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Two September movies you should see

Monitor film critic Peter Rainer was most impressed this month by a film about a young woman who says she has seen the Virgin Mary and a documentary about young people entering a science fair.

COURTESY OF NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC
MYLLENA BRAZ DE ZILVA (R.) AND GABRIEL DE MOURA MARTINS APPEAR IN “SCIENCE FAIR.”

These two movies stood out to Monitor film critic Peter Rainer as the best to be released during the month of September.

‘The Apparition’ focuses on issues of faith, truth

Most religiously themed mainstream movies tend to be either of “The Da Vinci Code” variety or, much less frequently, something arty like Paul Schrader’s chilly, ascetic “First Reformed.” The French film “The Apparition” is a bit like both. Neither of these approaches is sustained or made truly satisfying, but at least there are ideas knocking around in this movie that, despite its overlong 144 minutes, are worth the time.

Jacques Mayano (Vincent Lindon) is a French investigative journalist recently returned from a Middle East assignment. Jacques is unexpectedly called upon by the Vatican, chosen to join an official canonical investigation committee to look into the claims of a rural 18-year-old French woman, Anna (Galatéa Bellugi), who says she has been visited in her small village by the Virgin Mary.

The big question, of course, is this: Is she telling the truth? Giannoli spends so much time dwelling on Jacques’s digging that naturally we expect the mystery to be solved by the end. And, in a sense, it is, though in a slapdash way that does not do justice to the ambiguities of what came before. The film starts out all-encompassing and ends up reductive. Perhaps he was afraid of making a “religious” movie that was too religious. But in dealing with such deep-dish issues as the provability or necessity of faith, why dumb down? Grade: B+ (This movie is not rated.)

Documentary 'Science Fair' showcases humble hopefuls

“Science Fair” is a documentary about the run-up to the 2017 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF). Directed by Darren Foster and Cristina Costantini (a two-time Intel ISEF finalist), this “festival favorite” winner at Sundance follows a bevy of entrants, culled for the national competition from 1,700 kids in 78 countries, as they show off their smarts. 

What’s especially gratifying is that these (mostly) high-schoolers aren’t only smart; they’re modest. Certainly raging egos are ever present in the scientific community, as everywhere else, but the filmmakers have focused on a group who by and large seem genuinely humbled by the opportunity to present their findings to a panel of judges from the uppermost academic realms. The cast of characters is highly diverse, united only by their love for science and discovery.

I wish the filmmakers had focused more searchingly on the lives of these young people away from the labs; had included more about their families; had at least attempted to explain in more detail the intricacies of their experiments; and didn’t gear the entire movie toward the Big Reveal of winners and “losers” at the end (which I won’t, of course, reveal). But it’s impossible not to be charmed by these students.

Grade: B+ (Rated PG for some thematic elements and brief language.)

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