Suite Française

Suite Française

Suite-Francaise-620x327

Dir: Saul Dibb; Wri: Saul Dibb, Matt Charman; Pro: Romain Bremond, Andrea Cornwell, Michael Kuhn, Xavier Marchand; DOP: Edouard Grau; Ed: Chris Dickens; Mus: Rael Jones. Cast: Michelle Williams, Kristin Scott Thomas, Matthias Schoenaerts, Sam Riley, Ruth Wilson, Margot Robbie

 

A soapy wartime yarn elevated by a handsome production and some strong performances, Suite Française cannot, by definition, capture what makes Irène Némirovsky’s source novel such an intriguing proposition. Written during the Nazi occupation of France but left incomplete at the time of Némirovsky’s death in Auschwitz in 1942, Suite Française was completed posthumously and published in 2004. The novel’s unique provenance has little bearing on its plot, though, which has been streamlined here into a familiar, but mildly engrossing, story of forbidden love.

 

Michelle Williams takes the central role of Lucile, a young woman who lives with her frosty mother-in-law (Kristin Scott Thomas) in a small French village, at the beginning of the Nazi occupation. When the women are forced to accommodate a German soldier, Bruno (Matthias Schoenaerts) in their home, an unlikely secret romance blossoms, leading to assorted melodramatic ramifications. Williams has a natural subtlety that was genuinely affecting in her breakthrough role in Brokeback Mountain (2004), and has served her well in her two collaborations with Kelly Reichardt. Here, her reserved, watchful quality brings some much needed shading to the thinly written character of Lucile. There is, however, a distinct lack of spark between Williams and Schoenarts, leaving the plot’s engine sputtering. Schoenarts certainly looks the part of a paperback romantic hero, but the script’s insistence on presenting Bruno simply as a good man in a bad situation are bland at best and disingenuous at worst, and leave the character less neutral than neutered.

 

The tone is generally old-fashioned, with the crisp British accents in which the French villagers communicate evoking – with a certain charm – the Warner Bros. pot-boilers of the 1940s. Director Saul Dibb, who made his debut with the inner-city gang drama Bullet Boy (2004), deploys a more contemporary sensibility only fleetingly, and usually in scenes of action and violence. An early air-raid sequence is terrifically handled, cleverly presenting the open air and sunshine of the French countryside as a source of terror, while brief glimpses of executions and interrogations stand out starkly against the curiously cosy tone of the film. These moments aside, one feels that Suite Française may play better on television, its mild intrigues and lovingly rendered period trappings seeming a perfect fit for a Sunday evening BBC drama.

 

Of the supporting cast, Scott Thomas is on autopilot mode, but still walks off with most of her scenes. Others, such as Eileen Atkins and Ruth Wilson, are given less to do, while rising star Margot Robbie is prominently billed, but has just a handful of lines as a rustic wench. That the part registers at all is more down to Robbie’s own peculiar blend of carnality and innocence than to anything in the script. Although the overall pacing is fairly smooth, the underused cast and truncated sub-plots suggest that the film has either been cut down from a much longer running time, or has been substantially reshaped in editing. Further evidence of tinkering comes in the form of a needless voice-over that is presumably intended to underscore Lucile’s emotional awakening, but has the unintended effect of making Williams’ understated central performance seem less expressive than it is.

David Turpin

15A (See IFCO for details)
107 minutes

Run All Night is released 13th March 2015

 

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Cinema Review: Oz The Great and Powerful

DIR: Sam Raimi  WRI: Mitchell Kapner, David Lindsay-Abair  PRO: Joe Roth  ED: Bob Murawski  DOP: Peter Deming  DES: Robert Stromberg  CAST: James Franco, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weiz, Michelle Williams

I have to admit, I have a soft spot for the merry ol’ land of Oz, so off I went in my sparkly red shoes (egg on my face though, cos there wan’t a ruby slipper to be seen in Raimi’s version) to a Sunday morning family screening of Oz The Great and Powerful.

Raimi’s film is essentially the origin story for the wonderful wizard. Oz (Franco) is a selfish circus con-man whose tendency towards smoke and mirrors has left him devoid of any real sense of self. Like Dorothy, he is swept away in a cyclone and transported to a strange and magical world where he is soon recognised as the man who is destined to rule all of Oz. In order to gain the throne and a room full of gold, he must convince them, and himself, that he’s the man they need him to be

Knowing Sam Raimi and his tendency towards playfulness I was unsurprised but no less delighted to see him open his film with 4:3 monochrome, where it stayed until we enter Oz, where he then revealed in all its 3D glory, all the beauty and spectacle we would hope to see in Oz.

The plot sees  three witches struggling for power over Oz (the place AND the man), one is beautiful, naïve Theodora (Kunis) who falls in love with Oz as she leads him to meet her sister Evanora so they can plot to kill the wicked witch who has been banished to the woods but they suspect to be planning an uprising. But things get complicated when he finds the “wicked witch” and she turns out to be the beautiful, wise and good Glinda The Good.

The production design, CGI effects and cinematography are absolutely beautiful throughout the film, which instantly removed the slight alarm bell of cynicism that might have existed in me around this project. But it’s clear from the outset that love and passion went into the aesthetic of this film. Special mention must go to Gary Jones for the unbelievably beautiful costume design. All the actors seem to be having a blast camping it up in their roles (does Franco ever really do anything else?) and it’s especially nice to see Michelle Williams in a happy film for once.

At almost two and a half hours, I couldn’t help but feel that the thin plot didn’t really warrant the lengthy running time, but having said that I absolutely adored so many aspects of the film that I never really wanted it to end. Raimi’s stamp is all over the film in the most wonderful ways! His flying cameras, his sharp visual wit and not to mention his horrifying witch and flying baboons, there’s plenty on display here to keep his fans happy. But what about the most important audience of all? The children. What’s in it for them? Magic, a cute monkey, a lovely little china doll, action, scary villains and most of all a wonderful sense of what epic 3D cinema should be. Big! From where I was sitting (which was surrounded by hundreds of children) they seemed very, very pleased with themselves. One thing it is missing though – singin’ and dancin’;  but I guess I can’t have it all.

 

Charlene Lydon

PG (see IFCO website for details)

130mins
Oz The Great and Powerful is released on 8th March 2013

Oz The Great and Powerful – Official Website

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Blue Valentine

Blue Valentine

DIR: Derek Cianfrance • WRI: Derek Cianfrance, Cami Delavigne, Joey Curtis • PRO: Lynette Howell, Alex Orlovsky, Jamie Patricof • DOP: Andrij Parekh • ED: Jim Helton, Ron Patane • DES: Inbal Weinberg • CAST: Ryan Gosling, Michelle Williams, John Doman

Directed by Derek Cianfrance, Blue Valentine focuses on the complex and often painful relationship between Dean and Cindy (Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams) – a young couple in Brooklyn who meet, fall in love, get married, and then five years later fall apart.

It begins with their daughter, shouting for the missing family dog, something that seems to symbolise the loss of everything familiar and good about their relationship. We meet these characters at a point where things are beginning to crumble – Cindy works as a nurse, and seems to be the only adult in the house, as she is unable to the break through the play-acting, daddy-daughter dynamic that Dean has created, that is when he isn’t off painting houses or getting drunk. Her sense of disillusionment and obligation is palpable.

Intimately shot with a gritty blue colour palette and conspicuous focus pulls, this film is definitely from the same ilk as the leading duo’s other indie flicks: Half-Nelson and Wendy and Lucy. The film has a rather loose narrative, switching between the breakdown of the marriage and the first few weeks of their relationship, which is an effective storytelling decision. The shifts are easy to keep track of thanks to Gosling’s receding hairline and Williams putting on a few pounds – and the pair have super chemistry that makes the sense of time feel authentic.

After the dog is found dead, Dean suggests getting out of the house, getting drunk and making love. And so they check into the ‘Future room’ of a sleazy themed sex motel, and a good portion of the film takes place in this strange neon-soaked location. The two of them get busy in the bedroom more often than perhaps is necessary to show – but while these depictions of sex do have a degree of realism you won’t find in most mainstream movies, there was nothing here to warrant the MPAA’s initial kiss-of-death NC-17 rating.

After a rather muddled first act, the film does pick up – especially when it explores the couple’s first encounter. Dean gets a job at a moving company and sees Cindy across the hall in an old folks’ home where she’s visiting her grandmother and he is moving a war veteran’s belongings. The connection is instant and a tentative romance is formed. However, back in the present day the sense of disconnect between them becomes more pronounced, and awkward confrontations soon arise. There is a visceral quality to these scenes, so well-acted and shot as to take on a voyeuristic dimension. But as the relationship disintegrates and the arguments become more intense, one wonders what the value of witnessing these painful exchanges really is.

Ryan Gosling performance is kind of a conundrum. I’ve never been that impressed with his acting but the merit of his work in this film is harder to judge due to the character itself being so grating. Dean is an extremely insecure man who makes a habit of being stubborn and obtuse, and his childish antics do become rather head-wrecking to watch after a while.

He nails the character’s defensive and destructive nature, but it’s not a performance you can warm to – there are a few flickers of charm in the early stages of his relationship with Cindy, however his irritating somewhat creeping nature does make you wonder why she would fall for him in the first place. Gosling’s mannerisms here are identical to most other characters I’ve seen him play; ruminating with his hectic masculine energy, there’s more than a hint of self-consciousness about it.

On the other hand Michelle Williams is flat-out excellent as Cindy. Her gift for conveying raw emotions on screen is put to good use as she reveals the character’s scars, her sense of sadness and ultimately suffocation. Late in the film there is a pivotal scene in which her character makes a decision that will change the course of her life, and the fear and release of that moment is truly affecting – her best performance yet.

For the most part, Blue Valentine is quite an unpleasant film, fixated with the misery of a relationship – with only a few fleeting moments of beauty or romance. As the conflict between them reaches fever pitch there are a series of climactic scenes that will command your attention – but a little more of what they’re fighting for might have made the experience a richer one. Still, what the film says about whom we choose to love, and how we treat them when we do, is powerful.

Eoghann McQuinn

Rated 12A (see IFCO website for details)

Blue Valentine is released 14th Jan 2011

Blue Valentine – Official Website

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Mammoth

Mammoth

DIR/WRI: Lukas Moodysson • PRO: Lars Jönsson • DOP: Marcel Zyskind • ED: Michal Leszczylowsk • DES: Josefin Åsberg • CAST: Gael García Bernal, Michelle Williams, Marife Necesito, Sophie Nyweide

Leo and Ellen are husband and wife living in a New York City apartment with their seven-year-old daughter Jackie and their live-in maid and carer Gloria. Leo is a businessman for a gaming social network site. Ellen is a surgeon who works long hours. At the beginning of film Leo leaves his family to go on a business trip to Thailand. The Mammoth of the title is the design of a pen given to Leo by his associate on their flight.

Gloria is from the Philippines, where she has two young sons who miss their mother. Her son Salvador calls her regularly on her cell phone telling her that he and her brother want her to come home. Ellen has a treadmill on the roof of the apartment building. In a later scene she uses it in the rain. You can feel her isolation and longing for something less stressful.

As Leo and Ellen are out of the house working, Gloria takes care of Jackie and introduces her to Filipino culture and they discuss Jackie’s favourite subject astronomy. The film amongst other things is about class. Gloria buys a basketball for your son’s birthday. Ellen is jealous and hurt that Jackie wants to spend more time with Gloria when she finally returns home from work. Ellen buys an expensive telescope for Jackie to get her attention. While on his business trip Leo becomes involves with a prostitute named Cookie, whom he respects and gives her money to go home and get some sleep.

Gael García Bernal, one of the stars of Mexican cinema, plays Leo with an air of mystery and subtlety in what he really wants from life. Michelle Williams, of Brokeback Mountain fame is affective as Ellen. There is a shot of Williams’ face where you almost see the pours of her skin. Marife Necesito is perfectly nuanced as Gloria. Sophie Nyweide is charming and well cast as Jackie. Jan Nicdao and Martin Delos Santos deliver fine performances as Gloria’s two sons Manuel and Salvador. Run Srinikornchot gives a good performance as Cookie.

Mammoth is written and directed by Lukas Moodysson from Sweden whose credits include Together and Lilya 4-ever. Mammoth is one of those films that is two hours but feels like two and half hours. There are parts that go on too long.

Mammoth is about parents, their children and the future that they fear for them. Gloria is working in America to support her two sons. Ellen has a stab victim who is young boy, she can’t stop thinking about if was Jackie. Some Swedish critics have accused the film of misogyny. Make up your own mind.

Someone once told me ‘Great character films tell us things we already know but surprise us none the less. Mammoth does not quite have that quality to really surprise us. However, the reality that a mammoth pen and two expensive watches will get you up to five grand in America and only $40 in Thailand is heartbreaking.

Peter Larkin

Rated 16A (see IFCO website for details)
Mammoth
is released on 12th November 2010


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Shutter Island

Shutter Island

DIR: Martin Scorsese • WRI: Laeta Kalogridis • PRO: Brad Fischer, Mike Medavoy, Arnold Messer, Martin Scorsese • DOP: Robert Richardson • ED: Thelma Schoonmaker • DES: Dante Ferretti • CAST: Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Max von Sydow, Michelle Williams

There are 2 ways to approach Shutter Island – one is as a masterfully constructed cinematic homage; the other is as a return by Martin Scorsese to the overblown schlock fest of Cape Fear. As always, the truth is somewhere in between.

Shutter Island reunites Scorsese with the scowling, cherub-faced Leonardo DiCaprio. DiCaprio has certainly improved in his Scorsese-muse role over the years as he admirably battles to play roles beyond his features. Woefully out of his depth in Gangs of New York, he went on to just about hold his own in The Departed. In Shutter Island, Di Caprio comes of age somewhat, putting in a strong lead performance as U.S. marshal, Teddy Daniels, who comes to the island’s Ashecliffe Hospital for the criminally insane in order to investigate the disappearance of one of the inmates. Once on the island with his partner Chuck (Mark Ruffalo), Daniels is soon wrestling with his own personal demons as well as the case at hand.

As well as the inmates, Shutter Island is haunted by the presence of the likes of Val Lewton, Alfred Hitchcock and Stanley Kubrick. Scorsese lashes it on thick as he crafts this popcorn pot-boiler and directs the camera mixing his own visual trademarks with twitching nods to cinematic legends.

Scorsese pulls rabbit after rabbit out of his director’s hat as he cranks up the atmosphere to match the apprehension and sense of foreboding menace on the island (beautifully designed by Dante Ferretti) as Daniels becomes deeper and deeper involved in the goings-on of the mysterious asylum and his own past. Scorsese is a master of manipulation and Shutter Island allows him to integrate his passionate love of cinema with his mastery of direction to create an ominous feast of claustrophobia, paranoia and terror that at times can leave you breathless.

And yet, the centre can’t hold. To invert a classic phrase, Shutter Island is an example of the sum of the parts being greater than the whole. The film suffers as the substance struggles to compete with the style. There are too many forced scenes that exist merely to cater for the overly signposted, unsatisfactory ending. On top of this, there are too many bluffing scenes that struggle to engage and at times just seem completely out of place. The film is way too long as Scorsese seeks to make an epic out of what is essentially a B-movie. If he’d trimmed the fat off here and trusted a tighter screenplay, he, and we, would have had a much better film. As it is, Shutter Island is what it is: a master craftsman doing manual labour. I was told that Lacanians love it – whatever that means…

Steven Galvin

Rated 15A (see IFCO for details)

Shutter Island is released 12th March 2010

Shutter Island – Official Website

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Incendiary

Incendiary
Incendiary

DIR/WRI: Sharon Maguire • PRO: Adrienne Maguire, Andy Paterson, Anand Tucker • DOP: Ben Davis • ED: Valerio Bonelli • DES: Kave Quinn • CAST: Michelle Williams, Ewan McGregor, Matthew Macfadyen, Sidney Johnston

Art in the imitation of life has fascinated man since the first cave dweller illustrated life-sustaining animals on walls. This fascination with understanding and depicting our moments on earth has become the drive behind art and film historical studies – disciplines effective in carrying important subtexts about humanity’s past and present. Critical dissection of these subtexts is crucial to understanding the reflexive nature of artistic vision. We live in a time of terror and film is likewise conscious of this fact. Representations of grief, war, and struggle take on new meaning under the dictates of current world events. What messages are these films sending to the viewers asking for thrills and entertainment? Some films are perhaps more sinister in their coding than we would like to believe while others make no effort to hide their intentions. Incendiary is a film without shadows, yet its darkness and its seemly implausible and morally conflicted plot reflect an excruciatingly personal element of our current human struggle.

The film Incendiary is an adaptation of the novel by Chris Cleave in which a self-proclaimed ‘slapper’ living in East London loses her husband and son in a terrorist attack. Played brilliantly by Michelle Williams, mother of Heath Ledger’s young daughter, she descends into a world of grief. Ironically, the film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival the day Heath was found dead in his New York City apartment. Intriguing as this is, the coincidental tragedy doesn’t end there. Chris Cleaves’ novel of the same name was released the same day as the 7/7 attacks on London’s transport system. Advertisements for the book were plastered on tube station walls as the bombs exploded.

Fascinating as these facts are, the film does not necessarily indulge morbid curiosity, but rather takes the viewer down a dark alleyway of momentarily relevant historical fiction seen all too often in Hollywood since the terror attacks of 11th September 2001. British cinema, however, has offered little informative contrast to the various and plentiful dramatisations of the 9/11 attacks, representations spurred on no doubt by rising political paranoia and America’s new terror-obsessed media. Obviously a comparison of post-9/11 cinema with the London-based Incendiary is problematic, but not without relevance. 9/11 had an eerily cinematic quality that simply cannot be reconciled to any other event in human history and, therefore, seems an easy choice for filmic re-presentation; however, Incendiary, produced by Film 4, is a valid addition to the post-9/11, post-7/7 film genre.

The voice of Michelle Williams, whose character remains nameless through out the film, floats over the opening sequence as she narrates a letter written in her grief to Osama bin Laden. ‘Dear Osama’ becomes a familiar phrase through out, but these letters are not what might be expected. It is not angry thoughts she shares but personal and honest emoting, bordering on philosophical questioning. These narrations lend a quiet poetry to her raging grief. Unfortunately, problematic motifs such as the ‘cemetery in the sky’ memorial disrupt viewer belief, while at the same time, missing persons posters alongside flowers for the dead and banners sentimentalising the tragedy harken back to real public reactions to past calamities.

As disarming as films about terrorism are, what might be even more disturbing about Incendiary is its attempt at a somewhat happy ending. The word ‘incendiary’ is explained and then re-referenced as a nod to the incendiary bombings which all but destroyed London during World War II, a tragedy which ultimately allowed for a once ancient and chaotic city plan to be rebuilt in an ordered and modern fashion. The young mother narrates this fact as if to prove a point illustrated by the films conclusion: tragedy allows her to throw off her burden of an unhappy marriage and rebuild a new. In and of itself this point seems fair enough, but somehow the mixture of suffering for her lost child and guilt for her past misbehaviour contradict the convenience of this happy ending.

What Incendiary does accomplish with gusto is a glimpse into the racist, reactionary and powerlessly terror-scarred western world. Incendiary represents an evolution in post-terror cinema, focusing more on the aftermath of the event rather than capitalizing on the action/drama potential of the incident. The personification of grief via Michelle Williams’ performance rockets a difficult story to a new plateau of compassion and becomes a spectacle to behold.

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