Film reviews: Dream Scenario | Anatomy of a Fall | The Eternal Memory | Nobody Has to Know | Loch Ness: They Created a Monster
Dream Scenario (15) ****
Anatomy of a Fall (15) ***
The Eternal Memory (12A) ***
Nobody Has to Know (12A) **
Loch Ness: They Created a Monster (15) ***
Nicolas Cage gives one of his periodically inspired performances in Dream Scenario, an absurdist, blackly comic horror movie about a mild-mannered zoology professor whose mundane life goes into free fall when he becomes a star player in other people’s dreams. Already dealing with long-held professional frustrations at never having been published, Paul Matthews (Cage) finds his self-esteem taking a further hit when his teenage daughter tells him he stood by and did nothing in a dream she had in which her life was suddenly under threat. His strained attempt to laugh off his passive behaviour becomes even harder, however, when it emerges that he’s making nightly cameos in the dreams of some of his students, professional acquaintances and, indeed, a whole host of strangers across the country, all of them wondering on social media who, exactly, this mild-mannered, middle-aged man is. With his own subconscious desire for attention literally manifesting itself in the unconscious minds of others, Paul – with his Parka jacket and horse-shoe hairline – is like a benign Freddy Krueger (a gag the film eventually gets round to making). But the more he attempts to capitalise on this bizarre form of fame in his real life, the more actively monstrous his dream-self becomes – with ever more disastrous implications for his career and personal life.
Marking the English-language debut of Norwegian filmmaker Kristoffer Borgli, whose superlative Sick of Myself from earlier this year plays like a generational and gender-flipped spin on the same theme, Dream Scenario is really a sly interrogation of the vicissitudes of fame in the narcissistic age of social media and cancel culture. When Paul is forced to take a leave of absence from his job because his nightmare-plagued students suddenly feel unsafe in his presence, his incredulity at an academic institution running scared from its coddled undergraduates isn’t all that far from the reality of American universities putting trigger warnings on classic literature and cinema. The film plunges us down the rabbit hole of this particular zeitgeist with great verve and imagination, but like producer Ari Aster’s recent Beau is Afraid, it also finds a kind of wounded nobility hiding within the fragile ego of its put-upon protagonist, something expertly essayed by Cage, whose signature mania takes on a more desperate and tender quality.
A fragile male ego is also at the heart of Justine Triet’s artfully preposterous courtroom drama Anatomy of a Fall. In this instance, though, said ego plays second fiddle to the complexities of its female protagonist, Sandra (Sandra Hüller), a German-born author who becomes the prime suspect in the unexplained death of her husband Samuel (Samuel Theis), a French academic and lecturer jealous of her success and nursing plenty of bitterness about his own non-existent writing career.
Triet dispenses with Samuel's death in the opening minutes, expertly setting in play a somewhat hostile domestic situation and ratcheting up the mystery by keeping Samuel physically off screen until their young, vision-impaired son Daniel finds his bloodied corpse in the snow after apparently falling from the third floor window of the chalet in the French Alps they’re in the process of fixing up. As the film cuts to the subsequent trial, though, the aforementioned details of marital discord begin to emerge, along with revelations about Sandra’s bisexuality and her penchant for writing prose that blurs the line between fact and fiction in ways that the prosecution attempt to use as evidence of premeditated murder. If that all sounds a little familiar, that’s because it’s the plot of Basic Instinct and it’s not quite clear if Triet is paying deliberate homage or attempting to pull a fast-one on the audience. Either way, Hüller’s performance is riveting.
The spectre of Alzheimer’s becomes a poignant symbol for Chile’s post-Pinochet history in The Eternal Memory, a documentary profile of Augusto Góngnora, a former television journalist dedicated to covering the abuses of the Pinochet regime, but latterly struck down with the disease. Directed by Maite Alberdi (The Mole Agent), but shot largely by Paulina Urrutia, Góngnora’s partner of 23 years (and herself an actress and former government minister), the film provides an intimate portrait of a relationship in the throws of dementia, the indignities of which reinforce the importance of memory to both a person’s identity and a country’s.
Memory loss figures again in Nobody Has to Know. A would-be weepy set in the Outer Hebrides, it revolves around a Belgian farmhand (played by the film’s writer/director Bouli Lanners) who’s hit with a bout of amnesia after a stroke and finds himself falling for a timid local woman (Michelle Fairley) who lies about being in a relationship with him. Old fashioned to a fault, the film is gently undramatic, but the performances are fine and those who prize scenery over storytelling will likely be in their element.
“We were challenging the scientific establishment with the experience of ordinary people,” says one of the participants of Loch Ness: They Created a Monster, a TV-friendly doc that tracks down some of the Nessie hunters who dedicated way too much of their lives to proving the existence of the Loch Ness monster in the 1970s. As this quote suggests, the film offers a platform for more than a few credulous windbags, but it shows too some of the creepier, insidious types the Nessie phenomenon attracted. The film has its own playful quirks, but anyone looking for a genuinely good riff on this nonsense is advised to track down Zak Penn’s Werner Herzog-starring mockumentary Incident at Loch Ness.
Dream Scenario and Anatomy of a Fall are in cinemas from 10 November; The Eternal Memory is in cinemas and on demand from 10 November; Nobody Has to Know is in cinemas now; Loch Ness: The Create a Monster is on select release from 10 November.