Film Reviews by PD

Welcome to PD's film reviews page. PD has written 71 reviews and rated 166 films.

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Zana

Disturbing study of wartime trauma

(Edit) Updated 13/05/2021

This disturbing psychological drama from Kosovan documentary maker Antoneta Kastrati is a very painful, sombre meditation on lingering wartime trauma.

The film takes place in a sleepy rural corner of western Kosovo 10 years after the Balkan wars have ended, but the scars of conflict still shape the psychic landscape. Kastrati presents contemporary Kosovan society as suspended in limbo between the old world and the new, between science and superstition, where smartphones and YouTube videos co-exist with beliefs in witches and demons, fortune tellers and faith healers. There's quite a few horror-film-style touches used to illuminate central character Lume’s fractured mental state which are a bit hit-and-miss (much more effective is a scratchy VHS tape depicting the exhumation of wartime casualties), with echoes of Rosemary’s Baby and Don’t Look Now, but of course the real 'horror' is how Lume is treated rather than any of the spells or exorcisms she is subjected to.

Zana is also about the inner wounds of patriarchy and misogyny, which are relentlessly (and often not very subtly) depicted. Even in her most despairing depths, Lume is rejected by family on all sides, demeaned by her husband and harshly judged by her peers, her social standing reduced to her duty as a baby-breeding machine, although Kastrati is careful to avoid placing the blame on mono-dimensional villains: Lume's husband Ilir, for example, evidently has tender and protective feelings for his wife despite their unbalanced gender roles. Nevertheless, the film remains a powerful indictment of how Lume's family see her role,; the fact that Lume seems to slowly losing her mind is agonizingly believable in these circumstances.

The plot is a little disjointed and repetitive, but Adriane Matoshi’s quietly devastating performance conveys a lot with very little, her impassive features revealing submerged grief with scant trace of melodrama. Lume is clearly intended to be emblematic of an entire generation of Kosovan women still scarred by wartime trauma, and in a heartbreaking last word, Kastrati ends with a dedication to her mother Ajshe and sister Luljeta, both killed in the conflict 20 years ago.

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Ammonite

History lost in the passion

(Edit) 10/05/2021

This one concerns the life and work of Mary Anning, whose contributions to palaeontology influenced Darwin. It depicts a middle-aged Anning, played by Kate Winslet, being acclaimed for her work but being also overlooked within the scientific community. She lives a modest life on the Jurassic coast, spending most of her days searching for fossils to sell to tourists in order to support herself and her mother. But the mundane routine of her life is disrupted by the arrival of a young middle-class woman, Charlotte Murchison (Saoirse Ronan), who has been instructed to convalesce by the sea by her husband, Roderick. The pair quickly develop an intense relationship that changes their lives.

The film is beautifully shot and unsurprisingly well-acted, but, watchable as it undoubtedly is, I'm coming away thinking Mary Anning has been sold short here. Yes, it makes us painfully aware that Anning was getting a raw deal in professional terms, and that, as well as being female, one of her major disadvantages was her working-class roots. But unfortunately there is very little exploration of this due to the central focus on a romantic lesbian relationship, of which there is absolutely no historical justification beyond (presumably) an inference from the fact that Anning never married.

Lee wants to portray two lonely women united by the constraints of their gender within a patriarchal society - but while this is may well be a laudable aim, it plays havoc with what we know of Murchison, who, far from being restricted in opportunity by a controlling husband, was in fact the impetus behind his career. Interestingly also, the real Murchison was about a decade older than Mary, whereas her the age difference is switched so that Anning is the senior of the pair, which is very odd. Worse still, Mary was emphatically NOT some kind of misanthropic outsider. She maintained a number of close female friendships and professional relationships throughout her life, notably Elizabeth Philpot, who built on Anning's work. Philpot does appear (played by Fiona Shaw), but here she takes the form of a local villager whose relationship with Anning is somewhat strained, Philpot's charm and warmth serving as a mirror to Anning's aloofness; predictably, there is a suggestion that Philpot is a former lover of Anning, and that this is the source of the tension between the two. I find this a shame, because we have no indication that this was the case - quite the contrary in fact.

Perhaps a more historically accurate (or at least plausible) film would not have received the attention that this has got. And of course it's perfectly possible just to ignore the fact that it's based on Mary Anning and just let the tale stand in its own right. But I still find it a bit of a pity that the 'real' Anning is lost amongst the passion: surely a tale of the dawn of science meets female enablement would have been of interest? It says a lot about us, I fear, that we just can't let Anning's intellectual achievements speak for themselves.

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About Endlessness

Bleak vision of the human condition from Roy Andersson

(Edit) 07/05/2021

This latest offering from Roy Andersson is typically bleak, and even his trademark humour is in noticeably short supply here, although to be fair the film is not without brief snatches of joy amidst the rubble.

The film is narrated by a young woman who 'remembers' certain people from an undefined future (beyond the grave?). What follows is a series of vignettes or poetic fragments of varying degrees of absurdity and scope, with a priest's crisis of faith one of the few linking threads, although certain themes reoccur often, notably the way people become so engrossed in their own concerns that the essence of eternity is hidden from them. A man whose car breaks down on a lonely road fails to see the extraordinary sight of a flock of migrating birds wheeling overhead — much less the majestic plain that surrounds him under a canopy of sky; a dentist who has become dependent on the bottle stares glumly into his glass at the bar, unwilling to turn around and look at the sight of snow falling while ethereal voices sing “Silent Night.” “Everything is fantastic!” another man prompts him, but the dentist doesn’t even try to engage with him.

Andersson's trademark minimalist, austere style, eschewing conventional character development, plot, traditional editing, camera movement etc is once again very effective here, although few of the scenes here stick in the mind as much as some of the others in his so-called 'trilogy about being a human being' series. That said, it's still clearly an impressive piece of work.

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County Lines

Sensitive, powerful portrayal of a difficult subject

(Edit) 23/04/2021

This film, Henry Blake's debut feature, deals with the delicate subject of how an introverted 14-year-old boy is lured all too easily into the world of county lines drug trafficking.

Harris Dickinson and Ashley Madekwe both cede the spotlight to young lead Conrad Khan, who delivers an outstanding performance of unnerving stillness and tightly coiled anguish. 18 at the time of filming, he convincingly plays the younger Tyler, a taciturn social outcast in the pupil referral unit he sporadically attends. Belittled and bullied in class, he’s the man of the house at home, effectively parenting his young sister Aliyah while his single mother Toni (Madekwe) works menial night shifts and sleeps off the days.

Blake’s economical script doesn’t dwell on the history that took Tyler out of school but it's clear enough that he hasn't had much of a chance, with limited support from the authorities and the over-burdened Toni. Rudderless, isolated children like Tyler are easy prey for dealers seeking county lines runners, who apparently are often targeted out of pupil referral units. Blake, who spent some time working in a PRU, plainly knows his terrain here, and when Tyler is defended from bullies one evening by imposing “entrepreneur” Simon (Dickinson), viewers will sense the grooming machine in motion well before the teen, Dickinson subtly mirroring Tyler’s sloping body language and terse, congested speech to suggest how he, too, may once have been in the boy’s uncomfortable skin, cyclically recruited in the same predatory way. A crisp jump to six months later, meanwhile, shows how fast the process can be. Fully immersed in grim drug-mule duty, a hardened Tyler has gone from withdrawn to stone-blank, a transition that Khan navigates with considerable restraint. Between the film’s portraits of hemmed-in masculinity, meanwhile, Madekwe offers a moving study of imperfect motherhood that is far more easily punished than assisted.

There's quite a few weakness: some scenes are a little heavy-handed, and the stylised camerawork doesn't always come off, whilst the score is an irritating distraction; the ending, moreover, is perhaps more convenient than it is convincing. But overall there's a lot of humanity here and the director has done very well to highlight such an important, difficult subject so powerfully yet so sensitively.

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Agatha Christie: 100 Years of Poirot and Miss Marple

Poor

(Edit) 26/03/2021

One of those superficial tv-doc style things which rapidly runs through the life and works of Christie without anything in the way of depth. The format is predictable - some brief clips from some of the film / tv adaptations with various bods making comments, but there's zero insight here, and some of the comments border on the trite. May be of interest to someone who knows nothing about the subject (unlikely to find many in this category, I would have thought) but that's about it. Very disappointing.

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Body of Water

Powerful and sensitive study of severe anorexia

(Edit) 08/02/2021

This one's a very hard watch at times, but by-and-large director Lucy Brydon is successful at giving us an honest, sensitive portrayal of severe anorexia.

Unusually for a film on this subject, her protagonist is not a troubled adolescent but a 30-something single mother, Stephanie (Sian Brooke), who finds her efforts to reconnect with her long-suffering but totally out-of-her depth mother Susan (Amanda Burton) and spiky 15-year-old daughter Pearl (the superb Fabienne Piolini-Castle) invariably come to grief. Brooke is excellent, giving us a thoroughly convincing display of a woman's internal demons and how she is constantly teetering on the edge, although the (rather important) backstory of her (presumably traumatic) former life as a war photographer is left to our imagination.

It doesn't always come off - the scenes involving her 'relationship' with a distinctly unprofessional nurse are rather weak, and the group therapy sessions resort to cliche at times, but some scenes are truly heart-rending, notably an extended sequence in which she gorges alone, in silent desperation. Brydon’s restrained, unmelodramatic screenplay, which doesn’t attempt to psychoanalyse Stephanie, works well with Darran Bragg's detached cinematography. Powerful stuff.

2 out of 2 members found this review helpful.

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Saint Maud

Moving study of a troubled soul

(Edit) 07/02/2021

This powerful debut from Rose Glass is one of those religious fanatic meets psychological horror things, charting the gradual breakdown of a lonely young woman convinced that she is on a divine mission, and features a terrific performance from Jennifer Ehle as faded celebrity Amanda, and a bold, quietly nerve-shredding lead from Morfydd Clark. It's at its best when it sticks to psychological unease (the first half) and at its worst when it goes for the horror (the last section).

Clark as Maud is really good throughout, but especially in the claustrophobic live-in nurse first half, supplying palliative care to the prickly, cynical Amanda, who surprisingly warms to Maud’s artless devotion and God-given / self-appointed divine purpose to save this ‘lost soul’. The film’s classiness lies in the way that, for the most part, it depicts a realistic depiction of Maud’s mentally and economically distressed world, superbly evoked in Paulina Rzeszowksa’s production design and in Ben Fordesman’s camerawork (I'll ignore the score, which is awful). Rather than weigh things down with too much pathological case history, Glass adroitly lets us guess at the background of a seemingly brainwashed cradle-Catholic, but who, as revealed partly in encounters with a former co-worker, once lived a very different life and is anything but. Glass also impressively achieves a delicate balance in taking Maud’s religious conviction seriously, while sensitively portraying the mental disturbance that drives it, and astutely uses religious imagery to get inside Maud’s head (it didn't need William Blake, but I gettit), whilst being just as skillful in portraying the painful near-immobility of Amanda, whose art has stood for the freedom of the female body. While the story is clearly set in the present, production design, costumes etc subtly blur markers of the period, with hints of the 60s and 70s. This teasing indeterminacy gives the film a timelessness that also accentuates its echoes of Polanski’s Repulsion; indeed, Clark gives a performance that is as bold, and as vulnerably isolated, as Catherine Deneuve, and that's quite something.

Glass overplays her hand in the second section where the film briefly lurches into more generic horror mode, which jars with the painstakingly established realism. But overall, the film is ultimately successful, a moving study of a troubled soul.

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Cocoon

Coming of age tale with a difference

(Edit) 03/02/2021

This coming-of-age tale by Leonie Krippendorff captures with some sensitivity issues such as having to deal with confusing hormones and peer pressure at a time when finding love and fitting in feel like the most important things in the world. Unable to attend a school trip due to a broken hand, 14-year-old Nora is temporarily placed into her older sister Jule's class and becomes embroiled in her friendship group where she is forced to sit on the side lines of parties and outings while Jule sometimes resents her presence. Soon, the arrival of a new girl, Romy, awakens different emotions in Nora which she spends the summer trying to reconcile.

Krippendorff’s film has a fairly typical coming-of-age plot in which a young girl explores her sexuality as bodily changes expose her to new questions about her identity and interests, but what sets 'Cocoon' apart are the various ways in which Krippendorff frames her story, an urban experience set in a low-income multicultural neighbourhood where parentless teenagers are left to fend for themselves. Nora and Jule have an alcoholic mother who would rather spend time in the local bar than notice the needs of her children, who are basically left to care for themselves. A good sequence, when the optimistic Jule agrees to take care of a baby simulation doll, avoids the usual comic scenes, instead focusing on the girls’ experience of neglect.

The film is also peppered with the wider influence and pressure that the media and rap music place on young girls, and the audience is shown various discussions about losing weight by eating cotton wool soaked in orange juice, hearing the vlogs that Jule spends time listening to with advice on finding boyfriends, or performing sexualised dance moves at parties to please the boys in the group. Nora and Jules, Krippendorff implies, are left to learn about the world from Internet strangers with no one guiding them safely through some of the most formative experiences. There is also a visual honesty in Cocoon in which the sometimes embarrassing experiences of teenage girls are openly represented. When Nora has her first period and a very public leak Krippendorff shows it without ceremony or melodrama – still a rare sight on screen.

Krippendorff makes the central love story a little too gushingly romantic, with a montage of rather cliched scenes as the couple go skinny dipping, joyfully attend a pride parade and lay together in sunny fields that contrast awkwardly with the urban energy of the rest of the film. And whilst the Director is careful to avoid any scenes of the Nora having sex with Romy, the implication is still rather awkward, especially with several scenes of nudity and acts of masturbation. But Lena Urzendowsky strikes the right balance as Nora, an uncertain outsider who says very little but seems to feel out of place and awkward at every moment before starting to find her own path. There is good support from Lena Klenke as 16-year old Jule already swept up in compliance with her gang but still craving guidance from her mother and sister, while Jella Haase gives Romy plenty of 'free-spirited cool' that makes the character so inspiring to Nora.

The caterpillar to butterfly metaphor is a little heavy-handed but Krippendorff recognisably charts Nora’s painful transition from child to young woman while capturing the heat of the summer in a dense city environment that shapes the raging hormones and pressures felt by the characters as they navigate the highs and lows of first love while barely knowing who they are. Well worth a look.

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Relic

Psychological horror of intergenerational relationships

(Edit) 27/01/2021

Probably not the thing to watch late at night if you live in a dark, creaky old house with your elderly mother, but this highly original piece by Japanese Australian first-timer Natalie Erika James is for the most part a compelling psychological horror. There's terrifying dreams, deeply buried memories of traumas past, plaster infested with creeping black mould and a scrabbling noise in the brickwork, nasty-looking bruises across breastbones and strips of skin that shear away from flesh. But in many ways the movie’s simplest conceit is its most chilling and gives rise to its most impressively scarifying filmmaking: a house as metaphor for the mind of its inhabitant. So when that inhabitant is slowly losing herself to dementia, the house begins to collapse in on itself, a labyrinth of dead ends, foreshortened impossible geometries and doorways that turn into solid walls behind your back. If growing up is often portrayed as realising you can never go home again, here growing old is realising that even as home betrays you, you can never get away from it.

The house's longtime resident is Edna (Robyn Nevin), whose long white hair is a handy indicator of how together she is — neatly pinned back when she’s her spiky self, loose and straggly when she’s become disoriented. It's full of post-it notes bearing reminders that range from the banal, like “take pills,” to the cryptic — like “don’t follow it.” For a time she seems fine, merely irritated to be treated like an invalid, but soon starts to deteriorate, and daughter Kay is faced with tough decisions about her mother’s future while also being troubled by nightmares and noises that send her creeping through darkened hallways at night — a motif that admittedly becomes increasingly unsubtle and rather overused. DP Charlie Sarroff’s photography is terrific though, with patient, observant frames accumulating mood steadily; things that are cheerful become ominous, like the pulsing of Christmas tree lights, and images such as Edna working at her candle art, become inexplicably sinister.

There are times when you can't help thinking that a lot of the women’s anxiety could be dissipated with a couple of 100-watt lightbulbs, and occasionally James overplays her horror-movie hand and we notice the contrivances. But generally, though, the excesses are forgiven due to the cleanly drawn psychologies of the three actors, whose excellent performances neatly draw the intergenerational relationships between grandmother, mother and daughter with great subtlety and insight; we observe the sad truism of how a daughter can deeply love her mother while also despising or fearing the ageing version of her own self that Mum represents. More to come, hopefully, from a talented director.

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Shirley

Dark, psychological drama

(Edit) 19/01/2021

This one starts really well, with Rose Nemser (Odessa Young), reading Shirley Jackson's great story, 'The Lottery' on a train, before, strangely aroused by it, dragging her husband, Fred (Logan Lerman), into the lavatory for sex. The two of them, as it happens, are on their way to Bennington, Vt., where Jackson (Elisabeth Moss) lives with her husband, the literary critic and campus lech Stanley Edgar Hyman (Michael Stuhlbarg). It’s supposed to be a temporary arrangement, but the young couple, like characters in a dark fairy tale, find themselves trapped in a spooky, ivy-covered house full of both menace and enchantment, and we, like them, are taken on a journey of psychological horror and erotic implication.

Adapted by Sarah Gubbins from Susan Scarf Merrell’s novel, it's not (thankfully) a 'biopic'. Decker and Moss instead approach Jackson as if she were a character in her own fiction, which is to say as an object of pity, terror, fascination and awe rather than straightforward sympathy. As she works feverishly on her next novel, she casts a spell on Rose, bedeviling her waking hours with tantrums and haunting her dreams. “I’m a witch,” Shirley proclaims, and it doesn’t seem like metaphor or hyperbole. She guesses the secret of Rose’s pregnancy by looking at her face. Rose, trembling between fear and lust, becomes Shirley’s nursemaid and her muse, her secret sharer and her prey.

Decker and the cinematographer, Sturla Brandth Grovlen, blur the boundaries of realism, interweaving domestic drama with scenes of fantasy, so that by the end we are not sure whose hallucination, or what kind of experience, we are witnessing, and at times the academic power games Shirley and Stanley play with Rose and Fred evoke Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.” The film is also successful with its suggestion of the link between creativity and mental disorder: Shirley is a demonic genius, her brilliance hard to separate from her instability and eccentricity.

One notable liberty that “Shirley” takes with the biographical record is to make Jackson and Hyman childless. In real life, they raised four children, and some of Jackson’s most popular writing consisted of articles and stories about parenthood and everyday domesticity. In removing this thread, and making the unliterary, uneducated Rose (who dropped out of college to marry Fred) an emblem of fertility, the filmmakers impose a stark separation of roles on Jackson that she herself defied, and this seriously undermines the character's complexity.

The ending is all a bit tired and feeble after all the build up, but we are left with more than a suggestion that both Rose and Shirley are victims of a hypocritical, repressive, male-dominated world, though the actual men in their lives are weak, preening mediocrities, whilst the libidinal current that runs between the women, is convincing. Hopefully a lot more to come from a talented director.

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The Other Lamb

Gripping and unnerving

(Edit) 01/01/2021

With films about cults a dime a dozen these days, it takes an original work to stand out, and by and large Malgorzata Szumowska’s The Other Lamb does just that. It’s due in large part to the film succeeding across multiple fronts, not merely just as an exploration of a mysterious group organized around the semi-deity of the cult leader (Michiel Huisman as Shepherd), for Szumowska's interest lies not in what brought them to fall under his spell but rather in what keeps them there.

Much of the connection is, predictably, a stubborn belief in their religious convictions, but Shepherd’s prodigious breeding creates two tiers among the group – Wives and Daughters, and it's this dynamic which captures our interest predominantly. Much of our understanding of how the group functions comes through the eyes of the protagonist, Sela, superbly played by Raffey Cassidy, a Daughter who has no sense of identity or perspective that doesn’t involve the group. Her coming-of-age story has the potential to alter all relationships and structures as power and sexuality entrances her, but control and subjugation repels her. As told through Szumowska’s (admittedly rather heavy-handed at times) symbolic aesthetic, the film makes for a chilling glance at the strange pull that cults exert on their members and how their values imprint themselves on their members in irrevocable ways. And of course it all might well be taking place inside Sela’s head - her unconscious signalling the onset of enslavement rather than the first stirrings of adult freedom. She is now ripe for Shepherd but also soiled, given that he judges menstruating women “unclean” and remands them to a dark shack. Shepherd melts out of the mist like a hybrid of Jesus, Rasputin and Dracula. He is all engulfing males rolled into one.

The film is heavily reliant on deliberately unnerving imagery, often at the expense of dialogue, and the painfully slow pace will undoubtedly put off many, whilst the idea is that vulnerable women will give up their autonomy, indeed their very identities, to such an entitled being, requires a bit of an imaginative leap (although of course there are historic precedents). However, Cassidy carries us through, she is superb at evoking the quintessential teenage demeanor: superiority with glints of uncertainty. Recalling 'The Witch' and 'The Handmaid’s Tale', it reminds us how the folk-horror genre has long been interested in female bodies that are used and abused by men, and how they often become entwined inextricably with practices of twisted religious devotion. Gripping stuff.

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Babyteeth

Compelling viewing

(Edit) Updated 19/12/2020

Wow. This wonderful piece by first-time feature director Shannon Murphy will speak volumes to anyone who has suffered the effects of someone taken before their time. I was very impressed by her handling of such a delicate subject and very moved.

Eliza Scanlen is pitch-perfect as the terminally ill teenager Milla, whilst Ben Mendelsohn as her father Henry and Essie Davis as mother Anna offer thoroughly convincing support as they attempt to stave off the tidal wave of grief looming over them. Murphy is really good at depicting the crushing feeling of the family home being filled with sickness, and the way any small joys managed within it are quickly stifled.

At the heart of the film is Milla’s relationship with wayward, drug-addled 23-year old Moses (admirably played by Toby Wallace), a decidedly tricky dynamic - for we are as wary of him as her parents, but ultimately we, like them, are, if not exactly won over, are forced to end up seeing him through Milla's eyes, and this is some achievement on the part of the director. Milla’s romantic and sexual awakenings are a faltering journey that Scanlen illustrates with disarming wisdom. She’s got serious chemistry with Wallace, who keenly communicates the ways that Moses’s decency is so often at war with the necessities of his addiction and the wounds of his own tumultuous family life. The age gap between the two characters, and the way it’s lovingly forgiven in the film, may rankle some, but for me it ultimately convinces. “It’s her first love,” Anna says resignedly to Henry in one quiet scene. The unspoken sentiment is that it could also very well be her last. Is that enough to excuse the gap in age and experience? Babyteeth is content live with that ambiguity, as Anna and Henry realise that giving permission to 'transgression' is in a way allowing Milla to live a whole young adulthood in a compressed, terribly fleeting time frame. Murphy is not interested in didactic lesson-learning. Instead, the film insists on the inadequacy of what is 'proper' in the face of oblivion, the confounding uselessness of saying “no” to someone who is staring down life’s ultimate negation.

Murphy avoids the clunky exposition of films of this ilk —there are few dutiful explanations of what exactly is wrong with each character. Rather, we discover their pain as the film floats along. Some omens can’t be avoided—hair loss, vomiting, dinner embarrassment after too many pills—but the film mostly knows that Milla, her family, and Moses would all understand their circumstances without needing to spell them out. And Murphy also avoids any prescriptive moralising: Henry and Anna are neither good or bad parents; they are just trying (and often failing) to find a way through an impossible situation.

My favourite (short) scene is one in which a video of fireworks exploding in slow-motion is projected on Milla’s face, all while an androgynous figure in futuristic silver circles her, and brings home Milla’s fragile being far better than any words could. Compelling viewing.

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Billie

Mixed Bag but well worth a look

(Edit) 16/12/2020

This one begins as it means to go on - by talking, not of Billie Holiday, but of Linda Lipnack Kuehl, a journalist who in 1971 embarked on a biography of the Billie and died in 1978 - suicide, according to the police, murder, according to others. So we have two films in one based on two different people, and whilst it's an intriguing premise, to my mind the execution is at best clumsy and at worst significantly detracts from the lives of both people.

Kuehl amassed a formidable research archive, including tape recordings of interviews with Holiday’s collaborators, friends, lovers etc. Some of her work was used in subsequent published biographies, but the film's director, James Erskine, acquired the rights to her entire collection, and “Billie” is the result. It's a fairly sympathetic review of Billie's life, packed with incident, much of it pretty disturbing, but the film plausibly insists that she also lived her 'high life' with a level of proud ostentation, and the suggestion of a masochistic self-destructive instinct is particularly convincing. And while the parallel lives are rather awkwardly done, Eskine's handling of Keuhl’s interviews are pretty good - what’s said on the tapes often kicks us in the gut. Some of her white collaborators speak of Holiday condescendingly, whilst the legendary drummer Jo Jones seethes with an anger at Holiday’s exploiters you can still feel decades after the fact. But she isn't, crucially, portrayed as 'victim', which I'm sure she would have approved of.

Another weakness is that the film gives short shrift to subject’s artistry; there's just nowhere near enough of the music. There's some great moments - particularly the soul-piercing 'Strange Fruit' - but unfortunately the (admittedly terribly difficult) need to match the persona along with the art simply doesn't happen here. That all said, it's a great watch on the whole, and both fans and onlookers alike will find much to think about. Well worth a look.

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Eternal Beauty

Brave, empathetic study of schizophrenia

(Edit) 02/12/2020

This brave, meticulously crafted piece is for the most part very successful at giving us an empathetic portrayal of schizophrenia. Most films about mental illness tend to use “normal” characters to provide an outside perspective on the subject’s illness, but instead Roberts lets Jane herself (superbly played by Sally Hawkins) be our guide, which has the result we are unable to differentiate between reality and delusion since she herself cannot do the same.

There's some dark humour en route, notably a Christmas present-giving scene involving thoroughly bemused relations, but on the whole it's a heartbreaking film, for Roberts doesn't attempt to shy away from the fact that Jane is a lost soul, trapped inside a mind walled off into sections between her present and past self / selves.

Sometimes the script isn't quite strong enough to cope with the sheer complexity of what's being shown, and the sections involving Jane's relationship with fellow psychiatric patient Mike are a bit awkward, but generally speaking this is strong stuff, and is all the better for not giving us a neat and tiny narrative arc or any sort of cathartic conclusion.

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Hope Gap

Trivial piece about an important subject

(Edit) 26/11/2020

Ignoring the largely indifferent reviews, I took a punt on this one, but unfortunately pretty much everything, be it the acting, the screenplay, the direction, all falls rather flat. It's a promising premise - most divorce dramas start at the beginning and lead you to the break-up, whereas this one starts at the end and concentrates on the fall-out, but sadly, since it seems deliberately keen to avoid any kind of emotional depth, what we end up with is a very trivial piece about an important subject and you end up not really caring much about these people.

Nighy as Edward appears right for his role; his early scenes of biding-his-time tolerance before the great revelation are pretty good, but he remains rather one-dimensional throughout, and whilst O’Connor does ok with a dreadfully thin script, they remain more archetypes of a feuding couple than flesh-and-blood people who were once in love with one another; Nicholson’s failure to probe Grace and Edward’s interior landscapes, or even get at the root problems of their marriage, only makes the film’s attempts at big emotional gestures feel all the more hollow. Added to the mix is Josh O'Connor as son Jamie, but rather than explore the dysfunctional context of this father-son relationship and whatever led up to such a callous, manipulative decision, Nicholson settles for propping him as the helpless middleman with the result that he spends much of the film giving us various pained expressions of one sort or another. And when he finally does have something to 'do' it all ends badly - a truly terrible sequence involving Jamie talking to his mother about a desire to commit suicide on the cliff edge is terribly trite - I've seen better work from sixth-formers, frankly. The overall result of all this is a film that, as with a dull play (and this does feel very 'stagey'), tries your patience at times. Meanwhile, Cinematographer Anna Valdez-Hanks provides breathtaking views of the coastline, but those vistas feel more like some tv nature documentary rather than anything complementary to what is going on, whilst the portentous score is simply an irritating distraction.

There's one or two good lines that get us underneath Grace's complex skin, as it were, but, aside from an ill-judged attempt to shoehorn some famous poetry into the action, the basic problem is that Grace is defined entirely by her relation to Edward and Jamie. We’re told that Grace is a creative soul nourished by her faith and driven by her passion, but except for one brief scene of her at early Mass, we see precious little of either - it’s as if she disappears as soon as the men in her life leave the room. Perhaps only a man could make a film about a 'left woman' that cares more about the leaver.

Mercifully short.

4 out of 5 members found this review helpful.
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