The Return of the Hero is a French delight

The Return of the Hero, shown recently as part of the 31st Foyle Film Festival is a French farce with plenty of laughs. Set during the Napoleonic wars it tells the story of Captain Neuville, a dashing, handsome war hero who has fallen in love. Upon being called into action only hours after he has proposed, he leaves his sweetheart broken hearted. 

Despite promising to write every day Pauline falls into a deep depression when his letters fail to appear. In an act of desperation, and hating to see her so depressed, Pauline’s sister Elizabeth decides to take on the role of the dashing hero, at least in pen, and begins writing to her sister masquerading the dashing love of her life. Each letter gets more and more outrageous, recounting all of his exploits (which are probably not really happening. The problem is that Elizabeth is getting just a little bit too comfortable with her new role when matters are complicated by… well, the return of the hero.

What follows are a series of events which creates confusion for all involved with hilarious results. The Return of the Hero is a comedy like only the French know how to make, creating farce out of what is sometimes even the gravest of situations. This film is a delight.

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Review of Cold War

Poland has become renowned for its cinema in recent years, typified by it’s 2013 Oscar winner Ida. From the director of that very movie comes Cold War, a film set during temultious times for a pair of long distance lovers. 

The film sees the leading character Wictor traveling throughout the country trying to band together the best musicians that Poland can get and recording the folk music that they play. The film has a fantastic opening shot of an extreme close up of a French horn, from here on in the film is a visual delight to behold. The ultimate objective (for Wictor) is to create a school of excellence where talent is nurtured for the cultural wellbeing and the future of the nation. Unbeknownst to him the nation is merely interested in propaganda. It is as part of this work that Wictor meets a music student named Zula, they fall in love and eventually hatch a plan to escape their oppressive existence. However they become separated at the point of crossing and instead have to live life apart for a time. It is at this point that the story takes a back seat to a certain extent in favour of visuals.

With exquisitely choreographed scenes of folk dancing depicting what would have been the communist ideal of the time, although shot entirely in black and white the film has a vividness that matches any colour film. While Cold War won’t exactly bowl people over with the plot it does more than enough visually to hold the audience’s attention. 

Why We Cycle

The Netherlands, more than any other country, has an obsession with cycling. It is a way of life, as natural to Dutch people of all ages as breathing. In Why We Cycle; which was screened at the Nerve Centre in Derry recently as part of the Foyle Film Festival, this national pastime is explored more fully. 

In this documentary we aren’t talking about lycra wearing troops of middle-aged men taking up roads or footpaths, ringing their bells as they wizz past unsuspecting pedestrians who are using the spaces provided primarily for the latter while specially designed bike lanes lie empty. Various members of Dutch society,  as well as those visiting the  country give testimony  to how the Dutch fit the ordinary everyday cyclist into ordinary everyday life. 

This documentary tells the viewer how Dutch society has successfully integrated all in their society; from the youngest to the oldest into its mainstream transport system safely and responsibly.

What Why We Cycle does well is promote cycling as a casual pastime that anyone can take part in rather than the “sport” that participated in by dangerous obsessives who want everything their own way; which it is in danger of becoming.

It is a documentary which should be shown in every school, to every town planner and to everyone who wants to stand any hope of building a properly integrated transport system.

The Eyes of Orson Welles

Orson Welles is widely regarded as one of the greatest filmmakers of all time; his 1941 debut Citizen Kane is thought of by many as the greatest film ever made. In this documentary, director and writer Mark Cousins explores the many passions of Orson Welles, including many unseen before sketches, drawings and paintings. Along the way Cousins guides the audience through Welles’ many interests from his childhood in Wisconsin to youthful foreign trips, 1930s activism and his interest in African American theatre.

For anyone whose life has straddled the two most recent centuries it is hard to believe that Welles, such an innovator in cinematic arts and sciences, has not been around to witness such advancements in the world such as the internet, or, perhaps more thankfully for him has not given witness to the rise of a real life Charles Foster Kane.

The entire feel of The Eyes of Orson Welles reads as it sounds, as if the great maestro himself is looking on; looking on as Mark Cousins and we the viewer intrude upon a life that was. Throughout the film you have a sense that Orson Welles’ ghost (an alternative title perhaps) is following Cousins, but unable to control what Cousins is doing, unable to have a say. Or maybe it’s even the other way around.

As we travel with Cousins we travel with Welles’, through a lifetime of drawings and sketches and photographs, all of which would go on to inspire the many works of Orson Welles.

In between visits to old neighbourhoods, interviews with Welles’ daughter you see clips from Welles’ extensive body of acting as well as directorial work; only through this could many people, unless they be the most enthusiastic of film fan, just how extensive and important to cinema Orson Welles really was.

Although this film might be considered self indulgence to some it is without doubt an important testament to one of the most important figures in twentieth century cinema. A must watch for any film fan!

Foyle Film Festival starts with a bang

There was a packed house as the Foyle Film Festival’s 31st year commenced with a gala screening of Collette on Friday night at the Brunswick Moviebowl in Derry.

The film, starring Kiera Knightly, Dominic West and Eleanor Tomlinson (she of BBC’s Poldark fame) star in this biopic of French writer Sidonie-Gabrielle Collette; known to most simply as Collette. Most people will not be familiar with the subject of this film, however anyone who is familiar with the film Gigi starring Maurice Chevalier and Louis Jourdan might be interested to know that Collette wrote the novel upon which the film is based.

The film is certainly sublime when it comes to costume, set design and cinematography However, what it gains in those things it sacrifices in plot. The film completely ignores two of her marriages, the birth of a daughter and the most prolific writing period of her life; thus ignoring the strong female role that could have been portrayed for that of someone who was manipulated by her first husband and hopped into bed with almost any woman that was around. 

While it is obvious that the film has tried to portray Collette as a rebellious trend setter who broke the mould that society of the day set her; it cannot be helped but to think that the achievements of the real Sidonie-Gabrielle Collette have been sacrificed by this film in the name of sensationalism. It is obvious that the film wanted to get across the fact that Collette was manipulated by her first husband, artist and writer Henry Gauthier-Villars, (also known simply as Willie) (played abily by Dominic West) and the fact that he controlled much of her earlier career; the film could have been braver and more adventurous in doing so. Collette is a reasonably watchable film, however it can’t help but be thought that it could have been a whole lot better. Instead this film tends to do more for the male gaze than the feminist cause.

The Foyle Film Festival continues until Sunday 25th November.