Little Women

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Like Keira Knightley before her, Saoirse Ronan appears to have been typecast. While Knightley shone in period pieces, a vision in lavish costumes, Ronan is but a couple of centuries ahead of her. A reason for this might be her face. Saoirse Ronan has sad eyes, eyes that tell you a thousand tales by just staring at you. Her face projects weary innocence and unexpressed dreams. Maybe that’s why she keeps appearing in films about early America and Britain: she’s the personification of those countries during those periods of time. Where everything seemed possible if we could but put the past behind us.

In Little Women, she’s as good as always. There’s a moment in which she delivers a heartfelt protestation on the expectations of women, while mourning her own loneliness, that is deeply genuine and so sad.

A-

Atonement

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I’ve been staring at my keyboard for the past twenty minutes, debating on a multitude of possible paragraphs that could open this entry. An option I considered was outright stating that Atonement is the best picture I’ve seen all year, while simultaneously declaring that I will never again watch it. Another option included breaking down one of the many sumptuous and majestic shots that adorn the film, each one as breathtaking as the last, a postcard perfect rendition to love and war. It’s rare when I’ve no clue as to where to start discussing a film, or the emotions brought about by one; but then again, films with the devastating cumulative power of Atonement are as equally rare.

Loyal reader(s?) of this blog will know (bless you) of my visceral response to romance films. One of the palpable symptoms of being in love with a ghost is to be attuned to its stories. Yet emotions rarely cloud judgement. Take for instance Blue Jay, another melancholic look at the love that could’ve been. I reacted strongly to that film, while at the same time being aware of its shortcomings. But there are no flaws to be found in Atonement.

The performances are masterful. Consider the scene, very early on, in which Robbie (James McAvoy) apologizes to Cecilia (Keira Knightley) for giving her an anatomically explicit letter. Cecilia’s words imply outrage, but her facial expressions convey something else; amusement, even a certain amount of flattery. Their exchange lasts about twenty seconds, yet it makes everything that occurs immediately after appear natural, logical.

The photography is also heavenly. Nearing the end of the odyssey, Robbie stumbles upon a giant screen showing two lovers kissing. The nameless film is in black and white, and Robbie is shrouded by shadows; when he looks up and sees the kiss, he immediately drops his whole head down. It is an agonizing moment in a picture replete with them; the way the camera frames Robbie, slightly off center with the giant kiss happening in the background, is one of the most memorable shots I have ever seen, in terms of both beauty and storytelling.

And of course love and regret, two words (emotions?) that appear to go hand in hand. This is an achingly tender picture. The brief moments that Robbie and Cecilia share burrowed into my mind, replaying over and over during the sad spectacles that tears and keeps them apart. “Come back”, she says to him, and it’s not only Robbie craving to do so during the entire film, but myself as well, aching to encounter peace and happiness again. Every time the camera cut back to either lover, distant from the other by a thousand miles of pain and loss, my heart broke.

But the film, being as smart as it is, also presents the catalyst of this tragedy, Briony Tallis (Saoirse Ronan), as somebody to feel tenderness for. The audience comes to understand her motivations, and while forgiveness may still be hard to come by, it is difficult not to be moved by her genuine regret. I will remember the last shot of her for a very long time.

Easily one of the most profoundly poignant pictures I have ever seen, Atonement crescendo’d its way into my very soul, and I’ll wager it will remain there for a while.

A+

 

Never Let Me Go

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The greatest irony is that in making so sure Donors were anything but human, the one losing its humanity was society itself.
Consider the chilling scene in which Ruth (Keira Knightley) goes under the knife for the third and final time. The group of surgeons surrounding her cut, open and remove, not once stopping to consider the woman on the gurney dying before their eyes. The precision with which they move and slice is beyond accurate; it borders the mechanical.
After they acquire what they came from, there is no solemn moment of silence, respectful closing of the victim’s eyes, or even calling the time of death. They abandon Ruth to the solitude she always dreaded ending up with, and head to repeat the process on some other poor soul, who may or may not complete in the process.

“You poor creatures”, Madame tells Kathy (Carey Mulligan) near the end of the movie. And then she heads back inside her home, willingly oblivious to the extraordinary pain that has just been caused to Kathy and Tommy (Andrew Garfield).
Luckily for the audience-or unluckily, depending on your level of tolerance for achingly devastating romances-, every frame of this picture is imbued with such melancholy that only cynics will share in Madame’s attitude.

But a wistful tone alone is not what makes Kathy and Tommy’s plight so memorable and poetic. It is Mulligan’s performance, one of my all time favorites, expressing so much by saying so little; it is Rachel Portman’s sorrowful score, whose haunting tunes exacerbate the proceedings; it is dejected individuals, quietly accepting the fates they have been told all their lives is theirs.

A+

These Final Hours

thesefinalhoursEnd of the world affairs can be a tricky thing.

One must balance the universal with the intimate; the characters should behave in a way that makes the audience go, “Would I act that way, were I to die in a few hours? Maybe.”

The best example I’ve seen of the genre is Seeking a Friend for the End of the World.
Sad, yet not entirely distressing, and funny yet not completely farcical, it possesses the right amount of nostalgia for everything this world amounts to.
The last night spent with a friend is truly painful, but there’s laughter to be found amongst the tears.
Saying goodbye is as haunting as it is beautiful, and the final scene between Penny (Keira Knightley) and Dodge (Steve Carrell) encapsulates the moment perfectly:
“It’s not enough time”, she says.
“It never would have been”, he replies.

If you’ve ever had the privilege of having a friend and then saying goodbye to them, you know it’s not only the perfect answer, but the only one.

C

Laggies

laggies-posterThere’s a scene halfway through Laggies that really speaks about the potential of the story.

Megan (Knightley) has just taken Anika (Moretz) to visit her mom, which would mark the first time daughter and mother would be together, after 7 years apart.
After her mom excuses herself and says she will prepare some lemonade, Anika and Megan sit in the living room, waiting.
20 minutes later, Megan goes to the kitchen and finds the mother staring at a wall, not knowing how to react.

The brief conversation that follows reminded me of The Spectacular Now, a near coming-of-age masterpiece, which shares some themes with this film.

That Laggies does not work as properly as it should is due only because the movie does not really give as much importance to every theme it tries to incorporate.

For instance, a bit about teenage alcoholism due to a broken home is used only as the catalyst for Megan’s big reveal near the end.
Meanwhile, the whole refusing to grow up bit is thoroughly explored, although not as deeply as it could.

Were the performances not as inspired as they are, this bit of criticism would make the weak parts weaker than they are.
As it stands, however…

B-