With unnerving subtlety, this acclaimed Swedish drama takes a startlingly honest look at the underlying fragility of family connections. Pivoting around a split-second of panic, the film mixes earthy honesty and wrenching emotions to explore the pressure of gender roles. It's strikingly well-shot and played with unusual openness by a solid cast. And it's such a razor sharp depiction that it can't help but chill the audience to the bone.
The events unfold in the French Alps, as a Swedish family enjoys a skiing holiday amid spectacular mountain peaks and freshly fallen snow. Then one morning while having breakfast on an outdoor terrace enjoying the view, a controlled avalanche surges far too close for comfort. When the snowy powder settles, it becomes clear that the parents had very different reactions in that moment of fear: Tomas (Johannes Bah Kuhnke) dropped everything and ran, while Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli) tried to protect their children Vera and Harry (real siblings Clara and Vincent Wettergren). Suddenly there's a fissure in their relationship, and neither Tomas nor Ebba can cope with the implications, privately beginning to wonder whether their marriage can survive the rest of the week.
Filmmaker Ostlund (Play) explores this heart-stopping event with remarkable complexity, continually shifting the audience's sympathies. Should Tomas be written off for a moment of blind panic? Can Ebba trust him to be there for her and the children when they need him? And as the plot develops, things only become stickier. First, the kids begin acting out as they sense their world is starting to shake. Then Tomas and Ebba turn to their friends (Kristofer Hivju, Fanni Metelius and Karin Myernberg Faber) for advice and support, but only find that things are crumbling further. On the other hand, perhaps if they can find a way to be open with each other there may be some hope yet.
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Writer-director Noah Baumbach once again taps into a specific point in life with astute observational skill, even if the plot feels oddly forced. The vividly defined characters continually surprise with their awkward honesty, although this comedy-drama suffers from the contrived plotting of Greenberg (2010) rather than the free-spirited joy of Frances Ha (2012). Still, people on the cusp of middle age will find it hilariously, and worryingly, resonant.
In their early 40s, Josh and Cornelia (Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts) feel like everyone is judging them for not having children. And Josh has the additional pressure that his filmmaking career has stalled: he has nothing to show for eight years spent on his latest documentary. Then they meet 25-year-old aspiring filmmaker Jamie (Adam Driver) and his wife Darby (Amanda Seyfried), who inspire them to recapture their youthful interests in art and culture. Even their sex life begins to perk up. And Jamie encourages Josh to make progress on his movie, just as Jamie gets his own project underway, consulting with Cornelia's well-established filmmaker dad (Charles Grodin). But is this trans-generational friendship appropriate?
The fact that they even wonder that gives away Baumbach's own perspective, especially as he fills the film with witty contrasts that work a little too hard to make the point. For example, Josh collects CDs and DVDs while Jamie collects LPs and VHS tapes. Continual touches like this add lots of clever observational humour, although they also make everything feel a bit cartoonish and over-constructed. Plus of course the nagging sense that there's a right and wrong way these kinds of things should play out. Thankfully the dialogue is fiendishly smart, delivered to perfection by the gifted cast. And it helps that each of the actors are willing to be fairly unlikeable in his or her role, although Stiller is sometimes sent over the top with Josh's inexplicably harsh reactions to everyone around him.
Continue reading: While We're Young Review
Josh (Ben Stiller) and Cornelia (Naomi Watts) are a middle-aged married couple struggling to keep up with their quickly ageing bodies and still feeling like they're in their twenties. They're tired of pretending to be grown up and the thought of having children becomes an evermore difficult decision. Filmmaker Josh soon meets a 25-year-old couple named Darby (Amanda Seyfried) and Jamie (Adam Driver); a couple that still have their whole lives ahead of them and bathe Josh and Cornelia in a comforting wave of nostalgia. Cornelia has reservations about spending their time with people so much younger than them, but it soon becomes clear that their presence has given Josh a new lease of life and made them realise that they don't have act the age they're expected to act, and they are free to let go to; that is, at least, until Josh is diagnosed with arthritis.
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For a horror film, this is unusually subtle and disturbing, rather than all-out scary, quietly profiling a creepy central character in ways that are designed to provoke the audience. Yes, this sociopath is realistically sinister, but even more challenging is the way filmmaker Campos deliberately manipulates us with his clever filmmaking. Although we wait in vain for the film to deepen into something more meaningful.
It all takes place in Paris, as Simon (Corbet) arrives from America to recover from a messy break-up. A young academic, he has no difficulty chatting intelligently to strangers, but he hires the hooker Victoria (Diop) for more earthly pleasures. Then he decides that isn't enough, and worms his way into her life, making himself indispensable while encouraging her to blackmail her high-profile clients for cash. When this doesn't go as planned, Simon rekindles a romance with another young woman, Marianne (Rosseau), who isn't quite as susceptible to his charms.
Like Patricia Highsmith's iconic Ripley, Simon is a charmer who has no moral centre at all. So we like him from the start and then become increasingly troubled by his twisted actions. And what makes the film even more intriguing is the way it's impossible to tell whether his motivations are villainous or callous. Corbet plays this perfectly, letting us see Simon's darker attitudes (to him, women are little more than sex objects) and pathetic insecurities. Meanwhile, the actresses make the most of their deliberately under-developed characters.
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In a grand castle located in the beautiful countryside, Justine and Michael have married. They enter their reception to cheers and applause and everyone agrees that Justine has never looked happier or more beautiful. The newlyweds enjoy their new marital status and the company of their guests, which include Justine's sister Claire and her husband, John, who organised and paid for the entire wedding.
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