The movie awards season is on in earnest, and the distributors always bring out their big guns on Boxing Day. And though we haven’t seen them all (two and half hours in a galaxy far, far away? Nah…) we have seen the best
Sorry We Missed You
Ken Loach returns to his I, Daniel Blake stomping grounds of Newcastle Upon Tyne to again highlight the intractable problems facing Britain’s working class. It’s a city that offers plenty of opportunity to illustrate the UK’s gnawing wealth gap and economic problems, and it’s no surprise that this region is the epicentre for the Brexit push. Also, as evidenced by its use in so many TV crime shows, it offers a dramatic backdrop for gritty drama. Though Loach barely lifts his camera from the worried brows of his two protagonists in Sorry We Missed You, van driver Ricky (Kris Hitchens) and his wife Abbie (Debbie Honeywood), a social services care-worker. On the rare occasions he raises his lenses to take in the stunning Tyneside streetscapes, inevitably it’s raining…
Once again he’s teamed with his regular screenwriter Paul Laverty – and between them they’ve produced a passionate indictment of both the so-called “gig economy,” and an economic system which hides its exploitative nature behind the weasel words of “self-determination” “choice” and “flexibility.” There’s precious little of that for Ricky and Abbie in this brave new world, the one now progressively being imposed on the working people of just about every country in the world as union-power shrinks and US tech monopolies take over. “You’re your own boss,” his smarmy manager Moloney (Ross Brewster) tells him, so Ricky has his own white van he can’t afford and delivers parcels according to the dictates of a merciless algorithm. There are no benefits, no time off – ever, and severe penalties for mishaps or delays. On his first shift out, a workmate gives him a tip. “Take a bottle to piss in. You won’t have time to stop”. It doesn’t take him long to work out just how merciless and precarious this brave new world really is. Meanwhile Abby is working on a zero hours contract for an outsourced care provider – paid per appointment with her patients, but not for any extra time meeting their needs or the lengthy journeys to and from their homes. Added to their pressure-cooker world is their bright but sensitive daughter (Katie Proctor) and a rebellious teenage son (Rhys Stone) who’s heading off the rails. Inevitably as their problems pile up, the family seems to be heading for a catastrophe.
Loach is way too clever a filmmaker not leaven the misery with plenty of salty humour and some genuinely affecting and light-hearted moments though, and both the main actors’ performances are superb. In reality this is a powerful and carefully put-together polemic, a rousing cry from the heart so skilfully curated that you won’t even notice you’re getting another lecture from an old-fashioned leftie. Actually, whatever your politics, you’ll hardly mind. But what will happen is that the next time a Deliveroo driver brings you your Pad Thai – you’ll add a tip. And when that tedious colleague at work gushes about how much they love Uber “because it’s so cheap,” you’ll put them on the spot, and ask them, “Now, why is that…?” MA15+ from Boxing Day. Local cinemas include Palace Norton Street and Dendy Newtown. ★★★★1/2
Sure, we all love our mums, but it’s an uncomfortable truth that not all mums deserve to be loved… What about the ones who only think about themselves, who are arrogant and callous of the feelings of others – even their own children’s? They do exist, maybe more than anyone likes to admit, and maybe that’s what Hirokazu Kore-eda is getting at with the title of this movie, his first made outside Japan.
The Cannes Palme D’Or winner has always been interested in family dynamics (Shoplifters, After the Storm, I Wish), and he’s lost none of light and whimsical touch by exploring their complexities in France and using an entirely French crew – even though he speaks no French (or English). Apparently that lead to a few misunderstandings during its making. He didn’t know French unionists knocked off at 5, took wine-laden lunch breaks or that his main star (Catherine Deneuve) felt she didn’t have to turn up on set til midday. Or stick to his script – but since he didn’t understand what she was saying anyway – he just thought she was “incredible.”
And she is too as Fabienne, a legendary movie star (much like the iconic actress) and also an incredible narcissist. She’s about to publish her memoirs, but family fireworks start when her daughter Lumir (Juliette Binoche) arrives from New York to check what’s actually in that book. She comes with her husband Hank (Ethan Hawke), a minor TV actor with a lingering past as a serious drinker, and their cute as a button daughter (Clémentine Grenier), and quickly discovers that that Mum’s memoir contains little more than a series of self-serving fabrications. Naturally Lumir only recalls the cruelty and neglect. Fabienne shrugs off her “issues” insouciantly, but meanwhile, in that cerebral Clouds of Sils Maria way, her role in the sci-fi movie she’s making is as the abandoned daughter of an age-less mother (you don’t grow old in space, apparently) played by a hot young It Girl (Manon Clavel) – a position in French cinema once occupied by the young Fabienne (and Deneuve) herself.
All very meta, and the film they’re making sounds incredibly silly, but it does finally fuel a rare moment of reflection and self-examination, something Lumir’s anger didn’t achieve. Fabienne had her priorities – fame and stardom, and didn’t feel as if she had to apologise or justify herself to anyone, even her daughter. Or so she thought… Theirs is a complex dynamic, compounded by Lumir’s own family problems, and all diced and sliced with considerable finesse and poignancy. It’s funny too (especially the scenes with the under-utilised Hawke) – but in a wry and whimsical way. If it feels somewhat slighter and less delicate than his Japanese films, that’s probably a cultural thing. We’re well-used to family fireworks and loud confrontations in French or American films. In Japan, they do the same things less directly, and far more quietly. Maybe we mistake that for sophistication. Or at least something far less brutal than the way family life really can be. PG from Boxing Day. Local cinemas include Palace Norton Street, Central and Dendy Newtown. ★★★★
Can 97% of Rotten Tomatoes reviewers all be wrong? They’ve all given the sizzling same-sex romance Portrait of a Lady on Fire the thumbs up. The cinema world is deeply in love with lesbians, it seems, but this one is pretty good… You can check our ★★★★ thoughts here, and (maybe) consider the other Boxing Day biggies too – JoJo Rabbit or Cats. I wasn’t quite so keen on either. There’s also another Jumangi starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, but sorry, going to see any of that baffling franchise’s many instalments is simply beyond my paygrade.
Reviews – Russell Edwards