Is ‘Boyhood’ Really About Motherhood?

Patricia Arquette, Ellar Coltrane in Boyhood

Lorelei Linklater, Patricia Arquette, Ellar Coltrane in Boyhood

Last month, members of Miami International Film Festival’s Miami Film Society were treated to a private screening of one of 2014′s essential movies, Richard Linklater’s Boyhood. Linklater is one of the American cinema’s quietest great directors. His most resonant obsession is the passage of time in our lives. An earlier trilogy of films – Before Sunrise (1995), Before Sunset (2004), and Before Midnight (2013) – examined two fictional people created by the same two actors at three different nine-year intervals, and how the weight of time and experience changed their characters, sometimes for the better, sometimes not.

Boyhood one-ups the Before trilogy – it examines fictional people created by the same actors, over 12 consecutive, real-time years, in one whole movie. Its main character is a Texas boy named Mason (who is 6 when the movie opens and 18 when it ends). Or is it? Such is the richness of Boyhood that everyone will find a highly personal reading. For me, there’s significance in the fact that actress Patricia Arquette, who plays Mason’s mother, receives the film’s top billing. Is Boyhood really about motherhood?

Patricia Arquette, Ellar Coltrane in Boyhood

Patricia Arquette, Ellar Coltrane in Boyhood

When the film opens, Mom is already separated from the college boy she dated who fathered Mason and his older sister, and is struggling as a single parent. She’s perhaps 30, and in the subsequent years we see her yearn to leave a mark and do something that fulfills her, beyond motherhood. She dumps a jerk of a boyfriend and works hard to support her kids and take college classes so that she can teach a subject she’s really passionate about. As you watch Arquette change physically over the years, get thicker and more focused on a woman’s desire to age gracefully, Linklater builds up to a moment that I will go out on a limb (it’s only July) and say is the pinnacle moment of American cinema for 2014. It’s a moment of transition in her relationship with Mason, and it’s a moment where Mom confronts everything that she ever thought her life would be about.

In Chris Weitz’s A Better Life (2011), raising a child was, for Demian Bichir’s character, “a reason to live”. For Arquette’s Mom, it’s perhaps more like “a purpose for being”. Arquette is a phenomenal, under-utilized actress. She draws on her technique and finds a deep honesty that speaks for an entire class and generation of American culture which perhaps somehow believe that their children will learn from, and improve upon, the lives of their parents. But Boyhood, like many other wise movies about parenthood, wonders if they merely repeat us.

Boyhood is now making its way into commercial release. It will open in Miami on Friday, July 25th at Coral Gables Art Cinema, Regal South Beach Stadium and AMC Aventura.  — Jaie Laplante

A COFFEE IN BERLIN (Oh Boy) It’s a Deep Cup

Another German winner in the spotlight this week is Jan Ole Gerster’s feature directorial debut A Coffee in Berlin, which garnered six German Film Academy Awards, including Outstanding Feature Film, Best Director and Best Actor. Featured in #MiamiFF 30’s Cinema 360° presented by Viendomovies program, A Coffee in Berlin (formerly titled Oh Boy), follows a law-school dropout’s endlessly problematic mission for the titular cup, and is earning Gerster comparisons to Woody Allen and Jim Jarmusch for his film’s jazzy score and black-and-white cinematography.

In A Coffee in Berlin, Niko (Tim Schilling) lives for the moment as he wanders aimlessly through the streets of Berlin, curiously observing everyone around him and oblivious to his growing status as an outsider. Then on one fateful day, through a series of absurdly comical encounters, everything changes: his girlfriend rebuffs him, his father cuts off his allowance, and a strange psychiatrist dubiously confirms his ‘emotional imbalance’. Unable to ignore the consequences of his passivity any longer, Niko finally concludes that he has to engage with life.


At MiamiFF’s 31st edition this past March, the Festival presented a powerful look at modern-day German cinema — with the support of the Consulate General of the Federal Republic of Germany Miami and German Films — including a Close-Up on Germany program featuring: Bernard Rose’s The Devils Violinist (Der Teufelsgeiger), Bora Dagtekin’s Fack Ju Göhte/Suck Me Shakespeer (F*ck Je, Goethe), Hannes Stöhr’s Global Player (Global Player – Wo wir sind isch vorne), and David Wnendt’s Wetlands (Feuchtgebiete). Gerster’s award winning and crowd pleasing slacker debut A Coffee in Berlin opens for its Miami commercial debut on Friday, July 18th at MDC’s Tower Theater and Cosford Cinema.  — Tatyana Chiocchetti

DORMANT BEAUTY: Exploring the Right-to-Die Controversy in Italy

Thought, feeling, and a healthy dose of melodramatic passion are almost always prevalent in Italian filmmaker Marco Bellocchio’s films, and his native country provides him with copious material to expose his directorial acumen. Italy’s recent contentious debate over euthanasia provides the  framework for Bellocchio’s multi-layered exploration of life, love and politics in Dormant Beauty (Bella addormentata), which was featured in MIFF 2013’s Cinema 360° presented by Viendomovies program, and will be opening for a commercial theatrical run next week.

Eluana Englaro

Eluana Englaro

Dormant Beauty draws upon the case of Eluana Englaro (1970-2009), an Italian woman who had been in a coma for 17 years, following a car crash in 1992, and suffered what doctors determined to be irreversible brain damage. Her father’s decision to remove her feeding tube and allow her to die was supported by the Italian courts and opposed by the Vatican and Silvio Berlusconi, the prime minister at the time. Ms. Englaro’s fate, like Terri Schiavo’s in the US a few years earlier, became the subject of a furious and divisive national debate.


       Isabelle Huppert in Dormant Beauty

With a superb cast led by Toni Servillo, Isabelle Huppert and Alba Rohrwacher, Bellocchio uses the climactic days of the right-to-die controversy—as protesters gather outside a hospital in Udine, and Parliament assembles to vote on emergency legislation—and examines its impact on three sets of characters whose struggles mirror the larger drama that is playing out on ubiquitous television screens. A larger picture of contemporary Italian society emerges, to intense effect.  Catch the Miami Premiere engagement of Dormant Beauty at Miami Beach Cinematheque and Cosford Cinema on Friday, July 18th.  —Tatyana Chiocchetti


Sumptuous Foodie Films to Pique Appetites of Miami Moviegoers

The increasing number of intimate and evocative films featuring the tastes, aromas and, ultimately, characters behind food and haute cuisine continues to grow in popularity, proving that moviegoers do indeed enjoy feasting in the dark.
Nimrat Kaur as Ila, The Lunchbox poster; Irrfan Khan as Saajan Fernandes
Topping the culinary-themed feature film list is an Indian import called The Lunchbox (Dabba), by writer/director Ritesh Batra, which has become this year’s highest-grossing foreign language film in the U.S. so far, including a super successful recent run at MDC’s Tower Theater. The universally-themed romantic fantasy is set in Mumbai and builds upon the unexpected meeting of two lonely hearts (a married home cook and a solemn widower) following a mis-delivered lunchbox, which leads to a covert exchange of notes, where the two share their innermost feelings and philosophical musings with one another.

The Hundred-Foot Journey poster; Om Puri, Manish Dayal as Hassan Haji & Helen Mirren as Madame Mallory

MIFF’s immensely popular Culinary Cinema series continues next month with an exclusive Miami Film Society members only advance screening July 29th of The Hundred-Foot Journey, the latest by MIFF’s 2013 Career Achievement Tribute director Lasse Hallström (My Life as a Dog, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Chocolat). This magnificent culinary drama is centered on an Indian family that moves to France and opens an eatery across the street from a three-Michelin-star French restaurant run by Madame Mallory (Academy Award®-winner Helen Mirren), who’s icy protests against the new Indian restaurant a hundred feet from her own escalate into an all out war between the two establishments. Bursting with flavor, this one produced by Steven Spielberg, Oprah Winfrey, and Juliet Blake is based on Richard C. Morais’ international bestseller. The expertly woven script is by Steven Knight, who recently did a remarkable job writing and directing the dramatic thriller Locke (2013), and garnered an Oscar nomination for Best Writing, Original Screenplay for Dirty Pretty Things (2002).

Chef poster; Emjay Anthony as Percy; John Favreau as Casper

On the local front, and doing extremely well for an independent production, is Chef, a mouth-watering comedy directed, co-produced, written by, and starring Jon Favreau, who plays a chef who loses his restaurant job in L.A. and moves to Miami with his son and sous chef (John Leguizamo). He reinvents himself as the owner and operator of a food truck in an effort to reclaim his creative promise, while piecing back together his estranged family. Upon hitting the road, he discovers his passion, not just for the plate, but also for life—and, along the way, audiences are treated to an endless array of delectable food shots that are every bit as much the star of the film as Favreau’s star-studded supporting cast (Scarlett Johansson, Dustin Hoffman, Robert Downey Jr.)

Le Chef poster; Michaël Youn as Jacky Bonnot and Jean Reno as Alexandre Lagarde

Opening this Friday, June 27th at MDC’s Tower Theater, is Le Chef (Comme un chef), by Daniel Cohen, where Jean Reno stars  as veteran chef of a Michelin three-star culinary empire running short on inspiration, when a radical young molecular gastronomic chef (Michaël Youn) enters the picture. This past March, Le Chef, also starring Santiago Segura, was the signature event in MIFF 2014’s second annual Lee Brian Schrager Culinary Cinema series, presented by Plymouth Gin, and was paired with a traditional French bistro buffet at Daniel Boulud’s legendary db Bistro Moderne in the JW Marriott Marquis. —Tatyana Chiocchetti

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Mike Myers’ Directorial Debut: Supermensch – The Legend of Shep Gordon

You’re likely not a show biz insider if you’re wondering “Who was (or is) Shep Gordon?” He’s the quintessential Hollywood manager, and the subject of Canadian funnyman Mike Myers’ directorial debut, Supermensch – The Legend of Shep Gordon. The homage/doc delivers on behind-the-scenes gossip and insights, but goes beyond the normal showbiz biography, offering deeper reflection on the big questions of life.
Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon poster; Shep Gordon & cat at home in Maui
Gordon, who now lives in Maui, flew in from Berlin this past March, to present the film—featured in MIFF 31’s Knight Documentary Competition program—to a multi-generational audience at Regal South Beach. During the Q&A Gordon spoke profoundly about the intrinsic dangers of fame and how today’s society tends to focus far too heavily on achieving fame rather than focusing on the actual craft itself. 

Shep was a Long Island kid who went to the University of Buffalo and ended up in Los Angeles where he met Janis Joplin who introduced him to Jimi Hendrix, who suggested Gordon be a manager (after learning he was Jewish). Gordon took the advice, seeing that access to musicians was also access to sex with the women who followed them. One of his early clients, who became a life-long friend, was Alice Cooper. Gordon saw that the unknown Cooper could make a name for himself by marketing notoriety. If the cops closed down a show, the place would be packed the next night. It worked for decades. 

Six Degrees of Sheparation; Shep Gordon at Regal South Beach during MIFF 31
Beyond friendship, Gordon was an asset for his clients: “Get the money” was his mantra. He recognized that black entertainers weren’t being paid by promoters, and took an interest in Teddy Pendergrass. Recognizing Pendergrass’s appeal was sex, Gordon organized shows for women only, which turned out to be a shrewd maneuver. Everybody went wild. In the film, Myers delves deep into Gordon’s fast-lane and personal life, showing how he also launched the careers of Emeril Lagasse, Raquel Welch, Sylvester Stallone, Kirk Douglas, the story behind how he masterminded the concept of celebrity chefs, and the list goes on.

Young people should just make stuff, and not worry about the result.  “Fame is the industrial disease of creativity,” warns Gordon. “There’s nothing about fame that I’ve ever seen that’s healthy,” Gordon goes on to say, “The ones who rose to the top got hurt the worst.” Myers reveals a man who has embraced his dualities: a hard-driving dealmaker who wants everyone to be happy, and a rock ‘n’ roll hedonist who yearns for a family.  Against the backdrop of debauchery, he’s a man on a spiritual quest.

Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon makes its Miami commercial debut at O Cinema Miami Shores and Regal South Beach Stadium 18 on Friday, June 20th.  —Tatyana Chiocchetti

A ‘Loving and Friendly’ Ending…that Began 19 Years Ago in Miami

Two Much film poster; Melanie Griffith and Antonio Banderas
We were saddened to hear the news of Antonio Banderas’ and  Melanie Griffith’s split this past weekend, as their whirlwind romance began in Miami during the filming of Fernando Trueba’s romantic screwball comedy Two Much in 1995. 

It’s a coincidence that a 35mm Retrospective screening of Two Much has already been programmed as Miami International Film Festival’s contribution to Miami Film Month, on Sunday, June 29th. This year’s theme is “movies made in Miami” and after MIFF highlighted its 1995 Opening Night Film, David Frankel’s Miami Rhapsody, in our 30th anniversary retrospective two years ago, turning to our 1996 Opening Night Film, Two Much, was a natural choice.

Scene from Two Much: Daryl Hannah & Melanie Griffith; promo pic with Antonio Banderas, Melanie Griffith, Anotonio Banderas (“twin”), and Daryl Hannah; Two Much wedding scene Antonio Banderas & Melanie Griffith

Two Much is more than just a trip down memory lane to a time when Miami’s cultural renaissance had just begun its explosion. Lincoln Road had just re-invented itself as a pedestrian mall and it was a scene of independent cafes and art galleries, such as the one owned by Art (played by Banderas), the Miami art dealer/con man who is the central character of the film. Two Much captures a time of invention and wild freedom that was a hallmark of Miami life at the time, and it certainly captures the atmosphere that led the on-screen sparks between Banderas and Griffith to a real-life romance and subsequent marriage.

It’s a testament to the strength of Banderas’ and Griffith’s long relationship that they were able to issue a statement attesting to the fact that they will be divorcing in “a loving and friendly manner”.  See the film where their made-in-Miami love affair first began at the Bill Cosford Cinema on Sunday, June 29th at 1:00 PM – visit Miami Film Month  for more details. The screening is FREE (no ticket required),  simply RSVP to to reserve your seat. See you at the movies!

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Remembering the Artist: Robert De Niro Sr.

Robert De Niro Jr.
When you hear the name Robert De Niro, you think of one of our greatest actors, but there was another man by that name who was a very talented painter. It was his father, Robert De Niro Sr.  It’s been more than 20 years since De Niro Sr.’s death at age 71, but his memory remains fresh for his son, Oscar-winning actor Robert De Niro, Jr., who says it was his “responsibility” to make a documentary about his father, culminating in a 40-minute film called Remembering the Artist: Robert De Niro, Sr. Directed by Perri Peltz and Geeta Gandbhir, it was featured in MIFF 2014’s DOC-YOU-UP program this past March, with Peltz in attendance to introduce the screening at Paragon Grove. Against a backdrop of archival footage, photographs, and stills of De Niro Sr.’s artwork,  De Niro, Jr. reads from his father’s letters and journals, and provides a moving recollection of his father’s personal and professional struggles as part of his own mission to honor and preserve his father’s legacy and artwork.
Two sets of father & son: Robert De Niro Jr. and Robert De Niro Sr.

In the early 1930s, avant-garde European artists escaped the politically charged atmosphere at home and took teaching positions in the US, exposing American art students to the newest European trends. One of the leading teachers was Hans Hofmann, an abstract expressionist painter who set up schools in New York City and Provincetown, Mass. De Niro, Sr. studied in both locations with Hofmann, who called him one of his most promising students ever.  In 1945, De Niro, Sr.’s work was included in the Autumn Salon at Peggy Guggenheim’s Art of the Century gallery along with that of Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko. The following year, the 24-year-old artist enjoyed his first solo exhibition at Guggenheim’s Gallery—and was greatly admired by his colleagues—until his career was obscured by the pop-art movement, causing him to struggle for recognition in subsequent decades.

Robert De Niro’s Sr. SoHo studio as it remains today; Robert De Niro Sr. and Virginia Admiral (De Niro Jr.’s parents who met as fellow students of Hans Hofmann, and though they separated, remained friends until the end.)

The 70-year-old actor recently opened up about his gay father to Out Magazine, giving readers a tour of his father’s old Soho home and art studio. “It was the only way to keep his being, his existence alive here,” said De Niro Jr., who remains committed to honoring his father’s legacy after his death, maintaining the art studio exactly as it was when his father worked there, so that his children can appreciate their grandfather’s work.  De Niro expressed regrets about not talking with his father about sexuality. “Being from that generation, especially from a small town upstate; I was not aware, much, of it,” he said. “I wish we had spoken about it much more. My mother (Virginia Admiral, married to De Niro Sr. from 1941-1945) didn’t want to talk about things in general, and you’re not interested when you’re a certain age.”

Robert De Niro Sr., Robert De Niro Jr.

As a side note, this month marks Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month (LGBT Pride Month), held each year during the month of June, with events (pride parades, picnics, parties, workshops, symposia and concerts) attracting millions of participants around the world. Memorials are held during this month for those members of the community who have been lost to hate crimes or HIV/AIDS. The purpose of the commemorative month is to recognize the impact that LGBT individuals have had on history and art locally, nationally, and internationally.

Remembering the Artist: Robert De Niro Sr. will premiere Monday, June 9 at 9 PM EST on HBO. [view trailer] —Tatyana Chiocchetti

Seven MIFF Alumni Directors Take Home Awards at Cannes

Director Nuri Bilge Ceylan with Palme d’Or prize; Winter Sleep poster
We are proud to extend a massive round of applause to an international array of masterful MIFF alumni directors (from Turkey, Italy, Germany, Spain, Canada, Hungary and Argentina) who took home awards at Cannes this past weekend.  Standing O for Turkish filmmaker and writer Nuri Bilge Ceylan (Three Monkeys, MIFF 2009) who came away with the coveted Palme d’Or, for his 196-minute deeply engrossing drama, Winter Sleep (Kis uykusu), and dedicated this top prize to “the young people in Turkey and those who lost their lives in the last year.” Winter Sleep delves into the everyday existence of Ayudin (Haluk Bilginer), a middle-aged former actor turned comfortably situated mountaintop hotel owner, developing into a multidimensional character study with moral implications resonating far beyond its remote Turkish setting.
The Wonders (Le meraviglie) poster; scene from Alice Rorwacher’s The Wonders
Italian director and screenwriter Alice Rohrwacher (Corpo celeste, MIFF 2012) took home Cannes’ Grand Prix in the main competition section as well as a Palme d’Or nomination for her latest dramatic feature, The Wonders (Le meraviglie), a coming of age story set in the northern Italian countryside which follows a part-German, part-Italian family and their beekeeping / honey business, as a change in health and safety laws begin to threaten their future. 
Director Wim Wenders on stage at Olympia Theater (MIFF 2006); photographer Sebastião Salgado (The Salt of the Earth)
Oscar-nominated German filmmaker Wim Wenders (MIFF 2006 Career Achievement Tributee, Don’t Come Knocking, and special screening of Buena Vista Social Club) won the Un Certain Regard Special Prize for his new doc-biopic The Salt of the Earth, an impressive ode to photographer Sebastião Salgado, that results in a stunning visual odyssey through his career. The film was co-directed by the shutterbug’s son, Juliano Ribeiro Salgado, and also won a Special Commendation from the SIGNIS Ecumenical Jury, as did Barcelona-born filmmaker Jaime Rosales (Bullet in the Head (Tiro en la cabeza), MIFF 2009) for his new film Beautiful Youth (Hermosa juventud), where a couple of 20-year-olds, struggling to earn a living in today’s Spain, decide to shoot an amateur porn film, and the birth of their daughter becomes a catalyst for change.
Posters & film stills l to r: Beautiful Youth, Mommy, White God, Jauja
Canadian filmmaker Xavier Dolan’s (MIFF 2013 with Laurence Anyways) 2014 film, Mommy (view clip), won the Jury Prize in the main competition section, in a shared win with Jean-Luc Godard’s latest, Goodbye to Language (Adieu au langage). In Mommy, a widowed single mother, raising her violent son alone, encounters new hope when a mysterious neighbor insinuates herself into their household.

Hungarian director Kornél Mundruczó (Delta, MIFF 2009) won the Un Certain Regard Grand Prize for his sixth feature film White God (Fehér isten), an emotionally stirring, technically masterful man vs. dog escapade where a lost mutt’s astonishing journey to sanctuary evolves into a full-fledged man vs. beast revolution. This is the tale of an eternal friendship between a girl and a dog in a world where ancestry can decide on life or death.

Argentinian director and writer Lisandro Alonso (Liverpool, MIFF 2008) won the FIPRESCI (International Federation of Film Critics) prize in the Un Certain Regard section for his new film Jauja, a father (MIFF alum Viggo Mortensen) and daughter journey from Denmark to an unrevealed desert that exists in a realm beyond the boundaries of civilization.  Congratulations!!  —Tatyana Chiocchetti

Latest Crop of MIFF Titles Exploring the World’s Oldest Profession

film poster; Marine Vacth and ‘client’ in Young & Beautiful
Joaquin Phoenix and Marion Cotillard in The Immigrant; film poster

Stemming from a long history of silent-era melodramas to the present day, prostitution pays…at the box office and beyond…as evident by the latest crop of complex characters, at times comedic, though more often rife with external struggle and internal turmoil. Five films at MIFF’s 31st edition this past March fit into this somewhat combustible theme, including: Young & Beautiful and The Immigrant, which make their Miami commercial debut on Friday, May 23rd, and Fading Gigolo, Eastern Boys and a special screening of Midnight Cowboy, for those who hadn’t seen it and for those who hadn’t forgotten it.

French filmmaker François Ozon’s Young & Beautiful (Jeune & jolie) finds 17-year-old Isabelle (Marine Vacth) taking up a secret life as a call girl, meeting her clients for hotel-room trysts after attempting to seek solace in the arms of a German boy. In this erotic tale of sexual awakening, Isabelle remains curiously aloof, exhibiting little interest in the encounters themselves or the money she makes. The story is told in four sections, each tied to a season and ending with a Françoise Hardy song. Featured in MIFF 2014’s Cinema 360° presented by Viendomovies program. OPENS Friday, May 23rd at MDC’s Tower Theater, Miami Beach Cinematheque and Bill Cosford Cinema.

In The Immigrant, James Gray’s depiction of the unforgiving streets of 1920s New York, Polish immigrant Ewa Cybulski (Marion Cotillard) falls into the cruel trap of prostitution set by a sleazy show-runner (Joaquin Phoenix) in order to save her sister. Cotillard made history as the first French actress to win the Best Actress Oscar (for La Vie en Rose) and is currently in Cannes for the world premiere of yet another remarkable role in Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne’s Two Days, One Night (Deux jours, une nuit.) This is also the fourth collaboration of Phoenix and Gray. Featured in MIFF 2014’s America the Beautiful program. OPENS Friday, May 23rd at AMC Sunset Place and AMC Aventura.

Fading Gigolo, Eastern Boys, Midnight Cowboy film posters

Actor-director John Turturro’s hilarious NY comedy, Fading Gigolo, finds Woody Allen as a late-blooming pimp to Turturro’s middle-aged florist-turned hustler, where popular screen sirens Sharon Stone and Sofia Vergara turn up as eager clients and Vanessa Paradis plays an orthodox Jewish widow in need of human touch. Featured in MIFF’s CineDwnTwn Gala presented by Miami DDA program. Now screening at Coral Gables Art Cinema and AMC Aventura.

In Robin Campillo’s superbly scripted dramatic thriller, Eastern Boys, a middle-aged Frenchman cruising in the Gare du Nord gets entangled with a group of young Eastern European hustlers and gets more than he bargained for. By turns, a tender love story, a terrifying home-invasion drama and a tense hide-and-seek thriller, features the most unexpected ending of the year. Featured in MIFF 2014’s Cinema 360° presented by Viendomovies program.

John Schlesinger’s ever-impactful Midnight Cowboy (1969) which delivers a provocative look at the streets of New York and the relationship between two small-time hustlers played by 
Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman. It has become one of the defining symbols of the difficult side of urban life in America and is the only “X” rated film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture and Best Director.  Featured in MIFF 2014′s From the Vault program.

Harry Liedtke and Pola Negri in the The Yellow Ticket

Going a bit deeper into the vault, MIFF 2013 held a special screening The Yellow Ticket (1918), a story of courage and hidden identities directed by Victor Janson and Eugen Illès. The first film to explore anti-Semitism in Czarist Russia, it portrays the story of Lea (played by famed Polish actress Pola Negri, Hollywood’s first European silent film star), a young woman who hides her Jewish heritage to study medicine. Pushed towards prostitution to pay the rent, Lea is saved by a beloved professor with a secret of his own.  —Tatyana Chiocchetti

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BELLE: Politics, Art, History, and Social Conscience

Iconic 1779 painting depicting Dido Elizabeth Belle and her cousin Lady Elizabeth Murray

After a nearly a decade, BAFTA-winning British director Amma Asante made a triumphant return to MIFF this past March to present her second feature film, Belle, voted “audience favorite” by Miami Film Society members.  Belle also took home the The International Jury of SIGNIS (the World Catholic Association for Communication) award for its “multi-layered depiction of the challenges to the value of human life and dignity wherever a profit-driven system makes commodification of persons acceptable.” In 2005, Asante won MIFF’s Best Dramatic Feature in World Cinema and the FIPRESCI (International Federation of Film Critics) award for her feature film directorial debut, A Way of Life.

Inspired by a 1779 painting depicting Dido Elizabeth Belle and her cousin Lady Elizabeth Murray, Belle screenwriter Misan Sagay gathered tiny nuggets of history and wove them into a deeply romantic love story and coming-of-age historical drama that breaks through the aristocratic color barrier. The painting is iconic because it is the first English painting that depicts a black person on the same eye level as a white person. Also, Lady Elizabeth’s hand lies upon Dido´s waist, suggesting affection and equality rather than a subordinate status.

l to r: Oprah Winfrey & Belle director Amma Asante at Oprah’s garden party in Montecito, Belle poster, Amma Asante & MIFF executive director Jaie Laplante at Regal South Beach

In the film, Gugu Mbatha-Raw shines as eponymous 18th century character Dido Elizabeth Belle, daughter of an African slave and British naval officer Captain Sir John Lindsay (Matthew Goode), who imposes upon his chief justice uncle Lord Mansfield (Tom Wilkinson) and aunt Lady Mansfield (Emily Watson) to embrace Dido into their household. Their sense of decency compels them to agree, but Dido has an unusual status in the home. While she is treated well and educated, she is not allowed to dine with her family, especially when they are entertaining, but she does have a certain degree of status as heiress to her father’s considerable fortune.

Meanwhile, the case of the Zong massacre (where an estimated 142 African slaves were purposely drowned so that their owners could make an insurance claim) comes before Lord Mansfield’s court, and the private issues at home weigh greatly upon him as he struggles toward making a historic decision. There is also a love story at the heart of all the drama that is said to have propelled the abolition of slavery in England.

The film explores a particular time of social change and social conditioning, where we find people responding to Dido on an instinctive level. However, due to the manners, etiquette, and prevailing wisdom of the time they were often held back from being truly authentic. She’s the child of a slave and an aristocrat, the child of a black person and a white person, a woman of color in an aristocratic situation. And all of these things were seen by the prevailing wisdom as contradictory. Lo and behold, being a contradiction in society these days could actually be an asset!

l to r (clockwise): Tom Wilkinson (as Lord Mansfield), Sam Reid (as John Davinier) and Gugu Mbatha-Raw (as Dido)
l to r (in Belle): Gugu Mbatha-Raw (as Dido) & Sarah Gadon (as Lady Elizabeth); Tom Wilkinson (as Lord Mansfield); Gugu Mbatha-Raw (as Dido) & Sam Reid (as John Davinier)
Oprah Winfrey saw Belle less than a week ago and her passion for the film inspired her to throw an impromptu garden party for the cast at her estate in Montecido California, simply wanting to give the film a great salute and to help spread the word! In a recent #OWNSHOW interview, Karamo Brown asked Asante, “Why should people go and see this film?” Asante replied, “You’ll learn something about slavery that I guarantee you did not know. There is an element of slavery that shocked me to the core, and still shocks me to this day. I believe you will come out of this movie feeling better about who we all are.”

Belle hits South Florida theaters—Regal South Beach Cinemas, Paragon Grove 13, AMC Sunset Place, AMC Aventura, Regal Shadowood (Boca Raton), and Cinemark Paradise 24 (Davie)—on Friday, May 16th! [view trailer] — Tatyana Chiocchetti