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FILM War’s bitter harvest

MARIA DUARTE is impressed and moved by a powerful all-women narrative of hardships away from battlefields. She rounds up the week's films

The Guardians (15)
Directed by Xavier Beauvois
4*

Set against the backdrop of the First World War in France, Xavier Beauvois depicts the epic struggles of women on the rural front as they attempt to keep their farms and families afloat in this riveting drama driven by powerhouse performances from its female leads.

Based on Ernest Perochon's 1924 novel Les Gardiennes, it stars French screen legend Nathalie Baye, who is formidable, as the matriarch Hortense who along with her daughter Solange, played by Baye's real-life daughter Laura Smet, take over the reins of their farm while her sons and son-in-law are away at war.

She hires strong and hard-working girl Francine — impressive and mesmerising newcomer Iris Bry — to cope with the labour shortage who, she tells her son Georges (Cyril Descours) on his brief return from the front, is “worth her weight in gold.” 

As Francine grows ever closer to Georges, she begins to feel she belongs here and is part of the family. 

A couple of years later, reality strikes and Francine finds herself being unfairly sacrificed in order for Hortense to protect her family and their name. At the end of the day once an outsider/hired hand always the former and latter.

Co-writer/director Beauvois also explores the psychological and devastating impact of war on young men, as Solange explains to the heartbroken Marguerite (Mathilde Viseux) that “war damages men. Georges has changed and my Clovis (her husband) too.”

The pair are shell-shocked and visibly troubled men. Georges has horrifying nightmares about the war and Clovis (Olivier Rabourdin) drinks heavily and questions his faith.

But it is cinematographer Caroline Champetier who is the true unsung hero of this film, with her stunning rural landscapes and captivating snapshots of these resilient women at work in the fields, first with a plough and then later using a combine harvester and tractor in the French equivalent of Thomas Hardy.

It is hard, honest labour and the women are the guardians who roll up their sleeves and keep the home front and society going while the men fight on the battlefields.

Unfolding over the course of four years, it is an exquisitely slow-burning rich drama that is as haunting as it is thought-provoking.

The Eyes of Orson Welles (12A)
Directed by Mark Welles
4*

This is filmmaker Mark Cousins’s love letter to the legendary Orson Welles as he takes a fresh and unique look at the cinematic genius through his private drawings and paintings.

Cousins was granted exclusive access to hundreds of Welles’s works and through these, his interview with Welles’s third daughter Beatrice (in her sixties and still a rock chick, according to Cousins), clips of his films and former TV interviews with the great man himself, he paints an eye-opening picture of the iconic director, writer, actor as seen through Welles’s own eyes.
 

Executively produced by MIchael Moore and with his trademark lyrical — and sending you into a hypnotic trance — voiceover, Cousins delivers an unconventional documentary as he explores Welles’s politics, his mindset, his films, his art and his vision along with an obsession with Cervantes’s Don Quixote.

In a TV interview from 1960 Welles reveals: '“I don't take art as seriously as politics',” while in among all the drawings Cousins uncovers a gem that the great visual auteur drew for his film version of Julius Caesar, which in the end he never made.

This film is as big and as bold and as fascinating and complex as its subject matter and a must-see for Orson Welles fans.

MD

Christopher Robin (PG)
Directed by Marc Foster
4*

Winnie the Pooh and friends come to the rescue of a grown-up Christopher Robin, in the midst of a midlife crisis, in this sweet and charming but terribly poignant drama about remembering to enjoy life one day at a time.

Pooh et Co have been given the Paddington treatment, resulting in adorable animated characters that will make you fall in love with them again as they navigate London to save Christopher Robin, (Ewan McGregor) and help him rediscover the joys of life after having been stressed out by work and family pressures.
 

McGregor makes the perfect older Robin who, on first seeing Pooh after so many years, feels he is having a mental breakdown.

Hayley Attwell is superb as his understanding but long-suffering wife who is at her wits’ end as she is unable to help him reconnect with her or their young daughter.

The film captures beautifully the look and tone of the adventures of Pooh and Christopher Robin and their stunning setting in the English countryside and the Hundred Acre Wood.  

The only problem with this film is it is difficult to know who it is aimed at because the adult themes it tackles will go over the heads of youngsters and the delightful cryptic Pooh and friends are there to remind us all there is more to life than all work and no play, which kids thankfully have no concept of.

Nevertheless be prepared to laugh, cry and be moved by this enchanting bitter-sweet tale.
MD

The Equalizer 2 (15)
Directed by Antoine Fuqua
3*
 

Denzel Washington returns as the Equaliser in another non-stop action-packed thriller in which he now serves out unflinching justice as an Uber (Lyft) driver instead of a B&Q (Home Mart) employee.

This results in a hair-raising fight scene as Washington's Robert McCall fends off an armed customer in the back of his car as he is driving at top speed — utterly ridiculous and shouldn't be tried at home. 

He also avenges a young woman who has been gang-raped by a number of rich white guys in an room of an expensive hotel — a terribly violent but wholly satisfying action scene.

So this is the fourth time that Washington has teamed up with director Antoine Fuqua and, as they say, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

The Oscar-winning actor, who has made this role his own, delivers once again as a dark angel who helps strangers from the shadows but, when someone he knows turns up dead, it is the first time he seeks to avenge a friend and ends up going down the rabbit hole.

This is basically more of the same but without a standout Home Mart moment.

MD

The Spy who Dumped Me (15)
Directed by Susanna Fogel
3*

Mila Kunis and Kate McKinnon make the perfect comic partners in this highly enjoyable comedy spy thriller which has a dash of Bourne and 007 about it.

Audrey (Kunis) and best friend Morgan (McKinnon) become unwittingly entangled in an international conspiracy when they discover Audrey's ex boyfriend (Justin Theroux), who dumped her by a text message, was actually a spy.

They find themselves embarking on an action-packed road trip adventure across Europe.

The camaraderie and incredible on-screen chemistry between Kunis and McKinnon is what keeps you glued to the screen.
 

McKinnon delivers a superlative madcap performance. Her fan-girl exchanges with Gillian Anderson — McKinnon's childhood crush — as the boss of MI5 are pure genius and hilarious to watch as Anderson plays it straight.

Sam Heughan (Outlander) show he can play 007 in an evening gala scene, portraying an M15 officer who helps the girls.  

Though surprisingly violent for a comedy the action sequences and car chases are worthy of any Bond film.

Co-writer and director Susanna Fogel delivers a slick and stylish comedy spy caper which, yes, is totally ridiculous and predictable at times but, thanks to Kunis and McKinnon, is worthy of seeing.
MD

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