Sunday, 17 July 2011

In Bruges

The first film in nearly two months! It's been a desperate time.

Well, where to start with this one? Let's get some of the general positives out of the way first. The cast is excellent with the three main men giving stunning performances - particularly Colin Farrell whose performance of angst-ridden guilt draws you in and demands sympathy. Thekla Reuten and Clémence Poésy also give strong performances as the two main women in the story. The cinematography is first class too - the night scenes and early morning empty street travelogue shots do a great job of promoting this medieval jewel in Belgium's crown.

For such a post-modern piece of cinema, the narrative arc is way too obvious and in-your-face. The script and plot deploy a range of clever devices yet at time take you into side loops that do nothing to heighten the suspense or develop the character or stories. Perhaps some extra time in the editing room might have improved things? The story is a morality tale - the question is which moral code provides the framework?

If I were being generous, I'd say that this could be seen as an exploration of situational ethics, but in the end I have to say, and this where the post-modern bit comes in, it is simple a portrayal of a different and self-referencing moral code. A code where it is perfectly alright to shoot dead a priest, but also a code in which the ultimate sin is to shoot dead a child - this is the narrative arc that embraces the story.

Within the arc we see Ray (played by Farrell) wrestle with the consequences of his unintentional murder of a young boy waiting for the confessional to become vacant. He has neatly written out his sins so that he won't forget them but instead this device is clumsy and serves only to ramp up the despair and alienation Ray (and the audience?) feels. Ray takes the now blood-stained note from the boys hand:

and as you can see he was murdered for peccadilloes - perhaps the system that generates such guilt in children requires our examination?

Morality, guilt and grief are indeed the central themes - but only in so far as they relate personally to Ray and corporately within the world of the hired assassin. The former is a universal human consequence of acting against conscience, the latter is a convenient massaging of conscience for the sake of doing a job. Ken (Brendan Gleeson) even justifies his actions by explaining that the majority of people he kills are not nice people! Ray's guilt is continually pricked by Ken's insistence on doing the tourist thing while they are there and visiting lots of churches and art galleries which seem to filled exclusively with paintings depicting the final judgement!

This film is offered - and by most received - as a black comedy. I only found a couple of scenes amusing. One is the first picture above and the second near the end where Ray and  Harry (Ralph Fiennes) are arguing about who will count to three! The rest of the comedy was lost in a sea of blood and dismemberment that dissolved under a torrent of profanities. All of which left me feeling uncomfortable and concluding that watching this particular film had not been the life-enhancing experience I'd hoped for.

The hope of redemption and forgiveness is held out by Ken to Ray, but Harry's lust for sticking to his principles gives this film a blood-splattering conclusion where nobody wins. A true post-modern piece of cinema.

I'll give it 6/10.

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