REVIEW – In Your Hands (2010)

Videovista has my review of Lola Doillon’s In Your Hands, a French drama starring Kristin Scott Thomas.

I think that In Your Hands is trying to be about quite an interesting question, namely whether loneliness creates a sense of desperation that blinds people to the human failings of the people who lift them out of loneliness. The film seems to explore this idea by having a socially isolated surgeon (Scott Thomas) be kidnapped by the husband (Pio Marmai) of a woman who died on her operating table. Initially, the dynamic is pretty generic as the surgeon reveals herself to be uninterested in human suffering to the point of being completely unwilling to recognise her role in the woman’s death, let alone apologise for it. However, as the film progresses and we learn more about the character, it transpires that the husband is also socially isolated and his relationship with the surgeon is actually the only one he has.  Sounds interesting, right? The problem is that the text of the film does almost nothing to support this reading:

The problem with the film’s central theme of alienation is that it is impossible to determine whether it is something that exists in the text of the film or whether it is something that I have made up out sheer boredom. Are we supposed to attend to the fact that neither of the characters have any friends or is their lack of social connection simply the product of weak characterisation and sloppy world building? Despite being only 80 minutes long, the film contains no context for the events surrounding the kidnapping, meaning that the characters begin and end the film as impenetrable cyphers. To make matters worse, having teased the audience with the idea that kidnapper and victim might have fallen for each other because that relationship was the only one they had, Doillon refuses to either acknowledge this interpretation of events or develop the insight in any meaningful way.

As I explain in the review, post-War art house cinema has developed a style of storytelling that presents us with an ambiguous set of events and then steps back and allows us the space to make sense of these events for ourselves.  This is why art house film is so slow: those moments of people peering off into the distance are there to give you some space in which to think. The problem with this approach is that many directors have come to rely upon audience participation to the point where they no longer both to present you with any well-drawn ambiguities… they simply show you some stuff happening and then retreat into beautiful cinematography in the hope that you will invent some thematic context that makes sense of the images on the screen. An excellent example of this type of filmmaking is Eugene Green’s The Portuguese Nun, a film so boring and pretentious that it left me wanting to wring the director’s neck when I reviewed it for FilmJuice:

If one were being particularly charitable one might attempt to argue that the film constitutes some kind of meditation on the affected and staged nature of film as a medium but if Green is indeed trying to present an argument then his ideas are either insufficiently clear or insufficiently substantial to support a 127-minute film.

Much like The Portuguese Nun, In Your Hands does contain some ideas but these ideas are so insubstantial and evasively presented that they barely constitute ideas at all. This is homeopathic cinema: while an idea may once have been near the production process, that idea has now been so thoroughly diluted that its presence in the film is now largely the product of the audience’s imagination.

REVIEW – Drive (2011)

Videovista have my review of Nicolas Winding Refn’s critically acclaimed California Noir action movie Drive.

As someone whose first instinct is invariably to distrust received opinions and critical consensuses, I was somewhat disappointed to find myself in the position of absolutely adoring Drive. I adore the way it looks, I adore the way it is paced, I adore the characters and I adore the film’s wider themes.  While there are a number of different ways of approaching the film, I see it as effectively a retelling of Pinocchio… the story of how a puppet became a real boy:

The reason the driver operates by a very simple set of rules is because he is effectively a simpleton who possesses no desires or dreams of his own. As the driver’s shambling employer and best friend Shannon explains, he suddenly appeared out of nowhere and does whatever is asked of him without complaining or asking questions. The driver’s lack of interior life is also reflected in his general demeanour as most questions asked of him result in little response beyond an impassive smile and an evasive answer. As blissful as it may seem, this state of perfect psychological simplicity is interrupted when the driver offers to help his next-door neighbour with her shopping.

Another question I explore in my review is the issue of narratives that effectively use female characters as catalysts for the emotional transformation of their male protagonists. Indeed, one of the strangest things about Drive is our willingness to accept on faith that a character such as the Driver might exist. The reason we accept the idea of an emotionally stunted driving-machine is because we are already familiar with the idea that all men are stunted children who only ever grow up (i.e. stop chronically masturbating, doing bong hits and getting into fights at sporting events) once the calming hand of a female presence is laid on their arm. In the second half of my review I explore the issue of whether this view is actually sexist:

Conrad’s Heart Of Darkness tells the story of a white man who goes mad in the jungle while the Africans quietly get on with their lives. In other words, it is the supposedly superior white man who loses his mind in the jungle and not the supposedly inferior Africans. Similarly, while it seems fair to observe that Irene is a simplistic character, her two character traits easily outdistance the subhuman imbecility of the white man at the centre of the film. Drive is the story of a character becoming human while the woman who prompts this transition remains noble, human and complete throughout. In fact, Drive could almost be read as the story of an innocent woman who becomes embroiled in a tug-of-love between the criminal she married and the handsome weirdo who lives next door.

Regardless of how you interpret it, I consider Drive to be one of the best films of 2011 and one of my ten favourite films of all time.