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Film Festival Review

Review: Carol (Dir. Todd Haynes, 2015)

LFF 2015

Patricia Highsmith has always written credible males. Her themes of masculinity, love and murder have thrilled audiences for decades both in the literary and filmic world. Carol, (originally published as The Price of Salt under a pseudonym) could not be further from the likes of Strangers on a Train, The Talented Mr. Ripley or The Two Faces of January. Here, protagonists are female and the thrilling cat-and-mouse chase becomes a different kind of pursuit in this superbly told love story.

Not only a love story between two women but Carol looks at the heartbreak of a mother separated from her child amid an acrimonious divorce and the sexual politics of the fifties sheds light on the limitations of women and their role in both the home and society. Haynes is a master of the period and shoots women beautifully. He appears to understand them, intuit their strengths, weaknesses, whims and nuances. He is also notorious for getting the finest performances out of his leading ladies – Julianne Moore (Far From Heaven), Kate Winslet (Mildred Pierce) and now Rooney Mara. Make no mistake that while she may play the titular character and gives a stunning performance, Cate Blanchett is out-classed at every turn by Mara.

Much like Haynes’ previous work, there is a reverential Sirkian quality to this drama. The highly stylised mise-en-scène appears as if belonging to a live-action Edward Hopper or Norman Rockwell painting. The attention to detail makes for hazy viewing; the colours are rich, the costumes are resplendent and Carter Burwell’s gorgeous score sets the melancholic yet triumphant tone. Carol is an intricate, heart-swelling amour fou which depicts the mesmeric, insanity and beauty of love.

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Carol is out on UK cinema release on 27th November.

Categories
Film Festival Review

Review: Chevalier (Dir. Athina Rachel Tsangari, 2015)

LFF 2015

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Economic crisis birthed a Greek New Wave with Athina Rachel Tsangari leading the fore. Historically, she has written, produced and/or directed many of the films associated with the Greek film industry resurgence – Dogtooth, Alps, Attenberg (and acted in Before Midnight too with her lead actor Panos Koronis). She and fellow Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos (The Lobster) screened at this year’s LFF.

Tsangari’s last cinematic outlets Attenberg (2010) and her 2012 short The Capsule heavily featured females and their place in – and on the periphery of – the world around them; the director’s next concentrates on the adult male. In spite of its gallic sounding name, Chevalier is very much Greek. Set upon a yacht amid the Aegean Sea and a palette of pale greys and marine blues, it is like Attenberg in that the look is minimalist playing against the backdrop of the Aegean and the insular interior of the boat.

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We never find out what brought these men together, or why they decided on a boat-trip. There are indications as to how they know each other: the Doctor and his handsome predecessor, the Insurance salesman nudist son-in-law, and his loner-genius brother who cannot go into the water (although, we never find out why), the one who spends an inordinate amount of time on his hair, and his pal; they are all friends of sorts. Growing tired of the tedium of card playing and incongruity of asking each other what fruit they see each other as, they decide to make things interesting and create a new game – who is the best in general? They start marking each other on everything, from sleeping posture, the ability to make an IKEA shelving unit, to the size and girth of their erections. The Chevalier of the title is referenced by a signet ring, often worn by French nobility and although its meaning varies depending upon which culture it inhabits, it is also a decoration given by a Patriarch of the Orthodox Church/Knight/Nobleman. You get the gist.

Co-written by Efthymis Filippou (Alps, Dogtooth) which may give an indiction the absurdist direction the film will veer. As to the journey, we’re all along for the boat-ride. To see these men primp and preen is a riot and even I relished (and perhaps snorted) at the male insecurity and ludicrous machismo on display as characters start to examine themselves in the mirror and bemoan the size of their thighs; an anxiety usually associated with female culture.

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There is little guidance in relation to interpretation; the film can be read in socio-political terms especially when the game catches on with the boat’s chef and porter but Tsangari never leads one way or another.  Friendships will be tested and manipulated, blood bonds broken and formed as the best man overall is discovered.

Chevalier is a rebellious, brilliantly mordant and shrewd satire of the male ego. It is absurdist, surreal in parts, and hilariously droll from start to finish. It takes an astute filmmaker to hold a mirror up to society and provoke laughter and it will make you laugh. A lot.

Categories
Film Festival Review

Review: The Witch (Dir. Robert Eggers, 2015)

LFF 2015

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Robert Eggers’ feature debut, The VVitch is a supremely confident and impressive piece of work. It knows exactly what it wants to be (is exactly what this viewer was hoping for) and after five years in the making why expect anything less. The research and production value is astounding given its low budget but then, Eggers is an ex-production and costume designer. There is a specificity and authenticity to his film – which recently won the Sutherland Award (Best First Feature) at the London Film Festival – and this verisimilitude lends itself well to the genre. Although obviously belonging to horror, at the heart of The VVitch is a psychological family drama. 

It is 1630 and Puritan William (Ralph Ineson), his wife Katherine (Kate Dickie) and their children Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw) and twins Mercy (Ellie Grainger) and Jonas (Lucas Dawson) are banished from their settlement seemingly, one would assume, for religious fanaticism. They make a home in New England, on the edge of a wood and begin to tend the land, grow corn, keep goats and even welcome a new addition in the form of baby Samuel. Life can hardly be described as good but they have their God, faith, and each other. That is until the day Thomasin is playing peek-a-boo with her baby brother, moments later he disappears and the home descends into hysteria.

The film evokes resounding performances from children and adults alike. Ineson and Dickie are consistently outstanding but the family dynamic they purportedly created in pre-production is effecting and wholly convincing on-screen; making several scenes gut-wrenching as palpable tension rises and the isolated house – seemingly without sin (hubris, deceit, guilt, etc. do not appear to countナ) – loses its inhabitants one-by-one. It is a folkloric dream with its attention to detail and there are even references to a red cloak and poisoned apple long before they were recorded in any Grimm fairy tale.

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While this is Eggers’ baby, he owes his composer Mark Korvan, his cinematographer Jarin Blaschke and editor Louise Ford a debt. Collectively; they earn your fear. Everything is stark, long shots for outdoor scenes, natural lighting wherever possible; close-ups and sharp editing as the audience intrudes upon the family’s dwelling. As a side note, how nobody has approached Ineson before for a horror film is a mystery with that resonating, cacophonous Northern growl he has.

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The VVitch conjures on all counts with thematic, visual aesthetic, an actual witch (!) and Black Phillip making up for a slight plot. Non-Brits may struggle with the dialect but it is well worth the skirmish. It is gorgeous, grim and, by ‘eck, bewitching.