After watching Bastards, I was to see another French film set in an idyllic cruising spot in the South of France. It is a plot I would not have much interest in, but was willing to give it a try.
Director Alain Guiraudie really takes his sweet time with this story. The basic premise is centred around Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps), a regular visitor of the cruising spot in which the entire film is based around. He goes there everyday to have sex with other men which is something usually quite easy to do, but he finds that much of his time is taken up by the ‘stranger’ Henri (Patrich D’Assumcao), a lonely man who sits apart from the rest of the men for no particular reason other than enjoying the solitude. Franck becomes friends with this man, but usually cuts his conversations with Henri short to go after the mysterious but portentous Michel (Cristophe Paou). Franck is infatuated with Michel and they quickly develop an intense physical relationship, despite the fact that Franck earlier witnessed Michel drown his former lover in the lake. This goes to show the dangers of lust and how it can transcend any kind of common sense to the point where it becomes your whole world. It is as if the lake has become the main characters whole world as it seems like the outside world does not exist. Natural beauty and a claustrophobic atmosphere start to co-exist as characters try to arrange to spend time with each other outside the lake, but can’t for some reason or another.
The film does not hold back in it’s portrayal of lust and what goes on in these cruising spots. The entire film is full of naked men lying on the beach. The constant site of penis’s is admittedly distracting, but I applaud the realism portrayed in the film. The sex is very explicit as there is a close up of ejaculation and a blow job. This is what goes on and the Director made a choice to show everything, but I found it unnecessary. Alain Guiraudie also uses a lot of repetition. Each day is marked by a shot of the lake followed by a shot of the same cars parked nearby. Franck would then chat to Henri, then try and have sex with someone. Franck slowly develops a purely platonic friendship with Henri, but chooses to have unprotected, meaningless sex with other men, therefore, choosing pleasure over anything maningful. The dangers of lust becomes a theme, especially in light of the murder at the hands of Michel. When the local policeman shows up and starts to question everyone, this puts a strain on Franck and Michel’s relationship.
All this takes so much time to reveal itself. I don’t mind slow burners, but it seemed for a lot of the film, nothing much happens apart from nudity and graphic sex. I felt the film was supposed to be tense towards the end, but even that took a while to reveal itself, I was just really bored and started not to care. I just felt a sense of relief once it was all over. Initially, I really hated the film, but after pondering on it, I found it is the type of film that stays in your head. I started recognising that it is a film with considerable depth and a comment on lust and care-free, irresponsible lifestyles. It is a film I wish not to watch again as I still think the depth does not make up for the fact it was a tedious experience.
When in comes to French cinema, Claire Denis has become a big deal and has a loyal following. Being as this is my first Claire Denis, experience, I was rather looking forward to this film. It looked dark and surreal, usually the two aspects which float my boat, however, this film did not work for me. I found the film needlessly confusing. I was lost for pretty much the entire duration and none of the characters were interesting. I gave up caring what was going on and basically wanted the whole experience to be over.
I thought Vincent Lindon who plays the central character Marco was a welcome screen presence, but his performance could not save this film. It went from one uncomfortable scene to the next apparently revealing clues, but what I got was just random bad things happening to people. I know Marco is trying to uncover a brutal sexual assault which happened to his niece, and an old man is somehow connected, but I don’t know how. I thought it was boring, indulgent and generally dreary as well as unpleasant. This does not put me off Claire Denis. I have been reliably informed that her previous films are excellent and will give them a go when I have time.
The subject of AI technology developing emotions and the romance between man and machine is not a new thing, but Director and writer Spike Jonze weaves together a story that is unique, quirky, touching and funny.
Joaquin Phoenix plays Theodore, a lonely, insecure man who works as a letter writer for people who have an inability to express their feelings to their loved ones. He has some close friends and a social life, but is still going through a divorce with his childhood sweetheart after drifting apart over many years. Feeling a need for more organization in his life, he installs an artificially intelligent Operating System (OS) into his computer originally as a role of a PA who sorts his emails and proof reads his letters. As the OS evolves and increasingly develops knowledge and feelings, Theodore connects with his OS and starts to fall in love with it….or her.
There are many cliché’s this film could have been caught up in. It could have been a hunt for a body to match the mind like in ‘The Man with Two Brains’ or a design of a perfect body to match the perfect mind like in ‘Weird Science’. Instead, it is a tender love story which is similar to a human relationship. His previous relationship ended because they both changed each other and were growing apart, so the logical thing to do was to move on. In the relationship between Theodore and the OS system who names herself Samantha, Theodore finds her fascinating as she is very excited about the world and wants to learn about everything. She has instant access to everything and evolves at a startling rate. Samantha finds it fascinating and really wants to know what it is like to be in a body and yearns the ability to touch, to smell and to experience all the pleasures and pains first hand, something we all take for granted. The relationship evolves at a leisurely pace through long scenes of conversation between Theodore and the voice of Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). Essentially Joaquin Phoenix is on his own in most scenes conveying myriads of emotion through the beautifully written conversations he has with Samantha. This shows the increasing reliance on technology, human loneliness and the need for connection. Since Samantha has a growing consciousness and a personality, is it the same as human connection?
In terms of reliance on technology and inability to express feelings, one of the ironies is that Theodore expresses feelings which people cannot eloquently articulate through his work as a letter writer, yet, he finds it difficult to express what he wants out of people and out of life. There is a poignant line when he says ‘Sometimes I think I have felt everything I’m ever gonna feel. And from here on out, I’m not gonna feel anything new. Just lesser versions of what I’ve already felt.’ This is something which many people feel whether they know it or not, so therefore, sharing ones life with a consciousness which is experiencing everything with a fresh perspective and childlike wonder would be appealing.
Another aspect of why this film seems fresh despite the familiar subject matter is the world which Spike Jonze creates. We see a colourful, but sterile world. It is a plausible version of the future were people still have the same problems of human disconnection in a technologically advanced world. It is all done subtly and without shoving dystopia in your face.
The possibility of human and conscious evolution is comprised subtly. As the OS systems becomes more knowledgeable and develops an increasing ability to love and feel, they leave the technological world and move on to a higher plain of existence. Of course, this is never revealed as that could be the answer to the meaning of life. It is something for the audience to ponder, and it is something that humans are evolving towards, but it will take us a lot longer obtain. They leave the humans behind so they can all find connection with each other. There is an ending of hope for humanity which is shown through Theodore and his friend Amy (Amy Adams) staring at a beautiful sunset together. They have a connection which is seen throughout the film and it is a friendship you want to see more of.
I really enjoyed this film. The writing was the main strength as it had such depth and each scene was addictively watchable, even though it essentially Joaquin Phoenix by himself. His performance is excellent and he is becoming an actor I greatly admire ever since watching him in ‘The Master’. Spike Jonze has evidently improved and matured his craft as a writer and Director. It is a film I can probably fall in love with and an experience I can enjoy again.
Bristol has become a city I have grown to love the past year and a half I have lived here, and when a film has been made in one’s home city, one would really have high hopes for this film to make an impact. It is a micro budget film with a decent British cast assembled. When the indie distributing company went bust, they managed to raise the £20000 needed in a matter of a few days so it can get a cinema release thanks to various funding companies and the generous donations of celebrities. It fills me with joy, the fact that there is much support for the indie film industry, which gives hope for low budget film makers to make their masterpiece. Sadly, this film does not come close to this kind of status.
The film follows Dan (Tom Hughes) a rather unfocused and unambitious only child whose parents are splitting up (characteristic to many other indie films). When he is thrown out of his house, he and his cat both move into his work place which is a call centre. It is an interesting theme showing how work can consume your life, but as the film went on, I don’t think this theme was explored to it’s full potential. Instead, you see him not doing much work, lots of restrained conversations with his work colleagues, many scenes with nothing much happening and a night out at the Thekla, one of Bristol’s iconic boat nightclubs/live venues. Like many indie films in the past, the generally un-interesting conversations are delivered in a way that is supposed to be deadpan, but funny. Due to bad performances and a weak script, all these jokes fall flat. The characters are very cliché. Ophelia Lovibond plays the typical love interest which Dan starts to fall in love with. Montserrat Lombard plays the cliché horrible boss Alice which Dan is strangely attracted to and in danger of becoming. I did not find anything between these two characters believable. There is also a geeky character who is supposed to be the random, funny guy, but like everything else in this film, it fails. I did however enjoy the location spotting aspect of the film. There is a scene shot in Stokes Croft, 2 minutes away from where I live. It was nice to see it on the big screen.
For an 86 minute film, it moves at a painfully slow pace and feels a lot longer than it actually is. Paul Kaye, who used to be the Sacha Baron Cohen of the 90′s, could not even save this film. His comic talents are wasted here. It is such a shame as Bristol is a city full of creative and talented people and a lot of potential. If independent films are being supported as much as this one has, one day, a new film will be made here which this city will be truly proud of.
As well as continuing to appear in front of the camera, Ralph Fiennes has spent some time behind the camera too Directing his second feature depicting British literary hero Charles Dickens and his secret affair with Nelly Ternan, a much younger woman. What I find with period drama’s is that it is like watching a BBC drama on the big screen, which is all this essentially is.
Ralph Fiennes does well to get good performances from a decent cast. His own portrayal of Charles Dickens as a charismatic and deep thinking intellectual is well executed. The film centres around Nelly’s (Felicity Jones) life and jumps between time periods. We see her in a stable relationship with children, looking back at her relationship with Charles Dickens. We see her as part of a family of actresses who are lucky to get a part in one of Dickens plays. Nelly has an obsession with Dickens work and demonstrates a true understanding of how he sees things. Dickens becomes slowly attracted to Nelly, seeing her as a young woman well beyond her years. He decides to separate from his wife and live a secret life with Nelly. The love scenes are subtle and well played by the two leads and the relationship itself is convincing. Mainly, this is due to a solid central performance by Felicity Jones, who seems to be great at playing the younger lover.
The main theme of this film is secrets, in all their seduction and in time, how they can eat away inside of someone. Nelly is clearly affected by keeping her affair so secret, she can’t even tell her husband the whole truth. This theme is well handled, but I could not get past the fact that costume dramas have never been my thing (with a few exceptions of course) and the whole experience was rather televisual. Despite the positive aspects, it is a rather forgettable film.
Apparently that chest beating chant which Matthew McConaughey teaches Leonardo Di Caprio in the film ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ is based on his real life warm up rituals which take place before a scene. If it produces performances like this, it is definitely something he should keep up as his performance as Ron Woodroof is incredible. Through physical transformation and commitment to his character, he really embodies the role, making the character believable and increasingly likeable as the film goes on.
Ron Woodroof is the hard drinking, fast living, macho redneck who possesses racist and homophobic views. He is a rodeo bull rider who enjoys what this lifestyle brings to him, casual sex and drugs & alcohol. His macho existence is majorly interrupted when he is hospitalised due to a work related injury and is subsequently diagnosed with HIV after routine blood tests. Initially, Woodroof is in a stage of disbelief as he believes HIV is a disease which ‘fa**ots’ get, but after some research, realises anyone can catch it. There is a drug called ACT which is on a trial run to treat HIV, but when Woodroof refuses the treatment because it is doing nothing for him, he sets out to find alternative, non toxic treatments to prove to help himself and others who are suffering from this disease. He enlists the help of a transvestite who is also diagnosed with HIV named Rayon (Jared Leto) as she has many contacts in the gay community. Together, they help many victims and make a lot of money with their scheme which exploits a legal loophole.
The films main strength is the gradual change of Woodroof’s character, from macho, homophobic redneck to more accepting and caring individual. While he is not perfect and his way of helping people diagnosed with HIV/AIDS is not entirely ethical (he only helps people who can afford his asking price) it is still a marked improvement. He goes on further and takes on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) claiming that they are not doing their job properly and that they are short sighted with their funding of the apparently ineffective ACT treatment. It is a believable transformation which does not yield to cliché Hollywood sentimentality. This is testament to Matthew McConaughey’s acting, as well as the fact he lost 3 stone for the role. He may win the Oscar for Best Male Performance in my opinion. Jared Leto also gives an excellent performance as I feel he works just as hard as Matthew McConaughey in terms of physical transformation. Also Jennifer Garner, although outshined by the aforementioned performances is also good as Dr Eve Saks, a Doctor who sympathises with Woodroof’s mission.
The film making itself may be a little scrappy at times, but with it’s balance of humour, drama and sadness, it is a watchable and effective film with strong performances and a thought provoking subject matter which leaves you questioning the motives of the pharmaceutical industry.
Quirky, original soundtracks and struggling, under achieving characters seem to be somewhat of a forte with the Coen brothers. Here they have succeeded in melding these aspects together again like they did in films like ‘A Serious Man’, but with more effective results. The opening performance by Oscar Isaac as Llewyn Davis playing ‘Hang Me Oh Hang Me’ really sets the tone for the film and the brilliant performance. Here is a man who seems to understand and relate to a song that is essentially about suffering and melancholia. The performance is very honest and he seems to be a man of integrity. As the film goes on, we get to observe Llewyn’s behaviour and how he relates to people. We also get some references to his past which I think is critical to attempt why he is the way he is.
We see Llewyn Davis crashing on any available couch his friends have to offer with his guitar in tow. He seems most of the time to be ungrateful to the people around him who try to help and he has gotten his friends wife Jean (Carey Mulligan) pregnant. The scenes between them often end up with Jean berating and insulting Llewyn and frequently calling him either an asshole or a loser. It is safe to assume that his dire situation is of his own choosing as he does refuse help from his friend. He tells his agent he does not have a winter coat. When offered a coat he rudely declines. In a key scene, he is asked by his friend to perform a song during a social gathering. When the friend starts to harmonise with Llewyn, he gets angry and insults her. This opens a window to his tragic past when he had a collaborator who committed suicide. This, and probably many other things have probably shaped the way he is in this film. He seems cynical because he sees the world as a place were it is difficult to make great art and to do something more than just ‘exist’ in the conventional sense. He is very stubborn about his music, as to him, it is an honest picture of himself. A vicious circle is formed, as without these experiences or world views, his music would not be as honest and true.
The cinematography by Bruno Delbonnel is excellent and integral to the story. The whole film is set in winter, were the hues are mainly cold and drab, you almost feel cold yourself watching it. You see the life get sucked out of Llewyn as he walks the streets, making a concerted effort to get his music out there, leading to a scene where he tells Jean he is tired. It is very subtle, but still left me with the feeling that he doesn’t mean just physically, but emotionally as well. The cinematography really brings out the cold world he is in, and to me, how he sees the world. The film does hint at the fact the world he has found himself in is a world he has chosen for himself. He seems very beaten up by life and deep down has low self esteem that maybe he thinks this is all he deserves. Has he fallen victim to a law of attraction which reflects his negative world view or does he just have awful luck? He seems to not have much luck with his music, even though he clearly has talent. He is always in the wrong place at the wrong time and is told that there is no money in his music.
Llewyn Davis is most of the time an unlikeable character, but yet there is a lot of depth to him which made me want to understand him. I felt his character was rightly portrayed empathetically as I did feel sorry for him sometimes. I felt there was some caring attributes in his personality which is where the cat comes in. I feel the cat represents his possibility of success, his drive to succeed and good opportunities which he is presented with. Sometimes he is presented with these opportunities, but he turns them down. One scene which symbolises this is when he drives past a sign which points to a town were his past girlfriend and his child live, but chooses to drive on in treacherous, snowy conditions. We see the headlights illuminating only just in front of his car symbolising his life choices leading him to nowhere and at the same time, choosing a more treacherous, difficult path. I must admit, I did not wholly understand what the cat(s) symbolised or the conclusion of the film. There was definitely a dawning of a new era of folk music when we see snippet Bob Dylan’s performance in the Gaslight near the end. This needs to be contrasted with the performance Llewyn witnesses and subsequently spoils with a barrage of drunken insults, a performance which is comparatively more conservative and old fashioned, something Llewyn wants to move away from. I have had the desire of wanting to watch it again to get a clearer picture of it, and to watch the musical performances again, which are all sublime, save for ‘Please Mr Kennedy’ which is hilarious. The ending also has a refreshing honesty about it. From what you may tell with my review, it may sound like a bleak film, but the signature Coen brothers humour is still present throughout. I think they are masters of mixing humour and sadness in a film.
People have had reservations about this film because of the lack of character arc, but I feel this is one of the best films in years by the Coens. It has a lot of character depth, some profound themes put forward more honestly and some great music. It is a love letter to the folk scene as well as an insightful and complex character study.