Tuesday, 7 August 2007

Watch this Film

Here are a couple of late night films which were above the usual straight to video fare.

First up was Open Range by the much maligned Kevin Costner (2002).
An excellent elegiac western. It’s a retelling of that eternal western story, the gunfight at the Ok corral. Costner plays a civil war veteran who has teamed up as a cattle drover with an aging trail boss played by Robert Duval. After an opening rainstorm a member of Costner’s group of drovers is murdered by ranch hands working for (a hammy) Michael Gambon as the evil Irish American ranch owner. So the classic battle between the open range drovers and the ranchers begins. The conflict escalates when the youngest of the party is injured and Duval and Costner seek refuge in a town. Here they meet Doctor’s wife Annette Bening who tends for the boy and for whom Costner falls for, all of which leads to a final reckoning

The whole film is shot beautifully, it’s a rainy western, and the rain is just part of nature and not some heavy handed metaphor. The acting as you would imagine from Duval is excellent, but Bening is good, playing the aging frontiers women well. The film presumably deliberately has strong links to John Ford’s masterpiece My Darling Clementine (1947). Costner’s use of landscape, the eternal ragged western town, the middle aged world weary protagonists, the slow deliberate pace echoing the expanse of the west is very much a nod to Ford. So if you like a western why not mosey on down to Open range (sorry).
We need to talk about Kevin...
Mr Costner isn’t to everyone’s taste and is the butt of a few media jokes, I’m not sure why, yes he takes himself seriously but which film star doesn’t. He appears in grandiose genre films hardly a crime. I think his main crime as far as the media is concerned is that he’s a star in spite of what they think and that he makes films which hark back to the unfashionable 50’s instead of whichever era is the current fave.

Plus Field of Dreams is ace.

The French are known for their sexy seductive films, that have added to the myth of French as top chien in the world shagging stakes. I have my suspicions they talk about it more than they do it. They do however treat sex in an adult way. Very few British films treat sex as an important or normal part of life. 9 songs by Michael Winterbottom attempted to do this but was essentially a French style film that happened to be set in Brixton.

Which brings me to UNE LIAISON PORNOGRAPHIQUE Frédéric Fonteyne, France, 1999.
The title probably harms the film more than it helps explain its content, making it sound like some dodgy channel 5 fair, it would be better described as simply “the affair”. Basically two 40’s somethings Nathalie Baye and Serge López meet each week in a hotel (via a contact ad), to have no strings sex. In a nice touch Fonteyne reveals the explicit (but mild) scenes slowly, at first everything is done behind closed doors.
This being France there is plenty of time for earnest coffee stirring and a “meaningful” commentary by the characters to their respective shrinks/confidants. Gradually the “just sex, no emotion” pact crumbles and a relationship develops.

Several things make this an interesting film firstly its characters are middle class, like they are in many of the best French films. Not the posh middle class of Richard Curtis or linentastic toffs of Merchant Ivory but normal middle class types. In France these are the people who go to see films and want to see films about themselves. In Britain the sort of life most people life or aspire to life isn’t shown on film. We have loads of the heroic Poor, Mike Leigh (his middleclass characters tend to be wanky or cliched) or Ken Loach and of course endless toffs but not the people in the middle.

The other striking thing is that if not exactly hideous gorgons the lead couple are average looking types with the odd wrinkle and the hint of a gut. In the UK if anybody gets laid they are usually floppy haired hotties or American.

The film although not a masterpiece (it’s slightly spoilt by the desperate urge to be meaningful) is worth watching.

If you like this you should check out the much better if more abstract and the bleaker Vendredi soir . This 2002 Claire Denis film is a modern classic genuinely sexy but dark (in every sense of the word) less revealing and less desperate to impart heavy handed meaning than Fonteyne’s film. Maybe you could have a double bill.

Also in a similar vein is Eric Rohmer Les Nuits de la pleine lune, (1984)
a period snap shot of Parisien life, as a young women Pascale Ogie tries to decided between two lovers Tcheky Kayro and Fabrice Luchin one rural, one urban. Worth seeing, Rohmer although not to everyone’s taste has a distinctive eye and has moments of brilliance.

1 comment:

ally. said...

open range has been on my list for ages - i like a western nearly as much as john prescott but the mrs isn't quite so keen so video shop trips always end with this still on the shelf. i'll have to wait till it's in telly.
and i like costner when he's good. in westerns generally. and field of dreams is ace.