Lina Lamont

"What do you think I am, dumb or something?"

Archive for the tag “Kristin Scott Thomas”

My Old Lady

An American (Kevin Kline, playing it surprisingly straight) returns to Paris to claim his inheritance in the form of a sprawling, valuable apartment in the Marais district – the type with myriad cluttered rooms but only one poky toilette. With nothing to show for his 57 years on Earth, the self-involved victim of upbringing is hoping to make a quick sale and bail back to New York. But the old lady he finds living in his apartment has other ideas.

Starring Dame Maggie Smith and Francophone Kristin Scott-Thomas, the buyer who may be expecting berets, baguettes and cynical witticisms à la Dowager Countess of Grantham had better beware: this family melodrama pulls no punches and promises few laughs. Instead, it impresses with fine acting (once Scott-Thomas stops dialling it up to 11) and some touchingly plausible responses to life-shattering revelations.

But the typical accordion soundtrack is suited to lighter fare, the tone is shifty and ultimately the film is an uncomfortable juxtaposition of cringy and affecting.

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The Invisible Woman

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 20th April 2014

The great actor and now often-times director, Ralph Fiennes, nearly burst a blood vessel playing Coriolanus, his previous effort at taking the lead role as well as running the show. In The Invisible Woman Fiennes tackles another great literary hero, Charles Dickens, and once again delivers a compelling performance while exercising a restraint seldom seen by stars-who-direct.

Though everyone knows his name, few may know that Dickens’ private life battled a few best and worst times of its own. Ostensibly happily married and father to a herd, Dickens’ eye was apparently turned by a young actress he encountered during a local theatre production (the play written, incidentally, by his mate Wilkie Collins, played predictably but delightfully by the irrepressible Tom Hollander). Dickens takes young Nelly Ternan into his heart under the watchful eye of her mother (Kristin Scott Thomas), but naturally the path to this sort of forbidden love cannot run smoothly.

It’s a love story template we know well, but thankfully Fiennes demands excellent work from his cast who deliver smooth dialogue and nuanced performances enhanced by the pretty costume design and some beautiful photography. As young Nelly, Felicity Jones (who worked with Fiennes in Cemetery Junction) shows she has blossomed into an accomplished actress, adept at playing the ingénue as well as the tortured older soul whose reminiscences form the basis of the story.

Above all, there is something fascinating about seeing a household name from the 1850s as he was in real-life – mobbed at the races like a modern-day celebrity; cooed over by readers who debate the detail of his greatest works; breaking social conventions by fraternising with unmarried couples. With universally strong performances propelled through a pacy narrative, The Invisible Woman should not be allowed to slip away unseen.

In the House (Dans la maison)

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 1st September 2013

With a title as deceptively mundane as its ordinary characters, In the House unfolds into a brilliantly witty tale of life imitating art imitating life.

Fabrice Luchini (The Women on the 6th Floor) is Germain, an increasingly cynical Parisian school teacher who really ought to be thinking about early retirement, until the daily drudgery of blank-faced pupils is suddenly lifted when a new kid starts handing in some writing of the extremely creative kind.

Enthralled by the first person narrative that always pauses “To be continued”, the prof shares the tales with his art gallerist wife (Kristin Scott-Thomas in a very fetching cropped hairdo, incisive as ever), before begrudgingly encouraging his pupil: “I don’t care for compliments, but you write well”. At the teacher’s prompting, the story continues – but quite where it is going proves cause for concern.

Ernst Umhauer plays teenage Claude with just the right mix of Machiavellian angel, hinting at a motivation that doesn’t fully transpire until the final scenes. Mirroring Claude’s gripping tale, the film’s narrative moves apace, grabbing you from the beginning (accompanied by a wonderfully symphonic soundtrack) and never letting up.

Director and writer Francois Ozon (maestro of countless superb films including the chilling Swimming Pool and the enthralling 5 x 2) has conceived a fascinating structure of literary cleverness, peopled by lively bohemian characters. It almost goes where you don’t dare it to, although ultimately the ending doesn’t quite do justice to the brilliance of the story. Nonetheless, In the House is vastly enjoyable.

Bel Ami

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star Times, 22nd July 2012

Paris in the 1880s, and a sullen, troubled Georges Duroy slumps in his chair, staring gloomily into the empty imaginings of his bleak future. Having returned penniless from the Algerian war, he spends his time frequenting whorehouses, smiling wanly at over-painted ladies of the night. When a chance meeting with newspaperman Charles Forestier (Philip Glenister) gives Georges a job he is unskilled for, he is introduced to a life of champagne and bored housewives. It’s soon apparent his fortunes lie in their plunging necklines and coy glances, as he earns the term of endearment “Bel ami” (literally “beautiful friend”).

French literary master Guy de Maupassant is somewhat to blame for this tawdry tale of love and sex used carelessly, but the banal interpretation of his story lies squarely at the feet of its two inexperienced directors, and its protagonist, Twilight star Robert Pattinson. His selfish, squandering Georges bed hops and social climbs, but it is impossible to cheer for him when his character has no saving graces. Even the excellent supporting cast cannot save this – poor Kristin Scott Thomas, once the beauty who everyone longed for in The English Patient, turns in her first matronly role, literally embarrassing in her seduction of the pouting young cad. Uma Thurman has strength of will but tightness of forehead. Christina Ricci just bats her beautiful eyes. In fact, none of the characters are likeable (breaking the first rule of Screenwriting 101) and it’s impossible to be Team Anyone.

On the upside, the music is rather splendid, and there is a daring scene of sexual congress that turns the tables on Georges’ seemingly insatiable libido.

But these smatterings of artfulness cannot make up for its limp contribution to the world of French literary adaptations.

Sarah’s Key

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star Times, 3rd April 2011

Long before her appearance in Four Weddings and a Funeral, Kristin Scott Thomas was performing in French films and television plays, and in nearly 30 years has proven time and again one of the greatest and most versatile British actresses.  Along with quintessentially English roles in the likes of Gosford Park and The English Patient, Scott Thomas’s bilingual ability has garnered her lead parts in critically acclaimed French films.  Naturally, her French is accentless – the one exception being in the excellent I’ve Loved You So Long, for which she was actually required to sound like an Englishwoman returning to France after years away.

In Sarah’s Key (based on the novel by Tatiana De Rosnay) she plays Julia, an American journalist living in Paris (this time showcasing a subtly faultless American accent).  Julia stumbles upon a family secret that ties into a piece of history she has previously studied, that of the Vel d’Hiv round-up of more than 13,000 Parisian Jews in 1942 and their subsequent deportation, by their fellow countrymen, to the Nazi death camps.

The film flits between Julia’s contemporary search for a truth that risks upsetting her family and destroying her marriage, and the affecting historical story of a young girl (Sarah) separated from her family and carrying a terrible emotional burden which drives her own narrative.  Writer/director Gilles Paquet-Brenner does a good job of managing his two casts, the discrete settings and related plots.  The production design is spot-on, dropping you straight into the turmoil and uncertainty of war-torn Europe, with effective use of suffocating camerawork and, in particular, a sweeping overhead shot of the vélodrome where the Jewish families languish, frightened and ailing after days of mistreatment and neglect.  The film does not shy away from some shocking revelations, and the principal emotional punch is well-delivered, without being gratuitous or overdone.

Scott Thomas is, predictably, the heart of the modern story, but her co-stars in the telling of the war years are equally compelling.  Our young heroine Sarah (Mélusine Mayance) gets by on chutzpah rather than cutesiness, and Niels Arestrup (seen recently in last year’s A Prophet and Farewell) brings his artistic weight to the role of a kindly local who ensures Sarah’s wellbeing and eventual legacy.

While audiences may feel they have had their fill of Holocaust stories, what sets this apart is its particular French spin, and the implication of thousands of ordinary Frenchmen and women in the capture and death of their fellow citizens.  In 1995, President Chirac acknowledged the state’s involvement in Vel D’Hiv and called for France to face up to its past, so its relevance is still very real today.

The story spans seven decades and two continents, as Julia’s increasingly obsessive quest for the truth slowly reveals its answers.  The early revelations are handled well, though towards act three things get a bit clunky as she imposes on virtual strangers, lobbing questions at them over a cup of tea before racing to her next destination.

Perhaps also because of the strange casting of Aidan Quinn (who is no European, and no match for the nuanced Scott Thomas), the film starts to feel long.  However, we are engaged throughout and, though the book title is clumsy, overall the film’s adaptation is suitably elegant.

A nice bit of foreign – Leaving / Anything for Her

Leaving  (Partir)

Kristin Scott Thomas is one of Britain’s finest actresses, and has lived in France for more than half her life – so she is truly bilingual, and it’s thrilling to watch her in French films.  She was particularly superb in I’ve Loved You So Long, playing an English woman returning to France after 15 years in prison – her French was fluent but English-accented, presumably on purpose – whereas in Tell No One (Ne le dis à personne) she plays a Frenchwoman, and (to my ear at least) you couldn’t tell she’s not.  With that degree of versatility alone, I think she’s brilliant.

In Leaving, Scott Thomas plays the adulterous wife in a well-to-do, middle class family, who has a passionate affair with a builder.  Her acting is typically excellent, and the story demands some intense and violent moments between husband and wife, and wife and lover.  Unfortunately, however, the story doesn’t deliver anything particularly new – there is a vaguely convoluted attempt at a crime caper that goes horribly wrong, and the ending is fairly shocking, but the affair develops so quickly we’re not given time to empathise with any of the characters and their subsequent dilemma. Yvan Attal is terrific as the nasty husband, but all in all the protagonists are not likable, and by the end I didn’t much care what happened to any of them (let alone that something good would transpire out of the awful situation they’d placed themselves in). To my mind, KST’s previous French films come much more highly recommended.

Anything for Her (Pour elle)

Most of the French films released regularly in this country are fairly average French farces – admittedly there does seem to be a market amongst the older, retired crowd, but personally I don’t think they offer much that is different, clever or engaging.  Anything for Her breaks this mould, and joins the ranks slightly below some other excellent French thrillers such as Tell No One, Read my Lips and The Beat My Heart Skipped (all highly recommended by this reviewer).

Anything for Her throws us headfirst into the action as we hear sounds of violence and pain over the opening credits, then see a man driving erratically, with blood-covered face, presumably during a get-away of some kind. Cut to 3 years earlier when the same man is happily ensconced in family life one morning, only for the police to burst through the door and arrest his wife for murder. We are quickly apprised of the situation – she has been wrongly convicted and imprisoned for 20 years, and he will do anything to save her.

Vincent Lindon holds the film together as Julien, single dad on the “outside”, and devoted husband to Diane Kruger (of Inglourious Basterds and Troy).  Vincent embarks on a crime caper of his own when he decides to break his wife out of prison – complete with using his bedroom wall as bulletin board (like we’re used to in The Wire and various crime programmes) and holding up a local drug dealer in order to get the money needed for a life on the run.

To this end, the film veers into slightly far-fetched territory (with the eventual police chase a veritable example of convenient movie timing) but Lindon’s performance is so earnest and desperate, his face so handsomely haggard, that we are captivated to the last.  This sure beats the banality of Priceless and watered-down passion of Coco Before Chanel – when it comes to crime, the French certainly know how to thrill.

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