Little Men 3

Get ready, one of the most heart-rending movies of 2016 may be Little Men. It’s one of those films that will hit you like a ton of bricks with a final, subtle scene that encapsulates a somber sort of loss that is sadder in its seeming lack of significance. It’s just one moment that captures a change that no one wanted but no one could prevent. That director Ira Sachs (who co-wrote the script with Mauricio Zacharias) captures the moment with no sentiment and a brutal matter-of-factness will rip the rug from right under you.

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Voice-Over-poster_webIt’s not easy to communicate when you’re family, and Chilean director Cristián Jiménez finds a compelling way to illustrate that in Voice Over (La Voz en Off). Though only his second feature, the director reveals a more natural, earthy style compared to his still quite marvelous feature debut Bonsái. With his 2011 film, adapted from the novel by Alejandro Zambra, the narrative jumped back and forth through time in a sometimes disorienting manner that paid off by film’s end. Though a bit of a departure for the filmmaker, he has produced no less compelling a film with Voice Over, which follows various narrative streams as it examines the dynamics of an extended family.

Anchoring the story are two adult sisters, Sofia (Ingrid Isensee) and Ana (María José Siebald), deeply entrenched in a passive-aggressive rivalry. Ana is married with an infant child, Sofia divorced with two children, Roman and Alicia, ages approximately 8 and 10. Sofia works from home as a voice over actress and needs her kids to not only turn on her equipment but also read text messages from their father because she has taken a “disconnection vow.” voiceAna has moved back home from France, as her new French husband needs financial assistance while he works on translating a book. Meanwhile, the sisters’ mother (Paulina García) and father (Cristián Campos) have entered a tumultuous period in their 35-year-old relationship. He wants to take a break from the marriage and uses the same explanation Sofia used to explain the dissolution of her marriage: “It’s like food that has been left out of the refrigerator to rot.” Sofia takes umbrage, ordering him not to tell that to anyone because they will all think she gave him the idea to separate.

Voice Over is filled with humor that feeds off that special emotional baggage that only comes with years of family life. It never feels like these relatives are at the others’ throats. A profound — though often turbulent — love still permeates their behavior. The film walks a nice tightrope of affection and rivalry among these loved ones. Appropriately, it’s more primal between Sophia’s children. The two play “teacher,” which the mother encourages. In this game, Alicia helps her little brother learn to read. However, when the adults are not looking, she relishes the opportunity to “punish” her little brother when he mispronounces words with smack to the head that smashes his face into the book. This dichotomy manifests itself in more subtle ways between family members in often hilarious, familiar ways.

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The performances have a warm, natural quality, reflected by the film’s distant, omniscient handheld camera work by Inti Briones. Jiménez, who co-wrote the scrip with Daniel Castro, is more interested in the family unit and its dynamics rather than focusing on personal, emotional issues. It’s the chemistry of the players that keep the film funny and interesting from start to finish. The movie’s title also works better in its native language, as the film shows great interest in how the family communicates through behavior, from the physicality of the children to the passive aggressive rivalry between the sisters. Sofia and Ana also gossip about rumors of what their father may have done to upset the status of the family, reflecting on what appears to be incriminating early retirement and rumors of sexual harassment or that he might be gay. The drama is all about ghosts and baggage, and as we learn by the film’s end, nothing is ever as complex and banal as the truth.

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Though I have seen four films since my previous post (Day 1 of film going at Miami International Film Fest: a test of the preposterous), Voice Over is the only film I can write about, for now. It was a lovely movie and should see a return to theaters in the States some time later this year, as it will be distributed by Outsider Pictures. In the past two days, I have attended three screenings as a juror for the Jordan Alexander Ressler Screenwriter Award. I cannot comment on those films. However, it’s interesting to note that Voice Over‘s director won the prize at the 2012 Miami International Film Festival for Bonsái. So far, the films the jury has seen includes Cut Snake, from Australia; Love at First Fight (Les combattants), a Florida premiere from France; and 3 Beauties, a North American premiere from Venezuela. Monday afternoon, I also sat down with the director of Posthumous, Lulu Wang, a graduate of Miami’s New World School of the Arts, for an article that will appear shortly in the Miami New Times. That film is having its North American premiere at the festival on March 13. I’ll leave you with the trailer:

Hans Morgenstern

The Miami International Film Festival provided a preview screener for Voice Over for the purpose of this review.

(Copyright 2015 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

Gloria_1Black humor that is at once in touch with mortality, yet life-affirming is not an easy feat. In Gloria, Chilean director Sebastián Lelio achieves the fine art of tapping into dark comedy through ironic storytelling without falling into sentimentality. This film presents an honest look into the life of a woman in her “golden years.”

The plot sounds simple:  Gloria (an assured and brilliant Paulina García) may be aging but appears young in spirit as she seems on a quest, determined to find something other than loneliness. The divorcée and mother of two grownup children, who no longer need her, appears to be looking for her next role, as she frequents the nightlife scene for seniors in Santiago.

One night, she meets Rodolfo (Sergio Hernández), a retired naval officer who quickly falls for her. As a man possibly implicated in Pinochet’s brutal reign, he’s also searching for a fulfilling second chance at life. Smitten by Gloria, he thinks he may have found a partner ready for an adventure. However, he soon reveals his short-comings, including a rather slavish devotion to his helpless ex-wife and two needy, grown-up daughters. Although the couple starts with bounds of good intentions, this is not a love story.

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Gloria is Leilo’s fourth feature film. His character development is subtle and careful. The inhabitants of this film feel well-rounded, and their choices are not in service to some convoluted plot. Rather, the film presents an intimate look at a woman’s life at an age where women are usually taken for granted or written off as irrelevant.

While Gloria is looking for her next chapter, she is unsure of what that might be. She tries a variety of interests, but the deep look at this baby boomer is also an exploration of traditional gender roles in changing times. Without a compass, Gloria finds that independence is not necessarily about fulfilling a role, a struggle that may leave many of the graying middle-class population around the world shell-shocked. It is perhaps this universal longing that has us rooting for Gloria and has made this film a success on the film festival circuit.

García, who appears in practically every frame of the film, won the Silver Bear for Best Actress at the Berlin Film Festival, last year. Her performance delights with a multifaceted exploration of the middle-aged female body, from sensual and confident to insecure and needy.

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The genius of this film is that it not only explores a woman renegotiating the terms under which she lives her own life. It echoes some of the changes Chile has recently undergone. The right to divorce was only legalized in 2004, with wide public support. Before that, divorce was not possible. Couples would simply separate, in the best case scenario.

For Gloria, separation— and possibly divorce— happened about 10 years ago, or so we learn during a rather tense family dinner. The experience of being a divorcée is a new one for Gloria and by extension, Chileans. The dinner scene to which Rodolfo is invited, and also includes Gloria’s ex, brilliantly captures the awkwardness of this complicated baggage. The close look into this woman’s life is a well-made narrative about navigating unchartered terrains, where having oneself in one’s corner is sometimes not only enough but the best place to be in.

The film explores issues of acceptance, independence and the joy for life, and it does so with a sense of humor. It’s such a joyful ride, and even though the film is explicitly about a woman, it’s not necessarily meant for female eyes only. If there was another film that reminded me of the stylistic choices in Gloria, it would have to be Blue is the Warmest Color (Film Review: ‘Blue Is the Warmest Color’ and the pain of loving). Using a naturalistic style that emphasizes the solitude of the characters with a lingering camera and little stylization like contrived extra-diegetic music, both present intimate portrayals of women’s lives minus the stereotypical love-conquers-all narrative.

Ana Morgenstern

Gloria runs 110 minutes, is rated R (for a healthy helping of natural talk and nudity) and is in Spanish with English subtitles. It opened in South Florida this past Friday, Jan. 31 at the Coral Gables Art Cinema. As for the multiplexes in South Florida showing the film, it expands gradually northward in the following order:

Feb. 7 at AMC Aventura
Feb. 14 at the Classic Gateway Theater in Fort Lauderdale
Feb. 21 at Living Room Theaters in Boca Raton

Roadside Attractions sent a preview screener for the purpose of this review. Those living in other parts of the U.S. can insert their zip code here for nearby theaters hosting this film.

(Copyright 2014 by Ana Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)