Your Weekly Roundup of New Movies: “Loving Highsmith” Paints Itself Into a Melancholy Corner

What to see and what to skip.

LOVING HIGHSMITH

** Patricia Highsmith may have invented Tom Ripley and Strangers on a Train, but she opens this documentary espousing no love for mysteries. Fitting, maybe. Portrayed here, hers was a lifetime of intermittent hope (see: Carol) and overriding tragedy (see: everything else), as she lived out the loneliness, globe-trotting and crippling sexual repression so often found in her novels. With Gwendoline Christie (Brienne of Tarth in Game of Thrones) narrating Highsmith’s diary pages and romantic letters in a voice like dry vermouth, we’re immersed in the author’s unrequited longing, most of all for her cruel mother’s affection (and for one great love whose identity remains a secret). Director Eva Vitija clearly devoted tremendous effort to interviewing and researching Highsmith’s romantic partners, but she lacks the footage necessary to provide narrative fuel. The film inexplicably overemphasizes Highsmith’s alienation using Texas rodeo B-roll, and Vitija’s sudden yet sparse first-person narration comes off as a last-ditch device to move us through the author’s biography. An interview with a Highsmith scholar or two could have added artistic insight without sacrificing intimacy, but instead Loving Highsmith paints itself into a melancholy corner. It fails to understand that while Highsmith’s life was sad, it was full. NR. CHANCE SOLEM-PFEIFER. Living Room.

GIGI & NATE

** While director Nick Hamm deserves credit for making a movie about the issues surrounding the use of service animals, Gigi & Nate is both worthy of celebration and thoroughly unmemorable. Based on a true story (but boasting several differences from real-life events), the film stars Charlie Rowe as Nate Gibson, a teenage boy who becomes stricken with meningitis after a cliff dive during a Fourth of July getaway. Nate’s condition ultimately results in paralysis, but he finds hope in his companionship with Gigi, a loving capuchin monkey. Unfortunately, the film avoids showing many of the challenges that Nate faces during his rehabilitation and leaves too much of his emotional bonding with Gigi to montage (Hamm focuses much of his attention on the melodrama surrounding a potential law to ban capuchin monkeys as service animals). Aside from some mild cursing, Gigi & Nate is essentially a family movie that makes compelling points but isn’t a compelling watch. PG-13. RAY GILL JR. Bridgeport, Cedar Hills, Clackamas, Eastport Plaza, Evergreen Parkway, Hilltop, Lloyd Center.

SALOUM

** If movies were only their premises, Saloum could be one of 2022′s finest. When their escape plane starts leaking fuel, a trio of legendary West African mercenaries transporting a Mexican drug lord must pretend to be gold miners while waylaid in a Senegalese village with a haunting secret (sold?). On top of that, director Jean Luc Herbulot shoots the Saloum river delta with spaghetti Western pomp and breadth, while doing a low-budget Tarantino riff as antihero Chaka (Yann Gael) waxes poetic about post-colonialism over a tense, potentially cover-blowing dinner. But just as Herbulot’s powder keg of a narrative threatens to blow, an unwelcome hesitation creeps in. Action scenes are cheated around at the last possible moments—and a combination of hand-held camerawork, rapid cutting and hazy, colorless CG robs the audience of the cathartic violence and physicality you’d expect from a horror-revenge thriller-black hat Western amalgam. Genuine potential, though, is a rare thing. Saloum could’ve been this year’s Bacurau. For now, it’s best viewed as a glint of first-act promise (and a glimpse of what Herbulot could make with a few more million dollars and a VFX assist). NR. CHANCE SOLEM-PFEIFER. Streams beginning Sept. 8 on Shudder.

PETER VON KANT

** Given that Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant is a signature work of ‘70s European cinema, a remake isn’t a ridiculous idea. But the original certainly deserves a more illuminating interpretation than the one offered here by director François Ozon, who also adapted the Fassbinder play Water Drops on Burning Rocks. Whereas Petra embeds with a fashion designer cooped up in her apartment, chronicling her affairs with colleagues and muses, Peter von Kant gender-flips the lovesickness, centering a male film director in 1972 Cologne and the young man he molds into a star. Ozon (Swimming Pool) clearly relishes Peter’s homebound hedonism: His apartment has deep scarlet walls, a thousand gin-and-tonics, and robes for all seasons. Yet his film adds precious little to Fassbinder’s, constricting its emotions and meanings with literalism. Casting Fassbinder lookalike Denis Ménochet (Inglourious Basterds) as the titular film director, Peter loudly implies autobiography, even adding an ingénue (Amir Ben Salem, played by Khalil Ben Gharbia) obviously named for real-life Fassbinder lover and actor El Hedi ben Salem. What’s more, Ozon’s almost madcap storytelling (a sharp contrast with Petra’s languid ambiguity) creates a knowing soapiness that offers a few argumentative fireworks, but no reason for the audience to engage with the film’s characters or question their preordained fates. NR. CHANCE SOLEM-PFEIFER. Cinema 21.