Friday, March 28, 2014

A Story of Children and Film


2013, UK, directed by Mark Cousins

A little of Mark Cousins can go a long way, though here his observational style generally works very well.  While some of his connections between films about children seem extraordinarily flimsy, on other occasions he juxtaposes unusual combinations to very insightful effect -- flipping from the Chinese film Yellow Earth to ET, for instance, or, in one exceptional passage, melding reflections on Spirit of the Beehive and Frankenstein with the extraordinary Latvian short film Ten Minutes Older. The extended essay opens with what seems like a useful framing device, calling on van Gogh to suggest the value of examining one subject over and over in great detail to see what a constant reworking might yield. Unfortunately, but consistent with his own style, Cousins adds a second, much more personal frame too, with his nephew and niece filmed at play one morning and providing a kind of template for subsequent reflections. The double framing seems redundant, and ultimately quite distracting -- you want to see more of his wonderful clips, including his own comments thereon, rather than his family. That, in the end, is where the real treasure lies, and there's an excellent website featuring material on the films featured here.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Life's a Breeze


2013, Ireland, directed by Lance Daly

A disappointment after Daly's previous film, Kisses: the believable characters there are for the most part replaced by sitcom ciphers here, especially Pat Shortt's character, which dispenses with any of the subtlety the actor showed in, say, Garage. Fionnula Flanagan and Kelly Thornton, by contrast, do rather better as the grandmother and granddaughter who develop a new relationship against a backdrop of family turmoil, and while the film does hit the expected plot points -- and includes the kinds of musical montage that you'd expect from something essentially light-hearted -- they are at least allowed to remain true to themselves at the film's conclusion.

Friday, March 21, 2014

The Grand Budapest Hotel


2014, US, directed by Wes Anderson

Though it's conceived partly in homage to the 1930s films set in fictional Mitteleuropa, Anderson's film can't help but be conscious of what came afterwards, which makes the essential levity of the project at times a little incongruous, as if he's wilfully ignoring more or less everything outside the frame. Of course, that's entirely true at one level: his project is more a dissection of a certain kind of character given to storytelling -- at about four different levels in the film -- rather than an articulation of political reality (or indeed any reality at all). And yet it's that refusal to be bent to the strictures of the world as we know it that is key to the film's effect and charm: the deliberately distorted perspective of many of the framings, the special effects work that draws attention to its own artifice, the mannered speech, all of them among the thousands of details that contribute to the creation of a fully-imagined and self-contained world (when you see a sign on a bus door with a word split in two, you suspect that was a decision explicitly approved by the director, if not indeed an idea generated by him).

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

1


2013, US, directed by Paul Crowder

Though overall it's a fairly unquestioning advert for the modern iteration of Formula One -- the criticisms of the FIA are restricted to the past -- there's still some stirring archive footage here, since the focus of the film is primarily on the 1950s-1970s, and many of the iconic figures from that era (when they've survived) appear on camera. It's chronologically rather awkward, however, with an abrupt jump from the early 1980s to the death of Ayrton Senna in 1994, as a bookend to the narrative about improvements in driver safety, and while the footage of the events at Imola is undeniably poignant, this is a rather surface treatment compared to the 2010 film Senna.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Mystery Road


2013, Australia, directed by Ivan Sen

A fine, distinctive procedural, with an unusual setting in the Australian outback and a determination to avoid the standard clichés of the genre/geographical territory: the land itself isn't the danger here, rather its human inhabitants, while the Aboriginal cop relies on his police training rather than on any quasi-mystical abilities. As a depiction of the small outback town, it's less feverish than Wake in Fright but almost as good on the smaller details -- the one decent restaurant that keeps popping up, or the languid rhythms that make a morning beer seem like a decent idea. The genre aspects are well handled, too -- the mistrust between cops of different backgrounds, or the unusual shootout, crisply and clearly filmed so we know who's doing what to whom, at the climax.

Friday, March 07, 2014

La Vie d'Adèle -- Chapitres 1 & 2


2013, France, directed by Abdellatif Kechiche (aka Blue is the Warmest Colour)

One of the first, brief comments I read about Kechiche's film, a dispatch from the 2013 Cannes festival, suggested to my mind a resolutely realist approach. Leaving aside a discussion of what "real" might mean, I couldn't relate my first impressions of the film with those of the Cannes correspondent: Kechiche to my mind is very much interested in the poetic flourish, in showing not just what is, but what someone might see when their view is coloured by their attraction to or affection for another person. That's particularly striking when we imagine certain shots as being from the perspective of Léa Seydoux's character -- the sun-dappled views of Adèle Exarchopoulos during an early conversation, or the shot from above when Seydoux spots the younger woman awkwardly seated at a bar, almost glowing at the center of the image. There's also the quite wonderful, if very brief, shot when the camera moves back over Exarchopoulos's head at a moment in the film when her world has been turned upside-down -- there's nothing else quite as obviously showy in the film, though it seems perfectly in tune with the character's emotions. As to the film as a whole: others have argued forcefully as to its authenticity as a depiction of lesbian love, about which I can say very little, but as a character study it's utterly absorbing, both due to the commitment of the actresses and Kechiche's ability to create the space for the privileged moment -- a look between performers in a conversation over plates of pasta, the ways in which Adèle talks to the children in her charge late in the film, all of which feel as they though they are the product of an effort, presumably very demanding, to fully inhabit the characters.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Les Inconnus dans la maison


1942, France, directed by Henri Decoin

No great surprise to discover that the first filming of this Simenon story is superior to the 1990s remake, and even less surprising to discover that the script, by Henri-Georges Clouzot, displays a good deal of the acidity he'd unleash with full force a few years later in Le Corbeau. The film is a good deal tighter, with Decoin and Clouzot spending less time establishing Raimu's bona fides as an unreliable drunkard -- one suspects the Belmondo ego requirer more screen time -- although the sheer unlikeliness of the scenario, and the apparent absence of questions of conflict of interest in the French legal system, persist. Here, though, the scenario is used in the service of a commentary on the insidious relationships between the haute bourgeoisie of a small town; 1942 audiences in France may well have read the plot, with an unwelcome home invader shot to death in the opening sequences, in rather different terms, and indeed the dead man is of virtually no interest to anyone except in so far as he motivates the plot. The last third of the film is an extended courtroom sequences, and Decoin uses the ornate courtroom to good effect, with the witnesses often filmed from above, as though from the judge's or the jurors' perspectives; he picks up, too, on the ways in which the various players cannot hide their distress or consternation in this most public of forums.

Index

List of all movies

Most of the images here are either studio publicity stills or screen captures I've made myself; if I've taken your image without giving you credit, please let me know.

About Me

Boston, Massachusetts, United States