Month: October 2006

Severance

Severance

Christopher Smith :: UK :: 2006 :: 1h37

An office outing in the countryside with intent to team build through a little paint-ball and forced social activity turns into a blood soaked carnage. The rented house is, of course, a far cry from a rose garden English bed and breakfast, and the surrounding forrest holds an assorted collection of booby traps and angry armed men set on killing every last one of them.

The fact that we are watching an office group, as opposed to the usual group of photo-model friends on a hiking trip (Hostel, The Descent), adds a welcome difference to the genre. Their professional relationships transpose the inter-office politics discomfort into the great outdoors. As they are colleagues, there are huge differences of character and of age, which works well in further increasing the tension as they react differently to the persevering attacks. The characters correctly get all the attention, with the evil doers remaining in a near complete anonymity. Expect to see a lot of running, knives, guns, blood and gore.

A horror movie classic which is creepy enough to keep you on the edge of your chair, and blessed with a dark humor to keep you amused as the heads roll. On the whole, it is rather traditional and pointless to watch by yourself, but, watch with friends and the movie comes to bloom. Give the preference to a screening late at night where you can cheer on their survival in horror-movie-land. Let the madness begin!

www.severance-lefilm.com

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The Queen

The Queen

Stephen Frears :: U.K. :: 2006 :: 1h39

The young new Labour leader Tony Blair has just been elected Prime Minister of the U.K. when Lady Diana has a fatal accident in Paris, shocking the nation. Queen Elisabeth II is in Scotland with her family when it happens, and finds herself thrust into conflicting possible courses of action. The popularity of Lady Diana would suggest a return to London and a public burial, but she is no longer a member of the Royal Family, so she would not want to indulge in populist behavior as a standing head-of-state. The Prime Minister starts to feel the pressure mounting by the public and the press to take action to channel the sorrow felt by the nation.

Filming recent events is a risky business as all the involved parties are still around, in this case both the Prime Minister and the Queen still exercise the same roles as in 1997. But Stephen Frears recounts a very probable version of the sequence of events. But consider the following: the suggestion of Prince Philip’s infidelity, the weak and timid ‘modernizer’ Prince Charles willing to go behind the back of the Queen to protect himself, and a naive Mr Blair who changes his views on the monarchy based on the character of the Queen Elizabeth II. How true is that really? How negative was the Queen’s opinion of Lady Diana really?

Watching this very well constructed movie is somewhat superfluous. All the events are well known, and the speculations elaborately discussed, but as uncertain as ever (unless the Queen and Mr Blair both publish their memoirs). An analysis of England’s leading figures in difficult times is a challenging subject seemingly well developed, but the inevitable speculation-aspect and possible consequences for the people involved reduces the enjoyment. Whether or not you pass the threshold to take a seat in your local cinema should not depend on your love for Lady Diana, who not only did not survive the over-exposure, but here, she only shines in her absence.

www.thequeen-lefilm.com

Dans Paris

Dans Paris

Christophe Honoré :: France :: 2006 :: 1h32

Two brothers, Paul and Jonathan, in their parental home. Paul, who had left for the countryside with his love Anna returned in a state of suicidal depression. Jonathan, having never left his father, lives with a lightness of being to deal with the drama around him, the death of his sister, the separation of his parents. Both Jonathan and his father want to help Paul back on his feet, and through their efforts we get a candid look into the characters and workings of somewhat broken family.

Romain Duris and Louis Garrel work brilliantly together in a film which has such an old school (Nouvelle Vague) feel to it, although we are clearly in the here and now. Filled with well found little touches, the film progresses slowly but treads with a care rarely found in contemporary cinema. A lot of the weight of the film lies with the impeccable quality of the acting, which which brings to life the weight and depth of the script. A beautiful movie from an excellent director which is clearly intended for lovers of cinema with character.

www.dansparis-lefilm.com

Les Fils de l’homme

Children of Men

Alfonso Cuaron :: U.K., USA :: 2006 :: 1h50

In the near future, mankind has become infertile. Although the reasons are unknown, the world is understandably in complete disarray. England combats the nihilism and lack of resources with an anarchy-fascist regime, who tries its best to safeguard its population by pushing out all foreigners and attempting to reverse the endless stream of desperate refugees. Amidst the ideological dilemmas and the physical struggle to survive, Theo is reluctantly is drawn into protecting the most precious gift mankind has recieved: a young lady named Kee, who bears the hope of all mankind.

To those who have read the book, or a synopsis for that matter, they will expect, the movie to rest heavily on the originality of the tale. Their expectations will be surpassed. It is very difficult to make such an apocalyptic movie convincingly, and the director uses some interesting tricks to accomplish it. For one thing, the movie gets up close and personal with Theo, often following him closely, seeing more or less what he sees leaving the rest to the imagination. There is some excellent work with images and attention to detail (pets abound as substitute children, the post-industrialist countryside, the filth and depravity of urban life), as there is with the enveloping sound which really puts you in the middle of it all.

Bear in mind, though, that a lot of the realism is quite hard to take, recalling images of Nazi Germany or Guantanamo Bay, and mixing it in with the dystopia. Whether or not the Guantanamo Bay imagery (dogs, cages and bags over heads) is supposed to be a criticism of current events, or just there for the ‘realism’, it works in upsetting the audience. Theo’s character is well worked out, with plenty of little details to make a case for his existence which helps charge the emotionally difficult set-up. His reluctancy at being the hero does not stop his bravery, but he never picks up a gun. Although not devoid of humor, the movie is mostly a dark affair. If you think you can take it, definitely go and see it for yourself, it is spectacular.

Official website (F)

Le Parfum – histoire d’un meurtrier

Perfume : the story of a murderer

Tom Tykwer :: France, Spain, Germany :: 2006 :: 2h27

The twisted tale of the unfortunate Jean-Baptiste, from his birth as an odorless, insignificant dropping to the summon of his ability, passing through the worst life life can offer. Jean-Baptiste Genouille is, despite his barely human existence, gifted with an unsurpassed sense of smell. It is this one sense which guides him through his wretched life, gets him employed as the assistant to one of the great perfumers of Paris. But Paris can not teach him the skills he needs to complete his sensorial life’s ambition, and Jean-Batiste sets off down south to capital of perfume – Grasse. Unfortunately for them, Grasse opens up their gates to welcome him in.

The originality of the plot is unsurpassed, as all those who have been impressed by the novel will know. To keep the some of the beauty of the book, Tykwer choose a narrative voice to accompany the impressive photography. I think the choice is wise one, given the obscurity of the tale, even if it weakens the film. Curiously enough, there are other weakening factors: the imagery could have been darker at times and the music could have been heavier to digest. These elements, as they stand, alleviate the film, distracting the viewer from the deranged essence of the tale. But do not let that withhold you to be voluntarily dragged through the despicable, immoral stench which characterizes Jean-Batiste’s life… it is an impressive, aesthetic oddity to witness!

www.leparfum-le-film.com

La Jeune fille de l’eau

Lady in the Water

M. Night Shyamalan :: USA :: 2005 :: 1h49

A fantasy story about a traumatized man hiding from his former life as the guardian of building. One day, he finds a water nymph. Her desire to return to her underwater world is blocked by evil forces who can only be contained through a strict set of rules laying out roles for people to for-fill. The man is challenged to find the people who match these roles which are destined to them. As they take on their roles, the community finds back a worth they did know they had in them. In accepting destiny they accept the way lives have evolved.

The story is, of course, incredulous. The viewer has to accept a lot to be taken along into this fantasy world. The characters who are first set in real life, easily accept the step-over into the realm of fantasy, their weaknesses and insecurities become those of characters in a fantasy world. The realm of the fantasy unfolds with relative ease and little psychological set-back, suggesting the author finds the moral of his tale essential. The moral, is the comforting thought that our mostly insignificant lives could have meaning through a parallel universe. While we spend our time fighting and accumulating material wealth, we are ignoring our mythological destiny.

A challenging statement in the contemporary world, unfortunately too badly worked out to pass on any useful message. Accepting folk tales for reality, as the characters easily do, is not a worthy ambition for Man. The kindness and community spirit of the characters, on the other hand, is a pleasure to watch, but could have been complemented with a more generous helping of humor. You can go in without too much frustration, but expect the movie to be quickly forgotten. That would make it clearly missing the mark of its own pretension. Note that the movie is incorrectly marketed as a type of horror movie through their trailers and website (see below) for what is essentially a children’s tale for adults.

www.lajeunefilledeleau-lefilm.com

Le Nouveau monde

The New World

Terrence Malick :: USA :: 2005 :: 2h16

A love story between a British soldier Smith and Pocahontas, the daughter of an Indian Chief, in the beginning of the European colonization of the Americas. The backdrop shows the tense relations between the two civilizations, which oscillate between the cooperative and the violent. Pocahontas rescues Smith and the colonists several times, despite the groups’ frequent animosity. Although in love with Pocahontas, Smith leaves on a further exploration trek, and has her told that he died. Heartbroken, her life drags on, but she is granted an unexpected upturn.

The general story of Pocahontas is well known, although it seems as if it is changed at every occasion. Here, the title should have included the name of Pocahontas, as the director homes in on her experience, and not on the ‘New World’. A similar issue arises with the rest of the marketing, which gives the impression you are about to watch a historical/ thriller type movie intended to contribute to the mythology surrounding the colonization of the Americas. It seems as if the director himself was also at odds between making a such a movie and one which mystifies human relations. Because of this discrepancy between presentation and content, the viewer is surprised to find (beautiful) poetical content tucked away in a movie which is uncertain about its intentions.

Those exceptional scenes are of Pocahontas interacting with her environment. They are embellished with well chosen words and a matching original edit. The most noteworthy are the tenderness scenes of Pocahontas with Smith. They are presented to us using a mixing images out of chronological order, with colors and sounds as if they were taken from memory. The focus on details -movements and gestures – is reminiscent of contemporary French drama. I can not help but think that the whole movie should just have been focused on her. The actress Q’orianka Kilcher, who plays Pocahontas, is captivating, as is the way the director dealt with her scenes. As it stands, the movie is excessively long for what it is, and should have been intensified to concentrate on its lyrical strengths. A pity.

www.lenouveaumonde-lefilm.com