FILM | Reviews
H T R A W O H E H P O S
MUSIC DOCUMENTARY THE PUNK SINGER (15) 81min ●●●●●
Whatever happened to Kathleen Hanna? That’s the basic thrust of Sini Anderson’s accomplished debut feature-length documentary chronicling the life of the explosively inspiring former singer with punk rock bands Bikini Kill and Le Tigre and leader of the mid-90s underground feminist movement riot grrrl. After fronting two game-changing groups, the Olympia,
Washington-raised singer has, since 2005, largely exited the public eye. It’s only since this documentary premiered in March 2013 that the explanation has become public: Hanna has late stage Lyme disease, a nasty bacterial infection which has sapped this fireball’s energy, and which it took five years to diagnose properly. By Hanna’s request, it’s mainly female voices who help tell
her story, be it bandmates Kathi Wilcox and Johanna Fateman, or feminist punk rock godmothers Joan Jett and Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon. One of the few men to feature prominently is the one Hanna married: Beastie Boys’ Adam Horovitz. It’s a shame the film ends before the completion of Hanna’s new album and recent return to touring, denying it a Lazarus- like conclusion. But The Punk Singer still leaves you wishing there were more musicians of any sex who embrace rock’s potency for smashing cultural boundaries with such power and personality as this one did in her fearless prime. (Malcolm Jack) ■ Limited release from Fri 23 May.
DRAMA VENUS IN FUR (15) 96min ●●●●●
There’s plenty of sizzle in Roman Polanski’s whip-smart, outrageously entertaining adaptation of David Ives’ play. Venus in Fur is part feminist morality tale, part satire, part fevered fantasy, which in its battle of the sexes and macabre atmosphere constantly threatens to tip over into grand guignol.
It’s a stormy night in Paris and we take shelter in a dishevelled theatre where we find playwright and director Thomas (Mathieu Amalric) bitching about the actresses who’ve just auditioned for his female lead. In slinks Vanda (Emmanuelle Seigner): beautiful, common-as-muck, trussed-up in provocative attire, and very late. Thomas is initially dismissive but as Vanda performs, some sort of alchemy occurs and, reading alongside her, he’s drawn into his own sadomasochistic play. Venus in Fur is an exquisitely written, frequently hilarious verbal sparring match between two unimprovable leads. Amalric excels as an assailed artist, but this is the role of a lifetime for Seigner (Polanski’s wife) and she devours it. Polanski amps up the fun factor, helping Vanda grow larger than life, and there’s a touch of his The Fearless Vampire Killers to the camp, gothic take on the material. By expertly embellishing the theatrical, Polanski has made Venus in Fur thrillingly cinematic. (Emma Simmonds) ■ Limited release from Fri 30 May.
THRILLER THE TWO FACES OF JANUARY (12A) 96min ●●●●●
Almost 20 years after her death, Patricia Highsmith’s work continues to be a rich source of inspiration for contemporary filmmakers. Todd Haynes is currently filming Carol with Cate Blanchett, and now screenwriter Hossein Amini (Drive, The Wings of the Dove) makes an impressive directorial debut with his elegant adaptation of The Two Faces of January. Set in the sun-kissed ruins of 1962 Athens, it has the feel of something that Hitchcock might
have made at the time, a feeling reinforced by a lush, Bernard Herrmann-style score from Alberto Iglesias. The film looks beautiful, with the weather mirroring the story’s mood as it shifts from carefree to tragic. Rydal (Oscar Isaac) is an exiled American scamming gullible tourists as an obliging local guide, and he finds himself immediately drawn to the rich pickings of well-heeled American traveller Chester (Viggo Mortensen) and his alluring younger wife Colette (Kirsten Dunst). But Chester is not the respectable figure he projects to the world, and seems to recognise a kindred spirit in the shady Rydal: ‘I wouldn’t trust him to mow my lawn,’ he observes with something nudging admiration. When Chester’s past catches up with him, Rydal becomes both bystander and accomplice in a frantic flight from justice.
A nicely sustained, old-school thriller, The Two Faces of January has the moral
complexity that remains a Highsmith trademark. As Rydal becomes trapped in a hell of his own making, the ruthless Chester stumbles towards an unexpected redemption in a film that allows them to make seesawing claims on our sympathies. Neither one can fully take the moral high ground and yet ultimately their cases both have some merit. It all makes for a thriller that balances urgent storytelling with ethical dilemmas. Now, if only someone would make a proper version of Highsmith’s masterful Edith’s Diary. (Allan Hunter) ■ General release from Fri 16 May.
DRAMA HELI (18) 105min ●●●●●
Films about the hardscrabble side of life often invite us to care, only to hammer home that there was absolutely no point in our doing so. This Mexican drama from Amat Escalante takes a different tack: though its main storyline addresses deprivation, desperation and suffering, it makes sure to show enough real love between its characters so we know we are watching people and not mere emblems of wretchedness. The eponymous Heli (Armando Espitia) is a young
husband whose family is catapulted into horror when his 12-year-old sister Estela (Andrea Vergara) dizzily agrees to wed her 17-year-old boyfriend Beto (Juan Eduardo Palacios). Cue a headstrong plan on Beto’s part to make some fast running-away money, and some very unpleasant fallout indeed.
The non-professional performances are, for the most part, listless, which drags back the film’s pace; the visuals tend towards the muddy; and some of the showier moments feel unprepossessingly film- schooly. Fainter-hearted viewers will find the violence and the underage sexuality hard to take. But the better bits of this mixed bag are pretty good; and if the story it tells about a contemporary Mexico mired in corruption and violence is a familiar one, it’s still one of undeniable pertinence. (Hannah McGill) ■ Limited release from Fri 23 May.
68 THE LIST 15 May–12 Jun 2014