RIGHT/WRONG MAN FOR THE JOB

Of all the intrinsic problems the film industry suffers from, few compare to that of a task being given to the wrong individual. Examples of this proliferate - the miscasting of actors being the most flagrant - but the source of such waste of peripheral talent, abuse of resources and disrespect for an art form varies accordingly. Yet when applied to film directors, the pattern appears shockingly obvious.

From a mainstream perspective, if your previous film made money and/or won awards, you are certain to be given a larger budget and attract bigger stars. Take Stephen Daldry, for instance. The box office success of Billy Elliot (2000) has enabled a successful commercial career despite the film’s mediocre social-realist aesthetics. Whether Daldry considers himself selective about his projects or not, the fact remains that he was 100% the wrong man for the job when it came to his adaptation of The Reader (2008). Working from a screenplay by the ever-incisive David Hare and having in Kate Winslet a leading lady who is always game when it comes to fraught sexual content appears to have meant nothing to him. What he delivered instead was a truncated narrative, punctuated with undeveloped scenes in which the actors appear mostly left to their own devices.

More indie flavoured, but equally navigating mainstream waters, is the case of Spike Jonze. In his hands, a classic children’s book like Where the Wild Things Are is given a tone and approach which accomplish the rarest of feats - a film that is both faithful to the original material and utterly coherent within its director’s filmography.

Jonze’s more recent Her (2013) still displays his trademark of quirky, whimsical angst, but in many ways could’ve easily been directed by someone like Michel Gondry. There is here, nevertheless, a direct connection with another example of a right woman for the job via one of its stars, Scarlett Johansson. Her very physical and monosyllabic performance in Jonathan Glazer’s superb Under The Skin (2013) is in sharp contrast with the charming, disembodied voice of an operating system in Jonze’s film. Although crucial for the conceptual success of the film, what is most apparent is Glazer’s ability to deliver one of the most uncompromisingly authentic British films ever made. Despite its echoes of Roeg and Kubrick, the film’s immeasurable achievement lies in the way stylised atmospheric sequences are married with a raw observational gaze that puts the entire tradition of social-realism to shame.

João Paulo Simões
frontiermedia.blogspot.co.uk

FREARS vs LUHRMANN

Let us start on a positive - a moment to reflect on a man who was right for the job of telling the story of Philomena Lee. Stephen Frears has a history of excellence when it comes to making high-quality, moving films about people, their lives, experiences and stories. From Sammy and Rosie Get Laid to The Queen, Frears isn’t afraid to tackle a variety of life experiences.

Based on a book by journalist Martin Sixsmith, adeptly played by Steve Coogan, Philomena tells the story of an elderly Irish woman who sets out to track down the illegitimate child she was forced to give up in one of Ireland’s Catholic Magdalene laundries in return for asylum.

Of Jewish faith, Frears admitted to knowing little about the Catholic Church. He took risks, learnt along the way and gave this bittersweet tale a lightness of heart, a subtle comedy that lifts the pain and gives rise to the power of forgiveness. On paper, the idea of Steve Coogan and Judi Dench together seemed unusual. On screen, it’s the perfect combination of the cynic and the believer - each influential in irreversible ways.

A good director takes a story and gives it rise and fall, dynamics, heart. Life isn’t always satisfying, but in Philomena Frears creates hope by highlighting a story that needed to be told.

Some directors miss the truth of a story. When it was announced that the eccentric Baz Luhrmann was planning to modernise fictional classic The Great Gatsby, a shudder travelled down the spines of literature lovers all over the world. Known for pizzazz, energy and loud music, Luhrmann replaces a story of subtle delusion with a one-dimensional stage show of colour and sparkle.

The film doesn’t know whether it’s coming or going. It gets too involved, when the story should be told by an outsider, observing from afar. There is no subtle dark dimension, no mystery. Gatsby is delusional, living a dream inside his own head. Luhrmann fails to reach this and fails to dig deeper. There is no artistic insight, no attempt to make Gatsby’s unreality real. Imagination is lost to computer generated imagery, A-list celebrity power and unfitting music.

Here’s a scenario for you. Two directors are each given a book. One reads his, appreciates and respects its story. The other reads and instead of taking time to understand, his mind wanders to thoughts of glitter, celebrity and money. Who, I ask, makes the better film?

Anna Pintus


THIS MONTH AT THE SHOWROOM...

A STORY OF CHILDREN AND FILM
Dir. Mark Cousins | UK | 2013 | 1hr 41mins

Various aspects of childhood inspire a journey through world cinema in the latest documentary from film critic turned filmmaker Mark Cousins. This only needs to be half as good as his exceptional The Story of Film: An Odyssey for us to be in for a cinematic treat.