Movies I’ve Recently Seen: Disobedience, Vagabond, A Song is Born & Pope Francis

Two films about religion, one about music, and another about the end of the hippies. Three of these four films were made by world-respected great directors, and all three disappointed.

B+ Disobedience (2018), Albany Twin

What do you do when your former husband marries your former lover – and all within a very close, religious community? A successful New York photographer (Rachel Weisz) returns home to London for her father’s funeral. But it’s complicated. She deserted the enclosed world of ultra-Orthodox Judaism in which she was raised. Her father was an important rabbi, and her ex-husband was his assumed successor. What’s more, the new wife is the photographer’s past lesbian lover (Rachel McAdams). A very well-made film, with a great cast, set in a society few people know.

Vagabond (1985), FilmStruck

I think Agnès Varda intended this as a cap on the hippie movement, and it’s not a fond farewell. The plot is pure Citizen Kane, except instead of a newspaper magnate, the dead protagonist is a young woman hitchhiker who died in a ditch. Then comes the flashbacks and interviews with people who crossed her path over the course of her last winter. Neither Varda nor actress Sandrine Bonnaire make her likeable. She’s dirty, smelly, unreliable, prone to theft, and doesn’t even thank the people who help her along the way. I would have liked to know the characters better. The film doesn’t quite hold together, but it has some wonderful scenes.

A Song is Born (1948), FilmStruck

Howard Hawks remakes his previous screwball comedy Ball of Fire as a musical. Danny Kaye, Benny Goodman, and five old character actors play musicologists who suddenly realize that they need to learn about jazz. The film’s jam sessions contain Louis Armstrong, Tommy Dorsey, Lionel Hampton, and other great musicians playing themselves, and these scenes truly swing. Surprisingly for a pre-civil rights era Hollywood film, black and white musicians play together as equals. But there isn’t enough of these scenes in the movie to make up for the dumb plot and weak comedy. Kaye doesn’t even get to sing a funny song. The beautiful but talent-deficient Virginia Mayo plays the love interest.

C- Pope Francis: A Man of His Word (2018), Albany Twin

Wim Wenders adds visuals to a 96-minute lecture by the pope. I like this pope…as popes go, and I agree with everything he says in this fawning documentary. I wish more would follow his example in a lot of things. But the film avoids his views on birth control, abortion, and gay marriage – presumably because most of the target audience doesn’t agree with him on those issues. Wenders never shows Francis in a bad light or suggests his failings. This film could work on a mediocre documentary double feature with The Last Dalai Lama?

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