Life begins with a movie: Steven Spielberg’s autobiography takes as its starting point a snowy January 1952 and a session of Cecil B. DeMille’s The Greatest Show in the World. Movies always start with a train – if you don’t believe me, ask the Lumière brothers or Edwin S. Porter. Is one possible without the other? That evening, for little Sammy-Steven (Matheo Zorion Francis-DeFord), it was forever clear that he was not. I want to take the magic of cinema home in my pocket, keep the projection on my palm, show my mother again and again and not let my waking dream evaporate after waking up. But magic is not born on its own: Hanukkah is coming soon, which means that you can ask for a railway as a gift and try to repeat the irreversible collision seen in the cinema.
Spielberg has been making films about himself and his family for half a century now: parental divorce and departing fathers in ET and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Jewish identity and the sense of an outsider in West Side Story, the burden of an outsider driven by bullies in Duel. For years, the director has left the touches of a self-portrait on the scale of universal upheavals, where behind big aliens, dinosaurs, treasure hunters and endless adventures, a small “me” was hiding. Today, Spielberg is extremely frank: “The Fabelmans” is a gentle, romanticized, but shamelessly sincere biography of the author’s childhood and youth. Everything that may seem fiction is the truth multiplied by two: the monkey in the living room, and shooting horror films with the sisters in the closet, and the painful separation of Mr. and Mrs. Spielberg dedicated West Side Story to his father, Fabelmans is an ode to his mother. Both are no longer alive, both wanted Spielberg to make a movie about the Spielbergs one day.
Fable and fiction are the road to recognition, but, more importantly, to acceptance: Stephen is the son of his parents, the offspring of the family, the successor of traditions. From dad and mom in it exactly half: the technical mindset and mechanical sequence of Arnold-Burt (expressive Paul Dano) and the infantilism and optimism of Leah Mitzi (extraordinary level of skill Michelle Williams). “The Fabelmans” is a psychotherapy session that lasts almost three hours and costs about $40 million. A frank conversation, confession, gratitude and the discovery of a secret that has never been a secret.
Spielberg and his longtime collaborator, screenwriter Tony Kushner, have created a coming-of-age story based on real events in quarantine: Sammy (Gabriel LaBelle took over) grows up, falls in love, quarrels with his mother in the kitchen and giggles with his sisters at the dinner table. Spielberg, the director, found the strength to take a few steps back, distance himself and see people in relatives. Close, understandable, imperfect, and therefore alive – now forever alive on film. You want to get to know the Fabelmans and play bridge in the backyard on weekends: you can’t help but feel respect for the gloomy engineer Bert and it’s impossible not to fall in love with “Peter Penk” Mitzi. And it was impossible for the mercurial lady not to fall in love with husband Benny’s (Set Rogan) best friend. Spielberg saves mom from the intonation of condemnation, once again turning the soul of a humanist outward. Hearts boomerang will return the sympathy of the audience.
Among the many reminiscence pictures that now and then break out in the filmographies of great authors (from Almodovar to Inarritu, from Gerwig to Gray), Fabelmans do not sin either with narcissism or with excessive sympathy for the director’s alter ego. The gentle irony and upbringing of the dreamer makes Spielberg’s confession related to Richard Linklater’s space tale Apollo 10 1/2, which came out a few months earlier. Like a gentle paternal pat on the shoulder and a frame-per-second “thank you.” Thank you for continuing to dream and not giving up.
Spielberg chuckles and admits that Gabriel LaBelle is much prettier than he once was, a flirtatiousness the director can afford. About the metamorphoses of the world in the optics of the camera “Fabelmany” they talk a lot, and willingly, and contagiously. The charlatan magic of the movie camera contains the algorithm of eternal love. The simplest little things in the frame turn into revelations, and a toy train in the basement can refract the light into a great catastrophe. In addition, you can compose a meeting with John Ford and ask David Lynch to play a great director. If you’re Steven Spielberg, you won’t be denied.
In the mirror of film, the 75-year-old Spielberg sees a sometimes capricious, sometimes selfish, but purposeful and sensitive boy who fills bumps and collects heart scratches. But Sammy is happy because he always knew what he wanted. And Steven is happy because he knows that he got what he wanted and even more. The Fabelmans were not awarded a happy ending: Mitzi and Bert parted, and Lea and Arnold will get back together 15 years after the breakup and live together until old age. Stephen ended up at the studio after a dozen school films – and this is not the end, this is just a happy beginning.