I wish it was not the case but I cast a cynical eye towards a kind gesture from a stranger these days. Where I first noticed a change had taken place over me was when I used to travel to Georgia. People were saying thank you for the simplest things, besides opening doors for each other. I realized I had not seen such actions for a long time. Then there were incidents I witnessed that began altering my perceptions. I used to know someone who was always eager to share their recipes with anyone who asked for them, but would leave out one small item from the list of ingredients. During my daily commute I cannot remember the last time someone slowed down to let me pull into traffic or merge into another lane due to construction. It seems as if people are becoming more isolated and protective of their surroundings. I partially understand it because of all the news that gets reported on Ponzi schemes, fake charities and internet scams. Last summer I answered the knock at my front door and there was a high schooler who was selling discounted subscriptions for the local newspapers. Yep, you are right; I gave him $20.00 but never saw a single newspaper. Life is hard and I would say it is partially due to the modern world we live in; however, one only has to look at history to see it is not a modern phenomenon. You could also see a horrifying example in this Cannes Film Festival nominated drama. Set in the early 1920s Ewa Cybulska and her sister Magda, played by Marion Cotillard (Contagion, The Dark Knight Rises) and Angela Sarafyan (Paranoia, Love Hurts), traveled from Poland to America to start a new life. During processing at Ellis Island Magda was quarantined, leaving Ewa to fend for herself on the streets of New York City. She had to rely on the kindness of strangers and Bruno Weiss, played by Joaquin Phoenix (Her, Walk the Line), was eager to welcome and help her. Marion Cotillard was made to do this romantic mystery movie. Her eyes alone could have done all the talking for her, she was mesmerizing. The story was filled with many opportunities to create a powerful piece; however, it never gelled for me. I did not believe Joaquin’s character, finding his performance odd. It really was a shame because the sets and scenes were beautifully appointed. Jeremy Renner (American Hustle, The Town) was a welcomed addition to the story playing the magician Emil. I wish I could offer a kind gesture to this film by giving it a higher rating but truthfully it does not warrant it.
2 2/3 stars
Just from a chance encounter, one’s life could be forever changed. I believe each of us receives a gift from every person we meet. It may not be easily identifiable or reveal itself quickly, but at some point this gift will add to our awarenesses. In this wonderful film there was a tremendous transformation that began with an unusual meeting. College professor Walter Vale, played by Richard Jenkins (The Cabin in the Woods, Friends With Benefits), lived his daily life disengaged from everything around him. Lonely after his wife had died; Walter was stuck, unmotivated enough not to even update the lesson plan he had been using for years, for the one class he taught at the college. Assigned to attend a conference in New York, Walter reluctantly made the trip from Connecticut, staying at the apartment he and his wife had kept in New York. Upon his arrival Walter was shocked to find people living in his place. Tarek and Zainab, played by Haaz Sleiman (American Dreamz, Dorfman) and Danal Gurira (Ghost Town, My Soul to Take), were two illegal immigrants who were duped into believing they were renting an empty apartment. In total shock, Walter’s dormant life would never be the same. It was so good to see Richard finally getting a leading role; he has always been a solid supporting actor. He was superb in this movie and totally deserving of his best actor Oscar nomination. The interactions he had with Haaz and Danal were lovely. With a quiet gentleness, the story hesitantly spread its wings to deliver an emotional love tap for the viewer. If you were not a believer beforehand; after watching this beautiful movie, you will understand the magic of a chance encounter.
3 1/3 stars — DVD
The way the world works these days, there usually is an alternative solution that will get you the same results, albeit not legally. I may believe I have some street smarts, but I would be fooling myself if I did not think there are a lot of undocumented things happening around me. At present one of the hot political topics has to do with immigration. I had a crash course in the legalities of the issue when my niece became engaged to a wonderful man from France. Lorna, played by Arta Dobroshi (Late Bloomers, Magic Eye), worked at a cleaners, but hoped to open a snack shop one day. To get to her goal, she agreed to enter into a sham marriage arranged by local, small time mobster Fabio, played by Fabrizio Rongione (The Kid with a Bike, The Child). Besides the financial gain, Lorna would more importantly obtain Belgian citizenship. Everything was going smoothly until her husband, a junkie, asked for her help in getting clean. At the beginning of this dramatic film, I was not sure where the story was going; I felt out of synch with it. However, I soon realized that is what the directors had in mind. Lorna and her husband were not so dissimilar after all. The range of feelings they displayed felt like I was watching a tennis match; going from dominance to weakness to manipulation. This film did not take a page out of the Hollywood handbook; it was a bare bones story that fully used its actors’ abilities. A raw tense movie, this Cannes and Lumiere winning film gave a glimpse into what I am sure has been a real occurence in life. French, Albanian, Russian with English subtitles.
3 stars — DVD