Film reviews: Headhunters | A Cat In Paris | This Must Be the Place

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Synnøve Macody Lund in Headhunters
Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Synnøve Macody Lund in Headhunters
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ALISTAIR Harkness reviews the rest of this week’s silver screen releases

Headhunters (15)

Directed by: MORTEN TYLDUM

Starring: AKSEL HENNIE, SYNNØVE MACODY LUND, NIKOLAJ COSTER-WALDAU

Rating: ***

Unlike the current crop of somber, serious-minded Nordic noir dominating the big and small screens, this adaptation of Norwegian crime writer Jo Nesbø’s best-selling Headhunters has an insouciant attitude to violence that’s more in keeping with Guy Ritchie’s ouvre than David Fincher’s.

Don’t let that put you off; Headhunters is entertainingly silly and oddly gripping, particularly after the literalness of the title comes into play. In the first instance, though, that title refers to the occupation of its vertically-challenged protagonist Roger Brown (Aksel Hennie). A recruitment consultant whose Napoleon complex has convinced him his tall, slender, gorgeous wife (Synnøve Macody Lund) can’t possibly love him for who he is, Roger has embarked on a double life as a high-end art-thief in order to fund the luxurious lifestyle to which he mistakenly believes his wife is in thrall. Over-extended, overbearing and over-compensating at every opportunity, Roger’s faults are certainly shared by the film, which races through a convoluted plot involving high-tech espionage in a desperate-to-be-hip fashion. But just as it’s hard not to warm to Roger, it’s hard not to respect a film that, in the end, remembers how to have fun with such ridiculous material.

A Cat In Paris (PG)

Directed by: JEAN-LOUP FELICIOLI, ALAIN GAGNOL

Starring: SARA VERTONGEN, CARYL WYS, MARK IRONS, JERRY KILLICK

Rating: ***

A SLIGHT, but visually satisfying attempt to create a kid-friendly noir mystery, this French-made, hand-drawn animation plunges us into a shadowy world of Parisian cat burglars, self-aware mobsters and hard-bitten cops with the aid of a cute kitty that remains pleasingly free from the usual anthropomorphic traits. This is Dino, a resourceful feline who spends his evenings prowling Paris in the company of a kindly thief called Nico – and his days being a pet to a little girl called Zoe. The latter has been left mute by the murder of her father at the hands of local gangster Victor Costa – a crime that her detective mother is obsessed with trying to solve. Which doesn’t exactly sound suitable for the pre-teen set, but the film – which picked up a surprise Oscar nomination for best animated feature earlier this year – renders such details in an age-appropriate way by turning Zoe’s plight into a perilous adventure story in which she follows the cat on its nightly excursions while her mother homes in on the real danger. At 65 minutes long, proceedings don’t outstay their welcome either.

This Must Be the Place (15)

Directed by: Paulo Sorrentino

Starring: Sean Penn, Frances McDormand,

Rating: ****

MARKING the English language debut of the supremely gifted Italian director Paolo Sorrentino, This Must Be the Place couldn’t be more different his previous film, the virtuoso political drama Il Divo.

Revolving around an ageing, retired Goth rock star who embarks on a road trip across America to hunt down his dying Jewish father’s Nazi tormentor, it features a whimsical turn from Sean Penn as Chayenne. Just watching Penn shuffling through tax haven Dublin oblivious to the stares he attracts, or mooching around his vast rock-star mansion, distractedly watching Jamie Oliver on TV while trying to get to grips with his household bills, is a bizarre and amusing sight, on a par with one of Penn’s earliest roles as an Olivia Newton John obsessive in The Beaver Kid.

Penn is funny and sweet, but, as ever, he plays the character with utter conviction, refusing to treat Chayenne, or the pleasingly oddball premise, as a joke. This also helps prevent the Holocaust aspect from erring on the side of bad taste, with Chayenne’s unlikely quest underscoring how surface appearances can, for good or ill, mask our true capabilities.

Le Havre (PG)

Directed by: Aki Kaurismaki

Starring: André Wilms, Kati Outinen, Jean-Pierre Darroussin, Blondin Miguel

Rating: ***

AKI Kaurismaki’s latest deadpan trawl through the margins of European provincial life finds the despondent Finn relocating to France for the first time in 20 years with a poker-faced comedy-drama about an ageing shoeshine who befriends an illegal immigrant boy hiding out in the titular Normandy port.

In a nod to his 1992 effort La vie de Bohème, the shoeshine is played by André Wilms, who effectively reprises his role as poverty-row artist Marcel and plays him as a man who has since abandoned any romantic dreams of being recognised for his work. Instead, having settled into a slow life of steady domesticity, scraping together a living cleaning shoes, and splitting his time between the local bar and his ailing wife, the near catatonic Marcel is spurred somewhat into action by the plight of a young African stowaway on the run from the authorities who have already arrested his family. Though Kuarismaki unusually uses the subject matter to serve up quite pointed political critiques of the issues underlying the story, he again eschews harsh social realism in favour of a gentler vision of working-class life to create another fable in which human decency, against the odds, has a chance to thrive.

Bonsai (15)

Directed by: Cristián Jiménez

Starring: Diego Noguera, Nathalia Galgani, Trinidad González

Rating: ***

ALL credit to Chilean director Cristián Jiménez for steering this literary-themed love story away from the pretentious traps its Proust-referencing hipster protagonists could easily have set for it. Instead it’s a sly meditation on the tension between fiction that begins by informing us of the fates of two of the main players: aspiring writer Julio (played by Diego Noguera) will still be alive at the end of the story, but his soulmate Emilia (Nathalia Galgani) will not.

The significance of this will gradually be revealed as the film jumps back-and-forth in time between Julio and Emilia’s nascent college romance and Julio’s life eight years later when he sits down to reflect on their relationship together in book form. The latter happens when he fails to get a job transcribing a famous novelist’s handwritten manuscript onto a laptop. Still trying to impress women with his limited literary prowess, he lies to his current girlfriend about getting the job and proceeds to write his own version of what he thinks the book ought to be. Pruning away at the details of his life as he does so, he inadvertently starts to understand the true power of writing – something Jiménez manages to convey with an admirable lightness of touch.