6 October 2017.
A great deal of FINE cinema coming at you this week – get ready for a film marathon!
VICTORIA AND ABDUL (Confident Royal) ***
Here’s a tender biopic on Queen Victoria’s last years, made sweet by a young, charming Indian clerk. Stephen Frears, of such excellent and varied films as “My Beautiful Laundrette”, “Dangerous Liaisons” and “The Queen”, directs the incomparable Judy Dench as old Victoria coming to life through her keen interest in a lowly Indian brought over to present her with a medal. Her fascination for him creates turbulence in her family, her court and the politics of her country.
Based on the diaries of Abdul Karim, Frears touches on the cruelties of the British Empire, Victoria’s problems with her children, especially ‘Bertie’ her heir, the snobbish racism of the times, and the intricacies of court life. It is amusing, touching and in the end, quite painful. Though Frears is a master at mixing all those elements, he could have spared some of the sentimentality at the end.
LUMIÈRE! L’aventure commence **** (vo French)
This is essential viewing for any true cinephile, for this brilliant and charming documentary is about the very origins of cinema. It’s based on the restored collection of almost 1500 film clips of only 50 seconds each of the first-ever films by the Lumière brothers who started the art of cinematography in Lyon in 1895.
The ever-passionate Director of the Cannes Film Festival, Thierry Frémaux, has chosen a delightful selection from that collection for this documentary, beginning with the famous exit of workers from a factory, followed by a horse-drawn carriage. He narrates each clip with detailed interest and great amusement, drawing our eyes to different action sequences in the mini 50-second clips. Only 50-seconds, for that was the time limit in those first cinematic experiments.
From approaching trains to Chamonix’s mountains, from the canals of Venice to slapstick comedy, the Lumière family, and Egypt’s pyramids, they are all filmed with astounding ingenuity and freshness.
When he presides in Cannes, Frémaux seems to be everywhere, introducing a film in one section, zooming to another hall to introduce a bevy of top directors, or bringing a film’s cast and crew up on stage before the screening. Always relaxed, always knowledgeable about every aspect of cinema. I once asked him, “Mr. Frémaux, are you 10 people?!”
During Cannes 2015, he and Bertrand Tavernier, the great French film director and fellow-Lyonnais, sat on the side of the huge Lumière stage and sailed through a wonderful conversation while narrating a similar collection of the early Lumière works for the 120th anniversary of cinema. That was live and electrifying, here he has put it down for posterity.
This is a great gift of nostalgia, honoring the genius of early cinema. A film to savour and view again and again.
(Showing at the Grutli Cinemas)
UN BEAU SOLEIL INTERIEUR ***1/2 (vo French)
More French than this, you die (‘plus français, tu meurs’). It starts off with a graphic lovemaking scene, has all the hallmarks of Parisian life – restaurants, galleries, detailed conversations, full immersion in all things French. Intense and wonderful, it’s about a woman artist who is separated from her husband, has a 10-year-old daughter who is not around, and is hopelessly looking for a meaningful relationship.
Intimate and introspective, it exemplifies today’s perplexing men/women relationships, which seem to be a continual cat-and-mouse game of unsaid words, innuendos and interrupted emotions. It is frustrating yet deliciously real and perceptive, co-written and directed by the veteran French director Claire Denis.
Binoche is luminous and excellent as the bewildered woman, as are all in the supporting cast, including a few top stars in cameo roles. Gerard Depardieu finishes off this superb reality show with his usual flourish and ease. Here’s an unmissable!
(Also at the Grutli Cinemas)
HAPPY END *** (vo French)
Austrian director Michael Haneke, of such multi award-winning but difficult films as “The White Ribbon”, “Amour” or “The Piano Teacher”, is back with yet another austere, bourgeois family drama. Austere and drab, it seems, until the film advances to a shocking yet logical finale.
He is actually continuing with the same family and actors – Jean-Louis Trintignant and Isabelle Huppert – whom he portrayed in “Amour”. But here he adds a delicate, lost little girl, a father/brother, and a loser-son to the equation.
The acting is as always tightly wound, the cinematography as grim as his usual theme of icy family ties, and the subject is as deep and unctuous as mud. That’s the power of Haneke – the ugly truth of life. Sometimes his films are brilliantly painful and sometimes just empty of any warmth.
This one is a mixture of the two, and his reality hurts. Like a fist in the stomach. One has to wonder what sort of a family life Haneke had…
BLADE RUNNER 2049 *
Ridley Scott’s original “Blade Runner” from 1982 became a futuristic cult classic – of huge philosophical, aesthetic and mood proportions. It was a milestone of cinematographic excellence in its genre.
So why would Scott want to designate someone else to create a continuation? One should let sleeping dogs lie. Why touch a masterpiece?
Unfortunately, director Denis Villeneuve’s attempt falls flat in this grim, dystopian view of the future. The attractive new replicant-hunter, played by Ryan Gosling, cannot save this film which is too long (164 minutes!), too loud and far too confusing. And an old Harrison Ford adds nothing to the muddled equation. None of the characters really comes to life or holds one’s interest, and it lacks any mystery or spirituality. Go back and see the original instead.
Superb **** Very Good *** Good ** Mediocre * Miserable – no stars
Neptune Ravar Ingwersen reviews film extensively for publications in Switzerland. She views 4 to 8 films a week and her aim is to sort the wheat from the chaff for readers.