Where do We Go Now? (Nadine Labaki, 2011)
Nadine Labaki’s first feature, Caramel, was a pretty crude but fairly likeable sitcom/soap – a Beirut-set Cutting It or Beauty Shop, notable mostly for being the rare middle-eastern film seen in the UK that doesn’t primarily deal with the region’s volatile politics. Her deeply silly follow up, which won the People’s Choice award at this year’s Toronto Festival (thereby joining a recent lineage of really lousy movies that people – and Oscar voters in particular – really love: the previous two winners were Slumdog Millionaire and The King’s Speech) finds her turning her attention to Christian-Muslim sectarian tension in Lebanon, through the story of one unnamed village, and finds her massively overmatched by her subject material.
The start of the film finds the village at peace, although we are given to believe that tension roils below the surface: and indeed, we see innocuous situations repeatedly (and crudely, arbitrarily, not credibly) almost boil over into violence. But there’s no sense of what drives any grievance beyond bare religious affiliation, no sense that any of these people might have been willing to kill each other in the past, no sense of what might make them do it again. For Labaki – with a Carla Lane-esque tut and eyeroll – it is enough that they are men, and men are irrational violent children, while women are forgiving, gregarious, warm and innately possessed of quasi-holy motherly compassion.
As Labaki plays out her softheaded idiot riff on Lysistrata (it involves a busload of Ukrainian strippers, all of whom are of course far less luminously lovely than Labaki herself as café owner Amale – my word, she doesn’t half fancy herself), through a parade of endlessly unfunny weak slapstick gags and an escalating series of grossly sentimental manipulations, through entirely awful and tacky musical numbers (an honourable exception being the opening sequence, which belongs in a much sharper film), I got more and more exasperated. This is a film unironically dedicated to the proposition that, were women in charge, there would be no wars. The incuriosity, the sheer intellectual laziness. And finally, at the nadir of the film, when Labaki herself upbraids the menfolk for their less evolved nature, flushed with passion in her big moment; the narcissism, the vanity. — Indy Datta
Like Crazy (Drake Doremus, 2011)
A heartfelt, earnest, gently bitter romantic drama about young lovers kept apart through the consequences of one stupid, thoughtless mistake. As the young couple, Felicity Jones and Anton Yelchin give the excellent, assured performances that their brief careers are already full of. They meet at college in LA: she’s a visiting British student, who makes the decision to stay with him for the summer after her visa expires.
The early scenes are filled with romantic, and youthful, potency – the two leads have appealing, authentic chemistry and their relationship is as sweet as it is sexy. Where Doremus’ film stands out, though, is in portraying their difficult periods; once she’s refused entry back into the US, the relationship hits ups and downs and stops and starts.
Here, the film hits its target mercilessly. The couple hurt each other, and other people, constantly, and Doremus never shies away from showing that the current reality of their relationship is much different from the past version that they have mythologised to an almost unreachable level. This is a beautifully sad film, with standout work from both leads, and Jennifer Lawrence in a supporting role. — “Ron Swanson”
Louise Wimmer (Cyril Mennegun, 2011)
Louise Wimmer lives in her car, she works as a chambermaid, all her possessions are in storage, and she is being pursued by debt collectors. Going into this I thought, at least – at 80 trim minutes – if this turned out too miserable there at least was a quick end in sight. I need not have worried. Corinne Masiero, who plays Louise Wimmer (and who played the informant prostitute, Patricia, in the second series of the French police procedural, Spiral), has indignity upon indignity heaped on her. Her daytime life revolves around a bar where she is tolerated, she spends her time haranguing the municipality to house her, she washes in petrol station toilets. The root of her financial difficulties isn’t made explicit, but it is hinted that her life used to be much more comfortable.
So far, so grim, and while the film is bleak, and slow, it is well told and filmed. Louise Wimmer is Cyril Mennegun’s first feature film, although he has three documentaries under his belt, which may go part way to explaining the way he lets Louise’s story unfold unhurriedly, as if told by herself. — Susan Patterson
The Day He Arrives (Hong Sang-Soo, 2011)
This is the first film I’ve seen by Korean director Hong Sang-Soo, but it certainly won’t be the last. Shot elegantly in black and white and clocking in at around 1 hour and 20 minutes, The Day He Arrives is a film that’s so slight and witty that you might barely notice how technically rigorous and fiercely intelligent it is.
Sang-Joon is a filmmaker going through a creative dry patch. He returns to Seoul from his countryside home to visit some old friends and relations. In particular, he meets an ex-lover with whom he spends one emotionally fraught evening before they swear never to see each other again. When he encounters a bar owner who looks exactly like her (they’re both played by the same actress), he embarks on a brief romance, but it remains unclear whether they’re really falling for each other or if they’re just imposing their own ideals upon one another.
The Day He Arrives is what Certified Copy would have looked like had it been made by Woody Allen. The majority of the film consists of the same group of friends just talking and going to the same restaurant and bar over and over, each scene a variation on one that came before. It’s a film about coincidence and memory and how we mould the people around us to meet our own expectations, but its lofty themes and ambitions are explored through dialogue that sparkles with wit and charm – it feels like spending time with old friends. — Adam Howard
Adam Howard (@afahoward) blogs at The Blank Projector.