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Capone's Art-House Round-Up with LONG WAY NORTH and IN HER NAME!!!

Hey, folks. Capone in Chicago here, with a few films that are making their way into art houses or coming out in limited release around America this week (maybe even taking up one whole screen at a multiplex near you). Do your part to support these films, or at least the good ones…

One of the better purely hand-drawn animated films of 2016, LONG WAY NORTH tells the tale of Sasha (voiced by Christa Théret), a Russian teenager circa 1882, whose grandfather was a renowned explorer determined to be the first to plant the Russian flag on the North Pole. She was only a child when he left, but her connection to him and his journey never wavered. Although others have sought the wreckage of the missing ship without success, Sasha becomes convinced that notes in her grandfather’s office reveal his true path to the top of the world, and she runs away from home after her diplomat father refuses to approach the powers that be about a new search party.

Sasha’s own journey is a series of disappointments, heartbreaks and life lessons before she finally gets on an icebreaking ship, with a crew very interested in the reward being offered for finding the missing vessel. Although the story is fiction, it’s clear that first-time French director Rémi Chayé (who worked in the animation departments on works such as THE PAINTING and THE SECRET OF KELLS) is drawing influences from the real-life polar expedition of Sir Ernest Shackleton. The animation style is simple but quite expressive, especially when the action moves to the Arctic Circle and the crew must abandon ship and search for the missing vessel on foot in brutally icy winds.

LONG WAY NORTH is also a story about a child who grew up as part of the Russian aristocracy learning to rough it on her own and prove herself to lifelong sailors, as well as protect her family’s honor. Suitable for children, the movie is certainly different in terms of its subject matter from your standard-issue animated work. Sasha is no princess, and there are no princes on her horizon to save her mission or her life. 

Although it’s family friendly, LONG WAY NORTH is also about a hard-fought journey complete with struggle and suffering, and while I don’t want to say how it ends, the payoff makes most of the strife worth going through. I’d certainly recommend this animated work over the other one opening this holiday season, so take a lesson from Sasha and be bold in your movie selection.

In the harrowing, true-life story that spans nearly 30 years, IN HER NAME tells the story of Andre Bamberski (the great French king of angst, Daniel Auteuil), who finds out that his seemingly happy marriage to Dany (Marie-Josée Croze) is falling apart due to her affair with a German doctor, Dieter Krombach (Sebastian Koch, best known for roles in THE LIVES OF OTHERS and BLACK BOOK). Not long after the couple split up, Andre and Dany’s 14-year-old daughter Kalinka (Emma Besson) is found dead in her room in Dany’s new German home.

Although a hastily performed autopsy does not point to any wrong doing, the distraught Andre digs deeper and finds gross misconduct and a conspiracy of incompetence and lies that seem to indicate that Dr. Krombach has covered up the rape and death of Kalinka. In Her Name chronicles Andre’s descent down the rabbit hole of the European justice system, which is both painstakingly slow and prone to political meddling to stop any possibility of an unwanted international incident, despite the fact that the nations of the European Union are supposed to adhere to extradition laws.

Andre and his faithful, patient lawyers work every angle they can, both in Germany and France and a few other countries where the doctor attempts to hide, uncovering even further proof of his guilt that still seems to gain them no ground in having him returned to France to face murder charges. While the maze of legal challenges certainly makes for fascinating procedural, the film adds an additional tragedy to its roster as Andre loses himself so deeply in the case that he pushes aside relationships with his now-grown son and his new girlfriend that is supportive by every definition of the word. He also takes early retirement at his job so he can devote himself full-time to getting justice for his daughter.

The story culminates when Andre takes the law into his hands to make sure Dr. Krombach answers for his crimes. If this were a fictional story starring Liam Neeson, he’s probably just blow the guy away, or give the good doctor an autopsy of his own…while he was still alive. But being rooted in the truth, IN HER NAME’s conclusion is a largely quiet, mostly satisfying series of events, packing a great deal of raw pain and emotion into its framework. 

Directed by Vincent Garenq (GUILTY, COMME LES AUTRES), the film’s driving force is the broken heart of a lonely father, and for some, that may be more than they can handle, especially when Andre behaves irrationally, to the detriment of his own endgame. Auteuil and Koch are perfect rivals—the former, frazzled and obsessive; the other, collected, handsome and charming—and much of the film’s success is due to their anti-chemistry, even though they share very little screen time.

The worst I can say about IN HER NAME is that it suffers from tunnel vision and doesn’t allow us to dig a little deeper into the lives and minds of any of its characters. At the same time, I admired its focus and commitment as much as I did Andre’s. There are many gut-wrenching movies to check out this holiday season, but this one might be the one that has you running for the liquor cabinet.

-- Steve Prokopy
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