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.

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.

 

My Cousin Rachel

Rachel Weisz is as captivating a screen presence as you could wish for. Beautiful, mysterious and beguiling, she has the whole audience in the palm of her hand, just as she does with young Philip (Sam Claflin), her cousin by marriage.

But Rachel is a complex character whose actions and emotions are open to interpretation, and this ambiguity creates tension from the moment she appears (which is a long way into the film, considering she is named in the title). Do we believe she is conniving or genuine, grieving or manipulating? It’s fair to say that I changed my mind a couple of times while watching, which adds to the fun and intrigue.

However, whereas Weisz provides a strong canvas on which to paint intrigue, her opposite number Claflin does not. He moves from blind hatred to puppy dog love without showing any graduation or confusion at all, rendering his first-act posturing irrelevant. And for the remainder of the story, his naïveté was then just an irritation, instead of being another layer to Rachel’s complexity. Such a shame, because du Maurier excels at tension, and Claflin’s boyish tantrums meant that once I’d made up my mind about Rachel, the tension was over.

It’s set in a beautiful part of the world, though, and so the outdoor shots look absolutely lovely; and I’d like to commend Holliday Grainger for bringing life to what is really a thankless role.

I’m not saying this is a disaster, but I sadly can’t bring myself to say it’s much more than average either.

A Bigger Splash

I must confess that I found director Luca Guadagnino’s previous feature – I Am Love – very self-indulgent and highly irritating, so the publicity around A Bigger Splash had me worried. But the cast was impressive enough to draw me in so off I went.

Ralph Fiennes is gloriously irritating, Tilda Swinton magnificently indecipherable, Dakota Johnson sulkily secretive and Matthias Schoenaerts taciturnly ursine. All together, they work brilliantly to ensure that just when you think you know where things are heading, they go in a whole different direction and I was happy to go with them.

The subtly introduced illegal immigrant side-theme was actually underplayed too much for me, and could have remained subtle yet still made more of a statement, particularly in the final act.

But this is a film with many layers, and I feel like I’m still peeling them back.

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.

 

 

8 1/2

I know I have seen this before, a while ago, and I clearly wasn’t giving it my full attention as I remember being vaguely complimentary and vaguely dismissive at the same time.What was I thinking?! Having just seen the restored re-release of this 1963 Oscar-winner on a cinema screen, I formally recant any reservations and hereby declare this to be a masterpiece.You can read in depth about the background to the film elsewhere, but suffice to say that this comic/existential drama totally hit the spot for me, exploring as it does themes of juggling professional stresses and personal crises. Fellini lays it all on the screen for anyone to see, hiding nothing. Life is a circus, his protagonist is the ringmaster, and sometimes difficult choices have to be made.

Marcello Mastroianni is perfect as the flawed on-screen version of Fellini himself, and Claudia Cardinale is just beautiful.

I can’t explain how glad I am that I gave this a second chance. It’s perfect.

Habemus Papam – We Have a Pope

The main selling point of this film in the publicity was that it had been directed by Nanni Moretti (of which more below).  He also acts in the film, playing a psychoanalyst called in to assist a newly-elected Pope who feels overwhelmed by the responsibility thrust upon him.

I really enjoyed the levity with which the opening scene were handled – poking just the right amount of fun at the solemnity and pomp of the event without turning it into a farce.  And the choice of ending was, in my view, very well executed and did make me gasp as it was not what I had been expecting.

The middle, however, was the weak link and definitely on the saggy side, wallowing a bit too light-heartedly on the Pope-elect’s internal battle with himself.

I wanted to find out more about Nanni Moretti, and was intrigued to see him described as “the scourge of the Italian establishment” (the Guardian), and “an outspoken political leftist” (Wikipedia).  I was bemused!  The film I watched bore no witness to this, and several reviews seem to think he had either sold out or lost an opportunity by making such a light-hearted film.

I have nothing to compare these views with so I will reserve judgement for the moment – but I need to find out more!

Le Quattro Volte

A totally extraordinary film.

There is no dialogue, apart from background conversations among the Calabrian villagers, and so there is no need for subtitles.

Nobody addresses the camera. There is no plot. There is no beginning, middle or end.

Daily events are placed in front of the viewer without comment, and we watch.

We watch, learn, and absorb all kinds of information about life in this little Italian village.  We observe life, death, rebirth, the passing of the seasons.  Man interacting with Nature.

Sounds very pretentious, but it is a beautiful film and I recommend it.  But give it your full attention when you do watch it – it deserves nothing less.

Pais??

Paisà was a screened as part of my film course on Italian Neorealism at Cornerhouse cinema in Manchester.  It was released in 1946, and directed by Roberto Rossellini.

I had never even heard of this film let alone seen it, so I went in to the cinema with no idea of what to expect. 

What I saw was an interesting series of 6 individual stories tracking the Allies (or more specifically, the Americans) as they swept north from Sicily to free Italy from the control of the Germans between 1943 and 1944.  As well as showing the realities of war (rather than the stateside glamour which Hollywood was producing at the time), the film presented a variety of relationships hampered by a language barrier.

Perhaps a little laboured by contemporary standards, but a very interesting and thought-provoking film nonetheless.

Inglourious Basterds

This is an anomaly.  

An American film where the Germans speak German to each other, the French speak French to each other, and the Germans stationed in France speak French to the locals.  The majority of the film is subtitled and if it weren’t for the obligatory Tarantino body count, I would have forgotten what I was watching!

Tarantino clearly felt it was his turn to present his take on the Nazis v Jews story, but he also throws in some cutting observations on the film industry (both now and during war-time).

Some sharp dialogue and an excellent performance from Christoph Waltz made this a highly entertaining film – just remember to park all notion of reality at the door!