‘Dark River’

dark riverA bleak drama as two siblings battle for tenancy of the family farm following the death of their father.

After 15 years away, a compelling Ruth Wilson (Anna Karenina, Saving Mr Banks) as Alice returns to Yorkshire to the decrepit homestead surly and angry brother Mark Stanley (Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Our Kind of Traitor) has left to rot.  Memories of paternal sexual abuse come flooding back as Alice battles to make the farm a going concern. But her brother has different ideas.

As the title suggests, it’s a brooding narrative from director Clio Bernard (The Arbor, The Selfish Giant) very loosely based on Rose Tremain’s novel Trespass (the setting for a start is transposed to Yorkshire from France). Both brother and sister share a dour affinity to the land, but each demands a different return. It’s raw and uncompromising, only marred by a less than convincing final minutes.

Rating: 54%

Screened as part of the Melbourne International Film Festival

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‘Funny Cow’

funnycowGritty, dour and hard-as-nails, Funny Cow is a powerful drama about a female stand-up comic battling with her audiences and home life in 1970s working class Yorkshire.

Domestic violence, racism and homophobia are the norm as an abrasive Maxine Peake (The Theory of Everything, The Falling) confronts the male establishment (and gets a broken nose, courtesy of a violent, threatening husband for her trouble). It’s a harsh life with her jokes crude, her heckling audiences cruder.

It’s the social realism world of Ken Loach, but director Adrian Shergold (The Last Hangman, TV’s Holding On) has extensive experience in television rather than film – and it shows. Strong performances by Peake and Tony Pitts (War Horse, Rogue One) as her husband fail to cover the shortcomings in the narrative and lack of explanation in some of the superfluous background scenes.

Rating: 50%

‘Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again’

Mamma_Mia!_Here_We_Go_AgainWhether you like/liked ABBA or not (and it’s more than 40 years since they won Eurovision), there’s no denying their catchy, upbeat pop is some of the most joyful around. And that’s true of Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again. Cheesy, superficial, predictable it may be as we travel back in time from Mamma Mia to see where it all started. Yet…

Casting is inspirational (Lily James – Cinderella, Baby Driver – for Meryl Streep and Hugh Skinner – Hampstead, Les Miserables – for Colin Firth in particular). Selection of songs perfect for the narrative (Cher as Meryl Streep’s mom!) and even Croatia standing in for the original Greek island is a perfect setting. Sheer unadulterated joy – even if, other than singing the songs, everything is forgotten about the minute you walk out of the auditorium.

Rating: 63%

‘See You Up There’

SYUT_280x400-VERTSomething of a visual feast, the morality tale set in the aftermath of the First World War is an absurdist black comedy – a Buster Keaton/Grand Guignol Phantom of the Opera mix.

Severely disfigured in the final days of the war, a mask-wearing artist Nahuel Perez Biscayart (BPM, Stefan Zweig: Farewell to Europe) looks to his revenge on war profiteers (including his own estranged father), joining with the man who saved his life in the trenches (Albert Dupontel – Nine Month Stretch, Love Me No More).

Co-adaptor of the novel by Pierre Lemaitre as well as director, Dupontel tells a bittersweet yet sumptuous tale of revenge and redemption.

Rating: 59%

‘Mary Shelley’

mary shelleyThe extraordinary love affair between Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin and Percy Byshe Shelley and the resulting penning of Frankenstein is manna from heaven for storytelling.

But the clunky treatment by director Haifaa Al-Mansour (Wadjda, Women Without Shadows) and a cast guilty of overacting (Bel Powley – A Royal Night Out, Diary of a Teenage Girl – as Mary’s stepsister, Gail, in particular) undermines the story and the quiet performances of Elle Fanning (The Beguiled, Maleficent) and Stephen Dillane (Darkest Hour, Welcome to Sarajevo) as her father.

Engaging as a story but sadly, as a film, a misfire.

Rating: 47%

‘Back to Burgundy’

burgundyAn oenophile’s delight as Jean (Pio Marmai – Living on Love Alone, Alyah), 10 years roaming the globe, returns to the family vineyard. With his father seriously ill, Jean reunites with his sister and brother – and together they must decide on the future of the family business. Only he has another life on the other side of the globe.

The insights into the art of winemaking is the highlight of this enjoyable, if somewhat laboured and unconvincing drama. ‘Clean’ (not a compliment) is the accusation levelled on a neighbouring wine: more taut and acidic is the objective for the three siblings. Pity director Cedric Klapisch (Pot Luck, Chinese Puzzle) chose to play safe and produce a ‘clean’ film.

Rating: 52%

‘Disobedience’

disobedience-movie-poster-2018-1020778187-1An intense, claustrophobic love triangle in London’s Orthodox Jewish community as Ronit (Rachel Weisz – The Constant Gardener, The Lobster) returns from a self-imposed New York exile on the death of her rabbi father.

Ronit left the close-knit community under a cloud – and finds herself once more deeply attracted to best friend from school, Esti (Rachel McAdams – Spotlight, Sherlock Holmes). Only Esti is married to the new rabbi-elect, Alessandro Nivola (Selma, American Hustle).

An emotionally honest and authentic drama, director Sebastian Lelio (A Fantastic Woman, Gloria) allows the dialogue and nuanced performances from the three leads to question love, faith, friendship and desire.

Rating:  67%

‘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%

‘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%