It’s 1967 in Ballygar, a community in Dublin, where three friends of three different generations gather to mourn the death of one of their own. Lily (Maggie Smith), Eileen (Kathy Bates) and Dolly (Agnes O’Casey) soon come face to face with the friend’s daughter, Chrissie (Laura Linney), who fled Ballygar for the United States and hasn’t been back in nearly four decades. When the church wins a contest for a pilgrimage to Lourdes, Lily, Eileen, Dolly and Chrissie travel to the holy site. Each of the women must confront their individual problems and help each other while searching for the miracle that can possibly change their lives for the better.
Directed by Thaddeus O’Sullivan, The Miracle Club is a heartfelt story about societal expectations when it comes to relationships and life choices.
The film has a gentle message of acceptance as the characters try to connect with Dolly’s non-verbal autistic child. Despite the title and the characters’ journey, the film isn’t all that religious. The pilgrimage to Lourdes seems more like a cultural milestone than an event sprung from any sort of religious fervor. This movie will appeal to both Catholics and non-Catholics who are seeking tender story delivered without a heavy hand.
The four leads shine and Smith, Bates and Linney in particular continue to prove their star power. We need to continue to embrace stories about older women and intergenerational relationships. This film is one example about how these stories can be told and told well.
The Miracle Club reminded me of two movies in particular. The story line about an exiled woman returning to her small town after a big scandal drove her away reminded me of The Dressmaker (2015) starring Kate Winslet. If you’re interested in a more dramatic piece about the Sanctuary of Our Lady Lourdes pilgrimage site, I highly recommend Austrian filmmaker Jessica Hausner’s excellent film Lourdes (2009) starring Sylvie Testud. If you want to learn more about that film, check out the article I wrote about Lourdes for the Turner Classic Movies website.
The Miracle Club is distributed by Sony Pictures Classics and is currently in theaters.
Saúl (Gael García Bernal) is a gay wrestler who performs for his local lucha libre matches. Wanting to evolve from his typical role as a El Topo, he develops the persona of Cassandro, a flamboyant “exótico” whose feminine energy taunts his more macho luchador opponents in the ring. Exóticos usually elicit boos from the audience and ultimately lose the match. But Cassandro wants to change that. As Saúl/Cassandro works with a new trainer on his skills, he grapples with his relationship with his in-the-closet boyfriend, his distant and homophobic father and his ailing mother.
Directed by Roger Ross Williams, Cassandro is based on the true story of wrestler Saúl Armendáriz, known as the Liberace of lucha libre. Gael García Bernal delivers one of the most spirited performances I’ve ever seen. He truly embodies this character, giving Saúl gravitas and Cassandro verve. The film conveys a strong message of acceptance and joy in individual expression. This one will be a crowd pleaser for sure.
Cassandro premiered at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.
This crowd pleaser will have viewers reaching for the tissues. Directed by Christopher Zalla, Radical is based on the true story of Sergio Juárez Correa, a teacher from Matamoros, Mexico who made a huge impact on the sixth grade students at Jose Urbina Elementary School. Eugenio Derbez stars as Sergio, a newcomer to the area who has a “radical” teaching methodology. When he takes over the sixth grade class of an impoverished school, he throws all the rules out the window. His unconventional methods spark the curiosity of kids who were otherwise expected to drop out of school within the next few years.
The movie spotlights three kids in particular. Nico is being groomed to become part of the local drug cartel. But he soon takes an interest in science, especially in boats, and hopes he can stay in school a bit longer to avoid a life of crime. Lupe is the oldest sibling of four and the expectation is that she help her parents with the care of her youngest. She is really interested in philosophy, especially the work of John Stuart Mill, but her intellectual journey puts her at odds with her family’s expectations. Sergio’s top student is Paloma, a bright young mind with an interest in aerospace engineering. She shows a lot of potential but is beholden to her responsibility as the sole caretaker of her sick father.
Eugenio Derbez really shines as the Sergio. He conveys a great sense of empathy and caring that demonstrates the impact a good teacher can have on students. The film as a whole really celebrates education. It also offers a sobering revelation that potential does not necessarily guarantee opportunity.
I could see Radical movie being the next CODA. However, given the limited appeal of foreign-language movies—Radical is in Spanish—I worry that not enough people will watch this terrific film. Radical is a bit on the longer side and could use some trimming. The ending is both awe-inspiring and heart-breaking. My hope is that this reaches a broader audience and that this will help the school get the resources it needs.
Radical premiered at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.
Clara (Penelope Cruz) and Felice (Vincenzo Amato) move their family, including their three young kids, to a new apartment building. It’s the 1970s and the city of Rome is in flux. New construction attracts wealthy families and transient workers who live almost side by side. On the other side of the reeds outside the new apartment building, Adriana (Luana Giuliani), who now goes by the name Andrew, meets Sara (Penelope Nieto Conti), a young Romani girl. Sara accepts Andrew as a boy and they form a tender bond despite the social expectations that threaten to keep them apart. At home, Andrew’s family is falling apart. Felice cheats on Clara and beats her. He also refuses to accept Andrew’s identity as a boy. Clara escapes her tumultuous marriage by tapping into her inner child and connecting with her children through music and play. Throughout it all Andrew struggles to shed his identity as Adriana and be embraced as his true self.
Directed by Emanuele Crialese, L’Immensità is a heartfelt coming-of-age story that treats its subjects with great reverence and care. It’s as much a story about a preteen coming into his identity as it is about a grown woman’s struggle with adulting. There are a handful of musical numbers that, while not really necessary, add levity to the film. Cruz and Giuliani both deliver strong performances. The audience is given enough context about the characters’ situation and the social atmosphere of their given place and time while still maintaining an air of mystery.
L’Immensità is an autobiographical story about director Crialese’s own upbringing. When this film premiered at the Venice Film Festival, Crialese revealed that he is a transgender man and that Adriana/Andrew’s story is his own. While I would have liked to have learned more about Andrew’s trans journey, I also appreciated the delicate handling of the matter. It’s an important part of the story but not the film’s main focus. L’Immensità reminded me a bit of Céline Sciamma’s film Tomboy (2011) which also explores gender identity in a similar way.
L’Immensità was screened at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.
Set in Beirut, Lebanon, Warsha follows Mohammad (Khansa), a construction worker tasked with operating one of the tallest and most dangerous cranes in the city. Isolated and far away from his fellow workers and the city below, Mohammad has a moment of freedom, tapping into his most secret desire. The climb up to the crane and the fantasy sequence were absolutely breathtaking. I enjoyed the LGBTQ angle. Highly recommended.
Warsha screened at the 2022 Nashville Film Festival.