You could make a case — and I wouldn’t be entirely unreceptive to your viewpoint — that this film is a regressive form of faux-naïf haute bourgeoise naffery. I’m pretty sure New Waves have formed in opposition to less provocation, and even if it isn’t quite the desultory cinéma de papa of the past (it has a female writer and director, for a start), it’s hardly challenging in the laidback literary allusions of the screenplay and its bucolic country town setting. There’s also a self-aware subtext revolving around the fitting of literary archetypes to (overtly constructed) characters that reminds me of another French film starring Fabrice Luchini, Dans la maison directed by François Ozon — though that film was more aggressive in pushing its meta-narrative, so if forced I’d generally prefer Anne Fontaine’s filmmaking to that of Ozon.
But already I feel I’m pushing back too strongly against a film which, broadly, I rather enjoyed. If it has that self-aware constructedness that may perhaps be traced to the involvement on the screenplay of former film critic (and Jacques Rivette collaborator) Pascal Bonitzer, it could also be said to critique a masculinist construction of feminine identity by having our central character Martin (Luchini) — and despite the film’s title, his is the point of view around which the film revolves — carefully watch and steer the narrative path of Gemma Arterton’s title character. Arterton is a fine actor who does great work with what is ultimately a purposely thin character, existing in that sort of Daisy Buchanan mould as an object of male lust and projected fantasies of femininity. That said, I wouldn’t go so far as to call it particularly challenging: Gemma is still largely a pawn to the (male-centred) narrative, and some of the comedy at the expense of Anglo-French relations can get a little strained (although there’s a very amusing smaller role for Elsa Zylberstein as a status-obsessed socialite). But as a testament to Arterton and Luchini’s excellent and subtle acting skills, Gemma Bovery does provide a pleasant divertissement.
Director Anne Fontaine; Writers Pascal Bonitzer and Fontaine (based on the graphic novel by Posy Simmonds); Cinematographer Christophe Beaucarne; Starring Gemma Arterton, Fabrice Luchini, Jason Flemyng; Length 99 minutes.
Seen at Cineworld West India Quay, London, Wednesday 26 August 2015.
I’m no royalist, and I’m pretty sure this film was never made with me in mind as audience, but that said, this is all very jolly and likeable in an entirely flimsy way. It charts a putative night out that the royal princesses Elizabeth and Margaret spent in London on VE Day in 1945, while their father King George VI (Rupert Everett) stayed home to deliver a speech — you may remember another recent film about his speechmaking. By his side is his wife Elizabeth (Emily Watson), and while these four central characters are based on real people, there’s little point beyond that in trying to link any of their character traits or stories to reality: this is all very much fiction. The heart of the film is a comedy romp and the two lead actors do brilliantly well in hitting the right tone for their performances, with Sarah Gadon just a little bit reserved as ‘Lilibet’, while Bel Powley is an irrepressible riot of energy as Margaret (and easily the film’s comic highlight). The challenge for the filmmakers is on the one hand making its aristocratic protagonists likeable (which it largely does, hence my caveat about setting aside any sense of historicity), and on the other in harnessing a light-hearted comedy to a respectful depiction of the gravity of the historical events and the tolls of war on the soldiers. This latter aspect is primarily represented by the cantankerous Jack Reynor as a (working-class) AWOL airman who falls for Elizabeth. Thus amongst the peripatetic tour of nighttime London circa 1945 (with, incidentally, a strange sense of geography for those who know it), there are some requisite sombre moments, but for the most part it’s all about the comedy. If you can get past the use of the royal personages and suspend your disbelief, it’s all quite charming really.
Director Julian Jarrold; Writers Trevor da Silva and Kevin Hood; Cinematographer Christophe Beaucarne; Starring Sarah Gadon, Bel Powley, Jack Reynor, Rupert Everett, Emily Watson; Length 97 minutes.
Seen at Cineworld West India Quay, London, Thursday 21 May 2015.
UPDATE: Since the review below was written, this movie has been renamed Adore for the English-speaking market (or Adoration in some places). The title in France was Perfect Mothers. I’ve updated the review’s title to reflect this change.
As an Australian/French co-production (and entitled Perfect Mothers when I saw it in Paris), it’s tempting to credit the naturalistic acting style to the former, and the overwrought romantic storyline to the latter, but perhaps it’s unfair to suggest that Australian cinema shies away from dealing with rather twisted affairs of the heart. That certainly isn’t the case here.
The story, just to set it up briefly, deals with the eponymous mothers, Lil (played by Naomi Watts) and Roz (played by Robin Wright), whose entire lives appear to have been spent in each other’s company in the same sleepy seaside Australian town. In the space of the credits sequence, the film skips forward from their adolescence playing in the sea, to their own children (both boys) playing in the sea around the time of the funeral of Lil’s husband, to when their boys are fully grown, all on the same stretch of light-saturated beach. It’s all presented as fairly idyllic — sitting out by the sound of the sea sipping sauvignon blanc in the sunshine — and we never really get much of a sense of the rest of the town (except that there’s an office where Lil works, and a small theatre where Roz’s husband and son work). The point at which it all starts to unravel a bit, and where the (French) title gets its ironic sting, is when it becomes apparent that their respective children have developed romantic attachments towards the other’s mother, and that these feelings are reciprocated.
However one feels about the somewhat incestuous theme of the film, there is real delight to be had in the acting, which feels unforced and fresh. Wright’s Australian accent only occasionally falters, and both she and Watts do really well with the uncomfortable subject matter. It’s to the film’s (and the actors’) credit that it’s the relationship between the two mothers, rather than that with the (rather bland) sons, which anchors the story and feels like the primary interest of the film.
The location is well-chosen too, since it has to be convincing in its hold over the characters. Continue reading “Adore (aka Two Mothers, aka Perfect Mothers, 2013)”