12:22 19 August 2022
List of Mr. Malcolm (PG)
Director: Emma Holly Jones
With: Freida Pinto, Sope Dirisu, Zawe Ashton, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Theo James and Gemma Chan
At the movie theater
In Alphaville, Jean-Luc Godard made a science fiction adventure in space in black and white, Paris of the sixties. The film invited viewers to accept that it was a futuristic dystopian metropolis and that when it showed them a taxi ride, they were actually seeing an intergalactic rocket journey. A current equivalent is found in the regulation of colorblind casting in period dramas; like Godard, he challenges the viewer’s instinctive dependence on the reality of the screen image. We are forced not to believe our own eyes, to look beyond what is in front of us.
Mr. Malcolm’s List, a cross-cultural pastiche/homage to the romantic comedy Jane Austin Regency, takes the concept even further: it demands that we ignore the pleas of our eyes and ears in all areas. Not just in the ethnicity of the characters, but in their age, the dialogue they speak, and almost every aspect of their behavior. We have to accept that people are charming even if there is no evidence for it; this dialogue will switch, often in the middle of a sentence, from contemporary slang to Regency formality; that Pinto is the daughter of a virginal cleric even though she is clearly pregnant. The costumes and the range of National Trust properties it was filmed on are likely authentic, but anything else is questionable. Even the weather is suspicious.
Based on a novel by Suzanne Allain, the plot revolves around a highly eligible bachelor, Mr. Malcolm (Dirisu) who wants to marry for love and has a strict list of criteria his bride must meet. After Julie (Ashton) suffers public humiliation when he rejects her for a misstep in her small talk about the Corn Law, she enlists her childhood friend Selina (Pinto) in a scheme to get revenge. But then Selina meets Malcolm, period, period, period.
Instinctively, one can look for a diary but the film seems to have been made of affection and love. It’s the same old ground covered in new faces that can’t bring it any charm or sparkle. There’s a reason costume dramas are the preserve of Keira Knightley and the ladies of the RSC: stiffness and being stuck come naturally to them, everyone has to work at it. And really, why would you bother?
His path (18)
Directed by: Cécile Ducrocq
With: Laure Calamy, Nissim Renard, Béatrice Facquer, Romain Brau and Sam Louwyck
In French with subtitles
In fact, A Woman Of The World. The original French title isn’t a great shake but is surely better than Her Way, which just doesn’t. This is a socio-economic study of a single mother Marie (Calamy) who struggles to make ends meet by working as a self-employed service provider in the gig economy; campaigning for better rights and working conditions and embittered because the undercutting of foreign workers drove down the going rate. You might not be entirely surprised to learn that she’s a sex worker – although she prefers the term old-fashioned prostitute – as that’s the only area of exploitation the films really understand.
Marie is strident and unashamed of her job, but after her teenage son Adrien (Renard) is expelled, she sees an expensive private cooking school as the only way to save him. But how to get the fees? Calamy is captivating in the lead role, but the script is neither subtle nor convincing. The characters have abrupt personality changes, the narrative has melodramatic bursts that undermine the film’s realism and offer resolutions that seem undeserved. He also chooses to omit any backstory that makes Marie a less compelling character.
Official competition (15)
Directed by: Gaston Duprat and Mariano Cohn
With: Penelope Cruz, Antonio Banderas, Oscar Martínez, Irene Escolar and José Luis Gomez
In Cinema and Home Cinema Curzon
On his 80th birthday, a millionaire, Suarez (Gomez), decides he needs something to remember. His first choice is to build a bridge before deciding to make a film. He hires a famous and eccentric director (Cruz) and buys her a novel by a Nobel Prize winner about sibling rivalry. To play the two actors, she hires a big movie star (Banderas) and a famous comedian (Martinez); because she wants to “explore the tension between them”. The three meet in the modernist sprawl of the Suarez Foundation to rehearse.
Duprat and Cohn’s film has great performances, inspired sight gags and they make striking use of the Teatro Auditorio San Lorenzo where most of it was shot. The pretensions, insecurities and absurdities of filmmaking and acting are easy targets but, at the start, it’s interestingly ambiguous: the actors are conceited and superficial, the director is ridiculously demanding, but the work they produce is impressive. Then halfway through, Cruz’s character pulls an exaggerated prank that destroys his credibility. Something that subtly ridiculed and celebrated the process of filmmaking and creativity, becomes a hit cartoon.
Visit www.halfmanhalfcritic.com for a review of the Criterion Collection Blu-ray release of The Big Chill.