Intimate Portrayal Of Loss

Pieces of a Woman

Director: Kornel Mundruczo

Cast: Vanessa Kirby, Ellen Burstyn, Shia LaBeouf, Sarah Snook, Benny Saldie, Iliza Shlesinger, Molly Parker

This film is only available on the streaming service Netflix

Hungarian director Kornel Mundruczo’s immersive portrayal of a mother giving birth is the spell bounding opening scene of Pieces of a Woman which premiered at the 2020 Venice International Film Festival in which its star the supremely talented Vanessa Kirby walked away with the Best Actress prize at Venice.

Pieces of a Woman is brilliantly acted and beautifully directed.

The Emmy nominated star of The Crown, Vanessa Kirby is amazing as the pregnant Martha, an affluent young woman who decides along with her partner Sean wonderfully played with trapped aggression by Shia LaBeouf (Fury, Charlie Countryman) to have a home birth with the assistance of a midwife Eva played by House of Cards star Molly Parker. This controversial scene was shot with minimal editing and is graphic, visually impressive and holds the emotional crux of this film together.

Director Kornel Mundruczo cleverly uses a cinematic metaphor of a bridge being built over the Charles River in Boston, Massachusetts, which is in fact the bridge that construction foreman Sean is working on before his life completely unravels.

To add more emotional depth to the film, legendary and Oscar winning actress Ellen Burstyn (Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore) is cast as Martha’s wealthy and controlling mother Elizabeth. The confrontational scene at the end of the film between Burstyn and Kirby is electrifying and a master class in screen acting.

Kirby tautly presents an intimate portrayal of loss, of a woman who gives birth and then loses everything and how her male partner and family react in different ways to this unprecedented tragedy. Vanessa Kirby’s nuanced and deeply complex approach to such a challenging portrayal of a woman will definitely earn her Golden Globe and Oscar buzz during the 2021 awards season.

Ellen Burstyn is equally superb as the mother Elizabeth who watches her daughter disintegrate emotionally and thinks that money and legal justice is the only solution to assuage the guilt and loss.

Succession star Sarah Snook has a brief role as a callous Boston lawyer who becomes too involved in Martha and Sean’s legal case. Pieces of a Woman is a superb film, beautifully written and absolutely riveting, an intelligent insight into a deeply taboo subject matter, which has not been tackled frequently in world cinema.

Pieces of a Woman gets a film rating of 8 out of 10 and is highly recommended but not for sensitive viewers.

Nursing a Vendetta

Promising Young Woman

Director: Emerald Fennell

Cast: Carey Mulligan, Bo Burnham, Alison Brie, Adam Brody, Jennifer Coolidge, Laverne Cox, Connie Britton, Chris Lowell, Max Greenfield, Clancy Brown, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Molly Shannon, Emerald Fennell

Actress Emerald Fennell who ironically played Camilla Parker-Bowles on the hit Netflix series The Crown has turned writer and director and created an original piece of cinema, Promising Young Woman with a film’s ending that no viewer will guess.

Casting British actress and Oscar nominee Carey Mulligan (An Education) in the lead role of Cassandra, a young 30 thirty year old gorgeous woman who gets her kicks out of harassing young men after they have tried to pick her up while playing drunk, is a master stroke. Mulligan channels every controversial female role from Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction to Margot Robbie in Birds of Prey.

Set in a nameless Midwestern city, Cassie still lives with her doting yet confused parents played by Jennifer Coolidge and Clancy Brown after dropping out of med school due to her best friend Nina Fisher suffering from a horrific sexual assault incident at the medical school while they were both in their second year.

The best statement Fennell makes is that the perpetrators of sexual assault are not necessarily wealthy and powerful old men, but they can also be young professional men who behave badly at university and still manage to maintain a lucrative postgraduate career. Cassie witnessing her friend Nina’s life falling apart due to sexual assault, decides to blame all young men and tricks them into taking her home, only to turn on them in their own environment.

Cassie’s revenge really starts getting going when she meets Dr Ryan Cooper, wonderfully played by Bo Burnham, who appears to be a sweet, charming and humorous paediatrician and is attracted to Cassie. Ryan mentions to Cassie that he still sees a lot of their old medical school classmates including Al Monroe and Madison, played respectively by Chris Lowell and Alison Brie, both of whom were directly and indirectly responsible for Nina’s sexual assault.

The beauty of Emerald Fennell’s script is that there is not a lot of details given to the viewer, so Cassie’s actions and her peculiar relationship with men hints at a feminist revenge fantasy. The garish costumes adds to the dark psychology of this thriller, which leaves viewers intrigued.

One by one Cassie hunts down all those responsible for the sexual assault of her best friend and finally lands up at the foot of the bed of the real perpetrator Al Monroe on the night of his bachelor’s party dressed as a kinky nurse.

Promising Young Woman is a tour-de-force of acting for Carey Mulligan who effortlessly transcends from a demure blonde girl behind a coffee counter to a vicious sociopath who is on the hunt for vengeance.

For its sheer originality, Promising Young Woman gets a film rating of 7.5 out of 10 but as a feminist revenge fantasy it’s going to be divisive and controversial especially with its shocking ending.

Broadway Comes Out in Indiana

The Prom

Director: Ryan Murphy

Cast: Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, James Corden, Andrew Rannells, Kerry Washington, Tracey Ullman, Keegan-Michael Key, Ariana Debose, Jo Ellen Pellman

This Film is Only Available on Netflix

Eat, Pray, Love director Ryan Murphy and TV writer of such hit shows as American Horror Story, Glee, American Crime Story assembles an all-star cast for the Netflix film production of the Broadway hit show The Prom, about a group of failed Broadway stars who decide to take on a personal crusade to assist a teenage lesbian girl Emma Nolan played by Jo Ellen Pelman who is not allowed to take her in the closet girlfriend Alyssa Greene played by Ariana Debose to the James Madison High School prom in conservative Indiana, in the American mid-West.

Besides James Corden’s cringe worthy performance as gay theatre actor Barry Glickman, it’s really three time Oscar winner Meryl Streep’s beautiful and tantalizing turn as the Broadway Star Dee Dee Allen which makes The Prom worth watching.

Oscar winner Nicole Kidman (The Hours) reunites with Meryl Streep and stars as the leggy actress Angie Dickinson to give some back up support. The Boys in the Band and Black Monday star Andrew Rannells plays the dashing but slightly dim-witted Trent Oliver, also a wannabe Broadway actor.

Django Unchained star Kerry Washington plays Alyssa’s conservative mother Mrs Greene, which is an interesting casting choice and Washington pulls off the role as a stuffy PTA mother who is ruling her daughter’s life and spearheading a campaign to prevent the lesbian Emma from bring another girl to the prom.

The traditional nexus of liberal open-minded egotism which clashes with small town conservatism is explored and laboured upon multiple times with numerous bouncy song numbers, which is just sufficient to convert the conservatism into an acceptance of all LGBT teenagers in the Midwest. Idyllic but not realistic. After all Broadway is a far cry from Indiana.

Director Ryan Murphy’s obsession with Indiana comes from the fact that he was born and grew up there, so The Prom could be a story about the director’s own difficulties with coming out in a conservative environment.

Barry Glickman’s own coming out as a gay man is heightened by the arrival of his mother Vera wonderfully played by Tracey Ullman, James Corden’s co-star in Into the Woods.  

The Prom is a really light and fluffy musical, a dream inspired vision of a culturally accepting Midwest which is a far cry from reality. Meryl Streep channels her Oscar nominated performance from The Devil Wears Prada as the outrageously narcissistic Broadway star Dee Dee Allen, although the script leaves such talented stars as Streep and Kidman floundering to make a lasting impression.

If audiences are looking for something superfluous and unsubstantial, then watch The Prom, it’s fun  but not intellectually challenging. This film is a far cry from Gus van Sant’s Oscar winning film Milk but nor is it meant to make a significant statement about LGBT rights in American schools in the 21st century.

The Prom gets a film rating of 6.5 out of 10 and watch it for Meryl Streep and no one else. Streep plays a Ryan Murphy inspired version of herself, which is poignant since he had a fan club of her work when he was in high school in Indiana.

Bitchy Repartee

The Boys in the Band

Director: Joe Mantello

Cast: Jim Parsons, Matt Bomer, Zachary Quinto, Andrew Rannells, Charlie Carver, Robin de Jesus, Brian Hutchinson, Tuc Watkins, Michael Benjamin Washington

This film is only available on the streaming service NETFLIX

The original 1970 film directed by William Friedkin

Based upon the Tony Award winning play by Mart Crawley, The Boys in the Band was originally made into a film in 1970 by the Oscar winning director of The French Connection William Friedkin. Screenwriter and playwright Mart Crawley died in March 2020.

50 years later, director Joe Mantello remade the film for Netflix and assembling an all gay cast to basically play bitchy versions of themselves in the 2020 version of The Boys in the Band.

Set in Greenwich Village, New York in 1968, this film is about 6 gay men who gather for a fabulous birthday party and one heterosexual man who accidentally gets invited. The cast includes The Normal Heart co-stars Jim Parsons and Matt Bomer who offers some genuine eye candy; Zachary Quinto (Star Trek, Margin Call) as Harold, Andrew Rannells (The Intern, Sex and the City 2) as the flirtatious Larry; Tuc Watkins as the straight acting Hank; Charlie Carver as the Cowboy and Robin de Jesus as the quick-tongued Emory along with Michael Benjamin Washington (Love and Other Drugs) as Bernard.

It’s really the Golden Globe winning star of the TV comedy series The Big Bang Theory Jim Parsons who steals the show in a masterful performance as Michael, the twisted and conflicted host of the party whose razor sharp tongue gets released during the second half of the evening as he viciously takes to the Vodka bottle and starts verbally annihilating his closest friends forcing them all to reveal their dark secrets.

Jim Parsons is brilliant in this film and he actually deserves an Oscar nomination in 2021. Parson’s portrayal of Michael is brittle and cruel, unleashing a verbal tirade of bitchy repartee on his unsuspecting guests only to be intellectually challenged by the equally vicious Jewish gay man Harold, another superb performance by Zachary Quinto.

Director Joe Mantello gives each of the characters in the film especially Bernard’s a perceptive flashback into their first crush.

The Boys in the Band has to be contextualized in contemporary queer history as its set the year before the infamous Stonewall riots that happened in Greenwich Village in July 1969, which was the initiation of the gay rights movement in America and a decade and a half before the devastating effects of the AIDS crisis which ripped through New York’s gay community in the mid 1980’s.

Viewers must watch this film as a play being performed. The Boys in the Band is a vicious portrayal of 30 year old gay men projecting the bullying the conventional heterosexual world put onto them while growing up onto each other, a dark and bitter self-loathing wrapped in vodka, chardonnay and forbidden desire.

The Boys in the Band is brilliant, a bitter and fabulous evening filled with bitchy one-liners held together by a superb performance by Jim Parsons, who is the glitter that holds the group together.

The Boys in the Band gets a film rating of 7 out of 10 and is available on Netflix.

Wish Upon a Star

Wonder Woman 1984

Director: Patty Jenkins

Cast: Gal Gadot, Pedro Pascal, Chris Pine, Kristen Wiig, Robin Wright, Connie Nielsen, Lily Aspell, Gabriella Wilde

Director Patty Jenkins had a hit with Wonder Woman back in 2017. Little did she realize what a challenge the sequel would be to get released on the big screen in 2020 amidst the ongoing crisis of the coronavirus pandemic?

Parent company Warner Brothers decided to come to a strange compromise which has divided the battling film industry in 2020 and release the sequel Wonder Woman 1984 in cinemas where possible and also simultaneously on the streaming service HBO Max.

Fortunately I was lucky enough to watch Wonder Woman 1984 in a cinema and apart from the impressive opening sequence featuring a young Wonder woman wonderfully played by Lily Aspell fighting in an Amazonian competition overseen by Antiope played by Robin Wright and Hippolyte played by Connie Nielsen, the first part of this sequel seemed slightly directionless and admittedly took a while to find its feet.

While setting the film in Washington DC in 1984 and using lots of gimmicky film references to the 1980’s especially the clothes, audiences will find Diana Prince aka Wonder Woman working at the Smithsonian in Washington DC where she meets the nerdy Barbara Minerva and the seemingly harmless oil entrepreneur Max Lord wonderfully played with a zany insecurity by Chilean actor Pedro Pascal (Kingsman: The Golden Circle, If Beale Street Could Talk, The Great Wall).

The plot line stumbles here at the beginning of the film and only really gets invigorated once Max Lord wishes upon an archaeological stone and gets bizarre superpowers to grant wishes to every human in the world, good or bad. One of Lord’s first recipient is Barbara Minerva who gets super human speed and agility enough to turn her into Cheetah, another superhero who Wonder Woman will definitely confront.

Everything goes south from there as Maxwell Lord flies off to Egypt to gain all the countries oil supplies and Wonder Woman with the help of her first love Steve Trevor, a wonderful reprisal by Chris Pine chase after Lord on a stunning action packed sequence on an Egyptian desert highway.

What is remarkable about Wonder Woman 1984 is how little screen time, the male characters really get especially Steve Trevor and Max Lord, although as a villain Pedro Pascal gives his egomaniac character some personal dimension, especially some heart rendering flashbacks to his tortured childhood as an outcast.

Naturally the stars of Wonder Woman 1984 are Diana Prince and Barbara Minerva and it’s their showdown as two alpha females as Wonder Woman and Cheetah on a stormy island at the film’s end is what makes the second half of this sequel so worthwhile.

Wonder Woman 1984 is certainly not as brilliant as the original film, but given the challenging year of its release, it’s about the best form of escapism that 2020 has to offer and is worth watching. Wonder Woman 1984 gets a film rating of 7 out of 10.

Viewers can catch the film on HBO Max or at your nearest cinema depending on which country you are in.

The Semiotics of Murder

Nocturnal Animals

Director: Tom Ford

Cast: Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Armie Hammer, Isla Fisher, Michael Shannon, Ellie Bamber, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Laura Linney, Andrea Riseborough, Michael Sheen

Retrospective Film Review

Austin Wright’s beautifully written novel Nocturnal Animals originally published in 1993 about a young couple who break up and the ex-husband Edward Morrow writes a startling graphic revenge novel to prove to his ex-wife that he is a brilliant writer came to the big screen in 2016 by stylish director Tom Ford amidst little fanfare except for some adequate recognition by the Hollywood Foreign Press and a cursory glance by the Academy Awards.

It was perhaps Tom Ford’s unconventional approach to the retelling of such a bizarre novel into a hyper-stylized film noir crime drama set in a murky Los Angeles and in the outback of Texas.

Assembling an all-star cast including Oscar nominees Amy Adams (Doubt, Junebug) and Jake Gyllenhaal (Brokeback Mountain) as the pivotal couple Susan and Edward along with two brilliant performances by Michael Shannon as the tough but persistent Sheriff Bobby Andes and Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Anna Karenina) as the violent rapist Ray Marcus who assault and murder Laura and India Hastings played respectively by the gorgeous actresses Isla Fisher (The Great Gatsby) and Ellie Bamber, was the key to making an extravagant and captivating film noir thriller.

From the provocative title sequence featuring naked obese ladies dancing on pulpits at an avant-garde art exhibition in Los Angeles, to the dynamic costumes designed by Arianne Phillips who also worked on such films as A Single Man and received three Oscar nominations for Costume Design for films including Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, James Mangold’s Walk the Line and Madonna’s W. E.  

Director Tom Ford skilfully uses the semiotics of colours to guide the viewer through the breakup of Edward and Susan to the inner world of the novel aptly titled Nocturnal Animals which uses garish reds and scorched earth browns to reflect a harsh and dangerous world of men who kill women and psychologically manipulate other men especially when they are most vulnerable, driving on dark rural highways in Texas miles away from civilization.

The contrast of the dangerous world of the novel to the hyper-realized art world of Los Angeles populated by bright and gritty characters, signified by the brief appearances of Carlos and Alessia extravagantly played by character actors Andrea Riseborough and Michael Sheen is the environment that Susan Morrow has chosen to inhabit aided by her dashing young husband Hutton Morrow played by Armie Hammer.

Although Nocturnal Animals did not receive as much critical acclaim as A Single Man, for any cineaste it is a film worth watching for its diverse colour palette filled with opulence, horror and complexity. Tom Ford beautifully combines a stylish aesthetic with a superb mix of violence and mystery to create a cinematic film which is both fascinating and repulsive.

Nocturnal Animals gets a film rating of 7.5 out of 10 and is worth seeing for its extraordinary use of semiotics by a talented film director.

Dakota Death Duel

Let Him Go

Director: Thomas Bezucha

Cast: Kevin Costner, Diane Lane, Lesley Manville, Jeffrey Donovan, Kayli Carter, Booboo Stewart, Will Britain, Ryan Bruce

Thank you to United International Pictures for the UIP Film Preview of Let Him Go held on Tuesday 24th November 2020 at Suncoast CineCentre in Durban.

Director of The Family Stone, Thomas Bezucha adapts the 2013 novel by Larry Watson Let Him Go into a big screen cinematic interpretation of generational loss, blood feuds, fierce maternal love starring a superb cast headed up by Oscar winner Kevin Costner (Dancers with Wolves) and Oscar nominee Diane Lane (Unfaithful) who play a retired rural Montana couple George and Margaret Blackledge who go in search of their missing grandson.

As Let Him Go opens with a happy familial scene of a retired couple the Blackledges enjoying sometime with their only son and his new wife and young baby, this jovial scene is shattered when their only son dies suddenly leaving his new wife Lorna Blackledge and young son adrift. When Lorna played by Kayli Carter recently seen in the brilliant TV film Bad Education meets new husband Donnie Weboy played by Will Britain, she does not realize the twisted family she is marrying into.

Soon Lorna and Donnie mysteriously skip town in Montana taking the Blackledge’s only grandson Jimmy with them. Margaret persuades George to go in search of Jimmy across the border in the rough plains of North Dakota. Their journey takes them to the small remote town of Gladstone, North Dakota where they track down Donnie’s uncle Bill Weboy wonderfully played by Jeffrey Donovan (Honest Thief, Changeling) who is doing a superb job in a slew of recent supporting roles.

Bill warns the Blackledges that first they have to confront his sister-in-law the vicious Blanche Weboy, mother of the Weboy clan. In a performance reminiscent of Jacki Weaver’s Oscar-nominated turn in Animal Kingdom, Oscar nominee Lesley Manville (The Phantom Thread) proves her range as the vile blonde haired mother of a gangster family who feels nothing at asking her son to cut off the fingers of a potential threat to the Weboy existence.

Manville is so good that she makes Let Him Go worth seeing especially in the pivotal confrontational dinner scene when she first meets George and Margaret. George is immediately suspicious of this woman’s evil intentions and her desire to claim his grandson as her own.

Let Him Go is a slow-burner thriller set in the mid 1960’s and director Thomas Bezucha makes full use of the stark locations of the mid-Western plains as well as highlighting the plight of the Native American people encapsulated in the small role of Peter Dragswolf played by rising star BooBoo Stewart (Twilight).

As the film meticulously builds up tension to its fiery Dakota death battle at its conclusion, Let Him Go gives sufficient screen time to all three main leads especially Diane Lane and Kevin Costner who have acted together before as Superman’s adopted parents Martha and Jonathan Kent in director Zach Snyder’s Man of Steel.

Let Him Go get a film rating of 7 out of 10 is definitely worth seeing, a salt of the earth thriller with a surprisingly hectic ending.

Boston Bandit

Honest Thief

Director: Mark Williams

Cast: Liam Neeson, Kate Walsh, Jai Courtney, Jeffrey Donovan, Anthony Ramos, Robert Patrick

Director of A Family Man, Mark Williams brings macho tough guy Liam Neeson back on the big screen to star as Tom, a retired bank robber, known as the In and Out Bandit who decides upon meeting a lovely woman, Annie played by Kate Walsh (The Perks of Being a Wallflower) to announce to the FBI the location of the millions stolen over his dubious career of theft and armed robbery.

Fortunately, Annie works in a suburban Boston storage unit facility where the money is located. However, the bad apples in the FBI come to find where the money is hidden and Tom has to go up against the two rogue agents Agent Nivens wonderfully played by Australian actor Jai Courtney (Suicide Squad, The Exception, A Good Day to Die Hard) and married father of two, Agent Hall played by Anthony Ramos (A Star is Born).

Agent Nivens proves to be the most ruthless of the duo when he casually shoots his boss Agent Sam Baker played by Robert Patrick (Safe House, Walk the Line) setting off a chain of events whereby Tom goes after Nivens on the Boston streets while desperately trying to save Annie from harm.

Tom’s only ally in the FBI proves to be the by the book divorced Agent Meyers expertly played by Jeffrey Donovan (J. Edgar, Changeling).

While The Honest Thief does not match up to the adrenalin fuelled excitement of the Taken films, it is a down to earth suburban thriller which is enjoyable and has some unexpected plot twists.

The Honest Thief is worth watching and gets a film rating of 6.5 out of 10 and while the dialogue does drag in places, the action picks up and the plot is cleverly constructed.

Go and see The Honest Thief in a cinema and support the economically stressed cinema chains during these trying times of streaming and awkward social distancing.

Death is Always with Us

The Traitor

Director: Marco Bellocchio

Cast: Pierfrancesco Favino, Maria Fernando Candido, Nicola Cali, Fausto Russo Alesi, Luigi Lo Cascio

If viewers want an authentic Italian mafia film, then watch director Marco Bellocchio’s brilliant and atmospheric thriller The Traitor starring international Italian actor Pierfrancesco Favino (Rush, My Cousin Rachel) as Tommaso Buscetta a former member of the Cosa Nostra, the Sicilian Mafia who flees Italy to go and live an exiled life in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.

Buscetta then turns state witness and joins the Italian prosecutors in attempting to persecute the high ranking members of the Cosa Nostra who evolved their cigarette smuggling business into a multi-million dollar heroin operation. All the implicated members of the Sicilian mafia are ruthless gangsters who feel nothing at killing an opponent’s children or relatives as well as killing them off. People are murdered in broad daylight or have their arms hacked off.

Toto Riina is the mafia kingpin who controls all these high ranking gangsters and as Buscetta turns traitor and rats on all of them. They all get arrested and stand trial in a bizarre and outrageous trial which is chaotic, sinister and shambolic from the potential convicts having epileptic fits to stripping naked in a packed courthouse.

Buscetta’s turbulent life is balanced by the calm guidance of Judge Giovanni Falcone played by Fausto Russo Alesi who realizes that by helping the traitor he is putting a target on his own back. In a poignant scene between Falcone and Buscetta they both realize that their imminent death is guaranteed and that death is always with them.

Certainly in The Traitor, there are a lot of killings including a particularly brutal seen whereby Buscetta’s two sons are tortured along with a devastating explosion along a Sicilian highway killing a key character in the film.

Buscetta gets witness protection for himself and his wife Cristina wonderfully played by Maria Fernando Candido who was nominated for a Best Actress Award at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival.

They move to America and keep relocating to various places from Tampa, Florida to Salem, New Hampshire to Fort Collins, Colorado. Ultimately, Buscetta makes the decision to return to Rome to assist in prosecuting some of the remaining members of the notorious Cosa Nostra.

In the tradition of Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather and more recently director Martin Scorsese’s Oscar nominated The Irishman, director Marco Bellocchio’s The Traitor is more of an authentic chronological account of the rise and fall of the Cosa Nostra in Italy from Palermo to Rome, from Rio de Janeiro to Miami, a gritty and grand narrative of arrests, assassinations and sacrifice without an extravagant American flourish.

The best scenes in The Traitor are the bizarre courtroom scenes in Rome and Palermo and Bellochio’s method of pacing the film to not only shock audiences but keep them in utter suspense.

The Traitor is sometimes difficult to watch, violent, unapologetic and cruel but ultimately at the end it is a rewarding and thought provoking film about the Italian mafia which for over the last 50 years has been mythologized by the abundance of American films on this subject.

Thankfully, The Traitor is written and directed from a uniquely Italian perspective which gives it an operatic quality and gets a film rating of 7.5 out of 10. Highly recommended viewing, but be warned this is a two and a half hour film.

Love Demands Sacrifice

Narcissus and Goldmund

Director: Stefan Ruzowitzky

Cast: Jannis Niewohner, Sabin Tambrea, Roxanne Duran, Henriette Confurius, Elisa Schlott, Emilia Schule, Georg Friedrich, Matthias Habich, Andre Hennicke

Austrian Entry for the European Film Festival 2020

This film is in German with English Subtitles.

Winner of the 2008 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film for The Counterfeiters, Austrian director Stefan Ruzowitzky returns to the Big Screen with the film adaptation of famed 20th century German author Hermann Hesse’s medieval novel Narcissus and Goldmund which is the Austrian entry for the European Film Festival.

Set in the 14th century in medieval Germany at the time of the Black Death plague which swept Europe, Narcissus and Goldmund focuses on the homoerotic friendship of two young men in the monastery Mariabronn. Narcissus is devoted to the monastic life of prayer and soliture and aims to become an Abbott.

His life is upended by the arrival of the gorgeous yet adventurous Goldmund, wonderfully played by German actor Jannis Niewohner, whose blond hair and sparkling blue eyes lands him in all sorts of trouble. Narcissus is played by Romanian actor Sabin Tambrea whose portrayal of tortured love and self-flagellation is nuanced and perfect.

Unlike Narcissus who has to constantly suppress his unrequited love, Goldmund on the other hand is a drifter, who decides that the Church life is not for him and embarks on a picaresque adventure as a young and handsome man who frequently lands himself in the beds of every available German maiden.

Goldmund is duped by the German noblewoman Lydia played by Emilia Schule and is taken up by the wealthy and entitled Julia played by Elisa Schlott. Riviera star, French actress Roxanne Duran also has a brief role as a noblewoman who seduces Goldmund.

Besides his numerous romantic adventures, Goldmund also has to use his wits to survive the growing devastation of the Bubonic plague which swept through 14th Century Europe as well as surviving the rage of his numerous patrons from Furst played by Georg Friedrich and Burger played by Matthias Habich. Goldmund possesses a unique talent of creating beautiful wooden sculptures and when he returns to Narcissus for assistance, his friend commissions him to create a beautiful altar for St Catherine at the Monastery.

Haunted with eternally searching for his lost mother, Goldmund creates a ravishing wooden sculpture reflecting all the woman he has met and seduced, a religious art piece that causes controversy amidst the cloistered monks. Narcissus confronts Goldmund about his suppressed love for him, but unfortunately their social circumstances forces them to remain apart.

As the prying Lothar played by Andre Hennicke says to Narcissus, a lifetime devotion to God is a love which demands sacrifice.

Narcisssus and Goldmund is a fascinating film about male friendship in the medieval times, about two diametrically opposed characters that ultimately lean on each other to survive in a harsh and judgmental society which was completely controlled by the Church.

Gorgeously shot with some unforgettable and enlightening sequences, Narcissus and Goldmund gets a film rating of 7.5 out of 10 and is definitely worth seeing.

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