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.

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.

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.




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.

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.

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.