Summer in the Forest
⋆⋆⋆out of four stars
Unrated by the MPAA.
Offering a hopeful vision of a world where everyone belongs, this is an agreeable documentary about a French communal facility that houses residents with developmental disabilities.
The star of the show — and its moral voice — is progressive octogenarian Jean Vanier, who set up the L’Arche facility during the 1960s as an alternative to the draconian institutions that kept the mentally and physically disabled under lock and key. Since then, L’Arche’s humane program — in which self-determination is emphasized — has been emulated in 35 countries.
Still a strapping figure, Vanier remains active at L’Arche, lending emotional support and participating in a variety of activities to keep everyone there engaged, whether it’s a picnic, communal dinner or even a commitment ceremony among residents. It’s clear that this deeply spiritual man is getting as much — or more — out of the experience as the boarders.
The film soars when we meet the residents. We don’t always have a clear idea of their afflictions — that’s intentional — but we get a good sense of their personalities, spirits and zest for life. As Vanier says, these are folks who just want to be your friend, and it’s easy to connect with them.
Director Randall Wright (2014’s “Hockney”) keeps things simple. Nothing much happens, but the film’s optimistic take on life is like an easygoing stroll through a verdant forest. It’s invigorating.
David Lewis, San Francisco Chronicle
Racer and the Jailbird
⋆½ out of four stars
Rated: R for sex and violence; in subtitled French and Dutch.
The trailer for this crime drama promises a steamy, angsty romance awash in burning rubber, glamorous crimes and designer zippers that won’t stay up — ingredients that virtually arrange themselves into pulp heaven. But not in the hands of Flemish director Michael R. Roskam, apparently, who prefers to take a drearier route.
Gino (Matthias Schoenaerts), a cheeky thief, and Bibi (Adele Exarchopoulos), a race car driver, meet and fall into bed before you can say “Le Mans.” Set in Brussels and divided into two sections, the movie enjoys a zippy first half structured around Gino’s fun-loving gang of miscreants and a thrilling bank robbery. But then, what was once a sexy heist movie becomes a grim prison drama and disease-of-the-week weepie.
The leads are sensational, but the movie is stuffed with confusing plot complications. By the end, the real tragedy is a narrative structure that can’t seem to get out of its own way.
Jeannette Catsoulis, New York Times