Friday, August 05, 2011

Two quiet movies

Last night I watched a film we'd recorded a few days earlier: Snow Cake. I actually watched it nearly twice through, as my wife had been doing something else and didn't come in until it was getting close to the end - at which point I said she needed to see it from the beginning, so I watched it again.

I can't tell you about the movie without giving some spoilers, so don't read this if you want to catch up with it.

This Canadian movie concerns a man (played by Alan Rickman) who's recently out of prison (for killing another man). He rather unwillingly picks up a lively young female hitchhiker; a few minutes of screen time later, she is killed outright when a truck crashes into the car. Rickman decides to take the rather oddball gift the daughter had bought for her mother to the mother (played by Sigourney Weaver) and discovers that the mother has some form of autism - a 'very vocal' form, as the mother's neighbour points out. And so things play out, as we gradually learn why Rickman was in prison and more.

It's a story with more than one grieving person in it, but it isn't a miserable story. There's a great deal of humour all round, and Weaver's character, while not played for laughs as such, produces a number of the funnier lines in the film. It's also about the healing needed after losing someone, and how this can take more than a matter of moments.

Rickman does his usual fairly laidback characterization even while baring his soul to different people, but when needed, can produce the goods: watch him in the aftermath of the crash.

Weaver has been criticised by some reviewers for being all performance without a real connection to the character she's playing. But this is a character at a disconnect with herself: she has no social graces: if she's fed up with you she'll tell you to stop talking until she says it's okay to start again, or, if you've come to her house for a wake, she'll ask loudly why you're still there when she wants you to go, or will dump the freshly made sandwiches in the rubbish bin to encourage you to leave. She also enjoys eating snow, jumping on a trampoline, and playing with children's baubles. She's as sharp as a tack...except she isn't quite.

Carrie Ann Moss (of the Matrix series, and the strange film, Memento) plays the neighbour, a woman who doesn't mind having 'gentlemen callers' and who is part of the healing process Rickman needs to go through.

It's a relatively quiet little film, and relies on excellent actors to put its gentle story across.

We watched Taking the Wae Wae Express the other day too. NZ reviewers have generally raved about this movie, the forerunner to the recently exhibited, Hook, Line and Sinker, but we found it lacking in energy and rather shapeless. Both movies have been made using the Mike Leigh approach of improvisation-gradually-forming-itself-into-a-script. The more recent movie worked, using this process - but also had the benefit of some very good NZ actors. Wae Wae uses a mostly inexperienced cast, and for me the lack of a script with crafted lines left them floundering. The young actors were good, but there was a kind of limitedness to their roles: a stronger script in general would have helped them to achieve something more effective. Even Rangimoana Taylor (who has the lead role in Hook, Line and Sinker) suffers from an undeveloped role. There is a curious Malaysian taxidriver in the story, a man given to uttering 'wisdom' to young people, and also a female Scandinavian tourist who turns up out of nowhere and makes herself at home with the other characters - without much evidence as to why she should do so, I thought. Incidentally, this story also evolves out of a car crash....

We were sorry not to like the movie much: it was made by Andrea Bosshard, who used to be one of my piano pupils (her family were neighbours) many years ago..! However, on the basis of Hook, Line and Sinker, I'm sure she's got better stuff still to come.
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