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Home: Dubai Film Festival 2007: Day 5: Control

Our image of rock stars is that they are brash, larger than life and usually indestructible. Now comes ‘Control’, a film that smashes this convention. It is the story of the rise and fall of Ian Curtis, lead singer of Joy Division. I can honestly claim not to have known much about this band, save for having heard a couple of tracks by them. The film, made in a very matter of fact monochrome method, does not assume you know anything about the band or its lead singer. It presents Ian Curtis as an ordinary man who even towards the end of the film is still at the same place and with the same people, as he was at the beginning. There are no cheering fans, no problems with drugs (though there was epilepsy to deal with) and no early life family tragedies to influence the musician. Where all biopics about singers have been fundamentally the same, ‘Control’ is different and intimately observant of its main character.

As the film goes on, and once Curtis (spellbindingly played by Sam Riley) has established himself in the music scene, we get the distinct feeling that he begins to dislike what he does. He can’t handle the pressure of giving his audience an electrifying performance each time, or go on tours and play gigs while trying to also keep his day job at the Department of Employment. At one point he jitters before a performance and his manager pays an attendant to perform instead, much to the dismay of angry crowds. The truth is, the film doesn’t even feel like it is about an obscure, though now legendary and influential rock group, but about a person who at a very young age found fame, attention and love (he married Deborah Curtis, played by ever luminous Samantha Morton, when he was 19), but never came to a point where he was at ease with any of it. Director Anton Corbijn, a veteran of music videos, does a wonderful job of shooting in crisp and clear black & white which curiously feels very small scale. Even the concerts don’t feel like concerts, but private performances. For so much of the running time, all we have is Curtis in solitude with his private thoughts in the form of his soulful poetry. Many films about people make the mistake of trying to force us to accept their mythical status; ‘Control’ succeeds in doing this without even trying. - by Faizan Rashid [Rated 4 out of 5]

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