Wednesday, 30 November 2011

The 400 Blows

This beautiful film explores the fortunes of Antoine, a schoolboy in late fifties Paris. He lives with his parents in an apartment and sleeps on a camp bed in the kitchen, every night he has to deal with the dustbin before getting into his bed. It soon transpires that all is not as it seems when his father complains about his behaviour and goes on to say about he gave him a home and his name. For this and a number of other reasons Antoine slips into truancy from school.

He would like to leave school and to learn a trade, but his mother sees the benefit of an education and offers Antoine 1000 francs if he does well in writing a composition, as she recognises the value of French more than that of Algebra or Science. Unfortunately Antoine’s zeal causes him to plagiarise Balzac which leads to him eventually being expelled from the school.

This film was one of the first of the new wave, one of those directly reacting against le cine de papa. It shows Paris as a depressed city finding its feet after the Second World War. Overall the film is a plea for freedom from the constraints of society that turn poor Antoine into truant from school and then into a criminal.

I love the brutal honesty of this film. It does not flinch from telling and exposing truths and reaching natural conclusions without sentimentality. As I’ve said before this was a pioneering film, a film that showed how life was then. It was about real people encountering real issues. It is also quite interesting to see the directors that were influenced by this and how it shaped film to this day.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

We Need To Talk About Kevin

A remarkable achievement, this film beautifully explores the ins and outs of a hideous occurrence and thoroughly looks at who was responsible for what actions. The story is about the upbringing of the eponymous Kevin and how this leads to his zenith and nadir. Tilda Swinton is glorious in the role of his mother Eva. For most of the film we see her solitude and the pain on her face and behind her eyes.

Plaudits also need to go to the actors who play Kevin; Ezra Miller, Jasper Miller and Rock Duer. They give performances at such young ages which portray such beautiful menace and transform themselves into such a hideous creature. Lynne Ramsay’s direction encourages her actors to reveal their vulnerabilities. She also shows great skill in adapting unsettling texts to the screen, as she showed before with Morvern Callar. Also, I’m sure that this is the only film that credits a Guinea Pig Costume Designer, unless someone can contradict me of this.

The story is one of nature versus nurture, the answer sensibly lies somewhere in between of course. The film also questions maternal loyalties and how far they could and should stretch. The trouble is that it’s not really until something majorly hideous happens that all the cards stack up and that the real nature of Kevin is known. I suppose that the story is about Eva’s hindsight as she searches for clues in his upbringing and her interaction with him to see how she could have changed things. She also recognises and takes responsibility for her son’s actions and we know very early on that his fate changing actions effected the fates of all those around him and not just his.

Wuthering Heights

This is not really an easy film to watch. Time needs to be invested to tune into to what’s happening before your eyes. Andrea Arnold utilises her naturalistic style to tell this classic tale. It is said that the mark of a great film director is that you can watch a random portion of one of their films and know by the style and feel who has directed it. This is certainly true here as you can see the technique she’s honed making Wasp, Red Road and Fish Tank.

In making the character Heathcliffe black as well has given something new to this well-known story of obsessional love and the filthiest of tempers. This is partially explained by Heathcliffe’s ethnicity and the reaction and racism to this that shapes his character. These reasons, as well as a bleak and inhospitable landscape, would make most people look at life in the least optimistic of ways.

His is the tale of an immigrant taken in by one who shows him kindness, but who insists on Heathcliffe’s baptism, which he resists. As is a recurrent theme the benefactor dies leaving Heathcliffe adrift and at the mercies of those less tolerant people who inherited the house. This gives Heathcliffe and entrepreneurial spirit, which enables him to succeed in the future.

I love the way Arnold as well portrayed the young Heathcliffe and Cathy. They show their touching playfulness by playing and rolling together in the mud and scratching their names on the walls. When they didn’t have a care in the world they were able to express their true emotions to one another before the realities of the grown up world impinged on them.

In contrast to most costume dramas Arnold’s vision has little or no music; there are no great speeches in the film. There is just an intensity of character and the actions of the characters being portrayed in a naturalistic manner. We are not given the normal clues of how we should feel about the events; we have to work it out for ourselves, which makes the rewards greater at the end of it all.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

The Rum Diary

Hunter S. Thompson was known, through his work and the adaptations of these, for the consumption of many substances and for the glorious description of the effect they had on him. This film doesn’t stray too far from this position. It tells the story of the journalist Paul Kemp played by Johnny Depp. He finds a job working for a newspaper in Puerto Rico in 1960 and meets the editor who wears an outrageous toupee that no one is to refer to. He rumbles Kemp, almost immediately, as an alcoholic and as a novelist who is slumming it as a journalist until he’s published. He doesn’t really say which is worse.

Kemp is befriended by two people when he starts at the newspaper. There’s Sal who recognises Kemp as a man who appreciates a drink as much as he does. He also keeps a fighting cockerel with which he supplements his income. The other befriender is a property developer who is looking for someone to write a brochure about the development he is planning on the island. He has a very friendly girlfriend who Kemp falls for and spends most of the film coveting.

One of the joys of this film is the details in the characterisation. There is also a Swedish religious correspondent on the newspaper who introduces Sal and Kemp to an hallucinogenic drug in return for $50 and a check-up to see if he has the clap. Kemp tells him he has a standing ovation. The Swede also has a liking for recordings of Adolf Hitler as well.

In this story Kemp, really Thompson drinks a lot and is chemically enhanced. The director Bruce Robinson said that you can play a drinking game with Withnail and I, but this film will kill you if you try that. The real story in this film is that the bastards are identified and that an antidote to them is identified as ink. This is the beginning of his crusade of writing about them and exposing them.

I like this film, it is sentimental but its heart is in the right place. Sal and Kemp get up to antics in Fiat Cinquecento that sometimes seem like they may have been influenced by Last of the Summer Wine. Albeit the episodes where they drank industrial amounts of alcohol including some incredibly flammable spirits. They do it though in a far more likeable manner, and boy, could Hunter S. Thompson tell a story.