Category: Uncategorized

Two days, one night

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Belgium’s double Palme d’Or winners Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne make films that on the surface are very simple. They tell tales of working people dealing with disruptions to their everyday lives, often brought on by economic hardship. It’s the relationships that tell the story: how fragile lives are, how deep the bonds of family and friendship lie, and what lengths people will go to to survive when their worlds are threatened. I love their films, it’s this simplicity that makes them so watchable.

Two Nights, One Day is the first of the brothers’ films to feature a big name star: Marion Cotillard. She plays Sandra, a factory worker who returns from leave to find out she’s been made redundant after her colleagues voted to keep their bonuses instead of her job. One of her fellow workers persuades the boss to hold the vote again, but with all but two people voting against her, there’s scant hope that the result will change. Sandra has been battling depression, hence the time off, and it takes everything she’s got not to just give up. But with the support of her husband and the knowledge of how tough things will be without her income, she straightens her shoulders and, with the promise of a second vote the following Monday, spends the weekend visiting each of her colleagues in turn to try to change their minds.

Cotillard puts in a sensitive and vulnerable performance, far from the glamorous roles we’re used to seeing her in. In fact, she spends most of the film in a sweaty vest. Her portrayal of Sandra is just broken enough, full of despair but all too aware of what will happen if she gives in. It’s a humiliating situation for all involved, and we feel that intensely. Everyone is struggling: there’s guilt, greed and shame here, but also, crucially, some flashes of human kindness. This is how real people are affected by a broken economy. This is how they react when their worlds are threatened. This is how we all react.

The real beauty of Two Nights, One Day, as with all the Dardenne’s films, is its stillness. That’s not to say there isn’t tension here, or drama – the final scenes had me holding my breath – but it’s the quiet moments that tell the real story. These are people’s lives, they’re struggling with things the way most of us do – with grit, resilience and a sense of inevitability. Shit happens: you deal with it and keep going. This is wonderful, stirring stuff.

 

Chef

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If you’re looking for a rip-roaring thriller or some cutting edge social commentary, you won’t find it in Chef. There’s not much sex and violence either. What you will find, however, is a funny, good-hearted film about making lemonade out of life’s lemons that will fill a couple of hours quite pleasantly.

As well as taking the lead role, Jon Favreau wrote and directed Chef, taking a bit of time out from directing Hollywood blockbusters to return to the sort of low-budget indies that he made his name with – Swingers is still one of my all-time favourites. He’s been able to call in a few favours this time so the cast list is a bit more starry, but the themes of loyalty and friendship and the general air of likeability remain.

Carl Casper is head chef at a successful restaurant owned by a man who values familiarity over risk-taking (Dustin Hoffman). After a bad review from a well-known food critic goes viral (everything is viral in Chef), he walks out, and thanks to the ex-husband (Robert Downey Jnr) of his ex-wife (Sofia Vergara) finds himself the proud owner of a slightly worse-for-wear food truck which he takes on the road with ex-colleague Martin (John Leguizamo) and his somewhat estranged son Percy (Emjay Anthony). That’s about it, plot-wise – I have to admit I was waiting for the characters to be in some sort of peril, but at the risk of being slightly spoilerish, there’s no peril here. Not for anyone. In some hands that would make for a dull old film, but Favreau gives us strong enough characters and ladles everything with such a big dollop of warmth and humour, that it’s actually quite a relief. Sometimes it’s enough just to see good things happen to nice people.

There are of course innumerable shots of amazing food. For me, a vegetarian on a 5:2 diet fast day, it probably wasn’t the wisest film to choose: Chef is peppered (and salted) with long languorous shots of sizzling Cubanos and the most delicious looking grilled cheese sandwich ever. My local cinema has wisely put Cubanos on the menu, I bet they are doing a roaring trade.

It’s a world away from the clever schtick of Swingers of course, but there’s a lot to enjoy here if you’re in the mood for something warm and tender. On a sandwich. With yuca fries on the side. God I’m hungry.

Of Horses and Men

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Benedikt Erlingsson’s first film is a collection of brutally hilarious tales of life, loss and love set in the spectacular Icelandic mountains where, in a small village made up of distant cottages, the even more distant villagers make their living from breeding horses. There isn’t much else to do by the look of it, except flirt with the only eligible man in the village and keep a close eye on your neighbours (the local binocular shop must do great business). They’re a taciturn bunch, but it’s the horses that really tell the stories, standing strong and dignified among people beset with petty jealousies, and watching everything with an expression that suggests they’ve seen it all before.

The stories, grim though some of them are, are shot through with an undercurrent of real affection but be warned, there are a few scenes that are not for the squeamish. Erlingsson balances these out with jolts of dark humour and there are definitely some laughs here – a lot of this is because none of the horses seem quite big enough, so anyone riding them looks a little oversized. Add to that the strange gait that Icelandic horses are famous for, and anyone traveling anywhere at speed immediately looks ridiculous.

Towards the end of the film there’s something of a reversal of fortune from an early scene where the village’s eligible batchelor Kolbeinn (Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson) becomes an unwitting voyeur to a bit of equine love. It seems to encapsulate a lot of what Erlingsson is saying about man and horse – we’re not that different, especially when it comes to rutting around in the dust.

Fuelled by a cast who look as rugged as the scenery and who can convey their life story with a single glance, this is an impressive debut.

22 Jump Street

I should confess up front that I’ve never seen 21 Jump Street. Or 19 or 20 Jump Street for that matter. I didn’t even watch the tv show (or in fact have any recollection that it existed). So it’s fair to say I wasn’t really expecting much more than an ogle at Channing Tatum’s guns from 22 Jump Street. And frankly, you can do worse for a night out than that, much worse (just got a refund on my Grace of Monaco ticket).

I was expecting an evening of slight confusion, eye rolling and maybe the odd giggle here and there. But wait. 22 Jump Street is actually pretty damn good – the leads are brilliantly matched and I think I even laughed at the jokes I didn’t get. It’s that funny. Directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller (fresh from Lego Movie success) don’t so much push the fourth wall as smash through it in a funny little helmet car like something out of Wacky Races. The script is whip smart and joyously self-mocking, turning the idea of a money-spinning sequel on its head and stamping on it. There is a plot but it plays a very low second fiddle to the jokes, which come thick and fast for the entire two hours (which flies by for the most part). So I won’t waste time on it here.

Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill have wonderful chemistry, from a Harold Lloyd moment early on which sees them dangling from a bridge like a pair of old trainers, to the weirdly referenced Benny Hill car chase, they get a laugh out of every moment. Even one from Cate Blanchett. The end credit sequence might well have been my favourite bit, which also makes you wonder what the team have in store for Jump Street‘s future.

With great support from Ice Cube and Nick Offerman, plus a wonderful scene-stealing performance from Jillian Bell, if such a thing is possible, the cast are clearly having the time of their lives. It’s impossible not to be swept along with them.

 

PS Tatum’s guns are incredible. Top marks for them too. I shall now return to arthouse cinema and pretend this never happened.

Ilo Ilo

It was well worth the awkwardness of trying not to ask for a ticket to ‘Allo ‘Allo to see this little gem from Singaporean first-time director Anthony Chen. A simple tale of a family trying to keep themselves afloat during the 1997 Asian financial crisis, it’s full of deft humour and unspoken tragedy.

Hwee Leng (Yeo Yann Yann) is pregnant with her second child – her first, Jiale (a wonderful Koh Jia Ler), is ten and going through an uncontrollable phase, in trouble at school and throwing tantrums at home. Some of his behaviour stems from the recent loss of his grandfather, who he shared a room with, but it’s also a reaction to the undercurrent of stress at home. His father, Teck (Chen Tianwen), has lost his job but is hiding this from his domineering wife. Hwee Leng is spending her days writing severance letters for her colleagues, never sure if she’s going to be next.

Tensions rise even more when the family hire a Filipino maid, Teresa (Angeli Bayani), who has her own troubles having left a baby behind in the Philippines and who has some unexplained scars on her wrists. She is instantly set upon by Jiale and the fact that she has to sleep in his grandfather’s old bed doesn’t help matters. The four step around each other awkwardly, with occasional outbursts of rage, but underneath it’s clear there is love and respect here and a family that ultimately has everything it needs to survive.

I loved Ilo Ilo, it’s a gentle and moving film that reflects the pressure cooker of regular family life. Chen won the Camera D’Or at Cannes for this debut and it’s not hard to see why – it will be exciting to see what he does next.