Monday, 10 December 2012

'Sightseers', 'Amour': review round-up, plus Special Ben Wheatley Interview Podcast!

Quick update with a couple of short reviews, but first I wanted to flag up the fact that the latest Splendor Cinema podcast is an interview with 'Sightseers' and 'Kill List' director Ben Wheatley. iTunes subscribers can get that now, whilst it will take a few days before it's uploaded to sound cloud (and streamable from this blog).

The interview was recorded during a Q+A I conducted with Wheatley following a rare screening of his debut feature 'Down Terrace' at Brighton's new cinema Duke's @ Komedia. It was the first such event hosted at the new venue and I was honoured to be able to host it. During the Q+A, the director talks about all three of his already released features as well as next year's 'A Field in England' and a few others besides.

Anyway. Reviews.

'Sightseers' - Dir. Ben Wheatley (15)
The pitch-black humour of this British comedy - about a resolutely ordinary, working-class couple on a caravanning holiday around Yorkshire who become serial killers - will come as no surprise to those familiar with the directors other films. 'Sightseers' finds Wheatley's by now traditional mix of the mundane and the ultra-violent, all with a low-key, sardonic sensibility. It's a film in which people's heads are staved in with visceral, cover-your-eyes detail only for the perpetrators to bemoan that their ghastly crime has "ruined the tram museum" for them now. Other gems in a smart and quotable screenplay include "he's a pig in clothes, Chris" and "he's not a human being, he's a Daily Mail reader"! It's a terrifically funny hour and a half that should build a lasting following over the years to come, in no small part due to the performances of co-writers Alice Lowe and Steve Oram, who create a memorable screen duo.

Like the two Ben Wheatley films that preceded it, 'Sightseers' could appear cold, cynical and nihilistic to some. However, the unease the director makes you feel at each killing, quickly making you question each knee-jerk laugh, shows to my mind a sort of humanism that elevates the material even further. The characters themselves maybe glib about killing and dismissive of their victims, but Wheatley's handling of each act is certain to have you torn awkwardly between horror and laughter - with no act of violence seeming to lack consequence (on friends and loved ones, if not the happy murderers).

'Amour' - Dir. Michael Haneke (12A)
Michael Haneke's previous Palme d'Or winning film film, 'The White Ribbon', was one of my favourites of that year. And though his follow-up also snagged that prestigious prize, 'Amour' is not in the same weight class - either in the way it's been made or in terms of narrative. It's a smaller film with a more intimate feel and a subject matter that - whilst huge in that it deeply effects each and every one of us - feels much more personal. As such the movie is fittingly filmed around one location - several rooms of a nice Parisian apartment - and features only a half-dozen actors, focussing for the most part around only two: an elderly couple hauntingly played by Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva.

It's an accomplished film, perhaps slightly over long, but boasting terrific lead performances and painting a very complex and non-judgemental picture of both a terminally ill woman wishing to die and her distraught, occasionally rash husband - who, in one tough scene, is driven so angry by her refusal to take food that he strikes her frail and immobile body. Yet this is overall a story about love, or rather which seems to redefine love or at least view it through a different lens. It's the final days of a couple who, it seems safe to assume, have lead happy and successful lives together, and yet we focus on a man caring for his sick wife and dealing with uncaring nurses and unwanted visitors (including the couple's demanding daughter, played by Isabelle Huppert). Haneke seems to be saying this is what love is, that everything else is perhaps the build up to this the greatest test of affection and, in a sense, romance.

It's a film called love in which, at least as far as I can recall, nobody says "I love you" or shows anything like passion. But 'Amour' is unmistakably a love story. Even if it's a troubling and depressing one without a solitary shred of hope! A terrific film, and an important one, but the scope and technical prowess of Haneke's previous instant classic (perhaps unfairly) casts an inescapable shadow over this more modest endeavour.

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