La Belle Époque – Edinburgh Filmhouse

Written & Directed by Nicolas Bedos

Westworld, but closer to reality, La Belle Époque places the addictive nature of nostalgia at the forefront of its narrative. Posing that this re-enactment of the past has its benefits, but it’s drug-like properties are far from a healthy escape, that the past is pleasurable but has capabilities of crippling the future. When disillusioned artist Victor crosses the path of screenwriter Antoine’s invitation to take part in his ‘time travel’ show, in which wealthy individuals embark on nostalgic trips, Victor uses this as a means to travel back to the 70s’, where he met the love of his life.

And really, the love of his life could arguably be the time-period itself with how Nicolas Bolduc’s cinematography frames the nicotine-stained air permeating Victor’s memories. Theatrical in illusion, there is a tremendous sense of the performance ability on show throughout La Belle Époque. As his God-complex reigns supreme, director and screenwriter turned cupid Guillaume Canet’s character of Antoine offers a dissection of the behind-the-scenes skeleton to movies, theatre and media. Earpieces and set designs, sudden changes to the script and orgy direction – it’s a tough gig.

Canet’s ambition, to re-ignite the creative furnace of Victor’s talent, seems to tie itself into his failed marriage with the Cheshire grinning cheat, Marianne. Fanny Ardant achieves a rarity within romantic comedies. A redemptive arc, from callous, understandable frustrations, to an empathetic character without reversing everything which made Marianne interesting. It comes as no shock, that the love of his life has always been Marianne, and the young woman Victor meets in the café, Margot (Doria Tillier), with whom he falls in love, is a refreshingly engaging performance, echoing Brigitte Bardot or Anna Karina. And who would deny a revisit to the sound score of the best days they had?

In a world in which you could dine with Marie Antoinette, get royally leathered with Ernest Hemmingway, or chat it out with the Third Reich (for whatever reason) the beauty of Nicolas Bedos’ script comes from the sincerity of Victor’s request to not live the life of another, or to piggyback stories, but merely replay his own. Daniel Auteuil’s transformation from beleaguered, pathetic punching bag of a man who resigns himself away from social media and digital dominance into rejuvenation, though reliant on the past, is as humorous as it is charming. His chemistry with all other performers, from lead to side, is exceptional, suggesting a genuine sense of believability as he delves deeper into Antoine’s French cafes and weed dens.

A cautionary word, Bedos’ film is for the sweetest of teeth. Straying from outright happy endings, there are heapings of sepia-tinted sentiment. Keeping La Belle Époque somewhat grounded, Bedos stringently maintains its plot device, refusing to deviate from the narrative mechanics, where so many other romantic-comedies would fall back into a traditional third act structure. The resolution sticks within the boundaries Bedos’ has set-up, a finale which certainly offers a distinct difference from the opposites the genre would habitually fall upon. 

La Belle Époque is perhaps the closest a French romantic-comedic farce will achieve recognition from a Hollywood audience. In certainty, the most recent with pangs of Richard Curtis. It’s this dedication to its plot-devices and characters make Bedos’ film a rousing success of comedic gold, with just enough drama to drive forward our leads. You may leave with toothache, but sometimes an indulgence in sucrose serves to remind us to unburden ourselves of pessimistic attitudes, gander at the past, but continue to move forward with our lives. 

Review originally published for The Wee Review: https://theweereview.com/review/la-belle-epoque/

Becoming Electra: A Queer Mitzvah – The Studio

Directed by Tash Hyman

Written by Isla Van Tricht’s 

A child of Abraham, but all the same a sister queen, actor and drag queen Guy Woolf/Electra Cute and writer Isla Van Tricht’s production not only examines what it means to be open with yourself in the current world, but also explores the impact of religion, family and culture on one’s existence. Becoming Electra: A Queer Mitzvah offers a compelling, humorous storytelling experience exploring a young queer woman’s journey through life, with just a few songs along the way.

Rabbis to the left of her, queer friends to the right, Electra finds herself struggling with the reconciliation of her identity. As well as fretting over explaining to her Jewish family, friends and neighbours her attraction to other women, Electra also worries about her gay friends discovering her cultural heritage and middle-class upbringing. It’s a precarious situation, in an era of supposed acceptance, where scrutiny still lies with attitudes towards anti-Semitic behaviour on a growing scale. Unafraid of fragility, Electra opens herself up to the audience. With her, we move from her days studying the Tanakh with friends to loft-room poetry readings, leading up to one big ol’ Queer Mitzvah celebration, with plenty of surprises.

Becoming Electra combines Woolf’s natural performance ability with Tash Hyman’s direction, which makes for an outgoing piece with a minimalist approach. Relying on ability, rather than spectacle, it allows the intended message to come across clearly without glam or interference. As such, the narrative journey Electra takes is relatable as she shifts around social groups, slowly accepting herself while finding discomfort in leaving behind her past. It’s a refreshing look at the incorporation of God into gender and sexuality, rather than a flat-out rejection of a higher being. 

As you may suspect, comedy plays a substantial part in Van Tricht’s script. Woolf’s drag prowess allows Electra to control a crowd with relative ease. Still, we gain a semblance of the person behind the performance. Woolf is awkwardly charming in his mannerisms as Electra, with extravagant facial expressions as her story culminates with a drunken mother, the free the nipple campaign and a touching connection with her grandfather. You also don’t have to be one of the faith to understand Woolf’s humour. Indeed, even those outside of London can understand the references made by Woof, including mentions to suburbs or shopping centres known for their Jewish communities.

Part of what makes Becoming Electra such a success is Van Tricht and Woolf’s dedication to not merely re-hash covers of songs from or about Jewish musicians, but instead adapt the lyrics and composition to create uniquely entertaining musical interludes. Excluding a sensational climax, which showcases Woolf’s vocals in a way which has been noticeably lacking in projection thus far, a take on the ever classic ‘Reviewing The Situation’ from Oliver! takes the song beyond stereotyping, turning it in on itself. Woolf’s voice here is a soothing affair; enticing, yet natural and refraining from showboating.

L’Chaim! all around for Becoming Electra: A Queer Mitzvah, which captures the party atmosphere but still allows an intimate look into a cross-section of cultures many will only partially connect with or previously know existed. Wholly personal, Woolf communicates with a broad spectrum of people, which works tremendously in the production’s favour. A one-woman drag show, Woolf’s role as Electra offers a glimmer of light in the endless, bleak darkness of hopelessness. It is a sobering, wonderfully warm show.

Review originally published for The Wee Review: https://theweereview.com/review/becoming-electra-queer-mitzvah/

Forget Me Not – Royal Lyceum Theatre

Piano & Conduction by Barrie Kosky

Performed by Komische Oper Berlin 

When it comes to Yiddish culture, it’s true what they say – they made Hollywood. They built Broadway. There is not a composer or lyricist creating today in Western culture who was not, indirectly or otherwise, influenced in some way by Yiddish musicians, singers and composers. A team of three from the Komische Oper Berlin bring the reverence of their entire orchestra to Scotland to pay tribute to Yiddish language and the creators before them.

For a mere 4,000 years, Jewish culture has stood as the oldest monotheistic religion. With this, the Yiddish language is around 1000 years old, though speakers are now significantly lower due to the events of the Second World War. But Forget Me Not – sung in Yiddish with English subtitles – is not about sympathy, nor tear-shedding. Featuring the works of genre-defining composers Abraham EllsteinJoseph Rumshinsky and the lyricist Molly Picon, it is a celebration of the language from Warsaw, to Broadway, and then back again.

Pianist Barrie Kosky kicks off the show with a tone which pervades the evening. His approach generates a familial atmosphere; this is just one extensive gathering of your relatives, friends, and those uncles you never liked. It’s warming, his humour effortless, and the decision to avoid scripted junctions between songs brings a natural rapport with the audience.

Performing arias and occasionally sharing the stage are Alma Sadé and Komische legend Helene Schneiderman. Though both primarily sopranos, Schneiderman teeters into the edges of mezzo-soprano when the occasion calls. Vocally exceptional, the way they perform stands them apart from their peers. Together they take us back to the misery and sarcasm of Yiddish Operetta, spanning film and stage productions from the 1880s to the 1930s.

Scriptures, poems and songs bare the scars of history. Imploring us to keep our mindsets away from 1933, encouragement is still needed to liberate the forgotten music of the Holocaust. Abraham Goldfaden’s Rozhinkes mit mandl’n, or Raisins & Almonds, is a lullaby mothers, sisters and friends would sing to the children in the concentration camps. To describe the beauty this number summons, primarily through the soprano tones of Sadé and Schneiderman, feels inherently wrong, yet this haunting, instilling performance is breathtaking in its gravitas.

It isn’t all tears, however, as a goal of changing the mindset over Jewish history is up for discussion. The Holocaust, always to hold as an example of how far from the path humanity can stray, does not define a people. With this, an appropriate amount of melodramatic comedy is thrust into the audience, swaying the emotional pendulum in the opposite direction. It’s all or nothing this evening. Schneiderman lifts any doldrum slithering into the mindset of the audience from the poignant pieces mentioned. Her louder than life attitude, unequivocally controlling her vocals, reminds us of the celebration aspect in the evening, bringing Yiddish culture to life on stage.

Opera has a grand image of bold, belting numbers. Forget Me Not is of a different calibre, balancing prestige and a sense of humour. Sadé and Schneiderman’s ability to carry the vocals without resulting in bombastic shrieks is testament to their marvellous skill.

Review originally published for Wee Review: https://theweereview.com/review/forget-me-not/