Beatriz drives from Santa Monica south to Newport Beach, but we see her driving on the 101 Freeway in Agoura Hills, which is many miles northwest not only of Santa Monica but Los Angeles proper. See more »
I met Salma Hayak at the after party for the premier of Wild Wild West in Hollywood. It was a warm California night, all the beautiful people were there, but the vibe was morose as everyone walked out of the premier of a big time, big budget, A-list stars, disaster wondering what to say to anyone about it. I was saved by some very cogent advice from Warner Bros. legendary publicist Frank Casey who blandly answered any question about whether he liked any movie asked by Directors, stars, producers, or faces in the crowd in the same way: You did it again!
Try it. It works every time. To mega egos (the only egos at hand at the after party) it makes them smile as they think of their successes, for the more discerning, it allows one not to be an utter fool.
As the celebrities swirled around the food and drink tables, Salma appeared at my elbow and introduced herself. She is stunningly beautiful in person, shorter than you would think as almost all stars are, but definitely a star quality presence. Serious about her craft and ambitious to be an American movie star, she had an interpreter/English coach at her side. As we talked she would stop me to ask what certain phrases meant, why did I use them, or to ask me to repeat a word or use slang again slowly while she wrote it down. It was very charming, and she was serious about it all.
I mention this because, both that party, and then seeing her great performance in the movie Frida, made it clear that she is an artist, and is very serious about acting.
Beatriz at Dinner is further proof.
The movie opens with a close up of her face as she sleeps. It's a bit of a shock, she is without makeup, there's no special lighting effect to smooth out the years, and we see a woman of fifty. Not a girl, not a sex symbol, not a symbol at all. She has become Beatriz, a deeply spiritual, highly complex, vulnerable, immensely strong, enigmatic, electric when she's on the screen, a movie star. She becomes Beatriz, a woman from Mexico, now living in Pasadena, with exceptional healing powers. Throughout the movie the Director fills the screen with Hayak's unforgettable face in close up after close up, allowing us, through her, to react to what happens around her.
The story is a modern-day comedy of ethnic manners, a bit like the recent Get Out, as well as a morality play. We go to dinner with a group of California grandees celebrating some new extra-legal financial coup in a magnificent dining room, in a fabulous hilltop overlooking the Pacific home, in a guarded, double gated, community.
It looks like the kind of place a certain national politician held her $100K per couple fundraisers in while preaching Fabian fantasies and wise cracking about the peasants outside the gates to comfort the billionaires that they could keep their billions while feeling at one with the cause.
The dinner party reluctantly invites Beatriz to dinner when her beater car's heart beats no more and she is stranded. Her inclusion is like dropping a pebble in a glassy pond, creating tiny waves that spread out and eddy around the gassy, comfortable presumptions of the guests.
There are backstories on matters of life and death, on illness and worry, on class and race that swirl amidst Beatriz's awesome stillness as she, Christ like, feels the pain of everybody's life. While she sits and listens and absorbs all of the dinner party's prejudices, and unconscious cruelties, and paradoxes of their hopes, the camera lingers on Beatriz, the pebble who shouldn't have been dropped. The lately invited guest who might spoil the perfection of class comfort and insulation available to the super rich.
John Lithgow gets to be an evil 21st Century robber baron, with all the disgusting robber baron vices a CNN host could hope for. The marriages on display will do little to encourage marriage, gay or straight. The character and behavior of the men in Beatriz at Dinner make one hope all of it was for comedic effect, but the audience will be left with a rather queasy feeling that it is actually Oscar Wilde quality satire.
This is the best movie of the year. Salma Hayak is at the top of her profession. Her calm, deep, convincing portrayal of a Mexican woman, a woman who has survived a difficult life, a woman who absorbs all the pain of life, a woman who has decided that healing is the best way to live a life, is mesmerizing. She is by no means perfect, but she is perfectly human.
I'm reminded of the great line of dialogue by Jimmy Stewart in a not dissimilar movie, Harvey. When asked about his life, he replied: I've tried smart, and I've tried nice. I prefer nice.
Surrounded by plutocrats full of themselves and their worldly goods, unconsciously cruel, but consciously rapacious, so sure of themselves, so sure of their place at the top of today's society, Beatriz makes them think, for the first time perhaps, that there might be more to it all than a perfectly crafted menu, matched with the perfectly chosen wines, followed by cigars by the pool. That there might be something not quite right about trophy hunting big game in Africa, or measuring worth by the art and artifice of the deal.
We come to know that Beatriz has experienced deep pain in her life, that she treats people in mortal pain every day, that she could be filled with bitterness and envy and hate, but chooses to live a life centered around healing pain, healing everyone she can touch.
Beatriz prefers healing without judgment to being bitter, or cruel, or hard.
Someone died on a cross attempting the same thing.
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