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Parky at the Pictures (In Cinemas 8/3/2012)
Having already reduced Jude the Obscure to Jude (1996) and relocated The Mayor of Casterbridge to the Old West for The Claim (2000), Michael Winterbottom attempts his most ambitious adaptation of Thomas Hardy in Trishna, which sees the events of Tess of the d'Urbervilles transferred from 1890s Wessex to modern India. The translation works in so far as the film shares the book's preoccupation with the corrupting nature of class. But, by merging Angel Clare and Alec d'Urberville into a single character, Winterbottom deprives the story of much dramatic tension and places too great a burden on Riz Ahmed to convey an abrupt personality change that owes more to a facile Bollywood movie than a complex work of Victorian literature.
Jay Singh (Riz Ahmed) is the English-educated playboy son of a blind property developer (Roshan Seth) who has grudgingly agreed to manage one of his father's hotels in Jaipur. However, he would much rather be gallivanting about Rajasthan with his dope-smoking pals and flirting with the local girls than working. So, having caught sight of 19 year-old Trishna (Freida Pinto) with her younger siblings at a remote rural temple, he makes a clumsy attempt to chat her up and offers her a job at the hotel when her father is badly injured in crashing his Jeep while making the deliveries that sustain his large family.
Trishna is reluctant to leave, but her parents desperately need the weekly 2500 rupees that Jay is prepared to pay and she travels to Jaipur by bus and is surprised when the boss comes to the depot to collect her in person. Sharing a room with two other girls, Trishna works well and charms Mr Singh when he hears her whistling to the birds in the hotel aviary. She also benefits from Jay's patronage, as he pays for her to go on a training course to improve her career prospects.
However, Jay has an ulterior motive and he seduces Trishna after rescuing her from a couple of wideboys after she gets lost in Jaipur on the way home from the wedding of a friend from her Bollywood dance class. They sleep together, but Trishna regrets her action and takes the first bus home. When her disapproving father learns she is pregnant, he coerces her into having an abortion and packs her off to look after an ailing aunt and work in her uncle's tea factory.
But Jay comes in search of her and sweeps her off to Mumbai, where he hopes to break into movies as a producer. Ensconcing Trishna in a luxury apartment overlooking the beach, he introduces her to director Anurag Kashyap and actress Kalki Koechlin (playing themselves) and gives her a taste of the high life that she finds as bewildering as it's intoxicating. However, when Jay is called to London to attend his ailing father, Trishna is left to her own devices and has to find new accommodation when the lease expires. Indeed, she is about to accept a loan from choreographer Avit (Aakash Dahiya) to get a Bollywood dance licence when an apologetic Jay returns and explains that they are going to live in another Singh hotel, as his father is no longer well enough to run the business.
However, Jay is a changed man and the news that Trishna aborted his child only exacerbates his unsuspected penchant for callous exploitation. He insists that Trishna lives in the staff quarters and has nothing to do with her outside their lunchtime trysts when she is expected to satisfy his lusts while serving his meal. Humiliated at being asked to perform increasingly demeaning acts from the Kama Sutra, Trishna strikes out in a manner that dooms herself, as well as her ornery lover.
Michael Winterbottom has to be commended for the audacity and diversity that characterises his canon. But nothing quite works in this forced adaptation whose flaws are compounded by some unconvincing improvisation and a rushed and largely unpersuasive conclusion that serves to emphasise the limitations of the photogenic, but unnuanced leads. Yet Winterbottom succeeds in capturing the spirit of the source in depicting a traditional society in the midst of a seismic upheaval and this reinvention is as respectful of Hardy's genius as more straightforward interpretations like Roman Polanski's Tess (1979).
Cinematographer Marcel Zyskind evocatively captures the contrasts between the poverty of Trishna's village and the opulence of the hotels converted from Raj-era palaces, as well as the bustle of the Mumbai streets and the regimented order of the Bollywood movie sets. But Mags Arnold's fussy editing imposes a staccato rhythm on proceedings that is not only at odds with the lilting waltziness of Shigeru Umebayashi's score and the aching melancholy of Amit Trivedi's soundtrack songs, but also with the hesitancy of the central romance. Moreover, the brevity of the shots draws attention to the convolution of the storyline and leaves too little room for the serious discussion of such potentially fascinating themes as the status of women on the subcontinent, the relationship between its urban and rural communities, the impact of globalisation on an already chasmically divided society and the falseness of the dream peddled by the cornball masala musicals that owe virtually nothing to the harsh realities of everyday existence.
If Winterbottom has been lauded for his stylistic restlessness, the Danish auteur Carl Theodor Dreyer has invariably been considered a conservative, whose austere brand of direction changed little between his debut, The President (1919), and his final feature, Gertrud (1964), which he completed four years before his death. However, the excellent retrospective currently running at National Film Theatre on London's South Bank challenges this misconception and it's to be hoped that the BFI follows up the theatrical release of Ordet (1955) by adding some of Dreyer's lesser known works to its already notable DVD collection.
Adapted from an acclaimed stage work by Kaj Munk, Ordet (aka The Word) draws on the playwright's experiences as a pastor in Jutland in the 1920s. However, bearing in mind that Munk was executed by the Nazis in January 1944 for preaching resistance in pulpits across the country, this can also be seen as an allegory on the ideological battle that occurred in occupied Denmark and on the nation's revival once the pernicious creed of Fascism had been expunged.
The action takes place in a rural community in 1925 and centres on the diametrically opposed religious views held by farmer Morten Borgen (Henrik Malberg) and tailor Peter Pertersen (Ejner Federspiel). Morten is a committed churchgoer, who is slowly coming around to the liberal notions of the new pastor (Ove Rud). But Peter is a fanatical member of a strict Lutheran sect based on the Inner Mission, which Munk had encountered during his own ministry. Thus, when Morten's youngest son, Anders (Cay Kristiansen), falls for Peter's daughter Anne (Gerda Nielsen), he overcomes his initial opposition to the union because he knows how much it will irritate his rival.
Morten lives with oldest (and agnostic) son Mikkel (Emil Hass Christensen) and his wife Inger (Birgitte Federspiel), along with their daughters Maren and Lilleinger (Ann Elisabeth Groth and Suzanne Rud) and his second son Johannes (Preben Lerdorff Rye), who was so disconcerted by his study of the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard that he lost his reason and began proclaiming that he was Jesus Christ returned to earth. Peter has nothing but contempt for the Borgens and, when Morten pays him a visit to entreat him to consider Anne's betrothal, he prays that Inger dies in childbirth to convert Mikkel to his sect.
Although the baby is lost, the doctor (Henry Skjær) succeeds in saving Inger. However, she dies suddenly soon after Johannes chastises Morten for refusing to have faith in him and Peter and Morten settle their differences over her open coffin at the funeral. But, even though the reconciliation paves the way for Anne and Anders to wed, it is not the only miracle to happen that morning in the Borgen household.
Given the attention deficiency of our increasingly secular time, it will be intriguing to see the reception accorded to this measured treatise on the disparity between religion and faith. Shooting in long takes that allow Henning Bendtsen's monochrome camera to dolly sedately through Erik Aeas's stark mise-en-scène, Dreyer not only captures the pace and domestic simplicity of a bygone age, but also the intensity of its attitude towards matters of theology, morality and family.
The performances are remarkable and irresistibly recall the way in which Robert Bresson and Yasujiro Ozu similarly required their casts to enact types who brought a universality to the storyline. But this is by no means the rigid exercise in miserable mysticism that many critics have implied. Indeed, there is a sly wit in the exchanges between Morten and Peter, as Dreyer allows them to expose the complete absence of practical Christianity in their pompous piety. Moreover, there is a strain of satirical wisdom in Johannes's rambling diatribes, which is every bit as pertinent today as it was when Munk premiered his play in 1932 and the film was awarded the Golden Lion at Venice in 1955. Thus, while this may pose something of a cinematic challenge to even the most astute arthouse audience, it remains intellectually and emotionally compelling, while its denouement remains among the most astonishing in screen history.
Like Dreyer, who was the manager of the Dagmar cinema in Copenhagen, Bryan O'Neil held down a day job while making his feature debut, Booked Out. Intended as a British spin on the American indie formula, this quirky romcom has more in common with Bill Forsyth than Hal Hartley. But, while the Scottish heroine could easily be the youngest daughter of John Gordon Sinclair and Claire Grogan from Gregory's Girl (1981), the other characters are less well defined and the storyline is something of a muddle. Nevertheless, this has its amusing moments and its heart is certainly in the right place.
Twentysomething Rollo Weeks spends hours each week sat on the sofa in a London flat staring at the television with the morose, but evidently fragile Claire Garvey. His comings and goings are chronicled by neighbour Mirren Burke, who takes polaroids from her upper-storey window when not working on a graphic novel and keeping an eye on elderly Sylvia Syms, who regularly gets into a flap over the behaviour of the long-dead husband she insists still occupies his favourite armchair.
Burke works in a bookshop with Gabriela Montaraz, where they delight in teasing nerdy customer Tim Fitzhigham. But, while she wants to get her book published, Burke's main aim is to seduce Weeks and she engineers meetings on the staircase to pique his interest. Eventually, she persuades him to sneak away from Garvey and they go to a life drawing class before spending an evening at a swing dance session, where the outgoing Burke finally coaxes Weeks into letting his guard down.
She also involves him caring for the increasingly erratic Syms. But, while Weeks starts to spread his wings, Garvey becomes increasingly unpredictable and he feels guilty on arriving at the flat one morning to find her soaked to the skin after spending the night lying fully clothed in the bath. Yet, despite his fears for Garvey's state of mind, Weeks accepts Burke's invitation to Montaraz's fancy dress party and they go as a pair of hybrid animals - a Pengaroo and a Pandawawa - and kiss for the first time.
However, an argument ensues after Garvey refuses to fetch Weeks when Syms becomes convinced her husband is learning French and has to be rescued from the EuroStar terminal after suddenly deciding to go looking for him across the Channel. But Burke is made to regret her petulance when Weeks tells her the reason for Garvey's melancholia.
With her wacky dress sense, winsome romanticism and impulsive actions, Burke manages to be appealingly offbeat in what could so easily have been a gratingly twee role. Weeks, Garvey and the estimable Syms also do well enough with sketchier parts. But O'Neil's inexperience as both writer and director is always evident, particularly in his handling of the mysterious relationship between Weeks and Garvey. Indeed, the plot makes more sense after viewing the deleted scenes on the DVD version. However, getting the picture made and securing it a theatrical release represents a considerable achievement and it is infinitely superior to Breaking Wind, the risible lampoon of the Twilight movies produced by Craig Moss, whose previous credits include the 1998 short Saving Ryan's Privates and the 2010 direct-to-disc offering The 41-Year-Old Virgin Who Knocked Up Sarah Marshall and Felt Superbad About It.
Despite the title, this has less to do with Breaking Dawn than with the third part of the saga, Eclipse. However, such is the feebleness of the humour and the ineptitude of the storytelling that even the most scathing critic of the mawkish screen adaptations of Stephanie Meyer's vampiric bestsellers will start to prefer the originals. Indeed, this is so dire that it makes Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer's woeful Vampires Suck (2010) look like a peak form Mel Brooks parody.
What plot there is centres on Bella (Heather Ann Davis) and the need for Edward (Eric Callero) and the bloodsucking Cullen family and Jacob (Frank Pacheco) and his werewolf pack to protect her from the recently bitten Ronald (Michael Adam Hamilton) and Victoria (Kelsey Collins), who plan to lead an army of newborns against Bella. Undecided about whether to marry Edward, Bella is surprised by Jacob's protestations of love and is relieved when they agree to join forces to guard her in a mountain campsite when Alice (Alice Rietveld) has a vision that Victoria's forces are on the march.
Those familiar with the books and the spin-off movies will recognise sequences such as the training session given by Jasper (Peter Gilroy) prior to the attack and Bella's dilemma about whether to commit herself to Edward for eternity. But much else simply feels tossed into the mix in an increasingly desperate bid to raise a laugh. An incursion by a quartet of Johnny Depp characters (Edward Scissorhands, Willy Wonka, The Mad Hatter and Captain Jack Sparrow) is vaguely amusing, while John Stevenson's Carlisle feeds frantically on Bella's blood while reassuring her he is not addicted and Jessica Garvey's Rosalie spits out some choice insults at the dimly demure heroine's expense.
But the endless jokes about bodily functions, six packs and sex quickly outstay their welcome, as does a running gag about a TMZ reporter seeking scoops about the characters' love lives. More objectionable are some decidedly dubious asides about the orientation of Bella's father Charlie (Flip Schultz), a rambling anecdote by American-Indian Billy Black (Danny Trejo) and the inclusion of dwarf actors Pancho Moler and Nic Novicki as lecherous mini-me versions of Edward and Jasper. However, nothing compares to the cruel mockery of a credit crawl coda depicting Twi-hards reacting with genuine excitement to the online premiere of the Eclipse trailer, which only confirms the lack of taste, judgement and talent demonstrated by Moss in this whole sorry enterprise.
Lastly, this week comes A Man's Story, Varon Bonicos's profile of fashion designer Ozwald Boateng, which has been edited down from over 420 hours of footage amassed over a 12-year period from 1998. Bearing in mind the sheer dedication involved in such an epic undertaking, it feels somewhat disingenuous to be anything other than admiring of Bonicos's achievement. But, when one also takes into account the unique access that he had to his subject at some of the most pivotal moments in his career, this has to be regarded as a massively missed opportunity. What is here is slickly presented and captures something of the personality of the first black and youngest ever tailor to have a shop on the prestigious Savile Row in London. But, in totting up the aspects of a remarkable life that Bonicos skirts around or simply fails to address, it's impossible not to be disappointed that this isn't more revealing or even more inquisitive.
Bonicos first hooked up with Boateng as he was struggling to get over his divorce from first wife Pascale and the collapse of an ambitious expansion plan. He hoped that a forthcoming show in Paris would put him back on track, but the event was beset by technical difficulties and the entire collection was stolen shortly afterwards from his Wimpole Street studio. It says much for the designer's tenacity, therefore, that he managed to bounce back from these monetary and emotional setbacks with such trademark panache. In addition to falling in love with vivacious Russian model Gyunel, Boateng also overcame a malfunctioning air-conditioning system to score a triumph in Milan and land a creative director contract with Givenchy.
Yet, while things were moving forward, Boateng proves tight-lipped about his past. Bonicos alludes to the fact that he grew up in the capital around the time of the Brixton riots, but poses few searching questions about what it was like to be the son of first generation Ghanaian immigrants in the 1970s and how he managed to defy the odds (and more than a little prejudice) to open his Savile Row shop at the age of just 23. Bonicos similarly ducks the issue of post-colonialism when Boateng accepts an OBE from the Queen in 2006 and the presence of such controversial leaders as Muammar Gadaffi and Robert Mugabe at a show he organised in African in 2007 to persuade more African-Americans to embrace their origins.
Indeed, by the time Bonicos reconnects with Boateng, he seems solely interested in celebrating success rather than getting introspective about more awkward topics. Now the proud father of Emilia and Oscar, he jets off frequently to Hollywood, where Will Smith, Spike Lee, Laurence Fisburne, Jamie Foxx. Daniel Day Lewis, Michael Bay, Forrest Whitaker,. Don Cheadle and Gabriel Byrne are among his new clients and pals. Richard Branson, Prince Charles and Giorgio Armani are all keen to be seen with him, with the latter even consenting to being interviewed for a BBC profile. And clearly Boateng enjoys being bitten by the TV bug, as he signs up for his own reality series, House of Boateng, which confirms the sales pitch that a man is improperly dressed if he isn't wearing Boateng.
But, once again, Bonicos reneges on his documentarist duties, as he makes no effort whatsoever to discuss the Boateng look or what it is about his clothes that makes him such a notable creator. No critical opinion is sought or offered and no insight is forthcoming from the man himself about his cutting style, theories of design or personal tastes. In other words, the picture becomes glossier and ever-more superficial to the point where it feels as rooted in reality as the shoot Boateng does with besuited warriors and whirling ninjas in a field outside Shanghai.
However, the bubble bursts with the discovery of Gyunel's infidelity and it becomes clear that Boateng's workaholism has driven the couple apart. Indeed, not even quitting Givenchy to devote himself to a new Savile Row operation can repair the broken bridges. Yet a montage shows him back in the globe-trotting routine and he is evidently back on top of the world by the time he closes London Fashion Week in 2010 with the biggest collection of male models ever assembled for a catwalk show.
There's no question that Boateng is a dynamic and genial character. But such is Bonicos's readiness to bask in his reflected glory that the prospect of uncovering any unhagiographic aspects of his persona quickly recedes into the distance. However, even the positive elements run the risk of being lost in editor Tom Hemmings's rapid-cut blizzard of jerky handheld images. Thus, one is left with an impression of both the artist and the man that seems largely to have been shaped by Boateng himself rather than by an objective biographer.