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Maudie

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

Maudie

Maudie is a beautiful piece of art that offers the perfect alternative to summer blockbusters. Director Aisling Walsh took elements from the work of writer Sherry White and stirred them gently until the whole quite literally silenced the theater. The elements: two astonishing performances by Sally Hawkins and Ethan Hawke, stunning photography of the empty countryside, and the deep sensitivity of director Walsh.

Sally Hawkins’ Maude is a woman in her mid-thirties who carries the physical effects of early onset arthritis and an early childhood illness that left her with a stooped posture. Fragile she may be, but she is otherwise sharp, shy, and uncommonly stubborn. Her brother (Zachary Bennett) has left her in the care of her poisonous Aunt Ida (Gabrielle Rose). Desperate to escape, Maud presents herself at the ramshackle house of fish peddler Everett Lewis (Ethan Hawke) in answer to his advertisement for a maid.

Their prickly relationship develops through ups and downs as Maud paints pictures of all the bits of nature she sees on her walks. Her flowers will cover the walls, the stair risers, mirrors and all paintable surfaces in their house. In a relationship rooted in need, neither is willing to change. He gives her shelter and she keeps it clean. She has the freedom to paint the world around her as she sees it. He has a clean house and the uncluttered time to sell fish and firewood.

The needy couple walks separately and sometimes together along miles of a dirt road to town for the few supplies they can afford. It is then that director Walsh works more magic. The two on that endless road are small dots against the majesty of the landscape (Nova Scotia, but filmed in Newfoundland). Walsh’s camera teaches us quietly that no one in this area has money or material things. The glory of the landscape is not theirs to enjoy but to survive. With her silent camera, she captures the stark nature of their relationship along with the poverty imposed by the vast landscape. She never teaches. She simply gives us the beauty of the story in the quietest way. We are watching the power of serious creativity.

When Maud’s paintings begin to sell while Everett takes over a bit of her housework, she says quietly: “we’re like a pair of old socks.” In the simplicity of their surroundings, the only change will be the tenderness that creeps into their lives. Otherwise nothing changes the fact that they deal in basic necessities and with whatever lies unexpressed in their heads on those long, long walks. Maud sees the golds, reds, and whites that will become her flower paintings, Everett can’t say anything right, but we know he has mellowed just a little.

We watch two fine actors who absorbed all the subtleties used by their director. Together the three took us to a faraway place both physically and emotionally, and it’s a place we will all remember.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : Maudie
Word Count : 497
Running time : 1:55
Rating : PG-13
Date : June 18, 2017

 

The Lost City of Z

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

The Lost City of Z

The Lost City of Z is an intriguing movie that ignores conventional story line structure in favor of deep character studies of its principals. We are invited to watch real growth as each of them struggles to follow passion instead of conforming to the rules of English propriety in the early 1900s. Don’t look for a dramatic arc here, just enjoy watching these people grow.

Just the facts: in the early 1900s, Army soldier Percy Fawcett ( Charlie Hunnam) is chosen by the Royal Geographical Society to explore the jungle in Eastern Bolivia. The cloud hanging over the mission carries the message that no one has ever returned alive from going “up river.” Several countries are planning to explore this region for its black gold/oil. Fawcett is looking instead for the ancient civilization he believes is there and to get there, he must fight the bigotry of British Conservatives and the Church. “We have been so arrogant for centuries,” he says of them.

Fawcett, stuck in Army mediocrity because of his father’s alcoholism (yes, this is 1906), says “My reputation as a man rests entirely on our success.” In a finely written scene that is beautifully acted by Charlie Hunnan as Fawcett and Sienna Miller as his wife Nina, we understand both their mutual love and the depth of his need to grow by taking on this mission. He will be gone for three years.

That short scene tells us these two people are smart, strong, and independent – traits at the gut of their behavior throughout the story. Director/scriptwriter James Gray sends Fawcett off with his friend Henry Costin (Robert Pattinson) to indulge those traits in three trips to the Amazon jungle against all odds. If his decision to go springs from who he is, that core also produces his ability to understand the natives he encounters.

What sets both Fawcett and Nina apart is a quality each has that lifts them above the stereotypical demands of their era that might have molded them differently. Even Fawcett couldn’t stamp out his wife’s need to explore the unknown. She does that in raising her children. He asks himself in the jungle, “What kind of a fool am I to leave my family for this place?” Nina understands her husband’s need to return three times to the unknown.

Director Gray has assembled a marvelous cast of military leaders to give us the flavor of acceptable behavior in early 1900s England. Against that background, the primary actors deliver the flavor of people motivated by an inner core. Robert Pattinson is superb as Fawcett’s quiet co-explorer who stays with Fawcett until he can’t. Angus Macfadyen creates the British villain who messes things up repeatedly.

We won’t forget the inner strength that led both Percy and Nina Fawcett to respect and understand the deep determination each would show throughout their lives as they made tough choices. And we might not see better acting for quite a while.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : The Lost City of Z
Word Count : 499
Running time: 2:21
Rating : PG-13
Date : 5 April 2017