Friday 20 July 2012

Odd couples: "In Your Hands" and "Swandown" (ST 22/07/12)

In Your Hands (15) 81 mins **
Swandown (12A) 93 mins ***

With 2008’s slowburning I’ve Loved You So Long and 2010’s spiky Leaving, Kristin Scott Thomas was appointed high queen of summer counterprogramming, a one-woman alternative to superheroes. The crown certainly fits: the actress’s translucent skin makes the ideal carapace for a refined, restrained performance style that prioritises deeply-held, semi-concealed thoughts and feelings over bold shows of action. The po-faced In Your Hands, an odd coupling of captivity horror and relationship drama, depends more than most on this vulnerability: Scott Thomas plays Anna, a nervy doctor who walks into a Parisian gendarmerie and begins to describe her kidnap by a wild-eyed, wild-haired loon (Pio Marmaï) with a grudge.

As the heroine’s ordeal is revealed in flashbacks, Lola Doillon’s film shrinks to the dimensions of a theatrical huis clos. Captor humiliates captive, she responds with tenderness, the pair come to co-exist, and we’re shuffled towards the dangerous insinuation that a singleton like Anna might just be glad of the attention. Scott Thomas has a real challenge on her hands here – to show an ostensibly rational woman striving to normalise aberrant behaviour – and while she resists the set-up’s more lurid possibilities, she can’t make it grip dramatically in the way those earlier vehicles did. Concluding limply after 81 minutes, In Your Hands feels less like a credible narrative than a writer-director tentatively playing out her domination fantasies: Fifty Shades of Grey may have more to answer for than we thought.

The counterprogramming keeps on coming. The art-film hybrid Swandown offers the divertingly bizarre prospect of filmmaker/artist Andrew Kötting (besuited, when not shirtless) and writer Iain Sinclair (wrapped up warm in waterproofs and thinking cap) liberating a swan-shaped pedalo from the Hastings seafront and piloting it inland towards the Olympic site. From the riverbank, the camera looks on, awed, amused, attuned to the changing scenery, while the soundscape ebbs and flows with the tides, free-associating songs, stray Sinclairisms, the Shipping Forecast, scraps of old Albion. A Trigger Happy TV sketch with extended footnotes, it requires a level of indulgence – certain stretches of this route are more engaged and engaging than others – but it’s almost unimprovably English in its mix of cheeky larks, muted protest and melancholy, and provocative enough to suggest future ventures in a similar vein. Something with Alain de Botton on the dodgems at Blackpool, perhaps? Gilbert and George Do Crazy Golf?

In Your Hands and Swandown are on selected release.

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