Monday, 23 March 2009

Four Nights With Anna

There are elements of Monsieur Hire, Talk To Her. A Short Film About Love, and - oh yes - Rear Window to Jerzy Skolimowski’s first film in 17 years (that is, since his apparently benighted adaptation of Ferdydurke). It’s an intense and compelling drama about the fixation of lonely Leon (Artur Steranko) on nurse Anna (Kinga Preis). Skolimowski sustains a tense, suggestive atmosphere, with nicely judged intrusions of black humour, and there are some stunning sequences: each night Leon spends with Anna has a slightly different tone and feel, the final one is beautifully staged and quite moving. There are things to criticise - a whiff of misogyny, an utterly gratuitous scene of brutal homophobia, and a particularly pitiful moment when a psychobabble explanation for our voyeur’s behaviour is offered: we learn that he was “illegitimate” (?) and brought up by his grandmother. The non-linear time-line is also a bit of a problem: it allows for some interesting juxtapositions, but also seems unnecessarily confusing at times. Overall, though, Skolimowski produces a fine film here. Good to have him back on this side of the camera.

The Class (Entre Les Murs)

French school-set movies are practically becoming a sub-genre. Laurent Cantet’s drama, based on François Bégeaudeau’s book and starring Bégeaudeau, ranks as one of the best. The film couldn’t be more different from Christophe Honore’s La Belle Personne, which, though utterly charming, tended to place the emphasis on its photogenic students’ and teachers’ sentimental travails rather than their academic life. What I loved about Cantet’s film is its singularity of focus: no scenes outside of the school, very limited information about the characters’ private lives (no teacher/pupil or even pupil/pupil romances, thank Christ). I’ve never seen a film that’s so attuned to the complexities of classroom dynamics as this one: the shifts in power, the failures in communication, the conflicts and moments of complicity, the insights and joys. "Issues" of race, class, identity, religion, and nation emerge naturally, through a series of superbly realistic and brilliantly acted real-time scenes. But this strikes me, mainly, as a film about language, which views the classroom as a dialogic space where all kinds of communications take place. Full of feeling and tension, this is a beautiful and engrossing film.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Easy Come Easy Go

Pleased to see that Marianne Faithfull's new album is finally getting a release in the UK, along with some acclaim. There are some duff performances across the two discs, but some spectacularly good ones, too. It's reviewed here:

Monday, 2 March 2009

Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Henry James meets Eric Rohmer meets Pedro Almodovar in Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Woody Allen’s tale of Americans questioning their certainties abroad. Like most of Rohmer's work the movie is, to borrow Pauline Kael's phrase, a piece of "serio-comic triviality.” But fortunately Allen, unlike Rohmer, doesn’t "direct to a metronome” so the end result is quite spry and fun. I don’t support the view that Allen’s work has deteriorated beyond measure over the years - I find some of his “classics,” such as Annie Hall and Manhattan insufferably smug and irritating. Though VCB is about as trivial as his movies come, it at least has Barcelona looking fabulous, lovely performances from Scarlett Johansson (ah, how I LOVED Scarlett in 2004 ...), Rebecca Hall and Javier Bardem, plus Penelope Cruz injecting a dose of creative insanity into the proceedings. There's also a well-observed turn by Chris Messina as Hall's dull-as-ditchwater fiance-then-husband (who ends up with the funniest line in the film). Throughout, Allen recycles all sorts of stereotypes about passionate, quick-tempered Spaniards who propose sex two minutes after meeting and stick knives into each other during domestic arguments, but the film has enough pace and charm to get away with this. The deadpan narration subtly ironises everybody that’s presented, but it’s a warm and quite delightful movie overall.