Monday 18 June 2018

Film of the week: On Chesil Beach

Cert: 15A; Now showing

Saoirse Ronan and Billy Howle in 'On Chesil Beach'
Saoirse Ronan and Billy Howle in 'On Chesil Beach'
The Breadwinner by Irish animation studio Cartoon Saloon

"No sex, please, we're English" might as well be the tagline to this lush, but awkward, adaptation of Ian McEwan's slim 2007 Booker nominee. Within the walls of a novel, delicately conjured into life by McEwan's literary gymnastics, such a tale of plummy newlyweds being torn from each other by a wedding-night malfunction sounds charming and sweetly melancholic.

Adapted by McEwan himself, however, On Chesil Beach has only the eyeline of the camera frame to fill in the hidden details and it struggles at times to do so.

Saoirse Ronan - back in McEwan's world for the first time since star-making breakthrough Atonement (2007) - is Florence, a gifted music student. Her husband of a few short hours is the equally young and handsome Edward (Billy Howle). It's 1962, and the pair are settling into their honeymoon at a Dorset hotel located near the picturesque shingle spit of the title.

They're as gooey and gushing as you'd imagine but when the time comes to consummate the marriage, their first attempts at intimacy encounter problems.

Sean Bobbitt's vintage cinematography, Ronan's luminosity and the sweeping, sensuous beauty of the location shoot mean that it's as easy on the eye as cinema will get this year. Harder to sit through are those doomed attempts at lovemaking which merely make you want to hide behind your seat. Too much is perhaps wrung out of this turning point in the tale.

Another blunder comes when the leads are caked in make-up to depict them in later life. Why this is considered a better option than just casting older actors remains a mystery, especially when the results always end up looking horrid. ★★★ Hilary A White

The Breadwinner

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The Breadwinner by Irish animation studio Cartoon Saloon
 

Cert 12A; Now Showing

Animation can sometimes do what live action films cannot and this is true of Nora Twomey's award-winning film. This is the first non-original story from Kilkenny-based Cartoon Saloon, who made Song of the Sea, and is based on Anita Doron's adaptation of Deborah Ellis's young adult novel. Set in Afghanistan under the Taliban, where it is lethal to be a female, the gorgeous animation manages to give a strong sense of danger, cruelty and fear in what would be a harrowing live-action film.

Parvana (Saara Chaudry) is a young girl who works with her war-wounded father (Ali Badshah) in the market in Kabul. As a girl who is meant to be at home, she attracts the attention of power-crazed zealot Idrees (Noorin Gulamgaus) who gets her father thrown in jail, leaving Parvana, her mother Fattema (Laara Sadiq), older sister Soraya (Shaista Latif) and baby brother destitute.

Women cannot even buy food in the market, so pre-pubescent Parvana disguises herself as a boy and becomes the breadwinner, whilst also trying to save her father.

We worry so much about the innocence of children, but this brings home what a first-world worry that is when in so many societies childhood innocence is a luxury. While it highlights difficulties it also celebrates the power of children, girls, ingenuity and quiet strength. And stories. Not for very young kids, older children and adults will enjoy and appreciate it.

★★★★ Aine O'Connor

Zama

Cert: Club; Now showing at IFI

Don Diego de Zama (Daniel Gimenez Cacho) is carrying around an aching desperation to escape his circumstances. Stationed at a sweltering and savage Paraguayan outpost, he is a million miles away from the opulent courts of the Spanish Crown he serves, and feels it.

He works beneath a loutish and difficult magistrate. As gently as he can, Zama pleads for his superior to write a letter back to the king putting him forward for a transfer to gentler climes as reward for all his years of devoted service. The more he asks, though, the more the magistrate finds grim pleasure in making Zama wriggle at the end of his finger.

The wilds around Zama are alive with the tropical perils that filled colonialists with fear and loathing. Hostile natives, poisonous flora and fauna, and a deathly, decaying stillness in the air that recalls Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness or those feverish Herzog-Kinski epics of the 1970s. Zama at times seems a little bit out-of-it, dazed and confused by his surroundings, a privileged invader and a quarry species all at once.

Argentinian auteur Lucrecia Martel is in spellbinding form in her first film in eight years. Zama hums with something mesmeric and slightly otherworldly that is hard to put your finger on. Martel's adaptation of Antonio di Benedetto's 1956 novel plays tricks on both protagonist and viewer that set you off balance, from its modern score to the strange behavioural reactions and spoken responses. ★★★★ Hilary A White

Show Dogs

Cert: PG; Now showing

As the internet has finally confirmed, mankind is obsessed with seeing animals bend their behaviours and values in line with ours. Film your cat doing something vaguely human and watch the view counter soar.

It's unclear whether or not Show Dogs, a ruff (sorry) and tacky live action doggie caper, is looking to get a piece of that action. Granted, man has been doubled-over laughing at chimps smoking fags for centuries, but unlike the realm of the increasingly sophisticated animation sector, human voices dubbed on to live-action animals is an entertainment source that has gone the way of the circus itself, and for good reason.

Maybe it's due a comeback. Watching Rottweiler cop Max (voiced by Chris "Ludacris" Bridges) bounding into a Miss Congeniality-esque plot that involves going undercover at a Crufts-style contest, the superficial mixture of cute pooches and slapstick eejitry creates an endorphin release. Scratch its underside, however, and a tiresome concoction of cheap, half-arsed gags and gaudy effects reveal itself. ★★ Hilary A White

Edie

Cert: 12A; Now showing

Regrets, Edith Piaf had none and Edie Moore has many. A life spent caring for an incapacitated husband she didn't much love has suddenly changed and, at 83, she finds herself free and a little lost. Her rather unpleasant daughter, Nancy, would have her in a home but rather than sing old songs and do crafts Edie (Sheila Hancock) decides to undo one regret of her youth and head to Scotland to climb Mt Suilven. The curmudgeonly old woman strikes up an unlikely, and at first unwilling friendship, with young guide Jonny (Kevin Guthrie) and change happens. The film works better in its second half and, although predictable, is enjoyable. Hancock, who is actually 85, is wonderful in what must have been a demanding role. It's a nice film. ★★★ Aine O'Connor

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