Tag Archives: Gael Garcia Bernal

I See Old People


by Hope Madden and George Wolf

The last 20 some odd years have been somewhat odd for M. Night Shyamalan.

There was the meteoric rise, the faceplant fall, and the unexpected rise again. The writer/director’s highs (The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Split) have been clever, crowd-pleasing and well crafted, while the lows (The Last Airbender, After Earth, The Happening) became self-indulgent, condescending misfires.

Old, Shyamalan’s first since the disappointing Glass two years ago, may not rank among his best, but there is enough here to hold your interest while it delivers an earnest message about precious time.

Guy (Gael García Bernal) and Prisca (Vicky Krieps) are ready to separate, but want to enjoy one last dream vacation with 6 year-old Trent (Nolan River) and 11 year-old Maddox (Alexa Swinton) before breaking the news.

Shortly after getting a VIP welcome at their tropical resort, the family is offered access to a private beach paradise, just a short drive away. Once there, they find a few other guests have also gotten the invite to the pristine beach surrounded by majestic and imposing walls of rock.

But of course, there is a price to be paid for this privilege: time. Trent and Maddox are suddenly years older (and now played by Alex Wolff and Thomasin McKenzie), while the rest of the group (including Rufus Sewell, Abbey Lee and Aaron Pierre) also begins to feel the effects of a rapidly increased aging process.

Shyamalan’s camerawork – usually a plus – is again nimble and expressive. He’s able to fuel a feeling of confusion and disorientation on the ground, while frequent overhead shots provide the unmistakeable suggestion that this group is being watched.

His pace is also well-played, fast and frantic (with one very effective visual fright) in the early going, then a bit more measured to reflect cooler heads trying to plan an escape.

But while Shyamalan’s script is an adaptation of the graphic novel Sandcastle by Pierre-Oscar Lévy and Frederick Peeters, dialogue can still trip him up. It’s too frequently both silly and obvious, yet almost always rescued by a talented ensemble that never shrinks from selling every word of it.

This is a Shyamalan film, though, which will lead many to expect a humdinger of a twist. Don’t.

There is something waiting beyond the clearly defined metaphor about appreciating every day. But like the film, the resolution of Old is more tidy than revelatory, as easy to digest and appreciate as it is to forget.

The Saddest Lines


by Hope Madden

Pablo Larraín is having quite a year. In theaters already with his insightful vision of grief, celebrity and politics, Jackie, the Chilean filmmaker returns with a page from his own nation’s history books – Neruda.

Again eschewing the traditional biopic structure, Neruda drops us into the life of Chile’s most beloved poet and most famous Communist as political tides are changing. Post WWII, Pablo Neruda’s outspoken support of his party puts him on the wrong side of his government.

Though Neruda (Luis Gnecco) became the voice of resistance in Chile and around the world, his own life hardly mirrored the communist principles he championed. A poet, a lover and a man of grand excess, he spoke eloquently of a struggle he refused to live himself.

A fascinating set of conundrums, Neruda is a hard man to pin down cinematically – so Larraín doesn’t exactly try.

When Chile calls for Neruda’s arrest, we follow him underground, as does Inspector Oscar Peluchonneau (Gael García Bernal – scene stealer).

Here is where Larrain, working from Guillermo Calderon’s inventive screenplay, gets a bit experimental to better serve his subject.

From Peluchonneau’s point of view, the film becomes hard-boiled detective pulp, a narrative device that allows Larraín to better explore the line between fact and fiction – and poetry.

The investigator becomes the antagonist in Neruda’s imagined persecution, allowing him the mythical martyrdom and drama he feels a man of his greatness deserves.

Gnecco’s performance hits all the right marks, creating a presence that’s simultaneously admirable, aggravating and disappointingly vain. Fine support from Mercedes Morán as Neruda’s longsuffering wife buoys the performance by articulating the effect he had on those around him.

But the fictional Peluchonneau runs away with the film. García Bernal’s oddball incompetent with his own delusions of grandeur brings color to the film as it transports the audience to a more literary landscape.

The conceit doesn’t always work. It often feels too cute. But there are several scenes where reality and fiction collide without a clear winner – one with Morán and a snowy finale, in particular – that elevate the entire project.

It’s an arresting and lovely near-miss.


Stewart’s Moment of Zen


by Hope Madden

It should probably come as no surprise that Jon Stewart has keen instincts for telling a tale about journalistic integrity, witness bearing and global politics. It is perhaps even less shocking to find that he can weave wry humor into the most unexpected places, or that his insights are sharp and his material is smart.

His directorial debut Rosewater recounts journalist Maziar Bahari’s story of capture and captivity during protests following Iran’s 2009 presidential election.

The always wonderful Gael Garcia Bernal plays Bahari with the perfect mix of wisdom, naiveté, fear and courage – sometimes all flashing at once across his face. He’s more than matched by two magnificent supporting turns.

Iranian born Shohreh Aghdashloo (House of Sand and Fog) plays Bahari’s mother with pride, humanity and strength in every gaze, every tear. She’s never turned in a weak performance, but as the world-wearied matriarch of a politically troubled family, she is at her stirring best.

Likewise, as Bahari’s detention “specialist” – the man assigned to his daily mental, emotional and physical torment – Kim Bodnia shines. Like his colleagues, Bodnia says more with his posture and expression than with his lines. He creates a layered and fascinating character of a man most films would cast aside as a one dimensional villain.

There are weird comic moments between Bodnia and Bernal that are thrilling to watch.

Stuart possesses genuine skill as a director, layering performances with sounds, images, even framing that enrich every scene. He details early exposition with lovely, rich imagery that provides more power to the foundational scenes than the voiceover alone ever could.

He writes a pretty mean screenplay as well, adapting Bahari’s book into a succinct, approachable but intelligent tale. He knows how to use a quote from Iranian poet Ahmad Shamloo, sees the dramatic benefit of understated dialog, and recognizes the soothing balm of a well placed Leonard Cohen song.

Rosewater is not a condemnation or a chance for finger wagging – an opportunity that must have appealed to Stewart, whose program The Daily Show had actually contributed to Bahari’s plight. Instead Stewart crafts an image of modern journalism, global politics, and outdated ideology that has a pulse as quick as its tongue is sharp.

Just as Stewart the stand-up comic became one of the most urgent and satisfying voices in American broadcasting, so has this talk show host suddenly blossomed into one of this year’s most relevant filmmakers.


Dictatorship Just Doesn’t Sell

By Hope Madden

“We have to find a product that is attractive to the people.”

That may not sound like democracy to you, but in Chile in 1988, advertising became the new democracy.

At least, that is, according to co-writer/director Pablo Larrain’s Oscar nominee, the slyly comical No.

When longtime Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet caved to international pressure, allowing a national referendum to determine whether he would rule for another 8 years, the wildly fractured “No” campaign decided to employ marketing tactics to strengthen their chances.

Gael Garcia Bernal plays Rene, the young upstart ad exec – rat tail, acid washed jeans and all – who seems to embody Pinochet’s myopic view of Chilean prosperity. His advertising gig keeps all the lures of capitalism at his fingertips. He even has a microwave – the country must be doing OK, right?

But looking beyond his new car and soap opera photo shoot, he can see the oppression masquerading as abundance. So he relies on what he understands – consumerism – to craft an opposition campaign that’s more commercial than anything the world had seen.

Bernal gives his character a fascinating set of traits. He’s shallow enough to recommend boiling down decades of oppression, vanishings and abuse to a jingle and a Pepsi-style ad, but his lost expression and tenderness with his son (Pascal Montero) show a man struggling to do right by his country.

Larrain‘s aesthetic is all ’88 – it feels like you’re watching an overused VHS, but that low-rent quality gives his film more than a throwback feel. It articulates the sense of a population kidding itself about its quality of living.

Not all is as light as it seems in Rene’s world, and the same can be said for Larrain’s film. He builds a real sense of foreboding, of impending danger. When Pinochet’s campaign accepts the popularity of the No approach, they abandon their underestimation and hire Rene’s boss to rebrand them. It’s a pissing contest between two colleagues on one level, but beneath that there’s something sinister, something that illustrates the way a regime’s ugliness spreads by way of quiet acquiescence.

Plus, there are mimes!

No meanders, loses focus, and perhaps undersells Chile’s tragic backstory as openly as the No campaign’s ad exec did, but the film gets points for its clever, layered examination of a precedent setting approach to the toppling of a regime.

All because Chile rocked the vote.