We Need To Talk About Kevin

After almost a decade of silence, Scottish director Lynne Ramsay is back with a bang with an exquisitely realised adaptation of Lionel Shriver’s bestselling novel We Need to Talk About Kevin, the story of a mother who must clean up the dreadful mess left behind when her psychopathic son commits mass murder at his school.

The film opens with a long overture as Eva (Tilda Swinton, superb) is hoisted aloft among a writhing mass of bodies at the Tomatina festival in Spain. The screen fills with red (the colour Ramsay uses throughout as a touchstone), a chill foreshadowing the bloody events to come. Free-spirited Eva has travelled the world as a writer, a career that comes to a stop when she meets the faintly gormless Franklin (John C Reilly) and settles down in New York. They marry and shortly afterwards, she gives birth to Kevin. A fussy, noisy baby, Kevin cannot settle in the city so the family move to the suburbs. It doesn’t help. Eva cannot connect with Kevin (brilliantly played as a malevolent imp by Jasper Newell), who seems intent on destroying the house and breaking up the family. 

Kevin is uncontrollable and unteachable. He refuses to be potty trained. He destroys his toys and smears paint on the walls. He seems to have an innate gift for playing his parents off of one another, convincing his oblivious father that everything is fine while openly mocking his despairing mother. Time passes but things do not improve. At the age of fifteen (and now played by Ezra Miller), Kevin is an intelligent young man but he is isolated from his peers and sneeringly cynical. He spends his days online, alone in his unnervingly neat bedroom. One unexceptional morning, he leaves the house, never to return.

This is not a film about a school shooting, not really. We are never witness to precisely what Kevin does; Ramsay distils Shriver’s wordy novel to shift focus onto the consequences of his actions for his family, Eva in particular. WNTTAK is a film about blood, the blood bond between mother and son, the blood he spills through his actions, the blood that still runs through Eva's dreams. Vilified by the community, she must live out the rest of her days in purgatory. She will always be the mother of the boy that massacred his classmates, somehow just as culpable as if she had committed the crime herself. How can she carry on? Was Kevin just a bad seed, a statistical anomaly, or did Eva have a hand in making him into a monster

As Ramsay switches back and forth in time, Eva endlessly replays the story of Kevin’s life, haunted by her own conscience as she continues to question and doubt herself, her marriage and her future. The director never settles the question, leaving it to Swinton’s extraordinary face to fill in the blanks in what is an exceptionally intimate and brittle performance, present in almost every scene and actively filtering her own tortured conscience. The film’s other great strength is Irish cinematographer Seamus McGarvey’s beautiful photography; delicately composed, strikingly severe and washed again and again in tones of crimson red.

Midnight In Paris

Even as Woody Allen’s star has waxed and waned in the last decade, he has always been adored in France. For his 41st film, the writer and director consummates this love affair for Midnight In Paris, a warm and funny fantasy about the eternal allure of the City of Light. Allen's valentine opens with a montage of postcard-pretty shots of boulevards wet by recent rain and an upbeat jazzy score as Owen Wilson explains, in his unmistakable Texan twang, how the French capital is one of the most exciting cities in the world. Wilson’s Gil is a Hollywood screenwriter whose only regret is that he didn’t stay in Paris years ago, when he had the chance, and hone his skills as a novelist. Instead, he returned to Los Angeles and became a hired hack for the movies, successful but unfulfilled.

Now returned on holiday with his fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams) and her wealthy parents (Kurt Fuller and Mimi Kennedy), Gil has fallen in love with Paris again. Looking for inspiration for his debut novel about a man who runs a nostalgia shop, Gil has taken to walking the streets in the rain, soaking in the city’s unique ambience (although Allen has somehow scoured the place of graffiti and his characters never once step in dog mess or get lost on the Metro). While her fiancée wanders aimlessly around the city, the much less enthusiastic Inez goes shopping for pricey antiques with her snippy mother and tours the galleries and museums with her old friends, pompous know-it-all Paul (an amusingly unbearable Michael Sheen) and his simpering wife Carol (Nina Arianda).

Gil can’t stand them. One evening, after a wine tasting, he takes another solo walk around the city. Slightly drunk, he takes a rest on a church steps as a clock strikes midnight. A vintage Peugeot drives up and the equally inebriated occupants beckon him into the car. They drive him off to a party where everyone appears to be dressed in vintage clothes and – the first clue that something is amiss – are smoking indoors. To his astonishment, Gil finds that he has somehow been dragged back through time to the era between the world wars, a time when exiled American writers and artists were drawn to the bohemian city. He has a wide-eyed chat with Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston and Alison Pill), shares a bottle of wine with Ernest Hemmingway (Corey Stoll) and gets a tutorial on writing from Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates).

While passing an hour in Stein’s art-filled studio, he meets Adriana (Marion Cotillard), a fashion designer who has been lover and muse to a series of artists, including Picasso and Modigliani. He falls in love, not only with the beautiful girl but with everything: the people, their ideas, the time and the place. They are so much more exciting than real life in 2010, with its blowhards and braggarts. So he returns again and again to his magical spot, where he can listen for the chimes and step into the past.

If Paris is the real star of the film, Wilson’s charming performance is the key to its considerable appeal. Gil is so awed by meeting his heroes, so excited about the possibility of interacting with genius, his enthusiasm radiates off the screen. Allen has considered the allure of history before, in films like Zelig and The Purple Rose of Cairo, exploring the notion that the past always seems much more vibrant and consistent than the time his characters live in. This time, the director uses the concept of time travel to explore Gil’s unease at his contemporary situation, inextricably tied to McAdams’ shallow wife-to-be, despised by her snooty parents and trapped in a job whose rewards are only financial. He is out of sorts and out of place, so why not go somewhere he can feel more at ease? But the more time he spends in the past, the less he wants to return to the present.

Allen doesn’t offer any explanations for his magical time-slip, instead using the caprice as a platform for his unassuming hero to interact with a parade of legends in cameo, including Adrien Brody as Salvador Dali, Tom Cordier as Man Ray and Sonia Rolland as Joséphine Baker. The sole awkward misstep in Allen's otherwise graceful fantasy is a moment where Gil meets the Spanish filmmaker Luis Buñuel and pitches him an idea for a movie where the guests at a swanky dinner party find themselves unable to leave. In a throwaway scene, Gil goes from being a fortunate witness to history to actively offering his heroes tips on how to do the very things he admires them for doing.

For a long time, it seemed that Allen was so bereft of inspiration he might have taken the wittering of an oddly-dressed visitor from the future to heart. How else would you explain Cassandra's Dream, a film whose time we can only hope will never come. With Midnight in Paris, the director puts a stop to a long run of deeply mediocre films, making the most of a dazzling, fun idea and a cast on top form.


It’s the end of the world as we know it and nobody feels fine in Lars von Trier’s Melancholia, the Danish provocateur’s take on the apocalypse which blends soaring celestial special effects with gloomy, earthy melodrama.

As with von Trier’s previous film, the punishing morality play Anti-Christ, Melancholia opens with an eight-minute overture; a collection of slow-motion tableaux set to Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde. We see glimpses of the story to come as a woman in a wedding dress floats impassively down a stream, in a nod to Millais’ Ophelia, or stands in a field as blue electricity sparks from her fingertips. Birds fall from the sky as a staring horse collapses in a heap. We see another woman drag a young boy across a golf course, a look of anguish in her face as she sinks up to her ankles in the suddenly boggy ground. And we see the cosmos, a black sheet of stars against which von Trier places the Earth and the newly-discovered planet Melancholia, as they glide inexorably towards one another.

The rest of the film is divided into two sections of more-or-less equal length. The first chapter, reminiscent of von Trier’s friend and Dogme 95 collaborator Thomas Winterberg’s caustic family drama Festen, opens with the woman in the bridal dress, Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and her newlywed husband, Michael (Alexander Skarsgard), sitting in a stretch limousine as it attempts to negotiate a winding driveway. They are hours late for their own reception at a palatial hotel, hosted by Justine’s sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg), who lives there with her wealthy husband Jack (Kiefer Sutherland) and young son. As the wedding party sits to eat a long-delayed meal, von Trier slowly reveals deep divisions between the other family members, especially the sister’s divorced parents, their gadfly father (John Hurt) and cantankerous mother (Charlotte Rampling). Justine works in advertising and her slimy boss (Stellan Skarsgård) hovers at her shoulder like a wasp, pressuring her to deliver a new slogan for a fashion campaign. The only glimpses of humour are the barbed asides from the despairing wedding planner, played with a sniff by Udo Kier. As the evening wears on, Justine’s behaviour becomes increasingly strange as she falls prey to anxiety, doubt and paranoia. The evening ends in disaster, of no consequence when set against the impending apocalypse, but disaster nonetheless.

A few weeks later, the second chapter sees Justine’s depression evolve into a complete nervous collapse. Slumped and unresponsive, Claire moves her sister into the mansion to look after her. Isolated from the rest of the world and, for some reason, unable to cross a bridge to get into town, the three adults and one child rattle around the house as the planet Melancholia makes its relentless way towards Earth. Amateur astronomist Jack believes the scientists, who say the galactic interloper will pass harmlessly by. Justine and Claire trust their instinct, which tells them that the sky is falling down and that the ever-growing blue ball in the sky will signal the end of everything.

Melancholia is not quite on the same level of cruelty as Anti-Christ but, as a companion piece, it carries the same dread air of awkward manipulation and tiresome fatalism. Von Trier crashes planets together but I never felt the earth move, despite a brave and compelling performance from Dunst (who won the Best Actress award at Cannes even as the director was expelled from the festival for making boorish remarks about Jews and Nazis). Compare von Trier’s thesis on the end of time with the graceful expression of its beginnings in Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life. Malick sees the glory and wonder in creation and displays it like a treasure, while von Trier looks at the same world as it blinks out of existence and sees only squalor and sadness.

Brilliantly played, technically adroit and at times breathtakingly beautiful, Melancholia is still a cold and uncaring provocation, a poke in the eye with an ornately carved stick. You can admire the craftsmanship, even as it blinds you.