Archive for Isabel Coixet

Final Festival Round-Up

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 29, 2008 by dcairns

E.I.F.F. 2008.

Today was Best of the Fest day — or “What prints are still in town?” day, to give it its informal name. But there was plenty of good stuff on, so I tooted over to Filmhouse, discovered that my press pass had officially expired, and shelled out some cash for movies for the first time in ten days.

WALL-E was first. I felt guilty about seeing something non-rare like this at a festival, but quite good about missing all the ads that will precede it when it goes on general release. I started to wonder if I was in a fragile emotional state as it went on, as I found myself having an exaggerated response to EVERYTHING. I spent much of the film close to tears. Then i decided that, no, I’m no more fragile than usual, it’s just a deeply beautiful film.

It’s kind of sweet also that Michael Crawford finds himself in one of the biggest films of the year, without actually doing anything (he appears in the clips from HELLO DOLLY, Wall-E’s favourite/only video). Opening in space, with Crawford’s voice ringing out, before descending towards a litter-strewn Earth upon with only North America is visible, Andrew Stanton’s extended C.G.I. homageto Douglas Trumbull’s SILENT RUNNING actually has a beautiful, live action, ’70s long-lens, misty, smoggy look, like the titles of SOYLENT GREEN, for all its terrestrial scenes. Roger Deakins consulted on the virtual lighting, and expressed his astonishment in Edinburgh at the joy of position virtual lights in a virtual set and not having to worry about hiding them.

Did I like all the film equally? No, but things don’t have to be perfect. Enough of this was. And it was interesting to see Fred Willard spoofing President Bush: “Stay the course!” This must make Bush the first U.S. president to have been slammed by Disney while in office, unless I’m forgetting something major.

Pixar’s hit-rate is so high it could almost get monotonous. I seriously dig how they mainly avoided dialogue here and would suggest they get even braver and make an entirely wordless feature next.

*

I jumped from Filmhouse to the Cameo, grabbing a sandwich, and plunged into the art deco world of MISS PETTIGREW LIVES FOR A DAY, a ’30s farce which fails as a comedy (for me) but which seemed to just about hang together as drama. The material is far from the level of Wodehouse, although the story is acceptable. The dialogue and situations fail to deliver the expected comedy (although the audience I was with laughed kindly a few times). Director Bharat Nalluri, from high-end Brit T.V., avoids overkill and restrains the visuals, but there’s neither a refreshing, modern attitude nor any evocation of an old-fashioned film style. and the performances refuse to gel in a way that’s kind of fascinating.

McDormand and Adams.

The extras — several terribly over-eager perfs from background artistes, something you don’t often see.

The stars — well, there aren’t any big ones, which ought to mean Nalluri had the pick of non-famous thespian talent at his disposal, with no commercial pressure, but it doesn’t always work that way.

Frances McDormand — a talented comedienne, as we’ve seen before, here she can only manage to generate a few warm smiles, and most of those are snatched solo. Whenever she has to interact with fellow performers, she’s hampered by the unevenness of tone. Any scene with more than two co-stars leaves her torn between wildly different acting styles, since she’s the only performer paying close attention to her fellows. But she makes an appealing Pettigrew and that sympathy holds the proceedings together at least somewhat.

Amy Adams — plays the whole thing in a fake Marilyn Monroe voices which in 1939 had yet to be invented. Anachronistic and more than a little annoying. She’s CONSISTENT, but her tropes get shopworn fast. There’s talent there, but it lacks guidance.

Tom Payne — another terribly self-conscious British prettyboy. I didn’t like his HAIR — was any man wearing it that long? He’s ruinous to any scene of farce that requires timing. He has appeal, and may well become a decent actor, but asking him to do anything that requires precision is madness. He gets all the script’s Bertie Wooster archaisms, as if all the movie requires is one character who talks ’30s. He gets away with the “don’t you know, what?” stuff better than anyone could reasonably be expected to when surrounded by non-period-specific speakers, so he deserves some credit for that.

Lee Pace — from his first scene I thought he was a truly horrible actor. By the end I kind of liked him. Then I discover he’s American, which I hadn’t suspected. Suicidal of the filmmakers to have saddled themselves with yanks in Brit roles. They’re already attempting farce, which rarely works on screen, and ’30s screwball reconstruction, which generally dies like a dog (AT LONG LAST LOVE?) so they didn’t need to kneecap themselves before even starting. What’s odd about Pace is that although he seems awkward and out of place, he seems exactly like an awkward out-of-place Brit. He doesn’t slot into place with the others because he’s too naturalistically gawkish for the milieu. Interesting but wrong.

Ciáran Hinds — really sweet. The only actor who can talk to one character and then to another without making himself or them seem like a stray alien. His perf is so low-key and gentle it almost disappears before you, but he’s the one you remember.

Mark Strong — he was the best thing in Polanski’s (rather good) OLIVER TWIST, as the usually-deleted character Toby Crackit. Here he could actually get away with going more O.T.T. as he did there, but I don’t blame him for holding it in, surrounded as he is by erratically varying styles and pitches. He makes a good cad though — I need to check out some of his other work (SYRIANA, STARDUST).

Shirley Henderson — is a very dangerous woman. Versatile to the point of omnipotence, she can produce effects beyond the range of any earth-creature. Being fallible like the rest of us, she’s quite capable of making bad choices though, and playing them to the hilt so as to torpedo a whole movie, as in DOCTOR SLEEP. Here she does her Cruella-type villainess as if on helium, which is wildly impressive (if it were anyone else I’d assume she had computerized assistance, but NO, this is Shirley we’re talking about) as a technical feat, slightly distracting much of the time, but serves as a possible clue as to how all the other roles could have been played — with gusto, speed and sharp timing. Is this really so impossible today?

I’m usually a sucker for WWII stuff — MRS MINIVER slays me and the novels of Patrick Hamilton lay about my heartstrings with rusty saw-blades, but this fest I’ve seen two flicks set around wartime, this and THE EDGE OF LOVE, and neither really got me at all.

*

Out of PETTIGREW, bagel across the road, then back into the Cameo for my third helping.

ELEGY is directed by Isabel Coixet, whose episode of PARIS JE T’AIME was quite enjoyed round our place. This movie seems to relate quite closely to it in plot terms, too. But I.C. needs to wean herself off the V.O., which doesn’t add anything to this movie AT ALL.

Nicholas Meyer scripts. Remember him? As a novelist and film director he had a definite personality, tackling romps like TIME AFTER TIME (H.G. Wells chases Jack the Ripper in his time machine) and THE SEVEN-PER-CENT SOLUTION (Sherlock Holmes teams up with Freud). He also managed to make a going concern out of the STAR TREK franchise, directing entries 2 and 6 (remember, the even-numbered TREKS are the good ones). In this movie he’s adapting Philip Roth, and there’s nothing to relate this to his earlier films — but quite a lot to connect it to THE HUMAN STAIN, another Roth adaptation by Meyer.

Sir Ben Kingsley, who will always be Handhi Bendhi Gandhi to me, falls madly in bed with Penelope Cruz, whose breasts he declares, not unreasonably, to be the best in the world. A lot of this film revolves around those breasts, so it’s a good job they were able to cast such a convincing pair. There is actually a surprising chemistry between the two stars. Sir Ben is on top form, managing to be real and surprising at the same time. Why hasn’t he played Picasso? He has a big bald head and his torso, which he staunchly parades here, is a dead ringer.

Ben can’t believe his luck with P. Cruz, which leads him to sabotage the relationship. Bad Sir Ben! It probably doesn’t help that he’s getting his romantic advice from Dennis Hopper. There might possibly be better people to listen to. What’s Robert Blake up to these days?

“Do you know what a love letter is? It’s a bullet from a fucking GUN.”

So the beautiful Cruz missiles go out of his life, only to return with a tragic twist (ouch). The perfs are exquise, the situations adult and interesting, only the cinematic qualities descend to cliché. Walks on the  beach: the couple together, then, morosely, Bendhi alone. That bloody voice-over. I have nothing against V.O., but try taking it out and see what happens. My guess: nothing. Erik Satie on the soundtrack. I was just watching Welles’ THE IMMORTAL STORY, as part of the Moreau retrospective, and thinking what a shame the Gymnopedies have been so overused since then, and here they come all over again.

Just before the festival a student asked me “What does ‘cinematic’ mean?” During the festival I heard various people debating it. Generally we agreed it was a tricky word with no set meaning. In ELEGY, Sir Bendhi quotes A.E. Houseman’s line about not knowing what poetry is, but recognising it at once when he sees it.

ELEGY is well-acted, written, and photographed, but I don’t recognise it as cinematic.

Paris Je T’Olerate

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 8, 2008 by dcairns

Paris, France 

PARIS JE T’AIME is a compendium film of shorts directed by various international film industry luminaries, on a theme made explicit by the title. If I describe it as a mixed bag, I won’t really be saying anything at all — these things are ALWAYS mixed.

For some reason they’re generally kind of nice though, even if the weak segments outnumber the good. You have the pleasure of knowing that however bad the current bit is, something if not better, at least DIFFERENT will be along soon.

Waiting for Godard

I sort-of enjoyed the typically pointless Coen bros episode with Steve Buscemi committing the fatal error of establishing eye contact in the Tuileries, the Alfonso Cuaron long-take exercise with an extravagantly shambling Nick Nolte, the Gus Van Sant meet-cute (is acceptable to simply recycle romcom cliches only with gay characters? Anyhow it was very nicely directed), the Nobuhiro Suwa yarn with Willem Dafoe as a phantom cowboy in the Place de la Victoires, the usual sort-of aimless but inexplicably compelling Olivier Assayas, and the Richard LaGravanese, which like many of the films was content to rely ENTIRELY on star power rather than actual ideas, but knew how to use its stars (and Fanny Ardant speaking English is a SENSATION! Bob Hoskins speaking French is…weird, but sweet, somehow).

The above segments passed the time, but seemed woefully unambitious if you stopped to think about it. If the filmmakers had had to write, shoot and edit them inside a week, I would have said they’d done a decent job within the restrictions. But I can’t really justify anybody spending any greater amount of time on such lightweight pieces.

I’ve enjoyed Vincenzo Natali’s features CUBE and CYPHER, but his piece was kind of embarrassing. I mean, he achieved a look that was distinct from all the other films (nobody else quite did this) but unfortunately it was a heavily CGI paintbox look, and after the establishing shots he somehow forgot to actually feature Paris.

Isabel Coixet actually achieves something impressive and moving in her section, which suddenly stands out from the preceding episodes as result. It also brings real imagination to its storytelling, as opposed to the mannerisms of Tom Tykwer. That guy’s getting to be like a bad Wim Wenders for the MTV generation.

Depardieu’s co-directed bit irked the hell out of me. It was nice seeing Ben Gazzara and Gena Rowlands again, but REALLY: filming two people sat at a restaurant table is one of the simpler tasks a director can have, as far as mise en scene goes, unless they choose to make it complicated. Depardieu and his stooge manage to cross the line for no reason almost immediately, and thereafter randomly alternate shot sizes, creating a meaningless jumble of shots that distract from the generally fine performances. What’s irritating is that somebody with no directorial sense whatever has been handed a chance to show off his lack of ability in front of a wide audience, when the job could have been given to a talented short filmmaker or an experienced pro.

Christopher Doyle put together some nice visuals for his episode but forgot to come up with a coherent idea.

I was fairly charmed by the Sylvain Chomet mime story, which I thought bode fairly well for his Tati project: Chomet can do live action, it seems. I was curious as to whether he’d seen my clown movie, though, since he lives just outside Edinburgh. Not that he’s stolen ANYTHING, mind you, but the idea of clowns/mimes as a persecuted minority is a tad close. If I had anything to do with inspiring him I’d be very happy.

Paris Qui Mort

Oliver Schmitz, like Coixet, got some emotional involvement into his story, and it was pretty cleverly constructed. I thought it spelled everything out too carefully at the end, instead of trusting the audience, though.

I loved the Alexander Payne, which makes me feel part of the great mass of humanity since everybody else does too. It manages a real JOURNEY, where the flat, horribly-accented narration of the frowsy middle-aged American tourist, in flat schoolgirl French, suddenly stops being a distanciation device and becomes tremendously affecting.

Several episodes were not really interesting enough to even mention.

But I’m still FURIOUS about episode 2, Gurinder Chadha’s Quais des Seine. Partly it’s because Chadha’s flying the flag for Britain here, so I would’ve liked to see something inspirational. Mainly it’s because her piece manages to encapsulate about half of what I hate about modern British film. Admittedly, she isn’t out to give the audience a hard time for no reason, or rub our noses in gritty realism as “a cheap holiday in other people’s misery” (to use Johnny Lydon’s phrase), but her piece is the very embodiment of the new Tradition of Quality, Social Realism Lite. Visually uninspired to migraine-inducing levels, banal, preachy, inane, actively uninterested in exploring nuance or complexity or ambiguity or shading, this “film” sets out to teach the ignorant masses that (a) boys shouldn’t shout abuse at girls because it isn’t endearing, and (b) Muslims are people too. That’s it. Both messages are prettily illustrated and then spelled out in dialogue form in case we missed it. And while I agree with both statements, neither strikes me as worth dramatising, for reasons that should be perfectly obvious.

Je Deteste

The overall effect is to suggest that British filmmakers are stuck somewhere in the era of Cecil Hepworth, presenting pat homilies and shunning the cinematic in favour of the photogenic. When you compare this piece to what’s being done in practically every other country in the world, it is SHAMEFUL. Chadha had the chance to connect to the great works of British cinema, or Indian cinema, or French cinema. What she’s achieved might just serve to pass the time between highlights on an episode of Eastenders.

Phooey!

BUT! Coming soon, I will have some good news about British cinema…

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