Reel Dad: ‘Diane’ breathes with life and hope


She fills her days by doing things for others.
Though she lives one of the final chapters of her life, she does not consider herself finished with helping people. She picks up groceries for some. Takes others on outings. Serves food at a kitchen for the homeless. Endlessly listens to her relatives. And continues to believe in a son who many may have walked away from years before.
But Diane defines herself by how she gives, how she shares.
In this lovely film from Kent Jones, Diane becomes a thoughtful, layered woman who may use how she cares for others to substitute how she should care for herself. Rather than take the time to examine what makes her hurt about her world, she adds one more “to do” to her list. Rather than say “no” to others, so she can say “yes” to herself, she fills her days and evenings with commitments that protect her from looking too closely in the mirror. Calendars filled with activity can mask the loneliness this woman may feel.

Jones, a skilled documentarian who also serves as the director of each fall’s New York Film Festival, writes and directs his first narrative film with the confidence of a veteran. From the first frame, he deliberately slows the speed of the story to enable us to absorb the detail. Yes, we watch what Diane writes on her list and, yes, we notice the surroundings her son lives in and, yes, we savor each expression of each of her extended and eccentric family members. Because Jones dares to take the time to build the characters and situations, we find ourselves at the center of a complete experience this woman lives every day.
The filmmaker also fills his screen with remarkable performers who bring some of their best work. In Mary Kay Place, an actress who never gets to do as much as we hope she will do in film, he finds the perfect collaborator, a woman who uses each facial expression to convey a feeling essential to the story, an actress comfortable enough with who she is and what she conveys that she feels little need to create overly dramatic moments to show her skills. Instead, the actress simply becomes the woman and makes us believe every moment.
She is joined by a deep collection of supporting players who bring texture to the story, from the skilled work of veteran Estelle Parsons, who should show up in many more movies than she does, to the subtle nuance of the delightful Andrea Martin, a stage actress who illuminates every scene she’s in. These two woman become anchors for Diane as a person and for the film as an exploration. How they see Diane, and her reasons for giving so much, help us understand what this woman needs to confront.
Movies that examine people work when the people reach beyond the screen to sit by us in the theater. When “Diane” ends, we feel we have experienced more than a film, we feel lucky enough to have spent time with a remarkable woman who simply needs to learn how to say “no.”

Film Nutritional Value: “Diane”

Content: High. At its core Diane is a beautifully-written and directed exploration of how guilt can travel through generations.
Entertainment: High. Even with its meaningful subject matter, Diane is an accessible film because the central character is so engaging.
Message: High. This meaningful film reminds us that negative events in our lives can repeat unless we learn from our mistakes.
Relevance: High. Any opportunity to talk with older children about the realities of family relationships can be valuable.
Opportunity for Dialogue: High. After you share this film, talk with your older children about the different ways characters handle guilt in the film, and what it teaches them about how people can protect each other.
“Diane” is not rated. The film runs 1 hour, 35 minutes. It is available in theaters and on iTunes.

‘Sarah’s Key’ is authentic, moving Holocaust drama

For some reason, “Diane” reminded me of this drama from 2011.

Not because the plots are at all similar, simply because the women at the center manage to find solace in the midst of chaos.

“Sarah’s Key” reminds us of the significance of a period of time without letting the period trap its dramatic potential. Instead of offering a familiar view of another chapter in the Holocaust story, the film carefully places this event within a broader narrative of a present-day woman trying to bring perspective to past tragedies. Through her eyes and words, we remember the events with sadness, and we see how history could easily repeat itself.

In Paris, in 1942, Jewish families are targeted by the Nazis for transport to death camps. When one family, living in a modest apartment, is told to go with some 13,000 others to the Velodrome cycling stadium, the youngest daughter quickly hides her younger brother in the bedroom closet for safety. She later fears she made the decision too quickly as guilt begins to haunt her journey.

In the present day, a magazine writer living in Paris becomes fascinated by this little-known chapter in World War II history. As she begins her research, and begins to remodel the same apartment, she discovers a connection between those tragic events of 1942 and her husband’s family. They took over the apartment shortly after the Jewish family was taken away and this writer thinks they might have been involved with what happened to these people. As with the young girl years before, guilt haunts this lady’s attempt to discover truth.

In a creative balancing act, the story from the past teaches a part of the Holocaust we seldom hear about as the present-day narrative prompts us to consider what meaning the Holocaust must continue to inspire. By connecting the past and present stories, director Gilles Pacquet-Brenner creatively makes the film something more than a recreation of the past; the focus on the present makes the story relevant to what we observe in the world today.

Such a combination of stories could be difficult to manage as one could easily overwhelm the other. But the two narratives naturally connect through the beautifully realized detail of the production design, costumes and direction. By this time, because we have seen many films about the Holocaust, we have certain expectations of how they will look and be staged. Director Pacquet-Brenner defies tradition by shooting what could be overly familiar sequences, during the roundups and in the camp, in thrilling new ways. Because he looks at the story through the writer’s present-day lens he, as a director, envisions the circumstances in a fresh manner.

Kristin Scott Thomas is, as always, a marvel as the present-day writer, seamlessly shifting from English to French in her spoken word and never varying in her dramatic intensity. She continues to do fabulous work, primarily in French films, as a character actress who always brings a fresh approach and authentic interpretation.

Tragically, the personal impact of the Holocaust spans generations. The pain from this period, even today, haunts those who pass on the stories of those personally impacted. Movies like “Sarah’s Key” are important to teach and inspire us to make certain that history does not repeat. And, in the hands of such a creative filmmaker, a lesson can also entertain.

“Sarah’s Key” is rated PG-13 for thematic material including disturbing situations involving the Holocaust. The film runs 113 minutes.