Thursday, October 22, 2009

LFF: Women With Emotional Problems

Back to the LONDON FILM FESTIVAL with Dave, with an actressing overload today. Coming within the next few days, sanity pending, will be thoughts on Precious (yes, again), A Prophet and, finally, The White Ribbon.

A vague plot synopsis, like the one found in the film festival's literature, makes Chloe's icy erotica seem coyly alluring. A full plot synopsis might reveal the more tawdry aspects of the film, but what delight there is within Atom Egoyan's latest may well remain within the unfolding, so I'll keep as mum as I can manage. But something doesn't feel right from the start. You can film a cold place but it takes something more to make the film cold itself - and Chloe is too heavily photographed, too close to really appropriate that at all. There's no law that says a film set in Canadian winter has to send chills down the back of your spine, but what Chloe's atmosphere is instead is just a bit vulgar and melodramatic. Egoyan can wax for as long as he wants about how this is an adult, complex psychological drama about 'human interaction' and 'mature relationships', but the truth will out - it's an erotic thriller with remnants of French intrigue that can't help overloading on inexplicable obsessive madness, blowing all subtle humanity to the wind. Or out the window. C- [Taken from my extended thoughts, which you can read here.]

The crisply fascinating The Last Days of Emma Blank is a cool, drolly amusing critique of the assumptions of social classes, and an intriguingly played plot of family interactions. The titular madam is dying, so she says, and cruelly controls the servants - who, as we gradually discover, are in truth members of her family she's somehow convinced to perform servantile roles (one even acts like a dog, dry-humping and all). The main source of humour is never really knowing where you stand - there's something odd about a middle-aged man being called like a pet, but the script plays it's cards one at a time, each revelation or surprising turn changing perceptions. Shifts and nuances in the interpersonal relationships are craftily conveyed by the observational, connective camerawork, with helps partially disguise the stage origins of the film, and plays the same games with the characters as Emma tries to with her household. One particular plot element undoes the film a little in the end, but it remains a darkly comic little treat. B

London River is a quietly affecting drama bolstered by two strong lead performances - you might expect such from Brenda Blethyn, more restrained than usual, but the rakish, frail Sotigui Kouyaté delivers an equally affecting performance through the quiet. The pair are parents searching for their just-adult (21) children in the aftermath of the 7/7 bombings (Britain's first suicide bombers, back in 2005), but despite the appropriation of a keenly felt event it never lapses into histrionics. It's almost too low-key, really - the tense percussive score is used sparingly, and the heavy sound makes the location feel dull and realistic. But the characters make a fascinating pair - Blethyn's French-speaking, slightly xenophobic widow isn't always sympathetic, nor is the eerily calm Kouyaté, who hadn't seen his son since he was six years old. But these flaws make them feel more engaging, more involving, precisely because we can't get comfortably involved behind their plight. Instead our response to the characters shifts as much as their fears and predictions as regards their children do. It's a lonely, sparse drama, but winds a tangible emotional connection through its uncommon rhythms. B



I like your write up of LONDON RIVER. Intriguving and evocative. Sad that that film never made it cross the Atlantic.

as for CHLOE. You can't put me off a new Julianne Moore -- particularly one with erotica that easily!

I am officially jealous that you've seen it but at least that one has an American release in store (early 2010)

Dame James said...

Dave, sorry I haven't commented as faithfully as I should have, but I have been reading these write ups with eager anticipation every day. Keep up the amazing work!

I was already curious about London River given my love for Brenda Blethyn and her crass, over-the-top acting style, but you managed to make it sound even more exciting than before. I'm all for a subdued Blethyn delivering the goods and hard-to-like main characters. Bring it on!


you know, apart from Secrets & Lies I think my favorite Blethyn performance is Lovely & Amazing. She should always make movies with "&" in the middle of the title.