If there is one thing that Love is the Devil tells us about the life of Francis Bacon (1909-1992), the English painter, is that it was claustrophobic, inebriated and dark. Maybury’s non-factual ‘study for a portrait of Francis Bacon’ as the film title’s appendix says, focuses on the relationship the artist (played by Derek Jacobi) had with the Cockney pet criminal George Dyer (Daniel Craig), who became his pill-addled muso after literally landing on his studio through a hatch in the ceiling. Structured as a filmed play, except for a few outdoor and pub scenes, the film is dark and impressionist, and Jacobi uses his actorly skills to impersonate Bacon as mimetically as he can, with great success. The negative side of all this stagey-ness is that the whole is sketchy. Bacon’s work is a mere background for a sadomasochistic relationship. There are far too many glass-distorted shots of Bacon’s studio and the Colony room, his favoured drinking den in Soho (‘the concentration of camp’ as he calls it). I have to admit to having enjoyed this film better when it first came out in 1998. For some reason, eight years on it appeared viscous and anaemic, despite all the red on the screen. Still, Jacobi’s masterful performance, the main attraction of the film, saves it from aging badly, although it doesn’t save it from being an incomplete sketch, a study without a thesis.
The Beat That My Heart Skipped
Having missed the theatrical run of the French thriller The Beat That My Heart Skipped (Dir: Jacques Audiard, 2005), I thought I had missed the best thing since Godard, if the strap lines plastered on the poster were anything to go by. I waited for its DVD release with a kind of intellectual excitement. Alas, the film turns out to be a contrived, pretentious remake of James Toback’s 1987 Fingers that deals with that most worn-out of gangster themes: redemption. Roman Duris plays Tom, the son of a crooked property dealer father whose violent business makes Paris look like the suburbs of Detroit (to borrow some street credit for the croissant-strewn alleyways of Paris, presumably). A chance encounter with an old acquaintance reanimates Tom’s passion for music and he becomes torn between the violent, masculine milieu of his father’s business and his more delicate inclinations towards classic musicianship. Duris’s acting is so ‘jittery’ and ‘edgy’ that you feel like he may have a heart attack at any moment in the film. The cinematography is agile, the editing elliptical; in short, Audiard ticks all the boxes in the list of what makes a movie ‘stylish’, but the result is the equivalent of the Novelle Vague filtered down to the lad mag contingent.
Plus: Love in Thoughts(Germany, 2004. Dir: Achim Von Borries. With Daniel Bruhl, August Diehl, Thure Lindhardt, Anna Maria Muehe). Based on a true story that took place in Germany in the 1920s known as the Steglitz Student Tragedy, Love in Thoughts is an elegantly shot (in a Merchant Ivory sort of way) that tries to capture the aristocratic debauchery that led to the national scandal. But the film never quite gets debauched enough, largely due to a weak cast and a history book kind of art direction that tries to make up for the lack of credibility. The story is that Paul Krantz (Daniel Bruhl) survived a suicide pact he’d made with his rich friend Gunther (August Diehl). Gunther shot his former lover Hans (Thure Lindhardt), who during the party weekend preceeding the tragedy shagged Gunther’s flapper sister Hilde (Anna Maria Muehe), and then turned the gun on himself. Love in Thoughts is the type of film that presupposes that period pieces with decadent aristocrats are inherently interesting and have no need to give something more than vintage fetishism, bisexual frolics and swoony romanticism. If that’s your cup of absinth, then you’ll be intoxicated by it.
Love is the Devil, The Beat That My Heart Skipped and Love in Thoughts are out now.