Being the mother of a son that has just started school and is perhaps not taking to it quite so easily as all the other kids, X + Y was always going to affect me maybe a tad more than the childless cinemagoer sitting next to me but rest assured, this is a delightful cinematic outing.
Seasoned documentary maker Morgan Matthews first feature is a delight form start to finish. Asa Butterflied is simply stunning as borderline autistic Nathan, Rafe Spall is simultaneously heart-breaking and hilarious as down and out teacher Mr Humphreys and Sally Hawkins is, as usual, heartbreakingly perfect as overwhelmed mum Sarah. The script is faultless and the directing is assured, thoughtful and intelligent. It's also nice to see Eddie Marsan in a lighter. more humourous role, he plays brilliantly against Spall and I really loved his obsessive but likeable maths prof.
Nathan Ellis is a sensitive kid, diagnosed with borderline autism and synesthesia from the age of five Nathan like strings in a certain way, to see certain patterns in order for him to be happy. He likes Maths though and the sense he can make from that. Nathan’s dad is good at keeping him on the track, making him laugh, making him see the lighter side of things; help him try not to overcomplicate things. As his dad says, it's as if Nathan is a wizard and his mum and dad are muggles, they need to help them understand. A freak accident means Nathan’s life is changed for ever and he is left with his more emotional and softer mum Sarah (Hawkins) who he feels doesn't understand him or talk his language and Nathan, like a turtle, retreats further into his shell. Nathan’s prodigious maths talent lands him at a secondary school to be taught more advanced maths but unconventional teacher, and somewhat loser, Mr Humphreys (Rafe Spall). Mr Humphreys also competed in the Maths Olympiad, an Olympics for maths and after some years of tutelage this is the position Nathan finds himself in, trying out to be on the team. He is suddenly with a group of young people, mostly male where he isn't the weirdest one in the room - or the most clever. As one of the girls puts it - here you are decidedly average - and for Nathan what a delicious treat that is. A trip to Taiwan, a meeting of a female student who opens his eyes means Nathan is forced to to try new things, broaden his horizons and move on.
A coming of age story with a most unusual backdrop, X + Y was an absolute festival highlight so far.
This events leading up to the actual viewing of this film really went full pelt to make me angry and to hate The Keeping Room before it had even begun. Firstly it was pissing rain which I thought would have hurried up the red carpet sufficiently to get on with it. How wrong I was. 20 minutes after the film was supposed to start Daniel Barber is introduced. He starts rambling on as if he's won a best Oscar and asks his friends, family and mum to shout where they are. Yes really. I then realise with heavy heart that two of them are sitting next to me. And boy are they excited. And chatty. Throughout the whole film. Awesome. Daniel dedicates the film to 'strong women everywhere' which makes me want to throw a rock at him. If I had one. It's Sunday night. I've seen three films already. I'm wet. I'm cold. GET ON WITH IT.
Despite all this I have to admit I really liked the The Keeping Room. It's reminiscent feel of a play, probably as there are minimal settings and characters but those characters are strong and well executed by every cast member. Set in South Carolina in 1865 during the civil war three women Augusta (Brit Marling) Louise (Hailed Steinfield) and Mad (Muna Otaru) - their former slave but as Augusta says, we are all niggers now, have managed to survive by staying close to their land and growing and eating vegetables. When youngest Louisa gets bitten by a raccoon Augusta must go seek medicine and here she encounters ruthless soldiers Moses (Sam Worthington) and Henry (Kyle Soller) who have been raping and murdering with abandon. They follow Augusta back and the women must fight for not only their property but their lives.
Barbers first film was Harry Brown which I really did not enjoy so he's done much better here, this is certainly tense and the three women all give faultless performances. I wouldn't want to single any of them out as they work so beautifully together. As do Worthington and Soller. Worthington manages to give monstrous Moses a humanity which allows him a slight connection with Augusta. It takes a very likeable actor to pull that off.
The movie looks beautiful, cinematographer Martin Ruhe manages to keep enough contrast between the beautiful outside and the dark inside to sustain our interest and the score is very effective. It's dramatically let down where some strands aren't fully explored. Augusta's questioning of sexuality whilst there is the very real threat of rape isn't fully explored. When Mad gives her big speech at the end, the women weary from battle, it feels unreal and staged, despite the beautiful delivery by Otaru. It's heavy handed, subtlety is not a big player in The Keeping Room on any level. Julia Harts' script was on the Black List and it would be really interesting to see what else was in that original script, what was stripped away. It's been criticised for being slow but I didn't mind that. I quite enjoyed being in the company of the women knowing the threat is en route. I just wish they'd had better dialogue sometimes and we learned a bit more about them in a more naturalistic fashion.
It's great to see a film about three women being strong the together, defending what's theirs so well done Barber for that and for improving on Harry Brown. Although let's face it, that's not hard.
I must confess to not having read Madame Bovary. It wasn't anywhere to be seen in my English GCSE, A Level or English Literature degree. I think I was too busy with Angela Carter and my emerging feminism. And Madame Bovary is interesting when you start thinking about her and feminism as she splits people right down the middle. At the screening I went to writer / director Sophie Barthes said her five-year-old daughter had said to her 'what is Madame Bovary’s problem'? I think her daughter has a point and that's what makes her such a debatable and polarising character in fiction and one that has proved somewhat tricky to master on the big screen. Barthes has done well, primarily in casting the wonderful Mia Wasikowksa as the titular Bovary bury also in her wonderful script and the film is a sumptuous treat.
Emma Bovary is a spirited young girl with great charm and beauty and whose father matches her with a country doctor. A good match, Emma finds herself in a nice house with a moderate income and a nice husband. But Charles is dull. Sex is dull, he doesn't want for what he has not and Emma is bored and dissatisfied and it's this very modern problem of dissatisfaction that starts to push her on a promiscuous path that leads to the ruin of her.
Mia Wasikowska is an enchanting Emma. Mia is an actress who'd doesn't need to be overly demonstrative, or do too much in order to convey a huge amount of emotion. Although not even Mia's charm can make us entirely like Emma, Mia does make us try and understand her. It's hard to like a woman who is crying to her housemaid about her terrible life and she 'wishes her husband would hit her so she had a reason to hate him’ whilst sitting in a silk dress in her lovely house. See that's kind of the problem with Emma Bovary, really she has nothing to complain a out and millions of women today all probably feel the same way as her and just get on with it. Or you can see her as a modernist, a revolutionary feminist whose dissatisfaction and desires to be free and happy are the stuff that modern feminism is made of. Anyway back to Mia, she is fantastic in this role an dis well supported by Laura Carmichael, the lovely Logan Marshall Green, a great turn from Ezra Miller and an almost pantomime Rhys Ifans who gets away with delivering the most over the top lines. Christian Gasc and Valerie Ranchoux costumes are possibly the most actively involved costumes I gave ever seen in a film. The design isn't always the most subtle, Emma goes from mottled hues and heavy rough fabrics to bold colours and sumptuous silks as her life becomes more promiscuous but details such as the asymmetric line on her riding jacket symbolising her life starting to crack and the fact that the flowers on one dress were all actually poisonous, I will elaborate on when I write the full review.
Barthes has done a great job bringing this story to the screen, the time flies by and we don't linger too much on any significant events so we, unlike Emma herself, do not get bored. Barthes invitees the audience to make up her own mind. She herself said that her opinion of Bovary changed from when she was a single woman to now that she has children but she is not judging here, merely presenting and what an spellbinding presentation it is.