Once again the MultiMediaMouth film team has been diligently watching films old and new, good and bad, on your behalf all week, and here are the results; 8 new reviews for you to pore over including an early UK review of the new version of Jane Eyre, thanks to our US correspondent Oren. I hope you find at least one movie to watch from this selection.
Mike’s Been Watching…
DIR: Pedro González-Rubio
A delicate tale of father/son bonding set on the Mexican Coral Reef of Banco Chincorro, Alamar is one of the most pleasant surprises of the year so far. Its cinema release was unfortunately small but it looks really terrific on DVD with the sparkling oceans and purple skies setting a mood of peace, isolation and paradise – although the inevitable separation of the father and son give the beautiful images a tinge of sadness. González-Rubio shoots it as a kind of docudrama, recalling the work of Robert Flaherty – especially his ill-fated project with F.W. Murnau, TABU: A Story Of The South Seas (1931). There’s next to no dialogue in the film, no plot to speak of and no pace. The relationship, which mainly consists of fishing and cooking, speaks for itself in muted, lulled tones and body language. The father and his son show an understanding when their eyes meet, rendering words useless. I never thought I’d be so captivated by this film but it really moved me – especially a scene where a wild egret finds its way into the home of the family, and the father teaches his son to respect the bird and earn its trust. For five minutes they try to get the bird to rest on the boys arm but their failure is amusing and human. Alamar strips filmmaking back to basics and confirms González-Rubio as a talent to keep an eye on.
HUSBANDS AND WIVES
DIR: Woody Allen
If there’s one area in which Woody Allen has been criminally undersold throughout his whole career it’s as a visual artist. Love And Death (1975) is shot by Ghislain Cloquet, who also lensed work by Resnais and Bresson, and it’s as immaculate a period production as you’re likely to find; the rolling clouds, autumnal battlefields, snowy forests and filtered light is truly gorgeous. And do I even need to mention Manhattan (1979), one of the best looking films of the 1970s, which has become one of the most iconic representations of its city? With that in mind I’m willing to stake a claim that I’m sure nobody has made before: Husbands And Wives is one of the best directed films of the 90s. After graduating from his Bergman-esque period (Interiors, 1978, for example) Allen started to focus on deeply troubled human relationships and the honest complexities of marriage. Husbands And Wives is a brittle, abrasive document of people falling apart but the director brings some stunning camerawork to his trademark insight and acerbic wit. The opening scene where Jack (Sydney Pollack) and Sally (Judy Davis) announce their breakup to Gabe (Allen) and Judy (Mia Farrow) is shot with frantic, hand-held camera that never eases. It’s jarring and unfocused, moving with the same energy of the conflict but never resting on a rhythm. There’s something urgent and probing about Allen’s camera that has never existed before, and it complements the vitriolic bite to his screenplay – a fight between Jack and his new girlfriend Sam (Lysette Anthony) is perhaps the most powerful moment in all of his work. I’ve rarely hated a character more than in that moment, but take that statement as a glowing recommendation. A masterpiece.
DIR: Dario Argento
Although it doesn’t quite reach the masterful heights I’d heard whisperings of, Suspiria is still a rich and stylish horror flick with some of Argento’s most inventive flourishes. As always the narrative is stodgy and disjointed; the Italian auteur isn’t the most naturally gifted storyteller on paper but he informs the content of his stories through slick, almost pornographically obsessive detail in the visuals. The murders don’t have any continuity but because of the colour scheme, lighting and fluid camerawork they take on the form of a lyrical nightmare – almost like a visual expression of fear itself. The first murder takes place in a traditionally elaborate set-piece and the image of a woman lying on a multi-coloured marble floor with glass through her face is a horrifically grotesque Dalí-like abstraction. Suspiria isn’t an especially good film (the screenplay and acting are questionable at best) but it is an interesting work of art which embraces the medium to inform tone, mood and emotion entirely through mise-en-scène. It’s so beautiful to look at, and also brilliantly scored – the combination of light and music in the opening ten minutes is astonishing. Sadly though, as with the work of his biggest influence Alfred Hitchcock, Argento just can’t do endings and this one tails off at around the time Udo Kier turns up for a pointless cameo. Anticlimax would be an understatement, and the obvious and abrupt denouement is a crushing disappointment. If you’re just in the mood for some stylish violence then step up to Suspiria but otherwise take its much-envied reputation with a pinch of salt and severe caution.
Oren’s Been Watching…
JANE EYRE 
DIR: Cary Fukunaga
I’m a sucker for period pieces, especially when they are more naturalistic and realistic than they are melodramatic and overdone. Sure, 19th century literary adaptations are always inherently melodramatic, but with a certain directorial touch, they can turn out to be quite rewarding indeed. The Piano, Sense and Sensibility, Joe Wright’s Pride and Prejudice, The Remains of the Day and Howard’s End (among others) remain the high points of the genre. And now, the new adaptation of Jane Eyre can join the group. The story is a classically melodramatic/tragic tale of romance and the harsh realities of 19th century living, but it is truly brought to life with Fukunaga’s deft, sharp, focused directing. The young American director uses a very un-stylized, earthy palette, naturalistic lighting, historically accurate dialects, costumes and set design, handheld cameras, and other techniques to breathe life into this classic tale and truly intensify the drama and make it more raw. It also helps make this the best film of 2011 so far.
THE PRINCESS BRIDE
DIR: Rob Reiner
No matter how many times I see this movie, it never gets old. I know it by heart by now, but it still makes me laugh. As is often the case, it’s all about the characters – they are just so sharp, so well-written, so larger-than-life and brilliantly conceived and acted – it’s definitely what holds the film together. The film overall is extremely clever in its execution – the metafictional framing device is particularly well-implemented and really adds to the story without being creepy (like the meta framing device in The NeverEnding Story, which gets pretty disturbing by the end). It’s a beautifully written story, straddling the line between parody and genuine fantasy romance, and it works wonderfully, neither the comedy nor the fantasy elements feeling forced in any way. There’s a reason this is considered a modern classic – it’s a funny, charming, clever film that is simply a joy to watch and to re-watch again and again.
Sam’s Been Watching…
EVERYBODY DIES BUT ME
DIR: Valeria Gai-Germanika
I first saw this film at the London Film Festival 2008, knowing nothing about it other than that it was a Russian teen movie, and had far and away the best title of any film in the festival. Like many non-American high school films, this is not an optimistic vision of life as a teenager, and it’s all the more compelling for that.
The film is about three 13 year old girls who, in an early scene, promise to ‘always be friends, until we grow up’. It then charts the rapid disintegration of their friendships, centred around what the school disco. Everybody Dies But Me, as its title might suggest, has moments of melodrama, but it uses them intelligently to depict what can be an emotionally fraught time and one at which things that seem unimportant as an adult can be the most important thing in the world.
The young cast is outstanding, Polina Filonenko, Agniia Kuznetsova and Olga Shuvalova all give raw, real performances, and all look the right age for their characters. Kuznetsova has the most intense arc; her character is abused and brutalised in some way in just about every scene, be it something as straightforward as a beating or the more passive aggressive rejection from her friends. For me though it’s probably Olga Shuvalova; all Barbie doll cuteness and dangerous naivete, who gives the best performance, the one that has most different notes (she’s also outstanding in the upcoming My Joy). Overall, Everybody Dies But Me perhaps overbearing in its unrelenting grimness (especially in the last 20 minutes), but it is for the most part a highly effective and beautifully controlled début from Valeria Gai-Germanika, and made all the more so because she was just 23 when the film was shot.
DIR: Andrea Arnold
At the heart of Andrea Arnold’s magnificent first film, is a series of questions you might find at the centre of a very straightforward revenge thriller; ‘Who is this woman (played by Kate Dickie)?’; ‘Why is she obsessed with this man (Tony Curran)?’; ‘How far will she go, what will she do for revenge?’. The film answers all these questions, but it does so not in the common violent way of films like I Spit on Your Grave or Lady Vengeance, you could call Red Road a kitchen sink thriller; it’s a scrupulously realistic film which goes from being seemingly about revenge to being about the depths of one person’s guilt.
Dickie excels as the city security camera operator who thinks she spots a man she knows one night, and begins to insert herself into his life. It’s a complex performance, and one that is played mostly in looks, revealing inheld emotions (watch during the graphic sex scene for the complexity of what’s going on besides the act itself). Dialogue is largely notable for what the characters omit, and what they lie about, what is real here tends to be what is physical, be it fighting or fucking.
Red Road is a devastatingly emotional film, and when all the films secrets come tumbling out the raw emotion can be tough to take, and that’s what makes Andrea Arnold such an exciting and vital filmmaker, so few films make us feel anything anymore, so few films feel like anything they depict is of real consequence. Here things are raw, real, and unresolved, perhaps unresolvable. Like Arnold’s subsequent Fish Tank, this is a film that find extreme visual beauty in what is often a series of ugly situations. It’s also one of the best British films of the last 5 years.
DIR: Antti Jokinen
You remember all those suburban yuppie horror films of the late 80’s and early 90’s? Well it seems that enough time has passed for them to get uncredited (to say nothing of uninspired) remakes. In a couple of weeks there’s The Roommate, but first; The Resident. Hillary Swank moves into a new place, gets friendly with the owner (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), then backs off, and begins to think there might be something sinister going on in the building. Oh, what could possibly be happening? The suspense is…. completely non-existent.
The Resident could have been made in 1992, in the midst of the glut of movies like Pacific Heights, Malice, Unlawful Entry and Single White Female, the only thing that suggests it wasn’t is the occasional sight of an IPhone. It’s not even an especially good addition to the cycle; the performances are relentlessly okay, the camerawork pretty but uninspired and the score blatantly instructive. Worst of all it duplicates every sin the screenplays of those films were guilty of, especially having an irretrievably stupid lead character.
It’s really a shame that this is the first ‘original’ film from the reborn Hammer Films, it’s not worthy of that legacy, nor that of cameo player Christopher Lee, or even, come to think of it, that of Unlawful Entry. Yeah, skip it.