Monday, February 28, 2011

The set of the Academy Awards® during the live ABC Televison Network broadcast of the 83rd Annual Academy Awards® from the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood, CA Sunday, February 27, 2011.

I'll admit it - I love the Oscars. I always have, and I've always been one of the first to defend the Oscar telecast. Every year it seems that as soon as the show is over, all anyone can do is complain about how boring they thought the show was, how bad the host was, blah blah blah. It has always annoyed me. If the Oscars are so boring, why watch them? I love them! Even if the banter isn't the best, it's still the Academy Awards! I'm glued to my TV, waiting to see who's going to win, wondering if there will be any upsets, loving every minute.

Then...there was last night's telecast.

With James Franco clearly high, and some of the most awkward interludes and podium banter I have ever seen, the 83rd Academy Awards burst my sunny little bubble. And while I still despise the annual tradition of piling on the Oscar ceremony, I can't help but wonder - "what were they thinking?"

James Franco, Oscar®-nominee for Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role, and Anne Hathaway host the 83rd Annual Academy Awards® broadcast by the ABC Television Network from the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood, CA Sunday, February 27, 2011.

It was batty from the get-go. Hosts Franco and Anne Hathaway unsuccessfully attempted Billy Crystal's usual schtick of inserting themselves into the movies, and it only got weirder from there. Franco's baked indifference intensified as the night went on, and was not only rude, it was insulting. He acted like a goofy frat boy smirking his way through a college science presentation. Hathaway tried her best to make-up for her dead-weight co-host, but it was to no avail. The Oscars this year were an ill conceived, poorly directed drag.

Granted, some of the ideas were better than last year's crass Adam Shenkman "highlight the competition" mess, but overall there was a strange air of disorganization to the entire night, topped off with a truly bizarre performance of "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" by a bunch of Staten Island schoolkids. There were a few highlights - Kirk Douglas for one, Billy Crystal for another, who merely served to underscore just how badly the show needed someone like him. But overall, the show just didn't work. And never has this Oscar fan been so disappointed by the fiasco I saw unfold before my eyes.

Please learn from this mistake, AMPAS. I love you, I really do. But you need an intervention from yourselves.

And the winners were:

Best Picture: The King’s Speech
Best Actress: Natalie Portman, Black Swan
Best Actor: Colin Firth, The King’s Speech
Best Director: Tom Hooper, The King’s Speech
Best Adapted Screenplay: Aaron Sorkin, The Social Network
Best Original Screenplay: David Seidler, The King’s Speech
Best Animated Feature: Toy Story 3
Best Supporting Actress: Melissa Leo, The Fighter
Best Supporting Actor: Christian Bale, The Fighter
Best Editing: Angus Wall, Kirk Baxter, The Social Network
Best Cinematography: Wally Pfister, Inception
Best Original Score: Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross, The Social Network
Best Art Direction: Alice in Wonderland
Best Costume Design: Alice in Wonderland
Best Visual Effects: Inception
Best Make-Up: The Wolfman
Best Sound Mixing: Inception
Best Sound Editing: Inception
Best Song: "We Belong Together," Toy Story 3, Randy Newman
Best Documentary Short: Strangers No More
Best Live Action Short: God of Love
Best Animated Short: The Lost Thing
Best Foreign Language Film: In a Better World, Denmark
Best Documentary: Inside Job

I went 15/24 in my predictions this year.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Despite my relative disinterest in this year's Oscar race, one of the most disappointing snubs was the failure of Xavier Beauvois' Of Gods and Men to even make the Best Foreign Language Film shortlist, let alone receive a nomination. It seemed to be a shoo-in to win the award, a sure victor, a film they couldn't possibly ignore.

I should have known better. As is often sadly the case when it comes to the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, Of Gods and Men was simply too good to be nominated.

An Oscar nomination does not a good film make. Likewise, an Oscar snub does not a bad film make. In fact, the Oscars have little bearing on what makes a good film at all, and Of Gods and Men's snubbing by the AMPAS foreign language committee has little to do with its quality. In not getting nominated, it joins a very distinguished group of films that the Academy has ignored, opening it up to be considered on its own merits, rather than as an Oscar nominee.

Based on a true story, Of Gods and Men is the tale of a cloister of French monks living in Algeria who have always lived in harmony with the Muslim citizens of the surrounding village, allowing each other to practice their own beliefs while offering medical services to those in need. The monks have devoted themselves to living as Jesus instructed, and they stand by those beliefs with humble piety. That is until a group of radical Islamic jihadists arrive in the town and begin spreading their darker, more violent version of Islam. Soon, the monks realize they are no longer safe, and are faced with an impossible choice. Should they risk their lives and stay, continuing to provide aid to the village in its time of need, or should they run for their lives and leave the town to its fate? It is a question that leads to a spiritual crisis within the tiny cloister, as the monks face a choice that will change their lives forever.

A friend once remarked to me how interesting it was that despite my own secular beliefs, I tended to have an affinity for films that dealt with religion or faith. And indeed, many of my favorite films of the past years have dealt with those themes in some fashion - Lourdes, Silent Light, There Will Be Blood, Children of Men, Letters to Father Jacob, Antichrist (to a lesser extent). Of Gods and Men fits very comfortably into that group, and I have to wonder why films of faith (not to be confused with religious filmmaking, the kinds of films that push certain beliefs) tend to have such a deep effect on me. I think it has something to do partly with my religious upbringing, but mostly its my fascination with something I do not and can not have - faith.

My mind is far too critical for spiritual faith, but the faith as demonstrated in Of Gods and Men is a profound and beautiful thing. Beauvois treats the subject with great dignity and respect, exploring complex themes of tolerance and violence without arriving at easy answers. In a scene near the end of the film, the monks all sit down to dinner at what could be the last meal they share together in the monastery they have made into their home. One of the monks puts on a recording of Tchaikovsky's "Swan Lake," as they eat. It is a completely wordless scene, the emotions are conveyed through the expressions on the monks faces and the soaring strings of Tchaikovsky's immortal work. And even though nary a word is spoken and no one moves from the table, it is as powerful and as emotionally visceral as anything in Black Swan.

That is the brilliance of Of Gods and Men - Beauvois directs with a simple austerity, but one so rich with emotional and spiritual undertones that much of what the film is trying to say is conveyed without words. But that silence, like the vow of silence of a monk, is infused with great meaning, a kind of spiritual pregnancy of ideas and emotions contained within each frame, and it culminates in one of the most haunting final shots in recent memory. Not since Carlos Reygadas' camera slowly zoomed in on a glowing sunset in Silent Light have I been more moved by the closing moments of a film. Beauvois hauntingly juxtaposes the calm, dignified fervor of the monks with the angry yet reasoned views of the jihadists, showing both sides of religious zealotry. It is an exploration of just what religious devotion is capable of, especially when both sides are willing to die for their beliefs. What kind of unshakable faith does it take to devote yourself to a belief system where only one can be right? Religious or not, spiritual or not, the themes in Of Gods and Men strike a universal chord. This is what great filmmaking is all about - a strikingly simple yet deeply powerful narrative whose impact cuts straight to the bone.

GRADE - ★★★½ (out of four)

OF GODS AND MEN | Directed by Xavier Beauvois | Stars Lambert Wilson, Michael Lonsdale, Olivier Rabourdin, Philippe Laudenbach, Jacques Herlin, Loïc Pichon | Rated PG-13 for a momentary scene of startling wartime violence, some disturbing images and brief language | In French w/English subtitles | Opens Friday, February 25, in NY and LA.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Despite being his sophomore feature, 22 year old Xavier Dolan's Heartbeats is the director's first film to be released in the United States. He caused quite a critical splash last year with his debut film, I Killed My Mother, but despite being picked up for distribution by Regent Releasing, the film has yet to see a US release outside of a few festival screenings.

I was mixed on I Killed My Mother, which I saw last year in conjunction with the RiverRun Film Festival. It was a strong and promising debut, but I found it almost self consciously stylish. Dolan displayed a filmmaking prowess beyond his years, but it didn't seem as if he had quite figured out how to convey everything that he wanted to convey. It was a solid first film, with room for improvement and growth in the future. It would take a second film to really see what this kid was made out of.

Not even a year later, along comes Heartbeats (a weaker title than the original French, Les Amours Imaginaires)- which, frustratingly, represents both a step forward and a dogged stagnation in Dolan's craft, who seems trapped by his own inspirations.

Xavier Dolan as FRANCIS, Niels Schneider as NICOLAS and Monia Chokri as MARIE in HEARTBEATS directed by Xavier Dolan. Photo Credit: © Mifilifilms Inc. An IFC Films release

Dolan stars as gay twenty-something, Francis, who along with his best friend, Marie (Monia Chokri) meet an alluring and enigmatic stranger, Nicolas (Niels Schneider) at a party and become hopelessly infatuated. Marie falls deeply in love and even begins a relationship with Francis, unaware that Francis has developed feelings of his own. But it soon becomes clear that both of them are in competition for the same man, and the three of them form a strange triangle that threatens to destroy Francis and Marie's friendship even as it unites them all in ways they could have never expected.

As he did in I Killed My Mother, Dolan displays a keen insight into human relationships, and at its core, Heartbeats is a devastating exploration of the complexities and absurdities of love. As a writer, Dolan has a way of conveying emotions with a sharpness that often takes you by surprise. Here, his examination of mixed signals and misunderstandings is both brutally honest and surprisingly funny. He knows how to get to the root of a situation with great wit and little nonsense, exposing the truth of a situation with an almost painful grace.

Niels Schneider as NICOLAS in HEARTBEATS directed by Xavier Dolan.
Photo Credit: © Mifilifilms Inc. An IFC Films release

As a director, however, the opposite is often true, and therein lies my problem with Dolan. He is so infatuated with his own inspirations that it becomes a stylistic stumbling block. He is obviously enamored with the work of the likes of Wong Kar-Wai and Pedro Almodovar, and he fills Heartbeats with long, stylized sequences of intoxicating slow motion set to dreamy and haunting music. But whereas in the films of Wong and Almodovar such sequences flow naturally with the rest of the film, here they almost seem out of place, as if they have been forced into the film with no real purpose or context other than the filmmaker's own love of their sources. It is this stubborn adherence to the style of his idols that is preventing Dolan from blossoming as his own filmmaker. Right now his voice is lost amid the emulations of stronger and more experienced filmmakers. While directors like Quentin Tarantino have certainly made very successful careers out of emulating their inspirations, the difference is that Tarantino has really worked to make his inspirations his own, absorbing it all and transforming it into something that transcends their original sources. Dolan, on the other hand, seems engulfed by them, his unique voice lost amid the overwhelming homages.

He is obviously a talented filmmaker with something to say, but I want to know more about who he is as an artist, not the artists that inspire him. I've seen films by Wong Kar-Wai and Pedro Almodovar - they still make them regularly. I want to see something new, I want to see something by Xavier Dolan. Having inspirations that inform your work is one thing, but relying on them completely for your style is something else. It is for that reason that I'm not fully on the Dolan bandwagon just yet. Until he learns to rely less heavily on his muses, he will never grow as an artist, but the potential is obviously there in flashes of brilliance beneath the surface. He just needs to work on developing his own unique voice to truly come into his own.

GRADE - ★★½ (out of four)

HEARTBEATS | Directed by Xavier Dolan | Stars Xavier Dolan, Monia Chokri, Niels Schneider | Not rated | In French w/English subtitles | Opens Friday, February 25, in New York and Los Angeles.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The landscape of the American independent film has changed drastically in recent years. Being an "independent film" no longer means what it meant 15 years ago. With studio specialty wings specializing in "independent" films, independent filmmaking has drifted away from the grittier, more experimental meaning it once had into more glossy quirky fare like Juno and The Kids Are All Right.

A few filmmakers have endeavored to reverse this bastardization of the pioneering indie spirit - directors like Ramin Bahrani (Man Push Cart, Goodbye Solo) and Kelly Reichhardt (Old Joy, Wendy and Lucy), whose films have continued to explore complex themes in new and surprising ways.

One of the newest voices on the American independent scene is Matt Porterfield, whose second feature, Putty Hill, has made quite a splash in certain critical circles. To some, Putty Hill represents a new renaissance in American independent filmmaking, but I'm not so sure the emperor is wearing any clothes.

Zoe Vance in Matt Porterfield’s PUTTY HILL. Photo by Jeremy Saulnier.
Courtesy of Cinema Guild.

Part documentary, part narrative film, Putty Hill is an unusual mix of genres and styles that offers a glimpse into a small town's grieving process after the death of a local teen from an apparent drug overdose. The film pieces together snippets of varying reactions from those who knew him, and those who only knew of him, as they try to understand what happened and what it means to them. Even those who weren't friends with him are forced to come to terms with their own mortality in a world that no longer seems certain.

Porterfield combines interview footage with scenes of the town's everyday life to create an illusion of reality, but the result is more distracting than involving. Knowing that it the film is not, in fact, a documentary, pulls the audience out of the world Porterfield is trying to create. The dialogue, which is mostly improvised, feels forced, like actors trying to sound natural but speaking in a way in which no one really speaks. It just doesn't feel right. The performances are stiff and self-conscious, and despite the film's strenuous attempts to feel real, it always comes across as an approximation of realism - a kind of Brechtian epic theatre Grund Gestus reality that seems to say "I am like this character" not "i am this character." The nagging sense of artifice amongst such painstaking realism is off-putting and ultimately near fatal to the film's goals.

Andrew Laumann, David Jacober and Walker Teiser (from left to right) in Matt Porterfield’s PUTTY HILL.
Photo by Joyce Kim. Courtesy of Cinema Guild.

It doesn't help matters that the narrative/doc aesthetic seems more self-conscious than natural. The whole thing comes off more like a pretentious film school project than anything else. And while credit must be given for attempting such a brazen experiment, the experiment is ultimately a failed one. It never gives us any reason to care about these characters, or for that matter, to believe them. It's a languid, aimless, formless exercise in cinematic snobbery that feels neither honest nor real. Its lack of structure and often muddy sound mix leads to tedium, which leads to disinterest, which is a fatal combination for any film. Here, however, it's desperate attempts to seem meaningful make it all the more egregious.

There are few things in cinema more annoying than a bad film that thinks its a great one. It's an abstract kind of putting on airs that immediately sets the audience against it. Putty Hill is that kind of film - a nearly unbearable piece of self-congratulatory claptrap trussed up to look like art.

GRADE - ★½ (out of four)

PUTTY HILL | Directed by Matt Porterfield | Stars Sky Ferreira, Zoe Vance, James Siebor, Jr., Dustin Ray, Cody Ray, Charles “Spike” Sauers, Catherine Evans, Virginia Heath, Casey Weibust, Drew Harris, Marina Siebor | Not rated | Now showing at the Cinema Village in NYC. Opens in LA April 8.

Friday, February 18, 2011

The American release of the Spanish film Even the Rain (También la Lluvia) could not have come at a more appropriate time. With the recent overthrow of the Egyptian government through peaceful protests, the themes of real life social change that permeate the film seem even more timely.

Set against the backdrop of the real life "water war" that took place in Bolivia in 2000, Even the Rain is the story of a film crew that descends on Bolivia looking to make a low budget film about Christopher Columbus - with the local natives as cheap labor. By getting the locals to dress up as indians for $2 a day, the production saves a lot of money, which is the top priority for the film's producer, Costa (Luis Tosar). But when civil unrest breaks out as foreign companies privatize the nation's water supply, charging outrageous prices to the poor villagers, even going so far as to ban the collection of rain (hence the film's title), the production of the film is threatened - especially when one of their main actors, a poor Bolivian named Daniel (Juan Carlos Aduviri) becomes one of the leaders of the country's water revolution.
Luis Tosar as Costas the producer and Gael Garcia Bernal as Sebastian the director in EVEN THE RAIN (Tambien La Lluvia). (c) 2010 Moreno Films

This puts the film's director, Sebastian (Gael García Bernal), in a sticky situation. Does he learn from the history he is trying to film, or does he continue to make his dream project at all costs. As history is happening all around them, their film begins to mirror the real life events, and the irony of their own exploitation of the natives in their pursuit of telling the story of the Spanish conquest becomes increasingly apparent. Soon their story, their film, and the real life conflict become nearly indistinguishable from each other, giving them an experience they will never forget.

Director Icíar Bollaín deftly combines the three elements - the film crew's story, the film within the film, and the 2000 water war into a remarkable narrative, weaving the themes of exploitation and peaceful resistance together with elegance and grace. The characterizations are at times a bit obtuse, with Tosar's Costa veering a little to far into the "big bad producer" type, and Aduviri's saintly native teetering dangerously on cliche, but Bollaín manages to hold it all together with a sure and steady hand.

Daniel (Carlos Aduviri) joins the cast of the film within a film in EVEN THE RAIN (Tambien La Lluvia), but when he isn't acting, he is leading protests against the injustices of the government against the indigenous community. (c) 2010 Moreno

In fact the film within a film is so compelling in itself, it's hard not to want to see that film as well. In that way, Even the Rain almost serves as two films, with Bollaín creating sequences for Sebastian's Columbus film that offer a glimpse into just what the film could really be. But by weaving it into a real life modern conflict, Bollaín creates something deeper than a mere period piece, it's a universal story of injustice that doesn't need to hinge itself on self important or disingenuous proclamations, and indeed turns a withering eye on filmmakers who would do just that. The filmmakers in the film exploit the natives in ways similar to Columbus in their efforts to throw back the curtain on Spanish interference in South America. Bollaín isn't blind to the cinema's effects, and she certainly isn't blind to self-aggrandizing filmmakers who stand on the backs of others with pandering and hypocritical lessons that they miss themselves. Even the Rain is as much a critique on filmmakers who use artistic activism to pat themselves on the back as it is Spanish colonialism and capitalism run amok.

It is a dynamic and layered film, marked by fluid storytelling and timely themes that are presented without the kind of shameless pandering that so often accompany films about social activism. It is a fitting and moving testament to those who stand up against injustice and take their fate into their own hands, and at a time when the oppressed around the world are doing just that, Even the Rain feels as much a testament to them as it does to the people it depicts.

GRADE - ★★★ (out of four)

EVEN THE RAIN (TAMBIEN LA LLUVIA)| Directed by Icíar Bollaín | Stars Gael García Bernal, Luis Tosar, Raúl Arévalo, Karra Elejalde, Juan Carlos Aduviri, Cassandra Ciangherotti | Not rated | In Spanish w/English subtitles | Opens today in NYC, LA, Berkeley, San Francisco, San Rafael, Pasadena, and Encino. Spain's official entry to the 2011 Academy Awards.
From The Dispatch:
It’s a predictable story line, but its stars carry it well. And while the film has a tendency to veer into Sandler’s signature brand of low comedy, for the most part it is an agile and entertaining work. Based on the play “Cactus Flower” by Abe Burrows, “Just Go With It” has clear roots in theatrical farce, and it plays those roots well. The cast is appealing, with Aniston making a terrific straight foil for her longtime friend Sandler, and Nicole Kidman has a ball with an unexpected appearance as Catherine’s self-obsessed college nemesis, Devlin (whose name becomes an amusing scatological euphemism for Catherine’s adorable children).
Click here to read my full review.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Lee Chang-dong's Poetry may have the most appropriate movie title of the year. Delicate, lyrical, and haunting, Poetry is a cinematic poem all its own. Directed and acted with such supreme grace, it stands tall as an early landmark in what is shaping up to be a very strong year for film in general.

Starring legendary Korean actress Yun Jung-hee (marking a triumphant return to the screen after a self-imposed 16 year hiatus), Poetry is the tale of an eccentric elderly woman in her twilight years named Mija, who lives alone with her ungrateful lump of a teenage grandson, Wook (Lee David), and makes a modest living by cleaning the house of a wealthy businessman who has been paralyzed by a stroke. Always feeling that she had a creative spirit, and determined to seize the day in any way she can, she enrolls in a poetry to class to find better ways of expressing herself.

Even when her doctor informs her that she is in the early stages of Alzheimer's Disease, she is determined to continue life as she always has, with her head held high and a song in her heart. But when she discovers that Wook and a group of his friends have committed an unthinkable crime, Mija must come to terms with it in the only way she knows how, and finds solace and meaning in her attempts to write the poem she has always wanted to write.

Yun Jung-hee in Lee Chang-dong's POETRY. Image courtesy of Kino International.

In some ways, Poetry is reminiscent of another recent Korean hit, Bong Joon-ho's Mother, but without the thriller elements that made that film so exciting. Poetry is a much more introspective film, and ultimately a deeper one. Mija finds herself consistently frustrated by her inability to write a poem, a problem compounded by the onset of Alzheimer's, and instead is constantly scribbling down random observations about the world around her. What she doesn't know is that she is actually writing poetry all along, her notes revealing simple yet profound truths about the unique way she sees the world.

Yun's performance as Mija is simply extraordinary. Her portrayal of a woman on the cusp of being consumed by the fog of old age is both vibrant and heartbreaking, carrying the entire film with a delicate regality. She manages to radiate both strength and vulnerability simultaneously. She is the backbone on which Lee builds his film, and through her Poetry truly comes to life. It is a stunning performance that was well worth the 16 year wait. Yun is a treasure, and Poetry is a virtual showcase of her immense talent.

Yun Jung-hee in Lee Chang-dong's POETRY. Image courtesy of Kino International.

It's interesting to watch Mija's transformation from the beginning of the film to the end. Yun navigates very tricky emotional waters with such breathtaking grace that it is easy to become lost in the world of the film. She is wholly believable, and Lee makes great use of her talent. It is as much a testament to the will and spirit of one indomitable woman as it is to poetry itself. When she is told by her teacher that poetry is dying, Mija is both shocked and saddened. Her sadness reflects not just a mourning for the death of poetry, but for beauty itself, as represented by the horrible crime committed by Wook and his friends, whose specter haunts the entire film. Poetry is beauty, and what use is life without beauty? Mija is entering a world of darkness that is completely foreign to her, and her poetry is a solace into which she can escape. Her dotty optimism has always served her well, but as her mind and memory begin to go, poetry is all she has left in a world that no longer makes sense.

What Lee has achieved her cannot be understated. Poetry is a powerhouse, a masterful evocation of a free spirit torn down by the fog of age and tragedy whose search for poetic inspiration leads to an unlikely and heartbreaking source. It is a completely profound cinematic experience from a director working at the top of his game with an actress at the height of her powers. It is kind of a perfect storm of talent, adding up to a consummate work of art. Poetry sets the bar very high for the rest of 2011.

GRADE - ★★★★ (out of four)

POETRY | Directed by Lee Chang-dong | Stars Yun Jung-hee, Lee David, Ahn Nae-sang, Kim Hi-ra, Kim Gye-sun, Park Myung-shin, Kim Yong-taek | Not rated | In Korean w/English subtitles | Opens today, February 11, 2011, at the Lincoln Plaza and Quad Cinema in New York City.

From The Dispatch:
The characters are all cardboard thin, with predictable arcs (if you can call them that), and are surrounded by a plot that takes narrative shortcuts at every possible turn. It's also fatally dull. It has no personality of its own and as such is almost instantly forgettable. It plays to primitive spiritual fears with no basis or context, like some religious equivalent of jumping out of the closest and shouting “boo!” It mistakes centuries old scare tactics for universal fears, never conjuring up the overpowering atmosphere of terror of “The Exorcist” and instead settles for low lighting and unimaginative spiritual hokum.
Click here to read my full review.

From The Dispatch:
It's all very goofy of course, especially with Rogen in the title role, but thankfully it never takes itself too seriously. It is neither a spoof nor a straight superhero film, it strikes a balance between both without feeling forced or contrived. Rogen is an appealing talent as always, and Chou makes a solid foil for his usual brand of disheveled silliness.
Click here to read my full review.
The premise of Francois Ozon's Hideaway (Le Refuge) is one I found all too familiar.

Mousse (Isabelle Carré) and Louis (Melvil Poupaud) are lovers. However, their love is expressed more through the drugs they inject themselves with together than through real feeling, and the film opens with Louis shooting up a fatal dose of heroin laced with Valium. Mousse is left alone and near death.

When she awakes from her drug induced coma, she is informed that she is, in fact, pregnant with Louis' child. At first uncertain of what to do, she is advised by Louis' family to have it aborted, as they do not want Louis to have a descendent since he is no longer alive. Mousse has other plans, and runs away to the country to have the child on her own.

She is followed by Louis' gay brother, Paul (Louis-Ronan Choisy), who only intends to stay for a few days. But as they days turn into weeks, the two find in each other something they never expected, and forge an unusual and unexpected relationship that could change them both forever.

Melvil Poupaud and Isabelle Carre in Francois Ozon's HIDEAWAY (LE REFUGE). Courtesy of Strand Releasing.

It's a tired premise, and one that feels incredibly forced. Nothing about it feels natural or honest. The characters feel less like fully fleshed out personalities than pawns created to advance plot points. The decisions they make never seem particularly consistent with a strong character, rather they feel like decisions made by a writer needing to get to a certain place in the story. The result are characters who are more patchwork quilts than people, and the film suffers for it.

To his credit, Ozon does create an intoxicating atmosphere. Hideaway never feels like a bad film, it just doesn't feel like it goes anywhere. It is just as lost and adrift as the characters it chronicles, never coming together into a satisfying whole, and culminating in a set of circumstances that just doesn't jel with the rest of the film or the characters it has attempted to establish.

Ozon may work a little of his magic with his deliberate pacing and use of music, but the final result comes up short. Hideaway just doesn't add up.

GRADE - ★★ (out of four)

HIDEAWAY (LE REFUGE) | Directed by Francois Ozon | Stars Isabelle Carré, Louis-Ronan Choisy, Melvil Poupaud | Not rated | In French/English subtitles | Now available on DVD from Strand Releasing.