Film Reviews by NC

Welcome to NC's film reviews page. NC has written 85 reviews and rated 194 films.

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The Unknown Girl

The Doctor's Dilemma.

(Edit) 09/04/2019

The only other Brothers Dardenne film I'd seen prior to this was 'Two Days, One Night'. In it a company gives its workers a stark choice of a bonus, or one less colleague. Marion Cotillard finds herself wandering around town, knocking on doors, asking people to think of her in the upcoming vote.

'The Unknown Girl' is another film to prick the social conscience, and it also presents a young woman on a quest. Young Dr. Jenny Davin needs to atone for a random, momentary act of negligence, setting the tone for a downbeat but valid take on how we treat one another. She is cool and efficient at work, and conducts her search for the identity of a girl who has been found dead, in the same emotionally detached manner.

The disclosure is all a bit pat, and stretches credulity. Patience is stretched too, as there are numerous pregnant pauses, presumably intended as dramatic realism, but playing a part only in twitching a finger on the fast-forward button.

As the overworked, conscientious Dr. Davin, unable to forgive herself for one slip, Adele Haenel is exceptional. Utterly convincing scenes in the surgery and on her rounds give a compelling documentary view of a life asked to do too much. She simply hasn't any time for happiness.

In a world where money is all that matters, where looking after number one comes first and last, and consideration of another individual counts for nothing, the Brothers Dardenne are clearly on the side of the Angels. Their films are unlikely to change the catastrophic course humanity has taken, nevertheless all power to their elbows.

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Mustang

Mustang Lale.

(Edit) 04/04/2019

Five sisters have been seen galloping too freely, (in the eyes of arch conservatives who believe that "women must be chaste and pure, know their limits, and mustn't laugh openly in public"), and so are coralled into a prison house by their guardians; the walls and bars closing in and climbing higher after every escape.

It is not only imprisonment the girls have to endure. The house becomes a wife factory as the girls, no longer allowed to go to school, are instead taught how to be nothing more than a domestic servant, ripe for arranged marriages and second-class citizenship. The youngest, Lale, witnessing how the wishes and happiness of her sisters have nothing to do with the future laid out for them, decides she's having none of it, and, no matter the consequences, that running free and wild is better than being tamed into submission.

It's so nearly a five star film. In fact, it probably is, and I'm being overly harsh. The pace is spot-on. The acting is flawless. The script, the photography, the unobtrusive music, are very fine. My only reservations lie with characterisation. The girls' uncle is perhaps too much the cardboard cut-out villain. To make him an abuser may be par for the course for the type of man who thinks women should be subjugated, but it does feel as if we are being told that this is a BAD man, in case we hadn't quite got the message. Then again, maybe the abuse strand had a point insofar as that might be why the grandmother colludes in marrying the girls off in rapid-fire succession. In that way, she is 'rescuing' the girls from his hands.

I also wonder at the way in which the relationship between the sisters is handled. It might be that I'm looking at it through the eyes of a different culture, but they seemed too close, almost inseparable. There wasn't any of the enmity, even hatred, that can fester between siblings, especially at their age. Again, maybe I'm wrong. The girls are orphans after all, and would have had to bond in order to make life easier.

So maybe this is a five star film. It is certainly an excellent one. Deniz Gamze Erguven's debut has all the hallmarks of a great director at work.

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Maigret: Series 1: Part 1

Smoke And Mirrors.

(Edit) 31/03/2019

I'm old enough to remember Rupert Davies striking a match on a dark wall, the glow from his pipe lighting up his face as the titles rolled. I cannot recall if the series was any good, but we've had plenty of incarnations, before and since, French, British, and other nations, of the famous and seemingly imperishable detective.

Simenon wrote something like 60 to 80 pages a day, amassing over 500 works. Reading some of them today it's obvious that any psychology is skin-deep, and pretty thin skin at that. But, like Agatha Christie, it would appear that it is the profligacy of the works, rather than any meaning in the writings, which have earned the posthumous gratitude of T.V. and film companies.

'Maigret In Montmartre' is an introduction to Cremer's style. Quiet, looking like he's taking little in from matter-of-fact question and answer sessions; patient and unfussy. I had read 'Maigret In Montmartre' a few months before watching this adaptation, and I remember throwing the book at the wall when, in one passage, I came across Simenon's mindless homophobia. (It was Simenon's voice, not one of his characters). In this version, the film-makers have obviously had to modify the quandary, and got around it by having a policeman calculatedly throw threatening insults at the man in order to unnerve him, and, in his frightened state, ignorantly lead the police further with their investigations.

It's an adequate episode, with high production values, and Cremer quickly grabs the attention.

'Maigret And The Burglar's Wife' shows a less impassive Maigret, one can see the cogs working more; there are signs that there is a human behind the smoke. The episode has the great good fortune to have Michael Lonsdale as a guest star, and there is one sustained interrogation scene between him and Cremer which is top-notch television on any level, never mind mere cop programme standard.

'Maigret And The Flemish Shop' and 'Maigret And The Judge' have little to recommend them other than those high production values and out-of-Paris locations. 'Flemish Shop' has the luminous Alexandra Vandernoot; and there is a touch of interest in how the Flemish are treated by the locals, (the story is set near the border to Belgium), but the strand is dropped as if it never existed. 'The Judge' shows Maigret losing his cool for the first time, but if that is the only point of interest in 90 minutes worth of film, then it can be considered a flop. The 'Scotland Yard' and 'Scales Of Justice' series from the 50's and 60's have similar stories and take only a third of the time to tell it.

I'll admit to cancelling the third disc, with the last two stories on it. I couldn't bear yet more of Maigret plodding around, looking pensive, while innumerable scenes meander by, adding nothing to the plot, there solely to spin the time out.

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The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums

Valueless Traditions.

(Edit) 30/03/2019

A melodrama about a woman sacrificing everything for her man. The kind of film which, if made in Hollywood, would have me running for the hills, or the pills. But this is Mizoguchi, and nearly all of the elements which make Hollywood melodramas so appalling are nowhere in sight nor sound: no soppy violins, no excruciating acting, no script where the ink should have stayed in the bottle, no close-ups of anguished faces.

No close-ups at all, in fact. For Mizoguchi keeps his distance, the whole film made up of long(ish) shots and long takes, the camera following the characters, the background and surroundings taking on significance, a preference for the whole picture rather than the detail. When Otoku is told she is fired for getting too close to the family's stepson, Kikunosuke, all we see of her is a quarter-face. The larger picture is the cruel act of dismissal, not the emotion it elicits. The same thing happens later, when, on a train, Kikunosuke is told Otoku has to be left behind in order for him to become a successful actor. WHY these things happen (the antediluvian, patriarchal world, etc) is the important point, not so much the detail of how the lovers react.

Otoku thinks only of Kikunosuke. Kikunosuke thinks mainly of himself. Even when a son can see the malignity inflicted by his parents' society, he is, after all, still a man, and comes first. The story isn't all that original, it's the way it's told. And the blame doesn't lie at fate's door, it's very much the traditions of the time which have to change.

Still, Mizoguchi does pile the suffering and sorrow on the woman a bit too much - something, for instance, we do not see in the films of Ozu, which makes him, for me, the greater director. There is also the danger, because of the distant camera, of failing to dig deep into the characters. The film lasts for over two hours and twenty minutes - and feels it.

There are a few scenes from Kabuki theatre productions, with the camera placed as a member of the audience. Fascinating, valuable and alien (to this viewer). Fascinating and valuable BECAUSE alien.

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Lunch Hour

Eat A Sandwich Instead.

(Edit) 25/03/2019

For some reason I was expecting 'Lunch Hour', because of its running time, to be played out in real time. A couple enter a cheap hotel room, just for the duration of their lunch break, and what transpires has more to do with baring souls than flesh.

Perhaps John Mortimer didn't have the skill to make it a two-hander. Whatever the reason, what we are offered to begin with is a series of pretty dull flashbacks to their meeting, and growing affection, culminating in the hotel room. So far, so conventional. From then on, the unconventional kicks in. The man (Robert Stephens) tells the girl (Shirley Anne Field) about the story he has had to fabricate in order to persuade the manageress to rent the room for such a short spell. In the story, the girl is his wife. The story starts to be played out for real, with the girl gradually understanding how it feels to be the wife of a man who has lost interest in her, and gained interest in someone else. it's a good idea, but it needs a better writer than Mortimer, and the flashbacks and the fantasy scenes cause distraction and a disjointed narrative.

Stephens does his best with a plotline which travels here, there and anywhere. But then there is Shirley Anne Field. Frankly, she's hopeless. She's supposed to be a young lady, feeling trepidation at taking a risky step with a married man, a colleague at work to boot. And then, after little more than an instant, she puts herself in the wife's shoes, rather than the bit on the side, and determines that this time the man will not win. Not many actors could pull it off, and Shirley Anne Field is certainly not one of them.

It would be nice to think that this, for all its faults, was an early feminist parable. Misogyny and unwanted catcalls are part and parcel of daily life in the workplace. Unfortunately, confusion reigns here too, as we are treated to scenes of secretaries at their desks, compact mirror in hand (yawn); and even if the girl isn't ready to throw herself at the feet of the bosses who pour any old rubbish in her ear, there are other girls who are.

In effect, a mess. 'Lunch Hour' lasts just an hour, but feels twice as long. There is a wonderful little scene in a cafe, with the waitress stealing the show, which earns the star.

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The Long Arm

A Safe Bet.

(Edit) 21/03/2019

Scotland Yard investigate a robbery from a safe, where the perpetrator has seemingly vanished into thin air. You could be forgiven for thinking this will be just another of those crime flicks of which hundreds were made in that era - it even has Jack Hawkins as the superintendent in charge of the case. But it is worth a stop and search. A good plot, very good dialogue, and excellent acting lift it high above the usual fare.

It's a police procedural, and the painstaking way they inch their way towards the solution is fascinating, because done so well. And not without humour: one scene at a remote garage in North Wales is a delight.

There is one sizeable irritation to 'The Long Arm': Superintendent Halliday's private life. I realise these things are put in to add a human account, but when the main story is a garment as well made as this, the scenes at home are like dropped stitches. These private life bits were always iffy in the case of cop programmes, but today's film-makers obviously have a different opinion. Half the running time seems to be made up of family ructions. When the inevitable problem daughter enters I usually exit.

The cast is on this side of superb. A young John Stratton plays the Super's sidekick. Early career bit parts are given to Ian Bannen, Alec McCowen and William Mervyn. There are even uncredited parts for Stratford Johns and Frederick Treves.

A good film, and would have got more than three stars if it wasn't for the 'Darling, I can't make it tomorrow' blights.

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Yves Saint Laurent

Flawed Design.

(Edit) 19/03/2019

If this was meant as a hatchet job, it succeeds. If it was meant as a warts and all biopic, the warts are all we see. Saint-Laurent comes across as a weak-willed, ugly-natured man in spite of his creativity.

Being head designer of Dior, told he's a genius, at 21, cannot have done much for his character, yet he always blamed the mental problems and drug addictions he had stemmed from a short incarceration at a military hospital, where he received treatment for manic depression, after being declared unfit for draft duty in Algeria. Electric shocks were administered he said, though we get no intimation of that in the film. Whatever the strengths of these claims, Saint-Laurent's expanding success after he's broken free from Dior is accompanied by a growing use of drugs, and a conviction that what he wants is all that matters. Toys are thrown out of the pram if this doesn't happen. And it is hard for this viewer to blame anyone but Saint-Laurent himself for his often repugnant behaviour as enacted on the screen.

We are shown some of his tender, relaxed manner, especially when he meets and falls in love with Pierre Berge, who was to become his partner and business associate. We are shown a lot of his tantrums, many of them drug-fuelled. The gaping hole that isn't shown is Saint-Laurent fighting his demons in order to continue creating. It is almost impossible to believe the figure we see, hardly able to stand up or get two words out because of a brain bubbling with drugs, would be able to fashion anything more than a white handkerchief.

Pierre Niney and Guillaume Gallienne are good, though there is the feeling they could have been more impressive if the director had have had the courage to fill that gaping hole.

A biopic that leaves as many questions unanswered as filled, and leaving the conclusion that here was another yet creative giant who was nothing but a midget of a human being.

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Son of Saul

Epitome Of A Paradox.

(Edit) 16/03/2019

No feature film, I suppose, can come close to communicating fully the horrors of the death camps. When all is said and done, what the audience is seeing is confined to a screen. They are most likely sat down in a comfortable chair, warm and well-fed. When the film is over they can get up and make a cup of tea. Of course that is not to say films of this kind are a waste of time. There are plenty of people out there who would like nothing better than to see films, books, etc, depicting the Holocaust to cease being produced. Paradoxically then, works of this sort, despite their severe limitations, must never stop. There must never be an end to remembering. The deniers must never win.

'Son Of Saul' endeavours to take the viewer's understanding of the daily hell of Auschwitz to a new level by following Saul Auslander, a sonderkommando, as he is forced to work at the mass extinction and disposal of the 'pieces', as they are called by the guards. The hand-held camera rarely strays more than an arms-length away from Saul's head, front, back or side, giving the impression we are there, close by. There may even be an attempt by the director to make us think we are Saul, the camera is that intimate (the concentration on the eyes, dead to what is happening around him, the barbarities being perpetrated are out of focus, as if he's numbed himself not to see them anymore). We are never more than a couple of feet away every time Saul is grabbed, pulled, pushed, hauled, punched, pummelled.

If the film had carried on in this manner, giving us, for instance, twenty-four hours in the existence of Saul Auslander, we may have got closer than ever before to life and death in the camps. Or, as can happen, the savagery may have become so relentless that instead of feeling sympathy and sadness, a sensation of weariness creeps in. We will never know - for something very odd is thrown on the fire. A boy has survived the gas chamber, and although quickly disposed of by a camp doctor, the incident has been enough to shock Saul from his out of focus mental state, and see clearly what he cannot bear to see. The boy becomes somebody, rather than a 'piece'. More than that, Saul sees him as a lost son, a 'piece' of himself.

In fact the piece of himself that Saul sees is his own soul (Saul?), lost in the fires, and now he has one final chance at redemption. The film follows Saul in his frantic, scrambling search for a rabbi to perform the kaddish for his 'son', before it is lost once again, this time with no chance of release from eternal perdition.

The huge problem is that the incident of the boy's survival does not seem that shocking - nowhere near enough for Saul to be jolted free from his automaton existence. And as the film then concentrates on his desperate need for a rabbi, the horrors around him become secondary.

Despite brave camerawork; despite Geza Rohrig's performance, unforgettable in its emotionless intensity; in the end this film cannot be considered a success. The flaws are too damaging. Following someone who has had his humanity ripped out of him around for the entire running time is just overload. Instead of having empathy for Saul, because of his constant nearness; the round-the-clock lack of breathing space had the opposite effect on this viewer.

Another film about the Holocaust, another one which fails to hit the target. But another one which had to be made. The deniers must never win.

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Flight of the Doves

Flee From This One.

(Edit) 11/03/2019

I knew I'd made a mistake watching this when a St. Patrick's Day parade the escaping children become caught up with, all of a sudden bursts into a song and dance routine straight out of your worst screen musical nightmare. Up to that point 'Flight Of The Doves' had legs as an undemanding chase story about two children escaping the clutches of two wicked uncles, and trying to find the home of their grandmother in Ireland.

Ralph Nelson appears to have had no idea of what sort of film he wanted to make: one minute it's a children's adventure story, with narrow escapes galore; then it's the kind of awful comedy that filled the screens at that time, with thick police, and unutterably stupid comings and goings through a series of doors, as in a farce or a Charlie Chaplin silent; then it's pure whimsy, complete with a sunset, a sickly song from Dana, and a pass-the-bucket finale. The children aren't the only ones totally lost.

There are snatches here and there of what could have been - most of them involving Ron Moody in a variety of disguises, a la Peter Sellers or Alec Guinness, playing the part to the hilt in a barnstorming display of deliberate overacting. Without him the film would have been turned off long before the ending.

Incidentally, Nelson's previous work to this, unbelievably, was 'Soldier Blue' - another film of excess, but of a totally different sort.

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Marguerite

Dreaming Of Sweet Things.

(Edit) 03/03/2019

Craving love and attention, (specifically, so we are told, from her husband), Marguerite Dumont, with all the pride and folly that only great wealth can bring, believes herself to be a singer of worth. High society encourages her, but snigger and call her a 'freak' behind her back.

It's too difficult to get excited, or even remotely interested, in the concerns of the overprivileged, and the hypocritical beau monde. We are asked to feel sympathy for Marguerite, and even a little bit for her husband. But they have chosen their life. Georges has even married Marguerite for her riches and connections. Anybody with an atom of decency would know full well the kind of people who move among these dinner parties and private recitals. Georges eventually, and correctly, calls them 'turds', but it is only because they have attacked his wife, not because he has suddenly found out what they (and he himself for that matter) are really like.

One thing only kept me watching: Catherine Frot. Rarely have I seen such a range of emotions conveyed through the eyes alone: the emptiness of a life without love and affection; the need for some kind of fulfillment; trust; the anticipation,and trepidation at the same time, of her dreams at last becoming reality. It's a standing ovation performance, worthy of a more important film.

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L'Argent

Capital.

(Edit) 27/02/2019

Many of the facets of cinematography which are taken for granted when watching a feature film have to be abandoned on encountering Robert Bresson. Not just the non-professional cast, commanded at all costs not to 'act', for which he's so famous, but the out-of-joint picture framing, and principal incidents taking place offstage, or of which we see only the after-events. There is a linear narrative, but often as if a couple of scenes have been edited out, leaving the viewer to assume what has happened. Once you've adjusted your balance, it's a unique and fulfilling experience.

Bresson's Catholicism may not be as overt as in 'Les Anges Du Peche' or 'Diary Of A Country Priest', but it is evident nonetheless. Money is the root of all evil. This is what happens when money is worshipped rather than God. Injustice. Reward for perjury. Bribes for silence. And let's not care too much if the innocent fall.

Yvon is let down by the police, the courts, his employers, even his wife. By the time a society built around capital has done with him, he has turned from a mild-mannered family man into a monster with bloody revenge in his heart.

The transition doesn't really work, which is why the film has four stars, and not five, but the assertion is sharp. All the more so because Bresson's ascetic tone ensures that any startling or stimulating action strikes like a flash of brilliant colour across a black-and-white picture.

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Time Without Pity

Alarming.

(Edit) 23/02/2019

At his best, ('The Servant', 'Accident'), Joseph Losey could hold his own with most of the giants of world cinema. 'Time Without Pity' came nearly ten years after his first feature, but can be seen as his first film of real quality. Of the ten which came before only 'The Sleeping Tiger', with Dirk Bogarde, stands out.

Images fragmented and multiplied in mirrors. People shouting, hysterical, confused. We are looking through the eyes of an alcoholic, with a mind half-dissolved by drink, who seems to have lost the ability to be coherent or logical, or to see things in that way. But when David Graham, fresh out of a sanatorium, has just twenty-four hours to save his son's life, coherence and logic are exactly what he needs.

Losey takes it at a delirious tempo: so many clocks on walls, ticking away, faces coming and going, so many of them offering drinks, one of them in a room full of alarm clocks, every time one of them goes off it's a reminder that time is almost up. People keep mentioning the time of appointments, the time they were doing something or other, that there isn't enough time, what will happen in time, that time is running out.

A blistering cast is the icing on an already rich cake. Michael Redgrave quite often played insular characters ('The Browning Version', 'Thunder Rock'), teetering on the edge of sanity ('Uncle Vanya'), or who had actually fallen over the edge ('Dead Of Night'). In this mood, few actors could match him. There is a raft of great names in support: Leo McKern, Ann Todd, Peter Cushing, Paul Daneman, Alec McCowen, Renee Houston, Lois Maxwell, Joan Plowright, Peter Copley, Ernest Clark....Gracious Me!

There is perhaps a touch of the overly dramatic every now and again, but this is still a very fine film, and one of the highlights of the Losey canon.

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The Blue Lamp

Bogarde's Crook Steals It.

(Edit) 17/02/2019

Famous more for what came out of it than for the actual film itself, 'The Blue Lamp' spawned both 'Dixon Of Dock Green' and the rise of Dirk Bogarde. It is amongst the better of the British policiers made around that time, ('The Criminal', 'Gideon Of Scotland Yard'), but it's still hard to believe that without the Dock Green connection, and the obvious presence of a great star in the ascendant, it would be remembered so fondly.

Whenever Jack Warner played a nice bloke (often) there was always a tendency to make him just a bit too nice, too wise, to always let him have the irritatingly last word. jimmy Hanley is bland as Andy, learning his trade as a new recruit. Peggy Evans does little more than scream a lot. Bernard Lee and Robert Flemyng display their usual professional aplomb in familiar roles of detectives. Dora Bryan is great for the few moments she's on the screen. But it's Bogarde's film. Not quite the first time he showed the world that here was greatness in the making, ('Quartet' and 'Boys In Brown' came before), it is nevertheless a performance which only the very best could accomplish.

It is possible to see 'The Blue Lamp' as shining a light on acting styles. The old, solid style of Warner, no flim-flam, no gestures, little expression, contrasting with emotional Bogarde, transmitting hate, frustration, fear, determination by whatever means - even (magnificently) through the eyes only when necessary.

Just about worth watching as a film. Essential viewing for Bogarde fans.

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Colonel Redl

Waltzing Into Oblivion.

(Edit) 15/02/2019

Istvan Szabo made three films with the powerhouse actor Klaus Maria Brandauer, all of them about compromises individuals will make to gain favour with the powers that be. 'Colonel Redl' is set in the Austro-Hungarian Empire just before World War One.

A good soldier is one who betrays friends; one who holds long-held beliefs but is prepared to proclaim the antithesis, and moreover publicly condemn those who hold the same belief. Duels take place to uphold these honourable practices. Anyone who isn't a virulent racist is looked on with suspicion. Being born outside the gentry, and being ambitious, means forgetting you ever had a family. Young Redl makes a decision to remain at cadet school for a ceremonial evening rather than attend his father's funeral. Much later, when his sister comes calling at the barracks, the adult Redl can hold back his emotion for a short time only: polite and considerate to begin with but suddenly exploding in rage that his past should remind him of his dissociation.

His sympathy for Jews, his sexual orientation, all have to be thrown behind him as he climbs the ladder. But memories persist - in one scene chasing him in the form of a pack of dogs. Redl becomes chief of the Secret Police, seeking spies, and those who would betray their country. A more barbed betrayal, it would seem, is that of one's own self.

But it is the whole realm which Redl inhabits that is about to be thrown on the bonfire of the First World War. The dancers of the masked ball, dominoes disguising their true selves, casually waltzing into oblivion as the Monarchy and the military masters are about to sanction the greatest betrayal of all: not just of themselves, family and friends, but of millions of innocent lives.

Brandauer blows the roof off as Redl. All other performances are top-drawer, but you would be excused for not noticing, as eyes are permanently drawn to him as if to a force of nature. He somehow conveys an overweening determination to succeed alongside a hurt, as pinpricks of conscience score his soul.

it is rare for a film of 136 minutes to show no excess fat. Almost every scene is important, not only to understanding Redl, but also the place and times. I can't believe there is any other film which explains as forcefully why the military madness of the Austro-Hungarian Empire had to die - but at what a cost.

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The Rocket

A Damp Squib.

(Edit) 13/02/2019

Think about all those astonishing films from Iran. Or, as another example, the films of Ouedraogo from Burkina Faso. Now imagine if they had been made Hollywood-style. Doesn't bear thinking about? Behold 'The Rocket'.

What should have been a richly rewarding insight into the culture and traditions of Laos and its people, has been mis-shapen through the Australian Kim Mordaunt's hands, into a stultifying coming-of-age trial. It has already been made perfectly clear (more than a few times) that the child Ahlo's supposed fate is to bring bad luck to all around him, when Mordaunt gets him to shout "I am not cursed". Streuth, is that what the film is about? Being Hollywood-style, music intrudes at every possible point, just in case you couldn't figure out if this was a happy or sad bit. Being Hollywood-style, subtlety is avoided as if it was a contagious disease. Ahlo's bad luck involves the death of his mother, and setting fire to neighbours' property. When films of this kind use slow-mo jumps off buildings, a la 'Mission Impossible' it's time to watch something else.

Mordaunt may be asking for sympathy for Ahlo, but he is seen aiming a catapult at a monkey, and only stopped because a friend tells him it is the last in the jungle. Presumably it is all right to do it until only one is left? Maybe the dam construction company are not the only people devastating the environment?

'The Rocket' gets one star for its photography of the Laos countryside. Nothing else in the film deserves even that.

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