Argentina, 1985 (3.5*)
Fire of Love (3*)
So you think you want to know more about people – what happened to them and what makes them tick? Well, you might not get what you think you are getting – these films might be good entertainment, but some of them aren’t necessarily true “biographies”. Five films listed in this genre from the 2023 Oscars.
Elvis is about the King. Although I can’t know for sure how accurately Luhrman’s biopic portrays Elvis Presley, I loved the idea it created of the man and his curious place in bringing what was essentially a black notion of music into the white world. The movie is a sensory delight while it also details the cultural conflicts that, in the end, brought Elvis down.
As an almost-documentary, Argentina, 1985 covers the prosecution of the Argentinian juntas for the “disappearances” of tens of thousands of people. Although it includes heavy doses of humor, to somewhat-lighten the tone, and tells the family story of the lead prosecutor, this is still a very heavy film and the crimes are among the worst imaginable. Although the film focuses on the lead prosecutor and does involve his family, I’m not sure “biography” is a good way to describe the movie. Still, it is worth a viewing for other reasons.
The supposed portrayal of Marilyn Monroe in Blonde is another non-biography. Many of the most significant events in this movie likely never occurred, and so it is very difficult to imagine this film in this genre. Nonetheless, it is a powerful movie with one of the best performances from an actress (Anna de Armas) that I have seen. While it may not realistically portray Marilyn Monroe, it is a drama worth viewing. (Although you need to note its NC-17 rating!)
Navalny IS a documentary and actually films the subject as he is going about his business as one of Vladimir Putin’s most dynamic critics. While I think the documentary filmmakers weren’t all that creative and got lucky filming what has to be one of the biggest scoops in the news ever, it is still an intense film and, if you have any interest in foreign affairs at all, you need to see this one.
Fire of Love is another documentary supposedly about the work and relationship of two volcanologists, Maurice and Katia Krafft, who were killed by a volcanic eruption while, possibly, holding hands. While the images of volcanoes and the portrayal of the science they were doing was terrific, I never really got the intensity of their relationship that was supposed to be at the heart of the film. For that reason, I just can’t recommend it.
There were five “Biography” films from last year that I can recommend. The Eyes of Tammy Faye (3.5*) tells the story of the female side of the Praise the Lord couple – and Jessica Chastain won the Leading Actress Oscar – but the story seems to get a bit lost. Belfast (3.5*) is a black and white chronicle of family life in Northern Ireland during the troubles, and might tell the early story of Director Kenneth Branagh, but few people know who he is and so I kind of doubt its membership in this genre. Spencer (4*) tells the tale of just one weekend in the troubled life of Diana Spencer and shows unexpectedly good acting from Kristin Stewart. Nicole Kidman does a better than acknowledged job portraying the legendary Lucille Ball in Being the Ricardos (4*). And, Tick, tick…Boom! (4*) tells the story of broadway legend Jonathon Larson, who wrote Rent, based on his own problems making it in NYC before he died at a very young age.
Biography films are supposed to tell us something about peoples lives – their strengths and their weaknesses and everything in between. They should give us an understanding of that persons true character and help us decide exactly what our emotional reaction is to them. We can’t fully absorb everything there is to know about a person – that’s even difficult in a full length book, much less a two hour movie. But it should hit the highlights of why that person is on this earth and the contribution they make to those around them. There are plenty of films from this year and last that do that.