Posts Tagged ‘R’

Little Joe (2019) ****

Dir. Jessica Hausner | Sci-fi Drama | Austria, UK, Germany | 105′

Austrian auteuse Jessica Hausner creates films that are intelligent and refreshing. And none more so than her recent Cannes competition entry Little Joe. A challenging, coldly humorous hyper-realist Sci-fi that explores the unique human condition known as happiness.

Sometime in the future Emily Beecham plays Alice, an emotionally buttoned up ‘plant designer’ who develops a scarlet thistle-like flower whose scent makes people happy, and is sure to catch on  commercially. But there’s a snag: the plant also makes subtle changes in the personalities of those who inhale its pollen. It also causes seems to destroy neighbouring plants in the laboratory.

Little Joe is a mesmerising film to look at: its brightly synthetic colour schemes, geometric framing and slightly off-kilter performances are undeniably eye-catching and entirely appropriate given the subject matter: genetic modification. This is not a film to love but a film to admire, the strange storyline keeping us agog in fascination until the surprising finale.

Once her pioneering plant is in full flower Alice names it Little Joe, and brings a sample home for her teenage son Joe (Kit Connor) to tend – she’s a rotten workaholic mother hooked on Deliveroo dinners, but hopes the plant will bring out her son’s nurturing side.

Meanwhile, in their slick laboratories and mint green uniforms, Alice and her colleague Chris (Ben Whishaw) are certainly more commercial scientists than traditional plants people, but Chris is the more appealing and emotionally intelligent of the two. Their chief designer Bella is an earth mother and soon notices that her beloved shaggy dog Bello has undergone a complete change of personality since sniffing pollen from the odd-looking thistles. The staff put this down to Bella’s mental health issues and move swiftly back to their microscopes. But these weird changes cannot be ignored for long.

Sound plays an important role throughout this unsettling story and Japanese composer Teiji has devised a spooky electronic soundscape for each phase of plant development. Hausner has seemingly gone out of her way to assemble an eclectic multi-racial cast and this certainly adds flavour to this exotic con concoction but Beecham, Wishaw, Kit Connor and his dad (Goran Costic) are particularly affective in striking the right mood. And if you think Little Joe bears a strange visual resemblance to another recent Austrian chiller you’d be right: DoP Martin Gschlacht also filmed Goodnight Mommie (2014). MT


CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | Best Actress Emily Beecham

Thunder Road (2018) ****

Dir.: Jim Cummings; Cast: Jim Cummings, Jocelyn De Boer, Kendal Farr, Nican Robinson, Chelsea Edmundson | Comedy Drama | USA 2018 | 92′.

Director/writer/star Jim Cumming’s debut feature is a symbolic portrait of the white American middle-aged, middle-class male about to lose it all. Its anti-hero, Officer Jim Arnaud, is coming apart in every sense – and he doesn’t even know it.

The first take – unbroken, ten minutes long – sets the tone: police officer Jim Arnaud (Cummings) gives a eulogy to his newly-deceased mother at the funeral. Well, it is supposed to be a eulogy, but Arnaud loses his thread pretty rapidly: the speech is more and more about himself, his failures, his fears – of which there are many. He becomes a parody of himself when he tries in vain to play his mother’s favourite song, Bruce Springsteen’s Thunder Road on the pink toy-boom box of his daughter Crystal, making things worse by dancing to the non-existent music. Finally, he grabs Crystal (Farr) from her mother Rosalind (De Boer), and cuddles her helplessly crying in a back row.

Jim is in trouble: his wife is suing him for a divorce, he is partly suspended from work – all because he finds communicate difficult. He tries out phrases from a self-help book, such as “this means a lot to me” – but he gets in the way of his best intentions, always ranting on about his bad luck, great plans and guilt, loosing who ever he is talking to – with the exception of fellow officer Nate Lewis (Robinson) who has the patience of a saint. But it is not just only the dyslexia and dyspraxia which undermines Jim: his anger about his diminishing status turns into violence, and finally he throws a tantrum at work, drawing his gun on his fellow officers, and is lucky to escape with a dismissal. There is not much family life either: his sister Morgan (Edmundson) is also deeply depressed, and daughter Crystal is showing signs of male-adjustment disorder at school where Jim, talking to her teacher, is again unable to relate to the topic, reacting with another violent scene. The final tragedy will leave him with too much responsibility to carry and the audience rightly fears for his future.

Jim Arnaud is unaware of himself and his destructive narcissism, which might even be in the lower range of the Autism spectrum. But he shares his anxieties with too many around him: this is just not Jim coming apart, but a whole spectrum of white America, fearful of losing their middle-class status, getting poorer, suspecting (rightfully) that their children will have a worse life than themselves. It’s the end of a dream: the American Dream. His ranting is like that of a wounded animal, who does not understand what is happening to him.

Cummings is brilliant in all his triple roles, and the ensembles acting is very convincing. Lovell A. Meyer’s camera moves around furiously: his images portray the emotional roller-caster Jim finds himself on. Carefully avoiding a sentimental approach, but always with poignant humour, Cummings’ excels himself. AS.


The Tale of Princess Kaguya (KAGUYAHIME NO MONOGATARI)

Dir.: Isao Takahata

Animation with the voices of Aki Asakura, Takeo Chii, Nobuko Myamato

Japan 2013, 137 min.

Based on the oldest recorded Japanese narrative ‘Taketori Monogatari’, THE TALE OF PRINCESS KAGUYA is the swansong of Isao Takahata (GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES), co-founder of Studio Ghibli with Hayao Miyazaki. There are several screen adaptations of the story, the best known being Kon Ichikawa’s 1987 life version “THE PRINCESS FROM THE MOON”.

A bamboo cutter Okinia (Chii) finds a doll like girl sprouting from a bamboo shoot. He takes her home, but she is already growing in his hands. A few weeks later she is a young, wild teenager, running through the woods with the boys. Okina and his wife Ona (Myamato) call their foster daughter “Little Princess”, whilst the boys have named her “Little Bamboo”, because of her quick growth. The princess (Asakura) shows no signs of being different from her playmates, but when her foster father finds a cache of gold and fine, colourful garments in the wood, he realises that his foster daughter is destined to grow up a princess at court. The family moves, to the chagrin of Little Bamboo, who hates the court and her new teacher, who tries to turn her into a lady. She is even given a new name, Kaguya, meaning “creature of light”. Soon five famous suitors appear on the scene, all wanting to marry the enigmatic stranger. But Kaguya, who longs for a simple life in the woods with her friends, sets them all impossible targets, which they fail to achieve in different ways; a clever ruse to avoid marrying any of them. Finally, the emperor’s son makes a clumsy attempt to gain her love, and she prays to the forces which placed her in the bamboo sprout, to take her back to the moon. But as soon as she has asked to be taken back, she regrets it. Meeting her girlhood friend Satumaro again, they joyfully fly through the air, Satemaro promising to keep Kaguya safe. But the date of her return is fast approaching; Kaguya knows that back home she will loose all memory of her earthly stay.

THE TALE OF PRINCESS KAGUYA is an emotional and visual tour-de-force, the main protagonist’s desires of a peaceful life in the countryside are thwarted by her materialistic parents who want to achive status in society. Kaguya tries her best to counter the desires of her parents, she even hallucinates the landscape of her childhood, whilst looking out of the window of her palace, trying to go back in time. The eastern brush painting helps to make the images dreamlike, everything is fluid and magical, the vibrant images wafting like flowers in the wind. The silk clothes of the princess give the images an even greater transcendency, culminating in the flight sequence with Satemaro. Kaguya is the epitome of grace, perfectly suiting her: she is a delicately fluttering creature, always on the move, her mood changes translated into colourful images. Some of the early scenes are redolent of an earlier Takahata animation film HEIDI, A GIRL OF THE ALPS. The ending is an array of lighting, where arrows turn into flowers, and the God of the Moon tries to persuade Kaguya to return to her anti-septic home, bereft of any emotional content. THE TALE OF PRNCESS KAGUYA is a wonderful synthesis of dreamlike images, a metaphor for the spiritual life in conflict with materialism and status. An expressionistic phantasy, rather like the paintings of Monet, Manet or Sisley coming to life. AS



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