Нелюбовь – Loveless + Q&A

A week in advance of the official UK release, Manchester’s leading independent cinema (and my own personal favourite) HOME brought the cinema-going citizens of the region a preview screening of Loveless followed by a Q&A with director Andrey Zvyagintsev and producer Aleksandr Rodnyanskiy. Loveless is nominated for an Academy Award this year in the ‘Foreign Language Film’ category and is the director’s second nomination – his first being three years ago for Leviathan.

The film follows a mother and father – going through an acrimonious divorce and both already with other partners – who find themselves thrown back together when something terrible befalls their son.

We spend time first with one parent as they navigate the working day and then move on to their evening date, and then the other parent, picking up clues as to why their relationship has failed along the way – and realising that neither one is probably entirely to blame. We’re not meant to take sides. Love – and the ensuing failed relationships – are complicated. Complicated enough for the adults at their centre. But in one short devastating shot, we see just how traumatic the breakup is for the couples’ son. It’s brief, but plunges a dagger into the heart.

While there is no doubt that the film’s title is an apt one, pockets of the full audience laughed quite heartily at some moments which occasionally puzzled me – until it became obvious during the Q&A that these were Russians, or people who know Russia well, and who were clearly picking up on cultural references which just didn’t come across in the subtitle translations. I love that kind of thing – it always brings something extra to a screening.

Zvyagintsev said on more than one occasion during the Q&A that he did not regard himself as a political film maker. And yet I have the impression he was being a little crafty in his responses; I see no way that political commentary on contemporary Russian life is not present in this film. It’s there in the disinterest of the police, the proliferation of vanity and consumerism among the rising middle classes, radio broadcasts of events in Ukraine. While the official public authorities are next to useless in the crisis, a group of local volunteers does the most to help and support the parents. It’s also interesting to note the amount of times technology intervenes in, or sometimes gets in the way of, communication. Selfies, Skype and cell phones abound, serving to emphasise the distance and often coldness between friends and relatives.

Wrapped in some beautiful, glacial cinematography, Loveless is a personal story with a political undertone which haunts long after the final image.

A version of this post first appeared at The Movie Isle.

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Phantom Thread

About half-way through Phantom Thread, Alma (Vicky Krieps) exclaims “I don’t know what I’m doing here” and I heard myself muttering under my breath “No, love, I’m sure I don’t know either”.

And that was the beginning of the end for me as far as this movie was concerned.

Reynolds Woodstock (Daniel Day-Lewis) is one of those privileged man-baby geniuses for whom change to routine is intolerable. He is enabled by his sister Cyril (Lesley Manville), who not only supports his tantrums but runs the home in which they live, and the couture house which bears their name. Reynolds is also a coward. When he tires of whichever muse he has picked up, his sister will ask her to leave. He does none of his own dirty work and is a deeply unlikeable character.

Which makes it very difficult to understand why Alma is intent upon staying with him. I can see why she may have been attracted to him in the first instance, but if someone is abusive to you because of the way you butter your toast, then it’s just not worth the hassle. And it’s definitely not love.

I can’t even agree with the takes on the power dynamic which I’ve been reading.  Perhaps because I have difficulty in seeing the sense in a relationship which is about constant abuse and struggle for attention. The truth is that at the end, the power hasn’t switched from him to her. He is complicit in her actions; she has some element of power only because he allows her to do so.

The other major disappointment – and I believe this is more to do with the quality of the actual screen I was watching, is that there was no trace of the sumptuousness I had been expecting. I’m not an expert, but I think the actual screen was dirty, and the colours seemed dull.

So this may be a contrarian view, but I don’t view this as a masterpiece. I find it to be a very masculine idea of what it is like to cede control in a relationship – but only by still retaining that control at a fundamental level. It wasn’t ever obvious to me why Alma would want to stay once she learned his true character – there were inklings of something peppered throughout, but never enough for me to understand. And I think that’s deliberate – because the story is about him not her, and he always wins in the end.

Downsizing

I like this!

I mean, it’s by no means perfect, but I like what it’s trying to do with strange solutions to issues such as global sustainability, and how what was intended as a solution to a problem ends up being used as a method of punishment or political torture as well.

Matt Damon’s Paul has some major life-changing to adjust to more than once – firstly the decision to downsize, then the decision to help a woman he meets, and finally a much bigger decision. It’s a role Damon often portrays – finding himself out of place and trying to understand where he fits in and what his conscience is guiding him to do.

Downsizing raises some really interesting questions about how we treat our world, about inequality, about wealth, and although not entirely successful, it deserves more credit than it’s being given.

Dick Tracy (1990)

Rewatching for my The Complete Pacino list.

Well hello Shouty Al!

I probably should have realised, but I hadn’t expected my quest to find the ‘shouty caricature of later years’ to bear its first fruit here – with Al playing a shouty caricature.

Big Boy Caprice is a pantomime villain who allows Pacino’s  inner scenery-chewer to finally explode – and because of the comic book style of this film, it fits perfectly. In fact, his coaching of the dancing girls is one of the best scenes in the movie.

I love the bright colour palette, and the mix of graphic backgrounds and live action, and the array of actors assembled to over-play the customary gangster roles is impressive, although I did find most of the grotesque prosthetics difficult to look at – but that’s just me.

Madonna, however, is terrible when she’s not singing.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

So I’m wondering how can a film with such an array of great performances actually end up not quite working. And I guess it has to be in the writing?

I really enjoyed Frances McDormand, Caleb Landry Jones and Lucas Hedges. I think Peter Dinklage is an extremely talented actor who should be given more prominent roles. And I am rarely a Woody Harrelson fan but this is a different (and very good) Harrelson. It’s just a shame he disappears part way though – at least visibly disappears. His voice lingers in a way which marks the point at which the film and certain characters undergo changes which are wholly inconsistent and which started the demise of my enjoyment.

So I missed Harrelson, I disliked all the slurs against Dinklage’s character which were meant to be comedic, I found the coincidences to be too convenient and the ‘redemption’ of Rockwell’s character to be completely unearned. It went from a strong start to an unsatisfactory finish; I didn’t hate it, but I do hope it doesn’t win best film on Oscar night.

The Post

On the one hand, your typical Spielberg Oscar-runner with a worthy story and solid performances from Streep, Hanks, Letts and cast.

On the other hand, a timely and topical film about freedom of the press, banning certain news outlets from reporting particular stories, and the White House misleading the public.

On balance, I found this to be entertaining and prescient, but not earthshattering.

Darkest Hour

Gary Oldman is getting huge praise for his work in this film. Rightly so, as it can’t be easy to deliver any kind of a performance through the prosthetics required for his transformation into Winston Churchill. Director Joe Wright spends a lot of time with the camera very close up to Churchill’s face, and you cannot see the join.

Aside from that though, Darkest Hour is all a bit half-baked from my point of view and I left the cinema feeling somewhat underwhelmed.

I felt shades of the enormity of the political situation facing the government, but not the full terror. I saw glimpses of a fascinating woman with clearly a lot of history to tell, yet Winston’s wife Clementine was brushed to the edges leaving Kristin Scott Thomas with very little to do. In a strange yet successful piece of casting I saw an inexplicable change of heart from King George VI (by Ben Mendelsohn) which didn’t make sense. And I watched an oddly underused Lily James typing a lot.

Perhaps it fits so snugly into the Sunday evening TV period drama landscape that I found the cinematic experience lacking.

Molly’s Game

Ow. My head hurts.

That Sorkin dialogue comes so hard and fast that I honestly have a headache from trying to keep up.

There’s a point during this film – could be half way through, honestly I can’t remember – when Idris utters the line “I wasn’t really listening” and I thought ‘Amen to that Idris’.

I didn’t need Molly to read me her book as a voice over – Idris explained to me near the end after he’d finished reading it. I didn’t need the almighty skiing exposition at the start (which Molly then tells us has nothing to do with poker – thanks for nothing). I didn’t need all her problems to be mostly Daddy issues.

I was hoping that the cast and director might be able to present me with something that overcame my ignorance of and apathy towards gambling and poker, but no, I still don’t get the lure.

All I got was a headache.

My favourite films of 2017

Compiling this list of 2017 films has been an interesting task. There are usually a couple of films which miss the previous year’s deadline due to UK release dates, but it’s not often that so many of them make my ‘best of’ list. This year, some of my favourite films on this list may seem like old hat because they came and went with the Academy Awards earlier this year, having qualified with their 2016 US release dates. But they didn’t get UK release until 2017, so that’s why you’ll see them here.

The other observation is the number of films on my favourites list featuring LGBT characters – 2017 seems to have provided a lot of great storylines, and a lot of high-profile films.

Sadly, there are a handful of films I would have liked to have seen but which passed me by: The Florida Project, Good Time, The Beguiled, Get Out (this one mostly because I struggle with horror films and so chickened out) are among these.

A complete list of my 2017 viewing can be found here on Letterboxd or click on the titles to see my thoughts on the top ten.

Let’s start with a quick list of numbers 20 – 11:

20 – The Red Turtle

19 – Logan Lucky

18 – Logan

17 – Blade Runner 2049

16  – Stronger

15 – Aquarius

14 – Beach Rats

13 – Thor: Ragnarok

12 – After the Storm

11 – The Killing of a Sacred Deer

10 – Columbus

A very calm and beautifully shot film about guilt, grief, anger, despair, with two great performances from John Cho and Haley Lu Richardson.

9 – A Ghost Story

Starts out being about very personal grief and connection, and becomes about the nature of death, time and memory, and deals in vast themes, all featuring a man in a sheet.

8 – The Salesman

A peak at feelings of emasculation in the Iranian middle-classes as a husband fails to cope with an attack on his wife. Asghar Farhadi wins again.

7 – The Handmaiden

A beautiful, sometimes over-the-top creation – would we expect anything less from Chan-wook Park?

6 – Juste la fin du monde

The awkward family dinner as only Xavier Dolan can.

5 – La La Land

Perhaps when we were all younger and full of future dreams the world appeared to us in Technicolor, much like the musicals of the 50s which director Damien Chazelle captures here. But he also asks us deep questions about those youthful dreams too.

4 – God’s Own Country

Beautiful film with an impressive performance from Josh O’Connor – John’s evolution from angry, lonely young man to where he ends up is beautifully nuanced, and heart-breaking.

3 – Manchester by the Sea

I know, Affleck is persona non grata, but it doesn’t alter the fact that I found this a heart-breaking study of guilt and grief.

Joint 1 – Call Me By Your Name / Moonlight

First time since doing these lists that I genuinely can’t choose one of these over the other, so I’m having a joint first place this year.

Call Me By Your Name presents something incredibly 80s and yet also something timeless. It doesn’t matter whether the protagonists are straight or gay, this is a universal story about growing up, growing wise, feeling love and feeling pain.

Moonlight offers similar ideas, but in a very different setting. It’s accompanied by a beautiful score and gorgeous cinematography, with occasional shades of Wong-Kar Wai in tone – a sense of longing, searching and unrequited feelings permeates.

And as I couldn’t separate my top two, this means that Luca Guadagnino has topped my list for the second year in a row!

Don’t hold your breath for 2018 though Luca, as my discomfort with watching horror films might bar me from seeing the Suspiria remake due next year.

My least favourite films of 2017

These are the ones that brought me least pleasure, or most annoyance, during the past 12 months. Some of them put me at odds with many of you, I know!

Click on the film title below for my original thoughts on each one.

Favourite films of the year coming up in the next post!

Number 5 – Assassin’s Creed

Silly. And I wonder if the wonderful Marion Cotillard just doesn’t work well in English.

Number 4 – Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Irritating. I am just not on board with this lot.

Number 3 – Lady Macbeth

Apparently this has some humour in it and the fact that I didn’t get that at all is probably why I was just glad when this was over.

Number 2 – Song to Song

More a visual art installation than a film.

Number 1 – The Circle

Could have been really interesting but some highly improbably choices on the part of Emma Watson’s character just made this terrible.