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After the death by drowning of a small time homosexual restaurateur by
the name of Stuart (David Coffey), three sets of lives are changed and
altered: not only by the death itself, but by each others reactions and
counter-reactions to the tragedy.
Anyone who has put on their "reading glasses" and watched any worthwhile number of European cinema will have been confronted by films about "small people" who lives seem petty and insignificant in the telling (or even in the retelling to others): but reflect more about you and your life than the complete cannon of Bruce Willis. This is another example.
Lawless Heart (an over-the-top and misleading title) takes on a very simple story of loss, passing and the small amount of attached inheritance money. Nevertheless, it has to be borne in mind that the cash would mean a lot to the people who would receive it. There is also the vexed question of "natural justice." Something I don't want to flesh-out further in this review.
Maybe to try and distance itself from quality television, the film uses separate point-of-view flashbacks and although it might sound complicated and tricky in-the-telling, it is not too difficult a concept in-the-watching.
(Once you catch on to the technique that is. It left me a little confused for a while.)
While I enjoyed this film enormously, I must start with a string of petty irritations and focus bringers. The first being that there is really nothing new on the menu (no restaurant pun intended), the French have been doing this type of thing for years without the rest of the world really noticing.
(Those that enjoyed this film and want "more of the same" might like to start with the 1983 "Pauline à la plage." Not the same story - far from it - but the same basic approach and small home truths.)
Equally a list of well known emotion wranglers have been blended in to try and soft soap the potential audience: The use of emotive music (Adrian Johnston), 8 mm home movies and time-lapse photography has all been done before; although this film shows some imagination even in borrowing!
The movie deals with a homosexual relationship in a welcome manner. It is no more abnormal than anyone else's relationship, although that doesn't mean that everyone approves or wishes things weren't different.
Equally it never presents anything as the-end-of-the-world. People may - or may not - come in to the small amount of money we have already mentioned, but we are sure they will all survive whichever way the cookie crumbles.
Small town life is well captured, although with any ensemble piece you have your favourites. It doesn't really present women in any great light with the dorkish Charlie (Sukie Smith) providing some comic relief as the slightly out-of-it party girl who cannot - after a hard days night - even remember where she lives!
Thankfully no one is that smooth an operator and the various "rejecting women" probably have a certain amount of good taste. Layabout Tim (Douglas Henshall) is actually fascinating as we take an instant dislike to him and his leeching ways, but we slowly warm to him as the picture goes on - even if he shows no appetite for having a regular job or living anything other than a self-centred life.
Trust me I am not a sucker for sentimentality or bland emoting. Someone crying or in grief doesn't prompt me - automatically - to feel the same way, and there are plenty of characters here that could do with a good shake if not a soft kick up the backside.
In most ways Lawless Heart is a "soft sell" movie: It doesn't want to sell you anything unless you want to be a buyer of it: People live, people die, people fall in love, people fall out of love, people are mismatched in love. Occasionally people even come to terms with the limits of others.
Good work all round from the actors, producers and musicians. Without a fortune to spend I was quietly moved, even though I was trying hard not to be.
This movie tells the same story from the viewpoint of three different
people. The stories are presented in sequence and cover the same time
span - the three characters are together in the first scene as well as
several days later in the final scene. The event that brings them
together in the first scene is the funeral reception for a man who was
the brother-in-law of Dan (Bill Nighy), the lover of Nick (Tom
Hollander), and the cousin and friend of Tim (Douglas Henshall). The
plot structure is clever and works well. One of the challenges in
telling a story in this manner that is effectively dealt with is to
strike a balance in how much the characters interact - too little and
the movie becomes three separate stories; too much and all the
characters, as well as the viewers, know the whole story and there are
no surprises. This plot structure is distinctly different from those of
"Rashomon," where each character relates the same story with personal
embellishments, or "Pulp Fiction," where the stories are only loosely
intersecting and the time sequencing is not linear, or movies like
"Lantana," which effectively utilizes flashbacks and interactions in
real time among an ensemble of unrelated characters.
With each succeeding scene in each story we fill in pieces of the puzzle. The curious way people behave in one story is understood in a later story. For example, when Tim throws a party and invites a woman with whom he has just been enamored, she shows up only to hide behind a wall and ultimately escape the party by climbing over a fence. Tim is hard pressed to interpret this peculiar behavior and Dan, who witnesses the escape from outside the house, is mystified. How odd we think, but later we learn that a recent ex-lover of hers is there and she does not want an encounter with him.
We are made to think about how each of us sees only a small piece of the big picture. Each personal human encounter is the intersection of two worlds, the complex histories of which are fully known only by the individuals. People behave in ways that we find difficult to comprehend, but, in almost all situations, if we were to know the personal motivations and the full story, all would be understood.
To a great extent, the dialog carries the movie. When Dan is approached by an interested woman, Corrine, at the funeral reception and she asks him if he is depressed, he says, "How would I know?"
While the movie hangs together on first viewing, I found a second viewing to be rewarding. You pick up on a lot of things that would easily be missed on first viewing, like when Corrine invites Dan to dinner while checking out at the grocery store the cashier is a woman with whom Nick becomes involved.
The acting is polished and the multitude of songs on the soundtrack seem to have been chosen with care and they augment the story. It was uncharitable not to credit the Schubert piano trio that so effectively set the mood at the beginning and the end (Trio in E flat, Op. 100 D.929).
Altogether an engaging and skillful piece of film-making.
This was probably the finest film I saw last year. From its first scene,
with the ever-so-English Bill Nighy, it was funny, sad and
in equal measures. Nighy's turn as the confused, homophobic but
Dan was strong, and fully engaged our sympathies, but was trumped when we
rewound and saw the same events as Nick (Tom Hollander). Hollander has a
marvellous ability to show endless longing in a single eye movement - he's
remarkable actor and once again gave us a fully empathetic character.
Smith, the opposite of his character, was clumsy but lovable as Charlie,
that segment felt almost self-contained.
When we rewound again to see Tim's viewpoint, I was a little disappointed. Tim had proved a horrible, selfish character, and I didn't fancy "being" him for any length of time. But Doug Henshall blew my mind in a performance that completely changed my view of his character and led to a moving and satisfying resolution.
In each of these men we are offered a different aspect of the Everyman. We learn that no-one is as they appear. Other laudable aspects are the uniformly strong supporting cast, the beautiful photography and music, but above all the little details. For example, Tim spooning sugar off the floor was genius. And in the restaurant when he makes a ring for Leah out of wire. And then the ashtray catches fire. Also, spot Corrine's dinner party in the background as Dan drives past. Look out for as many of these as possible! This is a film in which every detail is thought through, and it contributes for a cinematically enriching experience. SEE IT.
This is the kind of British film that they no longer make - a film that takes its time to reveal very real and complex characters and emotions. It is impossible to watch the film and not see aspects of your own life and relationships refracted through its characters. It's a film that leaves you feeling rewarded, stimulated and ultimately happy. British cinema deservedly has a poor reputation these days and the Film Council seems hell bent on funding films that it believes are going to be instant and obvious hits, rather than in investing in quality writing. Lawless Heart is where the future lies - a low budget film with big ideas.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Lawless Heart" is among other things a skillful compromise between gay and
straight stories. It may grow out of the reasonable presumption that gay
men understand emotion better than most straights do, and that a movie that
approaches general emotional experience with a gay perspective may have a
more intelligent heart. "Lawless"? Well, that's because as the French say,
"The heart has its reasons that the reason does not know." This small
English film has met with almost universal acclaim. The only quibbles come
from the tripartite narrative structure. The unity of the action and
characters hinges on its all happening in a small seacoast town in Essex
where everyone runs into each other at shops and parties.
We begin at a post-funeral reception where Dan (Bill Nighy) is being chatted up by a French woman named Corinne (Clémentine Célarié). He seems to want to avoid revealing anything, starting with his relation to the deceased, but in a moment somehow there's a flirtation going on. The exchange is a witty exploration of the abstract possibilities of spontaneous talk among strangers. One wishes there were more such conversations, but if most of the dialogue that follows is more ponderous, perhaps it has to be, because "Lawless Heart" contains a lot of narrative development. Every character has a story that intertwines with others and people are looking for love in All the Wrong Places as well as grappling with some of Life's Deeper Issues.
At the center is the aforementioned Dan, whose wife Judy (Ellie Haddington) was the deceased Stuart's sister. Then there's Nick (Tom Hollander), Stuart's bereaved lover and partner in his successful restaurant business. Here there's a serious financial issue: since Stuart left no will, Judy and Dan are in line for Stuart's money, but Nick needs it more, and Judy recognizes this. But Judy and Dan, who run a small farm, need it too, and Dan thinks gay men are all promiscuous and that, therefore, there was no binding tie between Nick and Stuart obliging them to help Nick.
The time frame of the first story told about Dan, who in the days following the funeral uneasily resists the temptation of a fling with Corinne, is repeated next for Nick, going back to the starting point at the funeral. We learn of a wild party given -- oddly -- just after the funeral at Nick and Stuart's house, and a girl named Charlie (Sukie Smith) who sleeps in Nick's bed, and later -- surprisingly -- becomes not only his companion and comforter but also his partner for a moment of intense and furtive sex.
Then a wild card enters, as we go back to the funeral and see the events through the eyes of a third man, Tim (Douglas Henshall), son of another farmer, a fun loving wastrel who's been away for eight years with barely a word. He's homeless and penniless and leaves a trail of mess, but his bad behavior masks a heart of gold. Tim tries to hitch up with an old girlfriend, Leah (Josephine Butler), whom he meets at the dress shop where she works. He's arranged to stay at Nick's, and throws the party there to impress Leah. What follows she sees only as a fling, because she truly loves Tim's brother by adoption, David (Stuart Laing), whose earlier affair with Leah has ended his own marriage.
It's not as messy or complicated to follow all this as it may sound. The structure allows us to pick out the threads easily by focusing on only one man -- first Dan, then Nick, then Tim -- at a time, as the other people's lives flow in and out of their three separate but overlapping stories.
After these tales, which all begin at the wake, have been told, the three men are all together with Judy at Dan and Judy's farm to watch a film of the dead Stuart. Resolution comes in the form of settling the deceased Stuart's money on Nick after all. Tim has done two good deeds: he has yielded Leah to his adopted brother, and he has urged Judy and Dan to give Stuart's money to Nick. But this doesn't absolve Tim of his essential sleaziness: he uses this fact to hit Nick up for two thousand pounds to get in on a new bar being opened in London, and perhaps pay back what he owes to his father from a failed previous venture.
There is other sleaziness: Charlie is rather sluttish, and her boyfriend tries to steal Nick's leather jacket and Stuart's fancy corkscrew at the party Tim has had the effrontery to give at Nick and Stuart's house. Sex is represented here as nothing but heads bobbing up and down and bums jerking in and out: it's all in a rush and not pretty. Though some English viewers think this film rather French, to an American viewer its blunt understatement, wry humor, and persistent mild pessimism are quintessentially English and are the chief sources of its special charm.
The weakness of "Lawless Heart's" tripartite structure is that it's not being used to get at some hidden mystery, as is the case in Kurosawa's classic "Rashomon." We're just seeing recent events from three perspectives, and the only resolution is that Nick receives Stuart's money and can move back to London from whence he came. When the speeded up photography of the shoreline reappears to herald another version of the same few days one gets a slight sinking feeling rather than the sense of excitement at coming revelation that new segments of "Rashomon" or the finale of "Ikiru" evoke.
But in the end one is won over because as the movie unreels, the stories are developed with astonishing sympathy and clarity. There's some of the sense of compromise and rueful intelligence about matters of the heart that John Schlesinger's 1971 "Sunday, Bloody Sunday" has -- if without that film's elegance and glossy style. This is a modest production, but through English understatement a great deal more is said with no hint of pretension than an American film about such topics might manage to convey. The precepts advanced -- love comes in surprising places, compromises can be noble, bad chaps can do good deeds -- are all embedded in action with an admirable fluidity. The fine ensemble acting that's long been a hallmark of English filmmaking is triumphantly present here. Hernshall may seem annoying as Nick, but his sensitivities are well revealed as his segment progresses. Nighy, though less seen and, when seen, in a role relatively static, is a marvel of believability and tight lipped revelation as the older man, Dan; and Tom Hollander is wonderfully pained and kind and grownup as the bereaved Nick.
High-class soap, well
written, well acted, very well crafted; dense with detail and the past; and
even, in parts,
tangentially related to real life. More than the story itself, it's its
telling that holds
Three lives intersect at the funeral on the Isle of Man of a drowned 38 year-old gay restaurateur. Three stories unfold, separate but, of course, intermeshed: Number 1: The middle-aged husband (Bill Nighy) of the sister of the dead man, a gentleman farmer of limited means, is tempted to have an affair with a French florist he meets at the funeral. No. 2: The grieving gay lover (Tom Hollander) of the recently departed strikes up a relationship with a knockabout checkout clerk, a bosomy woman (Sukie Smith) he finds unconscious in his bed after a party at his house. No. 3: A roustabout black sheep (Douglas Henshall) returns after 8 years absence to fall in love, find himself, and get his life in order. What to do with the dead man's money gets bounced around like a ball till the end, where all's well that ends well. And, yes, of course, there's a fair amount of knocking boots, even a "French twist" gratuitously proffered in the front seat of a car.
The whole is larger than the sum of its parts. The independent stories, the 3 lives, are deftly linked, overlaid and interwoven, by the smallest of details, a scarf, a bottle opener, keeping you going "Aha, so that's how that fits in," achieving a light-as-air sense of simultaneity, just a hint of destiny.
All in all, very professional, witty, not too serious or heavy, like a snack of fine wine and cheese. The "Lawless" of the title, however, is a bit pretentious; there's nary an outlaw in sight ("they're lawless like jaywalking is lawless"--San Francisco Chronicle). These are times of stasis; this movie ably subsumes, embellishes that stasis, moving just enough, not too much, in it--an 18th century contentment, not elation.
I'd been waiting for ages to see this film, ever since I read about the making of it in January 2001. It's been a long wait since the London premier in November to it's recent general release. However it was well worth the wait. I liked the way that the film told the story from three different points of view. It was interesting how sometimes when you thought there were only two people in the scene first time,eventually you saw there were actually three or four. I was moved by Tom Hollander's performance as Nick trying to come to terms with his grief. I laughed and cried with Tim, A brilliant performance by Douglas Henshall. My only criticism of the film was Tim's parents. We only see them in a few scenes, but neither of them is like him. You would expect at least one of them to enjoy a 'right old knees up', or you would expect them to be kind salt of the earth types, instead they are portrayed as cold and indifferent. A lot of film critics have described Tom as the returning prodigal son, if he had been then his parents would have had the party for him, he wouldn't have had to organize his own. That aside I loved all of the other characters and the way they were portrayed. I don't think that anyone who has lost a friend or loved one could fail to be moved by the final scene. On the whole this is a wonderful British film.
A thoughtful, eloquent and compelling story of smalltown people wrestling with big time problems. This is a truly engaging movie - somehow realist and magical at the same time, that shows that British films don't have to feature Hugh Grant or crass cockney stereotypes. The dialogue is sharp, the acting competent if a little measured at times and you find yourself caring about how things will turn out even for characters you don't actually like that much.. I'm a friend of one of the directors in case anyone shouts bias, but I genuinely liked this movie and I'd recommend giving it a try.
Sensitive, atmospheric piece, which feels very French (Rohmer an obvious influence) in its treatment of life, love and loss. Beautifully shot and acted. It's a quibble, but I wish that one of three stories could have been told from the point of view of one of the three principal women. I guess the male directors/writers might have felt unsure about it, or maybe it never even occured to them to try it. Whatever the reason, the result seems to me that the women are more enigmatic than the men, less developed, more like figures than characters. Having said that, it's an excellent work, well worth seeing.
Of all the films I watched at the London Film Festival, this one stood out
head and shoulders above the rest. Bill Nighy's opening performance had me
mesmerised for the first twenty minutes, and the film maintained these
The cinematography is superb, as are all of the performances from a very skilled and believable cast. The intertwined storylines reminded me of Kieslowski's Three Colours Trilogy, where everything comes together right at the end.
So much for the poor state of the British film industry, watch this and have your faith restored - a wonderful film in every aspect!
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