Another month, another wildly divergent bunch of films to chew on. Join us and savour the flavour of Crazy Rich Asians, BlacKkKlansman, First Man, Upgrade, Mandy, Game Night, Detroit, and Faces Places.
Other than vague stories of its success Stateside, I didn’t have much of a frame of reference for Crazy Rich Asians, but I think I’d been anticipating that “Crazy” and “Rich” were entirely separate adjectives. But, for most of the people we’re going to meet in this romcom, they’re “Crazy Rich”, as in the “Eat the Rich” sort of way. Not that I’m suggesting we resort to cannibalism. Not yet, anyway. This intro is getting away from me. From the top.
Constance Wu’s New York-based Professor of Economics Rachel Chu deals with more than she bargains for when her boyfriend, Henry Golding’s Nick Young asks her to go back to Singapore with him for his best friends’ wedding. As part of this she’ll need to meet Nick’s family and friends, who, unbeknownst to Rachel, are the superwealthy, quote-unquote elite of Pan-asia.
Apparently lying about his background for a couple of years is just a hurdle we need to get over for a film to occur, so Rachel goes with Nick’s explanation of not wanting preconceived notions and expectations of the wealthy to get in the way of their relationship. Sure. Seems legit. As it happens, it’s pretty much accurate, as with only a few exceptions such as Nick’s best friend, Chris Pang’s Colin Khoo and fiancee Sonoya Mizun’s Araminta Lee, they are a hostile shower of stuck up brats who will be first against the wall when the revolution comes and this is getting away from me again. Nurse!
In particular, Nick’s icicle-based mother, Michelle Yeoh’s Eleanor Sung-Young refuses to warm to Rachel, and before long starts playing the duty-to-your-family, take-over-the-family-business cards, while Rachel struggles to fit in amongst the quote-unquote high society set she now finds herself in. She’s helped by old college room-mate, Awkwafina’s Goh Peik Lin, who’s family is merely very, very rich, and needlessly weird for comic relief and pacing reasons, rather than the super, hyper rich douchnozzles the rest of the film features.
Look, apparently I’m still much too Occupy Wall Street to give this a fair recap, so allow me to shortcut this by saying its the exact same fish out of water, remain true to yourself story arc that’s been seen a million times before, but transplanted to a novel setting. Replace the Asian super-rich with the American super-rich, or the British Aristocracy, and I’m sure this all starts to sound awfully familiar.
Just as I can’t discount the very real positives of cultural representation this has had amongst the Asian-American community (and Asian-British, and Asian-Any Other Culture, I assume), just as Black Panther had amongst the African-American community, but it’s at best a coat of paint over a well-worn formula, and really the only culture this is reflecting is that of wanton excess. I’m far too far to the left to condone that sort of thing. Aspirational? Well, I agree with the first syllable.
My politics aside, which to be honest I’m only giving reign because I don’t find much else interesting in Crazy Rich Asians, it’s an entirely adequately put together film. Jon M. Chu’s direction is workmanlike, but with locations this fabulous it’s hard not to make something that looks great, and the cast are, to be honest, much better than the script deserves.
Constance Wu and the always reliable Michelle Yeoh carry the central struggle well, and the satellite characters and storylines are all as obnoxious or sympathetic as is demanded, if not fleshed out well enough for my liking. Gemma Chan’s Astrid Leong-Teo in particular is lumbered with a totally angelic Mary Sue of a character apparently as some sort of counterweight to the general “the rich are awful” vibe that goes way too far in the other direction and it’s to Chan’s great credit that the character feels at least somewhat real. Much as in Ocean’s 8, Awkwafina steals any scene she’s in, and even Ken Jeong is less annoying than usual.
Overall this review is much more negative than were my thoughts when leaving the cinema. I don’t think this film stands up to analysis very well, but as a formulaic rom-com, it’s perfectly fine. The central relationships are charming enough, at least the setting is unfamiliar if the story isn’t, and there’s enough funny moments to keep it ticking along. It is fine. I’m glad people get enjoyment from it, and assuming the jaw-dropping Wikipedia factoid about it being the first film by a major Hollywood studio to feature a majority Asian-American cast in a modern setting since The Joy Luck Club in 1993 is correct, it’s churlish to complain at all. Yet, still I do.
I often think that it must be exhausting to be Spike Lee. While he has produced lighter fare like Inside Man and School Daze (though “lighter” is very much a relative term with him), so much of his work, from the passionate and provocative Do the Right Thing through Malcolm X and 25th Hour to the documentary When the Levees Broke, is so shot through with anger and indignation (generally of the righteous sort, though) that it’s nigh-on miraculous that he hasn’t burst. His films obviously form an outlet for this, and it’s just as well since the world in general, and the country of his birth in particular, never seems to slow up on giving him fuel for that fire.
That righteousness could come across as preachy, and there is often something of the sermon about his work, though the fact that what he preaches about is so real and valid usually mitigates that. That, and the fact that his films are often damn funny. Which preamble brings us to BlacKkKlansman, another passionate (and timely) sermon.
John David Washington, son of Lee’s long-time collaborator Denzel Washington, plays Ron Stallworth, the first black police officer to join the Colorado Springs Police Department. Ron has his sights set on becoming a detective, but is made to endure menial work and casual racism in the records office. After being recruited for an undercover job due to nothing more than his skin colour, he proves successful and capable, so becomes encouraged and pushes an idea for a bold and dangerous new investigation, based on nothing less than his ability.
And that investigation? Infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan. Naturally. After a phone call with a Klan recruiter goes unexpectedly well, things start moving quickly, and dangerously (initially seeking only information, Stallworth foolishly uses his real name). While he can pose as a white supremacist over the phone (despite David Duke’s claims that he can identify a black man without error just from his speech), there are going to be one or two little giveaways if Ron meets the Klan members in-person. So he ropes in his colleague Flip Zimmerman (played by Scott’s favourite CGI creation, Adam Driver) to play the in-person half of Ron Stallworth, Klansman.
Stallworth finds himself in a very difficult place; caught between love of his job and love of his police-hating activist girlfriend, Patrice (Laura Harrier) and surrounded by racists, both those he works with and those who are the targets of his investigation. The stakes are raised even further when Ron finds himself so drawn in to the Klan’s world that he’s having telephone conversations with Grand Scumbag of the KKK, David Duke (Topher Grace), while Flip is expected to demonstrate his loyalty and resolve to the dim-witted but suspicious and highly dangerous local Klan members.
The idea of a black police officer infiltrating the Klan with the help of his Jewish partner is patently absurd, and _BlacKkKlansman is certainly plenty funny, but the really crazy thing is that it’s real. As the legend at the film’s opening tells us, *“Dis joint is based on some fo’ real, fo’ real sh*t”*. Certain things are embellished, of course, and Driver’s character and ethnicity are largely constructs, but it’s quite a bit more real than most “Based on a True Story” Hollywood fare can claim to be, even including the phone calls between Stallworth and Duke.
It will be unfair if John David Washington is continually compared with his famous father, but at this stage in his career it seems reasonable, and while he doesn’t have the same range and nuance as Denzel – yet – nor quite the same innate authority or charisma, he gives a really great turn here: it seems that you can inherit acting ability.
Adam Driver I like rather a lot when he’s not playing Darth Emo, and have done since I first recall seeing him in the Coen Brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis, and he gives great support to Washington here, both in the comedic and the dramatic sides.
From an opening featuring a famous scene from Gone With the Wind, Lee sets out his stall with almost an operatic overture; transitioning to Alec Baldwin’s mid-century, middle-class racist, ranting at a camera about the dangers of mixing races that, with a tweak of setting and wardrobe, could so painfully be of the now. This is balanced with footage from the despicable Birth of a Nation (the film credited with revitalising the Ku Klux Klan in the early 20th Century) and a climax in which Harry Belafonte delivers a harrowing recital of a real-life lynching.
BlacKkKlansman is a polemic, certainly, and some portions could do with being trimmed (a far too long sequence featuring a speech by Kwame Ture being a prime candidate). His sermonising brings some structural issues, with some blunt, static scenes not meshing particularly well with the often more lightweight, and certainly more dynamic, sequences with the investigative team, but it’s a deeply entertaining and thought-provoking film, as sadly relevant in today’s USA as the in the USA in which it is set, something illustrated powerfully by a coda that emotionally blindsided me in the cinema. The world still needs Spike Lee, and his passion, fortunately for us, seems to still burn without consuming, alongside no small amount of skill.
Ryan Gosling suits up in Damien Chazelle’s look at Neil Armstrong’s path to the moon, that’s part biopic and part history of NASA.
To be almost dismissively reductive, that elevator pitch is perhaps all you need to know about the movie. It was certainly enough to sell me on it. If you need a little more detail, and it always seems a little daft us trying to recap the historical record as though Wikipedia wasn’t a thing, it’s starting with Armstrong’s days as a NASA test pilot, through the early days of the Apollo program, and into the Gemini program, as the Americans race to beat the Russians to the moon with perhaps humanity’s greatest technological drive.
This doesn’t focus completely on the technology, though, most of it’s about the human impact of the program, and the setbacks on the way, and how that affects Armstrong, who’s already suffered the loss of his daughter to cancer. Of course, men in this era don’t do emotion, so it’s a typically restrained performance from Gosling. In many ways that makes this the exact inverse of full Nic Cage.
He gives a really excellent performance, subtle, nuanced, yet giving great insight into his character without reams of clunky exposition. He’s aided by a highly talented cast to play off, particularly Claire Foy as Janet Armstrong, and there’s also a list of great character actors in smaller roles that fill the film out very nicely indeed like Ciaran Hinds,
Jason Clarke, Corey Stoll, and Kyle Chandler.
The distressingly young and talented Chazelle wrangles all this nicely, alongside the special effects, rocket based side of things that look solid and authentic, and it’s all exceedingly plauditable. If you want to be critical, which I suppose is the point of this podcast, you could argue according to your particular tastes that it’s not deep enough on the technology, or on Neil’s character, but to my mind it’s a pretty good mix of both. I’d perhaps prefer if this could have restrained itself to two hours, but I’m not immediately sure what you’d cut without compromising the timeline. Which is why I don’t edit films for a living, I suppose.
I really enjoyed First Man although gratifyingly for you, dear listener, I don’t have all that much else to say about it. It’s an exceedingly polished and heartfelt film that’s compelling without artificially inflating the drama of the real life event of the most remarkable and laudable scientific and engineering programs the US of A, or the world, has undertaken. A mind-boggling achievement, and this film is a worthy monument to that.
One of two films in this episode produced by Blumhouse Productions, Upgrade is a science fiction body horror action movie from Leigh Whannell, the writer of the Saw and Insidious series. It tells the story of Grey (“Not Tom Hardy”), whose wife, Asha (Melanie Vallejo), is murdered in an apparent hijacking and who is himself left for dead, paralysed from the neck down.
After spending months in a depressive state, confined to a motorised wheelchair, Grey is visited by Eron Keen (Harrison Gilbertson), a tech entrepreneur who he had repaired a classic car for. He offers Grey the opportunity to try out his latest invention, STEM, a highly advanced chip capable of bridging the break in his spinal cord and allowing him to walk again. The proviso is that he doesn’t tell anyone so they don’t have to go through all of that pesky clinical trial and safety nonsense. Well, nothing could possibly go wrong there, then.
The surgery is a success and Grey regains his motor functions, but it seems he now has a passenger. Turns out, STEM’s an AI. And it talks to him. After being convinced that he’s not crazy by the voice in his head telling him that he’s not crazy, Grey uses STEM’s processing power and abilities to help him investigate his wife’s murder. To do this he requests the entire case file from Betty Gabriel’s Detective Cortez, which she gives him, evidence and all, which I believe is entirely cromulent standard operating procedure for the victim of a crime.
STEM’s insights lead Grey to a group of cybernetically-enhanced soldiers led by a weedy, charisma-free Aryan whose Hitler hairdo is making me feel ill, and Grey crashes his party before discovering the identity of the real villain.
Films like this almost seemed designed to frustrate me: there is the kernel of a good idea in here, there are some stylish shots and the film, in general, looks pretty good. But the central conceit doesn’t really work because, as has been the case too many times to count in the past, the design of the world and the technology hasn’t been thought through well enough, and in addition (and this is always the crucial thing for me) the main technology, even by the standards set by its own world, goes too far.
An example of the first issue is the weapons housed inside of the villains’’ forearms. What, beyond a very limited number of scenarios, is the utility of this? Sure, it seems badass and futuristic, but it’s heavy, unwieldy, slow to reload and is going to set off any metal detector they approach.
To the second, and more important, issue: Stem’s abilities are so extreme as to seem largely indistinguishable from magic. I’ll buy the base idea, and the AI, but STEM turns Grey into a Vertical Takeoff Human, with a large helping of Neo from The Matrix thrown in, but it should still be working within the biological limitations of the meat puppet that it’s operating.
Then there’s the clichéd Luddite protagonist, who could probably strip and rebuild an engine with his eyes closed, but plays the fool around technology: “I’m so dumb, I couldn’t even press the right button to select home as a destination. Durrrr.” And then there’s the fridging of Grey’s wife, the genius tech entrepreneur on the autism spectrum, the first twist that I correctly assumed within seconds of a character’s introduction and the second twist I thought of halfway through as being a really daft place the film could go to that it inevitably went to.
These are the thoughts that I am cursed to have while I watch films, and I can certainly see that someone less picky than me could find this very enjoyable. Or, perhaps, someone who has seen fewer films than me: I often think of the idea that someone is born every minute who hasn’t seen The Flintstones (you can insert any other much-syndicated, oft-repeated, series here). Where is the crossover point between “jings, this is such a cliché, but I have seen a hundred of these”, and a trope simply being in the collective public consciousness?
There is one thing that I can give largely unqualified praise to, though, and that’s Logan Marshall-Green in the central role. It’s not awards-worthy stuff, but it’s really solid and, importantly, engaging: acting for a large part of the film against nothing more than an off-screen voice is challenging, and our leading man acquits himself well. It’s never corny, nor manic, and he embraces the conceit well.
I can give no recommendation for Upgrade, but nor would I particularly want to dissuade anyone from watching it (in reality I want to like it more than I do). In look and feel, it may seem like it could be one of that run of recent disappointing Netflix science fiction films, but it is in most respects superior. (And, yes, I’m still taking Mute quite personally).
There was quite the buzz about Mandy amongst weird film Twitter, where we’ve been known to hang out, so much that it leaked into the mainstream. As much as something like this can, at least. So, what’s the deal with Panos Cosmatos’ second outing, a mere eight years after his debut? Well, I’m not completely sure, to be honest, but let’s discover that together, shall we?
Red Miller (Nic Cage) is a lumberjack, and he’s okay. For a short while, anyway. Living in a remote cabin with his artsy girlfriend Mandy (Andrea Riseborough), the unconventional pair seem very much in love and happy. For a short while, anyway. Cue cult leader Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache)’s appearance, taking a passing fancy to Mandy and issuing orders to his assorted hangers on, freaks and geeks to procure her for some crazy mystical nonsense reasons that he may or may not believe, but his followers certainly do.
The gang, including three Hellraiser-esque bikers who are, for a short while, anyway, introduced as actual blood-drinking demons, bring Mandy back to their lair, but even after a drug-addled indoctrination she’s not compliant with their wishes. The obvious next step – incinerate her in front of a helpless Red and leave him for dead. However, he doesn’t die, and with the added indignity of them ripping his favourite shirt, it’s enough to set him off on a roaring rampage of revenge.
Stopping off at Bill Duke’s home to pick up some murder supplies, he’s told of the rumors of how dangerous this lot are, in case he needed more warning than he’s already witnessed, and hints are thrown around about Red’s past that imply some of the particular set of skills that will make him a nightmare for people that burn his loved ones to death. So begins the cavalcade of vengeance, and framed like that, Mandy sounds like a fairly standard revenge flick.
It is not.
Where to start? Visually, I suppose may be the easiest – it’s quite the most aggressively graded film I’m ever seen, making Suspiria seem like a muted exercise in restraint. It’s a disorienting deluge of color overlays that’s by turns disgusting, pretty, distracting and engaging. It’s bizarre.
Perhaps most notably, however, it’s a Nic Cage turn that sets, or at least comes very close to setting a new high water mark for “full Nic Cage”. His transformation from content hippy to frothing madman makes for a remarkable set of scenes, culminating in the bathroom meltdown you may have seen on your Twitter account, with the remaining hour or so being no less memorable, particularly when combined with the extreme visuals on display.
It makes what would otherwise be a series of slightly odd vignettes of violence become something truly memorable and remarkable, albeit in ways that I still cannot yet work out if they should be sorted into the bucket marked “genius” or the bucket marked “abysmal”.
I’ll say this – it’s clearly far from perfect, with cult leader Linus Roache in particular being a nonentity that did not make for compelling viewing, and the half hour-ish stretch where he’s given reign in the scenes with the cult members and the abduction of Mandy and so on came quite close to exhausting my patience. At about 2 hours, this film is about half an hour too long, and it’s this half hour, in particular when there’s no motivation, creed or logic behind the cult and their actions other than Kanye West levels of crazy. Coming after the slow start establishing Mandy and Red’s peaceful life, I was getting a tad annoyed with the deliberate quirkyness and about to mentally check out before it switches gear and turns into a more whacked out Crank film.
The last hour is a mesmerisingly insane riot of sequences that, whether you’re onboard or not absolutely demand attention, with action and visuals that left me in gales of laughter. I’m assuming we’re not to take this seriously. Surely? Actually, I’m not sure of anything this film, or Nic Cage in general does. When he’s interviewed, he doesn’t seem like a maniac, and gives broadly sensible reasons for playing certain characters the way he does. Yet this is clearly the work of a madman.
That’s not fair. It’s the work of an entire team of mad people, dedicated to artisanally crafting a mad film. Your boring, conventional judgements of “good” or “bad” are not an axis this film chooses to grade itself on. It’s shooting for “memorable”, and it’s most certainly that.
Bonkers. Couldn’t make it up. Particularly the Cheddar Goblin.
A film from the writers of the almost wilfully mediocre Horrible Bosses and its sequel is not something that would typically get me interested in a film, especially not when paired with its star Jason Bateman’s pretty shoddy hit rate for big screen comedy. But the duo, John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, also wrote the hugely entertaining Spider-Man: Homecoming, and I do like Jason Bateman a lot, as well as his co-star Rachel McAdams, so I figured I’d give this a go (pretty strong word of mouth did no harm, either).
Directed by Goldstein and Daley, from a script by Mark Perez, Game Night centres on a group of friends who regularly meet to play board games and other parlour games, while trying to avoid rousing the interest of their super-creepy cop neighbour Gary (Jesse Plemons), who wants to join them but is a hell of a buzzkill.
The pre-eminence in the group of the über-competitive Max (Bateman) is overshadowed by a visit from his older, more handsome, more sophisticated, more successful, richer etc. etc. brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler), who steals Max’s thunder at every opportunity. He attempts to create the best game night the group has ever experienced by hiring a kidnap and investigation experience company, which goes hugely awry when Brooks is kidnapped for real, though it takes the friends a good long (and very funny) while to cotton on.
Big screen, big studio comedy like this is a fairly rare thing nowadays, perhaps because of too many flops and too little comedy, but I’m glad Game Night made it through because it is, simply put, bloody funny. And what else matters, really?
Bateman and McAdams are engaging as the highly-competitive, but never off-putting, couple, and there’s solid support from the whole cast, especially Sharon Horgan, a co-worker brought in as a ringer by the group’s himbo, and the previously mentioned Plemons.
The plot is patently absurd, but it matters not a jot: the jokes keep coming. While apart, each smaller grouping is given their own moments to shine, but the film’s at its most successful when the ensemble are together and can work off of each other.
I laughed a lot and had a really good time out of ten.
With recent world events showing that the once mooted “post-racial” worldview is not, in fact, coming to pass anytime soon, Detroit‘s release last year felt timely amidst the Black Lives Matter movement and, well, sadly it’s just as topical a year later, even with Kathryn Bigelow’s film centring on the Algiers Motel incident, in the middle of 1967’s wave of race riots.
The historical record of the events is not clear, so there’s a degree of interpretation here, but I don’t think there’s much disputing that white police officers grotesquely abused their power, leading to the deaths of three black men, and violent assault of nine other people.
Starting with describing the boiling point that lead to the riots, the raid of a party for returning black Vietnam veterans, we shift to the people caught up in the turmoil of the situation. The lead singer of an R&B group, Larry Reed and his friend Fred Temple (Algee Smith and Jacob Latimore) are cut off from their route home after their concert is cancelled and rent a room at the Algiers Motel. They meet the other patrons, at one point being threatened with what turns out to only be a starter’s pistol by asshat Carl Cooper (Jason Mitchell), in what I believe was termed at the time a “prank”, now called a”social experiment” or “being a dickhole”.
Meanwhile security guard Melvin Dismukes (John Boyega) is close by, attempting to moderate the responses of the mobilised national guard, at which point Cooper makes the, frankly, idiotic decision to take a few shots out of the window as an ill-advised empowerment prank/act of dickholery. The National Guardsmen and the police respond quickly, with Dismukes along still trying to prevent unneeded death. This doesn’t go too well, as the police are barbarians.
Ringleader Philip Krauss (Will Poulter), who we’ve already been introduced to as he shoots and kills a fleeing, unarmed subject in the back, rounds up the guests and starts to use what I believe we refer to these days as “enhanced interrogation techniques” to find out who has the gun, and who was shooting at them, with things getting increasingly out of hand as no answers are forthcoming. Things go entirely off the rails when, in a fun game of “mock-execution”, no-one tells the rookie cop about the “mock” part of it, leading to the tragic outcome mentioned before.
The film rounds off with a look at the devastated lives of the surviving victims, and the victims’ families, and a search for justice that’s entirely thwarted by a legal system tilted against them.
The cast are uniformly excellent, Will Poulter being particularly hateful in his role, and John Boyega showing chops that the Star Wars nonsense doesn’t give him any room to demonstrate, and overall it’s a great ensemble performance. The script is powerful, and the direction matches that building moments of great tension.
For all the critical acclaim this garnered, which I agree with were that not obvious, this underperformed at the box office. Which is a shame, as this is almost objectively a good movie. It has all the characteristics of one. It is however, I suppose, a hard sell for a fun Friday night at the cinema. It’s not possible to watch this set apart from its politics, and I suppose I understand why in our current situation “more politics” is not something people want to countenance. Particularly when every morning we must wake up to check that the supposed leader of the free world hasn’t tweeted out the start of World War 3,and instead has just picked a meaningless fight with a pop star, because that’s the world we live in now.
Amongst the potential white audience for this film, which I think I can speak for 100% of due to our shared skin colour, there’s most likely a reluctance to face up to the consequences of the institutional racism the past few hundred years of colonialism and slavery has wound up with. I don’t mean that particularly pejoratively – I do believe that outside, I assume, of white supremacist circles, most people would not believe they hold any racist views, just as they’d all think that slavery is a bad thing. But examining the consequences of this history is not something a lot of people want to do, especially for fun.
Again I get it – if you’re a millennial on a zero hours, minimum wage contract in a Western world where wealth inequality is skyrocketing, and we’re expected to be less well off than the generation before us, it feels like an insult to be told you’re still benefiting from this miserable chapter in human history. Yet, we are, so it’s surely incumbent on us to examine this, and Detroit provides a visceral way to feel, just slightly, a small portion of this legacy’s toll on African-Americans in a way that academic reports cannot.
But that’s making a case for Detroit as uncomfortable homework, when assuming that you can make your peace with the inherent politics from which it stems, this is an exceptionally taut thriller that keeps you on at least the metaphorical edge of your seat. My copious arse was right at the back of the sofa, but it’s nonetheless very tense, superbly acted and framed. The weight of history almost precludes this being described as enjoyable – maybe if these were fictional characters it’d be easier to watch, but with these folks being real, well, the stakes involved makes this much scarier than any horror movie I’ve seen of late.
An excellent film and I’d have put it in the running for my best film of 2017, had I got to it in time.
89-year old Agnès Varda, doyenne of La Nouvelle Vague, and 34-year old photographer and muralist JR may not seem an obvious pairing, but their easy chemistry is one of the keys to the success of the charming documentary Visages Villages, or Faces Places.
Having met only recently, with each being an admirer of the other’s work, Varda and JR take off around rural France in JR’s distinctive camera van looking for interesting places and interesting faces to photograph and use in JR’s black and white, building-sized murals. The geniality and repartee between the two friends belies the short length of their acquaintance, with the relationship between them marked by warmth, respect but just enough friction and teasing that we could believe that they had known each other for decades, or even that they were family.
Their bonhomie and warmth is not limited to each other, as they seem genuinely interested in the people that they meet, and they’re never condescending or dismissive. Even the lauded young artist JR, already described by some as the Henri Cartier-Bresson of the 21st century, is, aside from his insistence on wearing sunglasses all of the time (a running joke in the film), grounded and, for want of a better word, real, though it’s Agnès that takes the lead with most of the interactions.
They delight in the beauty of the people and the villages that they visit, in age and youth, wrinkles and smiles, and their art touches people. There is one wonderful moment in particular when a woman, the last resident of a row of miner’s cottages, sees her face on the side of her house. At first her comment of, “there is nothing to say” seems dismissive and unimpressed, then suddenly and unexpectedly she says it again, with an entirely different inflection, and we see that she is profoundly, perhaps inexpressibly, touched. It’s a beautiful moment in a film full of beautiful moments.
In fact, there’s only one real down note in the whole film, and it comes, unexpectedly, from a dear, long-time friend of Varda’s. The rest is entirely delightful, and the tour around La France profonde and La France périphérique, from the landscape of the south with which I am very familiar, with its near-white stone, dust and cream-painted buildings to lonely beaches and areas of Normandy that, to my surprise, look like they could be in England, and all of the faces that accompany those places, is deeply rewarding.
There’s an argument to be made that the film feels a little too scripted, especially when the idea behind it is that it is spontaneous, but it’s a minor thing when the friendship and the duo’s interactions with the French people are clearly so real: indeed, there may even have been scope here for a meta-documentary, a raw look at Agnès and JR’s conversations with the people they meet, and why they choose to go where they go and photograph who they photograph.
The film demonstrates that JR’s art is ephemeral but, like him, I find great beauty in that idea, bittersweet as it may be, as I find great beauty in Visages Villages, which is one of the most rewarding films I’ve seen this year.
Thanks to everyone who has got in touch with us on this, or said kind words about the show – it’s all very much appreciated.
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