Captain Fantastic

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Before writing about the response I had to Captain Fantastic, I want to briefly discuss a scene that occurs maybe twenty minutes into the movie. It takes place at night, inside a bunker lit with lamps. Ben (Viggo Mortensen), the patriarch of the clan with the awesome names, informs his children matter of factly that their mom is dead.

“She killed herself”, he tells them. “She finally did it.”

The camera then cuts to each of the six kids, resting on their faces to gauge their responses. You know how sometimes kids in movies will start to cry and it will look and sound like every other children wail? The reason behind it could be the loss of a parent, or the loss of their favorite candy, and they still cry the same way.
Matt Ross, the writer/director behind Captain Fantastic, seems to actually understand kids, tweens and teens, because what he accomplishes in that bunker scene is nothing short of fantastic. Most of the kids shed tears, but none of them grief in the same way. The youngest doesn’t even cry, and it is such an insightful little addition that you want to offer your condolences to Ross for whatever loss that might have spurned such revelation.

That understanding of his characters and the world around him serves him well, as Captain Fantastic romanticizes a lifestyle of sticking it to the man, while at the same time recognizing that there exists a certain vanity and arrogance in it. There is perhaps no final answer as to what the best way for raising a family is, and the argument for organic vs gmo, videogames vs physical activity and book knowledge vs what you learn when you`re out at midnight making out with a pretty stranger will carry on.
But Captain Fantastic knows this: if you love each other and remain together, half the battle is already won.

A-

The Constant Gardener

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Love. At Any Cost.
So reads the tagline for The Constant Gardener, a film of rare empathy that also succeeds as a pulse pounding thriller.
On the surface, it’s about a love so intoxicating that Justin (Ralph Fiennes) is willing to die for it. Flashbacks show Tessa (Rachel Weisz) and Justin cavorting in bed, learning each others bodies, arguing.
Their romance is not given the typical romantic treatment, in which the couple goes on a date, camera lingerings on their faces, their gestures, and eventually come to the conclusion they are perfect for each other. We see them taking a bath together, and then we see Justin growing suspicious of Tessa, only for her to assuage his fears with pure, blatant honesty. Perhaps that is why it is so effective. The relationship is built not on grandiose Hollywood gesticulations, but the quiet workings of a couple who are at ease with one another.
The other love is the love for our neighbors. In this case, the poorest neighbors we can possibly imagine, as much of the action takes place in Kenya. Not once does the film induce pity for the happenings in the African continent-there are enough non profits and Facebook groups that do that already.
What the film does, and does so wonderfully, is present an infuriatingly unjust situation and tell the viewer that this is why we should love our neighbor. If we really did, we would not be using destitute Africans as guinea pigs.

There is more. The film also asks up to empathize with people like Tess, activists who have made it their life work to improve those of others. There are scenes in which Tess completely ignores her husband, so lost is she in the righteousness of her mission. We are later told that it was to keep him safe, but it was unnecessary, even hurtful.
Seconds before he commits suicide by shooting himself eight times, Justin tells her as much. Did Tess go overboard? Was her death preventable? What did her actions truly accomplish? Did she end up hurting her husband in the name of love, for him and her neighbors?
May we all find the love we need, so we can finally say we are home.

A-

El Secreto de sus Ojos

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“¿Como hizo para aprender a vivir sin ella?”

The words are spoken by a sad man to a man whose wife was raped and murdered.
Their circumstances could not be more different. The former can end his dilemma by speaking up, by going against the social codes of his society and declaring his love for somebody far above his station; the latter rues his dead wife every single day, struggling to remember her as years go by, confusing memories with memories of memories.
What binds them together is the heart.

It is heart what El Secreto de sus Ojos overflows with. More than any film I can remember, from opening frame to closing shot, the movie works like a novel. There is narration, but not the lazy one that plays over an array of images; the narration here is description for the novel within the movie, but its elegance augments the movie itself, since the themes between the novel and the events the characters live through are one and the same.

There are twists to the plot, but not cheapening ones or shocking for shock’s sake. In a way, the conclusion to the story feels so natural that the twist might not even be considered a twist at all, but a logical conclusion to the tragedy that has spanned 25 years and played out in 2 hours.

There is love. Some moments brim with tenderness, while others burst with the sorrow of heartbreak, and it all feels so real.
A scene set at a train station in which Benjamin (Ricardo Darin) and Irene (Soledad Villamil) make the decision that will dictate the next two decades of their lives is so captivating and melancholic that you wish the screenwriter wrote every single movie, just so you can keep losing yourself in the lives of similar characters.

A+

The English Patient

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This morning I woke up thinking of her. Although I will think of her at least once during my day, be it by being reminded of her scent by a quick passerby or something she said by something I see, this memory was much more immediate. As the hours progressed I realized it was because I had dreamed of her the night before. The realization made me miserable. There I was, thousands of miles away, months removed from her kisses and completely unaware of the state of her life, and yet in my dreams she was as vivid as the cool breeze that swept the university campus at 11:30am. I sat down and cried for a while.

There are similar moments peppered throughout The English Patient. Count Laszlo de Almasy (Ralph Fiennes) lays in bed, burnt to a crisp, and gazes at nothing as he recalls fond memories of the woman he loves. And I thought to myself, “what that poor man must be feeling! what utter sadness his heart is drowned in!”

B+

Silence

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Faith is nonsensical. In a world guided by reason it makes sense for faith to be dismissed as illogical and pointless. What this dismissal fails to take into consideration however, is that faith is placed on One who is much higher than any of us. God is not governed by our reason or our logic; trying to comprehend His thinking in human terms is futile, since we cannot even begin to grasp the vastness of His knowledge. Were we aware of this, were somehow humans made privy to God’s mind, He would not truly be infinite. And if God is not infinite, then He is no God.
This turns every discussion arguing in favor or against the existence of God pointless, as it consists of humans, who are nothing but dust in the wind in a tiny drop on the gargantuan canvas of the universe, trying to use human logic to prove something that is irrational. Which faith, as mentioned at the start of this piece, is. Yet having faith does not mean one will relinquish the human capacity for discernment and reason and become a creature of the absurd. Believers may walk in faith, they may even live by faith, but that does not mean common sense is now as foreign to them as faith is to non believers. Human intellect and curiosity are after all part of the natural order that God set on this world.

A crisis of faith then, can best be described as a clash between the logical and the illogical, between human’s innate desire for answers and the choice we made to believe in someone who owes us none and has them all.
Martin Scorsese’s Silence, which is the most important film I will ever see, tackles said dilemma in a manner that transcends cinema and turns it into something akin to the miraculous. It has crossed my mind on several occasions now that it would be unfair of me to compare it to other movies, or even to say whether it’s good or bad, since Silence works best not as a motion picture but as a document that believers should be required to have, next to their copies of the Bible.
Such necessity stems from the fact that in the four years since I professed faith in God I have been plagued by doubts that Silence explores, and if my conversion is genuine I don’t see why other believers will not have had, or will have, experienced the same.

The declaration I made once upon a time that I would be in constant communication with God  has been proven false. The ground for such statement was that, since I knew how much I loved God and He knew as much, any obstacle that could come between us would ultimately be obsolete.
But has it been proven false by the inexorable disenchantment of life or by myself? I know I’ve sinned, so is He punishing me by keeping silent? I also know I have repented and am forgiven, and that His love and mercy far outweigh my many failings, so is His silence evidence that my faith is not strong enough? Or perhaps, at this juncture in my life His silence is a test to gauge whether or not I have matured from the man I was four years ago? This unparalleled frustration may lead to doubt, which may lead to sin, which in turn may culminate in numbness at His silence. What are believers to do at such despair?

The only concrete answer Silence provides comes during an exchange between a soon to be martyr and his confessor. “My faith is not strong, but I have so much love for God”, the martyr says. “Is that good enough?”.
As I write this, still shaken to my core pondering on Silence from its first to last frame, I wonder if that brief exchange carried a monumental truth that I needed to hear. When faith flounders, love should thrive. Punishingly torturous as sitting through it was, Silence was also rewarding in that it allowed me to examine the current state of my faith under a different light. I may still cringe at the thought of receiving no answer from Him, but I find encouragement amidst the vacuum. I love Him, and He loves me. And if love is not enough, then no amount of noise in the world can be either.

A+

Cafe Society

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“Nothing means anything when you’re sure you’re really in love”, says Bobby Dorfman (Jesse Eisenberg), the main protagonist of the keenly melancholy Cafe Society, when asked his opinion on a man walking out on his wife of a quarter century to marry somebody else.
Later on another character will exclaim that no force on Earth can explain love, which is why it is called “falling” in love, since there is nothing anyone can do to prevent it.

But even before such lines are uttered somebody mentions, during the first twenty minutes of this marvelous film, that unrequited love kills more people across the globe each year than tuberculosis, a claim Bobby does not object to, judging by all the pictures and the songs that romanticize and ennoble love that has been left adrift.
One of the many sad ironies is that by the end of the movie Bobby will have been marked by death by unrequited love. Death not of the body, like what his brother experienced, but a more profound and mournful type.

I am talking of course about the agony found in Bobby’s eyes since the day Vonnie (Kristen Stewart) destroyed his heart and quenched the flames that livened his spirit. I am talking about the absolute meaninglessness of anything when he feels he has nothing as Vonnie was his everything. I am talking about the way he roams through country clubs and parties and the birth of his child as if he just returned from a trip to paradise, and finds proceedings here back on Earth terribly dull.

“I pray and I pray and I pray, but there is no answer”, Bobby’s dad says near the end of the movie.
Vonnie was an answer to Bobby’s prayer. “She is a dream, an angel sent from above” says a character in describing Vonnie.

As a new year begins but Bobby’s disappointments remain the same, he looks at the bright lights up in the sky, dreamy eyes and beaten heart, convinced that the answer to his prayers has been no, and that his angel will never again appear to him.

A+

Equals

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The most cathartic moment in Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar takes place during its final thirty seconds. Brand (Anne Hathaway) stares at the wreckage of Wolf Edmunds space ship, seconds before removing her helmet and placing it on the ground. The effect of this brief scene is so tremendous once examined under one that took place halfway through the movie. In it, Brand tries to convince Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) of love’s supernatural abilities. As it is not a human invention, love can transcend time and space and travel across dimensions. Love has the faculty to withstand and endure things no other emotion can; it can guide us, direct us, give us hope. Nay, love is hope itself.

I bring this up not because Equals is on par with Nolan’s masterpiece, although Kristen Stewart’s performance, as is always the case, easily matches anything McConaughey and Hathaway have to offer. I bring this up because the closing shot of the movie shows that, against all odds, love prevails. It appears that no matter how people try to quench it, in the end love will find a way.

It’s extremely dull, the way this picture reaches that conclusion, but I believe it’s worth noting.

B-

10,000 Km

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I could employ a myriad of offensive adjectives to describe the behavior of Sergi (David Verdaguer), one of the halves involved in this long distance affair, so settling on just one was a challenge.
But then I remember seeing him break and destroy over half the furniture of his apartment, weeping for the webcam, having just slept with a stranger a few days prior, and my answer is clear: this is one selfish fool.

Long distance relationships do take a toll on both parties involved, but I would have liked to see a “normal” couple. What normal means in this case is to have a guy not be such a child, throwing tantrums every other month. With a partner like that, a breakup is bound to occur, whether there’s five thousand miles between them or just a door.

C+

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

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Yesterday morning I woke up with memories of Amsterdam. It was not only the canals and the bicycles that occupied my mind, but her face. Her gentle face, with an air of sadness to it, and the blonde hair she doesn’t make too much an effort to fix up because why would she? It looks great the way it is.

Memories are worse than bullets, a wise man once said.

But Joel (Jim Carrey) has discovered something even more painful. The lack of them. You’re not only losing time and space, but you’re losing her.

A