Film reviews: The Woodlanders, Ugetsu Monogatari, Clubbed To Death

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THE WOODLANDERS

(PG) HH

Director: Phil Agland

Starring: Rufus Sewell, Emily Woof

With their lush prose, detailed intertwining of emotion and nature, and inexorable fatalism, the spirit of Hardy's novels is hard to capture on screen. Michael Winterbottom's austere Jude came close, but this adaptation of one of Hardy's lesser-known works once again proves how difficult it is to achieve.

Directed by documentary maker Phil Agland, The Woodlanders is a beautifully photographed portrait of changing seasons, of rural poverty encroached on by the new technology and changing social mores of the industrial age. Where it fails is in capturing the heart of its human narrative. While Hardy's novel moved between a collection of characters, David Rudkin's screenplay centres squarely on the doomed romance between Grace Melbury (Emily Woof) and Giles Winterbourne (Rufus Sewell). Childhood sweethearts, the pair are pledged to marry, until Grace returns from finishing school and her father decides that she is "worth more" than the honest woodsman. Obeying her father's wishes, she marries instead a well-educated gentleman, but finds herself betrayed when he deserts her.

Moving with desultory slowness, Agland's starchy direction means that his leading players become cyphers, going through the motions of tragedy. In its brief moments of rough humour, the film comes alive and there are fine supporting performances, but this good-looking film remains, for the most part, strangely lifeless.

Interview with Emily Woof, p16

CLUBBED TO DEATH

(18) HHH

Director: Yolande Zauberman

Starring: Elodie Bouchez

When the nubile young Lola (Elodie Bouchez) falls asleep on the night bus, she awakes in the hinterlands of Paris, the poor, multi-cultural banlieu. Waiting for the first bus home, she stumbles into a rave in a disused warehouse, and is introduced to the dream world of Ecstasy. Swooning among the crowds, the blissed-out Lola falls for amiable junkie Emir, and finds herself competing for his love with his girlfriend, club queen Saida.

In keeping with its drugged-out milieu, the relationships in Clubbed to Death are sensual but superficial. Nevertheless, the film pulses with a naturalistic, hedonistic atmosphere that slips between sexy and sinister and finds space for raw emotion in its mesmerising wash of style.

UGETSU MONOGATARI

(NC) HHHH

Director: Kenji Mizoguchi

Starring: Masayuki Mori

A re-release for Kenji Mizoguchi's elegant 1953 masterpiece about a pair of 16th-century peasants who go off to war in pursuit of wealth and glory, and the tragic effects of their adventures on their wives.

Part war drama, part ghost story, this intricate and poetic film offers exquisite images and robust humour. A must.

Liese Spencer

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