Friday, January 27, 2017

Sundance with Abe: Their Finest

I’m thrilled to be attending and covering the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah for the fourth time. I’ll be seeing as many movies as I can and offering reviews throughout the week.

Their Finest
Directed by Lone Scherfig

Propaganda is usually a bad word. The Nazis, in particular, were well known for their effective usage of this tool, and other totalitarian nations today keep their populace at bay by circulating false or incorrectly-framed material designed to glorify the government and vilify an enemy. Propaganda, can, however, be a positive thing, when used to bolster the attitude and morale of a people at war or in crisis and keep their hopes up for the future.

Catrin (Gemma Arterton) interviews for a secretarial position with the British government during World War II and finds herself hired to write “women's dialogue,” also known as “slop,” for films made to help the war effort, with writer Tom (Sam Claflin). Production soon begins on an outlandish retelling of a heroic rescue mission Catrin hears about, starring a vain veteran British actor (Bill Nighy) and a hapless American soldier (Jake Lacy), and her own embellishment of the truth is far from its most exaggerated part.

"Their Finest" comes from director Lone Scherfig, whose first major film, "An Education," was a huge hit at Sundance eight years ago. Scherfig knows how to tell female-centric stories well, and here she positions Catrin as an independent woman who takes a job to support her struggling artist husband (Jack Huston) but keeps it because she values her work. The times are against her, as she is explicitly told that they "can't pay her as much as the chaps, of course," and she must continually fight to be taken seriously.

This film could well be termed a comedy because of the lighthearted - and absurd - nature of the film-within-a-film that is being made. Yet there is a backdrop of war and constant uncertainty, as the ground begins to shake and everything can change in an instant. This film succeeds best when it features its more comic elements, like the hilarious Nighy, and in its portrayal of the banter-driven relationship between Catrin and Tom. Its 130-minute runtime is a bit on the long side, and it's possible that not every scene in the film was vital to its story. As a portrayal of a strong-willed woman determined to be heard, however, this is another fine showcase for Scherfig.


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