Phil on Film Index

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Review - The Hurt Locker

"The rush of battle is a potent and often lethal addiction, for war is a drug."

The above quote, from Christopher Hedges, opens Kathryn Bigelow's
The Hurt Locker, and it's a maxim that certainly holds true for the film's central character. Staff Sergeant William James (Jeremy Renner) is the captain of a three-man bomb disposal unit working in Iraq, and his approach to defusing the various explosive devices his team are asked to handle is unconventional, to say the least. Throwing caution to the wind, James charges into each scenario with a devil-may-care attitude that stuns and angers his colleagues. He's reckless and obsessive, but he's also brilliant at what he does, proudly telling an impressed superior that he has successfully defused 873 explosive devices. "What's the best way to go about disarming one of these things?" the Colonel asks him, "The way you don't die, sir." James replies.

What kind of personality does it take to face this sort of danger head-on; knowing that one snip of the wrong wire could blast you and your unit to pieces?
The Hurt Locker centres on three very different individuals, and explores the way they cope with the pressure and are transformed by the incredible demands of their role. Backing James up as he goes to work are Sergeant Sanborn (Anthony Mackie), a by-the-book soldier who is consistently infuriated by his fellow soldier's lone wolf tactics, and a nervous young recruit named Eldridge (Brian Geraghty), who fears that death stalks around every corner. It would have been easy to play The Hurt Locker as a straight conflict between James and Sanborn – the good soldier against the eccentric one – but their relationship is more complicated and interesting than that: a mixture of suspicion, resentment and macho posturing that gradually develops into a respect and camaraderie, and a shared determination to get the job done. The Hurt Locker puts us right in there alongside these men as they do that job, a task that must surely be one of the most emotionally and psychologically harrowing imaginable.

The Hurt Locker is the latest in a long line of films about the Iraq war, but what separates this picture – and perhaps elevates it – from its generally underwhelming forbearers, is the filmmakers' decision to shun any debate about the rights and wrongs of America's presence in the region, and to simply focus on the experiences of those involved in the fight. The screenplay was developed from Mark Boal's experience as a reporter embedded with an EOD unit in Baghdad, and it has the feel of something closely observed, the accumulation of details adding up to a realistic, immersive portrait of young men at war. His narrative is built around a series of set-pieces, as James tackles a number of explosive devices while Sanborn and Eldridge cover him, keeping watch for any suspicious activity in the area surrounding the bomb. In Iraq, danger the threat isn't posed by a single source, and The Hurt Locker allows us to feel the sense of ever-present danger that dominates these soldiers' lives out there. A man holding a mobile phone, a pile of rubbish by the side of the road, a crowd forming, a car travelling towards you; all of these things could be completely innocuous, or they could pose an immediate threat, and they require life-or-death decisions to be made in an instant.

That tension is superbly developed by Kathryn Bigelow, who takes control of this material and plays it out it in a masterly fashion. Her direction gets us as close as possible to the action, but it's frequently too close for comfort, and I found myself gripping the side of my chair or flinching involuntarily as the various bomb-dismantling scenes progressed. The film has a vice-like grip at times, and its set-pieces are aided by Bigelow's ability to maintain a constant sense of spatial awareness, and to ensure we always know where the characters are in relation to each other, to the blast zone, and to the surrounding threat. This is most brilliantly exemplified in a scene that requires James to work on a car bomb, while Sanborn and Eldridge try to keep track of the growing groups of bystanders on nearby roofs. It's a supreme achievement of both direction and editing, as is the later sequence, in which James' unit and a group of British contractors find themselves pinned down by snipers. The tense standoff continues as day turns to dusk, and the scene is extended to an agonising length, while never losing its focus or grip.

The sniper sequence features one of
The Hurt Locker's cameos - appearances that are initially distracting but are quickly integrated into the fabric of the film - but the bulk of the film is carried on the shoulders of three less well-known performers. All three are a perfect fit for their characters, and they play off each other in interesting ways, but Renner is inarguably the standout. His Staff Sergeant James is introduced to us as an all-American cowboy, akin to Apocalypse Now's Colonel Kilgore, whose brash approach to warfare seemingly makes him impervious to the danger that surrounds them all. But through his frequent brushes with death and his relationship with an Iraqi boy who hangs around their base, he reveals a variety of previously unsuspected layers and aspects to his character, and hints at the psychological toll his career choice is taking underneath the ballsy façade. The thing is, James still needs the adrenalin charge of taking on a bomb and winning, nothing else in his life can possibly match it, and we last see him marching once more into the breach, to tackle some unseen threat, to live or die doing the one thing that defines his life and gives it meaning. In sharing with us the experiences of the characters at the centre of this magnificent film, Bigelow and Boal seem to have honed in on an essential and fascinating truth of armed combat. Each man fights his own war; some crumble under the strain, some develop a fatalistic attitude, some lose their sense of purpose and morality, but for some it's an unmatchable rush, and they simply can't get enough.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Review - The Taking of Pelham 123

Even in a summer as creatively bankrupt as 2009 has been for mainstream American cinema, Tony Scott's remake of
The Taking of Pelham One Two Three is a particularly depressing proposition. The film essentially remains the same at plot level – a gang of criminals hijack a New York subway train and demand payment within the hour, or they'll start executing passengers – but the differences in how Scott and original director Joseph Sargent have handled this story couldn't be more marked. The 1974 film was gritty, low-key, mildly eccentric and generally logical, whereas this utterly pointless remake is loud, ugly, bloated and frequently nonsensical. Scott's film climaxes with a prolonged face-off on a bridge, with trains and traffic rushing by, and helicopters circling. The 70's version ended with a sneeze. The contemporary setting has dictated the multiplication by ten of the original's $1 million ransom, but it's Scott who has ensured everything else has been turned up to 11.

Taking the lead role previously inhabited by Walter Matthau is Scott's regular muse Denzel Washington, whose calm onscreen presence is frequently the only thing holding this director's films together. The role of Walter Garber is hardly a stretch for Washington, and he turns in a professional, if predictable performance. As in
Inside Man, an attempt is made to add complexity to Washington's character by hanging a poorly defined charge of corruption over his head, which is why he has been demoted to the subway despatch desk, pending further investigation. He's the one who notices the Pelham train making an unscheduled stop in a tunnel, and he's the one who ends up communicating with Ryder (John Travolta), the chief hijacker who tells him that a passenger will die every minute past the deadline if the city of New York hasn't come up with his cash within the hour. If Washington gives the kind of performance we've come to expect of him, then so does Travolta, which unfortunately means Ryder is over-the-top and laughably unconvincing. His characterisation is way off – do white-collar criminals usually have massive neck tattoos and boast about their prison "bitch"? – and he runs through every Hollywood villain cliché in the book; from spouting cod-philosophical monologues, to punctuating every other sentence with the word motherfucker, which is about all Brian Helgeland, who wrote the screenplay, gives Travolta to do. Given that Helgeland once won an Oscar for co-writing LA Confidential, one might hope he would come up with something better than a meandering speech about a "Lithuanian ass model," or lines like "This cab feels like a confessional," but things rarely improve beyond that level, and we end up just counting the minutes until Ryder's inevitable "I like you Garber. You know, we're just alike," pitch.

The supporting cast is populated with dependable character actors. John Turturro appears as the hostage negotiator advising Garber, James Gandolfini is the New York mayor, and Luis Guzmán is the only one of Ryder's accomplices to be recognised by name (the other two are unspeaking Eastern European types). Helgeland also adds a number of unnecessary sidetracks to the simple plot, including a teenage passenger whose laptop streams the action to his girlfriend (despite patrolling the car for an hour, none of the hijackers spot this), and a larger motive for Ryder, whose $10 million demand is a mere decoy as he plots towards a much bigger haul. None of this is remotely interesting or exciting, though. Everything in
The Taking of Pelham 123 feels generic and second hand, and Scott's hyperactive direction comes off as an attempt to distract us from the sheer pointlessness of the whole production. Scott's distinctive style has rendered some of his recent fare, such as the ghastly Domino, all but unwatchable, and while The Taking of Pelham 123 isn't as ADD-afflicted as the director's worst efforts, it's not that far off. Stuck with two characters who barely move for the duration of the film, Scott tries to keep the film visually interesting with an endlessly swirling camera, freeze-frames and on-screen captions, all set to an ear-splitting soundtrack.

It's all just noise and fury being belted out of an empty shell, and it signifies just how bereft of imagination this boring, unpleasant film is. It's hard to picture anyone thinking back fondly on
The Taking of Pelham 123 a month after seeing it, let alone thirty years, because it values spectacle and sensation over character and authenticity, it has nothing new to bring to this story, and it has no real reason to exist. "So this is just about money?" Garber asks the hijacker at one point; "Is there anything else?" Ryder screams back, and on the basis of The Taking of Pelham 123, you'd have to say no.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Review - Inglourious Basterds

Taking its title from an obscure 1970's Italian film, and taking everything else from Quentin Tarantino's cinema-obsessed brain, Inglourious Basterds is a war film like no other. Pitched awkwardly between a semi-realistic wartime setting and a cartoonish fantasy narrative, the film is an eclectic blend of cinematic styles, held together by the director's typically verbose script, his taste for extreme violence, numerous movie references, and unexpected flashes of humour. Inglourious Basterds pays tribute to earlier war films as well as spaghetti westerns and film noir, and even the opening credits unfold in a variety of fonts. In other words, it's a mess, but it's a fascinating one, elevated by moments of greatness before being brought low by Tarantino's inability to contain his more excessive instincts, and a screenplay that collapses into near-incoherence towards the end. The film's myriad flaws prevent Tarantino's long-in-gestation epic from being the film it could have been, but when the movie works, it's glorious.

One of those high points occurs right in the opening moments, setting a standard that the rest of the film struggles to meet. It occurs in a French farmhouse, where Col. Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz), nicknamed "The Jew Hunter," is sitting with the farmer (Denis Menochet) whom he suspects of sheltering a Jewish family. In fact, Landa doesn't suspect the man of this; he knows the family are there, he even knows where they are, but he draws out the interrogation anyway, toying mercilessly with his prey. Landa, with his insidious charm, mastery of languages, and passion for detective work (he likes to use a Sherlock Holmes-style pipe as a prop) is a magnetic villain who is played so beautifully by Waltz, he quickly becomes the film's most compelling character. This introductory sequence, the first of five numbered chapters, is stunning on a number of levels, from Tarantino's clever writing and tightly coordinated direction, to the flawless acting from Waltz and Menochet. Taken in isolation, this single sequence is one of the finest things Tarantino has ever done, but then we meet the Basterds, which kind of spoils the mood.

The Inglourious Basterds themselves are a group of Jewish-American soldiers, brought together by Brad Pitt's Lt. Aldo Raine for one purpose only – to kill Nazis in the most brutal fashion possible. Raine sets his men the target of collecting one hundred Nazi scalps each, and in the film's second chapter we find them in the aftermath of an ambush, collecting their scalps and interrogating the few remaining survivors, one of whom will be let go to spread fear among his fellow soldiers, with the swastika carved into his forehead a permanent reminder of his encounter with the Basterds. While the shift in tone here is problematic – does Tarantino expect us to be appalled by the slaughter of a Jewish family, before enjoying the celebratory violence inflicted upon the Nazis? – my chief issue with this section is simply the fact that the titular characters aren't worth the screen time. Most of the film had elapsed before I finally got used to Pitt's oddly constipated performance, whereas Eli Roth's turn as the baseball bat-wielding "Bear Jew" is totally amateurish. For the most part, they're the only two Basterds who get anything significant to do, and their scenes often feel like an unnecessary subplot to a far more interesting narrative.

In the third and fourth chapters, a number of characters are introduced, complicating matters while also contributing to some of Tarantino's best scenes. One of these is Shosanna (Mélanie Laurent), a young Jewish woman who survived the Landa-led attack that massacred the rest of her family in the opening scene and now runs a cinema under an assumed identity. She meets a young German soldier (Daniel Brühl) who becomes infatuated with her, and is offered the chance by Goebbels (Sylvester Groth) to stage the premiere of his new film at her cinema; an offer that brings her back into contact with Landa (another gripping conversation), and gives her the opportunity for revenge. She's not the only one thinking along these lines, as the action then moves to London, where film critic-turned-soldier Archie Hicox (a wonderful Michael Fassbender) is being briefed ahead of Operation Kino, a mission aimed at blowing up the cinema while all of the German high command are inside. This operation has been set up in collaboration with the Basterds (although it's unclear how or when) and famous German actress Bridget von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger). Is this too much plot for one movie? Given the difficulty Tarantino has in pulling these threads together it seems to be the case, and some of the plotting in the final third is unbelievably poor.

But while Tarantino can't create a coherent whole with Inglourious Basterds, he remains a master of creating memorable individual sequences. The film's last truly brilliant coup takes place in a French bar, where Hicox and two German Basterds, posing as Nazis, liaise with von Hammersmark for the first time. This single sequence plays out for over twenty minutes, segueing from drinking games to a tense standoff in which the accuracy of Hicox's impersonation is tested to the limit, and Tarantino sustains the atmosphere of unease marvellously. The scene is built upon his dialogue and in fact the scene itself becomes about language, adding an extra intriguing layer to the drama. Perhaps it's just the fact that we're hearing it filtered through different languages, but Tarantino's dialogue feels fresher and more potent here than in any of his recent features, and his direction is extremely impressive too. Apart from the occasional gimmicky aside (scrawled onscreen captions, a Samuel L Jackson-narrated history of nitrate film), he handles the film with a classical restraint at times, which makes his visual flourishes – Shosanna's preparation for the premiere, for example – all the more impactful. Inglourious Basterds is a beautifully designed film all round, from the evocative production design to Robert Richardson's typically striking cinematography.

He just can't control himself, though, and he finally torpedoes his own film. The climactic sequence is an audacious revisionist take on history in which cinema itself has the power to defeat the Third Reich. I'm not bothered by Tarantino's rewriting of true events so much, but as the story retreats into fantasy it seems to matter less and less; we don't care about the fate of anyone we've just spent two and a half hours with, because they're just movie characters who don't exist in the real world; there's nothing vital at stake. As such, the film just becomes a meaningless parade of puerile violence, which grows extremely tiresome, and proves Tarantino still seems to be trapped in a state of arrested development. His linguistic virtuosity is undeniable, as is his directorial verve, but I long for Tarantino to come back to earth, and to start making films in a world I recognise rather than the movie-world playing on an endless loop inside his own head. Inglourious Basterds is a small step forward in many respects, but it hardly merits the hubristic final line: "You know, I think this might just be my masterpiece." Sorry Quentin, it's not even close.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Review - Mesrine: Killer Instinct (L'instinct de mort)

If you're going to spread someone's life story over the course of two feature films, you'd better make sure that person has lived the kind of life that merits such close attention. On first glance, one would think that shouldn't be a problem in the case of Jacques Mesrine. Mesrine: Killer Instinct, the first part of Jean-François Richet's diptych, follows Mesrine from Algeria, to Paris, to Montreal and Arizona, as the French gangster robs banks, commits murders, and even kidnaps the odd paralysed millionaire. No shortage of incident then, but as Richet races to cram every event from Mesrine's early years into Part 1, he leaves perilously little room for any insight. Throughout Killer Instinct, Richet is concerned only with telling us how Mesrine (played by Vincent Cassel) went about his business: How he became a criminal after leaving the army; How he fell in with a shady Parisian crime lord (Gérard Depardieu); How he staged an audacious escape from a high-security prison, and then almost pulled off an even more audacious attempt to break out his former inmates. But rarely get a proper sense of why Jacques Mesrine went down this road, although maybe Richet is saving those questions up for Part 2.

For now, let us focus on what we have, which is an powerful Vincent Cassel, an occasionally incoherent story, and buckets of style, all of which adds up to a reasonably entertaining picture. The film opens with the moments leading to Mesrine's death, which Richet builds up to in a cool, tense, 70's style credit sequence, following Cassel and a bewigged Ludivine Sagnier (who otherwise doesn't appear in this instalment) as they unwittingly walk into an ambush. Richet then jumps back two decades, to an incident from Mesrine's time in Algeria, when he murders a prisoner during an interrogation, perhaps suggesting this encounter fuelled the propensity for violence and racism that we see later in the film. Moments later, Mesrine is out of the army and back home, but the steady factory job his father has secured for him doesn't hold any appeal, particularly when he sees the kind of car an old friend has earned from what he describes as "off the books" work.

Soon the pair are making a tidy sum as housebreakers under the watchful eye of Guido (Depardieu), who likes what he sees in this fiery young upstart. Mesrine is tough and sharp, and in one amusing sequence, his quick-thinking gets him and an accomplice out of trouble when they are rumbled by the occupants of the house they're looting. He also has a roving eye, and within the first hour he has established a relationship with a prostitute (Florence Thomassin) – whose pimp receives a violent comeuppance for beating her – and a virginal Spanish woman he meets on holiday, who very quickly becomes his wife. Sofia (Elena Anaya) is a loving, supportive spouse, and she bears him a couple of kids, but even she feels his wrath when she tries to pull him away from the life of crime he has dedicated himself to.

The problem with
Killer Instinct is that all of these relationships are based on brief sketches, with none of them being given enough screen time to feel tangibly real, and the film suffers from a serious lack of depth as a result. This lack of contextualising of Mesrine's relationships reaches its lowest – and most baffling – point when he hooks up with Jeanne Schneider (Cécile De France). He meets her in a bar, barely a word is exchanged, and in the very next scene the pair are robbing a casino at gunpoint, having seemingly cemented a partnership that will see them travelling to Canada together on a crime spree. It's around this point that Killer Instinct's severely compressed narrative loses its way, but even if the film's storytelling technique isn't a model of clarity, the picture is never less than enjoyable, and it's frequently gripping. The lavish production creates an authentic period atmosphere, and Richet's direction is impressive in an energetically punchy kind of way. He has a knack for developing a considerable sense of tension before exploding into violence, and he stages a series of quite brilliant set-pieces throughout the film, with the best involving Mesrine's stint at a brutal Canadian jail. His escape, and his subsequent attempt to spring the prisoners he left behind are brilliantly handled by Richet, who directs the climactic shootout with a thrilling intensity that recalls Michael Mann.

And while the film rockets relentlessly forward, a collection of superior performances hold it together, even if the thin characterisations prevent them from really showing what they can do. Cassel gives a compelling, full-blooded display as Mesrine: charismatic and edgy, and able to flip instantly into violence in a convincing fashion. An unrecognisable Cécile De France makes a fair impact in a role that doesn't really go anywhere, but it's the old veteran Depardieu who really stamps his authority on the picture. He's carrying a Brando-esque girth these days, but although he spends most of his fleeting appearances seated behind a desk, he radiates benign menace, and he put me in mind of a quote from
Goodfellas: "He might have moved slow, but that was because he didn't have to move for anybody." Alas, Depardieu won't be bringing such gravity to the second half of Mesrine's story, but the promise of roles for Sagnier, Mathieu Amalric, Olivier Gourmet, Georges Wilson and Anne Consigny is more than enough to attract me back for more. Killer Instinct is a slick but disappointingly shallow account of Mesrine's life, and one hopes Richet will find time in the second instalment to probe a little deeper into the man behind these remarkable escapades. Will all of this ultimately make sense when we've seen how the whole of Mesrine's life was lived? We'll find out when Mesrine: Public Enemy No. 1 is released in a few weeks.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Quick Review Round-Up

Apologies for the paucity of recent reviews on this site. For the past few months I have been distracted by the tiresome, stressful and seemingly never-ending task of buying and moving into my own flat. Thankfully, I can now see the light at the end of the tunnel, and I'll soon be back with full reviews of films such as Inglourious Basterds, Funny People and Mesrine. In the meantime, here are a few brief verdicts on some recent releases.

A fascinating debut from Ursula Meier, Home concerns a family who live in a remote house situated right next to a disused motorway. This setup suits them just fine, and they have even incorporated the long stretch of road into their daily routine, but their lives are disrupted when the motorway is reopened for business, and cars begin streaming past their house at an incessant pace. After establishing a convincing sense of intimacy within the family in the early scenes, Meier then shows us how the family unit begins to crack as the noise and commotion outside their house becomes too much to take, with the film echoing Michael Haneke's The Seventh Continent in the dark final third. Little information is given about the characters, but the film benefits from having Isabelle Huppert and Olivier Gourmet, two of the best actors in world cinema, as the parents, and Meier also draws utterly believable performances from the untried young actors who play their children. Home is a deliberately vague and ambiguous affair, which is perhaps both an advantage and a flaw. It allows us to read any number of allegorical or metaphorical meanings into the story, but it also leaves the picture feeling somewhat underdeveloped and aimless. The film is never less than interesting, though, and Meier is a talent to watch.

Broken Embraces (Los abrazos rotos)
Woody Allen's Vicky Cristina Barcelona might have been the film that won Penélope Cruz an Oscar, but Pedro Almodóvar remains the director who can inspire her like no other. In Broken Embraces, she delivers a complex, multi-faceted display as Lena, the wife of a billionaire businessman (José Luis Gómez, superb) who dreams of becoming an actress. Much of the film takes place in flashback, as the tale is recounted by Mateo Blanco (Lluís Homar), the now-blind filmmaker who directed Lena in the early 90's and fell in love with her in the process. Broken Embraces is simultaneously a melodrama, a romance and a Hitchcockian thriller, with elements of knockabout comedy surfacing towards the end, and the whole picture ultimately pays tribute to the act of filmmaking itself. On top of this, Almodóvar infuses his narrative with one twist and revelation after another, to the point where they begin to feel rather rote, and his direction often appears oddly detached and clinical. Having said that, there's still plenty to enjoy here for the director's fans. Rodrigo Prieto's cinematography is gorgeous, the performances are uniformly great, and the director frequently stages individual sequences with breathtaking skill. When judged against his recent work, Broken Embraces may be less-than-great Almodóvar, but when you're on the kind of creative run he has been on over the past few years, less-than-great Almodóvar is still pretty good.

Just Another Love Story (Kærlighed på film)
When Old Bornedal (credited here as simply Bornedal) opens his film with a dead man narrating his own story, it's impossible not to catch the Sunset Boulevard reference, and throughout Just Another Love Story, the director plays with classic film noir tropes in a very self-conscious fashion. Jonas (Anders W. Berthelsen) is an ordinary sap who gets in over his head when he falls for a mystery woman (Rebecka Hemse). Their first encounter comes after a visceral car accident (one of many horrendously over-directed sequences), which leaves Julia blind and paralysed, and after a mix-up at the hospital, Jonas is mistaken by the family as Julia's boyfriend (who she shot dead in the opening scene), and practically forced to stay with them to nurse her back to health. The plot is too ridiculous to take at all seriously, but even as a lurid noir parody the film isn't much fun. The characterisations are too inconsistent, and the nonsensical plot twists Bornedal insists upon puncture the sense of tension that is occasionally developed. I suppose the very fact that you're never quite sure where this crazy road is leading is reason enough to keep watching, but that sense of morbid curiosity is about all this flashily empty film has in its favour. Berthelsen, Hemse and Nikolaj Lie Kaas (as the vengeful, and... er... not dead boyfriend) do what they can with their slight characters, but acting the honours are stolen by Charlotte Fich, who plays Jonas' betrayed wife. The scene they share in a supermarket is one of the few with a direct emotional force, and one of the few that is unscathed by Bornedal's tiresome visual trickery.

35 Shots of Rum (35 rhums)
The latest film from Claire Denis is a quiet, contemplative and ultimately moving affair. It centres on a father and daughter (Alex Descas and the spellbinding Mati Diop), who live together in a Parisian suburb, their lives marked by routine and easy intimacy. Denis' direction is observational and subtle to the point of invisibility; she suggests deep and resonant meaning with the smallest of gestures, and Agnès Godard's flawless camerawork is perfectly attuned to her director's vision, finding magic in the everyday. The film charts the changing course of the relationship at the heart of the picture, as both Lionel and Joséphine find themselves being courted by neighbours: lonely cab driver Gabrielle (Nicole Dogué) for him, and the restless Noé (Grégoire Colin) for her. These relationships are developed slowly until they are finally defined in a single, magnificent restaurant scene towards the end of the picture, where Denis' ability to communicate so much without saying a word is brilliantly showcased. 35 Shots of Rum goes off the rails slightly with a misjudged performance from Ingrid Caven that feels like it has been imported from another film, but it remains another deeply impressive and haunting piece of work from this fine filmmaker.

And now for something completely different. Rumba is the brainchild of Dominique Abel, Fiona Gordon and Bruno Romy – all three of whom are credited as directors – and it stars Abel and Gordon as a pair of married teachers who are passionate about dance. They're a gangly, awkward-looking pair, and although they can be surprisingly graceful when they take to the dance floor, much of Rumba sees them putting their bodies to more comical use. Built upon a series of visual gags and slapstick encounters, Rumba is a cartoonish comedy squarely in the tradition of Tati, Keaton and Chaplin, with dialogue and plot being secondary to elaborate slapstick, which the two leads have a notable gift for. There are a number of very amusing sequences: Abel's self-defeating attempt to extinguish a house fire, Gordon's attempt to stand on one leg in front of her class, and a Tati-esque encounter with an automatic door. It's a shame the filmmakers don't know when to quit, however, and for every inspired sequence, there's one that is repetitive or predictable, and the laborious finale rather undermines the sprightly fun of what has gone before.