Review of feature documentary Francofonia at FM and below…
Francofonia from writer and director Aleksandr Sokurov (Russian Ark) is an inspiring and deeply affecting study of the meaning of art, humanity and memory. Making use of a strikingly original narrative template, the story veers around the entire structure of the Louvre museum in Paris, taking in its history, and specifically, but not exclusively, the building’s experience of Paris’s Nazi occupation during World War 2.
As with Russian Ark, that famous one-take feature, this is art that is not enabled by a quick pitch or solid beginning, middle and end. This is culture and life ringing out as clear as day, and Sokurov’s personal ruminations on the subjects of art, war and society sound out like one of the most fascinating lectures you were ever fortunate enough to receive at college.
The theatrical pieces of French museum curator Jacques Jaujard (Louis-Do de Lencquesaing) and German Count Franz von Wolff-Meternich discussing the ideas of protecting works of art in the occupied museum offer a chillingly dreamlike sense of heightened realism to the film, which is made only more odd by the spirit of Napoleon Bonaparte roaming around the halls providing an 18th Century commentary on just how things are going.
Sokurov’s personal obsessions are also provided within a strange conversation between him speaking in Russian and an ocean going ship Captain talking in English caught in a trans-Atlantic storm. These sections are presumably telling us something about Sokurov’s ideas about time and space, but the meaning is unclear. What is for sure is that they add to the over-arching weirdness written all over this avant-garde and beautiful film. As with his earlier film, the majesty of the visual flair on show is impressive and allows the audience into the sheer spectacle of great architecture.
Much of what Sokurov appears to be telling us seems to come down to the fact that the best of humanity, kept within museum walls such as the Louvre’s is ultimately extremely vulnerable and open to all sorts of base elements. Francofonia ultimately succeeds as a lyrical paean to art and how in order to survive as humans we must respect it and keep it safe. At times when nothing is quite certain, keeping what’s best safe and sound can offer more comfort than most. With a haunting other-worldliness about the whole thing that is curiously frightening and at time wryly humourous, Francofonia more than deserves its place in the Museum for the Curious.
Review of The Unspoken over at FM and below…
While confusion and mystery is at the heart of all good horror stories, clumsiness and disjointed narrative is not. With this in mind, the question at the root of the many problems The Unspoken has will be voiced and not left silent. It is this – if you have spent building up most of the film to hope for some kind of payoff and are then left wanting, do you have the right to feel disappointment? When viewing this perplexing mishmash of a production I would be forced to say yes, indeed you do.
Focusing right away on the haunted house style of horror film, the story shows us a strangely portrayed sequence of a family’s disappearance from the stock eerie looking homestead. 17 years later a mother and son move into the house, and a teenage care assistant (Jodelle Ferland) agrees to help look after the mute and seemingly troubled boy, Adrian (Sunny Suljic).
What follows never manages to invoke any scares or anything much of any interest. The writing seems to have ignored most advisory rules for a good quality script with banalities rebounding across the boards. The mother truncated figure seems to have been transported from a soap opera with none of the surreal terror that this could have brought in a more trustworthy hand. In actual fact, the performances and most of the scenes feel forced and clash in an irritating and strangely dull manner. Oddly enough it seems to have been put together without any reasonable knowledge of any horror genres at all (which again is strange as the executive production team have credits on Insidious and Paranormal Activity, so someone involved should know their way around a modern horror film).
In any case, the film also involves a strangely truncated lesbian romance story that does not go anywhere and does not serve any purpose as such. As with the disappearance of the family in the past, the writing again draws attention to something and then just leaves it hanging. This seems to go against pretty much all forms of basic creative writing advice. Only Jodelle Ferland in the lead manages to get anything much out of this mess, with her tough but vulnerable lead offering the tiniest shred of light in this turgid plunge into the worst of commercial horror.
Review of Abbey Grace over at FM and below…
Effectively acting as a merging of two classic forms of horror story – the haunted house and the possession – Abbey Grace is an enjoyable piece of home spun terror. Bringing out good performances from its cast, most notably the two leads of Sheridan and Hobbs, the movie is worth a look for fright fans after something a little different. The film plays with different genres and manages to make some solid points about sibling relationships and psychology, while also building up a reasonably tense atmosphere of unease and fear.
Debbie Sheridan (actor and also the casting director) plays Stacey, a successful psychiatrist who returns home to look after her agoraphobic brother Ben (Jacob Hobbs) following the death of their mother. Ben has not left the family home in over twenty three years, and is pretty difficult to deal with to say the least. Our early introductions to the brother and sister’s relationship is one of animosity and mistrust, often centered on Debbie’s pet dog Duke. As an OCD sufferer, Ben is not overly taken with the lively canine, and makes his feelings on the subject known in great depth.
After Stacy finds a strange headstone marked as the burial place of a child named Abbey Grace and Duke digs up the mystery items of a shoe and a box, the tension between the siblings becomes even more fraught. When Ben’s behaviour starts to become unmanageable and he complains of seeing a strange girl around the house, Stacy seek help from friend and co-worker Bridget (Amber Gallaway). She helps the two delve deeper into the history of the house and the eponymous Abbey who, as an unquiet soul has plans for all of them…
Overall, the film manages to pack a decent amount of scares in within its low-budget horror construction. It also allows a nice line of dark humour to be drawn out in the bickering siblings dialogue, something that marks it out as slightly different from a purely run of the mill shocker.