23 October 2020.
THE SINGING CLUB **1/2
Based on true events, this English dramedy is in the usual vein of sweet, entertaining films out of Britain, much like “The Calendar Girls” or “The Full Monty”. It tells the story of a group of military wives waiting for their men to come home from the war in Afghanistan. Since they are all living on the military base, they decide to do something to get their minds off the wait for their absent loved ones.
There is the bossy, rigid wife, played by Kristen Scott-Thomas, who has lost her son in another military conflict. There is another, an easygoing, less organized wife who is having problems with her daughter. There is a shy, young newly-wed who has just moved to the base. Plus all the others who are reticent yet eager to find a mutual activity as a diversion. When they come upon the idea of forming a choir, the first two are often at loggerheads about ways to forge ahead.
That part of the film is at times repetitive and clichéd, but their caring for the group, their enthusiasm and their different talents begin to gel and finally make for a rousing finale. It’s once again all about what women can achieve together. In fact the whole film is written, directed and crewed by women, a trend that is growing in leaps and bounds in the industry, as well as in many other fields. Times are indeed changing.
YALDA, LA NUIT DU PARDON ***1/2 (vo Farsi)
In a country that has been buckling under an oppressive regime for far too long, this film shows the insidious effects of years of fear and paranoia through a lavish TV reality-show that brings together accused murderers and the victims’ families for a possible pardon. A gruesome ritual, as the accused are usually destined to be hanged, but if they are pardoned the victims’ families usually end up with substantial ‘blood money’.
Iranian director Massoud Bakhshi gives this macabre story a very modern yet personal treatment, as he zeroes in on the accused 22 year-old girl (brilliantly played by Sadaf Ascari), who has supposedly killed her much older husband. The daughter of her deceased husband (played by the elegant Behnaz Jafari) holds the girl’s life in her hands as they face each other on the TV show, during Yalda, a feast of the longest night of the year. There is the obvious difference of class between the two, beyond their backgrounds and emotional resentments. And you the audience are invited to play judge and jury.
The sleek decor, streamlined TV control rooms, modern buildings, cars, and traffic could be anywhere in the world, but the tension is both very Iranian and universal, making for a powerful film about desperate secrets, lies, revenge and maybe pardon.
Winner of innumerable awards including from Sundance, the film will be showing at the Grütli Cinémas.
ADIEU LES CONS ***1/2 (vo French)
A desperate, depressive computer specialist who has just been demoted; a young woman who finds out she doesn’t have much time to live and wants to find the child she was forced to give up at age 15; and a blind archivist who finds a bit of warmth with these two desperados. None of them have known each other before their destinies collide here.
Albert Dupontel’s latest film turns out to be a touching, chaotic chase that brings these three lonely people together for various strange reasons, and it’s something that should not be missed.
Alongside its somber premise and hectic pace humor and heart is there – in the acting, scenario, wonderfully warm colors and moments of surprising gentleness.
Dupontel could be considered the intellectual bad boy of French cinema. His films are often violent, bitter takes on society and the individual struggling within it, but this one has an absurd spirit (with a tip-of-the-hat to the Monty Python gang) that raises it out of the blues. Much of its charm is due to the lovely and talented Virginie Efira, who scintillates in every role she takes, and here she will also break your heart. César take note.
THE ASSISTANT *1/2
Absolutely nothing happens in this spare film about a young, meek junior assistant working for a movie executive. We’re in her impersonal office (in New York?), watching her answer calls, make coffee, order lunch for co-workers and the boss, while she tries to exist in this sterile atmosphere. We never see her boss, except for maybe once in the elevator. Or was that a famous actor? She listens in on conversations, but nothing really changes. The one interesting moment is when she decides to go for help to the office counsellor. Nothing comes of that somewhat animated exchange. Director Kitty Green is trying to tell us of the unfair treatment of low-level employees, especially women…what else is new?
You really don’t need to spend your time and money on dullness…
ABOUT ENDLESSNESS * (vo Danish)
Here is another miserable film from the critics’ darling, director Roy Andersson of Sweden. Most clichés you know of Nordic countries are here in Andersson’s usual vignettes of the cold loneliness, absurdity and misery of life. Dull grey, yellowish, sick green hues; short tales of misery; repetitive reminders of the idiocies of life. You either love or hate his filmmaking.
For me, his work is a pretentious stamp on the marvels that can be fine cinema, yet many critics and festival juries fall for this ‘emperor’s new clothes’ time and again. Some call him a poet. I call him a charlatan.
His films are so depressive they make you want to shoot yourself.
THE GRÜTLI CINEMAS
Do not miss the excellent retrospective of Sally Potter films from October 21-November 3.
Some of her best works are ORLANDO, based on a Virginia Wolff novel; THE TANGO LESSON; YES; and THE PARTY, with Kristin Scott-Thomas. Make sure to buy tickets in advance as they go very quickly.
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.