Films I loved in June 2016

30 June 2016
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Güneş Şensoy as Lale in Mustang

I’d been looking forward to seeing Mustang for almost a year now after consistently hearing great things about it. It’s the feature film debut by Turkish/French filmmaker Deniz Gamze Ergüven, about five sisters living with their uncle and grandmother in a secluded and very conservative Turkish village. Inspired by real stories including some of the filmmaker’s own experiences, Mustang is about the removal of freedoms from the sisters after they are accused of behaving indecently with male classmates. While the threat to the girls’ welfare looms large during the majority of the film, their defiance and energy is exhilarating, particularly during a sequence involving a football game that evokes Jafar Panahi’s glorious 2006 film Offside. The tension that builds during the film’s finale is close to unbearable, but Ergüven delivers a payoff that is satisfying and feels true to the spirit of what has come before. Needless to say, the expectations that I brought to this film were met and I’m happy to join the ranks of people who speak about Mustang glowingly.

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Vincent Lindon as Thierry Taugourdeau in The Measure of a Man

The Measure of a Man is only the second film I’ve seen by French filmmaker Stéphane Brizé after Mademoiselle Chambon, which I also liked. Both films star prolific French actor Vincent Lindon who has a wonderful ability to simultaneously portray strength and resilience along with vulnerability and melancholy. This is vital to what makes The Measure of a Man work as well as it does where Lindon plays Thierry, an unemployed middle-aged man trying maintain his dignity while going through the very undignified process of looking for work and making ends meet in the meantime. Brizé’s naturalistic style conveys Thierry frustrations, boredom, worry and most importantly the way he’s constantly on display to be judged and condescended to. The Measure of a Man painfully captures not just the stress of unemployment, but also the subtle ways in which people out of work are made to feel shamed and stupid. The second half of the film goes one step further when Thierry is then placed in a position to watch and judge others,  demonstrating how just the act of watching somebody and expecting the worst from them makes them appear at fault.

The Wailing

Jo Han-chul as a detective and Kwak Do-won as Jong-Goo in The Wailing

After being so astonished by South Korean filmmaker Na Hong-jin’s previous film The Yellow Sea I required little persuasion to see his new horror/thriller film The Wailing. Set in a Korean village where a number of strange murders have started occurring, the film follows the increasingly desperate investigations of local policeman Jong-Goo. Drawing upon South Korean Sharman traditions and haunted by the county’s violent past of internal conflict and colonisation by Japan – as well as borrowing liberally from Japanese and American genre cinema – The Wailing delivers a mix of exorcisms, possessions, zombies, body horror, children being creepy, paranoia and even several unexpected comedic moments. The scares are generated by slow builds, unpredictability and filming key scenes in medium shots so it’s not always clear what we are looking at. The film has an intense kinetic energy and often feels like it is in free fall with its tonal shifts and plot twists – but that’s all very much part of the fun.

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Blake Jenner as Jake and Austin Amelio as Nesbit in Everybody Wants Some!!

Richard  Linklater has described his 1980-set college film Everybody Wants Some!! as a spiritual sequel to his 1973-set high school film Dazed and Confused, and also as a sequel of sorts to his last film Boyhood since that film ended with the protagonist going to college, and this film is about the first few days of a young man at college before classes and responsibility begins. Everybody Wants Some!! is mostly a bunch of scenes of the young men on a college baseball team hanging out, drinking, competing, partying, talking about girls and attempting – and often succeeding – in having sex. The film is at its best when it allows us to observe the way the characters, who were all stars at high school, are now compelled to continually compete against each other, and how the characters readjust their identities when encountering various subcultures. It’s at its weakest when the characters have similar observations about what they are doing, and then over explain the themes of the film through dialogue. However, I can put this quibble aside since ultimately this is a really fun and sincere hang-out film.

THE BFG

Ruby Barnhill as Sophie and Mark Rylance as the BFG in The BFG

Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Roald Dahl’s classic children’s novel The BFG is a little too long and needlessly padded, and sometimes suffers from cartoonish CGI (although perhaps that’s done deliberately to minimise the scariness of some scenes for younger viewers). But I’ve included it as one of my favourite films of the month because the aspects I did like, I really liked. Firstly, the performances throughout the film by Mark Rylance as the motion-captured Big Friendly Giant and new comer Ruby Barnhill as the orphan Sophie, are gorgeous and successfully convey the very sweet relationship created by Dahl in his novel. I also loved the Dream Country scene, which delivers all Spielberg’s classic tricks of the trade where light, music, whimsy and the wonder on the faces of the characters generate a glorious sequence of feel-good cinematic indulgence. And finally, the fart humour of the novel – especially during the scene involving the Queen of England – is taken to extremities that left me wanting to give the film a standing ovation. There is also some great stuff about standing up for yourself, the power of friendship and not judging people who aren’t fortunate enough to have had the education that allows them to communicate as well as others. But it’s the farting that ultimately won me over.

Thomas Caldwell, 2016
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Film review – Mademoiselle Chambon (2009)

10 June 2010
Mademoiselle Chambon: Véronique (Sandrine Kiberlain)

Véronique (Sandrine Kiberlain)

Infidelity is such a common theme in French cinema and yet Mademoiselle Chambon, the latest film by French writer/director Stéphane Brizé, still manages to feel fresh. Adapted from a novel by Eric Holder, Mademoiselle Chambon is about Jean, a happy and content man who divides his time between his job as a construction worker and his wife and son. When Jean meets his son’s schoolteacher Véronique, the Mademoiselle Chambon of the film’s title, he is drawn to her as she is to him.

Part of what makes this film feel so much more than yet another film about a married person cheating is its natural approach and complete lack of sensationalism. Nobody in this film is playing the part of the marriage-breaking seducer, there is no scandal involved and there is no dramatic age difference between the couple having the affair. The focus of the film is the building emotional pull between the pair instead of physical desire. Jean is not an unhappy man but when he hears Véronique play the violin it opens something within him that he hadn’t encountered before. In fact, Mademoiselle Chambon is less about an affair but more about two people wrestling with whether or not to act upon the attraction building between them.

Mademoiselle Chambon: Véronique (Sandrine Kiberlain) and Jean (Vincent Lindon)

Véronique (Sandrine Kiberlain) and Jean (Vincent Lindon)

The performances in the film are excellent. Brizé has cast two of France’s finest actors with Vincent Lindon (Welcome) as Jean and Sandrine Kiberlain (Little Nicholas) as Véronique. Not only are they experienced and talented actors but they are former lovers in real life. We can only speculate of the challenges the pair had playing such roles in the film but the results are beautiful. Rather than swapping lusty looks of forbidden love, they portray the dynamic between them through a combination of over politeness and nervousness. The result is a pair of performances of wonderfully measured tenderness, hesitance and sadness. The battle between the head and the heart, desire and common sense, is mainly played out in the eyes and body language of Lindon and Kiberlain.

The final element that makes Mademoiselle Chambon feel so sincere is how it captures the sense that life still goes on around the inner turmoil of the two lead characters. They both still have jobs and particularly with Jean’s construction work, Brizé is a confident enough filmmaker to allow the camera to patiently film Jean at work knowing that at times this is enough to hold our interest. The way the cinematography captures the natural light is also subtly but strategically used to beautifully indicate the time of day and the mood of the scene. Mademoiselle Chambon is a small film but a very affective one with a refreshingly mature and restrained approach to the very familiar theme of infidelity.

© Thomas Caldwell, 2010

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