Never Let Me Go


Never Let Me Go

Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley and Andrew Garfield await word of who won the contest of being the most beautiful.

(2010) Science Fiction (Fox Searchlight) Keira Knightley, Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield, Charlotte Rampling, Sally Hawkins, Nathalie Richard, Andrea Riseborough, Isobel Meikle-Small, Charlie Rowe, Ella Purnell, Domhnall Gleeson, Kate Bowes Renna, David Sterne. Directed by Mark Romanek

 

Kazuo Ishiguro is a Japanese writer of extraordinary delicacy. Best known for Remains of the Day, he creates landscapes of melancholy and fleeting joy that remain with the reader not so much in the mind but as an ache in the heart. The novel on which this film is based was called by Time Magazine the novel of the Decade for the decade just past; it may be his best work to date.

But it is also fiendishly difficult to sum up the plot without giving too much away about the nature of the story and the ending, both of which are to the benefit of the viewer if left unsaid. There are elements of alternate world science fiction that make it even more relatable to our world, so it gets the sci-fi classification but trust me there are no bug-eyed aliens here. This is an all-too-human story that begins with a what-if postulation and ends with an examination of destiny and mortality. It is a stunning work that doesn’t always translate well to the screen, although it does have some moments of grace and heartbreak.

Kathy (Meikle-Small), Ruth (Purnell) and Tommy (Rowe) are students at the Hailsham Boarding School in an era that is both by-gone and modern. Rather than being taught history, English and mathematics, they are taught instead courtesy, duty and warned never to leave the beautifully bucolic but ultimately restrictive confines of the school. Being children, they are curious about what lies beyond the gates although such curiosity is discouraged by the school’s ramrod-stiff headmistress (Rampling).

The artistic Tommy’s paintings are collected by the mysterious Madame (Richard) for apparent exhibition elsewhere. Tommy is the object of delicious affection by Kathy who yearns for him in a way that is as sweet and pure as only an adolescent girl can yearn. However, Ruth horns her way in and winds up becoming a couple with Tommy which wounds Kathy deeply but she is the sort who simply turns her cheek and gets on with things. However, it creates a wedge between the three friends.

As an adult, Kathy (Mulligan) has taken a caretaker role in her life. Ruth (Knightley), realizing that she has come between a genuine love between her friends, is anxious to make amends while Tommy (Garfield) looks for a way out of a desperate situation.

Once again, I’m being deliberately vague so as not to spoil the movie although Romanek manages to do that himself – the tragedy hanging over the novel and the film is revealed far too early on (the novel waits until about halfway through before it is revealed; the movie, like a child unable to keep a secret, waits all of ten minutes). Still, he does one thing that is noteworthy; he manages to create screen images as beautiful as Ishiguri’s words.

Knightley, Mulligan and Garfield are three of the best young actors in movies today with Oscar nominations and acclaimed performances between them that would create an impressive enough list for any threesome. Garfield, whose lopsided grin is appealing to those who find young men’s lopsided grins attractive, hides so much pain and suffering behind that grin that it may make you weep, shows enough of that background pain in his eyes. Mulligan’s kindness is heroic in the face of her own pain, both within her life situation but at the betrayal of her love by Ruth and Tommy, although her capacity to forgive is spectacular to say the least.

It should also be noted that the juvenile actors who play Kathy, Ruth and Tommy as young boarding school students give heroically advanced performances for actors of their tender years. Particularly Meikle-Small, who holds up impressively well with her adult counterpart Mulligan who is no slouch. There is one scene in which Meikle-Small listens to a romantic pop song alone in her bedroom and shows that sweet adolescent yearning for love and romance that young girls wish for, to be swept up off their feet by dashing young princes who are cute and oh so amazing! and often never live up to those sweet expectations. It is a marvelous moment that I do believe every woman who has ever been there can relate to.

Those of you who have read the novel will know that it may not be possible for a movie to live up to the original source material and that’s okay. This movie does a pretty fine job of bringing what may well turn out to be Ishiguro’s masterwork to the screen, which is really all you can ask. If only Romanek had resisted the temptation to tip the novel’s hand too early.

WHY RENT THIS: Bittersweet and beautiful. Strong performances from its young and juvenile casts.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: May be too bleak for some. Film’s twist and ending spoiled too early on.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a bit of sexuality and some nudity.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Mulligan had to learn how to drive for the film. She took a two-week crash course and failed the driving test. Her driving scenes were therefore filmed on private roads, the only places she was allowed to drive.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There are collections of Romanek’s on-set photography, Tommy’s artwork and the graphics extolling Hailsham and the program it represents.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $9.5M on a $15M production budget; didn’t earn back it’s production costs during its theatrical run..

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Island

FINAL RATING: 7.5/10

NEXT: Sleepwalk With Me

Duck Season


Duck Season

A lazy Sunday afternoon, and there's nothing to do.

(Warner Independent) Enrique Arreola, Daniel Miranda, Diego Cantano, Danny Perea, Carolina Politi. Directed by Fernando Eimbcke

When you are 14 years old, a single day can stretch out into an eternity of boredom, particularly on a Sunday afternoon with nothing in particular to do. Sometimes, a day can define you in ways you cannot conceive of.

Flama (Miranda) and his best friend Moko (Cantano) are stuck in the high-rise apartment in Mexico City where Flama lives with his mother (Politi). She is going out for the day and has left the two of them with a gallon of soda and enough money for a pizza. They proceed to divvy up the soda into two huge glasses and set about playing a soccer game on the X-Box.

The door knocks and it is Rita (Perea), the 16-year-old neighbor girl who needs to use their oven to bake a cake. The two boys are at first a bit reluctant but Rita pushes past their objections with the acerbic sharpness that only a 16-year-old girl can muster. The boys order their pizza, but when Ulises (Arreola) shows up at the door with their food, there is a dispute over whether he arrived in the allotted window of time before the pizza is free. He refuses to leave until he gets paid. The boys offer to play him at the X-Box game they’ve been playing with the winner getting the pizza money but the ending to even that wind up in dispute.

Rita’s cake is a disaster and she sensibly decides to bake brownies instead because they’re much easier. She adds a little extra something and away the quartet goes, flying high.

Flama’s mother is in the process of divorcing Flama’s father and Flama is unsure if he will remain with his mother in the apartment. In fact, the one thing that Flama is quite sure of is that his parents are far concerned with the distribution of their possessions than with Flama himself.

Reading the synopsis of the movie’s plot sounds like an exercise in boredom and to a certain extent, that’s what the movie is all about. Director Eimbcke, filming his first feature-length film, chooses to shoot in drab black and white which perfectly augments the mood and creates a tone of desperate boredom in the way that 14-year-olds get bored. This is very low key, which actually is part of what captures your attention.

The actors, mostly juveniles, do a marvelous job. All of them feel authentic for their age and social circumstance. These are upper middle class kids who have most of the comforts that middle class kids here in the States have, although conspicuous by its absence is the Internet. Still, despite the location and the language differences, this could easily have taken place in any big city in the United States as well. Sure, there are no action sequences and there really is no resolution to the movie. It’s just a day in the life and not a particularly interesting one, but all the same it is an important day, one that gives us a good deal of insight into not only Flama, Moko, Rita and Ulises but also into ourselves as well.

If I were reading this review, I’d probably choose to give this movie a pass which is more a function of my limited skills rather than of the merits of the movie. I’m not sure I adequately captured how enjoyable this movie is and how appealing the performances are. It has the right lilt of a Sunday afternoon at a time of life when you’re on the cusp of the best time of your life. It’s bittersweet, charming and ultimately gives you a glimpse back at your own adolescence. That’s a pretty good special effect right there.

WHY RENT THIS: Those who like slice of life movies will be thrilled with this one. The relationships and the characters feel very authentic. The black and white photography enhances the mood and the subject very nicely.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: There isn’t a great deal of action and the movie lacks inertia which I believe is the point – however, the attention span-challenged might find this difficult to watch.

FAMILY VALUES: A little bit of foul language, an unnerving but not graphic scene at a dog pound and some drug usage. I’m not sure why this got an “R” rating but quite frankly it didn’t deserve it. This is perfectly suitable for the young teens that are the subject of this movie.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie won 11 Ariel Awards, the Mexican equivalent of the Oscars. No other movie had won that many prior to Duck Season.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: The International