A round-up of recent cinema goings:
Chimes at Midnight (Welles/65)
Strangely I didn’t connect with this on the direct, emotional level I have with all of the other Orson Welles’ films I’ve seen (and that includes the cruelly underrated The Trial). Perhaps I need to watch it again, as many aspects stood out - Welles as Falstaff, Keith Baxter as Hal and John Gielgud as Henry IV are all superb and two scenes particularly stick out: the chaotic, muddy visualisation of the Battle of Shrewsbury, inventively employing hand-held coverage and of course, the classic renunciation of Falstaff by Hal, now Henry V. Welles disguises his low-budget incredibly well, intelligently selecting Spanish locations to create a medieval England, but I felt that perhaps the pace was off, the battle scene coming too early and leading to an overly-long second half. At any rate, this deserves another viewing in the future.
The Lobster (Lanthimos/15)
Yorgos Lanthimos’ satire, set in an alternate world where people, if not in a relationship, are sent to a hotel where they must find a partner and if not, get turned into an animal of their choosing, promises Buñuelian fun. Alas, it doesn’t deliver. The opening 45 minutes or so set in the hotel are dryly amusing, with Colin Farrell the empty vessel which constantly denies audience identification. Yet as soon as he leaves the hotel, the film goes downhill - the restrained humour virtually disappears and the surreal hotel setting abandoned in favour of a banal forest. The film from here on in feels interminable, and Lanthimos’ direction, so distant and cold, leads to the talented cast (Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Olivia Colman, John C. Reilly, Léa Seydoux) seeming to be incredibly wooden and uninteresting. A world defined by whether you’re in a relationship or not sounds like a fascinating premise, but its exploration is disappointingly limited, with none of the implications worked through (perhaps because the wider world remains so deliberately opaque). In other words, a frustrating viewing experience.
A commendably brief (84 minutes) exploration of the final days of Pier Paolo Pasolini, Abel Ferrara has made a film that lives and breathes in the spirit of the European arthouse films Pasolini himself made. Willem Defoe, despite performing in English, is excellent as the director but what’s so refreshing is Ferrara’s refusal to play by the rules of conventional biopics: along with showing Pasolini, he dramatises the novel he’s working on and his plans for his latest, post-Salò film. It amounts to a truly great biography in that it imagines the art as well as the artist, while still remaining resolutely honest about Pasolini’s gay life. It doesn’t indulge in any conspiracy theories around Pasolini’s murder but operates as a finally very moving portrait of a man who was far more than just a film director. Also, it has a great use of the Staple Singers’ I’ll Take You There…