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London: Early One Morning, Snowtown and Last Screening

Craig here (writer of Take Three) reporting for Nathaniel from the BFI London Film Festival. Today's round-up features three dark explorations into violent minds. Perfect for Halloween week then!

If disquieting French drama Early One Morning were a comedy it would need to hijack the title of another recent office-based film: Horrible Bosses. The financial suits upstairs are the cause for middle-aged everyman-exec Paul’s (played to fraught perfection by Jean-Pierre Darroussin) consternation in Jean-Marc Moutout’s film. What a total bunch of bankers! But Paul takes matters into his own hands in an explosive, very personal way. It starts with a coldly curious, matter-of-fact sequence: Paul gets up and ready for work, kisses his wife, gets on a bus and arrives at the office. The immediately perturbing vibe suggests that something terrible is inevitable. As it turns out, he shoots his bosses dead and then sits down at his desk. The film then flashes back to an earlier time to try and work out why Paul goes full nutjob with a handgun. It's clear from the finger pointing at the highly unsporting, self-regarding pair of CEOs (one played with pompous relish by Xavier Beauvois, the director of Of Gods and Men) and the hot potato topic of the recession that the film is trading on being a seasonably pertinent and bold exploration of current themes people will feel a kinship for. The film’s drastic actions are worrying, but maybe the Pauls of the world need a vicarious fictional mouthpiece to do the undoable acts on their behalf. After all, we like a David vs. Goliath tale. This one just goes one furious step further and attempts to annihilate its Goliath for all previous unfair dismissal. Early One Morning is mostly gripping viewing. Best avoided by those who’ve just been fired, mind. C+

The terrible bursts of violence in Early One Morning came fast and furious, but that’s nothing compared to what we get sporadically, intensively and with gut-churning abstraction throughout bold Australian drama Snowtown. [More after the jump.]

It’s a study of evil’s many rhizomic strands, throbbing with a pulse that beats in an unnervingly measured, dark manner. It charts the late-1990s murder of eleven people by serial killer John Bunting (Daniel Henshall) in the small title town. Bunting forms a disastrous fatherly relationship with Jamie (Lucas Pittaway), the teenage son of his lover Elizabeth Harvey (Louise Harris). The bravely headlong approach to the infamous story of Australia’s worst murder case is handled with breathtaking confidence and fluency of image. (I was astonished to discover that the film is director Kurzel’s debut feature.)  It’s intelligent filmmaking that questions a full range of unsavoury, hot-button subjects: over its two hours it takes in incest, extreme poverty, multiple serial murder and sexual abuse – so, ideal after-dinner Xmas viewing this ain’t.

As Bunting, Henshall is Snowtown’s hyper-vile nucleus. He’s constantly at boiling point, not that it’s evident from his sometimes coldly-smiling, other times vacantly menacing face; his performance is one of the year’s very best. The surrounding cast, particularly Pittaway and Harvey, are equally excellent and it's staggering that many, if not all, of the cast have never acted before. Snowtown depicts with convincing authority a whole nasty mess of issues relating to the murders and the familial set-up surrounding them – most of all Jamie’s indoctrination, his utter immersion, into a life of foul criminality. It’s this strand, the film’s central, despairingly bleak aspect that stays with you after the last shot: an indescribably sad close-up of a person lost to sheer complicit evil. Snowtown is harsh, relentless and grips with a horrible force. A

"Last Screening"

Once again with the festival violence! However, Last Screening does also come with a hint of absurdity, largely due to a novel, yet cocky, tone that sits just on the right side of daft and the wrong side of horrific. I was looking forward to this François Ozon-does-John Carpenter arty French slash-athon. But the wrapping was more impressive than the parcel, let’s say. The shifty mannerisms of lead Pascal Cervo, as creepier-than-you-know cinema projectionist Sylvain, allow Laurent Achard’s film a central figure for us to scrutinise: the hows and whys of his behaviour are gradually revealed, although to my mind not entirely satisfactory. Sylvain kills people (mostly women -  Psycho Klaxon – a mother fixation abounds) that get in the way of his beloved cinema. Or if they happen to have delectable earrings. He will see neither the cinema nor his unique bargain basement jewellery collection* disappear for anyone! The generally glum surroundings (a lot of the film takes place in dingy cellars and dimly lit streets) just make events feel a bit limp and unfortunate, instead of starkly terrifying.

Archard is clearly fond of Peeping Tom, but he doesn’t at all nail its queasy sense of panicky urgency. Some scenes go on beyond their natural resolutions to extend a plot point or action (in one instance, Sylvain’s indecision about killing one of his victims feels like a vacant pause more than an opening for mysterious doubt to seep in). Cervo has the minute mousy mannerisms of Norman Bates and the demented glare of a mini Patrick Bateman down pat but despite a lot of anguished activity, he’s a bit of an empty vessel. Like the plot itself, he starts out well but coasts along haphazardly. We’re not really compensated at the close, either. The overbearing ending dawdles and (literally) reaches for a splendorous profundity that it’s neither convincing nor well earned. D+

*I think Nathaniel will either scream blue murder or laugh heartily at the glossy Michelle Pfeiffer-in-Scarface 8x10 that can be glimpsed in the film.

Related: I also wrote up the LFF documentaries, Shock Head Soul and Lawrence of Belgravia, at my own blog Dark Eye Socket.

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Reader Comments (1)

You get fired by your boss so you just up and kill them? Ugh. That's part of the reason I don't like the idea of Horrible Bosses. Really, really don't like it. Yes, Office Space (which I admit to really liking, even if it IS fairly messily executed) also traded on this criminal revenge idea, but at least there was a semi-poetic reasoning to the attempted crime there. (You fire us, we bleed you a small amount.) I could see the base ideas of Office Space mostly carved clean of humour and still working, whether as straight drama or straight thriller. Maybe not as well, but still working. The base idea of Horrible Bosses (and yes, I see Horrible Bosses as a single plot and Office Space containing multiple engaging plots in a 100 minute run time (as I mentioned, it is kind of messily executed)), meanwhile...I don't really see it working as a thriller. Maybe a drama if it starts with the murder and the whole rest of the movie is the aftermath.

October 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia
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