Maria by Callas

⋆⋆⋆½ out of four stars

Rated: PG.

Theater: Edina.

 

Maria Callas’ fans, and they were many, called her “La Divina,” the divine one, and this film shows the reasons why.

Closer to a deity than a singer to her devotees, she was an extraordinary opera star who brought dramatic intensity and emotional intelligence to her roles, not to mention an offstage life that included a much publicized love affair with one of the world’s wealthiest men, fellow Greek Aristotle Onassis. Everything she did made newspaper headlines.

But who was she, and what was it like to be in her presence? Director Tom Volf initially planned to make a conventional documentary to answer these questions and, in fact, spent a year interviewing 30 friends of the great diva, who died in 1977 at age 53.

But then he changed direction. He decided it would be more intimate and revealing to do a film on Callas almost entirely in her own words, using performance footage, TV interviews and home movies, as well as letters and unpublished memoirs movingly read by contemporary opera luminary Joyce DiDonato.

The result works just as Volf planned. While “Maria by Callas” is short on facts and biographical detail, it expertly presents an emotional essence of this performer, leaving you both shaken and stirred by the extent of her gifts and the way they connected to both audiences and her tumultuous life.

Despite her great gifts, Callas as an adult felt she had been pushed too hard into having an operatic career, first by her domineering mother and then by her husband, Giovanni Battista Meneghini. She would have given it all up to have children and a domestic existence, she reveals in a 1970 interview with David Frost that was thought to be lost, “but destiny is destiny and there is no way out.”

That conflict between personal and professional personas was key, Callas felt, to her life. “There are two people in me actually; there is Maria but also Callas,” she told Frost. “I have to live up to all of myself. ... I cannot learn the art of being a hypocrite.” Her fans wouldn’t have it any other way.

Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times

El Angel

⋆⋆½ out of four stars

Rated: Not rated; in subtitled Spanish.

Theater: Lagoon.

 

This 1970s-set crime feature was inspired by real-life killer Carlos Robledo Puch, who has served more than 45 years in prison in Argentina. Carlitos (Lorenzo Ferro) explains that it was his destiny to be a thief.

The movie opens with the willowy Carlitos, whose soft features and curls eventually earn him the nickname “The Angel of Death,” breaking into a house, dancing in it and then stealing a motorcycle, which he tells his mother was a loan from a friend. “People are always lending you things,” she remarks.

Soon a classmate, Ramón (Chino Darín), introduces him to his criminal parents. The foursome briefly have the makings of a successful ring, until it becomes clear that the impulsive, disloyal Carlitos, held out as a potential sexual partner for all three, takes far more pleasure in living dangerously.

Director Luis Ortega’s decidedly modest achievement is to put viewers in the shoes of a sociopath, a character for whom murder is so casual that he doesn’t even waste time to blink before shooting a truck driver or a security guard. Carlitos’ sole reason for living is moving from one transgression to the next.

The same might be said of the movie, which superficially probes his amorality while exploiting it for slick thrills. The filmmakers offer no insight — only an invitation to gaze into a terrifying black hole.

Ben Keningsberg, New York Times

Border

⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars

Rated: R for violence, nudity, sex and profanity; in subtitled Swedish.

Theater: Lagoon.

 

If you want, this is a horror movie involving strange beast people. But it’s also an allegory of how we treat outsiders, from migrants to those who don’t love the same way we do. Either way, it’s creepy and disturbing and freaky, with enough room to find whatever subtext you’re looking for.

Based on a novella by Swedish writer John Ajvide Lindquist, the central character is Tina (Eva Melander), a rough-looking customs agent who has an uncanny knack of sniffing out travelers who are trying to bring in contraband. But she’s not the human version of a drug-sniffing dog, because Tina smells feelings.

Of course, it takes us a while for us (and Tina) to know why it happens and what that means for her. It’s all tied into the scars on her body and the hair in unexpected places and the hint of a tail, not to mention the appearance of a man with some unusual appetites and a familiar look to him.

This impressive pile of weirdness was directed by director Ali Abbasi, whose only previous film was the 2016 horror movie “Shelley.” It takes us on a wild ride, with black comedy bringing laughs that catch in the throat when Tina’s professional and personal lives unexpectedly collide. “Border” is dark and unsettling and proudly deranged. It seems destined to become a midnight movie for the artiest of art houses.

Steve Pond, The Wrap