Cannes review: Divines

Divines

Two years after Céline Sciamma’s Girlhood, another girls-in-the-hood drama has become the talk of Cannes. This a more rowdy, boisterous banlieue-set film, with a more youthful edge, and a dynamite central performance that’ll make up for inevitable quibbles about its narrative flaws.

Review continues at Little White Lies

Review: Grand Central

Grand Central

Grand Central (dir. Rebecca Zlotowski, 2013) 

The romance and the electrons are charged in this  French erotic thriller starring Tahar Rahim and Léa Seydoux as illicit lovers set in the shadow of a nuclear power plant.

Rahim is Gary, a working class nomad who finds a job decontaminating ageing cores at a rural power station. It’s better paid than normal, but that’s because of the danger of radioactive contamination, which reveals itself to be less a threat and more an everyday occurrence. He bonds with a local downtrodden traveller community with his boss, Toni (Denis Menochet), and Toni’s fiancée Karole, played by Seydoux, more guarded but just as sultry as she was in Blue is the Warmest Colour, which premiered in the same Cannes festival where Grand Central debuted.

In an effort to explain the effect of nuclear contamination, Karole plants a smacker on Gary, suggesting his weak-knees and dizziness is just what will happen after a radioactive dose. “You fail the dose”, she whispers, his heart beating faster and sweat on his brow. Of course, that’s not the last kiss between the two, as they embark on a romance prompted by elemental feelings – is the nuclear plant taking life of its own charging the atmosphere?

The strange beauty of their surroundings, and the menace that lies beneath, reminded me of the erotic drama Stranger by the Lake, released earlier this year. It doesn’t always work: the sex is perfunctory, and Rahim and Seydoux show only the bare bones of emotional attachment to each other, but director Zlotowski holds your gaze, revealing a strange and unfettered sophistication to this murky affair.

Altogether more successful are the scenes inside the station itself, and there’s real currency in that it’s filmed at an actual plant in Austria that was built but never operated. As if to emphasise, the scenes in Gary’s rural community outside are filmed in 35mm, while the inside the plant it’s crisper HD, all played to a eerie score by French electronic artist Rob that ratchets up the tension.In Gary’s plant, employees have to keep their radiation levels down in order not to be laid off. One manager warns, “You might lose your job, but you’ll keep your health,” but to Gary, desperate for work, fabricating his records comes instinctively. At one point he rescues Toni, now a romantic foil, in an accident at the plant, exposing himself to dangerous radiation levels in the process. But it’s as stupid as it is brave (“Why did you take your gloves off?” one colleague asks) as we come to understand these contracted workers haven’t nearly the training that this kind of work entails, hired instead as cheap, willing labour for a difficult task.

Zlotowski doesn’t go for a political theme – this is no China Syndrome – so her directorial command felt a little slack here, especially faced with France’s nuclear industry, which provides 80% of the country’s energy needs. Still, the shadow of the Fukushima disaster surely weighs heavily – as the levels go up, we’re heading for a meltdown, emotional and radioactive.

Reviewed for CineVue here

Review: Jimmy’s Hall

Jimmy’s Hall (dir. Ken Loach, 2014) 

Jimmys Hall

Nuance might be a feature of Ken Loach’s work that has long since left the building, but that’s not to say his latest work doesn’t fail to charm. The story of James “Jimmy” Gralton, the only Irishman to be deported from his own country, has Loach on tempestuous, didactic form, parleyed by sensitive performances from its cast that give more depth than Paul Laverty’s agitprop script seems to give. Jimmy’s Hall, like the second half of its closest Loach relative, The Wind that Shakes the Barley, pits itself in the aftermath of the Irish war of independence and the awkward political situation of Ireland in the early 1920s, where the progressive branches of republicanism were just as buried as they were under the British.

Read the rest of the review at CineVue

Edinburgh review: Welcome to New York

Welcome to New York (dir. Abel Ferrara, 2014) 

Welcome to New York

Gérard Depardieu is barnstorming as the outrageous subject of Abel Ferrara’s lurid Welcome to New York, inspired by the scandal that ended Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s career. The former IMF chief – and presumptive French presidential candidate – denied all charges and has now taken steps to sue the film’s producers for defamation. Regardless of Ferrara’s adherence to true life, it’s a startling and compelling account not just of a sex addict, but a character whose wealth and standing in his field has allowed himself to be far removed from contemporary morality. Within five minutes, we’ve seen Depardieu’s Georges Devereux shack up with four escorts at an orgy in New York’s Carlton Hotel.

Keep reading at CineVue

#Cannes review: Spartacus & Cassandra

Spartacus & Cassandra (dir. Ioanis Nuguet, 2014) 

Spartacus & Cassandra

A real gem hidden deep in the Cannes’ ACID sidebar, Spartacus & Cassandra follows two Roma children in France coming to terms with the fact that their parents – and their living situation – may not have their best interests at heart. At four years old Spartacus was begging on the streets. At five he started school. At seven he moved from Romania to France. At eight, he was stealing car radios, and at ten he was escaping from a hostel for disadvantaged kids. At the age of thirteen, when we meet the young energetic scamp for the first time, French authorities are deciding whether to put him and his sister Cassandra into care, away from his friends and family but perhaps to a brighter future.

The rest of the review is up on CineVue

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