Friday 23 February 2018

Film reviews: Sunset Song is exquisite

Sunset Song - Cert: 16

Tock solid: Model turned actress Agyness Deyn gives the performance of her life in this gritty drama
Tock solid: Model turned actress Agyness Deyn gives the performance of her life in this gritty drama
Better watch out: Emjay Anthony in 'Krampus'

Hilary A White and Aine O'Connor

Reviewed this week are Sunset Song, The Lesson, Victor Frankenstein , Krampus and 11 Minutes.

Lewis Grassic Gibbon's 1932 novel Sunset Song caused a stir upon its release for its unflinching depictions of sex and childbirth under the umbrella of family dysfunction. Uncompromising British auteur Terence Davies (The Deep Blue Sea, The House of Mirth) was moved to tears by the book's ending and adapting it to film became a 15-year passion project that is only now seeing the light of day.

Davies's gamble to cast model-turned-actress Agyness Deyn in the lead has paid off. She is rock solid as farm girl Chris Guthrie, whose educational aspirations are stymied by family duty. The latter come in the shape of her vicious puritanical father (Peter Mullan), for whom she is forced to care after the tragic death of her mother and emigration of her dear brother.

When the tyrant finally dies after a stroke, she weds handsome local Ewan Tavendale (Kevin Guthrie), only to have her husband taken away from the family farmstead by an unstoppable enemy - war.

Davies is not one to kowtow to any ideas of convention and Sunset Song is all the better for this. Like cinema's other great Terence (Malick), the human drama being played out is set to a backdrop of sweeping pastoral beauty that just manages to cool down the ills befalling Chris.

Indoors, cinematographer Michael McDonough paints rustic Scottish austerity with Vermeer's palette and the effect is exquisite. This is just as well because in the hands of Davies the trials of life can occasionally take on an abrupt, almost insensitive cadence. 4 Stars


Selected cinemas

The Lesson

Cert: Club

Imagine the worst day at the office you've had. Multiply it by five, chuck in a faltering economy and an unsympathetic spouse, and you're approaching the kind of thing endured by the central protagonist in this muscular Bulgarian morality drama.

Appearing in every scene here, Margita Gosheva is outstanding as Nadezhda, a diligent, tidy senior-school teacher trying to catch the student who pinched cash from her purse. She is unsuccessful and the repercussions and stresses of this defeat are carried home and exacerbated when she learns that her no-hoper husband has been spending her salary on repairing a busted campervan rather than lodging the mortgage repayments. The bank is now past the point of reminder letters and proceeds with repossessing Nadezhda's family home.

She turns to her flush father for help but cannot acceptthat he took up with a much younger woman following her mother's death. Meanwhile, the gods conspire against her in cruel ways, from snooty bank tellers to dying car engines.

There is a minimal but incisive rhythm in the way co-directors Kristina Grozeva and Petar Valchanov build a wall around Nadezhda and push her to the edge of bourgeois respectability. A score is unnecessary when the storytelling is this assured, while there is a quiet artistry in the framing that packs a punch.

Gosheva's is surely one of the great female lead performances of the year. 5 Stars


Now showing in IFI

Victor Frankenstein

Cert: 12A

Daniel Radcliffe won the lottery when he scooped the part of Harry Potter at the age of 11 in what would turn out to be his generation's biggest film franchise. Now estimated to be worth €156m, the 26-year-old can do as he pleases, be it arthouse biopic (Kill Your Darlings), rom-com (The F Word) or supernatural chillers such as The Woman In Black, Horns, or this big and brash Gothic-horror carnival.

While the range is to be applauded, a problem dogs Radcliffe; he can't really act. It once again becomes glaringly apparent here opposite hot-to-trot Scot James McAvoy.

McAvoy is the titular mad scientist who employs circus freak and amateur physician Igor (Radcliffe) to help create Promethean life. Frankenstein frees Igor from the big-top bondage and whisks him back to his rambling laboratory to be his right-hand man. The two merrily go about tinkering with corpses, lightening conductors and the natural order. All the while, Andrew Scott's pious Scotland Yard detective is on their trail while Jessica Brown Findlay pops in and out on thankless love-interest duty.

Lavish CGI litters most backdrops, with the costumes and some manicured sets giving the only tangible whiff of Victorian London. McAvoy, Scott and Brown Findlay act a particularly lightweight Radcliffe off the screen. This fact is not helped by McAvoy's high-camp turn, which is an arch riot of trilling and booming that resembles a young Brian Blessed. None the less, Radcliffe winces and gulps like an understudy called up at the last minute and now out of his depth.

For all its vim and vigour, Victor Frankenstein is a strangely toothless affair that is unconcerned with Mary Shelley's source novel for the most part. That Gothic fiction standard looked at the monster's struggle to slip back into the world, as well as the more central ethical and theological themes. In trying to do to the story what Guy Ritchie did to Sherlock Holmes, director Paul McGuigan and writer Max Landis have jettisoned everything interesting and enduring about it in the first place. 2 Stars


Now showing


Cert 15A

Even the sappiest among us dreams of demonic homicide at some point during this 'special' time of year. That said, if you're the type who just plain resents having festive goodwill and familial scrums rammed down your throat every December, Krampus, a daft and dotty Christmas horror, could be right up your chimney flue.

Writer-director Michael Dougherty (Trick 'r Treat) hits the Engel family with terrors from the get-go - a host of ghastly redneck relatives barging through the door for the holidays, complete with Republican politics, brattish kids and a poisonous auntie.

It's a lot to handle for young Max (Emjay Anthony), his teenage sister and sweat-browed parents Sarah and Tom (Toni Collette and Adam Scott). After he is teased over his selfless Santa letter, Max tears the thing up and gets the hump with Christmas and his family. You don't blame him for a second.

The act awakens the folktale bogeyman known as Krampus, a Mephistophelean inverse of St Nicholas who fixes the wagons of naughty kids at Christmas time. A blizzard duly descends on the picket-fence neighbourhood while power and communications go on the blink. Next, macabre snowmen appear in the garden. It is only when an excursion outside reveals death and destruction that Max's German grandmother (Krista Stadler) pipes up, recounting previous wartime experience of this horned and cloven-hooved monster (via a very tasteful animated sequence, it must be said).

The fun shifts up a gear at this point as Krampus sets evil gingerbread men and child-eating clowns on the family. The film's sense of its own silliness beds in and a decidedly 1980s pandemonium takes hold that is not displeasing. Think Gremlins let loose on the set of National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. 3 Stars


Now showing

11 Minutes

Cert 15A

Much-admired Polish auteur Jerzy Skolimowski is, at 77, working new ground with his thriller 11 Minutes. Apparently, his idea to have all of the action take place in a Warsaw square in the 11 minutes from 5pm changed along the way, so now the title is more of a metaphor. It is not the only one in the film either, but although engaging in parts and well delivered, with a great finale, I confess to struggling to know what the metaphors are for.

There are lots of characters in different vignettes and we begin with newly wed actress (Paulina Chapko) and her jealous husband (Wojciech Mecwaldowski) as he gets out of jail. They have a little moment and when he wakes she has headed off to an audition with a sleazy Hollywood producer (Richard Dormer).

There's a hot dog salesman (Andrzej Chyra), whose charm belies a dodgy past, a young thief, a coked-up drug courier, an old man painting, a couple watching porn, an ambulance crew trying to get to a woman in labour. There are also many filming styles, straight camera work, phones, helmet camera, Skype, CCTV.

There's a surveillance centre where one of the screens has a broken pixel, some of the characters see a dark spot in the sky and a growing sense of foreboding leads to the spectacular finale. Although the threads do merge and the concept seems to be that we are all stars of some kind of film, it doesn't deliver a satisfying punch. 2 Stars


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