Jake Gyllenhaal has a strange look in his eyes for the first half hour — “I was nominated for a Oscar,” they say, “I used to do low budget quirky cult hits.” He’s a superhero from a parallel dimension, here to do battle with four Elementals that want to destroy this Earth as they destroy his. And it just so happens Water hits Venice when Peter Parker is on his school trip.
Only You (Harry Wootliff, 2018)
For a good half an hour, this film feels too good to be true. I knew it was an unlikely love story, but I immediately assumed that the bear shown in the first few shots was the lover. In fact, settled status Spaniard and arts administrator Elena (Laia Costa) is pipped to a taxi in the early hours of New Year’s Day by DJ and PhD marine biologist Jake (Josh O’Connor) and after arguments over who saw the cab first and her deciding to walk home and he offering to walk her home, they end up going back to her flat to listen to Elvis Costello. The attraction is immediate, even though she’s 35 (but won’t admit it at first) and he is 26.
In Fabric (Peter Strickland, 2018)
Remember when the 1970s was the decade that taste forgot? Thirty years of Tarantino pastiche have summoned the visuals back, and it has been embraced by a generation of British horror directors, including Peter Strickland, whose Duke of Burgundy left me indifferent. There’s a mix here of Dennis Wheatley and Spearhead from Space and Don’t Look Now and Hammer and God help us Are You Being Served?. And Dario Argento, although this film is more rosso than giallo. It can’t be present day, because blind dating is committed via newspapers rather than apps, and money is sent through airtubes in department stores, but not all the of the phones are rotary dial. And there isn’t any racism, despite the position of the Black British heroine.
Woman at War (Kona fer í stríð, Benedikt Erlingsson, 2018)
I get the feeling that the writer-director is here channelling the work of Aki Kaurismäki: we have Halla (Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir), is single, middle-aged choir leader who wants to adopt a Ukrainian child and incidentally is running a campaign of ecological terrorism against the aluminium plant owned by Rio Tinto.
Her movement around whatever Icelandic city it is and the astounding landscape is interrupted by two balanced trios — three male musicians and three female Ukrainians who shift from extra- to intra-diegetic. It is sometimes whimsical, it is sometimes threatening, it may even be Brechtian (with a dash of Mel Brooks). It gives the film a whiff of the fairy tale and one presumes that pulling down a pylon wouldn’t have the effect that is shown. There is a further shift into folktale territory as Halla is finally arrested and as the action shifts to Ukraine.
Whilst friends and foes are beautifully drawn — her sister, her alleged cousin Sveinbjörn (Jóhann Sigurðarson) and his dog (apparently called Woman) and a co-conspirator Baldvin (Jörundur Ragnarsson) — but I think a foot is put wrong with the comedy foreign tourist Juan Camillo (Juan Camillo Roman Estrada), whose role is to be cycling near the scene of each crime and be arrested. It feels a little too studiedly quirky — although I see that the same actor (and the person playing Halla’s sister with the same character name) is in the same director’s Of Horses and Men ([Hross í os], 2013) so I wonder if I’m missing something.
This was an unexpected pleasure — and I see that Jodie Foster wants to direct a remake, presumably with herself in the lead. See this before it gets buried.
Gloria Bell (Sebastián Lelio, 2018)
So Chilean director Sebastián Lelio made a well-regarded film called Gloria (2013), about a middle-aged divorcée’s tribulations whilst dating. Julianne Moore saw it and liked it and decided she wanted to star in a remake.
There’s an ambiguity to this film and my response to it — in part the double standard of how we (I) react to no-longer-youthful women in films compared to men of the same age. Here’s she’s a divorced mother of two trying to find a new partner or at least some fun in the Californian disco scene. Isn’t she brave to let herself not be glamorous, we (I) might think, in a way we wouldn’t for costar John Turturro. And yet there is an A-list glamour she hasn’t shaken off here and she is in pretty well every shot. She’s had an interesting line in troubled wives already — Far From Heaven, The Hours, Savage Grace — so this is hardly a stretch. We’re carried along by her boogieing to the music, we cringe or empathise at the troubled women in her family and circle, we wonder when Turturro got middle aged…
There is hope — in her daughter’s long distance relationship and in her ex-husband’s new marriage, although he seems estranged from his children. Turturro’s character, whom Gloria meets at a disco, ought to set alarm bells off earlier than he does and presumably it is her sense of this being Her Final Chance that means she ignores them. But she in part condemns faults in his relationships she has in her own. Meanwhile, his military background would have had a more sinister implication in the Chilean original than it does here.
Meanwhile, the film putters along, incident after incident, with minor cameos (Jeanne Tripplehorn, Chris Mulkey) promising more than their characters have screen time to deliver. There’s a moment of crisis that offers catharsis, but doesn’t quite deliver, which feels like the film as a whole.
Happy as Lazzaro (Lazzaro Felipe, Alice Rohrwacher, 2018)
This may be one of those films — like Border — that the less you know about in advance, the better. It is distinctly a film of two halves, edging around one kind of fantasy or another, and I will sound the spoiler klaxon before mentioning the second half.
In the isolated and dilapidated Italian village of Inviolata, fifty four men, women and children grow tobacco and other cash crops, and once a month their overseer works out what their crop is worth and deducts their expenses.
Oddly enough they are always in debt.
Every so often the village’s owner, Alfonsina de Luna (Nicoletta Braschi) comes down in a sort of royal visit, demanding more service. Her son, Tancredi (Luca Chikovani), dog in hand, comes down with her, bored with the countryside, bored with the lack of mobile signal, indifferent to the exploitation and utterly self-centred. He latches onto the titular Lazzaro (Adriano Tardiolo) as Sancho to his Quixote.
Here we have a microcosm of capitalism — the Marquess de Luna exploits her workers who all exploit Lazzaro. He is happy to serve — fetching food, coffee or Grandma — apparently an orphan, always smiling, always ready to take over someone’s shift, even if this means staying up all night to watch for wolves. He is guileless and sinless, a holy fool. His wide eyes and floppy hair make him look perpetually at ease and relaxed, unafraid and unannoyed. He cannot see his slavery. He also has his moments of staring into the void — perhaps narcolepsy, but who could blame him for falling asleep on his feet?
The presence of cars, mobile phones and Walkmen puts us in the 1980s or 1990s, rather than the fairy tale time it could be — there is electricity, but they have to share a light bulb. There are hints of magic, of something more — the workers seem to be able to whistle up the wind, to threaten, to punish … but they never take the opportunity to escape or fight back.
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Rocketman (Dexter Fletcher, 2019)
I confess to not paying that much attention to Reginald Dwight — although there was no escaping his persecution by The Sun when he sued or his Diana anthem and he cowrote with Tom Robinson — oh and he had those photos at t’Tate. Although, curiously, I’ve always enjoyed his songs when I’ve heard them. I knew the brief outline of his life story and … Continue reading →