Senna – Review

Senna (2010) 

Directed by Asif Kapadia. Starring Ayrton SennaAlain ProstFrank Williams

As a proper moviegeek, my interest in sport in general is very limited and when it comes to Formula 1 my ignorance is even greater. I can’t really tell a Ferrari from a McLaren, nor I would be able to tell you anything about pole positions, paddocks or sidepods (In fact I had to look up these words!). Not only that, but up until the other day I didn’t even know Senna was Brazilian nor I was 100% about his fate… You get the idea…

And yet, none of this mattered while watching this documentary. In fact, the film is a real piece of bravura in story-telling and emotion-stirring and if it managed to grab the attention of somebody like me (ignorant to the bone) it must surely mean something!

One of the reasons why it works so well is because it’s essentially a film about human emotions, real people, politics, corruption, obsessions and goes way beyond the boring technical details of a car race.

Ayrton Senna is depicted as an incredibly determined man. He’s strong, religious, sincere, funny and even cheeky… Well, at least that’s how he is depicted to us by  film-makers who are clearly quite keen in making sure we like him. The use of archive footage, especially during the first half of the film, is always carefully selected and edited to show us a rather sweet, sincere, honest and innocent image of this Brazilian hero.

It is obviously quite a bias version of Senna’s character and his family must have certainly been involved behind the scenes (as it’s clear from the use of private home footage and interviews with close relatives). However none of this really matters and certainly doesn’t take anything away from the fact that these are compelling stories and beautifully told.

On a technical level the film looks really terrible. Of course none of it is not its fault and I’m certainly not blaming it for that, but it’s a reminder of how bad videos from the 80s were. And yet instead of avoiding the problem or trying to hide it, director AsifKapadia, recognizing some of the real gems at his disposal, decides to embrace it and sticks with it all the way through the film. He even avoids cutting away to the so-called “talking heads” of the people who are being interviewed and instead he only uses their voices over the ugly-looking footage. By doing this he forces us to watch the images, focussing our attention and getting us even closer to his hero. In fact about 10 minutes into the documentary you actually forget to even care about how bad it all looks… which is, once again a proof of the strength of this film.

It is a great achievement of editing too as the film manages to tell quite a complicated story or corruption, antagonism, determination, obsessions and human emotions without the use of any external commentary, but just with archive footage and few interviews. And it’s not just all very clear, but it’s also succeeds in being both funny and moving.

I’m not quite sure how it would play to somebody who knows anything about Senna, but I certainly bough it up completely.

If I have one complain it has to be with the ending (which for the people who are as ignorant as me, I won’t give away), as it felt quite heavy-handed (I’m referring to the use of music, the over-stretched final sequences and the slightly gratuitous flash-backs): it obviously works (in fact I was a real wreck by the end of it), but it is one of those occasions where the hand of the film-makers was way too visible.

Other than that, this is clearly a labour of love, made by a very competent film-maker who knows how to tell a story  and grab his audience’s attention, even the ones who are clearly not interested.

8/10

Hereafter – Review

HEREAFTER (2010)

Directed by Clint Eastwood. Starring Cécile De France, Thierry Neuvic, Jessica Griffiths,Frankie, McLaren, George McLaren

I just can’t believe this film has been getting some good reviews. If it hadn’t been directed by CLINT EASTWOOD I’m sure people would have looked at it in a different way, but it seems it’s become a sin to bad-mouth a Clint Eastwood‘ film. What’s the matter with people and Clint Eastwood?

Just because the guy is 80 we should forgive him films like these?

First of all let’s all admit that Clint’s recent work has been rather inconsistent, and then let’s try to see how with this film he’s really touched rock bottom.

On paper HEREAFTER could almost work. It is the story of 3 different people in 3 different countries having to deal with death in 3 completely different ways. In the first story, Matt Damon has psychic abilities and he’s able to communicate with the dead (or rather listen to them).

The second story is about a French woman, Cécile De France (probably known to the US audience from the latest “AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS“) who has survived a near-death experience and she’s now dealing with the post trauma.

And finally the third story is set in London and it’s about a young schoolboy who’s just lost his twin brother and he’s also trying to deal with the loss.

Unfortunately the film doesn’t really manage to go beyond these simple intriguing plot lines and what should have been an interesting story about loss, grief and death, told by an old aged man (who certainly must feel this subject very close to him, given his age) slowly (very slowly) becomes a heavy-handed gush of sentimentality, with a script riddled with a series of spoon-fed clichés.

People may argue that since Spielberg is the executive producer of this film, all this was meant to happen from the start. However , not only Spielberg had very little to do with the film itself, but also “subtlety” hasn’t been a word present in Eastwood’s dictionary either, especially in the last few years (Clint’s family in GRAN TORINO for example was so over the top and it almost felt like a parody). Hence the obviously gratuitous images like the one of the “lonely person” shown eating alone in the kitchen, or the poor boy you’re supposed to feel sorry for, or the business woman who’s not listening to his colleagues during a meeting at work, because she’s really concerned about more important stuff…

The whole film is a series of telegraphed sequences where you can tell exactly what’s going to happen miles before it actually does. Everything feels so formulaic, remote and non-engaging that after a while it all gets rather boring as the film unravels towards the most terrible and sentimental ending of all (with the added bonus of a musical surge in strings which feels like you’re watching “Airplane!” ), and yet all this sentimentality lacks of any emotional truth.

Yes, of course, some of it might be quite emotional, but it’s easy to make people cry when you’re dealing with a subject like death. The film is incredibly manipulative to the point of being almost offensive. The way we are introduced to the kid who’s going to die, for example, is one of the most glaring examples of that manipulation (and example of a scene being telegraphed before it happens) as the kid gets depicted as the perfect boy, who takes care of his drug-addicted mother: not only very smart but also very well-behaved, so that we can be even more depressed once he dies.

All the characters are so sketchily drawn out that it’s hard to see something more in them than their one dimension personalization: they do things just because the plot requires them to do so. Let’s take Matt Damon for example: he has a gift but he thinks it’s a curse, well, at least that’s what he says… The film never really properly explains why he thinks what he does. The script makes sure he tells us that he’s tired of having to live with death, but his character does nothing to show us that . All the way trough the film we get constantly told things in very forced lines of dialogue which are never really translated in action or pictures on the screen. For example, what on earth makes him change his mind towards the end of the film. Seeing a kid suffering for the loss of his brother? Is that really different from seeing a husband grieving for the loss of his wife, or a poor woman crying outside his door, begging for help? How’s that different? The film won’t tell us

Clint Eastwood‘s direction comes form a place of belief, something which might alienate a great deal of the audience. He also makes the terrible mistake of showing us what the afterlife is like right from the start, and the film never recovers from it.

The film lacks subtlety: it would have been much more interesting (and stronger) if it had remained less “Sci-fi” and more introspective. All those silly things like the twin’s blowing off the cap in the underground seemed to belong to a different film… Ghost maybe?

That to me is the main problem with the film (aside from the fact that it’s very slow, something which I don’t particularly mind, but I am sure a lot of people will): the fact that it doesn’t quite know what it wants to be. Is it an introspective drama about death? Is it fantasy story? Is it a religious propaganda? At one point it even seem like an action flick with that massive (and unexpected) Tsunami sequence (which I have to admit took me by surprise and yet it seems to belong to a different film, especially once you’ve seen the rest). Unfortunately the film tries to be all these things and more and in the end by trying too much ends up being quite unsatisfactory on pretty much all fronts. The script is just very clunky and the direction this time doesn’t make it any better.

It’s interesting to see how the trailer makes it look like a cross between the Sixth Sense2012 and even (once again) Ghost… Probably not even the publicists knew what to make of it.

Even the music is fairly forgettable as it keeps on re-hashing the same sort of cues we’re quite used to hear in a Clint Eastwood’s movie. Everything seems half-improvised on the spot without a real unifying theme.

The performances are probably OK, but it’s hard to judge with the weak material they’re given.

In the end this film proves that you just can’t make a film every year, whether you’re Clint Eastwood or Woody Allen: eventually the rush of putting all those ideas onto the screen without having enough time to make them work properly will begin to show. Just because a movie is about important things like death and loss doesn’t make it a good film. In fact this is a fairly pointless one.

5.5/10

PS: Having said all this, a very good friend of mine saw it recently and loved it. There you go. Once again, it’s all subjective.

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