Wonderful Town (2007)

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Watching a 2nd Thai this week. First time i watched this thought it was quite sweet in a very unsugary kind of way.

You wouldnt expect Thai directors to make rush around films. And this isn’t. It putt putts like a tukk tukk.

Hanging out the washing with lovely Na. With a mountain out there to gaze and fall back on. And a soft plinking guitar to soundtrack it all. She hasn’t got much of a life has she? In that hotel making beds everyday, doing laundry, mopping floors, mothering her bro’s son. Ripe for rescue. Go on Ton my son – get in there!

I like shy couples tumbling through their fumbly feelings for one another. Quiet shy love is much nicer than big brashy show-off love. Small gestures, quiet moves, gentle murmurings of the heart, little kisses. Yes, liking this, liking them.

So they’ve fallen in love. Now what? Whole 2nd half to go.

The buzzy scooter boys are gonna have to make trouble. So as to give the 2nd half some narrative drive and tension. But Ton’s tragic beating and ending at the hands of Na’s gangster bro and his buzzy boyz doesn’t fit at all. A real let down that. I want my shy sweet couply romance back!

Dir: Aditya Assarat, Thailand

6/10

Hukkle (2002)

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A snake ssssliding out of its hole, a mole slupping up a worm, the snap of a catfishes mountainous mouth, the grunt and groan of a pigs runty bollocks. Oh yes, that wrinkly old fella in the picture hiccuping his plattered Hungarian head off.

A veritable smorgasbord of sound, and sense, and sensation this film.

Every creak, croak, and crackle, every plink and plonk and plop and rattle and rip. Mic -ed up and grossly amplified into grotesquery. After a while its getting to feel like I’m seeing things thro my ears, hearing with my eyes.

I’m sure I can hear that little ladybird tickling its tiny toes across those finger tips.

An audiomaniacs delight  – to be swamped and swallowed in surround sound. I’m admiring how audacious, or audio-dacious this all is.

There’s no dialogue so no need for subtitles. Humans aren’t doing the one thing that humans uniquely do together – saying and sentencing at one another. They’ve all been put under instruction not to talk; as if the doing of sounds is more important than the saying of sounds. Its like they’ve become like their animals – speechless; as if to speak words is somehow superfluous.

Meanwhile old crumple-face keeps hiccing his hukkle.

Ordinary village farm life that humans live together with animals, the plants, the fields, the sun, the air. And it seems as if this is what we’re seeing, sensing, listening to: every body and thing just doing their everyday day, working, hunting, hiding, doing, cooking, feeding, flying, scurrying, dying.

Yes, dying. Because what is slyly sneaking in is dead bodies. So murdering is also taking place. But who’s doing it? And why? Theres not going to be any crude exposition or explanation of who or why. Just oblique hints and carefully placed visual clues that you’ll probably need to watch this film again (2 or 3 times) to work out (if you can be bothered)

Spoiler alert. If you can’t be bothered, I’ll explain the murdering. Those small bottles with the milky liquid and marked with an “x” at the bottom? Are being sold by the old woman (mother of policeman son doing the murder investigations) to other wifes in the town to poison their lazy workshy husbands (too busy bowling and balling)

The film won loads of awards (16) in minor film festivals. Some criticize it for being more like conceptual art artifice, than a satisfying feature film. I don’t agree. This film works perfectly well on its own terms. We’ve seen all those conventional murder mystery whodunnits. This is trying something different. Trying to dismantle our hows and unfathom our whys through the depth-receptacles on the sides of our faces.

And still that old bastard is hukking his hics. Why? We don’t know.

We don’t need to know. I don’t. For All will soon be returning underground, cast asunder into ashes and dust (yes, this film has made me feel reflectively, but fatalistically, philosophical)

Dir: György Pálfi, Hungary

7.5/10

Syndromes and a Century (2006)

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I must have watched this film before, but can’t recall anything about it.

Camera as still and as in repose as a Buddha, waiting; very few pans, trackings, or zoomings in or out. Few close-ups, reaction shots, or fast cuts.

Director is a Buddhist. So some gentle fun being poked at Buddhist monks. What we reincarnate from and to and in. The film his impressionist recreation of how his mom and dad doctors first met in hospital.

Film ticks along gently, unruffled, not too exciting, a steady pleasance to it. I do keep glancing down at the time left slider though. For first half an hour I’m restful. For second half an hour I’m listless. For last half an hour I’ve become restless.

I ought to have been liking this more than I actually have. I mean, auteur directors – like Weerasethakul – don’t lay junk food on paper plates for you to conveniently chow down and quickly swallow. You have to work your watching through at slow chew, salting in your own mental musings, peppering from an internal store of associative memories.

But I couldn’t associate or connect very much of what was happening in this film with anything very meaningful in my life. I have the Buddhist tendencies to make the connections, but not the same autobiographical experiences (of being a doctor, of being Thai, living in Thailand etc)

So most of this film sort of passed me by, like floating static, slipping away without enough of a sharp edge or handy angle to hang onto.

Well, at least now I know why i couldn’t recall anything about it. Must have fell into a meditative trance. Or possibly I fell asleep.

Dir: Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Thailand

5.5/10

Koktebel (2003)

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One of those sloooow Russian films. Saw it first a good few years back at The Exeter Picture House (in an audience of about 8) I liked it well enough then to rent it from the library last year and make a copy. I know its going to be meditatively melancholic (hence why I’m sitting lotus-like in a darkened room)

Yes, long extended takes; 1 1/2 minutes to slowly zoom in on boy sat facing out on the racketty floor of a freight train. Slow tracking shots of trains in transit, walking to somewhere; to suggest the movement necessary to make a journey. But some scenes seem unneccesarily overdrawn: 3 mins of hanging washing out on the line? It’s dialogue-light, plenty of static camera, using only stingy natural light shot in late autumn; to strip back visuals into a denuded desolated misery drabness.

Widowed father with 11 year old son. Loses job. Life hits the vodka. A neglectful parent. Luckily, son has grown up smart and sane he thinks.

Off to walk to Koktebel in The Crimea with 2 backpacks, and no money. On the way is some soup, some smokes, a boiled egg, boiled sausage, bread, – and yes, vodka. Vodka sozzling is the national route to early death in Russia.

Father is soon on the sozzle again. Son is fed-up.

Directors claim they don’t want to have the camera sat admiring landscapes: “For us “Beauty of the frame” was forbidden. We wanted simplicity and laconicism”

And yet this is a beauty of the frame moment

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Boy and girl smoking fags sat fronting the spindly legs of  birch saplings.

Father gets shot in shoulder, needs nursing. A woman is at hand to heal him. Also happens to be a doctor. Also happens to be living on her own. Also happens to be attractive and seemingly available. Fortuitous. Father has shacked up with her. “All you do is fuck” shouts son. “Idiot” says Father. Why does son want to go to Koktebel anyway? Because he doesn’t want to stay here, being neglected, feeling unwanted.

Yet another film that loses it in its final third. Boy going off onto Koktebel on his own doesn’t really make any emotional sense. Would a little 11 year old boy leave his dad to set off into the insecure unknown like this? No, I’m not buying it. Loss of father puts too much focus on the little boy to carry the film forward. We need his dad around for him to bounce off.

The choice of Chick Corea’s Childens Songs as a recurrent mood-motif gets to feel too twinkly twee. Some dark Russian ambient electronica might have worked better.

The father turning up on the jetty in the final scene is too “filmy” (as in, the kind of neat ending that only happens in films, to tie and tidy up a final denoument)

I’ve become vaguely dissatisfied, disappointed, by this film come the end.

Dir: Boris Khlebnikov, Aleksey Popogrebskiy, Russia

6.5/10

Deep End (1970)

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Mike  (John Moulder-Brown) supposedly an ordinary 15 year old kid but sounding like he’s just come out of RADA gets a job in a public baths. He’s soon getting the horn for hot tottie Sue (Jane Asher) but she’s already having it off with her horse-faced fiance and the hunky swimming instructor (turns out he likes touching up schoolgirls bottoms)

Sue is a cock tease; leads Mike on, pushes him away, dangles him off her little finger. He’s chasing her around like a besmitten Boy (or adolescent sex-pest)

Most of the characters in this film appear to have rather dubious (but I suppose typical for the time) predelictions for underage sex. Here is Diana Dors giving Boy a bit of a biffing in her cubicle.

“Boy” hasn’t appreciated Diana mauling him about, but I did. Not just because she’s having an orgasm while attacking a schoolboy; or because its a clumsy attempt at early Fem-dom; but because she’s giving him what he deserves; a good hair-pulling (for being such a soft twerp)

The Polish director – Jerzy Skolimowski -  brings in his own suggestive take on Sexy Soho post Swinging Sixties. Throws in some Can to jangle up the montagey bits. There’s some heavy handed symbolism involving Jane Asher sucking off a spoon, fire extinguishers spunking out foam etc.

Oh, and then Jane (Sue) fucks him (the schoolboy) before being bonked on the head dead. That ending is about as implausible and as ludicrous as the rest of the film has been.

The one thing I’ll remember? Jane Asher with red russet hair wearing a rather striking full length shiny yellow latex coat. Here it is

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How to be a bit pervy without being too porno seems to be the films general raison d’être. See what we can get away with suggesting without showing, so as to keep the film commercially viable (bet it got an X certificate at the time though)

Think this has become a cult film. I’ve had it stockpiled to see for years. Was it worth the wait? No. Its not something I’ll be watching a second time. Its already in the bin.

Dir: Jerzy Skolimowski, UK, Poland, West Germany

5/10

The Whisperers (1967)

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Mrs Ross (Edith Evans) is a dotty old bat prone to hearing things whispering.

The major problem of old age is loneliness. Many old people live entirely alone, unvisited and unwanted, living day in day out in small rooms without company or friends” sneers politician on radio “Poor souls” says Mrs Ross. Deluded see.

As true then (1967) as it is now (2014) And even more so. The longer people live the lonelier they get. And they – we -  are living longer now. So we’re all getting older, and lonelier, and sadder. We’re all Mrs and Mr Ross’s now. Oh dear.

Mrs Ross is the poor soul. A deluded poor soul. She’s going to get duped, she’s going to get dumped, she’s going to get deserted.

As a grim depiction of the nitty gritty degradations of old age the film has worked ok. Here is lovely Nanette Newman telling Edith Evans to sod off. So she sods off. And then finds a parcel of loot (hidden by good-for-nothing son) in the wardrobe.

Mrs Ross has crumpled into childlike childishness. Edith Evans acts her funny hat off. She does verge on the edge of mad-as-a-hatter caricature at times (as seen in that clip for example). I couldn’t quite get my empathy engaged with or by her old-style (old fashioned?) theatrical performance.

I mean its good acting, in that its good “acting”. But bad acting in the sense that you see it more as “acting the part” rather than being the person, the Mrs Ross she’s supposed to be being.

Some of these supposedly “great” theatrical actors I often see performing their roles as if from behind, (there still as Edith Evans, John Gielgud etc) manipulating the strings, rather than being inside the character, invisible, transparent. Maybe this is something to do with the kind of over-projection that works better in a theatre, but isn’t so successful in a small frame, as a film, as cinema.

The third act flops into farcical melodrama. Bryan Forbes (director) has tried to inject some pace and drama into the downbeat mood, lift its entertainment value for a commercial audience. So in gets thrown some gangster chasing and capering about involving Mr Ross, the slimy  husband who’d dumped his wife. Poor Mrs Ross gets left behind, or left out while he’s doing all his dodgy dealing. Then he abandons her again.

But she returns at the end. Back to the Social (to ask for assistance). Back to the library (to warm her feet up on the radiators). Off to church (to sing hymns with all the other God-Forsakens) All the usual refuges of the unwanted, the poor, the old, the lonely, the sad, the unloved.

Despite my fixation with everything 1960′s black and white don’t think I’ll bother keeping this film.

Dir: Bryan Forbes, UK

5.5/10

Silence (2012)

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I’d already watched this film several months ago but didn’t finish it. Why? There didn’t seem to be an ending or conclusion it was wanting to get you to. And, feeling some resistance to being too immersed inside its windy isolation I bailed out early.

This 2nd watch I’m being more receptive. I’ve tuned my quiet into the quiet. I’m being there in the bog, on the lonely moor, doing his – Eoghans – lonely listening in with him. Well, its me thats feeling the lonely, not him. He seems quite at home in the isolation, intent and alert, doing his job, collecting the quiet.

“No human voice to rent the air. Nothing but burds”. Yes, I’m there, as if I were here, on Dartmoor, listening in, soaked in silence.

The sound recordist is back home – after 15 years away – in Ireland, to Inish Boffin, to make recordings of places free from man-made sound. Gradually he’s becoming immersed inside a more intangible silence, one bound up with the sounds of the life he had left behind. In essence he’s not just recording the presence of the present but recovering the collective memories of his past.

What is silence? The absence of noise? Or the presence of something beyond noise, behind things, inside memories? This film will make you think questions like that. Because there is little else to distract your mind with; there’s nothing excitingly dramatically compelling to make your attention want to move forward along a story-line or hop about on a plot. You will have to keep being still, being present, be in the mind for being meditative, being quietened yourself, to dwell inside the films soundings and silencings.

Eoghan Mac Giolla Bhride plays a fictional version of himself. He’s not acting in the sense of acting out; more like acting in, staying close to himself. This gives a naturalistic feel and flow to his various encounters with people (who are also playing, or being, themselves) It wouldn’t be right to say this is a drama-documentary. It’s more like a documentary dream in.

It should have be right up my quiet street (or windswept bog, or peaty valley) Watching, and listening, to an introvert doing the ideal introverts job: collecting all these sounds of intimate solitudes. I’d apply for the job myself. But, like on the first watch, I couldn’t quite immerse myself. I wasn’t fully sucked up my ears into my brain, or down to my heart. Not for the whole duration anyway. I had little meditative tuning ins (like in the vid clip shown above) but i felt estranged most of the rest of the time.

Maybe its because it’s too Irish. Too situated in its own land and place and people. I don’t feel the hazy sentimental affinity with Ireland that sucks so many other dreamy romantics in.

Maybe the film was just a bit too inured in its own quietude, too insular and insulated inside its own small spot of the world to include casual passersby – like me – in. A passivity is there, slowing and stopping, and eventually silencing, any kind of vital engagement with it.

You’d have to bring your introverts passion to this film. And not your depression.

And best probably watched alone, with a pair of headphones on.

Dir: Pat Collins, Ireland

6/10

Addendum: Ironically I didn’t get to see it to the end. The last bit of the film was missing from the download. But not inclined to go searching for these last 10 minutes. Don’t feel I’ll have missed anything vital. In a film like this AN end will never feel like THE end. Silence just goes on and on and on…. being silent…..

The Kiss of Death (1977)

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Another of those Play for Todays Mike Leigh did for the BBC back in the 70′s. Don’t remember seeing this at the time, but watched it 3 or 4 times in the last few years. Why? Because it makes me laugh my head off every time i see it.

I could have easily uploaded the whole of this film onto YouTube. But I’ll stick with Trevor and Linda’s ‘romance’. Yes, it has to be put into inverted commas; theres such an passive-aggressive dynamic going on, you wonder if they’re loathing one another more than they’re actually liking one another.

Linda (Kay Adshead) and Trevor (David Threlfall) are in the pub becoming acquainted

I used to work in a supermarkeht, dead borin ent et?” says Linda. Forever and again you will have to say “dead borin” in a dead borin voice, exactly like Linda. Nothing else will be alllowed. Otherwise its dead borin.

Linda is coming on to Trevor. Trevor is “Dunno, Yeah, No” bemused by her. Or he starts gormlessly grinnin and laughin at her.

This is dead funneh, ent it? That smirk is not going to leave your face. Look,

Talk about the odd couple. This is about as quirky-awkward as it gets.

Trevor has gone round to see Linda in her shoe shop. Then they’ve gone to Roxeh and the pub. Trevor is being “dead quiet”. “Do you think I’m dead pretteh?” asks Linda. “Yeah” goes Trevor.

Trevor likes sitting in graveyards but not dancing in discos.

Linda is expecting a goodnight kiss off Trevor. But Trevor doesn’t know -  even if he wants to, or how to. Flummoxed. A right Flummox is our Trevor.

He’s playing at it. Or alienated by it. This chatting up malarkey. This going out with a girl stuff. Best to alienate back. Play it cool. To hide your embarrassment at feeling embarrassed. Best act catatonic, or moronic – then nobody, no girl, will know how hopeless you are at all of this.

He stood Linda up did Trevor. So she’s ditched him. He doesn’t want to be ditched. So he’s trolling off around to her place (see the silly wanky walk?) Linda’s got her own silly walk. To go along with her other gummy chew sillyisms

Are you being funneh again?!” Eh? Yeah. He is. He’s a funny lad. A right oddbodball. Whats he want anyway? He dunno. Summat.

I’m still laughing. This is still dead funneh. Anyway, he’s redeemed himself; carried a granny up the stairs. He’s quite used to handling dead old bodies (being an undertakers assistant) or old bodies that might be about to be dead.

Time for the Kiss of Death scene, (or The Worst Way To Kiss A Girl Ever scene)

Whats going on here? A wrestling for control to see who holds the power. She laughs at him, so he’ll laugh at her.  She’s ridiculing him, he’s mocking her. She wants him to kiss her, he withholds what she wants. She wants to go upstairs for a shag, he gets embarrassed. She gets fed up, he feels inadequate. She feels frustrated, he gets scared. She feels disappointed, he’s walking out. She feels rejected, he feels resigned. She asks him out, he goes “Yeah”. Think it ends in a draw.

A whole load of ambivalence. Thats what this has been about. The push and pull of girl-boy romance, to the nth degree of embarrassment.

In the end he ends up going to the disco; but he doesn’t dance with her. So she dances with Trevs mate Ronnie instead. Trev gets pissed off. Then he starts laughing that sneery fuck-off laugh again.

I doubt Trevor and Linda got very far with one another. She’d have quickly moved on to some other bloke who had the balls to go upstairs with her, a guy not as dead borin as Trevor turned out to be.

He’ll have lost interest in her and probably ended up not having a proper girlfriend until he’s properly grown up – say, by his mid-30′s. In the interim he’s misfitted himself through a series of dead-end jobs (buh-bum) or maybe joined some goth band as an angry drummer. Or maybe he went off the rails…….

I love these early Plays For Today Leigh did for the BBC between 76-84: Nuts in May, Abigails Party, Home Sweet Home, Grown-Ups, and this Kiss of Death. There’s more genuine laughs to be had. They’re parodic but not unsympathetic. There’s absurdity and affection and ridiculousness, plus a warm kind of melancholy tugging at you – at me – somewhere hopelessly hurt inside.

Don’t think I’m ever not going to watch these all too human, bittersweet sad slices of life.

Dir: Mike Leigh, UK

8.5/10

Gonna have to give it such a high mark because it makes me laugh everytime. I don’t mean like “laugh” laugh, I mean like honk, in loud uncontrollable guffaws like a demented donkey.

Home Sweet Home (1982)

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Every lead character in a Mike Leigh film has to have a silly walk. Or a funny facial gurn. Or a quirky behavioural tic. Or a dopey vocal mannerism. If they’ve got them all they can be said to be inhabiting their character in a way that makes them distinctively, and unmistakenly, Leigh-like.

It also helps if they fancy a cup of tea or are putting the kettle on.

There are the usual requisite number of Leigh loonies in this film. There’s:

Harold Fish with his jokey inane patter. And his wife June Fish; hugely exasperated by husband Harold. Prone to hot flushes and patting away at her neurotically stressed neck.

Then we’ve got Gordon (Timothy Spall is a perfect Gordon) Got the silly walk going on. But when he’s not silly walking he’s sat in an armchair like a fat bleedin slob. Fat bleedin slob is what his wife Hazel (Kay Stonham) calls him. She’s not getting enough. So is turning her beady flirtations onto Stanley. Stan will give her what she wants. Because he’s already giving it to June. Only June wants more than to be his Afternoon Shag. She wants to be his Love. But Stan isn’t really into Love. Not since his wife walked out and left him.

Monosyllabic Stanley is, for a Mike Leigh lead, a relatively boringly normal bloke. No  silly walk, stupid tic, or gormless gurn detectable. Maybe thats why all the posties wifes are after him. Because he’s not mentally defective. Because he can walk up a hill without getting out of breath. Got stamina has Stan. Got the required stuff.  Hazel obviously thinks so; here she is asking Stan if he fancies a cup of tea

Of course Stan fancies a cup of tea. Fancies a bit of Hazel too. But she ain’t giving it to him that easy. He’s got to work for it. She’s in control here. She’ll decide what he gets, when she feels like it, when she’s ready for it.

Stan can wait. He’s still got June (Su Elliot) simmering away on his backburner. But June doesn’t want to be his simmering shag-pot anymore. She wants him, his love. She’s stifled and frustrated at home with half-wit hubby Harold (Tim Barker); the dopey twannock. I can see why he irritates her (he’s irritating me) Here, I’ve spliced together Junes marital frustrations with, and loathings of, her sad twat of a Harold

Beans on toast for tea. No pudding. Thats how much Mrs Fish can’t stand Mr Fish. I wonder what depths of idiocy or inadequacy within the actor Tim Barker made him come up with his Harold character. On descending levels of irritating I’d put Harold Fish on a sub-par with Jane Horricks’s twiddly anorexic Nicola in Life is Sweet.

Harold is clueless, gormless. I can’t laugh. I want to stuff him in a small toy box and jam down the lid. June’s “I’m a very desirable woman” betrays the pathos at the heart of her delusion.

His reaction to her telling him shes having an affair with Stan is totally typical. He’s like a little boy who can’t comprehend what the big adults are telling him. He’s impervious because he’s immature. Because he’s impossible.

Things are going to have to come to a head. Stan and daughter Tina have been invited around to Hazel and Gordons for Sunday Dinner. Hazel has made her move. She’s gone for her snog. June knocks on the door. Much bleedin barging and bleedin shouting and bleedin slapping ensue.

So that was life on a Hitchin council estate in 1980. When you were a postie, or a posties wife. You hated your husband; and you misunderstood your wife. Your little life was hemmed in with, and consumed by, marital discord, dissatisfaction, distemper, denial. You’d be shouting at her or killing her with inanity; and she’s be screeching at you and calling you a fat bleedin pig, or deriding you for being a pathetic wimp. That was your life back then. And maybe it still is. Your telly might have got bigger and better, but nothing much else did.

Dir: Mike Leigh, UK

7.5/10

Mostly Martha (2001)

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Having seen Martina Gedeck’s fantastic solo performance in The Wall earlier this year I’ve been looking around for other films she’s been in. The Lives of Others I’ve seen (and reviewed) Here she is in a German rom-com from 2001.

Keith Jarretts Country rolls over the opening credits. Promising start. (well, sort of. Don’t listen to his Belonging Quartet really. Jan Gabarek’s sax is too sharp, like a knife being scratched across glass) Turns out the film is something of a Jarrett-fest; the encore from Tokyo Sun Bear concerts, beginning of Bregenz concert keeps popping in.

Gedeck hasn’t convinced me. Not enough kook in her cook. Too sweet. Could have done with spicing herself up into something more astringent, with a sharper cutting edge. As it is she keeps getting herself too easily lost in lovely looks.

The Big Tragedy that happens doesn’t really hit you that hard. Instead, there’s a soft need to soothe with sugary sentiment; even the angry conflict bits feel like they’re being bounced up and down off soft cushions. Film wants you to eat its cake of cute a bit too often.

A muddled ending; soft pedals towards something too feel-good to be true.

And where was the com in this rom? There is none (well, its German isn’t it!!) And her rom with Italian sous chef is more powder puff topping than the real deal (meal) The Mario gets overdubbed because his German was atrocious; which makes him sound like his voice isn’t entirely connected to his face; and any romantic charm he may have had is cut-out of cardboard cliche.

Thought I’d be liking the inserted Jarrett bits. But it feels odd to be listening to his stuff as background rather than foreground. I’m used to hearing Jarrett as the main event; here its more like twinkly twee decoration, and vaguely distracting. And that Country track he did with Gabarek feels like totally the wrong pick to garnish this film with.

Overall impression: a German film made with one eye on the American market. It kept going off the boil into gentle simmer; not quite got enough heat or passion behind it.

More of a sweet pudding of a film. With a soft soggy centre.

Dir: Sandra Nettelbeck, Germany

6/10