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LFF: "Quartet" and Other Misguided Lovers

David here reporting on a diverse selection of films showing at the 56th BFI London Film Festival starting with the Best Actress hopeful Quartet...

Tom Courtenay and Maggie Smith in 'Quartet'

“Like being hugged by your favourite grandparent,” I wryly tweeted just after exciting the press screening of Quartet. Imagine that. It’s an undeniably pleasant experience, even as it might come with a slightly musty smell and a worry that if you let go they’ll lose their balance. (Said grandparent must obviously have reached a certain age, and I’m sure your grandmother smells lovely really.) Quartet is, in the nicest way possible, an elderly person’s movie – gentle, undemanding, exceedingly pleasant and just a little bit bland. Every piece of the easy narrative jigsaw puzzle is placed before you within fifteen minutes – Cissy (Pauline Collins) winsomely forgets where she’s going several times, Reggie (Tom Courtenay) withdraws bitterly at Jean’s (Maggie Smith) arrival, and Dr. Cogan (Sheridan Smith) happens to mention that the nursing home is in danger of closing down. Not to mention that this collective of aging musical greats are already rehearsing for their gala concert in honour of Verdi’s birthday. Continue...

So really, all there is to do is sit back and revel in the gentle humour, Smith’s deftly playing of her regretful diva (an Oscar nomination is a strong possibility, especially with Weinstein in her corner), the predictably beautiful soundtrack (though Dario Marianelli’s original contributions are brief at most), and the general air of effusive warmth emanating from the whole project. No unfamiliar buttons are ever pushed and everything resolves itself with almost alarming ease. But at least this Quartet is in tune, and if Dame Maggie wants to take those twelve curtain calls, who’s going to stop her? (C+)

'Dreams for Sale'Future happiness might be going cheap in Dreams for Sale, but dignity isn’t. Miwa Nishikawa’s fourth feature features an array of characters that in lesser hands would have been drawn as mocked caricatures or pathetic shadows. Nishikawa, though, elegantly films her story with confident, steady tracking shots full of a generous spirit, drawing tender, unexpected moments of empathy and kind comedy from her own script. After their restaurant burns to the ground and he lands an unexpected paycheck from a one-night stand, husband and wife Kanya (Sadao Abe) and Satoko (Takoko Matsu) set about scamming various lonely women of their money in order to fund a new establishment. Nishikawa isn’t blind to the comedic possibilities of the scenario – Kanya’s initial revelation of infidelity is performed with pointed barb as Satoko flings the wad of cash into his bath and fires up the hot water tap. But more rewarding, especially over the perhaps too extensive two and a quarter hours, is the soulfulness and humanism Nishikawa devotes to both the couple’s increasing fragile relationship and the fallibility of the various victims of their scam. Frequent gentle guitar twang overlays the more ferociously dramatic moments, shifting the tone to a reflective melancholy, as it we should already be reflecting on the consequences of the action before us. Nishikawa is expert at subtly sweeping the audience into escalating scenes through almost imperceptible camera moves and edits. Technically and emotionally, this isn’t a film that scorches itself onto the memory, but softly settles into the back, gently but insistently making its mark. (B)

Antonia Campbell-Hughes and Julian Morris in 'Kelly + Victor'

There are many different kinds of beauty. Almost all of them make their appearance in Kieran Evans’ feature film debut, Kelly + Victor. Dialogue here is almost irrelevant, and the little there is can ring as mannered and expositional – these characters are better suited to short, coy exchanges or little comedic frissons. This is a film about physical attraction, whether in the dominant sense of sadomasochistic lust or the more poetic affectation of nature’s reflective winsomeness. Tousle-haired Victor (Julian Morris), a dockyard worker who has set up camp in an abandoned school, catches the eye of Kelly (Antonia Campbell-Hughes) on a night out, and they quickly retreat to her new flat for some scorching, drug-infused sex. Evans uses both sound and image to distort and mutate his sex scenes, flashing forward or backward to contrasting scenes and slicing sex and nature together. Sex is not confined to a simple, lustful act for this pair, but reaches out into their past and their future together and apart. Victor falls hard for Kelly, but her darker impulses quickly make themselves known and he becomes conflicted about his own desire. Evans, perhaps inheriting issues from Niall Griffiths’ source novel, navigates some tiresome contextualisation of Kelly and Victor’s purer desires in comparison to their friends – wannabe drug dealers and dominatrix prostitutes – and can’t escape the awkward moral implications of the ending. But his visual sense is lucid and appropriately lustful, and he certainly gets sparks from his two revelatory performers – Morris the brooding everyman confronting the dark recesses of his mind, Campbell-Hughes an unstable figure of unconventional allure. Kelly + Victor is a film of the now, but the two lovers could be hopelessly entwined in any time and any place, still bound together by reflection and lust. (B+)

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Reader Comments (8)

Maggie Smith has had a phenomenal career for an actor who seems unwilling to ever challenge herself.

October 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLynn

Agreed hasn't she been doing the same thing for the last 25 years the last film she was in that was challenging was 87's the lonely passion of judith hearne where she was nomination worthy and winning awards and praise for recycling your gosford park turn in DA is shameless at least vanessa redgrave hasn't gone that way,corolianus showed how she can wow years after the first wow.

Come on maggie give is 1 last gr8 turn.

October 16, 2012 | Unregistered Commentermark

Glad someone else is putting in good word on Maggie Smith. Personally, 'Quartet' is one of my favourite films this year!

October 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPat

But Maggie does Maggie so well, I refuse to complain or see her challenge herself because she's that good at what she does, and she challenged herself throughout her career, she's nearing 80, I'd say she's earnt a right to be the grande dame.

BUT have any of you seen Poliakoff's 2007 Telemovie Capturing Mary? She plays an alcoholic in it, haunted by her past, its really tough stuff to watch and she plays it so well, a sad old lady with nothing but alcohol and regrets - that is her stretching herself.

And no spoilers but she has a scene in the new season of Downton where she completely breaks down in tears and loses it, reminding us just how emotional an actress she can be when she wants, I was bawling my eyes out at it.

Yeah, I love maggie <3

October 16, 2012 | Unregistered Commentermorganisaqt

morganisaqt -- WHAT? now i'm even more excited for DA Season3

mark -- i get that people think she just plays herself but, come on, she is FANTASTIC in Downton Abbey however you slice it. I am bummed she won the Emmy given that the genius work and character creation by Christina Hendricks is still unrewarded after five years. but that doesn't mean she isn't just perfect in DA.

October 16, 2012 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

David, I'd not heard of KELLY + VICTOR, but I'm going to track down the novel on the strength of your review. Thanks for the heads-up.

October 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSteve G

Yep, its a billion times better than that weird mess that was season 2, but get the tissues out. Are you going to cover it? I hope so, I was looking forward to your revenge coverage, but you're only human :)

October 17, 2012 | Unregistered Commentermorganisaqt

How cool to have Tom Courtenay back on screen, the Oscar nominee who blazed a trail through the glittering tundra in Doctor Zhivago and was shockingly the ONLY acting nominee in this wondrous epic. He makes Quartet a must-see.

October 17, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy
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