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Friday, 24 October 2014

Three more foreign language films...

Here I was expecting to report on our last two choices for the London Film Festival and I find myself having to review a third foreign film as well.  First things first:

3 Hearts (2013) - Our penultimate Festival movie was this French one (again with Catherine Deneuve -- though not in the lead) and I'm not 100% certain why we chose it. Quite possibly the fact that I have a certain fondness for the Belgian actor Benoit Poelvoorde, ever since I first saw him in "Man Bites Dog" (1992) all those years ago, guided its selection. I certainly have no burning interest in the movie's two female leads Charlotte Gainsbourg and Chiara Mastroianni (daughter of Marcello and indeed Deneuve), although both are able actresses. Poelvoorde -- an unlikely romantic heart-throb -- has a chance meeting with Gainsbourg and love blossoms. However arrangements for a return meeting fizzle out and, broken-hearted, off she goes to the States with her second-best boyfriend. Soon Poelvoorde has another chance meeting, this time with her sister Mastroianni, and ends up marrying her, not initially twigging that he has wooed a pair of sisters, although the penny soon drops. How can he avoid the showdown, since he is too much of a coward to tell the truth to his new wife, especially since he still fancies Gainsbourg.

This is the sort of quandary that only occurs as a dramatic device in movies and the untenable contrivances soon begin to pall for the viewer. The film is well-acted by all four (Deneuve plays the girls' mother and she soon has her own suspicions), but there was nowhere for the action to go satisfactorily, to the extent that the ending becomes a 'what-if' device of its own.  In short something of a potboiler with the distracting thought throughout of how much Mastroianni really, really looks like her dad!

The White Haired Witch of Lunar Kingdom (2014) - This Chinese movie was the Gala Performance in the 'Cult' strand of the Festival, but we booked to see it on its second showing the next afternoon; I was hoping for something of a gem, but was disappointed. It's based on the same classic novel that gave rise to the lovely Hong Kong movies "The Bride with White Hair" and its sequel in 1993, where Brigette Lin and the late Leslie Cheung created their own brand of magic. However director Jacob Cheung (no relation) has fallen prey to the 're-imagining' bug, rewriting the story on such a big scale with a myriad use of CGI that the doomed lovers are swallowed up by the grandeur of the design and the overly convoluted storyline. Chinese superstar Fan Bingbing has relatively little chemistry with her male lead and despite the credited 'artistic guidance' from Hong Kong legend Tsui Hark, the movie is not a patch on the earlier ones. If one is unfamiliar with these, it's a pleasant enough romp with some spectacular action sequences, but it's really a completely different ballgame -- and not for the better.

You would think that we would have had our fill of foreign-language flicks during the course of the Festival, but a rather positive review for a new Japanese movie tempted us back out to the cinema to see "Black Butler" (2014). Since it was only showing once a day at a single movie-house in a one-week window, we didn't exactly have a great deal of choice as to when we might see this film. I suspect it will now disappear from the scene until its inevitable DVD release. So, you may ask, was it worth the outing? Yes and no...

It's apparently based on a popular manga and has previously been released as an anime. This live action version is probably more accessible to the Western viewer, despite I gather the various liberties that the directors have taken with the original story. Briefly, our 'hero' Ayame Goriki, has witnessed 'his' parents' murder and vows revenge by selling 'his' soul to a demon in exchange for some supernatural help. The various parentheses are not really a spoiler, since the lead role is supposedly a boy but the actress playing the part is decidedly female in appearance. The demon is played with some cheeky devilish flair by the un-Japanesey-looking Hiro Mizushima. Together they must battle a fiendish drug cartel who are unleashing 'The Demon's Curse', a drug which causes its victims to die suddenly and horribly and to become mummified. Goriki must also get to the root of the original crime, before her own demon claims his due.

Again the action sequences are very well done and the two leads are appealing and likeable, although the possibly blossoming romance is both unlikely and probably out of keeping with the original manga. Nevertheless it's relatively good fun -- not a brilliant movie, but a cheerful enough one if ever it comes your way.

I won't promise, but I'll try to review an English-language movie next time!
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