Saturday, 20 August 2011

Freight Night [Review: Cargo]

The Swiss film Cargo is set in a future where the Earth's ecosystem has collapsed and humans live in orbiting refugee camps. Anna-Katharina Schwabroh stars as Laura, a ship's doctor who takes a berth on the Kassandra which is preparing a run to a robotic supply station. It's a long voyage and the crew take turns at the watch while their crewmates are in cryosleep - but guess what: Laura starts to feel she is not alone. I've never seen Schwabroh in anything before but she is perfectly cast: very human, strong in some ways, vulnerable in others.

The Kassandra is a great addition to the claustrophobic spaceship sub-genre, from Laura's first day at work as she struggles to get through the half-working airlock to the obligatory Nostromo or Event Horizon coridoors to the massive automated cargo vault. Laura's predicament and her decisions to wake other crew members lead to mistrust and arguments between them.

Anna-Katharina Schwabroh as Laura

Cargo attempts a complex plot with lots of mysteries, twists and reveals, a few of these are too obvious and there are slightly too many different ideas or sub-plots. On the other hand this complexity does distance the film from many other science fiction films which are often based entirely around a single concept.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

It's a mini adventure! [Review: Arrietty]

"The Borrowers" by Mary Norton, the origin of the film Arrietty, is a much-loved children's novel from the UK. I have no idea how it fell into the hands of director Hiromasa Yonebayashi: without generalizing too much it seems Japanese animators have good literary taste.

The Borrowers are Little People living in the floor and wall spaces of a house and "borrowing" what they need. For some reason in my house they seem to need a lot of biros. Little People are found in the stories and legends of any country where alcohol is readily available. The film is about a 13-year old Borrower child, Arrietty, whose coming of age trip into the world of the Human Beans goes awry when she is spotted by a young Bean who is not asleep.

The UK release of this film features some of the best voice talent you could hope to find, led by Hanna's Saoirse Ronan as Arrietty. None of which was any consolation to me as I found myself unexpectedly watching the subtitled release instead. Still, if you have to watch any film in an unfamiliar language, it might as well be a Studio Ghibli film: no translation is needed for ivy leaves in the rain.

The artwork of this film is simply beautiful and beautifully simple. Arrietty cuts a dashing pose in her red dress, clothes-peg hairclip and pin sword: it's been noted elsewhere that, alongside Rapunzel in Tangled she is one of the very few female leads in children's animation this year.

The film does make good use of the centimetre-scale setting, interestingly this is less about Arrietty's father Pod making steampunk contraptions from cotton reels and safety pins (although he does do this) and more observation of fluid dynamics - tea, poured from a doll's house teaset, forms giant droplets. The Borrowers are always tiny and vulnerable and so their dilemma on being discovered by the Human Beans is real and affecting.