The Mystery of Henri Pick

Rating :   ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Categorisation: Comedy mystery – feature film

Availability: TVNZ on demand, SBS, Prime TV, Apple TV – French with English subtitles

Storyline: Budding novelist, Frederic Koska has his new book disregarded by Jean-Michel Rouche, a ruthless and obnoxious critic whose televised book club can make or break a new author’s career. Defeated and demoralised, he retreats to rural Brittany with his girlfriend Daphne Despero, a young and ambitious French publisher. At a local bibliotheque near her father’s home Daphne finds a manuscript, one of many that languish in the ‘Library of Rejected Manuscripts’. The author, Henri Pick, was the local pizza chef before he died two years previously. Immediately engaged by the story and confident of the its wider appeal, Daphne convinces her publishing house to publish the novel posthumously and soon it becomes a critically acclaimed best-seller. Pick’s family are supportive until Jean-Michel Rouche casts doubt upon the authorship of the novel, causing outrage across the book world and distress to the family. Rouche’s determined investigation into the novel’s authorship then unsettles the lives of everyone involved, including Jean-Michel himself.

Film-craft: Directed by Rémi Bezançon The Mystery of Henri Pick is a well paced film with a confident plot and a witty screenplay. The cinematography by Antoine Monod is terrific with lovely scenes of rural Brittany. It is a quality production.   

Cast: The cast is excellent in this film and everyone does well. Fabrice Luchini is perfect in the role of the pompous literary critic Jean-Michel, and Camille Cottin is splendid as Josephine, Henri Pick’s daughter. Their intellectual sparring creates much of the fun and entertainment in the film and both are exceptional actors. Alicia Isaaz as Daphne and Bastien Bouillon as her literary boyfriend are also terrific as they attempt to manage the chaos around Jean-Michel, and within their own relationship as tensions rise. 

Personal Comments: The film is based on the sure-footed 2016 novel Le Mystère Henri Pick by David Foekinos. It captures brilliantly the book’s delightful playfulnesses and the richness of the lively French publishing culture. The mystery of the novel’s authorship sits at the heart of the plot which will appeal to anyone who enjoys a lighthearted literary adventure.


Rating :   ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Categorisation: Drama – feature film

Availability: In theatres

Storyline: It is 1953, and Peter Wakeling is about to start working at the Department of Public Works in London. He meets his new colleagues at the train station, where his excitement in starting a new job is quickly stifled by a bureaucratic culture that permeates the British public service, which he is now very much a part of. His manager, Rodney Williams, or Mr Williams as he is known to everyone in the building, reigns over a division where very little gets done. For example, a group of women who advocate for the creation of a children’s playground in a bomb site in their local community are sent from one area of the department to the next, only to be returned to Mr William’s division where their request languishes in a file that is unlikely to see the light of day. We watch the daily bureaucratic process suck the life and humanity out of everyone it touches, something that Living illustrates with quiet certainty and purpose. Then, during yet an otherwise ordinary day, Mr Williams receives news that causes him to reassess his life and the inertia that has afflicted his whole career. 

Film-craft: Living is an extremely beautiful production, that is a retelling Akira Kurosawa’s 1952 film, Ikiru. Jamie Ramsay’s brilliant cinematography understatedly captures post-war Britain, with its damaged buildings along with its perfectly executed vintage scenes and experiences. Novelist Kazuo Ishiguro’s script is sparsely powerful. There isn’t a superfluous word, and the silences reflecting the emotional loneliness of the period are poignant. 

Cast: Bill Nighy is outstanding as Mr Williams. His dignified, elegant, and heartrending performance is one of his best. Nighy is supported by a stellar cast. Alex Sharp playing the young  Wakeling, gives a fine performance. Aimee Lee Wood as Miss Harris, Wakeling’s vibrant co-worker, is outstanding as her influence over Mr Williams offers the ageing bureaucrat a chance of redemption.    

Personal Comments: Director Oliver Hermanus has created an intimate and gently powerful film. Living does tread over the line of sentimentality here and there, but its ability to communicate emotional nuance in order to expose the raw nature of sadness is palpable.

The Makanai: Cooking for the Maiko House

Rating :   ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ 

Categorisation: Slice of life drama 

Availability: Netflix, Japanese with subtitles 

Storyline: The Makanai tells the story of two sixteen-year-old girls who leave their home in rural Aomori in the hope of training as maiko, or apprentice geisha, in Kyoto. Kiyo and her best friend Sumire are accepted into a maiko house, where they will live for a year. If successful, they will go on to eventually become fully fledged geisha. The graceful and talented Sumire is dedicated in her studies, but Kiyo lacks Sumire’s grace and ritual subtlety. For her the training is challenging. Finally the senior maiko break the news to her that they consider her unsuitable as an apprentice and that she must leave her sisters in the maiko house. Both girls are distressed by the decision, particularly as they had made a promise to each other that they would become geisha together. But as Kiyo prepares to leave, Ms Sachiko, the maiko’s cook, is compelled to leave her job as makanai due to a debilitating back injury. The joyful and lively Kiyo steps in to the role and soon it is clear where her talents lie. 

Film-craft: Award-winning director Hirokazu Kore-eda (Shoplifters) has based The Makanai  series on the popular 2016 Japanese comic book, Maiko-san chi no makanai-san. Slowly-drawn and beautifully filmed, the series takes full advantage of the charms of the old Kyoto Geiko district with its amazing traditional bars and tea-houses. A four-storey maiko house was built in the studio, modelled on a traditional building with areas reflecting the activities that constitute the daily lives of the women within the maiko inner sanctum. There is incredible attention to detail as each area of the house provides a glimpse into the public and private spheres of the women’s lives. The scenes of Kiyo in the kitchen as she cooks for the maiko house are central to the series and are a joy to watch. Every meal is slowly prepared, and beautifully photographed, as are Japan’s magnificent seasonal changes that structure the women’s lives.  

Cast: The series has an impressive cast. The ‘mothers’, who are wise senior women, provide much of the subtle, and sometimes not so subtle humour, while the young maiko behave as we might expect teenage girls to behave. But the series is very definitely driven by the experiences and activities of the two main characters. Kiyo played by Nana Mori and Sumire played by Natsuki Deguchi. While Deguchi epitomises the rarified beauty of the maiko, it is Mori’s exuberance and insights that breathes life into the series. 

Personal Comments: The Makanai is a charming and tender-hearted story about friendship, growing up, making life decisions and, of course, the joy of food. The series is rich and multidimensional. There are no villains, and nothing bad happens. It is a simple fictional story about women who live by the seasons and who are dedicated to the continuance of traditional geisha life within a contemporary world. If you enjoy a slow-paced slice of life drama that brings something uniquely different, you may well like this one.