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Writer/director Paul Morrison’s 23 Walks is a deceptively simple film. Basically a two-hander, it stars Alison Steadman and Dave Johns as middle-aged Fern and Dave, who meet while walking their dogs in the lush woods, fields and wildflowers in Hertfordshire (beautifully shot by David Katznelson).
Fern — unlike her small terrier, Henry — is initially wary of both Dave and Tilly, his gentle German Shepherd rescue dog. Over the course of what become regular walks together, tentative friendships develop between the dogs and between their owners. Yet, both Fern and Dave are wary of becoming closer. While each discloses some personal history, there are some details neither can bring themselves to divulge. This leads to misunderstandings and self-recrimination. At the same time that Dave is fighting a losing battle with the uncompromising bureaucracy of the local government housing authority, Fern is being bullied by a vindictive, ex-husband. Both have children (and in Dave’s case grandchildren), further lengthening the romantic odds.
Morrison gently steers his characters through the highs and lows of their deepening relationship, subtly underscored by composer Gary Yershon. This is a particularly engaging film.
It is clear from the first scenes that Edward (Bill Nighy) finds it well-nigh (sorry!) impossible, to please Grace (Annette Bening), his wife of 29 years. “Whatever I say it won’t be right or what you want.” Nevertheless, she is devastated when he announces that he has fallen in love with another woman and is leaving the marital home forthwith. Bening’s portrayal of this shattered woman is so complete, so nuanced, that her numbness is tangible, unable as she is to accept the reality of the situation.
Equally effectively, Nighy conveys Edward’s emotional exhaustion.
Edward asks their only child Jamie (Josh O’Connor) to return to the family home for the weekend, to be with Grace when he leaves her. Jamie is so worried by his mother’s initial reaction that he continues to visit her each weekend until she accepts the fact that Edward is not going to return. Needless to say, his parents’ abrupt separation affects Jamie. He has been aware of the uneasiness of their relationship since his childhood. Now he can finally acknowledge how that has influenced his own relationships. Like Edward, Jamie finds it hard to discuss his feelings, but he feels that, if his mother can deal with her relationship breakdown, he’ll be able to do similarly. With Jamie’s encouragement, Grace becomes a volunteer help line counsellor and names her newly acquired puppy Eddie, injecting a glimpse of humour by teaching it to “stay”!
Jamie also helps her set up an online poetry help site called “I have been here before”, a sentiment to which many viewers will be able to relate. Writer/director William Nicholson’s screenplay was inspired by his own parents separating after decades of marriage. Cathartic.
The King of Staten Island
Inspired by the story of his father, a firefighter who died responding to the 9/11 World Trade Centre horror, comedian Pete Davidson and colleague Dave Sirus set out to write a script about the effects of such a tragedy upon the family of such a fireman a decade or so down the track. Film maker Judd Apatow turned their work into a viable screenplay.
Starring Davidson as Scott Carlin, a 20-something unemployed stoner, who maintains that smoking weed counteracts his ADHD by slowing him down, The King of Staten Island quickly establishes how hard it has been for widowed Margie (Marisa Tomei) to bring up Scott and his younger sister Claire (Maude Apatow). Margie is an ER nurse and proud that sensible, studious Claire is going off to college. She’s resigned to the fact that she’ll have to support Scott until he manages to get an apprenticeship with the local tattooist, which is unlikely to be soon.
However, when Scott practises his tattoo skills on young Harold (Luke David Blumm), he inadvertently introduces romance back into his mother’s life, in the form of Harold’s irate dad, Ray (Bill Burr). Ironically, Ray is also a fireman.
Scott is fortunate that, in Ray’s often clumsy attempts to woo Margie, he introduces Scott to his fire brigade colleagues, including Papa (Steve Buscemi), who had worked with Scott’s father. Even Ray’s ex-wife, Gina (Pamela Adlon) endeavours to nurture the glimmer of the potential adult she detects in Scott, who has been “sentenced” to walk Harold and his young sister to and from school. Not only is The King of Staten Island a homage to firefighters but also a homage to Staten Island. Although it is just a ferry ride from Manhattan, Staten Island is more like a sleepy country town. Scott’s unofficial girlfriend since fourth grade, Kelsey (Bel Powley), is studying so that she can get a council job to promote her home town. Mercifully, Kelsey exerts greater influence on Scott than his stoner friends (Ricky Velez, Moises Arias and Lou Wilson). Even though their banter and antics are initially amusing, they are clearly headed for trouble.
It’s a curiously endearing film.
Le Mystere Henri Pick
During the initial months of adjusting to life in the times of COVID, the Netflix series Call My Agent provided top-notch comic diversion. Fabrice Luchini and Camille Cottin who played actor and agent respectively in the series, co-star in Le Mystere Henri Pick, a highlight of the 2020 Alliance Francaise Film Festival.
While visiting her parents in the small Breton town of Crozon, young publisher Daphne Despero (Alice Isaaz) and her partner, himself an aspiring author, visit the local library. Amongst its collection of rejected manuscripts, Daphne discovers a literary masterpiece, which her publishing house subsequently publishes to great acclaim. The authorship is attributed to the late Henri Pick, who had run the local pizzeria.
When literary critic Jean-Michel Rouche (Luchini) publicly denounces this on air as a publicity stunt, Henri’s daughter Josephine (Cottin) is initially outraged. However, she gradually concedes that Rouche may be correct. She becomes Dr Watson to his Sherlock Holmes as they unravel the mystery of Henri Pick.
While these two actors work together with familiar ease, their characters sparring with and sparking off one another, poor Daphne’s publishing stocks plummet. Based on David Foenkinos’s satirical novel about the Parisian publishing milieu, Le Mystere Henri Pick abounds with literary allusions. At the same time it is an intriguing whodunnit, or in this case a “whowritit”. Delicious!
La Belle Epoque
On 16 May, 1974, Victor Drumond (Daniel Auteuil) met the love of his life, Marianne (Fanny Ardant) in a bar called La Belle Epoque in Lyon. After their marriage of 45 years, Marianne throws him out, finding him boring and reactionary. Like their son Maxime (Michael Cohen), she has embraced technology and pioneered an online psychiatry app. Victor has been unemployed since the paper for which he drew political cartoons folded; he is unaware that his former editor, Francois (Denis Podalydes), has become Marianne’s lover after seeking her psychiatric counsel. Enter Antoine (Guillaume Canet), Maxime’s old friend from schooldays. Antoine runs a very successful business recreating certain events (personal or universal) for clients to experience. His company employs a large number of actors who have to be across the minute details of each scenario.
From attending the court of Marie Antoinette through to getting drunk with Hemingway and Fitzgerald, the actors must give truthful enough performances to convince the client that they are indeed real. This conceit allows writer/director Nicolas Bedos to recreate some hugely entertaining, albeit outrageously improbable, scenes in what resembles a huge movie studio lot.
Having hero-worshipped Victor since childhood, Antoine now wishes to repay him by giving him a complimentary time travel experience. When Victor nominates meeting Marianne in La Belle Epoque on 16 May, 1974, the situation is further complicated by the casting of Margot (Dora Tillier) as young Marianne. Margot has just split up with Antoine.
Meanwhile, the real Marianne is finding life post-Victor not as glorious as she had expected. Bedos takes his characters and audience on a fast-paced romp to resolution of their complex emotional and romantic entanglements. This film is highly entertaining and visually stunning.
Nous finirons ensemble
Unfortunately, Guillaume Canet’s sequel to his acclaimed Little White Lies does not merit an equally rosy review. The group of friends have not seen one another since the tragic death of Ludo, which tore them apart. A decade later, Eric (Gilles Lellouche) has organised a surprise reunion back at Cap Ferrat to celebrate Max’s 60th birthday.
However, Max (Francois Cluzet) is now in financial difficulties. He has lost his restaurant, separated from wife Vero (Valerie Bonneton) and is about to sell their idyllic holiday home, unbeknown to both her and Sabine (Clementine Baert), his new amour.
Now a successful/wealthy actor, Eric arrives with a baby daughter and nanny (Tatiana Goussef) in tow; he treats his assistant Antoine (Laurent Lafitte) shabbily. Marie (Marion Cotillard) has a 7 year old son and is relentlessly unpleasant. Vincent (Benoit Magimel) and ex-wife Isabelle (Pascale Arbillot) still have unfinished business.
It’s hard to believe in, let alone care about, any of these two-dimensional, self-absorbed characters or in their rather predictable journey over the course of this long film.
Tricia Youlden is a retired drama teacher and a cast member of Neighbourhood Watch by Lally Katz, playing at the New Theatre 9 September to 3 October
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