My London Your London

A cultural guide

Category: Film (page 1 of 2)

Film Review: We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lynne Ramsay

by Sarah Cope

Much has been written recently about the resurgence in British films, though less has been said about the number of women directors who currently have a film showing in our cinemas. Staggeringly, women account for just 6% of film directors, so the current success of Tomboy (director Celine Sciamma), Sleeping Beauty (director Julia Leigh) and now We Need to Talk About Kevin (director Lynne Ramsay) must surely be something worth celebrating.

Lynne Ramsay hasn’t had a film out since 2002, which is a lengthy absence for any director. Her last film was the superb Morvern Callar, filmed in Scotland and staring Samantha Mortern as the taciturn titular protagonist. Having watched the film repeatedly since then on VHS – that shows how long ago it was released – I was excited to see what Lynne Ramsay would do next. Like Morvern Callar, which was adapted from the novel by Alan Warner, We Need to Talk About Kevin is a novel–to-screen transition, and it was difficult to see how such a multi-layered, controversial book could be easily adapted without either losing its power or become a stock “schlock” horror.

Detailing as it does a mother’s life in the aftermath of her son committing a terrible crime, the film is probably most rewarding for viewers who have already read the book. Indeed, I would say that, partly due to the non-linear way in which some of the action is filmed, reading the book before seeing the film is almost a pre-requisite.
Continue reading

Film Review: Sleeping Beauty, directed by Julia Leigh

by Sarah Cope

What can you expect from a film that, when it premiered at Cannes earlier this year, was met with both booing and clapping? Though perhaps that mixed reaction is to be expected, because this film deals with the issue of sex work, which is an issue sure to polarise opinion like no other.

Lucy (Emily Browning) is depicted taking on all kinds of work in order to pay for her degree, to the extent that it is difficult to see when she would find the time to actually study. Although this is an Australian film, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the plight of students in the UK these days, who must find themselves in a similar situation due to spiralling tuition fees.

The first work we see Lucy doing is when she takes part in medical research in return for cash. This involves swallowing a tube down her throat, which looks painful and disgusting, causing her to gag non-stop. This of course raises the question: is this work not more exploitative and dangerous than the sex work we later see her engage in? Other work she is depicted carrying out include mind-numbing waitressing and an office job doing endless photocopying, where the female boss enjoys treating her badly.

Already engaging in seemingly ad-hoc sex work, she answers an advert which leads to a job doing next to naked waitressing at private parties, which earns her two hundred and fifty an hour. This in turn leads to more sex work (‘promotion’) but of a very unusual kind. She consents to be drugged, and then, unconscious, letting elderly men have access to her body on the stipulation that there is to be no penetration.
Continue reading

Film Review: Melancholia, directed by Lars von Trier

by Sarah Cope

Melancholia has been hugely overshadowed by the comments of its director, Lars von Trier, at the
Cannes film festival earlier this year. Von Trier said he felt “sympathy” with Hitler, and in so doing caused a furore that meant his film wasn’t given the attention it deserved. This is a shame,because here is a film that deserves to be seen, and is at its best on the big screen.

When reviewing a film, the first thing to bear in mind is not to give away the ending. However, von Trier opens the film with the ending, so discussing it won’t be giving too much away. It is quite literally an ending: the end of the world, which is depicted simply, devastatingly and with a sweeping Wagner soundtrack. Viewers might be reminded slightly of Space Odyssey 2001 at this point. It is certainly one of the most arresting opening scenes of any film I have ever seen.

The film is then split into two sections, ‘Justine’ and ‘Claire’, named after the two sisters around whom the story revolves. Played by Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg respectively, the actresses give their best performances to date, although we never learn why the former has an American accent, the latter an English one.

The first section takes place on the night of Justine’s wedding. Claire has organised the event meticulously on her sister’s behalf, and takes great offence that her sister is unable to enter into the spirit of things due to her depression. “But I smile and I smile and I smile!” laments Justine, to which Claire rather unkindly comments “You’re lying to us all.” Claire’s husband John (Kiefer Sutherland) only adds to Justine’s woes when, commenting on the fact that he has paid for the event, states “You better be goddamn happy. Do you have any idea how much this party cost me?”
Continue reading

Film Review: Tomboy (France, director Celine Sciamma)

by Sarah Cope

Tomboy has been described by some reviewers as being about a “gender confused kid”, though in Zoe Heran’s magnificent portrayal of 10-year-old Laure/Mikael, I saw a child who was quite at home with her identity; it was instead society that was confused by her.

It is the summer holidays, and Laure has just moved to a new neighbourhood and decides to introduce herself to the local children as “Mikael”, and pretend to be a boy. This doesn’t take much of a pretence as she is more at home in this identity than the one she has to assume at home. There she is Laure, playing happily with her younger, tutu-wearing sister Jeanne (Malonn Levana).

Both the performances of the two child actresses are outstanding, leading me to wonder how much was improvised, so naturalistic were the scenes between the two girls.

The tension throughout the film is never overstated but always menacingly there in the background. When Laure models a Play Doh penis to wear in her improvised swimming trunks, we wince as we imagine it becoming dislodged and revealing the extent of her façade to the baffled children.

When the boys with whom she plays football urinate in public, she doubles over in agony as she is desperate to do the same but obviously cannot without revealing her sex.

But things really become complicated when Lisa, one of the other children in the neighbourhood, falls for Mikael, and is quite forward in her advances to him, having no idea he is in fact female.

The film’s subtle nature comes into its own here; is Laure attracted to girls? Does she in fact like boys?

Or, at the age of ten, is she simply undecided or uninterested? We never quite know, and the film is all the better for not spelling this out.

Laure’s awkwardness, brought on to a large extent by her double life and her constant fear of discovery, is in marked contrast to the ease and confidence of the other children, for whom life seems so much more simple.

When Lisa puts make-up on Laure and declares “you look great as a girl!”, Laure’s unease is palpable.

To reveal the denouement would be to spoil the viewing experience entirely, but suffice to say that the conclusion matches up to the rest of this short, original and ultimately moving film.

Tomboy is on general release.

Film Review: Rabbit Hole, directed by John Cameron Mitchell

by Sarah Cope

Seeing a film about a couple whose four-year-old son has recently been knocked down by a car and killed does not sound the most entertaining or enjoyable way of spending an evening. Perhaps that’s why the cinema old held 15 or so audience members at the showing I attended. However, there is much of worth in this depiction of grief, and despite it being a mainstream Hollywood film, it handled its subject matter deftly, and, importantly, unsentimentally.

Nicole Kidman, who has made many a duff film, is at her best here as Becca, the mother of the dead boy. She and husband Howie (Aaron Eckhart) have vastly different responses to the death, and this drives a wedge between them. Kidman’s Becca is angry, aggressive and determined to get on with life, at least on the surface. However, she then starts to “stalk” the teenager who was driving the car that hit her son, and strikes up an unlikely acquaintanceship with him.

It’s at this point that Kidman is basically acted right off the screen. Because Miles Teller, who plays Jason, is incredible. His flickering eyes, filling with tears, dart around as he explains that he may have been going “one or two kilometres over the speed limit” that day, and that he just wished he had driven down a different street. The scenes between Kidman and Teller were so naturalistic they felt almost improvised, but that is highly unlikely to be the case in such a big budget film.

The film isn’t all heavy going, though. Like Becca’s own inability to deal with her own grief, the narrative seemingly dances at the edge of sentimentality before – mercifully – pulling back and lightening the mood with humour. Humour, in a film about a dead four-year-old – how is that going to work? Well, it does, and the audience, small though we were, grasped at the lighter moments gratefully.

There are a few wrong notes, such as the scene where Jason just turns up at the couple’s house, enraging Howie, who doesn’t know that his wife has made contact with the boy. Another element that didn’t quite work was the title of the film, which is taken from the comic that Jason is drawing. This seemed ‘tagged on’ to the action, rather spuriously, and didn’t really add anything to the plot.

One other thing to note, and I hardly know whether to mention it: Kidman’s face. There has been much comment over the last few years about her lack of expression, with speculation that too much Botox was to blame. I didn’t find her face expressionless at all; the problem was actually much worse. She has clearly had a lot of what is referred to as “work” done (it seems, in Hollywood, that an actress, in order to get work needs to have “work” done), and this really proved distracting, to this audience member, at least. She looks neither old nor young, just plain wrong.

Of course, many Hollywood actresses have had plastic surgery, but this is the first time when it has actually got in my way of appreciating a performance.

Rabbit Hole is on general release.

Film Review: Blue Valentine

by Sarah Cope

“I’m so out of love with you. I’ve got nothing, nothing, here for you.” The words of Cindy (Michelle Williams) to her husband Dean (Ryan Gosling) in Blue Valentine, a film that charts their growing then faltering love, criss-crossing time periods to contrast the good times and the bad.

Whimsically filmed, Williams plays the textbook fey but screwed-up young woman that she has already played in several other films (Wendy and Lucy, Me Without You), who cares for her grandmother and plans on becoming a doctor.

She meets Dean, a removal man and serial underachiever, who the audience are encouraged to think is funny and with a heart of gold. Personally, I thought he was annoying and borderline autistic (such as the way he pretends he’s going to jump off a bridge for no particular reason at one point), but I may be in the minority there. When he hears Cindy’s plans to go to medical school, he comments “Girls like you don’t go to study medicine!”, by which he means she’s too pretty to be intelligent. (Not intelligent enough to run for the hills at this point, we note).

And that for me was the problem with this film. I didn’t believe in the central couple for even a moment. If I was being generous I’d say the dialogue was awkward because of the couple’s deteriorating relationship. However, I fear some of the scenes were improbable-sounding simply because they were badly-written.

We never really figure out what Cindy’s motivation is for settling with Dean. He is clearly delighted when she becomes pregnant, because he sees it’s a way of keeping hold of her. The bizarre scene where she starts to have a termination and then asks for the procedure to be stopped (note: this is becoming a bit of a cinematic/televisual
tradition: think Juno and also Sex And The City), leaves the viewer wondering what her motivation is for her change of heart.

Does she want to start a family and abandon her ambitions, or does she simply not want to go through the unpleasantness of an abortion? Are we meant to be pleased with her decision? I can’t say I was delighted, but pro-lifers everywhere must’ve been cheering…

Cindy’s asserts early in the film that “I don’t ever want to be like my parents Were they ever in love? Or did they just get it out of the way before they had me?” However, she willingly repeats the pattern.

Perhaps the most successful scene was the one where Cindy and Dean go away for a night to a depressing ‘themed’ motel, in a last-ditch attempt to save their marriage. They go from quarrelling to drunken dancing, attempt sex and then tip over into anger and resentment. This was probably spot-on; it’s just pity the rest of the film was so wide of the mark.

Older posts