Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

29 August 2014

Things I've Seen Recently (That You Might Wanna See)

I started watching Jon S. Baird's Filth thinking what have I gotten myself into? I couldn't really remember why I had moved Filth to the top of my queue, but there it was on top of my DVD player and so here I was watching it. (I probably queued it because of its star – James McAvoy – or because it had something to do with police corruption. I do love a good crime film.)

Anyway, Filth is a strange, surrealist kind of thing, around which I was having a bit of trouble wrapping my brain, until I remembered/realized that it was based on an Irvine Welsh novel. At this point I decided just to go with it. Filth is a surrealist satire of masculinity, policing, and (perhaps) Scotland more generally. It's about a man who is totally losing it, but sort of has no idea that he's anything other than the awesome specimen of masculinity he imagines himself to be. Baird's film, itself, keeps us in suspense about how much the main character understands about himself, or what he's up to. This works for a long while and is fascinating for most of the film's runtime.

The acting, too, is really great. Shirley Henderson in particular, is excellent, but the cast is very good all around, with lots of recognizable faces: McAvoy plus Jamie Bell, Eddie Marsan, Imogen Poots (who was Zac Efron's love interest in the recent rom-com That Awkward Moment), Gary Lewis, Jim Broadbent. Filth really is filthy, too, and McAvoy is suitably distasteful in the role, but I wondered about how satirical the whole thing really is. Baird's screenplay and direction not only satirizes everything about Filth's protagonist, he also sort of can't help loving him. I think Filth would actually like it if its main character actually were everything he imagines himself to be. This is an odd tack for a satire to take, and it is something that, after a while, began to grate on me as the film continued. It's all good and well to demonstrate how distasteful masculinity of the sort on display in Filth is, but if you also secretly think this kind of masculinity is cool, you kind of lose me.

A film I can recommend completely without reservation, on the other hand is Paweł Pawlikowski's Ida. The film is in black and white and is the story of a Polish orphan who wishes to become a nun. Before she takes her vows the mother superior requires her to see her only living relative, an aunt who is also a hard-drinking, chainsmoking judge. Ida's aunt tells her that though she was raised by Catholics she was born Jewish. She begins to tell Ida about her family and what happened to her family during the genocide of European Jews during the Second World War.

This film is so good that I want to give nothing else away. Pawlikowski's film is only eighty minutes long, but packs an enormous emotional wallop. It's also beautifully, gorgeously shot, and superbly performed. Ida's aunt is played by Polish film star Agata Kulesza and it is one of my favorite performances of the year: by turns funny, pathetic, witty, and heartbreaking.

Ida has been selected as Poland's entry into the Foreign Language competition for the 2014 Academy Awards, and it seems to me like a shoo-in. It's on DVD already, so check it out and get a jump on this year's Oscars. This is one of the best films of the year.