Blancanieves Film Review

Poster-oficial-Blancanieves

Blancanieves, (Snow White) directed by Pablo Berger was Spain’s official entry to the Oscars’ Foreign Language Category and premiered at the Toronto Film Festival in 2012. It enjoyed a lot of critical success during its various festival screenings. The film is a retelling of Snow White, set in 1920s Spain with a few notable differences.

In this version there are no kingdoms, kings and queens. Snow White is instead the daughter of a very wealthy and successful matador or a bullfighter. He is also deeply in love with his wife who sadly dies during childbirth. He is unable to get over the grief of losing his wife because while his wife is in childbirth, he simultaneously suffers an awful accident in the bullring, which leaves him crippled. He suddenly loses the two things that he loved most: his career and his wife. He is inconsolable and can’t even bring himself to look at his daughter. Meanwhile, the evil stepmother finally makes her appearance in the form of his nurse. She slowly insinuates herself into every aspect of his life and eventually marries him. His daughter, Carmencita (Carmen), lives with her maternal grandmother who does everything possible to make sure that the child doesn’t feel unloved or unwanted. But this is Snow White, so people can’t possibly be happy for too long. Carrmen’s grandmother suddenly suffers a heart attack and succumbs to it. She is then sent to live with her father and her stepmother. Things progress predictably from there. But there are a few significant differences and the film is more engaging for them.

The dark tone of the movie is interspersed with some light moments. Blancanieves is silent and black and white but unlike The Artist (which was a black and white silent film) this doesn’t feel like a gimmick, like the makers had to rely on tricks to draw in viewers. The plot and screenplay were sound enough on their own and these elements only served to heighten the mood of the film. Even the way the director uses the lack of sound was very different, for instance, in one scene where Carmen and her grandmother are celebrating her birthday, her grandmother plays music on a record player and the music starts in sync with the visual. It looks like the source of the music really is the player. You only realise differently, when the record player stops running but the music does not. This doesn’t normally happen in silent movies, as there was usually a live orchestra in the movie theatre. The film is well directed and even the cinematography is excellent. The performances are good throughout especially Mirabel Verdu who played the evil stepmother with a great deal of relish.

In a year when there were three other Snow White adaptations, this was clearly the best of the three, not just in terms of direction but also its treatment of the story. It is the kind of the film that stays with the viewer long after it’s over.

Here’s the trailer for the film:

Despues De Lucia Film Review

afterlucia-posterDespues de Lucia (After Lucia) is written and directed by Michel Franco. It was first screened at the Cannes Film Festival in 2012 where it won Un Certain Regard Award and was also Mexico’s entry to the Academy Awards in the Best Foreign Language Category. It is only Franco’s second film and a very impressive endeavour. It is a film about bullying and is especially relevant because bullying is a very real problem particularly today with technology making it so much easier to harass someone and yet remain anonymous.

Alejandra and her father move to another city after the loss of her mother, Lucia. Moving to a new town is never easy but Alejandra seems to be fitting in well in her school and she’s made new friends. Her father, on the hand, not so much. He’s started a new restaurant and is under a lot of pressure to make sure it runs smoothly. While Alejandra and her father had been close in the beginning, they begin to slowly drift apart because they simply don’t have the time to be with each other. When Alejandra takes a trip with her new friends to one of their vacation homes, she never suspects how the events of this trip will affect her. She has sex with one of the boys and for some reason agrees to let him record it on his iPhone. He promises that it’s only for him and that he will never show it to anyone and she believes him. When she returns home, she finds her inbox full of obscene messages and realises that the video has been leaked online. Her school life suddenly takes a turn for the worse because she is now subjected to bullying by the same people who had initially befriended her. With her father always busy, she never gets the chance to tell him about the abuse she suffers at school. Things only get worse when she goes on a school trip with the rest of her classmates. She is away from home and can’t escape their bullying. Her drastic decision is the catalyst for the events that transpire after these students return from this trip.

The directorial style of the film was authoritative and intense; it was very reminiscent of Michael Haneke. They are both so unflinching in their portrayal of the unpleasantness of our lives. Franco doesn’t use any aesthetic tools to make the film more palatable for his audience.. The pace of the film is slow but steady. Franco does this by almost exclusively using only long takes. This brings into sharp focus not only the escalation of the abuse but also doesn’t let the audience shy away from what was happening on screen. Long takes also reinforce the illusion that what was happening on screen was real, making it even more horrifying. For instance, there is a single take shot where two of Alejandra’s girlfriends convince her to go to one of their homes and let them dress her up for a party. There they make her try on a ridiculous dress and then proceed to take pictures of her in that dress, hit her, verbally abuse her and finally cut her hair. Throughout all of this, the camera doesn’t move and the only sounds one hears are the ambient sounds and the dialogues. There is nothing to divert the audience’s attention from what’s happening onscreen. In addition, this slow pace enables the audience to see the impact the bullying had on Alejandra and her personality.

The timing of this film is also impeccable what with all the news about cyber bullying on the rise. There have been numerous reports about school students who committed suicide due to bullying. Cyber-bullying is even more insidious because there is no getting away from it. It follows one home, to their supposed safe-haven.

Franco’s fly-on-the-wall, objective treatment of this subject, without using the customary cliché’s, makes this one of the best films on bullying. It is also one of the best-directed films this year.

If I Lie by Corrine Jackson Review

IfILie_cvrI had previously read Touched by Corrine Jackson and I liked it enough to want to read the next book in the series. I honestly wasn’t sure if I would like If I Lie and I wasn’t pleasantly surprised to find that I did like it, quite a bit.

The main character in this book is Sophie Topper Quinn and she lives with her father in small town called Sweethaven. Things seem to going well for her, she was dating the local town recipient of most-likely-to-make-them-proud award, she was getting good grades and had great friends. So yeah, life was great, up until a certain event that changed everything. The town she lives in is mostly populated by either serving marines and their families or ex-marines so for marine wives (and girlfriends) the worst thing one can probably do, is cheat on their marine husbands  (or boyfriends) The event that changed Quinn’s life is that there is a photograph that shows her in a compromising situation with someone who is not her boyfriend, Carey. To make matters worse, Carey soon deploys and gains a nearly demigod-like status. Quinn’s life takes a major u-turn where she suddenly finds herself being shunned by everybody.

For the most part, I liked the way novel progressed. The narrative was well paced and moved along without trying to engineer a certain emotional reaction by lingering too long in certain parts while skimming over others. I also liked the parallel narrative between the present and what exactly happened six months ago that had everyone treating her like a social outcaste. I find it very tiresome when we go into a long drawn out flashback and then jump back into the present narrative. I  also don’t like it when, throughout a book, people keep hinting at some horrible event and then its big reveal at the end. But then, I don’t think either of those methods were suited to this story. We needed to find out as we went along, what made Quinn make the choices she made to better understand her character and her motivations. And I think that Corrine Jackson succeeded in doing that.

As far as main characters go, I liked Quinn. Yes, she was a martyr for most of the book but once you read the whole thing, you figure out why. Also, it was easy to fall into that mode when EVERYONE around was willing the believe the worst of you and no one took the time to find out what your part of the story was. Even her so-called closest friends were more than happy to ditch her at a time when she probably needed them most. But despite that, her character had fire in her. She didn’t let them turn her into a sobbing mess. She made me want to root for her.

The only other likable character in this book was George, a Vietnam vet Quinn meets at the local hospital. Her father sends her there when news of the scandal breaks. She is assigned a project being run by the hospital to take down accounts from the other veterans there about what happened and what they experienced. This is where she meets George, he is in charge of the project and becomes her closest friend. George does not judge her and it is only with him that she finds a measure of peace and understanding without even asking for it. The hospital becomes her safe haven because of her relationship with George. He was funny in a grouchy way and I loved his no-nonsense style. If not for his friendship, I don’t think she would’ve been able to survive all that was hurled her way. All in all, George was absolutely lovable.

Most of the other characters were complete asses. Her closest friends, Angel and Nikki, could not have dropped her any faster had they tried. Angel, who seemed to be closer to Quinn than anybody else, never asked her for her side of the story. What kind of a friend does that!!?? I personally don’t think its possible to go from loving someone one minute to hating them the next. Its gradual. Yet, in this instance, not even once did Angel bother. And I disliked her more because at least the others chose where they stood with Quinn and stuck to it. Angel couldn’t even stick to her decision. Either support me or don’t but don’t think that if you stood around, watching people treat me like crap and felt slightly bad about it, makes you a better person than the others. If anything, it made her seem even more spineless than her peers.

SPOILERS AHEAD

Carey and Blake had been friends before he and Quinn started going out. And while Quinn and Blake did not really seem to like each other, they made an attempt for Carey’s sake. I didn’t like either of these two idiots. Carey let her think that he loved her when that wasn’t even close to the truth. And then he let her be the bearer of a monumental secret that was slowly but surely tearing her apart. But I still find it marginally easier to not hate Carey. He reveals to Quinn that he’s gay and that couldn’t have been easy but the part that I hated was he left her the huge responsibility of guarding that secret. She can’t even defend herself without giving him away. That was a shitty thing to do.

Blake, on the other hand, claimed to ‘love’ Quinn but was also happy to let her face the humiliation and personal attacks all on her own. It wasn’t until she made him feel guilty that he made any attempt to stand up for her. And by then it was too little too late. He was even more of a jerk than Carey. And while I am sad to say that even after all that shit, Quinn still had feelings for him, at least she realised that she had to move on from her small town and all those in it and that included Blake.

Next up, Quinn’s father. An ex-marine himself, when he finds that his wife ran away with his brother, he finds himself emotionally unable to look after his daughter. He was detached to begin with but after the scandal, he and Quinn merely lived in the same house. He ignored her completely and made sure she knew that. What I did not find very convincing was his supposed change of heart in the latter half of the novel. I wasn’ t convinced of his actions or what drove those changes. He wakes her up from a nightmare and after that, he decides to pay more attention. Really!!?? A nightmare!! You needed a nightmare to figure out that your daughter was having a tough time!!?? .What really struck me was the utter apathy of her father towards what his own daughter was going through. He was only too willing to believe what the others said about her and never once thought to ask her her side of the story. I found that very hard to stomach!

Then there’s her mother who left Quinn with her grandmother and married her uncle. But, we find out later that she did try to visit Quinn, on multiple occasions and her father made sure that they wouldn’t see each other. It did not excuse her mother of her actions but if anything it made me dislike her father even more. Her mother comes back and makes an attempt to reconnect with Quinn and the best part? She doesn’t condemn her own daughter.  She gives her love and support she needs at a very trying time and doesn’t even let her father interfere with that.

Despite this slew of mostly awful characters, it was still an enjoyable book and very engaging.