Pierce Brosnan and Kaya Scodelario in The King's Daughter
A fact-based drama with all the potential for being a formulaic female-empowerment tale instead takes on a melancholy tone built on the anguish of uncertainty. In 2006 Kosovo, Fahrije Hoti (Yllka Gashi) is among many women in a small village whose husbands have never been found or returned after the 1999 war. Desperate for money, Fahrije decides to start a business making and selling the condiment ajvar to a local supermarket, running afoul of societal expectations about what a married woman should and shouldn’t do. A clunkier version of this story would have leaned into Fahrije fighting against the system and the assumptions that only a loose woman would do such a thing. But writer/director Blerta Basholli digs into how Fahrije lives with the lack of resolution, trying to raise her children and deal with her invalid father-in-law’s stubborn refusal to believe his son might be dead. Gashi’s performance finds power in her stoicism, making the moments when her emotion bursts forth all the more potent. As much as we might be rooting for Fahrije to find success as an entrepreneur, Hive
focuses more on her finding a way to move forward in her life. Available Jan. 21 via ParkCityFilm.org virtual cinema.
The King’s Daughter ***
This adaptation of Vonda McIntyre’s 1997 novel The Moon and the Sun
announces its fairy-tale bona fides at the outset, from the opening of a literal storybook to the narration by Julie Andrews—and the result is fancifully engaging enough to make up for its clumsier components. In 1684 France, King Louis XIV (Pierce Brosnan) summons to Versailles young Marie-Josèphe (Kaya Scodelario), his convent-raised daughter who is unaware of her own royal identity. This coincides with the king’s attempt to achieve immortality through a ritual involving the sacrifice of a captured mermaid (Fan Bingbing), a plan Marie-Josèphe is unaware of when she forms an attachment to it. Naturally there’s a romantic subplot involving Marie-Josèphe’s attraction to a handsome sailor (Benjamin Walker), which isn’t really given much time to develop beyond chaste PG-rating-appropriate smooches. Yet Scodelario makes for a satisfyingly feisty heroine, and he rest remains consistently watchable, largely thanks to the interactions between Brosnan’s Louis and William Hurt as his advisor/priest, including the king’s less-than-sincere daily confessions. It feels low-budget and low-stakes as such adventures go, but maybe it’s okay that not every fantasy story strives for epic consequences, and can occasionally just be a story of “once upon a time.” Available Jan. 21 in theaters.
The Pink Cloud ***1/2
The opening disclaimer that Brazilian writer/director Iuli Gerbase’s sci-fi drama was written in 2017 and shot in 2019 certainly gives this tale of isolation a veneer of prescience, but it works because of the specifics, not just because of the metaphor we can now turn it into. After what might have been just a one-night stand, Giovana (Renata de Lélis) and Yago (Eduardo Mendonça) find themselves trapped together when a toxic cloud strands people around the world exactly where they are, with no end in sight. Gerbase makes some hand waves to the logistics of how the post-cloud world works, but asking “why doesn’t everyone just wear hazmat suits” seems to be besides the point. Instead, it’s an unsettling character study of how different people respond differently to a crisis of this kind, how quickly it’s possible to adapt to a “new normal” (in a great montage sequence), whether it’s possible to get too
comfortable with that new normal, and the added despair that can come after a brief moment of optimism. Giovana and Yago’s partnership-of-necessity winds through multiple convincing iterations, cast in the omnipresent pink hue of the cloud and set to a terrific score by Caio Amon. You could look at the slow pace and occasional repetitiveness as a bug, or as a feature conveying a world we now know all too well. Available Jan. 21 at Broadway Centre Cinemas.
Redeeming Love **1/2
It’s an odd combination when a Christian-themed movie attempts to convey the grit and violence of an Old Testament story, so I suppose credit where credit is due for getting as close to successful as this one does. Director D.J. Caruso and Francine Rivers adapt Rivers’ novel—itself a historical-fiction spin on the Biblical story of Hosea—set in 1850 California, where simple farmer Michael (Tom Lewis) becomes convinced that it’s his destiny to rescue and marry Angel (Abigail Cowen), a prostitute servicing the nearby Gold Rush boomtown. Whether through flashbacks to Angel’s youth or in the story’s present day, Caruso and Rivers don’t soft-pedal the narrative’s darker elements (child sex trafficking, incest, vigilante justice), though always with an eye to PG-13-friendly staging like Angel’s long hair strategically covering her nakedness and plenty of magic-hour photography. Cowen herself—a dead ringer for Amy Adams—does impressive work with a familiar “hooker with a heart of gold” character, even distracting from the number of separate times the plot has her making self-destructive choices out of a sense of unworthiness. Unfortunately, she has to hold up the entirety of the romantic subplot, as Lewis brings little more than bland earnestness and a breathy drawl that sounds like a Matthew McConaughey impression. It inevitably comes down to a climax where God comes through with a miracle or two on behalf of those who pray, albeit with plenty of suffering along the way. Available Jan. 21 in theaters.