Film Reviews


Post Mamma Mia and Dear John, Amanda Seyfried’s reputation as a rising star of drippy romances is confirmed by this airy, lightweight trifle which takes inspiration from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and, more peculiarly, the alleged phenomenon of many lovelorn people writing letters to said Juliet. Seyfried plays Sophie, a fact

checker for The New Yorker magazine who, while on a pre-honeymoon trip to Verona with her selfish restaurateur boyfriend (Gael Garcia Bernal), discovers an unanswered letter on the wall below Juliet’s balcony. Sophie discovers the letter was written fifty years ago by Claire (Vanessa Redgrave) after a holiday romance. The two women set out to find Claire’s lost love Lorenzo, while Sophie falls for Claire’s son Charlie (Christopher Egan).

Despite a mixed track record encompassing the worthwhile 13 Going On 30 and the awful Bride Wars, director Gary Winick wisely reins in Letters to Juliet’s misfiring comic elements and identifies a strong dramatic centre in Redgrave’s performance. And when Lorenzo turns out to be played by the great Franco Nero, Redgrave’s real-life husband, Winick’s slush-fest confirms itself as a guilty pleasure for star- crossed lovers of all ages. (Eddie Harrison) General release from Wed 9 Jun.


Utilising Jim Thompson’s controversial pulp novel, workaholic filmmaker Michael Winterbottom explodes the myth that the 1950s was a time of innocence. The jaunty music on the credit sequence is more suggestive of family television than a violent noir. Yet just as quickly as Winterbottom sets the light-hearted mood he takes an axe to it. The only innocence on show from here on in is that demonstrated by the population of the small dusty West Texas town who choose to ignore the brutality that underpins their community. Central to the action is Casey Affleck (fantastic); his Lou Ford is a pretty hometown boy who has become the local deputy sheriff. Seemingly a contemplative cowboy, he is sent to the outskirts of town to run off a prostitute, but nothing is quite as it seems. As is the way of this kind of modern western the archetypes come thick and fast, Jessica Alba plays hardball as

the said sinful lady, Ned Beatty is the manipulative business tycoon, Elias Koteas the corrupt man of the people and Kate Hudson is the town sweetheart. As his previous films, most noticeably Code 46 and

9 Songs have shown us, Winterbottom has a penchant for reconfiguring genres while accessing a range of bold and frequently austere influences. Here he does the business on the western, bringing to bear the less savoury aspects of the work of Sam Peckinpah (the disaffecting sweep of violence and misogyny) aligned with the direct and blunt perversions of John McNaughton’s Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (and the many films it spawned). Ultimately, however, Winterbottom is all about commentary and debate and this vicious character study attempts to strip away the fable of the American dream and expose the lust for power, corruption, material desire and defunct morality that lies beneath. Fascinating, but not for the squeamish. (Kaleem Aftab) General release from Fri 4 Jun. See profile, index.


Writer-director Elia Suleiman again interweaves the personal and the political in the third film in his wryly observed Palestinian trilogy, following on from Chronicle of a Disappearance and Divine Intervention. Inspired by his own memories, his father’s diaries and his mother’s letters to exiled relatives, The Time that Remains spans some five decades. Its four episodes stretch from the creation of the modern-day state of Israel in 1948, where Suleiman’s dad Fuad (Saleh Bakri) was arrested and tortured for resistance activities in Nazareth, to the recent Intifada in the Occupied Territories. The emphasis throughout is on how historical events impact upon the everyday lives and routines of his family and their friends and neighbours. An impassive, silent Suleiman plays a version of himself called ES, who acts

as a ghostly observer figure. The filmmaker heeds Chaplin’s maxim that ‘Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot.’ Certainly the film’s deadpan comic sensibility is expressed in the director’s formal choices: characters are carefully framed in static compositions, and the lengthy sequence shots keep the camera at some distance from the unfolding drama. Repetition is also important to the sight gags: see for example the character of the elderly neighbour, who is repeatedly unsuccessful in his efforts at self-immolation, or the fishing trips invariably interrupted by Israeli patrols. The drawback, however, to Suleiman’s austere approach is that one feels, even in the closing scenes with the dying mother (Shafika Bajjali), a degree of emotional distancing. Yet some of the images here eloquently convey the absurdity of everyday existence for Palestinian citizens in Israel it’s fantasy which allows Suleiman to pole vault over the West Bank ‘security’ wall. (Tom Dawson) Filmhouse, Edinburgh from Fri 28 May–Thu 10 Jun.

54 THE LIST 27 May–10 June 2010