The Snows of Kilimajaro (Les neiges du Kilimandjaro, France, 2011)

Coming together

A trade unionist, strong female character, cohesive working class community; what’s not to like? As long as your view of melodrama is positive, then there’s nothing not to like in this wonderful drama. First, though, a bleat: the trailer gave far too much away! So don’t watch the trailer.

Jean-Pierre Darroussin, last seen by me in Le Havre, plays the made-redundant trade unionist and the film starts in Couscous territory with the early-retired (‘rationalised’) worker trying to find meaning elsewhere. However the narrative takes a turn that moves into sentimentality (children are involved) in an uncompromising way. To combine those is something of a narrative triumph. No spoilers here but I do admire writer-director Robert Guédiguian’s determination not to rose-tint the criminal.

I’ve no idea whether the film’s title references Hemingway’s novel; it’s quite clear that the destination is a mythical place that can be readily found where you live as long as, unlike  capitalists, you care for others.

Looper (US-China, 2012)


Back to the future

It’s pleasing to note that the most significant point of this film isn’t the US-China co-production credits; it’s a good film too. East and west have been at loggerheads for the whole of my lifetime but capitalism has found a way to unite ‘enemies’. One way of getting into China’s protected film market, which has enormous potential, is through making a film with the enemy. Rian Johnson’s ‘hard’ SF thriller was originally set in Paris but it actually makes more sense that the future be in Shanghai; after all, if we have a future economically, the east is likely to be where it’s at.

Much of the Shanghai shot material is absent from the western version, for reasons of pace, and Bruce Willis’ ‘love interest’ Qing Xu is mute making her appear typically mysterious and Oriental. Her muteness also serves to emphasis that she’s a cypher of male desire as Joe (Willis and Gordon-Levitt as the younger version) need a woman to save them. Like the Driver, in the previous post, Joe is man who struggles to relate to others beyond guns and cars. So far so conventional machismo but Looper distinguishes itself when we discover that’s actually what the film’s about.

The plot, where young Joe executes people sent from the future, is a teasing tangle of paradoxes including a tour de force of what happens when someone from the future escapes but their past version is captured: barely watchable! However, as the narrative comes satisfyingly into focus it’s clear that the film is suggesting that the future has to be ‘female’. This representation might be built upon the ‘woman as mother’ trope but that’s far better than eulogising machismo.

The world of young Joe, America, is a clearly a dystopia but it looked a portrait of exactly where we are going with the growing divide between rich and poor. This is SF at its best, holding up a mirror to the contemporary world giving us pause for thought about what we want the future to be.

Drive (US, 2011)

Car man

Maybe I shouldn’t’ve watched this film; I don’t understand cars. I can drive a car but the cyborg-like interface of feet-pedals and hands-steering/gears doesn’t thrill me. I watch boys – young men – rev their engines and pretend they’re Jeremy Clarkson weaving through the Bradford rush hour with incomprehension; undertaking becomes the norm. So I shouldn’t have watched this film as it’s inducing fogeyism. But I did…

…and was faced by another inarticulate male who can’t look the girl he fancies (a wasted Carey Mulligan) in the eye because real men only need women to have sex; the rest is propaganda. But, despite being a stuntman, Ryan Gosling’s Driver (that’s his name – must be an existential movie like Walter Hill’s The Driver, 1978; didn’t like that either) is sensitive but only feels at home behind the wheel. He doubles not only stunts, but as a getaway driver who will only wait five minutes; he weighs up the risks.

Maybe we weren’t supposed to admire him, after all this is an indie film but I just felt an overwhelming disappointment that I’d wasted my existence on the thing.

Breathing (Atmen, Austria, 2011)

Say ‘ah’

Roman (Thomas Schubert, above left) is allowed out of a juvenile institution on ‘day release’; his job is at a morgue. So far so melodrama, especially as Roman is almost as emotionless as a corpse. We follow his faltering steps into the ‘real world’ as he tries to find a compass in a society that treats him with contempt; we don’t learn of his crime until well into the film.

The narrative progresses slowly, routinely; typically arthouse as it demands our patience as we wonder whether it’s better to actually live a life rather than watch someone else live theirs. However, it repays patience with intense drama, when Roman is sent to pick up a corpse in the street whilst a distraught wife is still clinging onto hope that her husband’s still alive, an an emotional payoff at the end when… well, I shan’t spoil it.

Death remains a taboo in western society; consumerism is driven in part by a desire to deny it: cosmetics for everyone. Breathing confronts death, particularly in the scene where the morgue attendants have to prepare a corpse of an old woman who has died at home. We get to see what we don’t wish to see as the deceased body is carefully attended to by men who, hitherto, have been generally unlikeable. It’s a particularly powerful scene.

It’s written and directed by Karl Markovics, who played the lead in the terrific The Counterfeiters (Aus-Ger, 2007) and I’m looking forward to his next film.