Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Monday Night Film Club Roundup

Regular readers may wonder what's happened to Monday night film club. Well, for various reasons it hasn't happened for a number of weeks (actually, it took place for the first time in ages this week, but annoyingly I was down south, I'll miss it next week too). However, prior to that, I've not got round to writing up the last three films. Until now.

First off, and this should give you an idea of how far back the deficit stretches, is Vicky, Christina, Barcelona. Or, in my view, Vicky, Christina, Yawn. It doesn't, I suppose, help that I'm not a particular fan of Woody Allen's work. However, I don't think he helps himself. Firstly, there is the narration which starts off as annoying but soon becomes insufferable. As a device it can be helpful, indeed, at times, extremely effective (see Alec Baldwin in The Royal Tenenbaums or Peter Faulk in The Princess Bride), here it simply seems to be laziness. At the start it gives us potted histories of our two protagonists. This might be forgivable if it didn't keep happening, e.g. X spent the next few days soaking up the art of the city: surely this sort of thing is easily told by use of, I don't know, moving pictures, say. The problem is compounded by Christopher Evan Welch who is clearly trying to do his best Woody Allen impression. If Allen wanted a narrator who sounded like him, he should have done it himself, otherwise he would have been better going for something different. The most significant problem is that I couldn't give a damn about any of the characters, this won't bother some people, but I need to care about at least one character in a film to like it, I need to root for someone. Even Rebecca Hall's Vicky (who is mostly playing Woody in this film), disappoints in this regard, for while she starts out sympathetic, she quickly throws all this away. Penelope Cruz does well enough playing a madwoman but is too much a caricature. Jarvier Bardem is okay, but then playing someone who wants to sleep with Cruz, Scarlett Johansson (not to mention Hall), is hardly the most taxing role ever conceived. Why they all want to sleep with him is less clear. That said, almost everyone I saw it with quite enjoyed it, so it may just be me.

A vastly superior film followed in the form of The Class (in French with subtitles). This is a subtle, understated and well acted film. Written (both the book, and the screenplay) by lead Francois Begaudeau, it is based on his experiences teaching in an inner city French school, much of the rest of the class are actual students (though not playing themselves). As a former teacher, who left in part due to the stresses of dealing with unruly pupils, I was in two minds as to whether or not to attend, and certainly it is not easy viewing. It gives a pretty accurate feel of life in the classroom and the issues that arise (and tackles many difficult ones, such as students whose parents struggle with the native language and the handling of disciplinary incidents). Of course, it's difficult to know how the French and English systems differ, but it seems remarkably easy to expel pupils in France, and for a lot less than I've seen in my time. It is one of the most compelling films I've seen recently, in large part because there are no big set pieces and, more than anything, it feels like a documentary. It doesn't come across as Begaudeau having a moan, more a statement of this is how it is. It can be thoroughly recommended.

Lastly, comes Wendy and Lucy. Now, I possibly shouldn't review this at all, since I wasn't in the best frame of mind when we went. Still, even so, I think most of my criticisms would stand. As with Woody Allen's effort, I again struggled to care too much about the characters. The plot concerns drifter Wendy, en route to Alaska with her dog Lucy to look for work. Her car breaks down in a small American town and her dog vanishes after she is arrested for shoplifting. The bulk of the film then concerns her search for her dog. While Michelle Williams does a fine enough job in the lead role, I can't help feeling the film never really goes anywhere. On the one hand we never gain a full picture of her back story, while on the other, at the end I'm not quite sure what the point was.

Hopefully I'll return to Monday Night Film Club soon, as there are several things out, and coming out, that I'm curious to see.

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