International rescue

ManCalledOve1

As a long-established tennis widower, I feel very fortunate to have a Curzon cinema in a workable radius, especially during Wimbledon fortnight. This week, I took advantage of clement weather and a free afternoon/evening to forge my own European foreign-language double-bill. (In fact, one of them was a bit like a tennis match between two champions.) Both films I saw are, as it happens, available on Curzon Home Cinema, which means if you don’t live in a decent radius of a Curzon, or other arthouse chain, you can stream them for a tenner for 48 hours: A Man Called Ove (En man som heter Ove), from Sweden, and The Midwife (Sage Femme), from France/Belgium.

TheMidwife1

I actually saw them in reverse order, and I’m glad that I did, as I preferred Ove. The Midwife, directed by Martin Provost, whose previous work I’m not au fait with, is notable for its pairing of two celebrated French actresses, the regal 60s icon Catherine Deneuve, now 73, and Catherine Frot, a decade or so younger and less well known to me, but showered with awards in her prolific career. Their uneasy reunion – Deneuve was the lover of Frot’s father, a champion swimmer, who committed suicide when she dumped him – is the engine that drives the film, with the elder, boozy floozy bringing the tight-arsed, dedicated midwife out of her celibate shell – ironically, she’s the one with the teenage son, but he’s never home. The relationship between the two women is tragi-comic as Deneuve has only looked her onetime stepdaughter up because she’s got a brain tumour and has no actual family.

There’s no doubting the fun Deneuve is having, playing a feckless, dishonest, gambling goodtime girl, but Fort’s is the more interesting character, if rather one-note. (We see her successfully and lovingly delivering gooey baby after gooey baby, as if her job is an act of sainthood.) I have a lot of time for contemporary French films, because I’m shallow enough to aspire to the lifestyle, and enjoy seeing grown-ups sit down at a bar for a single glass of red wine or a chalice of beer and a fag (or, in Deneuve’s case at one point, a lovely looking omelette and fries). I quite enjoyed Frot’s allotment neighbour and love interest, played by Olivier Gourmet, but after Deneuve’s operation on the tumour, The Midwife becomes a little idealised and gooey.

ManCalledOve2

A Man Called Ove, from Swedish director Hannes Holm and adapted from a popular novel by Fredrik Backman, also hinges on a suicide, albeit an unsuccessful one. Rolf Lassgard, usually seen with a fine mane of hair (he’s best known as Wallander), plays the bald widower of the title, initially presented as a grumpy, interfering busybody and self-styled caretaker of a pleasant neighbourhood estate. He locks up bicycles that are improperly parked, shouts at a woman with a Chihuahua, rages at a new neighbour backing a trailer up a path not designated for motor vehicles, refuses to accept that a single bunch of flowers costs more than one in a two-for-one offer, and so on. But Ove is not just angry, he is sad. We see him talking to his beloved wife Sonja’s grave (“I miss you”), while replacing the flowers, and he assures her that he will join her soon. (After 43 years at the same company, he has recently been let go, another act of cruelty by a world that seems to have left him to rot.)

ManCalledOve3

It has a certain, deadpan, Amèlie-like storybook quality, especially in the flashbacks, through which we learn of Ove’s life. You may find some of it a little twee, and that the more prosaically daft details – such as Ove’s feud with a neighbour based exclusively in their opposing choice of car make – Ove worships the Saab, his nemesis Rune drives a Volvo, and heinously replaces it with a BMW – undercut the grave seriousness of both Ove’s suicidal tendencies, and the tragedy in his backstory, but I rather liked the incongruity. When – no spoilers – a tragic event happens in one of Ove’s early flashbacks to childhood and encroaching young-adulthood, it’s almost played by Holm in the same off-the-cuff style, and for me it makes the mortality all the more portentous.

There’s a Hollywood remake in here waiting to happen. Re-stage it in Omaha, or Cleveland, or Westchester, stick a curmudgeonly Bryan Cranston in a bald wig in the main role (the Sight & Sound reviewer suggests Jack Nicholson, but he’s way too old; Ove is only supposed to be 59), and there’s a diversity-friendly sidekick waiting to balance it all up. Ove is initially irritated by his new neighbours – Swedish husband, Iranian wife Parvaneh (Bahar Pars), two adorable kids – but it’s clear that Parveneh will be his salvation, with her no-nonsense attitude and refusal to play Ove’s game of one man against the world. He will learn to love the kids, and get over himself, and it will be Parveneh – terrible driver, scatty householder – who teaches him. The foregone conclusion has surprises along the way, though. This is a story that rewards. (People tell me they loved the novel.)

I’ve thought a lot about Ove since seeing it, and him. The Midwife, less so.

I have seen a lot of foreign-language films I loved in the first six months of 2017: Elle, The Salesman, Graduation, The Handmaiden, Neruda, The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Maki, Toni Erdmann, El Pastor, The Other Side of Hope, Frantz, Heal the Living … But also, some exceptional films in the English language, both UK-made and American: Prevenge, Manchester by the Sea, Christine, Moonlight, The Lost City of Z, Free Fire, Baby Driver, A Quiet Passion, Lady Macbeth, The Levelling … I also liked Personal Shopper, a French film largely in English, and starring an American, and two of the most celebrated, and decorated, films from Hollywood: Moonlight and La La Land. All are welcome in my tent.

TheLevellingEK

It doesn’t matter, but I think my Top 10 have been (in a fairly casual order):

  1. The Levelling | Hope Dickson Leach (UK)
  2. El Pastor | Jonathan Cenzual Burley (Spain)
  3. A Quiet Passion | Terence Davies (UK)
  4. The Lost City of Z | James Grey (US)
  5. Neruda | Pablo Larraìn (Chile/Argentina/France/Spain)
  6. Graduation | Cristian Mungiu (Romania)
  7. Baby Driver | Edgar Wright (UK)
  8. Heal the Living | Katell Quillévéré (France/US/Belgium)
  9. David Lynch: The Art Life | Rick Barnes, Jon Nguyen, Olivia Neergaard-Holm (US)
  10. The Handmaiden | Park Chan-wook (South Korea)

Another week of tennis to go. Love all.

Advertisements

Writer’s blog: Week 41, Sunday

Photo on 2013-10-13 at 09.15

Guess why it’s been a long while since I’ve blogged, solipsistic diary style, about my writer’s life? Because I’ve been crushingly busy actually writing. For my job. So today, Sunday, a day of rest, here I sit, and here I sip, in a unique position. One, I have what we’ll round up to “five minutes” to take stock. It is an unusual Sunday morning in many other respects. Chiefly, I am in the conservatory of a very nice hotel. But I am not on holiday. I am here, in the rarefied environs of Cheltenham, for the Literature Festival, where last night I appeared, live and direct and strapped into a Lady Gaga-style headset mic, in a rain-lashed tent, “sold out” (except the tickets were free), banging on about subtitled films and telly and the joys thereof.

For this unpaid job (I know, the devil’s work, don’t tell Philip Hensher etc.), I was put up in a very nice hotel for the night. You have to grab such opportunities. The hotel just plied me with a very nice Full English and I have taken coffee to the lounge to listen to the rain and traffic in a wicker chair. It may be pissing down, but the sort of very nice person who attends a literature festival – and Cheltenham is less a festival, more a 10-day way of life – soldiers on regardless, hungry for stimulus of a literary bent. I so wish I could afford the time and money to come here for a week’s holiday and “do” the rich calendar of talky events. I am easily the least famous speaker in the fat Cheltenham booklet. (As I tarried in the “Writers’ Room” hospitality tent before my gig, I saw John Bishop and David Davies and no doubt half a dozen august novelists I wouldn’t recognise from their ruddy faces and tweed coats.)

Cheltenham2013

It’s not unpaid work. I am here as an ambassador of Radio Times, whose presence at the festival is considerable, and who pay me a stipend to be their Film Editor. I can’t tell you how many of the hardy band of lit-hounds who filled the Exchange tent from 7.30 last night were Radio Times readers, but all were interested enough in foreign films and telly to come along, in the rain, when the pubs and restaurants of Cheltenham warmly beckoned. I told them that it was an privilege to be among them, and it was. I had a basic PowerPoint presentation to help me, and a stack of DVDs to give me something tangible to hold and wave, but it was essentially me talking about my own childhood introduction to foreign films and telly, and sharing some thoughts about the importance of availing ourselves of other cultures through “national cinema” and, increasingly, imported foreign TV. But the crux, for me, was getting the audience involved, and it was a joy to have them shout out the foreign films that first inspired them. A shared experience in bad weather. Terrific.

Photo on 2013-10-03 at 10.25

This, above, is one of the jobs I’ve been doing rather than blogging for free. I cannot give away specific details for – here we go again – superstitious reasons, but I have been locked in an office with another comedian, with whom I’ve been cooking up a pilot script of a new comedy. It’s been something like seven years since I did this with Lee Mack on series one of Not Going Out and I’ve had a few flashbacks, mostly good ones. You’ll see whiteboard and Post-It notes. It’s that serious. (If I had an office to work in full-time, you wouldn’t see the walls for Post-it notes. But they take a dim view of that at the British Library.)

Photo on 2013-10-03 at 10.24 #2

Fruit. Marker pens. Cups of coffee. Through such talismanic items are scripts co-written. Look at the size of these Sports Direct zero-hours mugs which we found in the kitchenette. My co-writer enjoys funny tea in a gallon of hot water.

BlogFriOct4

Because I can be in four places at once, I’ve also been battling away with a radical second draft of a pilot script of my own, which hit a patch of turbulence, was then becalmed, and has since chugged back into life after a useful meeting with the two executives I owe it to. (What insight this must offer: vague descriptions about projects with no names and no pack drill.) I am also script-editing the second series of Badults, whose first read-through with “the boys” took place on Friday, so that’s off the starting blocks. I am also doing a “read and notes” on another script for another set of people. And until yesterday, I was working up a viable presentation about subtitled films and telly. And writing my first ever TVOD for the Guardian Guide, which you’ll be able to read next Saturday.

It has been whatever the positive and grateful version of a living hell is called. And I think I have earned this little break in a wicker chair before heading back to London to put my clips together for tomorrow’s Telly Addict. I plan to do no work whatsoever in the car.

Photo on 2013-10-13 at 09.13

Oh, and “that” read-through (left-to-right: Tom, Ben, Matthew, exec Gavin, script editor me, producer Izzy) …

Badults2read11Oct