Friday, February 27, 2009

The Reader

The Reader is awesome and yet, it comes with its flaws. Since the movie asks a lot of question by revisiting a sad chapter of world history, we often feel that the film can't necessarily answer to all these questions through the ambiguous nature of its characters. While there are obviously things that are not hard to figure out, The Reader, at times, feels that it stays "on the surface" of some questions at the centre of the story.

In 1958 in West Germany, Mikael Berg (David Kross), a fifteen years old boy, gets help from Hanna (Kate Winslet) to go home on a rainy afternoon. Once Michael is no longer sick, he returns to Hanna's apartment in order to thank her. This is the moment they begin their sexual affair (they don’t even learn each other’s names until they’ve had a handful of encounters). However, as they both want to know each other a little bit more, their relation goes further after Hanna begins asking Michael to read aloud to her as a prelude to sex.

Eventually, Hanna abruptly disappears, which destabilizes Michael. However, in 1966, Michael and Hanna more or less come across each other. He's a law student and she's on trial with five other women for being guards at Auschwitz. At this moment, we understand that Hanna has been living with a shameful secret and Michael sees that even though Hanna is a very humane person, he can't imagine that he loved a woman who worked for the Nazis during the Second World War.

Nothing is clearly cut in The Reader, for the character's behaviour suggests things more often than we think. Considering the questions at the centre of the film, one might wonder if it's always possible to know what one's government did at a time of war. To that matter, the film shows us really well the gap that exists between those who lived through the Holocaust (Hanna's generation) and those who haven't (Michael's generation). Indeed, the moment Michael sees that he loved a woman who took part in the killing of many Jews is the moment when the film explores the shame of Michael's generation felt toward the previous generation of Germans. Hence, the feeling of guilt by association with a generation (Hanna's) in which Michael doesn't recognize himself. Moreover, through this experience, Michael wonders about two things: 1) After what he learnt about Hanna, will he ever be able to feel that he's into any woman? 2) Given what he knows about the Holocaust would Michael have done the right thing? That is the question, because as Hanna subtly pointed it out to Michael at the end of the film, putting oneself in the shoes of someone is way harder than judging people.

Finally, although the film is extremely interesting, it probably didn't deserve to be nominated for the Academy Award for best film. Of course, there's nothing wrong with building a story almost entirely on ambiguousness. Some things can be figured out very easily while others can hardly be. This is where the movie's ambiguousness becomes a problem, because at the end of the film, we feel that there are many answers about the characters' motives that are left out. For instance, what really brings Hanna to love Michael? Nonetheless, despite a few loose ends in the story, the cast's performance is worth admiring. Ralph Fiennes (The Constant Gardener) and David Kross, both respectively playing the old and the young Michael, are doing a good supporting job. As always, Kate Winslet (Revolutionary Road) brings so much complexity to Hanna.

Rating: 3.5/5

The Reader
USA/Germany (2008)
Length: 124 minutes
Genre: Psychological drama
Screenplay: David Hare
Director: Stephen Daldry
Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Kate Winslet, David Kross and Bruno Ganz

Friday, February 20, 2009

Revolutionary Road

Based on a novel of Richard Yates, Revolutionary Road is an interesting film. Although it's a little bit predictable, it's very effective to deconstruct the schematic about a couple that is not going well. There's no doubt that the film's storyline may look too simple for some, but Revolutionary Road contains some of this year's most intense performance. All in all, the American Academy must take heed of this movie before giving its verdict and it's too bad that this one didn't get a nomination for best film.

April (Kate Winslet), a failed actress, and Frank Wheeler (Leonardo DiCaprio), a salesman for an electronic firm, once met at a party and now form a wonderful suburban couple with two kids in all and sundry's opinion. Behind this veneer of joy and perfection, Frank has a dull clerical job that he can't stand. In order to bring back the idea of living one's dream in the couple, April proposes Frank to move to Paris. As a matter of fact, by doing so, in April's opinion, Frank can take the time to think about what he really wants to do in life. Nonetheless, with April going to have a third child and him getting a promotion at this workplace, Frank questions his desire to go to Paris, which dismays his wife.

The film Revolutionary Road might bore some blockbusters addicts because of its slow pace. Nonetheless, given that we're introduced to April and Frank's problems right at the beginning (under a form of flashback), the slow pace is an added value. In fact, it gradually brings us toward things that will make our two leading characters a dysfunctional couple in each one's perspective. Is it actually worth moving on to new things and thus leaping into uncertainty? That is what April believes and this is her raison d'être to live. Frank, on the other hand, ultimately hesitates to go to Paris and wonder if people should try to comfortably be happy with what they have. Therefore, as the film advances, one comes to believe that Frank and April form an American couple that has given up all dreams in order to live in social conformism. Unfortunately, as the movie explores even more Frank and April's loss of passion for life without any mindless plot twists, the film's end becomes extremely predictable although it seems logical considering the evolution of the story.

Hopefully, Leonardo DiCaprio (Blood Diamond) and Kate Winslet (Iris) live up to our expectations with their incredible chemistry despite having to play a married couple that gradually becomes dysfunctional. With all due respect, DiCaprio's performance evidently hits the right note, but it's Winslet who actually pinned me even more to my seat. In fact, she's good at dealing with April's depth both in her speaking and her silent parts so that you see April's ultimate desillusion about life (hence what you see at the end of the film). Even if the film didn't get any nods for best picture, it will be remembered for the next years to come.

Rating: 4.5/5

Revolutionary Road
USA/UK (2008)
Length: 119 minutes
Genre: Drama
Screenplay: Justin Haythe
Director: Sam Mendes
Starring: Leonard DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Michael Shannon, Kathy Bates, David Harbour and Kathryn Hahn

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Visitor

The film The Visitor is a simple and outstanding drama. Nonetheless, it's just too bad that it went almost unnoticed in North America. All in all, some people (like me) may find The Visitor a little bit boring because of its simple storyline that slowly - albeit effectively if you strive to watch the film with a minimum of objectivity - unfolds before your eyes despite all the critical acclaim. Rest assured: it's definitely a movie that I'd recommend to anyone who's looking for some good performance.

We follow Walter Vale (Richard Jenkins), a college professor, who is bored by life because he finds it insignificant. One day, he comes to New York to attend to an economic conference. Afterwards, he discovers a couple - who happens to be illegal immigrants - that has taken up residence in his apartment. To his surprise, he befriends with this couple at a point that it will change his life forever. In fact, after Tarek (Haaz Sleiman), the Syrian man from the couple, got arrested in a subway, Walter will do anything to avert his deportation.

Obviously, all that's left for me is to talk about the cast incredible performance. At the first sight, you may think that Richard Jenkins's (Six Feet Under) performance is bland. However, if you look a little bit more carefully, his performance evolves along with the script for our pleasure's sake. Remember that at the beginning, I told you that the script was slow. Well, that slow pace at the beginning is probably there to show us that Walter feels that even though he works for a living, his life is insignificant. Hence, Jenkins' minimalist approach to deal with Walter's boredom and disillusion about life.

Moreover, as Haaz Sleiman and Danai Gurira, as Zeinab (Tarek's daughter), comes in to brilliantly support Jenkins, things get even better. Slowly but surely, Jenkins depicts Walter's feeling of revival. This means that fighting to avoid Tarek's deportation gives a new sense to his life. Besides, it's because of his subtlety and sometimes his explicit feelings that our interest in Walter's quest is sustained no matter what happens at the end.

Finally, with its few flaws and great qualities, The Visitor is one of those movie you won't forget after you're done with it. To be honest with you, even though the movie bore me a little bit at times (especially at the beginning), I'll say that it's a touching drama about finding a signification to our life by doing something for people we care about. All in all, I haven't seen most of the films that are nominated at the Oscars this year, but I'm sure that The Visitor is a serious competitor, especially in the acting category.

Rating: 4/5

The Visitor
USA (2007)
Length: 104 minutes
Genre: Drama
Director and scriptwriter: Tom McCarthy
Starring: Richard Jenkins, Haaz Sleiman, Danai Gurira and Hiam Abbass

Saturday, February 7, 2009


Who would have thought that French actor Jean Reno would be appearing in a comedy while playing a serious character? Without being much of a serious film, this very "Hollywooded" film is nothing more than at least a one-hour ride for an entertainment. Without being too original, this movie should please to people who likes to see humour and action combined together.

While on a mission, Hubert (Jean Reno), a tough French cop, inadvertently hits the son of a prefect because Hubert mistook the latter for a criminal. Obviously, Hubert's boss proposes him to take some vacations, which will bring him to Japan. As strange as it might look, Hubert discovers that he must go there in order to go to his "former" Japanese wife's funeral and that he has a daughter called Yumi (which he didn't even know of the existence, in the first place). Because he was mentioned in his wife's will as Yumi's (Ryoko Hirosue) legal guardian, Hubert must keep an eye on her for two days, before she becomes an adult, but he soon discovers that his daughter is being pursued by mysterious killers.

Despite having director Gérard Krawczyk's (Taxi) name attached to it, Wasabi’s simple storyline is hopefully not as thin as it looks. Even though the characters are inserted in an action comedy, the storyline that dictates their motivation and behaviour doesn’t necessarily use the script to pile up all kind of ridiculous situations for humour's sake. After all, there are certainly some flaws in Wasabi’s storyline such as the use of clichés, but it's nice to see that the film doesn't take itself too seriously.

With that said, the use of these clichés can sometimes be seen as cheap shots from the script writers to move (very quickly!) towards its very predictable - albeit enthralling - finale. For example, the action movie hero (in this case Jean Reno) quickly discovers that, while he’s in a public place, he’s being surrounded by bad guys, just because… they wear black suits and shades. Seriously, the villains look much clumsier than secret agents and I’m sure that some members of criminal organization would dare to walk in shopping mall with such an accoutrement.

Finally, thank God this movie never represented France in any serious international film festival! While the performance of the cast is okay, many people - who understand French, naturally - would still appreciate this movie mostly thanks to its simple dialogues (including the little humour that comes with it). Again, forget the lack of realism in this film and you'll enjoy it!

Rating: 3/5

France/Japan (2001)
Length: 94 minutes
Genre: Action comedy
Directed by: Gérard Krawczyk
Screenwriter: Luc Besson
Producer: Luc Besson
Starring: Jean Reno, Ryoko Hirosue, Michel Muller, Carole Bouquet, Yoshi Oida and Kinshiro Oyama

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