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May 17, 2012 6:25 pm
Following the wild success of Borat and the moderate success of Brüno, Sacha Baron Cohen stars in The Dictator as the cheerfully brutal but lovelorn Admiral General Aladeen.
A zillionaire dictator from a fictional North African country, he finds himself on his uppers in NYC and working in a health food shop run by a vegan feminist co-operative.
Baron Cohen’s famed comedy is the comedy of embarrassment and awfulness. But here there are none of the mock-doc interactions with the public that have always provided the most audacious moments of his style. Where Borat contained some real vérité stretches and you were amused by the scale and gall of some of the jokes, The Dictator is never surprising – it has nothing unpredictable in it, instead fit feels full of old, old jokes told with a lot of money.
So even though the film’s distributor Paramount thinks that it has something explosive and brave on its hands, The Dictator is full of enough poo, pee, willy and sperm jokes to keep your Midwest gun-lover happy for weeks.
The humour is aimed directly at the people it hopes to offend. It also contains an unforgivable monologue in which it is revealed – gasp – that it is America that is the true dictatorship (“You torture prisoners!” “You use the media to scare the people into voting for policies that are against their interests!”).
There’s a marked flatness to the film, a real heaviness. Jokes sink, energy is low. And not only is the writing unfunny, but you are left thinking – ruinously – that Baron Cohen could not really do anything truly off-the-cuff with this character (as he sometimes did with Ali G, his breakthrough television alter ego). That he doesn’t believe in him and is following a script.
So much of comedy can depend on novelty, on the never-repeated impact. One could compare Baron Cohen in Borat to Christopher Guest in This Is Spinal Tap or Ricky Gervais in The Office – performances funny enough to make us believe (erroneously, it turns out) that this actor will be funny again and again. Yet sometimes it can only happen once for a comedian. AQ
Woody Allen once joked: “I was going to a European analyst, and that meant a European boy could see my analyst for six months. Y’know, a neurotic exchange programme.” Julie Delpy, it would seem, is that boy. With Allen on an extended European jaunt, Delpy steps in to fill the vacancy of angsty, artsy Manhattanite in Two Days in New York, a frolicsome follow-up to her 2007 directorial debut Two Days in Paris.
We find Marion living with her boyfriend Mingus (Chris Rock) and their two children from previous marriages. All the familiar Allen tropes are here: the hypochondria, the kvetching, the self-doubt – at some points even the signature specs and trad-jazz soundtrack. And then Marion’s overbearing French family arrive. The boorish but big-hearted father Jeannot (Delpy’s actual father Albert), the free-spirited sister Rose (co-writer Alexia Landeau) and her slightly slimy boyfriend Manu are all such French clichés that they border on the cartoonish, but they do their job of injecting some Gallic chaos into polite middle-class Manhattan.
At times the farcical goings-on risk being carried away by French flightiness and they might were it not for Rock, who lives up to his name by anchoring the film with his sobering, sardonic asides. But this is Delpy’s picture and she handles the writing-directing-starring juggler’s act well, showing an insightful eye for cross-cultural quirks and modern mores (even the handyman demands a chai latte). Let’s hope Woody stays away a little longer.
In a week when Cannes has come under fire for not including any female film-makers in its competition we get two fine films written and directed by women. She Monkeys is the sparse and subtle debut from Swedish writer-director Lisa Aschan. It follows adolescent newcomer Emma’s introduction to an equestrian vaulting team and the fractious friendship she develops with Cassandra (Linda Molin). The girls giggle, play and compete. They look as if they might kiss; they also look as if they might come to blows. As with so much Scandi drama, it’s what isn’t said that draws us in. Aschan gives her film a glacial surface while suggesting a maelstrom of suppressed rage and sexual urges just beneath.
The Source has suppression too but also that dangerous thing – worthy intentions. We feel for the women in a remote, apparently North African village where the only thing more oppressive than the heat is the male-dominated hierarchy. So when they resolve to withhold sex from their husbands to protest against the lack of running water we wish them well (or at least a well). But are these real people or old archetypes? The feisty damsel-cum-rebel, the craggy-faced matriarch, the dewy-eyed youngster ... And should we be outraged or amused? We witness beatings and marital rape, then the women joke about them the morning after. Radu Mihaileanu’s update of Lysistrata with overtones of the Arab Spring never settles on a consistent tone; as a result, serious moments lack force and lighter moments feel hollow. RA
The art of many films today is the art of the computer game, and the art of the computer game is cipher management. Characters are pushed around The Raid like tokens on a cyber-screen. Their human shape merely italicises their lack of humanity – real actors playing risibly unreal cops and gangsters in a police-invaded tower block in Jakarta. The brutal Mr Big (Yayan Ruhian) resists unwelcome visitors. Bullets fly, machetes hiss. Soon the cops will be down to a handful led by Indonesian “martial arts sensation” Iko Uwais, a sort of demented human cursor exploding all over the screen. Directed by a Welshman and praised in Geekville (“best action movie in years”, Den of Geek), The Raid is fun of a kind: the kind liked by the brainless everywhere and by the intelligent in moments of elective brainlessness, such as a drunken Saturday night.
Cipher management is found on the art screen too. Is the earnest Even the Rain, directed by Icíar Bolleín and scripted by Paul Laverty (Ken Loach’s regular writer), any better than The Raid? No. Far worse. This fable of the downtrodden, set in Bolivia in 2000, was Spain’s entry for Best Foreign-Language Film Oscar. Even the Academy, though, proved it can resist sucker-appeal agit-pop. Bolleín and Laverty punch up every icon and wingding in the arthouse cliché dropdown. From crucifixion imagery to fiction/reality wrestlings (a film crew torn between their Columbus-mistreats-Indians project and the real clamour of street people fighting privatised water), no commonplace is left unturned. By the end the director-hero is streaking across downtown Cochabamba to save the junta-imperilled teenage girl, never mind bombs or barricades ... If this were a Perils of Pauline episode, we’d laugh it off the screen. NA
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