Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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PostPosted: Thu Dec 22, 2022 11:30 pm 
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PREMIRE: SUNDANCE JAN. 2022. US RELEASE: DEC. 23 NYC, JAN. 6 BAY AREA

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BILL NIGHY, AIMEE LOU WOOD IN LIVING

All remakes should be this good

This film is set in 1952 London and focused on a man near retirement working in the London county council public works department who learns he is dying of stomach cancer and has six months to live, nine months at most. At first he abandon's the office and tries distractions: carousing with a louche writer at a seaside resort, then running about with a lively young woman who's just left the office. He also tries to talk to his son and daughter-in-law with whom he lives. None of this works. The film jumps to after Willams' death when it emerges through talk among coworkers that Williams showed nobility and courage in seeing to it that some women's petition, which we've seen being presented fruitlessly in an early scene, was carried out to build a small children's park in a poor part of town. Flashbacks bring home his extraordinary persistence, and show him singing on a swing in the completed park, in the growing darkness, a look of bliss on his face.

If this sounds familiar, then you have probably seen Akira Kurosawa's 1952 film Ikiru, where the dying man is called Mr. Watanabe (Takashi Shimuru). There are obvious differences. Nighy is tall and dashing, even dying. Living is set in the era when British men routinely dressed to the nines: striped suits, stiff collars, tight tie, bowler hat and brolly. The new film, in color, looks handsome, presented in boxy ratio to give it a period look. There is considerable formal beauty and elegance in the cinematography and also a crisp, crackly feel of postwar Britain, diffident, hopeful, eager to please. The dialogue and screenplay are by the Nobel laureate Kazuo Ishiguro (Remains of the Day, Never Let Me Go). One feels that he is incestuously familiar with the original written by Kurosawa with Shinobu Hashimoto and Hideo Oguni, that he has made it his own. But the nattiness and the Britishness and this adaptation's being an elegant period piece help keep one from thinking of the original and making undesirable comparisons.

Robbie Collin of The Telegraph begins his review by saying that "In the long list of films there can be no conceivable need to remake, Ikiru must be somewhere near the top." For me it goes firmly and absolutely at the top, and then some, since Ikiru has long been officially my favorite film. News that a remake had been made was disquieting. But I was sent a screener early by Sony, and had it before I even knew it and began watching it without thinking. You might say it caught me a little off guard. I liked it and found it exquisite and elegant. I admired Bill Nighy's marvelously restrained performance, especially coming from a cutup like him, and was delighted by two younger actors, Alex Sharp as Peter Wakeling, a a cheerful newcomer at the office with a fresh point of view, and Aimee Lou Wood as Margaret Harris, the young woman Williams pursues for a while, somewhat unhealthily, for her life force. This film adds a romance between Peter and Margaret at the end. One felt perhaps Ishiguro was making up for the sad repression of the butler on Remains of the Day. This version perhaps spells out its positive message more explicitly than it needs to. I confess as the louche writer, Sutherland, Tom Burke gave me the creeps, because his role as the posh heroin addict in The Souvenir still hovers over him.

The choice of setting the new film in the year of the original, seventy years ago, and thus making it a period film, is paradoxical, because Ikiru is one of the relatively rare Kurosawa films that was not in costume but set in ordinary clothes in the present. The clothes are drab in Ikiru. Mr. Watanabe is bent over into a pathetic parody of Japanese humility. This makes the strength that he finds in his last days the more striking. But Nighy is too good an actor and this is too dedicated a performance by him for the courage and persistence not to emerge out of his different characterization as well. And Ishiguro's evocation of the moment of postwar Britain and the pleasing look the filmmakers' give the scenes are simply pleasurable in themselves. This is not nostalgia. It's something very like art. Despite my subconscious impulse to hate this version, Hermanus' Living is exquisite. Let's have no remake of this remake! It's perfect as it is.

Living, 102 mins., debuted at Sundance Jan. 22, 2022 and was shown in at least 19 or 20 other international festivals, including Venice, Telluride, Toronto, Zurich, Rio, the Hamptons, London and Vienna. The US theatrical release begins on Dec. 23, 2022 (New York) and Jan. 6, 2023 (San Francisco). The Metacritic rating is 81%.

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