Movie Review – Holiday (Sydney Film Fest 2018)

c369ccfb915604a7b770dbf4d6840119

EXPECTATIONS: A gory fun time, with a feminine aesthetic on brutal violence, similar to Coralie Fargeat‘s Revenge.

REVIEW: Have you ever seen a film that was so unexpected in its brutality and its disturbing content that you found it unforgettable? Well, one such example that I’ve seen recently was Isabella Eklof‘s Holiday. Judging from the poster, you would expect some sort of exploitative saga about a woman in trouble, but through Eklof’s eyes, it is nothing like that at all, and that is what makes it all the more haunting than one could ever imagine.

holiday_og (1)

Young, vibrant and presumably naive Sascha (Victoria Carmen Sonne) is the new girlfriend of drug dealer Michael (Lai Yde). She joins Michael and a group of friends on a luxury holiday in Turkey, but must accept that this decadent lifestyle comes at a cost, as such is shown in a scene where Sascha overspends on the credit card near the beginning of the film. Also, not least that her own position within this supposed family is as just another prized possession to be owned and displayed by Michael.

While Michael busy with criminal activities that can have him affording all the decadence, Sascha befriends Thomas (Thijs Römer), a man sailing the Mediterranean by himself. Michael is quickly shown to be violent, abusive, and controlling. He has an explicit code of trust and mercilessly punishes those that breach it (like in a scene of violence that is only heard off-screen).

When Sascha needs a break from Michael, she calls Thomas and begins courting him without ever revealing her relationship. This causes major problems when Michael spots her going to visit Thomas.

1275776_holiday_95205

There are a few films that come to mind when watching Holiday. One of them is Gaspar Noe‘s Irreversible, which is a crime-drama revenge tale that is told in reverse and the film is infamous for its elongated rape sequence. Holiday also has a elongated rape scene that changes the entire tone of the story and makes the outlook of the characters change drastically.

Another example is Catherine Breillat‘s Fat Girl, where both films, after the shocking sexual violence happens, all storytelling expectations or tropes are thrown out the window. Nothing will go what audiences will think happen and none of the future events happen only for shock value, but are still unbelievably and irredeemably human. None of the characters are explained due to backstories nor flashbacks; but there is a human element in each of them that can be quite empathetic.

Holiday7_1000

For a film that has subject matter that is pitch-black dark, Eklof and cinematographer Nadim Carlsen lense the film so bright, so vivid and so crisp, that it almost feels like it is a veneer for something sinister; something that is lurking underneath the surface that looks to good to be true.

And that sort of subversion applies to the characters. Despite what Sascha goes through, she is never portrayed as a victim nor as a person that pleads for help. She adapts to the environment that she inhabits in and plays with the cards that she is dealt with. But there are yearnings that she has; as evidenced in scenes with Thomas and how she interacts with him.

Or in another scene set in a nightclub where she stares at herself in the mirror, looking conflicted about whether to become her believed best self and her honest self. But the gradual character arc she goes through becomes gradually toxic and morally perplexing, that it becomes just as unbearable to watch as the violence, particularly when the film reaches its climax.

201804041052453506

Victoria Carmen Sonne does very well in portraying Sascha, guiding her through the character arc convincingly and never resorts to histrionics nor endearing herself to the audience. She gets deep into the dark nature of the film (both physically and mentally, in such brave terms) and conveys her character honestly, making the film effective in shocking the audience due to what she goes through.

Lai Yde is incredibly scary as the gangster, Michael, mainly due to how he underplays the role. At times, he can be quite charismatic and brutish and jovial, but like the film’s glossy exterior, there is something underneath the surface just waiting to come out, and Yde gives it his all, giving a compellingly repentant performance that is hard to watch, yet difficult to look away from.

Holiday is a morally repugnant, shockingly apathetic and yet strangely alluring piece of work from Isabella Eklof that is sure to shock and provide food-for-thought to adventurous filmgoers. Just be sure to have a strong stomach, because this is definitely not for the faint-hearted. Hesitantly recommended.

Holiday - Still 1

Quickie Review

PROS

Great, uncompromising direction from Isabella Eklof

Convincing performances from the two leads

Thought-provoking moral dilemma adds punch to the story

The storytelling is very subversive, throwing the audience off

CONS

The shocking violence will repel people away

A bit of a slog to get through

SCORE: 7/10

lhs

This review can be also seen at THE IRIS. Visit the site by pressing the picture above.

Cast: Victoria Carmen Sonne, Lai Yde, Thijs Römer, Adam Ild Rohweder, Yuval Segal, Stanislav Sevcik, Morten Hemmingsen, Bo Brønnum, Michiel de Jong, Saxe Rankenberg Frey, Laura Kjær
Director: Isabella Eklöf
Screenwriters: Isabella Eklöf, Johanne Algren

Advertisements

Movie Review – The Miseducation of Cameron Post (Sydney Film Fest 2018)

the_miseducation_of_cameron_post-785789800-large

EXPECTATIONS: No clue, but considering the cast/crew, something noteworthy.

REVIEW: For those who have read my glowing review of American Honey, I praised the main actress Sasha Lane for being a natural on-screen and a talent to look out for. Flash-forward to almost two years later, we have her on-screen again in the comedy-drama The Miseducation of Cameron Post and that had me excited.

But fortunately, that’s not the only reason. The film is directed by Desiree Akhavan, who had directed the acclaimed romantic comedy Appropriate Behaviour, which dealt with its subject matters of gender roles and cultural perspectives very well. That point alone makes it highly appropriate that she is directing The Miseducation of Cameron Post.

And we have the lead actress Chloe Grace Moretz, whose recent work has been quite polarizing lately ever since starring in Olivier Assayas’ Clouds of Sils Maria. Starring in underwhelming films like If I Stay and films that barely got a theatrical release like November Criminals and Dark Places, the film seems to be the perfect opportunity to get out of that rut.

Will The Miseducation of Cameron Post succeed in making a film that is sensitive in its subject matter about queer people as well as succeed in being entertaining?

miseducation-cameron-post-1200-1200-675-675-crop-000000

Set in 1993, we follow the titular character Cameron Post (Chloe Grace Moretz). On the outside, she seems to fit the appearance of a normal teenage girl. But she has a secret that she hides from everyone, which is her being a lesbian. She is in a relationship with Coley (actress/director Quinn Shephard in a small role) and it takes a turn for the worst when the two are caught in the backseat of a car.

Cameron is sent away to a treatment center in a remote area called God’s Promise, run by Dr. Lydia Marsh (Jennifer Ehle). While she is being subjected to questionable gay conversion therapies, she bonds with some fellow residents like the commune-raised sardonic Jane Fonda (Sasha Lane) and the laid-back asexual Native American Adam Red Eagle (Forrest Goodluck). The three gradually become good friends as they pretend to go along with the process while waiting to be released.

the-miseducation-of-cameron-poster-chloe-moretz-sasha-lane

Like the best of coming-of-age films, they all provide an honest outlook in their storytelling. In the case of The Miseducation of Cameron Post is a very well-executed comedy-drama coming-of-age film, indeed. Major credit goes to director Desiree Akhavan, whose direction is never blatant, manipulative and most importantly, judgmental to the characters involved. There is always a human element to these characters that always makes them easy to empathize with, despite their questionable actions.

Even some of the big dramatic scenes of the film are surprisingly nuanced and the small moments in the scene stand out, like in a scene where Cameron makes a phone call, her face is distorted in darkness during the emotional moment and we hear her hand grip the phone.

Characters like that include Reverend Rick Marsh (played by John Gallagher Jr.), a man who is still struggling and refusing to come to terms with his sexuality; Cameron’s overly optimistic roommate Erin (Emily Skeggs), a teenager who is desperate to believe she’s straight and even Dr. Lydia Marsh (Jennifer Ehle) can’t be called a villain (or what she’s called in the film, a Disney villain). But the great thing Akhavan does is that she never gets into the backstories nor lets the audience why they are who they are; she only shows what makes them flawed and remarkably human.

Alongside that, the best choice that Akhavan does is to adapt the final act of the book for the entirety of the film, which is when the lead goes into the gay conversion camp. In terms of the film, it throws the audience at the breaking point (efficiently and emotionally) where the characters come to the realization of their identity and how it affects others; and a sense of claustrophobia i.e. being thrown into a place almost immediately with no clear way out.

Despite the downbeat subject matter of the story, Akhavan adds plenty of understated humour throughout, which shows how ridiculous outside points-of-view can be towards homosexuality or even religion eg. the Christian exercise program called Blessercise that Erin exercises on.

It helps that the cast all give fantastic performances. Sasha Lane proves that her performance in American Honey is no fluke, as she is so comfortable and charismatic on-screen, all of her acerbic line deliveries are right on target. Forrest Goodluck (best known for his role in Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu‘s The Revenant) gives a likable and laid-back performance. Jennifer Ehle is compellingly understated as the matriarch who is always stern with her approach, yet Ehle never portrays her as a cartoon. Emily Skeggs is great as Erin, who hides under her guileless facade to look like she’s straight and Owen Campbell has a fantastic moment in the third act that is just heartbreaking.

But the biggest standouts in the film are John Gallagher Jr. and Chloe Grace Moretz. Gallagher Jr. nails the internal conflict of the character, hiding under a facade of jubilation. The cracks of that facade that become more and more noticeable over time that and Gallagher Jr. makes the gradual character reveal a marvel to watch, especially in the final act.

Moretz has played impassive or taciturn characters before like in the horror films Let Me In and Carrie (2013), but her performances were always flawed due to her inexperience at the time or how the character was written in the script. But in the case of The Miseducation of Cameron Post, she really digs into the character, whether its the self-hatred for what she has done or her gradual realization of who she is. It’s a remarkably sensitive and nuanced performance that is the best in her career, hands down.

Overall, The Miseducation of Cameron Post is an understated and quite powerful film that is sensitive towards all of its characters, is remarkable in how inclusive it is, has great performances and has welcome acerbic humor that made me laugh out loud at times. Highly recommended.

The-Miseducation-Of-Cameron-Post

Quickie Review

PROS

Sensitive and passionate portrayals of the characters

Wonderful performances from the cast

Acerbic and observational humour hits its targets

CONS

Abrupt ending

SCORE: 8/10

lhs

This review can be also seen at THE IRIS. Visit the site by pressing the picture above.

Cast: Chloe Grace Moretz, Sasha Lane, Forrest Goodluck, John Gallagher Jr., Jennifer Ehle, Emily Skeggs, Owen Campbell, Quinn Shephard
Director: Desiree Akhavan
Screenwriters: Desiree Akhavan, Cecilia Frugiuele, based on the novel by Emily M. Danforth.

Movie Review – The Heiresses (Sydney Film Fest 2018)

the-heiresses_poster

EXPECTATIONS: None.

REVIEW: If one were to classify this film briefly, The Heiresses could be seen a cross between Wong Kar-wai‘s Happy Together and Albert and David MayslesGrey Gardens. As Kar-wai says about the title of his film, being happy together is being happy with oneself, and it is within that context is where the journey in The Heiresses comes from.

The story follows the lives of Chela (Ana Brun) and Chiquita (Margarita Irun), whom have both descended from wealthy families in Asuncion, Paraguay. The two have been together for 30 years but recently their finances has worsened and they begin selling off their inherited possessions. But when their debts lead to Chiquita being imprisoned on fraud charges, Chela is forced to live a new phase of her life that would force her out of her shell.

Driving for the first time in years, she begins to provide a local taxi service to a group of elderly wealthy ladies, despite her pride. As Chela settles into her new life, she encounters the much younger Angy, forging a new and exciting connection. Chela finally begins to contemplate on her past and starts to ponder major decisions for her future.

maxresdefault

Now that may seem like a depressing story to trudge through, but the characters are well-realized, the performances are compellingly naturalistic and the storytelling is assured and even has a welcome dash of humour, thanks to the sharp, acerbic performance by Marina Martins.

The social context of social status and privileges in Paraguay’s elitist zeitgeist (which is still quite prevalent today) adds a certain punch to the characterizations. In the case of Chela, she is shy of the outside world (and could be suffering from chronic depression) and what it has to offer and yet within the metaphorical shell she has nestled in, she has a sense of pride with what she has before and even after her possessions are taken away.

The storytelling never ventures through predictability nor gets buried in its various subplots and the characters’ growth veers the same way. There are enjoyable moments of intimacy and tenderness like the interactions between Chela and Angy (as well as the housemaid, Pita) that signal the character progression of the former but said attention should also be paid towards the shot selections, which deviate from POV shots and handheld towards more open shots (courtesy of cinematographer Luis Armando Artega), as well as the costume design and make-up, which conveys the gradual vivacity of Chela.

RGB tiff image by MetisIP

But none of those things would be effective if it weren’t for the performances. The majority of the cast are all newcomers or those with relatively little acting experience. Brun is understated and yet magnetic in the way she conveys foreign sensations using her expressive face like fear, hurt and hopefulness with aplomb.

Irun is good as Chiquita, the much more grounded of the pair (who can handle the harshness of life more capably) and as mentioned earlier, Martins is a hoot as Pituca, an older neighbour who selfishly berates Chela to drive her to her ladies’ card games. But the other standout of the film is Ana Ivanova as Angy. Convincingly confident, fierce and comfortably sensual, she shares an enjoyable and lovely rapport with Brun.

The-Heiresses-1200x520

While the film may be a bit too understated for its own good (which can test the audience’s patience) and the metaphors may be a bit blatant (one scene involves a spill of a intricately set platter), the film scores mightily with a satisfying ending that achieves what it exactly sets out to do, with a sense of ambiguity as well as a sense of catharsis.

Overall, The Heiresses is a quiet, understated and yet compelling piece of work that is brimming with intimacy, naturalistic performances, assured storytelling and the tactful use of thematically rich subtext. Recommended.

the-heiresses-berlinale

Quickie Review

PROS

Great naturalistic performances from the cast

Strong storytelling, with the social backdrop lending the story punch

Assured direction keeps story on course and tone in check

CONS

Some visual metaphors are quite blatant

May be a bit too understated for its own good

SCORE: 8/10

lhs

This review can be also seen at THE IRIS. Visit the site by pressing the picture above.

Cast: Ana Brun, Margarita Irún, Ana Ivanova, Alicia Guerra, Nilda Gonzalez, María Martins
Director: Marcelo Martinessi
Screenwriters: Marcelo Martinessi

Movie Review – Disobedience (Sydney Film Fest 2018)

DIS_Onesheet_Alt_AU_LR

EXPECTATIONS: A compelling romantic drama that explores its potent themes thoroughly and has fantastic performances.

REVIEW: To say that the expectations for this film are quite high is quite superfluous, but it has to be said nonetheless. We have Rachel Weisz, one of the most talented actresses in Hollywood, who’s had a great run of recent films ever since starring in the weird and sweet quasi-dystopian romance The Lobster and still going strong.

We also have Rachel McAdams, who’s having a great year in 2018, with the film in question as well as the surprise comedy hit Game Night. And we have the Chilean director, Sebastian Lelio, who has made great films like the 2013 drama, Gloria (which is being remade by Lelio himself, starring Julianne Moore) who’s fresh off his latest acclaimed Oscar-winning hit, A Fantastic Woman.

And last but definitely not least, we have the underappreciated chameleon-like actor, Pollux Troy Alessandro Nivola. Ever since the times playing Nicolas Cage‘s brother in John Woo‘s action extravaganza Face/Off, he’s gone off in indie darlings like Junebug, A Most Violent Year, The Neon Demon and most recently, You Were Never Really Here (also showing at Sydney Film Fest).

With all that talent in the pool, how can one not be excited by this film? Will Disobedience live up to the hype?

dims

Weisz stars as Ronit Krushka, a shunned woman who works as a photographer living in New York. She lives up a bit of a meaningless existence consisting of work, mindless drinking and sexual dalliance. She receives a message from her home in London, saying that her estranged father had passed away.

Ronit returns to her hometown, which involves the same Orthodox Jewish community that shunned her decades earlier for her past decisions. Her return results in awkward conversations with her relatives, the dedicated Rabbi Dovid Kuperman (Alessandro Nivola) and most of all, Esti (Rachel McAdams), wife of Dovid.

Feeling more out of place than ever and finding out that her father had not lent her any consideration in his obituary or his will, Ronit decides to return back to New York after going to her childhood home. As Esti takes her there, they bond over their past friendship until something rekindles between them. Something that might put their lives and those around them in jeopardy.

Disobedience10-1500x785

Before I get into reviewing Disobedience, I must say this: I didn’t like Lelio’s previous film, A Fantastic Woman. The main reason is because the film never delves into its main character and tries to bring its point across by bombarding plot conflicts on its main lead ad nauseum that it becomes baffling and eventually boring. If Lelio got us to know the main lead a little better, then it would’ve been a lot easier for the audience to go along with.

In the case of Disobedience, the film takes its time to delve into its characters and how they react to their daily lives, through visual storytelling and little reliance on verbal exposition.

In the case of the impulsive Ronit, we see through a montage of her day-to-day life what she does and it tells in a concise fashion of what her flaws and predicaments are. In the case of the emotionally repressed Esti, her character is gradually revealed throughout the film through what she does that is kept secret from her community (like taking off her wig) until she becomes more emotive. Whereas in the case of Dovid, his dedication to his faith is reflected through all of his actions, although it is repressive of how he really feels, causing conflicting interests.

MV5BNzVhNGZhMWUtNDQ5ZS00OTExLWE2MDItMDAxZmM5ZWE1ZTRlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjUwNzk3NDc@._V1_

The striking yet surprisingly muted cinematography by Danny Cohen, the moody costume design by Odile Dicks-Mireaux and the majestically conducive musical score by Matthew Hubert certainly reflect the gradually brimming passion of the story. Hubert’s score in particular strikes chords that sounds like birds calling, like a beautifully composed swan song.

Speaking of beautifully composed, the performances from its three leads are fantastic. Weisz, who usually plays characters that inert with their emotions, plays a more open personality (in comparison to Esti) during the parts where she converses with the community, especially in a barbed dinner sequence where the plot thickens. She convinces with her anger and hostility and also gets a chance to convey inner emotions like she does best, like in a ice-rink sequence, that is show in a simple medium shot, following her.

McAdams usually plays more extrovert characters, but in the case of Disobedience, she plays Esti as a woman trapped in her own facade and she does it convincingly. Leilo also never makes her performance appear explicit nor does he provide any spoonfeeding to the audience. Nivola, who is an actor who almost appears unrecognizable in every film he stars in, gives a great performance as a man who is trapped between his friendship between Ronit and Esti and his dedication to his faith.

MV5BMjAyYzBhYmUtNGM4Yy00MTk4LTkzYTktYjA0YTg0ZTk0MmVkXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjUwNzk3NDc@._V1_

In the case of its flaws, there is one musical choice, being Love Song by The Cure, that brings the film down to a fault. While it does convey the past nature between the female leads quite well, the song choice itself is too on-the-nose in what it tries to foreshadow how the characters currently feel, and it makes the end credits feel a little jarring when they come up.

As for the sex scene itself, the execution does veer wildly between tasteful and exploitative. When the scene relies more on the expressions of the actresses, it succeeds in providing a satisfying conclusion with what the characters went through prior, particularly in the case of Esti. But when it comes to the actions during the scene, it veers towards something more strikingly prurient, which can turn some audiences off. Granted, the shots that were chosen to linger (like a shot looking down on Ronit) don’t last long as they could have been (as Weisz oversaw the editing of the scene), it is quite noticeable that the gaze is still prevalent.

Overall, Disobedience is a compelling understated drama that seethes with passion thanks to Leilo’s assured direction, compelling storytelling and fantastic performances from the three talented leads. Recommended.

mgid ao image logotv.com 265362

Tottelemattomuus_4

disobedience-tiff1

Quickie Review

PROS

Fantastic performances from the three leads

Leilo’s reliance on visually nuanced storytelling

Emphasis on well-realized characterizations

CONS

A particular song choice that brings the film down to a halt

Mixed results from the sex scene

SCORE: 8/10

lhs

This review can be also seen at THE IRIS. Visit the site by pressing the picture above.

Cast: Rachel Weisz, Rachel McAdams, Alessandro Nivola, Anton Lesser, Bernice Stegers, Allan Corduner, Nicholas Woodeson, Liza Sadovy, Clara Francis, Mark Stobbart, Caroline Gruber
Director: Sebastian Lelio
Screenwriters: Sebastian Lelio, Rebecca Lenkiewicz, based on the novel by Naomi Alderman

Movie Review – Birds Without Names

她不知道名字的那些鸟儿BD高清中字

EXPECTATIONS: A compelling dramatic mystery filled with grit. And also, YU AOI!!!!!!!!

REVIEW: Director Kazuya Shiraishi is a filmmaker that has gone of a bit a rise these past few years. Since his breakout hit with the 2013 crime drama The Devil’s Path, from 2016, he’s made five films and they have all revolved or worked alongside on one specific type of genre: the crime film.

Whether he makes a comedy like Twisted Justice, or an erotic drama like Dawn of the Felines, or in the case of this review, a romantic drama, Shiraishi is bound to add a certain amount of grit to make his work stand out.

And now we have Birds Without Names, a romantic drama that revolves around a murder mystery based on a novel by Mahokaru Numata, with a fantastic cast and actress extraordinaire Yu Aoi in the lead role. Will the film stand out and become another stellar entry into Shiraishi’s filmography?

IMG_5300

Yu Aoi stars as the 33-year-old Towako, a woman who has been scrounging off room and board off her live-in-boyfriend, Jinji (Sadao Abe). Jinji is a timid 48-year-old construction worker who keeps Towako fed and clothed while basically not being the boyfriend of the year due to his lack of cleanliness and at one point in the film, his lack of finesse on how to use the toilet.

Towako doesn’t give really care about Jinji, to the point where she verbally abuses him repeatedly. Nevertheless, she needs him to survive. Jinji is submissive and endures the humiliation to keep Towako, while Towako still pines for her ex-lover Shunichi (Yutaka Takenouchi), who broke up with her 8 years ago in a monstrously ugly fashion.

Towako has a weakness for sophisticated looking men, and when Jinji is not around, she sneaks off to love hotels with her current lover, Makoto (Tori Matsuzaka), a married man, who is of course in a designer suit. All of these relationships will coalesce when it is reported to Towako that Shunichi has gone missing.

Birds-Without-Names-3

Does the film live up to Shiraishi’s stellar filmography? Not only does it accomplish that feat, it might actually be his best film yet. Birds Without Names is based on a novel of the same name by Mahokaru Numata, the famous female author who specializes in crime stories that feature manipulative men, brutal women and complicated relationships; basically the dark side of human nature.

Which makes it the perfect source material for Shiraishi to adapt and expand his directorial range. To manage a story like this, a good director would apply an understated approach to the storytelling and thankfully, Shiraishi is up to the task. Learning from his mistakes with his heavy-handed storytelling in The Devil’s Path, he manages to tell the story at a measured pace which effectively brings out a gradual sense of tension; by ably showing reliance on visual storytelling (for the most part) that compels and most of all, being able to milk great performances out of the committed cast.

Birds-Without-Names-2

Yu Aoi gives one of the best performances of her career as Towako, a depressed and gradually unstable woman who has not moved on from her past boyfriend, who had treated her monstrously. She never tries to make her character sympathetic and delves into the poisonous flaws of her character with aplomb. There’s a point in the film where she really looks like she is about to burst with emotions and it’s a wonder to behold.

Sadao Abe is equally as good, playing a character who’s hangdog behaviour and naivety make him become the glue of the film that holds it together. He may be the most sympathetic character by default, but he also does irredeemable actions that make him flawed, just like Towako. The supporting cast are no slouches, with Yutaka Takenouchi lending credibility and nuance to an incredibly despicable character and Tori Matsuzaka who capably shows shades of his character being more than what his facade conveys.

As for the flaws, there is a through-line of casual misogyny that will definitely put off some viewers. Especially in the case of Towako’s behaviour, where she basically allows the bad behaviour of the male characters to happen and even gets in on it to harm other women i.e. Shunichi’s wife.

But there is the ending to consider, which is quite touching and compelling to the point where it will make audiences re-evaluate what they thought of the characters prior to the climax.

Overall, Birds Without Names is a great piece of work from Kazuya Shiraishi, that not only succeeds as a great romantic drama but as an actors showcase for all involved, especially Yu Aoi.

Birds-Without-Names-4

Quickie Review

PROS

The cast all give fantastic performances, with a career-best from Yu Aoi

Measured, nuanced storytelling

Never shies away nor pulls any punches from the dark nature of the story

CONS

Moments of misogyny

Polarizing ending

SCORE: 8/10

Cast: Yu Aoi, Sadao Abe, Tori Matsuzaka, Yutaka Takenouchi, Eri Murakawa, Masaaki Akahori, Muck Akazawa, Shu Nakajima
Director: Kazuya Shiraishi
Screenwriters: Taeko Asano, based on the novel of the same name by Mahokaru Numata

Movie Review – The Bookshop

TBS_A4poster-1-e1525226105191

EXPECTATIONS: An understated, emotionally stirring piece of work.

REVIEW: Isabel Coixet has always been a talented filmmaker, making understated drama films dealing with issues like existentialism and inner turmoil to great aplomb. Although there have been some highs in her filmography like My Life Without Me and The Secret Life of Words (both starring the talented actress/director Sarah Polley), her last few films have signaled a steady decline in quality.

Since 2009’s beautiful yet empty Maps of the Sounds of Tokyo, her films have ranged from emotionally resonant to thematically lightweight. Now, we have her latest film, The Bookshop, which is adapted from an acclaimed novel of the same name by Penelope Fitzgerald. With its talented cast and strong source material, will it get Coixet out of her slump?

null

Emily Mortimer stars as Florence Green, a widow who has just decided to put her turmoils behind her and risk everything to open up a bookshop; the first shop of its type in the sleepy seaside town of Hardborough, England.

But this seemingly innocent decision causes quite a stir in the town, which brings her fierce enemies: she invites the hostility of the town’s less prosperous shopkeepers and also crosses Mrs. Gamart (Patricia Clarkson), Harborough’s alpha who is a wannabe prominent of the local arts scene.

769341148_5727183418001_5726633724001-vs

Is The Bookshop a stellar film that gets Coixet out of her slump? Well…as with all of Coixet’s films, the cinematography, courtesy of regular cinematographer Jean-Claude Larrieu, is striking to look at. The musical score by Alfonso de Vilallonga is quite effective when utilized at the right moments.

And the last but not least, the standout performance is from Honor Kneafsey. She struggles a little bit in the first act but manages to find the perfect balance in conveying maturity and naivety, as Christine. With her performance here and her work in the murder mystery film Crooked House, her career looks like it could go on to greener pastures.

DXFBjsFXUAEY_cS

Which makes it all the more disappointing that The Bookshop lands with a loud thud. Despite the fact that the film is adapted from acclaimed source material, the characters are as thin as the pages they’re written on. Florence wants to start a bookshop because she likes books and the film never develops the character nor the motivation beyond that. And the same goes for Mrs. Gamart, who wants to use the foundation of the bookshop to build an art center. Mustache-twirling ensues.

The acting would’ve given the characters and the film much-needed vitality but they’re all quite lifeless. Mortimer is okay as Florence, but her performance confuses inner emoting with inactivity. Nighy gets in a few chortles but he looks like he’s reprising his role as a zombie in Shaun of the Dead. His performance doesn’t come off as subtle, it comes off as sedated. Clarkson, who’s shown acerbity like a professional in many films, most recently in Sally Potter’s The Party, is unfortunately quite de-fanged here.

the-bookshop

It certainly doesn’t help the actors that the storytelling is all over the place, led by (or led off?) by Coixet’s loose direction, which just goes off into montages of misery without any character investment. To make up for the lack of convincing conflict and thin characterization, narration (read by Julie Christie) is added and it is patronizing, illogical and snore-inducingly terrible.

In one scene, Bill Nighy’s character, Brundish, tears the portrait pages from book covers and tosses them on a fire, while the narration says “There was nothing that bothered him more than the portraits that appeared in certain editions.” In another scene, we see Florence being angry at the bank teller, the narration actually states that “She is angry”. It’s bad enough that the audience are not only disengaged, but they’re being treated like brain-damaged morons.

201815679_61

And when the film isn’t being boring, it becomes increasingly creepy, with the inclusion of a slight romance between Florence and Brundish, as the two bond over the love of books. The age difference is just terrifying and speaking of morbidity, the ending of the film is so predictable, that a certain plot device shown early in the film, completely ruins it. The foreshadowing is just insultingly solid-black.

Overall, The Bookshop is a predictable bore that wastes many of its talents on terrible storytelling and emotionally stunted direction from Coixet. Give a hoot, read a book. But don’t watch this movie. See The Guernsey Literary and the Potato Peel Pie Society instead. Now that’s a film that at least conveys the love of books in a more entertaining and compelling fashion.

Quickie Review

PROS

Honor Kneafsey’s performance

Well-shot and in some parts, well-scored

CONS

Inconsistent performances

Patronizing narration

Underdeveloped script

Boring storytelling

Creepy attempt at romance

SCORE: 3/10

lhs

This review can be also seen at THE IRIS. Visit the site by pressing the picture above.

Cast: Emily Mortimer, Bill Nighy, Patricia Clarkson, Honor Kneafsey, James Lance, Reg Wilson, Michael Fitzgerald, Hunter Tremayne, Frances Barber, Nigel O’Neill, Jorge Suquet, Harvey Bennett, Charlotte Vega, Julie Christie (narrator)
Director: Isabel Coixet
Screenwriters: Isabel Coixet, based on the novel of the same name by Penelope Fitzgerald

Movie Review – Tully

DcVxPwtXkAE6uJ-

EXPECTATIONS: A film that is as good as Juno and Young Adult.

REVIEW: If there’s one creative collaboration that many were looking forward to, it’s the collaboration between director Jason Reitman and writer Diablo Cody. Their first collaboration was the 2007 comedy-drama Juno. With its hip dialogue, wonderful performances and a refreshing view of the coming-of-age genre (for that time), it was a critically-acclaimed hit that was a huge step for their careers.

And for their second collaboration, they overcome the sophomore slump and made the 2011 film Young Adult, an uncompromising and funny look at prolonged adolescence that despite never achieving the success of Juno, it still showed that Reitman and Cody were a force to be reckoned with.

But after that, their recent work in separate vocations have gotten mixed results. Reitman had gone along to director the execrable romantic-drama Labor Day, which was a carbon-copy of a terrible Nicholas Sparks film adaptation. And then he directed the incredibly misguided teenage drama Men, Women and Children, a film with an interesting premise explored with such sloppy and overbearing execution.

As for Cody, she’s gone on to write other scripts for middling films like the comedy-drama Ricki and the Flash and made her directorial debut, Paradise, which was a critical and financial flop. Now the two talents have reunited once again for Tully, a comedy/drama about the difficulties of motherhood with Charlize Theron coming back into the fray. Will the film get Reitman and Cody back on their feet?

csm_Tully_Filmstill_04_e99f8f6f1b

Theron stars as Marlo, a HR employee at a protein bar company who’s just about to give birth to her third child. Her husband, Ron (Ron Livingston, fitting), loves her very much and works hard, but unfortunately remains oblivious about the demands that motherhood puts on her.

After the baby is born, her wealthy brother Craig (Mark Duplass), offers a solution to hire a nighttime nanny to help handle the increasing workload. After a long consideration, she buckles down and decides to hire Tully (Mackenzie Davis). Performing miracles left and right, the two start to form a strong bond. But when Marlo starts to know more about Tully, things start to appear a little off…

tully

Does the film succeed as a commentary on motherhood as well as a worthwhile creative endeavour between Reitman, Cody and Theron? Reitman still goes for the retro-hip vibe with his use of music like Cyndi Lauper and Cody still goes for the cooler-than-real dialogue (although no “Honest to blog” lines happen) that made her popular in the first place but thankfully, it is a return to form to what they do best: showing empathy for deeply flawed characters with very little sugar-coating.

While the story sounds like a feel-good experience or something with flights of fancy, the execution is anything but. Uncompromising, acidic and funny, Tully brings a sense of duality to the story, making both the slightly fantastical and the gritty collide together at times where it might seem like a fault to the storytelling, but in retrospect, brings greater depth to the characters, particularly Marlo.

tully-1200-1200-675-675-crop-000000

Charlize Theron has always been a transformative actress who relies on physicality with her performances, with films like the serial-killer biopic Monster to the comedy-drama Young Adult to the action blockbuster Mad Max: Fury Road and the recent spy-thriller Atomic Blonde. In the case of Tully, she gives one of her best performances in her entire career. Nuanced, fierce, vulnerable, quirky and acerbic, sometimes all at once, Theron makes Marlo remarkably human.

Mackenzie Davis, whose talents show in acclaimed shows like Halt and Catch Fire and Black Mirror and films like the psychological thriller Always Shine, have been underutilized lately, especially in Blade Runner 2049. Here in the title role, she brightens up the screen the second she shows up. Charming, energetic, lively, it’s no wonder why Marlo would get along with Tully and both Theron and David share great chemistry, particularly when the relationship becomes more intimate.

Even the supporting and seemingly obligatory characters are brought to life by both Livingston and Duplass. Livingston in particular stands out because he makes his character relatable, which is surprising considering the actions (on inaction) his character does throughout most of the film.

tully-charlize-theron

The story is told quite well, with some stumbles (the foreshadowing, involving a mermaid) but the film never flinches when dealing with motherhood. One moment involves Marlo carrying her child in a baby bassinet and accidentally hitting it against a filing cabinet, which brought gasps from the audience.

While there is nothing new or original in the story itself, the film does feature a major turn in the third act that brings a whole new perspective to what happened prior, contextualizing the film in a whole new way that lends depth to the characters’ actions. But undoubtedly, that major turn is bound to polarize audiences, making them feel that it just cheapens the film’s impact on such a turn.

Overall, Tully is a return to form for both director Jason Reitman and writer Diablo Cody. Featuring great performances (particularly Charlize Theron and Mackenzie Davis), an unflinching and engrossing look on motherhood and a witty, acerbic script from Cody, Tully is a film worth looking out for.

Quickie Review

PROS

Fantastic performances

Reitman’s direction and Cody’s writing capably empathizes with its flawed characters

Very funny and engrossing look into motherhood

CONS

The third act reveal is bound to polarize

SCORE: 8/10

lhs

This review can be also seen at THE IRIS. Visit the site by pressing the picture above.

Cast: Charlize Theron, Mackenzie Davis, Mark Duplass, Ron Livingston, Emily Haine, Elaine Tan
Director: Jason Reitman
Screenwriters: Diablo Cody

Movie Review – Love, Simon

1280x720-z6x

EXPECTATIONS: A light, honest, funny and heartwarming gay teenage romantic drama.

REVIEW:

Dear Blue,

Queer cinema has came through quite well back in 2017. We’ve had great examples like Call Me By Your Name, Battle of the Sexes and Moonlight; foreign entries like BPM (Beats Per Minute), Oscar-winning A Fantastic Woman and BAFTA-winning The Handmaiden and hidden indie gems like Princess Cyd, Beach Rats and God’s Own Country. All of these films have had critical acclaim and they are all arthouse darlings, but the majority of them were never meant for commercial appeal.

Enter 2018, where we have what is considered to be a genre milestone. The gay teen romantic comedy called Love, Simon. It is the first major studio film to focus on a gay teenage romance and by that alone, it has a lot to live up to. With a talented cast of young talent/veterans and director Greg Berlanti at the helm, (who’s directorial debut, The Broken Hearts Club: A Romantic Comedy, the perfect candidate), does Love, Simon live up to the hype?

DOOikyJV4AAJ2tm

Based on the acclaimed book Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli, Nick Robinson stars as Simon Speer, an average teenager who has his three best friends (Katherine Langford, Alexandra Shipp, Jorge Lendeborg Jr.) and they stroll through high school with all the trimmings like secrets, crushes, discrimination, boring classes, exams, the usual.

But Simon keeps a huge secret from his family, his friends, and all of his classmates: he’s gay. And the only outlet he has is with a closeted gay student at their high school, known only by the pseudonym “Blue”. Simon then proceeds to reach out to him under his own alias, “Jacques”. They confide very personal details, and soon he and Blue form a genuine connection, to the point that Simon wants to discover the identity of Blue. When that secret is threatened, Simon must face everyone and come to terms with his own identity.

src_1512657677s-luabovua-saimon

Does the film live up to the hype? For the moNick Robinson, Katherine Langford, Jennifer Garner, Josh Duhamel, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., Alexandra Shipp, Logan Miller, Keiynan Lonsdale, Joey Pollari, Tony Halest part, it does, thanks to the humour and the wonderful cast. It must be said, it’s very encouraging to see such progress from a major film studio to make a gay character the lead protagonist of a film such as this. Though Love, Simon is much more of a coming-out story than a proper romantic comedy (or drama), it does lend a different perspective of the story, leading to something more gradual rather than just climactic.

Like the film itself, let’s begin with the complications. The characters, apart from Simon and Abby, do not really have much depth beyond the personas that they inhabit, despite the efforts of the cast. And there are script contrivances that hinder the impact of the film. One particular example is when two bullies come into the picture and it just felt forced, as if the script just needed to give the film more tension that it already had.

Speaking of tension, the film is a bit too squeaky-clean, considering the conflicts and complications in the story. With the use of social media, the current views of homophobia and bullying, the film could have used a bit more punch. Although the film does quite well in conveying the stress Simon with his friends and loved ones, especially the moments when his father would make comments that indirectly offend him, like calling someone “fruity”.

The musical score by Rob Simonsen becomes quite syrupy and overused as the film goes on, particularly in the third act. And there’s the character of Martin. The character is not really a flaw per se but he is a character (or a plot device) that can aggravate one to no end and it hindered the enjoyment of the film quite a bit. The intent of that character might be clearer in retrospect or on repeat viewings but one’s tolerance may vary.

1311069.jpg-r_1280_720-f_jpg-q_x-xxyxx

And now we can get into the positives. While the script may be flawed, it does a good job with subverting some cliches of commercial romantic comedies as well as commercial teenage films. And it deserve particular praise for not conforming to commercial tropes of gay films like flamboyant attitudes, constant abuse or tragic ends. Getting back into the Martin character, he is essentially the archetype for a romantic comedy, which is essentially the supposed lovable loser. But what Love, Simon does is to make Martin think he is the hero of the story, despite the fact that this is the story of Simon, and the filmmakers rip the archetype to shreds, which is a welcome sight to see.

The cast, including upcoming young talent and veterans, all do a wonderful job with inhabiting their characters. Nick Robinson is nuanced and sympathy as Simon. His character is meant to be one who experiences a lot of emotions and yet is trying very hard not to be noticed in doing so. While Robinson could have played the character as self-conscious or unlikable due to the actions of the character that occur in the second act, he easily engenders sympathy and becomes a winning lead.

Fellow Australian actress Katherine Langford gives an underplayed performance and lends a lot of needed depth to the role of Leah, Simon’s best friend. Alexandra Shipp is enjoyably spirited as Abby, who may or may not use her innate charisma as a cover for her discrepancies; while Jorge Lendeborg Jr. does what he can with his character, with his likable presence. Logan Miller aggravates to no end as Martin, although he does lend the role a sense of humanity, without turning the role into a complete cartoon.

As for the adult performances, Tony Hale and Natasha Rothwell are absolute hoots (Rothwell, more so) as the principal and school drama teacher, respectively. And we have Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel as Simon’s parents. Garner has always been a great actress (2007’s Juno is proof of that) and she delivers a great monologue in the third act that gets into the heart of what Simon is going through, as well as the hearts of the audience. While Duhamel gives one of his best performances as Simon’s father, lending good humour and pathos to the character.

Overall, Love, Simon is a sweet and likable comedy/drama with lovable characters, a truthful if flawed script, a gay protagonist worth cheering for and a huge stepping stone of inclusivity for the LGBT community on film.

Love, Harris.

love-simon1

love-simon-movie

Quickie Review

PROS

Great performances from the cast

Honest, truthful storytelling

Some fun subversion of romance tropes

CONS

Very sappy at times

The Martin character

Story contrivances and lack of conviction

SCORE: 7/10

lhs

This review can be also seen at THE IRIS. Visit the site by pressing the picture above.

Cast: Nick Robinson, Katherine Langford, Jennifer Garner, Josh Duhamel, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., Alexandra Shipp, Logan Miller, Keiynan Lonsdale, Joey Pollari, Tony Hale
Director: Greg Berlanti
Screenwriters: Elizabeth Berger and Isaac Aptaker, based on Becky Albertalli’s novel Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

Movie Review – Ava (Alliance Francaise French Film Festival 2018)

maxresdefault

EXPECTATIONS: A unique, hard-hitting coming-of-age story.

REVIEW: Coming-of-age films are really coming along nicely (I know, that was lame) over the past few years, with many great films that understand what makes the genre such a well-liked genre. We have plenty of stand-out entries like Kelly Fremon Craig‘s Edge of Seventeen, Greta Gerwig‘s Lady Bird and Marielle Heller‘s The Diary of a Teenage Girl.

But in recent years, we’ve also have gotten more unorthodox or unique entries like Julia Ducornau‘s Raw or Jaochim Trier‘s Thelma, which both mixed horror tropes with womanhood and teenage angst beautifully; David Wnendt‘s Wetlands, which combined graphic raunchiness and bodily fluids to create a hilarious and compelling character study; Celine Sciamma‘s Girlhood, which shows the lives of young French black women; and then there’s Deniz Gamze Ergüven‘s Mustang, which shows the lives of young Turkish women living in a conservative (which is an understatement) society.

And among those prior entries, we have Lea MysiusAva, an off-kilter entry that combines teenage sexual exploration, loss of youthful innocence and filial relationships with surrealism with a strong visual eye. But does it rank well with films like Raw and Lady Bird?

ava-my-french-film-festival

The film starts off in a crowded beach, where the titular character (Noee Abita) lies under the hot sun, where a black foreboding figure stands in the distance. It turns out to be a dog, but in the eyes of Ava, it hints of her impending fate, which is she is gradually becoming blind.

Her mother (Laure Calamy) reacts to the news by ignoring it, but Ava approaches the problem on her own terms, which leads her to prepare for the worst, as well as discovering new things about herself due to her turbulent teenage life.

DRpARwNW4AATYRS-2644629183-1514028032504

Much like the off-kilter entries of coming-of-age, Ava is a visually striking and thematically challenging piece of work that never sugarcoats the character and the conditions she lives in. Neither Lea Mysius or actress Noee Abita ever try to make Ava likable, but they do manage to engender empathy for her. Director Mysius gives the film a thrilling sense of anarchy, as we feel troubled, never sensing where Ava would go or end up in throughout the course of the film.

Shot on 35mm by cinematographer and surprisingly, co-screenwriter Paul Guilhaume, the film has a vibrant visual touch that meshes seamlessly with the subplot about the Ava‘s loss of sight. Dream sequences hinting of sexual discovery, worlds falling apart (in tandem with her sight) and especially her views about her mother are downright haunting, even with a visual cue that was reminiscent of a moment in Nobuhiko Obayashi‘s House. It could be a way that shows her deteriorating sight is a metaphor for her dwindling youthful optimism and both Mysius and Guilhaume do a wonderful job in conveying such psychological shades.

ava

Even with the visuals, the characters themselves are well-developed, intriguing and thankfully, real. The relationship between Ava and her mother, Maud, is quite similar to most mother-daughter relationships in coming-of-age films as they show estrangement and hostility, but in the case of Ava, it’s not about what is said to each other, but what’s not being said.

There’s a scene in the film where Maud tells Ava about falling in love, the film focuses on Ava and what she hears and the voice of Maud fades out and what the audience only hears is the mutterings of strangers in the distance. Not only that, Maud is out of focus in the shot as she goes on and on about her story, being oblivious about the fact that Ava is ignoring her.

This subtle approach does wonders for the film as well as the gradual character development, as it hints that to look for some sort of excitement or solidarity, Ava turns to a more radical approach like petty crime (which involves petty theft in a scene that is reminiscent of Bonnie and Clyde) and going out with rebels, leading to a path of prurience.

And of course, major credit goes to the actress Noee Abita. Following the path of young French female talent like Garance Marillier (Raw), Marine Vacth (Young and Beautiful) and Adele Exarchopoulos (Blue is the Warmest Colour), Abita is absolutely fearless as Ava. Considering the tolls that her character goes through (like sexual exploration) and her strikingly youthful appearance (her character is 13 years old but Abita was 17 during filming), Abita takes it upon herself to portray those facets as honest as possible and she pulls it off brilliantly.

But let’s not forget Laure Calamy as Maud, Ava‘s mother, who is a character that is just as complex and filled with contradictions as Ava. She isn’t exactly the lovable mother, but she isn’t the cruel mother either; nor is she either devoted or a slacker. But through it all, she tries her best to provide Ava a great vacation, but she’s preoccupied with her romantic entanglement. This provides a nice compliment to Ava‘s story, showing a contrast that makes it feel like Maud is going through a new chapter of her own, and Calamy does a great job in conveying those contradictions convincingly.

null

As for flaws, the change in tone due to the visuals can be quite jarring, particularly during a scene that involves Ava and her boyfriend, donning mud and sticks to disguise themselves while robbing beachgoers. And there is also the more controversial elements like seeing the titular character go through stages of sexual exploration with the character’s age in consideration, which can be quite be upsetting to some.

And last but not least, the ending. It ends inconclusively, leaving Ava in the air, which will throw off some. But it does seem deliberate and in a way, it makes perfect sense, considering that it seems to reflect Ava‘s gradual loss of sight and how it hints that she would not know what is on the horizon after her sight is gone.

However the ending may be, it still doesn’t take away the fact that Ava is one hell of a  feature-length directorial debut for Lea Mysius. It’s hazy, it’s hypnotic, it’s unruly, it’s unpredictable and yet it’s grounded in reality and it has fantastic performances from Abita and Calamy. If you like coming-of-age stories with an experimental approach, Ava is your best bet.

Quickie Review

PROS

Fantastic performances from Abita and Calamy

Daring direction from director Mysius

Fantastic cinematography and visuals, thanks to cinematographer/co-writer Guilhaume

CONS

Controversial elements and jarring moments that don’t always coalesce

Lack of a real ending

SCORE: 7.5/10

lhs

This review can be also seen at THE IRIS. Visit the site by pressing the picture above.

Cast: Noée Abita, Laure Calamy, Juan Cano, Tamara Cano, Daouda Diakhate, Baptiste Archimbaud, Franck Beckmann, Ismaël Capelot, Valentine Cadic
Director: Lea Mysius
Screenwriter: Lea Mysius, Paul Guilhaume

Movie Review – Double Lover (Alliance Francaise French Film Festival 2018)

MV5BMTg5NjUyMzAyOV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMTU4Njk2NDM@._V1_SY1000_CR006741000_AL_

EXPECTATIONS: A prurient, sexy and salacious hell of a time.

REVIEW: There are two pleasures in life that without them, we living things would never exist: gastronomy and sexuality. And there are many talented people out there that try their best to portray their interest for it on many artistic endeavours, especially in cinema.

Such talented auteurs out there are Paul Verhoeven (Basic Instinct, The Third Man), Catherine Breillat (Romance, Fat Girl), Lars von Trier (Nymphomaniac); and we have the newcomers like Park Chan-wook (Thirst, The Handmaiden) and we have the terrible entries like the 50 Shades of Grey films. But the directors that do it right execute the portrayal of sex with character, style and most importantly, passion. And that is where French director Francois Ozon comes in.

Famous for his witty films about the human condition, whether it’s about strength, survival or sexuality, he’s made many great films like Swimming Pool, Frantz, Young and Beautiful and many others. And now we have the 2017 psychosexual drama Double Lover. Will it succeed in being a throwback entry to the days of Swimming Pool?

doublelover-522134-feature-1600x900-c-default

The film stars Chloe (Marine Vacth), a former model who recently quit the modelling world due to her growing dissatisfaction with the modelling world. Recently, she has been having strong abdominal, ongoing pains and she thinks that they may be happening due to a psychological nature.

She decides to go on an appointment with a therapist, Dr Paul Meyer (Jeremie Renier). But little does she know, the sessions will go from awkward, intimate and eventually romantic. Not long after, they move in together and live happily until Paul’s past catches up to Chloe, taking her into a world of surrealistic sensual delights, body horror, mistaken identities and possibly clarifications of her own past.

maxresdefault2

It’s been a while since Francois Ozon ventured into psycho-sexual thriller territory of Under the Sand and Swimming Pool but after a genre detour into subtle melodrama in Frantz, Double Lover marks a return and thankfully, Ozon hasn’t lost much of a step over time. Clearly influenced by acclaimed filmmakers like Alfred Hitchcock, Roman Polanski, David Cronenberg and Paul Verhoeven, Double Lover is jam-packed with gloriously lurid Ozon goodness.

From the beginning of the film, you can tell where Ozon is going with his storytelling, as the film opens during a gynecological exam with an extreme closeup of something pink and wet and then you realize what it is as it zooms back, you can’t help but laugh at the audacity. And it follows on by match-cutting from this POV to that of a blinking eye turned sideways, which is similar to a shot in Lars von Trier‘s drama, Nymphomaniac. And that’s just the first five minutes!

The pacing of the film is a lot like foreplay, slowly toying with the audience as it goes through the scenes where Claire goes through her therapy sessions with Paul, which are downright funny in how blatant they are. But when we see the double of Paul (also played by Jeremie Renier, duh!), it gets enjoyably frisky, as indicated by a shot that closes in on Chloe’s mouth as she climaxes and then zooms into the female body during orgasm, like the scene in a Fast and Furious film where the camera zooms into the car engine!

lamant-double

And then the sex scenes gets psychologically surreal, like in a scene when Chloe fantasizes that she’s having a threesome with the brothers (or doubles), first as herself and then as a pair of Siamese twins. That would be a foursome, right? The bizarre, disorienting and prurient vibe that pervades throughout is supported by cinematographer Manu Dacosse (who’s done post-modern giallo films like Amer and The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears) and Philippe Rombi‘s careering score.

In contrast to films like Frantz and In the House, Double Lover is definitely a more unruly work of Ozon’s, as he turns the film in a mischievous circus of sensual and surreal delights that the story basically becomes second nature. Yet even with that in mind, the craftmanship in display thankfully is intact and he does keep his characters on track and the actors assembled all do a great job with what they’re given.

image-w1280

Marine Vacth, who previously worked with Ozon on Young and Beautiful, is fantastic as Chloe, as she displays the many facets of her character like her fragility in the first act, her strength, her curiosity (finding out about Louis and sexual exploration) and definitely her duplicity (turning the tables on her oppression) very well. She’s quite reminiscent of both Stacy Martin and Charlotte Gainsbourg (both in Nymphomaniac as the same character of different ages, coincidentally) in both her youthfulness and her bravery in her acting and I can’t wait to see what she does next in the future.

As for Jeremie Renier, he’s clearly having fun in his dual roles of Paul and Louis, playing the cool, calm and collected side with ease and the Lacanian (yes, I got that term from Basic Instinct 2, sue me!), dark and aggressive side in an entertaining fashion and it only goes further when the two eventually meet in some shape or form. In what could be seen as sly, the casting of Jacqueline Bisset, the former sex symbol, has fun in her role (or roles?) while Myriam Boyer is a hoot as a neighbour who takes care of Claire’s cat (which funnily enough, is the same breed of cat that featured in Paul Verhoeven‘s 2016 film, Elle).

Double Lover is a great return to psychosexual territory that Ozon is known for and it is an entertainingly juicy time for erotica lovers, with great performances from the cast, great contributions by cinematographer Manu Dacosse and composer Philippe Rombi and very infectiously mischievous direction by Ozon. Like one of the characters in the film, strap on for a rewarding and sensuous ride.

Quickie Review

PROS

The cast give great performances

Ozon’s cheeky yet professional direction

Vibrant cinematography and an effectively careering score

CONS

The story is second nature

SCORE: 8/10

lhs

This review can be also seen at THE IRIS. Visit the site by pressing the picture above.

Cast: Marine Vacth, Jeremie Renier, Jacqueline Bisset, Myriam Boyer, Dominique Reymond
Director: Francois Ozon
Screenwriter: Francois Ozon (loosely based on the novel Lives of the Twins by Joyce Carol Oates)