Friday 23 February 2018

A marriage in peril and a family on the brink

*Love is Strange (15A, 94mins)
*Pelo Malo (No Cert, IFI, 93mins)

John Lithgow has been popping up in juicy supporting roles for over 40 years, but in Love is Strange we're given a rare opportunity to enjoy him taking the lead. Ira Sachs' delightful comic drama is set in Manhattan and stars Lithgow as Ben, one half of a gay couple who've stayed together through thick and thin for over 20 years. Now, at last, Ben and George (Alfred Molina) are about to marry.

But George works at a school run by the Catholic Church, and when the archbishop finds out about the wedding, George is given the boot. This means that he and Ben must sell their idyllic apartment. And while they search despairingly for something more affordable, they're put up by friends and family. George finds the going tough when he goes to stay with a pair of party-loving cops, and Ben gets caught in the middle of an edgy marriage when he bunks in with his nephew.

Love is Strange offers no neat solutions to its characters' problems, and Lithgow and Molina are wonderfully believable as the fond and loving leads, who might be newlyweds but seem like an old married couple.

Mariana Rondon's pared-back Venezuelan drama Pelo Malo uses the simmering conflict between a harried mother and her nine-year-old son to address the twin curses of iniquity and poverty. In a quiet opening scene, Junior (Samuel Lange) is helping his mother Marta (Samantha Castillo) clean apartments in a wealthy part of Caracas when he fills a hot tub and stretches out, dreaming in the water.

His own life contains no such luxuries. He lives in a tumbledown, crime-ridden tower block, and his mother is clearly struggling to make ends meet. Through mood and hints and little things the children say, we realise that the world around them is filled with violence and uncertainty.

One of Junior's friends refers casually to the fact that her mother's a prostitute, and it gradually becomes clear that Marta's doing her imperfect best to protect him from a harsh environment. And Pelo Malo is a haunting little film, quiet and stylish and very nicely done.

PAUL WHITINGTON

****

Coming soon...

Cake (Jennifer Aniston, Felicity Huffman); Project Almanac (Johnny Weston): The Duke of Burgundy (Sidse Babett Knudsen); Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter.

Irish Independent

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