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!


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.


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.


“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

A woman of later years (Sonia Braga), independent and strong-minded, refuses to be forced out of her apartment so that a property company can build a new development on the site.

I love this woman.

No matter what life throws at her, she knows her own mind and sticks to her plan.

She suffers serious illness, bereavement, grown-up children who don’t visit her enough or who take her for granted, intimidation and harassment from the property company – and she refuses to be beaten down by any of it.

She has a fun circle of friends, a good relationship with her brother, the respect of those who know her, and the strength of will not to back down when threatened.

Braga inhabits Clara so perfectly, and the writing is so beautiful, that I felt like I had known her for ages and would like to be in her circle.

It’s fabulous that an older woman is the centre of such a story and not a peripheral aunt or grandmother.

The Death of Stalin (2017)

Sadly, although I could appreciate what I was supposed to feel while watching this, it just didn’t happen for me.

I’m not much given to farce and so although I gave a couple of wry smiles, all the entering and exiting of rooms, and the trying to say the right thing just left me a little irritated, particularly given the quite serious subject matter.

That’s not to say that I couldn’t appreciate some really good performances. I really liked Steve Buscemi’s Nikita Khrushchev, and Jason Isaacs completely steals every scene he is in as Georgy Zhukov – he raised the only quiet giggles I could muster.

I can see why plenty of people really like this. It just didn’t do it for me.

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.


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.

Siete días de enero – Seven Days in January 

Siete días de enero begins in a documentary style, with news reels and on-screen text outlining the events which are about to be dramatized in the film. It may seem like a strange choice, telling the audience the important points beforehand, but in reality this would have been for contemporary Spanish audiences little more than a quiet reminder of what happened just two years previous to the film being originally released in 1979.

For someone like myself, who was unaware of events, the introduction alone was an eye opener, and the subsequent retelling of events in narrative form proved to be very powerful.

Screened in a grainy print, the feel of the late 1970s was present from the start. We are introduced to those who were on the right of Spanish political feeling at a family wedding – clearly wealthy, well-connected families, including the church and the military. The opposition voice is provided by union workers and leaders, together with the solicitors representing them. Their family is the collective here, we don’t see them at home in domestic situations, but with colleagues and comrades.

The sympathies of director Juan Antonio Bardem (himself a Communist) are unequivocal, and although we see why the younger right wing protagonists act in the way they do, our sympathies are with the socialists who are the victims of outrageous violence, a violence which proved to be the catalyst for significant change in Spanish politics.

I was aware of the post-Franco regime change but not of the details, and although some of the roles are played by non-professional or apparently first-time actors, I found this to be a very moving and powerful film.

Cien años de perdon – To steal from a thief 

The annual VIVA Spanish and Latin American Film Festival swung into life this evening at HOME with a feature and a short, both of which were reminiscent of classic films from decades past, yet which also stood up very firmly in their own right. They are also linked by a theme.

The short, Nini, is clearly influenced in tone by Jules Dassin’s Rififi, with a silent heist at its centre. The economic situation in Spain is the reason the group is compelled to steal to improve their lives – we see at the end that their ill-gotten gains are put to sensible, positive use, and don’t get the impression that they are career criminals. It was tense, funny and clever, and (with the exception of the last few minutes) entirely dialogue free.

The main feature, Cien años de perdon, also features a heist, this time in the form of a bank robbery. The hapless crooks find their plans thwarted by heavy rain, and although Dog Day Afternoon is set in the New York heat, it is reminiscent at times of the same shambolic atmosphere.

It’s made very clear from the start that the bank’s customers are victims of both Spain’s economic hardship and the ruthless operations of financial institutions, and in fact robbing the bank of its money is not the prime motivator for the criminals. We see them do good things for the customers who they hold hostage for a time, and learn about political corruption among government representatives high up in the country’s ruling elite.

It’s no surprise then that, part way through the movie, I found myself kind of wanting them to succeed at their crime – they’re not perfect people by any stretch, but it didn’t seem fair if they weren’t allowed to get away with it. It helped that four good performances gave credence (and humour) to some of the gang – Luis Tosar and Rodrigo De la Serna in particular.

You’ll need to see the film for yourself to find out who (if anyone) escapes judgement – and it’s funnier than this trailer suggests!