Monthly Archives: July 2014

The Grand Budapest Hotel

The Grand Budapest Hotel film posterSynopsis

Jude Law reveals his past.  Hotel manager Gustave H  played by Ralph Fiennes in a sort of First World War Austro-Hungarian world.  He’s made love with elderly women and is suspected of murdering Madame D (Tilda Swinton) who has left a painting in her will to Gustave and this sets up a partnership with the lobby boy Zero (Tony Revolori). Gustave is in jail and is pursued by villainous Willem Defoe.  Other Hollywood stars e.g.Owen Wilson and Tom Wilkinson have walk on parts in this chase comedy which goes through many snowy landscapes and weird hotels.


Fiennes’ attempts at humour are reduced to tedious expressions of the “fuck” word as if we take his usual actorly fastidiousness at face value.  He’s a socially climbing controller and chancer and I’m sure Fiennes models his role on the Pink Panther. I managed to laugh a few times.  There are some embarrassingly stilted attempts at humour that you get in those 60’s caper movies especially Casino Royale (1967) and It’s a Mad Mad World.  We’re supposed to be amused when a well known actor turns up to do his routine until the next star vies for our attention by putting the current star back in his box.  Jerky actorly puppetry and idiosyncratic gurning are made to compensate for a decent story and sympathetic characters as we veer off on one smugly irrelevant tangent after another.  Willem Dafoe is simply a cartoonish thug looking like he’d strayed out of the set of Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines.  The hotel and other film scenes are like folding boxes in some stylized performance.  The hotel itself is served up like a First World War cardboard theatre. The chase scenes are so derivative that I kept expecting the director to arrive on set and shout “cut”, but then again that’s what he effectively does.  This is not so much a film as a scissors and cutting its way through any attempt at an amusing and coherent story.  The scenes in the film are certainly vivid to the point where colours seem to drench the set.  This is the Europe of Freud and Kafka but we wait in vain for any kind of wit or literary reference in ths failed nightmare.  A would be jolly romp that flogs to death its one joke of Ralph Fiennes trying to keep up appearances.


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Nymphomamiac Vol 1 and Vol 2

Nymphomaniac Vol 1 film posterNymphomaniac Vol 2 film posterSynopsis

Lars von Trier’s film stars Charlotte Gainsborough as Joe.  She is found all beaten up by Seligman (Stellan Skarsgaard ). He gives her shelter and she tells him about her life through eight titled parts.  Between the parts we return to his room where Skarsgaard finds analogies from nature, history and philosophy, to understand her supposedly bad behaviour.  Joe at different ages goes on sexual adventures.  We see her attempting family life but failing in that.  Jamie Bell plays K, whose sadism interacts with Joe’s masochism.  Una Thurman plays an outraged cheated wife upholding bourgeois morality.  Joe gets into a lesbian relationship and is cheated on and abandoned. Is Seligman a good man?


This few hours of film is Lars von Trier’s delighting in thumbing his nose at the contemporary reassertion of puritanical taboos.  His entire point is to offend.  There is a nicely ironic contrast between Seligman’s austere study, (all dirty wallpaper and Catholic icons) almost like a monk’s cell and the erotic electricity that comes from Joe’s narration.  Jamie Bell has until now usually played wholesome characters so I’ll never look at him in the same way again.  He flogs a submissive Joe but we realize that his brutality is always on Joe’s terms, she is the real controller.  The worse his sadism, the more she controls it.

Van Trier looks frankly at the nature of nymphomania and simply sees its expression as a force of nature, he doesn’t set out deliberately to shock.  In meeting Joe’s needs, people will be abandoned or abused and Joe refuses to be hypercritical about this.  Indeed, she sees herself as martyred to her physical needs because they can ostracize her, banishing her from the decencies of acceptable behaviour.  She doesn’t flinch from its consequences.  All this gives Von Trier the opportunity to take some cynical aphoristic swipes against our socially sanctioned illusions.  At one point Seligman uses the metaphor of fishing as an analogy with the hunt for sexual satisfaction.  Von Trier’s storybook method with bookish illustrations reminds me at times of Greenway’s films, the same clinical poetic detachment.  This is worthy of the 18th century satirist Jonathan Swift of “Modest Proposal”, the straight faced scholarly dissection of behaviour outside of “morality”.

Joe loves her father (Christian Slater) a great deal and she attends his death from cancer.  Her father shows her different trees and what we’re to  make of this lesson in schmaltzy botany I’m not quite sure.  It’s as if von Trier sometimes has to soften the impact of his controversial views with nature mysticism and then relate this to sexual behaviour.  Most of the men in the film are so easy to manipulate sexually that they appear to be ugly and gullible, downright clownish.  Joe has no choice but laser like honesty, like a force of nature.  Trier’s vision is a world of absurdist hypocrisy and self deceit.  Nymphomania probably comes closest in film to Nietzsche’s insight of “will to power” insofar as it’s on these psychosexual forces that we can only thrive.  Disturbing for those with hang ups, quite a trip for the open minded.


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Posted by on July 20, 2014 in At the cinema, Film Reviews


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