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Category:    Home > Reviews > Drama > Family > Crisis > Health > Politics > Adoption > Childbirth > Melodrama > Angel (2010/IFC/MPI DVD) + Altiplano (2009/First Run DVD) + Disengagement (2008/IFC/MPI DVD) + Let It Rain (2008/IFC/MPI DVD) + Mother & Child (2010/Sony Blu-ray)

Angel (2010/IFC/MPI DVD) + Altiplano (2009/First Run DVD) + Disengagement (2008/IFC/MPI DVD) + Let It Rain (2008/IFC/MPI DVD) + Mother & Child (2010/Sony Blu-ray)


Picture: C/C+/C/C/B-     Sound: B- (Angel: C+)     Extras: C+/C/C/C+/C+     Features: B-/C+/B-/C+/C+



It is awards season, so films that might be up for them and could have been show up in larger numbers, especially since it is the Winter period.  Up next are five watchable films that may not be great, but have their moments and a few even take risks.



Francois Ozon’s Angel (2010) is the well done story of a young lady (Romola Garai) who wants to be rich, famous and live in a particular mansion instead of upstairs from her family’s grocery store.  She loves to write and when she meets a married couple (Sam Neill and Charlotte Rampling) who is involved in the publishing business, she gets the chance and lands up having a hit novel.  However, she still has issues, obstacles, problems and cannot integrate into high society as she might like.


However, she has such energy and ambition that she does not allow it to bother her.  She also falls for a painter (Michael Fassbinder) who she desperately wants to marry and it becomes another interesting part of this decent film, a first time English-language exercise for Ozon.  Garai is terrific, but the film is haunted by several melodramas (even Gone With The Wind), but I liked it and think moiré people will talk about it as more see it.  She is a big star in the making and so is Fassbinder.


The Brosens/Woodworth feature Altiplano (2009) has a heavy mix of religious imagery, politics, melodrama and sad tale of how two women must deal with a hopeless situation where their community has been contaminated with mercury and how they have to deal with it.  There are doctors from the West already helping them when this happens and they get blamed.  There is a good story here, but the film wants to veer off into more symbolism and the religious angle becomes nearly heavy-handed and too much for the story and its point to support.  Nearly a confused work, it has its moments, but it does not add up in any readerly or writerly way.


Amos Gitai’s Disengagement (2008) is another powerful look at tales from the Middle East with the great Juliette Binoche as a woman who must find her lost daughter in Israel to give her inherited money, but where is she?  Is she well?  The answers are ugly and the experience palpable in yet another solid film from Gitai (Kadosh), an amazing filmmaker whose previous films include the following:








It is sad to note that these and a few other films of his are out of print (we expect temporarily) due to New Yorker sadly folding, but copies are still available on Amazon.com and we recommend them as follow-ups to Disengagement, which shows once again what a great actress Binoche really is.  Jeanne Moreau has a memorable appearance and co-stars Liron Levo, Barbara Hendricks and Hiam Abbass make this a stark, stunning cinematic drama that is one of the best foreign films of late.  The only minor shortcoming is that it can only show the ugliness in Gaza and Gitai has yet to do more about it that just show it since he started focusing on it.  Does he have something new to say?  We’ll see next time out.


Agnés Jaoui’s Let It Rain (2008) is a mixed bag of a drama with a little comedy, about a feminist author from France (played by Jaoui) who tries to go back home again by visiting her childhood home when her mother dies, but between not encountering what she expected and allowing a ill-advised documentary to be made of her as she does this (including being interviewed on camera and being followed too often) only makes things worse for her personally.  The result is a mix of good moments and too much of many things we have seen before, but it is at least a mature, ambitious work.


Jaoui’s longtime producer/filmmaking partner Jean-Pierre Bacri (they made The Tastes Of Others and Look At Me) are at least ambitious, even if the results do not always work out in this case.  Still, there are some good actors here (including Bacri and Jamel Debbouze) that have an odd chemistry together and you will want to take a look if you are interested.


Finally, we have Rodrigo Garcia’s Mother & Child (2010), a film being talked up for awards season, including a playing-it-down performance by Annette Bening in a film about childbirth (with multiple storylines ala Crash, but not something more complex like an Altman film) that itself has too many self-imposed melodramatic limits to really work all the time, which is why the buzz has been tempered by silence.


Bening’s Karen put her daughter up for adoption when she had her at age 14, a child who is now 37 year old Elizabeth (Naomi Watts) who has become a lawyer.  That situation is about to see a conflict of closure, while we also meet Lucy (Kerry Washington) who is married and are a couple out to adopt a child.  Garcia has written a screenplay that is thorough and well-rounded, yet it does not offer too much new we have not seen before and is often obsessed with the idea of childbirth in a way that holds it back from saying something new about it.  Bening does give a complex performance, but Watts is better here than she is going to get credit for.


Jimmy Smits, Samuel L. Jackson, S. Epatha Merkerson, Cherry Jones and everyone else here fits well into the world built, but it does not seem to find a new place to go.  Maybe some of that is intended and the “everything is connected/we’re all in this together” approach (a cliché at this point) is intended, but it is limiting.  At least the acting is ambitious and this achieves some honesty.



The Mother Blu-rays offers a 1080p 2.35 X 1 digital High Definition image that is just barely the best of the five releases (itself shot in HD), the other four of which are anamorphically enhanced DVDs that are all 1.85 X 1 presentations, save the 2.35 X 1 on Rain.  These all have weak images on some level, with the color on Angel being disappointing and others simply being styled down in ways that do not work and hurt their presentations.  Altiplano has color that survives better than the other DVDs.  All have a soft “we’re serious” look on some level and that can be boring.


Mother has a DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless sound mix that is dialogue-based, but is the warmest and richest by default, likely by simply not being lossless.  The DVDs have Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes, but they are all stretching out sound audio that is usually stereo at best, though a few have some good surrounds (Angel and Disengagement have their moments), but some sound is too much in the center channel.


Extras on all include teaser/trailer materials, save Altiplano with a Photo Gallery, Biographies and Director’s Notes.  Angel adds an interview piece, Rain a making of featurette and Mother has BD Live interactive functions, Deleted Scenes and two featurettes: Creating The Family Tree and Universally Connected.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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