Local cinemas this week

Movie of the week: Summer 1993

If you think that curly head girl in the yellow car looks familiar, you’d be right. Summer 1993, an autobiographical film from Catalan writer-director Carla Simon, has been around on our shores for a while. It screened at the 2017 Spanish Film Festival as its centrepiece, and again at the 2018 one earlier this year – heavens knows why such a gorgeous and much-acclaimed film took so long to be picked up by a local distributor. Well, thank heavens it has been, and do make a point of seeing it if you missed it earlier. For this little gem is especially recommended for all parents, grandparents, and well, anyone who was once six years old…

That’s the age Frida (a sensational Laia Artigas) is when we first meet her, and for a while we share her confusion as she’s uprooted from her Barcelona home and sent to live with her aunt, Marga (Bruna Cusi) and uncle, Esteve (David Verdaguer) who live in a stone cottage in the countryside. There’s no explanation of what going on, we only know what a child would understand. Her new home seems an idyllic place to grow up though, with a babbling stream, a luxuriant veggie garden, free range chooks and even a younger cousin, Anna to play with. But Frida is just a kid, and all she has so far known, and all those she loved, including her grandparents and a beloved other aunt (who clearly want more contact and also occasional custody) are now absent. There’s a bit of acting up, some sullen and stupid behaviour (perfectly sensible to a 6-year-old, mind you) and a nerve-jangling and potentially tragic act of jealousy directed at Anna. But mostly just insecurity and vulnerability – all portrayed in an understated and totally naturalistic way, and quite brilliantly by this very young actor.

Slowly its revealed Frida’s parents were both drug addicts who have died of AIDs, although that’s never spelt out. Instead we see the panic of other mothers when Frida falls and is bleeding at a playground (this was back when the contagion was little understood) and her own fear when she sees a needle at the clinic. “I thought I didn’t have to do any more tests?’ she complains to Marga – not having a clue what’s at stake…

Hew new guardians do though, they know only too well and they too have to adapt to having a new ultra-vulnerable child within their close-knit family, one who is, according to a wearily exasperated Marga is “totally irresponsible and wild.” The film is at its most intense and tender though in just showing, without comment or much regard for narrative structure, the slow growth of affection and real love in the new family. There will probably be a few sniffles from the audience at the end of this lovely film – and there was at the screening with hardened cynical critics at my screening… But they’ll be tears of joy. PG from Aug 2. Inner west cinemas include Palace Norton St, Palace Central and Dendy Newtown★★★★1/2

The Wife

Anyone looking for evidence that men (maybe their husbands) are horrible creatures will find plenty of it in Bjorn Runge’s caustic literary drama, which also dissects a long-term marriage. The male in question is Joe Castleman (Jonathan Pryce), a vain, needy and pompous author who, at the beginning of the film, has just been told he’s won the Nobel Prize. Despite being grey and unappealingly wrinkly, he’s also a serial womaniser, convinced he’s irresistible to much younger pretty literary types. And to top off his charm, he’s a dab hand at belittling his wife Joan and aspiring writer son (Max Irons) in public with pointed and not-so-subtle put downs. What a guy! The son is sullen and resentful, Joan (Glenn Close) is just unreadable. Why does she put up with this creep? Is it because of the comfortably prosperous lifestyle his success has given them?

Make no mistake, Close is good, damn good, particularly as she toys with her husband’s unauthorised biographer Nathanial Bone (an oily Christain Slater – excellent). But she keeps too much in, her face and actions betraying almost nothing as she calculates and responds to the consequences of her husband winning the ultimate accolade any writer could ever hope for. Bone has an unproven and reputation-destroying theory about the much-celebrated Joe. Is he right, and can he manipulate Joan into confirming it? Those cat-and-mouse scenes are great, so too are the flashbacks which take us to the couple’s beginnings, when as a brilliant young student writer herself, Joan falls for Joe, then an unpublished lecturer with writers’ block. She breaks up his existing marriage. “You’re welcome to him” is the jilted woman’s response – words Joan should have read more into.

It’s a satisfying middle brow drama, based on a novel by Meg Wolitzer, a writer who specialises in gentle, not-too-caustic tales of the upper middle class intelligentsia and their various hypocrisies. The Wife settles into that “nice” territory cosily, and its too convenient climax lets its female protagonist – whose long enabling role in what was clearly a dysfunctional arrangement is not really explained – off the hook way too easily. As they always say, it takes two to tango. M from Aug 2. Local cinemas include Palace Norton St, Palace Central, Burwood, Broadway and Dendy Newtown★★★1/2

Mission: Impossible – Fallout

Every three or four years Tom Cruise risks life and limb for our (genuine) amusement and thrills. In this instalment, the sixth of the ever-improving franchise he broke his ankle while (as always) doing his own stunts. The guy is 56 years old – an age when most of us come to realise that if we fall over, we’ll have trouble getting up. In Fallout he skitters along the streets of Paris after coming off a motorbike, runs, drives, dives, shoots, flies, clings to the edge of a cliff, falls, runs some more and repeatedly teeters on the edge of disaster, and there isn’t a cinema-goer in the world who won’t find it all totally thrilling – and quite frankly – awe-inspiring. It’s a sobering thought though, that by the time of the instalment after the next, Nicole Kidman’s ex will be old enough to apply for a pension. Maybe then he’ll finally meet his match – in Mission: Impossible – The Battle with Centrelink. M from Aug 2, on everywhere. ★★★★ Watch Tom at work here

Also opening this week

Doctor Knock (unpreviewed) at Palace Norton St

Reviews –  Russell Edwards