Film Season 2012: Maggie, Antonio and Adèle Blanc-Sec
Film season is upon us as the vacuum left by the passing of Christmas is swiftly filled with as many trips to the cinema as we can manage in the hope that with the passing of every film, this miserable month of January will pass quicker. It’s also the season of the DVD, what with half of us having received a small stack for Christmas, and the other half having received some sort of tablet computer for Christmas making the innovation of the film download all too easily accessible. Film is of course an art form and does not, therefore, escape the roving eye of the Daily Norm. Thus, in this new year run up to the Oscar and Bafta nominations, followed by the glittering ceremonies themselves, here are my thoughts on a few films I’ve seen recently. One is fresh out on a screen near you (or at least it is in the UK… I can’t make any promises for those of you who are further afield), one is fresh out on DVD and the other has probably been out for at least a year, but is so quirkyliscious that it deserves a mention.
1. The Iron Lady
Currently out at the cinema, this long awaited, much hyped biopic about the infamous British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, is a must-see, but not a masterpiece. As the Thatcher story goes, it is one which has already been well-adapted onto the TV screen quite recently (The Long Walk to Finchley (2008); Margaret (Lindsay Duncan) 2009) and in terms of its own historical narrative, the film does not provide us with a particularly comprehensive overview of the Thatcher years. From her initial election as MP, to leader of the Party and then PM, the film follows Thatcher’s trajectory to power in a lightening bolt. So too is the Falklands conflict of 1982 and Thatcher’s eventual demise in 1990 shown in the blink of an eye, with very little sense given of what happened in the interim 8 years. Rather, the film spends, in my opinion, an unjustified amount of time focusing on Thatcher as an old woman, struggling to come to terms with the death of her late husband, Dennis Thatcher as well as with symptoms of dementia. What the film becomes then is a study about old age, rather than the chronological biography of a great woman. In this way, the film does what the ordinary TV documentary does not, giving the hard edges a human softness, but it did leave me wanting to know so much more about Thatcher’s time in office, and the first thing I had to do when I got home was look it all up on wikipedia.
Undoubtedly the triumph of the film, as everyone is saying, is Meryl Streep’s performance, which was an unwaveringly brilliant take on Maggie, sucking the audience into a complete illusion that this was the real Thatcher in front of us, rather than the all-singing, all-dancing Mamma Mia star beneath the makeup (and big wig). The only way in which the illusion was broken was during close ups of the old Thatcher, where the remarkable youthfulness of Streep’s face jarred uncomfortably with the age-making prosthetics of an elderly Thatcher look.
The film is also said to be successful because it exposes a human softness in an otherwise cantankerous and stubborn leader. But frankly, it seems ignorant of people not to have recognised, before seeing the film, that Thatcher, like everyone else, is endowed with a softer, human side. It always annoys me that people, particularly those of the younger generations, stipulate unashamedly that they have been brought up to “hate” Thatcher. It is said that the great majority of the country, particularly in the North of England “loathe” the former Prime Minister. Are these people so utterly lacking in insight that they cannot differentiate between a figurehead who had to make excruciatingly difficult decisions on behalf of a whole cabinet of useless cowards, and the woman who was driven, successful, but also remorseful and self-sacrificing?
Fresh out on DVD is the latest offering from Spanish director supremo, Pedro Almodóvar. The film, which is based on Thierry Jonquet’s Tarantula, is the director’s first collaboration with Antonio Banderas in 21 years. The film is typical Almodóvar. It contains twists, deception, sexual deviance, violence and more than his usual twist of thrills. Without giving anything away, it’s about a plastic surgeon plying his trade to commit a devastating act of revenge with life-changing results. It’s creepy, and the setting in Spain’s Toledo and it’s arid countryside surroundings add to the chill pervading the plot. As always with an Almodóvar spectacular, its really very weird, but it’s this quirkyness which I adore, and which turns all of his films from Hollywood magic to artistic genius. This lavishly set, twisty macabre thriller is a must for any Almodóvar or Spanish-language film fan.
3. The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec
My third film of the moment is this jovial French adventure film, which, as advertised, represents a glorious mix of my favourite film Amélie, with the adventure-style format of Indiana Jones or Tin Tin. The film, which was released in 2010 and probably came out on DVD about a year ago, is loosely based on a series of novels by Jacques Tardi, which have been adapted and directed by Luc Besson. Like much French cinema from the last decade, it is full of quirky details and surreal moments which make the film a delight to watch. Its characters are wonderfully over the top, almost pantomimic, and the setting of 1910 Paris is suitably atmospheric. The film follows the eponymous writer Adèle in a succession of far-fetched incidents in both Paris and a Mummy-filled tomb in Egypt. Seeking help from a mad old scientist in order to bring back to life a mummified doctor and thus help her comatosed sister (inflicted with a head injury caused by a hat pin), Adèle must rescue the scientist from death row while battling to control a recently hatched pterodactyl which is causing havoc all over Paris. It’s a wonderful adventure which both pastiches and subverts the adventure and speculative fiction of the period.
And finally, some films to look out for: War Horse – a massive success on the stage, but how will it adapt to the screen? Coriolanus – the bloodied Shakespearean masterpiece, brought to life by Ralph Fiennes and finally W.E. – Madonna’s take on the Wallace Simpson story. Much to look forward to and, if I see them, I’ll let you know what I think!!