Tag Archives: Luis Buñuel

Trance – all in the mind, not in the script

Trance, tragic trance: McAvoy, Dawson and Cassel

Trance, tragic trance: McAvoy, Dawson and Cassel

Memory’s a tricky subject to study in film, and the complex workings of the mind are even trickier. Danny Boyle, surely one of the most ambitious and thematically ambidextrous filmmakers working today, here takes his shot at making a real mind-bender, following in the footsteps of Christopher Nolan, Satoshi Kon, David Cronenberg, David Lynch, Jean Cocteau and Luis Buñuel. Surprisingly, the director of Trainspotting and Slumdog Millionaire finds himself struggling with these mental gymnastics, producing a film that looks, but never feels, the part.

James McAvoy stars as Simon, an art auctioneer with serious gambling debts who winds up in trouble when a heist goes wrong – he’s the only one who knows where the £25 million painting is, but a bash to the head means he can’t remember. Vincent Cassel and his cronies try to torture it out of him, but to no avail. Enter Rosario Dawson’s expert hypnotherapist, Elizabeth, whose attempts to mine the corridors of Simon’s subconscious turn up unexpected secrets, and put her in a position of power over both Simon and Cassel’s Franck. Mental and sexual manipulation is never far off.

Opening with a superb, jauntily paced heist sequence that feels like an MTV version of Inside Man, Trance never recaptures the energy of its pre-credits sequence. Spurred forward by a pulsing soundtrack by Underworld’s Rick Smith, it descends into a lot of sitting around watching McAvoy sleep and Vincent Cassel becoming oddly less frustrated. A whirligig of twists in the final act reveals so many character reversals that it becomes difficult to decide whose side you’re on, who the main character is and whether or not you actually like any of them to begin with.

In the same way Inception never felt properly like a dream, Trance rarely feels like a nightmare, and shies away from symbolism or other techniques for addressing real emotional issues. This is a film which pseudo-poetically discusses the virtues of female pubic hair, while using Austin Powers-esque camera angles to cloak the two male leads’ members from the audience’s gaze.

However, the cast are all in top form. McAvoy is full of the charisma that once shot him to the top of the game; that he gets to use his real accent for once is a plus. Cassel makes a very likeable villain. Dawson, whose 25th Hour promise has been time and again dampened by poor subsequent roles, plays the mysterious, dominant female with plenty of class, and remains watchable even as the material of the film collapses around her.

Boyle’s regular collaborator, the genius cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle, has created a stunningly glossy, red-stained palette for Trance. The images are crisp throughout, with some clever cycling of focus, but there’s very little cutting-edge imagery on show here to add to a portfolio already packed with 28 Days Later, Slumdog and 127 Hours. Editor Jon Harris ties it all together as best he can, but is hindered by Joe Ahearne and John Hodge’s front-heavy screenplay.

Despite some unpleasant body horror (of which finger-nail torture and genital squibs are only mild examples), Trance never manages to notch up the tension effectively. It is never as disturbing as the cold turkey scene Boyle’s Trainspotting, nor as demented as the video game trip in The Beach. This is all due to the script and its inconsistent characters.

Trance has a number of fine moments, but it never amounts to anything more than a cleverer-than-average thriller. And it’s not nearly as clever as it thinks it is.

2/5

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Dalí Without Delay

Two word review: Just lovely

Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris has given us a lot. It’s given us Owen Wilson at his best, and shown him to be a superb vessel for Allen’s undying spirit to work through. It’s given us Marion Cotillard at her most beautiful and charming, and proven the First Lady of France can act. But more than anything else it’s given us Adrien Brody playing Salvador Dalí.

Find me the filmgoer who enjoyed a scene in this wonderful movie more than Brody’s outrageous cameo and I’ll show you a liar, a madman or a fool.

Can't say fairer than that

Brody’s scenery-inhaling performance totally eclipsed his fellow actors, portraying Luis Buñuel and Man Ray, and practically pushed Wilson, the film’s star, out of the frame. With larger-than-life bombast, Brody’s (and Allen’s) tribute to the sublime surrealist brings us to one obvious (and yet somehow thus far ignored) conclusion: the world is ready for a Dalí biopic starring Adrien Brody.

Now imagine it moving

And what a biopic that would be. Dalí’s life is full of fascinating contradictions: his surrealist leanings clashed time and again with his Catholic heritage; he struggled with his national identity as a Spaniard during the Franco era while travelling the world as an icon of the modern art world; his work varied from the avant-garde to the surprisingly commercial.

Add to that a tale of a strong (and lasting) love affair with Gala Dalí, potential for magnificent special effects incorporating his artworks and even a snapshot of movements in film history (and who in Hollywood does not love films about film history?!).

If restaging sequences from his terrifying and controversial works with Buñuel, L’Age d’Or or Un Chien Andalou, doesn’t interest you, just look at what he did in Hollywood working with the likes of Hitchcock and Disney:

The horrific…

…and the sublime.

And that’s not to mention his interactions with Andy Warhol (another figure of the 20th Century art scene who cinema has struggled to capture) – this anecdote tells how not even the legendary pop artist could not control the surrealist superstar (then in his 60s).

And what about Brody? Do you fear he could not pull off a feature of this nature? His acting chops have been proven in The Thin Red Line and The Pianist – the latter for which he remains the youngest-ever recipient of the Best Actor Oscar. And the same physical silliness he displayed in Midnight in Paris sustained him for the duration of The Darjeeling Limited, a film he mercilessly stole (again, curiously, from Owen Wilson).

So look at it this way, and I’m talking now to those people with money and not enough ideas in Hollywood: you have the story, and you have the star (and proof he can play the role). What more do you need?

I hope my readers will join me now in demanding Dalí without delay. Who’s with me?

... he would be.

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