This week’s round-up of new movie releases is highlighted by the latest work from Canadian director David Cronenberg, A Dangerous Method. The 2011 movie is set in the early part of the last century, and examines the relationship between the founder of psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, the architect of analytical psychology. Cronenberg continues to impart a discretion that he has been exercising in his most recent works, as if he’s made the choice to restrain the heavy-handedness of his earlier movies, and to patiently allow viewers more time to digest his style of filmmaking. Great artists usually have that kind of insight.
Other high points this week include Spanish film The Dancer and the Thief, the José Henrique Fonseca-directed Brazilian film Heleno, starring Rodrigo Santoro, and the animated Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax.
Based on the book A Most Dangerous Method, by John Kerr, and on Christopher Hampton’s play, The Talking Cure, David Cronenberg has pulled off a film of mesmerizing subtlety – something akin to setting a time bomb that detonates at a later time – which leads to the audience noticing the film’s layers and messages little by little, possibly even long after the screening is over.
The story begins with young Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) putting Sigmund Freud’s (Viggo Mortensen) theories of psychoanalysis into practice in the treatment of Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley), a hysterical Jewish-Russian. The romantic entanglement between Jung and Spielrein, and the subsequent weakening of his relationship with Freud follow, but the movie is about much more than just a historical re-enactment of these and other events of the figures’ lives.
The film embodies the 20th century itself, trying to remove the remains of the previous one, and, at the same time, triggering a series of events that will lead to the Nazi regime and the Holocaust. True, the film wraps up on the verge of World War I, but World War II already casts its looming shadow when, for instance, Jung says to Spielrein that ‘the angels speak in German’ or shows admiration towards Richard Wagner, ‘the musician and the man’ (Wagner, a genius composer, was also a notorious anti-Semite). In a different scene, we also see Freud telling Spielrein off, on account of her involvement with Jung, telling her that ‘Jews will always be Jews’.
This, of course, is merely a partial reading of one of the films many facets. It’s important to note the extreme parsimony with which Cronenberg builds his story. It’s the kind of restraint we’ve seen in some of his best works such as Dead Ringers and A History of Violence, although, in this case, his self-control underlines the complex nature of the ideas proposed in the film as the narrative progresses. A matured artist, Cronenberg knows he doesn’t need to call attention to himself or to superfluous aspects of the film to make his point – the most important messages are hidden just under the surface.
- Click here to read Dave Calhoun's review at Time Out London
- Click here to read David Fear's interview with Viggo Mortensen at Time Out Melbourne
Dir. David Cronenberg, UK/German/Canada/Switzerland, 2011. Viggo Mortensen, Michael Fassbender, Keira Knightley, Vincent Cassel. 99 mins.
Lucy (Emily Browning, Sucker Punch) is a prostitute, but the services she performs are on the unusual side: she takes a sedative to fall asleep, and sells herself to impotent gentlemen given license to do anything they want to the sleeping beauty – as long as it doesn’t include penetration.
It might sound like a good double feature follow-up to Steve McQueen’s Shame, as both have a detached storytelling method in common. The problem, in the case of Sleeping Beauty, is that the disconnected feeling comes across as a cheap stylistic way to distract viewers from the filmmaker Julia Leigh’s lack of talent and her inability to bring an inkling of human warmth to the screen, for better or for worse.
Some masters of the detached directing approach, such as Stanley Kubrick and Michael Haneke, distinguish their work by ensuring that their aloof view wouldn’t bleed into the story; their cold filmmaking style wouldn’t leave the characters (and viewers) frozen inside. Few films could bring the peculiar mix of distance and poignancy featured in the denouement of Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket’s or Haneke’s The Piano Teacher. This isn’t the case in Sleeping Beauty. Despite the intimate nature of the relations between the protagonist and her clients, the audience is deprived something as basic as human contact.
Dir. Julia Leigh, Australia, 2011. Emily Browning, Rachael Blake, Ewen Leslie, Peter Carroll, Chris Haywood. 101 mins.
A dramatic sports biopic, Heleno tells of football player Heleno de Freitas, whose turbulent life on and off the football pitch set Rio de Janeiro abuzz, mainly in the 1940s. Director José Henrique Fonseca displays a black-and-white view of the character, as if he knew that both Heleno (mostly during the top of his career with Botafogo) and the place he lived in (the breathtakingly beautiful Rio de Janeiro of the time) seemed detached from reality. It’s possible that his choice to shy away from colour was to give the effect of being true to its pre-colour film time period, as well as imparting a loose metaphoric connection to Botafogo’s black and white strip and emblem. Whatever the reason, the film captures the rawness of Santoro’s performance, especially when Heleno’s health and career take a turn for the worse.
Dir. José Henrique Fonseca, Brazil, 2011. Rodrigo Santoro, Aline Moraes, Othon Bastos, Herson Capri. 116 mins.
Liberated after the newly instituted Chilean democracy declared amnesty, a young thief named Angel (Abel Ayala) and a more experienced criminal, Vergara (Ricardo Darín), discover they have very different goals: the former wants to perpetrate a great heist the two had planned, while the latter just wants to get a fresh start. The film, helmed by veteran Spanish filmmaker Fernando Trueba, is an adaptation of El Baile de la Victoria, a novel by Chilean writer Antonio Skármeta. Fans of the Italian director Ettore Scola, and his ability to blend historical subtext to the characters’ intimate lives, should be pleased with this slightly-surreal film.
Dir. Fernando Trueba, Spain, 2009. Ricardo Darín, Abel Ayala, Miranda Bodenhofer, Ariadna Gil, Julio Jung. 127 mins.
Developed from a Dr. Seuss book (the author of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, which was adapted into a Jim Carrey film, years ago), this animation tells the story of a boy who joins forces with the Lorax, a grumpy creature, in order to save an endangered forest. It’s an ecologically correct fable, penned by the minds behind Despicable Me, in which lessons in morality never trump the film’s cheerful and comedic view.
Dir. Chris Renaud e Kyle Balda, USA, 2012. Voiced by Zac Efron, Ed Helms, Danny DeVito, Taylor Swift. 86 mins.
People who grew up in the 1980s might remember the original Clash of the Titans, a stop-motion retelling of Perseus’ myth. Laurence Olivier played Zeus and the film was a regular in daytime open-cable TV, that probably still brings viewers back to memories of lazy afternoons on the sofa. The 2010 remake ignored the TV-movie qualities of the original and was just another addition to Hollywood’s always growing pile of loud and generic adventure films for hormonal teens of all ages. This sequel has director Jonathan Liebesman stepping in to replace Louis Leterrier, which unfortunately, doesn’t mean progress. Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes show up again, probably to collect the paycheck.
Dir. Jonathan Liebesman, USA, 2012. Sam Worthington, Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Edgar Ramirez, Rosamund Pike. 99 mins.
This national comedy is set in 1978, when Brazil was governed by a military dictatorship, but also when the country went gaga over the cheerful soap opera Dancin’ Days. The film centres on a group of characters that features a prostitute and her maid – both on the run from the law – a policemen who’s after both, a diplomat, the leader of a revolutionary group and a gay man struggling for social acceptance. The intention here is to paint a general portrayal of Brazil at the time and deliver some kind of positive message to the public. Watch at your own risk.
Dir. Odilon Rocha, Brazil, 2011. Claudia Ohana, Vanessa Giácomo, Mateus Solano, Alexandre Nero, André Ramiro.