The life and career of the late Sidney Poitier is explored in suitably classy fashion in sydney, a glossy documentary from director Reginald Hudlin and producer Oprah Winfrey that features a roster of stars, family members and cultural critics paying tribute to her groundbreaking career. Filmed shortly before his death in January this year, it also features new interviews with the man himself and it is fascinating to hear him reflect on the extent to which his Bahamian upbringing imbued him with the courage to becoming not only the first prominent black man in Hollywood history, but one of the film industry’s top box office successes at a time when the United States was riven by racial inequality.
None of this is as hagiographic as it seems. Yes, Lulu can’t resist singing an a cappella version of her theme song from To Sir, with Love before gloating about how privileged she was to be connected to Poitier’s proto-#BlackLivesMatter message. But Hudlin cleverly juxtaposes such reminiscences with deeper analysis to provide a more nuanced take on the complex role Poitier played in bringing black dignity to life on screen – something that simultaneously led him to face criticism for having kowtowed to white liberal fantasies of Blackness in films such as The Defiant Ones and Lilies of the Field, for which he won the Academy Award for Best Actor.
It’s a theme the film returns to again and again, mostly to reiterate the inherently radical nature of Poitier’s approach by example to his life and career. As Denzel Washington says, “He had big shoulders…but he had to carry a lot of weight” and the film reminds us of the importance of refusing to sign loyalty oaths to get work or turn down roles that don’t were giving him no movie cons at a time in his career when he couldn’t afford to. When he then became a giant movie star, nearly every move he made was scrutinized and analyzed for its social significance, but the film is also good at showing how his later time behind the camera opened up opportunities for black talent on and off screen.
These films – mostly comedies – may be less famous than his acting roles, but they broke down barriers themselves (Richard Pryor/Gene Wilder’s 1982 comedy Stir Crazy, for example, is became the first film by a director of color to gross over $100 million at the US box office). Elsewhere, Hudlin gets good things from Spike Lee, Halle Berry and Oprah Winfrey and excellent archival material allows him to sketch the significance of Poitier’s longtime friendship (and playful rivalry) with Harry. Belafonte. An absorbing and rewarding watch.
silent land, the feature debut of Polish director and screenwriter Aga Woszczynska, has a lot in mind. Part portrait of a rotting relationship from within, part abstract exploration of the refugee crisis, it’s a disconcerting film that uses its luxurious Italian vacation setting to nauseating effect with its well-to-do protagonists, Adam (Dobromir Dymecki ) and Anna (Agnieszka Zulewska), gradually reckon with a freak accident in the house they rented.
Observing them as an entomologist would through a microscope, Woszczynska keeps a distance from the characters. Shooting mostly in medium shots, she forgoes close-ups, instead preferring the occasional push or tracking shot to emphasize their alienation in a scene, or letting the camera pull away from them completely to show how disconnected they are from the world. wider world. .
The plot revolves around an illegal immigrant worker who shows up at the house to fix the pool he once complained to the owner about not being ready in time for his vacation. It’s not really a plot-driven movie, though; it’s a mood piece and the mood it creates is one of extreme unease, especially as Adam and Anna’s complicity in an unfolding tragedy becomes more apparent just as their guilt is excused by police and local business owners worried about the negative impact of bad publicity on the tourist trade. Stripping the film of any melodrama or narrative grease, Woszczynska lets her images do the talking, which also helps the film transcend the familiarity of its rich-abroad culture shock premise.
The same cannot be said of It’s in all of us, a stylistically mannered and psychologically thin study of a nihilistic Irish teenager (Rhys Mannion) who bonds with a wealthy London businessman (Cosmo Jarvis) after a car crash on a country road leaves the latter physically banged up and one of the teenagers riding in the other car died of his injuries. Written and directed by British actress Antonia Campbell-Hughes, it’s a rather unconvincing study in masculinity, built around a confusing performance by Jarvis as a deranged classy guy with a series of family and a clearly psychopathic teenager whose responsibility in the accident is never questioned.
While this couple begins an intense near-sexual attraction, the film refrains from exploring it in any meaningful way (the J.G. Ballard/David Cronenberg plot openings come to nothing). Instead, it tries to tap into psychological tension by exploring whether or not Jarvis’ character subconsciously wanted the accident to happen – a mystery rather undermined by the film’s on-the-nose title.
Sidney is in theaters and streaming on AppleTV+ starting September 23; Silent Land and It Is In Us All are in theaters September 23.