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Movie Review: I Want More From Victor Nunez

Someone I’ve always wished I’d seen more from is Victor Nunez. He’s made just a handful of films, but two of them were among the very best of the 1990s. He has a style that’s as gentle and patient as I think I’ve ever seen, with a generosity that’s remarkable and rare.

Recently, his 1993 movie Ruby in Paradise was rereleased—it’s the movie that gave Ashley Judd her first starring role, as a young woman who leaves a dead-end life in Tennessee for an oceanside town in Florida. She gets a job at a store that caters to tourists, has a fling with a crummy guy, has a longer thing with a somewhat better guy, and sort of just tries to see what life has for her next. Nunez lets Ruby make mistakes, and try things out, and lets that be ok. He notices modest people with modest dreams, and knows they’re important as people-- maybe even because of that modesty, not despite it.

A few years later, he made Ulee’s Gold, the best movie of 1997. Its style is so incredibly understated that it takes time to settle into it and it can sometimes feel stilted, but it’s in service of a greater purpose. Peter Fonda plays Ulee Jackson, a stoic, widowed Vietnam vet and beekeeper whose jailed son’s old cohorts pop up to demand a stash of long-lost money, leading to serious trouble for Ulee, his granddaughters, and his drug-addicted daughter-in-law. Nunez somehow maintains his calm through the entire movie, so that what would be a violent climax in nearly any other film is instead another insight into Ulee. So much of what we see is intensely internal, the storm inside Ulee is something he’s learned to suppress, and while he has undoubtedly changed by the end of the film, the movements aren’t seismic, they’re small and human-sized.

And this is what Nunez offers—human-sized stories that understand life isn’t a movie, but that still make for exceedingly watchable movies. And now, somehow, the fact that he’s only made a few movies feels entirely appropriate.

Fletcher Powell has worked at KMUW since 2009 as a producer, reporter, and host. He's been the host of All Things Considered since 2012 and KMUW's movie critic since 2016. Fletcher is a member of the Critics Choice Association.