Friday, January 28, 2022

Reviews: Three Late Oscar Hopefuls Open, and They are All Great

Shorts: Cyrano, The Worst Person in the World, Compartment No. 6 

Cyrano (C) UA Releasing

Film: Cyrano 
In Theaters on Feb 25

If you think the only musicalized version of a famous theatrical balcony scene you might see this year is in “West Side Story” (from “Romeo and Juliet”), you’re wrong. The second historically famous balcony scene is from Edmond Rostand’s “Cyrano de Bergerac,” in which the brave but large-nosed soldier Cyrano woos the lovely Roxanne on behalf of a younger cadet in his troop named Christian. And in the movie musical, “Cyrano,” the scene is as transforming and romantic as it is sad and unfair. But this Cyrano doesn’t have a big nose. He is a dwarf, played magnificently by Peter Dinklage, and that’s what sets him apart for the rest of French society. The movie is based on an off-Broadway musical also starring Dinklage, which I saw, and in the stage version, the script was faithful to the original, keeping the reference to the nose and not much about the stature. I am glad they decided to change it for the movie for it is obvious that the role was tailored for Dinklage by his wife, Erica Schmidt (the screenwriter of the movie and original director of the stage show) and the songwriters Bryce and Aaron Dessner of the band “The National.” The movie is wonderfully directed by Joe Wright, who has gone back to his costume drama days of “Pride and Prejudice” with beautiful set pieces and dances. And the songs, while not your standard Broadway fare, are quite melodic and emotional, especially one in which the soldiers sing to their loved ones before a battle. Haley Bennett plays Roxanne with more frills and giggles than most interpretations I have seen, but she does get better as the movie goes along. Kelvin Harrison Jr., so good in “Waves,” is an appealing Christian, but chewing every scene is Ben Mendelsohn as De Guiche, a soldier who believes he’s entitled to have Roxanne as his wife even though it’s obvious he’s really in love with himself. I enjoyed the stage version of the musical, but the movie adaptation is more successful in keeping with the Rostand’s original. 

The Worst Person in the World (c) Neon

Film: The Worst Person in the World 
In Cinemas on Feb 4 

A movie with the worst title is also one of the best movies of 2021. “The Worst Person in the World” is a pretty harsh description of Julie (a wonderful Renate Reinsve), who does indeed make some questionable life choices in this film. Julie, at the start of the movie, is living with her cartoonist boyfriend Aksel (Anders Danielsen Lie), so why does she go from Aksel’s important art opening to flirt with Elvind (Herbert Nordrum) at a party she crashes? Because she’s in her twenties, that’s why. Not since Greta Gerwig’s flighty performance of the title character in Noah Baumbach’s “Frances Ha” do we get someone who seems to do things on whims that might actually sabotage whatever good things she has going. But worst person? Hardly. Norwegian director Joachim Trier’s fifth film is his best, as he lets Julie make her mistakes but doesn’t judge her, even when the consequence of one of her biggest decisions ultimately ends heartbreakingly. Trier, who made quite a splash with his debut movie “Oslo, August 31st” in 2011, has a lighter touch here that veers almost into magical realism territory in one of the best sequences in the movie. Lie, who plays a similar kind of boyfriend in this year’s “Bergman Island,” has some good moments, but this is entirely Reinsve’s film. She has the energy and spark of a young Keira Knightley and her restlessness in this film is palpable. You may not agree with any of her choices, but to judge her too harshly would make you the worst person in the world. 

Compartment No. 6 (c) Sony Pictures Classics

Film: Compartment No. 6 
In Cinemas 

Co-winner of the Grand Prix Award at Cannes and shortlisted for the International Feature Film Oscar as Finland’s entry, “Compartment No. 6” at first seems like it could end up as a horror story as Laura (Seidi Haarla), a Finnish student in the 1990s studying in Moscow, boards a train to Murmansk and finds herself in the titled Second Class compartment with a loutish drunk named Vadim (Yuri Borisov) who doesn’t get the unsubtle hints she’s giving him that she doesn’t want to socialize. When they get off the train together at an overnight stop, I was sure it was going down “Cabin in the Woods”-type territory. Considering that Cannes gave the Palm D’or that year to a body horror movie (“Titane”), I wouldn’t be surprised if the second-place award went to an actual horror movie. Imagine my surprise when it actually turns into “Before Sunrise” (“Before Murmansk?”) as Laura starts to bond with Vadim, seeing a working-class kinship in him that she’s been trying to hide from her upper-class college friends and worldly girlfriend Irina (Dinara Drukarova). Once Borisov is able to show Vadim’s more vulnerable side, the movie settles into its mostly platonic love story with grace and humor. Based on a novel by Rosa Liksom), “Compartment No. 6” may not end the way an audience would expect, but it is an honest choice. Director Juho Kuosmanen, who previously made the critically acclaimed “The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki” in 2016 (it won the Un Certain Regard prize at Cannes), is certainly a director to watch.

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