Welcome to part two of My Friends and I, getting you up to speed with mini reviews of all the films I’ve been watching as part of Cinefriends group that I host at QUAD cinema and art gallery in Derby. Hopefully you enjoyed reading about the first three films that we watched, now sit back and read up on what I thought about the next three. Starting with…
The Fourth Meeting: London River
London River is a simple story of an unlikely couple as they struggle to find their son and daughter in the aftermath of the London bombings of July 7. Two strangers, a terrified and lost mother (Brenda Blethyn) and a frail and alone French Moroccan (Sotigui Kouyate) are thrust into one another’s business as they learn that their children were dating one another and may have been together on the morning of the attacks. As the story unravels, it becomes clear that their children had ties with the Muslim community and prejudices and fear begin to cloud people’s judgement.
What a synopsis eh? I bet it makes you want to see the film. Well good, because you should do. It’s brilliant.
London River manages to fully realise every element of the British psyche immediately after 7/7, and puts paid to the fact that it was all mostly for show and did nothing but make the situation much worse. The central performances of this film are unbelievable, and there is no way I will even attempt to suggest which is better because that would do a disservice to the other one.
As with the best cinematic efforts, London River’s strength comes from what goes unsaid, from what is conveyed through mood and performance rather than rammed down an audience’s throat. Yes, perhaps the visual and coded meaning of the film is a little over the top (single mother, disconnected from her child and the big city, ignorant to other cultures and religions – LIVES ON AN ISLAND…whoops, too far!) but honestly it just doesn’t matter when the pacing is this good and the structure this elegant.
The obligatory Wakeman criticism; there’s about ten minutes towards the end that the film just doesn’t need. It purposefully establishes one scenario before turning it on its head in a twist-stylee, but to be perfectly honest it’s pointless because the emotional intensity of the final revelation would’ve worked just as well without the misdirect.
Final bit of advice. Film set in London. Established British actress. Got London in the title. About 80% of the film is spoken in French and so subtitled. Not that it matters, I just wanted to prepare you.
Meeting number 5: Gainsbourg
Another Cinefriends screening, another Casta La Vista Subjected. Here’s what we thought; CLICK ME (thirty eight minutes in)
The Meeting after 5 but before 7: The Secret in Their Eyes
If you’re going to see an Argentinean film, you might as well see one that has won an Oscar. The Secret in Their Eyes won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film at this year’s awards and my first reaction to this was that it must be REALLY good to have beaten A Prophet. In my humble opinion I think Oscy got it wrong because in the simplest terms there is nothing about A Prophet that I would change, whereas The Secret in Their Eyes does have a few missteps. But nothing too major.
Overall the movie is fantastic. Our hero is a retired Federal Justice Agent who is attempting to turn an open case from twenty years ago into a novel and by doing so hopes to exorcise a few internal demons of his own, including the one about the girl who got away.
Told mostly through flashback, the film’s biggest triumph is that it keeps things moving along nicely, and is very rarely dull. The floating between two eras works as it adds layers to the dialogue and relationships of the characters, and helps keep the tension high for a case that might have lulled a bit in the middle were it told chronologically.
Boxes can be ticked in the categories of Great Performances, Great Direction, Superb Score and Excellent Cinematography and the film can pride itself on being not only thrilling and dramatic, but also emotional and in many places hilarious. Ricardo Darin’s relationship with his co-worker, a charming alcoholic, generates some of the most entertaining moments of the film.
As a whole The Secret in Their Eyes feels a lot like a book adaptation might do, with twists and turns throughout and very episodic sequences. Perhaps one of the films downfalls is that at times it is a bit generic; here is the obligatory chase sequence; here is the moment of melancholy; let’s slow things down for a nice chat. I suppose the counter argument then is that these moments, whilst familiar, are handled so much better in this film than in others, but all the same, they’re still there.
My main criticism however concerns one of the main rules of storytelling; that being that the filmmaker should always be about two minutes ahead of the viewer. If things are too confusing, an audience gets restless. If things are too obvious, we feel pandered to.
The ‘reveal’ of The Secret in Their Eyes is so glaringly obvious from about twenty minutes into the film (based on one line of dialogue too I might add) that its unveiling as a twist is frankly insulting. Maybe I’ve seen too many thrillers and know the conventions. Maybe the end will surprise other viewers. For me, I could see it a mile off, and the fact that, much like in London River, it spent ten minutes going down another route before coming back to the obvious conclusion served as a huge waste of my time and made the film seem suddenly much slower.
I know it sounds like a big criticism, and in some ways it is, however I would still urge people to check the film out, because the rest of it is top drawer. Not quite A Prophet, but certainly worth a watch.
And with that, we are bang up to date. Thanks for reading. I’ll post another piece like this in about a month or so (the group meets every two weeks and I’ll do these updates in threes) and in the meantime make sure to keep those eyes of yours peeled for all the movies reviewed above and as usual let us know what you thought of them!