Com­mit­ment to a punk ideal

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film Reviews - Ed­die Cock­rell

JOIN­ING such cel­e­bra­tions of de­fi­ant ec­cen­tric­ity and love of mu­sic as High Fidelity, 24 Hour Party People, Al­most Fa­mous and The Boat That Rocked, Ir­ish im­port is the cheer­ful and propul­sive story of Terri Hoo­ley, the re­al­life, one-eyed Belfast icon­o­clast whose apo­lit­i­cal re­sponse to the vi­o­lent Trou­bles of the 1970s was to open the epony­mous record shop in a par­tic­u­larly volatile part of town and hitch his wagon to the then-nascent ris­ing star that soon ex­ploded into the punk rock move­ment.

This is a film as ex­u­ber­ant and breath­less as that last sen­tence, so ob­vi­ously in love with its flawed but ded­i­cated lead char­ac­ter, played with scruffy, go-for-broke brio by stage ac­tor Richard Dormer, that it of­ten ro­man­ti­cises or glosses over Hoo­ley’s more abra­sive and self­de­struc­tive qual­i­ties. A self-ab­sorbed, potsmok­ing al­co­holic who is more of­ten than not his own worst en­emy, Hoo­ley de­ploys these very traits to bro­ker an un­easy truce be­tween lo­cal IRA and Union­ist lead­ers by ap­peal­ing to their love of mu­sic — he gives them free records and they leave him alone.

In one of the film’s best and most au­then­tic scenes, Hoo­ley wan­ders into a pub where the newly formed band Rudi is hon­ing its then­novel punk look and sound. The as­pir­ing im­pre­sario is in­stantly smit­ten by their en­ergy and in­di­vid­u­al­ity, and view­ers who were there for the move­ment’s early years will iden­tify with his sweaty epiphany.

He de­cides on the spot to branch out into record pro­duc­tion and man­age­ment, form­ing a com­pany (also called Good Vi­bra­tions) and cut­ting seven-inch vinyl 45s un­der prim­i­tive con­di­tions both ap­pro­pri­ate for and con­ducive to the mu­sic. His sta­ble soon in­cludes the Out­casts as well as the band that put him on the map, the Un­der­tones. The film lov­ingly re-cre­ates the fa­mous in­stance where leg­endary Bri­tish DJ John Peel was so in love with their de­but sin­gle Teenage Kicks that he played it twice in a row.

Work­ing from an ad­mit­tedly for­mu­laic script by Colin Car­berry and Glenn Pat­ter­son, co-di­rec­tors Lisa Bar­ros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn do an ad­mirable job of evok­ing the sec­tar­ian ten­sions of the pe­riod and the cathar­tic ef­fect of the mu­sic that grew out of it.

If, in ret­ro­spect, the en­deav­our seems a bit too cheer­ful and pat (par­tic­u­larly the con­trived and tidy end­ing), to their credit the team be­hind Good Vi­bra­tions have made a film that is de­ter­mined to live up to its ti­tle, and does so. WIL­LIAMS syn­drome is a rare neu­rode­vel­op­men­tal ge­netic dis­or­der whose sufferers can pos­sess a mix­ture of dis­tinc­tive fa­cial fea­tures, height­ened mu­si­cal talent, in­tense joie de vivre and acute anx­i­ety lev­els. The young, first-time ac­tress Gabrielle Mar­ion-Ri­vard, around whom Que­be­cois writer-di­rec­tor Louise Ar­cham­bault’s sec­ond fea­ture, re­volves, was en­cour­aged to act nat­u­rally for the film, and it is a brave, forth­right and en­tic­ing per­for­mance.

Gabrielle is a mem­ber of Les Muses Mon­treal, a choir com­posed ex­clu­sively of singers with devel­op­men­tal dis­abil­i­ties. Dur­ing the course of their re­hearsals she be­comes close Good Vi­bra­tions (MA15+) Limited na­tional re­lease Gabrielle (M) Limited na­tional re­lease from Thurs­day Ernest & Celestine (PG) Limited na­tional re­lease from Thurs­day with fel­low cho­ris­ter Martin (pro­fes­sional ac­tor Alexandre Landry), and their scenes of hes­i­tant, awk­ward in­ti­macy are com­pas­sion­ate re­minders that the early mys­ter­ies of deep mu­tual at­trac­tion and love are achingly uni­ver­sal.

Un­for­tu­nately, Martin’s mother Claire (Marie Gignac), who ob­vi­ously loves her son, is dead set against the two mov­ing in to­gether. Mean­while, Gabrielle’s de­voted sis­ter Sophie (Melissa Desormeaux-Poulin) wres­tles with how to break the news that she’s mov­ing to In­dia to be with her boyfriend Raphael (Se­bastien Ri­card) and pitch in at the or­phan­age at which he works.


In short or­der Claire pulls Martin from the choir and Gabrielle dis­cov­ers Sophie’s plans. This sends her into an emo­tional whirlpool on the eve of the choir’s much-an­tic­i­pated per­for­mance with real-life Cana­dian singer Robert Charlebois at a sum­mer mu­sic fes­ti­val. The chal­lenge, for Gabrielle and Martin as well as those in their spheres, is test­ing the lim­its of in­de­pen­dence un­der these try­ing cir­cum­stances.

The more cyn­i­cal viewer may baulk at the sur­feit of do-good­ing in Gabrielle, but the film comes by its tone and con­tent hon­estly. It possesses a very Cana­dian view of the world, an across-the-board ac­cep­tance of life as an op­por­tu­nity to ef­fect pos­i­tive so­cial change and live har­mo­niously among those of dif­fer­ing cir­cum­stances.

In ad­di­tion to Mar­ion-Ri­vard’s nat­u­rally charis­matic per­for­mance, the film has two suc­cess­ful strate­gies at work in con­cert with one an­other. The first is Ar­cham­bault’s di­rec­to­rial strat­egy of hav­ing her cast par­tic­i­pate in im­pro­vi­sa­tional work­shops prior to film­ing. The re­sult­ing at­mos­phere, con­vivial dur­ing re­hears-

& Celestine,

Ernest al se­quences and dis­arm­ingly in­ti­mate dur­ing the more dra­matic mo­ments, grounds the film in an hon­est emo­tional au­then­tic­ity.

The sec­ond is the di­rec­tor’s de­ci­sion to have up-and-com­ing cin­e­matog­ra­pher Mathieu Lavardiere shoot the ma­jor­ity of the film with hand-held cam­eras. The in­ti­macy this yields is ex­actly what the ma­te­rial calls for, and show­cases Ar­cham­bault’s prepa­ra­tion in a nat­u­ral, com­fort­able light.

As a thought-pro­vok­ing valen­tine to tol­er­ance, ac­cep­tance and the yearn­ing for love, Gabrielle wears its heart com­fort­ably, and proudly, on its sleeve. CAN bears and mice live to­gether? This is the press­ing ques­tion at the heart of the ut­terly charm­ing, hand-drawn and Os­car-nom­i­nated an­i­mated French-Bel­gian of­fer­ing First things first: in a nod to the film’s uni­ver­sal ap­peal, it has been skil­fully dubbed in English and fea­tures the voice tal­ents of For­est Whi­taker as Ernest and Twi­light vet­eran Macken­zie Foy as Celestine, as well as sup­port­ing turns by Lauren Ba­call, Paul Gia­matti, Wil­liam H. Macy, Me­gan Mul­lally and Jef­frey Wright.

An orig­i­nal story adapted from the se­ries of chil­dren’s books by Bel­gian au­thor and il­lus­tra­tor Gabrielle Vin­cent, who died in 2000, it posits a Euro­pean-in­flu­enced world where mice live be­low-ground and bears rule the streets.

A se­ries of whim­si­cal cir­cum­stances in­volv­ing the scav­eng­ing of the big beasts’ teeth to re­place mouse in­cisors bring to­gether af­fa­ble bear Ernest, a wan­der­ing mu­si­cian whose fa­ther wanted him to be a judge, and Celestine, a young or­phan mouse who would rather pur­sue her artis­tic muse than be­come the den­tist adults want her to be.

Their de­ci­sion to live to­gether in Ernest’s re­mote cabin re­sults in a deeper un­der­stand­ing of each other’s wants and needs, though the world in­trudes soon enough as they are pur­sued for the theft of a van.

Some­what iron­i­cally, au­thor Vin­cent re­sisted film adap­ta­tions of her work, giv­ing the film an echo of the stand­off be­tween P.L. Travers and Walt Dis­ney over the Mary Pop­pins char­ac­ter as de­picted in the re­cent live-ac­tion film Sav­ing Mr Banks — which also co-stars Gia­matti.

Tan­gents aside, co-di­rec­tors Ben­jamin Ren­ner, Vin­cent Patar and Stephane Au­bier have cre­ated a whim­si­cal fa­ble of un­der­stand­ing that is at its best when em­ploy­ing such en­gag­ing vis­ual gags as the var­i­ous uses for mouse­traps, ex­ten­sive char­ac­ter prat­falls and the Key­stone Kops-ish an­tics of both species’ con­stab­u­lar­ies. Thus, the film has strong ap­peal not only for the chil­dren to whom the books were pitched, but adult au­di­ences as well.

Their vis­ual style bal­ances an aquarelle-in­flu­enced use of trans­par­ent wa­ter­col­ors com­bined with the line draw­ings un­der­scored by Celestine’s ever-present sketch pad.

These two styles com­bine to cre­ate a world at once im­pres­sion­is­tic and lived in, in­fused with the kind of warm glow which em­anates from a cozy fire­place.

Gabrielle Mar­ion-Ri­vard makes her film de­but in the Cana­dian film

The French-Bel­gian col­lab­o­ra­tion

which was nom­i­nated for an Os­car, will ap­peal to adults as well as chil­dren

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