Sep 20, 2017

24FPS @ LFF 2017: Mini-Reviews 1

So Help Me God
Dir: Jean Libon, Yves Hinant
The true crime documentary is going through a particularly interesting period right now, with series like Making A Murderer and The Keepers and films as straightforward as Amanda Knox or as formally interesting as Casting JonBenet. So Help Me God doesn't break any new ground in the way it's made, but it does show most of us a job within the justice system we're not familiar with, through a highly engaging and interesting woman.

Anne Gurwez is a Belgian investigating magistrate, a job that seems to be somewhere between detective and prosecutor and carries a great deal of influence on how people are dealt with within the Belgian system. The film follows her over the course of several months, as her day to day work on current cases coincides with the reinvestigation of a 20 year old double murder.

Gurwez herself is the best reason to give So Help Me God a look. She seems like she takes a nuanced approach to her work; tough but good humoured, able to be talked round to giving someone a chance if she likes them, but sharp tongued if she detects any hint of bullshit and deadly serious when the situation demands it. This mix often provokes some amusing juxtapositions of the gruesomeness of some of her work and the matter of fact and generally good humoured way she approaches it (see the scene where a body is exhumed in the cold case).

There are many memorable moments here, some are quite light, like the scene in which a dominatrix accused of theft amuses Gurwez by discussing some of the strangest requests her clients have made, but others are much darker and heavier. The film hits hardest in the investigation of a horrifying infanticide, which is immediately followed by a coldly matter of fact confession by the child's mother, who tells a story that suggests insanity in the calmest and most measured tones. It's a truly disturbing scene that nothing else in the film comes close to matching.

Overall, this is a pretty conventional film made engaging by an unconventional personality at its centre and some compelling stories, it's perhaps more suited to the BBC's Storyville than a cinema, but it's well worth a watch if you're interested in true crime.

Dir: Jamie Thraves
Aiden Gillen is one of those actors who can make everything he's in a little bit better. Especially as he's got into middle age, he's become one of those actors who always disappears into a character, and that is the jumping off point for Pickups, which Gillen co-wrote with director Jamie Thraves.

Gillen plays Aiden, an Irish actor who is well known enough to get recognised regularly, but not George Clooney famous. He's recently divorced and preparing to make a new film, in which he's going deep into preparation to play a serial killer. It seems, however, that he may have got a bit too far into this character.

The premise of Pickups (the title referring both to casual sex and to additional shooting after a film's main production) isn't wildly original; a mid-life crisis coinciding with an actor going too deep into a role, but it should provide ample room for an actor like Gillen to get his teeth into a starring role (he's in practically every frame of the film). Unfortunately, I found the film meandering and lacking much insight. Narration frequently tells us what Aiden is thinking at any given moment, which it doesn't need to do, Gillen is a good enough actor to show us without our needing to be told most of what the voiceover says. Even with this though, everything is on the surface. The disconnect between Aiden's real life – the daughter he hasn't seen for some time back in Ireland – and his work on this character is interesting in concept, but the screenplay doesn't say much that's especially new or insightful about either side of that divide. 

The overarching story never coheres into anything terribly interesting, so what we end up with is more a series of vignettes. Some are interesting enough, interactions with fans often throw up an amusing moment, but even when we're supposed to be unnerved because he's too deep in the character, this doesn't feel like it bleeds over into these interactions. Only one vignette stuck in my mind, a brief moment with Antonia Campbell Hughes as an actress friend of Aiden's, who he suggests should have a part in the film. It's the one moment that chills the blood.

It's interesting to see Gillen play a character whose experiences seem so close to his own, but because of that it disappointing that Pickups doesn't feel more insightful. Ultimately if you want to see a version of an actor blurring the line between life and acting I'd suggest seeking out the underseen I Love A Man In Uniform rather than this.

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