Monday 12 September 2016

Don't Breathe, Embrace Of The Serpent and The Measure Of A Man: Your Week In Film (September 12-18)

Breathless: Fede Alvarez cranks up the tension in Don't Breathe

Films worth checking out at home and in cinemas over the next seven days...

Stéphane Brizé's incredibly powerful
 The Measure Of A Man (DVD) WWWW didn't receive anything like the attention it deserved on its UK cinema release back in June. The film uses France's economic downturn to explore the effects of austerity on the male psyche; specifically how it can emasculate, humiliate and ultimately dehumanise even the most resolute. 

Veteran French actor Vincent Lindon (who I last saw a couple of years ago in Claire Denis's excellent Bastards) is Thierry Taugourdeau, a former factory worker struggling to keep his family's head above water after two years of unemployment. But even when he finally lands a job as a security guard at a supermarket, he struggles with the compromises his new position forces him to make. 

Comparisons to the Dardenne Brothers' Two Days, One Night and, I suspect, Ken Loach's forthcoming I, Daniel Blake are inevitable as all three films explore the human cost of the financial crisis. Lindon is quite brilliant here (he deservedly won the Best Actor award at last year's Cannes) and the whole enterprise is shot through with both authenticity and anger.

Measuring up: Vincent Lindon is down on his luck

Embrace Of The Serpent (DVD, Blu-ray and VOD) WWWW is a foreign language picture of a somewhat different stripe. Colombian director Ciro Guerra's film is a hard sell  it's subtitled, black and white and contains two separate but linked story strands that run alongside each other. But please don't let any of that put you off. It chronicles the relationship (sometimes friendly, sometimes not) between a shaman, Karamakate, and two European scientists  40 years apart  as they descend into the Amazon's heart of darkness searching for a mythical plant with great healing properties. 

Big themes, rich cinematography and moments both disturbing and thrilling make for an intoxicating brew indeed. It's been compared to Herzog and Coppola, but I'm not sure I've ever seen anything quite like it. You'll start off intrigued and end up fully mesmerised.

Amazon prime: Ciro Guerra's film is worth embracing

Half an hour into Don't Breathe (cinemas) WWW, I'd decided it was going to be one of those modern horror films with an intriguing premise and a couple of decent jump-out-of-your-skin moments but little else to write home about. Then director Fede Alvarez delivered a nasty little surprise which elevated the whole thing and at no point did it look back thereafter. 

Rocky (Jane Levy), Money (Daniel Zovatto) and Alex (Dylan Minnette) are three unlikeable young Detroit criminals who burgle the homes of people for whom the latter's oblivious father is supposed to provide security. Receiving a tip-off from an underworld acquaintance about a Gulf War veteran (Stephen Lang), who lives alone with $300,000 on the premises, they decide to pull off one last job before legging it to California. It's a big mistake because, while their intended victim may be totally blind, he is also strong, ruthless and, following the death of his daughter in a car accident, quite mad.

I really didn't care for Alvarez's entirely unnecessary Evil Dead remake but this is substantially better as the director keeps the tension bubbling, slathering on a whole variety of twists, turns and fake-outs for good measure. 
It helps enormously that Lang's The Blind Man – despite having few lines – is such an impactful character, his relentlessness, viciousness and sheer physicality imbuing him with a touch of the supernatural that makes a sequel featuring more of his backstory inevitable.

Blind fury: Stephen Lang terrifies in Don't Breathe

Since Sky Movies rebranded as Sky Cinema, it has really made an effort to broaden the range of films it shows on its main channel. The fact something as eccentric and 'difficult' as Rams (from Wednesday, 22:00, Sky Cinema Premiere) WWW is given house room is proof positive of that. Grímur Hákonarson's film is an Icelandic oddity, concerning two elderly and long-estranged brothers forced to put aside their differences when disease threatens their livelihoods as sheep farmers. At times bleakly funny, at others just plain bleak, this is a tragicomic character study that invites you to root for its sibling protagonists however unreasonable and cantankerous their behaviour. Ultimately, it's also rather touching. 

Less obtuse but only slightly is Welcome To Me WWW½ (from Sunday,10:55 and 20:00, Sky Cinema Premiere), which features an outstanding turn from Kristen Wiig (Ghostbusters) as a bipolar woman who scoops $86million in the lottery and uses the cash to buy her own (bizarre) talk show. It's surreal, sad, funny and human but most importantly refuses to patronise or infantilise its protagonist.

WWWW - Wonderful
WWW - Worthwhile
WW - Watchable
W - Woeful

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