By Roger Costa
COSTA BRAVA, LEBANON
In the opening take, Government trucks fill the streets with their noisy machinery, carrying the President’s statue on route to a celebration, marking the supposedly accomplishment in solving the country’s waste and pollution problems. But that’s just another corruptive scheme from higher authorities, as the people shout their disappointment, disbelief and hopelessness, while the camera, from the top of the truck, cynically observes their ordinary desire to be free. The trucks arrive at their destination, only to disrupt a family’s utopian living dream. Their mountainous, large green surrounding area will become the country’s promise on progress and their worst nightmare: the new plant for waste dumping is promised to be reducing pollution and other poisoning consequences using advanced technology, financed by foreign investors.
Escaping from the political turmoil of Beirut, an Ecological activist and his formerly rockstar wife move to an isolated area along with his ailing mother, and their two daughters, a young woman coming of age, and a precocious, intellectual child. His estranged sister sells some of the property to the Government’s project, leaving them just the house. Tensions rise between the two parts, as both expose their reasons and justifications, one to preserve the land, and the other to explore its resourcefulness for garbage’s experiment.
The conflict won’t just remain between the two battling parts; instead, it triggers inner conflicts and mixed emotions among the family members, jeopardizing their relationship and harmony. But most of that is due to the different reactions of the parents, father and mother, dealing with some sort of midlife insecurity crisis. While the oldest daughter cultivates a strong attraction for the young engineer working on the wasting plant, dividing the parents’ consent about it, but inspiring grandma to reflect on the desires she pursued during her youth, the little one is the most defenseless creature in the narrative, but embodies such a strong, determined personality, making it clear she is in charge of everything, and pretty much, of everyone. With her tenderness, innocence, thoughtfulness and impressive mature perception, she becomes an irresistible controlling and manipulative force, who wants to preserve their love and bond at any cost; the exact representation of the new generation and their incredible ability in capturing things, emotions, ideas and innocently trying to unscramble whatever the matter is. (Just as a comparison, she is the female version of the kid in the Iranian road trip “Hit The Road”).
As the parents confront their reality, and the need to connect and to create around a populated environment, the children explore their right and chance to grow up and live their own lives; they must stick together, to preserve their habitat, their land and their family integrity.
Making her directorial debut, Mounia Akl’s astonishing Toronto-Award-winning drama blends elements of family conflicts, political and ecological crisis, with a coming of age story and a reflection on human nostalgia and the need of human connection. The result is marvelously performed by an incredibly charming cast and executed with depth and sensibility, urgency and uneasiness.
(Kino Lorber. 7/15. Quad Cinema.)
QUEEN OF GLORY
There is a sense of euphoria all over Sarah’s life. She is a Ghanaian-American grown-up independent woman, a doctoral student at Columbia University, anxiously getting ready to move out to Ohio to pursue her dreams with her boyfriend (a very married co-worker). She is rushing, she has no time to lose. Even when her mother prays over a meal, she seems impatient, or simply out of time. Her life is on a run, she’s on the move to accomplish and upgrade, to score once and for all. But God has other plans for her, perhaps a few lessons about compassion, about embracing your roots, about practicing empathy that she must learn. She gets a phone call announcing her mother’s death, and immediately she learns she needs to take a break and put everything on hold. Her mother’s testament had left her the house and her shop, the famous Bronx Christian-store “Queen of Glory”. Now she is being haunted and weighted by her consciousness and virtues, as well as pressured by other family members, especially her estranged father who comes from Ghana aiming a share on the will. She also develops a special friendship with the tough, tattooed-faced ex-con who was her mother’s protégé and works at the shop. Confronting her beliefs, and the importance of her ancestors’ culture and traditions, as well as the role religion has always played in her mother’s life, she will traverse this crisis step by step, gradually learning how to control her anxiety and expectations, and accept the inevitable, unchangeable events of life. Nana Mensah’s insightful and provocative directorial debut is a lively and fresh take on womanhood facing inner conflicts, such as spirituality, sexuality and the yearning to succeed, in contrast with the natural obligations on the family ground. She demonstrates incredible control and accuracy with the material, written, produced, directed and starring herself as the leading lady seeking escape. A truthful indie that captures the struggles of Generation Y, this Tribeca and New Directors/New Films’ heartwarming dark comedy selection is also an electrifying and honest ode to the gentrification found in New York City, and how their culture and creed can be preserved and respected in the land that embraces everyone. And most importantly, it is a touching story about listening to the Mighty Voice who comforts, heals and straightens up.
(Film Movement. 7/15. BAM, Angelika Film Center and On Demand.)
Here is a performance that should not be forgotten when the “best of the year” lists come along. In the role of an aging Gothic actress diva, recovering from a difficult breast-removal surgery at a rustic Scottish resort, where she becomes haunted by traumatic memories, Alice Krige gives a stellar, masterly creepy and nuanced performance. She manages to keep her presence strong and enigmatic throughout, seducing, confusing, enthralling and bewitching the viewer. The narrative is structured as a labyrinth where the protagonist delves into a nightmarish condition, offering stunningly scary and impressive visuals and mixing of colors. Accompanied by her nurse, the actress discovers a sort of cemetery for witches into the woods near her cabin, leading her to travel through time, blending past and present, while recalling the abuse she experienced when she was a child star working for a successful director. That’s when she engages her thoughts and links to the dead witches, plotting her revenge. Brilliant, mystical and exuberantly crafted, this folk supernatural horror/psychological drama is an instant classic female-revenge tale that accurately resonates to our troubled times, especially considering all the sexual scandals and #metoo movement heating up the industry. Not just Alice’s performance should be recognized among this year’s best, but also the immersive, darkly sinister cinematography, the gorgeous music and the simple, yet precise and satisfying effects. Marking her directorial feature debut, Charlotte Colbert is naturally a master of the genre, a visionary filmmaker ready to fuel our imagination.
(IFC Midnight. 7/15. IFC Center and On Demand.)