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






Macki Wea and Matthieu Kassovitz in Rebellion



This ambitious and almost entirely successful drama sees Mathieu Kassovitz, the director of La Haine, back in France and back on form after a less than stellar time in Hollywood churning out studio cack such as Gothika and Babylon AD.

It tells the true story of a small kerfuffle in 1988 in New Caledonia, a far-flung outpost of France, and follows a crack GIGN team – a SWAT team with brains – led by Captain Philippe Legorjus (Kassovitz) as they seek to restore order after a breakaway group of separatists seize a group of gendarmes and hold them hostage in a cave in a remote part of the island.

Because of the way France organises the administration of what other countries would call colonies, New Caledonia in 1988 functioned as an integral part of the French Republic. So, as Legorjus reminds his unit en route for the Pacific, the people they are dealing with might be dark of skin and might have worn penis gourds a couple of generations ago. But they are French. Liberté, égalité and fraternité are their due just as they are any Parisian’s.

That’s the theory, at any rate. Complicating Legorjus’s humane, principled, softly-softly approach is the situation back home, where presidential elections are underway and the incumbent left-wing President Mitterand is being harried by his right wing Prime Minister Jacques Chirac, with the remote island increasingly becoming the focus of a dick-measuring contest between the two.

In scene after scene we see Kassovitz teasing his way towards the rebels, via village elders, splinter groups, a local minister, intent on being the honest broker who will defuse the situation. At the same time in face-to-face meetings with local officials, off-the-record conversations with journalists, phone calls to moles within the Elysée Palace, he’s also picking his way through layers of sabre-rattling military, double-dealing politicians, back towards the power brokers, hoping to head everybody off at the pass and avoid a bloody military escalation.

We’re watching scene after scene after scene of exposition, in other words, and it is remarkable that the director who, in Gothika, could not make the sight of Halle Berry going into a dark hole in the ground even faintly scary, manages to make all this blah about as gripping as it could be.

That’s not to say that there isn’t the occasional dangle over the pit of ennui. This is a long film and it does feel it. Kassovitz’s decision to keep faith with his source material – the real Legorjus’s book, La Morale et L’Action – is against him at times, complexity and length not always being the friends of drama.

Realising this, the director works to keep up interest, favouring brisk no-nonsense scenes, money shots of military hardware, and long stretches of dialogue delivered in “napalm in the morning” style. There’s even, just occasionally, a bit of Willard voiceover.

If Kassovitz is winking towards Coppola I don’t think he’s attempting his own Apocalypse Now – Rebellion is far more about the tension between soldiers and politicians, action and negotiation, and is at its best on the exploitable imperfection of democracy; how a baying media at election time can encourage a politician towards sacrificing principle or even human life.

Kassovitz doesn’t only direct, he’s also by a very long way the lead actor here, in almost every scene and never less than entirely believable as the lean, tough, principled military man who’s seen it all and learnt a bit of humanity on the way.

Cinematographically, Marc Koninckx is as adept at showing us military men winding up the war machine as he is in delivering aerial shots of the island that show it as a long sliver of beauty in an azure sea. He’s equally at home on the laidback local lifestyle of New Caledonia (the film is actually shot in Tahiti) as he is at depictions of the fog of war.

Klaus Badelt’s spare soundtrack is also worth a mention. Particularly in the film’s early stages when it seems to consist of sounds like a battleship being hit by a tree trunk, all overlaid with the rat-tat-tatting of snare drums – militaristic and full of foreboding – it guides us into the action as surely as the screenplay.

What’s perhaps most unusual of all about this film is that Kassovitz takes us into a war zone and then doesn’t give us a war film. That’s peculiar, audacious. It’s nice to have him back.

© Steve Morrissey 2013


 Rebellion – at Amazon