29 May, 2010

L'enfant (The Child) (2005)


Nominated for the People's Choice Award (Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne), European Film Awards 2006.

Is it just me, or does anyone else think that the cinema of Belgian brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne is singularly overrated? Their most recent, Le Silence du Lorna (2008) (which itself won the 2008 Lux Cinema Prize in the European Parliament, and was nominated for that year's Cannes Palme d'Or) struck this reviewer as being reminiscent of writer-directors resting on their laurels and L'enfant (The Child) (2005) which did win Cannes' most coveted prize in 2006 was really little more than a grim, grimy examination of life at the bottom of society, with performances from its leads that were singularly unengaging.

Bruno (Jérémie Renier) and Sonia (Déborah François) have few prospects, struggling to survive on benefits and the proceeds from the crimes committed by Bruno's gang. While seemingly devoted to each other, the pressure on the pair grow even more fierce with the arrival of Sonia's newborn son. Unable to see a way out of their poverty trap, Bruno takes the desperate decision to sell is offspring on the black market. Naturally, there are consequences to be faced...

Problem is, both performances generate hardly anything more than frustration, even anger, towards the pair, when an approach that was less obsessed with being unforgiving might have produced far more viewer empathy. In addition, and I am sorry, but it is simply dull. The People's Choice award for 2006 went to Amaldovar's Volver (To Return) (2006), thankfully.

Awards: Click here for details.

100 mins. In French.

25 May, 2010

Good Night, and Good Luck. (2005)

'We will not walk in fear of one another'

Winner of European Film Academy Non-European Film 2005 - Prix Screen International (George Clooney).

It was round about this time, 2005, that George Clooney really began to prove what he could achieve, both as an actor, director and, in the case of Good Night, and Good Luck., both at the same time.

The year also saw the release of Stephen Gaghan's Syriana, one of the most complex, intelligent and unforgiving examinations of the oil industry, in which Clooney delivered a performance that was brilliantly at odds with any of his previous screen personna and, while his interpretation of 1950 CBS producer Fred Friendly in Good Night, and Good Luck. may have the charm and swagger more traditionally associated with a Clooney interpretation, there is no doubting the sincerity of his direction, nor his excellent complementing of anchorman Edward R. Murrow (David Strathairn), in this charged, thrilling account of the men who took on McCarthy.

And that would be Senator Joseph McCarthy who, as head of the House Committee on Un-American Activities in the early 1950s, fed on the fear and rampant paranoia associated with the rise of Communism - Friendly and Murrow decide to take him on, examine his inconsistencies and make a televised stand for the rights of the individual to be individual. A crusade that is set to bring heavy costs, both financial and emotional...

Rarely has a time and place been so strongly evoked - as written by Clooney and Grant Heslov and remarkably well performed by Strathairn, this transports us to a time in the 'Land of the Free' that was horrifyingly at odds with the country's moniker.

Stathairn, who really should have taken the 2005 Oscar for his portrayal, ahead even of Philip Seymour Hoffman, who won it for Bennett Miller's Capote (2005) forms the perfect foil to McCarthy's bluster and excesses, which are conveyed only via original news footage and the interview response that Murrow and Friendly allow the Senator to give. An utterly measured performance that hints at fury beneath, Strathairn is simply smoking.

A privileged insight into the US of yesterday, or would that be today? You decide.

Awards: For details, click here.

93 mins. In black and white.