Loving (12A, 123 mins, ★★★) is the true story of Richard and Mildred Loving, the Virginia couple whose legal case in the late 1950s – which challenged the criminalisation of their mixed-race marriage – proved a landmark in the fight for civil rights. Writer-director Jeff Nichols is on home turf here as his previous films, including Take Shelter and Midnight Special, have been located in America’s South and Midwest and placed everyday people in extraordinary circumstances.
His flair for cinematic aesthetics comes very much to the fore, whether it’s the beautiful long shots of the glistening countryside or the crisp close-ups of Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga, who give restrained and subtle performances in the leading roles. In unfolding the story, which involves arrests, clandestine meetings and growing media interest in the case, Nichols also does well to avoid grandstanding or hectoring the audience.
Yet as Loving enters its final act, with the case heading to the Supreme Court, the drama needs to escalate and explode. Unfortunately, it fails to do so. Perhaps Nichols was simply staying true to the real-life story – as the Lovings isolate themselves in their farmhouse and refuse to attend the court hearing – but this leaves the film, literally and metaphorically, with nowhere to go.
The court proceedings are skimmed over, with fraught chats packed with exposition making up the bulk of the remaining screen time. It feels like a Greek play with all the proper action taking place elsewhere. Loving tells an important story with precision and care, but fails to properly catch fire.
Toni Erdmann (15, 162 mins, ★★★★), meanwhile, is truly something to behold. A German tragi-comedy about an ageing practical joker trying to make peace with his high-flying daughter, clocking in not too far short of three hours, might not sound like the recipe for a fun night down at your local multiplex, but it’s a bizarre gem.
Admittedly, it might be too far out for some, but Maren Ade, who both writes and directs, has, I’m certain, pulled off a remarkable cinematic feat. Peter Simonischek is superb as Winfried Conradi, who later takes on the guise of life coach Toni Erdmann.
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