Movie Review : Love and Friendship

Midway through watching this movie, I came to two realisations (and then some more). The first was had the purists been present they would have glared me down to stop me from laughing. For Jane Austen isn’t universally acknowledged as the provider of a wholesome laugh. While I do acknowledge there are many sophisticated, clever and witty conversations in her other books, she unleashes her inner cynic in “Love and Friendship“, based on her  early novella Lady Susan.

The second was the familiarity of the main character, Lady Susan Vernon. Played with the right blend of known selfishness and feigned selflessness by Kate Beckinsale, she is a brilliant case of rampant narcissism. Even a small sampling of her words (of which there are many) and actions (disguised and self-justified) would have psychologists running for their notebooks and chairs. Widowed too early and with a daughter, as she constantly reminds us, she lives intermittently with her nearest relatives until she quickly dilutes their welcome. And then moves onto the next, with as little notice as possible to evade her increasing followers, debtors and lovers alike.

She is a grifter (probably not a word associated with Jane Austen), seducing and manipulating men and women respectively, with the aim of gaining a husband for herself and one for her daughter. She despises true love, as according to her, the only part of a man that makes a husband is his income, although even those words are not reflected by her actions at the conclusion of the movie!

Her plans are encouraged and abetted, by her best friend, Mrs Johnson played by Chloe Sevigny, one of the few characters in this  movie that is developed to any depth, though similar in nature to Lady Susan. Which brings me to my third realisation…

That Love and Friendship is filmed in vignettes. And each set of characters was introduced beforehand. Even so, in truth, I wished I had a libretto or the novel itself so I could keep track. Consequently, I realised that midway through the movie, perhaps with less characters, those remaining could be more deeply drawn rather than being a sequence of walk on extra special guest star roles!

As for the plot, it demands to be followed carefully! For as Lady Susan is the driver of the story, one quickly learns that her versions of events aren’t always strictly true.  Even when cornered and caught in untruth, Lady Susan dissembles brilliantly, that is, until people and events are further examined and the lie is exposed. Then suddenly, she moves elsewhere to avoid the consequences and responsibility of her actions. Much like the classic narcissist!

Beautifully filmed, but not in the overly worshipful way that plagues other Jane Austen films, Love and Friendship does through its scenery, of course, provide an ongoing insight into the successful upkeep of Great Britain’s stately homes.

But what most appealed to me was the wit of the script. It was replete with lines so wicked and cynical that the small crowd (from different walks of life by the way), all laughed uproariously!

Finally, while this film may be set in nineteenth century England, Love and Friendship could easily be transplanted into modern times. A self indulgent heroine greedily grabbing and grasping at every opportunity to make money and further her cause? Never, say the purists! All she would need is her own reality TV show!

The Man Who Knew Infinity

I should have known about Srinivasa_Ramanujan, the subject of the Man Who Knew Infinity. It is the story of an unknown genius who turned mathematics inside out. But even my mere degree (a statistics major) is not required to appreciate this film.

It is Ramanujan’s story that is utterly compelling. An unlearned man, he teaches himself mathematics and then exceeds his peers. For him, mathematics is an elegance, something which I encountered but once. It was when my secondary school teacher described step-by-step how integration and derivation worked. And at that time I realised that I was not witnessing science but something more than that.

And this is the conflict of the film : art versus science. Ramanujan is an artist, a pure creative and his brilliance takes him to an alien environment, the closeted world of academia. For his peers encourage him to write to Cambridge, and after considering him to be a possible hoax, the mathematician G.H. Hardy invites him to stay and study.

Ramanjuan leaves wife and family and journeys to England to continue his dream.  And there begins a fractious relationship between a man who demands all theories be proven (Hardy) and another who has theories bequeathed to him (Ramanujan). Played against the backdrop of the events that led to World War 1 and the war, itself, their collaboration seems unnecessary and irrelevant. Yet despite their conflicts, they do end up working together and actually unearth theories which are only now being fully applied.

Jeremy Irons as Hardy plays the true rationalist who is totally confronted by Ramanujan’s talent. For Hardy, this relationship changed his life and perspective and challenged his rational and atheistic beliefs. Dev Patel, plays a very shy, introspective, spiritual man that truly believes that knowledge is revealed to those who open themselves to it.

For me, that was what I took from this film: artists (even mathematicians) are a conduit to creativity.

The Daughter – Movie Review

The Australian movie The Daughter is like a wedding present, something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue. Based on Henrik Ibsen’s play, The Wild Duck, it tells a story both familiar and unfamiliar through a cast of well known actors including Sam Neill, Geoffrey Rush,  Miranda Otto and Anna Torv followed by  Paul Schneider and Odessa Young as Hedvig : the daughter.
We first glimpse the setting. An almost pristine alpine country town facing an existential crisis : the loss of its main industry. We drawn to the isolation of the location and through that the growing uncertainty of its characters. Similar to the film Somersault, scenes show nature’s expanse and then focus upon the tenuous and fearful mini worlds created and inhabited by the daughter in the film.
The film centres upon a man who returns to his family. After many years he is a stranger to his father and the now dying town. However, he reconnects and rekindles an old friendship. In the midst of that renewal, he discovers a secret  which could imperil that friendship, his relationship with his father and his father’s impending marriage. Unfortunately, that discovery occurs in the middle of his own personal tragedy. In the midst of that tragedy, the man chooses to reveal the secret. For me, it evoked the following choice : if destruction is visited upon you, should you continue it in others even in the name of truth?
But once that secret is known, there is a desperate race to hide that secret. But it is revealed with tragic consequences. Once the crisis is met, the raw emotion of acting is spell binding. But the ending left no one in the audience’s satisfied. Setting aside that, this is a beautiful, evocative and emotional film.

Far From Men : Movie Review

Set in the early days of the Algerian War of Independence, Far From Men stars the masterful Viggo Mortensen in a movie that is more than a buddy film, more than a war film and more than a chase film.  Based on a short story by Albert Camus, the movie begins with Daru (Mortensen) a school teacher whose deliberated and quiet life is at odds with the continuing breakdown of Algeria.

After a first warning from friends of the dangers he faces, Daru has a brief encounter with raiders.  After that he is mysteriously entrusted with consigning a stranger to the nearest town to face trial. The reasons for him being tasked with this dangerous assignment to provide safe passage to a known criminal are not made clear at first. It isn’t until much later that those reasons are revealed  being based on his past. It is then we start to understand the conflict he now faces.

With great reluctance and resignation, he shuts down his little school. He takes his prisoner Mohammed played by Reda Kateb  on foot by road. As they begin, they quickly realise they have little chance of survival due to marauding raiders. Daru then chooses a route over the breathtaking yet desolate Algerian mountains.

During that journey, as they face rising violence both human and natural, both men reveal their past. Firstly,  Daru whose racial background places him at odds with everyone involved in the conflict. Secondly, Mohammed who has concocted an unexpected plan of escape with the intent of indirectly saving his family.

With a journey punctuated by a rising violence that forebodes full-scale civil war, both men must pick a path to safety whilst not picking sides. Unfortunately, as they witness first-hand atrocities committed by both sides, this creates an ongoing unresolved conflict for both characters.

This is a film that cannot be watched superficially. It must be experienced through the eyes and hearts of the characters. It left me deeply affected by the story of a war that I knew little about. That then motivated me to find out more about a conflict which still continues to affect France and Africa.

The scenery was simply mesmerising. Panoramic shots of sunsets and sunrises, snow and rain, denuded mountains and stony deserts : so beautiful that I felt I was watching a travelogue. But not for long.  I found myself led back to the characters and plot as the film leads to an unexpected and uncertain conclusion.

Thoroughly recommended. Thoroughly  unforgettable.



A Most Wanted Man : Review

Unlike the re telling of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Le Carres A Most Wanted Man pares the book back to its essentials holding the audience taut right up until the unexpected ending. Phillip Seymour Hoffman in one of his last roles is mesmerising as the washed up Gunter Bachmann who runs a small counter terrorism unit in Hamburg  whilst managing internal agency rivalry, the CIA and the German constitution!
Bachmann’s interest is piqued by the arrival in Hamburg of a Chechen Russian seeking asylum. Unfortunately Issa Karpov underplayed masterfully by Grigoriy Dobrygin  is on the run having been imprisoned and tortured by the Russians. Karpov comes to the attention of the authorities after being taken in by a Turkish German Muslim family. Once his background is revealed the proper authorities want him snuffed out to prevent another 9/11 noting Mohammed Atta planned the attacks from Hamburg.
Rather than arresting Karpov outright Bachmann wishes to use him as a pawn to snare and turn a successful businessman and philanthropist with Islamic ties. Due to internal rivalries the best he can do is play for time and act as quickly as he can. Which he does with scant regard for the rules.
Using less than ethical tactics he enrols Karpov’s human rights lawyer played by Rachel McAdams into the cause. She acts as the go-between for Bachmann and Karpov and has her idealism manipulated to the point she signs on for the happy ending. Much of the movie is in fact seen through her eyes and reactions.
But spying especially in this day and age doesn’t have a happy ending. And neither does A Most Wanted Man.