Month: May 2009

Toute l’histoire de mes échecs sexuels

19075351.jpgA complete history of my sexual failures

Chris Waitt :: UK :: 2008 :: 1h33

After another failed relationship, Chris Waitt starts to wonder what he has been doing wrong all these years. To take matters into his own hands, he decides to interview every ex-girlfriend he has had to ask them what they think is wrong with him, or at least, try to. Many decline, but from those that accept, the exchanges turn out to be remarkably (and painfully) frank.

You could rightfully wonder why you would want to watch a loveable loser spend his time un-constructively chasing his happy-go-lucky past, but as the messy film progresses not only does the project actually bare some fruits but the end result is remarkably poetic. Who would have thought that about a film which opens with an unshaven young man stuck in an adolescence for a decade, or so. You see him mumbling into a webcam as in a YouTube diary, with a Russ Meyer poster prominently displayed behind him, flanked on both sides by guitars covered in stickers. As you hear him talk, you know that his life will resemble his apartment. As you listen a little more, your attention is taken in by his honesty mixed with understatement as his trademark humour. And now the tough part, getting the girls to agree. You realise very quickly that this is not going to be easy.

It is anyone’s guess how much of the film is real, and how much has been added in fiction to complete it. Knowing that some of the people in the film were acting would surprise me, which is telling of the emotion and reactions of girls who once shared his life. The films swings off into tangents and back to the subject with the mood of director, comically amassing insights into his life. Surprisingly enough, he actually manages to bring some kind of a conclusion to the whole courageous confrontational episode, but what really sticks is the loving characters he had apparently met in his life who have gone on to live their lives but share a moment of reflection with us.

It is not an exercise I would recommend anyone to do, as it could shatter your self confidence more than it teaches, but reminding yourself that those you disappointed, or who disappointed you, still hold fond memories of you is a touching thought. Watching Chris Waitt take on the challenge, is something I would recommend. He does so bravely and admirably and in his own way, remaining true to himself. The film is funny, touching and original, even if his life resembles light tragedy. You know he will get out of it. And he can amuse us all as he is doing it. Not a bad way out of a worrying situation.


Looking for Eric

19100518.jpgLooking for Eric

Ken Loach :: UK :: 2008 :: 1h59

Ageing Manchester postman Eric Bishop (Steve Evets) lives an empty life with his two delinquent step sons. Taken in by panic attacks, one day he causes a car crash which (finally) wakes him to the reality of his predicament. He has a lot to face, not least of all his first wife and love, Lily. He needs help and the mythical Manchester football player Eric Cantona shows up to guide him along.

This is a very depressing film to watch, with superficial dialogues about football, uninspiring ones about relative poverty, unattractive locations and a simple story-line. The film is only saved, if you consider it to have any merit, by the screen time of the tough but sensitive Cantona who lightens things up a bit, with his meditative approach to life, his proverbs, his aphorisms and his strength of character.

Bishop pulls himself up on the power of his hero Cantona, but it all does not follow through. Without ruining the course of events, if they had really taken the actions they took in the film, he and his sons would presumably have been shot by gang members afterwards. If this is not enough, the character of Lily is completely implausible, if you run through your head what she has had to put up with, and being betrayed and lied to and the awful future which her ever forgiving nature will lead her to. For a film which is supposed to show a man picking himself up and re-building his life, with a little help from his friends, the story lends very little support to its central thesis on reflection.

As you watch the self absorbed Bishop, who has ruined many lives, ruin a few more, you can not help but wonder how a director should go about making a film which can function as uplifting for a class of people (such as these) who live miserable lives. The idea of Cantona, a local hero, to pull people up through admiration seems like a good idea. After all, what better way to  aspire to more than to imitate those we love? But I think that cutting out Bishop, Lily and the delinquent sons & friends would have made more sense – just Cantona, the man, and his own struggles to make something of his life in Manchester. That would have given less cheap and easy emotional scenes and more idealistic substance.

How long do we have to wait this time?

cannes2009Cannes Film Festival / UGC Cinemas :: France :: 2009

After the Champagne sipping, backslapping and air kissing is all over on the picturesque Mediterranean and the film producers, sellers, models, journalists, actors, and wannabes have all returned to their respective polluted metropolises, the audience is once again left in bewilderment. Surely this is all about us in some way or another? When do we get to see Haneke’s masterpiece?

Cinema loving France, including yours truly, is feeling the chill once again. UGC,  Europe’s largest cinema operator, announced that the winner of the 62nd Festival de Cannes, The White Ribbon, will be screened as of the 21st October 2009. In case you missed that, that is in five months time! This may be slightly faster than after previous festivals (remember l’Enfant?) but seriously, is that the best they can do? All the buzz of the moment will be distant whispers by the time the audience gets back from a long hot summer. Every year has a winner, surely some planning is possible?

One of the beauties of cinema is its power to share- a million copies of the same film can be made and watched all around the world at the same time. We live in a digital era where if a member of the public gets their hands on a copy, it can be distributed through an internet peer to peer system and be available worldwide instantly. The professional bodies of film producers, distributors and buyers are nowhere near such efficiency. They need to learn a lesson from the world’s teenagers to get their distribution in order. Reading raving reviews of new film is exciting, but considerably less so if you are left outside staring at the poster.

UGC, Allociné, Festival de Cannes

Anges et Démons

19079653.jpgAngels & Demons

Ron Howard :: USA :: 2009 :: 2h20

Professor of Symbology Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) is lifted out of a Harvard swimming pool by a Vatican official to be shown the symbol of an ancient church scientific spin-off sect the Illuminati. Four cardinals have been kidnapped and they need the professor’s help in following the Illuminati trail, to save their lives and a looming catastrophe. Within the hour, Professor Langdon is crossing the Atlantic to Vatican City.

After all the religious controversy of the first instalment, The DaVinci Code, this second appearance of Prof Langdon is considerably less critique prone, if you forgive the film’s ticking body count. The Vatican is, however, the main subject matter of the film and whether or not they are portrayed positively is up for debate. What does remain untarnished, is the central Catholic doctrine. There is a curious science-faith opposition worked into the story which will mean more to an American living through the raging creationist-evolution debate than to a contemporary Vatican clergyman. But other than that, the mystery is a political one, not theological.

For most of the film, Langdon is explaining Church history as they move from one breathtaking location to another. Not only do we get to snoop around Vatican City (and now I really wonder what the archives look like!), but we are also granted a full tour of the splendours of the eternal city! It does somewhat surprise me that director Ron Howard managed to get at least some filming done at the Vatican, considering that he had not made himself very popular with the authorities three years ago, famously not being allowed to film in the Parisian St Sulpice. It is not clear how many of the locations were artificially re-created, but the splendour of the Vatican comes out magnificently!

The verdict on the film will no doubt vary, as on the surface the plot is Hollywood simple as you would expect from such a production. It is funny to realise that under the bonnet it is considerably worse, as the unfolding events become nothing short of being completely implausible. And through it all, Langdon cracks one mystery after another as crisps from a bag, without loosing a single one, taking you smoothly forwards through to that unlikeliest of conclusions. But it all does not really matter. There is some great photography of the Rome and the Vatican and it has Ewan McGregor, who makes a great Pope’s assistant, the Camerlengo. Or is that not enough?

Gouttes d’eau sur pierres brûlantes

19090570.jpgGouttes d’eau sur pierres brûlantes

Francois Ozon :: France :: 1999 :: 1h30

Young Franz follows the fifty-year-old Léopold home and surprises -even himself- when he lets himself be seduced by this older man. Franz slowly finds himself transformed into a submissive role, catering to ever more whimsical Léopold. Franz accepts his fate out of love. Six months later, and half way through the film, Franz’s long-time girlfriend Anna shows up, leading to a scene not quite as you would imagine. And to add onto the already curious and estranging situation, Léopold’s old love Vera turns up as well, having just completed a sex change(!).

The movie opens with 1970s coloured postcards of Berlin, with the sounds of cars and church bell towers worked into the accompanying music, as if you are watching a film. The absurdity of hearing sounds linked to a stationary image is one which is upheld throughout the work. It is an absurdity which pushes the characters to say and act in unexpected ways, as if they are re-writing a code of conduct applicable only to the sealed off test tube world in which they live.

Based on an unpublished play by Fassbinder, Water Drops on Burning Rocks, the movie holds on to its air of theatre, taking place entirely in bachelor Léopold’s pad with only the 4 characters. The details on this stage are telling, so accurately done it is hard to believe the film had been made in 1999. The apartment is decorated in a 1970s brown, grey and orange, with the fluffy carpeting and modern furniture to go with it. Léopold lusts and consumes in a three-piece business suit or silk dressing gown. Franz is mostly dressed as the romantic 19 year old that he is, with turtle neck jumpers, Anna, the intrigued external party, is either naked or in bright blue lingerie and finally Vera, the ghost of love lost, is in a fur-lined overcoat. The coat of elegance to hide the tragedy.

As you would expect from an Ozon film, the images are often framed to the perfection of a photograph, moving the actors through the frame with a balance of shadow and light on their faces using whole images to convey a message. But despite the perfection of the details, and the absurdity of the presentation, you can not be detracted away from the harsh message, of romantics falling prey to sexual predators, who leave their abandoned lovers along the route in their search for gratification. Nowhere does this line hit home more clearly than in the desperate closing image, as a moving Hopper painting pushed to hopelessness. This is a unique piece of cinema and a curious element in Francois Ozon’s portfolio. For lovers of cinema, theatre and the two combined: try not to miss out.

Etreintes brisées

Etreintes briséesLos abrazos rotos

Pedro Almodovar :: Spain :: 2008 :: 2h09

Harry Caine (Lluìs Homar) is a writer living his life comfortably in Madrid with his agent and friend Judit and helped by her son Diego. But his blindness, which hides the visible world from him, also protects him from seeing his tragic past. Till the fateful day they are confronted with Ernesto Junior, a figure set to re-awaken the life they once had.

The serene Harry Caine was not always Harry Caine, and he was not always blind either. In his previous life, he was a talented movie director with the name Mateo Blanco. And it was this Mateo who had fallen hopelessly in love on the set with the beautiful actress Lena (Penélope Cruz). Unfortunately, she was already claimed by a desperately jealous tycoon Ernesto Senior, who seems to spend more of his time guarding over Lena than he does managing his empire. By now you will understand that the movie-in-the-movie has become a ticking time bomb.

The film is made for people who love cinema, with direct references for real buffs. We see the young mistress of the manor dining with the old Tycoon as in a 50s film, we see her standing dangerously on top of a long majestic staircase, we see clips of the comedy Lila is filming as if they are clips of Almodovar’s Women on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Almodovar plunges you into a passion he shares with his audience, cinema itself, while pulling you into the emotional thriller provoked by the Lila’s uncontrolled magnetic attraction to Mateo. Although you are taken along in the unfolding story, the medium -cinema- and the choices made throughout -like the hairstyles– remain elements of pleasure and recognition for the viewer.

“Broken Embraces” is truly cinema, in its tense but playful form. It is passionate and cruel, true and fabricated, creative and destructive, figuratively both black and white and colour. It is a funny and challenging film which reminds you, lest you forget, of why you love cinema. And why you love Almodovar.

Un été Italien


Michael Winterbottom :: UK :: 2008 :: 1h34

Joe (Colin Firth), is a widow who moves to Italy with his two daughters to escape the painful memories of his wife’s death in a car accident. His two daughters were in the car when it happened and the youngest one is submerged in feelings of guilt. Joe protects little Mary all he can, as she struggles with nightmares and visions, to try to live their lives normally.

With a hot southern summer to go before school starts, Kelly, the oldest daughter, finds herself a backseat on a Vespa. Hiding her new friends from her father, she discovers the early pleasures (and disappointments) of becoming a woman. Her first steps into adulthood naturally conflict with Joe’s demands as the head of their family and her little sister’s wish for companionship. Joe too, struggles between the promise of new romance (ah Italy!) and the pain of the loss of his wife and the demands of his family.

Although the movie is slow and mostly filmed in close-ups, the tranquility, romanticism and heat of the Italian coastal city never really develops. We see the long alleyways and the interplay of the sun and the shadows which so marks Mediterranean cities, with the famous washing hanging high above the streets, the young men on scooters hanging around… but there is a music in the air which keeps a tension, a fear in the air as if something will happen to the girls at any moment. The fear of them having an accident, or being attacked, is overwhelming. This is the feeling Joe tries so hard to suppress. But should we be feeling this pressure too? The constant tension and fear start to conflict with the latin lightness of being which slowly creeps under the skin of the characters. The tension becomes excessive and unnecessary for a family drama creating a hollowness to the film which should not be there. A pity, for what essentially, is a touching portrait of a mourning family.