'She Came to Me' - Berlinale review

Rebecca Miller crafts a film about the power of romance, and in the process entertains and makes us laugh -- at the events unfolding before us on the big screen, but more brilliantly, at ourselves.
'She Came to Me' - Berlinale review

As soon as Rebecca Miller's film opens, with the unveiling of a falsetto singer voicing the 'Habanera' from Bizet's Carmen, we realize we can expect to be in for a wild ride. And indeed, we are. She Came to Me is this year's opening film at the Berlinale and screens in their Berlinale Special section.

Neurotic Steven Lauddem (played by Game of Thrones actor and these days certified movie star Peter Dinklage) is an opera composer who has writer's block. His libretto partner leaves him and his obsessively tidy wife Patricia (played by a perfectly uptight Anne Hathaway) is having doubts as a woman, and a psychiatrist. As he takes his French bulldog Levi on a walk one day, Steven encounters a woman, Katrina (the inimitable Marisa Tomei) a tugboat captain in Brooklyn "for work", who changes his life. The result of their encounter is that Steven begins composing again and the work inspired by his unlikely muse opens to grand success, an opera about a "female Sweeney Todd", as is mentioned in the film.

Now that is enough to tickle anyone's movie-watching fancy right there! But the film's understated brilliance, which may not hit the viewer at first, yet resurfaces hours later, after a good night's sleep perhaps, is how it and its filmmaker believe in love. In romance, in the power of two hearts coming together to create something magical in this sometimes quite drab world of ours.

Granted, as I write this, outside it's a rainy Berlin day, all grey and damp. But there is a colorfulness in She Came to Me which is unsurpassed in films made by male filmmakers. Yes, because this is where women excel as directors, in creating a cinematic canvas that doesn't just appeal to the intellect but manages to capture the visual sense along with our imagination. Miller also avoids female nudity, which would otherwise distract, both from the romance in the film as well as from one of the weirdest, funniest scenes I've watched in a long time, involving Kreplach. Yes, those Kreplach, the triangular Yiddish dumplings, and Anne Hathaway's perfectly undone Patricia.

But back to what makes She Came to Me a phenomenally entertaining watch. As a colleague said, after the screening, this is a bit like watching Miller pick up the baton passed to her by Woody Allen, because the film is definitely chatty, like in Allen's work but also uses the neuroticism of New Yorkers to make its points.

Along with the primary story, there is a parallel romance going on in the film. This one involves two teenagers, Patricia's son Julian from her first husband, played by the lovely Evan Ellison, who has fallen in love with Tereza, played by Harlow Jane -- alert she is cuteness personified. Tereza in the daughter of immigrant Magdalena (Joanna Kulig) who cleans houses, and in a twist of fate which of course one should expect from a film, she ends up being the housekeeper at the Lauddem household. Into this setup steps Magdalena's partner, Trey, played by musical theater star Brian d’Arcy James, who brings comedic charm to his role as a law-abiding court reporter, very much set in his ways. This melange adds fuel for a fire that climaxes with an ode to romance, complete with fairy tale ending and, this is after all Steven's story, a brand new opera freshly written by the quivering composer.

Any film that reminds me of the power of love deserves five stars in my book, or rather in my review. And She Came to Me also reignited a passion for watching films on the big screen, which the past few years, with a worldwide pandemic and the advent of streaming, had cooled a bit. This is a grand, big screen, sit in a theater surrounded by people and their reactions kind of movie and thank goodness for that, I say.

USA, 102 minutes, 2023

Dir/writ: Rebecca Miller

Prod: Damon Cardasis, Anne Hathaway, Pamela Koffler, Christine Vachon, Rebecca Miller

Co-prod: Ged Dickersin, Cindy Tolan

Exec prod: Len Blavatnik, Danny Cohen, Vince Holden

Cinematography: Sam Levy

Editor: Sabine Hoffman

Music: Bryce Dessner

Cast: Peter Dinklage, Anne Hathaway, Marisa Tomei, Brian d'Arcy James, Joanna Kulig, Evan Ellison, Harlow Jane

Top image © Protagonist Pictures, courtesy of Berlinale and used with permission.

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