Film Review: Greta

Despite a good cast and a decent premise, Neil Jordan’s Greta frustrates with its host of implausibilities. Although the bombast is welcome, it is not enough to save the film.

When Frances finds a handbag left on the subway, she decides to return it to its owner. She returns the handbag to Greta, a lonely widow. The widow strikes up a friendship with the young girl, but all is not what it seems…

Greta is a psychological thriller in the vein of Single White Female. At first glance, writer-director Jordan and co-writer Ray Wright’s film has all the elements to make this type of thriller work. There is the naive, wide-eyed protagonist. There is of course the unnerving antagonist. There is the initial set up with the undercurrent of unease. 

Despite these aspects, the film falters early on. There are too many plot holes, asking the audience to suspend disbelief too much and too early. The early harassment phase is palatable enough, even generating tension at times. The film goes off the deep end completely in the second half, and doubles down rather than attempting a recovery. Jordan settles on a flamboyant take, which viewers need to be fully on board with. The camp theatrics are not quite convincing enough to forgive the impossibilities.

There is too much in the narrative that is implausible. The actions of the protagonist defy logic. Moreover, Greta works well as an antagonist in the psychological rather than physical sense. The final third is nonsensical, given the parity in strength between the two main characters. Two late scenes involving additional characters are particularly silly. 

The score is overwrought, coming in too early for its intensity. Visual effects are decent, as is the production design. Isabelle Huppert is simply too good for the material. She hams it up adequately, revelling in the ridiculousness rather than playing it straight. Meanwhile, Chloë Grace Moretz is more earnest than the film deserves. Maika Monroe is decent in a supporting role.

Greta is too exasperating to be enjoyable. Neil Jordan has a flair for the flamboyant, but does not manage to pull it off successfully here.

Film Review: Elle

Elle

Paul Verhoeven’s Elle absorbs, entertains, and intrigues. After a lengthy break, Verhoeven reminds viewers exactly why he is a great filmmaker.

After being attacked in her own home, Michèle seems to get on with her life. As she goes about her busy life, Michèle gets caught in a game of cat and mouse with the man who attacked her…

Based on the novel by Philippe Dijan, Elle is a curious and rewarding feature. The film combines drama, mystery and black comedy in its depiction of a woman in the aftermath of a traumatic incident. Given the opening sequence and its depiction of a brutal rape, viewers would be forgiven for thinking the film would be a bleak affair. Nevertheless, Verhoeven injects a surprising, and welcome, amount of humour into proceedings.

Part of the reason that Elle works so well is the characterisation of its protagonist. Michéle is a thoroughly interesting character. This is almost immediately obvious, in her dealing with the attack. The way in which she deals with this, as well as the other issues in her busy life, makes her intriguing to watch. This is heightened as more details about her past are revealed. Verhoeven creates an air of mystery around his protagonist in regards to her past. The director builds this uneasy tension over her involvement in past events which is very effective.

The mystery over Michéle’s attacker comes into prominence in the second half of the film. The reaction of Michéle makes her more enigmatic that before. Coupled with this is her relationship with her mother, which is frequently humorous, and those close to her. Elle functions as part character study, part mystery. Isabelle Huppert gives a brilliant performance as Michéle. She is ably assisted by Judith Magre and Laurent Lafitte.

Elle is the type of film that ruminates in the mind long after it concludes. Highly recommended viewing.

Elle is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2016.

BFI London Film Festival 2016 Launch

Today saw the launch of the BFI London Film Festival 2016. This year’s programme is bursting with cinematic delights. There are more galas than in previous years, and screen talk participants include Werner Herzog and Paul Verhoeven. Here are some of the films to look out for at London Film Festival 2016.

Headline Galas

The Birth of a Nation

The London Film Festival 2016’s opening gala A United Kingdom had already been announced, the Scorsese-produced, Ben Wheatley’s Free Fire looks like a lot of fun. Elsewhere, plenty of hotly anticipated films including La La Land, Arrival and The Birth of a Nation. Writer-director Nate Parker also stars in the story of an enslaved preacher who led a revolt in 1830s Virginia. Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals is also a headline gala. An adaptation of Austin Wright’s novel Tony and Susan, the film stars Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Shannon. Mira Nair’s Queen of Katwe stars David Oyelowo and Lupita Nyong’o.

Strand Galas and Special Presentations

The Handmaiden

This year sees additional galas, which will take place on a purpose built venue on the Strand. They include The Handmaiden, from director Chan-wook Park. The film looks as sumptuous as Park’s previous film Stoker. Miles Teller stars in Bleed For This, based on the true story of boxer Vinny Paziena. Spike Lee’s Chi-Raq is the Sonic Gala. The hip hop musical features Teyonah Parris, Wesley Snipes, Angela Bassett and Samuel L. Jackson. Andrea Arnold’s American Honey and Ava DuVernay’s The 13th are among the special presentations this year.

Official Competition

My Life As A Courgette

Paul Verhoeven’s Elle is amongst the Official Competition at London Film Festival 2016. Staring Isabelle Huppert, the film is an adaptation of a Philippe Dijan novel. Terence Davies’ A Quiet Presentation is a biopic of Emily Dickinson staring Cynthia Nixon. Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight, about a young man struggling with his sexuality in 1980s Miami, looks like a great watch. In the First Feature Competition, Porto sees one of Anton Yelchin’s final performances, whilst animation My Life As A Courgette looks like a lot of fun. David Lynch: The Art Life is among the contenders for the Documentary Competition, as well as The Graduation. The latter is a documentary about a prestigious film school in Paris. Chasing Asylum, about the Australian government’s immigration policies, seems very topical.

Strands

The Salesman

The Love strand features Lovesong, director So Yong Kim’s film about a lonely young mother. It stars Jena Malone and Riley Keough. Highlights in the Debate category include Asghar Farhadi’s The Salesman. A Separation‘s Farhadi has already won awards at Cannes. Mindhorn features in the Laugh strand. The film stars Julian Barratt as a washed-up 1980s TV detective. Dare features Christine, starring Rebecca Hall as the notorious television journalist. Paul Schrader’s Dog Eat Dog looks to be a highlight of the Thrill section, with Nicholas Cage starring alongside Willem Dafoe. Another David Lynch connection (Cage and Dafoe starred in Lynch’s Wild at Heart), Blue Velvet Revisited, features in the Cult strand.

I Am Not A Serial Killer

Cult also features I Am Not A Serial Killer, based on the young adult novel. The Innocents looks to be a highlight of the Journey strand. Anne Fontaine’s film is about a young doctor working for the French Red Cross in 1945. London Town, a coming of age film set in 1979 London, features in the Sonic strand. The Family strand includes Rock Dog, an animation featuring the voices of J.K. Simmons and Luke Wilson. Finally, Experimenta includes Have You Seen My Movie?; a must-see for cinema fans.

The full London Film Festival 2016 programme can be viewed here. The BFI London Film Festival runs from 5th-16th October 2016.