Tag Archives: Salma Hayek

Beatriz at Dinner (2017)

There’s nothing like a dinner party gone awry. It’s awkward, uncomfortable, and potentially friendship ending. This is the scenario Miguel Arteta (Cedar Rapids) has brought to life. Salma Hayek stars as Beatriz, a masseuse and homeopathic healer that works in a cancer clinic by day and does work for private clients on the side. After her car breaks down at the house of one of her long-time customers, she is invited to stay for their dinner party until help can arrive. However, she is not their typical house guest. The dinner forces her to come into contact with a local real-estate mogul, played by John Lithgow, who couldn’t be more different from her.

Beatriz immediately stands out from the other dinnergoers. She is plainly dressed and unadorned. She is dwarfed by the other dolled-up, statuesque women and can’t relate to their superficial discussions. It takes several minutes before anyone else even acknowledges her presence. Initially, she is fairly reticent. It’s not until she has had a few glasses of white wine that we get to see her opinions come out. She quickly establishes herself as strong-minded and willing to call out others on their behavior, even to the dismay of her hosts.

Beatriz is completely out of place with the elite, ultra-wealthy guests.

Hayek is completely convincing as Beatriz. Despite being an actress known for her looks, she inhabits the role. Her Beatriz is unpretentious and caring. She bonds with animals and claims to literally feel the pain of others. Even as she starts to disrupt the evening, her intentions are selfless and her heart is kind. Hayek’s greatest triumph is that she is able to portray the character without ever becoming preachy. She doesn’t have a holier-than-thou attitude. She only wants to heal and prevent others from being hurt.

The timing of the release brings new, potentially unplanned, meaning to the premise. With the current political climate of the U.S. divided on immigration, what services may or may not constitute a redistribution of wealth, and an ever-growing income disparity, the characters could easily be seen as symbolic with Lithgow’s character representing the far right and Beatriz as the left. However, Arteta leaves most of the allegory up to the viewer, choosing instead to focus on Beatriz’s reaction when confronted with someone who leads a drastically different life with a polar opposite moral compass (if any).

The allegory becomes less about the rich and the poor and more about those that heal versus those that cause suffering. Beatriz sees healing as not only the most noble, but the most difficult occupation and she has devoted her entire life to that cause. Eventually, she wonders if prevention is better than healing. What if she could stop a source of suffering rather than deal with its aftermath? This becomes her albatross. How does she deal with this man whose actions are entirely damaging? By examining how to stay true to your beliefs when faced with your literal antithesis-made-flesh, Arteta lifts Beatriz at Dinner from a simple comedy of manners to an introspective crisis of morality.

4/5 stars.

Tale of Tales (2016)

With recent releases like The Huntsman and Frozen, fairy tale adaptations are becoming increasingly common. Tale of Tales is also an adaptation of three mostly unrelated stories set in medieval Europe intercut together. The first story is about a Queen (Salma Hayek; Frida) who desires a child above all else. The second is about a King with a daughter who is interested in finding a husband while he is more interested in his pet flea. The final story is about two old sisters who try to fool the lustful King (Vincent Cassel; Ocean’s Twelve) into thinking they are young.

The stories are heavily inspired by the works of Hans Christian Anderson and the Brothers Grimm, but incorporate their own blend of metaphors and surrealism. Magic, ogres, and monsters are all present but they are portrayed in an atmosphere of desperation – one of the running motifs of the film. The characters focus on their goals to the point of obsession. The Queen desires her son’s love more than his own happiness, the King pays so much attention to his pet flea that he marries her to the wrong person, and the old sisters care more about their place in life than each other. In their fanatical pursuit of their desires, they damage the relationships they have for the unneeded ones they want.

Castel del Monte
Gorgeous locations like the Castel del Monte recreate the fantasy world.

All of this is presented with superb period detail. The cinematography is stunning with real castles and landscapes filmed on location and CGI used only sparingly. The dresses are immaculately designed and when characters are placed within the towering stone buildings, the film creates a believable medieval world with fantasy elements that feel right at home in the setting.

Unfortunately the grand total of the film is not greater than, or even equal to, the sum of its parts. Director Matteo Garrone has brought these fables to life and added his own layer of realistic gloom, but has not elevated them above their simple origins. The morals of each tale are clear, but not particularly profound or original. The stories are well told and beautifully framed, but their impact is ultimately fleeting.

3/5 stars.