SIGNIS REVIEWS – BERLINALE 2013
CAMILLE CLAUDEL 1915
ELLE S’EN VA/ ON HER WAY
EPISODE IN THE LIFE OF AN IRON-PICKER, An
IN THE NAME OF
LONG AND HAPPY LIFE, A
LOOK OF LOVE, The
NECESSARY DEATH OF CHARLEY COUNTRYMAN, The
NIGHT TRAIN TO LISBON
NOBODY’S DAUGHTER HAEMON
NUN, The/ LA RELIGIEUSE
VIC AND FLO MEET A BEAR
US, 2013, 108 minutes, Colour.
Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy.
Directed by Richard Linklater.
Out of Competition.
The ‘Before’ in the title of this film alerts film buffs that this is the third in a series, Before Sunset, 1995, Before Sunrise, 2004, and now Before Midnight.
Audiences first met Jesse and Celine, he American and she French, in 1995 during a train trip over night on the continent. They talked and talked, a 23 year old man and a younger woman - all kinds of topics. It was a fresh and engaging film (or very irritating to many who tire of talk on screen).
Jesse had written a book based on their meeting, has married, had a son. In 2004, Celine set out to find Jesse because of the book and her being part of it. They met again, they talked, discussed their relationship, his marriage. They married.
It is now 2013. Jesse is very conscious that he is 41, pondering it, feeling it. He has now written three books and is something of a celebrity. Jesse and Celine have twin daughters. At the opening of the film, Jesse farewells his son back to the U.S. and his mother, yet wanting to be a stronger part of his son’s teenage years.
And, of course, this time, they talk and talk, although the screenplay, a collaboration between the stars and director Richard Linklater, provides some attractive settings for the talk. The first is during the car ride back to the holiday house they are staying in for the summer, hosted by a noted author, plaued by veteran cinematographer, Walter Lassally. We learn a lot during this long single-take drive about the previous eight years. Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke are quite adept by now at bringing their characters to life. He is much more laid-back, male preoccupations. She is more tense, both very rational and very emotional. She is conscious of her need for a worthwhile job, wary of going to Chicago for Jesse’s sake, as well as experiencing the pressures of being a mother and of twins.
At the holiday house, there are some more conversations, Jesse discussing novels with the famous author, Celine helping in the kitchen and talking with the wife of one of the guests. There is a long entertaining sequence at the table. Once again a wide range of topics, especially about love, marriage, commitment, identity as well as some frank sex talk. The whole scene is well-written, lively and well-edited and paced.
There are two other major strong conversation sequences, one a walk through the town, the other in a tourist hotel where they have been given a holiday night. These are the two very personal discussions between Jesse and Celine, taking up all the issues so far with quite some passion, even to the point where they could break up. They analyse each other’s character, can be hard-hitting on faults and irritations (especially Celine). While there is some reconciliation, the arguments they engage in probably throw quite a bit of light on the tensions in marriages.
Bittersweet is definitely a word for Richard Linklater’s conclusion to his trilogy.
CAMILLE CLAUDEL 1915
France, 2013, 97 minutes, Colour.
Juliette Binoche, Jean- Luc Vincent.
Directed by Bruno Dumont.
An austere film, a bleak film, a sad film.
In her earlier life, Camille Claudel had been a talented sculptor and had been the mistress of sculptor, Auguste Rodin (brought to life in Bruno Nuytten’s 1988 film, Camille Claudel, with Isabelle Adjani as Camille and Gerard Depardieu as Rodin). This film, by stark contrast, takes place over three or four days in 1915 in a mental institution near Avignon where Camille had been placed by her family and where she was to live until 1943, dying at the age of 79.
Juliette Binoche gives a tour-de-force performance as the 51 year old Camille. She is a woman of some exterior calm but rage within. She has become paranoid, fearing that she was being poisoned and having permission to cook her own food. While she has moments of kindness towards fellow-inmates, she has a haughty and superior attitude towards most people.
If writer-director, Bruno Dumont, wanted to intern us with Camille for the length of the film, he has succeeded. He has also used amateurs for his cast and has also worked with some people from institutions to portray the inmates. This works very well. The feel of the institution and the behaviour of both men and women makes a powerful impact, especially Mme Lukas, eccentric and inarticulate, but with a deep laugh and an attachment to Camille. There is an entertaining sequence with rehearsals of a short play about Don Juan which makes Camille laugh and then, desperately cry.
Camille is seen cooking, going to her room, being bathed, praying in the chapel, but often just sitting, angry, bored, resenting the people who took her studio and implements from her, and suspecting Rodin being behind her misfortune. The first hour of the film takes us through two days only.
Two bright spots. One is a walk in bright sunlight (not much light otherwise) with a group to the top of a mountain. The other is a visit from her brother, the celebrated writer, Paul Claudel. But, before he sees his sister, there is a substantial section on his conversion experience, his deep Christianity and faith, his devotion. There are scenes with him by himself, quoting and writing excerpts on faith. He walks with a chaplain explaining his religious thinking and fervour.
One should say, it is very French, rather philosophical, some theology, a rather cerebral expression of belief and action. His reflections appeal more to the mind than the heart. And this is true in his short time with his sister. He sums her up as arrogant with a persecution fixation. He agrees with his mother and sister that she should be in the institution whereas her doctor says she is ready to live by herself.
After a long close-up on Juliette Binoche’s face, we are given the information that she remained where she was for almost thirty years more.
Bruno Dumont has made some strong, even hard, films (L’ Humanite, Flandres) but he has made an insightful, sad portrait of Camille Claudel and had the courage, in these secular times, to include such explicit language of faith and Christianity.
US, 2013, 90 minutes, Colour.
Voices of: Nicolas Cage, Emma Stone, Catherine Keener, Ryan Reynolds, Cloris Leachman.
Directed by Kirk De Micco, Chris Sanders.
Out of Competition.
What an entertaining film!
Anyone with half a funnybone should find the film amusing – and, with a complete funnybone, hilarious.
In one sense, it is a variation on the Ice Ages stories. However, it stands on its own as a story of cavemen and cavewomen and the survival of a family called The Croods. After the introduction to the family and their rules for safety, hiding in a dark cave until they venture out for food, relying on and ruled by fear, there is a marvelously active sequence where they all try to find and take an egg for breakfast. It is extraordinarily fast-paced, engaging and funny. Once we are on our way, it keeps getting better.
The voiceover narrative comes from Eep (Emma Stone). She is a rebellious red-headed teenager who is curious (something the rules forbid) and willing to take risks (also forbidden). In fact, Grug, the archetypal caveman, relying on brawns but no brain, repeats his favourite word again and again, No! He is voiced by Nicolas Cage, full of bluster, one of Cage’s best performances. Mother is Catherine Keener and Cloris Leachman revels in her role as Gran, Grug’s obstreperous mother-in-law. There is a largish dumb son, Thunk, and a baby with a ferocious mouth and teeth, Sandy.
With cave people, there is lots of cave behaviour, plenty of slapstick that would make the Three Stooges envious. Woe betide all those prehistoric animals and birds that get in the way! Come to think of it, woe betide the family when they get in the animals’ and birds’ way.
One night Eep sees a light and ventures out only to find an agreeable boy, Guy and his comically sweet pet, Belt. Guy has fire. Family crisis. Worse when Guy warns them that the end of the world as they know it is about to happen.
What follows is an entertaining journey to avoid all the cataclysms (and there are plenty), the family gradually accepting Guy’s ideas and leadership, leaving Grug frustrated and angry. But, no unexpected spoiling here, the family survives the crisis, Eep is in love, and Grug is not only heroic, he produces a few ideas!
The screenplay is very witty, amusing comparisons between the stone age and the present – and two wonderful jokes about stone age methods of taking pictures. And it has plenty of ideas about nature, survival – and the meaning of life.
To be seen again!
US, 1993/2012, 86 minutes, Colour.
River Phoenix, Judy Davis, Jonathan Pryce, Karen Black.
Directed by George Sluizer
Out of Competition.
Movie buffs have been waiting for 20 years to see this film. And it is the film by Dutch director, George Sluizer (both versions of The Vanishing), where River Phoenix died two weeks before the end of filming. It became of the property of producers and bankers until the director himself decided to try to rescue the footage and with financial contributions, especially from the Dutch government, he has produced a version of his film.
Fortunately, he filmed the scene at the end, otherwise the film could not have been rescued. It would seem that all of Jonathan Pryce’s scenes were filmed and most of those of Judy Davis. There are several scenes missing that involve River Phoenix, although there are some visuals with the director himself speaking the voiceover lines. Otherwise, there are several freeze-frames with the director describing the unfilmed action. So now Dark Blood exists as a film.
It is not a particularly outstanding film. River Phoenix, getting older, gives a rather sullen performance. Dark blood, he explains, is the stream of depression in the bloodstream. He is part Hopi Indian, living alone, with a strange cave house built because he believes the world will end soon. It is full of Hopi art and traditions. Since it is River Phoenix’s last performance, this is all of cinema history interest.
And the location is New Mexico, the desert, the mesas, the canyons. It opens with some Hopi ruins with Harry and Buffy, married film stars with two children in Los Angeles, prone to needling each other and arguing, are passing by. Their car breaks down and they stay in a dilapidated motel, managed by Karen
Black, who fills in some background: the deserted town is near Los Alamos. Crowds of tourists used to come for the atomic bomb tests. Once they stopped, the town died. And there is the danger of contamination which is a key element later in the film.
Unable to take advice, Harry sets out again to confirm his acceptance of a role in a new film. The car breaks down - again. In the middle of nowhere. Stranded, seemingly hopelessly, they argue. But Buffy sees a light and walks to the isolated home of Boy (Phoenix).
What follows is discord. Harry’s car is taken for fixing but he wants to leave at once, trying to persuade Boy to drive him. Boy delays, shows his attraction and desire for Buffy, takes Harry hunting and loses him for a while. As Harry gets more agitated and jealous, he begins to walk to the town but has to be rescued by Boy. Later the couple escape and have to be rescued again because they have taken refuge in a contaminated building ruin. The film shows the arrogance of people like Harry, arrogance and presumptuousness. While Buffy, under the skin, is an ordinary woman. Boy is a complex mixture.
Judy Davis is in good form as is Jonathan Pryce.
A cinema oddity and renewed relic.
ELLE S’EN VA/ ON HER WAY
France, 2013, 116 minutes, Colour.
Catherine Deneuve, Nemo Schiffman, Mylene Demongeot, Camille,
Directed by Emmanuelle Bercot.
We are on familiar French ground with this bittersweet domestic comedy – exceedingly familiar ground. It is one of those quite wel-made stories of past mistakes, botched relationships, mutual hurts and possibilities for reconciliation. If that is an attractive recipe, then this one is much of a muchness with all the other similar films.
The main attraction is Catherine Deneuve as Bettie, almost 70, but still a picture of glamour, despite some heaviness in her figure – one can say this in a review because characters actually refer to it, no, poke some fun at it. And she is grandma.
She now runs a restaurant which has fallen on hard times. She is a widow. She belongs to that generation where fidelity didn’t seem a requirement for marriage. She has just been ignored and abandoned by an old lover. She lives with her mother who is urging her to go for a calendar shoot with all the Miss Regions of France of 1969 where she was Miss Brittany. She goes off for a drive – and there are consequences when her estranged daughter asks her to pick up her son and take him to stay with his other grandfather.
He is a spoiled brat and is demanding with his unfamiliar grandmother. Despite this they very quickly bond and he decides that she should go to the calendar celebrations. She does, enjoys herself but faints and can’t drive the boy further. The grandfather turns up although he in the middle of municipal elections. And he is surly. However, they travel to his house, clashes and criticisms. Bettie’s mother turns up and then her daughter. And what happens? They all join in in one of those French meals seen in every other film. Despite the loss in the election, reconciliations are effected – and, very quickly, a new future for Bettie.
French film-makers keep turning out, churning out, this kind of movie.
AN EPISODE IN THE LIFE OF AN IRON PICKER
Bosnia, 2013, 75 minutes, Colour.
Senada Alimanovic, Nazif Mujic.
Directed by Danis Tanovic.
Danis Tanovic has made fine films like the Oscar-winning No Man’s Land. his take on war in the Balkans and his version of Kieslowski’s screenplay, Hell.
This is a brief, almost documentary-like tale of a Bosnian iron-picker, a collector of scrap mettle. It suggests a cross between and the realism of Ken Loach and his social concern and Mike Leigh and his intense films about families.
It is one of those attention-to-specific-detail films, mother cooking, small daughters watching TV and squabbling, father sawing and chopping firewood, the demolition of a car for scrap, driving it to sales. We are immersed in the lives of very ordinary and poor people.
The poverty is seen most drastically when the wife has had a miscarriage and is turned away from hospital because the family has no insurance. Authorities’ are letter-of-law and hard-hearted. Eventually, getting some help with the false document, the wife has the needed surgery. The husband scours snow-covered tips for more metal. Their power is cut off. The lives of the poor.
A grim a slice of life with a little happiness to finish.
US, 2013, 86 minutes, Black and white.
Greta Gerwig, Mickey Sumner.
Directed by Noah Baumbach
Greta Gerwig, who co-wrote the screenplay with Noah Baumbach, (The Squid and the Whale). Greenberg), is Frances Halliday. It is at the end, when Frances finally puts her name in the slot for her new apartment, it is too small and she bends it: Frances Ha.
This is a brief and generally lively portrait of a young woman who has not found her place in life. At college, she makes a best friend, her other half, Sophie. They talk intimately, share everything. But it cannot last, and Sophie moves apartment, becomes engaged and moves to Tokyo. Meanwhile, Frances bumbles about, wanting to join a dance company, making faux pas galore, rushing off to a futile weekend in Paris. Basically, she is a nice person but just needs the right encouragement to settle down.
Greta Gerwig (Greenberg, Damsels in Distress, To Rome with Love) makes the character of Frances her own.
Chile, 2013, 105 minutes, Colour.
Pauline Garcia, Sergio Hernandez.
Directed by Sebastian Lelio.
Chilean actress, Pauline Garcia, gives one of those striking performances, at times exuberant, at times doleful, that catches the eye and attention of jury members at international festivals.
She is Gloria.
By the finale, when the familiar song is belted out in all its energy and we read the lyrics of the song, we realise that this was, in all probability, the starting-off point for writer-director, Sebastien, to shape this portrait of Gloria.
We first see her at the dance, aloof, then merging herself amongst the middle-aged, and older, dancers. She catches the eye of an old acquaintance. Yes, Gloria is on the lookout for someone, for love, for companionship. Long-divorced, she is in contact with her son, her baby grandson and her daughter who is about to marry a Swede.
Gloria works in an office, has a nice apartment, with an irritating furless cat intruding, takes care of herself, sings happily while driving, dresses well, is comfortable. Then she meets Rodolfo, himself divorced with two daughters he supports as well as his ex-wife. He owns a theme park and Gloria enjoys a bungee jump. Gloria and Rodolfo click.
Or do they? Or is it just Gloria? The crisis occurs when she takes Rodolfo to her son’s birthday dinner, arranged by the wife of her ex-husband. Everyone is there, a time of memories, joyful, rueful and Rodolfo feels excluded. Gloria is deeply hurt by his behavior. After shunning him, she tries again. She shows her mistrust of him with the paint ball gun which is a feature of his theme park.
Gloria could have given in, taken refuge in drink, pot, self-pity. But… Then her song, Gloria, comes on, full of vitality. That will be the next chapter of her life.
Germany, 2013, 112 minutes, Colour.
Nina Hoss, Marko Mandic.
Directed by Thomas Arslan.
Years ago, there was a 1950s Cinemascope western, The Way to the Gold. Not everybody got to the gold. A lesson there about motives, greed, dangers, treasury, and for what?
This is a lavishly-made German production, filmed on location in British Columbia, taking advantage of spectacular scenery and dangerous terrain. It is set in the summer of 1898, two years after discoveries of gold in the Klondike. This is a journey saga, a long trek, 1500 km to Dawson.
A motley group of Germans from the United States answer an advertisement for a guided journey to the gold. As they travel (and it also seems a long journey for the audience), they have some of the expected mishaps, a destroyed wagon wheel, a fall from a horse and an injury. But, the further they go, the more alien the landscapes, although passing Indians show them the way for cash, the atmosphere affects them all. It is a slowly diminishing group that dares to go on from the relative security of the town of Hazleton.
Apart from the experience of the journey, it is the characters that are of the most interest. At the centre is a very dignified German woman, popular actress, Nina Hoss,. There is an arrogant leader, tall hat, coat and cravat, seemingly invincible but doomed to disaster. A New York journalist who wants to photograph and record the journey for his paper accompanies the group, and there is a father of four wanting a better life for his family, a married couple who have sold their restaurant and who are the expedition cooks, and a trader and packer with a past.
In retrospect, the plot and the characters a familiar but, with the locations and the drama, the film is often quite striking.
The film handles language questions very well, English for English-speaking characters and responses to them, German for the Germans speaking among themselves. This gives an authentic feel to the film.
China, 2012, 130 minutes, Colour.
Tony Leung, Zhang Zi Yi, Zhang Jin.
Directed by Wong Kar Wai.
A very ambitious film, a long time in pre-production, something of a labour of love for director, Wong Kar Wai. He made some action and historical films in the past but moved for a decade into more romantic, melodramatic films like In the Mood for Love. Now he is back in action.
Or, rather, he is back in action, but he is also back in romance, and in reflection, even contemplation, as he takes his audience into the traditions of martial arts.
This happens almost immediately, with striking music and chords, a painter’s palette and then an introduction to one grandmaster, Ip Man, in Foshan, 1936, and a wonderfully choreographed arts battle as Ip Man takes on a gang of thugs, all filmed in the rain. Martial Arts fans will know that Ip Man was something of a legend, especially in Hong Kong and was the guide for Bruce Lee (who is quoted at the end). But, this film offers a portrait of Ip Man (with the considerable presence of Tony Leung, star of several of Wong Kar Wai’s films). For those who want more information, there are two Ip Man films with Donnie Yen.
We are also introduced to another grandmaster who is about to retire, who is looking for a successor and who wants to preserve his techniques secret as a legacy for his family. Ip Man is successful, beating another contender Ma San (Chen) who is narcissistic and later accepts a post with the puppet-government serving the Japanese Occupation.
The other central character in the film is Gong Er, the daughter of the retiring master, who has learned the arts and is able to best Ip Man in contest.
However, Foshan is put under martial law. Ip Man loses his wealth as well as his wife and two daughters. He wanders the country during the war and finds himself in Hong Kong in the late 1940s.
Gong Er trains as a doctor but to preserve her father’s legacy, she foregoes marriage and sets up a clinic. She too moves to Hong Kong. As does Ma San who has confronted her father, betraying him.
Chronologically, the film meanders somewhat in time, focusing on one character, losing the others and then returning. There is a dramatic ending which brings all three together for a final contest.
While the film is not great storytelling, it is most impressive as a spectacle, powerful cinematography, vistas, close-ups, angles…
But it is with the Martial Arts that the film excels. There is dramatic choreography and superb editing. Indications are given of the range of moves, of the different traditions from different parts of China, and the control and concentration in the true exercise of the arts rather than just bouts of violence.
An unusual Chinese mixture.
Georgia, 2013, 110 minutes. Colour.
Timur Aldarbekov, Aslan Anabayev.
Directed by Emir Balgazin.
Stalin came from Georgia. Looking at this very grim film with a sadistic streak and although it is the 21st century, it is not difficult to see in the bullying, school rackets and power struggles, victimisation and police torture that the Soviet days were not all that long ago.
Sensitive audiences probably need a warning that, after the humorous sheep chase at the beginning, we are shown a teenager and his grandmother slaughtering, bloodletting, skinning, eviscerating and chopping up the sheep. This does have some relevance to the plot but some audiences might find the close-ups too much.
This is the story of Arsan, a country boy at high school. Some scenes at home, especially his somewhat obsessively washing and daily clothes changing, are included. Arsan is also a loner, quite introspective.
On the one hand, school seems normal enough, especially science and biology classes and laboratory experiments. Students also seem ordinary enough, except for the principled girl who insists on the head scarf instead of a uniform because of her Muslim beliefs.
There is a long early sequence where the boys undergo a rather personal and bizarre sexual examination at the school, especially a remedy for erections. Here we meet joker, Bolat, who becomes more sinister as the film progresses.
On the other hand, there is an organized protection rackets running in the school with students making complaints and approaches to Bolat, rather like a junior Don Corleone. But the senior students are also a controlling the rackets. The staff of seem to know but do nothing until too late.
A boy from the city becomes friendly with Arsan but is bashed by Bolat and by the seniors. His goal is to go to the city, to be content in Happylon, wonderful for him but just a glorified games arcade.
Then there is a death, a murder. We do not see it but guess what happened. Evidence makes his friend and Arsan suspects. Incredibly, they are arrested, put in a cell, subjected to really brutal torture.
The rest is up to the audience, trying to get into the mind of Arsan who has great concern for the school victims of the bullies but who broods about the bullies.
One hopes this story, especially the treatment of the boys and the torture, is particular to Georgia rather than universal.
IN THE NAME OF…/ W IMIE…
Poland, 2013, 96 minutes, Colour.
Andrzej Chyra, Lukasz Simlat.
Directed by Malgoska Szumowska.
The title itself introduces religious and Catholic themes of faith. It is the story of a priest, vocation, commitment, ministry, struggles, crisis, decisions.
This time the priest, Adam, is homosexual in orientation. The notes for the 2013 Berlinale catalog refers to this ‘still taboo’ topic. The writers of these notes must have been living in a movie cocoon world, not reading papers, listening to radio or watching television reports, or aware of open discussions (and within the Church) on this topic for years.
In fact, the Antonia Bird/ Jimmy McGovern? film, Priest, screened in the Berlinale Panorama section eighteen years earlier, in 1995. Not new. Not taboo.
The celibacy discussion needs to continue, of course. Significantly, the final scene here is set in a seminary, seminarians in cassocks, walking and talking in the grounds. One seminarian (in the present, or a flashback to Adam’s seminary days), stares away from the group… towards another seminarian? The question is whether the priesthood is a graced call and can be lived with struggle and urges sublimated and needs profound discernment information years, before commitment. Priesthood is not an escape from facing any problems of sexuality.
Adam (a persuasive performance from Andrzej Chyra) is an interesting priest from the beginning of the film. In a heartfelt sermon he tells his congregation that he was 21, not practising his faith, when he had a deep experience of his dead father’s presence and that he discovered a ‘spot’ in his soul for God. Rugged, a constant jogger (he says running is prayer), he works with a group of disturbed youth, labouring with them, refereeing sport, swimming, meals, with the assistance of his friend, Michael, whose bored wife comes on to Adam. He is Adam. She is Eve, the temptress.
The director, female, Malgoska Szumowska, includes a great deal of potentially homoerotic scenes of the young men, shirtless at work, at soccer, swimming etc. This prepares the audience for some homoerotic activity by the young men as well as a focus on a neighbour, a young man, Lukasz, who is devoted to Adam and defends him.
The priest struggles, lonely nights, masturbation, drinking. A desperate Skype call to his sister in Toronto, pouring out his desolation, his sexual needs, even someone to hug, is a very moving scene.
The homosexual orientation of Adam is suggested, It is only in the last forty minutes that it is made clear. Adam is reported by Michael to the bishop (a very old fashioned scene and episcopal manner). Adam has been transferred several times but the bishop says he does not want to sweep any dirt under the carpet. However, he does transfer Adam. Past incidents and the suicide of a young man, seeming to tell against him, had nothing actually to do with Adam, as the audience knows. However, it does bring matters to a head. He is good at priestly ministry but that is not enough.
Celibacy and the struggle have been a constant problem for priests, heterosexual or homosexual, since the beginning of the exodus of clergy and religious in the late 1960s.
As noted, the film, Priest raised questions and debates in 1995. It would seem that the issue still needs some exploration, especially in countries of Central Europe.
A LONG AND HAPPY LIFE
Russia, 2013, 77 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Boris Khlebnikov.
For serfs working on the land in the time of the Tsars, life was very hard. Despite the happy faces in cinema propaganda of the 1920s and 1930s, life for Soviet Union citizens working on the land, was hard. Now, in the Putin era, the ironic implications of the title of this film, A Long and Happy Life, we have to ask whether life on the land is better or is it worse.
Sasha seems an enterprising young man, has a number of people working under him for the betterment of a country area. But, the government wants the land back and is paying off the owners, like Sasha. He resists but the powers that be make it clear that this is the future. His workers don’t agree and put up opposing views which makes Sasha backtrack. Officials don’t take this kindly. His girlfriend who works in the office wants to get out and movie into town. She is dismayed at the backtrack.
This is a short film, 74 minutes, so we spend some time in seeing Sasha’ new enterprise – which does not work either. In the end, the authorities come for him. He resists. They don’t – and officialdom will have to deal with some violence and mayhem.
Not a cheery film. Gloom for the workers is still a reality in Russia.
THE LOOK OF LOVE
Steve Googan, Anna Friel, Imogen Poots, Tamsin Edgerton.
Directed by Michael Winterbottom.
Yes, the Burt Bacharach- Hal David song is sung several times, but that is the closest we get to real looks of love. Perhaps, that is a bit unfair to London sex entrepreneur, Paul Raymond, of the landmark Soho sign, Raymond Revue Bar. He does show love for his daughter, Debbie (Imogen Poots), but still allows her to indulge in his philosophy of life and aids her in her cocaine addiction.
Why a film about Geoffrey Quinn, a Liverpool boy who arrived in London from Liverpool with five shillings in his pocket and who became Paul Raymond and who was named the richest man in England in 1992. He died in 2008. Is it the sex? Is it the money? Is it both?
This film, directed by the talented Michael Winterbottom, is the film equivalent of one of those feature articles in the glossy weekend magazine of a prominent newspaper. Read it on a long Saturday or Sunday because it is there and, then, on to next week’s touch-of-scandal special feature.
Paul Raymond. A less charitable person would call him a ‘sleazebag’. His ogling sex drive combined with shrewd business sense and reading what the public (well, a sector of the public), wanted, meant that he moved into Burlesque with immobile nudity in the later 1950s, to girlie shows and theatrical extravaganzas in the 1960s, to publishing Men only in the 1970s, declaring that it was not pornography but, on the evidence of photo-ships and pictures here, he was either self-deceiving, had his tongue in his cheek, or was simply lying.
The film traces his personal life, a hail-fellow-well-met type but dead set against losing money. His wife, Jean, Anna Friel, was his choreographer. Then two children, a country mansion. But Paul Raymond had a roving eye and a hands-on (that sounds vulgar, but it is accurate!), approach to the girls in his clubs. He ditches Jean and takes up with glamorous stripper, Amber (Tamsin Edgerton), who becomes the guest columnist, Fiona Richmond, of Men Only. After some years, she can’t put up with him and leaves.
Meanwhile his daughter wants to follow in her father’s footsteps. She wants to be a singer, then London producer, but lacks real talent. So, over the decades, Paul Raymond builds up his empire, favours the press in his interviews, loses some court cases, is accused of running prostitution in his clubs. When Debbie impulsively marries Jonathan and his hostile son, Howard, turns up from America with his mother for the wedding, ean takes the opportunity for a lascivious cover and photo-story for Men Only. It is that kind of film.
When Raymond died, he left his vast billions to Debbie’s two daughters and, as the end, credits say, a smaller inheritance to Howard of 78,000,000 pounds. Nothing to his oldest son whom he knew little about and who does visit him during the film.
The main humanity in the film comes from Steve Coogan’s performance and personable char, as Paul Raymond and that is in his relationship with his daughter and his grief at her overdose death.
Historically speaking and pop-culturally in speaking, he was part of London for half a century. But he would rank low in the list of those who really contributed to London.
US, 2013, 93 minutes, Colour.
Amanda Seyfried, Peter Saarsgaard, Sharon Stone, Chris Noth, Hank Azariah.
Directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman.
Much more to this film than might have been first thought. And it is a film that needs to be seen right until the end.
For those who remember the seventies, there will be a curiosity to learn something about Linda Lovelace, the star of the multi-million dollar box-office porn movie, Deep Throat. For those who don’t remember it, the film will offer some insight into the public image and the private reality of the young Florida woman who was persuaded to perform in the film.
Amanda Seyfried is a long way from Cosette and Mamma Mia’s daughter as Linda Lovelace. She gives a very good performance. Peter Sarsgaard is also very convincing as her charming then brutish husband. The film-makers have persuaded quite a number of Hollywood character actors to play supporting roles, the surprising one being an unrecognisable Sharon Stone as Linda’s mother. James Franco is Hugh Hefner. Hank Azariah is the director, Gerard Damiano. Chris Noth has a significant role as an organized crime producer of Deep Throat.
By halfway through the film when Linda takes a bow at Hugh Hefner’s private screening of the film, we have an impression of a rather naïve young woman, susceptible to her mother’s strict Catholic injunctions about a wife obeying her husband, a woman who is cautiously fun-loving at first, but then under the sway of her irresponsible husband who persuades her to be in the film and makes his pitch to the company which is trying to bring some ‘art’ into the pornography industry.
There is a lot of smooth and double talk about art and the movies, about what audiences want and about sex. Linda seems swept up in the talk, doing what Chuck wants and enjoying the popularity.
And then there is the other half of the film.
Linda is taking a polygraph test since her publishers want to know whether what she has written in Ordeal is fact of fiction. Now we see the flashbacks. Her mother is not quite the dragon lady of the first half, though not prone to express emotions. Chuck is definitely the exploitative monster. He dominates his wife, even raising money by prostituting her. He pressures her into making the film. He is particularly violent and abusive after the Hefner party. This is the picture of the naïve young woman who cannot get out of the clutches of her husband.
Perhaps the truth is a mixture of both.
Lovelace is certainly no endorser of pornography. It shows the business side of the industry and its successes commercially, but, as the ageing star (Debi Mazar) tells Linda, as you grow older you need to have developed other skills, otherwise…
The book is published. Linda is married and has a son. The epilogue reminds us that Linda Marchiani (her married name) campaigned against pornography and domestic violence for 20 years before her untimely death at 53 as a result of injuries that she suffered in a car accident. She regretfully notes at one stage that she spent 17 days on the film but that this was what she was remembered for.
US, 2013, 90 minutes, Colour.
James Franco, Catherine Keener, Fallon Goodson, David Strathairn, Alan Cumming.
Directed by Carter.
A film of eccentricity, disturbance, mental illness, mental creativity, maladies. When David Strathairn asks for a six-letter word for his crossword puzzle, ‘affliction’, James Franco says, ‘malady’.
This film was written and directed by Carter, who also provided art-work and appears briefly as one of the police at the end of the film.
‘Thoughtful’ is another word that pervades the film. ‘Thoughtful’ in terms of ‘sensitivity’, a word that also recurs. But, it is also a ‘full of thoughts’. This film certainly is full of thoughts, existential thoughts, with the chapter headings and questions about thoughts, feelings, meanings and personal identity. There is also a voiceover with comments but which asks a lot of questions, one of the voices that James (James Franco), hears and answers. Togetherness and isolation are also important. The film introduces Delmar, (a finally sensitive David Strathairn), and James, the former soap-opera star, (plenty of glimpses of the soap-opera), now fired and living with this thoughtfulness and trying to write. He lives on beachfront New York with his fey sister Patricia, (Fallon Goodson), and artist Catherine (Catherine Keener always strong and dependable). They form a little community, united in friendship and in art, with the next-door neighbor, Delmar.
James Franco has become a versatile screen presence and is at the core of this portrait of maladies. He reveals the dilemmas of madness, even to wanting to learn and write in Braille after meeting a nice blind lady reading on a park bench. But, ultimately, it is too much for him and dying in his imagination, he then dies in reality.
Catherine is much tougher, her hobby is dressing as a man as she goes out. In the diner she is attacked by a very prim man (Alan Cumming) who voices the bigotry of not understanding.
At the beginning of the film, Catherine and Patricia are watching extensive footage of Jim Jones and the mass suicide at Jonestown. The setting is late 1978 and audiences are invited to reflect on what this event meant, in terms of the person and personality of Jones, his persuasiveness, hundreds of people leaving San Francisco, and dying at his command. The challenge for the audience is to connect the implications of this event with the characters in the film and their behavior.
LA RELIGIEUSE/ THE NUN
France, 2013, 114 minutes, Colour.
Pauline Etienne, Isabelle Huppert, Louise Bourgoin, Martina Gedeck, Francoise Lebrun.
Directed by Guillaume Nicloux.
In recent years there have been far fewer films about nuns. Priests, yes. Nuns, no. Since the Second Vatican Council, the traditional-looking nun and her convent life have changed considerably, especially in English-speaking countries.
The Nun is a French film with a Belgian leading actress, Pauline. And it is based on a novel by Enlightenment author, Francois Diderot. The setting is the 18th century, 1765, a quarter of a century before the French Revolution, a very different time and ethos, even in religious life.
The director, Guillaume Nicloux, has noted that he has removed the strong anti-clerical attitudes of the author, again a feature of the French Revolution. Diderot is anticlerical in attitude and severely critical of nuns and community life. However, in the film, a bishop with a sense of justice and a sympathetic priest come out of the film very well.
But it is a story about convent life. Suzanne has written her story and had it smuggled out of the convent to a lawyer who is to help her obtain an annulment from her vows for her to be free to leave the convent. A teenager, she had talked about serving God to help her two sisters marry. But, when she is actually placed in a convent and compelled to stay by her parents, a deep sense of dread envelops her.
Throughout the film she lives in two convents under three superiors. The first is a kindly, elderly woman, Francoise Lebrun. She wants to help Suzanne to stay and live as a nun. The other sisters, unlike those in Loudun 100 years earlier and seen in hysteric states in Ken Russell’s The Devils, seem to accept their vocation or their fate. Suzanne is persuaded to stay, to make commitments. But, at the ceremony for her profession of vows, she refuses. When the superior dies, the victim of a mentally disturbed sister, they care for, the new superior takes over. She is younger, attractive-looking, but a deadly authoritarian and wilful woman (Louise Bourgoin). She makes life a hell for Suzanne, solitude, confinement, starvation, no washing or sanitation, no confession, no communion, finally forbidding her to pray. It is mentioned that she came from the Paris convent at Port Royale, the convent in the previous century where Mere Angelique ruled with rigid Jansenist intolerance and Blaise Pascal was a resident.
Suzanne steals paper and ink and writes her story – which leads to a strip search and further humiliations and to the nuns despising her. Charity is singularly absent.
This is the time when the bishop appears, briefed by the lawyer who has received Suzanne’s story. Justice prevails, the superior is rebuked and stood down. Suzanne is transferred.
All seems sweetness and light in the new convent. However, there are immediate signals that this time the superior has sexual problems, has cast off a jealous nun in Suzanne’s favor, devoting herself and her time to Suzanne, then making sexual advances. Suzanne is dismayed, reports the superior and her behavior, but the drama and melodrama is eased and Suzanne is helped by the lawyer to escape. She does find freedom. She is able to face life.
The tyrannical superior is played by Louise and the third superior is played by Isabelle Huppert.
Decades ago Monica Baldwin wrote a memoir, I Leap Over the Wall, a story of a convent life and the difficulties in getting out. With greater discernment and fairer processes is for dispensations from vows now, this 18th century tale seems old-fashioned, a tale from the severe past. That said, the actresses, the attention to period detail, costumes and décor well re-created mean that the film is very well made and worth some attention.
THE NECESSARY DEATH OF CHARLEY COUNTRYMAN.
Shia La Boeuf, Evan Rachel Wood, Mads Mikkelson, Til Schweiger, Rupert Grint, Melissa Leo. Narrated by John Hurt.
Directed by Fredrik Bond.
For Shia La Boeuf fans, this is no Transformers movie. Rather, it is an arthouse portrait of an aimless young man who gets caught up in a fantasy world on the occasion of the death of his mother (Melissa Leo) who urges him to venture out to Bucharest to see what happens to him. Bucharest? Everybody presumes she meant Budapest, but off her goes to Romania in a story that will not do Romanian tourism much good. So, this is Bucharest!
Actually, the film starts at the end with a bloodied Charley Countreyman hanging upside down, bloodied, and about to be shot by the newly discovered love of his life, Gabi (Even Rachel Wood) at the behest of her loathsome criminal husband, Nigel (Mads Mikkelson) and his also loathsome club owner friend (Til Schweiger). John Hurt begins to intone a narrative, ‘Ladies and Gentlemen…’ and continues with his distinctive voice, higher vocabulary and existential reflections, especially about death and love.
We are not into any ordinary film here, though when you take away the fantasy elements, the plot is rather familiar. Young man encounters a friendly passenger on the plane who dies and asks the young man to give a gift to his daughter. It has to be said the Romanian airport authorities and the police have not been trained in sympathy, let alone empathy. Charley finds the girl, becomes infatuated, finds she plays cello in an orchestra, that Nigel is her no-good husband. In the meantime, he goes to a fairly squalid hostel where he meets some naively stupid young Brits (including post Harry Potter, Rupert Grint) who take him to a club where he gets into more trouble. In fact, it is trouble, trouble, trouble – and some beatings, and some double messages from Gabi, until we are back to the beginning and John Hurt is telling us, ladies and gentlemen, about death and love’s capacity for reviving us. (And, as she appears to Charley and commends him on his adventure and his coming alive, she admits she meant Budapest, always gets them mixed up.)
That is the tone of the film. Nigel, towards the end, reminds Charley that he is in Limbo. Not theologically ept, he probably meant Purgatory.
If this all sounds interesting, it may be worth an existential try. If not, Bucharest is not the place for you.
NIGHT TRAIN TO LISBON
Germany, 2013, 116 minutes, Colour.
Jeremy Irons, Martina Geddeck, Jack Huston, Melanie Laurent, Tom Courtenay, August Diehl, Bruno Gana, Lena Olin, Charlotte Rampling, Christopher Lee.
Directed by Bille August.
Out of Competition.
Based on a novel by Pascale…, this film has two time levels. While it starts on a bridge and in a classroom in Bern, after the trip on the night train, most of the action takes place in Portugal, in the present and in the early 1970s during the dictatorship of Salazar and the revolution against his regime.
The present. Teacher Jeremy Irons saves a woman from jumping off the Bern bridge. When she runs from his classroom, she leaves her coat and, in a pocket, a book by a Portugese doctor/philosopher which intrigues him. The bookseller tells him the girl had a ticket for Lisbon. Impulsively, something he never does, he boards the train. After settling into a hotel in Lisbon, he begins his search for the author and learns about the 1970s resistance. He finds the author’s repressed sister, Adriana (Charlotte Rampling) who had collected her brother’s notes and published them, then learns that Amadeu, the brother has been dead for decades. His search takes him to a priest who taught him and buried him (Christopher Lee). After being knocked down by a cyclist, he needs new glasses. The friendly optometrist, Mariana (Martina Gedeck) takes him to her uncle in a retirement home, Joao (Tom Courtenay), a close friend and ally of Amadeu (Jack Huston). Eventually, he finds Jorge, Amadeu’s closest friend (Bruno Ganz) and gradually puts the pieces together.
The past. Schoolfriends, Amadeu and Jorge, the former’s conservative judge father and Adriana. We see Amadeu making a daring speech at school at Jorge’s insistence. This is all shown in flashbacks to meetings, arrests and torture, daring escapes. We also meet Estafania (Melanie Laurent) who keeps addresses and phone numbers in her accurate memory and is a threat to the regime.
The trouble with this kind of production is that it is like the European Union. What emerges is a kind of (sometimes lumpy) Europudding, something like other Bille August films, The House of the Spirits and his Les Miserables (1998). A German production with a Danish director. Cast from Germany, England, France, Sweden, Portugal and sometimes a hotchpotch of accents, the British affecting a kind of broken English accent. Characters who speak clearly when they are young like Jorge (August Diehl) then becoming heavy accented (Bruno Ganz) or Melanie Laurent becoming Lena Olin.
Still, the plot is interesting. Lisbon looks beautiful and the film does offer the opportunity to learn something about the mid-20th century history of Portugese politics.
NOBODY’S DAUGHTER HAEWON
Korea, 2013, 90 minutes. Colour.
Directed by Hong Sangsoo.
Hong Sangsoo is something of a fashionable director, especially in film festivals in Europe.
His plots tend to be variations on a theme: precarious relationships and eccentric characters, somewhat sexist in Woman is the Future of Man (could there be a more sexist title!), more balanced in Hahaha.
We are introduced to a highly-strung young woman who is to meet her mother who is moving to Canada. She falls asleep, which makes us wonder how much is her life asleep and dreaming or real. She meets a tourist who asks her directions and realizes that it is Jane Birkin. They have a gushy encounter. Then Haewon wakes up. The rest of the film involves a lot of talking with friends and a fair amount of drinking. A professor turns up to a gathering and it emerges that Haewon has had a relationship with him. When Haewon is out with other friends, the professor rings to arrange to casually meet her and lament his marriage and to try to rekindle the relationship, etc.
Haewon has her giddy moments as well as her serious ones. It is a light portrait of this young woman.
Austria, 2013, 90 minutes, Colour.
Melanie Lenz, Joseph Lorenz.
Directed by Ulrich Siedl.
Austrian writer-director, Ulrich Seidl, is noted for hard, even harsh, dramas that don’t draw back on sexuality and violence (Imports/Exports).
This film, subtitled Hoffnung/Hope, is the third in a trilogy, Paradise: Faith, Paradise:Love, Paradise: Hope. Actually, hope is not particularly in evidence.
Melanie is 13 and lives with her devout mother who enrolls her in a special camp for overweight children. The regimen is very disciplined with lots of exercise (which, by the end of the film does not seem to have made much appreciable difference despite so many scenes of activity). What we see of the others is that they are agreeable enough. Melanie shares a room with three other girls. They chat, they gossip, they giggle, they smoke on the sly, they play spin the bottle.
There are three people on the staff. A vigorous young woman dietician, the tough male trainer and the doctor.
It is the doctor who becomes a focus, especially for Melanie where he makes jokes, plays with her at interviews. She falls for him – and he has been grooming her. He places her and himself in some compromising situations. When Melanie and another girl go out on the town for a night, drinking, going to a club, dancing, more drinking and being molested by a customer, she has to be rescued by the doctor.
At the end, Melanie does not seem to have learned any lessons. Hope? That she will get over this episode – and that she will lose some weight.
Though serious, the film seems thin and slight.
PARDE/ CLOSED CURTAIN
Iran, 2013, 106 minutes, Colour.
Kamboziya Partovi, Jafar Panahi.
Directed by Jafar Panahi and Kamboziya Partovi.
Jafar Panahi was a celebrity, one of Iran’s leading directors since the 1990s, winner of many festival awards. In recent years, he has become a cause célèbre, forbidden by the Iranian government from making films and restricted to house arrest.
Since then he has made two films which have received overseas distribution. The first was This is not a Film, 2011, and was about Panahi himself and how he managed staying within his apartment. The present film is far more ambitious. It is again about making a film, a much more imaginative project than the first, but still about Panahi himself and his situation. However, he is seen to come and go, visiting his comfortable villa by the Caspian Sea. It makes us unsure of his situation with the government and how strict is the nature of his confinement.
The first part of the film is inventive. A man with a dog, a very cute and alert dog, a arrives at a villa, settles in, closes all the curtains for privacy, plays with the dog and begins to write. Then there are sounds of police and knocking. A mysterious sister and her brother break in. The writer is bewildered. (The house, by the way, has several posters of Panahi these films.)
Later Panahi himself arrives, acting normally, with a visit from his neighbour, his neighbour’s wife bringing a very good meal, labourers in to repair a window.
Then the two aspects mix. Panahi is seen briefly filming the writer. There is a fantasy drowning of the girl. And a fantasy of Panahi walking into the sea and then retreating back. The writer and the director seem to be alter egos. Is the girl a muse, perhaps? or just a feminine side of Panahi?
And so, it is over to us, the magic of film, creativity, possible destruction, a certain playfulness and our continued interest in Panahi himself and his fate.
US, 2013, 94 minutes, Colour.
Paul Rudd, Emile Hirsch.
Directed by David Gordon Green.
Do you know or have you ever met one of those road workers who put in the posts along the side of the road and paint the yellow lines down the middle? Here is your chance.
It is the aftermath of huge forest fires in Texas in 1987. The next year, along the road, forests and charred tree-trunks, two workers, Alvin and Lance, work all day and camp by themselves at night. If they were heroes of the comics that they like, then combined the would be Prince Alvin and Lance, Prince Avalanche.
The film is an American adaptation of an Icelandic film, Either Way, and is basically a two-hander, the interactions between Alvin and Lance. An amiable truckie who enjoys stopping to chat and have a drink and a woman who has lost her home in the fires and spends time, rummaging in the ashes and rubble trying to find her pilot’s license and log book are really the only two other people in the film.
Alvin’s girlfriend is Lance’s sister and Alvin has hired Lance so that he can get some sense and discipline in his untidy life. Alvin is not having too much success as Lance can be quite dumb and is, of course, sex-preoccupied. On the other hand, Alvin is a straight arrow, more introverted, more than a touch obsessive. He works hard, is trying to learn German by tape, finds it difficult to talk (he says he is not a fun guy), and is constantly critical of Lance. When asked by Lance if he were a girl in a beauty pageant, what would be his talent, he answers, the three-jump. When Lance’s sister breaks it all off, Alvin is distraught, becomes dysfunctional (with some help from the truckie’s alcohol). He fights with lance, but does come to his senses and apologizes.
Written and directed by David Gordon Green, (Undertow and the crass Your Highness), the film is humorous, witty with some astute observations. Emile Hirsch is a convincingly awkward as Lance, though he has, ultimately, a good heart. Paul Rudd, shorter hair and with a mustache, rather unrecognizable, offers a very different performance from his recent films and is very good indeed.
US, 2013, 106 minutes, Colour.
Matt Damon, Frances McDormand?, John Krasinsky, Rosemarie de Witt, Hal Holbrook.
Directed by Gus Van Sant.
Perhaps the title should be Promised Money. This is an environmental message film, written by Matt Damon and John Krasinsky, who also a star in the film. Matt Damon originally intended to direct. Its seriousness (with comic and humane touches) is obviously project dear to the writers. They asked Gus Van Sant, who had worked with Damon for Good Will Hunting and Gerry to take on the role of direction.
This is an anti-corporation film. The corporation here is Global Crosspower who are searching for natural gas by frakking. They are giving handouts, and agents visit farms and properties to persuade owners to sell the rights to their land for their hand out and for future profits. The agents are generally welcomed. Some, like the veteran science teacher, played by Hal Holbrook, explain the reasons against. Others are opposed because they value the handing down of properties within families.
Matt Damon is Steve Butler, a man of principles and a persuasive agent with a good pitch. Frances Mc Dormand is Sue, older, a veteran sales expert, with the teenage son at home. We see them do the deals and with charming rapport. They mingle with the locals, especially at the bar, joking with them, drinking, singing.
Suddenly, an environmental activist, John Krasinsky turns up, subverting their processes, talking to everyone, giving a vivid lesson about pollution to school children, with a demonstration, printing and distributing posters and brochures against the corporation. Steve and Sue argue with him. They set up a local fair to promote their cause but it is ruined by rain.
There is a twist at the end which audiences might see coming, reinforcing audience prejudices against the corporation, with their dirty tricks and tactics. This leaves the locals high and dry.
But it does mean that Steve has to rethink his approach, his principles, his future.
The film has something of the same message as Erin Brockovich but Steve Butler is not a campaigner against the corporations. However, with his final speech, we seem to be in the Frank Capra tradition of the ordinary, even little, man and his standing up to authoritarianism, with an optimism about the inherent good in old-fashioned values, old-fashioned American values.
US, 2012, 106 minutes, Colour.
Jude Law, Rooney Mara, Catherine Zeta- Jones, Channing Tatum, Ann Dowd.
Directed by Steven Soderbergh.
Allegedly, Steven Soderbergh’s last film for the screen. He has been a most versatile director in terms of genres and variety of content. This one is an entertainment. It is a psychological crime thriller with some interesting developing twists.
But there is also a campaigning or crusading emphasis, with memories of his plague thriller of 2011, Contagion. The side-effects here (which play a crucial role in the murder), are those of drugs. The early part of the film bombards the audience with so many drug names, specialized artificial names, marketing and promotion of benefits, with little said of side-effects, that we are bamboozled at hearing about them, about frequent prescriptions and the American capacity of pill-popping.
Rooney Mara (Oscar nomination for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), is given a very strong role here. It should enhance her career. She has to go through a wide range of emotions and carries it all off convincingly. She is Emily, married to Martin, Channing Tatum (something of a regular in Soderbergh’s recent films), who was released from four years jail for insider trading. He is charming. She is depressed and has been having treatment from Doctor Siebert (a controlled Catherine Zeta- Jones), but, after a crash, is in the care of Dr. Jon Banks, Jude Law giving of reliable performance. He treats Emily but finds himself caught up in her case, subject to slander, hounded by the media and losing marriage, job and reputation.
He is determined to clear his name from blame for his prescriptions and Emily’s behavior. Step by step, he does, becoming something of a detective along the way, its all culminating in justice being eventually done.
This review has been careful not to reveal the core plot developments. Much more enjoyable and intriguing if you don’t know what is going to happen.
VIC AND FLO MEET A BEAR
Canada, 2013, 90 minutes.
Pierette Robitaille, Romane Bohringer, Marc Andre Grondin.
Directed by Denis Conte
Who would be the audience for this film? It is not a cheerful film. It is rather nihilistic in outlook, though there is a glimpse of Victoria and Florence, Vic and Flo walking into eternity at the end.
At the opening, a young boy scout is playing the trumpet rather badly. Vic says so. At the end, as she and Flo lie dying, the boy returns, playing better and Vic commends him.
In between we see a story of woman coming out of prison, with a few prison flashbacks, wanting to live with her uncle. He has had a stroke and is immobile. He is being cared for by a sympathetic young man, but Vic wants to take over. The boy’s doctor father is none too pleased.
The important thing for Vic is to meet up again with Flo, her lover before she went to prison. The couple re-unite and are seen in a variety of happenstance situations. However, Flo’s leg is injured, which hampers matters.
There is a very sympathetic parole officer who is kind and understanding to the two women. There is a council employee who is testing the purity of the local water. She has a black friend who plays the guitar. She is a malicious woman, finally causing all the mischief, calling herself a brute. She’s right.
When the two women go for a walk, they are caught in bear traps and that is the end of them.
The two women are not particularly ingratiating characters, well into middle age, with hard lives behind them and, perhaps, some possibilities for a future – which will never come.
If that sounds interesting, it is probably more interesting than what appears, sometimes confusedly, sometimes alienatingly, on the screen.