June 1, 2011 6:07 pm

Latest cinema releases: June 2

Asif Kapadia’s ‘Senna’ and Gustave de Kervern and Benoît Delépine’s ‘Mammuth’
 
Ayrton Senna at the GP
 Flawed hero: racing driver Ayrton Senna is profiled in a new documentary feature

What a week for adorable monsters. Gérard Depardieu, joli laid giant; the cast of X-Men, mutants we love to hate (or hate to love); and the demons of the Wall Street meltdown, paraded yet again in The Flaw so we can boo, rail or hiss.

Racing driver Ayrton Senna – was he a monster? Surely not. Too sweet of feature, too brave of feat. “Fearless” as true heroes are, taking their terror and converting it to conquering energy, he won races and fans. As a non-petrolhead I had to be told by Senna, a documentary made with panache, cogency and cornering skills (so many turns and twists in a short career), that the Brazilian won the Formula 1 championship three times. I only knew he was fast and famous and died with horrible suddenness at age 34, whipped off a bend in the San Marino Grand Prix and lashed against a wall, perhaps by the divine destiny he spoke so much of during his life.

Every hero has a flaw. Senna’s may have been too great a trust in the deity he had been raised on as a Catholic. “God this, God that,” he says throughout the film. “Just drive,” we want to say. Or just strut tremendously with your pouty disdain past the racecourse paparazzi who so pester you. Or just charm the world with your little-boy-grown-up anger, seen in hilarious first-time footage of Senna raging about racing rules and management misrule at drivers’ meetings.

You would have to cast a young Antonio Banderas and then borrow James Franco’s lips. So: a monster? Well, Senna was that too. He could be preternaturally remorseless, racing on through rain when everyone else slewed and skidded, or racing on in a stuck sixth gear to finish a Brazilian Grand Prix, his first victory for an ecstatic home crowd. His overtaking stunts endangered the lives of rivals, though Senna afterwards would throw up his hands in wide-eyed innocence.

In short, both Beauty and the Beast. I kept wanting Senna, for all its skill and the touches of imagination brought by fiction director Asif Kapadia (The Warrior, Far North), to go further. I wanted a more Kane-like deconstruction of this hero who was also an ogre. Maybe a dramatised biopic will come along: it should. Scan the skies for the right actor and right director – Scorsese? Michael Mann? – to catch the madness and mania, the anger and power hunger, that writhed beneath the pretty-boy surface of an international sporting pin-up. 

 

Gérard Depardieu is a wonderful sight in Mammuth. Playing a retiring slaughterhouse worker, he is easily confused with the obese and monstrous carcases around him. Sometimes he is as naked as they. In a “grand baigneur” scene undreamt of by Cézanne, he strips to the buff, a gross-bellied Bacchus fit to frighten the fishes. Elsewhere as he speeds between towns on a mission to collect his work documents – urgently needed for a pension claim but lost, he begins to learn, by every past boss – he is an age-battered biomechanical beast, barely distinguishable from his beloved 1970s Mammuth motorbike.

 
Gerard Depardieu
 Gérard Depardieu plays a retiring, but not shy, slaughterhouse worker in ‘Mammuth’

The film is a mess. It looks as if it was shot in 8mm and processed in toilet blue. Filmmakers Gustave de Kervern and Benoît Delépine (Altraa, Louise-Michel) obviously thought it enough to keep heaving Depardieu at the camera, supported, if that is the right word, by two co-stars. Yolande Moreau, no sylph herself, is funny early on as Gérard’s missus: “Day one of retirement and it’s anarchy.” She has one hysterical scene trying to talk to a voice-recognition answer-machine. Isabelle Adjani, looking as ageless as Depardieu looks aeon-bombarded, plays the ghost of his past loves.

Someone should have read Kervern and Delépine’s shooting script and said: “Back to the typewriter.” The second half deteriorates, though even here there is the odd inspired comic moment. A prospective boss asks a job-seeking girl, “Do you work fast?” She says: “No, I like to reflect beforehand . . . ” (Give this the Herman Melville “Bartleby” Award for services to workplace comedy.) Depardieu strides on, supreme, oblivious and is yet again the overmastering reason to see a film that without him would be masterless and quickly, in the mind, over.

Can you bear another meltdown documentary? They keep arriving like delayed-action fallout, proving we shouldn’t leave the bunker till the last “all clear”. 

 

The Flaw presents the holocaust that was the housing bubble. “I’ve found a flaw and been very distressed by the fact,” testifies Alan Greenspan, former Federal Reserve chairman, to a subcommittee. He looks as innocent as an elf. The “flaw” is in the ideal of unregulated capitalism. Unscrupulous free-acting banks pass on toxic debts and mortgages. Sliced and blended in different combinations these are put in the oven to be cooked – the film’s producer Luke Johnson, once of PizzaExpress, must recognise the working model – and eventually a customer, or a million, eat the fatal results.

An “economics correspondent of the New York Times” is interviewed. He was ruined by an unwise property purchase and refinancing and later (surprise) lost his job. No doubt the NYT saw the writing on the wall – his wall: “house for sale, foreclosure threatened, any price accepted.” Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel Prize winner, is a grey man finding multicoloured ways to say of the subprime crisis, “I told you so.”

The same thing happened in the 1920s, he and the film inform us, cueing newsreel-filled flashbacks, and it triggered the Great Depression. To which one can only respond: “Oh these modern bankers, brokers and economists. Can’t they remember a damn thing from century to century?”  

 

The audience targeted by X-Men: First Class will be too young to remember the Cuban Missile Crisis. So, they may believe that a third world war was averted not by President J.F. Kennedy and Premier Nikita Khrushchev backing down from Armageddon, but by superpowered mutants charging about the sky redirecting ships, guns and military minds. “History is bunk,” said Henry Ford. No, no, Henry: Hollywood history is bunk. The film is a prequel. We learn about Magneto (Michael Fassbender) before he became Sir Ian Magneto-McKellen; about Professor Charles Xavier (perky James McAvoy) when he was a mere prodigy amid the Oxford domes and had not become the singular, shiny dome of Sir Patrick Xavier-Stewart; and about the rest of the gang of shape-changers and superfolk.

The effects are pretty. The chief villain is good (Kevin Bacon as a mutant ex-Nazi). But the script needed more work to persuade us it is a coherent action-adventure rather than a collage of camped-up, sometimes cockamamie, cold war moments. 

 

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