Special Feature: Dazed and Confused

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‘Generation Y’, filled to the brim with jobless university graduates and unemployed professionals are currently facing a very thinly-spread job market. According to the world’s media, what seemed like a very promising generation is now on the verge of becoming ‘lost’. Is it out of our hands?

Maybe so, but a dip into the past may well provide the escapist refuge within which to wait out this global slump. And with its light-hearted but thoughtful dialogue, its casual but thorough reference to all aspects of pop-culture, and its focused aim to entertain the younger generations, I propose a revisit to the American ‘Slacker’ films of the 1990’s as the perfect antidode for the 21st Century blues.

Considered by many as the two films that started the slacker revolution, Linklater’s Slacker (1991) and Kevin Smith’s Clerks (1994) are very open to character identification. The protagonists in both seem to surf effortlessly upon a sea of consciousness, with each seemingly redundant conversation as in-depth and heated as the last. In the case of Slacker, the viewer is almost made to feel inadequate in the presence in the film’s ensemble cast; as Linklater states himself, these characters, ‘have their reading material in place.’

Smith presents us with a more light-hearted approach; films such as Clerks and Mallrats (1995) fill their screen with comic-book nerds, toilet-humour and explanations of crude sexual acts e.g. ‘snowballing’. Despite this, the films’ dialogue and reference-heavy scenes are still rich pickings for the educated viewer, helping to create a niche (if relatively small) target audience.

Following the Slacker genre’s inception in the mid 90s, titles appeared containing characters suffering from the same occupational misfortune, exploring central themes based around the concept of ‘self-worth’ and utilizing a distilled Hollywood aesthetic used to push either the film’s romantic or comedic content further. The genre’s growing popularity can be seen as a double-edged sword, especially when considering the ‘slacker-striver’ structure (‘boy’ meets ‘girl’; ‘girl’ makes a man out of ‘boy’; ‘man’ thanks ‘girl’). However, recent additions to the genre (e.g. Knocked Up [2007]) have proved just how enjoyable this concept can be.

When looking at the later work of Kevin Smith, the key to the director’s consistent success lies in a neat balance of the intellectual, funny, and romantic elements of the genre. In Mallrats, we once again see a celebration of the ‘slacker’, albeit in a self-referential, ‘tongue-in-cheek’ style; the verbally confrontational Brodie (Jason Lee) successfully defeats the physical and occupationally successful Shannon (Ben Affleck) to win the affections of Rene (Shannen Doherty), who finally gives in to his ‘Sega-boy’ charm.

With characters ranging from Beavis and Butthead (Beavis and Butthead [1993]) to Lelaina and Tray (Reality Bites [1994]), what the American ‘Slacker movie’ provides for an English audience is a loose blend of escapism and realism, a touch of intellect, and an adoring absurdity. It gives us a chance to relieve our stress with a collection of ‘odd-ball’ characters who may well remind us of old friends (e.g. Dazed And Confused [1993]) as well as allowing us to relate to the themes and concepts explored within (e.g. confused identity in Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion [1997]).

Further, more hybridist examples of the genre have often taken more of a purely ‘comic’ approach, allowing for a different kind of ‘slacker-celebration’; these films often favour characters devoid of logical thought such as Wayne and Garth in Wayne’s World (1992) or Harry and Lloyd in Dumb and Dumber (1994), or a rejection of traditional narrative/cause and effect structure (e.g. the Cohen brother’s fantastically meandering study of Jeff Bridges’ iconic ‘Dude’ in The Big Lebowski [1998]). Never-the-less, all ‘Slacker movies’ arguably share the same ultimate goal; to relax their audience into a giddy, care-free haze, be it ‘herbally-assisted’ or otherwise.

Ricky Clark

Udine 2010: ‘Sophie’s Revenge’ review

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★★★★☆

Conforming to the usual fun-filled predictability of the romantic-comedy genre, as well as the big budget aesthetics and laugh out loud humour associated with lead actress/director Eva Jin, Sophie’s Revenge (2009) shows us that whatever Hollywood can do Asian Cinema can more than match. Whether you consider this ethos as positive or negative will largely determine how you will feel after having viewed Sophie’s Revenge.

Zhang Ziyi plays Sophie, a fanatical young author in turmoil after a break up with her fiancé Jeff (South Korean actor So Ji-sub). Sophie spends her day’s obsessing and spying on Jeff and his new film-star girlfriend Joanna (Bingbing Fan). After a proposal from her publisher and best friend Lucy (Ruby Lin), Sophie plots to split the new couple whilst simultaneously writing about the revenge for her next book. However, things start to complicate when she meets Taiwanese photographer Gorden (Peter Ho), who quickly finds himself absorbed into Sophie’s games.

With her ingenious (yet cruel) plans for breaking up the ‘happy couple’, Sophie’s character quickly becomes the perfect illustration of the archetypal ‘obsessive ex-girlfriend’, given much-needed depth through Ziyi’s emotionally frail performance. Ziyi brings a boundless and quirky energy to the central role of Sophie, a stark departure from her oft-dour on-screen personas in the lavish films of Zhang Yimou and Wong Kar-Wai’s 2046 (2004).

From the very start of the film, you are thrown head-long into Sophie’s weird and wonderful world, with her morally-implicated day dreams and eccentric personality played out literally on-screen through a variety of clever visual devices (including animated sequences and CGI imagery). Rather than detract, Eva Jin uses these techniques to draw the viewer into Sophie’s mind, and you can’t help but will her to succeed as she creates more and more mischief for the young lovers.

The film’s hilarious dialogue and stunning visuals move you, with pleasurable ease, through a conventional narrative arc following a young, vulnerable girl who thinks she knows what she wants. You may well have seen this story countless times before; however, to the credit of director Eva Jin, it all seems somehow refreshing and (dare I say) innovative. In comparison to the Tartan Asia Extreme releases which now saturate the western market, Sophie’s Revenge is a breathe of fresh air (and for all the right reasons). It was a pleasure to see this Chinese/South Korean collaboration cut loose from western expectations and perfectly illustrate the light, breezy and playful side of Asian cinema (for a further example, see Park Chan-wook’s I’m a Cyborg [2006] ).

Whilst arguably largely derivative of the Hollywood ‘Rom-Com’ cycle, Eva Jin’s impressive direction and Zhang Ziyi’s multi-faceted performance sets Sophie’s Revenge aside from the pack, which can only be positive for future re-evaluations of Asian Cinema as a whole.


Oliver Sharpe (CUEAFS)

Special Feature: South Korean cinema

Read Time:2 Minute, 49 Second

Much like the Silk Road that twists its ancient path through vast continents and difficult terrains, South Korea’s cinematic trade has battled against harsh adversities since the division of Korea. Born amidst an ongoing political antithesis between the Communist North state and the Capitalist South and in the aftermath of the both the Second World War and Cold War, the nation’s film industry has long sought after its own distinct identity. From the late 1940s onward, both North and South Korea decided to embrace Western technological advances including the ‘moving picture’, with both states producing differing filmic content.

While the North concentrated on exploring domestic issues through a more traditional filmmaking approach (contained via stringent censorship and regulation), the South moved towards a blend of Western ideology with South Korean culture/subject matter, producing modern interpretations of genres such as romance and horror. Segregated from outside influences and locked in an internal enforcement of Communist regulation, North Korea has been seemingly unable (or unwilling) to emulate the kind of filmic experimentation and global success of the Capitalist South.

Prior to South Korea’s 2002 success at the Venice Film Festival with Lee Chang-dong’s Oasis (the film picking up four awards and a nomination of the festival’s top prize, the Golden Lion), the nation’s cinematic offerings were relatively unknown outside of Asia. Oasis changed this, its subtle focus on tender subject matter (in the form of an unconventional romance between a woman suffering from Cerebral Palsy and a mentally handicapped man) winning plaudits both home and abroad, whilst marking a definitive step towards worldwide recognition for South Korean avant-garde cinema.

Ever since, South Korean cinema has gone from strength to strength and now supports a number of globally-recognised directors. The visceral work of Park Chan-wook (perhaps best known for 2004’s Old Boy, which stormed the Cannes Film Festival winning the Grand Jury Prize and finishing as runner-up for the coveted Palme d’Or) garnered the attention of Quentin Tarantino, who praised the director’s artistic representation of the plight of a wronged man in the fantastic Old Boy, the second entry in his ‘Vengeance Trilogy’. Yet the director is by no means confined to action, having also produced the bizarre comedy I’m a Cyborg (2006) and vampire horror/romance Thirst (2009), a refreshingly ‘loose’ adaptation of the Emile Zola novel Thérèse Raquin.

Seeping into mainstream Western vision, South Korea’s quiet cinematic successes inevitably attracted the eager commercial eye of Hollywood. In an incredible deal, DreamWorks paid $2 million dollars for the rights to a remake of the Ji-woon Kim’s A Tale of Two Sisters (2003), with the psychological horror making an unsatisfactory return to cinema screens in the guise of Hollywood remake The Uninvited (2009). In addition, distributors such as Tartan, Tartan Asia Extreme and Optimum Releasing have continued devoting both time and effort to spreading South Korean film. Home audiences have also shown their enthusiasm and support for their blossoming film industry, with Bong Joon-ho’s The Host (2006) currently holding the record for Box Office takings. The film’s success can only truly be put into context when you look at the figures. 13,019,740 tickets were sold for screenings of The Host; this equates to Bong’s film being viewed by over 20% of the country’s entire population.

For more information visit http://koreanfilm.org/

Clare Bruford

Theatrical Releases: ‘Date Night’

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Date Night (2010), starring US comedy heavy weights Tina Fey (30 Rock) and Steve Carell (The American Office), is the latest comic offering from Night at the Museum (2006) director Shawn Levy. Taking a break from the ‘family-fun’ franchise Levy takes the helm on this comedy of errors (or rather of mistaken identity) set in New York City.

Fey and Carell play middle-class husband and wife duo Claire and Phil Foster, whose romance has been lost to the demands of parenthood and the mundane realities of married life. At the beginning of the film, the couple have seemingly reached the point where they represent a perfectly functioning ‘team’; however, the question posed throughout the film is, at what cost? When romance has given way to efficiency and excitement to exhaustion, is the relationship you started out in still truly alive?

In an effort to reignite some of the excitement of their early relationship they hit the town in the hopes of soaking up some of the sparkle and glamour that Manhattan has to offer. However, when their restaurant of choice for the evening is full to bursting and a seemingly infinite wait for a table seems to be the final nail in the coffin of their romantic evening out, Phil (Carell) decides it’s time to take a risk. Flying bravely into the face of social convention and restaurant etiquette he does the unthinkable – claims someone else’s table (which is reserved for a pair called the Tripplehorns). However, what might usually pass as a harmless lapse in restaurant manners becomes a catalyst for further, extraordinary events.

I don’t often laugh out loud in the cinema but I have to admit that that Date Night had me rolling in my seat at points. Fey and Carell make the perfect comic duo as they manoeuvre themselves from one exchange to another. I’ve been a personal fan of Tina Fey since watching her impersonations of former Republican Vice-President Sarah Palin on US comedy show Saturday Night Live during the American presidential election, and she performs well in Date Night. Not only do Fey and Carell put on a good show but there are also fine turns in supporting roles including Mark Wahlberg as the ever-shirtless Holbrooke, and Mila Kunis and James Franco as the ‘real’ Tripplehorns in all their slovenly, argumentative, tattooed glory.
Similarly impressive is the film’s refreshing lack of sentimentality. Mainstream Hollywood comedies so often disappoint by descending (often mid-narrative) into a moralistic didactic on the ‘importance of family’ or the ‘bond between friends’. Levy’s Date Night does well to (mostly) resist this common trend and instead remains an enjoyable, genuinly funny semi-romantic comedy from start to finish.
Bernice Watson

Theatrical Releases: ‘Repo Men’

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The title Repo Men brings Darren Lynn Bousman’s Repo! The Genetic Opera (2008) to mind and indeed the two films share some significant similarities. Both take place in a not too distant future, where organs are sold on credit and repossessed if the patent falls behind on his payments; both boast significantly visceral scenes of gore and grotesque imagery.

However while Repo! is commendable for its oddly inventive horror- musical hybridity, Repo Men is a somewhat shallow and average thriller, following the clichéd ‘bad guy gets a taste of his own medicine and turns good guy’ premise.

Jude Law stars as ‘Remy’ – a ruthless repo man who feels no remorse in killing innocent members of the public in order to retrieve the organs they can no longer afford. Alongside his partner ‘Jake’ (Forest Whitaker), the pair seem to enjoy their job, carrying out orders from above instinctively; however, Remy is soon pressured by his wife to move to a safer, ‘cleaner’ department.

On his fateful final assignment Remy is knocked unconscious, only to wake up in the need of a new heart, which he is forced to purchase on credit. Needless to say, this changes Remy’s perspective on life, and he starts feeling sympathy for his targets. This hampers his productivity and he soon falls behind on his credit payments. Predictably, his only alternative is to run, whilst also attempting to save a beautiful bar singer who shares his plight. Meanwhile, his former partner (and childhood buddy) Jake is sent after him to ‘repossess’ his new heart.
The idea of exploring ideas of ‘repossession’ in such an unsettling way, in a time of economic uncertainty when it affects the actual lives of so many people, seems intriguing enough at first; however, the film’s plot quickly falls short of being truly relevant. From the moment Remy wakes after his accident in dire need of a new heart, the premise of the film reveals itself as clichéd and unsophisticated. 
Repo Men is not the dark allegory of modern consumer society it perhaps believes itself to be; in reality we are left with yet another take on the already overly-familiar tale of ‘the killer who goes through a change of heart’ (literarily in Remy’s case) and feels the need to atone for his deeds. Remy’s overnight transformation is an unconvincing one, and he never succeeds in becoming truly sympathetic. His youth was apparently ravaged by war, his wife is exaggeratedly hostile, his best friend is a possessive bully – yet none of this really justifies his previous, near-sadistic ruthlessness.

The film’s lack of subtlety is also made evident through Remy’s shallow internal monologues about life, death and Schrödinger’s cat. These ponderings are delivered by Law in a yawn-rousing, flat and passionless tone throughout the film with no purpose whatsoever, except to point to the already painfully obvious.

The film culminates in an unrealistic battle sequence, followed by a rather awkward, intensely gory sex scene and a superfluous plot twist that unsuccessfully attempts to add some much-needed depth to the film. In fact, the only truly noteworthy aspect of Sapochnik’s Repo Men is Liev Schreiber’s turn as ‘Frank’, Remy’s hypocritical and pitiless superintendent, who embellishes his role with the sort of comic relief this increasingly dismal film ultimately lacks. Schreiber’s surprising performance leaves the viewer wondering whether Repo Men wouldn’t have made a much more successful film had it been a comedy.

Anelia Vasileva

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Special Feature: The ‘DreamWorks disease’

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Where have all the orphans gone? In the grand tradition of children’s literature (and therefore, children’s films – now more than ever, it is inconceivable that there could be one without the other), the first obstacle any writer needs to vault over, sidestep or obliterate is the matter of the parents.

By its very nature, the child – our hero, our guide – needs to be alone, at least to begin with. Take The Wizard of Oz’s Dorothy Gale for example: she lives on the flat expanses of Kansas with her Aunt and Uncle who no doubt love her, care for her…but Dorothy’s loneliness is palpable. She’s a child, and at the mercy of forces as indiscriminate as the ‘twister’ that plucks her and the house from its foundations, tosses her over the rainbow. In Alice in Wonderland, a little girl tumbles down the rabbit-hole on a sultry, dull day by the river – again, alone – arrives in a world unknown, ripe with danger, always without help (and frequently full of confusion).

However, things are changing; Hollywood has forever altered the children’s story. How can you have an orphan as protagonist when there is a wealth of parental dysfunction clichés to be picked over? Thanks to Harry Potter, Disney-Pixar, the Twilight saga et al, film producers have woken up to the value (monetary, in most cases) of telling stories to a broad demographic, potentially encompassing everyone from grandchildren to grandparents.

DreamWorks are perhaps the most obvious example of a studio broadening the appeal of its children’s stories to draw the adult market. Their latest release is How to Train Your Dragon (2010), based on an eloquent, delicate series of children’s books by Cressida Cowell. But any originality or wit in Cowell’s source material has been jettisoned, this film merely another iteration of the Shrek (2001) or Kung Fu Panda (2008) story…the love interest, the misfit winning the day and so on…

There seems to be a universal set of rules that all of DreamWorks’ present and future output must conform to in order to succeed in their aim to reach (and appease) the largest possible demographic.
1. Your main character must be a misfit (i.e. they operate outside of “normal” society) and initially appear at odds with their position within the given community – be it storybook land, ancient China, Central Park Zoo etc. This will appeal to a huge majority of the audience, as everyone likes to feel (or believe) they are different, that they don’t belong. There is the desire to escape, to alter things and to transform the world around them e.g. Jake Sully (Avatar [2009]), Po (Kung Fu Panda [2008]).
2. Your protagonist will have a dysfunctional relationship with their father e.g. every Tim Allen/Disney movie ever made.
3. Main character (usually male, pubescent) bonds with another being, usually alien or ‘Other’ e.g. The Iron Giant (1999), ET (1982).
4. The protagonist’s ‘other-worldly’ companion is redeemed and revealed as misunderstood. Widespread acceptance follows e.g. The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996), the Shrek cycle, Beauty and the Beast (1991).
5. ‘Happily Ever After’ e.g. just about everything…
There is of course nothing wrong with a ‘Happily Ever After’ scenario. It takes just as much courage to end on a happy note as one more serious – especially with the current tendency towards darker children’s cinema (‘dark’ seemingly equalling “serious” in Hollywood). However, does the happy ending have to be – as in the case of How to Train Your Dragon – reached via such predictable stepping stones?

The film’s central character is a young Viking boy named Hiccup, an individual alienated in his own skin, who is deemed too weak to play a part in the aggressive, male-centric Nordic village where he lives (his father at one point claiming, “You are not my son”’. We are then introduced to the ‘Other’; a misunderstood dragon, falsely perceived as a highly dangerous beast that can vaporise anything with a blast of purple flame (though in truth, that’s exactly what he can do), who mirrors the sense of alienation felt by poor Hiccup. Ultimately, all these tropes are familiar.

That’s not to say that the ‘familiar’ necessarily negative. James Cameron’s Avatar attempted to prove that you can stitch something new from ‘familiar’ material; something fresh, exhilarating, surprising…even transporting. Yet I wasn’t transported by How to Train Your Dragon. For a start, the 3D element is a distraction, inhibiting the very sense of ‘immersion’ it was brought in to heighten, paradoxically making me feel more distant from the film (alienated, if anything).

As a character, Hiccup – like previous DreamWorks creations Shrek, Donkey, Kung Fu Panda’s Po – is a composite rather than a truly memorable children’s character. Hiccup is neurotic, philosophical and (importantly) all too aware of his obvious position as a potential revolutionary. In short – Hiccup is an ‘adult in children’s clothing’; yet another victim of the ‘DreamWorks disease’ that embodies its film’s role models with an un-natural, hyper-maturity. Am I being too cynical? Potentially – but only because these films are also themselves profoundly cynical and deeply patronising of children and their desire to change the world.

Nigel McDowell

Special Feature: Middle East meets West

Read Time:2 Minute, 59 Second

There are many things that the United Arab Emirates is famous for. Recent financial meltdown aside, the UAE is home to the world’s tallest building, gargantuan man-made islands and many a finely-tuned supercar. But few have pegged the UAE as the owner of an up-and-coming, burgeoning movie industry.

On the few occasions that Dubai, Abu Dhabi and their Emirate cousins have appeared in the world’s cinematic press, topics for discussion have usually been limited to yet another movie ban or censorship controversy. The theatrical release of Stephen Gaghan’s Syriana (2005) was delayed for four months while regional watchdogs combed the film for references to Dubai, despite having agreed to allow scenes to be shot in the country. Ridley Scott’s Body Of Lies (2008) was due to shoot in the UAE, but permission was rescinded for fear of tarnishing Dubai’s reputation, eventually reducing the city’s inclusion to merely a background shot and a poorly pronounced line of DiCaprio dialogue.

 

But that’s not the image that the UAE’s halls of power want to portray to the world and, despite the aforementioned brushes with the censors, there are those that have different plans for the Emirati film industry. Dubai’s very own film festival is now entering its seventh year and has, since 2004, been doing a decent (if relatively quiet) job of raising the profile of international cinema in a nation that thrives on the same multi-cultural melting pot.

Though it currently plays second fiddle to the likes of Cannes, Venice and Sundance, the Dubai International Film Festival has gained prestige and star attraction each and every year. Last December’s DIFF 2009 saw the likes of Gerard Butler, Matt Dillon, Omar Sharif, Amitabh Bachchan and many others ‘A-Listers’ in attendance. Nor, as chairman Abdulhamid Juma was quick to point out to journalists, are these attendees just for show. “These celebrities are not making a nominal appearance; most of them are an integral part of movies that are being screened at DIFF, making their presence even more relevant.”

But it’s not just Dubai that’s keen to get in on the action. Abu Dhabi, the capital of the UAE, is just as committed to the cause. Simon Hunter, president of the prestigious New York Film Academy in Abu Dhabi, recalls the day that the UAE government came calling. “[The Abu Dhabi Authority for Cultural Heritage] wanted to develop the next generation of Emirati filmmakers, so they could have a self-sustaining film industry.”

As wonderfully idealistic as that sounds, such a thing might also be a very pragmatic undertaking. For while Dubai, Abu Dhabi and the rest of the UAE have been hit hard by the economic downturn, they’re still better off than other parts of the world, and that’s extremely attractive for foreign investors, as Hunter explains. “It’s a place that’s willing to invest in film. That’s why you’ll see people like David Hasselhoff coming through our doors looking for finance. Big budget films coming over here is, I think, the vision that the government has. But they’d also like to be able to tell Emirati stories that could be enjoyed by the world.”

While David Hasselhoff might not be the exact clientele they’re after, the UAE clearly has a game plan. So don’t be surprised if once the last of these ‘pesky’ economic considerations have faded away, the enduring legacy of the Emiratis is not skyscrapers, or sandcastles, but movies.


Matt Ross

DVD Review: ‘Dorian Gray’

Read Time:2 Minute, 12 Second
★★★☆☆

Based on the influential novel The Picture of Dorian Gray by visionary writer Oscar Wilde, Oliver Parker’s take on the Gothic classic interestingly focuses on the idea of celebrity rather than the generic horror you would expect. If you anticipate a straight page-for-page adaptation, or an expansion of the Gray we see featured in 2003’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, then be prepared for Parker to twist your preconceptions. The casting of Ben Barnes as Dorian seems bizarre; the hedonistic Gray far removed from his previous roles. The question is, is Barnes capable of fulfilling this dark role?

To begin, Barnes’ performance certainly seems shaky and weak alongside a strong supporting cast. A naïve and unsullied Dorian Gray arrives in London laden with inherited riches. Dorian’s beauty attracts the attention of painter Basil Hallward (Ben Chaplin), whose painting of Gray becomes Hallward’s most successful work. When asked if he would sell his soul to remain as young and beautiful as he is now, Dorian replies instantaneously that he would. The only thing he lacks, as his mentor Lord Henry Wotton (Colin Firth) instructs him, is the coveted wealth of experience. So begins Dorian’s spiralling fall into a life of reckless debauchery, wanton sex and eventually, murderous violence – all in the name of experience.

However, this life of excess begins to take its toll – but not on Dorian’s youthful body, as you would expect. Instead, Dorian notices slight changes in his portrait, and as seeping maggots and signs of decay inflict the painting, Dorian’s torn body heals unnaturally. Horrified, Dorian locks the painting in the attic out of sight, for fear his demonic secret to eternal youth be revealed. Yet when Dorian falls irrevocably in love, his hideous secret becomes a time-bomb waiting to explode.
Firth undeniably carries the film, his interpretation of the indulgent Lord Wotton almost flawless, whilst Rebecca Hall delivers a sharp performance as Wotton’s intelligent daughter, Emily. While Barnes may at first seem uneasy in the role, it is exactly this trait of naivety which illustrates perfectly the contrast between the untainted Dorian at the start and the self-assured monster he becomes under Wotton’s influence.

The biggest criticism of Parker’s Dorian Gray is the laboured opening, the drawn out introduction to the characters overly novelistic in its excessive dialogue and unnecessary clarifications. However, once you get past the first half-hour Parker’s vision truly comes alive, and from this point in you will be gripping the edge of your seat as Gray’s decent into excess, decadence and ultimately insanity leads the viewer on a thrilling chase right up until the film’s climax.

Natasha Bullen

Film Review: Kakera: A Piece of Our Life

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 ★★★★☆

There are films you love, films you hate and films that, quite frankly, leave you more perplexed than George W. Bush with a bumper book of Sudoku. Kakera – A Piece of Our Life (2009) is likely to fall into that latter category for many people, as Momoko Ando’s directorial debut is certainly something of an enigma. However, if you’re willing to allow the film to unfold the creases of your mind you may just come away with a smile. One would be inclined to highlight possible comparisons with the delicacy and vibrancy of Wong-Kar Wai or similarities to the female-female relationship at the centre of Ji-Woon Kim’s A Tale Of Two Sisters (2003).

Based loosely on 1996’s Love Vibes by Japanese manga artist Erica Sakurazawa (though 80% of the film’s screenplay is supposedly new material written solely for the screen by Momoko Ando), Kakera is the story of Haru (Hikari Mitsushima, last seen in sparkling form in Shion Sono’s masterful Love Exposure [2008]), a quiet college student in a loveless relationship with a brutish, misogynist boyfriend.

Quite by chance, she meets Riko (an engrossing performance from Eriko Nakamura), a young prosthetics artist with a penchant for fragile girls and something of a ‘Yandere’ character (an initially loving partner who reveals destructive capabilities). Riko shows an immediate interest in Haru and this simple encounter becomes the catalyst for the film as they struggle with the nature of their relationship and the impact this has upon their sense of individuality. One of the most enjoyable aspects of the film is that it is peppered with little gems of wisdom, perhaps the most inspiring and universal being the idea of not wasting any opportunity for the fear of not getting another one – carpe diem if you will. It it also invites you to share in the frustrations born out of feeling trapped and restricted in a relationship (perfectly illustrated in scenes when Riko joins Haru at her college socials).

Kakera will delight those with a genuine interest in the subtleties of Japanese culture. Whilst the film is certainly not a sentimental tourist advert for the country (a small cast, locations ranging from the mundane to the ludicrous), fans of culture-infused cinema will enjoy director Ando’s numerous flourishes of visual and narrative originality. For those new to Japanese cinema, I urge you to see Kakera – A Piece of Our Life with an open mind; sometimes a question asked is better than a question answered.
Taylor Boxhall (CUEAFS)

DVD Review: 2012

Read Time:2 Minute, 7 Second

★☆☆☆☆

With 2012 (2009), director Roland Emmerich appears to have finally defeated his own selling-point. The idea of a high-concept disaster movie has been ignored. There is no clear, marketable threat here as in his previous films, having demonised the weather in The Day After Tomorrow (2004), extra-terrestrials in Independence Day (1996), and Godzilla in, um, Godzilla (1998). The conundrum Emmerich seems to have encountered is ‘How do I make the imminent threat in my next film exceed that of my last?’ And it seems that he has run out of ideas…almost. Reassuringly, the plot is of his latest endeavour is, quite simply, ludicrous.

It somehow becomes apparent that our cast must all travel to China where a secret underground facility has been manufacturing enormous ‘arks’ each capable of carrying a small population. The idea is that these boats will then float around the completely drowned Earth ad infinitum. The problem of how to resolve a film like this lies somewhat in the established genre conventions. A disaster movie necessarily creates tension and fear in its audience by forcing upon its characters the constant sense of impending doom.

For the cataclysmic threat to be effective, the characters must be placed in an irresolvable predicament from which the only outcome is certain death (this usually involves hopeless scrabbling around like headless chickens just as a meteor is about to hit the Earth). And this is the problem that must be carefully considered: it is very difficult to write characters out of a situation that has no solution.

What usually ensues is the deus ex machina or act of God. This is the point at which, miraculously, the asteroid narrowly misses Earth, invading aliens are killed by our own bacteria, or several thousand marines suddenly arrive to exterminate the dinosaur residents of a remote Central American island (to use Jurassic Park 3 [2001] as an example). Independence Day at least attempted to conclude itself properly, its heroic leads utilising Windows 95’s new hack-in-and-plant-a-bomb feature to destroy a sophisticated alien computer network.

2012, however, is essentially just a two-act nuclear explosion that doesn’t bother to clean up its consequential fallout. Emmerich blows his budget on superficial pyrotechnics, slaps in a final CG sunrise and pats himself on the back. He then calmly puts on his coat, flicks off the lights in his now empty, voluminous studio-set and quietly closes the door, abandoning his forgotten characters to navigate the dark, volatile oceans of a drowned world.
Tom Read

DVD Review: The Box

Read Time:2 Minute, 24 Second

 ★★★☆☆

The most unexpected pleasure of watching Richard Kelly’s The Box (2009) is the realisation that it is (in essence) a Christmas film, distilling the dread, panic and encompassing consumerism associated with the festive period, whilst presented in the form of a psychological horror. Like most examples of the horror genre, it externalises and exaggerates the internal threat, purifying the Christmas dichotomy into a simple decision – is it about material gain, or togetherness? December 1976; a box is left on the doorstep of Arthur and Norma Lewis (James Marsden and Cameron Diaz respectively).

At the same time, a mysterious stranger Arlington Steward (Frank Langella) offers the couple $1million to push the box’s button, the only consequence being that this will end the life of someone that they are assured “they don’t know”. The film is an enjoyably camp throwback to classic sci-fi/70s paranoia thrillers, which becomes ever-increasingly paranoiac and cuckoo about the spectacle of Christmas until it reaches its climax. In one scene, as Arthur and Norma’s son Walter asks if Santa is to come early this year, their reaction is clearly one of unease, not wholesome comfort – have the couple been naughty or nice?

The film’s score suggests the former, constantly underpinning the film – even in simple conversational moments – with a sense of foreboding and dread. During the film’s social gatherings this oppressive tone continues, reflecting an earlier reference to Sartre’s philosophy of Hell being other people. In addition, the film’s dreamlike snowscape (beautifully shot in digital) contrasted with the bold reds of hanging decorations give the sense of a real nightmare before Christmas, in the same way as Kelly’s earlier film Donnie Darko (2001) concerned the sinister, fateful build-up to Halloween.

Despite its many commendable qualities, The Box remains a flawed work. The acting is at times frustrating in its inconsistency. Frank Langella is involving and compelling as Arlington Steward, his warm yet clinical management of the Lewis family punctuated by smart, self-referential lines such as “I like mystery, don’t you?” Diaz however is far from believable as a mother figure, despite the efforts made by the make-up and lighting departments to visibly age the star. Diaz and Marsden also find it hard to strike the balance between believability and self-awareness (a trait Langella masters), with clunky Lewis interplays rarely rising above poorly delivered speculation; “What if it’s someone’s baby? What if it’s a criminal on death row?”

Such faults may not prove a major distraction on first viewing, as one is generally engaged with the film’s mysterious, puzzle-like qualities. However, The Box clearly begins to struggle after repeat viewings, with the plot’s many red herrings (naturally) lose nearly all of their impact. Its long-term inadequacies aside, on first viewing The Box is a smart, enjoyable, 70s-inflected nihilistic parable of human avarice, consumer culture, and of course Christmas.

Stephen Glass

DVD Review: Wild Field

Read Time:2 Minute, 21 Second

★★★★☆

In the middle of the endless steppes of the Kazakhstan expanses, Wild Field (Dikoe pole, 2008) protagonist Mitya (Oleg Dolin) runs a one-man medical centre. Life is hard and the steppe vast and empty, dwarfing the sparse population of hardened farmers, peasants, the odd military outcast and the young doctor. Mitya makes do with his meagre medical supplies, meeting every challenge with the same calm resignation in the face of humanity’s mortality. His know-how must extend to everything from a donkey with a stomach ache brought on from swallowing a tablecloth, to bullet wounds from marauding Kazakh riders.

Mitya ministers to all with never-ending patience and little comment. When faced with multiple casualties, he calls in the local veterinarian, who has a similar stalwart expression and resourceful air. Necessity is truly the mother of invention in this inhospitable place, if you’re a medical professional anyway. The tale of how Mitya came to live on the steppe is left untold, but the doctor remains to treat the people he says are “forgotten by God”. The forgotten are a large cast of eccentric characters, as wild and rough as the landscape itself. They move in and out of the plot in a series of anecdotal interactions with Mitya, who bears them all as calmly as he does the ever-changing weather.

The self-contained succession of stories lends Wild Field’s narrative an easy rhythm. Thankfully, director Mikheil Kalatozishvili has not succumbed to romanticism and the actors are both realistic and earthy.Mitya remains a man alone, except for one joyful moment when his fiancée finally comes to join him on the steppe. The reunion is tender but short-lived. She is unprepared to spend a life on the steppe and the following day flees to the city to marry another man. Mitya stares across the steppe, his face impassive; the city a million miles from his windswept home in the valley. If he is heartbroken, we never see it; the pain is borne silently and without drama.

While most of the film’s chapters remain distinct from one another, the common thread is the strange man Mitya spots on the hill by his house one day. The ominous figure appears regularly, watching the doctor from a distance, thwarting his investigations. The sense of threat and dread builds to an inevitable and startling conclusion, as the pair finally come face to face. Dolin plays his part superbly, with isolation and distance apparent in every movement of his lanky body. But Wild Field’s greatest star is the steppe itself. It fills every inch of the screen, an unforgettable landscape of grassy plains and sky. This heartbreakingly beautiful film will leave your mind full of the empty Kazakh landscape and your ears ringing with the large silence of the endless steppe.

Amy Rideout

Cannes 2010: Our picks of the programme

Read Time:5 Minute, 45 Second

The Cannes Film Festival needs little introduction. Even if the proposed news agency boycott of the 2010 festival goes ahead, it will do little to stifle the inevitable media frenzy that waits to descend. This year’s event will play host to the latest work from some of cinema’s greatest auteurs including Woody Allen, Jean-Luc Godard and Mike Leigh. Yet away from the trademark glitz, glamour and high profile film premieres set to flood the south of France this May, the recently released nominee list for the coveted Palme d’Or prize has shown that Cannes is still more than capable of throwing up a few surprises (even with the absence of Lars von Trier).

Palme d’Or Nominees
Tournée (Mathieu Amalric)
French actor/director Mathieu Amalric (perhaps best known to UK audiences for his turn as Bond villain Dominic Greene in 2008’s Quantum of Solace) receives his first Cannes nomination for Tournée, which follows a group of French burlesque performers as they tour the US.

Des Hommes et des Dieux (Xavier Beauvois)
Much like fellow countryman Amalric, Xavier Beauvois is equally comfortable in front of the camera as he is behind it. The French director/actor/screenwriter brings his latest film Des Hommes et des Dieux (‘Of Gods and Men’) to Cannes. The film, based on true events, explores the murder of 7 French Trappist monks by an Algerian group in 1996. Beauvois received his first Palme d’Or nomination for his 1995 film N’oublie pas que tu vas mourir (‘Don’t Forget You’re Going to Die’).

Hors la Loi (Rachid Bouchareb)
The second nominee to use Franco-Algerian relations as its subject matter (this time from an Algerian director), Rachid Bouchareb’s Hors la Loi (‘Outside the Law‘) looks set to evoke memories of Gillo Pontecorvo’s 1966 political piece La battaglia di Algeri (‘The Battle of Algiers‘).

Biutiful (Alejandro González Iñárritu)
Live Flesh and No Country for Old Men star Javier Bardem heads up this crime tale by director Alejandro González Iñárritu. Iñárritu is known for his multi-strand plots (see Amorres Perros, 21 Grams and Babel) and Biutiful looks set to continue this tradition, as protagonist Uxbal’s (Bardem) illegal activities leads him into direct conflict with a childhood friend, now a police officer.

Un Homme Qui Crie (Mahamat-Saleh Haroun)
Chadian director Haroun presents his latest work Un Homme Qui Crie (‘The Man who Screamed‘), which follows Adam, a recently unemployed pool attendent in the country’s capital N’Djamena. Set against the backdrop of violent civil war, Haroun explores the powerful bond between a father and his son, and the forces that may ultimately tear them apart.

Housemaid (Im Sangsoo)
A remake of the 1960 thriller of the same name, Im Sangsoo directs the tale of a man and his fateful affair with the household’s maid. Like many of this years nominees, Im is no stranger to acting having made appearances in internationally-renowned South Korean exports Oldboy and Shiri.

Copie Conforme (Abbas Kiarostami)
Tehran-born filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami is somewhat of a Cannes veteran, with three previous Palme d’Or nominations. The Iranian’s film Ta’m e guilass (‘Taste of Cherry’) shared the award with Shohei Imamura’s Unagi (‘The Eel’) in 1997. Kiarostami returns to the festival with his latest effort, Copie Conforme (‘The Certified Copy‘), his first film shot outside Iran. It follows the romance between an English writer (William Shimell) and his French lover (Juliette Binoche).

Outrage (Takeshi Kitano)
Any international film festival would be brightened by an appearance from Japan’s Takeshi ‘Beat’ Kitano. The Zatoichi director/star will bring his latest film Autoreiji (‘Outrage‘) to Cannes, his first nomination at the festival since 1999’s Kikujiro no natsu. Kitano’s latest feature (and the director’s 15th of his career) will explore the criminal underworld of Japan’s Yakuza.

Poetry (Lee Chang-dong)
South Korea’s second representative in this year’s Palme d’Or line-up, Lee Chang-don’s Poetry is the directors 2nd contender for the festival’s top prize in 4 years, following 2007’s Milyang (‘Secret Sunshine‘). Significantly, the film marks the screen return of Korean actress Jeong-hie Yun after she officially retired from acting in 1974. She stars as an elderly woman desperately attempting to come to terms with the death of her husband, as she herself faces the end of her life.

Another Year (Mike Leigh)
Already (predictably) viewed by many in the UK press as this year’s front-runner, Another Year’s strong cast (including Jim Broadbent and Lesley Manville) certainly gives Mike Leigh’s latest film a good chance of coming away with the top award. Leigh is indeed a rare thing; a British director held in high esteem at Cannes, and few would bet against him securing a second Palme d’Or win (his first came in 1996 with the excellent Secrets & Lies).

Fair Game (Doug Liman)
Aside from the host of high profile premieres set to steal most of the festivals press coverage (including Oliver Stone’s Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps and Ridley Scott’s historical epic Robin Hood), Hollywood’s presence within this year’s actual award contest is small at best. The sole US entry in the Palme d’Or nominations is Doug Liman, a director best known for action films The Bourne Identity, Mr and Mrs Smith and Jumper. His latest film, Fair Game, sees Naomi Watts and Sean Penn (last seen together in fellow nominee Alejandro González Iñárritu’s 21 Grams) take centre stage in this taught political thriller.

You, My Joy (Sergei Loznitsa)
Ukrainian documentary film-maker Sergei Loznitsa receives his first nomination at Cannes for his film You, My Joy, which once again evokes the director’s dreamlike, melancholic aesthetic.

La Nostra Vita (Daniele Luchetti)
Italian director Daniele Luchetti gets a nomination for his latest comedy, which follows the life of a Rome factory worker. With so many of this year’s nominees revelling in dark, difficult subject matter, Luchetti’s film could well provide the breath of fresh air that turns voter’s heads.

Utomlyonnye Solntsem 2 (Nikita Mikhalkov)
The only sequel in the running for the Palme d’Or, Mikhalkov’s Utomlyonnye Solnstem 2 (‘Burnt by the Sun 2’) follows on from the director’s 1994 drama (set in 1930s Stalinist Russia), which won the Oscar for ‘Best Foreign Language Film’ at the 1995 Academy Awards.

La Princesse de Montpensier (Bertrand Tavernier)
French director Bertrand Tavernier returns to French subject matter following his 2009 film In the Electric Mist, with period-drama La Princesse de Montpensier.

Loong Boonmee Ralek Chaat (Apichatpong Weerasethakul)
Loong Boonmee Ralek Chaat (‘Uncle Boonmee who can Recall his Past Lives‘) is a continuation of director Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Primitive Project, exploring ideas of extinction and recollection whilst revealing Thailand’s many ‘ghosts’.

The 63rd Cannes Film Festival runs from the 12-23 May 2010

Film Review: Cemetery Junction

Read Time:2 Minute, 42 Second

★★★☆☆

There’s been a lot said about Cemetery Junction (2010), the first cinematic release co-written and directed by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, mostly (and to the film’s detriment) by Gervais himself. What is worth realising before going into the cinema is that despite what so many reviews have failed to realise, the film is an homage to youth; a shiny, affectionate look back at early 1970s Reading where Gervais was born and raised. Yes, it’s about escaping the small pond one grows up in, but that doesn’t mean that pond can’t look spectacular. And it really does; the film is an aesthetic joy just to behold. 

Christian Cooke’s Freddie is the film’s intended lead yet it is Tom Hughes’ Bruce that becomes far and away the most interesting of the three central protagonists. A character that could have easily defaulted to the clichéd role of ‘bad boy from a broken family’ is instantly engrossing due to Hughes’ involving performance and the delicate, subtle handling of (most of) his scenes with his father. Hughes is also granted a gut-punch showdown with a family-friendly policeman in a jail cell, at which stage he finally learns to grow up. Lovable goof Snork (Jack Doolan) completes the trio as the quintessential comic sidekick, who is of course given his own passable love interest.

The film’s secret weapon is undeniably British stalwart Emily Watson. As the put-upon Mrs.Kendrick, she is both mother to Freddie’s love interest Julie (Felicity Jones) and wife to her depressingly misogynistic insurance salesman husband (Ralph Fiennes). Utilising the same sparkling gaze she perfected in Punch-Drunk Love (2002) Watson is forced into passivity by her bullish husband, her searching glances for sexual, societal equality finally finding an answer (at least for her daughter) in Freddie. This is most apparent in a moment in which her husband passes his daughter over during conversation, with Freddie interrupting in order to defend her very presence.

Another moment in which Watson silently prepares tea for her thankless husband mixes the best of Gervais/Merchant’s patented ‘cringe comedy’ with the heartbreak of Tim’s silent meeting with Dawn as she is about to leave for America, in TV’s The Office. What’s interesting is the fact that despite Gervais/Merchant’s ciphers being the young men, it is Watson’s characterisation of a trapped, middle-aged woman that resonates most after the film’s end. Yet Cemetery Junction remains flawed. The dialogue can often feel a little too written (Gervais himself seems to operate better in more naturalistic work) and those familiar with XFM’s The Ricky Gervais Show and its podcast counterparts may be taken out of the film’s period setting by the numerous post-modern allusions.

Gervais/Merchant’s script often works too hard to accentuate a point which is already clear e.g. Bruce’s imitation of Rebel Without a Cause’s (1955) Jim Stark is swiftly followed by a policeman suggesting that he wants to be “James Dean, Rebel without a Cause” – really? However, for all its flaws, Cemetery Junction left me with a smile on my face having been both emotionally affected and uplifted. The future certainly seems bright for the Gervais/Merchant production machine.

Stephen Glass

Film Review: Whip It

Read Time:2 Minute, 30 Second

 ★★★☆☆

The opening scene of Whip It (2010) introduces Bliss Cavender (Ellen Page) preparing for a beauty pageant by dying her hair blue, much to her mother’s (Marcia Gay Harden) horror when Bliss later steps up onto the podium. It’s an amusing moment, but feels more than a little like something is missing: that perhaps this should have been preceded by another scene, that there’s something we need to have been told for this to work. It’s a feeling that nags away throughout the film. Widely publicised as the directorial debut of American actress Drew Barrymore (also appearing in front of the lens) Whip It plays out as an enjoyable coming-of-age drama.

We follow protagonist Bliss, a teenager who discovers a passion for the somewhat baffling sport of Roller Derby. I’ll be honest; having sat through the entirety of Whip It, I’m still non-the-wiser as to how the mechanics of Roller Derby indeed work, though several attempts are made to explain it. Thankfully, this isn’t a prerequisite before watching and indeed several of the film’s most memorable scenes take place on the track.

Bliss joins the Hurl Scouts, a failing team composed entirely of teenage women with slightly threatening nicknames (their real names never being revealed) including Maggie Mayhem (Kristen Wiig), Rosa Sparks (Eve), Bloody Holly (Zoe Bell), and captain, Smashley Simpson (played by director Barrymore). Smashley becomes a perfect comedic vehicle for the director, who spends much of her screen time on the floor, wrestling. From what I managed to garner, this is not an allowable move in Roller Derby.

Bliss reveals a natural talent for the sport and her apparent youth and beauty swiftly puts her into direct conflict with opposing team leader, Iron Maven (Juliette Lewis). The film’s handling of conflict, whether between Bliss and Maven or Bliss and her mother, is somewhat slight and untenable and is easily identifiable as one of Whip It’s most evident flaws. Even more problematic is the film’s romantic subplot which sees Bliss involving herself with local rock musician Oliver (Landon Pigg); a floppy-haired, glassy-eyed young man whose band is hoping to hit big. There’s not enough in the script to really suggest their relationship is as strong as the film would have us believe and Pigg’s poor delivery of mediocre dialogue merely serves to draw credibility away from the whole scenario.

Unfortunately, the film is neither as consistently funny nor as charming as it would like to think; yet Page’s sincere performance brings some extra gravitas to an otherwise unremarkable script. At times, Whip It feels more like a children’s film with the addition of swearing and bodily fluids, than a child-like film for adults. The movie’s attempt to capture (and imitate) the success of Page’s breakout hit Juno quickly becomes all too obvious. This is Whip It at its worst; at its best it’s an enjoyable teen film, unfortunately lacking in several key departments.

David Sugarman

DVD Review: Bunny and the Bull

Read Time:2 Minute, 14 Second

★★★☆☆

I’m a massive fan of Noel Fielding (the androgynous thirty-something who appears to have taken bountiful comic influence from Spike Milligan and the Monty Python assemblage, and regularly pays fashion homage to the likes of David Bowie, Marc Bolan and Gary Numan). However, having viewed the trailer for Paul King’s Bunny and the Bull (2009), I was concerned that the film would transpire to be merely a frenzy of Mighty Boosh bewilderment and psychedelic ‘in jokes’. The formula of this celluloid jaunt for the imagination plays out as essentially a road movie with a twist, concluding with an unexpected and touching ending.

Stephen (Edward Hogg) suffers from extreme OCD and agoraphobia, repeating peculiar rituals day in day out (mimicking Howard Hughes by collecting his urine, checking its PH and storing it away). For what appears to be the first time, he begins to piece together the last year of his life calculating how he has ended up this way, by ‘hashing it out’ with a hallucination of his friend Bunny (Simon Farnaby) and reviving the events with the items of furniture in his cluttered house (snow globes, clocks, sofas and paper etc).

Stephen had failed to win over the love of his life, and so Bunny persuaded him to embark on an adventure across Europe. Bunny is a care free, gambling, drinking lothario, who’s sole motivation is to binge drink and fornicate his way through as many different European locales as possible. Stephen, on the other hand, is antsy, apprehensive and painfully nervous around women. Stephen would much rather sight-see, leading to my favourite comic scene of the film with deadpan comedian Richard Ayoade as the tour guide of a shoe museum.

The duo win a car in a bet and pick up feisty yet superstitious Eloisa (Veronica Echegui) how believes she has befriended her own shadow, Conchita. The threesome (now an awkward love triangle) continue on their surreal journey, meeting some of King’s trademark fantastical characters along the way; a dog loving (in every sense of the word) homeless Swedish man played by Mighty Boosh star Julian Barratt and Eloisa’s brother; a “retarded”, retired bull fighter (played by Fielding). Thus begins Bunny’s quest to fight a bull…drunk and untrained.

Bunny and the Bull is instantly memorable for its unique, Dali-esque aesthetic style. Thankfully, it also maintains a much deeper element; it seeks to determine the human disposition of recalling the past and metaphorically ‘boxing’/’storing’ it away until; gradually we attempt to re-address what we have repressed, and catharsis can only be achieved when we accept the part we played, hopefully gaining closure from heartbreaking and traumatic events.


Gemma James

Feature: The origins of British social realism

Read Time:1 Minute, 40 Second

To pin-point the exact origins of British social realism is almost an impossible task, as the whole movement emerged from a combination of Italian Neorealism, French New Wave, and the British ‘Angry Young Men’ (even this is an extremely condensed and over-simplified explanation).

In addition to taking inspiration from the European cinema of its time, the genre occurred as a reaction to Hollywood productions and represented the inevitable, yet surprisingly powerful, expression of the anger felt amongst working class, post-war Britain. With the British people beginning to tire of the idealistic, glossy American exports after the Second World War (which did nothing to depict life as they knew it and served purely as a form as escapism) new voices began making themselves heard throughout the British film industry. 

The first definable post-war movement was Free Cinema, which allowed young, talented directors like Lindsay Anderson and Tony Richardson to present stories within Britain’s under classes, with a constant focus on contemporary, social issues. Consequently, audiences began to long gritty reality over smothering sentimentality, preferring depictions of life that mirrored their own struggles; that expressed their own frustrations.

Free Cinema’s natural successor was the British New Wave of the 1960s, which continued Free Cinema’s commitment to the frustrated under classes. The protagonists of the New Wave were typically working-class males with little or no bearing in society, often entrenched in the declining traditional industries of Britain.

From the ‘kitchen sink’ realism of Saturday Night, Sunday Morning (1960) and Billy Liar (1963) to subtle, more naturalistic displays of angst and rebellion in films like Ken Loach’s Kes (1970), never before had ‘the individual’ been so central to British cinema. Through the 1980s and early 1990s (and despite lack of funding from a suffocating Conservative government) a new generation of filmmakers emerged, including Shane Meadows (This Is England [2006]) and Mike Leigh (Secrets and Lies [1996]); even today, Britain still manages to maintain its tradition of social realism.

Sophie Kingston-Smith

Film Review: Micmacs

Read Time:2 Minute, 47 Second

 ★★★☆☆

Whether you love him or hate him, it would be impossible to argue against the fact that French auteur Jean-Pierre Jeunet (director of the acclaimed Amelie [2001]) possesses the incredible ability to take the surreal and create something almost plausible. With the release of his latest film Micmacs, Jeunet continues his whimsical exploration of modern French culture.

Micmacs is another clear example of Jeunet’s passion for constructing modern fairytales. It’s essentially your classic structure: boy gets shot, boy takes up residence in scrap yard, boy takes on arms dealers, boy falls in love with contortionist – yet somehow this is different. French comedian Dany Boon is excellently cast as protagonist Bazil, whom we first meet as a young boy shortly after his father’s demise (in typical fairytale fashion – death by landmine).

Fast-forward a couple of decades and we witness Bazil himself fall foul of an implement of war, as he receives a bullet to the head during a freak accident. Bazil returns from hospital to find his possessions gone, minus a hat that he manages to steal back from a young boy (social services just out of shot). Cut to scenes of begging and hardship until a chance meeting introduces Bazil to a family of misfits residing in a scrap yard (masquerading as a laboratory). Their goal: to create fantastical gadgets from the refuse. Still with me?

Whilst this all, admittedly, seems far-fetched on paper, on screen Micmacs is a myriad wonder to behold. The whole picture can be likened to a Rude Goldberg machine, a continuous chain reaction of small events leading to a larger outcome. Aided by his following band of ragamuffins, Bazil takes on the arms dealers responsible for both the bullet in his head and his father’s death with ingenuity and quirkiness. You’d expect nothing less from the director of the wonderfully bizarre Delicatessen (1991).

Boon is magnificent throughout. Echoing the greats of silent comedy, he gives a performance almost worthy of Marcel Marceau himself. The real stars of Micmacs, however, are the subtleties that run beneath it – satire and fragility. Not once is reference made directly to any specific real-world conflicts or the profits made by those exploiting man’s lust for destruction, yet the film’s anti-war stance is overtly obvious (and, perhaps at times, exceeds satire). However, where there is excess there is also restraint. Beneath their eccentric exteriors, the inner-workings of each of the leading characters are masterfully explored, with Julie Ferrier’s deft turn as La Môme Caoutchouc bringing both depth and heartbreak to what could have become an overly kooky, one-dimensional character. Touches like this are what makes this film not only hugely entertaining but surprisingly accessible.

It would be easy to dismiss Micmacs purely on its inability to compare to the director’s magnum opus Amelie; or on how Jeunet can at times descend into self-indulgent over-reliance on the unconventional. Yet there is something more at work here, a deeper morality just beneath the surface. Jeunet is transfixed with the concept of fate, and it seems somehow fitting that the winner here is the internet; the film portrays how even the littlest, forgotten members of the human race can make the biggest of differences, with the mere click of a mouse.

Chris Collington