This article will have short reviews for the following films in this order: The Children Act, Wonder, Breathe (Respire), Mowgli, and Seagulls Die in the Harbour (Meeuwen Sterven in de Haven).
Ian McEwan’s latest book adaptation’s quite good, though not as good as it could’ve been. Fionn Whitehead gives a rather theatrical performance oppose to Emma Thompson’s subdued and emotionally complex one, which made for an interesting contrast that fitted their respective characters well and tied in with one of the overarching themes. These two also had great chemistry together, as did Thompson with Stanley Tucci, who gave an impeccable performance as well. However, the story quickly derails from something interesting into something relatively dull, though it does manage to pose some interesting questions about religion, life, the juridical system, and it deals with a handful of profound moral dilemmas. The directing was a bit iffy as well; some scenes were great while others were seemingly done with a certain emotional disconnect, which might’ve even been the directors intent, but I didn’t feel like this was the right decision as it rather took away from the emotions the actors were able to evoke with the viewer for these well-written characters.
Wonder no more, Wonder is quite good. For one, I really liked how they decided to tell the story from multiple perspectives since this made each character feel more real and it showed us how this one person’s disability could impact other lives as well. The film really makes you care for these characters by showing rather than telling, though it can get rather blatant in certain scenes and with its heartwarming message. At times it does try too hard to make you feel certain emotions, due to which a couple of scenes fell flat, especially near the ending, which was a bit in-your-face as well. Additionally, the pacing’s rather poor in the second act and the film does have quite a lot of cheese. Nevertheless, the absolutely stunning performances brought these characters to life and made it feel somewhat justifiable for the film to get that cheesy. It’s a film that’ll pull on some heartstrings, albeit in a sometimes rather cliché way, though with a great visual presentation, soundtrack, and excellent performances.
Melanie Laurent’s Breathe is one excellent little film. It features two wonderfully written and complex characters that feel very real. You’re always given a motive for why they act the way they do and it kind of makes you sympathize for them, even though they’ve done shitty things and keep on doing them, which adds an extra layer of emotional complexity to the film. These two characters were performed incredibly well and the actors had some great chemistry, which really sold their friendship. One of the actors really got her chance to shine in the last scene of the film and damn, did she sell it. The film has a perfect and well-executed ending that came rather unexpected but tied it all together brilliantly. Outside of the ending, there are a handful of brilliant scenes scattered throughout the film, often captured in gorgeous long takes and with a fantastic score.
After two years of pushbacks and an eventual change of distributor, Andy Serkis was finally able to publish his passion project. Unfortunately for Serkis, this passion project isn’t all that great. The CGI was either great or awful, the pacing was lacking and the way the story was told wasn’t that great as well. I do not think that the decision to have the faces of the animals be anthropomorphic to let the performances really shine through was a good one, as they now looked quite idiotic, especially Khan. Their voice acting, however, was excellent and so was Rohan Chand, who played Mowgli. Also, while the film does carry a darker tone than The Jungle Book, it’s fairly inconsistent. It will quickly shift from dark and sad to unrealistic and silly slapstick, giving the film an overall uneven tone rather than the dark one it strives for.
In general, I’m not the biggest fan of Belgian cinema. We’ve made a handful of decent films, but the majority of things we produce is pure garbage. Especially our older films aren’t particularly great, so going into Seagulls Die In the Harbor, my expectations weren’t too high since it’s one of our earliest productions. However, I was quite surprised. The film is an excellently directed piece of cinema, that deals with a couple of great themes. The things it wants to say about these themes is very profound, and it gets the message across, though the way it’s said often isn’t all that well done. I found the writing to be extremely lackluster and so were most of the performances. Julien Schoenaerts, the father of Matthias Schoenaerts, was decent for the most part, up until he had to speak, and the acting from everyone else felt rather comical. Luckily for Schoenaerts he rarely had to open up his mouth as there’s very little dialogue and most of the film is told visually. It’s really impressive how the three (!) directors were able to tell the story with barely any words spoken. They set up a little bit of mystery at the start of the film to keep the viewer engaged and then they explore this mystery thoroughly with absolutely gorgeous cinematography. There’s this cool flashback sequence in the middle of the film that lasts for a good twenty minutes where no word whatsoever is said, though you learn so much and you start to understand the main character better. Outside of the directing and cinematography, the score is also absolutely incredible.