Youth by Paolo Sorrentino.

youth-poster

“I don’t use twitter. I’m a serious person.”

When thinking about Paolo Sorrentino I often want to use the word serious, and then stop myself. His films have a lightness to them, and even the darker moments seem elliptical. But when I came across this brilliant quote, I felt it gave me permission to consider him a serious man.

Youth does not, at first, seem to be a ‘serious’ film. A famed British conductor, Fred Ballinger, (Michael Caine in a Tony Servillo turn) is holidaying in the alps with his daughter Lara (Rachel Weisz) and best friend and filmmaker Mick Boyle (Harvey Keitel). Fred is being tempted out of retirement to play a concert for Prince Phillip, whilst Mick writes what he considers to be his last, and hopefully best, film.

But this is a Sorrentino film, and nothing is really about coming out of retirement to play a final concert; it’s about the intracacies and complications along the way. Sorrentino meanders through this loose narrative, contemplating life’s bigger issues,  peeking through windows and doors, and stopping to stare at whatever he considers beautiful or interesting.

Fans of La Grande Bellezza will find much to be enjoyed here, and whilst the sweeping Rome vistas have been replaced with the comparatively contained setting of a luxury spa, there is a similar tone of navel gazing and philosophising.

Like many of Sorrentino’s films we encounter a roster of characters, from the morbidly overweight Maradona to Boyle’s team of scriptwriters, two of whom are slowly falling for one another. Even these  minor characters – like those of ‘screenwriter in love’ and ‘girl screenwriter’ – have something more to them than their few lines or scenes allow – and it’s that feeling of an underlying depth and richness that makes all of Sorrentino’s films so pleasurable.

Michael Caine, who could be said to have played the same character in many of his films, puts on a performance of his career. Ballinger and Boyle are caught between the extensive successes of their past and the limited but crucial success of their future. There are many references to this impasse. Boyle tells his young writers to look through a telescope. He points out that the mountain appears really close, which represents the future. When he turns it around and peers through the other end, he says everything looks really far away – and that that is the past.

Whilst Ballinger and Boyle are preoccupied with a yearning for their youth, or at least what came with it, the film imparts a wisdom that is only really achievable through age. Youth doesn’t quite leave the same feeling of awe and sentiment that La Grande Bellezza impressed upon viewers, but that seriousness of Sorrentino’s, that explores birth to death and everything in between, is yet again communicated in the most beautiful, subtle, and comic of ways.

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Ramona – La Grande Bellezza

It’s been over a year since I posted anything about film, but Paolo Sorrentino’s La Grande Bellezza has prompted me to ask one question; What about Ramona?

I always find it interesting when a significant death in a film is skirted over with haste – the adaptation of No Country for Old Men springs to mind.

Ramona was one of the most curious characters in this film. Despite a career which Jep’s high-brow friends frown upon, and a party costume that would make Britney Spears jealous, Ramona was a character of humility.

What happened to her? Did she kill herself, or was it another moment of surrealism? And if she did kill herself, did Jep care? Most of all, why isn’t the fate of Ramona clear?

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(Belated) 2011 Best Of

This is very overdue, one month to be precise, but hey, seeing as 2012 continues to disappoint, why not take a look at last year’s best. Here is my amended and shortened Top 10 of 2011, which was originally part of the MK News Year in Review:

The Future

Miranda July’s second film may have lacked the saccharine charm of her debut, but there was something much more carefully considered and somber behind The Future, which definitely deserves a second viewing. 

Drive

A heady mix of romance, violence, neon lights and a sublime soundtrack made Drive one of the films of late summer. 

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Jane Eyre

Cary Fukunaga blew the dust off of the Bronte tome, creating an ethereal and gripping retelling. Michael Fassbender was as beautiful and intense as the northern landscape.

True Grit

It feels like a long way back now, but one of the first blockbusters of the year still stands out as a triumph. This remake of the John Wayne original was mostly faithful, but not without its dark Coen twists. 

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Bridesmaids 

Bridesmaids proved that the girls can give as good as they get, in this outrageously lewd comedy from SNL‘s Kristen Wiig. 

Snowtown

Snowtown is based on the real-life mass-murder in a small town in South Australia. The events unfold in unflinching detail, with Daniel Henshall portraying ringleader John in a terrifying fashion. The film joins a growing list of new and impressive Australian film, including the powerful Animal Kingdom earlier this year. 

Kill List

Truly one of the most original films from an up and coming British directors in years, Ben Wheatley takes his cues from The Wicker Man to create a suburban nightmare. What begins as an intense crime thriller tracking two friends in need of cash, and fast, it very quickly turns into a psychological horror. Gory, shocking, and will leave you in complete disbelief. 

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Tyrannosaur

Paddy Considine (star of Dead Man’s Shoes and the Bourne films) steps behind the camera with impressive and touching results. The chance meeting of a violent alcoholic and a battered charity shop worker sparks an unlikely friendship, where both of their lives clash at a time of tragedy. Deeply moving and brave, Considine’s debut is mightily impressive.

Melancholia

Probably better known this year for his Nazi-themed outburst at Cannes, and for becoming persona non grata as a result, but Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia really did deserve the attention. A powerful portrait of a mentally ill woman and her sister as they face the end of the world, with interesting asides on masculinity and science. 

Pina 3D

Sadly only treated to a one-off screening in MK, this documentary is well worth seeking out on DVD or iTunes. Wim Wenders, ever re-inventing himself, presented this 3D doc on Pina Bausch, the contemporary dance instructor. Bausch passed away during filming, so never got the chance to see this sublime experimental work. It will move you in a way you wouldn’t expect, and you’ll be mesmerized by the hypnotic style of dance. All documentary talk this year focused on Senna, but truly groundbreaking work can be found in Pina

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I really struggled with not including The Tree of Life, We Need to Talk About Kevin, Martha Marcy May Marlene, and Last Winter. Then again, I did bump Melancholia from 10 to 2, so who knows how my mind will change in the future!

A fantastic year of film and cinema going, I will greatly miss having the time to go as often. 

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Cutting Room Floor: November

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Awakening – A rose-tinted ghost story, which somehow works

 

 

 

 

 

 

Le Boucher – another suspense classic I should have seen a long time ago. Creeping, repressed and moving.

 

 

 

 

 

The Ides of March – Clooney is outshone by the rest of his cast, but Ides frustratingly leaves no discernible message.

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Films for Girls – Thoughts on Melancholia and The Future

The extremity of difference between Melancholia and The Future cannot be stressed enough; one, a catatonic display of cosmic madness, and the other, a superficial break-up story narrated by a cat. At first glance there is nothing remotely similar between Lars Von Trier and Miranda July’s films. But upon closer inspection, they join a growing list of films which represent women in daring new lights. Dividing the film between sisters Justine (Dunst) and Claire (Gainsbourg), Von Trier examines the intensely acute anxieties faced by women, questioning the practicality of love and the fatuous intelligence of men. July’s film expresses a fear of the eponymous future using a similar experimentation with time and space, laughing nervously in the face of biological clocks and mid-life crisis’.

The opening of Melancholia has been praised for its impressionistic montage; a series of excruciatingly slow sequences depicting the gloomy end to Justine and Claire’s secluded world. It has been claimed that it offers an artistic promise that the rest of the film fails to deliver on. But this abstraction serves to hint at more complex suggestions made later on in the film about women’s apprehensions with life. Justine, wearing a beautiful white wedding gown, has become entangled in roots from the surrounding trees.  Claire, clutching at her child, trudges knee-deep through the turf of a golf course, her face contorted in a gasp for air. We cannot yet see what they are running from, but they are clearly weighed down by two signifiers of femininity; the wedding dress, and the child.

What else is interesting about Melancholia? Claire’s husband believes in science and absolute certainty, whereas Claire is cautious, relying on instinct. Despite the siblings’ major differences, it is Justine who sums up the women’s higher level of awareness, ‘life is only on earth, and not for very long.’ Dunst’s character won’t just resound with those who have suffered with mental illness. Justine also has a general lethargy towards modern pressures. She is not desirous of her new husband, she lacks passion for her high-flying job, and makes it seem okay to not feel completely satisfied. Life is no fairy tale, and Justine more than embraces the end of the world as an antithesis to that concept.
In The Future, flighty Sophie (July) returns to work at a kids dance studio and bumps into two friends. Alarmed to see that they are both heavily pregnant, she cannot believe that time has passed so quickly since she last saw them. They tell her that being pregnant is ‘a drag, but it’s also amazing.’ A series of cuts reveal the families grow old before Sophie’s eyes, whilst she remains stuck behind the reception desk. ‘It’s kind of a drag,’ Sophie remarks. ‘But it’s amazing?’ offers her friend. ‘Not really…’ (Watch it here) Sophie shows no desire in the film to bear children, nor to marry her boyfriend Jason. But here, a melancholy falls over her, as if disappointed with her lack of connection with their full lives.

Despite feigning a happy suburban existence for a short while, Sophie quickly becomes confused as to who she is trying to be. She can either live out the image of a ‘grown up’ existence, with her older lover and their weekend barbecues, or, she can return to Jason, where ‘growing up’ is the elephant in the room, brought to light by a sick cat. Either way, Sophie can’t find happiness. She is followed to her new life by a yellow t-shirt, which she used to stroke for comfort. It haunts her, reminding her of the child-like way she used to live, but also of the reassurance that life brought. In a bizarre but touching sequence, she climbs inside the t-shirt, stretching it out and zealously eating up its promise of protection. Her new partner looks on in admonishment.

The surface features of a Miranda July film may seem twee and stylistic, but given enough time, her saccharine soundings actually resonate much more deeply. Me and You and Everyone We Know is a more endearing and ‘together’ piece of work, but The Future is mature and less simpering. The Future conveys a timid uncertainty about relationships and life, but there is a confidence in July’s assertions which make her out to be a whole lot smarter than her cat voice would lead you to believe.

Both films take time to reflect on the opposite of sex, although hardly in a positive light. For Melancholia‘s Claire there is nothing worse than the thought of her life ending; but for her husband, there is nothing worse than the thought of being wrong. Jason in The Future admits he just wants another ‘normal, boring day’, despite the threat of losing  the love of his life. Justine and Sophie are the types of characters usually sidelined in films; the baddies, guilty of usurping the natural order of romantic love. But here they are the anti-heroes in two films very much about, and for, girls.

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Werner Herzog’s Into the Abyss

The second part of the rather clumsily coloned title of Herzog’s latest documentary, A Tale of Life, a Tale of Death, builds a vast and vague picture of what the film holds in store. But vast and vague it is. Taking the specific case of a chilling crime and its aftermath, Herzog manages to capture humans in their most vulnerable and powerful moments. He chooses to look deep into the characters on the periphery of the crime rather than linger on superfluous details, rarely breaking from the verbal to-camera accounts which function as a form of penance.

Into the Abyss is divided into five parts, a device used to theme the flow from crime to punishment. Following on from the prologue (which involves the Herzogian prompt ‘describe your encounter with a squirrel’) the crime is laid out in a languorous fashion. The messy and seemingly spontaneous triple homicide of two members of the Stotler family and a friend leads us to the ‘protagonists’ of the film – death row dwelling Michael Perry and accomplice Jason Burkett, serving a life sentence. The two men are alarmingly articulate, more so in some instances than the incidental characters, accepting gracefully their situation. Frustratingly, though, Herzog chooses not to penetrate their professed innocence, in light of the hard evidence against them.

The film is unselective in who it awards the most compassion, switching from Perry and Burkett’s plight to the astounding grief and misfortune of the victims. Herzog must have thought he’d struck gold though when he scraped the surface of the individuals involved. The unmitigating tragedy which has not just touched but suffocated the lives of Lisa Stotler Balloun and Charles Richardson (relatives of the victims) is unbearably moving, letting their stories be slowly drawn out by a sensitive Herzog. Just when you think all of the bombshells have been dropped, Herzog pulls Burkett’s wife out of the bag, an attractive, mild and slightly crackers woman who tops off the film’s incongruity.

With the look of a Lise Sarfati monograph, Into the Abyss is filmed in a simple photogenic style. The film proves Herzog still has a knack for capturing the best and worst in human thought and behaviour. It could have been more confrontational in both the interview style and political motive, but it is still a documentary which is as bizarre and comic as it is affecting, a blend which Herzog still has the audacity to mix.

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Considine shows Fiennes how a directorial debut should be done

They come from stratospherically different acting backgrounds, one a bardic pin-up, the other a working man’s hero; but Ralph Fiennes and Paddy Considine have each just released their directorial debut. The films, Fiennes’ Coriolanus and Considine’s Tyrannosaur, are as unalike as one might expect. The surprise comes though that Considine, a young turk of sorts, has come up trumps against UK acting royalty.

Watching Coriolanus, Fiennes’ modern-day Shakespeare adap playing last weekend at the London Film Festival, felt like a return to the days of quality filmmaking. Fiennes has taken a heralded text, stuffed it with a stellar cast (Brian Cox, Vanessa Redgrave) and high production values, and served a stodgily indulgent prestige piece dressed up as a relevant political drama. It feels like the kind of film the UK industry has made an admirable effort to move away from in recent years. Although Fiennes’ direction demonstrated an adept eye, the whole piece feels showy and dated.

Considine on the other hand has plumped for the other side of mirror. Sombre and earnest, Tyrannosaur follows a faltering friendship between Joseph (an incredible Peter Mullan) and Hannah (an equally standout Olivia Colman). Joseph, a middle-aged drunk whose demons are tugging at his trouser leg, takes refuge in Hannah’s Christian shop. Although Joseph berates her demonstrative faith and middle-class standing, it appears that Hannah’s own violent crisis places them on a par with one another. Some reviews have cautiously warned of the film appealing exclusively to the chattering classes, with a kind of poverty porn. It draws comparisons with Oldman’s Nil by Mouth, but Tyrannosaur’s creators are stringent in avoiding charges of ‘social realism,’ a genre Considine and Mullan have criticized. The film doesn’t ‘tsk’ at the ‘state of society’; instead, the camera flits indiscriminately between the lower and upper-middle, holding back any judgement calls.

Redundant debates aside, Considine caught the breath of the whole cinema and refused to abate until the credits rolled. Something which, amongst the disbelieving sniggers of the Coriolanus audience, Fiennes failed to do. Simplistic indictments of class or social commentary discredit the scale of Tyrannosaur, a success for representational UK cinema, and a snub to the tastes of the past.

 

 

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