Con­flict no so­lu­tion

David Stratton

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film -

In Bruges ( MA15+)

Na­tional release Wel­come to the Sticks ( Bien­v­enue Chez les Ch’tis) ( M)

Lim­ited na­tional release

Son of Ram­bow ( PG)

Lim­ited na­tional release

MARTIN McDon­agh is usu­ally re­ferred to as an Ir­ish play­wright, though he was born in Lon­don ( of Ir­ish par­ents) and ap­par­ently has lived in Bri­tain longer than he has in Ire­land. Cel­e­brated for his two stage trilo­gies ( The Leenane Tril­ogy and The Aran Is­lands Tril­ogy ) as well as for The Pil­low­man , McDon­agh comes to the cin­ema, like David Mamet be­fore him, as a mas­ter of the­atri­cal, if ob­scene, lan­guage.

More than that, he comes to his first fea­ture film, In Bruges , al­ready bran­dish­ing the Os­car he won in 2006 for best live action short film, Six Shooter , which starred Bren­dan Glee­son who is re­united with McDon­agh for his first fea­ture.

Watch­ing In Bruges , it quickly be­comes clear that McDon­agh is bring­ing to the cin­ema the same colour­ful use of words that im­pressed the­atre audiences; the film is at times bril­liantly writ­ten, maybe over- writ­ten, be­cause what works on stage doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily work on screen. It’s also very ev­i­dent that McDon­agh is a good col­lab­o­ra­tor with ac­tors: Colin Far­rell has turned in some ques­tion­able per­for­mances lately but has rarely been bet­ter than he is here as a whinge­ing, moody killer.

Al­though McDon­agh has ac­knowl­edged Mamet’s in­flu­ence on him, the screen­play for In Bruges harks back to early work by Harold Pin­ter, es­pe­cially The Dumb Waiter , in which two hit men hang out while await­ing in­struc­tions from their em­ployer.

Ray ( Far­rell) and Ken ( Glee­son) have car­ried out a kill in Lon­don as in­structed by their mys­te­ri­ous boss, Harry ( we only hear Harry’s voice on the phone at first, but half­way through the film we meet him in the per­son of Ralph Fi­ennes). Some­thing has gone wrong ( as we find out later in a flash­back fea­tur­ing an un­cred­ited Ciaran Hinds) and the killers have been in­structed by Harry to lie low in the beau­ti­ful me­dieval Bel­gian town of Bruges, which is sit­u­ated around a se­ries of canals in­land from the port of Os­tend.

Ray, who is rel­a­tively new to the game, is an­gry about this en­forced lay- off; he’s too much of a mod­ernist, or per­haps a philis­tine, to ap­pre­ci­ate the old- world charms of the city, and he re­sents hav­ing to share a room in a small ho­tel with the far more re­laxed and ex­pe­ri­enced Ken.

For much of the film McDon­agh al­lows this odd cou­ple to bicker and nit- pick; as a char­ac­ter study, this works be­cause the writ­ing is so sharp and the per­for­mances so spot- on. Al­ways in the back­ground, though, is the knowl­edge that Harry isn’t ex­actly pleased with the way Ken and Ray han­dled their last job, and it’s only a mat­ter of time be­fore some kind of reck­on­ing is called for.

In the mean­time, other char­ac­ters are in­tro­duced. Ray stum­bles on to the set of a film be­ing shot in the town and meets Chloe ( Cle­mence Poesy), who seems to be em­ployed by the film com­pany, and ac­tor Jimmy ( Jor­dan Pren­tice). In one of the film’s best scenes Ray and Chloe dine at a posh restau­rant and when a North Amer­i­can cou­ple at the next ta­ble un­der­stand­ably com­plain about Chloe smok­ing, a fight breaks out.

As the film evolves from its Mamet- Pin­ter for­mula, with its cheer­fully non- PC ap­proach, into Tarantino ter­ri­tory for its vi­o­lent fi­nale, McDon­agh’s grip on the ma­te­rial slack­ens. It’s as though he is more at ease with the char­ac­ter­driven, di­a­logue- filled first half of the film, and less with the more con­ven­tional action scenes, which aren’t that well staged. Luck­ily, this sec­tion of the film is more or less re­deemed by Fi­ennes, who is in good form as the deadly, venge­ful Harry, so there are com­pen­sa­tions.

* * * AN­OTHER film in which char­ac­ters find them­selves in an un­fa­mil­iar en­vi­ron­ment is the French Wel­come to the Sticks . Writer and di­rec­tor Dany Boon had a high pro­file in France as a play­wright and stand- up co­me­dian be­fore this film be­came an un­prece­dented smash hit ear­lier this year, fill­ing cin­e­mas up and down the coun­try. What works France, of course, doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily work else­where and it doesn’t seem likely that the film will travel well, largely be­cause it’s a one- joke movie that is hard to trans­late.

Kad Merad, a comic with a won­der­fully sour dis­po­si­tion, plays Philippe, who man­ages a post of­fice in a small town in Provence; his wife, Julie ( Zoe Felix), is urg­ing him to get a post­ing to the Riviera coast and, des­per­ate to please her, Philippe makes the mis­take of claim­ing to have a dis­abil­ity to se­cure the cov­eted sit­u­a­tion.

He is, of course, found out and, as a pu­n­ish­ment ( ob­vi­ously the French postal ser­vice has a sense of hu­mour), is ban­ished for two years to Ber­gues, in the area known as Nord- Pas- de- Calais where the weather is cold and the lo­cals speak with a near- im­pen­e­tra­ble ac­cent.

Much of the fun of this very comfortable and fa­mil­iar film is de­rived from the lo­cal slang, and trans­lat­ing it has proved a chal­lenge for the English sub­ti­tler. Oth­er­wise, there are few prizes for guess­ing that Philippe will get to like his new home, de­spite his ini­tial mis­giv­ings, and that he will find a close friend in An­toine, an ami­able post­man, played by the di­rec­tor.

Boon hails from this chilly part of France and the film is an af­fec­tion­ate salute to his roots. Its French ti­tle, Bien­v­enue Chez les Ch’tis refers to the di­alect spo­ken in the area, ch’ti, also known as Pi­card, a mix­ture of French and Flem­ish with odd bits of Latin thrown in.

It’s cer­tainly a very pleas­ant film, but not in any sense a re­mark­able one.

* * * DI­REC­TOR Garth Jen­nings fol­lows The Hitch­hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy , his de­but fea­ture, with the rather odd Son of Ram­bow, about the friend­ship formed be­tween two very dif­fer­ent English school­boys in 1982.

The ini­tially promis­ing idea has Will ( Bill Mil­ner), who has been reared as a Ply­mouth Brethren and is there­fore for­bid­den to see tele­vi­sion or movies, team up with the lar­rikin Lee ( Will Poul­ter), who is be­ing rather ca­su­ally cared for by his older brother while their par­ents are away for an ex­tended pe­riod.

Lee is so be­sot­ted with First Blood ( the first of the Rambo films) that he is shoot­ing an am­a­teur re­make us­ing newly avail­able video ma­te­rial, and he en­lists Will as an ac­tor.

It’s a fun idea but quite awk­wardly staged and, in the end, not par­tic­u­larly en­gag­ing. Part of the prob­lem may be the film’s sta­tus as a Bri­tishFrench co- pro­duc­tion; the in­tro­duc­tion of a French school­boy ( Jules Sitruk) seems un­nec­es­sary to the plot and only adds to the over­all ragged­ness of the pro­duc­tion.

Moody killer: Colin Far­rell, who turns in one of his best per­for­mances in years, in a scene from In Bruges

Pleas­ant but not re­mark­able: Zoe Felix and Kad Merad in Wel­come to the Sticks

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