The Best Films of 2014

Scarlett Johansson in Under the Skin

 

Of the 350+ films I saw this year, these are the best ones. Some of them were released last year and I’ve been a bit slow getting round to them. Some of them were released even longer ago. The criteria are – I watched them in 2014 and I liked them. That’s it.

 

 

 

The Best

 

Computer Chess (2013, dir: Andrew Bujalski)

Andrew Bujalski, inventor of mumblecore, proved there’s life in the old beast yet with this retro-verité drama about geeks meeting in the 1980s to pit their programs against a chess-playing computer. Shooting on original video cameras in fuzzy-edged boxellated black and white, Bujalski catches the moment when the let-it-all-hang-out era died and our brighter, geekier world was born.

 

In a World… (2013, dir: Lake Bell)

A comedy of modern manners strung onto a plot about voice artists vying for the throne of the newly dead king of the hill. The savviest, screwballiest Hollywood comedy in years came from left-field, from writer/director/star Lake Bell, playing the daughter of a famous voiceover artist trying to get out from under dad’s reputation. It’s sentimental in all the right ways too.

 

The Canyons (2013, dir: Paul Schrader)

The sensational Lindsay Lohan’s “right, I’m back” movie is also Paul Schrader’s best for decades, a turning over of the paving slab to see what low-lifes slither about beneath. It’s The Canyons, not The Hills, so don’t expect Hollywood to come out smelling of anything but bad drugs, mercenary sex and broken dreams.

 

Stranger by the Lake (2013, Alain Guiraudie)

Don’t watch if you can’t take the sight of gay male sex. If you can you get a remarkable French drama about a killer at large on a nudist beach where homosexual omerta guarantees him a free ride, in any way he fancies. It’s beautifully composed, dramatically as taut as you like and even the soundscape is a thing of wonder.

 

Under the Skin (2013, dir: Jonathan Glazer)

How odd that Scarlett Johansson suddenly cornered the female sci-fi market (with this, the Avengers movies, Her and Lucy). This is the best of the bunch, with ScarJo playing a killer (in every sense) alien who cruises round Glasgow, Scotland, enticing men into her white van and then taking them back to her lair. Shot painstakingly with real, unsuspecting Glaswegians picked up off the street playing the dupes, it’s a triumphant return to movies for writer/director Jonathan (Sexy Beast) Glazer.

 

Of Horses and Men (2013, dir: Benedikt Erlingsson)

There are scenes in this elemental Icelandic movie that you will never have seen before, some hilarious, others just jaw-droppingly wha? It’s a unique rural drama that seems to suggest that people are at their happiest and least stressed when they behave most like animals. Watch that young woman swish her tail when the visiting Spaniard shakes his mane. Brilliant.

 

Norte, The End of History (2013, dir: Lav Diaz)

A four hour epic shot in long continuous beautifully framed takes, about a rich young law student and the poor street-pedlar woman whose life he affects maximally without even realising what he’s done. Wait two hours for the first “what the hell just happened” moment, and then another 90 minutes for the second, while a new (to me) master Lav Diaz casts his spell.

 

 

Only Lovers Left Alive (2013, dir: Jim Jarmusch)

If you were going to cast the supercoolest vampire film ever, you’d want Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston in it. And you’d want Jim Jarmusch to direct it, wouldn’t you? That’s exactly what you get with this aching paean to immortal hipsterism shot in crumbling Detroit and labyrinthine old Tangier. No one ever says “I feel so very very tired,” as they do in cornier movies, but that’s the spirit. Plus jokes, hipster jokes.

 

 

Goodbye to Language (2014, dir: Jean-Luc Godard)

At one level Jean-Luc Godard’s boy-meets-girl drama of collaged visual styles and overlapping dialogue looks like the result of using every preset on Final Cut Pro software; at another it’s a brilliant exercise in trying to reformulate film syntax. Genius.

 

Edge of Tomorrow (2014, dir: Doug Liman)

Tom Cruise as a soldier repeatedly being killed, each time back to life a little bit tougher, sharper, wiser in Doug Liman’s sci-fi extravaganza that looks, feels, smells like something Arnold Schwarzenegger would have graced in the 1980s.

 

Welcome to New York (2014, dir: Abel Ferrara)

Abel Ferrara’s drama about/not about Dominic Strauss Khan and his sexual escapades in New York looks like it was shot entirely on one camera, stars Gérard Depardieu and Jacqueline Bisset and suggests obliquely that the people who run the planet are sociopaths.

 

 

 

 

 

Honourable mentions

 

Gary Bond sinks a beer in Wake in Fright
Gary Bond sinks a beer in Wake in Fright

 

Wake in Fright (1971, dir: Ted Kotcheff)

A restored 1971 Australian classic about a nice schoolteacher having a wild weekend of up-close Ocker masculinity out in the Outback of the Outback.

 

Blue Is the Warmest Colour (2013, dir: Abdellatif Kechiche)

Lesbian sex was its big sell but it’s the acting that’s the thing in this slow (as in Slow Food slow) French drama about a young girl’s sentimental education.

 

Klown (2010, dir: Mikkel Nørgaard)

The Danes do comedy in this road movie about two inadequate blokes and a ten-year-old boy on a “tour de pussy”. Inappropriate comedy fans, this is for you.

 

All Is Lost (2013, dir: JC Chandor)

Robert Redford is all at sea on a sinking yacht in the virtually wordless thriller from JC Chandor, who made the banking business sexy with Margin Call and proves lightning does strike twice here.

 

Fossil (2014, dir: Alex Walker)

A British couple in trouble are befriended by a lovey-dovey twosome in this four-hander that looks good, hits a few deep notes and goes as badly whacked-out as outsider-couple dramas generally do.

 

Back to the Garden (2013, dir: Jon Sanders)

Really? A film set in Kent (the “Garden of England”) and made for nothing? Yes, and you won’t find a better recent film about confronting that moment when you realise your parents’ generation are dead and your lot are next.

 

Dallas Buyers Club (2013, Jean-Marc Vallée)

Part of the McConaissance, with Matthew McC as the homo-hating cowpuncher who discovers he’s HIV+ and breaks the law to fix himself. A brilliant exercise in Hollywood storytelling economy.

 

The Past (2013, dir: Asghar Farhadi)

Asghar Farhadi casts The Artist’s Bérénice Bejo as the woman about to marry for the third time, to a man with a wife in coma. How the wife ended up in the coma is what this subversive, complexly plotted drama is all about.

 

The Lunchbox (2013, dir: Ritesh Batra)

A Mumbai desk jockey gets the wrong lunchbox at work and starts up a relationship with the neglected wife who prepared it. Life-changes all round in this lovely romance made with a very light touch.

 

An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker (2013, dir: Danis Tanovic)

A dirt-poor Roma man tries to get medical help for his pregnant wife in this immensely sweet drama that comes with this seal of authenticity – it really happened, and to this lovely couple.

 

The Lego Movie (2014, dir: Phil Lord, Christopher Miller)

The incredibly smart Lego people got Phil Lord and Christopher Miller of 21 Jump Street to script/direct their movie, a fast-moving Star Wars-y affair with Liam Neeson and Will Ferrell its standout voices. Four viewings necessary.

 

Starred Up (2013, dir: David Mackenzie)

The best British jail drama since Scum, all those years ago, with a starry turn by Jack O’Connell as the new lag running into all the usual bad stuff inside. Spectacular.

 

Locke (2013, dir: Steven Knight)

Tom Hardy sitting inside a car for 90 minutes and making phone calls. That’s all there is to this super-high-concept drama that screws more tension out of the situation than you could imagine possible.

 

Blue Ruin (2013, dir: Jeremy Saulnier)

A hillbilly milquetoast is forced into an unlikely revenge-driven killing spree in a drama that grips from the first second and holds you there till the grisly end.

 

The Counselor (2013, dir: Ridley Scott)

Ridley Scott and Cormac McCarthy’s loquacious drama about a high-flying lawyer who hasn’t realised he’s swimming with the sharks (Javier Bardem, Brad Pitt). A sleek, ratchet-like thriller of pitiless inevitability.

 

Sofia’s Last Ambulance (2012, dir: Ilian Metev)

So simple, so effective, a documentary that follows a Bulgarian ambulance team and focuses entirely on them, never the people they’re treating. Tight, unusual, very humane.

X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014, dir: Bryan Singer)

The best of the X-Men movies gains a position in this list because of director Bryan Singer’s sheer ability to keep so many stories, characters and settings constantly in play. And his observation that the 1970s might as well now be an alien universe is interesting too.

 

 

 

 

The Underrated

 

Antonia Campbell-Hughes and Julian Morris in Kelly + Victor
Antonia Campbell-Hughes and Julian Morris in Kelly + Victor

 

Kelly + Victor (2012, dir: Kieran Evans)

A nice lad falls for a totally fucked up girl in this brilliantly acted, nicely observed Liverpool drama about a boy, a girl and a lot of bondage gear. No “ferry across the fucking Mersey” (the director’s words) visible. Hoo-fucking-ray.

 

Seduced and Abandoned (2013, dir: James Toback)

An exquisite and slyly clever documentary that’s not really a documentary at all, about old mates Alec Baldwin and James Toback talking to the movie world’s money men at Cannes. Fascinating, proper inside-Hollywood reveals.

 

Bad Grandpa (2013, dir: Jeff Tremaine)

Johnny Knoxville deserves the Sacha Baron Cohen award for bravery for the audacious stunts he pulls off as the titular grandpa, and Jackson Nicoll – what, 10-years-old maybe? – even more for his turn as the grandson. Yes, it’s a Jackass movie and that ship has sailed, but it’s also a very funny, one-of-a-kind affair.

 

Metro Manila (2013, dir: Sean Ellis)

A poor Filipino family moves to the big bad city and what looks like a drama about the innocent getting monstered turns into one of the best heist films of the year. Brilliantly made, brilliantly acted.

 

Safety Not Guaranteed (2012, dir: Colin Trevorrow)

Aubrey Plaza, one of those girls who can go from hot to not in the blink of an acting eye, dominates this no-budget smartly written mumblecore sci-fi about a rookie journalist chasing down a pudgy middle age guy who claims to have built a time machine. Fabulous.

 

Oldboy (2013, dir: Spike Lee)

Hated because a) it’s not as good as the original and b) people like to kick Spike Lee, who proves here he’s an intelligent, accomplished gun for hire, while Josh Brolin excels as the asshole incarcerated by person(s) unknown for 20 years and now wanting payback.

 

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013, dir: Ben Stiller)

Ben Stiller’s brilliantly crafted reworking of the story that Danny Kaye made a hit film with in 1947 – about a geek whose rich fantasy life starts to invade his real one – is too unclassifiable to hit the “best of” lists.

 

8 Minutes Idle (2012, dir: Mark Simon Hewis)

A simple British comedy about a Bristol call centre that’s clearly been written by someone who’s worked in one – the cameraderie of the drones is palpable, their maddened boredom too. And star Tom Hughes is great as a post-Uni slacker working out what to do next.

 

The Monuments Men (2014, dir: George Clooney)

OK, so it’s not a Tarantino movie. But George Clooney’s amiable comedy about a crack team saving art before the Nazis destroy it isn’t meant to be. It’s meant to be Von Ryan’s Express/Hogan Heroes reimagined. Job very much achieved.

 

The Invisible Woman (2013, dir: Ralph Fiennes)

Felicity Jones is surely going to get an Oscar one day, but this film actually belongs to Ralph Fiennes (who also directs) playing her lover, Charles Dickens, as the world’s first media celeb. It’s a sweet film about love, in the end, with intelligent digressions.

 

Felony (2013, dir: Matthew Saville)

A gritty Oz cop melodrama written by its star, Joel Edgerton, the supercop who fucks up one night and spends the rest of the film getting further and further in the shit as he tries to wriggle free. Tom Wilkinson contributes another of his sneakily intelligent peformances as Edgerton’s superior.

 

All This Mayhem (2014, dir: Eddie Martin)

If you’ve never heard of the Pappas brothers, Ben and Tas, this excellent and shocking documentary about their 1990s rise and fall is well worth the ride, even if you’ve no interest whatsoever in skateboarding.

 

God Help the Girl (2014, dir: Stuart Murdoch)

A strangely 1960s-ish and intensely cute love letter by Belle and Sebastian frontman/director Stuart Murdoch to his star, Emily Browning, here fetishised in a boy-meets-girl Scottish musical recalling – if you’re fanciful – The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.

 

Chef (2014, dir: Jon Favreau)

Jon Favreau is one of the great under-revered directors of our era, and Chef – a road movie about a celebrity chef getting his mojo back – is exactly the sort of easy-looking, effortlessly digestible charmer he seems to be able to knock out at will.

 

Mystery Road (2013, dir: Ivan Sen)

An Aborigine cop tries to find out who killed an Aborigine girl – with stone-faced resistance from his white co-workers – in a beautifully shot Down Under cowboy thriller with one of the best shootout finales ever committed to film.

 

The Congress (2013, dir: Ari Folman)

Waltz with Bashir director Ari Folman pushes animation even further this time, with a psychedelic meditation on fantasy and reality starring Robin Wright as an actress who is digitised and inserted into any set-up the imagineers fancy. Highly highly unusual.

 

 

 

The Overrated

 

Emile Hirsch and Paul Rudd in Prince Avalanche
Emile Hirsch and Paul Rudd in Prince Avalanche

 

Prince Avalanche (2013, dir: David Gordon Green)

Two guys paint a road and David Gordon Green swerves back into George Washington territory in a film that’s Waiting for Godot with Girl Trouble. Tim Orr’s camera is lovely, 1970s and sun-dappled, but there’s a hole where the meaning should be.

 

Blue Jasmine (2013, dir: Woody Allen)

Another of Woody Allen’s overhyped “returns to form”, this time featuring a relentlessly over-acting Cate Blanchett as a super-entitled bitch whose ship has sailed. Watch instead Sally Hawkins.

 

Thor: The Dark World (2013, dir: Alan Taylor)

Everything that’s wrong with bad superhero films in one film – too many characters, too much gobbledegook, a lack of humour, though Tom Hiddleston’s Loki remains a fun watch. More to come (sigh).

 

The Butler (2013, dir: Lee Daniels)

Lee Daniels’s epic about the black butler (Forest Whitaker) to a whole bunch of POTUSes attempts to square the radical tradition with the gradualist conservative move towards black civil rights. Proficient, nothing more.

 

Saving Mr Banks (2013, dir: John Lee Hancock)

How Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) strongarmed PL Travers (Emma Thompson) into letting him film her Mary Poppins. The leads are genuinely fabulous and brilliant, but all that Travers backstory? Really?

 

Frozen (2013, dir: Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee)

On my own here, I know, a triumph for lovers of adenoidal singing of the sort of Broadway songs that Eric Idle spoofed so brilliantly with his Song That Goes Like This. The snowman and reindeer are funny but the central characters, what utter drips.

 

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014, dir: Wes Anderson)

It still hasn’t sunk into Wes Anderson’s head that a) a little whimsy goes a long way and b) it has to be in the service of something, if only a good story. Here, though Ralph Fiennes is joyously funny as a devious owner of an old Mitteleuropean hotel, as a film it’s Sachertorte with cream, then more cream.

 

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014, dir: Marc Webb)

Marc Webb’s second pop at Spider-Man is immeasurably worse than the first, fails to weld live-action into increasingly cartoonish set-ups, has too many villains, and feels like little more than a franchise placeholder or a sop to fanboys who will buy any old crap.

 

22 Jump Street (2014, dir: Phil Lord, Christopher Miller)

The jokes were all done in 21 Jump Street – and Phil Lord and Christopher Miller’s extensive running gag in the closing credits, in which they trail the franchise’s development all the way to 34 Jump Street: Return of the Ghost – shows they know it. Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum remain a hot combo though.

 

And if you want to watch or buy any of the films, this Amazon link will allow you to do just that – enjoy!

 

© Steve Morrissey 2014

 

 

 

17 February 2014-02-17

Jake Macapagal, Metro Manila

Out in the UK This Week

 

 

Metro Manila (Independent, cert 15, VOD)

A friend of mine used to know Sean Ellis, the director of Metro Manila, when he was an assistant to photographer Nick Knight. And there being nothing quite so irksome as the success of those even halfway close to us – I’m kidding, though not much – I was prepared to hate this, Ellis’s film debut, and was ready to file it alongside the many other failed attempts by stills photographers to join the movie guys. I was wrong. This is a great film. Made with a keen eye for detail though not photographically showy at all – the usual curse – it follows a dirt-poor Filipino family into the big bad city, where they are scammed, punked and hornswoggled to the point of destitution. Mum ends up working in a dancing bar, where the nine-year-old daughter is being eyed by the bar owner as a whore in waiting. Dad, after a few false starts, gets a job working as a bullion driver. And here is where the film takes wing, as it morphs into a thriller following the naive ex-farmer as he is groomed for something dubious by his fellow security guys. That’s enough plot to give a flavour of a film that’s not the misery-fest its “poor refugees from out of town” opening scenes suggest, a fact reinforced by Jake Macapagal’s constantly evolving and remarkably natural performance as the green rookie with hidden depths.

Metro Manila – at Amazon

 

 

 

Blue Jasmine (Warner, cert 12, Blu-ray/DVD, download)

Woody Allen changes tack with something approaching a socially engaged drama, about a super-entitled rich bitch (Cate Blanchett) learning to slum it with her sister (Sally Hawkins) after her life with crooked wheeler-dealer Alec Baldwin (who better?) has come crashing down. “He lived like a big shot on other people’s money,” says Hawkins a propos Baldwin in a film that might be about the recent financial crash and how those who experienced it are gearing up for a round two.

And it at least tangentially is, though Allen is after something else in his portrait of Jasmine – a fantasist who may not know much but she does know that self-delusion plus money looks very much like self-belief. Things go better with cash. Even the human mindset.

Blanchett’s performance as the teary Xanax- and Stoli-quaffing monster is interesting – she’s clearly overacting just enough to get Oscar interested (which has proved to be the case). Much better is Sally Hawkins as Ginger, her decent but exasperated sister, in a thankless role as the one who stayed close to her working class roots and is therefore blameless.

So who’s the bad guy here? Jasmine – who struggled to escape, and is even now, desperate and busted, going to night school to try and escape again? Or Ginger – who stayed and is about marry a big-mouthed cartoon Italian (Bobby Cannavale) who is only three days away from sitting around all day in a singlet and shouting at her?

Blue Jasmine – at Amazon

 

 

 

Bad Grandpa (Paramount, cert 15, download)

Johnny Knoxville works the “same but different” groove in this spin-off from Jackass that adds a gotcha plot to the stunts he used to pull with Wee Man, Steve-O and Bam Margera. Ostensibly a drama about an old guy on a cross-country trek with his grandson, the film parks this concept about every ten minutes for scenes that involve Knoxville in deep disguise as Bad Grandpa getting into the sort of scrapes that ask a lot of the great American public.

The great American public mostly come through. But it’s when they don’t that the film gets really interesting and Knoxville’s bravery becomes most apparent.

So, the opening scene of him getting his dick caught in a soda machine, and passers-by alternately trying to help or point and laugh, that’s a gently amusing warm-up. But the sequence where supposedly 80-year-old Grandpa starts undressing in a bar full of women waiting to be entertained by oiled black bucks, that’s through-the-fingers funny. Especially when Bad Grandpa’s impossibly low-hanging balls start swinging, the women start screaming and the dancers start lining up to take a swing back.

Accompanying him on this frequently hilarious journey is Jackson Nicoll, a fearless nine-year-old who thinks nothing of telling people in a doctor’s waiting room that his mother is a meth whore, but whose big moment comes when he gets into disguise and enters a pageant for pre-pubescent girls.

“I’ll switch off when it stops being funny,” I told myself at the start of Bad Grandpa. I watched to the end.

Bad Grandpa – at Amazon

 

 

 

This Ain’t California (Luxin, cert 15, DVD)

This Ain’t California is a drama posing as a documentary. Not a mockumentary seeking to poke fun, not a pretend found-footage affair, but a film that goes out of its way to pose as a documentary about a bunch of East Germans, now around 40, meeting up to discuss their youth. In particular the youth of one of their number, Denis aka Panik, a 1980s kid who became a skateboarding legend on the streets of East Berlin, where disapproving passers-by would shout the German equivalent of “this ain’t California”.

The local secret police, the Stasi, weren’t too happy about the bleach-blond hair, the cap-sleeve shirts and the slaloming through the cityscape either, though as one of Panik’s old mates points out, skateboarding and the communist East weren’t that out of sync – kids have always liked things that roll “and there certainly wasn’t a shortage of concrete.”

Panik’s rise to urban notoriety is one half of the story, the other less obvious half is Panik’s now 40something friends who have spent evenly lives evenly split between communism and capitalism. They’re an interesting exercise in compare and contrast, which is precisely what they do in scenes around the camp fire when they’re not reminiscing about Panik.

On top of all this is the familiar story of communism brought down by Levis, aka consumer expectations that the state couldn’t meet. Some people won’t like the fact that Marten Persiel’s film looks like a documentary (I jotted down “is this for real?” in my notes only halfway through), some won’t notice. It’s a good story well told which ever way you lean.

This Ain’t California – at Amazon

 

 

 

The Fifth Estate (E One, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)

The rise and fall of Julian Assange – the founder of Wikileaks whose outing of corrupt Icelandic bankers, Swiss technocrats enabling super-rich tax-dodgers, and the helicopter crew who fired on unarmed journalists in Afghanistan made him a pop-up pop hero.

Bill Condon’s film is based on the book of former Wikileaks number two Daniel Domscheit-Berg (played here with his usual intelligence by Daniel Brühl).

On to Benedict Cumberbatch, as Assange, so convincing that within five seconds of his first appearance as the white wizard of Wikileaks it might as well be the man himself. Which will doubtless make Assange fume.

What will make Assange fume even more is the pseudo-interview with Assange (ie Cumberbatch) right at the end, who launches a tirade against a film that he (ie Cumberbatch as Assange, though it is Assange’s stated view too) claims was out to get him. Just one of many ploys designed to persuade us that the film isn’t out to get him, that we’re watching an even-handed drama, and that the man himself has been given some right of reply.

On top of all this, let’s note that the film makes no mention of those Swedish rape allegations etc – so it must be on Assange’s side, right? Not quite. Note how every single person in this film who isn’t called Assange seems to be on the side of virtue – and that includes Laura Linney as a bright, smart and trustworthy US government wonk and her measured, considerate sidekick Stanley Tucci (who does precisely nothing, but does it brilliantly, as usual) – journalists, fellow Wikileaks personnel, in fact everyone is just so wholesome and decent.

What we’re getting here, in short, is a hatchet job, though a fascinating one, because it works so hard yet so subtly to hide its true nature. And it’s a good thing the process is so fascinating because watching people tapping on screens and doing the West Wing walk-and-talk does begin to pall after a while.

The Fifth Estate – at Amazon

 

 

 

John Dies at the End (Eureka, cert 18, Blu-ray/DVD)

Don Coscarelli hasn’t made a film since 2002’s Bubba Ho-Tep, which was a comic horror imagining a retired Elvis and an elderly JFK (who is incidentally black) being monstered by a mummy in an old folks home.

John Dies at the End shows Coscarelli hasn’t lost his sense of the absurd, since this one features a young black character called Robert Marley, a dealer of a drug called Soy Sauce that seems to bend the time/space continuum in all sorts of weird shapes.

There’s not much point laying out too many plot details, apart from to say that Chase Williamson and Rob Mayes play a pair of young ghostbusting paranormalists who have ingested some of this Soy Sauce and are now finding that door handles turn into penises, a telephone conversation can be had by picking up a bratwurst, and that frozen meat has developed a tendency to assemble itself into some sort of chill-cabinet zombie monster thing.

This is in fact just the beginning – talking dogs, cops with exploding eyeballs, white fuzz “infecting every man, woman and child”.

John Dies at the End is an incoherent bag of a billion mad ADHD ideas but it lacks, same as Bubba Ho-Tep, an organising intelligence. If you are on Soy Sauce yourself, you might love it.

John Dies at the End – at Amazon

 

 

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (StudioCanal, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)

A contender for the best musical out of France ever, Jacques Demy’s 1964 film, the second of a romantic trilogy (1961’s Lola and 1967’s The Young Girls of Rochefort are the other two), is also a brilliant showcase for the music of Michel Legrand.

If you know Legrand from The Windmills of Your Mind (theme to both versions of The Thomas Crown Affair), his aching, string-driven score to this teary romance won’t be unfamiliar. And there’s plenty of it, because Cherbourg is entirely sung through, like an opera – no spoken speech whatsoever. Think Les Misérables, but better.

As for the plot, that’s operatic too – beautiful young Geneviève (Catherine Deneueve) falls in love with her handsome lover Guy, who is promptly shipped off to fight in the war in Algeria, leaving the whoops-pregnant young girl to the machinations of her mother, who quickly marries her off to that nice Roland (Marc Michel) who has been making big rich eyes at her.

If opera isn’t your bag, don’t worry too much. The colour co-ordinated sets and costumes are clearly inspired by the work of Hollywood greats such as Stanley Donen and Vincente Minnelli. The singing is glorious too, though Deneuve herself does not sing. In fact all the key players are dubbed, but then so was Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady and it didn’t do that film any harm.

Scanned from three black and white separation masters which Demy had had struck because he knew the Eastmancolor was going to fade, this 50th anniversary restoration is as good as it’s ever going to look. And if it’s not as contrasty or solid as Technicolor, that’s maybe appopriate for a very pastel-coloured film featuring a fragile-looking lead in Deneuve and powered by a plot about love not conquering all.

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg – at Amazon

 

 

© Steve Morrissey 2014