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April 28, 2008 | by  | in Film | [ssba]

Notes on the world Cinema Showcase

Margot at the Wedding

American indie movies can be great in that they are liberated from Hollywood happy endings, moral overtones, wooden big-name acting and implausible plots. However, they can also be pretentious, deliberately idiosyncratic, and as realistically boring as real life. Thankfully, Margot at the Wedding avoids these potential pitfalls. Neurotic, destructive Margot (Nicole Kidman) returns to the house where she grew up in upstate New York for her estranged sister Pauline’s (Jennifer Jason Leigh) wedding. Accompanying her is her pubescent son Claude (Zane Pais). Jack Black also features in a hilarious turn as Pauline’s loser fiancé, who writes responses to music reviews in a painstakingly slow fashion and does little else. What ensues is a quirky and touching sequence of events as Margot wreaks havoc on Pauline’s tenuously balanced life. Margot is also the funniest movie I’ve seen in a long time. Despite the blackness of the humour, I was conscious of giggling so much that I shook the whole row of seats. This should be out for general release soon, and is very much worth seeing.

Tell No One

Tell No One is young French director Guillaume Canet’s adaptation of American novelist Harlen Coben’s best-selling book, and it’s brilliantly twisted. Francois Cluzet stars as Alexandre Beck, a doctor whose wife Margot (Marie-Josee Croze) is mysteriously attacked and killed while they are on holiday at the family farm. Eight years pass, then Alexandre begins to receive mysterious emails suggesting that Margot is still alive. However, Alexandre isn’t the only one; someone is watching him, bugging his computer, and roughing up Margot’s old friends. From then on the plot twists, each time revealing a new circuit of lies, murders and sex secrets. One thing I found quite endearing was the layering of the French setting and characters over the hard-boiled American story; sometimes it worked seamlessly while at other times it threw up provocative cultural differences. For example, the street shootings, police chases, apartment-dwelling lesbian couple (half of which being the bilingually prolific Kristin Scott Thomas), and evil senator pulling strings behind the scenes were more New York than bagels on a street corner. Had Tell No One been a Hollywood film (Coben initially sold the rights to American producers) it could have been a professionally made but bland action movie; yet in Canet’s hands it comes alive as a taut psychological thriller that is as touching as it is smart.

Beauty in Trouble

Czech director Jan Hrebijk is a social historian and commentator par excellence. Each time a new film of his surfaces at a festival, I make sure I see it. He first caught international attention with Divided We Fall, in which a young Prague couple hide a Jewish neighbour from the Nazis during World War II. Divided We Fall was a powerful film, but what set it apart from others in the done-to-death Holocaust genre (no pun intended) was its quiet humour. Hrebijk’s next two films, Pupendo and Up and Down, set during the communist era and early capitalist days respectively, were similarly imbued with his characteristically subtle comic touches. Beauty in Trouble, set in 2002, continues Hrebijk’s social history of the Czech Republic. Surprisingly, it is more moving than it is funny, especially given that its subject matter is less serious than that of its predecessors. This time, the titular beauty is Marcela (Anna Geislerova) whose marriage with deadbeat car thief Jarda (Roman Luknar) is on the rocks after their uninsured house is swept away in the Prague floods. Though the magnetism between them explodes across the screen, there is little else keeping them together. After a fight, Marcela packs the kids off to her mother’s where they soon get on the nerves of her cantankerous, diabetic, and more than slightly perverted stepfather. Shortly afterward, Jarda is arrested. To add insult to injury, the rich expat whose car he stole becomes very interested in Marcela.

Beauty in Trouble is an acutely human film and well worth seeing, although I can’t help but think that some of Hrebijk’s trademark light flourishes would not have gone amiss.


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