JWR Articles: Film/DVD - When Strangers Meet (Directors: Dan Susman, Jeremy Brock, Philippe André, Edoardo Ponti) - July 3, 2013
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When Strangers Meet

No rating No rating

Reviewed at the 2013 Palm Springs International Shortfest
Tempo rubato

Every day, there is the possibility of meeting a stranger. Sometimes gazing on a fresh face is pre-planned (in nearly all of these encounters, the actual visage is a far cry from the carefully selected, cropped and edited digital representations on the Internet). Chance encounters can be delightful (love at first sight: Ooh la la!), dangerous (“No, that bulge in his pants isn’t a sign of affection—good thing I always carry pepper spray!”) or dull (the innocent request for directions turns into a torrent of non-stop, self-affirming verbiage that only abject rudeness can silence).

What fun, then, to take in four cinematic hookups with the unknown—would any of them demand a second glance?

Purposely in black-and-white, the world première of Dan Susman’s Penelope, Five stars, took everyone by surprise. Marvellously understated acting by Juliet Stevenson in the title role and Hattie Morahan as Helen, the younger, “other woman” let Susman’s narrative quietly come into focus, allowing the plot point surprises to gently move into consciousness. These eight minutes vanish in one beautifully crafted arc.

Queen Elizabeth’s “celebrated” intruder (1982) gave writer Helen Greaves the inspiration and, consequently, director Jeremy Brock the vision to portray just what the decidedly common man and Her Royal Highness chatted about in the Buckingham Palace bedroom before her MIA minders finally managed to do their duty in detail-rich Walking the Dogs, Four and one-half stars.

None better than Emma Thompson to capture the famous rhythm of Elizabeth’s speech and “firm but fair” demeanour as she and the uninvited, early morning guest (Eddie Marsan made for a compelling everyman) incongruously munched on dry dog biscuits all the while discussing love, freedom and life’s challenges whether privileged or not. Never before has the monarch’s ability of being a good listener to one of her loyal subjects been put to such good use. Viewers of any class or rank will be equally rewarded. As an aural bonus, the duo guitar work is superb.

Many, many patrons will find the tempo of Philippe André’s Delicate Gravity, Four stars, too slow to hang around much longer than the—finally—decisive subway ride. After painstakingly (quite literally when blood is spilled, startling everyone in the crowd into attentiveness) establishing the character of an unpublished writer, over-worked translator (an appropriately moody performance by Yvan Nattal), a misdirected cellphone message allows the doleful, divorced dad the chance to prove whether or not his listening skills can match HRH—they do!

From his first peek at the distraught Claire (a wonderfully nuanced portrayal from Anne Parillaud) there’s a slight flicker of heat that must await the morning air to discover if this wrong number will become the right connection…

Major surgery forms the backdrop for Edoardo Ponti’s The Nightshift Belongs to the Stars, Three and one-half stars, but it’s the absolutely incredible splendour of the Dolomites (spectacularly captured thanks to Ferran Paredes’ cinematographic brilliance) that silently steal every scene they’re in.

After meeting—during successful, life-continuing transplant surgery—Sonia (Nastassja Kinski) and Matteo (Enrico Lo Verso) vow to celebrate their medically induced longevity by climbing far above the Earth. Tellingly, Sonia’s husband, Mark (Julian Sands)—who taught his bride the art of mountaineering—is not wanted on the voyage. The potential for this triangular tension to balance the task at hand fails to materialize, leaving Matteo staring into the heavens—alone—yet still having a heart-to-heart chat of the highest order. JWR

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