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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

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: The Babadook (Dir. Jennifer Kent, 2014)

“If it’s in a word, or in a look, you can’t get rid of the babadook…”

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For Amelia (Essie Davis) every day is a challenge. Made increasingly difficult by her six-year-old son Samuel (Noah Wiseman). Sam is an affectionate, energetic and boisterous little boy, wise beyond his years, avoided at school for being weird (potentially hyperactive) and between his obsession with magic, his preoccupation with keeping his mother safe from ‘monsters’ and his sleeplessness; he is – to put it mildly – hard work. His upcoming seventh birthday also happens to coincide with his father Oskar’s (Benjamin Winspear) violent death, a loss Amelia has yet to fully come to terms with. She is vacant, restless and on autopilot juggling single parenthood, her job as a carer, and looking in on elderly neighbour Grace Roach (Barbara West). A one-time children’s author, Amelia is able to quell Samuel’s night-time fears usually with a bedtime story until he selects Mister Babadook from the bookshelf. “It’s okay mum,” the brave little soldier declares “I’ll protect you.”

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The Babadook is actress/writer Jennifer Kent’s directorial debut, made for reportedly just $2.3 million and based upon her 2005 short Monster. Its cinematic palette takes its cues from the blue-black, white and grey of a pencil drawing and visually, the film’s fairy tale simplicity works incredibly well on the screen. It is rich, nostalgic yet somehow timeless and paints a deeply emotional and visceral gothic picture in which an audience is subject to the inside of the protagonist’s mind (think of a much subtler and aesthetically prettier The Shining). We see a relatable woman engulfed by grief, drowning under the weight of motherhood, and exhausted in the malevolence of depression. This verisimiliar performance steeped in empathy is testament to the supremely talented Davis who is as consistently wonderful as always (see in particular HBO’s Cloudstreet). However, in her Amelia we see complexity, a melancholic soul with an unravelling mind; her ferocity for life, love, even survival has been stifled, buried deeply.

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The emotional profundity of this fabulous film makes it wholly affecting – an internal demon which manifests to test the protagonist’s strength. Whether she stands up, cowers, screams in its face or fights for her freedom remains to be seen. It may let her go…this time or as the childish rhyme suggests, it may never be vanquished. Go and experience The Babadook, it will touch you, scare you, get under your skin and remain there. It will make you feel, it may even cause you to shed a tear – honestly, when was the last time a horror film did that?

The Babadook opens nationwide on 24th October 2014

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