From the Alps to the Pampas

Jake Wilson – you got this one seriously wrong.

Largely I go by reviews. If a film rates relatively highly across the range of reviewers from the Age and the Oz, throwing in the Mercury’s Leigh Paatsch and Tim Martain, I take note. Of course there’s the genre to consider and the players involved as well. An added tick is won if its French or, these days, Scandinavian. So I do my homework to ensure that nothing goes wrong and that I will have a cinema experience that I will enjoy, or at least get something positive from. So, in my scribblings there will rarely be a film I see little merit in – but, gee Age film critic Jake, I was struggling with ‘Clouds of Sils Maria’. And silly man, you gave it four stars.

 Clouds-of-Sils-Maria-2014

You’d think featuring the remarkable Juliette Binoche and being by a director with an acclaimed track record, Oscar Assayas, who also wrote the piece, it would come up trumps, I grant you.. The first surprise was when the actors broke out in English – I was expecting a fully sub-titled affair – and perhaps that was an omen. Part one – yes, it had parts including an excruciatingly long epilogue which added little to the experience – seemed relatively promising. Binoche, sporting luxurious locks, was her luminous self and sparkled. Come the second chapter our lead returned with short, spiky hair and now her personality seemed to match. It was all downhill after that and by the final stanza I was well over this offering. I only stayed put to find out what happened to her wingman (spoiler alert if you do venture to view this) – and that was never revealed. Binoche was playing one of her country’s stellar thespians, about to perform, somewhat reluctantly, in a sequel to the play that introduced her to the world. Her wanderings around the Alps with her personal assistant Val – Kirsten Stewart – practising her lines and getting all angsty, were as boring as all get out. Jake describes the movie as ‘….a destructive romance between two women, one young and manipulative, the other middle-aged and vulnerable.’ Some of those adjectives may be accurate, but if there was romance between the two – well, I missed it. There was a certain love/hate thing going on when Val wasn’t chasing some photographer wastrel – but the impression I had was that the actress still had the hots for the leading man (Hanns Zischler) in her break-out play! Nor, Jake could I discern any of your ‘…vivacity and freedom.’ in Ms Stewart’s performance. She showed far more animation in her role in ‘Still Alice’ and that’s saying something. Remind me never to be sucked into watching the Twilight sagas. Val abruptly disappears from the narrative and that provided some relief for this viewer. I wondered if she was meant to be really there at all – but as the second hour of this turgid offering crept on I was beyond caring.

clouds-of-sils-maria

Still, as you would expect, the Alps were stunning. The play our actor and offsider were prepping for was entitled ‘The Maloja Snake’. It receives this appellation due to a weather feature of the Alpine region where the film was set. Think a high mountain version of the Bridgewater jerry and you have a notion of what it’s like – and it was the most interesting feature of the yawnfest I sat through.

Now for ‘Wild Tales’. Thankfully it was anything but a yawnfest. This effort from Argentina had my cinema room in stitches. If I wasn’t chortling with this, I was cringing, hiding my face from the screen. If you have ever thought you’ve had a bad day I bet if you see this, yours will never match the dies horribilis, with emphasis on the first Latin word, the guys and gals had in this omnibus of truly revolting experiences. All the episodes are totally unrelated except for the fact that they portray human behaviours in the worst possible light. A couple relaxing in their backyard are about to have an extremely bad day. A business man travelling a lonely byway is about to have an extremely poor few hours too, with shades of Spielberg’s ‘Duel’. A waitress in a cafe is about to have the worst evening of her life as the night’s first customer arrives.. A bomb disposal expert, stopping off to buy a cake for his daughter’s birthday, is about to become a national hero after losing the plot completely due to his very bad day. And a bride, at her reception, discovers she has been cuckolded by her hubby so chucks a reggie like no other. Director Damián Szifrón takes us on this rollicking lark with flair and verve. It features a prescient take on a recent airliner disaster, sex with a wedding cake, defecation in an unusual spot and a road rage that puts anything experienced in the real world into perspective. The vignette featuring that was the most successful of the movie for my money, worth the ticket price alone.

wild tales

Rightly this was huge in its homeland, was nominated for an Oscar and won the gong at last year’s Goyas for best Spanish-language film. Unlike Jake with the French title, Age critic Paul Byrnes so gets it right when he concludes ‘Wild Tales’ ‘….is a blast of fresh air.’ It has to be amongst the year’s best simply for its audacity.

Trailer for ‘Clouds of Sils Maria’ = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zup27u6tMzY

Trailer for ‘Wild Tails’ = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QUnXv6R2HI8

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