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Review: Anchor and Hope (Dir. Carlos Marques-Marcet, 2017)

Following on from his 2014 long distance romance, 10,000km, Carlos Marques-Marcet, once again, looks at love in the modern age. In Anchor and Hope, he reunites with Natalia Tena and David Verdaguer only this time, thankfully, they are both on the same continent.

Kat (Tena) and Eva (Oona Chaplin) are four years into their relationship and following the death of their cat Chorizo, the conversation (re)turns to children. Enter Kat’s best friend, Barcelona-based Roger (an impressively hirsute Verdaguer) who comes to stay on their houseboat. When Eva drunkenly expresses her desire and longing for a baby, Roger – the sport that he is – offers to supply his “little fish” and help create their family. The only one not completely on board with such a huge life decision is Kat, who still believes it is “narcissistic” and “selfish” to procreate.

Marques-Marcet and co-writer Jules Nurrish cite María Llopis’ text Maternidades Subversivas in the film’s credits, and it’s easy to see how Llopsis’ work inspired. She wrote of the different maternity models born in light of new experiences and struggles in today’s society. No longer is motherhood limited to the hetero-normative cis-woman but can be subverted as a way of changing the world and even deemed an act of insurgency.

For so long, families had one model and this was only recreated onscreen. Thankfully, films have begun to catch up somewhat. There is a great scene in Anchor and Hope where the trio tell Eva’s “wacky” mother Germaine (played by actual mater Geraldine Chaplin) about their baby plans and it awakens an impassioned speech from Kat who speaks out against the older generation. Those who claimed to have “rebelled” and, as it turns out, did not change a thing; instead conforming where they failed. Choosing to have a child does not require the prerequisite checklist which some deem so important.

The film is shot episodically and made up of four titled vignettes. It’s a screwball comedy for the 21st Century, containing a hilarious singalong to Inner Circle’s 90s hit Sweat (A La La La La Long) and filmed on a houseboat which resides largely on London’s canal system. It’s a refreshing London which is depicted, almost idyllic with its palette of greens, oranges and golds, the grey and oppressive concrete jungle appears to be far away from this utopia. Dagmar Weaver-Madsen’s camera moves languidly through the womb-like canal tunnels and serves the narrative and plot which remains largely unpredictable. All is topped off deliciously with an eclectic and whimsical soundtrack including tracks sung by both female leads.

All three actors work incredibly well together and the chemistry between Tena and Verdaguer – who can be seen in the delightful Summer 1993 – is, well tenable. The naturalism feels unforced and realistic, like a family playing for the camera (all to impress their older sibling behind it). While the two provide, at times, the humour, it is Oona Chaplin who provides the heart. She is wonderful as Eva and possesses a real vulnerability and tenacity (and aversion to tequila) which is hard to pull off convincingly.

Anchor and Hope is a decidedly honest and modern love story which is unafraid to ask the big questions surrounding men, women and parenthood. All the while navigating the choppy waters faced in love and relationships.

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Review: The Ones Below (Dir. David Farr, 2015)

Motherhood is supposed to be an exuberant time; one filled with expectation, apprehension and, above all, joy. Throw in the loneliness of London and the new neighbours who have moved into the downstairs flat and it will fast become something else entirely. Following his recent adaptation of The Night Manager, David Farr not only writes his own screenplay for The Ones Below but makes his directorial debut and no stranger to suspense, he makes a fairly entertaining job of it.

Kate (Cleménce Poésy) and Justin Pollard (Stephen Campbell Moore) met at University and – after (some) reluctance on Kate’s part – are expecting their first child. In fact, Billy is the first character we meet, at least in ultrasound form accompanied by Adem Ilhan’s haunting lullaby. Okay, so it may be a bit of a sledgehammer in terms of freeze-framed set-up and foreboding but Farr has our disconcerted attention.

The Pollards have a substantial income made apparent by their Saab™ and home in North London, everything is very drab and beige in their world, well, until the bright green AstroTurf lawn is laid in the garden below. Their new neighbours arrive; banker John Baker (David Morrissey) and his pretty pregnant Finnish wife Theresa (Laura Birn). Almost immediately, the petite blonde child-bearers bond and are fast becoming firm friends, quite an achievement for the quiet, introverted Kate. However, following an intimate and incredibly awkward dinner, tragedy strikes and relationships unravel.

Taking his visual cues from the likes of Polanski and Hitchcock – there’s even a Haneke starkness to the set design – first-time director Farr creates an interesting film, particularly assisted by the nifty camerawork courtesy of cinematographer, Ed Rutherford. It’s not a wholly original story, and we’re still delivered a female focussed narrative about a gender-specific biology via a male amid very privileged and homogenised surroundings but the differences between the couples and their environments are fascinating. It does try and make a quirk out of people who remove their shoes before walking into a house (hygiene, people!), there’s a brief fumbling over a spare key and why indeed would a wealthy banker move into a one-bedroomed flat? Yet, all-in-all, there is much to admire, not least the detachment and isolation a city scape can project.

The Ones Below covers a lot of hard-hitting themes and subjects, from maternal instinct and domesticity, to the very real issue of postnatal depression and the anxieties surrounding parenthood. Poésy does a particularly convincing job at giving Kate scope beyond the vanilla victim she could have become; her character and Birn’s Theresa are inextricably linked not only by hair colour and circumstance but entwined as if facets of the same person. Any similarity diminishes as the film progresses, culminating in a real distinction between the contrived and the verisimilar. For the most part, it works efficiently as a drama/psychological thriller, even a bloodless horror. That said, nothing quite prepares you for the devastating conclusion and creepy final scene. The grass is definitely not always greener and it appears to be, it’s a trick of lighting or all for show and probably rotten beneath the surface.

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Review

Review: Sightseers (Dir. Ben Wheatley, 2012)

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Redundancy, oppressive living environment thanks mainly to a passive-aggressive matriarch, canine-icide and all those little annoying habits of others, like littering, personal success and the class-divide which make one want to pummel in somebody’s skull – desires which social convention and psychological adjustment prevent – are the main themes of Ben Wheatley’s third directorial outing Sightseers following Down Terrace (2009) and Kill List (2011).

The main protagonists Chris (Steve Oram) and Tina (Alice Lowe) are lucky to find each other in this cynical age of romance and chance (plus it reaffirms the old adage that there is indeed someone for everyone however angry or homicidal you may be). He wants to show his new girlfriend “his world” which involves a caravan, a large bag of extra strong mints and excursions to some of the country’s leading, albeit, obscure heritage sites. Tina intends to let him and rock his (world) in her, wholly fetching, knitted bra and crotch-less, big knickers. Following an accident at their first stop (the tram museum) things take a sinister turn and their holiday tests them both and the strength of their relationship.

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Chris refers to Tina as “his muse”, however, she is more of an unconventional femme fatale throughout a series of transgressions and while Sightseers’ pitch black context is, inadvertently, played for laughs, it is Tina’s story arc which is the most evolutionary. She embodies the two binaries of women which are often indicative of the noir: the dependable, domesticated and safe in addition to the alluring, sexual (the lingerie really has to be seen to be believed) and dangerous female. Chris is the male in crisis and she, on occasion, a function of his dilemma and powerlessness. Interestingly, the time she rebels against her own passivity and becomes the idealised version, she believes, Chris wants her to be is the moment when she is dressed at her most feminine, in a dress, completed with lipstick. The scene in which she exerts her first real sign of independence is also the scene in which she, it can be argued, seizes phallic power, here, signified as a very large writing pencil. Certainly, the last sequence does suggest that Tina is the one in control and has, perhaps, precipitated the whole journey and its outcome – “witch!”

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This film really showcases Wheatley’s direction given his lack of involvement with the story and there will be comparisons made between this and Mike Leigh’s Nuts in May (1976) and like last year’s Kill List this film also owes a debt of gratitude to Hammer horror. Essentially, the fact that he did not write it makes this a radically different film from his previous, and yet still retains elements of the Wheatley style . Screenplay praise, of which there should be much heaping, falls to the writers and lead actors. Oram and Lowe who both had small parts in Kill List, are better known for their television roles in comedy series Tittybangbang and Garth Marenghi’s Dark Place respectively, as well as dual appearances in The Mighty Boosh and Channel 4’s Comedy Lab. Here, they are a match made in heaven as “a ginger faced man and an angry woman.”

Forget what has gone before, this is the comedy of the year. Caravanning is the deadliest and sexiest way to holiday.