May was not a particularly good month quantity-wise, but I was looking forward to a couple of the most highly-regarded films of the past year. Without further ado...
Brokeback Mountain *** - A slow-burning melodrama that, despite being as beautiful and unique as all the hype has made out, managed to feel rather insubstantial. Part of this was due to the deliberate attempts to keep the film sensitive and sympathetic both to the characters and to the worldwide audience. The "issue" the film addresses is, of course, that same-sex love is very rarely presented in mainstream cinema. But beyond the "issue", Brokeback Mountain does not offer much insight. For a tragic love affair, it is surprisingly unemotional, uncomplex and offers little insight beyond what we already know (which is that redneck middle-Americans are likely to react badly, maybe even violently, to "threats" such as homosexuality). A gay Romeo & Juliet this most certainly is not.
Lost In La Mancha *** - This documentary records the increasingly hopeless attempts by Terry Gilliam to make a film version of the Don Quixote story. Things commence badly with actors who can't (or won't) cooperate and a star who needs urgent medical treatment just as filming is due to start. By Day 2 of the shoot, when crew and equipment are almost washed away by unexpected rainstorms, Gilliam must have been starting to wish he'd never bothered. The documentary offers a glimpse of Gilliam's perfectionist personality and tantalising details of the film that might have been. However, the only real sting is simply to demonstrate how fickle Lady Luck can be.
The Constant Gardener ** - One of the most overrated films of the past couple of years. When the activist wife (Rachel Weiss) of the eponymous gardener / British civil servant (Ralph Fiennes) is killed in suspicious circumstances, he is plunged into the dangerous world of Big Business, in the form of an ethics-free pharmaceutical company. The story takes some swallowing (although we are told by author John Le Carré that what goes on in real life is much, much worse). In the latter sections (and even more so in some scenes that were eventually deleted), the action takes place across multiple countries and even continents at a highly frenetic pace yet still the film fails to drive home the essential element of menace: like director Fernando Meirelles' earlier City Of God, the handheld camerawork tends to be intrusive rather than naturalistic. Fiennes' performance begins lumpenly and unconvincingly and doesn't really pick up until the closing scenes. Fortunately he and the film are saved from severe awfulness by the brilliant and lovely Rachel Weiss, whose personality is sufficiently passionate and whose story (told mainly in flashback) sufficiently compelling to hold the viewer's interest. Overall, a botched opportunity for a really great film.