Thursday, 25 January 2018

I've Just Seen: The Barbarian Invasions (Les Invasions Barbares) (2003)

Director: Denys Arcand

I usually try to watch sequential films in their correct sequence, but in in the case of The Barbarian Invasions the first film The Decline of the American Empire wasn't available on the same streaming service. So I broke my rules and watched this before it disappeared. That was probably not a good idea.

At times it felt like I was at an event where everyone else knew each other and had private jokes that went over my head. This made it hard to really get into the story and its characters, who I also found slightly tiresome. The generational "war" between Sebastien and his father Remy is almost too broadly played, with the younger man displaying all the intellectual shallowness of a neoliberal Gen X, while Remy's lefty politics hasn't moved on to embrace modern feminism

The film is not entirely on the nose. The development of the two men's relationship is nicely played, and the ending is suitably moving. But my frustrations with the characters stopped it from really touching me. Perhaps if I had watched the first film I would have cared a little more, though from what others have written about The Decline of the American Empire, I may find it even harder to enjoy.

Friday, 12 January 2018

I've Just Seen: Son of Saul (Saul fia) (2015)

Director: Laszlo Nemes

There are so many films about the Holocaust that you would think that all aspects of its existence had been covered, in all possible ways. Yet Nemes' film touches on a perspective I didn't know about: sonderkommandos, Jewish prisoners who were forced to clear the gas chambers after they were used. Naturally this is a grim subject yet Nemes has compassion for his characters, and takes us into their morally awful situation.

The most remarkable aspect of the film is they way it is shot. Using the tight framing of Academy ratio, and shot on actual film, the audience spends almost all the film with main character Saul as he goes about his soul-crushing work. His perspective is ours, with many shots filmed over Saul's shoulder. Action often happens just off-screen, and the background is frequently out of focus. We see intimately the emotions move across Saul's face as he believes he has found his son among the dead and tries to find a rabbi to perform burial rites over the body.

The film's references to the violence we all know took place is quietly presented, almost matter-of-factly; we watch Saul looking through piles of bodies, but because of our limited view, we only realise after we look a little harder. The shock is not in-your-face, but none the less harrowing as a result.

This is an impressive film which manages to say something new about the Holocaust. It is a moving film, though an extremely difficult watch (as it should be).

Monday, 8 January 2018

I've Just Seen: Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)

 Director: James Foley

Note: I watched the film and wrote the review before the allegations about Kevin Spacey came to light.

Few films' cast lists are as starry as Foley's. Scripts adapted from plays often attract top-quality stars because the writing is so good. What makes Glengarry Glen Ross feel different is that every role is a plum one, giving the actors something to really get their teeth into. While the setting doesn't change much from the real estate office (and doesn't entirely escape the story's theatrical origins), the scenario and the acting make this a great watch.

It is hard to single any one actor out for their role. Alec Baldwin almost walks off with the film in his one scene. His "pep" talk is hilarious and frightening, putting the fear of God into the sales team. Jack Lemmon is an actor I would watch in anything, and he is wonderful here, playing around with his charming everyman persona, twisting it to show the desperation the fuels his Shelley "The Machine" Levene.

Listening to well-written dialogue, said by well-drawn characters, played by some of the best actors in the busineses is always a satisfying experience. The play may not be world-changing, nor is the cinematography particularly ground-breaking. However, something this well-done is hard to get right, and Glengarry Glen Ross gets pretty much everything right.