Lina Lamont

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

Archive for the tag “Marion Cotillard”

Macbeth

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 4th October 2015

On the surface, somewhere just beneath the dim illumination of a CliffNotes translation, the Scottish play is a simple story of one man’s unquenchable thirst for power, and the depths he and his wife will sink to in order to get what they want. Killing your king because someone told you you’d make a good regent and having your erstwhile best friend knocked off because you fear he’s suspicious may seem the stuff of hyperbole, even in today’s world where deceit and corruption appear to be part and parcel of political ascent. But it is timeless melodrama, and we relish the bloodlust while judging its female protagonist more harshly for really being the brains behind the brawn of the operation.

So it is impressive that young Australian director Justin Kurzel (Snowtown) has taken up this poisoned chalice of a play written half a millennium ago, in a language most people hate to read, and in only his second feature-length outing produced an extraordinarily accomplished and consistently mesmerising cinematic interpretation.

There is lots to applaud. Kurzel retains the original setting of a grey, cold and dark 11th century, where “going to work” means hitting the battlefield in ultra-slow-motion, sword brandished and face grimly drawn against blood red skies. Neatly abridged to a eminently palatable two hours, the actors purr in a Scottish brogue, delivering complex lines so languidly we are actually given time to hear, appreciate and understand their tribulations.

It’s possible that if you’re not into the source material, this visceral rendition still won’t impress – but those who are even vaguely familiar with the tale of ambition taken too far will be hard-pressed to imagine a better lead actor than Michael Fassbender. Heralded for doing the hard yards in Shame and Hunger, he and French-Hollywood star Marion Cotillard are perfectly-paired, equally-footed in their stardom and on-screen luminosity (his Scots accent comes more easily but Cotillard’s acuity with the Shakespearean tongue is still impressive). Crucially, these Macbeths invite us to feel (rather than just hear) their motivations, and their individual descents into psychological hell thus recast a merely evil couple as grieving parents whose shared fatal flaw is weakness in the face of flattery and temptation.

Forget your Denches and McKellens – whether a buff of the Bard or someone for whom his fame is baffling, this is the version of Macbeth that you need to see.

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Rust and Bone

First seen at Cannes in 2012 (where I wept twice), one of my top films of the year finally gets a release in New Zealand.

French director Jacques Audiard has said that after spending months inside making his (superb) prison film A Prophet, he wanted to work outside on the next project. And so the charismatic leads in his latest bleak, intense character study find themselves in the South of France – but here a much greyer and more “real-life” Antibes and Cannes than the sunshiney glamour of the festival town (where Rust and Bone made its debut last year).

Two broken people find one another and scratch out a tentative relationship while negotiating some of the biggest challenges life can throw up. Marion Cotillard (La Vie en Rose) is naturally luminous, even without make-up or hope, as Stephanie, an orca trainer at Sea World whose world is rocked by tragedy. She encounters the straightforward, guileless Ali, recently arrived in town with young son in tow, but having apparently lost the luggage containing his self-awareness and social skills. Ali (Belgian up-and-comer Matthias Schoenaerts) tries to make ends meet between a security job and bare-knuckle fighting, and the pair are slowly drawn into a partnership that caters to both of their emotional and physical needs.

All the actors are superb, their characters’ predicaments deeply real, and while the themes are not subtle – one character is broken emotionally, the other physically, then we watch as slowly the tables turn – Audiard has shamelessly crafted a sensational film through the extravagant use of image and music to portray pain and relief.

The film has been described as “unabashedly melodramatic”, but this is what makes it so compelling – few films leave you reeling with such powerful feeling as you leave the cinema.

Two great films a day keep the madness at bay

What an introduction. If today is anything to go by, this fortnight will be incredible.

Arrived yesterday afternoon on a delayed train, having made friends with the locals in my coach and read a lot of my book.  Felt wired, exhausted and thrilled to be thrust suddenly into the sunlight and craziness of Opening Day at Cannes. In fact, apparently it will get even madder as the week goes on. Coming from a country of 4+ million people (spread out over a big space), the crowds take some getting used to, and quite where all the Johnny-Come-Latelies are going to fit, I don’t know.

I picked up my press-kit from the very obliging crew manning the exceedingly well-organised booths inside the Palais du Festival, and the first thrill is that my press category is actually three rungs up the ladder! No orange for me – I am a charming pale blue. You wear your pass round your neck at all times, and there is an abundance of security guards who stop you at every entrance, read your badge carefully, then wave you through. It’s hard not to feel a little bit privileged and important, especially this afternoon when I queued momentarily (and erroneously, as it turned out) for the Woody Allen documentary, only to be delivered from the line of disappointed punters who were told “it’s full” and sent straight up the stairs because I am Press. How my head will fit into the plane on the way home, I do not know. Let alone in my local supermarket.

I have a tiny locker, just big enough to be crammed full of press materials and festival information each day, and where I intend to store my flat shoes when I have to wear heels to anything serious. The Kiwi in me was momentarily concerned about recycling, as much of the gumf gets chucked, but thankfully today I found a massive dumpster denoted for paper. Into it I cheerfully threw the Xavier Dolan booklet, as I make no bones about my dislike of his pictures. I know he is talented and clever (ie. precocious) but I don’t enjoy his work, and I will not be seeing Lawrence Anyways. I am sure it will go on to win a prize and I will lose favour with liberal, arthouse cinema goers across the land. Well, tant pis.

Most importantly, thanks to very little sleep in Paris and a full-on day yesterday, I slept brilliantly but woke conveniently at 6:30am, got up and made it into town in time to stand in many wrong places until I was directed to the line where the press enter the Grand Theatre Lumiere. This is where the special screenings take place each evening (ie. where the famous people step off the red carpet) but each morning those of us with badges vie for a seat to see that night’s flick. This morning was the best possible introduction to any film festival, with Jacques Audiard’s incredible Rust & Bone. I will review it in due course, and with any luck we’ll get it for the NZFF, but suffice it to say I was entranced by the leads (Marion Cotillard – whom I admit to criticising for being “in everything” but I now take that back because she’s so bloody marvellous I wouldn’t mind seeing her in everything) and Matthias Schoenaerts (who I’d seen before in Black Book but is largely unknown and will be massive after this film). Anyway, I wept twice and loved every moment.

Then a spot of lunch in the British Pavilion, chatted to a couple of short filmmakers over from Somerset, then trotted off to see the Woody Allen doco. This was the feature length theatrical version, but NZ’s recent World Cinema Showcase recently screened the 2-part TV version (all three and half hours of it). I haven’t laughed so hard in a long time, and it was lovely to be reminded of Woody’s considerable talents as a comic and actor, prior to the scandal, the dip in quality movies, and then the return to form with last year’s Cannes winner Midnight in Paris.

The film’s director came out front and said a few words, at which point you realise that “you’re in Cannes, baby”, and then a funny thing: I was seated behind this chap with a big head and boofy hair, muttering to myself “He’d better slump in his seat, otherwise I may have to say something” when suddenly he was introduced to the audience as Brett Ratner, exec producer (…of such works as X-Men and Prison Break..!). NOW I know where I am.

Well, more of the same tomorrow, no doubt. Until then…

Midnight in Paris

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star Times, 16th October 2011

The much maligned, undeniably talented, arguably self-indulgent Woody Allen may have taken some critical brickbats in recent years, but he shows no signs of quitting. Turning 76 this year, he has mercifully stopped casting himself as the romantic lead but he continues to produce witty scripts and spirited direction with admirable dedication.

Midnight in Paris begins like Allen’s other cliched love letters to cities other than his own Big Apple (think of the Mini Coopers and double-decker buses of the ill-fated Match Point). Here he moves his attentions from London to the City of Love and, like a lover, he tries to woo you in the opening frames with all the classic sights of a beautiful and romantic idyll – not for Allen the banlieues with their riots and burnt-out car carcasses.

Dopey Owen Wilson takes the Allen role as Gil, an American on holiday in Paris with fiancee Inez (Rachel McAdams, enjoyably uptight) and her interfering parents. Gil is a mediocre Hollywood screenwriter and a hopeless romantic, who takes a solo midnight stroll and climbs into a parallel universe that sees him drinking pastis with Hemingway (earnest in name and nature), getting editorial guidance from Gertrude Stein, and coming up with movie plots for Luis Bunuel. As improbable as this plot device is, the exercise in wish fulfilment is utterly charming and exciting in every way. With support from Marion Cotillard, Kathy Bates and Adrien Brody, Midnight in Paris also serves as a valuable lesson about longing for the Golden Age. Perhaps it’s a subtle hint that we should let go of Annie Hall and embrace the director’s new direction.

Allen is back on form with this latest example of pure, cinematic entertainment. As much as you may try to resist, he’ll charm you anyway.

Little White Lies

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star Times, 18th September 2011

A daring, long, one-shot opening scene in Little White Lies draws us straight into the gritty Parisian lives of a photogenic cast in this chamber piece of secrets, guilt and repressed angst. A Big Chill for the modern age (and his most personal film yet), it proves once again that Guillaume Canet, actor, writer and director of quality French drama such as Tell No One, has talent in spades.

Gathered at the hospital bedside of their critically injured friend Ludo, Max (Francois Cluzet in possibly a career best) convinces the gang not to forgo an annual retreat to his holiday home. There is the luminous Marie (Marion Cotillard) with her many lovers and seemingly carefree attitude; sleazy, well-meaning Eric; whiny Antoine who pines for his ex; and earnest Vincent, whose passion is for someone other than his wife. They arrive at the country idyll, baggage-laden with forced smiles, and slowly the mysteries unfold and recriminations begin to fly.

Canet had his cast live together on set in the days before filming, and the effect is very much of watching a gathering of old friends, who are at ease with one another but distinctly ill at ease in themselves. Theirs is a tangled, interweaving web of relationship and the slow unfolding of confusion, confession and unexpected revelations evokes Mike Leigh’s Secrets and Lies. Eschewing French melodrama’s penchant for slapstick but still retaining a wry sense of humour, the very long running time is justified by the film being absorbing from beginning to emotional end.

Don’t dream it’s over

Thoughts on Inception

(Spoiler alert – though frankly if you haven’t seen it by now, you’re presumably not going to)

If you haven’t seen Inception yet, just go.  Trust me.  Especially if you don’t go to the cinema regularly – hire a babysitter, get decent seats, and make sure you go to the bathroom beforehand.  And stop reading now – with this film, the less you know in advance, very much the better.

SO.  I saw the trailer months and months ago and I think I even did my involuntary quick-hand-clap-of-excitement the minute it said “From Christopher Nolan”, as Hans Zimmer’s wonderful bass soundtrack pounded my brain.  Here’s another example: Anyway, there were shots of cliff-edge cities crumbling into the sea, of Parisian cityscapes folding onto themselves, of backdrops exploding in slow motion while the characters sat, unscathed and oblivious, in the foreground.  Leonardo getting serious.  Joseph doing Matrix-style moves down a corridor.  That lovely Marion Cotillard from La Vie En Rose.  Awesome and exciting.

Months, and a whole heap of hype, later – Inception is so good I’ve seen it twice.  Not that I didn’t understand it the first time – remarkably (for me), I followed the story and its many, many layers and it totally clicked.  But the second viewing enabled me to capture every nuance, appreciate every line, as well as re-enjoy some of the more satisfying performances (Tom Hardy in the bar in Mombasa boasts some of the most natural acting I’ve seen in a long time; Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s acrobatics in the hotel have me in thrall every time).

For me, Inception‘s beauty is all about the concept.  Just as A Nightmare on Elm Street‘s brilliance lay in the fact we all have to fall asleep at some stage, Inception riffs on the various elements of the dream state – something every audience member can identify with (regardless of whether they might question the science of some of the assertions).  It’s true – dreams seem real when we’re in them, and it’s only when we wake up that we realise something was in fact strange.  Sure enough – the action in our dreams feels like it last hours when in reality we’re only asleep for minutes.  The film uses the mystery of our subconscious to great effect – poignantly in the notion that our bugbears will hijack our happiness or good intentions, and ingeniously when the people populating our dream treat us suspiciously the moment we (in the dream) sense that things aren’t quite as they should be.

The very notion of being able to enter someone’s dream, share that dream with others and communicate with them within the dream in full knowledge that it’s only a dream, is frankly mind-blowing.  Further concepts of pain and death within dreams have a basis in our existing experience (that if you die in a dream, you wake up in reality – but if you’re injured in a dream, your brain feels the pain just as intensely as if it were real, since the brain reads pain on an emotional level).

One key element is of course the dream-within-a-dream motif.  The fact that this is stretched further into not just a third, but a fourth sub-dream, makes this all the more fascinating.  On first viewing, I must admit to losing interest in the 4th level towards the end – the action in the snow scenes, necessarily slowed down to allow us to watch the progress within the other three dream levels, is purely perfunctory.  As, appropriately, is the central plot – Cillian Murphy has to change his mind, for himself (not suggested by others), and thus change the course of his future.  Considering the method by which this is achieved has to be so complex, it’s entirely right that the quest is straightforward.  But the other three levels are brilliant, and I gained great pleasure from my second viewing in terms of tracking the characters’ progress in each mini adventure.

Viewers will be divided over Leonardo DiCaprio’s role and performance, but I like him.  I heard a veteran screenwriter say recently that the most important thing is that we (the audience) connect and empathise with the protagonist.   Of course, we know this to be true, and I think this was well achieved over the course of the film’s two and a half hours.  Leonardo’s Dom Cobb can’t return to the US to see his children because of a slowly-revealed criminal charge.  In itself that’s not so interesting.  But Cobb is wanted for the murder of his wife Mal (the lovely Cotillard) who threw herself to her death because she believed she was still dreaming – and as we all know, if you die in a dream, you wake up.  The fact that Cobb carries the guilt of effectively leading her to that place where she could no longer discern dreaming from reality, is compelling and horrific.  We may bear him no ill-will for it, but we still want to see him set her, and himself, free.  The love story in the film is frequently beautiful in its rendering, and Cobb’s unrealistic idealism of his marriage ultimately redeemed by his admission that he can no longer see Mal with all her faults and complexities that made her real to him – hence his ability, finally, to let her go so he can return to reality and move on with his life.

I enjoyed some of the in-jokes (doubtless there are many I did not pick up).  Marion Cotillard is best known for her Oscar-winning role as Edith Piaf in La Vie en Rose, and the “wake-up” trigger song in Inception is Piaf’s “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien”.  It’s also nice when a director re-uses favourite cast members: Cillian Murphy (from Batman Begins and The Dark Knight) and of course Michael Caine (from the same).  He used Carrie-Anne Moss in Memento just after she had shot to stardom in The Matrix, echoes of which abound in this film.

Once again, Nolan has created a film that plays with memory (as in Memento) and riffs on perception (Insomnia and The Prestige), tying in spectacular special effects (many of which were done old-school, that is to say with specially constructed moving sets, rather than as CGI) with a meaningful, universally-accessible story and some entertaining performances.  The set-pieces are breathtaking in their execution (I could watch Joseph Gordon-Levitt leaping and floating around that hotel for hours), and the concept is thought-provoking and compelling.  Even after 148 minutes I didn’t want to wake up.

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