On first glance, the plot of Robert Calzadilla’s El Amparo might not seem much different than the slate of thrillers regularly found in U.S. theaters. Fourteen men set out on a fishing trip—only two return. Cue the dramatic music. However, if is one expecting the corresponding plot—big reveals and sentimental speeches—they will be disappointed. El Amparo is not that kind of film. And thankfully so.
Not to say there isn’t urgency or emotion in the story of Pinilla (Vicente Quintero) and Chumba (Giovanny Garcia)—there is. Big questions of truth and authority and loss power the film. However, the true magic of El Amparo is found in Calzadilla’s refusal to fall into the tropes and traps that plague most Hollywood films of the same ilk. Instead of force-feeding the audience a plot (particularly with the massacre that frames the entire film) we are left to put the pieces together ourselves. It is rare to find a film that trusts not only its content, but also its audience, enough that it doesn’t add emotional padding.
This is, again, is a testament to Calzadilla and screenwriter Karin Valecillos. Based on real events from almost thirty years ago, El Amparo seems intent on maintaining historical accuracy at all costs. While this might stray from the normal expectations for such a plot, El Amparo is better for the attempt. Often, with historically based films, when something feels too good to be true, when a quote feels a bit too glossy for real life, it has likely fallen victim to an overly clever director. And while there are moments in El Amparo when the audience may hope for a little Hollywood glitz, the beauty of this film—of the fishing community of El Amparo—is in its refusal to cheapen a significantly complex story. For Calzadilla, the gamble pays off and the audience is rewarded with a fantastic film.
USA, Tyler Kelley and Araby Kelley
In the early 1960’s, single mom Nancy was living in Hawaii when she saw a 52-foot sailboat glide expertly into the harbor. She immediately fell in love with the boat, and then the captain, who was retired veterinarian Rob Griffith. A year later, the two married, and together with Nancy’s son Reed, the duo spent a lifetime sailing the world, including three global circumnavigations. Following Seas is the story of their life together at sea, told via archived photographs, live footage, and narration by Nancy herself.
What’s fascinating about their story is the willingness with which they thrust themselves into extreme situations, and the ways in which they’re forced to innovate in order to survive. From being shipwrecked on an abandoned island, to gathering chunks of melting glaciers for water, the Griffiths voluntarily lived a Robinson Crusoe-like existence. Hearing the now elderly Nancy describe their adventures with vaguely amused nonchalance is both fascinating and disturbing. It’s not difficult to imagine the draw of time spent away from the stress and materialism of modern day life; what’s more difficult to understand is the decision to spend a literal lifetime at sea, and the ability to—with a seemingly clear conscience—subject your children to the danger and solitude that such a lifestyle entails.
It’s clear from listening Nancy speak that her greatest love has always been sailing; while not objectively problematic, to hear such adoration when juxtaposed with footage of her adolescent old son, struggling to keep his school papers in order as the wind on the open seas whips them about, is sobering. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for her children (she went on to have two more with Bob), who seem like an afterthought compared to their parents’ lust for adventure.
Nancy, who’s prone to saying things like “the water doesn’t care” or “the forces of nature are not evil, just indifferent,” looks and sounds like an aging Katherine Hepburn, which is to say she comes across as charismatic, independent, and practical (perhaps to a fault). The camera treats her objectively; thus, she’s not always a sympathetic character, and at times this makes it difficult to feel invested in her story beyond just a tale of man vs. nature. Following Seas succeeds in depicting a grand adventure, but fails to thoroughly examine the people who gave their lives to its pursuit.
Tairo (Tairo Caroli) is a young lion and tiger tamer for a struggling circus. The circus hasn’t performed in almost five years and they barely have enough food to eat. Tairo remains nonchalant in the face of the circus’s struggles and the old, cranky circus manager berates him for his apathy. When we first see Tairo, he is watching The Godfather in his trailer and dressing up in his lion tamer costume. The best scenes depict Tairo caring for his large cats. He loves his lions and tigers and he treats them with dignity and compassion. Tairo reminded me of a young Kerouac. He is embracing the wildness and oddity of life by, at a young age, joining the circus, dating a beautiful woman, and hanging out with lions and tigers. As I was viewing Covi and Frimmel’s film, I found myself envious of the life Tairo was leading.
Tairo has a talisman that he uses to bless himself before he does his lion-taming act. The talisman goes missing and Tairo goes on an adventure. Covi and Frimmel have made a film about a lion tamer but the film isn’t about lion taming. It most certainly isn’t about the circus, either. It is about the glory of youth, frivolity, and purpose. Oh, and it’s a love letter to Italy as well. It is a small film and a pleasant film and Tairo and his large cats make it worth the viewing experience.
“Our aim is to make the truth public,” explains Radu (Tudor Istodor), the aspiring Romanian journalist at the center of the French-Romanian film The Fixer. A noble aim, to be sure, but the question that follows then becomes, “At what cost?”
Radu, the father of a young son with his journalist girlfriend Carmen, currently works in Paris as a “fixer” and translator for a French newspaper. He’s responsible for arranging interviews, especially those that involve pulling some strings, and uses his fluency in Romanian, French, and English to his advantage. When a story breaks out that underage prostitutes from Romania were discovered in Paris, and have been transported back to their native country, Radu is determined to get the story and prove that he has what it takes to be promoted to journalist. Using his contacts in the local government, he manages to find out where Anca, one of the girls, is being held. But actually getting to speak to her proves more difficult than he imagined, since everyone from local thugs to the nuns sheltering her are determined to protect her from the media. Radu finds himself in the middle of an ethical dilemma that will call into question both his motivations and his ambition.
The Fixer is a mostly compelling film, reminiscent of 2015’s Best Picture Winner Spotlight, not just for their shared subject matter but for the understated realism with which both stories are told. The Fixer is a stripped down, no frills production; the soundtrack is minimal to non-existent, and the camera work and editing are deceptively simple. The patience with which this story is told allows the audience to soak up the subtleties, like the shock and guilt on the mother’s face when she’s told what became of her daughter, or the barely registrable hostility the townspeople direct towards the outsiders. Unfortunately, the pace is so measured that it lacks a sense of urgency; it’s hard to feel like much is at stake when the execution is almost casual. Because of this, The Fixer is most intriguing when absorbed as a character study of Radu, rather than social or political commentary. Luckily, Istodar has the ability to let us see his struggle without overtly giving away where his character stands, and avoids veering into either piety or cynicism.The Fixer may be about hard-hitting journalism, but watching is feels more like lingering in the ambiguity of a short story than fervently scanning the front page.
Viewing Raul Arevalo’s film The Fury of a Patient Man was a trying experience for me at times. It has a slow start and most of the characters are anything but captivating. The performances are fine but I was left with this feeling of unfulfilled desire. It turns out what I was hoping for was Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu; something as stirring as his films Biutiful, Babel, or 21 Grams. Arevalo’s film is quite obviously inspired by the work of Inarritu but it tries a little too hard to fit that mold.
Arevalo’s film is about a quiet, somber man named Jose (Antonio de la Torre) who slowly and patiently moves through his life after his wife is killed during a robbery gone wrong. He may seem quiet and withdrawn, but Jose is plotting his revenge against the robbers. Antonio de la Torre is the best part of Arevalo’s film. His quiet nature is the most exciting thing that happens throughout the entirety of The Fury of a Patient Man.
I will give Arevalo credit, however. When it comes to building action, he has it nailed down. The film, although terribly boring for the first several minutes, builds through quietude until the climax. Someone needs to inform Arevalo, however, that those first several minutes are crucial in keeping a viewer’s attention. Without the reliable performance of de la Torre, I am afraid The Fury of a Patient Man would have sunk entirely.