Showing posts with label Vincent Cassel. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Vincent Cassel. Show all posts

Thursday, 23 February 2012

A Dangerous Method

2011. Dir: David Cronenberg. Starring: Michael Fassbender, Keira Knightley, Viggo Mortensen, Vincent Cassel and Sarah Gadon. ●●●○○

Right now I'm resisting a terrible urge, you could almost say I'm repressing a desire to sneak out a dreadful pun. I want to avoid bringing up the title of Christopher Hampton's play on which this psychoanalysis themed movie is based. Oh, but that urge is so strong. Why should I stifle my emotional needs, why should I risk damaging my id by holding back it's darkest aims, back in 2002 Hampton wrote a play about the shifting relationships between Carl Jung, Sigmund Freud and Sabina Spielrein and he called it after the method they developed on their patients "The Talking Cure". So with a flourish I have to dub David Cronenberg's A Dengerous Method the "talky cure".

We open with Keira Knightley's Spielrein, a Russian Jew with pronounced hysteria, transported to the sparse mental health hospital in part run by the emphatically repressed Jung (Fassbender continuing his impressive run of star-making performances). In a series of short scenes we investigate the background to Spielrein's neurosis, with Jung coaxing out her emotional turmoil through a programme of one to one sessions. Knightley's performance has been the subject of huge debate both for and against her severe, jaw-clenching work in these early scenes. Personally I can't speak for the veracity of her work, but when contrasted and taken with the delicate almost blank work from Fassbender, the two of them make a compelling duo. As we see the methodology and results of Jung's technique the film both draws the audience in and shocks with the disturbing sexual fantasies plaguing Spielrein's past.

It isn't long though before the films derails, highlighting it's stage origins we then follow multiple duologues between the two main characters, Viggo Mortensen as the paranoid, pompous Sigmund Freud, anarchist and anti-psychiatrist Otto Gross (Cassel) and Jung's unfortunate slightly dull wife played by a winsome Sarah Gadon (who you might, but probably won't, remember from Dream House last year).

The most important relationships that develop are the father(figure)-son pairing between Freud and Jung, focussing on the similarities in their approach until their mutually exclusive theories concerning the future of psychoanalysis irrevocably splitting the two minds. We also see the coupling between Jung and Spielrein escalate into sado-masochistic physical and emotional relationship with Jung taking up the crop from Sabina's foreboding father.

That said whilst all of these individual scenes see some excellent performances and insightful dialogue regarding the competing ideas of the main players that is very much all they are. Each scene trips along giving another opportunity for two thesps to face off but without any of it really adding up to anything. They slow down too, each scene coming more ponderously than the last. At one point the film virtually stopped whilst characters wrote to each other then read these letters on their own, utterly tedious film-making.

What's worse is the subject could be really interesting, psychoanalysis is by it's very nature imperative to our understanding of our very souls, the discussions between Jung and Freud that confront the fundamental differences in their approaches should be extreme clashes of personality, philosophically engaging, dissecting theories that tore up societal norms up to that point. Instead we have broad pronouncements of medical scepticism, cheap shots at the fringe or over-simplified elements of their divergent theories, interminable discussions about dreams and - finally - an apparently true but still totally incomprehensible discussion about Ancient Egyptian civilizations and how that reflected their own situation.

The craft work on the film is, as I'm sure you can imagine in early 20th century design, impeccable and I'd especially like to call out the functional and character driven set decoration by Gernot Thöndel (although I understand Viggo Mortensen provided all his own props and the books in Freud's study).

Ultimately this film fails, Cronenberg is unable to lift the script from it's stage origins or add any spice to the proceedings once we leave the confines of Sabina's cure. I can recommend it only for the performances or - if you're a fan of Keira - the first 30 minutes.


Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Black Swan

2010. Dir: Darren Aronofsky. Starring: Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel, Barbara Hershey and Winona Ryder. ●●●●●

It's all too easy to forget that cinema is an art form, we tend to imagine the studios heads sitting in overlit offices with fawning assistants, counting the box office receipts of whatever Transformer shaped dreck they've unleased to the public as a coked-out pimp would guard his wares. Even those of us who profess a love of arthouse cinema, with our badly subtitled Albanian propaganda that quietly destroys beourgeois family values whilst simultaneously propping up our intellectually elitist worldview, have been fooled by false prophets of the human spirit. But this study of artistic desire, this interlude in the mind of performer, this screeching, screaming "were-swan" pushes past the boundaries of the screen, boldly pronouncing "I AM ART"! Black Swan is the first film I've seen for a long time that cannot be judged against normal rules; it's as much an installation as a movie.

That's it. Rave over. The hyperbole is done with. My point though is Black Swan enters your conciousness in a way few films do. I've not seen all of the films that made it to the Academy's top ten yesterday, but I doubt Swan will be my favourite, however it will be the one I remember for longer. Certain images, themes and moments within the movie will stay ingrained in my head, so visceral is the experience I felt I was up there with Natalie Portman's Nina executing every pirouette forcing my way through the dance.

You see it's impossible: to describe it is to relive the moment.

Portman's Nina gets a surprise bump up the pecking order of her ballet troupe, cast in the dual role of the Swan Queen and Black Swan in Tchaikovsky's most famous ballet Swan Lake. Vincent Cassel as her director/choreographer and would-be lover taunts her inability to unlock the passion of the Black Swan, to overthrough the virginal perfection of her dancing and awaken the inner desires. Enter Mila Kunis as her rival, a dancer able to fully show the passion of the Black Swan, unhindered by the desperation to please.

It is this desperation that fuels the story, the layer upon layer of agony and mental torment that Nina puts herself through. Slowly destroying her body through excessive practice and relentless acts of self-harm and bulimia. When the opening night comes we hear every cracking bone, every heaving breath as Nina forces her way through the performance, like her natural counterparts we are treated to the excessive underwater effort whilst the audience see only the gentle majesty of the whole. Nina wants to be admired, she seeks the gratification of the applause and internally vows to prove the doubters, the other dancers, the lothario Cassel, her own bitter and poisonous mother, icily performed by Barbara Hershey, even when cooing over her "sweet, sweet girl".

None of the cast miss their marks, and Portman especially gives a career best performance fully realisng the emotional journey of her doomed heroine.

There are elements that don't work, the script overeggs the pudding reminder us again and again of the themes, and Winona Ryder's passed over Prima Ballerina Beth seems to exist purely to underline old cliches repeated in far too many ballet movies, but these cannot take away from the superb mix of sound and image.

Matthew Libatique upclose hand held cinematography enters the world created by David Stein's art direction and Amy Westcott's costumes, at the same time the layering of sound, dialogue and Matt Dunkley and Clint Mansell's arrangements of Tchaikovsky's masterpiece ensure every moment fits together even when we're clearly left the natural world.

But all of this leads to Darren Aronofsky. It's an achievement that cannot be overstated, he has directed a piece of art, he sought perfection, and that alone makes it worth seeing.