Una Mujer Fantástica – A Fantastic Woman

The word is dignity.

Daniela Vega imbues Marina with such dignity, and it makes beautiful viewing. It’s a stunning, delicate performance which deserves all the plaudits it is receiving.

The film is rooted in the truth of Marina’s situation, the resilience she finds to deal with her travails and the choices she makes as to when to comply and when to stand up for herself. The ordinariness of her life exists side by side with the extraordinariness of her situation, and director Sebastián Lelio has woven a beautiful, fantastic tale about a very fantastic woman. It was an honour to meet her.

Jackie

A very focussed slice of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy’s life over a non-linear two week period around the assassination and subsequent burial of John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

Natalie Portman embodies the First Lady with ice cold efficiency and is rarely off-screen – either we see her in close-up (a lot), or we look over her shoulder as she wanders The White House in grief. She is delicate yet fierce, in shock yet in control. The funeral arrangements, in which Jackie effectively orchestrates the JFK myth for eternity, are told via a framing device of an interview a week after the funeral. The journalist (unnamed, played by Billy Crudup) visits the Kennedy home with the intention of getting the exclusive story of the assassination, but Jackie makes it clear that he will leave with the story that she wants to tell and no other.

This is where we discover  how important her decisions were in sealing the legend at a time when she was engulfed in such personal grief, most of us would be unable to function at a basic level.

Understandably Jackie is not a warm, lovable character. We wouldn’t expect her to be under such circumstances. But I did feel a distinct distance which prevented me from fully engaging with her. I guess that’s what she would have wanted.

In the end it kind of does tell the story that Jackie might have intended to tell, but I’m not sure that Jackie would have been happy with the way in which it got there.

Neruda

Director Pablo Larraín gives Chilean poet Pablo Neruda a taste of his own magical reality by mixing elements of Neruda’s real life with a fictional police officer who is on his trail.

As can be expected, Gael García Bernal beautifully inhabits the self-aware, self-aggrandising fictional sleuth, hot on the trail of Neruda, a fugitive in his own country as a member of the Communist Party.

It’s a clever mix which worked really well for so many LFF audiences and which I appreciated a lot. I generally find it difficult to go along with this kind of magical realism though, and I struggled to actively enjoy the film, despite good central performances. There were some glaringly obvious and ropey false backgrounds in the vehicle scenes too – perhaps this was to enhance the strange reality of the film, but I’m not so sure I can give them the benefit of the doubt.

Saved from total disappointment by Bernal’s performance.

El botón de nácar – The Pearl Button

Director Patricio Guzmán made one of my favourite films of 2012 – Nostalgia de la Luz (Nostalgia for the Light), in which he examined murky aspects of Chile’s history.

El botón de nácar does the same thing, but over a much broader timespan of subjugation and dictatorship. This time, instead of the desert holding the secrets, it’s water. Guzmán gently prods around at why Chile, with its thousands of miles of coastline, has an almost non-existent day-to-day relationship with the ocean. It explores the colonisation and virtual extermination of the indigenous, water-faring civilisations of Chile’s south, and makes connections with Pinochet’s desaparecidos and the sea.

It’s a fascinating, thought-provoking story which makes a good companion piece to Guzmán’s earlier documentary, and features some absolutely beautiful cinematography.

No

Very watchable account of true events in Chile in 1988, when international pressure forced dictator Augusto Pinochet into a referendum on whether his dictatorship should continue.

Gael Garcia Bernal plays the advertising executive who agrees to manage the anti-Pinochet No campaign in the face of threats from the government’s lackeys.

This is the third in a loose trilogy of films set in and around the dictatorship of Pinochet by director Pablo Larrain (Tony Manero and Post Mortem being the other two, and well worth a watch although they are all very different).

An interesting touch is the actual look of the film. It’s set in 1988, and has been filmed using equipment from that time, resulting in an aged, retro image on screen, which also made it easier to mix in original footage with the film itself.

Like very much.

Nostalgia de la Luz (Nostalgia for the Light)

The Atacama desert in Chile is home to a series of major optical and radio telescopes, which astronomers use to scrutinise the heavens, look back into the universe’s past, and try to unlock the secrets hidden there.

But the Atacama desert also hides another secret – the remains of Pinochet’s Desaparecidos. In the years of General Pinochet’s dictatorship (1973 – 1990), tens of thousands of people who opposed his political views were ‘disappeared’: taken away from their families and never heard from again.

It emerged that many of the remains were buried in the Atacama desert, the driest place on the planet, and the wives and sisters of these political prisoners still venture out to find and lay to rest their loved ones.

The film manages to finely mesh together these two themes, looking up, and looking down. Both sets of people are searching for evidence of things past, in order to in some way shape their perception or understanding of the present.

It barely scratches the surface of the horrors of the Pinochet regime, but it’s an enthralling film on many levels, and is one of the best I’ve seen this year.

And for once, the trailer captures the film perfectly – in less than 2 minutes.