Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Clean; Death of a President; Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!

[Clean (Olivier Assayas, 2006): Assayas reunites with his ex-wife Maggie Cheung for this slow but engrossing study of a drug-addicted wife of a recently-dead musician, who desperately tries to get her life back on track for the sake of her son, who has been living with her husband's parents since he was born. Clean seems to have provoked intriguingly disparate reactions from the critical community, but suffice to say, this viewer found it strikingly off-kilter, eschewing the usual cliches of drug addiction and recovery and instead taking a more sublte approach. Cheung fits perfectly into this mould, never giving the audience anything obvious to latch onto and instead delicately constructing a painful, interior woman who can't quite let go of what she knows she must. Assayas' direction is genius- my favourite scene probably comes where Cheung meets up with her father-in-law (a rugged, impressive Nick Nolte) in a train station, and runs off suddenly only to sharply change her mind. Amongst the crowd, Assayas' camera tracks but often loses it's subject, but, symbolically, it always gets there eventually. Grade: B+]

[Death of a President (Gabriel Range, 2006): This controversial British-made psuedo-documentary debuted on tv over here, and after a while the advert breaks become less annoying than there are during the first half of the film. Range's take on the assassination of President Bush provides gripping viewing while the event itself is built up to and takes place- a seamless use of stock footage digitally integrated- but it totally loses itself when it tackles the ensuing investigation, eschewing the possibilities of social and political commentary for a streamlined, messy 'who-dunnit' situation, albeit with ethnic minorities. But it's exploration of race is far too surface, too obvious, and it finishes with the depressing feeling that it could have been so, so much more. Grade: C]

[Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (Pedro Almodovar, 1990): What seems to me an Almodovarian take on the screwball comedy, with the slightly psychotic Antonio Banderas heading straight for his one-night-stand Victoria Abril, a recovering drug-addict and ex-porn actress, with the intention of making her his wife. To ensure this end, he ties her to the bed and tapes over her mouth while he leaves, effectively kidnapping her in her own home. With usual Almodovar themes of twisted sexuality, madness, and the like, it's hardly a grand departure (when is it ever?), but it certainly struck me as one his most successful films. Drawing on the electric chemistry between it's two stars, the satirical edge of the film is brilliant, challenging Hollywood conventions of traditional romance right up to it's deliriously silly (and simultaneously romantic) ending. If you (like me) are exploring Almodovar's earlier works, this should jump to the top of your list. Grade: A-]

No comments: