Thursday 17 August 2017

Norman: Richard Gere is great to behold

Cert: 15A; Now showing

Mystery: Weisz plays Rachel in My Cousin Rachel
Mystery: Weisz plays Rachel in My Cousin Rachel

At one point, a character in Norman says that Israel has not been well-depicted in a film since Exodus, and this is not the film that changes that. However Israeli writer-director Joseph Cedar's examination of the archetype of the Court Jew, minus the anti-semitism that tainted fictional versions like Shylock and Fagin, is engaging and well-acted. Free of the shackles of sex bomb, Richard Gere is great to behold.

The film is subtitled The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer, that rise and fall being the defining characteristics of the archetype. Gere plays Norman Oppenheimer, a corporate hustler in Jewish business circles. The film opens with Norman pursuing an in with Micha Eshel (Lior Ashkenazi), a low-ranking Israeli politician. The fix fails, but three years later, with Eshel now Israeli premier, Norman has connections in a world he has long wanted to be part of. But this is on a scale he isn't used to, and in politics, there is a fine line between a favour and corruption.

Norman has little or no backstory, his closest personal relationship, which is also a business relationship, is with his nephew (Michael Sheen), Norman is like a hologram in his own life, his angle is never clear other than that he needs to be seen and this need that drives him also lands him in trouble. Steve Buscemi, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Hank Azaria also play support, but the show belongs to the barely recognisable Gere.

★★★★ Aine O'Connor

Berlin Syndrome

Cert: 16; Now showing

Cate Shortland's adaptation of Melanie Joosten's novel opens like an arthouse romcom. Lone Australian backpacker Clare (Teresa Palmer) arrives in Berlin where she floats seemingly content to let life happen to her. Like any twentysomething thinking they've discovered something she sees beauty in the GDR architecture she photographs. She sees beauty too in Andi (Max Riemelt), the handsome Berliner who offers her strawberries and makes unfeasible mistakes in his otherwise perfect English.  

Their knowing glances, bitten-lip flirting leads to his remarkably isolated apartment but the romcom lead-in proves a red herring, this is no romcom. When Clare wakes the first morning, Andi has gone to work and apparently forgotten to leave her a key. She overlooks this surprisingly easily, stays again and then realises no key was no accident. Andi has taken the SIM from her phone and has made Clare a prisoner in his fortified apartment.

Throughout the film you do put yourself in this most horrifying situation, wondering what you would do, if Clare's actions and reactions are reasonable. There is a kind of subplot with Andi's father, but beyond hinting at misogyny based on Mammy leaving him it doesn't add a lot and the film does feel too long, a little too heavy on the atmospherics and light on action. Both leads opt to underplay their roles and it works well in what is an effective and mostly psychological horror. ★★★ Aine O'Connor

My Cousin Rachel

Cert: 12A; Now showing

Daphne du Maurier's 1951 page-turner gets an extra lashing of noir in this stylish and well-assembled adaptation written and directed by Roger Michell (Notting Hill, Enduring Love).

Sam Claflin is Philip Ashley, the orphan who comes to live on the sumptuous Cornish estate owned by his kindly cousin, Ambrose. Ambrose retreats to Florence in his older years for health reasons and sends word back to Philip that he has met and fallen in love with a relative there named Rachel (Rachel Weisz). The letters soon darken in hue, though, with talk of manipulation and torment.

Following Ambrose's death, Rachel arrives at the doorstep of Philip (who will inherit the estate on his upcoming birthday). Any intentions of confronting her are sidelined as he falls hard for her Tuscan complexion and winsome spirit.

Weisz underplays the is-she/isn't-she mystique superbly while Claflin exudes callow disarray.

Michell shoots with an eye for both pastoral beauty and musty, candlelit intrigue in a period thriller that keeps you guessing right up to the credits. ★★★★ Hilary a white

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