Control

Starring Sam Riley and Samantha Morton. Directed by Anton Corbijn
Running Time: 117 mins
Rated: Rated MA 15+ (strong coarse language)

A portrait of the lead singer of the group Joy Division, Ian Curtis.

Much of the interest in this film will be determined whether one has heard of the 1970s UK band Joy Division or knows their records. If the answer is yes, then it fills in the background as well as focussing on Ian Curtis (rather than his music, which is featured but not put at the centre of the film). If the answer is no, then it depends on how interesting the characters are found to be.

The director is celebrity photographer Anton Corbijn who says that one of the reasons for his coming to live in England from his native Holland in 1979 was Curtis and Joy Division. He also photographed the group not long before Curtis' untimely death in May 1980 at the age of 23.

The biographies of rock stars are usually full of colour, glamour, loud music and those traditional accompaniments of rock'n roll, sex and drugs. Compared with these, Control is definitely austere.

Corbijn has opted for black and white photography. This is an aesthetic choice which drains the story of any glamour whatsoever and immerses it in a real, sometimes gritty world. Curtis came from Macclesfield, near Manchester, and lived there until he died. This is a very, very ordinary world of Lancashire streets, local shops, small clubs in Manchester and Liverpool. This was the life Curtis was used to - he died before the planned trip to the US.

Curtis comes across as something of a daydreamer with a love for poetry and music - and some questions about existence (with which the film opens). We see him at school, at home with his parents, taking out Deborah whom he married at age nineteen, at the birth of his child, singing with the group, dealing with entrepreneur Tony Wilson (the subject of Michael Winterbottom's 24 Hour Party People which used the exact opposite aesthetic of this film). But, Curtis is quite morose, becomes absorbed in his singing (and the awkward characteristic arm gestures of marching when he sang), is afraid of his child, distant from his wife - and then falling in love with a Belgian magazine writer, Annik.

His principles of fidelity torment him. He has epileptic seizures and moves step by step to ultimate depression and suicide.

The film is well-made and well acted, especially by Sam Riley as Curtis. There is also a characteristically strong performance from Samantha Morton as Deborah. The film is based on her biography of her husband with her consent and that of her daughter and Annik has allowed her real name to be used in telling this part of the story.

Control is very local in setting, particularly lower middle class British in its characters, and effective in its rather sad portrait.

Dendy Out 25th October

Fr Peter Malone MSC directs the film desk of SIGNIS: the World Association of Catholic Communicators, and is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting

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