L'état d'urgence

Carole Bethuel

The Divide (2021)

The English title implies something that’s grown apart, while the original French title means something which has broken, which is more appropriate. This slice-of-life story, set in a Parisian emergency room on a day of the Yellow Vests protests, manages to excoriate French society at all levels while also being a kind, clear-eyed metaphor of how a nation handles its suffering.

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Small Town Mentality

BFI Flare: London LGBTIQ+ Film Festival

Wet Sand (2021)

The arrival of a city mouse into a country village is a tale as old as time, but the city mouse doesn’t usually wear a cigarette lighter on a cord down her cleavage. The village itself, on the edge of the Black Sea in Georgia, is not an easy place – the doctors and the police don’t always do their jobs properly; the men don’t always keep their fists to themselves; and the neighbors’ mouths don’t always stay shut. On the news it’s announced the national day against homophobia is now a day for families. But in the village the big news is that the elderly Eliko (Tengo Javakhadze) has killed himself, and the bigger question is what his granddaughter Moe (Bebe Sesitashvili) will do with his house after the funeral. But director Elene Naveriani, who cowrote the script with Sandro Naveriani, isn’t interested in how the dead bury the dead. This is an excellent movie about the tremendous difficulty of finding joy in a spiteful world and on how little an entire lifetime can be built.

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Gone but Not Forgotten

BFI Flare: London LGBTIQ+ Film Festival

Jimmy in Saigon (2022)

Why would someone choose to make a documentary without being capable of facing the issues the documentary is about? This is the only question for Peter McDowell’s “Jimmy in Saigon” – Jimmy being the director’s two-decades-older brother, who died in Vietnam when Peter McDowell was five. The movie took over a decade to make and, despite the amount of time and work that went into it, utterly fails to address its own topic. This is due to the Peter McDowell’s failures as a documentarian, but also to his personal refusal to own up to his own behavior.

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Doing It


Charli XCX: Alone Together (2022)

This short (67 minutes) documentary about underappreciated pop star Charli XCX owes a great deal to “Madonna: Truth or Dare” (aka “In Bed With Madonna”). Well, most every music documentary is in the shadow of “Truth or Dare” but here the parallels are explicit. Alek Keshishian’s revolutionary documentary focused on the closed world of Madonna and her dancers on tour; here co-directors Bradley Bell and Pablo Jones-Soler focus on the closed world of a singer and her fans (many of whom are gay, hence the movie being shown as part of BFI Flare: London LGBTIQ+ Film Festival) in private online spaces during the 2020 lockdown. And while Warren Beatty famously whined that Madonna didn’t want to live off-camera, there seems to be no moment of Charli’s life where she’s not performing for a camera. The key difference, of course, is that Madonna’s dancers were professionals, paid to be there, while Charli’s fans – Angels, of course – are teenagers and young adults from around the world, desperate for attention from a singer who puts that desperation to work for her.

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Steppin' Out

Courtesy photo

Walk With Me (2021)

“Walk With Me” is the New York version of “Am I OK?” which couldn’t have been more California. Both stories are about comfortable white women in their 30s who discover they are gay and collapse with anxiety as a result. And while coming-out stories never do get old, old coming-out stories don’t get any fresher in the telling.

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Game Boy

Paramount Pictures and Sega of America

Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (2022)

It’s easy to get cynical about “Sonic the Hedgehog 2,” sequel to a live-action movie based on a Sega video game character (voiced by Ben Schwartz) that travels at supersonic speeds. You may recall the original’s disastrous, universally loathed first trailer, which prompted the studio to postpone the release many months to overhaul the CGI, finally delivering it just before the global pandemic hit in 2020. Yet it’s already getting the sequel treatment, and ahead of 2019’s “Detective Pikachu,” the live-action movie based on a more contemporary Nintendo video game character.

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Displaced Youth

BFI Distribution

La Mif (2022)

Teenagers are the worst: sensation seeking, narcissistic, moody, impulsive, melodramatic, incapable of thinking long-term at the best of times. Foster care is not the best of times. So how do you live well and happily after the catastrophe that landed you in care? Kids in foster care are not in prison, and are supposed to be able to grow up as normally as possible. Is it possible both to keep them safe and prevent them from paying for adults’ mistakes? These are the central questions of “La Mif (The Fam),” set in a group foster home in Switzerland, but this movie is too smart to offer easy answers. Instead this is an examination of what it means to live with damage and whether that’s possible without causing damage yourself.

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Study Hell

Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Master (2022)

The opening scene in “Master” crosscuts between an older Black woman and a younger Black woman both moving into a residence hall. The reason for the juxtaposition is not readily apparent. Is the older one experiencing déjà vu as she moves in? Are there parallels to be gleaned from this montage?

It’s not revealed until a bit later that the younger woman isn’t in a flashback and that their moves are in fact contemporaneous. Professor Gail Bishop (Regina Hall) is the first Black woman to assume the position of master at the Belleville House on the Ancaster College campus, where Jasmine Moore (Zoe Renee) is the lone Black incoming freshman. What ensues is akin to a supercut compilation of Microaggression’s Greatest Hits.

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Let's Talk About Sex

Nick Wall/Sundance Institute

Good Luck to You, Leo Grande (2022)

The optics aren’t great. Here we have a movie about a mixed-race Irish sex worker teaching a posh white British woman about her capacity for physical pleasure in which race is not mentioned once. The major concern expressed by the woman is for the man’s relationship with his family, who do not know that he does sex work, which you would not think would be brought up so much, but that is a red herring to distract from the more obviously uncomfortable issues. So with difficulty, we’ll set the temptation to use the word “colonizer” to describe Emma Thompson’s character aside, and assess the movie on its own terms. “Good Luck to You, Leo Grande” is a two-hander between one of the best actresses of our lifetimes and a total unknown (unless you watch the Irish soaps) who burns through the screen with the impact of a new Marlon Brando. It’s about a former teacher who has waited for her husband to die before she begins the exploration of her own body. She pays for the privilege, of course, but with her privilege she thinks it will only cost her money. Leo, the handsome young man she hires (Daryl McCormack), will have to teach her more than one lesson.

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Nary a Vision

Murray Close/Warner Brothers Pictures

The Matrix Resurrections (2021)

“The Matrix Resurrections” is part ’90s cyberpunk (remember “Hackers,” “The Net” and “Johnny Mnemonic,” which also features our beloved Keanu Reeves?), part zombie flick and part ’20s bracing critique of internet corporate overlords like Google, Amazon and Facebook. Much of the new entry retreads the Wachowskis’ trilogy circa 1999 to 2003, with a few exceptions: Smith, here played by Jonathan Groff, is now, rather than Terminator in the computer simulation, a Musk/Bezos/Zuckerberg-type tyrant and business partner of Thomas Anderson/Neo (Mr. Reeves), who deliberately articulates in early scenes his disdain for Warner Brothers’ decision to revive “The Matrix” with or without its creators – which perhaps explains how Lana Wachowski only begrudgingly came onboard.

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