ELLE (Paul Verhoeven, 2016, France)
I saw this months ago and it's only just out at the cinemas! Ha. Seriously though – how is Isabelle Huppert still hot after all these years (just as Catherine Denevue and Meryl Streep still are)? She was just as hot when she was making films a year after my birth – and now it's, er, 45 years later and she's still got it. Proper serious though – it's a fucked up film. No surprise, then, that Paul Verhoeven directed it; the man who bought us fucked up tripe like Basic Instinct and Showgirls, but it should also be remembered that he directed the fine Black Book, his early Dutch films are pretty good and Robocop and Starship Troopers are great. Huppert was in the equally deranged The Piano Teacher, but I'll always remember her best in Maurice Pialat's Loulou.
PHOENIX (Christian Petzold, 2014, Germany)
Once you forgive the film's central conceit that a husband doesn't recognise his wife, even if her face has been reconstructed, a fine film shot in muted colours, suspenseful and with a great climax. Unusual to see a film set in post-war Germany (though here's some more). The opening scenes reminded me of Franju's brilliant Eyes Without a Face, with the bandaged woman wandering alone in an empty flat; and the entire film has a similar concept to both Seconds and Vertigo.
Sill got a few weeks to watch it on the BBC iPlayer.
BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOUR (Abdellatif Kechiche, 2013, France)
I did think this film was Russian, probably because on the train from St Petersberg to Helsinki two Russian lesbians were sitting near us, and they reminded me of the girls from Blue is the Warmest Colour (not having seen the film at the time, only the poster). They were the only ones questioned in our train carriage and have their belongings searched (on another train journey on the Eurostar to Paris we were also sitting opposite two lesbians who were snogging all the way to Paris – we didn't know where to look!). Anyway, of course the film is French. White wine and oysters? Check. Smoking indoors? Check. Terrible music? Check. Teenagers discussing Schiele, Klimt, Satre, Pierre Choderlos de Laclos and M. de Marivaux? Check. A teenage girl having sex with a guy one day and a chick the next? Check. There's some serious lesbian action in the film but it's no hot (or warm) blue movie. The camera adores Adèle Exarchopoulos, following her constantly and barely leaving her face – and her hair, body, sweat, tears, laughter – for three hours.
EXHIBITION (Joanna Hogg, 2013, UK)
Take Blue is the Warmest Colour and take away the joie de vivre, the warmth, the passion, the conversation – but keep the art and the sex, and you've got Exhibition. The film chronicles the every day ennui of two artists in a relationship working from home every day – from cleaning the oven to
practising performance art to sex in the afternoon. Imagine Mike Leigh
doing conceptual art.
Even though most of the film takes place in a large modernist house in Kensington (recently on the market for £8m, the Daily Mail informs us), I can't remember seeing a film that so captures London; not just the smarmy estate agents (one played by Tom Hiddleston), The Big Issue seller and the arguments over parking spaces, but the sounds – of ambulances, road works and arguments in the street; the film captures it brilliantly.
It's hard to believe the mild and meek 'D' is played by post-punk icon Viv Albertine (from the band The Slits); her partner, 'H', is Liam Gillick, a conceptual artist. In other words, both unprofessional actors, which works in this case. The acting often feels improvised as the filming style is calm with long static takes. The house is the third character in the film, often seeming to have more character than the humans inhabiting the huge rooms.
THE PHONE BOX (Antonio Mercero, 1972, Spain)
Take a large dose of late Bunuel (in particular The Exterminating Angel, where the guests inexplicably find themselves unable to leave the dining room), combined with the economy of style of Polanski's early black and white shorts, add atmospherics from 1970s European horror movies, and you have Phone Box, a 1972, half hour Spanish made for TV movie. The premise is simple: a man walks into a newly installed phone box to make a phone call – then can't get out. Passersby gather around him, he is ridiculed and laughed at. Various people try to prise open the door but to no avail. The man, played by veteran Spanish actor José Luis López Vázquez (who spoofed himself in the role in a Spanish phone advert made in the 1990s), runs the gauntlet of emotions from anger to boredom to terror. Eventually the phone company come to take the phone box away with the man still inside it, and... well, watch it here.
(Not to be confused with Phone Booth, a 2002 American thriller with Colin Farrell in the phone box, unable to leave for different reasons. The idea was originally pitched to Alfred Hitchcock by B-movie auteur Larry Cohen in the 1960s; they couldn't agree on a reason why the protagonist would stay in the phone box for the length of the film – Cohen revisited the idea in the 1990s and hit upon the idea of a sniper.)
KINDERGARTEN COP (Ivan Reitman, 1990, USA)
I saw this recently on a windy evening in Newquay. You know what? I don't think I'd ever seen it before, or not the entire film anyway. I didn't see it all this time, either. And okay, I know it's an 1990s Schwarzenegger film, but nevertheless, compared to a lot of European efforts, most American films to me just seem to lack any depth or originality. Still, half way enjoyable.
Previously on Barnflakes:
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