Film Reviews For The Cine-Literate

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It's Quieter in the Twilight

The Voyager 1 spacecraft was a singular project when NASA launched it in September 1977. Its aim, as a space probe, was to study the outer solar system and interstellar space, beginning with flybys of planets Jupiter and Saturn. Later, it extended its mission to locate and study the regions and boundaries of the outer heliosphere and to explore the interstellar medium in 2012. To this day, it continues to penetrate space, having traveled some 14 billion miles from earth. It will be shut down in 2025. (To note: a twin probe, Voyager 2, was launched weeks before Voyager 1 and performed flybys of Uranus and Neptune).

In the new film “It’s Quieter in the Twilight,” Voyager Engineer Enrique Medina speaks with the Deep Space Network in Australia. Photo courtesy of Weigel Productions

All these years, scientists at NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California have been piloting and obtaining readings from the space vehicle, which continues to reveal secrets in our solar system. Even as the probe’s distance increases and its information thins out, a small group of scientists still follow the progress of this historic experiment. This intriguing documentary film captures their tranquil world “It’s Quieter in the Twilight” introduces us to these scientific holdouts, now in the “twilight” of their work.

The documentary uses ample historic and animation footage of the Voyager conception, construction, and launch and contains many film and video excerpts of its findings, especially around Saturn in its early days. But what this film really concentrates on is the dwindling but dedicated personnel still monitoring the project.

The remaining Voyager team of scientists—now down to a dozen or so—work in a non-descript building “next to a McDonalds.” They are comfortable in the quiet; it suits them. Yet this quirky team of engineers—now in their 70’s and 80’s--are still pushing the notion of discovery, traveling among stars propelled only by dwindling sunlight.

The remaining staff is also pleasantly diverse. They include a sweet woman from rural South Korea (Sun Matsumoto), a man from the Jim Crow South (Jefferson Hall), and two South Americans who found rich lives as scientists in the U.S. (Enrique Medina and Fernando Peralta), as well as the groups’ director Suzy Dodd and a cluster of others. All those interviewed are thoroughly articulate and knowledgeable, as well as good-humored about their status on a predestined project. They display no regrets, but sometimes evince a sense of nostalgia, even pathos, describing their life’s work.

The director of the film, documentarian Billy Miossi, has spoken eloquently about this Voyager team in an interview: “There's a unique dichotomy that drew me into the story of the aging Voyager mission. The grandest feat of human exploration being steered by a humble few sitting in a drab office space. They seek no fame, no recognition. Instead, they're content to quietly contribute a novel expertise for the sake of a deeper understanding of the vastness that exists beyond our world. So much is owed to a tiny team of engineers who have forgone promotions, and now retirement. To understand...their devotion is what lies at the heart of ‘It's Quieter in the Twilight.’”

Sophie Marceau has a resumé almost as long as her co-star, having been in almost 50 films since she first broke through as a teenager in the early 1980’s. She has mastered a myriad of roles and here takes absolute control of another, an injured daughter forced to confront a surly, ineffective father. She does it with grace and poise while looking gorgeous

(The film runs a crisp 83 minutes and is not rated--though it contains nothing objectionable,)

(May 23rd, 2023)

Afghan Dreamers

“Afghan Dreamers,” is the name of an all-girl robotics team from Herat, Afghanistan, founded in 2017 by Roya Mahboob and made up of girls between the ages 12 and 18. Some 150 girls contended for the team, which was whittled down to six. Mahboob is the group’s coach, mentor, and sponsor and was recruited to form a team from Afghanistan to attend a competition in the US.

Members of the robotics team work on a robot in “Afghan Dreamers.” Photo courtesy of MTV Documentary Films

The girls include Fatemah, who became the team captain, Lida, a lifetime lover of video games, and Somaya, with an aptitude for mechanics. Besides Roya as their backer, they had sturdy support from Fatemeh’s mother, a psychologist.

In 2017, six Dreamers traveled to the US to participate in the First International Global Challenge robotics competition, which took place in the DAR’s Constitution Hall in DC. Though their visas were rejected twice (because of the Trump Administration’s Muslim ban), officials in the US Congress and the United States government intervened to allow them to finally enter the US.

They were awarded a Silver Medal for “Courageous Achievement,” and returned home as young heroes and national celebrities. Soon after they returned, the fragility of their world came home to them when the father of team captain Fatemah, Mohammad Asif Qaderyan, was killed in a suicide bombing. After their United States visas expired, the team participated in competitions in Canada and Mexico.

The film opens with the girls’ participation in the May 2018 in the Oslo Freedom Forum, where Somaya Faruqi addresses the assembled: “Afghan Dreamers” is the story of every little girl who fights for the right to attend school and engineer our planet,” said Faruqi. “I hope this film draws the world’s eyes to Afghanistan, where girls today can only dream of attending school and living how we choose.”

In 2019 the Dreamers entered a competition in Dubai. The film shows their participation there, where they were challenged to design a robot to remove trash items from the ocean. They did not succeed and returned to Afghanistan where leader Mahboob challenged them to persist and improve. In 2020, the Afghan Dreamer’s Institution was founded to use technology to rebuild their country, and the Dreamers, teenagers, looked forward to attend university and perfect their skills.

In 2021, however, the Taliban began to make advances on Kabul from the West and took over the capital (shown in familiar conflict TV footage from August 2021). The new regime quickly banned girls over 12 from all schools, shutting down the Dreamers’ future. They then fled to other lands.

David Greenwald, an versatile editor turned director, presents “Afghan Dreamers” as a well-paced, mostly chronological story, using footage of their work and travels, interspersed with interviews of the girls: all sweet, articulate, and inspired by their love of science.

Asked about their achievement, Greenwald replied. “The Taliban can ban girls from going to school. They can prevent women doctors from practicing medicine or not allow female judges from entering the courtroom. But one thing they can’t do is erase the accomplishments of the Afghan girl’s robotic team. They’re part of Afghan history now and their hopes and dreams live on in the hearts and minds of every Afghan girl.”

(The film is not rated and runs 72 minutes.)

(May 2023)

Everything Went Fine

From French director François Ozon comes “Everything Went Fine” (Tout S’est Bien Passé), a powerful family drama in which a daughter is forced to reconcile with her father and their shared past after he stuns her with a devastating final wish. Parisian art collector André Bernheim (André Dussollier), is a gay man who had two daughters while married to Claude (Charlotte Rampling), but they are long estranged. He has also had a tempestuous long-term affair with Gérard, whom he has since spurned. The trigger to the plot happens in the movie’s first minute, when he suffers a debilitating stroke.

From left: Sophie Marceau, Géraldine Pailhas, and André Dussollier appear in “Everything Went Fine.” Photo courtesy of Cohen Media Group

His daughters, the older Emmanuèle, a writer (Sophie Marceau) and the younger, Pascale, a teacher (Géraldine Pailhas), rush to aid a man who has been a difficult father to them both, especially Emmanuèle, (we see brief flashbacks of his indifference to her as a child). After release to a new rehab hospital, André tells Emmanuèle that his “future life is not worth living” and asks her to help him “end it,” putting the onus on her to help him commit assisted suicide. Since the act is illegal in France, she and Pascale must struggle to grant this last wish.

Since France is not an option, the sisters look to Switzerland to find an institution to perform the procedure. Their facilitator, a sweet older woman, gets right down to business on the serious paperwork required (she is played by the great Hanna Schygulla, a one-time muse of director Rainer Werner Fassbinder). Even with some wavering from André, the girls book a private ambulance for the journey to Bern. A last-minute kerfuffle (which plays out like a chase movie) almost botches the whole semi-secret plan when the French police are told of the project, and the sisters are taken in for questioning—though the plan moves on.

Ozon, known for his varied and subtle films (“8 Women,” “Swimming Pool,” “Franz”) tackles this delicate subject with exceptional intelligence and understanding. Based on Emmanuèle Bernheim’s 2021fictional memoir of the same name, the film uses a plain, matter-of-fact style that renders its otherwise weighty—and potentially sentimental--topic more accessible and genial. It doesn’t make light of the moral arguments of euthanasia but instead focuses on the reckoning Emmanuéle must make with an ornery father who needs help but refuses to accept it.

“Everything” also moves smartly, with a semi-restless camera that zips its protagonists briskly around Paris while still giving them their due in more dramatic and calmer moments. The film’s score, too, relies on classy piano music, including piano sonatas by Brahms and Schubert, which adds poignancy to the work. Ozon also handles a solid and well-rounded cast with a sensitive touch, though he really excels in eliciting stunning performances from veterans Marceau and Dussollier.

André Dussollier, 77, is an icon of French cinema, having worked with almost all its major filmmakers for over 50 years. He has been nominated for the equivalent of the French Oscars (the “Caesars”) eight times, winning three over the years. Here he takes on the tough role of a gruff, addled man of 85 trying to sort out the remainder of his life. Physically, too, he must take on the task of looking like a stroke victim—with a sagging mouth and body-- and pulls it off splendidly.

Sophie Marceau has a resumé almost as long as her co-star, having been in almost 50 films since she first broke through as a teenager in the early 1980’s. She has mastered a myriad of roles and here takes absolute control of another, an injured daughter forced to confront a surly, ineffective father. She does it with grace and poise while looking gorgeous

(The film, in French with subtitles, opens at Bethesda Row Cinema. It is not rated and runs 113 minutes.)

(May 2023)


This picture is inspired by the incredible true story of the 18thC. black freedman composer Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges (1745-1799) who was the illegitimate son of an African slave and a French plantation owner named Bologne in Guadeloupe. The boy studies in a French music academy as a young man, and, from there, he rises to improbable heights in French society as a celebrated violinist-composer and fencer.

At left: Joseph Bologne (Kelvin Harrison, Jr.) challenges Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Joseph Prowen) as a violin virtuoso in "Chevalier." Photo by Larry Horricks, courtesy of Searchlight Pictures.

Played as an adult by Kelvin Harrison, Jr. Bologne’s capabilities are shown immediately when, in a pre-credit sequence, he offers a violin challenge to Mozart in the middle of the latter’s concert. In a flurry of dueling violins, with both playing riffs on a passage from one of Mozart’s violin concerti, he bests Wolfgang to the roars of the crowd.

Bologne also became accepted at aristocratic soirées and a regular in Paris café society. He inevitably comes to the attention of Queen Marie Antoinette (Lucy Boynton), and she grants him the title of “Chevalier” for his accomplishments. He then yearns to become director of the Paris Opera, the highest musical title in the land, for which he must contend with the newly arrived Austrian master Christoph Gluck (Henry Lloyd-Hughes). To win the post, the two must enter a competition: whoever writes the best opera according to a royal committee will win.

During this time, Bologne has discovered both the beauty and the sublime soprano voice of Maria-Josephine (Samara Weaving) and promises her she will star in his first opera, “Ernestine.” The two have eyes for each other but standing in the way is Maria-Josephine’s sourpuss husband, the Marquis of Montalembert (Marton Csokas). When the latter leaves Paris for an extended sojourn abroad, the two become fervent lovers.

One of the movie’s best moments is a clever montage sequence wherein Joseph and Maria-Josephine’s blissful affair blossoms among bedrooms of satin and gold intercut with the continuing progress of the composer’s opera and the singer’s performance. Their bliss cannot be sustained, however, because the Marquis returns, learns of the lovers’ trysts, and assaults Joseph and threatens to mutilate his hands. All Paris hears of the affair, the Queen’s committee rejects his opera in favor of Gluck’s, and the Queen herself disowns the Chevalier, placing him outside of royal society.

A new wrinkle comes into Bologne’s life when his mother Nanon (Ronke Adekoluejo) comes to Paris to live with him after her owner (and his father) has died. She brings with her the customs, and especially, the rhythms of her Caribbean music, which Joseph comes to absorb with delight. Meanwhile, Parisian political life is heating up with protests and revolutionary talk, and Bologne is brought into its fervor and turmoil through his friendship with the aristocratic Philippe (Alex Fotzalan), an enemy of the crown. Whatever Bologne has achieved as an artist, most of it is destroyed during the Napoleonic era.

The director, Samuel Williams, is a veteran TV producer/director who is perhaps best known for his long-time television series “Lost” on ABC from 2005. How he came to direct this lush, high-toned period piece (filming was done in the Czech Republic) after years of standard series television I cannot guess, but I’m delighted he did! The vivid script, by Stephani Robinson, takes substantial liberties with the real story of the Chevalier but also incorporates a considerable amount of historical material (as well as the music) from Bologne’s biography.

Kelvin Harrison, Jr. (“Cyrano” and “Elvis” ) was a sound choice here as the titular Chevalier. He exudes the requisite flair and super-confidence as a rising paragon but also shows convincing pique and buried rage when he suffers racial slurs, taunts, and exclusion, both hidden and open. It is a magnetic performance.

I was surprised that the period music forming much of the lavish score was handled with such taste and decorum (I expected a studio film to be more garish in its selections). While Michael Abel arranged and orchestrated Bologne’s music for the film, Kris Bowers provided the overall score. The surprise, if you stay for the credits, is that so many of the violin and orchestral excerpts are rediscovered from the Chevalier’s own works and sound worthy of comparison with other classical composers of his era. Depending on how well it is received, “Chevalier” might spark a new interest in Bologne’s forgotten creations.

(The film, now in theaters, is rated “PG-13” and runs 107 minutes.)

(April 2023)