#31. Brief Encounter (1945)
Directed by: David Lean
Written by: Anthony Havelock-Allan, David Lean, Ronald Neame (based on Still Life by Noel Coward)
Starring: Celia Johnson, Trevor Howard, Stanley Holloway, Joyce Carey, Cyril Raymond
I had the pleasure of seeing David Lean’s Brief Encounter in a theatre over the summer, and it quickly became one of my all-time favorite theatrical experiences. While the film is not as epic as Lean’s other films like Lawrence of Arabia, The Bridge on the River Kwai, or Doctor Zhivago, the experience of seeing it on a large screen with great sound and with undivided attention made me appreciate Brief Encounter more than ever before. Lean’s film tells the story of Laura Jesson (Celia Johnson), an unhappy middle-class housewife in late 1930’s Britain. After a day in the city, Laura meets a doctor named Alec Harvey (Trevor Howard) in a train station tea house. The two instantly hit it off, and eventually arrange to meet again. What begins as an innocent friendship between two adults soon leads to romantic feelings and thoughts from both parties, with Laura contemplating pursuing an affair with Alec. What follows is a complex look at romance, the excitement of a new relationship, and the pitfalls of adultery. Brief Encounter is an incredibly well-structure film, clocking in at just 86 minutes but featuring the emotional content of a full-blown two-plus hour drama. The script, based on a play by famous playwright Noel Coward, wastes little time in setting the stage and introducing the characters of Laura and Alec. Both main characters are treated fairly, as their situation is one that nearly anybody involved in a long-term romance could wind up in. Both are extremely likeable and charming characters, which is helped by the chemistry between Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard. The romantic tension is obvious from the second time the characters meet, and the emotional minefield they must traverse is taxing and complicated. Celia Johnson’s Laura is extremely conflicted from the get-go, but is clearly bored of her now monotonous homelife, and Trevor Howard’s Dr. Alec Harvey is intelligent, funny, and extremely charming. The performances from both actors are terrific, and really help to sell the drama found in Brief Encounter. David Lean’s direction follows Laura and Alec as they converse in a tea shop, in a movie theatre, and as they walk and talk with each other through the streets – potentially inspiring filmmaker Richard Linklater and his Before Trilogy. The style found in Brief Encounter is understated and subtle, putting emphasis on building a suspenseful atmosphere, begging viewers to ask themselves what they would do in their situation, and wanting to know what each character will decide to do. Brief Encounter is a brilliantly paced film featuring tight, focused writing, terrific performances, and impressive understated direction – it’s a triumph, and one of the most complex love stories ever written.
#44. Before Sunset (2004)
Directed by: Richard Linklater
Written by: Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy
The return of Richard Linklater’s incredibly popular characters Jesse and Celine took place nine years after the events – and actual release – of Before Sunrise in 2004’s Before Sunset. The film sees the lovers reunited nine years later, this time in the city of Paris. Jesse (Ethan Hawke) is on a tour to promote his new book This Time, inspired by his single night in Vienna with Celine (Julie Delpy). She surprises Jesse during a book reading, and the two decide to catch up and wander the streets of Paris. The problem once again being that their time together is limited, as Jesse must leave to catch a plane in an hour. Before Sunset is easily my favorite film of Linklater’s incredible Before Trilogy, as it takes everything successful about Before Sunrise but significantly raises the stakes. Both characters have aged by nine years, and their once idealistic and romantic worldviews have changed significantly – much like what happens between people in real life. The script – this time written by Linklater, Ethan Hawke, and Julie Delpy – uses the film’s fictional time constraints perfectly, with both characters being up front about what they need to say in order to gain closure, and skirting around the big issues. The city of Paris, much like Vienna in Before Sunrise, is just as important a character as Jesse and Celine. The locations are beautifully shot, Linklater’s tracking camera manages to capture the beauty of the city while never shifting focus from our two lead characters. This focused and consistent direction is once again a sign of Richard Linklater’s talent behind the camera, perfectly realizing his vision for the film. New revelations about Jesse and Celine also help to raise the stakes of Before Sunset, with Jesse revealing that he showed up in Vienna to meet Celine on their agreed upon date, and Celine not being able to make it because of the death of her grandmother. Jesse is married and has a son, and Celine has become an environmental activist and is in a serious relationship. These changes in character are much more than superficial additions by the screenwriters, they’re reflected by the incredibly talented Hawke and Delpy – these significant life changes have affected their behaviours, views, and even the way they interact with each other. Before Sunset may not technically be as romantic a film as its predecessor, but it’s not trying to be. Instead, Linklater and company convey the feeling that we’re catching up with old friends – who just so happen to still hold unrealized romantic feelings for each other. The ending of Before Sunset is one of the most powerful final moments of cinema in the 2000’s, and may be my favorite moment in the entire series – it’s both subtle and suggestive in its own beautifully romantic way. Before Sunset is the strongest film in the trilogy, and a perfect date night movie for those in the mood for some classic Linklater philosophy and intellectualism.
#46. Before Sunrise (1995)
Directed by: Richard Linklater
Written by: Richard Linklater, Kim Krizan
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy
Richard Linklater’s career has spanned several decades, and has seen an incredible variety of excellent, entertaining, and thought-provoking films including Boyhood, Dazed and Confused, School of Rock, Slacker, Waking Life, and most recently Everybody Wants Some!! Linklater’s 1995 film Before Sunrise marked his fourth feature length film, and the young director was already showing signs of becoming a true powerhouse. Before Sunrise is the first film in a trilogy by Linklater, following the romantic lives of lovers Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy). Sunrise sees the two meeting on a train from Budapest after observing an older German couple fighting. Jesse and Celine hit it off immediately and decide to step off the train and spend the day in the beautiful city of Vienna, where they walk and talk for the majority of the film. Both Jesse and Celine are free thinkers and would be classified as intellectuals by most, waxing philosophical about whatever young people find interesting. Before Sunrise may be one of the most perfect on-screen representations of romance ever created – the walking and talking nature of the film makes it feel so romantically familiar and genuine. They chat about love, death, sex, parents, and so much more, and every time I see the film I find myself hanging on their every word. Not only is it a beautiful representation of impulsive, star-crossed love, but it’s also something of a love letter to your 20’s. Both Jesse and Celine have their entire lives ahead of them, and it shows in their attitudes and opinions about the world around them. As they walk around the city, everything seems perfect and idealistic for those precious few hours – a feeling we’ve probably all felt at one point or another. Linklater’s tracking camera techniques allow for total immersion into the world of Before Sunrise, allowing the audience to focus on nothing but the main characters and their interactions with one another. My favorite scene in the film sees Jesse and Celine in the listening booth of a record store – Kath Bloom’s beautiful song “Come Here” underscores the scene as Jesse repeatedly eyes Celine, making it clear that he’s fallen for the lovely young woman. Before Sunrise is one the great American romance films ever made – it feels warm and familiar, and features intelligent writing and some truly beautiful scenery. It’s a perfect beginning to an excellent trilogy.
The first ever North Bay Film Festival is finally here, bringing with it thirteen incredible independent and international features, as well as gala events, panel discussions, industry workshops, and of course parties. After a year-long wait and many hours of preparation, it’s incredible to see it coming together. Seeing the smiling faces, hearing the back and forth banter about movies, and interacting with patrons has turned this into one of my favorite experiences in recent memory. Whenever possible, I’ll be giving some very brief thoughts on the movies I’ve managed to catch. The North Bay Film Festival runs from September 29, 2016 – October 2, 2016 at the Capitol Centre in North Bay, Ontario. Tickets and passes are available at the box office, and information on the lineups and start times are available at www.northbayfilmfestival.ca. We hope to see you there!
Southside with You (2016)
Directed by: Richard Tanne
Written by: Richard Tanne
Starring: Tika Sumpter, Parker Sawyers
Richard Tanne’s directorial debut chronicles a single day in the summer of 1989 when love is in the air. Future POTUS Barack Obama swindles the future First Lady Michelle Robinson into coming to a “meeting” with him. Along the way they visit an Afro art exhibit, hang out at a park, walk and talk around Chicago, and see Spike Lee’s brand new controversial film Do the Right Thing. Whether it’s a date or not is entirely up to Michelle, as Barack has made his feelings clear from the word go.
What I Liked:
- The performances for the most part are excellent, especially Tika Sumpter’s portrayal of Michelle Robinson. I could feel how conflicted she was at all times, trying not to fall for Barack’s charming first date, but wanting so badly to at the same time. Parker Sawyer’s Barack Obama is terrific as well, but I found his performance at times to come off as stilted and maybe just a little robotic. I guess in that way it’s quite similar to the President, but it didn’t feel genuine in the context of the film. He comes off as incredibly charming and confident through most of the film, which is the important part.
- The atmosphere is perfect. Though I wasn’t there, Southside with You feels like how I imagine the summer of 1989 in Chicago felt. Racial tensions still hang thick in the air, rap and soul music is blasting from every car stereo and boombox in sight, and people are out enjoying the heat, dressed terribly and having a great time.
- The film does not go into the politics of either Barack or Michelle for more than a few seconds, turning what could have been a Democratic echo chamber into a film accessible for absolutely everybody.
- The pacing. Southside with You is a brisk 84 minutes long, and feels even shorter than that. We never linger on any part of the date for too long, jumping to the next logical point in the timeline before things can become stale or repetitive.
- The walking and talking style is my favorite version of the romantic film genre. It’s clear that Richard Tanne has seen and admires Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy (Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Before Midnight). He does his absolute best to match those films in tone and lightheartedness.
What I Didn’t:
- Unfortunately, in copying Linklater’s trademark style, the film does feel pretty minor and inconsequential compared to those movies. Instead of waxing poetic about all the things young people love and care about, Barack and Michelle spend most of their time talking about work and their communities, which at times made me want to yell at them to lighten up a little.
- The film is clearly a very romantic depiction of Barack Obama and Michelle Robinson, as both character come off as very angelic and perfect throughout. It would have been nice to visit some of their flaws or downfalls, but the movie isn’t interested in painting them in a realistic light, it’s almost exclusively about their courtship.
- The attempt at bringing gravity to the film in the last act feels completely forced and unnatural. Tanne wants the audience to question whether or not Barack and Michelle will actually end up together, but we all know how this thing ends. It feels like more of a mark he felt he had to hit instead of something compelling and genuine.
Overall, my complaints about Southside with You aren’t nearly enough for me to tell anybody not to see this movie. Whether you lean left or right on the political spectrum, you’re going to find something to love about this film. It’s charming, it’s funny, and it’s got two very good performances from young actors that I now have my eye on. It’s imperfect, but damn if it isn’t a hell of a lighthearted, feel-good film. Southside with You is recommended.