Katalin Varga (Romania-UK, 2009)

On the road to the past

This is an extraordinary film in that it’s the debut feature of British director Peter Strickland and a compelling vengeance-movie as the protagonist, expelled from her Transylvanian village, seeks the perpetrators of her misfortune. That Strickland had to go to Romania to make a debut feature is a poor reflection on the UK film industry, but this has allowed him to take advantage of the beautiful scenery and the distinctive village culture that, apparently, still exists. The story unfolds tangentially, and slowly, but nevertheless grips the attention.

Cinematographer Márk Györi gives the landscape a sinister beauty entirely in keeping with the narrative. Hilda Péter, as Katalin, has great presence,  inhabiting convincingly her driven character. In fact, the whole cast – a Hungarian theatre company – are excellent. Great music on the soundtrack too.

According to imdb, Strickland’s next film is due in more two years! I’ve categorised the film as Eastern European, rather than British despite Strickland’s producer-writer-director role, because it appears to be absolutely Romanian. Strickland could be a brilliant filmmaker.

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Hanna (US-UK-Ger, 2011)

Not a phallic symbol

This excellent movie has the feel of a graphic novel (it isn’t) in its playfulness. I like the frail protagonist who’s looking for her origins; so often an Oedipal-narrative for a male. There are numerous set piece action sequences (including a long take steadicam fight that must have CGI in it somewhere), great humour (Jessica Barden’s Sophie) and supporting actors (Olivia Williams and Jason Flemyng). Cate Blanchett and Eric Bana are their usual ‘full value’ and Saoirse Ronan has enough charisma to carry  off the lead. Tom Hollander contributes a wonderful off-kilter heavy.

Joe Wright directs with plenty of panache, from the striking first shot of swans, and there’s a great score from the Chemical Brothers. This wasn’t well received, I guess the mixture of tones baffled some. I enjoyed its spinning of old tropes.

Wuthering Heights (UK, 2011)

The new black

If there was danger of another version of Wuthering Heights becoming hackneyed then the casting of black actors as young and older Heathcliffe immediately averted the possibility. Bronte describes Heathcliffe (as I remember) as ‘swarthy’ and so it’s entirely fitting, as are the racist expletives which Bronte couldn’t have used in her novel. Race is added to the class issues of the novel and Heathcliffe’s ‘outsider’ status is heightened.

Unlike mainstream versions of the novel, Andrea Arnold directs this as resolutely arthouse with little emphasis on narrative development. Instead nature, animals and the landscape, is given time to take its proper role in the story and, in doing, stalls the narrative slightly. The Academy ratio (4:3), I think, is used to constrict the mise en scene so we’re not allowed to bathe in the beauty of the landscape and it emphasises that the characters are trapped.

The performances are good, though I found Kaya Scodelario too insipid as the older Catherine; newcomer Shannon Beer excels as the younger. Arnold shows Cathy and Heathcliffe’s attraction to each other to be elemental, based on a necessity, and not romantic. I shall have to find to time to reread the novel as this version is a revelation.

Point Blank (À bout portant, France, 2010)

No time to stop

Gilles Lelouche, as a trainee nurse who has to save his wife (played by the unfeasibly gorgeous Elena Anaya), is virtually constantly on the run in this terrific thriller from Fred Cavayé (who gave us the equally good Anything for Her). There’s no time to stop for the audience either, as the film hurtles from implausible plot point to one that may even exceed that. Doesn’t matter: this is edge-of-the-seat stuff.

This typical thriller character – the ordinary guy thrown into extraordinary circumstances – has no time to consider what to do; either he tries to save his wife or not. Like Anything for Her, the protagonist’s motivation is based upon a deep love and dependency upon his wife. In this both are highly romantic but, while in the former the ‘guy’ has to plot his way of the mire, here he can only run. It’s a breathless 80 minutes: give me more Fred!