Archive for January, 2008


Sunday, January 20th, 2008—Film

Atonement (UK/France 2007, Drama/Romance/War), Writer: Christopher Hampton; Director: Joe Wright

I wrote Atonement off too quickly after seeing a maudlin trailer. I recently watched the film itself and was very impressed. It’s really good.

The trailer I saw pitched it as a great love story, but it’s much more interesting than that. At its core, it’s about trying to recover from trauma and the loss of innocence, trying to make amends and take responsibility for one’s actions.

Set in England and France during the 1930s and 40s, Atonement begins with a well-off group of youngsters who have little to do but put on plays and traipse about their estate in lovely dresses. But when 13-year-old Briony (Saoirse Ronan) misinterprets some exchanges between her older sister Cecilia (Keira Knightley) and the housekeeper’s son Robbie (James McAvoy), her imagination, confusion and jealousy get the best of her; she ends up accusing Robbie of a terrible crime he didn’t commit. Briony’s actions change the course of all their lives, and she ultimately spends the rest of hers trying to atone for them.

This film was so much more than I expected it to be. It’s brilliantly directed; the shots are incredible, from the careful attention to detail, to the impressive five-minute plus tracking shot along Dunkirk Beach that shows the British evacuation during the Second World War. There’s a twist at the end (if, like me, you haven’t read the Ian McEwan novel from which the film was adapted). And Atonement is surprisingly funny at the beginning.

The acting is excellent, with standout performances from Ronan and McAvoy (my new crush—who wouldn’t love Mr. Tumnus from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe?). McAvoy is remarkable. Watch him when he and Cecilia are reunited over lunch. She reaches out to touch him, and he tries to carry on the conversation but can’t bear to look at her. In the expression on his face and the movement of his head, you see his longing to stay with her psychically, emotionally, physically, but also the agony over what was lost and the horror of what he suffered as a result. He struggles against it, but the damage is too great; it keeps him locked inside, unable to come back to the life he knew before. To convey that much in a single moment, without words, is brilliant.

Ronan is almost eerily good in Atonement. Having that kind of depth of understanding and control over one’s craft at age 13 is astonishing. She’s currently shooting the film adaptation of Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones. That movie just keeps getting better the more I hear about it. It’s based on one of my favourite books, Peter Jackson is directing, and it also stars Mark Wahlberg (replacing Mark Ruffalo, sadly), Rachel Weisz, Susan Sarandon and Stanley Tucci. The Lovely Bones, along with Blindness, are the two adaptations I’m most excited to see.

Speaking of adaptations, as a final plug for Atonement, I saw the movie with GR, who has read the book and said that the film was very faithful to the novel in both content and essence. Not an easy feat!


Saturday, January 19th, 2008—Film

Once (Ireland 2007, Drama/Music/Romance), Writer/Director: John Carney

I fell in love with this movie.

Once is about two soul mates who meet in Dublin: an Irish guy (The Frames singer Glen Hansard) and a Czechoslovakian girl (Markéta Irglová). They never give their love a name—in fact, we never even learn their names—but they don’t need to. A connection like that doesn’t need a label; it just is.

The couple isn’t ready to be together physically. She has an estranged husband in the Czech Republic to whom she feels tied; he still mourns an ex-girlfriend who broke his heart. Perhaps because they hold back from each other, the romance has room to breathe and makes the film even more tantalizing for the viewer. You long for them to come together, maybe even more than they do themselves.

Once is a musical, but the most unusual I’ve ever seen. You might not even realize it’s a musical if you weren’t told. The songs, all haunting and gorgeous, flow organically from the film’s narrative. The guy is a guitarist, the girl a keyboardist, and both are singer-songwriters. We hear them sing to themselves and to each other, and later recording an album. The songs allow the couple to express their feelings to one another, even if they were written with other people in mind.

They fall in love over the course of one song, singing a duet of Falling Slowly in a music store. But Once sealed the deal with me when the girl goes for a walk at night in her pajamas, singing along with her walkman. She could have been me. Except without the howling dogs and shattering glass.

Rent this movie. It’s one-of-a-kind. I think it’s impossible not to be stirred by it. Only the most cynical of you will manage not to fall head over heels for Once. And you’ll still like it enough to call the next day to see how it’s doing. This one’s hard to get off your mind.

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I can’t get this song out of my head; check it out – Falling Slowly with clips from Once. And another goodie: Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová playing the song live. I like the recorded version better, but Glen’s intro is pretty funny.