Tag Archives: Kristin Scott Thomas

In The House

15 Aug

in the house

 

Director: François Ozon

Writers: Juan Mayorga (play), François Ozon (screenplay)

Stars: Fabrice Luchini, Ernst Umhauer, Kristin Scott Thomas

Motion Picture Rating: R

Runtime: 105 minutes

 

 

Unlike the film Carnage this sub-titled French film does not betray its roots as a play. Its themes include modern manners, class, parenting and paranoia just like Carnage, but In the House benefits from having a number of internal and external locations and director Francois Ozon makes the best out of them. It remains a highly intelligent and literate piece of film-making, but it is that much bigger and smarter than Carnage and there is something indelibly French about it.

Fabrice Luchini plays ageing literature teacher Germain, Kristin Scott Thomas plays his art gallery curating wife Jeanne and Ernst Unhauer is Germain’s favourite pupil Claude. They all live in a fairly large French town and Germain and Claude attend a contemporary school. The film opens there with the headmaster telling his staff that school uniforms are to be reintroduced. He talks about formality and equality, but Germain rolls his eyes. It is clear that he hankers for less structured and homogenized times. He is a little bored and a lot irritated.

Germain is depressed about the quality of his new students’ writing until he comes upon an essay from Claude. Whilst others write about having pizza, watching TV and shopping, Claude describes the house of his new best friend Rapha and of meeting Rapha’s parents. The writing is clinical and rather sneering. Claude describes them as lazily middle-class and it’s not clear what his intentions are. He has befriended Rapha and wheedled his way into a house that he once admired from afar, but why? Is Claude a stalker? Is Claude looking for surrogate parents? Could this film go the way of Michael Haneke’s Funny Games and see blood on Claude’s hands?

The tone darkens, but also gets funnier as Claude gets more ensconced in family Rapha. Germain becomes more intrigued and coaches Claude outside of school hours on how to properly write a story. His failings as a novelist and his and Jeanne’s lack of children appear to be fuelling the enterprise. Claude gives little away, but is an odd young man at ease in the company of adults. Only Jeanne really worries about the boy, her husband’s growing obsession and some of their borderline immoral behaviour.

In the House is dark and it is comic. It walks that line incredibly well and includes some astute social observations. The lead characters are rarely comfortable with each other and we the audience are the same. There is something of Haneke and Woody Allen about this film. It is very clever. Such literate and intelligent film-making is rare today and this French wonder is thoroughly recommended. The acting is of high quality, with Luchini shining as the conflicted teacher Germain. The ending is also strong and not easy to foresee. The final images are highly effective and sum up so much about modern life.

The Woman in the Fifth

27 Nov

 

Director: Pawel Pawlikowski

Writers: Douglas Kennedy (book), Pawel Pawlikowski (screenplay)

Stars: Ethan Hawke, Kristin Scott Thomas and Joanna Kulig

Motion Picture Rating: R

Runtime: 85 minutes

 

 

Polish director Pawel Pawlikowski’s last film was the 2004 festival hit My Summer of Love and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s odd to me that he has taken 8 years to deliver The Woman in the Fifth and the film itself is a bit of an oddity. It is based on the best-selling novel by Douglas Kennedy. Pawlikowski has adapted the book and condensed it into a fascinating, but flawed 85 minute film.

Ethan Hawke plays Tom Ricks, an American author in Paris trying to reconcile with his ex-wife and to get to know his young daughter. He has been out of their lives and it is clear that his ex-wife has moved on and is nervous of him. Tom finds temporary lodging and work via a small-time hood called Sezer. He runs a bar, rents some fleapit rooms and takes an interest in the down and out author. The fairly dubious work involves monitoring a CCTV camera overnight and Tom uses the time to try and start writing again.

Whilst Tom settles into his humble Parisian life he watches and grabs minutes with his daughter when he can. At the bar he starts an affair with a young waitress. Tom also meets a mysterious woman called Margit (Kristin Scott Thomas) at a soiree for book people. She is intelligent, refined and seductive. Tom falls under her spell and she decides to become his muse. They meet at her apartment in the fifth and have lots of adventurous, but perfunctory sex.

What is it all about? – Having seen it, I am still unsure. There is something about writers not knowing who they are. The blocked author Tom is cold, slightly aloof and lost. He is looking for excitement and for thrills to write about and possibly to define him. Apart from that theme I am not sure what else to take. It is a strange piece of work and the ending is frustratingly ambiguous. It might well be the case that much of the film takes place in Tom’s head. Certainly his mental status is called into question more than once.

Regarding the director, Pawlikowski helms this in a dreamy languid style. It is visually interesting and there is a sense of menace or dread throughout. The film has a ‘70’s vibe to it and almost recalls the early work of Roman Polanski, another Polish director. It is mostly accomplished film-making, but unfortunately it leads nowhere. Odd indeed.

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

25 Sep

 

Director: Lasse Hallström

Writers: Simon Beaufoy, Paul Torday (novel)

Stars: Ewan McGregor, Emily Blunt and Amr Waked

Motion Picture Rating: 12A

Runtime: 107 minutes

 

 

There was a time, not that long ago, when I went out of my way to miss films that featured Ewan McGregor. He thoroughly annoyed me. Wooden, half-arsed acting, that peculiar grin of his and yet he still landed good roles. I didn’t understand it and instantly took a dim view of those three Star Wars episodes and the likes of Big Fish and The Island. However, I am altering my position and this film is a part of the process that started with The Ghost and then included Beginners and Perfect Sense (both reviewed here on SSR). McGregor is winning me over.

In this film McGregor nicely inhabits the role of an old before his time government fisheries expert. As Dr Alfred Jones he wears natty shirt, tie and cardigan combinations and is stiff and off-hand with his colleagues. At home he has a sober, but passionless and faltering marriage. McGregor retains his natural Scottish accent for the role and layers on a rather dour and sarcastic personality to great effect (all rather Gordon Brown). Dr Jones’ uneventful life changes when a representative of a sheikh approaches him with a project to develop salmon fishing in the Yemen that is seized upon by a UK government spin doctor looking for positive middle eastern news. He tries to resist the sheikh’s “theoretically possible” pet project, but is forced to participate.

Along with McGregor there is the hard working, but always fresh Emily Blunt supporting the sheikh and Kristin Scott Thomas as the interfering government PR wonk. It is a nice ensemble with Amr Waked equally effective as Sheikh Muhammed. Scott Thomas channels a bit of Malcolm Tucker so her scenes have a nice touch of The Thick of It about them. Apart from the odd bit of twee spiritual twaddle coming from the sheikh, it is difficult to fault the film. It has that nice, slow and lazy Sunday afternoon feel to it and that’s not such a bad thing. McGregor and Blunt are charming together and for once director Lasse Hallstrom keeps it tight and refrains from over sentimentality.

Bel Ami

28 Aug

 

 

Directors: Declan Donnellan, Nick Ormerod

Writers: Guy de Maupassant (novel), Rachel Bennette(screenplay)

Stars: Robert Pattinson, Uma Thurman and Kristin Scott Thomas

Motion Picture Rating: 15

Runtime: 102 minutes

 

No doubt the producers originally pitched this one as a ‘Dangerous Liaisons for a new generation’ so getting those type quotes from certain critics, mostly writing for women’s magazines, must have been satisfying. However, it’s a double-edged sword to be positioned alongside such a well-liked predecessor. In this case it is contextually helpful, putting Bel Ami in turn of the century Paris, but it is also dangerous to push Robert Pattinson as being in ‘the John Malkovich role’. And whilst the film-makers have conjured up good quality sets, costumes and music, it is in Pattinson that most of the problems with this film lie.

Pattinson plays Georges Duroy and the film is the story of his rise from lowly ex-soldier to high society mover and shaker via the beds of influential Parisian women. He starts with Christina Ricci, moves on to Uma Thurman and ends up with Kristin Scott Thomas whilst all the while pretending to be a savvy newspaper man. It is a simple story and was sub-titled by the author (Guy de Maupassant in 1885) as The History of a Scoundrel.

Having come from the Twilight franchise, it seems strange to me that Pattinson is allowed to turn up in decadent Paris ca. 1900 as a pale, sullen, and moody so-and-so. It’s almost Interview with a Vampire territory and it is far too close to his famous fanged alter ego for the good of this film. Pattinson in this carnation does not fit the period or the story. It is awful casting in, ironically, a bloodless film. Passion is nowhere to be seen and it is nonsense that the educated ladies of Paris fall for Georges Duroy with his stilted conversation, shabby clothes and strained smile. Pattinson is such a very long way from Malkovich. This is a poor film and does nothing for Pattinson and the rest of the cast, although it is good to see Christina Ricci back.

Sarah’s Key

10 Jan

Director: Gilles Paquet-Brenner

Writers: Gilles Paquet-Brenner (screenplay), Serge Joncour (screenplay), and 1 more credit

Stars: Kristin Scott Thomas, Mélusine Mayance and Niels Arestrup

Motion Picture Rating: PG-13

Runtime: 111 minutes

 

 

Kristin Scott Thomas stars in this absorbing drama about the holocaust and about one family’s horrific experience of it and about the deep scars left by it on another. Sarah’s Key is set in Paris and is mostly in French with subtitles. Scott Thomas as Julia plays an American journalist living in Paris today and trying to write a piece about the round up of Jews living in the city in 1942.

In July 1942 the French state cooperated with the Nazis in the identification, segregation and persecution of groups of Jewish people. French police picked up whole families, kept them locked up in a velodrome for days (the Vel’ d’hiv round up) and then facilitated their transport on to the Eastern European death camps. The film follows one such Jewish family being taken. In particular it focuses on their daughter Sarah and her attempt to hide away and save her younger brother. Sarah’s story unfolds alongside that of Julia for whom today’s investigative piece of journalism starts to open up wounds within her French family-in-law.

This is a very moving film. The scenes in 1942 are rightfully harrowing and Sarah’s small story is able to capture all of the unprecedented inhumanity and intolerance of the time. The young actor playing Sarah (Melusine Mayance) is excellent, as is the whole cast. The modern scenes with Scott Thomas are also impactful and the overall narrative flows very well. It is a touching film that makes you think and that also inspires.

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