SIGNIS REVIEWS APRIL 2013
ADVENTURES IN ZAMBEZIA
CHEERFUL WEATHER FOR THE WEDDING
COMPANY YOU KEEP, The
ESCAPE FROM PLANET EARTH
IRON MAN 3
OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN
OTHER SON, THE/ LE FilS DE L’AUTRE
PLACE BEYOND THE PINES, The
RUST AND BONE
SLEEPWALK WITH ME
SONG FOR MARION
ADVENTURES IN ZAMBEZIA
South Africa, 2012
Voices of: Jeremy Suarez, Abigail Breslin, Leonard Nimoy, Samuel L. Jackson, Jeff Goldblum, Richard E. Grant, Jenifer Lewis,
Directed by Wayne Thornley.
An animated adventure for families and younger children. And from South Africa. Quite an achievement for the Cape Town studio which produced it. Not as elaborate in animation, characters and backgrounds as contemporary American big-budget productions, but effective nonetheless. There are rather naturalistic backgrounds, desert, rivers and waterfalls, jungle islands. The characters, birds and giant lizards, are traditional in their drawing style. A pity that the producers decided that most of the voice cast should be American rather than local. Marketing demands, one presumes.
And Zambezia is not so far from Madagascar, though it doesn’t have as many zany animals as the American series. The focus here is on birds. First of all, we see a young bird (voiced by Jeremy Suarez) and his widower father (voiced by Samuel L. Jackson), isolated from other birds, the father trying to protect his son.
There are some scavenger birds, quite ugly buzzard-looking – and with extraordinary Pommy accents courtesy of Richard E. Grant. Not only do they threat but there are huge, semi-dinosaur-looking lizards, who threaten the birds (and do a deal with the buzzards).
The young bird flies the coop and joins birds travelling to Zambezia, a kind of huge aviary Utopia, near a waterfall. All is delightful here, a whole range of birds and beauty, paradise. But then the lizards threaten. The battle proves that community works best together, even in heroics. ‘No bird is an island’. This message seems important for South Africa post-apartheid, that many groups can live together, work together, prosper together and defend itself common enemies.
Caleb Landry Jones, Sarah Gadon, Malcolm Mc Dowell, Sheila Mc Carthy, Wendy Crewson.
Directed by Brandon Cronenberg.
Weird. And that is a compliment.
This is a very striking film, the atmosphere of science-fiction, with touches of horror, in a world of the future not unlike the present.
This soon becomes apparent as we stare at huge billhoard advertising a clinic with a glamorous face endorsing the expertise of the clinic. But, below right, is a scrawny-looking man with a thermometer in his mouth. This framing of advertisement and a man is done with the framing-style of a stills photographer – and this continues through the film enhancing the themes with a strange formality and beauty. Many of the sets, waiting rooms, laboratories are filmed in this way. As are the frequent sinister sets of dingy apartments, piracy centres for stealing patents as well as abbatoir-like labs for cultivating the tissues for viruses.
That’s the tone. But, almost immediately we learn that the clinic is in the business of making money from the macabre desires of fans of celebrities. They so want to be one with their idols that, even when the celebrity is ill or dying (and, by the end, when they are dead), that the fans want to be injected with the virus of their illness.
Macabre is the appropriate word for this kind of ugly hero-worship, but we might be thinking that the role of plastic surgery, botox, breast implants and other procedures we are familiar with are really in the same vein.
The gaunt young man of the opening is Syd March, an employee and adviser at the clinic. However, a loner, he smuggles viruses out of the clinic, despite strict security checks, and develops them at home to sell to piracy bidders and rival companies. Needless to say, this will involve him in some violence (towards him) and his being subject to experimentation.
Caleb Landry Jones gives a seemingly effortless performance that requires him to range from normal, or what he thinks is normal, to being ill, crippled, hobbling with a stick. He is pallid, very freckled, with sometimes stringy hair and a ponytail. As the film progresses, as he hobbles with his stick, he resembles characters like Igor in the Dracula stories.
The mention of Dracula reminds us that, while the film is not horror in the gory sense, its implications are horrifying. The laboratories are the 21st century equivalent of Frankenstein’s with viral blood making monsters instead of electricity. The blood suggests vampires, more than suggested by the final image of the film.
Of course, this is not a film one is going to recommend indiscriminately. Its implications are frightening. There are some repulsive moments illustrating the themes. But, one of the roles of a film-maker is to offer frightening allegories. Writer-director, Brandon Cronenburg is only in his mid-20s. This is his first film. It has a stylish weirdness that is impressive. In fact, he is the son of David Cronenberg who, in the 1970s, was making similar (but even more macabre) films like Shivers , Rabid, The Brood and, in the 1980s, The Fly. Judging from this effort, Brandenberg might well emulate his father in his most significant career.
Directed by Jeff Orlowski
No matter where one stands on global warming, the photography of ice, its shapes, extent, iceberg-forming, melting, is quite extraordinary in its beauty as well as in its scope.
James Bolag pursued geomorphic studies at university but was not interested in science through statistics and computer modeling to continue. He took up photography, producing books of nature studies when he decided to go to the Arctic Circle to photograph the ice. Wary of global warming, he was overwhelmed by what he saw in the ice floes, the ice packs, the icebergs, and decided that this was to be his subject. Which means that he is the subject of this film as well as the ice.
The film has a commentary about Bolag and his career, his pursuits, his intrepid following the ice, despite physical difficulties and injuries. It also shows a number of his dedicated assistants in his project of placing time-lapse cameras in different countries of the Arctic, Iceland, Greenland, Alaska, as well as sponsorship from organisations like National Geographic and the establishing of Extreme Ice Survey (EIS).
The director, Jeff Orlowski, also a cinematographer, followed Bolag in his exploits and has assembled a great deal of his footage to illustrate what is happening in the Arctic Circle and with the Arctic ice and its melting. With his cameras in place, sometimes in very difficult places, which required ice-tracking skills and mountain climbing, there will be data available over years so that scientists can study what is happening with the Arctic ice.
Because of his lack of interest in statistics and modeling, the film works with its visual impact as well as its emotional impact. This will be welcomed by many people, and popular audiences, who feel bombarded by statistics but need this kind of anchoring in reality, no matter how subjective the approach of the film-makers, to be really aware of the consequences of warming. On the other hand, those who are skeptical about global warming, will not be impressed by beautiful images, challenging images, the course they are not hard science, hard evidence.
Nevertheless, Chasing Ice is well worth seeing for those images.
This blogger who wants science rather than photography and emotion puts that point of view plainly:
Yes, the photography is lovely, yes the photographer passes himself off as heroic, yes the locations chosen are amazing. But this film contributes next to nothing to our understanding of glacial melt or AGW. It is most unfortunate that someone such as he, who once claimed disbelief in the science of global warming, would be so assuming as to think he could take a couple of years worth of photographs, and thereby produce "better" or shall we say more compelling, evidence than thousands of scientists. To those out there so naive of science, please hear this: modelling and statistical inferences are thousands of times more valid evidence of global warming than a couple of lovely photos, PLEASE update your perception of the world! These photos are but anecdotal, they contribute nothing to the understanding of AGW. (IMDb, Tracy from Montreal)
CHEERFUL WEATHER FOR A WEDDING
Felicity Jones, Luke Treadaway, Elizabeth McGovern?.
Directed by Donald Rice.
The title sounded like that of the comedy, I Give it a Year. But, then the credits sequence, which shows the detail of the printing press and the wedding invitation, indicate that it is 1932. And, back we go, something like entering a time capsule of the period and being trapped there, an alien world of British upper class, some upstairs and downstairs, some clipped and arch dialogue – ‘I’ve missed your custard’, ‘I must go and tend to the partridges’, ‘why did you come…?’. There are some idle rich, cricket games, a benign canon who says grace before meals in Latin, a key focus which is a tortoise, and a preoccupation with the niceties of the wedding. And, you realise almost instantly that you would say of this marriage, ‘I wouldn’t give it a year, let alone a day’.
Enjoyment will depend on frustration tolerance of most of the characters and their hyper-worried concerns.
Felicity Jones is Dolly. The action of the film takes place on her wedding day with flashbacks in brighter hues to her romance of the previous summer. Felicity Jones can be a very good actress (from Page Eight to Hysteria to Chalet Girl), but she spends most of the film pouting, a petulant-bride-to-be. She is cheerful, however, in the flashbacks. Luke Treadaway seems a nice enough chap, an anthropologist who has been invited to the wedding – and we soon realise (before the flashbacks) why he came. He does deserve some sympathy for the way he has been treated. Elizabeth McGovern? (who appears in Downton Abbey) is generally over-melodramatic, urging her daughter on and disliking the nice young chap. There is Dolly’s sister, Kitty, who is seems to be in the compensation for being the younger sister mode. Mackenzie Crook and Fenella Woolgar do have some scenes with acidic line-dropping (her forte, with him as the target). And there is the maid of honour who rather fancies the canon, who seems likely to comply. And so on.
Of course, many audiences are happy to re-visit this world (think of the versions of E.M. Forster novels). Potential audiences will probably turn up for day sessions because at night they want to be at home watching Downton Abbey.
This one is definitely a matter of taste and interest. Alternate results will be delight or irritation. This review may well have given clues to the reviewer’s response!
THE COMPANY YOU KEEP
Robert Redford, Shia La Boeuf, Julie Christie, Susan Sarandon, Stanley Tucci, Chris Cooper, Nick Nolte, Richard Jenkins, Terrence Howard, Anna Kendrick, Sam Elliott, Brendan Gleeson, Brit Marling, Jackie Evancho, Stephen Root.
Directed by Robert Redford.
This thriller will be something of a gift for those audiences who like an old fashioned drama (although listening in, unwillingly, some younger viewers chatted critically about how conservative the film was in technique and in political stances). It is an FBI story, the pursuit of some criminals from the 1960s and 1970s. However, it is far more complicated than that description.
We are taken back to the Vietnam War and the protests, especially in the late sixties and into the seventies, with such groups as the Weather Underground. Stirred by the loss of life in Vietnam, the reaction of police on campuses like that of Kent State, they moved into action rather than mere protest. The characters in this film were involved in a bank robbery at the time when one of the staff was killed.
The tone of the film is set by Robert Redford. He has directed the film as well as taking the central role, a sympathetic protester from the past who had settled in Albany, under a false name, as a reputed lawyer. He has a young teenage daughter - which rather strains the credibility of the film, granddaughter might have been more appropriate since Redford was 75 at the making of the film. However, if we accept this, and the sympathetic performance of the young Jacki Evancho, we will stay believing in him. When discovered, he goes on the run, not to evade the FBI as it emerges, but to prove his innocence in the charge of murder. He wants to do this for his daughter.
In fact, this is how the film starts, with another member of the group, happily married, determined to give herself up for the sake of her children. She is played by Susan Sarandon - who has a strong scene in prison being interviewed by a reporter and explaining her actions and motives.
The reporter is played by Shia La Boeuf in his earnest, agitated manner, a blend of naiveté and self-satisfaction. Which makes the film one of FBI pursuit as well as of journalistic investigation. It would seem from the screenplay that the journalist is more effective than the FBI.
The film is interesting when it shows Redford on the run, with his daughter, relying on his younger brother, Chris Cooper, to take her in. He skillfully eludes pursuit, meets up with various friends and associates from the past, including Nick Nolte and Richard Jenkins. He also confronts the officer in charge of the investigation at the time of the robbery and killing, Brendan Gleeson, and his daughter, Brit Marling. (And Stanley Tucci, Sam Elliott and Anna Kendrick are also in the cast.)
However, his main objective is to track down former partner and lover, Mimi, played, surprisingly, by Julie Christie. This is important as she is the only one who could prove his innocence, but the difficulty is that she would have to give herself up to the authorities.
Terrence Howard leads the FBI and is intent on getting results. Shia LaBoeuf?, however, has started the expose, has been challenged by Redford's character about his integrity and his plans for building his reputation.
This means that there are quite a number of moral issues from the past: the protest about the Vietnam War and some of the violent consequences, the role of the police and the FBI and about some people being able to live anonymously despite their past. And there are moral issues from the present: the relentless action of the FBI without examining circumstances of those they pursue, of the role of the media, the expose and its consequences, and what should be done about those who give themselves up after 30 years or more on the run.
In asking those questions, we realize that there could have been far more in the film than showing Redford's story and his choice of playing a seemingly ambiguous character who is actually a good man. Further examination of the stories of the characters played by Julie Christie, Susan surrender, Nick Nolte and Richard Jenkins would have made for an even better and more challenging film.
Myles Pollard, Xavier Samuel, Sam Worthington, Lesley- Ann Brandt, Robyn Malcolm, Aaron Glenane, Steve Bastoni.
Directed by Ben Nott, Morgan O’Neill?.
Drift is a Western Australian film, made in Western Australia, around the Margaret River region. It should do no damage to the West Australian tourism authority and its advertising!
It will be entertaining for those who enjoy surfing and surfing films. It will be especially entertaining for those who were teenagers and young adults in the 1970s, a chance for reminiscing, looking at the clothing styles of the time, listening to the music, remembering the language, some ideals and some hopes and, of course, disappointments.
The film begins strikingly in black and white, a mother taking the car keys from her drunken husband’s pocket, putting her two sons and the luggage into the car and driving through the different landscapes of Australia to Margaret River. It then makes the transition to color, the young boys seeing the surf, the beaches, the cliffs and wanting to settle there. It is not instantly easy, the boys being teased because they came from the east, which leads to some fights and punch ups.
However, the main part of the film takes place when they grow up. Myles Pollard plays the older son, Andrew, good at surfing, but injuring his ankle on his arrival and having to be rescued by his younger brother, Jimmy. Andrew is the responsible son, working at the local mill, Jimmy is carefree, and the local surfing champion. Jimmy is played by Xavier Samuel (a more exuberant role than usual). The mother is hardworking, sewing for a living. She is played effectively by Robyn Malcolm.
The boys encounter a couple from Hawaii. JB is Australian (Sam Worthington) but an itinerant, going from surf to surf, thinking Indonesia has the ideal surf - and bringing back drugs from Indonesia. He has been entrusted with a young Hawaiian girl, Lani, (Leslie Ann Brandt). Both young men are attracted.
There is a moment when Andrew is offered a better job at the mill but he declines and the decides to set up his own company, making surfboards with the help of a boyhood friend, Gus (Aaron Glenane). The mother will make the wet suits. They have some moments of success but cannot compete with the bigger companies.
Some complications come with the local bikies and with drug dealing, Gus becoming addicted.
In order to pay off some debt, Andrew decides to go into the regional surfing competition, clashing with Jimmy who goes off by himself up the coast. After some initial success, Andrew loses but Jimmy comes back to take his place, with some daring riding of the waves and daring photography by JB.
The ending is not quite as predictable as we might expect.
The surfing seems a particularly well done, the photography of the waves oftentimes quite magnificent. While it might seem reminiscent of Australian television series, there is more feeling in the characters to engage our interest, though perhaps not for those for whom surfing is something alien!
ESCAPE FROM PLANET EARTH
Voices of: Brendan Frazer, Rob Corddry, Willam Shatner, Jessica Alba, Sarah Jessica Parker, Jane Lynch, Ricky Gervais.
Directed by Cal Brunker.
This is one of those small animation films that slip in for school holidays, along with the big-budget shows, and get overshadowed. A pity in one sense because the studios that make them do not have the resources of Pixar, Dreamworks etc. The company here is Vancouver-based.
But then, the film is not particularly startling and only moderately entertaining. For small children, that is. Adults may find it doesn’t draw them in, though there are few jokey references to Peter Jackson and James Cameron. Adults may find themselves passing the time thinking about the other films that it resembles or draws on: Planet Earth, Monster vs Aliens, even ET and other space stories or trying to identify the voice cast.
With the blue-coloured aliens, who live in the friendly planet, Baab (Bob), there seems to be some relationship with the Smurf movies with their similar blue characters. Another reminder that the film is for littlies.
There are two brothers at work in space missions, a very egocentric brother, Scorch Supernova (Brendan Frazer) and a nerdish technical academic, Gary Supernova (surprisingly the usually bouncy Rob Corrdrey) who tends to stay in the background with his family. When Scorch decides to go to the Dark Planet (in fact, earth), he finds that he cannot cope, especially with the evil General Shanker (William Shatner) who is on a revenge mission to create, of course, a powerful, destructive weapon. He has also imprisoned aliens from other planets who are expert in creating so many of the things that earthlings take for granted.
In order to get back, Scorch as to rely on his brother, Gary, to take command, exercise his wits and abilities to bring him home.
One of the troubles of the boost in animation films since 2000 and their proliferation at holiday times is that this kind of material has become so familiar and many children respond with less than interest.
But, Escape from Planet Earth may well have a further life on television and on DVD.
Aran Bell, Rebecca Houseknecht, Miko and Jules Fogarty, Joan Sebastian Zamora, Gaya Bommer Yemini, Michaela dePrince.
Directed by Bess Kargman.
First Position is an engaging film about ballet students. Its title refers to the house position for the feet at ballet lessons, but also applies to post position in competition.
As with many similar documentaries, the group is selected and individuals followed throughout the period of rehearsal, performance, competition. However, one of the charms of this film is that it doesn’t focus on competitiveness. The students are not competing against each other. Which means that we watch them with their talent, their lessons, the rehearsals, the performances, without worrying about who will win or lose.
The students have been well chosen, a boy from the United States whose military family is based in Italy, a girl adopted from the civil war in Sierra Leone, a boy and a girl from a Japanese-American? family, a girl from Israel, a girl from middle America, a boy from Colombia. Each has the opportunity to show their personality to best advantage. We also see a great deal of several of the parents and their involvement with their children’s careers.
The strength of the film is in the editing rather than in the visual style. The dances are presented straightforwardly. However, the inter-cutting of the stories, the cumulative effect of the narration as well as the joy of the final awards, mean that this is a film which can entertain most audiences unless they have a fixation against ballet.
HAUTE CUISINE/ LES SAVUERS DE PALAIS
Catherine Frot, Arthur Dupont, Jean D’ Ormesson, Hippolyte Girardot.
Directed by Christian Vincent,
Haute Cuisine is the English title for a film called Les Saveurs de Palais/The Tastes of the Palace, referring to the Elysee Palace, the home of the French president. The title in English follows the use of such English words as restaurant, café, menu, soufflé… when a focus is on food.
But this is an entertaining film, especially for lovers of food and cooking, whether they be French or not.
Surprisingly, it opens in Antarctica, where Hortense (Catherine Frot) is finishing a year’s cooking for a group on a French base. She is a middle-aged woman, at home in the kitchen, friendly towards the people at the base, yet quite tough in herself. However, she is unwilling to talk to an Australian journalist who has come to make a documentary about her and does not want to be filmed. Fortunately, by the end of the film, she is more open.
The reason for the documentary is that Hortense was for two years the private cook for President Mitterrand. But she is unwilling to open up about that. However, the film opens up as we see her flashbacks and build up the whole story: of the recommendation by top French cooks, of her traveling from her home and farm to an interview in Paris, to taking up the appointment, to her two year career.
At the outset, she discovers that presidential palaces are governed by bureaucrats and protocols. She also discovers a macho dislike of her and her presence from the all male Main Kitchen staff. However, she finds in her assistant, Nicholas (Arthur Dupont), a congenial young man who has a talent for cooking, especially pastry cooking.
Hortense is to cook for the president, personally, and for his special guests. She is to produce menus in advance for approval. The president likes simple cooking and she does her best. This is the part that cooking fans will enjoy, details of her recipes, details of her preparing the dishes, cooking them, with information about timing and temperature, the camera even making a close-up of buttering toast look very tasty and inviting.
The president himself is friendly and there are several references to his relationships with women on his staff. However, Hortense his exemplary in her behavior, enjoying chats about food, the simple food of the past, with the president.
Ultimately, the bureaucrats get the better of her with their budgeting, savings, emphasis on healthy food and general interference.
The film is actually very interesting in its behind the scenes look at the running of the Elysee Palace, pressures on the president, his enjoying challenge, the strict timing and security, the visitors, the socials… As well as of the jealousies amongst the staff and in the kitchen.
Having started in Antarctica, the film continues to return to the base, the last two days of Hortense’s work there, her preparations for lunch, for her farewell dinner and the celebration, and a scratch concert where some of the men mock her work for the president, in cheerful fun.
In fact, the film is quite cheerful, the characters well portrayed, and most audiences will be interested in Hortense and her Haute Cuisine.
Jason Bateman, Melissa Mc Carthy, Amanda Peet, Jon Favreau, Robert Patrick, John Cho.
Directed by Seth Gordon.
This review comes with a caution: if you are male and your name is Sandy, be prepared for lots jokes at the expense of Sandy being either a man’s name or a woman’s name, even after the final credits.
This is another of those American comedies, so popular in recent years, which begin raucously and end up rather sweetly and morally, something which the screenplay in the first half or more would not necessarily encourage you to believe that it could happen. It is directed by Seth Gordon, whose previous film (similar in tone and humour) was Horrible Bosses. Jason Bateman was one of the stars, put-upon by his horrible boss, Kevin Spacey. Now, he takes up a similar kind of character whose horrible boss is Jon Favreau.
But that encounter may be one of the least of his worries. When his credit card is refused at a service station and cut in half, matters begin to crumble for him. Someone is using his cards and identity in Florida. He is far away in Colorado; his wife is pregnant with their third child; he has just taken a job risk to combine with bankers who have found the boss so horrible that they are walking out to set up another company; and, then, the police say they can do very little because of jurisdictions; then it gets worse when his arrested and charged with missing a parole hearing.
We, of course, are in the know. We have seen Diana (Melissa Mc Carthy) forging his cards and going on drinking sprees, shopping sprees, beauty parlour sprees. She is not a nice lady.
This is a road trip comedy because Sandy goes to Florida to bring back his identity thief to establish his innocence. On the way there are all kinds of mix-ups, including drug-dealer assassins as well as a local bail bondsman in pursuit. There is a lot of slapstick comedy with the odd couple, the buttoned-up Sandy on his mission and the extroverted, garrulous and scruple-less Diana clashing and clashing. There are chases and car-crashes, snakes in the woods, as well as some more credit card fraud on the way home. There are also some quite raunchy sequences and rude jokes.
Many audiences have found the plot too haphazard and unbelievable. It is and strains credibility and, with plot-holes galore, strains plausibility (detectives and their inability to help, assassins and their boss in prison, the bounty hunter chase, getting away with it all). But, it’s not that kind of comedy. Leave plausibility behind and accept what is offered!
Jason Bateman is very good at and convincing in this kind of long-suffering role. Melissa Mc Carthy uses here big frame and bumptious personality - to be big and bumptious. The Jud Appatow Syndrome is relevant again. As in his comedies and those like them, the beginning is more than a touch chaotic and redemption doesn’t seem to be on offer. But, by the end of the film, there it is, American hopeful style. It’s lightly amusing escapist fare.
IRON MAN 3
Robert Downey Jr, Gwynneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce, Ben Kingsley, Rebecca Hall, Jon Favreau, William Sadler, Miguel Ferrer.
Directed by Shane Black.
Fans of Marvel Comics and their film versions will feel that Tony Stark is an old acquaintance. This is the third Iron Man film but Stark was also one of The Avengers in that very successful film of 2012. We remember him as a brash young man, inheritor of a company than encouraged innovations where he made suits that enabled him to confront villains and save the world.
The film begins with him telling the story of New Year’s Eve 1999 in Berne where he was with a scientist Maya (Rebecca Hall) and was accosted by a wild-looking man whom he stands up after promising to meet him. Obviously a bad move.
Robert Downey Jr is a screen master of the sardonic screen presence who can toss of jokey references and one-liners but who can also be charming. He has made the character of Tony Stark his own. Actually, he seems to have settled down with Pepper Potts (Gwynneth Paltrow) but then his seaside mansion is attacked and destroyed and he suffers panic attacks and disappears.
In the meantime, a scrawny-looking character who calls himself The Mandarin, who looks like a cut rate Osama Bin Laden (Ben Kingsley chewing the scenery), cuts into television programs with threats and an on-screen killing, wanting to taunt the American president (William Sadler). Tony Stark is not quite ready to resume action, especially when he is accosted by strange men and women whose limbs and face light up like smouldering charcoal.
We are not surprised when the wild-looking man from the past turns up and takes responsibility. He is played with satisfying mad villainy by Guy Pearce. Maya has sold out to him and he is transforming war-disabled veterans into fiery weapons.
Colonel Rhodes (Don Cheadle) is back, using Stark-invented suits to fly to trouble areas. Speaking of suits, Tony Stark has quite a wardrobe of suits to pick from, not all of them top quality, some quite breakable, and relies on in his invisible valet (voiced by Paul Bettany) to dress him with the suits, part by part. This does complicate things when Tony is captured and when he ultimately has to face the villain.
Jon Favreau, who directed the first two films, is a letter-of-the-regulations security man who has a weakness for episodes of Downton Abbey. Ben Kingsley’s The Mandarin turns out to be a different villain, with some unexpectedly funny sequences. In fact, there are some funny episodes (like that of the gob-smacked adulation fan who helps Tony) and some funny lines.
Which all seemed quite entertaining – until one reads the angry and disappointed fans who have blogged their displeasure at this sequel. It seems they want action rather than humour – perhaps they need to lighten up. After all they are only comic strips on screen, not dramatic realism.
Gael Garcia Bernal,Alfredo Castro.
Directed by Pablo Larrain.
A nominee for Best Foreign Language Academy Award (but was up against the excellent Amour, which won). Pablo Larrain has become well-known on the arthouse movie circuit with such films as Tony Manero and Post Mortem. With No, he has completed a trilogy of life under General Pinochet.
It is fair to say that it would be well worthwhile to do some reading and research about Chile under General Pinochet and that period. While the film does enlarge on the 15 years experience of the Pinochet regime, and focuses on the upheaval with the American-backed coup against Salvador Allende in 1973, some reflection on the history of Chile would enhance the viewing and give some depth to what is being shown.
The title of the film comes from the plebiscite of 1988 which General Pinochet instituted for the public to vote on whether he should continue for another term of office. The presumption was that he would win the plebiscite. However, after 15 years of his rule, and with some modernisation of Chile and some prosperity, the public was prepared for a change. So were those who suffered under his regime. The experience of oppression pervades the film with many of those who opposed Pinochet having the opportunity to come forward, despite the regime keeping an eye on the plebiscite and the campaigns.
While there is a great deal of serious history in the film, the screenplay sometimes uses a humorous tone, relying on the lightness of touch that those in the No campaign brought to the advertising and promotion. Late 20th century advertising and promotion is central to the film, an interesting look at the role of media, print, radio and television in political campaigns.
Gael Garcia Bernal portrays a modern advertising wiz, Rene Saveedra (a composite character of the two men who organized the advertising for No). The opening of the film shows him presenting a campaign with some modern pizzazz. He has a history in Chile, with his parents and, especially, with his ex-wife who is still an activist. He is invited to consider a proposal to imagine a campaign for the No camp. Ans, eventually, he agrees and much of the film is discussion about the campaign, its format, its ideas, its tone, the prospect of prevailing. He himself advocates for lighter touch, the more positive approach, the hopes of Chilean people for freedom and happiness and provides some exuberant images and lively presentation of people (even a mime as one of his critics regrets). The campaign was also intended to give hope to those who thought no change was possible and were not going to vote.
Fifteens minutes for the Yes campaign were permitted on the media each day. Fifteen minutes for the campaign. The public responded to the campaign. Many examples are seen throughout the film as the plebiscite progresses - and the campaign has to find material for each day’s commercial.
In the background are a lot of discussions, revealing the difference stances, of right and left, in Chile of the 1980s. There is also the atmosphere of the military regime and the possibility of arrest, even torture.
Along with this, there are dangers to the Rene’s safety and well-being and to his family, especially the son whom he is bringing up and who is seen to be bewildered by what is happening, especially in the crowd scenes.
One of the significant things about the film as is that it was made on analogue tape, the kind of material and equipment that was used in the 1980s. This gives the impression that the film was filmed at that time, but it also enabled the film-makers to incorporate a great deal of news footage of the period. This gives a greater sense of authenticity.
A film of great historical and political interest. An opportunity to see something of the history of Chile and reflect on it and the role of General Pinochet, and the changes in Chile in the succeeding quarter of a century.
Tom Cruise, Andrea Riesborough, Olga Kurylenko, Morgan Freeman, Melissa Leo, Nikolai Coster- Waldau.
Directed by Joseph Kosinski.
Director Joseph Kosinski wrote and directed Tron: Legacy, his first feature film. Oblivion is his second, quite an achievement. And he wrote the graphic novel on which his film is based (and there are another two such Oblivion novels – so a lot is riding on the success of Oblivion, though it has been announced he is working on another Tron film).
To be fair to the film, I could not have given a clear and logical synopsis while watching or immediately after. But, there was enough curiosity to check with friends about plot-lines – and I think I could give one now. But it means that we are puzzled as we watch.
And this is definitely a Tom Cruise film. One reviewer remarked wittily and aptly that equal attention had been given to putting Cruise on the screen as had been given to the production design. And the production design is top-class. Speaking of ‘top’, Tom Cruise is once again a top gun (even at fifty, giving fifty a good, fit, reputation, vigorous stunts and all), this time, still on earth, but a post-apocalyptic earth where he flies around maintaining and saving drones which are there to keep ugly aliens at bay. And, especially, watching on the IMAX screen, you are very conscious of Cruise, almost in your face. With Jack Reacher and Oblivion (his performance in Jack Reacher being better), he is still the star.
It is 2077 and earth has been destroyed – as has the moon in a very effective special effect. With Cruise in an eerie eyrie, a pylon home far above ground, with his plane launching pad, is Victoria (Andrea Reisborough), co-worker and partner. Sally, the television face and drawling voice of the co-ordinator of missions (played by Melissa Leo), is always asking ‘are you an effective team?’. They are and they aren’t. Tom, here called Jack Shepherd, has discovered some remnants of human civilization as well as a hidden grassy valley, away from the desert and the dunes, that are the remnants of human life. He is also tantalized by memories of a meeting with a woman on the Empire State Building. (This is part of the plot challenge: how is he remembering, what has happened in the last 60 years since the destruction; who is this woman…? And, discussion afterwards can answer these questions.)
After impressively establishing all of this with wonderful visuals, two new characters enter the story. One is the woman from New York cryogenically preserved (Olga Kurylenko). The other is a venerable leader of survivors (the welcome presence of Morgan Freeman). This builds up to a crisis for Jack Shephard, for his partner, and for the tower control and Sally.
Interestingly, Oblivion has received art-house distribution as well as at the multiplex. Will it become something of a classic post-apocalyptic film? How does it compare to Total Recall and other films we are reminded of? Only time and the fans’ ardour will tell.
OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN
Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Rick Yune, Angela Bassett, Radha Mitchell, Melissa Leo, Ashley Judd, Finley Jacobson, Robert Forster, Cole Hauser.
Directed by Antoine Fuqua.
Well no, it’s not a documentary! Some of the antagonistic reviews seem to imply that it is, finding fault with the credibility and the picture of American politics. No, it’s an action entertainment, reminding many people in their reviews and blog comments that it is a Die Hard at the White House. And reminding audiences that in this genre, no matter how great the disaster, no matter how devastating the effects, there is always the enterprising individual, courageous, tough, do-or-die, who is going to save the day.
However, in this action show, the devastation is far more than might have been expected. The Secret Service uses code names for the American president and various official personnel. The White House is obviously an Olympus but we don’t expect any Olympus to fall. But here, it does.
Most people who go along to this kind of film are not expecting realism. What they want is an adrenaline-pumping entertainment. And this one is.
The villains are from North Korea. But they are not part of that government (some diplomatic caution here). They are a terrorist group with their own agenda, led by a man who suffered at the hands of south Korean and American military intervention. His intention is to take over the White House, and of the president and other officials, turn back the Seventh Fleet from the Indian Ocean, withdraw all American troops from South Korea, and take possession of the nuclear installations in the United States. It’s not meant to spoil information about the outcome of the film, but he nearly gets there. As portrayed by Rick Yune, he is an intense 30-something mastermind, with an extraordinary master-mind, who has a propensity for violence and torture.
However, he hadn’t counted on Gerard Butler as Mike Banning, with special services training, who has served on the Secret Service attending the president. (On this showing, Gerard Butler should have been cast as Jack Reacher rather than Tom Cruise). A friend of the president, a literal sparring partner with him in the gym, he is a good friend of the president’s son and an admirer of the president’s wife. However, in the prologue to the action, a dreadful accident happens on his watch and he is relegated to a desk job. Fortunately, he looks out the window and sees the Korean invasion, hurries to the White House, gets inside and, despite some setbacks, saves the day.
The tone of this review might seem a little tongue-in-cheek. But that is the style of the treatment of the film, despite its seriousness and intensity.
The film has an excellent cast with Aaron Eckhart as the president, Morgan Freeman as the speaker of the house who has to take over, Melissa Leo as the secretary state, Angela Bassett as head of security, Robert Forster as chief of staff, and a cameo by Ashley Judd as the president’s wife.
Koreans are emerging as a staple, enemy for American films. Red Dawn, GI Joe: Retaliation. With the threats of the North Korean president at the time of the film’s release, American audiences may have been a little more apprehensive than usual. But what takes place in the film, the plane flying in to Washington, DC, the terrorist group having more arms than one could reasonably expect, the attack on the president of South Korea, the siege of the White House and the numerous and deaths of police and Secret Service agents, could have the audience is more than alarmed. But, our later reflection on security, border control, homeland information, the tale seems really far-fetched. Or one hopes so.
In the meantime, it is entertainment for action fans, though some of us may feel a little guilty animosity towards the United States as it seems to be getting a little of what we feel it has imposed on others. Later in the year we’re promised a film entitled White House Down with an even bigger budget than this one.
THE OTHER SON/ LE FILS DE L’AUTRE
Emmanuelle Devos, Pascal Elbe,
Directed by Lorraine Levy.
If you would like to see a film that tells an emotional story as it dramatizes the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis (and even if you wouldn’t), The Other Son can be recommended.
It may not be the most thoughtful film about the fears and hopes of Israel, about the occupation of Palestine and the political and philosophical/religious implications of the divide, but it shows us images that are definitely worth more than the traditional thousand words and invites us to identify with some Jewish and Palestinian men and women who live the tensions every day. And there is the ever-present wall.
The story has its harrowing moments. It is the story of babies mistakenly given to the wrong parents and the discovery of what happened only when the son of the Jewish family has blood tests before his military service and his blood type is incompatible with his parents. The error occurred during the Gulf War, in Haifa when scud missiles were hitting the city and the children moved for security.
In many ways, this is a familiar story of what happens to children when they discover their birth mother and how they will deal with the mother who brought them up and the newly-found birth mother. That is emotionally demanding in itself, the shock, the questions of identity, how to live with the two families.
What makes this film more demanding on the two sons, and on the parents, is that the Jewish boy has been brought up as an Arab, as a Muslim, and the Arab boy is profoundly Jewish. The Jewish son wants to be a musician, the Arab son has lived with his aunt in Paris and has passed his baccalaureate and will start medical studies.
As might be anticipated, this will be a story of coming to terms with family, ethnic roots and cultural background – and the realization that each young man should have been living the other’s life, in the comparative comfort of a Jewish family in Tel Aviv, or in the poverty and restrictions of a Palestinian village.
This inevitably makes the film somewhat schematic as each discovers the other’s life and lifestyle. The screenplay is also schematic as both fathers and both mothers are involved. Interestingly, it is the mothers who are most broad-minded and broad-feelinged. (The film has a female director.) Each father acts in the hard masculine way of wanting to avoid the issue, denying it, rationalizing it and only then, through personal contact and mutual understanding, come to terms with it.
Each family has a little girl. They are able to break through barriers almost instantly.
A complication comes in that the Arab family has a son who was killed in attacks. The older brother reacts instantly against the brother he has loved, all prejudice against Israel and its oppression surfacing virulently as he can see his brother now only as Jewish. On the other hand, the boy in the Jewish family goes to the Rabbi, since he is devout, only to find that with his mother not being Jewish, he is no longer Jewish and most go through conversions steps. Rigid ideologies can be unreasonable and damning.
The film has so much persuasive dialogue about relationships and human equality and dignity. Filmed on location on each side of the wall – which continually looms high and divisive, along with the humiliating checkpoints – the Arabs discover the affluence of Israel, amazed at people lolling on the Mediterranean beaches, the Jewish family seeing the instant poverty so close to where they live.
If only people could meet, share meals, sing, see others as human beings, then the conflict (with blame on both sides) might move closer to resolution.
THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES
Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes, Dane de Hahn, Rose Byrne, Ben Mendelsohn, Harris Yulin, Ray Liotta, Bruce Greenwood.
Directed by Derek Cianfrance.
Three stories for the price of one, and each of them interesting. They are also inter-linked, some characters appearing in all three. It is directed by Derek Cianfrance who made an impact with his analysis of a marriage breakdown in Blue Valentine (which also featured Ryan Gosling).
Gosling is Luke, the central character in the first of the stories, a skilled bike rider in a carnival show. His life is changed when he discovers that a casual fling as he passed through a town has led to his having a son. His mother, Romina, (Eva Mendes) has concealed this from him because of his being unreliable. She is now with a considerate partner, Kofi (Mahershala Ali) who is a father to the boy. Nevertheless, the rider wants to be part of his son’s life.
Now begins a series of links and ironies that will connect the characters and new characters over a period of years.
Luke accidentally befriends Robin (Ben Mendelsohn), a mechanic who lets him stay in a caravan on his property. Admiring his riding skills, he proposes that they rob some banks which leads to an encounter with the police, especially Bradley Cooper as Avery Cross, a lawyer turned policeman.
The second story is that of Avery. He is married with a baby son. But he is caught up with some crooked police in the town (especially Ray Liotta who always looks as if he is a criminal). They become involved with illegally retrieving some of the money from the bank robberies and Avery is faced with a crisis of conscience, whether to be a whistleblower or not.
The third story takes place 15 years later with Avery campaigning to become District Attorney. We have previously seen that, despite his police inexperience, he does know how to wheel and deal. He is separated from his wife (Rose Byrne) and his son, a rather oafish and spoilt teenager with a penchant for rebelling and for drugs) wants to live with him.
But, the story is that of Jason (Dane de Hahn), the son of Luke and Romina. Jason is also something of a rebel and deals in drugs. The two teenagers meet and, while the audience knows the connection between the older characters, Jason doesn’t. He wants to know more about his father and tracks down Robin. It does not all go as we might have anticipated, Jason risking his life and freedom for revenge, out in the countryside, beyond the pines.
The film runs for two hours twenty minutes, so we have a long time to get to know and get a feel for the characters, most of them ordinary in their way. Performances are good, so we are interested to see and know more. And several of them have the chance to appear as older, especially Eva Mendes and Rose Byrne.
Both Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper have established themselves as strong character actors and they give substance and authority to their stories. Ben Mendelssohn, furthering his American career, is given a different kind of character to play, and well.
Maybe, audiences wanting something faster and more action-oriented may find it less interesting. But, for those who like a well-written and acted drama, there is much to interest and to enjoy.
RUST AND BONE
Marion Cottilard, Mathias Schonaerts,
Directed by Jaques Audiard.
French director, Jacques Audiard, has made some very strong dramas, even tough dramas like The Beart My Heart Skipped and Un Prophete. They have made quite an impact on critics and the public alike. So has Rust and Bone.
It is strange how people’s stories change, how they come across one another in unexpected circumstances – and what becomes of them.
We are introduced to Ali and his 5 year old-son, Sam. They are hitchhiking from northern France to the Riviera to stay with his sister and her husband. Ali’s wife has left them, involved in the drug world. Ali is a strong man, a gym man and potential boxer. He gets a job as a bouncer and then as a security guard. He has little sense of responsibility, relying on his sister, especially for Sam whom he loves but does not really know how to express it. At a fight in a nightclub, he comes across Stephanie who takes him home. He gives her his phone number in case she should need it.
We have Stephanie at work in one of the Sea-World? theme parks, training and working with dolphins and their performances. One day, she is suddenly knocked into the water and wakes up in hospital, shocked and asking, ‘what have they done with my legs?’. She is left morose and alone, but one day rings Ali. Their lives change.
Ali, with little sense of commitment, opens her curtains to let in the air, takes her to the beach where she agrees to swim. Exhilarated by the sun and water, she begins to come alive, measured for artificial limbs. Ali is casually friendly, offering to help her discover whether she still can function sexually. All in a day’s visit for Ali, not for Stephanie. In the meantime, Ali is offered backstreet, few holds barred, fights with bets that improve his financial status. Stephanie accompanies him. She also meets the family and relates instantly well with Sam.
Marion Cotillard proves yet again what a fine actress she is. Belgian actor, Mathias Schonaerts, makes Ali a convincing character, even we feel exasperated with him.
The storyline is fairly simple with a necessary crisis which will bring Ali to his senses, especially on an outing with Sam who is injured in an accident. Stephanie is dismayed by Ali’s disappearance but makes another call to the hospital where Ali is waiting for Sam to recover.
Barriers have been broken through and feelings deepened. This is a film about hope.
Julie Delpy, Bernadette Lafont, Emmanuelle Riva, Lou Alvarez.
Directed by Julie Delpy.
Le Skylab was written and directed by Julie Delpy. She also has a prominent role among the large cast.
This is one of those films the French make so well, a gathering of a large family, meals together, playing together, simmering differences coming to the surface. The setting is 1979, a holiday in Brittany to celebrate the birthday of a grandmother. However, Skylab as been circling the earth and is due to come down. There is media apprehension that it will crash in Western Europe, possibly in Western France. This concern pervades the gathering. In the event, Skylab actually crashed in Australia, a long way away from predictions.
This is a picture of three generations. There are two grandmothers, strongly performed by Bernadette Lafont and the 2012 Oscar-nominee, Emmanuelle Riva (for Amour, at age 84). There are six children of Bernadette Lafont in the adult generation, along with their spouses. The film focuses on the four brothers, the genial man whose home is the venue for the celebration, the street actor with his wife (Julie Delpy), and their daughter, Albertine (Lou Alvarez), the older brother who is a doctor, and an angry middle brother whose daughter has left home with his good friend. The film also focuses on the wives, their relationships with their husbands, good and bad, their concerns about their children. One is married to a Spaniard and performs a Spanish song to entertain the family. There are quite a number of children in the youngest generation, a 17 year old boy who thinks he is God’s gift to the local girls, another very mischievous little boy with a sense of humor, two bespectacled boy cousins who observe everything, quite a number of girls and little boy who likes dressing dolls. Quite a mixture!
It takes a while for audiences to identify who is who and who is married to whom. However, as the day of celebration progresses, with a big feast outside, interrupted by rain, with the lamb on the spit, we begin to appreciate the identities of the characters and the issues of their lives.
The men play soccer, children go to the beach with their parents, with a nudist beach close by. Ultimately, the children go to a dance, the adults are at home eating, drinking, talking. It is at this stage that some of the deeper themes underlying French society emerge especially with the malcontent brother who still longs for wars in Northern Africa, expressing some especially racist and sexist ideas and an attack on his sister-in-law condemning leftist ideas. This leads to quite some vigorous discussion and indicates aspects of conflict at the time.
However, the film is generally genial, and interesting for those who enjoy this kind of French drama, especially with the focus on Albertine, Julie Delpy’s alter ego, a 10 year old at a difficult stage of her development observing all that goes on around her.
SLEEPWALK WITH ME
Mike Birbiglia, Lauren Ambrose, James Rebhorn, Carol Kane.
Directed by Mike Birbiglia.
Mike Birbiglia is a stand-up comic. He is associated with This American Life and has a following in the United States, less so elsewhere. However, for those who see this comedy, he may attract more followers. He wrote and directed the film as well as starring in it.
The story is semi autobiographical. It is the story of a comedian called Matt, whom, to all intents and purposes, is Birbiglia. He narrates his story directly to camera, involving the audience. As he is driving and turning towards the audience, he tells the story of his recent years in flashbacks.
He has been in a relationship with Abby, Lauren Ambrose, for eight years but, despite her desire to get married, he is reluctant. He also has ambitions to be a stand-up comic. He does get to perform briefly in the club where he is a bartender. However, his ‘set’ is not particularly funny, even Abby and his friends don’t listen to him, saying that they had heard the jokes when they were at college. And they weren’t so funny then.
However, in discussing with another comic, he meets his agent, a seemingly hard case who, however, does get him some gigs. In relating some of his own experiences, especially with marriage ( and avoiding marriage), he gets laughs and is on the way to more successful shows. In touring the East Coast, he gets a chance to be away from Abby even when, reluctantly, they have become engaged and she is busy with Matt’s mother arranging the wedding.
The title of the film comes from his REM-sleeping-disorder and disturbance. Not only does he have vivid nightmares, he starts to sleepwalk, then re-enact the dreams, which are visualized for us, sometimes quite dangerously. They are a sign that he should not get married, that he is avoiding it, and eventually he makes a decision.
One is sorry for Abby. She seems a nice kind of girl and deserves better.
Audiences who share the same age as Matt and Abby as well as sharinf some of their issues might find the film quite telling. For older audiences there are the amusing performances of James Rebhorn as Mike’s definite and negative father and his dry wit remarks as well as Carol Kane as his loving but ditheringly loquacious mother.
There is a certain sad sack humor with Mike Birbiglia, reminiscent at times of Woody Allen or Albert Brooks, though without their hangdog looks.
SONG FOR MARION
Terence Stamp, Vanessa Redgrave, Gemma Arterton, Chris Eccleston, Anne Reid.
Directed by Paul Andrew Williams.
Song for Marion can be highly recommended for older audiences who will identify with the characters and their experiences. The generation of children of the older audience’s may benefit a great deal from seeing the film.
You have to hand it to Vanessa Redgrave. She has had an extraordinary career for almost fifty years. And she has played a wide range of characters in all kinds of films. Which is an introduction to saying that she gives a wonderful performance here as the Marion of the title. Marion has terminal cancer, only a few months to live. Vanessa Redgrave convinces us completely that she is a woman with this cancer and with only a short time before dying. She is a good wife to her husband, Arthur (Terence Stamp). She is a good mother to her son, Jimmy (Christopher Eccleston). She is also a very friendly woman, and enjoys the company of the choir of fellow old age pensioners. The choir title is The OAPZ, the Z for some pizzazz!
You also have to hand it to Terence Stamp. He has also had a strong career for over fifty years. His portrayal of Arthur, a grumpy old man with a gloomy outlook, harsh expectations of his son with whom he has never got on, yet loving and devoted to his wife, caring for her in her final months, is one of his best performances, also completely convincing.
The first part of the film shows his antagonism towards the choir and his worry about Marion belonging to it. He is even rude to the choir when they come outside the house to serenade Mariion when she is too unwell to come to practice. However, the culmination of Marion’s being with the choir is a solo at an audition for a local competition. It is held outside, a crowd of people from the town coming to hear, joining in the rollicking performance of some rock and roll songs. But the high point is Vanessa Redgrave’s rendition of the song, True Colours.
Marion is sorely missed by Arthur, Jimmy and the choir after her death. We miss her as well. But the film is very much Arthur’s film and how he copes with Marion’s death and absence.
The catalyst for his change is the conductor of the choir, a young teacher, Elizabeth, played attractively by Gemma Arterton. (It is a pleasure to see her in this engaging performance after her humourless and cold portrayal of Gretel in Hansel and Gretel: Vampire Hunters.) She leads the choir, respects the elderly and is caring with each of them. She introduces them to a range of songs that they would not normally sing, and with some raunchy lyrics: Love, Let’s Talk About Sex. And they perform them with verve.
While we do expect Arthur to come to terms with the choir, watching him do so is part of the pleasure of the second part of the film. He comes tentatively to the group, gradually allows himself to be influenced by them and by Elizabeth, for whom he sings. He also becomes a kind of sounding board for Elizabeth and her own life. As part of the climax, Arthur also gets his solo song, Goodnight my Darling.
All the time, beside the main themes, is the relationship between father and son, quite harsh on Arthur’s side and saddening for Jimmy.
While there is the expected happy ending, it is presented in a rather British way, sentiment, yes, but not overstated and a dramatic device that brings the film quietly to a satisfying end.
In recent times, older audiences have had the pleasure of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, elite singers in a home for retired musicians in Quartet as well as the string quartet and Beethoven in Performance. They were very enjoyable but Song for Marion has the advantage that it portrays ordinary people with whom most audiences can identified as well as popular songs.
Audrey Tautou, Gilles Lellouche, Anais Demoustier.
Directed by Claude Miller.
Celebrated French author, Francois Mauriac’s 1927 novel was brought to the screen in 1962 in a black and white version, directed by Georges Franju, with Emmanuelle Riva (who had come to attention in the late 1950s, early 1960s in Hiroshima, Mon Amour and Leon Morin, Pretre, and who was Oscar-nominated in 2012 as Best Actress for Amour) and Philippe Noiret.
This new version, fifty years later, is in colour and has two of France’s most famous contemporary actors, Audrey Tautou and Gilles Lellouche. Audrey Tautou is best-known for her fey Amelie. She is far more serious here, barely smiling throughout the whole film. Gilles Lellouche has the advantage of being able to immerse himself in quite a range of films and characters.
The setting has been changed by some years to the late 1920s. It is rural France on the coast, mansions built among pine forests. The film looks the part and period, creating a very French atmosphere.
Therese Desqueyroux is in the vein of the novels by Balzac, Zola and Flaubert. It focuses on a woman who finds herself living in the wrong place and the wrong time. She reads, is introspective and wants order in her life. It is expected that she marries a local, wealthy forest-owner. And she does. It is clear from the start, with her self-preoccupied gloom and his gung-ho attitude towards life, towards hunting, towards business and towards marriage, that the marriage is bound to fail.
On paper the plot can sound melodramatic as Bernard Desqueroux, a touch of hypochondria spoiling his outgoing zest, is prescribed arsenic drops. Arsenic drops are always meant as means for death. Since this is a rather low-key treatment of characters in a society where what people think and say is far more important than basic moral issues, there is no real blow-up about Bernard and his illness. Rather, stories are invented to save face.
Therese intervenes in the life of her childhood friend, and Bernard’s sister, Anne, when she becomes infatuated with a local young man from a Portugese-Jewish? family (revealing the underlying anti-Semitism in French society) and loses Anne’s friendship. Confined to her house, Therese pines away, her life becoming more squalid as she neglects herself.
Clearly, the novel and film are studies of individuals trapped, willingly or unwillingly, in their lives and circumstances, especially women who are confined by patriarchal expectations. Novel and film are also studies of narrow societies, preoccupied with business success and their reputations.
The treatment is measured, not hurried, giving the audience time to watch, reflect and test their emotional and moral responses to the characters, especially Therese. This was the final film by prominent French director, Claude Miller.
James Mc Avoy, Vincent Cassell, Rosario Dawson
Directed by Danny Boyle.
On exiting a screening of Trance, this reviewer would not like to be asked to write a synopsis, let alone be cross-examined on dramatic logic of the plot. For a while, it was quite straightforward with Simon (Mc Avoy) a dealer with a London auction company, explaining auctions, security (in the event of an event, as he says) and explaining that no work of art is worth a human life. More than a bit of irony there by the end of the film.
We see the event, an in-detail, boldly staged robbery of a Goya painting, and the aftermath where Simon is brutally hit and suffers amnesia. The head of the gang, Vincent Cassell, intense as usual, agrees that he should undergo hypnosis. A first session makes a good impression of the skills of the therapist, Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson). From then on…
The film’s title refers to the hypnosis sessions and the trance into which the subject goes, revealing more and more about themselves. But, what happens is that we have trances within trances, the suppression of memories, the installing of alternate memories and the subject (and the audience) finding it very difficult to know which trance he is in. This does give the film-makers opportunities to dramatise alternate scenarios, hallucinatory experiences, death in one trance but not in another.
And, if that sounds complicated, when an explanation of what has been going on is offered towards the end, there are twists and turns we had certainly not anticipated.
The performances are effective (though strangely eclectic, a Scots lead allowed to speak with his own accent, a French villain and an American therapist). The film looks very stylish. And it is directed by Danny Boyle who, in the 1990s when he was directed Inspector Morse films and his cult films, Shallow Grave and Trainspotting, might never have dreaded that by 2008, he would have a directing Oscar and Best Film with Slumdog Millionaire and by 2012 would be celebrated as the inventive genius behind the Opening Ceremony of the London Olympics. He has made eclectic choices for his films (The Beach, 28 Days, Sunshine, 127 Hours) and Trance is quite a different genre.
One comment was that Trance was a ‘hypnotic mess’. There’s something in that. It is certainly intriguing, despite the difficulties in following the plot and psychological character changes. Perhaps it is best to allow oneself to be hypnotised and watch it in the equivalent of a trance state. It is something of an Inception in its states within states of consciousness.