September 3, 2014 | Rome, Italy | Clear 16°C
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Drama

Kill Your Darlings

John Krokidas provides an intriguing portrayal of the youthful "Beat" writers.

The Company You Keep

Robert Redford's "homage" to 1960s radical protestors is very much in character.

Maps to the Stars

A Cronenberg Hollywood black farce is considerably more than it seems.

It Felt Like Love

Director Eliza Hittman has too much and too little going on in this sexual initiation story.

Concussion

Robin Weigert steals the show in Stacie Passion's deft film about lesbian midlife.

Science Fiction

The Machine

An eerie sci-fi tale goes off the rails when it veers into Resident Evil territory.

Her

Spike Jonze takes 21st-century realities and pushes them forward into hallowed ground.

Frequencies

Darren Paul Fisher throws stitches together an engaging sci-fi love story around free will.

Snowpiercer

In visual and verbal spirit, Joon-ho Bong fantasy tale recalls Terry Gilliam's 1985 "Brazil."

Fantasy

Only Lovers Left Alive

Jim Jarmusch's take on loving but weary vampires is a sophisticated delight.




Date: 2014
Directed by: War Story
Starring: Catherine Keener, Hafsia Herzi, Ben Kingsley, Donatella Finocchiaro, Vincenzo Amato

War Story

In an unnamed Sicilian coastal town, deeply traumatized American war photographer Lee (a superb Catherine Keener), fresh from watching her companion murdered during the Libyan civil war, decamps into the dank shadows of a local hotel to seal herself off. In a claustrophobic haze, she thinks she recognizes a woman she photographed, who turns out to be a young and pregnant Tunisian refuge named Hafsia (French actress Hafsia Herzi), whom she becomes obsessively determined to help.

Director Mark Jackson's twilight-tinted, anti-sentimental tale is in fact a war story, but about two kinds of survivors: one with New York refuge, should she seek it; the other caught in the alien, dispossessed limbo that is southern Italy as faced by North African boat people.

Jackson is astute at many levels. He captures rivalries and pettiness among the Sicilian hotel women - who have no fondness for pushy Lee, as well as the double-ostracism faced by young women exiles, cut off and made perishable by rape. With greater and lesser success, he walks the tightrope between Italian anti-immigrant racism and a portrait of two shattered, grief-stricken souls, both migrants of a sort. Their rage and frailty transcends their actual circumstances, sketching out a netherworld more potent than civil war headlines could ever suggest. At one point, Hafsia asks, "Why do you think you know people you don't know?" to which Lee has no answer, but it is humanity of recognition, and feral empathy, that matters here. Clues, not answers, are Jackson's means to ambiguous ends.

Ben Kingsley puts in an enigmatic cameo as Lee's mentor ("What did they do to you?"), but by the time he appears the dye is cast. Most of the movie was filmed in the Sicilian town of Caltanisetta, making credibility an additional virtue.

Reviewed by: Marcia Yarrow
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