"A Prayer Before Dawn" Review

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The history and evolution of film as an art form can be marked by the inventions and innovations of the past.  Sync-sound ushered in a focus on dialogue and sound, CGI allowed for the expansion of the set beyond the limits of reality, and VR is posed to immerse audiences within content in whole new ways. These inventions often feel like an integral part of contemporary cinema, but sometimes a film comes along that says to hell with it all and trims the fat away; choosing to focus on what made cinema amazing in the first place-a moving image on a screen.  Jean-Stephen Sauvaire’s A Prayer Before Dawn is one such film, and one of the most gripping, visceral pieces of visual storytelling to hit theaters this yearr. 

The film, based on the memoir of the same name, follows Billy Moore (Joe Cole), a methamphetamine addicted British national who finds himself fighting for survival in a maximum security Thai prison after the law catches up to his various criminal dealings.  Forced to deal with gang warfare, a serious language barrier, and his drug addiction, Billy eventually joins the prison boxing team, but his new focus on fighting in sanctioned inter-prison tournaments may only offer a limited reprieve from the danger of prison life.  

Filmed in a real decommissioned Thai prison and mostly populated with current and ex-convicts, the world of Dawn is an extremely brutal one.  The camera exaggerates the cramped and crowded cell blocks, often isolating characters through bars or crowds of other inmates.  Every-and I mean every-dark plot point related to prison life is shown in stark, unflinching detail.  Dialogue is sparse, and is mainly delivered in unsubtitled Thai by Billy’s fellow inmates, creating an extreme feeling of disconnect while allowing the power of Sauvaire’s visuals to shine through.  This barebones form of storytelling does require the viewer to maintain strong focus, as it could be very easy to miss key story points here.  In a way the film uses this to force you to watch the horrors of the prison, lest one miss a necessary piece of the plot.  

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Although the film mainly focuses on its visual elements, we do get some sound based storytelling cues. These mainly come in the form of noise coming from outside the prison walls, reminding us and the characters inside that the world exists and is moving on without them.  The general sound design is fantastic, especially during the fight sequences presented later in the film.  Claustrophobic in-ring camera moves are coupled with the roar of the crowds, the hard smacks of the fighter’s blows, and traditional muay thai fight music, adding to the chaos pictured on screen. 

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There has been positive press regarding Joe Cole’s portrayal of Billy Moore since the film’s premiere at Cannes last year, and I certainly agree with the positive press he has received.  Cole exudes both strength and fear consistently throughout the film, adding to the feeling of uncertainty thrust upon the viewer. Praise should also be given to Cole’s costars: the Thai prisoners who draw on their previous experiences and knowledge to great effect. Dawn never feels like a film largely populated by non-actors. 

As far as biopics go, A Prayer Before Dawn seems to only provide a glimpse into the experience of the real life Billy Moore, and quickly glosses over plot points other films may chose to focus on.  It’s never really explained what exactly Moore was doing in Thailand, what his history with boxing was, and why he was estranged from his family (a point that is brought up multiple times, but never really explored).  The small subplot of Moore’s relationship with a trans inmate (Pornchanok Mabklang) offers a slight break from the chaos, but ultimately serves as more of an aside than actual story beat. 

Despite the vague nature of the plot I’m not sure if the muted story beats are a serious negative.  This glimpse into Moore’s time in prison left me wanting to learn more about the real story, and I found myself ordering a copy of the source material after viewing Dawn.  

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Nonetheless, the film straddles the line between arthouse and grindhouse wonderfully, and I’m excited to see what the cast and crew do next.  

A Prayer Before Dawn is currently playing in select theaters across the United States, and is available to rent on a number of online platforms. 

Rating: A-

 

 

 

Middleburg Film Festival '16: "The Eagle Huntress" Review

As children, we look up to our parents and are impacted by their example whether positive or negative.  So why would it be alarming that 13 year old Aisholpan Nurgaiv would want to follow in her father’s footsteps as a hunter in Kazakh tradition? Perhaps because for centuries, the role of eagle hunter has been held by men. The new documentary, The Eagle Huntress, follows Aisholpan on her harrowing journey to buck tradition and make her family proud.

The film introduces us to the Nurgaiv family in the mountains of Mongolia.  The tight knit family lives an isolated but busy life. We find Aisholpan on the cusp of getting her own golden eagle, the beautiful bird used to assist in hunting. The eagles aren’t just handed to hunters. Hunters have to scale the mountains to get eaglets at a time when they can’t yet fly in order to raise and train them. With the help of her father, she does, and it’s absolutely breathtaking!

Armed with her eagle, Aisholpan trains to compete in the annual eagle hunter festival. Traditionally an all male competition, eyes roll and heads turn as she rides in with her father. Yet that doesn’t stop Aisholpan. Perhaps her youth allows her to ignore her haters, or maybe it’s the insurmountable love and pride that her father instills in her. Whatever it is, Aisholpan is confident and unwavering in her quest to be an eagle hunter.  Which gives us comical moments with the quick juxtaposition of the elders talking against her, and then being forced to eat humble pie quickly after.

Director Otto Bell uses his camera and drone technology to beautifully capture the unforgiving landscape, while telling an intimate story. This film could only be told now. Using his life savings to help fund the film, drone footage gives us beautiful aerials while mountable cameras allow us to see Aisholpan’s first person view as she scales the mountain to retrieve her eaglet. While the visuals and David vs. Goliath story is incredible, Bell never loses sight of the heart of the film. The relationship between Aisholpan and her father is a universal, tangible display of love.

While viewing The Eagle Huntress you’ll forget that you’re watching a documentary because it is so gorgeously shot that it looks more like a narrative feature. It has everything from action to comedy within the film and manages to keep a complex story simple. While Aisholpan is a heroine in her own right with the amazing feats she accomplishes, she’s also a teenage girl who likes to laugh with her friends at school. Honestly, that’s what makes her that much more awesome!

Rating: A

 

Check out my interview with director Otto Bell and the film's stars here:

 http://picturelockshow.com/podcast/2016/11/11/picture-lock-radio-ep-26-alexandria-film-festival-the-killing-season-the-eagle-huntress

 

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Kevin Sampson

The fact that Kevin Sampson is not just a film critic, but a writer, producer, and director as well makes his understanding of cinema even better. Coming from a theoretical and hands on approach, he understands both sides of the struggle of viewing and creating great works. After receiving an MFA in Film & Electronic Media from American University in Washington, D.C in 2011, Kevin took his love for film to the next level by creating and producing Picture Lock, an entertainment website, podcast, and hour long film review TV show that runs on Arlington Independent Media’s public access station in Arlington, VA. The show covers new releases, classic films, and interviews with local filmmakers in the DMV area. He is also a member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association and African American Film Critics Association. He is currently looking forward to filming his first feature film in the near future. He believes that film is one of the most powerful art forms in the world, and he hopes that he can use the craft to inspire others and make a difference in it.

AFI Docs '16: "Life, Animated" Review

One of the many nightmares that a parent can have in regard to their child, is for them to disappear. At 3 years old, Owen Suskind did just that. He wasn’t kidnapped. Autism took control of his life and garbled the way he interpreted the world around him. Life, Animated tells the story of the Suskind family and how they used Disney animated movies to make sense of the world and communicate with each other.

After a year of silence, Owen’s father Ron, realized that Owen was saying lines from the Disney film Beauty and The Beast. It became clear that Owen was using the movies that he’d seen to make sense of the world around him. The family began to communicate with Owen using the movies, which never changed, to help Owen understand the ever changing world around him.

Switching between home videos and present day, we’re able to see Owen and his family grow older. We’re entrenched with the family as the recall coping and dealing with Owen’s regressive Autism through the years in moving stories that have animations to go along with them. At the present time, Owen is about to graduate from a program that will help him live independently. We’re able to witness Owen deal with his first big heartbreak and living on his own.

Throughout the film, independent studio Mac Guff beautifully animates commentary from the family and even Owen’s story that he created. The animation both illustrates their words and gives us a glimpse into Owen’s mind and cast of characters. Pete Horner does an excellent job of mixing the audio in the film as well. The cacophony of sound that clashes in Owen’s ears is demonstrated with the sound bed of the film and helps to draw us into Owen’s world even more.

One issue I had with the film is that while it seeks to help us understand Owen’s world with Autism, it misses on a big opportunity to educate the viewer on the Autistic world asa whole. The microscopic viewpoint of one family with an amazing connection to Disney animated films makes for an interesting hook in a documentary, but what about other families that aren’t as fortunate? It’s pretty obvious that the Suskind family is a tight knit clan filled with love, the awesome ability to put Owen in a special school when he was younger, and a program when we meet him presently in the film. Yet, my mind went to the families of other children with Autism that may not have the same opportunity. 

Life, Animated is a solid documentary about the love of a family and perseverance of a young man with Autism. While some scenes seem stretched out for time, the feels are all throughout this film. Using Disney movies is not only a way to communicate amongst the Suskind family, but it’s just as easy to adapt and understand as a viewer of the film due to our own fondness of the animated classics. 

Rating: B

Comment

Kevin Sampson

The fact that Kevin Sampson is not just a film critic, but a writer, producer, and director as well makes his understanding of cinema even better. Coming from a theoretical and hands on approach, he understands both sides of the struggle of viewing and creating great works. After receiving an MFA in Film & Electronic Media from American University in Washington, D.C in 2011, Kevin took his love for film to the next level by creating and producing Picture Lock, an entertainment website, podcast, and hour long film review TV show that runs on Arlington Independent Media’s public access station in Arlington, VA. The show covers new releases, classic films, and interviews with local filmmakers in the DMV area. He is also a member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association and African American Film Critics Association. He is currently looking forward to filming his first feature film in the near future. He believes that film is one of the most powerful art forms in the world, and he hopes that he can use the craft to inspire others and make a difference in it.

"Presenting Princess Shaw" Review

Presenting Princess Shaw is the feel good documentary of the year thus far in my book! It’s a film about two incredible artists sharing in each others dreams. One who has the strength to carry herself like the star as she pursues her dreams of becoming a singer, while all the chips seem to be against her. The other, a talented musician who mixes sounds from around the world via YouTube videos. The two artists, passionate about their craft, come together to make beautiful music, and an inspiring documentary.

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Samantha Montgomery’s days consist of helping the elderly at the local nursing home. At night she sings wherever she can be heard. She also runs her own YouTube channel as Princess Shaw in which she sings, and shares her personal story of dealing with the sexual abuse she suffered as a child, hoping someone is listening. Little does she know that nearly 7,000 miles away someone is. 

Ophir Kutiel, a musician out of Israel who goes by the name of Kutiman, has made a name for himself in the world of fine art by mashing up amateur YouTube videos. He finds Princess Shaw’s videos and starts putting together a hit! When you see how he does it, you have to respect the time it takes to construct each song, and the vision to hear the final product made from Frakensteined videos. When asked, Kutiman says heplans to put the video out online, and let the people who hear it be the ones that notify Shaw.

The film manipulates time in a way that works. We’re able to learn about Shaw through her YouTube videos. The videos that served much like an open diary to the world for Shaw, become the backstory of the film we’re watching. Juxtapose that with Kutiman, working up a masterpiece on the other side of the world and instantly we’re in on the secret that Princess has no idea about. While she struggles to keep the lights on (there’s a scene in which she’s using candles to light her apartment), and plays at a club for five people, she doesn’t give up on her goal. She’s the type of person you want to win though! She’s kind hearted, confident, and determined in spite of the difficulties in her life. So when Shaw and Kutiman finally meet, it's a beautiful, heart-warming scene.

Writer/director Ido Haar originally set out to film a documentary about YouTubers and thus was filming Princess Shaw while Kutiman was constructing the songs. So it was a perfect storm for the film to come together. Haar also edits the film to perfection. He cuts together moments in time, trusting there is enough in each scene to make a point and then jump ahead. It’s cut in such a way that Kutiman rarely speaks until the end of the film. Instead, he silently observes Shaw’s videos while working on his music. Yet his silence still speaks, because it’s a good bet that just as he’s falling in love (figuratively) with Shaw, we feel the same way as observing viewers.

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Presenting Princess Shaw is a film that’s about not giving up, pursuing your passion, and overcoming odds. Shaw’s attitude and outlook on life is admirable. Rather than complaining or carrying a large chip on her shoulder, she gives to others. So when she wins, we win! It’s a film that gives you hope that sometimes good things happen to good, deserving people!

Rating: A-

Comment

Kevin Sampson

The fact that Kevin Sampson is not just a film critic, but a writer, producer, and director as well makes his understanding of cinema even better. Coming from a theoretical and hands on approach, he understands both sides of the struggle of viewing and creating great works. After receiving an MFA in Film & Electronic Media from American University in Washington, D.C in 2011, Kevin took his love for film to the next level by creating and producing Picture Lock, an entertainment website, podcast, and hour long film review TV show that runs on Arlington Independent Media’s public access station in Arlington, VA. The show covers new releases, classic films, and interviews with local filmmakers in the DMV area. He is also a member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association and African American Film Critics Association. He is currently looking forward to filming his first feature film in the near future. He believes that film is one of the most powerful art forms in the world, and he hopes that he can use the craft to inspire others and make a difference in it.

Tribeca Film Festival '16: "Live Cargo" Review

 

Out of the films I saw at Tribeca this year, one that sticks with me is Live Cargo. It could be the beautiful black and white cinematography. It could be the unconventional storytelling. Or maybe it was the moving performances and skilled direction. Out of the number of reasons that the movie still haunts my film nerd dreams, the number one reason is because I left it feeling like I partook in a refreshing cinematic experience that was as pure and passionate as something from a graduate thesis film but technically proficient enough to study and dissect in the same class!

In the film, we find Nadine (Dree Hemingway) and Lewis (Keith Stanfield) at one of the lowest points of their married life. They’re sitting in a hospital room, noticeably apart, while Nadine holds her newborn baby’s corpse in her arms. The black and white film emphasizes the moment even more, stripped of its color, just like the couple’s world has been. In order to escape and heal, they go to the Bahamas. It’s where Nadine grew up vacationing and learned to dive with Roy (Robert Wisdom), the guy that knows everyone and is the self-described policeman of the island.

Upon arriving they meet Myron (Sam Dillon) who is on the boat helping Roy for the day. Myron is a young man who was abandoned on the island by his parents. He knows the island, he knows how to survive, and he knows he wants Nadine. He survives by working for the major boatmen of the island, Roy and Doughboy (Leonard Earl Howze).

As the film moves forward we witness Nadine and Lewis as they deal with their loss. They’re like similar ends of magnets; attempts at coming back together are thwarted by the ordeal. Yet a slowly brewing turf war on the island just might be what they need to bring them together.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Cinematographer Daniella Nowitz captures gorgeous frames worthy of a print ad at times, while using the black and white to simultaneously catch tones and textures we wouldn’t usually notice. The sweat seeping through a shirt, or glistening off of someone’s forehead stresses the heat of the island and the work of the islanders. The lack of color itself, in a place where we would expect to see stunning hues, forces your focus on the story while enhancing the way you take it in.

Director Logan Wyatt allows the images to speak more than his actors at times (and their performances are wonderful). How do you put loss into words? What’s the cost of a life? Wyatt explores these questions by letting his actors be in the moment and cutting the film together in such a way that his audience can contemplate and draw conclusions. Having grown up partially in the Bahamas, his intimate knowledge of island life shines through by acknowledging the beauty of it while not exploiting it like a Sandals commercial.

The cast has the right blend of magic. Veteran Robert Wisdom is a driving force as the patriarch of the island, while Howze brings an underlying jaded ambition to his character. Hemingway, Stanfield, and Dillon give natural, nuanced performances that make for an intense triangle with tension slowly building beneath every interaction.

There is no question that Live Cargo may not appeal to some, because of its unique narrative and shooting style. It’s a mood piece that works visually and aurally to evoke emotion while telling its story. If you go with it, there’s no doubt in my mind that it will stand out in yours as well!

Rating: A 

Check out my interviews with the cast and crew:

 

Annapolis Film Festival '16: "Little Miss Perfect" Review

I saw Little Miss Perfect knowing nothing about the film. Admittedly, the dreamlike filter on the camera’s lens, prep school uniforms, and main character’s over-achieving persona as laid out in the opening scenes had me thinking I wouldn’t be able to relate to the film at all. Then, with one click on a website by the film’s protagonist, I was instantly hooked on a universal story about how we face the insecurities we all face in life! 

Belle (Karlee Roberts) is the go-getter high school freshman who has the grades, proper ambition, and kind heart that other kids either ridicule or envy. She’s the school’s class president and headed for major success. Her father is in the home, but that seems to be the extent of it at the moment, as he deals with work and the new void of his wife. Her mom is a free spirit photographer, who has just left the family when the film begins. While Belle seems used to handling pressure, the vacancy of her parents in her life, and regular emotional instabilities that come with being a teenager, compound into an inescapable pressure cooker.

As the film moves forward, Belle begins to choose to do things that will make her happy and relieve stress. Unfortunately, those choices consist of dating Gus (Jeremy Fernandez), a decent-hearted flunky from the neighboring all male private school, and joining an online competitive eating disorder site where girls find pleasure in watching the numbers on the scale drop to unhealthy levels. While Little Miss Perfect explores eating disorders on a story level, it really serves as a backdrop to the deeper issues behind it like self-doubt, abandonment and feeling worthless. It also exposes the dangers of not asking questions or talking about the elephant in the room. As Belle’s weight continues to drop, everyone around her either helps her hide what she’s doing, like her best friend Lyla (Izzy Palmieri), or is too self involved to ask what’s going on and push past her seemingly perfect appearance.  

First time feature writer/director Marlee Roberts does an excellent job of pacing and capturing each step of Belle’s downward spiral visually. Her frame speaks so the characters don’t have to. Whether Belle decides to confirm friending someone on the site, or shifts her salad around on her plate to make it look like she ate, the camera sees all. Subtle choices like Marlee (as not to confuse her w/ her sister/star of the film) keeping the camera on sticks throughout the film, but going handheld when Belle throws up in the bathroom for the first time or argues with her boyfriend, exhibit savvy skills of a budding director who is in tune to the cinematic story and technical side of filmmaking.

Little Miss Perfect is a timely film that speaks to members of today’s online generation who may chase likes and follows for self-esteem. We all want to be loved, and for a teenager with a vulnerable mind, it can be a dangerous thing when left unchecked. Yet, the message of the film for parents is to stay involved in your child’s life, and for teens is that you don’t have to struggle alone and it’s never too late to change. It’s a message I hope many people receive! 

Rating: B+

Comment

Kevin Sampson

The fact that Kevin Sampson is not just a film critic, but a writer, producer, and director as well makes his understanding of cinema even better. Coming from a theoretical and hands on approach, he understands both sides of the struggle of viewing and creating great works. After receiving an MFA in Film & Electronic Media from American University in Washington, D.C in 2011, Kevin took his love for film to the next level by creating and producing Picture Lock, an entertainment website, podcast, and hour long film review TV show that runs on Arlington Independent Media’s public access station in Arlington, VA. The show covers new releases, classic films, and interviews with local filmmakers in the DMV area. He is also a member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association and African American Film Critics Association. He is currently looking forward to filming his first feature film in the near future. He believes that film is one of the most powerful art forms in the world, and he hopes that he can use the craft to inspire others and make a difference in it.

"Until 20" Review

Childhood cancer is one of those topics that I believe we don’t want to address as a society. Numbers don’t lie; only 4% of the budget of the National Cancer Institute goes to pediatric cancer research. As long as it doesn’t affect us personally, by those numbers, sadly it seems we’d rather keep living our lives with no regard to the issue, myself included. Perhaps it’s because we’d be faced with our own mortality, our children’s, or because to be honest, it’s somber. So when it comes to a movie, why would you want to watch one about childhood cancer? Keep reading and I’ll tell you!

James Ragan was diagnosed with bone cancer at age 13. When we first meet him, he’s bald, skinny from treatments, and way stronger than most of us. He’s viewing the latest results from a scan with his doctor and family. He tells the doctor that he’d like to “preserve a little bit of quality for when we’ve sorta kicked the can as far as we can kick it so to speak.”  It’s this statement and James’ strength in the face of a doctor telling him that without further treatment he has six months to live- within the first five minutes of the film- that engages you to want to see and learn more about James and his journey.

What “Until 20” provides is a pure look into a young man and his family’s life as they’re going through it.  There’s no doubt that when the film picks up James has already been through the fire, and his strength and resolve to help other pediatric cancer patients is inspiring. James created the Triumph Over Kid Cancer Foundation in 2007 as a way to raise money and awareness to the cause. Throughout the film it’s obvious that because life isn’t promised to him, he lives his to the fullest, enriching and encouraging the lives of those around him.

Typically in a film like this you expect to focus on how awesome the main character is, and hear from people who will testify to it. While that is a part of the film, you slowly get to know the people surrounding James, pulling you into his family and village of loved ones. Whether it’s his mother Gloria, who is trying to keep it together and be there for her son, while simultaneously missing out on being present for her daughter because of it. Or his sister Mecklin, who loves her brother with all her heart, and yet sacrifices attention and love from her parents at times because her brother needs it more. The doctor, who has to tell James (and one would assume other cancer patients) the bad news, while also viewing him as someone that he hopes his sons will grow up to be like. The list goes on, but the evidence of how cancer’s effects ripple out to those surrounding James is apparent.  Yet, a constant sense of love and resilience comes through in every frame. That’s what makes the film powerful.

Another thing that stands out about “Until 20” is the stylistic shot choices and poetic technical nature of the film. One would usually expect a film of this theme to be run and gun, with not much thought into the shooting style outside of capturing the events. While a couple of times the style choice feels a little too much (some scenes in which an interviewee is emotional and the camera continues to dolly side to side), it is aesthetically beautiful. The time and care given to the film by directors Geraldine Moriba-Meadows and Jamila Paksima is evident in the film’s construction from production value to the way the story is laid out. As I watched, I couldn’t help but feel like the Ragan family came together and agreed to tell their story, unfiltered, as a unit, and that James wanted to document his journey for the world to see. Faced with that responsibility, Meadows and Paksima stepped up to the plate and hit a home run.

Sitting through “Until 20” is in no way a walk in the park. It’s unsettling at times, causes you to put your own life in proper perspective, and has its Kleenex moments. Grounded in the reality of life, the film puts a face to childhood cancer and allows you to experience the love, trials, and pain that a family affected by cancer must endure.  At the same time it’s uplifting and beautiful! It's cliche to say, but the film is truly more about living your life and embracing each moment. The love that the Ragan family has for one another is undeniable. I couldn’t help but think that the film is exactly what James wanted.  While our lives are but a mist, film is forever, and with this film his message lives on and speaks to the heart of a viewer in ways that a speech never could! Hopefully with this film, one family’s loss is the world’s gain, as it inspires us to get involved in some small or large way.

You can learn more at http://triumphoverkidcancer.org/.

Visit http://until20.com/ to find out more about the film and future screenings.

Rating: A+

Comment

Kevin Sampson

The fact that Kevin Sampson is not just a film critic, but a writer, producer, and director as well makes his understanding of cinema even better. Coming from a theoretical and hands on approach, he understands both sides of the struggle of viewing and creating great works. After receiving an MFA in Film & Electronic Media from American University in Washington, D.C in 2011, Kevin took his love for film to the next level by creating and producing Picture Lock, an entertainment website, podcast, and hour long film review TV show that runs on Arlington Independent Media’s public access station in Arlington, VA. The show covers new releases, classic films, and interviews with local filmmakers in the DMV area. He is also a member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association and African American Film Critics Association. He is currently looking forward to filming his first feature film in the near future. He believes that film is one of the most powerful art forms in the world, and he hopes that he can use the craft to inspire others and make a difference in it.

"The Second Mother" Review: A Beautiful Comedy Of Manners

A film like “The Second Mother” is an arthouse gem! You can be thoroughly entertained by the beautiful story, and dig into the social commentary all at the same time. It’s a comedy of manners that speaks to class boundaries that can mold someone’s character and stir an inner desire to break through them.  

Val (Regina Case) is an old school, by the book, live-in housekeeper who takes pride in her work. She missed out on much of her daughter Jessica’s (Camila Mardila) life by working for her employers, Barbara (Karine Teles) and Carlos (Lourenco Mutarelli). Their teenage son, Fabhino (Michael Joelsas), filled the void of hands on motherhood for Val as she spent ten years practically raising him.

When Jessica has the opportunity to study in Sao Paulo, Val invites her to stay with her, with permission from her employers. It’s in Jessica’s entrance to the household that the boundaries between Val and the family she works for become apparent. Jessica is treated with respect as an honored guest in the home. Regardless of her daughter’s fresh arrival, Val has to fetch water, clear the table, and continue to fulfill her obligations as the housekeeper.

In fact, Val is treated like a remote control throughout the film, called upon when needed and tossed aside for later when she’s not. In seeing her mother treated this way, Jessica looks at her with disdain rather than love. She can’t understand why Val submits to being treated as a “second class citizen”. On top of the fact that she already feels like her mother abandoned her, Jessica refuses to subject herself to the unspoken rules of being in the home. A pool is just a pool to Jessica, but to Val it’s her employer’s pool and she can’t go in.

The light-hearted humor is what makes the film fun to watch, and Regina Case’s performance is the driving force behind it. You can tell that Val keeps her wild child locked away due to years of suppressing her desires to get the job done, but certain scenes that let her come out of character give us a glimpse at what she feels inside. Whether she’s hiding behind the kitchen door to eavesdrop on Barbara and Carlos’s conversation with Fabhino, applying a bit of Barbara’s lotion in secret, or hiding Fabhino’s weed for him, Val is more than just the help.

Framing is everything in this film! Not a shot was taken without director Anna Muylaert’s direction. The camera stays locked down in the beginning of the film with no pans. Every shot is a rigid frame, much like Val’s life. She shoots from the kitchen, into the family dining area, allowing us to see a sliver of Barbara sitting at the table. It’s the visual inaccessibility of the frame that supplements the lack of access that Val has within the home. When Jessica arrives at the house, the camera is still selective as to what it captures, but starts moving within scenes and it continues to be less stifling through the end of the film as Val starts to take of some of the chains in her life. These subtle camera decisions are what makes the film worth multiple viewings.

“The Second Mother” is a foreign film but a universal story. It’s about class, forgiveness, and the different types of families that can exist. It’s certainly award worthy, and solid entertainment!

Rating: A

Comment

Kevin Sampson

The fact that Kevin Sampson is not just a film critic, but a writer, producer, and director as well makes his understanding of cinema even better. Coming from a theoretical and hands on approach, he understands both sides of the struggle of viewing and creating great works. After receiving an MFA in Film & Electronic Media from American University in Washington, D.C in 2011, Kevin took his love for film to the next level by creating and producing Picture Lock, an entertainment website, podcast, and hour long film review TV show that runs on Arlington Independent Media’s public access station in Arlington, VA. The show covers new releases, classic films, and interviews with local filmmakers in the DMV area. He is also a member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association and African American Film Critics Association. He is currently looking forward to filming his first feature film in the near future. He believes that film is one of the most powerful art forms in the world, and he hopes that he can use the craft to inspire others and make a difference in it.