Tag Archives: B

MY LITTLE SISTER (SCHWESTERLEIN)

Producer: Ruth Waldburger   Directors: Stéphanie Chuat and Veronique Reymond   Screenplay: Stéphanie Chuat and Véronique Reymond   Cast: Nina Hoss, Lars Eidinger, Marthe Keller, Jens Albinus, Thomas Ostermeier, Linne-Lu Lungershausen,  Noah Tscharland  and Moritz Gottwald  Distributor: Film Movement

Grade: B

A dramatically wrenching but, for the most part, sensitively told story of twins confronting one’s potentially terminal illness, this second film from the writing-directing team of Stéphanie Chuat and Veronique Reymond avoids mawkishness while delivering a strong emotional impact. 

Nina Hoss and Lars Eidinger play Lisa and Sven Nielsen; he’s two whole minutes older than she.  He’s a famous stage actor, long active at Berlin’s Schaubühne, who is suffering from leukemia.  She is a playwright who has put her writing on hold to accompany her husband Martin (Jens Albinus) to the Swiss city of Leysin, where he’s taken a post as headmaster at a posh prep school.  They have two adorable children, Linne-Lu and Noah (Linne-Lu Lungershausen and Noah Tscharland).

Lisa has travelled to Berlin to provide a bone marrow transplant for Sven, a treatment looked on with optimism by his doctors.  Because their mother Kathy (Marthe Keller), who was also involved in theatre, seems incapable of caring for her son, Lisa takes him back to Leysin, where he’s welcomed reasonably well by Martin and enthusiastically by his niece and nephew.

Unfortunately, his condition worsens, and finally it’s determined that the marrow transplant has not has the desired effect.  Doctors suggest some alternate strategies, but Sven decides to decline them, preferring to accept what he considers inevitable.

Lisa chooses to accompany him back to Berlin, exacerbating a conflict that’s already erupted between her and Martin.  (When they’d moved to Switzerland, he’d agreed that that it would be a temporary relocation, after which they’d return to Berlin.  Now he’s reneging on the promise, reluctant to give up his cushy post and arguing that she can, after all, write anywhere.)  She takes the children with her, setting up an inevitable confrontation. 

But Lisa is not merely intent on nursing Sven.  She wants to encourage his recovery by getting him back onstage.  She’d already tried to convince David (Thomas Ostermeier), unsuccessfully, that he should take on the role of Hamlet now entrusted to his erstwhile understudy (Moritz Gottwald).  Now she proposes to write a piece designed for her brother—a monologue based on Hansel and Gretel.  David rejects the idea.  And Martin shows up to reclaim the kids. 

All of this is dramatic, but it never becomes melodramatic, because of the cultivated direction of Chuat and Reymond and the superbly nuanced performances by Hoss and Eidinger, who even look remarkably alike.  Keller adds some semi-comic garrulity to the mix, and the children are charming.  Albinus and Ostermeier are both fine, though neither is as distinctive as the others.

There are a few missteps in “My Little Sister,” most notably a paragliding sequence that’s beautifully shot by cinematographer Filip Zumbrunn but in narrative terms seems more like a stunt than a necessity.  Otherwise the technical side is excellent, with Myriam Rachmuth’s editing particularly sharp.  Both Marie-Claude Lang Brenguier’s production design and the score—consisting of original music by Christian Garcia-Gaucher and some classical insertions, including Brahms’s song  “Schwesterlein” (or “Little Sister”)—are excellent.

“My Little Sister” doesn’t pull its punches and as such can be hard to watch, but by avoiding sentimentality it remains honest and direct.

ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI…

Producers: Jess Wu Calder, Keith Calder and Jody Klein   Director: Regina King   Screenplay: Kemp Powers   Cast: Kingsley Ben-Adir, Eli Goree, Aldis Hodge, Leslie Odom Jr., Lance Reddick, Christian Magby, Joaquina Kalukango, Nicolette Robinson, Michael Imperioli, Lawrence Gillard Jr., Beau Bridges, Aaron D. Alexander, Jeremy Pope and Christopher Gorham   Distributor: Amazon Studios

Grade: B+

Adapted by Kemp Powers from his 2013 play and opened up to some extent for the screen by Regina King, “One Night in Miami…” is an imagined account of what might have transpired on the night of February 25, 1964, when four notable black men—Malcolm X, Cassius Clay, Jim Brown and Sam Cooke—met in a motel room following Clay’s winning the heavyweight championship by unexpectedly defeating Sonny Liston.  While it can’t escape a feeling of staginess, the conversation about the role of African-American icons in society remains as timely now as it would have been more than half a century ago.

In 1964 all four are at turning points in their lives.  Clay is about to announce his conversion to Islam, which will alter his name to Muhammad Ali.  Malcolm has been his mentor in making the decision, but is also about to sever his ties to the Nation of Islam after discovering the secrets of its leader Elijah Muhammad’s unsavory private life.  Brown has just made his first movie, and will eventually have to decide between a screen career and the NFL.  And Cooke is making waves as a music mogul and recording artist.

The picture begins with a series of prologues situating each man prior to turning to their evening together.  Clay (Eli Goree) loses a 1963 bout to Henry Cooper.  Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.) blows his first appearance at the Copacabana.  Brown Aldis Hodge) has an uncomfortable conversation with a grandee (Beau Bridges) in his hometown.  And Malcolm (Kingsley Ben-Adir) discusses the ramifications of his decision to split from the Nation with his concerned wife Betty (Joaquina Kalukango).

The script then moves to the Liston fight, which all three other men attend, and then the motel, where Cooke arrives first, only to be accosted by Malcolm’s two attendants, imposing Brother Kareem (Lance Riddick) and enthusiastic youngster Jamaal (Christian Magby).  Then the other three follow, and the conversation begins.

It contains a good deal of good-natured ribbing and recollection, but also a healthy dose of conflict.  That’s mostly the result of Malcolm’s earnest belief that the others are all men who should embrace their mission to rake activist roles in promoting the cause of the black community in terms of the lives they lead and the words they speak.  His tendency to declare this in sometimes harsh, critical terms leads the others to respond in kind, and his admission that he plans to split off from the Nation riles Clay, who thinks he’s being used.  But over the course of the evening they recognize their commonality, warts and all, and in Cooke’s case the recollections include a flashback to a Boston gig that ended triumphantly despite some problems with the sound equipment.

But though dealing with substantive issues, the movie doesn’t descend into heavy-handed didacticism.  Whenever it seems to be heading in that direction, Powers cannily switches back to the camaraderie that lightens the mood.  The theme might remain how these men might best use their celebrity status to improve the lot of their admirers, but as they bicker and call out one another before laughing off their disagreements, their personalities are allowed to emerge and grow. 

Naturally the lead performances have to include a strong dose of mimicry, but under King’s sensitive direction all three stars go beyond mere imitation, delving deeper into their characters.  Ben-Adir captures Malcolm’s straight-arrow intensity, though the tic of pushing back his glasses is perhaps used too much.  Goree expertly coveys Clay’s boyish glee and bravado.  Hodge embodies Brown’s laid-back but knowing experience.  And Odom convincingly portrays Cooke’s talent and his ambition.  Except for Bridges, Kalukango and Magby, the supporting players haven’t much chance to shine—many just offer brief cameos as real-life figures, and some manage that better than others—but overall they do well. 

The film is one of those period pieces that don’t really manage a lived-in feel: Barry Robinson’s production design looks pretty spanking new, and Tam Reiner’s cinematography is more lustrous than gritty, and can’t escape a touch of the stagebound despite the opening-up sequences.  But Tariq Anwar’s trim editing keeps the talk percolating, and Terence Blanchard’s score is, as usual, excellent.

Naturally our knowledge of what the future holds for these men—in a couple of cases, imminent tragedy—adds a note of pathos to the film.  But it also allows us to imagine, and savor, the friendship they enjoyed, however briefly and uncertainly, on this one night.