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Monday, 30 September 2013

Giving the lie to Tebbit

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2013
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)


30 September

The poster for The Artist and the Model (2012) makes you hesitate - the shapely back cannot be that of Claudia Cardinale, unless it is a re-release...

The film is not, of course, about looking at Aida Folch's body (as Mercè), but about discovery, for, when we first see Marc Clos (Jean Rochefort), he is contemplating what looks like it could be a modernist maquette of a female form. He picks it up, looks at it, rejects it by throwing it down, and going on to look at a fish's head, a tree, all of which subliminally conveys the message that he will know a form when he sees it, and that it will arise organically.

Veteran actor Rochefort (The Hairdresser's Husband (1990)), at 83, has all the class to be Clos, to be believable as a man who poetically talking about creation, about woman, life, and whom we see working on sketches, painting, models with Folch as his muse - at a key moment, she is delighting in being seen, in being the spark of his energy, and cannot but smile. The film is essentially between Clos and untutored Mercè, and, in a preceding scene, he unfolds a Rembrandt sketch to her, and she begins to interpret what she first just calls 'joli[e]', and he says that she is not looking - he tells her how it was made, when, and what it means to him, and he awakens her.

Cardinale (Léa), though, discovers Mercè at the outset : having been his model, and still beautiful herself, she knows what feminine appearance in Mercè will provide Marc with good poses, and we see her learning how to adopt a pose for Marc, resume one, be a source not of sexual attraction, but of beauty.

With only hints of coloration when the film begins (and ends), it is otherwise in black and white, and this, along with a soundtrack of birdsong, the sounds of insects and leaves, heightens the attention on form, line, texture, and shape in Mercè's body. We utterly believe that Rochefort is an artist who is friends with Matisee, that he is sketching, applying clay, smoothing surfaces, as we watch, which is part of his own malleability as a cinematic artist.

Inevitably, one thinks of other films with a relation to art and to connections between the artist and others, such as Conversations with my Gardener (2007), Love Is the Devil: Study for a Portrait of Francis Bacon (1998), and Scorsese's Life Lessons from New York Stories (1989), of which Nick Nolte is most compelling with the physicality of his large canvas, and Daniel Auteuil, with his gentle and humane observations and how he shares about life, love and art, whereas Derek Jakobi (as Bacon) shows us conflict between artist and model.

None of those quite compares to this portrait of Clos, although there are similarities to Auteuil as artist, and care has been taken (with Hockney as one of the advisers) to make everything as believable and realistic as possible in an immensely beautiful film.


Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Surprise on Leith

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2013
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29 September

Yesterday's Surprise Film 1, which Tony Jones had said was a world premiere, turned out to be Sunshine on Leith (2013), the musical with songs of The Proclaimers.

No one expects great depth from musicals, I guess, but the way that the film started, with one voice in a personnel carrier, then a voice in harmony, from two young soldiers who proved to be friends and one of whom was the boyfriend of the other's sister, was evocative - understated, unexpected, it set the tone for the whole film. Many a musical weaves its course around the songs, as Ben Elton might agree, and it is not unusual that their lyrics drive the story, but these, taken from a stage version, seemed a good fit.

In Screen 2 at Festival Central, the quality of the sound was excellent, such that the clarity was there whether it was Jane Horrocks singing, or Peter Mullan, whose voice I quite liked. Mainly charting the ups and downs of the relationships between those two as a couple, and between the existing couple with their daughter, and between her friend and their son, as set up on a blind date. Strain causes travel for one couple when they split up, and the past catches up nastily until differences can be reconciled.

In a blaze of onlookers willing the remaining pair not to be stubborn and back into each other's arms, and then symbolically re-enacting the 500-miles song with a ranks of them moving in formation, the situations and the music that establishes them culminate, having built throughout the film, whether mocking up a proposal and marriage ceremony in the pub, or bemoaning the fate of Mary, Queen of Scots, as a type of female ambassador in one of Edinburgh's galleries.

I am no great fan of musicals, by and large, but this one did it for me : it felt right, it cheered without being sentimental, and it faced up to some of the things that come between those whom we love and us.




Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Saturday, 28 September 2013

It left me cold !

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2013
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29 September 2013

* Contains spoilers *

Definitely the word film that I have seen screened at this year's Festival was Cold, a film from Turkey that was, frankly, a turkey, and which, although it could have been filmed in the same snow-laden river-sited city as Kosmos*, one of my top three from the Festival in 2011, it in no way occupied the same space.



So what am I getting at ? Well, the title-characters of Chekhov's Three Sisters - one of whom is the very striking Valeria Skorokhodova as Balabey's desire - have taken their parlous state to heart, and found that prostitution in Turkey may pay for their future.

Said Balabey is a person at whom the audience was early laughing, although the mention of taking his pills should have alerted them to the fact that he has not only either some sort of social phobia or related learning difficulty, but also a mental-health condition (we also know that he has been in hospital) - they were laughing at him outright, not partly with him, partly despite him, as in the film of Dostoyevksy's The Idiot at last year's Festival.

Balabey has much in common with (Prince) Mishkin, not least lack of self-awareness and self-confidence, and a huge streak of self-destructiveness. Thinking that a woman paid to sleep with him reciprocates his feelings for her is an insight that only we have, and it, just as woman, whether he actually does ever sleep with him (rather than talking about prayer, her beauty, and trying to slope off when she is in the shower), is only sure near the end. Even the man, referred to as some sort of chief, we arranges and pays for the first liaison is laughing at his expense.

It seems common knowledge that the place that we are shown, where patrons / diners take a table, and then one or more women are called, by name, to go to the number of that table, is merely a staging-post for the seedy hotel (wallpaper peeling off the wall, etc.), one of whose rooms we see - for some reason, Balabey and his chosen partner always end up in the same room, which I would believe was for symbolism of the room number (22 ?), except that it clearly simplified the shoot and gave a (bogus) sense of continuity of the encounters into the bargain. So far, so good with the tawdry aspects of Dostoyevsky, except that that novel actually has a sense of ambiguity about whether the Prince is risible, or a saint.

Point already made that women and sex with them are bought and sold, so hardly surprising when Balabey's sexually frustrated brother Enver both takes it out on his wife with his fists (although the erectile dysfunction appears to be his fault, not the wife's lack of flirting or sexual provocation), and has recourse to the same venue as his brother. Neat ending to Balabey's enduring attraction, such that he even dynamites a bridge** to prevent escape to Moscow via (a boyfriend in) Georgia, to have Enver and friends hire the sisters for a house-party in which another sexual failure leads to shooting into the air, demanding that the sisters have sex with each other, and one of them being brutally killed ?

As life is cheap, most of all female life, the two others are killed as witnesses, only leaving Balabey to find out and to strap Enver to the railway-line, camouflaged with snow, and for the express (has the bridge miraculously been repaired ?) to go through***. All sewn up, you could say - but only in the sense that Terry Gilliam's massive animation foot coming down and stamping on everything provides a resolution...



End-notes

* I have checked, and it was Kars again.

** As another viewer agreed, he has already said that he checks the railways-line, and that trains stop or proceed on his say-so, which means that destroying it was overkill.

*** My fellow viewer concurred that nothing tells us how this is possible, both as to getting Enver there from the side of the crude grave, and the operation of a railway service. He was still included to give the film 4 out of 5 for highlighting the domestic and other violence.




Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

A matter of Marseille

This is a Festival review of Marius (2013) and Fanny (2013)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2013
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26 September

This is a Festival review of Marius (2013) and Fanny (2013)


Daniel Auteuil has a reason or two to love Pagnol – he was in films such as Manon des Sources from the mid-1980s, but he is also from that area, Provence.

The trilogy that he is making, of which Marius and Fanny screened last weekend and César is still in production, are less bucolic, being set in Marseilles (or, as in French, Marseille, without the ‘s’), and with a veritable maritime feel, almost a whiff (with Fanny’s seafood) of the ocean, which makes for a real freshness to both location and characters.

The story in these first two parts contrasts the fun-loving liberation of the jazz and cinema age with the Roman Catholic attitude to sex (and children as the evidence) before marriage, the desire for a partner and for children with a pull to explore the world. In all of this, Auteuil’s direction is deft, composing shots and a treatment of Pagnol’s writing that always draws the viewer in, and with a careful use of music.

Previously, he worked with Jean-Pierre Darroussin in Conversations with my Gardener (2007), and the other actor is here as a man, Panisse, who acts to save a situation when César (Auteuil) has insulted him by misinterpreting his motives, despite years of friendship going back to schooldays, and initially and violently seeks to oppose what is for the best. The quartet of major players is completed by Raphaël Personnaz and Victoire Bélézy as the other two title characters, and all are so strong, working with the grist of Pagnol’s original, that the result would be thoroughly engaging were they not supported by the likes of Marie-Anne Chazel, and by the old port and the ocean that it gives onto.

César, though, is not a violent man, though he does tend to tease people beyond their limits, and, after a grumpy start, he comes alive on screen when he shows Marius how to make an aperitif with four different ‘one-thirds’ in the same glass. When Marius disappears, as he all too frequently does, and abandons the business, his father just frets over him, addressing the absent Marius rhetorically as ‘mon petit’.

The first film, Marius, teeters around what he wants, and ends with a decision, whereas Fanny (and its title character) has to address what remains – at heart, both are driven by Marius not wanting what he has, and wanting what he cannot have, the latter in such a way that he becomes totally hateful, and is transformed. In all of this, César and Panisse show what grace and love they have, even for Marius and where his desires lead him.

All in all, a fine cast working in a lovely free manner together to create this drama, which so far has run to some 210 minutes, and whose conclusion is likely to be a tour de force.




Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Who says 'avant que' (except at 'A' level) ?

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2013
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25 September 2013

That is my only question about Avant que de Tout Perdre (2013), translated as Just Before Losing Everything : why the archaic construction, when, in the film, the closest that the French dialogue gets is the simple, everyday form ?

Otherwise, its length makes sense, as does how it unfolds, the palpable tension (the suspense left me needing a Scotch), the dynamics. It, and Léa Drucker as Miriam, are excellent. It speaks for itself - watch the film !




Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

If you’re naked already, what is exposure ?

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2013
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25 September

Some of the performers in Exposed : Beyond Burlesque (2013) really seemed like artists, rather than performers. My companion at the screening and I both valued Mat Fraser and his partner Julie Atlas Muz, and we were shown several excellent excerpts from when they gave their show in Amsterdam.

If there are such things as production values, they were high in the recording of Muz and Fraser’s work, rather than shot from beneath the stage, with sometimes wild foreshortenings and indifferent lighting. Even seeing these two under the sheets together or snuggled up on the sofa felt good – they were a couple who belonged, and they had things to say and do.

This is not to denigrate the other performers, but to say that the comedy, agility and inventiveness of Julie and Mat were simply of a different order, and that the compilation of them with eight or so others, who had unequal contributions to make both as to amount and standard, only demonstrated the variety of reasons for which people employ nudity on stage.

Perhaps it was also simply that, of all those who gave explanations of what draws them to appear on stage, these two were at home with who they were – it is not to say that they did not intend to challenge or even provoke, but, when the others did so or talked about how they felt about themselves, they seemed restless, in flux, even angry, almost as if working out their needs on their audiences.

I say ‘almost as if’, but never was the ‘I slayed them to-night’ thinking more evident than in the power, rather than vulnerability, that others described gaining from becoming naked before an audience, as, for example, when one act put a stage dagger into her vagina, and used black insulation tape to wrap herself up in a bondage net.

Obviously with any person’s stage-show, he or she will know what the onlookers do not about the course – or likely course – of what they will see, but when, in another case, a drag queen feigns to cut up a volunteer from the audience in a bath, and to attach her vagina to his crotch with a staple-gun (the most extreme thing shown), one wonders for whose benefit it is on the spectrum of performance.

The same performer, with the spirit of All About My Mother (1999), had breast implants during the course of the film, but otherwise remained male - he commented, as if what he had described having experienced already were not enough, that he would get more attention, abuse and violence (or the threat of it) on the street. Yes, of course he looks how he wants, but at the same time he know at what cost...




Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Festival walk-outs

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2013
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25 September

Last night was a mistake - I had intended to see Leviathan (2012), and only realized, too late, that it was not a short prefacing it, but Roland Klick's Deadlock, which had few takers.

Not in itself indicative of anything, but it was not the film that I had wanted to watch, I didn't want to go into the other film after the beginning and catch up, and I was not engaging or in the mood to engage with a dubbed film.

This afternoon, the staginess of Absolute Beginners (1986) was the turn-off, a film that I had always thought would prove, as I had gathered, to have relatively little to say and say it with scant subtlety. The enforced cheeky jollity of a Soho on a stage-set did not chime with my mood, and Patsy Kensit dancing sexily did not persuade me that I wanted to see more of a film with an Alfie-type voiceover, but none of the charm, that I could see, of how Michael Caine plays it : compared with his world, this seemed naive when pretending to be knowing, so I walked at around 30 minutes.

And, yesterday again, the Estonian shorts - I had been compelled by Maggot Feeder (2012) and My Condolences (2013), but Olga, in her car-park, did not have that effect. Even though I knew that it was building slowly to something, coffee called, and, as I guessed, I was not back before the end. It meant that I missed the beginning of the next shown, which had in fact been intended to be The Birthday (2011), but what was shown (and this explained a lot) was Happy Birthday, an animated skits on Jesus and robots.

That's all so far...




Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Drowning the piglets

This is a Festival review of Upstream Color (2013)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2013
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25 September

This is a Festival review of Upstream Color (2013)

* Contains spoilers *


We agreed that it was well made (as, at any rate, we did about The Taste of Money (2012)), and @mob61uk assented to my assertion that Amy Seimetz was excellent (as Kris).

I then propounded that, as many a film does, it treats of mental ill-health - here, the appearance that Kris had a breakdown and lost her job is belied by seeing how she had been deliberately infected, thereby rendered incapable of independent thought, and had been manipulated to cause her to obtain multiple amounts of credit, and use the equity in her home, on the pretext that she was finding the ransom for her kidnapped mother.

The financial excess, the wild behaviour, would easily have landed her with the diagnosis of bipolar disorder and with the two chunky tubs of tablets that she puts on the table in front of Jeff when first they get to talk properly, saving them, as she puts it, 3 to 4 weeks. He does not quite understand what it might matter, what the implications might be, but does not seem put off.

One level on which the film works is a bit like that of Contagion (2011), of tracing the infection back to its root, and, thereby, of validating the experience of Kris (and others), even down to the pigs. Or The Matrix (1999) - when Neo is first captured by Agent Smith and, with the help of two other Agents, a literal, living bug is put into Neo's body, getting it out is as wrenchingly disgusting as when the deceiver makes Kris vomit. Not the only similarity, because there is feeling, when Jeff is directing Kris through the building at work to where the car is, of Cypher or others directing, say, Trinity to an exit, and of the same sense that the real feels unreal.

Back further, we have such touchstones of <i>Madness in Movies</i> as Cary Grant (as Roger Thornhill) being framed in <i>North by Northwest</i> (1959) (so everyone else seems mad, and he to them, for not believing him), likewise exploiting James Stewart's weakness as Scottie in <i>Vertigo</i> (1958), or, on the other hand, Stewart being credited by a psychiatric Ingrid Bergman in <i>Spellbound</i>, or Sean Connery (Mark Rutland) looking out the psychological basis of Marnie's (Tippi Hedren's) behaviour, because he loves and believes in her.

In Upstream Color (2013), Jeff is an Ingrid or Sean to Kris. They wear each other's identical ring, and there is more than a chemistry between them, because, through each other, they can trace the pig-farmer, and, just as he seems able to project himself into places and to observe people unseen, so Kris sees him, and looks right through him.

I think that this is really a tremendous piece of work by Shane Carruth of writing, directing, producing and starring in this provocative exploration of the nature of reality, and I can see myself hoping to watch it again very soon.




Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Sunshine and tears

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2013
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24 September

Last night, seeing a film about John Otway, I laughed more than I have in a while. To-night, in a film about a concert in tribute to Kate McGarrigle and her life and work, the tears flowed.

Taking Otway first, Rock and Roll's Greatest Failure: Otway the Movie (2013) was a very fair title - a man of great energy and sometimes financially crippling enthusiasm, he showed how it was possible to book venues such as the Royal Albert Hall and The London Palladium and make the gigs work.

Never one not to doubt his own intuition, and to try to impress a girl, he persuaded the company that had just signed him as a rising punk star to release, as his next single, an instrumental version of a song of his, played by full orchestra. At another time, when a company was reluctant about a single, he dummied up copies as if on their label, got them to the media, and thereby shamed the company into agreeing to the release, because the single had been played as if it were one of theirs.

As I said to Otway in the bar afterwards, when I briefly spoke to him, he had outclassed Warhol and Marshall McLuhan - this was the man who, through early use of the Internet and e-mail and with a willing crew of fans, galvanized them into getting a single into the Top 10 (at number 9) for his fiftieth birthday, having left it to the fan-base, as scrutinized by The Electoral Reform Society, to vote for what they wanted the single to be.

Taking the knocking comments in good heart, and even making quite a few himself, Otway showed himself, both in the film and before and afterwards, to be thoroughly entertaining. We never quite heard how we afforded the £60,000 deposit that he lost on seeking to finance a world tour by chartered jet for his fans and him, and the price-tag of £3,000 per head if all subscribed to fill it was admitted to have priced too many out of the market for the subscriptions to be any better than half, but he did not seem bothered - any more than, when asked about the Bentley that - although not a driver - he had lashed out on with his first advance, he seemed troubled that he had soon been forced to sell it.

The film was a little rough around the edges, but, again, Otway had had the vision to get it made and have his fans fill the Odeon in Leicester Square, and that suited him well. As one who knew nothing about him, I was entertained and impressed.


With Kate McGarrigle, I had grown up listening to the self-titled album that her sister Anna and she made (and had even seen the sisters once when they played at The Corn Exchange in Cambridge), and needed no persuading of her credentials. What was patent here, in Sing Me The Songs that Say I live You : A Concert for Kate McGarrigle was the love of her children (by Loudon Wainwright III), Rufus and Martha Wainwright, both strong singers, of Anna and other members of the family, and those such as Teddy Thompson, Emmylou Harris and Norah Jones, who played in the filmed concert of Kate's music that formed the basis of this film (recorded at The Town Hall in New York).

Hearing how alike to her mother's voice Martha's now is, seeing the footage that the family had shared with the film-makers, the performance of several songs from that first album, and accounts of Kate in life and near to and at death (at the age of 63) - all made an immensely emotional experience, as it did for these members of the family and their friends, but who gave of their very best in Kate's memory.

Only, perhaps, one or two songs beyond what was bearable in length, this film really did allow one to cherish what had been good and true about the song-writing and performing of this fun-loving Canadian musician, and to feel that, although one was grieving for her, it was a powerful celebration of her music and person, carefully filmed, varied, and with gorgeous sound that was worthy of all who had contributed, which sounded just wonderful in Festival Central's Screen 3 !





Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Fairytale Prince of the Forest

This is a Festival review of Prince Avalanche (2013)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2013
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24 September

This is a Festival review of Prince Avalanche (2013)

I think that I have even seen this actor, Paul Rudd, play this type of character before, quite apart from knowing what some call a trope, I a formula, of a judgemental man who is so because he believes that he always does things properly, right, coupled with a foil who is seen as sloppy, ignorant (because, in Alvin’s repeated words, Lance does not know how to tie a knot, gut a fish).

That does not matter in itself, as, of course, there is nothing really new under the sun, but it does tend to give Prince Avalanche (2013) the feel not of a film, but of an extended edition of a t.v. comedy series, unlike, say, that classic The Odd Couple (1968) : it felt harder to stay with these two and feel for what happens, where and when they are, and believe that it was not a humorous set-up, where this team of two is forever painting lines on the road as the back-drop to this week’s wacky adventures.

Not really fair to make comparison with Lemmon and Matthau, but they are so good at making things seem cinematically true (as are Newman and Cruise), whereas the genuine chemistry between Emile Hirsch (as Lance) and Rudd reaches a plateau at a lower level, short of a feature where we can invest in them : when they go wild and booze, it is clear that their antics could be funny, although I was not in the mood for them, but one did not really feel that they had broken free – or through.

It is almost par for the course that there is a tinge of a mental-health issue – Alvin has to drop into the conversation that he has some prescription medications with him (as I guess, living in proximity, the inquisitive Lance would know anyway), but is managing to do without them – but nothing much is made of it. More is in Alvin’s character-type, than in any (psychiatric or) psychological origin, and that is maybe where everything seems forced, for Lance would have seen countless programmes there is a character with an up-tight superciliousness, so common is its portrayal :

It effectively knocks the stuffing out of any confrontation or threat between Lance and Alvin that one should feel that it is familiar from past viewing, just as it does that they settle their differences over drink and agree to party at the weekend. The quirky touches (the truck-driver, the woman looking through the burnt remains, the possibly other woman in the truck) do not, whatever else they do, add to creating a sense of being isolated in a place of prior devastation, and it does not help that one spot where the road furniture is being renewed appears to recur, as if different enough to pass off as new, rather than finding locations that were distinct.

It is good that we see Alvin solitarily do his thing for the first weekend (the film takes us from the preceding week to the eve of the second weekend), and that we only ever hear narrated (extracted by cross-examination ?) what Lance did in the town – in hindsight, it stresses to us that Alvin was really pleasing himself by doing this job, rather than sending money home, because, although it is unclear where ‘home’ exactly is, he could have gone into town with Lance (and, if necessary, on from there), not just sprawled extravagantly on his hammock and the like, as if convincing himself that he likes the outdoors so much.

This film could have, in more ways than one, explored territory, and one of the best shots is saved for last, after Lance and Alvin have driven off from their base and we see other signs of life than the truck-driver : some children playing on a little corner of land, and the vehicle going past, then coming back into shot behind it. Not enough to give a message, or to cement the unlikely feeling that the two men have found very much common ground.




Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Monday, 23 September 2013

A love story ? Tough love !

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2013
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23 September

In the Q&A session after the screening of Staub auf unseren Herzen / Dust on our Hearts (2012), Stephanie Stremler (Kathi) described not only how Susanne Lothar (Chris) improvised with her and, when it came to the fight, only the cameraman was in the know, but also the film as a love story between Kathi and Chris, two women who had been left to bring up children on their own, but who had different ways about them.

I had postulated that Stremler, if one of her own parents were a therapist and tried to relate to her on the basis of being a patient, she would think it inappropriate, and asked whether she thought that Chris was trying to achieve that status all along – this is where she, although acknowledging that Chris is trying to gain control, talked of it as a love story.

If so, then a love affair that goes wrong, and seems likely, unlike what Fabian (Florian Loycke) says about his relationships, to result in severance. The flaw in it all is to believe that a mother such as this would only in the course of the short span that we see here come to impose her will on the welfare of her daughter’s child, let alone get her on the sharp side of her therapist’s desk.

Films sometimes do this – present us with a situation and / or a problem and invite us not to think whether it would have happened before, or rather pass over in silence the question of what the director and editor are choosing to show us is actually likely to be new. However, Midnight in Paris (2011), though, does not ask that of us, because it presents a totally new experience for Gil, whereas the allegedly naturalistic world of a film such as this seeks to achieve its impact by simply immersing us in interlocking lives.

Here, the impossibility of Chris as a mother cannot simply have emerged with a loud conversation on her mobile when he daughter is in the changing-room – she has always been like this, and all that is new is that her estranged partner has come back to Berlin from Cologne after many a year. He is clearly expected by Kathi, so is it really likely that the practicality of where, when he drives there (and he drives there with all of his life in the car), he will spend the night, or of telling or not telling Chris that he is back in Berlin, will have been overlooked until now ? And yet the film has Wolfgang have a meal with Kathi and Lenni with none of this resolved.

This is where a slice of life comes up against the exigency of a film, in 90 to 120 minutes (typically around the 90 mark this season), to show us an unfolding – if one had ever had a mother such as Chris, one would not simply be on an even keel of meeting / being in contact with her on a daily basis, and so the starting premise of the film is falsified. To get back to my question of Stremler – a therapist parent who tries to have a son or daughter as a client is straying so far from accepted norms as obviously to have a psychological disorder, and then we are in the realm of the paradigm ‘Shrinks are madder than those whom they purport to treat’.

I do not doubt for a minute that the film arose from the music-making and the real-life puppet theatre of Stremler and Loycke, and this level is the only one on which we can properly view the drama of this film, as of puppets in a life-or-death struggle such as in the synopsis of Stravinsky’s ballet Petrushka – if the characters are place-holders for emotions or emotional responses, then the piece can work, because we can acknowledge the artificiality of the theatre, of the depiction. We do not grieve for the policeman killed by Mr Punch because the interaction, the violence of the emotion, is stylized, divorced by being in the province of the booth.

In this film, where the origins lie, the only true human feeling is between Fabian and Kathi. Everything else is froth, and even the notion that Kathi is being moved out by him from the flat that her mother has purchased is belied by no notion that Kathi was ever living there (the last that we see of any joint endeavour to make it habitable is the painting scene), as we only ever see her in her old property, missing Lenni. Much is claimed, but only, in real terms, by insulting our intelligence.



Post-script
As I left Festival Central, I saw the film's poster again, mother and daughter as decorators so ungeschickt (if we believe that a woman who can buy a flat would not pay someone to see to the décor for her daughter) that both have a big daub of clown's red paint on their nose, and a long streak of white on the face of Chris accentuates that look.

In a way, this image both confirms and denies my thesis that the figures can only be seen tokenistically, as puppets, because it demonstrates an awareness that they have the potential just to be seen as archetypes, but nothing else suggests that we were ever asked to see their actions and natures from that viewpoint, and so maybe it does not go beyond thinking that it would make  good poster, easily forgotten.

Having written the review above, I am left feeling that I might be seen to have been too hard on the effort employed to make this film, because maybe it sins no more than many another, or because it was no great crime to have seemed to have promise. Except as to expression and choice of language, though, I do not feel that I need to offer excuses for a heartfelt opinion.


Post-post-script
Maybe we are meant to believe that it is the arrival of Wolfgang (Michael Kind), the father of Kathi, that precipitates everything : maybe Chris, despite signs to the contrary and when her hysteria that Wolfgang is around is based not on issues of domestic violence, but his having betrayed her with one of her friends, is supposed to be this way that we see with Kathi and Wolfgang purely on account of the trauma of his unexplained return from Cologne to Berlin...

I have already said why Wolfgang's arrival is problematic - unless we are meant to imagine that he loaded the car out of desperation and got out, not thinking of anywhere better to go than to his daughter. When he arrives, we have no idea who he is - an elder lover ? a friend ? - and there is nothing to suggest that him coming is anything other than expected, and that he has not been in regular contact with the person whom he is visiting (would Kathi really have concealed - been able to conceal - such contact from Chris ?).

No, I cannot think this through and make it work, which may be the flaw in improvising something that does not make sense beyond the boundaries of what is shown in screen.




Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Sunday, 22 September 2013

The Young Blackbird

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22 September

Two films shown to-night deserve treating together, although not quite in the same category : one was a feature film, Blackbird (2013), the other what was described to us (using another reviewer's words) as 'cinematic non-fiction', Only the Young (2012).

The latter made good what the former tried to do, because it had a grasp that was too insubstantial of what it was about, other than portraying a small West-Coast community (in Dumfries and Galloway, I am told) and the notion of trying to preserve what made it was both by capturing things before they fell prey to loss of memory or death, and not allowing it to be taken over by impulses that might change it for the worse. Anyone who knows and loves Scotland would have been in such places, would have recognized the people, and felt that emotional pull - anyone who does not might feel out on a limb to understand it or the social and cultural influences.

Already, then, a sort of preaching that might only work to the converted (but maybe not). In any case, we are invited to look, in part, at this place through the eyes of Ruadhan (pronounced 'Rowan'), played by Andrew Rothney, and his brother Callum.

This is where the brilliantly made Only the Young comes in : where the two friends live with whom we spend much of our time (Garrison and Kevin), there is an abandoned mini-golf course, where the restaurant served steak but which must have proved not to be the right attraction to be supported by that place, and pools and even a water-flume in a back garden that have also, if not outlived their usefulness, then not been kept up. Even at this level, the comparison is clear : Ruadhan decks out and lives in a beached vessel, whereas the boys and their friends have taken over an abandoned property as a base.

His motives are different, and his relations other, because (whether he is a relative or just an older person with songs to pass on) Alec sums up his screwed-up narcissism just right, and my experience in mental health would see him not as someone whose desire to collect oral traditions (there is nothing to suggest that he does anything with them) and make his own world is helpful even for him. Kevin, Garrison, Skye and Kristen maybe have a worldview from their Grace Baptist background to contend with (although they seemed accepting of the idea that the elders would influence their choice of loved ones, and so 'shepherd' their lives), but they are living, developing, dealing with life's problems.

Blackbird has only rather falsely, at the end, a notion of moving on, of dealing with life. I say 'falsely' for two reasons : one that I do not believe that Ruadhan can simply progress, and without intervention, in the way that we are invited to believe, when what I see suggests that what is actually going to hold him back is a not being able to let go (where Alec is spot on) that is a well-established psychological disorder, and second that, even if that were not so, the riskily transformative moment that his brother brings about is the film's emotional high point, and everything just drains away from it.

If Ruadhan were the sort to give of what is precious to him to cock a snook at the forces of change (for me, that does not quite ring true), it just becomes a barb to prick him, just as the wishes for a job when he cashes a giro on the heels of Alec's pension), when his insulting gesture is looked at as a possible bonus. With, back at the other film, Garrison and Co., we have no such sense of easy answers, and that the answer to one's head is to remove the brick wall that one is banging it against, or, rather, it from striking distance from the wall.

So, Blackbird seems to understand, and even to make accessible, someone with a very confused personality (principally via Amy as the love-interest), but then leads us on with the idea that it is purely situational. From that perspective, I wish that it had not even bothered to try to share notions of what such a person might be like, and have far more warmth for the achievements of Only the Young, not unlike those of Bombay Beach.




Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Outranking the Gosling film

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22 September

Films with the word 'money' in the title have a ring to them, as in The Color of Money (1986) - or The Taste of Money (2012), one that I would call 'stylish' if that word were not closeted in a relationship with that of 'thriller'.

This film ends - as it began - with the recirculation of money, and what takes place in-between the appearance of two brittle pieces of furniture in an otherwise solid environment, the door to a strong-room and a large receptacle, never goes far from it (in one form or another). I may be quite mistaken that they seemed so obviously stagey, but I do not think so, and I am more tentative about the notion that they are meant to mark off the intervening feature as a conscious framing-device.

However, because the household, family and staff, at the centre of this film is shown with such style, and they live, dress, drink and relax with such fine things, I shall credit it with that notion, because I quite early found myself reminded of the passionate plays of Jean Racine in a way that I did not think that I could walk with when translated to this world - it felt a bit too much like Only God Forgives (2013) again, whereas The Taste of Money turned out to redeem the merit of using universal themes (and reprises a scene where a man who cannot box challenges another to a bare-knuckle fight, but this time with so much grace and beauty in the mise-en-scène).

Not nearly in such a self-conscious, parodic, almost moronic, way as in Winding Refn's latest, this piece of real cinema echoes the chamber plays of Strindberg, the vast, bloody tragedies of Aesychlus' Oresteia, and we follow the fate of the excellently played Joo Young-Jak (Kang-woo Kim) as a thread through the story - chance has a part to play in the unfolding of events, but nothing that is taken for granted, with every detail accounted for in how what someone knew but did not reveal comes to be known as his or her failure to speak.

An initial impression made it seem as though the film were requiring too much to be believed to be happening for the first time, but, as indicated, director Sang-soo Im was taking no indulgence from his audience for granted. Without anything being forced, everything had its place.

The monetary deals at the centre of what unfolds even mirror the real-life activities of a US corporation (Google and the World Brain (2013)), with the Google Books project cavalierly (though not without the assistance of those who should have opposed, or at least questioned what it was doing before giving it) seeming to break copyright and then seek to have its actions made good in accord with the principle that it was pursuing - we hear it said in this film's script that the outline of the deal will be made, and it is for the lawyers to sort out the niceties to make it happen.

Sometimes affectionately, sometimes mockingly, called Mr Joo, we see his journey from filling cases with cash to buy the freedom of the son of his boss, and contenting himself to smell the fresh notes rather than (as licensed) to pocket some for himself, to differing relations to power and money. This is a thoughtful and powerful film, whose strong visuals live on in the mind.




Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Redemptive washing

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21 September

The Redemption of the Fish (La redempció dels peixos) (2013)* had its UK premiere at the Festival to-night. As we learnt afterwards, it was filmed on almost no budget and was really only achievable because director Jordi Torrent (who was with us for a Q&A, along with lead actor Miquel Quer) has friends in Venice, where all the filming took place : avoiding the popular locations, and unbelievably having a three-week shoot in August, it did what was needed, but with a change of wind-direction and temperature that adorned the very final scene.

The film is stunning, not just because Venice is a glorious city, but because Torrent gave it the space to breathe and be itself, without the picture-postcard mentality that others might have brought to making a film there. It does not matter whether one's view is that Venice was the actor at the heart of this film, it fed the action, and the action subsisted so naturally there. I say that, because Venice is one of my loves, but the heart of the film is how it shows contemporary relationships and communication in this centuries-old place.

Quer (Marc) has gone to Venice from Barcelona for reasons that only became apparent with time, and, as he tries to follow a man when he closes a bookshop and leaves, he loses him in the confusion that is this city (and which twice, on a first visit there, caused me to stray into the Naval Dockyards and meet men with guns). (Here, there are hints of Don't Look Now (1973).) They had last seen each other when Marc was nearly two, because Paco, the other man, is his father.

An inner core of others who are connected with Paco peoples Marc's time there, and he comes into association with them, thinking (or maybe wanting to think) that there is a meaningful link between each of them and him. One tells him to look at how The Grand Canal divides the city into two fish, one of which is trying to eat the other - he is reminded that he used to say the opposite, or that he said that the fish represent other things, but he says that the Fish of Science is gobbling up the Fish of Ethics. Beautiful shots of the water, with buildings coming in and out of flux, had prefaced all of this, and, as Venice is La Serenissima and married to the sea, it had been a delight to realize that this unattainable, unmasterable place was our setting.

Saying little more about what happens or why, the film is a cinematic joy for its acting and for how it has been made (all, we were told, with available light, and a light crew of five or six) - Paco seems not to trust Marc or his motives, and maybe we do not like the feeling that Marc is on a mission at the behest of his grandmother and reporting back to her and to his girlfriend, but we grow out of relying on one, and into what brings Marc to find his father.

This represents the present high-point this year, and I hope to make it to the repeat screening at 10.45 a.m. on Sunday 29th September (the closing day of the Festival).


End-notes

* As an English title, it feels cumbersome, because is the fish what is redeemed, or is it what carries out the redemption ? Maybe that ambiguity is fecund, but I wonder whether something else might do better :

The Fish Swallows Whole, or

Venice the Redeemer




Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)  

Bits and pieces

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21 September (Revisited, 5 August 2015)

In the introduction, we were told that this feature, Pieces of Me (Des Morceaux de Moi) (2012) said a lot in ninety minutes, but I found myself ending up quite bored with it not that I did not have sympathy with one sibling being treated worse than another, but I found the central character Erell (Adèle Exarchopoulos), even given her age (one guesses fourteen ?), irritating with her incessant videoing, and could not credit that more than one of her friends would not have told her to stop doing it long before. (Maybe it was meant to be set a few years back, but no youngster would use one of those monsters with a flip-down screen now.)

The video footage itself I found inconsistent, because some of it obviously was of a quality that matched the hardly new camera that Erell was using, and others seemed to have been shot with a decent lens and then, as if to pretend that she had taken it, degraded afterwards. If she really had not been filming her friends for long, it was remarkable how much she was allowed to put them on the spot, challenging the notion of what one would do if he did not, as he expected, die young, or another (who did actually tell her where to get off) as to why he would not kill a man, if asked to do so, given that he was willing to kill a chicken on request.

I had not been very impressed by the opening shot to self-camera, where she had envisaged her request being carried out to be cremated and then her ashes mixed well into a large bottle of vodka and drunk. A toxic drink that, perhaps, her family choked on with regularity, as she seemed to have nothing but accusations for them, and to be the tomboy when not behind the camera for her friends. As such a portrayal, it was classic, but the piece itself did not have many filmic credentials, apart from a few choice shots of flora and fauna.

I say nothing about a daughter’s feelings towards a mother with MS. Only that the former is supposed to be partly confused why the latter needs care (and, more importantly, whether she is not shamming), whereas regular trips to the hospital are not with what one understands to be a typical course for the condition cohesive with such early stages : the admission that we see seems to necessitate walking with a stick, when all that had been complained of before was fatigue. There was nothing, say, to suggest problems with motor control or balance. These things are queried from knowing what one has witnessed in others, but being open to hearing that The MS Society compliments this depiction. (Compare it with that of Martina Gedeck in Atomised (2006), who also has a degenerative condition ?)

The film is competent, but, other than much recrimination about why Sarah has been favoured over Erell, and left without any contact (such that her father had to be called to see whether he could identify a body as hers), and the associated rebelliousness of youth, it has relatively little to say : this is one of the rare occasions where watching a film on a t.v. screen would not have depreciated it at all.




Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

That's a classy address !

This is a review of Sunset Blvd. (1950)

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15 September 2013

This is a review of Sunset Blvd. (1950)

What the connotations were, in 1950, of an address in Sunset Boulevard, I do not know, but I am sure that Billy Wilder knew what his audience would think, and what specifically it signified to have one in the early ten thousands...

Both as Norma Desmond and in real life (Gloria Swanson was then the age of the former actress whom she plays), the end of what is often called The Silent Era partly caused a wane in her popularity in the 1930s. Here, though, Swanson – and Wilder with her – is capitalizing on her name, and I suspect that the photographs with which she decorates her still lavish home are from that home.

With Wilder’s amusing script, we have all the elements for us to be more knowing than William Holden, as Joe Gillis, and for the spooky Max, played delightfully by Erich von Stroheim, to put the wind up him – whether or not one believes that the corpse of Gillis is literally telling the story, or that we somehow hear what he has to say from his perspective, including narrating Desmond’s descent under the direction of Max, is neither here no there.

The strength of what we see unfold is how it is rooted in the fabric and how it brings the characters to life – as Gillis is beckoned into the palazzo, having symbolically lodged, without asking, his pride-and-joy white motor in one of its garages, his mind is already thinking of Dickens’ Miss Havisham. By contrast, the house comes alive, out of a slumber as if he is a Prince Charming to her Sleeping Beauty, and yet the lavishness of what is bestowed on him is not unlike what Pip thinks that he seeks after.

Here, the benefactress needs no guessing at, only how she could have preserved her wealth, and Gillis is no more grateful or moderate with what he is bought by her than Pip is with the attempts to make him a gentleman – in neither case does it prove what is really desired.

Whether we believe that the room over the garage becoming inoccupable is just convenient, or the house having its way with Gillis, it comes back to life with him there, and provides the means for what happens to unfold, even including Miss Desmond’s own vehicle, which Max seemingly effortlessly gets back on the road – the pool would not be there without Gillis, and Miss Desmond would not have a life outside the house without him.
In this house without locks, the doors come to resemble pairs of eyes (as Beckettt was later to play with in Film (1965), and even to ask Buster Keaton to play another serious role), and yet there are secrets, from turning, from Miss Desmond, by turning off the lights of the car when Gillis goes out in it.

What Pip turns out to want is Estella, and Gillis wants is Betty Schaefer and to work with her on a script. In Gillis’ case, he is not big enough to accept her gracious willingness to forget all that he has told her (although maybe he believes that she would not be able to do so, and that she is better off without him), but still thinks that he can give the relatively ageing star ‘the go-by’, after all that he has thrown in her face as fantasy.

The cameras and the lights show who is mistaken in thinking that she is still a star, as Gillis is forced to admit…




Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Saturday, 14 September 2013

High-class cinema comes to Childerley

This is a Festival review of Edward Scissorhands (1990)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2013
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14 September (14 April and 22 July 2015, Tweets added)

This is a Festival review of Edward Scissorhands (1990)


Agents on location, watching the cinema from afar...


The Long Barn at Childerley Hall, which (apart from yesterday, when I went on the wrong day) I had last seen when the pairing of Northumbrian piper and fiddler Kathryn Tickell and the trio The Side rocked the place, to-night had the treat of bespoke cinema, courtesy of Tony Jones, the director of Cambridge Film festival, and his dedicated team.




This was not just any projector and a screen plus sound-system in a wonderfully atmospheric space with beams, decorative chairs, an extensive bar, and even very tasteful fairy-lights - the image was sharp, beautiful, warm and magic, so that the resolution of the long-shots almost took one by surprise, and one could hear every detail of the soundtrack. I should have expected nothing less from people with these credentials, but I loved them for it.

First up, unexpected I will warrant by many, was something to preface the billed film, Edward Scissorhands (1990) - another Tim Burton number in Frankenweenie (1984). Yes, the original, not the one released in 2012.


So a proper, old-fashioned programme, but with links :

* Winona Ryder is Edward's Kim*, and is the voice of Elsa Van Hesling in the 2012 Frankenw.

* Both works deal with, address or feature the situation of the outsider who can only be loved, if at all,  by people being more than skin deep

* Who else to bring such an outsider from, or back from, another realm than Ben (Barret Oliver), a member of the Frankenstein family, and a Vincent Price at around 79, just a few years before the end of his life, and looking nothing like it ?




* Nosy neighbours, to whom young Frankenstein feels obliged to account for his behaviour, and for whom Edward's arrival in an unnecessary bright yellow automobile is an instant source of fascination, intrigue, and fear

* One in pure monochrome, the other with two almost distinct colour-worlds, one being the washed-out one of Price as The Inventor on his eminence and Johnny Depp as the named work of creation**, the other a Dogville sort of a place, but with the distinction of largely pastel colours pushed to make Tobermory look drab, with hues so garish as almost to be fluorescent


A good night's viewing, with a nice role for a much younger-looking Alan Arkin, but perhaps one for Dianne Wiest that did not leave her much room to move - what was given to, and made of, by Depp, Ryder, Shelley Duvall, and Daniel Stern.



End-notes

* Nearly put Kim in Edward, but that did not feel right...

 ** Edward (even though we are shown how) is left in an explicably parlous state - more important to impart etiquette and poetry than the opposable thumb ? - unless one remembers the origins in Der Struwwelpeter, and what such thinking gave rise to in Haneke's The White Ribbon (Das Weisse Band) (2009)




Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Friday, 13 September 2013

About time for another Curtis film ?

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13 September
(revised, in case I have been too hard on Curtis (revisions in bold) : 16 September)

It is inevitable that a film that features time travel will remind of other such films that do, such as Back to the Future (1985), Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004), or Dimensions (2011) (a truly independent production, set in Cambridge), and also invoke the likes of Lola Rennt (1998) (in English, Run Lola Run) and Sliding Doors (1998).

Those films have an internal logic, and they tend to try to keep to it. With About Time (2013), Richard Curtis is either cavalier with that logic, or just careless. A writer and director who introduces the sight-gag of a discovered off-stage band, which is not only worthy of Woody Allen, but definitely taken from one of his films (probably Bananas (1971)), shows that he does not hesitate to use something that does not chime with character or mood to get a laugh.

One can therefore use either theory to explain why the logic that Curtis chose to employ is handily overlooked (or ignored). Admittedly, some of the audience will not notice, but, with a very artificial piece of stage-machinery, one is running the risk of not undermining the others’ enjoyment, if it creaks so noisily.

Our protagonist Tim (Domnhall Gleeson) has a maybe older sister (he is 21, but her age seemed unclear) called Kit Kat (Lydia Wilson) whose life has become unnecessarily burdened, so he reckons on taking her back to when she picked up that burden. Apart from the fact that nothing has suggested that the male-only gift of doing so (by clenching one’s hands in the dark and thinking of that moment) allows passengers on one’s coat-tails, there is no obvious reason why Tim needs to take an older Kit Kat to that point : at his leisure, he could have gone back on his own, and contrived to distract her from the undesired encounter.

As it is, the first re-take is disastrous, and then the whole thing proves to have been so, because Tim’s baby has changed sex, the reason for which, relating to the chance nature of the moment of conception, Tim’s father then explains (though not, as becomes telling later, how he knows). ‘Remedying’ the change to the past that has already made is not explained, but the model of time travel that has been shown before (as when Tim regrets not giving a girl a New Year's kiss, or humorously wishes to rescue the opening night of Harry’s play) seems to have been that, when one revisited the past, what stemmed from it no longer exists, almost as if the new version of events has been recorded over it.

If that were not so, Tim would be able to pick and choose between different versions of events, and not have to shoo the extravagance of a band away when things have gone well. He would also not have to re-live the intervening time, which we see him do to seductive effect. Then again, when he goes back to just before midnight on New Year's Day, he simply returns from that moment and goes back to see his father...

So maybe Kit Kat and he would not both have had to re-live the time that had passed from New Year’s Eve, if one way of approaching this 'gift', then, may be to change a variable, and see what happens, another to do the same, but travel forward to the same point in the future in the expectation that nothing has changed.

That said, Tim tries changing several weeks' worth of dynamic between Kit Kat's friend Charlotte and him - the humour of the situation, i.e. that he still does not win her love, is allowed (and used) to gloss over the fact that going to Charlotte's room partway through her stay at his parents' house is hardly going to leave everything else unchanged.


For just seeing Tim not being natural because he knows things about Mary (Rachel McAdams), e.g. that she is a fan of Kate Moss (or even her name), that she knows that she has not told him proves how difficult that would be just for an hour or two. The time travel becomes a sort of alibi where, because one knows too much from what happened the time before, it tends to sound dodgy, like an excuse.

Yet the bigger sin against Curtis’ own logic is when Tim decides that he will have a different person do something important for him, and tries several friends in the role : for him to have done so, he would, again, have had to go right back to when he first asked the original person, and that, too, would impossibly unravel too much else, quite probably that exact baby’s conception (again).


That said, Curtis does not, after all, seem to mean us to take the time travel that literally, because the end of the film shifts into a more ‘preachy’ mode of using it reflectively, to go back over and cherish each moment / count one’s blessings, and seems to want to turn what went before more into a fable, if not downright disown it.

Indeed, Tim’s closing voice-over makes one think that a documentary about awareness has been tacked on, invoking the wisdom of some celebrated homily. (The quiet lyric of a Nick Cave song in the soundtrack even begins ‘I don’t believe in an interventionist God’.) It feels as though Curtis is using the medium of this film to try to pass on a weighty Socratic message about living a good life – and dying well – even if he may be out of his league…

With Richard Curtis, the similarities to his other films do not hide : Hugh Grant running across Notting Hill in that self-titled film is echoed here by Tim, there is a wedding and a funeral (of sorts), and we have the awkwardness of the main character, as if no Curtis leading man can be anything other than acutely and Britishly self-conscious. (The difference being that running a bookshop maybe requires less tact, discretion, charm than being a successful barrister.)

Without the self-consciousness, there would be little need for the family secret that Tim’s father (Bill Nighy) passes on to him - with it, blurting out to Mary’s parents about their sex-life would be so commonplace that Tim would ever and exhaustingly be clenching his fists to undo things. Again, to the extent that the film works through humour, the comedic effect is put before stable characters.

Thus, if one of his friends is to be believed, Tim is sexually experienced, but he behaves like a virgin, and, in the summer following his twenty-first, has a crush on Kit Kat’s friend Charlotte (Margot Robbie), calling her ‘my first love’. The friend may just be being embarrassing, but, when Tim is counting his blessings and how he has been served that day, the price of his sandwich order rises from around £4.40 (when he is in a rush) to some £6.20 (stopping to appreciate the woman’s smile), and there have been other reasons already to doubt this scripting.

However, unless you credit that counsel at the Criminal Bar are just like actors and can throw themselves into their brief (we also see Tim with modest quantities of paperwork, and never working into the night to master his brief), Tim has hardly the best foundation for good court advocacy, to the extent that it requires some thinking on one’s feet. (Quite apart from the fact that, at Tim’s age, he would at best be newly called to The Bar, if not in pupillage.)

Talking, for a moment, of Tim’s parents, one must feel sorry for the role that Lindsay Duncan is given of a tea-making, picnicking mother who is somewhat gauchely forthright, for, although Tim clearly takes much of his character from her, a highly urbane Nighy is given a much more fleshed-out part, and steals – or comes close to stealing – the important scenes between Gleeson and him.

The cast is good, and gives of its best, with McAdams, Gleeson, Robbie and Joshua McGuire (as Rory) standing out, but ‘the depth’ of the writing does let them down : Nighy is the only one who feels rounded, whereas Gleeson’s utterances too often make one just cringe, and enough others are stock (Curtis) characters.

Tim’s mother has been mentioned, but there is also the uncle (nicely played, though, by Richard Cordery), the playwright Harry (likewise Tom Hollander), the clumsy friend Jay (with no stereotypical suggestion, one can be sure, of inbreeding)… Tim goes back in time just to be with his father, who is reading Dickens, and Nighy reads a passage to Gleeson.

Maybe an attempt at Dickens with time travel is a bit, overall, what About Time feels like – no disrespect to the novelist !




Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)