‘Gauguin’

gauguinA gaunt Vincent Cassel (Black Swan, Mesrine) perfectly captures the destitution of a man prepared to sacrifice everything for his art. But sadly, director Edouard Deluc (Welcome to Argentina) fails to instil any sense of magic into the film that focusses on the first visit (1891-93) to Tahiti by Paul Gauguin.

Neither a virtually unspoilt paradise nor (in the film, if not in real life) a marriage to a local woman allays the desperate poverty, with Gauguin eventually being repatriated to France on a state-provided free passage.

In spite of its restricted time span, a too broad a narrative is covered by Deluc. With its slow-pacing and too frequent insistence on capturing the moment of a famed work by the artist, the result is a somewhat dull film – ultimately not helped by the morosely beautiful soundtrack from Warren Ellis (sometime collaborator with Nick Cave).

Rating 44%

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‘On Body and Soul’

on body and soul-1An oddity – an intriguing yet clinically told love story as two apparent opposites meet and against all odds become involved.

According to the workers on the shop floor at the abattoir, the new stand-offish quality controller, Maria (Alexandra Borbely, winner of Best Actress at the European Film Awards), follows the rules too closely. The Finance Director (Geza Morcsanyi – at 65 making his acting debut) looks on bemused. But then the two discover they have exactly the same dreams…

Amid gruesome slaughterhouse scenes, this intimate, challenging narrative moves slowly as the two come to understand each other.

Alongside a nomination for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, Ildiko Enyedi’s film won the Berlin Golden Bear and best film awards at Sydney, Portland, Mumbai and Sofia film festivals.

Rating: 63%

‘BPM (Beats Per Minute)’

BPMAn important film exploring Parisian gay activism in the 1990s under the ACT UP banner and the shadow of AIDS, BPM (Beats Per Minute) delves deep into the motivational psyche of the young men and women involved.

It’s surprisingly gentle, weaving a love story between two members of ACT UP with the various interventions, campaigns and associated debates. The result is a powerful, lyrical, emotional narrative that resonates on a much wider political level.

Underpinned by the two leads, an energetic, driven Nahuel Perez Biscayart (All Yours, Tattoed) and the laid back Arnaud Valois (Charlie Says, Girl on the Train), writerdirector Robin Campillo (Eastern Boys, They Came Back) mixes intimate tenderness with a sense of desperate urgency.  BPM (Beats Per Minute) was awarded the 2017 Cannes Grand Jury Prize (effectively runner-up to the Palme d’Or winner, The Square).

Rating: 82%

‘Crooked House’

crooked_house_v8With more twists than a slinky, Agatha Christie’s Crooked House leaves you guessing as to just who in the family murdered Aristide Leonides, the wealthy but controlling industrialist. Disillusioned and broke sons? The gold-digger of his second, much younger, wife? His sister-in-law? One of his grandchildren?

A lavish adaptation with something of a starry cast (Glenn Close, Terence Stamp, Gillian Anderson, Max Irons) holed up in the Leonides household does not, sadly, make up for this dull telling.

Director Gilles Paquet-Brenner (Sarah’s Key, Dark Places) flounders with the material, material that would benefit hugely from a contemporary fillip. Adaptations of Christie’s murder mysteries are too often too faithful to the source material. The result is 1930s/40s clipped dialogue along with white, English, bourgeois/aristocratic mores and manners. A pity as the reveal of Crooked House is unexpected.

Rating: 41%

‘Loveless’

loveless.poster.ws_Stark yet rivetingly sincere, the latest feature from Andrey Zvyagintsev (Leviathan, Elena) is feel bad in extremis.

As a Leningrad couple look to divorce, so their 12 year-old son, caught in the vindictive and argumentative maelstrom, disappears.

It’s a devastating drama, with Aleksey Rozin (Leviathan, Elena) and newcomer Maryana Spivak superbly nuanced as the couple in a feature that is never afraid to allow scenes to slowly unfold in all its dour yet heightened banality. A layered slow burn, Loveless is another of Zvyagintsev’s desolate commentaries on contemporary Russian society.

One of the best films of the year so far.

Rating: 83%

‘The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society’

guernsey_literary_and_potato_peel_pie_society_xlgIt may have an epic quality, so typical of British WWII period dramas, but the quirkily entitled The Guernsey & Potato Peel Pie Literary Society sadly fails to live up to expectations.

Overlong at 124 minutes, every passing moment is predictable – from the cloyingly annoying novelist Juliet Ashton (Lily James – Cinderella, Baby Driver) and her love affair with the fun but brash American, Glen Powell (Hidden Figures, The Expendables) through to her foray to Guernsey to find out more about the literary society and life under German occupation. And of course she meets her Heathcliff – the dark and broody Michiel Huisman (The Game of Thrones, The Age of Adaline).

It’s cosily well told (director Mike Newell – Four Weddings & a Funeral, Donnie Brasco) but a bit of passion and grubbiness would have been welcome (even the farm dirt looked as if it had been carefully applied).

Rating: 46%

‘The Party’

The_Party_(2017_film)With its savage and mordant wit, this is a celebratory dinner party that goes terribly wrong – especially as the guests do not even get to sit down for the food!

Kristin Scott-Thomas (The English Patient, Darkest Hour) is celebrating a promotion – but she is more than upstaged by news from hubby Timothy Spall (Mr Turner, Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban). But there’s more to come – facilitating the splendid Patricia Clarkson (Pieces of April, The Maze Runner) to indulge in deep cynicism and a wonderful turn of phrase.

Claustrophobic and smart, director Sally Potter (Orlando, The Tango Lesson) instills a surprising sense of fun in this stagey chamber piece. And its short at just 70 minutes!

Rating: 68%

‘The Death of Stalin’

the-death-of-stalin-british-movie-posterThe humour may be sporadic and a little too often writer/director Armando Ianucci’s (In the Loop, TV’s Veep) irreverent political satire falls into slapstick. But The Death of Stalin is, at times, genuinely laugh-out-loud funny.

The individual members of the Secretariat position themselves to take control of the Soviet Union at the death of their leader. Politician Nikita Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi – Fargo, Armageddon) and Lavrenti Beria (Simon Russell Beale – The Deep Blue Sea, The Legend of Tarzan), head of the secret service, emerge as favourites. No stone is left unturned as the two jockey to gain the upper hand.

Events become more and more farcical as the two become more and more desperate – and Rupert Friend (The Young Victoria, Boy in the Striped Pyjamas) as Stalin’s alcoholic son, Vasily, is a complete misfire. But the savage comedy, when it works, works very, very well. Pity it wasn’t consistent.

Rating: 58%

‘1945’

1945Absorbing in its telling, 1945 quietly explores the dark underbelly of humanity and the corrosive nature of fascism and anti-Semitism.

The war in Europe has ended as two male orthodox Jews step off a train at a remote Hungarian station. As they walk behind a horse and cart to the local village, the news of their arrival puts the residents into a complete tail spin.

Choosing to shoot in stark black and white, director Ferenc Torok (Moscow Square, Eastern Sugar) looks to memorable imagery as the preparations for the wedding of the Town Clerk’s son are disrupted by the men’s arrival. The smug satisfaction of the town is upended in just a few short hours.

It’s haunting, hypnotic, with its power coming from its subtleties.

Rating: 84%

‘The Square’

the-square-the-square-film-the-square-film-review-1Ultimately uncomfortable watching as director Ruben Ostland (Force Majeure, Involuntary) presents a heady mix of odd social commentary along with moments of crazed subversion.

Arrogant gallery curator Claes Bang (The Bridge, Rule #1) finds himself in deep schtick both professionally and personally as a result of a distraction during the negotiations of a controversial new exhibition.

But what on paper appears to be a linear narrative is anything but as commentary on lack of social awareness or care is troweled on thick and fast in scene after scene. Subversive, anarchic, occasionally brilliant, overstuffed with ideas but a film that could have benefitted from being 105 minutes long instead of 152. Inexplicably, The Square was presented with the 2017 Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival.

Rating: 52%