Aquarius

“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

A woman of later years (Sonia Braga), independent and strong-minded, refuses to be forced out of her apartment so that a property company can build a new development on the site.

I love this woman.

No matter what life throws at her, she knows her own mind and sticks to her plan.

She suffers serious illness, bereavement, grown-up children who don’t visit her enough or who take her for granted, intimidation and harassment from the property company – and she refuses to be beaten down by any of it.

She has a fun circle of friends, a good relationship with her brother, the respect of those who know her, and the strength of will not to back down when threatened.

Braga inhabits Clara so perfectly, and the writing is so beautiful, that I felt like I had known her for ages and would like to be in her circle.

It’s fabulous that an older woman is the centre of such a story and not a peripheral aunt or grandmother.

Call Me By Your Name (2017)

“We wasted so much time”

Spring and part of the summer of 1983 (when this film is set) was the beginning of an important period of my life – although I didn’t realise it at the time.

Aged somewhere between main characters Elio and Oliver, I spent several months living in Italy as part of my University course. It was only the second time I had been abroad on my own, and never for such an extended period of time. I was not worldly-wise, resentful at having to go there, and a bit lost. It was hot, everything was slow-paced, the radio was the source of entertainment.

If you’ve seen this film, it’s not a great leap to work out that it was easy for me to relate to in many ways.

There is something incredibly of the time and yet timeless about this story. It doesn’t matter whether the protagonists are straight or gay, this is a universal story about growing up, growing wise, feeling love and feeling pain.

It’s beautifully shot, with grass blowing in the almost imperceptible breeze and the Italian sunlight shining from an eternally blue sky. The framing of many of the scenes could convey a sense of voyeurism – we often view events through windows or doorways, or looking down on what’s happening from balconies – but I took from it more of a sense of anticipation; that we are about to step in to the action with Elio once he had taken a beat to observe from the outside. Conversely, we also see people (particularly Oliver) shot from below, looking up at him almost adoringly. Armie Hammer is tall, admittedly, and this choice makes him almost godlike as viewed from Elio’s point of view – he adores him.

Armie Hammer is very good, treading carefully around his young admirer, choosing the right moment to acknowledge that the feelings are real. His geeking out over etymology is adorable.

But it is Timothée Chalamet who really steals the show. It’s his story, and the final scene is extraordinary. I’m happy to hand over the Oscars to him and to Michael Stuhlbarg (who plays his father) without hesitation. Stuhlbarg’s speech towards the end had me wiping away a tear.

I love that the characters’ names (Oliver and Elio) contain the same letters – like they are wrapped in each other.

I even forgive the decision to cast straight actors in gay or bisexual roles.

The honesty of this film and some of the images have stayed with me even several days after viewing, and it’s bubbling to the top of my favourites for 2017 – Luca Guadagnino has done it again!

Oh, and I also saw The Psychedelic Furs play live – Leeds University Union Freshers’ week far too many years ago, as I recall.

Jauja

Long takes, still camera and minimal dialogue. It’s all a bit Tarkovsky, but left me asking what and why, which generally isn’t the case with the Russian director, who is clearly a massive influence here. It has also has a definite Western vibe (yet another in 2015 – see here for others) and is framed like images on those View-Masters we had as children.

This film was on the most anticipated list, but left me disappointed. I wonder if Viggo Mortensen thought this was the film he was actually making?

El Ardor – The Burning

Those of you who’ve been reading this blog for a while will know that Gael García Bernal can generally be relied upon in my view to provide high quality, thought-provoking films on a regular basis.

For some reason though, this one fails to reach those usually high standards.

Don’t get me wrong – Bernal himself is good particularly in the first two-thirds where, with very little dialogue, he manages to create a complete, interesting character who is intriguing yet grounded.

But for some reason, the final act of this rainforest-set film is a western. Not ‘like a western’. A western. Bernal has gone from being an ethereal, mysterious being who emerged from the water to a gun-toting, scarf-wearing, duel-shooting law-keeper and it’s just darn peculiar. I have no idea why this was necessary, other than the director fancied showing he could do it. And it’s not even homage; it borders on parody.

Very odd.