The Innocents (A-). This French-Polish co-production, which is based on true events, packs a powerful punch. It’s December 1945. A young nun sneaks out of a little Catholic convent in the Polish countryside and hurries to the nearest town, desperately seeking a doctor–and one, she insists, who is neither Polish nor Russian. Against all odds, she finds a young French doctor named Mathilde who is willing to leave her Red Cross station and visit the convent. Mathilde is shocked at what she finds there: seven pregnant nuns. When the Soviet Army “liberated” Poland several months earlier, the marauding soldiers invaded the convent and raped the nuns. Now, the nuns who conceived are reaching full term. And no one outside the convent can know, or else the the convent will be shuttered and the women shunned in society as disgraced. It’s a horrible situation, and still more horrible things happen as Mathilde tries to help the nuns in their hour of crisis. There are a few happy moments, and Mathilde strikes up an unlikely friendship with Maria, the second-in-command at the convent, but the movie is largely bleak and upsetting. Still, I found it a compelling cinematic experience. But please do exercise discretion in deciding whether to see this movie, especially if scenes depicting sexual assault are triggering for you.
If you like this movie, I encourage you to look up Ida, a Polish movie from a couple of years ago, focusing on a single Polish nun discovering some family secrets going back to WWII. Also, A Woman in Berlin, another based-on-a-true-story movie, about the fall of Berlin at the end of WWII and the fate of the ordinary Germans who lived there when the Soviets arrived.
A Bigger Splash (C-). Or perhaps more aptly, Lifestyles of the Rich and Decadent. Tilda Swinton (Only Lovers Left Alive) stars as Marianne Lane, a big rock-n-roll star who is vacationing on a remote Italian island with her lover Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts, Black Book) after surgery on her vocal cords. Their quiet interlude is shattered by the unexpected arrival of Marianne’s former lover, manic record producer Harry Hawkes (Ralph Fiennes, Hail, Caesar!) and his 22-year-old daughter Penelope (Dakota Johnson, How to Be Single). Sexual tension runs in all sorts of directions as the quartet drink in the Mediterranean sunshine and, of course, large amounts of alcohol. Watchable, but it didn’t really seem to add up to much.
The Lobster (C-). This movie has too much critical buzz–and sounded just too weird–for me to miss. It’s an allegory or satire or something about the pressure society puts on people to pair off romantically. In the alternative universe of The Lobster, everyone has to pair off. If your partner leaves you for another person, you get shipped off to a hotel where you can mingle with loads of other single people. And if you don’t find a partner within 45 days, you get turned into the animal of your choice and set free. Remember, I said it was weird. Anyhoo, Colin Ferrell (Total Recall) is our guide to this insane asylum. He lands in the hotel at the very beginning of the movie, where he sort-of befriends a guy with a limp (Ben Whishaw, Spectre) and a guy with a lisp (John C. Reilly, Chicago). Some hotel residents desperately want to find someone, while others seem more or less resigned to their fate. Oh, and there’s a band of “Loners” (including Léa Seydoux, Spectre, and Rachel Weisz, Agora) running around out in the woods around the hotel–defiantly (and illegally) single people who have their own weird code of conduct about relationships. What will Ferrell do? Seek love, join the Loners, or settle for becoming a lobster? It’s all very weird and artificial and sort of interesting, but I really can’t say I really enjoyed it all that much.
The Lady in the Van (B). The redoubtable Maggie Smith (TV’s Downton Abbey) stars in the title role in this British import. An introverted playwright named Alan Bennett (Alex Jennings, The Queen) has bought a townhouse, and he soon meets neighborhood fixture Miss Shepherd (Smith). She’s an eccentric, excitable, and malodorous homeless woman who lives in a decrepit old van that she occasionally moves up or down the street. The neighbors, being normal people, don’t really want her around, but, also being liberals, they can’t bear to run her off either. Somehow she eventually gets Bennett to let her park in his driveway, and there she stays–for the next 15 years. And apparently this is based on a true story! We get bits and pieces of Miss Shepherd’s backstory, which, as to be expected, is not a particularly happy one. Good performances, but the story is a bit slight and certainly a bit sad.
45 Years (A-). I didn’t see Room, so I can’t say Brie Larson didn’t deserve the Academy Award for best actress this year. But I must say that Charlotte Rampling’s performance in this quiet, understated British drama is one of the best I have seen in a long while. Rampling (Swimming Pool) plays Kate, a British woman who is only six days away from a big party celebrating the 45th anniversary of her wedding to Geoff (Tom Courtenay, Doctor Zhivago). But then a letter arrives from Switzerland. The body of Katya, Geoff’s girlfriend before he met Kate, has been found. Kate knew about Katya, and that she had died (and disappeared) in a tragic accident while she and Geoff were hiking through the Alps. But the news hits Geoff harder than seems entirely reasonable, and both he and Kate are increasingly distressed as their anniversary party relentlessly approaches. If you like dramas with no lasers or zombies, this is the movie for you.