For most of the past week, my blog has been focusing on the Golden Age of Mexican cinema, with a roster of mighty melodramas, but in the modern era directors like Alfonso Cuarón, Guillermo del Toro and Alejandro González Iñárritu have found box office success (both in Mexico and in the United States, where many of them work now) in a variety of genres, though often still tending towards the dark and thorny. None has gained quite as much fervid festival acclaim (not to mention exasperated brickbats) than Carlos Reygadas, who unlike his contemporaries has remained in Mexico to make his films, rich with religious symbolism, copious sex and an austerely formal camera style. He made his name with Japón (2001, which is on the Criterion Collection now), and followed with the divisive Battle in Heaven (2005, below), with its Bressonian approach to non-actors combined with rather more florid content than Bresson would ever have countenanced. 2007’s Silent Light is to my mind his finest picture in terms of reconciling his themes and formal style, dealing with a Mennonite community, but Post Tenebras Lux (2012) has many admirers. His most recent film (Our Time) is also his longest, and is reviewed below.
So much for writing separate posts for everything; that didn’t really work out for me in the long-term. I still watch a lot of movies (more than ever) but in terms of writing I go through phases, as I’m sure many of us who try and write about films do, and right now I’ve not really felt an urge to write up my film reviews (beyond a few short sentences on Letterboxd). So here’s a round-up of stuff I saw in May. See below the cut for reviews of…
Captain America: Civil War (2016, USA)
Cold Comfort Farm (1995, UK)
Desperately Seeking Susan (1985, USA)
Down with Love (2003, USA)
Everybody Wants Some!! (2016, USA)
Evolution (2015, France/Belgium/Spain)
Feminists Insha’allah! The Story of Arab Feminism (2014, France)
A Flickering Truth (2015, New Zealand)
Green Room (2015, USA)
Hamlet liikemaailmassa (Hamlet Goes Business) (1987, Finland)
Heart of a Dog (2015, USA)
Lemonade (2016, USA)
Losing Ground (1982, USA)
Lovely Rita (2001, Austria/Germany)
Luck by Chance (2009, India)
As Mil e Uma Noites: Volume 3, O Encantado (Arabian Nights Volume 3: The Enchanted One) (2015, Portugal/France/Germany/Switzerland)
Money Monster (2016, USA)
Mon roi (aka My King) (2015, France)
My Life Without Me (2003, Canada/Spain)
Our Kind of Traitor (2016, UK)
Pasqualino Settebellezze (Seven Beauties) (1975, Italy)
Picture Bride (1994, USA)
Radio On (1979, UK/West Germany)
She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry (2014, USA)
Sisters in Law (2005, UK/Cameroon)
Star Men (2015, USA/UK/Canada)
Their Eyes Were Watching God (2005, USA)
Trouble Every Day (2001, France/Germany/Japan)
Underground (1928, UK)
L’Une chante, l’autre pas (One Sings, the Other Doesn’t) (1977, France)
Visage (Face) (2009, France/Taiwan)
Zir-e poost-e shahr (Under the Skin of the City) (2001, Iran)
FILM REVIEW || Director Mike Newell | Writer Steve Kloves (based on the novel by J.K. Rowling) | Cinematographer Roger Pratt | Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Brendan Gleeson, Ralph Fiennes | Length 157 minutes | Seen at home (DVD), London, Saturday 28 December 2013 || My Rating good
As the series has progressed, there’s been a definite move towards darker textures and emotions. The possibility was always hinted at by the looming gothic architecture of the main locations, but now that the leads are in the midst of adolescence, one gets the sense that the filmmakers feel safer venturing into rather more disturbing territory. Hence the presence here of the “Death Eaters”, a cult-like fraternity dedicated to the resurrection of the spectacularly creepy Lord Voldemort (played appropriately by Ralph Fiennes), as well as far more terror and peril than the previous instalments allowed — even the otherwise more assured Prisoner of Azkaban — reflected in its higher classification (a 12 certificate rather than PG for the previous films).
FILM REVIEW || Director Joe Wright | Writers Deborah Moggach (based on the novel by Jane Austen) | Cinematographer Roman Osin | Starring Keira Knightley, Matthew Macfadyen, Tom Hollander, Donald Sutherland, Kelly Reilly | Length 129 minutes | Seen at home (DVD), Tuesday 21 May 2013 || My Rating good
There have been a lot of adaptations and reimaginings of novels by Jane Austen (there was a particular glut of them in the 1990s), and for my sins I’ve seen a fair few, such that I’m never really sure what’s going on and who’s who whenever an Austen film starts. I feel like I should know the stories better, but they always seem to involve a bit of to-do around social status, some mentions of the gentleman’s annual income, several lengthy dance sequences, and many many glorious frocks. As staples of the ‘heritage film’ — a moribund genre if ever there was one, laid out by Merchant-Ivory and focused above all on bloodless period frippery — they should by all rights be terrible, but I must admit I like the odd period film with all their stuffed shirts and wilful heroines.
I’m on holiday in France this week, so I’m re-posting some reviews (of French films, naturally) that I wrote many years ago when I was on LiveJournal, back when I was watching a lot more arthouse films.
ARCHIVAL FILM REVIEW: French Film Week || Director Xavier Beauvois | Writers Xavier Beauvois, Guillaume Bréaud, Jean-Eric Troubat and Cédric Anger | Cinematographer Caroline Champetier | Starring Jalil Lespert | Length 110 minutes | Seen at Ciné Lumière, London, Saturday 24 June 2006 | Originally posted on 25 June 2006 (with slight amendments) || My Rating excellent
Plenty of police procedural films (in the American mainstream, especially) attempt to outdo one another with more grisly crimes and more elaborate plots to uncover. It so happens that many of the posters for these films feature in the room where the detectives of this film work. The central character Antoine (played by Jalil Lespert) even says his initial impulse to join the police force was the movies, at least at first.
However, the more excessive filmic visions of policework don’t really apply to this particular policier, as the crimes being investigated are decidedly pedestrian (some stabbings, the death of a homeless man) and the outcomes somewhat predetermined. Fate, after all, plays a big part in the work of a filmmaker who made a film called N’oublie-pas que tu va mourir (Don’t Forget You’re Going to Die, 1995). Therefore, the narrative strands are familiar: a rookie cop; an experienced but recovering alcoholic cop who rejoins the force; conflicts of ideology (between a right-wing cop and one who has come from an ethnic minority); drinking on the job; botched investigations; the list goes on.
However, it’s what Beauvois does with these elements that is special. Nothing is glamourised here, except by the characters — Antoine’s swagger as the rookie cop is more deference to the part he’s playing as imagined from the films he’s seen. This desire to play a part leads him into trouble, just as it led him from a life in rural Normandy into Paris — where, as he points out to the wife he’s left behind, 80% of the crime happens. It also encourages reflection, and the film ends with one of those moments where the fourth wall is breached, and Antoine’s commanding officer (played by Nathalie Baye) looks directly at the camera. No words are uttered, as there is no pat summation. But a challenge is offered: a challenge perhaps to those who would follow in Antoine’s footsteps, to question what is being presented by the cinema.