Wednesday 17 October 2012

LFF 2012 Reviewdump #3:
Painless, The Sessions, Compliance

Initially unsettling and intriguing, this Spanish film about a group of children born insensitive to pain gradually descends into gruesome unpleasantness and laughable horror. Sympathetic characters mutate into Clive Barker-esque monsters while a tedious subplot "resolves" itself with a losing combination of incomprehensibility and hysterical posturing. Very possibly a thought-provoking parable of life in post-civil war Spain, for anyone with a less-than-working knowledge of mid-20th century European history this is a muddled disappointment. On the bright side, its LFF showings have been and gone, so hopefully you've had a lucky escape.

The Sessions
John Hawkes ditches the backwoods redneck bastards of Winter's Bone and Martha Marcy May Marlene and proves his greatness once and for all in this year's proud recipient of the "Funny And Touching" award, The Sessions. As polio sufferer Mark O'Brien, Hawkes spends the entire film acting only with his face and voice, yet still manages to create a character of far more depth than some who've been receiving inordinate praise this LFF *COUGH* Ben Affleck *COUGH*.

Hawkes is matched in The Sessions by Helen Hunt in what will inevitably be described as an equally brave performance, although where "brave" equals "disabled" in his case, in hers it means "gets her minge out". She plays a sex therapist hired by Hawkes to help him get his oats, although as anyone who's ever paid for sex knows, it's never as straightforward a process as it seems. Am I right guys? Guys? Oh.

Genuinely moving and often hilarious (I'm just looking for synonyms for "funny and touching" here), this is sensitive filmmaking without being over-deferential; at no point are we expected to pity Mark, and in fact it's occasionally difficult to stifle a LOL at some of the predicaments in which he finds himself, despite them being really quite awful. And if that isn't enough to interest you, don't forget that Helen Hunt gets her minge out.
Wed 17 (subtitled)

I'm pretty sure that if my boss accused me of theft, took me into a store cupboard and made me strip naked to prove I didn't have the stolen goods on me (or indeed in me), then I'd jam a pen in his eye, smash a window and leg it out of there with my bits flapping in the wind. But then I wouldn't have a film made about me, unlike the dozy buggers at the centre of Compliance, who remain horrifyingly acquiescent simply because a man on the phone, claiming to be a police officer, phones their manager and tells them to.

While this might sound like the most ludicrous premise for a film ever, it is in fact "inspired by true events". It's no accident that those four words are blasted onto the screen in twenty-foot high letters at the beginning of the film, because the sheer vacuum of common sense on display would otherwise have you demanding writer/director Craig Zobel's head on a pole. The fact that all this actually happened (link contains spoilers) makes Compliance a deeply unsettling look at the extent to which people will subordinate themselves to perceived authority.

While the script and performances are utterly convincing given the literally unbelievable subject matter, Compliance isn't entirely successful. Eighty minutes of watching people on the phone becomes wearing after a while, and an unnecessary coda feels tacked on to satisfy outraged audiences - a self-defeating exercise, because it's the least honest part of the film. Probably better as a documentary than a dramatisation, this is nevertheless worth checking out just for sheer stupefaction value.
Thu 18, Fri 19, Sat 20

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