Wednesday, 13 April 2016

A Bigger Splash

A Bigger Splash is said to be based on or inspired by or derived from a film called La Piscine. If La Piscine is half as good as A Bigger Splash, I want to see it. Which is surprising as, if you saw I Am Love, the last outing with Tilda Swinton by the film's director, Luca Guadagnino, you might be forgiven for expecting the worst - or indeed for not going to A Bigger Splash at all.

You see, I Am Love is one of the worst - eg most sentimental and tedious - films ever made; a sort of Lady Chatterley's Lover without the laughs (and yes, I do know that there are no laughs, at least not intentional ones, in Lady Chatterley's Lover and that DH Lawrence did not possess anything that anyone would recognise as a sense of humour, but believe me I Am Love made him look like a potential Edinburgh Comedy Award candidate by comparison).

Anyway that was 2010. Guadagnino has changed. A Bigger Splash is not tedious or sentimental for even a fraction of a moment. Better still, it is not merely intriguing while you watch it but goes on being so after you have left the cinema.

Among the main characters, the performance that is absolutely extraordinary and outstanding is that of Ralph Fiennes, who plays Harry, a record producer. We've all got a Harry somewhere in our lives, God help us, an infuriatingly restless person who cannot resist saying what shouldn't be said, asking what shouldn't be asked, who has no understanding of calm pleasures like, for example, reading or writing and is permanently interrupting the peace of those unlucky enough to be in his vicinity with incessant demands for new excitements and thrills and an immature desire to shake things up.

 Fiennes is wonderfully hilarious in this role and astonishingly full of energy. The sequence where he dances to an old record is worth the price of entrance alone. I don't understand how someone who appears in this movie to be a genius could also be responsible for the worst production of The Tempest I have ever seen at the theatre - perhaps the lesson is that he is an exceptionally brilliant performer but not a good director.

Anyway, for what he does in this film, Fiennes really deserves a prize. Matthias Schoenaerts is also very good - and demonstrates, as he did in Far From the Madding Crowd, how much the camera loves his face.  Dakota Johnson is wonderfully difficult to understand and happy to be fairly dislikeable, which is something I always admire in an actor. The supporting cast are also excellent,  especially Lily McMenamy.

If there is a weak link it is Tilda Swinton who never convinces me that her character might ever have been a rock star, (the recording session we glimpse in the film doesn't help in this regard). Swinton is possibly better in comic roles. As in I Am Love, in this film she gives a quite dull, self-satisfied performance, despite her character being central to the plot. In all the performances I have seen by her, the surface is everything. This is not a problem when she takes on broad comic roles where depth is not required. Perhaps in A Bigger Splash she feels she has already done more than enough by allowing herself right at the start of the movie to be filmed naked for a tediously long time from an unusually revealing angle. All the same, I could have done with fewer of her crevices and a bit more of her character's motivation

Not that this ultimately matters. The film is beautiful, puzzling and entertaining. I'm really glad I went.

Saturday, 2 April 2016

Son of Saul

I have been putting off writing about Son of Saul for weeks now, mainly because I was not keen to think about the film much, once it was done. Which is very far from being the same thing as saying it is a bad film. It is an astonishing film and it did such a horribly effective job of creating the impression that you were witnessing what really happened inside Auschwitz that, once released, if you are cowardly, as I am, you wanted as much as possible to push the experience from your mind.

Oddly, the technique chosen to conjure the experience so vividly is the maintenance of almost constant blurriness in the back of the shots, where unspeakable things are going on all the time. You can see that hundreds of people are being driven through dank corridors into changing rooms and then shower rooms and that heaps of corpses - or "Stücke" as the German overlords of the camp blithely call them - are all that remains some minutes later. But you can't see the individuals. I suspect  this was precisely how those picked out to work as members of zonder commandoes dealt with what they had to witness. The technique heightens the horror somehow.

I suppose one could object to the rather obvious quest plot that gives the film its narrative. You could argue that the film could simply have been about the real event that was the uprising in Auschwitz. However, that would have been less ambiguous than this tale, which leaves the viewer confused and horrified, rather than supporting one side as the goodies and the other as the baddies. The film makes clear that after the Holocaust, we live in a ruined world where there are no goodies and baddies, only an expanded knowledge of the potential humanity has to be wicked.

Not that the Germans are let off, mind you - the scene in which an officer murders a child with his bare hands, observed by his colleagues, is made all the more chilling by being shot as if it were a Vermeer painting. The weird interlude in which a group of German doctors are entertained by the crazed antics of a young officer who mocks the protagonist is equally vile. And then there is the endless ash. And the frenzied night scenes when the camp is overwhelmed by deliveries.

Horrible, horrible. The film reminds us just how horrible, and that cannot be anything but a good thing for a film to do.