Impressions of … Seul Contre Tous (Gaspar Noè)

this is what critics might call a character study, a character study of a cunt – sorry, but there’s no better word for him, near the end of the film we are warned explicitly, in capital letters, to leave the theatre, but this warning might have been placed in the opening titles, we are about to spend 85mins pressed up against a sweating, scowling, seething ball of resentment, ‘the Butcher’, a character who you would inch away from at the bar, shrink from at the bus stop, yet we don’t leave the theatre, we watch … and in my case, perhaps perversely, enjoy

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I say it’s a character study, but ‘study’ is the wrong word, Gaspar Noè’s style is too bracing, too attention-grabbing, too provocative, for anything as calm and informative as a ‘study’, no, the unemployed butcher pours out his life story, in voice-over, at a speed that recalls the irreverent opening narration of ‘Jules et Jim’, or the rapid, cross-cut, flash-backed autobiographies in Resnais’ ‘Mon Oncle d’Amerique’, it’s a dismal tale of neglect, despair and ignorance, the guy is clearly a product of his blighted up-bringing, but his manner and behaviour make it very difficult to sympathise, or, make for some very queasy moments when you can sympathise and also condemn at the same time

but ultimately you want to excrete this guy, you’d rather he didn’t exist

there’s a game going on here, between Noe and the audience, a game of dare – as noted above – there’s also a fat dollop of Brecht, all the text, the slogans, the overt consideration of power and morality, and there’s Mac the Knife, but Noe, hmmm, he seems to be glorifying in nihilism, which is a paradox, I guess

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we are led to expect a climactic act, or two, of homicidal violence: his life story hinges on it – in fact, there is an attempted murder of an unborn child – and once the guy acquires the gun, well, he goes on about it, it’s just a matter of time, but it’s then, in the climactic scene, the games with the audience begin in earnest (so to speak)

kind of brilliant, kind of obnoxious

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Impressions of … Oblivion (Joseph Kosinski)

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oh my, what a seemless blend of CGI and cinematography, and beautiful production design, particularly liked his neo-helicopter, or whatever it was – but why a husband and wife drone repair team are provided with such architecturally elegant digs is a mystery (did they really need that swimming pool?)

the plot, on the other hand, is a not quite seemless blend of sci-fi tropes (La Jetee, Matrix, Total Recall, Moon, Planet of the Apes Independence Day, and many many more), conventional and, at times glib, but it’s pretty effective – it didn’t matter that I had guessed the ‘twist’ from seeing the trailer; the flashback sequence before the climax was a clever touch, and I confess I was moved (yes, what a confession: moved by a Tom Cruise sci-fi flick), what does Mamet say, ‘a simple act of heroism’ … plus my personal favourite, unrequited love

I think it was Andrea Riseborough who won me over: the first half hour was essentially a two-hander (not counting Melissa Leo’s appearance by way of their video screen), just Riseborough and Cruise (mostly Cruise), she is prodigiously talented and slightly crazed – my brother-in-law noted her dilated pupils; the nuance of her line readings are a different class, she brought the best out of Tom, and they gave her a very flattering dress to wear, which she also removed

Morgan Freeman’s first scene (with cigar) was naff

Impressions of … The Innocents (Jack Clayton)

this is a classic, must be the fifth or sixth time I’ve seen this film and I don’t watch many films more than twice (there’s always something, new or old, I’ve yet to see), it is difficult to say anything about a film as immaculate as this one

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I was struck on this viewing by Deborah Kerr’s performance, she is very well cast, despiter her age, pretty and kind, but uptight, very uptight, this helps, the intensity of the role, swinging from fierce moral rectitude to an awkward, desperate vulnerability, she delivers this with absolute conviction – how many times does the poor lass have to widen her eyes? – I have to say, she is supported by generous work from Meg Jenkins as the housekeeper, Mrs Grose, I also think the camera (director) does not abandon her, as it does so many unfortunate actresses in other less intelligent films, the smooth dolly shots, while not being  remind of Max Ophuls, indeed, dare I say it, but there’s a hint of early Orson Welles, though I’m not sure I could explain that intuition

there is an interesting use of deep focus, you might say ‘split’ focus, where one character is foregrounded, their face occupying nearly half the screen, while another character is also present and in focus, but wide, it creates an obscene intimacy with the foregrounded character, the children receive this treatment several times at Miss Giddens’ (Deborah Kerr’s) expense, as if she were excluded from the secret, but on at least one other occasion we get close to Miss Giddens in this way, but here it is to experience her fright more closely: in one memorable sequence, she naively consents to a game of hide and seek with the children, which leaves her to wander the vast mansion alone, there are few shocks as she searches for the children, but it is when she takes her turn at hiding (there is something sad about the way the awkwardness with which she enters into the game), she chooses an accessible location, behind a voluminous curtain in a drawing-room, however, over her shoulder, through the full length windows, the night lurks, a statue is visible, and then something else, which is when we get this shot:

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(NB her eyes have widened before she sees the man – ghost – approaching.)

I’ve never found this film especially frightening, this sequence may well be the only one that makes me jump – it’s a classic example of ‘concern’: we know something the character does not and which may harm them, so we worry for them, here it is generated in the moment, but delivered by the building tension of the sequence; the film doesn’t thrill or menace like horror movies are supposed to; and yet it doesn’t matter, not at all

in fact, this is probably one of the reasons the film is so good

it has atmosphere (the gothic mansion (Sheffield Park), staircases, candles, crinoline, children singing), but more than atmosphere, it has mystery – as soon as she arrives, Miss Giddens, the governess, senses something is amiss – she hears someone calling the little girl’s name, but no one can be identified, and so it continues, giving rise to intrigue and a compelling dramatic question (or two): are the ghosts of the valet and previous governess stalking the house? the governess seizes this question and will not let go, it quickly becomes another more dramatic question: are they seeking to possess the children? Miss Giddens seems convinced …

and there we have it, only our protagonist sees the ghosts (the leering Peter Quint, and the lamening Miss Jessop – whose damp straight hair suggests a blonde version of the Sadako character in ‘Ringu’), no one else, or no one else admits to it – “I know what I saw” Mrs Grose declares, no one else, but us, which inclines us towards the protagonist, include to forgive her erratic behavour, so the plot should lead to the point where the existence of the ghosts is confirmed, admitted, brought into the light, Miss Giddens announces this as her goal for the children, arguing like a proto-psychotherapist that this will cure them …

but what is their condition?

the insinuations of child abuse are abundant, the dominant amoral male, a subservient enabling female, a report of the children having witness the lovers in flagrante, inappropriate ‘precocious’ behaviour on the part of young Miles, the housekeeper in denial, the parent figure (the uncle) absolutely neglectful, and then Miss Giddens herself, confused and perplexed, because she is attracted to the pre-pubsescent boy, she kisses him, and in her mission contrives to be alone in the house with him, and yet we still cannot discount the existence of the ghosts, nor her sincerity

so more than intrigue, or re-doubling the intrigue, we have a very rich and disturbing and ambiguous subtext

this is what makes the film such a fine adaptation and such a classic

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Impressions of … My Brother the Devil [Sally El Hosaini]

I confess part of me wanted to dislike this: yet another urban social realist drama – according to the Script Factory, this is now a genre! – this time set in the Egyptian immigrant community; however, the cynical part of me did not triumph: it’s an intelligent, deeply-felt and convincing (mostly) film

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the film began as a story of a younger brother wanting to emulate his elder brother and served up the standard tension: will the kid from a housing estate choose to get ahead through crime or hard work? (not much tension because they always choose crime – I suppose it’s then a question of whether they’ll get out again and will anyone they love get hurt), but it got interesting when it slipped imperceptibly to the elder brother Rashid’s point of view

pace was what critics sometimes call ‘measured’, in this case, I’d call it moderate, I got impatient with it – this is a sign I had got ahead of the plot – there was too much of something but I’m not sure what … if I had to push anything out of the window, it would be the scenes with Mo and his chums, the crux of the story had shifted, I wasn’t interested in him anymore and these scenes were not going to change that

one (only one) infelicity struck me: Mo (the younger brother) was sent out of the room when Rashid made his offer, he was conspicuously and intentionally excluded from that knowledge, and yet shortly afterwards he is in possession of it and it becomes vital in Rashid’s rescue, a narrative convenience, but what followed was an impressively edited thriller sequence (the empty shower ploy never seems to age, does it?)

indeed, liked the way it cut early from these big sequences, as soon as the significant story beats had occurred, this was intelligent filmmaking,

an impression punctured by a clunky last scene, guess they must have thought they’d earned it, or the audience wanted it and would give them a free pass, not this audience (me), the first line of dialogue were so blatant and ‘on the nose’, credibility collapsed, and I was reminded this had been no more than dialogue with nice (moving) pictures …

… this is not my definition of a film