Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Quarterly film roundup - January to March 2009

Lust, Caution *** - Chinese spy drama in which a group of students plan to assassinate a powerful political figure. One of their number is selected as a "honeytrap" to seduce him, but their plans go awry. A dark and menacing film with plenty of explicit distubing moments; many strong performances but overall rather unsettling.

The Lives Of Others **** - Very effective Cold War-era spy drama set in East Germany, where the Stasi monitor potential troublemakers using high-tech bugging devices and old-fashioned interrogation techniques. There is a palpable sense of authenticity and atmosphere, which helps both to ramp up the tension and to justify the characters' ultimate redemption.

The Girl From Paris *** - An IT trainer from the city decides to give up her life and become a dairy farmer, to the surprise of her mother and on-off boyfriend and to the disgust of the farm's retired previous owner. Some imagery is memorable but the plot meanders without offering any real surprises.

The Diving Bell And The Butterfly *** - True story of a former magazine editor who, following a stroke that left him almost completely paralysed, dictates an autobiography entirely by winking one eye. Early scenes shot from a first-person pespective help to establish the dilemma of being "locked in" with full cognitive faculties. The film necessarily focuses on the people around him and helps expose both positive and negative attitudes towards the profoundly disabled.

In Search Of A Midnight Kiss *** - An all-too-obviously independent drama / comedy, with plenty of discussion and little in the way of drama, rather similar to Before Sunrise. The plot revolves around two lonely people who meet on New Year's Eve in the hope of not spending the night alone. The low budget actually helps establish the mood of the piece and it is, in a way, encouraging that American filmmakers can still produce such non-commercial films of a type vastly more prevalent in Europe.

Juno **** - A schoolgirl accidentally ends up pregnant after sleeping with her best friend. The plot has no doubt been repeated many times before in independent films, but this remains a winner in its genre (not to mention successful at the awards) because of its central character's no-nonsense approach. Rather than allowing her to wallow in pity, or to descend into squallor, our heroine is immediately likeable, has an eminently sensible approach to her situation and enjoys the support of predominantly supportive friends and family. As a result, the plot has her growing up, learning something about herself and about life, while still remaining in part a naive, frightened and hormonal teenager. A thoroughly winning performance from Ellen Page helps make this an enjoyable and uplifting film.