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21 January, 2007

A week of films

Eight days, six films, four at the cinema.  I'm slowing down....

'El Laberinto del Fauno' ('Pan's Labyrinth', if you must use the inaccurate, English title – I'm not sure why that irritates me, but really; the film simply has nothing to do with Pan).
A fairy tale for adults? Perhaps, in the sense that classical European fairy tales were thinly-veiled allegories about violence and politics. This was very violent in places; most instances were appropriate in context, though I'm not sure the 'sewing' scene was strictly necessary.
Initially released via arts cinemas in the UK, word of mouth seems to have caught the attention of mainstream cinemas, and the film is still attracting growing audiences (it's already no.114 in the IMDb all-time top 250). I'd be pleased to add to the effect by strongly recommending you see it, though definitely not with children.

'A History of Violence'
I've never been a fan of David Cronenberg. I have absolutely no objections to sex and violence in films, but Cronenberg's use of such elements is gratuitous: the very definition of p*rnography. 'A History of Violence' was characteristic in places (one instance of utterly irrelevant full-frontal nudity was particularly annoying), but on the whole, the story and execution were good, and I enjoyed the film. Though I didn't think it was as insightful as other reviewers have suggested, it's certainly far superior to the standard 'Hollywood' treatment of such material.

'Children of Men'
Alongside 'El Laberinto del Fauno', this is one of the best films I've seen recently. The acting, story and execution were all excellent, and I needn't comment further on them, but I was particularly impressed by the setting: a very credible depiction of near-future Britain, somewhat chillingly matching my own perceptions of where social surveillance and anti-immigrant hysteria are heading. The impression was of the real 2006 world aged into the future. For example, the cars looked slightly different to those of 2006 and featured proximity-detectors with head-up displays, but they looked like the natural progression of contemporary car design rather than being 'futuristic'.
I'm not sure whether non-Brits would quite appreciate the impact of seeing dramatic events in repurposed familiar (to Brits; not tourist-famous) locations. A key sequence depicts military-vs-'insurgents' combat, the results of which have become familiar in genuine news footage from Iraq, but this is in mainland Britain; sleepy Bexhill-on-Sea, in fact.
The film would certainly reward repeat viewings. Many of the background details, if not necessarily advancing the plot, fleshed out the fictional world and were simply interesting. There were also a couple of remarkable continuous shots, which apparently involved substantial technical innovation. In context they were impressive without being obtrusive, but I'd like to study them again.

'Marie Antoinette'
I'm one of the few people I know who liked Sofia Coppola's previous film, 'Lost In Translation', but this was far less substantial. The use of an Eighties pop soundtrack as a comment on the young queen's 'party' lifestyle might have been a good idea in theory, but it's a rather insubstantial, obvious device, and not really worth pursuing. Similarly, one of the defining points in Marie Antoinette's place in history, being misquoted as having said that starving peasants should 'eat cake', was trivialised as 'tabloid journalism'. Another key moment, her execution, was omitted altogether. Kirsten Dunst's portrayal of the queen as an occasionally well-meaning Californian airhead failed to carry the film, and failed to illustrate whether Marie Antoinette was a victim of her circumstances (as the cited source material apparently suggests) or genuinely decadent. I'm not sure whether I'd even call this 'history lite', and I came away with no greater insight into the person or era; the film just didn't seem to say anything.
Coppola had an unrivaled opportunity to film actually at Versailles; it's a pity more wasn't made of it.

'Paths of Glory'
Stanley Kubrick's 1957 'breakthrough' film is certainly a powerful comment on the ludicrous concept of 'glory' in WWI, in which men were discarded by generals as mere game pieces. It's certainly notable as a Hollywood film which unrelentingly suppresses any hope. However, I'm not entirely sure why it's ranked within the IMDb all-time top 50 – it's good, but not that good. I suppose it's been influential on other films, which might explain its supposed 'must-see' status.

'The History Boys'
Reviewed separately.


I'm no Cronenberg fan, but A History Of Violence is terrific.....and Maria Bello naked is always relevant! :-)

Posted by Jan B at January 21, 2007 06:40 PM
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