At the cinema

Two trips to the flicks this week

On Sunday night we trooped over to Brooklyn Heights to watch “L’Affaire Farewell”, or perhaps “Farewell”, depending on where it has been released. A trilingual based-on-true-life story which is alternately taut and dreamy, it tells a fictionalised version of the story of Vladimir Vetrov, played (as Sergei Gregoriev) to perfection by controversial Serbian director Emir Kusturica. Guillaume Canet is tremendous as the increasingly panicked French agent Pierre Froment, who is drawn into the world of espionage as the plot develops. The supporting cast is also excellent. Fred Ward does a star turn as a ridiculously moronic Ronald Reagan; Willem Dafoe is splendidly creepy as an amoral CIA operative; and Alexandra Maria Lara steals a few scenes (as usual).

Several stories are running in parallel here: the Froment family, their lack of adaptation to life in Russia, tension at home and (eventually) their thrilling flight; the dynamics of the Gregorievs, including their son’s obsession with the (then-illicit) Queen, peaking with a performance of “We Will Rock You” in a deserted glade (which incidentally linked this to the other film I saw; see below); Gregoriev’s affair with a co-worker, which seems to offset (or perhaps feed into) his need for secrecy in the office; and the cold-hearted calculations of the U.S. government which, in this version of the story, goes against the wishes of the French operatives, to force a denouement.

A good film which, though it took a little while to get going, combined a skilful, simple narrative craft with some excellent acting, creative visual direction and the infusion of serious (and important) historical context. Recommended.

On Thursday, it was time to be battered by the faux-tornado in downtown Brooklyn, meaning we were drenched for the whole evening. Still, it didn’t dampen the enjoyment of “It’s Kind of a Funny Story”, (trailer here). To some extent, I found it a bit soppy – perhaps to the same degree as Juno, which I still really liked – but it didn’t stop me investing in the lead characters, Craig (Kier Gilchrist) and Bobby (Zach Galifianakis, of whom I was completely unaware). Galifianakis was particularly good – his portrayal of a severely depressed father who has attempted suicide many times was completely believable, even if I was distracted by the fact that he is a dead ringer for John Goodman.

Emma Roberts was good (and pretty much unrecognisable) as Craig’s psych ward love-interest Noelle, and there were lots of small character roles (both in the psychiatric ward and in Craig’s home life) that tipped the film from being simply a teen indie romance into something a lot more affecting. The treatment of mental health issues was nuanced, and with suicide and self-harm so close to the surface at all points I found it a very tense film, despite the many laugh-out-loud moments. Admittedly the end is much tidier and more one-dimensional than one might want, or even expect, but it is based on a fictionalised autobiography so maybe it was all ok. It didn’t detract from the melancholy at the heart of the film though, which I suppose is the real point: that depression is never far away if you think about it enough.

While much of the film is articulated through standard realist dialogue and set-pieces, there is a startling diversion into fantasy when the inpatients’ music group begin to play “Under Pressure” by Queen (see, it was a Queen week, particularly with the news that Sacha Baron Cohen will play Freddie in the new biopic). In the Q&A with the directors afterwards, they revealed that this musical number was their tribute to John Hughes. Another recommended film, this one has really stuck with me despite it being explicitly aimed at a rather younger audience.

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Published in: on September 18, 2010 at 4:28 pm  Leave a Comment  

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