My week in film: The Impossible, Anna Karenina, Wild Combination and a little Cronenberg

The soundtrack to Keep the Lights On included many beautiful tracks by Arthur Russell, a musician whom I had previously no knowledge of. Wild Combination: A Portrait of Arthur Russell directed by Matt Wolf went some way to rectify this, it being a thoughtful documentary portrait that gives plenty of weight to what kind of person Arthur Russell was, as well as the particularity of his ‘genius’.

russell2Interviews with Russell’s parents, colleagues, friends – such as Allen Ginsberg – form a diversity of opinion on the late composer and musician but boyfriend Tom emerges as his tireless promoter, without whom Russell’s catalogue of recordings might never have been heard. The drawback to the far-reaching character analysis provided via contributions from friends and collaborators is that Russell’s music ends up being the one thing that doesn’t get enough attention. Performances are cut short and recordings given in snippets, so that the editing style is as frenetic and distracted as Russell’s demonstrable working method appears to be. It’s a shame really, as further insight from professional musicians and critics might have revealed more about the film’s subject than the testimonies of his contemporaries. TheImpossible_620_120312

 

The Impossible could aptly be described as a horror film, following director Juan Antonio Bayona’s The Orphanage – it’s a visceral depiction of a tsunami and its impact on the fragile human body. Watching it I realised I had never actually thought about the sheer force of water, and after I couldn’t help but recall such shallow, romantic depictions of glorious death by tsunami such as Tea Leoni and Maximilian Schell standing on the beach in Deep Impact (1998). The family at the heart of the film are perfunctorily bland – if a little idealised as headed by Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts – but its clear from the screen time given to the physical ordeals of each member that how the experience affects them, rather than who they were before that’s what really matters. ewan-the-impossibleThe performances are remarkable throughout; particularly that of Watts and Tom Holland – who plays eldest son Lucas – in the early scenes as they fight to survive whilst being carried at great speed by the giant wave. Bayona used a combination of CGI and actual scale models and tanks with gallons of water to create the wave, out of a desire for authenticity. With this in mind, the physical endurance of the actors seems all the more impressive and the result is immersive – a truly cinematic rendering of pure destruction, and one that is often hard to watch. McGregor also impresses as determined father, Henry, providing one of the most heartbreaking phone call scenes I’ve ever seen, beautifully simple in its delivery of a desperate message. Though The Impossible isn’t a film one would rush to see again, the horror is suitably rewarded through the melodrama of the family’s reunion and the chill of what their lives will become as a result of surviving. eastern-promises

Impressed as I was by Naomi Watts I decided that seeing another of her performances would also provide an excuse (as if I needed it) to finally kick-start catching up with Cronenberg – a director who’s films I haven’t seen enough of. Eastern Promises (2007) is a London set tale of a Russian mob family who unexpectedly pique the interest of nurse, Anna (Watts) when she finds a diary belonging to a teenage Russian girl who dies on her ward during childbirth. Investigating the origins of the girl and a potential family for the baby leads down a dark path towards terribly violent, fiercely loyal and protective criminals. Anna’s interest in the welfare of the child is explained by a hinted at back-story involving a miscarried child, but once established, the complexities of her motivations are underplayed to make room for the more showy role – that of Viggo Mortensen as ‘driver’ Nikolai. Cronenberg’s oft-discussed fascination with the invasion of the body through violent acts is given a memorable treatment in a standout scene involving a naked Mortensen and some standard thugs. Mortensen’s body – his skin decorated with symbolic tattoos; is exposed and vulnerable as he gains more bloody markings fighting for his life. Having only previously seen The Fly, eXitenZ and parts of Rabid, Eastern Promises seemed less hysterical, but no less unnerving and has certainly inspired me to continue with my catch up. Keira-Knightley-Anna-Karenina

Its awards season, so aside from The Impossible, I was interested to seek out other nominated/winning films and not wanting to fight the crowds for Les Misérables this weekend I opted for Joe Wright’s BAFTA nominated Anna Karenina, in the running for the Outstanding British Film award alongside Skyfall, the aforementioned musical adaptation, Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Seven Psychopaths. Wright’s adaptation of the classic Tolstoy novel imagines Russian society and its self scrutiny as grand theatre in which the staging moves around the actors, rhythmically creating an atmosphere of high drama played out for its own (and the audiences) entertainment. Once this device is established however, it soon becomes tiresome, not to mention dizzying as the attempt is made to find inventive ways to maintain the aesthetic. Keira Knightly, as Anna is excellent however, demonstrating graceful and engaging emotion that lifts the film out of its theatrical confines. Domhall Gleeson as Levin is also hugely sympathetic – his subplot regarding the guilt of privilege and the anxiety of resolving one’s political and romantic ideologies is perhaps the best thing in the film.

Also watched:

Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino

His Girl Friday, Howard Hawks.

Coming up, Les Misérables, Django Unchained and a continuing catch up with Cronenberg – now won’t that be exciting?!

 

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My week in film: Keep the Lights On, The Girl, Jennifer’s Body and an assortment of fairytales.

The festive week’s film viewing, rather than including the usual Christmas fare (I didn’t even manage to watch A Muppet Christmas Carol!) for the most part; either reinforced exactly the same ‘magical’ feeling that Christmas is supposed to be about – only in fairytale form or; centred around issues of female identity and gender stereotyping – depending on which way you look at it.  JENNIFERS-BODY-photos-lesbi

On Christmas eve whilst many round the country were at midnight mass, I was thoroughly enjoying Jennifer’s Body (2009), the Megan Fox starring high-school horror/comedy in which Mean Girls’ Amanda Seyfried dons spectacles to play the titular cheerleaders’ BFF. Diablo Cody’s witty screenplay and Karyn Kusama’s thoughtful direction combine to produce a hugely enjoyable critique of the female teen experience. Not to mention a nice satire of the ubiquity of US indie rock bands. A comment about the myth of PMS comes to take on new meaning when Jennifer (Fox) is possessed by a blood-hungry devil, who – when not satisfied – reduces her appearance to dank hair and pallid skin; or does this ‘beauty’ simply look like every other teenage girl at their ‘time of the month’. Needy (Seyfried) must then find a way to stop Jennifer’s murderous rampage, whilst keeping the friendship intact (or not). Rather than a will-they won’t-they love story, Jennifer’s Body puts female friendship at stake and refreshingly examines loyalty across presumed social barriers. It’s also very funny indeed. Giselle-enchanted-1992210-1024-768

Next up – fairytales and parody in Tangled (2010), Enchanted (2007) and Sleepless in Seattle (1993) – the latter being a film I’ve seen more times than I care to mention. Tangled on release followed The Princess and the Frog (2009) in being a fairytale princess tale harking back to the times of Snow White and Cinderella, but with the twist that their heroines are more autonomous and quit-witted than previous incarnations of the Disney female. Tangled’s Rapunzel may be surrounded by fairytale archetypes such as the mean witch/mother who won’t let her out of her tower but she determinedly breaks out of her comfort zone to pursue her own goal.

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Likewise, in Enchanted, Giselle – having been pushed out of fairytale land Andalasia and into Manhattan – ends up fighting the evil queen to save the man she loves, rather than marry the traditional prince with whom she is supposed to share true loves’ kiss. In Sleepless in Seattle, Meg Ryan’s Annie fantasises that a man she has never met could be ‘the man of her dreams’ and we, the audience are complicit in the fantasy as Nora Ephron’s sweet and clever film persuades us of the couple’s compatibility with a huge bucket of charm. Believing in a fairytale, whether you’re aware of it or not is a simple part of life, apparently. In my festive line up of fantasy females though, I think Jennifer and Needy win.

the-girl-ay_99779624HBO/BBC’s The Girl also dealt with female autonomy and male sexual fantasy whereby the fairytale of Hollywood stardom comes with a heavy price.  Sienna Miller and Toby Jones portrayed Tippi Hedren and Alfred Hitchcock during the making of the legendary directors iconic films, The Birds (1963) and Marnie (1964) and Hitch is shown to have manipulated his star, sexually harassed her and put her under physical and emotional distress. Based on interviews with Hedren and members of Hitchcock’s crew, Gwyneth Hughes and Donald Spoto’s screenplay nevertheless makes it hard not to question the veracity of the events portrayed, as Hitch comes off as a sleazy, impotent creep, an image contrary to the loveable, black-humoured national treasure he is considered by many to be. Indeed it has been reported that Hitchcock’s former crew have spoken out about his portrayal in The Girl claiming that he has been misrepresented. Truth or fiction aside, the level of period detail and recreation of film sets and locations is a singular achievement and Miller and Jones both perform with conviction and authentic emotion.

2_e_Ira-Sachs-_Keep-the-Lights-OnGetting back to the cinema I was thrilled to see Keep the Lights On by Ira Sachs. Unfortunately I hadn’t managed to avoid the praise for this film (I like to keep an open mind) but nevertheless it proved to be an intelligent and mature approach to a contemporary romance about a couple, one half of which is struggling with drug addiction. Thure Lindhardt as Erik was a luminous, enchanting presence on screen and well matched by Zachary Booth as his troubled boyfriend, Paul. That it was shot on super 16 film not only renders the whole film completely gorgeous but lends the aesthetic a romantic feel and grounds the form in line with its protagonists profession as a filmmaker – cinematographic warmth translates to deep affection for the characters, indicating a very personal story. The use of Arthur Russell on the soundtrack is also an excellent element that coheres with the emotion of the screenplay demonstrating a freshness that saves it from sentimentality.

Coming soon, my most memorable – rather than best of – 2012 and a list of those I’d rather forget.