Sense of an Ending (2017) –Remembrance of Things Past

 

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Based on Julian Barnes’s novel

 

Sense of an Ending works better on the page than The Sense of an Ending works on the screen. Novels are mental and films are visual and Julian Barnes’s 2011 Man Booker Prize novel, Sense of an Ending, has been acclaimed for elegance, incisiveness and for the powerful unreliable memory of the main character. The Sense of an Ending (directed by Ritesh Batra, also director of the delightful Lunchbox) is a dramatic adaptation of the novel. It glides back and forth in time as we view the disconnected pieces of a previously unexamined life and the exploration of memory’s role in constructing one’s identity.

Tony Armstrong (a subtle performance by Jim Broadbent) becomes obsessed with his college days, after he is bequeathed his best friend’s diary The problem is that the diary is in the possession of his old girl friend Victoria (Charlotte Rampling). She refuses to hand it over. Now a late sixty-something semi-retired shop keeper, Tony’s days are a  meandering in a foggy haze of opaque memory.

A mystery begins to unfold, literally, in Tony’s rearview mirror and in his present, as he searches for answers concerning Adrian’s diary. What follows is the destruction of self-identity, friendship, and one’s life story caused by a letter saved from the past.

Some of the most crucial details in character and plot are left to the viewer to determine, and the motivation, regret, and loss of one’s own story are not available to the viewer. Tantalizing clues as to what impact the letter had are sorely lacking.

We all remember an event differently. We’re raised by the same parents, with the same siblings but we still have had different childhoods. Older people have more of a past than the young, so their memories are full of memories of memories–and of ways to construct versions of themselves they feel comfortable with. And how do the things that we forget, choose to leave out or just misremember affect how we view our past, our present, ourselves?

Broadbent tries heroically to suggest his longing to make things right before decrepitude and dying set in–to have the life he chooses to remember, but Sense of an Ending left this viewer wanting more of the interior life–the quiet catastrophe– of this flawed, unlikable character. How does an older self pass judgment on the younger version? Perhaps psychological narratives like Sense of an Ending demand too much from cinematic presentation, visual scenes of the reflection of the mind.

 

“Closed Circuit”—We’re Under Surveillance

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“Closed Circuit” (2013), an adrenaline-pumping political thriller, portrays corrupt government forces who will stop at nothing. It’s an exciting genre. The title “Closed Circuit” is designed to raise the alarm over both the injustice of closed court hearings and the use of surveillance technology. Covert surveillance amplifies the sense that London has become a police state with ubiquitous security cameras. We don’t know who’s watching or how they’re using what they see.

The opening scene provides the hook. After a truck explodes in London’s bustling Borough Market, killling 120 people,   authorities at MI5 swiftly arrest a Muslim immigrant, Farroukh Erdogan based on closed circuit surveillance. The government assigns two separate lawyers to represent the accused, one for public sessions, the other for secret sessions. The government argues the evidence is so sensitive that national security pre-empts due process. (Think Patriot Act). Martin (played by Eric Bana) will try Erdogan’s case in public and Claudia (Rebecca Hall), will present evidence in front of the judge during the closed sessions of the trial, evidence the defendant himself is not allowed to hear. Martin and Claudia, however, are ex-lovers but fail to recuse themselves, since the case is so compelling. Moral questions on all sides begin to proliferate as Martin and Claudia dig deeper.   They soon realize that their client is not who the prosecution is making him out to be.

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The acts of terrorism depicted in “Closed Circuit” are meant to justify national security agencies’ means and methods of indicting and trying the accused. “Closed Circuit” depicts the injustice of power wielded by MI5 in secret, in contrast to the MI5 that British society permits to bend rules for their citizens’ protection. The overriding theme of “Closed Circuit”–when the powerful makes the rules, all everyone else can do is play along.

This taut film represents a style of conspiratorial “nobody-wins” storytelling seldom seen since the days of “No Way Out” and “Ides of March”.  Here, the Power is represented with chilling smarminess and ruthless insincerity by Jim Broadbent. A New York Times reporter (Julia Stiles), the MI5 administrator (Ann-Marie Duff), and solicitor (Ciaran Hinds) all add to the intrigue, with unexpected plot twists. Everyone’s allegiances are suspect, and surprise betrayals abound.

“Closed Circuit” is definitely worth seeing, if you want something more cerebral and something that will bother you a bit afterwards. This British courtroom thriller challenges the validity of policies that shield key evidence from public scrutiny.

 

“The Iron Lady” — Meryl Streep Nails It

 Winner of the best actor 2012 Golden Globe for her stunning performance in “The Iron Lady”, Meryl Streep plays Margaret Thatcher, the iconic Prime Minister second only to Winston Churchill in power and impact on Great Britain. “The Iron Lady” is, at times, an exceptional meditation on old age and it is, once more, a virtuoso performance by the genius that is Meryl Streep.

First and foremost, however, “The Iron Lady” is a portrait of Thatcher as a woman whose tremendous sacrifices to family and identity were viewed, both by her and by her advisors, as necessary in order to become the first woman prime minister of Great Britain. Zooming in on the floor in the House of Parliament, the shot captures it all: a solitary pair of high-heel shoes among rows of Oxford wing-tips.

The opening scene lingers on a very elderly Thatcher (mid-eighties), struggling with dementia, as she talks to her husband Denis (the never-disappointing Jim Broadbent). Denis has been dead for about five years. But the ex-Prime Minister’s husband appears throughout the film as a hallucination in the frail psyche of the aging woman.

Margaret Thatcher’s story is told in flashbacks that take us back to her adolescence and young adulthood (played believably by Alexandra Roach).  In one noteworthy scene, the young Margaret tells her parents with barely contained excitement, that she has been accepted into Oxford University.  The camera cuts away to her mother, who continues to wash dishes in silence.  Much later in the film, the elderly Margaret repeats the same dishwashing in a scene with her own daughter, who yearns for validation from her. Scenes with a plate of butter, which appear several times, also convey an analogy–its importance as a special treat in her youth as a grocer’s daughter, to the accepted presence on the breakfast table at 10 Downing Street. Flashbacks to her own childhood and that of her own parenting underscore the disconnect to her own children, especially her daughter.

Meryl Streep never disappoints in cloning the character she inhabits. She is not merely imitating Thatcher, but rather channeling her physicality– right down to her speech, which is transformed from her natural pitch to a more “masculine” and “authoritative one”. Chameleon-like in facial expression and body language, Streep mesmerizes with the slightest-of-slightest hand and body tremors, the shifts in posture and gait to reflect the passage of time. Extraordinary makeup never distracts, except to astonish by making Streep almost unrecognizable.  Watch the way she moves and, if you remember seeing Margaret Thatcher on television, you’ll swear you’re seeing her as she walks along.  Streep perfects this every time (as many of us remember with her uncanny portrait of Julia Child). Her award-winning performance is achingly honest in its understanding and interpretation of Thatcher’s powerful intellect, motivations, even perhaps her unconscious.