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FILM: November 2010

Mike Leigh’s ANOTHER YEAR (cert.12A 2hrs. 9mins.), an intimate film of family, friendship and ageing by Mike Leigh, starring Jim Broadbent, Lesley Manville and other Leigh regulars is one of the highlights of this year’s London Film Festival and is also on general release in November.

Each season brings a different part of the story to our attention. The characters interact: Tom (Jim Broadbent), nearing retirement has a good marriage with Gerri (Ruth Sheen) and they are close to their lawyer son, Joe (Oliver Maltman). Somewhat keen on alcohol, Mary (Lesley Manville) is divorced and desperate to find a partner, although she will not consider Ken (Peter Wright), Tom’s old friend, who is as lonely as she is.

In the background is Janet (Imelda Staunton), a very unhappy insomniac, but incapable of explaining why to Gerri, her medical counsellor. Leigh is an actors’ director and elicits great performances from his cast. There is little in the way of action but much in the depiction of the emotions of the characters and the texture of their lives, all shown on their faces and through their tiny reactions.

CARLOS (cert. 15 trilogy 334 mins. Abridged version 159 mins. In numerous languages with Engl. subtitles) is a monumental film, directed by Olivier Assayas, that tells the story of the notorious Venezuelan terrorist Ilich Samirez Sanchez, also known as The Jackal and Carlos. Of necessity – as Carlos is still in prison and one of the terrorist murders has not been proved to involve him – it is a work of fiction although closely based on facts known about Carlos. Beginning in 1973 when Carlos (Ramirez) is recruited to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, led by Wadie Haddad (Kaabour), and takes the name, ‘Carlos,’ the story moves on to Carlos' aid to the Japanese Red Army and his work with the German Revolutionary cells. Carlos becomes world famous from 1975 onwards for his killings and continued work with terrorist organisations throughout the world including Syria . With the backing of Syria he sets up bases in Eastern Europe. In the 1980s he moves to Damascus and lives as a business man, until he is no longer welcome after the collapse of the Soviet bloc, when he moves on to Sudan, residing under the protection of Iran. Finally in 1994 he is arrested by the French police for terrorist acts committed 20 years previously. Besides these activities, through which Carlos develops from a self-proclaimed idealist to a mercenary fighter, we see something of his relationships with other terrorists and the women in his life.

Director, Assayas, captures the charisma of Carlos and in the long, but well-edited trilogy, explains the contradictions of his actions and personal relationships both with those with whom he works and the various people he comes into contact with. He begins by defining himself as, “a revolutionary idealist,” but he is also a womaniser and a scoundrel. However Ramirez has managed to find something that we can relate to and we see a rounded albeit flawed character at large. He changes in many ways including physically from a young, good-looking man to a middle-aged business man with a paunch (for which he wants liposuction to remain attractive to women). The other characters are there for us to see how Carlos uses them or in rare cases how he is used by others. The main woman in Carlos' life is his German comrade, Magdalena Kopp (von Waldstatten), who becomes his wife.

There are an amazing number of different languages spoken in the film (and Venezuelan born Ramirez appears to speak most of them) including German, French, English, Arabic and Russian. The action takes in many locations in the seven months it took to make and the film maker's decision to shoot the Middle East scenes in Lebanon and other scenes in the actual places where they occurred, including London and Paris, enhances the film's sense of accuracy. It seems strange to say that such a long film moves along at a fast pace, but it is indeed the case and at no point is the film uninteresting either in characters or action. But do see the full version in order to really get a clear picture of what is going on, and, more importantly, begin to understand why Carlos acted the way he did. He became a myth in his own lifetime but remains, even after this lengthy treatment, something of an enigma. There is still mystery attached to his terrorist activities and quite why he moved from having ideals to being a soldier for hire. Carlos is released in the cinema in both the full length trilogy version and the abridged one and both will be out on DVD 1 October.

Look out for a well-crafted study of the rise of Facebook and subsequent falling out and legal battles of the founders. THE SOCIAL NETWORK (cert 12A 2hrs.) has a well-written script by Aaron Sorkin, truthful portraits of the real-life characters and excellent direction by David Fincher. This story of the foundation of the social network site by Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg), the brilliant Harvard student, cuts between 2003-4 when it started and the time of the subsequent lawsuits brought against him by the rich identical twins, Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (played by Armie Hammer) and Justin Timberlake, Jesse Eisenberg

Divya Narenda (Max Minghella) who believed that Zuckerberg had stolen their idea. There are conflicting accounts of the actual events and the director tries to show these differing views. Zuckerberg was helped first by his wealthy roommate Eduardo Saverin (the English actor, Andrew Garfield) and later by the charismatic entrepreneur, Sean Parker (a tour de force by Justin Timberlake). What started as a prank develops into a multi-billion dollar business and Zuckerberg became very, very rich. The excellent script by Sorkin, developed from the book ‘The Accidental Billionaires’ by Ben Mezrich, is directed in a precise manner by Fincher who manages to extract wonderful portraits of the characters from his actors. While there is nothing sympathetic about Zuckerberg, Eisenberg manages to bring just the right qualities to the part. One feels sorry for his lack of personal social skills and some admiration for his development of a simple idea into a world-wide business.

Also recommended: Clio Barnard’s film about the short life of playwright Andrea Dunbar and her family, THE ARBOR (cert. 15 1hr. 30mins.), is a very moving account of Andrea’s dysfunctional childhood spent on a rather unkempt housing estate in Bradford and her downward spiral through drink. We see the effect her life has had on her children, particularly her daughter, Lorraine, who has spent many years in prison. The film uses actors to say the actual words of those involved in this very sad true story, which is also showing in the London Film Festival. Don’t miss a little gem of a film: MARY & MAX (cert. 12A 1hr. 28mins.) is the story of a pen-pal relationship between lonely 8-year-old Mary, who lives in Melbourne, Australia and obese 44-year-old-Max, who lives in New York and is also lonely. A clayogrophy feature film, working with clay figures, it is a charming story of the two people as they move through a 20 year relationship on paper.

And do try to see MY AFTERNOONS WITH MARGUERITE (cert 15 1 hr 22mins.), a most special film starring Gerard Depardieu as Germain, a very large, rather simple man who lives with his awful mother in a small French village, where he is known to all. He meets Marguerite, a petite old woman (played by 95-year-old Gisele Casadesus), who is passionate about literature. As they get to know each other, Marguerite introduces Germain to the written word and he helps her as she loses her eyesight. Directed by Jean Becker the film has genuine charm and remains in one’s memory a long time after viewing.


THEATRE TIP

A play with a political slant on events in Afghanistan doesn’t sound too attractive, but, although it deals with events that took place in 1981-1991 during the Russian invasion, BLOOD AND GIFTS (National Theatre booking until 14 November) gives us a good background into today’s happenings and is most engrossing. James Warnock (Lloyd Owen), a CIA operative, arrives in Pakistan to covertly fund a rebel group opposed to the Russians.

There is also an Englishman, Simon Craig (Adam James), who wants to know what is going on and sometimes gives too much information away. Written by the American playwright JT Rogers, it is very well crafted and shows the power struggle between the key nations for dominance in the area. The actors perform effectively and are well-differentiated by character and country. Owen gives a particularly strong performance as the seemingly morally upright CIA employee, who, nevertheless, makes deals with the Afghan rebel group.

The play has humorous moments as well as making sharp political points about working with one enemy to subdue another. The action moves, in well managed scene changes, between Pakistan, Afghanistan and the US over the ten year period.

Clifford Odets’ COUNTRY GIRL (Apollo booking until 26 February 2011) is a backstage story which relies on a good central performance. Martin Shaw brings richness and just the right visual characteristics as Frank Elgin, the once famous actor now on a downward slide as the result of drink. When he is offered a lifeline in the form of the leading part in a play that has an out of town preview before being put on at a Broadway theatre, he is worried but hopeful. He is completely reliant on his wife, Georgie (Jenny Seagrove) to sort out any difficulties that may arise with the producer or director and also to make sure he is dressed correctly and gets to the right place at the right time.

When the young director, Bernie (Mark Letheren) decides that Georgie is holding Frank back and preventing him from giving his best performance, there is a struggle for domination of Frank between his long–suffering wife and the somewhat bumptious Bernie.Set in New York and Boston, the play is smartly directed by Rufus Norris.

Shaw, with his craggy face and disheveled clothes, looks like an alcoholic who is not actually holding a bottle and when he does begin to drink again, he acts in a more truthful way and does not roll around the stage with slurred speech. There are many good touches, such as Frank drinking his cough medicine enthusiastically – it is 22% alcohol! Seagrove comes across as rather too cold but in some ways this suits the part as she is afraid to show her emotions in case she is unable to hold herself together for her husband. Letheren gives a sophisticated rendering of the rather cocky director, who, eventually, confesses to the loneliness that he knows will come once the play opens and he is no longer needed.

ENLIGHTENMENT (Hampstead Theatre until 30 Oct.) is not so much a thriller as a mystery play. This new play by Shelagh Stephenson has an intriguing story to keep the interest of the audience. The son of Lia (Julie Graham) and Nick (Richard Clothier) has disappeared while travelling overseas. Nobody knows what has happened to him or whether he is dead or not.

Lia calls in a medium to the disapproval of her husband, and without a satisfactory outcome. Lia’s father (Paul Freeman) tries to help by bringing in Joanne, a TV documentary maker (Daisy Beaumont). A surprising appearance by a young man purporting to be Adam, the lost son of the couple, arrives to bring further disruption to all and add mystery to the proceedings. Mix in some metaphysical science and discourse on identity and we are in the midst of an intriguing tale. Edward Hall - Hampstead Theatre’s new artistic director - moves the piece along briskly and he is assisted by a very modern sparse set design.

Onassis was neither a hero nor role model, so why do we have a chorus commenting on his destiny and the work of the gods in ONASSIS? (Novello until 5 Feb. 2011) Robert Lindsay strides up and down the stage like a quieter Zorba the Greek and emotes to the best of his ability, which is wasted in this rather dire play. The writer Martin Sherman and director, Nancy Meckler must have had an off-day when this production of Onassis’ financial, political and romantic goings-on was conceived.

Hurry down to the National Theatre to catch Rory Kinnear as an excellent Prince in Nicholas Hytner’s intelligent interpretation of Shakespeare’s HAMLET (booking until 9 Jan. 2011). His father would indeed be proud as the unprepossessing Rory takes to the part as though he had been born to play the young man who finds that his well-ordered life has been completely upset when his father dies suddenly and his mother marries his uncle.

He is even more devastated and confused when the ghost of his dead father appears and speaks of his uncle being responsible for his murder. Hytner has set the play in the modern era and there is extreme surveillance everywhere – not only Ophelia is spied on when she meets with Hamlet, but it looks as though he is being overheard even in his soliloquies. Claudius first speech is filmed with his new wife, Gertrude, posed beside him, and Horatio’s speech over the dead Prince is caught on television cameras. There are spies all around, so that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s appearance at court, having been summoned by Claudius to find out why Hamlet is going mad, does not seem strange.

Once again at the NT there is a simple set with walls moving to become new areas, new rooms in which the characters can continue their dialogue without any false breaks.

The ghost appears from a doorway and disappears back into blackness. Ruth Negga comes across as a very young Ophelia who finds herself torn between her father’s commands and her attraction to Hamlet. When she goes mad she pushes around a shopping cart and hands parcels out. David Calder is just right as the fussy Polonius, who gives advice to his giggling children, Ophelia and Laertes, and he also brings comedy as the Gravedigger. Although he hasn’t got a beautiful voice, Kinnear has a naturalistic style and makes a good, modern, thoughtful Prince. Occasionally he seems to lose the rhythm of the speech and gives a few strange deliveries such as, “It...is…not...nor it..cannot..come..to ..good.” But overall, Hytner has delivered a good, clear and incisive production.

Carlie Newman

   
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