‘Custody’

custody.poster.ws_An intense, devastating family drama of domestic abuse as Denis Menochet (Inglourious Basterds, In the House) looks to gain joint custody of his young son.

Bleak and hellish, Custody is unrelenting in its slow build with palpable fear in the eyes of newcomer Thomas Gioria as Lea Drucker (The Man of My Life, In My Skin) looks to protect her family.

Debut director Xavier Legrand’s claustrophobic tour de force is no easy watch, but with superb performances from a relatively small cast, Custody is heart-wrenching in its pain, fear and anger.

Rating: 87%

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‘C’est la vie!’

cestlavieOccasionally funny, this overly laboured feel-good movie from the directors of the delightful The Intouchables, Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano, is a pleasant, disposable piece of fluff.

A wedding in a 17th century chateau. Jean-Pierre Bacri (The Taste of Others, Like an Image) as the owner of the events company has had enough and is looking to sell the business. But he’s dealing with a constantly interfering groom, unhappy staff and a bout of food poisoning.

It’s an undemanding two hours of general silliness, but the cast give it their all (Eye Haidara as Bacri’s number two in particular) in what is ultimately a mildly entertaining distraction. A glorious soundtrack from Avishai Cohen, however!

Rating: 52%

‘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%

‘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%

‘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%

‘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%

‘Happy End’

Happy End PosterA French haute-bourgeois family, Calais-based, live their lives, a microcosm of the minutiae of everyday events.

Octogenarian Georges Laurent (Jean-Louis Trintignant – Amour, My Night With Maud) heads the family but he has passed the trucking business onto his daughter – Isabelle Huppert (Elle, The Piano Teacher). Into a family of adults living in the large rambling house enters 12 year-old Eve, daughter of Huppert’s brother from his first marriage.

Detached and icily controlled, director Michael Haneke’s (Amour, The White Ribbon) latest is a bourgeois, insidious soap opera as each quietly look for their own ‘happy end’.

Rating: 59%

‘Call Me By Your Name’

CallMeByYourName2017Languid telling, during a 1980s Tuscan summer, of first love where 17 year-old Elio (a gentle,  nuanced performance by Timothée Chalamet – Interstellar, Ladybird) falls for his father’s archealogical assistant, the over-confident Oliver (Armie Hammer – The Social Network, The Lone Ranger).

It’s a bumpy ride for Elio – and for the audience. At times beautiful, at times stretching credulity as the all-American bumptious Jock purportedly falls for the skinny, bookish waif. Chalamet is pitch-perfect as Elio but a towering Hammer is less convincing.

Director Luca Guadagnino (I Am Love, A Bigger Splash) perfectly captures the nervousness of first love and its associated heartbreak but Elio’s relationship with his father, Michael Stuhlbarg (A Serious Man, The Shape of Water) and peers highlights the shortcomings of the love affair.

Rating: 68%

‘The Midwife’

the-midwife-posterA quiet study about friendship, family and shared histories, The Midwife is a subtle vehicle for two superb performances from Catherine Frot (Marguerite, The Page Turner) and Catherine Deneuve (Belle de jour, Indochina).

Frot is the midwife of the title, a lonely 50 year-old facing the closure of the clinic and her son moving out of home. And then, out-of-the-blue, she receives a phone call from the glamorous Beatrice Sobolevski, her father’s former mistress.

Nothing much happens over the next 120 minutes but we experience a rare chemistry as the uptight Frot comes to understand the motivations of the  hard-drinking, heavy-smoking older woman suddenly abandoning her father more than 30 years previously.

Rating: 61%

‘The Dancer’

The-Dancer-posterLittle remembered Loie Fuller, toast of fin de siecle Folies Bergere, finds herself dealing with a very ambitious young American dancer – Isadora Duncan.

Some of the choreography (lots of diaphanous fabric, mirrors, clever lighting and Vivaldi played loud) is showily spectacular, innovative for its time. But overall the episodic biopic is strangely unengaging with a lack of clarity of events creating a somewhat incoherent storyline.

Soko (Augustine, In the Beginning) toughs it out as Loie whilst Johnny Depp’s daughter, Lily-Rose Depp (Planetarium, Tusk) is suitably ethereal (with a streak of malicious ambition) as Isadora.

Rating: 43%