Beginners – Review

Beginners (2010) 

Director: Mike Mills Writer: Mike Mills Stars:  Ewan McGregorChristopher Plummer and Mélanie Laurent 

They may tell you that this is a comedy. You might have read about it on newspapers and magazines, you might have seen the poster looking more like one of those US rom-com than anything else… You’ve probably even looked at the trailer which sells it as an Indi-like comedy (and only hints to something else behind it), but be aware…

To a certain degree this is comedy in the most Shakespearian sense of the word (where even the most dramatic plays are considered comedic just because they end well). There are certainly some inspired funny moments here and there, however if you decide to go and watch “Beginners”, get ready to bring some tissues along because behind the laughs and the weird quirky tone, there’s a really heart-breaking story at its core.

The film essentially intercuts between two timelines: the first one follows the few last months of the charming, flamboyant and playful 75 years old Hal (an Oscar-worthy role by Christopher Plummer) who has recently come out as gay and most crucially who’s terminally ill with cancer. Don’t worry, I am not giving away anything: the film actually starts with his son, Oliver (Ewan McGregor in what’s probably his best performance) clearing up his deceased dad’s apartment.

The second timeline centres around his Oliver himself having to live with and accept the death of his father as well dealing with a new relationship with a free-spirited French actress, Anna (Melanie Laurent).

The film moves backwards and forwards between the two timelines and as it unfolds, it underlines the many contradictions of life: there’s light and darkness, music and silence, joy and sadness, laughs and tears (mainly tears as far as I am concerned: I was a total wreck by the end of it!), life and death.

It’s a film feels incredibly personal and yet it actually manages to be universal. After all it deals with the things we all very familiar with: parents, love, loneliness, death.

The beauty of it all is its attention to details: it’s a film made by simple moments which are so small and yet carry so much meaning. Like clearing a house after a person has died, going through their clothes, their personal properties, having to deal with the practicality of having to write a death certificate, but also, the clear realisation that life goes on for the living.

It is poignant and yet hopeful. It’s probably not for everyone, and it may have a few moments where it drags a little bit, but in the end it’s so disarmingly honest and beautifully observed and despite having a “talking dog” (and getting away with it) it feels incredibly truthful and real and I’d love to recommend it, but I’m aware that it’s a really tough watch and it’s a hard film to love. However it stayed with me long after the  credits finished rolling

7.5/10

Another Year – Review

Another Year  (7/10)

Directed by Mike Leigh. Starring Jim BroadbentLesley ManvilleRuth Sheen

If you are familiar with Mike Leigh’s body of works, you’ll be familiar with the themes and the setting of this film. In fact, for the first few minutes you might even be thinking “Oh dear… Another Year, another Mike’s Leigh’s movie”. Then slowly this becomes something that somehow stays with you, especially, I suppose, if you are a slightly older person than I am. This is not only a film about relationships, but it’s a film about growing old and what relationship mean to a person who’s growing old. You’ve got the old happy perfect couple on one side of the spectrum, the old man who starts his day and ends his day by drinking a can of beer (and obviously has many of them in between), the ageing 40 something woman, who suffers from depression and her to drinks herself to the point of embarrassing herself all the time, you’ve got the recently widowed man whose life seems to have stop making sense since the death of the wife. Anyway, in other words, this isn’t a happy depiction of life: it is after all a Mike’s Leigh’s film. It’s a film about real life, about little moments, silences, gestures, little things. There are so big resolutions, no big twists, not a lot of character development, because after all in life we don’t really change much and the biggest twist one may have in his life over the course of one year, is that his or her car might have broken down.

A lot has been made about how Mike Leigh like to shoot his films (rehearsing for 6 months with the actors, letting them improvise  and basically writing down the script as he goes along). In this one he ended up dividing his film into 4 season and he gave each of them a different look and feel. Well, to be honest, there’s absolutely nothing new or original in that: summer looks shining and warm, winter is obviously grey, foggy and with muted colours, perfectly in keeping with the last chapter which is mainly about death.

The film is pretty slow and yet quite mesmerizing. The wonderful performances have a lot to do with the success of this film and I wouldn’t be surprise if I ended up seeing some of those names getting some sort of nominations at the BAFTA… You know those Brits, are so patriotic…

However I did find some of the dialogue a bit fake and forced (especially the scenes at the dinner table with the new girlfriend). Everybody is always waiting for somebody else to finish their sentence before speaking again during the busiest dialogue scenes. On the other hand, during the slower and more quiet scenes silences and awkward moments are stretched a bit too far. It didn’t quite feel right to me.

At the end of the day I couldn’t really help feeling that the film is a bit too indulgent in a few places and some of those scenes could have been trimmed a lot more in the editing (I suppose, that’s the danger of filming sequences in one very long take: there’s probably not a lot of coverage to shorten things with).

Critics have loved it, of course, and I can see why. This is the kind of film that stays with you… But really,  in a few years time will we go back to “Another Year” and watch it again? I don’t think so.

7/10

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