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Non-Review Review: A Little Chaos

Perhaps what is most remarkable about A Little Chaos is how deftly the film blends stock romantic comedy tropes with the trappings of a loftier period piece drama. A Little Chaos fictionalises the construction of the gardens at Versailles, undertaken at the behest of King Louis XIV. However, A Little Chaos uses this historical event as the backdrop for a series of quirky romantic misadventures. Matthias Schoenaerts plays André Le Nôtre, the stickler for order who is forced to take on some hired help to ensure that he meets the assigned deadlines.

Kate Winslet is Sabine De Barra, who is hired to design one of the garden’s fountains. Whereas Le Nôtre advocates for order, De Barra argues for a little randomness. The two are introduced at loggerheads, their philosophical positions made clear when De Barra presumes to move a single potted plant in a sequence arranged by Le Nôtre. Inevitably, attraction blossoms as the two find themselves working harder and harder to meet the targets set by the sitting monarch.

Another feather in her cap?

Another feather in her cap?

For all the promise of the title, A Little Chaos packs very few surprises. The formula is quite clearly honed, and it is easy enough to plot the various character arcs and dynamics across the movie’s runtime. Indeed, A Little Chaos might even have benefited from some tightening, feeling quite stretched across its two-hour runtime. At the same time, Alan Rickman has assembled quite the cast for his second film as director. A Little Chaos can count on a superb ensemble – both above and below the title – to carry it when things get a little indulgent.

A Little Chaos is not as fun or as playful as it might be. On the other hand, it looks and feels very impressive, with an occasionally clunky script brought to life by a talented array of actors.

Long live the king!

Long live the king!

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Non-Review Review: Suite Française

Suite Française is the name given to a planned series of five novels written by Irène Némirovsky during the Second World War. Living in France during the conflict, Némirovsky was Ukrainian and Jewish descent. She completed the first two novels in the series (Tempête en Juin and Dolce) and had outlined the third (Captivité) before she was arrested as a Jew in 1942. Némirovsky was detained at Pithiviers, before she was transferred to Auschwitz. She died in Auschwitz in August 1942.

The two novels were undiscovered for more than half a century; her daughter – Denise Epstein – only discovered the novels in the nineties. They were written microscopically inside journals. The 140 pages that Némirovsky had written expanded to more than 500 printed pages. There is some evidence that even the two “completed” manuscripts were not quite finished. Notes suggested that Némirovsky was considering revisions to Dolce so as to change the fate of a featured character. More than six decades after her death, Suite Française was eventually published in 2004.

An officer and a gentleman...

An officer and a gentleman…

Adapting any novel for the screen is tough job, let alone a sequence of five novels – only two of which were ever finished, and published posthumously. Part of the intrigue of Suite Française was the fact that these were novels depicting incredible historical events as they actually occurred. It is impossible to quite convey that sense of urgency and vitality after decades of storytelling about the Second World War. Although it is an adaptation of a novel published only a decade earlier, Suite Française has the weight of considerable expectations baring down on it.

Even allowing for the difficulties with this particular adaptation, Saul Dibb and Matt Charman’s script still feels quite clumsy in execution; despite excising most of Tempête en Juin, the finished script feels curiously over-written. Monologues tend to meander and wander, as if the script doesn’t trust the cast to convey deep emotion through their performances, as if the writers are afraid the audience might miss the key philosophical or moral points of the script. This is a shame, as Suite Française is beautifully acted and looks quite wonderful.

The good German...

The good German…

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Non-Review Review: Rust and Bone

Rust and Bone feels a bit… lazy, for lack of a better word. It feels like the product of a writer and director with a huge amount of talent, but no real ambition or enthusiasm. The film features two superb leading performances from Marion Cotillard and Matthias Schoenaerts, but they’re trapped in a film that never seems too bothered. Writer and director Jacques Audiard mistakes trite melodrama for brutal honest, and seems to give up on the film in the third act. It’s a shame, because there’s some solid stuff here, but the whole is much less impressive than the sum of its parts.

The killer (whale) inside (the aquarium)…

Note: This review contains spoilers for the third act of the film. I’ve tried not to give away specific plot points, and to talk in the most general of terms, but I do discuss the ending. Consider yourself warned.

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