'Is there a more commanding screen presence than Isabelle Hubbert?' asks Mark Kermode in The Guardian, when critiquing this movie. To which I can answer, yeah, I think there is. I think Macaulay Culkin had more presence in Home Alone I and II, and even in his somewhat inferior Richie Rich. Vin Diesel, too, had his moments in Pitch Black. Dolph Lundgren in Rocky IV. Mr T in Rocky III. Mickey the trainer in all his Rockymovies had more presence. But then, those films were decent.
This was my first time at Edinburgh's Filmhouse and I was surprised. I'm used to the shabby chic charm of the Cameo, which never seems full so I can always find a chair to sit and read, and the queue to the bar never takes more than a minute. The Filmhouse, though, as I discovered, is in a trendier part of town, a Lothian Road filled with stylish restaurants and bars. I took my friend Yesi along, and she noted the clientele were different too. "They're all rich," she whispered. The Filmhouse, then, is the bigger, more luxurious sibling to the Cameo. As we mixed it with Edinburgh's high society in the queues that took much longer, and every table occupied, we felt a little out of our depth.
The staff are friendly, I should add, just like in the Cameo. The prices are similar. And the films are equally outside the Hollywood mainstream. My earlier comments about the aristocratic profile of the customers is also a bit exaggerated, there were lots of well-dressed people (to my eyes) but it's not like you'll be walking into a Jane Austen novel, or even the Oscars. It was also Saturday night, so probably the cinema was at its busiest. I should basically stop complaining. The Filmhouse is a smart cinema, well-known and well-attended. I can imagine JK Rowling attending this cinema, and Nicola Sturgeon too, though perhaps not together. I shouldn't make assumptions, though, even if their positions on Scotland's political autonomy are opposite. There are other things to talk about. Other things like the film Things to Come.
Why was I so underwhelmed? Yes, I had next to me a friend who was becoming visibly bored after the first fifteen minutes, somnambulant even, and this can affect you. But here's the problem: it's a film which fails to ignite. For example, it doesn't exploit its quasi-exploration of the world of philosophy. It's there in the background, the protagonist is a slightly washed-up philosophy lecturer unsympathetic with a student strike outside. She has a platonic relationship with an ex-student which fails to spark, or become interesting. She tells him she's not radical, and he seems bored with her. They drift apart, though the intellectual relationship is slight, superficial. What is it she believes in? I don't remember ever finding out, despite the film's frequent set up of scenes involving the promotion of philosophy books or ideas. At one point she goes to a retreat in the mountains to hang out with the handsome ex-student and his radical companions. The main focus is on the cat. Every time the cat came into focus, I could hear members in the audience around me cooing with excitement. The cat became more interesting than whatever these radicals were murmuring just beyond earshot.
Perhaps I missed the point of this film, its statement being: leave radicalism to the young, it's not important anyway, they're only talking shit in mountain retreats and it won't lead to anything. What's important is – if you're a single woman in your forties or older – get a cat, or have grandchildren. This was the poignant final scene of the movie: the lecturer (having left her cat at the mountain retreat) tells her family to keep eating while she goes to the other room to tend to the crying baby. This slightly dried up, intellectually obsolete woman, abandoned by her husband, finally finds meaning in her life, through her grandchild. To conclude: a film without any intellectual heft while posing with it, and a personal story of shoulder-shrugging, bourgeois uneventfulness.