Film and streaming reviews: Women under the influence

Published November 21, 2021, 7:27 AM

by Philip Cu Unjieng

Kristen Stewart in ‘Spencer’

The two films today have women in the title roles, and while they’re both strong films, the treatment and subject may lead some members of the audience to have been challenged too strongly, or even repulsed.

‘Spencer’

Spencer (at SM and other cinemas) – Directed by Pablo Larrain (who previously gave us Jackie), and starring Kristen Stewart, this is the much-talked about historical biopic that puts Lady Diana in the center of what has to ultimately be described as a psychological drama. Taking place over three days during the Christmas holidays in 1991, a period of time when Diana and Charles were irretrievably estranged, and while the public was being kept in the dark, it examines her mental state and while it’s all fictionalized and can’t be seen as a true historical account, it can serve as an impressionistic portrait of this woman who needs no introduction. In fact, in a year when we’ve been seeing Diana in The Crown, plus an insipid Broadway musical, it’s actually fair to ask if she needed still another treatment – or could we just leave the poor woman alone.

Quite simply, this is Larrain’s take on what happened in those fateful three days, with bells and whistles that include historical figures appearing to Diana and wanting to guide her, and Larrain’s one strong thematic point – that while Diana had a sad, troubled childhood, it’s an even sadder observation to say that it was her childhood that was the happiest period in her abrupt life. There’s a scene with her two sons in their bedroom that’s pure cinema magic – but unfortunately, there’s not enough of these type of scenes. Stewart’s performance here is being talked about as worthy of Oscar consideration, and while it is impressive, I don’t see the Oscar going her way for this film. Her time may come, but it won’t be for Spencer.

‘Benedetta’

Benedetta (Upstream PH) – Touched by Jesus, or just touched in the head, and a madwoman? This historical period drama is bound to offend many, especially Catholics; as the subject is the true story of a nun, who would claim Jesus would come to her and speak to her, and she also entered into an illicit lesbian relationship with another nun. Benedetta (Virginie Efira) and her lover Bartolomea, were they instruments of the Lord, or should the wrath of the Lord and the Church be heaped on their heads. The film is directed by Paul Verhoeven, who in his prime, gave us such films as Basic Instinct and Robocop, and briefly reignited the film world’s imagination in 2016 with Elle. But this is also the same Verhoeven who gave us Showgirls and Starship Troopers – certified turkeys.

It’s gorgeously shot, and there is always the scintilla of scandal – like when we’d watch films like The Last Temptation of Christ or Priest. That there’s something illicit and blasphemous in the mere watching of this film. But does it truly carry weight beyond the frisson of scandal? It takes it’s time getting on, and there is the feeling that one outrage after the next is just being piled on to stretch the film. I appreciate how the Mother Superior (Charlotte Rampling) knows that this all may be ridiculous and sinful, but is also drawing attention to the Church and that the notoriety also brings with it monetary support and attendance in numbers. There’s food for thought in the film, so I just hope the outrage won’t blind us to this, and what merits can be gained from the viewing.

 
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