Tag Archives: dysfunctional

THE LEVELLING

“Ellie Kendrick’s performance is terrific – mature beyond her years – and absolutely pivotal to the film’s success.”

Wayward Wolf.

Following the suspected suicide of her younger brother Harry (Joe Blakemore), Clover (Ellie Kendrick), returns home to help with the funeral arrangements.

On her arrival, Clover’s father (played by David Troughton), or Aubrey as she chooses to refer to him, appears somewhat distracted, not to mention a little evasive with his daughter, brushing aside her understandable inquisitiveness as to her brother’s death, offering only a vague and wholly inadequate line in answering.

Aubrey is a dairy farmer, but with both his farmland and farmhouse all but ruined by the effects of the recent heavy rains and subsequent flooding – something which his insurers are refusing to compensate him for – it is clear that both his livelihood and general mental wellbeing now hang in the balance.

The failed insurance claim has caused Aubrey to drink heavily, and necessitates that he must live for now in a temporary porta-cabin until such time as he can afford to repair the flood-damaged farmhouse. Add to this, the family business, for a number of reasons, appears to be at the point of collapse.

There is a rather dysfunctional dynamic between Clover and Aubrey, much as there had apparently been between Aubrey and his now deceased son and heir to the farm. These rather strained relationships, the slow unravelling of the truth, and Clover’s growing awareness that only through personal sacrifice and the airing of grievances, can the wounds heal and the lingering resentment subside, are all meticulously explored in this unashamedly heavy-going drama.

A bleak and uneasy air of melancholy pervades throughout Hope Dixon Leach’s excellently-observed slow-burning character-driven piece.

Ellie Kendrick’s performance is terrific – mature beyond her years – and absolutely pivotal to the film’s success. Her on-going efforts to ensure that at least somebody remains strong and accountable in her family’s time of need, in spite of both her father’s unjust sniping and bitterness, and the general gathering gloom of the situation, are both noble and selfless.

Rich with symbolism and metaphors, The Levelling is a particularly impressive and rewarding piece to the patient viewer, and testimony to the old adage that blood is indeed thicker than water.

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IT’S ONLY THE END OF THE WORLD

“…Dolan has come up with yet another film of quite devastating impact.”

Wayward Wolf.

Director Xavier Dolan is no stranger to confrontational, explosive content, and his latest piece, It’s Only the End of the World – based loosely on Jean-Luc Lagarce’s play – continues in a familiar vein.

Employing the incredibly effective, yet highly claustrophobic technique of using tight close up shots pretty much throughout, Dolan’s film conjures up a suffocating, unsettling, and deeply awkward air, right from the start.

Louis (the softly-spoken Noah Wyle-alike, Gaspard Ulliel), is returning home after an absence of some twelve years. A cursory glance at the film’s synopsis in advance of any viewing will make sense of much of the film’s content, however, going into it blind as I did left much room for ambiguity. There are certainly many ways of interpreting the array of dysfunctional and erratic behaviour on display without necessarily coming to any sort of concrete conclusions, let alone the correct one.

For those that wish to know: Louis is returning home to announce that he is terminally ill and that he is not long for this world. Exactly what is wrong with him is never established owing to the absolute barrage of issues and the undercurrents of family bitterness and self-interest that completely swamp Louis and any attempts he may make to announce his news during the visit.

Chief protagonist in conjuring up the absolute tsunami of ill-feeling that seems to completely envelop the family is older brother, Antoine (an absolutely sensational bordering on unhinged performance from Vincent Cassel), whose anger-fuelled sarcasm and acerbic ripostes do little to encourage a free-flowing dialogue of compassion amongst the family members.

Younger sister, Suzanne (the ever impressive Léa Seydoux), so keen to catch up with and indeed get to know the brother that’s been absent for most of her formative years, is given scant opportunity to do so thanks in part to her own selfish interests, but chiefly due to the ever-present dark cloud of misery that Antoine insists on hanging heavy over the party.

A strong -willed mother (Nathalie Baye), and Catherine (Marion Cotillard), complete this particular gathering of doom, in amongst whom, Louis waits patiently and nervously for the opportune moment to announce his grave news.

It is a moment that never comes, although there are insinuations during the film that some family members may be marginally less clueless of Louis’ intentions than others.

The whole thing remains fairly ambiguous, though Dolan does superbly well to ramp up the atmosphere and tension throughout to the point at which something surely has to give.

Or perhaps not? You’ll need to see for yourselves.

It’s Only the End of the World is a dialogue-heavy piece, yet Dolan finds ways of administering his own brand of agitated energy and dynamism to proceedings, made so much easier thanks to an absolutely stella cast performing at the very top of their games.

With the highly effective use of montages and a score that successfully swells the already palpable levels of negative tension to at times unbearably bloated levels, Dolan has come up with yet another film of quite devastating impact. A highly challenging piece that frequently threatens to boil over, yet, is just about reined in sufficiently to keep us guessing right through to the film’s ambiguous conclusion.

FILM REVIEW: Wiener-Dog

Director Todd Solondz’ latest effort is a curious affair, to say the least. From the man that brought us the darker than dark (yet quite wonderful), Happiness, ‘curious’ was probably always going to be on the cards.

Wiener-Dog tells a series of short tales, all of which are loosely linked together not just by their overriding air of melancholy, uneasiness and pitch-black comedy, but more to the point, by a canine common denominator; one small Dachschund sausage dog (or Wiener-Dog to our American cousins).

Rather than possessing any wayward ‘Littlest Hobo’ genes that might cause our low-slung friend to develop itchy feet, up sticks on a whim, and head for that place that keeps on calling him, Wiener-Dog’s geographic movements and general fate in life is very much determined through desperately poor choices on the part of a collection of rather dysfunctional people, all of whom, with no particular malice intended I’m sure, seem determined to do the wrong thing by him; often placing him in the most awkward of situations and all too frequently, at death’s door.

A previously gravely-sick child is bought the little dog as a feel-good gift by his well-meaning father (Tracy Letts), much to the mother’s chagrin (Julie Delpy). When Wiener-Dog himself gets ill though, and causes ructions in the family unit, as quick as a flash he finds himself on the vet’s table, and only the intervention of the vet’s kindly assistant (Greta Gerwig), saves him from a long old sleep.

Thus begins another chapter in Wiener-Dog’s chequered and very troubled life which will eventually lead his new owner to present him as a gift to a Down’s syndrome couple, who are clearly smitten by the little fella.

Put upon and seriously depressed university lecturer (Danny DeVito), is next in line to take on this high-maintenance hoodoo, but once DeVito’s number is up, it’s a cantankerous old lady’s abode which proves to be Wiener-Dog’s last port of call. A faithful sidekick and companion to share an existence thoroughly bereft of ebullience, with a lady whose joi-de-vivre clearly ‘went west’ many moons ago, seems a somehow fitting way for the hapless hound to see out his remaining days.

Wiener-dog’s passage from owner to owner is at times logically linked, and at other times it’s unclear, and left to the viewer’s imagination. What is clear though is that a trail of unhappiness and misfortune – both for him and his surrogate owners – seems to follow Wiener-Dog around like a bad smell.

From terrible parenting, to ill-advised, selfish and depression-induced decision making on the part of pretty much all involved, Todd Solondz injects his film with chucklesome moments a plenty, often delighting in drawing out the macabre and the deeply inappropriate, whether it be attempting to use Wiener-Dog as an explosive device, or revelling in a seemingly never-ending tracking shot of a trail of doggy diarrhoea, to the haunting strains of Claude Debussy.

For such moments alone, Wiener-Dog does enough to intrigue and compel and makes Solondz’ curious piece well worth a watch. That said, if truth be told, it’s a film that doesn’t necessarily hang together particularly well as a whole, leaving a few too many questions unanswered, and lacking a true coherence of narrative.

For all of its quirkiness and attempts to quietly shock and appall by venturing into the forbidden and by tackling taboos, Wiener-Dog is a fairly patchy affair, but as with any Solondz offering, it’s one that’s worth your time.

 

 

 

FILM REVIEW: The Lobster

The Lobster is a love story. Kind of.

Perhaps not the kind you and I would be particularly familiar with, but even so, an against all odds tale of devotion, played out with a comical awkwardness, bordering on the uncomfortable.

The film portrays a society in which coupledom is the natural order of things and where being single, no matter the circumstances, is not only discouraged by society but infact considered a crime; grounds for arrest and rehabilitation.

No conventional love stories are going to blossom in such an environment.

David (Colin Farrell) is single having split from his girlfriend of twelve years and is consequently whisked away, together with his dog (his brother – all will be explained), by the authorities, to an idyllic hotel retreat in the countryside where he will join a number of other singles in seeing out a 45 day period in which each must ‘find love’ or suffer the ignominy of being turned into an animal, (of their own choosing).

Each prisoner (for that is what they are in essence), can increase the length of their stay at the hotel , accumulating credits (additional days) by being successful in the daily man-hunt, a procedure in which loners who lurk in the nearby woods – ostracized from society, are tracked down, sedated by way of a tranquiliser dart and brought back to the hotel where they too shall begin a 45 day stint of their own, if lucky…

There’s an essence of Big Brother that pervades throughout The Lobster and it’s hard to know whether it’s this fear of authority that has resulted in the array of social misfits that seem to populate Director Yorgos Lanthimos’s world, or whether this is just the natural way of things.

Whether it be the lisping inadequacies of John C Reilly’s character, the coniving, stoney-faced delivery of the limping man (Ben Whishaw), or the cold-hearted psychopathic tendencies of the heartless woman (Angeliki Papoulia), David is undoubtedly surrounded by similarly dysfunctional folk that, it has to be said, would probably benefit more from being turned into dogs, ponies or whichever species they have resigned themselves to being, than continuing their droid like existences as ‘humans’.

It’s only when finally seizing an opportunity to run away, hiding out with Lea Seydoux’s gang of loners in the woods, (a group as militant in their staunch defence of all things single, as their polar opposites are of ‘togetherness’ in the hotel), that David finally has a chance to discover love with the short sighted woman, (Rachel Weisz). However, this being The Lobster , naturally it’s an outlawed love (by Seydoux’s own loner rules), which opens up a whole new set of issues and circumstances for David to contend with.

Be it the hotel’s daily indoctrination via propaganda shows of ‘together is good, alone is bad,’ the occasional random appearance of a camel or peacock gate-crashing an inapproriate scene (presumably loners whose 45 days had expired), or the loners’ own insistence that only electronic music should be danced to – a sort of woodland silent disco – as this would not encourage any human interaction and potential flirting, The Lobster is steeped in the darkest of humour.

There’s also a rather unsettling and sinister undercurrent that underpins the film; a fear of stepping out of line, by saying or doing the wrong thing and an assortment of characters whose extreme reticence would seem to reflect this.

As the old Japanese saying states: “never be the nail that stands up above the others…”

I did feel that the concept or perhaps more accurately, its delivery, was on the wane a little in the film’s latter stages. The stilted, almost robotic delivery of the characters started to become a little tiresome. That said, the final scene is as tense and riveting as anything I’ve seen all year and is a fitting finale.

Not a classic by any means, but a weird and wonderful idea, well acted and well executed.

Recommended.

FILM REVIEW: MOMMY

There are some films that somehow suit the cinema in which they are shown.

Hidden away, yet only a stone’s throw from Leicester Square, is the sorry looking, run down, neglected, yet considerably charming Odeon on London’s Panton Street.

Sat amongst the customary handful of waifs, strays and assorted degenerates that always seem to coincide their film watching jamboree with my own, at this, the mother of all throw-back cinemas, you somehow couldn’t ask for a better venue to take in a gritty, Xavier Dolan offering.

Dolan’s last outing, back in 2014, was the excellent ‘Tom à la ferme’; a look at a family’s dysfunctionality, forbidden secrets and their coming to terms with bereavement. The main theme of family dysfunction is further explored here in ‘Mommy,’ another hard-hitting piece, exploring an alternative and much darker take on the classic, happy family unit.

Steve (Antoine-Olivier Pilon – massively dislikeable here in the main, in a good way), is a truly repellant teenager, but in fairness, there are mitigating cirumstances for this; he suffers from acute ADHD, a condition that has led him to be expelled from education establishments in which he’s caused untold havoc with serious, lasting repercussions. Steve’s mother, Diane (Anne Dorval), arrives on the scene to bring her son home. It’s a victory for heart over head, but in Diane’s mind, blood is thicker than water, family is family and it’s the right thing to do. It just so happens to be the only thing possible left to do, too. It’s a good job Steve has a mother like Diane who is at pains to insist that he’s a good boy at heart.

So unfolds a harrowing period of conflict, both verbal and physical, between Steve and his mother as they jostle for supremacy of the household. It’s only when shy but beguiling neighbour Kyla (Suzanne Clement), enters their lives, befriends Diane and and becomes Steve’s home tutor, that, for an all too rare moment in time, Steve is able to rediscover genuine happiness and peace in his life; shedding his considerable burdens and living once again with some hope for his own future.

Dolan makes good use of an interesting technique of restricting the screen’s visual perspective to an unconventional 5:4 ratio which brings with it a sort of suffocating, restrictive feel to proceedings, presumably mirroring the exasperation, suffocation and hopelessness felt by Steve, his mother and Kyla.

On those fleeting occasions during the film when Steve  and consequently Diane and Kyla, appear to be embracing happiness, the screen opens out with the use of a more conventional and liberating 16:9,  widescreen perspective; in effect the world of possibility literally, visually opens up for them all.

It’s an intriguing relationship that Dolan paints between Steve, his mother and Kyla, a lady with her own family unit yet clearly experiencing feelings of suffocation and unfulfillment in her life; indeed, all three of the film’s key characters are sort of kindred spirits; made for and needing one another more than they may realise or would care to admit; a sort of surrogate family for each other. It’s unconventional, but it works.

There’s certainly no pulling of punches with Dolan’s in-your-face style of dialogue and direction. He does a great job of  exploring inside the fragile minds of characters that are deeply troubled in their own way and who shoulder their own considerable emotional baggage.

On a slightly critical note, the film’s conclusion seemed just a little undercooked and the screenplay occasionally loses it’s way, but no matter; the good work that precedes it firmly establishes ‘Mommy’ as a powerful and somewhat troubling story of frustration, home truths and tough love and is yet more evidence of Xavier Dolan’s burgeoning reputation as one of the best young film makers out there.