Life After Death

Paulo Menezes

Cidade Rabat (2023)

Cidade Rabat is the neighborhood in Lisbon where Helena (Raquel Castro) was born and reared. She is a film producer, which means her life involves solving other people's problems, most of which they have also created, obviously. But after the death of her mother (Paula Bárcia), Helena begins to feel like she can truly chart her own course for the first time. The mistakes she makes, at last, will be wholly her own.

Continue reading "Life After Death" »

Occupational Hazard

Jacob Kohl

Nuclear Nomads (2023)

This depressing documentary by Kilian Armando Friedrich and Tizian Stromp Zargari follows some specialist employees of France’s electricity companies. France’s power grid relies on nuclear power, and that power relies on workers who are willing to risk their long-term health to do the maintenance work needed for the plants to operate safely. Messrs. Friedrich and Zargari wisely allow the subject matter to make its own political points, which allows the movie a breathing space most polemics don’t have.

Continue reading "Occupational Hazard" »

No Country for Young Women

I Love You Chingos LLC

Hummingbirds (2023)

The recent “Cusp,” another documentary about rowdy Texan teenagers, was directed by adults, and the focus ended up being how sexual violence shapes young lives. In “Hummingbirds,” the directors, Silvia Del Carmen Castaños and Estefanía “Beba” Contreras, are also the stars; and the movie follows them around their adventures in Laredo, Texas, in the summer of 2019. The primary force shaping their lives is the pressure of living in the borderlands, of feeling pulled between nationalities (one of the directors was undocumented at the time of filming) and being more radical politically than many of the neighbors. “Cusp” was told from the outside. “Hummingbirds” is told from the inside, with the decision made to keep the imperfections in; and its considerable charm is due to that rawness.

Continue reading "No Country for Young Women" »

The Free World

Courtesy photo

Absence (2023)

As an exercise in nihilism, the scene where a lobster is cooked alive on a grill by being steamed under a silver serving bowl while someone sings "it may seem like utter despair" takes some beating. Unfortunately this nasty little sequence is the best thing about “Absence,” a grotty Chinese movie about second chances, how a lack of housing warps lives and the different forms betrayal can take. Its concern with affordable housing and the weather brought it to the Berlinale, but unfortunately it doesn’t know how to answer any of its own questions.

Continue reading "The Free World" »

Children of Destiny

Hype Studios

The Cage Is Looking for a Bird (2023)

Who knew Chechen cinema was as impressionistic and in love with the natural world as anything by Terrence Malick? This tale of teenage dreams and hard reality is set in a farm valley in Ingushetia, where there are plenty of hills for energetic teenage girls to roam, but limited options for how to live your life. The title gives a clear idea of what the choices are, but writer-director Malika Musaeva is smart enough not to need to show the limits. Instead, they are felt.

Continue reading "Children of Destiny" »

Opposites Attract

Demei Holdings Limited

Green Night (2023)

An unlikely meeting between a drug mule and an airport security agent slowly morphs into a life-changing 48 hours for the two women. Set over Christmas in a South Korean port town and shot in a tense but highly controlled style, “Green Night” has an unusual frankness about violence, freedom and personal choices that rises above the normal thriller cliché. It's an outstanding experience.

Continue reading "Opposites Attract" »

Double Burden


Matria (2023)

Ramona (Maria Vazquez) is one of those women without whom the world collapses. She’s a human whirlwind, forever making herself essential with the cooking, cleaning, washing, drying, packing, lifting, folding, fussing, scolding, usually with a cigarette and espresso in hand. But it’s not all she’s capable of; and the bitterness at how her life is working out is taking over. The hardest part is that, in her Spanish seaside town, work barely pays enough to live. She’s the head cleaner of a fish-packing plant, where she cheerfully rules her team with eagle eyes and filthy jokes. When that shift ends, most days she puts on her waterproofs and goes out on a mussel boat for 50 euros a shift. It’s hard, heavy work, but she still can’t afford to get the fan belt in her car replaced. A new hotel is opening, but housekeeping only pays 3 euros a room. But Ramona can’t stop; the money to send her daughter Estrella (Soraya Luaces) to college is almost there and Ramona is determined. What is all her hard work for, if not to get her daughter an education and a ticket to an easier life? Estrella won’t have to live scrubbing and cleaning and being taken for granted by men, not if Ramona can help it. But we all know wanting something isn’t enough.

Continue reading "Double Burden" »

The Camera Doesn't Lie

Polymath Pictures

All the Colours of the World Are Between Black and White (2023)

Is it so much to want some peace, both in one's home and in one’s self? It is a horrible thing to hear of someone being lynched, which recently happened to a friend of writer-director Babatunde Apalowo. The friend’s crime? Being gay. In Nigeria homosexuality is still not accepted and it takes great courage to admit to it, even to yourself. “All the Colours of the World Are Between Black and White” is about two men (and one woman) with different levels of courage. It's a superb story of self-knowledge and self-acceptance set in a place where to do either is very difficult.

Continue reading "The Camera Doesn't Lie" »

Midwife Crisis

Geko Films

Midwives (2023)

There are real childbirth scenes throughout “Midwives,” which is a testament to the skill of the director, Léa Fehner, in creating an environment where these parents felt comfortable enough to allow these intimate moments to be filmed. But this is the only comfortable thing about this movie, a cri-de-coeur about the state of French healthcare system which is obviously what brought it to the Berlinale. It’s similar to the recent “The Divide,” except that was about a hospital as a metaphor for the nation, while this movie is only focused on the maternity ward.

Continue reading "Midwife Crisis" »

On the Horns of a Dilemma

Adenium Productions

The Burdened (2023)

This is the first Yemeni movie to play at the Berlinale in the festival’s 73-year history, so for that alone “The Burdened” must be recommended. Further to that director Amr Gamal, who cowrote the script with Mazen Refaat, is clever indeed, for the topic of this movie is a hot-button issue all over the world: abortion. The reasons for which the married couple desperately need not to have another child are both incredibly specific and completely universal; and the empathy for their situation is striking. It’s only to be recommended.

Continue reading "On the Horns of a Dilemma" »

© 2008-2023 Critic's Notebook and its respective authors. All rights reserved. | Privacy Policy | Terms of Use
Subscribe to Critic's Notebook | Follow Us on Twitter | Contact Us | Write for Us | Reprints and Permissions