The Clouded Yellow

Format: DVD

Release date: 20 October 2008

Distributor: Eureka Entertainment

Director: Ralph Thomas

Writer: Janet Green

Cast: Trevor Howard, Jean Simmons, Kenneth More

UK 1950

81 mins

Ralph Thomas’s 1959 version of The 39 Steps is often used to illustrate the genius of Alfred Hitchcock – by contrast. However, in The Clouded Yellow (1951) Thomas does a much better job of emulating the mood and drama of Hitchcock’s classic British chase films: Young and Innocent, and of course, The 39 Steps.

Trevor Howard stars as former secret service agent David Somers, who retires to the countryside to catalogue butterflies – including the titular ‘clouded yellow’. There he finds himself caught up in a murder mystery and helps the chief suspect, Sophie Malraux (Jean Simmons), escape. Like John Rambo in First Blood (but in a very British, cravat-wearing way), he uses his superior survival skills to evade the hapless police search parties.

Whereas Hitchcock would famously use a narrative device – the ‘MacGuffin’ – to set the story rolling (in Young and Innocent it is a raincoat belt that washes up alongside a body two minutes into the film), here the set-up takes some three quarters of an hour, but despite this the plot is no more convincing. Plausibility, Hitch would claim, was not really the point, but here the great effort spent creating a less flawed plot perhaps leads us to expect more. Somers is a professional spy and is never really in danger in the same way Hitch’s plucky amateurs Richard Hannay and Robert Tisdall are, and thus the level of suspense is lowered. Thomas is more concerned with telling the story and less interested than Hitchcock in manipulating the audience’s emotions. Although the film hints at Freudian notions of repressed memories, this is purely a plot device, and little else is made of it.

However, the film certainly matches (if not surpasses) the master with its varied and dramatic locations – the waterfall at Sourmilk Gill in the Lake District, the dark back alleys of Newcastle, tearooms in London and even a Chinese restaurant in Liverpool. Unlike Hitchcock’s British thrillers, the film is shot almost entirely on such locations – at times seeming like a precursor of the Free Cinema movement, especially with the wonderfully naturalistic performance from Maire O’Neill as the Guinness-supping landlady. There are few of the technical innovations – no sweeping camera movements, matte shots or back projections – that form the Hitchcock style but Thomas makes up for this with some stunningly framed shots, particularly in the Lake District scenes.

Of course, Hitchcock did not invent or own the couple-on-the-run film and it is perhaps unfair to compare The Clouded Yellow to his work. It was probably not made as a conscious homage in the same way as Polanski’s Frantic (1988) was, for instance. But it is difficult not to feel that the film is lacking the style, suspense and sense of humour that Hitchcock would have given such a project. In spite of its flaws – the relationship between Howard and Simmons is never very convincing and the ending somewhat abrupt – it is a great movie to discover by accident on a Wednesday afternoon. Ralph Thomas shows that, like that other British war-horse J Lee Thompson, he was at times capable of making some perfectly decent entertainment.

Paul Huckerby

Waltz with Bashir

Waltz with Bashir

Format: Cinema

Release date: 21 November 2008

Venues: London West End and key cities

Distributor: Artificial Eye

Director: Ari Folman

Writer: Ari Folman

Israel 2008

90 mins

You’d have to be made of granite not to be moved by Waltz with Bashir. From the first frame it explodes with the overwhelming energy of unleashed hounds snarling and roaring through a city, like an invading army or a black tide of anger, regret or perhaps guilt, only to end up baying for blood from the street below their human target. As a friend tells him about his recurring nightmare, Israeli director Ari Folman feels compelled to unlock its meaning. Visiting psychiatrist friends, he’s urged to reconnect to former army buddies. Each one Folman meets transports him and us inside their fractured, surreal recollections of their time as young men in the Israeli army. Folman’s choice of the fantastical properties of animation, rather than live action, perfectly suits his autobiographical psychodrama as he sets about recovering painful memories of his military service in Lebanon, buried deep but rising to the surface again. He gradually pieces together what he witnessed in Beirut in 1982 of the massacre of an estimated 3,000 Palestinian refugees by the ‘Phalangist’ Christian militia, fuelled by a desire for revenge for the assassination by unknown hands of their recently elected charismatic leader Bashir Gemayel.

Art director and illustrator David Polonsky’s style of animation is striking and stark, close to the grittiness, chiaroscuro contrast and bold flat colouring of DC Vertigo graphic novels. It’s no coincidence, as Tomer and Asaf Hanuka, of Bipolar fame, are among the artists behind the scenes, and a graphic novel is released of the movie in December from Metropolitan Books. Human movements seem occasionally unnatural and computerised, certain passages repeat largely unchanged, but there are some riveting sequences, such as the nude giantess from the sea who cradles one soldier to safety as his ship is blown up, or the soldiers wading naked onto the beach in the golden glow of rocket flares overhead.

Like those flares, illuminating dark places, Folman’s probings into the past gradually shed light on what he saw. He needs to confront what transfixed him, what he can’t see before waking. When he does, it is at this climactic point, that (SPOILER ALERT) the animation is abruptly replaced by archive film footage of what was before his eyes, the wailing wives, mothers and grandmothers fleeing the killings. Finally, however, Folman goes no further. He gives us no inkling of how this revelation affects him, whether he feels complicit in these horrors, or who should be blamed, aside from an anecdote about Defence Minister Sharon’s blasé attitude and slow response to the horrific news. It’s here that for me the film falls short in its reticence, its reluctance to follow through. It works undeniably as a general indictment of war, especially from the ordinary soldier’s perspective, but ultimately, leaving the words screamed by those Palestinian refugee victims un-subtitled only underlines that their cries of injustice are still not being heard. Unlike the sympathetic but removed Folman, they were there, they lived it, they survived it and they can never bury their awful memories.

Paul Gravett

Paul Gravett is the author of Graphic Novels: Stories to Change Your Life and The Mindscape of Alan Moore. To find out more about his work on comics, go to

Waltz with Bashir is also showing as part of the Jewish Film Festival at the Tricycle, Kilburn, on November 9, at the Irish Film Institute (Dublin) on November 11, and at the Bradford Animation Festival on November 12. David Polonsky will be discussing the use of animation in documentary with Elizabeth Wood, director of DocHouse, at the ICA (London) on November 10.


The Baader-Meinhof Complex

Format: Cinema

Release date: 14 November 2008

Venue: Curzon Soho, Odeon Covent Garden, Vue West End (London) and key cities

Distributor: Momentum Pictures

Director: Uli Edel

Writers: Uli Edel, Bernd Eichinger

Based on the book by: Stefan Aust

Original title: Der Baader Meihof Komplex

Cast: Martina Gedeck, Moritz Bleibtreu, Johanna Wokalek, Bruno Ganz

Germany 2008

150 mins

An enormous amount of effort, on both a stylistic and technical level, has been poured into The Baader-Meinhof Complex, and – unfortunately – it shows. The craftmanship is so strenuously neat that each scene seems designed to get the movie nominated for best foreign language film at the Academy Awards. Produced by Bernd Eichinger (Downfall), directed by Uli Edel and assembling an impressive cast of top-rated German actors, the film painstakingly chronicles the rise and fall of the Red Army Faction (RAF), better known as the Baader-Meinhof Group, who rocked the West German democracy of the 1960s and 70s with a series of increasingly violent attacks against targets identified by the group as representing capitalism and American imperialism.

More than 30 years after the notorious German Autumn, the fascination and horror sparked by the Red Army Faction (RAF) remains darkly resonant and continues to inspire artists. Based on Stefan Aust’s bestselling non-fiction book of the same title, The Baader-Meinhof Complex prides itself on its historical accuracy. However, the film’s style is somewhat conservative for a filmmaker who is best known abroad for his astonishing, controversial 1981 debut Christiane F, a grim, ghastly look at the real-life case of a 13-year-old girl who turned to heroin and prostitution, and his striking adaptation of Hubert Selby Jr’s novel, Last Exit to Brooklin, both of which were also produced by Bernd Eichinger. A shame, then, that there isn’t a breath of spontaneous life and so little genuine emotion in The Baader-Meinhof Complex to back up the fast-paced plot.

Focusing on the active history of the RAF, there are, as there ought to be, a number of action sequences, from the bloody escalation of the 1967 Berlin demonstration against the Shah of Persia to the various bombings, fire attacks, bank robbery campaigns and gruesome assassinations, culminating in the Lufthansa hijack and the kidnap and eventually murder of German industrialist Hans Martin Schleyer in October 1977. The Baader-Meinhof Complex is Germany’s contemporary history told in fast motion, frantically and violently edited, while a multi-layered wall-to-wall soundtrack pumps up the energy.

The crucial problem lies with the clumsy, cluttered storyline that is meant to string together the harrowing events. ‘When you are dealing with historical events where people have been killed and others have become killers, you have a responsibility as a filmmaker to be as precise and as thouroughly researched as possible’, said Eichinger, who co-wrote the script. ‘The RAF decided to turn their back on political debate and to resort to violence; therefore it’s only logical that the film follows suit and concentrates not so much on what the RAF said, but what they did. I firmly believe that we don’t define ourselves as humans by what we say but by what we do.’

If historical accuracy means echoing original conversations between the group’s leading members and counting the number of bullets fired in each murder, the film certainly feels authentic. But in its over-ambitious attempt to encompass the wide-ranging series of events that occurred between the first explosions in department stores in 1967 and the deaths of Andreas Baader, Ulrike Meinhof, Gudrun Ensslin and Jan-Carl Raspe in Stammheim prison a decade later, the film ends up being nothing more than a series of striking but overly stylised images. Edel rushes from one set-piece to the next, giving his cast hardly any time to fully develop their characters beyond chic, style-conscious terrorists. Moritz Bleibtreu as Baader and Johanna Wokalek as Ensslin lack the charisma necessary to be convincing in these roles. However, Martina Gedeck is outstanding in the central role of Ulrike Meinhof; a fallen angel as depicted in Aust’s book, she leaves her two kids and brittle marriage behind and gets fatally caught in the whirlpool of events. As likeable as the Meinhof character is, any kind of initial empathy with the terrorists slowly turns to indifference, an awkward feeling that intensifies over the course of the film, until the intended message emerges in the last sentence: ‘You didn’t know them. Stop seeing them as they never were’, admonishes Brigitte Mohnhaupt (Nadja Uhl), one of the following generation of terrorists.

Perhaps the film suffers from its huge budget as well as from comparisons with the documentaries and features that have dealt with the legacy of Baader-Meinhof in the past, the first and arguably most intelligent of those being Germany in Autumn (1978), a provocative mixture of reportage, autobiography and melodrama by the foremost German filmmakers of the time. In the end, however expansive, action-packed and powerfully shot The Baader-Meinhof Complex undoubtedly is, it remains a disturbing hybrid that leaves the viewer jaded, bizarrely perplex and ultimately unsatisfied.

Pamela Jahn


Fine, Totally Fine

Format: Cinema

Release date: 14 November 2008

Venues: ICA Cinema (London)

Distributor: Third Window Films

Director: Yosuke Fujita

Writer: Yosuke Fujita

Original title: Zenzen daijobu

Cast: Yoshiyoshi Arakawa, Yoshinori Okada, Yoshino Kimura

Japan 2008

110 mins

‘Cute’ may not be the most inspiring adjective used to describe a film. But Fine, Totally Fine, the first full-length feature from Yosuke Fujita is cute – as well as offbeat, charming and very funny. Set in the Tokyo suburbs, far away from the neon lights of Shibuya, the film is a laid-back, quirky look at the slightly surreal, everyday lives of three misfits struggling to grow up as they approach the traumatic age of 30.

Yoshiyoshi Arakawa (who was in the equally funny 2002 film Ping Pong) is Teruo, a part-time groundskeeper who spends all his spare time devising elaborate and gory tricks to scare the life out of his friends and family (think lots of severed heads), while dreaming of opening a haunted theme park. He lives in a room crammed with spooky memorabilia above the second-hand bookstore owned by his father, who is suffering from depression and does little more than stay in bed all day watching television.

Teruo’s best friend Hisanobu (Yoshinori Okada) does have a real job supervising hospital cleaning staff, but he’s so desperate to be liked by everyone that he’s incapable of disciplining his workers, and even hires the cute but impossibly shy Akari (Yoshino Kimura) as a cleaner after she shows up in his office with her clothes torn and covered in mud. She’s so painfully clumsy that opening a box of Kleenex turns into a major ordeal. She is also something of an artist (with a taste for fish sausages) and spies on and obsessively paints an old, eccentric bag-lady, who makes colourful and bizarre sculptures of her own from found objects.

An endless number of light-hearted, comedic scenes arise from the intersection of the three anti-heroes’ lives. Finally let go from the hospital after a slapstick accident while cleaning up after a surgery, Teruo hires Akari to work in the bookstore after his father finally picks himself up and takes off to do some travelling (and finds a new calling as a lo-fi pop musician). While Akari is better suited to life in the shop, she’s still subjected to agonisingly awkward moments dealing with customers, especially those buying the hard-core porn mags on sale. This set-up lays the ground work for the classic love triangle, but Fujitsa mostly steers away from predictable clichés. The boys are such slackers that they only realise too late that they should pursue Akari at all.

While there isn’t a lot of dramatic tension in the film, or even a clear direction, Fujtsa draws us into the story with a series of perfectly captured, oddball moments. Great performances, plenty of physical comedy (especially from Yoshino) and some great gags make Fine, Totally Fine an entertaining, original and endearing film. And while Teruo never builds his haunted house, he and the others do take a few tentative steps towards adulthood.

Sarah Cronin



Format: Cinema

Release date: 21 November 2008

Venues: Cineworld Haymarket (London) and nationwide

Distributor: 20th Century Fox

Director: Clark Gregg

Writer: Clark Gregg

Based on the novel by: Chuck Palahniuk

Cast: Sam Rockwell, Kathryn Alexander, Anjelica Huston

USA 2008

89 mins

It’s hard to believe that almost 10 years have passed since the release of Fight Club. Adapted from the novel by Chuck Palahniuk, David Fincher’s wildly successful studio picture injected some much-needed grittiness and transgression into Hollywood. Although the film’s controversial nature and its huge cultural impact drew significant attention to Palahniuk himself and boosted Fincher’s already impressive reputation, it’s taken until now to get a second adaptation off the ground. Despite Palahniuk’s full endorsement and star names attached, actor-screenwriter-director Clark Gregg spent seven years pulling the project together, funding the film independently, before securing distribution through Fox Searchlight.

Sam Rockwell plays Victor Mancini, a misanthrope who works as a performer in historical re-enactments and sex addict, with a hospitalised mother who can’t remember his name, a best friend who masturbates 15 times a day, and a bank account so empty he’s forced into unthinkable acts of con artistry to support his mother’s staggering medical bills. In spite of these many drawbacks, he exudes a curious charm and is a likeable character. Victor’s journey centres on his mother Ida (a mesmerising Anjelica Huston), who harbours a deep secret regarding his estranged father and his unconventional childhood. It is this relationship that dominates the film, and the dynamic between the two characters is well observed and at times genuinely poignant.

The title refers to the serial acts of staged choking in restaurants whereby Mancini welcomes the empathy and occasional cheques from diners who unsuspectingly save his life. While these scenes are filled with the macabre humour that is to be expected from Palahniuk’s work, there is an element of sincerity in the comfort he receives from being held in a stranger’s arms.

Gregg, who himself appears as Victor’s despicably bureaucratic superior, directs with a surprisingly light touch. While those who enjoyed Fincher’s stylised Fight Club may be put off by the more conventional cinematography here, it is a look that suits the piece well, even in the darker scenes, which include a consensual rape gone wrong and a hilariously morbid incident involving missing anal beads.

At times, however, the tone of the film is uneven, and in many ways the strands of narrative in the novel don’t blend so well on film, particularly the scenes involving Victor’s work as ‘the backbone of colonial America’, which mark too distant a departure from his central quest. While the genre-bending nature of the piece is admirable to an extent, Choke doesn’t really find its feet until the final reel, which builds to a truly satisfying climax that is genuinely moving, aided by a fitting ending track in Radiohead’s ‘Reckoner’.

James Merchant


Let's Talk about the Rain

Format: Cinema

Release date: 7 November 2008

Venues: Curzon Mayfair and Soho, Renoir, Screens on the Green and Hill (London) + key cities

Distributor: Artificial Eye

Director: Agní­Â¨s Jaoui

Writer: Agní­Â¨s Jaoui, Jean-Pierre Bacri

Original title: Parlez-moi de la pluie

Cast: Agní­Â¨s Jaoui, Jean-Pierre Bacri, Jamel Debbouze

France 2008

110 mins

Agní­Â¨s Jaoui is a sharp observer of modern life, who not only writes and directs compelling films but also stars in them. Recent successes include Look at Me (Comme une image, 2004) and The Taste of Others (Le Goût des autres, 2000). Her latest film, Let’s Talk about the Rain (Parlez-moi de la pluie), is just as uncompromising in its portrayal of contemporary French society. Co-written with her long-term collaborator Jean-Pierre Bacri, Let’s Talk about the Rain explores the way in which people’s lives interweave and collide. It has a lighter, more overtly humorous feel than her previous features, yet it deals with two important issues: sexism and anti-Arab racism. It’s also a film about filmmaking – or about a film not being made.

The plot centres around the female protagonist, Agathe Villanova (Jaoui), a feminist and politician. She has reluctantly returned to her childhood home in the South of France to help her sister, Florence, sort out their mother’s possessions following her death earlier in the year. Agathe and Florence’s housekeeper, Mimouna (played movingly by non-professional and real-life friend of Jaoui, Mimouna Hadji), has a son, Karim, who is a young documentary maker working for TV. Karim’s mentor, Michel Ronsard (Bacri), persuades Agathe to be the subject of a TV series focusing on successful women.

Michel and Karim make a comic duo set against Agathe’s business-like presence: Michel is a hefty, middle-aged white man; Karim a diminutive, sparky young French-Arab. The plot is structured around frustratingly long sequences in which the pair try and fail to make their documentary – in one scene, shooting is interrupted by a flock of noisy sheep. Yet it’s because of these continual setbacks that characters are forced to listen to each other. Favouring sequence shots over close-ups and heavy editing, Jaoui emphasises the way in which relationships evolve. Characteristically, music plays a key role: key scenes are punctuated with excerpts from Schubert’s El Gondelfahrer, emphasising the polyphonic, ‘choral’ quality of the narrative. In other instances, Latin rhythms and bold brass melodies complement the film’s comic energy.

Ultimately, Let’s Talk about the Rain is about re-evaluation and reassessment. Even ‘tough’, authoritative Agathe is led to question her own attitudes to work and domestic life. Amorous relationships spring up and break down between other protagonists, too. Finally, the implied role reversal between Karim (evidently the more talented one, but hindered by racial prejudice) and Michel (the middle-class fool) hints at an uncomfortable truth: racial inequality is still prevalent in a country whose founding principles are ‘equality’ and ‘fraternity’. The film’s title is inspired by Georges Brassens’s song lyric, ‘Talk to me about the rain and not about the fine weather’. Like Brassens, Jaoui encourages us not to wait for the sun to come out, but to acknowledge the falling rain. As her film demonstrates, this attitude is just as important in making art as it is for living with others.

Marina Bradbury


Starfish Hotel

Format: DVD

Release date: 27 October 2008

Distributor: 4Digital Asia

Director: John Williams

Writer: John Williams

Cast: Koichi Sato, Tae Kimura, Kiki, Akira Emoto, Kazuyoshi Kushida

Japan 2006

98 mins

Western fairy tale meets Eastern repression in John Williams‘s compelling, albeit derivative, noir-ish exploration of the human soul’s murky depths. Taking its cue from Alice in Wonderland means that some of the journey might be familiar but the non-linear approach leads down some intriguing rabbit holes. Yes, it rips off Donnie Darko‘s macabre bunny Frank amongst other things, but it effectively uses film conventions to blur the boundary between the real world and the fantasy of fiction.

Office drone Arisu (Sato) trudges through the rat race in Tokyo with his marriage to Chisato (Kimura) merely part of the routine. His only distractions are the horror novels by Jo Kuroda that give him nightmares but tell of a tempting other-world known as Darkland. As Kuroda is about to release a new book, Arisu’s wife disappears and so a mystery begins. Clues from a creepy man in a rabbit costume (Emoto) lead him to seedy brothels and puzzling private detectives, as well as back through his own memories of an affair with the sensual Kayoko (Kiki) at the remote Starfish Hotel.

The story seems simple but Williams frequently jumbles things up, throwing in Kuroda almost as a narrator and often questioning whether certain events are real or just part of Arisu’s imagination. As Arisu is a Kuroda fan, is he fantasising about cheating on his wife or merely constructing his own story to fulfil his dream of being a writer? While the plot strand about the missing Chisato is neatly concluded – though one criticism is that there are a few too many endings – Williams keeps his final shot ambiguous, hinting at another level of interpretation, and, as a result, the film knocks around the viewer’s subconscious for days afterwards.

As you may have guessed, Williams is not native to Japan – in fact he’s a Welshman – but having lived there for a number of years he has developed a deep understanding of Tokyo. # Where many filmmakers would simply fill the screen with bright neon lights and the familiar skyline, Williams is far more interested in what lies at the heart of day-to-day life in the metropolis and he’s not afraid to delve into its dank alleyways. The director cites cult writer Haruki Murakami as a major influence – Murakami’s novel Dance Dance Dance also features a squalid hotel of sin – and Williams’s Tokyo is one of cold isolation and disillusionment with a repetitive office job, sharing Murakami’s criticisms of modern society.

Arisu’s journey into his darker, more primal desires could be considered a tamer Eyes Wide Shut but Williams is Lynchian in style; the slow, deliberate pace is similar to the woozy Mulholland Drive although Starfish Hotel is much more accessible. Despite a lack of originality the film is both an intriguing mystery, complete with a desperately unknowable femme fatale, and a compelling study of how we can live out dreams, or become other characters entirely, when engaged with works of fiction, making this not just a typically ‘Eastern’ film but a wholly universal one.

Richard Badley


The Servant

Format: DVD

Release date: 20 October 2008

Distributor: Optimum Home Entertainment

Director: Joseph Losey

Titles: The Go-Between, The Servant, Accident, The Criminal, Eva, Mr Klein, Sleeping Tiger, The Big Night


‘Trouble with Women’ might be a good title for this somewhat random collection of Joseph Losey’s films, featuring seven of the 26 he made between 1952 and 1976. In every film except the last, the focal point is a troubled male lead whose life is complicated by a foolish or wicked woman. Birds – more trouble than they’re worth, eh? In spite of this simplistic view though, once Losey got his shit together in the 1960s he gave us several unique and memorable films.

The first film in the collection, The Big Night, is noir to a fault. None of the male characters are sympathetic and the female characters are only there to react to the men. There is plenty of grim nocturnal city atmosphere to pass the time. But the dark thrills, such as they are, are undermined by the rather clumsy and prurient interest in ‘social problems’ that Losey tends to show in the early films.

Sleeping Tiger is funnier than anyone except maybe its star Dirk Bogarde intended. Dirk is the attitudinous juvie d. stirring things up behind his shrink’s privet hedge in Walton-on-Thames. As always with mid-century nutjobs, it turns out to have been his mum and dad wot fucked him up. I refer the reader to David Cairns’s blog Shadowplay for the last word on this period piece.

The music is great from here on, with Malcolm Arnold the first of three notable composers to do the business in this collection. We also start to see Losey’s inspired way with interior shots, often framed by mirrors, doorways, windows in a disorienting or distancing way.

The Criminal is something of a mess. I felt a lack of clear purpose or point to this pioneering exercise in Brit crime. How much you enjoy it will probably depend on your reaction to the somewhat brutish appeal of Losey regular Stanley Baker as leading man. For me, he is a charmless version of Sean Connery in this role. Played by a different kind of actor, the troubled criminal trying to hang on to his big-shot status in changing times could have been an intriguing study of a man adrift. Jean-Paul Belmondo, say, might have made the character less dull without losing the tough guy act. But there are pleasures to be found here, particularly Jill Bennett and Murray Melvin in small roles. Composer Johnny Dankworth is now on the team: his distinctively British version of cool school jazz makes everything seem more stylish. And from time to time we can enjoy Losey’s cinematic imagination in the framing of a shot. The pathos of the closing scene in a desolate snowy field is endowed with a Fellini-like monochrome beauty. Otherwise not much here for the arty viewer.

Things start looking up with Eva: Losey goes Gallic, with a star turn by Jeanne Moreau and a score by Michel Legrand. It stretches credibility and is a bit unpleasant but pretty compelling. By the 1950s, it was quite usual for the themes of sexual domination and cruelty so beloved of filmmakers to be given a specious veneer of psychological sophistication. Not cruelty but sadism – oh, that’s OK then. Losey had demonstrated a fondness for pop psych in Sleeping Tiger, where Dirk’s insouciant amoralist rather unconvincingly breaks down when pressed to reflect on his unhappy childhood. In Eva, by contrast, Losey and cast really pull out the psycho-stops, and we sit back to enjoy the carnage. The subject matter is reminiscent of La Dolce Vita, though perhaps the influence went both ways, for Eva‘s cinematographer Gianni Di Venanzo went on to work with Fellini on 8킽.

We then have three highly original and perfectly realised films. The reason why these films are so much better than what came before is quite simple: Losey’s screenwriter was one of the great dramatists of the century, Harold Pinter. The Servant and The Go-Between seem to me beyond praise or criticism (In the former, we get the great bonus of Pinter’s own cameo appearance – if he hadn’t had other priorities he could have had a great acting career).

More controversial is Accident, in which the tendrils of desire draw together jeunesse dorée and married dons and wreck everyone’s lives. Another classic Dirk performance at the centre, and at last Stanley Baker comes into his own. Great score by Johnny Dankworth, and the accident scene is all the more jarring in contrast to the composed Oxford setting of the film.

Completely different from any of the other films in the collection is the French-language Monsieur Klein. Losey handles a sinuously odd storyline about the fate of Jews in Vichy France with considerable subtlety: the calm with which he depicts the net closing around Monsieur Klein makes this all the more effective as a story of scarcely credible events invading the normal lives of ordinary people. Even a third of a century after the fact, it must have touched a few nerves in French cinemas.

Losey’s quality control was too unreliable for the mantle of great filmmaker to fit comfortably, but he did make several inspired and brilliantly realised films, each of which is in its own way quite unique. A more satisfactory collection would concentrate on the British films Losey made from 1962 to 1967: The Criminal, Eva, The Damned (not the Visconti film), The Servant, King and Country, and Accident would fit together wonderfully, and I guess you could throw in Modesty Blaise for a bit of light relief.

Peter Momtchiloff


Mad Detective

Format: DVD

Release date: 3 November 2008

Distributor: Eureka Entertainment

Director: Johnnie To, Ka-Fai Wai

Writer: Ka-Fai Wai, Kin-Yee Au

Original title: Sun taam

Cast: Ching Wan Lau, Andy On, Ka Tung Lam, Kelly Lin

Hong Kong 2007

89 mins

Notoriously off-the-wall Hong Kong directors Johnnie To and Ka-Fai Wai reteam for a surreal swipe at police procedural movies. After tackling a number of genres, most recently with the comic adventure Running on Karma in 2003, the pair delve into the world of mental illness and schizophrenia – but in a fun way. Though Mad Detective could be considered gimmicky, To and Wai’s matter-of-fact approach means the perspective of the title character feels like cold, hard reality and Ching Wan Lau’s troubled performance makes it believable.

Lau plays the eccentric Inspector Bun, an instinctive policeman who is able to re-enact murders to learn the killer’s identity. His record is exemplary but he finds himself shunned when he cuts off his own ear in front of his retiring Chief. Five years later, an old colleague, Inspector Ho (On), needs Bun’s help in solving a series of bloody robberies possibly perpetrated by an officer who went missing along with his gun. If Bun’s special abilities weren’t weird enough, he can also see an individual’s ‘inner personalities’ and suspects the AWOL officer’s former partner, Chi Wai (Lam), who is represented by seven very different characters.

It all has the potential to be extremely confusing, but the directors keep things coherent, mostly through some simple camera work but also by concentrating on the central plot rather than getting carried away with Bun’s unique skills. The film’s early scenes are deliciously strange – witness Bun carrying out robberies with just his finger as a weapon, or urinating on one of Chi Wai’s personalities as a means of questioning – but To and Wai are wary of pushing it too far and disappearing into absurdity. This isn’t like a typical superhero movie that wallows in the dark, depressing world the cursed hero inhabits even though Bun clearly has problems, convincing himself he still has a wife until the ‘real’ one shows up to check he’s still taking his medication.

This is Ho’s story more than anything and the film is keen to contrast his method of policing with Bun’s. Ho is in awe of Bun, and tries to emulate him, but he’s shackled by the need for evidence whereas Bun is free to pursue his gut feelings. Mad Detective is about throwing away the rule book and replacing logic with emotion – even if that emotion is totally inexplicable. The story is very much about solving the case from each of these perspectives, a case that has similarities with To’s earlier PTU (2003), also concerned with tracking down a missing gun.

Mad Detective might not be as assured as To’s recent solo efforts – the harsh, backlit cinematography isn’t as polished as in Election (2005) – and the plot itself, lazily descending into the usual Mexican stand-off, doesn’t yield as many surprises as Bun’s barmy investigation, but it’s compelling to follow. Once again this is innovative, fearless filmmaking from To and Wai, who can tackle even the most bizarre of subjects – and prove there’s always method to their madness.

Richard Badley

By the same director, see alo: Triangle