By Chris Wallace
It’s a golden season for film posters. Let’s hope the films are as good.
The poster for The Debt starring Helen Mirren and Sam Worthington has a sensational close up of Mirren filling its top half. She’s wearing cool sunglasses, head tilted down with a serious look signaling the weighing up of difficult choices, sleek hair swept back in the breeze. She’s thinking about whether to blow up a bank, perhaps, or withdraw a critical line of credit from a teetering mid-sized European country, or whether to fire the editor of an influential financial newspaper she owns – something like that. No idea what the film is really about but I’ll be seeing it because of that poster.
Similarly the poster for The Eye of the Storm. Graphically, it’s weaker than The Debt poster but again the eye is drawn by its top half being given over to a head shot of an aging but magnificent, fur-draped Charlotte Rampling, a vase of florid dusky pink roses just out of focus in the background. What a film! Fred Schepisi directing the film of the Patrick White novel with a cast that includes Judy Davis and Geoffrey Rush as well as Rampling – have I died and gone to heaven?
The poster for Submarine is another winner. The unknown but intriguing protagonist is pictured in his school uniform, head poking out over an overlay of transparent cyan blue. The title in a Futura-style font runs simply across the top, Sub in yellow, mar in blue and ine in red: primary colours. There’s no particular reason it should work so well but it does, in a vaguely similar vein to the way the Amelie poster worked so well a few years ago despite Audrey Tatou being little known at the time.
The Submarine poster unfortunately, however, contains a few porkies. “The best British comedy in years”, trumpets one quote. In the other: “Hilarious. A triumphantly brilliant movie.” The names of the publications these quotes come from are in tiny letters – Shortlist and Dazed & Confused respectively. Never heard of them. You’d expect side-splitting slapstick comedy on the basis of those quotes when, in fact, Submarine is a sensitive coming-of-age film with the occasional laugh, and even then a poignant one.
Why not exploit some of the truthful marketing angles instead, like the soundtrack by Arctic Monkey’s principal Alex Turner? It’s great. Or Noah Taylor’s stary turn as the protagonist’s depressed oceanographer father, bookending his own youthful coming-of-age film role in the John Duigan-directed The Year My Voice Broke (1987)?
The stillness of Taylor’s performance in Submarine, the quiet, pained determination with which he faces each day at work and at home depressed and in survival mode, is so convincing one wonders whether he’s actually experienced it. There’s no wondering with Mel Gibson in the Jodie Foster-directed The Beaver, however, Gibson’s ravaged face a record of wrestling with demons for years, of winning some bouts and losing many others too.
Poor Jodie Foster. How would you go about producing a poster for a film about a suicidally depressed businessman and father whose survival involves sticking a beaver puppet on his left arm, living with it 24/7 and communicating with the world exclusively through it? I haven’t seen the poster and I’m not looking it up. How did she get the film funded? Why did anyone go to see it?
Foster and Gibson had terrific chemistry in Maverick (1994) and she co-stars with him in The Beaver. She likes him. Watching the brainy Yale-educated lesbian actor-director interacting with the NIDA-educated rampagingly heterosexual alcoholic, sometime anti-semite and occasionally wifebeating Gibson – yes, I wanted to see how that worked out.
Finally I saw The Beaver on a plane this week. The audio was bad but I got the gist. The lovemaking was democratic but the beaver puppet got increasingly in the way. In the end, Foster and the kids had to pack up and leave. When someone is truly mad there’s no other way, and Gibson’s “Walter” is genuinely mad.
Like Submarine, critics looked for humour in The Beaver then damned it when they didn’t find any, saying the film fell between two stools. The Beaver isn’t funny and isn’t meant to be. It’s a sensitive and, given the set-up, surprisingly convincing portrayal of a family rent asunder by mental illness. One day scientists will get the neuroscience fully sorted and the world’s Walters will be well and living at home peacefully with their families. That day is not with us yet.
This first appeared in the Canberra Times on 10 September, 2011