26 August 2013-08-26

Something in the Air

Out in the UK this week



Something in the Air (Artificial Eye, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)

If you’ve got any interest at all in how the revolutionary moment of 1968 spawned the postmodern (ie conservative) era that followed it, Olivier Assayas’s brilliant, period-distilling drama is for you. Following a wannabe artist from the revolutionary barricades of Paris, when it was required that all personal preferences came with political justification, through the long intellectual wrangles, splits, and factionalising of what was once called the Left, we follow a young man and woman on a journey that takes them from letting it all hang out to getting a decent job and knuckling down (or not). Musically it’s a journey from The Incredible String Band to glam rock, with the soundtrack every bit as spot on as the political posturing, the clothes, the attitudes to sex and the whole damn thing. Assayas was 18 in 1971, though even before I looked that up I knew he had to have been there, smoked that, to have produced something this immersive, this appreciative of both the excesses and triumphs of a bygone age of unusual freedom.

Something in the Air – at Amazon



A Hijacking (Arrow, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)

Films that split their narrative usually have a hard time of it but A Hijacking succeeds brilliantly. Featuring faces familiar from TV shows Borgen and The Killing, it’s about a Norwegian ship hijacked by Somali pirates, and once the pirates are on board, the drama follows two distinct tracks. Out at sea are the guys sweating it out (and the pirates do look genuinely scary – all wild-eyed and juiced on khat). Meanwhile back at base in Norway the negotiators are trying to extract the maximum number of men for the minimum amount of cash. These negotiations are what give it its power, that and the contrast between the cool, wire frames and grey heads at head office and the bearded, dirty and desperate men on board ship.

A Hijacking – at Amazon


Rebellion (Lionsgate, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)

Mathieu Kassovitz is back in France, after a less than stellar time in Hollywood, with his first decent film since 1995’s La Haine, an intelligent, politically nuanced drama about a kick-ass team of hardened army specialists sent in to a far-flung French outpost to sort out a nasty kidnap situation. It’s a war film without the war, audaciously, a film with a lot of exposition that just about gets away with it, thanks to the attractive New Caledonia settings (Tahiti, actually), director Kassovitz’s urgent sense of pace plus lush cinematography and a percussive soundtrack that helps weld everything into a whole. A bit long, a touch schematic? Yes, but there’s more than enough to compensate.

Rebellion – at Amazon



Simon Killer (Eureka, cert 18, Blu-ray/DVD)

After Afterschool Antonio Campos’s edgy disaffected high school drama, we have Simon Killer, an edgy disaffected thriller set in night-time Paris and featuring an excellent performance by Brady Corbet as an immature braggart falling into a relationship with a beautiful prostitute (Mati Diop). He’s a killer, the title has told us that. But who’s he going to kill? That’s the focus of Campos’s extended tease, whose painful introspection matches that of the character of Simon himself.

Simon Killer – at Amazon



Extraction (Signature, cert 18, Blu-ray/DVD)

Fans of Inception will most likely enjoy writer/director Nir Paniry’s knock-off version, the filmic equivalent of a track suit you buy on a street market. It’s serviceable, fits pretty ok, but it’s fairly shabbily made – acting and directing both leave a bit to be desired. However Paniri does understand what shape the film should be, is a half-decent writer and his plot – scientist is injected into a criminal’s mind – has plenty going for it, throws the odd left hand turn and even manages to strike what you might call the Philip K Dick Total Recall pose in its discussion of a human being the sum of his memories, or not.

Extraction aka Extracted – at Amazon



Olympus Has Fallen (Lionsgate, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)

Ambling back towards form, though very slowly, director Antoine Fuqua is off his Training Day pace but knows how to keep things moving in this actioner that’s been called “Die Hard in the White House”. Gerard Butler is the Bruce Willis surrogate, a busted spook who alone can save the US president after the North Koreans invade the White House (I believe that original it was the Chinese who invaded, until someone pointed out that the Chinese now buy films like this). Fuqua stages a good tight opening, follows up with impressive scenes of attack and destruction with much in the way of facial disfigurement, blood and yowling. And then Butler arrives to save POTUS, to the sound of Wagnerian horns, the banging door, the ascending and descending pentatonics. Does he do it? What do you think? Though I wished for every second of the film that Bruce Willis were doing it. Or Jason Statham. Anyone with a hint of irony in their facial make-up. A hint of anything.

Olympus Has Fallen – at Amazon



The Land of Hope (Third Window, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)

A much straighter drama from Sion Sono than we’re normally used to, a companion piece to his Himizu, I suppose, following three couples in the aftermath of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear meltdown of 2011. Conformity and individualism are what’s under analysis as much as post-tsunami society – with those on the side of obeying the government, going along with the majority view, constantly being presented as the problem, not the solution. Dumb animals, a woman with dementia, a too-timid husband to a properly fearful pregnant wife – these are the metaphorical carriers of Sion Sono’s heavy-handed message, orchestrated to snatches of Mahler, the odd shot reminiscent of Ozu, not at all what you’d expect from an auteur most associated with his feverish Hate Trilogy. By the end things have sneaked back a bit towards what you do expect – overheated melodrama. But all in all The Land of Hope is a reminder of what a fluid, emotionally connected film-maker Sono is.

The Land of Hope – at Amazon



© Steve Morrissey 2013





A Hijacking

Pilou Asbaek as Mikkel

London Film Festival, 2012-10-22

Stories of Somali pirates hijacking ships and holding people hostage for months regularly make the news bulletins but rarely seem to make it to the big screen. Which is odd considering that foreigners waving guns about in front of frightened innocents’ faces is a staple of cinema.

Enter A Hijacking (original title: Kapringen), a Danish offering that welds a cast familiar to viewers of Danish TV sensation Borgen to a twin-track plot – one half takes place on the high seas, the other back at base where negotiations for the hostages’ release are taking place. The result is a drama so involving that, though I’d dragged myself to the cinema with a heavy cold, for just over 100 minutes I didn’t care a bit.

The writer/director, Tobias Lindholm, also has Borgen previous, and he’s working to his strengths. A Hijacking is a strongly procedural drama in which human interaction and the divination of character is the driver. It’s probably best to say right now that there’s no Steven Seagal Under Siege business, just in case you were hoping for a knock-off Die Hard with eyebrow-raised “I also cook” payoff dialogue.

The plot is simple. Out on the Indian Ocean a ship is preparing to head back home when it’s boarded by a gang of gun-happy pirates. With them they’ve brought a negotiator who can speak English. Back in Copenhagen company boss Peter Ludvigsen (Søren Malling) – a ball-breaking businessman with take-no-prisoners negotiating skills – is suddenly presented with a situation he has no experience of. Except, in his estimation, he has. He’s a deal-maker, after all. So, ignoring advice to get in a go-between who does this sort of thing for a living, Peter decides to go it alone and get his men out alive, but at a price that won’t hurt the company.

As I said, the film has a double focus – out on the high seas, where the ship’s cook Mikkel (Pilou Asbaek), an affable bear, is our increasingly faltering surrogate, and back at base, where Peter is trying to screw down the price without screwing up entirely.

The double-focus procedural is a tricky act to pull off – Apollo 13 does it memorably, but most films that try it fail doubly. A Hijacking succeeds because it decides early on which of its two locations is key – and it’s the boardroom. This puts all concerned in familiar Borgen territory, of personal drama, procedure and millimetre-precise acting, rather than running, gunplay and “move, move, move!” dialogue.

That’s a wise decision. In the film’s favour, is the fact that as viewers we’ve no problem at all working out where we are, hairy Norwegian sailors in vests being instantly distinguishable from suited-and-booted steel-haired chaps in wire-frame spectacles. The natural colour palette – tweaked by cinematographer Magnus Nordenhof Jønck’s unshowy filtration – makes things doubly obvious. All is cool and Nordic back in Denmark, bright and warm out in the Indian Ocean.

One odd bit of casting turns out to be in the film’s favour too. Gary Porter playing Connor, Peter’s advisor in Copenhagen is, it turns out, not an actor at all but a real-life negotiator in “hostage situations”. I’m not sure he intended this to be the case but he’s killingly believable early on in meetings when he’s gleaning information from the ship, intel which he then translates back to Peter and his team in management-speak, having, in the process, added no value whatsoever.

Søren Malling as Peter
Søren Malling as Peter

There’s a parallel advisor/negotiator, out on the ship, a shifty Somali (possibly) named Omar who is all wide-eyed claims that he’s as much a hostage as the crew, that he’s a man brought in by the pirates to do a job. Whether he is or isn’t is one of the real masterstrokes of the film, and the acting of Abdihakin Asgar as Omar is also one of the film’s real joys – what a plausible silver-tongued piece of work he is.

This film works because it avoids the Seagal-style stuff entirely, opting instead for realism which would verge on the boring – men lying on bunks, sleeping and so on – if it hadn’t set up its tense throughline so well.

You could take issue with the passing of time in A Hijacking. Some people on the way out of the screening I was at certainly did. We’re at three days into the hijacking, then a couple of weeks, then three months, then six months and so on, without any real sense of time passing. The men’s beards don’t seem to grow much, for instance.

It didn’t bother me. I was too tightly held by the film’s basic coin-flip premise – will Peter, by playing hardball with his insanely low offers of ransom money, get his men killed? Or will the Somalis take a much much lower price than they’re asking for – they want $19 million, Peter’s offering $250,000?

On this question of the price of men’s lives the whole film turns. And what a tense, realistic turn it is.

A Hijacking is released in the UK on Friday 10 May 2013-05-10

A Hijacking – at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2012