Archive for the ‘Interviews’ Category

The Reunions (2020) Chinese cinema season

Dir.: Da Peng aka Dong Chengpeng; Documentary with Liu Lu, Wang Jixang, Da Pen; China 2020, 80 min.

Chinese writer/director Dong Chengpeng had great success with his comedy City of Rock. But The Reunions is a different beast altogether. Actually, it’s two films in one, conflating the 40-minute doc-drama A Reunion (2018), whose cinema premiere we witness, with a second part, A Final Reunion, exploring contradictions of modern China: the price of success, the chasm between big cities and the countryside and the loosening of traditional family ties. Its languid mood is full of resignation and regret.

The director’s first foray into arthouse territory was inspired on a trip back to his rural hometown of Tonghua, where the family New Year get together will celebrate his ailing grandmother, who has held to the family together. But she died during the shooting, leaving Chengpeng’s original script in tatters. So the real drama unfolding is not the death, but the problem of what to do with Uncle Wang Jixang, a man in his early sixties who has suffered brain damage leaving him with the mental age of a baby, his vocabulary reduced to mumbling the names of his relatives, but leaving out his own.

Structured a little bit like Michael Frayn’s play ‘Noises Off’, we see both sides of the enfolding drama: the docu-drama elements are set against the filmmaking itself, as crew and cast come together as Chengpeng’s intentions are put to the test.

Throughout the film a musical motif glorifies the Chinese Communist Party and its Chairman Mao. Wang had been a high ranking Security official before his illness, and helped many of his relatives to settle in the city, no mean feat. Among those is his thirty-something daughter Lili (Liu Lu), who sided with her mother and benefited from a financial settlement when the family was divided. Lili has a young child and is unable to look after her father, who needs constant care.

Reality and script collide in a pause during filmmaking when Lili asks one of the relatives why ‘she’ had stayed away for ten years from the family: instead of an answer, there is silence – with her real life counterpart looking on. All the feuding family can agree on is that the making of the film had motivated them to attend the gathering – which may well be the last.

Dong Chengpeng serves as his own DoP along with Wang Quinyl to capture the generalised feeling of sadness as well as the colourful New Year’s celebrations with the its impressive fireworks. The director is clearly moved by his own remorse: this long goodbye to the village where he grew up and the slow erosion of the family have finally taken their toll. @AS

CHINESE CINEMA SEASON continues in online screens the Rio, GENESIS, HOME (Manchester), Kinoculture, Sheffield Workstation, Chapter Cardiff, Reading Film Theatre.

Spotlight on Pietro Marcello

Pietro Marcello was born in Caserta in Campania in 1976. He began by studying painting at the Naples Academy of Fine Arts. Self-taught, he cut his teeth on “participative videos” shot in the prisons where he was teaching. From 1998 to 2003, he programmed the Cinedamm film events, at the Damm centre in the Montesanto district, of which he was one of the founding members. It was in this context that he directed his first short films Cartaand Scampia (2003). In 2004, he completed Il cantiere, a documentary that won the Libero Bizzarri Prize. The following year, he directed La Baracca. His first feature-length film, Crossing the Line (Il passaggio della linea, 2007), won many accolades. But it was in 2009 with The Mouth of the Wolf (La bocca del lupo), which won awards at Turin and at the Berlinale (Forum section), that he gained international recognition. In 2011, he paid tribute to Artavazd Peleshian in The Silence of Pelesjan (Il silenzio di Pelesjan), while Lost and Beautiful (Bella e perduta, 2015), in selection at Locarno and the Grand prix du Jury at La Roche-sur-Yon, brought him a wider audience. In 2019, Martin Eden, adapted from the eponymous Jack London novel, was presented at the Venice Film Festival and met with great critical acclaim. Moreover, the film embodies the move of Marcello’s work to fiction, while keeping a very strong link with the documentary genre. His new opus For Lucio (Per Lucio) premiered at the 2021 Berlinale.

MARTIN EDEN IS NOW IN CINEMAS

Chinese Cinema Season | February to May 2021

The first wave of titles have been announced for the first edition of the Chinese Cinema Season. spooling out over the next three months and kicking off on 12 February (Chinese New Year) all over Europe.

The longterm festival will showcase UK Chinese language premieres and highlight overlooked gems and classics to cinema-lovers in the UK and Ireland. New films will be added to the party, along with the usual Q&As and panel discussions with industry professionals, filmmakers and actors, and academics.

Over 50 films will be on offer over the course of the season all available on VOD, along with themed mini retrospectives. Along with Coronavirus this is ‘a love letter’ from China.

Popular films such as festival favourite Youth are available along with a Shanghai Animation strand featuring 10 films from 1950s to the present day. Studio Ghibli is possibly more widely known for Anime titles, but Ghibli’s Hayao Miyaki visited the Shanghai studio back in 1984 setting up his own studio a year later. Features include the delightful Lotus Lantern (1999) a UK premiere.

Documentary wise there will be a chance to see DOUBLE HAPPINESS (2018), A YANGTZE LANDSCAPE (2017) and DAUGHTER OF SHANGHAI (2019). 

Double Happiness Limited

Taiwanese director Shen spent seven years detailing eight couples’ lives from falling in love, getting married and having children, getting them to ask each other questions that they would not touch on in their daily lives, and leading the audience to reflect on their own definition of marriage and happiness.

A Yangtze Landscape

Setting off from the Yangtze’s marine port, passing Shanghai, Nanjing, Wuhan, the huge Three Gorges Dam, and Chongqing, all the way to the Yangtze River’s source in Qinghai/Tibet over thousands of kilometres, this unique work of sound and vision utilizes the “Yangtze”, in the director’s words, as a metaphor of the current chaos in China.

Bazzar Jumpers

Three Uyghur friends in love with parkour fight prejudice and family opposition to train for China’s most popular and dangerous parkour event in Beijing.

Daughter of Shanghai

A waltz through the life of Chinese English actress Tsai Chin: the daughter of the Peking Opera master Zhou Xinfang, the first Chinese student at RADA, and the first Chinese Bond Girl. The director Michelle Chen is confirmed to do a Q&A with other contributors TBC to celebrate the premiere of this film.
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FIRST FILM SPOTLIGHT

12 February to 12 May

This section introduces contemporary Chinese directors and their striking debuts. Three films will be shown in the opening month: A First Farewell (2018) by Lina Wang, The Crossing (2018) by Bai Xue, and The Silent Holy Stone (2006) by Pema Tseden. Encompassing Mandarin, Cantonese (The Crossing), Tibetan (The Silent Holy Stone ) and Uyghur (A First Farewell )dialects and cultures, these films reflect how diverse life can be in the different regions of China.

A First Farewell * UK PREMIERE *

Isa Yassan, a young Muslim boy in Xinjiang Province, balances caring for his ailing mother, schoolwork, and farm duties, soon experiences “the first farewell” in his life – as his father decides to send his mother to a nursing home and they leave the village. Lina Wang, from Xinjiang, wrote and directed this film, which won the Crystal Bear and Special Prize of the Generation Kplus International Jury at Berlin International Film Festival, as well as several other awards at Tokyo, Shanghai and Hong Kong film festivals

The Crossing (above)

Sixteen-year-old Peipei crosses the border between mainland China and Hong Kong every day, customs officials waving her through with just a glimpse of her high school uniform and innocent face. She joins a gang to earn quick money by smuggling iPhones across the border, but soon finds herself in way over her head. The debut from BAFTA Leading Light writer-director Bai Xue, was nominated for Best First Feature Award and Crystal Bear at Berlin International Festival, won the NETPAC Award at Toronto International Film Festival, and best first film awards at Pingyao, Hong Kong, and Dublin Film Festivals.

The Silent Holy Stone

A young Tibetan monk returns home for the New Year and discovers a television which he intends to bring to the monastery and show to his master. Tibetan director Pema Tsedan’s debut, immediately preceding his recent feature Balloon (2019), shows how the director established his personal style from the very beginning.

DOMESTIC HITS
12 February to 12 May

In recent years, the world has witnessed the rise of the Chinese mega-blockbuster and the seemingly unstoppable rise of the film industry in China. this section features commercial films that triumphed at the domestic box-office with relatively high production value. For the opening month the following are showing: Sheep Without a Shepherd (2019), Youth (2017), and The Captain (2019).

Sheep Without a Shepherd

Lee (Xiao Yang) and his wife Jade (Tan Zhuo) run a small
video business in Thailand. They have two lovely daughters and live a happy life. However, when his eldest daughter kills a schoolmate in self-defence during a sexual assault, Lee has to bury the body and cover the truth, to protect his daughter and families, Lawan (an impeccably steely Joan Chen, The Last Emperor, Lust, Caution) is the feared head of the regional police, and she is dying to find her missing son. The contest between Lee and Lawan is beginning. The battle of wills between Lee and Lawan begins. The film’s box office reached more than 1.2 billion RMB in China ($185m), even as the start of the pandemic cut short the film’s release. The film is based on the 2015 Indian box office hit, Drishyam.

Youth

Directed by China’s most famous commercial director Feng Xiaogang, Youth takes a look at the lives of the members of a Military Cultural Troupe back in the 1970s Cultural Revolution, exploring their friendship, love, dreams, and devotion to their beloved collective and career. The storyline, to a large extent comprised of the director’s personal memories and nostalgia, also resonates with a generation in China who sacrificed their youth to the country and the ideology.

The Captain

One of so-called “main melody” films, stemming from a true story, The Captain demonstrates a breath-taking moment: a commercial pilot and his crew try to save passengers and land their plane safely while the plane shatters at 30,000 feet in the air. Its box office reached more than 2 billion RMB in China (over $300m).

Upcoming Sections

Lou Ye Mini Retrospective

As one of the “Sixth Generation” directors, Lou Ye has been regarded as a “true artist”, an “authentic filmmaker” and a “constant fighter” of censorship. Despite the controversies, he achieved great success both in China and worldwide. He was nominated and won numerous awards owing to his unique editing style and camera movement, as well as his sharp observations and narratives about marginalised people and typical, but often undocumented, social phenomena in China. In this section, we will premiere Lou Ye’s penultimate film, Shadow Play, which took two years of editing to get the greenlight from authorities.

The platform is powered by Shift 72 (Cannes Marché du Film, SXSW, Macao IFFAM, Tallinn Black Nights) and tickets can be purchased here 

Focus Hong Kong | February 2021

FOCUS HONG KONG celebrates the Chinese New Year with a UK online programme running February 9th to 15th

 

Dedicated to celebrating the cinema and filmmakers of Hong Kong, the festival features early works to the glory days of its reign as the Hollywood of Asia, through to new and exciting films.

In February, there’ a strong line-up of UK online premieres, including the new 2K restoration of Tsui Hark’s immortal fantasy wuxia classic Zu Warriors from the Magic Mountain, acclaimed contemporary anthology Memories to Choke On, Drinks to Wash them Down, offbeat murder mystery A Witness out of the Blue, the latest film from Andrew Fung, dark psychodrama Till We Meet Again, and the thrilling martial arts drama The Empty Hands, starring Stephy Tang and Chapman To. The festival also features a free to view selection of short films from the Hong Kong Fresh Wave Competition, renowned as the hothouse for future talent in the Hong Kong industry.

March will see another selection with a full festival event later in the year,

FOCUS Hong Kong 

Ivana the Terrible (2019) Locarno

Dir.: Ivana Mladenovic; Cast: Ivanka Mladenovic, Gordana Mladenovic, Modrae Mladenovic, Kosta Mladenovic, Luca Gramic, Anca Pop, Andrei Dinescu; Serbia/Romania 2019, 86 min.

Director/co-writer Ivana Mkadenovic (Soldiers: Story from Ferentari) describes her latest, a fictional autobiography, or docu-fiction hybrid is very much in the vein of this year’s IDFA winner Radiograph of a Family although far more satirical in nature. The past and the present collide in Kladovo, Serbia, near the border to Romania, where Ivana also ‘stars’ as a histrionic millennial jilted by her Romanian lover and suffering the after-affects of PTSD. Her family, friends and former lovers play the other roles.

We first meet Ivana on a train going back home to Serbia for the summer, where we get to experience just how terrible she really is. Freed from her work commitments, she accepts the mayor’s invitation to become the face of a local music festival, and finds herself the latest citizen to be honoured with an award acknowledging the bond of friendship between Serbia and Romania. It just so happens that the Trajan (Friendship) Bridge over the Danube connecting Serbia and Romania, and where Tito and Ceausescu once famously met, is also in Kladovo, on the Serbian side, adding all sorts of bilateral connotations to the narrative, along with the generational conflicts.

Far from triumphant, Ivana’s return puts the cat amongst the pigeons on all front , escalated by her fragile state of mind. To make matters even worse (or somehow better, as it turns out), Ivana’s relationship with a much younger guy is soon the talk of the town (the general consensus being that she should settle down and start a family), but this gossip soon confers a kind of celebrity status on the petulant woman, her erratic behaviour becoming par for the course. Her behaviour certainly challenges social stereotypes in the traditional community. And the arrival of Ivana’s friend (portrayed by Romanian-Canadian singer-songwriter Anca Pop – to whose memory the film is dedicated) is a another game-changer, further enhancing her bad-girl status in the village, and there is much consternation among the old-fashioned local womenfolk when an offer to have their private parts form the basis of a local sculpture is not well-received, to say the least.

Eventually Ivana gets a lift with Anca and Andrei back to Bucharest, stopping on the way to listen to some poets reading on the Friendship bridge. Another dimension to this (un)happy merry-go-round comes in the shape of a story from the Second World War when over a thousand Jews came to Kladovo where they were to be escorted by boat to the safety of Palestine. But the ship never came, and the Jews lost their lives during the ensuing Nazi occupation of the town. MT

ARTEKINO | PREMIERED AT LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL

Marlene Dietrich at Universal 1940-42

These four classics from the Golden Age of Hollywood showcase the timeless charisma of Marlene Dietrich (1901-1992). Seven Sinners, The Flame of New Orleans, The Spoilers and Pittsburgh were all produced by Universal during the war years of the early 1940s, and capture Dietrich’s enduring persona that had justifiably brought her the fame and riches garnered during her six magnificent collaborations with Josef von Sternberg. Dietrich continued to be the epitome of big-screen glamour and sensuousness, and although she never quite attained the dizzy heights of her time with von Sternberg, she continued working until the early 1960s, her last substantial role being in Stanley Kramer’s Judgement at Nuremberg in 1961. MT

Seven Sinners

Seven Sinners is the first of three films starring Marlene Dietrich and John Wayne – Pittsburgh and The Spoilers followed in 1942. This lively musical showcases the versatile talents of a vampish Marlene Dietrich following her spectacular comeback in the standout Western Destry Rides Again (1939), after being branded “box-office poison.” Once again she plays a dubious gaiety girl and entertainer to John Wayne’s honest and gallant lover, Navy Lt Dan Brent (from Stagecoach). After the Wild West, the South Sea Island setting is luminous and exotic (complimented by Rudolph Maté’s sublime shadowplay). Dietrich’s Bijou sings her lovelorn ballads with a great deal of charm, in a similar vein to her 1930s triumphs with von Sternberg yet somehow bereft of the innate style and emotional heft of these outings, Dietrich trying – unsuccessfully – to keep her troupe of motley misfits under control. There is Antro (Homolka), Dr. Marin (Dekker), Little Ned (Crawford and Sasha (Auer). When Dan Brent enters the fray with a big bouquet of orchids, Dietrich has to save him from the knife-throwing Antro – and also from himself, because an affair would have destroyed Brent’s career chances, and one of Brent’s superior’s quips is fittingly: “the Navy has already got enough destroyers”. In the end, Bijou leaves him to his first love: The Navy.

The script by John Meehan and Harry Tugend is a mixture of songs (by Dietrich), brawls and witty repartee. Russel A. Gausman’s production design, and the Maté’s camerawork are both stars turns in their own right, bringing to mind a Joseph von Sternberg feature. Sternberg, who directed Dietrich in Der Blaue Engel and her first Hollywood films, was known as her Guru, and his style and influence on the actress still shape her appeal. The set design was intricate, with elaborate windows and labyrinthine staircases and an overall ornate richness, coming to life in Maté’s fluid camera. Many of Sternberg’s movies (Macao) fall into the “Exotica” category, here symbolised by the huge gargoyle in the club were Bijou performs, recalling Sternberg’s Scarlett Express, where Dietrich was flanked by huge statues. Dietrich is in perpetual motion, an ethereal angel in satins and haute couture, driving the narrative forward a lightness of touch. Again, in a nod to von Sternberg, Dietrich wears the white Officers uniform, mirroring Wayne/Brent.

This is very much Dietrich’s film  (“I am a bad influence”). Wayne is her acolyte – he had only just made the step from support to main player, and it shows. Tyronne Power, who was originally cast, would have certainly been a stronger pendant to Dietrich’s Bijou. Garnett favoured maverick stars for his films, often casting those who’d fallen foul of established society, such as Greer Garson’s Mrs. Parkington (1944) and Valley of Decision, a year later. And whilst Garnett does not always reach the heights of von Sternberg, Seven Sinners is a glittering piece of entertainment. AS

Pittsburgh

With its sequences of social realism picturing the grimness of Pittsburgh mining traditions (as Groucho Marks once commented: “this is like living in Pittsburgh, if you call that living”, Lewis Seiler’s 1942 morality tale is certainly the least glamorous of the trio of films Dietrich made with John Wayne. Greed is the theme here, and Seiler sets the scene from the get-go with a rousing speech from Wayne’s Charles “Pittsburgh” Markham who is hellbent on financial success in the steel industry, whatever the cost. To get there he’ll trample on friends and lovers, but when the sh*t eventually hits the fan, he does get a second chance. The film came out a year after Pearl Harbour, which is also cleverly wound into the plot line. Randolph Scott plays Wayne’s rival and Dietrich the smouldering siren Josie Winters. MT

The Spoilers

This 1942 version of a popular Rex Beach novel has been filmed three times before (twice as a silent) and another would follow. An eventful romantic adventure following a group of crooks adding corruption to its list of themes, the setting is Nome, Alaska, during the Gold Rush days of 1900. Hero John Wayne gets the bit between his teeth, and particularly in the final showdown set-to in the bar with crooked gold commissioner Randolph Scott and good guy John Wayne, all over a woman, and the woman in question is the joint’s owner, Marlene Dietrich.

The swindlers have in their sights the biggest mine in the territory. They also have Scott’s McNamara on their side along with a dodgy Judge (Samuel S. Hinds) and his underling Struve (Halton). They plan to lure the wealthy punters in with the services of an upmarket Helen Chester (Lindsay). John Wayne’s Roy Glennister falls for her. Wayne and Scott take to their action roles with a swagger, and Marlene does her stuff with a succession of elegant and seductive costumes. She’s not just a pretty face but a witty and entertaining hostess enjoying some comedy moments with her maid Marietta Canty. And she’s a mistress of the put-down too, making short shrift of an unwelcome suitor in the shape of Richard Barthelmess, dismissing him with a curt: “Go down below to your table.” MT

Flame of Orleans

After the end of her partnership with Josef von Sternberg, Dietrich echoes her role in Destry Rides Again this time in Rene Clair’s farce Flame of Orleans. Once again she plays woman with a dubious past, this time cutting a dash as a ‘faux’ countess in New Orleans, torn between a stable marriage to a rich banker and her wild sexual attraction for a strapping but penniless captain of a Mississippi steamer. This was the first of the four films that Clair directed in Hollywood during his wartime exile from France. Norman Krasna wrote the entertaining script but Dietrich sets the night on fire with her flirtatious game-playing in a delightful costume drama that was Oscar nominated for Jack Otterson’s stylish art direction, Russell A Gausman’s set design and DoP Rudolph Maté’s peerless visual allure. MT

Limited Edition Blu-ray release on 18 January 2021 | BFI SHOP

La Frontière de nos Rèves (1996) | A Bridge to Christo | Tribute (1935-2020)

Dir.: Georgui Balabanov; Documentary with Christo, Jeanne-Claude, Anani Yavashev; Bulgaria 1996, 72 min.

In his thought-provoking biopic, Bulgarian director Georgui Balabanov (The Petrov File) portrays two very different brothers who have been living apart for 26 years on the opposite sides of the iron curtain. Christo (1935-2020), who died on 31 May 2020, travelled abroad to become an celebrated environmental artist and his actor brother Anani Yavashev, who deeply regrets his wasted years in Bulgaria under Stalinist censorship. Two destines embody the hopes and illusions of two different worlds.

Balabanov’s documentary flips between Gabrovo, the village where the brothers grew up, and the Paris flat Christo shared with Moroccan born Jeanne-Claude, whom he met in Paris in 1958. Both not only share the same birthday (13.6.1935), but a passion for art, while understanding that their work is transient – apart from one installation, the 400k oil barrels at Mastaba, all their projects have vanished: the wrappings of the Berlin Reichstag and the Pont-Neuf Bridge as well as The Gates of Central Park in New York.

The busy Paris flat, with Jeanne-Claude chain smoking whilst organising their projects, is in great contrast to Anani’s inertia shared with his artist friends. The Sofia theatre they called home for decades is being torn down and even if they are not too fond of their memories, it is still their past lives, which are bulldozed to the ground. Anani could never play Lenin, since he was “politically not trusted”. The brother’s father Vladimir, a former business man, was imprisoned at the beginning of the Stalinist regime of terror, for “sabotage”. As an old “Class Enemy” he took the punishment for a drunken worker, who burned the cloth production for the whole week. His sons were suspects too, Anani got into drama school only with the help of a benevolent friend in the bureaucratic system.

1957 was the year of decision for Christo, who went to Prague and was smuggled in a locked train-compartment to Vienna. The rest is history – but Anani and his friends, paid heavily for their compromise with the system. Modernism in all art forms was tantamount to treason, painters and playwrights had to smuggle progressive elements into their work – hoping all the time that the censors would overlook it. But they are also honest enough, to admit they had a free reign in their private lives: long, passionate nights are mentioned. One feels sorry for this resigned bunch, and can sympathise with their plight: it comes as no co-incidence that only a few escaped the artistic prisons of the Soviet Block: risk-taking is seen as a virtue in the West either – human nature is preponderantly opportunistic.

Shot in intimate close-up by DoP Radoslav Spassov, La Frontiere is very much a celebration of artistic work represented by Christo and Jeanne-Claude – and a “Trauerarbeit” for the lost souls who staid behind, sharing with others the loss of artistic identity. AS

Tribute to Christo who died in May 2020

Shiraz (1928) ***** We Are One Festival

Dir: Franz Osten | Writer: W Burton based on a play by Niranjan Pal | Cast: Himansu Rai, Enakshi Rama Rau, Charu Roy, Seeta Devi | 97′ | Silent | Drama

SHIRAZ: A ROMANCE OF INDIA is a rare marvel of silent film. This dazzling pre-talkies spectacle was directed by Franz Osten and stars Bengali actor Himansu Rai who also produced the film from an original play by Niranjan Pal. Shot entirely in India with a cast of 50,000 and in natural light, the parable imagines the events leading to the creation of one of India’s most iconic buildings The Taj Mahal, a monument to a Moghul Empire to honour a dead queen.

Shiraz is a fictitious character, the son of a local potter who rescues a baby girl from the wreckage of a caravan laden with treasures, ambushed while transporting her mother, a princess. Shiraz is unaware of Selima’s royal blood and he falls madly in love with her as the two grow up in their simple surroundings, until she is kidnapped and sold to Prince Khurram of Agra (a sultry Charu Roy). Shiraz then risks his life to be near her in Agra as the Prince also falls for her charms.

SHIRAZ forms part of a trilogy of surviving films all made on location in India by Rai and his director Osten. Light of Asia (Prem Sanyas, 1926) and A Throw of Dice (Prapancha Pash, 1929) complete the trio intended to launch an east/west partnership bringing quality films to India, all based on Indian classical legend or history, and featuring an all-Indian cast in magnificent locations. Apart from the gripping storyline, there is the rarity value of a sophisticated silent feature made outside the major producing nations in an era where Indian cinema was not yet the powerhouse it would become. Rai makes for a convincing central character as the modest Shiraz, with a gently shimmering Enakshi Rama Rau as Selima. Seeta Devi stars in all three films, and here plays the beguiling but scheming courtesan Dalia, determined to get her revenge on Selima’s charms.

Apart from being gorgeously sensual (there is a highly avantgarde kissing scene ) and gripping throughout, SHIRAZ is also an important film in that it united the expertise of three countries: Rai’s Great Eastern Indian Corporation; UK’s British Instructional Films (who also produced Anthony Asquith’s Shooting Stars and Underground in 1928) and the German Emelka Film company. Contemporary sources tell of “a serious attempt to bring India to the screen”. Attention to detail was paramount with an historical expert overseeing the sumptuous costumes, furnishings and priceless jewels that sparkle within the Fort of Agra and its palatial surroundings. Glowing in silky black and white SHIRAZ is one of the truly magical films in recent memory. MT

SHIRAZ IS PART OF WE ARE ONE A FESTIVAL CELEBRATING SOLIDARITY FROM THE FILM COMMUNITY | BFI PLAYER

 

 

Robert Siodmak | Master of Shadows | Blu-ray release

Dresden 1918, Robert Siodmak left his upper-middle class, orthodox Jewish home in this epicentre of European modern art, to join a theatre touring company. He was 18, and this was the first of many radical changes that would see him becoming a pioneer of film noir, and directing 56 feature films fraught with (anti)heroes who are morose, malevolent, violent and generally downbeat (spoilers).

Robert Siodmak began his film career in 1925, translating inter-titles. Later he learnt the editing business with Harry Piel. In 1927/28 he worked under Kurt (Curtis) Bernhardt (Das letzte Fort) and Alfred Lind. But MENSCHEN AM SONNTAG (1929/30) (left) would transform his professional life forever. Together with Edgar G. Ulmer, he would direct a semi-documentary, social realist portrait that pictured ordinary Berliners, far away from the expensive “Illusionsfilme” (escapist films) of the UFA. The idea was the brainchild of Robert’s younger brother Curt (born in Kracow), who would become a screen-writer and director of Horror/SF films, and follow his brother and Ulmer to Hollywood – along with the rest of the team: Billy Wilder, Eugen Schüfftan, Fred Zinnemann and Rochus Gliese (later art director for Murnau’s Sunrise). Robert Siodmak, Ulmer and Giese would also be part of the “Remigrants”, film makers, who would return to Germany after 1945.

People_on_Sunday_2 copyMENSCHEN AM SONNTAG was filmed on a succession of Sundays in 1929. Subtitled “a film without actors” – which is misleading, since the actors – non-professionals – co-wrote and co-produced the film, had already returned to their day jobs when the film was premiered in 1930. The five main protagonists spend a weekend near a lake in a Berlin suburb: Wolfgang (a wine seller) and Christl (a mannequin) meet for the first time at the Bahnhof Zoo by accident on Saturday morning, Christl had been stood up. On the same evening, Erwin (a taxi driver) and his girl friend Annie have a violent quarrel, tearing up each other’s photos. As a result, Erwin and his friend Wolfgang travel with Christl on the following Sunday to the Nicolas Lake. And here on the ‘beach’ Wolfgang meets Brigitte (a vinyl record sales assistant), the four spend the day together; intercut with images of the forlorn “stay-at-home” Annie. The final scene returns the quartet to the heart of the metropolis: four million waiting for another Sunday. MENSCHEN AM SONNTAG is a chronicle; a document shot against the narrative UFA style of the day. There is no story, just interaction. Even in the complex narratives of his films Noir, Siodmak would always be the bystander, the person who observes much more than directs.

Inquest_2 copyINQUEST (VORUNTERSUCHUNG), Robert Siodmak’s third feature film as a director, produced in 1931, is his first ‘Kriminalfilm” (thriller). The student Fritz Bernt (Gustaf Fröhlich), has a three year-long affair with the prostitute Erna – he also receives money from her. After falling in love with his friend Walter’s sister, Fritz wants to leave Erna. Out of cowardice, he sends Walter to her flat to break the news. But Walter sleeps with Erna’s flatmate and goes for a drink afterwards. When Erna’s body is found the next morning, Fritz is the main suspect. In charge of the inquest is Dr. Bienert (Albert Bassermann), who happens to be Walter’s father. The denouement is a surprise. In many ways, INQUEST is a “Strassenfilm”, Kracauer’s definition of films where the middle-class protagonist is in love with a sexy prostitute, but goes home to roost, marrying a bourgeois girl of his own class. Some of the main scenes of the film are shot in the staircase of the house where Erna lives, the shadowy lighting clearly foreshadowing Siodmak’s Noir period. Sexuality is the enemy of bourgeois society here, and Bassermann’s Dr. Bienert is a blustering patriarch, who would sacrifice anyone to save his son.

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THE BURNING SECRET (BRENNENDES GEHEIMNIS) is based on a novel by Stefan Zweig. Shot in 1932, it was to be Siodmak’s last German film for 23 years. In a Swiss Sanatorium, the twelve-year old Edgar (H.J. Schaufuss) is bored, and pleased to befriend Baron Von Haller (Willi Forst), a racing driver. But he does not know that Von Haller is using him to get close to his mother (Hilde Wagner). Soon Edgar gets suspicious, the two adults always want to be alone. He surprises them in flagrante and runs home to his father, although he does not give his secret away. When his mother arrives, he looks at her knowingly, but stays ‘mum’. Siodmak has sharpened the edges of this coming-of-age story, the novel concentrating more on romantic and psychological aspects. There is real violence between Edgar and Von Haller, and the lovemaking of the adulterous couple, which Edgar interrupts, is more vicious than affectionate. When the film was premiered in March 1933, Siodmak was already living in Paris, and Goebbels denounced the film as un-German, not surprisingly, since both the author of the novel and the director of the film were Jews living abroad in exile.

Hatred_1 copyWhen Siodmak shot MOLLENARD (1937) in France, it would be the penultimate of his French-set features. (In 1938, he would finish “Ultimatum” for the fatally ill Robert Wiene; and in the same year he is credited with “artistic supervision” for Vendetta, directed by Georges Kelber). MOLLENARD (HATRED) is the nearest to a film Noir so far: it is a fight to the death between Captain Mollenard (Harry Baur) and his wife Mathide (Gabrielle Dorziat). Captain Mollenard is a gun runner in Shanghai, he is shown as a hero, a good friend to his crew. When he returns to Dunkirk and his wife and two children, illness renders him powerless to his vitriolic wife, who tries to turn the children against him. Mollenard attempts to use his strength to re-conquer his wife, but fails, unlike during his days in Shanghai. The son takes the side of his mother, the daughter tries to drown herself, but Mollenard saves her. In the end, his crew carries the dying man out of the house, he would end his life where he was most happy – at sea. MOLLENARD is a contrast between utopia and dystopia for the main protagonist: the sea, where he is free (to commit crimes), and the bourgeois home, where he is a prisoner of conventions. He is unable to survive in this which cold, emotionless prison. MOLLENARD is seen as his greatest film in France, a dramatic version of Noir.

Snares copyPIÈGES (1939) was Siodmak’s last French film before emigrating to the USA – and his greatest box-office success of this period. Whilst most of Siodmak’s French films featured fellow emigrés in front and behind the camera, PIÈGES only has the co-author, Ernst Neubach, as a fellow emigré– the DOP, Ted Pahle, was American, and the star, Maurice Chevalier, already an legend was very much a Frenchman: Siodmak had established himself. (A fact, which would count for nothing at the start of his US career.)  PIÈGES is the story of a serial killer who murders eleven women in the music-hall world of Paris. The police, whose main suspect is the night-club-owner and womaniser Fleury (Chevalier), chooses Arienne (the debutant Marie Dea), to lure the murderer into the open. But Arienne falls in love with Fleury’s associate Brémontière, only to find out that he is the murderer. In the end the gutsy Arienne (Dea is a subtle antithesis to the French heroines of this period) has to risk her lift to save her husband Fleury’s. There are more than a few clues to the later “Phantom Lady” in PIÈGES.  Eric von Stroheim is brilliant as a mad fashion czar who has lost his fortune and adoring women.

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SON OF DRACULA (1943) was already Robert Siodmak’s seventh film in Hollywood, his first for Universal. Scripted by his brother Curt, SON OF DRACULA was a great risk for Robert, it was his first outing in the classical Horror genre, not to mention the great ‘Dracula tradition’ started by Ted Browning in 1931. The film is set in the bayous of Louisianna, where Katherine Caldwell has inherited the plantation “Dark Oaks” from her father, who died suddenly under mysterious circumstances. She gives a party, and entertains Count Alucard (Lon Chaney jr.) an acquaintance  from her travels in central Europe. She discards her fiancée Frank and marries Alucard. Frank shoots the count, but the bullet passes through him, killing Katherine. In prison, Katherine visits him as a bat, turning into her human form (a first in film history), and asking Frank to kill Alucard, so they can live together forever as vampires. Frank grants her wish, but also burns her in her coffin. SON OF DRACULA is pure gothic horror, but suffered from Lon Chaney jr. being miscast in a role created by Bela Lugosi as his Alter Ego. Strongest are the scenes in the bayous, where the evil still lurks after the death of Katherine and Alucard: everything seems toxic, the spell of the vampire lives on.

Cobra_Woman_1.jpg_rgb copyCOBRA WOMAN (1943) was Robert Siodmak’s first film in colour, shot in widescreen Technicolor. Its star, Maria Montez, an aristocrat from the Dominican Republic, whose real name was Maria Africa Garcia Vidal de Santo Silas, would later gain cult status after her early death at the age of 39 from a heart attack in her bathtub in Paris. Maria plays Tollea, who is whisked away just before her wedding to Ramu, to her birth island where her evil twin sister Naja (also played by Montez) holds sway. Ramu and his helper Kado follow her, but Tollea has decided to sacrifice her love for Ramu to become the new ruler of the island, so as to prevent an eruption of the volcano provoked by Naja’s sins. COBRA WOMAN is pure camp, Siodmak said “it was nonsense, but fun”.

Phantom_Lady_1 copyIn 1943 Siodmak was on a roll: he would make four film that year, and PHANTOM LADY (1943) was also the most important of his American period to date: the first of a quartet, which would form with The Spiral Staircase, The Killers and Criss Cross, the classic Noir films of their creator.

PHANTOM LADY is based on a novel by Cornell Woolrich (William Irish), a prolific writer, whose novels and short stories were the basis for twenty films Noir of the classic period. They also provided the basis for Nouvelle Vague fare. Pivotal in Woolrich’s novels is the race against time. Scott Henderson, an engineer, is accused of murdering his wife. He proclaims his innocence, but is sentenced to death. His secretary Carol “Kansas” Richman (Ella Raines) is convinced he is not a murderer, and together with inspector Burges, she sets out to find the real culprit. Henderson’s alibi is a woman with a flamboyant hat, he meets in a bar, and spends the evening with, while  his wife was murdered – but they promised not to reveal their identities. The mystery woman  is illusive and when Carol tries to unravel her identity, the barman, who to denies having seen her at all, is run over by a car shortly after interviewed by Richman. Another witness, a drummer (Elisha Cook. Jr.), is also murdered, before Richman corners Franchot Tone, an artist, and Richman’s best friend as the murderer: he had an affair with Richman’s wife. German expressionism and Siodmak’s customary near documentary style dominate: New York is a bed of intrigue, where shadows lurk and footsteps signal danger. The majority of scenes could be watched without dialogue, particularly Cook’s drummer solo, which fits in well with the impressionist décor. With PHANTOM LADY, Robert Siodmak had found his (sub)genre.

Christmas_Holiday_10CHRISTMAS HOLIDAY (1944), based on a novel by Somerset Maugham, has a most misleading title and is perhaps Siodmak’s most exotic film Noir. Lt. Mason, on Christmas leave, is delayed in New Orleans, where he meets the singer Jackie Lamont (Deanna Durham) who tells him her real name is Abigail Manette, and that her husband Robert (Gene Kelly) is in jail for murdering his bookie. In a long flashback, we see Robert’s mother trying to cover up her son’s crime. After Jackie leaves Mason, she is confronted in a roadhouse by Robert who has escaped from jail. Before he can shoot her, a policeman’s bullet kills him. Like “Phantom Lady”, CHRISTMAS HOLIDAY is photographed again by Woody Bredell, New Orleans is a tropical, outlandish setting and the film has much more the feel of a French film-noir than an American. Siodmak uses Wagner’s “Liebestod” to frame the love story of the doomed couple.

THE SUSPECT (1944) is one of Siodmak’s less convincing Noirs. Philip Marshall (Charles Laughton), a sedentary middle-aged man, is driven out by his heartless wife Cora, and falls in love with the much younger Mary (Ella Raines). Philip becomes a different person, and thrives with his new love. But Cora finds out about the couple and threatens Philip with disclosure, which would have ruined him professionally. He kills first Cora, then his neighbour Gilbert Simmons, who blackmails him. Inspector Huxley has no proof against him, and Philip could start a new life with his young wife in Canada, but he decides to stay and give himself up, just as Huxley had predicted. Shot entirely in a studio, THE SUSPECT lacks suspense, and is only remarkable for Laughton’s brilliant performance.

The_Strange_Affair_of_Uncle_Harry_3 copyTHE STRANGE AFFAIR OF UNCLE HARRY (1945) features a semi-incestuous relationship between brother and sister: John “Harry” Quincy (George Sanders) lives a quiet life in New Hampshire with his sisters Lettie (Geraldine Fitzgerald) and Hester. When he meets the fashion designer Deborah Brown (Ella Raines), he falls in love with her. Lettie is jeaulous, and feigns a heart attack. Harry wants to murder her, but Hester drinks the poison intended for Lettie, who is convicted for Hester’s murder, but does not give away the real culprit, since she knows that her death will prevent Harry from marrying Deborah. To mollify The “MPAA code agency”, Siodmak found a new ending: Harry wakes up at, having only dreamt the events; producer Joan Harrison resigned from the project in protest. Lettie is a psychopath in the vein of the murderer in Phantom Lady and Olivia de Havilland’s murderous twin in The Dark Mirror. But there is more ambiguity to the narrative than is obvious at first sight: there is a vey clear resemblance between Lettie and Deborah – they might have been exchangeable for Harry. THE STRANGE AFFAIR OF UNCLE HARRY is one of the darkest Noirs, because all is played out on the background of a very respectable family, in small town America.

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THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE (1945) is Siodmak’s most famous Noir, a classic because of its old-dark-house setting and the woman-in-peril theme. In a small town in New England, handicapped women are being murdered. Helen (Dorothy McGuire) is watching a silent movie in town, where a lame woman is strangled. Helen then hurries home, to look after the family matriarch Mrs. Warren (Ethel Barrymore), who is bedridden. Since Helen is mute, she is in mortal danger: the killer lives in the house. When Helen finds the body of Blanche, who was engaged to Albert Warren (George Brent), after having left his half-brother Steve, Helen suspects Stephen and locks him in the cellar; then she tries to phone Dr. Parry, but she cannot communicate. Too late she finds out that Albert is the killer, who chases her up the spiral staircase, but his mother gets up and shoots him, causing Helen, who lost her voice after witnessing the traumatic death of her parents, to cry out loud. Very little of the background to the narrative has been mentioned: the theme being eugenics, a concept the late President Theodore Roosevelt was very keen on. Albert Warren has taken this concept a step further; he kills “weak and imperfect” humans because he believes his father would be proud of him. Like T. Roosevelt, Albert’s father was a big-game hunter. In his mother’s bedroom is a poster with a Teddy Roosevelt lookalike and the initials “TR” above an elephant’s tusk. Considering the Nazi Euthanasia programmes, this aspect of THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE has often been neglected by critics.

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THE DARK MIRROR (1946) reflects Hollywood’s interest in Freud. Two identical sisters, Terry and Ruth Collins, both played by Olivia de Havilland, are suspected of murder, when one of the women’s suitors is found dead. Inspector Stevenson is fascinated by the two woman, but would not have solved the crime without the help of Dr. Elliot, a psychoanalyst. He finds out that whilst Ruth is a very adjusted and loving person, Terry is just her opposite: a ruthless psychopath, who fabricates clues, to make Ruth look like the murderess, whilst at the same time is planning to kill her sister, before Dr. Elliot is able to expose her. Siodmak deals with the “Doppelgänger” theme, which was explored as early as in the silent film era of expressionism, by using Freudian theory to explain the perversity of the “evil” sister: rejection, confusion and lastly alienation let her spin out of control, allowing only “herself” to survive. Unlike in The Spiral Staircase, the interior is totally unthreatening, which makes Terry’s murderous lust even more terrifying.

TIme_Out_of_Mind_2 copyTIME OUT OF MIND (1946/7) is more melodrama than Noir. Chris Fortune (Robert Hutton), the son of a heartless and ambitious shipping tycoon, falls in love with the servant girl Kate (Phyllis Calvert). But in 19th century New England, this was not the social norm. Kate encourages Chris to marry a lady of his class, who turns out to be a beast and drives Chris more into alcohol dependency. Chris fancies himself as a composer, but only Kate believes in his talent. The Noir aspect is the family constellation: Chris is obviously weak, and his overbearing father (Leo G. Carroll) rules over his life. More to the point, Chris’s sister Rissa (Ella Raines) seemingly protects her younger brother, but is in reality totally obsessed by him. She represents the semi-incestuous theme running, not only through Siodmak’s, noir films.

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CRISS CROSS (1949) is perhaps Siodmak’s most personal Noir. Reworking elements of The Killers – and casting Burt Lancaster again in the role of the obsessed lover -, CRISS CROSS is the story of an “amour fou”, its emotional intensity on par with Tourneur’s classic Out of the Past. Steve Thompson (Lancaster) is still in love with his ex wife Anna (Yvonne De Carlo), who now lives with the gangster Slim Dundee (Dan Duryea). But when the two of them meet in a bar, the whole things starts up again. Dundee surprises them, Thompson comes up with an excuse: he needs Dundee’s help for an armed car robbery. But Dundee is suspicious: he and his gang kill Thompson’s partner and wound him after the robbery. When Anna goes missing with the money, Dundee suspects the couple have double-crossed him. Dundee has Thompson abducted, but Thompson bribes his captors and finds Anna. She is terrified by the thought that Dundee will find them and wants to abandon the wounded Steve, but Dundee arrives and shoots them both, before running towards the police. The final scene, when Anna’s and Steve’s bodies fall literally into each other, bullets flying as the police siren’s grow louder, is the apotheosis of everything that’s gone on since the scene in the bar. From then on, in true Noir fashion, all is told in flashbacks and voice-over narration. Anna is the quintessential Noir heroine, telling Steve: “All those things which have happened we’ll forget it. You see, I make you forget it. After it’s done, after it’s all over and we are safe, it will be just you and me. The way it should’ve been all along from the start”. CRISS CROSS is my personal favourite: dark, expressionistic, melancholic and wonderfully doomed.

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THE GREAT SINNER (1948/9) is an awkward mixture of high literature and low-brow melodrama. Based partly on Dostoyevsky’s novel “The Gambler” and some autobiographical details of this author, Siodmak struggles to bring this expensive “A-picture” to life. The stars Gregory Peck (Fedya) and Ava Gardener (Pauline Ostrovsky) – in the first of three collaborations – do their best, but Christopher Isherwood’s script is a hotchpotch of the sensational and sentimental, tragic events unfold fast and furiously, logic and characterisation falling by the wayside. Told in a long flash-back, Pauline receives a manuscript from the dying writer Fedya, in which he tells the story of their first meeting in 1860 in Wiesbaden. Then, Fedya met Pauline on a train journey from Paris to Moscow, but follows her to the casino in Wiesbaden, to study the effects of gambling on the whole Ostrovsky clan. When Pitard, a gambler and friend of Pauline, steals Fedya’s money, the latter tries to save Pitard from his fate, and gives him the money so he can leave the city. But Pitard loses in the casino and shoots himself. Strangely enough, Fedya, who has fallen in love with Pauline, also becomes addicted to gambling – but telling himself, that he wants to win the money, so that Pauline’s father can pay back his debts to the casino owner Armand, and thus free Pauline from the engagement to the ruthless tycoon. But after some early success, Fedya looses heavily, tries to in vain to pawn a religious medal, which belongs to Pauline; finally, he wants to commit suicide, before he looses consciousness. Recovered, he finishes his novel and Pauline forgives him. In spite of a strong supporting cast including Ethel Barrymore, Melvin Douglas, Agnes Moorehead and Walter Huston, THE GREAT SINNER flopped at the box-office, having cost 20 m Dollar in today’s money, it lost 8 m Dollar. Siodmak, according to Gregory Peck, did not enjoy the responsibility of the big budget production, “he looked like a nervous wreck”.

The_File_on_Thelma_2 copyWith THE FILE ON THELMA JORDON (1949) Siodmak returned to the safe ground of Noir films. Thelma (Barbara Stanwyck) is unhappily married to Tony Laredo (Richard Rober), but is attracted to his animalistic sex-appeal. When she discusses burglaries at her wealthy aunt’s house, where she also lives, with assistant district attorney Cleve Marshall (Wendell Correy), the two fall in love. When the aunt is killed, and a necklace stolen, Thelma is the main suspect, because Tony has been away to Chicago. Thelma is put on trial, and Cleve pays her lawyer and plans the trial strategy with him, even though he has learned about Thelma’s past, and is convinced that she is the murderer. The aunt’s butler has seen a stranger at the crime scene, but did not recognise him. Thelma, who knows that the person is Cleve, does not give his name away. She is aquitted and wants to leave town with Tony, when Cleve confronts them. Tony beats Cleve up and the couple flee, but Thelma causes an accident on purpose, in which both are killed – but not before she has confessed to the murder. In spite of this, Cleve’s career and marriage is ruined. THE FILE ON THELMA JORDON is a neat reversal on Double Indemnity, which also starred Stanwyck as the Queen of all femme fatales. But here, Thelma and Cleve really love each other, and Thelma pays for her crime with her life, and Cleve will be ostracised by society for a long time. Whilst Wilder’s couple was evil from the beginning, Siodmak gives his lovers a much more human touch. THE FILE ON THELMA JORDON was Robert Siodmak’s last American Film Noir. He would later direct two more films, which are in certain ways close to the subgenre; but he would never again achieve the greatness of his American Film Noir cycle, even his directing output would run to another 18 films.

The_Crimson_Pirate_3In the THE CRIMSON PIRATE (1951/2) Siodmak was reunited with Burt Lancaster, who also produced the film. Set in the late 18th century in the Caribbean, Captain Vallo (Lancaster), is a pirate, who tries to make money from selling weapons to the rebels on the island of Cobra, lead by El Libre (Frederick Leicester). On the island, Vallo falls in love with El Libre’s daughter Conseuela (Eva Bartok). Later he has to rescue her father, and support the revolution – even against the wishes of his fellow pirates, who do not see the reason for such a good deed – since it is totally unprofitable! In a stormy finale with tanks, TNT, machine guns and an outstanding colourful airship, our hero, now in drag, wins the revolution and Consulea’s heart. What is most surprising is the humour and lightheartedness of the production. Everything is told tongue-in-cheek, the action scenes are overwhelming and Lancaster (the ex-circus acrobat) dominates the film with his stunts. It seems hardly credible Robert Siodmak, creator of gloom and doom, dark shadows and even darker hearts, would be responsible for such an uplifting and hilarious spectacle, 15 years before Louis Malle’s equally enchanting “Viva Maria!”. Ken Adam, the future “Bond” production designer, earned one of his first credits for this film.

It will never be absolutely clear why Robert Siodmak decided to leave Hollywood after he finished THE CRIMSON PIRATE, to work again in Germany (with a one-film stop in France, so as to repeat his journey of the thirties backwards). In the USA, he was offered a lucrative six-film deal and had shown with his last film, that he could now also handle big productions successfully. There are rumours of pending HUAC hearings, because of his friendship with Charles Spencer Chaplin, but Siodmak himself never mentioned these as a reason for the return to his homeland. Rather like Fritz Lang and Edgar Ulmer, it can only be assumed that “Heimweh” was the reason for Siodmak’s return. True, he lived in Ascona, Switzerland, but he worked nearly exclusively in Germany. What he, and other “Remigrants” did not reckon with, was the political and cultural climate in the Federal Republic of Germany. When these directors had left Germany, the Nazis had just started the transformation of the country. But in the early fifties, the democracy of the country was not chosen, but forced on the population by the Allies. Old Nazis were still in many powerful positions, and the majority of the population still grieved, full of self-pity, about their defeat. The Third Reich, and particularly the Holocaust, were more or less Taboo, both in daily life and in all cultural referenced. The film industry also suffered from the lack of a new beginning; even Veit Harlan, director of Jud Süss, was allowed to restart his career. It is no co-incidence that neither Lang or Ulmer produced anything notable after their return.

The_Devil_Strikes_at_Night_4 copyThe same can be said for Robert Siodmak, with one exception: THE DEVIL STRIKES AT NIGHT (NACHTS WENN DER TEUFEL KAM), which he directed in 1957 was, deservedly, nominated for the “Oscar” as “Best foreign film”. Set during WWII in Hamburg, the film tells the story of the serial killer Bruno Lüdke (Mario Adorf). When caught by inspector Kersten (Claus Holm), the latter’s superior, the Gestapo Officer Rossdorf (Hannes Messmer) points out that another man had already been ‘convicted’: Willi Keun (Wolfgang Peters), a small-time party member, had “been shot whilst escaping” – without informing the population about the murders, since just a monstrous criminal did not fit in with ruling ideology of the Aryan supremacy. Both, police man and Gestapo officer, now have the difficult task to start to convince the authorities that a German serial killer was on the loose for over a decade. Both will be sent to the Eastern front, to cover up the case. The film is based on real events, Bruno Lüdke (1908-1944) was mentally retarded, but may have confessed to more murders than he actually committed – to clear up unsolved murder cases. Siodmak re-creates the atmosphere of his best Noir films: the city is darkened, the image dissolves from an omniscient perspective to a particular one – particularly in the scene where Lüdke is caught in the headlights of a car. Fear and excitement permeate like a black stain throughout. Kesten’s obsession with the case create a fragmented world, where the images seem to splinter. Chaos rules, and nobody seems to be safe: the hunt for Lüdke, which frames the film, is shown like a haunting parable on the destructive nature of the 3rd Reich. Unfortunately, Siodmak fell short of this standard in the other 12 films directed in West Germany between 1955 and 1969.

The_Rough_and_the_Smooth_1In 1959 Siodmak worked in the Elstree-Borehamwood studios, to direct THE ROUGH AND THE SMOOTH, based on the novel by Robin Maugham. Robert Cecil Romer, 2nd Viscount Maugham, nephew of Somerset Maugham, was the enfant terrible of his family. Socialist and self-confessed homosexual, he was a very underrated novelist: The Servant, filmed in 1963 by Joseph Loosey, with Dirk Bogarde in the title role, is one of the classics of British post-WWII cinema. THE ROUGH AND THE SMOOTH shows similarities: Mike Thompson (Tony Britton), an archeologist, is engaged to Margaret (Natasha Parry), the daughter of his boss, who finances his work. Mike feels trapped in a loveless relationship, and falls for Ila Hansen (Nadja Tiller), a young and attractive woman. But she has a secret: not only is she in cahoots with the tough gangster Reg Barker (William Bendix), but there is a third man in her life, who has a hold over her. After Barker commits suicide, driven by Hansen’s demands, the latter tries also to blackmail Mike and Margaret. The ending is quiet original. There are very dark undertones, particularly for the late 50s, when Ila comments: “I don’t cry much, I have been hurt a lot”. THE ROUGH AND THE SMOOTH is a subversive film considering the context of its period. The camera pans over stultified Britain of the last 50s, where there seems to be no middle-ground between boring respectability and outright perversion. When the two worlds collide, the conflict is fought on both sides with grim, violent determination. With THE ROUGH AND THE SMOOTH, Siodmak, would, for the last time, come close to his American Noir films, for which he was called “Prince of the Shadows”: referring not only to the quality of the images, but also to a society, where, to quote Brecht, “we are only aware of the ones in the light, the ones in the shadows, we don’t see”. Robert Siodmak made sure that the ones in the shadows played the major roles in his Films Noir career. Andre Simonoviescz ©

MASTER OF SHADOWS | A RETROSPECTIVE OF ROBERT SIODMAK

Masters of Cinema home video release of CRISS CROSS; Robert Siodmak’s influential film noir masterpiece; to be released on 22 June 2020.

 

 

 

Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse (2016) **** Streaming

Director | Cinematographer: David Bickerstaff | Producer: Phil Grabsky | 93min | Documentary | UK

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The Royal Academy’s ‘Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse’ was the first of its kind to display paintings by artists inspired by gardens. Using Claude Monet as a starting point, the exhibition explored the major role of gardens in the development of art and painting from the 1860s through to the threshold of modernism in the 1920s. This colourful documentary brings the pivotal study to life visiting many of the gardens featured and also offers further insight and context from leading lights of the world of art and garden history.

Director David Bickerstaff and Phil Grabsky are known for their art documentaries on Goya, Van Gogh and Renoir that add a another dimension to the artists and their paintings, bringing their vibrant creations to the screen and allowing their works to travel and gain context through the valuable insight of art curators, experts, even members of the artists’ families.

Painting the Modern Garden shows how Monet was not only a talented painter but also a horticulturalist who took inspiration from nature describing his garden as his “most beautiful masterpiece”. He owed “having become a painter to flowers”, using colour, form and latterly stripping things back to just light and reflection to give an impression of what he really saw and experienced.

FullSizeRender-2 copyBickerstaff’s agile camerawork flits from sumptuous groupings of vivid, herbaceous perennials to gloriously discordant drifts of annuals and their painted representations in the works of Pierre Bonnard, Paul Klee, Gustave Caillebotte, Wassily Kandinsky, Gustav Klimt, John Singer Sargent, Camille Pisarro, Emil Nolde, Joaquin Sorolla, Berthe Morisot, Jacques Tissot, Paul Cézanne and Henri Matisse (to name but a few but only one Englishman!). He finally alights on the talking heads: the Royal Academy co-curator Ann Dumas explains how during the 1860s private gardens became a visual pleasure and a sanctuary for the family, rather than just a source of food; celebrity garden designer Dan Pearson explores how Singer Sargent (left) and Monet conveyed their understanding and love of raising the plants to their artistic impressions of them, particularly seen in Monet’s zinging portrayal of flame rust day lilies, and Singer Sargent white asian lilies. An Art Historian and Professor shows how many different species were being discovered in the Orient, bringing a new dynamic vitality to classic plant pairings in garden designs. The cheeky head gardener at Giverney tells how Monet favoured clashing colours (planting purple with orange accentuates the vibrancy) in contrast to England’s ‘old-fashioned’, classic harmonious schemes – he obviously hasn’t visited many English gardens and in particular those at Great Dixter by the pioneering writer and designer Christopher Lloyd (1921-2006) who with his head gardener Fergus Garrett, whose stock in trade was strident yellow with fluorescent carmine, and other striking contrasts. is at pains to point out that gardening and horticulture is often denigrated as an applied craft along with knitting or basket weaving, whereas, infact, it is a living and changing interactive art – as much as we plant and plan, nature offers a constant source of surprise, each year and season bringing up unexpected variations and results, in many ways similar to painting and filmmaking even architecture: we design but the infinite alchemy of the elements often throws up a result which is both pleasing and rewarding.

Key 108 copy copyThe second act of Painting the Modern Garden gets out and about in the gardens themselves, visiting Monet’s garden at Le Pressoir, Giverny; German Impressionist painter Max Liebemann’s lakeside garden on the banks of the Wannsee in Berlin; Emil Nolde’s garden in Seebüll (Northern Germany) – there are cutaways to Nolde’s intense impressionist works showing how he literally daubed the paint on the canvas to illustrate the boldness of his poppies and dahlias; Joaquín Sorolla’s garden in Madrid which influenced his ethereal work with light and shadow; Henri le Sidaner’s garden in Gerberoy, Picardy – we also meet his relative who explains how le Sindaner’s ‘intimist’ painting was based on the atmospheric light in his garden which echoed reflection and informed his work. This gorgeous travelogue showcases the gardens at their most resplendent.

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The final section of the documentary hones in on Monet’s later years to illustrates how he designed and planted his borders specifically as a source of inspiration for his impressionism. Rather than portraying the garden and individual studies of it, he focused obsessively on light and reflection (left). He sourced newly discovered exotic cultivars of nympheas (bright pink and yellow) that he acquired (‘all my money goes into my garden’) and grew in his excavated lake from the mid 1890s until his death in 1926. The film offers a panoramic view of the remarkable 42ft Agapanthus triptych; a vision of light, suggestive colour and reflection and the most evocative of all his works (seen together for the first time and borrowed  from three different museums) that perfectly evokes the ‘oceanic’ state – a feeling of limitlessness where we are at one with nature. This is the perfect climax to a study that progresses from Renoir’s figurative portrait of Monet in his garden at Argenteuil in 1873 to the broad brush impressionism that occupied the final decade of his Monet’s life. Painting the Modern Garden initially feels like a glossy an advert for the exhibition, but in analysis it offers far more: a worthwhile and engaging filmic tribute to the world of 19th garden art and the fascinating history and people that informed and shaped it. MT

PAINTING THE MODERN GARDEN: MONET TO MATISSE is at RA.ORG.UK

Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse

 

 

 

Brief Encounter (1945) | Valentine special

Director: David Lean | Scr: Anthony Havelock-Allan, Ronald Neame Cast: Celia Johnson, Trevor Howard, Stanley Holloway, Joyce Carey | 88′ | Romantic Drama  | UK

What makes BRIEF ENCOUNTER such a classic English love story – one that might have lost appeal for today’s younger audiences – is not passion or excitement, although David Lean’s postwar drama has all these, it also embraces very English traits: ones that are highly undervalued in romantic terms today: mystery, gracefulness and gallantry. BRIEF ENCOUNTER was set in 1945. A time where middle class men and women wore hats and gloves and beautifully tailored clothes to go about their daily business; they said ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ and ‘how do you do’. In those days, a woman’s place was in the home: not necessarily cleaning and scrubbing, but making it a pleasant and well-ordered sanctuary for her husband and her children. They were considerate, responsible and well-mannered; or were they just repressed, meek and lacking in conviction?

BRIEF ENCOUNTER is a simple and unsentimental narrative that recounts the quiet satisfaction of a woman in a middle-class marriage that turns to desperation when contrasted with a sudden lighting bolt of realisation that love could be so much more. Set against the romantic backdrop of a railway station with all its connotations of escaping into the night and being carried away, it hinted at a more exciting life beyond the confines of the rainy Northern town in Lancashire.

Noel Coward wrote the script for BRIEF ENCOUNTER adapting it from his one-act play ‘Still Life”. The screenplay was the collaboration of writing trio Anthony Havelock-Allan, Lean and Ronald Neame. His protagonists were ordinary, respectable people: a doctor, Alex (Trevor Howard) and a housewife Laura.(Celia Johnson). Not glamorous or good-looking, but with grace, poise and manners. Stanley Holloway plays the cheeky, decent station master who flirts with Joyce Carey, an outwardly prim but inwardly (one imagines) saucy buffet manageress, and Cyril Raymond, possibly a small time solicitor, who is  reasonable and decent as Laura’s husband. Clearly he’s not quite on the same page charismatically as Howard’s doctor, but with the emotional intelligence to suspect his wife has experienced a dalliance, but not sure what it entailed, Loving her, as he clearly does, may not offer the soaring heights of passion, life with him is comfortable and companionable: he is not a philanderer, a drunkard or a bankrupt: “the only one in the world with enough wisdom and gentleness to understand”. Laura will have to realise that in time “just to be ordinary, contended and at peace is sterling silver compared to the small nugget of golden passion that she reaches out to grasp with the doctor. But in BRIEF ENCOUNTER she is starting an exciting journey, one that teeters on the brink of expectancy, the promise of romance that could end in true love, or the paltry acceptance of just how stale and comfy her marriage has become.

Noel Coward was not like the doctor or the solicitor in his play – he was unofficially gay – but realised that his story needed to focus on middle-class people to be a success in 1945. David Lean, a lapsed Quaker and serial monogamist, collaborated four times with the playwright, Coward mentoring Lean in: In Which We Serve, This Happy Breed, Blithe Spirit.

The Noirish melodrama follows Laura and Alec’s chance meeting in the station buffet that will lead to hours of anguished love-making, soul-searching, hand-clutching, clock-watching and doubting as Rachmaninov’s  Second Piano Concerto blares out, courtesy of the National Symphony Orchestra, until Alex finally takes his leave to start a new life in South Africa taking his wife and children. In their brief ‘affair’, Alec calls all the shots, makes all the decisions: toying with her emotions, tugging on her heartstrings until finally leaving her for another woman (his wife), in the station buffet, with her self-obsessed friend Dolly Messiter.

The success of BRIEF ENCOUNTER today must surely be the purity of its emotions, the simplicity of its message, the innocent enormity of its scope. Laura’s perfect velvety English voiceover cuts through class, time and tide, because Alec is ultimately the knave. He could have taken her to Johannesburg, leaving his wife and kids. She could have left her husband and children: but that’s a 21st century ‘romance’ and this was 1945. Celia Johnson is the reason why BRIEF ENCOUNTER is ultimately so moving and heartfelt: “This misery can’t last. I must try to control myself. Nothing lasts really. Neither happiness nor despair”. Her anguish, her longing, the desperation in her eyes; all so beautifully portrayed, all so delicately restrained and English in its sensibilities. Surely Trevor Howard’s Alec is merely the counterpoint to her feelings of love, a man in search of a brief fling to add piquancy to his professional and marital routine: he opens her up romantically, fills her with hope and excitement and he abandons her to the rainy streets of an English postwar town. MT

BRIEF ENCOUNTER | VALENTINE  SPECIAL | REGENT STREET CINEMA
Escape the tawdry madness of modern-day Valentine’s Day with a screening of BRIEF ENCOUNTER and a free glass of ‘fizz’ (dyspepsia guaranteed).

Robert Redford | Conversations with | Marrakech Film Festival 2019

Sometimes I ask myself what’s missing. What’s missing now is the dreams and enjoyment of my childhood, the sense of wonder”

When Robert Redford was growing up in small-town California it was wartime and there was no television back then, only radio. “The first movie I saw was a Walt Disney. The dream was to be able to walk to a neighbourhood theatre to see it on the big screen – I could hardly wait for the weekend. What I miss with all these screening services and advanced technology is the time when you would walk into that cinema, into the darkness with all the energy of all these people around you, and the magic was seeing things on the big screen”.

Talking during the ‘Marrakech Conversations with’ series at this year’s 18th edition, Redford looks frail but contemplative as he casts his mind back to his first cinema memories.  “The idea of being an actor was the sense of freedom, the freedom to act someone else. And if you were paying attention you would notice certain types of people. And you could embody these people and bring that forward as an art form. And acting is very much an art form”.

During his fifty years in the business, Redford has always tried to look forward, only looking back if it helped in the story telling. One of his favourite authors is Scott Fitzgerald and he had the pleasure in 1974 to be a part of that story with his film version of The Great Gatsby where he plays the Jay Gatsby in love with Mia Farrow’s Daisy. There’s a great line where Nick Carraway notices Gatsby’s great love of the past, when he’s discussing with Daisy after the big party. And she says: “Gatsby you can’t repeat the past. And Gatsby answers: “of course you can”.

Redford was a voracious reader as a young man. The writers that influenced him were Scott Fitzgerald and Hemingway – ‘when he wasn’t being too macho’ – and J D Salinger. Many of the films he went on to direct look at the past of America. But he says: “When I think about my country, it’s hard not to be critical because during the war when I was about five years old, I remember the energy, when everyone was getting together for the greater good (to fight Fascism in Nazi Germany). We all came together in unison, in an act that would bind us together in something that was going to be good for our country. I didn’t really understand what that was, but it just felt good. That was my memory of the Second World War, that and the memory of going to the movie theatre, particularly if it was something by Walt Disney”. We are now in dark times and I think it’s pretty obvious to anyone reading the news that there’s a dark wind blowing through all the countries. And in America I see so many of our liberties threatened”.

The most important piece of advice he can give to young actors nowadays is to ‘pay attention’. ” You often hear the phrase: ‘God is in the details’, if that’s true then I myself should also be paying more attention. And so when I’m walking in my place in Santa Fe, New Mexico, I’m often so busy thinking ahead, that I don’t notice what is actually in front of me. And so I’d think the best advice it to see what you’ve actually got in front of you”.

Redford finds it sad when a lot of good directors don’t get attention. “Some directors work is very one-dimensional, it’s good but it’s always the same group of people, the same themes” One director who he feels was very side-lined was George Ray Hill. “he was all over the map, if you look at his biography, and I’m sad not many people have, he rises up to the top. If you think about Butch Cassidy, and you look at The Sting, he’s never really got much credit. It makes me kinda sad.”

When he was getting ready to make Butch Cassidy Redford had just come out of a comedy on the stage in New York. He was about 28 0r 29 and Paul Newman was the confirmed star of the film, all set to play The Sundance Kid, and Redford Butch Cassidy in account of his previous comedy role. But the part that interested him was actually The Sundance Kid. So he explained this to Ray Hill when they met in a bar in New York’s Third Avenue. He wanted to play the Kid based on his own experience and his sensibility of feeling like an outlaw for most of his life. Ray Hill knew Paul Newman very well, and he knew he was much more like Butch Cassidy – he was an upbeat guy. George Ray Hill appreciated the situation and turned it all around. Newman and Redford became close friends. At the time Paul Newman was highly considered, he was 42 whereas Redford was only 29. The studio didn’t really want Redford in the film and Ray Hill did. So finally Newman decided to support Redford and as a result he was always grateful to him. “Paul was always a cool guy, chewing gum and smoking cigarettes and he suited the part of Butch Cassidy, but what many critics missed was that in our following film The Sting the roles were completely reversed. In Butch Cassidy I played the cool guy, and he played the happy go lucky guy. In The Sting he was the cool guy and I was the happy go lucky guy. No one’s picked that up.”

When asked what he thought about Sydney Pollack’s maxim that “everything is political, even love” Redford raises a laugh. “Well you’ll have to ask Sydney about that, but you can’t because he’s dead”. Redford enjoyed a close friendship with Sydney Pollack. The two developed a mutual trust because they had both been actors, although Pollack worked best when he was in control. The relationship drifted apart when “Pollack realised he could not just be a director, he could be a mogul in control of a studio, and he started to drift out of that zone, and I don’t think he was entirely happy but it had a lot to do with growing up in a Mid Western town and from under-privilege. He was aiming very high and I think he saw his way forward as being in control of everything”.

In Sydney Pollack’s political thriller Three Days of the Condor (1975) Redford plays a CIA character who is trying and get to the truth when he finds all his co-workers dead on returning to his office. His character Turner asks: “Who can we trust to get to the truth? There’s a story to telling the truth. But is it a true story?. I’m not so sure”. Nowadays it’s getting more difficult to get the truth everywhere in the world”. You have to trust your faith and your instincts. But you don’t really know. Who can you really trust?. Three Days ends with a question, rather than an answer. And that’s very relevant still today. Originally adapted from James Grady’s book Six Days of the Condor, when asked why the film had been renamed Three Days of the Condor he replies: “it was about budget”. Also cutting down the time frame, tightened the tension.

In The Company You Keep (2012) trust and the search for the truth are also central themes. The bottom line here is again: “Who can you really trust to give you the truth. Someone isn’t telling the truth and you have to find out who and why?

Redford claims to be very focused on being socially conscious. And by this he means being aware of what’s going on on the political front. He very much believes in questioning the truth and firmly relies on good journalism to do so – The New York Times is a trusted source – as a way of providing a counterbalance to politicians and leaders who are often spinning their own story. Being socially aware for him is all about questioning the truth and what’s out there. In The Company he plays a character who firmly questions the truth and is prepared to be flexible in that goal, whereas his co-star Julie Christie plays a radical who actually hides from the truth hoping it will change. Their feisty dynamic provides the dramatic grist a story about investigative journalism set during the 1970s.

So what does freedom mean to Robert Redford? When scoping it out he comes up with the counterintuitive position that freedom often fails to offer a better alternative. “if you take the position that you have to get away from anything you’re given, you might be losing something really valuable”. There’s a great deal of dramatic potential to be mined from seeking the truth. And this premise has driven many of his films as a director.

In Lions for Lambs (2007) Redford explores the aftermath of Afghanistan through three stories involving those affected. One is an angry young student played by Andrew Garfield. “Are young people more self-centred and less engaged politically than the older generation were in their day? Redford ponders: “Many of them are angry. But if you assume – as Andy Garfield’s character did that being sceptical or convinced that everything is corrupt is a very one note position, but it doesn’t actually make it the truth. The truth is actually more complicated than that: Being radical is actually being very narrow-minded. Life is not just one dimension”. And the tension between Garfield’s narrow-minded character and the professor mines that dramatic tension through the movie.”

Although Redford describes himself as being more political during the Vietnam war years, he then became more self-absorbed when he got back to his acting career. But the art form of directing makes a worthy subject of politics and he started to re-engage when he started making films. “Art in a broad sense is a useful way to criticise society and maintain a balance between the power base. Art provides another point of view to correct extremes and pioneer a way forward for the truth”.

When Redford saw a documentary made by D A Pennebaker, known for his cinema verite approach to filmmaking, this inspired him in directing his own films. “They went inside their subject matter with the camera, rather than simply observing it from the outside, bringing some real dramatic tension to the form”. And so this was the approach Redford adopted when he started filming. When asked if he finds it easier to direct or act, Redford claims it all comes down to control. Also working as an artist sketching people he met on his travels in Europe helped tremendously to shape his filmmaking projects. “At that time there was a great deal of anger towards America and so I ceased to engage with people and used my sketchbook as a companion and to storyboard ideas and ‘get in the picture. being on the outside looking in and also on the inside”.

Robert Redford has now started to move back into sketching and drawing and away from filmmaking, but makes an acute observation on his change of direction:. “The trouble with retiring is that you should never announce it, otherwise people start saying – Oh could you just do this, or could you just do that – you should just retire”. However he is still working on a project which was has been in development for a few years. “It’s called 109 East Palace ” and it’s about an address in New Mexico where the atomic bomb was developed, and Oppenheimer was behind it. So I thought it was just such a great story, about the inventor of the atomic bomb. But because he was a Communist and this was the McCarthy era during the 1950s, everything was very extreme and right wing. Although Oppenheimer was a hero,  they (the authorities) went after him. What interests me is how quickly things can change because of the political climate”. He’s still deciding how he wants to approach the endeavour. “I believe in risk, and I believe that not taking a risk is a risk. It’s the only thing that pushes you forward. Because you don’t know where that going to lead you. Otherwise you will become stagnant. But it’s important to study the reasons why you want to pursue the risky strategy”. He also enjoys a challenge playing a character who is not popular and whose point of view is isolated from the mainstream “because it involves really committing to the role, and seeing it forward successfully. If you are going to play a part, you really have to inhabit that character, and it’s a risk because you can get lost.”

Robert Redford has never considered himself a Hollywood actor. “I grew up in Los Angeles, I didn’t grow up in Hollywood and I’ve never had that much regard for Hollywood. I wanted to be a serious actor and that started in New York in the theatre and I wanted to see where that led, and it led me back to Los Angeles as a filmmaker”.

When he decided to set up Sundance his goal was very simple: “Celebrating people who don’t get celebrated. Celebrating people who are either being ignored or undiscovered. Who deserve to be discovered. When I started Sundance back in the 1980s there were hundreds of independent films but they had no traction, there was no real category. It was still just mainstream films. Because I was in the mainstream I was very tuned into the idea of being independent. I was in the studio system but there was a whole world out there and I wanted to give it a chance. I wanted to support independent film with this non-profit institute called Sundance to support the stories and talent out there. ”

Robert Redford CONVERSATIONS WITH | MARRAKECH FILM FESTIVAL 2019 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Conversation with Harvey Keitel | Marrakech Film Festival 2019

“Stanislavsky said there are no small parts, only small actors”. Harvey Keitel proved this when he took the ‘unadvertised lead’ with a few lines and made it into a memorable one as ‘a pimp standing in the doorway’ in Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver. Scorsese had wanted him to be the campaign worker, but he took his cue from years of living in Hell’s Kitchen amongst the drug traffickers and sex workers of the area. Spending two weeks learning to be the pimp after having first playing the girl during rehearsals the words of the real life pimp still send chills down his body: “Remember. You love her”

Later with Jody he made up the moves they danced together, and he accidentally met his father in the street while dressed in drag to see if his outfit passed muster. His father’s only comment was: “Actor smacktor – get yourself a job so you can have two weeks holiday in Coney Island”.

Well known as a long term friend and collaborator of Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro, Harvey Keitel was born across the river from the city in Brooklyn in 1939. Noted for his roles in arthouse fare such as Jane Campion’s The Piano, Ridley Scott’s The Duellists and Bertrand Tavernier’s Earth Watch as well as his appearances in hard-boiled US thrillers: Reservoir Dogs, Mean Streets and Bad Lieutenant, he has always tried to avoid commercial directors but has never won an Oscar despite many nominations and 27 screen awards for some 160 films he has starred in.
Harvey Keitel first realised that acting was to be his career when he started to work off Broadway in Greenwich Village, where he was advised to move from Brooklyn from the City. His father had advised him to ‘get a proper job’ but his goal was to make money from his craft and the desire to act eventually came after  three years of being in the Marines and feeling an aimlessness when he returned to Coney Island.
Martin Scorsese was the first director he made a film with. They both share the same objective and have got on like a house on fire since meeting when Scorsese was at the NYU. At the time Keitel was looking to get into acting and Scorsese was also just starting out and looking for actors to join him in his TV series Who’s That Knocking at My Door, so Keitel went along for an audition. Although no one was getting paid, he was keen on the experience and was short-listed for the lead role. Desperately needing the part, he was ushered into a small room where a guy at desk asked him to sit down. There were no introductions and eventually, Harvey, objecting to the man’s total lack of politeness told him: “Fuck you”. A fight then developed and Marty was forced to break it up. Naturally he got the part for entering into the spirit at the audition. “When you’re doing an improvisation with an actor, it’s a good idea to let him know that”, Keitel remarked later. The two then became life-long buddies in a career that would span over 60 years, their latest film together is The Irishman.
Another actor who had a great influence on him at the start of his career Anthony Manino who invited him to count all the coat hangers in a room where he went for an audition. Finding this a bizarre and fruitless idea, Keitel simple skimmed over the hangers and gave a nominal answer to Manino’s question. The response has remained with him every since and he always relays it to young actors he meets practising their craft at the Lee Strasberg’s Actors’ Studio starting out on their career: “Acting is doing things truthfully, with a purpose”.
When asked what he expects from a director, Keitel claims he just likes them: “to shut the fuck up and turn the camera on”. And although he told his agent he didn’t want to work for a commercial director he did go on eventually to collaborate successfully with Ridley Scott on The Duellists in 1977.
Robert De Niro became another close friend when the two met at the Actors’ Studio and intuitively knew they would get on before they even spoke to each other. The went on to star together in Mean Streets, and Taxi Driver. His most difficult experience on these two movies was ‘not getting paid, and trying to get paid’, although he did get a minimal fee for Mean Streets. Keitel actually approached De Niro on behalf of Scorsese to get the two together, and Johnny Boy was the result for De Niro. The three of them now often eat together, corn beef sandwiches on rye.
But Europe would beckon and Bertrand Tavernier would become a close collaborator and a friend. In his early thirties he went to see Tavernier’s The Watchmaker of St Paul (1974) and was amazed when the director offered him a part in Death Watch (1980) several years later. It was a prescient film that still resonates today with its themes of fake news and old age isolation. Keitel is still so moved by his role as a man who becomes blind after falling for Romy Schneider’s tragic central character, he is unable to even talk about it.
Playing Judas in Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ made him discover his own journey with God and he was emotionally moved by the suffering of the other characters, and particularly Nikos Kasantzakis who was actually ex-communicated for writing the book from which the film gets its inspiration, Paul Schrader adapting the script. It was also his first experience in Morocco and the cast and crew lived in a rambling mountain village, infested with insects, another element that added grist to Keitel’s performance.
Abel Ferrara invited him to play his first lead in his film Bad Lieutenant in 1992. But because the script was so threadbare, Keitel first chucked it in the bin, then decided to give it a chance, and went on to win Best Male Lead at the Independent Spirit Awards.
Then came Quentin Tarantino who had studied acting but had never directed a roll of film when he approached Keitel to work on Reservoir Dogs in the same year. Keitel claimed he had a strange feeling when reading the script but the film overreached his expectations, the two working perfectly together and sharing the same acting background. He particularly admired the way Tarantino does his own sound effects during filming, and edits on the trot.
The same weird feeling came when Jane Campion asked him to star as his first romantic lead in The Piano a year later. When asked how it felt to play the romantic lead and become the object of desire for the first time in his life he replied: “I already have, in my acting class”. He adds: “Jane Campion could film a chaise longue and it would become an object of desire”. But his best memory of that film was Holly Hunter playing her own piano. “It was a fantasy” MT
IN CONVERSATION |  Harvey Keitel | Marrakech Film Festival 2019
Just Noise (2020) Harvey Keitel stars in David Ferrario’s historical drama.

The ‘Golden Age’ of Mexican Cinema (1933 – 1964)

Mexican cinema has more than proved its worth in the last few years with a new generation of talent in the shape of Alfonso Cuarón, Carlos Reygadas, Alejandro González Iñárritu, Amat Escalante and Michel Franco. These directors have brought us a glittering array of daringly inventive and cinematically bold fare, Roma being the first Mexican film to win an Oscar in 2019.

So Mexico has always had a distinctive style of its own and a rich culture to draw on. It what was one of the first countries to embrace new film technology, and did so back in the late 1890s when the country’s first filmmaker and distributor Salvador Toscano Barragan (1872-1947) introduced the first moving images using a cinematograph camera which had been been invented in France in 1895. Toscano also opened Mexico’s first cinema in Mexico City in 1897. As a documentarian he specialised in the Mexican Revolution, drawing on a rich vein of dramatic potential. 

But the Golden Age (1933-1964) was to come decades later during the 1930s when Mexican cinema all but dominated the Latin American film industry, and even rivalled Hollywood in its quality and prodigiousness. And it was largely Europe and the US’ preoccupation and involvement with the Second World War that allowed Mexico to step into the breach with their own feisty brand of rousing romantic and revolutionary melodramas and musicals, which provided a much needed antidote to the war-themed fare being produced elsewhere – although their own films where far from light-hearted and happy, often ending in tears, vehemence and bitter recrimination. 

Fernando de Fuentes 1936 outings Allá en el rancho grande, and ¡Vamonos con Pancho Villa! (1935) were considered not only to be the first films of the Golden Age but arguably two of the finest Mexican features ever made. Emilio “El Indio” Fernández was one of the most prolific directors of the era, his love story Enamorada (1946) will always be remembered for Maria Felix’s role as an aristocratic woman falling for Pedro Armendariz’s rebel leader during the Revolution in 1917. In 1943 the one of the greatest love stories ever told, Wild Flower, brought together Fernandes. photographer Gabriel Figueroa, actor Pedro Armendariz and actress Dolores del Rio. They also made Maria Candelaria (1943) which won the Palme d’Or, and The Pearl (1947) which went on to win a Golden Globe. But in contrast to Hollyward, Mexican studios never had total power over their stars, allowing them to develop their own careers, define their own personalities and select their material accordingly. 

While Fernandez and Del Rio were hugging all the limelight, Gabriel Figueroa (1907-1997) was defining the aesthetics of Mexican Cinema in its most glorious period, and he didn’t stop there. Figueroa photographed 212 feature films, starting his career in 1932, when he shared camera credits with the great Eduard Tisse for Sergej M. Eisenstein’s ¡Que Viva Mexico! (1932). The epic visuals are certainly influenced by Eisenstein’s work. The Mexican landscape is celebrated in long, carefully composed shots. Figueroa’s penultimate feature was Under the Volcano (1984), directed by John Huston – the two had already made Night of the Iguana (1964). 

Fernandez and Figueroa would work together on 25 features. Both ‘El Indio’ and Figueroa established the character of a ‘Mestizaje’, a mixed race identity which Fernandez, whose mother was Native American, carried around proudly all his life.

Maria Candelaria (1944) saw the quartet reunited, Salon Mexico (1949) was another iconic work by director and cameraman. The hits Victims of Sin (1946) and Enomrada (1951) are also shown in this short retrospective.  By the Mid-1950 they went different ways; La rebellion de los Colgados (based on B Travern) was their last great success; even though their last collaboration was Una Cita de Amor in 1958. Figueroa would go shooting several Bunuel features like Los Olividados, Nazarin, La Joven and El Angel Exterminador.

One of them Pedro Infante (1917-1957) would go on to become a screen idol in that he represented all the qualities most highly cherished and sought after in a true Mexican hero: that of being a dutiful son, a firm friend and a romantic lover. In Nosotros los pobres (1947) he fulfils all these attributes, securing himself an everlasting place in the heart and soul of the Mexican public, and crowning it all by dying when he was only 39, in a plane crash.

Another popular star was Arturo de Cordova (1908-1973) who often played tormented men driven to distraction, his suave elegance and drop-dead good looks making him highly popular with female audiences and winning him 4 Ariel awards during the 1950s. He often played alongside his wife Margi Lopez (who was actually born in Argentina). Lopez’s best film was Salon Mexico (1950) and she won an Ariel for Best Actress as ravishing dancer Mercedes Gomez who reeks revenge on her pimp (Alfredo Acosta) when he tries to double-cross her. 

Another Idol who died young was Jorge Negrete 1910-53) although he made the best of his acting and musical talents during a career that lasted from 1930 through to his death. After enrolling in the military, Negrete made his way into singing opera, his recording of ‘Mexico Lindo e Querido’ is now considered the country’s unofficial anthem. Despite his short life, he married twice – Maria Felix and Elisa Christy – and also lived with the co-star of ten of his 44 films: Gloria Marin.

For her own part Maria Felix (1914-2002) (left) was a real stunner with a strong and vibrant personality, perfectly suiting her for femme fatale roles – most famously creating that of remarkable Dona Barbara (1943) in which she captured the public’s imagination, ensuring her place in the Golden Age firmament for posterity. 

But perhaps the best known star outside Mexico was Dolores del Rio (1904-83) (top left) who epitomised Mexican female beauty, and actually rose to fame in Hollywood during the 1920s and early ‘30s. She returned to Mexico becoming even more popular in standout hits Wild Flower and Maria Candelaria. 

Directors such as Alberto Gout, Alejandro Galindo, Julio Bracho, and Juan Bustillo Oro were also popular and successful during this Golden Age. Their talents stretched across the board from screwball comedy to country and urban dramas offering audiences a well-rounded view of the Mexican people, their intriguing history and culture. It  was only when television came along to challenge their dominion and their hold over the nation’s viewers, that the Golden Age started to wane. MT

SALON MEXICO | JULY 2019 | BFI SOUTHBANK

Mountain films during the Weimar years: Beyond your Wildest Dreams

In spite of a new revisionist film history, which tries to exonerate the BERGFILM sub-genre from its close connection with Fascist ideology, the filmmakers of the Weimar years and their chosen subjects were close allies of German Fascism – and Leni Riefenstahl was arguably its leading film propagandist. Attempting to link the Bergfilm with what Kracauer called “Streetfilms”, is aesthetically and content wise a dishonest bid to rewrite (film)history. Streetfilms were set in big cities where the male protagonist falls for a sexually alluring woman from a lower social class, only to be roped back to roost in his middle-class milieu by figures of authority. The Bergfilm might feature alluring women (Riefenstahl certainly qualified), but the narrative comes to very different solutions, and this is amply demonstrated in Luis Trenker’s The Prodigal Son (Der verlorene Sohn, 1932), which sees the hero falling for an alluring ‘foreign’ woman, who embroils his in the traumas of big city life before he escapes triumphantly back to his home in the mountains to become an upright citizen and family man. You don’t have to take my word for it – Dr. Joseph Goebbels wrote in his diary during a visit to the mountains: “That was my yearning; for all the divine solitude and calm of the mountains, for white, virginal (sic!) snow, I was weary of the big city. I am at home again in the mountains. I spent many hours in their white unspoiltness and find myself again”.

There is a strong link between Anti-Urbanism, unspoilt elements of nature, destiny (in German ‘Vorsehung’, Hitler’s favourite phrase) and a surrender to irrational values: exactly the cinema which Kracauer describes in his ground breaking text. Yes, there was modern technology: telescopes and microscopes – and airplanes. But one look at Riefenstahl’s films of the Nazi Party get togethers in Nuremberg (Sieg des Glaubens, Triumph des Willens) shows the underlying irrationality: after we have seen the city full of “believers”, Hitler comes down from the sky in a plane. A demi-God, winged like in Greek mythology, he flies into the world to make it sane (heil) again. In German the phrase of ‘heile Welt’ is still used to define a system without any contradiction, perfect by definition. In comparing the Nazi regime with eternal nature, all clean and sane, its opponents are immediately categorised as unclean. In the case of Jews, they were vermin, to be eradicated. 

Director Arnold Fanck (1889-1974) can be called the father of the Bergfilm. His features with Leni Riefenstahl (1902-2003), a former ballerina, are the bedrock of the sub-genre: Der Heilige Berg (main picture) in 1926), Der grosse Sprung (1927), Die weisse Hölle vom Piz Palü (and its sound remake in 1938); Stürme über dem Montblanc  (1930) and Der grosse Rausch (1931). In 1932 Riefenstahl became star, producer, director with Das Blaue Licht, written by Bela Balasz. Balasz, often called a progressive, was anything but. He might have been, perhaps, politically on the opposite end of the spectrum from Riefenstahl, but his aesthetics were very much influenced by Stalin’s realism which censored and destroyed the directors of the early post-revolutionary era. And it’s no coincidence that in Fall of Berlin (Mikheil Chiaureli, 1950), Stalin (all in white) would also come down from the sky in a plane to greet his followers like a Messiah.

As far as the Die weisse Hölle vom Piz Palü is concerned, it was described by a contemporary critic from ‘The Frankfurter Zeitung’ as having a “seductive force, the mysterious power of the mountains, forcing people into inescapable dependency. The mountain rages, and demands sacrifices”. What it does fails to mention is that Riefenstahl’s Hella comes between two men, ending their friendship and forcing the aforementioned sacrifice. Here the mountain is shown as a noble monster, very much like the dragon in Siegfried. 

Das Blaue Licht won an award in Venice and convinced Hitler that Riefenstahl should direct the Nuremberg rally documentaries. A post war critic in the ‘Cine-Club de Toulouse’ wrote in 1949, picking up on the Siegfried theme: “It is the always eternal topic of Siegfried, as the young hero. Because always the young men are ready to sacrifice their lives, and only have contempt for everything, which does not omply with their ideas. This is a feature seen entirely from the viewpoint of Nazi ideology. We find the same sort of youth enthusiasm seen in Riefenstahl’s Nuremberg documentaries. Young people joined in with the hope that the regime would reward them because of their racial purity”.

A German critic in 1932 had a very different impression: “A slow journey of images like in the fables of old, like paintings, composed in magical light. Leni Riefenstahl looks magical and almost surreal, a creature not from this planet, but a Mountain Fairy. She alone is enough to give this this feature an otherworldly, touching charm.”

And then the Mountain Fairy came down from her world, and staged the Party Congress. AS

BEYOND YOUR WILDEST DREAMS | MOUNTAIN FILMS FROM THE WEIMAR ERA 

      

             

   

Edvard Munch on Film

A new exhibition reunites the Norwegian Expressionist painter Edvard Munch with his creative contemporaries, putting his work into context with European influences from Art Nouveau, Expressionism and Symbolism.

Edvard Munch (1863-1944) was a famous pioneer of modern art, best known for his iconic image of The Scream. His idiosyncratic expression of raw human emotion reflects many of the anxieties and hotly debated issues of his times, yet his art still still resonates today.

Edvard Munch: love and angst focusses on Munch’s remarkable and experimental prints – an art form which made his name and at which he excelled throughout his life. The 83 artworks on show together demonstrate the artist’s skill and creativity in expressing the feelings and experiences of the human condition – from love and desire, to jealousy, loneliness, anxiety and grief.  

Other highlights of the exhibition include the eerie but remarkable Vampire II which is generally considered to be one of his most elaborate and technically accomplished prints; the controversial Madonna, an erotic image which features an explicit depiction of swimming sperm and a foetus and provoked outrage at the time.       

The exhibition also shows how Munch’s artistic vision was shaped by the radical ideas expressed in art, literature, science and theatre in Europe during his lifetime. His most innovative period of printmaking, between the 1890s and the end of the First World War, coincided with a great period of societal change in Europe which Munch experienced through constant travel across the continent on the vast rail network. The exhibition will pay particular attention to three European cities that had major influence on him and his printmaking – Kristiania (Oslo), Paris and Berlin. A small selection of Munch’s personal postcards and maps are used to give a flavour of Munch’s journeys.

Munch suffered all his life from a deep-felt sense of anguish, possibly due to the death of his mother when he was only five, and his sister when he was still a young teenager. These traumas clearly shaped his emotional world and affected his relationships with women: His prints demonstrate his passion, but also his fear, of women. Separation and isolation from those he held dear led to a state of anxiousness, but he was also aware that these feelings where the key to his creative expression. Later he went on to say: “For as long as I can remember I have suffered from a deep feeling of anxiety which I have tried to express in my art”.

Psychology was all the rage in the late 1890s with advent of Freud’s ‘discoveries’ and literature and culture carried much of the responsibility for popularising the ideas and practices of this rather decadent period in Europe. This trend only magnified Munch’s trauma and he made free expression of his obsession with and fear of female power and the sense of suffocation and entrapment it brought to him. He had many affairs but fled from marriage and commitment. Munch admitted in later life that his visual ideas were directly inspired by the pattern of love, infidelity and despair experienced by his friends in Kristiania (Oslo) whose loose-living, chaotic lifestyles exposed the dark side of the Bohemian dream. His images of passion and jealousy recall the emotions surrounding their affairs, and reflect memories of his own turbulent first relationship with a married woman, Milly Thaulow.

The Scream (1893) print – suggests that the image depicts a person hearing a scream, rather than a person screaming – was undoubtedly his most famous work probably inspired by a rare, wavy cloud formation seen only in Northern Europe. In a twist of fate, Munch sister Laura was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 1894, and institutionalised in a hospital near the site of The Scream on the road to Ekeberg.  The English translation reads “I felt a great Scream pass through nature”.But a similar pose of a screaming head, with hands cupped around it, appeared in an early work recalling the death of his mother, as he stands by her bedside, looking out in sheer desperation and misery.

During his life Munch spent much time in Paris and Berlin where in 1892, he was invited to exhibit his paintings in the recently formed German Empire. Berlin was Europe’s industrial boom city, ruled over the ambitious Kaiser Bill (Wilhelm II). Grand avenues gave the impression of military order but bohemian undercurrents ran just below the surface, alongside Europe’s strongest workers’ movement. His exhibition horrified the traditional art world, but was much admired by the Avantgarde with the scandal helping him to launch his international career.

Clearly Munch’s work and his friendships with the Swedish playwright and painter August Strindberg, Toulouse Lautrec, Paul Gauguin, Max Klinger, Vincent Van Gogh and German philosopher and writer Friedrich Nietzsche could provide rich potential for cinema yet sadly only a few filmmakers have been inspired. The first was a British director Peter Watkins whose rather stolid made for Norwegian TV  drama Edvard Munch (210 mins, 1974)) captures the mournfulness of the artist, chronologically charting his traumatic early life fraught with illness and death, leading on to his ostracisation in traditional art circles and his cafe society days with nihilist Hans Jaeger in Oslo and Strindberg in Berlin.

The second is Munch 150 (90 mins, 2013) Ben Harding’s factual documentary that travels to Oslo where it goes behind the scenes to show some the mounting a major exhibition of over 150 works devoted to the national hero. It then tours Norway to provide an in-depth biography of a man whose work captures the zeitgeist of the mid-19th century right through until the German occupation of his homeland in the Second World War.

Edvard Munch’s prints is the largest in the UK for 45 years. | British Museum

Edvard Munch (1974) on AMAZON PRIME | EUREKA MASTERS OF CINEMA

MUNCH 150 | EXHIBITION ON FILM

 

London Turkish Film Week | 24-30 April 2019

London Turkish Film Week is back for a second year running in the luxurious surroundings of the Regent Street Cinema and various other well-known venues across the capital. From 24 -30 April a selection of recent dramas and documentaries will be accompanied by talks and a chance to meet the directors and cast.

Turkish cinema is known for its captivating widescreen dramas that reflect the cultural diversity and magnificent scenery of a vibrant nation that stretches from Europe to Asia.

The festival opens with Can Ulkay’s epic TURKISH ICE CREAM (2018) a rousing, rather clichéd melodrama inspired by real events that took place in a small Australian town in 1915 during the Gallipoli landings. Two Turkish nationals are trying to get back to their homeland with their families. Seen from a Turkish point of view – and naturally depicting the Allied Forces as inveterate baddies – the brutal action scenes depict the futility of war, from both sides. The emphasis here is on action rather than characterisation: so although nearly everyone dies, we don’t really care, as we never got to know them in the first place. Carrying on the war theme there is CICERO (2018) a drama based on Ilyas Bazna, one of the most famous WWII spies who worked for Nazi Germany while employed as a butler to the British Ambassador, Hughe Montgomery Knatchbull Hughessen, in neutral Turkey during the mid 1940s.

The Golden Tulip winner 2017 YELLOW HEAT (Sari Sicak) sees an immigrant family desperate to survive in their traditional farm amid encroaching industrialisation. The multi-award winning drama YOZGAT BLUES (2013), set in small town Anatolia, is one to watch for its outstanding performances and smouldering cinematography. Banu Sivaci’s THE PIGEON (main image) won best director at Sofia Film Festival 2018 and is another impressive arthouse tale of a boy finding peace with the animal kingdom, away from the dystopian world in small-town Adana, Southern Turkey. And finally MURTAZA another beautifully crafted and resonant parable about the importance of traditional values in the mountains of Malatya.

Other features and shorts reflect the usual Turkish themes of town versus country, tradition versus the modern world, and the role of women in enlightened society. Another highlight will be Ahmet Boyacioglu’s latest film THE SMELL OF MONEY a tense and startling exposé of financial corruption in contemporary Turkey. And last but not least, a panel of industry professionals will debate the future of the big screen At the Flicks of Netflix? at the Regent Street Cinema on 26th April.

LONDON TURKISH FILM WEEK | 24 – 30 APRIL 2019

Starring Barbara Stanwyck | Retrospective | BFI 2019 | February – March

The STARRING BARBARA STANWYCK season offers a chance to see one of Hollywood’s most successful and memorable actors of all time, whose career spanned more than four decades. The season will include an extended run of Preston Sturges’ hilarious comedy The Lady Eve (1941), also released in selected cinemas by the BFI on Friday 15 February. During March, the season will highlight the breadth and depth of Stanwyck’s characters, whether in classics or in less familiar, rarely screened titles.

Diva, grande dame and femme fatale, Stanwyck adapted to any genre, be it comedy, melodrama or thriller. Her natural wit and raw emotion was particularly resonant in her Westerns, where she played  resourceful, confident women holding their own in a male-dominated world. The BFI are screening 3 examples in March. Her first western Annie Oakley (George Stevens, 1935) was based on the life of ‘Little Miss Sureshot,’ one of the most famous sharpshooters in American history; Stanwyck oozes confidence in her portrayal of the determined and spirited protagonist. Cecil B. DeMille brought a characteristically epic sense of scale to the western with Union Pacific (1939), about the construction of the First Transcontinental Railroad. Mixed in with the historical elements is a love triangle between a troubleshooter, a gambler, and a train engineer’s daughter played by Stanwyck. The director was mesmerised by her performance, and she became one of his favourite stars. In Forty Guns (Samuel Fuller, 1957), a late-career highlight for Stanwyck, she portrays a wealthy landowner exerting influence over an Arizonian township by commanding a staff of 40 men. Beautifully shot and packed with psychosexual subtext and directed with bravura, Samuel Fuller’s western influenced a generation of filmmakers, including Godard.

In the delightful screwball-mystery-romance The Mad Miss Manton (Leigh Jason, 1938), a scatty but canny heiress (Stanwyck), whose claims to have discovered a murder are dismissed by the police, enlists a working-class journalist to help prove her case. Ball of Fire (Howard Hawks, 1941), follows a nightclub dancer who needs to lie low, and a house shared by eight professors provides the ideal hideout. Inspired by the story of Snow White and boasting razor-sharp dialogue and perfect Hawksian comic timing, Ball of Fire is another classic screwball comedy. Written by a master of screwball – Preston Sturges – Remember the Night (Mitchell Leisen, 1940) sees a New York attorney (Fred MacMurray) take pity on a shoplifter he’s prosecuting. He gets her out on bail and invites her to his family home for Christmas – which somewhat complicates their relationship. There is genuine chemistry between Stanwyck and MacMurray in their first film together, an amusing and affecting blend of courtroom drama, road movie and romance. The pair reunited for another tale of adulterous temptation There’s Always Tomorrow (Douglas Sirk, 1955); he’s a toy manufacturer feeling neglected by his family, and she is the ex-employee whose return to Pasadena reignites illicit passions. Forbidden (Frank Capra, 1932) sees her playing a librarian falling for an unobtainable man.

Barbara Stanwyck, Adolphe Menjou, Ralph Bellamy, Dorothy Peterson

Two more Frank Capra films will screen in March – in The Miracle Woman (1931) Stanwyck plays a minister’s daughter who, following the death of her father,  teams up with a conman to stage evangelical shows in which she performs ‘miracles’. Meanwhile Meet John Doe (1941) sees her play a journalist who invents a story about a tramp planning to commit suicide in protest of the state of the world. The resulting interest forces her paper to get someone to fit the role and the man they find (Gary Cooper) instantly becomes a celebrity – and a political pawn. Completing the season will be screenings of Sorry, Wrong Number (Anatole Litvak, 1948), a noir thriller adapted by Lucille Fletcher from her acclaimed radio play, focusing on a wealthy, rather complacent, bedridden woman who overhears a conversation involving a planned murder. (All images are strictly the property of the BFI, and not to be copied)

SCREENING AT THE BFI, SOUTHBANK | FEBRUARY – MARCH 2019 | BFI WEBSITE

Working with Rainer Werner Fassbinder (1945-1982)

Renate Leiffer, assistant director of World on a Wire talks about making the ground-breaking Sci-fi series with the iconic German filmmaker whose career as a director, scriptwriter, producer and actor was short but prodigious.

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Renate Leiffer with Rainer Werner Fassbinder (photo courtesy of Leiffer).

How would you describe Fassbinder as a director? What was his technique?

He wrote the scripts himself, having the actors in mind for the roles. Mostly he did not like to see the set before the shooting-day, it would have bored him. He trusted his crew mostly chosen by himself, in the leading jobs at least.

When the cameraman was ready and Rainer was asked he came on the set, mostly with a good humour and self-confidence, not doing much rehearsal before the shot, and not giving many more new orders to the actors so as not to confuse their minds. So everybody was switched on and tried to give their best. Everybody knew he would like to do every take only once, liking the performances better [in a first take] than in a second or third one.

What was Fassbinder like to work with?

You always had the impression that you were working on something very important, and that every member of the crew was important for the result, no matter which job you were doing – that was motivating. Mostly the crew members liked and respected him. In real life Rainer was a shy person, therefore he always needed a crowd of people around him, also because he was afraid being on his own, being left like his parents did after their divorce.

Professionally he was strong, he learned by going to cinema already as a young boy, he learnt to cut his films and was shooting the scenes so there was no chance for a cutter to change anything. He understood the camera-angles very well, and knew where to set a close up. He was a real professional. Producers who worked with him the first time were anxious, but were surprised after the first days. And professionally he was not resentful – if you told him a mistake you made, he would defend you. I am speaking of his professional life, in his private life one better not get involved, there were a lot of manipulations.

Fassbinder famously struggled with drugs – did that affect his work?

In the beginning, he was consuming too many drugs – it hurt to look at him. It was not only drugs but medications as well, he could not work without it.

Rainer hated when someone in the group was only smoking Haschisch, he did not want them around him. And then in the Sixties it was in to smoke at least grass. He got involved in it in 1974 during his work at the theatre in Frankfurt.

At the end he was taking drugs and a handful of medications at the same time. And alcohol, that was too much. He told me during [filming Berlin] Alexanderplatz: I will not be older than 40. He only got to 37 – and I am still cross with him that he left so early.

How did the shoot of World of a Wire go, generally? Was it a smooth shoot, any incidents?

I do not remember any real difficulties on those shoots. Except that we missed the dawn several times for a scene with Eddie Constantine, a homage to Godard and Eddie. On the 4th day (cinematographer Michael) Ballhaus got more time to set his light, and was called Monsieur Crepuscule [Mr. Twilight] for a long time.

 

Still from World on a Wire – courtesy of Second Sight Films

Also, at the end of the film, there is a black bird that should have been trained to pick at the gas-pipe, so the audience gets afraid and thinks: “Oh, now the hut will explode,” – and it does. [When we were filming] that bird did not pick, Rainer went mad, but that silly bird did not pick at the pipe. It picked somewhere else.

Did you get a sense that you were making something good / bad / mediocre?

My feeling was that I was doing something good, but not that his work would be so overwhelming one day. No one expected that, except Rainer himself. In Beware of a Holy Whore (1971), I worked as production-assistant and did not want to be written on the titles. I wanted to go on working as assistant-director with other people. Already then, 1971, Rainer answered me: “But with me it will be for eternity!” He was the most ambitious of all.

World on a Wire is out now in a limited edition Blu-ray box set from Second Sight.

[Edited for clarity]

Ghost Town Anthology (2019) **** Berlinale 2019 | Interview

Dir/Wri: Denis Côté | Fantasy Drama | Canada, 97′

Auteur Denis Côté explores the aftermath of tragedy in remotest Quebec where the supernatural coalesces with the everyday lives of a blighted rural community.

Well known for his off-piste forays into Canadian backwaters Ghost Town most reassembles his Locarno Golden Leopard winner Curling (2010). There are also tonal echoes of his debut Drifting States, and even Xavier Dolan’s Tom a la Ferme, which was visited by a similar existential angst. Cote bases his story on the novel by Laurence Olivier, who also co-wrote the script. Silence reigns throughout the film apart from an occasional droning sound which adds to the doleful sense of gloom.

Ghost Town Anthology is an unremittingly bleak affair scratching at the edges of horror but settling instead for a mournful mood throughout; its dysfunctional characters stuck in the icy grip of inertia. When Simon Dubé drives his car at full throttle into a wall of cement, the entire population clings together, while a vortex of wind and snow rages through their flatlands home of Irénee-les-Neiges, a place of 200 odd people.

And odd is the operative word. After the crash a handful of kids play around the wreckage, wearing masks reminiscent of Edvard Munch’s Scream. They are the recurring human motif throughout the film, their identity revealed in the finale. At the funeral chirpy mayor Diane Smallwood (Diane Lavallée) fronts up vehemently despite the mood of despair, determined to raise the morale of her townsfolk with a firm belief in allegiance. “my door is always open”. But in vain. Angered by an offer of bereavement support from the local council, she reacts with thinly veiled hostility when the Muslim therapist arrives in the shape of Yasmina (Sharon Ibgui).

Simon leaves behind a family of three: his mother Gisele (Josee Deschenes) and father Romuald (Jean-Michel Anctil) are numbed by the grief and gradually go their own separate ways, suffering in silence. Simon’s look-a-like brother Jimmy (Robert Naylor) is left in state of shock. A coy George and Mildred style couple – Louise (Jocelyne Zucco) and Richard (Normand Carriere) – offer tea and sympathy to timid live-alone single Adele (Shelley Duvall lookalike Larissa Corriveau) who Richard describes as “a few lightbulbs short of a chandelier”. But her fears seem valid enough: she heard thuds and whispering voices in their house, and ends up suspended by own disbelief. Pierre (Hubert Proulx) owns the village bar and wants to keep his partner happy by offering to do up a dilapidated house at the end of the street, until they discover it was the scene of a brutal murder years earlier. And soon the regular appearances of random figures in the gloaming seem to point to the existence of ghosts from the past. A handheld camera conveys the unstable nature of the experience, but also the ephemeral quality of life.

Jimmy actually sees Simon at close quarters by the ice hockey pitch. Yet he has visited his embalmed body in its temporary morgue, awaiting burial, come the thaw. Romuald picks up a hitchhiker who bears a striking resemblance to his son. Adele also sees one of the masked children surrounded by static figures in the distance. There’s nothing baleful or malevolent about these people, lending them further credibility in the scheme of things. And their low key presence seems to lend credence to the Christian belief that the dead are always amongst us. Despite the bleakness that’s a comforting takeaway. MT

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | IN COMPETITION

 

 

 

 

The Early Cinema of Helena Solberg | Birkbeck Moving Image

Brazilian director Helena Solberg’s earlier films are contemporaneous with Brazilian Cinema Novo, but her work remains uncharted to most audiences. Following her recent retrospective in São Paulo, the aim of this event is to bring into view Solberg’s earlier films, such as The Interview (1966), The Emerging Woman (1974) and The Double Day (1975).

The Interview was shot in 1964, the same year as the military coup orchestrated against the then President João Goulart, which established the military dictatorship until 1985. The film consists of a series of interviews with young women from a middle-class background, whose testimonies suggest a correlation between female oppression and the military political oppression felt at the time. The Emerging Woman was Solberg’s first film shot in the USA. The documentary offers an account of the history of the feminist movement in the USA and the UK through the use of letters, diaries, manifestos and archival images. The Double Day is, on the other hand, a documentary that examines female labour in Latin America, from the factory floors in Mexico and Argentina to the mining industry in Bolivia and Venezuela.

Documentary film genre conventionally uses oral testimonies of personal experiences, but Solberg’s use of women’s testimonies suggests the deployment of a feminist practice of storytelling as a way to expose and oppose specific instruments of power. Shot 50 and 40 years ago, Solberg’s subject matters and aesthetic choices make her films current and prescient. (C) 2018 Birkbeck Institute for the Moving Image All rights reserved.

 The early cinema of Helena Solberg | Saturday 2 February 12.00 | Birkbeck Cinema WC1

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London Turkish Film Week 2018 | 12 -16 December 2018

If there’s a common thread that runs through Turkish cinema it lies in the vast nation’s landscape and nature that shapes and often divides human relationships. And nowhere is this more so than in Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Palme d’Or winner WINTER SLEEP (2014), set in the Anatolia’s mountain region of Cappadocia. Whilst the mountains represent freedom, his human characters fight it out in a claustrophobic hotel. Men are usually out of touch with their emotions in all of Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s films, and Winter Sleeps anti-hero Aydin is no exception. A former actor, living from his inherited wealth his property portfolio makes him a feudal lord, even though he sees himself more as an intellectual. Living with his much younger wife Nihal and recently divorced sister Necla, Ceylan confronts him with his weaknesses, peeling away his persona away layer by layer. Ceylan pays homage to Bergman and Bresson in the long, vicious arguments between Aydin, his wife and sister where the camera catches them in shot/contra-shot movement, the close-ups showing hurt on the women’s faces, and Aydin’s sarcastic smile. Echoing Bresson in Au hazard Balthazar, Ceylan uses Schubert’s piano sonata no. 20 to score the sequences between Aydin and his wife – the region’s wild horses serve as a metaphor for their seething discontent; in a more generous mood Aydin has freed one of the beasts to return to the wild. Ceylan’s intensity never lets up, leaving WINTER SLEEP as an unforgettable chronicle of human psychological warfare, amidst a towering landscape.

GRAIN (2017), directed by Semih Kaplanogu (Honey), is based on a chapter from the Quran, but can easily compete with the best of Hollywood’s dystopia. A scientist working for an all-powerful Corporation, flees into the wasteland surrounding the heavily controlled city, to find a supply grain uncontaminated by GM. There he meets a stranger, who leads him to a secret location in the rugged terrain where they eventually find what they are looking for. Giles Nuttgens’ stark black-and-white camerawork conveys a post-apocalyptic world, dwarfing the human element. An enigmatic narrative scratches to be heard in this devastated landscape where Ufo-like fighter planes hunt down the characters like animals. Kaplanogu’s symbolism echoes Tarkovsky as his protagonists are overwhelmed by the destruction of nature, a strong ‘end of days’ feeling, where fragmentation triumphs over the human weak attempts to save themselves and the planet.  A terrifying and prescient drama. 

In her debut HICRAN AND MELEK, director Esra Vesu Ozcelik explores the true meaning of female emancipation in a discursive drama set in a small rural community where Iman’s daughter Hicran hopes to find a decent job and a fulfilling marriage. Her childhood friend Melek left a decade ago for Istanbul, where she’s been working in a night club. But her abusive boyfriend has driven her back home. The two women look at their lives but never really find any answers. Again, the landscape is shown as a feature of personal identification.

Dervis Zaim’s DREAM is by the far the most ambitious feature of this year’s programme. Sine is an architect who very much sides with Prince Charles’ traditionalist views in her dislike of contemporary building design. But she is driven to eventually distraction when no-one will support her latest scheme for a cave-like mosque. Suffering from stress and insomnia, she goes into in a sleeping clinic. The treatment has a profound effect on her psychologically and physically: her four different identities then focus on one goal: to finish the project. Based on the ‘Seven Sleepers’ myth, Dream is not only a feminist manifest, but a coruscating critique of contemporary architecture.

LONDON TURKISH FILM WEEK | 12-16 DECEMBER 2018

 

          

Lila Alviles Interview (2018) Jury Prize Winner | Marrakech Film Festival 2018

Marrakech Film Festival Jury Prize Winer THE CHAMBERMAID plays the same thematic tune as two other festival winners this Summer: Golden Lion winner Roma and In A Distant Land which won the Golden Leopard at Locarno. They highlight the isolated and lonely lives of ordinary working people, often migrants – in this case, a Mexican national whose job in the capital detaches her from her loved ones. There is a distinct chilly humour to this acutely observed feature debut from Mexican actress, filmmaker and opera director Lila Alviles. We talked to her about her drama that won the JURY PRIZE at the 17th Marrakech International Film Festival 2018. MT

https://vimeo.com/305923453

Lynne Ramsay at the Marrakech International Film Festival 2018

We spoke to Competition Jury member Lynne Ramsay to talk about her latest project and the film that most impressed her as a child growing up in Glasgow.

Known for her ground-breaking dramas RATCATCHER (1999), MORVERN CALLAR (2002) and WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN (2011),  her latest film YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE won Best Screenplay (ex-aequo) and Best Actor for Joaquin Phoenix at Cannes Film Festival 2018. (she asked not to be recorded due to a heavy cold).

LYNNE RAMSAY | MAMOUNIA HOTEL | MARRAKECH FILM FESTIVAL 2018

https://vimeo.com/305775148

 

The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum (1975): The Personal is Political

Dir.: Volker Schlöndorff, Margaretha von Trotta; Cast: Angela Winkler, Mario Adorf, Jürgen Prochnow, Dieter Laser, Heinz Bennett, Hannelore Hoger, Rolf Becker; Federal Republic of Germany 1975, 106’.

Based on a novel by Nobel-Prize winner Heinrich Böll, Volker Schlöndorff (The Tin Drum) and Margaretha von Trotta (Paura & Amore) offer a searing critique of Germany in the mid 1970s. The film is set during the reign of  the vicious but politically naïve and often ridiculous Baader-Meinhoff gang. They were a handful of ‘fighters’ who gave the government and mass media the excuse to hunt down anybody who was critical of the security forces manned by many ex-Nazis at that time. The press campaign was led by former SA man Axel Springer and his numerous newspapers (Bild Zeitung among them), employing the same staff who created caricatures for the Nazi press.

Carnival time in Cologne: Katharina Blum (Winkler) joins the merry dance and picks up Ludwig Götten (Prochnow). They spend the night together in Katharina’s flat, but she is woken up in the morning by armed special units breaking down her door. They are looking for Ludwig, who is supposed to be a deserter, anarchist and bank robber. But Ludwig has vanished and Katharina is mercilessly interrogated by police detective Beizmenne (Adorf) and later Distriict Attorney Hach (Becker). Katharina prefers to be locked in than being in the presence of these men. But things get worse for her: Tötges (Laser) a journalist for a national newspaper, ”researches” Katharina’s private life and puts together a story (more lies than facts) about her being the bride of an anarchist. He even interviews her mother, hours before her death in a hospital. Katharina gets no help from her friends: the laywer Dr. Blorna (Bennett) and his wife, the architect Trude (Hoger), or her former lover Bornas, who is afraid that his good reputation might suffer. Released from prison, Katharina is visited by Tötges, who tells her “you are a well-known personality now, you can make a lot of money. But we have to stay on the ball, we have to give the readers more and more”.

The crisis in the Federal Republic ended, somehow symbolically, in October 1977,when the Baader-Meinhoff gang kidnapped and killed Hanns-Martin Schleyer, the leader of the CBI in West Germany, who had been a high-ranking officer in the SS, and served a three-year prison sentence after WWII. By now, the Baader- Meinhof was declared a ‘criminal organisation’, the same as the SS had been declared by the Allies. When the Baader-Meinhoff trial started in 1977, the house of Heinrich Böll was surrounded by special units, not surprisingly, since one newspaper had declared “the Bölls are more dangerous than the Baader Meinhofffs”.

True to the page, Blum is “a busy conformist, who tries to do her best to advance”. She is essentially a good person who is caught in the crossfire. The directors also work out that the mass hysteria was mainly directed against the liberal sympathizers (“Sympathisanten”), and that the Baader-Meinhoff gang was used – like the Red Brigades in Italy who kidnapped and killed Aldo Moro, was ready to include the Communists in government – by old and new Fascists to cement their political comeback in both countries.

The ensemble acting is brilliant, and DoP Jost Vacano (who later made a career in Hollywood with features like Total Recall) creates stunning images of a country at war with a democracy forced on them by the Allies. AS

THE PERSONAL IS POLITICAL: Four films by MARGARETHE VON TROTTA – beautifully restored and released by STUDIOCANAL as part of a NATIONWIDE tour from 12 November 2018 until January 2019

Filmuforia GUIDE TO INDIE AND ARTHOUSE CINEMAS | London Area

IMG_3814BACKYARD CINEMA at MERCATO METROPOLITANO is the latest immersive cinema space where its scene shifting theme has now found a permanent home in the Elephant & Castle venue. From now on the ambiance transform seasonally and the latest incarnation is Miami Beach with its own beach bar with delicious Italian fare to feast on. To feel the sand between your toes, flip-flops are provided. MERCATO METROPOLITANO is at Elephant and Castle. The full film programme is here.

ARTHOUSE CROUCH END, 159  Tottenham Lane N8 9BT

An intimate child-friendly venue (ever been locked in with a two-year old tantrum) that offers all the latest arthouse films just around the corner for Crouch End and Stroud Green dwellers.  Membership scheme available.

GREENWICH PICTUREHOUSE, 180 Greenwich High Road Greenwich London SE10 8NN

Showing all the latest indie and arthouse fare – Box Office Number: 0871 902 5732 (calls cost 13p per minute plus your telephone company’s access charge). Membership scheme available
Email: greenwich@picturehouses.co.uk General Manager:

Curzon AldgateDesigned for the modern filmgoer, CURZON ALDGATE is a new four-screen cinema in London’s culturally vibrant East End. Curzon will bring their renowned programming to the venue – ranging from the best of Hollywood to critically acclaimed independent cinema from all over the world. Curzon Cult Membership is now available £350, buys free tickets for a year!

bar-2-v2THE EXHIBIT | BALHAM | 12 BALHAM STATION ROAD | SW12 8SG| An arts venue with an American bar and restaurant here for your entertainment. From art-house to retro films, weekend comedy to life drawing classes and art exhibitions, in an ever-changing revolving programme.

The Exhibit has a state-of-the-art cinema with 12 sofas for two and great cocktails, bottomless brunch (clearly guaranteed not to add to your bottom). There are flexible spaces available to hire and even Speed Dating for those who prefer to meet face to face.

Also on offer: New Year’s Eve Champagne and Glitter Party and a selection of Christmas-themed films.

THE EVERYMAN KINGS CROSS | Handyside Street | London N1

Independent group The Everyman bijou cinema opens in the heart of the 67-acre King’s Cross estate in mid July 2016 with three screens in an office building known as R7 and locate adjacent to the University of the Arts London.

The Everyman Cinema now includes 16 venues, ranging from the iconic 100-year-old Screen on the Green to the latest space in Crossrail Place, Canary Wharf. This latest boutique venue will offer the service of food and drink and an auteur-driven selection of the latest releases together with more mainstream fare and exclusive live events. (photo: Nunzio Prenna ).

Regent Street CinemaTHE REGENT STREET CINEMA | Regent Street | London W1

The Regent Street Cinema was re-opened by the University of Westminster in May 2015, reinstating one of the most historic cinemas in Britain to its former grandeur. Built in 1848, the cinema showcased the Lumière brothers’ Cinematographe to a paying audience, and , as the curtain fell, British cinema was born. After serving as a lecture theatre by the university since 1980, it was restored into a working cinema featuring a state-of-the-art auditorium as well as an inclusive space for learning. The cinema is one of the few in the country to show 16mm and 35mm film, as well as the latest in 4K digital film. You can also experience double bills, world cinema and classic movies in its classic environment.

A fully stocked bar offers spirits, wines and snacks and caters for more filling alternatives (coming soon) to keep you going through the double bills. The cinema is also available for hire and private screenings. Listings information here.

IMG_4169THE ELECTRIC CINEMA, BIRMINGHAM | Britain second largest city Birmingham, is home to THE ELECTRIC CINEMA, the UK’s oldest working cinema and also one of its most cosy and comfortable. Opening its doors in 1909, an era when most people were without electricity at home, the mysterious invisible power source graced the picture house with an exotic allure and silent films were accompanied by a live piano score. Sound arrived in 1930 and the cinema showed news reels from Pathe and British Movietone. The first to shoot and edit its own regional news, the Cinema was revamped by Birmingham businessman Joseph Cohen, who owned 50 other cinemas during his heyday with Jacey Cinema. IMG_4170Today THE ELECTRIC CINEMA offers the latest indie and mainstream fare. The current manager Tom Lawes added a second screen and a basement recording studio. Relax in its leather sofas and velvet armchairs and enjoy screenings every day of the year (except Christmas Day). Enjoy the Art Deco Bar which serves a variety of craft beers, wines and champagne that you can drink during the screening along with homemade cakes, snacks and ice cream sourced from local independent suppliers – our favourite flavour Honeycomb toffee.

Cinema-1246A pioneering partnership between Goldsmiths, University of London and Curzon Cinemas is to bring full-time cinema to Lewisham after a gap of 15 years. CURZON GOLDSMITHS will show films to the public on weekday evenings and all day at weekends. The revamped screening facilities in the Richard Hoggart Building will be used for teaching during weekdays, with the facility available for exclusive use by Goldsmiths students and staff until 6pm Monday to Friday.

The cinema on the university’s New Cross campus is due to open at the end of January 2016. Programming at the 101-seat venue which includes space for two wheelchair users will follow Curzon’s mix of the best in cinema from across the globe as well as documentary and special director Q&As.

FullSizeRenderTHE CURZON SCREEN AT HAM YARD HOTEL | SOHO W1

A 2015 newcomer to the INDEPENDENT CINEMA GUIDE is this latest Curzon Screen at Ham Yard Hotel, in the heart of Soho, W1. The hotel is independently run by a British couple as part of the Firmdale Hotel Group and lavishly decorated with contemporary artworks, completing the cool vibe. Enjoy cocktails or the latest in international cuisine before going down to the comfortable cinema, a state-of-the-art affair, which features Dolby sound and an XpanD Digital 3D capable screen. The latest releases, selected from CURZON’s eclectic brand of international arthouse titles and cult classics, ensure that cineastes will not be disappointed. Ham Yard Hotel’s colourful Dive Bar is open exclusively to Curzon cinema ticket holders for pre- and post-film drinks. No membership required, just turn up at the door. image

THE ELECTRIC CINEMA- Shoreditch (Formerly the AUBIN CINEMA) 

Run in conjunction with Shoreditch House private members’ club, the Electric Cinema provides an unrivalled level of comfort and style for up to 45 cinema-goers offering a broad range of quality mainstream and art house films and features popular titles that are critically acclaimed. A venue for popular events including the. ukfilmfestival.com

Aubin

CATERING – Shoreditch House has a comprehensive bar and gourmet restaurant.
SEATING/COMFORT – seats 45- Velvet sofas and chairs with plumped cushions!
TECHNICALS – 35mm film projection. Sky HD, DVD, BluRay video projection. DigiBeta, HD-D5, HDCAM-SR, HDCAM, DVCAM, HDDV. All aspect ratios. Dolby.
DESIGN – Converted warehouse completely and stylishly modernized.
TICKETS – By phone or online The Box Office is open Monday to Saturday 3pm – 10pm and Sunday 11am-9pm.
SPECIALS  – Classic cinema events and monthly ticket giveaways by Twitter.
Map and Directions
Box Office: 0845 604 8486
http://www.aubincinema.com/about/booking-info/

BirkbeckTHE BIRKBECK CINEMA

41 Gordon Square, London WC1H OPD

The Birkbeck is a hidden gem.  Tucked away in the basement of number 41, Gordon Square, Bloomsbury, the area affords ample parking for evening and weekend screenings and with 70 seats, the cinema has recently hosted the OPEN CITY DOCS FEST and is also available for hire.

CURZON BLOOMSBURY  BRUNSWICK CENTRE, BLOOMSBURY, WC1  

141028_386_Renders

Boasting a fabulous minimalist refurbishment by architect Takero Shimazaki with furniture by Eileen Grey, the newly-named Curzon Bloomsbury is increasing from 2 screens to 6. Part of the Curzon group, which includes Curzon’s Mayfair, Soho, Ham Yard, Chelsea, and Richmond, this state of the art complex will continue to showcase quality arthouse fare as a popular choice for cineastes wanting to avoid the West End. Situated in the revamped Brunswick Centre, opposite Russell Square tube. 6 new screens include the RENOIR of 149 seats, LUMIERE (30 seats); MINEMA (28 seats); PHOENIX (28 seats); Plaza (30 seats); BERTHA DOCHOUSE (55 seats) dedicated to documentaries. The more bijoux screens are ideal for private event hire, but avoid the aisle seats in the Phoenix if you are sensitive to overhead lighting.

FullSizeRenderCATERING: Bar at Level 1 accommodating up to 148 guests. Additional bars on the lower levers. SEATING/COMFORT – Comfortable grey velvet reclining seating.

TECHNICALS – Dolby Atmos; 4K HD video projection, DVD, data, mini DV All aspect ratios. Spotlight. Radio microphone..

SPECIALS – Q & As, Bertha DocDays, Met Opera Live, Opera and Ballet screened and Special Previews. Also sells a good selection of arthouse DVD/blu.
The Brunswick, London, WC1N 1AW Map; Tube: Russell Square
Recorded Information and Booking Line: 0330 500 1331

CINE LUMIÈRE – SOUTH KENSINGTON

CINE

Part of the Institut Français, with its beautiful Deco design, opened in 1939 in the heart of South Kensington, round the corner from the Natural History Museum and the V&A. An airy marble foyer and sweeping staircase up to the cinema.

CAFE – As you might expect with a French cinema complex, the café is probably the best of any arthouse cinema you might visit, although it is also pricey. Les Salons can hold 60 people seated, for functions.

TECHNICALS – 241 seats. 35mm film projection. 2K HD video projection. Beta SP and, DVD, laptops. All aspect ratios. Spotlight. Mixing desk. Cabled microphones. The Mediatheque can cater for 80.

P1020884DESIGN – Improvements to the accessibility of the Institut français’ 17 Queensberry Place site are ongoing. Access to the ground floor foyer/reception/bistro is by ramp; the library and cinema on the first floor can now be accessed by lift..

TICKETS – £1.50 ontop for online ticket bookings, unless a member of the Institute. Tube: South Kensington Station. Box Office: 020 7871 3515

SHORTWAVE  – BERMONDSEYShortwave

Independent cinema and café based in Bermondsey Square, just off the Tower Bridge Road, screening arthouse, classic and indie film, as well as championing emerging film talent. Cinema opened in April 2009. ‘Shortwave’ itself launched in 1999, with the objective of promoting emerging film and video artists using events.

Shortwave

CATERING – Café and bar, supplies fresh local cakes and snacks. Organic Fairtrade coffee, tea, etc. Alcohol licence. Free wireless Internet. Outside seating.
SEATING/COMFORT – modern auditorium, red velvet seating.
TECHNICALS – 52 seats. 35mm film projection. Surround Sound and HD projection.
DESIGN – Modern build. Fully disabled access.
SPECIALS – Outdoor Cinema in the Aylesbury Estate, Walworth, managing the Bermondsey Street Festival and the Elephant and Castle Arts Festival ‘Elefest’, curates the Portobello Film & Video Arts Festival.

10 Bermondsey Square
London SE1 3UN

TRICYCLE CINEMA - THE BAR TRICYCLE CINEMA – KILBURN

Open seven days a week, the Tricycle not only offers an independent 300 seat cinema and also a unique 235 seat theatre, bar and café, plus three rehearsal spaces that are often used for our community and education work, Tricycle shows, or external hires.CATERING – Fully licensed bar and café. Caribbean food available pre-screening.

SEATING/COMFORT – 300 seat comfortable cinema.
TECHNICALS – 251 seats. 35mm film projection. 2K HD video projection.
DESIGN – Modern build, fully accessible.
TICKETS – £0.50 fee per online ticket
SPECIALS – Parent and baby Screenings, family screenings, Q& A’s with notable directors and actors, LFF, Images of Black Women Film Festival, UK Jewish Film Festival, DocHouse and the Kilburn Film Festival, Portuguese. 269 Kilburn High Road, London NW6 7JR; Nearest tube: Kilburn (Jubilee Line)Nearest overground: BrondesburyBox office: 020 7328 1000

RITZY – BRIXTON  Brixton Oval, Coldharbour Lane, SW2 1JG, UK

In the livewire centre of Brixton and part of the PICTUREHOUSE group that includes Picturehouses in Clapham, Stratford, Hackney, Greenwich and The Gate in Notting Hill. The building originally opened in 1911 and has gone through several incarnations, before its current one, now a multiscreen, with an additional space for live performances.
A mix of mainstream, Bollywood, classic and arthouse film.

RitzyCATERING – Upstairs bar open 7 days a week with a range of cuisine made by onsite chefs. Exterior seating is provided in the large open air bar in the square.

SEATING/COMFORT – 5 screens, seating 52, 111,113, 181 and 352. Adequate seating.
TECHNICALS – 35mm film projection. HD video projection. DCP, DVD/BluRay, BetaSP, Laptop. Mono, Dolby and Dolby SR. All aspect ratios. Two event rooms for hire.
DESIGN – Start of the Twentieth Century, a handsome, prominent building now restored to its original looks.
TICKETS – online or by phone- 0871 902 5739 (10p a minute from a landline)
SPECIALS – Part of the local community, music, film and venue hire. Kids Club, Autism-friendly, Education, Toddler time, Live broadcasts from the National Theatre, Met Opera, and ROH/Bolshoi Ballet productions.

THE TROXY, 490 Commercial Road, London E1 Troxy interior

Host to the EAST END FILM FESTIVAL 2013, The Troxy originally opened as a grand cinema in 1933 and was designed to seat an audience of 3520 people. In those days, it showed at the the latest films and featured a floodlit organ which rose from the orchestra pit during the interval, playing hits of the era. the Troxy Wurlitzer is currently undergoing extensive renovation and will soon be re-instated to complete the retro feel of this indie locale.

Regularly hosting stars such as Gracie Fields, Clark Gable and Petula Clark, the first film screened was King Kong and after a run of The Siege of Sydney Street the cinema closed its doors in 1960.The Troxy staff even sprayed perfume during showings to make the cinema-goers feel good. The first film shown was King Kong. The last, in 1960, was “The Siege of Sydney Street”.

The building remained empty and unused for almost three years until 1963, when a tenant was found and the London Opera Centre was created here. Run by the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, the Troxy was used for rehearsals on an extended stage which was an exact size of the Royal Opera House stage. In the 1980s, TROXY became Mecca Bingo, where bingo was held seven days a week, two sessions a day. With the advent of online gambling, Mecca decided to close the operation in 2005.
The current owners, Ashburn Estates, have restored the venue as much as possible to its original glory, whilst incorporating the needs of today’s event requirements. TROXY is now deemed to be London’s most versatile venue, hosting anything from live concerts to company conferences, from indoor sports to weddings film festivals.

For all information regarding tickets please contact: 0844 888 0440 and general inquiries 0207 790 9000.

THE LEXI – KENSAL RISE 194b Chamberlayne Road, Kensal Rise, NW10 3JU (map)

A small but perfectly formed informal cinema that often screen one-offs, classic movies and special interest films.

The Lexi Cinema Located in a smart Church conversation, it’s an intimate space with 75  comfortable seats and individuals armchairs and boasts a unique light sculpture by Bruce Munro.  Staffed by an enthusiastic team of volunteers and a small core management team.  Carin Von Drehle is especially helpful and happy to help with any enquiries.

100% of The Lexi’s profits go towards improving the quality of life for the mixed-race people of Lynedoch ECO charity village in Stellenbosch, South Africa.
CATERING – Fully licensed bar. Works with a selection of local caterers to bespoke any event planned.
SEATING/COMFORT – hugely comfortable mixture includes individual chairs.
TECHNICALS – @60 seats. 35mm film projection. 2K HD video projection. Beta SP and Digibeta, DVD, data, mini DV All aspect ratios. Spotlight. Radio microphone. State of the art sound projection.
DESIGN – Small modern space in church conversion.
TICKETS – £1.50 on phone bookings 0871 7042069. Discounts for over 60’s, students and members.
(lines open 9.30am – 8.30pm)
SPECIALS – Valentine Soiree, Kids Club, Parent and Baby, Singalong, outdoor screenings, Easter events, live by satellite, Q&A.

Rich MixRICHMIX – CINEMA AND ARTS CENTRE – Bethnal Green Road, Shoreditch E1 6LA

Rich Mix is a charity and social enterprise that offers a variety of activities from film to live music, theatre and comedy to the East London area. All profits are re-cycled back into the community, nurturing new and local talent. It offers five floors of creativity and no less than three state-of-the-art digital cinema screens showing main releases and indie and arthouse world film.

RICH MIX is open from 9am to 11pm Monday to Friday and 10am to 11pm on weekends and the nearest Mainline station is Shoreditch High Street, on the East London Line or Mainline stations at Liverpool Street, Bethnal Green or Aldgate East.

Screen 1THE HARINGEY INDIE

The Haringey Independent Cinema is more of a voluntary cinema club held at the end of each month at the Park View School in West Green Road, London N15.  Doors open at 7pm and the film starts at 7.15pm.  Tickets are £4/£3 (concessions) and there is an informal invitation to drinks afterwards at KK McCool’s Pub to discuss the film and socialise and meet new people in the area.

The idea is to screen intelligent and thought-provoking features and documentaries sometimes inviting those involved in the project to come along for a chat or Q&A session.

Haringey Independent Cinema is organised by local residents and supported by Haringey Trades Union Council, Woodlands Park Residents’ Association, Chestnuts Northside Residents’ Association and Haringey Solidarity Group.

Other details are available on www.haringey.org.uk/hic/

THE BARBICAN  CITY Barbican 2&3, Beech Street, EC2Y 8AE |Barbican 1, Level 2, Silk Street, EC2Y 8DS

Two brand new screens (2 and 3) separate to the main event off Beech Street, replete with Camera Café and Bar add a new dimension to the huge and varied complex that is the Barbican Centre, containing as it does theatre spaces, Concert Hall and conference capability, bookshop, library and cafes. There’s an amazing wall composed of film photos and images which allows you to scan information about films portrayed on to your mobile phone.

Silk Street

CATERING – Spacious modern café bar on Beech Street complements the other cafes and restaurant in the main complex on Silk Street, with lakeside seating. Sandwiches, daily specials including soup of the day, salads, savoury tart and a hot dish. Everything made on site. Opening hours Mon – Fri: 8am – 10.30pm, Sat & Sun 10am – 10.30pm
SEATING/COMFORT – Very comfortable fitted seats.
TECHNICALS – Cinema 1- 280 seats. 35mm film projection. 2K HD video projection. Beta SP and Digibeta, DVD, All aspect ratios. Microphone. Dolby SR.
DESIGN – The new cinemas have only just opened as a new build. Full disabled access.
TICKETS – online or by phone. Monday Madness- super deals. Also Orange Wednesdays. Membership offers 20% off films and priority booking.
SPECIALS – Framed Film Club for kids, Silent Film and Live Music Series, Wonder on Film, A Grammar of Subversion, Family films, Met Opera Live, Marcel Duchamp dancing, Architecture on Film, Q&A’s.  Barbican film enquiries film@barbican.org.uk

ELECTRIC CINEMA – NOTTING HILL, 191 Portobello Road, W11 2ED 

FIrst opened in 1910 and one of the first buildings in Britain designed specifically for motion picture showing by Gerald Seymour Valentin in the Edwardian Baroque style. It’s said that the notorious murderer John Christie (1899-1953) worked there as a projectionist. Hands down one of the most comfortable, even hedonistic seating experiences in London, if not the country. Showing mostly indie and avantgarde arthouse fare, The Electric is a sumptuous affair that needs to be experienced at least once. It also houses the upstairs private members’ club ELECTRIC HOUSE.

Electric Cinema, Notting Hill

CATERING – open half an hour prior to screenings, the bar offers snacks, cocktails, wine, beer and champagne.
SEATING/COMFORT – Sixty-five leather armchairs with footstools and side tables offer unparalleled comfort. In addition there are three 2-seater sofas at the rear of the theatre and six double beds in the front row providing a unique cinema experience. Individual cashmere blankets complete the picture.
TECHNICALS – 35mm film projection. Sky HD, DVD, BluRay video projection. DigiBeta, HD-D5, HDCAM-SR, HDCAM, DVCAM, HDDV.
DESIGN – Purpose built in 1911, beautiful inside and out.
TICKETS – Online or by phone, up until an hour before performance starts.
SPECIALS – Kids Club, Electric Scream, Membership discounts.

Phoenix CinemaPHOENIX CINEMA – EAST FINCHLEY, 52 High Road, London N2 9PJ

Built in 1910, the Phoenix is the second oldest continuously-running cinema in Britain and redolent of the Electric in Notting Hill. A truly gorgeous cinema with traditional red velvet seating and the open, vaulted ceiling means no pillars. Unlike modern multi-screens, the best seats are in the middle of the auditorium. Atmospheric and beautiful, it’s run by a trust for the community and has a very active fan-base.

CATERING – The café bar is open from 11am every Monday-Saturday and from 1pm Sundays, serving simple breakfasts and a range of homemade meals and cakes.d a SEATING/COMFORT – Proper old-school red velvet reclined seats.TECHNICALS – 255 seats. 35mm film projection. HD video projection. Beta SP and Digibeta, DVD. All aspect ratios.DESIGN –Full disabled access and four wheelchair spaces.
TICKETS – 0208 444 6789 www.phoenix.co.uk
SPECIALS – NT Live, Ballet from Moscow, Classic films, Q&A’s, Membership benefits.

watermans-art-centreWATERMANS  BRENTFORD, 40 High Street, TW8 0DS
Box Office: +44 (0)20 8232 1010

Another component of the Picturehouses Group. A comprehensive Arts and Community Centre, overlooking the River Brent, containing cinema, theatre, meeting rooms, restaurant and ample parking. Makes an effort to be inclusive to Black and Minority ethnic cultures.

CATERING – River Terrace Café bar with wi-fi, comfy sofas with river views, teas, coffees, cakes and pastries, as well as tapas. Outdoor seating. Tandoori restaurant.
SEATING/COMFORT –
TECHNICALS – 239 seats. 35mm film projection. HD video projection. Beta SP and Digibeta, DVD, All aspect ratios.
DESIGN – Purpose built structure, wheelchair accessible.
TICKETS – Friend Concessions, Student and Child concessions. Online booking.
SPECIALS – Discounts for Friends of Watermans, Deals on film and food on Tuesdays. Comprehensive community programs. Parent and Baby screenings, Kids screenings, exhibitions, live events.

RIO CINEMA – DALSTON, HACKNEY Rio Cinema

One of the last remaining cinemas over in the Hackney/Dalston area, the Rio stands as a reminder of times past, with the 1930’s façade still intact and a splendid art deco interior. Re-opened in 1999, after substantial refurbishment and new seats, the Rio plays an active role in the community and has taken on the Turkish, Kurdish, Spanish and Gay and Lesbian Film Festivals in recent years.

CATERING – foyer café during normal cinema opening hours. Usual stuff, plus coffee, herbal teas and a licensed bar for beer and wine.
SEATING/COMFORT – 560 seater, very comfortable.
TECHNICALS – 35mm film projection. Sky HD, DVD, BluRay video projection. DigiBeta, HD-D5, HDCAM-SR, HDCAM, DVCAM, HDDV. All aspect ratios. Dolby.
DESIGN – Stylish atmospheric, with the original 1930’s exterior design, but state of the art interior. Three permanent wheelchair spaces available.
SPECIALS  Parents & Babies Club, most Tues and Thurs. Saturday Morning Picture Club and Playcentre matinees. Midweek Classic Matinees. Friends of the Rio membership deals also available.

CURZON MAYFAIR | 38 Curzon Street, London, W1. Booking Line: 0330 500 1331

Mayfair Curz

Re-opened in 1966 subsequent to a rebuild, the original 560 seater was converted to two screens in 2002. In the heart of Mayfair, the Curzon Mayfair was voted in the top twenty cinemas in London and has been an arthouse and Indie venue since it opened in the 1930’s. Even now, it still plays host to a dozen or so Premiers annually. Celebrating 75 years in 2009, Mayfair is the heart of Curzon Cinemas with a rich cinematic history and a dedicated audience of film enthusiasts.

CATERING – Licensed bar and screens. Bar has 120 capacity, free wifi. Shop sells DVD and Blu-Ray.
SEATING/COMFORT – Screen One has 311 seats with 2 wheelchair spaces. Newly upholstered with more legroom than many cinemas. Has two Royal Boxes for hire.
Screen Two- 101 seats.
TECHNICALS – 35mm film projection, 2K HD Video projection from HD (Quvis server system) Beta SP and digibeta,DVD, Data, Mini DV. All aspect ratios. Spotlight. Raked stage. Wired microphones and PA. Lectern. Data and mic connection from auditorium or projection box. Full disabled access. Air conditioned
DESIGN – Grade II listed. The bar, foyer and Screen 1 have wheelchair access. An infrared loop system is in both Screen 1 and 2 for the hard of hearing.
SPECIALS –  Curzon Q&A’s, DocDays, Met Opera Live, Opera & Ballet, Special Previews, Human Rights Watch FF, Rendezvous with French cinema, Kinoteka Polish FF. Membership.

ROXY – SOUTHWARK | 128-132 Borough High Street, London SE1 1LB

Roxy

Roxy was created to bring together cutting-edge digital screenings with high quality drinks & food available throughout all screenings.  All public screenings are over-18s only.

CATERING –Caters food-wise for around 100. To book, phone 020 7407 4057 or email bookings@roxybarandscreen.com SEATING/COMFORT – 100 seater. TECHNICALS – Panasonic HD projector, a 4m wide cinema screen and a Yamaha 5.1 pro-theatre surround sound system.  DESIGN – Modern, urban and fully accessible. SPECIALS  – Membership offers discount and priority booking. Also screens live sports events. See website for details. Book your party on a Friday or Saturday night and they’ll give you a bottle of Prosecco too! See here for more info. Phone:- 020 7407 4057Email:- bookings@roxybarandscreen.com   

GENESIS -STEPNEY  | 93 – 95 Mile End Road
Whitechapel,
London
E1 4UJ

Stands on a site used for entertainment purposes for over 150 years. The first building on the site opened about 1848 as the Eagle public house, a pub cum music hall. This gave way to Lusby’s Summer and Winter Garden which was later renamed Lusby’s Music Hall. Demolished and rebuilt in 1939 and subsequently modernised and split into five screens and a bar area. Great coffee and pastries.

Genesis CATERING – Fully licensed bar.
SEATING/COMFORT – Five screens offer from 575 through to 100 seating capacity. Modern, utilitarian design.
TECHNICALS – 35mm film projection. Digital projection. Dolby. Radio microphone.
DESIGN – Art deco exterior but modern inside.
TICKETS – Online or by phone. See below. Call 020 7780 2000.

PHOENIX – OXFORD PICTUREHOUSE | 0871 902 573657  Oxford, Oxfordshire County OX2, UK

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Originally built in 1913, In 1970 it was taken over by Star Entertainments Ltd. and converted into Studios One and Two. Following another change of ownership it was renamed the Phoenix Cinema and in 1989 it became the first cinema to be owned and run by the newly formed City Screen Limited. A final addition of the roof-top bar in the 1990s brought the cinema to its current configuration.
CATERING – Fully licensed bar.
SEATING/COMFORT – Two screens, 198 and 98 seaters.
TECHNICALS – 35mm film projection. Digital projection. All aspect ratios. Dolby.
DESIGN – Both auditoria are accessible to customers with limited mobility including wheelchair users. Please note wheelchair spaces are limited. The first floor bar is Not accessible. Advisable to call in advance.
TICKETS – Online or by phone telephone lines are open from 9.30am – 8.30pm, seven days a week. Please call  0871 902 5736 (calls cost 10p a minute from a BT landline). Booking fee applies.

UnknownWILTON’S – TOWER HAMLETS  

Wilton’s is the world’s oldest surviving Grand Music Hall and London’s best kept secret. This stunning and atmospheric building houses a programme of imaginative, diverse and distinct entertainment including theatre, music, comedy, cinema and cabaret. See website for what’s on.

CATERING – The Mahogany bar- fully licensed bar and venue. The Green Room Bar. Lunchtime Kitchen.
SEATING/COMFORT – variable, freestanding chairs, rather than upholstered seats.
TECHNICALS – 35mm film projection. Digital projection. Dolby.
DESIGN – Unique, beautiful original music hall, must be visited at least once to experience.
TICKETS – Online or phone, Enquiries & Box Office 020 7702 2789 Monday – Friday (excluding bank holidays) 12pm – 11pm
Saturday 5pm – 11pm
Serving cocktails upstairs Tuesday – Saturday 6pm – 11pm

PRINCE CHARLES – West End | 020 74943654 | 7 Leicester Place

Right in the heart of the West End in Leicester Place, a firm favourite with the arthouse indie crowd, often serving up arthouse films once they have completed a release, so a good chance to catch up on something you missed, if you keep an eye on what’s coming up.

The Prince Charles

CATERING – Fully licensed and comprehensive bar.
SEATING/COMFORT – Two screens- 285 and 104.
TECHNICALS – 35mm film projection. digital projection. All aspect ratios. Dolby.
TICKETS – Online or by phone, https://www.jack-roe.co.uk/TaposWebSales/Main/prilon/start
SPECIALS  – Marathons (eg Alien), retrospectives and trilogies (e.g. Die Hard, Terminator, Singalongs (e.g. Sound Of Music, Rocky Horror).
www.princecharlescinema.com

The Rex BerkhamstedTHE REX – BERKHAMSTED | 

High St (Three Close Lane)
 Berkhamstead
 HP4 2HD

The Rex has one huge screen set in a glorious 1938 art-deco proscenium with the sharpest film projection and clearest non-booming sound anywhere in the world. Serves up mainstream as well as arthouse fare.

CATERING – Selection of food and drink, with bars upstairs and downstairs open throughout the film.
SEATING/COMFORT – Throughout, its seating is big and soft. It has been called luxurious. It is better. It is civilized. It reminds us of what we have long stopped expecting from public buildings.
TECHNICALS – 35mm film projection. Digital projection. All aspect ratios. Dolby.
DESIGN – Disabled Access is from the High Street. There is a gate to the right of the white apartment block (The Gatsby stands far left). The gate is opened 45 minutes before the start time of the film, but if you find it locked please call our admin line: 01442 877999.

THE HORSE HOSPITAL – BLOOMSBURY | (0)20 7833 3644

Horse Hospital Cinema

Built in 1797 as stabling for cabby’s sick horses, The Horse Hospital is a unique Grade II listed venue providing space for avantegarde and underground media since 1993.

Situated on the lower ground floor, the stable room offers a convivial and unusual environment with its horse ramp entrance, tethering rings, cast iron pillars and amazing cobbled floor.  Clients have included the BFI, Birkbeck, Central St Martins, Fashion in Film Festival, Slingshot Films, The Italian Film Society amongst others.

CATERING – Organised by function
SEATING/COMFORT – freestanding chairs.
TECHNICALS – video/digital projection.
DESIGN – Built in 1797 as stabling for cabby’s sick horses, The Horse Hospital is now a unique Grade II listed arts venue situated in an unspoilt mews in the heart of Bloomsbury,

THE OLD RED LION THEATRE CINEMA CLUB – Islington’s local indie cinema in the heart of the local shopping thoroughfare.

Seats: The seats are long wooden benches with padded tops and backs.

Technical capabilities: We are capable of showing Blu-ray and regular DVD content. Our screen is big for the space so you’ve a great view from wherever you’re sitting.
Catering: We aim to be selling Ice Cream, Crisps and Retro sweets. We’re also a pub so downstairs in the bar there’s all the beer you can drink!
location: We’re located at 418 St John Street EC1V 4NJ, very close to Angel Tube station. The building is called the Old Red Lion Theatre Pub
specials: All tickets are £6.50 and there is no booking fee through our sales host.
Tickets can be bought here: http://www.oldredliontheatre.co.uk/cinema-club.htm or by calling 0844 412 4307
JW3 CULTURAL, ARTS AND COMMUNITY CENTRE, FINCHLEY ROAD, LONDON NW3

BLAKE_EZRA_JW3_CINEMA_03 copyJW3’s comfy seats, intimate feel as a 60-seater and wonderful café, bar and restaurant – ZEST opened to rave reviews in September 2013.  The original programming is also a big selling point of the  cinema.image (15)

 

 

Partnered with UK Jewish Film to show 6 screenings of Jewish and Israeli films from all round the world, JW3 also shows new releases and run a number of film clubs on Monday evenings including: Comedy Film Club in partnership with LOCO (London Comedy Film Festival), Artists’ Film Salon for filmmakers and artists working with artists’ moving image and the Foodies Film Club with special edible cinema experiences.

For listings visit the JW3 website

THE ART HOUSE CROUCH END, 159A TOTTENHAM LANE, LONDON N8 9BT  banner4

The former Salvation Army Hall (Music Palace) in Crouch End, North London is being transformed into a dynamic new cultural venue called ArtHouse. Crouch-Enders George Georgiou, Sam Neophytou and Tom Barrie are on a mission to put Crouch End firmly on the cultural map.

The cinema will have two state of the art screens totaling approx 190 seats. Run in association with Curzon, we will show a mix of mainstream, foreign and ArtHouse films, including live streams of classic theatre, opera and ballet from world renowned companies as well as regular director Q&As, documentary events and special events.

SAFFRON SCREEN, Audley End Road, Saffron Walden, Essex CB11 4UH

Saffron Screen is an independent not for profit cinema showing mainstream and art house fare and streaming international cultural events. with a view to entertaining, educating and creating a welcoming experience for the local community. SAFFRON also provides full accessibility for the physically and visually impaired.  For the full  Programme click the link.

CURZON VICTORIA

A welcome addition to this poorly served area of London, cinema-wise. The CURZON VICTORIA opened at the end of 2014. Indulge yourselves with carefully selected wines, local beers and spirits in their brand new luxury lounge bars before enjoying five state-of-the-art screens with Sony 4K projection and 3D.

CLOSE-UP FILM CENTRE

This Shoreditch-based cinema club is open daily from 12-10pm so check it out.

IF YOU WOULD LIKE YOUR CINEMA SCREEN TO BE FEATURED IN THIS GUIDE, PLEASE CONTACT US @filmuforia OR ON THE CONTACT SHEET ON THE HOME PAGE

Artes Mundi 8 Award | National Museum Cardiff

THE NATIONAL MUSEUM in Cardiff is playing host to the UK’s largest international art prize Artes Mundi. From the 26 October until 24 February 2019 the exhibition showcases the five finalists competing for this coveted award.

Thai auteur Apichatpong Weerasethakul has joined the list with his latest work INVISIBILITY, a short film melding cinema with contemporary art and riffing on the signature themes that permeated Cemetery of Splendour (2016) and his 2006 debut Syndromes and a Century. Also short-listed for this year’s Artes Mundi award is French-Moroccan artist and filmmaker, Bouchra Khalili. Her short film Twenty-Two Hours took part in this year’s BFI London Film Festival. 

In Twenty-Two Hours, Bouchra Khalili (left) considers how celebrated French writer Jean Genet was invited by the Black Panther Party to secretly visit them in in the U.S in 1970. The film features Doug Miranda, a former prominent member of the Black Panther Party. Echoing BlacKKKlansman, the film questions how we might transmit the historical voice of resistance into the present.

This year’s selection has been distilled from over 450 entries, from 86 countries. The judging committee includes Anthony Shapland, creative director of Cardiff’s g39 gallery. Artes Mundi is a charity founded in 2002.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Apichatpong’s work deals with memory, personal politics, and social issues in his native Thailand. With over 40 films under his belt, and still only 48, he is a Cannes Film Festival regular, where he won the Palme d’Or in 2010 for his fantasy drama Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, and the Jury prize for Tropical Malady in 2004. Cemetery of Splendour (2015/above) was selected to World premiere in the arthouse Un Certain Regard sidebar, and his love story Blissfully Yours won the UCR award in 2002. His surreal and enigmatic open-ended outings evoke the essence of his homeland through mysterious narratives that often remain unsolved, and are best savoured rather than explained. These fables often have a political undercurrent that we can take or leave, depending on our mood. The past and the present co-exist, and while the focus is general Thai history and folklore, the features have a universal quality exploring love and loss, tradition and the supernatural. His rich reveries explore dreams, nature, and sexuality, alongside Western perceptions of Asia. His recent outing Ten Years in Thailand (2018) is a collaboration between three of his compatriots, and premiered during this year’s Sitges – Catalonia Film Festival.

Experimental in nature, Mysterious Object at Noon (2000) is a film of captivating beauty that blends facts and fiction in a story passed from one person to another, Blissfully Yours (2002)is a languid affair that sees two illegal Burmese immigrants enjoys a leisurely afternoon at a remote rural backwater, in the politically charged location between Thailand and Myanmar). One of them is suffering from the after affects of hiding from the authorities in a septic tank. Tropical Malady (2004) sees a love affair gently blossom in the twilight zone between reality and the spirit world, and Uncle Boonmee (2010) also deals in this dreamlike world when a dying man communes with his family, past and present, roaming to the north of Thailand where spends his final days in the birthplace of his first life. Syndromes and a Century (2006) and psychic drama Cemetery of Splendour (2016) both deal with patients and their carers in a rural hospital setting in lush jungle. Bangkok and a countryside clinic is also the backdrop to the unconsummated love story Syndromes and a Century, one of  Weerasethakul’s more accessible films. Music plays a vital role in his features. More often than not, his lulling melodies and soft refrains complement the dreamlike narratives that ask us to abandon ourselves to reverie – and go with the flow. In Mekong Hotel (2012) guitar music accompanies a shifting tale of fact and fiction between a vampire and her daughter in a hotel situated by the Mekong River. Ambient sound in also a used to recreate the intensely sensuous nature of the early scenes of Syndromes and a Century. Traditional folks songs also feature in this autobiographical work that explores the director’s early days at home with his medic parents.

Moroccan-French artist Bouchra Khalili works with film, video and mixed media. Her focus is on ethnic and political minorities examining the complex relationship between the individual and the community. She is also a Professor of Contemporary Art at The Oslo National Art Academy and a founding member of La Cinematheque de Tanger, an artist-run non-profit organisation based in Tangiers, Morocco. She was the recipient of the Radcliffe Institute Fellowship from Harvard University (2017-2018). Her latest film installation is Twenty-Two Hours (2018).

The three other short-listed artists are: Anna Boghiguian, Otobong Nkanga and Trevor Paglen. The prize will be awarded in January 2019.

NATIONAL MUSEUM CARDIFF | 26 OCTOBER – 24 JANUARY 2019  ARTES MUNDI

 

 

Edgar Degas: Passion for Perfection (2018) ***

Dir/DoP: David Bickerstaff | 91′ | Art Doc in

Edgar Degas (1834-1917) was one of the greatest draftsman of the 19th century.Phil Grabsky’s semi-dramatised documentary reveals the artist’s obsessive experimentation with new techniques. It explores how Degas perfected his craft until blindness overtook him at the end of the First World War. He died aged 83.

Guiding us through the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge which holds the largest Degas collection in Britain, curators and conoscenti show how Degas started his career at the age of 21. After rigorous academic training, he modelled his drawings on the work of another great master Ingrès, who he met through his father’s socials gatherings. A reclusive by nature Degas is pictured (in a filmed cameo by an actor) closeted away in his studio producing a prolific output of paintings, sculptures, prints, and drawings, most of which only came to light after his death when art dealer and facilitator of the Impressionist movement Paul Durand-Ruel was tasked with selling the collection. As Degas commented himself: You will realise how much I’ve produced at my death”.

At the beginning of his career Degas worked as a copyist which eventually brought him into contact with Manet in 1864. The art specialists go in to fascinating details about Degas’ masterpieces including The Bellelli Family—an imposing canvas he intended for exhibition in the Salon although it remained unfinished until 1867; Alexander and Bucephalus and The Daughter of Jephthah in 1859–60.  In 1861 we hear how Degas visited an old friend in Normandy where he made many studies of horses. In 1865 he has his first exhibition at the Salon when the jury accepted his painting Scene of War in the Middle Ages, although it gained no critical appeal at the time leading him to submit his horse painting Steeplechase—The Fallen Jockey which signalled his commitment to more contemporary subject matter.

After returning from the Franco Prussian war in 1870, Degas enlisted in the National Guard, where his eyesight was proved to be failing and this was a constant worry to him. He travelled to New Orleans where his brother René lived, he produced The Cotton Office in New Orleans which garnered favorable attention back in France, and was his only work purchased by a museum during his lifetime.

On his return to Paris he was faced with the death of his father and Rene’s accumulating debts forcing him to sell some canvases and paintings he had inherited, and for the first time in his life he was dependent on his own work for income, which proved the making of him and his work with the Impressionists really took off from 1874 onwards, bringing his traditional methods as a history painter to bear on this contemporary subject matter and becoming a classical painter of modern life who is often identified with the subject of dance; more than half of his works depict dancers. But it was the physicality of the dancers that interested him, and he spend long hours working with pastels to achieve freshness but at the same depth to these well known works of art. Sharp-tongued in company, he relished the cut and thrust of the debates with his fellow Impressionists and although he is regarded as one of the founders of Impressionism he rejected the term, preferring to be called a independent working in a realist style. His portraits are notable for their psychological complexity and for their portrayal of human isolation as seen in the famous “In a Cafe” painting. He thought little of the spontaneous “plein-air “paintings of Monet and often came into conflict with him. His conservative social attitudes sat uneasily with the scandal created by the exhibitions, as well as the publicity his colleagues sought. Sculpture became a fascination for Degas as his sight failed him and in 1880 he created the famous Little Dancer of Fourteen Years in wax with complete tutu and ribbons, with permission for the piece to be refashioned in bronze where is appears in the Fitzwilliam amongst other international galleries.

A great collector himself, he was able to buy more painting through sales of his own work, indulging his passion for El Greco, Gauguin and Van Gogh. He idolised the work of Ingrès and his competitor Delacroix. He also developed a passion for photography and often used that to inform his own artwork, and many painters adopt this same technique in portrait painting today.

But after the Louis Dreyfus affair, he withdrew from company being in the “against” camp for the soldier’s release. His misogyny was well documented, he never married and most of the women in his life were paid so he could maintain control over his models and his housekeeper. He eventually stopping working in 1912 after his longtime residence was demolished and he spent his final years trampsing around the Boulevard de Clichy, rejecting help from his family and dying in September 1917. But his memory lives on in own words: “It’s not a matter of what you see, but what you make others see”. MT

EXHIBITION ON SCREEN returns for a sixth season on 6 November 2018

 

 

Philip Roth: Novels and Films | UK Jewish Film Festival 2018

During his illustrious lifetime. Philip Roth (1933-2018) wrote written 31 novels, of which eight have been turned into feature films. He also created two original treatments for Roger Corman’s Studio (Battle of Blood Island) and a TV series “Alfred Hitchcock Presents”. Sadly, they have now apprently sunken without trace, and Roth’s own adaption of his novel The Ghost Writer (1979), which was directed by Tristan Powell in 1984 for the TV series “American Playhouse” starring Claire Bloom and photographed by Kenneth McMillan, is not available in this country. But do Roth’s brilliant books adapt well for the screen?

unknownThe seven big screen versions, stretching from his first success GOODBYE, COLUMBUS (1969) to the most recent offering, AMERICAN PASTORAL (2016), have not only suffered inadequate scripts and miscasting, but also the sheer impossibility of their transition from novel to screen. Apart from Roth’s style -sparse almost minimalist prose –  psychological realism is hard to capture: long reflections spanning whole days are relatively easy to write down, as are the dialogues in Roth’s protagonists brains, churning over and over again the smallest details – but the poor cinematographer deals in images, and does not want his work mistaken for a radio play. And what about Roth’s quest for Jewish identity?: a Sisyphus effort, which is the central theme in nearly all his novels. Equally, Roth’s political chronicles of America from the Thirties to today, which show a loss of faith in the American Dream – and the male Homo sapiens in particular, are not so easy transferred into images.

goodbye-columbus-ali-macgraw-richard-benjamin-1969Larry’s Pearce’s GOODBYE, COLUMBUS is perhaps the most authentic film version of any Roth novel. The spare and direct prose of the 1959 novella makes it difficult to adapt to the screen, but Pearce follows the original extremely faithfully. Neil (Richard Benjamin) lives with aunt Gladys in the Bronx (in the novel Newark/NJ, where Roth grew up) and works in the local public library. The young man is an unobservant Jew, very much to the chagrin of his aunt. When, at the beginning of the summer, he starts a passionate love affair with Brenda Patimkin (Ali McGraw), a Jewish girl from nouveau riche Westchester, who at the end of the summer will go to college in Boston, Neil feels first liberated, then anxious: For the adult Patemkins, father Ben (Jack Klugman), who is a sink manufacturer and his wife (Nan Martin), he seems not to exist as a person: “You are in the library business” is the most personal comment they can make. Nevertheless, he is allowed to spend the last two weeks of the summer holiday in the Patemkin’s posh, but tastelessly decorated home, where the couple have sex while the family are asleep. Brenda is suffering from her controlling mother and indifferent father, and expects Neil to fill her life with a total and obedient love. There is even talk of marriage between the (secret) lovers at the wedding of Brenda’s brother Ron (Michael Myers), but Brenda sabotages their relationships when, having left for Boston, she leaves her diaphragm for her mother to find. In the end there are accusing letters from the parents, and a sad goodbye (instead of rampant sex) between Brenda and Neil in a Boston hotel. Neil’s summer of love is over. GOODBYE, COLUMBUS has all the future hallmarks of Roth’s more mature work: the rejected class intruder; the Jewish identity crisis’ galore; discussions about the different forms of Jewish organised religion (Reform, Liberal, Orthodox, Orthodox); and the realisation that intellectual work often comes often with a penalty, symbolised by the Neil’s preference for lowly paid work in the library, instead of the much higher remuneration possible in Mr. Patemkin’s factory.

And, last, but not least, the realisation, that great sex has nothing to do with love. Even though Richard Benjamin was nearly thirty when shooting the film, he looks (and acts) very much like an insecure man in his early twenties, whilst Ali McGraw is every inch the “Coca girl” on the advertising calendars. DoPs Gerald Hirschfeld (Cotton comes to Harlem) and Enrique Bravo (Last Summer) portray a still innocent America of the late ’50s in pastel colours and lush panoramic shots – an innocence long gone ten years later after the Kennedy and King murders in the midst of an escalating Vietnam War.

img_3215It is difficult to understand how so many talented artists could make such a total hash out of PORTNOY’S COMPLAINT, the Roth novel filmed in 1972 three years after its publication. Director/writer Ernest Lehman of Hitchcock fame, whose only directional work this derision of a film was, had the great DoP Philip Lathrope (Touch of Evil) behind the camera and a star-studded cast – but to no avail. Whilst the novel is a stream-of-consciousness attempt, with Ulysses very much on the mind of the author, the film version is ham-fisted try, lacking any subtlety, clumsy and in very-bad-taste.

New Yorker Alexander Portnoy (Richard Benjamin, again), is repressed by his mother Sophie (Lee Grant), and uses his psychologist Dr. Spielvogel (‘Play Bird’, in translation) to unburden himself and come to terms with gargantuan sexual appetite. Alexander recalls childhood memories, including the story of a piece of liver, used by him for sexual gratification, which ends later up later on the dinner table of the family. Even though Lehman only describes the scene, it is still offensive – unlike Roth’s writing, which is anything but. The rest is equally unpalatable, showing Alexander’s abusive sexual relationship in the worst possible light. What is a critique of male sexuality in the novel, is transformed into a clumsy voyeuristic feast in the film version. Mary-Jane (Karen Black), called derogatively ‘the monkey’ seems to be the answer to Alexander’s quest, since she obliges him in various sexual positions. But when she asks for commitment, he bolts. The pinnacle of tastelessness is Portnoy’s relationship with the Israeli woman Naomi (Jill Clayburgh), which is pure gutter taste. Lehman does not even try to show Alexander’s struggle which his Jewish identity, these conflicts are just reduced to a bad relationship with his parents: apart from his overbearing mother, Alexander’s father Jack Somack is just another caricature, his main interest in life being his fight against constipation. A truly deplorable effort.

img_3214Just the opposite is Robert Benton’s very sober screen version of THE HUMAN STAIN, filmed three after the publication of the novel in 2003. Based on the script by Nicholas Meyer, Benton (Kramer vs Kramer) stays close to Roth’s concept, including the role of the narrator Nathan Zuckerman (Gary Sinese), the most used of the author’s Alter Egos, appearing in nine novels. Set in the late 1990, Zuckerman has taken refuge in a lakeside cabin in New England, recovering from two divorces and prostate cancer. His reflective solitude is disturbed, when classics professor Coleman Silk (Anthony Hopkins), who lectures at the Athena College, intrudes on Zuckerman grief, with his own story. Coleman (who, as it turns out, is of Afro-American heritance, having masqueraded all his life as a white Jew), has been sacked by the College for making racist comments about two students whilst lecturing. He wanted to write a book about his unjust dismissal, taking revenge on the ones who wronged him; blaming his wife’s death from a stroke on the College administration. But he has shelved the project, after starting an affair with Faunia Farley (Nicole Kidman), a worker at the college, who is, at least in the book, semi-illiterate. The couple is not only chased by Silk’s persecutors from Athena College, but also Faunia’s ex-husband, the disturbed Vietnam veteran Lester (Ed Harris), who stalks his ex-wife. This narrative is played to the background of the Bill Clinton impeachment, where we listen on the radio to Kenneth Starr’s accusations. Roth has put together a contrast between Zuckerman’s youth and the late 1990: in flashbacks we see the post-war era full of hope. Benton’s care and earnestness deserves better than the total miss-casts of Hopkins and Kidman, two actors with egos as big as their star-status. There is no chemistry between them, and their hamming destroys, unfortunately, some of Benton’s efforts.

img_3207ELEGY (2008), based on Roth’s novel The Dying Animal from 2001 and directed by the Spanish director Isabel Croixet (The Secret of Words) is the most melancholic and sensitive of all the screen adaptations. Again scripted by Nicholas Meyer, it features David Kepesh (Ben Kingsley), a professor of Literature in his sixties, in this third outing as Roth’ Alter Ego. Kepesh is living alone in Manhattan and hardly teaching anymore since his regular appearances on radio and TV have given him money and fame. He is a great seducer, mainly of his female students, even though he now has to be more careful, picking his targets only after they have finished their course with him. Kepesh, a detestable character in the novel, is attributed with more sympathetic character traits in the film. The main protagonists in his life, which he sounds out when in crisis, are the womaniser and poet George O’Hearn (Denis Hopper), who dies suddenly of a stroke; his long-term lover (and former student) the wealthy business woman Carolyn (Patricia Carlson) and his forty year old son, the fine art dealer Kenny (Peter Sarsgaard) – all of them are more fleshed out than in the novel. Some years previously, Kepesh has had a relationship with the beautiful Consuela (Penelope Cruz), the attractive daughter of a wealthy Cuban emigrant. The ageing man was particularly fascinated by the breasts of his ex-student, who in turn, was perhaps more interested in Kepesh’s original Kafka letter to his lover Milena. The machiavellian Kapesh keeps an emotional distance from his lovers and consequently ended the relationship with Consulea, after he missed her graduation party on purpose. But then Consuela, more than thirty years his junior, re-enters his life, facing a mastectomy. Whilst the novel has an open ending – ELEGY sees him laying beside her in the hospital bed, promising he will always be there for her. Whilst the precise tone of the novel is lost, Coixet still manages a serious portrait of the closeness of sex and death. DoP Jean-Claude Larrieu (The Woman on the 6th Floor) uses light sparingly, the colours bleaching out more and more in tune with Consuela’s deterioration. He preserves the intimacy of the female body, but without any prudishness. Overall, ELEGY is an accomplished drama, even if Roth’s intentions are not always realised.

img_3212THE HUMBLING, Barry Levinson’s film version of the 2009 novel, premiered in Venice in 2014, is symbolic for (nearly) everything that can go wrong with a Roth novel in transformation to the screen. To start with, we have the misfits masquerading as the leading couple: Al Pacino is trying, without even an attempt at subtlety, to portrait the ageing thespian Simon Axler, who lost his talent together with his mind. But Greta Gerwig, as a thirty-something lesbian, coming to his rescue (?), manages to outdo him: she is so coarse and over-bearing that Pacino’s underperforming is less and less visible.

But it would be wrong, to blame the actors alone. Levinson (Good Morning Vietnam), has seen better days, and together with his script writers Buck Henry and Michael Zebede, he has misread Roth’s intention: a satire on fading values in the USA – be it relationships of all sorts or the arts: everybody is just faking it – has been turned into a grand goodbye-tour for the hapless Axler, who falls under the spell of Gerwig’s Peegen. She is a lesbian, but soon confesses to Axler “I guess this ends my 16-year old mistake”. It is not this cheap line alone that makes the audience cringe, but the obvious contradiction, since Peegen is still more interested in her own gender, than the failing actor. Every scene is over-the-top, like a self-parody: Axler pours his heart out to an audience, who are glued (too) obviously to their mobiles. In the psychiatric ward, we watch Axler getting help like in a Mel Brooks movie. And the actor’s Connecticut mansion, where most of the action is played out, is again simply too morose and claustrophobic. The best moments include a haggling-duel between Axler and his agent (Charles Grodin), where they discuss the ins-an-outs of a hair-replacement commercial. Needless to say, that the ending (Henry and Zebede’s on-stage coitus), very subtle in the novel, is cranked up, to go with what went before. And again, Roth’s critical prose is simply transformed into a superficial merry-go-round, without any analysis or detachment. THE HUMBLING is part of a four-novel-series ‘Nemesis’ – and even the most ignorant adaption should pay tribute to the meaning of this.

indignation-01editedFirst time director/writer James Schamus’ 2016 version of Roth’s INDIGNATION (published in 2008, also as part of the ’Nemesis’ series), is – apart from the casting of the male lead Logan Lerman – the near-perfect exception in the quagmire of adaption flops. Here at last we find the reflection, detachment and analysis we have been longing for. In a sober, traditional style, very much like John Krokidas’ Kill your Darlings, Schamus recounts American history from the perspective of a young Jew. In 1951, during the Korea war, Marcus Messner (Lerman) tries to escape from his controlling father Max (Danny Burstein), a Kosher butcher in Newark/New Jersey. The neurotic parent treats his teenage son like a child, wanting to know his precise whereabouts at all times. Mother Esther (Linda Emond) sacrifices herself, and replaces Max’ apprentice as a full-time assistant, so that Marcus can go to college in Winesburg/Ohio – freed from the clutches of his father. Winesburg College is a proper micro-cosmos of WASP dominated America at the beginning of the ’50s when even restaurants in New York advertised on their doors “No Jews or Negroes”.  Of the 1200 Winesburg students, not even a hundred are Jewish, still outnumbering the three Afro-American members of the campus. Marcus is canvassed by members of the Jewish and Independent Fraternity, but declines: he is his own man. Rooming with three other Jews, including the obnoxious closet-homosexual Flusser (Bertram Rosenfield), Marcus opts for independence, alone in a small attic room. Soon he gets tired of the mandatory visits to Chapel at least ten times a year, and has a blazing row with Dean Hawes (Tracy Letts), quoting Bertrand Russel’s 1927 pamphlet “Why I am not a Christian”.

Indignation copyWhen he falls in love with the beautiful, but fragile Olivia Hutton (Sarah Godon), who has tried to commit suicide before coming to Winesburg, Marcus’s emotional limitations are exposed: performing fellatio on him in a burrowed Cadillac, the young man is more repelled than attracted. His mother, wanting a divorce from the father, whose mind is even more deteriorating, visits Marcus and meets Olivia, spotting the scar on her arm. Esther proposes an exchange: she will not leave the husband, and Marcus will look for a new girlfriend. But personal matters are overtaken, when Marcus is found to have designated a “replacement” student for the Chapel visits: both are expelled, and Marcus’s nightmare becomes reality: he has to enter the fighting US infantry in Korea as a Private. Schamus, producer of Brokeback Mountain among others, has elegantly adjusted the ending in the screen version. This is a story of an amour-fou, with almost fetishistically ingredients: when Olivia is swinging her leg, sitting on the library chair, Marcus is watching intensely, forgetting even his work ethos, we are reminded of Bunuel. The claustrophobic atmosphere of the college, which is not so much a place of learning, but an opportunity for middle-class WASP girls to replace the father with a new, reliant breadwinner – whilst being regulated to an extent, that even petting is made nearly impossible.

Reflecting the experiences of Roth himself, INDIGNATION is a portrait of a soul-destroying era, where puritanism still ruled supreme. The cast is brilliant, apart from Lerman, who is simply a little too dorky to be real. DoP Christopher Blauvelt (I am Michael) creates a campus world where nearly everyone acts like emotional zombies, his impressive achievements also include imaginative images of repressed sexuality.

img_3206AMERICAN PASTORAL, written in 1997 as part of an ‘American Trilogy’, certainly deserves better than Ewan McGregor’s 2016 half-hearted directional debut, and his miss-casting of himself and Jennifer Connolly. For once, one cannot lay too much blame at the feet of the scriptwriter, in this case John Ramano, who stayed quiet faithful to Roth narrative. It is McGregor’s acting as ‘Swede’ Levov, which lets everyone down, because he comes over like the Musil hero in Man without Attributes – but not because he hides an inner struggle, but because there is none. Narrated by Roth’s alter ego Nathan Zuckerman (David Strathhairn), who went to school in Newark/NJ with Levov’s brother Jerry (Rupert Evans), this is a family affair told without any proper references to the historical background – and considering we are talking about the late ’60s/early ’70s in America, this is quite a feet. McGregor more or less sleepwalks through the film, observing much, but unable to put any personal imprint on the tragic incidents which seemingly arise around him by accident. The ‘Swede’ Levov, a High School star in all sports possible, looks like a Scandinavian, even though he is as Jewish as they come – not that one would guess this from McGregor’s performance. He is married to catholic ex-beauty star Dawn (Jennifer Connolly), the couple developing no on-screen chemistry at all. Their daughter Merry (Dakota Fanning), suffers from a stutter, and suddenly turns into a violent protester against the Vietnam War. She is responsible for the death of innocent bystanders in the bombing of post-offices and other institutions. Dawn disappears, and her father tries to find her with the help of an anarchist friend of hers, Rita (Valerie Curry). But Rita is more interested in seducing the ‘Swede’, who stays faithful to his wife. Unfortunately for Levov, he will soon find out that his wife is planning to elope with David Whalen (Bill Orcutt). At his funeral, Zuckerman, Jerry and Merry (who is trying to make up for her crimes), mull over his life. Bland, conventional, without cohesion and no feel for the historical circumstances, AMERICAN PASTORAL is just an empty stringing together of events.

Trying to end on a positive note, we can report well-founded rumours, that Roth’s novel The Plot against America (2004) is in pre-production to be filmed. This is one of Roth’s most innovative works, using alternate history as a plot device. Set in 1940 in Newark/NJ, it portrays a country where the semi-fascist Charles Lindhbergh jr., beats Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the presidential election, bringing about country wide anti-Semitic riots and pogroms. The novel is told from the perspective of a certain eight year old Philip. Bring it on – and make it a standout. And a fitting tribute to his outstanding life. AS

A Philip Roth Retrospective will feature at this year’s UK JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL (8-22 November, Nationwide) in honour of the much loved author. The festival will be screening three of its favourite cinematic interpretations of his work, including: Goodbye, Columbus, Human Stain and Portnoy’s Complaint. 

4 Films from Margarethe von Trotta (1975-86)

The first female director to win the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, Margarethe von Trotta (1942) is to thank for some of the most trailblazing films over the past five decades. Von Trotta’s wonderfully complex and outspoken female characters have undoubtedly inspired those taking centre stage in films by contemporary directors such as Jane Campion, Andrea Arnold, Lynne Ramsay and Lone Scherfig. One of the most gifted – but often overlooked – directors to emerge from the New German Cinema movement at the same time as Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Werner Herzog – von Trotta has never shied away from topics that resonate with contemporary lives and provoke revolutionary discussion. The power of mass media, historical events, radicalisation and women’s rights, have all been visible elements in her films since the politically turbulent 1970s.

As part of their ‘Margarethe von Trotta Revisited’ programme, Barbican will welcome Margarethe von Trotta for a ScreenTalk on 2 Oct to discuss her illustrious career, following a screening of her 1986 Palme d’Or nominated film Rosa Luxemburg, in a newly restored print. This will be complemented by two further screenings from her body of work, The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum and The Second Awakening of Christa Klages (also in new prints). The German Sisters will join the nationwide tour in November and December.

ROSA LUXEMBURG (1986)

Rosa Luxemburg is Margarethe von Trotta’s remarkable biopic of one of the most fascinating figures in modern European political history. Having fought for women’s rights and to revolutionise the state in early 20th century Poland and Germany, the Marxist revolutionary Luxemburg (1871-1919) formed the famous Spartacist League, later the Communist Party of Germany. After a failed uprising, Luxemburg was murdered in Berlin at the age of 47. The film traces Luxemburg’s political and moral development from journalist and author to dissenter from the party line and imprisoned pacifist. Portrayed masterfully by von Trotta regular Barbara Sukowa (also known from Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Lola), Luxemburg’s character comes alive on screen with a depth and complexity than her public image as a militant revolutionary might lead us believe.

THE LOST HONOUR OF KATHARINA BLUM (1975)

Young housekeeper Katharina falls for a handsome man at a party – who unbeknownst to her is a criminal on the run from the police. The night she spends with the alleged terrorist is enough to bring her quiet life into ruins and bring her under police surveillance. Now the exploited subject of cheap newspaper sensationalism, Katharina becomes a target of anonymous phone calls and letters, sexual advances and threats, all testing the limits of her dignity and sanity. Directed with her then-husband Volker Schlöndorff (The Tin Drum), The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum is a powerful yet sensitive adaptation of Heinrich Böll’s controversial novel. A stinging commentary on state power, individual freedom and media manipulation, the film feels as relevant today as on the day it was released in 1975. 

THE SECOND AWAKENING OF CHRISTA KLAGES (1978)

The solo directorial debut of Margarethe von Trotta, the film tells of a young woman who, to finance her daughter’s day-care centre, robs a bank. On the run, she is pursued by the police and more mysteriously by a young woman who was her hostage in the bank raid. Shot on a shoestring budget, this compelling and convincing film was also one of a handful of contemporary films that responded to the events surrounding the national terrorist collective Baader-Meinhof, a topic that von Trotta kept referring to in her later work (such asThe German Sisters).

THE GERMAN SISTERS (1981)

Based on the real life story of the Enslein sisters, this is the purest expression of Margarethe Von Trotta’s combination of the personal and the political.  Juliane (Jutta Lampe) is a feminist journalist, arguing for abortion rights; Marianne (Barbara Sukowa) is a terrorist revolutionary in a Baader-Meinhof type group. As Marianne’s political activism begins to take a personal cost, Juliane is stricken between her politics and her need to protect her sister and her family. But when Marianne is imprisoned, Juliane is forced to confront the realities of the harsh power of the state. Von Trotta’s first collaboration with her muse Barbara Sukowa (who she would make the protagonist of six more of her features) was selected by Ingmar Bergman as one of his favourite films of all time.

BARBICAN SCREENINGS

Rosa Luxemburg & ScreenTalk with Margarethe von Trotta

West Germany 1986, dir Margarethe von Trotta, 124 mins

2 Oct 18.30, Barbican Cinema 2

The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum + intro by Margarethe von Trotta

West Germany 1975, dir Margarethe von Trotta & Volker Schlöndorff, 84 mins

3 Oct, 18.30, Barbican Cinema 2

The Second Awakening of Christa Klages

West Germany 1978, dir Margarethe von Trotta, 93 mins

6 Oct, 16.15, Barbican Cinema 2

PREMIERING AT BARBICAN 2-6 OCTOBER 2018 | NATIONWIDE TOUR FROM NOVEMBER

 

Open City Docs Festival 2018 | 4-9 September 2018

Open City Documentary Festival is back this Autumn for the eighth year running with a dynamic new programme celebrating documentary and non-fiction filmmaking taking place  from the 4th – 9th September in a host of great venues across central London.

This year – through films, audio and immersive (VR/AR) projects, across screenings, special events, parties, panels, workshops and masterclasses – Open City Documentary Festival will be celebrating the art of non-fiction.

The Festival opens with the UK Premiere of Baronesa (2017, Brazil, 71’), directed by Juliana Antunes and in partnership with MUBI. Her astonishing debut follows friends Andreia and Leid as they navigate the perilous reality of daily life in the favelas of Belo Horizonte. At first glance, their days seem calm and untroubled, but the threat of violence is never far away and Andreia dreams of moving to the safer neighbourhood of nearby Baronesa. Antunes spent five years in Belo Horizonte, working with a non-professional cast, to create a work of rare intimacy and authenticity which—despite its simple structure—emerges as a complex, multilayered and moving portrait of contemporary life in the favelas. Baronesa announces an exciting new voice in Brazilian cinema.

The Closing Night will be the UK Premiere of The Swing (2018, Lebanon, 74’) directed by Cyril Aris. An assured, emotionally rich film about the lies a family tells to keep their patriarch happy and the unattended costs of their falsehood. After sixty years of marriage, Antoine and Vivi have lost their most beloved daughter; but no one has dared to tell the bedridden nonagenarian Antoine, lest his heart crack. A simple solution, though everyone else in this densely interconnected family has then to live the same lie, giving no expression to their grief. A deeply affecting, beautifully shot cinematic novella; like all the best stories The Swing is a simple tale, but one that never short-changes its viewers.

This year the festival hosts an outstanding Jury panel for each of its competitive Awards. For the Open City Award the following documentaries have been nominated: Baronesa, dir. Juliana Antunes (Brazil); Casanova Gene, dir. Luise Donschen (Germany); Flight of a Bullet, dir. Beata Bubenec (Russia); and The Swing, dir. Cyril Aris (Lebanon). The Jury will be chaired by esteemed director Sophie Fiennes (Grace Jones: Bloodlight, Bami), and features Beatrice Gibson, Nelly Ben Hayoun, May Adadol Ingawanij and Mehelli Modi.

For the Emerging International Filmmaker Award the following documentaries have been nominated: Angkar, dir. Neary Adeline Hay (France); Those Who Come, Will Hear, dir. Simon Plouffe (Canada); Home of the Resistance, dir. Ivan Ramljak (Croatia) and The Best Thing You Can Do With Your Life, dir. Zita Erffa (Germany, Mexico). The award will be Chaired by independent Dutch documentary programme cultural advisor and filmmaker Tessa Boerman (Zwart Belicht), Luciano Barisone, Cecile Emeke, Chiara Marañón and Tadhg O’Sullivan.

There will be two retrospectives in honour of non-fiction filmmaking: The innovative found footage documentarian Penny Lane and Japanese pioneer of ‘action documentary’, Kazuo Hara. Both filmmakers will be at the festival to present their work.

For the first time the festival has invited artists to present films that have informed their own practice, with special selections from DJ and producer Nabihah Iqbal and filmmaker Marc Isaacs as well as short films chosen by a number of the filmmakers with new work at the festival, screening before their own features.

The festival will also be hosting an Industry Bootcamp aimed at students and recent graduates. These sessions will be about preparing for the next steps in your career and getting ready to enter the industry. Each event is £5, or free with student accreditation.

Open City Documentary Festival is looking forward to hosting a number of exciting festival parties this year including the Opening and Closing Night Receptions at the Regent Street Cinema as well as the Nabihah Iqbal after-party at the ICA, where the DJ, Producer & NTS Radio presenter presents an evening of music inspired by 1972 documentary Winter Soldier, featuring protest songs and music from the anti-war movement from 1950-1975. Other various festival parties will be listed in the festival programme.

OPEN CITY DOCUMENTARY FESTIVAL 4-9 SEPTEMBER 2018 

 

Tribute to Claude Lanzmann (1925-2018)

Claude Lanzmann, who was born in Paris in 1925, died today in the city of his birth, aged 92. He will always be remembered for the ground-breaking undertaking of Shoah, which took twelve years (1974-1985) to finish; the reconstruction of the genocide, lasting 560 minutes, a unique, monumental achievement.

Born as the grandson of Russian Jews who fled the pogroms, his upbringing was marred by the unhappy marriage of his parents: when Claude was nine, his mother Paulette left the family, which, ironically, came as a relief to her son: “I feared the marriage of my parents would end in suicide, or even murder”. His father, politically aware, taught his children survival techniques, which came in handy during the Nazi occupation of France. In 1943 Claude was sent to boarding school in Clermont-Ferrand, where he joined the Jeunesses Communistes and the resistance. In his autobiography Le Lievre de Patagonie (2009), he is quiet critical about himself, not having stood up enough for persecuted fellow students.

After the war he went to Tubingen in Germany where he met Nazi officers for the first time at the estate of the Von Neurath family, where he discovered a mini-concentration camp on the grounds. He went afterwards to teach in Berlin at the newly founded Free University. Lanzmann was unhappy about the lame De-Nazification process and he asked for Jean-Paul Sartre’s Reflexions sur la Question Juive to be read by his students. This led to him joining Sartre and De Beauvoir at the Paris offices of Les Temps Modernes later – whose editor he was since 2016. Between 1952 and 1957 he lived with Simone de Beauvoir “I am the only man with whom Simone lived a quasi-marital existence.”  Claude’s younger sister Evelyne, an actress, had a passionate relationship with Sartre, Lanzmann and de Beauvoir trying to keep matters secret. But after Evelyne’s suicide at the age of forty in 1967, the papers were full of accusations of Lanzmann, “having pimped out his sister to Sartre”. Whilst this might be a little harsh, the fact remains that Sartre was 22 years older than Evelyne, who took being left by him very hard – no wonder after the trauma of her childhood. In 1952 Lanzmann went for the first time to Israel, where he would start his career as a filmmaker in 1973 with Pourquoi Israel? Whilst taking a progressive stand on the Algerian question, signing the Manifesto of the 121 to end the war, Lanzmann always legitimised Israel’s right to keep the occupied territories. His documentary Tshal (1994) is full of praise for the Israeli Defence Forces, even though he admitted that the Palestinians should have their own country – later.

But the Holocaust dominated his output: of his nine features, five dealt with the subject: most interesting Sobibor October 1943, 4 pm, about the successful uprising in the death camp of the title. Then there is A Visitor from the Living (1999), in which Lanzmann interviews the Swiss Red Cross attache Maurice Rossell, who, after visiting the death camp of Theresienstadt late in the war, wrote a favourable report, praising the Nazis for their ‘generosity’. Lanzmann’s last feature, Four Sisters, dealing again with Holocaust survivors, was premiered the day before his death. He was adamant, that Shoah was not a documentary: “The word makes me want to take a pistol and shoot”.AS

 

Tony Richardson and his New Wave Wonder

Woodfall Film Productions was founded in 1958 by English director Tony Richardson (1928-1991), the American producer Harry Saltzman (later of James Bond fame) and the English author and playwright John Osborne, whose play Look back in Anger was filmed by Richardson in 1959 as the opus number of the company that championed the British New Wave. So it’s only fitting that Richardson should finish the circle in 1984 with Hotel New Hampshire, creating a sub-genre of dram-com, which was later developed by Wes Anderson.

The Entertainer featured Laurence Olivier in the title role, reprising his stage role from the Royal Court, co-written by John Osborne from his own play. There is nothing heroic about Olivier’s Archie Rice: he is a bankrupt womaniser, exploiting his long suffering wife Phoebe (de Banzie) and using Tina Lapford (Field) – who came second in the Miss Britain contest – and her wealthy family to prolong his stage career. Not even the death of his son in the Suez conflict can deter him from his vain pursuit of a long dead career. Using his father – who dies on stage – for his own advantage, Archie sinks deeper and deeper. There is a poignant scene with his film daughter Jean (Plowright), whom he asks: “What would think, if I married a woman your age?” and Jean answers exasperated “Oh. Daddy”. At the end of productions, Olivier would marry Plowright, after his divorce from Vivien Leigh. Shot partly at Margate, this is a bleak portrait of show business, shot in brilliant black and white by the great Oswald Morris (Moby Dick, A Farewell to Arms).  

Set in a desolate Manchester, A Taste of Honey would make a star of the lead actor Rita Tushingham. She plays 17-year old school girl Jo, who is totally neglected by her sex-mad mother Helen (Bryan), who only has time for her fiancée Robert (Stephens). Jo gets pregnant by the black sailor Jimmy (Danquah), who soon leaves with his ship. Jo befriends the textile student Geoffrey, a brilliant Murray Melvin, who is not sure about his sexual orientation. He looks lovingly after her, before Helen returns, after having been rejected by Robert. She shucks Geoffrey out, and pretends to look after her daughter and the baby, whilst having one eye on the next, potential suitor. A Taste of Honey is relentlessly gloomy and discouraging. Photographed innovatively  by Walter Lassally, who would become a Richardson regular.  

Written by John Osborne, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner again created a new star: Tom Courtenay in the titular role as Colin, a young, working-class petty criminal. After being caught by the police, he lands in up in Borstal, which is run by the posh Ruxton Towers (Michael Redgrave). The vain headmaster loves nothing more than to prove his theory that hard labour and physical exercises will reform his juvenile clients. Colin has a talent for running, and Towers trains him to beat the best of the Public School runners, in the annual competition.  Teased by his mates as ‘teacher’s pet’, Colin strives hard to fulfil his potential – but, in one of the great endings in film history, he has the last laugh, making a complete fool of Towers. Again shot in grainy black-and-white by Lassally, The Loneliness of the Long Distant Runner is a classic of the new genre of kitchen-sink dramas.  

Nothing could be more different than Richardson’s next project, the historical romp Tom Jones, based on the novel by Henry Fielding. Albert Finney is the bumptious titular hero, who is nearly hanged due to the schemes by his adversary Bliflil (the debut for David Warner). With a great love story involving Sophie Western (York) and her father (Griffith), there are some great performances by Edith Evans, Joan Greenwood and Diane Cilento. Like his auteur Richardson, Lassally changes style effortlessly in this colourful wide-screen bonanza. It would garner an Oscar for Richardson, and was a huge success at the box office: the slender budget of £467000 pounds would result in a cool 70 million takings. AS

NOW AVAILABLE FROM THE BFI THIS CLASSIC BOX SET SERIES IS PACKED WITH QUALITY EXTRAS

Blu-ray RRP: £79.99 / Cat. No. BFIB1296 / Cert 15

UK / 1959-1965 / black and white & colour / English language with optional hard-of-hearing subtitles / 921 mins (+ extras)/ original aspect ratios / 24fps, 1080p / 7 x BD50 & 2 x BD25 / Blu-ray: PCM mono audio (48kHz/24-bit)

DVD RRP: £69.99 / Cat. No. BFIV2113 / Cert 15

UK / 1959-1965 / black and white & colour / English language with optional hard-of-hearing subtitles / 885 mins (+ extras)/ original aspect ratios / 24fps, PAL / 9 x DVD9

 

 

Sheffield Doc Fest | 7 – 12 June 2018

Sheffield Doc/Fest celebrates its 25th edition this year with a diverse programme that features not only documentaries but also interactive and immersive projects, including 7 virtual reality installations in the Alternate Realities Exhibition and works by the British collaborator duo Iain Forsyth & Jane Pollard (20,000 Days on Earth), along with the usual industry talks. 

The festival opens on 7 June with the world premiere of Sean McAllister’s A Northern Soul that sees the director reflect on changes to his Yorkshire hometown: a city divided by Brexit and simultaneously celebrated as UK City of Culture, hit by austerity. 
Amongst the other features to look out are:
A DISTANT BARKING OF DOGS | Dir: Simon Lereng | 91′
While the war in Ukraine and Russia rages on beyond their village, a simple family go about their ordinary life in this gentle observational story that won the First Appearance award for its director at IDFA 2017
A WOMAN CAPTURED | Dir: Bernadett Tuza-Ritter | 89′ 
Slavery is a European invention, and still exists, or so we’re led to believe in this extraordinary story about who a woman down on her luck who  becomes trapped and abused in a more manipulative woman’s household. Is this really slavery or just one person’s power over another? You decide.
CENTRAL AIRPORT TEMPELHOF | Dir: Karim Ainouz | 97′
Director Karim Ainouz finds a dark, ironic vein of humour in Berlin’s defunct city airport where massive hangers house Germany’s emergency asylum seekers, where the local Germans do their best to accommodate their new arrivals.
OBSCURO BAROCCO | Dir: Evangelia Kranioti | 60′
A visually ravishing metamorphosis takes place under the gaudy lights of the Rio de Janeiro carnival in this Berlinale (2018) Teddy Award winning documentary that explores the transgender world of the Brazilian capital.
FLOW (World Premiere, Chile) Dir:  Nicolas Molina | 82′
FLOW observes the human connection between two rivers: the Ganges in India and the Biobio in Chile. It proposes a poetic journey blending both civilisations through the flow of one great river.
SHEFFIELD DOC FESTIVAL 7-12 JUNE 2018

Canada Now | 3-6 May 2018

CANADA NOW 2018 is a showcase of New Canadian Cinema in the UK, beginning with a weekend of screenings and events from the 3rd – 6th May at the Curzon Soho, featuring outstanding new pieces of filmmaking alongside a brand new digital restoration of a repertory classic. From Sunday July 1st 2018, in celebration of Canada Day, the films will begin a nationwide tour of cinemas and venues across the UK. Here is the line-up in full. 

ALL YOU CAN EAT BUDDHA | Ian Lagarde, 2017 85′

This oddball vacation comedy curio starts off well but rapidly goes pear-shaped, largely due to the flaccid pacing and increasingly imploding narrative that follows a holidaying man who develops a mysterious appetite and supernatural powers in an all-inclusive resort in the Caribbean.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bFEZOCD_ufk

BLACK COP  | Cory Bowles, 2017 – 91′

A black police officer turns activist and seeks revenge on his own colleagues after  being egregiously profiled and assaulted by them, in this stylish and intermittently engaging political satire by actor-director Cory Bowles (Trailer Park Boys). 

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xHLDGsZRELA

CARDINALS | Grayson Moore & Aidan Shipley, 2017 – 84 mins

Years after murdering her neighbour under the guise of drink driving, Valerie returns home from prison to find that the son of the deceased has lingering suspicions. An impressive, well-acted debut despite its tonally uneven denouement.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZjOw0ug3Bqw

HOCHELAGA, LAND OF SOULS, HOCHELAGA, TERRE DES ÂMES | François Girard, 2017 100 *

Oscar winner François Girard (The Red Violin), returns with an ambitious time-travelling fantasy spanning eight centuries of layered indigenous, colonial, and contemporary histories. Starring Vincent Perez and Linus Roache, this works best as an intriguing piece of historical voyeurism rather than as a cogent drama exploring the aftermath of a sinkhole opening up in a downtown Montreal football stadium causing the city’s past and present to intersect.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oArz1hEwwtY

*Touring programme only

I’VE HEARD THE MERMAIDS SINGING  | Patricia Rozema, 1987 – 81′

Patricia Rozema’s Cannes-awarded debut feature – a charming, whimsical story about a waifish daydreamer with artistic aspirations – is now an arthouse classic and one of the most profitable Canadian films ever made, and an important milestone in both queer cinema and the development of Canadian film industry.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=INzNbLSo7A4

LET THERE BE LIGHT  | Mila Aung-Thwin, Van Royko, 2017 – 80′

Directed by Mila Aung-Thwin (The Vote) and Van Royko (Kodeline), this unconvincing documentary attempts to explore fusion research and how it may help solve the global energy crisis.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IicYGhFEII8

MARY GOES ROUND  – Molly McGlynn, 2017 – 87′ 

Establishing Molly McGlynn as a talent in the making, her debut feature centres on a substance abuse counsellor (Mary/Aya Cash) with a drinking problem. After getting arrested for drink driving and losing her job, Mary returns to her hometown where she is forced to come to terms with her estranged father and form a bond with her teenage half-sister whom she’s never met. Although over-melodramatic at times, Mary Goes Round has its heart in the right place. 

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QqI4pQh1jEA

MEDITATION PARK | Mina Shum, 2017 – 94′

The reason to see this upbeat relationship drama is for Cheng Pei Pei’s superb turn as a devoted wife and mother, who questions her marriage when she discovers an orange thong in her husband’s pocket. Her efforts to find out the truth send her on an unexpected journey of liberation. Sandrah Oh (Grey’s Anatomy) is also terrific.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0GQhbqJcjjM

RUMBLE: THE INDIANS WHO ROCKED THE WORLD | Catherine Bainbridge & Alfonso Maiorana, 2017 – 103′

RUMBLE: The Indians Who Rocked the World is a well-structured, resonant music biopic to light a profound and missing chapter in the history of American music: the Indigenous influence. Featuring music icons Charley Patton, Mildred Bailey, Link Wray, Jimi Hendrix, Jesse Ed Davis, Buffy Saint-Marie, Robbie Robertson, Randy Castillo and Taboo, RUMBLE shows how these pioneering Native musicians helped shape the soundtracks of our lives.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hovJUoyxulc

VENUS | Eisha Marjara, 2017 *

Eisha Marjara’s articulate, absorbing, and lively gender shifting comedy, Venus, is the witty tale of Sid (featuring New York-based actor Debargo Sanyal in a brilliant performance), a transitioning woman whose life takes a surprising turn when a 14-year-old boy named Ralph arrives at her door with the surprising announcement that he is her son.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MsL6QLUae8o

*Touring programme only

CANADA NOW | 3-6  MAY 2018 | CURZON LONDON | 1 July onwards NATIONWIDE TOUR

London Spanish Film Festival | 13-15 April 2018

The Eighth London Spanish Film festival takes place in London from 13-15 April offering a chance to see recent festival outings that may only get a limited release in the UK

MAY GOD SAVE US | Que Dios nos perdone ****
Dir. Rodrigo Sorogoyen, with Antonio de la Torre, Roberto Álamo, Javier Pereira | Spain | 2016 | 127 min. | cert. 15 | In Spanish with English subtitles | UK premiere

Two detectives work out their own troubled relationship when investigating a series of brutal crimes against elderly women. The rather aggressive Alfaro and the stuttering, insecure Velarde are played convincingly by Álamo and de la Torre respectively. Set during the Pope’s visit to Spain in the hot summer of 2011, Rodrigo Sorogoyen’s crime drama is a rich character study, examining social tensions, the role of the police and Spanish Catholicism.

Friday’s screening will be followed by a Q&A with Antonio de la Torre

Fri 13 April | 6.10pm | £12, conc. 11 | Regent Street Cinema Sun 15 April | 5.45pm | £12, conc. £10 | Ciné Lumière

THE BOOKSHOP ***

Dir. Isabel Coixet, with Emily Mortimer, Bill Nighy, Patricia Clarkson, James Lance | Spain/UK/Germany | 2017 | 113 min. | cert. PG | In Spanish with English subtitles | Special preview courtesy of Vertigo

Isabel Coixet’s rather turgid drama is enlivened by three superb performances from Emily Mortimer, Bill Nighy and Patricia Clarkson in this screen adaptation of Penelope Fitzgerald’s 1978 feminist novel that sees a young widow (Mortimer) struggling with the ruthless opposition from a local grand dame (Clarkson) when she opens a literary emporium in a small English town, tempting an elegant batchelor out of reclusive retirement and into her arms. Enriched by a voiceover from Julie Christie and Alfonso de Vilallonga’s score, the film garnered several Goyas for Best Film as well as Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay awards for Coixet.

Fri 13 April | 8.50pm | £12, conc. £11 | Regent Street Cinema

CAN’T SAY GOODBYE | No sé decir adiós ***
Dir. Lino Escalera, with Juan Diego, Nathalie Poza, Lola Dueñas | Spain | 2017 | 96 min. | cert. 15 | In Spanish with English subtitles | London premiere

Anchored by a standout performance from Nathalie Poza, Lino Escalera’s award-winning feature debut is an intense and emotional road movie that explores contemporary and traditional Spanish values through the story of a young woman and her estranged and ailing father.

Sat 14 April |6.30pm | £12, conc. £10 | Ciné Lumière

ABRACADABRA

Dir. Pablo Berger, with Maribel Verdú, Antonio de la Torre, José Mota, Josep Maria Pou, Priscilla Delgado, Quim Gutiérrez, Julián Villagrán | Spain/France/Belgium | 2017 | 96 min. | In Spanish with English subtitles

Maribel Verdu stars as a long-suffering football widow in Pablo Berger’s zany domestic melodrama with touches of magic realism and horror thrown into the mix. An intense and inventive follow-up to his 2012 hit Blancanieves.

Followed by a Q&A with actor Antonio de la Torre
Sat 14 April | 8.30pm | £12, conc. £10 | Regent Street Cinema

SUNDAY’S ILLNESS | La enfermedad de los domingos

Dir. Ramón Salazar, with Susi Sánchez, Bárbara Lennie, Greta Fernández, Miguel Ángel Solá, Richard Bohringer, Manuel Castillo | Spain | 2018 | 113 min. | cert. 15 | In Spanish and French with English subtitles | UK premiere

A mother and daughter reunion is at the core of Ramon Salazar’s thematically rich character drama that explores the complex tensions and the mixed love-hate emotions between a daughter and her stoic mother. Barbara Lennie and Susi Sanchez acts their hearts out supported by Ricardo de Gracia’s photography, Sylvia Steinbrecht’s art direction and Clara Bilbao’s costumes.

Sun 15 April | 4.30pm | £12, conc. 11 | Regent Street Cinema

LOTS OF KIDS, A MONKEY AND A CASTLE | Muchos hijos, un mono y un castillo

Dir. Gustavo Salmerón, with Julieta Salmerón, Gustavo Salmerón | Spain | 2017 | 90 min. | doc | cert. PG | In Spanish with English subtitles | Special preview courtesy of Dogwoof

Lots of kids, a monkey and a castle were Julieta Salmerón’s dreams as a little girl. And she got them all. Gustavo Salmerón, better known in Spain for his work as an actor, this is a documentary tribute to his mother who emerges a delightfully pragmatic woman, optimistic and somewhat extraordinary as well as eccentric; she keeps some of her grandfather’s backbones and her parents’ ashes and teeth at home.The film garnered several awards including Best Documentary at the Goyas and Karlovy Vary, a became a box office hit in Spain.

Sun 15 April | 8.40pm | £12, conc. £10 | Ciné Lumière

LONDON SPANISH FILM FESTIVAL | 13-15 APRIL 2018 

The Big City (1963) (Mahanagar) | Bfi Big Screen Classics

Dir/Writer: Satyajit Ray (Based on a short story by Narendranath Mitra) | Cast: Madhabi Mukherjee, Anil Chatterjee, Haren Chatterjee, Sefalika Devi, Prasenjit Sarkar, Vicky Redwood | 131′   Drama | Bengali with English subtitles

Satyajit Ray found international fame with his 1955 Palme D’Or Winner Pather Panchali. Sombre in tone and intimate in feel, THE BIG CITY is another of the director’s big screen classics: an enduring story with universal themes that carries a message of hope.

In fifites Calcutta, a simple family’s dynamic shifts gradually when the wife and mother takes a job to supplement the family income during a period of social and economic upheaval.The_Big_City_6-e1376306513473

In her debut role for the legendary director, Madhabi Mukherjee is quietly appealing and brings a warmth and authenticity to her role as a woman whose primary aim is to be loving and supportive to her son Pintu (Prasenjit Sarkar), husband Subrata (Anil Chatterjee) and his parents. But Subrata’s ego and pride are challenged by Arati’s new-found confidence in the workplace, placing a strain on their homelife and calling into question his status as breadwinner and head of the household. With great subtlety and perception and an atmospheric score, Satyajit Ray tenderly evokes how change can affect the status quo in a marriage, sending ripples of discontent capable of causing family breakdown. Arati  is a sensitive and unselfish woman and with her considerable charm, Ray illustrates how she cleverly keeps the family together. A low-key delight. MT.

SEE THIS AN OTHER BIG SCREEN CLASSICS DURING APRIL 2018 AT THE BFI SOUTHBANK 

 

Look Back in Anger (1959) | Woodfall – A Revolution in British Cinema

Dir: Tony Richardson | Script: John Osbourne, Nigel Neale | Cast: Richard Burton, Claire Bloom, Mary Ure, Edith Evans, Gary Raymond, Donald Pleasance | Drama | UK | 98′

In the 1950s the disaffected English working class had nowhere to vent their bitterness but their own cramped front rooms. And this is where Tony Richardson’s New Wave slice of social realism unspools (1959), based on John Osbourne’s original play, written three years earlier. The pair had just formed Woodfall Film Productions with their producer Harry Salesman, and LOOK BACK IN ANGER was Woodfall’s debut and Richardson’s first feature film and part of the so-called sub-genre of “Kitchen sink dramas” – a phrase coined by critic David Sylvester in his 1954 article about English trends with particular reference to an expressionist painting by John Bratby. The description somehow travelled over to the medium of film.

Electrifying in its portrayal of a marriage on the rocks in a squalid London attic, the film represented British kitchen sink drama at its most vehement; a scorching script and convincing characters fleshed out by Richard Burton’s tour de force, as the miserably chippy Jimmy Porter, who takes out the frustration of his mindless existence as a market trader on his long-suffering and gentle wife Alison (a suitably worn down Mary Ure) whose twee friend Helena, is a budding actress (Claire Bloom is perky form). Keeping the peace, or at least trying to, is his amiable but rather dozy lodger, Cliff (Gary Raymond), the perfect foil for Jimmy’s cantankerous mien. We all know the scene, it’s a rainy Sunday afternoon with nothing to do but read the papers and drink tea. Alison, to her credit, is doing some ironing, while her husband rants and raves in despair and intellectual frustration, their once passionate union has hit the buffers, mired in Jimmy’s resentment of her background of privilege, and sheer hatred of Phyllis Nelson Terry’s ‘Mummy’. But Jimmy is rude just for the sake of it. An endless drivel of mocking rhetoric pours out of him for want of anything better to do, apart from lazily playing his trumpet. Rather than channel his fury into a worthwhile cause, he rails at the darkness of his perceived hopelessness, seeking the monopoly on suffering, bereavement and the moral high ground on personal loss.

Richard Burton feels far too old for the part, but turns in a blazing portrayal of sheer malevolent anger, couching – as it often does – a deeply depressed individual desperate to make something more of his life, yet capable of individual acts of decency, such as his defence of market trader colleague Kapoor against the spiteful racism the Hindu untouchable encounters on the part of Jimmy’s compatriots, policed by Donald Pleasance’s officious warden Hurst. In actual fact, Jimmy is a poster boy for 21st century social media outbursts, a man with an erudite opinion on everything, but with little real life experience. At the opposite end of the scale is Edith Evans’ glowing portrait of Ma Tanner, a woman from the Victorian generation whose cheerful puritan work ethic and public-spiritedness was honed by her wartime experiences. This Victorian theme is further amplified by the moving musical interlude featuring the Salvation Army Band: William Booth’s Methodist/Christian humanitarian organisation. ‘The Sallies’ captured the zeitgeist of that post war era, alongside the film’s everlasting themes of racism, class, social deprivation and misogyny. At the time, Tony Richardson’s iconic film was viewed as ground-breaking and revolutionary, whereas now it seems rather a quaint and purist representation of England in the late Fifties. MT

LOOK BACK ANGER in cinemas from 8 APRIL 2018

WOODFALL – A REVOLUTION IN BRITISH CINEMA | A season of films defining the BRITISH NEW WAVE‘s incendiary brand of social realism | Bluray releases from 5 June 2018 

Returning the Colonial Gaze

Focusing on Francophone African and French cinema, the Barbican presents Returning the Colonial Gaze showcasing works by bold filmmakers who, in the 50s, 60s, and 70s, reversed the “colonial gaze” to interrogate the former occupying nation from the perspective of their own countries.

The five-part season features films by directors from Mauritania, Senegal, Morocco, and Niger, using their art to reclaim the right to represent their cultures and histories, which had been undermined by years of colonial rule – helping to shape the national identities of their countries in the process. Also included are works by French directors who challenged and critiqued colonial narratives.

Returning the Colonial Gaze is part of the Barbican’s 2018 The Art of Change season, which explores how the arts respond to, reflect and potentially effect change in the social and political landscape.

Soleil O (18*)
Wed 2 May 8.45pm
Mauritania 1970 Dir Med Hondo 105 min Digital presentation
A key work of postcolonial cinema, this film follows the experiences of Mauritanian-born accountant Jean, who arrives in Paris to pursue his dreams. Told with caustic humor in a non-linear style, inspired by the European avant-garde as much as by West African oral traditions, his story explores many of the challenges facing immigrants in France: menial jobs, unacceptable living conditions, naked racism and bureaucratic indifference. The accumulation of injustices finally breaks his composure and leads to a political awakening.
Restored by Cineteca di Bologna at L’Immagine Ritrovata laboratory in collaboration with Med Hondo. Restoration funded by the George Lucas Family Foundation and The Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project.

Afrique 50 (18*)
France 1950 Dir René Vautier 17 min Digital presentation
Film restored by the Cinémathèque de Bretagne
+ To Be 20 in the Aurès (18*)
France 1972 Dir René Vautier 93 min Digital presentation
Film restored by La Cinémathèque française
Wed 9 May 8.45pm
This double bill presents two anticolonial films by French activist filmmaker René Vautier, the self-described “most censored director in France”. Afrique 50 is a scathing expose of French rule in West Africa. Censored for over 40 years in France and even landing its director in jail, the short work is paired with To Be 20 in the Aurè. This is a searing critique of the Algerian War, which follows seven days in the life of a military unit composed of young French conscripts. Held first at a harsh training camp then sent off to fight in the desolate Aurès Mountains, they become ruthless killing machines.

Afrique sur Seine (15*)
France 1955 Dirs Paulin Soumanou Vieyra, Mamadou Sarr 21 mins Digital presentation
+ Little By Little (15*)
France 1970 Dir Jean Rouch 96 min Digital presentation
And introduction by Barbara Knorrp
Tue 15 May 6.15pm
In this double bill, France, its inhabitants and traditions are discovered by visitors from Senegal and Niger. Afrique sur Seine, by Senegalese directors Paulin Soumanou Vieyra and Mamadou Sarr, adopts the style of contemporary ethnographic documentaries to lead us on a tour of Paris, investigating the customs of the local tribe – the Parisians. The second film in the double bill is part comedy, part docu-fiction Little by Little by French director Jean Rouch. Featuring Nigerien film stars Damouré Zika and Lam Ibrahim, it follows an African man as he travels to Paris to learn about the construction of tall buildings, only to be taken up by the oddities of French life. Introducing the double bill is anthropologist Barbara Knorrp.

Si Moh, The Unlucky Man (18*)
France 1971 Dir Moumen Smihi 17 min Video presentation
+ The East Wind (18*)
Morocco 1975 Dir Moumen Smihi 80 min 35mm presentation
Wed 23 May 6.30pm
The Barbican presents two attempts by Moroccan director Moumen Smihi to make films in a new way, closer to the local culture, and more distant from the Western tradition. Si Moh, The Unlucky Man depicts the lives of migrant workers in France, as Si Moh lives in the industrialised suburbs of Paris while longing for Maghreb and sharing experiences of alienation with his fellow migrants.
Following Si Moh, The Unlucky Man is The East Wind. Set in Tangier in the mid-50s, when the city was still an International Zone, the film portrays a place at the eve of its independence, as Aïcha resorts to magic to try to prevent her husband from taking a second spouse. Around her, a society of women creates its own form of active resistance as the larger independence movement grows around it.
Screening materials courtesy of the director, subtitles with thanks to Peter Limbrick of University of California Santa Cruz

An Adventurer’s Homecoming (18*)
Niger 1966 Dir Moustapha Alassane 34 min Video presentation
+ Touki Bouki (18*)
Senegal 1973 Dir Djibril Diop Mambety 85 min Digital presentation
Restored in 2008 by The World Cinema Foundation at Cineteca di Bologna/L’Immagine Ritrovata in association with the family of Djibril Diop Mambéty. Restoration funding provided by Armani, Cartier, Qatar Airways and Qatar Museum Authority.
Wed 30 May 8.45pm
This double bill includes works from directors from Senegal and Niger focusing on alienated young protagonists in thrall to Western pop culture. In An Adventurer’s Homecoming, a young man returns from a trip to the US with a suitcase full of cowboy outfits for himself and his friends. In their new get-up, they transform into a gang of swaggering bandits: barroom brawls and shoot-em-ups ensue. In Touki-Bouki, two young lovers, Mory and Anta, wander the streets of Dakar hatching wild schemes to raise money for their escape to Paris, the city of their dreams.

BARBICAN | RETURNING THE COLONIAL GAZE | 2-30 MAY 2018 

Krzysztof Zanussi | Retrospective | MUBI January -March 2018

Krzysztof Zanussi

Born in 1939 in Warsaw, Poland, Krzysztof Zanussi is s documentary and feature film director. He studied Physics and Philosophy at University and graduated from Lodz Film Academy in 1966. Member of the jury at the Venice Film Festival in 1981. Member of the jury at the Sundance Film Festival in 1986.

We recently talked to Krzysztof whose latest film FOREIGN BODY was released in 2015. A retrospective of his films is currently showing on MUBI.

F  Let me first say how much I enjoyed ILLUMINATION (1973) I take it you didn’t have any issues with the censors on this film?

KZ Oh, but yes I did. There was a whole scene cut from it. In the original film, there was a scene of university demonstrations, from 1968, where the students demonstrated in support of their tutors.  I wrote it in and got it past the script censor, because it is easy to disguise things in a script, but then the film is screened in the Ministry of Culture too and then they make cuts. There still remains a still (photograph) of Retman demonstrating in the final film, which I argued to keep and anyone who knew those times would understand the context when they view the film.

F I understand ILLUMINATION isn’t autobiographical(?) but you were filming about things you knew about.. studying Physics as you did..

Illumination_6 copyKZ Yes, my life is very different, the film does not reflect what was happening to me at all, but of course I knew Physics.. you meet a partner…

F Why did you study Physics?

KZ I studied Physics, as in fact the lead character Retman states in the film ILLUMINATION, because I felt I wanted something that was certain in life. Then I moved over to Biology, as many of us did then.. I did get interested in Genetics, right back then, at the start of things and could already see the great good it might potentially do, but also of course, the great bad too. My father used to say to me ‘don’t believe anything any tutor tells you, except the Maths and the Physics teacher’. I like Biology …and many other subjects, but they are all supposition and opinion.

F You have a very interesting look to ILLUMINATION your DoP was very good…

KZ: Yes, yes (Edward Klosinski); he was wonderful. He also shot The Promised Land. He passed away recently (2008).

F Wonderful film. Starts out like a Chekov play and then just opens out to something massive. You met at film school?

KZ Yes, we studied together.

F And the style.. it appears to me that you were juxtaposing a cinéma verité with a highly stylized form: something quite revolutionary then

KZ Yes, I had been very influenced by the French New Wave… I wanted a documentary feel for some of it; to make it feel real.

F And what did you shoot on?

KZ: 16mm blown up to 35mm. We always shot 16mm as it was much cheaper. We had access to Kodak Eastman stock, which we loved. We felt very lucky. With only a very limited ratio. We only had enough (film) for 1 or 2 takes, so if nothing went drastically wrong, you moved on.

F This must have been good for the actors.. focussing them too when there was a take..?

KZ: Well, of course the actors knew this was always the case, so… (they were used to it). One time I was working with a famous French actress and we did a couple of takes and we were moving on and she said ‘was that ok’? And I said ‘yes, of course’, because she wasn’t convinced… she had stumbled over a line, but she soon learnt how it was to film in Poland! 

Camouflage_12F: Also in the “Martin Scorsese Selects” strand, tell us about CAMOUFLAGE. How do you see this film in hindsight?

K.Z.: Well, CAMOUFLAGE is one of the about forty films I have directed, and they are all my dear children. And I can say, that I have not any favourites. But CAMOUFLAGE had a very strong resonance from the audience when it was shown, almost forty years ago. And today, I am told by the audience, that it has not lost any of its actuality. And I did hoped so much, that this would not be the case. But when I was young, I was more optimistic, I thought that opportunism and corruption were just part of this particular system we lived in, but now I know better.

F: Yes, one tends to blame the system for what is, unfortunately, human nature. What about THE CONSTANT FACTOR, from about in the same period, the two films only three years apart.

Constant_Factor_3 copyK.Z.: It is somehow the same topic, about an idealistic man, in a corrupt society, who tries to preserve his ideals. Which is very difficult, if you are not a hypocrite. Later on in life, I revised my ideas about this topic, and made a sort of sequel to the old film, five years ago, Revisited, even with some of the old actors. And I thought, I was much too hard in my judgement in CONSTANT FACTOR, not about the main character, but the people caught in the system. Because now, I can, see that the main character in the old film, which whom I identified at the time, is quite inhuman. He loves ideals, but not humans. Today I would be more tolerant towards human weaknesses. If I could speak for this main character in THE CONSTANT FACTOR, I would say now ‘sorry’ to my colleagues, I was too tough on you.

F So, going back, you studied Physics and then you went to Film School…

KZ I went to film school for three years and then they threw me out..

F How long is the course?

KZ Five years. But you see I was studying the Nouvelle Vague, I was on set with Claude Chabrol, Jacques Truffaut… seeing, learning from them how they made films… very fluid, without camera set ups and improvising with actors. Completely different from how we were taught at school. So I came back to film school and made my end of year film using these Nouvelle Vague methods before anyone.. my tutors.. knew what Nouvelle Vague was! So of course they failed me.

F Because you hadn’t used ‘correct’ camera set-ups and lighting and stuff?

KZ Exactly..

F So what did you do?

KZ Oh, well I had to take the year again effectively. And I understood I just had to make a film in the style my tutor wanted and I passed.

F I’m interested in what influenced you.. You were born at the start of the war.. do  you remember much about it? Did it have an impact on you?

KZ Well, I of course made a few films about the war but not many..

F Yes, but I mean personally, did it affect you?

KZ Yes. Very much. I think. I remember walking down the street and the person walking next to me being shot dead and just carrying on walking, knowing that person was dead and would be buried in a few hours. You always remember these things. But the death of animals had a bigger impact than the death of humans.

F What do you mean?

KZ I saw a horse hit by napalm. On fire and you couldn’t tell what was… And a dog.. we were passing by this tall building and there was a fire on the first floor, but up on the fifth floor, on the balcony was a dog and I knew the dog was going to die. That no one was going to put the fire out.

F So, even though you didn’t actually see it happen, see it die, the knowledge that this dog would die in an hour or so..

KZ Yes, exactly. It made a big impact on me.

F What inspires you to make films? You must have been asked this question many times over the years.

KZ Many times.. yes and I have stock answer… but.. Fear. Fear is a great motivator.

F Fear of what?

KZ Fear of many things. Of being lonely… of not connecting with people. I mean, you wouldn’t be sitting here, we wouldn’t be talking, if it wasn’t for the fact that I have made films.

F True..

KZ Fear of not achieving anything. It stopped me being stuck in myself; Got me out there and allowed me to test my version of humanity and ask others whether they saw or felt the same things. How others receive a film is always different.

F Because people bring with them their own filter, their own baggage through which they view the film. When you make a film, it becomes something else, something separate to you, that somehow belongs to others too. You have to let it go.

KZ Exactly. And it is notable sometimes with different countries how they perceive a film. I had a retrospective in Thailand and there the metaphysical aspects of the characters problems didn’t interest the audience at all, but his situation was everything. They related to that, but not at all to the other. But you can’t tell them what your film is about.

F Where else have you been with your films?

Illumination_8KZ Not much to the US or China or Russia, but I went to Cuba. I met Fidel Castro with ILLUMINATION.

F Oh wow. How did that come about?

KZ; Well, they wanted to show the film out there, but it needed to be passed by Castro first, before it could be shown and he didn’t have a screen up at his house, so he came down to see it and I was banned- everybody was banned from being in there, except a few close people, but I spoke a little Spanish, so when I knew there was going to be this screening, I just went along and told them I was invited as the filmmaker and no one could say anything, so they of course let me in, so I sat down and then the worst nightmare of any director happened; Just a few minutes in and the projector broke down, the film broke..

F It just snapped…?

KZ Yes, so the lights come up and Fidel sees me and he is very angry and wants to know what I’m doing there… So I ask him what he thinks of the film and he says he doesn’t like it much, but we talk and he agrees to see some more, so they fix it and he watches some more and then he sees it all the way through to the end.

F And..?

KZ Well, he still doesn’t like it and he cannot understand how the Politburo in Poland has allowed me to make it, but he likes that it is about science… about Physics. So, he decides to let them screen the film, in the hope that it might persuade people to study science.

F  That’s amazing. So.. he’s quite open-minded then, to allow it, even though he didn’t like it…

KZ Well, I think he is more just a pragmatist.

F Do you have a favourite film?

KZ Ah. No. it isn’t fair. All films are like your children and you love them all.

F: In 1982 you won the “Golden Lion” in Venice for A YEAR OF THE QUIET SUN. This film seems somehow forgotten today.

K.Z.: I don’t know. It had a very good run in the United States, but it might not have been so extensively shown in Great Britain. But A Year of the Quiet Sun is one of my dearest films.

F.: You stated in an interview, that when you were a producer at “Tor” Studios in the 1980s, you had, despite the censors, a partial autonomy. How come?

K.Z.: Yes, from 1956 onwards, this is true. Before that, we had the Marxist system really implemented one hundred percentage. But that system was falling apart, it was really brutal. But afterwards it became more tolerant, lenient and flexible.

F.: So, as an artist, where did you think you had the greater freedom, under the communist system or the capitalist one?

K.Z.: (laughs) You should never compare one disease with another. First of all, the free market economy produces more chances for everybody. But, we have to find another way of life, because we cannot go on growing like we do. The planet will not stand for this. We will have to concentrate more on spiritual growth, than on material.

F: In 1996 you made your most autobiographical film, AT FULL GALLOP. How did it feel, revisiting your childhood?

K.Z.: I wanted to make this film much earlier, but after I wrote the first 30 pages of he script, it became clear, that this would never pass the censors. But it was very exciting, as it must be for every artist, to re-visit his youth. I had another script, about a different time of my life, which the BBC was interested in, but it came never to fruition. But coming back to At Full Gallop, it was ridiculous was happened in those early years after the war in Poland. Even horse riding was forbidden, because it was deemed to be bourgeois. You could breed horses, but riding was forbidden, because it was supposed to be repressive: the human was on top of the horse.

Foreign Body_1

F: Your newest film, FOREIGN BODY, which was premiered in 2014, caused quite a commotion. Why?

K.Z.: Well, I never thought I could be so angry again, I thought, in old age, I would get more tolerant. But there it is: in the old days, we were really fighting for freedom, and today the young people are selling their freedom to the corporation. What for? They are selling their souls, not their work. So, this film is the voice of anger. Because human relationships are suffering because of this attitude, people become inhuman. But there were great protests against the film, because people like to work for the corporations, and for the material freedom they gain this way. And I also made references to Judeo-Christian ethics, which are not as dried up, as some think. So, that’s the bone of contention.

F.; So you were disappointed in global capitalism?

K.Z.: No, I never had any illusions, about the perfect system. I believe that every person has a space, and he has to be as human as possible. And the fabulous rich ones do not need to be so rich, to have a human space they can live in satisfactory.

Citizen3F.: Finally, a question about the ‘ordinary’ anti-Semitism in Poland. I have watched Jerzy Stuhr’s CITIZEN which I very much liked. I believe that this was the first Polish film to confront ‘ordinary’ anti-Semitism, for a very long time.

K.Z.: That is a very complex question. There are explanations, not excuses. Poland had a huge minority, nearly three million Jews, ten percentage of its population. This is incomparable with any other nation in Europe. The ugly part of anti-Semitism in Poland is that many peasants got richer because of the victims of the holocaust. This sense of guilt makes people aggressive again. You hate somebody you profited from.

F.: And the role of the Catholic Church in this question?

K.Z.: Until ten years ago, when Pope John-Paul II died, there was no anti-Semitism, but now, there are some parts of the Catholic Church, who regrettably, are indulging again in anti-Semitism.

A RETROSPECTIVE OF ZANUSSI’S FILMS ON MUBI | JANUARY – MARCH 2-18 | HIS LATEST FILM ETER IS IN POST PRODUCTION 

The Magic Flute (1975) ****

Dir.: Ingmar Bergman; Josef Köstlinger, Irma Urilla, Ulrik Cold, Birgit Nordin; Sweden 1975, 135′.

Filmed opera is not always successful on the big screen, but director/writer Ingmar Bergman has made the right choices in his staging of Mozart’s The Magic Flute, with the libretto by Schikaneder. It was first performed in 1791 in Vienna, just weeks before the composer’s untimely death.

Bergman’s first decision was to rebuild the 18th century Drottningholm Palace Theatre in Stockholm on the soundstage of the TV studio. Secondly, he recorded the music before shooting, and with the actors/singers in lip-synchrony during the filmed performance itself, he achieved a vivid, naturalistic view of the Paleolithic world shown. Furthermore, the camera often pans into the audience, to picture the director, his son Daniel and the actress Ingrid Bergman. A young girl also catches our attention: her face mirrors all the actions on the stage. In staying faithful to the (not always) perfect libretto, Bergman conveys the wonderland of the theatre – as seen by the audience of the 18th century – with all its improbabilities.

After the overture the curtain opens and we see Tamino (Köstlinger) being chased by a dragon – not a particularly fearsome one – but Tamino does not ruffle his fur. Saved by three female servants of the Queen of Night – whilst Tamino believes that Papageno is his saviour – our hero sets out to liberate Princess Pamina (Urrila), daughter of the Queen of Night (Nordin), from the clutches of her father, Sarastro (Cold), who leads a masonic order. The Queen is immediately shown for what she is: smoking in the backdrops languidly under a “Non Smoking” sign. Three little boys in a balloon accompany Tamino on his journey to Sarastro’s castle, always encouraging the hero to stay brave and steadfast – something the audience can relate to – after his meek performance with the dragon. Sarastro sets Tamino three tasks, but only if he successfully finishes all of them, can he marry Pamina. The Queen of the Night flies into a rage and sings “The vengeance of hell boils over in my heart”, reminding us of a good old-fashioned horror queen. Her outburst is quiet appropriate, since Tamino has to visit the underworld, where people tear each other up. The monsters that occasional turns are furry animals, very much like Maurice Sendak’s creatures in ‘Where the wild things are”.
In the style of of Autumn Sonata and parts of Fanny and Alexander, Bergman shows his mastery of filmed theatre. The dominant feeling is a childlike enjoyment, a playful naivety, which is supported by Sven Nykvist’s cinematography. This Magic Flute is a celebration of the magic of theatre, caught by a director and DoP fondly remembering their childhood. AS

THE INGMAR BERGMAN RETROSPECTIVE | BFI and BFIPLAYER | MARCH 2018

Academy Awards | European Submissions 2018

The Academy Awards took place on 4 March, 2018 and Sebastiano Lelio’s A FANTASTIC WOMAN won Best Foreign Language film for its portrayal of a transgender woman in crisis with her traditional family in Chile. The film was awarded a Silver Bear at Berlinale 2017 for Best Screenplay and is the first Chilean film to receive an Academy Award in that category. The full list of final nominations were:

Chile: A FANTASTIC WOMAN; Sebastian Lelio

Hungary: ON BODY AND SOUL;  Ildikó Enyedi

Russia: LOVELESS; Andrey Zvyagintsev

Sweden: THE SQUARE; Ruben Östlund

Lebanon: THE INSULT; Ziad Doueiri

THE ACADEMY AWARDS | 4 MARCH 2018 |

Cinema Made in Italy Festival 7 -11 March 2018

CINEMA MADE IN ITALY returns to London’s Ciné Lumière, showcasing the latest releases from Italy complete with film-maker Q&A sessions. This year’s line-up includes eight new Italian films and a 1977 classic title A SPECIAL DAY (Una Giornata Particolare), directed by the late maestro Ettore Scola and starring Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni.

SCREENING PROGRAMME – CINEMA MADE IN ITALY 2018

RAINBOW – (UNA QUESTIONE PRIVATA)  6.30 pm  | 7 March           

Intro and Q&A with Paolo Taviani (director)

AMORI CHE NON SANNO STARE AL MONDO | 6.15 pm | 8 March

Intro and Q&A with Francesca Comencini (director)

HANNAH | 6.30 pm  | 9 March 

Intro and Q&A with Andrea Pallaoro (director)

LOVE AND BULLETS | 8.40 pm  | 9 March 

Intro and Q&A with Antonio and Marco Manetti (directors)

THE INTRUDER | 6.30 pm  | 10 March               

FORTUNATA | 8.40 pm | 10 March 

 

Intro and Q&A with Jasmine Trinca (actress)

A SPECIAL DAY | 2.00 pm | 11 March 

CINDERELLA THE CAT | 4.00 pm | 11 March         

Intro and Q&A with Alessandro Rak (director)

UNA FAMIGLIA | 6.30 pm  | 11 March 

Intro and Q&A with Sebastiano Riso (director)

VENUE AND BOX OFFICE INFORMATION

CINEMA MADE IN ITALY | LONDON 7-11 MARCH 2018 

 

 

 

The Touch (1971) * * * | Ingmar Bergman Retrospective 2018

Dir.: Ingmar Bergman; Cast: Bibi Andersson, Elliot Gould, Max von Sydow, Sheila Reid; Sweden/USA 1971, 115′.

Sometimes, a ‘neglected’ feature is in fact no masterpiece, even if directed by a genius like Ingmar Bergman: THE TOUCH, the director’s first English language film has not aged well, and suffers from an unevenness which is a-typical for the filmmaker. But despite its flaws this tale about a three year long ménageà-trois, featuring a bourgeois Swedish couple from a provincial town, and an enigmatic, slightly disturbed Jewish archaeologist, caught the headlines nearly fifty years ago.

Karin (Andersson) and her husband Andreas (von Sydow), a doctor in the local hospital, live with their two children and a cute dog named Bobby in a clean and modernist style house outside the town’s medieval walls. Karin is house-proud and obsessed with running the household, often to the point of caricature. Andreas is a workaholic, who is as self-contained and detached as the house and as clean as his operating theatre. He loves his wife but their relationship is traditional  – he is the breadwinner, she the hausfrau who looks after their well-behaved children, all fitting in with his working hours. In this perfectly orderly set-up comes David Kovac (Gould), an English-speaking archaeologist, who is working at a site in the town. He falls in love with Karin, who meets him for the first time, in floods of tears, after the death of her mother. For Karin this is an exciting escapade rather than a passionate sexual adventure. Their sexual relationship is procedural rather than lustful at first, and the relationship is anything but smooth: the self-obsessed David (who tried to commit suicide just before meeting Karin), is moody as well as (self)destructive, and Karin has the direct, ingenuous approach of the true ingenue. Karin seems fascinated by him, because he is the total opposite of her husband, needy and out of control. He becomes another child, awakening in her feelings of motherhood, and in the end, she is pregnant, and follows David to England, where she meets his sister Sara (Reid), who suffers from a muscular disease, and is totally dependent on her brother. Perhaps, Karin can see her own position reflected in Sara, because she finally comes to a decision.

THE TOUCH suffers from Gould’s overplaying his part, whilst Andersson and von Sydow are just perfect. The constant chance from Swedish to English feels unnatural. But it is mainly Bergman’s script, which is also much too overwrought and verbose, undermining the emotional credibility of the narrative. We are never really convinced that a rational and unemotional woman like Karin, could fall for a man-child like David and tolerate his moods for such a long time. She might see in the younger man a son, she never had – but again we cannot believe, that she would fall so completely apart like she does. The few scenes with Sara seem like an appendix, somehow one expects her to contribute more to shed light on her brother’s simply too enigmatic personality. It is perhaps also the timing, that explains that THE TOUCH is so overlooked – it was followed by two Bergman masterpieces: Cries and Whispers and Scenes from a Marriage. AS

SCREENING DURING BFI INGMAR BERMAN RETROSPECTIVE JANUARY – MARCH 2018 when it will simultaneously be available on BFI Player, The Touch will be released on DVD/Blu-ray by the BFI on 23 April. This will be the first time that it has ever been released on DVD anywhere in the world. For more information on all the BFI’s Ingmar Bergman activity see here.

 

3 Film Composers Who Died Young

Jóhann Jóhannsson, 48 (1969-February 2018) whose sudden death at 48 has just been announced, was an  award-winning Icelandic musician whose intuitive, poignant and often pounding original scores graced a wide range of theatre and dance productions and films such as Denis Villeneuve’s Sicario and Arrival where he daringly combined strings, electronics and vocals to achieve unique soundscapes. He won a Golden Globe for Best Original Score for both The Theory of Everything and advised on Darren Aronofsky’s recent drama Mother! The BBC’s Maryanne Hobbs has described his particular talent for “elevating the unseen human element” in his source matter has been variously praised. James Marsh’s human drama The Mercy is a case in point and his last score is for Garth Davis’ Mary Magdelene which opens this year.

https://youtu.be/0sziNUZa4Sw

But Jóhannsson is not the only film composer whose life was tragically cut short. Another was Polish composer Krzysztof Komeda (1931-1969) who captured the positive zeitgeist of the 1960s with his breezy jazz scores and electronic vibes. His talent for doomladen and unsettling fare was also evident in Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby, Cul de Sac and Knife in the Water. In a brief but prolific career he wrote more than 70 soundtracks, 46 scores for short films, including 11 feature films and appeared as ‘the pianist’ in Janusz Morgenstern’s Gdansk-set New Wave drama Goodbye, See you Tomorrow (1960).In the same year he scored Innocent Sorcerers another more serious New Wave piece about the restlessness of Polish post-war youth, by the great Andrzej Wajda. At this time, Komeda’s love affair with Scandinavia began and went on for the rest of his life, and he performed with his own jazz band at the ‘Gyllene Cirkeln’ (Golden Circle) in Stockholm and at the Montmartre Jazz Club in Copenhagen, along with other celebrated American Jazz musicians. His final score for Polanski included the 1968 haunting piano piece Rosemary’s Lullaby, sung by Mia Farrow (1968) and the music for The Fearless Vampire Killers whose main star Sharon Tate would also die young. Tragedy arrived after a good-humoured tussle at a Los Angeles party that Christmas. Komeda suffered a brain trauma and never recovered.

Victor Young was an American composer, conductor and balladeer whose life was also tragically cut short at the age of 56. Born into a musical Jewish family in Chicago on 8 August 1900, he began playing the violin as a child of 6 and with the Warsaw Philharmonic in his teens, after being sent to Poland to study at the Warsaw Imperial Conservatory. It is rumoured that he performed at a St Petersburg concerns attended by Tzar Nicholas II, and was later invited to play privately for the monarch. But his film career began when he returned to Los Angeles as a fiddler and then a concert master for Paramount-Publix theatres. In 1930 he was commissioned to write the instrumental to Hoagy Carmichael’s Stardust, re-styling it as a romantic violin solo. He was uncredited for the famous tune Can’t We Talk it Over in William Dieterle’s romantic drama Man Wanted (1932) but from the mid 1930s to the late 1957s Young’s Hollywood film career really blossomed with credits for When I Fall in Love, which he co-wrote as the central tune to Robert Mitchum and Ann Blyth’s 1952 romantic war drama One Minute to Zero; For Whom the Bell Tolls (1944);  Dieterle’s Love Letters (1945/6), starring Joseph Cotton and Jennifer Jones; Dana Andrews’ starrer My Foolish Heart (1950); and Moonlight Serenade that featured in Bette Davis and Sterling Hayden’s romantic drama The Star (1952). During his career he garnered 22 Academy Award nominations for his work in film, but only won an Oscar after his death, for his score of Around the World in Eighty Days (1956). And he had one screen role, conducting Bing Crosby in The Country Girl (1954). MT

 

 

TRIBUTE | Jóhann Jóhannsson | 1969 February 2018 

 

Neglected British Film Directors: Basil Dearden

BASIL DEARDEN will never join the frontline of British film directors. He won’t be canonised, nor does he deserve to be among ‘Britain’s Best’ alongside Michael Powell, Alfred Hitchcock or even David Lean. So is it fairer to classify him with the likes of Roy Ward Baker, Robert Hamer or Val Guest; as a minor director with major virtues, ambitious for authorship? At the risk of sounding derogatory or ironic, is Dearden just an intelligent craftsman?.

In 1962, British film critic Victor Perkins (1936-2016) launched a savage attack on the director: “Dearden typifies the traditional Good Director in the appalling performances he draws from good actors; and in his total lack of feeling for cinema. He sacrifices everything to impact and, consequently, has none.” In 1993, Charles Barr in his seminal book Ealing Studios said: “If I were re-writing the book from scratch, Basil Dearden’s contribution to Ealing would be handled differently.”

emotionheader5797743533Since then there have been two books on Dearden. And the internet’s font of film knowledge IMDB, notes some positive viewer comments, a BFI education link to Sapphire and Victims high placing, by some critics, in the canon of gay cinema. A customer remark on a Criterion Box set entitled ‘Basil Dearden’s London Underground (consisting of Sapphire, Victim, The League of Gentleman and All Night Long) puts a convincing case for Dearden: ”What Basil Dearden was able to bring to British Cinema during the roughest times in not just the UK but in the world, watching these films today, I was not only amazed and taken back, but I feel proud to have watched cinema that absolutely moved me.”

This is a warm and appreciative corrective against the earlier scorn. Yet I wonder if Dearden’s ‘sociological seriousness’ has hindered his appreciation as a fine UK film director? You only have to look him up in the BFI’s Encyclopaedia of British Film to think that: “It is now less easy to elide the achievement under patronising adjectives like “liberal” and “safe”. Dearden’s films offer, among other rewards, a fascinatinating barometer of public taste at its most nearly consensual over three decades.” I would drop the word safe, retain liberal as a positive and explore those “other rewards” of Dearden’s rich career. I have seen 26 (of his 38 films) and very few are disappointing.

Dearden starts out in the forties with three Will Hay comedies, The Black Sheep of Whitehall (1941) The Goose Steps Out (1942) and My Learned Friend (1943). All entertaining films – the sinister and farcical moments of the last film being his best directed (though with the verbal anarchism of Will Hay, how could Dearden possibly fail?).

They Came To A City Dearden contributes a notable episode to the 1945 portmanteau film Dead of Night and throughout the 1940s he is embedded as an Ealing Studios director.
The Half Way House (1944) and They Came to a City (1941) – pictured left – are deliberately theatrical films posing questions about (a) war-time dilemmas and loyalties and (b) what is to be done in the post-war world? These films are deliberately didactic but not without visual pleasures. Their message is somewhat crudely stated but they retain an intelligent social concern for British identity that still grips. In the National Film Archive records, They Came to a City is listed as “an unusual film which represented the first attempt to carry out socialist propaganda in the first British feature film” These two films begin the crCage of Goldeative partnership of Bail Dearden with Michael Relph. (His contribution was a shared producer-writer-director credit, yet his main creative achievement was as a set designer). The Came to a City and later Saraband for Dead Lovers (1948) have remarkably well realised sets.

Through the 1950’s they produced The Blue Lamp (1950); Cage of Gold (1950) right;  Pool of London (1951); I Believe in You (1952); The Gentle Gunman (1952); and The Ship that Died of Shame (1955) and Violent Playground (1958). I have to admit to having a nostalgic soft-spot for a delightful comedy about a flea-pit cinema The Smallest Show on Earth (1957, Of this group of films, The Ship that Died of Shame strikes me as the most interesting. It’s a story of wartime seamen who continue, after the war, using their Navy Convoy boat, for smuggling. The Ship that Died of Shame (top left) is a fascinating picture, adapted from a Nicholas Montsarrat story, and contains a superb performance by Richard Attenborough –now behaving like a grown up Pinky (Brighton Rock) minus his psychotic behaviour. As a depiction of post war disillusionment / moral decline The Ship that Died of Shame neatly links up with Dearden’s heist drama of 1963, The League of Gentlemen, where British society starts to feel cynical about its old ‘heroes.’

blueAnother noteworthy 1950s film is The Blue Lamp. Yet for me that’s still a problem. Its status as social realism is high, and it does give you a sympathetic picture of London’s police. But an over-melodramatic tone flaws The Blue Lamp. Particularly Dirk Bogarde’s self-conscious performance as a young hoodlum. (Accusations of melodrama have often been levelled at Dearden/Relph’s Sapphire, Victim, and Life for Ruth. Yet in those films melodrama, not in itself a negative trait, is thematically better contained and realised). Sapphire, Victim and Life for Ruth can be viewed as a loose trilogy tackling such themes as racism, homosexuality and religious belief. They have often been dismissively called social problem films, as if that where also a problem for the viewer. I prefer to consider them social issue films whose ‘messages’ are not writ up didactically large. (If you want that please go to the American cinema circa that time and suffer the clunky On the Beach 1962 (Kramer, doing nuclear war) The Victors 1960 (Foreman, doing WW2) and The Blackboard Jungle 1955 (Brooks doing war in the classroom).

img_3130Sapphire (1959) is an outstanding film for four reasons: (1) Its very honest depiction of racism (2) The detail of its police investigation; (3) The technical assurance of a thriller that’s both brilliantly economical and (4); Its employment of an expressive Technicolor design.

A woman’s dead body is found on Hampstead Heath. The victim is Sapphire a music student of black and white parentage. Sapphire passed for white and frequented night clubs in a black neighbourhood. Superintendent Robert Hazard (Nigel Patrick) leads the criminal investigation. Although they suspect Sapphire’s white boyfriend David (Paul Massey) and Johnny, a man Sapphire dated, their attention is also drawn to David’s racist father (Bernard Miles). However in the police’s probing of David’s family complex issues are uncovered. David’s paternalistic father (beautifully played by Bernard Miles) is subtly highlighted to reveal the horrible mix of repression, racism and unfullfillment he encouraged to taint his family.

John Hill in ‘Sex, Class and Realism – British cinema 1956-63’ considers Dearden’s ‘social problem’ film to be creaky (Not so. This is forceful and non-judgemental cinema. Sapphire’s ‘issues’ are effectively worked through the tropes of a crime thriller. With any melodrama kept in check by its visual power – it’s a noirish Eastmancolour production. However Hill concedes to Sapphire’s ‘message’: “For the focus of violence (in Sapphire) is not in fact the blacks but the white-middle class family home. The real danger is not the threat without but the sexual repression that is within.”

hd_pool_of_london_739_084For Hill this creates an irony in that black people are seen as more ‘natural’ than the white characters in Sapphire. But for me they are not more stereotypically ‘natural’ simply more open in their relations, and less hypocritical by being ‘outside’ of English society. Sapphire is a scrupulously balanced film about black and white relations. It won a BAFTA award for best film and was remarkable for its time in being such an astute, multi-faceted picture of a racially motivated crime.

When scriptwriter Janet Green joined Dearden and Relph’s production, they really delivered. Green’s writing is intelligent, subtle, analytic and must be acknowledged as a crucial part of the equation when assessing the directorial status of Basil Dearden. Her sensitive scripting takes social issues out of any obvious message box, so that screen characters are fully realised. Sapphire’s crime movie story has a considerable degree of sharp social observation. Dearden’s films now possess an un–patronising liberal urgency.

In Victim (1960) the issue of gay freedom is tackled as powerfully as Sapphire’s exploration of racism. And like Sapphire it’s another landmark film. Dirk Bogarde plays Melville Farr, a successful barrister happily married to Laura (Sylvia Sims). Farr is contacted by Barrett (Peter McEnery) who appeals for help. He’s being blackmailed. The blackmailer has a photo of Farr and Barrett together that possibly suggests a gay relationship. Farr tries to avoid Barrett. Eventually Barrett, who has stolen money from his employers, for the blackmailer, is arrested by the police. In his prison cell Barrett hangs himself. Farr then takes it on himself to discover who’s behind the blackmailing.

img_3132One of the strong points of Victim is that it’s such a comprehensive and sensitive picture of a gay London community. Dearden strongly fashions it like a crime thriller. Yet Janet Green’s screenplay plays down any melodrama by her empathy with the gay world and such great attention to detail. And both main actors, Dirk Bogarde and Sylvia Sims, are brilliant. Bogarde is made to look like a barrister aged about 50, rather than Bogarde’s real age of 39. This gives him a ‘safe’ feel of respectability, presenting a ‘mature’ barrister unable to repress his homosexual feelings. Perhaps this was an artistic error, but the complexity of characterisation in Victim prevents any fall into stock representations of ‘victimised’ gay men. Indeed putting social concerns to own side, Victim is not merely a crusading film about the injustice of illegal homosexual relations in 1961. For near the end of the film, Melville Farr’s anguish and hurt shifts to a deeper sense of his probable bi-sexuality. Farr clearly still loves his wife, yet is also pulled towards a love of men that he cannot deny. It’s Victim’s sense of a more generalised societal repression, blocking a full and workable sexual identity, demanding tolerance and empathy, which makes the film so remarkable.

Of course in today’s social and moral climate Victim appears a mild affair. Bogarde is on record of having said “It is extraordinary, in this over-permissive age (1988) to believe that this modest film could ever have been considered courageous, daring or dangerous to make. It was, in its time, all three.”

If Sapphire and Victim are concerned to tackle societal repression and conformity, in Life for Ruth (1961) ‘intolerance’ of religious belief and matters of conscience are closely scrutinised.

img_3131John Harris (Michael Craig) saves his young daughter Ruth (Lynn Taylor) from drowning in the sea. The child needs a blood transfusion. Harris’s religious beliefs forbid him to give consent. Ruth dies. Her mother, Pat (Janet Munro) separates from John. Doctor Brown, (Patrick McGoohan) of the local hospital, takes legal action against Harris for what he sees as a needless death of a young girl.

Of the Dearden / Relph ‘trilogyLife for Ruth was probably the least commercial project of the three. The film’s storyline making it more a candidate for a BBC Wednesday Play – still a few years down the line. It’s a sombre, even tragic film (aided by Otto Heller’s bleak grey toned photography) where your moral position on Harris’s behaviour constantly wavers. He was wrong to let his child die from not receiving blood. However was the doctor right to ‘hound’ Harris through the courts? The mother becomes horribly conflicted in her sympathies. Whilst Harris, clinging to his religious creed, anguishes over the terrible decision that he must live with.

maxresdefaultThough sharply edited and full of intense drama, Life for Ruth (unlike Sapphire and Victim) doesn’t employ a thriller format. In fact it’s closer (but not quite) to British New Wave realism. However Dearden’s brand of social realism concerns the rules of religion and the ethics of responsibility, rather than issues of class and power. Life for Ruth is about faith put on trial, hardly a fashionable subject for 1962. I can only think of Bergman’s Winter Light (1961) for atmospheric comparison. Though Winter Light is a better and greater film in its dealing with spiritual crisis, the silence of failed relationships and God’s absence. Yet by the end of Life for Ruth the viewer is emotionally shaken by what Harris has done and ponder on his fate after his religion has been seen to ‘betray’ him. Once more, Dearden and Relph are aided by a fine Janet Green script, containing some of her most nuanced writing. “Religion is a tricky business, very tricky-everybody feels, nobody thinks” That’s said by a police inspector. A key line in Life For Ruth about the persuasive, and potentially repressive moral authority of religious belief.

woman-of-straw-4After Life for Ruth, Dearden directed The Mind Benders 1963 (a flawed but compelling thriller about military brainwashing – picture above left) A Place to Go 1963 (A watchable kitchen sink drama worth seeing for Rita Tushingham) Woman of Straw (1963) right; Masquerade (1964); Khartoum (1966) – Charlton Heston starring as General Gordon; Only When I Larf (1968); The Assassination Bureau (1968) and finally The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970), a science fiction drama about a doppelganger, starring Roger Moore.

4036544128_ca6c18a530_oDearden died in a road accident in March 1971. He was only sixty. His films after The Mind Benders is only partially successful. Perhaps his best work had already been achieved with Michael Relph- both earlier with Ealing and after they left the studio to set up their own productions. “Versatility” is a word often employed to damn Basil Dearden with faint praise. The Times epitaph described him as “A versatile British Director.” Inferring that taking your hand to many diverse subjects was a workmanlike and very British drudge. Well Howard Hawks tackled most genres with craftsmanship and artistry. And they were rarely chores. Hawks’ versatility is applauded because he is a recognisable auteur. I’m not placing Dearden on the same artistic level as Hawks. Yet both really knew how to finely craft a movie.

At his best Dearden was a maker of serious films of cinematic skill and a passionate integrity. When dealing with issues in British Society he dug deep into cultural pressures and repressions. Perhaps he didn’t go far enough, and finally shied away from exposing the full hypocrisy of power – that was more the job of an outsider like Joseph Losey. And he certainly never had Losey’s dazzling style. However his films always look good. Not just efficiently good. But striking and imaginative (Noir, early British documentary and Neo-realism cluster round his imagery). Author or not, I respond to Dearden’s best films, not out of a sense of moral duty to British cinema, but with a cineaste’s genuine pleasure.
Alan Price 

THEY CAME TO A CITY  is released on 23 April 2018 | Bfi Films | Dual Format 2K |  BLURAYS|DVDS AVAILABLE COURTESY OF EUREKA, STUDIO CANAL, CRITERION | AMAZON.CO.UK

Ingmar Bergman | A Definitive Film Season | January 2018

Ernst Ingmar Bergman (1918-2007) was a Swedish director, writer, and who also produced in television, theatre and radio. He is recognized as one of the most accomplished and influential filmmakers of all time, who made over 60 feature films and documentaries during his long career that focused on themes such as death, illness, faith, betrayal, and insanity.

Persona headlines  a short retrospective of the Swedish director’s films to celebrate his centenary year which opens in January. Also released in selected cinemas UK-wide will be The Touch (1971) on 23 February and The Magic Flute (1975) on 16 March. In addition, Summer with Monika (1953), Smiles of a Summer Night (1955), The Seventh Seal (1957), Wild Strawberries (1957/left) and Cries and Whispers (1972) will be available to cinemas through the BFI so that they can mount their own mini-retrospectives during this centenary year.

BFI Southbank’s Ingmar Bergman: A Definitive Film Season, includes virtually everything Bergman wrote for the screen, taking in well-known films such as The Seventh Seal (1957) and Wild Strawberries(1957), and ground-breaking TV series like Scenes From a Marriage (1973) to lesser known titles, and those scripted by Bergman and directed by his collaborators. All in all more than 50 films directed or written by Bergman, as well as several TV series, will screen at the BFI accompanied by an ambitious events programme, designed to bring Bergman and his work to life for a new generation. This will include discussions, immersive experiences and talent-led events.

Bergman also directed over 170 plays. From 1953, he forged a powerful creative partnership with his full-time cinematographer Sven Nykvist. In his dramas he regularly cast Harriet and Bibi Andersson, Liv Ulmann; Max von Sydow and Ingrid Thulin. His homeland of Sweden was the setting for nearly all his film; but from 1961 he began shooting on the island of Faro with Through A Glass Darkly.

English film critic Philip French referred to Bergman as “one of the greatest artists of the 20th century, he found in literature and the performing arts a way of both recreating and questioning the human condition”.

INGMAR BERGMAN RETROSPECTIVE | JAN-FEB 2018 | BFI | NATIONWIDE

The Innocents: Madness and Desire in Gothic cinema

Madness and Desire in The Innocents 

We lay my love and I, beneath the weeping willow,
But now alone I lie, and weep beside the tree.

Singing O Willow Waly, by the tree that weeps with me,
Singing O Willow Waly, ’til my lover returns to me.

We lay my love and I, beneath a weeping willow,
but now alone I lie, Oh Willow I die, Oh Willow I die.

So begins one of the most chilling films of all time: Jack Clayton’s The Innocents (1961). The tune repeats throughout, a recurring refrain of terror, still capable of sending a chill down the spine over fifty years after the film’s release.

Although now rightly held as a great masterpiece of cinema, it wasn’t always so for The Innocents: upon release, the film was not an immediate hit – perhaps because it failed to feature either the camp fun of the early haunted house drawing room mysteries, or the shocking thrills then so in vogue. The film starred Deborah Kerr as the prim and proper governess hired to look after two children who she becomes convinced are haunted by a former governess Miss Jessel (Clytie Jessop) and a valet played by Peter Wyngarde, in one of his early film roles.

In the late 1950s, Hammer Films had redefined horror with The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) and Dracula (1958), smashing onto the Gothic scene with blood, gore, sex – and colour. By contrast, the black and white restraint of The Innocents seemed to owe more to the psychological horrors of Val Lewton’s Snake Pit unit, who had created a spate of low budget masterpieces over at RKO Pictures during the 1940s. However, upon inspection, there may be more similarities between the Hammer output and The Innocents than there first appears.

The_Innocents_(1961)_pic_3 copy

In Dracula, for instance, Hammer had focused on the sexual undertones of Bram Stoker’s novel, using the tale to explore the unfulfilled and unexpressed sexual desires of women living within a repressive, patriarchal Victorian society. In its story of a vicar’s daughter becoming governess to the estranged niece and nephew of a dashing playboy, who subsequently succumbs to either madness, desire or ghosts (depending on your interpretation), The Innocents can be read as a similar exploration into Victorian values and repression. In other words, Dracula and The Innocents share both genre and theme, and even their stylistic differences have perhaps been overplayed: like Dracula, The Innocents is both shocking and frightening, and even Jack Clayton felt that his portrayal of the beastly Peter Quint owed too much to Hammer (and many purists of Henry James – who wrote The Turn of the Screw, the novella on which The Innocents is based – appear to agree, rejecting the film as a cheapening of its source material).

It would seem, then, that what really distinguishes Dracula and The Innocents is their varying degrees of obliquity: where Dracula is hiked skirts and girls on beds, The Innocents is half-glimpsed men in misty towers. In making his film, Clayton was reportedly influenced by the essay The Ambiguity of Henry James (Edmund Wilson, 1934), the first part of which gives itself over to a detailed exploration of a theory which claims that ‘the young governess…is a neurotic case of sex repression, and the ghosts are not real ghosts at all but merely the hallucinations of the governess’. Freud, it’s fair to say, was in the air. Wilson also states that ‘nowhere does James unequally give the thing away: almost everything from beginning to end can be read equally in either of two senses’ – and thus we have the ambiguity of the essay’s title and, perhaps, the defining characteristic of Clayton’s approach to the material. For him, it was vital not to succumb fully to either interpretation, but instead to preserve this ambiguity.

To this end, then, he degraded film, shot through mist and frosted windows, and on many occasions (though not all, as is sometimes stated) shows first the governess’ terrified face, and then the ghosts – therefore implying the ghosts may well be only in her head (this ambiguity was also a key component of Deborah Kerr’s superb performance as the governess). Again following Wilson, we can note ‘that there is no real reason for supposing that anybody but the governess sees the ghosts’. Perhaps, therefore, what we are watching is not a ghost story, but a descent into madness. In some senses, this ambiguity (and specifically the refusal to posit the ghosts as real) ties The Innocents back into the original lineage of haunted house drawing room mysteries, in which natural answers were ultimately posited to explain away supernatural elements. Of course, the governess’ potential madness and the undercurrents of desire also tie the film into two other distinct strands of Gothic cinema.

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In the Gothic tradition, madness has been there since the beginning. It’s already there in early works of both literature (Jane Eyre, 1847) and cinema (The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, 1920). By the early 1930s, it’s a staple of the Classic Universal Horror cycle, simultaneously responsible for, and a response to, the monstrosities at the heart of Frankenstein (1932) and The Invisible Man (1933). It’s there too in Dracula (1932), as it had been in Stoker’s novel (interestingly, in their streamlining of the text, Hammer chose to jettison Renfield, the Count’s crazy underling, who, as performed by Dwight Frye, remains one of the most effective elements of Universal’s adaption; prior to Hammer, the character had also featured memorably in Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (1922), as he would do again in both Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht (1979) and Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)).

If, in Dracula, Renfield’s already mad mind is corrupted further by his dealings with the vampire Count, elsewhere madness is shown as the result of more natural and human causes. For instance, in The Hands of Orlac (1924) and Gaslight (1940), nefarious criminals strive to drive others to madness for the sake of – what else? – financial gain. Gaslight, though, can also be seen as belonging to what some have termed ‘Female Gothic’, a strand descended from the likes of the Brontë sisters, which serves to explore the subjugation of women to patriarchal authority (especially within the home). Gaslight’s director, Thorold Dickinson, has spoken of how he wished to undermine Victorian values and attitudes to women within the film, and thus a second clear link with The Innocents is formed: where Hammer’s Dracula ultimately reasserts the importance of Victorian family values, in The Innocents these values lead only to death.

The Shining

Death too, of course, is the fate ultimately suffered by Jack Torrance in The Shining (1980), surely still the greatest on-screen Gothic exploration into the disintegration of a mind. As Torrance, Jack Nicholson gives the performance of his career, so extreme a gurning gargoyle of a madman that cinematic madness is left with no place to go (or, indeed, to hide).

Much like madness, the theme of desire also dates back to the founding texts of the Gothic canon (we’ve already seen how it’s present in Dracula, and The Turn of the Screw itself dates back to 1898). The fact that much early Gothic fiction was written for, and by, women perhaps helps explain the recurring themes of sexual desires kept at bay by male-dominated Victorian society (let’s not forget that the turning point for the suffragettes was not until 1912). However, it’s also true that there was a tendency in early Gothic work – especially that belonging to the ‘Male Gothic’ tradition – to feature the female characters in minor roles, or as part of an ensemble. In cinema, this (male) tradition is perhaps best represented by the notion of the Scream Queen – the screaming heroine who faints when confronted with the beast, as most famously exemplified by Fay Wray in King Kong (1933).

Leaf

King Kong, of course, was made by RKO – the studio which, with producer Val Lewton, would help move horror away from the monster movies of Universal, and towards a more psychological approach. Indeed, Lewton’s 1942 Cat People (directed by Jacques Tourneur) concerns a young bride who believes she is cursed to turn into a killer cat whenever she becomes sexually aroused. If the premise and the studio-saddled title make it all sound rather daft, the film in fact remains one of the most haunting and beautifully played explorations into repressed desire, and the effects of such repression upon the repressed, in cinema history – second only, perhaps, to The Innocents.  @ALEX BARRETT

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Women on Top | 2017

Hollywood may still be struggling with female representation as 2018 gets underway, but Europe has seen tremendous successes in the world of indie film where talented women of all ages are winning accolades in every sphere of the film industry, bringing their unique vision and intuition to a party that has continued to rock throughout the past year. Admittedly, there have been some really fabulous female roles recently – probably more so than for male actors. But on the other side of the camera, women have also created some thumping dramas; robust documentaries and bracingly refreshing genre outings: Lucrecia Martel’s mesmerising Argentinian historical fantasy ZAMA (LFF/left) and Julia Ducournau’s Belgo-French horror drama RAW (below/right) have been amongst the most outstanding features in recent memory. All these films provide great insight into the challenges women continue to face, both personally and in society as a whole, and do so without resorting to worthiness or sentimentality. So as we go forward into another year, here’s a flavour of what’s been happening in 2017.

It all started at SUNDANCE in January where documentarian Pascale Lamche’s engrossing film about Winnie Mandela, WINNIE, won Best World Doc and Maggie Betts was awarded a directing prize for her debut feature NOVITIATE, about a nun struggling to take and keep her vows in 1960s Rome. Eliza Hitman also bagged the coveted directing award for her gay-themed indie drama BEACH RATS, that looks at addiction from a young boy’s perspective.

Meanwhile, back in Europe, BERLIN‘s Golden Bear went to Hungarian filmmaker Ildiko Enyedi (right) for her thoughtful and inventive exploration of adult loneliness and alienation BODY AND SOUL. Agnieska Holland won a Silver Bear for her green eco feature SPOOR, and Catalan newcomer Carla Simón went home with a prize for her feature debut SUMMER 1993 tackling the more surprising aspects of life for an orphaned child who goes to live with her cousins. CANNES 2017, the festival’s 70th celebration, also proved to be another strong year for female talent. Claire Simon’s first comedy – looking at love in later life – LET THE SUNSHINE IN was well-received and provided a playful role for Juliette Binoche, which she performed with gusto. Agnès Varda’s entertaining travel piece FACES PLACES took us all round France and finally showed Jean-Luc Godard’s true colours, winning awards at TIFF and Cannes. Newcomers were awarded in the shape of Léa Mysius whose AVA won the SACD prize for its tender exploration of oncoming blindness, and Léonor Séraille whose touching drama about the after-effects of romantic abandonment MONTPARNASSE RENDEZVOUS won the Caméra D’Or.

On the blockbuster front, it’s worth mentioning that Patty Jenkins’ critically acclaimed WONDERWOMAN has so far enjoyed an international box office of around $821.74 million, giving Gal Godot’s Amazon warrior-princess the crown as the highest-grossing superheroine origin film of all time.

The Doyenne of French contemporary cinema Isabelle Huppert won Best Actress in LOCARNO 2017 for her performance as a woman who morphs from a meek soul to a force to be reckoned with when she is struck by lightening, in Serge Bozon’s dark comedy MADAME HYDE. Huppert has been winning accolades since the 1970s but she still has to challenge Hollywood’s Ann Doran (1911-2000) on film credits (374) – but there is plenty of time!). Meanwhile, Nastassja Kinski was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Honour for her extensive and eclectic contribution to World cinema (Paris,Texas, Inland Empire, Cat People and Tess to name a few).

With a Jury headed by Annette Bening, VENICE again showed women in a strong light. Away from the Hollywood-fraught main competition, this year’s Orizzonti Award was awarded to Susanna Nicchiarelli’s NICO, 1988, a stunning biopic of the final years of the renowned model and musician Christa Pfaffen, played by a feisty Trine Dyrholm. And Sara Forestier’s Venice Days winning debut M showed how a stuttering girl and her illiterate boyfriend help each other overcome adversity. Charlotte Rampling won the prize for Best Actress for her portrait of strength in the face of her husbands’ imprisonment in Andrea Pallaoro’s HANNAH. 

At last but not least, Hong Kong director Vivianne Qu (left/LFF) was awarded the Fei Mei prize at PINGYAO’s inaugural CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON film festival and the Film Festival of India’s Silver Peacock  for her delicately charming feature ANGELS WEAR WHITE that deftly raises the harrowing plight of women facing sexual abuse in the mainland. It seems that this is a hot potato the superpowers of China and US still have in common. But on a positive note, LADYBIRD Greta Gerwig’s first film as a writer and director, has been sweeping the boards critically all over the US and is the buzzworthy comedy drama of 2018 (coming in February). So that’s something else to look forward to. MT

CATE BLANCHETT WILL HEAD THE JURY AT 71st CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | 8-19 MAY 2018

 

 

 

 

Five Sensationalist Movies of the 1930s

Sensationalism in the media is not a new trend: as early as 1930, film production companies have been luring audiences into cinemas with spectacular war films, swashbuckling historical dramas and lurid tales of the supernatural.


And who better to start with than Howard Hughes, the master of thrills and scandals – in his films and in private life. Hell’s Angels (1930) was planned as a silent film, but the sound revolution made Hughes change his mind. It took over two years to complete after shooting finished as the new technique had to be married to the older version. During the process of shooting, producer Hughes went through four directors: Marshall Neilan; Luther Reed; Edmund Goulding and James Whale. None of them lasted long, and when the feature was released, the credits just named Hughes as the director. The Danish silent-film star Greta Nissen was supposed to play the role the femme-fatale Helen, but Hughes ‘discovered’ the 18 year old Jean Harlow, who would have a successful but short career (she died aged 26 of kidney failure). The filming of the many aerial combat scenes cost the lives of three pilots, and Hughes himself was hospitalised after crashing his plane. By far the most expensive of the five features, Hell’s Angels would cost today 45 Million Dollars. But, compared to contemporary times the story was somehow mundane. Brothers Monte and Ray live in Oxford and join the Royal Flying corps at the outbreak of WWI. Monte is a womaniser, even having an affair with his brother’s girl friend Helen (Harlow)who is shown as a slut. Meanwhile Monty is denounced as a coward and will be dragged by his brother into a daring raid on a German munitions depot. But the escape is successful and their true colours come through when they are captured by the enemy.

Danish director Carl-Theodor Dreyer (Ordet) is known for his austere and minimalist features. Vampyr (1932) is quietly terrifying: DoP Rudolph Mate (D.O.A.) creates an unsettling atmosphere: constantly changing  angles as the protagonists emerge from an eerie world of shadows. The vampire in question is an old lady, Marguerite Chopin (Henrietta Gerard). But the real devil is the village doctor who poisons the young Gisele to lower her defences so that the vampire can attack her. Saviour Nicolas de Gunzburg (Allen Gray) has a particularly nasty revenge in mind for the doctor: he suffocates him in a silo of flour, before driving an iron stake through his heart. Vampyr is a poem of subtle images,minimalist in dialogue and sound, the inter-titles more effective than the spoken words.

William Dieterle, Hollywood emigrant from the famous Max Reinhardt Theatre in Berlin, filmed Victor Hugo’s classic The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939) as a cautionary tale and a timely reminder of xenophobia and societal prejudice against outsiders. Charles Laughton excels as the titular hunchback Quasimodo, and Maureen O’Hara is Esmarelda. Frollo, the Chief Justice is besotted by Esmeralda, even though she is married. After the Phoebus, Captain of the Guards, is killed, Esmeralda is accused of his murder by the jealous Frollo. Quasimodo and the King of the Thieves join forces to free the innocent woman. Dieterle uses the same fable-like style as in A Midsummer’s Night Dream (1935). Dieterle remains true to his theatrical background in this spectacularly surrealist outing, whose subtle nuances lie in the spoken word.

James Whale (Frankenstein) is the Daddy of the modern horror feature. The Invisible Man (1933) (main picture), based on H.G. Wells’ novel, is a brilliant variation of the “Mad Scientist” genre. Chemist Dr, Jack Griffin (Claude Rains) invents a medicine which makes him invisible. His fiancée Flora Cranley (Gloria Stuart), daughter of Griffin’s boss, literally loses him from the beginning, while Griffin is staying in an inn, trying desperately to reverse the process. But the drug makes him aggressive and murderous, and his victims pile up – particularly during the train crash which sees the police hot on his trail. As always, there are darkly comic moments with Whale: Griffin’s underpants, ‘run’ around on their own, to the consternation of onlookers. The Invisible Man is much more subtle than Frankenstein because Griffin’s metamorphosis is truly chilling.


King Kong
, directed in 1933 by Merian C, Cooper and Ernest B. Schloedsack is, in spite of three re-makes, by far the most spectacular version of the tale of ‘beauty and beast’. The gigantic ape falls madly in love with Fay Wray and the ending on the Empire State Building still has an emotive pull that’s never repeated in the much more expansive and expensive modern versions. Having seen it for the first time as a student in Berlin, I remember many of us leaving the cinema, hollering just like King Kong under the arches, as the trains roared past above. AS

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Persona (1965) Ingmar Bergman Retrospective January 2018

Dir.: Ingmar Bergman; Cast: Bibi Andersson, Liv Ullmann, Margaretha Krook, Gunnar Björnstrand; Sweden, 83′.

Silence has always played a big part in Ingmar Bergman’s oeuvre – his 1963 feature The Silence being a perfect example of his near obsession with the theme. In The Silence it was God who was the un-communicative element. In Persona an actress uses silence as a way of protecting herself in a loosely structured philosophical discourse exploring the wider meaning of the word ‘persona’.

During her performance of Electra on stage, the actress Elisabeth Vogler (Ullmann) suddenly stops reciting her words, as if making a conscious decision not to utter another line during the play. After a medical examination a doctor (Krook)  diagnoses her physically and psychologically sane, and she is sent with nurse Alma (Andersson) to a remote seaside retreat to recover. Alma tries to help Elisabeth, opening up to her, and sharing intimate secrets in the hope of bonding with her patient. To no avail. When Alma later discovers that Elisabeth has denigrated her in a letter to her doctor, Alma. is naturally discouraged and disillusioned. The two women engage in a psychological battle, but the result is a merging of their psyches as they gradually become more like each other: in the end, Vogler’s husband (Björnstrand), visiting the two, talks to Alma, mistaking her for his wife.

Freud compared dreams to an archaic language whose interpretation could be contradictory. Delving deeper, he examined the work of the linguist K. Abel, to find out about the opposite meaning, or antonyms, to certain words whose lexicography or roots appear to contradict their contemporary meanings. The word ‘person’ means a man or woman in possession of all faculties. But the French word ‘personne’ can mean someone or no-one depending on the context in a sentence. In PERSONA Bergman, examines the double meaning of the word ‘mask’: is the actress, in this case Elisabeth, using the mask, on stage, to hide her face, to deliver the text faithfully, or to cover up her deepest feelings. Littre wrote that mask means “wrong face, painted on”, and therefore de-masking allows the true meaning of the person’s intentions to be disclosed. By confessing her own deeper self, Alma (meaning: the giver of good)  offers up her own confessions.

According to Greek mythology, Electra saved her little brother and disobeys her stepfather’s orders so as to save her real father. In the same way, Elisabeth uses her silence to ‘disobey’ society. But when Alma discovers what Elisabeth really thinks about her, she loses her own identity: instead of giving, ie. healing, Elisabeth’s unkind words diminish her. But at the same time, Elisabeth has destroyed their complicity: her mask has dropped, destroying their relationship. In de-masking her, Alma becomes Elisabeth: the nurse had undergone an abortion, and Elisabeth had also harboured murderous feelings towards her own child.

The brilliance of Sven Nykist’s compositions almost eclipse Alma’s monologue, as we are mesmerised by the poetic ebb and flow of the characters’ faces, melting into the landscape. As ever, Bergman is relentless: Mallarme wrote about the rich, decoded postulates, but Bergman proves that he only deals in delusions.

PERSONA HEADLINES A SEASON OF INGMAR BERGMAN’S FILMS DURING JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2018 | BFI SOUTHBANK, LONDON

7 Neo-Realist masterpieces

The Italian Neo-Realist movement kicked off just after the Second World War and brought together a group of Italian filmmakers who focused their ideas on stories set amongst the poor and the working class reflecting the austerity of the era and government cut-backs. Frequently using non-professional actors or children, or professionals playing strongly against their normal character types, the films were set in a background populated by local people brought in for the films.

NEO-REALISM rejected the strict guidelines that had been imposed during the war years by Benito Mussolini’s ‘White Telephone’ films that toed the party line and, instead, explored themes of economic hardship, oppression and social injustice in everyday life, particularly amongst the working classes. These had been brought about by the devastation of the war years and changes in the nation’s psyche after the war which caused fractures in film industry financing and actual physical damage to some film studios and equipment.  Not deterred by this a group of filmmakers got together and decided to use this difficulty to create an entirely new style: Neo-Realism was born.

1860The main protagonists of the Italian school auteur-wise were Vittorio De Sica with Bicycle Thieves (1948); Alessandro Biasetti with the photo-realist 1860,(1934); Giuseppe De Santis with Riso Amaro/Bitter Rice (1949); Luchino Visconti, who made the first film in the genre: Ossessione (1943) followed by Roberto Rossellini’s: Rome Open City, which won the Grand Prix at Cannes just after the War. Manoel de Oliviera (Aniki Bobo/1942) Jean Renoir (Toni/1935) had also embraced the style, and traditional elaborate studio sets gave way to shoots in the countryside and in the open streets.

ITALIAN NEO-REALISM rapidly declined in the early 1950s when the economic situation improved. Viaggio in Italia (1954) was widely regarded as the culminating masterpiece and the film that inspired the French New Wave and, in to a certain extent THE POLISH FILM SCHOOL and Indian filmmakers. By then, most Italians were also ready for the optimism offered by American cinema. The vision of existing poverty and despair, presented by the neorealist films, were seen as a dampener on a nation anxious to embrace the mood of optimism, prosperity and change and no longer wanted their dirty laundry washed in public, so to speak.

cropped-The_Gospel_According_to_Matthew_6-e1361801472550.jpgThe individual became the main focal point in the Italian cinema that followed in the 1960s. Antonioni’s Red Desert and Blow-Up take neo-realist themes and develop them in the search for knowledge brought on by Italy’s post-war economic and political climate. Giovanni Columbu’s Su Re (2012) and Pasolini’s Il Vangelo Secondo Matteo (1964) and Padre Padrone embody the characteristics of neorealism even though they were made much later and therefore cannot be classified as belonging to the genre.

Some filmmakers such as Vittoria de Sica and Luchino Visconti drifted away from pure neorealism into allegorical fantasy with films such as Il Miracolo di Milano (1951). One of the more tragic and moving is Umberto D (left), a story of elderly post war povertyOther features that embraced the genre are Jean Renoir’s Toni (1935), La Nave Bianca, Roberto Rossellini, (1941) Aniki-Bobo, Manoel de Oliviera (1942); People of the Po Valley, Michelangelo Antonioni (1947) Bitter Rice, Giuseppe de Santis(1949); Stromboli (Roberto Rossellini, 1950); Bellissima (Luchino Visconti, 1951); and Rome 11.00, Giuseppe De Santis (1952). MT

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Finnish Film Season at the Barbican | 29 Nov – 3 Dec 2017

To celebrate the centenary of Finnish independence, the Barbican is hosting a season of films curated by the Midnight Sun Film Festival, an edgy film get-together founded by Mika and Aki Kaurismaki, taking place each year in the heart of Finnish lapland. In London this long weekend opens with Juho Kuosmanen’s remake of the first ever Finnish fiction film The Moonshiners with its live musical accompaniment by Ykspihlajan Kino-orkesteri and live foley by Heikki Rossi. Finnish film classics capturing the spirit of the Midnight Sun are:

Moonshiners (1) copy THE MOONSHINERS (2017)  + ROMU-MATTILA AND A BEAUTIFUL LADY (2012) | 29 NOV | 18.30

Un Certain Regard 2016 winner Juho Kuosmanen (The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Maki) presents a double bill of his silent shorts Romu-Mattila, a fact-based drama about an elderly man facing eviction, followed by The Moonshiners, a re-make of a long-lost Finnish farce (1907) exploring the subject of liquor distillation.

THE MATCH FACTORY GIRL (1990) + LAND OF HAPPINESS (1993) | 30 NOV | 20.45  

A double bill pairing featuring the last in Kaurismaki’s Proletariat Trilogy, along with Markku Polonen’s debut feature. The Match Factory Girl is considered one of Kaurismaki’s best films and stars regular collaborator Kati Outinen in an award-winning performance as a down-trodden working girl who finally gets her own back on her abusive parents and boyfriend. Land of Happiness sees a young man returning to 1960s North Karelia where he falls for a dream lover whose erotic Finnish tango-dancing sets the scene for a passionate liaison fraught with nostalgia.

varastettu_kuolema_2THE STOLEN DEATH (1938)  | 30 NOV | 86′ | 18.30

A poetic thriller conveying the atmosphere during the underground resistance of an Helsinki activist group against the Tsarist government of the early 1900s. Lead Tuulikki Paanananen went on to star in Jacques Tourneur’s The Leopard Man. Director Nyrki Tapiovaara lost his life at only 28, during the Winter War.

The Year of the HareTHE YEAR OF THE HARE (1977) | 3 Dec | 129′ | 14.00 

Based on the novel by Arto Paasilinna, this eco-friendly comedy drama explores an advertising exec’s attempt at escaping the rate race for a life in the Lapland countryside, capturing the spirit of TV’s The Good Life. Sadly, Director Risto Jarva was tragically killed in a car crash while returning home from the premiere.

 

People in the Summer NightPEOPLE IN THE SUMMER NIGHT (1948) | 3 Dec | 66′ | 14.00 

Nobel Literature Laureate F E Sillanpaa’s book is ravishingly brought to life here by director Valentin Vaala. Eino Heino’s images capture the brilliant light of Finland’s ‘white nights’ set to a score by Taneli Kuusisto. Martti Katajisto won Best Actor for his vibrant performance as a log-driver whose tragic fate becomes intertwined with that of a farming family, a lumberjack called Nokia, and a young girl and her lover.

FINNISH FILM FESTIVAL | BARBICAN | 29 NOVEMBER – 3 DECEMBER 2017

Political Thrillers of the 1970s

The Seventies spawned a series of thrillers exposing the political tensions that were reverberating across Europe. It was a decade when the social turmoil that marked the late 1960s gave way to a more strident politics that involved stark and sometimes violent contrasts between left and right. A decade that was scarred by the emergence of uncompromisingly radical groups such as the Red Army Faction and the Red Brigades.

In response to this charged moment, a number of filmmakers across Europe turned to the format of the thriller. Stylish and enduringly popular with audiences, they saw it as the perfect vehicle through which to explore conspiracies, authoritarian regimes, and political violence.

Costa-Gavras’ legendary Z (1969) headlines an era that would showcase some of the best political thrillers of an era that would continue with Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (1970), The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum (1975) and The Day of the Jackal (1973).

State of Siege (1972) (15) (État de siège) Bergamo Film Festival 2022

Dir Costa-Gavras | Cast: Yves Montand, Renato Salvatori, O. E. Hasse

A tense political thriller set against the background of Latin America’s dirty repressive politics, State of Siege is one of the finest political thrillers of the 1970s. Costa-Gavras casts Yves Montand in the lead as an undercover American agricultural advisor who is kidnapped by guerrillas in Uruguay.

Special Section (PG) 

Dir Costa-Gavras/FR IT West Germany 1975 | 118′ | Cast: Louis Seigner, Roland Bertin, Michael Lonsdale

Costa-Gavras sets Special Section in Nazi-occupied France during the Second World War. When a German officer is murdered, the collaborationist Vichy government decides to pin the killing on six petty criminals. Loyal judges are then called in to convict them as quickly as possible in a special court. Costa-Gavras won Best Director at the 1975 Cannes film festival for this brilliant thriller.

The Mattei Affair

Dir Francesco Rosi | IT 1972 | 116′ | Cast: Gian Maria Volontè, Luigi Squarzina, Peter Baldwin

This investigative thriller The Mattei Affair focuses on the death of Enrico Mattei, an influential businessman who made enemies in the mafia. His story is interspersed with Rosi’s investigation into the disappearance of his friend, journalist Mauro De Mauro, who was undertaking research for the film. Led by a magnificent performance from Gian Maria Volontè, The Mattei Affair is one of Rosi’s finest works and won the Palme d’Or at Cannes (ex aequo) in 1972.

The Odessa File  (Prime Video)

Dir: Ronald Neame | Cast: Jon Voight, Maximillian Schell, Maria Schell, Derek Jacobi, Mary Tamm | UK 130′ 1974

A Holocaust diary captures the imagination of Jon Voigt’s diligent investigative journalist Peter Millar, who sets out to uncover the truth behind a powerful Nazi organisation called ODESSA. Adapted for the screen from Frederick Forsyth’s bestseller by Ken Ross and Ronald Neame, who cut his teeth behind the camera working for Hitchcock on the first talking picture made in England, Blackmail (1929).

Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (18)

Dir Elio Petri/IT 1970 | 115’/Italian | Cast: Gian Maria Volontè, Florinda Bolkan, Gianni Santuccio

In Elio Petri’s visually stunning film was nominated for an Oscar having won a Silver Bear at Berlinale in 1969. It sees a corrupt police official attempting to show his invincibility by creating a murder scene where the evidence can only lead investigators to him. Starring Gian Maria Volontè who provides a mesmerising performance, this is a sly and slick condemnation of the state and the police from one of Italy’s major political filmmakers of the 1960s and 1970s.

longfriday_thThe Long Good Friday (on Amazon Prime)

Dir John Mackenzie/GB 1980 | 115′ Bob Hoskins, Helen Mirren, Paul Freeman

In this iconic British thriller, gangster Harold Shand, a gritty Bob Hoskins, sees himself as the big shot property developer of London’s rundown dockland and becoming a legitimate businessman in partnership with the American Mafia. However, his plans are waylaid when a number of his associates are brutally attacked and he realises that the gangland he thought he ruled over was a much more divided and complex territory.

The Day of the Jackal (15)  (Prime Video)

Dir Fred Zinnemann/GB FR 1973 | 143′ | Edward Fox, Terence Alexander, Michel Auclair

Edward Fox made his name in Fred Zinnemann’s legendary film that explores the attempts of a right-wing paramilitary group to assassinate French President General De Gaulle following the independence of Algeria. The Day of the Jackal is one of the twistiest thriller of the 1970s and never outstays its welcome despite the long running time.

The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum (15)

Dirs Volker Schlöndorff, Margarethe von Trotta/Ger 1975 | 106′ | Cast: Angela Winkler, Mario Adorf, Dieter Laser

A key political film of the New German Cinema, a young woman’s life is scrutinised by police and press after she spends the night with a suspected terrorist. Volker Schlöndorff and Margarethe von Trotta co-directed and adapted The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum from the controversial novel by Heinrich Böll.

Days of ’36 (12) (Meres tou ’36)

Dir Theodoros Angelopoulos/GR 1972 | 104′  | Cast: Vangelis Kazan, Kostas Pavlou, Thanos Grammenos

Angelopoulos’s stylised thriller is set in 1936 just before the Metaxas’ dictatorship. A trade unionist is murdered in broad daylight one of the suspects rounded up is Sofianos, who claims to be innocent. But when a minister visits his cell he takes him hostage with tragic consequences in an elegantly composed affair that one the Greek director the FIPRESCI prize at Berlinale 1973.

Illustrious Corpses (PG) (Cadaveri eccellenti)

Dir Francesco Rosi/IT FR 1976/120′  | Cast: Lino Ventura, Tino Carraro, Marcel Bozzuffi

Lino Ventura stars in this atmospheric thriller based on Leonardo Sciascia’s novel Il Contesto. He is a quietly confident detective appointed to investigate the mysterious murders of several senior members of Sicily’s judiciary, linked to skulduggery in the Italian communist party.

Man on the Roof (15) (Mannen på taket) |

Dir Bo Widerberg | Cast: Carl-Gustaf Lindstedt, Sven Wollter, Thomas Hellberg | 1976

In this 1970s Nordic Noir thriller based on The Abominable Man by Swedish crime writers Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, Carl-Gustaf Lindstedt is Beck, a detective investigating a brutal murder in a hospital that leads to incidents of police brutality and culminates in a showcase finale on the rooftops of Stockholm.

The Flight (CTBA) (Die Flucht)

Dir Roland Graf/East Germany 1977/94′ | Cast: Armin Mueller-Stahl, Jenny Gröllmann, Erika Pelikowsky

One of the final films made in East Germany featuring Armin Mueller-Stahl – who also appears in Costa Gavras’ Music Box (1989). Here he plays a doctor who is refused permission by the GDR to take up a research post in the West, and so links up with an underground network who claim to be able to cut through red tape. But there is is a hitch, as there always is. Grand Prix Winner Karlovy Vary 1978.

Circle of Deceit (18) (Die Fälschung) (Available on Amazon)

Dir Volker Schlöndorff/West Germany FR 1981/108′ | Cast: Bruno Ganz, Hanna Schygulla, Jean Carmet

In Circle of Deceit Schlöndorff weaves romance with political intrigue in a thriller shot on location in Beirut. Bruno Ganz and Hanna Schygulla are the lovers who navigate a complex moral and political maze in a country on the brink of war.

SOME TITLES NOW AVAILABLE ON NETFLIX, PRIME VIDEO, BFI PLAYER and BERGAMO FILM MEETING 2022

 

New Chinese Cinema | Pingyao International Film Festival | Year Zero 2017

PYIFF2017-founderJiaZhangke-SittingInPlatformArenaEastern Promise was lavishly delivered this year at the inaugural PINGYAO CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL (PYIFF) offering audiences from all over the world a chance to enjoy the latest in Chinese independent cinema for 10 days (28 October-4 November). The indie film festival is the brainchild of filmmaker and producer Jia Zhangke who grew up in Fenyang, near the festival’s setting in the UNESCO World Heritage walled town of Pingyao (in the province of Shanxi) – a four-hour bullet train journey south west of Beijing.- was determined that one day he would raise the region’s profile from one of coal-mining to a cradle of Chinese creativity.

PYIFF also offered local Chinese cinephiles their first opportunity to sample a prodigious Jean Pierre Melville retrospective in their own homeland. The competition also paid homage, with its awards, named after Roberto Rossellini, and the Chinese director Fei Mu, and showed a selection of the latest releases including Vivian Qu’s Venice Biennale 2017 standout ANGELS WEAR WHITE and Xiaogang Feng’s rousing epic YOUTH that recently played at Toronto Film Festival 2017.

PingyaoIFF-founderJiaZhangke&directorMarcoMuellerVenice Film Festival’s long-time artistic director Marco Mueller masterminded an eclectic programme where two strands in particular showcased the talents of emerging Chinese filmmakers – the soi-disant ‘tiger’s and ‘dragons’ (also honouring Ang Lee). The CROUCHING TIGERS section offered the opportunity to see debut or second films from new directors. The HIDDEN DRAGONS gave a platform to genre fare and a NEW GENERATION series showcased mostly Chinese indie fare. Chinese cinema has had a rough ride in its homeland in the past due to the deemed unsuitability for general release of some of its titles – perhaps Xi Jingping will see fit to loosen the silk strings that restrict the autonomy of independent cinema, while standing by the communist tenet to promote  China’s cultural creativity: an uneasy paradox. The original dates of the festival were delayed by the 19th Communist Party Conference. While there is a desire to promote culture, the programmers were also forced to ban several South Korean titles due to a contretemps between Beijing and Seoul. Festival opener YOUTH had initially caused problems due to its ‘controversial’ depiction of the 1979 Sino-Vietnemese war. While press attempting to take photos during the opening gala were threatened by a fierce-looking security guards bearing truncheons (most Chinese continued to film the proceeding oblivious – in the spirit of Tiananmen Square), Chinese law also states that accredited journalists are entitled to complimentary lodging and subsistence – so none of us went hungry at lunchtime as we tucked into delicious bento boxes prepared by the chefs of Jia Jhangke’s ‘Mountains May Depart’ Restaurant which is located in a new arts centre which is gradually being developed on the site of a former industrial zone.

PYIFF2017-OpeningCeremony-actressZhaoTaoThe good news is that mainstream Chinese film production is thriving abundantly with around 700 films being made each year so PYIFF is a healthy move in the right direction, thanks to Jia Zhangke and Marco Muller, a ‘foreigner’ who enjoys a close and charismatic relationship with the Chinese. And their efforts to encourage young filmmakers have certainly paid off. But Zhangke is not resting on his laurels: filming for his title ASH IS PUREST WHITE (Jiang hu er nv) a violent noughties-set love story is already underway, his talented wife Tao Zhao (right, at the PYIFF opening ceremony) takes the leading role. MT

REVIEW LINKS to the latest CHINESE INDIE FILMS at PYIFF | YEAR ZERO | 28 OCT – 4 NOV 2017

THE TASTE FOR RICE FLOWER

A FISH OUT OF WATER 

ONE NIGHT ON THE WHARF

YOUTH 

ASH 

 

North by Northwest (1959)

Dir: Alfred Hitchcock | Cast: Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, James Mason | Writer: Ernest Lehman 136′

There’s a glorious irreverence to Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘wrong man roadie’ that makes it funny and thrilling despite the lengthy running time. This is largely due to Ernest Lehman’s sparklingly witty screenplay, and Cary Grant who displays the same suave insouciance as Roger Moore in his utter refusal to take anything seriously, despite sinister scenarios constantly threatening danger.

As dapper advertising executive Roger O’Thornhill, Grant is mistaken for an imagined spy, forcing him to dice with death at every turn; evading James Mason’s arch villain while channelling a universal ‘mummy’s darling’ turn – alongside the marvellous Jessie Royce Landis – until he falls for the dulcet charms of the much younger but highly resourceful Eva Marie Saint (he was 45, she only 27).

The Mount Rushmore settings are astonishing, not least for Robert Burks’ daredevil camerawork, while Hitchcock’s laudable re-creation of the Frank Lloyd Wright house on the precipice is an ingenious money-saving exercise that adds a twist of sophistication to the final denouement. This priceless classic picked up the Silver Shell at San Sebastian in the year of its release, but Ernest Lehman’s brilliant script went away unrewarded at the 1960 Oscars. MT

NOW SHOWING ON BBC2

 

Angels Wear White (2017) Chinese Film Series 2021

Dir: Vivian Qu | Drama | China | 101′

Writer and director Vivian Qu was the producer of Black Coal, Thin Ice and rose to fame with her debut Trap Street. Her second feature is a low-key female-centred affair that deals with the complex web of corruption that emerges after two young girls are assaulted in a seaside town. This is a subtle and luminously delicate drama that leaves the details of the crime offscreen to deal with the psychological effects on the teenagers who are both underage, one of them only 12. Covering similar ground to Black Coal, ANGELS WEAR WHITE offers a bleak but affecting insight into the plight of women generally in modern China, not only from middle-class backgrounds but those who have escaped rural poverty and found themselves at odds with the criminal elements  in more prosperous areas.

Teenager Mia (Wen Qi) is a chambermaid in a resort town on the island province of Hainan. During her night shift on reception she checks in a man and two little girls, Wen (a tiny and delicately vulnerable Zhou Meijun) and Xin (Jiang Xinyue), who are staying in the room next to him. One of the girls has a blonde wig and orders drinks, but what happens next during the night is never revealed on camera, although it turns out later the girls have been abused, and undergo a hospital examination.

Clearly both teens are suffering from the strict ‘Tiger’ parenting and harsh discipline at school but they keep the trauma under wraps until Wen runs away from mother’s home and turns up at her estranged father’s in the middle of the night, sleeping on the beach when she can’t get in. Mia is scared of losing her job, so fails to give any evidence about why her older more sophisticated colleague Lily was bunking off with her boyfriend.

Police Inspector Wang (Li Mengnan) leads a cursory investigation where the girls gloss over the facts frightened to reveal the truth due to the shame they feel and how the consequences of their revelation might be viewed – not only by the authorities but also their own community and society as a whole. Mia is more streetwise, but the other two are really very naive compared to Western teens. A canny female lawyer (Shi Ke) probes further and gets a better grasp of Mia’s impossible plight.

Qu views her characters dispassionately, we cannot help feeling for them and the deplorable lives they lead, especially little Wen, who only looks about 9, but clearly understands more than she reveals in this dainty, pastel-hued portrait captured by Belgian cinematographer Benoit Dervaux. A subtle occasional score adds a haunting atmosphere to this impressive modern noir. MT

NOW SHOWING DURING THE CHINESE CINEMA SERIES AT SELECTED ONLINE SCREENS IN LONDON 2021  INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 

BFI Gloria Grahame Retrospective | Film Noir | Nov/Dec 2017

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This Winter the BFI are celebrating the life of screen siren GLORIA GRAHAME with a retrospective of a smouldering film career showcasing her talents – usually in supporting roles – garnering her critical acclaim and an Academy Award for her nine-minute role in THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL (1952) starring alongside Kirk Douglas, who was nominated but went away empty-handed. 

Gloria Grahame appeared in more than 30 films during the 1940s and 50s and died shortly after returning to her native New York, from a visit to her friend Peter Turner, a stay which forms the basis for the 1987 biography Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool and Paul McGuigan biopic drama which opens the retrospective on 14 November 2017, and stars Annette Bening as Grahame.

Born Gloria Hallward, in Pasadena, California on November. 28, 1923 to the British actress, Jean Hallward, who had played Shakespearean and other classical roles on the British stage, Gloria Grahame made her stage debut in Chicago soon after finishing high school. Broadway then beckoned, where she worked as understudy in Thornton Wilder’s play By the Skin of Our Teeth, an a number of other stage roles. Her Hollywood debut was in 1944 with Richard Whorf’s comedy flop BLOND FEVER. She went on to star as Ginny in Edward Dmytryk’s 1947 racially-charged noir thriller CROSSFIRE, alongside Robert Mitchum. She later claimed Ginny was her favourite role and she was nominated for an Academy Award which sealed her success for the following decade in titles such as THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH (1952) and OKLAHOMA! (1955).

Offers dwindled during the 1950s as she brought up her family with Nicholas Ray, occasionally appearing in TV and stage outings, particularly in comedy roles in The Man Who Came to Dinner; Head Over Heels. She was married to Stanley Clements, Nicholas Ray, Cy Howard and Anthony Ray. MT

Here is the BFI Line-up:

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool

UK 2017. Dir Paul McGuigan. With Annette Bening, Jamie Bell, Julie Walters, Vanessa Redgrave. 105min. Digital. Cert tbc. Courtesy of Lionsgate

Ageing Hollywood star Gloria Grahame (Bening), a goddess of the silver screen in the 1940s, now resides in Liverpool doing small theatre gigs to help support her children. While dealing a health scare, she develops an unlikely romance with charming 20-something Peter Turner (Bell) – a relationship that’s soon tested to its limits.

Tickets £15, concs £12 (Members pay £2 less)

Gloria Grahame: Femme Fatale Film Noir Icon | TRT 90min | TUE 14 NOV 18:10 NFT1

This lavishly illustrated talk by Adrian Wootton OBE, CEO of Film London, will celebrate the onscreen brilliance that defines Gloria Grahame as one of the iconic femme fatale heroines of the era. Wootton will explore her working relationships with major filmmakers such as Frank Capra, Fritz Lang and Vincente Minnelli, as well as her tumultuous and often controversial personal life. Tickets £6.50

IN A LONELY PLACE | MON 13 NOV 18:20 NFT3

USA 1950. Dir Nicholas Ray. With Humphrey Bogart, Gloria Grahame, Frank Lovejoy. 98min. Digital. PG. A Park Circus release.

Nicholas Ray’s beguiling blend of murder mystery and unusually adult love story is one of the finest American movies of the early 50s. The lonely place is Hollywood: scriptwriter Dix (Bogart) is prime suspect in the murder of a young woman, until neighbour Laurel (Grahame) provides him with a false alibi. But as the pair embark on a romance, his volatile temper – exacerbated equally by the studio and the cops – makes her wonder whether he might have been guilty… Brilliantly adapted from Dorothy B Hughes’ novel, Ray’s tough but tender film is spot-on in its insightful characterisation of Tinseltown and of the troubled lovers. Marvellously cast, Bogart and Grahame bring an aching poignancy to their painful predicament.

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USA 1953. Dir Fritz Lang. With Glenn Ford, Gloria Grahame, Jocelyn Brando, Lee Marvin. 89min. Digital. 15. A Park Circus release

Fritz Lang’s stark thriller about a cop fighting city-wide corruption is also a classic tale of revenge and redemption. After a senior policeman kills himself, detective Dave Bannion (Ford) begins to suspect a cover-up between his superiors, local politicians and a seemingly inviolate crime-lord. Persisting with his investigations, he comes under attack, at which point his mission turns personal rather than professional. Famous for its (off-screen) violence – notably a scene involving Gloria Grahame, Lee Marvin and boiling coffee – Lang’s film is pacy, unsentimental and to the point in exploring the thin line between the law and rough justice. The robust direction, terse script and unfussy performances ensure the movie feels strangely modern.

CROSSFIRE | FROM FRI 24 NOV

USA 1947. Dir Edward Dmytryk. With Gloria Grahame, Robert Mitchum, Robert Ryan, Robert Young. 86min. 35mm. PG

This was one of Grahame’s earliest substantial roles. Her portrayal of a dance-hall girl who witnesses a murder earned her an Oscar® nomination and also set the mould for her screen persona. As the police investigation into the crime leads to a manhunt for a missing GI, the film takes an uncompromising look at the problems men had readjusting to life after war.

WED 15 NOV 18:30 NFT2 / SAT 18 NOV 18:30 NFT2

Sudden Fear + intro by Adrian Wootton OBE, CEO of Film London*

USA 1952. Dir David Miller. With Gloria Grahame, Joan Crawford, Jack Palance. 111min. Digital. PG

Gloria Grahame read Macbeth in preparation for the role of Irene Neves – looking to Lady Macbeth to locate the emotional drive to manipulate a man to murder, as she does with Palance’s actor-cum-fraudster Lester Blaine. Joan Crawford is at the film’s core and plays the melodramatic angle to perfection but Grahame is compelling as the driving force behind the murderous plot

THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL | MON 13 NOV 20:30 NFT2* / SUN 19 NOV 17:00 NFT2

USA 1952. Dir Vincente Minnelli. With Gloria Grahame, Kirk Douglas, Lana Turner, Dick Powell, Walter Pidgeon. 118min. 35mm. PG

This classic Hollywood take on the movie business tells the tale of a ruthless producer and the effect his dealings have on his friends and colleagues. Grahame received a Best Actress in a Supporting Role Oscar® for her portrayal of Rosemary, the wife of screenwriter James Lee Bartlow (Powell), despite being on screen for only nine minutes.

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THE GLASS WALL | FRI 17 NOV 18:20 NFT2 / THU 30 NOV 20:35 NFT2

 + intro by season curator Jo Botting, BFI National Archive*

USA 1953. Dir Maxwell Shane. With Gloria Grahame, Vittorio Gassman, Ann Robinson. 85min. 35mm. PG

One of Grahame’s lesser-known titles, this film also offered her a rare starring role. She appears opposite Italian star Vittorio Gassman, who plays a Hungarian illegal immigrant determined to remain in the US, with one night to track down the person who can save him from deportation. Grahame gives an exquisite performance as a woman on the breadline who forms a bond with the desperate man.

HUMAN DESIRE | MON 20 NOV 18:20 NFT2* / MON 27 NOV 20:40 NFT

USA 1953. Dir Fritz Lang. With Gloria Grahame, Glenn Ford, Broderick Crawford. 91min. 35mm. PG

The role of Vicki Buckley in this classic noir about a man’s affair with a married woman shows Grahame at her most complex and scheming. As the film progresses the layers of her character are slowly peeled away, and the audience teeter between sympathy for her tragic life and abhorrence at her capacity for manipulation

THE COBWEB | TUE 21 NOV 18:20 NFT3 / SUN 26 NOV 14:45 NFT1

USA 1955. Dir Vincente Minnelli. With Gloria Grahame, Richard Widmark, Lauren Bacall, Charles Boyer, Lillian Gish. 123min

Vincente Minnelli’s lush melodrama revolves around the struggle for power among staff and inmates at a psychiatric hospital. Grahame plays the neglected wife of Dr McIver (Widmark), frustrated by his dedication to his work and stifled by the small-town mentality of those around her. The colour photography emphasises her brassiness, enhancing her waspish yet sensual performance.

OKLAHOMA! | DATES AND TIMES IN DECEMBER TBC

USA 1955. Dir Fred Zinnemann. With Gloria Grahame, Shirley Jones, Gordon MacRae, Rod Steiger. 145min. U

While she was not a natural chanteuse (she was tone-deaf) Grahame’s naïve, endearing vocal style in this musical western brings genuine charm to her portrayal of Ado Annie and she sung the role completely without dubbing. Annie’s romantic to-ing and fro-ing offers comic relief from Rod Steiger’s menacing pursuit of the wholesome Laurey (Jones), while the whole is interspersed with some of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s liveliest tunes.

NAKED ALIBI | DATES AND TIMES IN DECEMBER TBC

USA 1954. Dir Jerry Hopper. With Gloria Grahame, Sterling Hayden, Gene Barry. 86min

A policeman pursues a suspected murderer to a Mexican border town, both men driven by desperation and their own personal demons. Grahame is at her most seductive as a nightclub singer caught between them; she finally finds the love she’s desperate for, but will the chance for happiness come too late?

DATES AND TIMES IN DECEMBER TBC

Merton of the Movies

USA 1947. Dir Robert Alton. With Gloria Grahame, Red Skelton, Virginia O’Brien. 82min

Showing how fast Hollywood forgot its roots, this broad parody of silent cinema was made barely 20 years after the coming of sound. Red Skelton was coached in physical comedy by Buster Keaton for his performance as a small-town boy seeking fame and fortune in the movies. Grahame luxuriates in the glamour of her role, as a film star who seduces the innocent abroad.

nullODDS AGAINST TOMORROW | DATES AND TIMES IN DECEMBER TBC

USA 1959. Dir Robert Wise. With Gloria Grahame, Robert Ryan, Harry Belafonte, Shelley Winters. 96min

Director Robert Wise offers a heist movie with a twist, as Robert Ryan’s troubled WWII veteran confronts his prejudices when he embarks on a bank job with a black jazz performer (Belafonte). A very personal project for Belafonte, the film is one of the last Hollywood noirs ever produced. Grahame makes an impression in the small role of Ryan’s sexually frustrated neighbour, in her swansong as a screen siren.

DATES AND TIMES IN DECEMBER STILL TO BE CONFIRMED 

 

Silence of the Lambs (1991) | BFI Thriller Series | Oct-Dec 2017

 Mandatory Credit: Photo by Everett Collection / Rex Features ( 411879fv ) 'THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS' - Anthony Hopkins - 1991 VARIOUS


Mandatory Credit: Photo by Everett Collection / Rex Features ( 411879fv )
‘THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS’ – Anthony Hopkins – 1991
VARIOUS

Dir. Jonathan Demme; Cast: Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Scott Glenn, Jame Gumb, Anthony Head, Brooke Smith; USA  114′

Jonathan Demme, who died this April at the age of 73, made some excellent films such as Philadelphia (1993) and Swimming to Cambodia (1987). But he will be best remembered for SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, which won Oscars for Best Film and Best Director. Based on the novel by Thomas Harris and written by Ted Tally, SILENCE is one of the few feminist thrillers of its era.

Centred around FBI agent Clarice Starling (Foster) who is sent by her boss Jack Crawford (Glenn) to interview imprisoned mass murderer and psychiatrist Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Hopkins). The idea is to get his imput with a new case: a serial killer, called Buffalo Bill, who skins his female victims. In a cat and mouse game, Clarice gets Lecter to tell her the name of the killer who once his patient. After having kidnapped Catherine Martin (Brooke Smith), the daughter of an US senator, Buffolo Bill (Gumb), is tracked down by Clarice.

Clarice is much more emancipated woman than she appears in the film. She is well aware that the older Crawford has an Electra crush on her but still calls him “Sir”, knowing she has the upper hand emotionally, slipping out of his command even though she is just a trainee in the last stages of her studies. Howard Shore’s score provides a foreboding undercurrent, reminiscent of Bernhard Herrman, throught her prisom encounters with Lecter which plays out as a cat-and-mouse game. Crawford has warned her never to disclose any personal information to the psychiatrist, Clarice makes a bargain with Lecter: she answers his questions, while he has to answer hers regarding the identity of Buffalo Bill. The outcome justifies her strategy, since Lecter is extraordinarily vain and fancies himself as her Svengali.

Buffalo Bill has a long history of childhood abuse, and is not happy in his body; he tried for a sex change operation, but was rejected because of his violent nature. He dresses as a woman, but feels only contempt for the female species. Catherine is held prisoner in a well, and her captor talks to his poodle about her, objectifying her with the impersonal  ‘it’. He takes great pleasure in making her use skin cream and starving her: all necessary for the skinning operation, which is his way of keeping a trophy. The use of a moth, which he pressed down his victims throat, brings Clarice closer to his whereabouts: a moth is a symbol of transition, something the killer wanted for himself. The American flag is a freqently occurring motif through the film: Clarice always finds one in Buffalo’s former dwellings. The last flag, which she discovers in the lair where he has killed and skinned his victims and skinned is small version, made for a child. AS

ON RE-RELEASE at BFI Southbank and cinemas UK-wide on 3 November 2017 to headline their THRILLER SERIES | BFI THRILLER: WHO CAN YOU TRUST October – December 2017 

Photo Credit: Photo by Everett Collection / Rex Features ( 411879fv )
‘THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS’ – Anthony Hopkins – 1991

The Phantom of the Opera (1925)

Legendary GET CARTER composer, Roy Budd is to have his lost score for Rupert Julian’s silent classic film, THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA premiered at the London Coliseum, 24 years after his untimely death in 1993. On October 8th 2017, Budd’s masterpiece score will be performed by the 77 piece Docklands Sinfonia Orchestra, conducted by Spencer Down, alongside a screening of the silent film in a world premiere event.

British jazz musician and composer Roy Budd, is best known for the film scores of Get Carter with Michael Caine and The Wild Geese with Roger Moore and Richard Burton. In 1989 Budd acquired the only surviving original 35mm reel of Rupert Julian’s silent 1925 film, The Phantom of the Opera, and lovingly restored it to its former glory before composing his own score to the film, a sweeping romantic symphony. Phantom is the sound of Budd blossoming from jazz virtuoso to classical maestro.

img014 A self-taught pianist and child prodigy, in 1953 aged six, Budd performed his first concert at The London Coliseum on the same bill as Roy Castle and went on to perform with stars such as Aretha Franklin, Bob Hope, and Antonio Carlos Jobin as well as scoring 40 feature films.

Throughout his childhood Budd, who has perfect pitch, won a number of televised talent competitions, before releasing a single, “The Birth of the Budd”, when he was still a teenager, and becoming the resident pianist at one of London’s jazz meccas, the Bull’s Head pub in Barnes. In 1971, he sealed his place in film history when, aged 22, he was hired by Mike Hodges to score his grim revenge drama, Get Carter, starring Michael Caine. The music budget was a mere £450, but Budd, along with a bassist and a percussionist, recorded a spine-tingling harpsichord motif which is now iconic. In 1981 The Human League covered the theme from Get Carter on their multi-million selling album Dare.

Phantom Dancers_SmIn 1989 Budd acquired an original 35mm film print to the 1925 silent film Phantom of the Opera from a collector. He restored the film to its full glory using an experimental two colour process and original tints from the film’s original release. Budd completed a full orchestral score for the film using an 84-piece orchestra and recorded this with the Luxembourg Symphony Orchestra. In 1993, with five weeks to go before a London premiere at the Barbican in partnership with UNICEF and European tour, Budd suffered a fatal brain hemorrhage and passed away at just 46 years of age. The concert was cancelled and Budd’s widow Sylvia was asked to foot the bill. Sylvia has fought for 24 years to give the score the public airing it deserves.

Phantom of the Opera is arguably Budd’s greatest achievement: a grand soundtrack for full orchestra with several themes and leitmotifs that pay tribute to the great composers of the concert hall and screen, while at the same time unmistakably the work of its inspired creator.

LONDON COLISEUM | 8 OCTOBER 2017

Pop-Up Cinema | Summer/Autumn 2017

EUROWINGS  August 

Once again Pop Up Screens has put together a programme to inspire and delight; from popular comedies like DEADPOOL, to vintage classics THE BIG LEBOWSKI and STAND BY ME and thrillers such as THE USUAL SUSPECTS. The season takes place in perfect al fresco settings, this year’s London venues will include:

Bishops Park in Fulham

Central Park, Greenwich Peninsula

Coram’s Fields, Bloomsbury

Ravenscourt Park, Hammersmith

Manor House Gardens, Hither Green

Kennington Park, Kennington

Tickets are £12 for adults, £6 for under 10s and you can bag yourself a weekend ticket for £25.

THE BARBICAN 25 -27 AUGUST 2017

The Barbican have released more tickets to their outdoor cinema event taking place at their SCULPTURE COURT

2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY , TRON, GRAVITY 2D + A TRIP TO THE MOON | TICKETS HERE

THE NOMAD FESTIVAL

Godzilla-whatsonThis roving festival blends cult classic with more mainstream fare during the summer months and kicking off for a special Japanese cult classics AKIRA (1988) and Ishiro Honda’s 1954 Sci-Fi masterpiece GODZILLA. THE NOMAD FESTIVAL continues through the Summer of 2017 so check here for updates and tickets.

THE ROOFTOP FILM CLUB 

image004MUBI and Bumble partner up for a screening on 18 May for THE HAPPIEST DAY IN THE LIFE OF OLLI MAKI the famous Finnish boxer who had a shot at the 1962 World Featherweight title while falling for the love of his life. Tickets. 

THE LUNA CINEMA  |  JUNE – OCTOBER 2017

From June until October, The Luna Cinema screenings take place all over Britain in the country’s most incredible settings. From Alnwick Castle and Crystal Palace Park to Blenheim Palace and beyond, this year promises to be an electrifying mix of musicals – DIRTY DANCING (1987), romantic classics – BREAKFAST IN TIFFANY’S (1961) and cult thrillers – JAWS (1975). Check out THE LUNA for the full programme and the DUNKIRK SPECIAL EVENT

CULT SCREENS

Unknown-1Offering the country’s most luxurious outdoor cinema experience from Birmingham and Rugby to Bristol and Bath, The Luna is a nationwide affair that caters for every possible taste and fantastic food into the bargain – including craft beers, cocktails and superb wines. The latest high definition screens offer a state of the art experience. Treats in store are Luc Besson’s 1994 thriller LEON, Joel Schumacher’s 1987 horror bromance THE LOST BOYS, and David Fincher’s knockout actioner THE FIGHT CLUB. Full programme here

FILM4 SUMMER SCREEN | at Somerset House

imagesReturning this August, enjoy two weeks of cult and contemporary films plus premieres in London most historic open-air cinema. This year’s line-up includes crime classic ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN, black comedy CRUEL INTENTIONS, Studio Ghibli’s stunning animation standout MY NEIGHBOUR TORTORO and recent award-winning LGBT drama MOONLIGHT. More details to follow here 

MOVIES ON THE RIVER

What could be more exciting than a river boat cruise complete with your favourite film to enjoy while the world floats by? Choose from THE BIG LEBOWSKI, NOTTING HILL and LABYRINTH. 

AUTUMN PROGRAMME

The Cloud-Capped Star (1960) | Meghe Dhaka Tara | BFI India on Film

Dir/Writer: Ritwik Ghatak | Cast: Sudiya Choudhury, Nirinjan Ray, Anil Chatterjee, Gyanesh Mukherjee, Bijon Bhattacharya, Gita Dey | 126′ | India | Drama

Ritwik Ghatak is sometimes overlooked in contrast to his Bengali compatriot Satyajit Ray. THE CLOUD-CAPPED STAR is the first part of his trilogy E Flat and Subarnarekha offering an emotional and deeply personal account of post partition poverty in 1950s Calcutta, East Bengal. Sublime in its poignant sadness flecked with occasional dark humour it is a visual masterpiece of chiaroscuro splendour set amid abject suffering of a gentle woman whose continuous acts of sacrifice show that the meek and selfless do not always inherit the earth. Quite the reverse.

The gripping linear narrative enlivening by enjoyable musical interludes centres on Nita (Choudhury) the talented eldest daughter in a cultured Hindu refugee family who puts all her efforts and hard-earned cash into the dreams of her three younger more self-seeking siblings. Falling for a promising but ultimately specious young scientist (Sanat/Nirinjan Ray), her dreams are shattered as her world slowly unravels when Sanat proves to be unfaithful and spineless and her father – the voice of reason and wisdom – suffers a serious accident leaving him bedridden. Richly thematic, this satirical melodrama offers insight into Indian society showing how women are the family underdogs despite their intelligence, perspicacity and perseverance.  Ghatak’s inventive use of poetic realism and his convincing characterisations and impressionist interweaving of sound, image and mood convey a palpable feeling for Bengal and its artistic traditions. MT

SCREENING DURING THE BFI’S INDIA ON FILM SEASON | SUMMER 2017

Five Indie Summer Sizzlers

SUMMER WITH MONICA | SOMMAREN MED MONICA | Ingmar Bergman (1953)

One of the Swedish legend’s lesser known features was considered scandalous at the time due to its graphic nudity and erotic sensuality. Two working class teenagers indulge in a highly charged sexual relationship as they steal away from the summer torpor of 1950s Stockholm and make love beneath the starry skies of the Dog Days, drifting from island to island on the family boat. But Monica (Harriet Andersson) and Harry (Lars Ekborg) are forced to face the consequences of their reckless naughtiness come Autumn. Classic Bergman and worth a watch on a steamy summer evening – or any time, for that matter.

The Last Day of Summer. 1958. Dir Tadeusz Konwicki. KadrTHE LAST DAY OF SUMMER | OSTATNI DZIEN LATA | Tadeusz Konwicki (1958)

Pharoah director Tadeusz Konwicki’s black and white mood piece is an enigmatic affair that sizzles between a young man (Jan Machulski) and an older woman (Irena Laskowska) on a sugar-sanded, deserted Baltic beach in the aftermath of the War. A metaphor for the uncertainty of a Polish nation driven to its knees after 6 years of hardship, it is considered to be one of the first Polish experimental films, shot on a tiny budget by a crew of five, but none the worse for it. It is also one of Martin Scorsese’s favourite films. MT

images ADRIFT | A DERIVA | Heitor Dhalia  (2009)

Vincent Kassel is the brooding star of this stylish coming-of-ager from Brazilian auteur, Haitor Dhalia. It explores the relationship between a forty-something father struggling to accept his teenage daughter’s burgeoning sexuality while experiencing his own midlife crisis as he drifts into an extra-marital affair, to the disgust and fascination of the sultry siren in the making, played by Laura Neiva now a ‘Chanel’ ambassador and star of Brazilian cult TV series ‘The Party’.

UnknownUNRELATED | Joanna Hogg (2008)

An unhappy woman in a relationship crisis steps into the smug summer set-up of her girlfriend’s Tuscan villa party, in Joanna Hogg’s astonishing feature debut. It’s a social satire that absolutely nails the posh English on holiday in a way that no one has done before, or since – for that matter. In this first of Hogg’s portraits of upper middle-class isolation and inertia (Archipelago and Exhibition were to follow), Kathryn Worth’s Anna is instantly back-footed socially by her contemporaries, and drifts, for want of more exciting company, into a loose but feelgood liaison with one of the teenage boys in the group (Tom Hiddleston in his big screen debut). This causes a testosterone-fuelled dust up with his father George (David Rintoul) and awkwardness all round. The ensuing embarrassing finale is screen dynamite of the best kind and carries one of the most tragic and insightful lines in British film history for its childless female character: “I knew I was fated to spend the rest of my life as an acolyte to other women’s families”. MT

my_summer_of_love_natalie_press_emily_blunt_3MY SUMMER OF LOVE | Pawel Pawlikovski (2004)

Before he made his Oscar-winning IDA (2010), Pawel Pawlikowski was beavering away in the background with worthwhile features that captured the zeitgeist of comtempo English life, such as Twockers (1998) and The Last Resort (2000). During his lengthy career, that started at the BBC, this intriguing Polish filmmaker, armed with English sensibilities and a bone dry sense of humour, has also tucked some amusing documentaries under his sleeve, gently ribbing his subject matter in a way that is only discernable from the outside in. Tripping with Zhironovsky is one such film, a candid, fly-on-the-wall look at the Russian Nationalist Politician of the title. Another is Serbian Epics (1972), set during the Bosnian war, in which he purports to be a specialist in ‘ethnocentricity’ researching the tribal chants of Serbians in the front line of battle, and, as such, gains unprecedented access to the powers that be. MY SUMMER OF LOVE a portrait of female obsession and deception, adapted from the novel by Helen Cross, is a drama so steeped in English summertime, that it almost drips with raspberry juice and elderflower cordial, with a subtle lesbian twist. MT

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Alone in Berlin: The real tragedy of German writer Hans Fallada

Vincent Perez’ 2016 film version of ALONE IN BERLIN, based on the novel Everyone Dies Alone (Jeder stirbt für sich Allein) by the German author Hans Fallada (1893-1947), is the forth film/TV version of a book that was dashed down in just 24 days in 1946 by an man who was confined to a Berlin psychiatric ward in Berlin and would die of his life-long drug and alcohol dependency months before the publication of his last work.

Falk Harnack was the first to turn his hand to a German TV version of the novel in 1962. Harnack had all the credentials to handle the story’s resistance motif: he was part of the German underground movement; his brother Arvid (together with his US-born wife Mildred Harnack) had been executed by the Nazis in Berlin-Plötzensee in February 1943. Told without frills, this version is certainly the one closest to the page. Eight years later, Hans-Joachim Kasprzik followed with a mini-series of the novel and would go on director would go on to make two more Fallada adaptions: Wolf Among Wolves and Little Man, what Now?

Whilst all three Fallada films captured the zeitgeist with an unsentimental approach, they lacked the aesthetic poverty of many German TV productions of that time. His originality would cost Kasprzik dearly, in 1966 his satirical comedy Hands Up or I’ll Shoot was one of around ten films produced in in the mid-60s Germany and formed part of the ’Verbotsfilme’ (Banned films), only to be shown after 1989 – or in the case of Kasprzik’s Hands Up only in 2009, 12 years after his death.

imagesThe less said about Alfred Vohrer’s West German cinema version 1976 version of Everyone Dies Alone the better. Vohrer was a prolific director, specializing in cheap Edgar Wallace-based crime films, German Westerns (!) and titillating soft core porn. His Fallada film is a crass failure, playing out as a sentimental Kitsch-tearjerker.

It is only memorable for the two leads: Hildegard Knef; who had a short post-war career in the UK and the USA with The Man Between and The Snows of Kilimanjaro. alongside Gregory Peck.  She also starred in The Sinner, a West German production, where her part-naked breasts caused a public uproar. Opposite her, as Otto Quangel, was the German actor Carl Raddatz, who had been a staunch Nazi, and starred in propaganda films like Stukas, Heimkehr and Veit Harlan’s Opfergang. He was certainly a provocative casting choice as a resistance fighter. When the film was premiered in January 1976 in West Berlin, some demonstrators protested outside the cinema ‘Filmbühne Wien’ on the Kurfüstendamm against Raddatz. Somehow, the topic of the novelist Fallada and his relationship to the Nazis had come full circle.

Born as Rudolf Dietzen to upper-middle class parents, in his early teenage years Fallada was run over by a horse and cart  and never really recovered a long dependency on painkillers and morphine. At sixteen, he decided with his friend, Friedrich von Neckar, to commit a double suicide, camouflaged as a duel. Whilst his friend misfired, Fallada killed him, and afterwards shot himself in the chest. He survived, but left school without A-levels.

UnknownAfter his first novel was published in 1920, he worked as a farmhand, ending up in prison for petty crime, an episode reflected in his novel Wer einmal aus dem Blechnapf frisst (Who Once Eats out of the Tin Bowl”. He got some emotional stability from his marriage to Anna ‘Suse’ Issel in 1929 and went on to publish his first great success ‘Kleiner Mann, was nun?’ Little Man, What Now (left) which was filmed two years later in Hollywood 1935, directed by Frank Borzage for Universal.  Laemmle’s Jewishness made Fallada “an undesirable author with the Nazis; he was arrested and lived on his farm in Carwitz, writing children books and other un-political material. In 1937 he returned to serious writing with Wolf unter Wölfen (Wolf amongst Wolves), which the Nazis saw as a critique of the Weimarer Republic – Goebbels was so impressed, that he asked Fallada to write an anti-Semitic novel. In 1938, Fallada’s English publisher had arranged for him and his family to emigrate to the UK, but Fallada decided at the last minute to stay in Germany. He soon found himself in an asylum, after having fired a pistol at his wife, even though the couple had reconciled.

During 1944, Fallada pretended to write the anti-Semitic novel for Goebbels in a psychiatric ward – but instead authored his most personal novel Der Trinker (The Drinker) in code. It was was only published in 1950, after a long de-coding process. He also wrote a war-time diary, sharply critical of the Nazis, which would have cost him his life, he it been discovered. After the end of the war, Fallada met the writer (and future GDR minister for Culture) Johannes R. Becher, who gave him the Gestapo file of Otto and Elise Hampel, on which Fallada based his Everyone Dies Alone. After divorcing his first wife, he married another much young morphine addict, Ulla Losch, dying in East Berlin, which would soon become the capital of the GDR and cementing his status of a man of great political ambivalence. AS

ALONE IN BERLIN is now on general release | LITTLE MAN WHAT NOW is also showing at the 

CINEMA RITROVATA 25 JUNE -2 JULY IN BOLOGNA

The Mummy: Gothic Cinema and the Expressionist Stage

Gothic Cinema and the Expressionist Stage 

Just like the Old Dark Houses of the Gothic tradition, Gothic cinema is a haunted abode, plagued by the undead spectres of theatre and expressionism. Alex Barrett lights his torch and goes to investigate. 

In 1931, Universal Studios kick-started classic horror cinema with the release of Dracula and Frankenstein, two of the most influential and iconic films of all time, derived from two equally important works of literature. Significantly, however, neither film came to the screen direct from the page, but were instead based upon pre-existing stage adaptations of the original texts. Indeed, it had been the success of Dracula on Broadway (and at the Little Theatre in London) which had encouraged Universal to make their film. Though officially credited to Tod Browning, the film is now widely considered to have been co-directed by its cinematographer, Karl Freund – a key figure in both 1930s horror, and what is now commonly referred to as ‘German Expressionism’.

The_Cabinet_of_Dr_Caligari_3 copy

Debates still rage as to what defines ‘Expressionism’, and as to which films can be truly considered ‘Expressionist’, but here it seems sufficient to characterise Expressionist films as works which seek to express their characters’ subjective inner turmoil in an objective outward fashion through the mise-en-scène. The movement (if one can call it such) spread across the arts, infecting not only cinema, but painting, sculpture, literature and – yes – theatre. Among the most important of those working in theatre was director Max Reinhardt, who drew upon Expressionism’s rejection of naturalism in his attempt to create an all-encompassing theatre (he was influenced by the theories of Richard Wagner). Perhaps most importantly, Reinhardt placed special emphasis on décor and pioneered the use of chiaroscuro lighting. He was also responsible for creating the Kammerspiele, a ‘chamber theatre’ for works featuring intimate psychological portraits. A distinction is often made between Kammerspiele and Expressionism (as Expressionists reject psychology and motivation), though the line becomes a little blurred when Kammerspielfilms seek to convey their protagonists’ subjective feelings objectively (and hence the on-going debates).

Golem 1 copy

Whether one accepts the Expressionist tag or not, it’s true that many German films from this period emphasised mise-en-scène and focused on character psychology. What’s also true is that many of the key players from this era worked with Reinhardt before moving into cinema – including, for instance, F. W. Murnau, Ernst Lubitsch, William Dieterle, Emil Jannings, Conrad Veidt, Werner Krauss and Paul Wegener. Wegener, a pioneering actor, writer and director, had begun making Gothic features as early as 1913, with his Edgar Allan Poe-inspired The Student of Prague. In 1915 he teamed up with writer (and former Reinhardt assistant) Henrik Galeen to make The Golem, the first in a trilogy of films Wegener made about the Jewish clay automaton. For the trilogy’s third part, The Golem: How He Came Into the World (1920), Wegener and Galeen teamed up with yet another former Reinhardt collaborator: Karl Freund. (Freund was cameraman on two of Reinhardt’s early flirtations with film: Isle of the Blessed (1913) and A Venetian Night (1914).) Although it’s impossible to say for sure what influence Reinhardt left on Freund and the other German filmmakers of this era, it certainly seems that many of his techniques and theories remain discernible in their work.

Cat and the Canary copyFollowing in the footsteps of many of his contemporaries and collaborators (including Murnau and Lubitsch), Freund emigrated to the USA in 1929, taking the influence of Reinhardt and expressionism with him – influence he clearly brought to bear on Dracula and his other horror films of the 1930s. So as to not overstate the case for Freund’s contribution, however, it may be worth noting that émigré director Paul Leni had already made The Cat and the Canary for Universal (in 1927), and that the Studio probably saw Leni’s film as one of the works that paved the way for Dracula. Back in Germany, Leni had made the seminal expressionist film Waxworks (1924) – which was written by Galeen. Interestingly, though, Leni himself never worked with Reinhardt, despite starting his career as an avant-garde painter and theatrical set designer in Berlin. The Cat and the Canary, meanwhile, was adapted from a 1922 play of the same name.

 

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Following the success of Dracula, Universal assigned Freund to direct The Mummy (1932) – a film which can be seen as harking back to German Expressionism in several ways. For instance, film historian Paul M. Jensen has noted that the The Mummy’s use of camera movement and pacing reflects the German idea of ‘stimmung’, in which action becomes secondary to the unstated, and images evoke psychological atmosphere. Jensen also has compared the content and construction of the sequence in which Helen Grosvenor answers Imhotep’s call to the moment in Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror (1922) in which Ellen responds to Orlok (and Nosferatu, let’s not forget, was directed by Murnau and written by Galeen, and starred a third Reinhardt steward, Max Schreck).

Nosferatu_(F.W._Murnau)_2 copyOther links between The Mummy and Expressionism emerge too, such as the way the flickering to life of the mummy itself recalls both the awakening of Cesare in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) and of the titular creature in the 1920 The Golem. (The impact of these two German films is also felt elsewhere: for instance, the sideshow element of Caligari also seems to have influenced Universal’s 1932 Freund-shot Murders in the Rue Morgue, while Frankenstein owes much to The Golem.) The Mummy’s torchlight search through the museum, meanwhile, seems to recall the chase through the catacombs in the Freund-shot Metropolis (1927) – though Jensen has compared it to a scene in The Last Laugh (1924, also shot by Freund).

Freund’s work in The Last Laugh is likewise felt in his 1935 directorial effort Mad Love, which contains a subjective point of view shot – something pioneered by Freund in both The Last Laugh and 1925’s Variety. Interestingly, Mad Love was also a remake of a German Expressionist film (Robert Wiene’s 1924 The Hands of Orlac) and was written by John L. Balderston, who had worked on the stage adaptations of Dracula and Frankenstein that Universal had drawn from in 1931. Balderston also wrote The Mummy for Freund, and there are elements which recur through both films, as well as through Dracula (such as a strange, foreign interloper who threatens the central relationship). The constancy of these ideas seems to suggest that Balderston, like Freund, should be considered a major player in the Classic Horror cycle of the 1930s.

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It’s perhaps worth noting that Mad Love was not a Universal production (it was made by MGM), and that Universal were not alone in taking influence from the stage (see, for instance, Paramount’s 1931 Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, which follows Thomas Russell Sullivan’s stage adaptation). The practice was also not limited to the 1930s: for instance, Henry James’ classic Gothic text The Turn of the Screw came to the screen via the stage – as The Innocents – in 1961. The influence of expressionism, too, is detectable beyond the 1930s, notably in the work of Tim Burton, whose skewed, angular set design seems to owe much to the legacy of silent German cinema (Burton, of course, also paid explicit homage to Frankenstein in both Sleepy Hollow (1999) and his two Frankenweenies (1984 and 2012)). It seems only fair to say, then, that Gothic cinema owes much to both the theatre and expressionism, and to the legacy of Reinhardt, Freund and Balderston. The_Cabinet_of_Dr_Caligari_1 copy

F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu is also available throug EUREKA, MASTERS OF CINEMA: SPECIAL BLU-RAY, DVD AND DUAL FORMAT STEELBOOK EDITIONS.

Christopher Nolan Presents | BFI

To showcase DUNKIRK British director Christopher Nolan has curated a series of films that inspired his new feature. title. CHRISTOPHER NOLAN PRESENTS has been personally curated by the award-winning director and will offer audiences unique insight into the films which influenced his hotly anticipated take on one of the key moments of WWII.

Preview: Dunkirk + intro by director Christopher Nolan

imagesNetherlands-UK-France-USA 2017. Dir Christopher Nolan. With Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Mark Rylance, Kenneth Branagh. RT and cert TBC. 70mm. Courtesy of Warner Brothers

Dunkirk opens as hundreds of thousands of British and Allied troops are surrounded by enemy forces. Trapped on the beach with their backs to the sea they face an impossible situation as the enemy closes in.  We’re delighted to screen Nolan’s much anticipated vision of an event that shaped our world.

Tickets £24, concs £19.20 (Members pay £2 less)

THU 13 JUL 20:15 NFT1

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GREED 

USA 1924. Dir Erich von Stroheim. With Gibson Gowland, Zasu Pitts, Jean Hersholt. 132min. 35mm. PG. With live piano accompaniment

Hollywood’s more serious stabs at realist fiction emulate the social and psychological nuances of the 19th-century novel, and no one has taken American film further down that road than Stroheim. Shot on location in San Francisco and Death Valley, the film was cut to less than a third of its original nine hours, but remains extraordinary for its unflinching vision of the corrosive power of money.

SUN 2 JUL 15:10 NFT1 / SUN 9 JUL 14:15 NFT3

SUNRISE: A Song of Two Humans

USA 1927. Dir FW Murnau. With George O’Brien, Janet Gaynor, Margaret Livingston. 94min. 35mm. With score. U

Murnau’s foray into American cinema sees him construct a world free of geographic and social specifics – a dreamlike rural landscape and a brash cityscape that is everywhere and nowhere. Made at the end of the silent era, it pioneered the use of synchronous sound on film, for Reisenfeld’s score as well as such sound effects as traffic, whistles and church bells. Sunrise stands as a haunting fable – a dream of crime, love, loss and redemption.

MON 3 JUL 20:40 NFT2 / SAT 8 JUL 18:20 NFT2 / WED 12 JUL 20:50 NFT2

ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT

All Quiet On The Western FrontUSA 1930. Dir Lewis Milestone. With Lew Ayres, Louis Wolheim, John Wray. 133min with restored soundtrack. 35mm. PG

All Quiet on the Western Front is rightly recognised as one of cinema’s most enduring and emotive portrayals of the tragedy of the Great War. This epic film concerns a generation of German schoolboys who – exhorted by their patriotic teacher – enlist enthusiastically but are ultimately destroyed in the war. Based on Erich Maria Remarque’s classic novel, the film proved highly controversial and was banned in many countries. Review

SUN 2 JUL 17:20 NFT3 / THU 6 JUL 18:00 NFT3

Considering All Quiet on the Western Front

TRT 90min

During WWI, Lewis Milestone, a recent Russian émigré to the US, made films for the Signal Corp, and this experience undoubtedly informed his 1930 Hollywood masterpiece, All Quiet on the Western Front. Film historian Kevin Brownlow (who interviewed Milestone about his film career in the 1960s) will be joined by film professional Mamoun Hassan to discuss – alongside film clips and a rare trailer – the history and achievement of what is considered to be the greatest anti-war film of all time.

Tickets £6.50

THU 6 JUL 20:40 NFT3

FOREIGN CORRESPONDANT 

nullUSA 1940. Dir Alfred Hitchcock. With Laraine Day, George Sanders, Joel McCrea. 119min. 35mm. PG

Made partly to raise the American public’s awareness of the Nazi threat, this picaresque espionage adventure follows a US journalist to London and Holland to cover a mooted peace treaty; instead, with the help of a diplomat’s daughter, he uncovers a conspiracy. Set pieces abound, including one at Westminster Cathedral and a windmill that conceals a sinister secret.

SAT 1 JUL 15:20 NFT1 / SUN 22 JUL 15:10 NFT3

 

THE WAGES OF FEAR  Le salaire de la peur

nullFrance-Italy 1953. Dir Henri-Georges Clouzot. With Yves Montand, Charles Vanel, Véra Clouzot. 147min. 35mm. EST. PG

Watched by a hungry vulture, a child plays with cockroaches in the dusty street of a South American shantytown. So begins one of the most nerve-wrackingly suspenseful films ever made, as four desperados take on a suicidal mission to drive two trucks full of nitro-glycerine along precipitous, pot-holed roads. As the tension mounts, this journey to hell is propelled to its misanthropic conclusion by a truly unsettling score.

SAT 15 JUL 18:00 NFT1 / SAT 22 JUL 17:40 NFT3

THE BATTLE OF ALGIERS La battaglia di Algeri

Battle of Algiers (2)Algeria-Italy 1966. Dir Gillo Pontecorvo. With Jean Martin, Yacef Saadi, Brahim Hadjadj. 121min. 35mm. EST. 15

Algiers functions as both the site and symbol of struggle in this dazzling reconstruction of nationalist opposition to French occupation during the 1950s. The Old City nurtures and shelters the guerrilla fighters who, despite brutal reprisals, repeatedly venture from it to attack the colonial might of the new ‘European’ city.Battle of Algiers is an award-winning masterpiece of political cinema. Full review

TUE 4 JUL 18:15 NFT3 / SUN 9 JUL 20:10 NFT1

RYAN’S DAUGHTER 

UK 1970. Dir David Lean. With John Mills, Sarah Miles, Robert Mitchum. 194min (+ interval). 70mm. 15

With a harsh critical response at the time of its release, Ryan’s Daughter is a triumph of sensual storytelling for David Lean. Robert Bolt’s script reworks Hardy-esque formulae into a story about romantic excess and moral cowardice, set during the Troubles of 1916, woven into a vision of damnation. Freddie Young and John Mills won Oscars®, and deservedly so.

SUN 16 JUL 15:15 NFT1 / WED 19 JUL 19:00 NFT1

ALIEN

nullUK-USA 1979. Dir Ridley Scott. With Sigourney Weaver, John Hurt, Ian Holm. 116min. 35mm. 15

The Alien phenomenon began here as the crew of the Nostromo are woken from stasis by the ship’s computer and grudgingly sent to investigate a transmission of unknown origin. They discover a deadly alien species and as the crew are picked off one by one, Ripley takes her place as the ultimate sci-fi heroine. This iconic classic features designs from HR Giger and a brilliant script by Dan O’Bannon.

SUN 23 JUL 20:15 NFT1 / SAT 29 JUL 20:45 NFT1

CHARIOTS OF FIRE 

ChariotsUK 1981. Dir Hugh Hudson. With Ben Cross, Ian Charleson, Ian Holm, Nicholas Farrell. 123min. 35mm. PG

Hugh Hudson’s visually magnificent, emotionally exhilarating account of the struggle by Harold Abrahams and Eric Liddell to compete on their own terms at the 1924 Olympics seemed to herald a new highpoint in British cinema and was a hit at the Oscars®. With fine use of slow motion, Chariots of Fire tugged at the heartstrings of a nation. Interview with film’s producer Mr Al Fayed 

SAT 15 JUL 15:20 NFT3 / SUN 23 JUL 17:40 NFT1

SPEED 

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USA 1994. Dir Jan de Bont. With Keanu Reeves, Sandra Bullock, Dennis Hopper. 116min. 35mm. 15

This blockbuster hit has non-stop, edge of the seat thrills and spills. Reeves turns in a strong performance as the hero, a SWAT cop dealing with a crazed bomber who has wired up a bus to explode if the speed drops below 50mph. Bullock shines as the feisty passenger at the steering wheel. A thoroughly enjoyable roller-coaster ride of a movie.

TUE 25 JUL 20:50 NFT1 / SUN 30 JUL 17:20 NFT3

UNSTOPPABLE

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USA 2010. Dir Tony Scott. With Denzel Washington, Chris Pine, Rosario Dawson. 98min. 35mm. 12A

With the poster tag line reading ‘1 million tonnes of steel, 100,000 lives at stake, 100 minutes to impact’, Tony Scott’s final film as a director is about a runaway freight train, a retired railroad engineer and a rookie conductor who must figure out a way of trying to avert disaster. It’s a well-made, suspenseful thriller that works as a great companion piece to Speed.

SAT 29 JUL 17:50 NFT3 / MON 31 JUL 20:45 NFT1

Five Foodie Films about Love

F&L PackshotFRANK AND LOLA (2016)

What starts out as a seductive love story develops into a peripatetic psychological thriller well served by a witty script and infused with an intriguing menu of subplots that lead us into the bizarre world of the superrich – with lashings of food and property porn.

Shannon’s Frank is the kind of man most women desire: strong and masculine yet sensuous and vulnerable, his desire and protective obsession for Lola resonates in every scene. As Frank bears his soul for Lola without ego or rancour from his romantic past, he channels his masculine jealousy into a passion that ultimately makes him excel in the bedroom – and in the kitchen, as one of Las Vegas’s top chefs. And soon he’s much in demand as his culinary skills give him the edge in a game of intrigue. Poots’ Lola is a flighty and fluffy female who remains an elusive dark horse right until the final denouement, and even then we’re unsure of her motives. Matthew Ross cooks up a set of authentic characters in this exciting and unpredictable feature debut.

Babette's FeastBABETTE’S FEAST (1987)

Based on Karen Blixen’s 1950 short story, originally set in Norway, but transposed here to 19th Century Jutland by Franco-Danish director Gabriel Axel explores the relationship between spirituality and sensuality, in the microcosm of a small, windswept coastal village, governed in totality by a stern Lutheran pastor and father to two beautiful women; the quintessence of stifled austerity.

But Axel’s austere, minimalist, and exquisitely beautiful piece is set in a time and a place where there was little to get excited about- yet the responses and reactions feel real. It’s another film about frustrated lives – and family restrictions, where preparing food becomes both a loving act and an outlet for repressed feelings. Nothing is forced by plot. It all unfolds naturally and unhurriedly, but so juicily until the final denouement.

Like_Water_for_Chocolate_(Book_Cover)LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE (1991)

Frustrated love is also the theme of Alfonso Arau’s romantic drama. Based on Laura Esquivel’s debut novel the film explores how a young girl channels her pent up desire into food. Unable to marry her lover Pedro, due to family pressure, cooking literally becomes a labour of love for a woman unable to escape her emotionally fraught life.

Mexican cinema is unique in melding a quirky supernatural playfulness with burning carnal desire, seen recently in Rocha Minter’s Tenemos La Carne (out next month) and Amat Escalante’s La Region Selvaje (The Untamed). Here Esquivel uses magical realism to suffuse to ordinary with the outlandish in a love story inflamed by painful passion.

TheLUNCHBOX-Photo3THE LUNCHBOX (2014)

After the pent-up passion of LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE Ritesh Batra’s debut feature is a feelgood riff on neglected love. That of a housewife in modern Mumbai, where the well known ‘dabba’ or lunchbox courier system is legendary for its reliability in delivering the midday meal. With echoes of The Go Between, a punka walla’s mistake results in a sweet-hearted romance that ignites when lonely wife Ila’s lunchbox for her husband ends up on another man’s desk. Exploring a range of nuanced emotions, Batra’s elegantly-paced and often humorous narrative unfolds at leisure, suffused with charm and well-observed detail of its contemporary Indian setting. THE LUNCHBOX showcases some of India’s finest contemporary acting talent in delightful performances from Irrfan Khan (Life of Pi) and Nawazuddin Siddiqui (Gangs of Wasseypur) not to mention a luminous Nimrat Kaur.

UnknownI AM LOVE (2010)

Tilda Swinton plays another frustrated housewife – although she’s extravagantly glamorous and elegantly discrete here in Luca Guadagnini’s deliciously sumptuous gastro porn hit I AM LOVE. As Emma, a Russian aristocrat who has married into a family of rich Italian industrialists, she somehow feels like a bystander in a parallel universe of wealthy Milan. Her son Edo (Flavio Parenti) wants to set up a restaurant with Antonio (Edoardo Gabbriellini), a talented young chef. His delicious cuisine reawakens Emma’s senses until she falls for Antonio when he cooks her a delicious al fresco lunch. This is a stylishly sensual romance where Guadagnino employs the same delicious technique in upmarket settings as Matthew Ross in FRANK AND LOLA – trading the slick splendour of contempo Las Vegas for the chic retro charm of Milan.  MT

FRANK AND LOLA IS NOW OUT ON DVD AND DIGITAL DOWNLOAD COURTESY OF UNIVERSAL PICTURES 

 

After the Fall | Cinema in the 1930s

cleopatra-2“The content of the motion picture still was designed for escape, the majority reflecting the tastes of tired or jaded adults seeking a never-never la-Dixton Wector, stories of luxury and melodrama, sex and sentiment.

America in the 1930s was a nation in flux. Ravaged by political turmoil and economic uncertainty of the Great Depression; filmmakers responded to rapid social change with some of the 20th century’s most escapist and outlandish cinema that saw the birth and rise of truly legendary stars, some of whom are still alive today. The early 1930s ushered in the ‘golden age’ of Hollywood’ an era that was to continue well into the 1940s. Despite financial anxiety and unemployment affecting 25 percent of the population, movie theatres across the nation saw almost 70 million Americans stump up their hard-earned cash to get away from the doom and gloom and seek adventure, fantasy, glamour and even horror in their spare time.

After the stock market crash of 1929, the American economy never recovered fully before the USA entered WWII in 1941, when the efforts to win the war guaranteed full employment for the first time in 1942. The worldwide recession had hit the USA the hardest: between 1929 and 1932 unemployment rose by a staggering 607%. But in 1935, Hollywood could breathe easy again: 80 million cinema tickets had been sold, only ten million less than before the depression. The fact that sound technology had been introduced in nearly all cinemas nationwide during this period – and the entrance fee of a mere 15 Cent – had certainly contributed to this trend.

Vampyr - Carl Dreyer 1932The_Mummy_4 copyGenre-wise, gangster films (with some of the late 1930s movies being more than precursor to the Film Noir) were highly popular, and a new sub-genre: the Screwball Comedy. The 1930s also was a heyday for musicals. Often theming hard times, these captured the imagination of depressed audiences and boosted morale with a positive outcome or happy ending. The Silent era was slowly fading replaced by the ‘talkies’ – many classic films were lushly remade and would be re-adapted over and over again – The Prisoner of Zenda and Cleopatra, several times. At the same time the studio system roared into action with the Hay’s Code, an wide scale attempt at organized censorship of Hollywood films. Sensationalist films such as King Kong (1933) and The Invisible Man (1933) were all the rage and the first sound action par b&w film Hell’s Angels (1930) starring Jean Harlow (in her only colour film) was made by Howard Hughes.  The Horror genre was developed with more Dracula films: Bride of Frankenstein (1935) and Dracula’s Daughter (1936), The Mummy (1932), Vampyr (1932) and The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939). Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi are household names whose careers were forged in Horror. And the 1930s also saw the rise to fame of The Marx Brothers, who made their debut at the end of the silent era, in Comedy.

wroth-copyBut the Great Depression did have an impact on Hollywood studios where the public still mattered. In the words of Herbert Gans “The audience is obviously limited by what it is offered but what is offered to it depends a great deal on what it has accepted previously.” Since the industrial boom of the 1890s society saw an increase in commercialism with many people moving from a simple rural existence to the big metropolis, as the population continued to grow – with over three million migrating to the West Coast with the droughts of the Great Plains causing further economic hardship and inspiring John Steinbeck to write The Grapes of Wrath (1939).

HIS GIRL FRIDAYThe choreographer Busby Berkeley directed the dance numbers in classics like Gold Digger, 42nd Street and Top Hat (1935), whilst stars like Judy Garland, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers were positive role models; also the child star Shirley Temple (Our Little Girl), who embodied a new optimism in time of hardship. The Gay Divorce (1934) and Top Hat (1935) were also Screwball comedies, a new sub-genre dominated by director Howard Hawks. But it was Lewis Milestone, who directed the newspaper satire The Front Page in 1931, to start it all – not by accident, it was Howard Hawks who re-made the film as His Girl Friday in 1940 (left). Frank Capra, who later became the chronicler of the “New Deal”, President Roosevelt’s economic recovery plan, followed in 1934 with It Happened One Night. Hawks than directed Bringing Up Baby in 1938: a flop, when it was released, the classic of the genre today. The screwball comedies had to be careful: most of them were set in a very up-market environment – and the cinema audience had an ambiguous relationship with the upper class: one he one hand, there was envy, but since the films often mad fun of the protagonists, they were forgiven. In George Cukor’s Philadelphia Story from 1940, James Stewart’s Mike Connor, an ordinary man, who has ‘fallen’ into high society, embodies this conflict: in the end he is quiet glad, that he is spared a marriage with socialite Catherine Hepburn, who remarries her social equal, the playboy Gary Grant.

UnknownkillersWhilst John Huston’s remake of Roy de Ruth’s The Maltese Falcon from 1931 is the official’ birthday’ of American Film Noir in 1941, throughout the 1930s examples of noir elements infiltrated film, led by German emigrant directors, among them Fritz Land and John Brahm (1893-1982), the latter, like Lang, a re-emigrant, who returned to his homeland for two films in the mid-1950s, only (unlike Lang) to finish his career in Hollywood. Brahm’s Let us Live, wit Henry Fonda, and Rio (with Basil Rathbone), both from 1939, where certainly fully fledged film noirs, as was his Hangover Square from 1945. But there is more than one example for every year of the 1930s for a noirish crime film: City Streets (1931) by Rouben Mamoulian, Scarface (Howard Hawks 1932), Glass Key (Frank Tuttle, 1935), Fury (1936) and You Only Live Once (1937) by Lang. In 1936, William Dieterle, another Berlin director who came to Hollywood, directed Satan Met a Lady with Betty Davis. And there is Angels with Dirty Faces (1938), by Michael Curtiz, a Hungarian émigré. It was left to Robert Siodmak (1900-1973), another ex-UFA director from Berlin (and another re-emigrant), to become the “Prince of the Film Noir”: in 1942 he would direct Fly by Night, a thriller cum screwball comedy, before he made the classic trio of The Spiral Staircase, The Killers and Criss Cross between 1945-1948.

The Man Who Knew Too MuchMeanwhile in France, the 1930s were characterised by the lyrical style of poetic realism particularly pioneered by Jean Renoir, Julien Duvivier and Marcel Carné. Often melancholy or fatalistic in tone, these films were rather stylised and centred on unfortunate characters stuck in the margins of society or disillusioned with life and love. Simon Signoret and Jean Gabin frequently starred in these films with regular scriptwriters Charles Spaak and Jacques Prévert. The style went on to influence Italian Neorealism and eventually the French New Wave. Germany started the 1930s still under the influence by the Weimar Republic which had been going since 1919 but eventually gave way to Nazism which exerted a strong artistic control over German cinema. The dark elements of German Expressionism during the 1920s were eventually taken to America by emigrés such as Robert Siodmak, Fritz Lang and Billy Wilder and Alfred Hitchcock whose style and repertoire had a profound impact on Hollywood particularly as regards film Noir, Horror and the subsequent Monster movies. AS/MT

Inspired by AFTER THE FALL: AMERICAN PAINTING DURING THE DEPRESSION | RA.ORG

 

 

Kinoteka Polish Film Festival 2017 | 17 March – 5 April

KINOTEKA POLISH FILM FESTIVAL is back for its 15th Edition showcasing the latest films from Poland in an enticing programme that includes a tribute to the late and great post-war legend ANDRZEJ WAJDA and a celebration of 70 YEARS OF POLISH ANIMATION

1249182_afterimage_04-h_2016During his impressive career spanning 7 decades and 56 films, Andrzej Wajda achieved international critical acclaim, winning a BAFTA and César Award (for Danton), both a Palme D’Or (Man of Iron) and Jury prize (Kanal) at Cannes, a Fipresci Prize at Venice (Ashes & Diamonds) a silver bear at Berlin for his lifetime contribution to cinema plus multiple lifetime achievement awards including Camerimage and the European Film Awards as well as winning Best Film at the Polish Film Awards (Katyn). He directly influenced a generation of filmmakers including Martin Scorsese, Roman Polanski, Francis Ford Coppola and Agnieszka Holland (who assisted him on Man of Marble). His final film Afterimage (2016) has been chosen as Poland’s official nominee for the Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award, a fitting tribute to the most revered Polish filmmaker (above left).

Ashes and Diamonds. 1958. Dir Andrzej Wajda. KadrThe Barbican Cinema and Close Up Cinema screening two complementary short retrospective seasons of Wajda’s films including rarely screened titles such as A Generation (1955), The Promised Land (1975) and Danton (1983) as well as iconic classics including Ashes and Diamonds (1958) (left) and his late masterpiece Katyn (2007).

IMG_3442In the New Polish Cinema Strand KINOTEKA will show the UK premiere of Marcin Koszalka’s psychological thriller The Red Spider (2015), described in the Karlovy Vary programme as “an intricate story of the fascination with evil that hides in places we would never expect, and there will be an opportunity to see Koszalka’s short documentary films including the autobiographical: Such a Nice Boy I Gave Birth To; about living with his verbally abusive parents. An in-depth exploration of the relationship between a 53 year old man and his mother; Til It Hurts (2008). And a long short documentary User Friendly Death (2007) that examines what actually happens after death, in a Polish funeral parlour and crematorium.

playground-h_2016There will be another chance to see one of the most shocking teenage thriller’s of 2016 Playground that echoes the tragic tale of Jamie Bulger in a rural Poland, and captured critics’ attention at last year’s London Film Festival. Don’t miss Jan P Matuszynski’s Locarno festival debut The Last Family that tells the real-life story of a fractious, dysfunctional family living on a bleak Warsaw housing estate and depicts the physical and emotional claustrophobia of their family dynamic. Michal Rosa’s multi-awarded Happiness of the World, a painterly comedy portrait of a journalist’s experiences in 1940s Silesia (main picture).

In this year’s Polish Masters Rediscovered strand KINOTEKA shines the spotlight on the incredible story of Polish filmmaker Wanda Jakubowska, the first prominent female figure in Polish film history. Jakubowska started her film career in the 1930s, during the war she was arrested in 1942 for being an active member of the Polish Resistance and imprisoned at Auschwitz for the rest of the war. The ICA will screen her landmark 1948 film, The Last Stage, which won the Crystal Globe at Karlovy Vary. Based on her experiences at Auschwitz and in part shot on location, it is considered one of the most harrowing and immediate holocaust films ever made. The retrospective programme will also screen her post-war East German/DEFA production of Encounter at Twilight (1960). An expressionistic drama about a Polish pianist returning to the West German town where she had previously lived as a ‘forced labourer’ after the war, Jakubowska’s film was one of the highlights of the Post-war German Cinema retrospective programme screened this year at Locarno.

Before the Second World War, animated cinema was practically unknown in Poland until Zenon Wasilewski emerged as the pioneer of animated films. Best remembered for the groundbreaking animated puppet film In the Time of King Krakus (1947), now recognised as the first animated film in the history of the Polish School of Animation. KINOTEKA will be celebrating 70 years of Polish Animation with an extra special Closing Night Gala event at the Barbican Hall with a programme of classic films from the Polish School of Animation set to a specially commissioned live score, performed by leftfield indie band British Sea Power who have been previously responsible for a series of acclaimed film scores including Robert J Flaherty’s classic Man of Aran and Penny Woolcock’s From The Sea To The Land Beyond.

KINOTEKA POLISH FILM FESTIVAL | 17 MARCH – 5 APRIL 2017

Bfi Flare Film Festival 2017 | 16-26 March 2017

The 31st Edition of BFI Flare is back on 16th March. This year once again promises to be provocative, playful and politically engaged – appealing to both straight and LGBT audiences – a number of World, International and European Premieres are on offer. BFI Flare is absolutely the place to see the best new LGBT cinema first.”

AGAINST_THE_LAW_still_lovey_on_bench copyOpening with the World Premiere of Fergus O’Brien’s BBC Production AGAINST THE LAW (left) at BFI Southbank. The Festival closes with the International Premiere of Jennifer Reeder’s SIGNATURE MOVE at BFI Southbank. The Centrepiece Screening of the 2017 Festival is the European Premiere of TORREY PINES, a psychedelic stop-motion animation about a child grappling with gender identity and a schizophrenic mother. And there will be two World Premieres on offer as Special Presentations: the new UK web series, DIFFERENT FOR GIRLS, a smart, sassy, sexy multi-layered lesbian drama, directed by award-winning Festival alumni Campbell X and AFTER LOUIE starring Alan Cumming as a New York artist whose life is turned upside down by an encounter with a much younger man.

LGBT still people struggle for basic human rights in many countries, so BFI Flare presents a selection of films and events which explore their experiences around the world.

OUT OF IRAQ (dirs. Eva Orner and Chris McKim) is an outstanding documentary about the forbidden relationship of two Iraqi young soldiers at the height of the Iraq war.

THE PEARL OF AFRICA (dir. Jonny von Wallström) follows the story of Cleopatra Kambugu, the first out transgender woman in Uganda (left).

As part of the UK/INDIA 2017 Sridhar Rangayan, the Director of Kashish Mumbai International Queer Film Festival will attend BFI Flare and take part in an event exploring LGBT film and television culture in India, Once again the festival is divided into a trio of strands for ease of reference

BFI FLARE: LONDON LGBT FILM FESTIVAL, 2017 FULL PROGRAMME

H E A R T S includes films about love, romance and friendship. We recommend:

HANDSOME_DEVIL_2 copyHANDSOME DEVIL, fresh from Sundance comes John Butler’s drama which has Andrew Scott as a witty Irish charmer which charts the unlikely friendship between an isolated gay teen and his hunky rugby playing roommate.

HEARTLAND, Maura Anderson’s elegant and assured debut is a powerful examination of love and loss and tells the tale of Lauren, who is forced to return to live in rural Oklahoma following the death of her girlfriend.

DEAR DAD: (dir. Tanuj Bhramar) in India-set a father and son move closer in a bittersweet road movie.

BEING 17: André Techiné’s powerful and affecting tale of two young boys in their last year of high school, co-written by Celine Sciamma (Tomboy, Girlhood) – review

SEVENTEEN: the pain and heartache of young love is laid bare in Monja Art’s hugely accomplished second feature.

B O D I E S – features stories of sex, identity and transformation.

THE UNTAMED: see review

MILES : Nathan Adloff’s winning gay teen movie.

HANDMAIDEN: Park Chan Wook’s ravishing oriental upstairs/downstairs tale of deception inspired by Sarah Waters’ Fingersmith

BODY_ELECTRIC_1 copyBODY ELECTRIC (left). Marcelo Caetano explores the casual encounters of a handsome young man in contemporary Brazil.

THE ORNITHOLOGIST – see review

BELOW HER MOUTH; an entirely female crew create a no holds-barred depiction of what happens in the first few days of two women falling in love.

RAISING ZOEY; Dante Alencastre’s documentary follows a strong family who demonstrate how open mindedness and love can pave the way for a joyful transition for their 13-year-old Zoey.

IT’S ONLY THE END OF THE WORLD review

THE TRANS LIST; Timothy Greenfield Sanders returns to BFI Flare with The Trans List, in which some of the world’s most prominent transpeople, including Caitlin Jenner and Laverne Cox, tell their stories.

M I N D S  features reflections on art, politics and community.

THE SLIPPERS: Morgan White chronicles the world’s most recognisable pair of shoes in this documentary about Dorothy’s iconic ruby footwear in The Wizard of Oz.

TWO_SOFT_THINGS_2 copyTWO SOFT THINGS, TWO HARD THINGS; Mark Kenneth Woods sensitively observes the complexities of LGBT life in Canada’s remote Arctic Inuit population.

LAST MAN STANDING  (dir. Erin Brethauer) is a beautifully made documentary charting the life of eight long-term survivors who live with AIDS.

THE UNTOLD TALES OF ARMISTEAD MAUPIN: a documentary about the much-loved author of Tales of the City

ORLANDO_1 copyORLANDO: THE QUEER ELEMENT: Sally Potter’s delicious visual feast adapted from Virginia Woolf’s tale of gender identity through the ages

BFI Flare also includes a wide range of events, talks and debates.

And music-wise the BFI Flare joins forces with interactive theatre company Clay & Diamonds for Orlando: The Queer Element, an education event which uses Sally Potter’s film and Virginia Woolf’s text to allow audiences to step inside a world that breaks apart traditional boundaries between science and art and explore notions of gender and sex from the Elizabethans through to 2017.

Tickets NOW ON SALE | 16 -26 MARCH 2017 

In the Mood for Love (2000) |Faa yeung nin wa | Fashion in Film Festival

Dir: Wong Kar-Wai | Tony Leung, Maggie Cheung | Romantic Drama | 98min

Wong Kar-Wai’s subtle (and only) masterpiece is a paean to disillusioned romantics everywhere. The mournfully reflective mood piece riffs movingly on what should have been or what could have been for two loves in 1960s Hong Kong. Tony Leung’s quietly seductive Chow Mo-wan is a journalist who moves into the same cramped apartment building as Maggie Cheung’s elegantly graceful personal assistant, Su Li-zhen. Attraction is mutual but tentatively discrete allowing us to reflect and muse on our own romantic encounters: deception, loneliness, loss and heartache. And as the two tease out the barest details of each other’s existence it emerges that their respective spouses are possibly having an affair. But the overarching theme of the film lies in the suggestive longing of love rather than its lustful consummation.

SOURCE CREDIT - "British Film Institute". .Reproduction of this image requires the appropriate copyright clearance. In making this image available, the bfi confers no licence to use or copy the image. All copyright clearance is the responsibility of the user.. .In consideration for making this image available, the user hereby agrees to indemnify the bfi against any claim or liability arising from the use of this image.. .The information service of the bfi National Library may be able to carry out copyright ownership research on your behalf. Fax +44 (0) 20 7436 0165 for details of services and costs.. .British Film Institute.21 Stephen Street.London W1T 1LN .Tel +44 (0) 20 7255 1444.http://www.bfi.org.uk/

Maggie Cheung sashays seductively in beautifully cut cheongsams, her coal black hairdo caressing her high-cut collars. Tony Leung is a dreamy matinee idol with soulfully suggestive eyes and hand tailored suits. Sensuality smoulders as Christopher Doyles’ voyeuristic camera lingers on them longingly in chiaroscuro shadows and hues of crimson, lime and turquoise. Their sylph-like bodies caress the dimly lit corridors yet they glide past each other – oceans apart, their longing palpable. So much is left unsaid in a film that speaks volumes with its cinematic language and its elegaic cello score. And Nat King Cole croons cruelly with his Spanish words “Quizas, quizas, quizas”. Only perhaps.

The support characters are sketched out in deliberate crudeness leaving the central couple cocooned in their unfulfilled desire: the landlady Mrs Suen plays mahjong-mad all afternoon oblivious to Su’s predicament, her boss is occupied with his own affair. Chow’s crass colleague at work Ah Ping is lost in his own troubles. Are they too polite; bound up in old school etiquette – or simply too unsure of each other’s feelings to take things further?.

The Fado-esque finale is both heart-rending and, in part, revealing, as Chow whispers his unexpressed desires and regrets into a stone oracle at Cambodia’s Angkor Wat temple. Sadly, the film’s sequel 2046 fails to develop the narrative in any satisfactory form. MT

CURZON SOHO | FRIDAY 17 MARCH 2017 | FASHION IN FILM FESTIVAL

 

 

Human Rights Watch Film Festival | London 6-17 March 2017

Human Rights Watch Film Festival is thundering back to the BARBICAN, BRITISH MUSEUM and PICTUREHOUSE CENTRAL with a fresh and resonant array of award-winning features and documentaries that showcase shifting attitudes to Human Rights around the world today. In a programme that highlights “courageous resilience in challenging times” we hear from Chinese migrant workers; a teenager from Hong Kong; internet sleuths; the indigenous Mayan population in Guatemala; elderly women revealing historic sexual exploitation; a female squash player from Pakistan. All these films celebrate collective action and revolutionary voices, and activists’ triumph over oppression.

The Festival will open on 9 March at Picturehouse Central with Raoul Peck’s powerful I Am Not Your Negro and close on 17 March at the Barbican, with Zaradasht Ahmed’s immersive and uncompromising Nowhere to Hide, a first person account from a male nurse in one of the world’s most dangerous and inaccessible areas, Jalawla in Iraq.

ivans Ivan is The Good Postman who is running for mayor and campaigning to bring life to his ageing and increasingly deserted Bulgarian village, by welcoming refugees and their families to settle there. With warmth, humour and humanity, the filmmaker Tonislav Hristov’s often surreal documentary, set in a forgotten village on a route for asylum seekers making their way through Europe, provides valuable insight into the evolving discussions that dominate international politics.

With uninhibited access Shimon Dotan’s The Settlers cracks open the world of Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank: their daily lives, their worldviews, and their position within Israel. The film captures the casual zealotry, racism, and untroubled certainty of many settlers in this contentious and controversial space. Dotan lays out the facts with extraordinary care and lucidity, allowing viewers to see the progression of actions and reactions that have led to the current volatile situation.

Shang Jiaojiao_02Two festival titles give pause for thought regarding the human cost of people’s dependence on electronic devices and the Internet. Heather White and Lynn Zhang will present the world premiere of their film Complicit, which follows factory workers harmed by exposure to chemicals in their work as they fight the Chinese electronics giant Foxconn. Led by migrant worker, Yi Yeting, who is struggling to survive his own work-induced leukaemia, he equips and empowers other sick factory workers to try to save lives and improve working conditions for millions of Chinese people, in the process confronting some of the world’s most profitable and recognised brands, among them Apple and Samsung.

BLACK CODEIdeas of citizenship, privacy, and democracy are challenged to the very core in Nicholas de Pencier’s gripping Black Code. Based on Ronald Deibert’s book of the same name, the film follows international cyber stewards from the Toronto-based group Citizen Lab, who have documented how exiled Tibetan monks are attempting to circumvent China’s surveillance apparatus; Syrian citizens have been tortured for Facebook posts; Brazilian activists are using social media to livestream police abuses; and Pakistani activists have opposed online campaigns for violence against women.

Individual and collective voices are heard in three documentaries from Hong Kong, Guatemala and Egypt. Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower, which just won the audience award for World Cinema documentary at Sundance 2017 – follows Hong Kong’s most dissident teenager, Joshua Wong, now 20-years-old. Since 2011, Wong has rallied thousands of students to occupy the streets. Following teargas attacks, multiple arrests and an exhausting 79-day campaign to shut down Hong Kong’s financial district, Joshua moves on to the next phase of the movement – facing down the superpower from inside the government itself.

Irma Alicia Vel·squez NimatujPamela Yates’ gripping 500 Years documents the first trial in the history of the Americas to prosecute the genocide of an indigenous people, in this instance the majority Mayan population of Guatemala. Threatening the powerful and empowering the dispossessed, the trial exposed a world of brutality, entrenched racism and impunity, subverting the historical narrative of Guatemala.

TICKLINGGIANTS_014In Tickling Giants, the director Sara Taksler follows Bassem Youssef (known as “the Egyptian Jon Stewart”) who in the midst of the Egyptian Arab Spring changed his career path from heart surgeon to full-time comedian. In a country where freedom of speech is becoming increasingly restricted with each regime change, Youssef and his courageous staff of young writers develop creative methods to non-violently challenge abuses of power. Enduring physical threats, protests, and legal action, the team members test how far they can take the joke.

TheThreeIn Ben Lear’s powerful documentary They Call Us Monsters, Juan, Jarad and Antonio, ages 14-16, face decades in prison in California, where juveniles older than 14 can be tried as adults for violent crimes. While incarcerated, they sign up for a screenwriting class and collaborate on a short film that collectively fictionalises their lives and dreams, allowing a remarkable insight into their minds and experiences.

We'll be alright - Alexander KuznetsovThe director Alexander Kuznetsov’s photographer’s eye and immense sensitivity for his subjects are beautifully evident in We’ll Be Alright, which reveals life inside Russian care and court systems. Yulia and Katia, now both adults, have lived their entire lives in care institutions in Siberia. Based on reports written when they were children living in orphanages, they had been labelled as unfit for life in the real world. Their dreams are simple – to gain independence and leave the neuropsychiatric institution that has become their prison – but a long and painful bureaucratic process forces them to meet nearly impossibly high standards for release.

5 MS Maria White Headband mediumThe voices of women young and old are cause for celebration, inspiration and admiration in another three festival titles. In Erin Heidenreich’s Girl Unbound, the squash player Maria Toorpakai disguises herself as a boy in defiance of a Taliban law forbidding women to play sport. But when she hits puberty her gender is revealed, forcing her to leave her home after repeated death threats to herself and her family. The film follows Maria over several months as she represents Pakistan on the national team standing firm in her mission to carve her own identity and destiny with the support of her progressive father and family.

In The Apology and Child Mother we hear from the largely unheard voices of elderly women who share hidden stories of past exploitations.

THE APOLOGY 01_Image courtesy Icarus FilmsIn Tiffany Hsiung’s The Apology, the courageous resolve of Grandma Gil in South Korea, Grandma Cao in China, and Grandma Adela in the Philippines moves them to seize their last chance to share with their families and the world their first-hand accounts of the truth about theirs and others sexual exploitation and imprisonment as so-called “comfort women” by the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II. Despite multiple formal apologies from the Japanese government issued since the early 1990s, there has been little justice. These women seize their last chance to share first-hand accounts of the truth to ensure that this horrific chapter of history is neither repeated nor forgotten.

!!! CHILD MOTHER #2In Ronen Zaretzky and Yael Kipper’s Child Mother, conversations between mothers and their families reveal haunting histories of women forced into marriage as young children. Born into Jewish communities in Yemen and Morocco where child marriage was a culturally sanctioned custom, they were married as young as 12 and began to have babies of their own, often working day and night to support growing families and aging husbands. Through their children’s difficult but enlightening questions, the film exposes an aspect of child marriage and trauma that is rarely discussed: the impact on the family as a whole, an open wound passed on to subsequent generations.

HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH FESTIVAL | Tickets go on sale Friday, 10 February 2017 | @hrwfilmfestival

Cinema Made in Italy Festival | 1-5 March 2017

Cinema Made in Italy returns to London’s Ciné Lumière from 1 – 5 March 2017. This seventh edition of the festival brings a brand new array of exciting and inspiring films to the South Kensington cinema. Screenings are followed by Q&A sessions with the film-makers, offering audiences the opportunity to get involved in lively discussions.

This year’s line-up comprises nine new feature films, plus the recently restored version of Gillo Pontecorvo’s 1966 masterpiece THE BATTLE OF ALGIERS (La Battaglia di Algeri), distributed in the UK byCultFilms: www.cultfilms.co.uk. It will be the very first time this restored version is shown on the big screen in the UK.

Opening night film 7 MINUTES (7 Minuti) was selected for the 29th Tokyo International Film Festival Competition, and was in the official selection at the 2016 Rome International Film Festival. The Biennale College Cinema gem EARS (Orecchie) screened at the 2016 Venice International Film Festival, as did Michele Vannucci’s I WAS A DREAMER (Il più grande sogno), Pippo Delbono’s VANGELO, and Irene Dionisio’s PAWN STREETS (Le Ultime Cose).

PERICLES THE BLACK (Pericle il Nero), starring Italy’s much-loved Riccardo Scamarcio, was in the ‘Un Certain Regard’ section at last year’s Cannes International Film Festival. Roberto Andò’s THE CONFESSIONS (Le Confessioni), starring Toni Servillo, Daniel Auteuil and Connie Nielsen, has screened at a multitude of festivals around the world, and was awarded the Ecumenical Jury Prize at the 2016 Karlovy Vary International Film Festival.

CINEMA MADE IN ITALY 1-5 MARCH AT VARIOUS VENUES | LONDON

London Critics Film Awards 2017 | The Mayfair Hotel W1

In an evening glittering with frost and freezing temperatures, the stars turned out to receive well-deserved prizes at the London Critics’ Circle Awards (image courtesy of the London Critics’ Circle).

WINNERS

image3FILM OF THE YEAR
La La Land

FOREIGN-LANGUAGE FILM OF THE YEAR (left)
Toni Erdmann

 

 

fire-at-sea-03DOCUMENTARY OF THE YEAR (right)
Fire at Sea

BRITISH/IRISH FILM OF THE YEAR

I, Daniel Blake

ACTOR OF THE YEAR Casey Affleck – Manchester by the Sea

SonOfSaul_Quad_Art_MH_V 3_smallACTRESS OF THE YEAR presented by Suqqu
Isabelle Huppert – Things to Come

SUPPORTING ACTOR OF THE YEAR (tie)
Mahershala Ali – Moonlight
Tom Bennett – Love & Friendship

SUPPORTING ACTRESS OF THE YEAR presented by Cameo
Naomie Harris – Moonlight

 

DIRECTOR OF THE YEAR
László Nemes – Son of Saul

SCREENWRITER OF THE YEAR
Kenneth Lonergan – Manchester by the Sea

BRITISH/IRISH ACTOR
Andrew Garfield – Hacksaw Ridge, Silence

BRITISH/IRISH ACTRESS
Kate Beckinsale – Love & Friendship

YOUNG BRITISH/IRISH PERFORMER presented by The May Fair Hotel
Lewis MacDougall – A Monster Calls

under-the-shadowBREAKTHROUGH BRITISH/IRISH FILMMAKER
Babak Anvari – Under the Shadow

BRITISH/IRISH SHORT FILM
Sweet Maddie Stone – Brady Hood

TECHNICAL ACHIEVEMENT
Victoria – Sturla Brandth Grovlen, cinematography

DILYS POWELL AWARD FOR EXCELLENCE IN FILM
Isabelle Huppert

THE AWARDS CEREMONY TOOK PLACE AT THE MAYFAIR HOTEL W1

Martin Scorsese: An Alternative Top Five

Martin Scorsese: An Alternative Top Five 

To celebrate the release of Martin Scorsese’s new film, SILENCE and the BFI’s current Retrospective, ALex Barrett explores some of the director’s lesser-known past gems. 

It seems safe to say, without fear of hyperbole or exaggeration, that Martin Scorsese is widely considered to be one of cinema’s greatest directors. And yet, at least in the wider public consciousness, it seems that myths and misunderstandings endure: he still remains known primarily as the maker of sweary, violent gangster films. If The Wolf of Wall Street swaps the violence for comedy, it certainly retains the swearing. The film tells the tale of stockbroker Jordan Belfort, from his days as a wide-eyed novice to drug-addled leader of a ‘wolf-pack’ of traders who work enough deals on the wrong side of the law to catch the attention of the FBI. In this, the film contains a rise and fall arc that closely mirrors those found in GoodFellas and Casino, meaning that Wolf slides unproblematically into the popular conception of Scorsese’s oeuvre – for what are stockbrokers, if not the crooks and money-launderers of today?

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If the description outlined above does, unarguably, fit the filmmaker, it’s also true that he is so much more: his oeuvre, one can’t help but feel, is often not given the credit it deserves for the diversity it contains. Even with Wolf, some are calling comedy a new area for Scorsese, thus overlooking his previous foray into the genre with the low-budget cult curio After Hours (1985). Indeed, the lack of wider recognition for the ‘smaller’ pictures means that it now seems possible to posit an ‘alternative’ top five films – those that are loved by some, overlooked by many, and whose greatness, at times, even eclipses that found in the more readily-recognisable work.

1378835_535931909810129_1020908318_nThere are, undoubtedly, recurring themes that run throughout Scorsese’s work, and these themes offer a bridge from his gangster pictures to the work discussed below. Two themes seem especially prevalent: religion and relationships – relationships not only between men and women, but also between friends and family, man and society, and man and money. The latter of these, of course, is the primary concern of Wolf, though it’s also true that, as in GoodFellas et al., there’s a strong exploration into marital relations. More specifically, these films show the strain of relating to someone who wishes to succeed professionally above all else – and this leads us to a third key theme: reflexivity. Scorsese’s films are nothing if not steeped in cinema, and it’s possible to read almost all of his work as being, in some way, about his own obsessive need to create. Looked at in this way, the excess of Wolf becomes readable as autobiography – Scorsese’s past drug use, and his resulting collapse, has been well documented. Is Jordan Belfort’s addiction to money and the market really so different from Scorsese’s addiction to filmmaking?

 In Life Lessons (1989), Scorsese has Nick Nolte’s character verbally express this idea: ‘you make art because you have to – because you have no choice’. But the line is also (surely) a reference to a key exchange between Lermontov (Anton Walbrook) and Victoria (Moira Shearer) in Michael Powell’s The Red Shoes (1948):

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Lermontov: Why do you want to dance?

Victoria: Why do you want to live?

Lermontov: Well I don’t know exactly why, but I must.

Victoria: That’s my answer too.

As we shall see, this obsession, and its expression in The Red Shoes, would go on to have a profound impact upon Scorsese’s own work.

5. The Color of Money (1986) 

774476_506498929420094_312042318_o copyIf Scorsese’s career can be understood as operating within a ‘one for me, one for them’ framework, The Color of Money belongs firmly in the ‘one for them’ camp. And yet, despite this, it’s important to remember that Scorsese himself had a strong hand in the construction of the screenplay. His first major Hollywood film, Color came at an uncertain time in the director’s career: following the success of Raging Bull (1980), the 80s had consisted of a high-profile flop (The King of Comedy, 1983) and a failed attempt to make a long-cherished personal project (The Last Temptation of Christ, eventually realised in 1988) – both of which had taken a toll on Scorsese. Dealing as it does with an ageing pool player struggling to stay in the game, it’s hard not to read Color as a reflection upon the mental state the director was in. Scorsese could see that the Hollywood of the 1980s was becoming an increasingly commercial landscape, and that personal auteur cinema was on its way to becoming a thing of the past – something else reflected in the very fabric of Color, through the casting of its two leads: Paul Newman and Tom Cruise. In a sense, the film is about the resistance of one generation in giving way to the next: and this is as true for Scorsese as it is for Newman’s character. Together with After Hours, Color revived Scorsese from the depths of despair and its success allowed him – finally – to get The Last Temptation of Christ made. For that alone, the film would be worthwhile, but there’s much else to enjoy in this sadly neglected masterwork. If only all directors could make films this rich, and this personal, when working for ‘them’.

Kundun34. Kundun (1997)

If, in Color, Scorsese hints that ‘pride causes suffering’, in Kundun, the idea is expressed verbally. A film about the early life of the 14th Dalai Lama, Kundun is, along with The Last Temptation of Christ, Scorsese’s most explicitly spiritual work – and like Scorsese’s Christ, his Dalai Lama must renounce the comforts of secular society in favour of religious calling. In Kundun, this conflict erupts onto the level of politics: how can religion combat communism, and how can violence be reconciled with religious belief? If Scorsese’s gangster pictures can be understood as being, in part, examinations into the ‘problem’ of violence, then so too can Kundun: it is a study of the flipside – the act of nonviolence. It seems almost as if Scorsese is exploring Buddhism, searching for answers to questions raised in his earlier work. Perhaps, Kundun seems to say, if Scorsese’s protagonists are their own worst enemies, Buddhism can offer them salvation.

1375278_532863280116992_332351154_n3. The Age of Innocence (1993)

Where Kundun deals with the repression of violence, The Age of Innocence deals with the repression of feeling. Like both the Dalai Lama and Christ, Age‘s protagonist Newland Archer (Daniel Day-Lewis) must sacrifice a life of pleasure for something higher – though this time, the ‘something higher’ is societal, not spiritual: Archer is engaged to May Welland (Winona Ryder), and the moral standards of 1870s New York force him to honour his commitment to her, despite his love for the smouldering Countess Olenska (Michelle Pfeiffer). Where May represents ‘all that is best’ in Archer’s world, Olenska is all that is fun – at one point, she strides into an evening’s entertainment in a flaming red dress, all the better to set Archer’s world alight amongst the black and white formal wear of the world around him. Emotionally complex and deeply moving, Age allowed Scorsese to expand his stylistic palette and expose a new facet within his on-going explorations into New York life and codified societies (the laws of 1870s society are not so different, it would seem, from those of the 1970s mafia). With its use of voiceover narration and its detailed recreation of the minutiae of a by-gone age, The Age of Innocence surely ranks alongside Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon as one of the greatest literary adaptations ever filmed.

1239945_528445737225413_1300507531_n copy2. The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)

A long-cherished personal project for Scorsese, The Last Temptation of Christ is perhaps the purest expression of an idea that runs throughout his entire oeuvre: the battle between the ‘spirit’ and the ‘flesh’. Indeed, those very words appear on screen at the beginning of Christ, embedded within a scrolling quote that posits the soul as the ‘arena’ in which ‘these two armies have clashed’ in ‘merciless battle’. The quote is from Nikos Kazantzakis’ source novel The Last Temptation, but one feels as though it could have been written by Scorsese himself – indeed, alongside the famous opening words of 1973’s Mean Streets (‘You don’t make up for your sins in church – you do it in the streets‘) it’s possible it provides the key to understanding almost all of Scorsese’s tortured antiheroes. A blistering work of religious and spiritual angst, The Last Temptation courted huge controversy upon release, seemingly for daring to humanise Christ – but it’s this very humanisation that makes the film such a powerful retelling of Christ’s story. If Christ is not human, if he does not share our longings and desires, then his death is no great sacrifice. But even more than this, by exploring Christ’s deep sense of existential conflict, Scorsese allows us to identify with his plight, and to feel his pain – just like we do all of Scorsese’s protagonists.

1. New York, New York (1977)

The gripping story of a saxophonist torn between his love for music and his love for his wife, New York, New York relocates Christ’s dichotomy of spirit versus flesh into a secular setting – this time, our protagonist must choose between family life and his obsessional desire to succeed in his musical career. Seen in this way – as a film about someone whose personal life is torn apart by their love of a performing art – NYNY becomes understandable as The Red Shoes replayed. The Red Shoes, let’s not forget, is the story of a woman whose obsession for ballet leads her away from her husband and towards death – and this self-destructive streak is there tenfold in NYNY’s saxophonist Jimmy Doyle.

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In portraying Doyle, Robert De Niro gives arguably a career-best performance: one minute he’s exchanging the zingiest one-liners in Scorsese’s entire oeuvre, the next he’s a terrifying ball of rage. But despite all this, the film was a huge flop, and Scorsese collapsed into depression and drug addiction. It was De Niro that saved him, by persuading him to make Raging Bull – a film readable as the story of a man whose personal life falls apart due to his obsessional desire to succeed in a performance sport. Sound familiar? There’s certainly an argument to be made that Scorsese subconsciously reworked his flopped musical project within a genre then more in vogue. But perhaps it was simply a return to The Red Shoes, the film that so fascinated Scorsese as a child (lest we forget, it was Michael Powell himself that suggested Scorsese shoot Raging Bull in black and white). Indeed, even now, with Wolf, it seems Scorsese has not left the shadows of Lermontov and Victoria behind – for Belfort, too, is a performer, and he too is his own worst enemy. Like Jimmy Doyle and Jake LaMotta before him, it is ultimately his own obsessive addiction that leads him down a spiral of (self) destruction.  ALEX BARRETT

SILENCE IS ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 1 JANUARY 2017 | THE SCORSESE SEASON AT THE BFI CONTINUES THROUGH JANUARY 2017

The Hitchcock Years: Bernard Herrmann

BERNHARD HERRMANN: THE HITCHCOCK YEARS

The Hollywood composer Bernhard Herrmann (1911-1975) is mainly remembered for his collaboration with Alfred Hitchcock between 1955 and 1965. Herrmann also scored the music for 17 episodes of the TV series “The Alfred Hitchcock Hour” during this decade. Like his contemporary Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Hermann was educated in Classical music; and shared both strands for the rest of his life. Herrmann’s film music for Hitchcock is particularly remembered for its dissonant and oppressive tonal structure, as well as non-dietic score, even though the composer used these themes as early as 1947 for The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz.

Herrmann, the first (and possible only) music ‘auteur’ in the history of cinema, insisted on artistic freedom when composing, and he also usually conducted the orchestra. Hitchcock, whose Ego was easily matched by Herrmann’s, had enormous respect for the composer: whilst shooting Vertigo, he marked in his sound track notes “We should let all traffic noises fade, because Mr. Herrmann may have something to say here”, and “All of this will naturally depend on what music Mr. Herrmann puts over this sequence.

But they began collaborating with the rather uninspiring The Trouble with Harry (1955). The main theme of this and other Hitchcock/Herrmann movies was “a series of plucked notes from the musicians own double bass, giving a weird feeling that ghastly intangibles are stalking the ‘hero’ into a world of eerie bewilderment and horror”. The most famous scores for Vertigo (1958), North by Northwest (1959) and Psycho (1960) interacted with the main title sequences, designed by Saul Bass.

In the case of Psycho, the music came first and the graphic animation was responding to it. Whilst these “overtures” were quiet common, Herrmann’s music was extremely idiosyncratic. He was a great believer in this form of introductory music, and was aghast, when Brian de Palma later suggested, that Sisters should start without any score. Hermann’s later Hitchcock scores were “relying on ostinato figurations, refusing themselves to be transformed into conventional melodies. They formed a kaleidoscope of musical textures that tread a precarious middle-ground between stability and instability (Vertigo) or reduced to an obsessive degree of insistent economy (Psycho).” In the case of the latter, Hitchcock had not planned any music for the famous shower scene. The harshly recorded “screeching and slithering string glissandi”, which accompanied Janet Leigh into her watery death, made many critics at the time think, that they were electronically generated.

Other critics were induced to describe the scene much more brutally than it actually was, largely due to the music. But the shower scene took the attention away from other Herrmann ideas, like in the scene where Leigh takes off with the money, and “the unobtrusive synchronisation of the doom-laden, pulsating music to the action of windscreen wipers”, as Leigh is driving through the night. But without the music, Leigh might as well have been on her way to do the weekend shopping and feeling stressed and anxious about it. (Actually, Hitchcock had not envisaged any music for this drive scene). In Vertigo, by far the least frenetic of their common films, the long sequences without much talking, invited a doom laden musical score. And in his soundtrack notes, the Hitch wrote: “When Madeleine goes up to Scottie, and we see her face in a close-up, we should have no restaurant background sounds, so as to create a silence which shows that something in Scottie is moved. When Madeleine’s husband is coming into the frame, the background sounds should return, until she leaves the frame. I have no idea, what music Mr. Herrmann would choose, but should he decide not to have any music at all, because it could sound like restaurant music, then it would be preferable to have no music at all so as to mark the moment when Scottie discovers Madeleine, with silence”.

But Herrmann decided, as always, that music was necessary. It is ironic, that the only time Hitchcock insisted on a scene without music – the murder scene in Torn Curtain when the GDR agent Gromek is killed in a very brutal way – it was because Hitchcock wanted to show actually how difficult it is to kill someone. Bernhard Herrmann lost the argument here. But Torn Curtain (1965) was (not even) their swansong. After the box-office failure of Marnie (1964), the studio asked Hitchcock for a more youth-orientated, pop score, for Torn Curtain. (1966/8) Herrmann refused, and Hitchcock ended their relationship – they would only meet once more on the Universal lot.

But Herrmann would have the last laugh: in 1991, when Elmar Bernstein, re-arranged Herrmann’s music for Lee Thompson’s Cape Fear (1962) for Martin Scorsese’s remake of 1991, he used the soundtrack for Gromek’s murder scene. As the Hitchcock epigone Claude Chabrol put it: “Once Hitchcock got rid of Herrmann, Hitchcock’s music was good only when it was imitating Herrmann’ “ Proving the point, Hitchcock refused Henry Mancini’s music score for Frenzy (1972), because it sounded too much like Herrmann and had it replaced by a Ron Goodwin score. Hitchcock had the last word. AS

BERNARD HERRMANN’S FILM SCORES CAN BE HEARD WITH A LIVE ORCHESTRA AT MATTHEW BOURNE’S  RED SHOES | CURRENTLY PLAYING IN SADLERS WELLS LONDON UNTIL 29 JANUARY 2017. 

 

 

 

Bernard Herrmann and The Red Shoes

Katherine Hepburn was once asked what ‘star quality’ was and she replied: “I don’t know but I’ve got it”. This indefinable quality is the premise of Powell and Pressburger’s timeless cinema classic THE RED SHOES (1948), which Sir Matthew Bourne, a fan of classic film, has riotously reimagined for his latest balletic blockbuster, at London’s Sadler’s Wells this holiday season. Bourne’s ballet is also a tribute to the Hollywood composer Bernard Herrmann whose scores oozed star quality, enlivening the films of Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock, François Truffaut and Martin Scorsese, not to mention Ray Harryhausen and Brian De Palma.

the-red-shoes-byBy replacing the film’s original Oscar-winning score with Bernard Herrmann’s music, ardent film fan Bourne intends to raise the profile of a Hollywood legend whose evergreen compositions possess the resonance and star quality that he feels, quite rightly, should be enjoyed by contemporary audiences in a theatrical setting with a live orchestra, not just in the cinema. Lez Brotherston’s imaginative set has a revolving proscenium arch that transports us back to an early 20th-century ballet company, inspired by Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, and the production is saucily tweaked with Bourne’s own brand of irreverent humour. Whisking us effortlessly from a glamorous Monte Beach in summer to the sordid sadness of the East End cabaret, this is a dizzying production that dazzles at every turn with a stunning central peformance from ballerina Ashley Shaw.

THE RED SHOES is a ballet within a ballet and Bourne has cleverly identified three key elements that make Herrmann’s music so suitable: the backstage life of Boris Lermontov’s dance company, the emotional awakening and torment of ballerina Victoria Page and the joie de vivre of the ballet itself.

THE RED SHOESThe Hollywood composer was born Max Herrmann to Jewish parents of Russian origin in New York City 1911. His musical career kicked off in his teens when he won a composition prize at the age of 13, founding the classical New Chamber Orchestra of New York when he was just 20 and studying at the Juilliard School. Herrmann was soon appointed chief conductor of the CBS Symphony Orchestra and his friendship with Orson Welles led to a collaboration with the auteur on the radio series The Orson Welles Show. When Welles joined RKO Herrmann joined him with scores for CITIZEN KANE (1940), THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS  (1942) and Welles starrer JANE EYRE (1943).

THE RED SHOESFor THE RED SHOES ballet Bourne has concentrated on Herrmann’s pre-Hitchcock fare and uncovered some real gems such as his Concerto Macabre from HANGOVER SQUARE (1945) along with the often unacknowledged dance music of CITIZEN KANE (1941) and the bittersweet beats of THE GHOST AND MRS MUIR (1947). But the ballet’s dynamite centrepiece scenes, set against a dramatic background of birds, fleeting clouds and eerily silhouetted buildings are perhaps the most futuristic and inventive thanks to Herrmann’s restless trembling music which features among others Truffaut’s FAHRENHEIT 451perfectly evoking the psychological tension between the love-torn trio of Boris Lermontov, Julian Craster and Victoria Page. Under Terry Davies the New Adventure orchestra makes great use of edgy expressionist electronic strings, the vibraphone and the glockenspiel as well as classic piano and wind to convey the sense of seduction combined with heart-stopping obsession and some cheeky interludes to lighten the tone. The heart-rending finale is quietly devastating as Ashley Shaw’s elegant dancing complements the emotional resonance of Hermann’s orchestral magnificence and his lighter danceable beatsmaking this a memorable and moving addition to Bourne’s ballet bonanza. MT

THE RED SHOES IS AT SADLERS WELLS LONDON UNTIL 29 JANUARY 2017 | OTHER VENUES ON TOUR

 

 

 

 

It’s Vegas Baby! – top spots for cinephiles in Las Vegas

165225_1807628397431_6593811_nGambling isn’t the only reason to visit Nevada’s stunning resort. Also a haven for moviegoers, LAST VEGAS may tempt you to visit the exciting city for the magnificent array of cinemas screening the latest in American cinema: from mainstream to cult classic and art house fare. Urbane cinefiles see the city differently than most: as a cornucopia of historical venues where films were shot over the years.  Fans of cult casino and gangster films, flock to Vegas to visit the iconic places where films have been shot almost en masse in the city of lights and casinos. LAST VEGAS was filmed here but let’s take a look at some other top spots for film fans.

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Circus Circus

For film fans who want to catch a glimpse of one of the most recognizable filming locations in Las Vegas, Circus Circus is an essential stop. The entrance appeared in the James Bond movie, Diamonds are Forever, and an exterior shot appears in Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery. To the dismay of many Hunter S. Thompson fans, the iconic merry-go-round bar at Circus Circus that garnered a spot in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas has closed. To be accurate though, this was not the bar that actually appeared in the film, as Circus Circus did not give permission to film there.Riviera copy

Riviera Hotel and Casino

Since Las Vegas is a popular and exciting location to shoot films, some hotels have turned up in multiple films over the years. Also a location appearing in Austin Powers and Diamonds are Forever, Riviera Hotel and Casino has been seen in Martin Scorsese’s Casino, the 1960 Ocean’s Eleven and the campy 90′s dancer-drama classic Showgirls. The outside of the Riviera Hotel and Casino is a highly recognisable spot for sightseeing film geeks.

Tropicana copyTropicana Las Vegas

The millions of fans who loved cult classic, The Godfather trilogy should recognise the Tropicana in Las Vegas as Michael Corleone’s Las Vegas casino business and the location where many of the Las Vegas scenes in the movie were filmed. The Godfather utilised both the inside and the outside of the hotel extensively, but it was only referenced and not shown in the final versions of the second and third films of the franchise.

The Neon Museum Boneyard

With an ongoing theme of appearing briefly in the background of a multitude of films including, Mars Attacks!, the Neon Museum Boneyard is essentially where the vibrant neon signs of Las Vegas are put out to rest. The museum also appears in the upcoming film LAST VEGAS.  Although the Neon Boneyard is not open to the public, dedicated film buffs can make reservations for the guided tour for only $15.

The Bellagio Resort and Casino  Bellagio copy

The Bellagio, as all movie buffs should know, stars alongside Brad Pitt and George Clooney in the 2001 remake of Ocean’s Eleven. The movie’s casino scenes were shot right on the Bellagio’s casino floor! Although the vault shown in the movie wasn’t the real one, most other scenes purporting the casino are real. If you would like to dine at the table where George and Julie shared a meal in one of the most famous scenes of the movie, it was shot in the Bellagio Picasso restaurant—book table 24 if you want to re-live that experience. The luxury hotel also made an appearance in the 2007 sequel, Ocean’s Thirteen.  The Bellagio has also been the location for romantic comedies such as Lucky You and What Happens in Vegas and made a fleeting appearance in The Hangover.

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MGM Grand Hotel and Casino

Being the second largest hotel in the world by number of rooms and the largest hotel resort complex in the United States, the MGM Grand Last Vegas is featured in a multitude of movies. Film officionados will recognise the casino resort in movies such as Ocean’s Eleven, Vegas Vacation, and The Great White Hype. In addition, the MGM Grand’s Wizard of Oz theme is referenced in the film Swingers. With its Hollywood history, the MGM attracts film buffs worldwide.

The Aria Resort and Casino

Since the opening of the new modern style hotel in 2009, The Aria has been a popular location for films. The resort’s luxury suite is featured in Louis Leterrier’s 2013 film Now You See Me and LAST VEGAS (2013), where it appears as the venue for the bachelor party hosted by Morgan Freeman’s character, Archie. MT

WE FLEW TO LAS VEGAS COURTESY OF VIRGIN AIRLINES

 

 

 

Melancholy in classic cinema – 5 Melancholic Characters

RoccoFratelliPosterMelancholy: deep and impenetrable  sadness – a retrograde state of mind. The unknown and unseen past has swallowed up present and future. The heroes and heroines of melancholic films are  aware of this: from the moment they appear on the screen for the first time, we know it’s all over before a word is said. The ensuing narrative is just there to underline their fate: whilst choosing a new love, a new beginning, they really want to end it all. They are lovers of loss and being lost  – and we love them for it.

Luchino Visconti is a favourite director for one main reason: he was able to make successful movies in the neo-realist tradition (ROCCO AND HIS BROTHERS (1960), as well as operatic masterpieces that were always anchored in the past, like THE LEOPARD (1963).

220px-Senso_PosterI could have easily chosen LUDWIG (1972) or L’innocente (1976) – but I went for SENSO (1954), because Alida Valli’s beautiful Countess Serpieri really wants to destroy herself – throwing everything away for an unscrupulous man – whose true character she knows the moment she sets eyes on him for the first time in a Venice theatre in 1866, whilst Italian patriots, fighting the Austrian occupying forces, throw leaflets from the balconies. In the ensuing fighting, Duke Ussoni, a leader of the rebels, hurts one of the Austrian soldiers, Lt. Franz Mahler (Farley Granger). To save Ussoni, Countess Serpieri, whose husband is fighting for the Austrians at the front, tries to talk Mahler out of making a formal complaint – only to fall madly in love with this most superficial, opportunistic coward. He soon asks the Countess for money, to buy himself out of the army. She obliges, stealing money from the fund of the rebels, which Ussoni had entrusted her with. But Mahler disappears, drinking and whoring the money away. When she finds him with another woman, she goes to the authorities, denounces him and watches his execution – only to go mad, shouting his name in the dark streets.

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In betraying her class and her country, she denounces herself and her past. Since Mahler never tried very hard to conceal his duplicity why does Serpieri want him so much; his good looks can’t be the only reason. The Countess does not love her husband, and sees him as a traitor: he has joined the rebels for romantic, not political reasons, hoping to escape her role in the aristocracy, which does not give her much personal freedom. At the same time, she wants to punish herself for her thoughts, and in eloping with Mahler, she commits the ultimate treason against herself. Alida Valli carries the film, floating through the attractive landscapes and palaces, always on the outlook for death, her death, whilst pretending to free herself via a love, which she only knows too well, does not exist. In the end she is executioner and victim: alive, but in a world by herself.

220px-La_sirène_du_MississippiSuperficially looked at, Francois Truffaut’s MISSISSIPPI MERMAID (LA SIRENE DU MISSISSIPPI) from 1969 is just another B-movie in colour. Based on the novel “Waltz into Darkness” by Cornel Woolrich (aka William Irish), whose “The Bride wore Black” Truffaut had filmed in 1967 with Jeanne Moreau in the title role. MERMAID (dedicated to Renoir) opens in Reunion, where Louis Mahe (J.P. Belmondo), a rich owner of a tobacco plantation, is expecting his mail order bride, Julie Roussel. But the woman who arrives at the pier is anything but the plain, straight Roussel: Marion Bergamo (Catherine Deneuve) is an outstanding beauty – and femme fatale. She and her co-conspirator have killed Roussel on the ship so Bergamo can marry Mahe – and his money. Like Serpieri in Senso, one look for Mahe is enough to fall in love with Marion. Even when she steals his money and disappears to Nice, where he follows her, his love is stronger than his resentment. Marion, whose partner in crime has taken all the money, is working in a bar, hotly pursued by a detective hired by Roussel’s sister. He finds the couple, and Mahe shoots him. On the run through the Swiss Alps, with his money running out, Marion tries to poison Mahe, but he still forgives her. His ‘amour fou’ knows no boundaries, as the couple stumbles through the snow into unknown future.

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Mermaid is a more contemporary version of THE BLUE ANGEL, where the ageing teacher Rath gives everything up for Dietrich’s Lola. But Rath returns in the end to his school, wanting to go back to his past, whilst Belmondo/Mahe takes his self destruction many steps further: he kills for Marion, gives her the rest of his money, is even ready to die by her own hand – he just wants to be with her. Love Colder than Death, ironically the title of Fassbinder’s first feature, is the Leitmotiv of Mermaid. Mahe is also in love with his masochism; he thrives in poverty more than in the splendour of his Reunion home. His loneliness is the key to his downfall: all the material grandeur of his wealth means nothing to him – he wants to be loved, by anyone. And since he has had no experience with women, he falls for the first one he meets. The attraction here again is not so much the attractiveness of the partner, but the way to an end she symbolises. She is ‘Lady Macbeth’, but he is much more than a willing slayer: he wants to die with her all the time, his will to live is much weaker than hers, with infuriates her; but in the end, she seems to capitulate to his meekness and self destructive love.

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220px-The_Soft_Skin_Poster Like with Visconti, there are any number of films by Truffaut I could have chosen to embody this theme. And since a real melancholic film should be in black and white, I have opted for LA PEU DOUCE from 1963. Pierre Lachenay (Jean Desailly) is the publisher of a small literary magazine in Paris. He is married to Franca (Nelly Benedetti), the couple has a daughter. Lachenay is rather self -centred and takes his family for granted, pursuing his career with great eagerness. On a flight to Lisbon he meets the much younger stewardess Nicole (Francoise Dorleac), and falls hopelessly in love with her. But as soon as he has conquered her, he becomes possessive. Nicole soon looses interest in him, his middle-aged seriousness and obsession with cultural niceties does not go well with her more carefree, but sensual personality. He wants to put her into a golden cage, shows her a flat he wants to buy for her. This is the last straw for Nichole, she tells him that she is leaving him. In a parallel montage after this rejection, we see Lachenay trying to phone his wife Franca, wanting to tell her that he will stay with her after all, but she has just left the house, and taken the car to drive to his favourite restaurant, where she shoots him. The last shot shows Franca sitting on the floor, looking up at her dead husband, smiling not ruefully, but rather like the cat who got the cream.

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Lachenay is, unlike Serpieri and Mahe, not hell bent on self-destruction. But he wants a new beginning, on his terms though: he does not want to scarify his bourgeois identity, which means putting his job first and staying in control. But he really loves Nicole, and by offering her a new home, he hopes to receive gratitude for raising her to his own level. But Nichole does not want material gratification, she wants to be loved for herself. Her interaction with the stray kitten in the provincial motel shows her as a pure person, who wants simple harmony and no trappings, materially or status wise. She wants to communicate direct, a free spirit of ’68. Unlike Lachenay, who uses telephones all the time to postpone meetings and decisions. But in spite of all, we feel for Lachenay, see him struggle with his sedateness, not so much like an old man, but like a little boy, aged before his time. In the end he is destroyed between two much stronger women: one young and down to earth, the other more of his own class, but much more decisive than himself. When we see him dead at his table, we feel pity, because the task of reconciling his old personality with his new love was simply too much for him. AS

AVAILABLE ON BLURAY/DVD AT AMAZON.CO.UK

We are Never Alone (2016) | Made in Prague Festival 2016

NIKDY NEJSME SAMI | Director:  Petr Vaclav | Cast: Karel Roden, Lenka Vlasakova, Miroslav Hanus, Zdenek Godla, Klaudia Dudova | Czech Republic/France 116min

Director Petr Vaclav’s latest film is a provincial drama full of passion, violence and mental health issues. The characters could be straight out of a Sartre play and Vaclav certainly asks many existential questions.

Zena (Vlasakova) runs a grocery shop in a small town where he lazy hypochondriac husband is her husband (Roden) is out of work and makes life for Zena and his two sons a living nightmare. He befriends his prison guard neighbour, Zivatem, who is a racist neo-fascist. Driven out of her mind by her husband, Zena falls in love with the local brothel owner (Godla), who himself is obsessed by one of his girls, the pouting Sylva (Dudova) – who in turn is still in love with her husband (and father of her daughter), who is in prison.

To make matters even worse, Zena, after a one-off romp with the brothel owner, decides to become a prostitute herself. The adult characters here are totally out of control and this disturbance filters through to their children: Zena’s oldest son, and Zivatem’s boy (who feeds his father’s paranoia with putting dead animals outside their house). They take great pride in wanting nothing to kill their fathers and discuss this loudly during hikes in the countryside. And when the tension becomes unbearable, violence is the only way out: Zena’s oldest shoots his grandfather, a stingy emotional cripple, and then her husband and his friend Zivatem shoots the brothel owner for having led Zena astray. As a final twist, Zena’s youngest pockets the money from the body of the man his father helped to kill – and sets off on a journey as a blind passenger on a HGV.

We are never Alone is certainly wild and passionate, but the characters are entirely believable: stuck in the middle of nowhere with no love life to speak of, the adults opt for violence, physical and psychologically. And their mostly neglected children follow their ‘role models’. The characters here are always on the move creating a frenetic energy. But they invariably return – even the middle-aged Zena on her Vespa. Whilst Zivatem looks back fondly to communism – he preferred the authoritarian regime to democracy – the other characters – apart from Zena – are totally without any values – apart from wanting to get rich quick. They are soulless materialists, desperate to exploit each other.

DoP Stepan Kucra creates an eerie atmosphere, his images changing regularly from black-and-white to colour and back providing ghoulish world in which the buildings are as decayed as these human souls: the environment mirroring the moribund population, washed-out, bled dry of any colour. The assembled cast is impressive, with Vlasakova’s Zena a towering performance. A brilliant ride on the wild side from the Czech Republic.

UK PREMIER AT THE BARBICAN | 30 NOVEMBER 2016 | Berlinale Review

Erotikon (1929) | Made in Prague Season

erotikon-1Writer-Director: Gustav Machatý

Cast: Ita Rina, Olaf Fjord, Luigi Serventi,Charlotte Susa,Theodor Pištěk, Karel Schleichert.

Czech / Erotic drama / 108min

Gustav Machatý (1901-1963) continues to be remembered today primarily for launching the international career of Hedy Lamarr by exposing her naked charms in Extase (1933). But his earlier EROTIKON is easily the more accomplished film, as was confirmed by its recent screening at the Barbican as part of the Czech Centre’s 20th Made in Prague Festival. EROTIKON was Machatý’s third feature and his last silent, and like Extase earned international notoriety for its nude scene. Stills from this scene identified as Ita Rina have often appeared in books; but it turned out not to be in the print shown at the Barbican. What we are left with is heady enough, however, with director Machatý and his cameraman Václav Vích’s restless camera juggling a rousing brew of lust-crazed close-ups, arty superimpositions and intoxicating Freudian scenes of railway engines in full steam.

Two films were made during the twenties with the title EROTIKON, the first being Mauritz Stiller’s saucy comedy of 1920. Machatý’s film at first resembles Griffith’s Way Down East, with Andrea, the sweet young daughter of a railway gatekeeper ravished by a city slicker named Georg Sydney – who wears more even makeup that she does (especially around the eyes) – and woos her with sophisticated metropolitan blandishments such as an enormous bottle of perfume marked EROTIKON. Having got Andrea pregnant, he returns to his glossy married mistress Gilda back in the big city. As happens in so many movies the baby is conveniently stillborn and when Andrea’s path again crosses that of Georg she has a wealthy new husband on her arm and a sumptuous new wardrobe on her back. Here Griffith-style rural pathos abruptly gives way to Noel Coward-like urban sophistication. The five main players now comprise the original lover, two married women and two husbands, and the fun can really start; including a suggestive chess match between romantic rivals worthy of The Thomas Crown Affair (and which also anticipates Zvonimir Berković’s Rondo [1966]).

Andrea is played by Ita Rina, formerly Miss Slovenia of 1926, the bridge of whose nose appears to join her face somewhere in the middle of her forehead, giving her a profile more dramatic than even those of Myrna Loy or Norma Shearer. (In 1931 she converted from Catholicism to Serbian Orthodoxy in order to marry, and her name became Tamara Đorđević. The same year she received an offer from Hollywood which her new husband vetoed; although she continued to act in Czech films). In Machatý’s hands she does a superlative job of maturing from innocent young waif to worldly, fur-coated society wife. The scene of her arching her back in ecstasy in a quite unprecedented screen depiction of sexual consummation (later echoed in the scene in which she gives birth) is far more energetic than the equivalent sequence in the much better-known Extase. As Andrea’s new husband Jean, Luigi Serventi is plainly a far worthier catch than the unctuous Georg Sydney, played by Olaf Fjord; and Charlotte Susa is a blast as the mistress who doesn’t take her relegation lying down (it’s also probably her – rather than Ita Rina as is always claimed – who did the nude shot). RICHARD CHATTEN

MADE IN PRAGUE SEASON CONTINUES AT THE ICA 

Dracula through the Ages | Halloween

D R A C U L A   T H R O U G H   T H E   A G E S : Leaves from Stoker’s Book 

First published in 1897, Bram Stoker’s DRACULA is now seen as one of the canonical texts of Gothic literature, but it was only long after Stoker’s death that the work took on iconic status – thanks in no small part to the numerous films that proliferated as the Count’s cultural clout increased (there have now been over 200). To explain the appeal, one need only look at a list of possible readings: there have been almost as many interpretations as there have been films. In short, Dracula, as the archetypal vampire, can be made to reflect the fears (and the desires) of every generation.

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It was F.W. Murnau who, in 1922, gave the world its first great onscreen Dracula – even if, in an unsuccessful bid to escape infringing copyright, Murnau changed the Count’s name to Orlok and retitled it Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens. Stoker’s widow saw right through Murnau’s ploy and duly sued, causing the majority of prints to be destroyed. Luckily, one survived.

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Seen today, Murnau’s film has lost none of its power. Murnau shot much of Nosferatu on location, adding a contrasting sense of realism to the film’s expressionistic tropes, thereby creating an ominous, otherworldly foreboding. Right at the start we read that this is ‘a chronicle of the plague of Great Death’: unlike Dracula’s victims, Orlok’s do not become vampires – they die, and Orlok is their death. Murnau strips Stoker’s text of its erotic and religious force: here, Orlok is a metaphysical harbinger of death, an unstoppable force of nature. German cinema of this period is famous for its detailed mise-en-scène, and Nosferatu is no exception, but the film also makes startling use of montage. Not only does Murnau use parallel editing to increase tension, but the moment in which Ellen awakes as Orlok feeds on Hutter, their disparate locations joined together in a single eye-line match, is truly breath-taking filmmaking.

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Stoker’s widow, frustrated by unauthorised adaptations, sold the dramatic rights for Dracula to British playwright Hamilton Deane, whose adaptation was later reworked by John L. Balderston for Broadway. It was this play, rather than Stoker’s novel, that formed the basis for Tod Browning’s stodgy 1931 Dracula, a film that never quite transcends its drawing-room mystery origins – despite begin well shot by cinematographer Karl Freund, who had worked with Murnau back in Germany. The film’s theatricality extends to its hammy, stage-derived special effects, which add little dread to the proceedings. Bela Lugosi had played the role on Broadway, and his version of Dracula remains the most iconic and influential. An invention of Deane’s, this Dracula may be a far cry from Stoker’s heavily-moustached old man, but it’s also the version that has most thoroughly penetrated public consciousness.

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Taking its cue from Deane and Balderston’s play, in which Lucy ‘registers attraction’ to Dracula, Browning’s film has Lucy express her fascination to Mina, who will herself later receive a midnight call from the Count – much to the chagrin of her fiancé. With his thick accent and ponderous pronunciation, Lugosi’s Dracula is every bit the outsider, readable as both the invading immigrant and the suave, sexually appealing ‘other’.

It’s the latter reading that director Terence Fisher brings to the fore in his excellent 1958 adaptation for Hammer. Here, an ill and pale Lucy excitedly removes her crucifix, opens the doors, hikes up her skirt, and lies on her bed expectantly. Dracula is no invader, but a welcome jolt of sexual energy, a manifestation of the Victorian woman’s hidden (and unfulfilled) sexual desires. We are told that the crucifix symbolises good over evil, and that Van Helsing will succeed ‘with God’s help’. Once more, Dracula is the evil other, a force of adultery who needs to be dispatched so (holy) matrimony can be resumed. If the script at times owes little to Stoker’s original narrative trajectory, the film perfectly condenses his sprawling story and captures the spirit, the dread and the disgust of the original text.

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In 1979, Werner Herzog returned to Murnau’s Dracula-as-death symbolism for his dreamlike Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht. As the film’s opening images of mummified bodies help establish, this is cinema as memento mori. Lucy screams and wakes from a nightmare, but the phantom of the night is coming: death is unavoidable and cannot be escaped. A portentous dread hangs in the air, even throughout the later, joyous scenes of revelling plague victims. These scenes suggest that life can be given meaning only when placed under the shadow of death, thus rendering Dracula‘s eternal undead life both joyless and meaningless.

In the book, Mina begs the vampire hunters to feel pity for their prey, and Herzog makes this feeling manifest. Herzog’s ponderous, almost languid tone leads us to feel the profound weight of an endless life without love. Once more, the erotic undertones rise to the surface: Dracula wants love, and his lust for Lucy will ultimately be his undoing. Herzog’s vision is highly romantic, and therefore archly Gothic. Present too is the religious conflict: Lucy declares that ‘God is so far from us in the hour of distress’, and if the later use of the Host in combating Dracula seems to contradict this, it’s worth remembering the line ‘Faith is the faculty of man which enables us to believe things we know to be untrue’. There is no happy ending in Herzog’s godless universe, despite what we try to believe. Lethargic though it sometimes feels, this may well be the most philosophically rich adaptation of the material – and the one with the most monstrously mesmerising portrayal of Dracula himself.

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It’s perhaps significant that Herzog returned to Murnau as his source, given that Gothic derives from a return to – and a fear of – the past. Interestingly, two other significant adaptations have likewise drawn on early cinema for inspiration: Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and Guy Maddin’s 2002 Dracula: Pages from a Virgin’s Diary. In fact, Coppola’s film seems to draw as much on past adaptations as on the novel itself, pulling in shadows from Murnau, dialogue from Browning, bloody gore and bawdy sex from Fisher, and a sense of introspection from Herzog. The film uses a glut of early cinema techniques, resulting in a breathless barrage that feels closer to baroque excess than ornate gothic purity.

Coppola seems to delight in the carnal aspects of the novel, going beyond even Fisher in his uninhibited depictions of violence and sex. In an early scene, Mina studies an explicit illustration in the Arabian Nights. She calls it ‘disgustingly awful’, but can’t take her eyes off it. Here, Dracula is an embodiment of desire and openly represents an exciting alternative to the tedium of puritanical marriage. But with this excitement comes danger: this is the age of both civilisation and syphilisation, and the women will be condemned for their promiscuous exchange of blood. Coppola mines the AIDS metaphor for all its worth, and equates the rise in decadence and sexual liberation with the end of the old (Christian) world. If the film’s excess verges at times on the ridiculous, it nonetheless remains a richly delirious and intoxicating work.

Much like Coppola, Maddin furrows cinematic history to create an erotic work of kinetic excess, but goes one further by making his film silent. His sets are skewed, stylised and symbolic, his Dracula a story of female lust and male jealousy – but also of paranoia and xenophobia (an early title card reads ‘Immigrants – others from other lands’). Dracula is a foreign invader, come to steal our wealth and our women. Maddin reminds us that Dracula ‘has the brain of a child’ and fills his lair with money stolen from England, thus emphasising the racists roots of the novel’s portrayal of the immigrant outsider. Maddin’s film, based on an adaptation by the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, makes literal the novel’s dances of death and attraction. For Maddin, Dracula’s dispatch at the hands of Lucy’s frustrated suitors serves not only as the removal of the alien body, but also as a reassertion of male dominance over female desire.

At the end of the film, the victors open the doors of Castle Dracula and walk towards the light of a new day. Inside, Dracula lies bent backwards, impaled on a phallic spike. Somehow, it seems there may still be life in him yet. After all, some things never die, and Dracula remains the King of the Undead. AB

NOSFERATU THE VAMPYRE (RE-MASTERED) AND NOSFERATU: A SYMPHONY OF HORRORS (HD RESTORATION) IS AVAILABLE COURTESY OF EUREKA, as is NOSERATU THE VAMPYRE

HAMMER’S RE-RELEASE OF DRACULA IS AVAILABLE ON DVD

Dracula (1958) on blu-ray 18 March 2013

 

Nosferatu - Murnau

Picasso | On film and Canvas

fullsizerenderIn life and in death Pablo Ruiz Picasso (1881-1973) was an iconic figure who continues to influence and mesmerise with his potent magnetism, prodigious talent and stylistic versatility as an artist, sculptor, stage designer and playwright. Born in Malaga, Picasso spent most of his adult life in France where he co-founded the innovative Cubist movement at the opening of the 20th century. Surrealism came in the 1920s, and he portrayed the atrocities of the Spanish Civil war in his painting Guernica (1937). And as he changed his style, each phase of his creative output was partnered by a new romantic relationship.

Picasso has also captured the imagination of filmmakers in both drama and documentary features, and his close friendship with Jean Cocteau led to the pair collaborating on a one-set ballet ‘Parade’ for the Ballets Russes, for which he designed the sets and costumes.

imagesIn 1956 Henri-Georges Clousot documented Picasso’s creative process at work in the dialogue-free Le Mystère Picasso. Claude Renoir position the camera behind the canvas so that the artist is simply seen painting and drawing for 75 minutes, without his hands and arms blocking the view (right).

SURVIVING PICASSO, from left: Natascha McElhone, Anthony Hopkins as Pablo Picasso, 1996, © Warner Brothers

SURVIVING PICASSO, from left: Natascha McElhone, Anthony Hopkins as Pablo Picasso, 1996, © Warner Brothers

Picasso gets the James Ivory treatment in the romantic biopic Surviving Picasso (1996) where Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s engaging narrative framework explores his often ferocious cruelty during his two passionate marriages and love affairs with Olga Kokhlowa (Jane Lapotaire), Françoise Gilot (Natascha McElhone); Dora Maar (Julianne Moore) and Marie Therese (Susannah Harker).

Now Malaga born Antonio Banderas is set to play the artist in 33 DIAS which explores Picasso’s emotional turmoil as he worked on the Guernica mural during his relationship with Dora Maar (Gwyneth Paltrow. BAFTA awarded Carlos Saura (Cria Cuervos) will write and direct the drama which should be out later in 2017.

Meanwhile a new exhibition of Picasso’s portraits is currently showing at the National Portrait Gallery until January 2017.

PICASSO PORTRAITS

 

 

Neglected Directors | Mario Zampi

In our occasional series on neglected filmmakers, Richard Chatten looks at the world of Mario Zampi (1903-1963)

There is a scene in Mario Zampi’s Laughter in Paradise (1951) in which Alistair Sim – who for plot purposes needs to spend a month in jail – attempts to get himself arrested by ostentatiously pocketing a necklace in a store; only to have it swiftly lifted by a pickpocket before the store detective has time to apprehend him. A characteristically adroit summing up by Zampi and his screenwriters Jack Davies & Michael Pertwee (son of the playwright Roland Pertwee and elder brother of Jon) of the low-level criminality then rife in postwar austerity Britain; whose move into affluence they lovingly charted in a series of genially satirical popular comedies with which Zampi’s name became synonymous before his relatively early death in 1963 at the age of 60.

zampi_mkj2n0pnza1qeotlhoDescribed by his obituarist in Variety as a “mercurial little man” (Peter Sellers modelled the effusive Italian film director he played in After the Fox on Zampi), Mario Zampi (seen left with Sellers) was born in Sora in Italy on 1 November 1903, entered films as an actor at the age of 17, and had already worked in Italian films in various capacities before moving to Britain with the collapse of the Italian film industry in 1922. By the 1930s he was an editor for Warner Brothers at their Teddington studios, and in 1937 with his compatriot Filippo Del Giudice co-founded the production company Two Cities. The first film he directed was Thirteen Men and a Gun (1938), a First World War drama set on the Austro-Hungarian front starring Arthur Wontner, shot in Italy in both English and Italian versions. His next feature, Spy for a Day (1940), was a vehicle for the North Country comedian Duggie Wakefield also set during the First World War, co-scripted by Emeric Pressburger (who may have been responsible for the touching sequence depicting a mute attempt at communication between Wakefield and a German corporal played by George Hayes). Zampi also produced Two Cities’ first big success – French Without Tears – in 1939; but at this point suffered an ironic setback by himself being interned as an enemy alien for the next four years.

_two_cities_films_Having spent most of Two Cities’ wartime glory years cooling his heels in Canada, he laboriously worked his way back into the business directing three very low budget mystery films: The Phantom Shot (1947), The Fatal Night (1948) and Shadow of the Past (1950), none of which appear to have been seen since they were originally released. But The Fatal Night caused a sensation at the time and those who saw it then still vividly recall how much it scared them as youngsters. Recounting the fate of a man who accepts a bet to spend a night in a haunted house, and with a memorable sting in the tail, it was scary enough to carry an ‘H’ certificate, was described by David Quinlan as “one of the most frightening films ever made, full of horrors not quite or only half-seen”, and reveals a side to Zampi otherwise wholly unsuspected. (The BFI hold material from the film, so we may yet hope to see it resurrected in our lifetimes).

imagesAfter changing tack with a revue film starring Max Wall, Come Dance with Me (1950) (whose acts included Stanley Black and his orchestra, who also scored this and most of his subsequent films), there then came the film that would define the remainder of Zampi’s career as a producer-director. An episodic comedy about four beneficiaries of a notorious practical joker’s will – each obliged to do something extremely humiliating and unpleasant to inherit £50,000 – Laughter in Paradise was the highest-grossing British film of 1951 and Zampi never looked back. Despite his wartime incarceration, Zampi seems to have felt little ill-will towards his adopted homeland – although maybe it gives a slight edge to his gentle mockery of the British character – and he certainly did an exemplary job of capturing our sense of humour in the films that followed. Having taken a shine to George Cole, Zampi commissioned his next screenplay from Davies and Pertwee especifically for him – a Cold War farce called Top Secret (1952) about a sanitary engineer visiting Moscow mistaken for an atomic scientist. Now hitting his stride, on the set of Top Secret Zampi happily acknowledged that he saw his films as collaborative endeavours (including his son Guilio (1923-2003), first as an editor, then as associate producer): “I am standing talking to you now but the work still goes on”, he declared. “My team are worrying more about the picture than I am.”

After a return to Italy to make another light-hearted take on the Cold War, Ho scelto l’amore (1953) – starring Renato Rascel as a junior Russian official accidentally separated from his delegation in Venice – Zampi made the first of his two films in Technicolor, Happy Ever After (1954), a riotous piece of rollicking Irish blarney in which an entire village draws lots to set in motion a series of comically failed attempts to murder an obnoxious new landlord played by David Niven. Also in Technicolor was Now and Forever (1956), adapted by Pertwee and R.F.Delderfield from the latter’s play The Orchard Walls; showcasing Janette Scott’s first adult role as a schoolgirl who elopes to Gretna Green. Ravishingly photographed by Erwin Hiller, it was described by William Everson in Love in the Film (1979) as “a paean of praise to the English countryside, its background of springtime was essential to the story of exuberant young love” of “warm and real humor…Many of the compositions are designed purely to stress beauty, color and youth…Even in 1956, Now and Forever was a complete anachronism, something like a Deanna Durbin musical romance without the music.”

p56126_d_v8_aaBut if anyone thought Zampi was mellowing, the two black & white farces he made next starring Terry-Thomas were to prove vintage Zampi. The Naked Truth (1957) – described by Raymond Durgnat as “the first British film to lift its upper lip and show a satirical fang” – took it’s lead from the salacious magazine Confidential, whose squalid revelations about Hollywood celebrities amounted to a virtual reign of terror during the mid-fifties (and had already been the subject of a Hollywood drama called Slander). As in Happy Ever After, a group of individuals are driven out of desperation to commit murder; in this case a selection of the great and the good threatened with the revelation of their feet of clay by the editor (played by Dennis Price) of a scandal magazine called The Naked Truth. The most spinechilling of these is Peter Sellars as Wee Sonny MacGregor a TV personality, master of disguise and slum landlord decribed by Durgnat as “a loveable homey quiz master really devoured by contempt for the doddering old folk to whom he awards his prizes”.

Too Many Crooks (1959) was to prove the last truly vintage Zampi (based on an idea by Jean Nery & Christiane Rochefort), and prompted Films and Filming’s editor Peter G. Baker to declare “thank goodness the Rank Organisation is associated in distributing a subject in such dubious taste”. The premise of a gang of bungling crooks abducting Terry-Thomas’s wife (and both the gang and the wife’s mortification when he tells them he isn’t interested in paying the ransom) was recycled at least twice by Hollywood over the next thirty years – as The Happening with Anthony Quinn and Ruthless People with Bette Midler – just as the final section in which the gang disguise themselves as undertakers strongly anticipates Joe Orton’s Loot. The climax too of Zampi’s next film, Bottoms Up! (1960) – based on the TV series Whacko! – in which the pupils of Chiselbury School stage an armed uprising against their drunken, corrupt headmaster (Jimmy Edwards) and his ineffectual staff even more strongly antipates Lindsay Anderson’s lf…. (although it’s possible that the makers of both films were taking their lead from Jean Vigo’s Zero de Conduite).

Zampi’s final film was a little-seen Italian-British co-production, Five Golden Hours (1961), filmed on location in Bolzano in Italy in both English and Italian-language versions with a largely British supporting cast. The teaming of Zampi and the sardonic American comedian Ernie Kovacs as a conman certainly sounds promising; but maybe it needed Michael Pertwee to give the script more bite. Kovacs himself, however, said that this was his personal favourite of his own films.

Zampi died in the Italian Hospital, London on 2 December 1963, and it’s hard to say what direction his career might have taken in the volatile climate of the British cinema of the 1960s. But the unsavoury revelations during the Profumo scandal that summer – especially about the thuggish slum landlord Peter Rachman – showed The Naked Truth to have been remarkably prescient; and his films remained popular on TV for another twenty years in those far off days when it was still possible to see black & white films at peak viewing time. RICHARD CHATTEN

Neglected British film directors | Seth Holt

In the first of our series on British filmmakers who deserve another look, Alan Price explores the work of SETH HOLT (1923 -1971)

220px-nowhere_to_go_1958_film_posterThe recent DVD release of Seth Holt’s Nowhere to Go (1958) is a timely reminder of one of England’s most intelligent and original directors. Holt’s first feature has a European noirish energy that’s prescient of ideas to be later fully realised over the Channel. Critics citing the initial feature of the French New wave choose Chabrol’s Le Beau Serge (1958). In December of that same year, Nowhere to Go was released – the last film produced by Ealing Studios and the most un-Ealing of films.

Nowhere to Go has the texture and atmosphere of a Jean Pierre Melville crime movie, displays a smoother sense of narrative expediency (or qausi-jump cuts) just before Godard’s Breathless (1960) and carefully creates a gritty, though stylised, realism comparable to Joseph Losey’s early British productions. It also contains the screen debut of Maggie Smith; revealing that amongst Holt’s many talents was his sensitive direction of women. Susan Strasberg, Carroll Baker and Bette Davis star in later Seth Holt films. Those performances can rank with their very best work.

What most distinguishes Nowhere to Go is the remarkable editing. Holt’s apprenticeship was as an editor on such distinguished films as Mandy, The Lavender Hill Mob and Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. You have only to watch Arthur Seaton (Albert Finney) going through his tedious routine, on the factory lathe, in the opening of Reitz’s Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, to experience cutting of an admirable precision. Finney’s great line, “Don’t let the bastards grind you down.” is memorably overlaid on the soundtrack as he grinds out a never ending line of machine parts.

Holt’s editing of his own films was approached rather differently. In 1982 the magazine Film Dope published an interview Holt had given in 1963, but which had not previously seen the light of day. Here Holt mentioned the word syncopated in relation to editing. “It isn’t quite the same as simply overlaying. You cut away just off where you feel the emphasis should be, and it gives quite an exciting rhythmic texture.”

seth-holt-nowhere-to-go_420In Nowhere to Go we see the beginning of Holt’s concern with rhythm. Essentially the film is a man hunt drama with Paul Gregory (George Nader), an escaped criminal, trying to collect money from the sale of stolen valuable coins kept in a safe deposit box. The fragmentary way Holt employs Dizzy Reece’s excellent jazz score, each time he is thwarted in his efforts to get the money, is suspenseful and slightly out of kilter. The effect of this collision of sound and image reveals Gregory’s isolation and frustration. Holt (pictured above) presents us with scene after scene where all of Gregory’s scheming and effort leads to a desperate nothing. Back to the Film Dope interview. Holt regards Gregory as a central character “who doesn’t seem to feel very sorry for himself.” Kenneth Tynan wrote the script together with Holt and together they tried to break away from the stereotyped image of the British screen criminal. In Nowhere to Go Holt introduces the idea of betrayal and the complexities of deception – a theme of all his subsequent films.

Critics have been rather facile in taking the title Nowhere to Go to describe Holt’s ‘unfulfilled’ career in British cinema. Too often they’ve spoken of the director’s ambition unrealised and/or compromised. David Thompson wrote that Seth Holt produced “six features of unrelenting promise” To which I would add that they are also six features with much that’s unrelentingly successful. Holt’s cinematic rewards greatly compensate for any flaws. And Seth Holt definitely had somewhere to go with his next three films: Taste of Fear, Station Six Sahara and The Nanny.

unknown-2In Taste of Fear Holt pulled off a very atmospheric Hammer film. Its wheel-chaired heroine, Penny (Susan Strasberg) is certainly devoid of any obvious self-pity. The film’s plot is an old and creaky one about the efforts of a stepmother Jayne (Anne Todd) and her chauffeur lover, Bob (Ronald Lewis) to murder daughter Penny and claim a large inheritance. Screenwriter Jimmy Sangster was no Kenneth Tynan. His plot contrivances can appear, after the credits role up, to have seriously undermined things. Yet you are gripped by Holt’s immersive and canny direction, with its subtle framing of scenes (such as wheel- chaired Penny edging towards a swimming pool at night). Of course it’s a Hammer project. But Seth Holt is no Hammer House style director. With its Psycho influenced shock moments, Taste of Fear pushes out into a subtle exploration of character. Unfortunately, Holt’s visual skill at suspense is at variance with Sangster’s obvious solutions. This very good horror film doesn’t quite come off because the characters are just a little too stock to fully come alive. All the film’s excellent acting finally fails to overcome the machinations of the plot.

images-2The case made for Seth Holt’s failure to make his career blossom has been put down to alcoholism, rubbing film industry executives up the wrong way and being landed with projects unworthy of his talents. You can make a case for Holt’s drinking and difficult temperament (even Bette Davis found him a ‘ruthless’ director). However he could work wonders with well worn themes and genre clichés. In The Nanny, Bette Davis delivers, post-Baby Jane, a really chilling performance. Her passive/aggressive response to children and stealthy control of parents is not due solely to her enormous talent but Holt’s skill in getting his great star not to over-act. You only have to compare Davis’s over the top and rather unpleasant performance in The Anniversary, to see that Holt could make his screen women a driving force through powerful understatement. Again it is a Jimmy Sangster script and there are problems. But this is certainly not the “spirited pot-boiler” dubbed by Time Out. For Holt creates a sharp cat and mouse game of rivalry and deceit between Nanny and her ten year old boy (William Dix) just released from a psychiatric hospital.

The Nanny (1965) is a good film, but coming straight after the remarkable Station Six Sahara (1962) an anti-climax. For of all his films, and the reason why Seth Holt should be better known today, Station Six Sahara crackles with great originality and confidence. Perhaps it’s because the film is an English/German co-production, made in the desert and he had more freedom on the shoot. Like Joseph Losey, Holt had an acute sense of hypocrisy, sexual repression and class tensions. Yet he didn’t necessarily need the social setting of England in order to play out such conflicts.

station-six-sahara-poster_420Station Six Sahara is enacted in an oil pumping station in the Sahara desert. The boss is Kramer (Peter van Eyck) a German, ex-military man. Second in command is Macey (Denholm Elliot) another army officer and ex pat. Fletcher (Ian Bannen) a working class Scot, Martin (Hansjorg Felmy) a younger Southern German and Santos (Mario Adorf) make up the rest of the crew. A tense game ensues between the snobbish Macey and the vulgar Fletcher. Macey receives more letters than anyone else. Fletcher buys one letter from Macey with his month’s salary. The undisclosed letter is tauntingly employed as a possible love letter against the arrogant Macey. Though only an important secondary story of Station Six Sahara, it makes for some wonderfully funny scenes of class anger. Denholm Elliot and Ian Bannen give terrific performances and obviously relished Brian Clemens’ and Bryan Forbes’ script.

This sold letter plotline, the clash between the two efficient Germans, and an excitingly directed poker game scene, replete with the hot and sweaty atmosphere of the desert, make up the first third of Station Six Sahara. When Catherine (Carroll Baker) and her ex-husband Jimmy (Biff McGuire) crash their car into the station we are into more interesting sensual and sexual developments. Catherine is no longer in love with Jimmy. She is a free, and importantly for a 1962 movie, a liberated woman. Catherine chooses her men for sex. Kramer cannot control her, neither can any of the other men. She cannot be dominated.

You might feel that at this point Station Six Sahara would fall into some cheesy and steamy melodrama. Yet Holt, and the film’s writing, sends it into other directions.

unknownCarroll Baker’s sexy character manages to be blousy, sultry, calculating and ultimately sad. Holt’s direction sides with Catherine, then criticises her but allows a sympathetic and strong personality to emerge. In no way, does Holt voyeuristically play up the box office appeal of Carroll Baker. The scene where she’s sitting outdoors dressed in a bikini and shorts was obviously meant as a selling point for the film. Catherine is well aware of being sexually provocative, yet she’s even more determined to just sit around in the sun and damm any man who approaches her (Carroll Baker pitches her fine performance with a knowing ambivalence). Kramer rushes over to complain and ‘cover her up’. Catherine makes us positively share her anger at his intervention.

station-six-sahara_420Holt’s interviewer in Film Dope, says of Station Six. “Would you be offended if the film were called pornographic?” To which Holt replies, “I prefer the term erotic.” Indeed it’s the erotic tension of the film that makes for its unpredictability. Though the eroticism is concentrated on Baker, it is also subtly diffused amongst the male relationships. Their macho behaviour has limits. Any instant sexual gratification proves sweet, short and is frustratingly terminated. Without being gay or homoerotic there’s a strong sense of frustrated love for each other arising out of the boredom and routine of an isolated work place. Vulnerability and loneliness is written into their roles. They’re failures and misfits, leftovers from the nationalism and imperialism of WW2 now stuck in the desert. Station Six Sahara creates its own world of intense moods and atmosphere. It feels like the work of an accomplished auteur. And behind his authorship Holt’s ‘syncopated’ editing is strikingly original and intelligent. Holt says he subscribed to Eisenstein and Pudovkin theories, but he never bludgeons us with a Russian dialectical montage. Whenever he employs Ron Grainger’s score and much uncredited African music it is done with aim to unsettle the audience emotionally. These disruptions or ‘omissions’ in the story contain visuals that are personally tuned to each actor. Holt always knows where to place his camera and challenge the viewer. And with Station Six’s desert location and sets, Holt and photographer Gerald Gibbs conjure up a weary, bleached look that beautifully complements the story.

After this near-masterpiece, Holt’s final three films The Nanny, Danger Route, Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb can appear artistically subdued. Yet they have their moments, insights and excitement. Apart from Bette Davis’s presence, The Nanny contains some fine visual framing of her vindictive behaviour. Danger Route (a sub-Bond like thriller) picks up twenty minutes into the film when Holt is obviously enjoying directing Diana Dors. And it picks up even more at the end when Carole Lynley is imaginatively observed and killed by her lover and rival spy played by Richard Johnson.

images-4Sadly Holt died, aged only forty eight, on the set of Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb. This Hammer production was hurriedly finished by Michael Carreras – and it shows despite Holt’s own material achieving an ancient Egyptian strangeness that equals the best films of the Mummy genre, and (like Danger Route) echoing his themes of treacherous behaviour.

Before his death Holt was originally up for producing If… But that was handed over to Michael Medwin and Lindsay Anderson. The rest is sweet film history. Though if Holt had had a go at the public school system I doubt that his and Anderson’s ego would have got on well together.

We are left with so few films. Along with Holt’s four excitingly directed episodes of the TV series Danger Man, and apart from Station Six Sahara, they are easily available on commercial DVD’s (though Danger Route is a bootleg issue). But the absence of an official DVD release of Station Six Sahara is the biggest injustice of all for Seth Holt. You can only buy a DVD bootleg version online. Or watch all of the film on the Vimeo website plus view extracts on YouTube.

Holt has a small and faithful cult following. And Martin Scorsese is reported to be a great admirer of Station Six Sahara. Can you intervene, Martin? Help to have it re-mastered onto BLU-RAY and organise an outing on the big screen of this criminally neglected film, please! Alan Price

 

 

 

All About Almodóvar | Mubi

A retrospective on MUBI looks back at the work and influences of Pedro Almodóvar and forward to his most recent work. 

 

Visionary filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar’s – now in his seventies – is showing no signs of slowing down. Pain and Glory his latest – an intensely personal film – took Best Actor at Cannes 2019 for its star Antonio Banderas, but the Oscar-winning auteur has never yet won the Palme d’Or, ironic considering most of the films are European arthouse in nature, including his Hitchcockian 2016 outing Julieta.

Last Summer’s Venice festival premiered his impressive short film The Human Voice that starred Tilda Swinton in Jean Cocteau’s one-act, one-hander, 2021 will see the release of a full length drama Madres Paralelas a that follows two mothers who give birth on the same day. And Almodovar is already working on the next one based on a novel by Spanish co-writer Lucia Berlin (A Manual for Cleaning Ladies) that will hopefully screen next year.

Inventive and always surprising his work melds comedy with the intensely personal and the mood is generally upbeat. One of his most outrageous films to date  I’m So Excited  was a random comedy but one that was well received by his Spanish audiences and proved that even his more forgettable films have wacky and watchable appeal.

Pedro AlmodovarAlthough, in common with Aki Kaurismäki, Almodóvar is one of the few auteurs never to have won the coveted Cannes main trophy, he is considered amongst many cinephiles as the most accomplished and triumphant Spanish filmmaker of all time. However this illustrious director is still to make an English language film or be tempted by the allure of Hollywood – and yet his work continues to be admired and adored across the globe. So what is it about this remarkable artist that has such worldwide appeal?

Although producing an eclectic range of films, there is something instantly recognisable about Almodóvar’s work, with his unique blend of comedy and melodrama. A consistent, and certainly universal, theme within his pictures is that of sex, as he explores every taboo related to the subject, with sexual identity a consistent issue within his films, expressed provocatively in the likes of All About My Mother, Bad Education and The Skin I Live In. However where Almodóvar stands out, is within his ability to tackle these sensitive subjects in such a surrealistic way, introducing humour into the most complex situations, and vibrantly portraying humanity with all its foibles.

Much of the reason why Almodóvar’s work is so well-received worldwide, is due to his unashamed appreciation of Hollywood, with a brazen-faced admiration of classic cinema, conspicuously referencing films such as All About Eve, A Streetcar Named Desire and Frankenstein. Almodóvar is a storyteller first and foremost, who thrives on the tense nuances inspired by one of his heroes, Alfred Hitchcock, as well as the intertwining romantic narratives and eccentric plot-points, which are certainly a nod in the direction of Woody Allen.

That said, the one divine guidance upon his work is a home-grown talent, as he is evidently influenced by Luis Buñel. He unapologetically references the father of cinematic surrealism in his movies, remaining faithful to his Spanish roots and heritage. In his more recent films Almodóvar has also taken to referencing his own work– with a parody of Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown performed in Broken Embraces.

Almodóvar always manages to bring popular Spanish culture into his productions – even within his latest feature he touches upon the current economic crisis. He isn’t afraid to explore the political implications of the authoritarian dictatorship of Franco either, nor Catholic religious schooling in Bad Education, whilst bullfighting is explored in great depth in both Matador and Talk to Her, being both beatified and vilified in equal measure. As such, Almodóvar has changed our very own perceptions of Spain as a nation; his features are unreservedly intertwined with his homeland, making it impossible to detach ourselves from his unique representation of the country.

Another factor in Almodóvar’s appeal is his incomparable portrayal of women, as they are always shown to be the more powerful of the sexes. The female characters are not only strong-willed, but fervently idolised by their male counterparts, to a quite disturbing extent in films such as Talk to Her or Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! Though his lead roles tend to be disturbed and dark, he somehow manages to humanise them, allowing the audience to empathise with our protagonists, despite them frequently being sexual deviants, rapists and kidnappers. Here is an example of a filmmaker who is approaching cinema as an art first, and an industry second.

There is just something about Pedro Almodóvar. His original, innovative approach to film-making remains unsurpassed, and his immense ability in finding solace and humour within the darker sides of the human brain is miraculous. He will forever continue to apply his twisted, whimsical style to these universal themes, maintaining this definable, idiosyncratic approach which has lasted from the very start of his career until the present day.

Whether he makes the move to Hollywood one day is ultimately a futile question, as regardless of where this director plies his trade, his films will continue to involve and inspire audiences, as a good story is a good story in any language, and here is a director who is majestic at telling them, finding a common ground in the most unlikely of places.

MATADOR  ***

Pedro Almodóvar had once admitted that he considers Matador to be one of his weaker films, and regrettably this surreal allegory of sex and death makes such a statement somewhat easy to agree with.

We delve into the lives of a trio of damaged individuals, where a thin line exists between murder and sexual desire, as a provocative black comedy that explores the darker side of the human mind, with a young Antonio Banderas standing out.

Matador is full of the symbolism and idiosyncrasies that define Almodóvar’s work. Ultimately quite fatuous, this struggles in its tedious story and lack of depth to characters. An early Almodóvar production that ensures it’s only uphill from here on.

WOMEN ON THE VERGE OF A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN  ****

The film that made Almodóvar, and you can see why. An ingenious and fanciful farce that signals the filmmakers move towards the whimsical melodrama of which he has since become renowned.

When Pepa (Carmen Maura) is left by her lover, she confronts his son and partner seeking answers, a matter made complicated with the arrival of her fugitive companion, all taking place in her apartment across one fateful day.

Hitchcockian in parts, Woody Allen in others, this flamboyant and elaborate comedy is surrealistic, detracting from the severity of the distress felt by our protagonists, as a film that cements Almodóvar’s status as one of the most important and promising filmmakers in world cinema – a promise very much fulfilled.

TIE ME UP TIE ME DOWN!  ***

With pointers from Martin Scorsese, influenced by the likes of The King of Comedy and Taxi Driver, this dark and disturbing thriller manages to retain a sweet and somewhat touching sentiment, taking characters you shouldn’t approve of and endears you to them. This is Almodóvar doing rom-com. Sort of.

Ricky (Antonio Banderas), is a deranged opportunist who kidnaps a porn-star and ties her up, not allowing her freedom until she agrees to marry him. Banderas is outstanding, in a tense and beguiling feature that keeps you captivated throughout.

You could be offended by this offering given the questionable sexual politics in one of Almodóvar’s most divisive works – but it all depends on how earnestly you view it.

LIVE FLESH  ***

Almodóvar has received eight nominations for Best Film not in the English Language at the BAFTAs, and Live Flesh – a less celebrated title by the notorious filmmaker, is one of them – exploring the intertwining relationships between five ardent, passionate and proud lovers.

We follow an ex-convict who is determined to make amends with a former fling and prove himself as the world’s greatest love maker, with a supporting Javier Bardem stealing the show.

Conflicting with the tragic themes comes an optimistic political undercurrent, playing against the rejuvenation of Spain following the dictatorship of Francisco Franco. Live Flesh is also witty, allowing for any grave situation to be viewed upon as chic and frivolous, deserving of its BAFTA recognition.

ALL ABOUT MY MOTHER  ****

Almodóvar’s most iconic piece of work, unapologetically influenced by classic Hollywood productions such as All About Eve and A Streetcar Named Desire, while always feeling innovative, with that Almodóvar spirit stamped all over it.

When a distressed mother (Cecilia Roth) loses her son in a car accident, she attempts to track down his father, who has since changed his identity to that of a woman. Combining comedy and tragedy expertly, All About My Mother is intimately moving, despite the exuberant, melodramatic setting.

Every lead is a strong female character – so dominant that even the male protagonists are transvestites. Sexual identity is an important factor in this, dealing with severe themes such existentialism and homosexuality in true Almodóvar fashion.

TALK TO HER  *****

Talk to Her is Almodóvar’s one true masterpiece, as an outstanding drama that is beautifully touching, blended majestically with a dark, harrowing edge.

Epitomised in lead character Marco (Darío Grandinetti), in touch with his emotions and cries consistently – he falls for a bullfighter who is admitted into a coma, where they meet nurse Benigno (Javier Cámara), who has an unhealthy adoration for a patient.

Spanish culture is magnified, beautified and scrutinised in one film – intriguingly witnessed through the eyes of an Argentine, in what is a delicately crafted, unassuming slice of cinema. This is Almodóvar’s most accomplished piece, following a narrative that doesn’t deviate too far from realism, unlike what we have grown accustomed to with his work.

BAD EDUCATION  ****

A fascinating look into how our past can affect our future – particularly in the wake of the Franco era, and the implications his reign has had on Spain and those who have lived through it.

Gael García Bernal plays a man (and woman) who returns to a childhood sweetheart turned filmmaker, to present a screenplay he has written about the sexual abuse they suffered at the hands of priests at their all boys school.

A lurid melodrama combined masterfully with a murder thriller narrative running through the heart of it, Almodóvar leads you down one path before heading down another. The intense themes are contained within a grandiose setup that allows us to explore such issues while avoiding morbidity.

VOLVER ****

After Bad Education and Talk to Her, Almodóvar returns to a female orientated cast, with Penélope Cruz turning in a career defining performance that earned her a much deserved Oscar nomination.

She plays Raimunda, a single mother who returns back home to visit her mother’s grave, only to be told by her auntie that the deceased woman is still alive. Volver is an archetypal crime thriller, well, by Almodóvar’s standards.

The filmmaker comes into his element, with a riveting story that is full of the nuances of the thriller genre, yet combined with his typically theatrical and darkly comic edge. Also working as a hypothetical fantasy, anyone who has ever lost someone can find solace in this absorbing production.

BROKEN EMBRACES  ***

You’d be forgiven for admitting to this one passing you by, as although earning a BAFTA nomination, Broken Embraces has been overlooked somewhat. A surprise given this tells a gripping story, with an engrossing lead performance from Lluís Homar.

He plays Harry Caine, a blind writer who is reluctantly transported back to his past with the arrival of an aspiring filmmaker, coming to him with the idea for a screenplay, yet one that stirs up old memories – recalling the twisted love triangle surrounding the beautiful actress Lena (Penélope Cruz).

Without a palpable wit, Broken Embraces is a more conventional, narrative driven piece, blending together a series of interlinking characters and erotic tales, through a vibrant and glorious aesthetic.

THE SKIN I LIVE IN  ****

Following on from two somewhat conventional thrillers in Volver and Broken Embraces, anyone anticipating a shift in style from Almodóvar – with Hollywood lingering at the back of the mind – were soon put right, as he returns to his dark and disturbing ways with his most deranged picture since Matador.

A self-described horror story, we delve into the twisted world of a plastic surgeon (Antonio Banderas), who creates a synthetic skin that can withstand any burns, using the imprisoned Vera (Elena Anaya) as his guinea pig.

Helped along by a haunting Hitchcockian score, The Skin I Live In is one of Almodóvar’s most erotically intense works, as a psychosexual thriller that sees Banderas put in his finest career performance. SP

PEDRO ALMODOVAR RETROSPECTIVE series now on MUBI 

 

 

 

A Letter To Three Wives (1949) | Kirk Douglas Season | BFI

Dir.: Joseph L. Mankiewicz

Cast: Jeanne Crain, Linda Darnell, Ann Southern, Kirk Douglas, Paul Douglas, Jeffrey Lynn

USA 1949, 103 min.

It is difficult to understand how Mankiewicz managed to direct four so different films in the span of two years: A Letter To Three Wives and All About Eve (he received Oscars for Best Director and best screenplay in both cases), are the bookends, whilst his two film-noir productions of House of Strangers (1949) and No Way Out (1950) were, in comparison, rather unrecognised, although far more more weighty in their subject-matter.

A Letter to Three Wives is based on the novel ‘Letter to Five Wives’ by John Klempner (which appeared first in ‘Cosmopolitan’); the number of wives had been whittled down by 20th Century Fox boss Darryl F. Zanuck to three. In spite of this, the film feels much longer than 103 minutes – there are simply not enough dramatic turns (unlike in All about Eve) to sustain interest.

When three middle-class wives, Deborah Bishop (Crain), Rita Phipps (Sothern) and Lora Mae Hollingsway (Darnell) enter a pleasure boat to take care of under-privileged children, they receive a message from Addie Ross (voiced by Celeste Holme), that she is going to run away with one of their husbands – leaving them all in suspense as to which husband she had picked. During the boat trip we learn in flash-back about the (rather mundane) marriage problems and get to know the husbands: Brad Bishop (Lynn), George Phipps (K. Douglas) and Porter Hollingsway (P. Douglas). Deborah, who grew up in the countryside, is ill at ease in Brad’s upper-class family, furthermore, everyone in his circle expected him to marry Addie, who is adored by all the men in the film. Rita is a writer of radio plays, and her husband George, a teacher, feels somehow ‘castrated’, since he can’t compete with his wife financially. Finally, Lora Mae grew up poor, and her husband Porter (who owns a chain of nationwide department stores) somehow suspects that she has married him only for the money.

Needless to say, there is a happy ending, and it is unanymously re-affirmed that women cannot live without a husband. Furthermore, the enigmatic and supposedly very attractive Addie is just a cypher, shown only once and from behind. In positioning her as the sexually-alluring femme fatale, who looses out in the end to three insecure, but ‘needy’ women, Mankiewicz re-affirm society’s doctrine of male dominance. There is no attempt to question the hierarchical structure of marriage, and the rather tepid acting and stage-like camera movements combine with the stale narrative in a conservative image of society – as if the war and resulting women’s liberation had not happened. AS

SCREENING AT BFI DURING THE KIRK DOUGLAS SEASON

 

AUB Graduation 2016: the filmmakers of tomorrow

Andre Simonoveisz casts a critical eye on the latest crop of feature and documentary shorts to emerge from Britain’s most respected film schools to reveal a fresh crop of talent in the filmmakers of the future

The Arts University Bournemouth (AUB) is Britain’s Oxbridge of film schools, the students come not only from the UK, but from Europe, Asia and even the USA. All their graduation films are shown every year to a full house at the NFT1. This year’s crop of thirteen films shows an amazing width of talent and it is fair to say that the majority of the productions are certainly not lacking full professional status.

Highlight of the documentary section was ARTIFICIAL SUNSHINE, a portrait of Blackpool, comparing the seaside resort today with the images of the ’60s. Director Conor Rollins and DoP Louis Hollis contrast the family-orientated holiday atmosphere of fifty years ago with the rather seedy and overly commercial aspects of the present. The nightly scenes in garishly lit streets are captured with intensity; the old amusement arcades look very dated in contrast with today’s electronic offerings, ARTIFICIAL SUNSHINE is an astute picture of how radical change has effected the resort – and not for the better.

A special mention should go CRICKLAND, a portrait of the oldest pub in Bournemouth. Director and PoP Rebecca Richards deserves every praise, since her original project, featuring an eccentric gardener in Berlin, was called off at the last minute. CRICKLAND is a very humane and touching study of how the patrons try their very best to overcome adversity as a united force.

The two outstanding feature shorts could not have been more different: SPECTRUM is a minimalist but engrossing study of mental illness, whilst LISTEN UP EMILY tries to emulate Hollywood’s best musicals – on a shoe-string budget. SPECTRUM, directed by Lewis Logan, centres around Chris (John Seward), who is leaving his mother Jackie (Lin Clifton) and sister Charlotte (Francesca Regis) at home to fly to Mars. At least that is what he tells the two women. Whilst his mother occupies herself, watering and pruning her flowers, Charlotte plays a hilarious game with her brother, both pretending to be birds. The surprising finale features the men in white coats arriving and we see him sitting in the car: miles away, he could be really going to Mars. DoP and co-writer Sam Meyer find all the right little nuances to make SPECTRUM a small but shining gem.

LISTEN UP EMILY is a fairy tale in which writer/director Milo Cremer Eindhoven’s heroine Emily (Sarah Swire) escapes her own wedding into the world of ’50s Paris, meeting her own Gene (Dan Burton). We first meet Emily and her father in a house adjacent to the church, where she has fled her own wedding seconds before the fatal ‘Yes’. Talking to her father makes her indecision not better, and she is at first only too happy to literally stumble into a Paris of the ’50s meeting Gene, who dances her off her feet. Quoting Bringing up Baby as well as An American in Paris, the director gives us more than subtle dose of nostalgia, so much so that Emily, miraculously brought back to the church and the altar, has found the courage to say ‘No’ to the puzzled groom – before dancing out of the church. PDs Becky Millward and Lottie Geliot recreate the Paris of the mid 20th century with great imagination, making up for the sparse budget. DoP Leon Pyszora conjures up two different worlds with his imaginative lighting: the huge church is cold and sterile, the faces of the wedding guests white, everything seems frozen. Paris on the other hand, is full of sunny colours, the streetlights giving a particular glow, making Emily into a proper princess on the run. LISTEN UP EMILY is a joyous trip into the cinematographically past.

After such a richness of young talent, we can only hope that it filters through into the productions of tomorrow. AS

Chariots of Fire (1981) | Mohammed Al-Fayed Interview

“In the spotlight” with Mohammed Al-Fayed

Back in 1980, a script was collecting dust in the offices of Goldcrest. Dodi Fayed discovered it, Mohammed al Fayed believed in it and through his funding Chariots Of Fire came into being.  I went along to talk to the man who made this all possible through his unique vision, commitment and fascination with the world of film.

Your first film experience?

When my brothers and I were youngsters in Alexandria, we would often go to the cinema. Egypt had a very vibrant and creative film industry in the 1940’s and 1950’s with many great actors (Faten Hamama, Omar Sharif), and directors (Henry Barakat, Youssef Chahine, Salah Abu Seif). We also enjoyed Hollywood and British fare.  I think that this early experience created my great interest in the motion picture industry. I’m sure Dodi inherited this love of film from me. During his career in the film business, he amassed a fine selection of work and helped to produce several films. At the time of his death, he was in pre-production with a new live action film of “Peter Pan”. Sadly it has never been made but I know it would have redefined J M Barrie’s wonderful story for the 21st Century.

What do you enjoy watching nowadays? 

My taste is wide and varied. I do love films that can appeal to the whole of the family. That is why I enjoy all the James Bond films. I knew Cubby Broccoli very well and liked him immensely. He was a life force. His daughter Barbara, who produces the films in succession, practically grew up with Dodi. She loved him as a brother. Their friendship began on the set of one of the Bond films. Cubby needed an oil tanker, for a scene in which three nuclear submarines, U.S. British and Soviet, disappear and their crews are kidnapped. The submarines end up within the hold of a super tanker. I happened to own the right sort of tanker for the film and was only too pleased to loan it to Cubby for those epic scenes, shot off Sardinia. I cannot tell you which of the Bond films I like best so I shall just say the next 007. Barbara is a wonderful producer and she never creates anything but memorable films with compelling scenes and characters. But there is one other film that I am particularly fond of and it is the Burton and Taylor version of “Cleopatra”. When MGM came to Egypt to shoot the location scenes, I worked with the studio to provide everything they needed, from thousands of extras, to the cars for the stars and busses for the crowd. A great film came out of that monumental endeavour and it is still very entertaining 60 years later. Many of the MGM executives I met then are still my friends today.

Film influences?

I have many close friends in the film industry and I could give you a very star-studded list, but my favourite film actor of all time is Tony Curtis. I miss him more than I can say and he was a loyal friend to me and my family. He started off as a glamour boy, a bit of a pin-up, in the 1950s and his haircut was more famous than he was! But it should never be forgotten that he was a very considerable acting talent. How male actors can claim with confidence that they starred in two of the best films of the 20th Century. Tony did: “Some Like It Hot” and “The Sweet Smell of Success”. And then there are many films, like “The Defiant Ones” that were epoch-making in their own way. There are so many great actresses that that’s a difficult question, I shall restrict myself to saying how much I like and admire Goldie Hawn and Sophia Loren, two women whose screen presence is unmistakable from the very first frame. They are elegant and brilliant stars and that is why I invited them both, at different times, to open the January Sale at Harrods. They both carried off that new and very specific role with elegance and charm, just as you would expect.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What captured your imagination in you backing Chariots of Fire, given that the script had been lying around for so long in the offices of Goldcrest?  

When Dodi brought me the script of “Chariots of Fire”, to see if I would like to invest in the production, he told me frankly that no one would put money into the film. I was shocked. How could people be so blind? Here was the story of two men, both great athletes, who encounter prejudice and insuperable barriers to their success. Harold Abrahams was Jewish and subjected to the worst snobbery and race hatred in his attempt to win the 100 metres at the Paris Olympics. But Abrahams defied them all and won. The other, Eric Liddell, was “The Flying Scotsman”, a man of iron principle whose religious beliefs meant that he could not and would not run on a Sunday. When pressure was applied to convince him to compromise his conscience, he resisted it, switched to another race that was not being run on a Sunday and brought home the Gold Medal anyway. I thought they were both wonderful, inspiring stories. But not many other people did at the time. By the early 1980s, the cinemas were full of films featuring nothing but violence and gratuitous sex, car chases and bad language. In Chariots, there is no violence, no profanity, no nudity and the only chasing is on the running track. Yes, there is a love story but, in keeping with the morality of the 1920s when the story takes place, it is a chaste and decorous one. So I didn’t hesitate when Dodi asked me to finance the production. The result was the only British film, at that time, to be awarded four Academy Awards. It was a British film but, let us be honest, it would not have been made without Egyptian money. I was glad to help. The film came out in the year of the Falklands War and even in Argentina, then at war with Britain, it was a huge hit. When cinema-goers in Buenos Aires had the scene the film the word on the street was “These British people have such strong moral characters and such courage that we may not be able to beat them in this war”.

[youtube id=”7l1H37Ps9QQ” width=”600″ height=”350″]

That was the effect of “Chariots”. It was the greatest success ever scored by Lord (David) Putnam and his production company, Goldcrest. Dodi was the Associate Producer. I am pleased to see that a re-mastered version of the film is being released in this Olympic year for London. It is one of those films with a back story almost as intriguing as the one that appeared on the screen. The world still loves the film, more than 30 years on. Last year, The Film and Television Sports Foundation of Milan were kind enough to present me with a special award for my role in bringing the story before world audiences. That meant a lot to me, as much as the Oscars and BAFTAS, because it meant that young sports lovers throughout the world had found inspiration in the film that Dodi believed in and helped to produce. I am glad that script did not stay on that dusty shelf. 

Your contribution to the British film industry was celebrated during the 2012 O what would tempt you back into financing another film?

I am happy leave it to other people to finance the films of the future. I have made my contribution. However, if there is a story that cries out to be made, I might be tempted. It would have to be a story where humanity triumphed. The actors and directors need not be famous. Most of the people in “Chariots” were not well known before its production. But the creative team would have to bring their love and their belief and their commitment to the film. Without those magic ingredients, nothing really works in front of the camera. The camera may have only one eye but it has a way of seeing everything.

What drew you to football in the first place?

I loved playing football when I was young. My brothers and I played whenever we had a few moments free from our homework. We played on the beach near our home in Alexandria. My younger brother, Salah, now sadly dead, was a great sportsman with a tremendous talent as a footballer. In fact he was an all-round sportsman. I was not, but I have always admired those who are supreme in their sports and also those who give everything they have got in order to succeed. Talent is the most valuable thing in the world but quite often, persistence wins.

Have you ever been approached to make a film based on your Harrods retail store or Fulham football club?

Several films have been made about Harrods. I remember a particularly good one being made for television by Desmond Wilcox, the late husband of Esther Rantzen. Harrods has featured in many of his films not least in “The Pumpkin Eater” in which Anne Bancroft suffers a memorable mental breakdown in the Food Halls. And it wasn’t because of the prices. No one has come up with a must-be-made film script about Fulham FC, but I admit it is a fascinating story. Of course, we are still living that story on a week-by-week basis so perhaps there is still time. Any script would have to have a wonderful climax. We are awaiting ours. The FA Cup’s next years? Or the Europa League Championship? We live, and we hope so.

If you could star in a movie, which role would you most like to play? 

I have no desire to be a film star. I am in the grandfather business.  If there was a role that meant I could spend every day on the set playing with my granddaughters, I might consider it. But the location and catering would have to be very good to tempt me to accept any role.

It has been said that investing in movies is as high risk as investing in airlines. What advice would you give a prospective investor?

The safe answer is to say “Don’t”. You should only invest in the film industry if you really know what you are doing. I suppose that goes for any sort of commercial endeavour. But in show business it is notoriously easy to make a mistake and mistakes in the film industry are by definition expensive. The best investment you can make is to buy a ticket for a film that really attracts you and then tell people how good it is, if you enjoyed it. Word of mouth is the film industry’s secret weapon. It was personal recommendation that alerted people to the merits of “Chariots of Fire”, because initially it did not have a big budget for publicity and advertising. People talk and thank goodness they do. With regard to the Government, it needs only look as far as Ireland or across the Atlantic to Canada. Both countries have prospered by offering film-makers tax breaks and other incentives. There is a great deal of talent in Britain. The Government should invest in it by creating the conditions in which talent can be creative and prosper. It is not hard to see what needs to be done but this Government seems to prefer taxing the blood out of everyone rather than providing the financial impetus that would do wonders for film and television production. The world is crying out for good content. This country provides a lot of it. But, with the right encouragement, it could do so much more.

How would you like to be remembered in rolling credits?

This question is too difficult. I wish to be remembered by my family as a husband, father and grandfather. I ask nothing else and nothing more. But anyway, I am not even thinking of any “closing credits” of a personal nature. When people come out of the cinema having seen “Chariots of Fire”, or any of the other films with which Dodi was associated (“Breaking Glass”, “Hook”, “FX-Murder By Illusion” Parts 1 & 2, “The Scarlet Letter”) I want them to feel that they have enjoyed themselves in the company of great story-tellers. That is what it is all about. We all love a good story.” Meredith Taylor  ©

Barbican Film | Chariots of Fire + ScreenTalk with Lord David Puttnam and Andy Beckett
Wed 6 July 2016 | barbican.org.uk/film | Box Office 0845 120 7527 | The remastered version of Chariots of Fire (1981) is also available on DVD


7 Reasons To Visit | East End Film Festival 2016 | 23 June – 3 July 2016

UNCLE HOWARD - PREFERRED 2UNCLE HOWARD ****

Dir: Aaron Brookner; Doc with Jim Jarmush, Tom DiCillo, Sara Driver; UK/US 2016, 96 min.

Filmmaker Aaron Brookner (The Silver Goat) rescues his uncle Howard’s most famous documentary Burroughs: The Movie (1983) and makes it into a moving portrait of his relative (who died of Aids at only 34) and a work of extensive research that emerged from “Burrough’s Bunker” at 222 Bowery, a windowless flat in New York, where the writer and provocateur worked until his death in 1997. The place was taken over by his friend, the poet John Giorno who was reluctant to allow Aaron access to the archives (containing positive and negatives of the Burroughs film), but with the help of Jim Jarmush – co-producer of Uncle Howard and sound technician on the Burroughs film – Aaron rescued the doc and shots of its making, from oblivion. Apart from Burroughs and Ginsberg, many of the ‘underground’ artists of the New York scene can be seen in action: Frank Zappa and Andy Warhol amongst them, as well as filmmaker Tom DiCillo, Howard Brookner’s DoP, and director and actor Sara Driver, who also co-produced Uncle Howard. Interviews with the theatre director Robert Wilson, subject of Howard’s second documentary Robert Wilson and the Civil Wars (1987), shed further light on Howard Brookner’s working method and the contract negotiations with Columbia about his first feature film Bloodhounds of Broadway (with Madonna and Matt Dillon) Howard pre-deceased the premiere of Bloodhounds in 1989Uncle Howard visits favourite artist haunts such as the Chelsea Hotel and the St. Vincent hospital in New York, “the Ground Zero” for New York’s Aids victims of the ’80s and ’90s; which today is a luxury apartment block. DoPs Gregg De Domenico and Andre Döbert carefully find styles to show how much the city has changed – and how much it has lost – in the last 25 years. Uncle Howard is a Trauerarbeit, but also a celebration of the life and work of Howard Brookner.

Aloys copyALOYS | Writer|Director: Tobias Nölle | Cast: Georg Friedrich, Tilde von Overbeck | 91min | Drama | Switzerland

Tobias Nölle’s second feature is a coldly rendered exploration of loneliness and isolation made all the more so by its impressive visual style. ALOYS follows the unusual day to day activities of the eponymous central character, a soi-disant private investigator in an unnamed Swiss town. As the film opens, this hard-edged loner is mourning the death of his father, indicated by graphic images of his coffin and wake. Clearly distraught, Aloys has no interest in sharing his grief, preferring to retreat to his spartanly decorated flat to reflect and seemingly gloat on the footage recorded on his video cameo during the day’s investigations. (full review under Aloys)

Abluka 4FRENZY | Director: Emin Alper| Turkey | 98min | Thriller

Mehmet Ozgur played the central role in writer|director Emin Alper’s stunning debut Beyond the Hill. Here he is again as the eldest brother in a family struggling to survive political violence in a dystopian Istanbul. Menacing by the same brooding tone of his first feature, FRENZY (Abluka) is a study in paranoia that transport the threat experienced in the mountains of Beyond the Hill’s Karaman, to an urban setting in the capital. Here the authorities here are losing control, and to achieve a semblance of order, Kadir and his brother Ahmet (Berkey Ates) are working to establish a reasonable living environment by clearing away undesirable elements: stray dogs are mercilessly shot and rubbish is collected and disposed of on a daily basis. But despite these methods of civil control, disorder rears its ugly head. (Full review under Abluka)

A River - PreferredTHE RIVER ***

Directed by Anthony Tombling Jr and narrated by the mellow tones of Michael Sheen (soundtrack by Massive Attack), this informative documentary serves as testament to the past and tribute to contemporary Wales where a river flowing through the Afan Forest Park in Pontrhydyfen has recovered from pollution caused by a century of industrial mining to become a haven for walkers, mountain bikers and fishermen and now faces a future under threat from ‘fracking’. Despite its delicate artistic flourishes – a recurring motif of the river flowing swiftly through woodland – A RIVER plays out rather like a worthy party political broadcast of behalf of the Green Party warning us of a potentially damaging industrial future while also celebrating the return of native flora and fauna – namely the dipper bird, the Red Kite, the buzzard and native salmon to this lush and verdant Welsh valley.

Tales From the Two Puddings - PREFERREDTALES FROM THE TWO PUDDINGS ***

An enjoyable romp through the ’60s life and times of an iconic East End pub. THE TWO PUDDINGS in Stratford has seen many a gangster and a sportman cross its threshold but it gives up its treasures amusingly here courtesy of past and present publicans and customers alike who reminisce over meetings with the Kray Twins, Bobby Charlton and the like, who all downed a pint or two during the hostelry’s illustrious past. Archive footage and black and white photography combine with frank and colourful interviews and a resonant ’60s score of vintage favourites to make this watchable and informative. MT

Desire Will Set You Free - photo1DESIRE WILL SET YOU FREE ** 

Dir.: Yony Leyser; Cast: Yony Leyser, Tim-Fabian, Cloe Griffin | Germany 2015, 92 min.

Writer/director Yoni Leyser (A Man Within) sets his autobiographical comedy romance in the contempo Berlin LGBT scene amongst celebrities such as Nina Hagen, Peaches and Blixa Bergeld (Einstürzende Neubauten). It centres on Ezra (Leyser) a US citizen with Israeli/Palestinian background whose efforts to finish his book are almost derailed by falling in love with Russian hustler Sasha (Hoffmann). Oscillating between comedy and melodrama, Desire tries too hard, often descending into pure parody. Incorporating simulated scenes from the Weimarer Republic, David Bowie and Christopher Isherwood quotes and love-making against the remnants of the Berlin Wall, Ezra/Leyser sums it all up: “I’d rather be a drama queen, than dull”. Indeed.

Love is thicker than waterLOVE IS THICKER THAN WATER | ***

Dir.: Emily Harris, Ate De Jong; Cast: Lydia Wilson, Johnny Flynn, Henry Goodman, Juliet Stevenson, Robert Blythe; UK 2016, 103 min.

A love affair is smothered by the cultural-economic divide in this lively and intricately-scripted romcom from filmmakers Emily Harris (Borges and I) and Ate de Jong (Drop Dead Fred) where Vida, a middle class Jewish professional cellist  (Lydia Wilson) meets Arthur, a bicycle courier and son of a Welsh steelworker. The two are drawn together by a creative appreciation and an active sexual magnetism: Arthur’s talent for animation photography gains him a place at art school with Vida’s help. But the most engaging element here is the authentic portrayal of inter-family strife seen through violent clashes and animosity from Vida’s mother Ethel (Stevenson) a musician, and Arthur’s father George (Blythe). Tragedy is the inevitable outcome in a drama enhanced by Nate Milton’s animated artwork and Zoran Veljkovic’s vivid camerawork of contempo London.

 

EAST END FILM FESTIVAL 23 – JUNE – 3 JULY 2016 | FULL PROGRAMME HERE

 

 

Edinburgh Film Festival 2016 | What’s On?

Edinburgh International Film Festival (EIFF), takes place between the 15th and 26th of June. Celebrating a landmark 70th edition, the Festival this year showcases a total of 22 World premiers from around the World.

BEST OF BRITISH

This year’s strand includes David Blair’s romantic drama AWAY, starring Timothy Spall and Juno Temple as two lost souls seeking solace under the lights of Blackpool while Rita Osei’s debut BLISS!, follows a teenage girl on a rite of passage journey of discovery across Scandinavia and Mercedes Grower’s offbeat debut BRAKES led by Julian Barratt and Noel Fielding. In the theme old age comes János Edelényi’s hilariously poignant THE CARER starring Brian Cox, who will be in attendance at this year’s Festival.

Will Poulter and Cara Delevingne lead a fantastic British ensemble cast in the sumptuous coming-of-age drama KIDS IN LOVE from Chris Foggin and, in a similar vein, Philip John takes us on an anarchic road-trip in MOON DOGS. More death scenes from Wales as twin librarians plan revenge in the quiet section in Euros Lyn’s Welsh-language THE LIBRARY (Y Llyfrgell) and brooding Scottish Icelandic Noirs PALE STAR and A REYKJAVIK PORNO are the latest outings from Scot Graeme Maley

Acclaimed artist Henry Coombes’ SEAT IN SHADOW is a witty and perspective study into the symbiotic relationship between an eccentric, part-time Jung-obsessed psychotherapist and his patient/muse.
Joanne Froggatt plays a woman attempting to keep her family together as her husband endures unimaginable pain in Bill Clark’s STARFISH. Ibiza-set crime thriller WHITE ISLAND from Benjamin Turner. Also in thriller territory, Agyness Deyn stars in dystopian THE WHITE KING from Alex Helfrecht and Jörg Tittel.

IN PERSON

A Celebration of the Films of Cinéma du Look retrospective will welcome legendary filmmaker Nagisa Oshima, the prolific producer of over fifty films, including 1983’s Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence.

AMERICAN DREAMS

Maggies_Plan copyWelcomes the very best in new American independent cinema (left) including Rebecca Miller’s MAGGIE’S PLAN, with Greta Gerwig, Ethan Hawke and Julianne Moore each delivering pitch-perfect performances.
Meg Ryan’s directorial debut ITHACA, an elegant and moving story of a teenager delivering telegrams in World War II. The European Premiere of Rob Burnett’s THE FUNDAMENTALS OF CARING, a charming comedy-drama that pairs Paul Rudd and rising British star Craig Roberts as caregiver and dependent. Paco Cabezas’ MR RIGHT starring Anna Kendrick and Sam Rockwell as an oddball assassin. There will be a chance to see the International Premiere of fan fiction marvel SLASH and Steven Lewis Simpson’s road trip through Lakota country NEITHER WOLF NOR DOG.

THE DIRECTORS’ SHOWCASE

The Commune copyShines a light on the latest work from some of the world’s most highly-respected auteurs, each film offering an insight into perspectives and stories from across the globe. Screening over the course of the Festival are:

Bleak Street, Arturo Ripstein’s black and white tale of a pair of murderous Mexican lucha wrestlers
Dark Danish comedy The Commune (RIGHT) from Thomas Vinterberg
Hans Petter Moland’s gripping police thriller A Conspiracy of Faith
Giuseppe Tornatore’s The Correspondence, starring Jeremy Irons and Olga Kurylenko
Jean-Paul Rappeneau’s elegant Families
Kurdish docu-drama A Flag Without A Country from Bahman Ghobadi
Taika Waititi’s hilarious Hunt for the Wilderpeople, following Sam Neill and newcomer Julian Dennison into the New Zealand bush
Yeon Sang-ho’s vision of zombie apocalypse Seoul Station
Paddy Breathnach’s Viva, set amongst the colourful world of Havana’s drag clubs
Yoga Hosers, the latest madcap adventure from Kevin Smith

EUROPEAN PERSPECTIVES

Saint Amour copyThis year’s strand features a number of much anticipated films making their UK debuts:
Bilall Fallah and Adil El Arbi’s emotive Black, a story of forbidden love set on the streets of Brussels driven by a mesmerizing performance from newcomer Martha Canga Antonio. Florian Gallenberger’s ‘70s- set melodrama The Colony with Emma Watson and Daniel Brühl.
Gérard Depardieu stars in The End from Guillaume Nicloux and Saint Amour (ABOVE) by Benoît Delépine and Gustave Kerven; Jihane Chouaib’s sterling Go Home; Riotous Icelandic incest comedy The Homecoming by Björn Hlynur Haraldsson; Gripping legal drama Kalinka by Vincent Garenq; Kadri Köusaar’s pitch-black Estonian comic gem Mother; San Sabastian winner, a soulful coming-of-age drama  Sparrows by Rúnar Rúnarsson. The strand also boasts a World Premiere of Balazs Juszt’s supernatural thriller The Man Who Was Thursday

WORLD PERSPECTIVES

BrahmanNaman_still1_ChaitanyaVarad_ShashankArora_TanmayDhanania_VaiswathShankar__byTizianaPuleioThe strand delivers a global array of works from emerging and established filmmaking talents which include
India’s leading indie director Q’s coming-of-age comedy (RIGHT) Brahman Naman; Jon Cassar’s stoic western Forsaken, starring father and son Donald and Kiefer Sutherland; Assad Fouladkar’s study of romance in a sharia setting Halal Love (And Sex); Kim Sang-chan’s darkly eccentric Karaoke Crazies

DOCUMENTARIES

EIFF offers highlights in a genre that rightly continues to go from strength to strength. Titles include:
Andreas Johnsen’s challenging and thought-provoking documentary for foodies and environmentalists alike Bugs; Alexandru Belc’s love letter to the big screen Cinema, Mon Amour; Portrait of electro-music star Gary Numan: Android In La La Land by Steve Read and Rob Alexander; Mike Day’s ode to the Faroe Islands The Islands and the Whales; Niam Itani’s timely reflection on the place of refugees in the modern world Twice Upon A Time.

EDINBURGH INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL | 15-26 JUNE 2016

Phaedra(s) | The Barbican

Director: Krzysztof Warlikowski | Dramaturgy Piotr Gruszczynski

Performed by: Isabelle Huppert, Agata Buzek, Andrzej Chyra, Alex Descas, Gael Kamilindi, Norah Krief, Rosalba Torres Guerrero, Gregoire Leaute

220min | Drama | Poland | France

It seems fitting that one of Greek tragedy’s most controversial figures should be played by one of film and stage’s most enigmatic French actors, Isabelle Huppert, who makes a rare London appearance to play three roles (Aphrodite, Phaedra and Elizabeth Costello) in Krzysztof Warlikowski’s radical and visionary French Polish production which bewilders and bewitches despite occasional longueurs.

His PHAEDRA(S) takes the form of three versions of the Greek myth, blending fresh material from Lebanese-Canadian playwright Wajdi Mouawad with the provocative text of Sarah Kane’s brutal ‘Phaedra’s Love’ and extracts from J M Coetzee’s novel ‘Elizabeth Costello’.

In 2010, Warlikowski cast Huppert in his version of A Streetcar Named Desire and this captured his imagination to create her three incarnations here as she morphs seamlessly from the sexually manipulative Aphrodite taking revenge on Hippolytus, then switching to Phaedra and finally to the perverse Elizabeth Costello.

Hot on the heels of her intoxicating performance in Paul Verhoeven’s outré ‘rape comedy’ ELLE, that premiered at Cannes in May, Huppert struts provocatively around the stage in a range of raunchy rigouts from Dior, Hedi Slimane for Saint Laurent and Givenchy during an evening that perpetually teeters on the brink of elegant outrage. During the opening scenes she strips down to her blood-stained undies before girating in angst-ridden love-sickness on a bed, throwing up into a sink and fatally climaxing in the arms of her step-son Hyppolyte 1, a coltishly exotic Gaël Kamilindi who slinks in as a black dog.

In the second and most protracted segment, Andrzej Chyra (In the Name Of) plays Hippolyte as a bored and bloated playboy sulking in a sliding glass enclosure (representing his regal quarters) where he is entertained by the intoxicatingly rhythmic dance routines of Rosalba Torres Guerrero while Hitchcock’s Psycho plays in the background, in the first of the production’s three references to the film world. Jessica Lange’s lobotomy scene in Clifford’s Frances (1982) plays during the final Coetzee segment along with Pasolini’s ’60s allegory Teorema, which cleverly draws a parallel with Silvana Mangano’s chic but sexually frustrated Milanese mother. In final strand Huppert plays conference speaker Elizabeth Costello who disdains Chyra’s intellectually arrogant interviewer during a conference debate that uses Frances, German Romantic poet Höderlin who incorporated Greek tragedy into his 19th century works, and Racine’s 17th century version of Phèdre as its pivotal conversation points. Of the three parts, this is possibly the most amusing but also the most challenging.

In sharp contrast to the starkly elegant stage sets (marbled walls, chrome shower heads and contemporary low level Italian furniture) and haute couture, the cast bravely submits to the full complement of human physical and emotional degradations: crying, pleading, throwing up, bleeding and crawling on all fours with open legs.

Isabelle Huppert’s coruscating emotional intensity ranges from the sarcastically perverse Costello to the proud posturing of Aphrodite and the clipped sardonic diction and soulful sobbing of Phaedra, making us scorn and then pity her characters within minutes. Amusement jostles shock and contempt. Agata Buzet (11 Minutes) is potently feline and as Phaedra’s real daughter Strophe. And there is a dizzying dance from Guerrero. Complimented by Pawel Mykietyn’s arresting atmospheric score this is an often bewildering but ultimately rewarding production. MT

PHAEDRA(S) | BARBICAN THEATRE EC2 | TICKETS AVAILABLE HERE

 

Talking about EVOLUTION with Lucile Hadzihalilovic

French filmmaker Lucile Hadzihalilovic, won the Jury Prize for Best Cinematography at San Sebastian and Stockholm last year 2015 for her marine-based fantasy Horror outing EVOLUTION. Here she talks to Matthew Turner about how teenage appendicitis sparked the original idea for the feature.

Lucile Hadzihalilovic (LH): Well, at the very beginning it was just the boy and his mother and the hospital and this idea that the mother was taking her son, who is beginning to grow up, to kind of get another child. But I think when I think back to where it comes from, I think it’s a very autobiographical film. It really came from my own childhood, I would say, my fears, my expectations and especially, when I was ten or eleven, there was a moment – so I was going to become a teenager and I had appendicitis, so I had to go to the hospital. And it was just a normal experience, like many other children have. But it’s so strange this thing, that you are in this hospital with adults who are touching and opening your body and cutting something out of it and this strange pain in the belly etc. And at the same time, this idea that I was going to have my period very soon and become a teenager, so I think these were different elements that where linked at that time. So I think it’s based on that time and then my life and this fears about metamorphosis, about pregnancy. So this is where the idea comes from.

MJT: In the hospital waiting room, there wasn’t a big aquarium with lots of starfish in it?

LH: Maybe! Maybe there was and I didn’t remember at the time, but I remember through the film. But it’s funny, because the ocean came afterwards – at the beginning it was just the hospital and I thought, okay, it’s in the city. But suddenly I realised that it should be on the seaside. And of course the ocean brings the perfect setting for the story. And then it also gives room to explore deeper feelings, maybe more primitive feelings and of course linked to the mother, to the womb, so they are a kind of lost paradise but at the same time it’s an amazing place but it’s also kind of scary and really mysterious. And the mysterious aspect of it was really very much what I was looking for, for the film. It’s like a subject by itself, in a way, the mystery of the world and all the changing.

MJT: Where were the locations for the film?

LH: We shot the film in the Canary Islands, in one of the Canary Islands, which is called Lanzarote. And when I wrote the script I didn’t know these places, but one of the producers knew them and he thought that it would be a very good place to shoot the film, for budgetary reasons, but also for artistic reasons. And he was totally right because the great thing in this island is this volcanic seaside, very black and very dramatic and at the same time there is the strength of the sea with the wind and the waves. And this village, which is both familiar and a bit strange. I was looking for this ambiguity, this ambivalence and for me it was very important that the place was very attractive but at the same time gives a kind of anxiety, this feeling of isolation – I think it’s very much about also being isolate, about being separated from the world and still kind of being in the realms of motherhood. So i felt that really, in this landscape. we had really very little to do to have this feeling of being in another reality, very close to ours.

EVOLUTION_STILLS_boyMJT: How do you see the film’s relationship to your previous film, Innocence?

LH: I know that it really looks like there are many, many similarities, to the point where people ask me if it’s like a diptych. I really didn’t think about it like that, because it wasn’t like, ‘I’ve done the girls, now I’m going to do the boys’. It wasn’t like that. It was more again, the very beginning of this script was even before Innocence and it was, as I said, a more intimate story with the boy and his mother. And I thought that it was more interesting with a boy, more striking, more nightmarish, more abnormal. And I also felt that I could portray myself as a boy rather than as a girl, in this situation. If it had been a teenager, it wouldn’t have been the same, but as a child, I thought it worked. So it didn’t come from this idea of a group of boys, it was more like Nicolas and his mother and the boy’s fear, and then I developed the idea of this whole community around them and maybe it has been influenced by Innocence, even if I really tried to go somewhere else with more narrative and this one is more of a genre film. So I tried to do something else, but I really see the similarities and also this microcosm, which is both kind of paradise and prison. And also the weird biology elements. Of course, in Evolution, it’s dark, it’s much darker than Innocence, but there’s also a kind of moment of feeling of liberation and joy, like at the end with the nurse under the water that maybe is a bit similar to that moment with the fountain at the end of Innocence, and then also this water element. And again, it’s a coming of age story. That one is more like a disturbed one, but it was not really on purpose, it just came by itself.

MJT: I certainly think Innocence prepares you for EVOLUTION, in a way. So if you’ve seen Innocence, you’re already prepared for the rhythms and moods of EVOLUTION. So you haven’t considered a trilogy then?

LH: But what could it be now, if it’s a trilogy? I guess that with children, what is interesting for me with children is that I can create kind of a new, different universe, because they are still open, quite new in the world, so they don’t know very much, so they make their own links and they are kind of creative, So I guess what would interest me in other films would be maybe to work on some kind of madness that permits also to create a world by itself. I mean to mix dreams and reality. It’s a kind of artificial narration, I guess, to have a character that guide you to this kind of thing. So with children it’s easy for me to do it. Maybe someone else has to deal with madness or so, I don’t know. So in that way, there could be the third chapter.

EVOLUTION_STILLS_sea copyMJT: How much research did you do into the mating rituals of starfish?

LH: In fact, we did a lot. I know we don’t see much in the film, really, but with my co-writer, at some point we really developed much more of the script about this universe, who exactly these women are and what their relationship is with the starfish. And we imagined things like the starfish, at the very beginning because it’s a very familiar motif, like these images of children playing with starfish gives the impression of happiness. Then if you really look at the starfish it’s such a strange animal and very far away from the kind of being we are and it has a lot of interesting characteristics that we had a whole back story for, where they could resist radioactivity, they can regenerate themselves, and also it’s a very, very primitive animal that has been on the Earth since…for a very long time – I don’t remember exactly how long. So yeah, we did a lot of research and it was also very exciting to see how they reproduce and what about the larvae and many of these marine creatures are very fascinating because they are so kind of alien. So this is the kind of research we did to feed ourselves, to feed our imaginations, rather than really being very scientific about it. And then I had to cut a lot of things in the script for budget reasons, so many details disappeared. And a few of those things were about the starfish.

MJT: What kind of things did you have to cut out? Was there anything in particular that you were sorry to see go?

LH: At the end, maybe it’s because I really don’t want to be sorry about what I cut, because it’s how it was, but there is a whole other layer in the film that was including other people, other sets, other scenes, more special effects, also, but it was not like one scene which was too expensive, no, it was really a kind of other narrative layer – probably this layer would have brought more explanation, somehow, not really explanation in the way that – it’s not who are the people that are doing these things, it’s more like there are more links, who these women are. But maybe it’s also an element that we have developed through the years because it has been very difficult to finance the film, so many times we had some reaction from people saying, ‘Oh, we don’t understand, why this, why that?’ So at some point the producer wanted me to make it more explicit, etc. So we developed it a little bit more, but also we thought it was a very dangerous path to go down, because it could have just killed the film to explain it all, because at the end it’s so not logical, it’s more like a dream, like a nightmare, it’s more like elements from the unconscious rather than a sci-fi, very logical explanation, and so it was very difficult to do that. But nevertheless, we had many elements and one at the end we had to cut again because it was too expensive. Probably it was all these additional elements that were easier to cut, because then the heart of the project was not really in these things. So it went back more to something more like a nightmare, like a dream, more oneric, rather than a moral, sci-fi thing. So there was just a little hint of it.

MJT: How important is the colour scheme to the film, the use of colours? Are they symbolic in some way?

LH: No, it was more like feelings. For instance, I very much wanted the film to be very colourful, even if we had just black and white landscape outside of the water and not so much colour in the clothes etc. So I felt the sea should be very colourful because when you see these creatures on the water or in the weeds, they have a lot of colours, very strong colours sometimes, and this is what is so exciting about shooting under the water. So I knew that I could have some colours and some kind of exuberant moment in the film. And then there is this colour of the green of the sea, and then that. should help us in the hospital to get the sea back, in a way. So we had these green walls that bring the feeling of the sea from the colour. And then there was of course the red starfish, and red is always a dramatic colour and a very strong one, especially if you don’t have so many other colours, so we had the green and the red of the starfish and then we needed to continue this red a bit, and so we had this red bathing suit on the child and yeah, it’s a way to underline or to dramatise a few moments but it’s not like a symbol.

MJT: Were there any particular visual influences on the film, in terms of maybe other films, or paintings or anything like that?

LH. Yes. I think probably the main influences visually were more like from paintings, from the surrealism, like Chirico (an Italian painter from the ’20s and ’30s), for this village where the presence of the architecture is very strong, very dramatic, this idea of a sunny place with long, enigmatic shadows or things like that. So Chirico and also painters like Max Ernst, Tanguy or even Dali, because they have painted the seaside a lot as a very alien place, but also very organic and I was really trying to be as organic as possible in this film. So yes, I had these kind of visual references. As for films, I didn’t have many references, consciously, I mean – there was one – Who Can Kill A Child? Again, not for the story but for the mood, like this white village, with empty streets and only children, so it was a bit strange. That was maybe the main conscious influence of a film that I had. And then I think there is another one that was very, very different visually, but it was more about the mood, it was Eraserhead. For instance, I always felt that we really shouldn’t have a creature, but a puppet that looked like a baby. It’s really far from being as great as the one in Eraserhead, but this was the reference, not to have the same thing, but to have a very physical presence that looked real.

MJT: What was the most difficult thing to get right?

LH: Well, it was difficult to structure the story, because I really began with feelings, situations, emotions, visuals, sounds and elements, so at some point we really had to make a story out it, to have these images that happen, so there was a difficulty there and I was very lucky to be able to work with Alante Kavaite, my co-writer – she helped me a lot, in structuring all this material. But probably the main problem was the one I was telling you about, when people were saying, ‘We don’t understand this film, what kind of film is it, is it a genre film, is it something else?’ So we really tried to make them understand. For instance, the ending was also – not for me, because for me it was really like what it is in the film, always – we should arrive at a particular place, but it’s not back to reality or it’s not a happy ending. It’s, okay, he has escaped from the island, but maybe now it’s another cycle. But it was difficult because people thought they wanted a kind of explanation or a definitive ending, ‘So, is it that or is it that? Was it true or was it not true? Where are the facts?’ So it was difficult to deal with these things without destroying the film. So the difficulty was really to try in the script to make people understand what the film was about and give a feel for the nature of the film without giving too much explanation. Like, okay, it’s metaphorical but we can’t really explain it or show you what the metaphor is about. It’s not like someone’s dream and suddenly it’s a boy who is in hospital and he’s dreaming of this island, no. But at one point we were kind of being pushed to do things like that, to be more explicit, so that balance was difficult to achieve.

MJT: Do you have a particular favourite scene or moment in the film?

LH: I guess because it was a shot that I was not there for when it was done – it’s probably the underwater shots made by the diver who was like a second unit. So we said we would like these kinds of things with weeds and so on, but I’m not a diver and neither was the DP, so at some point we had to let him do it by himself and.he came back with these amazing images and this was like, ‘Oh, wow’. They were a great surprise and I was so happy about that – I thought it would really bring a lot to the film and it was really exactly what I was looking for. So yes, it’s the underwater scenes that you see right at the beginning.

MJT: The casting is interesting because you have a couple of well-known actors…

LH: In fact, Julie-Marie Parmentier is well known, because she has done many films now, and Roxane Duran is more at the beginning of her career, but she made The White Ribbon with Michael Haneke. I thought of Julie-Marie straught away, because I think she’s really special – I think she is a very good actress and she has different qualities – she can be very attractive, but also kind of ugly, also mysterious and I think you feel like she has a real inner life. I knew that she could be kind of scary, but in a very minimalistic way and I also think that she’s very charismatic and she doesn’t need to have to read dialogue to create something. And it’s a bit the same with Roxane, the great thing with her is that she’s really sweet and she brings a very kind of human element into this atmosphere that works very well. Before meeting her I had thought that the nurse should have been scarier, in a way but when I met her I thought that it was really interesting to have someone so sweet, even if she’s doing sometimes scary things. And she’s a bit like a child, she has something that’s still very child-like, and I was really happy with them. And I also wanted to have this mood, because it’s not about performance, it’s more about the mood they give and they fit very well to this landscape.

MJT: And was it difficult to find Max Brebant?

LH: It was not really easy, of course because there is this aspect of swimming, that was one thing. And then the story might have been difficult for some parents, rather than for the children. What was very good with Max is that, in fact, he was thirteen years old when we did the film, so I think he had this sometimes more mature expression, but also his very tiny body, so he’s kind of fragile. And I really liked him very much,I found him very charismatic and very sweet, in a way, with his big face and small body – he had a fragility and a sweetness that was very interesting. Before shooting I thought that I was going to maybe try to make him express more fear, but it was really difficult and we had so little time to shoot, so we couldn’t spend a lot of time on each scene, so I decided to play it more like a blank expression, as if he was sleeping with his eyes open or something and that, and I think it works at the end because he’s very charismatic, for me, at least. So we found him quite late in the process of casting but we couldn’t begin the casting too soon, because they change quickly at that age, so we just tried to find them six or seven months before shooting.

MJT: What’s your next project?

LH: My next project, I’m a bit scared now of not choosing the right one, or choosing the one that would be too difficult and would take me too many years to find the financing, so I don’t want to talk about it, really, because I don’t want to jinx it, but I’m working on different things.

EVOLUTION IS ON GENERAL RELEASE AT ARTHOUSE CINEMAS FROM 6 MAY 2016

Kinoteka Polish Film Festival | London 7 – 29 April 2016

THE 14TH KINOTEKA POLISH FILM FESTIVAL CELEBRATES THE CREATIVE GENIUS OF POLAND’S LEADING LIGHTS: JERZY SKOLIMOWSKI, AGNIESZKA HOLLAND & ANDRZEJ ŻUŁAWSKI 
and some edgy new titles | 7 – 29 April 2016

Celebrating seminal works and latest releases from the contemporary Polish Greats. Meet these revered directors on the big screen and in person for a series of Q&As and screentalks.

J e r z y   S k o l i m o w s k i

In London to present his latest film 11 MINUTES, one of Polish cinema’s most iconic figures, Jerzy Skolimowski’s  took Polish cinema to a new era that focused on the individual rather than traditional historic themes and ideas. Pushing boundaries and taking audiences on a bold and innovative journey, his latest is no exception; an adventurous rollercoaster full of motion, emotion and suspense. Featuring an impressive ensemble cast, 11 MINUTES is an inventive metaphor for our modern hectic lives, driven by blind chance. The Barbican Cinema will host a special retrospective of three rarely screened classic Skolimowski titles; BARRIER (1966), MOONLIGHTING  (1982) and THE SHOUT (1978), illustrating his revolutionary approach and unique narrative style.

Here he talks to us about making films during Communism and his latest thriller 11 MINUTES

A g n i e s z k a   H o l l a n d

Europa_Europa_Park_Circus_(3)A former assistant to Andrzej Wajda and Krzysztof Zanussi, Agnieszka Holland has gone on to become one of Poland’s most eminent filmmakers and the most commercially successful Polish-born director since Roman Polański. Throughout her long and celebrated career she has forged a creative path as an internationally acclaimed filmmaker, including the Golden Globe-winning EUROPA EUROPA and Oscar-nominated IN DARKNESS, who has also shown that she is just as comfortable and adept at working in television, directing episodes for US networks including HBO and Netflix, on groundbreaking shows; ‘The Wire’, ‘Treme’, ‘The Killing’ and ‘House of Cards’.

BFI Southbank presents a retrospective season of Holland’s essential films including screenings of PROVINCIAL ACTORS (1979), A WOMAN ALONE(1981), EUROPA EUROPA (1990) and IN DARKNESS (2011) alongside an in-conversation stage event to discuss her craft as well as a forum presenting her television work.

A n d r z e j   Ż u ł a w s k i

01_CosmosRegarded as one of Poland’s most original and controversial directors, who died in February 2016, made his career making films outside of Poland, Andrzej Żuławski’s final film after a 15 year break COSMOS will be screened at the ICA Cinema. Awarded the Best Direction prize at the 2015 Locarno Film Festival, the film, a metaphysical thriller, is a loose adaptation of Witold Gombrowicz’s surreal novel Cosmos. Hilarious, confounding and downright strange (in a good way), Żuławski fans will not be disappointed as the visionary director spins a mysterious web of erotic and psychological intrigue, bringing to mind both his earlier work as well as David Lynch’s INLAND EMPIRE which similarly defies any simple explanation.

As a tribute to Andrzej Żuławski, the ICA will screen a retrospective of the director’s earlier work including a newly digital remastered copy of Żuławski’s Polish production, THE DEVIL (1972) which was a victim of PRL censorship for 16 years, THAT MOST IMPORTANT THING: LOVE (1975) starring Romy Schneider as a struggling actress forced to act in erotic films, and cult body horror POSSESSION (1981) starring Sam Neill and Isabelle Adjani, whose unquestionably brilliant performance as the emotionally disturbed Anna won her both Best Actress at Cannes and a Cesar award.

N E W   P O L I S H   C I N E M A

bodyA selection of recent, critically successful contemporary Polish films from the last year including Małgorzata Szumowska’s thought-provoking BODY, which won the Silver Bear for Best Director at the 2015 Berlin Film Festival and Golden Lion at the Gdynia Film Festival for Best Film, a darkly comic meditation on grief and reconciliation, using the theme of the corporal and ethereal body to weave together the stories of three interconnected but radically different people attempting to deal with the loss of a loved one. One of Poland’s most popular directors, Jacek Bromski returns to the festival with ANATOMY OF EVIL, an engaging thriller about an ageing mafia hit-man released from prison on parole who is assigned a mysterious assassination, but whom is physically unable to complete the task without help. Marcin Wrona’s atmospheric ghost story DEMON, screens as a tribute to the late filmmaker who died suddenly during the Gdynia Film Festival last year. In Dariusz Gajewski’s heart-stirring family drama STRANGE HEAVEN, Basia and Marek are a young immigrant couple living in Sweden. One innocent lie triggers an avalanche and their daughter is placed with a foster family by social services. So begins a dramatic fight with the cruel machine of bureaucracy to get their child back. Inspired by the true story of Tadeusz Szymków, Maciej Migas’s debut feature LIFE MUST GO ON features a phenomenal central performance from Tomasz Kot (Bogowie) as a feckless actor suffering from alcoholism who discovers he has incurable cancer and only three months to live. He decides to turn his life around and most importantly reconnect with his daughter but is three months enough to fix all of life’s mistakes?

Closing Night Gala

This year KINOTEKA will draw to a big band bang with the UK premiere of THE ECCENTRICS. The Sunny Side Of The Street, veteran director Janusz Majewski’s tale of Poland’s swinging 50s. Jazz loving World War Two veteran Fabian returns to Poland from the UK with the unshakeable desire to launch his own swing band. He puts together an unlikely mishmash of players, including a leading lady whose background appears to be as much of a riddle as his own. But will the ‘king and queen of swing’, with their Hollywood lifestyles, handle the reality of 50s Poland and their burning desire to be a part of the West? Inspired by his own love of swing, Majewski’s film was awarded the Silver Lion for Best Director at the Gdynia Film Festival. The screening will be followed by a swing after-party in the nearby building of the Embassy of the Republic of Poland. With professional dance teachers and Polish jazz band Wojtek Mazolewski Quintet (who created the music for the film) playing live this will be a night to remember. MT

KINOTEKA POLISH FILM FESTIVAL | 7 -29 APRIL 2016 

Captured, but not tamed: The cinema of John Krish

Until quite recently John Krish was one of British Cinema’s best kept secrets. But in recognition of his valuable contribution to British cinema that started in the late ’40s, the BFI has raised the profile of the now retired auteur with a series of interviews at their Southbank Centre and the re-issue of his early work on DVD, putting his films back on the cinematic map.

John Krish was born in London in 1923 and started his film career in his early twenties at the Crown Film Unit where he assisted Harry Watt and Humphrey Jennings. And though he later worked for British Transport Films making propaganda films, he later became an individualistic and maverick director. Noted for his offbeat features Unearthly Stranger and The Man Who Had Power over Women, he was best known for his documentary shorts that are vivid, humane and insightful film essays showcasing British life.

hqdefault In films such as They Took Us to the Sea (1961) in which a group of children, funded by the NSSPC, are taken by train to the seaside; The Elephant Never Forgets (1953) – a celebration of the final hours of the last South London tram and I Think They Call Him John (1964) that portraits a day in the life of a pensioner alone in his flat; Krish brought dignity, compassion, humour and acute social observation to his subject matter. There is often a moment in a Krish film that crystallizes the inner life of his characters. His powers of observation were well-developed, enabling his camera to evoke the subtlety of body language and expression.  Such allowance of pathos – but never sentimentality – was probably one of the reasons Krish never felt an affinity with the Free Cinema Movement of the fifties: Reisz, Richardson and Anderson always kept more emotional distance back then. In I Think They Call him John, an old working class man goes through his solitary ritual of cooking; watching TV and washing up – a routine that  has gradually solidified his loneliness. Whist looking out of his window, an unseen motorcyclist roars by. John’s vacant expression conveys so much about the post-war world that has simple passed him by. It is a poignant scene comparable to De Sica’s observations of a retired civil servant in the quietly devastating 1952 film Umberto D.

Still-from-the-NSPCC-commissioned-film-by-John-Krish-They-Took-Us-To-The-SeaAnd the obviously happy faces of children on a train in They Took Us To the Sea (it’s ‘the sea’, not ‘the seaside’ – inferring what is practical over what is pleasurable), are intercut with children who look hurt, puzzled and withdrawn. This is not simply a film about the virtues of NSSPC care, but a nuanced depiction of kids who have missed out on holidays because they can barely comprehend horizons beyond their limited existence in the city.

Krish’s naturalism was always aligned to a quirky and surreal way of seeing. The Elephant Never Forgets has a celebratory joy that recalls the early TV work of Ken Russell: watching it now, it is hard to believe that twenty thousand Londoners could get so involved in the life of a tram, just before it was broken up for the eager scrap merchants. However the repeated use of the music hall song, “Riding Along on the Top of a Car” makes for a gem of a film that moves you to tears. And in Drive Carefully, Darling (1975) we have fantasy experts in white coats operating the brain and senses of a reckless motorist. Yet even such Sci-Fi children’s book illustration is cleverly edited with touching shots of a wife, who won’t see her husband alive again, doing the shopping.

day-in_1759625bYet Krish’s most audacious short has to be The Finishing Line (1977). This is a British Transport film about the dangers for children playing near a railway track. By imagining a school’s sports day (a very British occasion) replete with brass band and summer afternoon teas, Krish transcends his public information remit to produce a deadpan horror film. As the children, aided by teachers and parents, compete in such events as racing across the railway track, throwing stones at a train and walking through a long tunnel; the injuries and deaths pile up in a chilling manner that to this day still shock and haunt. The Finishing Line’s graphic violence is always judiciously understated. Krish maintains a cool moralist’s eye. The film’s a nightmarish deterrent for any child considering having fun on a railway track. Occasionally the film teeters on the edge of subversion. Not in the manner of a Lindsay Anderson, with the public school slaughter seen in If…, but a sense in which the authorities (parents, teachers and ambulance staff) calmly manage the games and administer aid in a massacre of the innocents; all the while hinting at darker, unspoken fears about complicity, safety and adult responsibility for its young. Although such unease is subtly generalised throughout the film, it did not prevent Krish’s powerful short from being withdrawn after its TV screening. British Transport had the film banned for twenty one years.

John-Krishs-remarkable-19-010A ban was also placed on Krish’s military intelligence film Captured (1959). Indeed the film so freaked out the authorities that they viewed it as a bad advertisement for anyone wanting to join the armed services. The few permitted screenings (for recruits only) had to be supervised by a senior officer. Captured documents the British soldiers, during the Korean War, who have been captured by the Chinese. The prisoners undergo a stark re-education in the aims and ideals of Communism. One captive (Alan Dobie) is subjected to brain washing, brutal coercion and torture (the uncomfortable water boarding scenes are brilliantly filmed). The film grips like a vice in a tightly framed film noir. Krish also gives Captured complex characters placed in a strongly dramatic storyline. Stereotypes are avoided. Krish frequently points out the need to keep both a collective and individual resistance to interrogation methods. For a divide and rule approach is what the torturers hope to achieve. Indeed it’s the tension between a prisoner who is almost pushed out of the group for suspected enemy collaboration (both ironically rightly and wrongly so) and the victim/torturer scenes, that make for such a morally engaging film. Captured depicts the painful road to travel in order to learn the correct response towards the real enemy, who is always the Chinese and not your fallible fellow prisoner.

Visually outstanding, Captured has many tight and beautiful compositions. Images of an abandoned prisoner; a group of soldiers confined in a hut where fraught conversations are shot with assurance and rigour. Captured is a long short film (65 minutes) in a drama-documentary style and remains a forceful human story transcending its military education aims.

UnknownKrish’s feature debut, Unearthly Stranger (1960) is also an unqualified success. The film was shot on a shoestring, but none the worse for it. The film’s direction, writing, editing and photography are finely focussed on the story of a female alien, Julie (Gabriella Licudi), who’s married to a scientist (John Neville) working on a space project. The twist in the tale is that the alien has fallen in love with the man she has been sent to kill. Her displays of emotion mean that tears literally burn her skin. In a haunting scene were the alien wife frightens children in a school playground, there is sense that they are recoiling from her, sensing her otherworldliness. This is almost Village of the Dammed material played in dramatic reverse. And the film has more than a hint or two of Siegel’s Invasion of the Bodysnatchers. As in Captured, its ending is uncertain and uncompromising.

dd78eb42e3b5a43bf3f9ace58b3ebf16_ia7f41CXDe7PECaptured was made as an industry calling card to secure John Krish more work as a features director. But the work never materialised and the film was not publically screened till 2003. Krish’s debut feature, Unearthly Stranger was still very short – seventy five minutes, only ten minutes longer than Captured. Both films concern strange hostile forces that want to take over the world. Captured for its Communist ideas, was generally perceived as strange and hostile to Western values. And Unearthly Stranger’s apprehension as to what exists in the stratosphere, beyond our planet. Their Cold War linkage seemed a natural progression for John Krish’s talent, making us long for more Sci-Fi, psychological horror or even thrillers. But Krish was never cut out to work in the style of Hammer Film; he got stuck with material that was not of his own choosing. A handful of features The Wild Affair, Decline and Fall of a Birdwatcher and The Man Who had Power over Women are comedy dramas hampered by clunky scripts and unsure direction. These films have some positive elements: Acute social observation, a surreal touch and incisive editing made his shorts outstanding. He turned the Public Information Film into an art form by stamping his personal signature on the genre. Those works, and his two not quite feature-length films, are his legacy. A concerned humanist with dark energy and vision; John Krish was really quite special. And he is still with us, now aged ninety two. A recent engaging BFI interview with him reveals a feisty and engaging personality. Alan Price©2016

Flare is 30! | LGBT Film Festival 2016 | 17-27 March 2016

FLARE is 30! And to celebrate, the BFI is offering a chance to see the latest films from a flirty selection – appealing to the arthouse crowd and gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender cineastes alike.

summertime-02 Kicking off, quite literally, with the World premiere of THE PASS, Ben A Williams footy-themed drama, stars Russell Tovey and Arinze Kene as Club lovers, in both senses of the word, who come together during an away match thousands of miles from home. And to close, SUMMERTIME  [La Belle Saison], Catherine Corsini’s passionate portrayal of Paris during the ’70s where Cecile de France and Izïa Higelin star as two very different women who fall in love against the feminist street protests in the French capital.

This year screenings benefit from the EASTER BREAK and will continue on the day after this Closing Gala (Easter Sunday 27 March) with a Second Chance Sunday devoted to 2016 Festival best-sellers and a selection of LGBT archive gems from the Festivals’ history. Every ticket on Second Chance Sunday will be offered at the discounted price of £8. As a highlight of the day, the BFI will show the film that tops a brand new critics’ and programmers’ poll of the top 10 global LGBT films of the last 30 years. The result of this BFI poll and all the films screening on Second Chance Sunday will be announced soon.

Mapplethorp - Look at the Pictures  copyBetween 17 – 27 March most screenings will be accompanied by Q&As and a chance to meet and debate with visiting talent including Silas Howard, the first trans director on Emmy and Golden Globe-winning Transparent, who will be in London to regale us with his experiences. Special Presentations include Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures, an in-depth and uncompromising portrait of the life and work of the legendary photographer Robert Mapplethorpe by award-winning World of Wonder duo Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato (Inside Deep Throat); Rebel Dykes, a work-in-progress screening event of Harri Shanahan and Sian Williams’ documentary which explores the forgotten ‘herstory’ of lesbian punk London in the 1980s. Jacques Martineau and Olivier Ducastel (Jeanne and the Perfect Guy, Drôle de Félix) will also be there in the wake of their Berlinale world prem Theo & Hugo, a finely crafted and provocative French drama.

Of the 50 features screenings, be sure not to miss the following Gala Specials, and highlights from the festival strands HEARTS, MINDS and BODIES.

DEPARTURE British director Andrew Stegall’s touching debut about a mother (Juliet Stephenson) and son Alex Lawther (The Imitation Game) struggling with their relationship. Barak and Tomer Heymann’s touching drama WHO’S GONNA LOVE ME NOW? fresh from Berlinale, which explores the family dysfunction of an HIV positive Israeli finding an adoptive second home in London as a member of London Gay Men’s Chorus. And from the Cult Classic strand CALAMITY JANE at the BFI IMAX will celebrate everyone’s favourite cowboy/girl Doris Day with this dazzling new digital restoration presented on the biggest screen in Britain.

from-afar-06H E A R T S  includes films about love, romance and friendship.

FROM AFAR – Lorenzo Vigas’ Golden Lion 2015 winner at Venice Film Festival;

THE GIRL KING – Mika Kaurismäki’s 17th century lesbian costume drama, set at the court of Queen Christina; CAROL Toddy Haynes’ masterful lesbian screen version of Patricia Highsmith’s novel stars Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara; DESERT HEARTS a cult classic lesbian ’80s love story as vibrant as ever, the only lesbian film shown at the 1986 edition; WHOSE GONNA LOVE ME NOW a gay Jewish man’s journey to find acceptance and stability amid the perils of hard drugs and HIV

sworn-virgin-01B O D I E S  features stories of sex, identity and transformation.

THE CHAMBERMAID LYNN – Ingo Haeb’s disturbing German story of a hotel-cleaner who becomes a fetish sexworker; NASTY BABY   a Brooklyn-set adoption story with a tragic twist; SWORN VIRGIN – Laura Bispuri’s startling drama stars Alba Rohrwacher as an Albanian whose transition to living as a man involves complex cultural traditions..

M I N D S    features reflections on art, politics and community

welcome-to-this-house-02THE TRIAL OF SIR ROGER CASEMENT a chance to catch a rare screening starring Peter Wyngarde as a man executed for treason in the ’60s; WELCOME TO THIS HOUSE Barbara Hammer explores the life of Pulitzer prize-winning author and lesbian Elizabeth Bishop; WOMEN HE’S UNDRESSEED a  genius Hollywood costumier’s life is told through the stars he dressed and undressed: Cary Grant, Humphrey Bogart and Marilyn Monroe; KA BODYSCAPES Jayan Cherian’s sophomore drama explores themes of oppression and rebellion in the southern Indian province of Kerala, through the adventures of a young bohemian artist on the cusp of fame

While films and film cultural are at the heart of the BFI, the atmosphere at Southbank brings people from far and wide. This year the hugely popular BFI Flare Club Nights return (Fri 18, Sat 19, Thu 24, Fri 25 and Sat 26) at Benugo Lounge and Riverfront with our favourite DJs and newfound friends including Pitch Slap!, Sadie Lee and Jonathan Kemp, Pink Glove, Club Kali, and for Closing Night Bad Bitches and Unskinny Bop.

www.bfi.org.uk/flare

 

Rossellini and the War Trilogy

Rossellini’s War – an exploration of a 20th century war trilogy by Alan Price

Rome,_Open_City_pic_7 copy

There are very few war trilogies that dramatise and document a nation’s history throughout the significant stages of a war. The most famous is probably Andrej Wajda’s trilogy: A Generation, Kanal and Ashes and Diamonds chronicling Poland’s occupation. The least well known trilogy is Rossellini’s early fascist war achievement: The White Ship, A Pilot Returns and The Man with the Cross, all set in Italy. For the British we have the Humphrey Jennings’s documentaries, Fires were Started, Listen to Britain and Diary for Timothy. Although not officially regarded as a trilogy, it is possible to make out interesting thematic links. As for the American cinema, Lewis Milestone’s All Quiet on the Western Front, A Walk in the Sun and Pork Chop Hill have been lumped together but they are set in different wars and countries, Germany in WW1, Italy in WW2 and Korea.

When it comes to Rossellini’s Rome, Open City, Paisà and Germany Year Zero; we have two films that deal with Italian Fascism and Nazism’s effects on Italian society plus a third film about the civilian population of post-war Germany. So does the description trilogy really apply here too? Maybe not as a comprehensive war history for the Italians but, perhaps more interestingly, how Rossellini – having established neo-realism along with other hybrid elements – allowed himself to question this label and depart from an obvious neo-realist agenda. The term neo-realist is often misleadingly applied to Rossellini’s films of the 1940s. Certainly his films are very real, acutely placed on the streets and vibrate with his mix of professional actors and ordinary people. Yet consider his style of neo-realism. It embraces moments of Expressionism, heightened naturalism, Brechtian theatricality and an anguished challenge replete with spiritual yearning and existential doubt.

Rome,_Open_City_pic_3 copy

Certain critics of Rossellini once complained that his neo-realist principles were betrayed in Germany Year Zero (1949) and abandoned thereafter. And that Rossellini, the serious filmmaker, was diminished. Surely this criticism can be compared to the early sixties view that Bob Dylan’s renouncing of folk music was an artistic mistake. Did Bob  Dylan ever completely abandon folk: he was always far bigger than just a folk singer. Whilst Rossellini (even more than De Sica) was seen as the godfather of a ‘pure’neo-realism and was, until quite recently, never forgiven for supposedly abandoning his principles, so much of Rome Open City (1945) has a vivid documentary realism, especially in the famous sequence where fascists raid a block of flats as they search for resistance fighters. The photography, editing and camerawork, despite Rossellini’s poor film stock and equipment are very impressive. Later films like The Battle of Algiers (1965) or even Gomorrah (2008) owe much to Rossellini’s staging.

Rome

Yet even the verisimilitude of Rome, Open City is punctured by absurdist comedy. The resistance worker priest, played by Aldo Fabrizi, pretends to reside over the last rites of an old man who is not dying at all. He has been knocked unconscious from a blow to his head by a pan. The soldiers arrive just before weapons have been hid under the man’s bed. After this ‘comic relief’ Rossellini presents us with the tragic death of Pina (Anna Magnani). She is shot running after the truck carrying her lover Francesco (Francesco Grandjacquet). The arbitrary nature of her killing is one of the most iconic depictions of death in cinema history. It is a civilian death amidst the ‘fog of war’ and is heartbreaking. Of course this is quintessential neo-realism. Yet Pina’s death is not only juxtaposed between the humorous (almost Hollywood) business with the priest, but followed by a female informer having a lesbian relationship with an older German woman – this could be seen as a reaction against the middle-class, escapist “white telephone films” of the thirties – and the horrific torture of resistance worker Manfredi (Marcello Pagliero). The later is a scene that is aesthetically in the manner of a Renaissance painting of a crucified Christ. Not forgetting other elements of melodrama that propel the film, Rome, Open City is a hybrid of styles departing from its neo-realist base.

images-1A great disruption of narrative is present in Paisà (1946), most noticeably in its second act: A drunk, black American GI (Joe from Jersey) tries to communicate with a young Italian boy but neither can speak each others’ language. Staged in an almost Brechtian manner; Joe, seated on a pile of rubble, bemoans his lot in the army. Gradually sobering up he says, “I don’t want to go home. Home’s a shack.” and then falls asleep. The young boy steals the GI’s boots. The next day, Joe discovers the boy and forces him back home in order to retrieve his boots. Home turns out to be a desolate network of caves where families are living in dire poverty. Feeling both guilty about war’s destruction and also empathetic – his shack and their caves will still be around a long time after the war –  the GI forgets his shoes, gets back into his jeep and drives away. Such narrative abruptness continues throughout Paisà up to the film’s climax on the River Po, where the resistance fight it out with the German army.

miracolo-a-milano-1951

Rossellini is a master at directing the physical displacement of individuals and the movement of crowds in wartime. Yet his raw, disconcerting documentary-like and awkward breakage of action in Paisà isn’t simply adhering to some neo-realist manifesto for filmmakers, but continues as a prominent force in Rossellini’s post war films with Ingrid Bergman. Here in his controversial film Stromboli, Ingrid Bergman’s flight from the intolerable conditions of the island of Stromboli creates another form of rupture. Her spiritual breakdown asks for some sort of belief in order for her to continue living. Rossellini’s next film Europa 51 sees Bergman depicted as a quasi-martyr/saint/Christ like figure who is adored by a neo-realist crowd of poor people that might have strayed out of De Sica’s Miracle in Milan.(right) 

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Germany Year Zero (left), the final film of his rough trilogy, is set in post-war Berlin as the city’s population attempts to survive the cities economic and material destruction. At the time his audience and critics were upset and confounded as to why Rossellini had shifted focus to the fate of the former enemy. This was certainly a bold and controversial thing to do. An interesting comparison to make would be with D.W.Griffith’s film Isn’t Life Wonderful (1924, depicting the homelessness and ration queues of Germany after their defeat in WW1). Yet Germany Year Zero’s harsh neo- realism masks a darker psychological tragedy. The devastated cityscape of Berlin has a bleak and often surreal nightmarish look. The film depicts the reality of survival: selling a gramophone record of Hitler’s speeches to British soldiers, an old man goes into hospital to receive more food than can be provided at home, and the slaughtering of a horse by crowd desperate to eat. Yet the film’s most disturbing story is the physical death of a child, alongside of the spiritual death of a boy denied a proper childhood.

imagesThirteen year old boy Edmund (Edmund Meschke) is placed under extreme pressure by his bartering for goods on the black market. He’s an innocent child turned into a hunter/scavenger enduring the impositions and demands of his family and neighbours to supply their needs. The child has become an unwilling ‘father to the man’ in a world where a new man or woman, untainted by Nazism, has not yet been born. Edmund is covertly persuaded by an ex Nazi school teacher and pederast that the weak most perish and the strong survive. At this point the film makes an audacious departure from neo-realism. Without resorting to crude melodrama, Rossellini shows Edmund poisoning his father. Patricide as a release from the burden of care and the strengthening of the family is hardly a prominent concern of neo-realism.

The last twenty minutes of Germany Year Zero (1948) features some of the most sublime scenes ever committed to film. Edmund wanders the ruined streets to his death. His suicide is a devastating critique of a morally bankrupt society. The real poison is not the one he has given to his father (that act is bad enough) but the taint of an ideology that cannot yet allow its children to live as normal children (There are scenes of groups of children conniving on the black market or about to be sexually abused).

images-2Rossellini does not give us a political Marxist analysis of Edmund’s fate. His death is oddly serene (in tone very like the death of the peasant girl Mouchette in Bresson’s Mouchette). Edmund’s suicide is a terrible act of despair, yet not totally bleak, for there’s a hint of spiritual renewal for others after Edmund as a woman in the street holds the boy’s dead body in a religious manner.

The subject of Rossellini’s War Trilogy is certainly War. Yet Rossellini: the Known and Invisible Consequences of War (cumbersome though that sounds) might be a more apt description. How can fighters and civilians move intelligibly through the chaos of war; can the bringing of peace mean authentic renewal? Germany Year Zero, the most disturbing of these three masterpieces, poses that question.

ROME, OPEN CITY is screening at the BFI on 29 January 2022 | introduced by Dr Julia Wagner | Also on BFI Player

 

Michel Franco | Interview |Best Script Winner | Chronic | Cannes 2015

imagesJohn Bleasdale talks to CHRONIC director Michel Franco about his latest film: 

In 2010, Michel Franco’s grandmother suffered a stroke and was confined to bed for several months until her eventual death. The nurses brought in to care for the patient caught Franco’s attention and became the inspiration for his new film Chronic, starring Tim Roth as David, a palliative carer whose devotion to his patients sees him cross the line of professional objectivity. The film bagged the Mexican filmmaker the best screenplay prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival where it screened in competition and where I had the opportunity to speak with director and screenwriter Michel Franco.

How did you prepare for the film?

The main research came with my personal experience with my grandmother. There were different nurses working shifts, some got fired, some went away. And so in six months I saw a parade of nurses and that’s when I decided to work on the story. Originally, it was supposed to be a female character in Mexico. Then I met Tim [Roth] and we got along and we started to research the movie together. Changing the gender was easy. It’s almost the same story, nothing changed. Changing it for the States, however, it changed a lot. Things work a little differently there. Society is different but also the medical rules are different, so I spoke to a lot of nurses and Tim did as well. Sometimes, Tim would call me and tell me he’d found something interesting and if it was good I would include it in the script. Sometimes I was about to shoot something and Tim would say no this would be done this way. His hands would be in a certain position and we also had nurses on set to help us keep it realistic.

Tim Roth’s character David is a man with his own problems, we learn.

It was interesting to build this character as deeply as possible. If we didn’t get into his mind or his past the film would only be a series of anecdotes about his patients, rather than a character study. Also when you talk to nurses you also hear these kinds of stories. A question which is not answered in the film is whether or not he started working before or after he had his own problems. It’s important to me for the audience to wonder how the personal life changes the work.

images-1The character doesn’t like talking about what he is doing, especially to the patient’s families.

Most of the nurses I met speak openly about what they do. But it was interesting to draw a line with Tim’s character between how dedicated David is with his own patients and how he doesn’t spare any energy with other people. It is strange to talk about it because then I’ll explain more about the film than I should. Yeah, he has a difficult past, so he likes to escape from himself, so he fantasizes. What is more interesting is how he gets involved with the patients even when he’s not with them, how he’s thinking about them and involved in their worlds. That I did find happened with the nurses. When I spoke with this one nurse, I asked her ‘When you leave the patients and their illness and you go home to your own family, do you forget about it?’ and she said no she was always thinking about it. And she even liked it to some extent. That was strange to discover. These nurses are addicted to this suffering, but it isn’t that they enjoy it, it’s just a strange relationship to suffering.

As in your earlier work, you use a mainly static camera to tell the story. What informed that choice?

I wanted to move the camera but I couldn’t this time. My cinematographer Yves Cape, who works a lot with Dumont and Claire Denis, had a slider on the first week because we were going to do some small, subtle camera movements, mainly because I wanted to change, I wanted to make a different movie, but then I was like ‘fuck it, don’t impose your needs as a director onto the movie. Stop thinking about whether your making the same movie or not and just do what is best for the movie.’ As with my previous films, it’s a way of keeping it simple and pure and giving the audience their space to make their own conclusions. I’m putting the audience in the room.
Why would it need movement? Normally the standard is to move the camera, but in my case, I realized the film needed few camera movements. I want to respect the audience in terms of not manipulating them. Keeping it small, there is no music, little dialogue, no camera movements, we’re not cutting to close ups. It’s as pure as I could do it. And the long takes with the static camera give the actors the opportunity to explore deeply into their interactions. There are actually a lot of Steadicam shots that I am happy haven’t been discussed at all.

97ebc42d-eff1-48c3-98ef-6852349f78df-2060x1236The old and the ill tend to become invisible but you are very bold and honest in the way you show them. Was it difficult to decide what to show and what not to show?

I always try not to show more than is necessary but at the same time if you have to see somebody naked or going through something difficult just show it. Sometimes it’s more interesting to have things off camera. It’s more intuition than a discussion. To know how to play it. Sometimes I had a clear idea how to do it and sometimes I would find it on set. My idea wouldn’t work so I’d try a different approach.

These days you live longer and you die longer. Do you have to prepare or ignore it?

On the one hand it’s better not to think about it, because it’s frightening, but on the other hand I made a movie about it and so… but I mean the fact is it is eventually going to happen. It’s part of life so it is better to embrace it and of course it should be approached with a different perspective.
Some people are luckier than others. Many are forgotten. Rich people are forgotten too. Some have lots of relatives. It’s luck. It’s not an easy subject.

The ending is shocking. No spoilers, but when did it come to you?

When I was writing the script I was surprised that the character did that but it made sense to me totally, it couldn’t finish any other way. And I had material so that I could edit it another way if I wasn’t convinced when I saw it, because it was bold and not a common way to finish, but it would not be fair to finish it in any other way. It takes 90 minutes to get there, but hopefully for the audience maybe after a day thinking about it, it should make sense. When you end the movie easily, it doesn’t stick in the audience’s mind. When you leave the conflict more open and the emotions it makes the audience work harder. There are more angles to it. What is interesting cinematically is that the ending is ambiguous. It isn’t actually ambiguous: if you look at it closely, I think it’s very clear but it’s like in life even if you see things clearly, if we were to watch the same event now we would all have different view points. We’ve been with this character for ninety minutes and then he does that…

And the topic of sexual harassment comes up.

David is dealing with naked people, he’s cleaning them and touching them, and maybe something else happened that isn’t on screen but that is up to every audience member. But even if that happened I wouldn’t judge. David says of his patient, ‘I never harmed him’, and he never did anything wrong, but at the same time if this nurse was working with someone you love and you learn that they’re watching porn and lying here and there, he’s crossing a line. Can you stay professional and not cross the line? I think it’s good that he crosses the line, he’s human that way. It is a hard position to be a care giver. A doctor comes and goes, the care giver lives there for a year or years, sometimes they end up marrying their patients. It happens. When David gets sued, they say you’re manipulating the patient, I didn’t want to go too far, but there is a hint there to what the family might be thinking.

images-2Are they jealous?

Of course they’re jealous. Suddenly the father is crying in this stranger’s arms and is closer to the nurse than the daughter.

Families are seen throughout the film as fairly indifferent or incapable.

I didn’t want to pass a judgement on them, but yes. I’m not blaming it on the relatives. No one knows how to deal with death, but these nurses do and they enjoy it. David isn’t an angel, I’ve tried to make him more than that. And every family he comes across is different. John’s family are so involved and are even trying to tell David how to do his job. They get in the way, which happened a little with my grandmother. My aunts are crazy and they would fight with each other because they were too involved. I had that experience unfortunately, otherwise I would never have made this movie. Why would you think of such a thing?

David’s role of a father. Your previous film After Lucia (2012) also has a grieving father as a main character.

So far it has happened to me every time I shoot a film. I try to do it differently, but one day I got to the set with Tim and I told him ‘Fuck! We’re doing the same film.’ It’s a totally different story and situation but the main relationship is a father and daughter. I don’t know. I’m really worried. Some directors are trying to find their voice and they consciously repeat themselves and it’s bullshit, it should come by itself.

CHRONIC IS ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 19 FEBRUARY 2016

Berlinale 2016 | The Golden Bear is ready to roar | Specials

The list of Competition titles is now complete for Berlinale Film Festival which runs from 11 February until 21 February 2016. The first of the three main festivals in the annual film calendar, the BERLINALE started in July 1951, but since 1978 it has taken place each February in order to steal a march on Cannes Film Festival (in May) and Venice (in August)CR_D16_00011.CR2While Potsdamer Platz is the central hub for press and audience screenings, new films are bought, sold and negotiated at the nearby European Film Market (EFM) which has its home in the magnificent renaissance building Martin-Gropius-Bau, one of Berlin’s premier art museums. (right: Spike Lee’s CHI-RAQ in competition).

Running since 1987, the TEDDY AWARD is the only official LGBTIQ film competition and this year presents its 31st Edition. The other sidebars during the Berlinale are:

BERLINALE SHORTS – innovative styles in domestic and international short films. Films in the category compete for the Golden Bear for the best short film, as well as a jury-nominated Silver Bear.

PANORAMA – new independent and arthouse films that deal with controversial subjects or unconventional aesthetic styles and are often LGBT themed.

FORUM – includes experimental and documentary films from around the world with a particular emphasis on younger filmmakers. There are no format or genre restrictions, and films in the Forum do not compete for awards. FORUM EXPANDED is included in this strand.

GENERATION – short and feature-length films aimed at children and teenagers. Films in the Generation section compete in two sub-categories: Generation Kplus (aimed at those aged four and above) and Generation 14plus (aimed at those aged fourteen and above). Awards in the section are determined by three separate juries – the Children’s Jury, the Youth Jury and an international jury of experts – whose decisions are made independent of one another.

PERSPECTIVE DEUTSCHES KINO– the focus here in on the latest trends in German filmmaking and  emerging filmmakers.

RETROSPECTIVE – classic films previously shown at the Berlinale Competition, Forum, Panorama and Generation categories. Each year, the Retrospective section is dedicated to important themes or filmmakers.

BERLINALE CLASSICS – a series focussing on cult classics with HOMMAGE honouring the life work of directors and actors.

BERLINALE SPECIAL – out of competition films that have a particular resonance or newsworthy theme.

CULINARY CINEMA – films that explore cuisine and food-themed topics.

NATIVe – films dealing specifically with the environment or endangered communities.

T H E   M A I N   C O M P E T I T I O N    S E L E C T I O N

Boris copyBoris sans Béatrice (Boris without Béatrice) | Canada
By Denis Côté (Vic+Flo Saw a Bear)
With James Hyndman, Simone-Elise Girard, Denis Lavant, Isolda Dychauk, Dounia Sichov
World premiere

Genius | United Kingdom / USA
By Michel Grandage
With Colin Firth, Jude Law, Nicole Kidman, Laura Linney, Guy Pearce, Dominic West
World premiere – first feature

Alone in Berlin | Germany / France / United Kingdom
By Vincent Perez (The Secret)
With Brendan Gleeson, Emma Thompson, Daniel Brühl, Mikael Persbrandt
World premiere

MIDNIGHT SPECIALMidnight Special | USA
By Jeff Nichols (Mud, Take Shelter)
With Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst, Adam Driver, Jaedan Lieberher, Sam Shepard
World premiere

Zero Days – documentary | USA
By Alex Gibney (Taxi to the Dark Side)
World premiere

Cartas da guerra (Letters from War) | Portugal
By Ivo M. Ferreira (Na Escama do Dragão)
With Miguel Nunes, Margarida Vila-Nova
World premiere

Ejhdeha Vared Mishavad! (A Dragon Arrives!)  Iran
By Mani Haghighi (Modest Recept