Friday, October 21, 2011

London Film Fest 2011 Day 9 - MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE

MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE is a movie with a fascinating premise and a compelling central performance that is let down by a deeply non-credible plot and incredibly flawed cinematographer. It arrived at the London Film Festival fĂȘted with praised and awards from the Sundance Film Festival, but sadly does not live up to the hype.

The central premise is to tell the story of a young girl in the immediate aftermath of her escape from a Charlie Manson like cult.  Day by day we see her struggle to adjust to normal society - her behaviour increasingly paranoid and aggressive - her family turning from accepting to irritated.  I really liked the novelty of taking this point of view. Rather than a lurid movie taking us into a cult in simple chronological fashion, it was far more fascinating to see the impact of the emotional manipulation in nightmarish flashbacks.  (That said, and to resist plot spoilers, I will simply say that I found the final scene to be needlessly "tricksy".)

Elizabeth Olsen plays the girl who has escaped - birth name Martha - but renamed by the cult leader Marcy May - a clever re-naming trick designed to alienate her from her former life and family ties.  I guess she'll forever be referred to as the "other" Olsen girl, but this performance should go some way to give her a name of her own.  Her performance is subtle, brave and deeply compelling - it's the backbone that keeps the movie together - and places her as a young talent to watch in the same peer group as Carey Mulligan and Evan Rachel Wood.

The tragedy is that her performance is undermined by a script by debut writer-director Sean Durkin that is utterly (and literally) incredible.  If your kid sister vanishes for two years, then suddenly calls you begging you to pick her up from the middle of nowhere, is in visible distress, covered in bruises, and starts acting really weirdly, wouldn't you ask what just happened?  Wouldn't you take her to a doctor immediately? Wouldn't you try to reach out to her?  I simply found the character of Lucy, Martha's sister, utterly unbelievable, and I wondered if this was deliberate on the part of Durkin or just a mistake, compounded by Sarah Paulin's icy, almost robotic, performance.  But even before that, I found the plot absurd. In the first scene, Martha escapes from the commune by running off into the woods, and then stops in the nearest town for some food.  One of the men from the cult tracks her down and looks menacing, but instead of hauling her ass back, simply let's her hang out in town assuming she'll come back of her own accord.  That just seemed laughably stupid.

Elizabeth Olsen (Martha) on the red carpet
for the UK premiere of  

the BFI London Film Festival 2011
The other major problem with this film is incredibly poor quality cinematography from DP Jody Lee Lipes. That's not to see each frame isn't beautifully composed - that there isn't brilliant work in creating trick shots - reflections.  But I really hate it when people use DV and create colour palettes where the blacks aren't true blacks but washed out greys. It muddies the picture, and reduces the intensity of emotion.  When Martha runs into the woods, for instance, the scene is less petrifying but the scene looks washed out.  

MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE played Sundance 2011 where it won the Directing Award - Dramatic. It also played Cannes, Sydney and Toronto. It opens today in the US. It opens on December 22nd in Sweden; on January 20th in Poland; on February 2nd in Russia; in Ireland and the UK on February 3rd; in Spain on February 24th; and in France and Germany on March 29th.

No comments:

Post a Comment