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domingo, 13 de março de 2016
The Fright Manager: David Farr shows his big-screen mettle with The Ones Below – review
David Farr, who adapted John le Carré’s The Night Manager for TV, has crafted a creepy psychological thriller with shades of Rosemary's Baby
The release this week of David Farr’s big-screen directorial debut is a reminder of the old truism that timing, particularly in show business, is everything. With the sexed-up BBC One adaptation of John le Carré’s The Night Manager (for which he wrote the script) currently gripping millions of viewers, The Ones Below – a taut psychological drama capitalising on the fears, insecurities and uncertainties of a first pregnancy – should now get the attention it deserves.
It’s a film indebted unashamedly to Polanski and Hitchcock – imagine the claustrophobic chills and mounting paranoia of Rosemary’s Baby crossed with the vivid urban voyeurism of Rear Window. But it also feels distinctly English, riffing on Londoners’ reputation for frostiness.
From the off, Farr, an experienced theatre writer-director, uses lingering close-ups and Adem Ilhan’s eerie lullaby-style score to create a percolating sense of dread. The setting is bosky north London, where young couple Justin (Stephen Campbell Moore) and Kate (Clémence Poésy) live and are expecting their first child. Theirs is a cosy, middle-class existence: successful jobs, a loving 10-year marriage, a plush flat in Islington. But the idyll is shattered with the arrival downstairs of Jon (David Morrissey), a blunt banker, and his bubbly Scandinavian trophy wife Teresa (Laura Birn), who also happens to be pregnant.
On the surface, the couples couldn’t be more different – and, as if to emphasise this, production designer Francesa Balestra Di Mottola (I Am Love) kits out Jon and Teresa’s flat in garish, childlike primary colours, as opposed to the rustic, bohemian feel of Justin and Kate’s place. Still, Kate and Teresa hit it off at first, united by impending motherhood, and soon the spouses are roped in for a dinner party. This proves to be the film’s main set piece, an unsettling night of passive aggression, conflicting views on parenthood, and a horrible tragedy that sucks them all into a vortex of suspicion, torment and psychosis. “You don’t deserve that thing inside you,” Teresa screams at Kate in the aftermath.
Scene by scene, Farr piles on the atmosphere: uncomfortable silences, languorous shots of flowers blooming, cacophonies of car alarms and the cries of a baby. He conveys Kate’s mental state with expert precision, cajoling an unshowy performance of quiet fragility from Poésy, who lulls viewers into thinking that she might have lost her mind. Less impressive, however, is Birn, who seems to view every line she’s tossed as an opportunity to vamp up the role’s melodrama – it grates.
The third act, too, goes overboard, sapping the film of its simmering ambiguity with a need to explain absolutely everything. But, all in all, The Ones Below is a creepy genre exercise by a craftsman finding his groove.