Thursday, April 8, 2010

Glorious 39 by Stephen Poliakoff (2009)

I have to tell you, I was a bit disgruntled early into "Glorious 39" because, without spoiling any of those of you may see the film, an actor I adore was gone in the first 23 minutes.

His part was short, but it was passionate and well worth the top billing his name got.

As for the film, it takes a while to find its feet. I was not sure for a while what kind of movie it was and actually, that is more than okay with me.

To be honest, if I’m not sure if I’m going to be watching a love story or a political drama or a mystery or maybe even a ghost story, it enhances the entire experience and I went into this film completely cold.

Glorious 39 debuted at the Toronto Film Festival in September and it kind of slipped under the radar. I understand why. It’s the kind of film that quietly seeps into you.

I didn’t even know I was being affected by it until it was almost over and I wasn’t sure it was memorable until a week later I realized that I’d thought about it every day since I saw it.

The film opens with an ultimately dispensable bookmark. It’s an ominous introduction featuring Christopher Lee recalling the story of a girl who was lost long ago, before the war.

As the story unfolds, the turns it takes are gradual. It seems innocent on the surface, but it isn’t too long before there’s a menacing quality just under its skin.

By the time our heroine, Anne hears the menacing recording of poor Hector, presumably murdered Parliament member and foe of Neville Chamberlain screaming for mercy from God knows what, we are duly and properly unsettled.

As the conspiracy grows, Anne’s family members very gradually grow more menacing.

For those Doctor Who fans out there, if you remember Human Nature & Family of Blood, Anne’s siblings take on a very ‘mother-of-mine,’ ‘sister-of-mine’ quality to them. Especially her brother, Ralph.

I don’t want to give too much away because I want everyone who reads this to seek this film out and watch it. As far as political thrillers go, you really can’t do any better than this one. It works in so many ways.

There’s a sequence that revolves around taking pets in to be euthanized. Putting the family cats down is incidental to the plot.

It’s the other things happening around them at the time that are critical to the story, but that whole atmosphere of calm, tranquil death is just so terrible and peaceful at the same time.

When we see the bodies of the animals being heaped onto pyres, it hardly seems awful.

That’s the kind of lull this film draws you into and then jolts you out of.

Truly, I don’t want to give away any more except to say that you will be disappointed by the ending bookmark, so be prepared for that.

But the end of the story itself is perfect. The revelations are timed beautifully and never feel manufactured even for a moment.

Each trust and each betrayal is genuine and painful. And the one final mercy shown in the film truly feels precious.

So, fans of the Doctor, seek out this film because you miss David Tennant. That’s why I got it. But then find yourself absorbed in one of those rare films that works as a character study, a theme and a narrative.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Lorna’s Silence – Dardenne Brothers (2008)

The latest film from the Dardenne Brothers is an understated study of alienation that reminded me a lot of Remains of the Day and Casablanca. (Not to give this film delusions of grandeur.)

"Lorna's Silence" starts with our heroine, Lorna, who is a profoundly unhappy woman. We don't know what her situation is, but she exudes miser in every frame she appears in.

Lorna has married a Belgian junkie for a green-card and the plan, as it's slowly revealed through the course of the film, involves killing the junkie with an overdose and side-stepping the whole mess of a divorce.

The plot is incidental, though. In fact, we’re not ever fully sure what the story is. We know the plot involves a green-card and a Russian who for some reason needs to establish residency in Belgium.

He's a very ominous figure. We only hear to him referred to as "The Russian."

The focus of the film is the isolation of Lorna.

Slowly, she finds herself attached to Claudy, her junkie fake-husband and gets to work on a plan to save his life. Of course, she can not tell him why she is doing all of this.

She doesn’t want Claudy to know his life is in danger and she stays silent.
Lorna is so stoic that it’s near impossible to tell just how deep her feelings for Claudy go or how they’re progressing until finally, one night, her actions leave no room for misunderstanding.
This is the first spark of happiness or even humanity we have seen in Lorna. This junkie has actually brought her to life.

There is an unspeakably beautiful moment that you’ll miss if you blink. It has no significance and only last a second or two, but it’s so tremendously effective.

Lorna and Claudy, her recovering, junkie, fake-husband, have just left a locksmith/pawnshop.

She is off to work and he is going to ride his bike all day to keep his mind off his withdrawal.

They split up and he starts to ride away.

Lorna, who’s been pretty cold to Claudy so far and showed no emotion at all, until the previous night, and is now falling for him, spontaneously turns and chases after him for a few yards.

It is a desperately joyous little moment as she runs after him for two seconds before turning to walk her own way.

It last three or four seconds, but it says so much about the transformation of her feelings toward this man she just met and had thought of, only days before as expendable.

And the way that The Dardenne Brothers cut from this burst of unexpected joy to the aftermath of heartbreak reminds me of what sets these filmmakers apart from others and why I loved Rosetta so much.

(I’ll be re-watching that very soon, I think.)

Of course, people who build up walls around themselves do so for defensive purposes and once those come down, Lorna is incredibly vulnerable.

Her strength was in the fact that nobody knew her.

The film ends ambiguously, but if you ask yourself, ‘What’s likely to be the next thing to happen to Lorna?’ you probably won’t come up with a happy answer.

Isolation, that front that makes people think you don't need anybody else, might make you look strong, but it's a lie.

In reality, it just makes you lonely and weak.

That is what the Dardenne Brothers are saying here and the message comes across beautifully and breaks your heart.