Then Playing — O Ebrio; Jeanne Eagels; Let Them All Talk

O Ébrio (Gilda de Abreu, 1946). This Brazilian film, the directorial debut of Gilda de Abreu, was a smash hit on its home turf at the time of its release. The film follows the shifting fortunes of Gilberto (Vicente Celestino), who goes from a man down on his luck, seeking refuge in a house of worship, to a singing star to someone who responds to personal betrayals by bellyflopping into the bottle. O Ébrio is crafted with exquisite sensitivity and empathy, qualities that are only heightened when the protagonist’s world goes woozy. It has the loveliness and ache of Italian neorealism films with a dash of extra ruefulness, which de Abreau manages to tonally balance to achieve poignancy rather than bitterness.

Jeanne Eagels (George Sidney, 1957). Based loosely on the life of early twentieth century actress Jeanne Eagels, this drama adheres to a common pattern of Hollywood features that depict a life toiling in entertainment as a sure road to personal ruin. Kim Novak is predictability a powerhouse in the title role, sliding effortlessly from charismatic dazzle to raging disaster. There is an equally fine supporting performances by Agnes Moorehead, bringing her trademark snappish imperiousness to the role of Jeanne’s acting coach. George Sidney crafts the film with an enlivening visual inventiveness that’s further enhanced by the striking black-and-white cinematography by Robert H. Planck. Whenever the narrative slips into a rut, Sidney and Planck jar it free with imagery that compares favorably with the most revered film noir achievements of the era.

Let Them All Talk (Steven Soderbergh, 2020). Steven Soderbergh’s restless need to set himself a challenge with just about every project lands him on a cruise ship with a trio of grande-dame character actress shooting a improvisatory dramedy with guerrilla techniques. For a good portion of its time, Let Them All Talk is a solid entertainment, mostly because it’s a pleasure watching Meryl Streep, Dianne Wiest, and Candice Bergen spark off one another with cantankerous affection. Both Lucas Hedges and Gemma Chan provide nicely live-in performances in supporting turns. The well-honed skills of Soderbergh keep the narrative moving efficiently, which helps skip over some clunkiness in the mysteries and resentments that stem from an old book penned by Streep’s novelist character. As might be expected given the loosey-goosey creative process, the film sort of falls apart at the end, essentially uncertain where it wants to land and what it wants to say.

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