Tag Archives: Alec Secareanu

Portrait of a Lady of Science


by Hope Madden

Writer/director Francis Lee’s Ammonite is a beautiful, insightful, lonesome film about European women falling in love in a time when patriarchal society only allowed that to happen because they weren’t paying attention. It boasts beautiful cinematography and two utterly stellar performances.

And it suffers by comparison to Celine Sciamma’s similarly summarized 2019 masterpiece Portrait of a Lady on Fire.

That doesn’t mean it isn’t worth seeing—it absolutely is. Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan—simply two of the most talented humans ever to grace a film screen—play, respectively, British paleontologist Mary Anning and the married woman she falls for, Charlotte Murchison.

Anning is, in fact, among the most influential scientists in British history. Being a woman in Victorian England, her work was accepted while she herself was not. There’s an interesting tale to tell right there, but Lee chose that repressive cultural landscape as more of a backdrop, like the forbidding English Channel coast town of Lyme where Anning did her fossil hunting.

There’s no historical evidence that Anning was gay. There’s also no historical evidence that she was not, and filmmakers have told Emily Dickinson’s story dozens of times, only once actually addressing her sexual preference. If it’s OK for them to fictionalize, why not Lee?

The telling gives Winslet opportunity—partly thanks to excellent support from Fiona Shaw, Gemma Jones and Alec Secareanu—to present a woman so ill-used by and out-of-step with the world around her that she sees a miscarriage of justice in every exchange. Winslet is sharp and brooding, superior and insecure. It’s another quietly outstanding performance.

Aglow and lilting, Ronan is all warmth, offering a swoon-worthy counterpoint to Winslet’s chill. But there is something rushed about her attraction, and the deep, risky longing never feels authentic.

The affection, however, feels painfully true, and that’s at the core of a story about limited possibilities. Lee’s no Tarantino, but keep an eye out for bare feet and (less Tarantino-esque) insects. There is something slightly melancholy in these images of freedom and vulnerability that suit the effort.

Lee doesn’t try to answer every question he raises or resolve every conflict he presents. Instead, he brings us into a story of outsiders trying to define their own realities, however limited they may have to be.

Domestic Bliss


by Hope Madden

It’s a comforting notion, the idea that we each need to forgive ourselves for the wrongs we’ve done in order to heal and move forward. Everyone deserves to be happy, right?

But is that forgiveness ever really ours to give? Tomaz (a remarkable Alec Secareanu) doesn’t think so.

Making her feature debut as writer/director, Romola Garai delivers an entrancing horror show concerned with sexual politics, cowardice and proper punishment.

Tomaz is living a destitute existence as a day laborer in London, picking up gigs as he can and sheltering at night with others like him—mainly refugees wordlessly sharing space in an abandoned building. He used to live in an unnamed but war torn European nation, and his dreams are still haunted by the experience.

A chance encounter puts Tomaz in the path of Sister Claire (Imelda Staunton, relishing her small role). She introduces Tomaz to Magda (Carla Juri, Wetlands), who needs help with the house that’s falling down around her and her ailing, bedridden mother.

From there, Garai toys with familiar horror elements—the decrepit building as metaphor, the horrifying relative hidden away—but you can never predict Amulet’s secrets.

Juri is hypnotic as the reluctant, wearied, lonesome Magda and her slow growing chemistry with Tomaz creates a quietly seductive force for the film. Clearly Tomaz should leave, there is something powerfully unhealthy happening in this house. But maybe this is his path to happiness? Maybe he can help?

That’s how the film traps you, because Secareanu is terribly empathetic and because it is his point of view we share. His performance is full of understated power and, paired with Juri’s resigned sensuality, it holds your interest.

Garai braids two mysteries together, the one Tomaz is living and the one he’s keeping from us. That second secret haunts his dreams and, little by little, he convinces himself that unraveling the mystery in this house might free him from his past.

The delivery is measured and creepy, and though the final act feels simultaneously tidy and nonsensical, the mysteries themselves—not to mention a trio of excellent performances—more than satisfy.