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A Magazine for Sheffield

Unexpected Turns.

The stretch limo appears to glide as it roams through crowded avenues. Something which is emphasised by the best stylised rear and side projections since Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut. It's undoubtedly like a funeral procession - mirrored in a tragedy happening elsewhere - but who's inside this high-tech coffin? The answer is Robert Pattinson from the Twilight Saga. I pitched the concept of this piece to our esteemed editor as something along the lines of 'when actors known for a particular type of role or franchise turn up unexpectedly somewhere else'. The list of examples, to be comprehensive, would be endless. So I'm narrowing the scope down to one actor and the perplexing context in which this particular film has been made... The Film: Cosmopolis concerns the smooth descent into self-destruction of Eric Packer, a young multi-millionaire asset manager. In the course of a day, which began with the cryptic persistent need for a haircut, an almost passive Packer witnesses his highly successful business gradually collapse from the comfort of his fully-equipped limousine. It's a cool, detached and theatrical affair throughout, punctuated with a succession of terrifically acted two-handers - as a series of functional characters are collected en route and later dismissed. The unspecified threat to Packer's life hovers from the beginning and, as the events that bring his company and personal reputation to its knees continue to unravel, it becomes apparent that his secret wish to confront it equates to one last attempt to feel alive. I came out of the screening - to which I was accompanied by my friend, the sculptor Simon Kent - with a splitting headache. We were both hit with the proverbial sledgehammer and, to some extent, didn't know whether we liked it or not. Soon I realised Cosmopolis is not a film to be liked. It's to be absorbed and taken for what it is - probably the most pertinent film for our times - and hence appreciated for its sharpness of tone and aesthetics, which paradoxically makes it a remarkably enjoyable ride in my book. The Source: As is the case with most adaptations to the screen, the novel from which the film is extracted expresses the central character's internal void in a much superior manner. Don DeLillo's prose trickles down the pages in a blend of minimalist description and immersive conscience: 'There was no answer to the question. He tried sedatives and hypnotics but they made him dependent, sending him inward in tight spirals. Every act he performed was self-haunted and synthetic. The palest thought carried an anxious shadow. (...) He was reading the Special Theory tonight, in English and German, but put the book aside, finally, and lay completely still, trying to summon the will to speak the single word that would turn off the lights. Nothing existed around him. There was only the noise in his head, the mind in time. When he died he would not end. The world would end.' In the film, we look at Packer with the same detachment he employs to approach his own feelings and the ever-changing market rates that sustain his lifestyle. In the book, we're inside his head. What has cleverly been preserved is DeLillo's curt, precise and brutal dialogue, excised in large chunks by one of the most cerebrally profound filmmakers of our time. The Director: If his 1996 Crash was a head-on collision between our intimacy with technology and suppressed desires of self-destruction, David Cronenberg's Cosmopolis slows down the proceedings and invites us to take the back seat. Under his masterful orchestration, the film unfolds at the pace of the aforementioned funeral procession and with his typically remarkable cinematic precision. Back in April, I made the case for Crash being the most important film of the 1990s. A few paragraphs up, I address the likelihood of Cosmopolis being the most pertinent film for the times we live in. This is far from an exageration. Whilst Crash addressed an undercurrent through metaphor, Cronenberg's new film taps into what's going on right now: capitalism being turned inside out. 'A rat became the unit of currency.' - Zbigniew Herbert The Producer: Seeing Paulo Branco's name in the credits of Cosmopolis brings a kind of ironic reassurance. Even those who need an introduction would've seen at least one of the nearly 250 films he has produced. He's undeniably the most prolific solo producer in the world, controlling sales through his tight grip on exhibition and retail. He's based in Paris and has a close business relationship with actors Catherine Deneuve and John Malkovich, but he's Portuguese. When I faced him across his large desk - in the office he once had on the top floor of a wonderfully fascist building entirely dedicated to one of his production companies - there was an underlying tension, almost verging on animosity. This was not an easy man to deal with, as I was warned. I was told that, if he decides to take your project on, you will be imposed a series of names in various departments. We didn't get that far. But his austerity is perhaps mirrored in the current political, social and economic situation of our country. The last time I stopped by his Lisbon headquarters, the building was completely shut down. Its architectural heritage, which harks back to days of the dictatorship, now peers shyly from behind boarded up windows. Not a beautiful sight, considering such companies had kept Portuguese cinema afloat on an international level. Irony resides in the fact that not long after our right-wing government exercised its German-imposed austerity measures by reducing the subsidies for film to zero, here's Paulo Branco, making Cosmopolis possible with the partial funding of Portuguese state-owned TV channel RTP. A film that expresses and exposes what is so wrong with the economic system has been co-financed by a bailed-out country. As for reassurance, well, there's Mr Branco's typically unrelenting pursuit of a pet project and the commercial foresight in the casting of its lead actor. The Actor: Some may only go as far as to say 'at least it wasn't Colin Farrell' - the original choice to play Eric Packer but whose commitments to the remake of Total Recall prevented him from doing so. This narrowing opinion only comes from those who simply don't get that Robert Pattinson delivers a perfect central performance in Cosmopolis. He carries the entire film on his back, with a tone and demeanour that is 100% in synch with the language and message of the film. Even in the already mentioned two-handers, he does what is most unusual for a lead actor: he holds back, detached - engaging, but only to an extent. After all, this is a character who chooses to connect to the world (and his professional life) through the appreciation and analysis of third parties. This is truly an unexpected turn. An actor whose current stardom is completely defined by his role in the highly profitable (but ultimately tedious) Twilight Saga, but who now graduates to a seriously brave artist - unafraid of taking chances not dissimilar to the business ones his character indulges. Because, like Packer, he can see the patterns behind and beyond the logic of what's safe and expected. A flipside to this coin (and article) comes in the shape of the already controversial appearance of Kristen Stewart (Bella Cullen from, once more, the Twilight Saga) in an upcoming film, based on yet another cult novel. Her role in Walter Salles's adaptation of Jack Kerouac's seminal On the Road has already invited a huge amount of criticism, particularly on the part of mothers of teenage daughters who saw her portrayal of Bella in that bafflingly popular franchise as a role model. In what's available to preview of On the Road online, Stewart seems to deliver a performance of sheer freedom and sweaty abandonment. The element that has been most objected to is, perhaps unsurprisingly, the sexual content. Once you become a teenage icon you're not allowed to pursue more grown-up roles, apparently; let alone to engage in diverse and graphic depictions of so-called immoral sex. That said, it is not quite the 'career angle' that makes Stewart's appearance in this quintessential road movie an unexpected turn. It's her screen persona, which never evoked sexuality of any kind... What she and Pattinson - her off-screen better half - may choose to claim is, in the words of Eric Packer: 'Everything in our lives has brought us to this point'. Cosmopolis will be available on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK on 8th October 2012. Buy it! If you're a Portuguese tax-payer it's partially yours anyway. On the Road will be released in cinemas across the UK on 12th October 2012. )

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