Richard Linklater’s twelve year production was always going to be a very different viewing experience to the run of the mill coming of age story. Personally I experienced an additional level of strangeness while watching since I realised about halfway through that I am the exact same age as the protagonist. The music and culture is contemporaneous and roots Boyhood into a generation. The generation who stayed up for midnight Harry Potter releases and listened to Cobra Starship during a “rebellious” phase. I guess this made the story hit me even harder since it ends with Mason (Ellar Coltrane) going off to college, a milestone I’m just about to pass. But enough about me, onto the film.
The film really has four characters, Mason (Ellar Coltrane), his sister, Samantha (Lorelei Linklater), their mother (Patricia Arquette) and their father (Ethan Hawke). With the parents divorced Ethan Hawke and two other men make regular appearances as lovers and/or father figures. The neatly avoided trap is not to delineate the years too clearly. Instead the years slip by as if they were part of your own memories, sometimes you’re not too sure if the characters have grown, other times you see a shocking leap in style, voice and maturity. It’s odd to see the marked contrasts in the children every year while the adults seem to remain completely constant. It’s only when you see pictures of the actors at the beginning and end that the aging process becomes apparent in the older half of the cast.
There’s an interesting progression in the directing as the film continues as well. The earlier sections are less slick, a little more out of focus and less subtle than the later parts. It’s hard to tell whether the enjoyment increases due to the improvement in style and acting or due to how hugely emotionally invested you become in the characters by that point. Either way, you can feel the heartbreak deeply when Mason’s relationship, which can’t last more than twenty minutes on screen, breaks apart after two years. By the end of three hours these people seem more like old family friends rather than characters in a film. Bizarrely the exception to this is Lorelei Linklater who seems to give Samantha a more and more distant and cold air every time you see her. This characterisation works in context, since it keeps the spotlight firmly on Mason and his emotions, rather than an ensemble family drama.
Boyhood makes a bold statement about the nature of film, a respect to time and continuity that is gathering momentum and breeding a new generation of filmmakers. Linklater is a master at catching the natural, unguarded and deeply important moments of childhood.
After the wildly successful X-men First Class in 2011 Bryan Singer takes up the mantle as director of the second-largest group of Marvel heroes. The general concept of this film is that the timeline needs to be fixed in order to change the future. If anyone remembers the 2011 Star Trek you’ll know that from now on X-men has a carte blanche to rewrite the entire canon in a parallel timeline. In their defence, X-men do this a lot better than Star Trek, retaining the philosophical and moral issues at their core. However, all of that preparation you did of reading the comics and even watching the previous films is now totally useless. Also if you were a fan of the previous Wolverine films good luck to you, very good luck.
Given that there is time travelling we now have two Charles Xaviers and two Magnetos. The older pair played by Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen, the younger by James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender, reprising their previous roles. Obviously these roles couldn’t have been changed from their established actors but it somehow never becomes believable that James McAvoy grows up into Patrick Stewart and that gets rather distracting at several points. The script continues to linger on the ambiguous bond shared by Xavier, Magneto and Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) creating an emotional thrust for the film far more captivating than the need to save the world. While their older and wiser counterparts are trying to put an end to a massacre, the only weapons they have are their younger selves, filled with angst, love and sexual tension. As such most of the film serves as an experiment in just how much cathartic rage and pain can we watch in two hours? The answer: an awful lot.
Hugh Jackman has the burden of carrying the film here by connecting both timelines. The exposition nearly exclusively comes from him yet he keeps his devil-may-care characterisation, which is a difficult and delicate balance to strike, and one Jackman pulls off with surprising skill throughout. Truthfully the majority of the other characters seem like cameos in Days of Future Past making this film feel very different to the ensemble camaraderie of First Class. The cinematography is a little clumsier here than the previous film and falls back on unnecessary gimmicks and clichés a little too often especially in the big action sequences. By contrast the CGI is handled very well, almost never breaking the suspension of disbelief.
In conclusion Days of Future Past offers exactly what you’d want from an X-men film, the emotions of every character being played out on a global, political and highly destructive stage. And of course some wise warnings against social Darwinism, eugenics and vengeance for it’s own sake.
When Un Homme et Une Femme was released in 1966 Claude Lelouch was a failing, critically reviled director with only five films under his belt. After winning the palme d’or for Un Homme et Une Femme he became one of the auteurs of a generation. A startling transformation, facilitated by a startling film.
Un Homme et Une Femme tells the story of a widow and widower (Anouk Aimée and Jean-Louis Trintignant respectively) who meet by chance and end up falling in love. It’s a saccharine premise but this is undercut with Lelouch’s refusal to leave out the uncomfortable, truthful parts of dealing with love and death. The film isn’t melodramatic about these deaths, rather letting them fade into the background of the action and story. This new love takes over from the mourning period and they react to this process wildly differently. Anne is stuck in limbo between loving Jean-Louis and accepting the loss of her husband. Jean-Louis meanwhile has moved on and joyfully accepts a new love into his life. This tension seems to be played out in the colour scheme of the film. The unfulfilled, empty time between two loves is often in desaturated tones of sepia. However this seems to be applied inconsistently, as if there was once an intelligent idea that got lost in the pursuit of aesthetic.
The result of all this is a beautiful, light film, which distracts from the deeper thoughts of love and death with a jangly soundtrack and some ethereal close-ups. The aesthetic is flawless throughout, romanticised and reminiscent of the old Hollywood ideals that probably never existed. Despite her character being riddled with emotional turmoil, Aimée’s role as actress is limited to a few key lines and generally being pretty. If it weren’t for a few killer monologues Trintignant’s part would be the same. The actors just exist in this beautiful world, communicating through a few stolen glances. It’s an effective technique, but it’s easy to see how this film could have been another Lelouch flop had he not been gifted with these two actors who can bring a silent, mellow love story to life. It almost feels as if the whole film just happened by accident as Lelouch was filming things that he found pleasing to the eye.
You can’t help but enjoy Un Homme et Une Femme but it’s very hard to tell whether this greatly enjoyable ride was a work of genius or a lucky break dressed up in the clothes of an art-house success.