Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Review of Made in Dagenham (Cole, '10)

Made in Dagenham
Directed by Nigel Cole
Starring: Sally Hawkins, Bob Hoskins, Daniel Mays, Miranda Richardson, Rosamund Pike
Grade: C

Written for InRO:

It probably wasn’t a difficult decision to have Nigel Cole direct “Made in Dagenham,” given that he was an ambassador of female solidarity just seven years ago with the Women’s Institute-based “Calendar Girls.” While that film dealt with contravening expectations of what is ‘proper’ for the elder housewife, ‘Dagenham’ has significantly bigger fish to fry. The women in this latest feature are without the luxury of retirement, knitting, and country fetes, instead burdened by prejudice within the workplace and seeking to overturn gender inequality at the Ford Factory they share with male colleagues. Many of these colleagues are related to the women, who are a little miffed to learn that their employment classification has been downgraded from “skilled” to “unskilled.” When union representative Albert Passingham (Bob Hoskins) looks for a female rep-recruit for their next meeting with company executives, the women put good girl Rita O’Grady (Sally Hawkins) forward to fight in their corner. Rita surprises by demanding a one-day staff walkout at the meeting, and proceeds to instigate indefinite strike action when the group’s request for equal employment status and pay is rejected. While the equal pay issue is concentrated around Dagenham, the ensuing media furor forces a national debate and attracts the attention of British employment secretary Barbara Castle.

Cole isn’t the only common denominator between ‘Girls’ and ‘Dagenham,’ both of which follow the same formulae in building concerns for the women around the perceived “main” concern. The latest film contains the same scripted pitfalls of flagrantly constructed subplots, this time involving a factory veteran struggling with her husband’s depression, and an aspiring model searching for a better life. These characters feel like frail attempts to burden Rita, and their arcs are flimsily mapped out, to the extent that ‘Dagenham’ feels as if it’s schematically converting everyone to the same principal cause of equality, when it doesn’t really need to. Somewhere between depression and modeling comes Miranda Richardson grandstanding in the Cabinet as a plucky Barbara Castle, bellowing at her misogynist aides and rolling her eyes at a lifeless Harold Wilson (John Sessions). The scenes at Westminster feel too drastic and stilted to mesh with the grittier aspects of the East London story, and the interchange of these two worlds does little to broaden our perception of the political dynamic of Britain in the 1960s. However much it seeks to demonstrate this through the fierce support of working woman Castle, the film (and Richardson) revel too much in the character to create anything substantive.

The film largely achieves what it does through a canny depiction of Dagenham itself, which is not so determinate about its women or the hierarchy within their workplace as you might imagine. Their initial position on the periphery of vaguely fuss-kicking discontents appears a thoughtful approximation of the group’s ambivalence, and their unspoken subservience in relation to the male members of the factory feels wholly convincing. These women aren’t aware of a platform on which to pose their problems beyond casual conversation in the local club, and let’s face it: who wants to talk about work when they’re drinking on the weekend? Bureaucracy is so alien to them that it takes a degree of persuasion to elect a representative, which turns out to be the popular wallflower Rita. Hawkins proves that Rita was the right choice of role for her; she colours O’Grady with plenty of self-doubt but also a degree of passive, learned absorption that allows her to eventually flourish. If this is an “Educating Rita 2,” then Hawkins succeeds where Julie Walters didn’t, maintaining the timidity of her early scenes while her outlook transforms. When called upon to make a late speech at a political conference, she feels as incomplete an orator as she does at her first union meeting (her passion makes up for her lack of polish). She walks a tremulous line but she always seems bound by the responsibility for change that the film aims to rouse us with, dashing off the line “It’s rights, not privileges” to her wounded husband with the self-righteous bravura of a woman committed.

Rita’s marital problems are a clichéd dramatic device that offers nothing new in that regard, and as with many films, such as “Coal Miner’s Daughter” and the recent “Secretariat,” the man gets his nose put out of joint by a wife daring to usurp him of his status as the breadwinner. Surprisingly, 'Dagenham' becomes far more valuable in dissecting class issues than those of gender, or at least the gender “battle,” anyway. In setting up a handful of thoughtful, well-acted exchanges between Rita and glamorous housewife Lisa (Rosamund Pike), who are both unhappy with a teacher at their children’s school, the onus becomes more on uniting a collective. There is a creeping sense of universality in what begins as a tiny, concentrated issue, and this relationship conveys the message more than any element of the Downing Street shenanigans. 'Dagenham' has some charm, but that charm is mainly the result of novel subject matter and a striking lead performance. It’s a great triumphant story of right-over-rule, but the filmmakers don’t seem to know enough about that story, generalising many of the characters’ problems to align with a main gender focus. Archive documentary footage of the real Ford heroines accompanies the main credits, yet as documents of adversity go, “Made in Dagenham” is a light gloss on the actual historical events. This factory may have ceased operation, but the production line of underdog victory tales lumbers on.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Screen Actors Guild Nominations, 2010

The Screen Actors Guild Nominations have been announced, and they don't include Lesley Manville, Michelle Williams, or Julianne Moore. Instead, SAG decided to bestow their fifth Best Actress nomination upon Oscar favourite Hilary Swank, who had seemed to be losing momentum after her film, "Conviction", didn't fare so well.

On the male side of things, the younger generation were predictably shafted in favour of stalwarts Bridges and Duvall. It'll be interesting to see whether those two lone rangers can carry that love to Oscar, or if Ryan Gosling can usurp one of them. There's also the issue of "The Fighter" emerging as a surprisingly strong contender for Mark Wahlberg this Awards Season.

I nearly correctly predicted a nomination for John Hawkes, but I'd be lying if I said that would be instead of Andrew Garfield. In my eyes, Mark Ruffalo and Jeremy Renner still look vulnerable, despite the former having a film that people clearly like. Mila Kunis continues to defy my expectations as Penelope Cruz did last year. It's not that I didn't think she was good -- I just didn't leave the screening of "Black Swan" thinking that she was in any way awards-worthy. But then that might be down to the other gazillion things rolling around in my head after that film finished.

The nominations:-


Black Swan
The Fighter
The Kids Are All Right
The King's Speech
The Social Network

Prediction Score: 3/5 + Alternate


Jeff Bridges, "True Grit"
Robert Duvall, "Get Low"
Jesse Eisenberg, "The Social Network"
Colin Firth, "The King's Speech"
James Franco, "127 Hours"

Prediction Score: 4/5 + Alternate


Annette Bening, "The Kids Are All Right"
Nicole Kidman, "Rabbit Hole"
Jennifer Lawrence, "Winter's Bone"
Natalie Portman, "Black Swan"
Hilary Swank, "Conviction"

Prediction Score: 4/5


Christian Bale, "The Fighter"
John Hawkes, "Winter's Bone"
Jeremy Renner, "The Town"
Mark Ruffalo, "The Kids Are All Right"
Geoffrey Rush, "The King's Speech"

Prediction Score: 4/5 + Alternate


Amy Adams, "The Fighter"
Helena Bonham Carter, "The King's Speech"
Mila Kunis, "Black Swan"
Melissa Leo, "The Fighter"
Hailee Steinfeld, "True Grit"

Prediction Score: 4/5

Late in the Day: SAG Predictions 2010

I didn't predict the Golden Globes because -- let's face it -- the HFPA are a bit of a minefield. Oscar prognostication really solidifies with the Screen Actors Guild's nominations, announced later today.


The Fighter
The Kids Are All Right
The Social Network
The Town
Winter's Bone

Alternate: The King's Speech

They've made some terrible choices in the past - not least in 2007 with those "American Gangster" and "3:10 to Yuma" nominations. "The Town" seems to be on everybody's ensemble lists this year, and everybody in it (bar Rebecca Hall) is screaming "Look at me! Look at me!". "The Fighter" and "The Kids Are All Right" have tasty-looking cast lists, and could well grab three acting nominations a piece (if they're lucky.) Picking "Winter's Bone" over "The King's Speech" looks a lil silly, but the latter is losing a bit of steam, and, besides Colin Firth (who'll win here anyway) is anybody bothered about the acting?


Robert Duvall, "Get Low"
Jesse Eisenberg, "The Social Network"
Colin Firth, "The King's Speech"
James Franco, "127 Hours"
Ryan Gosling, "Blue Valentine"

Alternate: Jeff Bridges, "True Grit"

This one's between seven; all of the above plus Mark Wahlberg, who has yet to receive a sole SAG nomination despite other major Awards notices in "Boogie Nights" and "The Departed". You would expect Robert Duvall to get a lot of votes from the veterans of the organisation (arguably more of an advantage than he would have in the Academy), and they've just given Bridges a prize, so leaving him off ballots isn't that much of a guilty move. Gosling has two SAG nominations in the category, and Eisenberg has the biggest buzz of the moment.


Annette Bening, "The Kids Are All Right"
Nicole Kidman, "Rabbit Hole"
Jennifer Lawrence, "Winter's Bone"
Julianne Moore, "The Kids Are All Right"
Natalie Portman, "Black Swan"

Alternate: Michelle Williams, "Blue Valentine"

In a year this constricted in terms of actual performances noticed (isn't that any year I hear you ask), wouldn't one be tempted to go with what you know? If you're giving Annette Bening her due, and you liked "The Kids Are All Right", then why not throw a bone to Julianne too? After all, the choices beyond that (unless we're talking vote siphoners) seem fairly slim. I think the other four are fairly locked up, given Kidman's renowned professionalism, and the fact she's worked with so many people in the organisation.


Christian Bale, "The Fighter"
Andrew Garfield, "The Social Network"
Jeremy Renner, "The Town"
Mark Ruffalo, "The Kids Are All Right"
Geoffrey Rush, "The King's Speech"

Alternate: John Hawkes, "Winter's Bone"

Definitely a considerable chance of Mark Ruffalo getting snubbed, but doesn't this feel like an actors movie? I have doubts about Renner's staying power, considering that it's a pretty familiar role in a very mainstream film, but he has momentum on his side, and the performance itself is very decent.


Amy Adams, "The Fighter"
Helena Bonham Carter, "The King's Speech"
Melissa Leo, "The Fighter"
Hailee Steinfeld, "True Grit"
Jacki Weaver, "Animal Kingdom"

Alternate: Dianne Wiest, "Rabbit Hole"

Are four of the five spots locked up already, with the "Fighter" girls doing so well? I'm going with Steinfeld because SAG seem to like younger actors in the Supporting categories. Wiest is a living legend, but is she more on the side of AMPAS nostalgia, ready to steal in come January?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Golden Globe Nominations, 2010, Plus Reaction

Earlier today, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association announced that Tom Hooper's "The King's Speech" leads the Golden Globe nominations for 2010. Here is the full list of Motion Picture nominees:-

Best Motion Picture, Drama

Black Swan
The Fighter
The King’s Speech
The Social Network

Best Director - Motion Picture

Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan
David Fincher, The Social Network
Tom Hooper, The King's Speech
Christopher Nolan, Inception
David O. Russell, The Fighter

This a little blow for 127 Hours, but it still appears as if it will make Oscar's ten and probably not win any of its nominations. Certainly a boost for The Fighter in any case, although the HFPA have a history of loving films that didn't float Oscar's boat (A History of Violence, Match Point, Revolutionary Road.)

Best Motion Picture, Comedy or Musical

Alice in Wonderland
The Kids Are All Right
The Tourist

Best Actor in a Motion Picture, Comedy

Johnny Depp, Alice in Wonderland
Johnny Depp, The Tourist
Paul Giamatti, Barney's Version
Jake Gyllenhaal, Love and Other Drugs
Kevin Spacey, Casino Jack

The less said about these categories, the better.

Best Actor in a Motion Picture, Drama

Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network
Colin Firth, The King's Speech
James Franco, 127 Hours
Ryan Gosling, Blue Valentine
Mark Wahlberg, The Fighter

This list packs a punch, but it's very young and starlet-oriented, regardless of the quality of the performances. Lest we forget when SAG nominated Gosling and Emile Hirsch in 2007, only for Oscar to turn around and snub them for veterans Johnny Depp and Tommy Lee Jones. Firth and Franco are safe, but of the others I'd expect at least one to be turfed out for Jeff Bridges or Robert Duvall. At least one.

Best Actress in a Motion Picture, Drama

Halle Berry, Frankie and Alice
Nicole Kidman, Rabbit Hole
Jennifer Lawrence, Winter's Bone
Natalie Portman, Black Swan
Michelle Williams, Blue Valentine

A big boost to Halle Berry, whose film comes out soon and who could benefit from good timing if the reaction to her performance is positive enough. Williams and Blue Valentine also needed this, though I'm still not convinced she can mount a big enough challenge. Lesley Manville will have to wait for SAG, but the ground is shaky.

Best Actress in a Motion Picture, Comedy

Annette Bening, The Kids Are All Right
Anne Hathaway, Love and Other Drugs
Angelina Jolie, The Tourist
Julianne Moore, The Kids Are All Right
Emma Stone, Easy A

All I have to say is that Emma Stone deserves to win.

Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture

Christian Bale, The Fighter
Michael Douglas, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps
Andrew Garfield, The Social Network
Jeremy Renner, The Town
Geoffrey Rush, The King's Speech

I hope that Douglas doesn't carry a sentimental vote through the whole of Awards Season. Justin Timberlake's campaign looks all but dead in the water.

Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture

Amy Adams, The Fighter
Helena Bonham Carter, The King's Speech
Mila Kunis, Black Swan
Melissa Leo, The Fighter
Jacki Weaver, Animal Kingdom

Weaver, Carter, Leo, and Adams all look strong, but I'd expect Kunis not to make much of a splash beyond here. Will Amy Adams go in as favourite since she's become renowned as an excellent Supporting Actress, and she's the nicest person on the planet?

Best Screenplay - Motion Picture

127 Hours
The Kids Are All Right
The King's Speech
The Social Network

Best Original Song

“You Haven’t Seen The Last of Me,” Burlesque
“Bound to you,” Burlesque
“Coming Home”, Country Strong
“I See The Light,” by Alan Menken, Tangled
“There’s a Place For Us,” Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Best Original Score

Alexandre Desplat, The King's Speech
Danny Elfman, Alice in Wonderland
A.R. Rahmin, 127 Hours
Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross, The Social Network
Hans Zimmer, Inception

Best Animated Feature Film

Despicable Me
How to Train Your Dragon
The Illusionist
Toy Story 3

Best Foreign Language Film

Biutiful (Spain/Mexico)
The Concert (France)
The Edge (Russia)
I Am Love (Italy)
In a Better World (Denmark)

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Bitesize Best Actress Oscar Profiles: Grace Moore

Grace Moore in "One Night of Love"
Lost the 1934 Best Actress Oscar to Claudette Colbert in "It Happened One Night"

Grade: **

Grace Moore is, on the face of it, a sprightly amalgam of Norma Shearer and Irene Dunne; if not quite as naturally magnetic a presence as either, soundly aware of how to work the screen and sexualise a role without coming across as a one-track maneater. The first shot of Moore's character, Mary, is an illuminated view from below a window, as she voices the film's title track with the operatic bravado of a musical Goddess. As it turns out, Mary's assured pipes are a fledgling, untamed beast, as she participates in and fails to win a talent competition, much to the chagrin of her parents. When she eventually decides to take the plunge and travel to Italy, she falls in love with renowned musical composer Giulio Monteverdi, who helps her develop a singing career.

As a production, "One Night of Love" evolves from a bit of harmless artistry, to a tempestuous battle over pride and power between two rashly-compartmentalised characters, but is nonetheless entertaining enough to make us care about these characters, despite their many misgivings. The problem for Moore is that the soapy levels of petulance in the script limit her performance to a bit of a flailing sideshow, too obviously facetious and throwaway in framing Mary's frustration towards her dictatorial singing coach and would-be lover. Her defiance of him feels too playful when one considers the more formally romantic inclinations of the final act, and the thoughtful, sterner approach of co-lead Carminati does little to disguise Moore's misjudgements.

She does, however, manage to channel Mary's inherent sense of performance, both in her stage scenes (well-positioned within the film), and in trying to orchestrate a finality in her relationship with Giulio. Their live-in arrangement is largely an unspoken affair, and Moore ably demonstrates Mary's inability to deal with the lover-pupil duality of their romance. Is she "performing" to make him act one way or the other? To an extent, certainly, but as eminently watchable and thoughtful an Actress as she appears to be, Moore is too susceptible to the trials of her character, and doesn't quite give Mary credit enough. A high-end two stars, but two stars nonetheless.

Monday, December 06, 2010

A Review of Playtime (Tati, 1967)

Directed by Jacques Tati
Starring: Jacques Tati, Barbara Dennek, Yves Barsacq, Georges Montant
Grade: A -

Written for Subtitled Online:

Many creators have suffered for their art, but few go as far as bankruptcy to succeed. After Jacques Tati made his third feature film, Mon Oncle, in 1958, it took him nine years to wrap shooting on his next project Playtime, having had to generate funding (some of which was personal), and construct an entire metropolitan setting from scratch. Although Playtime is often very physically compact, it might be said that this is the “epic” in Tati’s filmography, if only for the sheer scale of his efforts in creating an artificial ecology of thought, and for the assured methodology behind this fascinating world.

Tati recycles his old faithful hero Mr. Hulot, and again elects to play the role, wandering around a nameless city and becoming distracted by its populous of tourists, salesmen, and partygoers. The true intention of his visit to the place, however, is not as leisurely as it was in something like Mr. Hulot’s Holiday, as he arrives at an office tower for an appointment with his business partner, Mr. Giffard. What follows is a comedy of errors, whereby Hulot chases after his partner but – through increasingly bizarre circumstances – is unable to catch up with him. One such moment occurs when a patiently-waiting Hulot moves across the room to study some artwork, only to discover that he has entered an elevator and is promptly taken to the top floor of the building.

When Hulot boards a bus full of American tourists by mistake, he is transported to the lavish nightspots of the city. The rectilinear style of this metropolis, with its simple, clean lines and arresting symmetry, is said to be in France, but feels more like developed American conurbations in its polished extravagance. Tati uses the setting to demonstrate the commercialisation of existence, in terms of how we view ‘home’, and what we want from the places that we visit. Ageing women visit a trade fair and seem genuinely enthralled when a man tries to sell them a vacuum cleaner; brash Americans throw their money around at travel agencies, and are rude at restaurants. Do we want to be catered to, marketed to, sold commodities to invest in, and if so, is life just a commodity?

Playtime recalls the post-war emergence of consumerism, and how that is fuelled by places like this city, which provide people with a way of surviving through capitalist self-sufficiency. A family’s apartment overlooks a packed street like a high-street store window, and the surrounding blocks have identical layouts. The venues in the city, whether business or socially-oriented, are aesthetically slick but essentially cold, hollow places to be. They have no mark of personalisation, but its inhabitants seem perfectly content to live there.

The lounge bar which Hulot visits literally falls to pieces at the slightest contact, and the showroom feel of the bar suggests that it is meant to be viewed and not touched: its physical properties are irrelevant. After Hulot has dismantled a certain section of the bar, a frustrated woman leaves, claiming, “Every night – it’s always the same”. A figurative remark, this feels like more of a jibe against pristine living spaces and regulated commerce, almost as if these inhabitants are like The Sims (simulations) in the computer game of the same name. They appear to exist as part of this place, as a product of it, than through their own individual needs.

Despite causing things to go slightly off-kilter, Hulot doesn’t garner any blame from the people that he encounters, and can’t affect the systematic nature of this world at all. He seems particularly aloof and enveloped in this picture than in other outings, as Tati spends fifteen minutes navigating a restaurant before he shows Hulot arriving. A touching late bond with a female tourist offers recompense, and it might be that the authorial nature of Tati as Hulot connects with the woman, who asks him how the word “drugstore” is said in French, despite all the signs being in English. Is her cultural awareness an appealing gesture? Either way, it’s a warmer way to end the film than one would certainly expect.

The final scene, too, offers lighter ideas of this place as a visitor attraction by transforming menial elements of city life into a veritable cavalcade of funfair rides. The previously drone shade of cars flourish into a multicoloured brethren of vehicles that mount a roundabout and revolve at the same speed like a makeshift carousel. Elsewhere, an ice cream truck halts to open service, and motorised lifts move up and down like mini-theme park rides. Purely and simply, this is “play time”, making light of the heavy formality of city life, in as orchestrated a manner as we’ve seen in ambitious advertisements: “come here and spend”.

If only for the sheer magnitude of what Tati has built and voiced, “Playtime” is a curious beast to behold. Add to that the unique, interesting ways in which he manages to collate different representations of capitalism; the meticulous, almost real-time approach to telling his story; the rasping social context that he keenly offers, and this is an essential artefact of world cinema. It’s somewhat comforting to see somebody go all-out and succeed, and although "Playtime" financially flopped, there’s little doubt that it ranks as a gutsy, artistic triumph.

Playtime is now available on DVD/Blu Ray Dual-Format edition.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

National Board of Review 2010, Winners

Full List of NBR winners:-

Best Film: The Social Network
Best Director: David Fincher, The Social Network
Best Actor: Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network
Best Actress: Lesley Manville, Another Year
Best Supporting Actor: Christian Bale, The Fighter
Best Supporting Actress: Jacki Weaver, Animal Kingdom
Best Foreign Film: Of Gods and Men
Best Documentary: Waiting For “Superman”
Best Animated Feature: Toy Story 3
Best Ensemble Cast: The Town
Breakthrough Performance: Jennifer Lawrence, Winter’s Bone
Spotlight Award for Best Directorial Debut: Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington, Restrepo
Best Original Screenplay: Chris Sparling, Buried
Best Adapted Screenplay: Aaron Sorkin, The Social Network
Special Filmmaking Achievement Award: Sofia Coppola, for for writing, directing, and producing Somewhere
William K. Everson Film History Award: Leonard Maltin
NBR Freedom of Expression: Fair Game, Conviction, Howl

Top Eleven Films

Another Year
The Fighter
The King’s Speech
Shutter Island
The Social Network
The Town
Toy Story 3
True Grit
Winter’s Bone

Top Ten Independent Films

Animal Kingdom
Fish Tank
The Ghost Writer
Let Me In
Please Give
Youth in Revolt

Top Six Foreign Films

I Am Love
Life, Above All
Of Gods And Men
Soul Kitchen
White Material

Top Six Documentary Films

A Film Unfinished
Inside Job
Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work
The Tillman Story
Waiting For “Superman”

National Board of Review 2010, Predictions

Every year I do this, and every year I do terribly. Apart from the odd Clint Eastwood mention, this is pretty much random guesswork.

My NBR Predictions:-

Best Picture

Prediction: "The King's Speech"
Alternate: "The Way Back"

Predicted Top Ten:
"127 Hours"
"Get Low"
"The Kids Are All Right"
"The Social Network"
"Toy Story 3"
"True Grit"
"The Way Back"
"Winter's Bone"

I don't think "Inception" will be as strong as some people seem to think, since it is rather difficult to keep track of. They're usually very conservative, which isn't exactly in line with "The Kids Are All Right", but the film has enough reinforcement of family values to ingratiate itself with voters. Part of the reasoning behind this list is prioritising films about old people and/or which contain sentiment. "Black Swan" seems a bit too out-there for this body's tastes.

Prediction: Danny Boyle, "127 Hours"
Alternate: Clint Eastwood, "Hereafter"

I almost put Eastwood, but Boyle will have the more popular, rousing film.

Actress in a Leading Role
Prediction: Natalie Portman, "Black Swan"
Alternate: Anne Hathaway, "Love and Other Drugs"

They have generally swayed towards the young and pretty in recent years; Portman has the buzz, but Hathaway the bait.

Actor in a Leading Role
Prediction: Robert Duvall, "Get Low"
Alternate: Colin Firth, "The King's Speech"

And generally stately men in this category. I suspect this might be one of the few precursors Duvall picks up.

Actress in a Supporting Role
Prediction: Dianne Wiest, "Rabbit Hole"
Alternate: Miranda Richardson, "Made in Dagenham"

Their Supp Actress choices usually either wow me or dumbfound me. That Gong Li pick a few years ago was crazy-inspired.

Actor in a Supporting Role
Prediction: Geoffrey Rush, "The King's Speech"
Alternate: John Hawkes, "Winter's Bone"

They like Rush, and I'm convinced that Hawkes will pick up precursor notices.

Best Ensemble Performance
Prediction: "The Kids Are All Right"

Best Original Screenplay
Prediction: "The King's Speech"
Alternate: "Somewhere"

Best Adapted Screenplay
Prediction: "127 Hours"
Alternate: "The Social Network"

Best Animated Feature
Prediction: "Toy Story 3"

Best Foreign Language Film
Prediction: "Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives"
Alternate: "Of Gods and Men"

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

A Review of Mr. Hulot's Holiday (Tati, 1953)

Mr. Hulot's Holiday (1953)
Directed by Jacques Tati
Starring: Jacques Tati (uncredited), Nathalie Pascaud, Micheline Rolla, Lucien Fregis
Grade: A -

Written for Subtitled Online:

Those reverent of the bane of slapstick British TV comedy, Mr. Bean, may be surprised to learn that the show sprang from much deeper-rooted influences within comedic cinema. In 1953, Jacques Tati followed up his debut film, Jour de Fête, with “Mr. Hulot’s Holiday”, the tale of a man who gets himself into hairier situations than the undeniably popular Bean, yet escapes relatively unharmed. "Mr. Hulot’s Holiday" is less straightforward, and rather a damning social commentary from the director at its helm, but nevertheless uses similar techniques to extract amusement from its audience.

Mr. Hulot visits the Hotel De La Plage (Hotel on the Beach) for his summer holiday, and immediately ingratiates himself with the locals at the hotel, despite being more than a tad calamitous during his first meal there. The film follows him as he journeys with the other residents to various events such as beach gatherings and firework displays, and finishes when Hulot’s trip has ceased. The film reads as more of a fleeting montage than a concrete story, but Tati has a lot to demonstrate during the 90-minute exercise to conserve interest.

Although Tati himself plays the part of Mr. Hulot, he is not cited as an Actor in the official credits, which is probably because the film isn’t really about Hulot in the first place. It’s true that he’s a vessel for much of the comedic set-pieces, but Tati’s comedy is more concerned with satirising the mechanisms of society than creating a character that contravenes or alienates his own social standing. When observing the ephemeral chaos generated in the film, one is reminded of Jean Renoir’s The Rules of the Game, which portrayed the higher classes as clueless, champagne-quaffing bats. The group at the hotel saunter through commonplace holiday activities like clockwork figurines, and their general incompetence towards banal tasks like collecting seashells and taking snaps acts as a critique on the uniformity of social tradition. There are also deliberate attempts to allude to the indifferent philistinism of the group, as Tati intersperses their routine with coverage of political resistance on French radio, and students reciting the work of French philosophers. Young people on street corners profess their love for the music of Fats Waller and Billie Holiday (two musicians who suffered from addiction and died young), before exchanging cigarettes in a matter-of-fact way. The film’s approach reveals a cynical perplexity with regards to the state of society and the increasing influence of popular culture.

And yet, it manages to say all of this with such an ease of vitality, obvious and cutesy with its humour but hotly incisive as it dissects the absurdity of social norms. A rambunctious soundtrack accompanies the farcical failures of Mr. Hulot as a sailor, a diner, and a chauffeur, aiding the deadpan, tongue-in-cheek style of Tati’s visual storytelling. A particular highlight is when Hulot utilises a tennis technique shown to him by a girl at the racquet club, which renders him an invincible opponent. The overtly simple two-step technique aligns with the abruptness of the film’s comedic charm, as well as its canny, minimal use of sound to generate moments of delightful whimsy. There is little-to-no dialogue in “Mr. Hulot’s Holiday” (and in truth it has more in common with pre-talkie techniques at eliciting laughter), but the sound design of the film is undoubtedly one of its most meticulously crafted elements.

This is not to say that much of it isn’t thoroughly assembled and masterfully co-ordinated; from a game of Bridge descending into chaos, to an upturned canoe sparking fears of enemy invasion. Tati’s social allegory suggests that we aren’t the principal organisms on earth, that we’re governed by objects and symbols, and by imposed iconography, which means that we can’t deal with the unexplained or loosely-bound. These tourists don’t connect with each other on a personal level, and only serve in a regimental capacity, so as to maintain an equilibrium or sense of normality. A final scene sees Mr. Hulot toss the contact details of a departing fellow hotel guest into the sand; a poignant, apt way of saying that sentiment is easily constructed, and not necessarily as honest or meaningful as one might think.

“Mr. Hulot’s Holiday” is modestly funny and undeniably focused, zipping along with character, style, and an infectiously cheeky demeanour. The stylistic novelty of Tati’s film initially feels like it’s going to be a trawl through cause-and-effect comedy, but emerges as something totally different and eminently more worthwhile. It’s more than an exercise in hazard perception: “Mr. Hulot’s Holiday” is a piquant jaunt through tetchy social terrain, exhibiting all of the hallmarks of an early Charlie Chaplin picture, and packing more than enough of the punch.

Mr. Hulot's Holiday is now available on DVD/Blu Ray Dual-Format edition.