Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Friday, 13 September 2013

Italian drama or French thriller ? - Both !

Funny how some dvds sit on the shelf unwatched for years, until suddenly one decides to see them ...

THE SON'S ROOM, 2001. In a small Italian town, a close-knit happy family enjoy the pleasures of life: shared meals, a nice home, athletics. Giovanni and Paola are supportive, but not intrusive, parents to their teenage children Irene and Andrea. The lost list of neuroses that Giovanni hears in his work as a psychoanalyst is in sharp contrast to calmness of his own existance. One Sunday morning Giovanni receives an urgent call from a patient. He cannot go running with his son as he had promised. Andrea goes diving instead with friends - it is a small decision that will change everything. 

Nanni Moretti presents an emotive and poignant study of a modern Italian family touched by loss. THE SON'S ROOM won Italy's first Palme d'Or at Cannes for 23 years and was a worldwide success. 

It reminds me why I love character-driven European films: the pace is slow, the camera lingers and the theme is frighteningly simple but almost always universal. In this case, a loving family has lost a son; the grieving process and the letting go are painful and inevitable. The father (Moretti) regrets that morning when his changed plans led to his son's death ... his sessions with his depressed or manic clients reflect his own state of mind until he finds he cannot deal with them any more. He and his wife are drifting apart. Then a girl arrives who shows them their son in a new light, and provides the cathartic release the family need, as the parents and the daughter end up driving her and her new boyfriend to the French border, as part of their hitch-hiking holiday, it provies a lovely pleasant ending. It is odd though that the son's body is being sealed in a steel lined coffin - is this usual practice in Italy ?
Nanni Moretti writes and directs capturing the romance and tragedy of living everyday. My friend Martin cried buckets at this, I was not that moved, but the ending is nicely cathartic. His script though focuses on the father and son, leaving the wife's role (Laura Morante) rather underdeveloped.

HARRY, HE'S HERE TO HELP. A 2000 French thriller by Dominik Moll.  When Michel bumps into old school acquaintance Harry en route to a summer holiday with his wife and 3 young daughters, he thinks nothing of it. But when Harry invites himself and girlfriend Plum to Michel's holiday farmhouse, replaces Michel's broken down car with a sparkling new jeep and does all he can to ingratiate himself into Michel's life, Michel finally begins to suspect that things are not quite as they should be. Before long, Michel realises that Harry is determined to solve all of his problems without letting anything or anyone get in the way (as his bothersome parents and brother find out) ... This is a nail-biting and darkly comic thriller, redolent of influences such as Hitchcock, Patricia Highsmith, Chabrol or the Coen Brothers and features an award-winning performance from Sergi Lopez in the title role.

English critic Alexander Walker got it right about HARRY, HE'S HERE TO HELP: "A thriller that would have made Hitchcock grind his teeth in envy".Michel (Laurent Lucas) hot and bothered on his trip, does not really remember Harry .... clearly there is something not healthy about Harry's interest but it takes a while for the real story to emerge, and there are some carefully observed and funny moments on the way. Is he even the embodiment of some of Michel's darker feelings about the everyday demands of family life and work preventing him from developing his talent as a writer. Perhaps Michel should have been more charismatic, instead of the dullard here, he's the kind of guy you would not notice. It is nicely worked out and keeps us watching, to a tense and scary conclusion - have we seen the last of Harry? one almost expects him to suddenly re-appear, more insane than ever. Great fun indeed.

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