The French Dispatch, Wes Anderson’s love letter to The New Yorker, is, as you might expect, a charming way to pass a couple of hours – but not as funny or as tight as we might like, and certainly a disappointment in the light of his last two films, The Grand Budapest Hotel and Isle of Dogs (although, in fairness, reaching those heights even twice, let alone a third time consecutively, would be a big ask for anybody). Still, despite The French Dispatch‘s pleasures, some gorgeous imagery and a terrific, star-packed cast, we’re left asking what it’s all about, really – is it more than a vaguely diverting trifle based on Anderson’s favourite publication? And why can’t an ode to an icon of American sophistication be set in America?
Freely based, as the closing credits tell us, on Jean Cocteau’s 1930 play of the same name, The Human Voice sees Spanish auteur Pedro Almodóvar working in the English language for the first time. The play has long been on Almodóvar’s mind, inspiring, significantly, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, among other works of his, and this short film joins the pantheon of adaptations of the play, which has seen its single character, a woman speaking on the phone to an unseen, unheard lover, played by such stars as Sophia Loren, Ingrid Bergman, and Anna Magnani.
Here, Tilda Swinton plays that role, bringing to it a sense of reserve that didn’t quite make sense to José until the final sequence and the resolution to the story – perhaps an effect of having seen the play adapted so many times and not having seen the character played this way before. Conversely, Mike feels he instinctively understands the character, remarking upon her change from being out of place, both geographically and emotionally, to her assumption of control of her world and destiny. José, who identifies with Almodóvar’s work like nobody else’s, picks up on the themes, motifs, visual designs, settings and interests that tie The Human Voice to the rest of his oeuvre, and finds where this short fits in and where it doesn’t. Specifically, he argues that Almodóvar’s control of language and knowledge of how people speak is typically overlooked in favour of his visuals, but here becomes obvious precisely because of the decision to use English rather than Spanish, which results in less poetry and nothing memorable throughout the entire monologue.
That flaw is evident but minor in the scheme of the entire film, which is an elegantly made and interesting study both of Swinton’s character and of Almodóvar’s own style and lifelong interests. The Human Voice is on Mubi, and well worth your time.
We explore Dario Argento’s Suspiria, his 1977 horror classic, and its loose remake by Luca Guadagnino, from 2018. We’ve never seen either, although Argento’s film casts a long shadow – those who’ve seen it never forget it, and it’s easy to see why. Its visual design is bold, imaginative and beautiful, the images it creates extraordinary, its violence heightened and wild. José loves it, literally wowed by it, captivated by its cinematic flair and interesting casting. But, Mike argues, it’s a film that offers nothing beyond the aesthetic, uninterested in its own characters or story, which leaves him cold.
Our responses to Guadagnino’s remake are reversed entirely. For Mike, it’s superior: ambitious, keen to mine the threadbare original for thematic depth, and laudably attempting to weave together generational guilt, dance, institutional corruption and women’s bodies into a complex tapestry, although one which requires too much audience participation to complete. José thinks he’s giving a pretentious work of ego far too much credit, is turned off by the dance scenes, annoyed at the lack of connection he finds between its wider themes and central coven, angered by its grey, wintry colour palette and dry cinematography… in fact, he’s angered by all of it! Now he knows how his friends felt as he valiantly tried to argue them into appreciating Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name, which he loved, but which many of them greeted with similar hostility.
The original a cult classic, its remake a very different take on the core premise – both are worth watching. But if our responses are anything to go by, your mileage may vary considerably.
The podcast can be listened to in the players above or on iTunes.
A gentle, somewhat meandering podcast to follow a gentle, somewhat meandering film. Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir talks of artistic development, the vigour of youth, life without money worries, and the complications of love, all through a soft camera and subtle performances. It’s a film that refers to and respects art, that remembers the past fondly, and that leads José to explain the Portuguese concept of saudade, quoting Eugène Green here.
The podcast can be listened to in the players above or on iTunes.
Ralph Fiennes is the worst dancer in the history of the movies and demonstrates an admirable lack of vanity in showing it off at every opportunity in A Bigger Splash: he’s very endearing. The film itself is an old-fashioned ‘art-house’ movie that I nonetheless liked very much.
Tilda Swinton plays Mariane Lane, a Bowie-esque rock singer who’s lost her voice. She’s recuperating in an Italian Eden with her partner of six years, Paul de Smedt (Mathias Schoenaerts), a former alcoholic, now on the mend. They’re enshrouded in a cocoon of love and sex, sun and contentment, when snakes sidle into Eden in the form of Harry Hawkes (Raph Fiennes), Mariane’s producer and former lover, and the grown-up daughter Hawkes has only recently been made aware of, Penelope Lanier (Dakota Johnson).
As is to be expected from the director of I Am Love, A Bigger Splash is about love and it offers a nicely complicated view of it. Hawkes is out to woo Mariane away from Paul. Mariane is contented with Paul but still has feelings for Harry. Harry could happily fuck any of them. Penelope is a temptation not only to Paul but to her own father. Paul and Harry have a deep friendship but might yet fight to kill.
The film evokes quite a lot of film classics, some of the settings and existential dilemmas are borrowed from Otto Preminger’s Bonjour Tristesse (1958) and Antonioni’s L’Avventura (1960). The basic plot is a take on Jacque Deray’s La Piscine (1969), though neither Swinton, Johnson nor Schoenaerts quite convey the horny sizzle that Romy Schneider, Jane Birkin and Alain Delon were able to evoke there for Deray. I am also reminded of the 1973 documentary Jacques Hazan made of Hockney and named after his famous painting, the original A Bigger Splash, and which I mainly remember from seeing the poster as a tween and finding it so alluring and forbidden. This the film doesn’t quite achieve either, despite all the nudity.
This A Bigger Splash is about love, but also about existential despair amongst the rich as they eat freshly-made ricotta and frolic naked by day on the Mediterranean and by night by their own handy piscine to take full advantage of the moonlight. Whilst the rich try to find the right hillside restaurant known only to locals, masses of refugees wash onto the shores, many dead; those alive get to be imprisoned; those not imprisoned get to meander through the hills in search of food and shelter as they inadvertently terrify the rich. Money and celebrity win out but the rich and famous themselves are shown to be not without feelings nor immune to tragedy.
All the actors are great for different reasons: Fiennes energises the film with his good nature, his self-knowledge and his lack of vanity each time he steps into the scene. Swinton is particularly beautiful here: in some shots she looks like a very young Kate Hepburn, in other like Bowie, in others like ageing Eurotrah; she barely speaks throughout and mimes a great performance. Schonaerts has a marvellous confession scene at the end where we see Paul break down and confess to Mariane and where tears seem to pour out of his skin. Johnson is a marvellously knowing Lolita.
A Bigger Splash is ambiguous, symbolic, it’s very interesting in how it narrates time, and it offers an interesting critique of contemporary European culture. It’s a film that well fits Pauline Kael’s sneering description of some sixties art movies as a ‘Come-dressed-as-the sick-soul-of-Europe-parties’. I liked it very much.
Trainwreck is hit and miss. But when it hits, it hits big; and it does hit often: I love Amy Schumer, who I’d never heard of before, and who gets at something painful and real through the comedy, which is often laugh-out-loud. The story is as simple as it is questionable: is Amy going to grow up to be a female version of the arsehole father of hers, Gordon (Colin Quinn)– sex mad, liquor-swilling, drug taking, incapable of commitment – or is she going to grow up, like her sister KIm (Brie Larson)?
The ‘growing up’ in this movie takes the form of having Amy fall in love, change her ways, and win the man she’s been so careless with, Aaron (Bill Hader); wealthy, humanitarian and highly-skilled sports surgeon to the rich and famous; and who, to this member of the audience at least, still doesn’t seem worth the bother. Amy’s ‘growing up’ may also be read as a way of clipping her wings, containing her, reducing her to a more traditional, conservative and conformist model of femininity. Her father could be an arsehole and be loveable. For a woman to continue to be the same past Amy’s age is too horrifying a thought for a movie and its audience to contemplate. Both lose out.
But how can we quibble? Most comedies are imperfect, few have as many jokes that hit as big, almost none centre on a woman and even fewer demonstrate a detectable address to a female audience. I loved it.
Lots of sports stars I don’t know make cameos you probably will enjoy more than I. John Cena, the wrestler, is very funny as an early, too-stiff boyfriend with a body of steel, the emotional life of a tween girl and the sexual imaginary of a homosexual weaned on porn. An almost unrecognisable Tilda Swinton makes an unforgettable appearance as a too-tanned, hard-nosed ‘Essex Girl’ editor of a New York lads mag and steals the few scenes she’s in. Fab.
In Only Lovers Left Alive, Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston are said to have lived for thousands of years but clearly haven’t spent even ten minutes of them Hoovering their homes. They live in dusty spaces crammed with things they’ve loved enough to keep for centuries, books and music mostly. Some people walked out of the film but I loved it; the anomie, the sadness, the great r&b tracks — particularly Charlie Feathers’ Can’t Hardly Stand It and Denise Lasalle’s Trapped by a Thing Called Love — which speak of loss and loneliness but with an energy that conveys the opposite; the use of drugs as a parable for vampirism; the final insistent choice on life and love. It’s stayed with me all day.
The film begins with Adam, played by Tom Hiddlestone, shy, reclusive, living in Detroit, a city as much of a shell of former glories as he himself, a spectral place with hidden beauties, echoes of former lives and secret places were bodies can easily be disposed of. Adam lives for his music and for his fix. He’s got everything neatly arranged, a doctor who gives him top-grade, really pure blood and a sweet-faced squeaky-voiced young man (Anton Yelchin) on the edges of the music industry who might be pirating and selling on Adam’s compositions but can arrange pretty much everything else Adam might need and is well-paid for doing so. Adam is trying to find a reason to continue living and having trouble finding it.
Meanwhile, Eve (Tilda Swinton) is living in Tangiers, the Tangiers of myth with Pepe Le Moko streets, Paul and Jane Bowles ambiance, and the sheltering sky of balmy nights and a good supply. She’s got a friend there, Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt, gruff, poetic, endearing) who is also her connection to centuries-old literary gossip and grade-A blood. Her life is neatly arranged until she talks to Adam, finds out the extent of his loneliness and goes out to him. Adam and Eve once, maybe even originary lovers, reconnect as soul-mates, wonder through the nights, talk, find their old maybe unexciting but still essential rhythm with each other, until Eve’s sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska) arrives. The aptly named Ava, with her disrespect for convention, her selfish need to have a good time, her intense focus on her bodily needs and pleasures disrupt the more cerebral, retired life of Adam and Eve and brings chaos: though Adam and Even try to keep the humans they call zombies at bay, Ava has a positive and dangerous relish for them.
I can’t imagine watching Only Lovers Left Alive on anything but a big screen. It has its own pace, one which requires patience, but if you give yourself to its tempo and its conceits, it draws one into its enveloping images and and hazy rhythms, enthralls, involves you in its play of allegory, meaning, sensation. By the end, the audience becomes enveloped and enchanted by the Tangier sky, the night, the music, the feelings and views of worn out junkies in love wondering what the point of it all is, the speculation on the meaning of life and art. Then, when Adam and Eve, and we, hear Yasmine Hamdam sing ‘Hal’ in a café, we understand why art, why evoking what Hamdam conveys and makes us feel, is worth living for — even if the price is murder. And we then realise that Only Lovers Left Alive has provided that as well.
It was nominated for the Palme D’Or at Cannes and worth seeing on the largest screen you can find.