Monday, February 26, 2007

Bugs, Belgians and Germans

Short of time so a quick resumé of a number of films I saw in the past week. There was William Friedkin's Bug, a film I went to see only because of a number of glowing reviews it received in the French media (Friedkin is one of those faded Brat Packers who the French still revere). Based on a play by Tracy Letts (and boy do its stage origins show) it is a diverting if not exactly memorable paranoia thriller about an AWOL marine who is convinced that he has had a colony of ravenous bugs implanted in his body by the CIA on behalf of a wider global conspiracy. Sounds like great fun already and joining Michael Shannon, who plays the paranoid marine, are nineties next-big-thing Ashley Judd and former Sinatra seatwarmer Harry Connick Jr., who is very good indeed, if largely superfluous. And there is also Irish actor Brian F. O'Byrne as a, well, shifty CIA doctor. It has one of the nastiest tooth extraction scenes in cinema history and should do a far trade on the DVD rental market.

There was also Steven Soderberg's The Good German, an anaemic and uninvolving espionage drama set in post-WWII Berlin. Soderberg makes films with such regularity that there are some that slip through the net; personally I think he is at his best with his less serious efforts, such as Schizopolis, Out of Sight and Ocean's 11. This is one to file alongside dull pedantic efforts such as The Limey and Solaris. I posted on Carol Reed and Graham Greene's The Third Man recently and it is striking how much fresher it is than this clunking beast that is let down as badly by Soderberg's own hamfisted monochrome photography as it is by the earnestness of the performances (Cate Blanchett Lili von Stupp-like Jewish whore is particularly culpable).

Better than these two is the Belgian film Nue Propriété, directed by Joachim Lafosse and which stars as Isabelle Huppert as a forty-something divorced mother of two spoiled brothers, played by real-life brothers Yannick and Jérémie Regnier - the latter of whom was in both the Dardenne brothers' La Promesse and L'Enfant. The film is a quiet, well-observed drama detailing the falling-out of the family as Huppert attempts to sell the family home, which the boys, and their estranged father, see as theirs, in an effort to open up a restaurant with her new beau. Nothing of note happens until the final twenty minutes but Lafosse has an impressive eye for detail and when the drama does arrive it is abrupt and unexpected. Huppert is excellent as the beleagured mother and even better is Patrick Descamps as her ex-husband, a great actor who has been a regular in the films of Lucas Belvaux. A worthy addition to the canon of bleak Belgian cinema.