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FILM: September 2010

Directed by Javier Fuentes-Leon, UNDERTOW [Contracorriente] (cert.15 1hr 40mins.), in Spanish with English sub-titles), is a sexy film, but with a distinctly unusual flavour, it shows a love-triangle in a small fishing village in Peru. Unbeknown to his wife (Tatiana Astengo) and the local villagers, Miguel (Cristian Marcado), a well-respected fisherman, has been having an affair with Santiago (Manola Cardona), a visiting artist. When Santiago drowns in an accident involving the strong undertow of the ocean, only Miguel can see, talk to and touch his dead male lover.

In keeping with local beliefs, Miguel wants to bury Santiago so that he can move to "the other side". Miguel has to decide whether to tell his wife and the community that he has to find the body and then bury his friend and risk being considered a freak or deny their love and thus deprive Santiago of everlasting peace. The photography is lovely, depicting the fishing village and surrounding area. Although set in Peru, the film has more than a touch of the film, Ghost.

With delicate portrayals of the main characters, as well as the villagers, the actors bring the right kind of verisimilitude to their parts. It is very well-made with much humour as well as insight into the emotions of the two men and the antagonism of Miguel's wife and the small-minded villagers to a different kind of sexuality is well expressed.

There are two very unusual elements in THE REFUGE (Le Refuge) (cert. 15 1hr. 30mins.) The first is that the director (Francois Ozon) has used an actress in the main part who is actually pregnant. The second is her lack of interest in the growing baby and any maternal instincts. When her boyfriend, Louis (Melvil Poopard) dies from a heroin overdose and Mousse (Isabelle Carre) finds that she is pregnant, she leaves Paris to live alone in her 'refuge' by the sea. Paul (Louis-Ronan Choisy), Louis' gay younger brother, visits her and they become close. This is a film all about characters. The main activity is, of course, Mousse's advancing pregnancy and the director films her, as she grows larger. Carre gives a most believable performance, as Mousse; she has allowed very personal pictures of her body. The singer, Louis-Ronan Choisy, in his first acting role, gives a truthful, tender portrayal. The musical score enhances the background to the story; the colour photography is muted and contrasts the gentle pace of life by the sea to the frenetic Parisian lifestyle. The lives of Mousse and Paul develop and change so that we understand the decisions they make at the end of the film.

Don't miss: Debra Granik's WINTER'S BONE (cert. 15 1hr. 40mins.). Jennifer Lawrence gives an outstanding performance as a 17-year-old trying to find her druggie father who has skipped bail, forcing her family to face eviction. THE ILLUSIONIST (cert. PG 1hr. 25mins.) is a beautifully made little animated film by Sylvain Chomet, adapted from an original script by Jacques Tati. It features a magician, looking just like Tati, who travels around finding places to perform. On leaving Edinburgh, young Alice follows him and shares his room in London. A loving Chaplinesque chaste romance ensues as she initially becomes like his daughter and eventually grows away from him.

A new digitally remastered print of the classic FIVE EASY PIECES (1970 cert. 15 1hr. 38mins, directed by Bob Rafelson and starring Jack Nicholson, is out now. Remind yourselves of the towering performance by Nicholson as the drop out who visits his dying father. There is, too, the excellent support from Karen Black as his not too bright girlfriend and Susan Anspach as his brother's fiancée, with whom he has an affair. And, of course, there is Tammy Wynette singing, 'Stand By Your Man.'

Another film with terrific acting is the Korean director, Bong Joon-Ho's MOTHER (cert. 15 2hrs. 9mins.). Kim Hey-Ja plays the single mother who will do anything to protect her 27 year-old simple son (Won Bin) after he is accused of murder.


THEATRE TIPS

LES MISERABLES (Queen's Theatre) is celebrating its 25th Anniversary. Set in a later period than Danton's Death, Victor Hugo's 1862 novel has been turned into a musical by Alain Boubil, Claoude-Michel Schonberg and Herbert Kretzmer. Starting in 1823 and finishing in 1832, Les Mis has a complex story about a petty thief Jean Valjean, who is given parole after 19 years in prison, but labelled a thief until given a chance. He then sets himself up as a prominent member of the community until pursued by Inspector Javert he is caught again. He becomes involved with Fantine and her secret illegitimate child, Cosette, who he looks after when her mother dies. Although pursued by Javert, Valjean keeps his promise and brings Cosette up as his own child. Eponine, the child of a horrendous couple who looked after the very young Cosette for a time, loves the student Marius who, in turn, falls for Cosette. Eponine assists them to get together and…but I shall leave you to see the show (or read the book) to see how it concludes.

Many of you will be familiar with the historical setting and the musical is faithful to the spirit of the plight of the poor, while fulfilling the demands of story, characters and music. Although somewhat heavy in theme and some of the numbers, there are some lighter moments. A few very good songs, such as One More Day and I Dreamed a Dream, are thrown in amongst others which sound very much the same. Unfortunately, in its move from the larger Palace Theatre (where I first saw it), the show has not only lost the bigger stage, but also half the orchestra so that the sound does not have the full lushness that I remembered from the original production. The actors sing well with a very strong Samantha Barks as Eponine, Jonathan Williams as Valjean (an exceptionally fine understudy) and Norm Lewis as Javert on the night I went. Lucie Jones as Cosette was
the weakest of the main singers. A good set and a spectacular production show us why it has lasted for 25 years!

Lucie Jones as Cosette was
the weakest of the main singers. A good set and a spectacular production show us why it has lasted for 25 years!

It is hard for anything to compete with the excellent series of Sherlock Holmes on our TVs, but THE SECRET OF SHERLOCK HOLMES (Duchess Theatre until 11 September) shows a different side to Sherlock and his partner Watson.

Peter Egan's detective has a witty, intelligent air and Robert Daws is suitably comfortable as Watson. Although missing the excitement of a Sherlock Holmes mystery this character study is well-acted and entertaining.

Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's INTO THE WOODS at the Open Air Theatre, Regent's Park (until 11 September) has found the right home presentationally, although the music gets a little lost in the open air. English weather being what it is, the press performance that I attended was abandoned at the beginning of the second act and I had to attend again. No hardship as the set, costumes and staging are all good and the songs well-sung - in some cases beautifully. There was some trouble with the sound on the first night I attended but by the second it was all fine.

   
   
   
   

With a schoolboy as the narrator, director Timothy Sheader cleverly brings together a number of different fairytales. The childless Baker and his Wife are sent by a wicked Witch into the forest to collect five objects from the other characters. The Witch keeps Rapunzel in a tower from which she lets down her hair so that her Prince can climb up to her, and later the Baker's Wife can take some of her hair to fulfil one of the Witch's demands. Cinderella goes to the Prince's ball and the Baker's Wife collects one of her slippers as she runs away. Little Red Riding Hood is ravished and eaten by the Wolf and rescued by the Baker, to whom she gives her cloak as the witch has asked. Jack’s mother sends him into the woods to sell his cow, which is then bought by the Baker and Wife in exchange for magic beans. The beans grow into the sky and house the giant. At the end all live happily ever after.

But Act 2 gives a very different picture as the dreams of the characters are shattered and the Giant's Wife storms through their homes destroying all in her path. There are even deaths and the bright first half turns into a nightmare. As usual with Sondheim, the songs are an integral part of the whole and tell us about what is happening and also about the characters. So we hear Rapunzel's Prince and Cinderella's Prince, in their song 'Agony,' talking in Act 1 about longing for their future wives and in the second act lamenting their lot.

The set - a construction of ladders, and platform areas, almost like an enormous climbing frame - is used most effectively by the lively, enthusiastic cast. The Wolf and Cinderella's Prince are given a most humorous interpretation by Michael Xavier while Jenna Russell as the Baker's Wife and Hanna Waddingham as the Witch sing beautifully. It is worth waiting for the voice of Judi Dench as the Giant's Wife which comes out of the trees in a large structure made up of different objects including dustbin lids. Regent's Park, itself, becomes part of the set and most certainly contributes to the atmosphere as the trees move in the wind and become increasingly menacing as the light fades and the characters react to the darkness around them.

     
     

Carlie Newman

   
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