The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM - TARA BRADY TARA BRADY

Club, IFI/Light House, Dublin, 86 min Many years ago, Hayao Miyazaki de­scribed My Neigh­bour To­toro (1988) – his time­less chil­dren’s clas­sic and his sec­ond fea­ture for Ja­pan’s Stu­dio Ghi­bli – as a film cre­ated with­out a sense of jeop­ardy. It’s a phrase we’ve pon­dered and con­jured with around th­ese parts of­ten: more per­haps than is strictly nec­es­sary or even par­tic­u­larly healthy.

Film, we can all agree, thrives on con­flict. It ex­ists as a se­ries of di­a­met­rics, as ob­sta­cles, as night­mares, as ten­sions. Great cin­ema, in­vari­ably, may be re­duced to se­quences and strings of per­fect and im­per­fect op­po­si­tions.

So how is it that a cut­sey-pie cartoon made with­out any sense of jeop­ardy is as close to perfection as any­thing that has ever been com­mit­ted to cel­lu­loid? What is it that el­e­vates a pretty and pas­toral piece of nos­tal­gia de­tail­ing how two lit­tle girls spend their sum­mer hol­i­days to­ward great­ness?

My Neigh­bour To­toro con­tains no sense of jeop­ardy for an adult, but ev­ery­thing hangs in the bal­ance for its diminu­tive hero­ines Sat­suki and Mei. The grandeur of their re­spec­tive imag­i­na­tions in­fects their oth­er­wise sleepy sur­round­ings with bizarre en­chant­ments and crea- tions. The at­tic of the di­lap­i­dated farm­house where they move with their aca­demic fa­ther is pop­u­lated by the same soot sprites that proved so use­ful in the boiler room of Spir­ited Away. Friendly, out­sized, peb­ble-eat­ing trolls dwell within the wooded area near their new home. When Mei dis­ap­pears, a many legged cat-bus can be re­lied upon to save the day and the lit­tle girl.

There are un­spo­ken and un­spec­i­fied de­tails be­hind their re­cent re­lo­ca­tion. Their mother is re­cu­per­at­ing in a nearby hos­pi­tal. We’re un­sure of her ail­ment, but we make note of her head­scarf. Has her ill­ness im­pacted upon the fam­ily fi­nances? Is that why they now live out in the sticks?

Miyazake never works out the de­tails be­yond the in­ter­ests and scope of the two lit­tle girls. The char­ac­ters are beau­ti­fully drawn: Mei is as stompy as Sat­suki is re­source­ful. Mother is gen­tle and oth­er­worldly. Strangers, even friendly ones like “granny”, are in­tim­i­dat­ing un­til they cease to be strangers.

In­ter­est­ingly, this very child-cen­tric uni­verse has turned out to have semi-mirac­u­lous uses in the area of cin­ema ther­apy and speech de­vel­op­ment. But even the grump­i­est adult will suc­cumb to its charms.

This an­niver­sary reis­sue will be screened with sub­ti­tles and in an adorable English dub fea­tur­ing Dakota and Elle Fan­ning. Ei­ther way, My Neigh­bour To­toro is not to be missed.

16 cert, IFI, Dublin, 122 min The weak­est film of pro­lific di­rec­tor Olivier As­sayas’s en­tire ca­reer re-en­vis­ages the al­ready over-mythol­o­gised af­ter­math of May 1968, as a pretty, va­cant com­mer­cial. A pretty, va­cant perfume com­mer­cial that lasts for two hours. Death, where is thy sting?

Some­where, buried in a whole lot of beau­ti­ful garbage, there’s a bog- stan­dard com­ing-of-age story strug­gling to get out. Gilles (Clé­ment Mé­tayer) wants to write or pos­si­bly paint when he leaves school. He wants to sleep with free-spirit Laure (Ca­role Combes) or in­suf­fer­able drip Chris­tine (the peren­ni­ally mis­er­able Lola Cré­ton).

At least we think he does; the char­ac­ters and plot of Some­thing in the Air are so poorly re­alised they seem to ex­ist in the same hin­ter­land as dropped TV pi­lots. Look here, it’s danc­ing red­head; look there, it’s my best friend, the painter.

Early on, a “rad­i­cal” stu­dent protest – that is, a whole lot of speechi­fy­ing– lands one of the group in hot wa­ter. The friends duly leave their eye-wa­ter­ingly well-ap­pointed bour­geois dwellings and make for eye-wa­ter­ingly clichéd des­ti­na­tions: some head for post­card-per­fect Italy, oth­ers make for hip­pie-friendly Goa.

Is the di­rec­tor try­ing to con­vey a sense of dis­il­lu­sion­ment af­ter the “re­bel­lion”? Is he tak­ing mean-spir­ited swipes at his young char­ac­ters for their var­i­ous blis­ter­ing hypocrisies? Is he be­lat­edly scold­ing about bick­er­ing within “the Left”? Who can say?

Some­thing in the Air wan­ders be­tween luscious vales with no par­tic­u­lar place to go and absolutely noth­ing to say. The char­ac­ters are too in­sub­stan­tial to be de­scribed as bland and too pa­thetic to leave any im­pres­sion be­yond “But his hair looks nice”. Arte­facts from the era (a copy of Syd Bar­rett’s The Mad­cap Laughs, a tome by Pierre Ry­ck­mans) are, sim­i­larly, left art­fully strewn around the place.

This is the “rev­o­lu­tion” and false dawn th­ese peo­ple de­serve. But that’s scant con­so­la­tion for the viewer, for whom it’s less like a proper film and more like one of the other Kar­dashi­ans. That is to say: what’s the point.

Some­thing in the air? Damned straight. And it stinks.

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