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Life with Father

A minor but thoroughly delightful Michael Curtiz comedy.
Despite the love lavished on "Casablanca", Michael Curtiz has never really been thought of as an auteur but no-one can say he wasn't versatile; westerns, thrillers, swashbucklers, comedies and even the occasional musical may account for why he could just be the best jobbing director in the business. "Life With Father" was one of his comedies, based on a long-running and apparently 'autobiographical' Broadway play and it was fundamentally a vehicle for its stars, William Powell, (Father) and Irene Dunne, (Mother).

The setting was New York in the Eighteen Nineties and the cinematography, in Technicolour, of J. Peverell Marley and William V. Skall bathes everything in a gorgeously warm glow. It's really quite delightful even if it has no more substance than a marshmallow with a plot no thicker than a wafer-thin mint. The excellent supporting cast included Edmund Gwenn, Zasu Pitts, Jimmy Lydon as well as a very young Elizabeth Taylor and an equally young Martin Milner. Powell's terrific, (he won the New York Film Critics Best Actor award), and if the film is no "Casablanca" or "Mildred Pierce" it's a real pleasure nevertheless.


Good enough to convert a non-baseball fan like me.
This Billy Crystal directed baseball movie isn't really a biopic although it is based on actual events. In 1961 team mates Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle set out to beat Babe Ruth's record of 60 home runs in a single season and it's one of the few 'made-for-tv' movies that could just as easily have been made for the cinema, helped in no small measure by Haskell Wexler's excellent cinematography. It's also extremely well cast. Barry Pepper is outstanding as Maris and there's fine work, too, from Thomas Jane as Mantle as well as from Richard Masur, Chris Bauer, Christopher McDonald, Donald Moffat and Seymour Cassell, (and it was nice seeing Renee Taylor again as Babe Ruth's widow).

In fact, the only problem with the picture, (and the problem with so many similiar 'inspirational' pictures), is Hank Steinberg's somewhat one-dimensional and sentimental script. Of course, if you're a baseball fan you're not going to be paying too much attention to what's being said off-field and the on-field action, and the underrated Pepper, more than compensate for the mostly banal dialogue. Indeed, here's a sports movie that could even convert non-believers like myself. It really deserves to be better known.

Fanny by Gaslight

A highly enjoyable guilty pleasure.
This Victorian melodrama has enough plot to fill several volumes and is, what you might call, 'a rum yarn'. Anthony Asquith's "Fanny By Gaslight" was based on a best-selling novel by Michael Sadleir and was a huge hit in its native Britain and it's an exemplary example of its kind. Phyllis Calvert is Fanny and let's just say what happens to her in the course of this tale would put any Dickens heroine to shame or to quote Thelma Ritter, 'all that's missing is the bloodhounds snapping at her rear end'. Stewart Granger is the young man who loves her and James Mason, the nasty brute who would like to ruin her and others in the fine cast include Wilfred Lawson, Jean Kent, Margaretta Sccott, Cathleen Nesbitt and Nora Swinburne. Given that it's basically a soap opera, Asquith handles it with considerable aplomb and the performances are first-rate. If it's a guilty pleasure, it's certainly a highly enjoyable one.

The Savage Innocents

A 'lost' movie worth finding.
Turned into something of a cult movie when Bob Dylan immortalised it in song, ('The Mighty Quinn'), "The Savage Innocents" would probably have otherwise gone unnoticed. A kind of ecological companion piece to Ray's earlier "Wind Across the Everglades", this was an almost documentary-like look at life among the Eskimos, visually superb though at times almost embarrasingly simplistic.

Anthony Quinn is Inuk, 'the savage innocent' of the title, who accidently kills a missionary and is forced to go on the run, (Peter O'Toole, no less, is one of his pursuers). If anything distinguishes the film it isn't so much the plot but Ray's mise en scene and attention to detail. It also highlighted a way of life not really seen on the screen since Flaherty's "Nanook of the North". It's hardly classic Ray; rather it's a curio from a maverick film-maker unafraid to take chances though some may say with this he took one chance too many and yet there is still much to admire. This is one 'lost' movie worth finding.

The Batman

The best Batman? It's certainly the darkest.
Taking its cue from "Joker" and, to a lesser extent, from "Se7en", "The Batman" is the darkest Batman movie yet, literally. In an almost perpetually raid-sodden Gotham you have to peer through the murk just to see what's happening and a hearing aid might come in handy if you want to hear what's being whispered. Most of the usual suspects are here; Zoe Kravitz is Catwoman, an unrecognizable Colin Farrell, in a fat suit, is the Penguin and the great Paul Dano, effortlessly walking away with the film, is the Riddler. Robert Pattinson is the Batman; he's the strong, silent type and boy, is he grim.

Matt Reeves' film is aimed at the bigger kids. This is a Batman movie that years ago would have been given an 'X' certificate, meaning no-one under the age of 16 would have been admitted to the theatre and frankly, I can't imagine a younger audience taking to this. If, in the past, the Batman movies have only been a skip and a jump away from film noir this is the most noirish yet, (it's what Guillermo del Toro's "Nightmare Alley" should have been but wasn't).

Of course, whether it will appeal to the usual fan-base is another matter. I have a feeling this is a movie for the critics and die-hard fans rather than the general public. It's certainly imaginative but at 3 hours it's also overlong and some of the backstory is already overly familiar. On the plus side, it is brilliantly designed, photographed and directed and at its best it does put the other Batman movies in the shade. I just hope that when the inevitable follow-up comes along they will try to keep it shorter.

Ci ke Nie Yin Niang

You know the saying, 'like watching paint dry'.
We're back in 8th Century China in this visually sumptuous if largely oblique martial arts saga from Hou Hsiao-Hsien and being a Hsiao-Hsien film you can be sure there's more 'art' than 'martial' on display. Hou's films are slow and gorgeous to look at and this is no exception. "The Assassin" of the title is female though her gender seems to me to be somewhat irrelevant as indeed is the film's impenetrable plot. It would appear Hou wants us to swoon over the images rather than pay attention to the murky storyline, (it might help if you read Xing Pei's short story first). In fact, this is just the kind of movie that the expression 'like watching paint dry' was created for. The few fight sequences we get are well choreographed but this is certainly not an 'action' picture while the characters remain at arm's lenght throughout. A difficult watch, to say the least.

The Hot Rock

This excellent comedy-thriller deserves to be better known.
A heist comedy and a superior one. William Goldman did the adaptation of Donald E. Westlake's novel and the always reliable Peter Yates directed. "The Hot Rock" is a diamond that Robert Redford, George Segal, Ron Leibman and Paul Sand steal from a New York museum at the behest of Moses Gunn except that, unlike in other heist movies, this is one hot rock that refuses to stay in the hands of the thieves.

It's hardly "Rififi" but it is very funny and is very well played, especially by Redford, (it's one of his best performances), and by Zero Mostel as the crooked lawyer father of the Sands character. It may not be the most sophisticated of comedy-thrillers but it's certainly one of the most entertaining.

A Patch of Blue

it could have been much worse.
It could have been worse. The problem with 'problem pictures' is that mawkishnness often rules the day and instead of genuine emotion we are left with great dollops of sentimentality and if the problem is a mental or physical handicap, reason hardly enters into it. Throw in a second 'problem' and you're really in danger of messing things up. In "A Patch of Blue" blindness is the handicap with Elizabeth Hartman as the blind girl living with a harridan of a mother, (it was the mother who blinded her), who one day meets a nice man in the park; the 'problem' is he's black, doubling the movie's potential for mawkishness. It's a 'Guess Who's Coming Dinner' romance but with a blind heroine who can't see the potential 'problem' in front of her.

The director was Guy Green who made the not dissimilar "Light in the Piazza" and he does very well with material that would defeat a lesser director, helped by a cast headed by Sidney Poitier, (who else), Hartman, Shelley Winters, (winning an Oscar and chewing the scenery as the mother), and Wallace Ford and a screenplay, (Green was also the writer), that sidesteps both mawkishness and sentimentality for most of the time.. The film's heart is certainly in the right place and Poitier, as always, is superb. Today, of course, neither Hartman's 'handicap' or Poitier's skin colour would be a problem so a movie like this is something of a period piece but, remember, back in 1965 it was both controversial and challenging. It may be no classic but it's no disaster either.

The Lost Patrol

No masterpiece but still well worth seeing.
Lost indeed; this John Ford film has largely been forgotten and yet "The Lost Patrol" is a classic of its kind. The title says it all; a group of soldiers finds itself lost in the Mesopotamian desert, going mad or being picked off one by one by unseen Arabs. It's very much an actor's piece with Victor McLaglen, Boris Karloff, Wallace Ford and Reginald Denny taking the lion's share of the honours, working from a very good Dudley Nichols screenplay. Of course, it could just as easily have been about a cavalry patrol in the American West and if had been perhaps its reputation might have been greater. It may not be one of Ford's masterpieces but it's still well worth seeing.


One of the great war films.
"Wings" was the first film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture and now, fully restored, it stands up remarkably well almost one hundred years later. It also set a standard in terms of size; this war film and tale of rivalry, on the ground and in the air, between two flyers was an epic in every sense with leads Clara Bow, Charles 'Buddy' Rogers and Richard Arlen ensuring it appealed to the largest possible audience. Certainly it was the action scenes and the flying sequences that people remember and they are magnificent but director William Wellman also handles the 'romantic' moments with great restraint and while obviously sentimental in the extreme it remains a remarkably touching picture and both Rogers and Bow are excellent. It also features an early Gary Cooper performance, displaying real star quality in only a few minutes of screen time.

Happy End

Another Haneke masterpiece.
The bourgeoisie family at the heart of "Happy End" are totally lacking in charm, discreet or otherwise, but then, this being a Michael Haneke film, perhaps that's only to be expected. Eve, (Fantine Harduin), is the precocious pre-teen girl given to poisoning her pet hamster and probably her mother too, so when mum overdoses and is rushed into hospital Eve goes to live her with estranged father Thomas, (Mathieu Kassovitz), his new wife Anais, (Laura Verlinden) and his larger family, (aunt Isabelle Huppert, cousin Franz Rogowski and grandfather Jean-Louis Trintignant), and this being a Michael Haneke picture they make for an icy bunch of relatives to say the least and in typicial Haneke fashion, nothing seems to be going well for them.

Since "Funny Games" the horrors inherent in Haneke's work have slipped further into the background but they are still there; little by little things happen to ensure that for this family a happy end isn't really on the cards. There's a hole where their hearts should be and even though she was raised away from them, their malaise has affected Eve, too.

I've heard "Happy End" described as a comedy or, at best, a satire but essentially it's just a continuation of Haneke's journey to his heart of darkness, immaculately directed and superbly performed by the entire cast and, of course, Haneke wouldn't be Haneke without a wider malaise lurking around the corner, in this case the immigrant crisis but again, Haneke being Haneke, he keeps this element very much on the fringes. These bourgeoisie are quite capable of messing up their own lives without worrying too much about their North African servants or the immigrants who wander around Calais, where the film is set, and whom errant son Rogowski brings to a family celebration. To my eyes, this is yet another perverse masterpiece in the Haneke canon.

A torinói ló

Certainly won't fill the multiplexes on a Saturday night.
A man and his daughter in the middle of nowhere, though presumably somewhere in Hungary, at an indeterminate time, pass their days cooking potatoes, getting water from the well and saying almost nothing to each other while a storm rages outside. They have a horse which looks like it's on its last legs and mostly refuses to move. They appear to collect its manure. The film, of course, is Bela Tarr's "The Turin Horse", hailed by critics around the world not just as a masterpiece but quite possibly one of the greatest films ever made and it's proof that a beautifully constructed piece of film-making, (and it is brilliantly filmed and superbly shot in just 30 takes), can also be incredibly boring.

Films can, of course, be about anything. Stories can be as short as a few pages in a book or as long as 'War and Peace' and Tarr does have a story, of sorts, to tell; whether you find it interesting or not is another matter but he takes what is a plausible account of man versus nature, (and man versus man, I suppose), and which might have made a good 30 minute short and dragged it out for a punishing 145 minutes and no-one will ever convince me that just because this is a 'different' kind of film and totally unlike most films made today, (shot in black and white it has the look of a film made 90 years ago), that it's a masterpiece.

Of course, with a good deal of cutting it might well have been but making your audience go through the rigours of the characters on-screen dosen't in itself add anything to your film except perhaps, in this case, length. "The Turin Horse" is a classic example of a film made for film snobs, art-house aficionados who first check if their film is sub-titled, preferably from Eastern Europe and in black and white and by a director whose reputation for putting audiences to sleep goes before him; in other words, the kind of film art-houses and film societies were made for. Yes, it is radical and yes, I was certainly impressed by the technique but I think I would rather stick pins in my eyes than sit through it again.

Yi yi

A 21st Century Masterpiece.
It begins with a wedding and ends with a funeral and you might say that inbetween all human life is there. Edward Yang's masterpiece "Yi Yi" is a film about family or families, each with their own set of problems, each with their own reasons for getting up in the mornings and getting on with life. Yang's genius is for taking what we think of as the mundane and showing us just how much real drama there is in what appears to be routine. Domesticity, business, religion, sex and education are all interlinked whether you're old and close to death, middle-aged and wondering if you've made the right decisions in life or very young and questioning all you see or perhaps don't see.

This is a funny, serious and often very moving picture where almost everything that happens is instantly recognizable. These are people we all know and have met at some stage in our lives. It has a large cast and it's beautifully acted, (and as the little Yang-Yang it has in Jonathan Chang one of the great child performances). Yes, there are story-lines here that we would call melodramatic when Yang borrows liberally from the kind of American films Sirk or Delmer Daves was giving us in the late fifties and early sixties yet this feels perfectly in keeping with his vision of cinema as a whole and at three hours it certainly has the feel of an epic but I wouldn't want it a moment shorter; if anything I could have spent another hour in the company of these amazing, everyday people. Great cinema and worthy of all the praise it's received.


Has to be seen not to be believed!
This early talkie, and the film for which Mary Pickford won her only Oscar, was based on a play and boy, would you know it; all that's missing is the Proscenium Arch. It's a melodrama that by today's standards would put "Madame X" to shame and as the "Coquette" of the title, a Southern Belle whose actions cause nothing but tragedy of the Greek kind and which are so over-the-top it looks like a spoof, (it isn't), Pickford just about redeems the picture and exudes something like star quality.

As the handsome lug who falls for her, (more fool him), Johnny Mack Brown isn't bad while director Sam Taylor is also credited with supplying the appalling dialogue. I suppose the best you can say about it is that it's an historical curiosity and a film that would never be made today. It's terrible but it's so bizarre neither can it be totally dismissed.

Nightmare Alley

Gorgeous to look at but the original is better.
Edmund Goulding's 1947 film "Nightmare Alley" is one of my all-time favourite noirs and it's the film in which Tyrone Power certainly gave his finest performance. Of course, not having read William Lindsay Gresham's original novel I can't say how faithfully it stuck to its source material any more than I can say that this Guillermo del Toro remake, clocking in at 40 minutes longer than the first film, is a faithful adaptation. I did expect del Toro's version to be more 'explicit' than Goulding's but would it capture the seedy vibe of the deliciously unpleasant 1947 classic or would this simply look like a 21st century over-art-directed period piece?

The good news is, that in typical del Toro fashion, it looks great and the period detail is perfectly captured without seeming overdone and it's also brilliantly cast. Bradley Cooper is a lot less appealing than Power as the carny with a dubious past and an uncertain future, which is just as it should be, while as the three women who impact on his life, Toni Collette, Rooney Mara and especially Cate Blanchett are all excellent and there's first-rate work from Willem Dafoe, Richard Jenkins and, walking off with the picture, David Strathairn.

The bad news is del Toro certainly drags it out. This is definitely a movie that could do with some trimming and worse, apparently there's an even longer director's cut out there somewhere. It's a good yarn and it's well told and as remakes go, it's a cut above but it won't supplant Goulding's classic in my affections nor does it approach "The Shape of Water" in del Toro's canon.

Ride the Pink Horse

Sufficiently different to be of interest.
Robert Montgomery not only took the lead in "Ride the Pink Horse" but directed it as well. It's a good noirish thriller that takes place in the New Mexico border town of San Pablo, or at least the studio where said town is 'constructed', as Montgomery's Lucky Gagin seeks out mobster Frank Hugo, (an excellent Fred Clark), presumably with the intention of killing him or, as it turns out, blackmailing him. With a screenplay by Ben Hecht and Charles Lederer it's certainly intelligent and Montgomery handles the decent plot with real skill.

Unfortunately his performance doesn't quite measure up; he's just a little too laid back and perhaps just a tad too old for the part and it's left to the supporting cast, including an Oscar-nominated Thomas Gomez, to carry the picture. It's definitely got an unusual plot that never quite goes where you expect it to and while it's not a memorable picture it's sufficiently off-the-wall to be of more than passing interest. It's not much seen these days but it's still worth seeing.

The Humans

One of the best films of 2021
Stephen Karam has not only adapted his Tony award-winning play for the screen but has also directed it and an exceptional job he's made of it, too. Set almost entirely inside a virtually empty New York apartment that Beanie Feldstein's Brigid and her partner Richard, (Steven Yeun), appear to be moving into it's definitely theatrical as her father, mother, sister and grandmother join them for a Thansgiving that will turn out to be memorable for all the wrong reasons. It's the kind of apartment that Rosemary's baby might feel happy being born in, in a building that has clearly seen better days and is the kind of place that enjoys working its old black magic on anyone who visits.

In some respects it's thoroughly banal but in a deeply disconcerting way. Karam definitely has an ear for the kind of everyday, inconsequential dialogue that we call 'small talk' yet which tells us all we need to know about the people we are interacting with and his cast of six are all superb; this is a great ensemble piece with Jayne Houdyshell, repeating her Tony award-winning performance , the stand-out. Of course, it won't do any business. This is too like real life and not enough like the movies to appeal to anything like a mass audience but in its very niche way it's utterly brilliant, a horror movie in all but name and one of the best films you will see this year.

The Brothers Rico

Let down by the ending but otherwise a fine fifties gangster film.
Phil Karlson may not be one of the 'great' American directors but he was a very fine genre director, specializing in tough, gritty gangster thrillers of which "The Brothers Rico" is just one. Richard Conte is the retired mob accountant who finds himself drawn back to his criminal past when one of his former associates asks him for a favour on the same day his brother confesses to carrying out a hit and Larry Gates is excellent as the mob boss who drags him back in. Others in a decent cast include Dianne Foster as Conte's wife, James Darren as the younger brother whose actions set the plot in motion, Kathryn Grant as Darren's wife and later director Lamont Johnson as one of the few 'good' guys.

The source material was a story by none other than Georges Simenon though you probably would never guess it. This is a good, old-fashioned mob movie, the kind that would sit nicely on a double-bill with either Siegel's "The Killers" or Boorman's "Point Blank". Conte spends most of the movie chasing after Darren while Gates' heavies close in and until the end action is kept to a minimum. You could say this is an American gangster film reflected through a European art-house lens. With a better actor than Conte in the lead it might have been a classic but even with Conte it still exerts a grip while the excellent black and white cinematography was the work of the great Burnett Guffey.

The Harvey Girls

Not a particularly good musical but a great entertainment.
Apart from its big, Oscar-winning production number, 'On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe', "The Harvey Girls" isn't a particularly good musical but it's certainly a very likeable entertainment. Set in 'the wild, wild west', it has just enough 'action' to give it the feel of a proper Western, (it's got a good guy, John Hodiak, a moustache-twirling villain, Preston Foster, and even a bar-room brawl, though this one is between waitresses and dance-hall hostesses).

It's actually founded in fact. The Harvey Girls were real waitresses who operated in a series of restaurants throughtout America and the movie is dedicated to them. It's also got Judy Garland at her most spirited as well as the great Ray Bolger and, long before Broadway fame and Jessica Fletcher beckoned, Angela Lansbury as the 'bad' girl though the studio insisted on dubbing her songs. Indeed if the songs had been better this might have been a classic instead of just the very solid entertainment it is.

Tennessee Johnson

A surprisingly good, if little known, history lesson.
In the UK this was called "The Man on America's Conscience", a title guaranteed to put off the Saturday night crowd but then would the Brits really be interested in the biography of the first American President to be impeached? Andrew Johnson was the President who succeeded Lincoln but despite his impeachment he's not really one of the 'famous' presidents. In "Tennessee Johnson", to give the film its US title, he's played by a young Van Heflin, fresh from his Oscar-winning success in "Johnny Eager", and he's actually very good, heading a cast that includes Ruth Hussey, Lionel Barrymore, (outstanding), Marjorie Main and Regis Toomey.

The director was William Dieterle, a dab hand at this kind of folksy Americana, and if this isn't one of his great films it's certainly one of his most entertaining and certainly one of his most underrated even if Heflin is a tad miscast, (he ages from young buck to grandfather overnight). It's certainly a handsome looking history lesson and a surprisingly intelligent one even if the Lincoln movies were always the ones to get the better press.

The Sin of Madelon Claudet

Terrible yet oddly engaging.
Madelon Claudet's sin is that she's had an illegitimate child by a rat who jilts her and will prostitute herself to provide a decent life for her son. Made before the Hays Code "The Sin of Madelon Claudet" is a 'daring' women's picture that makes Madelon something of a saint. Well, she is played by that doyen of respectibility Helen Hayes who went on to win the Academy Award for Best Actress. It's a terrible film but Hayes just about redeems it though Lewis Stone is also very good as Madelon's shady 'benefactor' yet despite Hayes' Oscar win the film is virtually unknown today. Still if, like me, you're an Oscar completist you should seek it out.

Johnny Eager

Cracking entertainment.
Snappy dialogue by John Lee Mahin and James Edward Grant, good performances all round, (including an Oscar-winning turn from Van Heflin), and excellent direction by Mervyn LeRoy all contribute to making "Johnny Eager" one of the most enjoyable gangster films of the early forties.

A surprisingly good Robert Taylor is Johnny, an ex-con who hides his Mr. Big status from the parole board by posing as a simple taxi driver and a gorgeous, twenty year old Lana Turner is the rich prosecutor's daughter who falls for him. It's not a great film by any means but it's a cracking entertainment that stands up to repeated viewings.

Kitty Foyle

A rather third-rate 'women's picture'.
Ginger Rogers could clearly carry a tune and she certainly could dance. She was also a terrific comedienne; what she wasn't was a particularly fine dramatic actress so when she was cast in the title role of "Kitty Foyle" as the working-class girl who falls for a rich socialite but can't measure up to his family's expectations, she really was up against it and yet, despite some very strong opposition, the Academy gave her the Best Actress Oscar. Maybe they were amazed she could act at all. It's a nice enough performance but nowhere near her best and certainly not Oscar-worthy.

The movie itself is a rather third-rate 'women's picture', adapted by Dalton Trumbo, with a little help from Donald Ogden Stewart, from Christopher Morley's best-seller which bills itself as 'the natural history of a woman' but despite the talented Sam Wood in the director's chair it's never very engaging. In fact, it's really rather dull as Kitty is torn, (it's told mostly in flashback), between rich heel Dennis Morgan and nice doctor James Craig. Personally, I didn't care who she ended up with though enough people obviously did to make this one of the year's sizeable hits. As well as Ginger's win, the film itself was nominated for Best Picture.

Sniegu juz nigdy nie bedzie

A lovely piece of magic relaism from Poland.
Zhenia, (Alec Utgoff), is a kind of itinerant masseur who's also something of a shamen. He was born in Chernobyl seven years to the day before the accident and as a client suggests he may be radioactive. He's now plying his trade around a fancy gated estate in Poland, the kind of place where the Stepford Wives might live. There's no backstory to Zhenia other than he can hypnotise people and momentarily take over their lives, (that's how he seems to have got his work permit), and Malgorzata Szumowska and Michal Englert's wonderful film "Never Gonna Snow Again" could be a Polish 'Wizard of Oz' before Dorothy came on the scene as Zhenia makes himself at home in other people's houses, bending them to his will while simultaneously becoming a little like them for a time.

'Realism' in the conventional sense is conspicuously absent. I mean, how did Zhenia get in touch with these clients, all living within walking distance of each other in this strangely bland community? What's his purpose there and who exactly is he and why can he move a glass across a table without touching it? Teasingly these are questions Szumowska and Englert want us to ask without giving us any answers.

Naturally, it's a comedy and a rather black one though it's never particularly funny. Whimsical would be a better term. It might even remind you a little of Pasolini's "Theorem" and visually it's often quite extraordinary. That it slipped by, virtually unnoticed, even in the art-house circuit, is a shame since it is totally engaging from start to finish. Do try to see it.

Doraibu mai kâ

Easily one of the best films of the year.
Around forty mintues into Ryusuke Hamaguchi's "Drive My Car" the credits finally appear and in the scene that immeadiately follows the credits the title is explained. This is a 'road movie' with a difference; the physical journeys taken by Yusuke Kafuku, (a superb Hidetoshi Nishijima), are realtively short but the emotional journeys he takes go on much, much longer. He's an actor, seemingly happily married to a beautiful screenwriter and then one day he catches her having sex with another young actor. They aren't aware of his presence and it's a secret he keeps to himself.

What follows is a deeply engaging roller-coaster of a movie in which the art of acting, and later directing, becomes Yusuke's way of dealing with infidelity, jealousy, possible revenge and real grief, his car becoming a metaphor for how he keeps his feelings bottled up. Each journey he takes with his young female driver, (they're rehearsing 'Uncle Vanya' at this stage and Yusuke is the director), brings him closer to acceptance of all that's happened in the past, not easy when his wife's young lover joins the company.

Of course, Hamaguchi's film is as much about language, in all its forms, and acting as it is about the relationships between the characters. The tiny details in Hamaguchi and Takamusa Oe's screenplay, adapted from Haruki Murakami's story, are phenomenol; not a gesture or a frame of this wonderful film is wasted and at three hours it never outstays its welcome. Unquestionably one of the very finest films of the year.

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