Three Dramas from Mongrel Media
I Am Love (January 17/11)
I Am Love is a frustratingly uneven bit of over-the-top filmmaking that never quite becomes the enthralling drama that one might've expected, as director Luca Guadagnino has infused the movie with an oppressively deliberate pace that ultimately (and perhaps inevitably) renders its positive attributes moot. The film, which follows Tilda Swinton's Emma Recchi as she embarks on a torrid affair with her son's best friend, begins with a fair amount of promise, however, with the lengthy dinner party that kicks off the proceedings progressing from banal to strangely fascinating - as Guadagnino stresses the compelling behind-the-scenes efforts of the various servants responsible for sustaining the opulent gathering. It's only as I Am Love segues into its narrative proper that one's interest begins to flag, as the movie slowly-but-surely morphs into a rather routine European drama revolving around infidelity (complete with a tragic death) - albeit one that boasts an unusually lush sense of style. The familiarity of the narrative - coupled with an aggressively slow pace - ensures that the movie becomes more and more tedious as it progresses, while the impressively conceived yet thoroughly baffling finale is sure to leave even astute viewers scratching their heads in confusion. It's a shame, really, given that I Am Love's incredible visuals are often heightened by Swinton's award-worthy performance, yet Guadagnino is, in the final analysis, utterly unable to make the viewer wholeheartedly care about any of the upper-crust characters.
The Secret of Kells
It's hard to deny the strength of The Secret of Kells' undeniably striking and consistently innovative animation style, as directors
Tomm Moore and Nora Twomey
have effectively infused the proceedings with an artful visual sensibility that's certainly quite impressive from start to finish. The problem is, however, that the storyline and the characters clearly haven't received as much attention, as there's never a point at which the viewer is wholeheartedly drawn into the admittedly simple narrative. The movie, which follows a young boy (Evan McGuire's Brendan) as he's drawn into a magical world of fairies and demons, has been infused with a decidedly deliberate pace that ultimately exacerbates its less-than-involving atmosphere, and it does become increasingly clear that Moore and Twomey are relying primarily on the visuals to sustain the viewer's interest. And while this does work for a little while, the novelty of the movie's almost avant-garde animation eventually wears off and the viewer is essentially left with an empty piece of work that admittedly looks really, really good. With the exception of a few isolated down-to-earth episodes (ie Brendan's friendship with a friendly spirit named Aisling), The Secret of Kells is ultimately just too weird for its own good - which ensures that the film doesn't have much to offer all but the most ardent of animation buffs.
When We Leave (March 16/11)
Though dripping with good intentions, When We Leave primarily comes off as a routine, interminably paced drama that boasts few compelling attributes aside from star Sibel Kekilli's admittedly striking performance. Kekilli stars as Umay, a 25-year-old Muslim who encounters problems with her own family after she flees from her abusive husband with her young son - as her parents and her brothers insist that she will continue to bring them shame unless she returns to her spouse. First-time filmmaker Feo Aladag has infused When We Leave with a slow-moving sensibility that ultimately proves disastrous, as the movie, which has been hard-wired with as conventional a narrative as one could envision, is simply never able to wholeheartedly capture and sustain the viewer's interest. This is despite Kekilli's frequently captivating turn as the strong-willed yet all-too-naïve protagonist (ie Umay keeps trying to see her family even though it's made abundantly clear that they want nothing to do with her), and there's little doubt that the movie does, at the very least, succeed as a showcase for several undeniably impressive performances. But the familiarity of the storyline is ultimately too much to comfortably bear, as Aladag offers up a storyline that consists mostly of sequences in which Umay is alternatingly happy with her new life and sad at her family's closed-minded attitudes. (And this is to say nothing of the quick realization that virtually every man in Umay's life is an overbearing bully.) By the time the ridiculous, decidedly anticlimactic finale rolls around, When We Leave has firmly established itself as a rather needless piece of work that doesn't even remotely pack the emotional punch that Aladag has clearly intended.