Mute

I love Moon and so desperately wanted Mute to be good as we had waited so long for it.

You’ve probably already work out then that this unfortunately fell well short of expectations.

What starts out as a futuristic neo-noir with Leo searching for his missing girlfriend abruptly turns in to a very different film about some nasty people in whom we have nothing invested. There are also several strangely flapping loose ends which concerned me. Where has Leo’s family gone? Why does he choose his current life style in neon technology land given that he is still clearly attached to his Amish upbringing (and does the fact that he is Amish even matter? It isn’t explored at all.)

The two strands kind of meet up towards the end, but it’s too neat.

I wish someone had had a quiet word in director Duncan Jones’ ear about the way his female characters are portrayed. ‘Characters’ is a bit of an overstatement, really. Leo’s girlfriend Naadirah, who goes missing early on, works as a waitress in a lap-dancing club wearing only her underwear. Most of the women are dancers, waitresses or sex workers, and wear very little. There is a gratuitous shot of Naadirah in the shower, and completely unnecessary views of young girls wearing very short skirts bending over. There is no sophistication to it, and it actually makes Blade Runner feel like a feminist tale.

The world-building and technological ideas are beautiful, and the sly nods to the fact that it is the same universe as Moon are nicely done. But I had so desperately wanted to like this film that the disappointment was difficult to shake off.

Tom of Finland (2017)

The images created by Tom of Finland may very well be familiar even if, like me, you know nothing about the artist himself. His drawings have influenced modern culture in many recognisable ways since the middle of the last century, but there is even more to the man that this film seeks to reveal.

In true biopic style, the narrative is hampered slightly by having to or trying to cram a lifetime of work, love, life, happiness, sadness etc into an hour and a half. Time races forward, or a flashback conveys an idea, and the viewer can’t help but wonder if some of the difficulties encountered by the subject in his life have been glanced over simply because it isn’t possible to show or tell everything of note.

And yet, despite racing through 50 years in an hour, the film manages to capture the really significant moments of artistic  success very well indeed. There is a very touching moment when Tom realises just how important his work has been to large groups of people he had never even met before. And the occasional reappearance of Tom’s ‘muse’, Kake, is really well-integrated into the narrative just the right amount and at the correct moments.

For once, a biopic from which I actually learned a lot about its subject.

Toni Erdmann

Maren Ade’s exploration of a strange father-daughter relationship has been almost universally hailed as one of the best films of the century by critics. It’s been nominated all over the place for awards. Yet it doesn’t win everywhere it’s nominated, and I suppose that’s because it is something of an acquired taste.

Both the direction and the two lead performances (Sandra Hüller and Peter Simonischek) are brave and strong, and this is not like many films you will see.

The premise is that Winfried, following the death of his beloved dog, pays his hard-working, under-pressure daughter Ines a spontaneous visit, dropping in unexpectedly to her workplace in Bucharest. He tries to bring some levity to her life in his own strange way, but she finds his presence intrusive at a point where she is hoping to close an important business deal.

How much you settle in to the film’s tone I guess depends a lot on how tolerant you are of practical jokes. I’m not, in fact I detest them, and so I struggled to get along with the father. The daughter finds his behaviour embarrassing to start with, but as he wears her down, she sometimes even plays along with him – to an extent she has inherited his sense of humour as well and it’s when we see some of the bizarre things she ends up doing herself that we recognise the depth of feeling the characters have for each other.

I wasn’t as in love with this as many have been, but I can appreciate its success in exploring a rather unusual father-daughter dynamic. I did laugh out loud, but not all the way through as it’s not *that* kind of comedy.

L’avenir – Things to Come

Can a performance be outstanding and understated at the same time? It’s the best description I can come up with for Isabelle Huppert in this low-key story of a woman whose life is undergoing major changes.

The life events come thick and fast, (ageing parents, relationship difficulties, getting too old for the job) but there are no histrionics, Huppert’s character just gets on with it as most of us have to do with stuff that happens to us.

Yet everything she’s feeling is in her eyes, so it’s most definitely not emotionless. It’s very, very touching – and perhaps that also has something to do with my own age and personal circumstances, in that I could completely understand her. She rarely stops moving, with the camera circling around her as she is at home, on a country walk or at work, and those moments when she does stop to feel are beautifully handled and not melodramatic.

Huppert plays a philosophy teacher, and there are scenes where the film does appear to be teetering on the brink of pretension however – young Parisian students sitting under a tree discussing the meaning of truth and reality and quoting French philosophers may seem a little far-fetched, but it all seems quite normal to them. Maybe it really is like that in Paris, who knows?

As if to force the point home, there’s a scene (which I really enjoyed) in which Huppert goes to the cinema and we see that she is watching Abbas Kiarostami’s Certified Copy, a film in which truth and reality are challenged.

If I really struggled with one element of the movie, though, it was the final scene. No spoilers, but having spent the previous 90 minutes in the company of this capable woman who could look after herself and found fulfilment in her career, the conclusion seemed to contradict this for me – but that’s life, I suppose.

But as a vehicle for an older actress, which are few and far between, it was highly welcome, and Huppert was immense.

Saul fia – Son of Saul

This much-awarded film has been on the must-see list for a while, and it is certainly required, though not easy, viewing.

For a first-time director, albeit it one with an apprenticeship at the elbow of Bela Tarr, László Nemes has created a profound and moving film, and the limitations he has imposed upon himself work to emphasise the emotional impact.

Holding the camera for the most part on the face of Saul (Géza Röhrig), with the background never properly in focus, the claustrophobic feeling becomes almost overwhelming – yet there’s no where else to look, it’s inescapable.

Nemes has also done something extraordinary with the sound. It’s more than the ” all around you” effect – on a couple of occasions I actually thought people near me were having full-blown conversations and was all ready to shush them.

Most definitely a film to be seen, but it’s not one to enjoy.

Victoria

I can see why this film is divisive.

I went to see it because of the ‘one-take’ premise. Could it be done? How could it be done? What was to be gained by doing it?

To answer the first question – clearly yes.

To answer the second – with excellent planning and some great camera work, I presume.

To answer the third – I’m not sure, apart from the satisfaction for those involved of knowing that they achieved it.

I found the first part of the story more interesting than the second, but I did have to keep reminding myself that not just I but also Victoria had only met the guys an hour or so ago, and so the speed with which the relationships developed seemed a little hasty. Logically, some of the decisions taken by the characters, and particularly Victoria, seemed ridiculous and were necessary only to keep the plot moving along. And when I found myself thinking “well that plot point wouldn’t work because this and this”, then I knew it wasn’t working for me.

It is definitely an achievement on a technical level, but the fact that I was consistently thinking that meant that it was narratively weak.

No Limits – Impossible is Just a Word

If you take this at face value, then Alex Zanardi is nothing short of a iron-willed saint.

A former F1 driver who lost both legs after an accident, who went on to become Paralympic and World para-cycling Champion, he is now embarking on his next challenge – being part of a 3 man driving team entering the Spa 24 hour race.

We see him exhausted, but never angry, stressed or bitter. There must be times when he doubts, when he’s in pain, when he’s just had enough? No-one, particularly not a competitive racing driver, is that good-natured.

And with the exception of his dog, we never see him with anyone outside of work. Does he have a family? Children? An assistant?

I’m not a fanatic, but I do watch F1 racing and knew a little about the man’s history. But the film assumes a whole lot of prior knowledge. I wanted to know how the team came to decide to work with him? How did they get security clearance for him to be part of the team? How big a risk was it for the racing team? So many unanswered questions.

Spectre

Strange. Skyfall was a step in another direction for Daniel Craig’s Bond, yet this felt like it had leapt back in time to another Bond entirely.While I appreciate the visual mirroring and dialogue echoes from some of the other films in the 50 year old franchise, parts of this seemed badly misjudged, and yes, I am referring to Bond’s interaction(s) with Monica Bellucci’s character. She even looked like she knew she’d been conned into the role.

I’m also beginning to think that Christoph Waltz is getting too easily typecast, and I’d love to see him do something entirely different. And what a waste of Dave Bautista. He’s great in the part, but after casting announcements, I was hoping he would have a more interesting role. And more dialogue.

Don’t let me mislead you – I enjoyed most of this while I was watching it in the cinema, but I don’t feel it has left any lasting positive impression. I loved Andrew Scott’s ‘C’, and learning what that stands for; Léa Seydoux was admirable in her role, although the relationship development was rushed, and an upside down flying helicopter is always going to be a good thing. Ben Whishaw plays a blinder, and the concept of the team behind Bond was more prevalent than in the past.

It was OK, but this is my third favourite Craig Bond, and maybe it’s time to let Idris have a go now.

 

 

Elser – 13 Minutes

Isn’t it funny how the way a film’s title is translated can give a totally different impression of what the film is going to be about?

I knew the premise of the film – in 1939, a plot to assassinate Hitler failed by the titular 13 minutes. I hadn’t even paid attention to the film’s original title; I had just assumed it was 13 Minuten. But the film isn’t about those 13 minutes, it’s about the person behind the assassination attempt – Georg Elser, whose surname is the film’s German title.

And so the story is this man’s story, of how his life under the burgeoning Nazi regime in the 30’s eventually led a rather ordinary, flawed individual to attempt such a potentially world-changing action.

Director Oliver Hirschbiegel (whose German-language films are better than his English-language ones, in my opinion – check out Das Experiment if you haven’t seen it) had me fascinated by this man almost from the outset. The use of flashbacks mostly worked for me, although on a couple of occasions I was so wrapt his back story that I didn’t want to be jolted back to the present just at that precise moment …

Not always easy to watch, but it does make you think. Not only “what if”, but also “how do these German actors feel about playing Gestapo officers”?

Clouds of Sils Maria

The Clouds of the title are a meteorological phenomenon which happens in the mountains, where the clouds swirl through the peaks and valleys like a serpent. The clouds will look different depending on where you are viewing them from, but they also shape shift while you are actually watching them.

The film’s plot does exactly the same.

We know we are watching two people having a conversation, but there are times when we’re not sure if it’s for real, or if they’re rehearsing lines from a play they’re working on.

This is a powerful representation of how (some) women see themselves and how they perceive others see them at different points in their careers and lives, admirably portrayed by Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart. I’m the same age as Juliette Binoche, and so I could identify easily with many aspects of her situation. I have been Kristen Stewart’s and Chloë Grace Moretz’s ages too. Just not this century. And so it was easy to feel the gap and understand things from the older perspective. I’d really like to know how younger women viewed this film, but I also fear the response.

I have a feeling that, when I revisit this film, I will see different things in it and its nebulous characters.

Hauntingly accurate.