Black Comedy, Black Deeds

First came Thomas Hardy’s Far From The Madding Crow, which recently inspired the popular graphic novel by Posy Simmonds. Now adapted for the silver screen, Tamara Drewe is a modern black comedy that owes more to the sexy spirit of Bridget Jones than the bleak moralism of Hardy. Ex-Bond girl Gemma Arterton (Quantum of Solace) stars as the titular Tamara, who is returning in triumph to her tiny hometown in Devon. Although she left as an ugly duckling — mostly due to a schnozz the size of a teacup — some rhinoplasty and a glam job as a lifestyle journalist in London have transformed Tamara into a confident and desirable beauty.

Gemma Arterton does lots of snogging as Tamara Drewe

Gemma Arterton does lots of snogging as Tamara Drewe

Thomas Hardy unwrapped,

the Jackal wrapped up

First came Thomas Hardy’s Far From The Madding Crow, which recently inspired the popular graphic novel by Posy Simmonds. Now adapted for the silver screen, Tamara Drewe is a modern black comedy that owes more to the sexy spirit of Bridget Jones than the bleak moralism of Hardy. Ex-Bond girl Gemma Arterton (Quantum of Solace) stars as the titular Tamara, who is returning in triumph to her tiny hometown in Devon. Although she left as an ugly duckling — mostly due to a schnozz the size of a teacup — some rhinoplasty and a glam job as a lifestyle journalist in London have transformed Tamara into a confident and desirable beauty.

She’s in town to sell the home of her recently-deceased mom, but soon gets dragged into various social and sexual encounters with lovers old (her first boyfriend, who broke up with her but still carries a torch) and new (the obnoxious drummer for a hugely popular band who Tamara interviews, first vertically and then horizontally). Many of the laughs come courtesy of a nearby writers’ retreat, where the handful of deluded wannabes includes an author of “lesbian crime fiction” and a creatively constipated academic. These earnest goofs are struggling to polish their lumpy prose under the pompous eye of host and mentor Nicholas, a wildly successful mystery novelist who is equally accomplished at committing adultery under the nose of his too-nice wife, Beth. And by the time Tamara is on the romantic rebound and takes up with Nicholas, several of the film’s principals are due for a major shake-up sparked by an unexpected and blackly amusing tragedy.

Taking place over four seasons, this update of the English pastoral tradition makes for some witty if rather obvious social satire, with the script providing lots of opportunity for director Stephen Frears (The Queen, High Fidelity) to indulge his taste for the sardonic. Lightweight though it is, Drewe is certainly entertaining, providing laughs about everything from the clash of city-country values to its many characters who are deluded about love, life and literature.

Venezuelan-born Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, better known as Carlos the Jackal, had a long run as a terrorist who murdered with ruthless impunity on behalf of various Islamic causes. Probably the world’s most high-profile terrorist until Osama bin Laden, Carlos first achieved notoriety for a 1975 raid on an OPEC meeting in Vienna in 1975 when three people were killed. He went on to conduct attacks against various Western targets for two decades, gradually being turfed out of one-time safe havens like Syria and Libya as geopolitics shifted after the collapse of the USSR. Captured in Sudan in 1994 and flown to France to answer charges for an early triple murder, Carlos is currently serving a life sentence there.

His nasty, violent career is effectively portrayed in the European-made Carlos, which is a shortened, theatrical-release version of what was originally a TV mini-series running for nearly six hours. The film starts in Paris in 1973, as the increasingly radical Ilich decides that his dream of a global assault on capitalism demands actions, not words. “Behind every bullet we fire there will be an idea,” he declares with venomous passion. While working with everyone from Palestinians to Russians, Iraqis to East Germans (a couple of his female German accomplices are astonishingly rabid), the fearless Carlos gradually learns to be more cunning and strategic with his assassinations. He also grows through an arc from fearsome idealist to despairing cynic, as his world shrinks and he realizes his death warrant has certainly been signed.

Édgar Ramírez (The Bourne Ultimatum), a fellow Venezuelan, is persuasive as the brutally self-confident assassin, effectively portraying all facets of this repulsive yet compelling character. The film itself, directed by Olivier Assayas (Summer Hours), achieves a grubby realism due to its hand-held camerawork and deliberate lack of slickness. With its shortened running time of 160 minutes it is easy to see spots where the storytelling is jerky and sketchy, but Carlos is still fascinating viewing. M

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