Tag Archives: Winter

LOVELESS (Nelyubov)

Four Star Rating

“…Alyosha (Matvey Novikov). A helpless pawn stuck in the middle, condemned to try and make some sense of the never ending spiteful bickering of the two people he most depends upon.” – Wayward Wolf.

Andrei Zvyagintsev’s Loveless starts as it means to go on. A sequence of stark lingering shots of a snow-covered unforgiving Russian winter.

These images are actually quite beautiful in isolation and arguably offer only a hint of the pervading mood of downbeat misery that is soon to follow.

Don’t be put-off however by such an apparently down-cast summary.

Zvyagintsev’s film is in fact a brilliantly observed study of the most negative aspects of a failed relationship, made all the more harrowing through the involvement of a child, the couple’s young son, Alyosha (Matvey Novikov). A helpless pawn stuck in the middle, condemned to try and make some sense of the never ending spiteful bickering of the two people he most depends upon.

Alyosha’s parents – two fine performances full of conviction by Maryana Spivak (Zhenya), and Aleksey Rozin (Boris) – have both found new partners and long to bring the curtain down on their sorry, loveless marriage, and ‘start again’ – as it were. They have become two eminently unlikeable characters. Zhenya, an angry (primarily at herself), highly irritable individual obsessed with the comforting distraction of her mobile phone, and Boris, who whilst frequently drawn into exchanges of vitriol with his wife, is a somewhat withdrawn man, distancing himself as much as possible from any contact with either Zhenya or Alyosha. 

It’s a relentlessly toxic environment, made worse still by the parents’ apparent lack of concern as to the affects of their self-absorbed sniping, upon their young son.

Unusually for such a predicament as this, neither parent makes any attempt to curry favour with the child; quite the opposite in fact. The fight, it would seem, is for who’s not going to take custody. Alyosha is seen as an inconvenience, a mistake that never should have happened, and his parents have absolutely no qualms about voicing such hurtful opinions in full earshot of the distressed youngster.

It’s no wonder therefore that the day soon arrives when the young lad grabs his school bag and makes a bolt for the door, never to return. And such is the self-centred attitude of his parents, neither of them even notices this for almost two days.

But is this actually genuine neglect of an impressionable youngster, or more likely the inevitable comeuppance from their high-stakes psychological games?

Two films sprung to mind whilst watching Loveless: Myroslav Slaboshpytskyi’s 2015 Ukrainian film, The Tribe – a film similar in its mood and sense of helplessness that focuses on a run-down boarding school for the deaf in which harsh life lessons are dished out with depressing regularity. But perhaps of more direct relevance is Joachim Lafosse’s 2016 mournfully awkward relationship drama, After Love (L’Économie du couple), a film which whilst being almost exclusively – and excruciatingly for that matter – downbeat, does at least offer, for the most fleeting of moments, a rare olive branch of hope and potential redemption.

Zvyagintsev’s film on the other hand makes no such concessions. In fact, the Director seems determined to walk his audience, almost in real-time, through every last awkward moment of not only the couple’s frequent fights, but of their increasingly desperate and forlorn attempts to track down their absent son, whether that be through a vague lead offered up by Alyosha’s friend, or a visit to Zhenya’s appalling mother. “Stalin-in-a-skirt” indeed.

The outlook is grim, and there’s a lingering sense of just ‘knowing’ as rescue parties comb their way through surrounding woodland and derelict buildings, to no avail. All the while, the warring couple barely utter a word to one another. Certainly there’s no sense of galvanised togetherness, if only in the interests of the greater good.

Nothing.

Loveless is an open-ended, consistently powerful film with an underlying message suggesting that if we don’t address and learn from our own deficiencies, our troubles have a nasty habit of ultimately coming full circle.

It’s bleak, it’s brutal and it’s hard to watch, but it’s equally hard to ignore.

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WIND RIVER

“Jeremy Renner’s performance is one of his finest to date, portraying a man of few words, and of great experience and wisdom.”

Wayward Wolf.

In the grip of a cold snap, the Indian reservation of Wind River is the backdrop to this Taylor Sheridan murder mystery.

The body of a girl has been found. She lies bare-footed and bloodied in the snow. All signs point to her having been beaten and raped, though it seems the unforgiving sub-zero temperatures of a winter night are what ultimately claimed her life.

But why has this happened, and who are the perpetrators?

Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner), is an experienced tracker, who, knowing the terrain and considerable perils of the unforgiving Wyoming winter, is drafted in to aid young FBI agent, Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen), with her murder enquiries.

Taylor Sheridan’s subtle icey thriller not only pieces together the parts of a murder case, but in doing so, offers a snapshot of the harsh socio-economic conditions afflicting a small under privileged community of native American folk, for whom drug addiction is rife, and an ingrained reluctance to cooperate with the white man is commonplace. No wonder, given the uneasy history between the two cultures.

Jeremy Renner’s performance is one of his finest to date, portraying a man of few words, and of great experience and wisdom. He is also a man nursing considerable personal pain from his past, for whom this case can prove to be something of a cathartic process. Crucially, he is a well respected figure amongst the Native American community. Elizabeth Olsen is perhaps initially a little underwhelming, yet steadily grows into the part to produce a performance that in fact perfectly captures a combination of raw enthusiasm, naivety and understandable trepidation, given her Las Vegas background, and the alien nature of both the environment in which she now finds herself, and the culture of the people for whom she must try to solve this case.

Sheridan’s tale is a beautifully paced affair, expertly revealing itself little by little. Such an approach should not come as any surprise for those familiar with the style and excellence of his two most recent acclaimed screenplays, Sicario and Hell or High Water.

The wind-swept, wintry backdrop sets the perfect mood here for a film that effortlessly marries moments of high tension with brooding melancholy and somber reflection in this highly affecting, and almost certainly enduring tale.

FILM REVIEW: The Revenant

The Revenant is a huge, sprawling epic of a film.

Based in part on Michael Punke’s 2002 novel of the same name, it charts the story of frontiersman Hugh Glass, a member of a pelt (fur) trading expedition through the harsh, but beautiful American wilderness in the 1820s. As though the wild terrain of this unforgiving landscape is not obstacle enough to the expedition, it is made all the more difficult by the looming shadow of a relentless pursuit of its members by the Native American Arikara tribe, hell-bent on retribution for the kidnapping of the daughter of one of the tribe’s elders; something attributed, rightly or wrongly, to Glass’ expedition party.

Fleeing for their lives, their numbers decimated through ambush and combat, Glass’ party push on through the rapidly gathering winter weather in an attempt to reach the sanctuary of base camp.

Things however take a gruesome twist when Glass, whilst hunting alone, scares a female grizzly bear escorting her cubs through the forest, and is mercilessly attacked for his troubles.

Although still alive following his ordeal (barely – *pun alert*) this now presents a further, unwanted hindrance for the expedition party who must somehow carry him many miles back to safety. Understandably and considering his condition, it is deemed not worth the party’s effort and under orders of party leader, Captain Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson), three men – one of whom is Glass’ native American son, Hawk – are left behind to ensure that, when the time surely arrives, Glass receives the appropriate burial and send off that he deserves.

That’s the idea at least, but this is a problem for one of the three men – his supposed confidant John Fitzgerald (the excellent Tom Hardy) – whose own plans differ significantly from the orders that he is meant to be following.

On committing the worst imaginable act, Fitzgerald departs, leaving Glass for dead. Glass however will not die and guided by the spirit of his murdered Native American wife and mother of his son, he begins the slow and physically agonising voyage back to base camp, with one thing only on his mind.

At times brutal and unforgiving, at other times inspiring and uplifting, The Revenant is a story of retribution and redemption; of the force of nature and the complexities of human nature, and in DiCaprio, it boasts an actor absolutely at the peak of his powers, producing an awe-inspiring performance of great distinction.

Stunning, sweeping shots of this most beautiful, almost mythical of landscapes contrast sharply with the raw fight for survival that plays out below within its snowy terrain.

Director Alejandro González Iñárritu has created, with much love and attention to detail in evidence, a big, beautiful, bold and grizzly (both figuratively and literally), non-stop sumptuous treat for the eyes, ears and imagination. A truly stunning piece of timeless cinema.

A solid awards contender – be in no doubt about that.

FILM REVIEW: The Tribe

There’s a moment in the BBC Comedy series ‘I’m Alan Partridge’ when Alan, whilst being given a tour of his prospective new house, is informed that it’s close to a school for the deaf. “Does that mean there will be or won’t be noise?” he enquires. “I mean, it’s not a school for deaf offenders, is it?”

Comedy that may well be, but it does open up an interesting thought to ponder upon and more importantly challenges our pre-conceptions of those with disadvantages and of our need to stereotype, in general; for example, how many of us would perceive ‘the deaf’ as anything other than good people, struggling on through life and adversity?

A comedy, ‘the Tribe’ is not; far from it. It’s a raw and rather bleak look at a run-down, Ukrainian boarding school for the hard of hearing; a school that feels both forgotten and unloved, as though everyone that attends or works there has been abandoned in some way by their families, the system and by life in general.

Consequently, a feral existence ensues; not just tolerated but positively encouraged by those in charge; a means of money making from theft, deceit and prostitution,  promoting a feckless next generation. There are certainly shades of ‘The Lord of the Flies’ about this existence.

The new boy, played by Grigoriy Fesenko, is ‘welcomed’ into his new surrounds through a sequence of rites of passage and is soon actively engaged in the school’s plethora of wrong doings, that is until love plays a part in things. It’s the sort of twisted love that could only be born out of a place like this. Pure love has no chance to flourish here but importantly it’s a  love that breaks all of the rules and codes of The Tribe and is always going to end in repercussions, as the film presses ominously onwards towards its savage finale.

I don’t know whether it’s the winter months, the decaying, cold, blue institutional decor of this establishment or just the feeling of hopelessness in so much as you either accept things as they are here or you’re a part of a problem, to  be treated as such by the pack mentality of the students, but The Tribe is an incredibly desparate, yet remarkable piece on so many levels.

There is literally no spoken dialogue throughout, no soundtrack of any description, not even occasional incidental music to break the intensity.

It has been shot in long, drawn-out takes which offer no escape from the at times harrowing scenes that unfold (and believe me they’re uncomfortable viewing).

Everybody is seemingly in an insanely mad rush to get everywhere and do everything; a warped, yet well oiled corruption machine. All portrayed emotions are dark, angry and somewhat explosive.

The end credit sequence is short, blunt and to the point… much like The Tribe.

Bleak, yet utterly brilliant.