Monday, August 31, 2009

Pantheon movie of the month - THE CONVERSATION

Between the two GODFATHER films, Francis Ford Coppola made a quiet psychological thriller of equal merit, though much less watched. It stars Gene Hackman as harry Caul, an expert wire-tapper so successful at repressing his knowledge of the consequences of his actions that he become introverted and alienated. Just as in BLOW-UP, through persistent viewing and an unhealthy dose of paranoia, he becomes convinced that a conversation he has recorded could have fatal consequences. Moreover, it becomes clear that as good as he is at being a voyeur, he's not as perfect as his peers think he is. His nemesis and fellow wire-tapper has, for instance, bugged him. The result is a brilliant thriller and character study, shot by Bill Butler of ROCKY II fame and sound edited by the non-pareil Walter Murch.

THE CONVERSATION played Cannes 1974 and opened in 1974 and 1975. THE CONVERSATION was nominated for Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay and Best Sound. It lost to the GODFATHER PART II, CHINATOWN and EARTHQUAKE respectively. It won the Palme d'Or, beating Pasolini's ARABIAN NIGHTS.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

FUNNY PEOPLE - We hate it when our friends become successful

FUNNY PEOPLE is multi-hyphenated film-maker, Judd Apatow's, attempt to move from frat-boy comedy to auteur status. It's not enough that he's written, produced or directed almost every successful Hollywood comedy of the past few years. He wants respect for something other than telling dick jokes and raking in the proverbial phat cash. In order to do this, he has made a self-referential movie about how success corrupts and ultimately does not satisfy, illustrating this with the relationship between Adam Sandler's successful Hollywood funny-man and Seth Rogen's aspiring stand-up comedian. Sandler's character treats women like shit, has no friends, has lost the love of his life by cheating on her and has lost the joy in writing comedy. When diagnosed with terminal illness he basically pays Seth Rogen's character to be his friend. And even Rogen's character, who is meant to be the moral compass of the film, back-stabs his room-mate to get the gig. And what of life in the real world? The "one who got away" is ready to trade in her husband and kids for a narcissistic dream of young love and a revitalised career. And even her husband is an arrogant schmuck. I mean, when you break it down, there aren't any pleasant characters in this movie. There's no one to root for, and no real self-discovery or improvement. Fundamentally, everyone is self-involved. And that isn't funny. It's depressing.

Granted, there are a lot of jokes in the film, and I did laugh a lot. Most of the humour was fairly lazy - the typical dick and wank jokes. The skits that really landed a punch were typically not the classic Apatow jokes - the German doctor was funny, as was Eminem in pure dead-pan satire. But there was way too much self-indulgent fluff involving Apatow gathering comedians he likes on screen and generally just schmoozing. You can see where the guy who had kids breakdown the narrative structure and comic breaks in STRIPES and THE JERK in FREAKS AND GEEKS would get off on this sort of fan-fic. But, as they say, there is nothing more boring then listening to someone else describe their dreams.

I was disappointed not to see a more savage breakdown of the Sandler-Hollywood-superstar persona. I've always found there to be something slightly sinister about Sandler's humour. PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE exploited that brilliantly. FUNNY PEOPLE doesn't really have the balls to try. On a more prosaic note, I thought the second half of the film, with the Star trying to break a marriage, was over-long, drifted and needed drastic editing down. Note to Judd Apatow - it is possible make a classic comedy that's 90 minutes long.

FUNNY PEOPLE was released in July in the US, Kazakhstan, Russia and Canada. It was released earlier in August in Egypt and Mexico. It opens in the UK on August 28th. It opens in September in the Netherlands, Iceland, Spain, Australia, Germany, New Zealand, the Czech Republic, Singapore and Romania. It opens in October in Greece, Estonia, Turkey, Belgium, France, Italy, Portugal, Denmark, Norway and Sweden. It opens on November 26th in Argentina and on December 3rd in Hungary.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

THE HURT LOCKER - The horror

Hollywood loves a good war - the heroism, the pagentry, the tragedy, the acres of gleaming hardware, the loud explosions. This is the stuff of box office dreams. Never mind that many in Hollywood would consider themselves part of the liberal elite. The merchandise is often thinly veiled PR for the Armed Forces who lend out the armoured cars and planes to any movie with the right credentials. It has always struck me as ironic that an institution so intent on discriminating against homosexuals should have helped spawn movies that are so ra-ra pro-war that they trip into self-parody and camp. From TOP GUN to PEARL HARBOR, we all know that the girls are secondary to the guys and guns.

Of course, in Hollywood's soul, she is the last bastion of the liberal elite. There is, apparently, no contradiction in Clooney, Damon, diCaprio et al jetting round the world, belching out burnt jet fuel, to promote films persuading us to save the planet. And alongside the war-epics in which the US wins World War Two single-handedly (Enigma, anyone? Stalingrad?) there is another type of war film, typically made by independent film-makers or documentary-makers. These films look at micro-impact of war on the individual human being. The savagery of large-scale destruction is made understandable by seeing the degradation of an individual. Prime examples are CATCH-22, THE THIN RED LINE or, in a movie that brilliantly combined both big explosions AND a soul, APOCALYPSE NOW.

The Second Gulf War has been about as confused for Hollywood as it's been for the policymakers. No-one knows why we're at war in Iraq when the Taliban was sponsored by the Afghani government. No-one knows whether anyone actually ever thought there were Weapons of Mass Destruction. We know we won, four years ago, but it doesn't feel like victory. It's a war without clear-cut dates, campaigns and larger-than-life generals. It's not an epic invasion but a dog-fight from street to street, where insurgents blow up soldiers with Improvised Explosive Devices and our Heroic Boys in the Field are actually paid mercenaries accountable to no-one we vote for.

Clearly, the epic approach wasn't going to cut it. But what of Indie soul-searching? We've had some decent small films come out, each with a different take: GRACE IS GONE (grief); WAR INC (satire); IN THE VALLEY OF ELAH (police procedural); REDACTED (fictional recreation). None of them have taken any money although garnering decent enough reviews. And now comes the feted THE HURT LOCKER, and the buzz has begun: is this a war film that WILL FINALLY TAKE SOME MONEY? Of course, no-one can actually say that (or maybe they can in Variety).

Before watching the film I thought it's chances of pulling off both good reviews and receipts were high. The writer is Mark Boal, and you don't get more credible than having been an embedded journalist in Iraq. The director, however, is no bleeding heart liberal but a woman who knows how to direct tense thrillers, Kathryn Bigelow of K-19 WIDOWMAKER fame. Could this be the perfect balance between action and intellect? I also liked the idea of telling the story of Iraq by focusing on a bomb-denotation squad, and showing the politics only incidentally, through the impact of the campaign on the three common soldiers at the heart of the film. The film didn't disappoint. It's tense, compelling and a rare case where flashy camerawork (four hand-held cameras working simulatenously) helped rather than distracted from the subject-matter. In watching Bigelow's movie you get an idea of the futility of the campaign, the danger the soldiers have to live with, and the inhospitable terrain. Not only is it technically well-made and genuinely tense - the movie is also very well acted by three relatively unknown character actors: Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie and Brian Geraghty. It's worth watching, without a doubt. That's not to say it's one of the greatest war films, or even the best on the Second Gulf War. To my mind, nothing to date beats the visceral intensity and Gonzo brilliance of REDACTED. I also athought the marquee name cameos were distracting and that some of the dialogue was hackneyed. Still, overall, Bigelow and Boal have created a war film that shows, rather than tells, of the horror of war and the impossibility of going back. Kudos.

THE HURT LOCKER played Venice (where it was beaten in competition by THE WRESTLER) and Toronto 2008 and was released in Italy last year. It opened earlier this year in the USA, Indonesia and Iceland. It opens this weekend in Germany and Austria and on August 28th in the UK. It opens on September 17th in Portugal, on September 23rd in France and Norway; and on October 23rd in Estonia. It opens on January 8th 2010 in Taiwan.

Monday, August 24, 2009

DISTRICT 9 - scary monsters!

Neill Blomkamp's directorial debut is one half chilling dystopian sci-fi flick and one-half derivative summer action movie. Seemingly that has resulted in the golden combination of critical acclaim and the proverbial phat cash. To my mind, it's an entertaining, intelligent flick that stops just short of greatness in its final thirty minutes.

The premise is brilliant. When aliens arrive, they don't invade America but hover over Jo'burg, sick and malnourished. Eventually humans cut their way into the spaceship and offer the aliens refugee status, keeping them holed up in a ghetto called District 9. The aliens are denigrated as "Prawns", scammed by Nigerians, harrassed by mercenaries and oppressed by a fascist government. Think South Africa during the apartheid regime, or the refugees at Sangatte. We see all this through documentary footage of a particularly small-minded pen-pusher called Wikus Van De Merwe. Wikus is the kind of officious bastard who gets off on enforcing the law to the nth degree. Even when he's contaminated by alien bio-fuel and starts mutating, and in sheer desperation hides out in an alien underground workshop, he still talks about statute violations.

I love the fake-documentary footage that intersperses the film - from vox-pops to CCTV. I love the brilliant re-casting of the refugee experience as an alien sci-fi flick. I love Sharlto Copley's performance as Wikus. And I really love the fact that his development, from Prawn-hating tyrant to sympathetic mutant-on-the-run, is slow and credible. You don't just have a change of heart because you are oozing alien puss! I got a lot less interested in this flick when it turned into a derivative buddy movie full of hammy dialogue and technically brilliant but uninvolving explosions. It's a shame Neill Blomkamp couldn't have held his nerve, and turned in a dystopian horror as consistently gripping as CHILDREN OF MEN. But for all that, I can't deny that I'm excited at the prospect of DISTRICT 10!

DISTRICT 9 was released earlier in August in the US, Australia, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Russia, Singapore, Ukraine, Canada, Estonia, Indonesia and Denmark. It opens next weekend in the Philippines, Finland, Latvia, Mexico, South Africa and Sweden. It opens on September 4th in the UK, Bulgaria, and Venezuela. It opens later in September in France, Switzerland, Spain, Iceland, Argentina, Portugal and Belgium. It opens in October in Italy, Romania, Turkey, Hong Kong, the Netherlands, Poland, Germany, Greece, Switzerland, Norway, Brazil and Colombia.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

THE SOLOIST - schadenfreude

THE SOLOIST is a bad movie. Bad, in ways that fawning Hollywood studios in search of Oscar-pay-dirt can't mask. Witness the fact that is was completed in October 2008, and could've been released in Oscar contender season but was instead pushed back to a 2009 release. The film is not bad because of the central performances. Robert Downey Junior is just fine as real-life LA Times columnist Steve Lopez and Jamie Foxx is impressive as Nathaniel Ayers, the schizophrenic, homeless Cellist that Lopez befriends. The film is bad because of the poor choices made by its director, Joe Wright, the very same director lauded for his adaptations of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE and ATONEMENT. I was astonished at the critical acclaim the latter achieved. To my mind, Wright took a delicate, clever book and ruined it with his heavy-handed, showy, directorial "style". His self-conscious over-choreographed cinematography got in the way of his material.

THE SOLOIST is the ultimate exemplar of the fatal flaw in Wright's direction and, in my worst moments, I am rather glad he has been exposed as a mere stylist. We have impressive shots everywhere. A liquid camera curves through a newsroom taking up the editor (Catherine Keener), then a reporter, and finally our icon of liberal angst, Steve Lopez. After a chance encounter with the homeless savant is written up in a LA Times column, a reader sends in a cello. Rather than cut to the scene where Lopez delivers it to Ayers, we have a Cello-POV tracking shot through the same newsroom. When Lopez hears Ayers play the cello for the first time, the camera swoops up to the skies and follows birds in flight. All of this shows some technical ability, but again and again I asked myself WHY? Why do we need the cello-POV-shot? What does it add to my understanding of Ayers' plight or my response to it?

If self-conscious camera-work is a continuous problem with Wright's work, THE SOLOIST has its own particular problems. The biggest is how Wright chooses to depict schizophrenia. Rather than depict illness from the inside-out, as in A BEAUTIFUL MIND or THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY, he goes for a rather lazy sound-scape. He doesn't really seem all that interested in mental illness as an internal experience, but rather in bludgeoning the film-goers over the head with some propaganda for a more caring society. (Note the continuous use of the US flag as an icon as a contrast to the most marginalised citizens). The second problem is that Wright clearly isn't that interested in music. Yes, it's there as a backdrop, and we are meant to tear-up, as Lopez does, hearing Ayers play. But there is no transcendental moment for the audience, as there is for Lopez. We are moved neither by Beethoven nor by Ayers' plight.

Note to director: next time, concentrate more on how to evoke an emotional response from the audience and less on how to create cool effects with the camera.

THE SOLOIST was completed in October 2008. The studio chose not to release it until April 2009 in the USA and Canada. It goes on release in the Netherlands, Australia, Greece, New Zealand, Israel, Mexico and the UK in September and in Germany, Portugal, Brazil, Denmark, Romania, the Czech Republic and Argentina in October. However, it is already available on Region 1 DVD replete with some rather self-congratulatory and pompous extras.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

THE PINK PANTHER 2 - Cinema Hate-Crime

Peter Sellers made five great comedies playing the incapable but serendipitous French cop, Inspector Clouseau. Herbert Lom seethed with anger as his boss. Burt Kwouk exemplified physical comedy genius as his side-kick Cato. Those movies are Cinema Gold. That Steve Martin fool-headedly decided to remake the Clouseau movies, churning out the piss-poor 2006 film, was bad enough. That he lacked humility enough to try it again is unforgivable. The resulting cinema dreck troubled the multiplexes only briefly, and rolled onto DVD with a mere USD70million gross. Here's hoping that's the end of this humiliating little experiment.

As to the particulars, the plot sees The Tornado stealing priceless world historical arefacts as well as the eponymous French diamond. An international dream team of cops is brought together to track them down. Clouseau embarasses them all, almost loses his sweet-heart Nicole, but finally foils the thief. The movie is set in a stylised picture-postcard Europe, and peopled with characters in stylised costumes and deliberately hammy accents. One can only assume that the likes of Jeremy Irons, Lily Tomlin, Alfred Molina, Jean Reno and Andy Garcia were doing it for the phat cash alone. The exception is Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, who presumably also did it to raise her profile in Western cinema, and whose uneven Anglo-Brit accent is presumably not deliberate. The physical comedy is predictable and worst of all, leans heavily on CGI. The direction is competent at best. The plot is utterly predictable. The only surprising thing about the film is that it us written by Scott Neustadter and Michael H Weber who also wrote 500 DAYS OF SUMMER.

THE PINK PANTHER was released in spring 2009 and is available on DVD.

Friday, August 21, 2009

THE TIME TRAVELLER’S WIFE – Intelligent, Romantic, Tragic

I liked the TIME TRAVELLER’S WIFE. It made me cry, and not in a way that made me feel violated and manipulated like TITANIC or DEVDAS. And it made me think, not only about the causal paradoxes that are inherent to time-travel movies – but also about the unique ethical dilemmas the plot brings up.

Ultimately though, the best thing about TIME TRAVELLER’S WIFE is that it doesn’t rotate around the science-fiction aspect of time travel, or about any of the ethical issues it raises – it’s just a good, old-fashioned love story: soft; kind; tragic. The time travel is an interesting twist – it makes a more complex and thought provoking plot possible – it means that, unlike other romances, you can still be thinking about it the day after.

I’ve never read the book, and it’s possible that it doesn’t do it justice, few films do. I would certainly have liked some of the issues explored further. Was the relationship genuinely fidelitous around the conception of the couple’s child? Was the hero’s decision prior to that conception justified? Was the hero cruel or kind at the end? I would imagine the book looks at these in some more detail.

But I’m nitpicking. Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams are convincing in the main roles – the movie is well shot and directed – the screenplay has appropriate depth and feeling. It was funny, happy, sad and thought provoking – and while it won’t be everybody’s cup of tea (I can see young male action-movie-fans balking at this one) - it proved an excellent couples movie and a poignant way of spending an afternoon with Mrs Plainview.

Fundamentally a solid, intelligent romantic drama: highly recommended to all fans of the genre.

THE TIME TRAVELER'S WIFE is on release in the UK, USA, Canada, Iceland, the Philippines and Mexico. It opens in September in Greece, Singapore, the Czech Republic, Germany, Argentina, Hong Kong and Vietnam. It opens in October in Sweden, Russia and Estonia. It opens in November in Australia, Italy and France. It opens in December in New Zealand and on February 25th 2010 in Portugal.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

ORPHAN – Who thinks this shit up?

Orphan isn’t a horror movie. It isn’t scary. It tries to be, it tries desperately.

I’m not saying Orphan is a bad film – it passes the time and keeps the audience engaged and vaguely interested. The characters aren’t wholly unbelievable, the script is decent, it’s not gratuitous or unnecessarily gory. But it’s not scary – and that leaves you asking: what is it then?

Is it a psychological thriller? The character development isn’t strong enough for that. Is it an examination of paranoia and fear in a dysfunctional marriage? It’s not deep enough for that.

No, this film is a hodge-podge. It’s a kinda original but ultimately failed attempt by Jaume Collet-Serra, in his first major directorial release, to combine the two major plot-lines of all good horror films: the evil child and the usurping, jealous female intruder. It’s sort of “Children of the Corn” meets “Hand that rocks the cradle” – it tries to play into the two most basic fears of womanhood – your children being in danger, and your husband being stolen.

Sadly the combination is ultimately ridiculous – you find yourself actually laughing at the climactic scenes – the resolution is ultimately unsatisfying because you just don’t believe anyone would think of making a plot that silly.

In some ways, it’s a big missed opportunity. Had the film firmly opted for psychological thriller rather than falling between stools – it could have been strong. The themes of marital infidelity, suspicion, alcoholism, child neglect, paranoia, paedophilia, and personality disorders are genuinely dark and deeply disturbing. But the film doesn’t have the balls to take a chance on these and run with them – and ultimately cops out and becomes yet another 2-dimensional shock-flick.

That’s not to say I didn’t have fun – I did. It passed the time, and was mildly entertaining. Just don’t get your hopes up for a fright or for intellectual satisfaction. It delivers neither.

ORPHAN is on release in the US, UK, Canada, the Philippines, Taiwan, Puerto Rico, Ireland, Panama, Australia, Singapore, Indonesia and South Africa. It opens in September in Malaysia, Serbia, Brazil, Turkey, Uruguay, Venezuela, India, Argentina, Greece, Slovakia, Poland and Japan. It opens in October in Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Russia, Iceland, Spain, Austria, Estonia, Lithuania, Romania and Portugal. It opens in November in Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand and in December in Belgium.

Monday, August 17, 2009

I CAN'T THINK STRAIGHT - amateur tech, naive narrative

I CAN'T THINK STRAIGHT is a film with two problems. First, its production values and performances are amateur. Second, despite its earnest intentions to examine lesbian relationships in the contemporary South Asian and Middle East diaspora, it is actually incredibly simplistic and naive. In one particularly excruciating scene, the protagonist's sister realises she is gay when she spots books by Sarah Waters and k d lang CDs in her bedroom. This naivety carries through into a ludicrously fairy-tale ending. Overall, this is just another example of film-makers shoe-horning more transgressive material into the easy-to-swallow formula of mainstream romannces, viz. IMAGINE ME AND YOU

I CAN'T THINK STRAIGHT played Toronto 2008. It was released in India and the US last year and is currently on release in the UK. It opens in Germany on April 16th.

Saturday, August 15, 2009


So here's the thing. INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS is not a disaster. It's quite watchable and occasionally leavened by good performances, both comedic (Christoph Waltz, Brad Pitt) and dramatic (Mélanie Laurent), not to mention beefcake (Til Schweiger). There are flashes of Tarantino craziness (in a superb basement-tavern set-piece for one) but somehow the movie never takes off - never quite convinces us that we are in a surreal alternate place. In a sense, Tarantino is too good. He does what he's never done before - he creates genuinely dramatic, emotional, credible situations of fear and tension. And then he expects us to switch back in Tarantino the Comic Fantasist mode. As a result, when Tarantino does something that really fracks with reality (e.g. the ending) it just feels wrong. Final reaction: flat. Meh. Walk out of the cinema thinking, what just happened here?

Now, down to the nuts and bolts. INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS is really two films. The first is a pretty serious revenge movie. Mélanie Laurent plays a young Jewish woman who has watched her family butchered by Nazis, and is now in a position, as owner of a Parisian cinema, to blow up the entire German High Command at a premiere of some Nazi propoganda. Melanie Laurent is excellent as Shosanna Dreyfuss - just watch her suppress her fear when she realises she is taking coffee with the man who butchered her family. Diane Kruger is also notably convincing as a German film-star who has to charm her way into the premiere in order to disrupt it. The tension when she is being interrogated by the same Nazi officer who terrified Shosanna is palpable. The second movie, which surrounds the first, is a more broadly drawn Tarantino comedy in which a bunch of American Nazi scalp-hunters, led by Brad Pitt, team up with Diane Kruger's German film-star and Michael Fassbinder's British soldier, to also blow-up aforementioned Nazis. The comedy comes from Brad Pitt as a sort of Dirty Dozen war hero and his interactions with the Nazi villain played by Waltz (whose performance unifies the two parts of the film). The comedy does not come from a particularly ill-judged cameo from Mike Myers.

My suspicion is that the movie won't satisfy anyone. Tarantino fans will want more Brad Pitt/Basterds craziness and tire of the Parisian drama. Not to mention the fact that, rather bravely, Tarantino has chosen to be vaguely credible in keeping most of the dialogue in French and German. Indeed, he goes further, with a great running gag about Americans not speaking foreign languages. I just wonder whether that gag will back-fire with his target demographic. The cult-fans looking for kick-ass violence and witty dialigue might also object to the fact that, ultimately, this is not really a movie about France, Nazis, the Holocaust or anything other than Tarantino's abiding love of cinema, and his childlike belief that movies really can change the world.

INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS played Cannes 2009, where Christoph Waltz won Best Actor, Berlin and Melbourne 2009. It is released next weekend in Belgium, France, the UK, Australia, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, New Zealand, Russia, Slovenia, Ukraine, Austria, Canada, Estonia, Norway, Sweden, Taiwan, the USA and the Netherlands. It is released the following weekend in Iceland, Argentina, the Czech Republic, the Portugal, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Denmark. It opens in September in Finland, Romania, Israel and Spain. It opens in October in Italy, Japan, Singapore, Mexico and Brazil.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

THE UGLY TRUTH - joyless

Despite re-teaming the director and writers of LEGALLY BLONDE, this new Katherine Heigl vehicle/rom-com is utterly mirthless. Heigl plays a character all too familiar from recent rom-coms- the frosty career-bitch who just needs to get laid by a Real Man (Gerard Butler). It's the same basic set-up as THE ACCIDENTAL HUSBAND, THE PROPOSAL et al. She's a TV producer on a dismal morning show - he's the misogynistic guest-host brought in to boost ratings. He bets that if she can follow his advice, she'll get her dream man - if he loses, he'll quit the show. What then follows is an entirely predictable, entirely mirthless affair. Heigl simply does not have the physical comedy skills to pull of a scene where she's wearing vibrating pants in a restaurant. To see it done better check out Jenna Elfman in KEEPING THE FAITH. As for Gerard Butler, he really needs to work on his American accent because at present it's stuck in Scotland. Grim, grim, grim.

THE UGLY TRUTH is on release in the US, UK and Australia. It is released in Portugal on August 20th and in France, Argentina and New Zealand on August 27th. It is released on September 4th in Denmark, Mexico, Norway and Romania. It is released on September 11th in Spain and Sweden. It is released on September 17th in the Czech Republic, Greece, Russia, Singapore, Ukraine, Brazil, Finland and Iceland. It is released on September 23rd in Belgium, Egypt and Bulgaria. It is released on October 1st in Germany and the Netherlands and on October 9th in Estonia and South Africa. It is released in Italy on November 27th.

Saturday, August 08, 2009


I am the target demographic for this film. A woman of a certain age with a penchant for period romance and a handbag collection worth the output of a small African country. Coco Chanel defines a large part of my wardrobe, shoes, handbags and cosmetics. More profoundly, I am a career woman, and Coco Chanel was not just a radical fashion designer but also a formidable businesswoman who founded a global brand.

Why, then, did I find this movie so dull? The problem is that COCO AVANT CHANEL wants to tell us how Coco got to Paris, rather than how, once in Paris, she built her global business. The film argues that to know Coco as a young woman is to know all - a highly reductive stance. So we see very little of Coco designing anything, or of her famous business sense. Rather, the film focuses on her struggle to break out of the role pre-WW1 France had ascribed to her: resigned to being a working class shop-girl, a bauble for rich men to be traded like property, trussed up in corsets and unable to breathe.

It's a shame that a woman as radical and, yes, politicised, as Coco didn't get a movie as brave as she was. Rather we get a rather schmaltzy period romance in which our poor young heroine foists herself upon a rich Milord, only to fall for a young English businessman who will marry for money. The whole thing is filmed beautifully, in sumptuous period settings, with a lush score from Alexandre Desplat. But Coco's spikiness is near-smothered by the sepia-tint. It's also deeply hypocritical for the movie to praise Coco's iconoclastic stance and her fierce independence, while, at the same time, reducing her life to one thwarted love affair.


COCO AVANT CHANEL was released earlier this year in Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Italy, Spain, Israel, Australia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Portugal and Poland. It is currently on release in the UK. It is released in August in New Zealand, Germany, Argentina, Singapore, South Korea and Norway. It is released in September in Japan, Sweden and the USA. It is released in October in Russia and Brazil; in November in Greece, Finland and Bulgaria and in December in Denmark.