Gretel and Hansel
Compact and atmospheric, Osgood Perkins' "Gretel and Hansel" is remarkable for the way it chokes subdued themes out of the classic fairy tale. Instead of a cautionary beware-of-strangers theme that the original story so fluently embedded in wide-eyed children, Perkins throws in unsettling motifs about budding femininity and personal sacrifice. A Gretel, Sophia Lillis is exceptional.... and make no mistake, as the inverted title belies, this is her tale as she struggles to make sense of the moody world collapsing around her as she and her brother find solace in the cabin of a spooky old woman and her never ending feasts. It's not so much how the story evolves as how Perkins plays with our expectations, inching along in streaks of eerie pathos rather than outright scares. It may not be for every horror affectionado, but it's just the right amount of calculated dread for my tastes.
Portrait of a Lady on Fire
Magnificent acting and a natural approach to every relationship developed in this tender French drama, "Portrait of a Lady on Fire" deserves the accolades its been garnering since premiering at Cannes last May. Working through a spare narrative- an artist (Noemie Merlant) is hired to surreptitiously paint the portrait of a to-be engaged young woman (Adele Haenel) on a windswept coastline- Celine Sciamma's film becomes a masterpiece of self discovery as the women form a delicate relationship. Although furtive glances and pregnant silences are the de rigueur images for this type of dramatic unrequited love tale, "Portrait of a Lady on Fire" deploys them to breathtaking efficiency where the act of seeing and being seen cuts straight into your heart.