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Posts Tagged ‘Oliver Assayas’

Edgar Ramirez

“WASP NETWORK” My rating: C+ (Now available on Netflix)

127 minutes | Rated: TV-MA

There’s some interesting history on display in “Wasp Network,” the latest from veteran French auteur Oliver Assayas. But as drama this one’s a head scratcher.

The film begins in the late 1980s in Cuba, with Rene Gonzalez (Edgar Ramirez) bidding farewell to his wife Olga (Penelope Cruz) and their young daughter and heading out for another day of piloting planes for the Castro regime.

Except that Gonzalez steals an aircraft and heads to Florida, where he claims political asylum. Before long he’s been hooked up with anti-Castro insurgents, flying dangerous missions to Cuba and elsewhere.  Some of those assignments involve carrying loads of narcotics which are financing plans to destabilize or even overthrow the island’s Communist government.

Meanwhile back in Cuba Olga must live with  the fallout of being the wife of a traitor.

Wagner Moura

Enter a new Cuban character, Juan Pablo Roque (Wagner Moura), who risks sharks and rip tides to swim into Guantanamo Bay where he defects to authorities at the U.S. base there. Soon Juan Pablo, who has a taste for the high life, is rubbing elbows with expatriate bigwigs in Miami, wooing the gorgeous daughter (Ana de Armas) of Cuban exiles, and flashing a Rolex.

Yet a third plot emerges with the appearance of Gerardo Hernandez (Gael Garcia Bernal), a Cuban operative who informs poor Olga that her husband, far from being a traitor, has been sent to spy on anti-Castro groups in Miami.

At one point there’s a digression to follow a Venezuelan “tourist” (Nola Guerra) who plants bombs in Havana hotels in an effort to destroy Cuba’s fledgling tourism industry.

Assaya’s screenplay plays it coy for the first hour. It’s not until the Hernandez character appears that we realize Gonzalez and Roque are not defectors but undercover agents.  This delayed reveal is meant to build suspense but mostly it leaves us mystified.  Why are we supposed to care about these two? What are their motivations?

Adapted from Fernando Morais’ nonfiction book The Last Soldiers of the Cold War, “Wasp Network” reeks of authenticity.  It was shot largely in Cuba featuring a slew of familiar Latin American actors. 

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Kristen Stewart

“PERSONAL SHOPPER”  My rating: B+ (Opens March 31 at the Tivoli and Glenwood Arts)

105 minutes | MPAA rating: R

The problem with most ghost stories is that they’re bent 0n explaining.

The unexplainable is far creepier.

Which brings us to Olivier Assayas’ “Personal Shopper,” his second collaboration with actress Kristen Stewart (after the evocative if somewhat off-putting “Clouds of Sils Maria”) and one of the eeriest ghost stories in recent memory.

Stewart plays Maureen, a young American woman whose life is split along a rather dramatic fault line.

Professionally, she’s a personal shopper.  Her boss, Kyra, is a rich (and spoiled) Paris-based jet-setting celebrity who always needs a new outfit for this photo session or that charity event.  Kyra trusts her Girl Friday to buy or borrow just the right outfit for any occasion, which means that Maureen is always zooming around Paris on her moped, hitting the boutiques and fashion design studios on behalf of her employer.

But there’s a darker side to Maureen.  Months earlier she lost her twin brother, Lewis, to a congenital heart condition — a condition that afflicts her as well (she’s been told to avoid physical and emotional heavy lifting).

Both Maureen and Lewis were psychics, and for years they had a pact that whoever died first would find a way to contact  his/her sibling from the Great Beyond.

As the film begins Maureen is spending a night in the now-empty house Lewis shared with his wife, listening to every creak and groan as a possible missive from the hereafter.

While nothing happens on this particular evening, a few days later she will repeat the experiment with what can only be described as bone-chilling results. Assayas has staged a big reveal that will leave audiences breathless and covered in goosebumps.

Simultaneously, Maureen begins receiving anonymous texts from an individual (or is it a disembodied spirit?) who seems to know her exact whereabouts at any given moment. This mystery person encourages Maureen to break Kyra’s rules by trying on the impossibly expensive clothing she has collected. After all, what’s the point of being surrounded by all this luxury if you can’t partake?

Late in the proceedings, “Personal Shopper” takes a detour into 19th-century seances (apparently author Victor Hugo was big on the spirit world) and then, quite unexpectedly, into murder.

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Kristen Stewart, Juliette Binoche

Kristen Stewart, Juliette Binoche

“CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA” My rating: B 

124 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Juliette Binoche is just about perfect in “The Clouds of Sils Maria,” playing a middle-aged actress wrestling with issues of aging and art. Of course we expect excellence from Binoche.

What we don’t expect is that Kristen Stewart, the sullen star of the “Twilight” blockbusters,  would more than hold her own with the veteran French actress in an extended battle of one-on-one acting. (If you’ve seen Stewart’s work in indie efforts like “The Cake Eaters,” “Adventureland,” “On the Road”  or “Stil Alice” you know she’s got chops never put to use in her over-inflated vampire saga.)

Stewart — who won a French Cesar Award for her performance — plays Val, the personal assistant to Binoche’s Maria, and from the film’s first frame she is an organizational dervish, simultaneously fielding calls on two cellphones, scheduling appointments and running interference for her famous employer.

Val is more than just a competent social secretary. She is Maria’s confidant, booster, career consultant and, on some level, friend. When Maria has trouble making up her mind or second-guesses her choices — all too common occurrences — Val knows just what buttons to push, what issues to raise to nudge the older woman to a decision.

Writer/director Oliver Assayas’ film centers on a new stage production of the play that made Maria a star at age 18. Back then she was cast as the young office worker who seduces and gradually destroys her boss, a woman 25 years older.

Now, though, Maria will play the older woman. Her cruel young lover is to be portrayed by Jo-Ann (Chloe Grace Moretz), a charismatic young star whose talent is frequently eclipsed by her Lohan-esque bad-girl behavior.

The bulk of the film unfolds in a house on a mountainside in the small Swiss enclave of Sils Maria, where  the low-lying clouds are bizarre and beautiful.

Maria and Val have taken up residence there to prepare for the production. They spend much time running lines from the play — Val reads the younger woman’s role — and dissecting Maria’s conflicted feelings about having to renegotiate the drama from the perspective of a mature but insecure woman. (more…)

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