Parky at the Pictures (DVD 27/10/2011)
Only Werner Herzog would think of shooting a documentary about prehistoric wall drawings in 3-D. Inspired by a New Yorker article by Judith Thurman and accorded privileged access to the Chauvet-Pont-d'Arc Cave in the Ardèche region of southern France, he brings his customary quirkiness and quizzicality to Cave of Forgotten Dreams. But, for all its ingenuity and inimitability, this sincere, but often droll meditation on humanity, spirituality, legacy, communication and acceptance lacks the spark of Herzog's best actualities.
Discovered in 1994, the 1300 foot-long Chauvet Cave was found to contain paintings possibly dating back to 32,000 BC, which had been miraculously preserved by a rock fall that had sealed the entrance some 25,000 years ago. High levels of carbon dioxide and radon limited the amount of time Herzog and his camera crew could spend inside the cave, while their movements were restricted to a two-foot walkway. But the images they captured are quite remarkable (even in 2-D), with the bones of long-extinct cave bears and the luminescent stalactites being every bit as photogenic and fascinating as the wall art itself.
Dating from the Paleolithic era, the charcoal sketches depict horses, bears and owl, as well as less expected beasts like lions, panthers, hyenas and even rhinos. As Herzog shows, they are both simple and sophisticated, for in addition to creating a sense of depth and texture, the curve of the rocks also seems to impart an illusion of movement, which the German insists is a kind of `proto-cinema'. But this is just one of many musings Herzog shares, as his enchantment prompts him to wax lyrical about artistic merit, the reliability of archaeology and time's prejudicial relationship with creators and their creations.
These deliberations are typically engaging, while Herzog also clearly relishes his interviews with various academics and perfumer Maurice Maurin to discover the identity of the primitive muralists and ascertain something about their way of life. Yet the film is often more effective when it allows Peter Zeitlinger's camera to rove across the rugged surfaces to the sound of Ernst Reijseger's reverential score - although the digression on the albino alligators that have seemingly mutated as a result of radioactive waste from a nearby nuclear power plant is classic Herzog.
Coming forward a few thousand years to the 16th century, Bertrand Tavernier provides a typically astute insight into life in France during the Wars of Religion in his lustrous, but fiercely intelligent adaptation of Madame de La Fayette's 1662 novel, La Princesse de Montpensier. Refusing to find crass contemporary comparisons with the battle for religious and political supremacy between the Catholics and the Protestant Huguenots, Tavernier and co-scenarists Jean Cosmos and François Olivier Rousseau succeed in capturing the mood of a period when duty took precedence over spirit and passion was a luxury that even few members of the nobility could afford.
In 1562, the Marquis de Mézières (Philippe Magnan) consents to the betrothal of his daughter Marie (Mélanie Thierry) to Philippe (Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet), the loyal son of the Duc de Montpensier (Michel Vuillermoz). Realising that she must abide by her father's decision to marry a man she has never met, Marie suppresses her feelings for dashing cousin Henri de Guise (Gaspard Ulliel) and becomes the lady of the rustic castle of Mont-sur-Brac. However, Philippe is soon called to the royal colours and he entrusts his new bride to his former tutor, the Comte de Chabannes (Lambert Wilson), who becomes smitten with his charge while improving her literacy and etiquette.
Marie resents the instruction and is relieved to be summoned to court, where she catches the Duc d'Anjou (Raphaël Personnaz), the heir to the throne who is quite prepared to abuse his position to seduce the haughty newcomer. However, she is distracted by the arrival at the Louvre of Guise and, with De Montpensier becoming increasingly jealous, she is helped to keep a rendezvous under the noses of both her husband and Anjou by the selfless Chabannes.
Anyone familiar with this fractious era will be wondering what role the controlling Queen Mother plays in all this. But Catherine de Medici (Evelina Meghnagi) is somewhat marginalised by a story that assumes the viewer is au fait with her machinations and understands the extent to which Marie's fate reflects that of France. Some may be deterred by this refusal to place the reign of Charles IX in an introductory context, but the presumption of knowledge reinforces the film's sense of authority and authenticity, as characters don't have to keep pausing every few minutes for expository speeches explaining who everyone is and why they are acting in a particular way.
The production design of Guy-Claude François, Caroline de Vivaise's costumes and Bruno de Keyzer's cinematography are similarly imposing, while Tavernier proves as adept at coaxing his cast to behave in a period manner rather than act for the camera as he was in Let Joy Reign Supreme (1975), his acclaimed account of the 18th-century regency of Philippe, Duc d'Orléans. The leads respond to the challenge with aplomb, with the feisty Thierry and the power-hungry Ulliel conveying ardour without betraying their emotions or sacrificing their ambitions and Wilson conducting himself with a dignity that is tellingly absent from the petulance of Personnaz's cocksure prince and Leprince-Ringuet's weak cuckold. But it's the fidelity to the source text and its psychological depth and uncompromising denouement that makes this a superior example of heritage cinema so satisfyingly intricate, intimate and intense.
Arriving in the present, Gérard Depardieu gives a customarily committed performance as a man at the crossroads in Belgian iconoclasts Benoît Delépine and Gustave Kervern's highly entertaining road movie, Mammuth, which is not only a fascinating character study, but also a sly insight into the plight of the casual worker. Shot on reversible Super 16 by Hugues Poulain to reinforce the wistful mood, this may lack the edge of earlier Delépine and Kervern outings like Aaltra (2004) and Louise-Michel (2008). But the offbeat humour occasionally drifts into the surreal, while there's considerable poignancy in Depardieu's growing realisation that his day is nearly done and that being retired is going to be a full-time job.
Having just left the local pork slaughterhouse, Depardieu quickly discovers the limited appeal of doing jigsaw puzzles and shopping in the supermarket where straight-talking wife Yolande Moreau works. She also wants to retire, but knows they won't have enough to live on because Depardieu can't qualify for his pension unless he has payment slips from his previous employers.
Naturally, as a man of little education, he has never been good with paperwork. So, having flitted between menial posts for much of his peripatetic life, Depardieu has to hit the road in the hope of collecting enough dockets to satisfy the authorities. Leaving Moreau to hold the fort, he revs up his 1973 Münch Mammut motorbike and starts revisiting some old haunts. But the majority of his former employers gone out of business, while few of those still extant have kept meticulous records.
Former boss Dick Annegarn asks Depardieu to help him exhume a coffin in return for his co-operation, while Philippe Nahon languishes in a care home with dementia as Depardieu struggles to cope with the intercom security system at the mill where they once worked (which has been converted into a cutting-edge digital animation studio). He has no more luck at the bar where he once toiled. Moreover, he allows himself to be duped by con woman Anna Mouglalis and he keeps being haunted by visions of old flame Isabelle Adjani, who was killed when they were both much younger in a car crash that was his fault.
Eventually, exhausted and disillusioned, Depardieu decides to call in on his brother. But, instead, he reconnects with his niece Miss Ming, an outsider artist who sculpts with stuffed toys and broken dolls, who is such a determinedly eccentric free spirit that he comes to wonder whether he has stumbled upon the perfect spot to settle down.
Affectionate and anarchic, this may be a bit patchy, but it's also a moving meditation on the speed with which places change and not always for the better. Although the visual style suggests the 1970s, the dramatic mood owes much to American outings like Alexander Payne's About Schmidt (2002) and Darren Aronofsky's The Wrestler (2008), with Depardieu's straggly mane giving him an almost parodic look of Mickey Rourke (although he never grappled naked with his cousin, as Depardieu does here with Albert Delpy).
Accompanied by Gaetan Roussel's resolutely upbeat score, the first third bristles with sour satire and a muscularly amusing mix of physical and verbal comedy. But the picaresque encounters are less consistent, while Depardieu's sudden conversion from palooka to poet feels a touch far fetched, as does his discovery of bliss with the spaced Miss Ming. Yet he clearly relishes being permitted to push his larger-than-life role to the limits and it's only a pity that more was not required of Adjani and Moreau, who have to look enigmatically ethereal and cumbrously corporeal, as they respectively prepare to let Depardieu go and take to the road to prevent him from making a fool of himself.
Depardieu is on equally fine form in a supporting role in François Ozon's Potiche, which marks the actor's eighth teaming with Catherine Deneuve, who makes her first return to the umbrella trade since the film that made her a star, Jacques Demy's musical masterpiece Les Parapluies de Cherbourg (1964). Adapted from a 1980 boulevard play by Pierre Barillet and Jean-Pierre Grédy, but with a third act added by Ozon himself, this is a witty dissection of sexual and political manners in the late 1970s that again doesn't try too hard to draw any contemporary parallels. However, the satirical snapshot of a chauvinist society is made to seem all the more ludicrous by the candy-coloured sets and costumes devised by Katia Wyszkop and Pascaline Chavanne and photographed with a mischievous eye for interior and exterior detail by Yorick Le Saux.
Deneuve is first seen jogging in a bright red tracksuit and her curlers. She blows kisses to the wildlife as she skips past the woods and clearly has few cares with husband Fabrice Luchini commanding a handsome salary as the boss of the umbrella factory founded by her late father. But Luchini is not only cheating on her with secretary Karin Viard, but he is also detested by his staff, who decide to take him hostage for his incompetent and exploitative conduct of the business.
Unable to goad art-obsessed son Jérémie Renier or right-wing daughter Judith Godrèche into helping her secure their father's release, Deneuve approaches Depardieu, a onetime Communist firebrand who is now the town mayor and member of parliament. As he still holds a candle for her, Depardieu strides into the plant and negotiates a deal that sees heart-attack victim Luchini dispatched on a cruise for his health and Deneuve installed in the manager's office, with Renier and Godrèche as her assistants.
Naturally, the new regime proves to be a great success and the burden of responsibility works wonders for Godrèche, who becomes more compassionate, and Renier, who finally admits he's gay. Deneuve even has time for a choice encounter with Spanish trucker Sergi López and a dance number with Depardieu at the local disco. But Luchini's return seems set to restore the chauvinist status quo until Deneuve announces she is running for parliament.
Belying her 67 years, Deneuve excels as the eponymous trophy wife who reluctantly becomes an effective feminist and it's instructive to compare her relaxed performance with the more calculating turns of the actresses fighting for women's rights at the Ford car plant in Nigel Cole's Made in Dagenham. Luchini hams it up splendidly as the stereotypical 70s boss and is well supported by Karin Viard, as the peculiarly coiffured mistress who becomes one of Deneuve's most devoted acolytes. Renier and Godrèche also make the most of roles that say as much about the times in which they were written as human nature, while López revels in his showy cameo and Depardieu proves again that he is an exceptional character actor in creating a jaded idealist whose life-long struggle for the proletariat has taught him the value of pragmatism.
Ozon also demonstrates his ability to temper pastiche with creditable realism. But he is less successful in shifting from kitchen sink grit to magic realist fantasy in Ricky (2009), an adaptation of the Rose Tremain short story `Moth' that riffs on the recurring Ozon theme of an ordered existence being disrupted by the arrival of a newcomer. Despite some decent performances, this is an awkward allegory that lacks focus in considering too many concepts and sub-plots in passing rather than in depth.
Alexandra Lamy and her seven year-old daughter Mélusine Mayance live on a council estate in an unprepossessing part of the Seine-et-Marne region to the east of Paris. However, Lamy's life changes after a knee-trembler in the toilet of the cosmetics factory where she works results in Spanish co-worker Sergi López moving in and Lamy giving birth to a son. Money is tight and Mayance is more than a little jealous of the fuss being made of her new brother, but all seems well until Lamy notices marks on Arthur Peyret's shoulder blades and López moves out in indignation after she accuses him of abusing the child.
Eventually, however, Peyret sprouts wings and Lamy and Mayance have to work hard to prevent him from flying off at every opportunity and potentially injuring himself. Doctor André Wilms aggressively insists that the boy needs special treatment and journalist Jean-Claude Bolle-Reddat is desperate to do a story when Peyret breaks free in the local supermarket and flutters above the shelves with an innocent curiosity that leaves Lamy distraught.
The sudden transition from hardscrabble domestic drama to grim fairytale might have worked on the page, but the special effects were seemingly limited by the budget and Ozon fails to find many laughs in the struggle to cope with the every day issues arising from the unique appendages. Moreover, he seems reluctant to analyse the psychological impact of what is clearly a bizarre situation on Lamy and her daughter, while López is too hurriedly marginalised after he suggests public interest in Peyret could make them rich. Dutch director Rita Horst told a similar tale for a younger audience in Eep! (2010) and, frankly, she made a better job of both the suspension of disbelief and the social satire, whose obviousness can be summed up by the fact that the winged infant finally flies away when the string with which Lamy was holding him during an outdoor television interview snaps.
Guillaume Canet has no such trouble hitting the right note as he dissects bourgeois foibles and insecurities in Little White Lies. Then again, he does have some notable precedents to draw upon, as this friends reunited saga doesn't stray far from the template established in John Sayles's Return of the Secaucus Seven (1979) and refined in Lawrence Kasdan's The Big Chill (1983). With a retro poppy soundtrack that includes numbers by Creedence Clearwater Revival, Gladys Knight & The Pips, David Bowie, Janis Joplin, The Band and The Isley Brothers, this may not be particularly original or entirely engaging. But it's solidly put together and there are flashes of wit and moments of genuine poignancy in between the contrivances and longueurs.
Despite the fact hedonist friend Jean Dujardin has been left in a coma following a collision between his motorcycle and a truck, a cabal of buddies head for Lège-Cap-Ferret on the Gironde coast for a long-planned holiday. Hosting the gathering is restaurateur François Cluzet, who has been thoroughly unnerved by chiropractor pal Benoît Magimel's admission of a crush he has always suppressed because the pair are respectively married to Valérie Bonneton and Pascale Arbillot. Actor Gilles Lellouche and Laurent Lafitte are also having romantic problems, with the former being seemingly incapable of remaining faithful to Louise Monot and the latter struggling to get over being dumped by a girlfriend he adored and who keeps sending him cryptic text messages.
Only commitment-phobic, pot-smoking ethnologist Marion Cotillard seems to be relaxed about things. Yet even she feels a pang about deserting Dujardin in Paris (as they used to be an item) and she is decidely put out when musician boyfriend Maxim Nucci pays an unexpected visit. Everyone tries to forget their woes by boating or splashing in the sea. But the moment someone strikes up a conversation, tensions rise and ageing oyster fisherman Joël Dupuch eventually snaps and suggests the vacationers take a long look at themselves and grow up.
This dressing down presages a lachrymose climax that Canet handles with more precision than the preceding action, but a feeling persists that the entire picture has merely been a pretext for this tear-stained set-piece. Indeed, Canet seems more comfortable with self-contained moments like the in-car row staged in silence between Lellouche and Monot after he collects her from the airport and Magimel's confession of his feelings for Cluzet. However, the latter's near-homophobic response seems a touch excessive and it's this failure to keep a cap on the emoting that most detracts from a picture that is played with considerable commitment and photographed by Christophe Offenstein with a judicious mix of vistas, close-ups and handheld tracks that always seem more controlled than the sprawling and often self-indulgent scenario.
Canet's compatriot Fred Cavayé also seems to delight in imparting plausible realism into the unlikeliest of situations. In Anything for Her (2008), he had middle-aged teacher Vincent Lindon crack a maximum security prison to free wrongfully sentenced wife Diane Kruger. Now, in Point Break, he sets trainee nurse Gilles Lellouche the tricky task of smuggling a police suspect out of a hospital in order to ensure the safety of pregnant spouse Elena Anaya. Naturally, with the aid of Alain Duplantier's hurtling camera, Benjamin Weill's full-tilt editing and Klaus Badelt's pounding score, Lellouche triumphs over every iota of adversity that Cavayé can hurl at him. Yet, even though this updating of the Hitchcockian `wrong man' plot is little more than a succession of ludicrous contrivances, it still makes for slick and undemanding entertainment.
Roschdy Zem bursts into the opening shot, as he flees from a couple of pursuers and is mown down in a tunnel by a speeding motorbike. As the baddies melt into the darkness, no one suspects that Zem has anything to hide when he is taken to the nearest hospital. But, when Lellouche prevents a murder attempt during the night shift, commandants Mireille Perrier and Gérard Lanvin take a sudden interest in him - although they are powerless to prevent Lellouche from knocking out a guarding gendarme with a defibrillator and whisking Zem away on a downtown bus after he fails to prevent Anaya from being abducted from their flat and learns by phone that she will die unless Zem is sprung within three hours.
Once on the run, Zem is forced to co-operate with Lellouche after a railway station exchange is thwarted by a couple of menacing thugs and Lellouche agrees to sew up his gaping stomach wound. Laying low in Zem's hideaway, Lellouche learns from the television news that he is wanted for the assassination of a business tycoon and calls Perrier to rescue him and Anaya from their nightmare. However, he unwittingly sets up an ambush and, after Lanvin guns Perrier down in cold blood, Lellouche hears from one of Lanvin's sidekicks that he was hired by the tycoon's son to kill his father during a staged robbery to prevent him being disinherited. Zem was duped into playing the safecracking patsy in the scam, but he escaped on realising he had been set up and Lanvin now wants him dead before he can get his hands on a memory stick containing CCTV footage of the hit.
A freak fire enables Zem to escape from under the noses of Lanvin's goons, while Lellouche leaps to the balcony of a neighbouring building to evade Perrier's dogged sidekick, Claire Perot. However, the fugitives are compelled to reunite when Zem discovers that Lanvin has offed his brother and Lellouche realises that Anaya is now a police hostage. But, even though Zem calls in a few favours with his Corsican and Romany contacts to create criminous chaos in downtown Paris, the pair still have to find Anaya and the incriminating stick before they can even begin to start clearing their names.
The trapping of baddies on a USB stick is hardly original or sophisticated (it was employed recently in Christian Ditter's German kidpix, The Crocodiles Strike Back). Yet Cavayé cannot be faulted for his action choreography, with the breakneck chase through the Opéra Métro station (which pays fitting homage to Luc Besson's Subway, 1985) being compellingly kinetic and laudably packed with actual stuntwork and free of the both the shakicam and crash editing techniques that currently render so many similar American sequences all but indecipherable. He also slips in some dark humour and just a hint of gender politics, as he exposes the discrimination endured by both Perrier and Perot at the hands of their male colleagues. But this is primarily an exercise in setting pulses racing and if credibility and characterisation become casualties along the way, then there are worse causes in which to perish.
Believability is never an issue in Michele Placido's Angels of Evil, which draws on two volumes of autobiography for its uncompromising account of the murderous 1970s career of Milanese mobster Renato Vallanzasca. Reuniting with Romanzo Criminale (2005) star Kim Rossi Stuart, Placido has produced an often frantic chronicle that recalls Jean-François Richet's Mesrine duology. But no film with eight credited screenwriters can be wholly immune from issues with structure and characterisation.
Raised by respectable middle-class parents (Gerardo Amato and Adriana De Guilmi), Vallanzasca first fell foul of the law when he freed a circus tiger as a boy. However, following a stint in borstal and the violent death of his older brother, he began selling stolen goods and embarked upon a life of armed robbery after knocking over a supermarket as a 21 year-old.
Dandily dressed and quick with a quip for the press, Vallanzasca always insisted that he adhered to a gentlemanly code in committing his subsequent heists, kidnappings and killings. However, the families of the cops he dispatched tried to prevent Placido's picture from being made and it's easy to see why they would have objected to what is essentially the glamorisation of a brute into a charming rogue.
In his dealings with childhood friend Antonella D'Agostino (Paz Vega) and Banda della Comasina confederates Enzo (Filippo Timi) and Sergio (Moritz Bleibtreu), Vallanzasca is maverickly magnanimous. He even forgives Consuelo (Valeria Solarino), the mother of his son, for deserting him for a respectable businessman during his first jail term. But he regards rival crook Francis Turatello (Francesco Scianna) as fair game and muscles on to his territory with a cockiness that is frequently fuelled by narcissism, cruelty and cocaine.
He also shows little pity to confederates who let him down, including Nunzio (Lino Guanciale) who kills a cop after being caught using Vallanzasca's driving licence at a roadblock. Yet he forges an unexpected alliance with Turatello after they find themselves sharing the same prison. Indeed, the latter even serves as best man when Vallanzasca marries one of his many female admirers (Federica Vincenti) in a ceremony designed as a show of strength to their rivals.
But Turatello perishes in a wave of vendetta killings that also accounts for Enzo, who paid for his collaboration with the police and even more cowardly intimidation of Vallanzasca's parents in the hope of finding his stashed loot. Yet Vallanzasca survives and makes an audacious escape from a ferry during a transfer. Having fallen in love with Antonella during her increasingly frequent prison visits, he hides out with her before falling asleep in his car beside a phone box after arguing with a caller who had objected to his interview with a Roman radio station.
The freakish nature of Vallanzasca's downfall contrasts starkly with the hideous deaths of Beppe and Fausto - who were respectively crushed by a reversing getaway car and gunned down by the cops when a plan to rob the main tax office was rumbled before it could even begin - and the prison assassinations carried out with ruthless efficiency by an unnamed associate (Lorenzo Gleijeses). Yet in flashing back from a 1980s maximum security cell, Placido merely strings events together rather than delving into Vallanzasca's psyche or placing his reign in its socio-political context.
The story is undoubtedly compelling and Rossi Stuart is dangerously genial. But the tickbox linearity and sketchiness of the secondary characters imposes a superficiality that is exacerbated by the perfunctory staging of the blags, shootouts and gaolbreaks and the bombast of the Negramaro score. Arnaldo Catinari's harsh imagery adds a veneer of authenticity, while Consuelo Catucci's sharp editing bolsters the propulsive pacing. But this is slick instead of steely and in thrall instead of enthralling.
Internecine envy is also the theme of Mahamat-Saleh Haroun's A Screaming Man, which borrows from FW Murnau's 1924 silent classic The Last Laugh and draws on the spirit of Yasujiro Ozu and Robert Bresson to explore the tensions and treacheries rending civil war-torn Chad. Deftly photographed by Laurent Brunet to contrast the state of the interiors and highlight the importance of water to an embattled populace, this confirms the reputation that Haroun forged with Bye Bye Africa (1999); Abouna (2002) and Daratt (2006) as one of the few major artists sustaining African cinema.
Set in the Chadian capital N'Djamena, the story opens with fiftysomething pool attendant Youssouf Djaoro competing with son Dioucounda Koma to see who can hold their breath for longer underwater in the smart hotel where he works. In addition to its tourist trade, the facility is also popular with UN troops on a peace-keeping mission to a country that has long been divided by a brutal conflict. As a former swimming champion with no interest in politics, Djaoro has managed to avoid direct involvement. But corrupt tribal chief Emile Abossolo M'bo is keen for him to make a contribution towards the national forces and Djaoro manages to delay a decision while Chinese boss Heling Li makes some radical changes at the hotel.
Having already seen cook friend Marius Yelolo lose his job, Djaoro has to suffer the indignity of being demoted to gatekeeper. But worse is to come, as Li appoints Koma as his poolside successor and Djaoro is so stung by what he perceives as an act of betrayal that he allows M'bo to conscript Koma in lieu of paying his tribute. Wife Hadje Fatime Ngoua is appalled by his behaviour, especially when he accepts his old post back with unseemly haste, and she offers sanctuary to her son's pregnant Malian girlfriend, Djénéba Koné. Eventually, however, Djaoro's conscience gets the better of him and he treks across the desert to the army encampment in the hope of arranging Koma's immediate discharge.
Returning to his trademark topic of father-son relations, Haroun also examines the extent to which daily life is affected by civil war and the growing influence of China across the continent. But this is also a brooding domestic drama, with simple pleasures like eating watermelon and bursting into song contrasting with amusing moments like the UN troopers forming a human pyramid in the pool and more disconcerting scenes like Djaoro's cowardly watching of Koma's press-ganging from an upstairs window.
Djaoro isn't the most expressive or nuanced actor, yet he sufficiently suggests a sense of wounded pride and claws back a modicum of dignity during his harrowing odyssey. Similarly Haroun sometimes seems aware of the slenderness of his story and struggles to disguise the superficiality of the insights it raises. He also allows an element of sentimentality to seep in through Wasis Diop's emotive score. But, even though this is the slightest of Haroun's recent achievements, it does enough with its images of shrieking jets, fleeing refugees and frantic TV news reports to convey the terrifying uncertainty of living in a war zone.
The notion of returning home to start again is also considered by Yuya Ishii in Sawako Decides (2009). Akin to a Japanese variation on an Aki Kaurismäki comedy of inconsequence, this is both slyly amusing and sobering in its twin assumption that nothing can be helped and that folks are better off settling for what they have because they usually don't deserve anything better.
Now in her mid-20s, Hikari Mitsushima has been in Tokyo for five years. However, she is already on her fifth job and her fifth boyfriend. He is Masashi Endô, an under-achieving executive at the toy company where Mitsushima works as a tea lady, but he's by no means a great catch. The divorced father of four year-old Kira Aihara, he spends his evenings knitting and his days looking for a way to change his fortunes. So, when Mitsushima is fired and uncle Ryô Iwamatsu urges her to visit her ailing father, Kotaro Shiga, Endô makes the decision for her and packs the family off to the Ibaraki countryside.
It quickly becomes apparent that Shiga wants Mitsushima to take the reins of his failing clam-packing business. However, she has no idea how to haul the company out of the red and her evident lack of enthusiasm earns her the scorn of a workforce led by sneering Miyoko Inagawa, who is just one of Shiga's discarded mistresses. When not joining in with the factory song at the start of each day or poring over paperwork that makes no sense, Mitsushima finds herself emptying buckets of effluence on to a watermelon patch. But things get worse still when Endô runs away with her ex-best friend and Mitsushima is left to care for Aihara.
Opening with Mitsushima undergoing a colonic irrigation and ending with her sharing a melon with her staff, this is a film of choice moments and quiet smiles. The exchanges between Mitsushima's office workmates about everything from global warming and the recession to Endô's shortcomings set a tone that continues into her confrontations with the white-suited women who regard her as spoilt and ungrateful. But the satirical highlight is undoubtedly the rabble-rousing lyric she composes to shock the clam-packers into backing her rescue scheme.
Remaining stoic in the face of social, familial, industrial and emotional humiliation, Mitsushima makes a splendidly unconventional heroine, who delivers the often barbed dialogue with deadpan precision. She's ably supported by Aihara and Endô, who is creepily ineffectual in his powder blue sweaters, whether he's demonstrating appallingly crass toys, browbeating Mitsushima to be more eco-conscious about her endless beer cans or pleading for a second chance when his fling goes predictably wrong. But it's Ishii's deft direction and caustic insight into the politics of class, gender and age that makes this as sharp as it's entertaining.
Finally, we end with Vincent Lannoo's Vampires, a Halloween treat that is pure generic fun. Mockumentaries have become increasingly contrived of late, but Lannoo makes a virtue out of the outlandishness of the scenario to make its faux realism all the more amusing. He meanders into a Quebecois dead end towards the end, but this is a smartly scripted and spiritedly played romp that could well become a cult favourite.
After several crews have met with sticky ends in attempting to profile Belgium's vampiric community, Lannoo is granted access to Carlo Ferrante, Vera Van Dooren and their children Pierre Lognay and Fleur Lise Heuet. Ferrante is a charmer in the grand manner, who appreciates the efforts of ex-prostitute Bénédicte Bantuelle, who lives in the scullery and eats fancy food to spice up her blood supply. He is also highly complimentary about the local authorities, who covertly deliver vagrant kids and illegal immigrants for their live larder in the back garden.
But being undead has its disadvantages. Ferrante has little time for by-the-book neighbours Baptiste Sornin and Selma Alaoui, who dwell in such cramped basement quarters that they have to sleep in upright coffins. Moreover, Van Dooren considers Heuet a problem child, as she has a teenage yen to be mortal and keeps trying to commit suicide. She even begins dating human runaway Thomas Coumans (much to the delight of the scheming Sornin and Alaoui, who have designs on the family home). Lognay is also troublesome, whether he's abducting mentally handicapped victims with best buddy Arnaud Millaud or breaking Dracula's sacred code by having a fling with chief nosferatu Jean-Baptiste Heuet's amazonian wife, Alexandra Kamp.
Indeed, it's this indiscretion that leads to the family being exiled to Montreal (after a rather extraneous excursion to London to have Lognay's death sentence commuted), where Ferrante resents having to work at a blood bank because vampire boss Paul Ahmarani is a progressive thinker. Yet, notwithstanding this rather indifferent digression, Lannoo keeps the gags coming and, if they raise more smiles than laughs, they are well timed and underplayed. So, while this is never in the same class as Rémy Belvaux's Man Bites Dog (1992), it's more considered than the likes of Stevan Mena's Brutal Massacre: A Comedy (2007).
In this section
- Parky at the Pictures (In Cinemas 23/5/2013)
- Parky at the Pictures (DVD 23/5/2013)
- Parky at the Pictures (In Cinemas 16/5/2013)
- Parky at the Pictures (DVD 16/5/2013)
- Parky at the Pictures (DVD 9/5/2013)
- Parky at the Pictures (In Cinemas 9/5/2013)
- Parky at the Pictures (DVD 2/5/2013)
- Parky at the Pictures (In Cinemas 2/5/2013)
- Parky at the Pictures (In Cinemas 25/4/2013)
- Parky at the Pictures (DVD 25/4/2013)