No 442 - Atonement
Director - Joe Wright
Ho ho ho - I am a cheeky scamp. So, yesterday evening Toby and Fil asked if I wanted to put one of my top 500 films on and I put this cheery number on. However despite the chick flick romantic theme and the sad sad sadness of the film, I really like it. I think it is a beautiful piece of cinema.
When the film ended, Toby said something very interesting, saying that if he had known the film's conclusion (I was going to use the word 'twist' but that isn't really the right word) at the beginning of the film he would have enjoyed it more because it completely changes the tone and the theme of the entire film. I find it particularly interesting because I have never come to the film from that viewpoint as I had read the book about a year before the film came out. This may have helped my love for it, but I think that mostly it is just a wonderfully made film and the elements of nostalgia in it are superb for someone like me.
NOSTALGIA ELEMENT 1
Everyone in this film smokes. Everyone. I heard a rumour that people were outraged by the level of cigarette consumption in the film and had asked for it to be toned down, in fear that it would lead others to try this terrible habit. Wright simply replied with "I'm not changing anything, people smoked a lot in the 30s". I hope this rumour is true because it makes me smile, and I like things that make me smile... However, at times Atonement seems to be a love letter to tobacco with delicate lingering shots of the characters reclining in near ecstatic bliss as they inhale their cigarettes.
But back then, they were good for you....
NOSTALGIA ELEMENT 2
The language. Or to be more accurate, the delivery of the language. It is fast and it is clipped and it is wonderfully wonderfully British. It reminds me a lot of one of my favourite scenes (when it comes to delivery) - When David Niven's character Peter is crashing at the start of A Matter of Life and Death (a film I'm looking forward to reviewing at a later date) - his conversation is fairly trivial, but the delivery is like machine gun fire "June? That's a lovely name". It is a wonder to behold. The same happens in this film. Again I heard a rumour (my, what a lot of rumours were flying around this film) that they began by acting rather materialistically until Joe Wright stopped them. His exact words were allegedly "Have you seen Brief Encounter? Do it like that." If these rumours about Mr Wright are true then I can't seem to fault his stylistic eye, and I look forward to seeing what else he does.
The fast talking aspect also stems from the delightfully upper class nature of the film. Fil said that he despises books by Ian McEwan as they are so smugly upper middle class. However, in this film, and the world it is set, I think the poshness works. Some of it could seem ridiculous (I particularly like the names of the cousins in the house - Pierrot and Jackson are such sublimely ridiculous names.
The posh culture does open up the character of Robbie, and his relationship to Cecelia. They suddenly become far more complex. This is not just a story about falling for someone outside of your class. It is also about the identity complex that comes from the fact that Robbie has had an exceptional education which as paid for by Cecelia's father. He may be the help but he is also unofficially part of the Tallis family... and that is an awkward place to be in:
Five years ago you didn't care about telling the truth. You and all your family, you just assumed that for all my education, I was still little better than a servant, still not to be trusted. Thanks to you, they were able to close ranks and throw me to the fucking wolves!
It is this distrust which opens up part 2 of the film (for this is a tale of 3 (or possibly at a stretch 4) parts... 1. Pre War dinner parties and intrigue 2. War - Soldier's story 3. War - Nurse's story and possibly 4. Modern day conclusion)....
Whilst the framing and cinematography is stunning throughout this entire film, the scene of Dunkirk is the stand out moment for me. A needlessly lavish steadicam shot which wanders throughout the beach letting you see the depravity and futility of war and the fragile states of the soldiers. It is one of the most beautiful shots I have ever seen in a film and it gives me goosebumps. The score is wonderful in this scene too but you can tell it is there to cover up the choreographers and director screaming for horses to stampede or cars to explode or drunk people to fall off merry go rounds.
And as we draw near to the end of this blog (a relatively short entry but I don't have much to say besides I think it is beautiful and all people should watch it and have a little cry) I leave you with two thoughts.
1) Isn't the C word a ponderous thing... I personally love it.
2) Doesn't James McAvoy look like a young David Niven? The final scene specifically (bad photo I know) could almost be from A Matter of Life and Death.... AND THAT IS A GOOD THING!