+ "La Vie en Rose": Coming out of a splashy premiere at Berlin early this year, this Edith Piaf biopic garnered endless praise for Marion Cotillard‘s bravura lead performance and general bemusement and displeasure with the uneven direction of relative unknown (his last film was "Crimson Rivers 2: Angels of the Apocalypse") Olivier Dahan. Similar themes are popping up in the reviews as the film opens in limited release today. "La Vie en Rose trudges dutifully from one costumed ‘defining’ event to the next, building up to a kind of Piaf theme park that plays out like a bad parody of Dickens or Balzac," writes Ella Taylor at the LA Weekly, while saluting the way that La Cotillard "raises Franceâ€™s poor, beloved chanteuse clean out of mundane pathos and into the ruined grandeur she deserves." "Cotillardâ€™s Piaf is genuinely impressive," allows the NY Press‘ Armond White. "But this showcase of phenomenal skill has to compensate for the movieâ€™s totally unoriginal biopic framework."
Stephanie Zacharek at Salon complains of Dahan’s chronological choppiness: "His approach draws more attention to the filmmaking than it does to the life. Dahan seems to believe that chronology is bourgeois: Pure storytelling is all fine and dandy, but he wants us to know he’s making art." "It also turns out that," A.O. Scott at the New York Times observes, "while musical idioms sometimes have a hard time crossing the barriers of language and culture, certain narrative clichÃ©s are universal." David Edelstein at New York notes that the film has "some peculiar ellipses," most notable one between "1940 to 1947, omitting the small episode of Germany’s occupation of France at the height of Piaf’s stardom."
But there are others who like the film: Owen Gleiberman at Entertainment Weekly, while disliking the "’impressionistic’ time leaps," thinks that "Dahan uses the facts of Piaf’s story (her rise on the nightclub circuit; her affair with boxing champ Marcel Cerdan, whose plane-crash death destroyed her) to touch her greatness, which was her ability to draw the ardor of life out of tragedy, pouring it into song until tragedy and happiness became one." And Kristi Mitsuda at indieWIRE finds Dahan’s structuring fitting:
Privileging certain encounters (Piaf’s doomed relationship with boxer Marcel Cerdan, lent fairy-tale cadences as shot on artfully fake sets standing in for New York) while gesturing only slightly towards other significant experiences (a husband here, a fading friendship there, the loss of a daughter to disease seen in deathbed flashback), "La Vie en rose" operates as a kind of impressionistic shorthand, an onomatopoetic rendering of Piaf’s whirling dervish persona.
+ "Pierrepoint – The Last Hangman": You may not think you know who Timothy Spall is, but you totally do. With a round, ruddy face and horsey teeth, Spall generally been kept to playing a variety of characters who are weak-willed, evil, serving as comic relief or some combination therein in dozens of films, most prominently the "Harry Potters" (as Peter Pettigrew), though he’s also acted in four of Mike Leigh‘s films. In Adrian Shergold film about the most prolific hangman in Britain, Spall gets to take the lead. "Pierrepoint’ is much more than straightforward fictionalized biography," writes Stephen Holden at the New York Times, impressed by the film’s take on capital punishments. "As this sad, shambling antihero swings from one pole to the other on the issue of capital punishment, you are inclined to follow every step of the way toward his tragic enlightenment." David Edelstein at New York finds that "the payoff, however emotional, relatively small," but he enjoys the director’s "attention to process and for all the ghoulish details."
At the LA Weekly, Ella Taylor writes that the film "reaches for complexity but ends up, as youâ€™d expect from a partnership with Masterpiece Theater, rendering Pierrepoint palatable as a decent, principled chap who was just doing his job." She also suggests that "[t]here is no evidence, in Pierrepointâ€™s memoir or elsewhere, that he suffered a crisis of conscience, and his later admission that in his experience capital punishment served no deterrent purpose came with no sense of personal culpability. Indeed, when Pierrepoint retired it was because the government failed to compensate him for reprieved prisoners." Nick Schager at Slant likes Spall’s performance but dislikes the film’s turn into "a preachy, arid drag about the unjustness of capital punishment." Chris Wisniewski echoes these thoughts at indieWIRE, adding that the sometimes glib tonal shifts can make the film seem "the liberal art-house equivalent of, well, ‘300’: aestheticized death, packaged without the slightest trace of political sophistication, served up for our too-easy consumption." And Noel Murray at the Onion AV Club writes that "There’s nothing wrong with producing an anti-capital-punishment tract, but Pierrepoint’s main problem is that there’s nothing surprising about it."
+ "12:08 East of Bucharest": Romania, Romania. Noel Murray at the Onion AV Club writes of Corneliu Porumboiu‘s black comedy and currently in vogue films of his countrymen: "It isn’t that the new Romanian films are devoid of style, but their virtuosity is expressed more in long conversations, allowed to play out in precisely composed frames." Of this film, he writes that "The story and situation are slight, but in the best possible way." "Focusing on personal eccentricities and foibles, East of Bucharest has a sly modesty reminiscent of the long-ago Czech new wave, exhibiting a sense of film form that evokes the best of the rueful Czech comedies," adds J. Hoberman at the Village Voice. "The movie’s circular structure suggests that if history is a joke, the forces that disrupt its progress are nothing short of miraculous."
Jeff Reichert at indieWIRE applauds how "Unexpectedly, and delightfully, Poromboiu uses the occasion of a two-bit civics lesson, poorly lensed by a youthful camera operator with cinematic ambitions, to spin out a droll meditation on both his chosen medium and the way history is shaped through personal reportage." At Slant, Nick Schager finds that its during the second half, when the film shifts over to a depiction of a live, amateurish local television show, "that the director produces his funniest material (much of it centered around awkward zooms and awful cinematographic framing) but also his most insightful reflections on memory, history, intolerance, and the ties between the personal and the political." And A.O. Scott at the New York Times writes that "Mr. Porumboiuâ€™s film is, at first glance, as rumpled and unassuming as its weary, fatalistic inhabitants. Though it is modest, almost anecdotal, in scale, â€œ12:08 East of Bucharestâ€ is also characterized by a precise and sneaky formal wit."