Post-war hanky-panky, and post-capitalism explained
Put two of Hollywood’s hunkiest hot properties together in a handsome period drama and you can be pretty sure that soon enough they’ll get horizontal. Though when they first meet, Rachel (Keira Knightley) and Stephan (Alexander Skarsgard) bristle and smoulder intensely, both barely concealing resentments over their respective personal loses. It’s early 1946, just after the German defeat, and Hamburg is in ruins. She’s the wife of Lewis (Jason Clarke), a Colonel in the occupying forces commanding the city – the industrial port the Allies had bombed to near-oblivion. Before that architect Stephan had been a wealthy member of the Hamburg establishment (the money belonged to his dead wife, we’re told, “killed in the firestorm,”) and Lewis and Rachel have been assigned his stately mansion during the occupation. Naturally it’s conveniently intact and gorgeous. Naturally Stephan and his traumatised teenage daughter (Flora Thiemann) don’t like this new arrangement one bit.
They’re supposed to pack up and head off to a “resettlement” camp somewhere, but Lewis, a kindly, stiff upper lip type of chap (Aussie actor Clarke certainly proves he’s versatile), permits them to stay upstairs in the former servants’ quarters. After a bit more bristling and smouldering, some manly wood chopping and secretive glances, the two stars are two left alone while Lewis goes off hunting some Nazis who just won’t give up. Off comes Stephan’s snazzy woollen jumper revealing the rippling muscles all that chopping has produced, and Rachel’s sensational pretty gown is soon lying crumpled on the floor… The vanquished on top, the victor below – missionary position, naturally.
If that summary sounds flippant, it’s meant to. There’s a ton of interesting material in this sort of historical situation – the psychological trauma of war, survivors’ guilt, grief and acceptance – just for a start. The brutal political reality of occupation would offer plenty of explosive sub plots for knotty drama too – but director James Kent ignores all that and instead gives us a lavish costume drama with little more than a preposterously fast adultery. It looks stupendous, how could it not with those two stars and so much spent on sets and wardrobes, but it just left me hungering for so much more. Which for a while it looked as if it might deliver by digging into Stephan’s past. Now how exactly he did he survive the incredible turmoil of the National Socialist era and the ravages of war with his wealth intact? That might have given us some hanky-panky worth sitting through. M from April 11. Local cinemas include Palace Norton St, Central, Burwood, and Dendy Newtown. ★★ 1/2 View the trailer
Us: What does it mean?
Jordan Peel’s follow-up to his marvellously satirical debut Get Out opened locally a couple of weeks ago, just a week after its North American release. And really – there didn’t seem any point in adding anything to what had already been written by then. 429 reviews were already on Rotten Tomatoes, just about all of them rhapsodical, and thousands more column inches were penned in features telling what it all really meant… Like this one: Us explained: The Big Twists, References Themes and Allusions.
5000 words, I kid you not! That’s longer than a major assignment for Political Economy 101. The fact that most viewers would need help in understanding what Peele clearly intended to be A Big Message Movie (my capitals) surely indicates that it’s a failure… If someone wants to teach us something, to make us understand some fundamental truth about society and culture – the way Get Out so clearly did about race relations in post-Obama America, shouldn’t we simply just get it? Would we really be scratching our heads as we head out the cinema, sentenced to reading 5000 words?
Get Out fitted neatly in the current identity politics maelstrom – the one that one that has totally consumed the progressive left. Most of those writing interpretations of Us have at least understood that its about more than race, and that’s disappointed some, the ones who think a black filmmaker shouldn’t be interested in anything else. But they get it – its about class too, and the dispossession caused by class – not fashionable issues to be concerned about. It’s also about the way our identity is defined by our relationship to the means of production, and wow, hold that right there, because that’s where Peel proves what a subversive genius he really is…
“Who are you?” Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o) asks the intruders who disturb their family beach holiday. “We’re Americans” her doppelgänger says. You’d honestly be better off reading Karl Marx’s Capital than those 5000 words. Ok, so you still wouldn’t know “what’s with those rabbits?” But as to why some of the Tethered could be killed, but the more tenacious kept coming back to life no matter what horrible thing happened to them – well, that explains 21st century capitalism totally. MA15+ on now at Palace Norton St and just about everywhere else. ★★★★ View the trailer
Reviews – Russell Edwards