The signature scene of the science fiction thriller Looper has a stunning simplicity. A man stands in a field with a blunderbuss. He checks his pocket watch. A few yards away, a bare rug lies on the ground. Suddenly a figure materialises out of thin air, kneeling blindfolded on the rug. And the armed man blows him away.
The shooter, more specifically the looper, is named Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and does this for a living. It's 2042. The faceless victims are being sent from 2072 by underworld figures who want their enemies despatched out of their time zone – a very neat way of disposing of the evidence.
It's a brilliant conceit, and I can imagine other films would settle for that, moving onto otherwise predictable action plotlines. Looper's writer-director Rian Johnson has far more ambition, providing a genre film that is constantly inventive, edgy and surprising; more than that, it has an ethical and emotional core. This is very grown-up sci-fi.
In Joe's dystopian world, being a looper is a lucrative occupation, allowing for nice apartments, fast cars and designer drugs. Joe is a hedonistic, shallow loner. But all that is about to change, when the person who appears in the field before him is his future self.
How old Joe (Bruce Willis) escapes being killed by young Joe, and what he wants in his past, are two of many questions begging to be answered. Both Joes will be on the run, at odds with their present and future bosses, the law and each other. Just as we think we have the measure of their dilemma, Emily Blunt appears as the feisty mother of a psychically gifted boy who may hold the key to everything.
Willis has time-travelled before, in Terry Gilliam's Twelve Monkeys. This film slowly develops a similar, melancholy grace. With twists aplenty, action, scary children, a kickass Blunt and Gordon-Levitt channelling Willis behind some very strange make-up, it's quite a trip.
The early films by Leos Carax, Les Amants Du Pont-Neuf among them, marked him out as one of France's most promising directors. But then his output slowed to a crawl. Holy Motors is his first film in 13 years. In its brilliantly bonkers way, it's worth the wait.
Denis Lavant plays Monsieur Oscar, a master of disguise who drives around Paris in a stretch limo, adopting numerous personas. In the course of a day he becomes a leprechaun-like monster who kidnaps a supermodel (Eva Mendes), a killer who murders his own doppelganger, an elderly dying man and an anguished lover (of a pleasingly grave Kylie Minogue).
Though Oscar's purpose is never specified, it appears he is offering an extreme sort of pay per view. The film itself plays like a perverse homage to cinema, with a taste of how it might evolve. There's no denying its imagination and crazy wit, or the genius of Lavant, who is so multi-skilled and chameleon-like that he seems hardly human.
Christian Petzold's Barbara is an understated yet absorbing drama set in Communist East Germany in the 1980s. Having dared to apply for an exit visa to the West, the eponymous Berlin doctor is punished with internal exile to a small country town. While working diligently in the local hospital, and almost certainly under surveillance, she plans her escape. The great German actress Nina Hoss makes aloofness sexy and enigmatic; around her, the director builds tension out of such mundane events as a bicycle ride and a canteen lunch.
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