TIFF Capsules — Day 7
IT’S A FREE WORLD …, Ken Loach, Britain — 5
This is mostly Loach in his “good” mode, staying off his soapbox and with the leftistical pinko points being made by the events rather than speechifying. Unfortunately, he didn’t make a very good film in his “good” genre. He does, typically, get a great central performance from the unknown Kierston Wareing as a worker for a labor-recruitment agency named Angie who loses her job and decides to start her own immigrant-employment service. She’s smart, wily and has an entrepreneurial spirit — a kind of Anglo-Saxon Rosetta with more about her head. What makes Angie so compelling is that the second-level character touches are all there — her defensiveness toward her father, say, and the fact that she does try to help people. When it’s not against her interests, that is. There is also one terrific “character” turn, by Raymond Mearns as the Glaswegian bartender Andy, whose “yooz wummun” speech is just a joy to listen to for its working-class tinfoil-hat quality.
But, and this is about the last thing one would expect to say about a Loach film, the script really isn’t sufficiently focused. Subplots like the Polish boyfriend just sort of peter out. And there is a crime that takes place in the next-to-last scene that is simply ridiculous — both narrativewise (it happens out of nowhere, but is resolved far too quickly and the scene ends on a line that the Coen Brothers blew away in NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN) and detailwise (a criminal would hardly give *this* speech under *these* circunstances; plus it’s as economically silly as most Loach soapboxing). And that’s it, plus an obviously symmetrical coda; the film doesn’t so much end as stop. And the bad Loach occasionally rears his head, e.g., Angie asks an Iranian family why the had to leave and the only thing clear in the sound mix is the father blaming the US overthrow of Mossadeq in 1953. The man and wife in this family look to be in their 30s.
THE LAST MISTRESS, Catherine Breillat, France — 4
My favorite Breillat so far, but that really is saying only that THE LAST MISTRESS didn’t want to make me claw my eyes out (ROMANCE made me want to mutilate myself in other ways). The big-budget period piece (an adaptation of a Barbey d’Aureville novel about an aristocratic marriage and a Spanish prostitute whom the man can’t let go of) does somewhat rein in Breillat’s perversity or pervertedness. And she has an interesting theme — how hatred and jealousy can fuel romance and (especially) sex. There’s a scene in which a character slashes another across the face that draws blood in more ways than one. But remember when I said “somewhat rein in.” Somewhat. Asia Argento still cannot act, but she have very large and round boobs, a fact of which Breillat constantly reminds us. While showing Roxanne Mesquida’s flat chest for comparison. The pervs and the feminists will no doubt form a Coalition of the Willing around this film.
ATONEMENT, Joe Wright, Britain — 9 (changed from 8 )
Organizing my notes for this, I realized just how strong ATONEMENT is and how completely brilliant is the third act, hence the upgrade. Saying why this film is so great will require giving away the entire plot. I profited immensely from going in knowing nothing of the novel (something Wright’s first film obviously had no hope of) and having at least forgotten about a certain member of the cast (brainlock from seeing 5 films a day does have its advantages). ATONEMENT opens in theaters shortly, so I’ll speak vaguely. The film is segmented into three easily definable acts. The first, set in a 1935 British manor, is great. The second, following several characters from the first act through the years of World War II, is pretty good but we’re starting to feel things get rote. The third act is a mind-blower that turns the whole movie inside out.
The first contains most of the virtues people will expect — Keira Knightley will get most of the praise (and hopefully a cheeseburger) as Cecilia, but James McAvoy as the social-climber/gardener Robbie persuades me for the first time that he’s something more than a boyish face. The two have an incredibly erotic sex scene while hardly taking off any clothes (they’re in the manor library … appearances, people), while bathed in not-quite expressionistic dark shadows. And the kids are the best of all, note-perfect in their desires to be more than kids. Saorise Ronan as aspiring writer Briany, Cecilia’s sister, and Juno Temple as Lola both think they are more mature than they are (milked for comedy in Lola’s case) and both make the mistake of their lives, in different cases. By the second act, Briany now played by TIFF Acting MVP Romola Garai, has come to realize her mistake but the war effort and residual anger block her efforts to come back to terms. This contains a shot, of the evacuation at Dunkirk that’s already causing sneers and unfavorable comparison to CHILDREN OF MEN. But I didn’t “spot” its length (maybe because I wasn’t primed to), plus it’s more of a look-around within a defined space shot, more in common with the opening shot of THE PLAYER than CoM.
The third act. I will come back to this capsule later (and edit accordingly) … probably when the fest is over. But there will be SPOILERS aplenty. Suffice to say fernow that the last shot, of a cottage on the white cliffs of Dover is absolutely gorgeous. And absolutely heartbreaking.
A GIRL CUT IN TWO, Claude Chabrol, France — 4
I have to come clean and admit that Chabrol just may be a blind spot of mine. I have seen about seven of his films but have never really been blown away by one (LE BOUCHER came closest). This film has a few funny epigrams like “Old age is when you start saying ‘I never felt so young’,” but it passed before my eyes for 100 minutes without leaving a single emotional mark on me. It’s not awful; professionally done in every way, the events happen, the plot resolves itself, the movie’s over and I’m left shrugging. I think it may be that Chabrol is neither a distinctive stylist nor a great story-teller nor does he have a body of work strongly united by theme or genre (all my favorite directors have at least one of those; most more). Or perhaps that GIRL, like many of his movies, has events that center on a murder and so can sound like some kind of semi-thriller. But the pacing and tension are just too tepid for GIRL to be considered anything but a failure on those genre terms.