It is soon after the First World War and three middle-aged couples gather for lunch on Mothers' Day to celebrate the engagement of Paul (Josh O'Connor), the only survivor of the couples' five sons, the rest of whom were killed during the war. But Paul is late to the lunch, because he is having a last tryst with Jane (Odessa Young), a maid employed by one of the couples, the Nivens (Colin Firth and Olivia Coleman). Running parallel to that story is one set some years later, when Jane is a published author and living with fellow writer Donald (Sope Dirisu), who is gentle and wise in the way sole black characters in this sort of production often are. And running parallel to *that* is a story set many *decades* later, in which Jane has grown into Glenda Jackson and reminisces about her two lovers.
Stories revolving around romantic relationships between the British rich 'upstairs' and their subordinates 'downstairs' are ten a penny - although Jane has more common sense than the usual waif and there was not quite as much nudity in the likes of 'Downton Abbey' as there is here! Many of the characters are two-dimensional - Firth does his uncomfortable upper-class schtick yet again and Coleman also seems to be 'phoning in her performance, at least until an emotional outburst makes the viewer realise there is, after all, some life to Mrs Niven. The constant back-and-forth between the various time periods could have been confusing but director Eva Husson manages to give each one a distinctive tone.
On the whole, an enjoyable film that manages to be comforting because of its predictability.
This is one of those films for which the viewer has to be in the right frame of mind. It is not exciting, suspenseful or thrilling. In fact it seems rather aimless, but in that it mirrors the life and attitude of its central character.
Jana (Manal Issa), a young student, returns from Paris to her family home in Beirut. Her parents have not been expecting her and struggle to get any information from her about the sudden abandonment of her studies (personally I think that, confronted with the other students, she realised she was not quite as good as she thought she was). Eventually her former boyfriend Adam (Roger Azar) makes contact and the pair spend some time together, before Jana realises she must make a decision about her future.
A weakness of the film is that Jana is not very likeable. Although she is not totally antagonistic - for instance, she attends a wedding in order to please her parents - her general sullenness comes across as self-indulgence and makes it difficult for the viewer to feel sympathy for her. On the other hand, the acting is believable (particularly on the part of Jana's parents); there are some splendid, slightly threatening shots of Beirut's towering new skyscrapers; and the film's content - youngsters taking drugs, an unmarried couple sleeping together and even a glimpse of Azar's naked backside - certainly make this a more contemporary film that I was expecting from Arabic cinema.
Neville Chamberlain is one of history's losers. Had Hitler kept his word - given in the 1938 Munich Agreement - the UK's then-Prime Minister would have delivered peace to his country. But Hitler's duplicity resulted in Chamberlain being seen - even to this day - as a naïve fool. This film adaptation of Robert Harris' novel may cause some re-evaluation of that opinion, as it gives Chamberlain a voice with which to express the reasons for his great desire for peace, as well as to admit war is inevitable - appeasing Hitler will at least give the country a chance to build up its forces in preparation for the delayed conflict.
The 2021 London Film Festival described the film as a 'thriller', but I think 'political drama' would have been more accurate. There are thriller elements - principally the efforts of young German diplomat Paul (Jannis Niewöhner) to smuggle a document to his fellow former Oxford University student Hugh (George MacKay), now Private Secretary to Chamberlain - but the majority of the film is political to-ing and fro-ing, as well as a couple of flashbacks to Paul and Hugh's not-so-distant youth with fellow student Lenya (Liv Lisa Fries - looking so similar to Jessica Brown Findlay in the role of Hugh's discontented wife that for a while I confused the two).
It is a sumptuous production: as well as the plot, the viewer can enjoy the late-1930s' clothes and set dressing! (At least, such things can be admired if you can ignore the annoying hand-held camera - entirely unnecessary for a production such as this.) As for the acting, it is uniformly good: many of the actors - British as well as German - are required to deliver lines in languages not their mother tongue and do so convincingly. The actor playing Hitler (I regret I do not know his name) especially deserves credit for adding a little more depth to a role so easy to play as a cartoon villain; and I am sure, come awards season, that Jeremy Irons, as Chamberlain, will be nominated for many statuettes.
'Hinterland' (whose alternative title, 'Home Front', is I think more appropriate) is a very stylised film. It is set in 1920s' Vienna, a city with, apparently, more than its fair share of shadows and to which the right-angle is a stranger: buildings lean at crazy angles, floors tilt and windows are rarely perfectly square. Ordinarily this type of artiness would annoy me, but while it is strictly unnecessary here, it certainly adds to the atmosphere.
A group of Austrian soldiers, newly-released from a Russian prisoner of war camp, return to post-World War One Austria to find a newly-minted republic with politics and attitudes they do not recognise, populated by people who see them as something of an embarrassment (a comparison with American soldiers returning from Vietnam could be made). While having to cope with extreme poverty and broken marriages, a more immediate danger presents itself: their number is whittled down by a murderer who employs methods that would turn the average villain in 'Midsomer Murders' green with envy (gnawed to death by rats, anyone?) Fortunately the group's leader, Perg (Murathan Muslu, who has a very nice facial profile) is a former murder detective who is quickly co-opted by the police to investigate the case, helped by feisty female pathologist Theresa (Liv Lisa Fries) and bright-eyed young detective Severin (Max von der Groeben). The story trots along at a fair clip, with regular murders and new clues holding the viewer's interest in the central mystery, while Perg's marital difficulties - should he return to the wife he has not seen since the first day of the war? - and burgeoning romance with Theresa provide character development. There is even a bit of comedy when Perg and Severin encounter a homosexual.
And then we reach the solution, where the creators seem to lose the nerve in evidence when they designed the extreme look of the film and instead fall back on tired old cinematic tropes: the lead detective's deep personal connection with the case, the false solution, the long-lost relative... all of these supposed revelatory plot twists are telegraphed, well in advance, with all the subtlety of a flashing neon sign. It all feels like rather a let-down.
Having said that, I would recommend this film for its look, for the acting and for most of the plot. The viewer must be prepared for the final fifteen minutes not to live up to the promise of the preceeding ninety, but this is still a memorable production that will bear repeated viewing.
'The French Dispatch' consists of three main stories, so it is probably inevitable that one of them is less successful than the others. It is nothing to do with the actors concerned - principally Tilda Swinton, Benicio Del Toro, Adrien Brody and Léa Seydoux - simply that the story of an imprisoned artist becoming The Next Big Thing drags a bit. The other main segments - Frances McDormand and Timothée (still not sure how to pronounce that) Chalamet in a tale of student unrest; and Jeffrey Wright, Mathieu Amalric and Liev Schreiber caught up in a police operation including a kidnapped child and fine dining - are rollicking good fun.
The conceit of these tales is they are all articles in the final issue of the 'French Dispatch', a supplement to a Kansas newspaper that brings French culture to the American Midwest. As the journalists tell their stories, the audience sees artistic pretentions and student naivety knowingly skewered. The acting is universally good and it would be hard to single out one performance - although how the whippet-thin Chalamet twice managed to deliver the line "I'm embarrassed by my new muscles" with a straight face is beyond me.
The film is a mixture of black-and-white, colour and - in an inspired choice for a chase sequence - animation. Even the opening- and closing credits are entertaining (indeed, if there were an Oscar for best opening credits 'The French Dispatch' would win hands down). I saw this at the 2021 London Film Festival and will definitely watch it again - although possibly I will put on the kettle during the jailbird artist sequence.
The 2021 London Film Festival described 'Cow' as a documentary following the life of Luma, a cow caught up in the UK's dairy industry. In fact both Luma (who actually seems to be called 'Emma' by the dairy workers) and her unnamed calf - whose birth features in the opening scenes - get near-equal screen time. They are together for only a brief time before the calf is placed in an isolation hut and Luma is returned to a life of intensive milking, grazing, another pregnancy and, ultimately, death. Eventually the calf is placed in a group of other calves as she in her turn is introduced to her place in the industry.
Such a lot of what happens in this film is not explained: for instance, why was the calf placed in isolation? Why were holes burned in her forehead? (at least, that is what it looked like.) Why did the dairy farm decide to shoot Luma when - from the horrendous size of her distended udder - it seemed she was still capable of intensively producing milk? I suppose it could be argued that not providing such information puts the audience in the same position as the cows themselves: they, after all, will not have a clue what is happening to them. But I would rather have had the information in order to assess for myself whether how the animals are treated can be justified or not.
A danger with any documentary about how we treat animals is that the viewer will be manipulated by the film maker to feel emotive sympathy for the animals (not, of course, that sympathy is a bad thing). There were one or two occasions where I felt that happened here: for instance, when Luma and her calf are separated director Andrea Arnold gradually mutes all the sound - of other cows, the dairy machinery etc - until only Luma's breathing is heard, which creates a sense of loneliness. (And were there really fireworks in the sky when Luma is once again impregnated?) But on the whole I thought this documentary came across as pretty even-handed: those concerned with animal welfare will not be impressed by the machine-led husbandry on display, while those worried about negative portrayals of the dairy industry will be pleased that no obvious, malicious cruelty is on display (although the viewer may wonder if the dairy workers are *quite* so cheery and friendly to the animals when they do not have a documentary film crew in the vicinity...)
Nika (the late Ina Marija Bartaite) arrives on Corsica from Ukraine to join Vlad (Aleksandr Kuznetsov), her boyfriend who serves in the French Foreign Legion. Meanwhile a new officer, Maxime (Louis Garrel) and his wife Céline (Camille Cottin) adapt to their new lives - the latter having to reconcile her high-flying legal career with the expectations of the place in the military community of an officer's spouse. While their men undertake tours of duty in Mali, the women left behind on Corsica engage in various social activities (coffee mornings, etc).
I usually like character-based dramas but this one seems to be especially dull, meaning the bursts of military action - something that would not usually appeal to me - in Mali were a welcome relief. As for the acting, everyone is good - with the possible exception of Kuznetsov, and that may be because Vlad is written as such a one-note military man any actor portraying him would find it tough to shine. It definitely makes a change to see Garrel playing a less arty, more realistic and (slightly) more macho character than he usually portrays: he also seems to have gained some muscle for the role, to good effect.
Worth watching once, but the rather random plot ("What was the point?" asked my companion) means I will not be watching twice.
Would have been even better if not so politically one-sided
Seen at the 2021 London Film Festival, 'La fracture' (English title: 'The Divide') would be very much at home on the stage, as it is mostly set in one location (a Paris hospital emergency department) in which a small group of characters play out their stories while confrontations between Gilets Jaunes protestors and the police take place outside - confrontations which eventually threaten the safety of the hospital itself and those in it.
The long-term relationship of lesbian couple Raphaëlle (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi) and Julie (Marina Foïs) is on the rocks when Raphaëlle damages her elbow, putting her career as a cartoonist in jeopardy ("It looks like a knee on my elbow!" she wails when she sees the swelling). Truck driver Yann (Pio Marmaï, as grubbily sexy as ever) is brought into the hospital with a leg riddled by police bullets and uses much of the time he spends waiting to espouse the Gilets Jaunes' cause. Rounding out the quartet of top-notch leading performances is Aïssatou Diallo Sagna, very convincing as a harrassed but competent nurse (she is, apparently, a medical worker in real life).
This is a very political film and that provokes its weakness - just one point, but a major one: it is extremely one-sided in its sympathy with the Gilets Jaunes' cause. To some, the Gilets are a group of heroes fighting for 'economic justice' and political reforms; to others they are a mob bent on achieving - at best through disruption, at worst through violence - the reversal of political decisions taken by a democratically-elected government that can anyway be voted out at the next election. Discuss! But the film puts forward so heavily the 'heroes' argument that by the time, close to the very end of the film, a police officer comments how scared he has been by the violence - the first time any even remotely anti-Gilets comment is heard - it is as if director/co-writer Catherine Corsini has included that scene merely to refute any allegations she has produced a very long party political broadcast. But by that stage it is far too late - Corsini's colours are nailed very firmly to the mast. Personally, I prefer to be treated as adult enough to make up my own mind, so at least one sympathetic main character putting the French State's case would have been welcome.
Do watch this film - the story is engrossing and the performances are brilliant. But - whatever your political opinions - do not treat it as a documentary!
If you see only one Icelandic spoof cop buddy movie this year...
This film opens with two cops involved in a high-speed car chase through the mean streets of downtown Reykjavík. They are chasing a motorbike-riding, leather-clad babe who has staged a bank hold-up. One of the cops, Klemenz, should instead be on the school run and his small son is in the back of the car during the chase - not that Klemenz's partner, the gung-ho, maverick, breaks-all-the-rules 'supercop' Bússi, cares a jot. This results in Klemenz dropping Bússi as his partner and Bússi therefore being paired with fellow supercop Hörður. Hörður is on his second career: he was previously a top international model. This comes back to haunt him when a fellow former model, Rikki Ferrari, returns as a criminal mastermind. While puzzling over Rikki's plans, Hörður and Bússi become boyfriend-and-boyfriend.
So not your average cop movie, then! Spoof cop movies are always fun - lots of eardrum-bursting music, bigger-than-necessary explosions, over-the-top angst etc - and setting one in Iceland adds an extra novelty.
As often happens with comedy films, it is the supporting players who provide the icing on the comedy cake: particular stand-outs here are Steinunn Ólína Þorsteinsdóttir as the tough-as-nails police chief who is just as likely to pull a gun on her own staff as on a criminal; Steinþór Hróar Steinþórsson as a constantly-complaining henchman; and most of all, Björn Hlynur Haraldsson, gifted with a golden opportunity to chew the scenery as the whispering, pretentious Rikki Ferrari ("Why doesn't he ever speak Icelandic?" asks the bewildered Steinþórsson). But leads Auðunn Blöndal (Bússi) and Egil Einarsson (Hörður) certainly do their share of the heavy lifting, hamming it up with - um - gay abandon but also providing action heroes only a spoofly shade or two removed from the real (movie) thing.
The film drags a little towards the end, but is definitely worth watching. If you see only one Icelandic spoof cop buddy movie this year, make this the one! I saw it at the 2021 London Film Festival.
I am ambivalent about this film. Based on true events, the basic plotline - a pair of criminals roaming the countryside of 1920s' Norway - is interesting. But for various reasons the film's total adds up to less than the sum of its parts.
Johannes is a teenaged drifter, a former lumberjack who dreams of being a sailor. On the road he meets Mikael, a charismatic charmer and sometime gigolo. With his new young friend in tow, Mikael decides to embark on a life of crime. But circumstances soon overtake the pair, with violence waiting around the corner.
As I said, the plot is interesting. But the execution of the film lets it down: for instance, a homosexual element in the lead characters' relationship is introduced then just as quickly dropped without being explored; similarly, it is not clear what is the purpose of a much-revisited scene where the pair gatecrash a posh party and dance the Charleston: did they rob the place, or just fancy a bit of a dance? After a while the constant flashbacks and flashforwards get tiresome; there are far too many scenes of Mikael and Johannes running through woods; and a repeated scene at the very end of the film, of Johannes dancing in a railroad car, may highlight actor Åsmund Høeg's impressive dancing skills but seems to have been added merely to beef up the film's duration. Unfortunately there are too few stand-out scenes (one being a gorgeous shot of snow falling from tree brances onto the camera) to make up for these deficiences. I saw this at the 2021 London Film Festival but will not be watching it again.
"De l'or pour les chiens"/"Gold for Dogs" starts off promisingly enough, with an extended scene of energetic humping in the manner of "Betty Blue" (except on a beach, not in a chalet). Unfortunately it is all downhill from there in this tale of a young girl, Esther, wafting around doing not a lot of anything. With metronome regularity the clichés come thudding down: at a party, Esther discovers her lover having sex with another woman; despite that betrayal, Esther continues anyway to fling herself at the boy; he leaves her behind when he returns to his home in Paris; not taking the hint, she follows him; when she turns up on his doorstep, he does not want to know; etc etc etc. There is a drastic change of direction in the second half of the film when Esther takes up residence in a convent. If being male was not enough to disqualify this reviewer from such an institution anyway, the film is persuasive that such a life is not for me: after approximately 45 minutes of it I was bored out of my skull; no way could I manage an entire lifetime! Esther eats, sleeps, does a bit of work in the kitchen and watches a nun do some ironing. An attempt by writer/director Anna Cazenave Cambet to create some mystery involving a nun under a vow of silence is resolved in one info-dump at the film's end, and the nunnery's sole male presence, a gardener, is described as "what a man!" by one character but remains forever a mystery to the viewer because he is filmed out-of-focus in the background. Esther's budding friendship with a novice nun provides a bit of interest for the viewer, but that is pretty slim pickings amongst all the dullness.
However, Tallulah Cassavetti, in the lead role, is quite impressive as Esther, at first portraying her as disinterested in anything except her lover: rare moments when a ray of hope or a hint of desperation strike her face are very effective. She also portrays well Esther's gradual relaxing in the convent. In this I assume she was assisted by Cambet. Sadly, those are rare bright spots in an otherwise dull film. Seen as part of the 2020 London Film Festival.
'Possessor' opens with a young black woman going to a party and committing a particularly bloody murder there. Failing to commit suicide, she is shot dead by police just as her consciousness is extracted from her body, returning to its true home, an older white woman named Vos (Andrea Riseborough). Vos is an assassin, who when assigned a hit 'body hops' into the body of someone who can get close to her target. But when assigned to kill a wealthy businessman (Sean Bean, once again in danger of failing to make it to the end of a film), the choice of his potential son-in-law, Colin Tate (Christopher Abbott, most recently seen by British viewers in 2019's 'Catch-22' mini-series) proves to be a mistake: Colin's consciousness fights back when Vos invades his body.
Riseborough is an actress who generally I can take or leave, so it is ironic that in portraying an icy-blooded hitwoman she provides her most human performance: in the climactic scene, when she and Colin tussle for control of the latter's body, she seems so reasonable that the viewer almost wants her to win. Abbott arguably has the more difficult role - having to portray both Colin and Vos-as-Colin; it is difficult to say if he is totally successful, but how do you judge success in a role like that?
Writer/director Brandon Cronenberg certainly likes his weirdness (there are lots of hard-to-define images in this) and is liberal in his use of fake blood. Possibly there is slightly too much style over substance in the film, but for the most part I found it an interesting watch, and certainly it is worth repeated viewings. But I would have liked more detail on some points: for instance, Colin's day job seems to involve spying on people's soft furnishings, but surely that can not be the case? Oh, and I could have done without the flabby male nudity! Seen as part of the 2020 London Film Festival.
The central character in 'Identifying Features' is Magdalena, a poor woman from central México whose teenage son decides to emigrate to the United States with a friend. But the friend subsequently turns up brutally murdered, and Magdalena travels to the border region in an attempt to find out what has happened to her now-missing boy. In essence this is a road movie, as while travelling through the crowded towns and sparsely-populated countryside Magdalena meets various people - a doctor looking for her own missing son, a deportee whose mother has gone missing from a bandit-infested region in his absence, even a courageous worker at a bus garage.
Lead actress Mercedes Hernández at first lost me: her immobile face made her difficult to accept as an anguished parent. But as the film progressed I warmed to her, as she allowed rare moments of emotion to shine through. However, considering the distances her character was supposed to have walked, she appeared unfeasibly energetic in most scenes, as she hurried along in a manner suggesting she was just nipping down to the corner shop for some teabags rather than walking several miles over potholed pavements and rocky fields.
Magdalena's Olympic-level energy was not the only example of the film's staging not matching up to the story: in one scene an elderly man who has supposedly just been so badly beaten it will take him weeks to recover, is shown with no discernable injuries, standing perfectly straight-backed and upright. In fact, I found 'Identifying Features' a tough watch, and not only because the British Film Institute's iPlayer service on which I was watching kept freezing every few minutes: director Fernanda Valadez employed a number of arty flourishes which I found annoying: the multiple shots of clouds, blades of grass, stars etc which in some films add a sense of mood and pacing but in this had "padding" written all over them; the shots of people doing nothing of any consequence (eg staring into space) for minutes at a time; conversations in which only one participant was visible to the viewer; and a pivotal scene delivered not in the Spanish in which most of the production is shot, but in a regional language featured in all its untranslated glory.
So as interesting as the story was, this was, sadly, a much-flawed production.
Those who have seen Edgar Reitz's largely excellent 'Heimat' series of films will recognise certain elements of Czech production 'Krajina ve stínu'/'Shadow Country': the black-and-white filming; the slow panoramic shots of village life; the dramatic, life-changing events set alongside the minutiae of everyday life.
The film follows sixteen years in the life of a village located in the Sudetenland area of central Europe. In 1936 the village is in Czechoslovakia; then comes the Second World War, the Czech mayor is replaced by a German and inhabitants are forced to choose whether they are German or Czech. Following the war, the village is returned to Czechoslovakia, the German mayor is replaced by a Czech Resistance fighter returned from the concentration camps, and those who previously chose German allegiance are expelled from the village - if they are lucky. As well as the multiple mayors, other characters include the farmer whose choice of German identity has dire consequences for him and his Czech wife; the young thug who is imprisoned for rape under the Germans, but when the Czechs take over returns to the village with his government-issue machine gun; and, inevitably, the Jewish family who find their neighbours turning against them. The main theme is how ordinary people react to the actions of the decision-makers: mostly either collaborating, or just keeping their heads down and trying to carry on. There is also a strong secondary theme of the emptiness of victors' justice - the ultimate authority until swept away by the next group of victors.
This engrossing production was one of the best things I saw at the 2020 London Film Festival.
New Yorker Ben (writer/producer/director/editor Matt Fifer, who looks very much like pornographic actor Calvin Banks) is experiencing - 'enjoying' would perhaps be too strong a word - a life involving copious amounts of sex with both men and women when he meets Sam (writer Sheldon D Brown). The two immediately connect on an emotional level, helped not only by their shared physical difficulties - Ben has a mysterious illness while Sam wears a colostomy bag - but also because both have experienced unthinkable, traumatic events in their past. The relationship continues through introductions to parents and meetings with friends, and the film concludes with both young men about to share secrets with their respective parents.
As far as the acting is concerned, Brown provides a good naturalistic performance. Fifer also aims for naturalistic, but unfortunately his effort involves drawling his speech so much that at times I could not understand what he was saying, with the result I worried I had missed vital plot points, such as a full explanation of his traumatic experience and what was the precise nature of his illness. There is not a massive amount of plot, but what there is adequately fills the 96 minute running time. I am not sure the film is particularly memorable, but it is a pleasant character piece and was certainly worth watching at least once. Seen, remotely, as part of the 2020 London Film Festival.
1930 production 'The Cheaters' is unusual not only because it is a relatively rare example of an Australian silent film (although a 'talkie' version was also made), but also because it is the work of three sisters: writer/director Paulette McDonagh, lead actress Marie Lorraine (performing name of Paulette's older sister Isabel) and middle sister Phyllis, credited as 'art department'. But there the unusuality ends; as is common in films of the era, there is little original about the plot: staying at a plush hotel to further a nefarious scheme of her criminal mastermind father, Paula (Lorraine) falls for wealthy businessman's son Lee (Josef Bambach). Unfortunately, Paula's father has dreams of revenge on Lee's father, after the latter had him sent to jail two decades previously. Can obstacles be overcome and happiness await these two star-cross'd lovers? (I am referring to Paula and Lee, not their fathers...)
I find silent features a bit of an effort to watch: with no dialogue to help along the action, my attention is at risk of wandering - especially when several scenes are merely of people sitting around talking, as is the case here. But one thing that makes 'The Cheaters' stand out is the subtlety of the acting: Lorraine, especially, conveys her character's emotions without resorting to the anguished gurning of some silent-era movie stars. (Unfortunately Bambach, the so-called 'Australian Valentino', takes this too far: his habit of lowering his head and glancing through half-closed eyes on several occasions makes it seem as if he is nodding off.) I probably will not watch this again, but I am glad to have seen it once, for its novelty value if for nothing else. Seen online as part of the 2020 London Film Festival.
Very watchable - but does not fit easily into any genre
The viewer may find himself confused as to what kind of film 'Make Up' is supposed to be: is it aiming to be kitchen sink drama, will-they-won't-they lesbian romance, or even supernatural mystery?
Eighteen year-old Ruth (Molly Windsor) arrives at a windswept Cornish static caravan park at the end of the holiday season to spend some time with her boyfriend Tom (Joseph Quinn, who like Windsor and most of the cast is familiar from numerous British television appearances). Although the young couple are initially very loved-up, almost immediately things start to go wrong as Ruth is assailed by mysteries: to whom does the long red hair she finds on Tom's clothes belong? (Someone who is seriously moulting, judging by the amount of long red hairs Ruth finds in various places around the park). Is it the same woman with the blood-red fingernails whose face is so often just out of sight? And who is living in the sealed-off caravan? Then there is Jade (Stefanie Martini), the free-spirited chalet maid: what are her intentions towards Ruth?
This is a very atmospheric film: the caravan park, shot in washed-out colours and lashed by the weather, is a marvellous setting for this sort of character-driven drama (although it will do little for Cornwall's tourism industry). And although the story leaves many questions unanswered and may even leave you with a sense of "what was the point of that?!", I found it engrossing.
As for the acting, Windsor gives a good naturalistic performance as a young woman with little ambition confronting unexpected situations, and Martini is suitably enticing in the personality she gives to Jade (and - apologies for shallowness - in looks). Most entertaining, though, is Lisa Palfrey as the park's batty manager, making the most of lines like "When I learned to swim, I was no longer afraid of dogs". (Actually, that line - delivered at the beginning of the film - is a bit of dramatic foreshadowing, as it turns out that when Ruth learns to swim, she is no longer afraid of lesbians! Funny how things work out...)
Worth seeing once, perhaps, but too dull to watch twice
The break-neck speed of the economic success and associated development experienced by Viet Nam in recent decades is well-known, yet for many outside the country mention of it still brings to mind the horrors of the 1955-75 war. In 'Monsoon' Kit, who as a child in the late 1970s left the country as one of the boat people, returns for the first time to scatter his parents' ashes. But as he explores Sài Gòn and meets relatives last seen thirty years ago, he finds much of the modern country does not resemble the distant memories of his childhood. Relief from this confusion comes in the muscular arms of Lewis, an American entrepreneur struggling with the ghosts of his father's involvement in the war.
Kit's bewilderment at the modern face of a country long ago left behind reminded me of many British expats I have met during my travels - pining after a country that I doubt ever really existed as they remember it. Unfortunately writer/director Hong Khaou portrays this by filming many sequences of Kit staring glumly at buildings (although to be fair, sometimes he gets closer to them and we get instead a shot of Kit staring glumly at a door, which at least adds a bit of variety). Lead actor Henry Golding does not help: I like a subtle performance, but there is a difference between subtle and simply sounding uninterested in the lines you are delivering. Parker Sawyers puts a bit more oomph into his portrayal of Lewis and thus creates a more interesting character. I also found interesting the character of Linh, a young and modern local woman under pressure to join her family's tea business which she finds hopelessly out-of-date and inefficient, even if it provides a quality product. In her scenes Khaou explores, in a balanced way, the disagreements between modernity and tradition, between the young and their elders.
Unfortunately, though, there is not enough of either Linh or Lewis to rescue this film. I can say it was worth seeing once, but I will not be troubling myself to watch it again.
Likeable, realistic characters make for an enjoyable film (albeit one with little diversity!)
'Juneteenth' is a celebration of the day in 1865 when slaves in Texas learned they were free - two years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. 'Miss Juneteenth' is a film based around a beauty contest for teenagers marking the occasion. Turquoise Jones (Nicole Beharie) won the contest, but was unable to complete her reign due to getting knocked up with daughter Kai (Alexis Chikaeze). Fifteen years later - with an eye to the prize of a scholarship to an 'historically black' university or college - she pressures Kai to take part in the pageant, but is so distracted with Kai's sexy but bad-boy father; with her alcoholic, religious mother; and with just making ends meet, that she does not fully appreciate Kai's reluctance.
It is unusual that a film centered around a beauty pageant contains no discussion of the 'cattle market' variety. Inevitably there *are* some racial politics ("There ain't no American dream for black folk") but the centre of the film is undoubtedly Turquoise's determination that Kai should enter the pageant as a means of securing her future. The relationship between mother and daughter is nicely portrayed: they may sometimes get on each other's nerves, but disputes never last long and usually end with smiles. This is an example of one of the film's main strengths: it could easily have descended into soap opera histrionics, but every time the viewer fears a scene is going to dissolve into tears and shouting, writer/director Channing Godfrey Peoples dials things back down to have her characters behaving like real people - full of faults, but for the most part good folk. In this she is aided by Beharie - her performance as the determined, realistic Turquoise is naturalistic and engaging. Chikaeze also does well - when she delivers her entry in the pageant's talent competition the viewer wants to stand up and cheer.
Mischievously, I note that at a time when the Oscars are refusing to consider films that do not include a certain diversity of ethnic involvement, 'Miss Juneteenth' contains only one speaking role for a white actor (a grumpy shop assistant who appears in only two scenes). But for this viewer the important thing is whether or not a film is enjoyable - and this one certainly was.
"Cargo" is set in a near future in which, in the manner of the vampires in "True Blood", demons (of a rather more beneficial kind than those featuring in Western fiction) have revealed their existence to the world and found their place in society. Just like the Aces and Jokers in the "Wild Cards" novels, these demons have powers - some quite weak (such as being able to turn invisible by approximately 80%) but others very useful (healing, never having to sleep). Prahastha is a demon who for many decades has worked on a spaceship facilitating the 'transition' (read: reincarnation) of the newly-dead: when someone dies, they are transported to the spaceship where Prahastha uses a machine to heal any injuries, uses another machine to wipe their memories, and sends them on their new life-path. Used to his solitary existence, Prahastha's nose is put out of joint when ground control send Yuvishka, a female demon with healing powers and a taste for social media, to be his assistant.
I have never before seen an Indian sci-film so I was not sure what to expect from this. The film spaceship set - where all the action takes place - has a very rickety, "Blake's Seven"-type look to it, although as the ship is supposed to be on its last legs that may be intentional. But the special effects (there are not many; it is not that type of sci-fi film) also have a decidedly unsophisticated look to them. What is also very noticeable is that as Yuvishka, Shweta Tripathi has the only major female role in the film; indeed, there are hardly any other female speaking roles. There are several sequences showing how the newly-dead died, but even these are almost all men - women feature only as part of groups. Even the ground crew with whom the space-bound demons deal are exclusively male (which makes it especially ironic that one of that crew tells Prahastha how women are outstripping men: "When men get to the moon, women are already on Mars. When men get to Mars, the women have gone on to Jupiter!") As for the acting, Vikrant Massey as Prahastha is nicely subtle. Tripathi I was less impressed with: admittedly her character means she has to be more 'in-your-face', but I felt her performance on occasion slipped into inappropriate melodrama. My favourite was Nandu Madhav as the demons' kindly and gossipy main ground contact.
Overall this was an interesting and inventive film, most obviously sci-fi/fantasy but with elements of drama and a touch or two of outright comedy. It was not without flaws and I would not pay to see it again, but if it is on television I may well sit down to watch. Seen as part of the London Indian Film Festival 2020.
Why the lesbians? 'Boys on Film' continues to lose its way
I have nothing against lesbians - some of my best friends, etc etc - but 'Boys on Film' is supposed to be about the *male* homosexual experience, so the inclusion of 'Dusk', which is about two women's relationship - even if one of them *does* dress as a man - is out of place in this collection, worthy though it may be. (Some viewers will find certain parts of it - especially a scene where a hospital nurse is abusive about transgender people - very similar to 'Brace' (BoF 14) which is not a surprise as transgender activist Jake Graf wrote both films. Is he running out of ideas?)
Then there is 'Run(a)way Arab', about a drag queen remembering his childhood. Not all drag queens are homosexual, and there is nothing to suggest the central character here is gay. So why is the film included?
Even 'Jermaine and Elsie', the most interesting film in terms of character depth and competent film-making, has little overt gay content. True, Jermaine is seen in the company of a man, but they could just as easily be friends, or even brothers, as lovers. Jermaine's sexuality, whatever it is, is barely mentioned and is certainly not a major thrust of the story.
Other films just drag: 'No More We' could have been an interesting look at the breakdown of a long-term, committed homosexual relationship, but the two protagonists are so dull, spending lengthy periods staring into the middle distance while talking about who gets the bed, that the film seems four times as long as it actually is. Even 'The Fish Curry', interesting in that one rarely sees animation from India, could probably have shaved a few minutes from its running time with no loss of atmosphere or story.
There is also very little (adult) nudity! Pretty much only 'Between Here and Now' delivers on that score, and even then the sex scene is filmed so shadowy and with such quick-cut editing you are not sure which character's buttocks you are looking at (it is a very erotic scene, though).
It is not all bad: I have already mentioned 'Jermaine and Elsie' as being interesting, and 'Blood Out of a Stone' is sweet, featuring a novel idea for a first date. 'Between Here and Now' has a definite beginning, middle and end. But several of the films have a 'film school final term project' feel to them, and more than one have the writer/director/producer also casting himself as star - making them easy to view as mere vanity projects.
I do not regret spending £3.99 to rent 'Boys on Film' 19 from Amazon, but there is no way I would pay more than that to *own* it. BoF really needs to up the quality of the films it features - and it definitely needs to return to its original focus.
Merab (Levan Gelbakhiani) comes from a family of accomplished - if impoverished - dancers: his grandmother danced at La Scala; his parents at the Royal Albert Hall. His brother is a member with him in an ensemble specialising in Georgian traditional dance. But unlike his irresponsible sibling - who is more interested in general carousing - Merab dedicates himself to his craft, spending hours at practice both in the studio and at home. When talented, self-assured and charismatic newcomer Irakli (Bachi Valishvili) joins the ensemble, Merab's nose is immediately put out of joint. But Irakli's cheerfulness and talent gradually win over Merab and the two young men grow closer in ways that Merab had never expected.
Although it may be in danger of becoming known as "that gay Georgian dance movie", 'And then we Danced' seems to me to be more about a young man breaking free from the chains of tradition: not only is Merab infinitely more relaxed and comfortable when being introduced to Tbilisi's gay scene, but he is inspired to rebel against traditional dance, rooted as it is in macho culture: "He's making a mockery of Georgian dance" complains one old crusty during the film's climactic audition scene (viewers may find themselves reminded of 'Strictly Ballroom', a completely different sort of film!) Gelbakhiani does a nice job of portraying Merab's intensity - and both he and Valishvili do well to not crack a smile during a scene of frenzied mutual masturbation. Some parts of the film seem as if they have been shoehorned in to give a crash-course in Georgian culture (such as a scene with middle-aged polyphonic singers performing at a young woman's birthday party - would that really happen?) But I did appreciate the opportunity to see a film set in Georgia, a country which rarely makes it to the West's cinemas.
And then there's the dancing: we never see the dancers performing on stage for a paying audience, but there are plenty of rehearsal scenes and they really are spectacular. Merab may be "making a mockery" of traditional Georgian dance, but with its dramatic, speedy style and athletic movements I think the artform could grow in international popularity as a result of its exposure in this film.
Not bad - but possibly the sweariest film I've ever seen
'Moffie' is one of those films where a boy joins the military, goes through the random humiliations of basic training and Becomes A Man.
Conscripted into the South African military during the dying days of the apartheid era, Nick Van der Swart (Kai Luke Brummer) arrives at a training camp run by sadistic officers whose vocabulary appears to consist mainly of the word 'f***' (with an occasional 'c***' tossed in for variety). The next several months feature route marches, bullying in the barracks and the eating of vomit. There is also a tentative, platonic homosexual relationship with fellow recruit Stassen (Ryan de Villiers) - very dangerous as homosexuality is illegal. And always in the future lurks a posting to fight communist rebels on the border with Angola.
While the basic premise is not, of course, new, what makes this film different are the South African setting and the homosexual element (which, contrary to some publicity, is merely a part of the story rather than being the whole). As Nick, Brummer is a heartthrob in the making and I also found Matthew Vey, who plays Nick's cynical friend Michael, appealing. Hilton Pelser as the sergeant must have needed throat sweets to cope with all the bellowing he is required to do, but is also given a moment of awkward vulnerabilty. It might, perhaps, have been nice if de Villiers was given more to play with as regards his character; for such a pivotal role Stassen is curiously one-note, reduced pretty much to noble suffering. But that is not a major difficulty; this film is well worth watching. Seen at the London Film Festival 2019.
Obviously '#metoo' hasn't yet made it to Poland...
Laura is an attractive, ball-busting Polish hotel executive who fights her corner in board meetings then goes home to her slobbish partner and collection of dildos. Massimo is a gangster - but the young, sexy kind: he's described as having "a body sculpted by God... and a dick sculpted by the devil" (which is a pretty erotic line until the viewer unwillingly starts picturing said protuberance with horns and a little pointy beard). Having caught a fleeting glimpse of Laura some years before and been obsessed with her ever since, Massimo is delighted to discover she is holidaying on his native Sicily. He promptly kidnaps her and tells her he will hold her for 365 days while attempting to make her fall in love with him.
Personally, I would have thought not kidnapping her in the first place would have been ample proof of his honourable intentions - as would not promising he will not touch without her permission whilst nonetheless pinning her to a chair and grabbing her tit. But then this film - based on a novel - is hardly politically correct. The main problem, of course, is Laura's ultimate falling in love with Massimo (c'mon, you knew she would!): although she is allowed a scene of berating herself for so doing, there is no effort to examine whether she is suffering from, for example, some form of Stockholm Syndrome - although that would have made this a far deeper film.
Other flaws are the many dangling plot-threads: for instance, Laura's weak heart is mentioned several times but nothing is ever done with it. When she is offered a job as "general manager of Preston" (presumably not the football club) we have to guess that she turns it down; and when Massimo is told "they" want to kill his sweetheart we are not told who "they" are, despite the fact the preceding scenes have identified at least two likely candidates. On the plus side, one plot-thread that I thought it a wise decision to leave dangling was the final scene involving a tunnel: we know the outcome of what happened in there, but we are not told exactly *how* it happened, which adds a pleasing air of mystery.
As for the acting, leads Anna Maria Sieklucka and Michele Morrone deserve credit for delivering much of their dialogue in English, which is presumably their second (at best) language: this does mean, however, that some of their lines sound a bit clunky to those for whom English is mother tongue. As often in this kind of production, the supporting characters - not encumbered with the requirement to be romantic heroes - are more interesting: there are fine comedic turns from Magdalena Lamparska as Laura's exuberant friend Olga, and from Otar Saralidze as a bemused young gangster.
This film is, I imagine, an attempt to create a Polish version of 'Fifty Shades of Grey'. It does not match the latter's theme of women's empowerment (for all the whips and chains, Anastasia is in control in a way kidnap victim Laura certainly is not), but - with apologies for shallowness - there is more nudity and sex in '365 Dni'. But it *is* similar to 'Fifty Shades' in the attractiveness not only of its cast, but also of its locations and clothes (there are several shopping scenes); and as a piece of escapist entertainment it certainly hits the spot.
Chinese film 'So Long, my Son' opens with Yaoyun and Liyun, a couple in an industralised town during the 1980s, suffering a great personal tragedy. Some years later they have left their hometown and are living with their son in a port. Some years later still and they are returning for the first time to their hometown in order to see a dying friend. The gaps in-between are filled in by multiple flashbacks, during which we see the human costs of China's environmentally-sensible one-child policy; how the authorities attempt to crush personal expression; and the ramifications of Yaoyun and Liyun's tragedy.
All these flashbacks are difficult to keep track of, especially as they are not in chronological order. So from that aspect this is a film that would probably reward repeated viewing. Certainly I would be happy to see it again; as played by Jingchun Wang and Mei Yong, respectively, Yaoyun and Liyun are a likeable couple. Their circle of friends may be less well-developed, consisting of stock characters such as the fun-loving party girl, the free spirit and the blindly-loyal Party functionary, but they all add colour to the story. I also enjoyed the depiction of China's transformation and development over the two decades covered by the film.
I saw this in the cinema during the 2019 London Film Festival. While I certainly recommend it, I suggest waiting until you can watch it in your own home: at three hours long you will want to be as comfortable as you possibly can be!