There has been much discussion in the circles in which I move about the quantity of films released to local cinemas. Not only are there too many films coming out every week — too many for each one to generate much heat at any rate — but the ones that are coming out aren’t always the right ones. Smaller distributors are pushing everything they have into the system regardless of their potential and some of the majors — with bigger marketing budgets and overheads to worry about — are ditching their arthouse and mid-range titles and pushing them straight to home video.
[pullquote]Who says Americans can’t do Shakespeare? Nonsense.[/pullquote]At the same time, multiplex screens are full of big budget commercial gambles, with box office estimates based on local history and the hope that Twilight-like lightning might strike twice. See which ones in the list below fit into which category. (Clue: if your film has no hi-res English language poster available online and your only official website is in Japanese, maybe you can’t really support it in NZ cinemas.)
Benoît Jacquot’s Farewell, My Queen goes behind the scenes of Louis XVI and — more specifically — Marie Antoinette’s court during the dark days of the revolution as the regime tottered and fell. We see these events from the point of view of Her Majesty’s book reader, a young servant played by Léa Seydoux. Initially besotted by the Queen (Diane Kruger), her faith is shaken by the revelations of corruption, waste and — intriguingly — Antoinette’s relationship with the duchesse de Polignac (Virginie Ledoyen).
Time to clear the summer holiday backlog so that the next time it rains you’ll have an idea of what you should go and see. There’s plenty to choose from — for all ages — and there’s a bunch more to come too.
Best thing on at the moment is Martin Scorsese’s first “kids” film, Hugo, but it took a second viewing for confirmation. It is a gorgeous love letter to cinema, a plea for decent archives, a champion of the latest technology — all Marty’s current passions — but it’s also about something more, something universal.
Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) is a little orphan ragamuffin hiding in the walls of a great Paris railway station, winding the clocks and trying to repair a broken automaton that he believes contains a message from his dead father (Jude Law). While stealing parts from the station toy shop — and its sad and grumpy old owner — Hugo meets the old man’s god-daughter (Chloë Grace Moretz) and between them they try and unravel the mystery of the automaton and why Papa Georges (Ben Kingsley) is so unhappy. Hugo is a moving story about repair — the kind of redemption that comes when you don’t write off and discard broken machines — or broken people.
I got some feedback on this column the other day. Apparently I “write well” but I “don’t like much”. Perhaps I am a little jaded after four and a half years in these pages but I am pleased to report that this weekend I saw five films on your behalf and enjoyed all of them. Yes, all of them.
In the first scene of The American, George Clooney does something so un-Clooney-like that audience members beside me audibly gasped. He plays a hit-man who might be called Jack or Edward but is probably neither.
After narrowly escaping an attempt on his own life he holes up in picturesque Castel del Monte in the mountains of central Italy. As a single-minded professional with no ties, Jack could be the brother of Clooney’s corporate assassin in Up in the Air and like that film it takes unexpected feelings for a beautiful woman to make him realise how empty his life is.
Directed by famous photographer Anton Corbijn (The Joshua Tree etc), every frame of The American is luscious and perfectly composed, Mr. Clooney makes this stuff look easy and if you’re in the market for a quality Euro-art-house Bourne-type thriller then look no further.
I watch a lot of movies in this job and this week I’d like to start with a couple of important tips that will help keep your cinema-going experience in top shape. Firstly, ice cream. Avoid tubs of ice cream if possible because you have to look down every scoop to make sure you’re not scooping ice cream into your lap and every time you look down you miss something important on the screen. This is particularly important for subtitled films.
Secondly, when your local cinema schedules an arthouse film that hasn’t been previously programmed by the Film Festival, ask yourself why that might be before committing to a ticket. Case in point: Leaving (aka Partir) a modern day updating of the Lady Chatterley story starring Kristin Scott Thomas. She plays a well-off married woman named Suzanne who makes the tragic mistake of falling for the Spanish builder who is working on her house. In short order she realises that her marriage (though materially successful) is loveless, leaves her snobby surgeon husband (Yvan Attal) and the kids to shack up with her new lover (Sergi López) and tries to start a new life without all the bourgeois home comforts.
It seems to me that every French film that makes it to New Zealand is about the same thing: the clash of cultures between the well-off, culturally sophisticated but somehow not quite real, middle-class and the salt-of-the-earth working people, and the dangers of the two mixing. Sometimes those dangers play themselves out comedically (The Valet, Welcome to the Sticks), sometimes dramatically (Conversations with My Gardener) and sometimes tragically as we have here. And Leaving is tragic in more ways than one.