Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Review: Martha Marcy May Marlene

Directed by: Sean Durkin
Written by: Sean Durkin
Starring: Elizabeth Olsen, John Hawkes, Sarah Paulson

Look past the frankly awful title of this low-budget psychological drama and you’ll be rewarded with a deeply unsettling yet riveting study of vulnerability and emotional damage.

Elizabeth Olsen stars as Martha, a young woman with a difficult upbringing who becomes part of a mysterious and intimidating cult. After two years she flees and the film is told in flashbacks as she struggles to return to reality at the luxury home of her well-meaning but dismissive sister (Paulson) and polite, yet frustrated brother-in-law (Hugh Dancy).

The film’s strengths lie in its ambiguity. The details of the cult are deliberately left vague and we are left guessing how Martha becomes involved with it. It is led by Patrick (Hawkes in a creepy, unhinged performance), a man adored and revered by his followers. They live under one roof, attempt to be self-sufficient, and share jobs, clothes and beds. They are, in the most twisted sense of the word, a family.
There is no need to know the intricacies of Patrick’s cult - the film is a study of the emotional impact it has on Martha.

If there is any justice, this should be a star-making turn for Olsen (younger sister of Mary-Kate and Ashley), who fascinates in a distant and paranoid performance. Martha’s erratic behaviour and her struggle to reconcile with her sister often makes for uncomfortable viewing, but the convincing relationship between Olsen and Poulson will leave you captivated.

The film is not for the faint of heart, particularly as Martha’s flashbacks become increasingly sinister. It is rarely explicit, but the sparse but intelligent use of sound and imagery gives a sense of impending fear and danger.

Martha’s bleak situation makes it hard to call this enjoyable film, but this impressive psychological drama will leave you more unsettled than most horror films ever could.

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Thursday, 16 February 2012

The Artist: Review

Director: Michel Hazanavicius

Starring: Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Bejo, John Goodman

This French/Belgian production has swiftly gone from a hyped indie darling to Oscar front-runner for good reason. The Weinstein Company took a gamble by giving their backing to a black-and-white, silent movie but the visual flair of Hazanavicius and the extraordinary chemistry of stars Bejo and Dujardin make this easily one of the most entertaining and charming films of recent years.

The Artist tells the tale of George Valentin (Dujardin), a much-loved 1920s silent movie star who is faced with becoming obsolete as Hollywood begins to embrace “talkie” films. He befriends a young starlet called Peppy Miller (Bejo) whose career begins its meteoric rise just as George’s begins to fade.

On the surface, a contemporary silent movie about a silent movie star could easily be accused of being gimmicky and pretentious but this is never the case. The viewer may need a few moments to adjust to a film devoid of dialogue and sound effects but the expressive, physical perfomances of the leads and the cute narrative will soon leave you utterly enthralled.

The romantic backbone to the story is classic and understated, taking inspiration from Hollywood’s golden age while feeling fresh and easily relatable for modern audience. Without dialogue, Dujardian and Bejo rely on stolen glances and brief moments of contact to convey their feelings. A scene involving multiple takes of a dance for one of Valentin’s silent films will leave you beaming.

The film works equally well as a comedy, taking a leaf out of the physical, gurning performances of the silent movie era. Most of the comedy comes from the undoubted star of the show: Valentin’s ever-faithful canine sidekick. Played by Uggie the dog, it is surely the best film performance by an animal in recent memory.

The Artist is a film of very few weaknesses. Boasting a superb score, star-making performances and accomplished and unique production, it is more than deserving of the attention it has received.

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