Thanks to Sezzyboy, Film Unlimited's ace Swedish correspondent, I now know that one of the best lines in Together goes as follows: "De är inte tjej skor, jävla fascist!" (literally, "These aren't girl shoes, bloody fascist!") Although as the film's written and directed by Lukas Moodysson, there are plenty more great lines where that came from. Moodysson's lesbian teen drama Show Me Love was one of the hits of last year's LFF, and I suspect most of us assumed he was just very good at directing teenagers. But Together (or Tillsammans in the original Swedish) shows that he's just very good all round.
It's Stockholm in 1975. Elisabeth (Lisa Lindgren) has finally got up the courage to walk out on her abusive husband, and has taken their children Stefan (Sam Kessel) and Eva (Emma Samuelson) with her. With nowhere else to go, she turns to her brother Göran (Gustaf Hammarsten), who lives in a shared house with the members of a commune calling themselves Tillsammans. It's the sort of place when men get out of their responsibility for washing-up by claiming it's a bourgeois concept, women take up lesbianism purely for political reasons, and children are named after the Tet Offensive. Göran insists that everyone bonds together in the commune "like oats in porridge", but as the three newcomers try to find their feet in this strange environment, the cracks in Tillsammans start to become apparent.
I've never seen a film get as warm a reaction at the end as Together did today. Part of that's down to Moodysson's enormous heart: a concept that's usually a euphemism for brain-dead slush in American cinema, but here shows itself as a genuine affection for all his characters, whatever their faults. As with Show Me Love, Together is filmed in a semi-documentary style (with lots of sudden zooms and grainy photography), but it never feels like a mere stylistic tic: we get closer to these people as a result. And also as before, Moodysson understands the power of cheap music: the use of Abba's SOS is probably a little predictable in the circumstances, but there's a lot of appropriately cheesy 70s music that sets the mood perfectly.
The cast is uniformly excellent, especially the kids: they're obviously all having a whale of a time making this movie, and it transmits to the audience. And there are some truly inspired gags, rather than the usual seventies kitsch you'd expect from a movie about this time period: the use of a hammer as an aid to masturbation is a stroke of genius. You come out of this movie desperate to see everything else Moodysson has made, but have to stop short when you realise this is still only his second film. No British distributor as yet, and I still don't understand why: you'd have to be a jävla fascist to not love this movie.
6.00pm: Best In Show
Nigel Tufnell and David St Hubbins are on stage at the Odeon for this one, and they're looking terrifyingly... straight. With short hair and suits, you're suddenly reminded that Christopher Guest and Michael McKean made This Is Spinal Tap over sixteen years ago, and they've both gotten older and moved on. Guest has directed a couple of movies since then, usually within the same fake documentary framework that made Spinal Tap so successful: Best In Show is his latest foray into the genre.
The film follows five sets of competitors as they make their way to the Mayflower Kennel Club Dog Show in Philadelphia. (I'm awaiting comments from Carole with interest.) We have hideous yuppie couple the Swans (Michael Hitchcock and Parker Posey), who pamper their dog with custom soft toys and therapy, and love nothing better than reading shopping catalogues while drinking in Starbucks. We have the charming but slightly gauche Flecks (Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara), whose marriage holds on despite Cookie's apparent acquaintance with every man in the country. We have a gay couple (Michael McKean and John Michael Higgins) who first met at one of these shows. ("I asked my ex-wife, who's that?") There's also a young gold-digger (Jennifer Coolidge) with a husband who's sixty years older ("We both love soup"), and a fishing tackle salesman (Christopher Guest) whose best friend is a ventriloquist's doll. All of them are aiming for the coveted Best Of Show title, but which one will win?
I have it on good authority from Withnail that if you've seen Guest's earlier Waiting For Guffman, Best In Show is a bit of a disappointment as it covers very similar territory. Well, I haven't seen Guffman: it had an appallingly mishandled release in the UK, and it's virtually impossible to track down unless you like ploughing through ex-rental bins in your local Blockbuster. (Or buying NTSC format copies via self-prostituting monkeys.) But this is delightful. Based on a story by Guest and Levy, the dialogue is wholly improvised much as it was in Tap, and as with that film there's apparently enough good stuff on the cutting room floor to make the DVD a mouth-watering proposition. The cast are all great in what's essentially a character piece: this film isn't as drop-dead quotable as Tap was, with the possible exception of the scenes featuring Fred Willard as a jaw-droppingly tactless TV commentator. ("He went after her like she's made out of ham!") Guest deserves a special mention for, on top of all his other talents, having a terrific comedy run, though it's upstaged by Catherine O'Hara's even funnier one near the end.
8.30pm: Harry, He's Here To Help
It's kind of annoying when you pay eleven quid for a gala screening like this one, only to find that the film in question will actually be released in cinemas across the country on the following Friday. It's particularly annoying when the film isn't all that good.
Dominik Moll's darkly comic thriller tells the story of family man Michel (Laurent Lucas) and his chance meeting with former schoolfriend Harry (Sergi Lopez). Michel has no real memory of Harry, but Harry certainly remembers Michel: although he's surprised to find that Michel has settled down with wife Claire (Mathilde Seigner) and three daughters, and has given up on his prospective writing career completely. Within a suspiciously short time Harry has introduced the family to his fiancee Plum (although Sophie Guillemin is referred to in the end credits by the somewhat less enchanting name of Prune), and the two of them have moved into Michel's home as houseguests. Harry is keen to make up for the twenty years the two men have been apart, and is prepared to do anything he can to help out. Anything.
If you've read this far, and you've seen in the programme notes for Harry how much Moll enjoys the writing of Patricia Highsmith, then you can write the rest of the film from here: and you probably wouldn't be too far away from the actual plot. There are no real surprises on offer, and it's all rather too slow to be exciting anyway. Sergi Lopez does his usual craftsmanlike job in the title role, his grizzly bear physique and likeable demeanour just concealing what he's really capable of. There are some nice touches with sound, notably the tensions in the family being depicted by the ear-splitting whines of their kids. And any film featuring a flying monkey with a propeller on its head can't be all bad. But that aside, we've seen it all before: and considering this is the showcase French film of the Festival, I would have expected something more.
Notes From Spank's Pals
Best In Show
Ken - Brilliant film. It’s too early to say but a strong contender in my ‘Best in Festival’ competition. Comedy in which the weirdest group of freaks you could ever imagine are all trying to get their dog to win the ‘Best in Show’ award in an American version of Crufts. In an ideal world none of these people would be allowed to own a dog but they all have great comic effect. The film is made in a documentary style. Adrian Wootton’s write up in the festival programme describes it as having ‘a sharp script’. However the credited screenwriter (plus director and actor) Christopher Guest denies that it ever had a script. Only an outline was ever written and the actors improvised all their lines. It doesn’t show but perhaps that’s because an 89 minute film was produced from 60 hours of footage - most scenes being shot in a single take and without shooting any scene more than 3 times. By my calculations there must be several more films left over if anyone wants to edit the remaining footage? It’s being released by Warner Bros in this country after having a very successful release in the US for such a low budget movie.
Old Lag - Fuck or be fucked - and the Mexicans can do this better than anyone else - is the theme of this film. A simple man at the bottom of the social pile is selected by competing politicians to be the replacement mayor in an Indian village in the middle of nowhere. Naive fantasies of building a school, providing electricity and arranging a visit from the president are quickly stamped on, because in the end it is easier and more satisfying to be corrupt. Charting the growth of this corruption from the taxation of the local brothel to the murder of his political superiors and ending as a political governor, this film describes the ease, when weak and willing, of political vandalism. As demonstrated in Peru recently, this is not far from home, but perhaps not touching an English nerve.
Ken - O.K. Spank so I found your deadline [for 03/11 reviews] impossible to meet. But I thought I should add to your review that I felt the film's source as a play opposing censorship just a little too blatant. O.K. so I really enjoyed the film and its origins as a play don't show through - but really. They take the Marquis de Sade and show the other characters (those who are trying to censor him) as all either being more lunatic or more depraved than him? Get real.
Old Lag - I don't suppose you can complain of gruesomeness, if you go to see a film based on the Marquis de Sade. There seemed more of this than the oft hinted at naughtiness. A PhD in conflict theory might have been a useful prerequisite to seeing this film. De Sade, having survived the French Revolution, is imprisoned in a Catholic Lunatic Asylum for his espousal of painful sexual experience. Having his stories escape the prison to be published with the help of innocently enjoying servants, led by Kate Winslet's charater, the Emperor Napoleon orders that he be quietened down. The emissary of this dictat is a sexually failing doctor. The result - a 3 way conflict between the doctor, de Sade and his mental jailor, the Catholic Abbe of the lunatic asylum - provides the story. De Sade proves the ultimate masochist in that each time he is published, the Abbe reduces his privileges to suit the needs of Napoleon's doctor. Needs removed result in a degradation, destroying the provoking De Sade and reducing his persecutor the Abbe to insanity: his final act the necrophiliac love for the Kate Winslet character. This personal descent into moral failure pays the price by being acted out by the innocents in the asylum. Based on a stage play, we thought off Broadway, it was a well acted piece, paid for by Sky Movies which won't be playing at Sunday Tea time.
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