By Juan Barquin
By Amy Nicholson
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Travis Cohen
By Juan Barquin
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Amy Nicholson
By Juan Barquin
A movie from Spanish director Benito Zambrano, Solas tells the story about a mother and her daughter who, in different stages of their lives, suffer equally from loneliness and deception. Maria is a bad-tempered woman, hard and bitter, who lives in a poor neighborhood, and without many expectations. Working as a maid she struggles with the reality of being pregnant by a man who not only sees her as a sex object but also shuns the idea of fatherhood. Her isolation, however, is altered when Maria's mother, whose husband (Maria's father) has become ill, comes to visit for a few days.
Maria's mother is one of the best character achievements of the film. She is a sweet, soft-spoken woman who, despite being subjected to the brute force of an abusive husband, moves among others with a gentle heart. Almost imperceptibly her slow and tired movement leaves behind a lovely trail, like an old and sweet perfume. That is, until life gives her the opportunity to express her hidden personality. Then everything around her sparkles, and love and understanding substitute for her former silence and submission. This is best demonstrated in her acquaintance with a neighbor, an old widower who shares his loneliness with his dog. Empathy grows between the two neighbors as they discover the possibility of friendship and companionship to fill the emptiness of their lives.
Solas proposes that happiness doesn't depend on great moments in life but rather on daily events. A beautiful example of this is a tender scene in which Maria's mother helps the widower take a bath after he has soiled his pajamas in his sleep. Although the film is an intimate piece with a languid and thoughtful pace, its subplots are developed in short and sharp parallel sequences. Take, for example, the subplot of Maria's hospitalized father who, as a grumpy and remorseless man, is unable to open his heart to his daughter and his wife. It not only provides the film with tremendous vivacity, but also creates an emotional bond with the audience.
Solas brings a message of hope to the old and the lonely, with a surprising and unconventional climax that proves partners can be anyone from anywhere as long as they don't spoil each other's happiness. The film is direct, sometimes merciless in its exposition of family, human relations, and the weight of being lonely and forlorn. Its language is almost poetic, sometimes bursting with common and bitter street talk, yet it manages the plot with maturity, avoiding concessions and superfluous actions. Solas reminds me of a few film masterpieces dealing with similar topics -- the marvelous neorealistic Humberto D and Bergman's Wild Strawberries. And what's most surprising is that director Zambrano, a young, recent film-school graduate from Seville, chose as his feature-film debut such a truly adult subject matter, one that portrays people's everyday life, alone. -- Sergio Giral
Solas screens Sunday, February 20, at 2:00 p.m.
Fans of TV's The Sopranos may not recognize Edie Falco as the title character in writer/director Eric Mendelsohn's appealing Judy Berlin. Here the Emmy Award winner plays an aspiring but talentless actress, far removed from Carmela Soprano's svelte sophistication. Her frenetic ballet of a performance is a gem, however, and it's one of several good reasons to see this film (winner of the Director's Award last year at Sundance), which also features Julie Kavner, Barbara Barrie, Bob Dishy, Anne Meara, and the late Madeline Kahn.
A valentine to his Long Island hometown, here poetically dubbed Babylon, Mendelsohn's first feature film follows a group of characters through a day that's interrupted by a solar eclipse. As the midday sky darkens, momentous things seem possible, and people reveal themselves in unusual ways. Not the least of those affected is David Gold (played by Aaron Harnick, Barbara Barrie's real-life son), a young man who has returned to Long Island after failing to nail down a filmmaking career in Hollywood. On the day of the eclipse, he runs into an old high school classmate, Judy, who is about to depart for the West Coast, hopeful of finding her own shot at stardom. Judy's naive optimism somehow punctures David's defeated cynicism, if only momentarily, and he can't resist spending the day with her.
Even more compelling is the way the flirtation between Judy's schoolteacher mother, Sue (played by Barrie), and David's father (Dishy), the school principal, surfaces. What makes their connection possible is the unsettling appearance of a retired teacher with Alzheimer's, who barges in and interrupts Sue's class. At the same time, David's addle-brained mother, Alice, wanders over to a neighbor's house, seemingly oblivious to the feud she instigated with this neighbor months earlier. One of Kahn's last performances, her turn as Alice is indelibly haunting, as is this depiction of a woman wandering around in midday as though it were a dream.
As with most films in which the protagonist is a would-be filmmaker, Judy Berlin is something of a young man's film. What's unique is Mendelsohn's ability to look beyond the David Gold character to the world surrounding him. Cinematographer Jeffrey Seckendorf's camera, loaded with black-and-white film that's almost sepia, captures a town through its stoplights, gas tanks, and phone wires. Critics have already compared Mendelsohn (a one-time cog on several Woody Allen films) to Altman, in part because he effortlessly stitches together small moments into a larger visual quilt. In one such scene the camera pans Meara and Kavner chatting in the background as a more important character passes by. As with everyone else onscreen here, we glimpse these two and want to know much more about their lives. -- Robin Dougherty
Judy Berlin screens Sunday, February 20, at 4:30 p.m.
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