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TIFF: The Moneychanger

“We money brokers are the root of all evil. We’re to blame for everything that’s rotten in this world.”

Humberto Brause (Daniel Hendler)

Humberto Brause (Daniel Hendler) makes money off of money. He gets his start in the currency racket by way of his new boss Swostaiger (Luis Machin). He even marries the boss’ daughter Gudrun (Dolores Fonzi), an emotionally reserved woman who is no nonsense and all business. Brause’s success catches up with him and he gets greedy, taking advantage of the Uruguay’s fragile economy and his boss’ good nature. After going to jail for three years for his involvement in a corruption scandal, he’s back at it. Narrated by Brause himself, we follow his journey over two decades spanning from early 1960s to the late 1970s. The story is mostly set in Montevideo, Uruguay but Brause’s adventures also take him deep into the Amazon of Brazil, to Buenos Aires and to Switzerland. Brause gets deeper and deeper into trouble. His biggest nemesis Bompland (Luis Machin) threatens to take him for all he’s worth. When he isn’t facing financial problems he’s dealing with his failing health and a wife who doesn’t love him but is determined to keep the business of their marriage going. To get out of his bind with Bompland, Brause will have to go to great lengths to protect his future and that of his family.

Directed by Federico Veiroj, The Moneychanger (Así habló el cambista) paints the portrait of a man who is simply up to no good. It has a terrific sense of place and time and offers wonderful performances from its stars Hendler, Fonzi, Machin and in particular Benjamin Vicuna who is brilliant as the evil Bombland. The film suffers from a lack of consistent tension and overall clarity. The actual currency fraud is confusing and the viewer is left in the dark of what exactly Brause is doing to get himself in all of this trouble. This isn’t a thriller and I found it effective as a saga focusing on its one main character. The story incorporates references to Jesus and the Cleansing of the Temple. As a trilingual viewer (English, Spanish and Portuguese), I was curious to see the two Brazilian characters, including Moacyr (German de Silva) who becomes Brause’s business partner and confidante, speak Portuguese to Brause while he responds in Spanish. Fascinating!

Last year I watched Veiroj’s Belmonte at TIFF which worked similarly to The Moneychanger as the portrait of one man whose life starts to spiral out of control. You can read my review of that film here. It’s also currently available on Netflix. I quite enjoy Veiroj’s approach and look forward to more of his work in the future.

Federico Veiroj’s The Moneychanger had its world premiere at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival as part of their Platform competition series.

TIFF: While at War

Set during the early days of the Spanish Civil War, director Alejandro Amenábar’s While at War/Mientras dure la guerra takes place in Salamanca where celebrated novelist Don Miguel de Unamuno (Karra Elejalde) serves as dean of the local university. Unamuno, known affectionately as Don Miguel, was known as one of the early opposers to the uprising and Generalisimo Franco’s (Santi Prego) dictatorship. Don Miguel meets to discuss the fiery political climate with his trusted friends a protestant priest (Luis Zahera) and college professor (Carlos Serrano-Clark) who soon become victims of the new regime. The highly respected author is safe for the time being but as Franco rises in power, controlled by commander and tyrant Jose Millan-Astray (Eduard Fernandez), Don Miguel flails between the loss of hope and the desire to take a stand. During it all he is haunted by the memory of his dead wife Chanta who appears to him in his dreams. The movie ends with Unamuno’s famous last speech.

Courtesy of TIFF
Courtesy of TIFF

While at War offers a grand production, fine performances but lacked in emotion. The first half felt a little stale and distant. The second half makes up for this makes up for this as Don Miguel loses his friends, develops a bond with his grandson, and repairs his relationship with his daughter. Throughout the film Don Miguel creates origami animals and this ends up being an important plot point at the end. This was a nice touch that added some personality to his character. Elejalde is absolutely brilliant as Don Miguel de Unamuno. He seamlessly transforms himself into his character. I’m a big fan of Alejandro Amenábar’s film The Others (2001) and was excited to see more of his work. The cinematography, costumes and sets are simply glorious and worth watching for that alone. While at War offers a fascinating story I just wish it didn’t hold its audience at a distance.

I can only evaluate While at War as a film and not as a representation of Spain’s military history. I don’t know if there are any inaccuracies in its representations of real life figures. It does offer a clear warning that neutrality is dangerous and we need to appreciate the past if we have any hope of a future.

While at War had its world premiere at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival as part of their Special Presentations series.


“For a cop things are black or white. In the middle there’s nothing.”

The year is 1975. In a small province of Argentina, a group of people are quietly emptying a house of its most valuable possessions. It’s rumored that the family who lived there were the targets of a government raid and have since fled the country. This introduction tells us what we need to know about mid-1970s Argentina and the government corruption that endangers its own people.

Claudio (Dario Grandinetti) is a town counselor and lawyer. A tense confrontation with a stranger, later known as El Hippie (Diego Cremonesi), at a restaurant escalates and ends in tragedy. Claudio leaves this unfortunate event behind him and transitions back to his normal life with his wife Susana (Andrea Frigerio) and teenage daughter Paula (Laura Grandinetti). Corruption lurks around every corner as friends go missing. After arranging an underhanded deal with his friend Vivas (Claudio Martinez Bel) to buy the aforementioned house, Claudio discovers the true identity of El Hippie and that Vivas has hired former cop turned celebrity detective Sinclair (Alfredo Castro) to investigate. It’s only a matter of time for things to unravel for Claudio as Sinclair zeroes in on what really happened.

Written and directed by Benjamin Naishtat, Rojo is a moody and atmospheric drama that explores how government corruption enables the worst in human behavior. I found this film deeply unsettling. Right from the very beginning I got a sense of dread. As though danger were lurking at every corner. Why is the camera so still? Why is it looking at this house for so long? Is the house going to explode? It didn’t but that was the palpable tension that made me so engrossed in the film. 

Rojo means red in Spanish and the film utilizes the color in many ways. The most interesting use of the color comes from the scene when a solar eclipse casts a red glow. This is a pivotal point in the film as detective Sinclair has just entered Claudio’s life, stirring the pot and making Claudio very uncomfortable. Claudio and his wife escape to the beach where they witness the eclipse and this moment the beginning of an end of sorts.

Naishtat was inspired to make Rojo from his fascination with the 1970s and “the symbolic burden” the political persecution and exile of the Argentine people had on future generations. The overall theme of a greater evil threatening the personal freedoms of citizens is compelling and universal but really gives the viewers a sense of one of the darkest times in Argentina’s history.

Rojo opens in New York City at Quad Cinema and the Film at Lincoln Center on Friday and in Los Angeles at the Laemmle Royal on July 19th.

SXSW: Sister Aimee

On May 18, 1926, celebrity evangelist Sister Aimee Semple McPherson disappeared. Presumed drowned in Ocean Park Beach, Santa Monica, the news of her disappearance caused a national frenzy. Just as her devoted followers were ready to mourn her death, she resurfaced over a month later claiming that a woman named Mexicali Rose and a man named Steve kidnapped her and held her hostage. When she returned, the story of her escape raised some eyebrows and while Sister Aimee stuck to her story there were many who didn’t believe her tale. A case was brought against her in court but eventually dropped. What exactly did happen to Sister Aimee?

This story is 5-1/2% truth… the rest is imagination.

Written and directed by Samantha Buck and Marie Schlingmann, Sister Aimee is reimagines the events that happened during her disappearance. Based on truth, the film is primarily fantasy that blends elements of a period piece, a Western, a road trip movie, an LGBT love story and even features a climactic musical number. Anna Margaret Hollyman stars as Sister Aimee. Frustrated with the trappings of fame, she decides to fake her own death and runaway with her love Kenny/Steve (Michael Mosley). The two go undercover and travel to Mexico to start a new life together. Kenny hires Rey (Andrea Suarez Paz), a tough-as-nails Mexican woman who serves as their bodyguard and guide on the treacherous journey ahead. Along the way, the trio meet a variety of nefarious characters. Juxtaposed with the road trip scenes, is the investigation into Sister Aimee’s disappearance and the affect on her religious following. Aimee and Rey eventually get arrested and must plot their escape. 

If you’re looking for a Aimee Semple McPherson biopic, this is not it. Instead of a period piece about a fraudulent evangelist, I got a lesbian road trip movie instead. And let me tell you I was very happy with this. I attended the SXSW premiere of the film, settled into my seat, had a couple of mojitos and went along for the ride. Sister Aimee is my favorite film I saw at SXSW. Set in the 1920s, one of my favorite eras, with strong female protagonists and plenty of Latino characters… I was very happy with the end result! 

“As a Latino coming into a project… a period piece, it’s something that rarely happens. Apparently we didn’t exist back then… To have the freedom to not speak in an accent, when you speak in English or Spanish for the character… for me it was pretty revolutionary… [the directors] were very free to let the person be the person and not the stereotype.”

Luis Bordonada

Aimee is a complex character who evolves as the story progresses. Rey is just a bad ass through and through. I developed a massive crush on her. If I’m getting too personal in this review it’s because this film spoke to me on so many level and I can’t separate my emotional reactions enough to write an objective review. I just loved this movie. It does start off a bit slow but picks up. The performances, especially from Paz and Hollyman, were fantastic and Hollyman’s music and dance number is the highlight of the film.

Director-writer duo Schlingmann and Buck are partners in work and life and I wonder how much of their relationship worked its way into the script. In a Q&A after the SXSW screening, Schlingmann said the idea to make the film came to them from Anna Margaret Hollyman, who starred in their short film The Mink Catcher, who was interested in L.A. local history. The filmmakers did research and found the perfect subject for their debut feature-length film. 

For those of you, like me, who are very particular about period detail, you’ll find a lot to enjoy here. The finger waves were a little too ironed on for my taste but I thought the costumes and the sets were on point. It was shot on location in Austin, TX and seeing it in that city added something special to the experience.

Sister Aimee is a brilliant road trip movie centered on empowered female characters and reimagines an obscure event from early 20th century American history.

Sister Aimee screened at the 2019 SXSW Film Festival as part of their Festival Favorites series.

Interview with Jamie Reed, Costume Supervisor for The Vast of Night

The Vast of Night recently premiered at Slamdance and won the Grand Jury Prize for Best Narrative feature. Set in 1950s New Mexico, the filmfollows two teens as they uncover a secret frequency that reveals an otherworldly presence in their small town. You can read my review of it here.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Jamie Reed, the costume supervisor for The Vast of Night. I love how she curated a wardrobe that was authentic to the era and visually appealing to modern audiences. I hope you enjoy learning about her work and how she styled the actors in the film!


Raquel Stecher: Tell me a bit about your background in fashion. 

Jamie Reed: I’ve always had an interest in fashion but didn’t really consider a career until I was almost out of college. I went ahead and finished my Government and Legal Studies degree and put law school on hold (what I had originally planned) while I pursued some fashion interests. I initially considered a design program but decided to start a personal shopping and styling business to see how I liked it. I mostly worked with individual clients but started doing a little media work as well. Both of my brothers work in television and is occasionally help them on projects. Over the past 15 years I’ve worked as a stylist both full-time and part-time while working other jobs. I now consider it mostly part-time as I also run a women’s lifestyle magazine, Splendry

Stecher: Congrats on The Vast of Night which recently premiered at Slamdance. How did you come to be involved with the film?

Reed: I’ve known Andrew [Patterson], the director, since college and have worked with him on several other projects over the years. When he approached me about this film he assured me it would be a small project, but by the time shooting began it had definitely grown! It ended up being a really great project and one of the most creatively fulfilling experiences I’ve had in my career.

Stecher: With the 1950s setting, what did kind of research did you do before curating/designing the wardrobe?

Reed: I spent a couple of months just researching 1950s fashion before purchasing anything. My goal was to be as accurate as possible and I had definite guidelines for what I did and didn’t want. I pulled yearbooks and browsed old photos online. I wanted this to be a realistic depiction of small town dress at this time. Andrew had a few ideas for some characters and I would show him photos to get a feel for what he had in mind. We’ve worked together enough now that I typically know what he likes and when I do need to push him in a direction he trusts my instincts and usually gives me my way.

Stecher: Were the clothes used in the film vintage, new or a mix of both?

Reed: It was a mix. The lead characters played by Sierra [McCormick] and Jake [Horowitz] wore all new clothing. We needed multiples of their clothing so vintage wasn’t really an option. Piecing together 1950s looks with new clothing was a fun challenge. For other featured characters and extras it was a mix of vintage and new. I did a LOT of thrift store shopping, buying vintage pieces on Etsy, and my assistant on the movie, Michelle [Harvey], actually had a collection of vintage clothes that she shared with us. Many of the featured extras are in great pieces she owned.

Stecher: Did you find inspiration from any films from the era?

Reed: I can’t remember if what watched any films or not, I mostly stuck to finding yearbook photos and newspapers. I was wanting to approach the look of the movie from a small-town “regular people” perspective. I’m from a small town and I know that the fashion trends tend to make their way to town a little slower.

Stecher: The basketball game scene at the high school is really where we get to see the wide array of 1950s fashion in the film. How did you approach dressing the cast and extras for that scene?

Reed: Pulling off this scene was quite an organizational feat and I had several helpers who kept things running smoothly!

I started shopping for this scene months before shooting. I probably visited every Goodwill store in the Dallas/Fort Worth area at least once. Knowing we could have hundreds of extras to dress I needed to be prepared with lots of basics. For women I knew pencil skirts and cardigans were a safe bet so I grabbed as many as I could get my hands on. I also collected dozens and dozens of men’s dress pants and suit jackets.

Luckily the boys basketball uniforms were manufactured by an outside company so I really only needed to worry about cheerleading and band uniforms when it came to the specialty clothing.

While we alerted extras of dress suggestions, we still had hundreds who showed up needing clothing. With the time constraints to dress people we had eventually we had to stop pulling clothing and then I worked to place people in the stands so we could make sure to get the best overall image. We did the best we could with the time we had and I think it was executed well.

Stecher: Tell me about dressing the two leads. Sierra McCormick has a great ensemble and I love Jake Horowitz’s look especially with the cardigan.

Reed: I got lucky in the fact that the movie all takes place over one night, so just one outfit for each! Andrew [Patterson] had some ideas in mind and I worked to find a variety of items to try. Once Jake and Sierra arrived we had some try-on sessions before settling on the chosen outfits.

Once they were set I purchased multiples of all items, in case of wear and tear over the entire shoot.

Sierra’s look consisted of a full skirt with ribbon hem, a blouse (ordered from a school uniform company), and tied ribbon. The outfit was completed with ankle socks and classic oxford shoes.

For Jake, Andrew had an old photo of a 1950s DJ he was inspired by. Many months after shooting I realized the final outfit we chose was spot on to the photograph, down to the stripes on the cardigan! I’m pretty sure I found that cardigan at a Gap outlet store near where we were shooting in Texas.

Stecher: My favorite element of the costume design is those vintage eyeglasses McCormick, Horowitz and other members of the cast wear. How did you decide on that look?

Reed: The eyewear was actually part of the art department’s doing! We initially tried to order frames for some cast members but the vintage pairs the art department secured ending up looking the best. This was great for me because I didn’t need to keep up with any glasses during the shoot! All someone else’s responsibility!

Stecher: How do you think the wardrobe contributed to the overall film?
Reed: The wardrobe, along with the art department and hair and makeup definitely set the foundation for the film. My goal going into the project was to do my best to not distract from the film with inappropriate clothing. I wanted the viewer to be caught up in the acting and dialogue and not noticing a new pair of Nikes on some extra walking by or something like that. I wanted everything you saw on screen to be spot-on to that time. 
There are definitely some period films where fashion is front and center. You’ve got gorgeous gowns or specialty apparel, but for this particular film, the scenes needed to look so, normal, that you wouldn’t even notice most of the outfits. 
I knew this was going to be an ambitious project and I’m very fortunate to have had the backing of Andrew and others in the film to trust my research and shopping skills and let me go in and do what I do. I was also fortunate to have a great on-set assistant in Michelle Harvey, we made a great team. 
Stecher: Do you plans to work on more films in the future?
Reed: I hope I have some more opportunities. I love the work I do with Splendry, but my styling work and costume design is something I never want to give up. If the right projects come along I’m sure I’ll be ready. 

You can find Jamie Reed on her website JKStyle and on Twitter @JKStyle1. A big thanks to Jamie for taking the time for this interview!

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