Kristin Scott Thomas

Review: Only God Forgives

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Only God ForgivesThe Pitch: Bangkok (Armed And) Dangerous.

The Review Transcript Taken From A Focus Group Conducted Prior To The Making Of The Film:

[TRANSCRIPT BEGINS] “So, Mr. [CENSORED], thank you for taking the time to respond for this focus group. The makers of this new film would like to thank you for your time. So, I understand you’ve just seen Drive, which was Mr. Winding Refn’s previous film, and I’m just looking through your feedback form… So you liked Ryan Gosling and his performance, although you feel he was a little silent and broody at times… You liked the casting of the female roles as well, so that was Carey Mulligan and Christina Hendricks, although you felt that maybe they were portrayed as overly vulnerable? OK… You liked the setting and felt there was a strong story, and you felt that Albert Brooks made for a strong portrayal of evil… Yes, he is good when he does those voices on The Simpsons… (laughter)… You felt that overall the movie was very stylish, and wondered where you can get one of those scorpion jackets? I normally go on eBay for things like that…  You thought the violence was a bit much at times… And the other thing you picked out was the score… Yes, the score was by Cliff Martinez… Yes, he’s done a few Steven Soderbergh films in the past… Yes, I know, it’s a shame he’s retired… (pause)… No, Soderbergh…

“So, thank you for your feedback, and… the new film? Oh, OK, I’m not sure how much I can tell you for now… Well, it’s called Only God Forgives, and it’s set in the seedy Bangkok underworld, amid drugs and prostitution… Yes, no, I’ve been to Bangkok too and I thought it was lovely as well, although I stayed away from some of the bars late at night… What else? Well, it’s the story of two brothers, one of whom commits a terrible sin and then ends up being punished for his crimes, and then the other brother is dragged into a bitter battle of revenge by his mother. There’s also a policeman, who comes in to investigate when the brutality starts, and becomes embroiled in the battle for the family’s revenge… Yes, it all sounds quite action packed, doesn’t it, although I think I should warn you it might turn out to be a little different to Drive…

“Yes, there are some elements which get carried over… Ryan Gosling will be back after Luke Evans dropped out… It’s a bit of a different role for Gosling this time… Yes, he will be quite broody, I think he’s only got seventeen lines in the whole script… Self-parody? Maybe just a bit, but that’s the risk you take when someone is as good at Ryan at sitting in the corner and smouldering… I expect there will be some different ways that gets used… I’m expecting the wardrobe will be just as sharp this time, although I think they’re looking to stay away from scorpion jackets… It’s a bit gimmicky, you’re right… You’ll be pleased to hear that Cliff Martinez is back doing the music as well… Yes, I think it could be even better than Drive… Why? Well, as there’s not much in the way of plot or dialogue in the film, it’ll be heavily reliant on the cinematography and the score… It’ll probably be deeply atmospheric… The violence? Well, Mr. Winding Refn has admitted in the past he has a bit of a fetish for violence, so I’d expect there to be more of that too and … No, I think he still means it should come out of the story organically… Yes, that might be a bit difficult if there’s not much story, but maybe it’ll make more sense when you see it… No, you’re right, maybe it won’t…

“Different? Well, there are a few things different this time… For a start, it’s set in Thailand, so the opening and closing credits are all going to be in Thai with English subtitles… There’s some stronger female characterisation, as they’ve got Kristin Scott Thomas to play the mother… Yes, she was in Four Weddings… No, she’ll be quite different here, I think what she’s going for is a sort of angry Donatella Versace meets Lady Macbeth thing… No, I think she’s intended to be the strong figure, and Gosling somewhat more submissive, or at least passive… the bad guy’s also a little different, there’s some almost mystical things going on… I understand Mr. Winding Refn’s interested in provoking strong reactions… No, I don’t think it sets out top be deliberately provocative just for the sake of it… The best way to judge these things is to watch them… What else? From what I understand, it should be quite heavy on the symbolism… Well, you’re right, you can read interpretations into just about anything, what I mean is that there’s likely to be lots of stark imagery and lots left open to interpretation, with some dream sequences and some surreal moments… Yes, some of the symbolism is sexual… No, not all of it… No, I don’t think they have a hard time keeping it up… Oh, very funny, sir… (coughs)…

“Yes, it does all sound rather different to Drive, I think that’s the point… Have you seen any of Mr. Winding Refn’s previous films, like Pusher or Bronson?… You haven’t… No, I believe Mr Winding Refn’s making films more for himself than he is for the audience… yes, yes I do, I have seen it myself… You’re right, there’s not much point in a focus group if they’ve already made the film… No, I still get paid… No, even if I wasn’t I would still defend this… Because I really loved it… Yes, it might make me a bad person… Put it this way, if Drive was a violence-tinged fairy tale with a stark and unswerving morality, then this is a perversely rigid, deliberately paced, nihilistic nightmare of gaudily patterned wallpaper and dark alleyways that subverts your expectations at every turn as it explores themes of religion, morality and even a dash of Oedipus complex, … Yes, it’s not for the faint-hearted, but if you can put yourself in tune with its growling cadences and bursts of ultraviolence and find the idea of a man with a magically appearing sword who sings karaoke in gaudy nightclubs perversely appealing, then you’ll be utterly hooked… Oh, OK… Just one last question I’m supposed to ask: Based on my description of Only God Forgives, do you now think you’re more likely or less likely to watch it? (long pause)… Less likely, OK, I understand… Yes, I will… No, there’s no need for language like that… Anyway, thank you for your time.” [TRANSCRIPT ENDS]

Why see it at the cinema: I had a Twitter sweepstake to see how many people would walk out – turned out to be zero at my screening, somewhat surprisingly. If you feel you can last the distance – and it’s only an hour and a half – then a dark room and some patience are the best way to absorb Only God Forgives’ pulsating rhythms and intense mood.

What about the rating? Rated 18 for strong bloody violence. Yeah, just a bit.

My cinema experience: An unexpectedly full house in an admittedly smaller screen at the Cineworld in Cambridge, the neon vibe of the film was enhanced / diminished (delete as appropriate) by yet more people on their mobiles during the screening. On the way out, comments ranged from “I was really bored” to “that was all right, I guess”. Each to their own.

The Score: 10/10

Review: In The House (Dans la maison)

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In The HouseThe Pitch: Finished your homework? Maybe there’s time for some extracurricular activities…

The Review: Who’d be a writer? Certainly not me. Sure, I’ve been spewing out my thoughts on films for a shade under three years and I’d like to hope in that time I’ve not split too many infinitives or incorrectly used my tenses, but even when I churn out a 3,000 word feature I tend to have a very direct point of reference to start me off. There’s only a handful of things that would fill me with more trepidation and less pleasure than having to write an extended narrative of my own, but one of them would have to be marking others. I spend a fair chunk of my life coaching people through work or critiquing mostly more skilled and creative film makers in their various endeavours, but somehow teaching has never appealed. For those that do, churning through the faltering efforts of half-formed minds can’t be the only joy, but hopefully getting your kicks from reading the desperate scribblings of adolescence isn’t how too many teachers make it through the day.

It is sustaining Germain (Fabrice Luchini), a teacher at a French senior school, and the drudge of wading through another batch of student essays is only enlivened by the work of one of his class. New student Claude (Ernst Umhauer) writes of his obsession with a fellow student’s family and their family life, and his attempts to ingratiate himself into their lives. Germain, whose enthusiasm had waned to the point where he put no thought into his original topic, is now revitalised, giving private tutelage to Claude and while he shares the ever more provocative writing with his wife Jeanne (Kristin Scott Thomas), he’s less empathetic than he should be to her struggles with her failing art gallery job, and that’s just the start of what rapidly becomes an obsession.

For a film maker to turn his gaze back on his own narrative can be risky, and exploring the nature of writing and the creative process risks alienating the viewer if not handled well, but François Ozon has a solid track record in handling such matters. In The House creates a world of moral ambiguity within which its characters’ motivations are always reasonable, if not always rational, and events are allowed to spiral gently out of control (or further into control, depending on your perspective). While the genitalia and breast themed artworks on the wall of Jeanne’s gallery suggests that absence of morality becoming more prevalent in contemporary society, the motivations of Germain and Claude are more timeless and satisfyingly shaded in grey. The script by succeeds in having its cake and eating it, cocking its nose at trite genre conventions while successfully weaving them into the plot.

In The House thrives on its relationships: between Germain and Jeanne, the couple whose relationship becomes defined by their reactions to Claude’s work; between Germain and Claude, as the line between fact and fiction blurs and the definition of their pupil and mentor relationship blurs with it; and between Claude and the mother of the family at the centre of his writings, Esther (Emmanualle Seigner), defying the age gap between the two to give an additional layer of uncertainty and ambiguity. These relationships are all sold by uniformly excellent performances from the cast, especially newcomer Unhauer, and it’s a step up from the almost forced frivolity of Ozon’s last film, Potiche. There’s just a couple of unfortunate notes, including the insistence on every French film featuring Kristin Scott Thomas feeling the need in some way to draw attention to her English roots (here a reference to Yorkshire), and the ending, an extra portion of cake too much in the having-and-eating-of-cake. But if I had to mark the efforts of Ozon and his cast, they’d be looking at a solid grade this time around. (See below for actual grade.)

Why see it at the cinema: There’s a gentle humour at work at times, and visually Ozon doesn’t shy away from composing arresting images, especially (for all its faults) the final shot.

What about the rating: Rated 15 for strong language and sex and a scene of [SPOILER REDACTED]. Come on, BBFC, I know it’s not a huge spoiler, but even so it does happen in the final act. Wasn’t there another way to say that? It’s also one of those 15 rated films that really wouldn’t require much trimming to get it to a 12A or less. However, if you do head to the link, do be sure to check out the last paragraph of the Insight information, and its comically matter-of-fact descriptions of the artwork on display in Kristin’s gallery near the start.

My cinema experience: Most of my foreign language diet of film is normally taken in at local Picturehouses, but on this occasion the Cineworld in Cambridge obviously felt there wasn’t much else out and added a week’s worth of showings. Sometimes you pay for what you get, and while I don’t normally experience any issues with projection at the Cineworld chain, on this occasion there appeared two be two or three drop-outs of a few seconds in the audio. It also seems that the subtitled nature of the work took at least two other audience members by surprise; as the credits rolled I heard a simple exclamation of, “so that was a French film, then.”

The Corridor Of Uncertainty: Keen to maximise the potential of an audience who may not have realised they were in for a foreign language film, a long procession of resolutely English trailers meant a total of 28 minutes before we were actually in the house, so to speak.

The Score: 8/10

Review: Leaving (Partir)

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The Pitch: Parting isn’t such sweet sorrow…

The Review: Kristin Scott Thomas has become the embodiment of refinement in the eyes of many English people, no doubt thanks to roles in movies such as Four Weddings and a Funeral, The English Patient and Gosford Park. However, by her own admission she considers herself more French than English, holding dual nationality and having lived in France since the age of 19. She’s also managed to carve out an equally impressive career in French movies, and the latest to wash up on these shores is on the surface a simple tale of a woman trapped in a loveless marriage and looking for excitement.

It runs the risk of cliché, but taking up with the hired help in this situation is entirely logical. Kristin’s English background is also mirrored in that of her character, but in this case it helps to reinforce the status of her character Suzanne’s slight isolation and her differentiation from her family. Her lover, Ivan (played by Sergi Lopez, best known for Pan’s Labyrinth to English audiences) also draws on his real life Catalan background and the two outsiders are drawn together believably by circumstance and attraction.

Not that you would think it to look at her, but Kristin turned 50 this year; this enables her to bring her wealth of life experience to her characterisation of Suzanne, but she has no fear in the role, either physically or emotionally. Raw emotions are on display from all the characters, and as events conspire to make life more difficult for the lovers, all of the main characters get a chance to show some range.

Director and co-writer Catherine Corsini allows her characters to dominate the screen, but never resorts to flashy touches. As such, the story progresses in a very linear manner, and the narrative choice to start with a brief scene and then flash back to tell the body of the story tries to add ambiguity but by the climax has only served to signpost where things are headed. Nevertheless, for those looking for a little more passion in their domestic dramas, they could do worse than stop off at this French outpost.

Why see it at the cinema: The French and Spanish scenery gets shown off to best effect on the big screen, but it also allows the larger emotions to have room to breathe.

The Score: 7/10

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