“I feel closer to my father with his books than with him. Each book is a touch of colour. All together, they form his portrait.”
Léa Seydoux is poignant and engaging in this exploration of love in its familial and romantic forms. Writer/director Mia Hansen-Løve introduces us to Sandra at a pivotal point of loss and gain — her father fading to a neuro-degenerative syndrome whilst she kindles an illicit romance with an old friend. The ebb and flow of these aspects forms One Fine Morning’s pacing. Pascal Greggory’s performance is moving yet understated, an academic painfully aware of his deterioration and yet docile rather than defiant in the face of being bounced between hospitals and care homes. A single mother, Sandra’s most stable relationship is with her young daughter; the others feel fragile — her father is disappearing and her mother’s support feels finite, whilst her lover is indecisive about his marriage. The camera sits with Seydoux through the inner turmoil of Sandra’s relationships, trusting the viewer to interpret what remains unsaid or, in her father’s case, misspoken. One Fine Morning ends abruptly in a way that is momentarily dissatisfying but, with hindsight, feels more appropriate for its naturalistic tone than providing artificial catharsis — love is a continuing, enduring experience that lacks a neatly identifiable climax or conclusion.
“Sometimes they don’t really desire you. They desire the way you make them feel.”
Following Equals and Newness, director Drake Doremus continues his exploration of human relationships with Zoe, which largely falls into the same pitfalls of interesting concepts executed blandly and with musings more derivative than profound. His focus here is society’s use of technology as a solution for crumbling relationships and intimacy, explored through the story of a relationship between an engineer and a “synthetic” human. The material is more thought-provoking than Doremus’ past work, though much of the heavy lifting is left to the viewer — neither the story nor the engagement with its ideas is as deftly handled as Her (which was evidently an influence). Zoe suggests that human connection with a synthetic may break when confronted with their artificiality, but this makes little sense when applied to the creator of a synthetic, for whom every detail ought to be a reminder. This is no slight on the actors, who deliver understated and tender performances, including an underutilised Christina Aguilera as an older model of synthetic. The film’s most interesting aspect is recreational use of a new pharmaceutical drug that chemically simulates the experience of falling in love, though again the script fails to engage with the fundamental question of which experience is more real: a genuine internal reaction to an external artificiality, or an artificially synthesised internal reaction to another human. Instead, the audience is left to drift through this slow-moving sci-fi with increasing disengagement.
“There is a particular sad beauty… well-known to the companionless foreigner as he walks the streets of his adopted preferably moonlit, city. In my case, Ennui, France.”
Whilst there has always been a literary chic aesthetic to Wes Anderson’s films, The French Dispatch is an ode to the art of long-form journalism — rather than being divided into chapters, this is really a collection of short films masquerading as articles. The fictional French town of Ennui-sur-Blasé (literally “boredom on apathy”) is fittingly named, and even the colour palette eschews the bold saturation one expects from Anderson; yet within this disaffected community, the writers seek out — and perhaps manifest — absurdly colourful tales. The quality is distinctly uneven, Anderson seeming to have little to say with the content of the stories so much as their loquacious delivery. The most creative is also the most entertaining, a food review that morphs into an unpredictable heist. Although that earns the film a strong closing, it cannot resolve the disconnected narrative of a vapidly kitsch tale of student protest or a bizarrely aggressive travelogue. Fans of Wes Anderson will find plenty of details to enjoy, together with the de rigueur stellar ensemble cast, but The French Dispatch does not rank amongst his strongest work.
“Harder to tell the good from the bad, the villains from the heroes these days.”
Typically the Bond films of each actor to take on the role end in a downward trajectory, but the inconsistent films of Daniel Craig’s tenure have culminated in perhaps the best swansong for a Bond actor to date, even if it sits firmly in the middle of the pack when it compared to Craig’s previous outings. Bond is at its best when it reinvents itself and, as I have previously opined, it arguably has less to do with the actor than the direction. Cary Fukunaga’s languid pacing and sombre tone suits the more personal story — even its opening swaps the usual kinetic action for a flashback horror sequence with an endangered child. No Time To Die is considerably too long at 163 minutes, featuring plenty of striking locations but little memorable action (aside from an early car chase and a tense woodland hunt). Ana de Armas brings the most energy to the film, though her presence is sadly restricted to one self-contained sequence. There has been an organic character arc through the Craig era from Bond proving himself in Casino Royale to the seasoned professional in Skyfall and now the introspective retired agent recognising that the politics behind espionage have become increasingly grey. A long-promised and overdue shift in this final outing is the greater depth to the female operatives and to Bond’s relationships. Conversely, Safin is one of the weakest Bond villains to date (through no fault of Rami Malek) and the franchise’s continued reliance on facial disfigurement as a shorthand for “villain” — with three examples in this film alone — is a tired anachronism. No Time To Die may not be Bond at its best, but the franchise continues to mature in a fitting send-off to its most human incarnation.