Lourdes – A Review

28 03 2010

Sylvie Testud in 'Lourdes'

For the first half hour or so, Jessica Hausner’s new film Lourdes feels almost like a documentary. It opens with a shot of a hotel dining room, as a group of pilgrims, many of them wheelchair-bound, arrives in the eponymous French town late one evening. Among them is Christine, played by Sylvie Testud, a quiet young woman robbed of the use of her hands and legs by multiple sclerosis. Fed by a volunteer nurse and dependent on others to push her around, Christine only goes on trips like this, she half-jokes, because they offer her a rare chance to ‘see the world’.

Over the next few days we follow the pilgrims as they visit a succession of shrines, baths and Catholic masses, in search of spiritual and, as becomes increasingly apparent, physical healing. The camera hovers for the most part at a detached, respectful distance, leaving us to pick out Christine and her companions in the huge crowds generated by industrial-scale pilgrimage tourism. (Can it be a coincidence that, like Wally of Where’s Wally fame, Christine wears a little red hat?).     

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At The Movies with Don Draper

21 03 2010
Mad Men, John Hamm, Don Draper, Matthew Weiner

Draper thinks about having a fag

Warning: the following article contains spoilers, and makes gratuitous use of the term ‘boffing’ as a euphemism for sexual intercourse.

One of the many pleasures to be found in Mad Men, the slow-burning, smoke-filled US television drama currently airing on BBC4, surely lies in spotting the countless cinematic references with which almost every episode is filled. Indeed, as the third series of the Sixties-set show continues to unfold on British screens, it’s becoming increasingly apparent just how much of a role movies from the period have in shaping creator Matthew Weiner’s vision.

For a start there’s the way that Mad Men looks. Like many films from the Fifties and early Sixties the show is, by and large, studio-bound. Don Draper, Peggy Olsen et al spend most of their time in the kinds of New York offices, apartments and bars that, with a few subtle modifications, are familiar to us already from films like The Apartment, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and The Girl Can’t Help It. And then there’s the way that Mad Men is shot: no hand-held malarkey here, just the kind of smooth, conventional compositions and strong, vibrant colours that one would find in any mainstream Hollywood movie from the period.

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Oscar The Grouch

12 03 2010

Some Oscars, yesterday

Around this time of year, casual acquaintances who know that I’m interested in cinema will often try to make small-talk with me about the Oscars. “So, who do you think’s going to win Best Actor?” they’ll ask, or “Will you be staying up for the ceremony?”. After the awards have been handed out, they’ll approach me to discuss the merits of the winning film, perhaps, or the stars and the movies that have missed out.

Now I’m as much a fan of idle speculation as the next man but, despite the topicality of the subject matter and despite my interest in most things film-related, I inevitably find myself struggling to think of anything to say. The fact is, I have to admit, rather sheepishly, the Oscars have never really meant that much to me, and they probably never will.

It seems that I’m far from alone in feeling this way. For most of the past decade, US television audiences for the Academy Awards have been falling year-on-year. In the Eighties and Nineties, the ceremony regularly attracted domestic audiences of more than 45 million. 49 million watched Forrest Gump win Best Picture in 1995, and in 1998 an unprecedented 57 million tuned in to see James Cameron proclaim himself “king of the world” in the wake of his Titanic success. Last year, by contrast, only 37 million watched as Slumdog Millionaire was crowned Best Picture. And even that was an improvement on 2008, when only a paltry 32 million tuned in.

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The Straight Story

2 03 2010

Colin Firth & Julianne Moore in 'A Single Man'

Colin Firth won a well-deserved BAFTA last week for his portrayal of a bereaved gay college professor in Tom Ford’s A Single Man. In two weeks’ time, Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor will appear as cell-mates and soul-mates in I Love You Phillip Morris, the true story of a gay ex-cop and con-artist who repeatedly escapes from jail to be with the man he loves.

On the surface, both films seem to represent a bold departure from Hollywood tradition, firstly by casting ‘name’ actors as homosexual characters, and secondly by placing these characters squarely at the centre of the narrative.

It wasn’t so long ago, after all, that even the hint of a gay private life could be enough to ruin a career in the movies. During Hollywood’s ‘Golden Age’, studio publicists were keen to ensure that actors like Cary Grant and Montgomery Clift never appeared in public without a starlet on their elbow. More recently, stars like Tom Cruise and John Travolta have taken swift legal action to quash rumours of same-sex affairs. Films about gay life and culture have long been relegated to their own ‘special interest’ ghetto, and there’s long been a taboo among actors, straight or otherwise, about appearing in gay roles.

So, with recent films like Brokeback Mountain, Milk, A Single Man and I Love You Phillip Morris, is all this slowly starting to change?

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