Film reviews

Hands on the wheel
Ten, dir. Abbas Kiarostami.

The celebrated Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami has a long-standing preoccupation with the car as existential metaphor. His latest film, Ten, could be taking place in many cities, even yours. It is made up of ten conversations, filmed entirely with two dashboard-mounted cameras inside a car, driven by a woman over a period of what appears to be a couple of weeks. She is smart, well off and attractive, and has a strangely opaque personality. Three of the trips are with her son, who is about 12. The film pivots around their conversations. She has divorced his father some time ago and is now in a new marriage.

She wants him to understand and accept her version of events, and he is utterly determined not to. Their dialogues are gruelling to witness. He displays a certain amount of misogyny, but his amazingly convincing performance transcends simple analysis. She tells him that she was a ‘stagnant pond’ when married to his father and that she is now ‘a flowing river’. It doesn’t wash with her son, or with us. What is uncomfortable, and Ten is a supremely uncomfortable film, is that you are placed somehow at a remove from empathy, without the sense of its reality being diminished. The sovereignty she exercises as the driver is the obvious yet dynamic metaphor for her life’s trajectory in its shifts and uncertainties. She is in control of the car and yet she is always being told where to go and how to drive by those she ferries around: her son, her sister, a jilted friend, a religious old woman and a prostitute. The intimacy of the car’s interior becomes a sort of trap for her passengers, who all seem to be dying to get out as soon as they can.

She asks the prostitute the usual questions, but doesn’t like the answers. Our driver still sees her own maverick status as capable of resolution on her terms. The kinds of compromise and defeat represented by her other female passengers are certainly not what she is seeking.
Anna Karenina in a motor, she maintains her forward motion by driving in circles. Petrol is very cheap in Iran.

Lucille Hughes

Ode to film
Kill Bill Vol. 1, dir. Quentin Tarantino.

Quentin Tarantino describes his latest film as a ‘duck press’ of the cinematic and musical influences that he’s absorbed over the past 35 years. Samurai serials, spaghetti westerns, Shaw Brothers Hong Kong martial arts films of the ’70s, blaxploitation films, The Green Hornet and Japanese anime all explicitly and self-consciously appear on the screen—not as references or allusions, but overtly and directly. It’s not as if Tarantino is paying homage to his masters. He wants to be them, all of them, all at once.

Kill Bill is not only broken into two ‘volumes’ (the second film will appear some time next year), it’s broken into chapters as well. Each gives Tarantino his chance to play with a new toy—not just in genre terms, but also in terms of the cast and crew. For the ‘samurai’ sequences Tarantino shot in Japan. For the Chinese martial arts sequences (which apparently come to the fore in Volume 2) he shot in China. He cast the very actors who appeared in the films that influenced him, sometimes as the same character. For example, Sony Chiba’s character Hattori Hanzo from Shadow Warriors. The anime sequence was produced by Japanese company Production IG of Ghost in the Shell fame.

While paying his respects, he also juxtaposes a samurai sword fight with flamenco, combines a spaghetti western score from 1972 with anime, and has a Japanese girl-band version of surf guitar. He includes fragments of Bernard Herman, Nancy Sinatra doing a Sony Bono song, Isaac Hays, rockabilly and German neo-lounge music. This is one of the things I like most about Tarantino. He loves to pick up the abandoned and unwanted pieces of popular culture—actors, music, styles, genres—and places them, just so, in ways that make us fall in love with them again. Just ask John Travolta.

And, of course, the film is violent. The duck press metaphor, with its images of crushed bones, mangled flesh and dripping blood, is all too appropriate in some ways. As with everything else in the film, the violence swings from deadly earnest to Monty Python absurd. For all that, there’s a curious stillness to the film. This is partly to do with the feeling that each line, each shot, each scene is a pose being struck. It’s as if the ‘action’ of the film takes place not on screen, but between the references, allusions and appropriations that swarm throughout the film. More than that, however, the film is oddly formalist: it’s ‘about’ colour and framing and composition more than anything to do with story and action. I’ve seen the film twice—I’m still not sure if I actually enjoyed it—and I’m thinking about seeing it a third time. And that’s a lot more than I can say for most of the films I’ve seen recently.

Allan James Thomas

Too cruel
Intolerable Cruelty, dir. Joel Coen.

This is an attempt by the Coen Brothers to make an unashamedly mainstream Hollywood flick, a romantic comedy, and one is left wondering: Oh Brother, why did they bother?

The film opens promisingly. In a scene reminiscent—in its unsettling humour—of the abduction scene in the Coens’ master-piece Fargo, Donovan Donaly (Geoffrey Rush) arrives home to discover his wife in company with the pool cleaner. The Donalys don’t have a pool. The situation turns nasty—but it’s nothing a handgun, a spiky TV award and a Polaroid camera can’t fix. Sadly, these are not the main protagonists
—just pre-title sequence titbits.

Miles Massey (George Clooney) is a hot-shot marital lawyer, and author of the impenetrable ‘Massey Pre-nup’. The story charts his infatuation with opponent-turned-client Marylin Rexroth (Catherine Zeta-Jones), who is trying to engineer the perfect snare for a rich and stupid husband. Their relationship is a pretty tame rollercoaster ride, with some excruciating throwaway lines along the way, and unfortunately the ride has well and truly petered out before the film does.

Successful Hollywood films of this genre rely on the audience identifying with and investing sympathy in the characters in a well practiced, conventional way.

Where your sympathies lie in Coen films has been one of their most unconventional and rewarding mysteries. Sadly, Intolerable Cruelty is far too light and cheaply written to carry the weight of the Coen Brothers’ style.

The film reads like it was made in a great hurry, with an undeveloped script and badly rehearsed actors. It’s a sloppy piece of craft—something light for everyone to do between other projects. Zeta-Jones seems bored by the whole exercise, and the cinematography of Roger Deakins is in turns insipid and treacly, a surprise considering the stunning work he has done with the Coens on recent outings.
Not intolerably cruel, just an intolerable disappointment.

Tim Metherall

Human odyssey
In This World, dir. Michael Winterbottom.

In This World is an unusually important film. Winterbottom has made a road movie for a time in history that has forgotten something essential about the human condition.

Jamal (Jamal Udin Torabi) and his cousin Enayat (Enyatullah Jumaudin) are displaced Afghan men living in Pakistan. They are not in any immediate fear for their lives—they are not in an unusually precarious political position (relatively speaking). Jamal and Enayat are what most people in comfortable circumstances would call ‘economic refugees’. They search less for liberty than for a roof and a means to feed their families. And it is this very fact that makes Winterbottom’s film so politically tough and revealing. He explores with real acumen the differences as well as the similarities between economic and political freedom.

In This World follows the perilous attempt of Jamal and Enayat to get ‘illegally’ from Peshawar to London. Travelling across country through Pakistan, Iran and Turkey (the old silk route), the film’s protagonists are never in control of their journey. They are shot at while crossing freezing mountain passes, threatened at border crossings in languages they don’t speak, knocked about endlessly in the backs of trucks and forced into shipping containers to cross huge stretches of water. Jamal and Enayat are exploited by strangers, cared for by strangers, and misunderstood by most they come into contact with. Their journey is absolutely brutalising.

Winterbottom employed non-actors and shot In This World with hand-held digital cameras in available light. It has the look and feel of a documentary, and in many ways feels closer to an historical document than to a narrative fiction. Compounding that feeling is the fact that Jamal Udin Torabi, the actor, snuck into the UK on the wrap of filming—but was not granted refugee status and must leave Britain before he turns 18. The characters are beautifully drawn, presumably by a combination of the writer, Tony Grisoni, Winterbottom and the actors themselves. They are not heroic martyrs. They are real young men, full of petty angers, silly jokes, a desire for new sneakers and a love for their families.

In This World will not reach a huge audience. It is too politically risky and formally brave for that. But thank goodness there are directors willing to travel the road so rarely seen by those of us already living in the comfort so many seek.

Siobhan Jackson

 

 

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