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MOVIES: Shirley (Berlinale 2020) - Review: "A Portrait of an Outspoken Writer"

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The list of movies that have been chosen to be part of Berlinale 2020 is impressive: many great films are being shown to the journalists and to the audience, but the one that struck and impressed me the most is Shirley.

Shirley is a new movie directed by Madeline's Madeline Josephine Baker, and it explores the encounter between Shirley Jackson and her husband Prof. Stanley Hyman, two intense and peculiar personalities, and Fred Nemser, a young graduate student who moves to their house along with his wife Rose. As the story progresses, we get to know how The Lottery’s writer is tormented by her inner demons and by an almost mad approach to writing. All four protagonists are characterized as wickedly unconventional and throughout their interactions, the viewer ends up in a rabbit hole of uncomfortable, or just tense moments. 

When Shirley gets under your skin and utterly shines is just after the metanarrative dimension explodes: three narrative levels are overlapping, and the guiding thread is Shirley Jackson’s process of writing. Coming from a series of conventional and repetitive movies dealing with the most challenging aspects of being an author and struggling with inspiration, this film stands out because of its almost surgical precision when it gets to explore the composition of Shirley’s novel.

Elisabeth Moss is at her artistic peak, and she explodes in her performance. After The Handmaid’s Tale, we are all familiar with her incredible talent, but as Shirley Jackson, she gets even more space to just be brilliant. The music, the editing, the cinematography, the movements of the camera are all in synch and give to the viewer a hypnotic experience.

All in all, in its odd mix of aspects belonging to horror, thriller, and drama, Shirley is a powerful story of learning to look at reality in a more introspective and creative way. Throughout the writing, or throughout human empathy, there is always something to learn, and scenes to be amazed of. It is an entertaining and compelling ride that will receive much praise.

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