‘La vie en rose’

Although bolstered by a superb Marion Cotillard, La vie en rose is a somewhat standard biopic of the tragic iconic French chanteuse, Edith Piaf.

Discovered at the age of 19 singing on the streets of Paris by impresario Louis Leplée (Gérard Depardieu – Cyrano de Bergerac, Danton), Piaf (Marion Cotillard – Two Days One Night, Inception) quickly became a huge success. Raised as a child by her grandmother in a brothel, bedevilled by ill health, questionable associates (she was believed to be connnected in some way to the murder of Leplée by local gangsters) and tragedy (world champion boxer and lover Marcel Cerdan – Jean-Pierre Martins, The Gilded Cage, Saint George – was killed in a plane crash), Piaf cut a sad figure.

The ebb and flow nature of the narrative in terms of time as directed by Olivier Dahan (Grace of Monaco, Simone: Woman of the Century) creates a somewhat fractured telling as melodrama and Piaf the tragic icon dominates Piaf the woman. But the music is glorious.

Nominated for 3 Oscars in 2008 including best costume design, won 2 for best actress and make-up.

Rating: 64%

‘Mrs Harris Goes to Paris’

It’s the frocks that shine in this cute but shallow remake of an earlier tv movie as Christan Dior beckons a cockney cleaning lady.

A regular cleaner for Lady Dant (Anna Chancellor – Crush, TV’s The Split) gains few benefits (and late wage payments) except exposure to Dior haute couture. On learning the current beauty hanging in the wardrobe cost a staggering £500, Mrs Harris (Lesley Manville – Phantom Thread, Maleficent) is determined to purchase her own in time for the 1957 annual local town hall social. Scrimping and saving follows, supported by best friend, Violet (Ellen Thomas – The Love Punch, TV’s Eastenders). Ada gets to Paris eventually where, in spite of the snobbish Madame Colbert (Isabelle Huppert – Elle, The Piano Teacher), she gets her way – and changes the lives of those she comes into contact with as well as the future of the House of Dior itself.

Charm incarnate as directed by Anthony Fabian (Skin, Louder Than Words), Mrs Harris Goes to Paris is the saccharine-sweet embodiment of a fairy-tale as the good-natured Ada (a delightful Lesley Manville) tires of being invisible.

Nominated for 2023 Best Costume Oscar (Jenny Beaven).

Rating: 61%


Any synopsis of Volver creates the vision of a melodramatic multi-seasoned telenovela as Almodóvar’s interwoven fantasy with reality tale of mothers and daughters unfolds.

Having lost her mother in a fire years earlier, Raimunda (Penelope Cruz – Vanilla Sky, Parallel Mothers) is concerned about the mental state of Tía Paula, the aunt who raised her. Having recently visited her home village, it’s there Tía Paula claimed Irene (Carmen Maura – Oh Carmela! Cuernavaca), Raimunda’s dead mother, is living with her. But all is forgotten a few days later when daughter Paula (Yohana Cobo – Vidas pequeñas, 75 días) confesses she has murdered her unemployed father Paco, who tried to rape her whilst drunk.

That’s the first 20 or so minutes accounted for! In a true-to-form Almodóvar (Parallel Mothers, Talk to Her), Volver is a melodramatic comedic delight as superstitions, gossip, ghosts and murder seemingly conspire against Raimunda to make a success of a simple life as she hides a dead body and defrauds her neighbour’s restaurant business. With a lightness of touch and perfect timing (particularly from Cruz), Volver may push the boundaries of believability but it has a charm all of its own.

Nominated for best actress Oscar in 2007.

Rating: 73%

‘Gosford Park’

An English country manor with the interwoven comings and goings of the upstairs gentry and downstairs staff. Sound familiar? An earlier (2001) script by a decade from Julian Fellowes predates the behemoth that was to become Downton Abbey.

Only there’s few of the niceties of the later series evident in Robert Altman’s (Nashville, M*A*S*H) delight of a feature. It’s a strained shooting weekend upstairs that’s reflected downstairs as the emnity between imperious housekeeper Mrs Wilson (Helen Mirren – The Queen, Hitchcock) and cook Mrs Croft (Eileen Atkins – Cold Mountain, TV’s Doc Martin) adds to the atmosphere. It’s all somewhat tense at Gosford Park. And to make matters worse, half way through the film, someone bumps off the wealthy, irascible host, William McCordle (Michael Gambon – Harry Potter, Judy).

Guests and staff come under suspicion. What had started as a series of related and unrelated storylines lay the foundation for a whodunnit as the earlier desperate financial manouverings of at least three of the family members come under scrutiny. But things are never that simple or that obvious.

It being an Altman film, the cast reads like a who’s who virtuoso ensemble piece with a sublime script from Fellowes that expertly provides drama, pathos, comedy and social commentary in its 137 minute running time.

Nominated for 7 Oscars in 2002 including best film, director, supporting actress (Helen Mirren), supporting actress (Maggie Smith), art direction – won 1 for original script.

Rating: 80%


Strange, disturbing and ultimately unsatisfying, Men follows a recently bereaved woman on a solo vacation in the quiet of an English country village.

Having witnessed the suicide of stockbroker husband James (Paapa Essiedu – TV’s I May Destroy You, Gangs of London), writer Harper (Jessie Buckley – Beast, Wild Rose) is persuaded to take a few days out of London at a comfortable, rambling house in the English countryside of the Cotswolds. Only things are not what they seem, resulting in a truly terrifying experience as Harper attempts to come to terms with her remorse and guilt over James’ death. Unnerved by encounters with various men in the village, she fails to be reassured by the gung-ho owner of the vacation home, Geoffrey (Rory Kinnear – Skyfall, TV’s Ridley Road).

Writer/director Alex Garland (Ex Machina, Annihilation) throws caution to the wind with his lack of explanation as to why what’s happening is happening (and it’s definitely odd), ensuring ultimately it fails as either a drama or a horror film. But both Buckley and, in particular, Kinnear are convincing.

Rating: 50%


‘Umberto D.’

A classic of post-war Italian neorealism, Umberto D is the story of an old man’s struggle to keep from falling from poverty into shame.

Umberto D. Ferrari (Carlo Battisti), a retired government worker, struggles to survive on his meagre pension. Behind on his rent, his landlady threatens to evict him unless he can pay the 15,000 lire owing within the next few days. Selling personal possessions fails to raise the necessary amount. Whilst sympathetic and on friendly terms with Umberto and his beloved dog, Filke, the young maid of the house (Maria-Pia Casilio – Thérèse Raquin, An American in Rome) cannot help him.

In choosing to work with an almost exclusively non-professional cast, director Vittorio De Sica (The Garden of the Finzi-Continis, Bicycle Thieves) achieves an ingrained sense of unadorned authenticity. Mundane simplicity is both dramatic and poetic as Umberto’s despair slowly unfolds.

Nominated for the 1957 best writing Oscar (five years after it was first released in Italy).

Rating: 74%


‘Empire of Light’

Gentle, nuanced but surprisingly inert and overly nostalgic from director Sam Mendes (1917, Skyfall).

1980s Britain and, having suffered a nervous breakdown, lonely cinema duty manager Hilary (Olivia Colman – Hot Fuzz, The Father) slowly pieces her life back together. Abused by her manager (Colin Firth – The King’s Speech, Supernova), she develops a close friendship with new employee, Stephen (Micheal Ward – The Old Guard, Rudeboy) who is looking to escape the provincial racism of the seaside town.

Colman is subtly magnificent as a woman struggling with mental health but the narrative is less than convincing as the two outsiders bond in an environment that works against them. With the art deco opulence of the cinema harking back to the glory days of cinema, Empire of Light is at times ravishingly beautiful. But time drags in this particular two hour feature.

Nominated for the 2023 best cinematography Oscar (Roger Deakins – 1917, Skyfall)

Rating: 54%

‘A Most Wanted Man’

Based on John le Carré’s novel and set in Hamburg post 9/11, A Most Wanted Man is a superior anti-terrorism spy thriller as different agencies take an interest in an illegal Chechen Muslim migrant.

With new anti-terrorist agencies competing against traditional policing methods, head of unit Günther Bachmann (Philip Seymour Hoffman – Capote, Moneyball) needs to keep one step ahead, made the more urgent by the presence of a distrustful CIA agent, Martha Sullivan (Robin Wright – Wonder Woman, Moneyball). When Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin – Black Sea, Our Kind of Traitor), believed to be involved in some way in the laundering of money supporting terrorism, appears in Hamburg, all interested parties are placed on high alert.

The last serious film role before his untimely death, Hoffman gives a superbly subtle lead performance as he manipulates and cajoles behind the scenes, desperate to ensure Karpov’s safety in order to follow the money. With human rights lawyer Annabel Richter (Rachel McAdams – Sherlock Holmes, Disobedience) in tow, an intricate jigsaw of a narrative unspools from director Anton Corbijn (Control, The American) – albeit a strangely cold, unemotional unspooling.

Rating: 68%

‘Tripping With Nils Frahm’

Mesmerising ambient and neo-classical sound from one of the greatest contemporary musicians around, Tripping With Nils Frahm is a wholly immersive concert experience filmed in the legendary Funkhaus Berlin.

Intimate in performance, soaring in sound, director Benoit Toulemonde (TV’s Une soirée de poche) perfectly captures the close-up of fingers caressing piano keys through to emotive, trance-like reverence of audience members. The music may not be to everyone’s taste, but sound and image are beautifully complemented in a sublime hypnosis of a 90 minute concert film.

Rating: 78%

‘Oslo, 31st August’

A gentle, sensitive unfolding of a recovering drug addict given a day’s leave from his rehab centre for a work interview.

Leaving the centre determined to make a go of it, over the course of the day and night, Anders (Anders Danielsen Lie – The Worst Person in the World, Bergman Island) attempts to reconnect with family and friends. Welcomed by some, but for others memories of his heroin addiction and lives destroyed are too fresh.

Directed by Joachim Trier (The Worst Person in the World, Reprise), Oslo 31st August is surprisingly empathic towards the educated but self-centred addict. With more than a hint of existential angst as Anders struggles with purpose, Trier looks to a lucid, inner cry of pain as the everyday of normalcy crowds around him.

Rating: 74%