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Non-Review Review: The Aftermath

This film was seen as part of the Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival 2019. 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.

The Aftermath starts with a fascinating premise.

Unfolding in the immediate wake of the Second World War, The Aftermath finds Rachael Morgan joining her husband Lewis Morgan in Hamberg for the British Occupation of the city. Tensions are running high. Most of the city lies in ruins, bodies still being pulled from the rubble. Both sides are nursing old wounds that threaten to fester. Rachel finds herself confronting these wounds even more acutely than she expected. When the Morgans move into a stately home on the outskirts of the city, Lewis suggests that the German family might remain there rather than being relocated to “the camps.” As a result, the two sides find themselves living under the same roof; British and German, occupied and occupier, winner and loser.

This is an intensely charged set-up, and one with a lot of potential. It is one thing to fight a war, it is another to end it. Reconciliation is always a challenge, particularly when dealing with a catastrophe on the scale of the Second World War. Given the trauma that both sides inflicted upon one another and the scars that still sting, forcing a British and German family to live in close proximity while those wounds are still fresh should lead to incredible drama. What is it like to surrender one’s home to an occupying force, but to linger there as a guest – or maybe a ghost? What is like to be surrounded by a people who were once bent on conquest and domination, but now find themselves at the mercy of the nations they tried to subjugate?

The Aftermath doesn’t really answer these questions. Indeed, it often struggles to articulate them. Instead, it offers a clichéd romantic triangle melodrama against this backdrop, offering a decidedly trashy narrative within the trappings of prestige. The Aftermath has an engaging central performance from Keira Knightley, but it suffers from a lack of chemistry between its three leads and a truly terrible management of tone. The Aftermath aspires to be a story of a simmering cold war, but is completely lacking any spark.

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Non-Review Review: Colette

The story at the heart of Colette is familiar, even to those with little knowledge of its inspiration.

Colette is a story about the eponymous French writer, who rose to fame on the back of a series of novels that fictionalised her own life through the lens of a character named Claudine. Keira Knightley stars in the title role, a young woman from the country who finds herself swept into Paris by her older and more established husband. Publishing under the pen name “Willy”, Henry Gauthier-Villars is something of a cad. He is quick to capitalise on his wife’s artistic voice and to claim her successes for his own. Meanwhile, Colette struggles for her creative freedom and to find a way to express herself.

Go, West!

The broad strokes of Colette are fairly routine, the film following the rhythms and structures of the modern historical biography. Reflecting the modern creative and political climate, there is a great deal of emphasis placed on Colette as a feminist narrative, the story of a young woman trying to assert control over her own voice and come to terms with her own identity. It is certainly a timely story, even if Colette follows the standard biographical film playbook beat-for-beat. Very few developments in Colette come as a surprise, and many of the film’s twists and reversals are helpfully signposted from the get-go.

However, Colette works much better than that assessment might suggest. A lot of this is down to a clever and nimble screenplay from Richard Glatzer, Wash Westmoreland and Rebecca Lenkiewicz. Colette is aware of all the marks that it needs to hit, and that frees the screenplay up to be a little playful in how it develops its beats and what it does when it hits each mark. Colette is a fascinating hall of mirrors, a movie packed with twisted reflections and symmetries, luxuriating in the blurred boundaries between reality and fiction. Coupled with a pair of charming lead performances, this elevates Colette very well.

A picture-perfect marriage.

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Non-Review Review: Begin Again

Music is absolutely wonderful. It’s a method of communication that has the tremendous ability to bring people together, and to help set mood and tone. Of course, there’s all sorts of delightful complications to it – although songs may capture a particular moment in the life of the songwriter, as if trapping emotions in amber, they also capture particular moods and moments for the person listening to the music. A snippet of a song overhead faintly on a radio through an apartment wall can serve as a gateway back in time.

Although – speaking strictly scientifically – smell is the sense that leads most directly to memory, music has perhaps the strongest emotional resonance. Beloved songs provide a snapshot of something as transcendental as sensation and atmosphere. It is very hard to put these sentiments into words, to articulate through language. A guitar chord struck at the right time in the right rhythm, or a syllable stressed in one direction rather than any other, can say so much in such a small space.

Begin Again is a charming romantic ode to the power of music, beautifully and elegantly capturing the romance of song.

Playing along...

Playing along…

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Non-Review Review: Jaws

Jaws is a pretty impressive film. Not only did the film serve to launch Steven Spielberg’s career and subgenre of monster creature features, it also effectively kick-started the summer blockbuster. However, watching it again all these years later, it’s amazing how well Jaws holds up – far better than the vast majority of films that it ultimately inspired. There’s a lot of reasons that Jaws works, and a lot of them come down to Spielberg working as director, but also in the scripting and the acting. It’s rare for a movie to produce one character that we truly care about. Jaws manages to produce four compelling leading characters – the three men who ultimately end up on the boat, and the shark itself.

Finally copping on…

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Non-Review Review: Anna Karenina (2012)

All the world is a stage, literally for Joe Wright’s adaptation of Tolstoy’s classic novel. Anna Karenina is visually stunning, and perfectly put together, doing a workman-like job of condensing Tolstoy’s 800-page doorstopper into a film running justover two hours. The wonderfully inventive idea of staging the film entirely in a theatre – from the foyer to the rafters to the stage itself – gives Wright the opportunity to showcase his talent as one of the finest working directors today. Tom Stoppard’s scripts is dripping with wit and does an excellent job providing digestible chunks of Tolstoy’s epic and a fair few pithy one-liners. Unfortunately, this is countered by the fact that the film never feels like it’s quite enough, and in particular the fact that its central figure feels like a shadow cast against a back wall rather than a three-dimensional character.

Save the last dance…

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Non-Review Review: A Dangerous Method

Charles Issawi once formulated Syre’s Law, named for noted academic Wallace Stanley Sayre. “In any dispute the intensity of feeling is inversely proportional to the value of the issues at stake,” he argued. “That is why academic politics are so bitter.” Set in the shadow of not one but two looming European conflicts, David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method, adapted from the play The Talking Cure, makes sure that we know just how bitter academic politics can be. Ably supported by two strong performances from its three leads, the movie is at its most fascinating in exploring the ideological and personal relationships of Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud, but loses a large amount of momentum when we’re asked to accept Keira Knightley as a mad Russian.

Psycho-analysts, assemble!

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Non-Review Review: London Boulevard

The British criminal underworld has provided a background for countless movies over the past few decades, a rich cinematic tapestry drawing from classics like Brighton Rock through to neo noir like The Long Good Friday to modern pop classics like Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels. However, London Boulevard isn’t a masterpiece like the earlier examples. It tries to find a niche balance between gritty urban violence and surreal bizarre quirkiness, but ends up just positioning itself awkwardly between comedy and action, never really finding its own footing.

Facing up to the past...

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