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Archive for the ‘Countries’ Category

Playmates ; 1941

Tuesday, March 15th, 2011

Director: David Butler
Actors: Kay Kyser, John Barrymore, Lupe Velez, Ginny Simms, May Robson, Patsy Kelly
Country: U.S.A.

Playmates gets a bad rep from film buffs and John Barrymore fans alike but I think that if you separate yourself from your admiration for Barrymore and get off your high horse, this film isn’t all that bad! It certainly isn’t a masterpiece but a cute little film to watch if you want a few laughs such as Ish Kabibble’s cute hairdo, Kay Kyser reciting Shakespeare, Patsy Kelly’s hilarious performance as Barrymore’s agent, and Barrymore covering Shakespeare’s ears from Kyser’s humourously awful recitation. There isn’t much to say about the film since it just felt like one of those films without much substance, but I still think it’s fun to see the film in a more positive light rather than boo-hooing and throwing tomatoes at it.

As a Barrymore fan myself, it’s a shame that he had to stoop down to the level of making fun of himself and have that performance as his last rather than some adaptation of Hamlet or Richard III, but this film still shows that Barrymore has his talent intact. Moments of greatness shows when he’s reciting Shakespeare (I could swear that those tears are real when he’s reciting Hamlet’s famous soliloquy) and his comic timing is ALWAYS perfect. I admire actors who are great in comedy and the reason I admire Barrymore so much is that he is AMAZING in comedic roles. I’m not putting down his talents for dramatic acting (he’s very good at that too), but as a fan of comedies, I love Barrymore’s comedic roles. I love how hammy he was in some parts of this film (very Oscar Jaffe-ish) and the way he contorts his face is just adorable. Yes, I called Barrymore adorable.

The film, I think, also shows how much time has passed from the days Barrymore was great to the days when Barrymore was a revered actor from the ye old days. Many Barrymore fans moan about how this film makes fun of Barrymore, but for the most part, I don’t think the jokes are that cruel. When Kyser mentions that Barrymore was a great actor, he didn’t say it with scorn but it sounded sincere. Even though Barrymore has dropped considerably from the top due to his boozing, I don’t think anyone can deny that he was once GREAT (not just good) and that he still had his stuff if he wasn’t drunk. In many ways, I felt like the film portrayed the real Barrymore (ha! How should I know right? I’m just musing from what I’ve read of him) with his reverence for Shakespeare, his occasionally big ego, and the way dramatic way he spoke. His weariness is apparent in his face and when he says sleepily that his life was dedicated to the theatre, it almost seemed like he was a tad bitter about it due to him not wanting to be an actor in the first place and also because that career path has led him to the top but also to the bottom. The cast billing is also proof of how Barrymore was no longer a box office draw. Kyser’s name is what’s presented in big letters and Barrymore comes after the title with the other supporting cast members. That’s not to say that Barrymore’s role is minor, quite on the contrary he’s in the film just as much as Kyser, but he’s no longer the main reason people would come to see this film.

Although it’s a shame that Barrymore passed away so quickly, Playmates isn’t as bad as most people would think it would be. It certainly isn’t painful to watch and isn’t cruel in the way The Great Profile was so if you ever catch it on TV, give it a chance! In all honesty, how can you resist a film where Barrymore wears tights?!

IMDb Link: Playmates
Where to buy: Not available

The Lady Is Willing ; 1942

Saturday, March 5th, 2011

Director: Mitchell Leisen
Actors: Marlene Dietrich, Fred MacMurray, Aline MacMahon, Stanley Ridges, Arline Judge
Country: U.S.A.

The Lady Is Willing is a lovely little screwball comedy featuring Marlene Dietrich and Fred MacMurray. For some reason I thought that this was a drama film but I was surprised to see that it was a comedy and was directed by the same director as Midnight. For the most part, the dialogue wasn’t fast paced like most screwballs but there were some really great lines such as “Go sterilize yourself. With all the money you handle and everything…” and the combination of facial expressions, timing, and movement of all the actors were really great! I never really saw Dietrich as a comedic actress but my god, she blew me away with her performance. Even from the beginning, she had me cracking up and the way she talked and her facial expressions were GOLDEN. This is probably my favourite Dietrich film of all time (I guess the von Sternberg x Dietrich OTP that I always supported just went down the drain) because I think it showcased her acting talents on top of her good looks. I’ve admired Dietrich mostly for her presence on the screen (and her crazy life) and for the most part, I saw her acting talents in the shadows except for the few moments when they really came out (e.g. Judgment at Nuremberg and Witness for the Prosecution). In The Lady Is Willing, Dietrich was lovely to look at but the way she acted had me enthralled every moment that she was on the screen. It’s really a shame that she wasn’t in more comedies because I think The Lady Is Willing proved that she’s a capable comedienne who has great timing in regards to the way she delivered her lines and the way she changed her facial expressions. I knew that Dietrich was fluent in English, but the way she delivered some of the lines really shocked me. Even as an American, I don’t think I would be able to say that long speedy ramble she did. It is most definite that Dietrich totally stole the spotlight in this film and it’s hard to even think of anything else about this film except for her.
My favourite scene has to be the beginning when Dietrich’s character, Liza Madden, walks in with a baby. The events that ensue inside her apartment are rather hilarious, but it is Dietrich’s performance that had me in stitches. The AMAZING hat that she wore (which the other characters in the film call “screwy”) added a comedic effect and complimented the way Dietrich moved and talked. The way those feathers swished around when she was calling the doctor (MacMurray) had me laughing so hard that I had to pause the film to laugh.

Do I recommend this film? YES! I recommend it to all fans of comedy and Dietrich. Trust me, dear Marlene will not let you down.

IMDb Link: The Lady Is Willing
Where to buy: Amazon.com

Stage Door ; 1937

Thursday, March 11th, 2010

Director: Gregory La Cava
Actors: Katharine Hepburn, Ginger Rogers , Adolphe Menjou, Gail Patrick, Andrea Leeds, Lucille Ball
Country: U.S.A

Stage Door… Where to even begin? Terrific directing, terrific script, terrific acting and cast, terrific everything! I enjoyed this film from beginning to end despite having one of my least favourite actresses, Katharine Hepburn.

I won’t talk much about the story since I think everyone should watch this so I’ll focus on my favourite subject: acting! Despite my lack of knowledge about acting and anything related to it, I really do put much emphasis on it with my own scale of what’s good or bad. If the person’s acting really hits home with my emotions, I know it’s good (for me). I was slightly disappointed with the top-billed actresses (Hepburn and Rogers) because I thought that it was Andrea Leeds’ performance that stood out. Hepburn was perfect for the role as Terry since I always imagine Hepburn to be intelligent and witty, but I was surprised to see Ginger Rogers playing a serious role. I’ve only seen her in her early Warner Pictures and the Astaire x Rogers films and have been annoyed by her for the most part, but I liked her in this role. Despite liking her performance and her character, she was nothing compared to Leeds as the tragic Kay. Oh how I cried every time I watched this film when I saw what happened to Kay in the end because of Leeds’ performance. When Terry mentions something along the lines that it was Kay’s spirit that was doing the acting, I almost felt as if somehow the character of Kay was playing the role that Terry played in the play. I guess that also means Hepburn’s acting was great… well, only in that scene! (I’m always reluctant to praise Hepburn.) La Cava directed Kay’s last scene so perfectly that everything about it was effective in adding to the tragedy.
Also, I have to add that Gail Patrick is definitely looking regal in this film! She’s the epitome of patrician beauty… *happy sigh*

The dialogue is fast-paced, which makes watching this film multiple times a must. I was surprised to find out that much of the dialogue was improvised in the scenes when the girls are in the boarding house. It just added to my little idea in my head that everyone was funnier, smarter, wittier, and knew how to talk fast back in the days.

Great film and I’ll definitely give it a 10/10. I usually hate watching sad films over and over, but this film is one that I could watch any time because it is so enjoyable.

IMDb Link: Stage Door
Where to buy: Amazon.com

Krótki film o zabijaniu (A Short Film About Killing) ; 1988

Wednesday, January 13th, 2010

Post by Neko

Director: Krzysztof Kieślowski
Actors: Mirosłav Baka, Krzysztof Globisz, Jan Tesarz
Country: Poland

Guiltily, I shall admit that I haven’t watched a serious, good movie in a l-o-n-g time, and I don’t feel right devoting my time to writing reviews of the sort of tripe I see often at the movies, not here anyway. I associate this film blog with… elegance, and hence, I bring you a short review of A Short Film About Killing.

This short by one of Poland’s most important and internationally-renowned directors has been on my to-watch list for years, and not just because Kieślowski is a personal favourite. Widely accredited as one of the last straws that pushed to Poland’s abolition of the death penalty, this film, as the title implies, is simply a short film about killing – not death, but killing – and the fine distinction between murder and capital punishment, or whether such distinction exists at all.

Running at 81 minutes, the film revolves around the lives of a drifter (Baka), the taxi driver he randomly murders (Tesarz) and the advocate who so passionately argues his case (Globisz). I watched the film with the original Polish audio-track as well as English subtitles which I glanced to now and then, for comparison’s sake. I do have to admit that something is, as almost always, lost in the translation. This isn’t a particular criticism of whoever provided the subtitles, as they are relatively true to the spoken word and translated neatly for the English-speaking viewer… however, the Polish audio isn’t always neat itself, purposely so. The Polish language is a complex one in terms of structure, and the English subtitles let it down a bit.

With that out of the way, I haven’t a lot to nitpick. I have a special fondness for Kieślowski as a director too because I always find myself mesmerized by his depiction of the Polish people – not individual characters, but a wider setting. They are marked by a subtle sadness, a slow but persistent coldness signature to the era of one war after another. Kieślowski interferes with the observations of the three interwoven lives here very little – indeed, a bit too little for my liking at times, almost clinically so.

The taxi driver has a small role, but it suggests him to be a spiteful, weak man. The drifter, and Baka playing him, is forceful and calm and cold even as he wavers – he appears to have no reason for killing the taxi driver, nor is he particularly regretful of the act itself. Although there is some tragedy in his past, which accounts for his terrible detachment, his life up to then had not been especially unfortunate considering the times and the location. He is a curious figure, not differentiating at all between his act of killing and himself as a man, an ironic perspective considering the implied comparison between individual and state killings. His back-story, however, does slant the viewer towards him more so than to either his victim or his killer – the taxi driver, and the state – perhaps unfairly, as neither of these have revealed stories of their own.

Globisz (who I inappropriately keep referring to in my head as a sort of older, Polish version of Gael García Bernal) is something else entirely. His conflict with his profession makes him the most important character, in my opinion. When the verdict of the death penalty is handed down, he agonizes of what he could have done differently, whether an older, more experienced and prestigious lawyer could have gotten a lesser sentence.

As I said above, Kieślowski does not necessarily disseminate a particular view point, as seen in the ‘observer’ approach of the camera –the two murders, state and individual, are just placed next to each other for comparison. The best example is that the court case is not shown, and vitally so, because the judge sadly praises the lawyer for one of the most persuasive and eloquent anti-death-penalty speeches he had heard in years – this would have heavily biased the viewer, or so it is implied. Globisz’s character takes little comfort in hearing that he made no mistakes, as a lawyer or as a human. In the words of the judge, Globisz’s character is too delicate for this job. He stays with the drifter and watches his death and agonizes over it some more once the deed is done. He isn’t especially amicable to the drifter because he killed, he doesn’t condone the killing itself, but he treats the drifter simply like a man.

The death penalty has since been abolished in Poland, and now exists in far fewer countries than once, long ago – but it does still exist, and this film is a must-see for anyone with a passionate opinion on either side of the debate; not because it is likely to sway your opinion, but because it is juxtaposed so harshly with something we all ‘know’ is wrong. What does that leave it as?

Of course, if you aren’t convinced for my moral fangirling of the film, see it for the visuals, because biased as I am, the cinematography is undeniably beautiful as always. The light muted at the edges and the colours, perhaps not appropriate for the message, are strangely brilliant through a green filter, a constant, comforting reminder that the horror we see is not real. This combination creates a stark picture of incredible depth complimented by rich, bitter piano and orchestra, scored by Zbigniew Preisner, another favourite of my own and a frequent collaborator with Kieślowski.

Ok, I think I’ve verbally fellated Mr. Kieślowski enough for one day, but seriously, go see this film, it is a terrifying wonder.

IMDb link:
Krótki film o zabijaniu (A Short Film About Killing)
Where to buy: Amazon.com

Morocco ; 1930

Tuesday, January 12th, 2010

Director: Josef von Sternberg
Actors: Gary Cooper, Marlene Dietrich, Adolphe Menjou
Country: U.S.A.

I was a bit disappointed after I finished Morocco but in retrospect, I am impressed that this melodrama didn’t come off as overly dramatic and cheesy. Instead, the ending made me only think of one word: classy. I don’t know why but I’m assuming it’s the cinematography because everything in this film was beautiful and Marlene Dietrich looked as gorgeous as ever. I didn’t really care much for the story but the images were all so perfect for it. My first Sternberg film was Der blaue Engel and I can see traces of that film in this. The way he uses objects to frame the subject of the scene and bring focus to certain areas were reminiscent of Der blaue Engel. Although each scene was a sight to see, the ending was the most beautiful of all. It almost reminded me of Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’avventura, cinematography-wise, except the film didn’t feel drawn out. The film wrapped up so well, starting with the remark about “suicide passengers”, somewhere in the mid-section talking about the women who follow the men and sometimes dying, and then showing Amy Jolly (Dietrich) following Légionnaire Tom Brown (Cooper) into the desert with no belongings. I usually despise open-ended films (I’m just not pretentious intelligent enough for them), but this film left me with a sense of satisfaction most likely due to the way it was filmed.

Dietrich’s performance was impressive for her first film in Hollywood (also hooray to pre-code Dietrich!). Although she did star in an all English film before (The Blue Angel), it was Morocco that impressed me. She didn’t know much English yet I couldn’t even tell because she spoke her lines so well and naturally. When she first appears on the scene, I gasped at her beauty and was blown away by how much presence she has whenever she is in a scene. The scene when she performs at the club for the first time exemplifies how much of a presence she has in a scene. She commands all of one’s attention and her attitude, her strut, and face expression is all so perfect. No movie star has the same effect that Dietrich has on me and I’ve never seen an actress that drew me in. Well, there is Asta Nielsen, but that is a different story. Her character when she first performs reminds me of Dietrich in real life: seducing people of both genders with her looks and charisma. Dietrich smoking and in a suit has got to be one of the sexiest images that one could look at and in Morocco, Sternberg takes full advantage of Dietrich’s sex appeal for both genders. I couldn’t help but thing, “Boy, she sure is a gentleman!” when she kissed the lady as thanks for the flower. Gary Cooper was nothing too exciting as Tom Brown, but I never really liked Cooper so it’s nothing new that I didn’t care much for him in Morocco. He always seems the same to me and bland so I don’t get what the big deal is with Gary Cooper. Adolphe Menjou’s character is nothing exciting in itself and doesn’t allow him to show off his acting, but nonetheless, I thought he did the best he could.

Stephany’s immature anecdote: I TOTALLY ENVY THE WOMAN THAT MARLENE DIETRICH KISSED! If I was that woman, I would have done more than just look shy, I would have fainted on the spot. I JUST LOVE THE WAY THIS WOMAN MOVES, SINGS, AND TALKS!!! I thought that the kissing scene was the cutest thing ever so I had to bring it up. The way the lady giggles and looks at Amy Jolly before the kiss and then covers her face afterwards is so adorable. And Dietrich’s reaction! That is cuteness overload because she has a silly grin on her face and smells the flower as if she was a little boy being mischievous. If anyone did what Dietrich did and reacted that way, I wouldn’t know what to do with myself. Ok, I need to stop being so immature, but it’s such a cute scene and well, everyone knows that Dietrich is one of my favourite actresses and also numero uno on my “Most Beautiful People” list, so I guess it’s expected that I would rave about her.

This film has got to be one of the most aesthetically pleasing films that I have ever seen. The lush visuals, Marlene Dietrich, and beautiful lighting… what more can you ask for?

IMDb Link:
Where to buy: Amazon.com (Marlene Dietrich – The Glamour Collection DVD set) ; Amazon.com (VHS)

Suspicion ; 1941

Friday, January 1st, 2010

Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Actors: Cary Grant, Joan Fontaine, Cedric Hardwicke, Nigel Bruce, Dame May Whitty
Country: U.S.A.

First of all, happy new year! I hope that everyone had a lovely 2009 and that 2010 will be even better.

Although I am always scared and have a sense of dread before watching a Hitchcock film, I never regret it afterwards. Suspicion is definitely not an exception to this rule and I was at the edge of my seat throughout the whole film. Underneath all the suspense, there were also moments of warm-fuzziness and humour, which I enjoyed immensely. My only problem with it is the rushed feeling at the end, but it sort of makes sense since Hitchcock didn’t want the ending that it is in the final cut. The plot is great, hands down, but what makes this film great in my opinion is the lighting and how that effects the mood of the scene. This may seem trivial but I loved how the milk glowed in the scene where Johnny (Grant) takes it up to give it to Lina (Fontaine) and even when he first enters into the scene, it makes Johnny’s entrance terrifying, thus the audience relates to the fear that Lina feels. I heard in a documentary that Hitchcock actually put a little light in there to make it glow. Although Hitchcock did not want the ending that ended up in the final cut, I thought that because of it, it had the little twist that I always look forward to in Hitchcock films

Even though Joan Fontaine won the Oscar for her performance in this film, I thought that it should have been Cary Grant who got the recognition for his acting. I always saw Grant in romantic comedies so when I saw him in this role, I was surprised by how well he was suited for the part. I never really saw Cary Grant as an amazing actor, but when I saw him in this film, I couldn’t help but think that he was splendid.

I am astounded by how Hitchcock films never fails to disappoint me and I hope that everyone else who watches this film enjoys it as much as I did.

IMDb Link: Suspicion
Where to buy: Amazon.com

The Damned Don’t Cry ; 1950

Monday, December 7th, 2009

Director: Vincent Sherman
Actors: Joan Crawford, David Brian, Steve Cochran, Kent Smith, Hugh Sanders
Country: U.S.A.

It saddened me to see the great Joan Crawford in this B-movie with almost no glamour and bad acting. The only reason I can’t hate this film is because Crawford’s performance is excellent, the cinematography, and the quick and witty dialogue. Although this film looks like a cheap movie even from the beginning, somehow ths story and dialogue keeps you intrigued the whole time. I really thought that I wouldn’t enjoy this film when I watched the first few minutes of it, but as I kept watching, it got better and better. To see Crawford as a woman who will do anything she can to get what she thinks she deserves made me think how similar her character was to Crawford’s own life story. The cinematography is that of a film noir’s, which adds to the cheap look of the film. Although Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity made the film noir style look glamourous, this film didn’t do such a great job. Nevertheless, the camera movements and the editing was effective for this film although the lighting was a bit questionable at times. I was surprised by the scene when Ethel (Crawford) gets beaten by George (Brian) because I didn’t think such behaviour would be allowed to be shown due to the Hays Code. But maybe the censors thought that Ethel deserved what she got.

I really admire Crawford for her acting and how she was able to rise up to become the huge star that she was. While I do admire her and love her as an actor, I can’t help but notice how much her face changes. During her flapper era, she was the embodiment of what I thought a flapper was, at least appearance-wise. She had wide eyes, the hair, and the dance movies, and she looked like a girl who wanted to have fun. She definitely matured with her looks as one can see in Grand Hotel and I thought she became even more gorgeous, or should I say glamourous? I thought Crawford was very pretty during her flapper years but I can see why people in the 30s thought Crawford was beautiful. Even I said, “Wowee~ No wonder so many people said she was gorgeous!” But when I saw her in The Damned Don’t Cry, I couldn’t help but think that her looks became harder and her eyes became more intense and almost frightening. While in some moments of this film I thought I saw her old, beautiful looks, I couldn’t help but think that Crawford looked terrifying. And even later in her career, I think that she becomes a shadow of her former self and almost becomes a caricature of herself. Her trademark Crawford smear is almost laughable while also being a bit creepy and her features are so hardened that she no longer has the glamourous look of a beautiful woman. My first Crawford film was The Women and I was head-over-heels with her looks, but my mom remarked, “She looks scary! Well, pretty I guess, but scary…” I guess Crawford’s transformation started even as early as the late 1930s. While Crawford’s looks have diminished, her acting abilities are still intact. I cannot deny Crawford’s talent as an actress and would say that she is definitely one of the best actresses that MGM ever had, possibly even beating Greta Garbo.

I highly recommend this film for everyone. I know that many of my friends who are interested in older films are women, but maybe this can be a film that one can watch with a boyfriend or father since it has action, intrigue, and all the good stuff that appeals to everyone.

IMDb Link: The Damned Don’t Cry
Where to buy: Amazon.com

Love And Savagery ; 2009

Sunday, November 22nd, 2009

Posted by Maddy

Director: John N. Smith
Actors: Allan Hawco, Sarah Greene
Country: Canada, Ireland

A Newfie rock enthusiast walks into a bar in Ireland in 1969. He falls in love with the local waitress who unfortunately is destined to be a nun. Their relationship shakes up the sediment that the town is resting on. Ba domp domp. All joking aside the new film Love and Savagery, an Irish/Canadian collaboration is nothing more than a series of clichés and tropes making the film void of any sort of punch as my punchline.
The film, based upon the novel of the same name by Des Walsh is an attempt at a star crossed love story but ends up lumbering along predictably. Charismatic Canadian poet and rock nut Michael (Allan Hawco) travels to Ireland to trace his roots and view the vast foray of limestone that surrounds the scenery of the small town he’s staying in. There he meets, and quickly falls for the sweet barmaid at his inn Cathleen (Sarah Greene). The two quickly bond, including one instance when she asks why his accent is so like hers and he responds “my people are from here” reinforcing their deep instant connection. Unfortunately Cathleen is destined to be a nun and Michael’s intervention is causing antagonism amongst the town folk. The two gaze at each other across the landscape longingly while Michael does his best to avoid being beat up by the locals. The film progresses predictably: Cathleen is pressured by her friends and family, Michael is persistent, the two go off to an island together which causes tongues to wag, something awful happens and the two are driven apart.

It is astounding how formulaic this film is. Michael’s best friend shows up at some point, who is as jolly, bearded and rotund as they come. Cathleen’s stern uncle glowers at her for her decisions not understand what she is feeling. The wise Mother Superior watches sagely the doomed romance in front of her, advising when she can. The pressures of religion and society versus that of true love are what keep these two kids and the film going. Cathleen cannot be with him due to a promise she made to her dying mother and Michael gives her very little credit for her religious choices, constantly coming when he’s not supposed to. It is difficult to vouch for their sincerity, but that might be the immediate connection they have and the series of clichés they use to describe their feelings for one another – at one instance Cathleen describes him as someone she has felt that “she has known for a very long time.”

John N. Smith certainly has an eye for scenery as his camera pans across the vast Irish landscape, which is later mirrored in the shores of Newfoundland. Outside of that the film is generic and often forced, though that might be due to what little interesting material they all had to work with. The film flirts with elements that could cause some interest – the relationships of Newfoundlanders and the Irish in contrast to Canada and England, tensions between desire and faith, any ancient Celtic tradition involving rocks all of which are skirted for the oldest love story and certainly the most over done. The film is certainly competent and is far from any sort of cinematic disaster, but is so dull and trite that one wonders what the point of it all was. The poet interacts with a creature that can never be his and ends up becoming inspired, only to remain in sadness by the end. One can only wish that the film had its own unrequited love in order to have inspired it to be marginally interesting. This film is as dull as the rocks the characters walk on and features a love story treaded on by too many leaving the surface smooth and thoroughly dull.

An Education ; 2009

Sunday, November 22nd, 2009

Posted by Maddy

Director: Lone Scherfig
Actors: Carey Mulligan, Peter Sarsgaard, Alfred Molina, Olivia Williams.
Country: United Kingdom

It is becoming more and more rare to not only find a film that has a smart, intelligent female character as the lead, but one who is an active agent in the narrative. An Education, adapted by Nick Hornby from Lynn Barber’s memoir of the same name, is a film that does just that. This time capsule to 1960s suburban London is coming of age tale is one that tells a familiar story, but does so as un-Hollywood as it can.

Sixteen year old Jenny (newcomer Carey Mulligan) is an overachieving cellist who is pressured by her parents into spending all her time working towards getting into the university of their dreams, Oxford. Jenny, in her suburban existence, desires culture – specifically that of the French variety. Whether it’s listening to Juliette Greco records instead of studying for Latin, or dropping the French phrase whenever she can, Jenny is someone who is always demonstrating her knowledge, but craves finding it elsewhere. Luckily for her she finds it in the much older David (Peter Sarsgaard), who quickly sweeps her off her feet and charms her hard nosed, albeit well meaning, parents. It ends up, not surprisingly, that the life of David and his friends are not as perfect as they appear to be and Jenny must end up making some morally culpable decisions. It’s difficult not to when the trio, including David, his friends the charming Danny (Dominic Cooper) and Danny’s well meaning though psychologically unemployed girlfriend Helen (Rosamund Pike), do everything they can to make Jenny feel smart and special. She gets caught up in the games that adults play, but never lets herself get completely lost. Things go from morally grey to worse by the end of the film, leaving Jenny far from the position she imagined herself in.

The most refreshing part of the film is the agency that Jenny takes. She willing gets involved with a group of people who are far from “the right” people her parents wish her to be with. She knowingly participates in deceiving her parents, in participating in criminal activities, in jeopardizing her chances at Oxford. Every action she takes is done consciously and she is as responsible to what happens to her as is every other character. The humanity of the film, which stems from it staying loyal to the memoir and not delving into familiar Hollywood tropes, makes certain that no character is entirely guilty or entirely innocent. With this un-Hollywood quality of the film Jenny is not a clueless heroine being swept away by a sinister older man, but an intelligent, mature young woman who makes a mistake but saves herself in the end. Mulligan shines here, able to be both self assured and vulnerable, able to play off the series of contradictions that make her character so authentic.

Winner for Best Cinematography and the Audience Choice Award at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival Lone Scherfig’s An Education is beautifully shot, wonderfully acted but primarily one of the most authentic portrayals of a young woman on screen.

The Class ; 2008

Sunday, November 22nd, 2009

Posted by Maddy

Director: Laurent Cantet
Actors: François Bégaudeau, Agame Malembo-Emene, Angélica Sancio, Boubacar Toure
Country: France

Films about teachers too often fall into treacherous territory. Cheesy, shumltzy, and clichéd are some of the most appropriate terms for any film involving a teacher (usually white) inspiring students (usually of a visible minority). The teacher then convinces the kids to get out of their terrible situation, to be inspired by school, to become everything they can be while having insightful conversations that challenges and makes the audience think. All of which fall under the category of “unwatchable.”

The Class, this years’ Palme D’Or winner, escapes all such tropes. Set in one of the tougher neighbourhoods of France, the film follows the teacher Marin and his French class, a diverse group from the ages of 13-15. Keeping the story simple, The Class follows this classroom for a year. The job of teaching these kids is far from rewarding. They’re rude, they talk back, they question authority and do as much as they can to disrupt what is being taught to them. Each of these altercations, some of which are self improving and others are self destructive, build up tension in this film. Whether with his students, the students with each other or with their parents, Marin takes in his stride, rarely letting these confrontations get to him. The film does not show the personal lives of the students or the teachers – almost everything that happens takes place within the classroom. The tension mounts until the climax of the film involves an argument between Marin and his students which quickly spins out of control. After watching everything that has built up to it, it puts the audience in a place where it can sympathize with both Marin and his students despite Marin doing something grossly unprofessional.

The Class, whose original title directly translates into Between The Walls, gives a fly on the wall perspective of what happens in this classroom. Each student is someone who could have been in your French class and the arguments they have, including one over the imperfect subjective could be part of a documentary rather than a feature film. Since the film remains within the walls of the classroom, the audience never knows why Marin and the students act like this, their background, their personal stories. Marin assigned each student at the beginning of the film to do a self portrait and this assignment is all the audience, as well as Marin, get to know about these students. The minimalist concept is captivating and the film is incredibly well written. The films overall message is left ambiguous – are the faltering students victims of an indifferent system, is Marin not doing everything he could, or is this simply the way it is, is never made clear. Perhaps the arc of Marin, who forgives those who makes mistakes and is forgiven for his own, is the only real moral message of the film.

Like most Palme D’Or winners of recent years, The Class is well made, well acted and well written, but far from outstanding. Most likely to be a critical and art house favourite of 2008/2009 this well composed film is overall forgettable. Still, by keeping it simple and realistic, The Class manages to outshine most of the films in its tired genre.