Monstrus Circus

Directed by Jordan Inconstant

France / 2019 / 29 mins

What makes a monster, and what makes the man? This is an ancient artistic trope which finds itself in a variety of art, literature and media, perhaps nowhere quite like the circus. Winner of five Gold Movie AwardsMonstrus Circus takes this trope and brings it to the Highlands of Scotland to blend an archaic story-telling narrative with unique visuals, stylistic camera work and sublime colour use.

Leonard, a magician, has the idea to set-up a circus of freaks in Scotland. Together with clown Auguste (who is portrayed by director Jordan Inconstant) the band of hypnotists, strong-men and vampiric opera singers make for just beside Loch Ness. Unable to see the beauty in others, Edgar Finnigan (Louis Donval) finds himself at the raw-end of Leonard’s magic. This modern fantasy fuses traditional moral lessons with a contemporary message of acceptance.

In a way their feature-length counterparts often shy from, short films are pre-eminent in their experimentation. While Jordan Inconstant’s direction stays reasonably safe with narrative, the team find plenty to play with in terms of visuals, cinematography and Sylvain Ott’s musical composition. The interior shots take place in France, including warm set dressing alluding to classic fantasy, while exterior shots take place in Scotland, notably on the Isle of Skye. Upon seeing The Old Man of Storr, Inconstant captures Scotland in a manner only those with a profound love for the country are able.

With drone footage, which offers the wide, sweeping shots desirable to showcase the landscape, they achieve a tremendous accomplishment. Given the unreliability of weather, Monstrus Circus brings a calmness to the climate of Skye. The excitement in visuals lies in the framework for shots, with the odd Dutch angle sneaking into the film. A variety of shots are played with, knowing where to draw focus or distort our perception.

How can we identify a distinctively French creative team behind a production? Just look at the colour palette. Monstrus Circus, above all, is a mesmerically charming piece to watch, chiefly down to its triatic colour design which emphasises distinctive tones against the tempered (though striking) Scottish landscape. It causes the fluorescent yellows of the circus tent to leap out against the broad strokes of black waters of the loch. In truth, it rings of Goddard’s Contempt (1963) or Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Amelie (2001), saturating the screen to an extent, without straying into garish.

Especially with Jeunet, Monstrus Circus finds itself firmly in the fantastical genre of film making. While this reinforces both the plot and colour scheme, it also lends itself to the visuals which comprise scrupulous VFX shots, putting large-scale productions to shame. There is indeed the odd snippet where we can see the technology behind the magic, but for the most part, a tremendous level of proficiency is at work for the special effects. The transformation of the base of Castle DunBroch into the circus tent is so skillfully done, for example, that the resulting illusion is just as impressive as the majestic castle itself.

When entering the fantastical, any effects need a tangible reality. With reliance on graphics for contemporary fairy-tales and science fiction, the uncanny valley draws too close. Monstrus Circus, however, finds that sublime balance between necessary computer visuals and special-effects make-up. Characters’ freakish forms, chiefly made-up of seven hours worth of make-up, showcase how dedication, ingenuity and a working relationship with computer effects can heighten the overall intent.

Our Auld Alliance is alive and breathing; with a distinctive French heart amidst the Scottish visage, it is a union of enchantment. Monstrus Circus is a testament to the experimental nature of short-filmmaking and how its creator’s talents know few boundaries – c’est magnifique!

Review originally published for Wee Review:

Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love

Directed by Nick Broomfield

USA/ 2019/ 102 mins

CalliopeDora MaarPatti SmithGala Dalí and yes, Rhianna all share one thing in common. To one person or a number, they are Muses; inspirational figures who evoke artistic passion into (largely male) writers, painters, sculptors and astronomers. Nick Broomfield’s documentary Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love superficially excavates a 50-year relationship between an artist and his muse.

The Leonard on which Broomfield focuses is the one and only Leonard Cohen. The Canadian singer, poet, novelist and the man behind ‘Hallelujah’, undoubtedly his most well-known song. Marianne Ihlenwas, not only for Cohen, a Norwegian Muse and mother. She was Cohen’s lover, friend and inspiration for ‘So Long, Marianne‘.  His use of the term ‘Words of Love’ ties to various aspects of the documentary, more so than one would first expect. The letters the pair would send to one another, and the songs she would inspire. Despite top-billing, Nick Broomfield’s documentary retains focus on Cohen, with Marianne’s input slinking in and out of focus. His theory seems to derive from her impact rather than the women herself.

From their meeting on the isle of Hydra, we leave Marianne behind as Cohen propels his career into the lands of drugs, sex and religious monasteries. While creating a documentary principally on Cohen, Broomfield intentionally weaves the isle itself into the narrative. Not only examining the pair but Marianne’s influence on other people and the impact she had. A chief success is Broomfield’s brutal discussion on the essence of island life, and those left behind by the sixties counterculture of free love.

Presentation for the production is primarily archive footage and audio clips from numerous sources, chiefly the BBC. One appealing aspect of the documentary is new interviews with the likes of Judy Collins and Ron Cornelius. These offer a substantial reason for fans of Cohen to watch the documentary, and for those unfamiliar, they are the nearest to real engagement we receive. Floating questions, Broomfield allows them to flow into their own stories, allowing for clear answers to the subject, but offhand jokes, stories and insights.

As you watch, you’re forgiven for asking where Ihlen is. Broomfield seems to relegate the driving force of the film into the background. She ebbs and flows, never being too prominent in the documentary. The audio clips and footage, when brought into use, are touching and quite often the documentary’s legitimate points. Perhaps intentionally, she is kept to shadows. Ihlen is not a permanent fixture for these men, but instead, her input is more akin to an occasional guide. Broomfield may place her in high respects but pays respect to the woman as more than a muse. As a mother, friend and human.

Broomfield has an auteurist habit of placing himself within his work, nowhere more so than Marianne & Leonard. Evidently, due to his close involvement with the pair, openly stating his previous position as a lover of Marianne. It’s no wonder that this elevates the documentary outside of the realistic realms. There’s a definite sense of pedestalling both Ihlen and Cohen, the former especially.

There is no doubt in the poignancy of the documentaries deeply compassionate scenes. It’s ending leaps, beyond touching into an earnest look at genuine humanity. Few and far between, small islands of sincerity exist in an ocean of inconclusive intention. Fuelling Broomfield’s documentary is a deep intimacy. It’s a documentary which, despite its namesake, feels less a study on the closeness of the pair or Marianne’s impact and instead, a condensing of Cohen’s life. Broomfield achieves tremendous heart, moments of genuine emotion but frustration in the direction taken.

Review originally published for Wee Review:

Late Night – Edinburgh Filmhouse

Directed by Nisha Ganatara

Written by Mindy Kaling


There’s an issue with American media (in the movie, far too many in real life). One of the highest-rated talk shows ain’t down with the kids. Viral-free, Tweet-free and with a revulsion of shameless reality star guests, Late Night finds national treasure, Emma Thompson, playing Katherine Newbury.

With more Emmys and Golden Globes than most people have silverware, Katherine hits out within a male-dominated field. Her issue? The show sucks. Seeking help, chief writer Brad hires Molly for diversity, played by Mindy Kaling who also writes the film.

Thompson does a tremendous turn in deflecting away from Meryl Streep’s Miranda Priestly of Devil Wears Prada fame. Her portrayal of Newbury is in essence far closer to that of David Letterman’s later years hosting. Her tongue is scathing, her emotions quite raw when a vulnerability is right for the occasion. Without question, the films steadfast assets are Thompson and Kaling, who elevate an otherwise decent flick into an earnest comedy which has a weighty degree of commentary.

As a diversity hire, Molly faces three key hurdles: she’s not white, has zero experience and she hasn’t got a dick. We avoid drudging into the tropes of an old genre. Kaling’s writing, no doubt relating to her time on The Office as the only female writer in its infancy, takes a concept and elevates it into a respectable, and thankfully humorous premise. Molly is the reverse of Katherine: highly strung, anxious and emotionally super-charged.

Behind the laughs, Late Night looks into what a female anchor can draw attention to, which her male colleagues couldn’t. When it seems to be heading into a predictable route, a few sharp turns take us away. Drenching itself into the discourses of ethnic hiring and slut-shaming, Kaling doesn’t go for the climax we would expect. In a well thought out manoeuver, they choose a realistic end in favour of an accessible ‘moral win’.

You can’t shake off a hunch that two incarnations of the film were in production. Kalin’s, and the other which was for trailer shots and to keep the studio content. Where Late Night wants to, it can draw blood with a smirk. In the next scene, however, it can slip back into areas which feel watered-down. Kalin sets them up, Thompson strikes the performance out there, but little resonates from the rest of the film.

With much construction on character, the cinematography is not a focus. Moments do come, when lighting is toyed with to heighten emotional states, particularly in the ‘reveal’ and the suffering which follows. It leads to the framing of a tender moment between Thompson and her husband, played by John Lithgow, who, as you would expect, is utterly adorable. It’s a scene which serves as evidence that there’s a solid, emotional film hiding beneath the sniggering and smirks.

Late Night requires a touch re-working (ironically) at the writer’s table. There are a few awkward one-liners, which feel like pulled punches. The duo of Kaling and Thompson are the force of this movie. Together, they spark, bouncing from each other, accentuating the talents of the other. It’s a partnership which we would eagerly watch again, the two showing without much effort that they can bring the fight to the old boys of comedy.

Review originally published for Wee Review: