Les Amants du Pont Neuf – 1991

amants-du-pont-neuf-1991-22-gSet on what can be argued to be the most distinctive bridge in Paris, Leos Carax’s film captures a fleeting moment in time for all of us to consume. In 1990 Pont Neuf was dilapidated and closed for repairs. Against this backdrop, although not actually filmed on the bridge itself, we meet two people, both equally dilapidated. Michèle (Juliette Binoche) is an artist losing her eyesight and running from her marriage. Alex (Denis Lavant) is an aggressive alcoholic. The only thing these two have in common is their misfortune and their home sleeping rough on Pont Neuf.

Carax’s camera refuses to be bound to a classic narrative style. At times we are seeing the world through Michèle’s eyes. Fireworks and lights appear in painful high contrast flashes. Over-stimulating her eyes and the viewer. Later it feels like a music video, the soundtrack ramps up into cynical electro-trance tracks as the characters seem to dance. It’s an almost painterly treatment of the subject matter. There are entire sequences with no dialogue that show us more about the relationship than some films ever achieve. The camera has been utterly freed here and it creates a shockingly anti-narrative result. While the plot does move forward it seems to be just a coincidence of time passing. Les Amants du Pont Neuf is a collection of moments in a love affair, the ones that are remembered for years to come.

The central theme is one of rebuilding. We enter a world that is harsh and gritty. The hospital is less welcoming than the street here. It’s a terrible snapshot of life for the homeless of Paris. As the film progresses it starts to get better. The bridge itself is still in ruins but Alex and Michèle seem to improve, they earn some money and even manage to reintegrate into society a little. When the bridge, and everything else, is finally whole it seems impossible that they are the same people who we saw before. The camera seems to capture two completely average people, and you wonder whether they have been neutralised, normalised by the passing of time. Is that all that humans really wish to do? To regulate the actions and emotions of everyone around us, fix them all up to be more pleasing to the eye? It certainly seems to be the case in Carax’s interpretation. Whatever is not beautiful is rejected in this world, and those that can see clearly will naturally never stoop to what is less than perfect.

Carax never allows his style to become self-important. There are echoes of the old greats of cinema at all the most poignant moments, even Singing in the Rain gets an allusion. All the beauty and all the rule-breaking is informed by a knowledge of how to communicate through the lens. It makes for a deeply moving film, even when you can’t yet understand its significance or meaning.

  • Entertainment: 4/5
  • Artistic:              5/5
  • Intellectual:       4/5

Inside Llewyn Davis – 2013

llewyn avisInside Llewyn Davis sparked controversy this year when it won the Gran Prix at Cannes but was almost entirely snubbed by the Oscars. I’ve never been a huge fan of the Coen Brothers but I was very curious about such a polarising film. It always interests me when the cinema authorities can’t seem to make their minds up.

However I have to side with the Academy on this one. Inside Llewyn Davis appears to be, unapologetically, the story of a self-absorbed, untalented, selfish loser. There’s really nothing good about this character. Oscar Isaac gives a great performance and makes him as entirely unsympathetic as he is written. From the beginning to the end Llewyn is rude, presumptuous and bitter. He can’t get through a night without heckling one of his rival country music acts and has a huge victim complex when he gets beaten up for it. He’s the type of guy who loses someone else’s pet, lies about it and then shouts at them. A top class human in all respects; by about halfway through the film I was rooting for him to give up his musical career and leave for good.

The other characters aren’t hugely better, Carey Mulligan plays Jean, one half of a scrubbed up folk act that’s far more successful than Llewyn due mainly to Jean’s tight sweaters. She’s belligerent and refuses to take responsibility for her actions, even when she clearly became pregnant through her own volition. Together the two are more sour than lemon juice that went off three years ago. I’ve read that this is meant to be a “love letter to folk music”. All I can say to that is that if this is how the Coen brothers show love I sincerely hope they hate me. Their portrayal of the 1960’s folk scene is a series of ever-dingier locations filled with the most unpleasant people the world has ever known. Failure is inevitable in this world and everyone’s cynical and doomed anyway so why are they trying?

I know that I’m meant to feel sorry for Llewyn, after all he’s a struggling artist who’s best friend committed suicide, it’s just that he’s written to be such a horrible person that you can’t muster up sympathy. In fact I feel more sorry for the guy that used to have to spend time with him. This entire lack of pathos makes the film very boring. You spend all your time hoping that Llewyn will at some point have a redeeming quality or do something that doesn’t fall into the category of whining or upsetting other people. He doesn’t, and it’s an awfully long wait. By the time the final scene rolls round and Llewyn has grown so little as a character that simply repeating the opening scene is apparently an adequate ending – it feels like torture. Not only have you seen this guy be unpleasant for what feels like three hours but the Coen brothers literally rub your face in how little has happened by forcing you to sit through the same lacklustre and miserable folk performance. The production design was nice I guess.

  • Entertainment: 0/5
  • Artistic:              3/5
  • Intellectual:       1/5

 

The Grand Budapest Hotel – 2014

WEK_GrandBudapestHotel_0307Wes Anderson’s newest film is full of pastel-pink dollhouse glamour, as always. At the beginning of the film we see a girl reading a book entitled “The Grand Budapest Hotel”. We then cut, and change aspect ratios to an author, who is being told they story that would later become the book the girl is reading. Cut again and we’re even smaller on the screen and starting the primary action: The Lobby Boy’s account of the story that happened to the Concierge at The Grand Budapest Hotel. The story which would later become the events he told the writer and were made into a book that a girl is reading. Confused yet? The film cuts between these two layers, the older man’s narration and the story he’s recounting, the whole way through. It’s interesting to see the use of aspect ratio, a largely ignored cinematic affectation until recently, but it cuts off the emotional thrust of the story since it feels like we are seeing it at least third hand. It’s hard to relate to a story told from such a great distance, even when it’s set in the same location only 30 years previously.

It seems to me that the film would be more successful if it just told the original story. The story of Monsieur Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) and his inexplicably adopted protégée Zero (Tony Revolori). Both of these two give fantastic, tongue-in-cheek performances tinged with deep melancholy. Fiennes is dynamite, exuding effusive, camp wit through his very body language and Revolori matches him, grounding the characters and providing the audience with a lens. Through Zero’s eyes we see the obsessive, sycophantic M. Gustave entirely positively. Despite all his flaws we only see him as flamboyant and refined, a relic of a greater age, when elegance ruled the land.  The farcical nature of his whole world is revealed through the name of the fictional European land we find ourselves in, Dubrowka, which is, in fact, a brand of flavoured lime green vodka -A ridiculous indulgent frippery akin to the hotel at the centre of this film.

This candy-floss pink world is set against the unfortunate backdrop of war, both past and future. In a Europe still recovering from the loss of a generation it seems fitting that an old hotel finds that all its clients are dying and no new ones are appearing. In the midst of a Nazi invasion it’s natural that the luxury and decadence wouldn’t survive. None of the magic of the hotel survives, not M Gustave, not the sweet romance that Zero finds there, not even the whimsical building. War and politics strips the world of its beauty and intrigue and all that’s left is a book and an old man in a decrepit hotel. It’s very strange, Anderson went from Moonrise Kingdom, the moving-image fairytale to this, an assertion that time is fleeting and all the best things will disappear, only to be remembered in tiny 4×3 snapshots. The real world is much larger, and much more brutal, it surrounds us in widescreen making the dingy colours and indifference all the more upsetting.

Wes Anderson films have always been full of the kind of cinematography and visual wit that makes the world seem like a better place. The Grand Budapest Hotel is no exception and it’s entirely possible to find yourself giggling along with many of the scenes based purely on their whimsical, witty and perfectly calculated design. Anderson is, in his own way making the cinema into a hotel where he can create the perfect world during our stay.

  • Entertainment: 5/5
  • Artistic:             4/5
  • Intellectual:       2/5

Frozen – 2013

Frozen-image-frozen-36270007-1920-800You may remember that some time ago I was definitively outraged at the announcement of Frozen. I won’t go into detail here but if you want to know my reasons they can be found HERE.

However, given the Frozen frenzy that has taken over the world recently and the announcement that Frozen is now the highest grossing animated film of all time I figured I should give it a watch.

I was actually pleasantly surprised by Frozen. I remember watching Princess and the Frog and Tangled through half covered eyes at the cringingly awful, dumbed-down dialogue and animation. They were both so inherently unenjoyable and disappointing. Frozen, on the other hand was genuinely fun to watch. The story is interesting and the songs really carry it, the film even have the old-style musical motif that accompanies each character and here it’s used to great effect. The duets where Elsa and Anna’s melodies merge are truly beautiful moments with great writing. What’s more, the opening seems to be returning to the format of the Disney Renaissance films (Everything between The Little Mermaid in 1989 and Tarzan in 1999) which included a musical prologue of sorts, outlining the themes of the film. It’s a hopeful direction and I’m glad to see a little of the old Disney sparkle.

However, Frozen is narratively weak. Anna is our main character, she’s mildly clumsy and giggles a lot but is otherwise a totally bland female whose goal in life is to find a man. Literally. Disney tried to poke fun at the whole Disney Princess trope but absolutely, utterly failed. The assumption is that us, the audience, will cry out with joy every time someone repeats, “You can’t marry someone you just met.”, which they do repeat, many times. No one told the writers that self-referential humour doesn’t work when it’s delivered with a sledgehammer. In Addition, Anna is significantly more weak and anti-feminist than any of the princesses who “married a man they just met”. Even Snow White and Cinderella had to endure parental abuse before breaking away, defying standards, so they could live their life and eventually getting a Prince Charming as well. Anna wakes up one day and decides she wants a man, sings about it and gets one. That is the conclusion of Frozen and I fail to see how that is progressive in any way. Besides, the two men that she ends up falling for both bring along a debatably credible side plot. The merchant rivalry and magical trolls don’t really add much to the story and serve to confuse the message and narrative more than anything else. Kristoff, particularly seems to have been shoved in because they wanted Anna to get a guy, rather than actually learn that maybe there is something more valuable than marriage. She could have trekked off alone into the wilderness to fix her relationship with her sister and save Arandelle but instead she runs crying to the nearest burly male to help her. No hope of a positive message there.

The story structure of Frozen just doesn’t work. The driving force of the plot is Elsa, not Anna. Elsa is making changes and dealing with a personal struggle, Anna is just reacting to these things as she bobs along. There’s really no journey for her. At the beginning of the film she loves her sister, despite Elsa’s behaviour, and she wants a husband. By the end of the film she has not changed either of these views or learnt anything new. The character who grows in the film is Elsa. She discovers how to deal with her problems, how to let love rule her life, instead of fear, and becomes the ruler she was born to be. I think the fact that Elsa’s song ‘Let it Go’ is considered the definitive song of the film is proof that something is wrong. If the audience is in complete agreement that the best moment of the film is the song that doesn’t even include the main character there is a problem.  Elsa is strong, independent and feminist. She is a queen, a fighter but still a young girl dealing with growing up through the metaphor of her powers. Surely that is the story young girls want to hear? Not the story of being ditsy and idiotic until eventually someone much stronger and more interesting than you gets to take over?

I stand by many of the things I said in my original post. Idina Menzel does play basically the exact same character as she did in Wicked. Yet, unlike Wicked, Frozen refuses to actually focus on this clearly interesting and relatable character: The type of character that made a Broadway musical a cool thing for teenage girls to watch. It’s not an adaptation of The Snow Queen, it’s a vague allusion with some bastardisation thrown in. This is epitomised in the fact that the character they named after Hans Christian Anderson actually turns out to be pure evil. Way to respect the original work, Disney. The animation is better than I expected but there are moments where it is impossible to tell which female character is which when you can’t see their costumes. The character design is deeply flawed. The comedy aspects take the form of not one, but two anthropomorphic sidekicks, both of which are relatively unnecessary alone but certainly don’t need to both be around.

  • Entertainment: 3/5
  • Artistic:              2/5
  • Intellectual:       0/5

Paris – 2008

parisAfter deeply enjoying the Auberge Espagnole trilogy and Le Peril Jeune, I decided to branch out into the rest of Klapisch’s filmography. I had high hopes for Paris. I tend to be a sucker for films set in and inspired by the city of lights. Klapisch’s contribution to the cohort seems to fall a little flat.

Paris is a multi-strand story, pulling together stories from neighbours, relatives, acquaintances and strangers to make a coherent whole, a cohesive Parisian community if you will. The trouble is that very few of the characters are established strongly enough in the beginning. We are presented with a flurry of people all more or less the same, middle class and unhappy with their lot in life. Out of these a couple stick out as the “main” protagonists. Romain Duris plays Pierre, a Moulin rouge dancer who is now dying of a heart defect. Fabrice Lucchini is a professor grieving for his father and his own youth. Meanwhile Juliette Binoche plays an unhappy divorcee, but then has Juliette Binoche ever played someone who was in any way romantically fulfilled? Fortunately these three do end up being the characters that are focused on most closely, especially Pierre. There’s an idea that everything we see has been invented by Pierre to fill the boredom of being bedbound but it’s not filled out as an idea and it wouldn’t really change anything either way. Everyone else fades into a melee of one-scene wonders. Even the ones that do recur are so poorly defined that it’s difficult to remember which is which.

In a film that seems to want to genuinely celebrate the diversity of life in Paris having these three, relatively mundane stories as the focus with everyone else as peripheries rather unfortunately reinforces the class issues Klapisch seems to want to bring out. Conversely if these were the only stories Klapisch is interested in, why muddy the water with the other characters at all? There is ample material in these stories that is glossed over for the sake of much more forgettable characters.

Quite apart from all this, Paris is one of the most painfully cynical films I’ve seen in recent memory. The overall message seems to be one of futility. We all will die. Happiness is something we perceive in other people but no one has. Most of all, the idea that everyone you love will die or move on seems to be championed throughout the film. There are flashes of genius in how this is put together, Duris’ performance is incredibly moving throughout. His pain and nostalgia is felt implicitly by the viewer as he looks through old photo albums. It’s impossible not to sympathize with him. Yet Duris’ performance is isolated in a singularly bizarre and miserable film.

  • Entertainment: 2/5
  • Artistic:             4/5
  • Intellectual:      3/5

We Can’t Hear the Mime made a film!

This post isn’t a review. In fact this post is entirely unlike anything else I have posted before on this blog. May this serve as official warning.

As most of you will have guessed the person who writes these reviews is a film lover, in fact the person writing these reviews, me, is a filmmaker. My film is currently in the running for the Sundance London short film competition, for both the overall prize and the Community Choice Award. The Community Choice Award is determined entirely by public vote. All the voting requires is a Facebook or Twitter account. It would mean a lot to me if all of you who have read and appreciated my reviews over time could watch my film and vote. Thank you.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH AND VOTE

Waking Life – 2001

Waking.Life.2001.720p.BluRay.X264-AMIABLE-005Back in 2001 Richard Linklater, sometime between Before Sunrise and School of Rock (must say, I did not expect that on his filmography) made an animated essay about dreaming. There is really no succinct way to speak about this film.

The animation is entirely digital, overlaid onto the previously existing live action. At times it is so accurate as to be uncanny, at others it’s a blur shape and colour. Throughout the film sections of the screen move independently of each other despite logically being fixed spaces. The dreamscape is very powerful but after a while you accept it as real, it stops looking odd for things to be permanently moving. The film moves from person to person: characters, celebrities, characters in other films and even Linklater himself. In turn they share their philosophical perspectives. It’s easy to discount many of these speeches; an angry prisoner, a couple engaging in pillow talk or a group of angry teenagers seem irrelevant and stupid compared to professional philosophers and scientists. As the film wears on it becomes more apparent that every opinion is valid, the absence of jargon doesn’t make the child’s origami fortune teller or the angry rambling less significant. Every one of these people is discussing freedom, dreams and destiny in their own terms. They say very different things between them.

It seems as if every single viewer would get a different message from this film, like some kind of confirmation bias. The views you agree with stick around and further your thoughts. The questions raised vary widely: Is there life after death? Is life all a dream? Does society hold us back? Does time even exist? What is the purpose of cinema? Like all good works of art these questions don’t get answered, at least, not definitively. Most of the characters offer at least one answer or opinion but in the end it’s up to the viewer and the protagonist to think these thing on their own.

All together it feels like falling into someone’s collection of newspaper clips and meaningful quotes and trying pull the common strands of thought out of the pattern that emerges. There’s no traditional narrative, the narrative comes from you as you link the characters and their words with your thoughts and with other films and culture. The whole thing is packed full of references, many of them to other Linklater films but many more that just show glimpses of a moment that reminds you of something else. The experience will build with each new viewing and it feels as if this is a piece to be re-worked and responded to, not to be holed up and revered as a complete work.

  • Entertainment: 3/5
  • Artistic: 4/5
  • Intellectual: 5/5