Tag Archives: Tim Roth

Made in the Shade


by Hope Madden

Usually, when you try to avoid giving any plot synopsis it’s because so much happens in a film that you don’t want to spoil any surprises.

That’s sort of why it’s nearly impossible to describe Michel Franco’s latest drama Sundown. And yet, it’s also kind of the opposite.

The film in its entirety is a sleight of hand. In a way, it’s as if you’re watching a dysfunctional family drama, then an international thriller, but always from the perspective of someone barely involved in what’s going on. The result is simultaneously frustrating and mesmerizing.

Tim Roth provides a slyly empathetic turn as Neil. He and Alice (Charlotte Gainsbourg) plus two young adult kids are on a pricy vacation. Franco lingers for about 25 minutes on pools and vistas, private beaches and ridiculous accommodations. The dialog—what there is of it—amounts to background noise. The point is there’s love here, a bit of distance, and an absolutely insane amount of money.

Then a tragedy calls the family home, cutting short their holiday. From here the show belongs to Roth. Franco trusts the actor to carry the full weight of this character and this film with no exposition at all, next to no emotion and bursts of action withheld until the last half hour of the film.

Roth delivers. A blend of tenderness and resignation, he fascinates and the less he explains the more confoundingly intriguing he becomes. Neil is the mystery, his every action a surprise delivered in the lowest of keys.

Gainsbourg’s tumult of emotion offers a brash counterpoint, while Iazua Larios balances that drama with something raw and sometimes sweet.  

It’s almost amazing how much happens in a film that feels so meandering and lethargic. Sundown defies expectations, but it’s all the better for it.

Scenes from Another Marriage

Bergman Island

by Hope Madden

A lot can go wrong when a filmmaker toys with meta-filmmaking. The movie can become cloyingly clever, it can lose the audience in its self-indulgence, it can become more of a trick than a film.

While Mia Hansen-Løve’s Bergman Island is arguably as self-indulgent a film as you will find, she risks all these trappings but falls to none.

Her movie follows two filmmakers, Chris (Vicky Krieps) and Tony (Tim Roth), who leave their daughter with Chris’s mom so they can devote themselves to some solid writing time. They travel to Fårö island, where Ingmar Bergman lived, worked and shot some of his most famous films.

Bergman Island feels extremely personal in the way that it mirrors, to what degree it’s hard to know, Hansen-Løve’s real-life relationship with filmmaker Olivier Assayas and their devotion to the work of Bergman. There’s also a very intimate sense of the way one filmmaker’s inspiration from the same source can look so very different from another’s. And, of course, there is a kind of dreamy link between generations of filmmakers.

Most importantly, though, this is the story of a couple. Casting is one of Hansen-Løve’s greatest strengths here because, without the committed and vulnerable performances she draws from Krieps and Roth, the film could easily have folded in on itself. It does not, not for a moment.

Roth’s distance as a partner speaks not only to Tony’s ego and insecurity but to his support and understanding – Tony recognizes that this process will be prickly and leaves as much room as he thinks his partner may need to create.

This subtlety becomes a sly maneuver, as you begin to understand the story Chris works on.

The entire tale unfolds on the breathtaking island, where Chris’s stories — her real-life story with Tony, as well as the story within a story she writes — benefit from the windswept beauty of the island.

Bergman Island tells you a lot but leaves it to you to decide what it’s saying. Whatever tale you decipher, your time on the island is well spent.

Dovidl the Conservatory Boy

Song of Names

by Matt Weiner

A Holocaust movie where the central tragedy haunts the characters just offscreen like a specter, anchored by two forceful leads and a mystery that spans decades. What could go wrong? A lot, it turns out.

Dovidl (Clive Owen/Jonah Hauer-King) is a Jewish violin prodigy from Poland. Martin (Tim Roth/Gerran Howell) is an accomplished musician in his own right, but once Dovidl joins the household as a wartime refugee, Martin seems to lack both the talent and the affection to win over his father’s attention.

When Dovidl disappears on the night of a big coming-out concert, it tears families apart and leaves Martin with a lifelong quest for answers about what happened that fateful evening. Directed by François Girard and written by Jeffrey Caine (based on the novel by Norman Lebrecht), The Song of Names jumps back and forth in time between Martin’s contemporary search for the missing genius Dovidl and the wartime London childhood that originally brought them together.

The second biggest problem the film is up against is that while Roth does yeoman’s work keeping the present-day mystery engaging, it’s the slow drips of revelations from the past that hold the movie back.

But the biggest weakness is how flat and inoffensive those revelations end up being, which points to a sad milestone for the genre. It’s not that The Song of Names is aggressively bad with its background treatment of the Holocaust. In fact, it goes out of its way not to take offense. (Although Clive Owen’s spirit gum Haredi beard comes dangerously close.)

That inoffensiveness holds the movie back from being memorable, or at least different enough to merit the solemn subject. If we’re so far removed now from the Holocaust that not every movie needs to be a Prestige Event (remember that time we collectively lost our minds pretending Life Is Beautiful was deeply observed and worthy of awards, rather than a peerless grotesquerie of the era?), we should also be far enough removed for those involved to add something new to the conversation.

And for a brief moment, The Song of Names comes close. The World War II-era storyline trembles with pregnant pauses around themes like there might be nothing inherently heroic about survival, or that losing hope might be a recognizably sane response to unfathomable enormities.

But the schmaltzy resolution is a hard comedown. And given what it’s all about in the end, The Song of Names would’ve been better off playing up the mystery—at least Tim Roth is great. And who doesn’t like a mystery that wraps up with tidy answers?