When it comes to cinematic masters none sits higher than Steven Speilberg. Decade after decade he has enchanted audiences with his imagination and ability to transport them into films that move from being action-packed and thrilling to deeply emotional and dramatic. Now in what is his most personal work ever, Spielberg returns behind the camera to show how his own love of cinema was born in The Fabelmans. And it is an utterly moving cinematic feat.
Growing up in post-World War II era Arizona, young Sammy Fabelman (Gabriel LaBelle) aspires to become a filmmaker as he reaches adolescence, but soon discovers a shattering family secret and explores how the power of films can help him see the truth.
Winding back the clock and looking back on the past with deep significance and nostalgia, Steven Spielberg, the man long regarded as the greatest cinematic visionary of all time charts a journey of a young man’s discovery of the cinema and a quest to know the power of the movies in The Fabelmans. Re-teaming with long-time collaborator and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright turned screenwriter Tony Kushner, Spielberg pulls from his own life to tell the story of a young man’s coming of age and how the movies would shape his destiny with The Fabelmans. This is a deeply personal and autobiographical film, but it is also delivered with deep reverence for the power of narrative, and it delves into the reasons why we choose to be enchanted by the cinema. Every frame and each story beat is a personal annotation by Spielberg on his own life as an aspiring filmmaker and you feel his deep passion for what is the most important story he’s ever told.
Framing his own life through the character of Samuel “Sammy” Fabelman (Gabriel LaBelle), a young Jewish-American teenager growing up in the late 1950s and early 1960s who discovers love, passion and talent for the art of cinema, we come to see the formative events that shaped Speilberg’s own life as an artist and filmmaker. And the results are astonishing. While this may be Spielberg’s story, we are treated to a sensational performance of rising young star Gabriel LaBelle at the centre of the film that captures the attention of the audience. Facing adolescent pains, family dramas and the desire for a dream that sometimes feels utterly impossible, we see the world through Sammy’s eyes, and more importantly his camera lens, and in the process, we see the formation of the talent of a young Spielberg in the process.
While LaBelle’s portrayal of Sammy might be the frame from which we view this story through, of key importance to the success of The Fabelmans are the presence of actors Michelle Williams and Paul Dano as Sammy’s parents Mitzi and Burt Fabelman. Where Mitzi is a talented performer and highly-strung woman who suffers deep emotional swings, Burt is his astute, closed off, and at times, cold scientific father, and it’s a juxtaposition that Spielberg was aware of in his own parents, which as it does for the young Sammy, had big ramifications for Spielberg’s own creative life. Williams gives an incredibly transformative performance as Mitzi and her performance commands the attention of the audience whenever she appears on the screen.
With its emotional story of the birth of a young man as an artist, The Fabelmans is also a complete technical wonder and Spielberg’s attention to detail and mastery of the craft is effortlessly seen on screen. Reuniting with frequent collaborator and celebrated cinematographer Janusz Kamiński, Speilberg and Kamiński work to re-create the style, light, tone and grain of classic 35mm film and the light and gleam on the image equate itself with the films of that era. The Fabelmans is a complete reflection of the era and the movies of that time period in which it set, and Speilberg and Kamiński bring that feeling to the big screen in relation to how the movie is shot and you get a sense of this when watching the images make their way on screen. The legendary John Williams also brings his talent to the picture and his score adds an extra layer of magic to The Fabelmans for audiences to experience.
The Fabelmans is a deeply emotional and profound cinematic experience and audiences will be spellbound by its sincerity, beauty and sentiment, and it asks its audience to think about what family, the passage of time, and the experiences that make up our lives truly mean to us. This is Spielberg at his most personal and introspective and the result is a truly astonishing and deeply personal work of art that will make you smile, laugh, giggle, cry and dream.
Image: Studio Canal