Thursday, October 20, 2016

Review - The Cameraman (1928)

September 20, 2016

Cameraman, The – US, 1928

Buster Keaton’s 1928 film The Cameraman begins by paying homage to cameramen who run toward danger. Keaton’s character, Buster, is not one of those cameramen. In fact, he’s only likely to get close to something perilous if it approaches him. That is, of course, until a young lady comes into his life and convinces him that things need to change. For Buster Keaton, such a situation was nothing new, yet there is a sweetness to The Cameraman that makes it feel fresh and vibrant, and it is now one of my favorite of Keaton’s films.

In the film, Buster walks around with a camera on a tripod asking people if they want to take a tintype, a photograph made on a thin tin plate. In the film’s opening scene, an attempt to take a man’s photo is interrupted by a mob of onlookers and professional photographers, all rushing to get a glimpse of what looks like a politician. In the crowd, Buster finds himself touching shoulders with a young woman whom he literally can’t take his eyes off. Eventually, he takes her picture, and after she is whisked away by a co-worker, he decides to search for her and give her the snapshot. This begins a rather charming courtship and a mad-dash push for a job as a “real” cameraman. Both of these story lines are hilarious and involving.

One of the truly wonderful things about the film is that it devotes a great deal of time to establishing a rapport between Buster and his muse, Sally, played by Marceline Day. Sally is moved by Buster’s decency and positivity and eventually the two of them go on a date together. It starts out as a walk, turns into a jaunt at a swimming pool, and ends with a tender kiss on the cheek. You can literally watch them developing a mutual interest, and by the end of this part of the film, I was genuinely rooting for them.

Like many other slapstick films from the Silent Era, Keaton’s films were often structured around a series of physical gags, and during such comic moments, the plot would essentially grind to a halt. Here, such moments are present, but in a much truncated form, something I have been critical of in later Laurel and Hardy films. Here, however, it is the right approach. A scene in which Buster and another man are both trying to change into bathing suits in a very tight changing room is short but complete, and at just the right moment, the film cuts to outside the changing rooms, where we see Buster standing in a bathing suit that is clearly not his. A scene in which he tries to break a coin box is similarly short. We see a few attempts to open it, each that end in destruction to his surroundings, and then just as the audience is settling in a for a much longer slapstick bit, Buster throws the box and it shatters. Done, and hilariously accomplished.

The heart of the film is of course Keaton, and here he is at his optimistic and good-hearted best. Buster thinks that there’s nothing he can’t do, provided that he receives the opportunity to prove himself, and Keaton embodies these sentiments. I have seen most if not all of Keaton’s silent films, and I think it’s safe to say that silent comedy was his forte. Few actors – and not just those from the silent period - could do what Keaton did with just his face alone. He had the unique ability of being able to completely convey the reception of a message and its emotional impact on him. His eyes could express both love and sadness, and soon his entire body would join in the expression of his feelings. As a result, his characters earned not only the audience’s empathy but also their backing. Matching him in his endeavors is Day. Her role is tricky, requiring her to reflect both Sally’s support of Buster and her growing awareness of his shortcomings. There are moments in the film when Sally looks at him with such confidence in her eyes that we fully understand why that brief glance would fill Buster with such drive to persevere. Keaton and Day indeed made a great comedy team, and it is a shame that The Cameraman was their only film together.

The Cameraman is engaging, well-paced, and very often side-splittingly hilarious. It is a film that is well-worth seeking out. (on DVD and part of TCM Archive’s Buster Keaton Collection)

4 stars

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Review - Allegheny Uprising

October 13, 2016

Allegheny Uprising – US, 1939

In a particularly memorable moment in William A. Seiter’s western Allegheny Uprising, a Pennsylvania man named James Smith, played by John Wayne, looks at one of his fellow Pennsylvanians after the intentional killing of an unarmed Native American and asks rhetorically, “We teach them everything, don’t we, Tom?” It’s a timely reminder that few sides in battle were completely blameless for the mostly senseless violence and human rights violations that took place in the days before America was America. The problem is that the scene comes immediately after Smith and his companions were depicted ambushing the deceased man’s posse by launching themselves from trees onto their backs and firing at them from their blind-side angles. In the scene, gunfire blares, while men hoot and holler, all to a joyful soundtrack that is clearly not conveying the notion that what we are seeing is barbaric or somewhat opportunistic.

And herein lies the major problem with Allegheny Uprising – its extremely inconsistent tone. The film, like many films of its time, tries to be too many things. It wants to be both a historical retelling of an event captured in Neil H. Swanson’s story “The First Rebel,” as well as a romance between Smith and his childhood sweetheart, Janie MacDougall. However, it just can’t resist the temptation to surround them with over-the-top minor characters who have exaggerated speech patterns and frequently engage in supposedly humorous discussions about their love of alcohol. Making matters even worse is the film’s habit of suspending the plot so that Smith can jovially send Janie away from the action, this despite the fact that Janie is later referred to as the best shot in the region. The character is played by Claire Trevor, whose directions seems to have consisted of two basic requests – speak loudly and speak at a pitch much higher than is natural, as if these were the sounds that best convey love and concern.

All of this is unfortunate, for there is a much better film buried deep inside Allegheny Uprising, one content to tell the story of Smith and his efforts to prevent the trade of weapons and alcohol to Native Americans that he views as a threat and one that tells the personal war between Smith and British Capt. Swanson, a good man whose loyalty to the king prevents him from doing what he otherwise might to root out the film’s true villains. Alas, all too often, the film detours when it should be moving ahead narratively and gets silly just as the stakes are becoming more deadly. In other words, this is a film whose worst enemy is itself.       

This is not to say that there aren’t things to like about the film. Wayne is particularly effective as a young man thrust into the position of leader who proves himself to be a bit of a military genius. I also appreciated the way the film lays out some of the complexities of the times. This is a time before there was an America, and the film superbly depicts the growing desire for independence, while also depicting the subtle tug that British identity had. Smith is a man trying to work within the law, and he often stresses that he is not trying to disrespect or go against the king of England. These sentiments may have been voiced out of necessity; however, Wayne gives them the sincerity and respect they deserve, and it is eye-opening to watch him and Capt. Swanson and to contrast their motivations and loyalties. I also appreciated the way that the film does not shy away from the complexities that existed in many of the people in the years before the American Revolution. In the film, several characters could be described as both saints and sinners, and I have a feeling that were the film made today, they would be either one or the other.

Allegheny Uprising is certainly watchable, and fans of John Wayne will likely find a lot to praise the film for. To me, it was just too unfocused to recommend fully. I didn’t care about the love story, and I longed to have just five minutes in the editing room with a pair of scissors. Gone would go the speeches about drinking and alcohol, to the floor would fall conversations in which Trevor was forced to say sappy dialogue about how cruel Smith is for not marrying her, and made part of the deleted scenes on an eventual DVD release would be an instance in which Wayne speaks to a Native American is his language, hears a response in the same language, and then turns to have the response translated. Really. That happens. (on DVD)

 3 stars

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Review - Charlie Chan in London

October 5, 2016

Charlie Chan in London – US, 1934

It is said that context must be taken into consideration when watching films like Charlie Chan in London. With that in mind, here is at least part of that context. The character of Charlie Chan was created by Earl Derr Biggers and, according to Wikipedia, loosely based on Chang Apana, a detective in Honolulu. The character first appeared in novels, and later on the silver screen, the first film being released in 1926. Interestingly, in the first few films, which were largely unsuccessful, Chan was a minor character and often only came onscreen to wrap things up. In those early films, Chan was portrayed by Japanese actors George Kuwa and Kamiyama Sojin, as well as Korean actor E.L. Park. However, when Chan became a main character, the role was handed to Swedish actor Warner Oland. Success quickly followed, and from 1931 to 1949, over forty Charlie Chan films were produced.

Charlie Chan in London, the sixth film with Oland in the role, was released in 1934, a time when the Chinese Exclusion Act was still in effect, but sentiments were slowly turning in favor of the Chinese and against the Japanese. Perhaps Chan was part of the reason for this, for he is everything that Fu Man Chu and other characters in the “yellow peril” era were not. For one, he is a family man, often mentioning his 12 children and 1 wife, presumably to differentiate himself from stereotypes of Chinese men with concubines. Chan also displays characteristics that would have enamored him to white audiences, those being passivity, patience, and humility. I should also add that he is the opposite of many of the roles that Sessue Hayakawa played. Hayakawa’s characters often had impulses and desires that drove him to do lecherous deeds; Chan, in contrast, doesn’t seem to have ever had a dirty thought. In other words, he was a character with whom white America could feel comfortable.

Charlie Chan in London begins with a series of newspaper clippings about a sensational murder case that ends in a death sentence. We soon meet the man convicted of the crime and learn that there are only three days before his scheduled execution. His sister Pamela (Drue Leyton) visits him to cheer him up, and, as can be expected in a film of this sort, she is the only one convinced of his innocence. If only there were someone who shared that belief and could look into the case with fresh eyes and objectivity. Fortunately, Charlie Chan is in town. Soon he is on the case.

The problem with films of this sort is that once they have laid out the circumstances and the detective is on the case, they can quickly settle into a series of meetings and question sessions, during which the detective – but rarely the audience – picks up clues that will be revealed later on. Characters who have no reason to act suspiciously act that way just so that the one character who should do so does not stand out. And of course doors open and shut so silently as to allow shadowy figures enter, exit without a trace. We’ve seen it before, and to say that Charlie Chan in London treads familiar ground would be an understatement.

As the film progresses, I found myself increasingly less interested in the case and its consequences. Paul Gray (Douglas Walton), the man with only 72 hours to live, is never made a truly endearing character, and the screenwriter’s decision to make Pamela his sister rather than his fiancée or wife robs the film of a great deal of emotion. Another relationship is introduced, this one involving two of Pamela’s friends, but the audience is given very little reason to care about these characters or the people who inhabit their inner circle. Interrogation sessions are therefore a numbing experience, as characters we’re indifferent to rant and rave about the inconveniences of being questioned. It is only when reminders of just what is at stake are given that people settle down. True friends wouldn’t need the prompt.

And so that leaves Charlie Chan to hold the audience’s interest, and to me he just didn’t do it. I admit to releasing a few chuckles here and there, mostly at his quirky phrasings and polite mannerisms – he refers to a horse as “noble animal,” apologizes to the villain for misleading him, and, after being driven at top speed to help someone notes that he “nearly find ancestors” during the ride – yet none of those things helped me to engage with the film. They were just pleasant distractions, and whenever the film returned to the mystery, my interest once again waned. There are other examples of this occurring in films – Bill Pullman’s eccentric detective Daryl Zero in 1997’s Zero Effect is far more interesting than the case he is trying to solve, and I can’t remember anything about the case at the heart of The Thin Man. However, in these films, the detectives are not restrained by societal fears and the need to play it safe. Charlie Chan is, and as much as this is understandable given the restraints placed on the character, it practically renders him a non-entity in his own film.

I know. I know.  Remember the context. I get it. However, no context can make up for a script that doesn’t draw the reader in or get them invested in the characters and the stakes. The case at the heart of Charlie Chan in London is ultimately forgettable, and, as such, the film is only mildly interesting.

2 and a half stars

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Review - Taxi (2015, Iran)

September 29, 2016

Taxi – Iran, 2015

Pay close attention to the first scene of Jafar Panahi’s Taxi, for it establishes many of the themes that reverberate throughout the film. The scene is remarkable for its documentary, fly-on-the-wall feel, and much of this is due to the stationary position of the camera. It sits there motionless, focused on two people, a man and a woman, who could not be more different. The topic of their conversation is the executions of two thieves for what appear to be minor offenses. The male sits in the front seat and boasts loudly of his support for Sharia law and the harsh punishment the thieves received; the women is in the back seat, and she openly wonders just what more killing will bring to a country that has seen far more than its fair share of it. What follows in the film somewhat answers that question, while also bringing many more issues up for discussion and then leaving them floating in the air unresolved.

Perhaps unresolved is the wrong word, for most of the characters we meet seem to know deep down what the answers would be in a perfect world, yet they have been forced to accept a situation in which acting on those answers can be dangerous. Towards the end of the film, we meet a woman with a particularly intellectual and legal mind, one who is on her way to provide legal advice to a woman unjustly jailed for over a hundred days. In a better world, she would be a respected champion of human rights; here, she ekes out a living selling flowers.  

Panahi, director of such films as The White Balloon and The Circle, is the star of Taxi, and it is this fact which gives the film its sense of mystery. I admit there were times when I openly wondered whether I was watching a documentary or a work of fiction. In the film, Panahi has been banned from making films and finds it necessary to make a living as a cab driver. This is an entirely believable scenario, made even more realistic by Panahi’s lack of skills as a cab driver. In one humorous moment, he gives directions to someone only for a passenger to interject with better directions. Later, two women get in the cab and ask to go to a place he clearly doesn’t know how to get to. His solution: Pull over and get them a different cab.

Humorous moments aside, Taxi is a rather powerful film about serious issues. As a director, Panahi seems to understand that small doses can add up to quite an impressive whole, and so he gives viewers brief scenes in which an aspect of society is commented on without any real chance of true resolution or a happy ending. We are presented with an Iran that seems at war with its own citizens. Laws allow for the unequal treatment of women and those wanting to research or make films must adhere to strict guidelines. In fact, hearing the rules a director must abide by gave me a sense of déjà vu. It was as if Will Hayes had risen from the grave and taken a job running Iran’s film industry. Late in the film, Panahi picks up his niece from school and the two of them discuss her hopes of becoming a director like her famous uncle. Her challenge of course is making a film that will be deemed distributable, and as we watch her attempts to do so, it becomes clear that this is much harder than it should be. Real life just doesn’t want to cooperate.

I feel like I haven’t done justice to Taxi yet, for I haven’t conveyed just what a moving experience the film is. It starts out with a fascinating, thought-provoking conversation and grows increasingly mesmerizing with each successive scene. We come to know the confusion of artists and the brave resistance people show just to be able to watch or study a banned movie. We see people clinging to dreams even though it would take absolute conformity to live them out, and it is as inspiring as it is frustrating. I was reminded of the scene in Pleasantville in which Jeff Daniel’s character pleads with the city council for the right to paint. He insists that he’ll accept to whatever conditions they give him so long as he’s able to keep doing it, completely oblivious of the notion that compromised art is not really art and will never leave him truly fulfilled.

Panahi knows this and refuses to conform. With Taxi, he has truly given audiences much to think about, and those who see the film will be better for having done so. (on DVD)

4 stars

*Taxi is in Farsi with English subtitles.

*There are no end credits to the film, and yes, this is significant. 

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Miscellaneous Musings: On Hollywood's Two Toms

September 22, 2016

*A little something I wrote for a writing class and never really used.

A Misperception of Cinematic Proportions

They are two of the most well-known people in the world today. They have both enjoyed unparalleled success in their professions and as a result have achieved a status in Hollywood unmatched by their peers, while also being nominated for awards for their work. They even share the same first name. However, for all their similarities, they are, in fact, unique from the other. Tom Hanks and Tom Cruise, two extremely famous and talented individuals, are very different kinds of actors, and they play vastly different roles.

In interviews, Tom Hanks comes across as a person with whom you’d be equally comfortable sitting at a bar drinking with or talking about scientific theories over tea, and that persona is reflected in the films he makes. He has a voice that exudes confidence, while simultaneously assuring those around him that he indeed shares the attributes of the nice guys he often portrays – sturdiness, dependability, decency. Audiences feel comfortable with him in the same way they felt comfortable with Fred MacMurray on the 1960’s television show My Three Sons or with Michael J. Fox in any of his comedies from the 1980s and 1990s. Furthermore, Hanks conveys the sense that he is one of us, a kind of everyman. Like Jimmy Stewart before him, he conveys to audience members the message that each of us can rise to the occasion when we need to, that we too can give everything up for a mermaid, triumph over loneliness and possible madness on a deserted island, and fight against those that seek to discriminate against us.

However, what’s particularly unique about Tom Hanks is that his characters are rarely powerful enough to do these things alone. Instead of being the “go it alone” type, which Tom Cruise can play with relative ease, Hanks’s characters are often part of a community, of a family that rallies to his side in times of adversity, and of a country that will one day understand and appreciate the sacrifices he makes for it. To watch his films is therefore to watch an image of the American Dream, one which reinforces the classic notion that good will be victorious in the end – he will win the lawsuit, get the girl, save his marriage. And its not as if Tom Hanks becomes a good person after a long inner struggle; no, he is often already the kind of man that a mother would love for her daughter to bring home. In fact, it’s frequently his character’s role in life to help other characters, as well as the audience, become the decent people they have always wanted to be. Just look at how many people he helps just by sitting on a bench and waxing nostalgic in Forrest Gump. In fact, Tom Hanks is so good at playing this kind of role that it even rears its ugly head when it shouldn’t. In Sam Mendes’s 2002 film Road to Perdition, Hanks’s character should have been a cold-blooded killer, yet halfway through the film, there he was teaching his son to drive and embarking on the kind of comic escapades that would be more appropriate in a Buster Keaton or Charlie Chaplin film. Perhaps the screenwriters looked at who their star was and just couldn’t help themselves.
Watching Tom Cruise on film, however, one does not always get the sense that our more patriotic sentiments are being pandered to. In truth, we’re not always sure we should even like Cruise’s characters. Maverick, his career-making role from Top Gun, may have been a decent man, but there’s no denying the truth behind Ice Man’s rather astute observation that he is dangerous. Cruise further develops this notion by staring straight at Ice Man and looking as if he is preparing to lunge at him in anger. Moreover, Cruise excels at playing characters who often have a hidden truth buried somewhere just waiting to come out. It could be that he’s the product of abandonment, that he’s not as knowledgeable as he would like people to believe, or that he’s dealing with the emotional scars of having committed unconscionable acts while following orders. Watching Cruise on film, we know there’s something there – we can see it in his face. We just don’t know what it is or exactly when it will force itself out. Characters like these are not easy to play, and yet he makes it look downright effortless time and again.

It is this element of Cruise’s acting that allows him to play characters that can be completely believed one minute and entirely distrusted the next. It’s no wonder that Cameron Diaz can’t decide whether he’s trying to save the world or make himself filthy rich in 2010’s Knight and Day. In fact, Cruise often begins a film as a rather unsympathetic character only to learn a valuable lesson about life, love or family by the end of the film. By the end of his movie Rain Man, he’s completely forgotten about the money his father declined to leave him and learned the value of brotherly love. Furthermore, with a smile that can range from cocky to heartfelt and an intensity that can appear at a moment’s notice, Cruise is well capable of jumping from action films to dramas, and from dramas to romantic comedies. Who else could have played the vampire Lestat, the sexist Frank Mackey in Magnolia, and the idealistic sports agent in Jerry Maguire? Certainly not Tom Hanks. In fact, Cruise is more like Robert Mitchum than he is Hanks. Mitchum could be charming and courageous in one movie and talking about the epic battle between love and hate while trying to steal a fortune from two orphaned children in the next. In short, we’re not always sure what to expect with Cruise, and to me, this is a good thing.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Review - Brother Bear

September 15, 2016

Brother Bear – US, 2003

Were it not for my less than stellar impression of The Great Mouse Detective, I’d be able to proclaim Brother Bear my least favorite Disney animated film. Brother Bear is a film with a plot so unsettling and creepy that I spent most of the film with a rather queasy feeling in my stomach and thoughts of incredulity running through my head. It was somewhat reminiscent of the sheer astonishment I felt watching Brave. That, some of you will remember, was the film in which a woman changes her mother into a bear and then has to stop her father from hunting her. Believe it or not, that pales in comparison to what we get in the wholly unoriginal Brother Bear.

The film is set in the forests of Canada. There we are introduced to three Inuit brothers, who have a special bond. How do we know? Well, in what will become an unfortunate trend in the film, a song tells us. And by song I don’t mean your standard, everyday Disney musical number – you know, the kind in which an animated character will break into song and reveal a little of his or her character. No, here we get Tina Turner belting out “Great Spirits,” which reveals to us that they’re brothers and they’re always there for each other. In truth, we could tell that the first time we saw them rough housing and evading a parade of stampeding elk. Unfortunately, the song is the first of this sort, and from here on in, the songs serve as the film’s lazy intermittent narrator, telling us what we are already able to see and doing it to the point of ad nauseam.   

The youngest of the brothers is named Kenai (voiced by Joaquin Phoenix), and like many other films of this sort, Kenai is just about to take part in a ceremony that will reveal to him his spirit animal. It’s not hard to guess that he won’t like it or that whatever quest he ends up on will lead to his embracing of the very quality that he at first rejects. But before he starts his journey, he must first embrace darkness because apparently nothing sets a character in a kids film on the path of self-discovery quite like death, obsession, and killing. Here, Kenai rejects his spirit animal and its pacifist characteristics and sets off to kill the bear that caused the death of one of his brothers – at which point I wondered, “Are there any Disney films in which someone doesn’t die or get killed?”

The journey takes Kenai high up on a mountain, where the spirit of his deceased brother decides to teach him a lesson in humility by turning him into a bear. This is of course after he has killed the bear that he blames for his brother’s death , and because he is now a bear, he is in danger of being killed by his other brother because… oh never mind. You get the point.

The film tried to make up for its bleak and morbid undertone by turning on the comedy. To do this, it enlists Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas, here essentially playing animated versions of their iconic characters from 1983’s Strange Brew. Here’s the problem, though. They’re given nothing to work with other than tired yoga jokes, frequent jabs at each other for being lazy, and a tired scene in which they play “I-spy” on the backs of large mammoths. Their scenes are much less fun than they should be. Only a bear cub named Koda, voiced by Jeremy Suarez, brings energy to the film. However, the character is nothing we haven’t seen before, and his big reveal seems more like an act of desperation on the screenwriter’s part than a spark of creativity. It also ramps up the “ick” factor, already in great abundance.

Brother Bear was directed by Aaron Blaise and Robert Walker, and to their credit, they get some things right. There are scenes of stunning natural beauty and spectacular cave drawings, and the film’s depiction of the Northern Lights as a realm in which both deceased animals and humans roam freely is quite an interesting concept. I’m just not sure anyone involved in the film knew what to do with this idea beyond the obvious. Perhaps they should not be blamed, though. According to IMDB, twenty-five people are credited with writing at least some part of the film, and you know that old saying about cooks and the kitchen. Well, it applies to screenwriters and films as well. (on DVD and Blu-ray)

2 stars

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Review - Those Who Remain

September 8, 2016

Those Who Remain – France, 2007

Anne Le Ny’s Those Who Remain is a heart-wrenching film about people going through heart-wrenching experiences, and to its credit, it avoids the rah-rah, visiting hours don’t apply to me moments that so many other films on this topic include as if they were both a badge of honor and a part of the sales pitch that got the film green-lighted in the first place. This is not to say there isn’t a place for such scenes, but I suspect that most people who have dealt with potentially terminal illnesses will find more in common with Bertrand Lievain (Vincent Lindon) and Lorraine Gregeois (Emmanuelle Devos), the two characters at the heart of Those Who Remain, than with Sean Maguire from Good Will Hunting or John Tremont from 1989’s Dad. Bertrand is a flawed character on whom the repeated hospital visits, late night emergencies, and repeatedly dashed hopes have clearly taken a toll; Lorraine is a woman who expected her relationship, still in its relative infancy, to be full of carefree fun and honeymoon-like passion. Instead, she finds herself wondering aloud, “Why me?” and immediately feeling ashamed of herself for having had such thoughts.

The two of them meet in a hospital one day by accident. He is a frequent visitor to room 34 of the breast cancer ward, she of the floor designated for patients with colon cancer. The two of them eventually strike up a friendship that is at first convenient and more than a little awkward. At first glance, the two of them are almost polar opposites. Bertaind’s experience has turned him inward, and he seems to be going out of his way to avoid human contact, ashamed to admit the toll that his wife’s plight is having on him. Lorraine seems to be subconsciously looking for someone to latch on to, perhaps in the hopes that that person will be able to explain to her why she has not become the benevolent, selfless person she thought she would. Eventually, they find themselves beguilingly drawn to each other, and soon it is clear – these are two characters that urgently need each other.

The success of a film like this rests on the shoulders of its cast and its director, for the camera must be the eyes to Bertrand’s soul and a means of showing the true character of the woman that lies behind Lorraine’s fatalistic remarks and loud denouncements of fate. Fortunately, Lyndon is more than up to the task. His face, with its time-battered wrinkles and frequent looks of both exhausted determination and utter resignation, show more than many actors are able to convey with their whole body and their voice. As Bertrand, he seems to be willing himself from one moment to the next, doggedly sticking to the daily routine as if doing so will somehow change his situation. Devos is equally impressive, and in a way, she has the harder role, for the audience must be able to see through her negative words and see the love and emotional impairment that lies underneath them. Bertrand earns our respect, Lorraine our empathy.   

There is of course more to the story. There’s Bertrand’s strained relationship with his step-daughter, and a visit from a sister that is both desperately needed and mistakenly unwanted. Ny, who also wrote the screenplay, keeps the focus on Bertrand for the most part, and when we finally get a glimpse of Lorraine’s world outside the hospital, the scene has a tinge of finality to it. Like them, we understand that this is the end of a journey.

Having said all this, I must admit that the film left me somewhat cold at times. Characters that hide their emotions are not always the easiest ones to relate to, and as much as I admired Bertrand, I often felt distant from him, as if on some level he would forever remain an enigma. I feel this kept me from appreciating the film as much as I could have. I was also annoyed by attempts at humor that I felt either fell flat or were too much of a distraction, one of which involves a mother missings her baby's first steps. Needless to say, the film is at its best when it focuses on the tragedies unfolding and their effects on those who will ultimately remain here among the living, and I admired these parts greatly. They more than make up for any slight misgivings I may have about certain parts of it. Those That Remain is a moving film, one that many people will find truthful, poignant, and painful. It's worth finding if you can. (on DVD in Region 3)

3 and a half stars

*Those Who Remain is in French with English subtitles.