He’s a one-man wreck­ing crew

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Filmreviews -

A FEW YEARS ago, Oren Mover­man di­rected The Mes­sen­ger, a film that rev­elled in its own re­straint. Ram­part, his fol­low-up, of­fers a few echoes of that ear­lier re­lease. Once again, Woody Har­rel­son plays against type as a man in a uni­form. It takes place in bright, strength-suck­ing sun­light. It’s an­other story of men do­ing what men must do.

Ram­part is, how­ever, a very dif­fer­ent piece of work to its dis­ci­plined pre­de­ces­sor. Ev­ery­one in­volved is show­ing off like lovehun­gry kids meet­ing a po­ten­tial step-par­ent for the first time. The act­ing is off the leash. James Ell­roy’s script is stuffed with grand­stand­ing flour­ishes. And the di­rec­tion? If the cam­era isn’t drift­ing drunk­enly about the room, it’s de­liv­er­ing still images of moist

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body parts to the ac­com­pa­ni­ment of clank­ing ma­chine noise. Some­body please fan my armpits.

Dave Brown (Har­rel­son) plays a chain-smok­ing Los An­ge­les cop, whose ten­dency to kick sus­pects in the head doesn’t quite over­whelm his me­dieval moral cer­tainty. Brown has found him­self sucked into the so-called Ram­part scan­dal that brewed around the LAPD in 1999. It looks as if the au­thor­i­ties may be pur­su­ing Dave, re­cently sus­pended for lay­ing into a sus­pect, as a way of de­flect­ing ac­cu­sa­tions of more wide­spread cor­rup­tion.

Then again, some­thing en­tirely dif­fer­ent may be brew­ing. Ell­roy and Mover­man have de­liv­ered a rather bril­liant char­ac­ter study, but they have ex­pended lit­tle ef­fort on de­vel­op­ing the story.

The film is packed with mem­o­rable sit­u­a­tions and faintly crazy di­rec­to­rial switch­backs. At one stage, dur­ing a stop-off in a sex club, the di­rec­tor de­cides to ex­er­cise his in­ner Gas­par Noë and al­lows the film to break down into to­tal ab­strac­tion. The con­trast be­tween Dave’s cow­boy pol­i­tics and his al­ter­na­tive life­style (he has had daugh­ters by two, os­ten­ta­tiously lib­eral sis­ters) in­vites us to think him unimag­in­ably com­plex.

It’s all very im­pres­sive in a showy way. But you leave the cinema full of the wrong sorts of ques­tions. What the hell is Robin Wright’s up to? How deep in the or­dure is Dave? Hang on, is the film ac­tu­ally over or has the pro­jec­tor bro­ken down mid-scene?

Still, Ram­part is def­i­nitely worth see­ing for its odd­ness alone. HADEWI­JCH (Julie Sokolowski) is a young 21st-cen­tury novice sis­ter named for a 13th-cen­tury vir­gin mys­tic. She has em­barked on a fa­nat­i­cal regime of fast­ing and freez­ing when the Mother Su­pe­rior (Brigitte MayeuxC­ler­get) takes her aside. In light of the trainee nun’s “self-love” and blind faith she will not be per­mit­ted to take her vows or re­main at the con­vent. “You are a car­i­ca­ture of a nun,” scolds the el­der an­chorite.

Dev­as­tated, Hadewi­jch re­turns to Paris and her old sec­u­lar life as Cé­line, the priv­i­leged daugh­ter of a “jerk” diplo­mat. The girl soon finds some so­lace in the com­pany of Yas­sine (Yas­sine Sal­ime), a young Arab ne’er-doell who lives with his older brother, Nas­sir (Karl Sarafidis) on the less salu­bri­ous side of town. Then, be­cause this is a Bruno Du­mont flick, our heroine finds her­self in a po­lit­i­cal cell in the Mid­dle East be­fore re­turn­ing to France, where a cru­cible of faith awaits.

What do in­ter­na­tional dis­trib­u­tors have against Du­mont? De­trac­tors would have it that the di­rec­tor, one of the best curve­ball au­teurs on the block, is sim­ply too glum and se­vere for most art­house tastes. But if that’s true, why did Hu­man­ity, his most dis­com­bob­u­lat­ing film, a foren­sic drama about a raped and mur­dered 11-year-old, find an au­di­ence in this ter­ri­tory in 1999?

Why, too, were we left watch­ing Michael Win­ter­bot­tom’s epic fail Nine Songs when Du­mont’s 2003 nat­u­ral­is­tic sex drama Twen­ty­nine Palms went un­re­leased? Even Du­mont’s Flan­ders, a 2006 Grand Prix win­ner at Cannes, was mostly rel­e­gated to the fes­ti­val cir­cuit.

Thus Hadewi­jch, Du­mont’s strange, com­pelling me­di­a­tion on pen­i­tence and fun­da­men­tal­ism, pops up on our sched­ules al­most three years af­ter the film won the In­ter­na­tional Film Crit­ics’ award at the 2009 Toronto In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val. Well, bet­ter late than never.

Chilly like a church and mad as a cult, Hadewi­jch echoes back its pet pre­oc­cu­pa­tion as rev­er­ence and gaudy plot turns. It’s sec­u­lar­ism from the film na­tion that brought you Of Gods and Men and Lour­des. Sokolowski’s cen­tral turn and Yves Cape’s cin­e­matog­ra­phy add a be­atific glow to a fas­ci­nat­ing piece of cinema.

Say hello to Of­fi­cer Friendly – NOT: Woody Har­rel­son in Ram­part

RAM­PART Di­rected by Oren Mover­man. Star­ring Woody Har­rel­son, Robin Wright, Sigour­ney Weaver, Ice Cube, Ned Beatty, Steve Buscemi, Cyn­thia Nixon, Anne Heche

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