Ally Clow’s March 2012 Film Round-up

The Hunger Games and a BFI re-issue were highlights in a month full of releases.

March is usually an interesting month for cinema patrons looking for a certain kind of film. Awards season has come and gone and spring yields mainstream films that were never in with a chance for your consideration as well as independent films at odds with the summer blockbuster crop to come.

Mainstream March included The Hunger Games and This Means War and had a bit of everything – comedy (21 Jump St), a new Aardman (The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists!), some 3D spectaculars (John Carter and Wrath Of The Titans), horror (Devil Inside), schmaltzy romcoms (Wanderlust, We Bought A Zoo) and even a gross out teen party movie (Project X).

On the independent side of things, Dexter Fletcher released his directorial debut Wild Bill, some arthouse auteurs returned to our screens such as Jafar Panahi (This Is Not a Film), Werner Herzog (Into The Abyss,), the Dardennes Brothers (The Kid With A Bike) and Nuri Bilge Ceylan (Once Upon A Time In Anatolia). Other strong independent fare included Michael, Trishna, Contraband, This Is Not a Film and Tiny Furniture as UK Box Office wise, the influence of 2011’s King’s Speech, Black Swan and Tangled was finally running its course.

First the turkey: the sci-fi epic John Carter lost Disney over $200M even though its director Andrew Stanton claimed not to care about how much his movie made nor admitted feeling any pressure over its box office return. Its 3D (which was added in post-production to ‘save money’) was almost as good as a 1980’s viewfinder toy having merely two planes of vision and the film’s marketing avoided any mention of the fact it is set on Mars, therefore alienating its potential audience and disappointing those who came to see it not knowing what to expect.

The mainstream success story of March however was The Hunger Games. Based on the series of ‘young adult’ books by Suzanne Collins, the first part of a now inevitable franchise saw Jennifer Lawrence (Winter’s Bone, X-Men First Class) take on the role of Katniss Everdeen taking part in the annual Hunger Games where a dystopian society has to offer up 24 young boys and girls to fight to the death as a reminder of the wars they used to fight in and the ‘peace’ in which they now live.  Comparisons to Battle Royale have been unfair, as have those to its source material; the job of a critic is to analyse the artwork in question as a work of art, not by saying what it isn’t but by saying what it is. These issues have blinded some critics, but for me, The Hunger Games is a fantastic amalgamation of a blockbuster and an intelligent, independent film.

The money spent on the film clearly went into the Capitol, the wealthy city whose leaders run the Hunger Games and whose president is the marvellously god-like Donald Sutherland. The future is suggested by garish frocks, extravagant parties and sharp facial hair stylings and the lower districts where the participants of the games come from are jaded industrial towns painted in a pallet of greys and browns.  The film can be read as many things to many people. I immediately saw it as an allegory of the coercive nature of the lower classes by the upper, the main reason for the games existence is to give the lower districts ‘hope, but not too much hope’.  Lawrence is superb in the lead role and there are some great cameos from Stanley Tucci, Lenny Kravitz and Woody Harrelson. I did not begrudge the film its love story or the plot’s destination because these narrative arcs were dealt with in a way as to keep the viewer guessing about the nature of the love story and the film’s outcome. The film is also the biggest ever non-sequel opener in the international box office and will spawn at least two more films in the next few years.

Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Once Upon A Time In Anatolia was released to a wave of five-star reviews and quickly marketed itself as a darling of the critics and did not disappoint. Its narrative pirouettes round the aftermath of a murder whereby a group of police officers try to find a dead body, led by the murderer. The film unfolds slowly, as is Ceylan’s style, but each scene is necessarily long to allow the characters to tell their own stories and remind us that life and the minutiae of the living are as important and interesting as violence, murder and death.  There is plenty of humour in the film despite its dark subject matter and the photography and camera movements are sublime. Ceylan’s previous best were Climates and Uzak but Anatolia has been his most successful film at the box office and has a richness that few films achieve.

Another film with deep themes that unfolded at a snail’s pace was reissued by the BFI in March: Carl Dreyer’s Ordet. This 1955 film about death, religion and faith was a subtly strange affair, hugely cinematic and contained some of the most iconic images in world cinema. Dreyer films are often seen as hard going and Ordet is hardly blockbuster material but it was an engrossing watch, well acted with characters that, regardless of their validity or realism, were true to their natures. By portraying these types of characters, Dreyer asks us to put our faith into them – do we believe the Christ-like miracle of Johannes and what precisely is the meaning of the film’s ending? In the world of cinema, only Bergman deals with faith with as much tenderness and truth as Dryer.

A look forward to April’s slim release schedule suggests that next month’s film review will include plenty from March that I have not seen and the year’s biggest release yet – Avengers Assembled. It will have to go some to beat The Hunger Games however.

Ally Clow