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Film Talk: Latest Movie Releases – Flames in France and court drama in North Carolina

It’s Vive la France this week with two particular offerings giving a fresh injection of French cinema to the UK big screen.

Daisy Edgar-Jones stars as Kya alongside Harris Dickinson as Chase Andrews in Where The Crawdads Sing
Daisy Edgar-Jones stars as Kya alongside Harris Dickinson as Chase Andrews in Where The Crawdads Sing

Directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud, the first of the pair takes us back to a relatively recent real-world disaster that, thanks to the pandemic, already feels like it happened a lifetime ago.

In 2019, the magnificent medieval cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris caught fire. A historical masterpiece belonging to the entire world, to see such a relic of wonder burning was heartbreaking for many, and sadly the damage it suffered was enormous. Annaud’s flick takes viewers back to the drama of the day, and the heroics of the individuals who sought to save this priceless piece of their cultural heritage from complete destruction.

Meanwhile, the UK release of Constance Meyer’s Robust welcomes the legendary Gérard Depardieu back to British cinemas in a leading man role that puts him opposite young French actor Déborah Lukumuena. Fantastic chemistry between the elder statesman and the breakout star is sure to capture audiences this side of the Channel.

However, the week does not pass without our home-grown talent getting its share of the limelight. London-born Daisy Edgar-Jones – of Normal People and Cold Feet fame – is stepping up as the leading lady in new mystery drama, Where The Crawdads Sing.

Based on the 2018 novel of the same name, this one sees our Daisy don the mantle of a girl from the south of the States, and she certainly shines as the star of the show.

After the heat of the week, the air-conditioning at the flicks is sounding pretty good right now. Let’s take a look at the latest offerings in detail, and get ready for a timely chill...

WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING (15, 125 mins)

Released: July 22 (UK & Ireland)

I have no idea whether freshwater crayfish – or crawdads as they are sometimes called in communities surrounding the Appalachian Mountains – sing in real life, as suggested by the lyrical title of Delia Owens’ international bestseller.

Caterwauling crustaceans are surely the preserve of Disney animations.

However, I do know that director Olivia Newman’s slow-burning film adaptation is off-key for protracted periods of its languid two-hour running time despite a solid central performance from Daisy Edgar-Jones and ravishing cinematography courtesy of Polly Morgan.

Threaded with timely issues of domestic violence and female empowerment, Where The Crawdads Sing struggles to generate dramatic momentum or suspense as a much-abused protagonist goes on trial for murder in a North Carolina courthouse which routinely doles out death sentences.

The stakes should be nail-bitingly high but our cuticles never come under threat from Lucy Alibar’s script, which oscillates leisurely between events in 1953 and 1969 to establish cycles of violence and shame in an untameable place where every creature does what it must to survive.

Normal People star Edgar-Jones masters a Southern American accent as she imbues her social outcast with steely determination. She refuses to beg for her life, while exposing chinks of vulnerability in her emotional armour.

“Sometimes I feel so invisible, I wonder if I’m here at all,” she tremulously confides to a friend, who tenderly assures her that she is seen.

Her richly textured portrayal of self-reliance under duress exceeds the modest reach of Alibar’s pedestrian screen adaptation, which crams the trial verdict, teary-eyed declarations and a glaringly obvious twist into a hurried final act.

Catherine “Kya” Clark (Edgar-Jones) learns to fend for herself from the age of six in a ramshackle house on marshland where her father (Garret Dillahunt) routinely beats her mother (Ahna O’Reilly) until the bruised matriarch leaves, followed by Kya’s older siblings.

Cruelly ostracised by residents of the nearby coastal town of Barkley Cove, Kya sells sacks of hand-harvested mussels to shopkeeper Jumpin (Sterling Macer Jr) and his wife Mabel (Michael Hyatt) to put food in her belly.

She also channels an enduring fascination with wildlife into writing and illustrating a book.

A touching romance with nice guy Tate Walker (Taylor John Smith) ends when he heads to college then Chase Andrews (Harris Dickinson) courts her in direct opposition to his mother (Jerri Tubbs).

When Chase is found dead at the base of a rusty fire tower, the finger of suspicion points at Kya and lawyer Tom Milton (David Strathairn) agrees to mount a robust defence.

Where The Crawdads Sing evokes an era of suffocating, traditional gender roles, when the concept of racial equality was still fresh on the lips of some sections of American society.

Apart from Kya, townsfolk including Tate and Chase are drawn to serve her overarching plot but don’t leap off the screen as fully formed, morally complex characters.

NOTRE DAME ON FIRE (12A, 110 mins)

Released: July 22 (UK & Ireland, selected cinemas)

A firefighter tackles the flames in Notre Dame On Fire

On April 15, 2019, the Catholic cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris on the banks of the River Seine caught fire during restoration work.

The medieval building suffered catastrophic damage, prompting a government-led plan to restore the tourist attraction to its original design in time for the 2024 Summer Olympic Games, which will be hosted in the French capital.

Celebrated filmmaker Jean-Jacques Annaud directs an incendiary action thriller that relives the events of April 2019 through the eyes of men and women, who put their lives on the line to save the Parisian cathedral.

Using archive footage and previously unseen images as a template, Notre Dame On Fire recreates the efforts of firefighters to contain the blaze on huge sets rebuilt in stunning replica.

The film highlights the struggle to quickly shepherd personnel and equipment through rush-hour Paris traffic and juxtaposes heroics inside the cathedral with events in surrounding streets.

KURT VONNEGUT: UNSTUCK IN TIME (15, 126 mins)

Released: July 22 (UK & Ireland, selected cinemas)

Robert Weide and Kurt Vonnegut in Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck In Time

Indianapolis-born author Kurt Vonnegut gate-crashed mainstream culture with the publication of his acclaimed 1969 anti-war novel, Slaughterhouse-Five.

In 1988, young filmmaker Robert Weide wrote a letter to Vonnegut, proposing an intimate documentary about the writer’s life.

Over the years, the director and his literary idol formed a close bond that extended beyond their intended decades-in-the-making feature.

Co-directed by Don Argott, Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck In Time paints a rich and vibrant portrait of the novelist and philosopher from childhood to his experiences during the Second World War, marriage, divorce and a meteoric rise in literary circles.

Blessed with a wealth of previously unseen footage, the documentary celebrates Vonnegut and Weide’s friendship and the impact of the writer’s legacy.

SHE WILL (15, 96 mins)

Released: Today (UK & Ireland, selected cinemas)

Kota Eberhardt as Desi and Alice Krige as Veronica Ghent in She Will

The Scottish Highlands provide a striking backdrop to a psychological thriller directed by award-winning filmmaker and artist Charlotte Colbert.

Produced by Italian horror maestro Dario Argento, She Will fixates on ageing movie star Veronica Ghent (Alice Krige), who undergoes an unseemly trial by tabloids after a double mastectomy.

Enveloped in bandages, Veronica chooses to escape media speculation about her post-surgery condition by attending a rural retreat with her long-suffering nurse Desi (Kota Eberhardt).

Unfortunately, any thoughts of tranquil recuperation are banished when Veronica and Desi discover their cabin sits on land where artist Tirador (Rupert Everett) runs group activities for like-minded aesthetes.

ROBUST (15, 95 mins)

Released: July 22 (UK & Ireland, selected cinemas)

Art tickles real life when Gerard Depardieu portrays a bombastic French film star in director Constance Meyer’s odd couple drama.

Georges (Depardieu) relies heavily on Lalou (Steve Tientcheu) as his chauffeur, bodyguard and personal assistant as he clings onto the last vestiges of a glittering career in front of the camera.

When Lalou is indisposed, Georges reluctantly places his trust in amateur wrestler Aissa (Deborah Lukumuena) as his new private security guard.

THE DEER KING (15, 120 mins)

Released: July 27 (UK & Ireland, selected cinemas)

Masashi Ando, who worked on landmark animated films including Spirited Away and Your Name, makes his directorial debut with a fantasy adventure co-helmed by Masayuki Miyaji.

Based on the series of fantasy novels penned by Nahoko Uehashi, The Deer King unfolds in the once peaceful land of the Aquafa people, who have been enslaved by the Empire of Zol in the aftermath of a brutal war.

Former soldier Van (voiced by Shin’ichi Tsutsumi) toils in a salt mine controlled by the ruling empire when a pack of wild dogs attacks.

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