Joys and pains of par­ent­ing

The Weekend Australian - Review - - FILM REVIEW - David Strat­ton

SCENES in­volv­ing the prepa­ra­tion of en­tic­ing-look­ing food ac­com­pa­nied by catchy Latino mu­sic and a feel­good plot about fa­ther-son bond­ing — how could such a for­mula fail? It’s true that writer-di­rec­tor-lead ac­tor Jon Favreau isn’t ex­actly stretch­ing him­self with this up­beat ma­te­rial, but af­ter di­rect­ing — with great suc­cess — the first two films in the Iron Man fran­chise and — with less suc­cess — the hy­brid Cow­boys & Aliens, he seems re­laxed here work­ing in a very mi­nor reg­is­ter.

He plays Carl Casper, a celebrity chef who has made his rep­u­ta­tion with the high-qual­ity but pretty tra­di­tional food he cooks at a Los Angeles restau­rant owned by Riva (an amus­ing Dustin Hoff­man). opens with Casper ea­gerly await­ing the an­tic­i­pated visit to the restau­rant of food critic and blog­ger Ram­sey Michel (Oliver Platt), and he’s pre­par­ing a new, more rad­i­cal, menu for the oc­ca­sion — un­til Riva in­ter­venes and de­mands Casper stick to the tried and true bill of fare. This re­sults in a pun­ish­ingly bad re­view and Casper’s exit from the restau­rant, along with Martin (John Leguizamo), one of his as­sis­tants.

Mean­while, Casper’s re­la­tion­ship with his 11year-old son, Percy (Em­jay Anthony), is re­quir­ing a lot more at­ten­tion; the boy, who adores his dad, is frus­trated at be­ing kept at arm’s length, even though his mother, Inez (Sofia Ver­gara), en­cour­ages a closer bond be­tween her son and her es­tranged hus­band. When Casper leaves the restau­rant, Inez per­suades him to ac­com­pany her and Percy on a trip to Mi­ami, where he orig­i­nally started in the food busi­ness. With help from an­other of her ex-hus­bands — a scen­esteal­ing per­for­mance from Robert Downey Jr — he rein­vents him­self as a pur­veyor of Cubanstyle fast food sold from a truck and, dur­ing the drive from Mi­ami back to LA, ce­ments his bond with his son.

This un­de­mand­ing nar­ra­tive is bol­stered with lengthy scenes in­volv­ing the prepa­ra­tion and cook­ing of scrump­tious and choles­terol­packed food, re­sult­ing in a movie that prob­a­bly shouldn’t be ex­pe­ri­enced on an empty stomach. There are a few un­re­solved and un­tidy sub­plots — one in­volv­ing Scar­lett Jo­hans­son in a black wig — but the film’s main theme, the restora­tion of the fa­ther-son re­la­tion­ship, while not very orig­i­nal, is sym­pa­thet­i­cally han­dled and young Anthony gives a win­ning per­for­mance as a sen­si­ble, loyal child who is able to teach his jaded fa­ther a thing or two. DUR­ING the past few years, Ro­ma­nian films have punched above their weight at in­ter­na­tional film fes­ti­vals, with di­rec­tors such as Cris­tian Mungiu and Cristi Puiu win­ning awards for their prob­ing, so­cially con­scious re­flec­tions on Ro­ma­nia in the years since the end of the com­mu­nist dic­ta­tor­ship. These films are al­most all distin­guished not only by their in­tense, un­flinch­ing ap­proach to their char­ac­ters but by a less ap­peal­ing vis­ual style — the “queasy-cam” ef­fect — that un­for­tu­nately makes ex­pe­ri­enc­ing them a trial for any­one prone to ver­tigo.

The oddly ti­tled win­ner of the Golden Bear at Berlin last year, is no ex­cep­tion, the­mat­i­cally or vis­ually. Di­rec­tor Calin Peter Net­zer’s bru­tally tough movie homes in on the coun­try’s up­per class, ex­pos­ing it as self­ish, ma­nip­u­la­tive and dis­hon­est. The cen­tral char­ac­ter is Cor­nelia, played with ex­actly the right lateBette Davis level of in­ten­sity by Lu­minita Ghe­o­rghiu. Cor­nelia is self-cen­tred and well-todo; she wears furs, drives a BMW and is openly dis­dain­ful of any­one she con­sid­ers to be in­fe­rior. Her hus­band, a mild-man­nered doc­tor, doesn’t get much of a look-in.

It’s while at­tend­ing a per­for­mance of the opera that Cor­nelia re­ceives the mes­sage that her beloved son Barbu (Bog­dan Dumitrache) has killed a 14-year-old boy in a road ac­ci­dent in a provin­cial town. To­gether with her sis­ter Olga (Natasa Raab), Cor­nelia drives im­me­di­ately to the po­lice sta­tion where Barbu is be­ing held, where it quickly be­comes clear to her that he was re­spon­si­ble for the boy’s death (he was speed­ing and over­tak­ing an­other car at the time of the ac­ci­dent).

Work­ing from an in­ci­sive screen­play by Raz­van Rad­ulescu, Net­zer con­structs a num­ber of key scenes in which this con­trol­ling and ob­nox­ious woman at­tempts to en­sure that her son Chef (M) Na­tional re­lease Child’s Pose (Pozi­tia copiluliu) (MA15+) Limited re­lease The Bro­ken Cir­cle Break­down (MA15+)

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Pose; The Bro­ken Cir­cle Break­down is ex­on­er­ated or, at least, let off lightly. Her dis­cus­sions with the unim­pressed po­lice, with the driver of the car Barbu was over­tak­ing, with her son and his live-in girl­friend, Car­men (Ilinca Goia), and, even­tu­ally, with the work­ing-class fam­ily of the dead boy are re­veal­ing in their por­trait of a born-to-rule at­ti­tude, though Cor­nelia is more com­plex and nu­anced than she at first seems (the Bette Davis anal­ogy isn’t far from the mark).

The film is so pow­er­ful that the cam­er­a­work (An­drei Bu­tica) seems par­tic­u­larly re­gret­table for its lack of subtlety and for the way it forces it­self on the viewer al­most in the way Cor­nelia forces her will on the char­ac­ters in the film. Maybe that’s why it was shot this way, but it re­duces the im­pact of what other­wise would have been a pow­er­ful por­trait of ob­ses­sive mother love.

is a Bel­gian pro­duc­tion that also ac­cu­mu­lated awards on the fes­ti­val cir­cuit last year — in ad­di­tion to be­ing nom­i­nated for a best for­eign film Os­car — and which is also sad­dled with a con­cep­tual de­ci­sion that tends to di­min­ish its im­pact.

The film opens in a hospi­tal in Ghent where Di­dier (Jo­han Helden­bergh) and Elise (Veerle Baetens) are watch­ing over their small daugh­ter, who is des­per­ately ill with a form of cancer. A ti­tle “7 Years Ear­lier” sug­gests that the rest of the story will be told in flash­back, but the ti­tle is de­cep­tive, be­cause co-writer and di­rec­tor Felix van Groenin­gen, adapt­ing a stage play writ­ten by Helden­bergh, con­stantly flits back and forth in time as the film pro­gresses — an­noy­ingly so.

It’s a pity, be­cause there’s so much here that is in­ter­est­ing. Di­dier is a blue­grass singer who adores ev­ery­thing about Amer­ica, es­pe­cially its cul­ture, most specif­i­cally its mu­sic. Elise is a tat­tooist who turns out to be a pretty good singer her­self and joins Di­dier’s band. They be­gin a re­la­tion­ship and soon Elise dis­cov­ers she’s three months preg­nant (dur­ing which time she has been smok­ing and drink­ing to the max). A baby girl, May­belle, is born and all seems well; Di­dier works on restor­ing a house for them. And then the cancer man­i­fests it­self.

Di­dier’s rose-coloured vi­sion of Amer­ica un­der­goes a sea change when he comes to be­lieve that re­li­gious fun­da­men­tal­ism in that coun­try is frus­trat­ing ex­per­i­ments in stem-cell treat­ment that might save his child, so the film even­tu­ally moves into some pretty in­ter­est­ing ter­ri­tory. Ba­si­cally, though, it’s a film about a cou­ple whose tu­mul­tuous re­la­tion­ship is se­verely chal­lenged, and the per­for­mances are ex­cel­lent.

Em­jay Anthony and Jon Favreau

bond in

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