Thursday, 1 October 2015

Freeview film of the day : thursday 1st of october

Under The Skin (2013 103mn.) {Film4 10.45pm & +1]
Freeview premiere

A woman roams the streets of Glasgow. She seduces a number of men that she meets but slowy her detachment begins to slip and she develops empathy with the people she encounters.
Sci-fi drama based on Michel Faber's novel, starring Scarlett Johansson.

I saw this film twice at the cinema on its initial release and was impressed and startled by it on both occasions.
Then it started to turn up in the 'best of the year' lists of critics and film writers whose opinion I respected and I was pleased that I wasn't alone in thinking that it was a very impressive piece of work.

Just to make sure I watched it again on DVD the other night and was pleased that it works just as well on the smaller screen.

The first thing to say is that it's possible that not everyone will have the same reaction.
Although it has a linear narrative (the central character starts at Point A and travels to Point E via B,C and D) there's no attempt at exposition or explanation. We see what happens but never discover why or how or what the consequences of the on-screen action are.

If you like your films to be literal and have resolution then you may find Under The Skin not to your taste. It's like a prolonged dream sequence or trance nightmare for much of it's running time only settling down into a more conventional approach in the final third.
The long opening section and near actionless first twenty minutes could see people reaching for the off switch; this is understandable but would be, in most cases, a mistake.

The other thing to say is that it's difficult to preview or review without disclosing plot spoilers and/or letting too much daylight in upon magic.
(I've edited down the Radio Times plot synopsis above to remove two fairly hefty spoilers)

There are three stars of the film : director Jonathan Glazer uses a wide mixture of techniques to tell the story. There's long, slow tracking shots and the use of a motionless camera at times which is most effective at giving a sense of place and isolation. He uses the tiny Go-Pro camera extensively to allow us to eavesdrop on unrehearsed, spontaneous exchanges between his leading actor and (non-actor, unknowing) members of the public and he uses some startling special effects work to give physical presence to one of the storys most striking and effective sequences.

Scarlett Johansson is on screen in almost every scene and carries the film throughout : there are only four credited acting roles and one of those is a non-speaking part.
It's therefore left to the lead actor to tell the story and she does it very, very well indeed. It's a remarkably subtle and smart performance from an actor who is physically virtually unrecognisable as the Hollywood actor we think we knew and who uses an impeccable classless English accent to great effect.

The rain sodden streets of Glasgow and the beautiful natural landscape of the rural areas around the city are the third star. Beautifully photographed in both cases - whether capturing the push and pull bustle and hustle of the city centre or the still and/or elemental natural world that Johansson visits as she steers her white van away from the metropolis.

The sound design is terrific and Mica Levi's clever score is very neatly wrapped into and woven around the story.

An engaging and rather special film that has the capacity to remain in the mind for several days after viewing and certainly one that rewards a second (or even third) watch.

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