John Seven | Viewer's Discretion: British police drama, film on autistic French poet are top picks
'BLACK WORK' (ACORN, SUNDANCE NOW)
There was a time when I wished American TV shows would copy the British format more and keep with six or 10 episodes as a way to combat needless narrative filler. Now that that's been happening, I notice series are still being padded out in the middle, and so here is "Black Work" to offer a remedy. With three episodes for the entire series, it has no chance to meander and muddle. It always stays on track.
The series follows police officer Jo Gillespie (Sheridan Smith) who, upon learning that her husband, also a police detective, was murdered in a warehouse, decides to investigate the mystery herself. It doesn't seem like her police force compatriots really want her to, but that's because, of course, they have some things to hide — as does Jo, actually, and her dead husband.
The revelations unmount and Jo defies orders to get to the bottom of things, and the concise quality works, offering red herrings without letting them become sidetracks that overwear their welcome. And the ending, which involves Jo's handling of her husband's secrets as well as a coming to terms with past mistakes, is rather sweet. You could binge this in one night, so go for it!
'LATEST NEWS FROM THE COSMOS' (OVIDTV)
French poet Babouillec isn't well known outside her home country — I don't see that her works have ever been translated into English — but the mysterious quality of her writing is revealed in this fascinating documentary film as an integral part of who she is. Babouillec is actually a woman in her 30s, with severe autism, named H l ne Nicolas and "Latest News from the Cosmos" is not so much a biography as a visit with Nicolas, a chance to be with her and try to understand the mysteries of her words.
For much of her life, Nicolas could not communicate, but her mother devised a method for her to get her thoughts out despite being unable to write. A box with letters — think Scrabble — that Nicolas pulls from allows her to create sentences like "We survive by instinct to survive. Only love separates us from nothingness." The film captures the author as she is being consulted on a stage production adapted from her works, following that production and also Nicolas' mode of interaction with the director.
What's fascinating about Nicolas is that ,while given the opportunity to reveal what is locked inside a physical form that cannot express itself, she's never shown doing so in direct or facile terms. There are no yes or no answers, no straightforward clarity to her words. What comes out of her is always poetic and, therefore, mysterious, demanding the person receiving her words decipher the eloquence for themselves.
As the movie begs viewers to not judge a book by its cover, it becomes obvious that it's impossible to truly understand what goes on in Nicolas' mind. Are these words she puts out representative of the way she encounters the world in her own head? And if that is the case — and it surely is — how does someone develop such skill without any formal lessons or much meaningful interaction with other humans as part of an intellectual back and forth?
In this mesmerizing and important document, Nicolas becomes a symbol of how little any of us truly understand the minds of others. Our unexpressed thoughts inhabit a world of their own, living by their own laws and codes, and Nicolas' words illustrate this in a pure form.
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