Thursday, 29 October 2009

London Film Festival - the final days

Well, that's that for another year. On balance, a mixed bag but one with its share of goodies, and I'll be back for more next year, as always with great anticipation:

Underground (1928) and J'Accuse (1919): We viewed these two silents on consecutive nights which was probably overgilding the lily. Both were of great interest but not without definite flaws. Never before has a restored silent been given its own gala evening and "Underground" certainly received the lion's share of pre-screening publicity. Directed by Anthony Asquith and filmed on location on parts of the tube system and at Lots Road Power station, it presents a fascinating picture of 1920's working-class London, including the answer to the mystery of why it is proper to stand on the right on underground escalators. It tells its story of love, hate, and revenge through two young couples, Brian Aherne and Elissa Landi (both of whom progressed to minor careers in Hollywood during the 1930s) and villain Cyril McLaglen (younger brother of John Ford stalwart Victor) and his hard-done-by girl friend Norah Baring (whose only other major role was the recently restored "A Cottage on Dartmoor"). The acting was frankly indifferent, verging on the hammy, but the backgrounds and ingenuity of the filming were memorable. Unfortunately we found the delayed showing (while everyone concerned patted themselves on the back beforehand) marred by the overpowering musical accompaniment of Neil Brand's five-piece combo.

In contrast the one-man accompanist for "J'Accuse" was a marvel of innovation and improvisation, as he combined his piano with flute passages. This film by French director Abel Gance is less well-known than his mammoth "Napoleon", but shares the same artistic visual flare. He remade this anti-war diatribe again in 1938, but it is this beautifully-restored copy that deserves its place in cinema history. It tells of a bucolic community where a pacifist poet longs for his lost love now married to an insensitive brute, and how their lives are changed by the coming of war. It is interesting to note that World War I had only just ended when this film was made and the loss of friends and the futility of fighting was fresh in Gance's mind. Looking at the story from our modern perspective some 90 years on, much of the melodrama comes across as a load of old tosh, especially the side-story of the love interest being abducted and raped by German soldiers and coming home with an unacceptable bastard daughter. However Gance's images of battlescenes -- complete with dancing skeletons -- and the dead marching home to evaluate whether their sacrifice was worthwhile are brilliantly handled, if, I thought at times, just a little repetitive. At nearly three hours, this film took a lot of watching, but it was well worth it.

Kamui (2009): This Japanese movie was described in the programme as probably the best ninja movie ever -- but I ask you, how many good ninja flicks can you name? Nevermind, this lengthy addition based on a legendary, multi-volume manga was good fun with great action scenes enhanced by wirework and CGI. The story unfolds like a folk tale as we follow our hero from his wretched beginnings through his ninja training and finally his futile attempts to escape his ninja vows and find happiness of a kind amongst simple village folk, only to endanger all of their lives. The film ends on a note which obviously invites a sequel, which no doubt will be advertised some time in the future as 'the best ninja movie ever'!

What Do You Know About Me (2009): You'd think we might have learned our lesson after "Double Take" that films about film are often disastrous, but this Italian documentary about the country's cinema past and present sounded as if it might be a treat in the vein on Scorsese's three-parter on Italian movies made for cinema's centenary year. Well it was nothing of the kind; clips from a few films of the past were overpowered by the minging of a bunch of modern directors going on and on about the difficulty of funding native cinema when the whole shooting match is controlled throughout the world by the almighty American distribution system. While there may be a modicum of truth in this slander, I do not buy it for a minute and wonderful non-American movies continue to emerge worldwide (even from Italy let it be said) -- thank goodness. The argument was muddled, poorly put together, and once again something of a waste of time.

A Serious Man (2009): We ended the fest on a 'commercial' note with this Coen Brothers movie which had its UK premiere at a gala the previous evening, not that the brothers have really ever strived to make popular, commercial films. This one was certainly interesting and in many ways possibly the most personal of their films, but it is unlikely to become one of their quirky cult favourites. While it is almost not certainly autobiographical, it is set in the 1960s in a mainly Jewish suburb of Minneapolis, similar to the one where they were raised, and looks at the troubled life of one Larry Gopnik, a university professor (like their father) who is seeking tenure and trying to deal with his dysfunctional family. His wife wants a divorce to be with their pompous recently-widowed family friend, his about-to-be bar-mitzvahed son is more concerned with pop music,TV, and dope, his noisy teenaged daughter wants to save up for a nose job, and his troublesome brother has moved in to sleep on the sofa. Then there's the nude-sunbathing minx on one side of their tract house and the deer-hunting 'goy' on the other. With further troubles from a bribing Korean student whom he has failed and the possibility of more bad news from his doctor, Gopnik seeks advice from the three local rabbis, receiving only platitudes, unhelpful 'wisdom', and indifference.

The main story is prefaced by a seemingly unrelated scene filmed in Yiddish and involving a dybbuk, set in a 19th Century shtetl. However this sets the stage for Gopnik's modern story as he searches for answers to impossible questions and wonders whether there is any sense to his religious beliefs. After all, he is a serious man, but life is full of temptations and trials. The largely unknown cast rise to the occasion -- it's an unusual mainstream undertaking where Adam Arkin is the best-known of the actors and the movie does not feature any of the Coen regulars, although John Turturro's wife has a very small role. However the film is all the better for that as the viewer is forced to focus on the scenario rather than any baggage-carrying cast member. It's a mature piece of film-making and the Coens do not set out to give us any easy answers. The movie just ends abruptly with an impending natural disaster, and the camera moves back into the heavens leaving us to contemplate our existence.

Monday, 26 October 2009

The Company of Wolves (1984)

Yes, I know, I'm supposed to be continuing my London Film Festival reviews, but I had a long-standing appointment for this date. Joe Valdez of This Distracted Globe (see link to the right) decided to organise a blogathon to celebrate the 25th anniversary of "The Terminator" and asked other movie-bloggers to choose another film from that landmark year of 1984. Despite considering myself mainly partial to the classic screen, I was surprised to find over sixty movies from 1984 amongst my collection, many of which are themselves influential classics of that decade. I was tempted to opt for some quirky lesser-known one like "Night of the Comet" or the late Katharine Hepburn farrago "Grace Quigley", but one title stood out. The above film is one of those movies that remains fresh, viewing after viewing, and seldom has the magical world of wonder and cruelty been so perfectly brought to life on the screen.

It is the second film from Irish director Neil Jordan who went on to direct "Interview with the Vampire". Co-written by him with fantasy novelist Angela Carter, it opens with a modern family where an impatient teenaged girl is sent by her parents to wake her younger sister. The pubescent rouge-lipped girl lies abed in a feverish dream refusing to be stirred from her reverie, whilst around her are the artefacts of childhood, a collection of ever-so-sinister looking toys. The movie then segues into the timeless Gothic landscape of fairy tales, where the same family are mourning the elder daughter who has been killed by wolves. The surviving daughter, Rosaleen, is taken to stay overnight with her grandmother, Angela Lansbury (one of the very few star names in the cast), who has three lessons to teach the youngster: Never stray from the path, never eat a windfall apple, and never trust a man whose eyebrows meet. She also cautions that the worst sort of wolves are those which are only hairy on the inside, i.e. beware of male sexuality.

A series of tales follows, some related by Lansbury and some by Rosaleen herself. The first concerns the girl who married 'a traveling man' (Jordan regular Stephen Rea) who found his inner wolf on their wedding night and disappears; he returns years later when she has remarried and has three puling youngsters to tear off his face and reveal his true nature. The most elaborate story is told by the youngster of the wronged village girl who confronts her seducer at his opulent wedding feast and shows the effete revelers in their true colours as they morph into ravenous and destructive wild animals. We also watch Rosaleen as she is wooed by a seemingly gormless village lad who has already met with the devil -- a very brief and wonderful uncredited cameo by Terence Stamp -- as he offers to walk her through the woods. Needless to say after an attempted kiss, she runs off the path into a terrifying landscape of giant toadstools and threatening frogs. Safe once more back home the granny-warnings continue; for example, she cautions never to trust a priest ('He's not called Father for nothing'), especially one whose sermons preach that 'the wolf shall lie with the lamb'.

The story eventually moves into full Little Red Riding Hood mode as she goes though those dangerous woods to Grandmother's house, meets an older and charming well-dressed man with heavy eyebrows, and is tempted to leave the path for an impromptu picnic. He bets her a kiss that he can reach Granny's house before her where he despatches the old biddy and shows Rosaleen his true colours, despite her saying that she knows about 'your kind'. In the distance we hear the braying of the wolf pack whom he describes as his companions, adding that he loves the company of wolves. Rosaleen has never met a creature that can move between two worlds and is in the end enchanted by his sad and forbidden realm. Meanwhile, our sleeping modern dreamer begins to wake as the wolves come crashing into her home, streaking up the staircase, smashing the windows and toys, and finally signifying the end of childish innocence.

In this inter-linked series of 'Once Upon a Times' there is little point looking for a logical storyline unless you think for a moment that dreams proceed logically. The viewer who willingly gives himself up to this imaginative rendering will be rewarded with one of the most innovative, sumptuous, and intelligent "horror" films of all time.

Just a few final footnotes: the very talented Sarah Patterson who debuted as Rosaleen was only twelve at the time of filming and never made another noteworthy feature. The wonderful imagination of author Angela Carter was only brought to life in one further (and obscure) film "The Magic Toyshop" in 1987 and she died in 1992 at a relatively young age. What a shame that neither of these two were able to captivate us on screen again. However, if my contribution here to Joe's carnival of blogging brings new viewers to this amazing movie, my mission is accomplished.

Back on Thursday with the remaining LFF story including two silents from 1919 and 1928. See you then!

Friday, 23 October 2009

London Film Festival (Continued)

So what is there to say about the five Festival films I have viewed since last writing? Well, it probably says a lot about me that four of these could be classified as fantasies and it is true that I have a soft spot for fairy tales, flights of the imagination, and unreal worlds. So it is best to deal with the exception first:

Bellamy (2009): We chose this film from the "French Hitchcock" director Claude Chabrol largely because it was a new cinema outing for megastar Gerard Depardieu -- and my goodness he is getting more mega all the time, especially about the waist! He plays a renowned Paris police detective on holiday in Nimes, who gets involved in the investigation of a local crime in the most leisurely way. If I hadn't have known otherwise I would have assumed that it was yet another psychological study from a novel by Simenon, long on character and short on action. Still Depardieu was as always more than watchable and there were good turns from Clovis Cornillac as his wastrel younger step-brother and particularly from Jacques Gamblin in three major roles. However, Chabrol while still accomplished, is nowhere near the exciting filmmaker that he once was.

Micmacs (2009): This was the definite pick of the bunch and is another wonderful creation from French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet, most of whose films (we must ignore his mis-step entry into the Aliens' franchise) have been wonders of imagination: Delicatessen, City of Lost Children, and Amelie in particular. This film may well be his masterpiece and is an unbridled joy, filled with accomplished comic actors and eccentric machinery, as it tells the tale of the revenge on a pair of amoral armaments manufacturers responsible in turn for the landmine that killed lead actor Dany Boon's father and the bullet that is lodged in his brain. The cast includes Jeunet regular Dominque Pinon alongside a number of unfamiliar character actors, including an amazing female contortionist, essential to the plot. A true fantasy feast!

Bluebeard (2009): This was made for a French television Arts channel, but is receiving a cinema release elsewhere on the strength of its director's repuation -- Catherine Breillat. However unlike her earlier works, this is not an erotic drama, but rather a charming riff on the classic fairytale, beautfully filmed and richly costumed. It mixes the story of two impoverished sisters, the younger of whom becomes the new bride of the notorious ladykiller (literally), with an afternoon's exploits of two contemporary sisters as the younger one taunts the elder with the gory details of the fable. That Bluebeard's bride here is quite literally still a child might suggest some sort of no-no to a contemporary audience, especially as she is dwarfed by his bulk (Depardieu could have played the part!), but there is no sexual hanky-panky implied, and there is no real recidivism in the telling.

Metropia (2009): I guess I chose this Swedish-Danish-Norwegian entry, directed by one Tarik Saleh -- not the most Scandinavian of names -- for the strange look of its animation and the fact that its storyline was rooted firmly in adult Sci-fi. Indeed the largely monochrome animation is fascinating, as the characters with their realistic-looking hair and eyes totter about on puppet-like bodies, as is the storyline set in a Europe of the future, where the continent is connected by one large, rapid metro system. With the main characters voiced here by Vincent Gallo, Juliette Lewis, and Udo Kier, the movie and its unique artwork has definite crossover potential; however, the muddled plot and sporadic action may well work against it.

Who's Afraid of the Wolf (2008): That leaves this Czech movie about which I have little to say and which failed to hold my attention. It was a very slight story which seemed more appealing in its blurb, which suggested that it was some sort of modern Little Red Riding Hood. Unfortunately it was nothing of the sort and was the not overly absorbing tale of a young girl who suspects that her mother might be an alien, and the two men in her mother's life -- the one who acts like a father and the one who actually is the father. Either way it was hard to care.

That leaves another five Festival films to review, so watch this space.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Too Many Husbands (1940)

One of the great pleasures of the London Film Festival is their 'Treasures from the Archives' section which generally features either little-seen or recently-restored films (or both). There is no reason why this 'screwball' comedy from Columbia Studios should have fallen into obscurity -- it is one I have heard of but certainly had never seen previously -- but it loitered firmly in the attic. It was apparently rediscovered in the studio's vaults whilst re-issuing their wonderful pre-code talkies and the restorers have given us a sparkling black-and-white beauty.

Similar in theme to Cary Grant's "My Favorite Wife" (later remade as "Something's Got to Give"), where a newly-wed groom discovers on his wedding day that his first wife -- long thought dead -- has re-appeared from the desert island where she was marooned, this film switches the genders. Jean Arthur has been married for six months to Melvyn Douglas, waiting only six months (!) after her first husband, Fred MacMurray, was lost at sea. He was so thoughtful and comforting, you know. Whereas the husband in the first scenario is in a mild panic with his impossible circumstances, Arthur, a fine comedienne, positively revels in the joy of having two attentive men and dithers helplessly at trying to choose one of them, much to the disgust of her father, the ever-amusing Harry Davenport. Douglas and MacMurray were both equally adept comic players and their rivalry for their joint wife sparkles. Even after the threat of bigamy procedings and a firm ruling from a judge, the implications of the final scene, set amusingly on a frantic dance floor, is that the current menage a trois might just well continue.

Directed by Wesley Ruggles from a play by W. Somerset Maugham (him again!), the costume design and photography are impeccable. Maybe it would have been no great loss if this movie continued to languish in the vaults, but how lucky we are that it has found the light of day.

Friday, 16 October 2009

A Charmer and a Bummer

This is my first report from the London Film Festival having viewed two movies yesterday. There's a viewing gap today and tomorrow, but I have at least one film a day scheduled from Sunday forward, so further revelations will follow. The hit and miss procedure of choosing which films to book from the largely effusive blurbs in the Festival programe is highlighted by yesterday's selection which resulted in a gem and a stinker:

Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009): While I generally avoid mainstream offerings which will surface at the local cineplex shortly, I do occasionally seek out an early outing for some promising features. This film was the opening night gala and we went to see it on its second showing; it was really good fun. A two-year labour of love by a London East End studio, this stop-motion animation of some very realistic and hairy puppets from director Wes Anderson, expanded by him and co-writer Noah Baumbach from a popular short story by Roald Dahl, is a complete joy --possibly more so for an adult audience than for kiddiewinkies who might not appreciate its subversive family messages. Mr Fox, voiced by an ever-so debonair George Clooney can not resist the opportunity to steal more chickens, despite his pledge to the loving Mrs. Fox voiced by Meryl Streep. The voice cast includes Anderson regulars Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, and Owen Wilson. It also ropes in the distinctive British tones of Michael Gambon as one of the evil farmers -- Boggis, Bunce, and Bean -- who are out to catch and put an end to Mr. Fox's rampages, leading to a denouement featuring a rabid dog with foaming bubbles at the mouth and an attempt to retrieve Mr. Fox's brush which Bean has taken for a necktie. The story has the upbeat message of family loyalties and worth (as Mr. Fox's awkward son attempts to prove his fortitude like his formidible cousin) and as the various species of the woodland learn that cooperation pays. In short, the movie has more in common with Anderson's other family sagas than it does with any animation aimed primarily at the younger set. I'm sure kids will warm to this bright and cheery film, but quite possibly less so than the cineliterate adult.

Double Take (2009): This film falls squarely into the category that I reserve for pretentious twaddle. The programme notes made this Dutch/Belgian/German documentary sound like a fun tribute to Alfred Hitchcock combined with subversive archive footage from the 50s and 60s. The end result however was a poorly filmed -- lots of really blurry images, badly put together, and a repetitive mess. Some of the clips of Hitchcock from his vintage TV series were mildly amusing, if not unfamiliar, but these were combined with crappy ads for Folger coffee, black and white news footage of Nixon and Krushchev, and some stupid storyline of Hitchcock meeting his doppelganger in the shape of a latter-day impersonator. In short: a complete waste of time!

Monday, 12 October 2009

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (2008)

Despite its come-on title, this British film is, I think, totally unsuitable viewing for young children. Rather it is a devastating addition to those films that deal with the Holocaust, personalised here through the eyes of an eight-year old boy. Based on a novel by John Boyne, writer-director Mark Herman who has some wonderful 'small' films to his credit such as "Brassed Off" and "Little Voice" here marries the loss of childish innocence with the evil that men do, in a way that leaves the viewer in no doubt concerning the horrors of Nazi Germany.

The main protagonist, Bruno, is the son of a career army officer, played by David Thewlis. Bruno must move from his beloved home in Berlin and away from his playmates, when his father is placed in charge of a concentration camp in an isolated country setting. Thewlis considers this a tremendous career opportunity and revels in his new-found powers, while attempting to keep the details of his actual brief from his sensitive wife (American actress Vera Farmiga finding a perfect British accent) and his children. From his bedroom window, Bruno can see what he takes to be a farm, where strangely all of the farmers wear striped pyjamas, as does the family's kitchen help who was once a doctor, and where he hopes to find new friends. Although he is forbidden to 'explore' this area, his childish curiosity takes him to the perimeter with its electrified fence and -- on the other side -- eight-year old Shmuel, shaven-headed and scrawny. As a friendship develops between the two boys, Bruno struggles to understand why his friend is always ravenously hungry and why he can not come out to play. That a young boy would probably not have lasted in the camps for any length of time is irrelevant to the fable that is being played out here.

The story of Bruno's new life is multilayered and we recoil in horror as his new tutor tries to indoctrinate the boy and his older sister into the Nazi version of history, which is reinforced by their father's and his staff's venomous outbursts against all Jews. His sister is won over by the new ideals and puts away her childish pursuits, especially when she develops a crush on one of her father's aides. However the pile of naked dolls that Bruno discovers in their cellar are too numerous to be hers alone. There is also a side-strand concerning Thewlis' parents, played by Richard Johnson and, in a very brief cameo, Sheila Hancock. The father is ever so proud of his son's authority, but the mother wants no part of it. Gradually Farmiga begins to understand why there is always a strange odour in the air from the distant chimneys and in disgust begs Thewlis to let her take the children away. I have never been terribly fond of him as an actor, but his is perfect casting here of the weakling who relishes the chance to abuse his power.

Both of the young actors, Asa Butterfield as Bruno and particularly Jack Scanlon as Shmuel are superb. Bruno is all childish wonder as opposed to Shmuel's resigned composure. When Bruno decides to dig under the wire to enter the 'farm' to prove his friendship by helping Shmuel look for his father who has 'gone missing', the stage is set for the chilling denouement. Powerful stuff, but ever so hard to take, resulting in a movie that would be even more painful to watch a second time.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Persepolis (2007)

I really should have put a footnote at the end of my last entry to say that I was going away for a few days. That would have explained my brief silence to those who take an interest in my cinematic lovelife. Anyhow I'm now back from France, truly walked-out, nearly art-satiated, and definitely overstuffed with rich food and drink -- and I have not seen a single film in the past four days. Quel dommage!

I actually caught up with the above prize-laden animation a few weeks ago, but had not got around to reflecting further upon its unique look and eye-opening content. Co-directed (with artist Vincent Peronnaud) from the safety of her current base in Paris by Iranian emigree Marjane Satrapi and based on her own graphic novel, it is her autobiographical riff on events in Iran from the late 70s to the early 90s, told with a modicum of black humour mixed with love and regrets. We first meet tomboyish schoolgirl Marjane in the days before the overthrow of the despised Shah. She lives in Teheran (ancient Greek name Persepolis) with her cultured and modern parents and is vaguely aware of the political turmoil around her, especially after the arrest and death of a beloved uncle. She soon finds that things have moved from bad to worse with the Cultural Revolution enforced by the mullahs and her cheeky behaviour is courting trouble. Her parents arrange for her to continue her schooling in Vienna where she falls in with a dissolute crowd of "rich kids" at the local lycee, and is forced to lie to her family about her lifestyle and well-being. Missing her family and her homeland, she returns to find an even more oppressive country than the one she left and, after a brief marriage, leaves her beloved Persepolis for good.

This animation for adults won the Jury Prize at Cannes and was Oscar-nominated, but the largely black and white simple style of the artwork was no match for the feel-good colour of "Ratatouille". The film is available in two versions with Chiara Mastroianni voicing Marjane and her mother Catherine Deneuve voicing the mother in both the original French and the English-dubbed versions; Danielle Darrieux' grandmother becomes Gena Rowlands in the latter and Sean Penn and Iggy Pop also join the celebrity voice cast. As is my usual wont I would plump for the subtitled version.

It is probably best to keep in mind that this film is not intended as a straight history lesson and little is made of the roles of US and British interests in the area. Rather it is a personal reflection on very real events as viewed by an intelligent and outspoken spirit who has learned her grandmother's lessons on never compromising. She is able to poke fun at herself while still presenting the viewer with a scary insight into repression and the loss of personal freedom.

This will probably be my penultimate posting before the annual film-orgy that is the London Film Festival, beginning next week. I have chosen thirteen largely offbeat attractions so all sorts of goodies will follow here as time and energy allow.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

The Duchess (2008)

I would not like to pinpoint what it is about Keira Knightley which has given her the starry career that she enjoys today. She is certainly no raving beauty and her acting is often little more than adequate. Still she looks good in period frocks and is, at worst, pleasantly inoffensive. She gets the chance to strut her stuff in a series of elaborate outfits and wigs in this 18th Century tale based on the biography by Amanda Foreman of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, a distant relation of the late Princess of Wales.

Pimped by her mother Charlotte Rampling into a marriage with the older but more than eligible Duke of Devonshire portrayed by the ever-icy Ralph Fiennes, she is chosen primarily as a brood mare to produce the necessary male heir. When she fails in her duty by giving birth to two daughters to add to the bastard daughter that Fiennes has brought into their family, he takes up with Knightley's previous best friend (Hayley Atwell) who aready has three sons and who becomes a permanent fixture in the household. It's not that Fiennes is particularly evil (albeit rather dislikeable here), but rather that he is personifying the expected approach of a powerful and determined man of his era. After eventually producing a son (the result of a "rape" by her husband), Knightley becomes a figurehead for political causes of the period, begins an affair with the rather callow Dominic Cooper, playing Charles Grey (who eventually did become Prime Minister), and has a daughter out of wedlock by him. Fiennes manages to hush this up but does not permit his wife to openly continue any relationship with her lover, despite the menage a trois at home.

Frankly I found this pretty-to-watch but fairly stodgy historical drama. The producers and publicists appear to be milking the Princess Di connection by emphasizing the parallels in the two relationships, going so far as to have the Duchess comment that 'there are three people in this marriage' or words to that effect. My favourite bit of dialogue however came from a scene where the fairly tipsy Duchess bumps into a candelabra and sets her wig afire. Cool as a cucumber Fiennes' Duke says 'Please put out Her Grace's hair'. Yup, that was the highpoint!

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Lady Chatterley (2006)

Like most people here I know that D.H. Lawrence's 1928 novel of Lady C and her lover was banned in Britain until 1960, following a lengthy obscenity trial -- more to do with the book's language than its sexual theme. Interestingly, for a very English story, most of the film versions have come from Europe starting with a venerable French one in 1955 and largely degenerating subsequently into a lurid sideshow. I have seen both the 1981 version starring Sylvia Kristel, the original Emmanuelle, directed by Just Jaeckin and the 1993 unbelievably tame and tony BBC TV version from normally outlandish director Ken Russell, starring Joely Richardson and Sean Bean, but I remember little about either of these. What I did not know previously was that Lawrence actually wrote three versions of the story and this French film, directed by the female director Pascale Ferran, is based on the second tale originally entitled "John Thomas and Lady Jane" with its theme of 'sexual healing'.

Ferran's film which won a Cesar for best film and best actress for its star, Marina Hands, along with several more gongs is a beautifully filmed love story, rather than the saga of raw sex that previous versions have emphasised. Hands plays the somewhat frail and listless wife of a supposedly charming landowner who is now paraplegic as a result of his war wounds. They lead a moneyed and comfortable life, but there is no passion or even real warmth between them. During one of her many excursions through the estate's woods and fields, she happens upon her husband's gamekeeper (Parkin, not Mellors in this version whom she has previously observed washing his manly torso) and she becomes a frequent visitor to his workshed. As their meetings increase, he makes the first clumsy sexual overture and their coupling on the rough floor of the shed is finished within a minute. Yet something has been awakened in her and she feels the need to continue this grappling until eventually she too achieves satisfaction.

Lest you think that this very long (168 minute) film is nothing but a series of sexual scenes -- and there are indeed a number of quite explicit ones -- let me quickly add that sex here is only the key for unlocking two very repressed souls from two very different backgrounds. Hands is magnificent as the previously inhibited wife who begins to glow with newfound health and worth. Parkin is played by a little-known actor called Jean-Louis Coullo'ch and I could not at first see his potential animal magnetism, as he seemed a little too old and not terribly attractive. However he does grow on one as the film progresses and the fact that he is not just some beautifully put together Hollywod hunk but a real-looking human being who manages to gradually reveal his soft side works well here. The scene where they run naked in the rain and he then garlands her body with wildflowers could have been corny, but instead is unbearably touching. Unlike previous versions, the film ends on a potential high note as the unlikely couple are forced to move apart, but whether or not they have any future relationship is left more than open

Although this is a very leisurely movie given its running time, it does not drag in any way and one appreciates how the lovelingly-filmed scenes of nature's grandeur reinforces the intimacy the protagonists have discovered. Apparently there is an even longer (220 minutes) French television version and I can not begin to imagine what could have be added to pad out the cinema version.

One last comment which has little to do with this lovely rendering of the tale. The obscenity trial hinged largely on the coy names that the lovers used for referring to their private parts. If one considers the title of the short story on which this version is based, 'John Thomas' is slightly old-fashioned British slang for the male member. I have no idea whether 'Lady Jane' has any similar female connation, but would mention that the character's name is Constance in all three versions of the story.