Tag Archive for: Michael Winterbottom

The Face of an Angel (Michael Winterbottom): first look

07 Sep
September 7, 2014

Instead of a theory of what really transpired in the death of Meredith Kercher, and what role if any was played in that by Amanda Knox, The Face of an Angel comes at us as a deconstruction of how the media represents such a story. But it ends up being something much different, and this viewer finds himself gnawing on tricky questions of how men represent women in life, literature, and cinema, rather than anything about the media’s relationship with its readers and audiences.

Centred on a fictional film director’s journey through hell, purgatory, and heaven, the story structure is explicitly modelled on Dante’s Divine Comedy. By moving the scene of the crime from Perugia to Siena, a connection is made with visual directness to Dante’s own time and environs. The hell sequences include decontextualized scenes of rough sex between the director (a convincingly obsessive Daniel Brühl) and a journalist (a smoothly professional Kate Beckinsale)—enough to make us wonder whether we are looking at an assault—but with no discussion after the fact between the principals. (Leaving one to wonder—you show me a man inflicting pain on a woman during sex, and we’re to understand it’s the man who’s in hell?)

Our director-protagonist’s next would-be Beatrice is a fresh and spontaneous young university student and waitress (Cara Delevingne, brilliant casting move), and it is through a rather more platonic relationship with her that he has a hope of gaining a more central insight into this story of murder.

Winterbottom has given us a film of layered complexity that ultimately argues that the worst thing about the did-she-didn’t-she debate about Amanda Knox is that it has robbed the real-life victim, Meredith Kercher, of central status in the story. But does this side-on approach to the material risk doing the same thing in a different way? I expect that will be the most debated point as people dissect this film.

review: Everyday (Michael Winterbottom)

09 Sep
September 9, 2012

Michael Winterbottom’s Everyday convincingly portrays five years in the life of a working class English family coping with the imprisonment of the husband and father (John Simm). Frequent Winterbottom casting choice Shirley Henderson plays the put-upon wife left alone to take care of four children (authentically played by actual siblings of the Kirk family).

Like its obvious British kitchen-sink-realism forebears, the film relies on strong performances from its professional and amateur cast to create its feeling of authenticity. But in an a twist perhaps unique to this film, in order to present the children aging naturally over five years, Winterbottom went to the trouble of re-assembling his cast annually for two weeks each year. As well, he has filmed domestic scenes with the children in their own home.

This has the expected benefit of unforced naturalism in the performances and realistic passing of time, although the filmmakers likely could not have predicted the degree to which the kids would grow to look perhaps a little too different from their actor-parents.

The other progression in the film is a noticeable improvement in the quality of the digitally-shot images. At the Q&A session after the North American premiere at TIFF yesterday, Winterbottom said that the subtle progression was not simply an accidental matter of better cameras becoming available, but rather was in the filming plan from the beginning. That said, in the earliest conception the intention had been to switch to 35mm film for the final-year sequences, but instead they were able to get a 35mm-like look with an Arriflex digital camera, and thus the entire film was shot digitally on a variety of cameras. Winterbottom says that substantial post-production work was done to make the differently-shot scenes blend together seamlessly, so that the transitions in image quality would not be distractingly obvious.

You might expect from the title that not much happens in this film, and you would be right. There are some painful separations, some moments of conflict and fear with the children, a setback in the father’s release timeline, a spot of marital infidelity. But what the film lacks in narrative interest it more than supplies in depth of feeling. This is a film that does exactly what it says on the tin, with perfectly subtle execution.