October 21, 2009 -- This convoluted tale of love and loss meanders back and forth through time and space, but it eventually makes a very good three-point landing, while avoiding romantic and moral storms. Writer-director Guillermo Arriaga, who also wrote “Babel” and “21 Grams” outdoes himself in this powerful, soulful story about star-crossed lovers and damaged people.
The multi-threaded story has several interlocking characters. The relationships between them are not readily apparent at first, but become obvious later on in the movie. The two main characters are both women, the damaged Sylvia (played by Charlise Theron of “North Country”) and a teenager, Marianna (played by Jennifer Lawrence of “Devil You Know”). Sylvia runs a high-end ocean-front restaurant and engages in self-destructive behaviors and a series of meaningless sexual affairs. It seems clear she is running from something.
Marianna's mother, Gina (Kim Basinger of “Cellular”) is killed in an accident while having an affair with a married man, Nick (Joaquim de Almeida of “Che”), who is also killed in the same accident. Marianna has an affair with Nick's son (J.D. Pardo of “Supercross”) soon after the deaths of Gina and Nick. Neither of the two families involved is happy about this affair, so the two young lovers head off on their own.
Yet another related story involves a young girl, Maria (Tessa la), whose father is a crop duster pilot. Her father is badly injured in an accident and asks his best friend, Carlos (José María Yazpik of “Beverly Hills Chihuahua”) to contact Maria's mother, who disappeared years earlier, but has recently resurfaced. Carlos and Maria find Maria's long lost mother, but she doesn't seem interested in reconnecting with her family.
All these storylines converge at the end of the film and it all makes sense. I liked the ending. It wasn't a resolution exactly, but it least set the stage for a possible resolution to many of the problems faced by the film's main characters. The film isn't entirely believable in some places, but I did admire the skill of the storytelling and the neat way all the pieces come together. The motivations of the characters are understandable, but the actions of the characters sometimes don't correspond well to their motivations. Some of the actions of some of the characters seem beyond the strength, knowledge and skill that they should reasonably have. Some aspects of the story are bleak, but the story has a warm, humanistic side to it. The film isn't some pointless exercise in bleakness for the sake of being depressing. It is closer to being a lesson in karma. This film rates a B+.
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