Today's DVDs & Blu-rays: Hemingway & Gellhorn and Unfinished Spaces

Categories: Film and TV

Kidman and Owen 560 .jpg
Nicole Kidman and Clive Owen in Hemingway & Gellhorn
Both Nicole Kidman and Clive Owen got Golden Globe nominations for their performances in Hemingway & Gellhorn. Neither won and it's easy to see why; while each turns in a decent performance (Kidman does markedly better than Owen), there is no sizzle between them. Since this is the story of one of the most storied romances in the 20th century, sizzle between the leads is a definite must-have.

The film chronicles the relationship between writer Ernest Hemingway and war correspondent Martha Gellhorn. They meet in 1936, an especially tumultuous time in history with the Spanish Civil War raging and WWII storm clouds gathering. Hemingway, it's no surprise, is a lout. He uses and abuses women, including Gellhorn, whom he marries in 1940. While both are noted writers of their time, Hemingway is a larger than life character, overshadowing Gellhorn, who, is "just" a war correspondent. The two eventually divorce in 1946.

It's not just the lack of chemistry between Kidman and Owen that mar the made-for-television film; director Philip Kaufman makes lots of odd choices along the way. He drops Kidman and Owen into period footage (think Forrest Gump) but rather than add to the drama, the device produces unintended giggles. (Oh, look it's Nicole Kidman and Clive Owen as prisoners of war. Doesn't her hair look nice?)

Kidman, who is stunningly beautiful, has previously played less-than-attractive women in other films. Except for a few minutes as an older Gellhorn remembering her relationship with Hemingway, here she is pretty much stunningly beautiful throughout. Kaufman gives Owen's Hemingway a bit of dirt on the face and some blood splatter on his shirt, but he leaves Kidman's Gellhorn unbelievably fresh and radiant. With much of the action set in a variety of war zones, being fresh and radiant doesn't really work here.

We respect Kidman and Owen; they're both talented, intelligent actors but Hemingway & Gellhorn doesn't make good use of them.

The only special feature on the DVD copy we reviewed was audio commentary by the filmmakers.

The 2011 Spanish-language documentary Unfinished Spaces succinctly captures the dichotomy of the idea of a Cuban revolution under Fidel Castro and the reality of the Castro dictatorship. The film, about the ambitious launching and then almost immediate abandonment of the building of a Cuban National Art Schools complex, tries to steer away from politics, but it's impossible.

In 1961, Fidel Castro, with help from comrade Che Guevara, commissioned three young architects to design the complex. It was supposed to be a showcase of the cutting edge creations architects free from the pressures of capitalism could design. Ricardo Porro, Vittorio Garatti, and Roberto Gottardi, each considered a rising star, were lauded for their forward-thinking designs at the beginning of the project. But as Castro settled into power and became more concerned with gaining and then keeping financial and physical support from Russia and less worried about the daily lives of ordinary Cubans, art schools became seen as bourgeois and the complex was abandoned. Porro, Garatti and Gottardi's careers went into limbo and the buildings were left unfinished. (Garatti and Gottardi eventually left the island and returned to Europe, continuing to work as architects. Porro, who remained in Cuba, was regulated to a minor teaching position and saw only small projects completed.)

The jungle quickly began to overtake the half-finished buildings and several meager attempts at repurposing the complex came and went over the years. Directors Alysa Nahmias and Benjamin Murrary, who spent 10 years on Unfinished Spaces, try to focus on the brilliance of the complex's original design and the possibility of some sort of reclamation of the project, but the sense of lost opportunities and failed promises, especially as seen through the damage done to the architects' careers, overwhelms the film.

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