Wednesday, 13 February 2019

Holy Tour (Méryl Fortunat-Rossi / Valéry Rosier, 2018)

More than a decade ago, I walked just a few short steps from my house to watch the Tour de France go by at the end of the street.  Having no interest whatsoever in cycling, I found the event to be surprisingly enjoyable, and it took just a matter of minutes out of my day.  While I'm glad I made the minimal effort required to glimpse the peloton, I really can't comprehend why people would camp out by the roadside for a couple of weeks or so to witness the same spectacle.  I'm aware that the subjects of Belgian documentary Holy Tour are looking to make a bigger holiday out of the event, and it's probably fair to say it's not all about the Tour for them, but their devotion and obsession with the race is something to which I can't relate.  But to each their own, and, for all my lack of interest in the sport, Holy Tour proves to be generally tolerable.

The documentary's two directors appear to share my indifference towards the race, as the film is not so much about the Tour de France as it is about its followers - specifically, those who pick a spot in their campervans where they can while away the days before the cyclists flash past.  In Holy Tour's case, such fans are almost invariably of retirement age (so time off from work is obviously not a complication), and most are married couples.  As such, there are the expected conversations and minor squabbles, and a lot of time is spent scrambling for a signal of any kind so the race's progress can be tracked.  Many of the people featured here hope to be glimpsed on TV once the Tour gets to where they're camped, and you can fully understand the frustration of someone who, having built an entire holiday around a few seconds of an event, has their view obscured by inconsiderate types once the critical moment arrives.  Parisians, it should be noted, do not come out of this very well.

The people featured here are quite hard to warm to at first, but as the film progresses these subjects become much more relatable and appealing; the film takes an upturn once the conversations open up to include things other than the Tour.  It's never riveting, but it's also never dull, either, and the film's brevity is very much a plus point.  There is one very dark development which occurs, and while it seems rather out of place in the context of this otherwise quirky film, it does much to engender sympathy for the party involved.  At its core, the film is very human, even if it's not terribly exciting.

While audiences may or may not be drawn to Holy Tour on account of their level of interest regarding the Tour de France, it's actually a film which, in terms of identity, balances itself on a knife-edge: it's a documentary about the event which features little footage of the actual race, and as such it may prove disappointing to the cycling fans who've paid for admission.  On the other hand, those who enjoy a good fly-on-the-wall documentary may well be put off by what looks like a sports film; it's certainly a tricky one to market, and whoever has the job of selling this has an unenviable task.  As documentaries go, Holy Tour is closer to lanterne rouge than it is to maillot jaune, yet it has just enough about it to make for a cautious recommendation.

Darren Arnold


Friday, 11 January 2019

Dilili in Paris (Michel Ocelot, 2018)

For many years, director Michel Ocelot has been the go-to guy for sumptious, intelligent animation.  His immaculate feature films always make for a nice alternative for families with younger children, and their soothing ambience is a far cry from the loud and garish cartoons which are so often found in the multiplex.  Ocelot's films carry a most distinctive style, and, while Dilili in Paris is immediately identifiable as being the work of the director, there's quite a stylistic departure in place as his unmistakable 2D characters are placed in front of photographic backgrounds.  This novel approach works remarkably well, with the backgrounds greatly contributing to the wonderful atmosphere created by this engaging, humorous, yet occasionally troubling work.

Set during the Belle Époque, the film sees the Dilili of the title arrive in Paris from New Caledonia.  This young, impeccably mannered Kanak girl cheerfully takes in the sights and sounds of the City of Light, encountering casual racism and a galaxy of famous names as she gets involved in some sleuthing.  The mystery she's trying to solve regards a spate of kidnapping which is occurring in the city; there is a pattern in that all the victims are female, and it must be said that this premise is a dark one for any film, let alone a family one.  Thankfully, Ocelot's deft handling of this potentially very upsetting subject matter ensures that any little ones watching shouldn't find anything too traumatic in what unfolds.  As she attempts to find those responsible, Dilili has a helpful sidekick, Orel, who holds an impressive list of contacts that can only be described as a Who's Who of the Paris of the time.  Through Orel, Dilili encounters the likes of Bernhardt, Pasteur, Toulouse-Lautrec, Rodin, Satie, Curie and Claudel - and that's by no means an exhaustive list of those who pop up during the course of the film.  You will have noticed that these important historical characters include a number of successful, pioneering women, which turns out to be very relevant once Dilili and Orel discover the thinking behind the crimes.

Dilili in Paris manages to be both a charming, intoxicating walk around Belle Époque Paris and a commentary on some very contemporary issues.  Despite being an animated work, it's one of the most atmospheric recreations of Paris seen on film for some years, and Ocelot brilliantly conjures a city many of us know and an era which remains endlessly fascinating.  While it makes for fine entertainment, the film also possesses huge educational potential, with its countless figures from history providing many jumping-off points for discussions on the important developments which occurred during the French Third Republic; any one of the featured luminaries would make for a substantial school project.  However, first and foremost, and despite its slightly sinister edge (which is nothing unusual for Ocelot), Dilili in Paris is a wonderful slice of escapism from a director who rarely, if ever, lets us down.

Darren Arnold


Saturday, 22 December 2018

Monday, 17 December 2018

We're on the LAMB

Large Association of Movie Blogs

Good news, everyone!  We're now a member of the Large Association of Movie Blogs!  If you head on over there right now you may just glimpse us featured in the "Newest Lamb" section.  The LAMB is the world's largest directory of movie blogs (so it's not just a clever name), and you can visit it at any time from this site by clicking on the permanent button I've installed at the bottom of the page...

Monday, 10 December 2018

Kill Switch (Tim Smit, 2017)

In een toekomstige wereld heeft de multinational Alterplex een eeuwigdurende energiebron ontworpen. Dankzij de M-Theorie en de theorie over het dupliceren van materie, zijn ze erin geslaagd om een parallel universum te creëren. Geloof me, de hele theorie wordt in de film uit de doeken gedaan. Niet dat ik er veel van begreep. Er wordt lustig gebruikgemaakt van wetenschappelijke termen zoals ruimtedimensies, kwantum deeltjes en zwaartekracht portalen. Het enige verschil tussen ons universum en dit duplicaat, is dat er geen organische bestanddelen aanwezig zijn. Het is dus eigenlijk een reusachtige, levenloze batterij waar de moderne wereld energie uit kan winnen. Iets wat noodzakelijk is geworden, daar het energieverbruik op onze planeet fenomenaal gestegen is.

Will Porter (Dan Stevens, The Ticket), een natuurkundige die ook voor NASA gewerkt heeft, wordt door Alterplex aangeworven als oplossing bij eventuele problemen. Indien er een instabiliteit wordt vastgesteld, wordt hij naar het parallelle universum getransporteerd waar hij een kubusvormig object in de gedupliceerde toren moet plaatsen. Alterplex heeft er alles voor over om hem in te lijven. Zelfs de overplaatsing van zijn zus (Charity Wakefield) en haar zoontje Donny (Kasper van Groesen) is geen probleem. Zelfs voor de beste medische begeleiding voor Donny wordt gezorgd. Een aanbod waar Will geen neen tegen kan zeggen. Ook al heeft hij in eerste instantie geen benul van wat hem te wachten staat.

En schijnbaar is zijn opleiding niet grondig geweest, want op het moment dat hij effectief door een portaal naar dit ander universum gaat, blijkt hij grotendeels niet te weten wat er aan de hand is. Zelfs de melding Redivider op de kubus zegt hem niks. Dan Stevens loopt dus eigenlijk de gehele film verward en hulpeloos rond terwijl hij zich afvraagt waarom er toch menselijk leven aanwezig is en allerhande objecten uit de lucht vallen (objecten die op de werkelijke wereld spoorloos verdwijnen). Dat hijzelf niet gekopieerd werd vind deze natuurkundige vanzelfsprekend blijkbaar. Redelijk onlogisch toch.

Qua verhaal stelt het allemaal niet erg veel voor. Het is vooral het FPS perspectief dat de meeste aandacht eist. En ook aardig op de zenuwen begint te werken naarmate het verhaal vordert. Misschien dat PS4 aanhangers hier enthousiast over worden, maar ik geloof nog steeds niet in dit concept. Hetzelfde principe werd in Let's Be Evil en Jeruzalem gehanteerd en ook niet echt geapprecieerd door ondergetekende. Als ik zin heb in een FPS, dan plug ik mijn PS4 wel in. Dan heb ik tenminste de controle over het verloop van het verhaal. Verwacht je dus weer aan een heen en weer zwierend beeld waarin allerhande statussen getoond worden. Ook Dan’s monologen lijken enkel volgepropt te zijn met steeds dezelfde weerkerende uitroepen zoals “Oh my God!”, “What the hell is this?”, “Let's go!”, “Come on!” en “Run! Run! Run!”. Ik ben er zeker van dat in Chariots of Fire minder rondgelopen werd als in deze film.

Qua acteren is het ook al niet zo overweldigend. Dan Stevens was waarschijnlijk niet lang aanwezig op de set, daar we hem het overgrote deel van film toch niet te zien krijgen. En als hij al in beeld komt, kijkt hij telkens met die verbaasde, onwetende blik. Bérénice Marlohe tracht de hele tijd haar meest fotogenieke gedeelte van haar gelaat te gebruiken (haar diep uitgesneden decolleté eist aan het begin de meeste aandacht) en heeft hoogstwaarschijnlijk een overenthousiaste medewerker in de schminkafdeling ter beschikking gekregen (gezien de riante hoeveelheid mascara dat er gebruikt werd). Is er dan niets positiefs te melden. Jawel hoor. Ik was aardig onder de indruk van de gebruikte SE’s. Neen het is niet vergelijkbaar met de peperdure SE’s van pakweg Star Wars of Avatar (je kijkt er dus niet naar alsof je van de hand Gods geslagen bent) en het is soms wel overduidelijk dat het gecomputeriseerde beelden zijn. Maar toch waren ze niet slecht deze beelden. En dat het zich afspeelde in het toekomstige Amsterdam, was ook een aangename verrassing. Kill Switch heeft dezelfde tekortkoming als Lights Out. Beiden films zijn voorafgegaan door een kortere you-tube versie die voor de nodige hype hebben gezorgd op dit medium. Het resultaat is in beide gevallen een film met een ijzersterk concept, waar je het gevoel krijgt dat men enorm veel moeite heeft gedaan om het kortverhaal zo lang mogelijk te rekken. Dus na verfilmingen van PC-games en boekverfilmingen, is het misschien ook wijselijk om niet meer YouTube succesjes naar het grote doek te verhuizen. 

Peter Pluymers

Images: SquareOne Entertainment

Thanks to Peter for this review; don't forget that you can read more of Peter's work here (in English) and here (in Dutch).  Please note this article is copyright © 2017.

Monday, 3 December 2018

Suspiria (Luca Guadagnino, 2018)

Moordvrouw star Renée Soutendijk is back on the big screen in this lavish, controversial remake of Dario Argento's classic 70s horror.  The past few years may have seen Soutendijk become a fixture on RTL 4, but recently both the Amsterdam-born actress and her Moordvrouw co-star Thijs Römer have enjoyed parts in theatrical films.  Soutendijk, of course, is well acquainted with the silver screen, with her many film credits including some of Paul Verhoeven's early work; she also gained much attention for her portrayal of Hannie Schaft in The Girl with the Red Hair.  Her presence in Suspiria appears to be the result of some homage casting by director Luca Guadagnino, who has also included Fassbinder favourite Ingrid Caven and "slow cinema" doyen Fred Kelemen among his eclectic ensemble.  At the other end of the spectrum, the film features the likes of Fifty Shades starlet Dakota Johnson and Marvel actor Tilda Swinton (admittedly, the latter is no stranger to arthouse fare, and both actresses have worked with Guadagnino before).  Argento, who has a producer credit on the new film, also went with some surprising actor choices for his original, casting old pros Alida Valli and - in her final film role - Joan Bennett.

Guadagnino's film is set in 1977 - the year Argento's film was released - and the basic premise is the same as the earlier movie: young American Susie (Johnson) arrives in a wet and windy Germany to study at a prestigious dance school.  Susie's arrival coincides with the disappearance of fellow student  Patricia (Chloë Grace Moretz), who's convinced that the academy is run by a coven of witches.  It's no real secret that Patricia is actually telling the truth, and she tries to impart this information to her psychotherapist, who in turn tries to tell the police that the girl's disappearance is the work of the women in charge of the school.  The West Berlin police have little time for such tales, given that both the city and the country are in the grip of a fear perpetrated by the Red Army Faction; as Suspiria unfolds against the backdrop of the German Autumn, you could say that two types of terror are simultaneously at work here.  Such a move grounds proceedings in a reality that was wholly absent in Argento's film - a work which could easily be viewed as a colour-saturated fever dream.  As fascinating as the Baader-Meinhof story is, I'm not convinced that Guadagnino's idea is the better of the two.

While either one of these two plot threads would be enough for one movie (cf. Argento's Suspiria and The Baader Meinhof Complex), Guadagnino and his scriptwriter David Kajganich add on another layer involving German national guilt and the holocaust; at times, this aspect provides some poignant moments, yet at other points it feels borderline distasteful.  Linked to this element, however, is a sad and touching story involving Patricia's psychotherapist, the inconsolable Dr. Klemperer (Lutz Ebersdorf), whose wife (Jessica Harper, star of the original film) vanished in the chaos of 1943.  Klemperer regularly crosses divided Berlin to visit the couple's East German dacha, where he feels the sadness especially keenly.  The doctor's tragic story is obviously a motivating factor in his determination to solve the disappearance of Patricia, but his enquiries inevitably lead him to the sinister dance academy and its icy lead choreographer Madame Blanc (Swinton), who presides over a number of matrons (played by Soutendijk, Craven and Sylvie Testud, among others).  Klemperer tries to warn another student, Sara (Mia Goth), of the sinister nature of the academy, but she angrily dismisses his claims; Sara has befriended Susie, who we should remember is both the film's main character and the star of ominous dance show Volk, which the students are preparing for a public performance.

Suspiria is something of a paradox: there was absolutely no need to remake Argento's masterpiece (which is now available on an outstanding 4K UHD disc), yet the very idea of doing such a thing provided a level of intrigue which made it, at least for me, one of the most anticipated films of 2018.  An inherent weakness of the new film is that Guadagnino is no director of horror, let alone an Argento, and it's obvious that he's looked to other areas to compensate for this; the film is never scary, and it falters whenever it has to deal with familiar genre tropes - although it is occasionally unsettling.  It is, incredibly, nearly a full hour longer than the original, and wears its pretension on its sleeve as it languidly moves through its "six acts and an epilogue".  And, while immaculately photographed, it doesn't come close to replicating the unique visual aesthetic of Argento's film.  There are lots of other reasons why the film shouldn't work, but, just like the witches featured here, it sure knows how to cast a spell.

The closest point of comparison for the movie is Gus Van Sant's Psycho - both films share a perverse aim in remaking an established masterpiece, and the two remakes stand as bizarre art exercises whose existence is infinitely stranger than any of their content.  Which is saying something in the case of Suspiria, which is an elliptical, fragmented rumination on motherhood and collective memory masquerading as a horror film.  However, the movie does very much succeed in creating a strong sense of time and place: Bowie's Berlin is that most atmospheric of settings, and the film is certainly an immersive experience which pulls you down the rabbit hole right from the off.  The performances are committed, too, with Johnson making for a surprisingly appealing lead, while Goth continues to impress.  But the film very much belongs to Swinton, whose work here is nothing less than staggering - it's best if you can go into the movie without doing too much reading up on it, as you'll find the experience to be all the more rewarding if you're ignorant of certain facts; at the very least, make a point of avoiding the film's IMDb page until after the screening.  Guadagnino's take on Suspiria, then, is a quite unique beast: pointless, yet also a must-see.

Darren Arnold