Monday 11 December 2017

Movie reviews: A Quiet Passion

Cert: Club. Selected cinemas

Cynthia Nixon (left) and Jennifer Ehle star in ‘A Quiet Passion’
Cynthia Nixon (left) and Jennifer Ehle star in ‘A Quiet Passion’
RAW LIKE SUSHI: Garance Marillier in the edgy horror

Hilary A White

Giving the life of Emily Dickinson the celluloid treatment has been a passion project of UK director Terence Davies for quite some time. Davies (The Deep Blue Sea, Sunset Song) has often been drawn to stories of women in times past with their backs to the wall, and the grande dame of US verse - who spent her final years as a recluse with only a handful of her almost 2,000 poems published in her lifetime - fits that bill.

Funding issues prevented A Quiet Passion from emerging until now, but it has been largely worth the wait because the world now gets the opportunity to see Cynthia Nixon (yes, of Sex and the City fame) channel Dickinson in one of the better central female performances of the year.

And while Davies's screenplay does bite off a lot by looking to tell the poet's life from youth right up to her death at the age of 55, it stays afloat via tracts of breezy Wildean wit more typical of a comedy of manners than a biopic.

After her schooling, we see the teenage Dickinson (Emma Bell) return to the family home in Amherst, Massachusetts, to live with her gentle father (Keith Carradine), kindly sister (Jennifer Ehle) and frail mother. By day, there is lots of laughter, chatter and parasol twirling with her sister and friends. By night, she writes by candlelight while the world is asleep. But illness, family deaths and the infidelity of her older brother Austin eat away at her sense of idealism over the years, as does a fruitless connection with a married man.

Although prone to melodrama, Davies's film is full of rat-tat-tat dialogue and softly spoken verse, while also dabbling in gender politics. Nixon devours the camera. ★★★★

Also showing

Going in Style

Cert: 12A. Now showing

There are two sure-fire ways to make your screenplay appeal to the cigar-chomping producers of Hollywood. One is to depict a single dad trying to balance career and fatherhood. The second is to have classy, wise-talking pensioners sticking it to young upstarts and millennial gizmos with a triumphant "not past it yet, boys".

Going in Style certainly falls into the latter category, alongside The Bucket List, Space Cowboys and Last Vegas.

It sees a gold-wheeled troika of Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Alan Arkin play blue-collar types who have just been told their pensions have gone up in smoke following corporate restructuring at their old workplace.

In revenge, the trio hatch a plan to rob the bank that has profited off the pension account collapse.

Glazed of eye and shuffly of gait, they go about humiliating themselves in grocery stores in the name of practice. They also incorporate the cover offered by their local old-timers society (including a senile Christopher Lloyd and a love interest for Arkin's character played by 1960s screen siren Ann-Margret).

Matt Dillon's dastardly police detective might be on to them though, so they must be absolutely meticulous. This can be hard in the winter of one's life - or not?

Scrubs star Zach Braff directs a generic, inoffensive remake of the 1979 caper, that often resorts to cheap slapstick in its search for gags. Only for those three leads it'd be a chore. ★★★

I Am Not Your Negro

Cert: Club; Selected cinemas

Once a former Haitian culture minister, Raoul Peck should now become better known as a documentary filmmaker of rare scope, with this mesmerising and fiercely thought-provoking discussion on US race relations that understandably received a Best Documentary Oscar earlier this year.

The title comes from the words of public intellectual James Baldwin, and acts as a stark reminder of the tragically divided situation that America's black-and-white communities still find themselves in today.

A contemporary of Dr Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and Medgar Evers, Baldwin's political writings were fuelled not only by the assassinations of these three figures, but also the rife injustice that was there for all to see throughout the Civil Rights Movement and its fraught legacy.

Baldwin's eloquent prescience during speeches and debates is calmly but forcefully underscored by Peck via the use of fascinating supporting archive clips and images depicting everything from blackface minstrels and Sidney Poitier film clips to Barack Obama and the Ferguson riots. An unusually subdued Samuel L Jackson, speaking barely above a whisper in moments, narrates by reading passages from Baldwin's unfinished memoir-cum-polemic Remember This House.

The real punch delivered here is in the stealthy panning-back that Peck does to bring universality to the many individual composite parts of this deep and difficult issue. ★★★★★


Cert: Club. Now showing in IFI

The exquisite Jackie may have been snubbed at the Oscars but it confirmed what some of us have known for a while now about the vision of Chilean director Pablo Larrain. Neruda, an unorthodox biopic of Chile's other great Pablo - poet Pablo Neruda - was shot just prior to Jackie, but is an entirely different style of portrait.

The great poet-politician (an elegant Luis Gnecco) was complicated. Guillermo Calderon's screenplay wafts between the harsh reality of Chile's fascist purges and Pablo's tendencies towards egotism, callousness and hedonism.

He and wife Delia (Mercedes Moran) go into hiding after he insults President Gonzalez Videla, and are hunted by Gael Garcia Bernal's fey police inspector, Oscar Peluchonneau.

There is a slippery texture to Neruda - fuelled largely by the poetic voice-over narration and almost elemental presence of Bernal's character - that makes you start to doubt yourself (the threat to Pablo never feels pronounced). A magical quality takes hold as Larrain pushes his two excellent leads out into the beautiful ether. ★★★★


Cert: 18; Now showing

RAW LIKE SUSHI: Garance Marillier in the edgy horror

A film title like Raw (Grave in French) hardly suggests a gentle fable, and while this French horror is certainly blood-filled and graphic, it is so much more than a horror film. At 16 Justine (Garance Marillier) is innocent but desperate to fit in to the veterinary faculty where her sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf) is already following in their parents' footsteps.

The family is strictly vegetarian, a principle, among others, that Justine finds herself having to confront. This is cleverly written and directed by debut filmmaker Julia Ducournau, really well acted by its young stars and while definitely somewhere in the horror genre, it has elements of thriller, sexual politics and proper coming-of-age drama that many films can only dream of achieving. ★★★★ Aine O'Connor

Sunday Independent

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