Friday, 9 December 2011

ups and downs with books and films

Julian Barnes's Man Booker win was predictable (a 'third time lucky' or consolation prize for a dependable if unexceptional veteran?), but his rather slight novel's not a patch on a longlisted debut noirish fiction by A.D.Miller Snowdrops. Barnes is a good critic of, and writer on, most things French, particularly literature, but Miller's terrific Moscow-set thriller with its chilly atmospheric descriptions, cool psychological insights and frighteningly casual brutality is very well written indeed, Graham Greene without the catholic claptrap, an uncluttered and intelligent look at current Russian society. (Maybe Snowdrops didn't have enough intellectual pretension, perhaps downgraded somewhat as a 'genre' novel, but we found it a fascinating and unputdownable read.)

Two recent films seen, by a couple of the best directors around (both women, coincidentally). Wuthering Heights (dir. Andrea Arnold), an absolute disaster, a dreadful film from what's anyhow a very over-rated novel. A friend who works in the theatre told us it was like having her face thrust in pig slurry for two hours! I suppose re Arnold and her directing of features it was "third time unlucky" and every director, however talented, has the right to try something and fail, but this was an absolute disaster with hardly any redeeming features, anachronistic to the point of absurdity. The idea of a rather sensitive black Heathcliff (a nod to updating and/or political correctness?) was simply misguided, and, given the 1820s, any such person who told his landowning 'superiors' to "Fuck off you cunts!"simply could not have existed, nor continued to exist thereafter! More generally, no one so much as shivered in all that cold and wet oop on they moors; the drippy closing song, a folk-rock indulgence was ridiculous, etc etc. But it's hardly worth serious analysis: avoid!

Lynne Ramsay's welcome return to direction, with We Need To Talk About Kevin, was something else altogether. Properly forceful and shocking. (Given a dvd of this, we were riveted, neither of us having read the book.) But we're longterm fans of the intense, statuesque and magnificent Tilda Swinton, a brilliant actress (no, not actor!) The casting was completely convincing too, all except for the husband, who – no fault of his own – looked like a bluecollar worker, someone off a building site, perhaps, and thus no intellectual or physical match for the brainy and literate Tilda character. It was never explained, either, how this taciturn geezer made his money – and there was lots of it, judging by the family's lavish home and life-style. Maybe we missed something that made sense or was explained adequately in the book, but this seemed the only flaw in a very absorbing and thought-provoking movie: recommended for those not, as they say, of nervous disposition.

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