Films of 2010 – Part 2

Dogtooth

A wealthy Greek family live secluded in the countryside in their walled-off home. The three children (two daughters and one son) are brought up in complete isolation from the outside world. In fact, they’re taught that outside the walls of their grounds the world is a hostile place that spells great danger for all who venture out. The entire modern world is denied, and to these children their parents are the only people that exist. And ‘children’ is the right word here, even though the siblings are all of adult age: they’re mentally stunted and emotionally infantile because of the way they’ve been raised. Even their basic understanding of the world has been perverted by their parents: planes flying overhead are described as tiny birds, and cats are said to be deadly monsters (this leads to a pretty horrific scene where the son confronts a cat that’s wandered into the family’s garden). The parents never show any doubt about whether it’s right of them to isolate their children so, and presumably they think they’re protecting them from the harshness of the real world, though not much is ever explicitly stated. The film concerns itself with their warped daily life, and the destabilising effect the introduction of an outsider, brought in to satisfy the son’s growing sexual desires, brings to the family. It’s fascinating, even if you don’t care about its status as a critique of Greek society and family life. It’s also, to be perfectly honest, one of the most uncomfortable experiences I’ve ever had in a cinema: it’s uncompromisingly full-on in terms of physical harm, and it’s graphic displays of sex and incest are certainly hard-going. If you think any film that features sex is inherently pornographic or titillating then, well, probably take a look at this Dogtooth, because there’s nothing erotic about the sex portrayed throughout. It’s an extremely rewarding film though, and while it earns its 18-rated certificate with gusto, it’s something that deserves to be seen by many.

A Single Man

This film is essentially a vehicle for Colin Firth to show the world how he’s turned out to be one of the finest actors of our times. Firth plays an expat Englishman living in California, working as a college professor. Almost a year ago George’s [Firth] partner Jim died in a car crash, and the film follows a single day in George’s life; what he intends to be his last day. We follow George through his day, and through flashbacks and dreams of his partner’s death (as well as his memory of  receiving the news of Jim’s death, which is a scene that is heat-rending partly because of its simplicity, and partly because of how it throws an entirely unrestrained outpouring of emotion in with the rest of George’s actions throughout the film, which are reserved, quiet, and painfully stoical). This is a wonderfully stylish, substantial effort from debut director Tom Ford. I think it’s kind of a tragedy that Firth didn’t get an Oscar for this, though I think that he’ll definitely get one for his work in The King’s Speech this year.

Heartless

Jamie was born with a heart-shaped birthmark on his face, and as a result he has some serious issues with his self-image. It’s also hinted quite strongly that he has a history of serious psychological problems, and one’s stance on this is going to vastly alter how one interprets the more otherworldly-natured aspects of the film. He lives in East London, (which is gloriously shot throughout) and the whole area is on the brink of chaos due to the intensely violent activities of a local gang, who are reported to wear demon masks. When the gang brutally murder Jamie’s mother in front of his eyes he finds they are really demons in disguise as humans, and later he is offered a Faustian bargain by a mysterious man in an abandoned block of flats. This man agrees to remove Jamie’s birthmarks if he introduces an element of chaos, in the form of a brutal and unprovoked murder, into the world. The world around him, or Jamie himself if you prefer, falls further and further into  madness and violence, and we’re never really given a clear explanation of just what the hell is going on. Its ending is both horrifying and strangely, inexplicably delightful. It’s sad that it was shown in about five movie theatres around the country, but hopefully its director (multitalented Philip Ridley) can keep making movies with the kind of imagination and freedom he’s shown here.

Black Swan

Another wilfully incomprehensible film here. Black Swan is either an insane, unhinged tour de force or an insane, unhinged piece of rubbish, depending on who you ask. What everyone seems to agree on is that Natalie Portman is phenomenal in her role as a perfectionist, unsociable dancer falling down under the intense pressure of the ballet world. There’s flinch-worthy physical harm, psychological fracturing (probably better described as utter psychological shattering), and an obligatory Lynchian lesbian scene. I felt it suffered a little in its first third, but once it came into its own it was utterly spellbinding. The cinematography was very impressive, both in many little effects (the strobing in the club scene comes to mind as particularly impressive), and in its ability to show us impressive feats of ballet without simply panning back and showing it to us: the camera swoops in and around the dancers, helping us to see the dancing as something manic and primal. I feel it’s less a film that you should attempt to put together as a coherent series of events, and more one that should be simply experienced. I’m not sure it’s meant to make sense, but few good films about mental decline really do. It’s hurried pace whips itself into a frenzy in the last twenty or so minutes, and it becomes something else entirely, and that’s probably the point where I fell for it completely.

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