SHE SAID**** …Powerfully

THIS SUPERB MOVIE is the story of the two journalists, Megan Twohey (Carey Mulligan) and Jodi Kantor (Zoe Kazan from The Plot Against America) who were able to penetrate the wall of lawyers, threats and terrified women, to take down the serial rapist, Harvey Weinstein; all through their doggedness, fearlessness and deep sense of empathy with his victims.

Movies about journalists in their battle against the abuse of power, be that political (All the President’s Men) or religious (Spotlight) have almost always been about men as fearless knights charging against the dragons of abuse. Unlike them Megan and Jodi are women. And unlike them, this means they face a dual challenge, both as journalists (ferreting out the truth in a storm of lawsuits, threats and counter-narratives) and – as this movie makes so emphatically clear- as mothers. They need to overcome barriers… of pregnancy, post-partum depression, sleepless nights, babies, child care when the days turn into nights and husbands who also have day jobs and late nights.

Director Maria Schrader’s decision to make the story one about the lives of her protagonists and of the women whose lives were ruined, and not about Weinstein per se (There, only as a threatening voice and fleetingly seen, entirely through Megan’s eyes, as an object of scorn and contempt) ensures that the criminal, his abusiveness and his dirty tricks, are never allowed to steal the limelight (Hence there’s no “he said” to She Said)

The limelight remains centered on the quality of the relationships. At its heart, this is a movie about the power of relationships: the relationship between the two women, between them and their spouses, their children, their colleagues, their sources and mainly about the relationship between them and the abused women. It is the quality of these relationships that enabled their success.

Megan and Jodi forge a deep symbiotic bond, each aware of and dependent on the other’s strengths, both effortlessly able to allow their empathies with Weinstein’s abused women (traumatised, broken, near suicidal, terrified into silence) to enable relationships built on respect and trust, to do the heavy lifting. And, in direct contrast with the rapist’s phalanx of enablers (amoral corporate money men and lawyers and ‘heavies’), their enablers are -sleep deprived- husbands and the unwavering commitment of their editorial teams and bosses (led by the always compelling Patricia Clarkson).

The story also offers a more nuanced narrative than a clichéd “truth will out” storyline. It also points to the reality of conscience worming its way into corporate indifference and self-preservation (dramatised in a short, compelling performance, of a cynical enabler turned ‘whistleblower’, of Zach Grenier from The Good Fight). Conscience (when its finally aroused) has the power to enable people to do the right thing.

In the end, it took more than conscience; it took the collective power of group solidarity to make the difference and turn the tide.

So far, the end titles remind us, over 84 women have testified against him. More lawsuits are still pending.

These two women started that tide which has swollen into the #metoo movement that has unearthed those many more Weinsteins among us.

And yet, there is a sad coda. The movie begins with the other serial rapist, Trump. One went on to become President and own the Republican Party, the other went to jail.

The battle has just begun

SHE SAID. Dir: Maria Schrader. Based on the book by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey. Screenplay: Rebecca Lenkiewicz (Small Axe, Disobedience). With: Carey Mulligan. Zoe Kazan. Patricia Clarkson. Andre Braugher (Brooklyn Nine Nine). Jennifer Ehie. Zach Grenier. Cinematographer: Natasha Braier.

AFTERSUN ** zzzzzzzzz

THE MOVIE BEGINS with the sound of a whirring. This turns out to be that of a Handycam. It is a story about how stories are crafted to either hide, reframe or bare truths. Calum (Paul Mescal), recently estranged from his partner, is on holiday in Turkey with his daughter, Sophie (newcomer Frankie Corio). They clearly enjoy a close, loving relationship.

But for dad, there’s a private grief, a feeling of loss, a fantasy of suicide. This is a reality that won’t make his ‘cut’. His recording of the holiday, one that includes all the ‘arty’ off-takes, those humdrum images that add texture, seems to be more than holiday snaps, but his means of constructing a narrative of What a Wonderful Time He’s Shared with his Daughter…just as Aftersun, the movie itself, is a constructed narrative of a time the protagonist and Handycam user has shared with his daughter. The movie’s record of the holiday is however a more honest one than Calum’s Handycam version. The movie, as art, tells a more rounded story than the home made video version (with the inclusion of images of him sobbing etc) which, by avoiding the painful realities. offers up an artful deceit, a lie.

It’s an interesting conceit; and the acting of the two principals (Paul Mescal and Frankie Corio) is superb…acting without affectation.

The problem is that the movie is deathly dull. There are long stretches (probably just a few seconds, but they feel like weeks) of looking at a balcony rail or a wave in the sea or a roof top, all shot from jaunty angles. No amount of intellectual richness can compensate for such longeurs.

It’s a dull, tiresome movie that really does challenge one’s ability to stay awake. At times, it was so boring I tried to will myself to nod off. But, dammit, the nods simply wouldn’t come.

Perhaps if one night, insomnia comes knocking at your door, you can eschew the Ambien and fight its entry with a few minutes of this (critically acclaimed) snorefest.

AFTERSUN: Dir/Writer: Charlotte West. With: Paul Mescal (The Lost Daughter; Normal People), Frakie Corio. Cinematographer: Gregory Oke

DOUBLE BILL: The entertaining Matilda the Musical and the Fabulous Glass Onion

THE GLASS ONION is terrific. As expected, it’s a whodunit murder mystery with the big Agatha Christie-esque type reveal at the end. But it’s no Christie copy. Writer/director Rian Johnson takes the form into an entirely new dimension with flashbacks and twists and unexpected turns that’s a joy to behold. It’s beautifully thought through and delightfully clever. Every clue, subtly dropped into the story pull together for an end that never seems to want to stop.

The story centres on the invitation to a high tech and deserted island of a Zuckerberg type self-obsessed tech guru billionaire Miles Bron (Edward Norton, as the thoroughly convincing amoral straight guy. I’ve forgotten what a good actor he is). He’s invited a group of friends for a weekend of fun and a murder mystery he’s cleverly planned. The friends are all exaggeratedly unpleasant. And they all have an axe to grind. An unexpected guest who turns up is world famous detective Benoit Blanc, Daniel Craig in his continued exorcism of Bond. Craig, like everyone else in the cast seem to be having a wonderful time. Of course, someone’s killed, the lights fail, there’s a pistol on the loose; mayhem slowly builds. No one is safe

It wasn’t only the actors who were having a good time with this marvelous story. Production designer Rick Hendricks who created the extraordinary world of The Rings of Power, offers up a set that’s almost another character in the story.
Go see it. You won’t regret it.

GLASS ONION: A Knives Out Mystery. Dir/Writer: Rian Johnson. With: Daniel Craig, Edward Norton, Kate Hudson, Dave Bautista, Janelle Monaé, Katherine Hahn, Leslie Odom Jr. Jessica Henwick, Madelyn Cline. Cinematographer: Steve Yedlin (Star Wars: Episode VIII). Production Designer: Rick Heinrichs (TV Series: The Rings of Power)

MY WIFE TELLS me that, despite the wonderful production values in the movie, somehow the stage production seemed more magical. The immediacy of the dances, the thrill of the telekinesis with chalk that writes by itself on a blackboard etc. were gasp-worthy (how did they do that?). Ever since they brought dinosaurs alive, we know that CGI can do pretty much everything. On the big screen, they’re fun, but not unexpected.

Dahl’s story within a story about Matilda (A delightful Alisha Weir), the sweet parentally abused little girl (a menacing Stephen Graham plays the father) who ends up in a school that’s more prison than place of learning is a tremendous narrative device. The movie’s choreography is exuberant, the book is very witty, even if the score is just OK.

What tips an OK movie into a joy is the acting. Emma Thompson’s Miss Trunchbull, all prosthetics and fat suits, wearing outlandish clothes that seem a cross between a Nazi torture guard and Madonna, is priceless. She tears into the part with teeth bared and nostrils snarling. Not someone you ever want to meet at night. Or during the day for that matter. Lashana Lynch is perfect for the role of the caring interested teacher. So far, we’ve only ever seen her as a bald badass; here her sweet, smiling, tender warmth throws an entirely new light on her…suggests a range that make Captain Marvel, No Time to Die and Woman King feel typecast. As Matilda, Alisha Weir is captivating. Someone you want to hug, but not get on the wrong side of.
All in all, its’a pleasant movie. Matthew Warchus directs it with a great sense of energy. But, in the end, it just makes me want to see the play

MATILDA THE MUSICAL; Dir: Matthew Warchus. Writer: Roald Dhal (book) and Dennis Kelly (musical book). With: Emma Thompson, Lashana Lynch, Stephen Graham, Alisha Weir (Don’t Leave Home). Composer: Tim Minchin, Christopher Nightingale. Production Design e: David Hindle, Christian Huband.


THERE’S A KIDNAPPING. There’s an art theft, including a $20m Picasso. And then there’s a dead body on the ground floor of an apartment loaned to the person tracking the stolen art. There’s also Jon Hamm. He’s charged with the murder.
Sounds intriguing?
Don’t be intrigued.
The only murder here is that of Jon Hamm killing off his Mad Men reputation. What sought to disguise itself as ‘zany humour’ has also been killed off, along with logic, the craft of acting, common sense, and the potential interest in all heist movies to come.
The serial killer for these cine crimes is one Greg Mottola (who has made so bold as to own up to also penning the screenplay).
As a public service, some civic entity ought to paste his face and name on Wanted posters all over Hollywood with the word, “Avoid at All Cost”. “Beware all ye who enter here. This will turn your Brain to mush”

CONFESS, FLETCH: Dir: Greg Mottola. Writers: Mottola + Zev Borow. With Jon Hamm

This has been a lost Saturday.

After this crime scene, my next murder mystery was Jennifer Lawrence’s attempt to purge the MCU stain from her once stellar career. The somber, go-nowhere dud Causeway has no dead bodies on offer just a massive Hollywood glowing sign “WTF?”
Ah well, you can’t win them all.


Director Ryan Cooper needed to thread his way though a maze of potentially conflicting, series-ending contradictions. He had to balance the need to craft a story that was part memorial (mourning the death of lead actor Chadwick Boseman…and of course the King of Wakanda), part action packed super-hero adventure story, part Black pride but also non-threatening to the larger mass market, part set-up for an exciting sequel, without ending on an anti-climatic question mark, part escapist cinema balanced with more somber themes. Whew.

Cooper is clearly a superhero himself as he’s managed to pull it all off quite remarkably (making this sequel, to me, a far more satisfying movie than the first Black Panther)

The story is woven around the idea that the Kingdom and its institutions (mainly of its hyper technology  prowess and its awesome defence capabilities) transcend the individual – King T Challa. So when Wakanda’s borders are breached (by a shadowy CIA type group of mercenaries) and its guardianship of vibranium (the miraculous isotope that’s part rare earth, part uranium, part wizardry exclusive to Wakanda…or so they thought) is threatened by patronizing American arrogance and a subterranean undersea kingdom led by a Mexican god (Viva Mexico!), the strength of T Challa’s succession is tested.

Not unlike The Woman King, the power of Wakanda’s female warrior class, led by the formidable Okoye (Danai Gurira), take centre stage. The story therefore shifts away from the muscular machismo of the Black Panther to focus mainly on its female leaders. As his immediate heir, Queen Ramona (Angela Basset) is a wonderfully imperious leader. She is haughtily undaunted by the sniffy colonial attitudes of a Western world aghast that an African country (an African country!) could not just be the source of such an important mineral (which is how the real world operates) but, unafraid of the West, could be in full control of its own destiny. (Sigh, sci-fi indeed).

And in a further role reversal, the emerging leader is Princess Shuri (Letitia Wright), a slight, nerdy, reluctant Princess. As an actor, Wright doesn’t quite measure up to the big screen magnetism of the other scene stealing women around her (in particular Lupita Nyong’o, T Challa’s lover, now doing good works in Haiti). But the shift in leadership from the typical super-hero looking Boseman to this slight skinny woman is a nice riff on the irrelevance of muscle as a marker of leadership.

And all the cues of the follow-up are slyly eased out. There are enough unresolved plot lines for Wakanda III to pick up on…without leaving the audience unsatisfied (Based on the loud cinema cheering after the end titles, the crowd was happy…unlike so many of the reviews which find the movie boring. By the way, don’t leave before all the titles are over)

The action scenes are tremendous (if at times over-long). They manage to combine the adrenaline excitement of bone crunching hand-to-hand combat with a sort of balletic beauty. Quite frankly, apart from the actual singing and dancing that accompany the King’s funeral rituals, the extraordinary costume design (Ruth E Carter) and the vastness of scale of the project (from production designer Hannah Beachler and cinematographer Autumn Durald Arkapaw) give the entire movie a sort of operatic grandeur. It’s very stylish.

It is too long (some of it drags a bit) and it feels overstuffed with characters (including Michaela Cole whose minor part feels gratuitous and Julia Dreyfus, clearly enjoying herself as a baddie, who I wish I’d seen more of)

I’m sure (since I’m not a student of the Black Panther/MCU universe) I’ve missed a lot of nuance. No matter. I look forward to seeing it again on my own slightly smaller, screen.


Dir: Ryan Cooper. Writer: Cooper + Joe Robert Cole. With: Angela Basset, Letitia Wright, Danai Gurira, Lupita Nyong’o , Michaela Cole, Julia Dreyfus, Martin Freeman, Winston Duke, Tenoch Huerta. Costumes: Ruth E Carter. Production Design: Hannah Beachler. Cinematography: Autumn Durald Arkapaw

LIVING**** Hugely alive

RARELY HAS A part so suited its actor as that of Billy Nighy’s portrayal of tight-lipped, emotionally neutered, inhibited civil servant, Mr. Williams (Those of you who don’t know Bill Nighy: he was the washed up pop singer in “Love Actually”) Mr. Williams (It is the 50’s when the use of first names was far too familiar and when dressing down meant a cravat instead of a tie) is the head of a small group of civil servants in an Urban Planning department. Unvarying routine, reticence and a pathological fear of rocking any boat is at the heart of their ways of life. So too is their temerity of actually doing anything. And so, requests and proposals from the public (The nub of the story centres around the desire of a neighbourhood group to build a playground in the mud and rubble of a war-destroyed London) are shunted from department to department. Status is determined by the height of the stack of pending items.
A newby employee (Alex Sharp) joins the group of grey men, in their regulation pin stripes and bowler hats and their unvarying routine of institutional dullness and procrastination. He, fresh faced and innocent to the dreary life ahead of him, is the story’s first signal of what’s really pending in their growing towers of avoidance: life.
When Mr.Williams is given the diagnosis that a detected cancer gives him six months to live, it dawns on him that he has been dead for the last thirty or so years since the death of his wife. A vibrant young secretary (Aimee Lou Wood) has given him the nickname: Mr. Zombie. This is what he, his colleagues, his entire department and perhaps all people of his own stiff upper lip class deserve to be called. People who are no more than a living dead.

His death sentence is also his life sentence. He has six months to rediscover what it means to be “living”.
The structure of the narrative divides the rediscovery into two phases. He begins to re-experience life through the eyes and lives of two persons. The first is an artist (Tom Burke) living at the edge; living in a demi-monde, Bohemian world of bars, music, nudity, noise and gaiety. It is life at the extreme; the kind of culture shock needed to shock him out of his cobwebbed rigidity. The second is that of the secretary, understandably readying to leave their grey group for something more engaging (a waitress in a cafe!). Despite what may seem – in the rigid class stratification of the day – as a life of disappointment and deprivation, she brings such a buoyancy of spirit, such fearless honesty (she was the one who called him, her superior, Mr. Zombie) that it opens up to him another door to living; one so long shut to him.
This new perspective of living out life and making it mean more than files in a pending tray, recalibrates his attitude to work, people and purposefulness.
Now here’s the thing. The easy five cent synthesis of the plot: “Uptight man learns to get a life” woefully misses the mark. The story never shies away from the reality that most people will forever remain shut in by their own fear of living. It never offers a rose-tinted view of the world. And Bill Nighy’s tremendous acting – where a small twitch of the lips contains whole chapters of meaning – always lifts the story above schmaltz (Tom Hanks would have wallowed in the ‘sweetness’ the tale could so easily have been). This is one of those rare movies that gives the dreadful idea of “heart-warming” real body and soul. We see the silver lining but always within the context of the clouds.
The movie is, I have read, a frame-by-frame copy of an original from Akira Kurosawa’s original, Ikuru. You’d never have guessed that. Director Oliver Hernanus’ clear affection for his protagonist and his  sense of timing – the pauses, the hesitations, the drawn-out scenes – give the whole enterprise just the right feel. It all seems so very post-war English (hugely helped by superb production design from Helen Scott and Jamie Ramsay’s muted, moody cinematography ), so very proper, so very sad.
And to which I’d add, so very (best actor) Oscar worthy.

LIVING. Dir: Oliver Hermanus. With: Bill Nighy Aimee Lou Wood (Sex Education), Tom Burke (Musketeers, Strike), Alex Sharp. Writer: Kazuo Ishiguro (The Remains of the Day). Cinematographer: Jamie Ramsay (See How They Run). Production Design: Helen Scott (Small Axe; A Very English Scandal)

AMSTERDAM** Send Tylenol

AMSTERDAM IS HEADACHE-inducing. It’s not that it’s a noisy, thrumping movie (see Michael Bay or any movie from Marvel Studios), it’s just that the crude voice-over proselytizing, repeatedly drumming into my brain to “get it! get it, you moron!”” accompanied by the heavy, in black ink with blaring trumpets, banging on of its point of view, left me benumbed.

The sell-job by writer/director David O Russell (whose movies include the fabulous Silver Linings Playbook and the OK American Hustle) to his financial backers and this glitterati of starts must have been quite unambiguous, and in all caps: “We are regressing to a time of the resurgence of fascism” he must have shouted at them. “This has to be stopped!!! We need to remind people that we are almost there back in the days of Lindberg etc. WE NEED A MOVIE THAT BRINGS THIS ALIVE. THAT MAKES PEOPLE REALIZE THE DANGERS OF TRUMP AND THE RISING TIDES OF FASCIST POPULISM. ONLY WE IN HOLLYWOOD CAN DO THIS.”

Perhaps the original text was more subtle and perhaps people (those famous movie focus groups) just didn’t get it, so Mr Russell had to pump it up.

And pump he sure did!

The tone of the movie’s first 90% is a quirky semi-comedic farce centred around three persons (AKA Christian Bale, Johns David Washington and the luminous Margot Robbie) who, through their injuries (Bale’s character loses an eye BUT GAINS INSIGHT) suffered in WWI battles become bonded in a (semi) Platonic menage a trois. Amsterdam becomes their place of safety and sanctuary. It is a place where a Black man can be openly in love with a White woman; where life can be lived in peace. And where they become aligned with two mysterious people, who just happen to be the US and UK secret service (Michael Shannon and Mike Meyers). Flash forward a dozen years to the US, where the Bale character is a (disbarred) doctor tending to disfigured vets and Washington’s character, his BFF, is now a lawyer and his partner. Their service captain is mysteriously killed, and the captain’s daughter (Taylor Swift) seeks them out for their help.

Stuff happens. Conspiracies unfold. Hitler and Mussolini rise, as does their fascist wing in the US.

“THIS CAN HAPPEN TO US NOW” shouts the movie, just in case we, the foolish audience, aren’t getting the gist of the plot. Assassins appear, shots are fired, good actors (including Anna Taylor Joy, Chris Rock, Matthias Schoenaerts, Timothy Oliphant, Zoe Saldana, Rami Malek) overact extravagantly, bad actors are content with virtue signalling that THEY TOO ARE AGAINST FASCISM, and Robert de Niro is trotted out to dial in yet another part.

Take an analgesic before you go. The End.

AMSTERDAM dir/writer: David O Russell. With: Christian Bale, John David Washington, Margot Robbie, Michael Shannon, Mike Meyers Taylor Swift, Anna Taylor Joy, Chris Rock, Matthias Schoenaerts, Timothy Oliphant, Zoe Saldana, Rami Malek, Robert de Niro. Cinematpgrapher: Emmanuel Lubezki (The Revenant)

THE WOMAN KING***Not quite the royalty I expected

THE WOMAN KING is of vast cultural and sociological importance. Every Black parent should carry their kids, especially the girls to see it…to see Black people represented as proud, noble, fearless fighters. Beyond this cultural dimension however, it’s a pretty mediocre movie.

The story is set on the West African coast around 1823, after Britain had outlawed the trade, though the Portuguese (the bad guys of the movie) still maintained the dark commerce. The Kingdom of Dahomey, in Benin (who were the major African agents to the Portuguese traders) is the focus of the story, where an all-female African army, the celibate Agojie (the inspiration incidentally for Black Panther) are protectors of the tribe.

It’s a clever dating of the movie, since the Kingdom of Dahomey were the main African beneficiaries of the trade. And, in as much as there is a central theme to the movie, it is that of King Ghezo’s (John Boyega) intenal conflict about his Kingdom’s complicity in selling his Black ‘brothers’ into slavery, and his decision to end the trade. “The slave trade is the reason we prosper, but at what price?” asks Nanisca (a stern, agonized Viola Davis) the Agojie general, and the film’s conscience, at the beginning of the film. She offers up instead the idea of exporting palm oil to Europe (instead of people to the New World).

In fine Hollywood tradition, the focus of the film turns to the rival Oyo Empire who become the antagonists of the story.

All historically true.

The problem with the movie is that it would have made a much better ten-piece TV drama. Its attempt to squeeze in multiple thematic strands into one coherent narrative arc results in a movie desperately seeking and failing to find focus.

It’s a revenge story that pits Nanisca against Oyo leader Oba (Jimmy Odukoya).

It’s a coming-of-age story that follows the emergence (into warfare and love) of brave young girl, Nawi (Thuso Mbedu).

It’s a docu-drama showcasing Dahomey tribal rites and dances (frankly the most fun part of the movie)

It’s a profile of a weak King, King Ghezo, trying to do what’s best for his tribe.

It’s a story of friendship between Nawi and her mentor Izogie (Lahansha Lynch).

It’s a story that (kinda) focuses on the horrors of slave abductions.


Director Gina Prince-Bythewood finds a nice balance between historical accuracy and a big screen action flic and cinematographer Polly Morgan (Where the Crawdads Sing) bathes the tale in a warm twilight light. Certainly the three leads (Davis, Lynch and Mbedu are at worst, earnest, at best – Mbedu – compelling). Boyega is disappointing. He looks the part (and probably has the best ‘African’ accent), but he comes across as a muscled wimp…as though overawed by the whole enterprise.

It’s the writing team of Dana Stephens and Maria Bello who overburden the story. They fail to find the format that can retain the integrity of the main idea and offer it up in a compelling whole.

The result is a movie which, despite some wonderful action scenes, feels flat and ultimately emotionally disappointing

THE WOMAN KING. Dir: Gina Prince-Bythewood (The Old Guard) writers: Dana Stephens (City of Angels) and Maria Bello. Cinematographer: Polly Morgan. With: Lahansha Lynch (No Time to Die), Viola Davis, John Boyega, Thuso Mbedu (The Underground Railroad), Jimmy Odukoya.


MRS. HARRIS GOES to Paris is the kind of film title that would make me run a mile. Its advertising campaign doesn’t fare much better either. To all appearances, this threatens to be a Marigold Hotel comes to Paris or any one of those movies specifically targeted to what is referred to as the grey market and written by a focus group. It’s also set at the golden hour of British schmaltz: Just after the war. And yet, buoyed up by the wonderful, chameleon-like Leslie Manville (Phantom Thread) and a surprisingly honest script (from Anthony Fabian and Carrol Cartwright based on a novel by Paul Gallico), this little movie just about manages to exude both charm and intelligence.

It tells the story of Ada Harris (Manville) who is a cleaner (to a clientele of stock characters: the philanderer, the bosomy wannabe actress and the haughty Lady Flauntyercash). They all have a clear and neat plot purpose. Ada may be a lowly cleaner, but her ambition and her imagination have not been neutered by her station. One day, in the wardrobe of the haughty one (who demands much but feels entitled to stiff her staff) Ada sees a newly bought dress. It’s a gorgeous, expensive – £500 – number from the House of Dior. The idea of getting to Paris to own such an extravagant item sets the story in motion; along with its neon-lit ideas about honesty, self-worth, and the need to always reach for the stars with feet anchored firmly to the ground.

(Or, in fashion terms, don’t judge a dress by its wearer)

There are some nice touches. Paris is both the dreamy romantic place of fashion and Dior. But it’s also a real place: grubby and choked in rubbish due to a strike. It’s set in Paris, so, natch, even the hobos can chat articulately about Sartre and existentialism. She, this cleaner…this char lady, surprises some with her common-sense leadership. But just when you want to gag with this cliché, the reality that she’ll never be more than just a cleaner for others comes along, than God, to cleanse the threat of schmaltz.

At this time of Putin’s war in the Ukraine and Liz Truss’ war in England, this sweetness is a nice palate cleanser.

MRS. HARRIS GOES TO PARIS. Dir/Writer: Anthony Fabian. With: Leslie Manville (Phantom Thread). Isabel Hupert, Alba Baptista. Writers:  Anthony Fabian and Carrol Cartwright (based on a novel by Paul Gallico). Cinematography: Felix Wiedemann.   

THE FORGIVEN**** Classy Stuff

MOROCCO. IN THE middle of nowhere, in their large modernised traditional villa, a louche, demonstrable gay millionaire, Richard (Matt Smith; outstanding) and his lover (Caleb Landry Jones) are hosting a weekend party. It is the epitome of extravagant decadence… an event where anything goes, fed with a cornucopia of champagne and coke.

Two of the guests David (Ralph Fiennes) and his wife, Jo (Jessica Chastain), barreling along the single road, barely visible in the sea of sand and dust, will miss the opening dinner. He’s an acerbic “high-functioning”, casually misogynist and xenophobic alcoholic. She’s a children’s author, lost and bereft of ideas. They spend the long, hot, uncomfortable drive bickering.

Something’s got to give.

What gives is a shock occurrence that will change everything. He kills a villager: a young boy selling fossils (the nation’s past?), who had materialized out of the night in front of their car. David’s (Fiennes) first instinct is to search the pockets of the boy and bury his identity papers. The dead boy, who the couple carry to their host’s house, becomes merely a body…like the milling servants who minister to the guests’ every whim, he’s just another anonymous Moroccan without an identity.

There is no remorse, no grief, no guilt. David is simply pissed -off when the boy’s relatives come to claim the body, that he may be forced to pay some sort of compensation. He is an only son. So the compensation may be all of €1000.

The guests party on. David feels obliged to go to their village (“some sort of tradition thing”) to pay his respects and solicit the father’s forgiveness. Jo will stay behind.

There are two distinct worlds distinctly visualized in this mesmerizing tale (Cinematographer Larry Smith seems to have shot the two worlds in different film stock)

The world of the foreigners is a small oasis of hedonism and plenty, colonized by them. They are entirely oblivious to the world without.

This world without, the world of the colonized is one of servitude, of masked smiles and a seething resentment, just waiting for the right moment to rebalance the unequal equation.

The movie alternates between scenes of bacchanalia and adultery and scenes of sparseness and stoic destitution. While Jo revels, David pays his compensation with penitence and pain.

The many layered The Forgiven, is at its heart, a fabulously focused snapshot of the colonial conceit.
Here in the swirling hot sands of ex-colony Morocco, the sordidness of Empire (OK, let’s not be coy, the British Empire) nicely realized.

The master class, the bwanas, shown here as exaggeratedly depraved, behave with entitled indifference and crass disrespect to the country they occupy, symbolized by their servants who they don’t even see. There’s a scene in which Jo is making love and she sees, without awareness, one of the servants looking in. He’s just a servant…a nobody with an identity buried in sand.

But the servants are well-aware of how despicable the foreigners are. They whisper in secret. But they grin and bear it. They play along. They know which side their bread is buttered.

Not so the villagers. They, the country’s soul, the bearers of the fossils, feel the pain, bear the grudges, await the apologies (As an aside, still none for slavery) and harbour resentments.

With David, the penny drops. He becomes self-aware enough to understand the resentments of the colonized. He starts to refer to the dead boy by name. He even begins to dress like them.

But…will he be forgiven?

Director John Michael McDonagh who also scripted the movie (from a novel by Lawrence Osborne) paces the move a bit slowly at times, but it’s an intelligent, classy flick. As you’d expect Ralph and Jessica are compellingly watchable. They inhabit their characters so thoroughly, you fully understand the demons and social mores that drive them.

But not enough to forgive.

THE FORGIVEN: Dir/writer: John Michael McDonagh. With: Ralph Fiennes, Jessica Chastain, Matt Smith, Caleb Landry-Jones