Posts Tagged ‘romance’

ALC_poster

Director: Alan Rickman

Writers: Jeremy Brock, Alison Deegan, Alan Rickman

Country: UK

Runtime: 117 mins

Cast: Kate Winslet (Sabine De Barra), Stanley Tucci (Philippe, Duc D’Orleans), Jennifer Ehle (Madame De Montespan), Alan Rickman (King Louise XIV), Helen McCrory (Madame De Notre), Matthias Schoenaerts (André Le Notre )

A stylish but undemanding period romance

Let me say right away that I think I may have enjoyed this period drama rather more than it deserved to be liked. Directed by Alan Rickman, A Little Chaos has some genuinely good qualities. The sets and costumes are lavish, the cinematography is beautiful, and there is some top class acting. Notably, Kate Winslet is in her element playing a woman striving for independence in a man’s world, smart but not overconfident.

As Sabine De Barra, a landscape gardener, she secures a position – in the face of male competition – to lead the construction of the grand gardens at the Palace of Versailles. The man who appoints her is André Le Notre (Matthias Schoenaerts), the head gardener to King Louis XIV. At Sabine’s first interview, however, André is not impressed by the lack of order in her designs, telling her: “In my world anarchy is by royal command and even chaos must adhere to budget”. However, upon reconsideration he decides that she can provide the kind of original eye that the gardens need.

His decision marks him out as a man of sensitivity and, unsurprisingly, an attraction develops between him and Sabine. But in time-honoured fashion there are barriers to any romance. She is widowed and with a secret that is hinted at by the visions she has of a young girl dressed in white; he is in a loveless marriage to a woman who thinks nothing of paying men for sex but who will not tolerate him forming outside attachments. Madame Le Notre (Helen McCrory) also has the ear of the Queen, so is able to exert control over her husband.

Sitting above all the courtly intrigue is the King himself, adroitly played by Alan Rickman who alternates between being fearsomely imperious and quirkily amusing. Will Sabine’s idiosyncratic vision meet his exacting requirements? And in the face of adversity will the gardens even be completed on time?

The film’s central weakness is its essentially Mills and Boon-ish plot, coupled with a certain lack of pacing. It’s pretty undemanding stuff, but may well find an audience for those who enjoy a straightforward old-fashioned romantic tale.

Rating: 6/10.

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Mexico 2012

Dir: Raúl Fuentes

100 mins

Watching Everybody’s got somebody…not me I could not help making comparisons with last year’s Blue is the Warmest Colour. Both stories concern a young woman, still at school, who becomes romantically involved with an older woman. However, the two films take a very different perspective on their respective relationships. In Blue is the Warmest Colour, the narrative focus is on the younger woman leaving school and her friends behind, and navigating the cultured world of her artist lover. When the relationship goes wrong, her lack of maturity means that she struggles the most to deal with the situation.

Everybody’s got somebody…not me depicts almost the opposite situation.  Andrea Portal plays Alejandra, the beautiful dark-haired publisher who is in a secret relationship with younger blond Maria (Naian Daeva). In the opening scenes we see the two engaged in some passionate night-time fumbling in Alejandra’s car and then, a few hours later, waking up in Alejandra’s apartment.  Here we see the first hint of trouble to come, as Alejandra asks free-spirited Maria not to smoke indoors. Some time later the two women are at a jazz bar, where sensible Alejandra takes some persuading to forget the rules (if indeed they are rules) and to dance in front of the stage. One of the happiest and most tender moments occurs when the two are putting on make-up together and Alejandra shows Maria the best way to do it.

It is not until perhaps a third of the way into the film that we discover how these two women came to meet. This is told in flashback. and in these scenes it becomes apparent that the younger woman is controlling the pace at which the relationship develops. In another reversal of Blue is the Warmest Colour it is the older woman who is asked to navigate the social world of the younger, and fails to do so (to some extent, is unwilling to do so). We see that the cracks in their relationship have existed from the very start. Alejandra’s penchant for quoting philosophy and poetry, initially charming, becomes condescending. Alejandra also seems the more vulnerable of the two. She is prone to jealous outbursts when Maria is speaking on the phone (which, like a typical teenager, she does regularly) and when she encounters friends in person.

In fact, Alejandra emerges as a somewhat ambiguous character. In one scene, we see her waiting for Maria outside of the latter’s school. When Maria emerges, she does not look like the young woman we first saw. With her hair tied back, and wearing a school uniform that includes a check skirt and white knee-length stockings,  she looks very much a girl rather than a woman, and we start to wonder about the nature of Alejandra’s desire. There are shades of Lolita here. At one point another lesbian tells Alejandra that she “loves sweet-talking young girls about Foucault”, which is probably quite close to the truth. However, behind all Alejandra’s jealousy and condescending behaviour, when she is hurt she seems truly hurt. We start to suspect that she always prefers much younger women but, at the same time, can never make a relationship last because she doesn’t know how to exist in their world. In case this all sounds too stereotypically tragic, the ups and downs are played with a deft touch and there are also several very funny moments too.

The performances of both lead actors are quite outstanding and enhanced by strong direction and cinematography. At various points we get close-ups of the women’s faces in which the emotions expressed appear entirely natural and believable. The film is shot in black and white and there is a great visual style throughout. In the opening scene the camera is positioned in the back seat as Alejandra drives through town. We see the back of her head in focus, but all we see outside the window are a series of unfocused lights passing by. There is another contrast with Blue is the Warmest Colour in the lovemaking scenes. In that film, the camera drew back for the love scenes, which lasted for a long time, whereas elsewhere close-ups were predominant. In Everybody’s Got Somebody…Not Me close-ups are maintained for the love scenes, which are also fairly brief and not explicit. Arguably, this approach seems less voyeuristic; that is certainly my opinion, though no doubt everyone will have their own view.

Elsewhere there seemed to be shades of Wes Anderson in the cinematography. Several scenes involved the use of symmetry, with one character appearing centre frame with other people appearing in identical positions to the left and right. There were also scenes using geometrical arrangements of objects or linear perspective. Perhaps the most striking was a scene in a near-empty cinema. We see the aisles receding into the distance, with one couple positioned on our left near the front, a single individual a row or two back on the right, and Maria and Alejandra embracing passionately in the centre of a row nearer to the back.

According to the programme notes that were provided at the British Film Institute, where this is being shown as part of its Flare (LGBT) season, the film is Raúl Fuentes’ directorial debut for a feature-length movie. That being the case, it surely heralds the arrival of a fine new talent into the world of movies.

Rating: 9/10

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What would it be like to live forever? This question must have crossed most people’s minds at some point. In Only Lovers Left Alive, the centuries-old vampires Adam and Eve (Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton) are responding to their immortality in different ways. Although they are lovers, they are keeping things fresh by living apart, she in Tangiers and he in the run-down city of Detroit. Eve is happily reading all the books she can lay her hands on; indeed, so practiced are her reading skills that she is flipping a page every couple of seconds. Adam, on the other hand,  is depressed. Musically skilled, in previous centuries he has given away his music to the likes of Schubert. He has also hung around with Shelley and Mary Wollstonecraft. Now, though, he spends all his time at home making what he calls “funeral music”, electronic drones. Adam is losing faith in a world run by the zombies, the name that he and Eve give to humanity. He is at such a low point that he commissions the production of a single wooden bullet, and practices pointing a gun at his heart.

Adam and Eve no longer kill people (or convert them to vampires) in order to obtain blood. In Tangiers Eve obtains her blood supplies from a vampire with connections, who turns out to be the author Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt), portrayed here as the author of Shakespeare’s plays. In Detroit, Adam buys his supplies from Dr. Watson (Jeffrey Wright) at the local hospital.

During a phone conversation Eve discovers how depressed Adam is, and arranges to travel back to Detroit (carefully organising her connecting flights so that she will only be travelling at night). But she has only been back in Detroit a short while when her wayward sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska) shows up and throws their lives into turmoil, not least by tucking into their dwindling supply of blood.

Only Lovers Left Alive is not really a horror movie as such (indeed, because vampires typically exhibit fairly human-like qualities I would suggest they are rarely as frightening as zombies, possessed children, and demonic houses); rather, it is a supernatural romance/drama that also includes some amusing dialogue. The relationship between Adam and Eve is nicely played and quite touching, and you don’t need to be a vampire to identify with the problems caused by the unwanted arrival of an awkward family member.

The one aspect of the story that did require some suspension of disbelief was the idea that a man who has lived through the hundred years war and the black death could think that the world is getting worse, to the degree that he is contemplating suicide. Jarmusch draws a parallel between the vampires’ dependence on limited supplies of blood and humanity’s dependence on oil and water (the latter identified as the next resource to be fought over). However, such social commentary is kept to a minimum and it is the couple’s romance that is very much at the heart of the film.

Visually, Only Lovers Left Alive is always interesting to look at. Adam and Eve are tall and wan, and Adam in particular is very much the dandy (at one point Eve blames his depressive tendencies on Byron’s influence). His house, where many of the scenes take place, is like an interesting old junk shop, full of slightly outdated recording equipment, and he has an impressive collection of old guitars. We also get a glimpse of modern Detroit, which of course is in a sorry state. A scene inside the delapidated Michigan concert hall gives us a very real sense of the transitory nature of things.

Anyone seeing this movie in the hope of experiencing a few scares and thrills is likely to be disappointed, but if Byronic characters and gothic atmospherics are your thing then you are in for a treat.

Rating: 8/10

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In Her, Joaquin Phoenix plays Theodore Twombly, a lonely guy who separated from his wife a few months earlier. He makes his living by writing touching letters for special occasions on behalf of inarticulate people. His life changes when he installs a new “intelligent” operating system on his computer, a system that learns from experience and adapts. Using a female voice, the OS takes the name of Samantha, and before long Theo finds himself discussing his personal life with Samantha. They fall in love and have virtual sex. Needless to say, the path of true love does not run smoothly and, before long, Theodore is having to deal with Samantha’s insecurities as well as his own.

The other main human presence in the film is Theo’s friend Amy (Amy Adams), who herself gets involved with an OS after her own relationship falls apart. It also turns out that other people are having relationships with OSs, and even people in happy human relationships seem to view the human-OS relationship as entirely normal.

The film delivers us a meditation on the nature of love and social isolation in the modern age. Unfortunately, I found that I was unable to suspend disbelief to take seriously the notion that an operating system could demonstrate sufficiently the human-like intelligence and feelings that Samantha demonstrates. If it ever happens that is still going to be a long long way in the future.

Even more importantly I could not empathise with Theodore Twombly. I don’t know if this was inherent to the screenplay, whether it was because of the way Phoenix played him, or if Phoenix was just the wrong person for the part. If Jim Carrey were a bit younger I could have seen him in this role (think: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind). But the script didn’t do Phoenix any favours either. An early scene shows Theo seeking someone for phone sex and getting it. The woman on the other end turns out to be really weird, and Theo is somewhat horrified, but rather than ring off he politely sees it through. Presumably this was meant to elicit some sympathy for Theo, but it merely made him seem marginally less creepy than he otherwise did. Throughout the movie I couldn’t shake the feeling that Theo was, well, just a bit too weird for my liking, and found myself in agreement with a blind date who tells him that he is a “really creepy dude”. This impression was also magnified by Theo’s appearance: a huge moustache and trousers that seemed to come up to his chest did not exactly make him the epitome of cool.

This is a shame, because there was a good idea underlying all this. Indeed, I liked the conceit of Theo being a letter writer on other people’s behalf, meaning that he himself was a kind of operating system for others. But sadly, the execution just wasn’t good enough.

Rating: 5/10