Conflict no solution
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