Monday 20 November 2017

Romance and racism in 1950s New Jersey

* Indignation (No Cert, IFI, 110mins), 4 Stars
* The Innocents (No Cert, IFI, 115mins), 3 Stars
* Gimme Danger (No Cert, IFI, 108mins), 3 Stars

Atmospheric: Sarah Gadon and Logan Lerman in 'Indignation'
Atmospheric: Sarah Gadon and Logan Lerman in 'Indignation'

Paul Whitington

Philip Roth's witty and acerbic stories are full of romantic and dramatic incident, but seem to slip through the helpless fingers of film-makers hoping to capture them. James Schamus's Indignation is the best Roth adaptation I've seen yet, and really catches the tone of his writing and his angry, impatient intelligence.

It's the early 1950s, communism is the great scourge, anti-semitism is all the rage, teenagers don't exist yet and pre-marital sex is a sign of low character - among women, anyway. Logan Lerman plays Marcus Messner, the clever and dutiful only son of a New Jersey kosher butcher who leaves home to study law at a small Ohio university.

Marcus is an intellectual, stubborn and chippy, and soon attracts the attention of the college's affable but straight-laced Dean (Tracy Letts). In a show-stopping central scene, Dean Caudwell and Marcus set out their opposing intellectual stalls, and when the Dean has the bad taste to bring up God, Marcus starts wildly quoting Bertrand Russell.

More inflaming still is Marcus's encounter with Olivia (Sarah Gadon), a beautiful but unstable student. Her decision to fellate him at the end of their first date sends Marcus into a tailspin, and causes endlessly expanding ripples of unhappiness and confusion.

Although two bookending scenes set in the Korean War seem a little artificial, the film overall is atmospheric, involving, well acted and beautifully written, and Tracy Letts is wonderful as the infuriatingly reasonable Dean.

Anne Fontaine's Franco-Polish drama The Innocents is set in December of 1945, and paints a grim picture of post-war Europe's chaos. Lou de Laage stars as Mathilde Beaulieu, a young French medical student who's part of a Red Cross mission to Poland.

Mathilde is dismissive when a young nun comes to their station to beg for assistance, but eventually agrees to follow the woman back to a remote rural convent. One of the nuns is pregnant, the result of rape during a Russian attack, and while Mathilde helps them cope with this calamity, it soon emerges that more than one of these brides of Christ is in the family way.

A fine cast includes Agata Kulesza, who also starred in Pawel Pawlikowski's 'Ida', a film with which The Innocents will inevitably be compared. It's inferior in all respects, but 'Ida' is a very high bar, and Anne Fontaine does a fine job overall of telling a story in which faith is pitted against moral pragmatism, and ordinary human decency.

According to Jim Jarmusch, The Stooges were the "greatest rock 'n' roll band ever", and while that claim might be hard to justify, he certainly does his best in Gimme Danger.

A sometimes impassioned but oddly meandering documentary, it tells the stories of the hugely influential 60s group through the recollections of Iggy Pop and fellow band members Ron and Scott Asheton. But as usual, Iggy's the main event.

Born Jim Osterberg in Michigan in the spring of 1947, he was raised in a trailer park, and in Gimme Danger touchingly describes how his loving parents gave him the caravan's only double bedroom so he could practice the drums. He became interested in blues music, and in 1966 joined forces with the Asheton brothers and Dave Alexander to form a band.

No Stooges, no Ramones, no American punk rock and possibly no punk at all. The claim is grand but sustainable: Pop and co were a huge influence on David Bowie, who would later become Iggy's most celebrated collaborator.

Not enough of Iggy's post-Stooges exploits are explored, however, by a documentary that also suffers slightly from a lack of quality archive footage.

Irish Independent

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