Sunday 27 May 2018

Cinema: Let The Sunshine In - a little too smart for its own good

Cert: 15A; Selected cinemas

Juliette Binoche stars in this unusual class of romantic comedy
Juliette Binoche stars in this unusual class of romantic comedy

Roland Barthes's A Lover's Discourse: Fragments is loosely the source material for this unusual class of romantic comedy that delivers its laughs with something of an awkward, infuriating harrumph.

Director Claire Denis, a leading light of modern cinema in her native France and beyond, continues a run of consistently beguiling work that draws excellent performances from cast members.

Juliette Binoche (in every scene here) is Isabelle, a Parisian visual artist who is trying to get back on her feet following a divorce. While her husband is still coming and going, various suitors are orbiting her, each coming with the vague promise of a new start but also, sadly, baggage and degrees of incompatibility. Xavier Beauvois's married banker is insufferably pompous and wants to have his cake and eat it. Then there's Nicolas Duvauchelle's rakish actor, who is also married, likes a drink and doesn't know what he wants.

The absurdity of these and other potential candidates upon whom Isabelle's happiness seems to hinge is exacerbated by Isabelle herself, here portrayed with incredible sensitivity and nuance by the masterful Binoche. She doesn't help matters for herself either. There are scenes here that emit low-level frequencies of bemusement and mirth because the screenplay seems more intent on making our eyes roll at the flakiness of its lovelorn charges.

Let The Sunshine In is undoubtedly easy on both eye and ear (the soundtrack is a treat), and its perceptive study of the silly games we play lifts it high above mere Gallic whimsy. It's guilty, however, of being a little too smart for its own good, especially when it pulls a closing ace from its sleeve. ★★★ Hilary A White

The Leisure Seeker

Cert: 15A; Now showing

It's the eve of Trump's election, and Ella and John Spencer (Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland) are in the winter of their lives. Much to the worry of their adult children (Janel Moloney and Christian McKay), they decide to hit the open road in the family RV, looking for some fleeting sense of control in their fading existences.

Joining them, however, is John's worsening Alzheimer's and a necessity to re-examine their life together.

Italian director Paolo Virzi makes his US feature debut with this uneven comedy-drama that shuffles from one incident to the next, much like its elderly protagonists.

While credit is due for its refusal to sugar-coat the realities of the age demographic, some of the attempts at humour fall flat. Mirren and Sutherland just about keep the ship afloat. ★★★ Hilary A White

Never Steady, Never Still

Club Cert; Now showing

Kathleen Hepburn's debut feature, based on her short film, is a study of resilience over a year in the life of a family. Although there are important events, it focuses less on these than on the ongoing drama of life in beautiful but remote British Columbia and gives a very real sense of how we are each wrestling our own private demons.

Judy (Shirley Henderson) is in the advanced stages of early onset Parkinson's Disease but works hard to maintain her independence.

Her husband and carer Ed (Nicholas Campbell) encourages their 18-year-old son Jamie (Theodore Pellerin) to move to Alberta to take work on a drilling rig, a harsh environment that proves difficult for a young man trying to work out his identity.

The intimate hand-held close-ups interspersed with shots of wide open beauty reflect how we are alone even in a group.

It's subtle and effective and the performances are understated but excellent and the film won the Grand Jury Prize at this year's DIFF. ★★★★ Aine O'Connor

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Cert: 12A; Now showing

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, to give this adaptation of Mary Ann Shaffer's novel its full title, is the latest film from Mike Newell.

It's a nice film, but a flawed one and while I did not like it, it will make pleasant viewing for period romance fans.

In 1941, a group of friends in occupied Guernsey are caught out after curfew by the German forces who rule the island. The elaborately titled book club is the story they invent to excuse their excursion.

Switch to 1946 when author Juliet Ashton (Lily James) receives a letter from one of the club's members, Dawsey Adams (Michiel Huisman). Intrigued, and with a commission to write an article about reading, Juliet heads to Guernsey to meet the club members. Comprised of a selection of British stereotypes played by familiar faces like Penelope Wilton and Tom Courtenay, there is more going on in the club than just books.

Their member Elizabeth (Jessica Brown Findlay) has disappeared, leaving behind a daughter and a mystery. And although Juliet is engaged to American Mark (Glen Powell) hunky pig farmer Dawsey stirs confusion in her affections.

Told with flashbacks there is a lot going on, some of it, like the wartime occupation of the Channel Islands, is interesting. But it feels twee and in places just doesn't add up.

Still, it is a nice film, unchallenging and sweet so if that's your cup of tea you will enjoy.

★★ Aine O'Connor

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