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Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Overlooked in all the care

This is a Festival review of We All Want What's Best for Her
(Tots volem el millor per a ella) (2013)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2014 (28 August to 7 September)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

19 August

This is a Festival review of We All Want What's Best for Her
(Tots volem el millor per a ella) (2013)

Chances to see during Cambridge Film Festival (#CamFF) 2014:

Presently, on Thursday 4 September at 6.15 p.m. (Screen 1), and on Friday 5 September at 1.00 p.m. (Screen 1) (please see the note on screenings below)

This film concerns itself with the sort of overlooked type of person who does not – or fails to – make a full recovery.

In a very polished way, which never feels like imitation, it seems closest to the frailty and fragility of Woody Allen’s Interiors (1978) (in particular, the pale, almost monochrome shades, into which the significant colour in the film erupts). Yet we are in an underlying family ambience that (not just because of the three daughters that all three films share) more closely resembles that of Hannah and Her Sisters (1986) (but with maybe a hint of Dorrie’s (Charlotte Rampling’s) less-manic moments of insecurity from Stardust Memories (1980) to heighten the sororial bitchiness of Hannah (Mia Farrow)).

We quickly learn that Eugenia (Geni) had had a serious road-traffic accident around a year before the start of the film, and we were immediately placed in her world in the opening shot, with no mise-en-scène, as she walks through a door on the left of the screen into a plush ante-room. She asks, and is told that she can go straight in to see the doctor – then we are in there with her, and looking at her, with a full view of the doctor kept back from us.

Maybe Geni (Nora Navas) is actually on time for the appointment (and, as one goes off, she reports to the doctor that she is using alarms on her phone to tell her where she should be), but what we notice most is that she seems too serene, almost over-eager to please : from what happens later, just with the long slow sweep past the city through the taxi’s window as she slumps, it is clear that she had been pretending, and that the doctor does not seem to have looked behind appearances. (So, if Geni says that ‘The important thing is the knee’, that is what the doctor hears and has noted.)

Yet we will see her family require Geni to pretend according to their pattern (at which point, we are sharply reminded of the subjective element in the title’s What’s Best For Her), and we also see how uneasily their encouraging phrases, which aim to re-frame her experience, fit on her lips. So, as she repeats her husband Dani’s (Pau Durà’s) words, we feel them become as dust, or meal, in her mouth :

All this is non-negotiable

I must make… an effort

Compared with Rust and Bone (2012), another (but very different) film about what happens after a trauma (to Marion Cotillard as Stéphanie), it is a bourgeois life in which Geni is living (typified by the flat, and its easy interiors and choice in art). However, in terms of what she is experiencing, looking interestedly at advertising in the surgery for a medication that seems to be an anti-depressant (Happiness is in the little things), her problems seem out of place and unwelcome there (and they are arguably greater than those of Stéphanie) :

Geni’s world / family seems to have a work ethic that does not begin to understand duvet days, and it is one whose pressures, although not always explicit, are inescapable. The assumption, which is everyone’s starting-point (both for themselves and on the others’ behalf), is that you can get back what you had. Which includes, as we hear when Geni’s more similar sister suggests a thoughtful, individual exercise at New Year (to round off the previous twelve months for everyone), not only that her father expects a return on the therapy that he has bought for Geni's sister, but also, in how the exercise gets subverted, greater disrespect for what therapy says, does and is for.

You do not need to have a notion of the recovery model in UK mental health to notice the number of times people say to Geni that 'You used to...’, and, at such times, there is something about Navas’ mouth that registers a barely visible disquiet. (At other times, we see her disassociate from that with which she simply cannot cope.) Navas is on screen almost without a break, and looking properly at what her look says pays dividends for feeling the richness and depth of how the film explores this situation.

In the event, when Geni is trying to follow up a lead for a job via someone known to her other sister (whom everyone must think of as mature and responsible), we and she have suddenly have Mariana, waving and laughing at Geni in the interview. Afterwards, though, Geni closes down all of Mariana’s (Valeria Bertuccelli’s) suggestions for renewing contact, but it is about feelings from the past that the rest of the film’s short internal timescale addresses.

This is a powerful film, sharply edited and clearly shot. It has a different trajectory and premise from the highly honest Chilean film Gloria (2013), but it, too, shows a person looking for what matters, and causing us to admire – but also fear for – her.

This is just one of six Catalan films (Camera Catalonia) that can be seen at Cambridge Film Festival 2014 (@camfilmfest / #CamFF) - Thursday 28 August to Sunday 7 September (both inclusive). Three others are reviewed here, and What is Catalan cinema ? is also about the Catalan strand at the Festivals in 2012 and 2013...

Note on screenings :

NB The allocation of films between the three screens at Festival Central can always change (as can, if one is coming from a distance for a specific film, the programme as a whole) : if the audience for a film scheduled for Screen 3 (the smallest screen, around half the capacity of the largest, Screen 1) proves greater than expected, it may end up being swapped, so there could be a change in the exact time of the screening, too

In the programme (for which that is a link to the where the PDF file can be downloaded - printed copies are available at Festival Central and all good local outlets), some slots are also marked 'TBC', and popular screenings may be repeated : announcements are on Cambridge Film Festival 2014's (@camfilmfest's) web-site (please see link, above), as they are of alterations to the programme or the allocation between screens

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

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