At the Cinema – gems and amusements

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Catching up on the cinema over the last 12 months or so…

Noah * (Darren Aronofsky)

I’m commenting on this film as a means of protest that such empty nonsense could have been made in the first place, and that $125m was spent on it instead of say a dozen decent small dramas. It’s hard to know where to start with this. if we accept that the old testament story of Noah is the basis, then why on earth do we have transformer-like angels of rock wandering about the place, not to mention Ray Winstone’s warrior tribe raping and pillaging? To create dramatic tension of course, dimwit! Because without any of this, the story simply wouldn’t stand up to being a film, unless conceived as a deep theological meditation on the place of man in God’s creation. In which case the actual flood and boat building etc would be an external detail, and could therefore be built with models and cheap-ish effects. Say for only $20m.

The character of Noah, played ably enough by Russell Crowe, is ultimately pointless, an automaton at best. He listens to what he thinks is the message of God, follows it to the letter; refuses to budge one millicubit from an interpretation that says that in fact, the flood’s purpose is to erase all humans from creation, and that means Noah’s family (not to mention Ray Winstone, stowaway). So that means all babies must die, and fertile woman prevented from reproducing. Which would be just a technicality, except that it turns out that his daughter is recently and inconveniently pregnant.

There’s no attempt to address the sickness of religious absolutism or fanaticism, which is what this Noah incarnates, so the whole straight-ahead biblical approach is useless.

Now if someone were to make a film about farmers escaping the Black Sea Deluge in 5600 (or 7400) BC, one of the putative origins of the Noah’s Ark myth, then there would be something to work with. Instead of the nonsense of God (who?) wanting wipe out all humans, it would be about humans trying to save as many and as much as possible (breeding pairs of farm animals, get it?) in the face of a truly epic, and real, catastrophe, and actually having to build real boats with no help from giant rock-transformer-things with glowing eyes and kindly voices. I rest my case.

Calvary **** (John Michael McDonagh)

A near masterpiece of Irish film-making, following on from ‘The Guard’. That predecessor I found too slapstick and uneven on first viewing, but on a second, its own logic and charm shone through. Just goes to show how easily we are brainwashed by the standard tropes and forms of english language / hollywood movie-making (and I avoid most of that).

Calvary is altogether blacker, a stations of the cross for its main character Father James Lavelle, played – no, incarnated – by Brendan Gleeson. It’s a true tragedy with occasional comic moments, but mainly introspection on purpose and worth. Lavelle is forced to shoulder not just the standard modern existential challenge to the Catholic church – relevance in a post-modern world – but the obscenity of child abuse, arguably a wound no rawer than in Ireland. What can it mean to be a ‘good priest’? Is the best one can be simply one who has not committed any such atrocity, but who otherwise is irrelevant, worthy of no respect in the community? Can it therefore mean something to take the punishment for the sins of others? Gleeson’s priest almost makes one believe that it does.

La Grande Bellezza / The Great Beauty ***** (Paolo Sorrentino)

A poignant meditation on life undertaken via a voyeuristic tour through Rome, and the lives of some of its most stylish denizens, arguably also the most spiritually lost. The photography is simply beautiful. Although there is no real story, the thread of reflection of the main character provides the logic of the film. Some of the dialogues are laugh out loud hilarious, other situations leave a taste of emptiness and regret. Fanny Ardent appears magically, wonderfully, and for no reason, halfway through. Who needs a reason to see her?

The real subject is the problem of purpose. Of course there are no answers, but it’s hard to imagine a more wonderful way to contemplate the question.

Pure intoxication and a true masterwork.

Cold in July *** (Nick Damici and Jim Mickle)

This is a wildly amusing and black trip into the badlands of dysfunction, crime and guns in the American heartland. Lots of guns. The bad guys mostly die and the good guys survive, so a moral purpose is served, and the characters are off-beat enough to be interesting.

The Double **** (Richard Ayoade)

This is a genuinely worthwhile film, with the aesthetics of Brazil and unease of David Lynch. It’s a pure journey into the psychology of infatuation and love in a dark dystopia where normal social interactions appear limited to the barely functional. Jesse Eisenberg (The Squid and the Whale, among others) plays both main characters perfectly.

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