Movies about Sex and Disabilities. Films reviewed: Hyde Park on the Hudson, Rust and Bone PLUS Morgan, Beeswax.

Posted in 1930s, Action, Cultural Mining, Depression, Disabilities, Drama, Fighting, France, Inside Out, Marineland, Movies, Orca, Sex, TIFF, UFC, UK, US by CulturalMining.com on December 17, 2012

rust and bone audiard directs cotillardHi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM, looking at high-brow and low-brow movies, indie, cult, foreign, festival, documentary, genre and mainstream films, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.

In movies, disabilities were traditionally there to provide tragedy and pathos. People have an accident and end up in a wheelchair or a bed… my life is over, I will never work again, so sad. Or else they were a signal of great personal triumph. Look ma, I survived! Occasionally, you’d have the villain in horror movie, bitter, evil, deformed, taking out his pain on other people. Witches with canes, super-villains in wheelchairs…

Then came the movie-of-the-week disabled person as the frail victim, the pitied, while their counterpart character is the strong, powerful, and privileged one. They either die or “get better”.

We haven’t even reached the point where disabled people become the equivalent of the token black neighbour or gay best degrassifriend. (exceptions: Drake on Degrassi).

That’s why it’s neat to have two new movies with normal, fascinating, multidimensional, central characters who have, but aren’t defined by, their disability. The disability is part of the plot but not the central reason for the character. And, most important, people with disabilities are shown to be sexual.

This week I’m looking at two new movies, both romantic dramas, one light, one powerful — where one of the two main characters – the one with more education, wealth and power – has a disability.

Bill Murray as FDR in a wheelchair

Bill Murray as FDR in a wheelchair

Hyde Park on the Hudson

Dir: Andrew Michel

It’s the 1930s, the Great Depression, and Daisy (Laura Linney) has fallen into hard times. So she likes it when she gets summoned to visit a distant relative Franklin (Bill Murray) who is doing much better. He’s a stamp collector — he’s staying at his mother’s estate in the Hudson Valley in Western NY. Oh yeah… and he’s the President. FDR to be exact. Well they get along famously and one day he takes her for a drive into the hills, leaving his Secret Service agents behind. And what happens at the top of the hill? (Cover your ears, kiddies…) She gives him a handjob.

And so begins their long-term relationship. He builds a secret house for their trysts – he’s married to Eleanor Roosevelt – and they form a warm and loving special relationship. But the movie also focuses on another special relationship: One crucial weekend, when King George and Queen Elizabeth – in sort of a prequel to The King’s Speech – are visiting the states to get them to get on board in the soon-to-come war against Hitler.

The Queen (the current Queen’s mother) is portrayed as a shrewish manipulator with the young, stammering George as a weakling, prey to her machinations. What are hot dogs and why are they asking us to eat? Why did they put political cartoons of George III on the wall? They’re insulting us!

Then there’s Roosevelt — he had polio as a kid. At the time, in official photos, his disability was always hidden, never hyde park on the hudsonspoken of, never photographed. But as this a backstage view of his life, he’s constantly being lifted from room to room or moving about in a specially-designed wheelchair. The same is true of their relationship:

I liked it. It feels like a PBS Masterpiece Theatre episode, complete with stately homes and royalty, but with stupendous acting and subtle writing. This is actually a good, touching movie, an historical drama based on newly discovered material about a person – Daisy – who is largely unknown. Some historical details seem questionable – were his servants really white not black? – and some are surprising – The Canadian PM William Lyon Mackenzie King was the one who brought George and Elizabeth to meet FDR that weekend, yet he was nowhere to be seen. (As usual, Canada is erased from the picture.)

The acting is great, both Bill Murray and Laura Linney are fantastic. The casting didn’t worry too much about looking like the real thing – Eleanor Roosevelt as a very beautiful woman? She was known for her inner beauty more than her movie-star good looks – it was more about conveying their personalities. While the characters’ feelings are kept largely opaque, it still conveys the story.

rust and bone schoenaerts and cotillardRust and Bone

Dir: Jacques Audiard

Ali is a ne’er-do-well single dad and fighter from Belgium. He has to take his cute kid Sam to the south of France to stay with his sister when his wife, a junkie, ends up in jail. He’s a terrible father, self-centred and irresponsible, a negative role-model. His sister, and her husband, a trucker are responsible and take on the child-rearing responsibilities.

But Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts) is Sam’s dad, so he takes care of him as much as he can, which isn‘t much.

He’s irresponsible but also totally spontaneous. He sees a woman he likes, sleeps with her, moves on, no strings. If they’re free – they text they’re “OP” (operational) and they meet.

He has no job experience but is good fighter, so he lands a job as a bouncer at a nightclub. There he meets Stephanie (Marion Cotillard) an older woman, very beautiful, who works as an orca trainer (!) at Marineland. She’s not there for a rust and bone cotillard schoenaertspick-up; she just wants to be the object of desire by others.

Ali helps her when a fight breaks out and treats her with respect… even though he always says the wrong thing (he’s a Flemish speaker.)

Then Stephanie has a serious accident at work with the orcas, and her life changes. She’s caught in a funk of self-pity and hatred. Ali, meanwhile is moving up to sketchy work as a security guard and open air Mixed martial arts fights where he gets a cut of the bets in the fight.

So depressed Steph calls him up – maybe this odd couple can get together and help each other survive? Will he bring her back to life? Will she teach him to behave in a civilized way? Will he take responsibility as a father? Will they ever have an actual relationship?

rust and bone schoenaertsI don’t want to give away any more of the story – and it’s a terrific story! – but suffice it to say, it’s a deeply moving romance, a drama, a family story, a boxing movie, and lots more. The director, Audiard – he made A Prophet, another great movie — is fantastic, all the supporting actors (especially Corrinne Maseiro as Ali’s sister and Armand Verdure as Sam, his son) are amazing. But the two main leads Schoenaerts and Cotillard – are powerfully perfect in their roles.

Morgan

Dir: Michael D. Akers

Also worth mentioning is the low-budget drama Morgan (Dir: Michael D. Akers) that was screened at this year’s Inside-Out LGBT Film Festival in Toronto. In this film, Morgan (Leo Minaya), a competitive bike racer is disabled in an accident on a steep hill in Central Park, which is on the very path of the tournament he wants to win. After a struggle, and with the help of a caring boyfriend Dean (Jack Kesy) who he first meets on a basketball court, he Morgandecides to tackle the race once again, this time using a bike adjusted to fit his disability. This movie sensitively shows how partners can learn to treat a disability as a normal, erotic part of their sex lives.

Beeswax

Dir: Andrew Bujalski

And the realistic film Beeswax, from two years ago, also doesn’t shy away from sex involving a person with a disability. A nice, comfortable film, Beeswax is about the secrets and tensions shared by two sisters (played by real-life twins Tilly Hatcher, Maggie Hatcher), one of whom uses a wheelchair.

beeswaxHyde Park on the Hudson opens today, and Rust and Bone opens next Friday, Dec 21st. I don’t reveal my top ten movies of the year until the end of the month, but I guarantee Rust and Bone will be in that list. Also now playing is the very cute Korean romance A Werewolf Boy, which played at TIFF this year, about a boy raised by wolves, the girl who dog-trained him to behave like a person, and the romance that grew between them.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com .

September 7, 2012, TIFF! Love Stories in French. Movies Reviewed: Amour, Rebelle PLUS Comrade Kim Goes Flying

Posted in Canada, Circus, Drama, France, North Korea, TIFF, Uncategorized, War by CulturalMining.com on September 7, 2012

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM, looking at high-brow and low-brow movies, indie, cult, foreign, festival, documentary, genre and mainstream films, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.

TIFF 2012, the huge film festival that starts tomorrow, is readily apparent in downtown Toronto. People here are usually withdrawn and polite. But with so much glitz and glamour in town, everyone wonders if that person in dark glasses is really an actor or director. Usually I’m anonymous — I’m a radio broadcaster — but suddenly every passerby around the TIFF Bell Lightbox and the Hyatt Hotel (that’s where the TIFF registration offices are) seems to study my face… just in case I am famous.

If you’ve never been there, let me tell you a few things about it, First, it’s huge, with more than 300 movies from 65 countries playing over the next ten days. I just saw a totally surprising film from one of those 65 countries: North Korea!

I wandered into one unusual film today, Comrade Kim Goes Flying. It’s a comedy-drama about a young coal miner’s daughter with her head in the clouds. She wants to be a trapeze artist, so she goes to Pyonyang to spend a year near the circus. It’s a fascinating glimpse at an idealized vision of North Korea where everyone is rich, well-fed and ecstatically happy just to mix cement or dig up coal. The characters have unusual lines that sound like: “But the willpower of the working class will always save us, Comrade Secretary!” And yet, it works as a classic hollywood drama, something like Rocky. It just goes to show you that (although not all the movies are perfect), even picking a film at random might lead to an unexpected surprise.

So don’t be intimidated by the magnitude of TIFF. Just find a few you really want to see, pursue them and you should be able to land a screening. Check online (tiff.net) at 7 am to see what new tickets are on sale.

Today I’m going to talk about two great French language movies. One’s an Austrian film about an elderly French couple who choose to live out their lives in their own home; a Canadian film about a child in central Africa torn from her home to fight in a war.

Amour
Dir Michael Haneke

Georges and Anne, a retired married couple in their eighties (Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva) have a nice apartment, attend concerts, read books, share meals, and generally just enjoy their lives. They used to teach classical music and are pleased to see their former pupils becoming musical superstars. Life is peachy until one day… everything changes. Over lunch Georges tells Anne the sat shaker is empty, expecting her to refill it. But, instead, she just sat there, unresponsive. Although she later snapped out of whatever it was, it shook up the power dynamic of their traditional roles. Soon, following doctors’ tests, they discovered she is ill. But Anne makes Georges promise never to send her back to a hospital. She wants to live at home.

She entrusts her future with Georges – he’s a monster sometimes, she says, but a very kind one.

Gradually, she begins to deteriorate, physically, mentally and in her ability to communicate, due to a debilitating stroke. Georges is unrelenting in his devotion to her, but is heartbroken watching the formerly regal pianist, Queen-like even, slide from a connoisseur of Beethoven’s Bagatelle in G minor to a child chanting sur le pont d’avinon. Anne is deeply humiliated by her failure at maintaining perfection. She doesn’t want anyone seeing her in that state. Isabelle Hupert appears occasionally as their sanctimonious but ineffectual daughter, but most of the movie is just the two of them in their apartment. Like a lost pigeon that flies into their home, Georges realizes he holds both the power and the responsibility over the fate of his wife.

Austrian director Michael Haneke’s movies (Funny Games, White Ribbon, Cache) are always demanding, but often just thumb their collective nose at the characters, as if to say there is no morality, and even if their were, people are just selfish, evil hypocrites. (Haneke’s a bit like Lars von Trier.) That’s why I was surprised by the level of love and despair apparent in this mainly uncynical movie. And the acting by the two stars is absolutely flawless.

Amour is a crushingly devastating study of love, age and death. Unforgettable.

Rebelle
Dir Kim Nguyen

Komona (Rachel Mwanza) is a young girl, about 12 years old, living with her parents in a village central Africa. But she’s torn away from that life when a rebel army passes through and whisks her away to fight against the government. But she’s haunted by what happened to her parents, and they appear for her now, as painted white ghosts of the dead. They warn her whenever government troops are about to attack. Komona thinks they appear whenever she drinks “magic milk”, the baby formula she squeezes out of plastic bags. Word gets out and the local military leader takes her under his wing, as a protected one, since, he believes, she is a witch with magical powers.

She is schooled by another boy, a storyteller known as Le Magicien (the magician: Serge Kanyinda) who knows which shamanistic talisman to use, and how to place them, just so. He is albino and hence an outcast from his village, a witch, but also a target of bounty hunters. He wants to marry her (he’s maybe 14), but first she sends him off on a wild goose chase – well, actually a white rooster chase. If he can find her one of those, she’ll believe in his valour. The two of them escape from the rebel camp and its leader, the violent but superstitious rebel leader (Alain Lino Mic Eli Bastien), and make their way back to her home village.

Their picaresque journey is mystical, absurd and surprising, with children’s games and lovely scenic shots interspersed with terrible violence on her slow trip home to face her ghosts.

These are three original, loving movies.

Rebelle, Amour, and Comrade Kim Goes Flying are all playing at the Toronto Film festival this year – go to www.tiff.net for details, showtimes and tickets.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com .

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