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CategoryForeign Film

Carmen

Eat Pray Love (2010) meets Corpus Christi (2019) in this tender drama about a middle-aged woman reclaiming her life after years of service in the church.

Set in Malta during the 1980s, Carmen stars Natascha McElhone, the sister of the local priest. Per Maltese customs, when a priest is ordained, his oldest sister must make the sacrifice of abandoning any hopes of a career, relationship or family of her own in order to take care of her brother in service. Carmen has done since from the age of 16 until 50. When her brother passes away, she creates a new life for herself. With her newfound freedom, she pretends to be the new priest and takes confessionals in secret. She spends her days people watching and connecting with the locals. She forms a romantic bond with Paulo (Steven Love), a young Maltese-Canadian man to whom she tries to sell stolen goods from the church. Soon enough, Carmen’s new-found joie de vivre starts to have an effect on the community around her.

“Carmen is inspired by an old Maltese tradition… Many women’s voices were squashed, and their spirits dampened. This happened to my Aunt, now 95 years old… This film is for my Aunt and all the women who’ve suffered this tradition under the patriarchy.” — director Valerie Buhagiar

Directed by Valerie Buhagiar, Carmen is brimming with optimism despite the trials and tribulations endured by its protagonist. Natascha McElhone is absolutely charming as Carmen. She imbues the character with a sense of curiosity and wonderment that is quite fetching. When Carmen comes out of her situation, she receives a makeover and we see a raven haired beauty dressed in bright red emerge from her cocoon. Malta is its own character depicted both with a sense of beauty and a sense of social injustice. The plot can get a bit murky but doesn’t take away much from the overall experience.

Carmen is currently in theaters and available to rent on VOD.

Charcoal/Carvão

Set in the outskirts of São Paulo, Brazil, Charcoal/Carvão tells the story of an impoverished family who make an almost Faustian bargain to lift themselves up out of their situation. Irene (Maeve Jinkings) cares for her ailing father but between that, raising her son Jean (Jean Costa) and dealing with her husband Jairo’s (Romulo Braga) reckless behavior, she is overwhelmed. When a nurse, Juracy (Aline Marta), offers Irene a shady deal to help the family, after much consideration Irene agrees. The plan involves getting rid of Irene’s father and secretly replacing him with  Miguel (César Bordón), an Argentine drug lord who faked his own death and is now in hiding. Irene and her family keep up appearances. Jean goes to school, Jairo continues to work harvesting charcoal and Irene sells her chicken dinners. But the influx of cash and the looming danger that hangs over this volatile stranger, threatens to push the family over the edge.

“Charcoal is my attempt to understand how violence, religion and hypocrisy have taken over our lives and bodies in a way that we don’t’ even notice any more.”

Carolina Markowicz

Written and directed by Carolina Markowicz, Charcoal/Carvão is an unrelentingly brutal film about the lengths people will go to escape their situation. The film is deceptively quiet which makes certain scenes all that more shocking. Bookended with religious scenes and music, the story aptly explores how desperation takes away our morals and basic humanity. The performances came across so natural that it’s easy to forget we’re watching actors playing roles and not real people living their lives. Markowicz does a brilliant job enveloping the audience in the world of her characters that it feels like we are right there with them. 

Charcoal/Carvão is emotionally devastating and draining. It’s a film to watch. But only once.

Note to add: both Portuguese and Spanish are spoken in the film.

Charcoal/Carvão premiered at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival.

SXSW: Raquel 1:1

After Raquel’s mother died at the hands of an abusive ex, Raquel (Valentina Herszage) and her father move back to his hometown. There he starts a small community grocery store and Raquel develops a friendship with teens at the local evangelical church. Raquel is deeply religious and receives a calling to explore her spirituality through her own church and study of the bible. This upsets the local religious leader and her daughter who encourage the community to retaliate against Raquel and her father.

Directed by Mariana Bastos, Raquel 1:1 is a bold exploration of female agency and spirituality. Raquel is not portrayed as a victim of religious repression rather a victim of righteous entitlement. The thematic elements are subtle but still hold power.

Raquel’s past trauma is presented through sound as the particulars of her mother’s death are detailed through her thought process. The story is part coming-of-age story and part religious horror.

Given the political and social climate of Brazil the filmmakers are waiting for a good opportunity to screen Raquel 1:1 in their home country.  I hope this film gets wide distribution because it’s a unique and compelling film about religion, trauma and the fight to be true to oneself.

Raquel 1:1 had its world premiere at the 2022 SXSW Film Festival.

Sundance: Piggy

13 year old Sara (Laura Galán) is incessantly bullied by her peers because of her weight. On a hot summer day, after helping her dad out at his butcher shop, she heads over to the pool to cool off. There she endures harassment by the local girls who call her “Piggy” and stealing her backpack and shoes. When she makes the treacherous walk back home, she witnesses a mysterious stranger kidnaping the three girls who only moments ago were tormenting her. This man has been killing random people in the area but has a particular interest in punishing the people who hurt Sara. She’s conflicted by the attention given to her by this man and whether to help the local community find the girls before it’s too late.

Written and directed by Carlota Pereda, Piggy is enjoyable light horror with some problematic elements. It’s based on the short film by the same name released in 2018. It expands the story into a full length horror film. It reminded me greatly of the last 20 minutes of Catherine Breillat’s 2001 film Fat Girl. Both feature heavyset 13 year old girls who are favored by a much older serial killer and must endure the trauma of not being accepted because of their appearance. 

In Piggy, the actress playing Sara is in her mid 30s yet the character is 13. The age difference is very apparent and we have to really suspend our disbelief in order to buy that the character is a pre-teen and not a grown woman. Also, there were a couple of scenes in which Sara devours junk food. These do not serve the plot whatsoever and could have easily been removed to avoid reinforcing stereotypes.

Piggy premiered at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.

Sundance: The Cow Who Sang a Song Into the Future

Nature sings in Francisca Alegría’s magical realism film The Cow Who Sang a Song into the Future. Magdalena (Mia Maestro) has emerged from the waters where she committed suicide many years ago. She visits the members of her family who all have different reactions to seeing her. Magdalena doesn’t speak but brings an energy with her that sparks electricity and makes the cows, the bees, the fish and other elements of nature sing beautiful music. While herr family is confused by her presence, Magdalena offers no closure; just reconnection.

This hauntingly beautiful Chilean fable reminds us that we are one with nature and we must protect it. It’s not a film to make sense of. Rather one to simply experience.

The Cow Who Sang a Song into the Future premiered at the 2022 Sundance FIlm Festival.

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