Wednesday, 15 January 2014

7 Days (2010)

When a parent loses a child, their grief is unimaginable, and often a parent will find their mind focussing and fixating obsessively on something else, as a coping mechanism; anything is better than facing the truth of the massive loss. This is the principle chillingly applied to Daniel Grou’s terrific horror/drama “7 Days”, which sees a father capturing Anthony Lemaire, the man who raped and murdered his eight year old daughter, taking him to a secluded cabin in the woods, and brutally torturing him for the titular seven days.

If it sounds like gruesome exploitation in the vein of Saw, Hostel, and so on, then carry on reading, because this film leaves those in the dust. It is explicit in its torture scenes, yes, but not frequently so, and it surrounds the brutal premise with fleshed out characters who feel real and react believably. It puts other films of this ilk to shame.

The father is called Bruno Hamel, played excellently by Claude Legault. He is sleeping when his daughter goes missing, and he had taken the phone off the hook so nobody could disturb him; naturally he blames himself, and he wants justice. His wife Sylvie (Fanny Mallette) also blames herself, even if she lacks the helpless determination of her husband; after all, it was their lovemaking which meant that they sent the daughter out to give party invitations on their own. The film is good at this, these little observations which accumulate in times of loss and grief and guilt. “Your daughter was being raped while you were having an orgasm!”, Bruno cruelly accuses at one point in the film.

The characters, then, are real, and they are surrounded by a film which treats them with respect. The style is formal, bordering on Hanekeian, and the entire film is shot with a certain washed-out, tired colour pallet which is dominated by greys and dark browns. It also doesn’t forget the little details, such as Bruno’s white t-shirt getting steadily more covered in blood as the film goes on, and the torture accumulates. The script is clever, filling the film with minimal dialogue and lots of quieter, more thoughtful moments (look at the dead deer which slowly decomposes outside the cabin Bruno is operating in, for example.)

There are supporting players who are the key to this film. The paedophile in question is convincingly portrayed by Martin Dubreuil, a sadistic and pathetic creation who first smiles at the camera when he is captured, and then goes through denial, a fierce confessional, and ends up taunting Bruno to bring about his death quicker. Perhaps the most important role in the film is Remy Girard playing a police officer called Herve Mercure, a weary, tired, portly figure who lost his wife six months earlier in a futile robbery, and has spent those six months obsessing over the video footage of the killing. He understands what Bruno is going through, and his efforts to find him are not to arrest him, but to save him. There are a number of well-written conversations between Bruno and Herve, in which the two reach a quiet, sad understanding of each other.

Indeed, Bruno couldn't be further from a cruel and sadistic creature driven by revenge; such archetypes belong in different, lesser films. As the film progresses, Bruno comes to see the futility of his actions, and slowly becomes wracked with guilt. One of the film’s most effective sequences sees him capturing the mother of a child who Lemaire killed because she said “that man doesn’t exist to me”, and placing her in the same room as him for a time. It cleverly signifies how Bruno is seeking validation for his sins, because it can’t come from inside himself.

And this is the kind of film it is, quietly observant, thoughtful, and very, very sad. It understands the grief and horror of a parent losing a child, and it does not judge his actions. No doubt every parent feels like Bruno does upon going through what he does. But the film also knows that violence is wrong and cannot be condoned, no matter what the circumstances are. As Bruno is asked upon his arrest at the end of the film (which isn’t a spoiler, because the film lays out pretty clearly how it is going to end from the beginning), “Do you think vengeance is the answer?” “No”.

“Do you regret what you did?”


Monday, 13 January 2014

Last Vegas is Very Good

It’s been a hard year at the movies. We’ve had eviscerations and eyes cut out, incestuous relationships and snapped necks, babies stolen from teenage mothers, babies being taken into The Further, car crashes, two relationships breaking down, searingly brutal depictions of slavery, and worst of all, James Franco doing a Riff-Raff impression. And that was just in the films I liked.

"I'm in your dreams now"

And after all that, we are treated to this. Last Vegas is a wonderful comedy and a not-half-bad drama, that lures us in by being disposable and lightweight (but in a funny, watchable way) and then surprises us in the third act by being surprisingly touching and heartfelt (still in a funny, watchable way). It’s an ensemble film with no weak links, a buddy comedy that actually understands group dynamics, and a convincing study of lifelong friendship.

The cast is to die for. We’ve got Robert DeNiro, Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Kline all sharing screentime, as four buddies who go to Vegas for a bachelor party in honour of Douglas, who marrying a woman who is “around thirty”, he says, and “an infant”, as his friends say. Freeman and Kline are very willing to go, but DeNiro (whose wife died a year earlier) is reluctant. He only goes when he is reassured that Douglas won’t be there; already we have unresolved issues, which you can be certain will be resolved come the credits.

Once all the gang are in Vegas… Well, all hell doesn’t break loose, because this isn’t that kind of film. Think more a nicer Hangover, or a gentler American Pie with OAP’s. The principle joy of this film is basically watching the 60+ cast act like horny teenagers and the youth which they left so long ago. The film finds great delight in Kline’s character, who, having been given a free pass from his wife, parades around the sea of attractive twentysomethings declaring “I have a condom”.

And, indeed, this is the kind of film you would only be watchable with established actors, as so much of the films humour relies on our recognition of them as stars, and our willingness to watch these old familiar faces basically fart about in Vegas for 105 minutes. We’ve seen these actors grow old over their careers; they have earned this film. You may have noticed that I have only used the actor’s names as opposed to the character’s names; while I could type them out, to me they were Robert, Michael, Morgan and Kevin.

If this doesn’t sound too much like damning with faint praise, this is one of the nicest and well-meaning films I’ve seen. It has no agendas, no points, nothing to push and nothing to sell. It is a simple film, not especially profound, and I found this incredibly refreshing. This is a film that introduces transvestites as comic relief, and we are relieved to see that they are treated as actual people, who Kline gets to know over the course of the film. This film will go down well with the LGBT crowd.

Did I mention how funny this film is, too? There are great laughs to be had, and the one-liners come thick and fast, mainly from Kline’s character, who seems to be channelling the same crazed energy he brought to A Fish Called Wanda. If you appreciated him in that film, you will in this too.

It is often said that life is circular; we get infancy, childhood, adulthood, peak, old age, infancy, death. This film gets a real kick from poking fun at that philosophy. A fair brunt of the jokes, and other, nicer moments in this film consist of the characters highlighting how old they are, and how far they have fallen from their prime. “I am amazed my body has got this old”, says Douglas towards the end. This isn’t the most insightful of films, but, well, that seems fairly insightful to me.

Oh, and if you ever wanted to see DeNiro have one half of LMFAO stick their crotch in his face, then this is absolutely the film for you.