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Indie Focus: A new rom-com star in ‘The Broken Hearts Gallery’

Hello! I’m Mark Olsen. Welcome to another edition of your regular field guide to a world of Only Good Movies.

This week’s news of the Oscars’ new representation and inclusion standards for eligibility for best picture sparked much conversation, both pro and con. Josh Rottenberg spoke with Paramount Pictures CEO Jim Gianopulos, also an Academy governor and member of the task force that created the new rules, which take effect for the 2024 awards. “I think when you have an issue as complex as this, you’re bound to have multiple facets of perception. But the intentions were right, the objectives were correct, and I think it achieved those,” Gianopulos said. “Is it perfect? No. Is it progress? Absolutely. So that’s got to be good enough for now.”

A pared-down Toronto International Film Festival began this week with a mix of in-person screenings in Toronto and virtual events online. It’s not the same as usual, but it will still unveil many new and exciting movies that we will likely be talking about for months to come. “People were energized by the films that were being submitted, by the conversation with the industry and people really being desperate for that platform for finished films to be sold,” Joana Vicente, the festival’s executive director and co-head, told me. “So that kind of gave us the energy to feel like this is really important. We can’t just give it up. Let’s do the best we can with what we have.”

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I also recently interviewed filmmaker Paul Schrader about his upcoming film “The Card Counter,” which was shut down in March due to the pandemic and then was able to finish shooting in July while following COVID-19 safety protocols. As Schrader said, “It was very strange, and in a way it was kind of fun, in a summer camp sort of way. But I would hate, hate to make a whole film this way. It was an adventure for five days; it’s a nightmare for five weeks.”

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Written and directed by Natalie Krinsky making her feature debut, “The Broken Hearts Gallery” stars Geraldine Viswanathan as a young New York City gallery assistant who after a break-up creates a pop-up space dedicated to past relationships. The supporting cast includes Phillipa Soo, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Molly Gordon, Dacre Montgomery and Bernadette Peters. Released by Sony Pictures, the movie is in general release where theaters are open.

Jen Yamato spoke to Viswanathan and Krinsky for a story that will be posting soon. As Viswanathan said, “Everyone dreams of being the lead in a rom-com, right? Set in New York too? It’s also a genre that I never really thought that I would be the lead of. I had kind of accepted my fate as the ‘best friend’ or something. I mean, I love those ’90s rom-com movies, but they’re all stunningly beautiful, model-like blonde women. It was always, ‘OK, those are the girls we see in romantic comedies.’”

For The Times, Katie Walsh singled out Viswanathan’s performance, adding, “‘Show me yours, I’ll show you mine’ is the ethos of the Broken Hearts Gallery, espoused by its proprietress. Sharing is caring, and as Lucy embraces the broken heart she wears on her sleeve, it becomes her greatest source of love, strength and creativity. ‘The Broken Hearts Gallery’ is a celebration of vulnerability as a key component in matters of romance and of self-love, a notion that proves to be a moving message indeed.”

For the Guardian, Cath Clarke wrote, “Lucy is a character with ‘Bridget Jones,’ ‘Sex and the City’ and ‘Girls’ in her DNA, but Viswanathan brings something of her own to the role: an excitable sense of fun and fast-talking wit. … Viswanathan has said the only role she expected to play in a romantic comedy as a woman of colour was the best friend; this film is pure romcom fantasy but ‘Broken Hearts Gallery’ is radical in one important respect: challenging the film industry’s perceptions of what a leading woman looks like.”

Molly Gordon  and Phillipa Soo's characters in "The Broken Hearts Gallery" comfort Geraldine Viswanathan's Lucy.
Amanda (Molly Gordon) and Nadine (Phillipa Soo) try to help Lucy (Geraldine Viswanathan, center) feel better in TriStar Pictures’ “The Broken Hearts Gallery.”
(George Kraychyk)

‘Cuties’

Filmmaker Maïmouna Doucouré won the world cinema directing prize when her debut feature “Cuties” premiered earlier this year at Sundance. The film stars Fathia Youssouf as Amy, a Senegalese Muslim girl living in Paris navigating the traditional values of her family and the internet-age pressures of growing up too fast. In the lead-up to its release, the film has generated some controversy, largely from those who have not actually seen it and based mostly on marketing materials, for its depiction of pre-teen girls. The film is streaming now on Netflix.

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For The Times, Justin Chang wrote, “In a story that’s all about looking and seeing, Doucouré’s own gaze reflects a principled ambivalence: She regards the push-pull of Amy’s existence — her rigid upbringing on one hand and her incipient liberation on the other — with equal parts affection and skepticism. … Society’s rampant sexualization of preadolescent girls is one topic that Doucouré subjects to tough critical scrutiny; she’s made an empathetic and analytical movie, not an exploitative one. Both her film and the unfortunate contretemps surrounding it make at least two things perfectly clear: A young girl can look at herself, really look at herself, and learn something truthful and powerful from the experience. Some putative grownups, by contrast, can never be bothered to do the hard work of looking at something, let alone learning from it.”

For Vulture, Bilge Ebiri wrote, “It would have been easy for Doucouré to use a broad brush to paint the different extremes of Amy’s experience (‘stifling tradition bad, dancing good’), but she’s not exactly making ‘Footloose’ here. ‘Cuties’ is not a blunt screed or a finger-wagging cautionary tale in either direction — which is one reason why anyone watching the film looking for clear messages about right and wrong is bound to be disappointed, maybe even outraged. Doucouré appears to be a far too sensitive director for that kind of polemic.”

For rogerebert.com, Monica Castillo wrote, “Under Doucouré's direction, the film walks a fine line between its controversial imagery and taking a step back to reveal the emotional impulses that drive Amy and her friends to seek attention and affirmation. There are echoes of films like ‘Eve’s Bayou,’ ‘Girlhood’ and ‘The Fits,’ but given Amy’s age and the directness with which ‘Cuties’ addresses the issue of sexualizing young girls, the film feels uniquely its own.”

Writing for her own site, Haaniyah Angu said, “The question is this; does intent outweigh the end result? It’s clear the message here is a stark warning against the hypersexualisation of girls, something that infiltrates nearly every aspect of our pop culture. But does showing the audience pre-pubescent girls in scantily clad clothing, dancing in a way that many will perceive as sexual, present the themes at hand in the best possible way? ... This doesn’t only apply to ‘Cuties,’ it occurs in ‘Pretty Little Liars’ when a teenager dates her teacher, in ‘Euphoria’ where statutory rape is deemed normal, in ‘Teen Wolf’ where the camera lingers on the body of young people for a little too long. Hypersexuality of young people is a common gray area for film and television as some argue that it’s realistic so let’s depict it but sometimes, you don’t have to do it.”

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Medina El Aidi-Azouni and Fathia Youssouf sit in a dryer in a scene from "Cuties."
Medina El Aidi-Azouni and Fathia Youssouf in a scene from “Cuties.”
(Netflix)

‘Sibyl’

Directed by Justine Triet, “Sibyl” is about a therapist named Sibyl (Virginie Efira) with problems of her own who decides to become a writer. Into her life drops a young actress (Adèle Exarchopoulos) who is having an affair with her co-star (Gaspard Ulliel) who happens to be married to their director (Sandra Hüller). Blending fact and fiction, Sybil thinks she has found the story she has been looking for. Released by Music Box Films, the movie is available in virtual cinemas.

For The Times, Justin Chang called the film “smart and absorbing,” adding, “Sibyl is the rare movie protagonist who, rather than announcing her identity loudly from the first frame, is still trying to figure herself out. ‘Sibyl’ also seems to be trying to figure itself out, in ways that feel exciting and alive rather than clumsy. It’s a comedy of self-discovery, a drama of lingering addiction and a study of how even seemingly conquered traumas can devastatingly reassert themselves.”

For rogerebert.com, Carlos Aguilar wrote, “Caught in a parade of lies — including her own — that obscure all sense of veracity, Sibyl finds it easier to reenact another person’s vulnerable moments than confronting her own. The illusion of someone else’s anguish is at least bearable. Once the adventure into filmic deceit is over, Sibyl can’t detach storytelling from flesh-and-blood interactions. Approaching her destiny as if it were a figment of the imagination may be the only way to cope with how powerless she is when trying to rewrite it.”

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For Film Daze, Shea Vassar wrote, “From the beginning to end, ‘Sibyl’ deals with a beautiful mess of emotions that is a direct result of asinine decision making and is a great reminder that we are all human. I mean, who can’t relate to being a little messy?”

Virginie Efira in the movie "Sibyl."
(Music Box Films)


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