Sunday, June 4, 2023

‘You Hurt My Feelings’ weighs the value of honesty

“You Hurt My Feelings” (2023). Cast: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Tobias Menzies, Owen Teague, Michaela Watkins, Arian Moayed, Jeannie Berlin, Amber Tamblyn, David Cross, Zach Cherry, Doug Moe, Trey Santiago-Hudson, Erica Martin, Karolena Theresa, Lynnsey Lewis, LaTanya Richardson Jackson, Claudia Robinson, Clara Wong, Josh Pais. Director: Nicole Holofcener. Screenplay: Nicole Holofcener. Web site. Trailer.

Most of us would probably agree with the time-honored adage that “Honesty is the best policy.” But is that really true? Certainly we appreciate its value when it comes to sharing the truth about the circumstances that touch our lives and in expressing the feelings we hold for one another, particularly loved ones. However, is honesty truly worth everything it’s said to be when unadulterated candor cuts like a knife, hurtfully undermining one’s enthusiasm, emotions or expectations? To be sure, there are times when such a tough love approach may be necessary for someone’s well-being, but is it called for when it undercuts tact or encouragement? In situations like this, blanket endorsements of the aforementioned maxim might readily be called into question, as explored in the delightful new comedy-drama, “You Hurt My Feelings.”

Like a number of other offerings from writer-director Nicole Holofcener, this latest feature outing examines its subject matter as applied to a group of Gothamite friends, colleagues and relatives from an array of perspectives, an approach often used in many of the pictures of Woody Allen. The result in this case is a meditation on the thorny issues that can sometimes arise where honesty is concerned and the impact that can result when it’s employed a little too liberally. The film asks us to consider, “What would we do if comparable scenarios arose in our own lives?” It thus provides viewers with considerable food for thought when it comes to what we do, what we might not want to do and how we might approach such situations that allow for the best outcome for all concerned.

The primary story thread involves the relationship between Beth Mitchell (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), a reasonably successful author whose works are often looked on as not quite living up to their marketplace potential, and her husband, Don (Tobias Menzies), a well-meaning, middle-aged psychiatrist who feels he’s losing his edge, as borne out by some of the unflattering comments he receives from his patients. Despite their respective career challenges, Beth and Don are nevertheless thoroughly devoted to one another, having been happily married for many years. They support one another’s efforts unquestionably, always finding ways to buck up each other when they feel stressed. They’re also the proud parents of a twenty-something son, Eliot (Owen Teague), a struggling playwright who manages a marijuana dispensary to pay the bills, a job that worries Beth given its somewhat questionable clientele and associated safety factors (even though she freely smokes weed herself).

An unsolicited overheard comment places an unexpected strain on the marriage of author Beth Mitchell (Julia Louis-Dreyfus, right) and her husband, Don (Tobias Menzies, left), as seen in writer-director Nicole Holocener’s delightful new comedy-drama, “You Hurt My Feelings,” now playing theatrically. Photo by Jeong Park, courtesy of A24.

The second principal story thread involves Beth’s sister, Sarah (Michaela Watkins), a people-pleasing interior designer who attempts to satisfy the tastes of a number of high-end fussy clients, and her significant other, Mark (Arian Moayed), an enthusiastic but struggling actor. Beth and Sarah spend a great deal of time together, volunteering at a neighborhood church clothing bank, shopping in the city and visiting their aging, quirky mother, Georgia (Jeannie Berlin), whose frank, uncensored comments are sometimes a little more candid than the sisters want to hear. And, while Beth and Sarah are out bopping around town, their partners, Don and Mark, spend a lot of time with one another as well, often serving as sounding boards for one another.

Even though the two couples have their professional issues to contend with, they still manage to live fairly happy and fulfilling lives. That all changes one day, though, when Beth and Sarah have an unexpected encounter with Don and Mark. While impulsively visiting a sporting goods store, the sisters spot their partners from a distance with their backs turned toward them. Beth proposes that they sneak up from behind them to give them a surprise hello. However, as they make their approach, Beth overhears Don saying that he doesn’t like his wife’s new book, that he doesn’t feel it and that it doesn’t speak to him. And, as he freely offers up his comments, he’s unaware that Beth is standing behind him and that she heard everything he said.

Needless to say, Beth is devastated. She and Sarah turn away without the guys ever having been aware that they were present and within earshot. Don is thus completely unaware that Beth heard his reaction to her latest work and the pain that his criticism caused her. Now what?

Things at home become frosty rather quickly, and Don is confused by the standoffish treatment he receives. Beth is evasive about discussing the situation, too, and she quickly finds cover for this behavior when Eliot returns home with a problem of his own – a difficult breakup with his girlfriend. Eliot’s heartache provides a convenient diversion for Beth, giving her an opportunity to focus her attention on comforting her son and to avoid bringing up her disappointment with Don, who simultaneously and unreservedly joins in offering solace to his son but remains puzzled while receiving the cold shoulder from his wife.

Aging, quirky senior Georgia (Jeannie Berlin) unwittingly and repeatedly ruffles the feathers of others with her frank, uncensored comments in writer-director Nicole Holofcener’s latest feature outing, “You Hurt My Feelings,” now playing theatrically. Photo by Jeong Park, courtesy of A24.

Meanwhile, as Beth anguishes over what she perceives as Don’s seeming insensitivity, he wrestles with growing discontent from his patients, including Jon and Carolyn (David Cross, Amber Tamblyn), a couple experiencing marital troubles who feel they’re making little progress in their counseling, and Jim (Zach Cherry), a malcontented young man who’s having difficulty getting along with his family and believes therapy is doing little to help him. Don begins to wonder if he’s lost his effectiveness as a therapist – not to mention as a supportive husband.

Fuel is dowsed on Beth’s fire when she begins to wonder if Don’s criticisms about her writing are correct. She repeatedly hears comments from multiple sources that sales of her previous book could have been better due mostly to the underwhelming marketing efforts put forth by her agent (LaTanya Richardson Jackson). She’s also astounded when the students in the creative writing course she teaches have never even heard of that title, despite being aware of comparable works from other authors.

As all this plays out, other characters experience their share of disappointments as well. These developments are either uncovered through brutally honest revelations or brought up during discussions about how much they can genuinely trust the supposedly encouraging “honesty” they received from others. Indeed, can well-meaning but knowingly insincere support do just as much harm to one’s beliefs about oneself and one’s work as harsh but frank truthfulness?

Suddenly, questions surrounding the sanctity of honesty don’t seem quite so clear-cut. The shades of gray that emerge in this discussion quickly overtake the unassailable black-and-white view that many of us might have held going in to this story. But, by bringing up these issues for debate, as they are here, audiences have an opportunity to examine them from a much more realistic perspective, enabling us to see that a one-size-fits-all approach to this subject is far from appropriate in all situations. “You Hurt My Feelings” illustrates the importance of considering all of our options before acting in scenarios like these so that we choose the ones that best suit the circumstances before matters get out of hand.

After another in a string of disappointments, struggling actor Mark (Arian Moayed, left) receives much-needed comfort from his significant other, Sarah (Michaela Watkins, right), in the delightful new comedy-drama, “You Hurt My Feelings,” now playing theatrically. Photo by Jeong Park, courtesy of A24.

In light of the foregoing, one could indeed make a convincing argument in favor of the notion that honesty truly is a relative matter. In most cases, sure, honesty is indispensable. However, in instances where emotional considerations are involved, we need to consider the implications of being direct in conveying news and opinions. We must take into account the mindsets, sensibilities, perspectives and beliefs of those to whom we’re imparting the information. In turn, we also need to examine our own beliefs in terms of how we feel we should approach situations like these. That’s crucial given the role they play in terms of how things ultimately play out, a product of the conscious creation process, the philosophy that maintains we manifest the reality we experience in line with these resources. It’s not clear how many of us have actually heard of this school of thought, but we should be cognizant of it given how events can unfold – and the impact they can have on all those concerned.

From this, it’s apparent that revealing truths and opinions to others carries a tremendous degree of responsibility with it, both for those sharing these notions and for those receiving them. For example, those unearthing potentially troubling news or opinions to those who are sensitive or easily hurt must bear in mind the possible consequences of such disclosures in determining the approach used to pass along this information. Even if we believe that honesty is the best policy, simply blurting out such revelations without taking another individual’s feelings into account could cause as much harm as the news itself. Is that truly being helpful?

At the same time, we must also consider the impact of soft-peddling news and opinions. In an attempt to be considerate and tactful in sparing someone’s emotions or avoiding undue dismay, we might end up unwittingly conveying false hope, wishful thinking or unrealistic expectations about someone’s undertakings. Telling someone who weighs 300 pounds to have hope that he’ll eventually be able to fulfill his dream of becoming a jockey isn’t realistic – or helpful. While a deft touch might prevent hurt feelings in the short term, it could cause big problems in the long run. Indeed, telling someone that he or she will be able to succeed at something for which the individual lacks the requisite skills or experience could be setting up that person for inevitable disappointment and painful failure.

This is particularly true when it comes to being honest with loved ones; the hurt of such perceived betrayals can run long and deep. When Beth tells Don that he’s a fine therapist despite the complaints from his patients, is she offering loving support or prompting him into denial about what may actually be true? Likewise, when Beth and Don continually tell Eliot that his play will be a success, are they being encouraging parents or are they offering unrealistic guidance, especially given how much he appears to be struggling with his writing? That’s a particularly crucial concern in this instance, given that Don is a counselor and Beth is a writer: Given their professions, shouldn’t they be able to readily sniff out trouble where their son’s aspirations are involved? And, if they don’t genuinely believe in his efforts, aren’t they giving him the aforementioned false hope, wishful thinking and unrealistic expectations?

Quarrelsome married couple Jon (David Cross, left) and Carolyn (Amber Tamblyn, right) openly blame their therapist for the lack of progress in resolving their issues in the insightful comedy-drama, “You Hurt My Feelings.” Photo by Jeong Park, courtesy of A24.

As noted earlier, there’s as much a responsibility issue for the recipients of these revelations as there is for those imparting them, and, again, beliefs play a crucial role. For instance, when Beth considers Don’s comments about her new book, is she keeping them in perspective, or is she letting her imagination carry her away? If he doesn’t like the new book, does that somehow automatically translate into a dislike of her entire body of work? Similarly, if he has issues with her latest literary project, does that mean he has issues with her in general? Most of us would probably say that those notions are obviously the products of a runaway imagination, one fueled by beliefs related to hurt feelings and an inflated lack of confidence. That doesn’t dismiss the fact, though, that Beth has allowed these ideas to course through her consciousness. It’s something she must be careful about lest those thoughts be made manifest as bona fide creations. It’s thus incumbent upon her to keep those notions in check, dismissing them and keeping them from materializing, no matter what may have prompted them to begin with.

The question of responsibility carries over into other areas of this story as well, perhaps best evidenced by Don’s patients Jon and Carolyn. They represent a case where they need to hear about their circumstances with genuine honesty, something that Don has been withholding in hopes of smoothing over the conditions of their relationship. However, such well-meaning tactfulness on his part has kept the couple from resolving their problems (and hearing what they need to hear), which is why they’ve felt they’ve made such little progress after several years of counseling. Clearly their marital problems rest with them, and they’re the ones who need to make the effort to solve them, with Don providing guidance along the way. Unfortunately, he hasn’t given them the kind of advice that they really need – something he needs to change if he ever expects them to make any progress. But will he? Is he being too nice when he needs to be more forthright?

As the film progresses, a significant outgrowth emerges from all of the various story threads, one that doesn’t directly involve honesty itself but that relates to how the characters react to it – our feelings of self-worth, especially those at the cross-roads of middle age. The key consideration in this revolves around a central question: How much do we equate our professional accomplishments with our feelings about how we see ourselves as worthy individuals? Beth, for instance, measures herself against the success of her writing. Don does the same with his counseling efforts with his patients. Eliot undergoes this with the frustratingly glacial pace of the work on his play. Mark wrings his hands over his inconsistent success with landing acting roles. Sarah wrestles with this in her dealings with her design clients, such as Ali (Clara Wong), a finicky upscale yuppie for whom she has protracted difficulty finding a suitable sconce for her living room. And, through it all, Beth and Sarah routinely get their regular doses of lukewarm approval from their mother, who always seems to think that they could do better in their respective endeavors.

But are these achievements the true measure of a rewarding, fulfilling life? And, even if they don’t live up to expectations (and we’re fully aware of that in all honesty), should we allow that to detract from whatever other satisfaction we’ve attained in our lives? The film urges us to ask ourselves these questions and to put our observations about them into perspective. If we do that, we just might find that our feelings won’t get hurt after all.

Dejected author Beth Mitchell (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) drowns her sorrows after receiving some disheartening news about her latest work from her own husband, as seen in writer-director Nicole Holofcener’s latest, “You Hurt My Feelings.” Photo by Jeong Park, courtesy of A24.

One thing for sure you can say about the films of writer-director Nicole Holofcener is that they’re rarely what you expect but that they always deliver more than you hope for. What’s more, given her recent track record, she keeps getting better and better with each release. Building on inventive narrative styles, precise cinematic pacing, superb character development, a knack for perfectly capturing the unexpected and impeccable writing quality developed in her recent directorial works (“Please Give” (2010) and “Enough Said” (2013)), as well as her spot-on screenplay aptitude in “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” (2018), the filmmaker has done it again in this insightful comedy-drama, a piercing treatise on the nature of honesty and the place it should occupy in our lives.

Holofcener’s multi-layered storytelling approach covers a great deal of ground, from how much honesty is too much to taking personal responsibility for resolving one’s own issues to wrestling with the ennui of nagging midlife challenges (particularly where matters of career performance are involved), and the overlapping story threads integrate seamlessly, often with carefully crafted, boomerang effects. This is also the filmmaker’s funniest work to date, evoking big laughs throughout and in some of the unlikeliest of situations (who would have thought that an armed robbery could be funny?). But, in addition to making viewers laugh, the film also makes them think, serving up incisive scenarios that truly give audience members much to contemplate, including incidents that they might have otherwise failed to consider. This is all stunningly brought to life by the positively stellar ensemble cast, especially Julia Louis-Dreyfus in one of her best-ever lead performances. To be sure, the story meanders a bit at the outset, but the opening act is decidedly designed to set up what’s to come, all of which plays out flawlessly as the picture unfolds. “You Hurt My Feelings” may not conform to convention or deliver what viewers expect going in, but, like a well-prepared dinner, it definitely satisfies one’s appetite for a thoroughly satisfying meal. View hearty, everyone. The film is playing theatrically.

It would be so much easier on us all if questions related to honesty were as simple and straightforward as we would like to believe they are. After all, absolutes are seemingly so much simpler to deal with than concepts requiring nuance and relativity, qualities that must be deftly finessed for genuine effectiveness. However, when it comes to this subject, those areas in between black and white often require deliberate, thoughtfully considered attention if we hope to get things right. We should do the best we can to devise the right solution for each situation that arises, based on well-chosen beliefs designed to suit the prevailing conditions. After all, we can stand to lose a lot if we don’t – and we’re not talking just hurt feelings here. Indeed, honesty may be the best policy, but be sure to read the fine print that comes with it.

Copyright © 2023, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

This Week in Movies with Meaning

Reviews of "Everything Went Fine," "Film, the Living Record of Our Memory" and "Fathers and Mothers" are all in the latest Movies with Meaning post on the web site of The Good Media Network, available by clicking here.

‘Everything Went Fine’ pits love against death

“Everything Went Fine” (“Tout s’est bien passé”) (2021 production, 2023 release). Cast: Sophie Marceau, André Dussellier, Géraldine Pailhas, Charlotte Rampling, Éric Caravaca, Hanna Schygulla, Grégory Gadebois, Judith Magre, Jacques Nolot, Daniel Mesguich, Nathalie Richard, Annie Mercier, Catherine Chevallier, Quentin Redt-Zimmer, Alexia Chicot, Madeleine Nosal Romane, Karim Melayah, Aymen Saidi, Toudo Cissokho. Director: François Ozon. Screenplay: Eammanuèle Bernheim, François Ozon and Philippe Piazzo. Web site. Trailer.

Questions related to assisted suicide and the right to die have been debated hotly for decades, and proponents on each side of these issues have made passionate arguments for their causes. Is it ethical to help someone take his or her own life, or must its sanctity be preserved at all costs? At the same time, is it proper to deny someone the right to bring their existence to an end if they so choose, especially if they are in extreme pain or if they feel that their continuation is anguishing or pointless? There are no easy answers in any of this, but one thing is for sure – it’s a highly personal decision, and it doesn’t seem appropriate that anyone should stand in an individual’s way. Such are the issues examined in the compelling new fact-based French drama on the subject, “Everything Went Fine” (“Tout s’est bien passé”).

Eighty-five-year-old André Bernheim (André Dussellier) is anything but easy to get along with, a fact to which his adult daughters, Pascale (Géraldine Pailhas) and, especially, Emmanuèle (Sophie Marceau), can readily attest. He’s long been known for being difficult, ornery and demanding, traits that Emmanuèle is well acquainted with, particularly when she reflects on the often-cruel treatment her younger self (Madeleine Nosal Romane) received from him. And, even though he might be older, frailer and somewhat mellower now, those attributes are still present and manage to rear their ugly heads when he feels his back against the wall. That’s something he’s feeling a lot more these days, too, after having suffered a debilitating stroke.

André’s caregivers freely acknowledge that he’s experienced quite a setback. But, despite the seriousness of his condition and the real possibility of further decline, they’re also surprisingly optimistic for recovery, at least to a certain degree. His life may not be what it once was, but his physicians are hopeful that he’ll be able to get back some of what he’s lost, news that raises the spirits of his daughters. However, André quietly has his doubts, despite some encouraging progress.

Stroke victim André Bernheim (André Dussellier, right) asks his adult daughter, Emmanuèle (Sophie Marceau, left), for her assistance in carrying out an important final wish, as seen in writer-director François Ozon’s emotional new fact-based drama, “Everything Went Fine” (“Tout s’est bien passé”), available for streaming online. Photo courtesy of Cohen Media Group.

As someone who’s always been accustomed to getting his way (and not having had anyone in his life who would dare challenge his wishes), André expects the same now, despite his infirmity. But, when the stubborn, strong-willed, single-minded curmudgeon realizes that he won’t be all he once was, he decides he wants to bring his life to an end. He also understands that he can’t accomplish that himself, so he turns to someone for help – Emmanuèle.

Despite the harsh treatment she’s experienced in her relationship with her father, Emmanuèle loves him, though this request throws her an unexpected curve. She wants to do right by him, though she has serious reservations about whether she can comply with his wishes. And, when she makes those doubts clear, André becomes his old demanding self, insisting that she follow through on his dictates.

Emmanuèle is unsure how to proceed. She consults Pascale, who is strongly opposed to the idea. She strongly encourages her sister to dissuade him about the notion, but that argument comes easier for Pascale, given that she apparently never suffered the same degree of parental abuse that her sibling experienced. And, to her credit, Emmanuèle admits that she won’t proceed with the plan unless she has Pascale’s agreement. However, given her love for André and her reluctance to decline his request, she does her best to try and win over her sister’s concurrence, a decision made more difficult in light of her father’s steady recuperation. But André’s mind is mind up, despite whatever progress he’s made – he wants out, and the sooner the better.

Having secured Pascale’s begrudging consent, Emmanuèle begins looking into what an assisted suicide would entail. Given that such practices are illegal in France, Emmanuèle quickly realizes that, if the procedure is to be carried out, she and André will need to arrange for it to be conducted elsewhere, the nearest potential venue being in neighboring Switzerland. She contacts a Swiss organization that helps to arrange such procedures and agrees to meet with one of its representatives in Paris.

Sisters Emmanuèle (Sophie Marceau, right) and Pascale Bernheim (Géraldine Pailhas, left) face a difficult choice where their stroke-afflicted father is concerned, as seen in writer-director François Ozon’s emotional new fact-based drama, “Everything Went Fine” (“Tout s’est bien passé”), available for streaming online. Photo courtesy of Cohen Media Group.

Considering the sensitive nature of this venture, virtually every aspect of it is handled clandestinely to prevent word from getting out to French authorities prepared to step in and stop it, even if the procedure is to be conducted out of the country. Indeed, in making the arrangements for it, even the name of the organization’s representative is kept secret; in all her dealings with Emmanuèle, she discreetly goes by the ambiguous code name “the Swiss lady” (Hanna Schygulla).

When Emmanuèle and Pascale meet with their Swiss contact, they discuss the details, which turn out to be quite specific, detailed and extensive. For example, in order for the organization to be able to legitimately assist the family, André must demonstrate that his medical status is truly dire (with medical records to verify his condition) and that he’s not an individual who’s depressed and simply trying to do himself in, particularly if he’s showing signs of improving health. He must also demonstratively signal and document his sincere desire to bring his life to an end. There’s a mountain of paperwork to be completed in connection with all this, as well as a carefully orchestrated series of logistical considerations that must be arranged to transport the patient from Paris to Bern, where the procedure will be conducted. And, of course, there’s the high cost involved, but, given André’s ample financial resources, this, fortunately, is not a problem for him and his family.

Even though André would like to get this over with as quickly as possible, the time involved is longer than he would like. And, given his growing inability to keep secrets, he invariably says more than he should about what’s in the works, leaving him and his daughters potentially exposed to the prying eyes of French authorities, as well as the potential liability that could be involved. Clearly this is an undertaking that’s more complicated than the family anticipated.

But the legal arrangements are just one part of the stresses involved. There’s also the emotional turmoil to contend with. It’s not so much an issue for André as it is for his daughters, as well as the patriarch’s grandchildren, Raphael (Quentin Redt-Zimmer) and Noémie (Alexia Chicot). Through all this, however, the greatest burden is placed on Emmanuèle. She’s torn between carrying out her father’s final wishes and dealing with her own opinions on the subject. She’s also aware that time is running out to reconcile her feelings about André, both in terms of her love for him and the hurt she experienced during her childhood. What’s more, she’s also having to contend with the failing health of her mother (Charlotte Rampling), a Parkinson’s patient who has been in a state of decline for some time, particularly after her divorce from her husband. It’s quite a full plate on top of everything else.

When considering the possibility of assisted suicide for her ailing father, conflicted daughter Emmanuèle Bernheim (Sophie Marceau, left) consults an expert on the subject who goes by the code name “the Swiss lady” (Hanna Schygulla, right) in the moving new French drama, “Everything Went Fine” (“Tout s’est bien passé”). Photo courtesy of Cohen Media Group.

As the story plays out and the proposed deadline approaches, it remains uncertain whether events will unfold as projected given the legal requirements, logistical arrangements and emotional considerations involved. There’s even the possibility, as the Swiss lady observes, that the patient might change his mind as the time approaches, as sometimes happens in cases like these. And, of course, there’s always the possibility that word of the impending events will reach authorities before the story concludes. How will it end? That remains to be seen.

No matter what happens, however, it’s obvious that André has presented Emmanuèle with a terrible choice. And, considering how he treated her as a child, this scenario only adds insult to a legacy of some very hurtful injury. Yet, somehow, through it all, she’s always managed to find a way to forgive him and extend him the love that he seems to have always had so much trouble returning. Still, what is she to do now?

In making her decision, Emmanuèle needs to look within, to examine her beliefs, for not only will they help her make a choice, but they will also help to determine how events unfold. That’s what happens with the conscious creation process, the philosophy that maintains we draw upon these intangible resources in manifesting the reality we experience. Emmanuèle may not have heard of this school of thought, but she’ll need it to get through the upcoming ordeal and, one would hope, to reach a satisfactory conclusion.

Considering the complexity of this situation, Emmanuèle clearly has a bundle of beliefs to sort out. To begin with, she needs to examine her feelings about the prospect of assisted suicide in principle and how it applies to her own family’s circumstances. Then she has to sort out her beliefs about her relationship with André – both sides of the love/hate equation she has where he’s concerned, as well as how willing she is to comply with his wishes. She also has to take into account Pascale’s feelings, seeing as how she stated that she would not proceed with this venture without her agreement. And then, of course, there’s the decision itself, which combines all of the foregoing considerations. Just talking about all of these concerns would seem to render this an almost impossible decision to make.

In reaching a determination, Emmanuèle needs to employ her power of discernment to make a decision. She needs to go through all of the foregoing beliefs and prioritize them. This calls for a precise weighting and delicate balancing of all of the pertinent considerations, a sorting process that, regrettably, may be anything but easy. But, given the emotionally charged conditions involved here, it’s a necessary step that she must take.

In particular, Emmanuèle must seek to allay any fears that might be getting in the way, as they’ll hold her back in reaching the necessary determination. She must consider, for example, whatever anguish might be associated with the process of attempting to balance her personal opposition to assisted suicide against the pain of letting down her father by denying him his final wish. How does she reconcile such considerations? That’s what she needs to figure out, using her beliefs to do so. And fears, like all of the other concerns involved, are another form of belief to be dealt with.

In addition to dealing with her ailing father, emotionally torn Emmanuèle Bernheim (Sophie Marceau, left) must deal with the failing health of her mother (Charlotte Rampling, right), a Parkinsion’s patient, in writer-director François Ozon’s emotional new fact-based drama, “Everything Went Fine” (“Tout s’est bien passé”). Photo courtesy of Cohen Media Group.

Through all of this, it’s imperative that Emmanuèle keep sight of the fact that she always has the innate power of choice available to her. She’s not trapped by her circumstances; she controls her fate depending on the beliefs she holds. She can choose to abide by whatever thoughts and intents best suit her. Of course, as the responsible party behind this, she’ll also need to bear in mind that she must be prepared to deal with the consequences that arise with whatever choice she makes. And, in this case, those consequences aren’t especially palatable, no matter whatever decision she comes to. She’ll simply have to make the choice that ultimately best serves her and everyone else involved. It’s probably not something any one of us would envy her, but she can at least take some measure of comfort in realizing that the ultimate decision is at least hers. And that’s something we should all bear in mind if we’re ever faced with a scenario like this.

Movies about assisted suicide and the right to die have made their way into the cinematic lexicon over the years, and many of them have given just treatment to the subject, as evidenced by such titles as “Blackbird” (2018), “You Don’t Know Jack” (2010), “Whose Life Is It Anyway?” (1981) and “The Barbarian Invasions” (2003). And now writer-director François Ozon’s latest feature outing can be added to that list. This fact-based drama capably and comprehensively examines this topic from a variety of angles, and it does so with a great deal of integrity, authenticity and heartfelt feeling. It’s also one of the finest, most accessible offerings from a filmmaker whose works I usually believe leave much to be desired. However, the filmmaker has come through admirably here with material that could be easily mishandled if left in the hands of a less skilled director. With that said, however, that’s not to suggest that this release is without its issues, such as several story threads that don’t feel fully resolved, along with some occasionally strange camera work and seemingly superfluous narrative elements. Nevertheless, “Everything Went Fine” has much in its favor, including excellent performances by its three principals (Marceau, Dussellier and Pailhas), an inclusive script, sustained pacing, well-placed moments of comic relief, and genuine emotional impact without becoming manipulative or schmaltzy. If you can look past this offering’s minor shortcomings, you’ll come away from it having had a moving and insightful cinema experience, as well as a thoughtful meditation on when it’s time to stay and when to go. The film is available for streaming online.

Death is a time when love and sorrow are intensely pitted against one another, and that can be difficult enough in itself to cope with. However, adding the intention of a willful passing into the mix can make matters that much more stressful, especially if the person making such a request is someone we dearly love and that wish runs counter to what we would hope would happen. Getting through such circumstances calls for a tremendous balancing act, particularly when it comes to our beliefs. Indeed, it’s been said that part of loving someone is knowing when to let go. May we all have the beliefs in place when that occurs, no matter how it comes to pass.

Copyright © 2023, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

New Movies for May, Part 2

Join yours truly and show host Frankie Picasso for looks at five new films on this month’s second movie review edition of the Frankiesense & More video podcast! The show, to begin airing Thursday May 25 at 1 pm ET, will examine two new foreign offerings and three new compelling documentaries. Tune in on Facebook or YouTube for all the fun and lively discussion!

‘The Living Record of Our Memory’ validates an art form’s innate value

“Film, the Living Record of Our Memory” (2021 production, 2023 release). Cast: Interviews: Ken Loach, Costa-Gavras, Wim Wenders, Ridley Scott, Jonas Mekas, Patricio Guzmán, Margaret Bodde, Joseph Bohbat (narrator). Archive Footage: Martin Scorsese, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Sydney Pollack, George Romero, Ben Mankiewicz. Director: Inés Toharia Terán. Writer: Inés Toharia Terán. Web site. Trailer.

Imagine if there were no “Casablanca” (1942). No “Jaws” (1975). No “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968), no “Avatar” (2009), no “Wizard of Oz” (1939). The prospect is unthinkable, even to the most casual moviegoer (imagine what that would mean for an avid cinephile). That’s what we’d face if no concerted effort were made to preserve these films for posterity. Surprisingly enough, however, this is a practice that, until recently, received far too little attention – and with devastating consequences. Fortunately, this subject has been garnering wider consideration, but it’s one about which we need to remain vigilant. That’s the message to come out of an impressive new documentary about this topic, “Film, the Living Record of Our Memory.”

Film has become so ubiquitous that we take it for granted. From big screen epics to intimate arthouse dramas to revealing documentaries to home movies, we see these cinematic records of us and our world virtually everywhere we look. It’s a phenomenon that’s present globally, too, one that spans all seven continents. And, because these images have been committed to what’s perceived to be a fixed medium, we tend to assume that these records will be with us permanently. But will they?

As writer-director Inés Toharia Terán’s compelling new documentary reveals, that’s not an assumption we should make – indeed, far from it. This excellent examination of film preservation efforts is an eye-opening revelation, showing us just how much of movie history has been lost – an estimated 80% of all silent films ever made and roughly 50% of those created since the invention of talkies. The documentary explores the reasons behind these tragedies, as well as the efforts that have been made to save and/or restore pictures that could have easily – or still might possibly – become lost without concerted initiatives to protect them.

Without being alarmist in tone, this film makes an impassioned case for the need for preservation. But that plea nonetheless raises the question of how and why these movies have become lost in the first place. And, as this documentary pointedly shows, there are a variety of reasons behind this.

When film decays, there’s little that can be done to save the images on it, as shown in writer-director Inés Toharia Terán’s impressive new documentary on the subject of film preservation, “Film, the Living Record of Our Memory,” available for streaming online. Photo courtesy of Kino Lorber.

To understand this, it’s crucial to know something about how many early films were made and looked upon. In most instances, the images of these pictures were committed to something called nitrate film. It provided good image quality, but there a few important catches that came with it. For starters, nitrate film had a high silver content, and, given that, the minerals contained within it were considered more valuable than the finished works it captured. In large part, that’s because movies were seen as a novelty (and an easily disposable one at that), not as the legitimate art form they’re considered today. Many pioneering filmmakers and distributors believed that their movies had little residual value beyond the revenue they generated from their initial release. After all, they assumed, who would want to watch something they’ve already seen?

Because of that, many reels of nitrate film were recycled after the movies they contained had had their premiere runs at neighborhood nickelodeons. The silver in the film was retrieved and employed in what were considered better, more practical uses. The reclamation of this precious metal thus became a lucrative incentive for filmmakers and distributors strapped for cash.

To complicate matters, nitrate film was highly flammable. Screenings of pictures created with this technology were potentially dangerous to projectionists and, possibly, theater patrons and employees when the devices used to show them generated too much heat. This inherent pitfall led to the destruction of many films (especially during the silent era), sometimes even when simply in storage and not being run through projectors. Warehouse fires containing huge stockpiles of nitrate-based films proved devastating, both in terms of their financial and artistic losses.

When avid movie enthusiasts saw what was happening, they became concerned. But they had little initial success in generating interest in film preservation. To begin with, they had difficulty convincing potential backers for this effort that movies were a legitimate art form and not just some inconsequential passing distraction. At the same time, they also needed to convince studios and distributors that the archives they proposed to create for this purpose weren’t in competition with them. They needed to allay any fears that their intention was designed to siphon off revenue from those organizations. And, because of those roadblocks, progress at promoting preservation was slow for a very long time.

Legendary director Martin Scorsese has been a leading advocate for the practice of film preservation, as discussed in the impressive new documentary on the subject, “Film, the Living Record of Our Memory,” available for streaming online. Photo courtesy of Kino Lorber.

In addition to these issues, preservationists had to contend with other challenges. In many cases, the methods used for storing movies – both on nitrate film and on safer alternatives developed later – were often inadequate, leaving the materials subject to decay from ambient environmental conditions. Heat and humidity did in many offerings, especially among those stored in locations where these climatic conditions prevailed. Tropical locations often proved fatal to saving many pictures.

But deterioration was not the only culprit behind film loss. In some cases, censorship by authority figures led to the intentional destruction of movies considered subversive, as was the case in Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, for example. In fact, many of the pictures that managed to survive those eras did so only because they were smuggled out of the country and placed in the hands of capable caretakers. Careless management in studio archives also led to the loss or destruction of many pictures whose curating was haphazard. Poor storage conditions and record-keeping led to considerable harm, issues that were often compounded when many smaller studios and distributors were sold or consolidated. And, of course, there were the aforementioned recycling programs that resulted in the willful destruction of films for their silver content.

Despite the establishment of a number of pioneering archive facilities in the US and Europe, preservation efforts made little progress until some of the movie industry’s most noteworthy productions began to be placed in jeopardy. That raised some significant red flags for industry leaders, particularly directors, who saw what the viewing public and future generations could lose if steps weren’t taken to curtail this decline. Leading the way in this effort was filmmaker Martin Scorsese, a diehard movie lover who couldn’t bear to see these works disappear. He led an aggressive campaign to promote this cause, backed by peers like Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and Sydney Pollack, along with directors from outside the US, as well as an array of technical experts and producers who wished to see their works (and their investments) preserved. This effort has since led to stepped-up efforts to further the cause before more works are irretrievably lost.

Oscar-winning filmmaker Costa-Gavras, director of many highly charged political thrillers, speaks passionately about film preservation in writer-director Inés Toharia Terán’s impressive new documentary on the subject, “Film, the Living Record of Our Memory.” Photo courtesy of Kino Lorber.

It should be noted that this is an initiative that’s not limited to the annals of Hollywood. It’s global in scope, including initiatives that have been launched in Latin America, the Caribbean, Europe, Africa and Asia. What’s more, it’s not restricted to theatrical releases. Preservation activists have also strongly encouraged the protection of personal projects, such as home movies – not by seeking to necessarily include them in formal archives but by educating amateur camera operators to consider employing some of the same protective techniques for their materials as those used to save big screen classics. These films may not be important to everyone, but they’re certainly cherished items to those who made them for themselves and their families.

This film examines some of the efforts and technology used to save these films, both from a preservation standpoint and from a restoration perspective. In many cases, these restorative programs have made it possible for contemporary viewers to see how these pictures were originally intended to be shown but were hampered by technical limitations that have since been overcome, efforts profiled through several specific cinematic case studies. Such efforts have not only kept these movies alive, but they have actually brought them to life in ways that were once thought unimaginable – and that would almost assuredly delight those who first created them.

As noted above, there are those who have erroneously assumed that commitment of images to a fixed medium guarantees their permanence, a notion that carries potentially dangerous consequences for uninformed movie lovers. And, as the film also astutely observes, this is a caution that needs to be borne in mind even when it comes to the use of more contemporary (and supposedly superior) image storage technologies. Digital preservation, for example, may offer an opportunity to forestall the inevitable decay of conventional celluloid, but are the effects ever-lasting? There’s no airtight guarantee that these new technologies ensure permanence any more than film itself. In light of that, director Terán and her interview subjects make clear that preservation is an ongoing effort, one about which we need to be vigilant if we hope to preserve these materials, lest we fall prey to the same kind of apathy and disinterest that allowed so many movies to become lost in the first place. If we truly wish to maintain these films, we have to remain diligent to see that the intent behind this effort carries through to fulfill its goal.

Despite these many accomplishments, however, one key question remains: Why should any of us care about this? Is the process of going to great lengths to preserve movies important or even necessary? Will anyone truly miss “Fast & Furious 87” if it were to suddenly vanish from the face of the planet? Indeed, why all the fuss?

British filmmaker Ken Loach outlines his views on the importance of film preservation as seen in writer-director Inés Toharia Terán’s impressive new documentary on the subject, “Film, the Living Record of Our Memory,” available for streaming online. Photo courtesy of Kino Lorber.

There are a number of good reasons for this, but one of the most basic is that making movies is a demonstrative act of creation, one whose fulfillment is the end result of a dream, a belief that these conceptual works of art can truly materialize in physical form. Such are the outcomes of the conscious creation process, the philosophy that maintains we manifest our reality and everything within it through the power of our thoughts, beliefs and intents. That notion is present in the nature of film itself – when those flickering individual images are played in sequence and exposed to a light source as they’re projected onto some kind of screen, they magically tell stories, bringing ideas that were once inherently intangible into tangible existence. Not all such stories are equally compelling to everyone, but they all have their origins in the consciousness of their creators, and their fully fledged realization means something to those who brought them into being, even if they mean little or nothing to anyone else. In short, they’re each bona fide acts of creation and deserve to be respected and preserved as valid artistic materializations.

But there’s more to it than that (even if the foregoing consideration is sufficient enough in itself). For starters, movies are rarely the creations of a single individual; they’re intricate collaborations, frequently involving many participants from the directors to the producers to the performers to all of the technical and support staff who work on the finished products. In that regard, they are truly acts of co-creation, all driven by the thoughts, beliefs and intents of those who contributed their input into these manifestations. And everyone who participates in these endeavors deserves to have his or her contributions respected and preserved, no matter what others may think about the end results.

Then there’s the nature of the content and the value it contains. This is particularly important where films of a documentary nature are concerned. Consider what might have been lost if the preserved footage of a number of historic events had been allowed to disappear. What record would there have been of the first moon walk? Likewise, what would we have known about man’s first recorded visit to Antarctica, such as the explorers’ whimsical reaction to their first awareness of the existence of penguins? Then there are events whose recordings poignantly remind us of how to keep history from repeating itself, as seen in documentary footage of the persecution of Jews in pre-World War II Europe. Even the sentimental value of family events in home movies could be lost if these materials are allowed to disintegrate; film of mom and dad’s silver wedding anniversary may not carry much weight in the history of humanity, but it certainly would mean a lot to their descendants if the footage were to vanish. Beliefs associated with the need to protect the images of events big and small should be enough in themselves to promote their preservation.

Prolific Lithuanian filmmaker Jonas Mekas (1922-2019) shares his views on the need for film preservation, as depicted in the impressive new documentary on the subject, “Film, the Living Record of Our Memory.” Photo courtesy of Kino Lorber.

And that brings us to a significant reason for the foregoing – the emotional impact that films carry, especially when it comes to forging meaningful connections between the art and those interacting with it. As famed director Ingmar Bergman observed in a 1991 edition of Sight & Sound, “No art passes our conscience in the way film does, [going] directly to our feelings, deep down into the dark rooms of our souls.” That statement alone is perhaps one of the most insightful assessments of what movies can do for us individually and collectively, a profound capability that surpasses virtually any other art form. Indeed, when one embraces that belief and witnesses its impact in action, there’s arguably no viable contention that can otherwise counter it.

When movies are looked upon in that sense, their impact can be substantial. They serve as valuable teachers. They inspire us to conceive new ideas and explore previously uncharted territory. And they serve as a mirror of our world, showing what’s right with it and what could use improvement. But none of that might be possible if these visual records were not suitably protected and preserved.

Drawing attention to the meaningful effects that movies can have on us has been my mission for more than 15 years, as demonstrated through my three books and countless website blogs. I passionately believe in their value to inspire us in helping to write the scripts of our lives. And that’s why I also so fervently support efforts aimed at film preservation.

The loss of so many films over the years demonstrates just how delicate and precious an art form movies are. What we see as a powerful and impressive creation today could easily become a crumbling pile of rubble in short order if we don’t take steps to ensure its viability and continued existence. Thankfully, there are a growing number of curators out there who zealously believe in the value of preserving these works and the ability to come up with the means to make this possible. We all owe them a debt of gratitude for their efforts and what they’re enabling for us and for those who succeed us.

Carelessly stacked reels of film in warehouses and disorganized “archives” played a big role in the deterioration of many movies before the implementation of diligent preservation efforts, as detailed in the impressive new documentary on the subject, “Film, the Living Record of Our Memory.” Photo courtesy of Kino Lorber.

Film preservation is such a huge, multifaceted subject that it may be difficult to get one’s hands around it. However, writer-director Inés Toharia Terán has done just that in this compelling new documentary. It effectively covers a tremendous amount of ground without becoming scattered, presenting its material in a highly intelligent, well-organized manner. Terán’s work is particularly impressive from the standpoint of comprehensiveness, showing the impact that this effort has had on film collections from around the world, from all ages past and from all genres, not an easy feat given the breadth of content involved. Through interviews with leading directors, archivists, restoration professionals and photographic industry experts, viewers gain an insightful new appreciation for why these celluloid records matter to us and why it’s important to make the effort to save them from neglect before they’re gone forever. Admittedly, some may find this offering a little overlong, but, in my view, better more than less when it comes to a showcase aimed at purposely illustrating the need to preserve these precious and otherwise-irretrievable materials. And, to its credit, the film does a fine job of keeping its narrative from becoming too technical, a noteworthy accomplishment for a subject that could easily become overly burdened by indecipherable jargon. This work is must-see viewing for anyone who loves movies and passionately desires to see as many of them curated as possible, making their continued existence available to posterity as a genuine living record of our memory. The film is available for streaming online.

To ardent cinephiles, losing a movie forever is almost akin to the death of a loved one. The loss is felt personally, but, given the intimate connection this art form often forges between subject and viewer, that’s entirely understandable. We’ve made great strides in furthering this cause, but there’s always room for improvement, a vital consideration in the face of a ticking clock. This should thus serve as a powerful reminder to take action before it’s too late. But, as long as we believe in such a possibility, there’s no reason we can’t make that happen. The magic of the movies proves that virtually anything conceivable is indeed attainable. So let’s get busy and do that while we still have the chance.

Copyright © 2023, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

Monday, May 22, 2023

Embracing Stillness on The Cinema Scribe

Tune in for the latest Cinema Scribe segment on Bring Me 2 Life Radio, beginning Tuesday May 23, available by clicking here. You can also catch it later on demand on Spreaker, Spotify, Apple, iHeartRadio, Google Podcasts, Castbox, Deezer, Podchaser and Jiosaavn.

Sunday, May 21, 2023

This Week in Movies with Meaning

Reviews of "Viking," "Slava Ukraini" and "Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie," along with a podcast preview, are all in the latest Movies with Meaning post on the web site of The Good Media Network, available by clicking here.