The Best of Dorien B 2019 ****

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The title comes from a ancient mix CD that Dorien (Kim Snauwaert) plays in her car to her children, who are none too impressed by their mother’s music. It’s one of a number of caustic scenes in this accomplished first feature from Anke Blondé, a Belgian film with dialogue in Dutch. Dorien’s problems are recognisable enough; her husband Jeroen (Jelle De Beule) is charming, but he’s had an affair and enjoys the company of other women in his workplace. Infidelity is an issue; Dorien’s mother has been cheating on her father, and moves in with Dorien’s family, to her distress. Dorien herself is contemplating an affair with an old acquaintance. And her veterinarian practice, which she inherited from her father, pushes her in directions she doesn’t want to do; she doesn’t like dealing with horses. Dorien is in need of a change; things just aren’t working out for her as they stand. All these problems are dealt with in some way by the narrative here; the screenplay is acerbic, and there’s a few blistering scenes, such as a parents evening that takes an unexpected turn. And Dorein’s martial arts ability takes another scene in an unexpected direction. The Best of Dorien B. is the kind of thoughtful, intelligent film that critics are keen to describe as promising, or that Blondé is ‘one to watch’; the point here is that The Best of Dorien B. is an excellent film in its own right, and not just as a harbinger of something better to come. Snauwaert is terrific in a film that gets right under the skin of the central character, and the punch-line is uncontrived. This kind of careful, observational film is increasingly rare; watch Dorien B. and ask yourself when you last saw a British or American film so in tune to a female central character. British audiences might hark back to Carla Lane’s much loved 1980’s tv show Butterflies, which had a similarly sympathetic, acerbic view of motherhood, but Blondé’s film doesn’t need comparisons; like the central character, it’s got a vibe of its own.

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Room 2015 ****

roomBrie Larson makes the jump to big league acting in Lenny Abrahamson’s intense drama about the relationship between Ma, a kidnapped girl and her son Jack (Jacob Tremblay). Both are held in captivity for years, and Ma and Jack come to form a unique bond as she seeks to protect him from the squalid truth about the room they share. They captor is barely seen, and the abuse he foists on Ma is hinted at rather than seen graphically, but after an intense escape scene, Room settles to examine the damage done to Ma, and how Jack manages to rescue his mother just as she cared for him. Wrongly marketed as a feel-good drama, Room is a dark story about abuse and recovery; it may go to a very dark place indeed, but the two final scenes are life-affirming and incredibly moving. Based on the book by Emma Donoghue.