REVIEW: 45 Years

26 12 2015

45 YearsAndrew Haigh’s “45 Years” provided me a joyously maddening experience the likes of which I can honestly say I don’t think I had felt since “The Wolf of Wall Street” back in 2013. As these movies rolled into their conclusion, I thought I had completely made up my mind about them after seeing a relatively homogenous product throughout.

Then, a brilliant final shot flashes before the credits, and I am left reeling. Given a new picture with which to reframe everything, I have no choice but to dwell on it much longer than I had anticipated. Haigh’s film has the benefit of being literally half the length of Scorsese’s, so the bait-and-switch feels a little less frustrating. But what to make of a film that feels relatively monotone for 90 minutes only to crescendo out of the blue?

I don’t think this qualifies as a “spoiler” to discuss the close of “45 Years” so heavily; this stunning shot is not any kind of plot twist. It simply casts the rest of the film’s events in a much different light, and it does so with forceful impact.

Most of “45 Years” unfolds like a chamber play between the greying Mercer couple, Kate (Charlotte Rampling) and Geoff (Tom Courtenay). His declining health prompts the celebration of their anniversary at a rather odd interval – the 45th year – and things only getting stranger with a bombshell revelation that comes in the post the week of the event. This news, seemingly simple, sends shockwaves through their long marriage that have profound, lasting implications.

The inciting event is nothing too spectacular or far-fetched, and it only serves to inspire a muted, grounded reaction from the principal cast. Haigh stands back and lets the camera observe them taking in the ramifications. This has a particularly haunting effect when following Rampling, whose character recalls Jimmy Stewart’s Scottie from “Vertigo” in her determined wandering. The tone gets established early and remains consistent throughout, almost allowing the film to lull the viewer into a certain complacency…

…only to receive the jolt of the final shot, carried by Rampling in an extraordinarily devastating fashion. I feel like I could watch this scene on YouTube again and again, and part of me wonders how much I really need the hour-and-a-half vamp of “45 Years” to receive the gut punch at the same strength. B+3stars

F.I.L.M. of the Week (August 16, 2013)

16 08 2013

As the summer begins to wrap up, it might be a good time to squeeze in a viewing of Francois Ozon’s steamy “Swimming Pool,” my selection for the “F.I.L.M. of the Week.”  While this scintillating thriller makes the most sense for a seasonal watch, I’m fully convinced it could stand up in any of the other nine months of the year.  It’s a completely engaging film with a plot that will envelop you entirely as it prepares for a killer final act.

The action begins when Charlotte Rampling’s Sarah Morton, a British mystery author beginning to hit a creative wall, settles into her boss’ French country house to get her creative juices flowing.  Just as she begins to find enough quietude in the locale to write a new book, Sarah gets an unexpected house guest: her publisher’s daughter, the young and capricious Julie (Ludivine Sagnier).  The two mix like oil and water as the crotchety Sarah refuses to entertain any of Julie’s whims.

However, as we dive deeper into “Swimming Pool,” we begin to see that Sarah is deriving a sort of perverse inspiration from Julie’s various romantic exploits.  As she begins to observe, the real-life drama begins to spill onto the page … or perhaps it’s the other way around?  Ozon throws the boundary between reality and fiction into complete question towards the film’s finale, one that leaves us reeling for days.

That conclusion would not work, though, were it not for Ozon’s tight and precise direction throughout “Swimming Pool.”  He makes every moment build tension until it bursts by the end.  It also helps that Rampling and Sagnier are quite a devious duo, playing with and off each other in brilliant ways.  Combining all their power makes for one refreshingly original and captivating thriller.

REVIEW: Young & Beautiful

14 08 2013

Jeune & JolieCannes Film Festival – Official Competition

After both years I’ve gone to Cannes, I have suffered painful withdrawals from the world’s best curated art cinema.  I find myself wanting to revisit these fascinating movies I’ve just seen but am forced to wait months on end before they see Stateside release.  (I’m still waiting to get a second helping of “The Hunt,” my favorite film of the 2012 festival.)

Strangely enough, the movie from Cannes 2013 I’ve been most anxious to see again was not my favorite film of the festival, James Gray’s immaculate “The Immigrant.”  I find myself thinking quite often about Francois Ozon’s odd “Young & Beautiful,” flaws and all.  It’s a film I can’t wait to see again because it’s so unconventional and refreshingly different.

From the moment I left the orchestra of the Lumiere Theater on that rainy Thursday afternoon, I have been trying to figure out how Francois Ozon made the peculiar concoction that is “Young & Beautiful” work at all.  I am even more perplexed as to how it managed to entrance and beguile me so fully.  Because, quite frankly, it walks a rather fine line between being provocative and being offensive.

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