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!

 

The Shape of Water

Such a beautiful, nuanced performance from Sally Hawkins, an actress who, in the past, I’ve found a little too gurn-y for my linking. But here she is perfect as Elisa, a woman who doesn’t speak yet can convey her feelings with the tiniest of gestures.

In much the same manner as Pan’s Labyrinth, director Guillermo del Toro uses a fairy tale to tell a darker story. Acceptance of otherness is the theme here, with most of the characters finding ways to reach out through their loneliness to make connections with people.

 

Call Me By Your Name (2017)

“We wasted so much time”

Spring and part of the summer of 1983 (when this film is set) was the beginning of an important period of my life – although I didn’t realise it at the time.

Aged somewhere between main characters Elio and Oliver, I spent several months living in Italy as part of my University course. It was only the second time I had been abroad on my own, and never for such an extended period of time. I was not worldly-wise, resentful at having to go there, and a bit lost. It was hot, everything was slow-paced, the radio was the source of entertainment.

If you’ve seen this film, it’s not a great leap to work out that it was easy for me to relate to in many ways.

There is something incredibly of the time and yet timeless about this story. 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.

It’s beautifully shot, with grass blowing in the almost imperceptible breeze and the Italian sunlight shining from an eternally blue sky. The framing of many of the scenes could convey a sense of voyeurism – we often view events through windows or doorways, or looking down on what’s happening from balconies – but I took from it more of a sense of anticipation; that we are about to step in to the action with Elio once he had taken a beat to observe from the outside. Conversely, we also see people (particularly Oliver) shot from below, looking up at him almost adoringly. Armie Hammer is tall, admittedly, and this choice makes him almost godlike as viewed from Elio’s point of view – he adores him.

Armie Hammer is very good, treading carefully around his young admirer, choosing the right moment to acknowledge that the feelings are real. His geeking out over etymology is adorable.

But it is Timothée Chalamet who really steals the show. It’s his story, and the final scene is extraordinary. I’m happy to hand over the Oscars to him and to Michael Stuhlbarg (who plays his father) without hesitation. Stuhlbarg’s speech towards the end had me wiping away a tear.

I love that the characters’ names (Oliver and Elio) contain the same letters – like they are wrapped in each other.

I even forgive the decision to cast straight actors in gay or bisexual roles.

The honesty of this film and some of the images have stayed with me even several days after viewing, and it’s bubbling to the top of my favourites for 2017 – Luca Guadagnino has done it again!

Oh, and I also saw The Psychedelic Furs play live – Leeds University Union Freshers’ week far too many years ago, as I recall.

Le Fidèle – Racer and the Jailbird (2017)

This is a strange one. I thought it had finished twice before it finally got there and found it a little all over the place in clarifying which strand of the narrative was important for plot and which was supposed to be exposition. And yet it was still very enjoyable.

I could hear some perplexed sighs as the end credits began, as it leaves the audience to work out for itself what might have happened at the end. But I don’t mind that.

Le Fidèle is directed by Michaël R. Roskam, who also directed Bullhead and The Drop, (both also featuring Matthias Schoenaerts), which will give you an idea of the general mood of the film. It’s therefore no surprise to discover that Schoenaerts’  character is very much ‘him’ – part Jacky from Bullhead, part Eric from The Drop – it’s right in his wheelhouse in other words, but he does it well.

This is the first time I’ve seen Adèle Exarchopoulos in anything since Blue is the Warmest Colour and I felt she was a little one dimensional. There is something about her face, attractive though it is, that seems to lack expression. Maybe it was the character that didn’t afford her the opportunity, so I will give her the benefit of the doubt (just).

There’s one scene, however, which was a real stand out and I’m dying to know if it was one shot. It certainly feels like it when you’re watching, as the camera circles vehicles and criminals, backwards and forwards, as they hijack a security van. If it isn’t one shot, then bravo to the editor. If it is, then wow.

Overall, an interesting idea which gets a little mixed up in the middle trying to sort itself out, ending intriguingly. But, Matthias Schoenaerts so all is well.

 

Final Portrait (2017)

Here’s the thing about genius artistic creatures. They’re often self-centred shits. And no matter how wonderful their work is, they make difficult subjects for me to watch and appreciate. Mr Turner being a similar case-in-point.

Alberto Giacometti (Geoffrey Rush) is a lauded, talented artist who is constantly sabotaging his own work, treats his wife and his mistress badly, and manipulates art writer James Lord (Armie Hammer) into repeatedly altering his own travel arrangements to pose for a portrait. Giacometti fusses, swears, interrupts his own work, destroys paintings and drawings and appears to have no endearing characteristics whatsoever. Heaven knows why anyone bothered with him at all. I wouldn’t have.

I’m guessing that Hammer’s character was just so keen and flattered to have been asked to be a subject that he didn’t want to give up sitting for the artist. But I felt annoyed that he was being used and couldn’t understand why he didn’t just not return the next day. There seemed to be nothing in it for him. And he could see he was being manipulated. It’s easier to see that Giacometti is an artist struggling with self-doubt and massive insecurity, and is having a constant internal (and sometimes external) debate about his relationship with art. It just didn’t grab me.

That’s not to say that Hammer and Rush don’t give good performances – they do – just that I never felt I understood the true nature of their relationship. Which I have to put down to the writing and directing. Stanley Tucci directs, and makes some good choices with the colour palette – white, grey, navy blue – to capture the feeling of artistic frustration, broken only once by a literal splash of colour when the work of a different artist is mentioned in passing.

The warmest, and most likeable character, is Giacometti’s long-suffering artist brother Diego, played by Tony Shalhoub. But beyond him, there was very little warmth which left a distance between myself and the subject matter.

 

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

You may recall that I did not like director Luc Besson’s previous feature film Lucy AT ALL.

But I had seen and heard the reviews, and I do like Jupiter Ascending, so I was prepared to give Valerian a go.

Good choice, Marie! Yes there are things wrong with the film, but I had real fun in its presence so :-p to you if you didn’t. There’s a whole bunch of stuff that I really, really liked, and also a few things that were unnecessary and whose inclusion I didn’t fully understand, but I almost feel like I need to watch it again to get the full benefit of the visual tapestry which Besson has woven for this world.

Things that I really, really liked:

  • The opening sequence set to the Bowie track
  • The world of Müll and its inhabitants – such vibrant colours, and that iridescent blue pearlised skin-effect was just beautiful
  • The sequence taking place in multiple dimensions – really well handled
  • The Star Wars meets Jupiter Ascending aesthetic
  • Ethan Hawke as a Space Pimp!
  • Rihanna, surprisingly
  • Cara Delevingne, even more surprisingly

Things that were, admittedly, a little puzzling

  • Laureline spends most of the film demonstrating that she is driven by her head and following orders. Yet in the end she tries to convince us that she’s the renegade? Whereas he’s been flouting the rules all along, yet won’t disobey orders JUST AT THE END WHEN IT’S OBVIOUSLY THE RIGHT THING TO DO according to the film’s world?
  • I haven’t seen Dane DeHaan in very much so I’m not sure – but does he actually talk like a cut price Keanu Reeves in real life or did he make this a strange decision to channel him? Coz that wasn’t necessary.
  • Staying Alive? Please.
  • Not sure what the food parade was all about.
  • Do we really need that complete explanation of everything which occurs at the end? I had already figured it all out by then, so this was totally unnecessary exposition as far as I’m concerned.

Anyway, I liked it just fine thank you very much, and will be picking this up on Blu-ray when it’s released. So there.

La propera pell – The Next Skin

We first meet troubled teenager Leo causing havoc at his care home, and follow him as he is reunited with his mother after a period of eight years, during which he has been reported as missing. He also has amnesia, and so cannot be sure that the woman he meets is actually his mother, nor help to fill in the gaps in those eight years. As the mother tiptoes around him as he settles, and other friends and family interact with him, doubts emerge as to his true identity.

What I liked about this was the way I found myself changing my mind as to the actual truth, without getting annoyed at the film for doing this in an arbitrary flip-flop way. I was desperately trying to hold on to all the important points I thought I had noticed, trying to explain away those which didn’t make sense, deciding on what I thought had actually happened – and so I was kept on my toes.

It helped that Emma Suárez and Sergi Lopez were present among the cast, as I enjoy watching them on screen.

Perhaps the very last images were unnecessary – I would rather it had finished about 30 seconds earlier – but enjoyable nevertheless.

Elle

It took me almost 24 hours to work out my response to this film. I kept swaying between “very very good” and “very very annoying” and so walked away from writing about it as nothing I put down made any sense to me.

Having now figured out what the main issue for me was, it’s impossible to describe without spoilers, so don’t read on if you don’t want to know things about the film.

Isabelle Huppert is, of course, outstanding as a woman who has been assaulted in her own home and who deals with the incident in a manner which is not how I imagine I would deal with the situation.

Following the vicious and violent attack, Huppert tidies up, orders take away, and the next day goes back to work as usual. Outwardly, nothing has changed but inside, that seems not to be the case. The attack appears to have given her permission to explore or acknowledge sexual preferences and fantasies that (as far as we know) are new to her. And while I was fine with her trying out or instigating these liaisons, I could not watch her being repeatedly punched, hard, in the head, by her ‘assailant’. I could accept an awful lot of what she was doing, but not that. Not having her head beaten against the wall or the floor. Huppert is a physically tiny woman; her sparring partner is younger, taller, much stronger. Despite the fact that she may have felt in control mentally, the force with which she was being hit would have seen her off almost immediately.

And despite the fact that we see her enjoying her sexual encounters, the first time the stranger enters her home it is uninvited and therefore the sexual act in which she was forced to take part was not consensual. No matter what she did or decided afterwards, the first time was not in her control. And this went unacknowledged, even by the character herself, and is the very heart of why I was feeling conflicted for the rest of the film.

What we learn about her background perhaps sheds some light on her initial reaction not to report the incident, but I was not entirely convinced, and while I can appreciate Huppert’s performance, the niggling anger is still with me.

After seeing the film, I was rummaging around the internet and discovered that the book from which the screenplay was adapted was written by the same man who wrote Betty Blue. With which I also had problems. 

I wonder if this was more Verhoeven’s fantasy than Huppert’s.

 

La fille inconnue – The Unknown Girl

Just after seeing this movie, I read that directors Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne had originally intended to make this film with Marion Cotillard but it didn’t work so they made Two Days, One Night with her instead.

And intriguingly, having had two years to sort out The Unknown Girl, the two films have so many similarities it makes me wonder why they didn’t abandon the idea completely – this latest film is definitely the weaker and contains some contrivances which I struggled to accept.

Adèle Haenel plays earnest doctor Jenny Davin who is plagued by guilt when she learns that she failed to open her door to a young woman who is then found to have died nearby. This guilt drives her to seek the girl’s identity, presumably in an attempt to atone for her earlier (in)action.

For some reason, her position as doctor allows her to begin her own private investigation, and so she sets off door to door (I swear, some of the very same doors that Madame Cotillard knocked on) to seek answers. Quite how she has time to do this given her long list of patients and no receptionist to even check the patients through the door for her is not explained. Neither is the presence of her intern. At the start it feels like he – or their relationship – will have some importance, but his thread later in the storyline seems to have little purpose – it certainly doesn’t explain why Dr Davin behaves as she did, although I suspect this was the intention.

Not to be too down on The Unknown Girl; there are definitely some very interesting and tantalising thoughts bubbling below the surface. There are strains of an examination of class, given Jenny’s choice of work environment. There are the beginnings of a look at immigration or race relations in modern-day Belgium, and perhaps even a question as to how the police respond to these. And there are a couple of lovely moments of generosity of spirit, reminding us that most people are genuinely good and are just trying to get on with their lives.

But being honest, the film lacked the bite of the Dardennes’ previous release, and the similarities only serve to underline this.

A version of this post first appeared on www.filmdispenser.com

Réparer les vivants – Heal the Living

A  fabulous, almost dialogue-free, opening section with some stunning visuals sets up one side of the story, and we only meet the protagonists of the other side much later, when their story is told separately. Obviously, the two threads are intertwined by the end, but I don’t wish to give too much away so I’ll say no more.

There is much to admire in the handling of the story which could have been melodramatic and hand-wringing but which I felt dealt delicately and realistically with the situation in the first part. The second part was slightly less successful in avoiding the syrup, but it was manageable, largely due to the tiny glimpses of ordinariness in such an extraordinary situation.

Stand-out performance for me was definitely Tahar Rahim, whose character we see in a most difficult situation, and which Rahim executes to perfection.

It has a feel of a short story extended by an excess of medical exposition and practise (I did have to look away at one point; it all got a bit Holby City) but it worked for me on both an artistic and philosophical level.

[Don’t watch the trailer if you don’t want to know more about the set up than I’ve mentioned!]