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PPH @ LFF – Round-up #2

Over the next two weeks on PPH you’ll find a mixture of festival reviews, round-ups, news and features, and perhaps – if you’re lucky – some full-colour photographs too! Today’s round-up includes a look at 360, the rather surprising choice for the festival’s opening night gala screening, and two new works from leading European directors; Italy’s Nanni Moretti and Belgium’s Dardennes brothers.

360

“In a bad film”, writes The A.V. Club’s Nathan Rabin, “something goes awry: The script is convoluted or the third act is a mess or Anthony Hopkins is playing a black man for some reason”. Well, substitute “whole damn thing” for “third act” and give Hopkins some credit for leaving his shoe polish at home, but otherwise, in Fernando Meirelles extraordinarily banal 360, you have the very definition of a bad film. A really bad one, in fact.

Filmed in eight separate countries and loosely based on Arthur Schnitzler’s play La Ronde, 360 is a cosmopolitan, would-be opus about how people connect with each other in this technology-dominated modern age. The huge cast of one-dimensional characters (including Hopkins, Jude Law and Rachel Weisz) chase, betray, and have (largely miserable) sex with each other. And that’s basically it for two hours.

The whole interconnecting stories thing has been done before to much greater effect by the likes of Paul Thomas Anderson and Robert Altman and on a global scale by Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu (with the overwrought and schematic but far superior Babel), and 360 brings nothing new to the table. Peter Morgan’s dialogue positively clangs with exposition and cliche, and the writer is particularly fond of populating his story with occurrences that simply would not happen in real life (for example Hopkins’ character leaving the intimate case file of his missing daughter in plain view on an aeroplane table).

The inconsistencies and unintentionally funny moments in 360 are simply too legion to itemize, but special mention must be made of the ludicrous storyline concerning a convicted sex offender (Ben Foster) who all but begs his case worker (Secrets & Lies’ Marianne Jean-Baptiste) to keep him locked up because he is palpably still capable of bad deeds. Instead, she positively encourages him to get out there, and before you know it, fate has presented him with a drunk, emotional recent dump-ee for him to test his mettle against. And that’s not all. Before he enters the hotel room with the girl, Meirelles lingers pretentiously on his cross tattoo, and then the door number 316 (in reference to John 3:16, one of the most frequently quoted references from the Bible). Is this guy some kind of latter-day saint? Who cares as long as there’s a portentous religious connection wedged in there. It’s just that kind of film.

Other than the dubious underlying message that says simply “take a chance”, even if this means unleashing a jittery sex offender onto the world, or abandoning your imperilled prostitute sister to jump into a car with the first hunky minder that claps eyes on you, there is little of substance or meaning on show.

Yes, it’s well shot and competently made, but so are most car adverts. 360 might just have passed muster as a series of one-act ITV dramas, but as cinema, it’s stillborn, and a colossal waste of time for all involved.

*      *      *      *      *

We Have A Pope

Following the torpor-inducing 360, PPH was looking for improvements, and found them in the Dardennes Brothers’ drama The Kid With A Bike, and to a lesser extent We Have A Pope, the latest effort from Nanni Moretti (The Son’s Room).

We Have A Pope boasts a super premise – what if the newly announced Pope simply can’t face taking on the job? – but ultimately ends up as lost, if not more so, than its wayward papal protagonist.

The film begins strongly. In the Vatican, scores of cardinals collect together to cast votes to elect the new Pope, and the process is presented as an amusingly glorified cousin of a third round F.A. Cup draw. The surprise victor is the unnassuming Cardinal Melville (Michel Piccoli). Just before Melville is due to make his commencement speech, however, he falls victim to a crippling attack of self-doubt, and declares himself unable to do the job. Consequently, a top psychoanalyst (played by the charismatic Moretti) is called in to assess him.

Just when the scene is set for a potentially riveting showdown between Moretti and the would-be Pope, Melville runs away, leaving his inquisitor alone with the rest of the cardinals, and the Vatican’s communications team with an almighty mess to hide from the watching world. This plot point is an unfortunate turn of events which all but deflates the film, for while we get to enjoy the amusing scenario of God’s representative on Earth chilling out on a bus, Moretti is reducing to playing card games with the eccentric cardinals and – I kid you not – organising a volleyball tournament.

The Kid With A Bike

There are some very funny, nicely observed moments along the way, yet the whole affair is so gentle that if Moretti is taking a massive swipe at the Catholic church, it’s extremely difficult to notice. Other than the belatedly brave ending, and the Pope’s suggestion at one stage that he wants to “make changes” (giving a hint that he be of a reformist bent), there is very little incendiary on show here. We Have A Pope is watchable and entertaining, but overall registers as a missed opportunity.

Far better was The Kid With A Bike, centred around an extraordinarily natural performance from Thomas Doret as Cyril, a sprightly, temperamental 11-year old boy who sets out to find his bicycle and then his father, who left him at a children’s home and did not return.

Having struck gold in the past with the likes of Rosetta and L’Enfant, the brothers bring their trademark blend of naturalism and hard-won, low-key emotion to this tale. There are few instances of pyrotechnics, rather a series of tough truths played out with little fanfare and great skill by the perfectly chosen cast.

If there is an issue with the film, it’s that Samantha (Cecile de France), the saintly hairdresser who takes in Cyril, is almost too perfect a character, subjugating her own personal life to look out for the kid, but perhaps that’s just me being cynical. Her relentlessly magnanimous actions are essential to the story, and provide a heartrending counterpoint for the troubled Cyril to bounce off.

After the painful protractions of 360, it was refreshing to be in the presence of such unforced, moving drama. Make sure you see it.

Permanent Plastic Helmet’s dedicated coverage of the 55th BFI London Film Festival will continue regularly throughout the duration of the event. You can follow us on Twitter @pplastichelmet, and subscribe to email updates by clicking on the +follow button at the bottom right of the homepage.

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