Quick Reviews: 'Belfast', 'The Lost Daughter' | Kenneth Branagh's Memories, Olivia Colman In Greece
You're not causing any trouble, aren't you now? There are enough troubles as it is in director-writer Kenneth Branagh's somewhat autobiographical effort called Belfast, a coming-of-age drama that takes place in the 1960s. The city, just like the whole region of Northern Ireland, is going through tumultuous times during The Troubles, a messy conflict stemming from nationalist intentions. Audience's way in is through the eyes of nine-year-old Buddy (Jude Hill) who lives with his mom (Caitríona Balfe), brother Will (Lewis McAskie) and dad (Jamie Dornan), who is often away working in London. Helping to raise Buddy are also his grandparents, Pop (Ciarán Hinds) and Granny (Judi Dench) as he calls them. The violent conflict causes much instability for the family so they wonder if it'd be for the best to move elsewhere.
After a bit of an awkward opening that is there just to show a transition from colour to black-and-white, the film starts to click into place, much thanks to Branagh's flair with his frames. Haris Zambarloukos' camera lies low, presenting the world from Buddy's perspective as the immaculate blocking makes it so that the camera doesn't need to carry the weight. There is always depth and movement, portraying the wonderful acting on display whether that's Hill's innocence with his character's childish worries such as impressing his crush, Dornan's restraint in which the distance chips away ''Pa's'' connection to his wife and boys, or Balfe showing ''Ma's'' stress to keep the family's home safe.
Life imitates art in the sense that external pressure is the least controlled part of Belfast, as evidenced by the soundtrack-score hybrid by Van Morrison which feels like a jukebox playing bland tunes in the cinema lobby while you're trying to be immersed in front of the colourful screen—much like Buddy in the film. We're so close to being like that ourselves.
Smileys: Acting, directing
THE LOST DAUGHTER
Pregnant women that are about to enter a movie theatre to watch this are probably going to have their world rocked, and it might give uncomfortable shakes for everyone else as well. Maggie Gyllenhaal debuts as a film director and writer with The Lost Daughter, her adaptation of Elena Ferrante's novel of the same name, which sails the waters of motherhood and complicated feelings awakened by it.
Olivia Colman stars as Leda, a 48-year-old professor and Italian translator who is on a vacation in Greece by herself. Over the first few days she somewhat gets to know a younger mother also on vacation, Nina (Dakota Johnson), as she finds her daughter who had gone missing on the beach. Nina's noticeable exhaustion reminds Leda of herself in her twenties, shown through flashbacks where Leda (Jessie Buckley playing the younger version) has difficulties balancing her own desires with also being a mother.
Gyllenhaal creates a sense of restlessness with her setup, letting Colman wander in the frame and not letting the audience see what is ahead for Leda on her holiday, a method that works great initially. It's a few sequences in when she and DoP Hélène Louvart start repeating that style and when it unfortunately wears out its welcome. Despite Leda and viewers having learned about the new setting, we're often very lost in the scenes because the camera is so hellbent to capture people in close-ups with dizzying shakiness; a very difficult task for editor Affonso Gonçalves to sort out and the heavy-handed cuts with overlapping sound make it often rather incomprehensible.
Much clearer rhythm is found in the flashbacks, also taking advantage of Buckley's wonderful performance in the centre of it which is more precise with the character's anxiety than Colman's version, which flows in and out quite carelessly. We're also concluding the story with a bizarre finale sequence featuring a clash with Johnson's Nina—being tonally all over the place—just to set up the final couple shots that feel lacking.
Smileys: Jessie Buckley
Frowneys: Editing, ending