In Between tells three separate stories that unite in living space, in friendship, and in choice. For me, the ultimate question of the film is this: when you have the opportunity to exercise choice for yourself, do you support others in pursuing the same? If so, how? If not, why not? This is a question that writer/director Maysaloun Hamoud, in this glorious feature film debut, explores beyond her three main characters—Laila (Mouna Hawa), Salma (Sana Jammelieh), and Nour (Shaden Kanboura)—three women who are different yet the same in their day-to-day decision to take risks to embrace the freedom to choose how they live, something that should not be a risk but is one due to gender ideologies that exist to stifle their every move and thought. But in this film, the men, too, have to face the question of choice and cannot ignore their conscious and unconscious suffocation of women. In Between shows that there is no one-sided notion of choice and that freedom cannot exist where that fantasy resides.
I have an aunt and a grandmother who feed stray cats who come and go as they please. Does it take a special empathy to take care of an animal? I think it takes a special empathy and a special love to take care of anyone or anything when there is no benefit of a return, whether that be some sort of pay back in terms of credit for good works or guaranteed companionship–when there is no point at which the caregiver demands a certain sustained, prescribed thankfulness or compensation.
Kedi, from first-time feature film director Ceyda Torun, gives us the picture of street cats who make their lives in the city of Istanbul and shows us the people who take care of them. Cameras follow the cats on their level as the felines go about their daily tasks while going on adventures, protecting their young, guarding their territory, and spending a little time with the various caregivers who protect them whenever they come around, feed them, and love them no matter where they are. Seeing Istanbul from the cats’ perspectives is satisfying, as is hearing the featured Istanbulites describe their feelings for the cats and the importance the animals embody in the communities they inhabit.
I was fascinated by everything short of anthropomorphism (by which I am not amused) in how the film shows us the cats’ individual personalities in close-up. A man in the film remarks, “People who don’t love animals can’t love people either.” There is a lot to be said about love between people and between people and animals in terms of culture, environment, and identity, but I tend to agree, in general, with that sentiment. While my interest waned a little more than halfway through this documentary feature, I am glad I saw and learned about an aspect of a culture that might have otherwise gone unhighlighted.
Here goes. As indicated in my collage below, this has been a wonderful year. If you have not seen the movies I have placed in my top 10 list for 2016, run and go see them. Later I will be adding the other films I saw and indicating which ones come highly recommended (and which ones come just plain recommended). For now, see my top 10 and predictions.
My Top 10
3. MANCHESTER BY THE SEA
4. HIDDEN FIGURES
5. LA LA LAND
6. THINGS TO COME
7. 20th CENTURY WOMEN
8. AMERICAN HONEY
9. THE INNOCENTS
Predictions . . .
Will Win: La La Land
Should Win: Moonlight
ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Will Win: Viola Davis, Fences
Should Win: Viola Davis
ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Will Win: Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
Should Win: Mahershala Ali
ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE
Will Most Likely Win: Emma Stone, La La Land
Should Win: Natalie Portman, Jackie
ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE
Will Win: Denzel Washington, Fences
Should Win: Denzel Washington
Could Win: Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea
SHORT FILM (LIVE ACTION)
My Top 3 (from the nominees)
2. SILENT NIGHTS
I recommend the other nominees, THE RAILROAD LADY and ENEMIES WITHIN
SHORT FILM (ANIMATED)
My Top 3 (from the nominees)
1. BORROWED TIME
2. PEAR CIDER AND CIGARETTES
FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
THE INNOCENTS and THINGS TO COME are in my top 10 list for the year. I did not see all five nominees, but I highly recommend A MAN CALLED OVE and THE SALESMAN. I recommend TONI ERDMANN. I also highly recommend (in random order) ELLE, THE WAIT (starring Juliette Binoche), THE HANDMAIDEN, MY GOLDEN DAYS, and A TALE OF LOVE AND DARKNESS (written and directed by Natalie Portman). You’ll see these again when I update this post.
I have not yet seen nominees O.J.: Made in America or Fire at Sea. I do, however, highly recommend (in random order) 13th (nominee), Maya Angelou and Still I Rise; Tickled; Life, Animated (nominee); Cameraperson; The First Monday in May; Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World; Unlocking the Cage; and I Am Not Your Negro (nominee). I recommend Weiner, The Last Man on the Moon, and The Witness.
DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT
My Top 3 (from the nominees)
1. THE WHITE HELMETS
2. 4.1 MILES
I highly recommend the other nominees, WATANI: MY HOMELAND and JOE’S VIOLIN
Be sure to check back for a list of recommendations including every feature film I saw for 2016. Enjoy the Oscars!
I find myself looking over my shoulder, especially at work because I am often sitting with my back to the open door. Wild Tales (a 2014 Academy Award® nominee for Foreign Language Film) is a dark, satirical comedy from Argentina that will have you squirming in your seat as you witness the truth about humanity. I enjoyed this squirming because I attend movies in order to face reality, not to escape it, and human experience is more often than not (extremely) farcical. I (very) often find myself wishing that more people felt more liberated to act according to their true feelings and not simply “keep calm” because of the expectation that seems to dominate, which is that people can act ridiculously toward us, but we must not, through our reactions, show them just how ridiculous they are. With these reactions, we are encouraged to do what, in my mind, is the most dangerous action–withhold the truth. In order to stop encouraging disrespectful, uncritical, selfish behavior, we need to react truthfully more often–and sometimes that includes “flipping out.” After all, the perpetrators of ridiculousness have figured out that they can get away with their plentiful lack of decorum, or they are indignant when faced with consequences. That indignation is what causes me to look over my shoulder, hence the “Pasternak” (Dario Grandinetti, Maria Marull, Monica Villa) story. Wild Tales is an anthology film, and the stories are linked by theme, not by plot. “Pasternak” is the first and begins and ends before the opening credits.
Wild Tales (directed by Damián Szifron) is well done and extremely satisfying because it presents people who go through with those truthful reactions. Those reactions seem extreme (and are extreme), but if we did not bottle up our feelings so often, maybe those extremes would not be so prevalent–or maybe they still would be because people are awfully horrible to each other for all sorts of reasons. But every action has an equal and opposite reaction, so one better be prepared. Perhaps the worst part of facing someone that has greatly wronged you in the past (to the point of ruining your life and the life of your loved one) is finding out that the person has not changed at all and is as contemptible as before. Should all decency be thrown away in order to teach that person a lesson? (“Las ratas” – Rita Cortese, Julieta Zylberberg, César Bordón). You never know what a person is going through in his life when you justifiably throw away all decency in order to let him know he is acting inappropriately. The sheer stubbornness that exists in us cannot be underestimated when we desire to assert our superiority and prove that we will not allow another to have the last word. “El más fuerte” (Leonardo Sbaraglia, Walter Donado) takes this to a level that started my first fit of squirming (enjoyably) in the theater.
“Bombita” (Ricardo Darin, Nancy Dupláa) is yet another story of someone pushed over the edge who does not simply shake it off and deal with it. It is about how we all often feel when we go out during the day. No matter how much we try to avoid trouble, trouble always finds us, and our only hope rests in the lap of blind followers of the “system” who cannot or will not help us because they are simply focused on “doing their job” and not on justice or simple common sense. In “La propuesta” (Oscar Martínez, María Onetto, Osmar Núñez, Germán de Silva), a patriarch throws up his arms and refuses to take responsibility for his son’s mistakes and continue to deal with opportunists only out for his money. Though able to use money to buy his way out of problems, he realizes it is no longer worth it. He angrily retreats, and yes, he has to face indignation from all around. But, “Hasta que la muerte nos separe” (Érica Rivas, Diego Gentile) reminds us that sometimes if both parties fight it out (in public) until they are mentally (and physically) exhausted and everything is out on the table and out of their systems, they can, in fact, reconcile. And there is that theme again: getting out the truth works.