Film Review: THE BOOKSHOP (Spain/UK 2017) ***

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The Bookshop Poster
Trailer

England 1959. In a small East Anglian town, Florence Green decides, against polite but ruthless local opposition, to open a bookshop.

Director:

Isabel Coixet

Writers:

Isabel Coixet (screenplay), Penelope Fitzgerald (novel)

 

The underdog trying to keep his or her land against insurmountable odds like high authority and the government has been a solid premise for films.  Two routes may be taken – the comedy or drama.  One of the most successful Australian films THE CASTLE saw a country bumpkin fighting to keep his house (a castle is a man’s home) from being taken way to build an airport runway.  In best selling novel adapted into the film THE BOOKSHOP, a widowed woman attempts to fulfil her dreams be opening a bookshop in a small English town which the town wants to take away from her.

Though looking quite the ordinary film Isabel Coixtet’s THE BOOKSHOP , based on Penelope Fitzgerald’s acclaimed novel arrives in Toronto of a special engagement run after winning 3 prestigious Goya Awards including Best Film and Best Director. Director Coixtet is Spanish.  The film stars Patricia Clarkson as the ‘baddie’ who has previously worked with Coixtet in LEARNING TO DRIVE as well as stars Emily Mortimer and Bill Nighy.

This is the second British film this year to tout reading books in a period setting, the other being the yet to be released Mike Newell’s THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY.  Both films involve the rendering of personal resolve, tested in the battle for the soul of a community.

The setting is England, 1959.  Free-spirited widow Florence Green aka Mrs. Green (Emily Mortimer) risks everything to open a bookshop in a conservative East Anglian coastal town.  While bringing about a surprising cultural awakening through works by Ray Bradbury and Vladimir Nabokov (who wrote the controversial LOLITA which Mrs. Green intends to promote and sell in the bookshop), she earns the polite but ruthless opposition of a local grand dame (Patricia Clarkson) and the support and affection of a reclusive book loving widower (Bill Nighy).   As Florence’s obstacles amass and bear suspicious signs of a local power struggle, she is forced to ask: is there a place for a bookshop in a town that may not want one?   

Coixtet’s film unfolds at such a leisurely pace, it might turn out too slow for some audiences (just as people might nod off during reading a book, as one character in the film says). .  She spends a good third of the film introducing the film’s main characters.  Clarkson is only seen for a few minutes during the first half the the film and Nighy only speaks after a third of the film.  

Based on a book by a female author and directed and starring a female, the film naturally extols female independence.  Unfortunately, the film falls into the familiar trap of containing weak or dislikable male characters, the exception being the Bill Nighy character despite revealed of a timid nature.   All other male characters like the General (the grand dame’s husband), Mr. North and Mr’s Green’s solicitor are all spineless detestable beings.

THE BOOKSHOP opens Aug 24th, but being British and already released n Europe, is also readily available on disks through Amazon and other similar platforms.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3KgMW3rowXY

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Film Review: THE PARTY (UK 2017) ***1/2

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The Party Poster
Trailer

Janet hosts a party to celebrate her new promotion, but once the guests arrive it becomes clear that not everything is going to go down as smoothly as the red wine.

Director:

Sally Potter

Writers:

Sally PotterWalter Donohue (story editor)

 

Writer/director Sally Potter stunned audiences with her debut feature ORLANDO, a hit with art-house audiences.  THE PARTY can be described as less art-house but Potter’s mark is still clearly noticeable.

Her characters in this farce all have strong political leaning, engage in same or opposite sex relationships and have deep personal conflicts.

The film opens with a door opening and Janet holding a gun nervously pointed at the visitor.  It is a black and white scene and the film returns to this scene at the end of the film.  This creates some anticipation for the audience.  The audience would se how Janet came to obtain the gun and also the reason she is pointing it at a guest.

The film shifts to the present where each character is introduced.  The lead character is Janet (Kristin Scott Thomas), a politician for the opposition party, who has just been appointed a minister.  She is having a small celebration party at her house for her hard work done, supported by her husband, Bill (Timothy Spall). Invited are her friends April (Patricia Clarkson), with her estranged German partner Gottfried (Bruno Ganz), a life coach and self-proclaimed spiritual healer, Women’s studies professor Martha (Cherry Jones), with her partner Jinny (Emily Mortimer), a cook, and Janet’s colleague and subordinate Marianne with husband Tom (Cillian Murphy), a banker.

As the guests arrive, Janet’s husband Bill sits in his chair, listening to music, staring vacantly, and drinking wine.  All invited guests arrive one by one except Marianne, who Tom says will arrive later. (The audience can guess that the guess the gun pointed to at the start of the film is Marianne.)

Janet has thrown a soiree from hell.  Bile and bitterness have never been portrayed in a film to be so endearing.  Instead of celebrating her success, she ends up as a magnet opening skeletons in the closet.  Director Potter keeps the black humour coming in terms of both dialogue and action set pieces (Tom running up a cold sweat ding cocaine; Bill being punched up a couple of times.)

Potter writes sharp and occasionally witty dialogue (Martha described for example by her daughter as a first class lesbian and a second class mother)  though some of the lines, particularly those on politics and feminism sound pretentious.  Example:  Janet described as “looking like a girl, thinking like a man… ministerial, in a 21st-century postmodern, post feminist sort of way”. Potter has assembled an excellent cast, the best performance coming from German actor Bruno Ganz matched by Patricia Clarkson playing his girlfriend who constantly puts him down.  Spall plays the serious role while Scott anchors down the story.  It is the performances that make the movie.

THE PARTY suffers from not bringing the proceedings to a closure.  But for an art-house audience open ended stories with no conclusions are accepted.  THE PARTY also moves at a hectic pace so that it all comes to an end too quickly.  This is a party the characters want to end quickly but the audience wishes to stretch on.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y-FuSuWienM

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