This screen adaptation of Anton Chekov’s play about the aging and ailing Sorin (Brian Dennehy), his sister, the famous actress Irina (Annette Bening), and the lovers, relatives, neighbors, and employees in their rural universe reveals the existential crisis of pre-revolutionary Russia’s bourgeoisie. I enjoyed seeing this adaptation of the Russian playwright’s famous work, directed by Michael Mayer and deftly written by Stephen Karam.
The film opens with the closing scene: As Irina takes leave of her brother to return to Moscow, a gunshot is heard. The story then unfolds with Irina’s son, Konstantin (Billy Howle), mounting a play he has written in the garden of the family’s country cottage. He casts Nina (Saoirse Ronan), a neighbor and aspiring actress with whom he is in love, as the star.
Konstantin also wants to impress the writer Boris (Corey Stoll) who is his mother’s younger lover and with whom Nina is infatuated. Moping around the house dressed in black and mostly drunk is Masha (Elizabeth Moss), who is in love with Konstantin. Add to this Dorn (Jon Tenney), with whom the housekeeper (Mare Winningham) is in love, and the schoolteacher Mikhail (Michael Zegen), who is in love with Masha, and it’s like watching an engrossing and funny soap opera.
But what we are really watching is a highly constructed study of characters who must interact in a fairly isolated and confined place, however beautiful and comfortable, for a short period of time. Some characters have insight and empathy, but most are unhappy and lack these attributes. The saddest part is Irina’s cruel mockery of her son’s efforts to be an artist who is interiorly free. It is an idea that never occurs to most of the characters, and it leads Konstantin to make a desperate choice.
Not yet rated, PG-13 • Mature themes.
When Frida (Laia Artigas) loses her single mother to AIDS, the 6-year-old girl’s life in Barcelona changes dramatically. Her relatives send her to live with her aunt (Bruna Cusí), uncle (David Verdaguer), and cousin Anna (Paula Robles) in Catalan. Before leaving home, her grandmother teaches Frida her prayers, especially the Our Father, and tells her she must recite it every night—and she does.
Frida has no understanding of why the doctor still wants to test her blood, even though the doctors in Barcelona said she was fine. The neighbors in her new home know why her mother died. When Frida skins her knee at the park, the mothers move their children away from her. Her aunt and uncle, however, are accepting and loving though Frida does not always make it easy.
Frida and Anna spend the summer playing in the countryside, but Anna acts out. Frida finds a small shrine to St. Rita of Cascia, and though she does not understand, she takes solace from visiting the saint. Her relatives come to visit, but over time, Frida begins to call her aunt and uncle “mama” and “papa.”
This is a quiet, contemplative film about family ties and how an epidemic affects a young child trying to navigate a new world. The children’s acting is inspired. The story is based on director Carla Simón’s personal experience and was named by the National Board of Review as one of the top five international films of 2017. The film is in Spanish with English subtitles.
Not yet rated • Mature themes.
On the British island of Jersey, a serial killer is on the loose. Moll (Jessie Buckley), a 27-year-old woman who gives historic tours, still lives in the home dominated by her imperious mother, Hilary (Geraldine James), who tries to control her daughter with simply a cold stare. We discover that Moll was bullied as a child: She once lashed out at a girl, leaving her with a scar. After that incident, Hilary educated Moll at home.
When Moll is humiliated at her own birthday celebration, she takes off to the local pub and roams the beaches with a strange man. When he makes a move on her, Moll resists and is rescued by a local hunter and handyman, Pascal (Johnny Flynn). That same night, a young woman is killed. Suspicion falls on the scruffy Pascal, who has a police record. The town and Moll’s family look down on Pascal, but she nevertheless moves in with him. Things heat up when Pascal is arrested and Moll is brought in for questioning.
Beast is a psychological thriller with terrific acting. Just when you think that one person is the beast, you learn the truth. It makes you ponder the consequences of bullying on the fragile psyche of children too.
Not yet rated, R • Violence, sexuality, peril.