Just like “Mojo” (“Soho”), which I talked about a few issues ago,
“Metroland” delves into the recent past to give a key to reading the present. The mediocre section “British Renaissance”, which plays host to this film by the British TV director Philip Saville, stays afloat thanks only to the excellent “TwentyFourSeven”. Neither Antonia Bird with “Face” or the storm in a teacup “Wilde” can do anything to convince me that there is a real “British Renaissance” despite what you might read in the magazines written by corrupt critics….
Let me take a step back because as I write I’m having a rethink about
“Metroland” and maybe it’s not as bad as the beginning of the article makes it out to be. Mediocre, yes, mediocre is the best word to describe a well-intended film which barely achieves what it sets out to. Chris and Tony are two young men who have been friends since childhood. Trapped in the suburbs of London, they loath the British middle class and dream of smoky Parisian jazz clubs. Before the ’70s, they run away; Chris to Paris and Tony who knows where.
They meet up again later at the beginning of the 80’s after Chris has got to know art, a sexually uninhibited French woman and then an
English woman, Marion, who he returns to Metroland with. Tony is back and he seems not to have changed at all; free, rebellious, anti-middle-class and anti-conformist. Chris on the other hand is married with a daughter, a car and a mortgage and his artistic side of his photography has taken a back seat to his commercial work for.
Their reunion seems fatal for Chris who tries to go back to how they were ten years before. A punk concert, a drunken night, an unsuccessful fling make the new Chris loose control of his relationship with his wife and the wild ’70s. Chris begins to have doubts about his choices and his wife swings between disapproval and fascination for something that she has never really experienced at first hand. “You’ve turned out just like the parents you hated” says
Tony to Chris, “He’s jealous of you and your life” says Marion to
Chris. “You become what you fight against” is the saying that inspired Pavill who found fertile ground on which to cultivate his project in the novel of the same name by Julian Barnes.
The simmering atmosphere of London and the fascination of the Paris of that period set the scene for three actors who play their parts with honesty. Emily Watson, who plays the “slightly touched” Beth in
“Breaking the waves” stands out among the cast and manages to rid herself to a certain extent of a character who could cause her problems in the future. The other characters are Christian Bale as
Chris and Lee Ross (a double for Vincent Gallo) as Tony.
The film is enjoyable, well-paced and colourful and the Parisian interval, despite a few avoidable banalities, does not cause any great disturbance. But “Metroland” doesn’t leave a lasting impression and once you’ve left the cinema you start thinking about the next film on the programme rather what you’ve just seen. It seems that the English want to show us a cultural and social retro that we are already familiar with, we are after all consumers of all things “British”, even if there is a certain delay. Maybe, and this has also come to mind just now, my judgement of “Metroland” suffers from its inclusion in a section that promised a lot but left nearly everyone disappointed. Even if the English continue to lead the way in music, fashion and society maybe that’s not the case yet for the cinema, at least from what I can gather from this selection. Was Oscar Wilde the first modern man? Is Harold Pinter’s theatre still performed with success? Was the 18th century in England unique and unrepeatable?
Maybe it’s all true, but maybe we already know it. The road that was opened up for British cinema by the brilliant “Trainspotting” has been badly interpreted by both by the generational films cloned from the original and by other directors despite intentions otherwise.
I was disappointed not to get to see “Regeneration”, which was also part of this section, but then, given what I’ve said above…