TWO films by acclaimed British director Michael Winterbottom — Wonderland and The Claim — highlight the British Film Festival, which runs here until April 21 before moving to Bandung and Surabaya.
The 41-year-old Michael Winterbottom made his feature film debut with the Butterfly Kiss (1995), a road movie centered on lesbian lovers on a fatal trip through Britain. The movie, a British-styled Thelma & Louise (1991), is enlivened with music by The Cranberries, Bjork and PJ Harvey.
But his name only entered the global movie industry with his semi-documentary film Welcome to Sarajevo (1997), based on the true story of British correspondent Michael Nicholson, who wrote the book Natasha’s Story about his experiences in war-torn Sarajevo in 1992.
In the film, Nicholson becomes Henderson, who gets involved in helping a refugee girl named Emira escape Sarajevo to London. The movie received a warm response at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival, though it did not receive any awards.
For the British Film Festival, two of the director’s dramas were selected. Wonderland looks at the life of a lower-middle class family. The family comprises the parents, their four children, grandchildren and two sons-in-law.
The parents, Eileen (Kika Markham) and Bill (Jack Shepherd), are extremely bitter. Eileen is frustrated with her retired husband, who is getting tired of her gloominess and desperation.
One of the couple’s three daughters, Nadia (Gina McKee), a waitress in a cafe, looks for love by placing personal ads.
Her sister Debbie (Shirley Henderson) is a single mother who sometimes brings men back to the beauty parlor she runs to have sex. The third sister, Molly (Molly Parker), is expecting her first child and her husband Eddie (John Simm) has been fired from his job as a furniture salesman.
Their son, Darren (Enzo Cilenti), cannot stand living at home, so he runs away and never makes contact with his parents again.
Though Wonderland focuses on the lives of ordinary people, the movie’s quality cast, strong screenplay, minimum use of music and fast-moving camera make it no ordinary film.
The movie, with its examination of the lives of Eileen and Bill, their neighbors and Londoners in general, may remind moviegoers of the work of Iranian directors Jafar Panahi and Abbas Kiarostami.
The second Winterbottom film at the festival, The Claim, has a wonderful story, popular actors and music by Michael Nyman (The Piano). But all of these factors cannot save the movie, which as a whole is flat and not at all touching.
The movie is adapted from British author Thomas Hardy’s novel, The Mayor of Casterbridge, transferred to an Old West setting.
The film centers on Daniel Dillon (Peter Mullan), a prospector who sells his wife and daughter to another gold miner for his claim to a gold mine. Two decades later, Dillon has turned the gold mine into a town called Kingdom Come, where he lives with a young mistress, Lucia (Milla Jovovich).
The sudden arrival of his dying wife, Elena (Natasha Kinski), and daughter Hope (Sarah Polley), along with Dalglish (Wes Bentley), a wandering railroad surveyor, changes everything.
Haunted by his past, Dillon leaves Lucia and remarries Elena, promising to bequeath the town to Hope. At the same time, Dalglish becomes a menace to Dillon with his plan to build a railroad line crossing through the town.
The Claim fails to reflect Winterbottom’s kinetic skills as a filmmaker. It’s not as intense as many of his previous films, such as Butterfly Kiss, Jude (1996, also adapted from a Thomas Hardy novel), Welcome To Sarajevo and Wonderland.
However, moviegoers, especially Winterbottom fans, can look forward to the release of the director’s two latest films, 24-Hour Party People and The Silk Road, this year. Will they be as successful as his earlier films? Just wait and see.
The Jakarta Post
Fri, April 19, 2002