To Live to Sing
Official Selection International Feature Film
Dir. Johnny Ma
The Richter Scale says: Everything has an end, even the things we wish would last forever. Children grow, priorities change, places fade away or are destroyed and some groups of people, no matter how close they have been at some point in their lives, end up separating so that everyone can follow their own path. To Live, To Sing, from Chinese-Canadian filmmaker Johnny Ma, immerses us in the world of a group of opera singers who have performances every day in a theater that is no longer as frequented as it once was. The director and owner of the group, Zhao Li (Zhao Xiaoli) struggles to keep this project afloat, which becomes increasingly complicated, as her niece Dan Dan (Gan Guidan), the star singer of the group and whom Zhao Li has raised as if she were her own daughter, she looks for other ways to earn money and earn a name outside the world of opera that she believe is something that only old people see. Furthermore, the theater where they perform is about to be demolished and Zhao Li must find a way to convince the chief of the neighborhood to change his mind, organizing the best show they have ever put on in their lives.
The film was made with novice actors who built their characters from who they are, and that leads to a naturalness when playing them and telling the story. Even with that, the film never feels improvised. Johnny Ma is very clear about the story he wants to tell, and even though he adapts to what his actors give him, the narrative never loses its direction and his actors know exactly where they are going. Zhao Xiaoli has the task of carrying the emotional weight of the story and does so by playing her as cold and very critical, but with an enormous passion for what she does and a desire to continue fighting for what she has. Johnny Ma offers us some windows into Zhao Li’s thought process through some fantasy musical sequences, some very scary and others more cheerful, but they all guide us through this process, and what is even more impressive is that although we are seeing everything from the point of view of Zhao Li, that does not necessarily mean her point of view is correct and although it hurts her and us as the audience to see that, it gives the story some necessary layers.
The aesthetics are very grounded: colorful, but with more subtle tones that present a neighborhood that one can find in real life. The colors stand out more during the aforementioned musical sequences, or in the magical moments, which include the moments in which an elf (well, a person covered in a black blanket whom Zhao Li calls “elf”) guides her to the person she wants to find and through that finds out the things that Dan Dan does (sing in a nightclub with a very short dress) or the things her son does. This gives an element of magical realism to the story. The film achieves the trick of balancing a realistic drama in the streets of a city, showing poverty and a certain optimism towards desperate situations, with these explosions of music and color that vibrate to give us moments in which emotions come first, with all the bombast that comes when those emotions are expressed in a musical format (which is also the perfect opportunity to show the audience the kind of opera that our characters sing).
Special Screening Pre-Release
Dir. Danny Boyle
The Richter Scale says: What this movie has that many movies lack today is a classic “what if…? Premise. One of those premises that attract the audience with the possibilities of what could be done with such a premise, and although naturally one will leave feeling that more could have been done with the premise in question (which is definitely the case with this one), sitting in a dark room to look at a screen and consider those possibilities is something that has always attracted audiences to movie theaters. In the case of Yesterday, the premise is this: what if you were the only person in the world who knows the music of the Beatles? A huge catalog of successes that led this group of four young Englishmen to fame and later made them legends, and suddenly nobody but you has heard them. What do you do with them? In the case of Jack Malik (Himesh Patel), a singer who has been struggling for fame for years without success, what he does is present the songs as if they were his in order to become famous, something that makes him increasingly uncomfortable and which leads him to reassess his relationship with Ellie (Lily James), his best friend who is also his manager, and who has been in love with him since they were teenagers.
First off, the film is a love letter to the music of the Beatles. Each song is presented as a masterpiece and although it does have an occasional joke in which a character listens to it for the first time without being particularly impressed, it is only a matter of time before Jack becomes the most famous man in the world with these songs. What may disappoint many is that, ultimately, the film is a romantic comedy and the dramatic beats are focused on the relationship between Jack and Ellie, which some might have guessed when they realized that the screenwriter is Richard Curtis, who has written some of the most famous English romantic comedies (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Love Actually), but if one notices what kind of movie it is, it works. It works because the two main actors have a lot of charisma and adorable chemistry, because the character arc is very clear, because the lessons are some with which we can all identify with and because it’s filled with Beatles songs everyone knows. Ed Sheeran also appears plays a very conceited version of himself and the brilliant comedienne Kate McKinnon plays Jack’s evil new manager (and as always, it’s fun to see how committed she is to the role).
Yes, it is also directed by the great Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire), but this one doesn’t have the style and the rhythms we usually associate with one of his films (except in some ingenious transitions and some gags). It doesn’t feel like a Danny Boyle film and that might also disappoint some fans of his, but in the end this movie was made to provide a good time (in fact, it’s a perfect date movie), and it may even squeeze out a tear or two (there is a particularly moving scene near the end that has to do with the Beatles, but that I won’t spoil it). This will be released in mainstream theaters in Mexico on August 30 for the rest of this country’s audiences to see.