20 January, 2010
Nil by Mouth (1997)
'You want it? You want it with me?'
Nominated for European Cinematographer of the Year, European Film Awards 1997.
A warning to the squeamish - foul language (in context) ahead.
It was based on his own childhood, was Gary Oldman's feature debut - Jesus wept. You've never seen anything like Nil by Mouth (1997) - there hasn't been another film made that deals so unflinchingly with what is still very much a problem for many women, namely domestic violence.
He is by all accounts a diamond geezer and a real gentleman, Ray Winstone, but that doesn't change the fact that he was simply born to play Ray, the self-destructive, repugnant, abusive and sickeningly violent working-class Londoner who is the focus of Oldman's film.
Kathy Burke, who is also brilliant, plays his long-suffering wife Valerie, whose life, as she herself describes it, is nothing but drunken beatings and the dread in between:
Valerie: [to Ray] When you go out, you go out with your mates, and when you are in, you're pissed out and your brain's asleep in front of the fucking television. I turn the television off, go up to bed, you follow me up at three o'clock in the morning stinking of booze. That's what I get. Either that or you're knocking me about. I'm 30 today, you know, and I feel so fucking old. You know, I'm tired, you know, I wanna be able to look back and say, "Yeah, I had a bit of fun," you know, when I'm old, instead of saying "Everyone fucking felt sorry for me!" I mean, that's the life I've got. Do you hear what I'm saying? I just don't want it. I'll, I'll find somebody else. You know, someone who can love me. Someone kind.
And it is this sense of dread that overwhelms the film - Oldman's script, while absolutely littered with foul language, is nonetheless absolutely faithful to the only kind of communication that Ray understands, except for his fists. The violence itself, while almost impossible to watch without flinching, is almost like a dance of death, with Ray seemingly powerless to break the chain of abuse that began with his old man:
Ray: Yeah, all right. I remembered that day, because I could've put [Nil by Mouth] on his fucking tombstone, you know? Because I don't remember one kiss, you know, one cuddle. Nothing. I mean, plenty went down, not a lot came out, you know, nothing that was any fucking good. And I'd look at this man that I call Dad, you know? My father, I knew him as Dad. He was my fucking dad but he weren't like other kids' dads, you know? It was as if the word itself were enough, and it ain't.
Mark: That ain't when he died though, is it?
Ray: No. He lived another ten years, slippery old cunt.
Sympathy for the devil, then? Not a bit of it - but what Oldman nevertheless achieves, particularly with the above dialogue, is an illustration of how people are nurture, rather than nature, based.
And does the film offer any hope? Well, this is where your reviewer disagrees with his European Film Awards partner, Colin, who is convinced that the 'happy ending' (with Ray apparently having seen the error of his ways and being shown as gentle and tender with his wife and small kids) is a pure sham, and that the cycle of destruction will only continue as it obviously normally does in real (as opposed to reel) life.
I don't know, but I am going to have to watch the film again, methinks - in the meantime, your thoughts would also be much appreciated.
Awards: Click here for details.