221 Contributions by: Renee Cuisia (Page 6)

Staff & contributors

The Fabella Hospital in the Philippines is clearly overburdened and understaffed, and though it offers some of the lowest pregnancy delivery rates in the country, it remains unaffordable to most of its patients. It has been dubbed the world’s busiest maternity hospital because of this, and its boundless flurry of activity is what Ramona Diaz tries to capture in her cinéma-vérité film Motherland. 

What’s interesting and ultimately heartening about the documentary is that despite the difficulties the subjects face, they are always presented with warmth and humanity. We don’t observe them from a strict or stylized distance, but rather, we move with them when they laugh, befriend each other, worry about their babies, curse their partners, and eventually leave. Indeed, the film is a land of mothers, filled with their authentic stories before anything else.

The Big Sick) and directed by Sian Heder (CODA), Little America is a heartwarming collection of stories, as moving as it is urgent. It’s easy to miss this over splashier shows on TV, but trust that this one’s worth tuning into.

It’s 1994, and Seoul is facing massive, rapid changes. The unrest is reflected by a lot of its residents, including Eun-hee, a disaffected teen with a less-than-stellar home and school life. She manages to get by with the help of friends and lovers, that is until they change too, and Eun-hee is forced to grapple with the volatility of it all. 

Sensitively told and genuinely captivating, House of Hummingbird is a stellar debut by writer-director Kim Bo-ra. Her command shines in how young actress Park Ji-hoo dynamically portrays Eun-hee, in how the story meanders but never loses footing, and in how each frame displays a quiet gorgeousness as the primary colors of her youth pop against the faded backdrop of urbanized Seoul. The delicate balance of all these elements is sure to evoke a sincere, profound feeling in every viewer. 

Herself tells the story of Sandra (Clare Dunne), a single mother who runs away from her abusive husband to start a new life with her children. When welfare and charity prove to be insufficient with their help, she takes things into her hands by building a house of her own.

This Irish movie, co-written by star Clare Dunne, may be small in scale and budget, but it is affecting in big and powerful ways. Despite what girlbosses might tell you, chasing full independence isn't always as easy or even empowering as it looks, especially when you're stuck in the lower rungs of society like Sandra; Herself takes the honest approach by showing us the unglamorous side of making it on your own. It also has meaningful things to say about marriage and divorce, so if you were moved by Marriage Story or Kramer vs Kramer, you may feel the same about Herself, which references the latter two's iconic courtroom scenes.

It’s always fun to watch something that makes you second guess each move, that shifts seamlessly from one thing to another. Frantz is that kind of film, and as the deceptively simple premise unfolds—a widow befriends her late husband’s friend—you’re never really sure if what you’re watching is a romance, a mystery, or a sly combination of both. 

It helps that Frantz is also more than just a period piece, packed as it is with tiny but thoughtful details. When it is filled with color, for example, it does so in the muted palette of 1900s portraits, making each shot look like a picture come to life. When it talks about love, it goes beyond heterosexual norms and hints at something more potent and, at times, political. And when it takes a swing at melodrama, its actors ground the moment with enough restraint and reserve so that it never teeters on excess. All this results in a well-executed, gripping, and overall lovely film to watch.

 

Office Space and Better Off Ted before it, Corporate is endlessly nihilistic, but unlike them, it doesn’t have a redemptive moment where the protagonists find a silver lining in their jobs. No, Corporate is as bleak as it gets. But buoyed by ridiculous hilarity, sharp social commentary, and the insane ability to perfectly describe corporate life, it remains highly watchable, like a dystopian tragicomedy inching closer and closer to real life. 

Asako is in love with Baku—deeply and almost delusionally, in a way that can only manifest in young love. But when the freewheeling Baku ghosts Asako for good, she moves from Osaka all the way to Tokyo to start a new life. Years later, she's startled to meet Baku's doppelganger in Ryohei, an office man whose solid dependability and lack of artfulness, while endearing, could not place him any further from Baku. Confused and lonely, Asako tiptoes around her feelings for Ryohei and, in the process, raises thought-provoking questions about the meaning, ethics, and true purpose of love.

 

Director Thomas Vinterberg (The Hunt) reunites with Mads Mikkelsen to tell the story of four teachers going through a mid-life crisis. They’re not sad, exactly—they have homes and jobs and are good friends with each other—but they’re not happy either. Unlike the ebullient youth they teach, they seem to have lost their lust for life, and it’s silently eating away at them, rendering them glassy-eyed and mechanic in their everyday lives. 

Enter an experiment: what if, as one scholar suggests, humans were meant to fulfill a certain alcohol concentration in order to live as fully and present as possible? The teachers use themselves as the subjects and the tide slowly starts to turn to mixed effects. Are they actually getting better or worse?

With an always-satisfying performance by Mikkelsen and an instant classic of an ender, it’s no surprise Another Round took home the award for Best Foreign Film in the 2020 Academy Awards.

“What is happiness?” is one of those philosophical questions that seem destined to go unanswered, one that, when asked, starts a debate that splinters into smaller debates, all of which lead to nowhere. This film is sort of an embodiment of that question, but instead of being vague and pointless, it revels in mystery and multitudes. What is happiness? We follow five different people who attempt to answer that in their own ways. 

It might seem gimmicky to try to link strangers’ lives with the concept of happiness,  but in the hands of a brilliant director and ensemble, it becomes a treat. With its deeply human characters, smartly structured plot, and eloquent dialogue, Thirteen Conversations About One Thing is a rare gem of a film, as perceptive as it is poignant. 

Booksmart but wished it was more action-packed, you'll surely love this show.  

If it weren’t for his knack for writing, Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman) would never have gotten into a prep school like Rushmore. But his art secures him a scholarship, and what he lacks in smarts and money, he makes up for in school pride. As he flunks more and more of his academics, however, he is eventually kicked out, and it’s outside the halls of his beloved Rushmore, stripped of all titles and insignia, where he learns to be his true self.  

As the film’s comedic and emotional core, Schwartzman is a revelation as the ambitious and sharp-tongued Max. Equally captivating is Bill Murray’s deadpan but lovable turn as Max’s millionaire friend, Herman Blume. It’s a role so fitting, in fact, that the poor-rich-man character will follow Murray well into his career, long after the curtains close on Mr. Blume. Meanwhile, Wes Anderson will go on to do more colorful and stylized pictures than Rushmore, but thanks to its unbeatable wit and down-to-earth charm, the film remains to be one of the auteur’s most delightful and hilarious works to date. 

Set in 1920s India, RRR follows two revolutionaries who strike up an unlikely bond and fend off the British regime from their home. In their epic journey to protect their people, they encounter a number of setbacks that prompts them to put their incredible combat skills on full display. 

Despite its three-hour run, RRR never drags, thanks in large part to its breathtaking action sequences and eye-popping visuals. It may contain all the familiar beats of a blockbuster, but RRR is notably grounded in its central, political theme of anti-colonialism, the sincerity of which keeps the film's big heart beating palpably throughout.