The Handmaiden (2016)

I went into The Handmaiden knowing next to nothing about it other than it was meant to be amazing and there was a lot of graphic sex which seems like the right amount of information to have leading into this film. I’ll try and keep details sparse in case, god forbid, someone else reads this and they haven’t seen it because the lack of knowledge going in really let me sink into the mystery and allure of this film.

Normally I find that if a film relies to heavily on a big twist at the end, the body of the film is fairly lackluster. The Handmaiden has a lot of twists though, for the most part, they aren’t saved til the end of the film and they inform the narrative in ways that should reward multiple rewatches. One of the central themes of the film is the construction of identity which is beautifully demonstrated through its three part structure each from the view point of another character, allowing you to see a character you were previously aligned with from an outside perspective of vice versa. This and the non-linear structure of the film allow for some rewarding script writing with clever lines peppered throughout that will cause you to reevaluate prior scenes and character motivations as you go along. Granted this isn’t some groundbreaking structure, and to be fair the film never really does anything particularly groundbreaking, but everything it does, it does just so damn well.

The film is just BEAUTIFUL from start to finish, set in Korea under Japanese occupation in the 1930s, the bulk of the action takes place in a large mansion, split with one half in Japanese style, the other English. The production design, from the sets, to the costumes and props and really just anything that might be on screen is intricately designed, presenting an impossibly perfect image of the era and the fashions of the time (although probably modernised). Everything in this film feels deliberate, especially in regards to the cinematography, almost every image is framed perfectly and the camera glides precisely without a single moment of shakiness.

Anchored by two fantastic performances from the lead actresses, Kim Min-hee and Kim Tae-ri, the film goes to some pretty extreme places but rather than walking away feeling disturbed as you might from Oldboy, I ended up feeling quite empowered and positive. Despite the content of my little write up, the film isn’t perfect, I found the last third less gripping than the two leading up to it but thats really not saying much, it was over 2 weeks ago that I saw this so exact details are hazy. But in short, this is a beautiful film (in every respect) which I could happily write essays on the themes of, but unlike many thematically dense films it manages to stay fun and engaging whilst also being something of a film-making masterpiece.

Advertisements

La La Land (2016)

If any film ever had the danger of collapsing under its hype for me, it was this one, I have been excited for this from the second I read ‘Ryan Gosling and Emma stone to star in musical’. Then you add in the heaps of praise and critical acclaim I thought there was no way this could live up to the hype but, as I sit hear listening to the soundtrack for the 4th time today, I can happily say it lives up to every bit of the hype. I don’t think theres even much I can say about it to be honest, its just so fantastic, but I’ll give it a go, just be prepared for some intensely sycophantic writing.

Emma Stone has long been one of my favourite actresses and she is beyond stunning in this, and it really is her film. Whilst her voice isn’t particularly strong, its lovely but it lacks any oomph, and her dancing isn’t quite as good as Gosling, she acts the hell out of every second in this film and thats what its all about really. Chazelle allows the camera to linger on her face in Bergman-esque close ups which allows Stone to show how fantastic she is, you can see every single thought going through her mind at any time with subtle transitions between emotions and responses to what’s going on. She is so intensely present in her character and the story, aided by her huge, and hugely expressive eyes, you believe every single second of her story and empathise so strongly with her struggle. And whilst I said she isn’t the strongest singer or dancer, she brings such a vivacious energy to her dancing that you hardly notice and as mentioned the songs are acting exercises above all else. (spoilers) Towards the end when Mia has achieved fame, Emma Stone carries the effects of fame on her character in her posture and voice with a fantastic subtlety whilst maintaining a clear transformation (Spoilers). Then theres her chemistry with the wonderful Ryan Gosling, one of my favourite actors and long time idols. These two have proven time and time again that they have the most electric chemistry and it is never stronger than here. Gosling is a real jack of all trades and this is a great showcase for him as he moves fantastically and as we know from ‘Dead Man’s Bones’ he can sing and as evidenced in plenty of films he is a fantastic and versatile actor although his role perhaps has less meat than Stone.

I admittedly have still yet to see Whiplash although it is at the top of my Netflix queue, but I was so impressed by Damien Chazelle’s direction and writing. The camerawork throughout was energetic and fluid, never cutting unless it really needed to allowing us fantastic long takes, and he’s not afraid to linger on quiet moments. The scene where the hold hands in the movie theatre may be the most exhilarating moment put on film in all of 2016 and then it lead into that magnificent Planetarium sequence which was pure film magic. The cinematography was also just beautiful, the way the street art was incoporated into shots and the frequent sunsets along with the beautiful colour grading made LA look like a wonderland. The costumes were also stunning throughout, particularly for Emma Stone.

I feel like I can’t actually continue writing about this right now, I cannot capture how I felt about this, being extemely hyperbolic, it feels like everything I’ve ever wanted in a film. A bittersweet love story between Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone with fantastic direction, singing, jazz old hollywood nostalgia and a big dose of melancholy, its like Damien Chazelle looked into my brain and plucked out my favourite film.

Sorry this is such a shit blogpost, might try and touch it up later