Wednesday, 11 February 2009

BFF6: Countesses and courtesans

It was a five movie day today - a bit much, honestly, but I had a two-hour break between the last two films, which is longer than I've had all week, so I could get a leisurely dinner (at the concept Italian restaurant Vapiano - yummy) and roam around a bit.

It drizzled all day today, which seemed a bit strange, since it normally snows this time of year. Made the mad dashes across Potsdamer Strasse between cinemas all the more exciting with puddles gathering all around and drivers seeming to aim for them. So here are those five films - and I'll have another five tomorrow...

The Countess
dir-scr Julie Delpy 09/Fr ***
After her fabulous comedy 2 Days in Paris, Julie Delpy shifts gears drastically for this dark period thriller about 17th century Hungarian Countess Bathory (Delpy), who notoriously believed that the blood of virgins could keep her young. The film is gloomy and grisly, with stiff dialog and oddly paced drama. But it also has a deranged charm, dryly hilarious wit, plus enjoyably nutty acting from Delpy as well as Anamaria Marinca, William Hurt and Daniel Bruhl. Pictured at their photo call are actor Sebastian Blomberg, actress Marinca, writer-director-star Delpy and producer Andro Steinborn.

dir Stephen Frears 09/UK ****
Frears reteams with both writer Christopher Hampton and star Michelle Pfeiffer from Dangerous Liaisons to make another lively Parisian period comedy-drama (based on the Collette novel) about twisted, manipulative relationships. Playful and extremely witty, this one centres on a fading courtesan (Pfeiffer) who launches into an affair with the 19-year-old son (Rupert Friend ) of one of her now-retired colleagues (an hilarious Kathy Bates). Pfeiffer and Friend have superb chemistry, with oddly mirrored facial features, and the whole cast relishes the sharp Oscar Wilde-type dialog as the inter-relationships are put through the wringer.

Little Joe
dir Nicole Haeusser 09/US ***
This straightforward doc follows the life of Joe Dallesandro from his childhood through his years in Andy Warhol's factory to his career in European B-movies and finally his renaissance as a bit player in top Hollywood movies. It's all narrated by Joe himself, using interviews to link together a wonderful selection of clips, home movies and gorgeous still photos. But that's about it, really. While Dallesandro is revealingly frank about himself and his career, and the people he has worked with, we get no other perspectives on him at all. Yes, he might be the most photogenic man who ever lived, but surely a more rounded portrait would dig a bit deeper.

An Education
dir Lone Sherfig 09/UK ****
It's fairly obvious, even without the title credit, that this film is based on a memoir, as it takes a deeply personal look at a pivotal time in the life of 16-year-old Jenny (Carey Mulligan) in 1961 London. Her father (a wonderful Alfred Molina) is terrified of virtually everything she gets up to, but for some reason goes along with it when a well-to-do man (Peter Sarsgaard) asks to take her out. And then for a weekend in Oxford with his lively friends (Dominic Cooper and Rosamond Pike). And then to Paris. The problem is that Jenny is a bright student who has a promising university career ahead of her, and this romance could jeopardise all of that. There are terrific themes in here, and superb performances, even if it never quite cracks throough the nostalgic gloss.

Strella: A Woman's Way
dir Panos H Koutras 09/Greece ****
This bold, ambitious drama is set in Athens, where a man gets out of prison and, as he's searching for his estranged son, meets a pre-op transsexual. Their relationship goes through some serious twists and turns, drawing in side characters and personal history along the way for a strikingly emotional look at people living on the fringe of 'normal' society but facing the same issues as everyone else in perhaps even more intense ways. It's all a bit melodramatic, but is also strongly involving and challenging.

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