Film reviews: On Chisel Beach, Allure, Jeune Femme, A Cambodian Spring and more
Ian McEwan’s novella explores the relationship between two newlyweds
Ian Mcewan, author of the 2007 Booker Prize-shortlisted novel, has adapted the screenplay himself. The story is built around a turning point in Edward and Florence’s relationship: a disastrous attempt to consummate their marriage in a Dorset hotel room.
As the couple nervously edge towards the bed, a series of flashbacks explore their courtship and backgrounds.
Florence’s parents are wealthy and old-fashioned. Her father (Samuel West) is a buttoned-up industrialist and her mother (Emily Watson) a snooty name-dropper.
Edward’s family is less repressed but more troubled. We meet his mother (Anne-Marie Duff) as his headmaster father (Adrian Scarborough) ushers her in from the garden where she was having a naked chat with the birds.
This is not the first flush of the hippy era but the tragic effect of an accident that left lasting brain damage.
Just when it looks like the newlyweds might be warming up in Dorset, more flashbacks show dark clouds gathering over their idyllic courtship.
So when married bliss turns into a blazing row that spills over on to the titular beach, we know more about this couple than they know about themselves.
And our insight makes the drama feel short on surprises.
Throughout, theatre director Dominic Cooke has focused on delivering tidy packages of information about his characters and the era that formed them.
But he then diverges from the novel with a horribly misjudged final act.
Ronan and Howle’s wonderfully understated performances keep us watching but it was Mcewan’s prose that made this story sing.
Jeune Femme 4.5 (Cert 15, 98mins)
French writer-director Léonor Serraille won the Caméra d’Or for Best First Film at Cannes for this riotously entertaining portrait of a mercurial young woman trying to make her way in Paris.
Julia (Laetitia Dosch) is accident-prone, big-hearted, dishonest and rudderless, trying to make the best of what life throws at her.
Serraille’s rambling structure can feel as unfocused as Julia herself but Dosch’s ferocious performance and Serraille’s fearless direction suggest big futures lie ahead.
Allure, 2/5 (Cert 18, 105mins)
If Stephen King hadn’t already written a novel called Misery, it would have been the perfect title for this relentlessly grim kidnapping drama.
Evan Rachel Wood, star of the sky atlantic sci-fi series Westworld, plays Laura, a cleaner who is consumed with rage from her troubled childhood.
She gets a chance to lash out when she enters the bedroom of Eva, an innocent teenager (Julia Sarah stone) who has fallen out with her overbearing mother.
A strange relationship develops between the thirty-something cleaner and the 16-year-old musician.
At first Laura plays the big sister, then the lover, before finally becoming her jailer.
Wood delivers another impressive performance but the dry, humourless script makes it almost impossible to root for her.
A Love That Never Dies, 4/5 (Cert 12A, 75mins)
The challenge of grieving in the digital age is perhaps the unintended focus of this touching and deeply personal documentary from Jane Harris and Jimmy Edmonds.
Their 18-year-old son Josh died in a traffic accident in Vietnam in 2011 and the couple find it impossible to move on.
So they go on a road trip across america to meet other bereaved parents.
The testaments are heartbreaking but a scene where Jimmy photoshops images of his dead son into other photos packs the biggest punch.
These days the bereaved have so many images to pore over that the need to memorialise can turn into an obsession.
Filmworker 4/5 (Cert 15, 94mins)
Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece 2001: a space Odyssey gets a limited re-release this weekend and this behind-the-scenes documentary provides an interesting companion piece.
Director Tony Zierra tells the story of leon Vitali, a British actor who gave up a promising career to become Kubrick’s assistant.
Vitali is now in his late 60s and is a fascinating character whose tales of working with the perfectionist film-maker will have film buffs hooked.
A Cambodian Spring 3/5 (Cert 15, 126mins)
Shot over six years, journalist Chris Kelly’s award-winning documentary chronicles a protest movement that almost toppled a government.
The Cambodian government was given World Bank money to develop a market economy but spent it on bulldozing rural communities to build luxury flats, hotels and factories.
The film opens in 2008 with the destruction of an idyllic village near Phnom Penh.
The lake was pumped with sand, farmers were evicted and homeowners were offered a paltry $500 to move on.
Kelly concentrates on three figures who decided to stand and fight: a rebel Buddhist monk and two mums who started as friends but ended up bitter rivals.
Understandably Kelly focuses on the victims but you wish he had supplemented their testaments with expert analysis.
Such an emotional tale needs a cool head to show the bigger picture.
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