Inspired by AM Homes’ memoir, The Mistress’s Daughter, the Italian director Laura Bispuri has come up with Figlia mia (Daughter of Mine). It’s the story of a 10-year-old girl named Vittoria (Sara Casu), who strikes a rapport with her biological mother (Angelica, played by Alba Rohrwacher), while her adoptive mother (Tina, played by Valeria Golino) watches helplessly. The film is set in the beautiful Sardinian countryside, and it’s filled with natal imagery that’s also suggestive of the central relationships. A dog is impregnated by a stray. A pregnant eel becomes a symbol of separation. (The female travels miles into the sea to spawn, and returns to freshwater, leaving the eggs behind.) Most startlingly, Vittoria enters a hole in the ground that makes it seem like she’s crawling back into the womb.

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But the film’s emotional beats are depressingly predictable. Tina is Mother Earth, ready to prepare meatballs after a long day of doing blue-collar work. Angelica serves beans from a can. To the director’s credit, she doesn’t make it a contest. The drunk, promiscuous, emotionally fragile Angelica can never measure up to Tina’s Supermom. So it’s heartbreaking to see Vittoria warm up to Angelica. This should have been a shattering drama, but the director seems to be after mood rather than plot. That’s not a problem — except when shots are held for such durations that we seem to be taking an awfully long time to get to where we always knew we were going. I laughed at some of Angelica’s lines. “I named my dog Luciana, after my mother. Like all mothers, she was a bitch.” A few more barbs would have greatly helped to cut through the gauzy solemnity.

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Timur Bekmambetov’s Profile is based on French journalist Anna Erelle’s book, In the Skin of a Jihadist, and it uses an ingenious device to get into the skin of two people: an ISIS fighter named Abu Bilel (Shazad Latif), and the British journalist Amy Whittaker (Valene Kane) who adopts a fake Facebook profile to investigate the recruitment of young American and European women by ISIS. The action takes place entirely on Amy’s computer screen. “I’m a new recruit to Islam,” she types on her profile, clicking “like” on horrible videos on Abu Bilel’s wall that depict beheadings and so on. He falls for her. Or does he? Does he want her for, as he says, a wife, or is he luring her to Syria to sell her off as a sex slave?

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The film is a thrilling cat-and-mouse game, and it gains an added dimension from the ADD and multitasking built into our lives today. Even as Amy flirts with fire, we see her chatting with her boyfriend, taking calls from her boss, helping a friend pick a dress for a party, handling some overdue rent. I wanted to scream at her: Focus, woman! Bekmambetov has made his share of Hollywood duds (Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Ben-Hur), but if you’ve seen Wanted, you know he can craft a nail-biter. He makes you fear for Amy, who seems to think she has it all under control. It’s chilling when Amy begins to empathise with Abu Bilel. When he talks about his dead mother, something inside her cracks open, and she types back, “I never got to say goodbye to my mum either.” She made the mistake of thinking he was just a monster, and now she’s realising he’s just a man. When we read reports of apparently sane people joining these organisations, we wonder, “How do they get brainwashed?” Profile shows us how.

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“The real estate market in Stockholm is extremely harsh, there’s a [shortage] of housing and it’s a massive issue for people,” said Måns Månsson in Variety. The film he has co-directed with Axel Petersén doesn’t hide the fact that it is about this issue. Its title: The Real Estate. And its heroine is the 68-year-old Nojet (Léonore Ekstrand), who inherits her father’s apartment complex in Stockholm’s city centre. She wants to sell. But the “immies” (as in, immigrants) who have taken over the apartments aren’t going to leave such cheap housing so easily. The opening scene talks about the absurdity of the real estate situation in Sweden, with people buying apartments at insane prices. The closing scene is an echo in spirit: it is both absurd and insane, and not in a nice way.

In Hollywood, the little-old-lady movie becomes a comedy. We laugh at a “grandma” doing something we perceive as incongruous: swearing, say. Here, the premise becomes a black comedy. Or maybe it’s a satire. It’s hard to say what exactly is going on. Everything is calculatedly incongruous, from the nightclub music over a scene where Nojet is threatened to her subsequent retreat to the countryside, where she marvels at toadstools and also learns to fire a machine gun. In terms of tone, The Real Estate is being compared to Ruben Östlund’s Cannes sensation, The Square. It’s a unique genre from the region, like Nordic noir. I found it really tough to buy in. A culture thing, maybe?

 

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