' Cinema Romantico

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Give Greg Gumbel an Emmy

One of the benefits of problems with watching the NCAA Basketball Tournament non-stop over a 48 hour period, Saturday to Sunday, from the cozy confines of your couch is that you see the same commercials over and over and over and over, etc. At a certain point, the ads stop simply washing over you and you become a commercial connoisseur, dissecting them, judging them, rating them. For instance, in 2017 we received another round of Capital One broadcast blurbs featuring Charles Barkley, Samuel L. Jackson and Spike Lee as compadres placed in supposed-to-be comic situations where Barkley is predominantly made to be the butt of the joke with Jackson and Lee existing as Shaking Their Head straight men. The problem, however, is that Barkley's comic skills blow a bunch of airplane-ish stale air; watching him disco dance just put me to sleep. The best 30 second skit, in fact, is when Jackson is the butt of a joke, victim of Barkley's terrible "Snakes on a Plane" pun ("steaks on a plane") which gets by entirely on Jackson's I'm-So-Weary-With-All-This reactions.

Over the weekend, I saw this sort of advertising narrative misapprehension elsewhere, like the commercials for AT&T and DIRECTV in which Dan Finnerty, famously of "Old School" and "The Hangover" as the noticeably terrible wedding singer, is made to terribly croon Aerosmith's "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing" as the soundtrack to CBS sports commentator Greg Gumbel explaining to various bystanders how easy it is to stream the NCAA Tournament from your mobile devices. Now in these spots, Gumbel is mostly just there for expository purposes with Finnerty intended as the star of the show. Yet Gumbel nevertheless gives a performance, a good one, brilliantly (adverb is correct) fashioning himself as something like Finnerty's Hype Man.

Consider the "Sales Meeting" (watch here) spot in which Finnerty and Gumbel burst into a white collar conference room...

Here Finnerty is the principal in the frame, but notice Gumbel wheeling in the portable speaker in the background. In a still, sadly, you can't get the full scope of Gumbel's comically workmanlike manner in this moment. Gumbel isn't trying to be funny; he's just trying to get that speaker into the room. And it is the determined pragmatism with which Gumbel approaches this task that makes the shot funny.


Here, given a few quick seconds to explain the actual meat and potatoes of NCAA Tournament live streaming to an unsuspecting office worker, Gumbel does so crisply and succintly, like the professional he very much is, warmly rather than glibly, and with just a skosh of flair given the commercialized circumstances.


But then...back to the performance, as he watches Finnerty croon about not missing a thing.


At which point Gumbel turns back to the woman to whom he was just giving the plug with a look that is not self-impressed but more kindly "See What I Mean?"


She does see what he means as in the concluding long shot she happily watches the NCAA Tournament on her device while Gumbel stands there, keeping watch, not, mind you, in a domineering way but in a satisifed-to-see-a-satisfied-customer way. This is good shit.


Even better, however, is the "Parking Booth" (watch here) spot in which Finnerty and Gumbel pull to a stop in front of the parking attendant, ostensibly so Finnerty can get his ticket validated but really so they can espouse to the parking attendant the virtues of live streaming March Madness. Now Finnerty, of course, is supposed to be the point of this frame, but notice the way Gumbel, knowing his role as the Hype Man is to be at the beck and call of Finnerty, remains focused on Finnerty rather than the parking attendant.


And when Finnerty breaks into song, as he must, Gumbel sort of shifts into his seat, almost impercetible in the still, emanating this "Aw yeah, now we're cooking" vibe.


And when Finnerty puts out his hand, Gumbel, like the hype man giving the M.C. the mic, smacks a mobile device into Finnerty's hand with a dutiful yet confident force.


And as Finnerty hands the device over to the parking attendant, Gumbel opts for this repose, which is just mind-blowing, a man buried so deep in the part that he completely overshadows all the nonsense happening at the front of the frame.


Then Gumbel again gives his plug, and notice the change in his face, where he re-assumes the typical Gumbel-ian air we know so well, effectively working as the pitchman he was employed to be.


But once the plug is over...right back to hype man.


And then the capper...when Finnerty takes it up a notch, so does Gumbel, reacting like he just heard Judy Garland live at Carnegie Hall.


That? That is a man who momentarily is so moved by the song that he has forgotten all about live streaming and March Madness.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Ixcanul

Set in a small Guatemalan village, isolated from the modern world and in the shadow of the titular volcano, Jayro Bustamante’s debut feature film opens with an impassive teenager, María (María Mercedes Coroy), being insistently dressed in bridal garb by her mother Juana (María Telón), a shot that recalls the critic’s beloved “Titanic” in which Rose is being dressed, unwilling and exhaustedly, by her insistent mother, reminding daughter of her looming marriage to a wealthy tycoon she does not love or even like being a necessity for their family’s survival. Of course, Rose was able to free herself of these constraints. María, on the other hand, who sees the volcano and dreams of what paradise might wait behind it, is not so lucky. Indeed, the opening shot is followed by a sequence in which Juana forcefully takes a sow into a pen to be impregnated by a pig. A woman’s place in this secluded society, in other words, is no different than the pig’s; get married and get pregnant.


This is brought home in another sequence where we are introduced to María’s to-be groom, Ignacio (Justo Lorenzo), older, decidedly not charismatic and the coffee plantation’s foreman, as they hold court at a table, drinking and laughing, discussing María’s fertility. It takes several shots, in fact, before we are even allowed to see María, sitting at the end of the table, forcing a smile. It’s no wonder then that she has been seeing a local boy, Pepe (Marvin Coroy), on the sly, one who talks of whisking her away to America. María wants to go not so much out of illicit love, because she might not even love Pepe at all, which Coroy evinces in the weary way she has María act around him, like her affection toward him is mere obligation, a means to escape. That escape becomes problematic, however, when she becomes pregnant with his child.

Bustamante’s preferred visual scheme for “Ixcanul” is one of wide angles and long takes where he simply allows this mundane, repetitive lifestyle to go on before our eyes, such as when María and Pepe are made to indulge their future fantasies aloud from opposite sides of a mountainside trail where workers, guiding pack mules, pass between them, a nifty evocation of how life’s harsh realities often intrude in our whimsical plans. Yet despite this very of the earth lifestyle, the movie is also steeped in elements of magic, as groups of people away from the contemporary world might, with offerings made to the volcanoes, consultations with spiritual guides and magical remedies when a snake infestation in the coffee fields erupts. When the modern remedy fails, María attempts to conjure up the supposed mysticism that lurks within her pregnant state to rid the snakes.

It does not go well, precipitating a hasty trip to the closest town, taken in the bed of a pickup truck as the camera, so stationary for such long stretches, suddenly gets shaken up, mirroring the modernity into which these isolated people are suddenly thrust as they are forced to deal with doctors and nurses communicating in a language they do not understand. Ignacio is inevitably there to save the day...or is he, revealing what lies in the hearts of men as his bride-to-be’s secret is finally spilled. Precisely what transpires is not for me to say, but even if the society presented in “Ixcanul” is antiquated, it conspicously evokes how the society exisiting outside of it probably hasn’t changed as much as it might like to think.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Toni Erdmann

“Toni Erdmann” is hell of a movie. In an era when so many blockbusters are obsessed with stretching their run times to emit the air of Importance, a movie with a synopsis as swift as “Toni Erdmann” – father tries to reconnect with daughter and hijinks ensue – seems readymade for a lickety split ninety minutes; instead writer/director Maren Ade blows it out to two hours and forty-two minutes. You might check your watch while it’s happening, or while, more accurately, nothing much is happening, yes, so committed is the film to corporate drudgery, the way in which capitalism and its emotional trickledown effect squeezes mounds of humanity and joy out of a person, rendering even swank nightclubs and sexual liaisons as grim non-escapades. At the same time, however, Ade pokes and prods at this stodgy, sexist culture, not until it gives way but until something animated and unpredictable emerges from all around it. You see this in the handheld camera work, which is not lifelike, per se, but, given its principal Bucharest setting, melds long takes of the Romanian New Wave with that sort of deliberately intrusive, follow-them-everywhere aesthetic of “The Office”, waiting and waiting for something to happen. And when it does, what transpires is often so raw, funny and beautiful, usually all at once, that it will make time stop.


The movie turns on Ines (Sandra Hüller), a consultant who has come on business from her native Germany to Bucharest to help an oil company mercilessly outsource its employment. The corporate life’s strain is evident in the ferociously buttoned-up air Hüller emits, evinced in a massage that leaves her additionally stressed out, griping about the masseuse’s technical flaws. It is a life her father, Winifred (Peter Simonischek) a retired hippie, of sorts, with a penchant for pranks, knows nothing about. So, he pulls his biggest prank, traveling to Bucharest and literally invading his daughter’s space by inventing a whole new persona in which he dons a black wig and false teeth and re-christens himself Toni Erdmann, a “life coach”, which would be an obvious allegory if he didn’t also sometimes masquerade as the “German ambassador.”

One scene finds Winifried pulling a gag on Ines by handcuffing himself to her before an important meeting. Alas, he can’t, as you might expect, find the key. Though it momentarily literalizes the attempts by Winifred to connect with his daughter, it’s also indicative of the film’s humor, as the expected payoff, father and daughter coming handcuffed to the meeting, never materializes. Ade has no intention of making the humor so funny or obvious, often allowing Winifred's absurd antics to play out in the back of wide frames, like a moment with a fart cushion where the badness of the joke itself is sort of the point; if “Toni Erdmann” had a laugh track it would be predominantly groans and stony silences.

Yet those groans and stony silences become slightly heroic in a way, given the staidness of the repeated corporate settings, airless conferences rooms and offices, where you can still feel the pent-up rage of this workaday life settling over the characters. In his own clumsy way, Winifried is trying to wake up Ines to the light of the living, to stop sinking into the consulting quagmire and give in to her own impulses, which never comes home for brilliantly then in a late film sequence where Ines plans, as she does throughout, to wed business with pleasure by having clients and co-workers over for her birthday. What transpires, triggered by a dress mishap, run humiliation and self-assurance smack dab into one another by virtue of a much more caustic variation of Inspector Closeau inadvertently visiting the nudist colony in “A Shot in the Dark.”


For as uproarious, as Are You Serious? as this scene is, it is melancholy too in the way that Ines and even a few others are forced to the edge whether they like it or not, and yet Winifred shows up still costumed and closed off, prodding at his daughter but not opening himself up to her. And just as Ade opts out of traditional punchlines, she has little interest in zeroing in on a traditional character arc for either Ines or Winifred, which is precisely what lends the film's lengthy, shapeless vibe so much credence. Both of these characters, so long out of touch, are feeling their way forward in the dark.

Two hours and forty-two minutes might seem ample time for traditional cinematic arc that takes characters from Sad to Happy but Ade is only all too happy to laugh at such a trite notion, just as she is not about to simplistically concede that Winifried’s omnipresent comicality, if you will, is a complete and total tonic. Consider the closing shot, an intimate stunner, where Ines indulges her father’s wish to copy his moves and put on a funny hat. But then, she removes the hat and all she’s left with (gulp) is herself.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Friday's Old Fashioned: Top Hat (1935)

A lot of “Top Hat” requires suspension of disbelief, from the wide-ranging Idiot Plot to the version of Venice that looks less like Venice than a Vegas-y re-creation of Venice in the bowels of Trump Tower. But perhaps nothing is more ridiculous than the opening little bit about Fred Astaire’s Jerry Travers ignoring the advice of his friend and the financier of his show, Horace Hardwick (Edward Everett Horton), to find a nice lady and settle down. It’s ridiculous because, hey, you just saw the opening credits, right? And the opening credits told you “Top Hat” starred Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. And if the movie stars Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers then they have to end up together. But that’s ok! Suspending disbelief is why we love movies so much, right, or at least why we love certain movies so much, right, like “Top Hat”, a movie that might require suspension of disbelief but still, at times, in parts, provokes such disbelief at its silver screen magic you will smile, sigh and slump all at once.


The characters of Astaire and Rogers begin at odds, which they must, as Jerry’s tap dancing upstairs from where Dale (Rogers) is staying wakes her in the middle night, leading to an introductory shot, where she is lying in bed and looking as lavish as most people do when they are awake and at the ball, sitting up at the sound of his feet on the floor with a Jean Harlow-ish “Why I Oughta…” eye crook. She hustles upstairs to confront him, mistaking him for Horace, deciding she doesn’t like him, though he decides he likes her, which begins a game of back and forth despite the mistaken identity. It doesn’t take her long to fall for him, however, when she goes out riding only to be caught in a thunderstorm. She repairs to a gazebo and, sure enough, Jerry rides up to the rescue, though she initially declines with one of those 1930s ripostes “I prefer being distress.” Even so, he begins to sing “Isn’t This a Lovely Day (to be Caught in the Rain)” and they begin to dance and...

It’s one of those scenes where the movie just sort of seems to stop, where you are essentially lifted out of the movie itself and into a secondary escapist realm beyond the cinema, which might sound absurd because it’s sort of incommunicable. There’s this sequence in “La La Land” where the Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling characters are at the Hollywood Planetarium and find themselves lifted up and into the stars, a literalization of sorts of what they are feeling. And yet this dance scene in “Top Hat” actually captures that feeling more acutely, figuratively airlifting you into the stars. Movie reviews are supposed to be filled with How’s (how did they do that?) and Why’s (why did they decide to do that and why was it successful or unsuccessful?), of course, but I don’t care to know how they did that. Why? Because it felt like magic and understanding magic tricks is awful.

Much of that magic, it goes without saying, is in the dancing. The dancing, of course, is what we are desperate for, what we have come to see. It’s no different than, say, explosions in a Michael Bay joint. But Michael Bay is a buffet style filmmaker, plopping slabs of explosions onto our plates with his ginormous cinematic serving spoons, until our plate is weighed down and we feel bloated before we even eat. “Top Hat”, on the other hand, knows how it to play it cool, to parse out the dancing, to give us just enough but to leave us wanting more.

It parses out the dancing, of course, by virtue of its Idiot Plot, which easily could have become a problem, a series of running time-stretching hijinks with no redeeming value other than to give us time to recuperate from the glory of “Isn’t This a Lovely Day (to be Caught in the Rain)” before the next big production number. Thankfully that’s not the case. Director Mark Sandrich peddles this needs-to-be here fluff of Dale being in love with Jerry even though she thinks Jerry is Horace and therefore married with great aplomb, breathing his supporting characters to life rather than simply having them function as pawns of the plot, allowing Horace’s wife Madge (Helen Broderick) to not simply know about his being cad but look at it with detached amusement, like she always knows she’s got the upper hand, which she does, and allowing Horace’s butler Bates (Eric Blore) to operate on some kind of laid-back plane beyond everyone else. You feel for these people as much as you do for Fred and Ginger – er, whatever their characters’ names are.

Naturally they wind up together for the culminating dance number, which given the lavish setting feels something like a big reunion show at Caesar’s Palace, which is all well and good, and probably much more than that, but, I confess, did not lift me to that rarefied point even beyond the cinematic stratosphere like their dance in the rain. Then again, isn’t that why they invented Youtube?

Thursday, March 16, 2017

5 College Basketball Movies That Need to Be Made

Though basketball movies tend not to elicit faux-breathess lists as often as baseball movies, hardwood-set films nevertheless have more than a few solid offerings. There is “Hoosiers”, of course, which is beloved by many, perhaps the linchpin of the genre, and the highly enjoyable “White Men Can’t Jump” and the positively delightful “Love & Basketball”, not to mention the timeless documentary “Hoop Dreams” as well as “He Got Game”, which is not so much underrated as still not appreciated anywhere near enough, and hey, who can forget that one dynamite scene in “Semipro” where Will Ferrell keeps passing the ball out to the perimeter from the post and then demanding the ball be passed right back into him. But then, none of these movies are college basketball-centric. And college basketball centric movies are too often either middlebrow mush like “Glory Road” or half-effective attempts to Say Something like “Blue Chips”. We can do better; we should do better; let’s do better. To coincide with the (real) start of the NCAA Basketball Tournament here are five college basketball centric movies that need to be made. (They will never be made.)

5 College Basketball Movies That Need to Be Made


Whatever it Takes. It’s the greatest college basketball story that not enough people know, a story that truly has it all, at least in a CBB sense. It would meld the maniacal devotion that so often goes hand in hand with college basketball coaching to the strange, fanatical world that is college athletics recruiting. It goes like this: twenty-six years ago, Tennessee Women’s Basketball Coach Pat Summitt, despite being very much pregnant with her first son and due any moment, refused to cancel a visit to Allentown, Pennsylvania to meet with a desperately coveted recruit. The plane landed and, as if dictated by the story gods, had her water break, only to press on with the recruiting visit, all with the help of a little (big) white lie to her doctor, and then still somehow make it back to Tennessee to give birth. So even though she famously bleeds Kentucky blue, we will enlist Ashley Judd as our Coach Summitt, so able is Ms. Judd at evincing drama and farce in equal measure and in the same moment, which is precisely the quality we need for a story to undoubtedly make people go “Did that really happen?”


Way Up! In the mid-80s, three-time Big 8 player of the year and scoring savant, the late Wayman Tisdale, was at the forefront of the high-octane, freewheeling offensive carnivals lorded by irascible Coach Billy Tubbs, one of college basketball’s greatest all-time quotes, and who would be a worthy supporting character. But Tisdale was also an impeccable jazz bassist, one who would not only go on to record eight albums (the title of one giving our make-believe movie its name), but who convinced Tubbs to schedule practice around his bass playing in the church band. And because Tubbs, unlike so many modern, control freak coaches, gave his players, including, if not especially, Tisdale, so much individual freedom within his offensive system, I imagine “Way Up!” as a rendering of hooping like so many funkadelic bass lines, a lyrical blending of the athletic and the musical. How will this work? I have no idea. We would need a helluva director. But in an era when college basketball, despite increasing athleticism and a shortened shot clock, has improbably become more boring and slow-moving, we need an antidote. “Way Up!” could be it.


Legacy, Wrecked. Last week Hall of Fame basketball coach Bobby Knight, most famously of Indiana where he won three national championships, and infamous grumpy gus, went on The Dan Patrick Show and vehemently trashed his former employers at Indiana, wishing death (literally) upon all of them. Whatta guy. This “increasing bizarre and sad legacy” was written about by Sports Illustrated’s Jon Wertheim in a piece that was not dissimilar to, if a bit less purple than, a piece for SB Nation from two years ago by Jeremy Collins evocatively titled “The General Who Never Was.” “But this always struck me as the biggest irony of all: Knight was enthralled by history,” wrote Wertheim. “Yet when he began to assume a starring role in that most classic of historical narratives—the centuries-old, cautionary tale of hubris and absolute power corrupting absolutely—he was either blind or helpless to stop it.” So here I'm imagining a one-man movie, a la Robert Altman's “Secret Honor”, in which a once brilliant, now disgraced, habitually angry former basketball coach, all alone in his man cave, is left to waste away in his own narcissism, railing against his perceived enemies, unwittingly deconstructing his own myth even as that myth figuratively buries him right before our very eyes.


Over the River (and through the Woods). The one original idea on this list was concocted after I read about South Florida’s Troy Holston and Geno Thorpe inadvertently being left behind at the airport after a road trip to Tulsa. So, when the University of Lower Pennsylvania’s star player and spunky walk on who have never gotten along find themselves stranded in the wake of a freak spring snowstorm in advance of the game that could clinch them their first conference championship in fifty years, they have to find a way to get themselves there in time for tipoff by any means necessary. It’s Jesus Shuttlesworth & Booger Sykes crossed with Jimmy Chitwood & Ollie in “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” meets “White Men Can’t Jump” meets that scene in “Blades of Glory” when Will Arnett chases Will Ferrell across Montreal in ice skates.


Jobe. Ben Jobe, the reason this list came to be, passed away last week at the age of 84. He was known, but perhaps not well known, not a member of the college basketball hall of fame and fine with that as he made emphatic in a fiery interview with John Pruett nearly ten years ago. Indeed, Jobe, son of a sharecropper, longtime coach at historically black Southern University, was an advocate for black basketball coaches, who he felt never got their necessary due, as well as for civil rights, which he was there for, even if he refused, as he memorably said in that Pruett interview, to turn the other cheek as so many freedom fighters did. I always wondered if that attitude at least partially tied back to his desire to employ such a frenetic, don't-wait-just-shoot, pile-on-the-points style on the basketball court. We could explore that in “Jobe”, which would become a wonderfully ironic title, an irony that Scott Rabalais noted in his Jobe obit for The Advocate. Rabalais also quoted former Southern athletic director Marino Casem who said: “(Jobe) never reached the pinnacle. He was always looking for something else.” Biopics are tough to get right, but I like the idea of a biopic about a basketball coach not trying to summit some expected third act pinnacle but looking for something else instead, something loftier, more formidable and much more meaningful.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

WHAT IS HAPPENING?



Is this.....

An impromptu meeting of two Class III Dignitaries of the Hollywood Glitterati?

An Auramoji wielded by social media users to express an aura of luxurious luminescence?

The moment right before Amy Adams slips away after having slipped a mickey into the glass of champagne in her right hand that Vin Diesel takes and tosses back?

Cover of the new Peter Mayle book in which a pair of mixologist grifters roam up and down the California coastline? 

A promo photo for a remake of “The King and I” called “The Queen and I”?

A promo photo for “American Hustle 2”? In which Amy Adams plays an actual English aristocrat rather than a make-believe one who, along with an unlikely salami-making safecracker (Diesel), hatches a plot to steal the Crown Jewels?

A promo photo for “XXXy”? A sequel to “xXx: Return of Xander Cage” in which Xander Cage becomes embroiled in some Himalayan what-have-ya, gets locked up in a remote, high-tech prison and has to be rescued by Yvonne Wyre, sort of the Ilsa Faust to Xander Cage’s Ethan Hunt?

A promo photo for a crossover between the “Fast and Furious” franchise and “Talladega Nights” in which Susan somehow, improbably, finds her way into the high-stakes world of street racing and both talks Dom Toretto out of retiring to open a California Pizza Kitchen and wins a street race in an Acura?

Promo for the new Diesel-Adams Talk Show, which is like a variation on the Hathaway/Franco Oscars in which Amy Adams is extremely accommodating and working really hard and Vin Diesel is all like “Do you even cliff dive, bro?” and if they say no he just turns his back.

The first ad in a re-launch of Proper Penguin Frozen Gourmet Dinners?

Amy Adams: “The Oscars ran long, surprise, surprise, and traffic getting home was awful. How am I supposed to put together an after-after party for 8 important friends in 20 minutes?” 
Vin Diesel: “What about Proper Penguin?” 
Amy Adams: “Oh my gosh. I totally forgot.” 
Vin Diesel: “An entire gourmet spread right in your freezer. Hamachi crudo. Maine scallops. Foie Gras with burgundy truffles. Artisinal cheeses. Even a mini-bottle of King Louis Cognac.”

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Julieta

As “Julieta” opens, the titular character (Emma Suárez) encounters a young woman, Bea (Michelle Jenner), on the street whose eyes widen at the sight of Julieta. As it happens, Bea is an old friend of Juliea’s daughter, Antía, whom Bea has just seen. Upon learning this, the entire visage of Julieta, who has seemed so plainly happy in the initial moments, changes. Life drains from her face and the tone in her voice turns emotionally fraught as she grills Bea about where Antía is and what she is up to. Writer/director Pedro Almodóvar is intent not to tip his hand right away but to draw the exact nature of this emotional shift out, tendering clues, like the sliced-up photo that Julieta promptly dumps from an envelope onto her desk in the wake of seeing Bea. Later, after the photo has been taped back together, we realize it is of Antía, emblemizing “Julieta” as a two hour piecing together of where this mother/daughter relationship went wrong.


That marks “Julieta”, which Almodóvar adapted from short stories by Alice Munro, as something akin to a murder mystery without the murder. The twists and turns here, even when inherently melodramatic, are often presented in a more muted fashion, like a pair of grisly, narrative altering deaths that happen off screen, completely removing their visceral impact to instead focus on how they linger with and affect Julieta. The answers at the end of the maze, meanwhile, are inward looking, not outwardly explosive, foreshadowed in the movie’s opening shot, a close-up of a red satin blouse of the titular character, her chest subtly heaving, suggesting something built up within her begging to erupt. By the end, however, it will not have erupted so much as just sort of seeped out and evaporated, at least a little.

This close-up of her chest gives way to shots of her packing in advance of leaving her native Spain for Portugal with dour if dashing Lorenzo (Darío Grandinetti). But once the thought of her daughter has been brought to re-bear, Julieta immediately reneges on her future to re-engage with her past, moving back into the apartment she once shared with Antía and composing a letter to her offspring, which means the majority of the story is told in flashback and is why so much of what happens is colored less with full-throated immediacy than quiet rumination.

It also means that because the story spans decades. Julieta is played by two different actresses, Suárez as the older version and Adriana Ugarte as the younger, and if they never quite feel like the same person that is by design – young “Julieta” is living this story but older Julieta is living with it, a product of all that his happened. What happened, we learn, is a moment of passion with Xoan (Daniel Grao) aboard a train, which yields Antía and which prompts Julieta to set aside a life of academia for simple domesticity with Xoan instead, living to raise Antía, a single-minded devotion with which she struggles.


The emergent irony in Julieta’s relationship with Xoan is that he is already married, to a very sick woman, who he and everyone else is simply, harshly but honestly waiting on to die, which mirrors the relationship of Julieta’s own mother and father, the latter taking comfort in the arms of another woman even as he tends to dying wife. It’s a pointed parallel, evoking the idea that we are all fated to fall prey to the same life choices we saw in our parents that left us aghast.

The story’s real thrust is Antía gradually pulling away from her mother, never more so than a spiritual retreat high in the mountains. When Julieta comes to pick up her daughter, she learns that Antía has already departed on her own with strict orders for no one to tell her mother where she has gone. In other words, she takes the opposite tack as her mother, spurning domestic responsibilities for some vaguely defined finding herself odyssey. It leaves her mother wandering in a cloud of depression, one that she denies only to have re-consume her, and that lifts in a strange kind of way at the conclusion, which will not be revealed. Suffice to say it is no “A Ha!” moment except that, maybe, in its own way, it is. one in which guilt & regret and motherhood going hand in hand becomes a bloodless twist.