Film reviews: Family Romance LLC | The Booksellers | Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga | A White, White Day | Lynn + Lucy

Werner Herzog ruminates on what it is to be human in Family Romance LLC, while Will Ferrell’s Anchorman-style send-up of the Eurovision Song Contest is lucky not to get nul points
Family Romance LLCFamily Romance LLC
Family Romance LLC

Family Romance LLC (N/A) ***

The Booksellers (15) ***

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga (12A) *

A White, White Day (15) ***

Lynn + Lucy (N/A) ***

Werner Herzog’s new drama, Family Romance LLC, plays like a lightly fictionalised spin on the sort of documentary work that has buttressed his cult status over the last decade and a half. Set in Tokyo and built around Japan’s rent-a-relative industry, the film’s title comes from a real company started by the film’s star, entrepreneur Yuichi Ishii, whom Herzog, in a nice meta touch, has play a version of himself: a kind of reality actor whose company hires out fake friends and relatives to members of the public to help them get through tough times or socially awkward situations. As the movie opens, we see this version of Ishii meeting a 12-year-old girl called Mahiro (Mahiro Tanimoto) whose own mother (Miki Fujimaki) has hired him to pretend to be her long-absent father. Though the film doesn’t really dwell on the ethics of this business, their tender and burgeoning relationship provides a dramatic through line that allows Herzog to indulge his own penchant for the bizarre with episodic detours, such as when Ishii visits a robot hotel and quizzes its owner on whether he thinks robots will ever dream – a very Herzogian flourish that he compounds with a lengthy follow-up shot of a robotic fish swimming around the hotel aquarium. This incident, like much of what Herzog is scratching at here, hints at a kind of grounded sci-fi meditation on what makes us human and it’s hard not to wonder what might have been had he pushed it more in this direction, especially as Ishii’s growing attachment to Mahiro and her mother catalyses an existential crisis rooted in his Freudian fear that his own parents were imposters. But if the end result doesn’t cohere as an entirely satisfying narrative, Herzog’s eternal search for what he once termed the “ecstatic truth” ensures it still has odd moments of transcendent beauty amid the everyday sights others take for granted.

The eccentric subjects of The Booksellers, which plunges us into the dusty world of New York’s rare and antiquarian book trade, would probably also be a good fit for Herzog, though it’s unlikely you’d learn quite as much about the historical importance of this diminishing world or the way its transformation in the digital age has helped confer value and importance on collections and ephemera detailing marginalised or hitherto ignored sections of society. DW Young’s film, on the other hand, teases these larger themes out with the diligence of a book scout hunting down an obscure first edition. In the process he presents an enjoyable portrait of the city that’s both steeped in nostalgia for the romance of its literary past but also cognisant of the limitations the rather stuffy, largely male establishment at the centre of that world imposed upon it. Globalisation, gentrification and the internet have also played their part in threatening or stifling the book trade, but as the film shows, crisis often fosters innovation and the hopeful take-away from the younger generation of bibliophiles entering the profession is that as long as people continue to love books, they’ll find ways to service that love.

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Perhaps the best that can be said about Netflix’s painfully unfunny Will Ferrell comedy Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga is that it doesn’t serve up the expected barrage of tartan clichés when the action shifts to Edinburgh. Cast in the role of “host city” for the annual celebration of campy musical ineptitude, Edinburgh may have digitally annexed Glasgow’s Hydro, but the city’s prominence is cringeworthy only in as much as it functions as a picturesque location devoid of anyone who sounds remotely Scottish. The film itself features Ferrell and Rachel McAdams as a hapless Icelandic pop duo called Fire Saga who end up representing their country when a tragic boating accident wipes out their competition. Ferrell, who co-wrote the script, does his usual man-child tantrum schtick, but the film isn’t sly enough to work as a merciless behind-the-scenes satire in the mode of This is Spinal Tap, nor is the Eurovision Song Contest (which partnered with the filmmakers) really in need of an absurdist Anchor Man-style send-up. It already knows it’s ridiculous.

Iceland gets a much better, albeit much grimmer, cultural showcase in Nordic mystery A White, White Day – a revenge thriller wrapped inside a bleak meditation on grief. If that sounds backwards, put that down to the emphasis writer/director Hlynur Palmason puts on this story of a widowed, semi-retired cop (Ingvar Sigurdsson) whose growing obsession with his dead wife’s possible infidelities sends him into a downward spiral. Only really getting into genre territory late in the final act, the film is mostly an engrossing character study of a man slowly coming to realise he has no idea who his wife was.

If it’s a little frustrating that Britain’s most promising filmmakers all seem to make their feature debuts with variations on the same box-ticking, festival-courting, social realist dramas beloved of UK funding bodies, Lynn + Lucy writer/director Fyzal Boulifa at least shows it is possible to work within these strictures and create something with real power. Focusing on the disintegration of a long-term friendship between two women after tragedy makes one of them a local pariah, the film boasts a remarkable performance from first-time actor Roxanne Scrimshaw as Lynn, whose uncertain efforts to distance herself from childhood pal Lucy (Nichola Burley) suck us into the maelstrom of their lives in ways that Boulifa ensures are tough to watch but impossible to turn away from. ■

Family Romance and The Booksellers are available on demand from most digital platforms; Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga is available on Netflix; A White, White Day is available on Curzon Home Cinema; Lynn + Lucy is available on BFI Player

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