Monday morning 7am — groggy, unshowered, tired. Stumble out of house, onto tube, into Leicester Square. Buy ham sandwich from Sainsburys, too early to eat sandwich; buy pricey cup of coffee from place opposite the Vue. Coffee slowly brings Tom back to life…

Enough third person. I managed to get my wits about me just in time for We Need to Talk About Kevin. As Simon Mayo and I queued up at the Vue (well, not together) I cast my mind back over the overwhelmingly good press that Lynne Ramsay’s adaptation of Lionel Shriver’s novel had received — the hype had officially been built. Therefore, my expectations were relatively high; on with the review…

We Need to Talk About Kevin (dir. Lynne Ramsay)

We Need to Talk About Kevin is a very red film from start to finish. General mise-en-scene: red paint, red lampshades, tomato soup (pictured above) etc. There’s also the use of a red filter in certain scenes. What could all this mean? Well, it’s a metaphor for blood. Yep. The audience figured that out within 8.2 seconds of the film starting.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with a visual metaphor, but this particular one makes up a key part of the We Need to Talk About Kevin aesthetics. Labelled as ‘clever cinematography’, it just seems a bit obvious. It doesn’t take long before you start to ignore the red, instead trying to focus on the film’s other aspects.

One of those aspects is the narrative — it focuses on the edgy and difficult relationship between Eva (Tilda Swinton) and her son Kevin (the excellent Ezra Miller). When Kevin is born he constantly screams, not allowing his mother a moment’s rest. As he gets older this animosity develops in a number of ways. Eventually Kevin and Eva live void of family affection, a prevailing air of hate present whenever they are in the same room.

Initially the film looks at postpartum depression — could Eva be responsible for Kevin’s seemingly evil state? Then it begins to suggest that Kevin is born evil, virtually without redeeming features. Nature or nurture? It never really falls on one side of the other. Perhaps the audience is supposed to make up their own minds; the fact of the matter is THAT I didn’t really see any point in doing so when it would clearly make little difference to the morals and messages of the film.

As it continues towards its conclusion I was expecting a twist, a sting in the tale. Unfortunately, it was curiously absent. The majority of the ending depicts an event that we were well aware of throughout the film, from the very beginning. I won’t call it by name in case anyone reading this doesn’t experience the same, though it’s hardly a surprise. While it attempts to be visually rich and narratively clever, I found it flat and unfulfilling, desperately searching for a point to the entire piece. I think that about sums up We Need to Talk About Kevin — not an exploration of anything in particular, not a compelling story, not a dramatic roller-coaster nor the visual feast I had expected it to be.

That’s not to say it is without positives: Swinton’s performance is very good, as well the actors who play Kevin in his various stages of youth. John C. Reilly is a little harder to comment on — every time you thought his character was going to come to prominence he was once again shoved into the background. It does also contain a level of discomfort and unease that is occasionally pleasing, but it needs more behind it to have a profound effect.

Overall, a disappointment.

Well, that was a shame. It should be noted, however, that the majority of the response from the screening I attended was pretty positive. After noticing this I put a message up on my twitter (@tomsmovies) asking whether anyone else didn’t think much of it: thankfully it turns out that I’m not alone!

I made my way to the BFI. There were two afternoon screenings and I figured I could probably catch both. Upon arrival I realised that there was an urgent piece of work that I needed to complete, so I decided to skip the first one and only go to the latter. Commence review…

Breathing (Austrian, dir. Karl Markovics)

A remarkably solid debut feature, Breathing took me by complete surprise with its seamless production and coherently told story. I was sceptical for a good twenty, maybe thirty minutes, but after that period of time there was no denying the astuteness of the craft on show. Thomas Schubert plays a young offender approaching the end of his incarceration. He gets a job as a dead body mover (I have no idea what this job title is, mortician perhaps? Sorry, it’s late) and attempts to track down his mother, who put him up for adoption when he was very young.

There’s not a lot to the story, and I worried that it could have been a bit of an empty and dull affair. Thankfully, it’s anything but. Breathing is a terrific example of what can be achieved when you take a simple idea, put loads of thought into turning it into a movie (including a bunch of script redrafts and lots of storyboarding I imagine), and thus create a beautifully crafted film.

Containing spot-on levels of engagement and enjoyment as well as an excellent score, Breathing is a great way to spend 90 minutes and is the biggest surprise of the festival so far.

After missing the earlier screening at the BFI, I decided to make the trip to a film being screened at Soho House. If you remember, I encountered a disaster while trying to find it a few days ago, and subsequently missed Louise Wimmer. Not such problem this time — I made it with bags of time, settling into the small and cosy room for the day’s final film…

Strawberry Fields (dir. Frances Lea)

A low-budget independent British feature, Strawberry Fields is a godawful vacuous mess of a film failing to harbour any redeeming features. A nonsensical and poorly thought-out plot, inconsistent characters and a distinct lack of anything I can cling on to in a vain attempt to be positive; let’s chalk this one down as a gigantic blip and carry on with our lives in complete ignorance of its existence.

A rather grounding way to finish the day. I have seen one other shocker at this year’s festival — I’m still embargoed on posting my review — but even that doesn’t quite compare. Never mind though; there’s always going to be one or two. Tomorrow I’m up super-early again but this time it’s for The Artist; if you haven’t heard about it I suggest you to look it up. It could be something really special (and many are already saying it is). After that I’ll probably aim to catch one or two public screenings, as all three press ones tomorrow clash. See you then!

Tom Grater

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