Tuesday 23 January 2018

Beware of Greeks bearing comedy, Indian justice, and unholy priests

* My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 (12A, 94mins), 2 Stars
* El Club, (No Cert, IFI, 94mins), 4 Stars
* Court (No Cert, IFI, 116mins) , 3 Stars
* Disorder (15A, 96mins), 3 Stars

Dated: 'My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2'.
Dated: 'My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2'.

Fourteen long years ago, Greek Canadian actress Nia Vardalos had a surprise hit with a sweet and harmless comedy. My Big Fat Greek Wedding plundered Ms Vardalos' ethnic heritage for broad and affectionate stereotypes, and co-starred John Corbett as an Anglo-Saxon suitor who gets a nasty shock when he meets his fiancée's loud and histrionic family. Made for a song, it earned more than $350m, but a subsequent TV show flogged the idea to death and that, it seemed, was that.

But Ms Vardalos has been darkly muttering about a possible sequel in recent years, and this brisk follow-up was shot in Toronto at high speed last summer. Toula (Vardalos) and Ian (Corbett) are married now, and have a teenage daughter called Paris (Elena kampouris) who's about to go to college. But Toula is clingy, and her extended family are even worse.

Not all Greek Americans, or indeed Greeks, were entirely happy with Ms Vardalos' depiction of their race as noisy, unpredictable, fun-loving hysterics, and those cartoonish elements are even more pronounced here. And while My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 is redeemed somewhat by an underlying well-intentioned sweetness, it's a tired and dated little movie that might have been made in the 1980s.

In previous films like Tony Manero and No, Chilean director Pablo Larrain has explored the dark underbelly of the Pinochet regime, but his target in El Club is not the state but the church. In a country where Catholic priests enjoy the same kind of power they once did here, abuse has been inevitable. El Club is set in a dingy house in a windblown seaside town, which is home to a group of ragged-looking former clerics.

They are tended to by a wily nun called Sister Monica (Antonio Zegers), and add wine and steak to their Spartan diet by running their greyhound at local meets. But when an unstable fisherman turns up outside the house to loudly document his sexual abuse at a priest's hands, violence ensues and a Jesuit enforcer is sent to investigate. Father Alonzo (Marcelo Alonso) sternly reminds the priests that tiers is a house of penance, but also seems keen to keep the lid on a potentially embarrassing news story.

The priests' sins are various and very serious, but Pablo Larraign never makes the mistake of turning these men into monsters. They're human, however imperfect, and El Club memorably teases out the enduring themes of sin and redemption.

Chaitanya Tamhane's impressive début feature Court adopts a similarly nuanced approach to the question of crime and punishment. A charismatic northern Indian folk singer called Narayan Kamble (Vira Sathidar) is performing onstage when he's arrested and charged with having encouraged a Mumbai sewer to kill himself through his incendiary songs. The subsequent trial is absurd, and Kafkaesque, and tells us more about the social iniquities of Indian society than it does about justice, or the law. Narayan, it turns out, is an untouchable, and old prejudices and vested interests smother any possibility of a fair trial.

A French thriller that doesn't quite live up to its promise, Disorder is a film of two halves. Matthias Schoenaerts is Vincent, an ex-soldier who's still struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder when he's hired by a wealthy Lebanese businessman to protect his family, and luxurious Cotes D'Azur villa. Vincent soon becomes convinced that someone is watching them, but we're left wondering if the threat is imagined, or real.

Director Alice Winocour establishes an atmosphere of woozy paranoia, and uses Schoenaert's brooding presence to great effect. But the tension is dissipated when a real threat emerges, and Disorder turns into a conventional action thriller.

Irish Independent

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