Wednesday, November 17, 2010

With NOTHING PERSONAL and ME, TOO, Olive Films goes defiantly theatrical

Olive Films, which has quite an impressive backlist of video titles to its credit, seems suddenly to be at least a minor player in theatrical distribution. If the two films opening this Friday, November 19, here in New York City are not the first in Olive's theatrical bag -- both very much worth seeing, by the way -- they're the first that TrustMovies has come across.

Olive also has one of the more charming logos (above) currently on view: When I first noticed it, I thought it was a bee, but since this company is not named Bee Films, it must be an olive, with legs, eyelashes, tail and -- what? -- a pimento where the eye ought to be? Anyway, it's adorable, so here's a shout-out to whomever designed the thing. It's even cuter when animated, which you'll discover once you view one of the company's new films.
Speaking of...

NOTHING PERSONAL, written an directed by Urzula Antoniak, has a premise so simple and direct that it seems odd we've haven't seen its like previously. Yet I think we have not. This one's an original -- which may be why it has walked away with so many awards: Best First Feature at the Locarno, 2009; Best Film at the Dutch Film Fest, 2009; Winner of the Silver Giradillo, Sevilla, 20009; even the winner of the FranceAward of the High-School-Jury at the Festival International de Premiere Film d'Annonay. That last one is particularly interesting because Nothing Personal's main character looks (and acts) like she's barely out of high school herself, so I'll bet a lot of those jury kids quite readily identified.  As played by Dutch actress Lotte Verbeek, who's approaching 30 but clearly reads much younger, "You," as the character insists on being called by her co-star and practically the only other actor on view (the always fine Stephen Rea), is intent above all else on keeping her anonymity intact.

Filmmaker Antoniak, shown at right, sees to it that "You" maintains her distance -- from everyone.  In the course of the movie we learn almost nothing about her from the first scene -- as she sits in an empty apartment, fingering a wedding ring (that ring is all we get concerning back-story) -- through her life on the road, where her response to people ranges from nasty to disinterested, to the point at which she meets the only other important person in the film. (Nothing Personal is basically a two-hander.) Nonetheless, the film's theme becomes clear: Despite our best attempts to prove otherwise, we are social animals. We must and will connect --despite the costs.

Though we sense that the Verbeek character, above, must have one hell of a backstory, Antoniak wisely refrains from serving it up. Instead, she concentrates on the here and now, using visuals that are simply gorgeous: pure and stately and quiet: Wet earth has seldom seems so rich and fertile as here. The landscapes and seascapes are memorable, too, and the performances she draws from her two actors are wonderful.

Mr. Rea, above, is always such fun to watch.  From The Company of Wolves to GuinevereThe Crying Game to Stuck, he's a master of subtlety and the small gesture. Here, he is hang-dog perfection, and he's matched by Ms Verbeek, a cold, flame-haired mystery who slowly begins to warm. The film is divided into sections -- Loneliness, Marriage, The Beginning of a Relationship, Alone -- which I think are not really necessary. At the finale there is a tremendously moving scene, but as "You" handles it with her usual internalizing, I guess we ought to, as well. With this film, Ms Antoniak has given us a wonderful, strange thing.

Nothing Personal, unrated -- and just as well: I'd allow any age into this movie -- opens this Friday, November 19, in New York City at the Cinema Village.  And elsewhere, too, soon, I hope.

The second Olive film to debut  this week is an even trickier proposition.  ME, TOO (Yo, tambien) takes us into the world of Down syndrome people as we've not seen it previously: in an encompassing manner that includes home life, the workplace, romance and... sex. Unlike earlier movies that have addressed the needs of "special" people -- come on, can we say "handicapped"? -- such as The Other Sister or last year's fine Italian film We Can Do That -- by using gifted actors playing these "special people" -- this film, written and directed by Álvaro Pastor (shown below, right) and Antonio Naharro (below, left), uses a Down syndrome young man (Pablo Pineda) in the leading role.

What this does is force us viewers into experiencing the life of such a person in a much more honest way. If we're watching, say, Giovanni Ribisi and Juliette Lewis, very good actors, play these people in The Other Sister (or the gorgous blond young man who plays the mentally impaired boy who falls in love with an equally beautiful "normal" girl in We Can Do That), it's so easy to enjoy and identify with this kind of thing.

What's not so easy is watching Mr Pineda (above, left , and below, right) -- a very obvious member of the Down crowd -- as he negotiates his way around and into a friendship, love and even sexual relationship with one of his co-workers, another "outsider" beautfully limned by Almodóvar actress Lola Dueñas (above, right, and below, left). Pineda is very, very good, mind you. He is utterly believable, moment to moment, in everything he does. The difficulty comes from seeing someone so "other" trying to fit into the "normal" world.  It's so there, right in front of us (as it is in front of Dueñas), and there is no escaping the visual differences, for her or for us.  That she -- and, I think, we -- can finally see beyond the mere visual is the great strength of this movie -- which never shies away from the physical side of Down syndrome.

The film is full of fine, funny and telling moments. Daniel's brother (played by filmmaker Naharro) warning him, "Don't fall in love with a woman with 46-chromosomes; she's not going to be interested."  Later, when things don't work out to Daniel's liking and he rants to his brother about the unfairness of his brother's life as compared to his own, "Don't make me feel guilty for having what I have!" the brother insists. The back-story given the Dueñas character also helps the movie work from a psychological aspect, while the scruffy beard that Daniel wears, adds some maturity and weight to his appearance. The movie gets so many details right, and these add immeasurably to its believability.

Spain today, for all of  its current economic problems, seems like a model society in many ways.  How it  treats all of its people is one big sign of its progress.  Me, Too, also unrated -- and, again, I'd allow any age child into this movie -- opens this Friday, November 19, in New York City at the Cinema Village.  I hope this film, too, makes it into other theaters across our country, and onto DVD.

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