For their first on-screen partnership since Mr & Mrs Smith a decade ago, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie team up for this period drama about a strained marriage, written and directed by Mrs Jolie Pitt herself. It's made on a lavish scale, with achingly beautiful locations and costumes, plus references to classics from Plein Soleil to Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf. But none of that can hide the fact that this is a stilted, contrived movie about two loathsome people we wouldn't want to spend five minutes with, let alone two very long hours.
It's the mid-1970s on the Mediterranean coast in southern France, and Americans Roland and Vanessa (Pitt and Jolie) descend into an isolated cove for a getaway to rescue their collapsing relationship. A novelist, Roland is also trying to snap out of writer's block, so he explores local village and chats with cafe owner Michel (Niels Arestrup) for inspiration. Meanwhile, Vanessa prowls around their vast suite in a grand villa perched on the edge of the sea, latching onto the newlywed couple (Melvil Poupaud and Melanie Laurent) in the room next door. But something deeply damaging has happened between Roland and Vanessa, and spying on this couple through a hole in the wall only offers a vague sense of mutual gratification. What they really need to do is confront the elephant in their own room.
Pitt and Jolie always seem aware that a camera is on them, striking poses and blurting their dialogue in ways that never feel remotely honest. Their simplistic reactions to whatever happened in their past (Roland's booze and Vanessa's rage) are never properly explored, so the characters wind up being utterly superficial. And this leaves everything from their big mood swings to their moments of quiet tenderness feeling rather pointless. By contrast, the French actors invest an easy authenticity to their much smaller roles, grounding the setting with an earthiness that only makes Roland and Vanessa look even more alien.
Continue reading: By The Sea Review
It's the 1970s and Roland and Vanessa are an outwardly respectable married couple, struggling to find common ground with each other. While the latter used to be a dancer, the former is now a writer, and while the pair clash continually they decide to venture to France together in the hopes of rebuilding their relationship and saving their marriage. The stay at a beautiful and luxurious seaside resort and find themselves inextricably bonding with a local couple named Lea and François who are just married, and two other eccentric resident business owners called Michel and Patrice. But with accusations of infidelity plaguing their lives, struggles with mental instability on both parts and even violent altercations happening almost daily, can their marriage really be saved by their newfound friends and a glorious sea view?
Continue: By The Sea - Teaser Trailer
Expanded from Cyril Gely's stage play, this film remains finely focussed on a history-changing dialogue between two men on the day Paris changed hands from the Nazis to the Allies. The stakes are so high that the film can't help but be riveting to watch, even if the details of the real-life encounter have of course been fleshed out fictionally. Although some of the drama feels a bit underwhelming, the powerful performances make it remarkably involving.
In August 1944 Hitler levelled Warsaw in a fit of rage, then turns his sights to Paris, which is on the verge being reclaimed by the Allied forces. So he orders his commander there, General von Choltitz (Niels Arestrup), to flatten the city and kill as many people as possible in retaliation for Allied attacks on Berlin. Choltitz dutifully lays explosive charges on the bridges and plots the destruction of the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, Louvre, Arc de Triomphe and Hitler's favourite landmark, the Opera. Then French-born Swedish diplomat Raoul Nordling (Andre Dussollier) turns up to offer an impassioned plea for the city. Choltitz says he's obeying orders, but Nordling begs him to consider the consequences for both mankind and his own future.
Obviously, Paris survived the war, and knowing the outcome of these intense negotiations eliminates much of the suspense, so the film's entertainment value is in the quality of the argument, which plays out in real time as these men manoeuvre to get the upper hand in the discussion. Again, this isn't much of a contest, as Nordling always has the moral authority, but Choltitz is caught in a nasty situation, wanting to do his duty even though he knows it's the wrong thing to do. Unfolding in real time, there are constant wrinkles along the way as we wait for the argument that sways everything. So it's a little disappointing that Gely and veteran director-cowriter Volker Schlondorff rely instead on some twists in the tale to spur things forward.
Continue reading: Diplomacy Review
One of the most unsettling movies of the year, this sharply made drama shifts inexorably from blissful romance to something darkly horrific. It's so understated that it might alienate audiences who want everything carefully explained to them. But the problem is that we understand far too well why the story goes where it goes, and that makes it even more haunting.
Based on a true story, the film opens with a brief glimpse of a terrible family tragedy before flashing back to happier times. Now living in Belgium, Moroccan-born Mounir (Rahim) has a whirlwind romance with Murielle (Dequenne). After they get married, they move in with Mounir's friend Andre (Arestrup), a doctor who married Mounir's sister (Raoui) so she could get a European visa. As Mounir and Murielle have four children in quick succession, she struggles with their domestic situation, longing for a family home of their own. She even offers to move to Morocco to live near Mounir's mother (Belal). But Andre seems to have some strange hold over Mounir.
As the years pass, Murielle's quiet desperation grows inexorably, although the film's audience seem to be the only ones who notice. Dequenne's performance is a masterful depiction of submerged emotion as she struggles to quietly cope with Andre's passive-aggression and Mounir's cultural machismo. So as the tension rises, we react like her, clinging to happier moments and possibilities rather than face up to the raw facts. This wouldn't work as well as it does without the superior work from Rahim and Arestrup, who previously starred together memorably in A Prophet. They cleverly refuse to let their characters drift into any sort of stereotype.
Continue reading: Our Children [A Perdre La Raison] Review
In early 1900s Devon, teenager Albert (Irvine) lives on a farm with his impulsive-drunk father Ted (Mullan) and his tough-minded mum Rose (Watson).
When Ted overpays for the wrong horse to work the fields, Albert adopts the horse, names him Joey and teaches him the ropes. But when war breaks out in Europe, Ted sells Joey to a cavalry captain (Hiddleston). At war, Joey changes hands between British and German officers, a young soldier (Kross) and a French farmer (Arestrup). Meanwhile, Albert joins the army, heading into the trenches to search for Joey.
Continue reading: War Horse Review
In the present day, New York journalist Julia Jarmond is asked to work on an article about the Vel'd'Hiv Roundup of Jews by French authorities in 1942. Julia and her French husband, Bertrand, move to an apartment in Paris, where a Jewish family, the Starzynski's, once lived, until they were rounded up.
Continue: Sarah's Key Trailer
Paul Exben has it all: a job at one of Paris' most exclusive law firms, where he's tipped for promotion, a beautiful wife and two sons and a big house which he bought with his big salary. But lately his wife has been rather cold towards him - she has been cheating on Paul with a local photographer, Greg Kremer.
Continue: The Big Picture Trailer
In rural England during the First World War, a horse named Joey befriends a young boy called Albert. One day Joey is sold to the cavalry and sent to the trenches in France, seeing firsthand the horrors of the Great War, yet touching the hearts of everyone he meets, including a French farmer, a German soldier and the British army. Although too young to enlist, 16 year old Albert joins the army and heads to France to find his friend.
Continue: War Horse Trailer
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