Megan McLachlan is in Savannah, Ga., for SCAD Savannah Film Festival, Oct. 26 through Nov. 2.
So many great films have premiered at the SCAD Savannah Film Festival this week, but it’s hard to see them all. Luckily I got to see three films anchored by three major performances.
Continuing his streak of one helluva movie year, Adam Driver truly delivers a powerhouse performance in The Report, written and directed by Scott Z. Burns. Driver stars as senate investigator Daniel Jones, who uncovers CIA torture tactics on detainees suspected of terrorism or terrorist connections.
This film would actually be a good double-feature with Clemency, because of the interesting juxtaposition. Both are essentially about humans doing harm to other humans and the effects from it. In Clemency, it eats away at the people performing the death row executions; in The Report, the men behind the torture seem to get their jollies off it.
Early on in the film, James Mitchell (Douglas Hodge) and Bruce Jessen (T. Ryder Smith) present their ideas to the CIA on more efficient ways of getting intel from individuals possibly connected with terrorist groups, and these ideas include insects, mock burial, and of course waterboarding, among others. While things seem pretty bleak in our government right now, this scene was a stark reminder that it’s been bleak for a long time. These snake oil salesmen hock these untested strategies and are paid $80 million of tax-payers’ money in return.
Annette Bening plays Dianne Feinstein, who tasks Jones with creating the report, and the cast is rounded out with other major supporting players like Jon Hamm, Corey Stoll, Ted Levine, and Maura Tierney.
Pain and Glory
The way Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma was last year’s most personal Best Foreign Language film entry, the same can be said for this year’s Pain and Glory from Pedro Almodovar.
Pain and Glory stars Antonio Banderas as director/writer Salvador Mallo, who’s riddled with chronic pain and depression and hasn’t been creating in quite some time. Really, to describe the film in one sentence is difficult, since it meanders a bit, but in a fluid, natural way. The film starts out with the lure of the reunion between the director and his former star (hilarious Asier Etxeandia), then becomes a reuniting between Salvador and his lost love (Leonardo Sbaraglia), before ultimately becoming a reconciliation between the artist and himself. Penelope Cruz plays Salvador’s mother Jacinta in flashbacks, and Antonio Banderas has never been better. Could he secure his first Oscar nom for this role? I would love to see that (though it’s a crowded race this year).
It’s also always interesting to me when films depict “brilliant” writers and directors and never actually show their work, but here, Almodovar shows us Salvador’s work come to life through his beautiful prose and the audience knows they’re watching a genius (well, maybe two in this case).
“Wait, this is a true story?” whispered a couple of SCAD students behind me at the end of the film. Clearly, they didn’t listen to last year’s You Must Remember This podcast, that covered Jean (Seberg) and Jane (Fonda), examining the differences between the politically-active actresses and why one is the old hot lady on Grace and Frankie and the other tragically met her demise in Paris in 1979.
The film directed by Benedict Andrews opens on Seberg’s (Kristen Stewart) face, while she’s being “burned at the stake” as Joan of Arc in her first feature length film. A fitting introduction to an actress who would become a martyr for her political leanings. Seberg gets romantically and politically involved with black activist and cousin of Malcolm X Hakim Jamal (Anthony Mackie) and soon Hoover’s FBI is tapping her phone lines and watching her every move.
But this isn’t a bored-white-girl-that-wants-attention power move. Seberg was ahead of her time, and while the film only briefly touches upon it, she joined the NAACP at the age 14 in Iowa, way before she was a movie star. She’d always had an interest in civil rights and equality. As much as I resist Kristen Stewart, she gracefully slips into the Seberg role. Stewart has been selecting interesting parts lately (except for maybe the upcoming Charlie’s Angels), and with each one, she seems to shed that nervous lip-biting energy she made popular in Twilight.
The film wisely weaves in the thread of sexism being part of the FBI investigation, even if it doesn’t come out and say it. In the 1960s, women are pushed aside. FBI investigator Jack Solomon (Jack O’Connell) is married to Margaret Qualley’s Linette, who’s studying to be a doctor, a fact that’s whispered about at parties. Then, at dinner with the Solomons, Vince Vaughn’s Carl Kowalski berates his wife and daughter (Jade Pettyjohn), the latter of which has the same blonde pixie haircut that Seberg dons.
To the men in Seberg, the actress represents changing times and gender dynamics, something that the FBI is not on board with, otherwise they would not be investigating Jean’s life. She may cheat on her husband, but she doesn’t do anything illegal in the eyes of the law. But the fact that she’s a woman running around on her hubby makes it a problem. And the fact that it’s woman having sex with men that aren’t white makes it even more of a problem. While watching Seberg, I couldn’t help but think of Once Upon A Time in Hollywood and wonder what would have happened if the world lost Jean Seberg in grisly tragedy in 1969 instead of Sharon Tate, since one represents an end of innocence and the other might have sparked something else entirely.
I hope that the students who left the theater will go home and learn more about Jean Seberg, who should be more than a footnote in movie history.