Wednesday, 25 April 2018

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

What a delight this film is! A wonderful story, some captivating performances and the spirit of post-war Guernsey sensitively portrayed. Pity so little of it, if any, was filmed in Guernsey! Hopefully it will boost tourism with more people discovering the riches this isle and its people have to offer. I have had the privilege of visiting Guernsey dozens of times - initially as a 9 year-old on holiday! The effects of the occupation are still a vivid and lived reality within the culture of the Channel Islands today - just visit on May 9th - Liberation Day, which is a public holiday in the islands if you don't believe me!

This film has a very English feel to it although some expressions of Guernsey French do find their way into the dialogue. The casting of Lily James as writer Juliet Ashton, Matthew Goode as publisher Sidney Stark and Penelope Wilton as embittered widow Amelia Maugery is inspired and their performances - especially Wilton's worthy of a major award. The film is based on a novel by Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer.

This film depicts some of the horrors of war and of being on an occupied island when the occupier takes all the good stuff and leaves the locals to live on potatoes. The slaves imported to work on building coastal defences fared even worse. It also gives a tender insight of when the rigid distinction between occupier and occupied become blurred reminding us that humanity and love can survive in even the harshest of situations.

This is a film about emotions - love, hate, hope, regret, fear, unknowing, grief, courage, betrayal, loyalty, grace and generosity. The central characters are still enmeshed in a web of consequences flowing from war time events - the film is set only a year after the end of the war and those emotions are still so raw. As the islanders are still learning to enjoy their freedom, so the central character appears to be blindly heading for her own captivity as a trophy bride for a rich and ambitious American diplomat. Issues of gender equality are explored both through the writings of the Bronte sisters and through the lives of some of the characters in the film, which brings it right up to date.

This film had me snuffling at many points - I found it moving and engaging. I know that reviews have been mixed. I can only guess that the negative comments are from people who have remained objective and detached, and not allowed themselves to be drawn in by the characters and the story. Isn't cinema supposed to offer that invitation to viewers? It worked for me.

This film is a heart-warming and nostalgic tear jerker that allows a privileged insight into the sufferings of Channel islanders during WWII, which outside those islands is largely ignored. It's also a well told, well acted and nicely shot story that tugs at the heart. Do go and see it - but take your tissues! I'll give it 9/10.

Friday, 20 April 2018

Clouds of Sils Maria

This a clever and heavyweight drama that requires a high level of engagement from viewers if they are to be rewarded with anything beyond seeing the beautiful Swiss Alps and Juliette Binoche. It is a story dominated by female characters who are portrayed through very strong performances, especially Kirsten Stewart who plays Valentine, the PA of Maria whose role is inhabited by Juliette Binoche. Maria is a famous actress who is able to pick and choose her projects.

This is not a film for casual viewing. Although the narrative is strong, this film is character driven and the intensity of the performances demand engagement with the story. Without going into plot detail, as the film develops, the boundary between reality and the script of a possible future project becomes blurred. This invited me to make all kinds of assumptions about where it was going - some of my assumptions were right but not all of them. As I said, this is a clever film.

The centre piece is not necessarily the context the characters find themselves within, or even the location of Sils Maria in Switzerland's Engadine but the emotions the characters feel as fate propels them onwards. Fear, jealousy, ambition, regret, aversion to ageing, love and hate all play out in a tangled web of intrigue and while some are fully indulged, others are restrained but the reasons behind the decisions why, are unclear - at least to me. Why people take certain decisions rather than others when options are available is left unanswered in this film. Perhaps it is the volatile fragility of 'performers' who only feel as loved as their last good review that drives Maria to make the choices she does. Are 'performers' any different to non-performers?

If you want to watch a film that offers top drawer acting, beautiful settings and an exploration of human emotions, then spending 2 hours watching this will reward you. If your tastes are otherwise, my suggestion would be to avoid it. I'm glad I stuck it out as the more I have reflected on it over the past couple of days, the more depth I have discovered in it. I'll give it 7/10.