Our Time Will Come in old Hong Kong; Michael Haneke shoots for a Happy End; Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, much; Edward Hopper meets Reality in Shirley.
OUR TIME WILL COME Starring Eddie Peng. In Mandarin and Japanese, with English subtitles. Rated 14A
Tackling multiple themes associated 2 with the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong during the Second World War, this well-crafted epic spends more time on poetry and personal entanglements than on derring-do—although crackingly choreographed fight scenes erupt often enough to keep the film’s 130 minutes moving swiftly.
Director Ann Hui has lately been alternating between big-budget historical dramas (like The Golden Era) and small-scaled indie stuff (A Simple Life). In Our Time Will Come, she tackles the little-known, fact-based tale of guerrilla fighters who spirited artists and intellectuals out of the enemy’s clutches.
Things begin with a dissident writer rescued by a Robin Hood–like hero called Blackie Lau, played by versatile, Vancouver-raised rising star Eddie Peng (Rise of the Legend). He soon meets shy schoolteacher Fong Lan (Cloud Atlas’s Zhou Xun, who manages to be both ethereal and earthy) and her peasant mom (A Simple Life star Deanie Ip). Lan helps Blackie without quite knowing what’s what, and she’s gradually drawn into the resistance, initially by spreading printed flyers.
Represented in the present by occasional black-and-white footage of a Hong Kong taxi driver who served as a runner for partisans, the local fighters were led by communist cadres, battling it out with both the Japanese and the compromised nationalists working with them. The movie doesn’t dwell on political alignments, and they matter little to people like Mrs. Fong, who is merely trying to survive the whole ordeal. Some occupiers are presented as being fat, crude, and stupid—in the manner of U.S. movies during the war—but the story isn’t simple-minded.
People of many backgrounds mingle at Shanghai-style jazz clubs, where the music is hot and the clothes are gorgeous. It turns out that Lan’s handsome boyfriend (Wallace Huo) is working for the occupiers—or is he? In fact, the young man’s Japanese boss is an expert in Chinese poetry and has a complicated attitude toward the locals. (Jim Jarmusch fans will recognize Masatoshi Nagase as the visiting poet in Paterson and the rockabilly tourist in Mystery Train.) The movie celebrates the language its characters are fighting to protect, so it’s odd that distributors chose a random title over something closer to the Mandarin original, which translates as May We Last Forever, itself taken from a thousand-year-old poem quoted several times in the story and—lasting forever in the song form—still popular wherever Chinese languages are spoken. > KEN EISNER
FILM STARS DON’T DIE IN LIVERPOOL Starring Annette Bening. Rated PG
Annette Bening follows her 2
Oscar-worthy role in 20th Century Women with a more literal star turn, as film noir femme fatale Gloria Grahame, in Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool.
Spoiler alert: the title doesn’t lie. (Gloria’s swan song happens somewhere else.) It’s taken from the memoir of Peter Turner, a 27-year-old Liverpudlian and novice actor who met Grahame in London in 1979, where she was doing Tennessee Williams— theatre being her best route after movies dried up. He’s played by Jamie Bell, the Billy Elliot kid who has turned into a quietly impressive adult actor, even if he hasn’t quite given up the dance. In fact, he first connects with the sultry Oscar winner (for 1952’s The Bad and the Beautiful) while hustling to disco records in her room at a theatrical boarding house.
The place is a dump, but Gloria still has a trailer in Malibu and a hotel apartment in Manhattan. She also has cancer, something she’s loath to tell anyone about, or even admit to herself. (As she eventually tells her doctor, “I need my hair to work.”) Now pushing 60, she can still work any room, and has a thing for much younger fellas. Her fourth husband, in fact, was her stepson with second hubby Nicholas Ray, who directed her in her finest role, opposite Bogart in 1950’s In a Lonely Place.
Her other best gig was as Ado Annie in Oklahoma!, in which she was “jest a gal who cain’t say no”. Actually, little Gloria, almost happy at last, excels at turning people away, over slights real or imagined. Although often considered trashier than rival Marilyn Monroe, Grahame was descended from British royalty, helpfully pointed out by her ditsy mother and bitchy older sister (born in Victoria, B.C.), played by Vanessa Redgrave and Frances Barber in one standout scene. Even so, our fatal femme gets surprisingly close to Peter’s family, with veterans Julie Walters and Kenneth Cranham especially strong as his hardscrabble but loving row-house parents. It’s a wonder that any of them can survive the wallpaper!
The story’s no doubt a downer, and this is why Control screenwriter Matt Greenhalgh and Lucky Number Slevin director Paul Mcguigan (not the former Oasis bassist) chopped up its location-hopping time frame. Their purposefully artificial transitional devices—closing a door in Liverpool that opens onto L.A., for instance— may not be to everyone’s taste. But the lovingly crafted movie is quietly emotional, darkly funny, and deeply marinated in Old Hollywood nostalgia, summed up best by Turner himself, in a cameo as a London barman who asks his alter ego, “Say, isn’t that Gloria Whatsername?” > KEN EISNER
STILL NIGHT, STILL LIGHT Starring Éliane Préfontaine. In French, Spanish, and Mandarin, with English subtitles. Rating unavailable
The underlying principle of this 2
gently adventurous movie from Quebec is the unfulfilled potential that humans carry around, whether with deep regret or some kind of sustained hope. It’s a fitting theme for a tale that frequently gestures at profundity without ever quite reaching its goals.
This debut feature from writerdirector Sophie Goyette, who has made several well-received shorts, is divided into three parts. Initially, we meet Éliane (Éliane Préfontaine), a fair-haired Montrealer who works birthday parties as a Disney princess. Things haven’t clicked for her since she failed to get into a prestigious music school. In fact, she aced the piano audition, but hit the wall with music theory. “I had never heard of it,” she admits to a sympathetic suburban matron.
Instead of picking up a book, our pouty princess heads to a briefly explored Mexico City, where she gives piano lessons to the small son of a wealthy family. We never see the mom, but Éliane forms a kind of bond with the sad-eyed patriarch (Mexican TV and stage veteran Gerardo Trejoluna). The director’s not particularly interested in what connects them.
Turns out the guy is preoccupied with his own ailing father (Felipe Casanova), and offers to take the older man on a final trip. The third part follows them to an unnamed city in China, although this doesn’t matter much, since they spend most of it in a dark hotel room, quietly discussing generic life problems. There is one arresting sequence. While riding a small train through an underground amusement park, the old-timer wonders why his middle-aged son—who wanted to be a professional photographer—didn’t bring a camera. He doesn’t offer much of an answer, and neither does the movie.
Buried aspirations may be important to these characters, but passivity marks most of the action in Still Night, Still Light. Its original French title, translating as My Nights Will Echo, at least offers the promise of future reverberations. But most sounds in the present tense are disconnected from people here. The credits tell us that Préfontaine is the actual performer of the Chopin prelude used as a theme throughout. But Goyette shoots her from behind, with no hands visible at the piano, in the manner of movies forced to fake on-screen talent. Similarly, the camera often cuts from intriguing wide-screen compositions to empty sky or other blank space. Meanwhile, the actors put out as little as possible. These chilly manoeuvres invite projection of your own
thoughts, and can be explained as blows against the empire of narrative expectation. But that doesn’t make them any more rewarding.
> KEN EISNER SHIRLEY: VISIONS OF REALITY Starring Stephanie Cumming. Rating unavailable
Why do Edward Hopper’s paintings 2 haunt us so? His accuracy of fashion, architecture, and body language makes us nostalgic, to be sure. Large fields of undecorated space and unforgiving light invite us to ponder what led those lonely souls to become, say, Nighthawks at the diner (1942).
In this 90-minute experiment, Austrian film historian Gustav Deutsch and cinematographer Jerzy Palacz have captured these ineffable qualities; when spectral figures move across the familiar frames of 13 Hopper paintings created between the ’30s and the ’60s, their gestures seem to effortlessly extend the trajectories of the originals. These beautifully choreographed vignettes provoke more wonderment at what the subjects were thinking at the time. Too bad they don’t leave us wondering.
Curiously, the filmmaker has chosen one performer to anchor every image. Canadian dancer Stephanie Cumming has a flame-haired presence that suggests Jessica Chastain’s more mysterious sister. Unfortunately, Deutsch also has her speak, and Cumming has a flatly affectless modern voice that suggests forgotten shopping lists, whether the material at hand is excerpted from a Thornton Wilder play, a newspaper report about Elia Kazan ratting out friends to Joseph Mccarthy, or just banal musings about another person in the room.
Instead of linking the scenes in surprising ways, the filmmaker locks into a deadening format, separating them with chronologically fixed dates
supported by a radio announcer reading the latest news about Hitler, the stock market, or Martin Luther King Jr. This has the effect of distracting from the gorgeous images and ultimately deadening their almost metaphysical effect.
Deutsch further clutters the can- vas by positing his central figure as an actress, called Shirley, who waltzes agelessly through New York Movie and other deathless frames. But if she’s a figure out of time, that only makes Shirley’s sociopolitical musings more irrelevant. Even if this bad writing were better-read, it would still ruin the contemplative mood of the originals. A few stabs at period music work better than anything in the script. But anyway, it’s not the meaning or the history we love about Hopper; it’s the silence. The people in his paintings are forever between thoughts. > KEN EISNER
HAPPY END Starring Isabelle Huppert. In French, with English subtitles. Rated PG
This sleek study in uppercrust 2 dread covers a lot of themes close to that semifrozen organ Michael Haneke calls his heart. The Austrian writer-director behind such twisted fare as Funny Games and Code Unknown is interested in deception and punishment as the most essential modes of existence.
Born in Germany, Haneke grew up in Austria and worked as a film critic before producing and directing TV. Since 2000, he has mostly shot in France, with the suitably chilly Isabelle Huppert a near constant in his films.
Heading up the construction company handed her by her ailing father, Huppert is here called Anne Laurent, while her Amour handle, Eva, is more or less passed down to the newest member of her troubled family. Eve (Fantine Harduin) is the 13-year-old daughter of Thomas (Mathieu Kassovitz), and has moved into the Laurents’ palatial home in Calais after her mother overdosed on meds. A successful surgeon but a questionable father and husband, Thomas has remarried into the Laurent family, although Eve twigs that he might already be straying. Anyway, this sad-face sprite might not be as innocent as she seems.
The intriguingly fractured tale begins with spectacular footage of a construction-site retaining wall collapse. This puts the aristocratic clan under literal threat, especially when Anne’s ne’er-do-well son (Victoria’s Franz Rogowski) hassles one of the accident victims. The troubled lad has a special place in his mom’s heart, but has no leadership skills, as she admits to her fiancé (Toby Jones), who is, conveniently, an English banker.
Luis Buñuel made a whole career out of dissecting the charms of the bourgeoisie, discreet or otherwise, although his films had a satirical wildness this director lacks. Background details about African migrants, France’s growing economic divide, and the family’s Moroccan servants don’t fully connect, even if they suggest larger issues at play. This not-so-happy Haneke ends well enough, however—at least for those who like their humanism on the dark side of elegant restraint.
A shy schoolteacher (Zhou Xun) joins the resistance in