Also this weekend, the François Ozon drama By the Grace of God is another deep dive into the child sexual abuse horrors of the Catholic Church. For something a little lighter, there is the documentary Fiddlin'which is described as a “love letter to American roots and the uplifting power of music.”
Everyone seems excited over Taika Waititi's film about a little German boy named Jojo Roman Griffin Davis, his relationship with his wildly idiotic imaginary friend Adolf Hitler Waititi and how he navigates his life as he attends Nazi Youth Training Camp and then learns that his mother Scarlett Johansson is hiding a young Jewish girl Thomasin McKenzie in their attic. Even though many are excited to see JoJo Rabbit, which is based on the book Caging Skies by Christine Leunens, the Hitler component has raised eyebrows and skeptics are wondering what kind of place this movie is coming from.
“When people see the movie you'll know exactly what Taika is trying to say and do with the movie,” producer Carthew Neal told Deadline.
He continues, “It has all of Taika's previous films wrapped up in one. The absurdist comedy from What We Do In the Shadows,the heart and soul of Hunt For the Wilderpeople and the spectacle of Thor: Ragnarok. It draws from all his past films and applies it to heavy subject matter that has lots of gravitas. He wants to say something with this film, and to do it through comedy is a way to engage audiences, bring them in, get them to really laugh and then feel something for Jojo as he goes through this process and learns that love can overcome hate.”
Neal adds that they were very cognizant of setting the right tone for the film so that it is not misunderstood. “Taika is the type of filmmaker who makes films for audiences and part of his process is doing a lot of screening and testing and experimenting to get that balance right,” he said. “It's something he spent a lot of time on and he won't release it until it's ready.”
Jojo Rabbit is certainly positioned for awards season, but Rodriguez said, “Any time you release a film during this time, people think that we are really going for the awards — but it's not necessarily true. Sometimes it's just a really great time to release.”
October is a sweet spot for Fox Searchlight. In October 2013, they released 12 Years A Slave and in October 2014 they released Birdman, both did fairly well in limited release but went on to do even better: Both won Oscars for Best Picture.
Jojo Rabbit opens today in New York and Los Angeles in five theaters: the Arclight Hollywood and Landmark in L.A. as well as the Regal Union Square, AMC Lincoln Square and Alamo Drafthouse Brooklyn in New York. The film will continue to roll out for the next three to four weeks.
Feras Fayyad's The Cave tells the story of a secret underground hospital in Syria and the female-led team of civilians and medical professionals who risk their lives to provide medical care to locals. It made its premiere at Toronto to critical acclaim and puts Fayyad on an awards season track.
“Feras is a master of cinema verite,” said Carolyn Bernstein, EVP global scripted content & documentary films for National Geographic. “In The Cave specifically, that intense realism gives you a front-row seat to the heroic, selfless everyday work of Dr. Amani and her colleagues, all while destructions reign around them. It is a truly immersive experience.”
The film won the Grolsch People's Choice Award at TIFF and continues to put the spotlight on the turmoil in Syria. “This is not an easy film to watch, but it's a necessary one,” said Bernstein. “We have a 130-year history at National Geographic of shining a light on stories that matter — my hope is that this film can provide insight and context into why the world needs to pay attention to what is happening. And perhaps inspire audiences to fight for injustice wherever they see it, much like Dr. Amani.”
Dr. Amani in the operating room in 'The Cave'National Geographic
With Fayyad's acclaimed Last Men in Aleppoand the recent Oscar win for Free Solo, Nat Geo is becoming a documentary force to be reckoned with. “There has never been a better time for documentary filmmaking,” said Bernstein. “At Nat Geo we gravitate towards documentaries that are telling provocative, globally relevant stories in cinematic fashion. There is no limit to the lengths that documentary filmmakers go to tell these stories — the success of these films on the awards circuit is proof that documentarians are finally getting their due.”
The Caveopens in New York and Los Angeles today and will open to the top 15 markets by November 8.
Music Box isn't a stranger to François Ozon's work. The company distributed Potichein 2011 and Frantzin 2017. Brian Andreotti, Director of Acquisitions & Theatrical Distribution at Music Box, said Ozon continues to surprise, as demonstrated with By the Grace of God.
“We were struck by the sobriety and fidelity of By the Grace of God,” said Andreotti. “The dedication to preserving and making legible the experience of survivors who are themselves still finding ways to articulate their trauma — we recognized that this was a new register that offers Ozon's long-time fans a fresh perspective on his craft.”
Based on true events, the film, which stars Melvil Poupaud, Denis Ménochet, Swann Arlaud and Eric Caravaca, follows three adult men who band together to expose the code of silence in the Catholic Church that continued to empower a priest who abused them as boys. Ozon's extensive research and interviews helped inform with Father Preynat's real-life victims, who also supported the film.
Becky Schultz, Director of Marketing & Communications at Music Box says By the Grace of God is different from other narratives on the subject because its point of view.
“It uniquely examines with great nuance and intimacy the varying effects that abuse and trauma can have on a person and their families, including their relationships to the church,” she said. “It's a difficult subject, to be sure, but Ozon's treatment is ultimately empowering. When the survivors band together to expose decades of abuse and subsequent cover-up, By the Grace of God becomes a powerful social justice story and an eye-opener to the global grassroots movements seeking justice for victims of pastoral abuse.”
By the Grace Of Godopens in New York today at Film Forum and in Los Angeles on October 25 at the Nuart. A national rollout will follow.
In the documentary Fiddlin' filmmakers and sisters Julie Simone and Vicki Vlasic travel to the world's oldest and largest fiddler's convention in Galax, Virginia. The sisters, who are from the area and were the first filmmakers allowed to bring cameras into the 84-year convention, not only had the opportunity to document the talented musicians but reconnect with their own roots. While doing so, the film became more than just a movie about uplifting music.
“It felt like this was not only the right time to make this film, but it was the right thing to do,” Vlasic told Deadline. “There has been so much hatred and animosity in our country and much of it, for political reasons, has been aimed at the people in this region.”
She continued, “While the music was, of course, the major draw, I also wanted to show in this film that the people here are like the people in every corner of our nation. They have the same hopes and dreams and suffer from the same problems as people everywhere. There is a moment of recognition for everyone at some point in this film regardless of their demographics, socio-economic status or political affiliation.”
“It was of utmost importance to me to show the area in a positive light as people from Appalachia have been [depicted] in a negative light for a long time,” added Simone. “They have been completely undervalued as a community. These musicians come together and they are harmonious in their making of music.”
The film features an array of unique characters including Jack Krack, who is considered one of the best fiddle players in the world; Wayne Henderson, who is known as a “Guitar God”; Dori Freeman, who has been noted by The New York Times as a talent to watch; and the 11-year-old musical prodigy Presley Barker.
“As one musician said to me, 'We leave our problems and our politics outside when we play music and we all get along just fine',” said Simone. “There was such kindness and generosity of these people that come together and find total joy in connecting through their music.”
Mark Deeble and Victoria Stone's “The Elephant Queen” might be easiest to enjoy if you think of it as a necessary corrective to the recent “live-action” remake of “The Lion King.” Whereas Disney's hollow digital cash grab offered a soulless simulacrum of the African continent's animal kingdom — one that somehow felt anthropomorphized and utterly alien in equal measure — this kid-friendly nature doc takes the opposite approach, cutting four years of stunning vérité footage into a cute story about the circle of life.
Its best moments e.g. pachyderms stopping to pay respect to the dead, a bullfrog trying not to get squashed during the daily rush for water reveal a rich spectrum of natural expression that embarrasses the limits of photo-real animation, and make it seem as though Disney was insulting life itself by even trying to recreate it out of code. While horizon-expanding shows like “Planet Earth” have made this degree of access and precision feel somewhat de rigueur, Deeble and Stone's documentary stands out for its narrow focus and incredible tenacity.
The movie sticks with the same herd for long enough that young viewers can appreciate their plight, grow connected to these “characters,” and even see their own families reflected in the way these elephants interact. And vice-versa. Nature is inherently unsentimental, but the most powerful moments of “The Elephant Queen” are moving for how they reverse the flow of anthropomorphization — for how they trace human emotions back to animal behavior.
Alas, so much of “The Elephant Queen” does it the other way around, as the script that Deeble has written for narrator Chiwetel Ejiofor to read in his cheeriest voice is a hot mess of cheesy hokum that struggles to put kid gloves on the horrors of survival. After an overwrought intro “Oh wise and gentle soul,” Ejiofor intones, “do you remember when we had it all?”, the uneven story begins with Athena, a giant “tusker” in Kenya's Tsavo region who acts as the matriarch for her entire community; the setting is one of many crucial details that is never mentioned onscreen, as Deeble and Stone haphazardly try to align us with the animal POV by limiting our context to what the elephants might know of their world.
We meet Athena's daughter, Princess, and a toddler named Wewe who's desperate to be friends with her. There's also Mimi, a newborn, whose arrival during a biblical thunderstorm is edited to look as if she’s summoning all the animals of “The Kingdom” to the watering hole the next day. That's where we meet a clumsy Egyptian goose named Zazu wait, sorry, Stephen, an adorable little bullfrog who's just trying to mind his own business, and a host of other creatures whose lives revolve around an elephant-driven ecosystem. The cuter beasties get the lion's share of the attention, as Ejiofor coos over the sight of birds learning how to fly for the better part of 10 minutes. One brilliant sequence, in which “The Ride of the Valkyries” plays over the soundtrack as a dung beetle flies after a fresh mound of poop, is the exception that proves the rule.
For the most part, however, the shapeless first act is as light and candy-like as the aftermath of a bullfrog orgy Ejiofor refers to the foamy embryonic mess as a “meringue” for the predatory fish who like to snack on it. You can feel Deeble and Stone laboring to make you fall in love with these creatures — the elephants in particular — across the film's meandering first half, as countless hours of extraordinary camerawork are pared down to the most endearing shots. Recognizing that people need to care about endangered species before they can be moved to save them, the co-directors play up the cute stuff however they can. Emotion is the bonding agent here, and “The Elephant Queen” will do anything to earn it.
That well-intentioned approach doesn't always make for the most exciting of documentaries, as the narrative artifice required to hold everything together is too obvious in a world where “The Lion King” has already taken this to its logical extreme. But when Deeble and Stone step back and let nature take its course, the results can be overpowering. Athena is used to migrating when the dry season arrives, but “The Elephant Queen” catches her in a generational drought that threatens the survival of every animal she knows.
The annual trek to “The Refuge” is fraught with even more peril than usual; Athena doesn't know that climate change is the culprit, and so the filmmakers don't bother to fill in the cataclysmic why of it all a nearly fatal knock against a glorified piece of edutainment. Nevertheless, she's forced to reckon with the consequences all the same, and the sequence in which one of the young elephants dies from starvation is absolutely devastating; to watch Athena's herd stop to rub their tasks along that broken little body in the dirt is to recognize that saving another species is tantamount to saving ourselves. For all of the film's strange omissions, and its struggles to thread the needle between appealing to children and trying to show them how wild our world really is, this passionate and beautifully shot film is worth celebrating for how clearly it conveys the raw truth of that idea.
“The Elephant Queen” is now in theaters. It will be available to stream on Apple TV+ on November 1.
“This table is Switzerland,” Scarlett Johansson‘s Rosie declares in the new Jojo Rabbit clip — which is a bit of a different game to play with her son Jojo Roman Griffin Davis than “The floor is lava.” Because there’s not much fun to be had in this game between mother and son at political odds in World War II Germany. Rosie is tired of war and the oppressive Nazi regime, while Jojo is fully indoctrinated into the Nazi beliefs, passionately declaring that Germany will defeat its enemies. It’s certainly a different kind of dinner-time argument in the new Jojo Rabbit clip below.
Jojo Rabbit Clip
The visual irony of Johansson’s Rosie wearily declaring their dinner table a neutral zone for politics while an invisible Hitler Taika Waititi makes exaggerated faces at her is top notch comedy. But that’s just the kind of humor that director and star Waititi excels at in his anti-hate satire Jojo Rabbit. The film follows the titular Jojo newcomer Griffin Davis who yearns to fight for his country, but slowly learns that the Nazi regime isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
For that message of anti-hate, Jojo Rabbit has earned critical raves — and a few dissenters — since it made its world premiere at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. /Film reviewer Chris Evangelista was one of those raves, writing in his review that “ Jojo Rabbit wants to ascribe to the belief that there’s always a chance for redemption and that the best way to stamp out evil is to allow kindness to prevail.”
Here is the synopsis for Jojo Rabbit:
Writer director Taika Waititi THOR: RAGNAROK, HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE, brings his signature style of humor and pathos to his latest film, JOJO RABBIT, a World War II satire that follows a lonely German boy Roman Griffin Davis as JoJo whose world view is turned upside down when he discovers his single mother Scarlett Johansson is hiding a young Jewish girl Thomasin McKenzie in their attic. Aided only by his idiotic imaginary friend, Adolf Hitler Taika Waititi, Jojo must confront his blind nationalism.
Jojo Rabbit opens in theaters on October 18, 2019.
Starz's five-hour, Steven Soderbergh-produced docuseries takes on the case of military justice or injustice surrounding Clint Lorance.
One of my least favorite criticisms that can be levied against a documentary is that it's "not objective," a charge that nearly always seems to emanate from people who think that Dinesh D'Souza counts as a voice of objectivity. It needn't be a partisan issue, mind you, to be aware that by virtue of choosing a subject, filming the subject, editing the subject, attaching music to the subject and basically doing everything else associated with filmmaking, objectivity in documentaries is, at best, another illusion.
Starz's new five-hour unscripted series Leavenworth is not objective.
Directed by Paul Pawlowski and featuring Steven Soderbergh among its big-name producers, it's a documentary that makes you constantly aware of many of its storytelling choices and the push-and-pull they're meant to elicit from viewers.
In lieu of objectivity, Leavenworth opts to be ambiguous — aggressively ambiguous. From the first to last episode, I've rarely been as conscious of having my sense of outrage yanked in so many directions, such that by the credits I knew that Leavenworth had captured and chronicled an injustice, but if you were to ask me who perpetuated the injustice or what actual justice in this case would look like, my answer would be fuzzy. It's a sensation I found generally compelling and curious, but it's very easy for me to imagine some viewers coming away angry at the series' reticence to pick a side, and other viewers, ones with pre-existing opinions, feeling frustration that Leavenworth didn't adhere to their chosen polarization.
The title, a bit of a misnomer, refers to United States Penitentiary, Leavenworth, current home to Clint Lorance. Lorance is serving a 19-year sentence for murder stemming from a July 2012 incident in Afghanistan in which he ordered his platoon to open fire on three locals on a motorcycle. Lorance didn't shoot a gun himself and it's possible the locals had ties to terror organizations and comparable actions haven't been met with comparable punishments, but nothing here is simple. Over its five hours, Leavenworth delves into the strange intricacies of the military justice system, the nature of modern warfare and a polarized national culture in which a sympathetic and imperfect young man can be used as a political hot potato being championed and vilified by people on both sides of the aisle with little consideration for such seemingly important concepts as "guilt" or "innocence."
It's a lot and I often wasn't sure if there was enough "plot" to justify the series' full duration, but whereas some documentaries would approach these five hours as the chance to build a single argument, with a thesis and decisive conclusion, Leavenworth chooses to construct and deconstruct the full case, complete with its results and impact. The confusion is the thing.
As New York Times correspondent Dave Philipps puts it, "The truth is a practice and not a destination."
Or as Lorance observes, "Truth is flexible in today's society."
The case itself is a mess and Pawlowksi and editors Mike Api and Tim Johnson build the film as a well-rounded mess, withholding and strategically detonating information that a more pointed and literal recounting would have avoided. It's not always completely pleasant. There were more than a couple times I felt as if the desire to exclude or delay not-unimportant details represented a filmmaking contrivance and not a representation of the legal morass.
The filmmakers want you to be comfortable in one opinion and then pull the rug out, to reset your perspective on right and wrong and then get sent spinning again. You aren't just supposed to be constantly evaluating your judgments. You're supposed to be evaluating what your judgment means in regard to bigger legal or ethical questions, to be pondering who your judgment leaves you aligned with, to be generally uneasy with all of your potential bedfellows. Who comes to this story with agendas or biases and which of those mitigating factors are they even conscious of? Is Clint being used as a propaganda tool or does he have agency? Is a dogged attorney a courageous truth-teller or slick opportunist? How confident are you in holding onto any position if that position gets taken up by Sean Hannity?
The best way to be pissed off at Leavenworth is to come in feeling like the case is black and white.
It's a well-rounded and candid ensemble of interview subjects, starting with Lorance, speaking from Leavenworth. It's easy to see here how the series length benefits the ambiguity, because there are cut-downs of Lorance's answers that would make him wholly sympathetic and others that might make him look myopic and foolhardy. And guess what? Like most people, he's probably a little of each. His myriad featured family members are determined and loving and not without flaws or blindspots of their own. Their ongoing faith that Donald Trump will use his pardon powers on Lorance, despite all evidence suggesting Trump's pardon process functions on no logic they or anybody else can understand, is just one of many outside factors being critiqued.
The men from Clint's platoon are well-represented, but their memories and impressions don't always make the points you expect them to. If you were to point to any aspect on which Leavenworth is unwavering, it would be its acceptance that low-level troops are fundamentally heroic, even if those steering them have conflicted agendas.
A trio of Afghan nationals with ties to that ill-fated day are interviewed and their perspectives are crucial for recognizing flaws in our strategy of counterinsurgency, but it's not like they're objective either. Like the soldiers, they're the human face of war.
And in lieu of active military members and representatives of the military's case against Lorance, the series features at least a dozen reporters and experts in military law, whose general purpose is more illustrating the labyrinth that Lorance was caught in than steering us through that labyrinth. As with so much here, I wouldn't lie and say that I came away with my understanding of military justice much advanced from what I learned in A Few Good Men, but my understanding of why I don't understand it is surely advanced. The implication of the title seems to be that Lorance's cluttered, conflicted story is just one of many the filmmakers could tell from within the halls of Leavenworth, a place that title aside, we get very little sense of.
Formally, Leavenworth is straightforward. Don't let the "Soderbergh" brand name fool you into expecting aesthetic flourish. It's dominated by these talking heads and makes solid use of archival pictures and footage to open the story up a little, but it's talky to the degree you could almost just listen to it as a podcast. That plus the subject matter probably explains why I often found myself comparing it to the underrated second season of Serial, in which the story of Bowe Bergdahl was given ambiguous enough treatment that it irked anybody uninterested in shades of gray. You probably now have a sense if you're in the likely-to-be-intrigued or likely-to-be-annoyed camp when it comes to Leavenworth. I was largely the former.
Airs Sundays at 9:30 p.m. ET/PT on Starz, premiering October 20.
Jojo Rabbit's pitch is clear and compelling: like a Wes Anderson movie, only the Boy Scouts are Nazis.
“You're not a Nazi, you're a 10-year-old kid who likes to dress up in a funny uniform and be part of a club,” teenage Rosie tells our protagonist, Jojo.
It's a succinct encapsulation of the entire Nazi phenomenon and a great line for the trailer, but Jojo Rabbit, which Taika Waititi adapted from Christine Leunens' novel, Caging Skies, feels a bit like a collection of great trailer lines in search of a story. It's half screwball comedy, half limp dramedy. When the jokes subside, the central characters are a little too broad to entirely care about.
Certainly it has its moments. It's a movie you can feel yourself wanting to be good. In place of Moonrise Kingdom's goofy scoutmaster played by Ed Norton, we get Sam Rockwell as Captain Klenzendorf, a flamboyant flask puller banished to kid duty after getting his eye shot out at the front. Instead of Sam and Suzy, Moonrise Kingdom's star-crossed delinquents, we get Jojo and Rosie, a fanatical 10-year-old Nazi and the Jewish teenager he discovers hiding in his attic. Jojo Rabbit has one other delicious wrinkle; Jojo has an imaginary friend — Adolf Hitler played by Waititi.
A Wes Anderson-esque Nazi movie meets Drop Dead Hitler “Adolf Hitler taught me it was okay to be weird” all sounds brilliant on paper, and there are times when the movie itself lives up to the pitch. Young Archie Yates gives a Sherman Merman-esque performance as Jojo's plump best friend, Yorki, cheerfully regurgitating the most absurd Nazi propaganda with “just doin' my job, ma'am” pluck, like an alternate universe Norman Rockwell painting. Likewise, the setting 1944-45 Berlin allows for both droll one-liners “I wish more of our young boys had your blind fanaticism” and flights of inspired absurdity a cutaway to someone at Nazi HQ tasked with taking care of “the clones,” a group of identical, blue-eyed pod children.
But for all Taika Waititi's talk of Jojo being a “satire” which can mostly be translated as “please don't thinkpiece me to death for dressing up like Hitler”, once Jojo Rabbit leaves Nazi Summer camp it turns decidedly unsatirical. It's like he was worried people would say he was having too much fun playing Nazis without some kind of message, and so he leaned into painful earnestness. Which might work if Jojo Rabbit had anything to be painfully earnest about.
The story concerns Jojo Roman Griffin Davis, his mother Scarlett Johansson, and the Jewish girl Elsa, played by Thomasin McKenzie hiding in a crawlspace-like secret compartment of the attic. Johannson's performance as Nazi-era His Girl Friday, complete with jaunty Alpine hat, is mostly grating we get it, actors, you enjoy doing accents, and Elsa's character feels too lightly sketched. Mostly she's a prop for Jojo's change of heart rather than a full-fledged human with a compelling personality. And what's the rub there, “little boy discovers Nazis might be bad?”
Moreover, Jojo Rabbit has the same central problem as its neckerchief'd predecessor Moonrise Kingdom: little kids falling in love, at least the kind of love that indie filmmakers generally imagine, is very dull. These Muppet Baby romances have all the tropes of the rom-com with none of the sexual tension. Who cares? And Jojo Rabbit is even worse than Moonrise in that regard, because its protagonist is only 10. Jojo keeps swearing to his mother and to Elsa that he'll never fall in love, never kiss a girl, and they knowingly assure him that one day he'll find someone, that he'll think of nothing all day but getting to hold her again and get butterflies in his stomach whenever they talk. Jesus, he's 10, let him play with bullfrogs or something.
If you're going to make a 10-year-old boy's crush interesting it should be a lot stranger and more perverse than your typical Hallmark drivel about bug-filled stomachs. Also, is falling in love with a girl really the most poignant way to depict someone falling out of love with Nazism? It's not exactly a strenuous refutation of the ideology, if that was the goal. What if not-being-a-horrible-racist was just his rebound relationship?
Jojo Rabbit is at its best when it leans into its weirdness — crumbling nationalism as a backdrop for people struggling to cope, Leftovers-style. I was far more interested in Sam Rockwell's character, an ambiguously gay comedic Kurtz for the dying days of Nazism. Now that would've been a movie. But Waititi spends so much energy trying to convince us that this story is universal that he often loses what made it novel in the first place.
If you’re going to open your film with a sequence straight out of the Bible, you had better not come to play. That’s the gambit Uruguayan director Federico Veiroj lays out at the beginning of The Moneychanger as the film’s titular financier, Daniel Hendler’s Humberto Brause, connects himself to the very profession that Jesus singled out for criticism at the temple. Connecting his story to such weighty history sets up a story with big stakes, and yet those are largely absent in the film.
That’s not to say that The Moneychanger is bad, to be clear. It just shows that perhaps the film’s ambitions are a touch out of sync with what it actually does. Veiroj’s film works a self-contained, small story about Humberto’s unexpected turn as a South American money launderer. But when he zooms out and tries to place it some kind of larger historical or moral framework, the film lacks a similar spark.
The Moneychanger works best when it stays close to Humberto, the unlikely man at the center of continent-spanning financial fraud. While one might perhaps expect a smooth operator, criminal mastermind or amoral materialist, he fits none of the stereotypes for a book-cooking crook. Instead, Humberto is a bit of a wet blanket of a man, the very profile of a regular bureaucrat rather than a robber baron. He stumbles into his involvement in a corrupt scheme through his father-in-law and keeps going not out of any great motivation – it’s mostly just because it would require some real initiative to change course.
Veiroj’s greatest asset is his dry sense of humor, particularly when it comes to the regards in which he holds Humberto. He has no fear in making him the butt of a joke, particularly if it’s one that undercuts the little authority or power he has. Despite being a key figure in offshore money laundering, Verioj frequently depicts Humberto unable to order coffee. That’s the doing of his wife, who manages to instruct everyone in Humberto’s path to deny his caffeinated vice.
Veiroj’s film is never cruel or unkind to the protagonist, in part because he does not really merit scorn or ire. But he does not exactly inspire sympathy or identification, either. While Humberto states early in The Moneychanger that he has qualms with profiting from the misery of South American people as economies tanked in the mid-twentieth century, those morals disappear by the end. Do they slowly fade away or evaporate in a single instant, though? It’s a question that begs answering – or at least deliberation – from Veiroj raising it at the beginning of the film. But he’s more interested in looking at Humberto from an ironic distance rather than exploring his internal psychology.
The whole affair ultimately proves rather mundane and simple. By the time The Moneychanger circles back to the opening image of Christ, the film does not feel as if it has come full circle. The parallel serves a reminder of how limited the story of Humberto is. He does not work as any kind of allegorical or representational figure. He does not feel like a stand-in for the nation or any kind of larger ideal, save the corruption of ideals that Veiroj shows such little interest in interrogating.
In a different context, this likely would not matter so much. At the New York Film Festival, a film like The Moneychanger gets freighted with outsized expectations – especially when it stands in for an entire national cinema that rarely gets represented in the Main Slate. These films bear a responsibility, perhaps unfairly, to make some kind of statement about the state of politics, life and culture in their countries. Or, at the very least, convey some important reflection on their country’s history. Had Veiroj’s film played in Lincoln Center’s more compact yearly festival Neighboring Scenes, a smaller encapsulation of Latin American cinema, the more controlled scope might not have nagged in the same way. But when seen amongst some of the heaviest hitting international films, The Moneychanger does feel like a bit of a trifle, well-made and entertaining as it is.