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The Go-Between meets The English Patient
It's easy to imagine that many people at Working Title were very excited when they decided to put ATONEMENT in production, since they could be aware that with its mixture of love and death and with its setting during the second world war that could be the right occasion to achieve a sort of new English PATIENT. But since the movie is based upon Ian McEwan's masterpiece, the final result established itself as something different and, in some ways, more interesting, without being necessarily a better movie than Minghella's one. Directed by Joe Wright,in his sophomore effort after the critically acclaimed Pride & Prejudice (but actually in his resume you can find a lot of TV works),the movie is written by Christopher Hampton and it's quite faithful to its source material (as typical by Hampton). So everyone who read the Booker Prize finalist novel knows that the movie can be ideally distinguished in two parts (and a resolutive epilogue set many years after). The first part tells the chronicle of a special day of the summer 1935 during which the lives of the main protagonists are branded. Briony Tallis (played by the extraordinary newcomer Saoirse Ronan), the younger daughter of a rich family, is a child with a vivid imagination; she dreams to become a writer but she's having also her first crush. The "object of her desire" is Robbie Turner (the promising and charismatic James McAvoy), a young man, whose mother is one of the family servants. Tallis family paid the college for Robbie and he's also a good friend of Briony's older siblings. Actually Briony doesn't know that Robbie and her sister Cecilia (the always ravishing Keira Knightley, very convincing in her first adult role, it's hard to forget her, especially when she wears that green dress...) are in love therefore when she sees something from the window of her bedroom, she misunderstands and when Robbie ask her to deliver a letter (and besides a wrong one) to Cecilia, she can't stop from reading it and so...as you can see you can find reminiscences from THE GO-BETWEEN, even if Briony is more unreliable than the young boy in that film. But you can see the influence of Losey's classic (which was written by the future Nobel Prize winner Harold Pinter) even more in the atmosphere and in the choice to handle the time. Briony accuses Robbie of a crime he didn't commit, even without any proofs, everybody (except the loving Cecilia) believe her and Robbie finishes in prison. This part is the more particular even if at the beginning the description of the house and the dynamics of the characters could appear a little bit boring. But while the drama is erupting, the tension raises notably, thanks also to the music score by the talented Dario Marianelli (who received an Oscar nomination thanks to PRIDE & PREJUDICE and it won't be so shocking if he'll have another one for this new collaboration with Wright). The second part is set 4 years later, during the war. Cecilia is estranged by her family, she's a nurse now and she's still in love with Robbie who is a soldier and he's in mission in France, where he also witnesses the evacuation of Dunkerque. In the meantime Briony (now played by Romola Garai, whose perf is quite weaker than Ronan's and also than Vanessa Redgrave's who replaces her in the epilogue) has grown up, she still wants to become a writer but she also has understood her mistakes, so she is intentioned to atone them: just like her sister she's working as a nurse, she wants to meet Cecilia and Robbie to tell them she's sorry and that she is going to to exculpate the young man from the charge, even if it won't be so easy...in this part the material becomes more ebullient, but Wright is quite apt to manage it, even when he's tempted by the virtuosity (for example the Dunkerque sequence, shown in a long take). Briony accomplishes her atonement just at the end of her life, after to have become a writer, in a way it could be wrong to bring forward... Quite ambitious in its seemingly realistic system (in this context the first part is superior, because more surprising), the movie is rather satisfying even because the director didn't choose to direct his attention on the more agreeable components (the doom of the two lovers, Cecilia's devotion), showing he doesn't look for the simpler solutions. Let's hope that also in his future films Wright keep this will to risk, and maybe tomorrow we could see his filmography with astonished admiration.
welcome back, Paul!!!
I always admired Paul Verhoeven's movies. He has been one of the most prominent dutch directors; during the seventies and the eighties thanks to his films the Holland gained a lot of attention in the movie scene. In 1987 he directed ROBOCOP, his first movie produced by Hollywood studios. The success of the feature encouraged him to stay in USA. He spent almost 13 years in America, where he directed some very famous, controversial and successful movies, such as TOTAL RECALL, BASIC INSTINCT and STARSHIP TROOPERS. With his cleverness and boldness he showed us it was possible for a director to work in the Hollywood system without renouncing to his own visions and to his own favorite themes; his movies speak about the violence and the conflicts in modern society. After THE HOLLOW MAN (2000), a rather lucky and kinky updating of the classic THE INVISIBLE MAN, Verhoeven decided to stop with the Hollywood blockbusters. In fact the movie, despite great special effects and a riveting music score by Jerry Goldsmith, didn't satisfied his director. During the years he cherished a lot of project, but he also took the main decision to leave the United States and to come back working in Neatherland, resolute to accomplish movies that were nearer to his own poetics. The first result of the new period in his career is BLACK BOOK (ZWARTBOEK), a movie he wrote with his longtime collaborator Gerard Soeteman, in which he tackles a quite delicate matter: the Nazi occupation of Holland during the Second World War. The director said he thought about to make this film for many years, so it's definitely meaningful that in the end it became the movie of his return in the native country. A very successful return indeed, if we consider BLACK BOOK was in competition at the last Venice Film Festival, it received good reviews, it was almost nominated for the Oscar in the best foreign language film category and in Holland it attracted crowds of people in the cinemas. The story, like many times in Verhoeven's career, provides a female heroine, confirming the interest of the director in featuring strong women portraits (even if he quite often has been accused to be sexist and misogynous!) and it's about a Jewish girl, Ellies/Rachel (the sexy, pretty and talented Carice Van Houten, a dutch actress much appreciated in her country, who deservedly could have her international breakthrough thanks to this film), who lost her family while they were leaving Neatherlands to save their own life. After that tragedy Ellies decides to join the resistance fighters, the main mission that they entrust her is to become the lover of a German officer (Sebastian Koch that you can see also in the much awarded THE LIVES OF THE OTHERS), to extort as much informations as possible. But the girl falls in love with him, who is not a bad person at all, in spite of being a member of Nazi army. In the meantime she discovers that the truth concerning her family's tragic death is connected to the title black book, and she'll see it's not an easy task to understand to whom she can trust...even because in wartime people who wants to survive is disposed to do everything, even to change opinions (symbolic in this way the role of Rachel's friend, played by Halina Reijn) and to betray, no matter what... Choosing a Jewish person as leading character, Verhoeven reminds us the tragedies the Hebraic people lived during the first half of twentieth century (at the beginning of the film we see Ellies hiding herself in a garret, just like Anne Frank), but the director fairly isn't interested in easy dogmatism's: he doesn't want to distinguish between good and evil, or murderers and victims. That's because he thinks the matter is much more complex and you mustn't indulge in generalizations when you speak about the war. His detractors said he's a revisionist, but it will be more apt to recognize the sprightliness of a man, able to give us an ethical lesson about history and the way to deal with it. The fact he teaches us following the rules of the classic movie masters (the influences of Hitchcock and Aldrich are noteworthy) is a kinda value, and the spectator can't do without notice Verhoeven didn't lose the skills to use the suspense (let see the sequence in which the girl is trying to put a microphone in the enemy's office, wonderful display of space and rhythm by the director). And I'm quite happy to realize he didn't stop to be a scoundrel guy either (try to see the scene where the girl dyes her pubic hairs admonishing his friend, and the public with him, to not peer at her, not before to showing us the operation in full frontal). However it's not sufficient to say BLACK BOOK is a great film about history, because Verhoeven doesn't lose the occasion to speak also about the present: when Rachel is tortured you can think about Abu Grahib's prison and also riveting is the last sequence, set in an Israeli kibbutz, built with the money recovered from the Nazi. We see the protagonist, now married and with a child, we can think she's happy now, but the alarms show us a different reality that tears aside the image of apparent serenity. There's no peace yet for the Jewish people: another time, another place, but again the tragedy of war, and again Verhoeven doesn't want to say who is good or evil, who is guilty or innocence. For this and many other reasons: well come back, Paul!
a director who deserves attention
It's difficult to not have a liking for Israeli director Eytan Fox and for his movies, which describe the life in the middle east and the inherent problems gay people can have in these regions. Besides he also gave voice to the young generations, and to the remarkable part of them, who really need PEACE and who want to take no further notice of a war that for too much time marked the existences of people, both in Israel both in Palestine. These reasons, in my opinion, are sufficient to consider Fox a noteworthy director, even when his feeling for the melodrama is a tad out of control. However the fans of his movies (that he realized on team with Gal Uchovsky, his producer, co-screenwriter and also life companion) seem to not being vexed by this, since his new feature, THE BUBBLE (HA-BUAH), is having the same success of the previous YOSSI & JAGGER and WALK ON THE WATER. Announced as a contemporary gay version of "Romeo & Juliet", set in the present day Tel Aviv instead of Verona and with two men (one Israeli and the other Palestinian) at the place of the two Shakespearean young lovers, the film actually is quite different from that or, better, it's also something else. In fact the bubble of the title is the world apart in which the leading man, Noam, played by the Fox regular Ohad Knoller (Yossi in YOSSI & JAGGER, but I must confess I miss Jagger, the astonishing Yehuda Levi!) and his two co-tenants, a guy and a girl, chose to live. Around thirty-years-old, restless, witty and firm (despite the protagonist just spent a period as national service in a checkpoint on the frontier with the Palestine) to live a life that won't be only made of war. The two guys are gay and along with the girl they have established a trio in which they brotherly love and support each other. Their lives are destined to change when Noam falls in love with Ashraf (the TV star Yousef 'Joe' Sweid) a young Palestinian who came to live in Tel Aviv. The laws so far in force among the group are neglected, but not the will to aid one friend. Still it won't be easy for Noam and his friends, 'cause Ashraf is clandestine in Israel and in the meantime his family, who lives in Palestine and doesn't know he's gay, is looking forward to settle his wedding with a very beautiful girl, who is a relative of Ashraf's beloved sister bridegroom-to-be, who he is also a terrorist and he will have a strong liability in the development of the plot, with consequences not just for the two men. Because the prejudices against the homosexuality and the peace (interesting dualism, if not automatic) are stubborn and so the tragedy is unavoidable. Even if the film focus on the obstacles the relationship between Noam and Ashraf meets with, it doesn't the overlook the other characters, which turn out well written (for example Golan, the boyfriend of Yelli, Noam's fellow tenant, introduced as a lively boor, and then disclosed as a sweeter and more open minded person) and aptly performed (besides the two leads, we mustn't disregard the funny Zohar Liba and the lovely Daniela Virtzer, the girl of the gang; moreover LATE MARRIAGE's star Lior Ashkenazi appears as himself in a cameo). It also melds the gloomy tones with the more brilliant ones, even if the director can't do without a melodramatic conclusion. I watched this movie more than a month ago and in the meantime I often thought about it, proof that Fox and his pal have a knack to strike home.