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LFF 2016 Review: Certain Women

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Certain WomenReviewer:  Chris Haydon

Director:  Kelly Reichardt

Starring:  Laura Dern, Kristen Stewart, Michelle Williams, Jared Harris & Lily Gladstone

Certificate: N/A

Release Date: Currently Pending (UK)

 

There are few American filmmakers who bring as much texture and rusticity to their frames like Kelly Reichardt. Equally, there are even fewer who are able to produce such heightened decibels with palpable silence.

Certain Women is a work of exquisite tone; both visually and audibly. The ethereal howl of nature and the frosty breath of the sleepy Montana people creates a lyrical and potent arrangement of emotional shades. And when the picture’s single usage of narrative score consumes, you’ll finally realise the overwhelming weight of what you are witnessing.

Reichardt’s screenplay – adapted from Montana-based author Maile Meloy – tells a melodic triptych of female character studies; all disparate in scenario and progression, yet somehow feeling entirely at one. Laura Dern’s morally stressed lawyer (also named Laura) arrives on-screen postcoital with a married man; cocooned in bed linen; scantily clad. She has been trying to assist construction labourer Fuller (Jared Harris) for some eight months, who is pursuing a unattainable injury claim and fails to listen or respect Laura’s legal counsel because of her sex. It isn’t long before he favours a more extreme and ambiguous course of action to claim what’s “rightfully his”.

Certain Women

From here we are airdropped with striking contrast. The scene prior, stuffy and uncompromising; the next, sprawlingly vacant. Michelle Williams’ Gina – a nest-building material figure – absorbs the ambience of her environment as she jogs alongside the icy lakes, amidst the wiry trees. She is attempting with the aid of her husband Ryan (James Le Gros) and the disdain of teenage daughter Guthrie (Sara Rodier) to build a new home; one complete with authentic bricks and mortar. She and Ryan visit an estranged elderly and psychologically-distant family friend with the aim of purchasing an array of seemingly unwanted native materials.

Reichardt’s subdued and restrained direction keeps the audience lingering in her imagery. Every static and open shot of densely weathered land maintains a haunting atmosphere; in the reserved stillness of her lens lies inescapable foreboding. The sporadic voices of her film amplify such isolation, and the creative choice to keep orchestral music almost entirely absent only renders the feeling further.

By the time we enter the third – and most nakedly profound – narrative strand, such a thick undercurrent of nuance commands, and the results are quietly astonishing. A bittersweet, palatable tale of connection arrives in the form of Jamie (newcomer Lily Gladstone), a lonely horse rancher who floats through spaces as silently as shadow. Her muted existence and clockwork routines somehow venture down an unforeseen path as she aimlessly stumbles into an educational law course at a local adult education centre.

Certain Women

Here she develops an intensely imitate fixation for young and travel-strained tutor Beth (Kristen Stewart); a recent graduate forced to undertake the classes which are stationed some four-hour commute from her Livingstone residency. The two develop tenderly ambiguous rapport over late-night diner meals. Jamie has zero reason whatsoever to attend Beth’s classes – she is after all, not an educator – but the roots of their platonic romance grow deeper with each returning visit.

Certain Women‘s unparalleled excellence radiates from understatement. Whilst Reichardt has worked with high-calibre performers before (this serves as her third pairing with Williams after Wendy and Lucy, and Meek’s Cutoff), this is by far her most illustrious arrangement of actors, yet they remain as quaint yet deeply felt as her composition and editing.

Collectively the entire cast offer sublime work, but the emotional clout of Jamie and Beth’s journey serves as the crowning jewel. Stewart continues to showcase herself as the most exciting talent of her generation; a cavalcade of aching humanity, profoundly told through dexterous physicality, whilst Gladstone will make spectators yearn with her ghostly film of longing. She is a tremendous find, and to provide such urgent work alongside some of Hollywood’s leading ladies is a true testament.

After the thrilling genre highs of Night Moves, Reichardt has returned to more traditionalist territories, producing complex and organic poetry with Certain Women. It is contemplative and introspective, and unquestionably one of the most poignantly human films of the year.

 

Film fanatic and UFC obsessive. Avid NFL fan and Chelsea supporter. Maintains a BA (Hons) degree in Film Studies attained from the University of Brighton. Adorer of Michael Haneke, Woody Allen, Pixar Animation Studios, James Bond 007, American Indies & French New Wave.

Featured Review

Climax ★★★★★

Climax is electrifyingly abstract and a true champion of 2018.

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Released: 21st September 2018 (UK)

Directed By: Gaspar Noé

Starring: Sofia Boutella, Romain Guillermic, Souheila Yacoub, Kiddy Smile, Claude Gajan Maull and Giselle Palmer

Reviewed By: Dion Wyn

Birth and death are extraordinary experiences. Life is a fleeting pleasure.

Master provocateur Gaspar Noé has been warping our fragile little minds for over 20 years. After the vast disappointment of Love 3D in 2015, he finally returned to Cannes this year. Where he won best picture at Director’s Fortnight; with his latest feature Climax. The win truly has reinvigorated interest and buzz of Noe’s work. The big question is does it actually live to the hype? Climax is set in the mid 1990’s, 20 French urban dancers join together for a three-day rehearsal in a closed-down boarding school located at the heart of a forest to share one last dance. They then make one last party around a large sangria bowl. Quickly, the atmosphere becomes charged and a strange madness will seize them the whole night. If it seems obvious to them that they have been drugged, they neither know by who nor why. And it’s soon impossible for them to resist to their neuroses and psychoses, numbed by the hypnotic and the increasing electric rhythm of the music. While some feel in paradise, most of them plunge into hell.

Climax grabs you and doesn’t let you go. Gaspar Noé’s fine form has returned with his sangria-soaked neon nightmare. Climax opens very subtly with interviews from the dance troop. We get a candid view into their lives and what drives their passion for dance. Noé shows the naivety of his cast before we enter the pressure cooker of the dance hall. Once the usual closing credits happen at the beginning, the true story starts to unfold. The opening dance sequence is electrifying and full of raw kinetic energy. You have succumbed to the euphoria of Noé, the camera becomes another dancer in the troop. We are witnessing the synchronicity and passion for the art of dance. You suffer from a slight come-down after the initial performance, but the depravity and relaxed inhibitions of the dancers start to flow out. There is no real script to Climax it is largely improvised, we delve into the sexual depravity of the dancers. These conversations are not for the faint of heart. You start to see where Noé is going with Climax or do we?

Climax Still Movie Marker

Once the LSD soaked sangria kicks in Noé begins his wizardry behind the lens. Distortion and blurriness are subtly put into frame. You can feel the sweat pouring through the walls. The music intensifies and the dance becomes a lot more aggressive. We have now entered the hellish nightmare we were expecting from the get go. It isn’t the drug trip we witnessed in Enter The Void either. Once the LSD has kicked in, you only see the reactions to their hallucinations. Gaspar Noé challenges you to think what is actually going on? The usual camera trickery now ensues, a classic Noé move. The journey warps your senses and you don’t always know what is going on. The crucial element in sustaining the tension is the killer soundtrack. It really is the beating heart of Climax (Vinyl has been pre-ordered all ready). After the explosion of this pressure cooker of a situation, the story goes no holds barred with scenarios of extreme violence, incest and self harm. Noé doesn’t create an in your face scenario in this instants, it is rather out of character for him.

Sofia Boutella has shed away the action star. Her raw and un-tameable energy is addictive. She flows so powerfully through Climax and you can feel her passion for dance. The casting of the dancers is a master stroke. They all bring a different element to the piece and the diversity of characters gives it great balance. Our inner darkest ideas and nightmares flow through Climax like a virus. You are tested from the get go and Climax is a true cinematic challenge. It is a true testament of youth and the ever flowing challenge of perfecting your artistry. Gaspar Noé’s Climax is electrifyingly abstract and a true champion of 2018.

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Featured Review

Hurricane ★★★

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Released: 7th September 2018

Directed By: David Blair

Starring: Iwan Rheon, Milo Gibson

Reviewed By: Van Connor

What is it about a good old brim ’n’ bluster war tale that lets a bit of charm and a whole heap of cheekiness carry a movie? There’s a bit more to David Blair’s Hurricane than that, but the prominence of its cheek ’n’ charm approach is undeniable. From the moment Game of Thrones baddie Iwan Rheon struts his way through a daring escape from the Nazis, the fun’s on for this engagingly peppy and likeable true story.

 This tight and tidy hundred and ten minute war story concerns the  formation of the RAF’s 303rd squadron in the wake of their exile from Poland, and the prejudice afforded them by their British allies. “England needs all the help it can get,” Rheon’s Zumbach explains; his fellow pilots, however, are more interested in seeing them remain on the ground. Add into this mix the friendship of a group of young female war clerks – including a rather fine performance by Stefanie Martini – and the stage is set for the 303rd to prove themselves worthy of history.

It’s not entirely unlike Red Tails, with the tale of Tuskagee airmen and their treatment by American pilots sharing similar beats. As you’d expect from any war story, there’s a lively cast of supporting players bringing up the ensemble – including winning turns from Marcin Dorocinski and Krystof Hádek – and even an amusingly thankless part for the token yank, in this case a role fulfilled by Milo “son of Mel” Gibson. Rheon’s the star here, though, with swagger and charisma to match the admirably-produced (for what’s presumably a lean budget) fireworks going off in the skies above them.

Blair helms with an able hand. He’s noticeably more confident in the dramatic quotient of the tale, but is aided immeasurably by some impressive VFX work. A misjudged score by Laura Rossi proves periodically distracting, though, its tone faintly too whimsical and overblown to remain in keeping with the smaller scale sensibilities that keep Hurricane focused and confidents. It’s down to a deadpan sense of humour that Hurricane ultimately takes flight, piloted largely by the charms of Rheon and a game cast, and emerging rather an endearing World War II biopic.

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Featured Review

Final Score ★★

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Released: 7th September 2018

Directed By: Scott Mann

Starring: Dave Bautista, Pierce Brosnan

Reviewed By: Van Connor

If you’ve ever surfed the wasteland that is the home platform-centric side of post-nineties action – that void off to the side of where the mainstream were being distracted by Bourne movies and Michael Bay – you might have caught the faint whiff of a particularly nasty little actioner back in 2009 by the name of The Tournament. Essentially a Playstation-plotted Contest of Champions romp, the tight-and-tidy beat ‘em up made director Scott Mann a fleeting name to watch out for; fleeting only because his rather forgettable sophomore effort, Heist – which starred Robert de Niro and Dave Bautista – came and went with none of the same fanfare. Now he’s back, and (to put it in genre terms)  he’s out to make Die Hard. Unfortunately, he’s landed closer to Sudden Death.

OK, that’s unfair. Call it two-thirds of the way between Sudden Death and Under Siege 2 (remember how that was subtitled Dark Territory? That got lost to history) with all the individual plot mechanics of Die Hard. Mann reunites with Bautistae, with the WWE-star-turned-surprisingly-loveable-actor starring, of course, as Navy SEAL Uncle Mike,   who’s suffering from one of those failed missions that’s left him minus his best friend, but plus a fallen bro’s widow and daughter, who he visits in London on a regular basis. 

Uncle Mike’s  ‘niece’ is one of those fun Kim Bauer types who seem sharp as a tack in conversation, but then merrily wander into danger at the most inconvenient moments. She’s probably the wrong person for Uncle Mike to take to see West Ham play on a regular day, let alone one on which there happens to be a group of terrorists stealthily laying siege to the grounds in search of an amnesty-exiled former warlord. There’s a frankly hilarious pandemic-style simulation displaying “Projected Civil Unrest” if the terrorists get ahold of their quarry, but it mostly just plays like the whole General Radek element of Air Force One, without the sense of dread.

The intentions behind Final Score appear to have been, in their entirety: “they’re demolishing West Ham, let’s make Die Hard there”, but even there this rather overlong and startlingly uninteresting effort falls vastly far off the mark. Bautista is back on WWE Studios autopilot (we all ironically like 12 Rounds, calm down), and nobody else involved seems in the faintest bit interested in being there either. To pick far from the lowest hanging fruit, Pierce Brosnan – star of I.T. – has never been so visibly bored, and, in a movie featuring such wince-inducing penmanship as “why did my dad have to do it? Die…” it’s hard to begrudge him the right.

Meanwhile, a bevy of genre clichés litter a pretty uneventful go around the action wheel, featuring stops to pick up everything from Token Hot Girl Terrorist: Kink Edition to a panicky Argyle-like sidekick  that the script (boasting the talents of no fewer than three writers) uses entirely for the purposes of eyebrow-raising racially-driven humour. 

As far as the laugh factor goes, it’s here that Final Score actually gets one in the net, though  that depends on how alluring you find it to mock a feature this unironically silly. On that front, it’s no Geostorm, by any means – it’s not even a Gamer, certainly no Shoot ‘Em Up – but there are arguably enough mechanically-derived set pieces and plot beats in there to appease the baser wants of genre die-hards (sic). The final score’s not a great one, but if you’re game for Sudden Death all over again, it’ll scrape through for you on penalties.

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