Criticism, ‘The Fabelmans’ is the brilliant anecdotary of Steven Spielberg that seals his filmography

That Steven Spielberg premieres a movie should be considered quite an event if you call yourself a self-respecting movie lover. The author of indisputable classics such as ‘Jaws’, ‘Jurassic Park’, the ‘Indiana Jones’ trilogy, ‘Saving Private Ryan’ or ‘ET, the extraterrestrial’ (to mention a few of the zillion hundred he has) has spent all a life demonstrating why he is one of the best directors in history and carefully building an unbreakable legacy that has already left dozens of icons in pop culture in the form of phrases, characters, stills or scenes. But… What to do when you have achieved everything? Well, talk about you, of course. That’s what it’s about, no more, no less. ‘The Fabelmans’, the semi-autobiographical introspection of a formidable Spielberg at the height of his maturity who reflects on the value of broken families and the power of movies to alter our reality. So far, it has already won the Audience Award for Best Film at the Toronto Film Festival and two Golden Globes for Best Drama Film and Best Director.

'The Fabelmans'

Yes, Spielberg has done it again. And, on this occasion, he has perfected a subgenre that has been booming in recent years, that of directors who look to his past to verify his present. The list is getting longer: Kenneth Branagh with ‘Belfast’, Paul Thomas Anderson with ‘Licorice Pizza’, Richard Linklater with ‘Apollo 10½: A Space Childhood’, Paolo Sorrentino with ‘It was the hand of God’ or James Gray with ‘Armageddon Time’. The common denominator to all these fictions is that value of non-fiction, of memory, of retrospective on the part of filmmakers who travel back to their childhood and adolescence to explain their raison d’être and, hopefully, also contextualize the idiosyncrasies of the epoch. As expected, Spielberg has advanced everyone on the left by creating an honest portrait, without complacency or corniness, just love for cinema..

To do this, he had to consider something that seemed extremely difficult. Who was going to embody two crucial figures in Spielberg’s life as his own parents? And, above all, who was going to put himself in the shoes of Spielberg himself? The filmmaker circumvents these obstacles with solvency by aligning the (fictional) Fabelman family. Sammy Fabelman (Gabriel Labelle) is the alter ego of Spielberg, a boy from Arizona who, during the 50s and 60s, will be impregnated by the majesty of cinema.. Her father is Burt Fabelman (Paul Dano), a famous computer engineer, and his mother, Mitzi Fabelman (Michelle Williams), an eccentric artist.

art vs family

The film begins with one of the most difficult decisions for parents who are minimally concerned about the cinematographic education of their son or daughter: the first film. In this case, an excited Sammy, ready to absorb everything like a sponge, is taken to a movie theater by his parents to see ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’, almost like a premonition of what that child would do in later decades. Sammy is totally fascinated (with a shot that pays homage to ‘Cinema Paradiso’, by the way) by the collision of a train with a car and, from that exact moment, his existence changes forever. His career, professional and personal, will be subject to two fundamental pillars: love for his family and love for movies.

'The Fabelmans'

Spielberg shows off a magic as unusual in other filmmakers as it is already typical within his direction. He captures with precious images those specific moments that represent a before and after, where you remain captivated forever by the movies and their mystical aura. The filmmaker goes back to his memories to recall how the seventh art entered his life and forever revolutionized his way of understanding the world. However, it was not until adolescence that he rediscovered the medium by seeing the unbeatable ‘The Man Who Killed Liberty Valance’ on the big screen and he made the decision to dedicate himself to movies. Not just to see them, to direct them. The skepticism of his parents (more of his father than of his mother) corroborates that dichotomous discourse whose foundations Spielberg had been laying from the beginning. While for Burt it’s a hobby, for Sam it’s a job, a dream to come true. Even his uncle Boris (Judd Hirsch), who worked in Hollywood, suddenly appears to warn him, starring in one of the best scenes in the movie: “This industry will swallow you, art will leave you alone”. This maxim about burying your life in order to achieve work excellence, so masterfully explored by Damien Chazelle throughout ‘Whiplash’, ‘The City of Stars: La La Land’ or the recent ‘Babylon’, is presented here again. less extreme way. Spielberg moves away from Manichaeism to rescue the obvious chiaroscuro that is the backbone of every family. You will not find peace in the sacrifice for the cinema, not even the glory that you can achieve will be more worth it than a family picnic. However, Spielberg shows it without condescension, accepting that his predilection for movies is greater than any other fear or risk. It is what it is because it cannot be anything else, it cannot change it. A declaration of love as pure as it is dangerous, as incorruptible as it is harmful.

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For this reason, ‘Los Fabelmans’ is a declaration of love for cinema, with all that that entails. Between a condemnation to which the protagonist is doomed and salvation itself. The cause and consequence of family detachment is found in that same root. Sam’s character finds in the movies the reason to get away from his loved ones and, at the same time, the escape route that gives him the ability to dream, the painkiller with which to escape to other worlds and fantasize.. Spielberg applies a serious and adult look to passion understood as an obsession with something, with all the positive and negative that it brings.

Spielberg’s Underworlds

once during an interviewJames Lipton told Steven Spielberg that the ships in ‘Encounters of the Third Kind’ communicated using computer-made musical sounds. The reference tells itself: the mathematical and calculating part of his father’s computer engineering and the artistic creativity of his mother’s music. The paternal references (or the absence of them) have always been a constant in Spielberg’s cinema. From ‘ET’ to the dynamics between Harrison Ford and Sean Connery in ‘Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade’. Pragmatism versus feeling, the need to be useful in a job versus the essential to flow, to create and to break with the establishedeither. These underworlds that Spielberg has always had at hand merge into the life of a young Sam (brilliant Gabriel Labelle). Despite the differences of opinion, the Fabelman family seems idyllic, but an event will separate them, causing the divorce between Burt and Mitzi.

'The Fabelmans'

No matter how well known the separation of Spielberg’s parents was, the director portrays in a portentous way the dysfunctionality of a broken family. Moving away from tear-jerking dramas (which he has), he manages to capture the chaos, the bewilderment about the future, and the grief that each family member experiences when faced with news of this caliber. Spielberg traces a demystification of parents, turning them into humans who make mistakes and, precisely for this reason, loving them even more.. Ironically, broken families may be where the strongest ties are found. In any case, Spielberg pays tribute to his father and mother figures once and for all with ‘The Fabelmans’, praising his sacrifice and forgiving any flaws he may have discovered during his childhood and adolescence.

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With a disunited family, constant moves due to his father’s job and an incipient love for cinema, Sam ends up exploding after being bullied. Spielberg’s Judaism brought him serious headaches during his student days, to the point of being discriminated against in high schools. The director uses a helping of teen drama (with prom night included) to highlight the deep anti-Semitism that has always suffered; the one that, on the other hand, led him to sign the masterpiece that is ‘Schindler’s List’.

‘Los Fabelman’ thus stands as the ideal ending to an unrepeatable journey full of masterpieces. After having created several cult films, Spielberg puts the finishing touch to his filmography with a string of anecdotes narrated with an expert hand. But, although it would be a perfect and poetic end to his career, let’s cross our fingers that Spielberg still has some rope left for a while and can thus continue to amaze us as only he knows how to do.

Note: 8.

The best: The management of the intimate epic about the origins of a legendary director.

Worst: The drama about the divorce is not as potent as Sam’s infatuation with the movies.

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