Arts & Culture Film, Theatre & TV

Three Films. One Theme. Redemption or Damnation?

  • March 23, 2023
  • 5 min read
Three Films. One Theme. Redemption or Damnation?

Nostalgia is director Mario Martone’s latest Italian feature to capture neorealism in the labyrinthian back alleys of Naples. Billed as ‘a parable of a man and a city teetering between redemption and damnation,’ the story centres around the homecoming of Felice (Pierfrancesco Favino) a successful, but world-weary archetype who returns to his birthplace after 40 years absence. He arrives at an apartment door where his mother is supposed to reside. The occupants have no idea who Felice nor his mother are. We discover that she’d been moved to a ground floor slum without windows. All in exchange for a drawer full of cash. These family scenes are some of the most heart wrenching, yet touching, I’ve seen. Felice cares for his mother, while not actually moving in with her. Within days she passes on.  

Threaded throughout with flashback memories Nostalgia has a storyline of continual warning, which is ‘never go back’. Especially when it leads back to former friends. The local Priest becomes concerned that Felice wants to locate his long-lost pal, Oreste, who is known to the locals of the Rione Sanita district as “O Malommo” or “The Bad Man”. Scenes of motorbike gangs firing guns indiscriminately, heed a warning to keep away. Felice, however, knows that the gangs are run by the very man with whom he wants to reconcile his hidden past. 

Filmed with zeal and directorial cunning, Martone uses real people as background actors in the very same manner that Vittorio De Sica did in Rome back in 1948 with the granddaddy of Italian neorealism, The Bicycle Thieves. Already an award winner at Italian Film Festivals, the underplayed subtlety of Favino’s performance singles him out as an actor of international standing. Don’t miss this film.

Tår features two-time Academy Award winner Cate Blanchett as a fictional orchestral conductor, Lydia Tår. Much touted with press hyperbole, the media spin promised a filmic journey into the mind of a ‘maestro’, delving into the dark side of her success. Lydia Tår is trolled by someone riddled with envy. A familiar type of resentment that can flourish within organisations where rivalry aims to destroy those who have blossomed.

Set in New York, Berlin, and the Far East, one might expect a film of almost three hours to be epic. Possibly on the grand scale of a Sydney Lumet film? It isn’t. It’s intimate. The opening onstage celebrity interview with her segues into her student workshops. Here Tår gives way to the writer-producer-director’s predilection for ‘the method school’ of acting. Theatrical performances that are far too reliant on lengthy dialogue. 

Blanchett’s role would have been more suited to a stage setting.  

Looking at my watch, I noticed that the first in-vision full orchestral rehearsal appeared on-screen at seventy minutes into this lofty film. To clarify that’s no orchestral music until that particular juncture in a film about a ‘maestro.’ Tår is also filled with all manner of pretension and plot ambiguity. 

Plot guff or Hitchcockian MacGuffins? 

One thing is certain, the movie isn’t half as clever as the filmmaker would have us all believe. Furthermore, I didn’t care for Blanchett’s performance. Especially in her scenes of silent contemplation. Her eyes are empty. It looks like the lights are on, but nobody’s home. Intentional? Surely not? I recall similar moments in the films of the late British actor Ian Holm.’ Nobody’s home’ was an observation I made to the late film director Karel Reisz in 1986, who concurred with the ‘Holm factor.’ What would he have made of Tår?  

Enys Men is the second feature film to be directed by Cornish filmmaker, Mark Jenkin. His monochrome debut Bait was about Cornish Fishermen that had audiences thinking they were going to watch a Horror film. This time Jenkin has opted for a colourful Ghost Story set in 1973 on a deserted island off Cornwall, once occupied by Tin Miners. The central character is played by Mary Woodvine, a volunteer worker living alone in a stone cottage. She’s staying there to monitor a particular species of wildflower that suddenly grows lichens on its petals. These soon rather oddly transmute on to her own body.

Haunted by the death of a girl in the cottage, she also sees apparitions of Cornish mine workers, their wives, and a drowned boatman who once delivered her supplies. A standing stone – a Menhir – echoes Bronze Age settlers, while wild birds in the shape of Curlew Sandpipers warble in the long grass, interrupting the tranquillity, of this idyllic yet dark island. Enys Men is strikingly shot with a strong use of vibrantly coloured clothing. Most notably, however, Mary Woodvine gives an award-worthy performance with minimal dialogue, which sees her acting reduced to insightful facial gestures that recall the subtlety of Charlotte Rampling’s acting in The Night Porter. Albeit a wholly different film. With Enys Men, Jenkin has directed an astutely judged performance for real cinema and the antithesis of Cate Blanchett’s theatrical ‘method’ in Tår. Enys Men is a better film by far. 

About Author

Henry Scott Irvine

The published author of Procol Harum's hardback Omnibus Press biography, Henry Scott-Irvine's writing began in the script departments of the British film industry. He continued as a Film & TV 'Music & Arts' researcher. He has a long background in published journalism. A radio producer-presenter since 2009 as well as a producer of the award winning documentary film Tales From Tin Pan Alley. He's a successful campaigner for securing listings and preservation for London's music & film heritage sites.

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