Military Wives

Posted on May 21, 2020 at 5:26 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Not rated, some mature material
Profanity: Strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and drunkenness, teen drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Offscreen wartime violence and peril, characters injured and killed
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters and issues of diversity
Date Released to Theaters: May 22, 2020
Copyright 2020 Bleeker Street

“They also serve who only stand and wait.” Those lines by Milton are a powerful reminder of the quiet struggles of the families left behind when soldiers go to war. “Military Wives” is based on the real-life story of British women who stood and waited while their spouses were fighting in Afghanistan, and came together to form a choir that inspired audiences and led to the creation of choirs on other military bases.

The choir is as much the result of opposing forces as common interests. Kate (a frosty Kristen Scott Thomas) is the wife of one of the base’s commanding officers. He is about to return to duty for the first time since the death of their only son in action. We get a sense of their different ways of grieving — and the way his death has driven them apart — as they talk about a photograph of their son. Should it be left casually on the refrigerator as it was when he was alive or upgraded to a frame and protected by glass?

Lisa (“Catastrophe’s” Sharon Horgan) seems to have been designed to annoy and be annoyed by Kate. She is earthy, unpretentious, and outspoken and just generally messy. She is, in theory, in charge of organizing the morale-boosting base activities for the spouses. But she is not by nature or inclination an organized person. She has a rebellious teenage daughter she can barely manage. And she considers Kate’s “helpful” suggestions snobbish and unrealistic. How much comfort can worried, lonely wives of soldiers get from a knitting club or a film series to explore the auteur theory?

But Lisa cannot dispute Kate’s point that the women “need something to focus on, something to keep them together.” The idea of singing seems to have some appeal. Lisa tentatively agrees but want to keep it casual. “It’s like a drop-in,” she tells the women. “And then you commit,” says Kate. “A lot of fun,” says Lisa. “And uplifting,” says Kate.

They have different ideas about what to sing and how to rehearse. But just as different notes can make beautiful harmonies, the two women find a way to combine forces and even develop some respect for one another. With some bumps along the way. Kate says “it has to be challenging to give them something else to think about.” But it turns out that the challenge is what helps them think about all of it — worry, grief, fear — better.

“It’s like ‘Sister Act’ without the Mafia hit men!” one character says cheerfully. No Mafia hit men, no nuns, but real war, with real casualties, and real pain. The real turning point is when the women bring the people they miss into their performance. And the real highlight is the glimpses we get of the real choir and the others it inspired over the closing credits.

Families should know that this film includes some strong language, teen misbehavior, and sad offscreen war-related injuries and deaths.

Family discussion: Did your sympathies toward the characters shift over the course of the movie? Why? How did characters find different ways to deal with stress?

If you like this, try: “Young at Heart,” a documentary about a choir of elderly singers

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Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

Posted on March 8, 2012 at 6:02 pm

Paul Torday’s satiric novel of politics, money, love, and fishing has been brought to the screen with Ewan McGregor as a government fisheries expert and Emily Blunt as an aide to a Yemeni sheik who has what seems to be an impossible dream — building a salmon fishery in his desert country.

When Dr. Alfred Jones (McGregor) receives a polite letter from Harriet Chetwode-Talbot (Blunt) about the sheik’s proposal, he dismisses it as ridiculous and sends back a curt refusal: “Conditions in the Yemen make this project fundamentally infeasible.” But bad news about conflict in the Mid-East has the Prime Minister’s press secretary looking for “a good news story from the Middle East — a big one,” and British-Yemeni cooperation on something as benign as fly-fishing seems like just the photo-op-friendly project to distract the public.  Dr. Jones is directed to meet with Ms. Chetwode-Talbot (as they will continue to address one another).  It turns out that some elements of the “fundamental in-feasibility” of the project are not as infeasible as he thought.  For one thing, money is no object, and it is remarkable how many obstacles that clears.  And the support of the Prime Minister clears away most of the rest.  It’s like a benign “Charlie Wilson’s War” with fish instead of anti-aircraft weapons).

Dr. Jones makes up the most impossibly high figure he can think of, and that immediately becomes the budget for the project.  Suddenly, Dr. Jones has access to the most expert engineers in the world, including dam builders from China and to the equipment that can ship millions of fish thousands of miles.  Both he and Ms. Chetwode-Talbot discover the liberating feeling of imagining endless possibilities.  But there are complications and dangers that come from that much freedom.  There are challenges that are beyond the capacity of even the most skilled engineers.  Ms. Chetwode-Talbot has a boyfriend in the military who is fighting in the Mid-East and Dr. Jones has a wife who is on an extended business trip to Geneva.  Those commitments begin to seem like just another barrier once thought impenetrable, but now open to reconsideration.

Director Lasse Hellström dissolves some barriers of his own, deftly bridging genres with a story that combines political satire with adventure and romance and is not afraid to take on issues like faith and bridging cultural boundaries.  Amr Waked brings dignity and charisma to the role of the sheik.  “I have too many wives not to know when a woman is unhappy,” he tells Ms. Chetwode-Talbot.  He persuades Dr. Jones that what he wants is not a rich man’s whim but a part of a larger vision to inspire his countrymen and for the moment at least the idea sounds less absurd to us as well.  Kirsten Scott Thomas steals the show as the press secretary, whether she is sending tart IMs or scooting her children out the door as she barks orders into her cell phone.  The film effectively captures the ruthless pragmatism and frequent cynicism of political trade-offs.

It captures the broadening horizons of the two Brits transplanted to the desert as well.  As McGregor and Blunt root for fish “bred for the dinner table” to locate the instinct to swim upstream, we root for them to do the same.

 

 

 

Parents should know that this film includes strong material for a PG-13 including sexual references and a brief explicit situation, brief strong language, and wartime and sabotage violence.

Family discussion:  What does Dr. Jones discover about faith?  How does the project make him think differently about his own options?  What do you think will happen next?

If you like this, try: “Chocolat” and “Local Hero” and the novel by Paul Torday

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Interview: Philippe Claudel of ‘I’ve Loved You So Long’

Posted on November 20, 2008 at 4:00 pm

One of the most beautiful images on screen this year is the beginning of a French film called “I’ve Loved You So Long,” the story of sisters reunited after a long absence. As the movie opens, there is a close-up on the face of Juliette, played by Kristen Scott Thomas, who appears without any make-up, utterly vulnerable. Her stillness is eloquent and deeply moving and it orients us to the story that is about to unfold.

The title comes from a French children’s song. And we find out that Juliette has been in prison for a shocking crime. She barely knows her much younger sister, Léa (Elsa Zylberstein), who has come to pick up Juliette and bring her to her home with Léa’s husband, daughters, and father-in-law.

I spoke with writer-director Phillippe Claudel, best known as a novelist, about the movie, and began by asking him about that opening shot.

PC: It was very important for me to begin this story with shock, to give the audience the face of a destroyed woman, a dead woman, to take the time with my camera, to take my time to give the time to the audience to explore and enter deep inside this character. I chose a very classic style without a lot of camera movement, to work with the audience, to create a connection, space for the audience. I wanted to start with a simple and tragic picture with the face of Juliette.

My first question for Kristen when we spoke about the movie was one condition. I told her, “I want to destroy your beauty, to compose with you, the real character of Juliette, to read 15 years of prison just with your face.” Many actresses would accept that in pre-production but be different in shooting, but not Kristen. She was very professional. She understood the truth of this character needed this dirty face.

NM Your previous stories were all novels. What made you decide to tell this story as a movie?

PC: You need human experience for work. The novels I wrote before age 34 were constantly bad. The beginning of the true writing requires pain, love, experience of life, to became a man. After age 34, my novels suddenly were a little bit more good. It’s the same thing for the movie process. I wrote screenplays but didn’t feel ready to direct for 10 years. By then I had magined the story so that it was very clear in my mind. I was not afraid. I was very cool and knew exactly what i wanted.

NM: The movie has a lot of stillness, especially for a first-time film-maker. What made you decide to present the story that way?

PC: When I finished the writing of the screenplay, i thought about the style and it was important to adopt a very pure and simple and classic style for the story. It is a very strong and powerful story. I want the audience to forget the camera and director, the movie-making. I want the audience just to be with the characters.

NM: Even though as the movie begins Juliette has been released from prison, emotionally she is still a prisoner through her emotional isolation. And other characters are dealing with other forms of imprisonment, like Léa’s father-in-law, who is mute as the result of a stroke, and the sisters’ mother, who has dementia.

PC: I wanted to give different variations of the topic, a true prison and a metaphoric prison, the lonely life, the secrets, the little adopted girl, who has the secret of her birth, the illness of the mother. There are many many prisons in our lives. Maybe the lesson of the movie is to show the importance of others and they way they can help you to break the walls.

NM: One of the characters in the film speaks of his work with prisoners. Is that based on your experience?

PC: I worked 11 years in prison, teaching, starting when I was very young 22 or 23. when we are young like that we are too sure. We believe we know everything. It was a shock for me, a necessary shock, to discover another face of humanity. Nothing is simple, nothing is basic, all life and all people are very complex. It is impossible to have a basic judgment of good/bad, right/wrong. This experience changed me totally, i was not the same after. Many novels I wrote after this experience were very inspired by it. They were not about prison but about tragedy of our condition and the impossibility to know deeply the other people.

When Michel said the border between good and bad is very thin, it was a very personal, autobiographical scene.

When I stopped in 2000, I was always obsessed by this special universe. It was difficult to escape. I wrote a text like therapy, with sounds of music of the prison’s keys. It was an essay just different scenes of prison. It was very cinemagraphic and a French producer asked me to adapt it for the screen, but it was impossible.

NM: How is making a movie different from writing a book?

PC: I knew immediately this story was a movie and not a novel. I imagined to write a story about a woman, a desire to show this woman with pictures. Also, I wanted to work with real people. I like to write but it is a solitary and comfortable pleasure. To tell a story in a novel, you don’t need money and you don’t need people. But sometimes it is good to work with an artistic team. And my novels are about men, but when I imagine movies, it’s often with female faces.

NM: Kristen Scott Thomas is an English actress who lives in France. In the US, she is better known for her roles in films like “The English Patient.” Does she make many films in French?

PC: It is a very curious paradox. She lives in France but is constantly under-employed. It was very exciting to propose the real first lead for her in a French film. I liked having both Kristen Scott Thomas and Elsa Zylberstein do something different. Kristen is beautiful, a little bit cold, aristocratic. I wanted to give her a very complex character and a very mute character. It is wonderful to play with an amazing expressive face, a pleasure to observe her. I told her to explore the first take and after that I would direct her. And Elsa, who is known for fashion and glamour, I cut her hair and put her in very basic clothes.

NM: What makes you laugh?

PC: Many many things, maybe in this moment, the President of Italy. Often the people who govern us are very comic; maybe that’s their role. And my daughter, every day.

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