The Invisible Woman (2013)

NEW RELEASE FILM REVIEW || Director Ralph Fiennes | Writer Abi Morgan (based on The Invisible Woman: The Story of Nelly Ternan and Charles Dickens by Claire Tomalin) | Cinematographer Rob Hardy | Starring Felicity Jones, Ralph Fiennes, Kristin Scott Thomas, Tom Hollander | Length 111 minutes | Seen at Cineworld West India Quay, London, Tuesday 11 February 2014 || My Rating 3 stars good

© Lionsgate

It’s that time of year when the cinemas screen a lot of serious films by serious directors looking for awards recognition, so I’ve seen quite a few of them, and may be suffering from fatigue. I think this sophomore effort by renowned English actor Ralph Fiennes is far from being dull, but it trades in a soft, underplayed sensitivity that perhaps isn’t really in vogue right now. It tells the late-19th century story of a famous author, Charles Dickens, and his affair with a younger woman, actor Nelly Ternan, but in a way that really de-emphasises the sex and salaciousness. One might uncharitably say it’s replaced that with some lovely, detailed period costumes and other such details, but there’s still plenty of emotional heft.

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Cherchez Hortense (Looking for Hortense, 2012)

NEW RELEASE FILM REVIEW || Director Pascal Bonitzer | Writers Agnès de Sacy and Pascal Bonitzer | Cinematographer Romain Winding | Starring Jean-Pierre Bacri, Kristin Scott Thomas, Isabelle Carré | Length 100 minutes | Seen at Cineworld Haymarket, London, Saturday 17 August 2013 || My Rating 2.5 stars likeable

© SBS Productions

I’ve seen this film, directed by former Cahiers du cinéma film critic Pascal Bonitzer, described in a few places as a “comedy”, but I find it difficult to rationalise it as such. There are comedic moments, and lead actor Jean-Pierre Bacri has a sort of rumpled comic charm to him, but the story seems to take place in a quite different register. Themes of relationship trouble and divorce, single-parenting, artistic creation, depression, repressed bisexuality, the legal system, the abuse of power and immigration play in and out across its many scenes, few of which betray an essentially comic worldview.

There is, as is suggested by the themes listed above, an interesting film in here — there’s probably a few interesting films — but it’s difficult to get a sense of what exactly the finished work is trying to do. It takes most of the film before you start to understand what the central drama is, let alone what the title is alluding to. Of course, the more I think about it, the more I think this narrative diffusion was very much intended — the title does begin “Looking for…” after all and the character of Hortense is so minor as to be a MacGuffin — but the experience of watching it unfold is perplexing.

In part this is because it’s a shame not to see more of Kristin Scott Thomas. This is the third film I’ve seen her in this year at the cinema (after Dans la maison and Only God Forgives), and her acting is as watchable as ever. She plays Iva, a theatre director married to the protagonist Damien (Bacri), who lives in a gorgeous centrally-located Parisian apartment with him and their bespectacled and all-too-earnest son Noé (he disapproves of his mother’s smoking). Iva has a sort of brittle and febrile quality, which the chain smoking perhaps assuages, though her unhappiness is plain from the relatively little time she spends at home, and in the end finds herself in a relationship with an actor in the play she’s rehearsing. In any case, she gives the film an energy that it elsewhere lacks.

Bacri is fine as Damien, though he doesn’t entirely convince as an expert in Chinese civilisation (which he teaches to business people in a rather brutalist classroom), or as the primary caregiver to their son. As mentioned above, he has an unshaven haunt about his rumpled face that perhaps befits a man working through some serious relationship ennui — both with his unfaithful wife, but also his dismissive father, a very senior civil servant — but it propels him towards a younger attractive woman called Aurore (Isabelle Carré). He bumps into her several times in the first half of the film — too many times for it to be simply chance. Indeed, she takes a larger role as the film progresses, and her story touches on the treatment of immigrants (she is from Serbia and works as a dishwasher in a restaurant) and offers Damien the attractive possibility of redemption from his ennui, though for a man who looks as he does, I’d be surprised if that were really possible.

In any case, for a film with so many threads, it wraps them all up rather neatly. The narrative may be trying at times, but what happens is all acted with the professional sheen of an older-fashioned film with some provocations but little that is truly challenging. It remains a likeable endeavour, but as viewers, in a sense we are left still looking for something, and I’m not sure finding out who Hortense is really satisfies.

Only God Forgives (2013)

A note on the title: The title card of the film is in Thai, subtitled into English. None of the online sources give me a transliteration of this title, but if I were following the rather pedantic rules I’ve been using on this blog, I would give the title in Thai.

NEW RELEASE FILM REVIEW || Director/Writer Nicolas Winding Refn | Cinematographer Larry Smith | Starring Ryan Gosling, Vithaya Pansringarm, Kristin Scott Thomas | Length 90 minutes | Seen at Cineworld Wood Green, London, Friday 2 August 2013 || My Rating 3.5 stars very good

© Lionsgate

There are undeniably words and ideas that, if you read (or indeed write) a lot of film/literary criticism, you find yourself coming across more often than one might expect in the real world. It often comes down to finding an apt adjective to try and grasp a sense of a film’s style or mood, and if any ever film was reliant on style and mood then it’s this one. And the chief adjective that comes into my addled brain is “oneiric”.

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Richard III (1995)

As this film is based on an over-400-year-old play (itself based on even older history), the events and characters of which are pretty much embedded into Western cultural history, I trust that the usual rules of ‘spoilers’ don’t really apply in the same way. However, if you remain concerned about this, then I shall sum up my review more pithily: track down this movie and watch it. It’s worth it, even if you think you don’t like Shakespeare.

FILM REVIEW || Director Richard Loncraine | Writers William Shakespeare, Ian McKellen and Richard Loncraine (based on the play by Shakespeare) | Cinematographer Peter Biziou | Starring Ian McKellen, Annette Bening, Kristin Scott Thomas, Jim Broadbent, Robert Downey Jr. | Length 104 minutes | Seen at Paramount, Wellington, February 1997 (also at home on DVD, Tuesday 7 May 2013) || My Rating 4 stars excellent

© United Artists

I first saw this film on the big screen a few years after it was released, which is to say, 16 years ago now. My memory is generally terrible, and there are films I’ve seen that I have forgotten to such an extent that I’ve rewatched them and not even realised that I’d seen them already in my life. So it should say something that I still very clearly recalled the opening sequence of this adaptation of the Shakespeare play when I sat down to rewatch it recently at home.

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Dans la maison (In the House, 2012)

NEW RELEASE FILM REVIEW: French Film Week || Director/Writer François Ozon (based on the play The Boy in the Last Row by Juan Mayorga) | Cinematographer Jérôme Alméras | Starring Fabrice Luchini, Kristin Scott Thomas, Ernst Umhauer | Length 105 minutes | Seen at Cineworld Shaftesbury Avenue, London, Tuesday 2 April 2013 || My Rating 3 stars good

© Mars Distribution

François Ozon has always been a safe middle-class director of safe middle-class fantasies, which is the opening for an excoriating review whereby I dismiss all his work out of hand as being unworthy of your time, this film no less than any other. Or at least that’s one version of this review, an exceedingly unkind and somewhat unfair one at that. Certainly, it wasn’t a million miles from my impression of the first film of his I saw, Sitcom (1998), which busied itself with a then-fashionable media satire using as its milieu a middle-class French suburban family. I do think Ozon, and Dans la maison, has more to offer though, while still retaining some of his familiar themes.

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