Weekend (UK, 2011)

A love story?

A love story?

This is a rare feature because although its protagonists are gay it isn’t really a ‘gay film’. By that I mean, the narrative isn’t primarily linked to the characters’ sexuality. The leads, brilliantly played by Tom Cullen and Chris New, meet in a bar one Friday night and the film follows them as their relationship develops over the weekend. Andrew Haigh’s direction is good too, using long takes often simply watching one character even if the action isn’t centred upon him. Excellent cinematography as well, by Urszula Pontikos.

It’s true that a story about ‘coming out’ is included in the narrative but, that apart, the emotions of the couple could be  experienced by anybody. I’m not suggesting that ‘gay’ films should belong in a ghetto, or otherwise; simply that it is heartening that the issue of sexuality isn’t key. When prejudice against gay folk is erased there will be no such thing as ‘gay movies’ anyway!

Advertisements

The Reluctant Fundamentalist (US-UK-Qatar, 2012)

THE-RELUCTANT-FUNDAMENTALIST_STILL_1-1024x842

Who Do I Identify With?

I haven’t read Mohsin Hamid’s novel on which the film is based which is an oversight as anything, like Amy Waldman’s excellent The Submission, that tries to get to grips with the ‘war on terror’, which threatens to run as long as the wars in Orwell’s 1984, is important. There was a lot to like about the adaptation, not least Riz Ahmed’s performance in the lead. The subtleties of identity politics are well rendered as Ahmed’s Changez finds himself caught between tradition and rampant capitalism. Kiefer Sutherland, incidentally, excels as the slimy capitalist, a role he may be danger of becoming typecast in – see Melancholia.

The febrile atmosphere of Lahore is thrillingly caught; a fellow member of the audience told me that only a few exteriors were shot in Lahore, not surprisingly given the state of play in Pakistan at the moment. The glass mausoleums of capitalism are also well shot though the problems inherent in using ‘9/11’ footage (that it was far more dramatic than anything cinema can render) were not resolved.

But… While I understood the reasons for the romance narrative, Changez is after all a young man seeking his way in the world, this didn’t ‘come off’ at all. Changez is in his early 20s and while there’s no reason why he wouldn’t fall for a thirty something Kate Hudson (34), she looked far older to me; unlikely as it is, she seemed to have suffered from botox. But that’s probably just me.

Without spoiling the film, I can comment that I admired the way Changez developed convincingly throughout the film but found the final scene, with Liev Schrieber’s journalist, risible. The expression on Schrieber’s character’s face should be mortified and not a wry smile.

Incidentally I saw this at a packed out screening at the close of the Bradford International Film Festival.

Where Do We Go Now? (Et maintenant on va où?, France-Lebanon-Egypt-Italy)

Dance of grief

Dance of grief

This is a cracker dealing with contemporary issues, the role of women and sectarian strife, in a way that’s both light-hearted and tragic. If that sounds a contradiction in terms it gives some idea of the film’s brilliance that the writer-director-star, Nadine Labaki, pulls it off. Her first film as director, Caramel (Sukkar banat, France-Lebanon, 2007), didn’t grab me, though it was well regarded; this is a big step up.

It focuses upon an isolated village, possibly in Lebanon, where tensions between Christians and Muslims ferment close to the surface. At least they do with the men, the women simply get on with living with each other, warts and all. There’s plenty of humour to be had with communal television watching, where the  (slightly) risqué images cause excitement and disgust in equal measure.  There are a few musical interludes, though not enough to call it a musical, that both give a sense of community and portray Layale’s (Labaki) fantasy romance with the attractive Jamale (they are across the religious divide).

From the startling ‘dance of grief’ (above) that opens to the film to its truly radical, I think, finale this is gripping movie. I’ll say no more as they would be spoilers.

In Darkness (W ciemności, Poland-Germany-Canada, 2011)

Seeing the darkness

Seeing the darkness

A producer may have pitched this as a high concept film where Kanal (Poland, 1953) meets Schindler’s List (US, 1993) without the latter’s saccharine. It’s the true tale of a Polish sewage worker who was paid to look after Jewish refugees from the Warsaw Ghetto. Robert Wieckiewicz plays Leopold Socha whose motivation, at least initially, is wholly pecuniary. It is a strength of the film that the protagonist is represented as a ‘warts and all’ human being and it doesn’t stint upon the Nazi’s atrocities. Both the lead characters are played by charismatic actors new to me, Wieckiewicz plays Lech Walesa in this year’s biopic of the Solidarity union leader; Benno Fürmann plays a German-Jew who doesn’t trust Socha.

The film’s portrayal, based on Robert Marshall’s book In the Sewers of Lvov, of people living in extreme conditions is psychologically acute. For example, the characters’ need for sex is emphasised despite them being ensconced in confined spaces with many others, including children. Jewish racism against the ‘Polacks’ is also shown. The set design, both above and below ground, is immaculate.

The pitch I imagined at the start of the article was, of course, jokey. The film took 22 years to bring to the screen – see this excellent article. The film not only takes us into the darkness of the sewers but also into the darkness of fascism (have you seen the film Mr Di Canio?); this is one of the key functions of  cinema: to take us to places we don’t want to go. In doing so it not only helps us appreciate what we have got but also, viscerally (I was blubbing by the end), helps us to feel the history. It is very difficult, for example, for young people to understand the misery that Thatcherism inflicted (and continues to inflict) upon many people; as a historical figure, the first female British PM, she can seem laudable.

I realise that this is the first film I seen directed by Agnieszka Holland so I have some catching up to do. Her use of the roving steadicam in the sewers conveys the stinking claustrophobia brilliantly and although there a few longuers, in a 145 minute film, they are necessary for the portrayal of human resilience in the face of human evil.

Trance (UK, 2013)

Fragmented everything

Fragmented everything

Boyle’s movies are always enjoyable if only for the brio of their direction and, here, there’s the added bonus Anthony Dod Mantle’s superb cinematography. I was less engaged, when I watched it, by the narrative however it has stuck with me. Maybe my lack of engagement was due to the problem, as Boyle has noted in interviews, of who to engage with; he fears for the American box office! It’s a heist-mind fuck movie and I shan’t be giving anything more away.

I’m not sure about the film’s sexual politics; Rosario Dawson certainly plays a strong character but there’s a scene where she reveals all to McAvoy’s character that I’m not convinced was necessary for the plot. Maybe we should consider it to be an exploitation movie (which would explain the scene); there is a suitably exploitative over-the-top ‘in yer face’ finale that is brilliant.

The cast is great, Vincent Cassell relishes his role as the gangster who finds… well I’m not going to give that away either. It’s a thoroughly modern movie in its casting and aesthetic which has an interesting narrative that’s driven with panache.

 

Lore (Ger-Aus-UK), 2012

The losers' version

The losers’ version

I going to have to watch director Cate Shortland’s other film (Somersault) after seeing her brilliant direction in this tale of what might happen to children of the SS just after the end of the war. To further confuse matters, it’s also a ‘coming of age’ story of Lore who finds herself discovering her sexuality whilst being responsible for getting her four younger siblings to Hamburg from the Black Forest.

Shortland uses extreme close ups of the environment to counterpoint the often disturbing images of collapse in post-War Germany as children embark on their ‘road trip’. The film shows the ‘ordinary’ German’s reactions to images of concentration camps (American actors) as the seek solace in denial. Of course Lore encounters a ‘Jew’ on her journey to, in true melodramatic tradition, confront her own prejudices.

Saskia Rosendahl is spellbinding in the lead; the performances throughout are as good as the direction (particular mention for the baby who’s woeful eyes follow his departing mother). The film’s shot in super 16mm, the grainy image gives a surreal quality, accentuated by the close ups, that befits a disturbing time.