THE OFFICIAL BLOG OF IO, ISABELLA INTERNATIONAL FILM WEEK

Saturday, 16 February 2008

BERLINALE PILLS: THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL

It is time for costume drama under the Berlinale's sky. Out of Competition, with it's truck load of (young) stars this morning the Berlinale Palast got its crowd of eager international press watching The Other Boleyn Girl, debut feature by British TV director Justin Chadwick.
The Oscar's struck cast includes screenwriter Peter Morgan (nominated for The Queen), producer Alison Owen (nominated for Elizabeth), costume designer Sandy Powel (oscar winner for The Aviator and Shakespeare in Love) and of course Natalie Portman (nomination for Closer), Scarlett Johansson and Eric Bana (remember him from Munich by Steven Spielberg?) respectively in the role of Anna Boleyn, her sister Mary ("the other boleyn girl" of the title) and King Henry VIII.

The film is an adaptation of the popular american book by the same title that Philippa Gregory published with much success in 2001. Gregory turned into a novel the events that brought the young Anne Boleyn first to the English throne in 1533, when she married Henry VIII, and ultimately to her execution in 1536. The novel, as the film, focuses on the Boleyn-Norfolk family plots to gain wealth and power through the "smart placement" of their young female relatives in the King's private chambers, so to say; and Anne's relation with her sister Mary, who was first "sacrified" to the King's sexual appetites. The young women, and especially Anne, grow to be ruthless in their mission to slip in the King's bed and even start taking some pleasure in scheming and plotting for more power. The story progresses as the relationship between the two Boleyn girls goes from sisterly romance to ferocious competition to treachery to forgiveness and finally closure.

Although the last in line, this family saga Рfully played on sets, costumes and, well, sisterly loath, love & revenge Рit is not the only film inspired by the controversial figure of Anne Boleyn, and probably the least accurate on the historical side one might add. Anne of a Thousand Days by Charles Jarrott (1969), for instance, starring Richard Burton as the King, Genevi̬ve Bujold as Anna and Irene Papas as Catherine of Aragon, took a diametrically opposite approach to the figure of "the most influential queen consort England has ever had" (Eric Ives). Where Chadwick's films portrays Anna Boleyn as a scruple-less little shrew, who would stop at nothing, not even incest, to please her greed; Jarrott keeps closer to historical consistency by investing Anne of intelligence, determination and dignity and, most of all, not reducing King Henry VIII to a soul-less puppet at the mercy of cunning young women and noblemen which only pastime is weaving ruthless family schemes.

The Other Boleyn Girl misses on an accurate and believable plot by failing the history test in favour of a sketchy and dramatised historical likelihood, that leaves too many gaps and unexplained turns (filled one time too many by furious horse-rides through the countryside). The same flaw applies to the characters, all too one-sided, to which only the excellent job of the A-list cast manges to give some depth and humane light. Portman and Johansson are both outstanding at bringing to life these two sisters, which reletionship dictates the pace of the whole movie; nevertheless it's hard to believe that these two characters, so perfectly complementary as if they were two halves of one and the same woman, could live outside the faltering lights of a work of fiction. All in all, the film is quite impressive in terms of costumes and sets, adding to it the excellent performances and the quite striking "grandeur" for a debut feature, which coupled to the dullness of plot and shallow characters (with all due implications) makes up for something not too far from an extra-expensive TV movie (BBC level, though).

Enjoy the trailer:



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Wednesday, 13 February 2008

BERLINALE PILLS: MADONNA, LIKE A VIRGIN WITH A MOVIE CAMERA

The prove that God exists dawn on me earlier this morning when I managed to sneek in the ultra-packed, ultra-selective press screening of Madonna's first film in the director's chair, Filth and Wisdom (see also our 16 May 2007 post), the film screened in the Panorama section of the 58th Berlin Film Festival

Imagine if the biggest pop star that ever walked the planet was to be, on top of that, and a quite good actress and a genious filmmaker, what would it be left for the rest of us, poor mortals, to hope for? And that's exactely why God loves us all: Madonna, the hugest star ever, it's quite lame as a director. Her street-wise uber-popstar self does not hide the body of evidence: an average film director with a poor poor vision. And someone might have noticed. 

The material girl – turned children book writer, turned kabbalah priestess, turned film director, etc. etc. – did try to be charming to never really answer a question during the press conference in Berlin as it was clear that just a few among the hundreds of journalists were interested in her film; in any case Madonna did not have much to say about it besides sponsoring "like a strange fan" Eugene Hutz – main character in the film and leader of russian folk-punk band Gogol Bordello –. 

Madonna started out wanting to shoot a short, but, as she noted "I fell in love with the characters, and, well, it's not a short anymore..." at this point I bet that a few of the still sane professionals in the audience found themselves wondering what in the world she managed to fall in love with? Three flatmates, two girls and a guy who slut their way through life; all three strangely similar, each in its own way, to Madonna herself: "there are aspects of Holly, Juliette and AK's struggle that I could relate to completely and I could access that memory and put it into the story.
Hutz plays A.K. an Ukrainian musician and philosopher who earns his wage by impersonating a weird male dominatrix for wealthy customers; a young mrs. Ciccone played by Holly Weston resorts to pole dancing in a club where everyone has the inclination of a good guy in a Disney movie (the word "realistic" is not in mrs. Ciccone vocabulary), and Vicky McClure playing a drug-addicted druggist who's dream is to do aid work in Africa. To pepper up her cinematic outing Madonna also introduced Richard E. Grant (brother of Hugh Grant) as a surreal (especially because of the worse make-up ever seen on screen) blind professor living in a basement feeling sorry for his colleague's success. 

Madonna's debut feature is a less than impressive strange mix between Desperately Seeking Susan and Erotica, seasoned with some of the material girl's own "amazing" philosophy: the duality of life! (and an italian journalist at the Berlinale press conference even asked how she came up with such an amazing good concept!!!) summarised by the director's memorable quote: There is a little filth in wisdom, and a little wisdom in filth... what to reply to such a disarming self-centered detachment from reality? Besides the naive philosophy holding the film, the plot, and even the punk-rock-folk personality of Eugene Hutz and the great performance of Gogol Bordello, do not help this movie to raise above the mass of new and improvised filmmakers blossoming everywhere in the modern digitalised world. Everything about it seems at best disappointing, both narratively and techinically (worse lighting and DOP within living memory). To not talk about the director's clueless depiction of society, in the particular case british society. Since Madonna declared that this was a way to put herself through filmschool and that she thought she should put her money where her mouth was, among the million things that a serious journalist could have asked during the press conference – had they not all been star-struck by this tiny, well dressed, self-confident, highly aspirational lady – the simplest question to start with could have been about the decision to sign the film with her pop-star pseudonym, rather than any other name that could bring her close to a more humble, less expectation rising, directorial debut. The impression is that Madonna, reaching the mature age of 50 coming August, is planning her future out of the limelight, but not too far away from the magical world of entertainment. A smart lady with, alas, a little talent and scarce vision...funny to have to say that about the most successful pop-star ever. 

Peter Bradshaw from The Guardian comment on the film is, in my opinion, the one that best represents it: (...) her conception of super-cool streetwise reality is so clueless it's as if Marie Antoinette had made a film about cake-munching peasants.

in so much words: a waste of money and energies, that should not be worsened by honest audiences' waste of hard earned cash at the boxoffice. Sad but true. I reckon it is not a case that Madonna announced she'll release the film on the internet (she's in talks with iTunes), in this case the last resort for a likely hopeless case on the main distribution deals' territory.



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