10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Michael Winterbottom's wondrous modern masterpiece,
This review is from: Wonderland [DVD] (DVD)
This is one of my very favourite films... a fantastic work of social-realist drama that could, very easily be listed amongst the top-five best British films of all time. It presents a depiction of contemporary London that has nothing to do with the cosy fabrication of Richard Curtis, with director Michael Winterbottom instead creating a bleak, alienated intimacy, through the use of roving handheld cameras and rapid cuts, always moving from one character to the next, fragmenting relationships through the use of editing and composition... literally painting characters into the corner of the scene by bringing the lens right up close to their pained, disenchanted faces. It's the perfect visual accompaniment to this kind of story, which focuses on the disparate relationships of three south-London sisters over the course of one long and frantic winter weekend.
It ties in nicely with the themes of isolation, boredom and despair found in the director's other key works, most notably, the brutal killers on the road film Butterfly Kiss and the twitching and perverse I Want You, though with the attention to character depth and personal detail that was so prevalent in his TV adaptation of Roddy Doyle's Family. There are also some broad allusions made to the films of Robert Altman, particularly in the way that each character and their individual story thread interweave, back and forth, throughout the film, similar to Short Cuts. However, whereas Altman is often flippant and cynical about the worlds that he creates, Winterbottom's film instead adopts a sense of bleak-beauty, with the notion of despair and isolation giving way to a kind of romanticism for the desolation of the London streets - with their colourful neon lights and blurred bustle of people - whilst the whole film is further lifted into the heavens through the use of Michael Nyman's subtly poetic score... which, somehow, punctuates the anguish of the journey that these characters have to take.
Most of the characters come across as entirely believable, aided by the unpretentious script by Lawrence Coriat and standout performances from much of the ensemble cast, including Winterbottom regulars Shirley Henderson, John Simm and David Fahm, as well as Molly Parker, Gina McKee, Stuart Townsend and, in particular, Ian Hart (though it's probably wrong to pick favourites with a film of this nature). Despite the hand-held 16mm photography, with it's grainy imagery and natural light, the film still manages to create a sense of beauty, with the director and his cinematographer using the naturally colourful exteriors of the various high-streets and side-streets, in which the drama develops, whilst the use of a cinemascope lens gives the film an epic sense that jars beautifully against the claustrophobic, highly intimate nature of the script. The influence of von Trier's Breaking the Waves is apparent, as is the visual imprint of Wong Kar-Wai's work, particularly Days of Being Wild and Chunking Express, not just in terms of the cinematography, performance and editing, but also in the way that both filmmakers create an energy and an inner-city vibrancy to undercut the bleakness so central to these character's lives.
Winterbottom's direction here is excellent, as he creates something of a contemporary, cosmopolitan ghost story... only here, the ghosts are still trying to survive. His sense of pace when it comes to the story, and his use of movement, lighting and composition (not to mention the way he uses Nyman's music... probably the best example of how Nyman should work alongside the images since Greenaway's The Draughtsman's Contract in 1982) is, as far as British cinema goes, completely unrivalled. As recent films go Wonderland is as affecting, interesting, astounding and accomplished as any I can recall off the top of my head, offering a nice anecdote to the toothless depiction of England in many (more financially successful) films of the same era, and offers us an example of amazing direction, performance and writing in an intimate character based story that doesn't require kid-friendly mythology and CGI hobbits to appear interesting.
I consider Wonderland to be one of the very best British films of the last decade, if not of all time, with Winterbottom creating the perfect depiction of inner-city loneliness, and a personal odyssey into the heart of darkness to rival Mike Leigh's similarly claustrophobic film, Naked (what is it with filmmakers from the North West really bringing out the seedy and desolate side of the nation's capital?). Though it may be a little depressing for some viewers, I still feel that this film is an essential modern masterpiece.