Movie reviews: Irish film 'Mammal', and superb film 'Victoria'
Paul Whitington reviews this week's other big releases - Mammal and Victoria.
In her début feature, The Other Side of Sleep, Rebecca Daly used few words and an impressive visual flair to tell the story of a young woman who thinks she's mixed up in a murder. The woozy, nightmarish tone of that film is continued to some extent in Mammal (4*, 16, 100mins), a dense thriller set in a particularly gloomy suburb of Dublin.
Rachel Griffiths is Margaret, a reserved and lonely woman who works in a charity shop, keeps herself to herself and spends most of her free time swimming at the local pool.
Her stubborn isolationism is rudely assaulted when her ex-husband Matt (Michael McElhatton) turns up to announce that their teenage son has disappeared. He's angry, and bitter, and it emerges that Margaret walked out on him and their child years before, and has seen neither of them since. Matt is looking for a fight, or some sign of remorse, but gets neither and departs in a rage.
In private, Margaret quietly grieves the son she could not love and is probably now dead, and when she comes across a teenage boy sleeping rough near her house, long suppressed maternal instincts surface.
She brings Joe (Barry Keoghan) home, offers him a room and food, and begins to clumsily mother him. But he is feral, a mugger and drug-taker who may not be redeemable. And things get messy when their mutual attraction becomes obvious.
The Other Side of Sleep, though stylish, was insubstantial, but Mammal is a much more complete, assured and satisfying drama. Beautifully photographed by Lennart Verstegen, the film revolves around the sphinx-like remoteness of Margaret, who only seems content at the bottom of a swimming pool, where no one can disturb her.
Rachel Griffiths is superb in a tricky role, Michael McElhatton is very good as the poor husband whose grievance will never be satisfied, and Barry Keoghan's edgy portrayal of a lost soul is electrifying.
When talking about Sebastian Schipper's Victoria (5*, No cert, IFI, 138mins), it's impossible not to get sidetracked into the fact that it was filmed in a single take. Not edited to look like a single take, as Birdman was, but actually filmed in one go after extensive rehearsal and preparation. This will be mentioned in every review, and the novelty factor of it risks obscuring the simple fact that Victoria is a very fine film. It was one of my favourites at this year's Dublin Film Festival, and starts slowly before taking unexpected turns.
In a splendidly atmospheric and engrossing opening scene, a Spanish girl called Victoria (Laia Costa) dances with charming abandon through the flashing strobes of a Berlin nightclub before heading towards the exit. There she begins talking to four lively young men who've been refused entry. They share a joke, and when she leaves, they follow. It's four in the morning, and when the men ask her to join them for a nightcap at a late bar, alarm bells sound in the viewer's head as she says yes.
She's in danger all right, but not for the reasons you might expect. The men, led by the charming and boyish Sonne (Frederick Lau), have no evil designs on Victoria, but one of them, a jovial hard-nut called Boxer (Franz Rogowski), has been in prison, and is about to have a debt called in by a very dangerous gangster. Before you know it, the gang, which now includes Victoria, is involved in an early morning bank raid and end up with half the city on their trail.
Mr Schipper's film was run through twice before being shot in one go in the early hours of April 27, 2014. The actors often improvised as they travelled on foot and in cars between various Berlin locations. This technique gives the drama compelling veracity and spontaneity, as well as a free-flowing headiness that captures the divine madness of 20-something night-life.
Midnight Special (Michael Shannon); The Man Who Knew Infinity (Jeremy Irons); My Name is Emily (Evanna Lynch); The Huntsman: Winter's War.