Monthly Archives: August, 2017

"The Unknown Girl" A realistic and visceral experience in guilt

August 28th, 2017 Posted by Film Festivals, Interviews 0 thoughts on “"The Unknown Girl" A realistic and visceral experience in guilt”


Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, the brothers responsible for a myriad number of films, most recently the Academy Award nominated “Two Days, One Night” starring Marion Cotillard, have brought us yet another intriguingly disturbing study of personal psychology with “The Unknown Girl.”  As a young and quickly rising general practitioner, Jenny Davin (Adele Haenel) makes a fateful decision one evening at her clinic to not answer a frantic knock at the door by a young woman.  She is found dead the next morning.  Ridden with guilt, Jenny is consumed with finding out not only what happened to her, but to also give her an identity.  It becomes a crime-thriller, but never dismisses the feeling of possible causality for this woman’s death.

The Dardenne brothers, over the course of decades in creating deeply meaningful and relatable films, sat down to talk with me at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival to discuss this film and working together.  Their light-hearted yet thoughtful demeanor immediately alerted me as to why these siblings can continue to create such beautiful works of art.  While I don’t speak French (there was an interpreter), the artistry in their communication style was wonderfully overpowering, communicating what mere words cannot.

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Reel Honest Reviews (RHR):  The psychology behind this film is intense and extraordinary, particularly as we, as humans, deal with remedying guilt.  What was the impetus for this film?

Luc Dardenne (LD):  The beginning of this film was not based on reality.  We were more interested in a situation where somebody is responsible for the death of somebody else but we don’t actually kill [that] person.  We imagined a doctor because the work of a doctor is to save lives…We took this story of a person feeling guilty for kind of killing somebody so she needs to find her name to in a way save her.

Jean-Pierre Dardenne (JPD):  We hope that Jenny’s obsession is shared by each of the [viewers].  When we made the film, the migrant crisis had already begun, so the young girl in the film dies near a river…it’s a metaphor for all those immigrants who died…and are without a name.  It is a necessity to give them a name.

RHR:  Why a female doctor instead of a male?

LD:  We never hesitated if it should be a man or a woman.  It was always a woman.  What we hesitated about was…having it be an older woman, but we couldn’t develop the film that we wanted to make [with an older woman].  We happened to meet Adele and we realized that she could be our doctor.  Her naiveté.  Her naiveté of her face.  We thought we could construct the film around her.

JPD:  The first time [we] met [Adele] was at an author’s society.  It was really her face that made [us] feel like we could film around that face…and the way she could communicate with the other characters.  She’s a French actress, but she’s not really well-known here in the Americas.  She was a child movie star [and completed] three or four movies before our movie.  Two years ago, she won the Cesar for best actress.

RHR:  Guilt is the driving force behind Jenny’s actions.  Can you tell me about this part of human psychology and how you incorporated it?

LD:  We thought that Jenny’s ability of being possessed by this dead girl, but didn’t want to show this possession by showing some kind of supernatural effects, but more by showing that she does the same gestures again and again.  [For example], she often shows on her phone the picture of the unknown girl.  She doesn’t stop that.  She doesn’t have a life anymore apart from this obsession.

RHR:  I’m not familiar with all of your films, but perhaps there are some stylistic similarities.  In this film, there is a sense of simplicity within the complexity of human actions.  The walls are stark white or orange.  There aren’t any extraneous or distracting information particularly when someone is talking.  You’re completely focused on their face and their words.

JPD:  It’s not typical.  We gave a lot of importance to the dialogue because each character must speak and the quest is to give birth to speak the truth. So to talk in silence is very important in this film.  The abstraction of the setting [augments] that.

LD:  It’s our target.  When you see her face and the wall, the white wall, the viewer goes to her head.  It’s difficult to explain that, but we felt that and we tried.

RHR:  Yes, there’s not music overlaid, is there?

JPD:  It accentuates what’s happening in the film.

RHR:  I have to ask about working together as siblings.  I know what my brother and I are like.  What is it like for the two of you when you disagree?  I’m sure you have differences of opinions.

JPD:  No, never! [laughs]

LD:  It happens that we work together and that we speak a lot and we have the same intuition.

JPD:  I believe it’s because we happen to [have met] a theater director and to start working together.  He was like our spiritual father.

LD:  Maybe it’s better not to know!  [laughs]

We continued to discuss the differences in medical care and practices in Belgium versus the United States, all of us intrigued by the other’s situation.  I’d like to thank the interpreter for her skills in communicating my questions and relaying the brothers’ responses.  I’d also like to thank Jean-Pierre and Luc for their time and for their efforts in using English which were extraordinary.

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"Wind River" Chilling Crime Drama from Taylor Sheridan

August 11th, 2017 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on “"Wind River" Chilling Crime Drama from Taylor Sheridan”


“Wind River” is Taylor Sheridan’s directorial sophomore attempt, although he is a well-known writer with last year’s Oscar-nominated film “Hell or High Water.” “Wind River” tests his ability to bring his words to life, via Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olsen, and Graham Green.  From this reviewer’s perspective, Sheridan passes the test with flying colors.  Premiering at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2017, there wasn’t a dry eye in the packed Eccles Theater—close to 1500 viewers—as we were all completely blown away with the film and the performances.

Sheridan takes inspiration from real life for “Wind River.”  Although a fictional tale, the details reveal the devastating situation on Native American reservations in our country. The film depicts a young Native American girl, full of promise and hope, found frozen in the mountains and in a nightgown.  Tracker Cory Lambert is called in to investigate, but his demons surface as the investigation ensues.  FBI investigator, Jane Banner (Olsen), teams up with Cory to solve the murder which authorities deem an accident.  It’s a chilling portrayal of a culture and circumstance that is not only inexcusable, it’s unfathomable.

To say that “Wind River” takes you on an emotional roller coaster ride doesn’t do it justice.  Anger, sorrow, humor, love, disgust, and devastation are all expertly woven into the story as we get to know Cory and his situation.  We meet the parents of the girl who has died.  We have empathy for the awkwardness that Jane feels as she attempts to solve a murder and confront officials, suspects, and the dregs of society that have been created by their situation.  She’s young, inexperienced, and female…three strikes against her in this town.  We are taken on a journey of emotional growth for both Jane and Cory, connecting us even more deeply to them.


Sheridan has an unequivocal voice in portraying the pain that a mother and father endure after losing a child. He brings in elements of tradition in the Native Americans while recognizing the commonality among us all, no matter our background.   These intensely real characters in real situations created with the utmost of care reveals the skill and innate ability Sheridan has in bringing his words to life.   His style allows you to laugh in between your gasping and shedding of tears, captivating you like no other film.

The role was written for Renner, according to Sheridan, and it fits him like a glove.  His intensity and humility shines through with confidence.  While he portrays a man who initially seems heartless, he is anything but that.  The opening scene is reminiscent of “The Bourne Legacy” or “Mission: Impossible” films, but we quickly are brought into a completely different film with Renner’s character’s sadness and strength as he helps those around him.  Renner’s ability to portray this man is simply astounding.

Olsen finds her role as the new FBI agent equally as comfortable, giving us a stellar performance.  She could have been anyone’s daughter, being thrust into dire and dangerous situations, but the level of reality is always there.  Sheridan takes care to bring us the details of the lack of cold preparation and the need to find suitable snow suits with humor and heart and then thrusts us back into the brutally harsh cold and deadly environment faster than a blizzard.

Of course, Graham Greene brings credibility in this story along with his signature style of authenticity and humor.  Sheridan brings together all of these actors and brings out their strengths like a choreographer of a ballet—it’s precision at its best.

Cinematically, “Wind River” is stunning as it captures the starkness and harshness of the elements surrounding the characters.  We can feel the wind whipping across the plains and over the mountain tops as it slices through the bare flesh of our emotional soul.  It’s a masterpiece on every level, binding us closely with the situation and the characters.

“Wind River” is a brutally stunning story capturing the harsh realities of Native American life in a fictional crime thriller.  Standout performances, excellence in direction, writing, and cinematography create one of the best films of 2017.  Sheridan and his cast should ready themselves for the 2018 Academy Awards.

To read the review as it appeared in the Friday, August 25th edition of The Daily Journal, go here



"Brigsby Bear" Finds joy in novel concept

August 4th, 2017 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on “"Brigsby Bear" Finds joy in novel concept”


“Brigsby Bear” premiered at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, but this film has yet to create a buzz.  With its unique concept, comedic elements, and heart, it’s truly a wonder why.  Flying under the critics’ radar, this endearing comedy is co-written by and stars Kyle Mooney as James, the child-abductee, now 25, having lived in total seclusion with his bizarre captors/paBrigsby12rents, played by Mark Hamill and Jane Adams and is now reunited with his biological family.  James’  entire knowledge base is exclusively based upon a television show…that only has has seen:  Brigsby Bear making the transition to “normal” a bit more complicated.  The life-sized puppet has taught James the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic as well as a skewed viewpoint of life lessons.  To say he is obsessed with Brigsby would be putting it mildly.  James’ adjustment provides uproariously funny situations while tugging at your heartstrings and even brings up some common issues in parenting.


The very beginning of the film had me wonderfully perplexed.  We see a young adult in his bedroom, surrounded by “super hero” decor watching a fantastical show.  Now, it’s time for the parent talk…James  is spending way too much time in front of the television and not devoting enough time to studies and solving world problems.  Is he precocious?  Does he refuse to grow up and get a real job?  Are his parents frustrated with him or is this a post-apocolyptic era?   These are the questions running through your mind until the FBI shows up and arrests the “parents” for kidnapping.  This perplexing situation is stellar and sets the scene for the remainder of the film as James attempts to assimilate into this unfamiliar new world that in many ways is another planet to James.

The film presents an interesting premise.  How would a 25 year-old adult who has been exposed to lies and sheltered from humanity and all outside stimulation and technology, adapt to our current world?  This innocent young man, relying on what he has known for a quarter of  a century, pieces together how to talk appropriately, respond, and interact, all the while  clinging on to the one safety mechanism he has—Brigsby Bear and all that he has taught him.  Brigsby is the core of his being.  He does finds some comfort and understanding in the local police detective, Vogel (Greg Kinnear), who is able to see beneath the oddities of this young man and appreciate his situation.  Meanwhile, James’ loving parents (Matt Walsh and Michaela Watkins)BrigsbyBear 1234 attempt to make up for lost time and recreate all the activities they should have done together.  James’ sister, Aubrey (Ryan Simpkins), begrudgingly allows him to tag along to a party.  Embarrassment isn’t even close to what she experiences, but like all teens, she’s worried more about herself than her new-found brother.  James finds a connection with Spencer, a computer savvy creative teen, with whom James begins  to assimilate using filmmaking as the tool.  The premise of the film?   You guessed it!  Brigsby Bear.

This novel concept requires just the right cast to make the story not only credible, but fun.  Mooney hits exactly the right notes in his portrayal of James with his awkwardly innocent expectations and reactions to peer pressure and his parents.  The lack of his character’s stimulation and experience is at once believable given his simple yet nuanced performance.  Watkins and Walsh are the doting parents and compliment one another, but it is Walsh’s comedic excellence that brings the “dad” role to a higher level.  Integrating a therapist played by Clare Danes creates another element that gives the film that touch of believability it needs.  This is exactly what responsible, caring, and confused parents would do.  Mooney and Simpkins could easily be siblings, not necessarily because of their looks, but because of their ability to read and respond convincingly to one another.  And Greg Kinnear appears to be thoroughly enjoying his role as the thespian police officer with a heart of gold.  This small ensemble cast works together in harmony to provide viewers with a sweet and loving story that makes you laugh throughout every situation becoming a charmingly sweet and endearing story.

It’s an aboslute pleasure to watch this genuinely sweet and charming film given its heart unique storyline.  Filled with humor and heart and a bit of silliness, “Brigsby Bear” allows you to escape into another world—or perhaps I should say “galaxy.”






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