Love in Kilnerry

Love in Kilnerry has all the elements of classic British comedies that juxtapose quaint conservative settings with something risque (The Full Monty, Kinky Boots, Calendar Girls, etc.). The film trades an England locale for a sleepy New England town that looks like it belongs in a snow globe, populated with close-knit residents who live quiet and repressed lives. The gorgeous landscape shots are brightly lit: the autumnal colors and green valleys nearly pop off the screen. The town residents are afraid of change and often sweep their unhappiness under the rug, whether from a failing marriage, losing a loved one, or pining after someone but being too shy to confess their attraction. 

Their picturesque world is rocked when a representative from the Environmental Protection Agency holds a town meeting and explains that a local factory has been dumping toxic byproducts into the water supply. This may cause some side effects such as a ravenous libido that the straight-laced town sheriff Gary O’Reilly (an affable Daniel Keith) must try to control. Keith also writes and directs Love in Kilnerry which allows him to balance such fantastic performances from a large ensemble. Much to the chagrin of Nessa (Kathy Searle in an adorably high-strung role) who has a crush on him, Gary must resist succumbing to the aphrodisiac so that he can stop the townspeople’s crazy antics such as having public sex or riding their bikes naked. 

It’s refreshing to see a film that focuses on older characters, with the majority of them being over 50 years old. The premise of elders spouting profanity-laden zingers and engaging in raunchy sex acts (complete with dominatrix outfits, orgies, and sex dungeons!) is, obviously, played for laughs, but the film never makes fun of them for being sexual at an old age. Rather, the humor is found in the relief these winsome characters feel now that they are free of their inhibitions. The talented ensemble is able to make these silly and exaggerated moments feel genuine. 

There’s a kernel of sweetness in the lewd comedy that keeps Love in Kilnerry from being exploitative, largely drawn from the quaintness of the town and its inhabitants. Occasionally the jokes are a bit too over-the-top and cringy, and the side plots and various characters are hard to keep track of, but overall the film is a delightful whirlwind of a farce. Love in Kilnerry is a quirky, sex-positive tale about opening yourself up to new experiences that is irresistibly charming. 

Belle Vie

At the heart of Marcus Mizelle’s Belle Vie is Vincent Samarco, a passionate French immigrant whose warm and jovial demeanor has you fully invested in his difficult journey bringing his restaurant Belle Vie (meaning “the good life”) to his Los Angeles community. Slideshows of close-up images detail the delicious food that he so finely crafts. Mizelle’s film is a medley of small, intimate observations into Samarco’s domestic life, family history, and relationships with his workers— all of the human details that go into his trade. 

Belle Vie is not your average food documentary as it explores the impact of COVID-19 on hardworking restauranters like Samarco. Despite all of the struggles to remain open during California’s harsh restrictions, Samarco maintains a positivity that is inspiring.  He reflects on the importance of restaurants and other public institutions to find kinship and camaraderie with others. Belle Vie was the heart of many people’s lives, a space for good music, conversation, and meeting new friends. In this modern age of remote work and staring in front of our computer screens all day, Samarco’s heartfelt interviews about the virtues of human connection are quite moving to hear. 

One of the unique things that Samarco did during the pandemic was let patrons contribute their favorite memories on a chalk drawing that looked like the inside of Belle Vie covering the facade of the restaurant. Mizelle’s combination of talking head interviews and fly-on-the-wall shots of Samarco and his wife Ornella is very engaging, especially as they fight to keep Belle Vie open while the state piles on more and more constraints. Samarco’s earnest love of cooking and community, as well as his good-natured presence, makes Belle Vie an uplifting work in spite of the disheartening ending. Through its hardworking and cheerful main subject, the affectionate documentary Belle Vie delivers a powerful message about persevering despite the worst and most uncertain of times. It is exactly the kind of comfort food we need in this post-pandemic world.