Monthly Archives: November 2013

LIFF 2013 Round Up #2: Blood Ties

Blood Ties Poster

Llewyn Davis included, I ended up seeing five films during our local ‘Leidse’ film festival (the week before) last week, and this one: Blood Ties by French director Guillaume Canet (that guy from Boyle’s the Beach), I had relatively high hopes for (mostly because I’m a big fan of the awesome 2006 Tell No One, also by Canet). Sadly, however, even Clive Owen couldn’t save this 70’s crime drama from mediocrity.

Blood Ties tells the story of a family that’s torn apart when two brothers find themselves on ‘either side of the law’, one a cop, the other a criminal. Seems awfully familiar, and it is: James Gray (screenwriter for this film) did pretty much the exact same thing in We Own The Night (the 2007 Joaquin Phoenix flick). I certainly don’t mind a little bit of repetition every now and then, but this didn’t seem to have any new ideas to justify its existence. It felt like a bog standard 70’s crime drama, except this one’s done in 2013, which means some wardrobe stylist person had to go to great pains to make everyone look suitably ridiculous. To tie it all together, Blood Ties even had the typical ‘calm before the storm’ criminal backyard family BBQ get together moment. Just awful.

There were a couple of cool scenes though. One shot with Clive Owen leaning against, what looks like a beautiful 1972 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme (the car in the poster there), was particularly well executed (though I’m a sucker for stylish transportation). Regrettably, Blood Ties also insisted on having the usual undercurrent that communicates, a little too clearly, that poor Owen isn’t going to be enjoying his ill gotten gains for long. Bummer. Marion Cotillard features in another memorable moment as she makes her way through a seedy 70’s bar. The ‘lustful’ look on Owen’s face as he watches her go is great. The mutual attraction here is further capitalized upon when Owen shows Cotillard his plans for a brothel she is to manage (later in the film). The way she flops down on one of the beds, shifts her clothing ever so slightly, and (successfully) proposes to ‘test the bed’ with just the tiniest of taps on the mattress, is pretty hot.

Blood Ties has a couple of these standout moments, but considering its 144 minute runtime, there just weren’t enough of them. Moreover, Blood Ties suffers from that unquantifiable weirdness that is probably a direct result from it being a foreign production pretending to be an American film. Seems to work rather well for videogames, but otherwise…. Which makes it all the more surprising that Canet managed to turn it around for the ending. You’d think that if you didn’t care for most of the duration of the film, you’re not going to give a damn about the ending either. But no! The final scene surprised me with a great little pay-off that involved another one of those great smirks by Owen. Love that guy. Hope he gets to do some more stuff in the coming years.

Inside Llewyn Davis

Inside Llewyn Davis

It’s November, which means Leiden gets to play host to its very own ‘International’ Film Festival (LIFF). The festival is relatively small, but they usually have a pretty cool selection, most likely a direct result of their professed interest in ‘the border between art-house and mainstream cinema’. Which is nice, since that particular ‘area’ offers a degree of focus and production value that’s rare for the cheap stuff, while retaining some of the depth that is often lost in bigger pictures. The Coen Brothers’ latest film Inside Llewyn Davis fits that description neatly and it’s also one of the headliners for this year’s event. It was my first pick for the week (I’m also seeing Blood Ties and Captain Philips tonight and tomorrow evening) and despite my ‘take it or leave it’ attitude towards (most) folk music, I had a great time with it.

Inside Llewyn Davis chronicles a week in the life of, you’ve guessed it, down on his luck musician Llewyn Davis. Davis is played by Oscar Isaac, whom I was already familiar with from Refn’s Drive (2011). In what probably isn’t a coincidence, that film also paired him with Carey Mulligan who plays Davis’ former lover Jean, though she’s just one of many characters Isaac comes across during (t)his week in 1961. Isaac is something of a vagrant (depicted nicely when he wakes up on the couch in a house that is obviously too nice for a man of his non-existent means) and, I guess, a couch surfer ‘avant la lettre’ – thanks, Koosje – if you want to put it less pejoratively. When he sets out to seek the next refuge from the freezing New York winter he is inadvertently joined by a red tabby named ‘Ulysses’. They don’t reveal that particular bit of information (the name) until much later in the film, but you can see where this is going (it also elicits a fitting reaction from Isaac). The implications of that are later echoed by a movie poster Isaac drifts past somewhere near the end of the film.

Now, what I appreciate most about this film is that it basically shows us a not-so-grand journey to absolutely nowhere. Contrary to the romantic image conjured up by the likes of Kerouac (or the film rather), this story conveys the more melancholic and surreal feeling one expects from the deserted streets and empty bars Isaac wanders through. There are some suggestions that Isaac’s situation is a result of poor decision making or the fact he’s a difficult person to live with. Mulligan, for instance, refers to Isaac as ‘King Midas’ idiot brother’, everything he touches turns to shit. Though the truth is much harder to accept: it’s just the arbitrary nature of a universe that is ultimately indifferent to his talent and ambition. That much is clear when Isaac’s final, and beautiful, performance is set against the appearance of the guy that did make it.