Wednesday, 13 March 2019

Beautiful Boy (Felix van Groeningen, 2018)


8 Jaar geleden bevond ik mezelf in een hopeloze situatie. Met de rug tegen de muur. Wanhopig zoekend naar een uitweg. Wetende dat ik drastisch mijn levenswijze moest veranderen of ik zou al snel de wortels van groen gras voor eeuwig kunnen bewonderen. De wil om te veranderen was er. De moed ook. Alleen kon ik niet. En nu na al die jaren ben ik blij dat ik toen de juiste knoop heb doorgehakt. Voor mij was Beautiful Boy dan ook een bittere pil om te slikken. Ik had niet gedacht dat ik het er zo moeilijk mee zou hebben. Het was dan wel geen crystal meth of iets gelijkaardigs waar ik problemen mee had, maar er zijn in deze indrukwekkende film zoveel herkeningspunten dat het wel leek alsof het een beetje mijn verhaal was. Een lawine aan gevoelens passeren de revue hier. Trots, vertrouwen, wantrouwen, wanhoop, ontreddering, hoop, geluk, verdriet en moedeloosheid. Een uitzichtloze strijd die van beide kampen onmenselijke krachten eist en een niet te vermijden afloop kent. Ofwel slaagt de persoon erin ofwel moeten diegenen die hem omringen lijdzaam toezien hoe hij zichzelf de vernieling in drinkt, spuit, snuift of slikt. Ik had het er moeilijk mee.

Het mooie aan de film vond ik het feit dat men zich niet enkel en alleen toespitste op de verslaafde Nic (Timothée Chalamet), maar ook op de mensen die hem omringen (vader David Sheff door Steve Carell en stiefmoeder Karen door Maura Tierney). Als verslaafde heb je in je hoogdagen geen enkel besef wat leed je deze mensen aandoet. Alles draait rond het naar binnen krijgen van datgene wat je lichaam nodig heeft. Het is dus niet zoals in Christiane F. – Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo en Animals waar je getuige bent van de geleidelijke aftakeling van de verslaafde zelf. Zowel op fysiek als psychisch vlak. Niet dat Nic er spic en span blijft uitzien de gehele film. Naar het einde toe zie je de vreselijke gevolgen van het dagelijkse gebruik van methamfetamine. Die wazige blik en grauwig, onverzorgd uiterlijk. Maar voornamelijk zijn wisselende gemoedstoestanden en agressief gedrag tegenover anderen is vreselijk om aan te zien. Zijn smeekbedes en beloftes zijn niets meer dan een excuus om weeral te bedelen voor extra cash om het spul waar zijn lichaam naar hunkert, terug aan te schaffen.

Het enige wat ik tegen mijn vrouw zei achteraf was: “Ik hoop dit nooit mee te maken met één van onze twee kids want dit is een echte nachtmerrie”. Als ouder van twee opgroeiende kinderen breekt me het angstzweet uit bij de gedachte dat dit me zou kunnen overkomen. Hoe erg je ook je best doet om ze te beschermen tegen de boze buitenwereld en je ze overlaadt met liefde en aandacht, het moment dat ze zwichten voor de middelen die hun levensbestaan rooskleuriger maakt, weet je dat je een ongelijke strijd gaat voeren. Een gevecht waarbij je, tegen al je oudergevoelens in, op een bepaald moment misschien wel de handdoek in de ring moet werpen en aan jezelf moet bekennen dat je de strijd verloren hebt. Een kind afgeven is vreselijk. Maar de band met je kind verbreken, pretenderen dat ze niet meer existeren en hopen dat ze zonder kleerscheuren uit die periode geraken, is volgens mij tientallen keren erger.


Niet alleen qua thema is Beautiful Boy indrukwekkend te noemen. Ook het acteren van Steve Carell en Timothée Chalamet is weergaloos schitterend. Je voelt gewoonweg de wanhoop bij Steve Carell die zijn zoon tracht te helpen en telkens beseft dat dit niet lukt. Een vader die zich op de problematiek stort en als een onderzoeksjournalist tracht te begrijpen wat de beruchte drugs bij zijn zoon Nic aanricht. Als komiek heeft Steve Carell mij nooit weten te overtuigen. Met deze rol is mijn respect voor de acteur echter alleen maar toegenomen. Timothée Chalamet’s performance is zeker Oscar-waardig te noemen. Geen moment krijg je het gevoel dat hij maar een rijzende ster aan het Hollywood firmament is die acteert. Het voelt authentiek, oprecht en ongeforceerd aan. Deze twee hoofdrolspelers mogen hun tuxedo al klaarleggen voor de Academy Awards.

En ook regisseur Felix van Groeningen (Belgian and proud) mag met beide heren rustig aanschuiven op de rode loper. Thematisch leent de film zich uitstekend om er een overdreven Hollywood spektakel van te maken. Maar hij slaagt erin om het sereen en realistisch te houden. Artistieke beelden worden verwerkt in een eigenzinnige montage waarbij er lustig heen en weer wordt gesprongen in de tijd. Flashbacks volgen elkaar op waarbij de herinneringen van zowel Nic en Davis in elkaar overvloeien. Ik wist dan ook soms niet waar het verhaal zich op de tijdslijn situeerde. Maar dat is dan ook het enige minpunt dat ik kan bedenken bij deze voor de rest indrukmakende film. En dit alles voorzien van een smaakmakende soundtrack. Ik had nooit verwacht Territorial Pissings van Nirvana te horen in een film.

Voor de meeste filmliefhebbers zal dit niet meer zijn dan een gewoon familiedrama over verslaving. Misschien vinden ze het ook wel eentonig vanwege de oneindige cyclus van herleven en hervallen. Op mij maakte het echter een verpletterende indruk die heel wat emoties loswrikte. Ik hoop dat iedere persoon die in de val loopt van welk verdovend middel dan ook, dat ze ook kunnen terugvallen op een liefhebbende, ondersteunende familie vol begrip, om er uiteindelijk ergens in hun leven vanaf te geraken.

Peter Pluymers 

Words: copyright © movie-freak.be 2019

Images: image.net

Thursday, 28 February 2019

Climax (Gaspar Noé, 2018)


During the past 20 years, Gaspar Noé has made just five feature films.  Climax - which has recently been released on DVD and Blu-ray - appeared after the shortest gap in his filmography, following his 2015 3D feature Love.  The list of people you could share a Noé film with is as short as the director's résumé, as his works are never an easy watch.  That said, both Love and Climax have marked a relative mellowing, of sorts, for the director; coincidentally or not, these films are the only two to be made by Noé since he turned 50.  Yet, if these works can indeed be said to be tamer, it says more about the films that came before (most notably 2002's Irreversible), and Noé's work, even at its most palatable, is not for the faint of heart.  I once attended a screening of his Enter the Void which was introduced by the director, and was struck by how affable, funny and charming he was.  If you met this guy in the street, you'd never believe he was the man behind some of the most black-hearted cinema we've ever seen.


Climax, which stars the excellent Sofia Boutella, is a film of two very distinct halves.  Near the beginning we are presented with the full credits, along with a reference to the film we've just seen.  Hang on, is this story going to be told backwards, à la Irreversible?  Not really, although we do see part of the ending at the beginning, making the bulk of the film, quite appropriately as it turns out, one big flashback.  For the first main section, we're privy to a dance troupe's final rehearsal before they're due to head off on tour.  We witness them performing their energetic routine, and even if, like me, you have no interest in dance, you are very unlikely to be left unimpressed by this incredible extended sequence as various voguers, waackers and krumpers all do their thing in front of Noé's camera.  That this is all done in a solitary take makes it all the more remarkable - for decades, we've grown tired of cinema's tricks and CGI, but to watch this group perform like this with no edits of any kind is refreshing in a way that's hard to describe; it almost makes you feel as if a reset button has been pressed and cinema has got its mojo back.  It's pure bravura filmmaking, and certainly the most exhilarating dance sequence I've ever seen on film.


Following these exertions, it's time for a party to mark the end of the intensive rehearsal period.  The dancers break off into couples, and we get to eavesdrop on the various conversations, which almost invariably involve bitching about other members of the troupe.  Noé breaks from his one-take approach here, and dips in and out of the different discussions in a fidgety manner.  None of the dialogue is particularly consequential, but it does give each of the characters a little more room to establish their personalities (prior to this, we've just seen fragments of recorded interviews with each member).  After this pause for breath, there's another exciting, prolonged dance sequence, this time focusing on the dancers' individual talents; as before, Noé chronicles this with an unblinking eye, although this time around it's from an overhead vantage point.  And then, most surprisingly, another set of credits appears - which serves as a line dividing the film's two very different parts.  Noé's debut feature, I Stand Alone, contained an on-screen warning which gave you 30 seconds to abandon the cinema before the film really plummeted into the cesspool.  Climax's mid-film credits could be similarly viewed as a warning, albeit of the coded variety - after all, don't we normally leave once the second lot of credits roll?  Indeed, one person at the screening I attended adhered to this protocol.


If you choose to keep watching, you'd best buckle up.  As part of the celebrations, the majority of the dancers have been swigging sangria, and it soon transpires that someone has spiked the bowl.  It doesn't take long for the troupe to realise what has happened, and accusations soon fly.  Who's behind this scarcely matters (although watch carefully and you'll spot the perp), as the dancers are now powerless in the grip of a highly potent hallucinogen.  While we can't see what they see, we are still presented with something resembling a waking nightmare in which all hell breaks loose; in case we're in any doubt about this, the last stretch of the film sees the camera flipped upside down as the chaos unfolds against suitably infernal red emergency lighting.  This post-credits section is arguably the lesser half of the film; it's remarkable in that it all appears to be filmed in a single take (although some very clever edits are more likely), but anyone familiar with Noé's work will be presented with something which looks slightly reheated.  Which doesn't stop it from being uncomfortably compelling - the film is many things, but being dull is never one of them.


Climax doesn't really show too many signs of progress as far Noé's career is concerned, but it does reinforce his position as a filmmaker of incomparable, fizzing technique; few directors have mastered sound and image in the way that Noé has and, just as with with his previous four features, Climax is a technical marvel.  It also has Noé's fingerprints all over it, in everything from the use of Daft Punk's Thomas Bangalter on the soundtrack to its trademark Godardian intertitles.  What's all the more remarkable is that the whole thing was put together in a matter of weeks; working without a script, Noé started the film in early 2018 and had it ready for screening at the same year's Cannes in May.  That's a quick turnaround for any film, let alone one as dizzying and dazzling as Climax.  While it's not a film that can be recommended unreservedly, it's certainly one to carefully consider should you find yourself jaded with present-day narrative cinema. 

Darren Arnold

Images: Wild Bunch

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

Images: image.net

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

Images: image.net

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...