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My Cousin Rachel

June 21, 2017

My Cousin Rachel (2017)
Director: Roger Michell
Actors: Sam Claflin, Rachel Weisz, Iain Glen

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Synopsis: Philip (Sam Claflin) inherits the estate of his elder cousin, Ambrose, who died shortly after marrying the mysterious Rachel (Rachel Weisz). When Rachel comes to visit the estate in Cornwall shortly after, Philip is on the defensive, but is soon won over by Rachel’s charm offensive…

Review: A decade ago, Julian Jarrold’s workmanlike Jane Austen homage Becoming Jane seemed to bring a natural close to the ten year revival of the British period drama (especially of works inspired by Jane Austen) which had been kickstarted by the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice of 1995, and Ang Lee and Emma Thompson’s film adaptation of Sense and Sensibility in the very same year.

It really felt, at that point, that the period fad had exhausted all its goodwill, and only exceptional craftsmanship or novel ingenuity would warrant the genre’s further mining. Of course, like with superhero movies and franchise sagas, this presumption overlooked that we are now in the age where novelty is irrelevant if there is a fanbase to feed and a formula that can be repackaged and served up again and again and again. The period genre is one of these, and there are lots of people who gorge on just exactly the sort of superficially pretty, undemanding tosh churned out by artless hacks like Roger Michell here.

My Cousin Rachel is particularly unfortunate as it falls in the wake of last year’s stellar Love and Friendship. In fact, they’re uncannily similar in theme and plot, but My Cousin Rachel is like the uncool, naff, stiffer version of Whit Stilman’s infinitely more perceptive and superior take on his subject matter (just the kind of ingenuity that would warrant a re-exploration of literary heritage cinema).

My Cousin Rachel really is prototypical claptrap. It is possessed of such a flat and minimal conceit (could a femme fatale be about to get her hands on a sizeable fortune?) that is so telegraphed it’s beyond satire. The umpteenth shot of Rachel Weisz’s conveniently named Rachel handing Sam Claflin’s Philip a dodgy glass of wine or a mug of obscure herbal tea that maybe, just maybe, could have something to do with his ailing health is risibly hackneyed in the extreme. Part of the film’s problem is that Philip is one of the dullest, most one-dimensional, and least sympathetic, lead characters going. It’s hard to care if he is disinherited as his behaviour is so transparently in service to the plot. The most obvious example being the silly hook that Philip simply has to sign over his whole estate to this mysterious lady who, just weeks earlier, he thought was a murderer. All this just to get in her pants?

The only tragedy on display is not the drama, but the thought that all the money gone into this production and the old “club” (BBC Films, period drama, literary heritage, Roger Michell) could have funded multiple, lower budgeted and higher ambition, independent British fare. (June 2017)

Stockholm, My Love

June 18, 2017

Stockholm, My Love (2017)

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For full review, please follow the enclosed link:

(June 2017)

Hors Satan

June 17, 2017

Hors Satan (2011)
Director: Bruno Dumont
Actors: David Dewaele, Alexandre Lematre, Valerie Mestdagh

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Synopsis: In an isolated community in France’s Opal Coast, a vagrant man (David Dewaele) engages in acts that straddle both sides of the moral spectrum.

Review: A tour de force of concentric filmmaking – where everything from subject matter and setting, to the personnel, combine to form a searing document on the dichotomy of beauty and savagery at the heart of a bleak French coastal community – Hors Satan is perhaps Bruno Dumont’s finest pictoral achievement as a director.

The film is also an ultimate testament to the wonderfully compelling non-professional actor unearthed by Dumont, David Dewaele, who was to die just weeks after the film’s UK release. If Hors Satan is all about presence and mise en scène, Dewaele is necessarily the most important part of the film’s aesthetic. His wildness, his charisma, the way his persona can simultaneously suggest sensitivity and malevolence – Dewaele is the icon on which this film’s treatise on mysticism and morality can hypnotically play out on.

Recently, Dumont has gone down a more crowd-pleasing French farce route, and amid the bleakness of Hors Satan‘s canvas are signs that Dumont was moving this way: from the gallows depiction of the key early killing, to the truly bizarre scene where a randy hitchhiker gets more than she bargained for when she attempts to seduce Dewaele. In short, Hors Satan is an uncannily fascinating creation, and there will be one devotee, at least, who won’t complain if Dumont returns to the type of stately, serious work he essayed here. (June 2017)


The Divine and the Comedy of Bruno Dumont

June 13, 2017

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A reappraisal of Hadewijch, Hors Satan and great Dumont rep actor, David Dewaele. Follow the link for article:

Broken Flowers

June 9, 2017

Broken Flowers (2005)
Director: Jim Jarmusch
Actors: Bill Murray, Jeffrey Wright, Jessica Lange

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Synopsis: Don Johnston (Bill Murray), a prematurely retired, fifty-something man, has just been dumped by his girlfriend. He receives an anonymous letter from an old flame, informing him he has a teenage son. With the help of a friendly neighbour, Johnston sets out on a trip across the States to scope out the likely candidates to have sent this letter.

Review: The first time I saw Broken Flowers, I was a little underwhelmed by the perpetual deadpan approach to its conceit. It seemed to smack of two things: smugness over how funny it thought it was, and a lack of confidence in genuinely engaging with the multitude of emotional truisms thrown up throughout the story.

On a second viewing, I’m inclined to be much more sympathetic to the workings of writer-director Jim Jarmusch and the very man whose iconography is so central to the story – Bill Murray. The distancing air affected by Jarmusch is neither conceit nor coldness, but more an exercise in holding the rhetoric back and allowing the very swirl of emotion and character to manifest around the stunned features of Murray. Indeed, the film’s very oxymoronic title, “Broken Flowers”, acts as a metaphor for the anti-epiphanies that exploring your past can present.

As is usual with Jarmusch, it’s a formally arresting film. He makes great use of the otherwise utilitarian opening credits montage by having the key letter travel its way from the hands of the mysterious woman all the way to Don Johnston’s mailbox, scored to The Greenhornes’ exceptional “There is an End”. Another great scene is when Johnston is incredulously dumped by his French girlfriend either side of watching a TV show. The continuity of the humdrum TV programme subliminally communicating the gallows notion that “life happens between watching TV”.

I’d even go as far as to reclaim this film as one of the best American films of the last decade or so. Jarmusch’s still-life, observational, but deceptively emotional, gaze is exceptionally clever. It is somehow at once gothic, yet ethnographically very acute too, and Johnston’s odyssey to meet his lovers in the four corners of the States is one of the great cinematic road trips of recent times. (June 2017)


June 9, 2017

Hadewijch (2009)
Director: Bruno Dumont
Actors: Julie Sokolowski, Yassine Salim, David Dewaele

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Synopsis: A young novice (Julie Sokolowski) who goes by the name of 13th century mystic, Hadewijch, is expelled from her convent for unhealthy piety. Returning to her normal life under her civilian name Céline, she befriends a group of young Muslim men who share her devotion to a greater God…

Review: Bruno Dumont’s starkly beautiful aesthetic – on one level, highly naturalistic; on another, highly abstract – finds apt realisation in this compelling modern day fable about a self-possessed young woman who finds the unlikeliest of outlets in her quest for divinity.

Dumont’s painterly eye makes excellent use of his evocative rural locale outside of Paris where Céline slowly begins to alienate herself from the more demure nuns in her order, while also making mysterious pilgrimages to an isolated chapel on the top of a wooded hill where she can truly communicate her devotional angst. Set against this bleakly compelling backdrop, Dumont affects a highly subtle, almost dark fairytale air, to his drama. His plaintive ambience of no non-diegetic soundtrack (at least, until the symbolic climax), elliptical fades, and the way characters’ blank expressions conversely portray deep emotions (or, at the very least, abstract ideas), gives it this hypnotic edge – acting as mirror for Céline’s own “blind” journey into fundamentalism.

The ending is suitably ambiguous as Céline is presented with two possible moments of epiphany – both at opposite ends of the moral spectrum, yet strangely in keeping with the mature, apolitical, detached eye Dumont casts over his subject matter. (June 2017)

Second Chance: Man of Steel

June 1, 2017

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I’ve attempted to reappraise the maligned, Man of Steel. Follow the accompanying link to read my piece.