Tag Archives: Charlotte Rampling

Sister Act

Benedetta

by Hope Madden

In 17th Century Italy, a nun challenged the church as well as social and sexual norms, rallying a town around her. Was she a charlatan? Was she a saint? Regardless, she seems to be a fascinating image of early feminism. You’ll have to imagine that yourself, though, because her story has been brought to the screen by Paul Verhoeven, which means her story is now soft-core porn.

Who would have thought that the director behind Showgirls would eventually make a hot lesbian nun movie? I mean, besides everyone.

Verhoeven challenged preconceptions about himself as a filmmaker (mine, anyway) in 2012 when he released the most discombobulating rape-revenge thriller, Elle. A masterstroke of a performance by Isabelle Huppert certainly helped.

With Benedetta, Verhoeven takes another shot at ogling the female form inside a context that suggests that ogling is really empowering.

Benedetta (Virginie Efira) was dedicated to the Virgin Mary as a young child by her wealthy father and has been at the convent since she was 10. She’s content, a devoted disciple. As an adult, though, the sexual awakening triggered by new novice Bartolomea (Daphne Patakia) coincides with ecstatic visions of both righteous and demonic leanings.

Is Benedetta crying out for attention and power, or is something supernatural truly afoot?

That right there — the question of the source of these visions, whether the result of a lust for power, true divine intervention, or undiagnosed schizophrenia — might have given Verhoeven’s film a cogent central conflict.

Naturally, his interest is in the sexual awakening.

Which is fine, if uninspired. You might be surprised by how many films you can find that depict shockingly attractive sisters engaging in nun-on-nun action. (I recommend Alucarda.)

At well over two hours, the film feels remarkably self-indulgent. There are the requisite nods toward the corruption of the church, but Verhoeven, who co-wrote an adaptation of Judith Brown’s book with David Birke, earns points for sidestepping the demonizing of the Mother Superior and the other nuns.

Instead, the always luminous Charlotte Rampling portrays Mother Superior as a wise, graceful and respectable businesswoman working within a profoundly misogynistic system. Scenes between Rampling and Lambert Wilson, as the ambitious and crooked head of the regional church, spark with wit and cynicism.

Still, the director cannot pass up the opportunity to fetishize an act of church-sanctioned torture. One step up, two steps back and all that.

If you’re longing for a film about women and the historical, hysterical afflictions they faced because they were women, but you really miss seeing these lessons from a leeringly male perspective, I have a hard time imagining a film that better suits your mood than Benedetta.

Old Money, Old Problems

The Little Stranger

by Hope Madden

There were a lot of reasons to be excited about The Little Stranger.

The film is director Lenny Abrahamson’s follow up to his staggeringly wonderful 2015 film Room. It stars three of the most solid character actors you will find (whether you know the names or not): Domhnall Gleeson, Ruth Wilson and Will Poulter.

Who else? Oh, yes, Charlotte Rampling, who’s been a miracle of understated power since the mid-Sixties.

On top of all that, it may (or may not) be a period British ghost story, and who doesn’t dig that?

But something’s gone terribly wrong with The Little Stranger.

It looks stunning. Abrahamson’s camera captures postcard quality images of spooky old mansion quarters, lonesome countrysides, sparse bachelor apartments.

Gleeson’s performance is wonderful: restrained and proper to a degree that suits this particular character. Poulter (who is a marvelous and amazingly versatile actor) is underused, as is Rampling, although she cooly delivers enough decisive lines to make an impression.
Performances, too, are picture-perfect.

Wilson impresses most as Caroline Ayres, the put-upon sister in an old-money family that’s seen its share of heartache. She’s being courted, so to speak, by reserved country doctor Faraday (Gleeson), while she helps to care for her badly injured (inside and out) WWII veteran brother Roddy (Poulter), quietly helping him manage his responsibilities to the estate.

Caroline longs to be free. Longing is maybe the most palpable theme in the film, along with the underlying nod to classism. Unfortunately, by Act 3, you’ll be longing for some action of any kind.

Abrahamson’s film, adapted from Sarah Waters’s novel by screenwriter Lucinda Coxon (The Danish Girl), moves at an iceberg’s pace. Though the bumps, burns and bruises in the night are developed with the proper haunted house atmosphere, the resolution is so underdeveloped and slow in coming that the film cannot help but disappoint.

The reveal makes sense to a degree, and bravo to Abrahamson for expecting audiences to have paid enough attention to earlier dialog that we might fathom the conclusion. At the same time, with too much thought, that reveal can fall apart. So, if you’re not paying attention you will have no idea what just happened. Pay too much attention and the mystery’s resolution will disintegrate on you.

It’s unfortunate because there is an awful lot of talent and aesthetic going to waste here.





Cinema Killed the Video Star

Assassin’s Creed

by Hope Madden

What does it take to make a worthwhile movie based on a video game? Because it isn’t just talent – Assassin’s Creed proves that.

Like Warcraft, Creed pits a genuinely gifted director against all that terrible cinematic history – from 1992’s Super Mario Brothers through the Resident Evil series to this year’s Angry Birds Movie – and comes up lacking.

Australian director Justin Kurzel quietly proved his mettle with an astonishing true crime horror film in 2011 called Snowtown. Last year, he teamed up with Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard – authentic talents if ever there were – for an imaginative and bloody take on Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

And now the three re-team, along with time-tested craftsmen Jeremy Irons, Brendan Gleeson and Charlotte Rampling, to adapt the popular time traveling video game.

Fassbender is Cal, a death row convict secretly saved by the Abstergo science lab. There, Dr. Sofia Rikkin (Cotillard) will use him to channel his ancestor Aguilar (also Fassbender) – member of a shadowy team battling the Knights Templar for the freedom of humanity.

So, we bounce back and forth in time between a modern day SciFi story and a dusty Inquisition-era adventure. Cal struggles against his newfound captivity and the after-effects of the experiments; Aguilar parkours his way through ancient Spain, trying to keep the Templar from the apple that started all our troubles back in Eden.

If the problem here is not talent, what, then?

As usual, it begins with the writing. Kurzel works with his Macbeth collaborator Michael Lesslie, as well as ne’er do wells Adam Cooper and Bill Collage (Allegiant, Exodus: Gods and Kings). They put together a story that’s as convoluted and bloated as it is superficial.

The cast gets little opportunity to do anything other than deliver dour lines with stone faces, each one developing less of a sense of character than what you would have actually found in the video game itself.

Kurzel’s no help, his mirthless presentation undermining thrills at every turn. When he isn’t bombarding the action with murky visual effects, he’s pulling the audience from the midst of a climactic battle and back into the lab to watch Cotillar and/or Irons look on with clinical interest.

Yawn.

Maybe it’s impossible to capture the visceral thrill of gaming within the comparatively passive experience of cinema. Maybe the rich backstories of modern video games are only rich if you’re used to video game narratives. Hopefully the movies will get it right at some point, or at least they’ll stop wasting such incredible talent on such forgettable nonsense.

Verdict-2-0-Stars





Masterful Restraint

45 Years

by George Wolf

If you were surprised to see the name Charlotte Rampling in this year’s Oscar nominees, 45 Years will justify that recognition in a hurry.

It only takes a few scenes before you realize the subtle depth Rampling brings to her role as Kate Mercer, a woman on the verge of celebrating 45 years of marriage to her husband, Geoff (Tom Courtenay). As their big anniversary party approaches, a bombshell piece of news gets dropped.

Swiss authorities have recovered the body of Geoff’s old girlfriend Katya, five decades after she fell into a crevasse while the two were hiking. Though plans for the party move forward, the couple struggles with the effects of this sudden revelation.

Writer/director Andrew Haigh adapts David Constantine’s short story with elegance and restraint. Secrets are at work here, but they have nothing to do with Katya’s accident. What Haigh is after isn’t nearly as easy to define or resolve.

What bonds two people together for a lifetime? How easily can those bonds be shaken to the core?

Rampling and Courtenay are simple perfection, creating a lived-in chemistry that is utterly authentic. There is never a doubt that their characters have built their lives together, and the actors bring the gravitas that often renders dialog unnecessary. Half-hearted smiles and brief glances can be deafening, and Haigh confidently allows these small moments the space they need to cut deep.

Kate can “smell Katya’s perfume in every room,” and the curiosity about her husband’s former life begins to alter Kate’s perception of her entire marriage, just as that marriage is set to be celebrated for its success.

Rampling may indeed deliver the finest performance of her illustrious career. Ultimately, she is the conduit for making the couples’ intimate details resonate on a universal level, and she does it with deceptive ease.

45 Years may speak softly, but it compels you to listen hard, and sends you home from the party with a shattering final shot that may not leave your head for days.

Verdict-4-0-Stars