Arts

Film: Ibsen’s wild duck flaps its way onto the screen

Paul Schneider as Christian and Geoffrey Rush as Henry in The Daughter

Simon Stone’s The Daughter (15, 95 mins, ★★★) takes Ibsen’s heart-wrenching play The Wild Duck and transports it, still flapping, to contemporary rural Australia. There, the paterfamilias Henry (Geoffrey Rush) is in the melancholy act of closing down the family timber mill which employs numerous locals. He is also preparing to marry his much younger housekeeper, and his grown-up son Christian is flying home from New York for the ceremony.

Yet Christian (Paul Schneider) is disturbed by many things: his late mother’s suicide many years before, his parents’ troubled relationship, his drink problem and the disintegration of his own marriage. The happiness of a childhood friend, Oliver (Ewen Leslie), with his wife Charlotte (Miranda Otto) and daughter Hedvig (Odessa Young) seems to point up Christian’s own isolation – so when the discovery of an incendiary secret leads him to conclude their contentment is built on a lie, he pitches a grenade at it.

Despite the fine performances – Young in particular stands out as a pretty, punkish girl who is achingly vulnerable to the cruelty of others – the whiff of theatre clings to this film. There’s a slight clunkiness to the script, and the action never quite moves with the fluency of real life. Even for those unfamiliar with Ibsen’s play, the plot points are overly signposted. Still, certain moments have an undeniable force: the wedding scene in which a drunken Christian uncorks his toxic news will be especially painful for anyone who finds the bleak unravelling of happiness hard to watch.

Mon Roi (15, 125 mins, ★★★★), starring Vincent Cassel and Emmanuelle Bercot, depicts a couple on a more strung-out rollercoaster of joy and misery. Directed by the French actress and director Maïwenn, this is a maddening, emotionally extreme but insightful film that stretches across a decade in their time, and two hours in ours. The story is lushly told in flashback, as the criminal lawyer “Tony” Jezequel (Bercot) is receiving physiotherapy for a broken knee (a knowing therapist hints that an associated problem is a traumatic event of the heart).

The source of the trauma is Georgio (Cassel), a flashy, fast-talking restaurant owner whom Tony first met as a student, and re-encounters in a nightclub. Trouble might indeed have been predicted at first glance – Cassel, with his light, goatish eyes and air of flickering mania, has always seemed a dangerously close relative of the Greek god Pan – but for Tony the attraction is instant and overwhelming.

The couple together are often silly, occasionally lovable and frequently downright unbearable: Georgio’s aggressively impulsive clowning may prove particularly testing for an Anglo-Saxon audience. Yet that’s partly the point – at the film’s raw core is a pip of wisdom: that we must carry on struggling to accept one another, in all our touching or appalling layers.