July Variety Pack (1)

I’ve been away for work and needed to recover from my lack of sleep, which I hope excuses the lack of recent updates. I’m back now, though, with a healthy list of films etc. to blog about. To start off with, here’s Wot I Watched On My Telly Recently. (More Variety Packs may follow later this month!)

Lourdes

An Austrian-German-French co-production about pilgrims and/or tourists visiting Lourdes looking for miracles – probably doesn’t sound particularly appealing to most, does it? The film is definitely not for everyone, but it’s well worth checking out nevertheless, deftly mixing different themes and genres, from satire to psychological drama to a critique of the faith industry and of petty sanctimoniousness, while always feeling of one piece. Lourdes is also smart in that it doesn’t rely in any way on the viewer’s own beliefs (or lack thereof), and the performances are subtle and effective throughout. It’s the kind of film, though, where the truly interesting things go on inside the characters and remain implicit to the viewer.

A Night To Remember

Ah, Criterion — mon semblable, — mon frère! I’ve rarely gone wrong with Criterion DVDs, and the 1958 precursor to James Cameron’s Titanic didn’t disappoint either. The film makes an interesting counter-point to Cameron’s iceberg extravaganza; taking a disaster that lends itself to melodrama of the worst kind (which Titanic – the 1997 film, not the ship – indulged in some scenes, avoided in others), A Night To Remember is the more restrained, more British (for want of a better word) film, though it is exactly this restraint that makes it all the more devastating. It’s as impossible to avoid dramatic irony in filming the sinking of the Titanic as it is when referring to Mr. Lincoln’s night at the theatre, but the film doesn’t overplay its hand, nor does it go for a simplistic, smug class warfare view of 1st class passengers as parasites and steerage passengers as accented, saintly victims. Also, considering the film’s age, its effectiveness in depicting the disaster is in no way lessened by the datedness of its effects, which speaks for the quality of the directing, acting and script.

Che

I used to be a big fan of Steven Soderbergh. Starting with Out of Sight (still by far the best Elmore Leonard adaptation in my opinion, and the best use of Jennifer Lopez), I enjoyed almost every single one of his films, in terms of craft and storytelling. Yes, there were exceptions – Full Frontal comes to mind – but even slight works such as Ocean’s Eleven were examples of a director pretty much at the top of his craft. Then, probably around Ocean’s Twelve, something changed. I still liked the second cinematic méringue for its French New Wave experimental frothiness, but I started to get the impression that Soderbergh was mainly doing these films to scratch some private itch, and whenever he became aware of the audience and its wants and needs, as with Ocean’s Thirteen, there was something calculating and cynical about the films. Soderbergh, who’d always led with his intellect, seemed to have lost what heart there was in his films. I haven’t yet seen his most recent work, but Che, his two-parter about some guy on a t-shirt, failed to grab me, nor did it excite, educate, intrigue or irritate me in any way beyond the vague irritation that this Soderbergh guy used to have something to say.

Both parts of Che are beautifully shot, well acted and examples of great craftsmanship, but especially part 1 so assiduously avoids any suspicion of biopic clichés that it ends up a handsome but strangely empty variation on the theme of “What I did on my holidays”: And then Guevara went there. And then this member of his band of rebels died of a cough. And then that outpost was taken. Part 1 picks up towards the end, and part 2 benefits from the story’s more dramatic angle – if the first film is about Che’s (military) rise, the second depicts his slow, drawn-out fall – but just a bit more character, just a smidgen of story would have helped. As it is, the films feel strangely like a documentary shot by a cinematographer who wasn’t interested in much beyond how his film looks. You can do unconventional biopics and avoid the trap of facile psychoanalysis without stripping a film of personality altogether, Steven, m’kay?

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