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.

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.

Blow up

Blow upBlow up

Michelangelo Antonioni :: UK :: 1966 :: 1h50

Young fashion photographer Thomas (David Hemmings) takes a few pictures of a kissing couple in the park. The woman, Jane (Vanessa Redgrave), is appalled by the intrusion into her privacy and wants the pictures destroyed. The photographer’s curiosity has been tickled and on return to his studio prints and enlarges them to discover the images’ hidden treasure. He sees that he has photographed a murder. Or so he thinks.

This film is a masterpiece which thankfully is still being screened (in the Marais). You could read the script or a complete description of the unfolding events and still have to see it to make up your mind. Whichever way you turn it, the film is captivating and enigmatic. I will lift out some scenes from the film, to illustrate my interpretation. I hope it becomes clear enough to be able to compare it to your own.

— Contains SPOILERS —

To start with the opening scene: we are shown a group of mime players dancing and shouting around with painted faces, in a harsh clash with a dreary urban setting. In the next instant, we are shown paupers leaving a poorhouse in a deadly silence, spilling out onto the streets, their somber torn clothes blending into the grey brick as ants in the sand. A small group of them nod their goodbyes and disperse. One of them is left standing alone below the railway lines, holding a paper bag. He looks tired, underfed and shabby. As he sees the others disappear from sight, he looks around suspiciously and darts off down the road. He finds his car, a Rolls-Royce convertible, gets in, and drives off.

Sitting in his convertible, his face lights up. Driving around the corner, he runs into those dancing mime players which crowd around his car asking charitably for money. The man obliges, turning around to fish some money of the back seat, finding some bills lying loose amongst some old newspapers. Without looking at the paper money, he hands it to them and they run off shouting and laughing with joy. He drives off thrilled at his return to normal life. In the background you see a bum walking by a closed iron gate.

The opening scene tells quite something about Thomas and thrusts a critical look at British society upon us at the same time. The grey depressing world is a ruthless one of haves and have-nots. Thomas clearly belongs to the lucky few group, after that masterful touch of decadence in not only driving away from the poorhouse in a Rolls, but having left money on the back bench too. Thomas obviously has no scruples lying to people (faking poverty) to get what he wants (their pictures). When he discusses the pictures he took there  afterwards with his editor, it is clear that sympathy is not their motivating force. He says he is bored and fed up with the city and the women who he treats badly. Thomas is a modern dandy of sorts who has no friends and can only see people as objects, as means to an end, a financial one or for amusement. He feels trapped in his own disinterest, which is perhaps reinforced by his superficial fashion photography world. He tells his editor at some point: “I wish I had tons of money, then I’d be free”. It is as if he is at the pinnacle of the capitalistic pyramid but he is so alone that he does not see it anymore. He needs more money? And what would he need that freedom for? To do what? In this world of the poor and the bored, where should he run to anyway?

Later on he falls in love with an antique propellor (a dream to fly away?) and buys it promptly. The owner of the shop is selling everything to flee from her own life. The owner is a young, beautiful girl with rosy cheeks who says she is fed up with antiques and want to run to somewhere were there are less objects. She wants to embark on that journey to search for some meaning, something away from the superficial consumer society she feels herself to be taken in by. Basically, she is as existentially bored as he is. You might think this would strike a chord with Thomas, but he treats her as he does everyone else, he does not care as long as she does what he wants.

The movie could be taken as an anti-capitalistic statement, of the sort which was common in the 60s. Besides the grand sketches of the disillusioned wealthy wondering around in a black impoverished industrial London, small telling details are also thrown in. When Thomas finds himself in a concert hall, with an audience staring at the band as dummies staring at customers form a window display, the guitarist decides to smash up his guitar. When he is done venting his adolescent frustration, he lungs the neck of the guitar into the audience. They suddenly spring alive and fight for the little piece of rock-and-roll history. Thomas manages to hold on to it and runs for the door. Once outside, he no longer sees the interest in the, just seconds ago, so coveted object. He had taken it because everyone wanted it, but now that the chase is over, what good is it? He throws it away and leaves. A passerby picks it up to examine it. It has become just a piece of garbage now. The object only had value when it was desired, when the audience gave it value. Without the audience it becomes just the worthless piece of a guitar that it is.

So how should some meaning be found in this dull life? He is taken into a conversation with an artist he knows who makes impressionist paintings. The artist explains that his paintings have no meaning when he makes them, but that they gain something afterwards, “like finding a clue in a detective story”. This is a hint as to what Thomas will go through.

Strolling through the park, he sees a woman kissing her lover and decides to take pictures of them. She begs him to destroy them but to no avail, his moral can not be wavered by pity. But his interest, on the other hand, is sparked. On his return to the house, he prints and enlarges the pictures to find what was so important about them. The pictures become so large, they are just grains on paper like his friend’s impressionist paintings. They could be anything. And he sees a body. And he sees the killer in the bushes with a gun. His photography has meaning after all. Reality is shining through his own photograph as never before. It is no longer the make-belief world of marketing, but real life. He feels alive. He calls on his editor to tell him the exciting news, but finds him in a luxurious apartment, in the midst of a drug-fuelled party where nobody cares about anything or anyone. He might finally have something real, something that matters, on his hands, but even that might not be enough. Or perhaps some kind of humane reality will befall him?

There are many little gems and story traces to be found scattered around the film, but I will leave that you. It might not seem like a coherent whole at first, but the more you think about it, the more the movie makes sense. Thomas is an unappealing character, or at least not a caring one, lost in grand world. He is quickly distracted, with different scenes lingering on in your mind after he left them because he never finished them. He is like Marcello Mastrioanni in Felinni’s 8 ½, where he  excuses himself constantly, escaping from every conversation initiated with him. The movie’s photography isolates him in big images, often leaving him alone in the scene. There is something of the loneliness and emptiness all the way through, but at the end you, though still there, you are rewarded with a unique closing shot. A curious script it must have been but a brilliant film is the result. I highly recommend it.

Atomik Circus

Atomik CircusAtomik Circus, le retour de James Bataille

Didier Poiraud, Thierry Poiraud :: France, Germany, UK :: 2002 :: 1h30

A small dusty town far removed from civilisation prepares for their annual party. The pack of village oddball tooth-missing outcasts is run by Bosco, the owner of the local hotel/ nightclub. His daughter is to be the leading star of the event’s talent show, the sexy singing Concia (Vanessa Paradis), who dreams of nothing else than to make it big. Just as the event begins to take shape, Stuntman James Bataille (Jason Flemyng) shows up on the scene. He spots Concia. Concia spots James. The father Bosco sees the whole thing unfold before his eyes and can barely contain his rage…

When the stuntman slips up, Bosco grabs his chance and has James sent away for a long time. But James gets lucky, escapes and is on his way back to Concia. At that same time, however, there are two other unlikely elements on their way in. A slick city-boy scoundrel whose vintage car needs repairs and whose eye has fallen on the innocent charms of Concia. As he is homing in, a flock of extra-terrestrial octopus and other dimensional spinning ninja stars descend on the dust bowl for a carnage. The volume of the rock and roll gets turned up and a B-film orgy of limb-cutting extravagance splashes out onto the screen.

Atomik Circus is an instant cult classic, bursting with originality, absurdity and is insanely funny. As it mixes genres, it is hard to categorise as you are still laughing from one scene as you are thrust into the absurdity of the next. You realise very quickly that bringing in your innate logic will only make matters worse in this world. After a while you even notice that you have no idea in which country we are in, as the characters speak a provincial French but find themselves in a run-down contemporary far west. That estrangement is further amplified by the constant unexpected reactions of the characters who remain stoically placid in the face of insult, injury or the downright ridiculous.

It is hard to believe this is a first movie for the Poiraud brothers, but easy to believe it is based on their own (unpublished) comic book. That no doubt also helped the angles of the photography and the movement of the filming, which runs in with the actors to where the action is. The special effects, photography and the avant-guard (Little Rabbits) music all contribute to this brilliant absurd stationary road movie. A fantastic late night film which will transport you into an alternate reality, one with a lot of humour and a good doses of the surreal. Do not miss it.



Sharon Maguire :: UK :: 2008 :: 1h36

A young woman (Michelle Williams) is trapped in an empty marriage tucked away in an ugly apartment block in London. Her pride and joy in her grey existence is her 4-year-old son. One day, as the two of them are at the football match, she seduces a slick journalist Jasper (Ewan McGregor) in the local pub. As fate would have it, they are locked in a lovers embrace, with the football match raging on behind them on TV, when the stadium going up in flames with a series of explosions. Her husband and son are both killed in the terrorist attack, leaving her broken and alone.

If you are now thinking that a film about the aftermath of a major terrorist attack from the director of Brigit Jones’ Diary sounds like a recipe for disaster, then you are partly right. But it is not bad for the reason you might think. The film is, for the most part, an emotional roller-coaster – you could be crying your way through most of it. But not because of her grieving for her lost family. The bombs are just the beginning – she still has to endure a full load of unlikely events in the hour to come. She understandably loses it along the way as the story becomes so over-dramatised that it is just ridiculous (especially when you run the story back in your head afterwards).

Towards the end she enters a phase of grief hallucination and reconciliation with life. As the movie is neither funny nor exciting, this should have been the route to take all along. Concentrating on the mourning of the young mother, and perhaps even throwing in some guilt towards her semi-estranged husband. Her husband is just gone with his death. He is not missed nor is there any regret for his disappearance. Even for a semi-estranged husband this sounds a little harsh – she did worry about him, after all, so she must have felt something. It is also curious that they have no family, or friends who drop by to comfort her. A lonely marriage must have pushed them into some kind of a social circle, or a hobby, or at least the occasional phone call with their mothers. Was their life really that lonely.

The movie is clearly intended as a pamphlet against terrorism, by showing the human cost at the level of ordinary people. It also takes the time to “explain” the resilience of London in a voice-over. It is a little desperate to save a movie through nationalism, but can actually be fit in here, although it could have been better prepared, by, for instance, by making her a more integral part of London. This is no masterpiece, nor an entertainment jewel, and can easily be missed altogether. A pity, because it does have some potential.

NB French release date unknown

Last Chance for Love

Last Chance for LoveLast Chance Harvey

Joel Hopkins :: USA, UK :: 2008 :: 1h33

Harvey (Dustin Hoffman) is a disillusioned jingle-writer from New York. When his daughter is to marry in London, he flies over to be confronted with his failed parenting and his ex-wife’s harmonious new life, with husband, their daughter and future son-in-law. Desperate to hide from his failings, he tries to go back home, to his miserable life, but even that fails. But not all is doom and gloom. As life treats him badly, he finds himself face to face with a woman (Emma Thomson) who can, and will, change everything.

Last chance for Love is does not really have enough material for a full feature length movie, dragging its feet along to fill the obligatory one and a half hours. Its general structure is one of standard American romantic comedies, complete with the repeat star tag lines of the beginning, an element which is becoming embarrassingly dull.  The plot twist which is to separate the lovers is, even by romantic comedy standards, surprisingly uncreative. And then there’s the climax, which here is a sentimental stretch of about 15 minutes with an unlikely complete reversal of fortune, which will ruin the film for any masculine audience members, and potentially for the rest as well. And the romantic backdrop? They keep walking up and down the south bank along the Thames – I suppose Hopkins thought this obligatory for such a film, even if that is  little embarrassing for a Londoner.  A little more location scouting could have made it seem as if the movie was actually made by an Englishman. Well, so much for the formula aspect of the film.

What the film does have going for it, is the trivial conversation and chemistry between the two characters. It is reminiscent of Before Sunrise (Richard Linklater) in the sense that if you are taken in by the chemistry of the actors, they slowly expose their characters through the uttering of relative trivialities. This is a captivating way of discovering character, and it is well done here. The whole trivialities script is glued together with Dustin Hoffman’s charming smile, which works well. A little light as the plus point of a film, but there you have it.

If you have trouble dealing with standardised commercial film, then please avoid this one. If you think you can handle it, by all means take the plunge and let us face it, if you can get by the title and the poster you are already half way there! If you have to leave after an hour, then fear not, you will have seen the best part… and you might make up a better ending in the pub…

NB Thank you Dustin Hoffman, Emma Thomson and Joel Hopkins for coming to present their movie last night at the French premiere. They were charming as ever and Ms Thomson shined with her impeccable French.