Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Children's favourite Inkheart

another review


Children's favourite Inkheart neatly fills the gap left by Harry Potter.

Adapting children's fiction for the big screen is a process laden with pitfalls. Sticking closely to the original work may result in a dutiful, unimaginative film; stray from the source and you incur the wrath of fanatical young readers. Reworking Cornelia Funke's best-seller Inkheart, British director Iain Softley navigates these hazards creditably.
Brendan Fraser is Mo, a bookbinder with the gifts of a "silvertongue"; when he reads aloud from a book, its characters enter the real world; but his gift also works in reverse, causing real people to disappear into the pages.

Ten years ago, his wife went missing as he read to his daughter Meggie (Eliza Hope Bennett). He has searched for a copy of this rare book, Inkheart, to bring her back.
When he locates it in a bookstore in the attractively filmed Italian Alps, its characters start tailing him. These include Dustfinger (the excellent Paul Bettany), a doomed flame-juggler, and Capricorn (Andy Serkis), an evil gang lord. Other veteran Brits steer us through the complex story: Jim Broadbent as Fenoglio, Inkheart's rather camp author, and Helen Mirren, in an Edith Sitwell-inspired turban, as Meggie's great-aunt Elinor, more playful and tactless than the dour spinster of the novel.
Irritatingly, many characters burst into irritating, honeyed paeans of praise about reading. "The written word," we are told, "is a powerful thing." As for books, they "love anyone who opens them". Yet ironically, Softley resorts to computer-generated imagery to stage the story's explosive climax: in film, words alone will not do. Still, Inkheart is cheerful and amiable, and in the absence of a Harry Potter film this winter, it fills a gap neatly.
The Israeli film Lemon Tree is a beguiling parable, based on a true story. Salma Zidane (Hiam Abbass), a Palestinian widow living on the border between Israel and the West Bank, digs her heels in when the Israeli Defence Minister moves in next door, and his secret service team demand that her lemon grove, standing between their houses and planted by her late husband, be cut down because it constitutes "a security risk".'
She takes the case all the way to the Supreme Court, enjoying a dalliance with her dynamic younger attorney (Ali Suliman) en route: anything to keep ownership of her lemon trees. Even the unhappy Defence Minister's wife (Rona Lipaz-Michael) finds her sympathies are swayed.
Clearly, the story relates to the Israeli-Palestinian divide – Lemon Tree is not a film for those who like their metaphors understated. Yet it is remarkable for the mere presence of Hiam Abbass alone.
This great Palestinian actress (born in Israel) appears in almost every scene. She has a grave, austere beauty and a stillness on screen that commands attention, and this may be the most mesmerising performance by any film actress this year. In a less skewed, more internationalist world, she would be booking her trip to the Oscars.
It will be a long time before the Academy honours the Hungarian director Bela Tarr – famously rigorous, high-minded, and seemingly without a commercial impulse in his body. His new film The Man From London underscores the point: it is long, slow-moving, with any notion of plot subordinate to the creation of atmosphere.
It's based on a story by the detective novelist Georges Simenon, though that makes it sound more thrill-packed than it is. Maloin (Miroslav Krobot), an all-seeing French harbourmaster who works in an elevated tower above a wharf, spies two men fighting over a suitcase. One man falls into the water; Maloin retrieves the suitcase, full of damp banknotes, and spends the rest of the film agonising over the morality of his actions.
The world Tarr creates is one of nocturnal shadows and fog, in which distant actions are deliberately indistinct. We learn, from scenes badly dubbed in French, that Maloin's possession of the money infuriates his wife (Tilda Swinton), but the defining act in the entire story is not even seen on screen.
Despite all this, surrendering to the film's languid rhythms is pleasurable, even invigorating. To resist its forbidding pace and style is to deny oneself its rarefied rewards.

By David Gritten

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