“ The Mustang”


A little known Federal program is the theater for a beautiful film about wildness, poor impulse control, and redemption. The animal in us and the connection of elemental forces are intertwined majestically in superb acting, an original score, and in flowing cinematography. “ The Mustang” is not to be missed.

To begin  with, actor Matthias Schoenaerts is a smoldering inferno of anger: equally angry at himself, his circumstances, his kindred spirits. The Belgian actor plays Roman Coleman. He has violently pushed his wife in a domestic brawl. She falls and cracks her head against the kitchen sink. None of this do we see. His sorrow is apparent as he tries to reconnect with the daughter who was left to care for her brain-damaged mother.

This power house of a film includes one of the most effective group sessions captured on film. Much is due to good writing and to Connie Britton as a no-nonsense prison social worker. Finally, she gets a role of substance where intelligence and empathy does not need to be second fiddle to a Texas husband or to “ Friday Night Lights”. Britton shines in her own right. Her few scenes are electric, focused, and productive. As a talented clinician, she inspires us to want to help these prisoners, too. This master class on respect, could be used in MSW classrooms nationwide.

“The Mustang” begins with text information: 100,000 wild Mustang are culled by the government every year for population control. Then sounds of snorts, nuzzling, and thundering hooves bombard us. With the mountains as their only corral, the horses with manes flying dominate the screen. Isolation and freedom co-mingle. In a sharp editing switch, we see psychologist/ social worker Britton changing tact from reading multiple-choice answers to convincing prisoners that she is giving them some control by offering them entrance into a prison program taming wild horses.

Discordant sounds and corralled horses remind us of what Roman is able to tell the psychiatrist: ” I am not good with people”. Both man and beast will first have to establish their direction. One of my favorite shots is of the Mustang and Roman both on their sides, faces on the dirt, staring in each other’s eyes. There is the proverbial storm brewing.

There are three-story arcs based on Roman’s relationships. One is with Myles ( Bruce Dern) who heads the training program where wild mustang will be readied for government auction. He is a former inmate with 42 years on the job. Myles values the horses and the men. He tells Roman that he will see that he spends ten years in a psyche ward if he ever hits another horse. His candor ultimately saves both man and horse.

Another relationship is with fellow prison wrangler, Henry Cooper ( Jason Mitchell ) . Henry urges Roman to name his horse, be patient, and remember “ears to the front” mean he is happy,” ears to the back” means he is mad. Penned in by razor wire mountains, Henry gets into stealing and selling the drug used to calm down the horses. He has competition with Roman’s roommate, and teasing banter is cut short.

Roman’s pregnant daughter visits him to get his signature. She needs him to release her grandmother’s home for sale. Actress Gideon Adlon plays daughter Martha. She carries just the right level of resentment and resistance to her father’s proclamations of love and regret. Her words, “ I’m listening” are heartfelt.

”The Mustang” is a Robert Redford production, and it is French director’s Laure de Clement-Tonnerre’s directional debut. I found the film powerful and positive. The original  score sublime. Kudos to Jed Kurzel and all.




“A Bigger Splash”

” We are all obscene, but we love each other anyway.”  is  our  main character’s line. In society, this can mean a shipwreck.   In “A Bigger Splash” it means “Wow”. Complete sentences don’t do this film justice.

Terrific editing, a ballet of carefully chosen images, an art piece of a film with metaphors toppling metaphors ! A psychological study of privileged lives, a beautiful film about unbeautiful people. A melodrama of gecko- smashing miscreants, a film where the protagonists are more comfortable  with their bodies than they are with their psyches. I loved every frame and adored the use of  emotive music leading me on.

“A Bigger Splash” is a character driven film with scirocco winds stirring the scenes. Somehow we know there are people like this, they just are not our friends. The whole cast is terrific, supporting and starring. A quartet with maid and public servants all composing a symphony of selfish wants and jealous betrayals .

Ralph Fiennes is not the English patient here. I have never seen him more animated, more needy, more scheming, or more irritatingly playful. ” I found you!” he sings to his ex- lover when it is obvious that she did not wish to be found. His  enthusiastic dance scenes may be on the indulgent side, but we know the type. And they are fun to watch.

Fiennes plays Harry, the former producer and lover of ” the woman of the century”, rocker Marianne. ( Tilda Swinton) He never stops talking. He even memorizes Italian phrases  as “put-downs” like ” vomit your soul”. He cooks, guts fish with his hands, sculpts dough and takes Marianne after gulping warm ricotta?  ” Taste it while it is warm”.

Harry ends up cold dead in the swimming pool, but it isn’t because he slept with his daughter ( Dakota Johnson). He didn’t. He just made it his business to find his  younger friend Paul  six years after he suggested that Paul and Marianne hook-up.

The island  setting is Italian, where you can smell the jasmine waft from Tunisian shores. The cinematography is lush and inventive. Close-ups are held just long enough for us to focus on character facades, and see deeper. Vistas of clouds and tidal pools give us Adam and Eve terrain that this quartet messes up.

The intrigue is mesmerizing. The sensuality down to mud bathing and hair trimming extreme. The nudity more than European, and the ceiling-holding orgasms pushing it. I loved it, though I doubt the butt shot was Fiennes’. His swim strokes  synchronized to the flow of an aria equals cinematic explosion.

The dialogue is fresh and witty. Marianne is resting her voice. She uses sign language and whispers. Swinton is raspy and self-possessed. Her androgynous looks are rarely rattled, and when they are, we take notice. Harry prods her with, ” Did he (Paul) put a bell on your neck?” She is complicated, both direct and secretive. ” Chose a dress for me.” ” I’m happy, Harry. Can’t you stand that?”  Her motherly instinct is compassionate and refreshing. She is small when she tries to direct investigators to refugees as  probable murderers.

Matthias  Schoenaerts is sympathetic until he poses the dead Harry with his vinyl  album hits at the pool’s bottom. Harry had an impulse to humiliate. Paul knows that Harry did not come to the island for capers of the tiny, green sort.  As a reformed addict and  botched suicide , his Paul has a fatal knowing about him that seems archetypal. Schoenaerts can pull off  this kind of depth.

In many ways, ” A Bigger Splash” seems operatic, a farce, but we are the buffoons. It is a cinematic tour de force, that almost makes fun of itself. “A Bigger Splash” has then at least six meanings. The rockstar’s lover, Paul , getting away with murder because a policeman is enamoured  by Marrianne’s stardom being a big one.

Dakota Johnson plays  Penelope, a seventeen-year-old sexual tease, who must deal with the fact that she may have precipitated her father’s tragic death. Her pouty ways reminded me of the real Dakota of Oscar interview fame who made her mother endure her snark on camera. Kudos to Luca Guadagnino , who, directed her well. Her peevish ” I need more treasure.” says it for them all. The storyline and the writing of this erotic thriller are top- notch.   I felt it was a marvel.

“The Danish Girl”

Alicia Vikander  is the twenty-seven-year -old, Swedish star who graces Vogue’s  cover this month under the heading  “Hollywood’s Swede Heart”. After seeing her work in five films this year, I think she deserves fellow actor Michael Fassbender’s love. Her roles in “Ex Machina”, “Burnt”, “Testament Of Youth”,  “Anna Karenina” and now “The Danish Girl” are top notch.

Vikander is lovely to watch. Ballet trained,she is the daughter of a psychiatrist and a theater actress.She seems to intuit strength and sensitivity. Her emotional range runs the gamut from prideful to suffering.

It is difficult to “steal the show” when  working with last year Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne, but she becomes his contender for “The Danish Girl” whose  unconditional love may just set the standard for wives disappointed in their husbands’ realities. Gerda (Vikander) deeply loves a man who is gone. This time not for another woman,but for the possibility to become a woman, Lili.

I expected the Lucinda Coxon’s screenplay to be richer since it was based on the actual diary entries of the transgender pioneer Einar Wegener and on the 1933 book “Man Into Woman” the bio edited by Niels Hayes ( a  pen name) and the 2001 National Bestseller “The Danish Girl” by David Ebershoff. There is lots of source material here. Too often we are given melodrama and mood settings in place of words which could enhance and support our empathy and understanding. Coxen comes close to this with Einar Wegener’s ( Redmayne ) “I am entirely myself”, “How have I ever deserved such love !” and, ” My mother called me Lili”. Alicia Vikander deserves a few such lines. Instead the score,and the lush decor and her facial features,and the scarf symbol substitute.

Director Tom Hooper  uses the Wegener couple as artfully as they paint , he landscape and she portrait.Gerda Gottlieb and Einar Wegener had been  college classmates and friends. Their young married life is playful, sexy and tender. Their artistic careers and their dog~ normal focuses.  Gerda chides Einar for painting the same few vistas. “You will vanish into the landscapes you do over and over again,” she teases. He smiles and rejoins with “I won’t disappear into the bog. The bog is me.”  Prescient as this dialogue is, it is in the next scene that the viewer hears Einar say”can’t a man watch his wife get undressed!” and will  feel he is more interested in the clothing. Gerda is intuitive as she throws out,”I might let you borrow it!” She is his wife ,and she already knows what she doesn’t know.

The cross- dressing scenes are a tad uncomfortable, yet they are well- directed and  force the audience to be empathetic. We follow Gerda’s lead. She sketches him in the moonlight. Einar wakes to respond to her compliment,”I was always pretty,you just never noticed.” Now the games begin. Seeing that her husband enjoys standing in as her model encompassed in  silk and the requisite slippers, she has the idea that he should attend a coming party as ” someone else”. She helps him with make-up and  wig ,and they practice a feminine walk. This kinky game and the reality of his feelings eventually causes  Einar physical panic, headaches and nosebleeds. We hear of a conflicted youth;we  meet Hans ( Matthias Schoenaerts) his childhood friend,and  we watch Einar treated for a chemical imbalance with radiation and possible lobotomy, as a treatment for “perversion”.  A second opinion labels him “insane”. He escapes a mental hospital by a window and sliding down a drainpipe.

One of the most emotionally harrowing scenes, has Einar examining himself in a full length mirror. We are saddened by his longing for a different body. Redmayne makes us care in his agony.

Gerda’s trust in Einar and her love for him has her reintroducing him to Hans. Hans is drawn to Gerda’s love as she lets her husband go. As Hans sees Einar transposed as Lili he brings  the statement, “I have only liked a few people in my life,and you have been two of them.”

Another touching set of  frames comes from Einar’s visit to a “peep show”. It takes the naked temptress only a few seconds to understand that Einar wishes to learn  her movements rather than be aroused. Sexual identify is treated with steam and fog and cliched train-station goodbyes as Lili  readies for her series of operations. Morphine and death at 48 are true details .

Gerda’s paintings  become her husband’s dreams. Her renderings of Lili  gain her fame and success. Lili never seen puts brush to canvas again. Lili is beaten in a gazebo, contemplates suicide, and tells Gerda that  “what you draw, I become.” Lili is in awe of Gerda~ in awe of her womanhood.There is such “power in you, must mean the power of love.

Enjoy the painterly colors, the detailed 1926 Copenhagen setting, and acting that illuminates the shadows, and the use of nature in a full circular beginning and end.