memory surfaced momentarily

Film In the mid-90s during my second year at university I didn’t really get on with my housemates. We parted company on a great many things, primarily the proper way to treat people and attitudes to cleanliness and by the middle of the year relations had deteriorated to the point that I tried to spend as little time as possible in their company. On a rare occasion that I passed all four of them in the kitchen and only communal room in the house, I overheard them talking about a friend who’d used the “c-word” and how it was totally unacceptable and unnecessary. At no point during the couple of minutes it took for me to scrape together some lunch did they spell out the word or even say it under their breath which is a shame because I might have though better of them if they had at least tried.

This memory surfaced momentarily while I was watching Armando Iannucci’s In The Loop (the film version of BBC Four's The Thick of It) during one of spin doctor Malcolm Tucker’s artistically filthy tirades and I thought about what the girls’ reaction might have been. Presumably they’ve mellowed by now, so hopefully it would have been much the same as mine, their head aching and throat stinging from laughing so much, not just in that nervous schoolperson way from hearing so many naughty words in close proximity, but also wishing that we could get away with this level of profanity and insults in the real world, able to tell colleagues and friends what we really think of them without any apparent consequences other than some mild irritation (with an option for savage cumulative revenge somewhere down the line).

What’s clever about the director's approach that he doesn’t use the language just for shock value or simply to punctuate speech, but also as part of the wider political satire, as dividing line between the interested parties. I’d have to look at the film again, but I’ve a feeling that the cuss count amongst the American characters was far lower in comparison with the British, which ironically, at least in relation to the real world events Iannucci is referencing makes us Europeans look far more bloodthirsty than the US regime. It would be interesting to see how this plays in The States, but from a UK perspective this dividing line also could have the effect for some of making Tucker become a somewhat heroic figure even when he’s doing some very bad things indeed and worringly at the conclusion, our reaction could be one of satisfaction even though the fictional result will be much the same as what's happened in Iraq.

In The Loop has one of those stories in which these smaller, localised decisions have much larger, unforeseeable consequences. I’m trying not to spoil anything for people who’re waiting for the wider UK release in mid-May, but throughout there are instants in which an offhand comment or document passed between friends leads to chaos and mayhem seeping into these people’s lives and the other rich seam of humour is watching the reaction of the source as the world collapses about their feet. On some occasions even, because the writing is so dense and layered, I suspect you’d need Tony Robinson and the whole of the Time Team to dig in far enough to see the epicentre of the disaster as the consequences spiral out of control. Chris Addison (who’s older than he looks) and Anna Chlumsky (who’s older than you remember) are particularly good at desperation and the realisation that events have spun way out of their control.

Iannucci has predictably been very humble about his achievement here, and even though the release has fallen outside the normal awards nomination season, I’ll be very surprised if In The Loop doesn’t at least become listed as one of the classics, the kind that people bond over at the pub quoting lines at each other or discussed in university seminars (though I know in some places that can be much the same thing). This is a work that bridges the gap between complex political commentary and candid pugnacious comedy, which gives all of its performers memorable moments and offers the kind of thrilling but increasingly rare cinematic experience that doesn’t rely on explosions other than the popping veins on verbal force of nature Peter Capaldi’s forehead when he’s in full flow.

1 comment:

  1. Yep, already been quoted in pub conversations! "Difficult, difficult, lemon difficult" was a personal favourite ;-)