The Voices

the-voices-sundance-2

DIR: Marjane Satrapi • WRI: Michael R. Perry •  PRO: Roy Lee, Matthew Rhodes, Adi Shankar, Spencer Silna • DOP: Maxime Alexandre • ED: Stéphane Roche • MUS: Olivier Bernet • DES: Udo Kramer • CAST: Ryan Reynolds, Gemma Arterton, Anna Kendrick

Humble reader, I come before you a conflicted man. There’s a lot to be said and to discuss about this movie and while I want to do that, that task will be near impossible without giving away some of the surprises the film has to offer. So the short version of the review is: go see it, go see it right now. I’m not going to go into specific plot spoilers but even talking broadly about what this film is referencing and the subjects it’s dealing with, will in its own way give away more than I sense the film wants you to know going in. If you enjoy pitch black comedies with incredible casts, that skirt the line of bad taste and occasionally trip over it and then repeatedly stab that line in self-disgust, this is the film for you.

Seemingly normal factory worker but secret crazy-person, Jerry (Reynolds) lives in a small, depressing town; spending his days shipping bathtubs before returning to his lonely apartment above a disused bowling alley. His only company being his dog, Bosco and cat, Mr Whiskers. Both of whom talk to him. Because you see, Jerry was only recently released from an asylum and has stopped taking his meds. When he’s tasked with helping organise an office party, he begins to fall for Fiona (Arterton) while attracting the attentions of Lisa (Kendrick). Drinks are had, dates are attempted, well-meaning intentions lead to… blood. Oh, so much blood.

This is one of those great movies that is clearly reminiscent of/influenced by/similar to numerous other films and yet still manages to stand out boldly on its own terms and contribute meaningfully to the genre(s) it inhabits. What starts off feeling like Ted, but funnier, sadder and with real mental health issues at its centre (and Reynolds at his most Walbergian) suddenly and violently detours into Tucker and Dale vs. Evil territory before subtly revealing its true form as a sort of Killer Joe as written and directed by Wes Anderson. And an ending which (don’t worry, I wouldn’t ruin for anyone) feels almost like an homage to the 1967 Casino Royale. There’s a lot going on, basically.

Even the genre feels difficult to pin down. Black comedy seems the most appropriate but then at times it goes so far and delves into such bleak, dark material that it becomes genuinely dramatically gripping and so emotionally raw that you have to wonder if the comedy is only a thin veneer with which to explore this subject-matter in a way that doesn’t alienate everyone. At its core, this is a character study of a serial killer but rather than going the muted, serious route of something like Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, this forges ahead in the polar opposite direction. Satrapi’s familiar, stylised hyper-reality is here used as a wonderful piece of misdirection. The sickly, artificial, almost confection-like mise-en-scene (complete with a truly icky, squelchy sound design) means that when the audience, and Jerry, finally see ‘reality’, it hits like a punch to the stomach and you completely begin to question the ‘comedy’ portion of this black comedy.

The truly chilling thing about this film is that despite being really funny, this is potentially the most believable version of a serial killer and how/why they do what they do, to be put on screen in a while. Sure, it’s not ‘realistic’ and it can be highly abstract but making the logic of such a warped and psychologically damaged mind’s version of reality seem coherent, if not outright relatable, is a damn impressive feat. And there, equal credit is due to both Perry’s script and Satrapi’s direction with a healthy dose of praise to Reynolds’ performance and its impressive range. I won’t even touch the ending but it’s both weirdly perfect and utterly head-scratching in its oddness.

I honestly don’t know how a film like this gets made. If this were a small, independent film, in a foreign language and with a cast of nobodies then maybe. But with this cast, the overall level of talent on the production side and what appears to be a not insubstantial amount of money behind it; making a film as strange and potentially niche as this? Make no mistake, there will be people who are going to violently, passionately hate this movie. But I am not one of them.

 

Richard Drumm

16 (See IFCO for details)
103 minutes

The Voices is released 20th March 2015

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2fKu_NMbNKM

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Persepolis

Persepolis
Persepolis

DIR/WRI: Marjane Satrapi & Vincent Paronnaud • PRO: Xavier Rigault, Marc-Antoine Robert • DOP: Darius Khondji • ED: Stéphane Roche • DES: Marisa Musy • CAST: (Voice) Chiara Mastroianni, Catherine Deneuve, Iggy Pop, Sean Penn, Gena Rowlands

From the popular graphic novel of the same name, Persepolis is a tour de force, an animated coming-of-age tale about a young girl growing up in Iran, based on its author Marjane Satrapi’s life story. Framing the narrative are transitional airport scenes set in the present day, which ultimately carry a strong symbolism of being uprooted, and constantly in limbo, whether Marji (as she’s affectionately known) opts to return to Iran or stay as an exile in the West.

The main story begins with Marji as a small, feisty child, obsessed with Bruce Lee and wide-eyed about the political persecution of her uncles. As the political situation escalates into a full-blown revolution, with the toppling of the Shah, for a brief period it looks like the dawn of a new, democratic era. Khomeini, however, is installed, and the country is plunged into a religious, orthodox rule. Marji’s parents send her abroad to Vienna to be safe. After a shaky start, Marji makes friends with a group of metal-rocking, nihilistic French teens, but she never shakes the sense of her otherness. Blossoming into a young woman, she experiences her first heartbreak, with near fatal consequences, and ends up back in Iran, but to her dismay, she finds she is again the outsider. Especially hard to accustom to are the new, oppressive codes of dress and conduct imposed on women, and the still independent-minded Marji knows she can’t survive in such an environment.

The visuals stay true to the graphic novel’s style, with various influences readily apparent: the swirly, gothic renditions of trees and architecture have a Burtonesque feel; the adolescent transition is conveyed via a cubist sequence, and Picasso’s vision can also be felt in the Guernica black, white and grey tones. Munch’s ‘Scream’ finds a re-imagining in Marji’s own silent scream. The political complexity is conveyed in a very simplified but surprisingly to-the-point summary, and besides, Marji’s story, no matter how rooted in the political, is primarily a personal one.

The film’s greatest achievement is in conveying the pluck and heart of this headstrong heroine, and her loss of will to live is a tragic indictment of a regime that failed all of its people. The tone is very much in the tragi-comedic register – several heart-wrenching moments are mitigated by an exuberant, humane humour. Moments that stand out for their comic genius are Marji’s perusing of the black market for music tapes, with the suspicious-looking Arab men each barking out their respective bands; also funny is the life drawing class in Marji’s Teheran art school, where instead of a nude model, a girl dressed from head to foot in a burqa offers little in terms of anatomical training. Marji’s main source of solace is her Grandma, who is a mentor figure and partner in crime, whether it’s accompanying her to the cinema for the likes of Godzilla, or cheering her up about her impending divorce. And it is Grandma’s advice on keeping fresh jasmine flowers in your brassiere that echoes again at the end of the film, as we see Marji once again at a crossroads, missing her Grandma’s wise presence. There’s no tidy ending, with a happy-ever-after (how could there, given the present situation in Iran?), but Marji has come to certain realisations, and that’s a start. In that light, the ending is both fitting and realistic.

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