A Second Look at ‘The Rover’

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David Prendeville takes another look at “this impressively bleak apocalyptic road movie”.

The premise of this impressively bleak apocalyptic road movie is simple. Ten years after a worldwide economic crash a violent, damaged loner Eric (Pearce) follow a group of criminals after they steal his car, in the hope of retrieving it. This task becomes more realistic when he bumps into one of their accomplices, and brother to one of the criminals, Rey (Pattinson) who they left behind after a robbery, wounded and assuming he was dead. Rey knows where his brother and the gang are headed and he and Eric strike up an unlikely alliance. On this simple premise Michód (Animal Kingdom) ambitiously attempts to tackle themes such as good and evil, human responsibility, loyalty and masculinity.

Initially there are echoes of pictures such as Mad Max in the deliriously exciting opening car chase and the sudden, brutal jolts of violence, and The Road in its relentlessly bleak outlook. However, from the arrival of Rey onwards, the film attempts to juxtapose into this dark universe something of the buddy movie, albeit, in a much less frivolous manner than in pictures such as Midnight Run and 48 Hours.  It is through the interactions between Eric and Rey that a humanity and a certain amount of emotion emerge from this often relentlessly grim portrait of the human race. This is conveyed through conversations between the two characters which allow Michód to verbalise some of the philosophical ideas of the picture and hint at his character’s motivations. These interactions hinge on two brilliant lead performances by Pearce and Pattinson. Pearce manages to be both terrifying and also empathetic. He carries a great air of unpredictable malevolence yet also retains a vulnerability.  The real star of the show here, however, is Pattinson. In between a double-whammy of Cronenberg- 2012’s Cosmopolis and the forth-coming Maps to the Stars – Pattinson continues to make astute post-Twilight career choices and anyone who has any doubts about his acting ability need only look at his stunning work here. His Rey is the closest thing to a good character in the film. Not the smartest- but oddly innocent and loyal- he is the real heart of the film. Pattinson is nuanced, engaging and utterly believable.

Not everything about the film is as successful as the performances. While Michód exhibits a sure hand visually – helped by Natasha Braeir’s sumptuous cinematography – he is sometimes uncertain as to how to pace his sophomore effort. The film is at its best when taut and spare but on more than one occasion the film stutters and drags its way through scenes. Michód is unable to make something truly poetic of his arid setting and seems more at home when directing action or when bluntly depicting the grubbier aspects of human nature. At this point he seems a director not short on ambition or ideas but perhaps not entirely sure of what his signature formal style is as of yet. The film, for all that’s impressive about it, sometimes feels like a very serviceable mish-mash of older films and genres.

These reservations mean that the film doesn’t quite live up to its considerable potential. It remains, however, a hard-hitting, provocative and brave slice of genre film-making.

Well worth a look.

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Grace of Monaco

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Dir: Olivier Dahan  Wri: Arash Amel  Pro: Arash Amel, Pierre-Ange Le Pogam  Ed: Oliver Gajen  DOP: Eric Gautier  CAST: Nicole Kidman, Tim Roth, Frank Langella, Derek Jacobi

This preposterous, mind-numbingly boring account of the role Grace Kelly had in ensuring that Charles de Gaulle didn’t introduce taxes into Monaco arrives here in the wake of a deserved critical mauling at Cannes. Sadly, recalling Diana, the awfulness of the picture does not allow for fun, ironic enjoyment. Like that wretched film from last year, so bad it’s good this film definitely isn’t.

While an exploration of Grace Kelly in itself could have been interesting, the focus of how she nobly gave up her acting career so as to help her husband Prince Rainier III (Roth) protect all the poor princes of Monaco from having to pay taxes manages to be both jaw-droppingly misguided and also rigorously uninteresting. Why the filmmakers thought that this storyline would be of any interest to anybody and quite how they felt this alleged aspect of Kelly’s life as something noble and to be admired is so thoroughly beyond comprehension that one is left in a simply numb state. That the premise of a supposedly life-affirming biopic could be so misjudged would be offensive if it wasn’t so utterly stupid. This juxtaposition of bad politics and profound boredom is quite the achievement for director Olivier Dahan, who also made the over-rated Edith Piaf bio, La Vie en Rose.

The acting is largely unremarkable but not the type of terrible that could provoke any type of unintentional hilarity. Kidman, though definitely miscast, brings a dreary functionality to her Kelly. Tim Roth scowls, smokes and sighs his way through the film but he certainly avoids any accusations of campiness. In fact it appears that such is the low key nature of his performance that he’s hoping that if he just keeps his head down and doesn’t draw attention to himself people might forget he was ever in the film. I suspect Roth needn’t worry too much as it is unlikely that any viewers will be wanting to remember this mess once they are through enduring it.

At least Derek Jacobi seems to be having some fun, camping proceedings up a bit as a Count who – in one, of many, ludicrous sequences – goes about teaching Grace the correct ways to behave in Monaco. Generally, one is left feeling sympathy for talented performers such as Kidman and Roth being lumbered with such insipid material. The technical aspects of the film are for the most part equally nothing to write home about. The only genuinely good thing on show here is Eric Gautier’s lush, colourful cinematography.

Dahan himself appears bored at times. He takes to shaking the camera violently into the eyeballs and nostrils of Kidman in a few bizarre moments which, though unlikely to be confused with Jonathan Glazer’s lengthy Kidman close-up in Birth, do account for the closest thing to directorial inspiration one will encounter in this moronic film.

Avoid.

David Prendeville

16 (See IFCO for details)
115 mins

Grace of Monaco is released on 6th May 2014

Grace of Monaco – Official Website

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A Look at Lars

 

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David Prendeville takes a walk on the Lars side and considers where Nymphomaniac fits into the often perplexing, strikingly impressive oeuvre of one of modern cinemas leading auteurs.

Warning: This article contains spoilers for Nymphomaniac Vols. 1 and 2.

February saw the return of the recently dubbed ‘persona non grata’ of art-house cinema – Lars von Trier – a filmmaker who continues to polarise and perplex audiences. Now the dust has settled, following the much-hyped release of Nymphomaniac, it is the perfect time to consider where it fits in to the often perplexing, strikingly impressive oeuvre of one of modern cinemas leading auteurs. The question of whether we are supposed to take von Trier’s work at face-value or see them as empty provocations on the audience is a rather futile one. His work, since Breaking the Waves, has had elements of both. There is no doubt that von Trier thrives in his role as provocateur and relishes the scandalous elements in films such as the aforementioned Breaking the Waves, as well as The IdiotsAntichrist and now Nymphomaniac. However, that is not to say this renders his work as merely controversy-baiting as some would have it. There is an undoubted power and humanity to his work, amidst the deep cynicism of human nature that runs throughout his films.

The Idiots, which was actually banned in Ireland back in 1998, remains von Trier’s masterwork and the film that perfectly meshes his uncompromising cynicism, his political incorrectness and his ultimate humanity. The final scenes in which Karen returns to her family to ‘spass’ are some of the most harrowing, heart-breaking moments in cinema. It’s a measure of von Trier’s talent that the film can work as a post-modern commentary on performance, a social satire and also as a deeply humane, emotional work. This was of course von Trier’s Dogme film, following on from Thomas Vinterberg’s comparatively bland Festen. Attempting to return to a pureness of cinema, free of the fakery and manipulation of the modern era, von Trier utilised heavy use of Dreyer-esque close-ups in his bid to create a radical modern cinema.

Perhaps this emphasis on the close-up also accounts for the hardcore images that caused so much fuss at the time. Since then von Trier has utilised pornographic imagery once again in Antichrist and more frequently in Nymphomaniac. It is now unquestionably a part of the von Trier aesthetic. But it is surely not even necessary to point out that von Trier’s engagement with hardcore imagery could not be further away from porn. While there is undoubtedly an element of provocation at the heart of von Trier’s decision to show explicit sex in these films – just as there is in the work of Gaspar Noe and Catherine Breillat – it is not empty provocation. Rather it is in keeping with the uncompromising nature of von Trier’s oeuvre. He is a filmmaker who has no bones about showing the ugly sides of humanity and of shattering the illusions prevalent in society. When showing sex in these films, von Trier is attempting to de-eroticise it and show it in a clinical fashion so as to debunk society’s paradoxical obsession with, and fear of, sex. Sex is everywhere in the media, yet to show it explicitly amounts to some sort of scandal. Perhaps the infamous poster-campaign for Nymphomaniac – featuring the film’s stars with supposed orgasm faces – is the ultimate joke on how sex sells. Von Trier replaces suggestiveness and innuendos with explicitness, which is surely a far healthier, or at the very least, honest way of dealing with the subject matter of sex.

This is not to say that von Trier cannot exhibit restraint. The brilliant Melancholia is tasteful and beautiful in its examination of depression. It’s hard to imagine any other filmmaker who could make such a bleak yet oddly uplifting piece of work. As opposed to the idea of him lacking restraint, von Trier is in fact obsessed with discipline. The Dogme manifesto was the first example of this. By giving himself rules to follow von Trier allows the true essence of the work to emerge. A similar fascination with discipline can be seen in his decision to utilise only a bare soundstage in his filming of Dogville.

Nymphomaniac is perhaps the first film of his that is completely unrestrained and lacking in discipline. The film, which follows a self-diagnosed nymphomaniac as she recounts her sexual escapades to Seligman, a lonely intellectual, after he found her beaten in an alleyway, acts almost as a conversation piece between two sides of von Trier. Seligman represents the highbrow side of von Trier and his work, while Joe represents the cynical, outspoken von Trier. Joe is an outsider from society just as von Trier is, to a certain extent only, an outsider in the film world – mainly down to his infamous ejection from Cannes in 2011. The film is all about the tension between these two disparate elements. When Joe tells Seligman of a sexual encounter, he relates it to such things as religion, art, history, psychoanalysis or fly-fishing.

While it’s undoubtedly interesting to see a filmmaker supposedly laying himself bare as he seems do to with this picture, Nymphomaniac ultimately adds up to the least fulfilling von Trier film since his early work, such as The Element of Crime or Europa. While those films were beautiful to look at and indeed have plenty to recommend them, they lack the bite, the interest in humans prevalent in his best work. They are cold, post-modern works. While Nymphomaniac is not as sterile as those films, it is achingly and at times irritatingly post-modern in a way that his other films have not been. While von Trier has always tried to alienate his audience to a certain extent, Nymphomaniac is the first of his to feel somewhat hollow in a long, long time. The commentary by Seligman on Joe’s adventures are (perhaps deliberately) painfully obvious. The film has some interesting ideas. The collision of the two sides of von Trier has some interesting results – the juxtaposition of classical music with Rammstein, the three way split-screen filled with sexual imagery played to Bach. However, the dialogue between Joe and Seligman often leave little room for interpretation as they spell out exactly the ideas behind Joe’s episodes. This, however, is likely to be deliberate on von Trier’s part. It seems as though this is a film that is more concerned with language and storytelling than it is with Joe’s story.

There has to this point been little talk of just how alienating a picture Nymphomaniac is. While the film consistently engages with the kinks of storytelling from the get-go, the strangeness of the project becomes more apparent halfway through Volume Two when Stacy Martin is replaced by Charlotte Gainsbourg in the episodes of Joe’s story. The idea of changing actors as a character gets older is not an unusual idea. Viewers will also have known this is going to happen given the fact that it is Gainsbourg who is relating the story to Seligman. While Martin and Gainsbourg don’t look especially alike, beyond their dark hair and similar stature, this alone is not particularly alienating. Rather the viewer accepts the cast change as a necessary compromise in realism in the striving for another form of realism – the realistic ageing of a character. However, it is from this point that von Trier’s game with realism becomes all the more apparent. Instead of attempting a seamlessness in the switching of the actors playing characters, von Trier seems to heighten the very unrealistic nature of this, and attempts to draw attention to the fact that the characters we have seen throughout the film are now suddenly very different as a result of the change in actor. After Gainsbourg replaces Martin, instead of Shia Labeouf’s Jerome getting a similar change of actor in the name of continuity, he stays the same. There is something infinitely strange about seeing Gainsbourg, an older version of Joe, having a crisis talk with LaBeouf – a still young Jerome. Were this the extent of the casting games then one could write it down as an oversight on von Trier’s part. One might assume that von Trier brought in an older actress for Joe so as to highlight her weariness and physical affects nymphomania has had on this woman. But when Jerome reappears later on in the film – lo and behold – a new actor, Michael Pas, is now playing him.

Joe’s story culminates in a nightmarish scene in an alleyway in which Jerome and P (more on her later) beat Joe brutally. Jerome is not now just being played by a different actor he seems to be a different person. The Jerome we saw earlier in the film did not seem as if he could ever possibly do something as grotesque as literally battering Joe in the alleyway. The viewer, as well as coming to terms with a major shift in a character’s behaviour, are further confused and alienated by the sight of an entirely different man acting as Jerome. This, coupled with the highly artificial set, which resembles something one might encounter in a Fassbinder melodrama, albeit less colourful, renders this scene as truly nightmarish and unsettling. The only thing that links this Jerome to the Jerome seen earlier on in the film is Joe’s perspective and the superimposition of the Fibonacci numbers that similarly appeared across the screen when Jerome took Joe’s virginity early on in the film.

While this in itself is deeply alienating, the fact that it is has followed the baffling final chapter in which Joe becomes a debt collector and by some borderline incomprehensible plot convolutions and contrivances ends up finding an understudy for her life of crime in that of a 15-year-old girl with a disfigured ear – P (Mia Goth). Initially Joe goes about watching P play basketball games. Before long she has moved in with her. While to begin with they seem to have a mother-daughter type relationship, soon enough they become lovers. One day going about her debt collecting business, sure enough, Joe finds that she must get a collection off of none other than Jerome. Unable to handle this, she gets P to do it for her, which results in P and Jerome starting a sexual relationship and ultimately beating Joe half to death in that alleyway.

Before relating this final chapter, Joe struggles to find an object in Seligman’s room from which to title the story. Whereas before she used a hook, a Rublev icon and other things, she now cannot see anything from which to start her tale. Seligman relates this problem to the way he looks at texts and says sometimes you need to look at things in a new way so that you see them in a fresh light. This allows Joe to see a tea stain as that of a gun and so begins the story. However, this exchange and particularly Seligman’s remarks on text, strikes me as being significant because it is after this point that the film completely dispenses with any notion of a reality and seems to defamiliarise, even, the universe the film has existed in up until this point. It is also the first point in the film in which Joe turns the tables on her male counterpoints, to an extent, using K’s sadomasochistic techniques used on her, to good effect in her debt collecting business. It is also the first time in which Joe has any sexual relations with another female. In a sense this chapter becomes almost like a male fantasy in which we have an authoritarian female character who dishes out punishment to men and has sex with other women. Whereas the other chapters focused on Joe and the psychology of her sex addiction, this chapter abandons that and Joe, a layered and powerful female character up until this point, becomes almost like a caricature of her former self.

Once again what von Trier is attempting to achieve with this I am not entirely sure. Perhaps von Trier’s description of the film as a ‘porno’ should not be taken completely in jest. Perhaps the whole film is in fact a von Trier porno in the same way Dancer in the Dark is a von Trier musical and Antichrist is a von Trier horror? Or perhaps von Trier’s description of the film as a porno relates to the fact that the film is the most indulgent von Trier has probably ever made. It often plays like a greatest hits compilation of von Trier’s oeuvre with constant references to his other work found in the various chapters. In the first chapter we have the train setting – a reference to Europa, as well as the fact that Joe’s clothing, or as she describes it, her ‘fuck me now clothes’,  mirrors the clothes worn by Bess (Emily Watson) in Breaking the Waves. The second chapter, in which Joe and B (Sophie Kennedy Clark) form their own subversive sex group is, surely, a reference to the Dogme manifesto. This is particularly apparent from the fact that B can’t ultimately adhere to their anti-love manifesto, in the same way that none of the Dogme filmmakers completely maintained the rules of their post-modern creed.

Antichrist is explicitly referenced in a scene in which Joe’s toddler child climbs out the window of her apartment and also when Joe, as a child, lies down on grass before having a spontaneous orgasm. These are not just visual references, as von Trier, as if we didn’t get it already, uses the same music he used in Antichrist, for both these scenes. The references to Judaism, political correctness and the queasy sequence in which race is discussed all point further to the fact that the film is very much about von Trier himself. While it is true that all his films are about himself to a certain extent, perhaps the best way of putting it, is that this is the first that appears to be about Lars von Trier – the public persona and not Lars Trier (he added the von himself) and deeply personal issues, such as the examination of his own depression seen in Antichrist and Melancholia.

Aside from referencing his own work there is also the now mandatory nods to Andrei Tarkovsky scattered throughout Nymphomaniac. Most pertinently there is a chapter called ‘The Mirror’, whose title card resembles exactly the poster for the Tarkovsky masterpiece Mirror (1975). Then, there is also that Rublev painting – a reference, of course, to Tarkovsky’s chronicle of the great icon painter. The credits of the film also pay thanks to Tarkovsky, as did the credits in Melancholia. Antichrist went a step further and was dedicated to the master filmmaker. While some, at the time, took von Trier’s dedication as something of a joke, there is no doubt that von Trier is sincere in his admiration for Tarkovsky. The beautiful slow-motion visuals of Antichrist and Melancholia, as well, as the mixing of black and white and colour in the former, are clear indications of the inspiration von Trier has taken from the Russian.

It would be interesting to know quite what Tarkovsky would have made of von Trier’s films. Von Trier showed his first film, The Element of Crime, to his idol, only for Tarkovsky to label it as ‘garbage’. There is no doubt though that von Trier has, for want of a better word, matured since then in the sense that his films from Breaking the Waves onwards have become far more humane than his cold early works and von Trier, despite dividing critics, appears to be much more universally admired by other filmmakers. One of von Trier’s other heroes, Ingmar Bergman, once said, that von Trier himself didn’t even realise how much of a genius he was. Other top filmmakers, such as Paul Thomas Anderson, Quentin Tarantino and Nicolas Roeg, have also spoken of admiration for his work. The brilliant, iconic French actress Catherine Deneuve even went as far as writing von Trier a letter saying she would do any part in any film he made. The end result being her supporting role in Dancer in the Dark. Perhaps one of the reasons for this is the fact that von Trier is a filmmaker who is obsessed with form and is genuinely experimental both in his form, and as result with his actors. His taste for experimentation can probably be best exemplified by his underrated 2006 comedy, The Boss of it All, in which von Trier utilised Automavision, a technique in which the camera angles and movements are selected by computer.

Ultimately, even von Trier’s harshest critics must concede he is one of the most individual and interesting filmmakers working today. This writer, as a fan of his, is still uncertain as to his feelings on Nymphomaniac. It certainly struck me as being less heartfelt than his other work, this confirmed by the coda at the end in which Seligman gets shot as a result of attempting to rape Joe, which seemed like a childish, silly end to the film. However, in another sense, perhaps this was the only way the film could have ended. It is the ultimate summation of the ridiculous and the sublime at the heart of the film. While the tone is more flippant than in his best work and the film lacks the punch to the gut one now expects of von Trier, it still has moments that stick, such as that nightmarish alley sequence, or when Joe discovers the tree that supposedly represents her soul or even the provocative paedophile sequence.

If von Trier’s aim is, as many claim, to confound both his critics and his fans, I’m sure he would take plenty of pride in, at least, confusing one of his fans. You just don’t know what this filmmaker might throw up next. That’s what makes him so exciting and what confirms his status as a genuine filmmaking maverick.

 

 

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Cinema Review: The Past

 Film still from The Past by Asghar Farhadi                                           

DIR: Asghar Farhadi   WRI: Asghar Farhadi   PRO: Alexandre Mali- Guy, Alexa Rivero   DOP: Mahmoud Kalari   ED: Juliette Welfling  CAST:  Ali Mosaffa, Berenice Bejo, Tahar Rahim, Pauline Burlet

 

Farhadi follows up his much-admired A Separation (2011) with another low-key family drama.  The film sees Farhadi working outside his native Iran for the first time. As the film begins Ahmad (Mosaffa) returns to Paris so as to give his wife Marie (Bejo) a divorce. Ahmad soon finds out the reason for Marie’s eagerness to finalise the divorce is because she plans to marry Samir (Rahim), who now along with his son, lives with Marie and Ahmad’s step children. While this initially makes Ahmad uncomfortable, he foregoes his desire to stay in a hotel as opposed to Marie’s house so as to talk to Lucie- Marie’s troubled teenage daughter. Once Ahmad does talk to her it leads to a veritable Pandora’s box of secrets surrounding Samir and his comatose wife, who is being kept alive by life-support.

 

The film’s key theme is told to us through its title. The characters at the centre of the story are never able to move towards anything verging on a new beginning. Their lives are consistently affected by past events and revelations. Farhadi announces this theme visually early on by interrupting a conversation between Ahmad and Marie with a shot of the back window of the car they are travelling in. These types of visual cues consistently reappear in the film. There are numerous scenes in which characters literally are unable to move forward and get drawn back into an unresolved conversation or an unresolved encounter.

 

While on the surface, Farhadi’s approach, seems to be from the social realist school he shows a deft hand in portraying the social situations of the characters. Their relative poverty is visible but it is never overly dwelt upon allowing the viewer to ponder the implications of their social statuses on the events that unfold around them, as opposed to being overwhelmed by the grit of their situation. Farhadi ensures that his film never falls into dreaded kitchen sink territory by ensuring a focus on the human condition and by empathizing with his characters on a more universal level and also by the healthy dose of melodrama that is sprinkled into the unfolding revelations.

 

While Farhadi shows tact and imagination for much of the film, it is a shame then that there is something troubling about representation of gender in the piece. While Bejo, who won best actress at Cannes for this last year, is perfectly fine, her character feels thinly drawn compared with that of Ahmad and Samir. The same can also be said of Lucie and even more troublingly the revelations surrounding Samir’s comatose wife Celine suggest a view of women in which their problems inherently surround the men in their life. While Ahmad is given a certain complexity in references to why he left Marie because of depression, Celine’s problems seem to be down to a neuroses surrounding Samir.

 

This problematic representation of women and the character of Celine, in particular, are reinforced by a clumsy and overwrought ending.  There is also a feeling that despite displaying an astute eye and ear for much of the film, Farhadi, lacks the intellectual rigour of a Fassbinder or a Sirk in his attempts at making the mechanics of melodrama profound. For all this, though, the film remains worth seeing. Ultimately the film may fall short of its potential but it’s still a gripping, humane piece of work.

 

 

David Prendeville

130 mins

The Past is released on 28th March 2014

The Past – Official Website

 

 

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Interview: Alain Guiraudie, director of ‘Stranger by the Lake’

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David Prendeville sat down with Alain Guiraudie to discuss his latest feature, Stranger by the Lake, which won him Best Director in the “Un Certain Regard” section at Cannes last year.

Alain Guiraudie oozes class. A confident, humorous Frenchman, the director has every reason to be happy with himself. His brilliant, insidious homoerotic thriller Stranger by the Lake premiered in Cannes in the Un Certain Regard last May, where Guiraudie picked up the best director award. The film has since gone to receive universal acclaim and numerous accolades, not least being named the best film of 2013 by the prestigious, iconic Cahiers du Cinema.

The film is a strikingly singular piece of work. It combines the motifs of an erotic thriller with a transcendental, other worldly quality. The film is set entirely in one location- on a lakeside cruising spot- where the lead character Franck spends his summer days wandering around looking for casual sex. Franck befriends the lonely Henri, with whom he strikes up a touching, albeit entirely platonic relationship. Franck’s desires are towards Michel- a handsome, mysterious man he spots in the distance. Michel appears to be in a relationship with Pascal. However one evening, Franck observing the largely deserted beach from the woods sees Michel drown Pascal. This has the effect of raising Franck’s desire for Michel further. Before long he is embroiled in an intensely passionate relationship with this strange, dangerous man, much to Henri’s chagrin.

Where did the inspiration of the film come from? ” Really it came from my own life, a lake I know where men go. I tried to mix real-life characters with character archetypes. It really comes from numerous things: films I’ve seen, Greek tragedies”. Stranger by the Lake is a uniquely cinematic experience. The film manages to juxtapose a sometimes distant formal approach similar to that of a Haneke or a Pasolini, with an intimacy and carnality rarely seen in mainstream cinema. When asked about what filmmakers influenced the style of his picture Guiraudie ponders for a moment before citing Apichatong Weerasetakul, acclaimed Thai director of films such Tropical Malady, Syndromes and a Century and the Palme D’or winning Uncle Boonmee who Can Recall his Past Lives. ” Actually, I spoke to Weerasetakul about wanting to shoot in between light and dark while using natural light asking how he went about it in his films”.

The emphasis on only using natural lighting ties in with the film’s agenda of keeping any manipulations of sound or image to a minimum. Anther obvious example of this is the fact that the film features no music; instead the film’s sound design is built around an extraordinary use of natural sounds. Was this the plan from the outset or was it something that came to Guiraudie while he was making the film or in post-production? ”To tell you the truth, in the original script there was a plan to use some natural music, maybe like techno music coming from a car or something, but we had decided from the beginning that we would have nature sounds as much as possible and in the end I decided to only use nature sounds because really the music would have corrupted the spell of the film”.

One of the most extraordinary scenes in the film is when Franck observes his love interest Michel casually drowning his lover in the sea. The film is shot at a distance, presumably from Franck’s perspective. I can’t resist asking Guiraudie how he managed to do this scene from a technical point of view. When posed with this question a smile emerges on Guiraudie’s face – I suspect it’s a question he has been asked before, and one he takes a certain pride in answering. ” The actor who is playing Michel’s lover is actually an underwater specialist. He held his breath for eight minutes and so swam out of view of the camera. We were lucky that the actor playing Michel was in such great shape because obviously that made it easier to do the scene.”

Enough about the technical and formal side of the filmmaking. As formally brilliant as the film is, there are also serious thematic issues at the heart of the picture. It deals in big themes- love being the predominant one, in a provocative, eerie yet strangely delicate manner. Much has been made of the film’s explicit sexual content, but I decide to forego any question on this subject matter as Guiraudie is likely tired of answering it. What’s more interesting is what the film has to say about carnal desire and the way in which it compares and contrast two different types of love – that of sexual love, with Franck’s desire for the dangerous Michel, and that of platonic love – Franck’s relationship with the intelligent, lonely Henri. ”The question is of desire. Passionate love with Michel and chaste love with Henri. Henri as a character has a desire for something more than sex. It calls to mind Socrates and the idea of an ideal love. He desired women but doesn’t want to make love to them. The ideal love story goes further than sex”.

Guiraudie seems like a passionate, thoughtful fellow and his picture reflects this. A truly absorbing, astounding piece of work, Stranger by the Lake already looks at this early stage as one of the very best films likely to be seen this year. Seek it out.

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JDIFF: Irish Film Review – The Food Guide to Love

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David Prendeville chews over The Food Guide to Love, which screened at the 2014 Jameson Dublin International Film Festival.

Oliver (Richard Coyle), a successful celebrity chef, is far less successful in his love life largely due to his treatment of women. He can never have a relationship that lasts longer than six months mainly because he is a selfish, shallow misogynist. After Oliver is thrown out of one relationship along comes fiery Bibiana (Leonor Watling). They begin a tentative relationship that eventually turns into something very serious for both of them. But can it last? While Bibiana is interested in politics and art, Oliver seems only to care about himself and food. Oliver encountering an old crush from primary school in Georgina (Jade Yourell) and Bibiana’s interest in a political activist (David Wilmot) adds further complications to proceedings.

This light, silly romantic comedy attempts to recall classic screwball comedies, not least, in the admirable feistiness of its lead female character. The film struggles tonally, particularly initially, as it attempts to translate this type of comedy onto its Irish setting. Early scenes between Coyle and Watling jar somewhat. The film’s major flaw, however, lies with the fact that the lead character Oliver is such a deeply unlikeable character. In a film with as broadly comic a sensibility as this there is something that doesn’t sit right about having such a deplorable male lead. To be fair, the film-makers do establish a certain depth to his character towards the end in an emotional scene involving his father, which is heartfelt and well-played. However by the end of the film you don’t really feel as if there has been any great change in the character’s outlook or behaviour. The film lacks the sardonic or cynical edge required to pull off having these sorts of moral complexities to its characters.

The dislikeable nature of the lead character and his actions lead to some bizarre, supposedly comic scenes such as him being tempted to cheat on Bibiana by a woman completely smeared in chocolate. The aftermath of this scene in which Bibiana discovers Oliver’s chocolate smeared clothes does not know whether it wants to be moving or funny and it ends up being neither. While the idea of consistently relating the film’s events and it’s themes to food, given that food is only thing Oliver possibly loves more than himself, is not a bad idea the film-makers struggle to use it in the right way. Is the food motif supposed to be comic? Or is there supposed to be some weight (pardon the pun) to the relating of Oliver’s obsession with food ton that of his love life? As the film progresses, food becomes a means of power struggle in Oliver and Bibiana’s relationship, with her becoming a vegetarian. Once again, while this could have been an interesting idea it ends up feeling forced and rather inconsequential.

The emphasis on food also lead to some scenes which simply misfire- a recurring joke about Oliver’s father’s coddle- is more disgusting than it is funny. Nevertheless there are things to commend in the picture. Dublin is beautifully photographed throughout. The directors Dominic Harari and Teresa Pelegri bring a foreign eye to the city and it’s nice to see such a modern, progressive depiction of Dublin on screen. There are some enjoyable supporting turns from Wilmot, Simon Delaney and Bronagh Gallagher. It is also pleasing to see that in an age in which the romantic comedy is such an unfashionable genre in the cinema that filmmakers are, at least, attempting to go back to basics and call to mind a style of filmmaking in the screwball comedy that is all too rarely visible in the modern era.

For viewers hungry for something substantial this film is unlikely to satisfy but it has the odd ingredient worth savouring.

 

Click here for further coverage from the 12th Jameson Dublin International Film Festival.

The Food Guide to Love screened on Monday, 17th February 2014 as part of the 12th Jameson Dublin International Film Festival (13 – 23 February 2014).

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Book Review: The Films of Pixar Animation Studio

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The Films of Pixar Animation Studio

                      James Clarke

David Prendeville delves into James Clarke‘s book on the rise and rise of Pixar Animation Studio.

Since their debut in 1995 with the timeless Toy Story, Pixar Animation Studios have continued not only to make films that excel at the box-office but also that garner huge critical acclaim. With modern classics such as the aforementioned Toy Story and its sequels, Ratatouille, Wall-E and Up the studio has managed to make films that satisfy both children and adults alike.

This book attempts to chart the studios rise from obscurity when they made their first short in 1984 to the success of Toy Story and their subsequent features and their continued, lucrative partnership with Disney. In the book’s introduction Clarke attempts to contextualise Pixar’s work, relating to that of a tradition of American Romanticism in painting and across all the arts. He ponders the question of why it is that animation suits the humanistic emotional qualities inherent in Pixar’s best work. Indeed few would argue that there have been many more emotionally effective sequences in recent cinema than the genuinely heartbreaking opening to Up.

Subsequent to this, Clarke moves on to detailed accounts of the individual films from Toy Story to Brave (2012). The book mixes the type of contextualisation and analysis prevalent in the Introduction with the charting of Pixar’s journey and the stories behind the individual films, examining such things as how the films were cast and how characters were designed. While this occasionally results in the book feeling somewhat caught between two different methodologies, for the most part, Clarke’s book is engaging, informative and insightful.

By charting the individual stories behind each of the films, Clarke illustrates the practical manner in which the artistic achievements of Pixar can be seen to be completely created by human imagination as opposed to live action films which rely on at least some element of a captured reality. His assertions of the power of this imagined universe has on viewers in the sense of taking them to a consciousness untainted by the lived world is a fascinating idea and when coupled with the enormous power of Pixar’s work, makes for a persuasive argument.

Ultimately, Clarke’s book manages the difficult task of being both a rags to riches tail, while also being rigorous, informed and even inspirational in the manner in which it relates the artistic achievements of Pixar in a broader historical sense.

A fine piece of work highly recommended to Pixar and film fans alike.

 

Paperback: 192 Pages

Publisher:  Kamera Books 2012

Language: English

ISBN:978-1-84243-937-1

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Cinema Review: 47 Ronin

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Dir: Carl Rinsch  Wri: Chris Morgan, Hassan Amini Pro: Pamela Abdy, Eric McLeod   DOP: John Mathieson  DES: Jan Roelfs • MUS: Ilan Eshkeri • CAST: Keanu Reeves, Hiroyuki Sanada, Ko Shibasaki, Rinko Kikuchi

 

The 47 Ronin of the title are a group of disgraced former samurai who attempt to reclaim some honour by overthrowing a ruthless shogun who has taken over their city and avenging the death of their master. The story is a popular piece of Japanese folklore. This film throws in fantastical elements such as dragons and witches and also Americanises the tale somewhat by adding in a character of a ‘half-breed’ played by the distinctly un-Asian Keanu Reeves.

Given the oddness and potentially disrespectful nature of this set-up and the fact that this mega-budgeted film was directed by a first-timer in Carl Rinsch, it seems as if it had already been decided, prior to anyone seeing the film, that it was a disaster in the making. The fact that the film is headlined by the often unfairly maligned Reeves has not helped this peculiar-sounding picture’s cause with public and critical consciousness. While the film is certainly not particularly good, it is also not the disaster some wags had tipped it as.

 

The film is consistently fairly nice to look at and the film’s impressive visuals are only mildly hampered by the annoying 3-D.  Reeves is fine, allowing Sanada take the limelight as the film’s real protagonist. The film’s action is a bit stilted and while in terms of frequency and body count, the film is exceptionally violent, the bloodless nature of said violence (likely as a result of the film aiming for a PG-13 rating in the States) leaves one feeling a bit numb as opposed to it having any visceral affect. This also raises questions as to who the film’s audience is. The fantastical elements seem designed for children, yet the film has a brooding, meditative quality that would likely alienate a younger audience. One suspects that the filmmakers had a serious-minded approach to the material in the hope of avoiding accusations of the film being disrespectful to Japanese culture. Yet this seriousness sits uncomfortably alongside B-movie and child-friendly attributes, leaving the film’s overall tone to be one of deep uncertainty.

 

At 120 minutes the film is also vastly overlong. While the first hour or so is reasonably diverting, one does find themselves rolling their eyes and shuffling in their seats as the second half of the film progresses.

 

Ultimately the film manages to be both fairly unusual yet largely uninspired. One almost wishes it was the disaster people expected it to be, as then it might have at least made some lasting impression on those who watch it.

David Prendeville

12A (See IFCO for details)

118  mins

47 Ronin is released on 27th December 2013

47 Ronin – Official Website

 

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Cinema Review: In Fear

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DIR/WRI: Jeremy Lovering  PRO: Jamie Biddle, Nira Park  DOP: David Katznelson  ED: Jonathan Amos  CAST: Ian De Caestecker, Alice Englert, Allen Leech

 

Tom (De Caestecker) and Lucy (Englert) en route to a concert in rural Ireland decide to have a romantic stop-off at a hotel for a night. However their attempts to find the hotel prove extremely difficult as road signs seem to lead them around in a circle. These difficulties turn sinister as night begins to fall and Tom and Lucy find themselves lost in a maze with strange things happening around them- giant trees falling, visions of a man in a mask, their possessions disappearing then reappearing on the road. Who or what is the cause of these things? And why are Tom and Lucy being targeted?

 

The intrigue and eeriness of this set-up is heightened by Lovering’s decision to utilise an intimate aesthetic coupled with the type of improvisational acting more prominently seen in the work of Mike Leigh or in realist dramas. It is an inspired idea to juxtapose horror with this type of acting as, instead of the paper-thin characters and by the numbers performances often associated with low-budget horrors, this film does a great job in making the audience feel as though they are watching real people going through genuinely terrifying events. De Caestecker and Englert (daughter of Jane Campion) immerse themselves wholeheartedly into this and give strong, believable performances.

 

When I discussed the film recently with the director he suggested that British film-makers have a tendency not to do straight genre but rather an elevated form of genre. Lovering’s decision to juxtapose realism into his Horror certainly acts as an elevation of the type he described. As well as this Lovering’s approach to violence in the film is more Michael Haneke than Eli Roth. His emphasis on the nastiness and messiness of violence and the horrors of its consequences allows the film to be viewed not only as the visceral rollercoaster ride that it is but also as a commentary on horror films in general. Lovering admirably refuses to give the audience the payoff of blood and gore that they perhaps desire in this sort of film, and while not quite Funny Games, he forces us to consider quite why it is that we desire this type of violent payoff and Horror’s relationship with violence in general.

 

The film also calls to mind the 2001 shocker Jeepers Creepers. Most obviously in the similar set-up of  having protagonists being inexplicably stalked on the roads- in the case of Jeepers Creepers by a truck-, but also somewhat ironically by the fact that in that earlier film, the tension and intensity of its first act is squandered by a ludicrously unexpected supernatural twist. In Fear‘s only major fault is the opposite of that in that as the film progresses it moves away from the potentially otherworldly or unexplainable to a decidedly human form of evil that dispels the sort of uncanny horror that made something such as Ben Wheatley’s Kill List such a lingering, malevolent memory long after the credits had rolled.

 

Despite this In Fear remains a decidedly impressive piece of work that marks Lovering out as a talent to watch.

David Prendeville

16  (See IFCO for details)

85 mins

In Fear is released on 15th November 2013

 

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Interview: Jeremy Lovering, director of ‘In Fear’

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David Prendeville discovers what exactly is In Fear as he chats to Jeremy Lovering about his new film set in rural Ireland, which recently opened the IFI Hororthon and goes on general release on Friday.

Jeremy Lovering is in buoyant form and so he should be. His terrific, intensely claustrophobic new horror In Fear has just opened this year’s IFI Horrorthon to a rapturous response, an experience which Lovering says he ‘loved’. The film follows a young British couple, Tom and Lucy, who travel to an unspecified area in rural Ireland for a music festival. However, Tom’s decision to bring Lucy for a romantic night in a hotel before the festival, leads to strange, sinister events. Despite following the road signs correctly the couple find themselves lost and unable to find the hotel. As night and darkness hits, the couple encounter even stranger things- visions of a man in a mask, giant trees falling, their possessions disappearing and then reappearing in strange places. Just who or what is the cause of these things? And what is the purpose of this strange game?

 

Despite the film being set in rural Ireland, it was shot in England. Lovering cites a ‘benign version’ of the story that he experienced while visiting Sligo to research a documentary on the famine some years back as the reason for the film’s setting. In the real life incident Lovering ended up driving around in a circle for twenty minutes as the result of a practical joke played on people in search of house with a history of extreme violence. While Lovering laughs at that incident now, he notes the ‘primal fear’ it instilled in him at the time and how that juxtaposition of practical joke and violent threat inspired him with the story for this film. He also acknowledges that he initially wanted the film to be set in a completely nameless area so as to emphasise the universal nature of the film’s themes but ultimately decided that the audience ‘needed context’.

 

Context is something that Lovering deprived his actors of while shooting, in the sense that he refused to tell them the story and instead shot chronologically, feeding them pieces of information bit by bit, or not at all. There are moments in which you can see real fear in the eyes of the actors because they were genuinely afraid and found the events unfolding in front of them every bit as unexpected and shocking as the audience do. How did Lovering come to the decision to shoot the film in this way? ‘I always wanted to do it like that. I wanted to shoot a horror film like a drama. There are certain expectations and provisions in shooting a horror film but I’m scared when I’ve forgotten that something is a film, when it feels real I’m scared.’ The improvisatory nature of the film coupled with the fact that its action is confined largely to a car and a forest at night time would strike one that it must have been a difficult film to shoot. Lovering had no such concerns however: ‘I absolutely loved the shoot. I love being in the forest. It was tough, we had a minimal crew and I had to think constantly, but I loved it. The producers were amazing. There was a lot of trust and faith. Various executives came down and had fun. If an actor improvises, the crew improvises. We have to jump to the next moment and I loved that’.

 

The realistic nature of the film’s aesthetic and approach to performance is not the only subversion of the horror genre that one encounters in In Fear. In contrast to a lot of other recent horror films there is a distinct lack of gore and the film is instead focused on a build up of threat and tension rather than the release of extreme violence or torture. Was this a deliberate tactic deployed by Lovering or was it something that came about organically from the nature of the story? ‘ It was absolutely my intention’ says Lovering; ‘ I told my cast and crew that if at one end you have Saw and at the other end Knife in the Water then we are somewhere in the middle.’ When violence does occur in the film it’s messy and unpleasant – ‘ I wanted to portray violence as pathetic. We can really do without it. That is terribly important to me. I’m interested in the consequences of violence’.

 

In Fear joins a list of edgy, interesting horror films to emerge from Britain in recent years, such as Kill List and Berberian Sound Studio. Does Lovering feel there is something of a renaissance happening in terms of low-budget horror films in the UK? ‘In England audiences look for films with a psychology. They don’t do straight genre in England, they do elevated genre. That’s why there is probably an opportunity for films like Kill List and Berberian Sound Studio, which are elevated horror, to get made there. The same films probably wouldn’t get made in America, for instance.’ Lovering ponders the question once more before chuckling: ‘So yes, I suppose you could say there is a renaissance.’

 

You get the impression that Lovering is a man who really cares about the medium he is working in. He is interested in genre and in subverting it. You also got a strong impression he is a man who is deeply interested in the human condition and likes to work a strong human element into his work. When I ask him what his plans for the future are and whether he plans to remain in the horror genre for his next film he responds by saying, ‘At some point I’d like to do something lighter. I suppose it depends on your personal sense of mortality. Something with more of a happy ending perhaps. At the moment I am writing a psychological thriller. I like the dark side, the human ache. I will always be drawn to that’.

 

Whatever it is that Lovering tackles next, it is something which horror fans and cinema fans alike, would be advised to keep a keen eye on.

David Prendeville

 

In Fear opens in cinemas on Friday, 15th November 2013.

 

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Cinema Review: Short Term 12

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Dir/Wri: Destin Cretton  Pro: Joshua Astrachen, Asher Goldstein, Ron Najor, Maren Olson  DOP: Brett Powlak  Ed: Nat Sanders  Cast: Brie Larson, John Gallagher Jr., Rami Malek Stephanie Beatriz, Keith Stanfield, Kaithlyn Dever, Kevin Hernandez

 

Short Term 12, which has garnered ecstatic reviews stateside, follows Grace (Larsson), her co-worker and boyfriend Mason (Gallagher Jr.) and other co-workers as they go about their daily routine in a foster home facility for under-privileged children and teenagers. Nate (Rami Malek, last season in The Master) is starting his first day of work in the facility as the film begins and acts as an avatar for the audience to guide them into this world before quickly being moved firmly into the background in favour of an emphasis on Grace and Mason, and the troubled children, in particular Marcus (Keith Stanfield) and Jayden (Kaithlin Dever). We also get a glimpse of the impact this type of work has on Grace and Mason’s private life and their relationship.

 

Films such as these that deal with harrowing subject matter in a hopeful way are generally unquestionable in their good intentions yet also generally remind viewers of that old adage about the road to hell. Happily, this film sits well above the average film about underprivileged teens and the inspirational carers/teachers who inspire them, however faint that praise may be. This is down largely to some tremendous power-house performances. Larsson, Gallagher Jr, Malek and Beatriz are all good, but it is the younger performers – particularly the aforementioned Stanfield and Dever – that really stand out here.  The performances are helped by intimate direction from Cretton. All this adds up to some very poignant and genuinely moving individual scenes.

 

That is not to say that the film is not at home to manipulation. The scene in which Jayden tells Grace about her abusive father by way of a short story she has written about a shark and an octopus is certainly designed to pull at the heartstrings. However, when realised with such intensity, it is hard to disengage one’s emotions. It is an undeniably powerful scene, and one that rings true to the viewer, despite the faint whiff of manipulation that surrounds it. Marcus has a similar scene in which he relates the depth his problems, this time to Mason, through rap. Once again, on paper this scene sounds terribly manipulative and trite, but the direction and performers raise these sequences to a level, not quite of transcendence, but well, well above what one would expect.

 

Unfortunately the film as a whole fails to conjure up the same power that some of the individual moments do. There is something of a saccharine taste from the film when taken as an overall package.  While it is in places far grittier than most films of its kind, it still can’t shake the inevitable problems that arise from this type of subject matter. The problems in question are the mix of sentiment and grit that is necessary to explore such a topic that is sadly only too visible in everyday life. If one were to forego sentiment and hope altogether then an endeavour such as this would seem hopelessly nihilistic and pointless. Yet the ultimate emphasis on the positive-being the care these workers show the children and the hope that these children can still lead full, happy lives – as opposed to the negative aspects of childhood abuse and neglect can’t help but seem somewhat naive and undermines the power and the ferocity of some of the vignettes on show in this film. It also highlights the fact that despite all the things the film has in its favour it ultimately has little new to say on this topic.

 

As well as these concerns, the film unfortunately also very clearly slips into both melodrama and cliché towards the end of the film as Grace is forced to fight ‘The Man’ in her attempts to help Jayden. However, despite these flaws, the film is still worth seeing for the sheer emotional intensity of some of its scenes coupled with the potential for greater things that can be seen in Cretton’s direction and in the performances of Stanfield, Dever and the cast in general.

 

Sadly not the masterpiece some critics have hailed it has, but rather than it’s good intentions leading it to hell as most films of its kind, this one sits comfortably in limbo.

David Prendeville

15A (See IFCO for details)

97 mins

Short Term 12 is released on 1st November 2013

Short Term 12 – Official Website

 

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Cinema Review: Nobody’s Daughter

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DIR: Sang-Soo Hon •  WRI: Sang-Soo Hon • PRO: Kim Kyoung Hee •  DOP: Hyung-Ku Kim, Hong-Yeol Park • CAST: Jeong-Eun Chae, Seon- gyun Lee, Jane Birkin

This curious film revolves around the escapades of a free-spirited but troubled girl in her early twenties, Haewon. At the beginning of the film we witness her spending time with her mother, who is soon to be departing to Canada. The emotionally fragile Haewon then re-engages in an unhealthy long-term, sporadic, and secret relationship she has with her college professor Seongjun.

The film is punctuated by frequent fantasies and dream sequences. This becomes apparent early on in a scene in which Haewon has a conversation with Jane Birkin (in one of the strangest cameos seen in some time). The film attempts to blur the lines between fantasy and reality with the spectator uncertain of whether given scenes are dreams of the protagonist or real-life encounters. In fact, the whole film could be interpreted as to be taking place in the mind of our protagonist. While this all sounds quite interesting, the finished film is rather underwhelming.

The major problem with the film is just how mundane it all is. Whereas something such as Belle de Jour blurs fantasy and reality so as to make a commentary on the integral role of the subjective fantasy in a person’s perception of reality, this film appears to be saying that there is no difference between fantasy and reality – that both are as dull as each other! Perhaps, given problems that Haewon appears to have (it is hinted that she has a drink problem), the point is that she cannot even escape the mundaneness of her everyday life through fantasy.

Aesthetically, the film has an amateurish quality to it. While the zoom may be a somewhat under-used and unfairly maligned technique in modern cinema, its pervasive use here does give the film an undesirable cheap quality to aesthetic. Stuck somewhere between the observational zooms of Robert Altman and the intense, faux-documentary zooms of Lars von Trier circa The Idiots, Sang-Soo Hon’s utilisation of the this technique comes across as mis-judged and uninspired.

The acting is often hard to judge given the frequent stodginess of the dialogue that the actors are forced to engage with. However, it would be unfair not to award some praise toward Jeong-Eun Chae. While initially a somewhat irritating presence, as the film progresses she appears to grow in the role and ultimately her performance is one of the more impressive aspects of the film.

Ultimately, the film can be viewed as something of a missed opportunity. The film frequently touches upon what seem like interesting ideas but never really expands on them. Its surrealistic touches are distressingly dull. It’s a film that manages the strange achievement of being both predictable and impenetrable. It’s not completely without interest, but rarely inspires and stimulates as it could and should’ve done.

David Prendeville

 

127 mins
Nobody’s Daughter is released on 11th October 2013

 

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Cinema Review: Cold Comes the Night

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DIR: Tze Chun  WRI: Tze Chun, Osgood Perkins, Nick Simon  PRO: Mynette Louie, Trevor Sagan  DOP: Noah Rosenthal. • ED: Paul Frank  • DES: Laurie Hicks CAST: Alice Eve, Bryan Cranston, Logan Marshall-Green

 

Chloe (Eve) is the owner of a sleazy motel whose inhabitants are predominantly prostitutes and junkies. The reason for the griminess of the motel’s customers is largely down to an agreement Chloe has with local, crooked cop Billy (Marshall-Green), in which he gets a cut of her profits in exchange for him turning a blind eye to the lurid activities that take place in the motel. Chloe is under pressure from social services to find a more suitable environment for her to raise her young daughter Sophia in. The trouble is that Chloe struggles to make ends meet with the motel as it is and does not have the capital she needs to start a new life. However, when an incompetent sociopath is killed in her motel, Chloe is forced to help his blind partner in crime, Russian mobster Topo (Cranston) relocate a stash of money that was in the dead man’s car, and which has been taken by Billy. Initially scared of Topo, Chloe gradually begins to wonder if this might be an opportunity for her to get the extra cash she needs for her and her daughter to start a new life.

While this may all sound terribly generic, Cold Comes the Night eschews such accusations, through virtue of its pervasive oddness and unintentional hilarity. What was going through the mind of whoever thought it would be a good idea to cast Bryan Cranston as a Russian mobster is anyone’s guess? It is not just the thickness of the accent that raises chuckles but also the insistence that his character drops ”the” from every sentence. What makes matters even more curious is the fact that there is no real thematic reason for his character to be Russian. It’s as if the director, Tze Chun, simply thought it would be fun to experiment with how far he can take a well-respected character actor out of his comfort zone.

Marshall-Green does his best not be outshone by Cranston in the laughing stakes by giving one of the largest performances seen on screen in some time. It’s up to Eve to attempt to ground the film in some sort of believable reality. Having, earlier on in the year, been the subject of the Hollywood male gaze at its most cretinous, in a notorious, tastelessly gratuitous semi-nude scene in Star Trek: Into Darkness, Eve is here allowed to create the closest thing to a real character in the film. While her portrayal of a good mother and hard-working, if morally dubious, woman is quietly impressive it is hardly likely to be mistaken for something out of a film by The Dardenne Brothers in terms of its realism.

There are some unqualified successes- Noah Rosenthal’s cinematography is appropriately cool and distanced, while Jeff Grace’s excellent score keeps things enlivened. But if this film is likely to be remembered for anything, which in itself is highly unlikely, it is for how disastrously the film utilises its genuinely talented actors, particularly Cranston, and the question as to how, indeed, these actors came to be involved in it in the first place?

One wonders if the film isn’t in fact some grand postmodern joke. Just what universe is this film supposed to be taking place in? It is so utterly misconceived and so relentlessly ridiculous that it is certainly never boring. While that may not count as a recommendation for this ludicrous slice of pulp, it’s hard not to have some affection, or perhaps some sympathy, for something as harmlessly daft as this.

David Prendeville 

15A (See IFCO for details)

90 mins
Cold Comes the Night is released on 20th September 2013

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Cinema Review: Kuma – The Second Wife

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Dir: Umat Dag  Wri: Peter Ladinigg, Umat Dag  DOP: Carsten Thiele  Ed: Claudia Linzer  Cast: Nihal G. Koldas, Begum Akkaya, Vedat Erincin, Dilara Karabayir 

 

This debut feature of director Umat Dag revolves around a Muslim family of Turks living in Austria. 19-year-old Ayse (Akkaya), a village girl who engages in a fake wedding ceremony with Hassan (Muslu), so that in reality she can step into the shoes of his terminally ill mother Fatma (Koldas) and become the second wife to her husband Mustafa (Erincin). Fatma wants this so that there is someone there to act as a mother figure and to look after her husband and her children when she dies. She is welcomed into Mustafa’s family by Fatma, however, Mustafa and Fatma’s children are not so enamoured with this idea, particularly their impudent teenage daughter Nurcan (Karabayir).

It is an interesting set-up and the actors acquit themselves admirably. Dag creates a real sense of claustrophobia out of the family home, in which we get a sense how closed off these people are from their surroundings. As the film progresses it takes some interesting detours and touches on themes such as fidelity, honour and homosexuality. The latter, in particular, seems underdeveloped with Dag and his co-writer Ladinigg seeming to throw it into proceedings for the sake of reminding the audience that this is an important film dealing with serious social issues.

Indeed, the film never really manages to convince us that it has all that much to say about any of the issues it touches upon. Rather it utilises a potentially rich social and political background to play out a soap-opera style drama in which tension is wrought from the schematic mechanics of circumstances and their effect on the disparate characters’ relationships. In terms of being schematic, the film features levels of coincidence that would make the writers of Eastenders blush.

For all these problems, the film remains reasonably entertaining for its modest 90-minute duration. This is thanks largely to the strong performances and also, Dag’s dank aesthetic. Both these things add a sense of believability to the piece, despite its schematic structure, and the performances create real people out of their characters allowing us to empathise and sympathise with them.

Ultimately this is a very slight film which is far too schematic and nowhere near being intellectually rigorous enough in its exploration of the issues of the Muslim faith, marriage and alienation that it raises. It is more interested in its characters’ relationship with each other on an emotional level. On this level it succeeds as a result of excellent acting particularly by Koldas and Karabayir.

A modest success.

David Prendeville

93 mins
Kuma – The Second Wife is released on 16th August 2013

Kuma – The Second Wife  – Official Website

 

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Ben Wheatley – Horrific Humour on the Margins

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David Prendeville takes a look into the viciously funny world of Ben Wheatley.

Ben Wheatley falls into the tradition of great eccentric British directors.  His work resembles not the tasteful prestige cinema of Lean or Minghella, but the strange off-centre work of visionaries such as Michael Powell, Nicolas Roeg or Ken Russell. His films Down Terrace (2009), Kill List (2011), Sightseers (2012) and now A Field in England (2013) show a director who is clearly interested not just in confounding expectations (Kill List is a  domestic drama with shades of Mike Leigh, then a gritty crime thriller, then an out and out horror film; Sightseers starts of as an odd comedy before taking in brutal murders etc.) but also a filmmaker who is clearly interested in and has a distinct philosophy relating to the film form itself. Like filmmakers such as Powell and Roeg, Wheatley utilises all the tools of his medium to make uniquely cinematic experiences. Wheatley is the type of filmmaker that completely undermines Francois Truffaut’s famous line about the terms British and Cinema being incompatible.

Stylistically Wheatley’s films exhibit a string of diverse influences while maintaining individuality. While many people lazily compared Kill List to The Wicker Man or The Witchfinder General, what made the film so interesting was the fact that it merged these influences with that of filmmakers such as David Lynch with its brooding sound design, Gus van Sant’s Elephant in the manner in which the camera frequently follows its characters from behind in a near video-game style, and Michael Haneke with its depiction of violence, particularly the detached brutal take in which Jay smashes the Librarian’s head in with a hammer. This called to mind Majid’s suicide in Cache, with its long-shot and its realistic shock factor. The cult members at the end of the film are also reminiscent of the pagans in Andrei Tarkovsky’s Andrei Rublev. While A Field in England utilises avant-garde editing in the psychedelic sequences reminiscent of underground cinema and also punctuates its scenes with its cast in tableau reminiscent somewhat of some of Peter Greenaway’s work.

Wheatley has an extraordinary knack for leaving scenes and images imprinted on the viewer’s mind. The aforementioned scene involving Jay and the Librarian in Kill List is an example of this as well as the extraordinary scene in the porn dungeon in which Jay encounters something deeply disturbing on a computer screen, something which is not revealed to the audience but instead conveyed through the deeply disturbing screams emitting from the computer screen, along with a close-up of Jay’s distraught face as he watches on. Another example is the extraordinary scene in A Field in England, in which after minutes of screaming from inside a tent, Whitehead emerges in truly hypnotic slow motion.

Thematically, Wheatley is interested in the merging of the humorous and the horrific. Down Terrace and Sightseers are more blatantly humorous than Kill List and A Field in England, but there exists a similar strange, British sitcom-esque humour running throughout all of the films. One need only take a look at the fact A Field in England‘s cast is made up of television comedy actors such as Reece Shearsmith and Julian Barret to see the importance Wheatley places on having a sense of wit in his work.  This sense of humour is usually distinctly British but it is surreal enough to draw comparisons with Luis Bunuel. Not least in Down Terrace, in which Wheatley expertly avoids falling into Shameless syndrome of indulging in grime and attempting to force humour on it, instead the film works as a bizarre observation piece that manages to be both utterly believable and outlandishly unusual.

A sense of unresolved mystery looms large in his work. Just as we never see what is on the computer screen that disturbs Jay so much, Wheatley’s narratives are open-ended. In keeping with the formal experimentation of his work, Wheatley is more interested in asking questions than resolving them. We are never sure who Jay and Gal are working for in Kill List and how it all links in with the suicide cult at the end of the film. The film is littered with bizarre ambiguities and exchanges. What significance do the offerings Jay believes he receives from his cat have? What exactly happened in Kiev? Why, when Jay pays a visit to the doctor about his infected hand, is he greeted with philosophising on the past and the future? In Sightseers we are greeted with strange dream sequences and a suggestion of witchcraft being at play. This is reinforced in the final scene when Tina lets go of Chris’ hand. Was she a witch as he jokingly suggested? Was the death of her mother’s dog poppy really the result of a bizarre accident involving knitting needles? The open-ended nature of Wheatley’s work is taken even further in A Field in England in which the framework of the British Civil War and a search for treasure is superseded by an emphasis on hallucinatory imagery and strange occurrence. What power does O’ Neill possess? Is the planet that Whitehead sees as a result of hallucinogens or is it real? To look for answers to these questions be to would miss the point. Wheatley eschews meaning in a traditional sense and instead is focused on creating atmosphere in his work.  He utilises mystery, humour, and film-literacy and frames these within a formal approach that emphasises the experiential and visceral potentials of cinema as a medium.

Wheatley stands not only as one of the most promising British filmmakers currently working, but also as one of the most promising and unique filmmakers working in the world today.  While his films have received excellent reviews it is disheartening to note that instead of nominating either Wheatley’s Sightseers or Peter Strickland’s excellent Berberian Sound Studio for Best British Film at the BAFTAs last year, they instead opted for such underwhelming work as Martin McDonagh’s Seven Psychopaths. Like Roeg or Russell before him perhaps Wheatley will have to continue working on the margins pleasing the cineaste and being ignored by the more ‘tasteful’ corners. Whatever the case may be, this writer eagerly awaits seeing what lies in store next for this most distinctive of directors working in the cinema today.

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Interview: Kevin Spacey

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David Prendeville chatted with Kevin Spacey about his role on the small screen as Francis Underwood in Netflix’s House of Cards.

 

Is there an actor more adept at playing masters of manipulation than Kevin Spacey? Think of him as ruthless film producer Buddy Ackerman in Swimming with Sharks or even more pertinently as the infamous Keyser Soze in Bryan Singer’s seminal The Usual Suspects. He is currently playing perhaps his most manipulative character yet, on the small screen, in Netflix’s House of Cards. In the show he plays Francis Underwood, a conniving yet brilliant chief whip who is intent on getting revenge after being passed over for appointment to Secretary of State. In keeping with a lot of other current American shows, House of Cards is the of type mature, witty and intelligent drama that we see so rarely see come from mainstream American cinema these days.

It is the first show ever to be released via Netflix streaming and Spacey felt it ‘inevitable that, what was initially a portal for entertainment, would eventually get involved in the creative process’. He also felt this innovative strategy helped the show and that it allowed its makers more comfort: ‘ One of the benefits of the partnership with Netflix is the creative process and that we didn’t have to do a pilot’. He emphasises the faith that Netflix had with the show and indeed it was Spacey faith in producer David Fincher that attracted him to the show. Spacey worked with Fincher previously on Seven and he waxes lyrical about the director’s ability, stating he is one of the finest filmmakers working today and that he constantly ‘ prods and pushes and asks all the right questions’.

Spacey says that he took inspiration for the role from him being around politics from a young age and beginning his political activity in his campaign work for Jimmy Carter, He argues that ‘ you can’t help but soak up the physicality of politics’. Francis Underwood is a larger than life character and he is played with zesty relish by Spacey. He draws parallels between his recent playing of Richard III on stage and with Francis, not least both characters’ breaking of the fourth wall and directly addressing the audience. He describes playing the role as ‘a fun moral conundrum’ but is reluctant to comment on how audiences should feel about the character saying: ‘my job is to play the role and not look at it from how the viewer may look at it.’

He has no qualms in saying that what is depicted in the show is far from fantasy saying that ‘there is a tremendous amount of what we have produced in the show that is accurate’. Spacey was coy however when pushed on Emmy buzz. Saying he was ‘honoured’ in that it could be seen as a breakthrough given the manner in which the show is aired but one could sense that winning an Emmy is not the most important thing on this actor’s mind.

With production started on season two already, we can look forward  to seeing a lot more of Mr. Spacey’s and Frank Underwood’s particular brand of delightful manipulation in the near future.

House of Cards is available to stream instantly on Netflix

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Bio: David Prendeville

 

 

David Prendeville is interested in Avant-garde and Experimental Film, Genre Films, Danish Cinema, British Cinema.

He recently completed an M.Phil Film Theory and History at Trinity College Dublin after obtaining a Bachelor of Arts with Film Studies at the National University of Ireland in Galway.

 

Email: prendevd@tcd.ie

                                        

 

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