PLAY WITH MUD

Mud You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet A Lady in Paris

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film - David Strat­ton

(M) ★★★ Limited re­lease

✩ en­core rien vu) (PG) ★★★✩✩ Limited re­lease ★★✩✩✩ Limited re­lease

T( Une Es­toni­enne a Paris) (M) HE ti­tle of di­rec­tor Jeff Nichols’s third film refers not to the ter­rain around the Mis­sis­sippi River in Arkansas, where the story is set, but to the cen­tral char­ac­ter, a ro­man­tic out­law played by Matthew McConaughey. In his first two films, Nichols es­tab­lished him­self as an in­trigu­ingly dif­fer­ent voice in in­de­pen­dent Amer­i­can cin­ema; Shot­gun Sto­ries (2007), also set in Arkansas, was about a fam­ily feud while Take Shel­ter (2011), set in Ohio, told the story of a blue-col­lar worker who be­comes ob­sessed with the pre­mo­ni­tion (or fan­tasy) that tor­na­does will de­stroy his home. Both films starred Michael Shan­non, who ap­pears in Mud also, but in a small role as the foster fa­ther of one of the boys at the cen­tre of the drama.

The em­pha­sis in the new film is on a boy on the cusp of be­com­ing a man. El­lis, played by Tye Sheri­dan from The Tree of Life, is 14 and lives on a ram­shackle house­boat with his par­ents, Mary Lee (Sarah Paul­son) and Se­nior (Ray McKin­non) — the names given to the char­ac­ters in Nichols’s films are fre­quently rather odd. El­lis is an ad­ven­tur­ous kid and, to­gether with his best friend, Neck­bone (Ja­cob Lofland), reg­u­larly ex­plores the river in a lit­tle tinny.

On one of th­ese ad­ven­tures the boys spot a boat wedged high up in the trees, the af­ter­math of a flood. Ex­plor­ing fur­ther, they come across Mud (McConaughey) who, like them, grew up on the river — but Mud has been away a long time and is now a wanted man, an armed fugi­tive. He’s re­turned to the place where he grew up to claim Ju­niper (Reese Wither­spoon), his child­hood sweet­heart, who he be­lieves is will­ing to go away with him — and he en­lists El­lis and Neck­bone to help him. Not only are the po­lice af­ter Mud but also bounty hunters hired by the fa­ther and brother of the man he killed. Also in the area is the mys­te­ri­ous Tom (Sam Shep­ard), a for­mer spe­cial ops sniper whose mo­tives are not al­ways en­tirely clear.

The theme of the in­no­cent who, with­out know­ing all the facts, at­tempts to help a wanted man is a not an en­tirely orig­i­nal one, and the thriller as­pects of Nichols’s film are per­haps its least suc­cess­ful ele­ments.

Nichols is very good at evok­ing the world of this ru­ral back­wa­ter dom­i­nated by the mighty river; the sto­ries of Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer come to mind as the boys go about their ad­ven­tures. Grow­ing up in this en­vi­ron­ment is ex­cit­ing and rel­a­tively un­re­stricted, though there are dangers ever present, not only in the armed men who live in the area but also in the wildlife — deadly cot­ton­mouth snakes, for ex­am­ple. The peo­ple who live here, and work in the cheap mo­tels, bars, supermarkets and car lots, seem to be sur­viv­ing, but only just — it is hardly the Amer­i­can Dream, and Nichols is a mas­ter at de­pict­ing this kind of small-scale Amer­i­cana. He’s also very good with the chil­dren, and the scenes in which El­lis ten­ta­tively makes moves on May Pearl (Bon­nie Stur­di­vant), a girl a lit­tle older than he is, are es­pe­cially well han­dled.

At more than two hours, Mud does tend to over­stay its wel­come, but its many qual­i­ties out­weigh its li­a­bil­i­ties. AS a keen young film­goer in the late 1950s, I will never for­get the first time I saw Alain Res­nais’s Hiroshima Mon Amour, a mul­tira­cial love story set against the back­drop of the city de­stroyed by an atomic bomb. Res­nais’s next film, the puz­zling but cap­ti­vat­ing Last Year at Marien­bad, con­firmed him as an im­por­tant con­trib­u­tor to the French nou­velle vague, and through the years his films, al­ways lit­er­ate and richly amus­ing, have con­sis­tently im­pressed. He is now 91 and still go­ing strong (a new film, Love, Drink and Sing, will be pre­miered later this year), though when You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet ( Vous n’avez en­core rien vu) screened at Cannes last year it was ru­moured to be his swan song. Even when tack­ling the most the­atri­cal ma­te­rial, Res­nais, in the past, has demon­strated the light­est of touches, but You Ain’t Seen feels a bit on the heavy side. It also re­quires from its au­di­ence at least some knowl­edge of the two Jean Anouilh plays, Eury­dice and Dear An­toine: or, the Love that Failed, that have in­spired it.

It is, re­ally, a med­i­ta­tion on the past and how it in­flu­ences the present — the iden­ti­cal theme he ex­plored in Hiroshima and Marien­bad — but in this case the level of the­atri­cal­ity dom­i­nates to such a de­gree that the re­sult is a bit sti­fling. It’s al­most like be­ing present at a din­ner party where the con­ver­sa­tion, while fit­fully in­ter­est­ing and amus­ing, is deal­ing with mat­ters about which you have lit­tle in­ter­est or knowl­edge.

The film be­gins as a num­ber of well-known French ac­tors, ap­pear­ing as them­selves, are con­tacted by a lawyer to ad­vise them that their friend, play­wright An­toine d’An­thac, has died; the ac­tors, in­clud­ing Mathieu Amal­ric, Pierre Arditi, Sabine Azema and Lam­bert Wil­son, are asked to con­gre­gate at the dead man’s home in Provence, where the events are stage­m­an­aged by a suave but­ler (An­drzej Sew­eryn). At first this seems like the set-up of a clas­si­cal mys­tery, such as The Cat and the Ca­nary; the will is read to the in­ter­ested par­ties, one of whom is a mur­derer. This isn’t that kind of film, how­ever; in this case, a film is pro­jected in which the late author (Denis Po­da­ly­des) in­tro­duces a very con­tem­po­rary ver­sion of his own play based on the myth of Or­pheus and Eury­dice, per­formed by edgy young ac­tors. All the vet­eran ac­tors as­sem­bled have played in ear­lier ver­sions of this adap­ta­tion and grad­u­ally they be­gin to speak the fa­mil­iar lines them­selves — and Res­nais then switches back and forth be­tween the dif­fer­ent in­ter­pre­ta­tions of the ma­te­rial.

De­spite the com­mend­able con­sis­tency of his vi­sion through a ca­reer span­ning more than 60 years and the ironic wit he brings to ev­ery­thing he does, Res­nais seems to be speak­ing to a small co­terie of de­voted ad­mir­ers with this film. The rar­efied ap­proach, cou­pled with the the­atri­cal style adopted by many of his ac­tors, proves dis­tanc­ing and, de­spite my ad­mi­ra­tion for this di­rec­tor, I have to ad­mit I was a lit­tle bored by the end. NOT for the first time, who­ever was re­spon­si­ble for trans­lat­ing the ti­tle of a French film into English has missed the point: A Lady in Paris is ac­tu­ally An Es­to­nian Lady in Paris, and there are two of them in Il­mar Raag’s film. Anne (Laine Magi), a di­vorcee, lives in an ugly dis­trict of the beau­ti­ful Es­to­nian cap­i­tal, Tallinn, with her el­derly mother. When the mother dies she re­ceives an un­ex­pected — and ex­tremely un­likely — in­vi­ta­tion to fly to Paris to care for an el­derly Es­to­nian woman who lives there. Anne ar­rives, ex­cited to be in a city she’s never vis­ited be­fore, and soon dis­cov­ers the woman she’s sup­posed to care for, Frida (Jeanne Moreau), is an ill-tem­pered grouch who stopped speak­ing Es­to­nian — and mix­ing with Es­to­nian ex­pats — years ear­lier. The wafer-thin plot of the film has th­ese two grumpy women find­ing some kind of com­mon ground, and there are few sur­prises in the way the nar­ra­tive de­vel­ops.

Moreau started her act­ing ca­reer at about the same time Res­nais started di­rect­ing fea­tures and, at the age of 85, she looks as though she’s en­joyed life to the full and is still will­ing and able to tackle a meaty role. Un­for­tu­nately, her role in this film isn’t es­pe­cially meaty, and the prob­lems of th­ese char­ac­ters never be­come as in­ter­est­ing as the di­rec­tor pre­sum­ably in­tended them to be.

You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet

Sabine Azema and Pierre Arditi in

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