Feb 192012
 


Travelling Light is a new play by Nicholas Wright, produced at the National Theater UK) and broadcast to cinemas across the UK and around the world during February 2012 as part of National Theatre Live. The play is part of what seems to be the fashion at present in that it is an homage to early film and contains a film, or rather, films, within the play.

Forty years on, Motl Mendl, a famous American film director, looks back on his early life in a remote village in Eastern Europe. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the young Mendl is captivated by the flickering silent images on his father’s cinematograph. Jacob, the ebullient local timber merchant finances his first film and, inspired by Anna, the girl sent to help him make moving pictures of their village, he invents the art of editing and finds a new way of story-telling. The plays switches back and forth between the projected film that Menl is making and the cast of villagers involved in the production of the film.

Stage set of Travelling Light

I saw a delayed HD showing at the Lensic Theater, Santa Fe, and therefor experienced a film within a play within a film. A neat conceit in theory but in reality the filming of the performance only served to show in close-up the “staginess” of the production and the clumsiness of the acting.

The first few minutes teetered between hope for improvement and despair that the production was not going to take wing. The entrance of Antony Sher settled the matter. Playing Jacob, the rich timber merchant, he seemed to be channeling Tevye from Fidler in the Roof with over-the-top single-mindedness that unbalanced the production beyond redemption. Charmless acting by the majority of the rest of the cast of Jewish stereotypes, led by Damien Malony as Mendl Motl, failed engage any empathy for the characters under the uninspired direction of Nicholas Hytner. Only Lauren O’Neil as Anna, provided a single spark of the radiance that the others lacked.

Feb 122012
 

Trailer

Anthony Hemingway is a prodigious director of television episodes (Fringe, CSI: NY, The Closer, Treme, to name but a few of the 36 shows for which he is listed as either director or assistant director of numerous episodes for each show) but Red Tails is his first feature film. In addition, taking into account that George Lucas was the executive producer, one could be forgiven for not expecting too much social content in this action-packed film which follows the exploits of a squadron of the all black Tuskegee training program stationed in Italy during the Second World War. You would not be disappointed in that regard. The film is short on reflection and philosophical consideration. The plotting and dialog is formulaic with one each of the stock character types for such films, including a single, token woman. However, the film does not disappoint in the many action sequences, despite more predictability and more formulas. Most of all, Red Tails is entertaining and a feast for fans of WW2 aircraft.

Feb 052012
 

Albert Nobbs

The center piece of this film is Genn Close as the loney, repressed, Alfred Nobbs who not only does not have a life of his own but does not realize that a life might be possible until he meets another woman forced to disguise her gender in order make a life for herself, Janet McTeer as Hubert Page.

The subject matter, the suppression of women in society and in the work place, the plight of orphans, the difficulty or raising out of the social miieu in which one is trapped, deserved a more engaging treatment. But Glenn Close, looking like an androgynous Charlie Chaplin, was so withdrawn into her sad character that it was difficult to identify with his attempts to escape his plight.

Ms. McTeer captured the screen with her expressive, soft, brown eyes, and injected the only spark of life into a film that was as repressed and bloodless as Alfred himself so that it was difficult to empathise with any of the characters. Even the context was muted – with sketchy charicatures of the mise en scene seeming as though rescued from a BBC Dickens production cutting room floor – and only came to life whenever Janet McTeer strode into view.

Feb 022012
 

My Afternoons with Margueritte

With Mona Achache’s recent The Hedgehog and now Jean Becker’s My Afternoons with Margueritte, French cinema seems to have a corner on unassuming but beautifully observed vignettes of human relations. At first glance My Afternoons with Margueritte can seem but a delightful amuse-bouche but peel away the surface and we find that the film is stuffed full of a number of social concerns, such as the nature of aging, friendship, parenting, childhood trauma, and self worth. Both Gérard Depardieu (as Germain Chazes) and the 95-year old Gisèle Casadesus (as Margueritte) are perfectly cast respectively as the bumbling, relatively illiterate village handyman, and the very literate, frail old spinster. Only the intrusion of Chazes’ implausibly younger and pretty girlfriend strikes a discordant note. Like the gentle kiss planted on the sleeping princess, Margueritte touches Germain’s soul and from that first tender meeting on a park bench we watch, during the course of this enchanting film, the flowering of belief in self worth and the awakening of a dormant intelligence within a thoroughly decent human being.