Sometimes visiting a new neighborhood can change your life. While scouting locations for a fashion shoot, filmmaker Naomi Yang happened upon a boxing gym in East Boston. The modest second-generation family business, with its sparring ring and wall of framed black-and-white photographs depicting local boxers, seemed like a great backdrop. Unfortunately, the gym’s owner and head coach, Sal Bartolo, Jr., disagreed, citing aprevious photo shoot that had gone badly, with high heels destroying his mats. There would be no fashion shoots in his gym. Instead, he gave Yang his pitch to all visitors, telling her to come back for a free boxing lesson. In voiceover, Yang confides to us that she did not take the offer seriously and didn’t plan to return. And yet, a few weeks later, she did. Part of her was holding out hope that Bartolo would change his mind. But another part felt drawn to boxing, and Bartolo’s gym would soon become the center of her life. Yang’s documentary tells the story of how this chance meeting at a boxing gym brought her into a deeper understanding of herself, and of the ways bullying forces can leave their mark on places as well as people.
Documentary filmmaker Alice Diop brings an unsettling sense of reality to her first fiction feature, which follows a novelist attending the trial of a woman accused of drowning her 15-month-old child. Based on a real-life incident of infanticide, the courtroom proceedings depicted in Saint Omer borrow from the 2016 trial of Fabienne Kabou, which Diop herself attended. In synopsis, this may sound like a lurid mix of fiction and documentary, but this precise and emotionally complex film, which sprung from Diop’s fascination with Kabou’s trial, does not have the anxiety-stoking energy of a true-crime story. It is so rooted in the point of view of Rama, the writer attending the trial, that I hesitate to describe it as a courtroom drama. The film’s dual focus—on both Rama, the writer, and Laurence, the young woman accused of infanticide—turns the trial into something other than pure spectacle and results in a story that looks closely at the frighteningly powerful bond between mother and child.
In fairy tales, the forest is a dark, dangerous place, populated by wolves and other menacing creatures, but for Thomasin and her father, Will, a veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the forest is a respite, a place of quiet and calm. More than that, it’s their home. For several years, they’ve been camping in Forest Park, an enormous urban park on the outskirts of Portland, Oregon. Although they have gone undetected all this time, they still do practice drills in case they should be discovered. In an early scene, Will critiques his daughter’s hiding place, telling her that her socks give her away. Actually, it’s Thom’s eyes that betray her: you can see her loneliness and her restlessness. As a younger kid, 24-7 camping may have appealed to her, but when we meet Thom, she is a young teen, full of curiosity about the outside world and eager to meet new people. The only thing that keeps her in the woods is her deep love and sympathy for her father.
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 The Great Gatsby is a simple story at heart: poor boy meets rich girl and, by dint of superhuman perseverance, transcends his origins only to find out it doesn’t matter because her kind will never accept him anyway. This slender novel has become shorthand for the Zeitgeist of the Twenties. Its language is flowery, even hothouse, Fitzgerald’s voice lush. Yet, using a detached character as narrator, Fitzgerald knits atmosphere, recurring objects, patterns, and themes into an iconic drama about the ringing failure of the American dream and a contender for The Great American Novel. Australian director Baz Luhrmann’s new adaptation of Gatsby is the third major film version and, though this Gatsby is a fun ride, its emphasis on spectacle muddies Fitzgerald’s masterpiece.