Saturday, 14 August 2010

Two Excellent Films to Watch For

I watched two great films this week, one of which is sure to make my top five of 2010.

I Am Love

Even by Italian-film standards, I Am Love, directed by Luca Guadagnino, is an unusual film. With what I can only describe as a quirky use of cinematography, symbolism and music, this tale of a bored housewife in a rich Italian family in Milan tries to be something special. Much of it works for me, so I guess it succeeds in being special, but some parts apparently went over my head (this film needs a group discussion afterwards - I got lucky and watched it with a group who saw much, including rather obvious religious symbolism, that I had missed). Of course, this is also true of many of Italy’s classic films of the sixties, which I Am Love reminded me of.

Tilda Swinton stars as the housewife and the film works largely because of her perfect performance. With few words (this is a very quiet film), she conveys a wide range of emotions as her life takes an unexpected turn away from boredom and begins to spin out of control. Some of this is predictable, some not, but it is always fascinating.

While the film focuses on Swinton’s character, I Am Love is about the whole family and we are given a glimpse into a variety of interesting family and business dynamics leading to the rather intense ending. Don’t leave when the credits start to roll - it ain’t over yet. ***+

Winter’s Bone

Wow! Wow!

Need I say more? You must know by now that any review I write which begins with two wows is going to end with four stars and probably a place high up in my top ten films of the year (I think this is my favourite film of 2010, so far).

Winter’s Bone is an amazingly realistic film about life in backwoods Missouri (I do not mean this in a disparaging way but simply descriptive). It’s about a seventeen-year-old girl (played magnificently by Jennifer Lawrence) trying to take care of her two younger siblings (her mother is virtually catatonic and her father is missing) who suddenly finds out that her father has put the house up as part of his bail and now has vanished. If she doesn’t find him, she loses the house, which is about all they have.

This is a very dark, scary and disturbing film. Because it feels so realistic, you get a sense of what’s going on (and has gone on) even when you don’t see it, so the violence you don’t see is even more disturbing than what you do see. Fear plays a major role in this haunting film (almost everyone in the film is afraid) and that fear can’t help but become part of you as you watch the film.

Winter’s Bone takes place in one of those parts of North America that still seem somehow lost in the past. Walter, you and I lived (and you still live) in a part of the world like that, where the only connection many people in rural areas have with the present is a satellite dish.

What makes this film so special is the way the many characters you meet, even for just a few minutes, feel so real that you get a sense of their entire past histories without being told anything about them. This is a testament to the flawless acting (John Hawkes is a standout here) as well as the great direction by Debra Granik.

Because the characters are so real, their actions always feel authentic. One could spend hours analysing each person in the film (why they do what they do and act the way they act), making Winter’s Bone a unique member of the ‘profoundly humanising films’ club (though the humans involved are all hurting). It is also a film with one memorable scene after another. I don’t want to give anything away, so I won’t say more, but this is an absolute must-see (though NOT for the faint-hearted). **** My mug is up and full of the finest brew.


  1. Winter's Bone has been on my list of movies to see for a while - since I saw a trailer that intrigued me. I'm certainly convinced that this is a must see. I'm still trying to decide what I think of your comment about where I live, though. Labelling some places around here as having "the only connection with the present through a satellite dish" strikes me in a way that is hard to describe. I understand what you're getting at. Maybe, though, I don't think the issue is which era they're living in as which ethic/ethos they're living in. Some places (not the ones you're thinking of from this movie, I suspect) are quite old-fashioned but I don't think that makes them disconnected from the present.

    As to the other movie, you haven't sold me on it being worth watching. First - Tilda Swinton (blame the characters she's often played, but I just find her hard to watch). Second - it sounds boring. Third - if I'm not with your group, I'm likely to miss the symbolism and thus we're back to the second point.

  2. I understand both of your comments and can't really add anything to them. I suspect you (and many others) might find I Am Love boring.

    As to your first comment, I can only say that watching Winter's Bone reminded me of some of the areas in both Maine and NB which were close to where you live, thus my comment. I may have phrased my observation wrongly with regard to connection with the present but I leave that conversation until after you've seen the film.

  3. Well definitely two mugs up here, and I agree with all of your comments (except perhaps my nit-picking comments about connection with the present - perhaps that point is best made with regard to the centrality of "cooking crank" which is a very present issue in their world). I find it interesting but hard to put into words how the grim realism of this film grips you and draws you into their world so well, while other very realistic films just make you want to shut the movie off. Is it because you empathize with the protagonist so quickly? It's also anthrologically fascinating (assuming it is authentic, which it feels like). It's amazing to see how all of the characters are behaving within the code of their world - and, viewed from outside at least, the incredible paradoxes this creates in terms of helping/hurting each other, social responsibilities and kinship ties. Cleary ****.