documentation of that stunning subterranean gallery of 300 animal images that were created about 32,000 years ago.
Discovered in 1994 by Jean-Marie Chauvet, this remarkably pristine artistry marks "the beginnings of the modern human soul," as the German director/producer/narrator Herzog puts it, although, curiously, human beings are rarely depicted, indicating, perhaps, a lack of self-awareness in that Paleolithic era. When humans are drawn, they're usually women, fertility symbols engaging in sexual acts, often with animals.
What abound are spectacular depictions of deer, bear, bison, lions, mammoths and woolly rhinos. Due to the delicate nature and age of these drawings and fear of contamination, there are bureaucratic and governmental access restrictions. So Herzog interweaves various intriguing opinions from experts who were permitted into the heavily guarded Grotte Chauvet, including archaeologists, paleontologists, art historians, even a perfume specialist, who speculates about the wood and resin scents that might have permeated the caves years ago.
Inspired by Judith Thurman's "First Impressions" article in The New Yorker, Herzog secured access to Grotte Chauvet by becoming a temporary employee of the French government, collecting a symbolic payment of one euro. He then promised the French Ministry of Culture copies of the raw footage to use for non-commercial purposes. When filming began, he and cinematographer Peter Zeitlinger were limited to working underground, amid the stalactites and stalagmites, no more than four hours a day over a six-day period.
Although best known for feature films, Werner Herzog has made other documentaries that he insists "are actually feature films in disguise," like "Fitzcarraldo" and "Encounters at the End of the World."
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Cave of Forgotten Dreams" is an absorbing 8. Yet, sadly, even with many precautionary measures, mold has begun to alter the cave drawings during the past decade.
Based on Wajdi Mouawad's celebrated play, this compelling, Oscar-nominated film from France interweaves two parallel stories. After a brief prologue in a desert village in which young boys' heads are shaved, the story begins as Montreal notary Lebel (Remy Girard) summons adult twins Jeanne and Simon Marwan (Melissa Desormeaux Poulin, Maxim Gaudette) to hear their recently deceased mother Nawal's will. They receive a pair of letters to deliver -- one for the father they thought was dead and the other for a brother they never knew existed -- before they can open a final message and erect a headstone in her honor.
While skeptical Simon is not as interested in this posthumous mystery, his mathematician sister Jeanne is intrigued. With Lebel's help, she is able to unearth hidden family secrets as they travel to their mother's fictionalized homeland (think Lebanon) to try to locate their father and their "lost" brother whom they can only identify by the three black dots their mother had tattooed on his ankle. During the 1970s, they discover that their then-teenage mother Nawal (Lubna Azabal) was caught in the middle of the bitter 15-year civil war between Christians and Muslims. While she was a Christian, her life was intimately intertwined with the Muslim community, involving harrowing atrocities, imprisonment and a Middle Eastern "Sophie's Choice," before she emigrated to Canada.
Quebecois writer/director Denis Villeneuve effectively blends the past and present, punctuating the occasionally muddled, melancholy drama with a mournful Radiohead song that's well suited to the underlying violence-begets-violence theme. On the other hand, the film could use some judicious editing and there's no question that the concluding revelation seems overly contrived.
Melissa Desormeaux Poulin, Maxim Gaudette and the Belgian actress Lubna Azabal deliver memorable performances, propelling the incendiary narrative which, translated, means "scorched" or "burned."
In French with English subtitles, on the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Incendies" is an imaginative, illuminating 7, demonstrating, once again, that children often have no idea about what went on in their parents' lives during the many formative years before they were born.