International Women’s Day! Films reviewed: True Mothers, The World to Come, My Salinger Year

Posted in 1800s, 1990s, Adoption, Family, J.D. Salinger, Japan, LGBT, New York City, Romance, Women by CulturalMining.com on March 5, 2021

Monday is International Women’s Day, so this week I’m looking at three new movies that celebrate women. There’s a woman who encounters her adopted son’s birth mother; an aspiring writer in 1990s Manhattan; and two women in 19th century, upstate New York. 

True Mothers

Wri/Dir: Naomi Kawase

Satoko (Hiromi Nagasaku) is a married professional woman in Western Japan. She and her husband enjoy their kids-free lifestyle — fine dining, travel, and a high-rise luxury condo. But they long for a family of their own, and so far, it isn’t working., despite various medical interventions. Then one day on a talk show they see a woman telling about her organization. It’s called Baby Baton because the infant is passed on like a baton from the birth mother to its new parents. Adoptees have to pass rigorous requirements, including that one parent must quit their job and become a full-time house parent. Unsurprisingly, Satoko takes that role. And they bring home the newborn baby of a 14-year-old junior high girl named Hikari (Aju Makita). That was five years ago. Now they are devoted to their adorable adopted son, Asato. But their world is turned upside down by a knock on the door by a woman who claims to be the boy’s mother. And, she says, she wants him back.

True Mothers is a touching intimate story of two women’s lives. The movie is divided in half, The first part is all about Satoko and her husband and son, the trials and tribulations of raising a child. The second half is about Hikari the birth mother, and her life since giving up the baby. It explores her time on a misty remote island off Hiroshima (at the Baby Baton headquarters), where she spends the final months of her pregnancy, but also the dark turn her life takes afterwards. Naomi Kawase is one of very few female directors in Japan, and as in all her movies, the story is gently told but full of pathos. Well-acted and very moving with lovely cinematography, True Mothers pulls no punches when dealing with the reality of fertility, unplanned pregnancy, and the other side of adoption. 

Very nice movie.

The World to Come

Dir: Mona Fastvold

It’s the 1850s in rural upstate New York. Abigail (Katherine Waterston) is a morose young woman with a stern demeanour and long black hair. She lives in a farmhouse with her husband Dyer (Casey Affleck). They have a flock of sheep, chickens and milk cows. They used to have a little daughter, the light of their lives, but she died before she was five. Since then, it’s been a loveless marriage and the two barely speak to each other, just coasting through life without a purpose. Dyer records financial records in his ledger, while Abigail writes her thoughts and observations in a black-bound diary. But everything changes when they meet their new neighbours who rent a farm over the hill. Tallie (Vanessa Kirby) has ginger hair and fiery eyes, and she swooshes past in elegant gowns. Her husband Finney (Christopher Abbott) has a dark side carrying bitter grudged just waiting to explode. Abigail and Tallie become instant friends, sharing thoughts, sharp observations, secrets. Their husbands notice the change — why are they smiling? Why are they so happy? Could these two friends like each other more than their husbands? 

The World to Come is a passionate and poetic romance, about two women who find love along the harsh frontier. It’s narrated by Abigail’s diary entries and love letters from Jan to July of the same year, and the story is told in a literary style, like the turning pages of a book. But it’s not all talk, it’s a beautifully shot movie full of burnished wood, wrought iron, fireplaces, cotton dresses and candlelight. It’s filmed on location, with harsh winter blizzards and beautiful spring days. And while not explicit, there are sensuous scenes of Abigail and Tallie kissing furtively in dark doorways, or sneaking off into the woods. Very famous cast: Vanessa Kirby plays Princes Margaret in The Crown, and Katherine Waterston is in Fantastic Beasts and Inherent Vice. And the husbands, Christopher Abbot and Casey Affleck, are very well known, as well. While I wasn’t deeply moved by this movie, I did care about what happens to the characters, and the film itself is visually very nice to look at.

My Salinger Year

Wri/Dir: Phillippe Falardeau (Based on the Memoir by Joanna Rackoff) 

It’s the 1990s in Manhattan. Joanna (Margaret Qualley) is a young grad student and aspiring poet, who is visiting the city to experience literary New York. She has a boyfriend back in Berkeley, but in the meantime she’s camping out in her best friend Jenny’s cramped Village apartment. Her “room” is a tiny space in the corner separated by a folding paper screen. And she lands a plumb job; not as a a writer or working for a publisher, but in the office of a venerable agency. The company is headed by Margaret (Sigourney Weaver) who looks like a stately Susan Sontag. Margaret’s biggest client is JD Salinger, author of Catcher in the Rye and Franny and Zooey, whom she calls Jerry. He hasn’t published anything since the ’60s, but he’s still wildly popular. As Margaret’s assistant, Joanna’s main job is dealing with the bags of fan mail delivered each day. Salinger is a recluse, and never sees any mail — they shred each letter, but not before reading it, and sending out a hand-typed — we’re talking typewriters here, no computers allowed in the office — form letter, saying thank try for your kind letter, unfortunately JD Salinger won’t see it. 

Meanwhile Joanna is luxuriating in the literary life: having lunch at the Waldorf, rubbing shoulders with famous authors (though never Salinger). She goes to poetry readings at the right cafes and moves in with her handsome new boyfriend Don (Douglas Booth), a working-calls writer who’s also a bit of a dick. Will Joanna stay on in Manhattan or return to California? Can she forge a career as a literary agent? And will she ever meet Salinger?

My Salinger Year is a true memoir based on the writer’s own early career. It’s delightful to watch —who would have guessed we could feel nostalgic for the 90s? She experiences the city, wandering into places like the New Yorker magazine’s offices. And it’s full of wonderful vignettes about the quirky people she meets in her office (played by Colm Feore, and others.) It also shows us the writers of the fan mail, each of whom addresses the audience directly, reciting the texts of their letters. The film is made by Quebec director Philippe Falardeau (Monsieur Lazhar) and is shot around Montreal. As always, his movies are full of warm, funny characters and lots of  detail; he doesn’t gloss over what’s going on. Falardeau also has some weird trademarks — characters break into music videos or start dancing — which I don’t quite get, but luckily it doesn’t detract from the story. You can tell Sigourney Weaver and Margaret Qualley loved making this movie, and if you’re into writing or reading books, or the whole literary milieu, you’ll enjoy it, too. 

True Mothers, The World to Come, and My Salinger Year are all playing today on VOD or streaming sites.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning, on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com

Canada’s Top Ten. Closet Monster, Guibord s’en va-t-en guerre

Posted in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Bullying, Canada, Clash of Cultures, Coming of Age, Cultural Mining, Gay, Politics, Quebec, Satire by CulturalMining.com on January 1, 2016

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

It’s New Year’s Day, a good time to look back over the past year. Canada’s Top Ten — running at the TIFF Bell Lightbox from January 8th to 17th — offers a selection of ten movies over ten days for ten bucks a pop. So this week, I’m looking at two of those movies: a coming of age drama from Newfoundland about a gay teenager yearning to spread his wings and fly; and a comedy from Quebec about a newly-empowered politician who dreads leaving the ground. And afterwards, I’ll give you my favourite films of the 2015.

98Y9QD_closetmonster_03_o3_8698586_1438737352Closet Monster

Wri/Dir: Stephen Dunn

Oscar is a little boy in Newfoundland, whose head is filled with strange voices and nightmares during the day, and his bed is full of scary nightmares at night. He depends on his story-telling dad Peter (Aaron Abrams) to banish the bad thoughts. But two things happen. First, on the same day he discovers he’s gay, he witnesses a terrible incident in a cemetery near his school. A kid is beaten up, impaled,  and left to die. But Oscar’s obsession with the TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer leads him to internalize the violence and permanently tie it to his newly discovered sexuality. Now gay means dealing with X6pQL5_closetmonster_04_o3_8698631_1438737343supernatural monsters and death and vampires, so he banishes it all to a metaphoric; closet. Around the same time, his parents begin to fight. His mom moves out leaving the boy with his dad… who is losing it. Now Oscar only has his talking hamster Buffy (Isabella Rosselini) to turn to for advice.

Flash forward a few years. Oscar (Connor Jessup, Blackbird) is in high school now and getting ready for University. where he wants to study movie make-up design. He spends most of his time in his secret Buffy-verse, a world of monsters he has created inside his backyard treehouse. It’s a place where people grow horns, he practices his make-up, and a place where he hangs out with a sort-of girlfriend named Gemma (Sofia Banzhaf). But he really has his eyes on Wilder (Aliocha Schneider) a guy he 8qK3q3_closetmonster_01_o3_8698541_1438737331works with at a big box store. But as things start to go wrong and his life begins to unravel he realizes now’s the time to make the big decisions in his life. This culminates in a big costume and makeup party.

Can Oscar escape his very real inner demons, embrace his sexuality, come out to his neglectful mother and homophobic father, find live at work and pursue his dreams of creating monsters for the movies?

I liked this movie. It’s wonderfully imaginative with leaps of faith and new things all around. Even so, the script and the acting is uneven, ranging from the superb to moments of dialogue so jaw-droppingly wooden you wish they had never made it to the screen.  Still, this first-time director’s look at sexuality shown through a supernatural lens — played out in a Newfoundland setting — offers an unusual take on an old story.

qjp892_myinternship_01_o3_8889108_1449615288Guibord s’en va-t-en guerre (My Internship in Canada)

Wri/Dir: Phillippe Felardeau

Souverain Pascal (Irdens Exantus) is a highly-educated young man from Port au Prince, Haiti. He is well-versed in the writings of Rousseau and de Tocqueville, but wants to experience real democracy first hand. So he arrives in northern Quebec, at an office above a lingerie store, to start his internship. MP Steve Guibord (Patrick Huard) is a former hockey player who cares little about politics science. He’s also an independent, free from party 12080363_1650555245182508_6174572057209938197_opolitics. He divides his time cutting ribbons, listening to local complaints, and mediating disputes between Algonquin First Nations and the small town miners and lumberjacks who get in their way. And he drives everywhere he goes because of a pathological fear of flying.

He lives with his conservative wife Suzanne (Suzanne Clément) who owns a nursery. and his neglected lefty daughter Lune (Clémence Dufresne-Deslières) who wants to move to Denmark. And Souverain fits right in, passing on sage political advice to the 12113292_1650759721828727_4678384698342888006_ohapless Steve.

Meanwhile, the Conservative Party, which holds a slight majority, decides it wants to go to war in the Middle East, while the opposition parties want to stay away. Everything is going smoothly until Steve suddenly finds himself at the centre of things when a Conservative backbencher is rushed to hospital, and 11825648_1629299423974757_2831573805500131430_nwon’t be well in time for the vote. Souverain, meanwhile is observing everything, and secretly skyping back to large crowds in Port au Prince. And, through his his Machiavellian manoeuvres and machinations, he steers Steve on the path of direct democracy. He sets up local meetings so the people can decide whether or not to go to war. His wife is adamantly in favour, and his daughter steadfastly opposed. But as his story gains national attention, the competing parties zoom in to try to win him over. Can Souverain help Steve solve this Cornellian dilemma without alienating either his wife or his daughter? And can democracy flourish in northern Quebec?

Guibord s’en va-t-en guerre is a genuinely funny look at Canadian politics, one of the first movies like this I’ve ever seen. Acting is great all around, and the story has lots of surprises, including a quintessentially Canadian journey to Ottawa. Great fun.

And finally, here are some movies I really liked in 2015: (coming soon!)

Closet Monster and Guibord s’en va-t-en guerre (also known as My Internship in Canada) are playing as part of Canada’s Top Ten. Go to tiff.net for details.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning, on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com

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