Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)

Tinker Tailor movie poster.jpg

For a book to not merely survive but to come intact and unbesmirched out of a screen adaptation once is great good fortune;  to do so twice is little short of miraculous. Yet this is what has happened with John Le Carre’s great, resonant spy novel which exposed the dull, continuous procedural processes underlying the killing machine of British intelligence. The late Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan did a fine job of whittling back the story, even if some of the agents didn’t get the kind of coverage in terms of the narrative that the 1979 BBC series was able to luxuriate in telling. Crucially, they understand that much of this is about storytelling itself and the nature of perspective. Tomas Alfredson, the Swedish director, had form in adaptations. Let the Right One In (2008) seemed like a superb, inventive vampire story beneath the flat shooting style – until one reads the novel, which is essentially a screenplay template that was altered just two jots (the child abuse theme; and a scene at the swimming pool was altered  in the timeline) in its adaptation. (So much for auteurism!) However here he comes into his own. Each shot choice, every aesthetic decision, every scene, is immersive.  It is a great woozy 70s experience, with Hoyte Van Hoytema’s cinematography perfectly capturing the very brown-ness of the era in London, and Maria Djurkovic’s production design stunningly accurate. The performances are pitch perfect. Gary Oldman had a tough call to make as Smiley but if you’re not fetishistic about Alec Guinness he is a wonderful casting choice (and got an Academy Award nomination); and of the vast and interesting ensemble Benedict Cumberbatch is a fabulous, swaggering Peter Guillam, inhabiting him like a predatory male model. He looks so very different to all those other bland grey men. The scene when he ditches his gay lover is shot behind a rain-spattered window, the sound dulled down, and it is unbearably moving. Smiley’s Lady Anne is never seen fully, just in profile, as she cheats on her beleaguered husband over and over again. The green painted walls, the telephones, the music. It’s all ready and waiting. For paper addicts, this is a feast for the eyes –  notes, files, archives … Glorious!! This is simply brilliant cinema, to be watched over and over. Superb.

Something in the Air/Apres mai (2012)

Something in the Air 2012 poster

Oh to have been born in a well-to-do Parisian family and to have been an adolescent artist in revolutionary times. Such was the experience of estimable French director Olivier Assayas whose reminiscences form the basis of this tale, set in 1971 – three years After May (the original title). The lycee students Gilles, Christine and Alain are involved in an act of vandalism which hurts a security guard. They go their separate ways and take different paths to their own personal revolutions. The beautiful lighting, the tender display of friendships lost and retrieved, the political growth, the topless women and bottomless men, are but a somnolent groovy autumnal backdrop to the fetishising of paper in all its forms, a wonder in this digital age of ephemera. We are confronted with the texts of revolutionary writers in the classroom, screenplays for the TV series of Maigret, published by Gilles’ father; propaganda, sketches for Gilles’ artworks;  paintings and projections for the backdrops at rock happenings, books, letters, envelopes … paper is the basis for everything, intimately associated with feeling and memory and posterity.