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Tag Archives: 2013

Night Moves

Night Moves film posterSynopsis

Joe (Jesse Eisenberg), Harmon (Peter Sarsgaard) and Dena (Dakota Fanning) are planning to blow up a dam as an act of eco-rebellion to save nature. *** SPOILER ALERT!: they do this deed but someone is killed further down the lake as a result.  They drift apart, conscience bothers them and there is a murder. ***

Review

This is a terrifying film which shows the effect of conscience on the doers of a well meaning but lethally botched deed.  For me, this could be an excellent pilot film for a series showing how the effects of conscience corrode Joe’s mind.  It could be more gripping than The Fugitive in that the running, in this case, is from the ordeals of a bad conscience and the denouement could be the paranoid disintegration of a mind in an ordeal of signs of threat, or possible threat.  It explores the degeneration of misguided idealism into simple terrorism.  The recriminations amongst the perpetrators kill any initial moral certainty.  Reichardt made Meek’s Cut Off, another film about failed trust, and here Joe slowly and convincingly descends into murderous self protection.  The entire film seems to be shot in a gloomy dusk or dawn, as if daylight is almost unbearable for the conscience.  Harmon is self possessed and competent, and keeps his cool even when before the deed he is recognized by a waiter who is an ex-con.  Dena keeps her cool under the suspicious interrogations of the seller of fertilizer, knowing that this crucial circumstantial evidence of a purchase of the stuff used for explosives could damn them all.  As with any such tightly knit conspiracy, all outsiders are considered as innocent fools or potential enemies and this conspiratoralism already corrupts their relationships, as if trust gives way to the vigilante logic of group survival.  Dena’s feelings for Josh are mixed with her remorse and there are terrible consequences.  The conscience-stricken slow panic accentuates the suspicion about their motives in the first place.

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Posted by on November 15, 2014 in Film Reviews, Independent films

 

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Ida

Ida film posterSynopsis

A young nun Ida (Agata Trzebuchowska) is a 17 year old novitate.  Before reccceivng her holy orders she is asked to leave tne convent and visit her aunt Wanda (Agata Kulesza) who tells Ida she was born Jewish and her parents were murdered during the Holocaust.  They journey to find out the details of this war time event.  Wanda gets drunk and spends a night in jail (she is a Public Prosecutor who could inflict the death penalty in the early 50s).  They confront the perpetrators. Wanda tries to introduce Ida to alcohol, sex, and jazz.  Ida meets a jazz player (Dawid Ogrodnik) for whom she has sexual feelings.  Does Ida take her vows in the end?  What happens to Wanda?

Review

This is set in the early 60s in Communist Poland during the deep freeze of a winter and the Cold War.  Ida lived an innocent life in the convent.  The scene of the statue in the snow is a classical pose for a painting of the religious life.  There is the same lifeless austerity already seen in the asylum in Camille Claudel 1915.  The nuns are as statuesque as their convent.  Wanda is a hard drinking and smoking cynic who likes a good time and taunts the complacency of Ida’s untested austerity.  Wanda is a beacon of hedonism, all compulsive movements and furious cigarette smoking.  Ida by contrast is a study in imperturbable stillness, all the more unsettling for its apparent stoicism.  She does not feel the need to defend the religious life against Wanda’s cynicism  They both visit the farm stolen from their family, where weaselly-faced peasants defend their ill gotten gained cottage in a wintry landscape so raw you can feel it scrape your flesh.  They have initially got the wrong man but the murderer is the usual mixture of snivelling justification and conscience-evasion, taking final refuge in self-serving inscrutability.  The murderer unearths their remains, transformed by the black and white of the film into a sort of priordial ritual.  Given the enormity of what he and the others did to the Jewish victims, Ida and Wanda’s calm refusal to even hint at absolution is dignified.  This is a journey into Poland’s terrible past as well as its grey present day (1962).  There is a symmetry from the religious imagery from the start of the film (after Ida has renounced the prospect of married life) to the end where Ida walks back to the convent as if on pilgrimage.  In the nascent pop culture of Communist Poland the ballroom scenes are quaintly innocent in that anti-puritannical daring, bordering unintentionally on a David Lynch parody of a jazz band in a grey poverty-primitive culture.  The black and white compositions of the film are superb, the countryside is practically an Arctic wilderness as if Brueghel-esque grotesque lurked in the woods.  Domestic interiors seem more picked out in detail than in a colour film.  Faces can be almost superfluous to a scene dominated, for example, by a high wall. Superb.

 

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Camille Claudel 1915

Camille Claudel 1915 film posterSynopsis

It’s 1915 and Camille Claudel (Juliette Binoche) is in an as asylum run by nuns near Avignon.  Her family have confined her, they are worried about her mental condition.  Camille is intensely irritated by her fellow inmates.  She was Rodin’s lover and muse and she thinks he tried to take her studio from her.  She waits for her brother Paul Claudel to arrive.  On his way to see her, Paul talks about the state of his soul with a priest (Emmanuel Kaufmann ).  He visits his sister, but does he offer her hope?

Review

Dumont’s film broods a lot.  There are long scenes where the camera is at a distance from which it can easily escape if it needs to, and who can blame it?  Binoche is good as the twitchy paranoid artist who is living in an asylum hell that makes a trappist monastery look like a funfair.  The asylum scenes had me looking for the artist at his easel in a corner,  they look like invitations to painting and meditation.  The trip over the lunar rocks of windswept Provence are the promise of a sensual respite from the fossilized gloom and terrifying monotony of the asylum.  Camille insists on cooking her own food, paranoiacally convinced that a cook would poison her.  The laboriously starched linens, harsh stones, and stoical slowness of illness are a Stations of the Cross in some purgatorial neglect.  Practically every image in the film hints at some religious metaphor.  Camille’s cold fish of a brother Paul is a Catholic visionary poet whose self righteousness allows no recognition of the suffering of others.  He can turn out clever lapidary phrases and arguments about the state of his soul but his spiritual pride is insufferably egotistic in its self renunciation.  None of this is romantic stereotyping of the artist, there is nothing glamorous about Camille’s mental state, it is mean and pedestrian.  Are we supposed to feel extra sympathy because she is an artist rather than an ‘ordinary person’?  I felt uneasy about the use of real mental patients and I wonder whether Binoche is distancing herself from them as she mocks their attempts at acting in the film, is she portraying simple honesty about what separates her from them or is it acting as such?  I’m not sure which.  This is Camille a few decades on from her 1880s relationship with Rodin, played by Bruno Nytten’s 1988 film with Gerard Depardieu as Rodin and Isabelle Adjani as Camille.

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on November 12, 2014 in Film Reviews, Independent films

 

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Belle

Belle film posterSynopsis

Amma Asante’s film is inspired by a painting showing a bi-racial girl with a white woman.  Dido Elizabeth Belle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw ) is of mixed race and is raised with her half cousin Lady Elizabeth Murray (Sarah Gadon).  She is the daughter of Captain John Lindsay and an African Maria Belle.  She is brought up in Kenwood House by Lord Mansfield (Tom Wilkinson) who was famous for hearing the “Zong” ship court case in which the human “cargo” of slaves was murdered by being thrown overboard.  Lady Mary Murray (Penelope Wilton) is disappointed in love.  John Davis plays a clergyman’s son and he is idealistic about ending the slave trade.  Dido and Davis struggle for human rights and Mansfield gives his ruling…

Review

This of course is a story about racial and gender identity, about slavery, class, love, and marriage.  It’s a thinking person’s costume drama for Jane Austen fans.  It’s about the buttoned-up snobberies barely contained.  We’ve seen the obscene face of slavery in 12 Years a Slave and now Belle takes us to the rococo drawing rooms where words and gestures are as if prized on an elegant tight rope woven with gilt. We wait for the arrogant characters to fall off and land on their backsides.  Belle does not avoid chocolate box sentimentality, as when Mansfield gives his judgement against the Zong slavers, it looks too much like ‘finding your dreams’ tearfulness, it’s epiphanic aspect emphasized by coinciding with Belle and Davis’ declaration of love.  I recall British TV’s Comic Strip which showed Rik Mayall as a judge tearfully throwing his hammer away at a happy ending and this is similar, though Tom Wilkinson does resist the public sob.  Wilkinson does a good job of consigning Mansfield’s past idealism to the self serving pragmatism that coincides with the requirements of influence and power. John Davis’ is on hand with the earnest anti-racist liberalism that we’re all familiar with now but looks anachronistic in the 18th century which boasted abolitionists of the slave trade, not of slavery.  Gugu Mbatha-Raw brings a feisty rebelliousness which is all the more effective for being well channelled into the elegant riposte, especially as she must negotiate the traps of proposed marriage to horrible suitors.  Absorbing.

 
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Posted by on August 11, 2014 in At the cinema, Film Reviews

 

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Exhibition

Synopsis

Stars Viv Albertine (once of ‘punk’ pop group The Slits) who is an artist called D living in an expensive London house.  About her relationship with her partner H (Liam Gillick).  They are selling the house, we see their tensions and anxieties.

Review

This is made by Joanna Hogg who also produced Archipelago.  Exhibition like Archipelago looks at the twitchy middle classes and the blood-sport of their relationships.  Like those affluent couples in posh versions of Jack Vettriano paintings, the subjects are not happy despite their wealth.  They look like they’re on the verge of losing it all, materially and psychologically.  The camera is an extra presence in the house, its fixed gaze picking out the domestic details with malevolent curiosity.  It’s the familiar fascination with domestic boredom.  D spends a lot of time at her desk, phoning her husband though they live in the same house.  She’s a performance artist but a pretentiously coy one, the film itself is a domestic performance art.  The house is stylish and bleak.  The camera peers at this to such a degree that it’s like you’re in a static world in a Janet Rego painting.  You feel increasingly suffocated by the nullity of this affluent hell hole.  The film’s palette is from bleak to sterile.  There is an underlying turmoil of unmet needs and frustrated eroticism.  The big question for me is, how can people live in a place like this?  When they condescend to summon up the energy to speak to each other face to face their dialogue is pretentious enough to fill ‘Pseud’s Corner’ several times over (‘Pseud’s Corner’ is an article in a satirical magazine Private Eye” that catches people out being very pretentious).  She won’t communicate her work and his criticism might prevent it happening at all.  Tom Hiddleston has a walk on part as an estate agent, his icy politeness in tune with this scarily lifeless domesticity.   Exhibition is bohemian hate mail to the God of money.

 

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The Last Days on Mars

The Last Days on Mars film posterSynopsis

Based on a short story The Animators by Sydney J Bounds, Liev Schreiber, Romola Garai, and Olivia Williams are scientists ready to finish six months working on the planet Mars.  The are taken over by a virus that turns them into unkillable zombies.  Will any of them get away and escape the virus?

Review

The desert landscape in this film was shot in Jordan.  Its toffee and gold coloured mesas and endless desert is all truly dramatic.  I hoped for a decent film but it didn’t turn up.  Ok, so the story came out before the film Alien (1979), but surly cynical scientists ever ready to bitch at one another over bragging rights of rank and mission objective vision has become the de rigeur dramatic furniture of this kind of movie.  The two big nineties movies about Mars focussed on the humanity of the scientists and were more fun.  Olivia Williams’ character was so truculent as to be a parody.  Liev Schreiber predictably is the strong guy trying to hold things together amongst the carping prima donnas.  At the beginning the enemy is one’s own mind but then they have to combat the real foe, a virus turning them into zombies.  Do me a favour, Zombies??!!  Is that the best we can come up with in a story about pioneering on another world?  Surely it’s a cop out, as a film simply repeats Alien and John Carpenter’s The Think (1981) set in Antarctica.  Come to think of it, the rides in the desert Transa reminds me of Hilary and Fuch’s Transantartic expedition of 1958 in their snow-cat crafts and I wish the film had trusted the audience’s capacity for imaginative patience in following the desolate isolation of it all.  The acting became surprisingly good considering the dross in the script, and I did eventually care a little about Liev Schreiber and Romola Garai.  The final scene, where there is an escape into space, simply reprises Alien.  A missed opportunity.

 
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Posted by on June 27, 2014 in At the cinema, Film Reviews

 

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Locke

Locke film posterSynopsis

Tom Hardy plays Ivan Locke alone in his BMW.  He’s the only actor in the film, dialogue is courtesy of his car phone calls.  He’s a Welsh construction boss and leaves instructions for the pouring of concrete for the foundations of an £11 million skyscraper in Birmingham.  He once slept with Bethan (voice of Olivia Coleman), who is having his baby, and she wants him in London with her and he’s on his way there.  He tells his wife Katrina (Ruth Wilson) about Bethan.  Katrina, who was expecting him home, is distraught and so is Locke’s deputy (Andrew Scott) in Birmingham who has responsibility for traffic closures around the concrete pouring.  Locke also talks to the memory of his father who did not do right by him…

Review

This could have been a claustrophobic sort of film, like Buried Alive or Colin Farrell trapped in the phone booth, but it isn’t as it holds the attention all the more for its horrifying conjunction of ordinary responsibilities.  Locke has to juggle between people of differing neediness and we see the look on his face as he registers clamping control to tearful discomposure.  Think of this face as a mask responding to the tones in a tension ratchet of a radio play.  The tiniest changes in the face could also be like a drumskin reverberating to mounting panic.

This ought to be a nightmare but Hardy’s Locke looks too much the wizard of crises, that would turn most of us into quivering wrecks.  He has ‘flu for good measure.  He is pulled tight in different directions by his grimly distraught wife, by his hysterical drunkard of a colleague (whose panic sounds like stand up comedy), and then by Bethan whose stressful pleading is all the more insidious for being just this side of snapping point.  Hardy does a reasonable job of the Welsh accent (I know it well as I live in Wales).  The car windscreen acts as an implacable confessional as night-time images of 21st century motor traffic bleakness flow past.  The screen is like a relentless camera that won’t shift its gaze, just as the unseen voices flow like echoes into his conscience.  As the motor journey ends it’s as if he is accommodating to the narrowing of a funnel focusing on the big existential choice.  Which one will be happy in the end, Katrina, Bethan, or his colleague?  Must be watched!!!

 
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Posted by on June 27, 2014 in At the cinema, Film Reviews

 

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