Wednesday 16 January 2019

Cinema review: Suite Francaise... more of the same glum goo

Suite Francaise Cert 15A

French tears: Suite Francaise deals with forbidden love during wartime
French tears: Suite Francaise deals with forbidden love during wartime
Liam Neeson in Run All Night
Christina Noble

Hilary A White and Aine O'Connor

Reviewed this week are Suite Francais, Run All Night, Christina Noble: In a House That Ceased to Be, X & Y and Kajaki.

A day may come when Michelle Williams plays a serial killer or a rom-com psychiatrist or circus clown. For now, the US actress's agent seems insistent that she mostly play beleaguered love interests who weep softly in kitchens and frown forlornly at the rough hand of true love.

Suite Francaise is more of the same glum goo Williams is drawn helplessly towards, but at least Saul Dibb's film is set in an evocative time and place - German-occupied rural France. Among rows of poplars and stony squares, her rounded-off looks sit well as she plays the protagonist of the long-lost Irene Nemirovsky novel. Russian Nemirovsky had lived in the town of Issy-l'Eveque until being ratted out by local collaborators as a Jew and perishing in Auschwitz. In the suitcase she left with her daughter was the manuscript for this tale of forbidden love between a German soldier (Matthias Schoenaerts) billeted to the town and a shy local girl (Williams) losing hope of her soldier husband ever returning from the frontline.

Strings swoop in and out as glances are stolen behind the back of uncompromising mother-in-law Kristin Scott Thomas. Meanwhile, Sam Riley's farm labourer goes up against a nasty Nazi officer trying to muscle in on his wife.

It's all very lush and looks the part (costume designer Michael O'Connor does a fine job) but ultimately a bit pedestrian and earnest. Schoenaerts is sturdy as the Nazi with a heart of gold and Scott Thomas nails it, but Williams' moping becomes increasingly tiresome to be around.


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Editor's pick: Run All Night


THIS is an Editor's Pick with an asterisk, a nod not so much to the film but to the amazing beast that is Liam Neeson's career.  He'll be 63 in June and he has spent the last few years of his career kicking the bejongoes out of baddies and the box office, and he's about to do it again. Run All Night is a throwback to the high-death-toll high melodrama thrillers of the eighties.

Shawn Maguire (Ed Harris) is the retired Murphyia kingpin and Jimmy Conlan (Neeson, inset) his washed-up alcoholic hitman wracked with regret. Maguire has done well and looks out for Jimmy when everyone else despairs.

The next generation has grown up. Shawn's son Danny (Robert Boyd Holbrook) struggles to compete with his father's success and gets in over his head. Jimmy's son Mike (Joel Kinnaman) has rejected both the criminal life and his father, preferring to live a straight life with his pregnant wife (Natalie Martinez) and small daughters. But, when he sees Danny commit a crime a chain of events is set in motion and father and son unite to run all night. Jauma Collet-Serra, who directed Neeson in NonStop and Unknown, directs this highly implausible juggernaut of a thriller. It's two hours of old school, man-centric action, vengeance, redemption and shooting, with Liam being reluctantly lethal and with added Vincent D'Onofrio as the one good cop. It's a does-what-it-says-on-the-tin version of this kind of movie which should please fans. Obviously anyone not a fan of the genre should steer clear.


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Christina Noble: In a House That Ceased to Be


Documentary-makers Ciarín Scott (Waiting for the Light) and Michael Scott (A Changing Man) spent five years making this remarkable documentary about humanitarian Christina Noble. Last year's Noble was an enjoyable and worthy biopic,  and I worried this would be a too-soon rehash of the subject. It is instead an interesting addition to the history of Christina Noble, and a moving portrait of the life-long damage that cruelty can cause.

The film opens in Vietnam with Christina, passionate, and aware of the film crew, berating a woman for leaving her child in danger. She is also shown with the children who live in the homes her foundation runs, and on various missions.

It is an excellent account of the work she has done and of her own family - one grandson speaks movingly of seeing his granny in action on an English street. However, where it is most interesting is in examining the background that created Noble's urge to look after children. It provides a rough outline of what happened - her mother died, her father was alcoholic and the court system removed Christina (inset) and her three siblings, placing them in different homes. Noble's anger and distress upon revisiting the scenes, the orphanage in Booterstown and the industrial school in Letterfrack, is powerful to behold. In the children's graveyard in Letterfrack the air is peculiarly thick with midges and it makes for an eerie scene.

There's another where, holding forth in the manner that she has perfected, Christina is abruptly silenced by a man who tells her she had made it all up. Although she and her two sisters and one brother have seen each other separately over the years of their adulthood, they had never been all four together since being separated by the court system in the 1950s. None has lived in Ireland for many years and they were all adamant that their long overdue reunion, which was to be part of the film, should not take place here. It would, they argued, look like they had forgiven the sins of the past, and they quite resolutely have not.

It makes for a thought-provoking reflection on just how deep some damage can run.


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Kajaki is not a film about which you could ever use the word "enjoy", but it is a mighty story.  And, like any good war-based film, this account of a true event  offers convincing proof of the utter futility and waste that war is.

The film opens near Kajaki dam in Afghanistan in 2006. A group of British soldiers are on duty, overseeing the sparse local activity and going on occasional patrols. They are not terribly well provisioned, there are issues over batteries which means that comms are unreliable.

Having roughly set up the characters and dynamics in the group, director Paul Katis, in his debut feature, sends the first lot of characters off on patrol where one, Stu (Benjamin O'Mahony) steps on a landmine and is grievously injured. Because the land is mined, treating and rescuing him turns out to be treacherous, and a series of attempts prove that truth is stranger than fiction.

Screenwriter Tom Williams keeps the story tight, about the men on the ground, their ordeal and suffering without wandering into any of the broader political issues, and this makes it work. The tension builds, the danger is palpable, and there is a real sense of stress and time running out under a burning sun. There is no message other than whatever you take yourself from the events. The ensemble cast includes Mark Stanley, David Elliot and Malachi Kirby and it works well to achieve its aim.

The special effects and make-up teams did remarkable work, and this is not one for the gentle of stomach nor for anyone keen on a meandering narrative. In the tradition of the Hurt Locker, this is a fairly straight-up account of a particularly bad day in a modern war.


Now Playing Omniplex

X+Y Cert


Nathan (Asa Butterfield) is a teenager on the autism spectrum who views the world through a geometric prism. His lonely mother Julie (Sally Hawkins) struggles to connect with him following the tragic death of his doting father (played by the excellent Irish actor Martin McCann).

What Nathan excels at, however, is mathematics, revelling in its clear-cut lines and logic. His talent is spotted by has-been teacher Mr Humphreys (Rafe Spall) who takes Nathan under his wing as the young lad is chosen to represent the UK at the International Mathematics Olympiad in Taiwan. He joins a team of misfits and teen geniuses on the trip while Mr Humphreys and Julia cuddle up and cheer him on from back in Blighty. Nathan does a bit of cuddling himself as he grapples with his emerging feelings for a girl on the Chinese team who travels with him back to Cambridge for the grand final.

It's a shame the story has to leave the Far East at all because X+Y, directed by Morgan Matthews, suffers from a dearth in illumination that is absent when Nathan's big blue eyes are being spun by his exotic new surrounds. There's lots of coming-of-age pitter-patter and complex equations acting as life metaphors, but few surprises.

Butterfield trembles away blankly and Spall treads a fine line between annoying and energising. It is Hawkins, a regular of the Mike Leigh stable, who steals the show as the chin-up mum.


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