Two films directed by sons of famous British fathers open this weekend, Source Code, by Duncan Jones, son of David Bowie (though Jones is never eager to flaunt it), on both sides of the Atlantic (and we'll get to it in the next roundup) and Oranges and Sunshine, by Jim Loach, son of Ken, opening in the UK. "At one point," writes Cath Clarke in her Guardian profile, "Jim and his sister swore a 'blood oath' to have nothing to do with film; he wanted be a journalist. 'I was absolutely, avowedly sure that I would never make a film in my life. I felt like I would be on a hiding to nothing.' Needless to say, Loach changed his mind, and it has taken nearly a decade to get his first feature off the ground. Oranges and Sunshine is a drama about a Nottingham social worker, Margaret Humphreys, who in the late 80s found evidence of a sorry episode in British history: the secret deportation of children in care. Up to 10,000 were shipped to Australia between 1947 and 1967. Promised new lives with families, most ended up in institutions, often treated as slave labour. The youngest were just three."
"Emily Watson, in a welcome lead role that doesn't afford her quite the opportunities you'd hope, is Margaret Humphreys," notes the Telegraph's Tim Robey. "Those antagonistic to her cause are only allowed to be barely-glimpsed cut-outs, which stifles any real dramatic friction in Rona Munro's script, but the theme of dispossession does resonate — there's moving work from Hugo Weaving and Lorraine Ashbourne as reunited siblings, whose mother is still nowhere to be found."
"Like his father, Loach has made a film uncluttered by an obvious director's stamp, peopled by sympathetic characters and driven by a desire to say something about the world without losing sight of human experience." Dave Calhoun in Time Out London, where he also interviews Loach: "In casting Watson, he's also secured a performance that boldly lacks vanity while exuding a strength that leads you confidently through difficult, troubling terrain."
For the Independent's Anthony Quinn, "the film doesn't really work, dependent on undramatic scenes of Watson furrowing her brow over paperwork or facing down objections to her dirt-digging campaign." Loach and Munro "pick the worst of all storytelling options," finds Nigel Andrews in the Financial Times. By having Humphreys "sleuthing for truth among ageing survivors… It is as if Spielberg had made Saving Private Ryan not by re-enacting wartime events but by showing a do-gooder wandering latter-day Normandy, collecting Omaha Beach survivors to probe and prompt with fitful success."
But for the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw, "Loach's sombre, painful film packs a hard punch," and for Veronica Lee, writing at the Arts Desk, this is a "superb, moving and important film." Loach brings "this extraordinary tale to the screen with a measured and very subtle approach," writes Laura Bushnell in Little White Lies.
"It has been a while since the 72-year-old Jerzy Skolimowski, director of Deep End and The Shout, and screenwriter of Polanski's Knife in the Water, has commanded so much attention," notes the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw. "His last film, Four Nights With Anna, with which he broke a 17-year movie-making silence, I found underpowered and redundant." But "Essential Killing is intriguing and disturbing, made with tremendous confidence and conviction."
At the Arts Desk, Peter Culshaw notes that the film "has provoked some vicious responses. The Observer said it was 'deeply silly,' one usually fairly reliable film blogger (Shades of Caruso) was 'murderously angry at having my time wasted in such a careless manner. It has no allegorical dimension, no coherent metaphorical throughline, no momentum, no narrative point, no political message, no aesthetic merit… no energy, no wit or dread or suspense or cathartic aggression or whimsy or charm.' Personally, I thought it was stunning and poetic, with an astonishing lead role by Vincent Gallo as a terrorist on the run in the snowy northern wasteland of an unnamed country and something of the epic beauty and enigmatic fairytale quality of a Tarkovsky film like Stalker. Almost. Or the mystery of a Paradjanov film. Dreamlike flashback sequences of a Middle Eastern country dramatically break up the white wilderness. Gallo says nothing the entire film, but the cinematography is tremendous. Skolimowski himself gave a Q&A after the screening [at Kinoteka] and thinks it is his best film. 'I was responsible for every second,' he said."
"This is very much Gallo's movie as he gives a breathlessly intense and physical performance," argues Lawrence Boyce in Little White Lies. It's "a career-best performance," agrees David Jenkins in Time Out London. "Delivering an absolute minimum of context, the film dares us to forge our own reasons for rooting for or despising this savage. Also, the way in which Gallo's suffering is translated through a cascade of sound and images makes Essential Killing a film to utter in the same breath as Elem Klimov's sense-battering 1985 World War II film, Come and See."
In the Financial Times, Nigel Andrews is having none of it. "Where others see a feral tale of survival — not just essential killing but essential robbing, essential raw-fish-eating, even essential breastfeeding as he holds a young mother at gunpoint — I see a succession of far-fetched plot turns to which Skolimowski blinds us, or tries, with politically challenging subject matter… Put another way: if the story had been about a British or American soldier it would have been laughed off the screen."
Earlier: Daniel Kasman and reviews from Venice and Toronto.
Update, 4/2: Writing for Sight & Sound, Tony Rayns finds it "interesting that his two 'comeback' films are both in some sense responses to the most popular films in Kieslowski's Dekalog: the exploration of desire and voyeurism in Four Nights with Anna (2008) plays like a commentary on the subtexts in A Short Film About Love, while this film, as we've noted, reframes the moral issues behind A Short Film About Killing. Skolimowski, though, is the 'wild man' that the urbane Kieslowski never could be, and in Vincent Gallo he's found an actor to match his own fearlessness."
Tim Robey on Killing Bono: "The next reviewers' lunch at the Telegraph, traditionally held at Christmas, might have been a tense business if this adaptation of Neil McCormick's U2 memoirs hadn't worked out. The story of our rock critic's prattish youthful rivalry with Bono, growing up at the same school in 70s Dublin, risked becoming an unbearably smug film, and I was fully prepared to say so and be pelted with Brussels sprouts for two hours. A relief all round, then, that it's quite a good laugh."
The FT's Nigel Andrews agrees: "The first film's ace is its universality. We have all, at some time or other, wanted to kill Bono." Ben Barnes plays McCormick, who "formed a rival band, stopping his resentful-ever-after brother Ivan (Robert Sheehan) from joining U2… The film starts funny, with the decision of the U2 founding fathers to rename themselves. ('The Edge?' asks someone, 'the edge of what?') Then it has the blithe notion of presenting the brothers as a kind of Dublin Withnail and I, Sheehan doing the curly mopped passivity as 'I,' Barnes eradicating Prince Caspian memories with his hyperkinetic Richard E Grant-gone-Irish impersonation."
At the Quietus, Terry Staunton disagrees: "The script doesn't seem to know where it's going, never mind how to get there; moments of relatively convincing pathos involving wrong turns and missed opportunities are constantly undermined by broad stabs at comedy, with cartoon-like stereotypical supporting characters shoehorned into the narrative. Peter Serafinowicz is a fine comic actor, but his egomaniacal white-suited record company arsehole is like something from an abandoned Fast Show sketch. Pete Postlethwaite is an even better actor, and it's painful to watch him in his last role as the kind of predatory nudge-nudge gay not seen since Dick Emery was a Saturday night telly fixture."
3 out of 5 stars each from Peter Bradshaw (Guardian) and Trevor Johnston (Time Out London).
Louise-Michel is a "delightfully uncouth comedy around the closure of a small French toy factory," writes Time Out London's David Jenkins. The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw: "Gustave de Kervern and Benoît Delépine have created a black comedy with the courage of its bad-taste convictions, partly sending up big-hearted Anglo-Saxon films such as The Full Monty and Calendar Girls." For Julian White, writing in Little White Lies, it's "a ragbag of absurdist skits, bleak observations on life's banality and Farrelly brothers-style bad taste gags… Definitely more enjoyable when you break it down into bits and pieces in your head afterwards."
Emma Simmonds at the Arts Desk: "Matthew Bissonnette's third feature Passenger Side is a mellow, honey-hued road movie which sees two discordant brothers combing the streets of Los Angeles with an initially mysterious purpose. A likeable diversion, for the most part it's a nicely played two-hander depicting the rekindling of a sibling bond." For the Guardian's Cath Clarke, it's "funnier and more intelligent than there are any grounds to hope for: an entertaining, wry tour of LA's scuzzier sights." At Little White Lies, Adam Woodward finds that the "script, spitting with black humour and anecdotal charm, elevates Passenger Side above the middling indie fare that so often populates festival bills this time of year." 4 out of 5 stars from the Telegraph's Tim Robey.
"Great Directors is a strange documentary," writes Sukhdev Sandu in the Telegraph. "Made by Angela Ismailos, it's a collection of interviews with Todd Haynes, Catherine Breillat, Richard Linklater, Ken Loach, Stephen Frears, David Lynch, Agnès Varda, Bernardo Bertolucci, John Sayles and Liliana Cavani (The Night Porter)… Ismailos is at once present — shown looking pensive or nodding wisely — and absent; she doesn't offer any kind of argument or analysis." 2 out of 5 stars from Catherine Shoard in the Guardian.