Spring Breakers

Spring Breakers

Format: Cinema

Release date: 5 April 2013

Distributor: Vertigo/Universal Pictures

Director: Harmony Korine

Writer: Harmony Korine

Cast: Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Rachel Korine, Ashley Benson, James Franco, Gucci Mane

USA 2012

92 mins

Harmony Korine may be the writer of Larry Clark’s Kids (1995), director of Gummo (1997) and friends with Werner Herzog, but gaining a reputation as one of the many enfants terribles of American cinema doesn’t mean mediocre work can go unnoticed. That is not to say that Spring Breakers is a bad film per se – there are a few sparks of brilliance in it – but everyone who’s beyond the actual spring-break age may struggle to keep their attention focused on what is essentially a slow-motion-candy-colour-teen-bikini-tits-pills-guns-coke-pseudo-gangsta-rap-beach-rave video clip on constant rewind.

Part of the film’s problem may be that, as his projects have grown bigger, Korine wants too much, too fast. While Kids was all about sex, Spring Breakers is as much about sex as it is about violence, money and drugs, in equal measures. It’s the American teen dream (or nightmare) packed in 92 seemingly endless minutes. And as most dreams go, especially those on illegal highs, its sparse narrative, following four bored-to-death college girls on a crime spree to spring-break paradise, is elliptical, hazy and marked by recurrence and a sense of déjá vu.

When, soon after their arrival at St. Pete Beach, Brit (Ashley Benson), Faith (Selena Gomez), Candy (Vanessa Hudgens) and Cotty (Rachel Korine) end up in jail for dancing at the right party at the wrong time, they are bailed out by sleazy, big-mouthed local hustler Alien (James Franco), who takes the girls under his wing. It’s all fun and games with Alien too, who proudly announces that he has found his soulmates in the reckless blondes who would stop at nothing to have fun, until Cotty gets shot and chickens out, following devoutly religious Faith, who has long gone home. For the remaining two girls, however, the party is just getting started.

Korine himself said that he just wants to be as innovative, radical and personal as possible, and to get people who wouldn’t normally go for his stuff to watch his films. Fair enough, and Soderbergh’s Magic Mike (2012) has just proven that no matter how ambitious your intention as a director may be, you better keep things simple if you want to succeed at the box office, too. In fact, that there may well be a subtle melodrama hiding somewhere behind the sex-and-crime-obsession-imagery seems to unnecessarily complicate matters in Spring Breakers. But thanks to cinematographer Benoît Debie (Enter the Void, 2009) and a dubstep/electro soundtrack featuring DJ Skrillex and Winding-Refn’s composer, Cliff Martinez, you are sure to forget that thought within seconds, and instead find yourself trapped in a loop of booze, beach and boobs yet again.

Pamela Jahn

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Thursday till Sunday

Thursday till Sunday
Thursday till Sunday

Format: Cinema

Release date: 5 April 2013

Distributor: day for night

Director: Dominga Sotomayer

Writer: Dominga Sotomayer

Cast: Santi Ahumada, Francisco Pérez-Bannen, Emiliano Freifeld, Paola Giannini

Original title: De jueves a domingo

Chile 2012

96 mins

Two children are woken in the middle of the night by their parents, who carry them, still half-asleep, to their family’s battered station wagon. They have been promised a trip to the beach; their young, charismatic father (Francisco Pérez-Bannen) is looking for a piece of land in northern Chile that he has inherited. But the father’s quest is perhaps more child-like than that of his children, confused as it seems with a naive hope for a fresh start. Their mother’s motives and expectations for going on the trip are less easy to decipher. Unfolding through the time that they spend together in the car and on the road, the Chilean director Dominga Sotomayor’s debut film, Thursday till Sunday, becomes a portrait of a marriage and family falling apart, seen through the eyes of ten-year-old Lucía (beautifully played by Santi Ahumada). Lucia captures that transition from childhood to adolescence, and the loss of innocence, as she gradually becomes aware that something is terribly wrong between her parents.

On the road, claustrophobic camerawork from inside the car is contrasted with the wide-open, arid and alien landscapes outside, emphasised by the luminescent, almost washed-out quality of Bárbara &#193lvarez’s cinematography. The vast distances the family travels are echoed in the gulf between the married couple, and it’s only as the film unravels that we slowly begin to pierce through the underlying tension. Like Lucía, we’re only offered glimpses of her parents, and hints and clues in the grown-up conversations that she struggles to understand. When the mother, Ana (Paola Giannini), encounters an old friend, a single father, at a camp site, it’s unclear if the meeting is spontaneous or contrived. The night-time scenes take place in virtual darkness, plunging the viewer straight into Lucía’s uncertainty and unease. When she hears voices in the shadows, the audience is as in the dark as she is. It’s sometimes maddening, but always effective. Finally, Sunday arrives, and with it, the disappointing realities of adulthood.

With Thursday till Sunday Sotomayor has crafted a compelling mix of road movie and coming-of-age story, using subtle tricks to involve the audience in the complexities and ambiguities of both marriage and childhood. Helped by some excellent performances, it is another striking film to emerge from South America.

Sarah Cronin

Army of Shadows

Army of Shadows

Format: Blu-ray

Release date: 8 April 2013

Distributor: Studiocanal

Director: Jean-Pierre Melville

Writer: Jean-Pierre Melville

Based on the novel by: Joseph Kessel

Cast: Lino Ventura, Simone Signoret, Paul Meurisse, Jean-Pierre Cassel

Original Title: L’armée des ombres

France 1969

145 mins

The sound of marching feet. The now familiar sight of German soldiers trooping through the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, marking their own triumphant seizure of the city, and symbolically, of France as a whole. From the opening shots through to its tragic end, Jean-Pierre Melville’s classic Army of Shadows about the French Resistance is so full of influential, iconic imagery that, watching the film more than 40 years after its original release in 1969, it’s difficult to shake the feeling of déjà vu.

A key figure in the Resistance, Philippe Gerbier (Lino Ventura) is interned, without charge, in a prison camp. His jailers aren’t German, but French (the first of many critiques of collaborationists, and subtly, of the French as a whole). He soon escapes and finds his way to Marseilles, where, with two trusted colleagues, Le Masque (Claude Mann) and Le Bison (Christian Barbier), justice is meted out in brutal fashion to the person who betrayed him. Now a known and wanted man, Gerbier’s survival takes on new prominence, with the film twisting its way through a series of arrests of both Gerbier and his helpers and the subsequent, dangerous attempts at their rescue.

For the three comrades are part of the handful of men and one formidable woman (with her one, fatal flaw) who form the cell at the heart of the film, which was based on Joseph Kessel’s 1943 novel of the same name and influenced by Melville’s own war-time experiences. Devoted members of the Resistance, they are isolated figures, alone in the sacrifices they make to protect each other and in their efforts to subvert the Germans. Their strength lies in their convictions and unswerving devotion to the cell; Gerbier almost worships Luc Jardie (Paul Meurisse), a philosopher, writer and their leader.

There is little romanticism in the portrayal of their actions, no bending of history to make the Resistance seem somehow glamorous. Melville’s Army of Shadows is an austere film, shot in steely grey and blue tones, in an almost minimalist style. The languorous, late-60s pacing succeeds in creating an almost real-time sense of suspense. When Mathilde (terrifically played by Simone Signoret), disguised as a nurse, tries to enter the jail where another comrade has been kept prisoner and nearly tortured to death, the seconds crawl by as she waits for her papers to be approved by the guards. Melville creates the feeling of nervous energy and fear that anyone would feel in those tense moments, unsure if they’re about to be exposed as agents, and knowing the horrific reality of what would happen if they were. And by the film’s unhappy conclusion, the members of the cell have all been humiliated, tormented and sadistically toyed with by the Germans in what, in those years, was an almost futile battle.

With its strong political undertones, Army of Shadows was doomed to failure on its original release and denounced, in part, for being Gaullist – it was released shortly after the May 68 protests and the backlash against de Gaulle. Thanks to the controversy that surrounded the film, it was never released for distribution in the United States until it appeared on DVD in 2006. Now widely regarded as a masterpiece, its reissue on Blu-ray is a welcome opportunity to rediscover this compelling and important film.

Sarah Cronin