A phenomenal profile of an enigmatic soul

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A phenomenal profile of an enigmatic soul

Thank goodness for Britain - or cool British movies, to be more precise. “Quantum of Solace,” the new Bond film, comes out next week, and this week brings us “The Bank Job” and indie darling “Control,” a biopic about Ian Curtis, the lead singer of Joy Division.

The film, which reaped awards at Cannes, Edinburgh and Chicago, is directed by Anton Corbijn, the famed music video director for such bands as Metallica, U2 and Depeche Mode. Shot originally in color and then transferred to a grainy black-and-white, Control has the same mesmerizing effect as a music video, with band performances frequently interspersed into the narrative.

At times, it’s hard to believe that we’re not watching the real Joy Division, as the actors actually learned to play their instruments for the film, lending authenticity to their performances both on stage and on screen. Part of this is possible by Corbijn’s effective time warp to the late 1970s, to the formation of Joy Division and its rapid rise.

Corbijn’s focus is Curtis, played by Sam Riley. Deborah Curtis, the singer’s widow, acted as a co-producer of the film, no doubt a valuable contributor. The screenplay of Control is based loosely on “Touching from a Distance,” her memoir of her marriage to the tortured musician.

Riley is phenomenal as Curtis, whom the audience sees initially as a teenage boy courting Deborah, then called Debbie. He is fascinating in his aloofness and youth, smoking alone in his room wearing a fur jacket and eyeliner as he ruminates to the tunes of David Bowie. Here, we can see the young boy is destined for stardom.

Aside from the visuals, Riley is also able to deliver an introspective look into Curtis’ life with his monologues. Control opens with one such soliloquy, and the actor’s slight, almost effeminate speech markedly contrasts with his deep groan of a singing voice.

Control hardly canonizes Curtis, who’s guilty of a fair share of wrongdoing in his life, from nicking prescription drugs to get high as a boy, to a long bout of infidelity as an adult. But we’re also exposed to his vulnerabilities as an unhappily married, sick man. The film shows Curtis’ first frightening epileptic seizures, referred to as “fits” here, and how they take their toll on his life.

Control is ultimately the story of a misdirected youth. Curtis wed at 19 (his bride was 18); it’s no wonder that he became an aimless husband. Joy Division only had Curtis for four short years, but in that time, he burned his candle at both ends, to borrow a quote from Edna St. Vincent Millay.

Joy Division was named after a brothel for German soldiers in World War II, and performing in the band seemed to exact an excruciating type of pain from Curtis. Represented visually by Riley’s sweat-soaked clothes and anguished onstage flailing, and then aurally through a monologue, it’s clear that performing in Joy Division took nearly everything out of Ian Curtis.

In Control, Seoul cinemagoers at last have something to look forward to after a long dry spell of insipid fare. And after watching this engrossing work of art, “Love Will Tear Us Apart” will never sound the same.


Biography, Music / English

119 min.

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By Hannah Bae Contributing Writer [hannahbae@gmail.com]
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