REVIEW: Where Hands Touch

Year: 2018
Directed by: Amma Asante
Cast: Abbie Cornish, Amandla Stenberg, George MacKay, Christopher Eccleston

Written by Fiona Underhill

British director Amma Asante has prioritised telling the stories of black and mixed-race characters in period films during her career so far – a genre where they often they are over-looked and ignored. Her breakthrough feature Belle starred Gugu Mbatha-Raw as a real-life historical figure in 18th century period costume and stately homes – which is a setting that is usually dominated by white actors on British television and in film. Her follow up A United Kingdom was set in the 1950s and starred David Oyelowo as the King of Botswana who falls in love with a white British woman. Now comes Where Hands Touch and stars Amandla Stenberg as a mixed-race German girl who falls in love with the son of a Nazi officer. Asante has shown herself to be an empathetic filmmaker, exploring the nuances of situations where characters struggle with their identities.

Twelve years in the making, this has been very much a passion project for Asante, involving a lot of historical research into the 25,000 people of colour who lived in Nazi Germany. This film focuses on those who were known as the ‘Rhineland Bastards’ and were the result of French soldiers of African descent being in that area during WWI. Leyna (Stenberg) is the product of one such union between a soldier and her mother (played by Bright Star’s Abbie Cornish). She has a younger brother who is white and as a result, Leyna feels very much the odd-one-out. Although she is happy and mostly accepted in her small community in the Rhineland, things are becoming increasingly dangerous. Her mother knows that if the Nazis come looking for Jewish people and find Leyna, they will probably just cart her away as well. Her mother believes that they will be able to disappear in Berlin, only to find that the big city brings its own problems.

Leyna must carry false papers with her, stating she has been sterilised (to prevent her mixing with white Germans). However, she meets and falls in love with Lutz (George MacKay), whose father (played by Christopher Eccleston) is a high-ranking Nazi. George MacKay has impressed me in Pride and Captain Fantastic and he does well again here, portraying a ‘gung-ho’ wannabe soldier, eager to get the front and join in the real fight. However, there is obviously another side to him, shown through the sensitive portrayal of his tender romance with Leyna. Amandla Stenberg was recently seen in Everything Everything with Nick Robinson and will soon be starring in The Hate U Give. She gives a fantastic performance here as a young woman, struggling to find her place in the world.

There has been some controversy surrounding this film – that it is insensitive to show a romance (which includes a Nazi soldier) against the backdrop of the Holocaust. This film does not ignore the Holocaust, but it does choose to focus more on a little-known aspect of the war, portraying a minority that did exist and most people would not have considered before. Also, I can understand, in our current times, why portraying a sympathetic Nazi is problematic. However, I think it is realistic to show how easily a German teenager could be brainwashed into believing the propaganda he has been fed, whilst also retaining his humanity and being capable of loving a mixed-race girl. The evil is an external pressure, rather than inherent within him. It also contrasts Lutz with his father, who is jaded due to having lived through WWI. However, his father still carries out despicable orders to save his own skin. This film does not present the issues as black-and-white, the characters are complex and flawed, but that does not mean you can’t feel something for them. It is Leyna’s relationship with her mother (and her own identity) that is perhaps the most moving aspect of the film though.

I believe this filmmaker, these actors and this story deserves your support, so if you are able to find Where Hands Touch in a movie theater near you, give it a chance. It is on selected release in the US now, UK release date is to be confirmed.

Fiona’s Verdict:

4

 

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To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before

Year: 2018
Directed by: Susan Johnson
Cast: Lana Condor, Noah Centineo, Janel Parrish

Written by Abbie Eales

I used to hate rom-coms as a teenager. The trite categorisation of all human life into tribes; ‘the jock’, ‘the nerd’ etc. drove me mad. John Hughes fabulous 1985 hit The Breakfast Club was an incredible teen film and perfectly of it’s time, but it’s many,  many imitators sucked, with the same formula  becoming very tiresome over the last 30 years.  Girls only got the guy after they made themselves pretty and men with feelings were portrayed as weak and needy. Thankfully that tired, old, formula of ‘pretty white girl falls for pretty white boy, boy is unattainable, girl gets makeover’ is long dead and instead we have charming gems like To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before.

Now, yes, all the characters in Susan Johnson’s film ARE pretty. And yes, they do all live in beautiful houses and live lives where money appears to be no object, but we do at least have a slight move to a more nuanced and realistic view of the world and individuality.

Based on Jenny Han’s successful young adult romantic novel, Sofia Alvarez and Susan Johnson bring a wonderfully female-centric and fun view of the life of a teenage girl to the screen.

16 year old Lara-Jean Song Covey (a thoroughly relatable performance by Lana Condor) is a girl who has retreated into a world of fantasy, a world shaped by her love of romance novels. Sharing her house with her two sisters and her gynaecologist father, she’d rather be at home fantasising about a life should could have than be out living it. Her romantic fantasies get transferred to paper as she tries to exorcise her feelings for her various crushes by writing them intense love letters, which she keeps hidden in a box given to her by her late mother. Following her elder sister Margot’s (a somewhat miscast Janel Parrish- I don’t buy her as a teenager for one second) departure to College in Scotland the five intense letters find their way to the objects of Lara-Jean’s affection, including to Margot’s ex-boyfriend, Josh. However where in traditional rom-com land a convoluted plot about girls falling out, boys getting the girl and some kind of final dance happening, instead (without giving too much away) we are given a really sweet love story about complicated characters.

There are no ‘jocks’ or ‘nerds’ in To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. Sure, some characters play sport and some love fashion, but this is a slightly more rounded view of the world without ‘good’ or ‘bad’ people, just human beings making sometimes ill-thought-through decisions.

Lara-Jean’s Korean heritage is not something which defines her character. There are references to kombucha and Korean yoghurt drinks (good old Yakult) but it’s not ever painted as an issue. She just IS half-Korean.

Similarly letter-recipient Peter Kavinsky (the charming Noah Centineo) plays sports, but he’s not just a jock. He’s far more layered, which makes for a far more interesting story.

A third wheel appears in the love story: social media. Lara-Jean begins to replace one fantasy land with another as she starts to play out an alternate fake life online. The use of social media is well played throughout and manages not to feel clumsy and an integral part of the plot.

Despite the charm and likeability of Peter Kavinsky this is an assuredly female-centric story. We follow Lara-Jean’s trials and tribulations as she begins to work out who she is.

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is everything you’d hope for in a teen rom-com in 2018. It’s fun, comforting and will give you a warm fuzzy feeling. It’s the teen film John Hughes would have made, had he been making films today.

Abbie’s Rating:

4

 

Set It Up

Year: 2018
Directed by: Claire Scanlon
StarringZoey DeutchGlen PowellLucy Liu, Pete Davidson, Taye Diggs

WRITTEN BY ELENA MORGAN

Harper (Zoey Deutch) and Charlie (Glen Powell) are two stressed out assistants who each have a high maintenance boss, sports reporter Kristen (Lucy Liu) and business mogul Rick (Taye Diggs). When they decide to play matchmaker on their two work-crazy bosses, maybe they can spread some romance and get their freedom.

A good rom-com is built on the chemistry of its leads and Deutch and Powell have it in spades. While the main story is getting Kirsten and Rick together, we all know that Harper and Charlie are who we’re really rooting for. What makes their relationship so great is that you see it grow from slight mistrust and sassy one-liners to a real solid friendship with the hints of something more. Both Deutch and Powell have great comedic timing as well, Deutch is almost overflowing with charisma while Powell’s physical comedy is hilarious.

‘Set It Up’ manages to poke fun at rom-com cliches without being ashamed of them, and in fact, it full on embraces them at times. The witty script keeps the antics coming as Harper and Charlie conspire to keep Kristen and Rick together but still leaves time to flesh out the lives of its leads.

Harper and Charlie both have lives outside of work and separate from one another, making them more well-rounded characters. Charlie is dating a model, and his roommate Duncan (Pete Davidson) offers sarcastic but fair commentary on Charlie’s life – when he doesn’t have a guy over that is. Harper’s an aspiring writer and when her best friend gets engaged, she has the very relatable gut reaction of “We’re not old enough to get married.” Their friends push the plot forward and are there to give the leads encouragement without being either annoying nor pointless.

‘Set It Up’ is a modern rom-com in many ways. It never belittles the fact that Kristen has prioritised her career over having a husband/kids, it sees Charlie encouraging Harper’s aspirations and while Harper is clearly stressed out by Kirsten’s demands, it’s clear she admires her and everything she’s achieved.

There’s probably more to say about the somewhat problematic racial dynamics of ‘Set It Up’ but I don’t have the nuance for it. But be aware Diggs’s Rick is a very angry man who frequently wrecks his office when things don’t go his way. Also, while Kristen is a surprisingly layered character, the film doesn’t exactly show off Lucy Liu’s talents.

That being said, ‘Set It Up’ is a funny and charming rom-com. While its runtime could’ve been a bit shorter, the snappy script and the great cast makes it a very enjoyable film that shows how good romantic comedies can be.

ELENA’S RATING:

4

Love, Simon

Year: 2018
Directed by: Greg Berlanti
Starring: Nick Robinson, Jennifer Garner, Josh Duhamel, Keiynan Lonsdale

Written by Fiona Underhill

2017 was a banner year for LGBQT cinema, with prestige pictures such as ‘Call Me By Your Name’, ‘God’s Own Country’, ‘Beach Rats’, ‘A Fantastic Woman’, ‘BPM’, ‘Princess Cyd’ and ‘Professor Marston & the Wonder Women’ all doing extremely well critically and at various awards shows (and I personally highly recommend that you seek them all out). However, these were pretty much all arthouse indie fare that didn’t make that much of an impact on the mainstream audience. Hopefully, ‘Love, Simon’ is here to change that in 2018 – with a big studio (20th Century Fox) and a wide release, designed to appeal to young adults. ‘Love, Simon’ appears to be a typical coming-of-age, high school romantic comedy – which had a golden age in the late 1990s/early 2000s with ‘10 Things I Hate About You’, ‘She’s All That’ and ‘Get Over It’ among others. The twist here is that boy doesn’t love girl, boy loves boy.

One of the refreshing things about ‘Love, Simon’ is that it tackles modern day teens in a realistic way, acknowledging how much their lives are fueled by social media and iced coffee. Simon (Nick Robinson) lives with his parents Emily (Jennifer Garner) and Jack (an unfairly well-aged Josh Duhamel) and younger sister Nora (Talitha Bateman) in ridiculously affluent and well-adjusted circumstances. Nora is obsessed with cooking and tries out all her recipes on her family and they have a weekly ‘family TV night.’ Simon is also pretty happy at school, with his friends; Nick (Jorge Lendeborg), Abby (Alexandra Shipp) and Leah (Katherine Langford). Simon has a small role in the high school musical; ‘Cabaret’ led by Ms Albright (the absolutely hilarious Natasha Rothwell). The only person Simon has to avoid in the corridors is the overly familiar vice-principal Mr Worth (Tony Hale). One day, the school is rocked by a post on a tumblr for high school gossip; ‘creeksecrets’ – an anonymous user saying that they are secretly gay. Simon makes the decision to contact this person, known as ‘Blue’ using an alias of his own; Jacques. The rest of the film centres around Simon’s growing attachment to Blue and his quest to find out who he is.

Nick Robinson is a likeable screen presence and after ‘Jurassic World’ and ‘Everything Everything’, he is on a successful run at the moment. Katherine Langford is quite a big draw for this film’s target audience after appearing in Netflix’s ‘13 Reasons Why,’ however I feel she was slightly miscast here. Logan Miller plays Martin, who discovers Simon’s secret and starts blackmailing him. Clark Moore plays Ethan – the only openly gay kid at school and it is refreshing that several very different LGBQT people are represented.

The film hits many of the typical senior year of High School milestones – getting drunk at a Halloween party, sleepovers, the big homecoming football game and the musical. There is one delightful fantasy musical sequence (set to the best possible song; ‘I Wanna Dance with Somebody’), where Simon imagines going to a liberal university and being able to be ‘loud and proud’ in his homosexuality. This was a highlight of the film for me and I wish that this had been more of a feature. Another successful element is that the film turns into a mystery – with Simon on a quest to uncover Blue’s true identity. As he speculates as to who it could be, the voiceover reading Blue’s emails changes to fit who he is imagining and he pictures scenarios involving each potential candidate.

The film builds to an exciting climax, after Simon gradually comes out to those closest to him and then is eventually outed publicly. The big reveal of Blue’s identity is effectively tense and has the appropriate level of cheese for a rom-com, which will melt a stony heart and leave you smiling warmly long afterwards.  Yes – on the one hand this is a blandly suburban middle-class mainstream film, but on the other, it has made an effort to have a diverse cast and of course, crucially, it is a major studio release tackling a young gay love story. It’s really enjoyable and absolutely worth you leaving the house and lending your support to. You won’t regret checking out ‘Love, Simon’ this weekend!

Fiona’s Rating: 8.5/10

Fifty Shades Freed

Year: 2018
Directed by: James Foley
Cast: Dakota JohnsonJamie DornanEric Johnson, Rita Ora 

Written by Fiona Underhill

Well, we’ve finally reached the conclusion of the filthy film trilogy and I don’t know where to begin telling you about it. I still maintain that the first film (directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson) was pretty good and holds up to re-watches. However, the subsequent two (directed by James Foley) have been terrible and I think the gender of the directors is more than a coincidence here. If ever a film were crying out for the female gaze – surely this is it? If only STJ had been given the creative control she desired and wanted to stay on the franchise, we may have ended up with something of better quality. Yes – the source material is trash but the books could have been turned into either higher quality ‘arty’ films or more fully leaned into the enjoyably cheesy trash, but instead we have something unsatisfying and middling, which helps no one.

The reason the first film works so much better than the subsequent two is that the first film is explicitly ABOUT the sex and the red room. In the sequels, it feels as if the sex is shoe-horned in and all the tension has been lost from those scenes. In the first, Christian is dealing with his traumatic abusive past (he doesn’t like Anastasia touching him) and there is a clear link between this and his need to dominate in the bedroom. Anastasia is figuring out whether she loves this man enough to cope with the ‘contract’ and all of the weird sex stuff. The tension in the sequels is fabricated by a force outside of the couple and this is why they are so much weaker.

Surprisingly, this film dispenses with the wedding very quickly in a montage right at the start of the film and we move onto the honeymoon in the blink of an eye. Of course, the money porn is at the forefront with the honeymoon, as Anastasia (Dakota Johnson) is whisked away to Paris and Monte Carlo by her new husband Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan). The ‘big bad’ from the second film; Anastasia’s old boss (Jack Hyde – why didn’t they just name him Jekylland?) is back, causing Christian to up the security surrounding Anastasia. This causes tension, as she just wants to go get drunk with Kate (Eloise Mumford – one of the more appealing actors from the trilogy). Christian spontaneously buys a house and the architect firstly comes onto Christian and then his brother, Elliot (Luke Grimes). Of course, interspersed with all of this plot are the infamous red room scenes, which are, you know, fine I guess. Bizarrely, Christian’s former mentor Elena (Kim Basinger) is in the trailer but seems to have been cut from the final film – although she still manages to cause problems for Anastasia.

Sigh. I am so frustrated by these films. They could have made both characters hotter; by giving Johnson a better haircut and allowing Dornan to keep his Northern Irish accent instead of his painful attempts at an American one. Christian has a beard for one brief, shining moment and then Ana tells him to shave – so that’s the end of that. Both Johnson and Dornan have been so much better in other things (‘A Bigger Splash’ and ‘The Fall’ for example), so why they are so bad here remains a mystery.

The reason I get so annoyed is that teenage girls and women deserve better. We deserve to have sexy films told from a woman’s point of view and yes, that view men through the female gaze. The closest thing we have at the moment is ‘Outlander’ on television which uses many female writers and directors. I will defend the ‘Twilight’ films (which I truly love and were a springboard for ‘Fifty Shades’ of course) and the ‘Magic Mike’ films, which were WAY higher quality than they needed to be. Oh, and I love Nicholas Sparks films too – sue me. Yes, Fifty Shades was written by a woman and she is responsible for many of the problematic aspects of the film trilogy. However, I still feel that if women writers, directors, casting agents and producers had worked on the whole film trilogy, things would be different.

However bad I think (particularly the last two of) these films are; I get exasperated by the level of snark directed towards them. It comes from a place of misogyny and snobbery. If a group of girls or women want to get together, have a few drinks and watch these films, then good for them. They should be allowed to enjoy them without being subject to the level of howling derision that is aimed at this franchise. ‘Chick flicks’ will never be taken seriously, even though films such as ‘Wonder Woman’ and ‘Girls Trip’ did so well financially last year. I just hope that ‘Fifty Shades’ has a positive legacy. More sexy thrillers (the types of films that Basinger starred in during the 80s and 90s) would be a great result. Just please, put more women behind the camera

Fiona’s Rating: 5.5 out of 10

Home Again

Year: 2017
Directed by: Hallie Meyers-Shyer
Starring: Reece Witherspoon, Michael Sheen, Candice Bergen, Pico Alexander, Jon Rudnitsky.  

Written by Andrew Garrison

I wasn’t compelled to see this film, but it seemed wholesome enough to give a chance to. This is one of those films that you see coming and know exactly what you are getting –  a mature romantic comedy with some feel-good moments, a silly plot with three guys and a girl living together. Predictable, but enjoyable. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with that, but there are plenty of movies of the same style and context. What separates this from other films? I engage it to find out.

‘Home Again’ is about a single middle-aged woman (Reece Witherspoon) who feels trapped in her life with an estranged father and two young girls to care for. She winds up having a presumed one-night stand with an attractive young man, but complications arise. Now the three young men are living with her as they have nowhere else to go, and sure enough, things escalate into a full-blown romantic comedy.

The fact is, there isn’t anything terrible about this film,  although one could use the term
cookie-cutter comedy to define it. The acting is serviceable enough, but nobody in this film should be nominated for an Oscar because of their work here. Things fall into place much too easily, one would expect more apprehension and conflict especially early on, but it all gets swept under the rug, which is unrealistic. I believe there are nice young men in the world who would be respectful, mature, and docile enough to make this work. However, the chances of finding three of them and having them stay at your home without serious issues. Too much fantasy in that. While all the characters are likable to a point, you have a lot of familiar roles. The out-of- touch and insensitive dad, the sensitive more wholesome guy, and the attractive more self-centred personality, and let’s not forget the wishy-washy middle-age woman who gets frazzled easily. You have seen this all before and will surely see it again as soon as next year.

I’m ripping on the film for its overused elements, but there are some aspects to appreciate. It remembers to be a light-hearted comedy with a few laughs sprinkled in throughout. There could have been more, but the humour and the characters were likable enough to keep me engaged in the film from start to finish.

Without spoiling much, there are some mature themes to the film. From dealing with a divided family to the messy romantic nature of a film with three young men staying with a woman in need of some comfort, support, and reliability. It hits all those emotional strings you would expect from a rom-com, but with limited eye-rolling which I was thankful for. The ending wraps everything into a nice package, but doesn’t end as predictable as it could have. It was a more modern and frankly refreshing conclusion in that sense.

Also, as an older millennial, it is refreshing to see my generation be portrayed as conflicted, ambitious, but good-natured human beings. People who are capable of being decent all the while pursuing their dreams. A welcome change compared to the bulk of raunchy over-the-top comedies filled with atrocious human beings which is trending in Hollywood now. Also, let me give a quick shout out to both young female actresses for their work in this one. I found the youngest daughter, Rosie, played by Eden Grace Redfield to be delightful with nearly every line she speaks.

In the end, the film gives you exactly what you expected. A comedic romp mixed in with
some classic silly romantic entanglements. All of it wrapped up in a nice package in roughly 90 minutes of time. It isn’t an Oscar worthy comedy, but it is inoffensive, feel-good, Hollywood cheese one can sit back and relax with. If it has an upside, it is the willingness to approach an unusual situation in a modern and mature light, and showcasing millennials as decent human beings. A middle ground comedy with some upside and that’s just fine.

ANDREW’S RATING: 6.4/10

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JUMPCUT’s Favourites: (500) Days of Summer

Year: 2009
Directed by: Marc Webb
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Zooey Deschanel, Geoffrey Arend, Chloe Grace Moretz, Matthew Grey Gubler.

WRITTEN BY JESSICA PEÑA

When I first watched 500 Days of Summer, I was a teenager obsessed with the glorious portrayals of love and loss in films. It made me wonder, ‘Are relationships that fragile, or are the people too naive and self indulged to be in one?’ Well, looking back, the answer is kind of both. The trials and tribulations of romance in a modern culture are much too complicated to see it in only one perspective. What is someone’s untouched desire is another’s passing by. Everyone has their own plans for life, and sometimes love gets in the way; and vice versa. Ask me about my favourite film and you’ll be knocked with a list of top ten that include the likes of ‘Ex Machina’, ‘Before Sunset’, and ‘Inglorious Basterds’. Ask me about a favourite film, and sometimes I will respond with the indie gem, ‘500 Days of Summer.’ In it, we meet Tom Hansen, a greeting card copywriter and big romantic, who never stopped looking for what went wrong in his relationship. Like the season, Summer was her name. She doesn’t believe in love, but she managed to capture Tom’s heart, leading to an unrequited love.

This is one of my favourite films, because a) Joseph Gordon-Levitt , and b) Zooey Deschanel. If you know me, you will understand. The main focus is on these characters, and they are my favourite pairing for this movie, because Gordon-Levitt and Deschanel have a history tied to their friendship. They’ve starred in earlier movies together, and the chemistry, when it comes to a romance flick, is everything. Gordon-Levitt’s character first bonds with Summer in an elevator over the classic, “There is A Light that Never Goes Out,” by The Smiths. We witness the start of something right then and there. What Tom thought would be everlasting was only Summer’s short-term spark.

Oh, heartbreak. You replay the times and the memories you once shared with someone and you look for those glitches that turned things upside down. The story here is told marking certain days in which Tom knew Summer, and it goes back and forth. In past relationships you once cherished, you seem to recollect first the good times; those unforgettable memories, and that’s how Webb decided to arrange the film. Tom’s infatuation with the idea of having Summer grows into an unhealthy self love. I love this film, because not every story has a happy ending, and ‘500 Days of Summer’ lets us know from the beginning. “This is not a love story. This is a story about love.” The narrative is bluntly familiar. Tom meets this girl, falls in love with her, and would do anything to be with her and prove that they belong with one another. The problem is that she doesn’t believe in love and this sudden commitment that Tom is yearning for. She’s out here living for the now and taking her happiness into consideration first.

The pair seem to hit it off effortlessly in the beginning until their futures don’t align. More than anything, Tom wants to fulfil his fantasies of a happy life with Summer. You really begin to feel for him and this anguish she is deliberately or non-deliberately putting him through. There’s a rather thick line between reality and expectation, as shown in a sequence of double shots of what Tom wishes for versus his sad reality. Sometimes, our vision is skewed by our infatuation with a fantasy. “Just because she likes the same bizzaro crap you do, doesn’t mean she’s your soulmate,” explains his friend Paul. That quote alone teaches us a thing or two about independence and young ignorance when it comes to the subject of romance.

‘500 Days of Summer’ is quirky, different, and closer to the reality of love than many other romance movies.There’s a karaoke session, IKEA shopping, a musical number, some architectural arm drawing, and the inevitable wreckage of young love. It goes without saying, “People change. Feelings change. It doesn’t mean that the love once shared wasn’t true or real. It simply means that sometimes when people grow, they grow apart.” This film speaks volumes to the scarring a relationship can leave, but it also understands how one learns to grow and heal from it.

It’s one of my favourites because it lets one look back on love in friendly retrospect and mature as a person. It’s graceful enough to not let Summer be seen as the enemy, as manipulative as she may seem at first. Truth be told, she isn’t perfect, and it’s her side of the relationship we don’t see. After multiple rewatches, I’ve learned that she was never in the wrong for wanting what she wants, when she wants it. She’s an open book with Tom from the beginning, and it plays with our hearts, but helps the film become a cultural impact. ‘500 Days of Summer’ could be any one of our coming-of-age stories. Someone’s day “(1)” could be the beginning of the best chapters of their life, for any number of reasons. Marc Webb’s film flourishes in the way it presents the discovery, growth, tarnish, and new hope for life from a love that once existed for our two characters. Ask me about love and I will always reference and admire this film.

The Umbrellas Of Cherbourg

Year: 1964
Director: Jacques Demy
Starring: Catherine Deneuve, Nino Castelnuovo, Anne Vernon, Marc Michel

Written by Jakob Lewis Barnes

There’s a long list of things I can thank my grandmother for; helping to give me a lovely childhood, being a calming and wise presence in my more difficult adult years, and even my secret knitting skills. You can now add to that list, the introduction to a most delightful French musical. After I fell in love with ‘La La Land’ earlier this year, my grandmother has urged me to watch ‘The Umbrellas Of Cherbourg’ to behold one of the inspirations for Damien Chazelle’s modern classic, and to feed my newfound love for musicals. A few years ago, a more foolish and ignorant me wouldn’t go near a foreign language film or a musical, but now I’ve fallen in love with a combo of the two. So much so, that I found myself compelled to write my first review in a very, very long time.

Anyone who’s seen ‘La La Land’ will immediately spot the similarities here as I break down the plot for you. We meet two young lovers who are absolutely crazy about each other, intent on spending the rest of their life together. That is until fate tears them apart and puts their lives on different tracks. Guy (Nino Castelnuovo) is shipped off to complete his military duty, leaving Genevieve (Catherine Deneuve) in Cherbourg to pine for her lover for two years. Through fear of being alone, under pressure from her mother (Anne Vernon), and suffering from the cruel absence of her love, Genevieve eventually gives in and accepts the marriage proposal of another – Roland (Marc Michel). Years later, they will meet once more, both now very different people leading very different lives.

Now, I’ve always been of the opinion that most actors from this period are usually pretty poor and lack subtlety, save for a few exceptions of course. The golden age of Hollywood has given us many great stories, but there just wasn’t the kind of nuance and craft in the acting that we so often see today. Well, let me tell you, Catherine Deneuve is certainly an exception to that. Her performance here blew me away. Sincere and genuine, I truly felt and believed the emotional rollercoaster she went on over the course of this story. When people say “it’s all in the eyes”, this performance is what they’re talking about. Her co-star, Castelnuovo, was far more impressive once when he returned, and has to deal with the crushing heartache of losing his true love to another. Whilst he is rather one-dimensional and generic in the first act of the film, Castelnuovo more than makes up for that in the final act, delivering plenty of emotion and actually becoming rather endearing as we see his character develop.

The film is most definitely strongest in its bookends, with act one and act three providing moments of touching romanticism, and cruel fate. But, the story does arguably lose some steam in the middle, when our lovers are separated – which I would say is no coincidence. The short runtime (just over 80 minutes) does leave the decisions that are made and the direction the story heads in seeming even more rash, shall we say. Perhaps Genevieve and her choices are flawed, but aren’t we all? Maybe she gives up on love too quickly. Maybe that’s the point. Maybe we all could learn from this and be more patient and romantic. It’s funny how a film from 50 years ago still resonates so much and can reflect the intricate, complicated mess that human relationships remain.

The inspiration for ‘La La Land’ doesn’t end with the narrative here, with Chazelle and his team clearly taking note of the audio and visual treats on offer too. The colourful costumes and set designs were meticulously beautiful, and you can really sense the care and ambition that went into creating such a wonderful aesthetic. For a film of its era, ‘The Umbrellas Of Cherbourg’ is so impressive, and still holds up today. The ever-present, all-important music, by legendary composer Michel Legrand, is also sublime. Legrand perfectly picks every note along the way, creating more than just an accompaniment, but something which is crucial to the overall experience. I guess that pretty much goes without saying when it comes to a musical, but crafting  something like this is no mean feat, I’m sure. There is an exquisite simplicity to the whole picture, which only adds to how stunning it all is. Chazelle clearly has great taste, as does my grandmother.

This is really a love letter, from me to Demy. I couldn’t criticise this film even if I wanted to, or had cause to. Sure, its cheesy and somewhat dated, but it’s a musical from 1964, what do you expect? I don’t know what it is, but I just get so affected by stories like these, where young love doesn’t quite work out how it should, or how we want it to – there’s something so beautifully tragic about it all.  Whilst I would still argue that ‘La La Land’ is better (sorry Nan), for those wanting to discover cinematic classics, magical musicals, or take a foray in to French cinema – or all three – please watch ‘The Umbrellas Of Cherbourg’. It is short but sweet; gorgeous to look at and to listen to; an iconic piece of cinema.

Jakob’s Rating: 8.2 out of 10

The Mountain Between Us

Year: 2017
Directed By: Hany Abu-Assad
Cast: Idris Elba, Kate Winselt, Beau Bridges

Written by Fiona Underhill

The trailer for this film looked cheesy and ridiculous and I had to wonder what two very fine English actors – Idris Elba and Academy Award Winner Kate Winslet – were thinking when signing the dotted line. However, the canny marketing campaign, which put out a tweet saying “Spoiler Alert – The Dog Lives!” definitely worked on hooking me in. The other selling point was the promise that whilst stranded on a mountain with no food or water, Kate and Idris somehow manage to get it on. This film now had my attention and I consider it my solemn duty to report back to you, dear readers on whether the Sexy Mountain film lived up to all this sexy potential.

Winslet plays Alex, an American photojournalist and Elba plays Ben, an actual brain surgeon with his actual English accent (steady on ladies). The ‘meet-cute’* is that they’re trying to get a normal sized plane, but it’s too stormy, so they get a tiny plane instead. One of these people is a brain surgeon. Lovely crinkly Beau Bridges pilots the little plane for them and insists on bringing his Dog With No Name for reasons. It only costs $800 to get the private plane, so that’s how I’m going to do all my travel from now on. The little plane is flying over the stormy mountains and Beau Bridges suffers a stroke, causing the plane to crash. But ‘oh-oh’ the pilot didn’t file a flight plan (for further reasons) and no one knows where they are! Or even that they were on a plane in the first place.

Alex’s leg is broken, which means Ben immediately has to go into caring doctor mode. There follows an extended period where they argue about whether they should stay put or go for help. The characters have seen ‘Casablanca’, but clearly haven’t seen ‘Alive’ or ‘Touching the Void’, which is a shame because they are based on reality not ridiculousness and therefore would be helpful in this situation. There IS animal peril in this film, in the form of a traumatic scene featuring a mountain lion, but the dog is OK! Genuinely, watching the dog frolic in the snow was the only thing that got me through this film. Oh and there’s a bit where snowflakes are stuck on Idris’ eyelashes and it’s so pure it almost redeems the entire operation. They eventually agree that they’re going to have to set off in search of help and it’s lucky they packed such warm coats and sensible boots. Alex talks about her fiancee, who she was supposed to be on her way to marry. Ben doesn’t talk about his wife but Alex finds out about her (or thinks she does) through her disembodied voice.

They eventually find a cabin, where they shack up for a bit. And… there’s a sex scene. And it’s one of the worst sex scenes I’ve ever seen in my life. This whole film is so badly edited, but it’s especially criminal here, where it manages to take any tension or romance out of a love scene featuring two very beautiful people by flashing back to little moments they’ve shared and just the memory of it is upsetting me. ‘Out of Sight’ this is not. I’m trying not to laden this review with too many spoilers, but the end of this film has a scene that is so cheesy, I had to watch it through my fingers. Again, editorial choices were made and they are not good. I cringed so hard watching it, my body almost inverted and just thinking about it now is making the bile rise within me.

I just don’t know what to tell you. I’m not angry, I’m just disappointed. Beautiful people, beautiful scenery. It’s hard to screw that up. But they really did.

Fiona’s Rating: 4.0/10

*this is a reference to another Winslet film, ‘The Holiday’. It has snow in it. Watch that instead.

 

Mountain