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The Lady in the Portrait review – painterly pageantry in a Chinese royal court | Film

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This French-Chinese co-production about an earlier French-Chinese collaboration offers handsome pageantry amid its lavish recreation of 18th-century imperial court life, but it isn’t quite enough to compensate for a puttering narrative motor. Longtime Apichatpong Weerasethakul producer Charles de Meaux has turned director with a far eastern equivalent of Girl With a Pearl Earring – another decorous, ever so slightly sleepy matinee sit.

The film’s subject is Jean-Denis Attiret (played by Melvil Poupaud), a real-life French Jesuit missionary who spent half of his 60-odd years employed as the Chinese court painter. His trickiest commission, recalled here, came from the emperor’s bored wife (Fan Bingbing), thirsting to preserve an image that might turn her indifferent husband’s head.

Most of the action, such as it is, takes place in Attiret’s makeshift studio, where the central relationship progresses as the painter shifts from tentative charcoal sketches to making marks with ink and acrylic, while various hangers-on debate the differences between Chinese and European art. De Meaux also permits himself the odd expressionistic flourish. A prologue superimposes one of Attiret’s canvasses on an empty battlefield, doubtless saving the director money on armour-clad extras, while his model drifts away to have conversations with the spectres of previous empresses – a very Weerasethakul-like touch, intended to draw out the inner life of a quiet, demure figure.

Elsewhere, De Meaux holds dear to the virtues of classical painting. Serving as his own cinematographer, he dabs thoughtful widescreen compositions with appealing pastel hues, aware that – in the drama’s quieter moments – he can always fall back on the ever-absorbing sight of an artist’s hands at work. There are a lot of those moments, though, part of a curious void at the heart of the film, as if the characters were the last elements sketched in, and then in haste. I wondered whether De Meaux’s art-history nous might be better turned to production design or even curation: as it is, the vases adorning the sets demonstrate more character and depth than his pretty yet passive leads. Undeniably artful – but a lot of that beauty is on the inert side.

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From Beyoncé to the Oscars: Mary Twala, Africa’s queen of cinema | Film

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Mary Twala died just a few weeks before Beyoncé’s Black Is King came out. In the film, the 80-year-old embodied the story’s shaman figure, the last part she’d ever play in a six-decade career. The deep lines of her face, white paint over her eyes and red beads covering her head, made a striking impression, introducing the actor to a whole new audience.

Among its other virtues, Black Is King opened a portal for western audiences to some of the best talent from the continent – some emerging, others, like Twala, already well established. But for those only just discovering her in the wake of Beyoncé’s visual album release, the best of Twala’s work is arguably still to come.

Born in Soweto, Johannesburg in 1939, Twala had been acting since her early 20s, when her sister brought her along to an audition. Her range was wide: among the many productions she starred in were Generations, the first soap centred on Black middle-class characters, created in 1993 in the run-up to South Africa’s first post-apartheid elections; and Sarafina!, which screened at the 1992 Cannes film festival.

Over her career, Twala garnered many accolades – none bigger than South Africa’s Order of Ikhamanga (silver), presented to her by the president, Cyril Ramaphosa, in 2019 for outstanding contribution to the arts. She was mourned by the nation when she died at the beginning of July as a result of Covid-19.

Although Black Is King was Twala’s last role, it won’t be the last chance to see her on screen. The final feature film she acted in, This Is Not a Burial, It’s a Resurrection, has been travelling the festival circuit for the past year, in advance of its theatrical release. In it, Twala plays an elder of a tiny village in Lesotho, whose deep grief sets off a defiant spirit of protest among her community against local developers. The film is the debut narrative fiction feature of film-maker and writer Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese, who was born in Lesotho’s capital, Maseru.

Made under Venice’s Biennale College initiative, Burial premiered at the festival last year before competing in Sundance’s World Cinema Dramatic competition, where it earned the special jury award for visionary film-making in January. Since its first screening, it’s collected more than 20 festival awards, including best actress for Twala at the Durban international film festival. The film has just been submitted as Lesotho’s first ever entry into best international feature at the Oscars, making history even before the nominations are announced.

Mary Twala in This Is Not a Burial, It’s a Resurrection.
Mary Twala in This Is Not a Burial, It’s a Resurrection. Photograph: YouTube

South African producer Cait Pansegrouw brought Twala to Mosese’s attention, showing him a photo of her while they were developing the film. Inspired by Mosese’s own grandmother’s experience of being displaced from her village, the story is deeply personal, drawing, too, on universal themes of identity, progress and tradition. “When I saw the picture of Mary, I knew that this is the right canvas,” he says. “She surrendered her body as a canvas for my thoughts and observations to literally paint my painting. The painting that I’ve been having in my mind for all these years,” says Mosese.

The film rests on Twala’s diminutive shoulders and she carries it ably – in the close-ups of her face mourning the death of her husband, in her small stature against the majestic Lesotho mountains, in the wails of her tears. The landscape of Lesotho becomes a character in the film, just as Twala’s character Mantoa, becomes its own landscape. “The film is almost like a performance art. It was very physical,” says Mosese. “And for her, it wasn’t a question of if we can do this. It was, ‘When do you want to do it? Should we do it now?’”

As Pansegrouw and Mosese explain, the conditions in the remote part of Lesotho, Ha Dinizulu, where they filmed were tough, with a lack of infrastructure and the weather fluctuating from -2C degree mornings to 28-degree days. At times, they shot through electrical storms. But Pansegrouw says Twala was up for anything they needed her to do during the 24-day shoot, including learning the intricate Sesotho language.

“I’d always go to her little room before bedtime to make sure she was cool,” says Pansegrouw. “And one night I said, ‘Mary, are you okay? Like, this is a crazy experience, are you OK?’ And she was like, ‘I’ve made many films in my life, and many films I have read. And many films I have heard. This is the first film that I see. I see it so clearly.’”

Mosese thinks the growing curiosity towards the continent from outside – fanned by the likes of Beyoncé – is a beautiful thing. But he’s more excited about the younger film-makers coming up behind him, who might see in his work an accessible way to realise their own dreams, utilising great African talent, like Twala’s, along the way.


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How Kerry Washington Celebrated The 2020 Election

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Dancing, ice cream — could you ask for anything more?


Gedu, Sala / Terma,SL / BACKGRID

Kerry Washington stumped for Biden and Harris before Election Day (as you can see in this photo) — so it’s no surprise that she told People about her family celebrating when the election was formally called.


Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

“I was hanging out with my family, and it was actually raining here,” she explained. “My kids and I, [as soon as we heard the news], we went out and danced in the rain. We were splashing around in puddles and just enjoying it.”


George Pimentel / Getty Images

“We told them they could have ice cream. They were like, ‘We get ice cream!’ And I was like, ‘And also democracy!'”

Washington also talked to People about why she believes it’s important for her to speak her mind politically.

“…It’s not so much that I want to use my celebrity to tell people what to do,” she said. “It’s more just that as Americans, we live in a democracy that needs all of us to contribute and to use our voices.”

“…I’m not using social media to say, ‘I’m Kerry Washington, listen to me.’ I’m more saying, ‘I want you all to know that your voices are as important as mine. For this democracy to work, we need all of us to show up and to contribute.'”

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I Rewatched "The Little Mermaid" And I'm Sorry, But Ariel And Eric's Relationship Makes No Sense

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Trading your voice for a man you hardly know seems like a poor decision in hindsight.


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