Granted, these may not be hugely popular, and may need to be sought online or at libraries, but two are definitely worth seeing. “The Leisure Seeker” is the sweet, final adventure of an elderly couple: Helen Mirren (with a Southern accent) and Donald Sutherland (with dementia). She knows exactly what she’s doing, guiding them on their rickety RV to the Hemingway house in Key West, Florida before her cancer does her in completely, then ending their long lives and marriage with a peaceful dose of carbon monoxide. That may seem harsh, but it makes sense in the context of dwindling health and mental acuity. Along the way, they watch slides of their youth, their children, a collage of memory that others in the campgrounds quietly gather to watch and appreciate. It’s a reminder of the sacramentality of any life, viewed as a long trajectory. One of the most touching moments comes when Sutherland, seeing the beautiful Florida skies and ocean asks, “Are we in heaven?” He is alternately wise and vulnerable; she is scrappy, fierce and romantic. And her final letter warns their children that they may have run up a large credit card bill, orchestrating their Last Hurrah.
“Back to Burgundy” is set in a French vineyard, and reminds us how arduous it is to make fine wine. Three siblings, thrust into the job when their father dies, show how the family arena is always fraught: they argue because they matter so much to each other. Flashbacks to their childhood reveal why the domain is so important to them: they’ve been raised on identifying tastes and loving the vinter’s careful process. The film is full of life’s good things, for instance, a party for the whole crew once the harvest is in. They’ve worked hard, sweating in the sun: now they drink wine, eat, sing and dance. It’s reminiscent of the Biblical passage about God rejoicing over us as at a festival. The central trio cares deeply for each other and their heritage, deeply enough to work out differences over their inheritance.
“Red Sparrow,” on the other hand, feels like drinking sewage. It’s based on the tired premise that Russians = Bad Guys, Americans = Good Guys. Those who’ve read Chekhov, Dostoevsky and Tolstoy questioned that facile assumption even at the height of the Cold War—so why resuscitate it now? One brief scene at the Bolshoi ballet is the only saving grace—but it ends in catastrophe. After that, the action moves into a world where there are no ordinary blessings like children, grocery shopping, trees or humor: all is intense, abstract, ideological. Demeaning, dehumanizing processes and hideous torture occur in a place where it’s always winter. Subjected to terrible stress and physical pain, the lead Jennifer Lawrence becomes more remote, less likeable, even though at first she’s a victim, then ostensibly acts to save her sickly mother. Some of the settings are opulent palaces with lavish costumes—or grim jail cells– that make one long for the dilapidated farmhouse, sweaty t-shirts and earthy humanity of Burgundy.