The Club 3/5
With a face that isn’t so much lined as engraved by hardship and suffering, Margaret (Rachel Griffiths) is a woman who seems to be barely existing as Mammal (16s) opens.
Drifting through life, Margaret can hardly summon enough emotion to react when her ex-husband Matt (Michael McElhatton) appears to tell her that their teenage son has gone missing.
Soon, however, as if trying to compensate for her missing son, Margaret invites the homeless, badly-beaten Joe (Barry Keoghan) into her home, only to discover that Joe is a feral street kid, and not a boy to be easily tamed.
Directed and co-written (with Glenn Montgomery) by Rebecca Daly, Mammal is a gripping drama that thrives on a sense of growing unease.
Griffiths is superb in the lead role, particularly as Margaret is a character who isn’t sure what she wants out of life, or even if she wants life itself.
As her relationship with the young Joe deepens, the tone darkens as it takes on a quasi- Oedipal dynamic — is Margaret mourning her missing son, or is she craving a lover?
Barry Keoghan is superb in the supporting role, playing Joe as a sullen but likeable imp when he’s around Margaret, but a glue-sniffing, gay-bashing horror when he disappears into the darkness at night.
It’s a noir-ish story that thrives on a sense of inevitable tragedy, with Michael McElhatton’s Matt flailing around in the background trying desperately to save Margaret from her seemingly doomed relationship with Joe and never really understanding, as Margaret instinctively does, that the quality of mercy is not strained.
Chilean director Pablo Larrain isn’t one who likes to make it easy on the viewer — bar his political black comedy No, his films are dour, depressing affairs; with the visuals (grey skies, greyer beaches and bleached out interior scenes) matching the downbeat topic and theme, The Club (18) is peak Larrain.
Set in a small coastal town, four priests reside in a retreat incognito, hiding out from the world after a series of sordid crimes (paedophilia, illegal adoptions, and abetting Pinochet’s torturers among them). Into this mix comes a young priest (Marcelo Alonso), proclaiming himself to be at the vanguard of his ‘new church’, whose job it is to shut down these secret houses and flush out the ‘bad priests.’
However, his hopes that the priests (among them Larrain regular Alfredo Castro) will come to see the error of their ways doesn’t go according to plan.
Larrain, just like he did in Tony Manero and Post Mortem, revels in exploring his anti-heroes and what makes them tick but the ponderous approach makes it difficult to slip into the story this time around, with Larrain keeping his cards close to his chest (motive and backstories are teased out over time).
The murky territory The Club gets into in the third act makes the message tough to ascertain too, but that this house is hell, and that there is little chance of redemption, is very clear.
Victoria (15A) stars Laia Costa as the eponymous heroine, a young Spanish woman working as a barista in Berlin. On her way home from clubbing one night, Victoria falls in with a gang of high-spirited men, including Sonne (Frederick Lau) and Boxer (Franz Rogowski).
The mood is upbeat and friendly as the group wander the Berlin streets, stealing beer and smoking dope, and a tentative flirtation begins between Victoria and Sonne, but just as you think Sebastian Schipper’s film is going to evolve into a German version of Before Sunrise, Boxer tosses a spanner into the works and the story morphs into a high-tension heist-gone-wrong.
That Schipper and his cast manage to plausibly pull off such an audacious switch in tone and narrative is impressive enough in itself, but even more impressive is that the entire movie is composed of a single continuous take — the unsung hero here is cinematographer Sturla Brandth Grøvlen, whose tracking shot captures every nuance the characters deliver and yet somehow manages to be completely unobtrusive.
It’s a dazzling achievement, particularly as the actors – who, playing characters who are Spanish and German, converse for the most part in a rudimentary English — are ad-libbing as they go, both in terms of dialogue and their physical responses to the evolving situation, and it’s difficult to recall a bum note in the entire two and a half hours.
It’s a brilliantly sustained piece of bravura filmmaking, as Schipper blends naturalistic performances, the use of street light and an Altman-esque use of overlapping sound and the story’s offbeat rhythms to create one of the most remarkable films you’ll see this year.
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