Staff Reviews: Take Shelter and Las Acacias by Martin Barker, Screen Lounge Assistant

Take Shelter

I shall start this review by saying whatever you do, do not take shelter! Wherever you are I want you to come out, come down to the Phoenix, and see this brilliant film. Anyone who has popped into the café lounge recently and has had to listen to me badgering on about films to check out, you will know Take Shelter has been one I have been looking forward to for ages, and it didn’t disappoint.

The film centres on Curtis LaForche (Michael Shannon,) a hard working father and husband who starts to have vivid, horrifying nightmares and visualisations of a storm he feels is coming. He initially tries to ignore these thoughts, though as the nightmares and visualisations start to increase in intensity, Curtis tries everything to try and deal with the problem; reading self help books, visiting a doctor, a councillor and his mother (who at the same age developed paranoid schizophrenia.) Curtis is inevitably drawn into the fear that he is developing the same symptoms. However, as the apocalyptic visions persist, he takes to developing the disused tornado shelter in the backyard so he can protect his wife and daughter, whilst those around him question his sanity.

“Let me think … what have I seen him in again; his face looks familiar…” is a line all too often associated with Shannon, you may have seen him in Vanilla sky, Revolutionary road, Bad Lieutenant or maybe Boardwalk Empire.  A great actor who isn’t often given the leading roles which truly show off his talents, Take Shelter delivers us one of those roles. Shannon perfectly captures the tortured Curtis, trying to care for his family in the tough economic times, he is supported by his caring wife Samantha, played by the always strong Jessica Chastain (The Tree of Life, The Help) and they both work hard for their deaf daughter, developing sign language. Shannon beautifully paces the increased worry and fear of this usually strong blue collar man as he battles this illness he feels coming over him. If you want only one reason to see this film, Shannon is it, and he undoubtedly deserves future leading roles.

Thankfully there are many other reasons to also see this film, one being the director Jeff Nichols. Nichols creates a film which deals beautifully and terrifyingly with the issues of family, community, security and mental illness. The visuals during the storm and nightmare sequences are reminiscent of Terrance Malick, yet considering the relatively low budget of the film, the visuals are stunning and used to incredible effect. I feel the film is paced perfectly, steadily building up the increased pressure and tensions that follow Curtis’ visions leading to a powerful, climatic scene, though for some the film may move too slowly in parts, it is certainly worth sticking with. The very end may split opinion, but it will certainly leave you sitting in your seat thinking.

I shall repeat. Do not take shelter, come and see this film, but be prepared to be blown away by a perfect storm of phenomenal performances, striking visuals and compelling directing.

Las Acacias

Thank you to the customer who urged me to go and see this film with the words “for a long period not much is said, or much happens, but stick with it, I found it very moving and rewarding” and I must say I agree completely with them. I went in not knowing too much about the film or with any real expectations and came out feeling like I had just watched a really gentle, beautiful worthwhile film. How does a film with very little dialogue, between three performers predominantly in a truck for the duration of the film achieve this?

The film is a road movie centred around Rueben (German De Silva,) a lonely haulage driver who has been travelling for years the route from Paraguay to Buenos Aires, transporting wood on his truck. Having been contacted by a friend, he agrees to pick up Jacinta (Hebe Duarte,) a single mother in Paraguay, let her ride along and drop her off in Buenos Aires. Reuben, unaware she will be bringing a baby with her, reluctantly accepts and in silence they sit for the first half of the journey, Reuben not used to travelling with others. As the journey continues they slowly begin to talk and relax and open up, assisted by Reuben’s growing affection towards Anahi (possibly one of the cutest babies of the year), a beautiful 5 month old little girl, the lonely truck driver who has not seen his family for a long time starts to warm to the company on this journey.

I know that plot description seems simple, and it is, but that’s the beauty of the film. It really is just a simple, delicate road movie, there is very little dialogue and very little happens for much of the film. However to quote Leroy Brownlow, “There are times when silence has the loudest voice” and this films knows exactly how to use that silence, in the little looks, the body language, the scenery, the occasional sparse use of dialogue. The film has a simple message of companionship, affection and family. It delivered these themes far better than many films which need hours of dialogue to hammer the point home. Both actors play their roles very naturally, and the direction sometimes feels as if it is never there and that we are simply another passenger in the truck. For this the film is very subtle in its development, but with this comes the reward of the film, there is no big moment where the characters change, instead you feel like you have been with them every small inch of the way.

It’s easy to see why this film has won several international awards, three of them at Cannes. Las Acacias is a subtle, gentle and moving film centred on companionship and family. Life, it has been said is not about the destination, but the journey and I would encourage you to take one with this gem of a film.

Martin Barker works in the café bar and when not struggling to balance your meals from the kitchen to the table or watching films, he enjoys live music and exploring new places.

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