Film reviews: Bel Ami | The Decoy Bride | Hadewijch | Trishna | Booked Out

Decoy Bride: Kelly MacDonald as Katie
Decoy Bride: Kelly MacDonald as Katie
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Alistair Harkness casts his eye the rest of this week’s cinema releases

Bel Ami (15)

Directed by: Declan Donnellan, Nick Ormerod

Starring: Robert Pattinson, Christina Ricci, Uma Thurman, KristIn Scott Thomas

Rating: **

TWILIGHT’S Robert Pattinson attempts to transform himself from swooning veggie vampire to ruthless sexual predator in this latest adaptation of Guy de Maupassant’s 1885 novel.

Cast as a cad who sleeps his way to the top of Belle Époque Parisian society, he makes the most of his angular, angst-ridden visage to suggest the bitterness of someone forced to rely on their beauty in lieu of talent or brains. Sadly, he isn’t able to transcend this surface suitability, particularly as he’s paired up with a coy Christina Ricci, a sagacious Uma Thurman and a vulnerable Kristin Scott Thomas. Their performances as the smart society-shaping background players frequently undermined by patriarchal convention are the only real points of interest in a film that otherwise fails to make much of other subplots involving self-serving journalists colluding with corrupt politicians to bring down governments. For all the lofty themes hinted at in Bel Ami, it’s ultimately little more than a tepid bodice-ripper.

The Decoy Bride (12A)

Directed by: Sheree Folkson

Starring: David Tennant, Kelly Macdonald, Alice Eve, Sally Philips

Rating: **

THIS twee, Scottish-set romcom starring David Tennant and Kelly McDonald is getting a brief theatrical run ahead of its DVD release in a couple of weeks. It’s certainly not hard to see why it is mostly bypassing cinemas. Tennant is surprisingly charmless as an author who falls for Macdonald just as he’s about to wed a movie star (Alice Eve) on the fictional Hebridean island of Hegg. Macdonald’s turn as the unlucky-in-love local roped in to throw the paparazzi off the scent of the couple’s real wedding, sees the No Country for Old Men star fighting a mostly losing battle against slack pacing, cheap-looking visuals and corny dialogue. Co-star and co-writer Sally Phillips (Smack the Pony, Miranda) has clearly made some effort to acknowledge how cliché-ridden the whole thing is. Unfortunately, self-aware gags revolving around locals deriding the Hegg-set novel Tennant’s character has written without ever visiting the island feel oddly applicable to a Scottish movie in which people apparently eat Snickers bars for breakfast and dress like they’re in the Bay City Rollers.

Hadewijch (15)

Directed by: Bruno Dumont

Starring: David Dewaele, Julie Sokolowski, Karl Sarafidis, Yassine Salim

Rating: ****

FRENCH director Bruno Dumont delivers a grimly fascinating, unsettling and provocative exploration of religious devotion, martyrdom and, in a way, terrorism. It revolves around a theology student called Céline (Julie Sokolowski), expelled from the nunnery where she’s studying after the Mother Superior decrees she’s becoming too zealous. Returning to her wealthy Parisian parents, she falls in with a North African immigrant called Yassim (Yassine Salim) whose elder brother recognises her devout nature and encourages her to join his militant Islamic group. Dumont explores in a subtle and sensitive way the despair that emerges when the willingness to devote one’s life to something isn’t reciprocated by the expected feelings of enlightenment. Céline is haunted by a largely unarticulated fear that God is absent from her life and this spins her off in an increasingly extreme direction. A grown-up – and enigmatic – look at faith and its many complexities and implications.

Trishna (15)

Directed by: Michael Winterbottom

Starring: Frieda Pinto, Riz Ahmed, Roshan Seth, Kalki Koechlin

Rating: ***

HAVING already made Jude and The Claim, Michael Winterbottom gives his passion for Thomas Hardy’s novels an even more radical workout by transposing Tess of the d’Urbervilles to modern day India. It mostly works, with Hardy’s exploration of 19th-century England’s changing class and social structure finding a neat parallel in a country where the rich/poor divide is exacerbated by wealthy British-raised Indians indulging in cultural heritage tourism. The latter is represented by Jay (Riz Ahmed), the privileged son of a wealthy hotelier whose sense of entitlement blinds him to the feelings of others. That’s bad news for Trishna (Frieda Pinto), the beautiful, poor hotel employee he whisks away on the promise of a better life. With no understanding of what such a transition will really mean for her, his increasingly hostile attitude soon starts to tarnish a potentially loving, modern relationship. Those who know the story won’t be surprised at the trajectory things take; those who don’t may find Trishna too passive to fully engage with the film. But there is a real vibrancy to this telling of the story that makes the effort worthwhile.

Booked Out (12A)

Directed by: Bryan O’Neil

Starring: Mirren Burke, Rollo Weeks, Sylvia Syms

Rating: *

THIS London-set indie quirkfest from debut Glaswegian filmmaker Bryan O’Neil really isn’t very good. A doomed attempt to fuse the offbeat kookiness of Juno with the no-frills visual style of the Mumblecore movement, it tries to pass off a bunch of mentally ill characters as endearing oddballs and falls flat on its face. Its most egregious misstep is its main character, Ailidh, a Polaroid-taking, wannabe graphic novelist who works in a bookshop, dreams up imaginary animals in her spare time, and, when she’s not encouraging the delusions of her dementia-addled neighbour (Sylvia Syms), keeps tabs on the cute guy (Rollo Weeks) she fancies from afar. Played by newcomer Mirren Burke, Ailidh is a thoroughly misguided creation: a sort of manic pixie psycho stalker, whom we’re clearly supposed to find adorable, even as she goes bunny boiler crazy in the final act. The film’s ukulele-heavy score certainly doesn’t add to her charm – and nor do the whimsical illustrations she does, which, predictably, resemble the faux naïve art that wannabe creative people always do when they can’t draw. A similar criticism could be levelled at the movie, which offers further proof that microbudget filmmaking in the UK is still at the finger-painting stage.