SIGNIS REVIEWS APRIL -MAY 2014
BROKEN CIRCLE BREAKDOWN, The
GARDENING WITH SOUL
HEAVEN IS FOR REAL
LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON
MISSING PICTURE, The
MY SWEET PEPPER LAND
NEXT GOAL WINS
YOUNG AND BEAUTIFUL
Australia, 2013, 109 minutes, Colour.
Tilde Cobham- Harvey, Del Herbert- Jane, Beau Travis Williams, Mario Spate.
Directed by Sophie Hyde.
52 Tuesdays is a documentary or, rather, a docudrama, set in Adelaide. it has won several international awards, including one at the Sundance Festival.
The filmmakers have used the technique of filming every Tuesday for one year at a specific time, building up something of a cinematic/video diary of two of the central characters. This means A cumulative effect over the year, taking account of the different changes, even in appearance, of the characters.
While this technique is interesting in itself, one might compare it to the documentary A Day in the Life, which used the contrary method of filming many episodes on the one day all over the world and editing them into a feature film.
But there is a particular interest in this story. We are introduced to a teenager, Billie (Tilde Cobham-Harvey), who immediately confides her situation straight to camera. She says that she has never had any secrets from her mother but is overwhelmed when she discovers that her mother, Jane (Del Herbert-Jane) has made the decision to have a transgender physical and psychological treatment to become James.
Most audiences are probably not familiar with anyone who has had a transgender procedure. This is an opportunity to see, to understand, what a person who has made this decision has to go through for themselves and for their family.
Jane is quite a sympathetic character, separated from her husband (Beau Travis Williams) but on good terms. Jane thinks it better if Billie goes to live with him during the time of the transition. At first unwilling, Billie decides to go. In the interactions, and clashes, about what is to happen, mother and daughter arrange to meet every Tuesday for a year. As the film proceeds, it lists the date as well as the number for the interaction.
Billie is a strong personality and as we follow her year, and her change of appearance, we see her bewildered, becoming obsessed with sexuality, observing and filming her friends and their sexual encounters. This brings her into trouble at school and with her friend with whom she is close. Her parents are informed and have to deal with the situation. Billie has moods over the year, unhappy with her mother at times, coming to terms with calling her James, reacting to material sent by computer from the US where James encounters transgender people. Billie also discovers the James is in a partnership with a woman friend.
James is doing something very different and is always trying to come to terms with what is happening, physical changes, psychological changes, emotional changes, dealing with Billie as a parent at the same time – which takes its toll.
There is a final confrontation, to do with the video material, with her parents, with the mother of her friend, and with her uncle (quite an odd and unexplained character with a daughter) with the teenage Billie having to come to terms, at least temporarily, in the situations of her life.
Some audiences may find the successive Tuesdays a strain on their attention and interest, even repetitive and at times tedious. Others will find the film an arresting documentation of characters in unusual situations.
US, 2014, minutes, Colour.
Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne, Zac Efron, Dave Franco, Christopher Mintze- Plasse, Lisa Kudrow.
Directed by Nicholas Stoller.
This is a raucous, very raucous, and coarse comedy, contemporary American style.
It is one of those films which highlights differences in sensibilities in different audiences, especially with the difference of age. This kind of thing happened in the 1990s with Quentin Tarantino and his portrayal of violence in Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, where older audiences, prone to take the violence more literally, were upset and horrified whereas the younger generation found the pulpy and satiric tone of the violence funny and could accept it. And we got a word for this sensibility and style: Tarantonoesque.
And this kind of sensibility has been evident in the different responses to Bad Neighbours. Many older audiences have found the comedy too coarse, a kind of very low tone, raucous, a preoccupation with bodily functions and crass sexuality. Unfunny. On the other hand, younger audiences who have been brought up with fewer inhibitions about language, sexuality, and these being the subject of jokes, have been able to take this style of humour and have found the film even clever comedy incorporating this sensibility.
Nicholas Stoller has made Forgetting Sarah Marshall as well as Get Him to the Greek, both more easily acceptable than this one and, surprisingly, has contributed to the writing of The Muppets and Muppets Most Wanted! Here he combines with Seth Rogen, now well-known for many comedies (again not exactly inhibited). Rose Byrne has appeared in some raucous comedies including Get Him to the Greek and Bridesmaids. And Zac Efron starred in Are We Really Dating? They have a box office appeal for seeing Bad Neighbours.
The plot is fairly straightforward, Rogen and Byrne are a married couple with a baby who move into a neighbourhood thinking that it will be nice and quiet suburban living. How wrong they are. The house next door is taken over as a Frat House and they dread the worst. They need not have dreaded it because they eventually and enthusiastically become involved in this worst. At first, they are cautious, and ask for quiet. Not so. And then the Animal House kind of behaviour begins, gets out of hand – and presented with some drinking, sexual, farcical episodes, especially a phallus mould prank. The IMDb synopsis remarks ‘all hell breaks loose’.
If you can’t beat them, join them. Not exactly the initial philosophy of the couple but, over they go to the neighbouring house and begin to join in and become part and party of the proceedings. Which has some hard effects on baby – who is also brought into the farce.
After all the shenanigans, the couple then have to consider how they can live with the neighbours and themselves – but a lot is resolved when authorities, especially in the form of Lisa Kudrow as the college dean, assert some kind of control – and Zac Efron finds himself on the street, literally, spruiking underwear sales.
Bad Neighbours has been big at the box office. Fortunately it is called Bad Neighbours in Australia, implying that there could be some good neighbours. In the US, it is simply called Neighbours – does this imply that they are all bad!
UK, 2014, 109 minutes, Colour.
Tom Wilkinson, Emily Watson, Sarah Gadon, Penelope Wilson, Sam Reid, Tom, James Norton,
Directed by Amma Assante.
A film which many audiences will thoroughly enjoy.
On the one hand, it is in the tradition of the elegant English heritage dramas, especially those films of Jane Austen’s novels. Belle is set in the 1780s, only a quarter of a century or so before the Jane Austen period. On the other hand, Belle has a strong message about racial inequality and racism at the time, centred on Britain’s role in the slave trade. In this way, it is in the tradition of social reform films, especially the story of William Wilberforce and abolition of the trade in Amazing Grace.
There has been no budget stinting on costumes and décor. We see the beauty of the world of the wealthy. We are taken into darker and more realistic areas of London and the ports.
And who is Belle? She is an actual character, a young mulatto girl (the phrase of the time), daughter of a wealthy Naval officer who takes her to live with his uncle, Lord Mansfield, who is the Chief Justice. He and his wife and the governess are taken aback. Yet, they abide by a set of rules which acknowledges the young girl, who is called Dido, her inheritance – but also society rules and customs which prevent her from dining at table with the rest of the family and visitors.
Dido is played by a young English actress, Gugu Mbatha Raw, who is both charming and convincing, as she grows up in this ambiguous situation in the company of her cousin, Bet (Sarah Gadon). In the atmosphere of the times, both girls are looking for husbands, Bet without a dowry, Dido with her personal fortune. They encounter the Ashford family (where the sons are also looking for wives, preferably wealthy). Lady Ashford (Miranda Richardson) is the ambitious, avaricious and bigoted mother. What follows is very much Jane Austen scenarios.
During the film, Bet’s portrait is painted, Dido unwilling to pose – she sees that all paintings with black individuals have the black in a subservient position. However, we see the portrait at the end – and the actual portrait from this period. Dido is not subservient.
At this time, a slave-carrying ship, the Zong, has caused a public furore, the owners pushing slaves overboard, because the ship was not carrying enough water. Should the owners be paid insurance for their loss? The Lord Chief Justice (Tom Wilkinson in a substantial role) delays in his decision, challenged by his wife (Emily Watson) to think back to his legal origins and idealism, concerned about Dido whom he loves like a daughter, and spurred by a zealous lawyer, Davernier (Sam Reid) who loves Dido. If the Justice finds for the insurers against the owners, many see that it will destroy the trade and endanger Britain’s economy.
The film offers a lot to think about in its well-written screenplay, and a lot to look at in its striking visuals.
THE BROKEN CIRCLE BREAKDOWN
Belgium, 2012, 111 minutes, Colour.
Johan Heldenbergh, Veerle Baetens, Nell Cattrysse.
Directed by Felix van Groeningen.
This film was Belgium’s nomination for the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. It deserved to be.
There is so much joy, so much sorrow, so much anger in under two hours that the film has quite a profound effect on its audience. It is based on a play by the lead actor, Johan Heldenbergh (Didier), who is obviously at home in his performance, his character, words, singing, deep emotions.
Somebody who found the film sometimes difficult to follow noted that it was “chronologically impaired”. For those caught up in the film, this is not really a difficulty, even though the film has many flashbacks and flashforwards. There is always something to anchor audience attention as to the time in the narrative, starting in the late 1990s and moving through to 2006.
During the opening credits, there is an introduction to the Bluegrass Music which pervades the whole film, the song about the circle being broken. the lyrics indicate something of the themes for the film and this is the case right throughout, some of the songs and performances being quite important, especially a song about calling someone to come and ease the pain, as well as the song in the final credits about a soul never dying.
Didier is a banjo player (and there is a substantial justification for the use of the banjo and its history), who performs the song songs with a group of friends. He loves America, idealises it. At a tattoo shop, he comes across a vivacious young woman, Elise (Veerle Baetens), and invites her to one of the concerts. She doesn’t quite believe that he is a performer but is caught up with his music. They live together and, within a short time, she becomes pregnant. His immediate reaction is not enthusiastic and she is taken aback, but he comes to terms with his becoming a father and they go through a wedding ceremony.
The film also shows what is happening in 2006. Their lively young daughter, Maybelle, become sick and is diagnosed with cancer, needing hospitalisation, chemotherapy and stem cell treatment. The screenplay has a great deal of moving backwards and forwards from the time that Maybelle was a baby, beginning to walk, growing up with her loving parents as well as with the band and her father’s mother. Nell Cattryse’s acting as Maybelle is absolutely convincing, the audience readily believing how sick she is, suffering, yet often playful, grieving when a bird flies into the glass on their terranda and dies. Which serves as a symbol for what is happening to her – and her mother later putting stickers of birds on the glass so that they will not crash, her husband incomprehending about a bird’s DNA not stopping them hitting the glass.
A warning. This review will now add a detail which audiences anticipating the film may note not want to know and leave the review until after viewing.
Halfway through the film, Maybelle dies.
We have shared the joy and the pain in an intense way, so convincing are the performers, so well-written are the scenes – and so touching the songs.
Now, audiences will be anticipating the tensions between husband and wife as they try to come to terms with the death of the child. The mother withdraws, blaming herself, blaming her husband, saying that he did not want the child, telling him that there was cancer in his family and not in hers. The husband tries to reach out to his wife but is prone to outbursts of anger, confronting his wife, and then in an extraordinary outburst during an on-stage performance at the end of the film, after watching George W. Bush on television vetoing legislation that would allow stem cell research and usage. The father, so angered by Bush, lashes out verbally against him, against fundamentalist Christians, against God, one of the most vitriolic attacks on Yahweh and the perceived merciless dictatorial action of God on people who suffer.
The mother has an emotional and imaginative faith, thinking of her dead daughter as a star, or as a bird who will come to visit her. She stands up to her husband, expressing the “faith” of a person who does not have strong religious beliefs but has hope.
Earlier, there has been a surprise when Elise is seen in an ambulance with the medical staff trying to revive her. This is explained later, after she moves away from her husband, yet still performs songs with him, especially the song about coming to ease the pain. But, it is all too much for her. The father does murmur to his wife that when she sees Maybelle, she give her his love.
Many will find the film quite emotionally draining – but it would probably repay viewing, the audience understanding better the time shifts, empathising more deeply with the characters and their joys and sufferings.
Australia/Singapore, 2013, 84 minutes, Colour.
Khan Chittenden, Tzu-yi Mo.
Directed by Aaron Wilson.
Canopy, in the title, refers to the luxuriant jungle growth outside the city of Singapore. It becomes a protection for an Australian soldier, his parachute caught in a tree and having to cut himself down and make his way through the jungle to escape the Japanese.
The setting is 9th February, 1942, just two months after the bombing of Pearl Harbour. It is surprising to realise how swiftly the Japanese attacked so many of the countries of the Pacific, ranging from China to Australia in those early months of 1942. They took Singapore, occupied it, leading to Winston Churchill’s decision to draw a line at Singapore and not committing any forces to defend below that line. The film opens in darkness, with only sounds, of talking, music, then of explosions and the audience realising what has happened in Singapore.
The Australian soldier has to make choices of what he will carry on his trek through the jungle, relying on a compass. Japanese patrols pass close by him and he is successful in hiding. Then, suddenly, he bumps into another person and the two of them shape up to fight. However, the newcomer is able to explain that he is Chinese and the two bond together, no longer two men alone, lonely in the jungle, trying to survive.
There is pathos in the character of the Chinese, especially when he is wounded and the Australian has to sew his wound, causing great pain to the Chinese.
This is a different story about Singapore and its fall. There was larger scope in such films as A Town like Alice and Paradise Road. This scope is small, over a day or more, two men’s brief experience of war.
There are some moments of dreams, remembering home in Australia, nightmares of what had happened in the jungle, and a sad but hopeful final glimpse of the Australian soldier back home after the war.
US, 2014, 115 minutes, Colour.
Jon Favreau, Jon Leguizamo, Scarlett Johansson, Sofia Vergara, MJ Anthony, Bobby Cannavale, Dustin Hoffman, Oliver Platt, Robert Downey Jr.
Directed by Jon Favreau
Chef is very much the feel-good (feel-goodest!) film, a story about a chef, naturally, about his particular expertise in cooking and presentation of food, both high-class and popular, but it is also a story about family, especially the relationship between a son and his previously neglectful father.
By the end of writing, directing and starring in this film, Jon Favreau must become something of an expert in the kitchen, studying up how to work with implements, how to blend various ingredients, how to cook them exactly, how to present them. He is seen at the end of the film, during the final credits, having a lesson from a professional cook on how to prepare some dishes – which means that the audience staying for the credits would not be reading any of them because they will be focusing on the chef and his teacher.
Karl Kaspar is a big man, friends with his former wife (Sofia Vergara) but unable to live at home, rather neglectful of his son, Percy (played with quite some aplomb by young actor Emjay Anthony). He has a loyal staff, led by Martin (Jon Leguizamo), Molly (Scarlet Johansson) and Tony (Bobby Cannavale). He is up early, early to work, especially on the day that the food critic (Oliver Platt) is to visit the restaurant. Karl wants a special menu but his intransigent boss, played by Dustin Hoffman, insists on the tried and true menu, with the result that the critic posts an negative review.
Besides being a film about kitchens and chefs, this is a film about modern communications technology, especially Twitter (it might almost look that Twitter had investment in the film).While his son is expert on communications, and texts instantly to his mother, getting permission for things before Karl has had time to think twice about them, Karl decides to put a tweet against the reviewer, neglecting to realise that if he uses abusive language, it is out in the Twittersphere forever. Of course, this leads to his being fired and a continued feud of tweets. But it also means that all those following him on Twitter know where he is, what he is cooking, especially as his son continues to supply this as they travel to Miami where they buy a Food Truck and their journey back home through New Orleans and Austin, Texas. When they get to the cities, there is a crowd already lining up.
In Miami, they go to meet Karl’s wife’s former husband, a curiously comic cameo from Robert Downey Jr (who worked with Favreau on the Iron Man films) talking at cross purposes about three different subjects all in the one sentence! But he supplies the truck, Martin comes over to work with him, they decide to make Cuban and Hispanic food – and all goes well, even with the reviewer becoming less than recalcitrant and investing in a restaurant. Karl becomes a loving father and spends quality time with his son. The son appreciates working, working hard, with his father. And his mother is delighted with what is happening for the family. Happiness all round – except for Dustin Hoffman whom we never, just as well, see again!
This is very genial film which most audiences could enjoy full of exuberant Cuban music – though, a pity about the repetitious coarse language. Advice: keep looking at the food and ignoring the language.
CHILD’S POSE/ POSITIA COPILULUI
Romania, 2013, 119 minutes, Colour.
Luminata Gheorghiu, Bogdan Dumitrache, Ilinca Goia, Vlad Ivanov.
Directed by Calin Peter Netze.
For audiences who are drawn in immediately to this film, its visual style and techniques, its portrait of a 60ish woman, there will be no problem. For audiences who are not immediately drawn into the film, who find the hand-held camera work and the simple moving of camera to focus on one person in a conversation and then on the other, they should wait for 10 minutes or so when there is a sudden announcement of plot development the changes the whole film.
The Romanian title of the film is not just simply a child’s pose, rather it is a technical term for how the victim of a road accident is positioned on the road. In this film, the victim of the accident is a child.
The film received many awards, including the Golden Bear at the Berlin film Festival of 2013. As the film progresses, and the delineation of characters becomes more powerful, and as the moral dilemmas become more focused, as well as critique of Romanian class distinctions, there is little doubt about the power and quality of Child’s Pose.
There have been many possessive mothers portrayed on screen, but the performance of the Luminata Gheorghiu is outstanding. Right from the start, when she is talking to her sister-in-law and complaining about her son’s seeming disdain for her, we realise that she is a woman who is focused on herself, on her own feelings, and has a world view that centres on herself. We see her in conversation. We see her at her birthday party, mixing with the socially wealthy in Romania. We see her present at an opera Masterclass. She has a comfortable life, separated from her husband, but still possessive of her adult son.
With the news of the accident, she goes at once into self-serving mode, ringing police authorities with whom she is acquainted, challenging the police in their own precinct, dominating her son and wanting him to change his official statement, especially about the speed at which he was driving when he overtook a car and the accident occurred. She even arranges a meeting with the other driver, wanting him to change his statement, and manoeuvring with him for a payoff. She goes to clean out her son’s apartment, has a meeting with her former husband, her son and his partner, whom she does not like at all.
As the film goes on, we realise what a smothering monster she is, told by her son’s partner that she is ‘not the nicest person in the world’, an understatement.
And, yet, with the performance, and while we despise so much of what she does, we do realise that there is a concern about her son that evokes, or could evoke, some sympathy.
The son is a weak character, showing the results of his mother’s control of him, her ’smother-love’, not at all living up to her description, at length, of what he was like as a boy and as a growing adult.
Much truth is told in conversations, especially about the son’s partner and her sexual relationship with him and his not wanting children, a shock to the mother. Eventually, the son speaks more plainly to his mother. The culmination is a visit to the parents of the dead child, a very powerful sequence with all concerned – and some final emotional moments where the audience sees what is happening but does not hear and has to assume that there is some resolution to the film.
The director’s use of the hand-held camera is still dominant in the film, but one is so drawn in by the characters and the situation and their handling and mishandling of it, that attention is devoted predominantly to the characters and their self-revelation.
UK/US, 2014, 96 minutes, Colour.
Jesse Eisenberg, Mia Wasikowska, Noah Taylor, Wallace Shawn, James Fox.
Directed by Richard Ayaode.
The Double is based on a story by Dostoyevsky, transferred into a 21st century which is reminiscent of some of the stories of Franz Kafka and people being trapped in a bureaucratic nightmare.
The tone is immediately set when Simon James (Jesse Eisenberg) is the only person in the train carriage and is asked to give his seat up for someone who claims it is his. Simon sees his co-worker, Hannah (Mia Wasikowska) and tries to exit the train only to be blocked as workers are piling parcels in and he can’t get out the door, only then to have his briefcase trapped in the train door. The guard at the ticket office wants his card, which is in the briefcase, and refuses to let him through even though he knows exactly who he is. And then Simon just misses Hannah as she gets into the lift. That’s the beginning.
Life fir him is little better when he gets into his office, a small compartment along the corridor where the other members of the staff, mostly grey and white-haired men, try to busy themselves. They are all in awe of the Colonel who is the overall boss and his picture hangs on the wall. Mr Papadopoulos (Wallace Shawn) ticks off Simon, asks him to tutor his daughter who is most unwilling, and he calls Simon Stanley.
In many ways, this existence suits Simon, an introspective type who goes home to his apartment, watches television, but also uses his binoculars to look across a courtyard to Hannah and her room.
There seems little possibility for inclination for interesting developments thus far. What happens is that James Simon turns up at the office, an extrovert type, charming everyone, even having a face-to-face meeting with the Colonel. James seems to be good at everything, charms everyone, even Mr Papadopoulos’s daughter. He even goes out to a restaurant with Hannah.
Of course, James Simon is Simon James’ Double, his opposite, his complement, and his shadow side, and antagonistic towards Simon himself. Jesse Eisenberg, whose usual screen appearances resemble Simon, is effective as James – and he and James have many on-screen conversations and confrontations.
The rest of the film is Simon and his struggle with James, watching him when he wins over everyone at the office, orders a waitress around because that is what waitresses are for, and then going on a date with her. He uses Simon’s apartment as a rendezvous for his liaisons.
And how it is Simon resolve the tensions with his double? That is the climax of the film with audiences wondering how Simon has been changed by James and how he will relate to Hannah.
The Double was directed by Richard Ayaode, comic actor turned director with his film about rites of passage, Submarine. The Double is certainly an intriguing project.
GARDENING WITH SOUL
New Zealand, 2013, 96 minutes, Colour.
Sister Loyola Galvin.
Directed by Jess Feast.
There is no doubt that most audiences will feel all the better while watching this interesting and delightful film. And they will probably even feel much better by the time it has ended.
Over the years, there have been many documentaries which feature nuns reflecting on their lives, reflecting on religious life, reflecting on their place in the church. Audiences in the past were used to seeing such movie nuns as Ingrid Bergman in The Bells of St Mary’s or Jennifer Jones in The Song of Bernadette. Catholic audiences were possibly surprised or exhilarated by nuns in different habits in the 1960w like Rosalind Russell in Where Angels Go, Trouble Follows or Mary Tyler Moore with Elvis in Change of Habit. In later years, many sisters have complained that screen presence of nuns, generally in antiquated-looking habits which never existed, is limited to background in airports, railway stations… In the 1990s, there was Whoopi Goldberg, masquerading as a nun in a witness protection program, singing and delighting everyone (including the Pope) with her singing and leading a choir in Sister Act. On the more serious side, Susan Sarandon won an Academy award for portraying Sister Helen Prejean and her prison ministry in Dead Man Walking. A fascinating half-century of nuns on screen from Ingrid Bergman to Susan Sarandon.
Sister Loyola, who is featured in Gardening with Soul lived her religious life as a Sister of Compassion through that half-century – and beyond. Serving as a nurse during World War II and then entering the convent, she is in her 80s as this film opens and turns 90 towards the end.
The Sisters of Compassion were founded by Mother Aubert, a woman of enterprise with an openness to people of all faiths and denominations. The sisters have communities in New Zealand, Fiji and worked in Australia, especially in Broken Hill.
Perhaps the first thing to note about Sister Loyola is what a livewire she is, sprightly and birdlike, working in the garden, cherishing the garden, not only the plants but also the preparation of compost, doing some heavy lifting, and enlightening us about the processes of growth, with images of beautiful flowers, shrubs, and what happens every year, from winter through to autumn, which are the headings of the action of the film.
Since this review is written by a non-gardener (after dismal failure in that job many decades ago in the novitiate), the impact of the garden and gardening was visual. Real gardeners will no doubt appreciate so much more, not just visually, but understanding and appreciating what Sister Loyola does, along with her helpers in the garden at the Home of, Compassion in Wellington, New Zealand.
As the title of the film also includes Soul. Sister Loyola is a wise guide in matters spiritual, indicating the depths of prayer and awareness of God over many decades, but able to speak in very practical terms, using garden analogies, using the seasons, but able to explain many aspects of spirituality to a wide audience, even those not familiar with spirituality terms and ideas. But Sister Loyola speaks from long experience. There is a beautiful sequences of the sisters at mass, distributing Communion, as well is the elderly sisters in the background, at prayer, at meals, and the joy of celebrating Sister Loyola’s 90th birthday.
The director behind the camera (not always easy to pick up with the limits of the sound engineering of the film) asks Sister to explain her life, the possibilities of marriage but her grief at the death of a friend during the war, her work as a nurse, her vocation, the old-style, rather strict convent life, the practical changes to the habit and its materials and the decision to live in a more contemporary world in ‘mufti’.
And Sister has sound things to say about the state of the church (mentioning the advantage of New Zealand being a long way from Rome!), of looking after children in the homes, on kindness and tenderness to babies and children (with some footage of a film from the 1950s). At the end of the film, some visitors who were children in Compassion Homes, come to visit Sister Loyola and share their happy memories of their experiences with the sisters, which enabled them to have a life that they might never have had without the sisters.
Sister Loyola is also up-to-date with troubles in the Catholic Church, speaking strongly about the sexual abuse issues, using the word ‘humanity’ in her strong reflections.
For Catholics who are familiar with nuns, this film will be a most pleasant experience, being reminded of the best that they have known in their relationships with the sisters. Audiences not familiar with nuns will be charmed by the sprightly Sister Loyola, her sharp observations on life, her experience of living religiously and spiritually. Probably this will be the case for audiences 50 and over reminiscing about sisters. There may not be an immediate appeal to younger audiences – but should they happen upon Gardening with Soul, they might not be sorry.
A pleasing documentary that is very easy to recommend.
US, 2014, 115 minutes, Colour.
Aaron Taylor Johnson, Bryan Cranston, Ken Watanabe, Elizabeth Olsen, Juliet Binoche, David Strathairn,
Directed by Gareth Edwards.
‘Gojiya’, says veteran scientist, Ken Watanabe.
And he is entitled to say this because Godzilla is actually a Japanese creation. and, in 2014, Godzilla is 60 years old. He has appeared in many Japanese Cinema and television productions. He also appeared in 1998 in a film of the same name, directed by Roland Emmerich, which received negative reviews and failed at the box office. On his 60th anniversary, Godzilla has been well honoured by this version.
Within the first 15 minutes, we are very much impressed by the production designl, excavation sequences in the Philippines, with giant skeletal bones, then a move to Japan with a nuclear station, quite an elaborate plant. We are introduced to an American scientist, Bryan Cranston, his wife, Juliet Binoche, also a scientist, and the young son who is at school on a fatal day when the nuclear power plant is threatened, collapses and the whole area is sealed off. And that’s just the beginning.
The screenplay moves on 15 years, the young boy has grown up and is now Aaron Taylor Johnson (not the most charismatic of movie leads, his performances becoming woodener and woodener).he is married to Elizabeth Olsen and they have a son. He is also in the army and has been working on weapons.
He gets a call from the police in Japan to say that they have interned his father. He has been living in Japan since the disaster, obsessed with what happened with the collapse of the plant, certain that it was not a fault within the plant and now relying on communication with various scientists who posit some kind of disturbance in the ocean. It should be noted that the film indicates that there were the nuclear tests in the 1940s and 50s but that was not just to test the weapons but rather to destroy Godzilla! Big cover-up.
Yes, Godzilla is certainly on the move again, but initially overshadowed by two enormous mutant creatures, with wings, who are hellbent on destruction and who are determined to meet and to mate. While this begins in Japan, it moves over the Pacific Ocean, to locations in Nevada and finally to San Francisco. The mutations are to do with nuclear energy, this being absorbed by the creatures, and Godzilla himself thriving on this kind of energy.
There have been suggestions and brief of glimpses of Godzilla but, finally, he emerges, huge and scaly, leaving a fair amount of destruction in his wake as well, but Godzilla has good intentions, to destroy the mutants, which, spectacularly, he does.
In the meantime, there is more than enough destruction to fill several disaster movies, with Honolulu, Las Vegas and, finally, San Francisco experiencing vast destruction.
The military keep Godzilla and the mutants under surveillance, have a variety of plans for destruction, including nuclear warheads.
So, plenty of action, less on character, plenty of special effects, plenty of stunts, enough to keep most audiences entertained.
Some of the critics after the film remarked that it was an impossible plot, especially with the danger of nuclear weapons in San Francisco harbour. That should have been the least of their worries. The whole idea of Godzilla himself goes far beyond the possible and we accept that, so what about bombs and explosions, especially when so much of San Francisco is already destroyed!
Director, Gareth Edwards, made the small budget film, Monster, an entertaining chase film to destroy a powerfully special effects monster. He obviously impressed powers-that-be in Hollywood who offered him this film to direct. He shouldn’t have much difficulty in getting another job.
If you are ever going to make a film about Godzilla, all stops out, then this is how it would turn out.
HEAVEN IS FOR REAL
US, 2014, 109 minutes, Colour.
Greg Kinnear, Kelly Reilly, Thomas Hayden Church, Margot Martindale,
Directed by Randall Wallace.
Many people have read the 2010 religious bestseller, Heaven is for Real, by Todd Burpo, the story of his family experiences in 2003. It was on the bestseller list for a long time – and this film version spent several weeks in the box office top 10 in the United States.
However, this is very much a niche audience film. It is for an audience that values religious experience, in the Christian tradition, especially the Bible-based preaching churches with their often literal interpretation of the texts. The tone of the film is particularly American in the sense that it wears its heart on its sleeve, something which even sympathetic audiences from outside the United States might find cloying at times.
And, one piece of consumer advice would be “not for the non-religious and definitely not for atheists”.
The film was adapted from the novel by its director, Randall Wallace. Wallace achieved some success with his screenplay in 1995 for Braveheart. He went on to direct the Vietnam war film, We Were Soldiers, as well as the Leonardo Di Caprio Man in the Iron Mask. Wallace has solid Hollywood credentials as do his cast, led by the always sympathetic and reliable, Greg Kinnear. The British Kelly Reilly plays Kinnear’s wife.
The opening is rather mysterious, a young artist in Lithuania painting a picture of an eye. Then the action transfers to Nebraska. It is only after an hour or so that one remembers there has been no further explanation about the Lithuanian girl – but that is kept until the end. We see Todd Burpo and his hands-on work around the town of Imperial, Nebraska, his coaching a wrestling team at the school, with his family at home, and then he is revealed as the local pastor, in a church where he appeals appears casually in open-neck shirt, sleeves rolled up, and ordinary down-to-earth character. His wife leads the choir.
As the film builds up this portrait of an American family – if Norman Rockwell had lived to the present and had made movies instead of painting pictures, he might have portrayed a family like this. It is not as if they are perfect, and they have great difficulties in making ends meet, but they are a sympathetic, struggling family.
For the readers of the book, they may be waiting for attention to come to the fore with the four-year-old son, Colton Burpo (Connor Corum). Those who don’t know the story will be surprised that the rest of the film is the backup of the title, Colton having surgery for his appendix, very ill but not having a near death experience, explaining to his father and then to others that he had seen heaven and had met Jesus.
Audiences may be uncomfortable with these experiences of a four-year-old, especially as they are repeated and become more precise, Colton knowing more about his family, even of a miscarriage and of his grandfather’s name, than he could possibly know. He is blithely, and cutely, unaware of any problems with this.
This challenges his father’s understanding of religious experience and tests his faith. His wife treats it as a mystery and does not try to understand until she too is challenged by some of the information. Todd has been a fine preacher, people responding to his earthy gospel explanations and inspiration, but finds that he cannot preach. He has friends in the town who are sympathetic to him, but some of the members of the Church Board have real difficulties. Audiences listening to the discussion at a Board meeting will sympathise with Nancy (Margot Martindale) who has lost her 19-year-old son in war and voices some of the difficulties that the audience may have. She also says to Todd in his anguish, “you don’t have to save the world, it’s already been saved”. The screenplay does not entirely shy away from rational critiques and challenges.
There are more things in many people’s philosophy than people might be dreamed of. So what is this kind of heavenly experience for a young child, which could serve as a witness to transcendence, to God and to heaven? One of the insights that Todd Burpo has in preaching about his son’s experience of heaven comes from the words from the Lord’s Prayer, “on earth as it is in heaven”. If we look at the heavenly things we experience on earth, then heaven could be like this, for real.
Finally, it is back to the girl in Lithuania and her paintings, especially of Jesus, whom she continues to paint – actually, an interesting interpretation of the face of Jesus, not exactly Semitic, but striking in its way.
On the way out of the film, I heard some older people saying they were glad that they had seen the film and that it was worthwhile.
Poland, 2013, 80 minutes, Black and white.
Agata Kuleszi, Agata Tzrebuchowska.
Directed by Pawel Pawlikowsi.
This is a very striking film, both interesting and challenging.
Director Pawel Pawlikowski went from Poland to the United Kingdom several years ago and made two very well-received films, The Last Resort, about difficulties migrants faced in coming to Britain, and My Summer of Love, a coming of age story of two young women in the English countryside. Now, he has returned to Poland with a story of his country before and during World War II and into the 1960s and the drab era of the communist regime.
The film is of great interest to Polish audiences at home and around the world, a story which takes them back to the relationship between the traditional Polish citizens and the Jews, the anti-Semitic experiences and some help between Catholics and Jews.
A statue of Jesus is the opening image of the film, a group of novice nuns in the 1960s cleaning and repairing this statue which is then put on a pedestal outside the convent. One of the novices is Anna who is preparing for her vows in the coming week. She is called in to see the superior who suggests she go to visit her only surviving relative, an aunt. Because Anna has lived in the orphanage and the convent all her life, she is reluctant to go. The superior orders her to go. She does and does not find an instant warm welcome from her aunt.
We realise that the superior has strong reasons for sending Anna on this visit. Without any preparation, the aunt explains to her that her name is not Anna but Ida and that she is Jewish, something of which the young novice was completely unaware.
Anna immediately calls herself Ida. Her parents were killed during the war and her aunt, who is a local magistrate and respected by the regime, decides that they should go to find out the truth about what had happened. This takes them to the old family home, the farmer and his wife who live there now, his elderly father who is in the hospital, and information about where the family had been buried. For Ida, the explanation of how she came to be in the Catholic orphanage is important and, in the midst of brutal anti-Semitism, there is a moment of grace in the saving of the young child.
The aunt questions Ida about her vocation, her isolation from the world and from any worldly experience and how she can make her vows. There is some complication when aunt and niece give a lift to a musician who plays with his band in the local club.
Of particular interest is the crisis that Ida must face in terms of her commitment, her lack of sexual awareness, of the ordinary trappings of the world, including clothing, smoking, alcohol. The film resolves the crisis with a blend of drama and quiet underplaying.
In fact, the film is reminiscent of classic Polish films of the 1950s and 1960s, filmed in austere black and white, an emphasis on close-ups and body language, classic framing for encounters, a reminder of the qualities of this kind of fine but less complicated film-making.
Ida won an ecumenical award in Warsaw Film Festival, 2013.
LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON/ SOSHITE NICHI NI NARU
Japan, 2013, 121 minutes, Colour.
Masaharu Fikuyama, Machika Ono.
Directed by Hirokazu Koreeda.
There have been a number of films about exchange of babies at birth and the consequences for the children and for their parents. In 2013, the Israeli film, The Other Son, dealt with young adults who find not only were they changed at birth but the Jew was brought up as a Palestinian, the Palestinian as a Jew. This time the discovery of the change occurs when the children are six.
The film spends a great deal of its attention early in establishing the character of the father of one of the boys, a workaholic architect who is very loyal to the firm in the Japanese tradition. He has high expectations for his son and is often disappointed, that his son is not like him in talents and achievement. His wife works at home and is devoted to her son.
When they receive a message from the hospital where their child was born, they are shocked to find, after a blood test for the boy to enter a school, that he is not there blood-son. This is an emotional shock for the audience, although they are already building up feelings of alienation from the driven father and feelings of sympathy for the mother – who will blame herself for not recognising that her baby was not her own when she feels a mother would have and should have.
Then we are introduced to the couple who have brought up the other boy. He is a bright young lad, content with his parents, looking after his siblings. The father works in a garage, the mother is very busy and works in a café. They have a fairly happy-go-lucky attitude towards life, especially the father who enjoys moments of peace and idleness.
What are the couples to do? They are friendly towards each other, although the architect automatically looks down on the other father. The two mothers get on much better with each other and are mutually supportive.
There is an experimental time when each of the boys goes to live with the other family, the actual son of the architect finding it very difficult to be alone in the affluent apartment away from everyone else, while the other boy is more at home with the brother and sister.
All the time, the film is challenging the audience as to what they think, what they feel, what they would do in a similar situation, how they would advise others who were tackling the problems.
One of the values of the films is enabling audiences to identify with each of the situations, assessing the values of the two fathers, sympathising with the mothers. There are many emotional sequences, more challenging for the architect father and his coming to terms with the realities, the other father being more easily casual.
Two other films by the director have dealt with children and their issues, very sympathetically: Nobody Knows (2004) and I Wish… (2012). All three films are recommended.
MISSING PICTURE/ L’IMAGE MANQUANTE
France/Cambodia, 2013, 92 minutes, Black and white and Colour.
Directed by Rithy Panh.
In the French version of this title, the word ‘manquante’ is more significant than the English ‘missing’. Manquante means ‘lacking’, that the picture is not just missing, it ought to be there. And some of the missing pictures for this film are those in the footage taken in Cambodia in the 1970s, the era of the Khmer Rouge and the killing fields of Cambodia, which no longer exists.
Director Rithy Panh was born in Cambodia in 1964. A young teenager during the troubled times, his parents and family were killed and he himself went into exile in France. In his career as a film-maker, he won awards for his film Rice People in 1994, a look at children who said they received their rice from the UN and had never seen a rice field. He subsequently made quite a number of documentaries and the fiction, based on the novel by Marguerite Duras, The Sea Wall, in 2008.
The Missing Picture was a nominee for the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film for 2013.
The director supplies a voice-over, recalling his childhood, the appearance of the Khmer Rouge after quiet and cultural and literary times with his family. He shows some photos, incorporates footage taken during the period, especially from the propaganda films made by the Khmer Rouge. But, he is lacking pictures and footage of his family, especially the pathos of his father’s hunger strike and death.
He goes on to explain the ideology of the period, the stamping out of individuality, the attempt to create a society in which everyone was equal – but, was doomed to failure, as young people who were specialists were destined for particular work and the soldiers and authorities lived more comfortably than the ordinary people. We know that thousands were killed, and we know the reference to the killing fields, especially after the striking film of 1984 of that title.
The special device for the film is the director’s asking a friend to create clay models of persons, animals, painting them and the director using them to make tableau of particular scenes for which there was no photographic record. This means they offer a great pathos with audiences responding to the models and imagining what they stood for.
In retrospect, the regime of Pol Pot and the rule of the Khmer Rouge was a period of shocking brutality. This film reminds us that it should not be forgotten.
MY SWEET PEPPER LAND
France, Germany, Iraq, 2014, 100 minutes, Colour.
Korkmaz Azlan, Golshifteh Farahani.
Directed by Hiner Saleem.
Some of us might have flown over Kurdistan, the remote area at the borders of Turkey, Iraq, Iran, a mountainous region that has been the location for a number of Iranian films. But, most of us have never been to the area. This film offers us an opportunity to venture into this remote region, encounter the people who live there, people of a very different culture and many traditions that are being challenged in the contemporary world.
The director was born in 1965 in Iraqui Kurdistan.
Pepperland is actually the name of the local bar, a venue mainly for the men of the village where the film is set. It plays its part in the confrontations we are invited to watch.
The film opens rather sardonically with a prisoner being asked to invoke the help of Allah. Next, we are in an open courtyard with a military man addressing a small tribunal of a lawyer, a judge, a mullah and a former soldier. They are told that it is 2006, that they are free from Saddam Hussein, that they need to set up institutions, develop a police force as well as a military force. And the symbol of this reconstruction is the use of the death penalty. The pretensions of this meeting are undermined when the accused is put on a large cask and strung up – only for the cask to topple and for him to fall. There is continued discussion about whether the law and the Koran have indications how he should die.
But this is the story of the former soldier who wants to return home. The soldier‘s mother has other ideas and wants him to be married – so he reapplies to work in the police force, agreeing to go to the remote village where he is met on the highway by his deputy and they have to ride by horse to the village because the bridge has not been rebuilt. They encounter young woman the audience has already been introduced to, a teacher who has several brothers, the older of whom disapproves completely of her work, though she has the trust of her father. The two policemen have to let her dismount before they reach the village – appearances in terms of suspicious relationships are the subject of gossip and disapproval.
The film also introduces us to the local warlord, upholding the traditions of centuries, especially in strict sexual moral expectations – but has not a hesitation or scruple in using violence to control, to get rid of opposition, and to protect trade in selling medicines which are past their used by date.
Of course, this offers many opportunities for conflict, and the film takes them up with vigour. The new policeman is a strong-minded character and stands up to the warlord, something which the visiting judge is too afraid to do. He also gets medicine for a group of rebel women who hide out in the mountains, a reminder of the anti-Saddam Hussein era. And, he supports the local teacher who is suffering all the prejudices of anti-women stances of the warlord and the men, eventually being confronted by a delegation of her brothers who are ashamed of her and who are listening to gossip about herself and the policeman.
This might make the film sound melodramatic, and in some ways it is. But it is a solid drama exploring the character of the policeman and the demands made on him, on the young woman and her sense of vocation as well as her stances on being a woman in this kind of anti-women society.
Not essential viewing, but audiences who do go to see it will not be disappointed, will find it an interesting introduction to an unfamiliar part of the world as well as remnants of bias and prejudices, especially about women, that need to be confronted.
NEXT GOAL WINS
Samoa, 2013, 96 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Mike Brett and Steve Jamison.
The title gives it away – well not quite, the goal being a clue, but the football code for the film is Soccer, in the wider world, Football. Those who love the code will have no difficulty in watching this entertaining film. Those who know nothing about it may give up, although the excerpts from particular matches are well edited, well-paced to keep up the adrenaline flow if not to help out in knowledge.
But there is obviously much more than soccer in this film. The country of location is American Samoa, the country’s team (country of only 65,000 people) have been playing, with little success, sorry, no success for more than a decade. They are on the FIFA list of countries, at the very bottom.
So, this is a film about underdogs, way way under. We are treated in the opening match to a clash between American Samoa and Australia, the latter winning 31 to nil! But the team is not absolutely dispirited. They keep on training, have a strong esprit de corps in the team, try out a number of coaches – with minimal success. We see an American Samoan man, living off-island, as they say, who does his best to build up the players, exasperated at their lack of stamina, fumbling the ball, kicking erratically, and the goalkeeper letting too many through. They bring back from Seattle their best goalkeeper (even though he was there for the 31-0 defeat).
Eventually, the president of the local club does some scouting, finding a number of American Samoan players who have joined the American military and living in the US. These are talented men and bring some life to the team. He also goes to the United States to find a coach, a Dutch-born coach, Thomas Rongen, who is pretty tough, initially exasperated with the men, but determined to do something with them. He more than puts them through their paces.
As might be realised, this is also a film about American Samoa, about the American influence, about life on the island, families, society – and a very explicitly devout religious sense and prayer. But, there is not enough for the young men on the island to do and many of them have joined the American military and move away. Their hearts, however, seem to be very much on the island.
A particular feature of the film is the character, Johnny. At first, audiences will be thinking that a girl is playing, and they aren’t entirely wrong. However, Johnny is a transgender person, living the life of a woman, but at times that of a man. The technical term for this third gender on the island is… fa’afafine. Johnny is also called Jaiyah by the members of the team who accept her/him, especially with such commitment to the game.
The drama of the film is all building up to South Pacific games – the team steadily keeping up its reputation for losses. But Rongen comes to prepare them for qualification matches for the World Cup, enlisting the presence of the expatriates, pressurising them all during their training regime.
If you don’t want to spoil the ending, skip this paragraph. Clearly from the dynamic of the film, the team is destined to have a victory, even if it is just one. They defeat Tonga. It is such a moment of triumph that the audience cannot help joining in the exhilaration and sentiment. They play well in a couple of other games, and, to the delight of the President of the club, find that they have jumped 18 places and are substantially away from the bottom of the ladder.
So, this is a sports film for those who love soccer and are interested in seeing a very weak team (even being defeated in one competition by Tuvalu!) build up a spirit and achieve a modest victory. The film is also an interesting sketch of life in American Samoa.
SUNSHINE ON LEITH
UK, 2013, 106 minutes, Colour.
Peter Mullan, Jane Horrocks, George Mackay, Kevin Guthrie.
Directed by Dexter Fletcher.
Do you know the group, The Proclaimers (since 1987)? If you do, and like their music, then you will be interested in seeing what has been done with their songs. As with Mamma Mia and the Abba songs, a fictitious story has been created, originally for the stage, and the songs inserted to highlight characters and their emotions, family crises and reconciliations.
If you do not know The Proclaimers, you may have heard their popular song, I’m Gonna Be… 500 miles (which was used in Ken Loach’s The Angels Share). This gets the musical spectacle treatment as the finale. There album Sunshine on Leith is from 1988.
Response to this film will depend not only on the songs and their insertion into the plot, but also how characters suddenly beginning to sing in the middle of naturalistically filmed and realistic circumstances really works as cinema.
This reviewer did not respond really well to these devices in Mamma Mia, although the Abba songs are enjoyable in their way (and also part of our musical consciousness for decades). This time, apart from the climax, the songs were not so enjoyable, nor memorable, except that for a number of the songs consisted of repetitive, repetitive, lyrics, repeated frequently (to irritating effect). One of them, I’m getting over it, gets a repetitiously repetitive re-run during the final credits. Otherwise, the melodies were not engaging and some of the lyrics, especially in a song about Florida looking towards Canada are less than inspired or inspiring.
The setting is Scotland – and Edinburgh looks wonderful. Two soldiers return from service in Afghanistan, to a rather dreary civilian life, to some romance (with some heartbreaks) and a crisis that has nothing to do with them but with the parents of one of them (Peter Mullan and Jane Horrocks) and a marriage crisis.
Without the songs, this would be conventional enough. And, with the songs, it still remains conventional enough. But, that climax of 500 Miles with exuberant crowds and cast outside the National Gallery in Edinburgh has great vitality.
Probably best to check with someone who really liked it.
US/UK, 2014, 119 minutes, Colour.
Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Paul Bethany, Morgan Freeman, Cillian Murphy, Clifton Collins Jr, Kate Mara, Lucas Haas. Cole Hauser.
Directed by Wally Pfister.
This is a science fiction film, executive produced by Christopher Nolan, director of the Batman films as well as the ingenious Inception. The director, first time, is Nolan’s director of photography, Wally Pfister.
The scenario takes us into the future, perhaps the near future, because so much of the world is recognisable here. But it begins ominously with Paul Bethany as Max, a brain scientist informing us that the Internet has been turned off some years earlier and the society has to a rather primitive state. He then goes on to explain what happened those years ago and what happened to his friends, Will and Evelyn.
Will is a leading scientist, working on experiments on the human brain and personality. His wife, also a scientist, assists him in that work but has a vision for improving the world. We hear lectures from them, they are well received, work is going on in their laboratories, a visit from army connections and friends (Morgan Freeman and Cillian Murphy) – and then the laboratories explode and there is an assassination attempt on Will.
Will is played by Johnny Depp, in his serious vein in such films as The Ninth Gate, Sleepy Hollow, quite the opposite of Willie Wonka and Captain Jack Sparrow. Because of his advances in brain studies, his brain is able to be kept alive while connected to machines, even television monitors, which enables Johnny Depp still to give a performance via the screens. Evelyn is played by Rebecca Hall, devoted to her husband, anxious to keep his brain alive, collaborating with him, but beginning to wonder when strange phenomena are associated with people with injuries, almost instantaneous healing, and Will be able to be connected to them, present through them. As the crowds queue, Evelyn and we wonder what his intentions are, building up an ultra-strong group of healed humans, he controlling them, in an almost fascist-like way.
The rebels who were anti-artificial intelligence (but not against violence and assassinations in imposing their will) are still working against Will, prepared to sabotage his extensive underground laboratories, energised by a vast array of solar panels. Once again the army representatives, but this time not sympathetically. This creates an enormous dilemma for Evelyn, between her still strong love for her husband and the need to control his amassing power.
While Wally Pfister is able to direct his own director of photography to create beautiful images, his storytelling technique is quite slowly paced, even solemnly paced, which runs the danger of not enticing its audience to identify with the characters, the issues and the development of the drama. The musical score is fairly subdued, more soothing than invigorating. Ultimately, the plot developments are of sufficient interest to get most audiences involved even if not greatly enthused.
With the plot development of Will connected to technology, there are some echoes of the basic Frankenstein story, good intentions to create living creatures, but hubris taking over. There are many themes to reflect on, human life, the power of the scientist, the ‘playing God’ of those who wish to control life. And then there is the significance of the title. Will uses it to describe his developments in science and healing. The word indicates a surpassing of a previous state – and it also has religious connotations, of a power beyond the human, even of dignity.
Initial response to the film was not as enthusiastic as hoped for. But, it will take its place in the series of science fiction films which are not designed merely as big blockbusters.
JEUNE ET JOLIE/ YOUNG AND BEAUTIFUL
France, 2013, 95 minutes, Colour.
Marine Vacht, Geraldine Pailhas, Fantin Ravat, Charlotte Rampling.
Directed by François Ozon.
The title is very direct and it refers to the daughter of a family, Isabelle, played by the young and beautiful Marine Vacht.
The film is the work of director François Ozon, a versatile director, considered one of the foremost of French directors, noted for his ability to work with female actors and with female themes. There is a cameo at the end of this film with Charlotte Rampling who appeared in his films, Under the Sand and The Swimming Pool.
At the beginning of the film, Isabelle is at the coast with her family on holidays. The audience sees that she has some preoccupation with sexuality, experimenting, and arranging for a tourist on holidays for an encounter where she can lose her virginity. She seems quite precocious for her age – as does her much younger brother in whom she confides.
With the transition to going back after the holidays, we see her at home and at school, but we also see her going to hotel, going up to a room, and meeting with a very elderly man. She has conversation and then a sexual encounter. In fact, she has quite a number of clients, not having any relationship with them, just the sexual behaviour and the money, including some rough treatment which does not give her any pause in this work as a prostitute.
Later, there is a crisis with the old man and he dies. The inexperienced Isabelle is at a loss as to what to do, tries to revive him but leaves him, neglecting to remember that she appears on the hotel surveillance cameras. This brings the police, and shock, especially to her mother, who does not know how to deal with the situation, relying on her calm husband, Isabelle’s stepfather.
It is only then that the audience finds out how Isabelle became involved in the prostitution, watching a television program that gave her the idea, setting up a website and her clients finding her online. The police urge her to go to a psychiatrist, which she does, but we would wonder whether she would get much benefit from these meetings and whether her behaviour would change. She says it would, but the audience is still in doubt.
With the change in sexual mores in the 21st century, this scenario does not seem as implausible as it might have seemed even 50 years ago. To that extent, the film dramatises for an audience who may be wondering about sexuality and behaviour in the young, a story of that both emphasises the sexuality as well as the risks and consequences of such behaviour.
THE ZERO THEOREM
US/UK, 2014, 107 minutes, Colour.
Christoph Walfz, Melanie Thierry, Lucas Hedges, Matt Damon, David Thewliss, Ben Wishaw, Peter Stormare, Sanjeev Basker, Rupert Friend.
Directed by Terry Gilliam.
After his introduction to British comedy in the form of the Monty Python show, and his contributions of animation to the television series as well as to the Python films, he branched out into direction with Jabberwocky. He began in the 1980s with the very entertaining Time Bandits and the exploration of tedious ordinariness, Brazil. Since then he has been making comparatively few films, but always interesting and arresting for those who been following his career.
His latest film is The Zero Theorem. And, as with some of his other films, audiences will be divided into loyal followers and the baffled who give up.
Fans of Brazil will see a number of connections with this film, the individual who is and is not part of society, working diligently – to what purpose? Here he is Qohen, living and working alone in what seems to be an empty and dilapidated church, with religious symbols and icons of including a crucifix with its head missing and substituted by a surveillance camera. He works at his computer, always answering the phone in the hopes of this being the call which will change his life. He talks to himself and to others, referring to himself as We rather than I.
When he goes out to work, he finds a bizarre city, vehicles recognisable, people in a hurry, but a world surrounded by billboards, huge hoardings, commercials which are spoken out loud, inviting customers to spend – and with the heading “enough is never enough”. Qohen goes to work where he is supervised by Joby (David Thewliss) and asks if he can work at home for his health and better productivity. He goes to see Management, Matt Damon in oddly patterned suits, who agrees. And then he spends a whole year in his hideaway, never going out.
But that does not mean he does not communicate. Those concerned about his mental health have arranged that an Online Shrink will give him advice – played by Tilda Swinton with a Scots accent. He is also caught up, virtually, with a beautiful young woman that he saw at the company party and who helped him when he was choking on a seed. She takes him away to a fantasy world, a tropical beach where he becomes more human, attracted to her, and being rescued when he sinks to the bottom of the water. Gilliam has given her the name Bainsley, odd for a character played by the French actress, Melanie Thierry. Does she really exist or, as she often appears provocatively on his computer screen, only virtual?
Qohen has a task, to investigate the Zero Theorem, dealing with the energy created at the beginning of the universe and is gradually contracting and being consumed in a black hole. He does not know exactly why he is researching this. But it gives the film time to explore some of the questions on the universe, personality, personal identity, ultimate meaning.
The other person who ventures into Qohen’s world is a teenager called Bob (Lucas Hedges), the son of Management. He is a whizzkid with computers, talks in a way that Qohen doesn’t quite always understand, listens to music that is alien to him. Bob tells Qohen that Qohen is either the chosen one, a genius, or else he is just a workaholic. The two work together, explore, have contact with Bainsley and an angry Joby who has been put out of his job because of Qohen.
As the film builds to a climax, there is tension because of an accident to Bob and the arrival of his father – who is either real or simply an image and voice on a computer. What is there left for Qohen except to retreat into the virtual world, a kind of heaven, life after death, that is the fulfilment of his imagination?
For the Gilliam enthusiasts, worth a second look.