L’amant double

Exactly one year ago, I was in Paris (to watch tennis) and tempted to go see L’amant double which had just opened in cinemas there, barely a couple of weeks after being screened at Cannes. In the end I didn’t get time to go, but the fact that we’ve just had Cannes, and that tennis is here again, is a stark reminder of the question I frequently ask: why do we have to wait so damn long for foreign language films to appear in the UK?

This one has definitely been worth waiting for. Although it’s good to remember that this is definitely a François Ozon film. Playing fast and loose with the interpretation of ethics of doctor/patient confidentiality, Ozon serves up a delicious, sexy treat of a film which had me simultaneously gasping and giggling at its audacity.

It’s difficult to say too much without giving the game away, but Jérémie Renier is wickedly engaging as twins, and Marine Vacth intense as the woman caught between the two of them.

Ozon employs mirrors and windows giving us myriad reflections to match the crazy twists of the story, and all I’ll say is it’s not just Renier playing multiple roles. It’s cheeky, dark, funny, and wildly entertaining.

A fun time was had!

 

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Solo: A Star Wars Story

Solo: A Star Wars Story is the space cowboy heist movie I didn’t think I wanted but which I quite enjoyed.

Look, I’m not immersed in the world of Star Wars. But I did grow up with Han Solo in the cinema and so I’m bemused by how down some people are on Alden Ehrenreich. It’s true that Ehrenreich’s portrayal of the young Solo is pivotal in making this work, and to my mind he has this as right as anyone who isn’t Harrison Ford is going to get it. There’s a bit of swagger, the smirk is there, and he looks the part.  I have no problem with Ehrenreich at all.

It helps that Chewie is just right too, as their buddy dynamic (with an imaginative meet-cute) is a high point throughout. And Donald Glover is spot on for Lando.

Some of the other casting left me disappointed though. Woody Harrelson was exactly the same as he is in most things I’ve seen him in, and his character was largely predictable. I read someone suggesting that the roles of Harrelson and Thandie Newton should have been swapped, and I have to agree this would have made a much more interesting outcome. And I don’t get all the Paul Bettany love. He does nothing for me, although I did love the demi-cape arrangement.

But the biggest disappointment has to be Emilia Clarke as Qi’ra. Given where she ends up, this is the most interesting story arc in the whole film but she seemed bored, had no chemistry with Ehrenreich, and was too dull to match the femme fatale aura that had clearly been written for her.

The story itself takes a while to get going, and the opening 20 minutes are perhaps the roughest ride. But once it settles down, I found it easy to enjoythe self-contained-ness of the plot. Yes there is the occasional reference to things happening elsewhere, but there’s no need to worry about The Force and it’s a long time before A New Hope comes in to play, and so it turns out it’s just a good old heist story, which happenes to be set in a galaxy far, far away.

I really enjoyed the smart one-liners (writer Lawrence Kasdan clearly does know his Han), the nonsense about how Han came to have the Milennium Falcon, and the (finally!) sorting out the parsecs-is-distance-not-time conundrum.

As I implied at the beginning – I didn’t need to know how he did it, but it was enjoyable finding out!

 

Deadpool 2

Having gone to see the first Deadpool outing with low expectations and having been pleasantly surprised, I didn’t fall into the usual trap this time around. That is, I went in to see Deadpool 2 with equally low expectations and was not in the least surprised.

Full of its own smugness, this film only raised a laugh from me with some of its meta-moments – mostly involving Barbra Streisand and Josh Brolin, and I’m not even sure they were meant to be funny.  All of the puerile humour and over-the-top gore that was part of the ‘plot’ was not my cup of tea.

I quite enjoyed Brolin as Cable, but to have the two main characters avenging the death of the women in their lives was (as was mentioned more than once in the film) sloppy writing.

And I’m now officially bored with Ryan Reynolds trying to carve out a career as a stand-up artist through his films. If you want to be a comedian, go and do that son. I’m not going to pay money to watch your smug face and voice in anything anymore.

Cable has it right. “You’re just a clown. Dressed as a sex toy.”

Avengers: Infinity War

Well, folks, it’s all been building up to this point. 18 films and how many years down the line, Thanos finally closes in on the complete gauntlet and it’s all hands on deck to try to stop him.

And obviously, all these hands squished into one film mean there’s a lot going on. On the one hand, seeing everyone pitching in together is great fun, and there is no doubt that in addition to trying to save the universe, there is always time for a little humour along the way.

On the other hand though, it clearly means that there’s only time for short appearances from our favourites. Some of them get two or three lines and then disappear. Some of them don’t even appear at all.

The Russo brothers have done a good job of presenting the villain as having an understandable (if morally corrupt) motivation, and of making sure we can keep track of where everyone is and why. But it still feels a little disparate, as there are a number of small groups of Avengers rather than assembling them all in one place – for the time being I suppose.

The directors have done everything they can to put the film at the service of fans, rather than the general cinema-going audience. If you’ve only seen some of the preceding films, then you’ll definitely miss out on some of the in-jokes and character references. If you haven’t seen any of them, then I think you’ll struggle to know what’s going on at all.

But the audience I was with seemed pleased, and there was an actual round of applause marking one character’s entrance to battle. There was also a bit of a stunned silence as the credits started to roll, so I guess it did its job.

However, there are two major and unavoidable problems for me.

Firstly – we know there is another film to come, and that we’re actually only half-way through the story. That means some of the stakes are not really as high as they might seem.

This is compounded by the second problem – that green stone. Because of that one item, I can’t believe most of what happened in the final 10 minutes.

If it is possible to be enthused and annoyed by something at the same time, then this is it. And of course I am going back for seconds.

 

Sandome no satsujin – The Third Murder

Director Kore-eda Hirokazu’s more recent films have been family focused (After the Storm, Like Father Like Son, Our Little Sister) exploring broken relationships and human frailty. With The Third Murder however, Kore-eda has returned to much larger questions of life’s purpose and what it means to be a human being, in the vein of Air Doll and After Life.

The film opens with a murder, followed by sweeping drone views of a water-side city. We almost get the feeling that we’re about to watch an American crime drama.

But no. Or at least, not quite. We already have our perp. He’s even confessed.

Here’s a thing I didn’t realise – Japan still has the death penalty. The complexity of how this sentence is applied drives the team of legal brains (led by Shigemori – played by Masaharu Fukuyama) to understand why the prisoner Misumi (Kôji Yakusho) has confessed, what exactly he has confessed to, and why he keeps changing his story. It’s deftly handled by Kore-eda so that we understand just as much as we need to, and we don’t spend the entirety of the film inside a courtroom.

As the lies are peeled away and the truth begins to emerge, we start to understand *what* is going on with Misumi, but not necessarily *why*. And as the lawyer Shigemori learns more about his client, Kore-eda and his camera crew shift the view inside the prison visiting room each time so that in the last meeting, some exquisite work sees the faces of the two men almost superimposed on one another.

The audience is left to make up its own mind as to exactly how the ending could be interpreted and while I’m fine with this, there are a couple of loose ends that make me wonder if this wasn’t originally a longer film but had to be cut. The storyline around the lead lawyer’s daughter, for example, feels like it’s going to be quite significant until about half way through but then it just disappears, to the point where she was preying on my mind a little.

But despite these small niggles, Kore-eda delivers yet again. If you’re not familiar with his work, then this would be a great starting point, and I actively encourage it!

A version of this post first appeared on http://www.themovieisle.com

 

Sweet Country

Drawing on themes and images familiar from American Westerns, director Warwick Thornton’s story of a lawman looking for a killer is nevertheless a very Australian story.

Set in the 1920s, when the land was settled by ‘white fellas’ who claimed it by the mere fact of being there, and effectively indentured the indigenous people of the area as their unpaid workforce, this is a story of injustice and oppression on many levels.

Sam Kelly (Hamilton Morris) is one such Aboriginal worker who, finding himself under attack from new arrival and shell-shocked, bigoted war veteran Harry March (Ewen Leslie), shoots the man in self-defence and has to go on the run with his wife Lizzie (Natassia Gorey-Furber). Sam’s boss Fred Smith (Sam Neill) joins Sergeant Fletcher (Bryan Brown), Mick Kennedy (Thomas M Wright) and tracker Archie (Gibson John) to find the pair somewhere in the outback.

The catalyst for these events is a teenage Aboriginal boy Philomac (played by twins Tremayne and Trevon Doolan) – his actions unwittingly bring about the events at the start of the narrative, and he is a silent witness to what is happening. He is between the worlds of indigenous and settler; he sees a different role for himself than that of his elders who owned the land before the white immigrants came, and is coming of age during this period of change, much as Australia itself was struggling to find its identity in the early part of the 20th century.

As the posse tracks Sam and Lizzie, we see that there is more than just one Aboriginal people. Both the trackers and the chased encounter different tribes of indigenous peoples, indicating that nothing is ever as ‘black and white’ as it might at first appear, and nor is the experience of justice. We’re given a tiny seed of hope that the country is turning a corner, which is crushed with Sam Neill’s character exclaiming “What chance has this country got?” when that seed is dashed underfoot.

There is no score, with the filmmaker choosing instead to allow the wind, fire, insects and wildlife of the outback to be the music, the driver of emotions. It works extremely well, and complements the huge landscapes and red soil of the outback. There are also intercut images or ‘flashes forward’ which give the viewer a hint of what is to come, but without specific context so that we can begin to anticipate the outcome – in other words, it’s a foregone conclusion whether we want to accept it or not.

It’s no surprise to realise that woman say very little, and white women the least (there are two of them and one says nothing at all, such is her place). The Aboriginal women know when to speak and when to remain silent.

Many of the Aboriginal cast are local, first-time actors, and Warwick Thornton has extracted some deeply sensitive and emotionally contained performances from them. It also makes some of the scenes difficult to watch as the characters choose subservience rather than standing up for themselves and having to bear the inevitable consequences.

As opposed to a traditional Western, where the white lawmen on horses are the good guys and are fighting against the savagery of the indigenous people, Sweet Country presents a different scenario. Black is not always bad, and white is not always good. Warwick Thornton chooses to remind us of this by reflecting a story of his own nation’s history, asking questions along the way about theft, ownership and justice. Worth your time.

A version of this post first appeared at www.themovieisle.com

Finding Your Feet

A sharp script balances the realities of ageing with enough comic moments to raise the spirits just at the right moment. Humour is the way that many choose to deal with life’s curve-balls, and the writers have captured this accurately.

While the plot may be predictable and at moments even cheesy, it’s rescued by the performances – Imelda Staunton in particular is strong as she races through a range of emotions in her way to finding her feet in her new circumstances, and a strong supporting cast.

You Were Never Really Here

There’s an awful lot packed into these 85 minutes, and they’re all pretty intense.

Joaquin Phoenix is not averse to taking on an enigmatic role, and this fits the bill. Enigmatic in that he says little and with no exposition, the audience is left to work out what’s happening by simply following the action and with a few glimpses of flashback.

And although a lot of the violence isn’t directly on screen, that doesn’t mean that the idea of what we think we see isn’t there. It’s brutal. I also felt quite uncomfortable with the relationship between Phoenix’s character and the young girl he was assisting – I’m not sure I was meant to.

Phoenix’s Joe goes about his business clearly carrying his PTSD in his carrier bag with him, and Jonny Greenwood’s score is visceral in describing this.

I am glad I have seen this, but it was not easy at all.

 

Gholam

Photographer turned writer/director Mitra Tabrizian brings an enigmatic character to the screen and provides a window to a life probably unseen and unconsidered by most cinema audiences.

Acclaimed Iranian actor Shahab Hosseini (The Salesman, A Separation) plays the titular role of Gholam, an Iranian taxi driver living in London, working two jobs and living in one damp room. He belongs in neither world properly, occupying space somewhere between the two. It’s existing rather than living.

We’re told very little about Gholam – we see that he’s a quiet man, a bit of a loner, and gradually we begin to accept that he seems like a decent man who helps elderly people, always pays for his meals and doesn’t want to create any fuss.

And then one day, minding his own business, he is recognised as a possible war hero from the past by a shady character, and finds himself with a decision to make.

Gholam moves at a gentle pace, with Hosseini doing a lot of walking in the London rain as he mulls over his options and tries to decide how much of himself he is prepared to compromise. And Hosseini is so good at that. We can see his internal conflict without him having to explain himself to anyone. His face and demeanour conveys so much.

It’s also a film which shows an unpleasant corner of London, and it’s no accident that the small kindnesses we see are for the most part between immigrants, whereas the local Londoners range from highly irritating business types to bigoted violent thugs, and it’s not pleasant.

I don’t imagine this will get a very wide theatrical release, but if you come across it anywhere, it’s definitely worth 90 minutes of your time.

 

Les endroits imaginaires

A slightly less successful location scout than previous times, but one that I had been waiting to do for a while.

If you’ve mooched around the menu of this blog, or if you follow me on Twitter, you’ll know that I’m a fan of Québecois director Xavier Dolan, and as I was heading for Montréal last year, I just had to have a look around.

From his 2010 film Les amours imaginaires (Heartbeats) what I really wanted to find was something from the sequences where Marie and Francis walk down the street in the Mile End area of Montréal to the brilliant song sung by Dalida. Here’s the sequence:

I was all set to put my hair up and do a slo-mo walk past the blue wall (which you can see at 2:02 in the video above).

I found where I thought it was, I could see something blue in the distance, but when I got there …

Not exactly glamourous.

But it is definitely the right place – Google Maps has it looking like this in August 2016:

Anyway, by chance I also recognised this flower shop along the same street, which appears in this sequence (starting at 0:34):

Here’s the flower shop , which I did do a walk-by of!