Vashti and Andy Whitfield first appear in the documentary Be Here Now as the vigorous embodiment of positive thinking. Life coach Vashti uses the motivational language of personal power to describe her actor-husband’s career pinnacle, playing the title character in Spartacus: Blood and Sand, while Andy gratefully acknowledges her role in his success.
Their we-make-our-own-luck brand of confidence helps the Whitfields through Andy’s initial diagnosis of treatable non-Hodgkin lymphoma, which they regard at first as a negotiable hurdle on their long road of happiness. As Andy prepares for a second season of the Starz series, the sunny prognosis turns dark: The cancer, which had gone into remission, is back in a more resistant form. The Whitfields respond by getting tattoos of the mindfulness mantra “Be Here Now” and bringing in director Lilibet Foster (Brotherhood: Life in the FDNY) to document their journey through cancer as an inspirational teaching tool.
Foster makes it deeper, using an observational style to reveal the intricacies of a progressive disease and candid interviews with Andy and Vashti to strip away the veneer of celebrity implacability. While he undergoes aggressive treatment (supplemented by alternative medicine), Andy bonds with his young children and aging parents, and Vashti adjusts her supportive role to dwindling options and mounting fears.
The struggles are psychological as much as physical, with the couple trading their usual bantering conversations for resilient contemplation. Andy starts the battle in Spartacus’s defiant-warrior mode, but he finds greater strength in frailty and acceptance, the heroic stance of allowing himself to be human.
Be Here Now: The Andy Whitfield Story
Directed by Lilibet Foster
Opens April 8, Village East Cinema
The ’60s — 1968 in particular — are so encrusted with legend, nostalgia and pop-historical cliché that it may seem unlikely for a new movie to yield much insight. But those dreading 50th-anniversary greatest-hits medleys will find solace, enlightenment and surprise in João Moreira Salles’s “In the Intense Now,” a bittersweet, ruminative documentary essay composed of footage from the era accompanied by thoughtful, disarmingly personal voice-over narration.
Some of the images — and virtually the only ones in color — come from Mr. Salles’s own archives. His family was living the expatriate life in Paris, traveling home to Brazil during vacations. His mother, an arts journalist, took a trip to China in the early days of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, filming ancient monuments, smiling schoolchildren and ubiquitous portraits of Mao Zedong.
The Chinese interludes, along with amateur film from Czechoslovakia, punctuate a main narrative devoted to the “events of May” in France. That story, of a student uprising followed by a general strike, has been told many times before. The sights associated with it — of rioters hurling cobblestones at the police, of whimsical graffiti, of occupied factories and the imperious visage of President Charles de Gaulle — are as familiar as pictures of Woodstock or the moon landing. But Mr. Salles offers both fresh visual material and a gently revisionist interpretation of events.
The story of May 1968 in France is partly the story of Daniel Cohn-Bendit — called Danny the Red for his hair and his radical politics — one of the celebrity militants of the time. He was the most charismatic of the student leaders, and an articulate spokesman for the concerns of a generation fed up with bureaucracy, conformity and a sclerotic political system.
They forged an improbable, temporarily effective alliance with industrial workers, a convergence that many thought heralded a new revolutionary coalition. But Mr. Salles, with the benefit of hindsight and an astute ability to analyze the documentary record, throws cold water on this romantic notion. The witty slogans — “Be realistic, demand the impossible”; “The walls have the floor”; “Underneath the paving-stones, the beach!” — had the punch of advertising copy. The street demonstrations galvanized the news media and the intelligentsia, but the public craving for order and normalcy was deeper than they or the students realized. And while the students claimed to desire liberation from consumer society, many of the workers wanted better access to it.
The Prague Spring was an unsuccessful revolution of a different kind, ended by the military intervention of the Soviet Union in August. In China, by contrast, the revolution appeared to be successful, but the full dimensions of its cruelty were not yet visible to the few visitors, like Mr. Salles’s mother, who were allowed into the country. Mr. Salles, who seems broadly sympathetic to the traditions of the international left (his brother is Walter Salles, director of “The Motorcycle Diaries”), nonetheless disdains the easy sentimentality of lost causes. He elucidates, above all, the ironic dimension of his film’s title, imposing an elegiac, gently pessimistic tone on the energy and immediacy of what he sees and shows.
What he reveals, perhaps against his own intentions, is the inevitable aestheticization of the past. The anonymous demonstrators in Paris and Prague, and the people holding the cameras, were caught up in the drama of the present, rushing furiously toward a future they could not comprehend. Those of us living in that future notice their clothes and cigarettes, the beauty of the 8- and 16-millimeter cinematography, the look of cities before Starbucks and McDonald’s. For a few hours, we are caught up in the intensity of then.
No Intenso Agora
DirectorJoão Moreira Salles
WriterJoão Moreira Salles
Running Time2h 7m
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Last updated: Feb 14, 2018