Le Divan de Staline (2016)

Le Divan de Staline (Stalin’s Couch in English) is an ambitious film by Fanny Ardant, one of the most important figures of French cinema. The film takes place during the final years of Stalin’s life, as the Soviet dictator rests a few days in a luxurious and isolated residence with his long-term mistress, Lydia.

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Stalin (Gérard Depardieu) and Lydia (Emmanuelle Seigner).

This film, as do many European features, is a film where the action is mainly moved forward by the atmosphere and the dialog between the main characters. This contrasts with American film culture, where most movies are pushed forward by external action, such as a dramatic or action-packed event. This strategy has two main advantages: first, it becomes easier to capture the audience’s attention through image, sound or emotional stimulus; second, it masks the quality of the cast and of the dialogues.

Thus, in films that don’t follow this strategy, there’s an enormous burden on the actors and on the dialogues. And this is Le Divan de Staline ‘s greatest strength. Emmanuelle Seigner and Gérard Depardieu are sensational. Their on-screen chemistry, glances, movements are something beautiful to behold and clearly tells us we’re watching two masters at work. Plus, Lydia, as a strong woman in a men’s world, is a very compelling character.

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Danilov (Paul Hamy) talking with Lydia (Emmanuelle Seigner).

The plot, in general, is entertaining and interesting. I particularly like the idea of Stalin trying, out of curiosity, psychoanalysis. Of course, as the dictator he is, he does so with his rules and while always maintaining the control of the situation. Also, the scenery is stunning. Curiously, the film was shot in a Portuguese palace-turned-hotel, the Buçaco Palace Hotel.

Overall, Le Divan de Staline is a good film and, although it could certainly be better, I really enjoyed it. The acting, in particular, is outstanding.

 

 

7.5/10

PS: This film is also in the Sophia section since it’s a French-Portuguese co-production.

Little Men (2016)

Little Men is a title which may not give too much away about the film, but that makes perfect sense after you’ve seen it. A film about the friendship and growth of two boys with two completely different personalities, families and ambitions, Little Men is an enjoyable film but that’s just it.

The acting is good, I particularly liked the chemistry between Jake (Theo Taplitz) and Tony (Michael Barbieri). I even think Ira Sachs, the director, did a very good job in capturing how children feel and react when the world around them (“the adult world”) changes suddenly without them being able to do anything.

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Michael Barbieri and Theo Taplitz as Tony and Jake, respectively.

Nevertheless, there’s something that lacks, somethings that stops Little Men from becoming a really good movie. My first thought was the plot as it is a nice story but there isn’t much to it. However, then I realised that I have seen many better films with more limited scripts. Hell, Mad Max: Fury Road is an excellent film and it’s still two hours of an angry mob chasing a truck throughout the desert.

No. What limits Little Men is its safety. Everything about the film is good but it just feels to safe. If Ira Sachs had risked a bit and mixed things up, we might have had a great film. Or it could have come out worse. Either way, it could have not been “just another film” as Little Men is.

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Greg Kinnear and Jennifer Ehle as Jake’s parents.

Overall, it’s a solid and enjoyable film with a good story but that leaves you asking “That’s it?” in the end.

7/10

Silence (2016)

Silence is renowned director Martin Scorsese’s most recent piece of work and is arguably one of the most, if not the most, awaited films outside of the super-hero/Star Wars realm which pretty much dominates the blockbuster industry nowadays. And it doesn’t disappoint.

Silence is the story of the hard and long search of two Portuguese Jesuit priests for Cristóvão Ferreira (Liam Neeson), another priest who travelled all over Japan, spreading Christianity. As the title suggests, this is a film marked by silence. In fact, every major scene is characterised by silence, whether it’s a calm and tranquil silence or, more often than not, a gruesome and hard silence.

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Liam Neeson as Padre Ferreira.

The persecution of Christians in Japan during the 16th and 17th centuries is a very interesting topic, particularly for me as a Portuguese. Despite being an important part of the Age of Discovery (15th-18th century), the spreading of the Christian faith throughout the “discovered” lands and its successes (e.g. Philippines) and failures (e.g. Japan) is not a common theme and is hardly addressed during compulsory education in Portugal. Thus, I’m very glad Scorsese chose it for his film.

Returning to the matter at hand, the acting trio does a great job. Liam Neeson, Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver deliver strong performances, particularly Garfield. Even so, I would have liked to have seen a bit more of Adam Driver as I think his performance was spot-on.

Finally, the religion. This is, as expected, a film with a very strong spiritual components. Religion is a topic which isn’t usually well tackled in cinema, as directors and actors alike may struggle with the idea of faith and how to transmit it to the audience. In Silence, this is very well handled by Martin Scorsese.

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Andrew Garfield as Padre Rodrigues.

Overall, Silence is another very good film by Scorsese and it should have had, at least, received an Oscar nomination for Best Picture. Well, at least Andrew Garfield was nominated for its role in Hacksaw Ridge.

8.5/10

Manchester by the Sea (2016)

Manchester by the Sea tells us the story of an American janitor as he struggles with his inner demons. These demons, which I won’t reveal to keep this review spoiler-free, are highly related to his past in Manchester-by-the-Sea, a small coastal town in Massachusetts, USA.

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Lee (Casey Affleck) and his nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges).

This is a very somber film, a film which is designed to keep the spectator in a state of melancholia, while also admiring the film itself. In that sense, Kenneth Lonergan does a great job. The photography, soundtrack and the editing help set the mood but all this would have been in vain if not for the acting of Casey Affleck, who carries this film and acts as a conduit between the film and us, the spectators. I have no doubt that, without such a strong performance, this film would not have been nearly as good as it is.

Of course, both Michelle Williams (acting as the protagonist’s ex-wife) and Lucas Hedges (his nephew), also have an important part in this movie and their performances should be acknowledged. Hedges, in particular, for his age and for acting as a comic relief character of an otherwise dark film.

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Randi (Michelle Williams) and Lee (Casey Affleck).

Overall, I think this is a very good film. Far from perfection but still pretty much worthy of an Oscar nomination for best picture. It’s powerful and memorable and could easily be Affleck’s best performance yet. A must-see.

8.5/10