Change Your Image
Upload An Image
Crop And Save
Style over susbstance -
Nicholas Winding Refn's Drive stars Ryan Gossling as the nameless protagonist (much the same conceit as Ryan O'Neals nameless driver in Walter Hill's The Driver (1976). Critics have fawned over what could be described oxymoronically as an art-house movie; and Refn even received the prestigious director's award at this year's Cannes (nothing to do with Von Trier being persona non grata, of course). All in all, I was expecting a masterpiece. Instead, I was left with a limp, lifeless and boringly self-conscious menage of cinematic motifs, borrowed heavily from Tarantino, Lynch and Walter Hill. The result is an uninspired, embarrassing mess of a movie. It doesn't deserve to be seen in the same league as the infinitely superior Mulholland Drive and Lost Highway, which Refn has plundered for purely aesthetic gains and nothing else. He even had the temerity to use Lynch's ex-musical partner, Angelo Badalamentti, who uses his typically Lynchian sounds to little effect. Intringuingly, at one stage, even Lynch's music from Inland Empire seems to have been deliberately mimicked as some kind of in-joke on Badalamentti's behalf (or perhaps an ironic riposte for not being chosen by Lynch to provide the Inland Empire OST). While Lynch offers abstraction and depth, Drive is all surface gloss and bokeh there is no mystery to behold or engage the viewer; just the bland, vacuous features of Gossling, who is a blank canvas and nothing else. Critics have predictably lapped up its style and gratuitous violence as heralding a new talent, much like they fawned over Tarantino a decade ago. Take away the violence and uninspiring story, and what's left is nothing. Drive is ultimately all style and no substance. Avoid.
La belle personne (2008)
Back on Form
Christopher Honoré's La belle personne is a compelling curiosity; transposing the courtly world of Madame de La Fayette's classic 17th century story, La Princess de Cleves to a modern-day French lyceé (with its own courtyard), the film is a compelling observation of "courtly" love in a postmodern world; although it would be convincing to argue La belle personne is not very modern in its presentation of present-day bourgeoise Parisian etudiants. This is a world that exists in its own hermetically-sealed bubble, free from Facebook and the internet. It's a world where 60s navel-gazing reigns supreme.
The film follows the tribulations love brings, or perhaps more realistically, the tribulations of what one perceives as 'love', even if it's unconsummated. The title alludes to 17-year-old Junie (Léa Seydoux), whose aura and presence recalls a ghostly incarnation of Godard's muse Anna Karina (Perhaps a self-conscious homage to Godard by the FEMIS-teaching Honoré?). Following the death of her mother, Junie refuses to live with her father (for unknown reasons), choosing instead to live with her cousin, Mathias, in a haute-bourgeoisie Parisian arrondisement close to the school she and Mathias attend. ' Soon enough Junie becomes the default objet d'amour for the male etudiants, namely love-sick Otto (Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet) at first.
However, she soon troubles the cad-in-school Italian teacher, Nemours (the lanky yet ever-foppish Louis Garrel) with her otherworldly presence, prompting him to quickly end two amorous entanglements with a middle-aged fellow teacher and a stubborn 16-year-old female student. However, as one would expect fron the source material, tragedy foreshadows this story but it does not detract from this near-perfect made-for-TV drama.
Every performance is realistic and natural. Special kudos to Garrel and Sedoyx for their work here. Honore follows the mis-step that was Chansons D'amour with this elegant, masterfully composed concoction; even if you could argue La belle personne seems to be an inverse reworking of Chansons. With the ensemble of regulars (Garrel, Hesme, Mastroianni, Leprine-Ringuet etc), traversing both films, La belle personne perversely feels like a sequel somehow taking place in a parallel world to Chansons. In spite of some questionable if strained directorial nods to the Nouvelle Vague (mentioning them would spoil the end), Honoré shows restraint and an uncharacteristic sense of detachment. The way he directs Seydoux is a revelation. Her ghostly presence haunts the film in every aspect and should be noted as a performance of great integrity and resolve from this promising actress. As a modern-day exploration of courtly love, La belle personne, is worth seeing numerous times to catch the many subtleties it withholds on first viewing.
Le fil (2009)
Promises much but delivers little
Le Fil(aka The String) promises much but delivers little. This directorial debut by Mehdi Ben Attia is confused by what it wants to be. Starting as a commentary on quasi-French colonialism vis a vis Tunisian servitude, Le Fil then dabbles unsuccessfully in a range of conflicting cinematic genres from melodrama to thriller to comedy. It seems to favour melodrama but masters none. Ultimately, the film wants to satisfy every genre but ends up a dissatisfying mess. The editing also feels rushed as if the film has to be under 90 minutes. There is not much of a plot to drive the narrative. What starts of as a restrained gay version of Mommie Dearest soon becomes something altogether different.
Claudia Cardinale is maniacal enough to maintain her bitchiness as the archetypal overbearing mother, whose closeted French-Arab architect son, Hakim returns home to live with her in Tunusia. Soon enough conflicts arise between both, and the Oedipal attachment is soon erupted by the son's longing for the Tunusian handyman, Bilal. The son is torn between his mother's approval and his desire to live as a gay man in Tunisia. The fact that he could easily have moved back to France with his handyman is not even mentioned. Instead we are treated to a dubious moral fable about the importance of family the ties that bind can imprison us, but they also liberate us at a price: the façade of social conformity.
I also found the conceit of the string, real and imagined, was rather crude. As a symbol of the umbilical cord it might have a Freudian significance, but it felt clumsily realised and out of touch with the film's penchant for realism. The film feels like a reflection of many gay men's reality by saying that gay men must compromise their lives to live in a heterosexist world. In spite of the happy ending that reaffirms the conservative values of family, Le Fil climaxes as a depressing tale for gay men who want to be free of the strictures of family life.
Is this what French cinema has become?
This Gallic, Altman-lite, picture-postcard film might as well have been produced by the Paris Tourist Office. What we get is too many stories about the multiplicity of life in Paris. The film could easily have lasted another 30 minutes to sustain the stories it created and discarded, but after all, this is 'tranche de vie".
All the clichés are here - the ugly professor who falls for the beautiful girl, whose beauty is only skin deep. Yawn. How many French films have dealt with this cliché? Romain Duris' tragic story seems to be a direct lift from Francois Ozon's superior 'Les Temps Qui Reste'but lacks that film's depth of character. Duris, ultimately, is a poorly conceived protagonist, who, ludicrously seems to be straight, even though all the signs suggest otherwise. Yet again, a mainstream French film has shied away from portraying gay characters.
The other inter weaved stories are varied but dull, most concentrating on the disaffected bonhomie of the French bourgeoisie. The stories about the market traders seem inconsequential and piddling almost as if the director bowed to tokenism.
All in all, major disappointment and a further concession to Hollywood values.
O Fantasma (2000)
The heat is a lonely hunter
Set in the nocturnal, mundane world of Lisboan rubbish-collectors, this troubling and unforgettable study of erotomania leaves a lingering sense of mystery an confusion. The mystery is sustained by the nocturnal wanderings of the protagonist, Sergio, whose erotomania the film charts in a stylised and disturbing way.
The film never tells us what is fantasy or reality - the ever-present darkness envelopes every desire as Sergio hunts for sexual thrills and the unobtainable object of desire, which in this instance, is a handsome swimmer, oblivious to Segio's ways. And this state if unrequited love/desire triggers a downward spiral in Sergio, and is symptomatic of his enveloping erotomania.
Structurally, there is little story or plot. The film's sense of time is also slippery and non-linear. There are hints that the start is the actual end - so is what is seen in between a mixture of fantasy or reality or neither? Such questions remain unresolved in this provocative and atmospheric study of homosexual desire and alienation. Best seen at night.....
Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
Slumdog is seriously overrated
Now the Oscar dust has settled, what remains of Slumdog Millionaire? Nothing much. Slumdog was a victim of its own buzz and the hype that surrounded it was, naturally, unsustainable. Watching the film on DVD, I was aware of its severe limitations as a cinematic experience. Originally intended for a DVD/TV crossover, the film very much belongs to that genre. The biggest problem of the film is its adult protagonist played by Dev Patel. For UK viewers, he is best known as one of the ex-cast members of the overrated teen drama Skins, and it's this TV baggage he brings to Slumdog. Furthermore, he is not the charismatic hero of Bollywood film but very average looking and limited in his acting talents. His co-star Freida Pinto as the adult Latika doesn't have to do much except look beautiful, and she does that very well. Embarrassingly, both are upstaged by the trio of child actors who bring a daring self-effacement to their roles. Is is they who bring a haunting authenticity to the film, being slumdog children themselves; and it's this blurring of roles and reality that is so intriguing.
Why is it overrated? The film's central conceit of the Millionaire quiz and flashbacks is clever at the start but soon loses its effect. Director Danny Boyle is confused about where to reveal the origin of the answer sometimes it's revealed after the question is asked; other times it's revealed before. There's an inconsistency about the flow of this narrative strategy and often I found myself guessing the outcome before it came and I don't want to be in this situation in a film.
The film's dynamic flow staggers midway and the linear narrative takes hold. What we get is a run-of-the mill Bollywood romance that seems too Hollywood for its own sake. The final scenes are desperately out of place in the film and seem insulting to the audience following many harrowing scenes. To say the film's ending is badly handled is an understatement. Boyle seems to have been confused about how to end the film, so what we get is an abrupt cutaway to the protagonist Jamal, sitting like a beggar in the station despite being the most famous TV star in Mumbai. Just didn't ring true. The Bollywood credits further reinforces the trivial tone. No wonder it won so many Oscars!
Eden Lake (2008)
Duff Chav horror
This is possibly one of the worst films ever made in Britain. Not only is it morally repugnant and predictable in its misguided tendencies to glorify evil, but it's also badly written.
There are too many plot holes to mention, but amongst many farcical scenes is when the protagonist somehow managed to jump on top of a disused cabin to hide from the Chav louts (Is she the bionic woman?). Such scenes border on farce and comedy.
The couple had every chance to leave the lake, and anyone in their right mind would have left but this is surely because this film has no hold on reality or truthfulness.
The couple are badly drawn and their descent into murderous behaviour is, yawn, a wet liberalist take on subversive middle-classes being just as bad as the vile working class. The film has issues with its location. although Eden Lake is supposed to be in the midlands, each chav has a different accent, and the parents' accents are Northern, more Yorkshire than Midlands. These annoyances are part of the wider failure of the film to retain consistency and validity. The chav ringleader has a Bristolian accent while his parents have a Northern one. Totally ridiculous! A better ending would have seen the woman charged with murder and the other chavs getting away Scot free - this is how things happen in sweet England, not the shoddy horror nonsense that engulfs this genre.
All in all, this film will infuriate anyone who cannot suspend disbelief when watching this tripe. Truly awful. The kind of film that many deluded film critics would praise for being worthy and socially relevant, but that is at the expense of a badly conceived story. Avoid like the plague.
Modern-day vampire story lacks bite
An insufferable female protagonist and a beguiling yet empty male romantic lead make up this ill-judged teen Vampire flick that lacks bite. Helmer Catherine Hardwicke has fashioned a modern-day Vampire allegory crudely linking burning heterosexual sexual desire to vampirism. This conceit is trite and dated and also surprisingly simplistic. The notion that its two romantic leads are just looking for love in spite of the vampiric element is crudely realised and formulaic and is no different than Romeo and Juliet - yawn.
Perhaps stiffled by the novel's limitations, Twilight fails to reinvigorate the Vampire genre and might as well have been released in 1987 given its rural setting and distinct lack of style. By their nature, Vampires reject any notion of sexual desire as mere impediment to their desire to extract blood from humans, but this point escapes Hardwicke's naive film. Furtehrmore, she didn't realise that Vampires are inherently bisexual by nature and the heterosexual love story it uses is as contrived as ever. A missed opportunity.
The Amityville Horror (2005)
An awful remake of the superior 19779 original. While the original was by no means a great horror film, it had genuine shocks and was far more believable in its characterization and evocation of mood and impending terror.
The remake leaves little to the imagination and suffers from the deluded philosophy that more gore is better. Of course less is more as the original showed us without the fancy trickery of the remake.
There are some silly scenes that leave little to the imagination and are just not scary. Ryan Reynolds lacks the requisite madness to make his role convincing while Melissa George does not do much at all. They are poor substitute for the stars of the original.
Avoid this rubbish.
Pola X (1999)
A Beautiful Disaster
Following the mixed fortunes of his previous film, Les Amands du Pont Neuf, Leos Carax returned with an adaptation of Herman Melville's controversial novel, Pierre, or the Ambiguities.
Unfortunately, for Carax and French cinema, Carax's film is a disaster. It may have visual flourishes and unforgettable images, but the film is a tale of two halves. While he first half is beautifully shot an d highly stylised; the tawdry second half is heavy-going and repulsive to watch, replete with brutal political statements that leave little to the imagination. Both halves seem like polar opposites. Maybe this was his intention, but Carax will doubtless lose many viewers after the second half.
Catherine Deneuve is criminally underused, even though she was marketed as the prime appeal of this dire film. Although Guillame Depardieu gives a searing performance, the film s too small and delusional for his towering performance to evolve as anything substantial. The notion of tragedy is clearly evident in the film, but Carax executes his vision poorly. A far better example of such an approach is Choses Secrets, which leaves Pola X in the dust.
The biggest problem with Carax as a director is his lack of subtlety or refinement as am auteur. Working with narrative does not suit his inimitable style as one of the proponents of "cinema du look', a term he most likely despises. What's problematic about his penchant for image over narrative, is the emptiness of his images for the most part. Devoid of meaning, his images are there in Pola X to engage our superficial desire to see rather than any intuition.
What's most disturbing in Pola X is the unrealistic progression from dream-like scenarios to brutal, unforgiving reality. What could have been a dreamlike, ambiguous piece becomes too literal and heavy-handed and embarrassing to watch in its mediocrity.
A pity, Pola X could have been more ambiguous as Melville intended.