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‘The Freshly Cut Grass’ Review: A Keenly Observed if Familiar Portrait of Marital Malaise in Argentina

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‘The Freshly Cut Grass’ Review: A Keenly Observed if Familiar Portrait of Marital Malaise in Argentina

Argentinian director Celina Murga’s new feature The Freshly Cut Grass (El aroma del pasto recién cortado) probably should have been called The Grass Is Greener, so much is it about adults desperately searching for happiness outside their married lives, only to realize they may have been better off staying home in bed and throwing on Netflix.

Following a pair of 40-something professors who teach at the same university, and who both start affairs with younger students that wind up blowing up in their faces, the film’s rather original structure tells two parallel stories that mirror each other without ever once intersecting. That novelty, as well as strong performances from a cast of six, help boost a movie that says nothing entirely new about adultery, marriage, or midlife crises, resulting in a relatively pedestrian if keenly observed ensemble drama.

The Freshly Cut Grass

The Bottom Line

It takes more than two to tango.

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Venue: Tribeca Film Festival (International Narrative Competition)
Cast: Joaquín Furriel, Marina de Tavira, Alfonso Tort, Romina Peluffo, Emanuel Parga, Verónica Gerez
Director: Celina Murga
Screenwriters: Celina Murga, Juan Villegas, Lucía Osorio

1 hour 54 minutes

Executive produced by Martin Scorsese, who held the same credit on Murga’s previous features The Third Side of the River and A Week Alone, the film follows a similar modus operandi by focusing on the turmoils of Argentina’s professional class. But Grass is also chattier and more openly romantic than the director’s other work, chronicling the sexual longings and deceptions of Generation Xers looking for love in all the wrong places.

The set-up is somewhat reminiscent of Woody Allen’s Husbands and Wives, although the location is Buenos Aires and the characters are all educated members of the country’s bourgeoisie: Natalia (Marina de Tavira) and Pablo (Joaquín Furriel) teach agronomics in the same college, are each married with two children and are both flirting heavily with one of their students.

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In Natalia’s case, that student is the helpful, hunky Gonzalo (Emanuel Parga), while in Pablo’s case it’s the free-spirited, punkish Luciana (Verónica Gerez). Things aren’t going great at home for either professor, whose significant others — Hernán (Alfonso Tort) and Carla (Romina Peluffo), respectively — are unemployed and unhappy, leaving the two teachers to gradually wander into the arms of their very apt pupils.

Nothing feels altogether surprising in Muraga’s scenario (co-written with Juan Villegas and Lucía Osorio), except for the fact that Natalia and Pablo are basically living through the same exact story without either of them knowing it. From scene to scene, we cut between the two as they simultaneously cheat on their spouses, get better acquainted with their young lovers and try to conceal things on the home front. They both eventually realize that such things are much easier said than done, especially when photos of them in revealing poses with their students are leaked onto social media.

Despite the narrative redundancy, there are some subtle differences between the plotlines: Natalia experiences a kind of sexual awakening with Gonzalo, while Pablo seems to be rediscovering his youth alongside Luciana. Natalia’s husband, Hernán, reacts to the news of his wife’s cheating by temporarily walking out on her, while Carla decides to remain at home and suffer in secret when she finds out about Pablo’s affair. Gonzalo seems to be genuinely smitten with the older Natalia, while Luciana’s tryst with Pablo is just another facet of her carefree life, even if she clearly has real feelings for him.

The Freshly Cut Grass pinpoints all these minor differences without stressing them too much, resulting in a drama that feels authentic but also far too subdued. The film is carried less by its somewhat familiar plot — or rather, its two matching plots — than by solid turns from the ensemble cast. De Tavira, who memorably played the mother in Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma, is a standout as a middle-aged woman who comes to realize the limits of her own happiness, as well as the hard sacrifices required to obtain it.

Murga ultimately presents adultery as a necessary step for married couples looking to rekindle their romances and re-evaluate their commitments — an idea that seems slightly archaic at a time when open relationships and polyamory are all the rage, at least in lots of contemporary movies and TV series. The director’s vision of Argentina’s downtrodden modern love lives is nonetheless not without hope, showing how it may take a trial by fire, and a little bedroom action on the side, to keep things afloat.

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Full credits

Venue: Tribeca Film Festival (International Narrative Competition)
Production companies: Tresmilmundos Cine, Mostra Cine, Infinity Hill, Dopamine, Nadador Cine, Weydemann Bros.
Cast: Joaquín Furriel, Marina de Tavira, Alfonso Tort, Romina Peluffo, Emanuel Parga, Verónica Gerez
Director: Celina Murga
Screenwriters: Celina Murga, Juan Villegas, Lucía Osorio
Producers: Juan Villegas, Celina Murga, Valeria Bistagnino, Tomás Eloy Muñoz, Axel Kuschevatzky, Cindy Teperman
Executive producers: Martin Scorsese, Valeria Bistagnino, Tomás Eloy Muñoz, Juan Villegas, Phin Glynn, Delfina Montecchia, Juan José López, Pedro Barcia, Jakob Weydemann, Jonas Weydemann, Paulette Bresson, Benjamín Salinas Sada, Fidela Navarro, María García Castrillón
Cinematographer: Lucio Bonelli
Production designer: Maria Eugenia Montero
Costume designer: Mariana Dosil
Editor: Manuel Ferrari
Composers: Luciano Supervielle, Gabriel Chwojnik
Casting director: María Laura Berch
Sales: TDO Media
In Spanish

1 hour 54 minutes

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Movie Reviews

Movie Review: “Casablanca” – A Timeless Masterpiece –

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Movie Review: “Casablanca” – A Timeless Masterpiece –

A staff report

“Casablanca,” directed by Michael Curtiz and released in 1942, remains a cinematic gem cherished by audiences and critics alike. Set against the backdrop of World War II, this classic romance-drama unfolds in the exotic Moroccan city of Casablanca, a haven for refugees fleeing Nazi-occupied Europe.

The film stars Humphrey Bogart as Rick Blaine, a cynical American expatriate and nightclub owner, whose world-weary demeanor conceals a deep sense of morality. His life takes a dramatic turn when his former lover, Ilsa Lund (played by Ingrid Bergman), re-enters his life with her husband, resistance leader Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid). As political tensions rise and personal dilemmas intensify, Rick is faced with difficult choices that test his principles and define his destiny.

“Casablanca” is celebrated for its impeccable storytelling, memorable dialogue, and stellar performances. Bogart’s portrayal of Rick Blaine is iconic, capturing both the character’s toughness and vulnerability. Ingrid Bergman shines as the enigmatic Ilsa, torn between love and duty. The film’s supporting cast, including Claude Rains as the charmingly corrupt Captain Renault and Dooley Wilson as the soulful pianist Sam, adds depth and richness to the narrative.

The film’s cinematography, evocative of film noir with its shadowy interiors and smoky atmosphere, enhances the mood of intrigue and romance. Max Steiner’s haunting musical score, highlighted by the timeless melody of “As Time Goes By,” underscores the emotional depth of the story.

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Beyond its cinematic achievements, “Casablanca” resonates as a poignant exploration of love, sacrifice, and redemption amidst the turmoil of war. Its themes of honor, patriotism, and the power of personal integrity remain relevant and compelling to this day.

As a classic of American cinema, “Casablanca” continues to captivate audiences with its timeless charm and universal appeal. Whether revisiting it or experiencing it for the first time, this film promises an unforgettable journey into the heart of one of cinema’s greatest love stories and moral dilemmas.

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Short Film Review: Melt (2023) by Tomoto Jin'ei

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Short Film Review: Melt (2023) by Tomoto Jin'ei

‘I want to become a cicada’

Tomoto Jin’ei’s “Melt” is a short with two sides, much like the tennis ball on which the sister half of the sibling duo draws their parents’ faces. A short, poetic lament on a situation, this sees two young adults remain positive in a bleak situation.

A nameless brother and sister are approaching adulthood, yet seem to laze their days, while their parents are out for long hours, working or partying; only ever arguing when both are at home. This has become a house without love, as the parents’ stresses are deflected on to each other and their children. The siblings, therefore, spend the hot summer days lounging around, playing, but also enjoying each other’s company when out of the house. Home is where the hatred is.

With some beautiful cinematography, this is a film where the outside world is bright, colourful and eventful, while home is a dark and brooding place. Jin’ei portrays a home where smiles start immediately on leaving, with sadness returning to faces the minute they walk through the door.

Drawing her parents’ faces on either side of a tennis ball shows the children both playing favorites, but a couple no longer working as a single unit. Their father is often out drunk with much younger women – a known secret – and so their mother is tired from work, but unloved at home. From the children’s perspectives, they see two adults who are constantly behaving badly, drunk or angry, and taking out their frustrations on them. They want to run away from it all.

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From the parents’ side, however, they see their children at working age, but spending their days lounging around, contributing little but microwave meals. The mother particularly elicits some sympathy as her husband runs around with women less than half her age.

The theme of “Melt,” therefore, is escape, or melting away. The children want the freedom a transient life brings: live free and die young. The final scene sees them release a paper boat into the ocean. Laughing as they do, they want to just disappear. Laugh, as the world around you melts.

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Movie Reviews

I Am: Celine Dion Movie Review: A gut wrenching account of Celine Dion’s quest to find her voice

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I Am: Celine Dion Movie Review: A gut wrenching account of Celine Dion’s quest to find her voice
Story: This documentary provides a moving portrayal of a year in the life of superstar singer Celine Dion as she battles Stiff Person Syndrome, a neurological disorder that has silenced her voice.

Review: ‘I Am: Celine Dion’ follows a year in the life of singer Celine Dion as she deals with Stiff Person Syndrome. This documentary is a heart-wrenching view where we are exposed to the singer’s struggle with the neurological disorder that has taken away her voice, leaving her feeling helpless. By the end of the documentary, viewers can’t help but feel sympathy for the Canadian singer, who has 27 albums to her credit, selling over 250 million records. While the documentary is engaging, it could have benefited from more perspectives. Apart from Celine Dion, the only other voices heard are those of her sons, Eddy and Nelson, and her sports therapist. Including more voices would have added a richer dimension to the film.

The documentary celebrates Celine Dion’s illustrious career but focuses primarily on the aftermath of her diagnosis with Stiff Person Syndrome, a rare neurological condition. When she says, “Music, I miss a lot, but also people,” her sense of helplessness is palpable. Featuring never-before-seen footage of her stage performances, family albums, a tour of her mansion, and intimate moments with family and staff, ‘I Am: Celine Dion’ encapsulates everything a documentary should. The film also captures a poignant moment: her having a seizure and the subsequent treatment. It’s a ten-minute moving sequence that encapsulates what the singer is currently enduring. She speaks passionately about her extensive shoe collection, while the visuals of her various dresses and her children’s vast toy collection are truly eye-popping. Be sure to catch the hilarious moment when she imitates Australian singer Sia during her appearance on The Jimmy Fallon Show.

The documentary successfully highlights the humane side of Celine Dion when she emphasizes the importance of teamwork, saying, “If you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go together.” This sentiment is evident in the scene where she and her sons record a get-well-soon message for one of their household staff. Another touching moment shows Celine vacuuming her house, interspersed with a joint performance with Diana King, which is sure to bring tears to viewers’ eyes. The film evokes sadness over the cruel fate she has endured, yet it also showcases her indomitable spirit. She candidly admits that when her voice failed her, she sometimes blamed the microphone during concerts, revealing her vulnerability.

This documentary is a gut-wrenching account of a music superstar who became a shadow of her former self due to a neurological disorder. “My voice was always the conductor of my whole life,” she reflects, adding that she had to rely on multiple Valium pills just to get through her performances. A particularly poignant moment occurs when she visits the recording studio for the first time in three years and sings a song, channelling all her pain and ensuring it sounds perfect, showcasing her resilience. ‘I Am: Celine Dion’ is a moving documentary that will be tough for die-hard fans of the singer superstar to watch without tears. More than that, it tells the story of a woman who lives by the mantra, “If I can’t run, I will walk. If I can’t walk, I will crawl. But I won’t stop.”

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