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Film Review: Disaster movie rides tidal wave of emotion

The Impossible Drama. Starring Ewan McGregor, Naomi Watts, Tom Holland, Samuel Joslin, Oaklee Pendergast, Geraldine Chaplin. Directed by Juan Antonio Bayona. Cert 12A

The Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 is one of the greatest natural disasters of this century so it's perhaps surprising that film-makers haven't been too keen to mine its dramatic potential. Clint Eastwood used the event as one element of the muddled Hereafter, but it's taken until now for a director to approach the catastrophe, in which almost 300,000 people lost their lives, with a serious intent.

Juan Antonio Bayona and screenwriter Sergio G Sanchez, who'd worked together previously on the marvellous ghost story The Orphanage, were inspired by an interview with a Spanish woman who told how she, her partner and their three sons survived the tidal wave which levelled the holiday resort they were staying at in Thailand.

There have been criticisms that The Impossible is doing an injustice to the indigenous people of the countries affected by the tsunami by concentrating on what befell a Western family but that's difficult to maintain when the film delivers such a powerful punch, leaving the viewer in no doubt about the scale and horror of the event.


For dramatic purposes, the family at the centre of the story are now English, Henry Bennett (Ewan McGregor) is an IT executive based in Japan and worried about losing his job while his wife Maria (Naomi Watts) has temporarily retired from her medical career to look after their three young sons, pre-teen Lucas (Tom Holland) and the younger Thomas (Samuel Joslin) and Simon (Oaklee Pendergast). Their Christmas break to Thailand is proceeding normally until St Stephen's morning, when the idyll is shattered by a speeding wall of water which crashes through the resort.

Bayona's depiction of the tsunami as it hits is a remarkable piece of film-making. Using minimal CGI, he creates a truly terrifying spectacle as all in the path of the wave is laid low and swept away. Maria and Lucas become separated from the rest of the family and the story then expands into a fight for survival amid the aftermath of what must have seemed an apocalyptic event.

Watts is outstanding as Maria, a mother trying to protect her son despite suffering from terrible injuries, while newcomer Holland's performance as Lucas turns from a somewhat precocious, brattish pre-pubescent into a tough, resourceful and morally strong character is equally noteworthy. As the distraught Henry, Ewan McGregor gives the performance of his career, with one scene involving a phone call home to his father-in-law being the most moving moment of a film which isn't exactly short of them.



Drama. Starring Maggie Smith, Tom Courtenay, Billy Connolly, Pauline Collins, Andrew Sachs. Directed by Dustin Hoffman. Cert 12A

after all the grief he's apparently given directors over the years, it's perhaps surprising that it's taken Dustin Hoffman until his 75th year to step behind the camera to see what it's like on the other side of the lens. And he's chosen this project very wisely.

The huge success of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (which did so well there's a sequel in the works) no doubt helped Quartet get the green light, as studios realised that, hey, there's market among people who've hit their 50s, 60s and beyond who might like movies with actual actors doing that acting thing and you don't have to spend a fortune on CGI or vast set-pieces in the process. Win-win all round.

Adapted by Ronald Harwood from his stage play, Quartet is a movie that's impossible to dislike, even though it's not without its flaws.

Set in Beecham House, a retirement home for opera singers and classical musicians, the story revolves around preparations for the home's annual gala concert -- traditionally a tribute to the works of Verdi -- which is needed to raise much-needed funds in order to keep the place going. Reggie (Tom Courtenay), the twinkly eyed and saucy Will (Billy Connolly) and sweet-natured Cissie (Pauline Collins) are busy preparing away when the genial balance among the retirees is disrupted by the arrival of Jean (Maggie Smith), a notorious diva who was once briefly married to Reggie.

Can Jean be persuaded to appear alongside the other three to perform the quartet from Rigoletto? Can Beecham House be saved? Will Maggie Smith steal every scene she strides into? You can pretty much guess the answers to those questions but that's not really the point of the exercise, as it's just a great pleasure watching fine actors play against each other with a masterful actor himself behind the camera simply letting them get on with it. A thoroughly pleasant if undemanding experience.


Hors Satan

Drama. Starring David Dewaele, Alexandra Lemaitre, Christophe Bon, Juliette Bacquet, Aurore Broutin. Directed by Bruno Dumont. Cert Club

Director Bruno Dumont is very much an acquired taste, with his last film Hadewijch laying on religious symbolism with large shovel to no great effect. He's at it again here, with David Dewaele playing a vagrant living on the outskirts of a seaside town in northern France and having a curious relationship with the inhabitants.

A young woman (Alexandra Lemaitre) is besotted with him so he obligingly murders her abusive stepfather, while he later performs some form of exorcism or sin-eating on a catatonic youngster, beats a forest ranger half to death and indulges in a sport of raising from the dead for good measure.

It's all very pretentious, with lots of pointless walking along not particularly interesting sand dunes and it's difficult to escape the feeling that this was being made up as it went along. Imagine one of Jean-Luc Godard's more irritating efforts, filmed in Rush, and you've some idea just how annoying and frustrating this piece of arthouse cobblers really is.