The Fabelmans Review: Spielberg’s very personal ode to Cinema

One of the most important directors of all-time, Steven Spielberg, responsible for massive hits such as Schindler’s List, Jaws and E.T., is back again. This time, with a very intimate, personal and Oscar-indicated tale: his story (or something like an autobiography). Perhaps a gift from great storytellers, Steven and co-writer Tony Kushner aim to transport you from reality, holding a grip onto the viewers, as the once realistic story is delicately shaped into a mystical and softer fable. Nevertheless, holding in high regard its metalinguistic aspects, as a love letter to cinema, whose magic and mystery have always been a constant in film and filmmakers’ lives, such as shown in Fellini’s 8 ½ and Tornatore’s Cinema Paradiso.

The film starts where it should: at the cinema, when young Sammy Fabelman (our protagonist portrayed Mateo Zoryon Francis-Deford, and later by Gabriel LaBelle) is  watching in awe a screening of Cecil B. DeMille’s The Greatest Show on Earth, particularly astonished by the train wreck scene on a big screen.

From there, the movie already sets its tone, as the subsequent scenes show us a lot about the Fabelmans, a somewhat traditional Jew family. In an attempt to recreate the train wreck scene with a little camera and a toy, Sammy is the target of multiple feedbacks, of encouragement and dissuasion, by his mother, Mitzi (Michelle Williams), and his father, Burt (Paul Dano), respectively, whose comments reflect deeply their personality.

A former concert pianist, Mitzi and her bold blond bob, are a force of nature and the emotional beacon of the movie as her facade of excitement hides the depression and frustration a monotonous life has taken on her never-tamed heart and creative impulses, one Samy is the inheritor of.

Her excitement and passion are counteracted by Burt, with his practical and engineer-like features, who despite his constant attempt isn’t able to make Mitzi happy.

Still, while in the east coast, they are able to maintain stability, their children are happy and love-filled, Sammy’s filmmaking abilities are just thriving  and their family dinners are accompanied by the children’s grandma and Bennie (Seth Rogen), a family ‘friend’ – one of the few people that can make Mitzi laugh.

However, the icy thin balance is broken by a succession of events, from the final family trip to the family’s move to California, due to a once in-life professional opportunity for Burt.

Therefore, the now grown-up Sammy, faced with family drama and schools conflicts (provided by an anti semitic group), is only left with his art to deal with the problems that have arrived – as his distant and peculiar Uncle Boris (a fantastic cameo by Judd Hirsch) advised previously:

“Art will give you crowns in heaven and laurels on Earth, but also, it will tear your heart out and leave you lonely. You’ll be a shanda [disgrace in Yiddish] for your loved ones. An exile in the desert. A gypsy. Art is no game! Art is dangerous as a lion’s mouth. It’ll bite your head off.”

Uncle Boris

Mixing artist and author, Spielberg and Kushner reflect on the tool art takes in oneself, mostly, how much of yourself is stolen, influenced and subtly drained when working with the creativity world.

Furthermore, it’s during that  turbulent time, Sammy makes one of his first prominent productions – a war feature, in which gunshots are made through roles in the movie tape. It’s also then, when editing a short clip on the family trip that the image of a perfect family is shattered, as the boy discovers his mom’s true feelings about ‘uncle’ Bennie.

Regardless, the clip is edited into a perfect fable and, once more, the director uses Sammy as a mirror, displaying his kinship for editing and shaping stories – one passion kept until these days. As the conflict progresses and Sammy’s movie making skills are refined, truths are confronted and resolutions are created.

Though not his most complex or compelling story, The Fabelmans is one of Spielberg’s most gentle and profound pictures, dazzling real and beautiful. A meditation on how life is turned artistry and how artistry impacts life.

Article by Mariana Sousa


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