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Non-Review Review: On the Rocks

On the Rocks is a disarmingly charming film.

Sofia Coppola’s latest is built around the relationship between Laura and her father Felix. Laura is happily married with two young girls, but has begun to suspect that her marriage is dysfunctional. There are small clues. Her husband Dean seems less interested in physical intimacy, and has been spending more time at the office with his co-worker Fiona. As her suspicions mount, Laura reaches out to her father Felix, who has spent his life as a debonair playboy with a somewhat cynical perspective of the masculine psyche.

Daddy daughter day.

On the Rocks is an earnest dramedy, following the dynamic between Laura and Felix as they launch an investigation into her husband’s potential affair. It’s elevated by two superb central performances, a clever script, and direction that allows its characters and its actors room to work. There’s a surprising amount of honest and introspection in On the Rocks, but also a surprising earnestness. On the Rocks is a surprisingly empathic film, never judging or condemning its characters as easily as it might.

The results are engaging and heartening. In some ways, particularly given the central dynamic of an older man played by Bill Murray and a younger woman managing her own life crisis, it’s hard not to see On the Rocks as a companion piece to Coppola’s breakout film Lost in Translation. However, there’s a lot more maturity and reflection at play here, a kindness and gentleness that feels earned through the two decades between then and now.

“Enjoying a nice Mar-team-ee.”

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Non-Review Review: Saint Maud

This film was seen as part of the Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival 2020. Given the high volumes of films being shown and the number of reviews to be written, these may end up being a bit shorter than usual reviews.

“Pain is precious,” intones the title character towards the third act of Saint Maud. “You shouldn’t waste it.”

Rose Glass’ debut feature is a delightfully weird genre hybrid, existing at some strange intersection of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? and The Exorcist that just happens to unfold in Scarborough. It is hard to summarise exactly what Saint Maud is, in terms of genre. At times, it plays like that most maligned of genres, the “elevated horror” that favours slow-mounted dread over cheap thrills. At other points, it is an intensely intimate psychological thriller and character study. Occasionally, it pivots sharply into surreal black comedy. It is never one or the other, and the film’s deft balance is a credit to Glass as writer and director.

Still, at its core, Saint Maud is ultimately a tale of repression and rapture, religious devotion wrestling with carnal desire. It is a film in which the contortions of the flesh associated with divine position are juxtaposed with the use of the body as an instrument by dancers. Over the course of Saint Maud, bodies writhe in pleasure that emanates from sources both spiritual and physical. Indeed, the spiritual and physical often collapse into one another over the course of the film, inviting the audience to try to draw a clean line of separation between two ideas that are so closely intertwined.

Saint Maud is an unsettling, warped and clever little film that is worth seeking out. It is also worth seeing blind, in so much as that might be possible.

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