Archive for the ‘RETROSPECTIVE’ Category

Skanderberg (1953)

Dir: Sergei Yutkevich | War drama 120’

Seventy years after its release this film stands testament to the brief honeymoon between Albania and the Soviet Union between the death of Stalin and Enver Hoxha’s inevitable falling out shortly afterwards out with his successors in the Kremlin.

The Soviet cinema had already been the beneficiaries of the unintended largesse of the Germans when they took possession of Agfacolor at the end of the war – which explains why colour was such a surprisingly common feature of Eastern European films of the 1950s – and when the time came to play father bountiful to little Albania the choice of subject was a no-brainer: it had to be a film depicting Albania’s greatest national hero.

To that end the Russians dispatched veteran director Sergei Yutkevich to Albania with a large consignment of colour film and evidently one of Mosfilm’s dollies, since both the frequent battles scenes as well as the interiors abound in dynamic lateral tracks and sweeping camera movements. @RichardChatten

Kinoteka (2024) London Polish Film Festival 2024

The Kinoteka Polish Film Festival is back for a 22th edition running from 6 March until 28 March and celebrating the latest in Polish arthouse film and cult classics.

World-famous filmmakers: Agnieszka Holland, Małgorzata Szumowska & Michał Englert, and DK & Hugh Welchman, will join the festivities as well as renowned directors such Walerian Borowczyk and Krzysztof Kieślowski.

OPENING GALA

Kinoteka 2024 begins on 6 March at BFI Southbank with an Opening Gala screening of the critically acclaimed Green Border (Zielona granica, 2023) from director Agnieszka Holland (In Darkness, The Secret Garden) raising the profile on immigration in the form of a moving journey across Europe. After moving to the north east of Poland, psychologist Julia (Maja Ostaszewska) becomes an active part of a tragedy that takes place on the Polish-Belarusian border. This story interweaves similar events involving those trying to make their way to Europe to escape an uncertain future in their own countries.

CLOSING GALA

Heading to the BFI IMAX on 28 March, the festival’s Closing Gala for 2024 will be an exciting celebration of film and music, where the audience will be treated to Polish box office smash-hit The Peasants (Chłopi, 2023) that makes stunning use of an oil painting animation technique, The Peasants is a visually thrilling rendering of Władysław Reymont’s Nobel Prize-winning tale.

NEW POLISH CINEMA

Expect to discover the very latest in Polish films hot off the international festival circuit. Małgorzata Szumowska (Never Gonna Snow Again, Mug, Body) and Michał Englert (Never Gonna Snow Again, Infinite Storm). Woman Of (Kobieta z, 2023) is set against the landscape of the Polish transformation from communism to capitalism, spanning 45 years of the life of Aniela Wesoły (Małgorzata Hajewska) and her journey to find personal liberty as a trans woman.

Communist Poland also provides the backdrop for Saint (Święty, 2023), which is set during the final, turbulent days of the Polish People’s Republic and shows a nation grappling with its identity, torn between allegiance to Church and State. Mateusz Kościukiewicz (Mug, Bracia) stars as a rookie policeman investigating the theft of a priceless silver sculpture from Gniezno Cathedral in this thrilling mystery.

The multi-award winning Doppelganger (Doppelgänger. Sobowtór, 2023) from Jan Holoubek (Netflix’s The Mire, 25 Years of Innocence) is a stylish psychological thriller rooted in actual events of Cold War Poland starring Jakub Gierszał (Najlepszy), as a tale of espionage unfolds simultaneously on both sides of the Iron Curtain.

Elsewhere in the programme, Klaudiusz Chrostowski’s Ultima Thule (2023) features another compelling lead performance from Jakub Gierszał as Bartek, a man struggling to make sense of his life, who leaves his family to travel to a remote Scottish island. This striking, minimalist feature debut won the Best Micro Budget Film Award at Gdynia Festival 2023.

Adapted from a novel by Jakub Małecki, Feast of Fire (Święto ognia, 2023) is a heartwarming film about happiness, ambition and secrets as two devoted sisters struggle with very different constraints imposed by their bodies.

Adrian Apanel’s Horror Story (2023) is a smart take on the often absurd rites of passage between adolescence and adulthood that expertly combines black comedy and horror tropes. Jakub Zając (Dawid i Elfy) plays a man who arrives in Warsaw ready to start his adult life in the world of finance but soon finds himself reeling from the brink of one disaster to another.

The Secret of Little Rose (Rózyczka 2, 2023) is the much anticipated sequel to Jan Kidawa-Blonski’s multi-award winning Rose (2010). Once again starring Polish acting greats Magdalena Boczarska (Ostatnia rodzina) and Robert Więckiewicz (In Darkness, Wałęsa: Man of Hope), the film tells the story of a career politician whose life is turned upside down following a terrorist attack which kills her husband.

Lastly, Paweł Maślona’s Scarborn (Kos, 2023) is an action-packed historical tale that won multiple prizes at Gdynia Film Festival 2023 including the Golden Lion, Press Award and Youth Jury Award. Based on real events, it follows the story of General Tadeusz “Kos” Kościuszko (Jacek Braciak) who returns to Poland in 1794 and plans to start an uprising against the Russian occupying forces but on his tail is a Russian cavalry captain (Robert Więckiewicz) who is determined to foil his plans.

DOCUMENTARY

The festival’s documentary strand this year consists of two eye-opening films that take viewers to war zones across the world and, through very different lenses, show how the conflicts affect those caught in the cross-fire. In the Rearview (Skąd dokąd, 2023) tells the stories of the ordinary Ukrainian people that director Maciek Hamela helped evacuate from the country following the Russian invasion.

Developed over seven years, Danger Zone (2023) is an unsettling documentary examining a dark side of tourism, where people choose to visit war zones on organised tours at great expense. Taking an observational approach, the film juxtaposes the experiences of these so-called ‘war zone tourists’ and a tour operator with the everyday lives of those who live and fight in countries such as Somalia, Afghanistan and Syria.

CINEMA CLASSICS

Three Polish auteurs are represented in the Cinema Classics strand, in a programme that spans 1940s and 1970s Polish film. Krzysztof Kieślowski’s breakthrough masterpiece Camera Buff (Amator, 1979), was written for then rising actor Jerzy Stuhr who plays a factory worker whose passion to capture the world on 8mm film, gradually takes over his life, with implications on his freedom.

The Story of Sin (Dzieje grzechu, 1975) is an intense, taboo-breaking work from cult director Walerian Borowczyk, that is based on a famous novel by Stefan Żeromski, who co-wrote the screenplay. Presented as a sumptuous melodrama, the film follows the fate of a young woman Ewa (Grażyna Długołęcka) who, after falling for the young impoverished lodger in her family home, ends up in a spiral of seduction and obsession.

And lastly from prolific filmmaker Michał Waszyński, Kinoteka is proud to screen The Great Way (Wielka droga, 1946), the first post-WW2 Polish feature film. Produced by the 2nd Polish Army Corps and shot largely at Cinecittà, it tells the story of a young soldier who is taken to a military hospital where a nurse pretends to be his fiancée, to support his recovery. Secretly reading his journal to understand his story, she learns of his experiences on the battlefield. While a fictionalised narrative, The Great Way uses documentary footage to show the real story of the Polish army led by General Anders, known for their mascot Wojtek the bear.

KINOTEKA POLISH FILM FESTIVAL 2024 | LONDON 6-28 March 2024

Venues: BFI Southbank, BFI IMAX, Southbank Centre, Cine Lumiere, Institute of Contemporary Arts, Phoenix Cinema, Prince Charles Cinema, Rich Mix, Watermans

A Taste for Women (1964)

Dir: Jean Leon | Cast: Sophie Daumier, Guy Bedos, Grégoire Aslan | Drama 100’

The title suggests a saucy Parisian sex comedy but the knowledge that Roman Polanski collaborated on the screenplay immediately puts us on notice to expect something far darker; and since Sacha Vierny had recently made ‘Last Year at Marienbad’ look so sumptuous his ugly black & white photography for this film was presumably by design.

Guy Bedos looks understandably bewildered as he’s assailed from all sides by assorted ghouls, gangsters and members of a weird cannabalistic sect employing machine guns, blow pipes and samurai swords. Edwige Feuillere brings her usual dignity and grace to the proceedings (although even she reveals a more perverse side savouring a sadomasochistic cabaret); while Ward Swingle’s score is sometimes stridently awful but is just as likely to work beautifully. @RichardChatten

NOW ON YOUTUBE

Paramount on Parade (1930)

Dir: Dorothy Arzner, Otto Brower, Edmund Goulding || Cast: Jean Arthur, Clara Bow, Gary Cooper, Fredric March, Maurice Chevalier | US Musical 102’

Paramount on Parade displays little of the imagination of Universal’s The King of Jazz and certainly lacks the star quality of Metro’s The Show of Shows and is amateurishly staged as if on a proscenium and played to the camera throughout; but the masters of ceremonies Jack Oakie and Skeets Gallagher sauntering through the proceedings cheerfully breeching the fourth wall seem to be having as much fun as the audience.

The sets are pretty basic with the idiosyncratic exception of the tinted spoof murder mystery and the various Technicolor sequences which ironically lack a soundtrack (although perhaps that’s a blessing in the case of Harry Green as a Jewish matador). Jean Arthur and Gary Cooper are rather wasted – particularly as the points when they get to sing are both now silent – and you have to look hard to spot Frederic March.

With the fleeting exception of Kay Francis in Technicolor as Carmen Maurice Chevalier is easily seen to the best effect (in sequences evidently the work of Ernst Lubitsch), especially performing an Apache Dance with Evelyn Brent; but Mitzi Green, Nancy Carroll and Clara Bow also get to make their mark.

Apart from the scenes with Chevalier it’s hard to know who actually directed what, but the presence of Ludwig Berger – addressed as ‘Dr. Berger’ – in the Technicolor episode The Gallows Song identifies him as the man responsible for the colour composition that so impressed Alexander Korda that he later invited him to work for him at Denham on The Thief of Baghdad. @RichardChatten

Get Your Man (1927)

Dir: Dorothy Arzner | US Drama 63’

Interesting to compare this rather demure affair with the one pictured nearly a hundred years later in HOW TO HAVE SEX (2023).

Far from being a manual advising young ladies how to succeed with the opposite sex as the title suggests, this early directorial outing for Dorothy Arzner – the only woman director during Hollywood’s Golden Age – whose assignment to the project led Clara Bow to take umbrage as her presence on the set meant one less man around – subscribed to the then prevalent twenties convention of a racy title but a plot of ultimately high propriety, ending (SLIGHT SPOILER COMING:) as it does with the two young leads retiring to separate rooms rather than spending the night together.

Typically for a film by Ms Arzner the men are all gormless and pliable, while the observation that “My uncle’s eighty, and he’s still a public menace to private secretaries” shows that she had their measure a full ninety years before the Harvey Weinstein scandal lifted the lid on workplace sexual harassment. @RichardChatten

Now on YouTube

Night of the Generals (1967)

Dir: Anatole Litvak | Cast: Peter O’Toole, Albert Finney, Tom Courtney | US Action Drama

When Sam Spiegel engaged Peter O’Toole for the title role in Lawrence of Arabia it came with strings attached in the form of a long-term contract (which is the reason first choice Albert Finney had declined the part).

Thus is the presence herein of O’Toole explained (not that his choice of films ever displayed much discernment and in The Night of the Generals he gives a performance that’s eccentric even for him), while from Spiegel’s point of view the appeal of a film reuniting both stars of Lawrence of Arabia was only too apparent.

The money was always up there on the screen on a Spiegel production, it has a score by Maurice Jarre that lingers pleasantly in the memory and a particularly good performance in a supporting role by Tom Courtney (who has a memorable scene discussing the merits of modern art with O’Toole).

While for students of the period it contains possibly the only screen representation of the incident when Rommel’s car was strafed by a Spitfire (which provides the opportunity for Spiegel to include Christopher Plummer in a guest role). @RichardChatten

NOW ON PRIME VIDEO

Werner Herzog: Radical Dreamer (2022)

Wri/Dir: Thomas von Steinaecker | With: Werner Herzog, Chloe Zhao, Joshua Oppenheimer, Patti Smith, Robert Pattinson, Carl Weathers, Wim Wenders, Christian Bale, Nicole Kidman | Volker Schlondorff | Klaus Kinski, Lotte Eisner | Doc Germany 102′:

Sometimes a question has to be asked that brings to mind what Bernard MacLaverty called the ‘elephant in the room.’ That is – who is a documentary like this for?

If you know Werner Herzog as a writer/director you will most likely find this film a slight trifle that only skims the surface of one of the most mythologised filmmakers, who is still with us. If, on the other hand, you know Herzog from his appearances on animated series and roles in such examples of America’s Movie Industrial Complex like The Mandalorian or Jack Reacher (as fun as they are) then this documentary will be an introduction to what Socrates meant when he claimed ‘the unexamined life is not worth living’ in the sense that, in the last fifteen years, Herzog has turned from an unique filmmaker who gave us visions of the imagined to a Pop Culture behemoth that at times touches on self parody; most definitely examined and lived in.

Radical Dreamer follows the 81-year-young filmmaker in LA and on a pilgrimage to the family home where he grew up. With a short running time the origin story is merely glimpsed as we focus on the stories that it seems everyone knows: the walk across Europe to save the life of Lotte Eisner (which Herzog detailed in his book Of Walking In Ice) and the lunacy of Klaus Kinski (which is better detailed in Herzog’s own 1999 documentary My Best Fiend).

One of the usual choices the director Thomas von Steinaecker makes is the selection of talking heads, half with German speakers and half with Anglo-Saxons. It is perhaps no surprise that the English speakers don’t really impart anything of interest and some of the choices are damn right bizarre, Carl Weathers, for example, who shared a scene with Herzog in The Mandalorian and the filmmaker Chloé Zhao. The German speakers have far more insight, and for that we could have stayed with them longer. They include Wim Wenders; two of Herzog’s brothers; his first wife and Volker Schlöndorff.

I think we need to look at this film as a primer, a ‘greatest hits’ package; if you will. It is certainly part of a media blitz that includes the release of his autobiography, a retrospective at the BFI Southbank and the re-issue at the cinema of some of his great films from the 70s. I do feel though that the films Herzog made in the 70s had a sense of mystery, and that he too seems an enigma: half holy fool and half the foremost example of his acclaimed ecstatic truth concept.

Back in the 70s, making those ethnographic hybrids (are they fiction, documentary or myth?) was a much younger man’s game and eventually, like all great artists, Herzog pivoted away from them and reimagined himself as a documentarian. His fiction films go to places that are undiscovered until he returns in documentary form to explore his claim that nature is uncaring and a devil’s fortress. @D_W_Mault

WERNER HERZOG: RADICAL DREAMER is in cinemas in the UK and Ireland on 19 January and on BFI Player and Blu-ray on 19 February. BFI Southbank’s retrospective season, JOURNEYS INTO THE UNKNOWN – FILMS BY WERNER HERZOG, runs throughout January.

Haunted (1995)

Dir: Lewis Gilbert | Cast: Aiden Quinn, Kate Beckinsale, John Gielgud, Anna Massey  | UK Fantasy horror 95’

Based on a novel by James Holborn, like ‘Don’t Look Now’ this film starts with a prologue depicting a young girl drowning (a debt further acknowledged by a brief glimpse of Hilary Mason at her memorial service), but this time she’s in a long white dress rather than a red duffle coat.

In the more conventional hands of Lewis Gilbert the action then picks up in a twenties mansion in the style of Brideshead – complete with Anthony Andrews – and the plot proceeds to make it’s way with elements lifted from ‘The Halfway House’, ‘The Haunting’ and ‘The Shining’.

Aiden Quinn and a youthful Kate Beckinsale make an attractive pair of young leads, ably supported by Anna Massey as a disturbed old nanny, John Gielgud as the family doctor whose entrance is literally preceded by a cloud of smoke, and Liz Smith as a disconcertingly accurate fortune teller.

Hana-Bi | Fireworks (1997)

Dir: Takeshi Kitano | Cast: Takeshi Kitano, Kayoko Kishimoto, Ren Osugi, Susumu Terajima, Tetsu Watanabe | Japan 98′

There’s a serene stillness that takes all the horror away from the unexpected outbursts of brutal violence that are almost funny – quite apart from the deadpan humour that Takeshi Kitano fully intended in his thoughtful thriller. This makes Fireworks extremely enjoyable as we watch him play an ex-cop whose marriage slowly gets back on its feet after his wife (Kayoko Kishimoto) comes out of hospital. Hana-Bi means fireworks but the words individually mean ‘flowers’ and ‘fire’

Fireworks is an extremely likeable film. Kitano directs and also stars without a shred of sentimentality, just business as usual as he tends to his wife and dispatches the odd criminal who gets in his way in an artfully composed arthouse thriller. His character’s minimal dialogue and terse exchanges also make this a joy to watch for those who hate scrolling through dialogue in an unfamiliar language. Clocking in a just over a hour and a half it also leaves you wanting more rather than less – often the case with lengthy Japanese and South Korean fare.

Inspector Nishi (Kitano) may be a dab hand with a flick knife – which he makes liberal use of – but his sense of honour is second to none. And he feels deeply responsible when his colleague Horibe (Ren Osugi) stands in for him getting life-changing injuries after attempting to arrest a criminal.  Nishi encourages him to paint to fill the lonely hours when his wife subsequently leaves him. There’s an amusing vignette with Tetsu Watanabe as a scrap metal dealer.

The paintings are infact Kitano’s own work but provide a delicate leitmotif to the crime caper that went on to win the Golden Lion at Venice in 1997. The finale will leave you with much food for thought. @MeredithTaylor

AVAILABLE ON MUBI and PRIME VIDEO channels

The Lady Vanishes (1938)

Dir: Alfred Hitchcock | Cast: Michael Redgrave, Margaret Lockwood, Basil Redford, Naunton Wayne, Catherine Lacey, Googie Withers | UK Thriller  90’

The Lady Vanishes probably represented the apex of Hitchcock’s Gainsborough period as well as marking possibly his earliest foray into the world of international politics that eventually culminated in ‘Topaz’ about the Cuban missiles crisis.

His background working in German films is evident from the production design, classic Hitchcock tropes include staging the action on a train, the use of cute little models and oversized props with a memorable MacGuffin.

Basil Redford and Naunton Wayne exhibit the traditional British sang froid by exhibiting more concern about the Test Match scores back home; while the sight of Catherine Lacey as a nun in high heels must have given Ken Russell ideas. @RichardChatten

Keep your Seats, Please! (1936)

Dir: Monty Banks | George Formby, Florence Desmond, Alistair Sim, Gus McNaughton | Uk Comedy 82’

George Formby’s status at Ealing had reached the stage where the company was prepared to invest in something more substantial to provide him with a showcase, even it rather squanders the satire of Ilf & Petrov’s Russian original novel.

As the hero Formby shows such a limited grasp of maths you want to wring his neck as he stupidly shrinks his prospective inheritance like a meter on a taxi; and his adventures are inclined to be more harrowing than funny – as in a truly apocalyptic scene which begins with him being attacked by a duck.

Monty Banks’ direction is usually very perfunctory, but this has be the only film in you get to see Formby punch Alistair Sim in the face on two separate occasions, while the film elsewhere displays a bracing cynicism in it’s depiction of the effect on people of the prospect of easy money. @RichardChatten

Macbeth (1948)

Dir: Orson Welles | Cast: Orson Welles, Jeanette Nolan, Dan O’Herlihy, Roddy McDowall | US Drama 107′

Unlike Orson Welles’s later unorthodox adaptations of Shakespeare shot in far flung locations abroad ‘Macbeth’ was dashed off in Hollywood in 23 days on a budget of less than $900,000 the unapologetically commercial outfit Republic (whose logo it comes as quite a shock to see at the conclusion).

The end result was murky even by Welles’s standards, full of incongruously varied accents (as you would expect from a cast that includes both Dan O’Herlihy and Roddy McDowall), not least Welles’s own. (Poor Jeanette Nolan’s Lady Macbeth has taken a lot of flack over the years, but personally I think she’s pretty effective.)

Jacques Ibert’s score is quite impressive, and appropriately manages to include bagpipes. Welles plainly knew his Eisenstein and while the sets looks if they were left over from an episode of ‘Star Trek’ John Russell lights them for maximum effect’; and in Welles himself – still quite light on his feet in those days – it of course possesses a truly formidable protagonist.@RichardChatten

 

Three Sad Tigers (1968) Raul Ruiz Retrospective Viennale 2023

Raúl Ruiz | Drama, Chile 100′

Ruiz’s lively debut is perhaps the purest form of cinema verite and social realism, giving a fascinating snapshot of ordinary people in Chile in the late 1960s. If there was an example of the Chilean New Wave – this is it; and the film went on to win the Golden Leopard at Locarno the year after it was shot.

Inspired by a play from Alejandro Sieveking. Ruiz’ essentially plotless narrative centres on three men trying to make a decent living for themselves in pre-Allende Santiago, the rolling camera capturing the most intimate moments of their everyday activities in brief and tantalising vignettes often scored by atmospheric music or outbursts of song. Raw and charismatic Three Sad Tigers leaves a haunting impression. Ruiz incomparable technique is astounding.

The most obvious touchstone is John Cassavetes’ 1970 outing Husbands but this is a much more impressionistic look at what men get up to when left to fend for themselves during times of crisis. It also offers a sober impression of life back then. What starts as a reasonably playful affair soon turns sinister eventually descending into violence as one of the characters feels short-changed by another other. Three Sad Tigers was the first of a trio of films Ruiz made in Chile before the 1973 military coup set in motion his move to France. MT

RAUL RUIZ RETROSPECTIVE | VIENNALE 2023

 

Richard III (1955)

Dir: Laurence Olivier | Cast: Laurence Olivier, Claire Bloom, Cedric Hardwicke, John Gielgud, Ralph Richardson | UK Drama 151’

Olivier’s third cinematic version of Shakespeare – the fourth if you count Paul Czinner’s film of ‘As You Like It’ – was probably his most parsimonious (the budget ran to VistaVision and Technicolor but Bosworth Field was shot in Spain to keep costs down and the difference in the lighting is in stark contrast to the rest of the film; along with the incongruous presence of the young Stanley Baker as the Earl of Richmond).

It was rapturously received by critics and is to this day considered one of the finest adaptations of the bard, which makes Olivier’s inability to raise the finance to make a version of ‘Macbeth’ even more to be regretted.

Olivier himself is plainly having the time of his life eying the camera as he shares his cunning plans; while the film’s cleverest conceit has to be the inclusion of an almost entirely wordless Pamela Brown drifting through the periphery of the action as Edward IV’s mistress Jane Shore. @RichardChatten

NOW ON BBC IPLAYER

Cinema Unbound: The Creative Worlds of Powell + Pressburger

Cinema Unbound: The Creative Worlds of Powell + Pressburger is a major UK-wide celebration of one of the greatest and most enduring filmmaking partnerships: Michael Powell (1905-1990) and Emeric Pressburger (1902-1988).

Bold, subversive and iconoclastic, their passionate collaborative artistic vision – spanning 24 films, including A Matter of Life and Death, The Red Shoes,  Miracle in Soho and The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp – is a vital part of the fabric of British cinema history, which continues to inspire audiences and artists alike.

Contraband (1940) Courtesy of BFI

The Spy in Black (1939) Courtesy of BFI

Black Narcissus (1947) Courtesy of BFI

From 16 October to 31 December at venues across the UK, on BFI Player and with the free, major exhibition The Red Shoes: Behind the Mirror (from 10 November, BFI Southbank).

Lost in the Stars (1974)

Dir: Daniel Mann | Cast: Brock Peters · Melba Moore · Raymond St. Jacques · Clifton Davis · Paul Rogers.

The best known version of Alan Paton’s acclaimed novel is Alexander Korda’s sombre 1952 version starring Canada Lee. Under the aegis of the American Film Theatre Ely Landau however took it upon himself to preserve for posterity the ill-fated 1972 revival of Maxwell Anderson and Kurt Weill’s 1949 Broadway musical adaptation which actually preceded the earlier film version.

Unusually for an American Film Theatre production it’s set on the Dark Continent (with Jamaica standing in for South Africa) rather than in America, it’s concession to American sensibilities coming in the casting of Brock Williams in a role that would been perfect for Paul Robeson had it been made in the 1930s, but who here gets to display the warm baritone he’d briefly employed in ‘The L-Shaped Room’. @RichardChatten 

D.O.A. (1949)

Dir: Rudolph Mate. | Cast: Edmond O’Brian, Pamela Britton, Luther Adler, Beverly Garland | US Drama 83’

With a title like that I think I’m safe in discussing this film’s plot without issuing a spoiler alert since most viewers are already well appraised of the plot in advance. A man, Frank Bigelow, has told he’s been poisoned and has only a few days to live, so he tries to find out who killed him and why. 

At the outset of Kind Hearts and Coronets Denis Price laconically observes “when a man is to be hanged in the morning it concentrates his mind wonderfully”. Edmond O’Brien undergoes a similar transformation since the knowledge he only has hours to live has completely removed the fear of death which enables him to ride roughshod through a collection of ghouls; a situation bookended by the opening when he strides into a police station to report a murder and when the sergeant asks who, replies “I was!” and in a later flashback a scientist informs him “You’ve been murdered!” (only in a noir would you you hear a line like that!).

What makes the cinema such a rich experience is that it exists in a permanent present, so even though O’Brien dies at the end he remains marvellously alive each time the film is repeated. @RichardChatten 

STREAMING ON PLEX TV

The World of Raul Ruiz | Viennale Retrospective 2023

This year’s VIENNALE retrospective is dedicated to the Chilean director, writer and poet Raúl Ernesto Ruiz Pino.

Ruiz – who was born in Chile in 1941 – was exiled after Pinochet’s coup d’etat in 1973 to France where he emerged as one of the most exciting and innovative filmmakers of the 1960s. During a prodigious career that would continue well into the 21st century – his final films were completed by his wife and collaborator Valeria Sarmiento – he explored a range of different styles, places and cultures and directed over a hundred films, embracing the big screen and television as well as experimental fare. 

Raúl Ruiz was certainly a maverick and soon abandoned his university studies in theology and law and switched to film school in Argentina in 1964 where he would stand out from the crowd of politically-engaged Chilean filmmakers such as Patricio Guzman with work that was more surreal and avant-garde in nature. Success came early and his first feature Three Sad Tigers (1968) shared the Golden Leopard at the 1969 Locarno Film Festival.

During the 1970s and 1980s Ruiz developed an ironic and often amusingly eccentric style of low-budget filmmaking supported by his producer Paulo Branco. A long collaboration with Chilean composer Jorge Arriagada kicked off with Colloque de chiens (1977). This was followed by The Suspended Vocation (1978); The Hypothesis of the Stolen Painting (1978); On Top of the Whale (1982); Three Crowns of the Sailor (1983); City of Pirates (1983); Manoel’s Destinies (1985); Treasure Island (1985) and Life is a Dream (1986).

Ruiz’ idiosyncratic style gained traction and consequently higher budgets during the 1990s attracting well-known international stars to the party and top talent such as John Hurt (Dark at Noon,1992) who bought into Ruiz’ eclectic style of filmmaking. With the band-waggon rolling his films were soon in demand on the international festival circuit.

A coup came in 1997 when Catherine Deneuve and Melville Poupaud starrer Genealogies of a Crime won the Silver Bear at Berlinale for Outstanding Artistic Achievement. And Deneuve was joined by her daughter Chiara Mastroianni, Emmanuelle Beart and John Malkovich for the glossy Palme d’Or nominated Time Regained again in 1999. Succeed breeds success and Ruiz went on to cast Isabelle Huppert in his 2000 drama Comedy of Innocence. Nominated for the Golden Lion at Venice the film went home empty-handed (the top prize instead being awarded to Jafar Panahi”s The Circle). Another, unsuccessful, attempt at winning the Palme d’Or came for Ruiz in 2003 with That Day.

Ruiz also made mainstream films in the English language with Shattered Image (1998) and A Closed Book (2010), but his final international flourish was Mysteries of Lisbon, a ravishing four and a half hour epic based on the novel by Camilo Castelo Branco.

Very much an intellectual filmmaker Ruiz plundered the literary world for ideas and expounded his theories in two books Poetics of Cinema 1: Miscellanies (1995) and Poetics of Cinema 2 (2007). He engaged with film and video projects in universities all over the world until his death in 2011, from cancer complications. His final resting place was his homeland of Chile where a National Day of Mourning was declared in his honour.

Determined that all films would reach international audiences, Valeria Sarmiento, also a director, presented his 2012 feature Night Across the Street which made a fitting conclusion to Ruiz’ long and impressive career at the Directors’ Fortnight at Cannes Film Festival.

Lines of Wellington (2012), the Napoleonic epic that Ruiz was working on when he died, premiered on the international circuit throughout the rest of the year, at Venice, San San Sebastián, Toronto and New York Film Festival. And Locarno Film Festival 2017, his half-finished feature The Wandering Soap Opera, made for an amusing entry, its telenovelsa-esque style very much in keeping with the mainstream TV fare of his homeland of Chile, where he had began the project in 1990. Perhaps the highlight of this retro is his film El Realismo Socialista Come Una De Las Bellas Artes (1973/2023), which for a long time was only available in fragmentary form and has now finally been completed. MT

VIENNALE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2023 | 19 – 31 OCTOBER 2023

Tomorrow (1972)

Dir: Stephen Anthony : Cast Robert Duvall, Olga Bellin, Sudie Bond | US Thriller

Halfway between making his screen debut as Boo Radley in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ and winning an Oscar for ‘Tender Mercies’ Robert Duvall finally proved himself capable of carrying a film on his own in this backwards ‘Silas Marner’ based on an original by William Faulkner. (All three adaptations as it happens were the work of Horton Foote), which also marked the final film of stage director Joseph Anthony.

Jackson Fentry, a lonely farmer in Mississippi, takes in a pregnant woman and begins to look after her. However, things take a tragic turn after she gives birth to her child.

Austerely shot in black & white, ‘Tomorrow’ was described by Leonard Maltin as “the best-ever presentation of the author’s work”; while Olga Bellin is as touching here as Jane Wyman in the equivalent role in ‘Johnny Belinda’. @RichardChatten 

The Naked Road (1959)

Dir: William Martin | Cast: Jeanne Renner, Ronald Long, Art Koulias, Eileen Letchworth | UK drama 74’

Talking Pictures unearthes another offering for students of the archeology of the cinema with an exploitation quickie so obscure it didn’t even it make into ‘The Psychotronic Encyclopaedia of Film’.

Presumably meant for drive-ins, it would probably have got down a treat in church halls and – for it’s picture of capitalism at its most predatory – would probably also gone down a treat in the Soviet Union (although the line about the redemptive power of religion would have had to go).

Made back in the days when nice girls didn’t neck, but for the fifties music you’d think it was made in the early thirties. Every man the heroine encounters is a total jerk; while the district judge who preys on speeders in cahoots with the local highway patrolman is portrayed as so casually venal that when his victim asks how he’s expected to pay simply shrugs and declares “I don’t care who pays the fine”.

As it that weren’t all he promptly hands them over to a pair of white slavers who pump her full of dope in pursuit of their nefarious scheme. The judge we never see again but rest assured (SLIGHT SPOILER COMING:) his partners in crime are finally rounded up and sent up the river for the next five years. @RichardChatten

TALKING PICTURES TV

The Stranger (1945)

Dir: Orson Welles | Cast: Orson Welles, Edward G Robinson, Loretta Young | US Noir

Long before he met David Lean, Sam Spiegel in his S. P. Eagle days was already signing the cheques for Orson Welles.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that after a promising start Welles quickly sank into a dispiriting morass of inferior films; however, films like ‘The Stranger’ and ‘The Lady from Shanghai’ would on their own have been the cornerstone of any lesser director’s reputation.

Reunited with the production designer of ‘Citizen Kane’ and teamed for the first with Russell Metty (long before ‘Touch of Evil’ and the films of Douglas Sirk whose wintry small town in ‘All That Heaven Allows’ this resembles), this probably represents one of Hollywood’s great anti-fascist films.@RichardChatten

The Devil Rides Out (1968)

Dir: Terence Fisher | Cast: Christopher Lee, Charles Gray, Patrick Mower, Gwendoline Ffrangcon Davies, Nike Arrighi | UK Horror

Intended by Hammer Films as the first of a series of adaptations of the novels of Dennis Wheatley, adapted for the screen on this occasion by Richard Matheson, sadly its lacklustre performance at the box office resulted in only one further attempt and the less said about To the Devil a Daughter – which effectively spelled finis for Hammer’s status as a major player in British films – the better.

The Devil Rides Out represents a radical new departure for veteran Hammer workhorse Terence Fisher, while Hammer’s chief bogeyman (currently serving as the regular screen personification of Fu Manchu) Christopher Lee gets a chance to play Nayland Smith for once; role he attacks with obvious satisfaction.

New to Hammer, Charles Gray as the evil Mocata probably gave Cubby Broccoli the idea of casting him as Blofeld. @RichardChatten

 

Lars Von Trier Season

The films of one of world cinema’s most renowned and daring provocateurs, Lars von Trier, will be making a comeback to the big screen this summer with a new retrospective entitled Enduring Provocations 

The retrospective looks back on von Trier’s controversial career, having courted ardent fans and enemies in equal measure during his nearly four decades as a director.

Known for his restless technical innovation and rebellious approach to the genre, von Trier has confronted the taboo subjects of the day and the eternal existential problems of the human condition with the same thorny, troubled intelligence and puckish humour.

Enduring Provocations revisits some of the director’s most incendiary works on the big screen headlined by remastered versions of Breaking the Waves, Idiots and Melancholia. The season asks whether his cinema of narcissism and self-abasement still has the power to get under our skin. Is it the on-screen violence that is hard to stomach, or those troubling questions his films ask about human suffering, morality and the disorders of society?

The retrospective will launch on the 4th of August with the newly remastered Breaking the Waves. The power of faith, love and friendship lies at the heart of this devastating drama from Danish wild-child Breaking the Waves won the 1996 Grand Jury Price in Cannes and created two stars: Stellan Skarsgard and Emily Watson in her raw screen debut that saw her nominated for an Oscar. Watson would never again reach these heady heights in a performance, and this was arguably Von Trier’s heartrending masterpiece, although he would go on to become the agent provocateur per excellence with a string of outrageous hits has never since reduced audiences to such a collective blithering emotional wreck.

In seven chapters and an epilogue, von Trier sets out to prove faith is stronger than any dogma. Set in the early 1970s Emily Watson is Beth McNeill (Watson) is a naïve and emotionally vulnerable young woman living in a devout Calvinist village where the residents cower in fear of being excommunicated by a coral of draconian religious ministers. Beth soon falls foul of them, marrying an ‘outsider’ in the shape of Jan Nyman (Skarsgard), an oil platform worker. Intoxicated by sexual passion she swears undying love for Jan and vows to keep him alive whatever the consequences when an accident on the rig renders him paralysed and bedridden.

Beth believes that God (whom she prays to out loud in the church) has punished her for asking Jan to return early from a contract on the rigs. Disturbed by a brain injury, Jan demands that Beth stimulate his libido by having sex with other men and recounting the details to give him hope of recovery. Beth blindly follows Jan’s wishes, sinking to the depths of sexual depravity by prostituting herself with locals and strangers, jeopardising her own well-being by visiting the occupants of a trawler (headed by a sadistic Udo Kier) declined custom by even the local prostitutes . Her blind faith in the power of divine healing is in conflict with conventional medical advice, and Beth soon turns against her stalwart friend Dorothy (the wonderful Katrin Cartlidge who won Best Supporting Actress) and Doctor Richardson (a memorable Adrian Rawlings).

Breaking is very much Jeanne D’ Arc in reverse: Virtue is replaced by sex as a way to redemption. And like for Jeanne, there is only one way for Beth: all or nothing. It is perhaps von Trier’s greatest achievement to not lose the audience at this point.

Back in 1996, there were long and heated discussions after the Cannes Palme d’Or ceremony (as in the decision to award this year’s Palme d’Or to Justine Triet’s Anatomy of a Fall instead of the radical Zone of Interest from Jonathan Glazer). Breaking the Waves is a more daring feature than Mike Leigh’s Secrets and Lies (1996), with Leigh’s hyper-realistic stage approach running into difficulties. Apart from the fantastic performances and gut punch of von Trier’s mise en scene, Robbie Mueller’s handheld camera alone makes the film a winner in this tragic celebration of life and the wonderment of human love, carnal and otherwise.

ENDURING PROVOCATIONS | CURZON | AUGUST 4TH 2023

 

Brighton Rock (1948)

Dir: John Boulting | Cast: Richard Attenborough, Hermione Baddeley, William Hartnell, Harcourt Williams

You know you’re in Greeneland when Harcourt Williams appears as a down-at-heel lawyer who quotes ‘Macbeth’.

Directing duo The Boultings were fast ascending in critical status when they turned their attention to Greene’s novel and their facility with locations is demonstrated from the outset by the first twenty minutes following Alan Whitely as the il-fated Kolley Kibber through the streets of Brighton.

Despite the disclaimer blaming the activities of Pinky and his gang on the thirties it perfectly captures the shabby feel of the postwar austerity era, complete with Nigel Stock in a zoot suit and a spivvy moustache.

The ending caused controversary at the time but it seemed me a pretty neat trick because although it concentrates on Carol Marsh’s rapturous smile somebody would have promptly (SLIGHT SPOILER COMING:) given that record player a good swift kick.

One final thought: was it just by coincidence that Pinky’s previous victim was called Fred Kite? @RichardChatten

NOW ON PRIME VIDEO

Paris When it Sizzles (1964)

Dir: Richard Quine | Cast: William Holden, Audrey Hepburn, Grégoire Aslan | Drama 110’

When he decided to remake Julien Duvivier’s La Fete a Henriette (1952), was it screenwriter George Axelrod’s intention all along that the lead in this repost to the auteur theory be played by William Holden?

Holden had already served as Billy Wilder’s narrator and spokesman for disaffected scriptwriters everywhere in Sunset Boulevard; in which he complained that audiences don’t realise anybody writes a movie, they just think the actors make it up as they go along. (Which if this weren’t a remake of an earlier film one might have thought Axelrod had himself just done.)

Audiences contemplating this extravagant shambles, however, know exactly where the blame lies since Alexrod constantly draws attention to his culpability in writing this script; while denigrating all the ‘little people’ involved in making the film itself. His arguments would have carried more weight had he marshalled them more coherently himself and he’d cast a lead actor who could play comedy.

An overwritten and overacted soufflé that fails to rise (which desperately overuses zooms, pans and wipes as if it were a Bollywood movie), with an appropriately overemphatic score by Nelson Riddle. It’s its production values and star power (notably a rather sweet extended cameo by Tony Curtis) that make it watchable. But it goes on for far too long.

Mind you, Resnais made just as much of a pig’s ear of similar subject matter with Providence. @RichardChatten

Dawn of a New Day (1964) Youssef Chahine Season

Dir: Youssef Chahine | Drama, Egypt

Dawn of a New Day has been described as Sirkian. In reality this glossy sixties colour moral tale bears a stronger resemblance to Antonioni; while the cast of overdressed, big-haired women foreshadow Almodovar, the backdrop here is Cairo rather than Buenos Aires.

Stage star Sanaa Gamil is a formidable protagonist, unhappily married to an indolent mercenary husband – played by director Chahine himself – who, it is suggested, forced the 40 year-old into an abortion that plainly leaves a huge hole in her heart, filled by an affair with a 22 year-old lad.

This moral tale makes no bones about her selfishness and venality, Chahine’s much-vaunted social conscience is implied by the offhand way she treats her servants in a parable that leaves us with a hopeful message: each day brings a new dawn, so never lose faith in the future. @Richard Chatten

Drama & Desire: The Films of Youssef Chahine – BFI Southbank season

House of Wax (1953) Bfi Film on Film 2023

Dir: Andre de Toth | Cast: Vincent Price, Frank Lovejoy, Phyllis Kirk, Carolyn Jones, Roy Roberts, Paul Picerni | US Horror 88′

Historically important for its role in both the history of the 3D film and the career of Vincent Price; who after 15 years as a general purpose actor finally found his vocation as Hollywood’s premier ghoul, House of Wax sees his fiendish character Jarrod managing a museum full of wax-covered murder victims.

A remake of Michael Curtiz’ early colour production called Mystery of the Wax Museum, close attention to the limited palette of the original is readily apparent from the blues and pinks at the film’s conclusion.

Like Mad Vince himself (who talks to his eerily lifelike exhibits with the fond intimacy of Prince Charles alone with his plants), the film frequently displays a childish sense of fun, as when a barker breeches the fourth wall and projects a ping-pong ball straight at your nose.

The film also provides early peripheral roles by Carolyn Jones during her days as a tittering blonde and Charles Bronson as a deaf mute called Igor (no, really) who’s the subject of a splendid sight gag. @RichardChatten

BFI Film on Film Festival (8-11 June) is the UK’s first film festival dedicated to screening works solely on celluloid with films showing on rare Nitrate, 16mm, 35mm, 70mm, dual-strip 3D and Super 8.

 

 

Hondo (1953) Bfi Film on Film 2023

Dir: John Farrow | Cast: John Wayne, Geraldine Page, Ward Bond, Michael Pate, James Arness | US 83′

Despite the obligatory shots of arrows heading straight for the camera climaxing in a rousing encirclement by injuns, Hondo, based on Louis L’Amour’s best-seller, is more a character study than a straight western and stands up perfectly well played flat.

John Wayne plays army dispatch rider Hondo Lane who finds his true place in the world when he comes across a woman and her son living in a remote homestead amongst warring Apaches.

Katherine Hepburn was reputedly intended for the role eventually played by Geraldine Page (who gets an introducing credit) reputedly selected for her homely looks, so as not to outshine Duke Wayne.

Wayne doesn’t actually get to tell her she’s beautiful when she’s mad but she frequently curls her lip in the face of his swaggering machismo. @RichardChatten

BFI Film on Film Festival (8-11 June) is the UK’s first film festival dedicated to screening works solely on celluloid with films showing on rare Nitrate, 16mm, 35mm, 70mm, dual-strip 3D and Super 8.

The Passionate Stranger (1957) Cinema Rediscovered

Dir: Muriel Box | Cast: Margaret Leighton, Ralph Richardson, Carlo Justino | UK Drama

The Passionate Stranger (1957) centres around happily married house-wife Judith Wynter (Margaret Leighton) who keeps the fact she is a best-selling author of steamy romance novels a closely guarded secret. As her husband Roger (Ralph Richardson), recovers from a serious illness, the couple’s new driver Carlo (Carlo Justini) discovers the manuscript of Judith’s latest novel and jumps to a rather unfortunate conclusion, making life in the Wynter household very complicated indeed!

Similar in conception – and, alas, execution – to Preston Sturges’ ‘Unfaithfully Yours’. I guess it was an early attempt by future ‘Carry On’ producer Peter Rogers at a saucy comedy, but what – or who? – exactly are we supposed to be laughing at?

The middle section in pretty fifties Eastmancolor – in which Margaret Leighton, inauspiciously reunited with ‘Holly and the Ivy’ patriarch Ralph Richardson, plays Chopin in Norman Hartnell – goes on for far too long and is too broadly played, and none of it is remotely as witty as it evidently thinks it is. While Humphrey Searle’s score sledgehammers home situations that cry out for a more tongue-in-cheek treatment.

The most remarkable transformation is Patricia Dainton’s from mouse to hussy (with painted red lips to complement her emerald green dress), and is probably the single most enjoyably daft component in the film. @RichardChatten

On CINEMA REDISCOVERED BRISTOL until 30 July 2023 | BLURAY & DIGITAL for the first time in August 2023 along with RATTLE OF A SIMPLE MAN (1964) and THE TRUTH ABOUT WOMEN (1957) directed by Muriel Box 

Outsiders and Exiles: Jerzy Skolimowski | Bfi

OUTSIDERS AND EXILES: THE FILMS OF JERZY SKOLIMOWSKI

In collaboration with the BFI and this year’s London-based Polish film festival Kinoteka will also present Outsiders and Exiles: The Films of Jerzy Skolimowski, a month-long retrospective screening at BFI Southbank. This is a rare opportunity to see the work of one of the world’s most remarkable filmmakers. Skolimowski’s latest sensation EO (2022), inspired by Bresson’s 1966 drama Au Hasard Balthazar, has garnered critical acclaim across the world since its premiere at Cannes, culminating with the film’s recent Academy Award nomination.

The season will include early Polish features like Identification Marks: None (1964) and Hands Up! (1967/1981), both of which will also be released on BFI Blu-ray on 24 April, British-made classics such as Deep End (1970) and The Shout (1978), and later career highlights including Essential Killing (2011) and 11 Minutes (2015). A number of the films in the season will also be available to watch online on BFI Player. MT

NOW AT BFI SOUTHBANK | LONDON 2023

 

Human Rights Watch Film Festival 2023

The Human Rights Watch Film Festival Presents 10 Award-Winning Films
in the London Edition, 16-26 March 2023

The Human Rights Watch Film Festival, now in its 27th year in London, presents a line-up of 10 award-winning, international documentary films in partnership with Barbican Cinema, and generously supported by players of People’s Postcode Lottery.

The festival programme, presented in person at the Barbican from 16-24 March, includes in-depth Q&As and panel discussions with filmmakers, film participants, activists and Human Rights Watch researchers following all screenings. The films will also be available to catch up digitally across the UK and Ireland on the festival website from 20-26 March. This year’s edition opens with the London premiere of Delikado:

DELIKADO directed by Karl Malakunus

Documentary focussing on three environmental defenders who are risking their lives to stop corporations and governments seeking to steal the increasingly valuable natural resources of their home, Palawan, an island in the Philippines. With its rich biodiversity and natural beauty, Palawan is one of Asia’s most visited tourist destinations, but for a small network of environmental crusaders, it is more akin to a battlefield. The battles fought by these climate activists are shared by allies worldwide – but the abusive regime of former President Rodrigo Duterte adds urgency to this deepening human rights crisis. The filmmaker and journalist Karl Malakunas, who has been based in Asia for two decades, will attend the festival.

THEATRE OF VIOLENCE  (UK Premiere)

Lukasz Konopa and Emily Langballe will attend the festival to present their closing film Theatre of Violence that raises complex questions about new forms of colonialism and definitions of justice in the landmark International Criminal Court trial of Daniel Ongwen. The former Ugandan child soldier, Ongwen was abducted as a child – as were an estimated more than 20,000 other children – by Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army. Intimidated and indoctrinated, he quickly learned to kill or be killed. In the unfolding debate his defence lawyer, Krispus Ayena, grapples with questions of accountability when someone is both victim and perpetrator, and the underlying issue of what justice looks like when being conducted in an international court, far away from key cultural and historical context.

NO U-TURN (London Premiere)

In his debut documentary the celebrated filmmaker Ike Nnaebue takes viewers on a journey with fellow Nigerian citizens leaving their country, travelling north through Africa and beyond, in search of work and the opportunity to build a future in Europe, despite the known and unknown challenges lying ahead. As he retraces his own stalled journey, made over 20 years ago, this self-reflective travelogue is overlaid with a powerful poetic commentary and insight into the impact of a colonial past, to unpack the deep longing of an entire generation in search of opportunities.

CATEGORY: WOMAN (European Premiere)

Written and directed by a former Olympian, Phyllis Ellis, Woman focuses on four female athletes from the Global South who are targeted and forced out of competition by regulations imposed by World Athletes, stirring relentless debates on their “legitimacy” as athletes and as women. Using women’s naturally varying androgen levels to evaluate their performance advantages, the sporting institution creates new rules, declaring that certain female athletes must medically alter their healthy bodies to compete in their sport. The film exposes an industry that puts women’s lives at risk, and raises issues of racism, sexism, and the right to determine another persons’ biological sex.

I DIDN’T SEE YOU THERE  (London Premiere),

As a person with a disability navigating the world from a wheelchair, the filmmaker Reid Davenport is often either the subject of unwanted gaze — gawked at by strangers — or paradoxically left invisible, ignored, or dismissed by society. In I Didn’t See You There (London Premiere), Davenport sets out to make a film about how he sees the world without having to be seen himself, capturing indelible images informed by his disability. This is a personal, political, and unflinching account – offering a perspective and stylistic approach rarely seen in film. I Didn’t See You There will have two relaxed screenings at the festival, which are open to all audience members.

KOROMOUSSO, BIG SISTER (European Premiere)

With candour, humour and courage, a group of African-Canadian women challenge cultural taboos, and build a road to individual and collective healing in Koromousso, Big Sister (European Premiere). Working with co-director Jim Donovan, Habibata Ouarme combines her own experience of female genital mutilation (FGM) with personal accounts from some of her friends, to begin a journey of personal discovery, with discussions on the importance of female pleasure and the complexity of the female anatomy, while working to shed long-held feelings of shame and loneliness. While finding strength and joy in their own frank and intimate conversations together, Habibata and her friends continue to advocate for wider access to restorative surgery and facilitate community conversations in Canada and worldwide.

SEVEN WINTERS IN TEHRAN (UK Premiere)

Seven Winters in Tehran (UK Premiere), directed by Steffi Niederzoll, explores the case of Reyhaneh Jabbari, a young Iranian woman who became a symbol of resistance and women’s rights worldwide. In 2007, Reyhaneh, 19, is sentenced to death in Iran for the murder of a man who tried to rape her. Using secretly recorded videos provided by her family, their testimony, and the beautiful, lyrical letters she wrote from prison, voiced by Holy Spider actress Zar Amir Ebrahimi, Seven Winters in Tehran opens a window into the many ways women are oppressed and silenced in Iran, and the immense risks taken by those who defend and support them.

IF THE STREETS WERE ON FIRE (London Premiere)

If The Streets Were On Fire (London Premiere) introduces BikeStormz, a movement of young cyclists that attempts to offer a safe and welcoming space for youth in London. Starting as a protest against violent crime with the slogan “knives down, bikes up,” BikeStormz, founded by a social activist, Mac Ferrari-Guy, has grown into a movement and safe space for young people around London to freely express themselves. The filmmaker Alice Russell beautifully captures groups of young people as they glide through the city, doing wheelies, tricks, and acrobatics and cheering each other on as they travel through the postcode-neutral space of central London. Yet as they come together and find liberation through cycling, they are threatened with arrest and accused of anti-social behaviour.

SILENT LOVE (UK Premiere)

Marek Kozakiewicz’s Silent Love (UK Premiere) is a coming-of-age and a coming-out story about embracing new roles and redefining old ones. Aga, 35, is legally adopting her teenage brother, Milosz, after their mother’s death – a process that probes into her life choices. However, there’s something she can’t share in their conservative Polish village: her long-term relationship with her girlfriend, Maja. Aga has always hidden her relationship from friends and family, and must continue to hide it from the social workers for fear of losing her case for Milosz. Silent Love delicately captures this trio’s discreet struggle as they begin to live as a family, against the prejudices of an ultra-conservative and viscerally homophobic society.

WHEN SPRING CAME TO BUCHA (UK Premiere)

The impact of war on the day-to-day lives of citizens of a small town in Ukraine is profiled in When Spring Came to Bucha (UK Premiere), which poignantly captures how a small community continues with life amid trauma and loss, while war rages on close by. After a month of intense fighting, the Russian army withdrew, leaving the town destroyed in its wake. Yet in the midst of suffering, a young couple gets married, and life must go on. This heart-rending yet empowering documentary tells stories of loss, hope, and resistance, as the spring flowers of Bucha begin to bloom.

Details about the screenings and discussions can be found HERE

 

WatchAUT Festival 2023 | A celebration of Austrian cinema

March brings a chance to binge on Austrian cinema – not only the classics but the latest crop of films from edgy new directors.

 

This year WatchAUT celebrates its second edition running from 23-26 March at London’s Cine Lumiere courtesy of The Austrian Cultural Forum London in cooperation with the Austrian Film Institute and Austrian Films.

The festival offers a special archive screening of Fritz Lang’s silent masterpiece FRAU IM MOND. Often considered as the first ‘serious’ science fiction film, the female led fantasy is a fascinating historical counterpoint to today’s spectacular sci-fi epics – including Leni Lauritsch’s space station thriller RUBIKON, one of the new Austrian films set to screen at this year’s festival alongside others including opening gala THE FOX, award-winning LGBTQ+ drama EISMAYER, and Nikoas Geyrhalter’s environmental documentary MATTER OUT OF PLACE.

THE FOX (dir: Adrian Goiginger, Germany/Austria, 2022). UK Premiere.

The true story of Franz Streitberger, the director’s great-grandfather, a motorcycle courier for the Austrian Army. At the beginning of the Second World War, this introverted young soldier comes across a wounded fox cub that he looks after and takes to occupied France with him – and through this unique friendship, his own past as an outcast farmers son slowly catches up with him.

Q&A with director Adrian Goiginger and lead actor Simon Morzé. 23 March.

FRAU IM MOND (dir: Fritz Lang, Germany, 1929).

An early film by visionary Austrian director Fritz Lang, Woman in the Moon follows a band of space pioneers as they attempt mankind’s first lunar voyage. This silent sci-fi epic is often considered as the first ‘serious’ science fiction film due to its realistic depiction of space travel. When the film premiered 94 years ago, it introduced cinema audiences to many elements that we now readily associate with space travel, including the idea of a countdown before the launch of a rocket. Presented in its rarely seen full-length version with live piano accompaniment, transporting the audience back to the era of silent film.

26 March

EISMAYER (dir: David Wagner, Austria, 2022). London Premiere.

Vice Lieutenant Eismayer is the most feared trainer and model macho in the Austrian Army, despite being a gay man in secret. When he falls in love with a young openly gay soldier, his world gets turned upside down. Based on real events, this LGBTQ+ feature championed at numerous film festivals, including Venice where it won the Grand Prize at Venice International Critics Week and was nominated for the Queer Lion.

Including Q&A with director David Wagner. 24 March.

I AM THE TIGRESS (dir: Philipp Fussenegger, Dino Osmanoviç, Austria/United States/Germany, 2021).

A favourite at BFI Flare, this intimate documentary portrays Tischa Thomas aka The Tigress – a 47-year-old mother and competitive bodybuilder whose physical strength and prowess contrasts with her beneath-the-surface vulnerability.

Including Q&A with directors and Tischa Thomas. 25 March.

MATTER OUT OF PLACE (dir: Nikolaus Geyrhalter, Austria, 2022). Winner of the WWF Green Leopard at Locarno International Film Festival, this environmental documentary captures the dispersion of garbage – observing the sisyphos-like work of garbage collectors and waste managers around the world. 25 March.

RUBIKON (dir: Leni Lauritsch, Austria, 2022). British actor George Blagden (Versailles, Vikings) stars alongside Austrian actress Julia Franz Richter and Ukrainian-born actor Mark Ivanir (The Good Shepherd) in this sci-fi drama. When Earth suddenly disappears in a toxic brown fog and all contacts are broken, the crew of a space station must decide whether to stay safe in space or risk their lives to get home and search for survivors. 26 March.

VERA (dir: Tizza Covi, Rainer Frimmel, Austria, 2022). Winner of the Venice Horizons Award for Best Director, as well as Best Actress for Vera Gemma, this Italian language drama co-stars Asia Argento and tells the story of Vera: a woman who lives in the shadow of her famous father and is tired of her superficial life amidst Rome’s high society, until tragedy offers perspective.

23-26 March 2023, Ciné Lumière, London SW7 2DW https://www.acflondon.org/events/watchaut-2023/

Cinema Made in Italy | Spring 2023

Cinema Made in Italy showcases the best of Italian cinema with eleven new releases coming to London’s Cine Lumiere from 9 until 13 March 2023

 

Fantozzi 

An insignificant cog in the wheels of a large company, Fantozzi starts his days battling against time (he must clock in) and overcrowded buses; he continues half hidden behind piles of work dumped on him by his crafty colleagues. Things are no better at home. Or in his free time. The film follows the hilarious and sometimes desperate trials and tribulations of our anti-hero, as he tries to get on in life.

Il Colibrì (The Hummingbird) (2022) Dir: Francesca Archibugi

Nanni Moretti, and Berenice Bejo star alongside Pierfrancesco Favino who plays Marco Carrera, aka il Colibrì or “the hummingbird”: a life of fateful coincidences, loss, and stories of absolute love. Il Colibrì is the story of the ancestral force of life, of the arduous struggle we all make to withstand what at times appears intolerable – also by wielding the powerful weapons of illusion, happiness, and good cheer.

Il Signore Delle Formiche (Lord of The Ants) (2022) Dir: Gianni Amelio

At the end of the sixties, a trial was held in Rome that caused a sensation. Playwright and poet Aldo Braibanti (Luigi Lo Cascio) was sentenced to nine years in prison, found guilty of plagio. That is, of having submitted another person, physically and psychologically, to his own will. In this case, a student and friend who was barely of age. The youth’s family had him committed to a psychiatric hospital and subjected to a string of devastating electroshock treatments to “cure” him of that “diabolical” influence. Drawing inspiration from true events, the film tells a story through a chorus of voices.

In Viaggio Dir: Gianfranco Rosi (2022)

This documentary by award-winning filmmaker Gianfranco Rosi centres of the first nine years of Pope Francis’s pontificate during which he made 37 trips visiting 53 countries, focusing on his most important issues: poverty, migration, the environment, solidarity and war. Intrigued by the fact that two of Francis’s trips – the first to the refugees landing in Lampedusa; the second in 2021 to the Middle East – so closely mirrored the itineraries of his films Fuocoammare and Notturno, Rosi follows the Pope’s Stations of the Cross. He sees what he sees, hears what he says and creates a dialogue between archival footage of Francis’ travels, images taken by Rosi himself, recent history and the state of the world today.

Interdit Aux Chiens et Aux Italiens (No Dogs or Italians Allowed) (2022)

In Alain Ughetto’s stop motion animation Luigi and his brothers set out from their native village in the Piedmont,  to discover “La Merica”, the fabulous land where dollars grow on trees. Finally, instead of crossing the Atlantic, Luigi puts his backpack down in southern France, with hands that could no longer work.

Le Otto Montagne (The Eight Mountains) (2022)

The Eight Mountains is a story about friendship, fatherhood, and the choices we make in life. In the background, the mountains we climb every day, both physically and mentally. Told through the story of two close friends, this Cannes award-winning feature reflects on the complex nature of human relationships in the modern world.

L’immensità (2022) Dir: Emanuele Crialese

Spanish actor Penelope Cruz gives a tour de force performance at the centre of this 1970s set drama that unfolds in Rome at time of great social and cultural change, full of grit and glamour. The young Borghetti family has just moved into one of the many freshly-built apartment blocks in the city. The move is bittersweet. Despite the beautiful, sweeping views of Rome from their top floor apartment, the family is not as close as they once were.

Clara (Cruz) and Felice (Vincenzo Amato) are no longer in love, but are unable to leave each other. Clara finds refuge from her loneliness in the shelter of her special relationships with her three children. The oldest, Adriana (11), an unknown child in this new neighbourhood, deliberately presents as a boy to the local children, pushing the family’s bond towards a breaking point.

Margini (Margins) (2022) Dir: Niccolo Falsetti

Summer 2008. Three friends have the chance of a lifetime: opening for their favourite punk hardcore band. At the very last moment, the concert falls through but Edo, Iac and Miche don’t give up. To them punk is more than music, it’s a lifestyle. In a blink, they decide to bring the gig to Grosseto, the silent and conservative city where they live. All the difficulties and problems they face on their way risk to blow up their lives and their friendship.

The March on Rome (2022) Dir: Mark Cousins

Through little-seen archive and his characteristically cinematic analysis, Mark Cousins narrates the ascent of fascism in Italy and its fall-out across 1930s Europe. Both essay film and historical document, Cousins contextualises history through the now, holding a mirror to a political landscape of a creeping far right and manipulated media.

 

Notte Fantasma (Ghost Night) (2022) Dir: Fulvio Risuleo

This award-winning two-handed psychological thriller sees a plain-clothes policeman apprehend a seventeen year old boy, after watching him buying dope. The detective will drive aimlessly around all night with the teenager in the back of his car.

Siccità (Drought) (2022) Dir: Paolo Virzi

Drought has plagued the Italian capital of Rome for three years now, and the lack of water has changed everybody’s life. While strict rules add to people’s misery, odd characters roam the streets of the capital. Outcasts, achievers, victims, and wrongdoers are all part of the same tragic picture, and they are all after the same thing: redemption.

Spaccaossa (The Bone Breakers) (2022) Dir: Vincenzo Pirrotta

Inside a warehouse in Palermo, a group of people smashes a man’s arm to pieces with a wheelie bag packed with weights. This is the method used by an amateur criminal organization that fractures the limbs of its willing victims before staging fake accidents and raking in the insurance payouts. Vincenzo recruits the individuals from among the down-and-outs that haunt the city streets, where Luisa is a habitué, since she gets her crack there. Vincenzo’s problems suddenly get worse, though, after a series of mistakes shut him out of the gang, and Luisa is now his only chance: he convinces her to have her bones broken.

CINEMA MADE IN ITALY : MARCH 9 – 13 2023 |  CINE LUMIERE LONDON

 

 

Una Vita Difficile (1961)

Dir: Dino Risi | Alberto Sordi, Lea Massari, Franco Fabrizi, Lina Volonghi | Italy, Drama 118′

Lake Como, Northern Italy, 1944. Partisan Sordi on the run from the Germans, is sheltered, nursed and romanced in an abandoned mill by local innkeeper’s daughter Massari, whisking her to Rome after the war to share his shabby flat.

The story of an on-again, off-again, then on-again relationship, told against 17 years of Italian history, from the last year of World War II to the economic boom of the early 1960s – the liberation of Rome, the country’s switch from monarchy to republic, the first post-Fascist general election, etc. – as Sordi’s commitment to the Cause gets in the way of his earning a decent living for Massari and their newborn son.

In Italy, Una Vita Difficile is cherished as one of the great works of commedia all’italiana – a Golden Age of cinema from the 50s and 60s that includes Monicelli’s Big Deal on Madonna Street, Germi’s Divorce Italian Style, Lattuada’s Mafioso, De Sica’s Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, and Risi’s own Il Sorpasso. While these and others were major arthouse hits, Una Vita Difficile was never released in the US.

One of Italy’s most beloved stars, Alberto Sordi began his film career as the Italian dubbing voice of Hollywood actors, including Cary Grant, and became famous as the Italian voice of Oliver Hardy.  After appearing as the Valentinoesque title character of Federico Fellini’s The White Sheik, Sordi had his breakthrough role in Fellini’s I Vitelloni, as one of the aimless young men of the title

Though never an international star like contemporaries Marcello Mastroianni and Vittorio Gassman, Sordi was one of Italy’s biggest box office attractions, starring in over 150 movies (19 directed by himself).  Along with Anna Magnani, Sordi was the quintessential Roman, affectionately known by his public as “Albertone.” At his funeral in 2013, an estimated crowd of close to a million gathered outside the church to pay their last respects.

Una Vita Difficile’s many comic highlights include a Banquet from Hell at the table of an ancient principessa and a riotous sequence at Cinecittà, with guest appearances by superstars Vittorio Gassman (who’d star in Risi’s Il Sorpasso a year later) and Silvana Mangano (best known as star of the neo-realist classic Bitter Rice and wife of producer Dino De Laurentiis), along with director Alessandro Blasetti, known as “the father of Italian cinema.”

Often called “Italy’s Billy Wilder,” Dino Risi’s film career began as an assistant to Mario Soldati and Alberto Lattuada. His films are populated by a rogue’s gallery of shamelessly lovable commedia all’Italiana types in the inimitable guises of some of the era’s greatest actors: Alberto Sordi, Vittorio Gassman, Nino Manfredi, Ugo Tognazzi, and Sophia Loren.” Risi was awarded an Honorary Golden Lion at the 2002 Venice Film Festival for his life’s work.

Una Vita Difficile was scanned in 4K from the original negative by Istituto Luce, Rome.  The restoration was carried out at VDM by Studiocanal and headline.@Andrea Torres

AT FILMFORUM New York from FEBRUARY 3

Rashomon (1950) BFI Retrospective 2023

Dir.: Akira Kurosawa; Cast: Toshiro Mifune, Machiko Kyö, Masayuki Mori, Takashi Shimra, Minoru Chiaki, Kichijioru Ueda; Japan 1950; 88 min.

From Agatha Christie to Patricia Highsmith modern literature is fraught with unreliable narration. One of the first writers to employ the device was Robert Browning back in his 1869 novel The Ring and the Book.

Akiro Kurosawa filmed his brilliantly constructed script into a cinematic masterpiece that unfolds under the crumbling arches of a temple in medieval Kyoto during a meeting between a priest, a woodcutter and a sceptical traveller, the first two having been witness to the trial of a villainous bandit who allegedly robbed a samurai and raped his wife.

The bandit Tajomaru is actually very proud of his wrongdoing – but we really question his guilt. His narrative is full of self-grandeur, but it does not make him into the vainglorious beast he really longs to be. The wife Massako is an arch feminist, equally fed up with her snobbish and cold-hearted husband as she is with the brutal Tajomaru, played by a mesmerising Toshiro Mifune, who would go on to star in many of Kurosawa’s films.

The traveller’s questions form the basis of a series of flashbacks to the trial, and the conflicting evidence of five people, one of them speaking through a medium. But there is something missing in Massako’s chronicle of events: she faints at an opportune moment, and wakes up displaced and confused. Samurai Kanazawa is actually the most evil one: arrogant and puffed up with his class superiority, he is also as greedy as the bandit. The woodcutter is the Everyman, who wants to be right, but is too confused by the ordeal to get to the heart of the truth. He, like the priest, is waiting for a moment of redemption that materialises later on in form of an abandoned baby.

Kurosawa tells the story not as a realistic undertaking, but as a fairy story set deep in the woods where danger lurks in dark corners for all the main protagonists. The black-and-white images of DoP Kozuo Miyagawa echo the symbolism of Fritz Lang’s early German features, with the flickering shadows tricking the audience, as well as the characters, into believing their version of the truth which remains subjective and intangible until the end.

The ‘Rashomon structure’ appears again and again during film history: notably in The Usual Suspects (1995), and Gus Van Sant’s Elefant (2003), a chronicle of the shooting at the Columbine High School.

Rashomon won the Golden Lion at Venice in 1951 and its commercial release in Britain eased the gradual transition of Japanese and Asian cinema into the mainstream after the dehumanising events of the Second World World.

ON RE-RELEASE FROM 6 January 2023 courtesy of BFI as part of a major KUROSAWA RETROSPECTIVE, 

 

 

The Big Freeze

With temperatures this Christmas dipping to -18 in parts of Scotland, Richard Chatten reflects back on Britain’s Big Freeze of 1963 and the films that were on in the cinema back in the day.

 

Sixty years ago in December this country was hit by months of sub-zero temperatures and actually made it into the Guinness Book of Records for one of the coldest UK winters ever.

Britain was covered in a thick blanket of snow long enough for it also to leave an indelible mark on the British cinema, through which its progress can actually be charted.

Perhaps the earliest film of The Big Freeze was Stanley Goulder’s The Silent Playground, a drama shot set in South London during which the snow obviously first fell, playing havoc with the film’s continuity, since it comes and goes scene from scene.

The snow was firmly established by the time of the two classic Pinter adaptations The Caretaker and The Servant, the cold being so bitter that Joseph Losey was hospitalised with pneumonia, and Dirk Bogarde had to take over the latter as director for several days.

Val Guest’s 80,000 Suspects, starring Richard Johnson and Claire Bloom, depicted the attempts to control an outbreak of smallpox in a Bath covered in snow, and became a metaphor for generalised crisis, although people were hardier back then having been through one, and some of them even two, World Wars. Several Edgar Wallace mysteries (notably John Moxey’s Ricochet) are also shrouded in snow along with Calculated Risk, a heist thriller with music by George Martin.

Nightmare

By the time of Wolf Rilla’s The World Ten Times Over the snow had visibly turned into slush. Probably the last film that appeared during the frosty weather was Hammer Film’s Nightmare, a psychological thriller marking the film debut of Jennie Linden. It hit cinemas in the chilly April of 1964.

The only feature depicting The Great Freeze in colour appears to have been Snow, a British Transport Films short shot by the veteran cameraman Wolfgang Suschitsky which portrays British Rail making light weather (if you’ll pardon the pun) of the snow. The Great Train Robbers sensibly waited till the following summer. @RichardChatten.

THE BIG FREEZE | DECEMBER 2022

 

 

 

Sight and Sound Poll 2022 | The Critics’ top 20 Greatest Films of All Time

The Critics’ top 20 Greatest Films of All Time are: 

1       Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (Chantal Akerman, 1975)
2       Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock, 1958)
3       Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941)
4       Tokyo Story (Ozu Yasujiro, 1953)
5       In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar-wai, 2001)
6       2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968)
7       Beau travail (Claire Denis, 1998)
8       Mulholland Dr. (David Lynch, 2001)
9       Man with a Movie Camera (Dziga Vertov,1929)
10     Singin’ in the Rain (Stanley Donen & Gene Kelly, 1951)
11     Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (F.W. Murnau, 1927)
12     The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972)
13     La Règle du jeu (Jean Renoir, 1939)
14     Cléo from 5 to 7 (Agnès Varda, 1962)
15     The Searchers (John Ford, 1956)
16     Meshes of the Afternoon (Maya Deren & Alexander Hammid, 1943)
17     Close-Up (Abbas Kiarostami, 1989)
18     Persona (Ingmar Bergman, 1966)
19     Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola, 1979)
20     Seven Samurai (Akira Kurosawa, 1954)

Jeanne Dielman 1 @BFI National Archive

 

Since it was first conducted in 1952, Sight and Sound’s Critics’ poll has become a hotly anticipated event within the global film community as it represents a litmus test for where film culture stands. This year’s poll reached a wider and more diverse group than ever before and incorporates the top 10 lists of over 1,600 participants from all corners of the globe who voted for more than 4,000 films overall. This compares to the 846 who were asked 10 years ago and reflects a variety of factors, including the more diverse group of contributors voting in the poll and the impact and increased influence of film commentators internationally via the internet. It may also be explained in part by the explosion of access to a wider selection of films, thanks to the proliferation of movies available to view on numerous streamers, boutique Blu-ray and DVD collections, the increase of TV channels dedicated to movies and curated film seasons, all of which have helped to create a more cine-literate contributor. A largely unimaginative and list then which has not really changed much since it first came into being. The voters were asked to interpret ‘Greatest’ as they chose: to reflect the film’s importance in cinematic history, its aesthetic achievement, or perhaps its personal impact in their own life and their view of cinema.

Cleo 5-7 – Number 7 – @Bfi National Archive

 

The wider and more diverse electorate appears to have had an impact on the diversity of the top 100 films. Chantal AkermanJeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles and Claire DenisBeau travail were the only female filmmakers’ films in the 2012 top 100. This years poll now features 11 films by female filmmakers in the top 100, and four in the top 20, with new entries by Chantal Akerman – her second entry is News from Home at number 52 – Agnès VardaCléo from 5 to 7 at number 14 and The Gleaners and I in number 67, Maya DerenMeshes of the Afternoon (co-directed with Alexander Hammid) in 16th place, Vera ChytilováDaisies at number 28, Céline SciammaPortrait of a Lady on Fire in 30th place, Barbara LodenWanda at number 48, Jane CampionThe Piano at number 50 and Julie DashDaughters of the Dust in 60th place.

In 2012 there was one film by a Black filmmaker listed in the top 100 – Djibril Diop MambétyTouki Bouki, at number 93. In 2022 there are seven titles in the top 100 by prominent Black filmmakers. Touki Bouki has climbed to 67th place, with new entries for Spike Lees Do the Right Thing in 24th place, Charles BurnettKiller of Sheep at number 43, Julie DashDaughters of the Dust and Barry Jenkinss Academy Award®-winning Moonlight in joint 60th place, and Jordan PeeleGet Out and Ousmane Sembène’s Black Girl jointly at number 95.

Barry Lyndon – No 45 @Bfi National Archive

 

In 2012, two films from the last two decades made the top 100 – Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love and David Lynch’s Mulholland Dr. The top 100 in 2022 features nine films from the last two decades, with new entries including Bong Joon HoAcademy Award®-winning Parasite at number 90Hayao Miyazaki’s Oscar®-winning Spirited Away in 75th place and Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Tropical Malady at number 95, as well as The Gleaners and I, Portrait of a Lady on FireMoonlight and Get Out. The top UK film is Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon at number 45, followed by Carol Reed’s The Third Man at number 63 (up from 73rd). Two films by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger feature in the top 100: The Red Shoes in 67th place and A Matter of Life and Death at number 78 (up from 90th).

Metropolis @Bfi National Archive

 

Two silent films have made the top 20: F.W. Murnau’s Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans and Dziga Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera, which is also the only documentary to make the top 20. There are nine films from the silent era in the top 100, including Carl Theodor Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc, Charlie Chaplin’s City Lights and Modern Times, Buster Keaton’s Sherlock Jr. and The General, Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin and Fritz Lang’s Metropolis.

Films that have been knocked out of the top 100 include Erich von Stroheim’s Greed, D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance, Luis Buñuel’s Un chien andalou, Jean Renoir’s Partie de campagne and La Grande Illusion, Orson Welles’s The Magnificent Ambersons and Touch of Evil, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, Marcel Carné’s Les Enfants du paradis, David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia, Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’eclisse, Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch, Werner Herzog’s Aguirre, Wrath of God, Roman Polanski’s Chinatown, Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather Part II, Robert Altman’s Nashville and Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull.

These are my own personal choices, and my reason for making them. Of course these are only ten of my favourites, but I’ve tried to choose films not just for their technical strength but also for their powerful effect on me. I want to come away feeling moved, enlightened, inspired or changed in some way. They need to stand up to the test of time. All these films have good performances, a solid script and strong visual allure, but there has to be an X factor too. And that lies at the heart of my choices.

  1. MY 20th CENTURY (1989)
    Director(s): Ildiko Enyedi (Hungary)
    Comment: An elegant inventive whisper-light reverie about civilisation at the turn of the 20th Century seen from a woman’s point of view.
  2. BARRY LYNDON (1976) 
    Dir: Stanley Kubrick (US)
    Comment: This epic saga has something new to discover each time I watch it. An extraordinary treasure trove of images, performances and historical details captured by John Alcott and bound up in an iconic score. If I could choose one film to take to my desert island it would be this one.
  3. SUPER FLY (1972)
    Dir: Gordon Parks Jr (US)
    Comment: I discovered this gem at a Black cinema retrospective at Locarno Film Festival some years ago. A heady breath of New York in the early 1970s it captures the daily life of a cocaine dealer (Ron O’Neal) and his lover (Sheila Frazier) who live life on a knife edge with such style and gutsiness – Curtis Mayfield’s score it just the icing on the cake. And of course costume design from Nate Adams sets the tone.
  4. THE TENANT (1976)
    Dir: Roman Polanski (France)
    Comment: Paris is the sombre star of this twisted psychodrama, a portrait of paranoia punctured by lewd moments of humour in a scabrid script. Polanski is the timid outsider gradually cowered into submission, and as the horror unravels to Philippe Sarde’s plangent score, all sorts of skeletons emerge from the past and the present. Bang up to date with its immigration theme, yet constantly resonating with the Holocaust, and echoing the pity, shame and humiliation of its central character, this is an endlessly haunting thriller that left Polanski empty-handed at Cannes (1976) after surely one of the most extraordinary performances of the 20th century.
  5. KOBIETA SAMOTNA(1987) 
    Dir: Agnieszka Holland (Poland)
    Comment: Shot on a hand held camera, this simple tragedy speaks volumes about the abject emotional misery and privation suffered by its central character Irena who lives alone on the outskirts of Communist era Wroclaw with only her 8 year old son for company. A brief period of happiness leads once again to desperation and gloom. Unforgettable in its stark depiction of life in eighties Poland. Won the Special Jury prize at Polish Film Festival 1988
  6. THE CRANES ARE FLYING  (1957)
    Dir: Mikhail Kalatozov (Soviet Union)
    Comment: Kalatozov led Soviet cinema back to the lyricism of Pudovkin and Eisenstein away from the realism of the Stalin era in a poignant drama portraying dark times with such elegance, its everlasting themes of love, war and courageous sacrifice enveloped in the velvety visuals of DoP Sergey Urusevsky. Tatyana Samoylova is mesmerising as Veronika and won Best Actress at Cannes where the film won the Palme d’Or in 1958.
  7. DON’T LOOK NOW (1987)
    Dir: Nicolas Roeg (UK)
    Comment: A beautiful horror masterpiece: chilling, soulful, romantic in its depiction of extreme grief, regret and yearning for love lost, in all its forms. Totally relatable and yet mysterious, treacherous and unreachable. So many emotions well up when watching this film. It resonates with a grief that is palpable. The tragedy of its story remains in the mind forever.
  8. THE GREAT ADVENTURE (1953)
    Director(s): Arne Sucksdorff (Sweden)
    Comment: A lyrical black & white Swedish cinema verite docudrama that pictures a year on a farm in remote Sweden where a man lives with his family in the heart of the forest, the director doubling us as the pipe-smoking father and DoP. The film won prizes at Cannes and Berlin for the poetic way Sucksdorff combines wildlife photography with a gripping storyline that plays out like a thriller with touches of humour, the local fauna unwittingly providing the characters: owls, otters, pine-martens, rabbits, squirrels and a lynx all take part in their natural habitat in a deeply forested 1950s Sweden. Enchanting.
  9. NOSFERATU THE VAMPYRE (1979)
    Director(s): Werner Herzog (Germany)
    Comment: The vampire legend is brought to life in this hauntingly beautiful fantasy fable that takes us into the realms of darkness and beyond with an atavistic quality that strikes at the core of our deepest fears. The power and complexity of the performances, the magnificence of the sets and Wagner’s score make this an all time classic masterpiece that feels fresh and deeply thought-provoking each time you watch it.
  10. IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE (2000)
    Dir: Wong Ka Wai (Hong Kong)
    A smoulderingly sensual love story unfolds between two Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung, in 1962 Hong Kong. Enchanting and suggestive, the film floats along like a gorgeous cloud of perfume buoyed by delicately suppressed emotions and vibrant visual allure.   

SIGHT AND SOUND POLL 2022

The Werewolf (1956)

Dir: Sam Latzman, Fred Sears | US Horror

This quickie by Sam Katzman & Fred Sears brings the legend up to date by setting it in a very contemporary world of bars and juke boxes. As usual the werewolf is treated sympathetically as a tortured soul doctors are desperate to help (his first human victim being a mugger whose throat he rips out – and the local police don’t display the usual bloodlust in pursuit of their quarry (the sheriff with admirable understatement asks “How do you explain a thing like this to his wife and his kid?”)

Steve Ritch portrays the title character as a pitiful soul and you really feel for the poor fellow when he shrieks in pain when he steps into a beartrap. He’s actually far more effective as a human being than a wolf (because Columbia owned the copyright they were able to reuse the makeup that Andreas wore in ‘The Return of the Vampire’ along with a couple of uses of that film’s theme).

The subplot concerning the activities to two renegade scientists makes the film feel unneccessarily cluttered, but the climax on a bridge in the Bear Lake Valley is at least worth waiting for (SPOILER COMING:) when they finish him off not with silver bullets but good old fashioned rifles.@RichardChatten

Casque d’Or (1952)

Dir.: Jacques Becker; Cast: Simone Signoret, Serge Reggiani, Claude Dauphin, Raymond Brussieres, William Sabatier; France 1952, 94 min.

French director/co-writer Jacques Becker (1906-1960) is relatively unknown outside France, his early death at 53 sadly cutting short a promising career that started as assistant to Jean Renoir before he captured in WWII by the Germans, spending a year as a POW. He directed thirteen features

CASQUE D’OR belongs – together with Touchez pas au grisbi and Le Trou – in the Pantheon of French post war features; Becker being a favourite of the critics-turned-filmmakers of “Cahiers Du Cinema”, with Jacques Rivette often collaborating with Becker. CASQUE is anything but a period film, even though its set in 1901, when the real life drama happened.


In Paris at the turn of the 19th Century, CASQUE D’OR follows the love affair between Simone Signoret’s Marie, a gangster’s moll with a heart of gold, and reformed criminal Georges Manda.

Marie (Signoret) has always been on the lookout for a man to save her from the ‘milieu’. And she finds one in the shape of Manda, after leaving abusive boyfriend Roland Dupuis (Sabatier).

When ex-con turned carpenter Georges Manda (Reggiani) arrives on the scene, it is love at first sight. But she has other admirers: Felix Leca (Dauphin), the evil boss of the gang, lusts after Marie and hopes to get rid of Manda, finally killing Roland with the help of a knife (was it a Sabatier like the actor’s name – we shall never know). But Leca’s vendetta is not over and leads to a bitter end after Marie and Manda’s brief romantic countryside idyll  

DoP Robert Levebvre’s stunning black-and white camera borrows from Fritz Lang in his scenes with the gang, and Becker quotes from the German director’s film M. His prison escape scene on the lonely road was later ‘copied’ by Jean-Pierre Melville in Le Deuxieme Souffle.

CASQUE is never a melodrama, the protagonists are tied of the gangster code, their actions doomed because of their inflexibility: they are all captives of the set-up they have chosen.

Becker passed his flair and talent on to his sons Jean and Etienne who became directors in their own right, after assisting their father, who had an obsession for details: his film props became linked to the protagonists, and sometimes they were even more significant than the characters themselves.

The 70th anniversary copy has been lovingly restored, and CASQUE D’OR is witness to Becker’s mastery of the many genres he chose for his films  AS

Theatrical Release Date:  25 Nov 2022 Home Ent. Release Date:  28 Nov 2022

Shadow of a Doubt (1943)

Dir: Alfred Hitchcock | US Noir Thriller 90’

Charlotte is ecstatic to have her dear Uncle Charlie over at her place. But upon his arrival, she learns that he is a serial killer and must now stop him from killing more people.

Directors’ attitudes to their films is sometimes based not on the quality of the end result but the memories of it’s making. Hitchcock himself denied that this was as reputed his favourite of his films but simply that he’d enjoyed working with Thornton Wilder on the script so much it had a special place in his memories.

Although relatively little-known today it surely ranks with his best, awash with similarities to his more celebrated productions. Joseph Cotten is once one of Hitchcock’s most charming psychopaths, like Bruno Anthony in ‘Strangers on a Trains’ hiding his pathological hatred of women behind an apparent flippancy.

Like ‘Psycho’ it begins with the camera stealing through a window into a hotel room; when the action transfers to the sleepy little town of Santa Rosa the horror lurking behind the deceptively bland surface is classic Hitchcock. But the presence of an innocent brunette instead of a guilty blonde is refreshingly unusual for Hitchcock.@RichardChatten

 

Frames of Mind | Peter Greenaway Retrospective 2022

The BFI celebrates Peter Greenaway‘s 80th birthday with a retrospective and the premiere of his new feature Walking in Paris. And here Andre Simonoveisz reflects on his career to date

The Welsh born director, writer, artist and painter Peter Greenaway is certainly one of the most controversial contemporary filmmakers, and to this day his films are an acquired taste. The jury is still out on whether Greenaway wants to be an arthouse filmmaker, or merely a trained artist who uses the big screen as a canvas for his painterly creations, and the fact that his films lack any formal narrative structure seems to point to the latter: Greenaway’s features often have a stilted feel, unfolding in a series of formal set pieces rather than in flowing storytelling.

 

Composition, lighting and costumes are always the most significant elements in a Greenaway film. And yes, the aesthetics are wonderful to look at, but they are only as alive as Greenaway allows them to be. The artist/painter Greenaway is always in control of the filmmaking process: and rather like Robert Bresson before him, the actors are merely pawns in the process, with the camera as a paintbrush. The rest is amateur philosophy and a total reliance on art history, Renaissance, Baroque and Flemish predominating. On his way to visual perfection, second-hand or otherwise, Greenaway chanced upon film as his medium, and has used it as an intermediate step.

This is perhaps too critical of his work, but let’s go back to the beginning of his feature film career with The Falls (1980) an avantgarde sci-fi mockumentary that looks at the 92 victims of a phenomenon known as VUE (Violent unknown events) and whose names begin with the word ‘Fall’. Just over three hours long, this an etude, a whimsical compendium of surreal and bizarre circumstances explores just how far away from his creation the filmmaker was – or pretended to be. Can we ever be an objective observer of death? Or was the result proof, that the highbrow ‘intellectual’ Greenaway was above all the parochial issues of real life – and death.

The Draughtsman’s Contract (1982) was a bracingly beautiful piece of work scored by Michael Nyman’s minimalist soundscape which carried the narrative forward and is more memorable than its contrived murder story. The dapper draughtsman, Mr. Neville (Higgins) is foisted by his own elegant petard and falsely accused of murder after a series of sexual dalliances with the aristocratic ladies Mrs. Herbert (Suzman) and her daughter Mrs. Talman (Lambert). But the ‘story’ pales into insignificance in comparison with its magnificent surroundings, and what we remember is the bucolic backdrop, the feudal mansion, the immaculate costumes and the way Mr. Neville plays the director whilst he re-arranges life to suit his drawings. Many Greenaway films are about sexual obsession and The Draughtsman is no exception, it is a remote object of desire rather than an involving comedy of manners; sex, after all, is just another construct for the filmmaker to exploit.

The Cook, the Thief his Wife and her Lover (1989) is considered Greenaway’s most mature feature. From here he could have taken another route: instead of being obsessed by numbers or esoteric subjects, he could have really embraced the meaning of life, but instead his feature once again mirrors art, quite literally, recreating the 1616 painting by Flemish baroque artist Frans Hals. Michael Gambon is the churlish and sadistic thief Albert Spica, who owns a French restaurant in London where he entertains his cronies, amongst them is a young Tim Roth. His wife Georgina (Mirren) is appalled, and soon finds herself a suitable lover, Michael (Howard), a bookseller. They have to be careful, and conduct their romance in all sorts of seedy settings. Albert wises up and tortures Michael by force-feeding him. Georgina exacts her revenge in an equally disgusting way before she shoots him. This sounds ghastlier than it actually is – but crucially the takeaway is once again the aesthetic rather than the storyline – which is entirely unreliable. Jean-Paul Gaulthier designed the 17th century costumes and camerawork by DoP Sacha Vierny reflects the airless grandeur. Dutch producer Kes Kasander would stay with Greenaway for more tilts at artistic perfection. Premiering at the Venice Film Festival in 1989, The Cook was shown “Out of Competition”. When asked why he decided not to enter Greenaway’s film “In Competition” festival director Guglielmo Biraghi explained that loved the work of Greenaway, but “it his films are not really like others.”

What followed were highs like Prospero, The Baby of Macon and total flops including the soulless series of The Tulse Luper Suitcases. Somehow, the world decided to move on. AS

THE BFI CELEBRATES PETER GREENAWAY IN HIS 80TH YEAR. 

Rebecca (1940)

Dir: Alfred Hitchcock | Cast: Laurence Olivier, Joan Fontaine, George Sanders, Judith Anderson, Gladys Cooper | UK drama 130’

Alfred Hitchcock incredibly never won an Oscar as best director. The nearest he came was the Best Picture statuette awarded this timeless classic which he arrived in Hollywood to make passing Olivier just as the latter was about to bid farewell to his career as a Hollywood hunk and return to the West End stage.

As befits a novel by Daphne du Maurier the men are largely sidelined, the real conflict being between the women, particularly the war of nerves waged by the terrifying Mrs Danvers on Joan Fontaine (who was as genuinely as overwhelmed by her surroundings as the mousy little wife she played).

Rarely mentioned is the fact that the final close up of the monogrammed pillow consumed by flames obviously inspired the shot at the end of ‘Citizen Kane‘ just as the opening shot of Manderlay in ruins was probably copied in the shots of Xanadu that bookended the later film. Kane was edited by Robert Wise, so is it merely coincidence that the prologue of Rebecca bears a striking resemblance to the conclusion of Wise’s The Haunting? @RichardChatten

 

Occupation | Okupace (2021) Made in Prague Festival 2022

Dir.: Michal Nohejl; Cast: Antonie Formanova, Aleksey Gorbunov, Martin Pechlat, Otokar Brousek, Tomas Jelabek, Cyril Dobry Vlastimil Venclik; Czech Republic 2021, 98 min.

This bizarre absurdist chamber from Czech director/co-writer Michal Nohejl (Fobie) sees the crew and cast of a Prague theatre imagine the emotional aftermath to the invasion of their country by Russian and Warsaw Pact troops in 1968.

Okupace never really escapes its stagey stetting – the bar of the theatre – Nohejl borrowing freely from Milos Forman’s Fireman’s Ball – but adding a critical nuance in terms of the historical traumata of the old Czechoslovakia.

For many Czechs the Munich tragedy of 1938 comes back to haunt them in 1968. In both cases, there were no heroes to save the day and the drunken arguments of the cast and the play’s director (Brousek) are very much a reaction to this lack of muscular leadership. Pavel Neskudia (Pechlat) plays the artistic boss of the theatre. The play – about the Czech communist martyr Julius Fucik – is hailed as ‘mediocre’ by all present. Neskudia is interviewed by the enigmatic beauty Milada (Formanova), who heaps praise on him for having returned from Western exile after the invasion. Unfortunately Neskudia, like everyone one else in the room, is slightly paranoid, and accuses the woman of being part of the secret service STB, sent out to spy on him.

One of the actors has remained in his SS costume and this freaks out a drunken Russian officer (Ukranian actor Aleksey Gorbunov), who arrives desperate to get even more drunk. He accosts Milada and a scuffle breaks out. Somebody decides it would be good idea to pretend that the Russian has fallen into the hands of the Nazis, represented by the “SS man”. Violence escalates, and the artists leave the Russian for dead. A Russian patrol then turns up inquiring where their officer is, and the Czechs’ total denial of his whereabouts leaves the group in a precarious position: they know very well what will happen to them if the truth comes out. Fuelled by more alcohol, the  troupe decide to aspire to the heroes the country never had.

Inspired lighting effects from DoP Jan Baset Stritezsky make the bar look like something out of Visconti’s The Damned. He then conjures up pure evil with his shadow-play as the violence escalates. Performances are decent with the protagonists falling out with each other over the violence they have brought upon themselves. Despite all this the production fails to soar above the confines of its one-location setting. Occupation remains very much a filmed theatre play which does require a basic knowledge of Czechoslovakia’s history. The war in Ukraine also plays a role, underlining how just much Czech people feel let down by their own country. Occupation is a brave and avant-garde endeavour which doesn’t quite live up to its intentions. AS

SCREENING DURING MADE IN PRAGUE FESTIVAL | LONDON 2022

Live Now Pay Later (1962)

Dir: Jay Lewis | UK Drama 104’

One of the most grievous tragedies of British film preservation was the wiping by the BBC of the original TV version of David Mercer’s ‘A Suitable Case for Treatment’, but a good idea of what Ian Hendry’s performance was like can be gained from this long-forgotten gem described by Raymond Durgnat as “a key film, a worthy harbinger of Joan Littlewood’s ‘Sparrows Can’t Sing’.

Hendry was nominated for a BAFTA for most promising newcomer in a leading role, but soon after swiftly declined into alcoholism before the sixties seriously got under way. Knowing this adds further poignancy to this reminder of the era when Harold MacMillan was telling the public that “most of you have never had it so good” and £14.09d was a sun large enough to be worth sending bailiffs in to recover.

The script by Jack Trevor Story contains cynical lines like Hendry’s admission that he preys upon people “I con into buying things they don’t need and can’t afford”; notably Liz Fraser as one of his victims whose misfortunes culminate in a truly harrowing scene when men come to repossess her furniture while her husband is in the middle of impressing the chairman of the local golf club. @RichardChatten

NOW ON TPTV

The Wandering Princess (1960)

Dir: Kinuyo Tanaka | Japan, Drama 102′

Kinuyo Tanaka moved up several gears after a five-year hiatus as a director with this ambitious blockbuster for Daiei based on Saga Hiro’s 1959 best-selling memoir made in colour & ‘scope with Oscar-winning Machiko Kyo and superlative production values.


The Wandering Princess is based on the autobiography of Aishinkakura Hiro, who lived a turbulent life as the consort of Fuketsu, the younger brother of Emperor Puyi of Manchukuo.

Full of spectacle and drama it chronicles the war years from 1941 to 1945, the sight of all those uniforms marking an extraordinary departure for a director associated with woman-based intimate drama. It was huge hit ranked 27th in the ‘Cinema junpo’ poll for best films of 1960, despite – or perhaps because – it perpetuates the myth that remains popular in Japan that the Land of the Rising Sun’s participation was solely as a victim.@RichardChatten

AT BFI LONDON

18th Spanish Film Festival | London 2022

The London Spanish Film Festival kicks off at the Ciné Lumière and Riverside Studios for its 18th edition from September 22-29 . An opportunity to catch the latest Spanish films that may not get a general release in UK cinemas.

DONDE ACABA LA MEMORIA – Where Memory Ends (2021)
dir. Pablo Romero Fresco, with Ian Gibson, Carlos Saura, Mike Dibb, Román Gubern | Spain | doc | 63 min | cert. PG | In Spanish with English subtitles | UK premiered

In 1933 the young filmmaker Luis Buñuel traveled to Las Hurdes, an isolated and extremely poor region in central Spain, to film his surrealistic documentary Land without Bread. 85 years later hispanist and biographer Ian Gibson does the same trip as part of his work of recovering the most recent historical memory of Spain through the biographies of the country’s famous artists Buñuel, Dalí and Lorca. Gibson’s trip will end in Granada, where the search of Lorca’s remainings seems to be coming to an end.

Followed by an on-stage conversation with filmmaker Pablo Romero Fresco and documentary-maker Mike Dibb.

Sat 24 Sep | 4.15pm | £15, conc. £13 | Ciné Lumière

ALEGRIA dir. Violeta Salama, with Cecilia Suárez, Leonardo Sbaraglia, Sarah Perles, Laia Manzanares, Joe Manjón | Spain/USA | 2021 | col | 105 min | cert. 15 | UK premiere | In Spanish and Berber languages with English subtitles

Alegría lives in the Southern city of Melilla has been trying to distancing herself for her Jewish background when the arrival of her niece brings the past flooding back. Will this be the time to reconcile with her own daughter, who she hasn’t seen for years and is now living in Israel – and a mother herself? Inspired by the director’s own experience, Alegría is a film by and about women, their friendship and understanding beyond religion and culture as well as the conflicts and contradictions within.

Tue 27 Sep | 8.50pm | £15, conc. £13 | Ciné Lumière

ESPIRITU SAGRADO | The Sacred Spirit – 2021 by Chema García Ibarra, with Nacho Fernández, Llum Arques, | Spain/France/Turkey | 2021 |  97 min | In Spanish with English subtitles

When Julio, the leader of an UFOlogists association in Elche dies unexpectedly, it falls to José Manuel take over his work. Meanwhile, everyone in Elche is looking for a girl who has gone missing. Exquisitely framed, García Ibarra’s debut feature film is uncomfortably amusing and defies expectations in a terrific way.

Preceded by the short SUELTA | Loose
by Javier Pereira, with Olivia Baglivi, Javier Ballesteros, Maria Jáimez | Spain | 2022 | col | 19 min | In Spanish with English subtitles

With a solid and long acting career, Javier Pereira moves to the other side of the camera and surprises us with Suelta, his first short, a dark story about trust and preconceptions that won’t leave you indiferent.

Wed 28 Sep | 8.30pm | £13, conc. £11, under 25 – £6.50 | Riverside Studios

LA CASA ENTRE LOS CACTUS – The House among the Cactuses – 2022 dir. Carlota González-Adrio, with Daniel Grao, Ariadna Gil, Ricardo Gómez | Spain | 88 min | cert. 15 | UK premiere | In Spanish with English subtitles

Emilio and Rosa have created a dream family living with their five daughters in an isolated valley in the Canary Islands. But the past comes back to haunt them in this tense debut feature based on Paul Penn’s novel Desert Flowers

Followed by a Q&A with lead actor Daniel Grao
Wed 28 Sep | 8.30pm | £15, conc. £13 | Ciné Lumière

SOLO UNA VEZ – Just Once (2021) dir. Guillermo Rios Bordón, with Ariadna Gil, Alex García, Silvia Alonso | Spain | 2021 | col | 80 min | cert. 15 | UK premiere | In Spanish with English subtitles

Laura is a psychologist working with victims of gender violence, and harassed by the husband of one of her patients in this subtle and stylish psychological thriller.

Thu 29 Sep | 6.20pm | £15, conc. £13 | Ciné Lumière

CERDITA – Piggy (2022) dir. Carlota Pereda, with Claudia Salas, Carmen Machi, Pilar Castro | Spain | 2022 | col | 90 min | cert. 18 | In Spanish with English subtitles | Special preview courtesy of Vertigo Films

Pereda’s formidable debut rifs on adolescence insecurities and delivers a grisly and ferocious psychological horror film which premiered at Sundance Film Festival this year. It sees Sara, an overweight teenager, become the victim of constant bullying by the other girls until the arrival of a mysterious stranger in the village.

Thu 29 Sep | 8.40pm | £15, conc. £13 | Ciné Lumière

14TH CATALAN WINDOW

SIS DIES CORRENTS – Seis dias corrientes | The Odd-Job Men
dir. Neus Ballús, with Mohamed Mellali, Valero Escolar, Pep Sarrà | Spain | 2021 | col | 85 min | cert. PG | In Catalan, Spanish and Berber languages with English subtitles

Neus Ballús third feature film is an original and deadpan docudrama that follows the  working days of three handymen from different cultural backgrounds in the Catalan capital. Entertaining and times hilarious in its depiction of ordinary life.

Thu 22 Sep | 6.30pm | £15, conc. £13 | Ciné Lumière Sun 25 Sep | 8.40pm | £15, conc. £13 | Ciné Lumière

PAN DE LIMON CON SEMILLAS DE AMAPOLA – Lemon and Poppy Seeds Cake
dir. Benito Zambrano, with Elia Galera, Eva Martín, Mariona Pagès, Tommy Schlesser, Pere Arquillué | Spain/Luxembourg | 2021 | col | 118 min | cert. PG | UK premiere | English and Spanish with English subtitles

This moving reflection on loyalty and the ties that bind is set in small-town Mallorca where two estranged sisters, Anna and Marina will uncover all sorts of skeletons in the cupboard when they are forced to sell a local bakery. Anna has barely left the island and is unhappy in her marriage, Marina works as a doctor for an NGO in Africa.

Fri 23 Sep | 6.15pm | £15, conc. £13 | Ciné Lumière

MEDITERRANEO – Mediterraneo: The Law of the Sea
dir. Marcel Barrena, with Eduard Fernández, Anna Castillo, Dani Rovira, Sergi López | Spain/Luxembourg | 2021 | col | 112 min | cert. 15 | UK premiere | In English and Spanish with English subtitles

Autumn 2015. Two Catalan lifeguards, Oscar and Gerard, travel to the Greek island of Lesbos after seeing the heart-wrenching photograph of a little boy drowned in the Mediterranean. When they arrive the shocking reality is much worse: thousands of people are risking their lives everyday trying to cross the sea in the most precarious of vessels, fleeing from armed conflicts and other miseries in their home countries. And nobody is doing any rescue work. Based on real facts and real people, Barrena’s multi-awarded film invites us to think about what can be done when a crisis hits from political, social and human standpoints.

Sat 24 Sep | 6.30pm | £15, conc. £13 | Ciné Lumière

13TH BASQUE WINDOW

MAIXABEL
dir. Icíar Bollaín, with Blanca Portillo, Luis Tosar, Bruno Sevilla | Spain | 2021 | col | 115 min | cert. 15 | UK premiere | In Spanish and Basque witn English subtitles

In 2000, Maixabel Lasa’s husband, Juan María Jáuregui, was killed by the terrorist organisation ETA. Eleven years later she receives a message from one of the men who killed Juan: he wants to meet with her in the Nanclares de la Oca prison in Álava, where he is serving his sentence after breaking ties with the terrorist group. Based on the inspiring true story of a brave woman whom, after losing her husband at ETA’s hands, decided to take a step towards a peaceful coexistence by agreeing to meet the imprisoned terrorist responsible for her husband’s death.

Followed by a Q&A with filmmaker Icíar Bollaín
Wed 28 Sep | 6.00pm | £13, conc. £11, under 25 – £6.50 | Riverside Studios

ERASE UNA VEZ EN EUSKADI – Once Upon a Time in Euskadi
dir. Manu Gómez, with Asier Flores, Aitor Calderón, Miguel Rivera, Luis Callejo, Arón Piper, Yon González | Spain | 2021 | col | 101 min | cert. 15 | UK premiere | In Spanish with English subtitles

Euskadi 1985, and 12-year-old Marcos and his friends, José Antonio, Paquito and Toni are forced to face turbulent times of political violence and terrorism even though the  summer holidays are in full swing.

Preceded by the short HELTZEAR | Features
dir. Miguel Gurrea, with Haizea Oses, Mikel Arruti, Oier de Santiago | Spain | 2021 | col | 17 min | cert. PG | UK premiere | In Basque with English subtitles

San Sebastian, 2000. The Basque conflict is active. Sara, a fifteen-year-old girl, writes a letter to her absent brother as she trains for the most difficult clib of her life.

Sun 25 Sep | 6.40pm | £15, conc. £13 | Ciné Lumière

1st ANDALUSIAN WINDOW

LA HIJA – The Daughter
dir. Manuel Martín Cuenca, with Javier Gutiérrez, Patricia López Arnaiz, Irene Virgüez | Spain | 2021 | 122 min | col | cert. 18 | In Spanish with English subtitles

Manuel Martín Cuenca explores the dark and sinister side of human nature in this atmospheric drama that centres around a pregnant teenager who has run away from a juvenile detention centre near Jaen.

Followed by a Q&A with producer and co-writer Alejandro Hernández Thu 22 Sep | 8.35pm | £15, conc. £13 | Ciné Lumière

ESTIU 1993
Verano 1993 | Summer 1993
dir. Carla Simón, with Laia Artigas, Paula Robles, Bruna Cusí | Spain | 2017 | 97 min | col | cert. PG | In Catalan with English subtitles

Carla Simón’s spectacular debut feature is a beautifully crafted, sensitive drama about a six-year-old girl who goes to live with her Catalan family after her mother’s death.

LA MANIOBRA DE LA TORTUGA -Unfinished Affairs
dir. Juan Miguel del Castillo, with Natalia de Molina, Fred Tatien, Mona Martínez, Ignacio Mateos | Spain/Argentina | 2022 | 101 min | col | cert. 18 | In Spanish with English subtitles

When the body of a young girl is found inspector Manuel Bianquetti sets, despite the opposition of his superiors and coleagues, on a solitary crusade to find those responsible for the crime, which reminds him of his own troubled past. The only person who seems to be on his side is his neighbour, a fragile and distrustful nurse. Adapted from the bestselling novel by Benito Olmo and set in the city of Cádiz, Unfinished Affairs is a true noir full of misleading clues, revenge, corruption and bold decisions as well as a portrait of the harsh reality of gender-based aggression.

Followed by a Q&A (tbc)
Mon 26 Sep | 6.20pm | £15, conc. £13 | Ciné Lumière

TRANCE
dir. Emilio Belmonte, with Jorge Pardo, Chick Corea, Mark Guiliana, Niño Josele | France | 2021 | 98 min | doc | UK premiere | In English and Spanish with English subtitles

Trance follows Jorge Pardo, renowned flutist and saxophonist of Paco de Lucía’s sextet, on a journey to the heart of flamenco music. Pardo’s flamenco-jazz work is essential to understand the evolution of contemporary flamenco. Belmonte’s road movie contains some exceptional musical moments and captures Pardo’s conception of art as a way of life and life as art.

Tue 27 Sep | 6.20pm | £15, conc. £13 | Ciné Lumière

A TREASURE FROM THE ARCHIVES HOMAGE TO BERLANGA

PATRIMONIO NACIONAL
National Heritage
dir. Luis García Berlanga, with Luis Ciges, Luis Escobar, José Luis de Vilallonga, Amparo Soler Leal, Agustín González | Spain | 1981 | 112 min | cert. PG | In Spanish with English subtitles

After the death of Franco, the Marquis of Leguineche returns to Madrid from thirty years of voluntary exile in the countryside. From his palace he intends to approach the King to resume court life. Berlanga, with his usual sharp wit, explores how Spanish high society tries to invent itself after Franco’s era has ended.

18th Spanish Film Festival | London 2022 | 23 September

 

Douglas Sirk | Retrospective | Locarno 2022

 

Douglas Sirk’s entire and prodigious output is the focus of this year’s 75th RETROSPECTIVE at Locarno Film Festival, thirty five years after his death. Along with documentaries and television features centred on his features, previously unpublished documents from the archive of the Cinematheque Suisse will offer audiences a fresh look at a filmmaker much admired by the French New Wave along with Bernardo Bertolucci, Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Todd Haynes.

Douglas Sirk (1897-1987) started life as Detlef Sierck in Berlin (UFA), spending his early years in his parents’ native Denmark and Hamburg before emigrating via France to Los Angeles just before the Second World War, spending his final years in Ticino, Switzerland where he died in Lugano.

Shockproof @Columbia Pictures | All Rights Reserved

 

Fêted for his florid anti-realist Hollywood melodramas of the 1950s such as Magnificent Obsession (1954), All that Heaven Allows (1955), Written on the Wind (1955), A Time to Love and a Time to Die (1958) and Imitation of Life (1959). His early features, a feature debut April, April! (1935), Pillars of Society (1935) and the Venice Golden Lion nominated Zu neuen Ufern (1936) were birds of a different feather and throwbacks to his time in Germany and early experience in theatre during the Weimar Republic before fleeing to Hollywood in 1937 where his first film was a Nazi themed thriller Hitler’s Madman in 1943 followed by a film noir Summer Storm starring George Sanders in 1944. A year after that came the first of his melodramas All I Desire (1953) in his initial collaboration with Barbara Stanwyck. Rock Hudson was a Sirk regular along with George Sanders. Sirk also experimented with the western genre with some success in Taza, Son of Cochise in 1954.

 

Hitler’s Madman @copyright Locarno Film Festival

 

After returning to Europe Sirk settled in Switzerland, working again for the theatre in Germany and teaching at the Munich-based Hochschule für Film und Fernsehen (HFFM), where he supervised the completion of three short films.

 

 

A Scandal in Paris (1946) 

Scandal is based on the autobiography of Francois Eugene Vidocq, erstwhile criminal who became the Police Chief of Paris. Adapted by Ellis St. Joseph, Vidocq tries his best to camouflage his real past: His father was a wealthy man, and probably the first victim of his criminal son.

In 1775, we meet Vidocq (Sanders) and his sidekick Emile (Tamiroff) on the verge of fleeing prison with the help of a file hidden in a cake. Vidocq is soon made a lieutenant in the French army, a perfect foil for stealing jewellery from wealthy women who fall under his spell. Next on the list is the chanteuse Loretta de Richet (Landis), who is married to the Chief of Police  (Lockhart). After successfully completing his assignment, Vidocq sets his eyes on the de Pierremont family jewels owned by the Marquise de Pierremont (Kruger) and her daughter Therese (Hasso). But having trousered the gems, Vidocq changes tack, the master thief not only ‘solves’ the case, but also ‘recovers’ the jewels, becoming Richet’s successor, a move that will give him access to the vault of the Paris Bank. Events culminate in a deadly struggle at a merry-go-round in the woodlands, the exact same place where Therese revealed she knew everything about Vidocq’s shady past.

DoP Eugen Schuftan (1983-1977), a legend would go on to shoot Eyes Without a Face (1960) and early Hitchcock features, goes uncredited, with Guy Rose getting the only camerawork mention. Schuftan gives the feature a decisively European look reminiscent of Max Ophuls’ pre-war fare. Hans Eisler’s score echoes this arrestingly stylish look and Hungarian born producer Emeric Pressburger makes up the team whose roots were cultured in the old continent before the rise of fascism.

George Sanders is brilliant as the ambivalent anti-hero, the same goes for Carole Landis who, in one of her scenes as a chanteuse, very much impersonates Marlene Dietrich in Der Blaue Engel. But, alas both actors had a string of unhappy relationships and would go on to commit suicide: Landis in 1948 at the age of twenty-nine and Sanders in 1972, plagued by dementia and depression. Signe Hasso on the other hand never lived up to her billing as Greta Garbo’s successor, living a long and happy life, mainly starring in TV commercials.

Fellow émigré director Edgar Ulmer mentioned Scandal‘s sublime quality unique to Sirk’s oeuvre, that lends an ethereal touch to this romantic drama with is exquisite costumes by Norma (Koch). @Andre Simonoveisz


Lured
(1947)

One of Sirk’s lesser-known films is this sleek potboiler made when he was working as an upmarket director for hire, George Sanders was still dapper and debonair (cheerfully admitting to being “an unmitigated cad”) and Lucille Ball a brittle wisecracking dame used as bait to catch a mass murderer known as  the ‘Poet-Killer’ due to his habit of leaving quotes by Eugene Baudelaire.

Sirk recalled the film fondly, acknowledging the contributions of designer Nicolai Remisoff and cameraman William Daniels in creating a typical Hollywood London entirely on the soundstage.

The supporting cast recalls the days when Hollywood was awash with talent, hence the fleeting presence in supporting roles of top ghouls Boris Karloff and dear old George Zucco; all concerned to be enjoying themselves, especially the latter, visibly relishing the fact that he’s playing a comic copper in a bowler hat rather than the usual mad doctor. @RichardChatten

 

@Universal Pictures/Park Circus | All Rights Reserved

 

Magnificent Obsession (1954)

Douglas Sirk’s 1959 remake of Imitation of Life was a masterpiece that transformed the thirties original. Five years earlier Magnificent Obsession set the ball rolling – complete with biblical references and pianos and heavenly choirs on the soundtrack – it parodies the original rather than transcends it.

The warm and sympathetic Jane Wyman (described by other members of the cast as a “girl”) is always a pleasure to watch, however, and both she and it glows in Technicolor; with Russell Metty’s photography showing early evidence of the high contrast gloss he would perfect in his later teamings with Sirk. @RichardChatten

 

All that Heaven Allows (1955) @Universal Pictures/Park Circus | All Rights Reserved

 

All That Heaven Allows (1955)

Following their success in Magnificent Obsession Jane Wyman and Rock Hudson were re-teamed in this glossy Technicolor romance set in rural New England.

To be commended for acknowledging that middle-aged women still harboured passions, Miss Wyman plays a widow who shocks friends and family by announcing her intention to marry a young hunk in a lumberjack shirt.

Rainer Werner Fassbinder encountered similar disapproval when he fell in love with a North African Arab and used Sirk’s film as the basis of  Fear Eats the Soul. @RichardChatten

There’s Always Tomorrow (1956) @Universal Pictures

 

There’s Always Tomorrow (1955/6)

Barbara Stanwyck and Fred McMurray are reunited over a decade after Double Indemnity in this soulful drama that had already been made in 1934 by Edward Sloman. Sirk’s version is based on the novel by Ursula Parrot, who had ten of her books adapted for the Hollywood screen and There’s Always Tomorrow, as subversive as anything shot in the dream factory of the 1950s, is sadly often neglected.

Metty’s grainy black-and-white photography, his expressionistic use of angles, are one highlight of this feature, but let’s not forget Ursula Parrot, the came up with the story. Apart from being extremely successful, she was also quite a tearaway. In 1943, at the age of 43, she went off with a soldier who was about to be locked up for narcotic offences, right under the nose of the Military Police. Later released on bail, when cross-examined, she claimed to have  “acted on impulse, and anyhow, the soldier in question was a damn good guitar player”. Somehow, it makes sense that Sirk, another outsider in Hollywood, should be the one to bring her work onto the screen. @Andre Simonoveisz

DOUGLAS SIRK RETROSPECTIVE | LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2022

The Wave | Italian Female Filmmakers Weekend 2022

 

THE WAVE celebrates its first edition this weekend at London’s Ciné Lumière in Kensington. The aim is to showcase the latest female filmmakers working in Italy today. Expect to see  some classics too and filmmaker Q&A sessions at some screenings which will offer the opportunity for some lively and thought-provoking discussions. Highlights from the programme include Alice Rohrwacher’s HEAVENLY BODY, Laura Bispuri’s SWORN VIRGIN and last year’s Locarno highlight MATERNAL from Maura Delpero.

THE WAVE | CELEBRATING ITALIAN FEMALE FILMMAKERS | programme here.

The Princess (2022)

Dir.: Ed Perkins; Documentary about Princess Diana; UK 2022, 106 min.

Hot on the heels of Spencer, The Crown and the musical Diana, THE PRINCESS does not promise or deliver any new insight into the life and tragic death of our much loved, Princess of Wales. Instead Ed Perkins pieces together a documentary made up exclusively of television news footage and public records, once again showing the Diana we have seen in the media and watched on TV for over 40 years – 25 of them after her death in a Parisian car crash. This is a digest of what was fed to the general public – rather than a feast of new information revealing the truth what really happened.

When the TV camera spotlight first fell on Lady Diana Spencer, it was 1981, she was an innocent twenty year old nursery teacher;  Prince Charles a well-travelled, sophisticated 32 year old prince. They harding knew each other, let alone loved each other, as the first TV interview shows. The media version of what happened next was “The Fairy Story”. In the midst of social and political turbulence, a fairy story was badly needed. But the fairy tale ended when Prince Charles, even after the birth of his first son William, continued to lead the life of a bachelor – including his adulterous affair with Camilla Parker Bowles, who was also married and a mother of two.

Much later, in the scandalous TV interview with Martin Bashir,  Diana spilt the beans: her own romantic affairs; the self harm; Bulimia; and a suicide attempt. Now the second phase, a “Soap Opera” was to begin. A collision between the royal family, representing traditional values, and Diana’s 20th Century lifestyle was played out before a public. A Disney movie perhaps, but nothing to do with the fact that the couple had never been in love in the first place. The so-called heart-break was the base the relationship was built on. Once again the British media drove the narrative forward, as it still does today, serving the public with what it thought they wanted, rather than the real truth of the matter.

Writer/director Ed Perkins (Tell me, who I am) and his editors Jinx Godfrey and Daniel Lapira have certainly cobbled together a hoard of information but for whose benefit? Certainly not the ones who have worshipped “the princess of the people”, who was clearly at the cash cow for everyone who benefitted from her tragic story. Perhaps the best use of this documentary is as material for media students – as an example of reality television of the worst kind. AS

ON RELEASE FROM 30 JUNE 2022 FOR A SPECIAL ONE NIGHT ONLY EVENT ACROSS THE UK/IRELAND

 

Cries and Whispers

Dir.: Ingmar Bergman; Cast: Harriet Andersson, Liv Ullmann, Kari Sylwan, Ingrid Thulin, Anders Ek, Erland Josephson, Henning Moritzen, Georg Arlin; Sweden 1972, 92 min.

CRIES AND WHISPERS stands out in the Bergman canon and not only from The Touch (1971) and Face to Face (1976), which came before and after this 1972 outing. Like so many of Bergman’s films, they were straightforward relationship dramas. Cries takes us back to Bergman’s early features dominated by death and the human relationship with God, men and women living separate lives even after marriage. Yet Cries is also a horror feature, not least because the dissolves (replacing conventional cuts) are crimson red. Another point worth mentioning, is that

In rural Sweden Agnes (Andersson) is dying of cancer. Her two sisters arrive more out of duty than real concern. More caught up with their own lives, they don’t see eye to eye. Maria (Ullmann) is unhappily married to Joakim (Moritzen) and desperate to rekindle her affair with the family doctor, David (Josephson). Karin (Thulin) is aloof and lives with the cold-hearted tyrant Fredrik (Arlin). So the caring role falls to the maid Kari (Sylwan), who has already lost her daughter.

After Agnes’ agonising death, the vicar prays with Kari and the sisters, reassuring them  that Agnes’ faith was even stronger than his. Suddenly, Agnes comes back to life for a moment, asking her sisters to stay with her. Both decline, making spurious excuses to get back to their own families, and for a moment they make peace with each other. Kari offers Agnes her support. There is a positive denouement, even though the narrator, Agnes, can not be totally trusted.

The crux of the story is that Maria was the family favourite. Agnes can only remember getting her mother’s full and undivided attention on one occasion. But, crucially, she has left her diaries to Kari, who is touched by the gesture. Perhaps these will provide a clue?

DoP Sven Nykvist shot more than a dozen of Bergman’s features in black & white, and Cries was all about getting used to colour film, somehow also achieves a fairytale atmosphere. Ullman not only plays a sister, but also the role of mother to Agnes and Karin when they were children. Cries is probably not the most momentous of Bergman’s features, but it is certainly one of the most daring. AS

Opening on 1 April 2022 at BFI Southbank, HOME Manchester, Watershed Bristol, Tyneside Cinema, Cine Lumiere, IFI Dublin, Glasgow Film Theatre, Broadway Nottingham and selected cinemas UK-wide

The Third Man (1949)

Dir: Carol Reed | Orson Welles, Joseph Cotton, Alida Valli, Trevor Howard, Ernst Deutsch | UK Thriller

It’s a sign of what happened to the cinema between 1950 and 1980 that if a film had come out thirty years after The Third Man with Joseph Cotton, Trevor Howard and Orson Welles in the cast you’d have known it would be garbage; but in the forties the result was pure gold.

Harry Lime’s speech about the cuckoo clock always seemed to me just sophistry and his remark about people being just dots to him reveals that he’s a sociopath for all of his charm; which necessitated him (SPOILER COMING:) killing the film’s most likeable character to justify his comeuppance (a moment that always comes as a shock to me no matter how many times I see it).

Although it seems starkly realistic, The Third Man is a triumph of artifice, since Welles is only in the film for about ten minutes (he wasn’t actually in Vienna for much longer, which is why you so seldom see his breath in closeups). The sewers in Vienna don’t actually provide the unbroken passage throughout the city the film so vividly suggests and the famous final shot in the cemetery wasn’t shot by Oscar-winning cameraman Robert Krasker, but an uncredited Hans Schneeburger (who did get a credit a few years later for his second unit work on Carol Reed’s The Man Between).

The opening narration by the way (only heard in the British version) is by director Reed himself (who’s fingers are seen coming through the grill at the climax). And two of my favourite moments belong to Bernard Lee: his admiration for the craftsmanship that went into Valli’s forged documents and his reassurance when reading through her love letters, “That’s all right miss, we’re used to it. Like doctors”. @RichardChatten

NOW ON BBC IPLAYER

Psycho (1960)

Dir: Alfred Hitchcock | Cast: Janet Leigh, Anthony Perkins, Vera Miles | Thriller 109′

Herschel Gordon Lewis used to boast that his films where the first in which people died with their eyes open; but that’s precisely how the first victim ends up here.

One of only two films Hitchcock made in black & white after 1953 (which probably accounts for it’s relative eclipse by Vertigo in recent years), it demonstrates that a cheap horror movie can reach the heights if made by people with talent; witness Bernard Herrmann’s pulsating all-string score and a script that includes lines like “a son is a poor substitute for a lover” and “if it doesn’t gell, it isn’t aspic”.

Copyright Universal Pictures

 

It was Hitchcock who had the bright idea of changing Norman Bates from a middle-aged recluse to a personable young man (who in retrospect resembles Lee Harvey Oswald). Flashes of The Master’s wit can be discerned in Marion’s smirk as she imagines her client’s outrage, the moment when we’re rooting for Norman when her car briefly stops sinking, Sheriff Chamber’s wife lowering her voice when she says Norman found his mother and her lover’s bodies together “in bed”, and realising a long-held ambition by showing a toilet flushing in close-up; while Hitchcock’s famous fear of policemen finds full flower in the scene with the patrolman.

Copyright Universal Pictures

 

People tend to not to notice that the film takes place at Christmas and forget that the close-up of Norman (lifted from that of Michael Redgrave at the end of his episode in ‘Dead of Night’) is not the final shot in the film, since it actually ends with the car being winched out of the swamp (thus providing one final shudder since you know what they’ll find when they open the boot). @RichardChatten

Hitchcock’s PSYCHO (1960) Original Theatrical Cut 4k restored and in UK/Eire cinemas from 27 May as well as selected international territories, including: France, Austria, Spain, Denmark and Switzerland | Park Circus is representing PSYCHO on behalf of Universal Pictures.

Glasgow Film Festival 2022

Glasgow celebrates its 18th annual film festival from 2-13 March. Expect to see UK premieres of the latest international arthouse films. This year’s celebration will open with The Outfit, starring Oscar winner Mark Rylance and close with Murina! an intoxicating Slovenian coming of age drama that won a top prize at last year’s Cannes Film Festival.

So if you’re heading to Glasgow here’s a selection of  films worth looking out for:

THE OUTFIT (2022)

Leonard (Mark Rylance) is a master tailor who left England to run an unassuming little shop in the windy city of Chicago. He now makes beautiful, hand-crafted garments for people who want the best and are willing to pay for it. His most loyal customers are a clan of vicious gangsters. They do say clothes maketh the man. Then one night there is a knock on the door. A favour is requested. A line is crossed. And all hell breaks loose. We are thrilled to open Glasgow Film Festival 2022 with the UK premiere of this gripping tale of deception, double-dealing, murder and some very fine threads.

WHERE IS ANNE FRANK? (2021)

Ari Folman’s latest animation is a playfully evocative take on the tragedy of the Anne Frank (Emily Carey) whose final months are reflected through the eyes of her gadabout muse and confidante Kitty, vividly brought to life here by Ruby Stokes.

 

NOBODY HAS TO KNOW (2021)

Memories define us connecting the present with the past. In his latest drama – a first in English – Belgian writer and director Bouli Lanners plays a man whose romantic history is rewritten when he suffers a stroke.

NITRAM (2021)

Justin Kurzel blows us away with this scorching arthouse psychodrama commemorating the Port Arthur tragedy, exploring the milieu that created a murderer (Martin Bryant) who would kill 35 people on that fateful day in 1996. Not since Snowtown has a film engendered such utter terror through its central character – the titular Nitram – played by a coruscating Caleb Landry Jones – as a fully formed enfant terrible who lives with his long-suffering parents (Judy Davis and Anthony LaPaglia) in the sleepy seaside town.

MIGHTY FLASH (2021)

Life in Southern Spain hasn’t changed for God fearing and deeply suspicious rural communities locked away but dying to burst out from landlocked Extremadura, especially the womenfolk. Or at least that’s the impression we get from Ainhoa Rodriguez deliciously dark and delightfully observed feature that unfolds with a cast of non-pros on the widescreen and in intimate – often voyeuristic – closeup.

LOST ILLUSIONS (2021)

Inspired by Honoré de Balzac’s rags to riches hero who works his way through the Comédie Humaine, this lavish period drama charts a personal and literary advancement in post revolutionary France in a way that resonates with the media world of today, the clear voice of Balzac providing a guiding narration.

GLASGOW FILM FESTIVAL 2022

 

 

Une Belle Fille Comme Moi (1972)

Dir: François Truffaut | Cast: Bernadette Lafont, Claude Brasseur, Charles Donner, Guy Marchand | France Drama, 98′

Francois Truffaut’s early death in 1984 came as a particularly grievous disappointment since it conclusively brought to an end the lingering hope that he had one more masterpiece still in him.

As early as Shoot the Pianist in 1960 he had perennially found inspiration in American pulp fiction, often centred on a ruthless femme fatale. One of the more obscure items in the the current season on the South Bank is this cheerfully amoral little anecdote reuniting Truffaut with the star of his acclaimed 1957 short Les Mistons, Bernadette Lafont (the first of several seductive hussies she played for the Nouvelle Vague) based on a novel by the author of ‘What Ever Happened to Baby Jane’.

The paucity of strong female protagonists has always blighted the current run of superhero movies, and if Hollywood had their wits about them instead of going to the trouble and expense of squandering millions on commissioning yet more of the same, remake rights to this or Henry Farrell’s original 1967 novel could be acquired for a song and almost unchanged would make a terrific Catwoman origins story.

All it would need is a new ending in which Our Heroine employs her wiles and her practised skills as a manipulator to persuade the prison psychiatrist examining her to just this once let her put on her old costume again, engineer her escape; and with her back at large a new franchise would be born!

But who would they find today to fill Ms Lafont’s ankle boots? @RichardChatten

SCREENING AS PART OF THE FRANCOIS TRUFFAUT SEASON at BFI Southbank, Edinburgh Filmhouse and Cine Lumiere to include BFI Distribution re-releases, BFI blu-rays, a selection on BFI player  | JAN-FEB 2022 |

Canyon Passage (1946) Venice Classics 2022

Dir: Jacques Tourneur | US Western

Jacques Tourneur’s first film in Technicolor won praise from Martin Scorsese for its use of colour. Set in Oregon in 1856, the obvious studio sets contrast badly with the majestic location work; but are mitigated by Tourneur’s Germanic lighting, mise en scene and elegantly mobile camera.

In the lead Dana Andrews is (constantly) addressed as and referred to just as ‘Logan’ (his full name is actually ‘Logan Stuart’). Most of the interesting supporting cast are given little to do, with the notable exception of Ward Bond as a particularly brutish heavy, and Hoagy Carmichael dressed as Mr Macawber, who gets to drawl ‘Ole’ Buttermilk Sky’. Richard Chatten

PLAYING IN THE VENICE FILM FESTIVAL CLASSICS RETROSPECTIVE 2022

London Spanish Film Festival 2021

A chance to see a selection of recent Spanish films which may not get a general release in the UK. Most are UK premieres from new talent and established filmmakers

LA ISLA DE LAS MENTIRAS | The Island of Lies

dir. Paula Cons, with Nerea Barros, Ana Oca, Sergio Quintana, Celso Bugallo, Darío Grandinetti | Spain/Argentina/Portugal | 2020 | 93 min | cert. 15 | UK premiere | In Galician and Spanish with English subtitles

In dense fog of a Christmas morning in 1921, a boat with 260 emigrants bound to Buenos Aires sinks off the coast of Sálvora, Galicia. Three courageous women row out in a bid to save as many people as they can. The tragedy captures the imagination of an Argentine journalist who investigate the many fatal coincidences that happened on the night of the shipwreck. | Fri 24 Sep | 6.30pm

 

UN EFECTO ÓPTICO | An Optical Illusion

dir. Juan Cavestany, with Carmen Machi, Pepón Nieto, Luis Bermejo | Spain | 2020 | 80 min | cert. 15 | UK premiere | In Spanish with English subtitles

Alfredo and Teresa, a married couple from Burgos, decide to take a deserved trip to New York. Shortly after their arrival Teresa starts to feel strangely uncomfortable. Then Alfredo’s pictures of monuments don’t match what they remember they saw. Cavestany’s film is a distinctive and daring take on tourism, globalised provincialism, the banality of a steady couple’s daily life… and much more. | Sat 25 Sep | 6.30pm

EL SUSTITUTO | The Replacement

dir. Oscar Aibar, with Ricardo Gómez, Pere Ponce, Joaquín Climent, Bruna Cusí, Vicky Luengo, Pol López | Spain | 2021 | 117 min | cert. 18 | UK premiere | In Spanish with English subtitles

In 1982 a young father and hardened police officer moves his family from Madrid to a small Mediterranean sea town where he is to replace an inspector, murdered in mysterious circumstances. During his investigation, strange links between the inspector’s assassination, drugs and property speculation come to light. Based on real events, Oscar Aibar’s beautifully made thriller takes us to a happy retirement spot on the Mediterranean coast that Nazi’s gained possession of due to Franco’s regime and kept through the Transition | Sat 25 Sep | 8.30pm, Mon 27 Sep | 6.05pm

EL PLANETA | Planet

dir. Amalia Ulman, with Ale Ulman, Amalia Ulman, Nacho Vigalondo, Zhou Chen | USA | 2021 | 79 min | cert. 15 |London premiere | In English and Spanish with English subtitles

A jobless young woman is forced to leave London and return home to live with her eccentric mother, after the death of her father. The wolf is at the door but they continue to live beyond their means in Gijon. El Planeta explores contemporary poverty, class awareness and female desires as well as mother-daughter relationships in post-crisis Spain all throughout with a charming and subtle sense of humour. | Sun 26 Sep |6.20pm

NIEVA EN BENIDORM | It Snows in Benidorm

dir. Isabel Coixet, with Timothy Spall, Sarita Choudhury, Anna Torrent, Carmen Machi, Pedro Casablanc | Spain/UK | 2020 | 117 min | cert. 15 | UK premiere | In English and Spanish with English subtitles

After a long career at his bank Peter is “awarded” early retirement and sets off to visit his brother in Benidorm on a trip that doesn’t quite turn out as expected. A poetic take by veteran Isabel Coixet on Benidorm’s particular beauty, its gloomy side and its “unpoetic” real estate mafias as well as on love at an older age. | Fri 24 Sep | 8.35pm

CATALAN Strand

SENTIMENTAL | The People Upstairs

dir. Cesc Gay, with Javier Cámara, Griselda Siciliani, Alberto San Juan, Belén Cuesta | Spain | 2020 | 82 min | cert. 15 | UK premiere | In Spanish with English subtitles

Ana and Julio are a couple who seem to spend most of their time together arguing. Salva and Laura, on the other hand, never stop having sex.  Julio is extremely annoyed when Ana invites them for dinner for an eventful evening where secrets, fears and insecurities soon surface, spiced up by witty dialogue written by Catalan Cesc Gay. The result is a highly enjoyable and intimate comedy exploring the complexities of modern relationships. | Thu 23 Sep | 8.30p,

UN BLUES PARA TEHERÁN | Tehran Blues

dir. Javier Tolentino, with Golmehr Alami, Sina Derakhshan, Pezhman Dishad | 2020 | 80 min | cert. PG |doc | UK premiere | In Spanish, Persian and Kurdish with English subtitles

Javier Tolentino’s documentary debut  transports us to some of Iran’s most remote corners, discovering a truly sophisticated culture seen through the eyes of Erfan, a young Kurdish man who sings, writes poetry and dreams of being a film director. Tolentino is one of Spain’s most established journalists and film critics, now turned director.| Sun 26 Sep | 4.10pm

CHAVALAS | Girlfriends

dir. Carol Rodríguez Colás, with Vicky Luengo, Carolina Yuste, Elisabet Casanovas, Cristina Plazas, José Mota | Spain | 2021 | 91 min | cert. PG | UK premiere | In Spanish with English subtitles

After an initial stint as a professional photographer, jobless Marta finds herself having to go back to live with her parents in a suburban flat in Barcelona, where she grew up. There she reconnects with her childhood girlfriends Desi, Soraya and Bea, sharing the bond of their teenage years. Carol Rodríguez Colás’s first feature film is a sincere and tragicomic take on friendship. | Tue 28 Sep | 8.45pm

BASQUE strand

ANE | Ane is Missing

dir. David Pérez Sañudo, with Patricia López Arnaiz, Jone Laspiur, Mikel Losada, Luis Callejo | Spain | 2020 | 100 min | cert. 15 | UK premiere | In Basque and Spanish with English subtitles

When Lide discovers her teenage daugher, Ane, is missing, she teams up with ex-husband, Fernando, to track her down. As the troubled Lide’s determination grows Fernando’s fear of Ane becomes more evident. Throughout most of the film Ane feels like a ghost and an oppressing and spectral unseen presence. A first feature for awarded shorts director David Pérez Sañudo,   moves seemlessly from from mystery to family drama and then to political thriller.

Preceded by the short:

QUEBRANTOS | Breaches

dir. Koldo Almandoz, Maria Elorza | Spain | 2021 | 7 min | doc | cert. PG | In Basque with English subtitles

Living with fear… Based o an interview on Euskadi Irratia Radio. | Tue 28 Sep | 6.30pm

NORA

dir. Lara Izaguirre, with Ane Pikaza, Héctor Alterio, Ramón Barea, Itziar Ituño | Spain | 2020 | 100 min | cert. 15 | UK premiere | In Spanish, Basque and French with English subtitles and English

Lara Izaguirre’s sophomore feature is a fresh and optimistic reflection on the road less travelled for a young Spanish woman prepared to put her self out there, and take a few risks. As the saying goes, “bad weather, good face” (in Spanish, “al mal tiempo, buena cara”). | Wed 29 Sep | 8.30pm

London Spanish FILM FESTIVAL 23-29 SEPTEMBER 2021

The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939)

Dir: Michael Curtiz | Cast: Bette Davis, Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Vincent Price, Harry Stephenson | US Drama 106′

This depiction of the love/hate relationship between Queen Elizabeth I and Robert Devereux, the Earl of Essex is obviously based on a play (the Irish debacle is plainly staged on a single Germanic-looking set, and Cadiz – although frequently referred to – is only talked about).

The film is sumptuously produced with an incredible supporting cast; some of them practically just glimpsed (with Olivia de Havilland – in reality one the few woman who resisted Flynn’s advances – as usual while she was under contract to Warners wasted but radiant as Davis’s most serious rival in love).

At the centre of course are two star performances, although Daves’ makeup is grotesquely aged but completely unlined with those famous eyes darting hither and thither as the elderly Queen, and – the vaguely ‘naughty’ title notwithstanding – they are shown doing little more in private than playing cards together. Richard Chatten

BETTE DAVIS: HOLLYWOOD REBEL SEASON IS NOW PLAYING AT THE BFI Southbank FOR THE REMAINDER OF AUGUST 2021

 

Nashville (1975) Robert Altman Retrospective

Dir.: Rosbert Altman; Cast: Karen Black, Keith Carradine, Henry Gibson. Geraldine Chaplin, Lily Tomlin, Keenan Wynn, Ronee Blakley, Barbara Harris, Scott Glennon, Shelley Duvall, David Hayword, Gwen Welles, Barbara Baxley, David Peel; USA 1975; 160′.

Nashville, undoubtedly director Robert Altman’s greatest feature, was scripted by Joan Tewkesbury and shot by Paul Lohmann: it is still, 26 years later, a magnificent portrait of the American South.

Set in Nashville, Tennessee, is tells the stories of stars, drifters and wanna-bee singers, all fascinated by country music and unaware of anything political going on: the most important agitator is never seen during the Presidential primaries for 1976 election: Hal Philip Walker, an early Donald Trump version, candidate and founder of the radical right ‘Replacement Party’, sends his PR man on a mission to win over musicians for his campaign.

Twenty-four central characters pass the baton around, the playing field gradually growing until violent fragments destroy nearly everyone’s life. Barbara Jean (Blakley) is the archetypal Loretta Young type, mismanaged by her punitive husband, living in her own world, even if on stage – but still remaining the ‘Queen Bee’.

Rival Connie White (Black) makes a good enough stand-in after Barbara, just recovered from treatment on the East-Coast for a burn treatment, has lost it completely in front of a bewildered audience. Singer and promoter Haven Hamilton (Gibson) had opened proceedings with his recording of “We must have done something right to last 200 Years” hymn on the United States. Hamilton is upset with his son Bud (Peel), who has hired the “wrong” pianist. Haven breaks off the session and tells the pianist: “Get a haircut, you do not belong in Nashville”. His companion Lady Pearl (Baxley) is certainly living in the past: she had had worked for the Kennedy brothers in the 1960s and 1968 elections, and can’t get over her frustration about Nixon winning Tennessee by a small margin over JFK in 1960.

Then there is Tom Frank (Carradine) a narcissistic womaniser and singer – Carradine would win the only Oscar for Nashville, for his original song. Tom spends all day and night in bed, inviting women to join him. One of them is Linnea Reese (Tomlin, in her debut), a mother of two deaf children and member of a Gospel Choir. Also to be found between his sheets is BBC reporter Opal (G. Chaplin), who makes the most inappropriate racial comments when interviewing members of the music scene. When she visits a disused car lot, her take on this hyperbole is more suited for the millennium.

Two women try their luck as newcomers: Albuquerque (Harris) is running away from a husband, and trying to get a debut as a singer. She has no idea how her wish will eventually become reality. Sueleen Gay (Welles) is a waitress, who in spite being tone-deaf, tries her luck as a singer: The rowdy audience cajoles her into stripping. There is a quartet of more lowkey participants, led by Mr. Green (Wynn), who is looking after his dying wife in hospital. His niece Joan (Duvall) is an incompetent groupie who never gets to see her aunt or meets the musicians. A uniformed soldier (Glennon) is lurking around Barbara Jean during most of the film, we fear the worst, but the shots at the ending are fired by smart and pleasant Kenny (Hayward).

Nashville is a kaleidoscope of celebrity fandom showcasing the early stages of political manipulating through culture. Haven Hamilton has been given the nod to become the next Governor of the State if he supports Walker. But the drifters and onlookers are given equal screen time for their shattered dreams. A marvellous script which is acted out by a stellar ensemble cast. Nashville remains the benchmark for everything following in its wake. AS

ROBERT ALTMANN RETROSPECTIVE AT BFI Southbank 2021

Cairo Station | Bab el Hadid (1958)

Dir.: Youssef Chahine; Cast: Youssef Chahine, Hind Rostom, Farid Sawqi, Hasan al-Barudi; Egypt 1958, 75 min.

Cairo Station was the eleventh of over thirty feature films by prolific Egyptian filmmaker Youssef Chahine (1926-2008) providing a snapshot of Egyptian society that appears, on the face of it, more permissive than today.

Chahine was born into a multi-lingual family of Coptic Christians in British-occupied Alexandria where his lawyer father was a supporter of the Wafd nationalist party; his Greek mother sent him to the Christian English-speaking Victoria College. His desire for a theatrical career was first prompted in childhood by seeing shadow plays, then 9.5mm films.

Chahine rose to the international stage with his autobiographical trilogy set in the bustling Mediterranean port of Alexandria, the place of his birth and a creative melting pot where the Egyptian film industry was born in the 1920s: Iskindiria … Leh? (Alexandria … Why?, 1978); Haddouta Misriyya (An Egyptian Story, 1982); and Eskandarai Kaman We Kaman (Alexandria Again and Forever, 1989). But although he was highly regarded by European directors his films were rarely shown beyond the festival circuit in the West, apart from in France where he won a Palme d’Or for his oeuvre in 1997. Cairo Station was Chahine first auteur feature: far ahead of his time aesthetically and contents wise and now getting a international showing on Netflix.

Radical and very much ahead of its time – when you consider the step back that the Arab world has since taken – Cairo Station was later banned and Chahine forced to leave Egypt.

The station is seen as a microcosm of Egyptian society in the late 1950s. The country had undergone drastic changes: In 1956 Gamer Abdel Nasser had overthrown the monarchy and nationalised the Suez Canal. Everything was being questioned, particularly the role of women and the status quo between employers and workers. Despite the ebullient liveliness of some of the scenes, there’s a sinister thread of misogyny running through this psycho-sexual melodrama, Chahine was not for nothing an ardent admirer of Alfred Hitchcock, and DoP Alvise Orfanelli mirrors his use of light and shadow both on the widescreen images of the station and in intimate close-ups that convey the lust, fear and longing in the characters’ eyes. Considered Neo-realist by some critics, the element of male sexual obsession belongs very much to the early 1970s films of Brian de Palma, another Hitchcock disciple.

Told by the elderly narrator Madbouli (Al Barudi), a newspaper seller at the station, the narrative focus is his club-footed employee Quinawi (also played by Chahine) who lives in a porn-decked hovel where he drools over photos of semi-clad females dreaming of the flirtatious drinks seller Hanuma (Rostom). Quinawi is besotted by Hanuma, who sometimes plays him along if it suits her, although she is really in love with station porter and trade unionist Abu Serih (Sawqi), who is active in cutting out the middlemen, who take much of their earnings, giving the film its political angle.

One day Quinawi reads in the papers that a serial killer is on the loose. And while Abu Serih is busy with his union business, Hanuma plays a wicked game with Quinawi: toying with his offer of marriage and taking him up on his idea of going back to his village, where they will marry and raise a family. When Quinawi finds out he has been duped, he strikes out in the same style as the serial killer, blinded by rage and anger, making a fatal error that leads to the shocking finale where he emerges a tragic and pitiful victim.

There are two impressive highlights: the first is a Be-Bop interlude with “Mike and the Skyrockets”, performing in a train, Hanuma dancing along with gusto. The other one shows Quinawi taking revenge for his frustration on a little kitten. There is nothing muted or tender about the film’s characters who are seen in all the cruelty and splendour of the Middle East. AS

Drama & Desire: The Films of Youssef Chahine – BFI Southbank season

London Spanish Film Festival 2021

London Spanish Film Festival
10th Spring Weekend 28 – 30 May 2021

The 10th Spring Weekend of the London Spanish Film Festival is back full of energy and positive vibes setting the mood for an exciting 17th edition in September.

You’ll find the latest film by veteran Fernando Trueba, three decent debuts from women filmmakers, a hopeful and moving reflexion on what life is and a special screening of the latest treat from Maestro Almodóvar.

LAS NIÑAS  | Schoolgirls

Dir. Pilar Palomero | with Andrea Fandos, Natalia de Molina, Zoe Arnao | Spain | 2020 | 97 min | cert. 15 | London premiere | In Spanish with English subtitles

Celia is an 11-year-old girl studying at a nun’s school in 1992. She’s a responsible student and a considerate daughter but the arrival of a new classmate will open a little window Celia is willing to look out from to discover about the outside world. Together with her group of friends she’ll give her first steps into adolescence and first-times even if that means confronting her mother and questioning everything that meant comfort and security. The film has won several awards among which Best Film, Best New Director, Best Cinematography and Best Original Screenplay Goya Awards.

Fri 28 May | 6.30pm | £13, conc. £11

EL OLVIDO QUE SEREMOS Memories of My Father

Dir. Fernando Trueba, with Javier Cámara, Nicolás Reyes Cano, Juan Pablo Urrego | Colombia | 2020 | 136 min | cert. PG | In Spanish, Italian and English with English subtitles | Distributed by Curzon

Trueba’s latest film tells the story of Héctor Abad Gómez, one of Colombia’s most beloved national heroes, through the eyes of his son. He balances a nuanced portrait of Abad Gómez’s family life in Medellín and the harsh reality of the country in the turbulent 1970s and 1980s, in which corruption is common and the government cannot be criticised. Based on the book written by Abad Gómez’s son, Memories of My Father is a memorable work, a love story and the portrait of a man fighting for the basic human rights of his people: food, water and adequate shelter.

Fri 28 May | 8.35pm | £13, conc. £11 Sat 29 May | 5.50pm | £13, conc. £11

LA VOZ HUMANAThe Human Voice

Dir. Pedro Almodóvar, with Tilda Swinton | Spain | 2020 | 30 min | cert. PG | In English and Spanish with English subtitles

Jean Cocteau wrote The Human Voice in 1928 and, since then, many artists have staged or filmed their own vision of this woman’s dramatic moments after her lover of the last few years leaves her to get married with to another woman. Almodóvar’s stunning version brings to The Human Voice his sense of aesthetics, of rhythm and his peculiar, subtle sense of humour, making the pièce his own. Chameleonic Swinton, in what seems a wonderful and perfect tuning with Almodóvar, captures the essence of his style bringing to it some delightful British exquisiteness. A must.

The film will be followed by a 40 min video-Q&A with Pedro Almodóvar and Tilda Swinton with Mark Kermode. It will be preceded by a video-presentation by Prof. Maria Delgado

Sat 29 May | 4.15pm | £13, conc. £11

LA INNOCÈNCIA | La inocencia | The Innocence

Dir. Lucia Alemany | with Carmen Arrufat, Laia Marull, Sergi López, Joel Bosqued | Spain | 2019 | 92 min | cert. 15 | London premiere | In Catalan and Spanish with English subtitles

Lis is a teenager whose dream is to become a circus artist and go traveling. While she knows she’ll have to confront her parents and fight for it, she spends the summer playing around with her friends and with her boyfriend, a few years older than herself and the relationship with whom she tries to keep hidden from the constant gossip of the neighbours. Lucia Alemany’s impressive first feature film is a fresh coming-of-age story that captures perfectly the rural and festive mood without losing any realism nor honesty.

Sat 29 May | 8.45pm | £13, conc. £11

MY MEXICAN BRETZEL 

Dir: Nuria Giménez | Spain | 2019 | 73 min | cert. PG | London premiere | In English

Giménez’s debut film offers, through archive footage of home made movies, a glimpse into the life of a wealthy European couple, Léon and Vivian Barrett, after WW2 and up to the 1960s. The quality of the footage is superb and is accompanied by text from Vivian’s diary offering details of their lives, her thoughts, gossip… Mesmerising and compelling, this is a clever work of direction and of editing by Giménez, and has won her, among others, the Found Footage Award at the Internation Film Festival of Rotterdam last year.

Sun 30 May | 6.10pm | £13, conc. £11

LA VIDA ERA ESO That Was Life

Dir. David Martín de los Santos, with Petra Martínez, Anna Castillo, Florin Piersic Jr., Ramón Barea | Spain/Belgium | 2020 | 109 min | cert. PG | UK premiere | In Spanish and French with English subtitles

When María and Verónica end up meeting and sharing a hospital room in Belgium, the only thing they have in common is that they are Spaniards who came to work to this country with the hope to find more opportunities than back at home. Slowly a bond grows between them and one of them will start a journey to Almería, where the roots of the other are, initially to meet her family, finally to discover principles beyond those on which she had based her whole life. The film is poignant in his humble and intimate approach. The subtly nuanced acting of Petra Martínez in the lead role as a woman pushing herself out of the boundaries of the role in which she felt confined, adds emotion to this wonderful film.

Sun 30 May | 7.55pm | £13, conc. £11

LONDON SPANISH FILM FESTIVAL 2021 

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.

Radu Jude Retro 2021

Streaming service DAFilms offers a chance to revisit five films from Romanian director Radu Jude in celebration of his Golden Bear win  for Best Film: Bad Luck Banging, or Looney Porn (2021).

This special programme will run from Friday 16th to 30th April 2021 and includes the online debut of his 2020 The Exit of the Trains (Berlinale Forum) in certain territories.

Accompanying the launch of this special programme of the Romanian auteur filmmaker’s work will be a live online conversation with respected Argentinian critic, programmer, and filmmaker Lucía Salas who talks to Radu Jude on Facebook and on DAFilms Live on Monday 19th April at 19:00 CET / 13:00 EST / 10:00 PT.

In English | During the stream, viewers will be able to submit their own questions.

 

Stella Dallas (1925) Venice Film Festival

Dir: Henry King | Wri: Frances Marion | Cast: Ronald Colman, Belle Bennett, Alice Joyce, Jean Hersholt | US Drama

Anybody even vaguely familiar with the subject of Olive Higgins Prouty’s 1923 novel should know about the famous ending; so I won’t bother spoiling it by discussing it here. More people will be familiar with the 1937 remake made by a better director and with a greater actress in the lead. But moving as she is to watch at the remake’s conclusion, Barbara Stanwyck comes across as naturally more capable and resilient than the rather simple and child-like loser portrayed by Belle Bennett, which is what makes Bennett so heart-breaking to watch.

Although top-billed, Ronald Colman gets only a fraction of the screen time of Bennett and never gets the opportunity to project himself as much more than a bit of a prig as Stella’s husband; and one never really appreciates what drew them to each other in the first place other than on the rebound from other disappointments in love. One can certainly warm, however, to the almost unbearably beautiful Lois Moran as their daughter Laurel, who ages very convincingly from a child to a young woman and whose scenes with Bennett powerfully convey the bond between them. One would have thought that Laurel could have had a quiet word with her mother offering her advice on fitting in with her new up-market circle of friends with a few hints on dress and make-up, and keeping her voice down in polite company (as well as spending a lot less time carousing with the egregious Ed Munn, played by Jean Hersholt, who would cramp anyone’s style; but who she later rather cruelly uses). But it’s in the nature of heart-rending tales of mother-love like this that her sacrifice for her daughter has to go far far beyond the necessary call of duty. @Richard Chatten

 

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2022 | CLASSICS STRAND 2022

 

The Terror (2021)

When it comes to TV drama this surreal and sinister epic is a real corker with its gripping plot lines and creeping sense of dread all handsomely shot in Northern Canada.

Of course Ridley Scott put his money behind it, and it shows with a sterling British cast – shame that Ciaran Hands drops out in the early episodes, leaving Jared Harris and Tobias Menzies at the helm of The Terror with its crew inspired by a real life Royal Naval expedition.

Tobias Menzies as James Fitzjames – The Terror _ Season 1, Episode 3 – Photo AMC

 

Nive Nielsen as Lady Silence – The Terror _ Season 1, Episode 3 – Photo Credit: Aidan Monaghan/AMC

 

Based on Canadian writer Dan Simmons’ best-selling novel it follows the fated mission led by three captains, Sir John Franklin (Hinds) Francis Crozier (Harris) and James Fitzjames (Menzies), who venture out into to explore the Arctic’s fabled treacherous Northwest Passage in 1847, but instead discover a monstrous polar bear-like predator, a cunning and vicious Gothic horror that stalks the ships in a desperate game of survival. The men reach out in desperation to a mysterious Inuit woman Lady Silence (played by Greenlander Nive Nielsen) who may or may not be the key to the horrifying and macabre death toll.

As morale amongst the men deteriorates and rations putrify, a terror of a different kind rears its head in the shape of Cornelius Hickey a self-seeking villainous member of the crew who causes a seething mutiny amongst the men as, one by one, they are picked off in a terrifying ordeal that invariably ends in death as they battle the elements, the supernatural and eventually – their own crew-members,

Stunning to look at and compelling throughout, the standout performances comes from the three captains and their medic Paul Ready as a doc with a really human touch who falls for Lady Silence’s luminous charms. Even without the monster this is a compelling and memorable drama series.

Following its run on BBC Two, The Terror is on Blu-ray, DVD and digital debut on 3 May 2021.

The Lesson | Human Rights Watch Film Festival 2021 | 18-26 March 2021

Dir: Elena Horn | Germany, Doc 60′

It is often said that those who don’t learn from the past are doomed to repeat it. At the age of 14 every school child in Germany is taught about the atrocities that occurred under Nazi rule. Filmmaker Elena Horn returns to her hometown in rural Germany to follow four of these children as they first learn about the Holocaust.

Five years in the making (2014-19), the film touches upon important social and political issues including the resurgence of the far-right, xenophobia, the fractured, disparate collective memory of National Socialism, and the surprising lack of intimate knowledge of the younger generations on the subject.

Screening at this year’s HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH FILM FESTIVAL the documentary opens as the camera pans over the summer countryside where a girl from a village in West Germany (where not much has changed since 1932) recalls talking to a tall, dark athletic American after an evening out with college friends. He turns to her and says: “your grandparents killed my grandparents” this was her first meeting with a Jewish guy and she was 21.

Screening during this year’s Human Rights Watch Film Festival, the documentary goes on to explore with archive footage and clips from the contemporary German classroom how despite the perceived exemplary educational system, new generations are growing indifferent to their nation’s dark past and unwilling to apply the lessons learned to the realities of today. Filmed against the backdrop of changing political scenery during five years of production, in Germany and across the world, the film subtly suggests the urgency and importance in tackling the uncomfortable modern reality of truths therein. MT

Elena Horn is a young German filmmaker who started her career as a media psychologist researching the framing effects in the news coverage of the Iraq War in the US, Britain, and Sweden. Today she is working as a story producer for ZDF, WDR, SKY and SPIEGEL TV Wissen. Elena’s films focus on questions around education, migration, working culture, love, and ethnic conflict, employing visual inspirations from the world of music and dance. As a director, Elena is a fellow of the Logan Non-Fiction Program in New York. Her short documentary Pizza, Democracy and the Little Prince, co-directed with Alessandro Leonardi, earned the “Best Short Documentary Award 2019” at the Sedona Film Festival. Currently Elena is working as a director for ARTE, a French-German culture channel.

SCREENING DURING HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH FILM FESTIVAL 2021

ALL FILMS AVAILABLE TO SCREEN 

 

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 

My French Film Festival | Online festival 2021

 

Now in its 11th year, MyFrenchFilmFestival shines a spotlight on new generation French-language filmmakers and gives audiences around the world the chance to share their love of French cinema. The 2021 Festival runs from 15 January – 15 February with screenings online and in cinemas around the world. Audiences in the UK can watch these 11 features from this year’s Festival on BFI Player on Prime Video Channels, free to subscribers:

ADOLESCENTES (Sébastien Lifshitz, 2019)
CAMILLE (Boris Lojkine, 2019)
ÉNORME (Sophie Letourneur, 2019)
FELICITÀ (Bruno Merle, 2020)
FILLES DE JOIE (Frédéric Fonteyne, Anne Paulicevich, 2020)
JOSEP (Aurel, 2020)
JUST KIDS (Christophe Blanc, 2019)
KUESSIPAN (Myriam Verreault, 2019)
LES HÉROS NE MEURENT JAMAIS (Aude Léa Rapin, 2019)
MADAME (Stéphane Riethauser, 2019)
TU MÉRITES UN AMOUR (Hafsia Herzi, 2019)

MY FRENCH FILM FESTIVAL 15 JANUARY – 15 FEBRUARY 2021

Wonderful Wong Kar Wai | February 2021 Season on BFI and ICA

As Tears Go By

Hong Kong. 1988. Dir Wong Kar Wai. With Andy Lau, Maggie Cheung, Jacky Cheung. 102min. Digital 4K. 18

The Hong Kong auteur’s first film for the soi disant ‘New Wave’ is a stylish riff on the classic triad tale of loyalty, and sees small time crook Wah (Lai) falling for his beautiful cousin (Maggie Cheung) while keeping his protege in check in the mean streets of Chinatown. A 4K restoration taken from the 35mm original camera negative via Cinema Ritrovata. It may seem like a conventional Hong Kong triad drama on the surface, but this smouldering crime drama about has the beating heart of a romance, offering glimpses of what would become the director’s distinctive signature style.

Days of Being Wild

Hong Kong. 1990. Dir Wong Kar Wai. With Leslie Cheung, Carina Lau, Maggie Cheung, Andy Lau. 94min. Digital 4K. 12A

Two years later, comes this stunning romantic reverie that tells of the most perfect love, that of a son for his mother. Set in 1960 a confused and boyishly handsome young man (Leslie Cheung) lets two very different girls compete for his attractions while he desperately searches for the real love of his life – yes, his mother.

Chungking Express

Hong Kong. 1994. Dir Wong Kar Wai. With Brigitte Lin Ching Hsia, Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Faye Wong, Takeshi Kaneshiro. 102min. Digital 4K. 12A

Christopher Doyle’s sublime cinematography and saturated colours, and slow-mo sequences permeate this freewheeling breathless breeze of a film. CHUNGKING EXPRESS (1994) was shot in only 23 days, marking Wong’s international breakthrough. Weaving through love stories of two broken-hearted policemen and the women they fall for it’s coupled with a dynamic score offering a high adrenalin exhilarating watch.

Fallen Angels

Hong Kong. 1995. Dir Wong Kar Wai. With Leon Lai Ming, Michelle Reis, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Charlie Young Choi Nei, Karen Mok Man Wai. 99min. Digital 4K. 15

Initially devised as part of Chungking Express FALLEN ANGELS shares a similar freedom of spirit but the tone is altogether moodier, exploring the nighttime forays of femme fatales, gangsters and mute ex-cons. Shot through with a twist of humour and a feverish chutzpah, this stylish drama showcases a nocturnal neon Hong Kong with all the glamour of the East.

Happy Together

Hong Kong. 1997. Dir Wong Kar Wai. With Leslie Cheung, Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Chang Chen. 96min. Digital 4K.

Tony Leung and Leslie Cheung are reunited here as a gay couple on a fraught foray to Buenos Aires, where they discover that love can be painful and well as pleasurable. Once again their chemistry sets the night on fire in this inflamed affair, full of tortured vignettes and hopeful glances that say so much more than words can ever express.

 

In the Mood for Love

Hong Kong. 2000. Dir Wong Kar Wai. With Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Maggie Cheung Man Yuk. 98min. Digital 4K. PG

The Hand (Extended Cut)

Hong Kong. 2004. Dir Wong Kar Wai. With Gong Li, Chang Chen. 56min. Digital. 15

created as part of EROS, an anthology about love and sex which also featured segments directed by Steven Soderbergh and Michelangelo Antonioni. Wong’s segment, which screens at this retro as a new director’s cut, is a sensual and melancholic tale that revisits his fascination with unrequited love. Gong Li is luminous as a high-class courtesan who sparks a sexual awakening in Chang Chen’s young tailor.

2046

Hong Kong. 2004. Dir Wong Kar Wai. With Tony Leung, Gong Li, Faye Wong, Takuya Kimura, Ziyi Zhang, Carina Lau, Chang Chen, Dong Jie, Maggie Cheung, Bird Thongchai McIntyre. 129min.

2046 delves into the pain of romantic heartache and the emotional baggage it leaves behind. Combining period nostalgia with science fiction, this is a visually stunning and beguiling exploration of loss, regret and relationships.

ALSO SCREENING DURING THE COMPLETE RETROSPECTIVE AT BFI SOUTHBANK AND THE ICA WHEN CINEMAS REOPEN

My Blueberry Nights

China/France/USA/Hong Kong. 2007. Dir Wong Kar Wai. With Norah Jones, Jude Law, Rachel Weisz, Natalie Portman. 90min. 35mm. 12A

Ironically, Wong Kar Wai’s star-fuelled US-filmed romantic drama is possibly his least loved film, seen as pretentious and wispy by the arthouse crowd, despite the best efforts of Jude Law, Nathalie Portman and Rachel Weisz in the leading roles and Christopher Doyle lush lensing. Singer Norah Jones makes her acting debut as a woman recovering from lost love by travelling around the US.

The Grandmaster

Hong Kong/China. 2013. Dir Wong Kar Wai. With Tony Leung, Ziyi Zhang, Chang Chen, Zhao Benshan, Xiao Shenyang, Song Hye Kyo. 108min. Digital. 15

Slick by even Asian standards this is precision filmmaking at its best but lacks heart and soul in tracing the story of a Grandmaster and his rise to spiritual evolvement. (Also coming to BFI player).

Ashes of Time Redux (2008)

Wong’s visionary addition to the wuxia martial arts genre is the sumptuously shot epic ASHES OF TIME REDUX that sees a swordsman (Leslie Cheung) wandering the desert recounting stories of love, lust, vengeance and betrayal. There are some outstanding fight scenes but it’s a sense of yearning, not action, which powers this gorgeously sand-swept, lyrical swords-and-solitude drama.

WONG KAR WAI RETROSPECTIVE | BFI Player and ICA Cinema 3 through FEBRUARY 2021 

 

 

Six films to look out for in 2021

2021 promises a bright new slate of films – here are six of this year’s most anticipated releases to get us through the next few months until the jabs bring freedom again. 

DEAR COMRADES | releases 15 January 2021 nationwide

Veteran Russian director Andrei Konchalovsky uncovers a little known episode of the Nikita Krushchev era – the Novocherkassk Massacre of June 1962 – in this elegant and restrained black and white feature filmed on academy ratio and starring his muse (and wife) Yuliya Vysotskaya. A follow-up to his last Venice offering – Sin – an imagined drama about Michelangelo – this is a more down to earth film but its refined gracefulness captures the gravitas of the incident with a lightness of touch and even a dash of sardonic humour. MT

TRUFFLE HUNTERS | releases 5 February 2021 nationwide

When it comes to the ancient art of truffle hunting dogs are worth their weight in gold, according to a new documentary that shows how man’s best friend is also a canny breadwinner. Truffles are prized delicacies in gastronomy. These ugly-looking tubers are part of the mushroom family but actually grow underground, and only dogs have the delicate skills to root them out. A single truffle can sell for thousands of euros. The sumptuously crafted doc plays out as a devotional tribute to these knobbly delicacies, elevating the earthy foodstuff into a food for the Gods in an appreciation for those who painstakingly dedicate their lives to tracking down the truffle and cherishing its storied gastronomic potential. MT

THE CAPOTE TAPES | releases 5 February nationwide

More from Truman Capote, this time in documentary form. A deep dive into the archives and fresh interviews, especially one with Kate Harrington who is introduced as Capote’s adopted daughter, (born to Capote’s “manager”) and who became his protege, living with him in Manhattan and learning the ways of New York society. The film explores the legendary writer’s fascination with this beau monde and then visits the many haunts where the good and the great hung out. An informative  companion piece to both Truman dramas: Capote (2005, with Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Infamous (2006, with Toby Jones). MT


ANOTHER ROUND | releases on 5 February 2021 nationwide

Vinterberg’s latest is a freewheeling comedy that trades on false bonhomie to reveal the hollow desperation at its core. Set in affluent semi-rural Denmark, the Mads Mikkelsen starrer has a wise and worthwhile look at a community sleep-walking into mediocrity, in a haze of alcohol. Like Festen and The Hunt before it, there is a deeper message to the gently imploding farce. The focus is a close-knit circle of friends united by their common ground as teachers in the local school. The drama ponders a reliance on alcohol and drugs in a bid to find meaning in comfortable but aimless lives. MT

PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN | 12 February 2021

Killing Eve’s Emerald Fennell is behind this sardonic female revenge flic but the firepower comes courtesy of Carey Mulligan. The writing is spot on in its feminine guile and intelligence but Mulligan takes it a notch even further adding gutsy gravitas to her outwardly ditzy blond lead. She plays 30 year old part time coffee barista Cassandra who seems to have her sh*t together despite being half-cut most of the time: what is her secret?. Much like the sparky heroine of Fleabag, Cassie is a mistress of the putdown, toying with her male suitors while being bored rigid by their facile advances. But there’s vulnerability too behind her sassy facade – and we soon find out why in the film’s tragic volte face. MT

APPLES |  releases 19 March 2021 nationwide

When it comes to films about pandemics nothing could be more appropriate than this lucid and gently-crafted Weird Wave debut drama from Greek director Christos Nikou, not to say that Apples isn’s subversive in a charming way.  The idea came to Nikou long before the coronavirus crisis outbreak and yet it perfectly captures the disarming effects of its character’s gradual meltdown. Aris (Aris Servetalis) becomes a victim of amnesia that slowly spreads through his local community and beyond. An interesting reflection on the creeping hysteria that has forced us into ‘limited personality syndrome’ over the past 6 months, all set to Alexander Voulgaris’ magical soundscape. MT

Konchalovsky and Vysotskaya | copyright BSS/AFP, Venice

SIX FILMS TO LOOK OUT FOR | January – March 2021

The Bee Gees: How Can you Mend a Broken Heart (2020)

Dir: Frank Marshall | Wri: Mark Monroe | Musical Biopic |  HBO Documentary Films

In this new biopic on HBO Frank Marshall takes on a mammoth task in charting the rise to fame and fortune of the legendary brothers Gibb. The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart shows how three guys from Manchester via the Isle of Man and Australia went from crooning popular ballads to the pulsating falsetto phenomenon that was Saturday Night Fever, as the ‘Kings of Disco’. The band were active for several decades generating one hit after another – over a thousand, including 20 No. One Hit singles – across a wide variety of genres.

In all started when brothers Barry, Maurice and Robin Gibb made up the trio taking over from The Beatles. The Bee Gees were Britain’s answer to the Osmonds and the Jackson 5, writing, harmonising and performing their own repertoire of songs and folksy ballads that included: Massachusetts, Words, and I’ve Just Gotta Get a Message to You. They had big hair and big teeth to match, and megawatt smiles.

A simple low budget disco hit of 1978 was the turning point of the ‘boys’ career. Masterminded by their producer Robert Stigwood and starring a snake hipped John Travolta, it captured the imagination of the New York press and set fire to a sizzling string of chart-topping, best-selling hits that had everyone jiving. Suddenly we were all rocking a Kevin Keegan haircut, and wincingly tight Satin trousers (the girls drawing the line at hairy chests). The Bee Gees music was percussive and dance-worthy but always deeply tuneful and their harmonies were made in heaven.

After a brief sashay through the 1960s and early 1970s, the film dedicates most of its running time to how band’s music achieved its famous sound after the producers arrived in the wake of the disco fever. We hear from Eric Clapton  whose input proved vital in moving the brothers to America in the mid 1970s and whose band Cream was also managed by Stigwood. Stateside they discovered a revitalising vein of creativity. Producing gurus Karl Richardson, Arif Marden (Atlantic Records), and Albhy Galuten emerge as the major musical facilitators behind the scenes providing engaging insight, particularly for those unfamiliar with their talents, and that included the lesser known band member Blue Weaver.

Barry Gibb is now the sole survivor of the Bee Gees and provides a thoughtful spokesman for the family’s eventful trajectory. From his home in Miami he comes across as a sensitive soul seemingly unaffected by superstardom, and reflecting poignantly on a past touched by the bitter rivalry of his younger (twin) brothers Maurice and Robin. Another clan member in the shape of Andy enabled the band to generate teenage fans with his own material, but he sadly lost his battle with addiction at only 30 (in 1988).

Enriched by interviews and archive footage, the only missing element is the romantic counterpoint so familiar in musical biopics (where were the groupies, the wives and the lovers? only Maurice’s first wife Lulu appears in interviews). The only surviver Barry Gibb emerges a unexpected musical hero who is still musically active and was awarded a Knights Batchelor for his services to the industry in 2018.

Surprisingly The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart is the first feature length doc about the band. An intensely enjoyable experience the film contains some cracking musical performances, and there’s much to discover about the brothers’ tremendous output even before they sang one falsetto note in their disco days and beyond. An ideal collectors item, then – to be revisited time and time again for the sheer dynamism of this musical archive. MT

NOW ON SKY DOCUMENTARIES | 13 December 2020 | DVD and DIGITAL DOWNLOAD | 14 December 2020

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dinner for One (1963)

Dir: Heinz Dunkhase, Franco Marazzi | Cast: Freddie Frinton, May Warden,

As we bid a less than fond farewell to 2020, families throughout the German-speaking world and Scandinavia will be gathering around their TV sets to enjoy butler Freddie Frinton getting progressively more sozzled in this 18 minute record of an old music hall sketch by Laurie Wylie and recorded in Hamburg by the German Station NDR on 8 July 1963; which has been regularly screened on German TV every New Year’s Eve since 1972.

Ironically nobody in Britain under the age of sixty has probably ever even heard of Freddie Frinton (1919-1968), while those old enough probably recall him co-starring with Thora Hird in the popular TV sitcom ‘Meet the Wife’. None would be more surprised than Frinton himself that more than half a century after his death he’s a household name in Germany, and the enquiry “The same procedure as last year?” (in English) is considered a thigh-slapper.

Even though performed in English and available for over twenty years in a colourised version it took nearly fifty years finally to be broadcast in Britain on Grimsby’s local channel Estuary TV in 2017. If you didn’t see this article until the New Year (like I did when The Guardian thoughtfully first wrote about it about in the edition of 1 January 1998), don’t worry. It’s now on YouTube! Richard Chatten.

NOW ON YOUTUBE

Peeping Tom (1960)

Dir: Michael Powell | Leo Marks | Cast: Anna Massey, Karlheinz Bohm, Moira Shearer, Maxine Audley | Brenda Bruce, Miles Malleson | UK Horror, 101′

Raymond Durgnat later observed that this glossy colour thriller made Free Cinema’s brand of realism look like “expurgated Enid Blyton”. It’s casual acceptance of prostitution and pornography as parts of everyday life (not to mention that we hear someone else’s bath running in the background in one sequence) must have made it an uncomfortable experience for the few people in 1960 who saw it; as it remains today. Hopefully it didn’t reach Manchester, where it would have given Ian Brady ideas.

Based on a story by London-born writer and actor Leo Marks, Peeping Tom centres on a filmmaker and serial killer (Karlheinz Bohm) who records his victims’ dying expressions of terror on a movie camera. Unaware of their content, his neighbour Helen (Massey) becomes fascinated by these documentaries and secretly decides to watch them.

The stunning opening sequence with Brenda Bruce is described by David Pirie in ‘A Heritage of Horror’ as “one of the few genuinely Brechtian moments in the history of the cinema. Every component – the reduced frame, the clicking of the camera motor, the whirr of the tape recorder (sic) and the clumsiness of the camera technique – is designed to enforce our awareness that we are watching a film.” But am I the only person in sixty years to have noticed that we also see the shadow pass over Ms Bruce of what is obviously TWO people, one with the camera mounted on their shoulder (not hidden under their duffle coat as per the plot)? This moment is seen twice since it’s repeated when we then see the film projected. Every time I see the film I hope this goof won’t still be there; but it always is. Richard Chatten.

BACK IN UK CINEMAS FROM 27 October 2027

The Salt of the Earth (2014) **** Mubi

wimDir: Juliano Ribeiro Salgado |Writer: Wim Wenders/Juliano Ribeiro Salgado | Doc Biography, 110′

This biopic of famous Brazilian photographer and philanthropist, Sabastiao Salgado, manages to be both illuminating and moving. Directed (and narrated) by Wim Wenders (pictured left at the Cannes premiere) and Salgado’s son Juliano, what starts as an harrowing and dramatic set of photographs from Africa and beyond, soon becomes a narrative with a truly inspiring and heart-warming conclusion, adding real weight to the story of this fascinating and creatively-driven man, now in his seventies.

From war zones in Ruanda and Bosnia to the deepest Amazon, the often shocking images show tremendous compassion, and a desire to connect with his subject-matter. As is often the case for the creatively committed, Salgado’s son Juliano received little attention as a child as the photographer  travelled the World, while his wife Leilia, archived and published his works, setting up exhibitions from home and organising financing and funding. There are shades of the late Michael Glawogger to his searingly shocking images and a touch of the David Attenborough to his work with his animals. A peerless tribute to humanity and the animal kingdom. MT.

CÉSAR 2015 WINNER – BEST DOCUMENTARY | NOW ON MUBI 

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

Night of the Eagle (1962) *** Talking Pictures

Dir: Sidney Hayers  Wri: Fritz Leiber Jnr | Cast: Peter Wyngarde, Janet Blair, Margaret Johnston, Anthony Nicholls, Kathleen Byron | UK Horror, 90′

Two years earlier Anglo Amalgamated had realised the horrific potential of modern technology in Peeping Tom. This smart British shocker shows how telephones and tape recorders. as well as tarot cards. are employed by a twentieth century witch to cast spells (aided naturally by a cat) in a terrific Freudian version of ‘Bewitched’, played for chills rather than laughs (just as director Sidney Hayers’ early use of zooms and a hand-held camera anticipates the much clumsier later use of these devices by other directors).

Having already portrayed an evil spirit in Jack Clayton’s The Innocents (1961), a pre-Jason King Peter Wyngarde is here beset by them himself; and, like any average man, is bewildered and embarrassed when he investigates the contents of his wife’s handbag (her bedside reading is ‘The Rites and Practises of Black Magic’). Meanwhile a bunch of very average men are oblivious of the office politics seething behind their backs amongst a poisonous coven of spitefully ambitious faculty wives (including a tart little cameo from the wonderful Kathleen Byron).

Based upon A.Merritt’s 1932 novel ‘Burn Witch Burn! (its US release title), the triumvirate that adapted it include the venerable fantasy writers Charles Beaumont and Richard Matheson, with one sequence of a THING attempting noisily to gain entry worthy of ‘The Monkey’s Paw’, but with a spool of magnetic tape instead of a pagan relic working its malign magic. 

The perpetrator wears an enormous fur collar creating the impression of a bird of prey that’s had a stroke, and also adding another layer to the traditional superstition that physical disability was the price paid for striking a pact with the devil. Richard Chatten.

ON TALKING PICTURES | AMAZON DVD

The Exit of the Trains (2020) DocLisboa

Dir: Radu Jude, Adrian Cioflânca | Doc, România 175′

Screening as part of the So Many Stories Left Untold strand in DOCLISBOA’s 18th Edition (14-20 January, 2021), this essay film directed by Radu Jude and first timer Adrian Cioflânca makes use of extensive archive material to reflect on the Romanian genocide of June 26th, 1941, in the town of Iasi, near the Moldovan border. It’s a gruelling testament to man’s inhumanity towards his neighbour, and makes for grim viewing not least for its rather overlong treatment.

The pogrom lasted four days and wiped out most of its  Jewish male population. Although occupying German forces had a hand in the tragedy the main perpetrators were actually locals who looted their Jewish neighbours’ property after killing them.

Jude opts for a similar, minimalistic style to his 2017 essay film Dead Nation  to chronicle this sudden outbreak of wartime ethnic cleansing. Playing out as ‘an exhibition of the dead’, a voice-over commentary by relatives or neighbours of the victims accompanies the grim images. There are also witness reports of the few who survived. The final segment shares an array of photos of the pogrom itself, shown in chronological order.

The heat of that June morning in 1941 was in stark contrast to the chilling events that would unfold in the Eastern Romanian town. Jewish citizens were assembled in front of the police station where they were beaten and kicked, some were shot. Later the perpetrators sent women and children home,  deporting the men in airtight cattle trains (150 per sealed waggon) to Podulloaiei, or Targu Frumos, whence the few survivors were taken to the labour camp of Ialomita.

The witnesses reflect on their next-door neighbours’ role in the genocide, their focus was to steal from the victims, stripping them of their flats, jewellery and money, having already exhorted money for failing to fulfil clemency appeals. Some of the photos are gruesome: particularly the face of a Mr. Lehrer, who was slaughtered right in front of his shop. One women was ordered by the authorities to pay a military duty for her soldier son, even though he had been killed. She was forced to sell her only means of livelihood – a Singer sewing machine. Most of the victims died of asphyxiation: “He died of his injuries and lack of air”. It’s a chilling mantra that resonates with the mass suffering going on today.

Survivors talk about the hours endured with the bodies of the dead or dying, before any escape was possible. The trains were transformed into mortuaries and some of the images are particularly harrowing. Finally, we see a photo of a ‘normal’ passenger train which stopped during the mayhem. It shows the carriages with bodies bundled together, like wood or bricks, before a mass burning – only a few were buried in the Jewish cemetery of Targu Frumos.

The Exit of the Trains is far more than a mere documentary: it is a witness report of how humans suddenly lose their humanity and descend into depravity. What sort of people put petrol into water bottles, then charge inflated prices to revel in the pain and slow death of their captives. AS

DOCLISBOA | 2021 | SO MANY STORIES LEFT UNTOLD | Berlinale 2020

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Moscow that Weeps and Laughs (1927) Devushka S Korobkoy

Dir: Boris Barnet | Cast: Anna Sten, Vladimir Mikhaylov, Vladimir Fogel, Ivan Samborsky, Serafina Birman | Silent Comedy Drama, 60′

The Russian silent cinema does it again with this wonderful comedy also known as Girl With A Hatbox, and starring Anna Sten. She’s such a delight that one watches this film in awe at the near-genius with which Samuel Goldwyn managed to transform her during the thirties into such a pudding – and one of Hollywood’s biggest industry jokes – attempting to mold her into a second Garbo.

Moscow-born Boris Barnet was of British extraction and directed this second feature at the age of 24 having already trained as a doctor. His first film Miss Mend (1926) was over four hours long, this runs at a watchable 60 minutes capturing much of the detail of life in a bustling Soviet city in the same vein as Dziga Vertov’s Man With A Movie Camera which would follow two years later.

The film is a portrait of female empowerment. Contrary to the Soviet ideals of the day, money-making and personal enterprise are seen as key to happiness through the eyes of Sten’s Natasha, a lively business-like young woman living in the country with her grandfather, making hats which she sells to a milliner’s shop in Moscow. The hats are high-fashion, the shop owner ‘Madame Irène’ elegantly exotic and high-living. The action is fast-moving – there’s a lottery ticket, a lovelorn young station master, a penniless student (a fluid mover with fetching Petrushka-type felt boots), a lovable old granddad out of many a communist propaganda film, and a pompous husband. Above all there’s a tremendous feeling of fun. A romantic angle sees her pursued by two suitors: an incompetent railway employee from her local train station far outside snowy Moscow whence she commutes everyday to her millinery shop; and a good-looking student whose rent she helps to pay.

Barnet throughout makes dynamic use for comic effect both of the frame and of the movement of characters within it, both indoors and out in the snow; an additional bonus being the fleeting views of twenties Moscow provided in some of the outdoors scenes. The entire cast throw themselves into the proceedings with infectious gusto; and one would have liked to have seen more of Eva Milyutina as the maid, Marfusha. Richard Chatten.

NOW ON KLASSIKIONLINE

AVAILABLE ON AMAZON

 

 

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

Dede (2017) **** Georgian Retrospective DOCLISBOA 2020

Dir.: Mariam Khatchvani; Cast: George Babluani, Nukri Khatchvani, Natia Vibliani, Girshel Chelidze; Georgia/Croatia/UK/Ireland/Netherlands/Qatar 2017, 97 min.

This first feature from Georgian documentarian Mariam Khatchvani is based on true events that took place at the outset of the Georgian Civil War in the remote mountainous community of Svaneti, far removed from the modern world. It pictures a patriarchal society where forced marriages, pride and tradition dictate the code of daily life. Dina is a young woman promised by her draconian grandfather to David, one of the soldiers returning from the war. Once a marriage arrangement is brokered by two families, failure to follow through on the commitment is unthinkable.

Khatchvani uses an evocative visual approach with minimal dialogue to tell the story of this woman essentially trapped by men. Gegi (Babluani) has just saved his best friend’s David’s life. Ironically this leaves David (N. Khtachvani) free to marry Dina (Vibliani). But in reality Gegi is in love with her – the two fell for each other, though their original meeting was so brief they never even exchanged names. When Dina reveals her true feelings to David, he simply replies: “you will marry me, even if you are unhappy for the rest of your life”. David then suggests Gegi join him for a hunting trip which ends in tragedy leaving this intelligent woman thwarted by the controlling men in her life.

DoP Mindia Esadze impresses with towering panoramas of the mountains, and the more domestic-based clashes between progress and tradition. Babluani is really convincing in her passionate fight for happiness, even though she hardly raises her voice. 

Khatchvani shows the backward life for Georgian women in a country where traditional Spiritualism and the Muslim faith both conspire against them, and men end arguments by simply stating: “a woman has no say in this matter”. The director is living proof that women can succeed – with this atmospheric arthouse indie made on a restricted budge. The feature leaves only one question: since both fatal accidents were shown off-camera, we are left wondering whether Girshel might have been the perpetrator in both cases. AS

SCREENING AT DOCLISBOA, GEORGIAN RETROSPECTIVE 2020 | AVAILABLE ON AMAZON VIDEO & PRIME, DVD (AMAZON) VIMEO ON DEMAND AND INDIEFLIX

 

Aalto (2020)

Dir: Virpi Suutari | Finland, Doc 103min

This comprehensive biopic about one of the greatest designers of the 20th century is both an affectionate tribute to the work of Finnish architect Alvar Aalto and a touching love story. Hugo Alvar Henrik Aalto (1898-1976) and his architect wife Aino Aalto shaped the modern world of design through their cutting edge buildings, furniture, textiles and glassware in much the same way as America’s Charles and Ray Eames and even Britain’s Terence Conran.

Virpi Suutari digs deeps into the archives with her writer and award-winning editor Jussi Rautaniemi (The Happiest Day in The Life of Olli Maki) to take us on a cinematic journey into life of a man whose designs were boosted by rapid economic growth in Finland and encompassed the lofty Finlandia Hall in Helsinki and the practical Paimio Sanatorium. For over five decades, from 1925-1978, the Aalto modernist aesthetic gave rise to iconic creations such as the Beehive light-fitting (1959), and the 406 armchair (1939) which remain essential style markers for the conoscenti. And even if you couldn’t afford a house designed by the Finnish luminary you could at least have one of his curvy Savoy vases (inspired by a Sami woman’s dress). These timeless modern creations could be made on an industrial scale but still retained a sense of simple luxury rooted in Finnish heritage from sustainable local materials such as birch wood, and glass blown in the littala factory.

Finnish documentarian Virpi Suutari shows how Alvar and Aino were not only talented architects but also a popular and cosmopolitan couple whose designs would become classics, defined by their practicality and precision. The Savoy vase won the Karhula-littala design competition in 1936 and would go on to be an iconic and elegant everyday item.

The film then travels further afield to show how Aalto’s civic and private buildings have stood the test of time and still associate well with their natural environment, from the private Villa Mairea in the late 1930s, to a university in Massachusetts, a pavilion at Venice Biennale and an art collector’s house near Paris, these were not ‘starchitect’ projects sticking out of the places surrounding them, but elegant and practical “machines for living” that provided for every eventuality. Aino and Alvar co-founded their furniture design company Artek in 1935, Aino becoming its first design director with a creative output that included textiles, lamps and interior design with clear and simply style, and this made way for complete design package, from lighting to door handles.

Opting for a straightforward chronicle approach Suutari shows how Aalto first set up a practice in his home town of Jyväsikylä in 1921 working on schemes that followed the predominant Nordic classism of the time. Meeting and marrying Aino Marsio in 1925 was the turning point, personally and stylistically, and after the birth Johanna later in 1925 (son Hamilkar would arrive three years later) the couple set off for Europe to discover the Modernist International style. But the groundwork for the practice was founded in Functionalism, and the Paimio tuberculosis sanatorium (1929-1933) was precisely that – providing a user-friendly and practical solution to healthcare (Aalto also designed most of the furniture with the famous Paimio chair devised to assist patients’ breathing).

From then on designs became more fluid with the increased use of natural materials and spatial awareness. The concept once again went from the outside inwards, with interiors and even small details such as fixtures and fittings all forming part of a cohesive aesthetic. One of Aalto’s main achievements was the invention of the L-leg system that enabled legs to be attached directly to the table, he also pioneered the practice of bending and splicing wood, leading to the curved look of the tables and stools. This also meant that furniture could be created on an industrial scale, through defined product lines that were also patented.


Aino and Alvar enjoyed a close partnership in work and in love, with Aino’s travels to source ideas for Artek often taking her away from home until her early death from cancer in 1949. During these times apart the couple kept in touch by a constant of letters, and these epistolary exchanges are woven into the narrative expressing a certain freedom that hints at an open marriage but also a healthy flexibility that helped to keep their relationship alive, according to Suutari’s take on events. This is a love story that brims with positive vibes, and clearly the couple drew contentment and creative energy from their secure family life and love for their children.

After Aino’s death, Alvar was not to be alone for long, he soon married young architect Elissa Makiniemi and the couple would go on to design a villa just outside Paris on their return from Venice. La Maison Louise Carre (main pic) was completed in 1959, for art collectors Olga and Louis who had rejected Le Corbusier deeming his concrete style too austere. Aalto again created a complete package for the couple, with garden design, garage and interiors (now open to the public since since 2007).

Enlivened by family photographs and plentiful archive footage, diagrams and painstaking research, Aalto is a pithy yet concise undertaking that will satisfy professional as well as dilettante appetites. We are left with an impression of the artists as warm, creative and compassionate individuals who would change the face of Finland not just for the few but for the many who continue to celebrate his design legacy all over the world. MT

www.alvaraalto.fi | PREMIERED AT CPH:DOX 2021

John Llewellyn Moxey | Obituary

Richard Chatten looks back over the life of prolific British TV film director John Llewellyn Moxey (1925-2019) best known for a string of hits such as The Saint; The Avengers; Hawaii Five-o and Mission Impossible

There were two John Moxeys. First came plain John Moxey who worked in British TV before making a few black & white thrillers for the cinema during the early sixties. Then came John Llewellyn Moxey, one of American colour TV’s busiest directors of the seventies.

Anyone unclear as to the difference between cinema and TV, and which is a director’s and which a writer’s medium, need only compare the most celebrated work of the two different Moxeys. The City of the Dead (1960) is an extraordinary-looking memento of the lost splendours of black and white cinematography; made for a poverty row outfit called Vulcan and obviously shot on a shoestring, The City of the Dead is equally obviously a film which – in the words of David Pirie – “remains the English horror film coming nearest to reproducing Val Lewton’s RKO work in the 1940s”. John Lewellyn Moxey’s The Night Stalker (1971), on the other hand, despite its clever script by Richard Matheson and beguiling leading performance by Darren McGavin (who reprised his part in a short-lived TV series), never looks like anything other than the glossy Aaron Spelling TV production that it is.

Christopher Lee in City of the Dead (1960)

An even greater triumph for the former Moxey, and probably his masterpiece, was Face of a Stranger (1964), a bleak little tale of greed, passion, deception and murder with a towering lead performance by Jeremy Kemp, co-starring a young Rosemary Leach, and made with a kinetic force that is pure cinema.

Moxey was born in Argentina where his family owned a plant. Back in Britain, he was taken at the age of ten by his parents to a film studio and resolved he would one day return to earn his living. World War II however intervened and he spent most of 1945 in psychiatric hospitals in Belgium and Britain after being wounded and suffering battle fatigue. Finally demobilised in January 1946, he was soon back at the studio visited as a boy, where he worked on a couple of dramatised documentaries for the RAF, became an assistant director and played small acting roles before a slump in the film industry led him to try TV.

By 1950 he had become a “vacation director” at the BBC who filled in while the regular directors were on holiday. There in 1955 he was offered a contract with the newly established commercial channel ITV as a full director. Producer John Taylor, who remembered him from their time together on official shorts, later gave him his first feature film assignment with Foxhole in Cairo (1960), a WWII yarn featuring Albert Lieven as Rommel, after which the two tried their hand at another genre piece with The City of the Dead.

Despite the presence of Christopher Lee in the cast, Moxey consciously set out to make the exact opposite of a Hammer Horror with this incredibly stylised production made for just £45,000 and set in a perpetually fog-shrouded Lovecraftian New England village constructed in its entirety on one enormous sound stage at Shepperton and shot in gothic black & white by veteran cameraman Desmond Dickinson. Although shot before Hitchcock’s Psycho, Moxey’s film anticipated so many elements in Hitchcock’s film – including unexpectedly dispatching its heroine (Venetia Stevenson) in a fashion almost a graphic as the death of Janet Leigh in Psycho – that it was actually accused of copying Hitchcock when finally released in America under the catchpenny title Horror Hotel in 1962.

Darren McGavin in The Night Stalker (1971-2)

Moxey was by then under contract to Anglo-Amalgamated, for whom he made six of the second features drawn from stories by Edgar Wallace. One of them, Ricochet (1963), comes gloriously to life upon the intrusion of the late Dudley Foster as a slimy blackmailer. Better still was Face of a Stranger, perhaps the best of all Merton Park’s Wallace adaptations, in which Moxey managed on a tiny budget and at breakneck speed to turn in a minor classic. The fact that financially the film was barely even a ‘B’ had the additional advantage of making it possible to conclude on an uncompromising note of lurid tragedy that would have been beyond the reach of a more mainstream production.

Klaus Kinski in Circus of Fear (1966)

His prolific TV output meanwhile included episodes of Z Cars, The Saint, The Avengers and The Champions. After his last and least feature film (also his first in colour), Circus of Fear (1967), Moxey was invited by New York producer David Susskind to direct a TV version of Dial M for Murder shot in London, and in America TV versions of A Hatful of Rain, a disastrous version of Laura and three episodes of the series N.Y.P.D. before coming back to Britain. His return proved fleeting, however, since a personal tragedy encouraged him to leave Britain again for what this time proved to be for good when early in 1968 he took a liking to California and decided to stay.

On the advice of a numerologist Moxey now added ‘Llewellyn’ to his professional name. It evidently worked, for he remained continuously in work for the next twenty years, his output including episodes of Run for Your Life, Mannix, Mission: Impossible, The Name of the Game, Magnum, P.I., and Murder, She Wrote, plus over forty TV movies (ending with Lady Mobster in 1988) and the pilot episode in 1976 of Charlie’s Angels.

John Llewellyn Moxey, film & TV director: born Hurlingham, Buenos Aires, 25 February 1925; married 1970 Jane Moxey, two sons

Notturno (2020) Mubi

Dir: Gianfranco Rosi | Italy, Doc 90′

Notturno is cinematic but too enigmatic in its broad brush impressionist study of everyday life in the war-torn Middle East.

Italy’s leading documentarian Gianfranco Rosi has spent three years filming life behind the battle lines in his latest film in competition at this year’s Venice Film Festival.

Endowed with his signature poetic gaze but lacking a formal narrative that made Fire at Sea so compelling, Notturno is essentially a collection of filmic episodes that drift from one to the next exploring the corrosive effects of the ongoing conflict on ordinary people. Wartime is clearly the theme behind these vignettes but without any point of contact we are left imagining, guessing and wondering rather than gaining worthwhile insight into the hapless lives, makes Notturno a largely dissociative and unsatisfying experience although some may enjoy its more freewheeling approach. And his camerawork is stunning.

The war serves as a latent but corrosive and destabilising presence for the local Libyans, Iraqis, Kurdistanis and Syrians who try desperately to keep their world together when all around them combat rages on. No finger is pointed at the perpetrators although ISIS is mentioned several times when a veiled and tearful mother takes a call from her frightened daughter.

The film opens to the rhythmic marching of soldiers in a training base, in the distance the thud of bombs and ammunition is heard as distant flames flare up in the night sky – whether they are explosions, or oil refineries is uncertain. A troupe of camouflaged female fighters let their hair down and relax drinking tea after their day is done. Five children settle down for the night on the floor of their main room where their mother will then wake the eldest at the crack of dawn to go hunting with an older man who pays him to spot flying prey. Another hunter drifts peacefully around his boat amid rushes and ducks oblivious to the danger, he carries a gun but the only gunshot is heard in the far distance. Each of these studies is revisited in finer detail.

The most disturbing segment explores the naive drawings made by children in nursery school. These feature black-masked men, torture and beheadings rather than innocent depictions of their parents, pets or playtime. A psychologist listens to their thoughts and recollections about being roused by ISIS to be tortured and witness the death of adult prisoners. The images are often sublime in contrast to the sorrowful subject matter.MT

TO ACCOMPANY NOTTURNO MUBI IS SCREENING A COMPLETE RETRO OF GIANFRANCO ROSI

The Splendour Of Truth: The Cinema Of Gianfranco Rosi, starting in February. Boatman (1993), Below Sea Level (2008), El Sicario, Room 164 (2010), Sacro Gra (2013), and Fire At Sea (2016) are an unconventional account of life on the margins, starting where the news headlines end.

Sacro GRA – 22 February
Fire At Sea – 23 February
Tanti Futuri Possibili – 22 February
Boatman – 5 March
Notturno – 5 March
Below Sea Level – 10 March
El Sicario, Room 164 – 17 March

The Heiress (1949) **** Tribute to Olivia de Havilland

Dir: William Wyler, Script: Ruth Goetz, Augustus Goetz | Cast:                                        Montgomery Clift, Olivia De Havilland, Ralph Richardson, Miriam Hopkins, Vanessa Brown, Selena Royle, Betty Linley, Ray Collins, Mona Freema | US Drama | 110mins

Dame Olivia de Havilland, who has died aged 104, claimed her second Oscar for leading actress in William Wyler’s stirring drama, based on Henry James’s novel, ‘Washington Square’. She had already won an Academy Award for Mitchell Leisen’s To Each His Own (1946) and was one of the last surviving cast members of the 1939 epic Gone With the Wind.

As the sister of Joan Fontaine, she was not only an acclaimed actress but also a feisty member of the Hollywood studio system and had had the presence of mind to successfully sue her employers Warner Brothers in the famous “De Havilland decision” – that was a victory not only for female performers but but actors in general.

The Heiress was originally a play by Ruth Goetz that successfully ran on Broadway, with Basil Rathbone and Wendy Hiller headlining. Betty Linley is the only one to survive from the play, here reprising her role as Mrs Montgomery. Goetz’s husband Augustus then adapted the play for the screen

It’s a silken, subtle piece really, about human psychology and the impact that loss can have on a person and on those around them. Ralph Richardson plays the imposing, exacting father to a naïvely young Catherine Sloper (de Havilland), an heiress in waiting to a fortune, both from her already deceased mother and eventually, her father; inexperienced in the ways of the world at an age when she should be out meeting potential suitors, rather than staying at home endlessly threading tapestries.

The entire production was beset by off-screen politics. In the Forties and Fifties the director was often chosen by the actors and, indeed, de Havilland chose Wyler, confident he would push her enough to get the requisite strong performance. Word is that Method actor Montgomery didn’t regard her as much of an actress though and this, combined with Ralph Richardson improvising through his scenes in the hope of stealing as much of the limelight as possible, made it a very bruising experience  for her. But de Havilland triumphs with a wonderful performance that garners Best Actress.

 

Wyler championed her and protected her throughout the shoot and their mutual support and belief in each other paid huge dividends, the film going on to take down four Oscars, including Best Actress for de Havilland, but also Costume, Art Direction and the last for a very interesting score by Aaron Copeland.

Copeland was a true talent, but what is less known is that Wyler was  uncomfortable with his score and is rumoured to have had it heavily rewritten and re-orchestrated. Not the first time an Oscar has been awarded to the public face of something potentially ghost written, and certainly not the last. Copeland was ahead of his time with his spare score but traditionalist Wyler was unsure of this new sound.

Clift was chosen over Errol Flynn for his more subtle and committed brand of acting and indeed, learned the piano for the scenes where he plays and sings, however, he was unhappy with his performance in general and walked out of the premier, disgusted.

The Heiress doesn’t run as a standard ‘play by the book’ drama and is so much the better for it, especially when compared to so much of the current derivative screen fare, and Monty was perhaps not the best judge of his outstanding talents and certainly too harsh on himself.  He is perfectly suited as the devastatingly handsome and charming love interest, whose true motives remain tantalisingly cloaked as the story unfolds.

Made in an era when depth of character, superlative crafting and inventive choices were the touchstone of filmmaking, this well-constructed drama is a tribute to a British star who has now taken her rightful place in the glittering Hollywood firmament.  MT

THE HEIRESS

 

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

 

 

Ran (1985) ***** BfiPlayer | Japan 2020

Dir.: Akira Kurosawa; Cast: Tatsuya Nakadai, Akira Terao, Jinpachi Nezu, Daisuke Ryu, Mieko Miyazaki, Mansei Nomura, HisashiI Igawa, Peter, Masayuki Yui; France/Japan 1984/85, 162min.

Director/co-writer Akira Kurosawa was seventy-five when he finished his final epic action drama Ran (Chaos), loosely based on Shakespeare’s King Lear, using elements of Japanese theatre it features epic scenes of battle and a rousing score by Toru Takemitsu. The script had been ten years in the writing and he still needed a Japanese producer for the twelve million dollar project. Finally, Frenchman Serge Silberman took the risk, and shooting started in June 1984 involving 1,400 extras (all with complete body armour) and 200 horses. Filming was dominated by the loss of sound designer Fumio Yamoguchi, and Kurosawa’s wife Yoko Yaguchi at the age of sixty-three. But the movie premiered at the first Tokyo Film Festival in May 1985, in the absence of the director.

In medieval Japan Hidetora (Nakadai) is an ageing warlord keen to retire from public life and leave his empire to his three sons Taro, (Terao), Jiro (Nezu) and Saburo (Ryu), the youngest and his father’s favourite. Saburo warns father that the brothers intend to start a war for total domination over him, but Hidetora fails to recognise the elder brothers’ resentments, and Saburo is banished for refusing the pledge of allegiance. As Saburo predicted, his older siblings soon take control leaving the old warlord basically homeless. Jiro and Taro’s wives Kaede (Harada) and Lady Sue (Miyazaki) have not forgotten Hidetora’s abusive reign of power that led to the genocide of Kaede’s family, and the blinding of Lady Sue’s brother, and Kaede is still keen on revenge. After a battle between Saburo and Jiro’s forces, the youngest prince is killed by a sniper. Hidetora dies from grief. Kaede then forces Jiro to kill Lady Sue and marry her instead. But after Lady Sue is killed by one of Jiro’s assassins, Kurogane (Igawa), Jiro’s loyal chief counsel and military chief decapitates Kaede. We are left with Kyomani the Fool (Peter) contemplating the scene of death and destruction. 

Kurosawa combined King Lear with a Japanese medieval epic. The feature, shot by Takao Saito and Asakazu Nakai, is an absolute knockout in visual terms. Kurosawa capitalises on his aesthetic brilliance with Kagemusha, to create something quite magnificent with the use of static cameras that leave the audience in almost in command of the battle scenes, are the warriors fight on. Production designer Emi Wada, who won an Oscar (1986) for his mastery  – Kurosawa lost out to Sidney Pollack’s Out of Africa in an exceptional year the saw Hector Babenco, John Huston, and Peter Weir in the competition line-up.

It is easy to envisage Kurosawa at this point in his career very much identifying with the King Lear figure – he was shunted around in his own country, where his features were seen as old-fashioned – suffering the same fate as Ozu decades earlier. Kurosawa had just shot four films in the last twenty years in 1985 – he was a marginal figure in Japan. Consequently, Ran only just broke even in Japan, but was much more successful in Europe and the USA – today’s total box-office is 337 Million $ and rising. Kurosawa’s influence on Western cinema is enormous: Hidden Fortress would inspire Star Wars, The Seven Samurai were re-made as the The Magnificent Seven and Sanjuro was transformed by Eastwood into the Italo-Western A Fistful of Dollar and For a few Dollar More. But the same goes for Kurosawa’s ‘borrowings’: Apart from Ran there is Throne of Blood (Macbeth), Lower Depth (from Gorki). The Idiot (from Dostoyevsky) and Ed McBains police thriller adapted by Kurosawa as High and Low.  Unlike Lear, Kurosawa leaves behind a treasure trove of achievements: world cinema would not be the same without him. AS

NOW ON BFiPlayer in celebration of JAPAN 2020 

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.

 

 

 

The Last Full Measure (2018) *** Digital

Dir: Tod Robinson | Action Drama, US 116′

As hero melodramas go The Last Full Measure slips down easily and looks slick and professional with a quality cast of William Hurt, Linus Roche, Samuel L Jackson and Diane Ladd, fitting the bill for midweek evening entertainment. Christopher Plummer also adds touch of class but can’t lift this out of the also ran section despite the movie’s scenic locations in the lush forests of Costa Rica and electrifying combat scenes.

The hero in question is paratrooper William H. Pitsenbarger who in April 1966 flew a helicopter into a fire in order to treat the wounded soldiers, and stay with them throughout their ordeal even during a sustained attack from the Viet Cong when he took a fatal bullet from a sniper, after saving at least 60 men. He was posthumously awarded the Air Force Cross, and much later also garnered Medal of Honour and promoted to Staff Sergeant.

Over thirty years later in 1999, puppy-faced Defence Department executive Scott Huffman (Stan) is tasked with finding out why Pitsenbarger did not get the upgrade in the immediate aftermath, and this mission obviously involves talking to other veterans who served at the time and who share Pitsenbarger’s story – Samuel L. Jackson; Ed Harris; Jon Savage and even Peter Fonda (in his Swanson at 79).

But this is underwhelming and cliched ridden stuff given the importance of the subject matter. And even the scenes involved with his parents (Plummer and Ladd) fail to be moving, and are full of well worn chestnuts (“you can’t teach your children values) and generic tributes which just feel banal, (and weird phrases like “he tapped his cleats for luck, before he went up to bed”). These scenes are naturally accompanied by cheesy music. All this combines with flashbacks to the battlefield which show random Vietnamese women soldiers shooting on US troops.

Todd Robinson is best known for White Squall. But sadly this film has nothing really exciting to bring to a party that is already full of ambitious and affecting stories, many of them from Vietnam. Although naturally the fact that the soldier’s action was impressive now, and in retrospect, there’s a remoteness to the treatment that makes it feel bland, despite its starry cast of veterans. MT

RELEASED DIGITALLY FROM on all major platforms | 1st June 2020

 

 

 

Human Rights Watch Festival 2020 | Now Online


The Human Rights Watch Film Festival is about documentaries and dramas that celebrate courageous people and those affected by Human Rights issues in their countries – which this year include: Armenia, Australia, Bangladesh, Bolivia, China, Guatemala, Germany, Iran, Macedonia, Mexico, Peru, Romania, the United States, and Vietnam. Ten of the 14 films selected for this 24th edition are directed by women.

In this latest online London Edition nine (out of 14) films will be streamed to UK audiences from 22 May until 5 June and each film has a live Q&A webinar discussion scheduled. For anyone wanting to get that festival feeling of watching a film followed immediately by a discussion, the festival has recommended timings to start streaming each film title, details here:

https://ff.hrw.org/london-digital-edition. Otherwise there is also a handy list of the free live Q&A’s here:

https://ff.hrw.org/venueinfo/london-digital-edition

Here are some of this year’s highlights:

Shot entirely on three mobile phones, MIDNIGHT TRAVELER follows the traumatic journey of Afghan filmmaker Hassan Fazili as he and his family escape across Europe from their homeland. It is not their choice to flee, and they are not doing so on economic grounds. Hassan’s life is in danger from the Taliban due to a fatwah.
Indigenous rights come under the spotlight in Claudia Sparrow’s doc MAXIMA which has been a favourite for audiences all over the festival circuit. It tells the story of Máxima Acuña (winner of the 2016 environmental Goldman Prize) a free-spirited and courageous woman who owns a small, remote plot in the Peruvian Highlands near another owned by one the world’s largest gold-mining corporations. The charismatic and indomitable Maxima is determined to preserve the rights of the locals in this stunning natural environment. (not in online selection)
China’s now-defunct ‘one only’ child policy has left millions of single women under immense social pressures to marry quickly, or be rejected by society. This crisis is explored in depth through the lives of three women in Hilla Medalia and Shosh Shlam’s LEFTOVER WOMEN (2019) that won the Best Director and Editing prizes at the Tel Aviv documentary festival DocAviv last year.

When she was 12 years old, the actress and filmmaker Maryam Zaree found out that she was one of many babies born inside Evin, Iran’s notorious political prison; Maryam’s parents were imprisoned shortly after Ayatollah Khomeini came to power in 1979. BORN IN EVIN cuts to the chase with an appealing and lyrical approach that sees Zaree confronting decades of silence in her family to understand the impact of trauma on the bodies and souls of survivors and their children.

As witnesses of the genocide of over 200,000 indigenous people, the Mayan women of Guatemala act as a bridge between the past and present in César Diaz’ Caméra d’Or-winning debut drama, OUR MOTHERS which follows Ernesto, a young forensic anthropologist who is tasked with identifying missing victims of Guatemala’s 36-year civil war. While documenting the account of an elder Mayan woman searching for the remains of her husband, Ernesto believes he might have found a lead that will guide him to his own father, a guerrillero who disappeared during the war. (Not in selection)

Rubaiyat Hossain’s impressive debut drama, MADE IN BANGLADESH, is the final film on Friday, 20 March. Best known for her 2011 film Meherjaan (2011) the director draws on her own life experience as a women’s rights activist, shining a light on the oppressive conditions in the clothing industry through the story of Shimu and her efforts to create a trade union against all odds. The screening will be followed by an in-depth discussion with Rubaiyat Hossain and special guests.

The films are streaming through CURZON HOME CINEMA and the cost is £7.99 for the majority. The Q&As are free.

 

Take Me Somewhere Nice (2019) *** MUBI

Dir: Ewa Sendijarevic | Drama | 91′

In her impressive debut feature, Ewa Sendijarevic takes a fresh and playfully cinematic approach to this semi-autobiographical expression of ‘positive experience of loneliness’ for the average multi-cultural person. To put it more simply, her central character Alma has grown up in Holland from Bosnian parentage and returns there to visit her father for the first time, with the gaze of an alien. Although this theme has been done before, most recently in a radical way by Jonathan Glazer in his mystery thriller Under The Skin, Take Me Somewhere Nice is a much more down to earth affair, enriched by its stunning visual approach and minimal dialogue. Alma is an Alice in Wonderland like character who goes on a Kafkaesque journey to visit her origins. She is accompanied by her cousin and his best friend, both from Bosnia, both unemployed and just as “care free” as Alma herself.

This triangle of characters represents a West-East European power balance between the privileged, and those left behind; the bitter and the opportunistic, the ones who would like to join the West and the ones who actively turn their back to it. This tension between the three bright young things occasionally becomes recklessly sexual, at other times gently attempts to forge a meaningful connection. Each frame completes the brightly coloured jigsaw of Alma’s eventful story, and even when it ventures into darker themes – a road kill incident and beach attack – still feels hopeful and energetic, in contrast to the clichéd portrayals of migrant misery and put-upon womanhood in the beleaguered Balkans.

Sometimes Sendijarevic inverts expectations, making us uncomfortable in a Brechtian way, and more acutely aware of traditional approaches the buzzy subject matter. TAKE ME SOMEWHERE NICE is also a film about using our contact with nature and the animal kingdom to celebrate being alive and being present in our world, wherever we lay our hats. Spirited performances and a lively colour palette make this journey fun and highly watchable. Sendijarevic believes in the Romantic – and laudable – idea that in “the moments we spend alone, preferably in nature, we can connect to our true selves in a spectacular way”. a sentiment that holds true now more that ever. A delightedly inventive and lively first feature. MT

NOW ON MUBI from 21 MAY 2020 | THE SPECIAL JURY AWARD WINNER | ROTTERDAM FILM FESTIVAL 2019 |

 

Heat & Dust (1983) **** Curzon World

Dir.: James Ivory; Cast: Julie Christie, Greta Scacchi, Shashi Kapoor, Christopher Cazenove, Zakir Hussain, Charles McCaughan, Patrick Geoffrey; UK 1983, 132 min. 

Heat and Dust was the twelfth (of twenty-seven) collaborations between director James Ivory, producer Ismail Merchant and screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. Based on the Booker Prize winning novel, the screen adaptation is a break with the social realism of the trio’s earlier features such as Shakespeare Wallah (1965). Its visual opulence made it by far their most successful feature at the box office to date.

Heat and Dust is a lush evocation of the sensuous beauty of India, sashaying between the 1920s and the 1980s in an epic of self-discovery, starring Julie Christie, Shashi Kapoor, and Greta Scacchi in her breakthrough role, with a strong supporting cast

When BBC researcher Anne (Christie) inherits the writings of her great aunt Olivia in 1982, she travels to India to find out more about the ‘scandal’ Olivia caused in 1923. The narrative tells the parallel story of both women. Olivia was married to the naïve and conventional Colonial Civil Servant Douglas Rivers (Cazenove), who had no clue about Olivia’s emotions. Bored by the stifling narrow-mindedness of the ex-patriate community, Olivia soon meets the sophisticated maverick Nawab (Kapoor) who, in his role as Viceroy, runs his private army, often indulging in violence on a grand scale. Olivia falls in love with him, but when she gets pregnant, decides on an abortion for fear of the obvious repercussions. Running away from the British hospital and the reactionary Chief Medical officer (Geoffrey) after the botched surgery, she flees to Kapoor, spending the last years of her life in a villa in the mountains where Kapoor, now deposed by the British, rarely visits her.

Anne traces Olivia’s steps, meeting on her way a young boisterous American would-be-monk (McCaughan), who is only interested in sleeping with her. But his body cannot cope with the foreign lifestyle and diet: Anne puts him into a train back to the USA. In her rooming house, she falls in love with Indor Lai (Hussain), her landlord. She too becomes pregnant, wanting to abort the baby at first, but changing her mind and planning to give birth in a hospital, near the villa, where Olivia lives out her lonely days.

Very much influenced by the writing of E.M. Forster – whose novels would be filmed later by Merchant/Ivory/Jhabvala – Heat and Dust is a not so nostalgic look back to the days of the Raj, carried by the spirited Scacchi, who injects a feeling of joie de vivre to the role, growing increasingly melancholy. The 1980s segments are comparably less remarkable. But the feature belongs to DoP Walter Lassally, who not only shot the New English Cinema (A Taste of Honey, Tom Jones) but also won an Oscar for Zorba the Greek. The languid but vivid images of British rule in India would go on to inspire a generation of cinematographers, taking their cue from Walter Lassally. Heat and Dust, whilst not as stunning as the more mature Howards End, is nevertheless a trend setter: The legendary David Lean finished his career with the Forster adaption Passage to India in 1984. AS

NOW ON CURZON WORLD AS PART OF THE James Ivory series. 

      

The Flavour of Green Tea over Rice (1952) **** Blu-ray

Dir: Yasujiro Ozu | Cast: Shin Saburi, Michiyo Kogure, Koji Tsuruta, Chishu Ryu | Japan, Drama 116′

The Flavour of Green Tea Over Rice tells the story of a marriage slowly imploding as Japan shifts into the modern world from its pre war traditions.

Like many luminaries of the last century Japanese legend Yasujiro Ozu (1903-1963) experienced some milestones – from the Manchurian Invasion to the Second World War and the atomic bombs that ruined Japan on an epic scale. But the director absorbed all this tragedy and distilled it into gentle domestic dramas reflecting on the virtues of humanity and the subtleties of relationships in family life as seen in Tokyo Story (1953) and Good Morning (1959).

The Flavour of Green Tea Over Rice (1952) cleverly skirted round the censors in telling a story of one family unable to overcome the shift from the traditional to the contemporary. Taeko Satake (Michiyo Kogure) comes from a wealthy family but her marriage to working class husband Mokichi (Shin Saburi) is in trouble, her refined ways and preference for wearing kimonos is at odds with his more down to earth attitudes, and the couple have no children to keep them together. During a spa trip with friends she voices her feelings of disenchantment. Meanwhile, her niece Setsuko (Keiko Tsushima) expresses her own desires to make a break from tradition dressing in the latest fashions and resisting her aunt’s attempts at matchmaking, pointing out how her own arranged marriage is clearly not the answer.

All this is handled with the lightness of touch and underlying humour so familiar to Ozu’s films. The tone is upbeat and there is still an affectionate playfulness to the couple’s discord with the usual daily tiffs that speak volumes about their troubled relationship. Taeko prefers cultural pursuits such as the  kabuki theatre while Mokichi is more at home riding his bicycle. But they eventually reach a compromise over a simple meal of green tea over rice they prepare together late at night after their maids have gone off duty. Meanwhile Setsuko finds a new boyfriend in the shape of Noburu, a young friend of Mokichi. The final scene is a cleverly enigmatic depiction of the one of the film’s pivotal themes. We see Setsuko running away from her lover down a Tokyo street: is she rejecting the idea of marriage or simply playing hard to get? Underlying tensions are teased out delicately in this graceful domestic drama from the Japanese master. MT

Blu-ray/DVD release on 18 May 2020 and simultaneously available to stream or buy via iTunes and Amazon Prime. On BFI Player from 5 June 2020 within a collection of 25 Yasujirô Ozu films released on BFI Player’s Subscription service as part of JAPAN 2020, a major new BFI season launching this month (more details below)

Quartet (1981) **** Curzon World

Dir.: James Ivory; Cast: Isabelle Adjani, Alan Bates, Maggie Smith, Anthony Higgins; UK/France 1981, 101 min.

Perched between Jane Austen in Manhattan and Heat & Dust; Quartet, based on the novel  by Jean Rhys 1890-1979) and adapted director by Ivory and Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, is a promise of what this talented duo would achieve later with the EM Forster trilogy of Room with a View, Maurice and Howard’s End. The autobiographically novel by Rhys, re-telling her affair with Ford Maddox Ford, was ripe for the big screen, and, once again, the lush look of it all compensates for some weakness in the script.

Set in depression era Paris in the mid 1920s, where everywhere pretended to be an artist, even though few actually created real art, we are introduced to Polish born art dealer Stephen Zelli (Higgins) and his wife Marya (Adjani), who was born – like Rhys – in the West Indies. Stephen is soon written out of the storyline – at least for a while –  imprisoned for selling stolen paintings. Marya, penniless and lonely, is taken under the wing of wealthy British couple HJ Heidler (Bates) an art promoter and his wife Lois (Smith), a painter. But the hospitality soon wears thin: Mr Heidler makes unwelcome visits to Marya, sleeping in the guest room, and Lois turns a blind eye. She is well that his actions caused the death of another hapless guest who committed suicide once he withdrew his favours. And when Stephen finally comes back into the picture, and has the chance to save his wife from the clutches of these ‘vampires’, he choses not to. Drama ensues – though without death and destruction. 

We see the world through Marya’s eyes: she is the epicentre, even though a rather phlegmatic Pernod-driven one, her senses blunted as she drifts into passive acquiescence. The novel was told in the third person, but the screen version never really gets into Marya’s mind, leaving her overly enigmatic, her motives explored. This state of limbo facilitates the Heider’s domination, as they feast on an innocent. So we are left in a moral quandary with these contemptuous characters: Heidler a cruel manipulator, his wife desperate to hold on to him and keep up the facade, even if it means hurting another.

Isabelle Adjani took home the awards for Best Actress at Cannes 1982 for Quartet, although she is slightly miscast in her of role of placid waif, and much more at home in Zulawski’s Possession (1981) which also won her the Cannes acting prize. Alan Bates and Maggie Smith on the other hand, are ideal as the evil ‘parents’, always ‘playing the game’ but never accepting the reality of their exploitations. Higgins is rather weak in a underwritten role. DoP Pierre Lhomme creates a visual paradise worthy of a real artist, letting light and watercolours play over designs and faces, creating a dreamlike atmosphere in contrast to the brutal psychological war of HJ Heider. Two years later, Lhomme would photograph Adjani in a similar role in Claude Miller’s Mortelle Randonne. One of the co-producers Humbert Balsam, would later commit suicide and become the tragic anti-hero in Mia Hansen-Løve’s Le Père de mes Enfants. AS

NOW ON CURZON WORLD AS PART OF THE MERCHANT IVORY SERIES.

https://youtu.be/M9louoYq9c8

The Bostonians (1984) **** Curzon World

Dir.: James Ivory; Cast: Vanessa Redgrave, Christopher Reeve, Madeleine Potter, Jessica Tandy, Nancy Marchand, Wesley Addy; UK 1984, 122′.

The Bostonians was James Ivory’s second Henry James adaptation, produced by Ismail Merchant with Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s agile script. Five years after The Europeans – the drama shares some of the fault lines, but is content-wise more convincing, largely down to the quality of the novel: James had matured considerably in the seven years separating these two painterly features.

Post-Civil War Boston 1875: cousins Olive Chancellor (Redgrave) and Basil Ransome (Reeve) are in a duel for love and much more: the soul of young Verena Tarrant (Potter). Olive is wealthy and a staunch suffragette, penniless Basil Ransome hails from Mississippi (practising in New York) but likes his women “the way, that they should not think too much, not to feel any responsibility for the government of the world.” In short he is an out and out misogynist.

Both Olive and Basil track their prey on stage, where Verena gives a rousing speech about women’s rights. Ransome would love nothing more that to make her fall in love with him. Olive sees Verena as her student, coaching to be even more efficient on the soapbox. To this end, she sends a fat check to Verena’s father, the charlatan Dr. Tarrant (Addy), and sweeps her away. In the course of their relationship, Verena prospers even more than Olive could have anticipated. She also makes the young woman take an oath, promising never to marry. This is too much for Ransome to bear, he plays the romantic seducer (but is clearly on the spectrum), and the crying Verena succumbs to his proposal. “It is to be feared, that with this union, so far from brilliant, into which she was about to enter, these were not the last she was destined to shed.”

This is Vanessa Redgrave’s film, perfectly cast, she not only looks the part but exudes charm and perseverance: “her eyes had the glitter of green ice”. (Well, we all know they’re blue). Reeves, oscillating between lover and social climber, is much better than expected. Unfortunately, debutant Madeleine Potter’s Verena is disappointing, to say the least. The subtle complexity between Verena and Olive’s dynamic comes across as more obvious than in the novel. But they shrink from enlarging the subtext to a point where it would become manifest. The script tries to flesh out the supporting characters but they remain cyphers: Jessica Tandy’s libertarian Miss Birdseye, and Nancy Marchand’s wise and pragmatic Mrs. Burrage. And The Europeans once again lacks fluidity in its stately scene progression, Ivory following confrontation with more confrontation – the audience is kept on its toes – but so much so that the overkill leads to a certain apathy. Walter Lassally’s images, he had just finished Heat & Dust for Ivory, are subtle, and do not drown the narrative in beauty, in this build up to their masterly EM Forster trilogy A Room with A View, Maurice and Howard’s End. AS 

NOW ON CURZON WORLD AS PART OF THE MERCHANT IVORY SEASON

The Europeans (1979) *** Curzon World

Dir.: James Ivory; Cast: Lee Remick, Tom Woodward, Robert Acton, Lisa Eichhorn, Tim Choate, Kristin Griffith, Norman Snow, Nancy New; UK 1979, 90 min.

This is the first Henry James adaption by director James Ivory and screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. The Europeans (1984) and The Golden Bowl (2000) were still to come. The choice of titles makes it clear the filmmakers went for frothy parlour stories, and not the cruel social satire that would follow in Wings of the Dove (1997). The Europeans as a feature film is pure Henry James with Jhabvala clinging to the page, and DoP Larry Pizer going all out for dazzling colours in the New England autumn.

The Wentworth family are staunch WASPs, slightly repressed, but their wealth makes up for any emotional shortcomings. Two bohemian cousins arrive from Europe: the enigmatic Eugenia Münster (Remick), a baroness by marriage, is looking for love, her husband on the brink of divorcing her. Felix (Woodward) is interested in the arts – but neither make much effort to fit in with the Wentworth clan whose gaucheness provides a n entertaining counterpoint  to the siblings’ liberated spirit of the old world. Eugenia has her eye on Robin Ellis (Acton), the most urbane of the Wentworth clan, a merchant who has been to China. But her deceit – and some double crossing involving Clifford (Choate) destroy a happy-ending: she will return to Europe, lying to the very end about the annulation of her marriage to Ellis, who will eventually marry the less exotic but honest Lizzie Acton (Griffith). Felix, meanwhile, decides to stay in the US and opts for a match with Gertrude (Eichhorn).

The Europeans was Henry James’ third novel at a time when he was still moored to his homeland. Script and framing overload the feature with a sumptuous aesthetic, and even though James’s text is untouched, one has the feeling the protagonists’ actions are secondary. Close-ups often stultify the flow of the stately scenes, and this diminishes the characters’ inter-actions. The grand themes are  often lost in the overriding beauty of the visuals – making some crave for more of James’ work, even though The Europeans was very much an early novel, a far cry from the mature and so much more daunting mature work. A mediocre cast does not help, and even though this feature was the most successful of the blooming Merchant/Ivory/Jhabvala trio, it was rather meekly received in box-office terms. AS

NOW SCREENING AS PART OF THE MERCHANT IVORY SERIES ON CURZON WORLD.   

Curtiz (2019) *** NETFLIX

Dir.: Tamas Yvan Topolanzky; Cast: Ferenc Lengyel, Evelin Dobos, Andrew Hefler, Scott Alexander Young, Declan Hannigan, Nicolett Barabas, Caroline Boulton, Christopher Krieg; Hungary 2018, 98 min.

The shooting of Casablanca, one of the most iconic Hollywood features, is the centrepiece of this ambitious debut drama from Swiss-Hungarian writer/director Tamas Yvan Topolanzky. The result is not a disaster, but underwhelming: Curtiz will be best remembered for making us want to see the 1942 classic again, and with new eyes. The film also explores the troubled relationship between Curtiz and his daughter, which was never resolved (according to the final credits).

Born in Budapest in 1886 as Mano Kaminer, Michael Curtiz arrived in Hollywood in 1926 and would direct a string of masterpieces: The Adventures of Robin Hood and Mildred Pierce being the most outstanding in a career that would showcase his talents across the genres, with 177 feature films. Casablanca, for which he won his only Oscar, was bedevilled from the very beginning. Studio boss Jack L. Warner (Hefler) and producer Hal B. Wallis (Young) had a fight on their hands to keep Curtiz and Johnson (Hannigan), the censorship head, from tearing each other’s heads off. Curtiz was a mixture of fellow Austro-Hungarian directors Erich von Stroheim and Otto Preminger. But Warner was a bottom line man (“I don’t want it great. I want it Tuesday”), and the spiralling production budget made him concerned that Bogart and Bergman would walk away – they were critical of the  script. Curtiz (“Don’t talk to me when I am interrupting) was a well known womaniser and but his grasp of English led to some hilarious misunderstandings during the making of Casablanca: there is an amusing interlude when the prop master misinterprets Curtiz’ request for ‘puddles’ during the rainy scene at the Gare de Lyon, bringing five poodles on the set, amid much consternation. But the joke was on Curtiz who also had a long running argument with actor Conrad Veidt (Krieg), a German emigrant who often cast as a Nazi; but vehemently insisting that not all Germans were Nazis, a fair point.

The director flagrantly cheated on his third wife Bess Meredyth (Barabas), an accomplished actor and writer, seducing young women, by using his director star power. The arrival of his daughter Kitty (Dobos), from an earlier marriage in Hungary, made things even more complicated. In a very ugly scene, we see see Wallis trying to rape Kitty, unaware she is Curtiz’ daughter. The director (“Magic happens on the casting couch”) was also disinclined to help his sister leave a Hungarian ghetto. She and her family were eventually deported to Auschwitz, she was the only survivor. Finally, we come to the end of shooting, when the small cardboard plane, which will carry Elsa and Laszlo to the USA, is half hidden in fog and surrounded by Lilliputian soldiers, to make it look bigger.

Curtiz is stylishly shot by DoP Zoltan Devenyi, his roving camera often mimicking the style of Christian Matras in La Ronde: the re-imagining of the original black-and-white photography is stunning, although the crane and circular rotation shots are overdone. This is a film where the aesthetics beat out a script clinging to the sensational, and parlously uncritical of any sexism. AS

NOW ON NETFLIX

 

   

Love and Death on Long Island (1997) **** Bfi Player

Dir: Richard Kwietniowski | Cast: John Hurt, Jason Priestley, Sheila Hancock |  drama, Canada, UK 93′

John Hurt is the reason to watch this inventive social satire set in Nova Scotia, Canada. Age almost always trumps beauty if the older party has style and charisma – and Hurt has this in spades when he plays a raddled English writer who falls under the spell of an American teen-movie star in the shape of Jason Priestly in Richard Kwietniowski’s award-wining sophomore drama, which he adapts with wit and verve from the novel by Gilbert Adair.

Crumpled but confident widower Giles De’Ath (Hurt) is long in the tooth, but totally naive to the newfound gadgets of modern life such as the latest TV and video scene. He discovers the good-looking young actor Ronnie Bostock (Priestley) who is setting the night of fire for teenage viewers (a kind of poor man’s version of Timothée Chalamet), and who opens his eyes to all kinds of wonderful possibilities when Giles accidentally buys a cinema ticket to the wrong screening: “This isn’t E.M Forster!” he exclaims, but he is transfixed to his seat by the appearance on screen of Ronnie Bostock in a film called . “Hotpants College 2,”.

Giles is smitten and gradually works his way through the Bostok ‘ouevre’ in his local video stores, including such outing as “TexMex”, emerging as a rather scuzzy upperclass roué. Eventually he sets off across the pond in search of his unlikely crush whom he tracks down near the Hamptons.

Ronnie awakens Giles’ own desires and broadens his horizons as a muse who also stands to benefit from the connection. Like most great relationships – it offers a win win opportunity that beats as it sweeps – Ronnie benefitting from Giles’ superior knowledge with a chance to brush up his own credentials; his girlfriend Audrey (Lowei) completing the trio.

The film widens into a social commentary on America with its modern day gods: trainers and takeaway pizzas; and the detail is so accurate it actually adds to the dramatic heft. But when Ronnie eventually appears in the flesh, he pales in comparison to Giles’ suave elan –  and it’s here that Hurt’s superior acting skills also gain the upper hand – exposing their different worlds with startling clarity, but providing much mirth into the bargain. MT

NOW AVAILABLE ON Bfi Player 

 

1917 (2019) ***** Mubi

Dir: Sam Mendes | George Schofield, Dean-Charles Chapman, Andrew Scott, Mark Strong, Benedict Cumberbatch | UK War epic, 118′

This exhilarating epic allows us to experience the terrors and triumphs of the First World War at first hand as we follow two young soldiers tasked with taking vital dispatch across enemy lines in France in April, 1917.

The green pastures of spring scattered with snowy cherry blossoms never looked so welcoming as they did during those final months of conflict. Scenes of hellish devastation are in brutal contrast to this rural idyll and make 1917 an exquisitely poignant memoir to the pity of war. Sam Mendes’ single-shot action thriller is audacious and deeply affecting adding another poignant chapter to the combat cannon. Working with young screenwriter Kyrsty Wilson-Cairns, the film’s structural flaws are eventually overcome by the sheer magnificence of this worthwhile tribute to the many who lost their lives defending liberty.

Dedicated to Mendes’ great-grandfather, 1917 also serves as a emotional touchstone for those of us who lost family in the conflict. Boyish young men who blithely volunteered to serve their country, but who never returned from the carnage, losing their lives, their innocence and hope in the hostilities. 1917 also gives the crew a chance to show off some technical brilliance – Roger Deakins’ agile camerawork is one of the most gratifying aspects of this saga, ambitious in scale but intimate in its simple premise: a race against time and in hostile terrain to deliver a life-saving letter.

In a glittering cast, the two leads in question, George Mackay plays lance corporal Schofield and Chapman a lance corporal Blake, don’t initially inspire our confidence. But as the narrative gets underway, Schofield triumphs as a naive and rather aimless soldier whose courageous qualities eventually come to the surface when the going gets tough. The two are given an almost fatal mission by Colin Firth’s heavyweight General Erinore. To cross the trenches via No Man’s Land into purportedly vacated enemy territory, and personally serve a hand-written letter that will stop 1600 soldiers charging to their untimely deaths. The kicker is that Blake’s brother is in the regiment concerned, and so he has a vested interest in his perilous mission.

George MacKay really looks the part: he could be your own great grandfather or uncle. It’s a demanding role: mentally and physically, but he rises to the occasion that tests his acting skills to the limit. And by the end we’re behind him and invested in his journey and the extraordinary and unexpected challenges that are thrown his way. The pacing is breathless, occasionally relieved by more upbeat scenes: at one point Schofield meets an almost happy go lucky regiment who play a vital part in the grand finale. This gives Mendes a chance to enrich his drama with textural and cultural references and convincing characters, even adding flinty humour.

Expertly edited by Lee Smith, this surreal reverie glides along seamlessly the occasional bout of brutal violence tempered by tender moments that introduce a civilian dimension of the conflict – we see Schofield comforting a young French woman and her tiny baby giving them milk from recently slaughtered cows. And although the war is full of horror and hostility, 1917 highlights the intensity of the feel good factor: the kindness of strangers and the goodness of mankind. MT

ON MUBI

 

 

The Assistant (2019) ** Bfi Player

Dir: Kitty Green | Drama, 87′

The Assistant follows the day to day life of an office worker during her trial period in a new company. The film captured the imagination of critics in Berlin this year when a rumour went round it was based on the empire of one Harvey Weinstein, the disgraced film producer, and so plausibly chimed with the #MeToo movement. Although the setting here is New York.

Jane is a rather glum and introverted character who never smiles or shows a spark of enthusiasm or enterprise when she lands her dream job, beating hundreds of others to the post as a production company assistant. We first see her outside her Queens apartment, where a cab is waiting to drive her to the office in the early morning. Shot in a subdued colour palette, this is a tonally subdued affair that sees the film’s executives deeply involved in their workload; not a sparky creative atmosphere – so clearly the action takes place in the ‘backroom’ ie the legal or administrative side of the business – although this is never made clear.

Jane is a diligent and dedicated worker who maintains a sombre presence, rarely smiling and rocking a drab teeshirt, and dowdy trousers as her work outfit, her pop-socks drifting down to show her bare ankles as she goes about the daily routine of checking travel itineraries, photocopying, and making refreshments in the large office she shares with two other more senior assistants who are mostly absorbed in their own work. Her own poker-face certainly doesn’t invite a positive dynamic between them, and none of these characters has any chance to inject a sardonic twist to their performances given the dumbed down almost monosyllabic dialogue.

Although clearly a film with a serious and worthwhile message to offer, as a piece of entertainment  The Assistant is light years away from its obvious companion drama The Devil Wears Prada, a more sparky affair with some fireworks and fun and games up its sleeve, although roughly the same agenda.

Jane’s boss, Tony Torn, never appears but we certainly get a jist of his iron fist on his staff through various ‘phoncalls. But this could be any office, in any town, in any country with a strong hierarchy and a bottom line driven by profit and a need to deliver. And besides, Jane has no backlife, as far as we’re led to believe, apart from the final scene where she receives a loving phone call from her father, just as warm and convincing as the rest is cold and alienating. This brief scenes is the only tonal shift in the narrative. Other moments like this, amid the buttoned down drabness, could have added dramatic tension – and a more enjoyable outcome.

The fact that Jane is chauffeur-driven to work is a perk that many office workers would welcome, as they tool in from the suburbs to put in the hours in another gruelling day. This is what work is like for most people. It is not a party, but a hard graft to the top – and the only thing that can make it enjoyable is the positive attitude and determination that you bring with you to work. And Jane seems an isolated character whose simmering discontent comes to a head when a new assistant Sienna (Kristine Froseth) appears on the scene and appears to receive a more favourable reception. Sienna is just as pretty, but perkier, and brings a breath of fresh air to proceedings. Although Jane assumes that – wrongly or rightly – through a few randoms clues, that the young girl from Boise, Idaho, is a product of the casting couch. But because Jane has no confidents – in or out of the office – this strand cannot proffer any grist to her character’s mill to empower her. And this is the big flaw in Green’s script. Although our sympathies should be with her, she emerges an irritating morose, moaner by the end of the story: is that really what Green intended? Certainly a film to set tongues wagging. MT

NOW SHOWING ON BFI PLAYER

The Whistlers (2019)

Dir/Wri: Corneliu Porumboiu | Cast: Vlad Ivanov, Catrinel Marlon, Rodica Lazar, Antonio Buil, Agusti Villaronga, Sabin Tambrea, George Pisterneanu | Thriller, 97′

This Noirish Romanian arthouse thriller is not the first to use whistling as a vital part of its storyline. Last year’s Locarno Critics’ prize winner Sibel showed how vital this ancient style of communication is in isolated parts of the World. And La Gomera is one of them. The craggy hideaway in the Canaries is where a dark and sinuous double-crossing drama plays out. It also travels to the Romanian capital Bucharest, and Singapore. Swinging backwards and forwards in time tense The Whistlers is a rather forboding film with a retro feeling of the Sixties and another saturnine performance from Porumboiu’s regular Vlad Ivanov (who appearing in Tegnap and Sunset).

He is Cristi, a detective under surveillance from his colleagues who is rapidly finds out that this special language from local Spanish-speaking gangsters can keep him under the radar. Porumboiu’s clever lighting techniques and a ravishing score of modern classics and operatic arias keeps the action pumping to a surprising finale.

You may find the plot rather complicated and the crooks hard to identify (I did), but basically it goes as follows: Vast wads of illegal euros are being laundered in a mattress factory outside Bucharest whence they’re transported to the crime ring in Spain and Venezuela. The factory owner and middle-man is a petty criminal called Zsolt (Sabin Tambrea) and his girlfriend Gilda (Catrinel Marlon) seduces Cristi in the sexually-charged opening sequence (which takes us back to Basic Instinct). Meanwhile Zsolt’s boss Paco (Agusti Villaronga) instructs another honcho Kiko (Antonio Buil) to teach Cristi the whistling lingo. The place is riddled with surveillance cameras and no one can really be trusted in this edgy atmosphere of uncertainty so the arcane hissing comes in handy as a form of covert communication.

Meanwhile, Cristi’s sidekick Alin (George Pisterneanu) and their boss Magda (Rodica Lazar) make up the Police contingent. All these characters are out for themselves. La Gomera takes a leading role   with its inaccessible stony beaches, crystal waters and dense wooded hillsides. The final coda in Singapore doesn’t quite dovetail into the film and has a whiff of being added just to spice things up for the glamorous reveal in a light show taking place at the Gardens by the Bay.

In true noir style The Whistlers is not a long film and slips down easily – there are no deep messages here – despite its rather intractable plot. An ambitious and intriguing addition to the Romanian filmmaker’s oeuvre. MT

ON CURZON WORLD FROM FRIDAY 8 MAY 2020

 

 

Jihad Jane (2019) **** Digital release

Dir.: Ciarán Cassidy | Doc with Colleen LaRose, Jamie Paulin Ramirez, Lars Vilks; ROI 2019, 94 min.

The fear of terrorism looms large.  And nowhere less so than America where isolated communities are particularly prey to online influences. In her first feature length documentary Irish director/writer Ciarán Cassidy shows how easily the disenchanted can be taken over by terrorism. Jihad Jane examines how two American women sought refuge on the internet – sucked into terrorist propaganda as a means of making something of their lives.

Colleen LaRose (*1963) is described by her former boyfriend Kurt “as a normal country girl”. How wrong he was. In actual fact, Colleen, from Pennsylvania, had been raped by her father since the age of seven. Running away at only thirteen, she found herself coerced into becoming a sex worker before marrying a ‘client’ two years later. Jamie Paulin Ramirez (*1979), from Colorado, has a less obvious history of abuse: she had been married three times, her first husband who she married when barely a teenager, was abusive. They became known as ‘Jihad Jane’ and ‘Jihad Jamie’, ‘the new face of terrorism”. Arrested in 2010 in Waterford, Ireland, they were given lengthy prison sentences. The ‘third’ man of the “terror cell” was an autistic teenager, Mohammed Hassan Khalid from Baltimore/Maryland. He was only fifteen at the time of his arrest – but fared not much better than then two women at his trial.

Their supposed victim was the Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks, who had ‘insulted’ Islam, by putting the head of the prophet Mohammed on a dog. Vilks seems to be a provocateur with the super-ego of a narcissist. He actually comes off much worse than the women: somebody who makes a living from gathering negative attention, much like the right-wing propagandists in the US media, who are being paid handsomely for their efforts.

Everyday life for Collen LaRose meant looking after her elderly mother and her partner’s ailing father. Not much time for romance. But on the net, Jihad promised both: marriage to a fighter and a life life with purpose, creating self-esteem for the first time. For Colleen the dream came true – even if it was short. She shared the fanatical beliefs of a man she met on holiday in Amsterdam – just a brief sexual encounter was enough to raise her self-worth, as she imagined herself punishing ‘infidels’ including Vilks, who had been targeted with a ‘fatwa’. And Jamie Paulin Ramirez took her six-year old son with her to Waterford to enforce said fatwa – but not before she married Ali Damache a day after her arrival, after meeting him in a chatroom. The personal and the political – so closely connected. No surprise then that LaRose grassed the plot to the authorities because the gratification was taking too long for her: like all would-be revolutionaries, she wanted action NOW.

There is a rather sad epilogue: although the documentary is set between 2008 and 2010, LaRose did not get a prison release until 2018. She is a Trump voter – after eight years in jail. “I’m somebody now”, she proclaims, clutching an armful of hand-knitted stuffed animals.

DoP Ross McDonald shows an impressive snowy Colorado, a welcome change to the ‘talking heads’. Cassidy’s portrait of evil is compelling and makes for an intriguing insight into middle America without denouncing LaRose whose life could have put to a better purpose than terrorism had she had a secure childhood. AS

ON ALL MAJOR PLATFORMS FROM 11 MAY 2020

https://youtu.be/iPVu1ukjkhA

Testimony (1987) ***** Streaming

Dir.: Tony Palmer; Cast: Ben Kingsley, Sherry Baines, Magdalen Asquith, Mark Asquith, Terence Rigby, Ronald Pickup, John Shrapnel, Robert Stephens; UK 1987/8, 151′.

British director Tony Palmer (Bird on a Wire) has an impressive track record, mostly connected to music, and particularly composers. His portrait of Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975) is easily his masterpiece. Although Palmer is criticised for basing his biopic on the controversial Solomon Volkov, the aesthetic brilliance of the feature, and an imaginative script by David Rudkin produce a feast for ears and eyes. This tour de force is crowned with Ben Kingsley as a brilliant Shostakovich, DoP Nic Knowland (The Duke of Burgundy) producing grainy black and white images, which are often not discernible from the archive footage of the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s, or the quotes from early Eisenstein films.

Palmer presents his film as a metaphorical duel between Shostakovich and Stalin (Rigby). Even though, in reality the two never met, and only spoke once to each other on the ‘phone, Stalin is a constant presence in the composer’s life. Married to the independent Nina (Baines), with two children, Gala and Maxim (Magdalen and Mark Asquith), Shostakovich had a rather turbulent family life. But the ordinary quarrels were forgotten at night, when the pair cuddled up in bed, listening to noises on the staircase, generally signalling some confrontation between neighbours and the Secreti Police.

The composer slept with a packed suitcase (warm clothing and toothbrush) under his bed for decades. Shostakovich’s name was on Stalin’s ever growing growing list of enemies (as was Rachmaninoff), the dictator had noted the composer’s opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District in 1936. Stalin and his entourage had left the theatre in anger, and Shostakovich had to withdraw his Forth Symphony, simply to stay alive. He took to composing music for the cinema, and we watch him in the cutting room, discussing the score with the director. It should be said, that both Stalin and Shostakovich have much more of a physical presence than a verbal one. The composer seems often resigned, biting his tongue, whilst Stalin is never happier that when he is going though the list of artists who he can eliminate with a stroke of his pen. Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony, actually called an apology of a Soviet composer for earlier mistakes, brought him back into favour. His greatest triumph was the war time composition of the 7. Symphony, the Leningrad, which got him on the cover of Time. But all this was forgotten when he (and other composers such as Prokofiev and Kachaturian) were accused by Polit-Bureau member Zhadanov (Shrapnel) at the Congress of Soviet Composers in 1948, to have written music that indulged in Formalism, avoiding any positive messages for the proletariat. But a year later, Stalin telephoned Shostakovich asking him to attend the International Peace Conference in New York. There the question of Formalism was raised again, and Shostakovich accused himself and other composers – Stravinsky was one – of the error of making music for the sake of the form. Stalin died in 1953, and Palmer added a dream sequence in which the dead Stalin visits the dying composer, who tells him: “Looking back, I see nothing but ruins, but mountains of corpses.”

There are unforgettable images: Stalin’s huge stone head rolling toward the composer, threatening to crush him. And then there is the scene with the composer on a raft, playing the piano, sinking deeper and deeper into the water, with Lenin’s sculpted head on fire. Most of the music is played by the London Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Rudolf Barshai – with all the music pieces shot in colour.

Testimony was not really a critical success at its opening but has matured into a classic, Palmer triumphing, but never again reaching the heady heights of perfection with this idiosyncratic, extravagant, essayist reflection on art and politics. AS

NOW STREAMING ONLINE    

  

Magic Medicine (2018)

Dir/Writer: Monty Wates | UK Doc | 79′

In 2012 a team of medical researchers explored what would happen if psilocybin was given to long term depressives.

Four years in the making, Monty Wates’ intriguing documentary chronicles the progress of the first ever medical trial offering the psychoactive ingredient of magic mushrooms to three volunteers suffering from clinical depression. We also meet the pioneering staff running the trial.

The hope is that this controversial substance will have the power to transform millions of lives, by scrambling and re-setting the brain’s function and enabling patients to identify what happened, to process it and, crucially, to move on. As David Lynch put in the recent biopic The Art Life (2016) “there has to be a big mess, before something can change”. The main setback has been government controls that strictly limit human testing.

Monty’s ground-breaking film reveals what happens when each of the candidates undergoes a supervised “trip” in a darkened room. During the short procedure, each is taken back into the deep recesses of their childhood to unlock trauma that has affected their lives and caused them to suffer deep sadness, impinging their ability to function at an optimum level. One of the trail volunteers had felt rejected and unwanted by his father, another was lost in a state of insecurity waiting for others to tell him what to do. The third feels generally worthless in his life.

Wates adopts an observational approach and a linear narrative, always maintaining a humanistic approach to the subject matter. With deeply moving footage of the “trips” the patients experience, this intimate film is an absorbing portrait of the human cost of depression, and the inspirational people contributing to this unique psychedelic research. The results are remarkable, varied and often lasting, suggesting the treatment is positive. So far. And certainly more effective than with conventional drugs. But whether the substance will be licensed for general use remains to be seen. MAGIC MEDICINE is an instructive, absorbing and fascinating piece of filmmaking. MT

A 2021 study led by the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN), found that the drug can be safely administered in up to six patients using doses of either 10mg or 25mg.

 

Astronaut (2019) *** Digital release

Dir: Shelagh McLeod | With: Richard Dreyfuss | Canada Drama 97′

Hollywood star Richard Dreyfuss plays a thoughtfully mellow grandfather who proves he is not yet over the hill in this rather slow-moving subdued look at second chances in life.

Astronaut is a decent debut for Vancouver-born writer-director Shelagh McLeod who rose to fame in Dennis Potter’s Prix Italia winning Cream in My Coffee and the popular TV series Peak Practice. Her tender family drama returns to the timely topic of care homes, where not everybody is in God’s waiting room: Far from it, as Dreyfuss shows as Angus Stewart a laid back seventy something widower who still has plenty of life left in him – not to mention acerbic wit –  despite having to live with his drab daughter (Krista Bridges) and her husband (Lyriq Bent). Luckily he shares an interest in all things astronomical with his perky grandson Barney (Richie Lawrence) who encourages him to enter a competition to go to the Moon, his cherished dream. And Dreyfuss surprisingly wins, despite being moved to a retirement home before his luck comes good.

Well that’s the essence of the story, but in between there are insightful forays into the care home scenario, something that was more successfully achieved by Tamara Jenkins in Savages (2007). That said, McCleod sketches out the territory with its motley crew of usual suspects, all enduring their plush but dysfunctional surroundings with good nature.

Meanwhile, the intergalactic competition is the brainchild of technology tycoon Marcus (Colm Feore). Strictly for the 18-65 group (they’re clearly more positive in Canada than Britain about ageing) although Angus doesn’t qualify Barney supports him. And like most people, this grandfather would rather die dangerously than slowly slipping away without dignity. As a retired engineer, Angus makes clear to Marcus his misgivings about the project, the two sparring over the feasibility of all, a strand that gives the film some gravitas.

Astronaut is a little bit glib and a little bit chintzy at times, but it works best as a muted story of   familial cosiness feeling real in homely winter-bound Ontario. And although the script is thi on the ground giving no surprises in store, Astronaut is best described as ‘heart-warming’. MT

NOW ON RELEASE via iTunes | 27 April 2020

Trailer

 

 

Sátántangó (1991/3) Bfi Player

Dir.: Bela Tarr; Cast: Mihaly Vig, Istvan Horvath, Erika Bök, Peter Berling, Miklos B. Szekely, Laszlo Fe Lugossy, Eva Almassi Albert, Alfred Jaray, Erzsebet Gaal, Janos Derzsi, Iren Szajki; Hungary/Germany/Switzerland 1991/93, 450′.

Based on the novel 1985 by co-writer Laszlo Krasnahorkai, Bela Tarr’s collaborator in his final five feature films, Sátántangó is a human tragedy that deals with time, memory and melancholy, delving into the final years of Communism in a Hungarian village, where everyone plays a part in their collective fate.

Filmed in long tracking shots, the opening sequence – an eight minute take of cows ruminating in the grounds of a decaying estate – is symbolic for what is to follow. Told in two parts with six episodes each, Santantango uses tango steps for the retrogressive dance sequences as the story unfolds. The work of Samuel Beckett and Thomas Bernhard clearly springs to mind, but Tarr/Krasmahorkai add an extra dimension of absolute stasis that contrasts with the characters’ overriding desire to escape their fate from the outset.

The story begins in 1990s Hungary where life has come to a standstill for a group of farmers waiting for their collective farm to be shut down. Their plan is to move to a new location. But socially things are looking bleak: Futaki (Szekely) is having an affair with Mrs. Schmidt (Albert); Mr. Schmidt (Lugossy) is trying to steal the money the villagers have put aside for their escape plan. Futaki demands to be part of the scheme. All this goes on under the beady eye of a drunk Doctor (Berling) who  chronicles the unfolding narrative.

However, the master plan is abandoned when the villagers discover that Irimias (Vig) and his manipulative co-conspirator Petrina (Horvath) have returned. The two have struck a deal with the police captain to spy on the villagers. The doctor has run out of brandy, and after replenishing his supplies, he meets the young Estike (Bök), who asks him desperately for help. But the doctor passes out in the wood. The morning before, Estika had been tricked into planting a ‘money tree’ by her brother in the nearby wasteland. Estike tortures and poisons her cat to show she has some form of control over her life, but she soon loses the plot, like many others who are seen dancing in the pub.

But Estike has a shred of humanity, and is overcome by grief after her cruelty to the cat. She asks the doctor to save her pet, but this episode ends in tragedy. Meanwhile Irimias then turns his efforts to convincing the villagers to hand over the escape money. But he also has another dastardly plan up his sleeve. And the story ends with the doctor returning to the abandoned farm, unaware he is alone. On hearing the church bells ringing and a madman shouting: “the Turks are coming”, the doctor nails his windows shut and starts the narration from its beginning.

Gabor Medvigy’s intimate camera encircles the characters with long panning shots and cold-blooded close-ups, leaving nothing to the imagination. Tarr shows us that there are three cinematic worlds to escape into: the one of beauty, the ugly one and the empty one. Beauty belongs to the works of Tarkovsky; Ozu’s films meditate the void, and the early works of Antonioni portray ugliness.

Dedicating a whole day to watch Satantango is to immerse yourself in a world of visual wonder. It’s not that there is so much to tell, but because there is so much to understand. Neo-Realism revolutionised the world of cinema by allowing the audience to participate, and take part in the composition. Neo-Realism is only effective if the audience can watch the film from the inside. If today’s films want to be meaningful they need to focus on the strength of the script, rather than degenerating into attention-grabbing digital trickery.

Satantango offers a chance to immerse ourselves completely in a point in time, and be a part of the story. Watch and submerge yourself in the reality of this remarkable story-telling – and join the world of sense and sensibility. AS

NOW AVAILABLE ON BFI Player | Also on Bluray     

                         

A Russian Youth (2019) *** on Mubi

Wri/Dir: Alexander Zolotukhin, Russian, 72 min | with: Vladimir Korolev, Mikhail Buturlov, Artem Leshik, Danil Tyabin, Sergey Goncharenko, Filipp Dyachkov

A poetic and lyrical First World War trench memoir set to a live orchestra playing Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 Op. 30 (1909) and Symphonic Dances Op. 45 (1940).

A Russian Youth sees its freckled hero blithely setting out for the ‘Great War’. But the pastural romance of the early scenes soon gives way to the terrors of trench warfare. Our vulnerable hero loses his accordion, and then his sight. But his keenness to continue the battle keeps him at the front and deployed to listen out for enemy planes at the giant metal pipes that form a kind of early-warning system. Talk about using the difficulty!

Capturing the evocative poignance of Wilfrid Owen’s poetry, especially his keen ear for sound and his instinct for the modulating of rhythm, this small gem certainly conveys the “pity of war”. Its faded images transport us back to the greatest tragedy of the early 20th century: life would never be the same again. But there’s also a stylised, abstract quality to the grainy sepia-tinted footage. The camera follows the febrile action with an atmospheric, jerky quality, so reminiscent of the age. Cutting away frequently from the action slightly spoils the narrative flow of this delicate fragment of yesteryear, re-ignited by contemporary relevance. MT

NOW ON MUBI

Mr Klein (1976) Blu-ray

Dir: Joseph Losey | Cast: Alain Delon, Jeanne Moreau, Francine Berge, Juliet Berto, Michael Lonsdale | Thriller, 123′


What a fabulous and resonant contribution American director Joseph Losey made to the world of European cinema: each film a work of art that seems to live on. reinventing itself with each new generation. Mr Klein is a case in point and seems more relevant now that it did on its original release in 1976 in telling a story from Nazi-occupied Paris of the early 1940s.

Elegant, unsettling and strangely brooding this noirish thriller reflects another world of caution and insecurity reflecting the current state of crisis. Opulently set in and around the quartier of a Parisian apartment belonging to an art dealer – a superb Alain Delon who plays the central role with a suave and amiable dignity alongside his pouting heroines Jeanne Moreau and Juliet Berto exquisitely attired by French costume designers Collette Baudot and Annalisa Nasalli-Rocca. Gerry Fisher’s subtle camerawork and chiaroscuro lighting enhances Alexandre Trauner’s magnificent production designs creating an atmospheric sense of place in the beautiful bourgeois Parisians settings. So much so that you almost forgot the storyline that is stealthily working its way to a compelling conclusion, in the background. Not to mention the salient subject of Jewish persecution and anti-semitism which is at the film’s core. And crucially, it is the police that are carrying out the rounding up of Jews (some 13,000), not the German soldiers.

Elliptical in nature, in the same way as The Servant and Accident, Franco Solinas (Battle of Algiers) wrote the script along with Fernando Morandi and Costa-Gavras, but Losey drew on his experience with Hollywood Blacklisting to create the atmosphere of creeping uncertainty and mistrust that steals through the feature.

Delon’s Robert Klein is running a tight business buying up art works from Jewish Parisians desperate to leave the country. But gradually his facade drops when a Jewish newspaper bearing his name is delivered to his private address, forcing him to check the provenance of the paper, and prove his identity and his raison d’être. And as he digs deeper, the more the mud seems to stick to his hand-tailored tweed suits, eventually landing him in deep shit when things spin out of control, as they eventually do, in the best possible taste. A fascinating film about suspicion, illusion, collective recrimination and the strange way people behave when the ground starts to shift. MT

Joseph Losey’s MR. KLEIN | Fully restored on Blu-Ray, DVD & Digital on September 13

 

 

 

 

 

Ema (2019) ** Curzon World

Cast: Mariana Di Girolamo, Gael Garcia Bernal, Paola Giannini, Santiago Cabrera, Cristian Suarez, Catalina Saavedra

Director: Pablo Larrain | Drama Chile 102’

Music is the only star of Pablo Larrain’s story of parental irresponsibility that unfolds amidst the cool vibes of seaside Valparaiso. This South American idyll is also home to the pumping sounds of the reggaetón dance world that is only authentic element of this glib story. 

Back in the present after his lush 1960s drama Jackie, Larrain casts newcomer Mariana Di Girolamo and a reliable Gael Garcia Bernal as a couple who clash due to their immaturity and lack of life experience when juggling their artistic collaboration with a desire to have a child.

Taking on such an emotive theme exposes Larrain’s ineptitude in handling the delicate subject matter, and questions whether he has personally been affected by the issues involved – clearly not, otherwise he would have have given it more thoughtful treatment.  And although he brings his edgy cinematic talents to the party, the experiment fails. Ema is a drama that is neither engaging nor convincingly performed, even Gael Garcia Bernal cannot inject any depth to his character, apart from his incendiary outburst at Ema and her dancing troupe.

After a dynamic opening sequence featuring a massive fire at a traffic lights junctions, the film scatterguns into a series of stilted episodes as Larrain attempts to establish the storyline using the rhythm of his pulsating score as the driving factor. It’s a clever idea that fails in a drama that never gains a satisfying momentum.

Ema (Di Girolamo) is a bleached blond dancer in her early twenties who has recently adopted a 7 year old orphan from Columbia, named Polo (Cristian Suarez), because her choreographer husband Gaston (Bernal) has been declared infertile. Coming from a troubled start in life Polo soon becomes too much of a handful for his naive parents and sets their home on fire, leaving Ema’s sister with facial injuries.

So back Polo goes into the system, Ema and Gaston bemoaning their loss as if the boy was a psychopathic pet rabbit, with Ema blithely declaring she’ll ‘pick another one’, laying the blame squarely at Gaston’s feet. Gaston is the less irritating of the two but even his star-power fails to makes this rewarding or meaningful, remaining cold and distant throughout. And the visually arresting dance sequences and pumping vibes just feel incongruous, somehow reducing this to a trivial soap opera, rather than offering tonal relief from the couple’s fraught situation. A simpering social worker (Catalina Saavedra) who had pulled strings to get the couple a child, just adds to the woeful mistreatment. Is this an inditement on Chilean youth, a lowkey expose on the perils of adoption, or a novel way of raising awareness of reggaeton, either way, it does feel mildly offensive. Larrain’s co-writer Guillermo Calderon did some brilliant work on The Club and Neruda so hopefully this is just a bum note for this duo. MT

NOW ON DIGITAL RELEASE | VENICE FILM FESTIVAL Review 2019 

Camino Skies (2020) *** Digital release

Dir.: Noel Smyth, Fergus Grady; Documentary with Julie Zarifeh, Sue Morris, Terry, Mark Thompson; New Zealand/Australia 2019, 80 min.

Antipodian first time documentary filmmakers Noel Smyth and Fergus Grady set off with six of their countrymen and women for a 800 km pilgrimage from Saint Jean Pied de Port, France to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. The holy walk started in the Middle Ages, and for the last sixty years, 300 000 yearly tried to come to terms with God, after their lives took a change for the worse, by undertaking this mammoth hike.

Sue Morris is first up, seventy, the oldest of the half dozen. She is suffering from degenerative arthritis. It is short of a miracle that she manages to stay the course, only once taking a bus and a taxi ride. But her stoic appearance hides a deeply traumatised inner life – and the journey seems not to have given her any answers.

It is much more straightforward for Terry and his son-in-law Mark Thompson – the former wearing a vest, claiming the 1.6 million steps are for Maddie, the daughter of Mark, who died from complications of Cystic Fibrosis at the age of seventeen. While not wishing to grade suffering,  Julie Zarifeh (54), seems to be hardest hit: in less than a month she lost her husband and son – basically her life. This certainly a Via Dolorosa for her, and her grief is utterly compelling.

The participants seem not to be overly religious, it is more the self torture which appeals to them, most of them suffering from survivor guilt. One listens to ‘Black Sabbath’, without the directors mentioning it. Dogs, horses, donkeys, beetles, lizards and snails are being cuddled and stared at, much to their alarm. The participants visit hairdressers and bars, the women sometimes dancing together, the men more interested in drinking. Small stones on the paths play a major role: Julie re-arranges them into a heart form: ‘For Paul and Sam’. The arrival in Santiago de Compostela lacks any triumph – a rather sobering ending. For Julie, the journey goes on to Muxia, on the Coast of Death, near the ocean. There she climbs the rocks and empties the content of an urn into the waves.

Even at eighty minutes, Camino Skies overstays its welcome. There is only so much to watch, and the repetitiousness of muddy pathways and ordinary day-to-day activities detract from the real physical and emotional suffering of these modern pilgrims. Yet despite the potential offered by the dramatic locations Smyth’s images are often too bland to be cinematically engaging, the filmmakers’ lack of inexperience diminishing the overall impact of these traumatised souls on their journey to salvation. AS

ON CURZON HOME CINEMA FROM 8 MAY 2020 | other platforms TBC

                       

                                       

John Waters | Birthday Tribute

John Waters was born in 1946 into a well-to-do Catholic family in Baltimore where he was educated privately. But his life’s work was to be far from ‘ordinary’.  Nowadays he enjoys cult status in a flourishing 50 year film career that attracts more and more attention, although his last film was made over ten years ago. A Dirty Shame (2004) was not altogether a critical success and was almost a failure at the box-office. Clearly his unusual, offbeat persona attracts his growing fanbase – cineastes who enjoy his ability to shock, appall and repulse. He famously once said “you have to do work that doesn’t just appeal to your mother”. So even his mother must be special. 

From an early early age Waters was obsessed with violence and gore and formed deep attachments to a group of friends who would play the characters in his filmic fantasies. The most enduring of these was Glenn Milstead, later known as Divine, who also became his muse, appearing most famously in Multiple Maniacs, and gaining the nickname Prince of Puke. He started directing before he was 20 years old, making Hag in a Black Leather Jacket (1964) and Roman Candles (1966), two short films that also marked the beginning of his partnership with Milstead, who first starred in Mondo Trasho (1969). His breakthrough came in 1972 with Pink Flamingos, a trash manifesto that defined his style, followed by Female Trouble (1974) and Desperate Living (1977). He achieved mainstream success in 1988 with Hairspray, his last collaboration with Divine, who died shortly after filming. He subsequently directed Johnny Depp in Cry-Baby (1990) and made Serial Mom (1994), a blend of his original provocative vision and the genre of political satire. After various stints as an actor, he returned behind the camera with Pecker (1998) and Cecil B. Demented (2000), the latter staring Melanie Griffith and Maggie Gyllenhaal. A Dirty Shame was yet another confirmation of his interest in defying traditional values.

So he provokes and disgusts and doesn’t seem to give a damn, and that’s probably while he is also so popular, particularly as his oeuvre is so difficult to access on DVD, Blu-ray or VOD, and this is clearly one of its biggest draws, human nature being what it is..

In recognition of his edgy, subversiveness and creative eclecticism LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 72nd edition is this year awarding his a PARDO D’ONORE, a retrospective that promises to be ‘irreverent, awkward, desecrating, and irresistible’. The American director, screenwriter and actor will be the star of the screenings of A Dirty Shame and Female Trouble, and the audience will be able to literally smell his films: Polyester will be shown in Odorama – one of the first “olfactory cinema” experiences – exactly as it was in 1981, with scratch cards handed out to viewers before the screening. The audience will have the opportunity to discuss these elements during the customary chat with the filmmaker at Spazio Forum, which is scheduled for the last day of the Festival, August 17. 

John Waters selected King Vidor’s Show People (1928) to open Locarno72 last year, with music by Philippe Béran’s Orchestra della Svizzera italiana. Says Waters: “Any movie that pokes fun at Hollywood, that mocks Gloria Swanson’s first films, that features Marion Davies (the most famous “official mistress” in history), that is directed by King Vidor (I’m especially fond of Beyond the Forest and Stella Dallas), that has cameos by Louella Parsons, Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks, cannot be altogether bad. In fact, it sounds perfect to me.”

John Waters | LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 7-17 AUGUST 2019

Cinema Made in Italy 2020 | 4 – 9 March 2020

The focus is on women in this decade long celebration of Italian cinema that takes place from 4 – 9 March at Cine Lumiere in London. A rich and eclectic mix of the most recent films come under the spotlight including Liliana Cavani’s cult classic thriller The Night Porter (1974) starring Charlotte Rampling and Dirk Bogarde.

The six day event opens on 4 March with Ginevra Elkann’s playful comedy If Only (2019) that won critical acclaim at last year’s Locarno Film Festival.  Also to look forward to is Guido Lombardi’s road movie Volare that sees a young boy reconnected with his father returning from prison and Igor Tuveri’s stylish crime drama 5 is the Perfect Number starring Tony Servillo as a hitman in 1970s Naples. 

IF ONLY (Magari) | Director: Ginevra Elkann | Cast: Riccardo Scamarcio, Alba Rohrwacher, Milo Roussel, Ettore Giustiniani, Oro De Commarque, Céline Sallette, Benjamin Baroche, Brett Gelman, Luigi Catani | 100 mins

Alma, Jean and Sebastiano are three tight-knit siblings who live with their mother in Paris. One day they are packed off to Italy to spend the rest of the school holiday with their unconventional and completely broke father, Carlo(Riccardo Scamarcio), who they haven’t seen for two years. Instead of taking them on the skiing trip they had been promised, Carlo whisks them off to a rundown coastal cottage. They are joined by his bohemian co-writer and lover Benedetta (Alba Rohrwacher), and what ensues is a shambolic Christmas package to remember, complete with a first crush, acts of teenage rebellion, but also tender moments of reconciliation.  This semi-autobiographical film by accomplished producer and first-time feature director Ginevra Elkann received critical acclaim when it opened the Piazza Grande section at last year’s Locarno International Film Festival.

Ginevra Elkann studied film directing at the London Film School. She began her film career as assistant director on Bernardo Bertolucci’s Besieged and was also a video assistant on Anthony Minghella’s The Talented Mr. Ripley. She is an accomplished producer and distributor (respectively, at Italian companies Asmara Films and Good Films). Her production credits include Abdellatif Kechiche’s Mektoub, My Love (Canto uno), Noaz Deshe’s White Shadow and Babak Jalali’s Frontier Blues. Since 2006 she has been President of the ‘Pinacoteca Giovanni e Marella Agnelli’ art gallery in Turin.

FLESH OUT (Il corpo della sposa) | Dir: Michela Occhipinti | Cast: Verida Beitta Ahmed Deiche, Amal Saad Bouh Oumar, Aminetou Souleimane, Sidi Mohamed Chinghaly | 95 mins

Living in Mauritania, working in a beauty salon and addicted to social media, Verida (Verida Beitta Ahmed Deiche) is a modern girl. However, before getting married in three months’ time she needs to undergo ‘gavage’, or force-feeding, so that she gains a substantial amount of weight to become voluptuous, and thus an ideal model of beauty and wealth. This means that her mother will ensure that she eats and drinks as much as ten times a day. As the weeks of this trial go by and the impending wedding approaches, Verida starts to question her life and her country’s traditions. Michela Occhipinti’s emotionally rich film is a sympathetic portrait of a woman awakening to misogynistic conditioning disguised as cultural convention.  The film screened in the Panorama section at last year’s Berlinale.

Born in 1968, Michela Occhipinti spent her childhood in Rome, Hong Kong, Geneva and Morocco. In 2003 she spent a year in Argentina and made her first documentary film Give Us Back the Constitution (¡Viva la Pepa!), about the country’s social situation. From 2005 – 2007 she worked with the Italian channel RAI 2 to direct several reports on immigration issues. Her other documentary films include Sei Uno Nero, about the prevention of HIV and malaria in Malawi, and the feature-length documentary Lettere dal deserto (Elogio della lentezza), which was shown at over 80 festivals around the world.

SIMPLE WOMEN | Dir:Chiara Malta | Cast: Jasmine Trinca, Elina Löwensohn, Francesco Acquaroli, Anna Malvica, Mirella Mazzeranghi, Betti Pedrazzi, Paolo Graziosi, Thomas Bradley, Michael Rodgers, Cosmina Olariu, Ozana Oancea, Roberta Zanardo, Gea Dell’Orto, Elisa Liberatori |  85 mins

Since childhood, the Italian film director Federica (Jasmine Trinca) has been passionate about cinema. One film in particular has always played an important role: Hal Hartley’s Simple Men, starring the Romanian actress Elina Löwensohn. A chance encounter with her icon offers Federica the opportunity to make a film about her life. However, the real Elina Löwensohn is very different to the one in Federica’s imagination, and soon the true characters of both the actor and the director start to be revealed.

Paris-based director Chiara Malta has written and directed numerous short films in which she mixes various forms of narration, including documentary and animation. Her feature-length documentary Armando and Politics opened the 2008 Turin Film Festival. Simple Women is her debut feature-length fiction film and had its world premiere at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival, where it opened the Discovery section.

THE NIGHT PORTER (Il portiere di notte)  Dir: Liliana Cavani | Cast: Dirk Bogarde, Charlotte Rampling, Philippe Leroy | 118 mins

Set in Vienna in 1957, a secret Nazi organisation meets periodically and ‘eliminates’ dangerous witnesses to their cruel actions during WW II. Max (Dirk Bogarde), a former SS officer, is a night porter in an elegant hotel. When Lucia (Charlotte Rampling) enters the lobby with her husband, she recognises the man who was both her torturer and protector when she was a concentration camp inmate. They eventually find a way to be alone together and replay their concentration camp scenes, thus revisiting a sadomasochistic relationship and exploring a reversal of roles. Operatic and bold, Liliana Cavani’s 1974 provocative psychological thriller deftly examines the lasting social and psychological effects of the Nazi regime.

Liliana Cavani was born in Carpi in 1933. After graduating in literature and philology at Bologna University she studied documentary filmmaking at Rome’s renowned ‘Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia’.  She is a director and screenwriter who belongs to a generation of Italian filmmakers from Emilia-Romagna who came into prominence in the 1970s, and included Bernardo Bertolucci, Pier Paolo Pasolini and Marco Bellocchio.  In 1965 her documentary Philippe Pétain: Processo a Vichy won the Golden Lion for Best TV Documentary Film at the Venice International Film Festival. In addition to feature films and documentaries, she has also directed operas.

CINEMA MADE IN ITALY | 4 -9 MARCH 2020 | CINE LUMIERE, LONDON SW7

 

 

 

 

 

 

Orlando (1992) **** re-release

Orlando - Tilda SwintonDirector/Writer: Sally Potter | Cast: Tilda Swinton, Bill Zane, Quentin Crisp, Jimmy Somerville, Toby Jones, Simon Russell Beale | 94min   Fantasy Drama  UK

Sally Potter’s inventive, vibrant and visually sumptuous adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s 1928 novel is the ideal vehicle for Tilda Swinton’s versatility as the metrosexual maverick poet and nobleman Orlando, who is commanded by Elizabeth I to stay eternally young. If you could only have one auteu film in your timecapsule or desert island retreat, make it this one.

The story is endlessly fascinating and enduring, engaging modern audiences with its androgynous allure and sexual enigma. The characters are exotic and compelling. The costumes and set pieces are magnificent.  In short it is a love-letter to England’s rich language and literature. MT

NOW ON RERELEASE at THE BFI WITH AN INTRO BY POTTER AND SWINTON ON 8 MARCH 2020 and BFI PLAYER

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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).

Possession (1981) ****

Dir: Andrzej Zulawski  | Cast: Sam Neill, Isabelle Adjani, Margit Castensen, Heinz Bennent, Johanna Hofer | 124min  | Horror Drama  | Poland France West Germany

possession_2116In the opening scene of Andrzej Zulawski’s POSSESSION, Isabelle Adjani (Anna) meets Sam Neill (Mark) outside their Berlin apartment block, on his return from a business trip – she appears to be dressed in mourning. It then emerges she wants a divorce, and the two of them descend rapidly into a frazzled state of anxiety – Mark rocking to and fro in a cold sweat and Anna sobbing down the telephone from her new lover’s place. Mark (a self-confessed misogynist) seems less concerned about the divorce, but is eaten up with jealousy that Anna is having sex with another man – and enjoying it. Confronting her lover Heinrich (Heinz Bennent) in his spacious book-filled apartment, Mark is understandably indignant. Heinrich is dressed like a flamenco dancer; black shirt slashed to his ageing midriff. Embracing Mark, he appeals to his sense of fair-play in understanding their mutual state of flux.

Initially banned in the UK; this is the Russian-born Polish film director’s most controversial film. Many claim to be shocked and traumatised by it; others to find it a total enigma, even a laughable mess. Certainly it gives full throttle to the full-blooded emotional fall-out when a relationship goes wrong – but this is not social realism; it is mannered horror. Isabelle Adjani won Best Actress at Cannes for her histrionic, ‘obsessive compulsive’ performance – which involves an electric carving knife – and Neill is also at his most viscerally raw, switching from demonic anger to childlike vulnerability (his eyes are especially weird – an effect achieved by coloured contact lenses), as he pleads with Anna to share her feelings so he can work to make it right. Meanwhile he is also trying to negotiate a deal with his employers and look after his infant son Bob.

Filmed by ace DoP Bruno Nuytten (Jean de Florette) in the frigid blue light of a rained-soaked Berlin winter in Kreuzberg and Mitte’s empty streets, there are unsettling vignettes where Anna is at one point pursued by a government official who asks to check the windows of the apartment where she is now living (having left Mark). In this apartment, she has produced – or apparently given birth to – a strange octopus-like blob of gore, that masquerades as a gigantic living foetus. When the inspector discovers it, she glasses him in the neck with a broken bottle of red wine, having previously offered him a drink. In another she plays Helen, a teacher from Bob’s school, and turns up unannounced to read to Bob and do the washing up for Mark: the two end up in bed. The dialogue is often dead pan and banal compared with the heightened melodrama that accompanies it – after trashing Mark’s living room in a blind rage Anna announces blandly: “I have to give Bob his yogourt”.

Admittedly, the film is a carnival of sensationalism, yet we feel nothing for the characters nor their trauma as their feelings are completely unconvincing – they are merely the psychotic and narcissistic projections of sociopathic cyphers, totally lacking in authenticity or a scintilla of humanity. Although Zulawski attempts to generate horror, as an audience we feel entirely alienated and detached from the narrative, however gory, blood-soaked or deranged it becomes. A fantastic curio and the perfect antidote to romantic Valentine’s Day. MT

LEXI CINEMA | KENSAL RISE OVERGROUND | FRIDAY 14 FEBRUARY 2020

 

Fellini’s Casanova (1976) | Fellini Centenary 2020

Dir.: Federico Fellini  | Wri: Bernardino Zapponi | Cast: Donald Sutherland, Tina Aumont, Cicely Browne, Carmen Scapitta, Diane Kourys | Italy/USA 1976, 155 min.

The last years of Casanova’s life are a permanent odyssey through Europe indulging in a variety of amorous but mostly tired adventures. Fellini’s production echoes this emotional ennui. But the film was also an exercise in misery that started with a long search for the leading man: Alberto Sordi, Michael Caine, Jack Nicholson and Gian Maria Volonté were all in line to play the raddled seducer before Donald Sutherland finally got the part. More than one producer gave up and had be replaced. The shoot was suspended between December 1975 and March 1976; on top of everything, some of the  reels were stolen and the scenes had to re-shot.

Sutherland’s Casanova is an old man, a shadow of himself. His role as the Count Von Waldstein’s librarian occupies his days but at night he is hellbent on enforcing his virility at the Venice carnival before he is imprisoned by the inquisition and accused of ‘black magic’. After his flight from the infamous ‘Piombi’ (lead chambers) he travels to Paris, but his stay is short-lived: he finds out that the hostess Marchesa d’Urfe (Browne) is only interested in gaining the secret of eternal life from him. An affair with the young Henrietta (Tina Aumont) causes him to fall into a deep, suicidal depression when the young woman suddenly leaves. After many more affairs, Casanova feels his existence become an ordeal, and ends up dancing with an automated puppet as he is reduced to an object of ridicule by the  servants.

In an interview Fellini is quoted of saying:  “I wanted to realise the total film. I wanted to change the celluloid of film into a painting. If you look at a painting, the effect is total, there are no interruptions. But if you watch a film, the effect is different. In a painting, everything is included, you only have to discover it. But film is just not as complete: The audience does not look at the film, the film allows the audience to look at it, and so the audience becomes the slave to the rhythm of the film, it dictates the tempo. It would be ideal to create a film which has only one sequence. A film in one, great, permanent and varied movement. With Casanova, I would have liked to get closer to this ideal, with Satyricon I nearly reached my goal.” AS

SCREENING AS PART OF THE FELLINI CENTENARY | BFI LONDON 2020

The Distinguished Citizen (2016) ****

Dirs: Gaston Duprat and Mariano Cohn | 118min | Comedy Drama | Argentina

When an Argentinian Nobel prize winner returns to the village of his birth he discovers a lawless Wild West, or has he just become “over-civilised”.

This pithy premise underpins the latest from Argentinian directors Gaston Duprat and Mariano Cohn. It stars Oscar Martinez (of Paulina and Wild Tales fame) as the world-weary and emotionally avoidant author Daniel Mantovani, who returns to a remote village about six hours drive from Buenos Aires, to accept a medal. Having left there many years ago, he never felt the impetus to go back having made a successful writing career in Europe where he lives in palatial splendour in the lush hills of Barcelona’s Tibidabo.

Written by Gaston’s brother Andres Duprat, THE DISTINGUISHED CITIZEN is a tightly-scripted, insightful and often hilarious satire with echoes of Juan Pablo Rebella and Pablo Stoll’s 2004 comedy Whisky with similar themes of parochial pettiness and cultural awareness. The tone is always light but touches upon some dark home truths. The elegant framing and architectural sensibilities makes this a visual pleasure, Maria Eugenia Sueiro’s interiors reflecting a faded seventies aesthetic.

The film opens as Daniel is delivering a trenchant rebuke at the acceptance ceremony mocking the Nobel Prize for Literature in Stockholm. Fast forward five years and he is on the plane to BA where a taste of his future tribulations arrives when his airport taxi driver breaks down in a field, hours from Salas, forcing him to spend the night in the middle of nowhere round a campfire lit with one of the pages from his recent novel. The following morning that same book comes in handy as lavatory paper – and we all realise where things are going.

The narrative unspools in five parts – for no specific reason – as Daniel goes back in time to a homespun and unsophisticated community stuck in the past. This motley crew respond entirely inappropriately treating him like a local soap star rather than an intellectual introvert. He bumps into his old girlfriend Irene (Andrea Frigerio) who is now married to his butch friend Antonio (Dady Brieva), a mean dancer and an even meaner game hunter – a talent that plays out in Daniel’s hasty departure in the final scenes. The film centres on the small-town mentality that really rears its ugly head as the story develops, the inhabitants gradually turning the writer from hailed hero to vilified outsider in their collective mean-spiritedness.

This is an enjoyable and intelligent piece of cinema, dark and deadpan situational comedy arises out of bizarre encounters and bitter ironies (much in the same vein as those of the recent Toni Erdmann). The film leaves us with some memorable maxims to reflect on. “making things simple is an artistic kindness” is a choice takeaway from the role and often poignant indie gem . MT

Argentinian Film Season: El ciudadano ilustre (The Distinguished Citizen) (2016)

WINNER COPA VOLPE | VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2016 | BEST ACTOR | OSCAR MARTINEZ

 

Top Films of the Decade | 2010 – 2020

The past decade has seen independent film grow from strength to strength: Arthouse theatres are now more sophisticated than ever, offering lush surroundings and state of the art facilities. Streaming services Netflix and Amazon have also broadened the reach of mid-budget films to a wider audience who are now able to access films without paying expensive ticket prices: Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story and Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman in the comfort and your own home.

Here is another selection of art house gems from across the decade from 2010 to the end of 2019.
AMOUR (2012)  Michael Haneke, Austria
Surviving well into old age – or not dying – has become a timely topic in the past decade as our parents’ and grandparents’ generation live well into their nineties and beyond thanks to medical science and a lean wartime diet. Michael Haneke conveys all this with grace and subtlety in his Cannes Palme d’Or Winner which saw Jean-Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva united once again (since their 1959 Last Year in Marienbab) in this spare and understated portrait of enduring love, commitment and companionship.
PARADISE TRILOGY (2012-13) Ulrich Seidl, Austria 
Ulrich Seidl’s lays bare the human race and all its foibles in this darkly amusing and often tragic trilogy of studies, Paradise: Love (2012); Paradise: Faith (2012); Paradise: Hope (2013). With wicked humour and a sinister twist, Seidl and his long-time collaborator, Veronika Franz, have tapped into a raw nerve of the female psyche with three interlocking stories based on Odon von Horvath’s 1932 play ‘Faith, Hope and Charity’. The “Paradise” trilogy eloquently and provocatively probes the trans-generational experiences and differing concerns of a contemporary Austrian family of three women: a young girl, Melanie; her mother, Teresa and aunt Anna Maria. These focus on teenage issues, sex and religion. The first in the trilogy, Paradise: Love, follows Teresa (Margarethe Tiesel), a voluptuous but matronly blonde in her forties who has disappeared below the search radar of most men on the local dating scene. When she heads off to Kenya for a much needed blast of sun, her prospects seem to improve.

20 FEET FROM STARDOM | Morgan Neville, US (2013)

Winning an Academy Award for Best Documentary in 2015, it’s clear to see why Morgan Neville’s 20 Feet From Stardom (2014) was triumphant as a compelling, heartwarming and unaffected exploration into the fascinating world of backing singers. From the contentiously salacious vocals on Ray Charles ‘What’d I Say’, to the graceful arrangement of ‘Lean on Me’ by Bill Withers, backing vocals are integral to our enjoyment of music across the decades. Having spent years in the shadows of some of the finest, most prominent recording artists of all time, now the likes of Merry Clayton, Lisa Fischer and Darlene Love are given the platform to shine, and showcase their unique, and somewhat breathtaking abilities.

THE GREAT BEAUTY |  Paolo Sorrentino, Italy (2013)  

The heart and soul of Italy leaps off the screen in all its beauty and decadence in this cornucopia of delights. Paolo Sorrentino’s sensual Italian overload transports us to Rome for a paean to pleasure and pain, gaiety and melancholy seen through the eyes of writer and roué, Jep Gambardella, played exultantly by Sorrentino regular, Toni Servillo (The Consequences of Love). This is possibly Sorrentino’s best film, a satire capturing the essence of his homeland’s beauty and culture with an appealing and bittersweet languor that was first experienced in Fellini’s La Dolce Vita,  and now in the context of the 21st century.

WINTER SLEEP (2014) Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Turkey

Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Palme D’Or Winner is, in spite of its considerable length, a densely discursive and often confrontational portrait of human fallibility. Even though it takes place inside a claustrophobic hotel, the outdoor scenes are riveting, set against the background of the majestic mountains. Men are usually out of touch in all of Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s films, and in WINTER SLEEP, his new anti-hero Aydin (Bilginer) is no exception. An ex-actor, Aydin sees himself as an enlightened feudal lord; spending his days in the hotel where he writes a daily column for the local newspaper. Ceylan pays homage to Bergman and Bresson in the long, vicious arguments between Aydin and his wife and sister, the camera catches the protagonists in shot/contra-shot movement, the close-ups showing the hurt on the faces of the women, who are treated with contempt and often impudence.

UNDER THE SKIN (2014) |  Jonathan Glazer, UK

Glazer developed Under the Skin for over a decade; he and co-screenwriter Walter Campbell pared it back from an elaborate, special effects-heavy concept to a sparse story focusing on an alien perspective of the human world. Most characters were played by non-actors, and many scenes were filmed with hidden cameras. With a total worldwide gross of £5.2 million, Under the Skin was failed at the box office. With its timely themes of migration, sexual politics and safety, it received critical acclaim, particularly for Johansson’s performance, Glazer’s direction, and Mica Levi‘s score. It garnered multiple awards for its groundbreaking visual allure and was named one of 2014’s best films by several publications. It ranks 61st on the BBC’s 100 Greatest Films of the 21st century.

Indiewire ranked it the 2nd best film of the 2010s.

POSTMAN’S WHITE NIGHTS (2014) | Andrey Konchalovsky, USSR

The best work happens in the quieter, contemplative moments of this reflective fable from  Russian master Andrey Konchalovsky. A moving scene captures a village elder’s funeral, where the community talk of the “socialistic romanticism” of her era, a time unlike, apparently, a present Russia in which their humble roles in society seem almost obsolete. Why should Russians pay humble fishermen in rural villages for their fish, rather than modern, faceless dragnet fishing, as one sequence depicts? And as the young Timur is wont to say to Aleksey, “do we need postmen when we can email?” Konchalovksy’s art reveals a beauty to a rustic life that is being lost – as if this is the last chance to witness this kind of small-town life. If it is, Konchalovsky has crafted a beautiful record of this world.

THE ASSASSIN (2015) | Hsiao-hsien Hou, Taiwan

Taiwanese director Hsiao-hsien Hou’s spectacular drama is a graceful and sumptuously composed masterpiece – in the true sense of the word. Hou brings a sense of uncompromising formal brilliance to the wuxia material. THE ASSASSIN is a work of spiritual resonance and historical importance, but it is also exquisite. Set during the Tang dynasty, the story opens as a young girl (played by Shu Qi) undergoes training to be an assassin. But her female sympathies stand in the way of her killing instinct, and after failing an important mission she is sent back to her hometown. Some time later, she is again tasked with killing an important governor (played by Chang Chen) who questions the Emperor’s authority. The task involves a moral twist: not only is the governor her cousin, but also her first love.

EMBRACE OF THE SERPENT (2015) | Ciro Guerra, Colombia

Colombian writer|director Ciro Guerra’s third feature is a visually stunning exploration to a heart of darkness that brings to mind Miguel Gomes’ Tabu or Werner Herzog’s Cobra Verde or even Nicolas Roeg’s Belize-set drama Heart of Darkness (1993).

Serving as a backlash on organised Religion and Colonialism, the film’s slow-burn intensity has a morose and unsettling undercurrent that threatens to submerge you in the sweaty waters of the Amazon River whence its token German explorer, Theodor Koch-Grunberg (Jan Bijvoet) meanders fitfully in search of a rare and exotic flower with restorative powers.

FIRE AT SEA (2016) Gianfranco Rosi, Italy 

Gianfranco Rosi’s spare yet absorbing documentary offers an important and non-judgemental portrait of the immigration crisis facing Southern Italy, where both immigrants and islanders are given ample weight in story of their struggle to survive. Pictures can tell a thousand words and that’s the way Rosi leaves it: we must draw our own impressions and conclusions from this poignant human story.

PHANTOM THREAD (2017) Paul Thomas Anderson, US

This is arthouse drama at its best. Exploring the negative impulses of love, it is a delicately drawn tale about man’s fear of  losing control to a woman. The man in question, a fashion designer played by Daniel Day-Lewis, is captivated by a young woman’s grace and charm but refuses to let her into his business life, which is really his heart and soul. She remains tough but loving – the perfect replica of his beloved mother, tempting him but paradoxically also repulsing him. Day-Lewis remains adamant as the tortured artist, every subtle nuance of his adamance flickers across his face in a subtle display of petulance. Day-Lewis gives another remarkable performance this time as the classic gentleman artist delivered with finesse and his idiosyncratic  allure. His economy of movement is admirable capturing the feline grace of Federer and the innate style and sardonic humour of Cary Grant. When his resistance is lowered by a bout of illness, Reynolds’ reveals a deep weakness for his mother (whose ghost appears to him in her wedding dress) and her power is magically transferred to his assistant Alma, who then gets to wear the trousers – immaculately tailored – of course. MT

BEST INDIE FILMS of the Decade | 2010 – 2020

Best of the Decade | 2010-2020

ALPS (2011)  Jorgos Lanthimos, Greece

After Dogtooth, Jorgos Lanthimos comes up with an even more bizarre take on human frailties. Alps is the name of a hospital group who offer suffering relatives a unique service: they will impersonate the deceased for a while, enabling the families to come to term with their loss. Needless to say, that this causes a whole host of complications. There is an anarchic wildness at play here, which makes Alps much original than Lobster. which was to follow. Lanthimos crafts an absurdist play, very much in the tradition of Aragon and the early Bunuel.

AN ELEPHANT SITTING STILL (2019)

Hu Bo’s one and only film is a true masterpiece. The Chinese director committed suicide before the end of the shoot after falling out with the production company over feature’s running time. Equally sad and poignant it plays out like Balzac’s ‘comedie humaine’, Hu Bo keeping the elliptical narrative going, always coming up with new plot-twists for his four characters to meet under new circumstances in their urban backdrop. Chao Fan’s camera pans relentlessly through the jungle of hideousness, the environment echoing Bela Tarr’s vision of dystopia.

THE WOMAN WHO LEFT (2016)

Filipino filmmaker Lab Diaz follows his four hour Silver Bear winner A Lullaby to a sorrowful Mystery, with this opaque revenge drama that clocks in at 226 minutes and bagged the main prize at the Venice Film Festival of the same year. Diaz once again focuses on his wartorn and impoverished homeland with echoes of Metropolis, early Eisenstein works or Mark Donskoy’s first part of his Gorky trilogy My Childhood. The main character Horacia walks the nightly streets like Murnau’s phantom. The glacial pacing contributes to a nightmarish atmosphere, the blackest of noir. Horacia uses different names for herself, indicating that her personality is splitting. We see the shadow world she moves in, out of her POV: the focus becomes more and more blurred, particularly during a scene at the beach. Once again, the past takes over the present, destroying Horacia’s identity. For those who have never experienced Diaz’ work, his magnetism is difficult to convey: we are literally drawn into the narrative for the entire running time.

LEVIATHAN (2014) USSR

Director Andrey Zvyagintsev and cinematographer Mikhail Krichman strikingly composed  political drama affirms a sense of existential hopelessness. The characters’ vulnerabilities, and the sense that their homes offer inadequate sanctuary are a recurring theme in Zvyagintsev’s work.  Leviathan references the Book of Job and indicate government corruption through figures such as Boris Yeltsin. Everywhere is a profound sense of moral loss. A real Russian Noir where the victims are without hope or redemption.

SON OF SAUL (2015) Laszlo Nemez

The young Hungarian director’s debut is a tour-de-force of suffering. Set in a nameless concentration camp, it features Saul Auslander (Geza Rohrig) as a Sonderkommando in the Auschwitz death camp in October 1944. Sonderkommandos were units of Jewish prisoners forced to perform grisly tasks on their own dead, knowing very well they too would be executed in due course.  Shot totally from the perspective of his main character Saul, Laszlo Nemez accomplishes a frightening directness. Everything is happening right in front of our faces in this journey into the darkest hell.

THE LAST OF THE UNJUST – Claude Lanzmann, France

The documentary takes its title from the main protagonist: Rabbi Benjamin Murmelstein (1905-1989), who was the third and only surviving “Jewish Elder” “of the Nazi concentration camp Terezin (Theresienstadt). Nothing can compare with the role of a “Jewish Elder”, a position invented by the Nazis in camps and ghettos to divide the Jews by making the Elders do much of their dirty work. The Elders were permanently in conflict with the German authority and their own people. They were mistrusted by their own and despised by the Germans. And most of them went to the gas chambers themselves. After including Murmelstein’ story in Shoah, Lanzmann decided, that his story should be told at length in a separate film. Murmelstein was sent to Terezin in 1942, just after the city had been cleared of their Czech inhabitants. Terezin was meant as a Ghetto for the elderly, many German Jews “bought” their places in this “retirement” town from the Nazi authorities, paying with their savings. It turned out to be a death camp like all the others: over 33 000 Jews, mostly elderly, died there, apart from the 88, 000 deported to the Gas chambers. Lanzmann works with the same rigour as always: the devil is in the detail.

ZAMA- (2017) Lucrecia Martel, Argentina

Written and directed by Argentine Lucrecia Martel (The Headless Woman), Zama is an adaptation of a Latin American classic by Argentinian novelist Antonio di Benedetto, who was imprisoned and tortured during his country’s Dirty War in the 1970s. Influenced by Dostoevsky the film’s hero Don Diego de Zama (Daniel Gimenez Cacho), had a lot in common with his Russian literary counterpart.  The action takes place in the sun-baked South American pampas during the last decade of the 18th century. Zama is an officer of the Spanish Crown, stranded in this backwater for what eventually becomes the rest of his life. Llamas and other livestock wander blithely across the streets, the bumbling corruption unfolds to a backcloth of Guarani folk who watch on dispassionately. The governor wears a shrivelled trophy – a pair of ears – which we are told –  belonged to a master bandit, who has recently be executed. But later, Zama will learn at his cost, that the bandit is alive and well. Zama is part horror, part magic realism, a wonderful mixture of images and symbols.

ALL OUR DESIRES (2011) Philippe Loiret, France

Directed by Philippe Lioret (I Am Alright) and based on a non-fiction book by Emanuel Carriere (Other Lives but Mine), this is an emotionally taxing feature that sees a young judge (Marie Gillain) facing up to an incurable disease and mounting a widescale case against a financial body that exploits the poor. Despite potential melodrama Loiret offers a spare and restrained treatment with brilliant performances, Lyndon playing, as always, the calm stalwart of the underprivileged. One of the most admirable yet gruelling films of the decade.

FROM CALIGARI TO HITLER (2014) – Rüdiger Suchsland, Germany

Suchsland, inspired by Siegfried Kracauer, explains – in a sleek 2 hours – how the Geman cinema of the Weimarer Republic prepared the country for Hitler and the Nazis. Suchsland follows the thesis of Siegfried Kracauer (1889-1966), a German film critic and journalist, friend of Benjamin and Adorno, who in his psychological history of the German film with the same title as the film (published 1947 in emigration in New York) – which is still the most well known German film-history book. In his documentary debut Suchsland traces the correlation between screen action and the psychology of the defeated German masses. According to Kracauer, “M” was Lang’s first serious film for over a decade. Together with von Sternberg’s Blauer Engel (1930) and Berlin Alexanderplatz” (1931) by Piel Jutzi: these three films marked the end of any serious critique of the right in the Weimarer Republic in films, whilst Pabst Westfront 1918 (1930) at least tried a pacifistic view of WWI, and Kuhle Wampe by Dudow (after a script by Brecht) showed a communist alternative to fighting unemployment. But the “National Epic” was soon back: The Last Company (1930) by Kurt Bernhardt; Der Schwarze Husar (Gerhard Lamprecht 1932), Prussia (Carl Froehlich 1931), Gustav Ucicky’s York (1931) and the never-ending five “Frederikus Rex” films with Otto Gebühr in the title role. And it was no accident that the list of films premiered in 1933 included many titles, which were produced before January 30th 1933, like the U-boot film Morgenrot by Ucicky. Kracauer/Suchsland prove, that all of Germany at the time was at least subconsciously aware that the most dangerous psychopath would soon take the position of the director of the asylum called Germany.

FOXTROT – Samuel Maoz, Israel

Samuel Moaz follows up on his brilliant Lebanon with an even more impressive feature: Foxtrot is a story of bereavement and denial of guilt, played against the background of a middle-class Jewish family in Tel-Aviv.
 Michael Feldman (Ashkenazi) and his wife Dafne (Adler) live in a spacious, expensively decorated apartment, which feels like a five-star hotel suite. When they learn about the death of their soldier son Jonathan (Shiray), Dafne faints, whilst her husband is cold and aggressive, even kicking the family dog, who wants to console him. But the Feldman family is only a cypher for many Israeli families in a country, which is at war for nearly 70 years. “This is war, and shit happens in war” says the Israeli general to the soldiers after another needless killing. Maoz captures the absurdity of this permanent war in hilarious scenes at the roadblock, mixing phantasy with reality, and contrasting the hell of war with the cool and sober apartment of the Feldman family: the two levels, at home at once in one country, have seemingly nothing in common. But it is the denial of those at home, which makes Israeli soldiers kill and being killed for over forty years. Sombre and without illusion. AS

BEST OF THE DECADE 2010-2020

 

Anna Karina (1940-2019) Obituary

Danish born actor Anna Karina (Hanne Karin Bayer), face of the Nouvelle Vague, has died in Paris. Her eventful life reads like a film script: She was seventeen, when she came arrived in Paris to find herself living on the streets and speaking very little French. She became a supermodel a few years later helped, among others, by Coco Chanel, who invented her screen name. Karina’s face was plastered on advertising boards on both sides of the Champs Elysee. She met Jean-Luc Godard when he was casting for his first film in 1960, A bout de Souffle. He offered her a small part, but Karina rejected it, because of the nudity involved. Godard accused her of double standards, claiming she was naked in a Palmolive advert. Karina called him naïve: she actually wore a Bikini hidden by the bubbles for the shoot. But the following year they were married.

Karina went on to star in seven of his films, the first was Le Petit Soldat that same year. She won Best Actress at the Berlin Film Festival in 1961 for Une Femme est une Femme. While marriage to Godard was stormy to say the least – he neglected her emotionally – “he was the sort of man who would go for a packet of cigarettes and return three weeks later” – their artistic relationship blossomed with a string of New Wave hits: Vivre sa Vie (1962); Bande a Part (1964); Pierrot Le Fou (1965); Alphaville (1965) and Made in USA (1966). When Godard cast her in his episode ‘Anticipation’ for The Oldest Profession (1966), they were already divorced and not on speaking terms. But Karina stayed loyal to Godard and a few years ago at the BFI she talked about him in glowing terms.

Karina would go on working for other directors from the Nouvelle Vague: Jacques Rivette (La Religeuse, Haut, Bas, Fragile) and also starring in Lucino Visconti’s L’Etranger, 1967, George Cukor’s Justine, Tony Richardson’s Nabokov adaption Laughter in the Dark (1969); and Fassbinder’s Chinese Roulette (1967).  She also directed Vivre Ensemble (1973) and Victoria (2008).

Anna Karina will especially be remembered for the dance number in Bande a Part, her heart- breaking Nana in Vivre sa Vie, when Godard made her ugly on purpose by cutting off her long hair. And as Natascha von Braun in Alphaville, a woman desperate to reconnect with her feelings.

The French Minister of Culture Franck Riester said today: “French Film has become an orphan” with Karina’s death – but we have all been orphaned worldwide. AS

Britain on Film

As part of The National Lottery’s 25th birthday celebrations, British comedian and broadcaster Paul Merton hosted a funny video countdown of the top ten most watched films on BFI Player’s Britain on Film.

Made possible directly through funding from the national lottery, the BFI’s ambitious Britain on Film project saw the mass digitisation of over 10,000 films from the BFI and regional and national archive partners with titles representing all corners of the UK and spanning 120 years of film and all types of filmmaking, from home movies and news footage to feature films, travelogues, educational documentaries and government sponsored films. A truly national success the films on the platform have received over 75 million online views on BFI Player since 2015, with 78% audience reach outside London and the South East, transforming the level of free public access to our shared film heritage across the UK.

Aberdeen

Belfast no way out

Changing face of Camberwell

Chichester tour

Christmas in Belfast

Day in Liverpool

Milton Keynes and the Area

Portsmouth Charlotte Street

Sunshine in Soho

Train Rides through Nottingham 

For the US: https://www.youtube.com/user/BFIfilms/playlists?view=50&sort=dd&shelf_id=65

 

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.

Bertrand Tavernier Tribute | 1941-2021

In December 2019 Marrakech Film Festival paid tribute to the career of noted French film director, agent, critic and producer Bertrand Tavernier – who has died at 79 – with an expansive retrospective of his films in the presence of the director himself.

Ironically, Tavernier is perhaps best known for his 1980 feature Death Watch (La Mort en Direct), a drama set in the future, when death has become very rare. It tells the story of Katherine (Romy Schneider) who finds she has an incurable disease. NTV, a major television network headed by the unscrupulous Vincent Ferriman (Harry Dean Stanton), orders cameraman Roddy (Harvey Keitel), a casual acquaintance of Katherine, to film her last days via an implanted camera/transmitter behind his eyes. When Roddy sees a live-show of Katherine on TV, he is so disgusted with himself he owns up to Katherine. But there’s a twist. The implants will lead to blindness if Roddy goes through long periods of darkness, so he can only sleep for a short bursts, and has to carry a flashlight all the time. Engulfed by his feelings for Katherine’s impending death, he suffers nervous a breakdown and loses his flashlight. When Katherine finds it, she shines it in his eyes, but he is already blind. The two visit Katherine’s estranged husband Gerald (a masterful Max von Sydow), who tells Katherine there has been a mistake and pleads with her to reconsider their relationship. But Katherine takes an overdose instead and dies, leaving Roddy and Gerald furious, wanting to kill Ferriman.

Tavernier started life as a film critic for both Cahiers du Cinema and Positif between 1961 and 1971, after having given up on his law studies in Lyon. In his documentary My Journey through French Cinema (2016) he talks about this time casting a rather uncomplimentary light on Cahiers’ writers turned filmmakers: “They were great self-promoters, because they had been journalists, and they convinced Americans they were left-wing, despite writing for right-wing publications. Godard was not a leftist, he was one of the worst contemporary tyrants”. To be fair, Tavernier also accused compatriot filmmaker Jacques Becker (Le Trou) of being a control freak “even telling the composer of the music, which notes to avoid”.

Many of Tavernier’s features are about loneliness. In his 1976 drama The Judge and The Assassin (1976), his regular collaborator Philippe Noiret is Judge Rousseau, who holds the fate of serial killer Bouvier (Michel Galabru) in his hands. Both men change during the process with Bouvier being able to talk about the process which made him kill children. Rousseau, who had a very clear view of guilt before, admits for the first time that his intransigence is part of his own isolation. The Judge and the Assassin has a lot in common with Tavernier’s debut The Clockmaker of Saint Paul (1974), based on a Simenon novel in which a grieving father tries to come to terms with alienating his son.

Political thriller Quai d’Orsay/The French Minister (2013) deals with the France and Germany resistance to the Iran War by the USA and UK government. Arthur Vlaminck (Raphael Personnaz) is a script-writer for the Foreign Minister Alexandre Taillard de Worms (Thierry Lhermite)  – based on the real life Dominic de Villipen. Arthur soon finds out the ministry is really run by Claude Maupass (Niels Arestrup), who seems phlegmatic, but is really in charge of affairs. Arthur, under fierce competition, finds a friend and ally in Maupass. The films ends with the speech by de Villipen before the UN, contradicting Donald Rumsfeld and Colin Powell before the Security Council. 

Later in his carer Tavernier chose to delve into costume dramas, Let Joy Reign Supreme (1975) was a prime example. In the early years 18th France, Philippe II of Orleans (Noiret) is the regent for young Louis XV. Philippe has no real power, and hopes to raise his country’s stakes with the help of the priest Guillaume Dubois (Jean Rochefort). There is a gruesome autopsy of a royal lady who lived a life of debauchery which included incest with her father. When a court conspiracy, lead by the Marquise of Pontcallec (Jean Pierre Marielle), looks like it might spark a revolution, Dubois, to the chagrin of Philippe, turns out to be an opportunist trying to elevate himself as an archbishop. For Philippe, the only hope is a proper revolution.

The Princess of Montpensier (2010) is a mixture of fiction and history, leading up to the Bartholomew Day massacre of 1572 when Catholics were slaughtered by Protestants. The religious battle between Catholics and Protestants led to infighting in the Royal family and the nobility in general. The fictional story is centred around the titular heroine (Melanie Thierry), who is married to the Prince of Montpensier (Gregoire Leprince-Ringuet), but is still in love with with the Duke of Guise (Gaspare Ullieil), whom she knows since childhood. The fate of her marriage and love affair is closely linked to the religious turmoil, with the Princess being unable to convince anybody to keep the peace. AS

Marrakech Film Festival | TRIBUTE TO Bertrand Tavernier 

Babel Film Festival 2019 | Cagliari, Sardinia

 

The Sardinians have come up with a novel idea for a film festival. Babel focuses on ethnic minorities, and in particular linguistic ones.

Film is all about cultural exchange. Babel hopes to enrich and enliven the global debate with some marginal cinematic experiences, connecting the mainstream world with communities struggling to survive, not only physically, but culturally.

The programme offers a diverse array of documentaries, fiction features and shorts, and contributions from the world of theatre and music mining a wealth of minority languages since the dawn of time.

Now celebrating its sixth biennale edition the Babel Film Festival hopes to roll out festivities in an annual event making the Sardinian capital city of Cagliari a place for enlightened discussion and cultural exchange. Cineastes and industry professional can visit and get to know this exotic source of creativity featuring a diversity of minority languages, including dialects, slang and more. Lesser known languages are not just about communication on a basic everyday level, they are complex methods of expression in their own right, allowing speakers the freedom to wax lyrical with a nuanced and poetic vision of the world they live in.

BABEL FILM FESTIVAL | 2 -7 DECEMBER 2019

Last Stop Coney Island | The Life and Photography of Harold Feinstein (2019) ****

Dir/DoP: Andy Dunn | UK, Doc 

“Let your photography be the way you discover this life and your own self” 

And so began the extraordinary life and times of artist and photographer Harold Feinstein who first picked picked up a Rolleiflex at the age of 15 and headed out to the carefree paradise of Coney Island where every class, race and creed was on parade; rather like Balzac’s Comedy Humaine. Apposite music choices makes this a superlative piece of cinema.

Feinstein just snapped away, often making friendships. A sympathetic and unassuming figure in the crowd, he somehow brought out the best in the most unlikely people because of his carefree chutzpah. But the real kicker in his career was a need to get away from his childhood. And this is best shown in his sensitive portraits of childhood suffering such as Girl on the Carousel, which he sold when he was just 17.

Andy Dunn’s freewheeling and highly enjoyable documentary explores this low profile maverick  whose talent seemingly knew no bounds. Described variously as a “a true master of composition, and an expert editor and printer,” Feinstein shied away from technical prowess and tried to show how easy it is to bring out beauty from the ugly and the strange.

His work had a narrative power and substance, but he never courted fame or commercialism – although it found him in his final years. Feinstein takes a gritty uneven environment and creates out of it some wonderful and tender moments, a master printer crafting pictures of deep dark rich tonalities. His focus was the way bodies moved together, simply hanging out in spontaneous moments.

So his camera became a magic carpet transporting him away from the pain of his upbringing in Brooklyn where he grew up in a large Jewish family, his meat trader father was a figure of fear and loathing. He joined Henri Cartier Bressan at the New York Photo collective that banded together from the mid 1930s to 1951. But the Korean War put paid to all this and in 1952 he was conscripted and shipped to the Far East where he used his camera a tell a behind the lines story of troops during leisure time, waiting around, relaxing and missing their loved ones. Unlike the combat photography of Eugene Smith – who he later joined up with to create the drawings for an extensive photo essay that eventually never got published – his subjects rarely carried weapons – he was a popular figure, even marrying a Korean girl, while he continued to serve in the infantry.  

Back in New York living was cheap in the 1950s. An exotic creativity filled the air and attracted an exotic mix of artists: Thelonius monk, Salvador Dali, The Lone Ranger. Anais Nin.  Feinstein found work in the Jazz world, creating covers for Blue Note records. It was here that he met Dottie Glen Goodson who was to be the mother of his son Gjon and daughter Robin. 

At a time when there was no real market for photography Feinstein could sell out a show. Highly protective of his material, he missed out on a massive commercial opportunity when MOMA chief Edward Steichen approached him to feature in the massive project that was Family of Man touring exhibition. Feinstein refrained from being a part of the collaboration, wanting control- but success didn’t evade him as British filmmaker Dunn shows in the final stretch of this fascinating and comprehensive documentary that covers all bases.  

But Feinstein simply didn’t want to be tied down artistically or personally, he was a true spiritual, continually re-inventing himself and moving on instinctively with his winning personality and highly appealing sense of humanity. 

After forming a family with Dottie, Feinstein left for Philadelphia where his discovering his real metier of teaching which nurtured him and gave so much to the photographers he went on to inspire. He discouraged them from getting caught up in the technical aspects of the craft, encouraging creativity in a way that was liberating and combustible for his students, often teaching while high on LSD and mescaline and lots of drink. “Be creative with your life,” was the message he gave his students. Yet it was through his exploration of Digital technology that Feinstein made his commercial mark, firstly through an innovative take on flower photography that led to a lucrative book format. And this eventually enabled him to reintroduce his early work  which eventually got published in coffee table editions.

Not so successful at fatherhood and responsibility, Feinstein kept his dark side very hidden, but the many friends and associates who join in to extol his sympathetic personality and appeal are testament to his empathy as an artist. Some add nothing and are not as interesting as they think they are, actually detracting from the biopic’s laudable strength as a document to one of the most remarkable and worthwhile characters in the history of photography and printing. MT

SCREENING DURING UK JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL 2019

 

 

 

 

 

Tommy (1975) *** re-release

Dir.: Ken Russell; Cast: Roger Daltrey, Ann-Margret, Oliver Reed, Elton John, Tina Turner, Eric Clapton, Robert Powell, Paul Nicholas; UK 1975, 108 min.

After his subtle and convincing art features for BBC 2, and his iconic dramas Ken Russell’s sortie into rock music suffers from bombastic overkill. The vibrant visuals are still astonishing, but Russell treats his narrative like an assault course. Hovering between a masterpiece and a manic mess, this is one of his worst features, and, not surprisingly he himself admitted that “Tommy is his most commercial film”.

The film is set in a wartime Britain. Captain Walker(Powell) and Nora (Ann-Margret) have recently become parents to the titular child Tommy whose childhood is getting off to an awful start. The young boy witnesses Nora’s lover Frank (Reed) killing his father, and he reacts with a catatonic stupor that makes his deaf, dumb and blind ushering the classic hit That Death Dumb and Blind Child. Moving on to his teenage years, Tommy (Daltrey) is neglected and abused, his wizardry at pinball being his only escape. There are some decent cameos, the best by Elton John, performing Pinball Wizard in his skyscraper boots. Also enjoyable is Tina Turner’s Acid Queen. Ann-Margret excels in her champagne detonation cum baked beans and soap suds explosion scene, whilst Reed and evil cousin Kevin (Nicholas) use Tommy as a scapegoat for all their own frustrations. This being Russell, it is no surprise that Tommy finally becomes the Messiah, climbing the mountain.

Russell is not interested in any form of dramatic structure, his aim is to set the night on fire with a slew of cinematic musical numbers: the relentless visuals, the gaudy design and the over-the-top acting of his stars excites the wild child in him and he is oblivious to the chaos and near incoherence. The music is based on the Rock Opera by Pete Townsend, and while fans will thoroughly enjoy the spectacle, although newcomers to the story might find it all too dated. But the main reason for a re-run must surely be Roger Daltrey’s sheer dynamism as a performer captured spectacularly by Dick Bush and Ronnie is this all singing and dancing seventies showstopper. AS 

Opening at BFI Southbank, in cinemas UK-wide on 22 November 2019 as part of the major season

BFI Musicals! The Greatest Show On Screen, November 2019 – January 2020

 

Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival (2019) PÖFF

Tallinn Black Nights runs from the 15 November until 1 December 2019 offering an extended celebration of international films. For the second year running the festival will also showcase the latest in Baltic cinema with a special sidebar dedicated to Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. The idea is to offer industry professionals and film critics a wider experience and offer the festival audience a taste of local talent.

Tom Sullivan’s Arracht (Monster) is told in Gaelic and set in Ireland in 1845 where a small community fisherman is persuaded to offer board to a sinister stranger. Another world premiere is German filmmaker Hüseyin Tabak’s Hamburg set Gypsy Queen, Konstantin Lopushansky’s Through Black Glass and Narges Abyar’s When The Moon Was Full.

ESTONIA

After her success with Come Back Free, documentary filmmaker Ksenia Okhapkina won this year’s Grand Prix at Karlovy Vary with Immortal exploring a Russian social mechanism that feels a lot like the political systems of the last century.

Manfred Vainokivi presents his latest documentary biography In Bed With A Writer, a portrait of the controversial and newly divorced Estonian writer Peeter Sauter. We follow Sauter in Estonia’s art and underground scene as he shares his thoughts on women, sex and ageing.

In a small Estonian town largely inhabited by ethnic minorities, Vladimir Loginov’s second documentary Prazdnik explores the age old phenomenon of the beauty pageant and whether they still have a place in modern society.   .

Having travelled the globe with his debut In the Crosswind, Martti Helde returns with Scandinavian Silence, a thriller that makes use of an unusual narrative device: the tale of a man reunited with his sister having spent years in jail.

One of the biggest box office hits in the country’s history, Tanel Toom’s literary based feature debut Truth and Justice follows the decade-spanning feud of two neighbours during the second half of the 19th century. Toom previously won the Student Academy Award with his short film The Confession.

Hot from a successful run at the Estonian box office, the comedic depiction of the global and local startup culture, Chasing Unicorns, is start-up entrepreneur Rain Rannu’s sophomore feature.

LATVIA

A culmination of one artist’s creative journey that lasted 3,5 years, Away is a fantasy animation directed, animated and composed by Gints Zilbalodis.

Chronicling the tumultuous times in Post-Soviet Latvia, Jānis Ābele’s feature film Jelgava 94 shines a light on the period where teenagers were obsessed with heavy metal.

Juris Kursietis’ second feature Oleg premiered at Quinzaine des Realiseteurs during this year’s Cannes. It’s a gritty tale of Latvian migrant workers searching for a better life in Belgium, not always on the right side of the law.

The life cycle of the Spoon in the globalised economy is Laila Pakalnina’s documentary follow up to her award-winning drama Ausma (2015) that won Jury Prize Best Cinematographer for DoP Anrijs Krenbergs.

LITHUANIA

Taxidermy, deer-farming and museum curatorship are the focus of this fascinating documentary from Aistė Žegulytė. Animus Animalis, guides us around a bizarre world where reality and artificiality blur.

Meanwhile, Ignas Jonynas’ second film Invisible presents the story of a former dancer Jonas pretending to be blind to enter a TV dance competition, as an intimate and emotional relationship builds between him and his dancing partner. He soon reconnects with the past and a dark secret.

Tomas Vengris’ debut Motherland revisits the year 1992 in a Lithuania, right after the collapse of the Soviet Union, as a single mother and her 12-year-old return to Lithuania, after a long stay in the US, to claim the property that was taken from the woman’s parents when they were sent to labour camps decades ago.

The late 1930s is the setting for Karolis Kaupinis’ historic drama Nova Lithuania where in 1938 the young Lithuanian state celebrated twenty years of independence. Meanwhile situation in Europe is becoming increasingly tense so geographer Feliksas Gruodis sets about raising finance for his novel solution to creating a “backup Lithuania” overseas, where the country’s inhabitants could move in case the whole scenario goes pear-shaped.

Legendary director Algimantas Puipa presents The Other Side of Silence, a tale inspired by the book Bumblebee Honey by Swedish writer Torgny Lindgren. It sees   two brothers living in the same village, on the same lake, by the same forest, but sharing a mutual hatred sparked by their love of the same woman.

The 23rd Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival runs from the 15th of November until the 1st of December.

 

Femmes Fatales of Fashion | London Fashion Week 2021

The sinister crime-laden dramas that came out of post war Hollywood were the visual expressions of anxiety. Film Noir featured venal antiheroes, mysterious femme fatales, and rain-soaked urban settings where shadows and intrigue played upon the inner consciousness. The tightly scripted stories were also richly thematic, compellingly seductive and wonderful to look at. And that iconic look was often created by women designers. 

Based on hard-edged detective stories from the likes of Raymond Chandler, James M. Cain and Cornell Woolrich, ‘Crime Noir’ was spiced up by the wartime influx of sophisticated European craftsman such as Fritz Lang, Billy Wilder, Jacques Tourneur and Robert Siodmak whose edgy expressionism and Avantgarde lighting techniques added zest to the predominantly black & white post war genre. 

By the mid 1940s Film Noir reigned supreme. Nightly screenings – and each night was different – saw the stars of the day strutting their stuff but also looking amazing into the bargain: Barbara Stanwyck, Humphrey Bogarde, Gene Tierney and June Vincent all had their particular allure. And some Noir actors also directed the genre such as The Big Combo‘s Cornel Wilde with Storm Fear (1955). But while the narratives were unsavoury the costumes were quite the opposite: the elegant couture, hairstyles and even jewellery made style icons of these scheming antiheroes, adding charisma to their public profiles in stark contrast to the characters they played. By association, film noir became arguably the most strikingly seductive genre in the film firmament.   

But while the filmmakers arrived from Europe, the costume designers were often American woman with noirish backstories of their own to the bring to the party. Universal’s head of costume design for twenty years VERA WEST (1898-1947), met a tragic death drowning in her own swimming pool, dressed in one of her signature silk dressing gowns (ironically her designs for Virginia Grey had the been the star turn in Charles Barton’s film-noir Smooth as Silk the previous year ). Although the evidence pointed towards suicide as a result of a troubled past, there have since been rumours that her husband was to blame.

West had trained in Philadelphia and worked as apprentice to the pioneering British catwalk designer Lady Duff Gordon (Lucile) before being hired by Stanley Kubrick to create Ava Gardner’s look in The Killers (1946). She also designed for June Vincent in Roy William Neill’s Black Angel (1946); for Teresa Wright in Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt (1943) and the outfits for Lewis D Collins’ Danger Woman (1946). Despite these high-profile commissions, she never received an award until finally winning the Costume Designers Guild Hall of Fame in 2005. 

Another female Hollywood designer shrouded in intrigue was IRENE LENZ GIBBONS – known simply as Irene (1900-1962), whose private life was as colourful as her gowns. A shrewd business woman she ran a series of boutiques and was also appointed head of costume design at MGM, replacing the well-known legend Adrian. Her Noir credentials included couture for Katherine Hepburn, Robert Taylor and Robert Mitchum in Vincente Minnelli’s Undercurrent (1946) based on a story by Thelma Shrabel.

She also was credited for the couture creations in The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946) where a married Lana Turner and her lover plan to kill her husband (Cecil Kellaway). Other Noir and thriller projects included Roy Rowland’s Scene of the Crime (1949) and Gaslight (1944). Reports of her long-standing love affair with Gary Cooper were never confirmed but she committed suicide after slashing her wrists and jumping out of Los Angeles’ Knickerbocker Hotel a year after his death. 

One of the most successful female designers of film noir was undoubtedly BONNIE CASHIN (1915-2000). Cashin was already making dresses from the age of 8. By 16 her talent was making her a living as designer for the chorus line based in Los Angeles which led her into theatre work in New York. Returning West in the early 1940s she signed with 20th Century Fox where she made a name for herself with the gowns in Otto Preminger’s Laura (1944) and Fallen Angel (1945); Robert Siodmak’s Cry of the City (1948) – Shelley Winter’s leopard skin coat would have the activists up in arms, but back then it certainly made her stand out in the sleazy night scenes.

Cashin’s style worked wonders for Signe Hasso in Hathaway’s Oscar-winning The House on 92nd Street (1944) and for Gene Tierney in Laura. Nightmare Alley (1947) gave her the opportunity to work with a leading cast of Tyrone Power (as antihero Stan Carlyle), Joan Blondell, Coleen Gray and Helen Walker. Power’s untimely death of a heart attack aged 44, saw the film gain wider circulation over the years due to his popularity, and Cashin’s costumes lived on into the late 1950s and beyond. MT

London Fashion Week 2021

LAURA is now on Bluray courtesy of EUREKA (MASTERS OF CINEMA) 

Musicals! | The Greatest Show on Screen | Winter season 2019

BFI MUSICALS! THE GREATEST SHOW ON SCREEN is the UK’s greatest ever season celebrating the joyful, emotional, shared experience of watching film musicals on the big screen. Highlights of the season, The Wizard of Oz (Victor Fleming, 1939) in Belfast Cathedral; a festive screening of White Christmas (Michael Curtiz, 1954) in Birmingham Cathedral; and a tour of Russian musicals to London, Bristol and Nottingham

BFI Musicals will also feature a touring programme of 12 musicals  such as Gold Diggers of 1933; First a Girl (Victor Saville, 1935), Guys and Dolls (Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1955), A Star is Born (George Cukor, 1954), Cabaret (Bob Fosse, 1972), Top Hat (Mark Sandrich, 1935), Carousel (Henry King, 1956), Sweet Charity (Bob Fosse, 1969), Pakeezah (Kamal Amrohi, 1972), Cabin in the Sky (Vincente Minnelli, 1943) and Singing Lovebirds (Masahiro Makino, 1939).

Three classics on release this season are – Singin’ in the Rain on 18 October; Tommy on 22 November and The Umbrellas of Cherbourg on 6 December. The re-releases will screen at venues across the UK, ensuring that audiences the length and breadth of the country will be able to join in the celebration of all things song and dance.

https://youtu.be/1t6L-HU9Amg

UK Jewish Film Festival 2019

UK JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL 2019 TAKES PLACE 6 NOVEMBER – 21 NOVEMBER 2019 ACROSS CENTRAL LONDON VENUES AND 20 TOWNS AND CITIES ACROSS ENGLAND

UK Jewish Film is delighted to announce the 23rd UK Jewish Film Festival, which will run from 6th – 21st November at 15 cinemas across London. A UK tour of festival highlights to 20 towns and cities across England, Scotland and Wales will run until 12th December.

This year’s programme, comprising 96 films, plus Q&As and discussions with directors, actors, politicians, journalists and others, is the largest Jewish film festival programme in the world. The film programme includes 8 world premieres, 1 European premiere, 40 UK premieres, and films from 24 countries, including 23 films from the UK.

The diverse range of films in this year’s programme includes Oscar tipped satire from Fox Searchlight Pictures Jojo Rabbit which will be the Closing Night Gala along with the Centrepiece Gala being The Operative which stars Martin Freeman and Diane Kruger which will receive its UK premiere at the festival.

Further highlights include Synonyms which was awarded the Golden Bear at this years Berlin International Film Festival, documentary The Human Factor which is directed by Oscar nominated documentarian Dror Moreh and Israeli filmmaker Itay Tal’s intense portrait of motherly obsession God of the Piano. Meanwhile Norwegian teenager Esther finds herself caught up in the Nazi occupation in Ross Clarke’s award-winning drama The Birdcatcher

A documentary strand includes Amos Gitai’s  A Tramway in Jerusalem and Advocate a look at the life and work of Jewish-Israeli lawyer Lea Tsemel who has represented political prisoners for nearly 50 years.

There will also be a chance to revisit a some cult classics such as the Coen Brothers’ A Serious Man, When Harry Met Sally and even Fiddler on the Roof!

Festival tickets can be purchased via the UK Jewish Film website here:
https://ukjewishfilm.org/festival/uk-jewish-film-festival-2019/

 

Helena Třeštíková – Czech Velvet | 17-19 November 2019

November marks the 30th anniversary of the 1989 Velvet Revolution that saw a non-violent transition of power in what was then Czechoslovakia. Taking place from 17 November to 29 December 1989 it resulted in the end of 41 years of one-party rule and the subsequent transformation of the country to a parliamentary republic.

In celebration of these years London Czech centre is to pay hommage to the first lady of time-lapse documentaries, Czech filmmaker Helena Třeštíková, whose impressive film career spans over 40 years and features more than 50 documentaries including the 2008 European Film Academy the Prix Arte winner, René.

Following people’s stories over the course of several years, even decades, Trestikova builds up with openness and intimacy full character studies of her protagonists whether these are married couples (A Marriage Story), young delinquents (René) or women (Malloy). Finding the universal in her subjects and their life dramas, an unsensational excitement in their everyday adventures, Trestikova bears witness to the human condition as lives evolve before our eyes recalling of Richard Linklater´s film Boyhood.

An hommage will feature the UK premiere of her latest film Forman vs Forman, a fascinating portrayal of the Academy Award-winning director of Amadeus, Milos Forman, which premiered at Cannes Classics 2019, and MalloryTřeštíková’s long-term observation project from her series Trapped In, Trapped Out, and A Marriage Story, representing her signature series.

AT VARIOUS VENUES IN LONDON | 17-19 November 2019

The Dove on the Roof | Die Taube auf dem Dach (1973/2010)

Dir/Wri: Iris Gusner | Cast: Heidemarie Wenzel, Gunter Naumann, Katrin Martin, Heimat Guass | Director of Photography: Roland Gräf | GDR 1973/2010, b/w, DCP, digitally restored version 2010, (35mm), 85 mins. Drama 90’

Iris Gusner’s light and episodic story of a young contruction site manager who has to juggle shortages of building material and her relationships with two very different men was made in a moment of artistic freedom only to be condemned to decades of oblivion when the political climate changed again.

Linda Hinrichs is the manager of a building site in Thuringia in the south of the GDR. New “Plattenbau” (prefabricated) flats are to be erected, and Linda has to move things forward in spite of building material shortages and other problems. As if this was not enough of a challenge, Linda also has to juggle her relationships with two male colleagues she feels attracted to. Daniel is an idealistic and a little crazy student who is seeking some work experience during his summer holidays, while the much older brigade leader Böwe is a restless, sometimes alcohol infused soul who has moved from construction site to site for years. Gusner surrounds this trio with an ensemble of original characters and spins a loose and episodic, sometimes amusing, sometimes melancholic narrative around them. Lightness and a touch of anarchy, the change of location between the construction site and the narrow streets of the medieval town of Arnstadt, references to Palestinian refugees and Angela Davis, as well as a daring opening “cosmic” montage, make this film stand out within the DEFA film production of the time.

Making such a film seemed possible in 1972, when Gusner’s script for this film, her directorial debut, passed the DEFA studio’s assessment.  But by the time the final film was judged by the studio officials in 1973, the mood had changed. Not only was the film criticised as an ‘artistic error’, it was also denounced for its supposedly disrespectful representation of the GDR worker. Though defended by renowned directors such as Konrad Wolf and Kurt Maetzig, the film was never licensed for distribution. It only resurfaced after the film’s camera man Roland Gräf (who also shot Born in ’45 by Jürgen Böttcher) while searching for banned DEFA films. As the print was no longer screenable, a black and white dup-negative was made from which a black and white screening print was struck.The film we are screening is a digital version of a reconstruction made by the DEFA foundation in 2009 on the basis of the mentioned dub-negative. That is why colour film stills of the film circulate, but the film can only be screened in black and white. Review courtesy of Goethe Institute

The Dove on The Roof –  Review courtesy of the Goethe Institute | 30 October 2019

The Goethe Institute will also be screening a Böttcher season this October 2019

 

Corpus Christi (2019) Mubi

Dir.: Jan Komasa; Cast: Bartosz Bielenia, Aleksandra Konieczna, Eliza Rycenbel, Tomasz Zietek, Barbara Kurzaj, Zdzislas Wurdejn, Lukasz Simlat, Poland 2019, 115 min

Director Jan Komasa (Warsaw ’44) adapts Mateusz Palewicz’s extraordinary story about a 20-year-old juvenile criminal impersonating a priest in Poland. In small town Jasliska, just south of Krakow, the past is catching up with the townspeople forcing them out of the past and into the present. Piotr Sobocinski brings the whole thing to life with his vibrant camerawork reflecting the prejudices of provincial life in this intricate and outstanding feature drama.

Twenty year old Daniel (Bielenia) lives in a juvenile correction institution where he experiences something of a spiritual awakening under the influence of one of the more charismatic priests Tomasz (Simlat) whose sermons have a such a dramatic effect of the young man he feels a calling towards the priesthood. Sadly his criminal past bars him from taking the cloth. Unperturbed, Daniel sets out  his destination, where he is to join a sawmill, owned by Walkiewicz, a friend of Tomasz. One glimpse of the place from the outside is enough for Daniel to change his mind. In church he meets Eliza (Ryembed), the daughter of Lidia (Komieczna), who helps the resident priest Golap (Wurdejn). Daniel tells Eliza that he is a priest, producing the full regalia stolen from Tomasz, and they agree to take him on.

Whilst Daniel learns about taking confession from the internet on his mobile, he is drawn into a recent tragedy: six young people died in a head-on collision with a car, driven by an alcoholic called Slawek. It was forbidden to bury Slawek in the cemetery, and his wife Barbara (Kurzaj) and the victim’s relatives have made sure the priests stick to their word. Although Eliza’s brother was one of the victims, she has doubts about Slawek’s guilt. Daniel too feels Slawek was hard done by and proposes to bury Slawek in the local cemetery. But Walkiewicz wants to keep his workers happy, and again opposes the plan. And he is not the only one. Daniel meets resistance from Pinczer (Zietek), whose brother he killed in a fight.

Komasa changes the perception of Palewicz’s novel subtly: whilst Daniel believes in his role, and tries to be humble, the majority of his parish show anything but Christian spirit and only a few following Slawek’s coffin to the grave. Corpus Christi is a mature, wise and refreshing portrait of religious bigotry, emotionally enthralling the audience for the whole two hours. AS

NOW ON MUBI

 

Psykosia (2019) Undiscovered festival gems

Dir.: Marie Grahto Sorensen | Cast: Lisa Carlehed, Victoria Carmen Sonne, Trine Dyrholm, Bebiane Ivalo Kreutzmann; Denmark/Finland 2019, 87 min.

Danish director/co-writer Marie Grahto had great success with her medium-length films, particularly Teenland. Her first feature film Psykosia, is an enigmatic story set in a psychiatric ward, where the limits of patient/doctor relationships are tested to the full.

When middle-aged Viktoria (Carlehed) enters a psychiatric institution ran by Dr. Anna Klein (Dyrholm) to help with a particular case, we can’t help finding the environment and the relationship between the two odd. The whole place has a distinct mid-twentieth century twist making it feel like a place lost in time.

Viktoria is a researcher specialising in suicide, but she has no clinical experience so it’s surprising that Dr. Klein employs her at all. The only patient Viktoria will look after is a teenage girl, Jenny Lilith (Viktoria Carmen Sonne of Holiday fame), who has a history of suicide attempts, and so far has allowed none of the therapists to come close to her.

Jenny is close to another patient, Zarah (Kreutzmann), the two of them have been hospitalised together on numerous occasions, and they even end up sharing a bath, the water turning red after Jenny slashed her arm. Jenny tells Viktoria “death is purity, in death you are free”. Their therapeutic sessions have also helped the women to bond, but one gets the impression this is due to transference, Viktoria trying to get to Jenny via self-disclosure, mentioning her own strict upbringing.

In a chapel, next to an enormous abandoned church, Viktoria tells Jenny “that psychoanalysis is a form of art, like this chapel. After Viktoria tries to hang herself on several occasions, claiming her thoughts of suicide “can be a comfort, keeping you alive”.

When Zarah commits suicide, Dr. Klein asks Viktoria to tell Jenny the truth, but the former is unwilling, not wanting to risk the therapeutic progress she has made with her patient. Dr. Klein, looking out of the window like a threatening Super-Ego, seems to will Viktoria to make the announcement, just before the denouncement of the mysterious conundrum.

There are many coded clues to what is going on here: Jenny’s full name is Lilith, a wanton woman in Jewish mythology; Anna Klein is an amalgamation of Anna Freud and Melanie Klein, founder and rivals of theories in child development. And certainly the closeness and identification between Viktoria and Jenny is a play on transference, used by analysts to get close to patients – but leaving them often helpless when patients use counter-transference to draw the analyst in.

Subtle and nuanced performances from a strong female cast, DoP Catherine Pattinama Coleman (part of an all-women crew) using her long takes in the institutional corridors to mesmerising effect, recalling the atmosphere in Kubrick’s The Shining. Music by Schubert (Der Leiermann) and the Francoise Hardy song Il est trop loin’ help to create an atmosphere of utter bewilderment, where the borders between reality and spirituality, patients and analysts are not the only things breaking down. Sheer genius. Shame the film is still waiting for a UK release. AS

PREMIERED Venice Film Festival 2019

The Many Seasons of Mexican Popular Cinema (1940s – 1960s) Retrospective | Locarno Film Festival 2023

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.

This year’s LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL centrepiece retrospective Spectacle Every Day – The Many Seasons of Popular Mexican Cinema explores Mexican film production from the 1940s to the 1960s, three decades of creativity that have inspired subsequent generations of cineastes. It showcases works by Roberto Gavaldon, Alejandro Galindo, Chano Urueta, Matilde Landeta, Emilio Fernandez, Fernando Mendez and many more with 36 feature films from Juan Bustillo Oro’s 1940 drama En Tiempos de Don Porfirio to Alberto Isaac’s 1969 outing Olimpiada En Mexico. 

 

 

Han matado a Tongolele courtesy of Filmoteca UNAM

 

So Mexico has always had a distinctive style of its own and a rich culture to draw on. It 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. 

La Noche Avanza (1952) Roberto Galvadon

 

Gabriel Figueroa (1907-1997) was a leading figure of Mexican Cinema in its most glorious period, photographing 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. By the Mid-1950 they went different ways; La rebellion de los Colgados  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.

The Black Pit of Dr M (1959) Fernando Mendez

 

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.

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.

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2023 | RETROSPECTIVE 2023

 

 

Macario (1960) **** Salon Mexico series

Dir: Roberto Gavaldon | Fantasy drama | Mexico 91′

The BFI’s season of films from Mexican cinema’s postwar golden age concludes with this rarely seen neo-realist fantasy that resembles an episode of The Twilight Zone directed by the Bergman that made The Seventh Seal and The Virgin Spring (of which the latter beat Macario to the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film at that year’s Oscars, for which both had been nominated).

Based on a moral tale by the enigmatic B.Traven (author of ‘The Treasure of the Sierra Madre’), as photographed by Mexico’s top cameraman Gabriel Figueroa, this starts as a grim tale of poverty in which fantasy takes over as the starving hero’s purloined turkey dinner attracts the interest of a thinly disguised Satan, followed by God and finally by the Grim Reaper, who gives him the power not of healing but of prophecy (although people treat it as though it’s the same thing).

The film also provides a rare glimpse of the late Pina Pellicer as the hero’s careworn wife, remembered today as the ethereally lovely heroine of Marlon Brando’s classic cult western One-Eyed Jacks (1961). Richard Chatten.

https://youtu.be/vQiyQacK4oA

SALON MEXICO | BFI SOUTHBANK | JULY 2019

Locarno International Film Festival 2019

New artistic director Lili Hinstin unveils her eclectic mix of films for the 72nd Locarno Film Festival which runs from 7 until 17 August in its luxurious lakeside location. Locarno is known for its edgy profile and this year will be no different: Films by established auteurs Koji Fukada, Asif Kapadia, Kiyoshi Kurosawa will screen alongside an inventive array of undiscovered newcomers and sophomore cinema in a selection that embraces traditional stories and more experimental and avantgarde fare.

Hinstin takes over from Carlo Chatrian, who served as artistic director of Locarno since 2013 and now returns to the Berlinale. Hinstin is the 13th artistic director of the Locarno Festival since it was founded in 1946 and is only the event’s second female artistic director following on from Irene Bignardi (2000-5).

The largest open air cinema space in Europe, the Piazza Grande, will welcome up to 8,000 viewers for 19 full-length, 2 short films, and 6 Crazy Midnight, a total 11 world premieres. The magnificent state of the art Grand Rex cinema will pay host to this year’s Retrospective BLACK LIGHT conceived by Greg de Cuir Jr. showcasing international 20th century black cinema with stars such as Pam Grier, Ousmane Sembene, Spike Lee and Euzhan Palcy who will introduce his restored print of Rue Cases-Negres.

There will be another chance to see Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Luebbe DeBoer’s Sundance breakout Greener Grass and Kapadia’s Cannes documentary Maradona, along with the Joseph Gordon-Levitt-starring hijack thriller-drama 7500, Carice Van Houten-starring Instinct, and British comedian Simon Bird’s directorial debut Days Of The Bagnold Summer. Making its world premiere is also the  intriguing Italian horror feature The Nest from Roberto de Feo whose 2010 short film Ice Scream was one of the most awarded worldwide during the year of its launch.

Films in the main competition vying for the Golden Leopard include the latest crop of South American stories: The Fever from Brazilian director Maya Da-Rin sees a disillusioned man hovering between reality and a dreamlike existence; from Argentina Maura Delpero’s Hogar (Home) is set in present day Buenos Aires where two homeless teenagers are bringing up their kids in a religious institution run by Italian nuns. Icelandic director Runar Runarsson (Sparrows) will be there with his latest Echo. The first ever Locarno competition film in Gallego entitled Longa Noite (Endless Night) is a second surreal feature from Spanish director Eloy Enciso; and previous Golden Leopard winner Pedro Costa (Horse Money) is back with a Cape Verdean set drama Vitalina Varela. Activist and award-winning animator Mina Mileva and her Bulgarian co-director Vesela Kazakova have filmed their realist drama Cat in the Wall in Peckham, London. It follows the trials and tribulations of a mother and her daughter.

This year’s Cineasti del Presenti, a sidebar dedicated to original and Avantgarde cinema, includes works from acclaimed actress Jeanne Balibar – Merveilles à Montfermeil, and Elsa Kremser and Levin Peter’s Space Dogs explores the work of Laika, the first canine astronaut. Matjaz Ivanisin’s debut drama Oroslan shows how traditional mourning rituals help to heal the community’s grief in a village in Slovenia. From the magical midsummers of American teenagers in Tyler Taormina’s Ham on Rye to Klaudia Reynicke’s surreal female-centric drama Love me Tender– these are just some of the films in a programme full of daring inventiveness.

The President of the main competition jury will be Catherine Breillat, and she is joined by this year’s guests: Mathieu Amalric, Bi Gan, Bong Joon-ho, Denis Cote, Joseph Gordon Levitt, Maren Ade, Jake Perlin, Bi Gan, Aline Schmid, Alba Rohrwacher, Hilary Swank and Bela Tarr and John Waters whose will receive a Leopard of Honour for his daring, outrageous, often hilarious work: “Somehow I became respectable…What the hell has happened!”

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | 7 -17 AUGUST 2019

 

Women Filmmakers (1911-1940)

More women worked in film during the early years of the 20th century than at any time since. In the silent era, these women made films for a female audience. And although the focus was traditional: love, marriage and family, the narratives were playfully critical of these themes in a clever and humorous way, pushing the boundaries aesthetically and offering amusement at a time when society was much more restrictive for women than it is nowadays.

Filmmakers such as Lois Weber, Marie-Louise Iribe, Alice Guy Blaché, Germain Dulac, Dorothy Davenport, Olga Preobrazhenskaya, Dorothy Arzner, Mary Helen Bute and Mabel Normand were working together with female screenwriters and producers for the female-dominated audience of the time. For some reason these innovative, pioneering talents have been relegated to the back burner or written out of cinematic history all together, and that is why people talk of their rarity value.  

Alice Guy-Blaché (1873-1968) started her career as a secretary at Gaumont, Paris and would go on to be its only female film director there between 1896 and 1906, making her debut with the first ever feature with a narrative: LA FÉE AUX CHOUX (The Cabbage Fairy). Alice became the production head for Gaumont France and although her directing credits were never really established in France alone they numbered over 500, and  specialised in working with children. Marrying her English Gaumont colleague Herbert Blaché in 1907, the couple soon moved to the United States where they set up the trading arm of Gaumont. In New Jersey Alice set up her own studio, Solax Films, in 1910. For three years, it produced 95 very successful short films, before switching to medium length productions: she directed twenty-two between 1915 and 1920. Two years later, after the collapse of Solax she went back to France where she novelised film scripts, eventually returning to the US to spend her final years with her daughter Simone in New Jersey, not far from the former Solax studio.

FALLING LEAVES (1912) was a melodrama starring a child actor Magda Foy in the role Little Trixie (Magda Foy) whose sister Winifred (Marian Swayne), is dying from TB. The family doctor announces gravely to Winifred’s mother “your daughter will die when the last leaves fall”. Little Trixie not only stitches some leaves to the tree branches, but also gets help in form Dr. Headley (Mace Greenleaf), who has developed a cure that saves Winifred and needless to say, opens the way for a romantic happy-end. That same year Alice filmed THE GIRL IN THE ARMCHAIR (1912) that sees Blanche Cornwall playing heiress Peggy Wilson who becomes the romantic interest and intended wife of her guardian’s son Frank Watson (Mace Greenleaf). But Frank is more interested in gambling, and comes a cropper after he losing USD 500 at Poker, a sizeable amount in those days. The film delivers a happy-ending and a clever scene where Frank sees the cards moving around him in a circle, during a nightmare. THE OCEAN WAIF (1916) is an intricate riff of the ‘damsel in distress’ theme. Doris Kenyon plays Millie the waif in question, discovered on a beach by her brutal stepfather Hy. After regular beatings she runs away and hides in a supposedly abandoned villa, which is then let the writer Ronald Roberts (Carlyle Blackwell) as the location for his ‘haunted house’ novel. Mistaking her for the much talked off local “ghost” he falls in love, leaving his fiancée who is immediately picked up by a rich count. Unaware of this development, Millie returns home to her step father, who tries to rape her. Another villager comes to the rescue and all’s well that ends well. The film proves that although women where directing, the narratives still saw men very much in control.

Lois Weber (1879-1939) started life as a Street Evangelist but was cast, ironically, by Alice Guy in HYPOCRATES (1908), her first film. Weber’s own prodigious career as a director kicked off with A HEROINE (1911) and continued with 27 movies between 1914 and 1927. After founding her own production company in 1917, she joined Universal Film Manufacturing (the forerunner of Universal) a decade later, but never made the transition into sound, directing just one talkie, WHITE HEAT, in 1934. Weber died lonely and destitute at the age of only sixty, being wrongly remembered as a “star maker”. Film historians have not been kind to her, seeing her diminishing output as the result of her divorce from her husband (and co-producer) Phillips Smalley who never directed or produced a film after they divorced – very much in contrast to Weber.

SUSPENSE (1913) highlighted her invention of the triple screen that added an ingenious twist to the story of a race to the rescue – once again of a ‘damsel in distress’. It sees a city-worker husband (Val Paul) desperate to reach his wife (Weber) threatened by a tramp (Sam Kaufman) trying to break into their house in a remote location. The husband jumps into an idling car (filling the middle part of the screen) and races towards his wife and tramp (who occupy the edges). The police are in hot pursuit while the tramp skulks into the bedroom before being over-powered by the arriving posse. THE BLOT (1921) is a full length feature (91′) and a true auteur’s effort: Weber directed, co-wrote and co-produced this strangely modern tale of poverty in academia that contrasts with the rise of a ‘nouveau riche’ of all kinds. Lecturer Theodore Griggs (Philip Hubbard) and his family are living hand-to-mouth: when he invites the Reverend for tea, his wife (Margaret McWade) frets about the housekeeping budget. Griggs is then belittled by a trio of students whose fathers’ income and political connections will guarantee them top marks. One of them, Phil West (Louis Calhorn), is secretly in love with Griggs’ daughter Amelia (Claire Windsor), the Reverend also fancies his chances with her. Luckily for all concerned, it all works out in the end with one of the inter-titles reading: “men are only boys grown up tall”. 

Mabel Normand (1892-1930) had a short but eventful life: both behind and in front of the camera. A pioneer of silent movies, she appeared in several hundred short films and directed ten between 1910 and 1927. Credited with saving Charlie Chaplin’s career she also developed Chaplin’s ‘tramp’ screen personality. Her accidental involvement in the murder of William Desmond Taylor and the shooting of Courtland S. Dines marred her career, as well as her association with ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle, whose life was fraught with scandal. Suffering from TB she died at the tender age of only 37. MABEL’S BLUNDER (1914) is a witty comedy of errors and cross-dressing where Mabel (Normand) unhappily finds herself involved with the father of her husband to be. Things get worse when her fiancé’s sister (Nelson) also enters the fray. Mabel dresses up in male drag and teaches both men a lesson. The film went on to be recognised over 100 years winning the National Film Preservation award in 2009.

GERMAINE DU LAC grew up in Paris where she enjoyed an artistic education that led to journalism on her marriage to Marie-Louis Albert-Dulac. One of the leading radical feminists of her day, she became editor of La Française, the organ of the French suffragette movement, also serving as its theatre and cinema critic. In 1915 she teamed up with her husband to direct inventive often experimental shorts produced by their company Delia Film. During the 1920s she emerged a leader figure in the impressionist film movement with titles such as Coquille and the Clergyman. During the Second World War she used her diplomatic skills on behalf of the Cinemateque Francaise to secure the return of valuable films seized by the Nazis. Her ambition was to make ‘pure cinema’ untrammelled by influences from other art forms. She also pioneered French cinema clubs throughout France before the advent of talkies saw her turning her talents towards newsreel production at Pathé and Gaumont.

LA CIGARETTE  (1919) an exquisite but badly damaged restoration of this 51 minute playfully plotted love story sees a flirtatious young wife (Andrée Brabant/Denise) frolicking around Paris while her ageing Eygptologist husband (Gabriel Signoret) frets that she no longer loves him. Despondent, he puts a poisoned cigarette into his box, in the hope that chance will decide his fate, and adding a soupçon of suspense to the delightful post-war snapshot. LA SOURIANTE MADAME BEUDET (1923) Madame Beudet is distinctly more miserable about the state of her marriage than Andrée Brabant’s Denise in this ironically titled silent chamber piece. So much so that she decides to do away with her gurning idiot of a husband (Alexandre Arqullière) who paws her incessantly as she quails away in disgust.  The tone is morose, and Germaine Dermoz makes a cast iron case for women married to men they simply can’t stand the sight of, but are trapped with for reasons beyond their control.

MARIE-LOUISE IRIBE Parisian actress and filmmaker, Marie Louise Iribe (1894-1934) had a short but dazzling career and is best known for her 1928 debut Hara-Kiri (co-directed with Henri Debain). Her follow-up Le Roi de Aulnes (1931) is based on a poem by Goethe. This enchanting filigree fairy tale has the same magical touch and look as Cocteau’s La Belle et la Bête which followed 15 years later and during wartime. The simple but moving storyline sees a man riding through hill and dale to carry his injured son home. As he slips in an out of consciousness the boy imagines death as a mythical king surrounded by wood nymphs. Emile Pierre delicately overlays the forest journey with ethereal images of the king in iridescent armour, transformed from a humble toad realised by DoP Emilie Pierre’s ethereal double exposures. Max D’Ollone’s atmospheric score brings the magic to life.

Film and theatre actress, director and founded of the acting school VGIK, Olga Preobrazhenskaya (1881-1971) studied at the Moscow Art Theatre in 1905, making her debut as a filmmaker in 1916 with a silent black and white drama Miss Peasant (Baryshnya-krestyanka) scripted by Alexander Pushkin. Her themes are the lofty historical ones of Empire and Soviet Russia seen through the experience of ordinary people. Preobrazhenskaya also had a penchant for folklore and her love of the countryside is clearly conveyed in The Peasant women of Ryazan (1927/aka Baby ryazanskie) a jubilant Soviet ethnographical silent film set in pre-war 1914 and is probably the most far-reaching of the BFI collection with its themes of war, revolution and collectivisation. It compares and contrasts the fates of two siblings before and after the First World War: Ivan and his sister Vassilia come from a wealthy farming family. Ivan marries a less fortunate Anna, Vassilia rejects tradition with her lover Niccolai. This powerful drama is richly bucolic, stylistically elegant and thematically controversial making use of Soviet Montage editing techniques to drive the action forward.

BFI has restored ome unseen films from nine influential women directors have been transferred to Blu-ray restoring their valuable contribution to the narrative of film history. 4-disc Blu-ray set released 24 June 2019 | The set includes three short documentaries, exclusive scores on selected films and a 44-page booklet.

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 

      

             

   

Beyond your Wildest Dreams: Entertainment cinema during the Weimar years

BFI Southbank and various venues nationwide will mark the centenary of the Weimar Republic with a major two-month season running from Wednesday 1 MaySunday 30 June; BEYOND YOUR WILDEST DREAMS: WEIMAR CINEMA 1919-1933 celebrates a ground-breaking era of German cinema showcasing the extraordinary diversity of styles and genres in Weimar cinema, which conjured surreal visions in the sparkling musicals Heaven on Earth (Reinhold Schünzel, Alfred Schirokauer, 1927) and A Blonde Dream (below, Paul Martin, 1932) and gender-bending farces such as I Don’t Want to Be a Man (Ernst Lubitsch, 1918).

“Ein blonder Traum”
D 1932
Lilian Harvey

In this first foray into the Weimar era we will try to analyse the mainly escapist features of the period, leaving out the prestige projects of Lang and G.W. Pabst, covered in Rudi Suskind’s comprehensive documentary From Caligari to Hitler, and have a look at the B-features which were part and parcel of the growing film industry in Germany, leading to a rapid rise of new cinemas, particularly in the urban centres. Director/producer Joe May, who gave Fritz Lang his big break (before also emigrating to Hollywood) was not only was responsible for mega-productions like Das Indische Grabmal, but, among the 88 features he directed, were small comedies like Veritas Vincit (1918), in which transmigration of the spirit is used, to tell a love story. E.A. Dupont’s Varieté (1925) was a celebration of the music-hall, but was not modern at all: it sounded more like an epilogue than a resume. Karl-Heinz Martin’s From Morning to Midnight (1920) was in contrast a very expressionistic film. Set in Japan, it tells the story of a bank teller, who uses the money he steals on sex-workers, before committing suicide. The Love Letters of the Countess S. (Henrik Galeen, 1924) was typical for a series of films, which dealt with love affairs at aristocratic courts. Comedy of the Heart by Rochus Gliese (1924), also falls in the category ‘scandalous love affairs of the monarchs’. Blitzzug der Liebe (1925) directed by Johannes Gunter might not be well known, but its narrative is very typical for the genre: Fred loves Lizzy, but does not want to marry her. Lizzy makes him jealous, by asking the gigolo Charley to court her. But Charley is in love with the dancer Kitty, who is fancied by Fred. A double wedding solves all problems. Max Reichmann’s Manege (1927) is a sort of minor variation of Varieté , set in the world of the circus. Dupont again is responsible for Moulin Rouge (1928), one of many Varieté  remakes. Ein Walzertraum (1925) by Ludwig Berger and War of the Waltz 1933) by the same director, are, like Two Hearts in Walzertune (1932) by Geza von Bolvary part of many features shot in Vienna, featuring the music of the Strauss family. Karl Grune’s Arabella (1925) is a rather more intriguing endeavour showing the life of the titular horse from its own POV. The Erich Pommer production of Melody of the Heart (Hanns Schwarz, 1929) was one of the first sound features; DoP Karl Hoffmann lamented: “Poor camera! No more of your graceful movements. Chained again”. Even the grim reality of unemployment featured in comedies such as The Three from the Unemployment Office (1932) directed by Eugen Thiele, a plagiarism of his more famous The Three from the Petrol Station (1930). Director Karl Hartl, who would later be a standard bearer of the Nazi regime, showed potential in The countess of Monte Christo (1932), in which a poor film extra (Brigitte Helm) is mistaken for the star, having a great time at a luxury hotel. The final mention should go to Hans Albers, the action man of the German cinema, his career lasting from the Weimar era, via Goebbels and the III. Reich to the post WWII cinema in the Federal Republic: he starred in four Erich Pommer films: FPI Doesn’t Answer, a U-Boot Sci-fi adventure directed by Karl Hartl and scripted by Curt Siodmak and based on his novel of the title; Monte Carlo Madness (Hanns Scharz, 1931), Quick ( 1932, directed by Robert Siodmak, who would soon emigrate) stars Albert as a womanising clown and The Victor (Hans Hinrich/Paul Martin, 1932), where Albers rather ordinary telegraphist develops into a fearless hero. AS

BEYOND YOUR WILDEST DREAMS: WEIMAR CINEMA 1919-1933

 

Full Metal Jacket (1987) **** Kubrick Retrospective 2019

Dir: Stanley Kubrick | Writers: Stanley Kubrick, Michael Herr, Gustav Hasford | Cast: Matthew Modine, R Lee Emey, Vincent D’Onofrio, Adam Baldwin, Dorian Harewood | US Action thriller 116′

The last film to be released during Kubrick’s lifetime is a bleak and violent look at the Vietnam war through the eyes of recruits moving from the brutal US Marine training bootcamp into the nightmare of active service overseas. Pessimism combined with dark cynicism gives us a flavour of what came before in Paths of Glory and Dr. Strangelove.

The first half of the film is extremely loud and shouty, focusing on the recruits’ dehumanising and draconian training programme. Although it makes for grim viewing there’s a certain visual symmetry at work here echoing Leni Riefenstal’s Olympia (1938), although the dialogue is coarse and sweary, and full of racist bigotry as you might expect given the all-male environment where the men are toughened up and whipped into shape. There then follows a brutal and melodramatic baptism of fire before the men head to Vietnam, where top recruit and military journalist Pvt Joker (Modine) decides to try his hand in the front line: “a day without blood, is like a day without sunshine”. Kubrick maintains a cold-eyed distance throughout the mayhem and hard-edged horror. There is no attempt to bring out the humanity of these men who are now reduced to killing machines, murdering anything that moves as they fight for their own survival in the dog eat dog delirium. Kubrick’s message is clear: War is no place for decency. You come away not knowing or caring about any of the characters. Stunned and saddened by the senselessness of it all. No pity or poetry here. MT

BFI STANLEY KUBRICK RETROSPECTIVE | APRIL-MAY 2019 at BFI Southbank 

Stanley Kubrick Retrospective: Art and Film 2019

Stanley Kubrick, one of the greatest film makers of the 20th century, spent most of his later life working in England where he raised a family in the Hertfordshire town of Childwickbury, between St Albans and Harpenden, 35 minutes drive North of London. It was in the Norfolk Broads and Beckton, in the East End that he created the Vietnam scenes for Full Metal Jacket (1987), an orbiting space station for 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), and Dr Strangelove’s war room (1964). 

BFI KUBRICK RETRO  

Throughout April and May 2019 the BFI will present, in partnership with The Design Museum, Kensington, a definitive Stanley Kubrick season at BFI Southbank. The season will offer audiences the opportunity to experience masterpieces such as 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Barry Lyndon (1975) and The Shining (1980) on the big screen as Kubrick intended, with screenings being presented on 35mm wherever possible. The season will also delve deep into the director’s oeuvre with a playful and diverse programme of events, revealing why Kubrick is considered one of the most influential filmmakers of all time, and his style has given rise to the new entry in the Oxford Dictionary: “Kubrickian” meaning painstakingly perfectionist.

Stanley Kubrick was most inventive in his introduction of revolutionary devices to his filmmaking, such as the camera lens designed for NASA to shoot by candlelight. His fascination with all aspects of design and architecture influenced every stage of all his films. He worked with many key designers of his generation, from Hardy Amies to Saul Bass, Eliot Noyes and Ken Adam.

KENSINGTON EXHIBITION 

The exhibition, which has already travelled round Europe, is supported by Kubrick’s brother-in-law and executive producer on many of his films, Jan Harlan. The two first collaborated on Kubrick’s unrealised film project Napoleon in 1969, which has become known as the greatest movie never made, and will shortly form the subject of a made for TV documentary inspired by Steven Spielberg and directed Cary Fukunaga (Bond 2025).

Kubrick was as demanding on his actors as he was on himself. After playing Barry Lyndon’s hapless stepson in the 1975 epic drama English actor Leon Vitali went to work as his assistant for some 30 years and his story is told in Tony Zierra’s informative 2017 documentary Filmworker

The exhibition at Kensington’s Design Museum features scripts, costumes, films and props and provides a fascinating counterpoint to the BFI’s film retrospective, which takes place from April to May what it has called the “definitive Stanley Kubrick season” showing his films in 35mm, using projectors. There will also be a new print of A Clockwork Orange. MT

Kubrick’s feature films:

Fear and Desire (1953)

Killer’s Kiss (1955);

The Killing (1956)

Paths of Glory (1957)

Spartacus (1960)

Lolita (1962)

Dr. Strangelove or: How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

A Clockwork Orange (1971)

Barry Lyndon (1975)

The Shining (1980)

Full Metal Jacket (1987)

Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

Stanley Kubrick: the Exhibition | Kensington Design Museum 26 April-17 September 2019.

Canada Now Week 2019

CANADA NOW festival brings a selection of new Canadian films to the United KingdomLaunching on the 24th April 2019, nine films will play across five days at the Curzon Soho and Phoenix East Finchley cinemas, followed by a nationwide tour

As always, the 2019 CANADA NOW celebrates the independent spirit that has always been a hallmark of Canadian cinema along with its cultural diversity and twist of French heritage.

The festival opens with the London premiere of Keith Behrman’s LBGTQ+ drama GIANT LITTLE ONES, a refreshingly original and emotionally powerful coming-of-age drama. And the festival closes with Barry Avrich’s PROSECUTING EVIL, a feature biopic of Benjamin Ferencz, the last surviving Nuremberg prosecutor and life-long human rights activist. CANADA NOW expects many of the filmmakers and cast to be in attendance.

Alongside eight U.K. premieres, CANADA NOW also includes a performance from Canadian filmmaker Daniel Cockburn of his surreal, autobiographical show HOW NOT TO WATCH A MOVIE.

The full programme is listed below, and tickets are now on sale:

http://canadanow.co.uk/

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

 

Werner Herzog Retrospective at VISIONS DU REEL 2019

Grizzly_Man_3-e1374581107236

Throughout 50 years of filmmaking, one of the greatest directors of all time, Werner Herzog,  continues to impress with his unflinchingly creative vision of humanity and its future.

Encounters_at_the_End_of_the_World_2-e1374580394553

My_Best_Fiend-e1374580306483The retrospective will also screen My Best Fiend (on his volatile relationship with collaborator, Klaus Kinski); Grizzly Man; Little Dieter Needs to Fly and Into the Abyss, that further examine his probing reflections  “why do people do bad things?”, an attempt to get to the core of the human condition. MT

VISIONS DU REEL 5-13 APRIL 2019 | Nyon, Switzerland

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

Human Rights Watch Festival | 15-22 March 2019

Creating a forum for courageous individuals fighting worthwhile causes on both sides of the lens, this year’s Human Rights Watch Film Festival returns to the Barbican, BFI Southbank and Regent Street Cinema with an international line-up of 15 award-winning documentary and feature films from Venezuela, South Africa, Palestine, Thailand and more.

The festival will open at the Barbican on 14 March with Hans Pool’s Bellingcat – Truth in a Post-Truth World, which follows the revolutionary rise of the “citizen investigative journalist” collective known as Bellingcat, dedicated to redefining breaking news by exploring the promise of open source investigation. 
 
Among other topics highlighted in the festival are: modern-day slavery in the fishing industry, South African students’ #FeesMustFall movement and the call for the decolonization of the education system; ‘boys will be boys’ rape culture; the impact of non-consensual gender assignment surgery on intersex infants; urban displacement; and a behind the scenes access to the trial of Ratko Mladić. Many filmmakers, protagonists, Human Rights Watch researchers and activists will take part in in-depth post-screening Q&A and panel discussions, some of which are detailed below:

UK Premiere: Screwdriver Mafak
Palestine-USA-Qatar 2018. Dir Bassam Jarbawi. With Ziad Bakri, Areen Omari, Jameel Khoury. 108min. Digital. EST. 15

Shot entirely on location in the West Bank, award-winning Palestinian director Bassam Jarbawi’s debut feature film tackles the physical and emotional toll of one man’s return home after 15 years in an Israeli jail. This mesmerising drama examines the trauma of reintegration after imprisonment, together with the unpredictable set of challenges faced in modern-day Palestine.

FRI 15 MAR 20:30 NFT3 | SOUTHBANK

UK Premiere: Facing the Dragon 

Afghanistan-Turkey-Germany-Australia 2018. Dir Sedika Mojadidi. 81min. Digital. EST. 15 

Afghan-American filmmaker Sedika Mojadidi pursues two awe-inspiring women on the front lines as the United States withdraws from Afghanistan and the Taliban regains their hold. As the country’s fragile democracy shakes, threats of violence increase against Shakila, a journalist, and Nilofar, a local politician. They are soon forced to choose between duty and love for their country, and their families’ safety. 

SAT 16 MAR 18:10 NFT3 | SOUTHBANK

UK Premiere: Roll Red Roll 

USA 2018. Dir Nancy Schwartzman. 81min. Digital. 15 

In small-town Ohio, USA, a sexual assault involving members of the beloved high-school football team gained global attention. With unprecedented access to a local community struggling to reconcile disturbing truths and the journalist using social-media evidence to reveal them, this true-crime thriller cuts to the heart of debates around engrained rape culture, and unflinchingly asks: ‘Why didn’t anyone stop it?’ 

SAT 16 MAR 20:30 NFT3 | SOUTHBANK

UK Premiere: The Sweet Requiem Kyoyang Ngarmo
India-USA 2018. Dirs Ritu Sarin, Tenzing Sonam. With Tenzin Dolker, Jampa Kalsang Tamang, Tashi Choedon. 93min. Digital. EST. 15

At the age of eight, Dolkar fled her home with her father to escape Chinese armed forces, and faced an arduous journey across the Himalayas. Now 26, she lives in a Tibetan refugee colony in Delhi, where an unexpected encounter with a man from her past awakens long-suppressed memories, propelling Dolkar on an obsessive search for the truth.

Tickets go on sale to the general public on 12 February 2019. Members of BFI Southbank can purchase tickets from 5 February and members of the Barbican can purchase tickets from 6 February.

Jonas Mekas (1922-2019) | Spotlight at Bergamo Film Meeting 2019

Bergamo Film Meeting this year celebrates the work of Jonas Mekas, who died aged 96 in January this year. An avant-garde filmmaker in the true sense of the word he was also one of the influential figures in American underground cinema and made his name there in the late 1950s, founding and writing for the film magazine Film Culture. Along with the publication Village Voice there was an interplay between European avant-garde with the US Beat movement of the era and Mekas nurtured the most radical film voices in New York City.

Mekas’ roots were in Lituania where he was born in the village of Semeniškiai. But his film career was to be born out of adversity. During the final years of the Nazi occupation he was taken with his brother Adolfas to a labour camp in Germany whence they escaped into Denmark hiding out until the war ended. The two then spend four years in a refugee camp where their interest in cinema was kindled, watching classic films provided by the US forces. They both realised that their war experiences were of valuable interest and channeled their budding talent into writing scripts and eventually making their own films.

Despite this difficult start in life, Mekas was lucky enough to study at the University of Mainz, quite a privilege back in those days where many lost their studying opportunities due to conscription and the war effort in general. Luck also played a hand in sending Mekas to America with Adolfas, courtesy of the UN. Fetching up in Brooklyn in the late 1940s he bought his first 16mm camera, a Bolex, and started his life’s work. His first 35mm feature, Gun of the Trees (1961), was a politically infused indie drama ‘starring’ Adolfas and exploring the first knockings of Beat through the lives of four characters.

Commercially, his work mostly failed to attracted attention from distributors so he set about co-founding the New American Cinema Group and the Filmmakers’ Cooperative in 1962. Again this was a counter-culture initiative, upping the ante against mainstream cinema which he decried as being “boring”. His films were often screened in venues such as the Bleecker Street cinema in Greenwich Village. While distributors shied away from his work, the authorities did not. In 1964, he found himself charged with obscenity offences for screening Jean Genet’s gay film: Un Chant d’Amour.

His next experimental endeavour was a documentary called The Brig (1964) which looked at life in a Marine corps jail in Japan. By the late 1960s his gaze was also drifting towards a cinematic chronicle entitled Diaries, Notes and Sketches (1969) which featured luminaries such as Nico, Edie Sedgewick, Andy Warhol, Norman Mailer and even John Lennon and the Velvet Underground. Contrary to popular belief, Mekas was not gay himself – well, he may have swung both ways – in 1974 he married and sired a son Sebastian and a daughter Oona, with Hollis Melton.

His next project was an auto-biopic Lost, Lost, Lost (1976) that focused on his early years in America where he felt somewhat of an outsider despite his binding friendships with his fellow arthouse crowd. Paradise Not Yet Lost (1980) followed along similar lines and – some would say – his masterpiece  As I Was Moving Ahead Occasionally I Saw Brief Glimpses of Beauty (2000), was an attempt to engage the audience in a lengthy look into his personal life, very much focusing on the act of film-making as much as the subject matter itself. He emerges a voyeur rather than a director as such. Recording his own life story, and distilling the events onto film, keeping a naturalistic approach at all times. And he was pleased with the results. Out-takes from the Life of a Happy Man (2012) seems to be a testament to contentment. MT

TRIBUTE to Jonas Mekas | Bergamo Film MEETING 2019 

Jonas Mekas at The Internet Saga, an exhibition of his video work in Venice to coincide with the 2015 biennale.

 

Mifune: The Last Samurai (2019)

Dir: Steven Okazaki | Wri: Stuart Galbraith IV, Steven Okazaki | With: Wataru Akashi, Kyôko Kagawa, Takeshi Katô, Hisao Kurosawa, Shirô Mifune | 77′ Doc

Mifune: The Last Samurai shines a light on both the man and the actor, director and producer in Steven Okazaki’s fascinating biopic of the legend of Japanese cinema Toshiro Mifune (1920-1997). Enlivened by archive footage and reminiscences from family, friends and collaborators such as the actress Kyoko Kagawa and Kanzo Uni, a sword-fight choreographer who took him through his paces.

The documentary chronicles Mifune’s childhood after his birth in Tsingtao China, through to his early career in the film business and his longtime partnership with Akira Kurosawa and the string of masterpieces they made together: Throne of Blood, Seven Samurai, Rashomon and Red Beard, and also those with Hiroshi Inagakim – Samurai Saga and Machibuse.

The film provides a fascinating history of Japanese samurai cinema and also highlights Mifune’s private life and the things he enjoyed, such as cars and alcohol, often together. Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg also give their two penny worth, Spielberg talks about the similarity between the Western tradition and the Samurai culture “Film is the single language on this planet that makes us all the same”, he also describes Mifune’s extraordinary sense of stillness and commanding emotional power. Scorsese comments on the very real danger of the stunts he undertook, and the tense atmosphere on set during a Kurosawa shoot.

Off set, Mifune was a colossal star and idol who enjoyed the highlife and Spielberg talks of his keen sense of humour despite his dour roles. As a producer he worked on Masaki Kobayashi’s Samurai Rebellion (and also starred) and set up a film studio which made successful mainstream titles. Toshiro Mifune was clearly a mercurial maverick whose influence still resonates throughout world cinema. MT

KUROSAWA: To complete the retrospective of Akira Kurosawa more that 20 titles are now live on BFI Player 
 

 

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

Oscar Foreign Language Academy Awards 2019

Nine films were on the short list for the coveted Academy Awards Foreign Language title at the end of last year: Some are well known (COLD WAR, CAPERNAUM, SHOPLIFTERS) but AYKA comes from a country where there is hardly any structure let alone financing available for filmmakers, so Kazakhstan’s entry should be particularly applauded.

Denmark: The Guilty (Gustav Möller)

Möller’s feature debut premiered at Sundance in January 2018, winning the audience award in the world cinema dramatic competition. The entire film takes place in the claustrophobic confines of a Copenhagen emergency services station, where a former police officer (Jakob Cedergren) has to deal with gruelling telephone calls from a kidnapped woman.

Germany: Never Look Away (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck)

von Donnersmarck is very well thought of in German cinema circles and has a previously won in the category back in 2007 for his Cold War spy thriller The Lives Of Others. His latest sees an art student involved in a difficult situation at his college. We reviewed the film at Venice where it premiered in August 2018.

Poland: Cold War (Pawel Pawlikowski)

Pawlikowski’s film opened in Cannes Competition in 2018 and won him a best director prize. Searingly beautiful, it chronicles a love story between two people from different walks of life, set against the backdrop of the Cold War in the 1950s in various cities in Europe. Pawlikowski has previously won this award back in 2015 for his war-themed drama Ida – but his multi-faceted films have been arthouse staples since he started out in the 1980s with his TV fare (Open Space and From Moscow to Pietuschki in 1990), his first feature was The Stringer (1998).

Colombia: Birds Of Passage (Cristina Gallego, Ciro Guerra)

An arthouse title that explores the narco-trafficking industry and its profound effects on Columbian society. Gallego and Guerra’s film opened Directors’ Fortnight at Cannes in 2018 but their breakout success was with Embrace Of The Serpent (with Guerra directing, Gallego producing).

Mexico: ROMA (Alfonso Cuarón)

WINNER ACADEMY AWARDS 2019

Cuarón’s latest is a semi-autobiographical take on his own Mexico City upbringing, focusing on a middle-class family and their live-in housekeeper. With so many interesting stories coming out of Mexico, this is Cuarón’s first nomination in the category, although he has been nominated for six Oscars previously, winning best director and best editing for Gravity in 2014.

Japan: Shoplifters (Hirokazu Kore-eda)

Kore-eda’s cheeky story of a family living on on its uppers won the Palme d’Or in 2018.

Kazakhstan: Ayka (Sergey Dvortsevoy)

Living in abject poverty in Moscow, a young Kyrgyz woman tries to survive after abandoning her newborn, to return to her job. It premiered in the official Competition at Cannes in 2018.

Lebanon: Capernaüm (Nadine Labaki)

After her lively social drama Caramel, Labaki’s Cannes 2018 Competition entry is a more heavyweight but enjoyable story for its humanity and insight. Shot on the streets of Beirut using non-professional actors, the story follows the fate of a precocious but endearing 12 year-old boy who takes his parents to court.

South Korea: Burning (Lee Chang-dong)

Lee’s Cannes Competition title was the favourite amongst the critics at Cannes last year. It’s a psychological thriller but also a subtle love story based on Haruki Murakami’s short story Barn Burning.

THE AWARDS TOOK PLACE in Los Angeles on 24 February 2019 

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

 

 

 

 

Magnetic Pathways (2019) | **** IFFR Rotterdam 2019

Dir.: Edgar Pera; Cast: Dominique Pinon, Alba Baptista, Pauko Pires, Ney Matograsso, Albano Jeronimo; Brazil/Portugal 2018, 90 min.

Avant-garde Portuguese auteur Edgar Pera follows his weird and wonderful adaptations of Rio Turvo and O Barao with this mystery drama screening as part of a retrospective of his work here at Rotterdam International Film Festival.

Again he indulges in the creation of a Lynchian universe, where past and future amalgamate in an anarchic dance of loss and angst, all held together by the overwhelmingly monstrous images of DoP Jorge Quintela.

Elderly Raymond (Pinon) lives a nightmarish life without escape: he is either drowning in his dreams, or running helpless and disorientated through a dystopian Lisbon. His main obsession is his daughter Caterina (Baptista) who is getting married to Danio (Pires), one of the henchman of the autocratic regime, which runs on the lines of Orwellian surveillance, the TV anchor giving out the orders for the day. During his nightly sorties Raymond encounters the past and present Portugal, meeting among others General Spinola (Jeronimo), who was one of the Generals in the successful revolution of 1974, before he turned against the socialist government and joined Ex-president Caetano and his fellow generals in exile. Raymond is never quite sure if he is living through the period of post- or past revolution. Raymond falls under the spell of Andre Leviathan (Matograsso), a mixture of religious leader and revolutionary. But Raymond develops a jealous obsession with Caterina and Danio. When the couple have sex, Raymond kills Danio with a knife, only to wake up with a feeling of joy despite realising that Caterina would have never forgiven him. 

Whilst the couple are on a barge, Raymond jumps into the water, but is rescued. Fearing the worst, he is amazed not to land up in prison, but back home, which by now resembles a brothel.

Dissolves dominate this spectacular poem of male madness: Raymond is straight out of L’Age d’Or, and Lisbon is a rather drab background, the city’s modern architecture An emblem for the soul destroying world of the Regime. The religious fanaticism of the President echoes Bunuel; Raymond’s hallucinations are the reflection of male impotence. Some music by Manoel de Oliveira embellish this unique feature, directed by a masterful and uncompromising Pera. AS

SCREENING as part of the EDGAR PÊRA Retrospective | IFFR 23 January – 3 February 2019

The Baron (2011) O Barao *** | IFFR Rotterdam 2019

Dir: Edgar Pêra   Script: Luis Costa Gomes  Novel: Branquinho da Fonseca |Cast: Nuno Mela, Marcos Barbosa, Leonor Keil, Marina Albuquerque | 94mins   Portugal   Neuro-Gothic Horror

Dark, demonic and weirdly witty: Edgar Pera’s The Baron is an experiment in neuro-Gothic horror based on the novel by Branquinho da Fonseca and inspired by a film destroyed in the 1940s by the Fascist dictatorship under Salaza – who in the same amusing vein met his death falling off a deckchair.

Edgar Pêra shot the images and then apparently waited for the footage to lead his imagination into a world of ghastly horror surrounding a visit of a school inspector to the strange and beastlike Baron played masterfully by his longtime collaborator Nuno Melo whose hypnotic chant ‘Aqui Quem Manda Sou Eu’ (I’m the one in charge here) will haunt you, pavlonian-style long after the closing titles roll.

To Edgar Pêra sound is a vital element in his films: here in this low budget piece, the soundtrack is crucial in conjuring up a highly mystifying atmosphere to a simple storyline that echoes Mary Shelly’s Dracula. Pêra has Costa Gomes’s script to hand but uses it for reference only so the dialogue is largely improvised. The Baron himself is a Portuguese Nosferatu with Nuno Melo’s butch bone structure playing the leading role in contrast to Klaus Kinski shard-like talons and tombstone teeth. Rather than a hovering, tentative ghoul, he has a frighteningly dominatingly physicality and Kafkaesque presence and is clearly also a womaniser strangely under the thumb of his maid Idalina, played with succubus-like charm by Leonor Keil. If you do get a chance to see this one, grab it! MT

NOW SCREENING AT ROTTERDAM FILM FESTIVAL 2019| The Baron won the Gold Donkey at Rotterdam Film Festival 2011 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

REGISTER

The Passenger (Professione: reporter) (1975) **** Antonioni Retrospective

Dir.: Michelangelo Antonioni; Cast: Jack Nicholson, Maria Schneider, Jenny Runacre, Ian Hendry; Italy/France/Spain 1975, 126 min. 

In nearly all of Antonioni’s features the leading protagonists go missing: Aldo in El Grido jumps from the tower to his death, Anna in L’Aventura simply disappears on an island, having simply evaporated into thin air. And then there is his long time muse, Monica Vitti, who loses her identity during Deserto Rosso and L’Eclisse. In Professione: reporter, journalist David Locke has already lost his self identity before the film starts; assuming the guise of dead man only underlines his inner emptiness. Antonioni’s third and final feature in English, after Blow Up and Zabriskie Point, is dominated by the images, the camera circles around a man between two deaths.

David Locke (Nicholson) the titular character, lands in a desert outpost in Chad, trying to interview rebels, the heat makes him indolent. With his wife and adopted son behind in London, along with his TV producer, Locke has hit rock-bottom. He can’t even believe in his profession anymore: having sold out to market forces. Finding the corpse of colleague, who has died of a heart attack in his derelict hotel room, Locke only needs one glance at the dead man’s face to realise he could easily pass as Robertson – not that he’s particularly interested in impersonate him more than anyone else. In Roberton’s blue shirt, we watch Locke swap their passport  photos – as the fan on the ceiling bears witness. 

Finding a plane ticket to Munich in Robertson’s belongings, David flies to Germany, after a short incognito visit to London. In Munich he picks up a weapons catalogue from an airport locker, and is met by two men who give him an envelope containing a substantial amount of money. David has replaced Robertson as a gun-runner, serving a revolutionary African group. A further meeting in Spain is agreed by the the trio. Meanwhile, in London, Locke’s wife Rachel (Runacre) and his producer Martin Knight (Hendry) try to contact Robertson, to enquire about David’s state of mind when he died. In an editing room, Rachel watches clips from her husband’s old documentaries, including one featuring a brutal shooting. In Barcelona, Locke manages to avoid his wife, the police, and the two African clients. He meets a nameless architecture student (Maria Schneider), and they go round Gaudi buildings together. They set off for a meeting with the Africans in Algeciras, an oil port in southern Spain. Their relationship is in the here and now, but Locke, sensing the danger of having to evade the trio , shakes her off, promising a meeting in Tangiers. But when he arrives in the Algeciras hotel, she is waiting for him in the room. “What do want with me?”, he asks her exasperated, before the last act of the drama, underplayed, as undramatically  as possible – just like the rest of the feature. 

Locke hardly says a word in this monosyllabic film: conversations are fragmented, the last part play out like a silent film. The only reality is nature, as the protagonists’ significance shrinks away. The last seven minutes belong completely to Luciano Tovoli’s masterful camera: it pans through the grilled window of Locke’s room, and out into the piazza in front of the hotel; looking around, before returning to the room before everyone else: as in Cronaca di un amore the eliptical movement symbolises death. It is like watching the whole feature again. AS

Michelangelo Antonioni Retrospective | BFI | January 2019

https://youtu.be/him17sDL2wE

 

Tribute to Richard Lormand (1962-2018)

It is with great sadness that we pay tribute to one of our greatest supporters, film consultants and readers Richard Lormand who has died aged 56.

During a long and distinguished career Richard was a leading light in international communication, film publicity and marketing, specialising in launches at the Berlin, Cannes, Locarno and Venice festivals, and just recently, Marrakech 2018 where he was preparing the 17th edition, when he died.

LOCARNO credit

Richard was a true professional and always a pleasure to work with. He handled world premieres for numerous award-winning films, including Maren Ade’s TONI ERDMANN, Ildiko Enyedi’s ON BODY AND SOUL, Fatih Akin’s IN THE FADE and SOUL KITCHEN, Alice Rohrwacher’s THE WONDERS and HAPPY AS LAZZARO, Christian Petzold’s BARBARA and PHOENIX, Samuel Maoz’s LEBANON and FOXTROT, Lav Diaz’s THE WOMAN WHO LEFT, Ritesh Batra’s THE LUNCHBOX, Takashi Miike’s 13 ASSASSINS and BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL, the Taviani Brothers’ CAESAR MUST DIE, Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s UNCLE BOONMEE, Jerzy Skolimowski’s ESSENTIAL KILLING, Amos Gitai’s RABIN, Lucrecia Martel’s ZAMA and LA CIENAGA, Alexander Sokurov’s RUSSIAN ARK and FAUST, Jafar Panahi’s THREE FACES and THE CIRCLE, and Takeshi Kitano’s ZATOICHI and HANA-BI.

Richard was part of the press consultancy team of Locarno Festival and the producing teams of Mitchell Lichtenstein’s cult favourite TEETH, HAPPY TEARS (starring Demi Moore, Parker Posey, Ellen Barkin and Rip Torn) and ANGELICA (starring Jena Malone and Janet McTeer). He was also a producer on Amos Gitai’s DISENGAGEMENT, starring Academy Award-winning actress Juliette Binoche.

Born and raised outside Lafayette, Louisiana, Richard was the son of a Japanese mother and a native French-speaking Cajun American father. He began his career as a reporter/journalist for Reuters in New York City, then went on to work for the Cannes Film Festival (France), Taormina Film Festival (Italy), Torino Film Festival (Italy) and the Viennale/Vienna Film Festival (Austria). Richard also wrote and directed the 1994 award-winning short TI-BOY’S WIFE/LA FEMME DE TI-BOY (Clermont-Ferrand, Locarno, Torino).

His charisma, warmth and professionalism are rare in these days of increasingly faceless public relations, focussing on ‘hits’ and ‘likes’ on social media. Passionately driven by genuine talent and strong stories, Richard often took chances with small independent films and invested his time and talent to make sure they were noticed. His was a personal approach, genuine and always with heart. We shall miss him so much. MT

RICHARD LORMAND

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

 

          

Werner Herzog: Retrospective at Visions du Réel 2019

WERNER HERZOG’S WORK WILL BE CELEBRATED FOR THE 50TH EDITION OF VISIONS DU RÉEL

Visions du Réel, International Film Festival Nyon, will pay tribute to one of the world’s major filmmakers during its 50th edition. It is Werner Herzog who will be awarded the Sesterce d’or Prix Raiffeisen Maître du Réel during the 2019 edition of the Festival (5–13 April 2019). In partnership with the Cinémathèque suisse and the ECAL. The audience will meet the legendary film director at a Masterclass on 9 April and screenings of a selection of films, as well as his latest feature-length film, Meeting Gorbatchev (co-directed with André Singer), will have a Swiss premiere.

Werner Herzog was born in 1942 in Munich, Germany and has been living between the Bavarian capital and Los Angeles since 1984. A leading figure of the post-war New German Cinema, he has directed about 70 films.

Moving freely between different forms and processes, fiction and documentary, as a filmmaker whose approach is as philosophical as it is physical, Herzog constantly aspires to “walk to the ends of the earth” (The Dark Glow of the Mountains). At times omnipresent, at times leaving room for others, between heroism and testing limits (Herakles, his first short film in 1962, or The Great Ecstasy of Woodcarver Steiner), megalomania (Aguirre, the Wrath of God or Cobra Verde, two of the five films made with the actor Klaus Kinski), and a certain taste for madness and the absurd, the filmmaker explores and surveys beings and places, not without humour or (self)derision (Encounters at the End of the World). Author of more than a dozen prose works, he has worked with Isabelle Adjani, Nicolas Cage, Christian Bale and Nicole Kidman among others and won the award for Best Director at the 1982 Cannes Film Festival for his masterpiece Fitzcarraldowww.visionsdureel.ch/festival/maitre-du-reel-2019

50th edition of Visions du Réel: 5—13 April 2019 | Werner Herzog in Nyon will be communicated in March 2019.

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

Mug – Twarz (2018) Bfi player

Dir: Malgorzata Szumovska | Michal Englert | Cast: Mateuz Kosciukiewiczz, Agnieszka Podsiadlik | Drama | Poland

In this salacious social critique of her homeland, filmmaker Malgorzata Szumovska captures the zeitgeist of rural Poland with a strangely moving story involving a scruffy metalhead builder who is forced to reevaluate his life after a tragic accident at work.

Twarz means mug/face in Polish. It refers to the central character Jacek (Mateusz Kosciukiewicz), who still lives in the lakeside town of Western Polish town of Świebodzin with his petty, provincial family. Despite best intentions to move to London with his floozy fiancée Dagmara (Gorol), Jacek is put off by his brother in law’s zenophobic stance on things and Brexit doubts. Only his sister seems to be on his side.

Jacek is building something he believes in – a statue of Christ the King, and the tallest representation of the saviour so far. But a dreadful fall derails his future and his face is so badly injured that he needs life-changing surgery: the local priest (Roman Gancarczyk), his fiancée Dagmara, and the rest of the family will have to chip in to the expensive medical bills. And the result may be quite different from the Jacek they knew and loved. And the after effects are quite different, although by no means as bad as the family feared. That said, even his mother (Anna Tomaszewska) refuses to accept his new look (cleverly photographed by Michal Englert who also co-wrote the script). But when Dagmara shuns him, her rejection strikes to core of his being as a lover and man. Only his sister (a superb Agnieszka Podsiadlik) is there to help with his rehabilitation.

Szumovska cleverly navigates tonal nuances from realism to comic fantasy in a film that is competently performed, utterly compelling and thematically rich with its reflection on consumerism, identity and prejudice. The film also tackles religious belief and the nature of human suffering symbolised by Jacek’s dignified forbearance under the gaze of an all-seeing Jesus Christ. MT

NOW ON BFI PLAYER from 15 OCTOBER 2021 | SILVER BEAR GRAND JURY PRIZE BERLINALE 2018
PRESS CONFERENCE 

Embargo (2017) *** Utopia Portuguese Film Festival 2018

Dir.: Antonio Ferrera; Cast: Filipe Costa, Claudia Carvalho, Laura Matos; Portuga/Spain/Brazil 2010, 83 min.

Antonio Ferrara specialises in stories of the absurd – his 2018 feature The Dead Queen is based on a historical novel about a 14th century Portuguese king who had his mistress disinterred, so that she could become Queen. Embargo is a far lighter affair that follows Nuno, a madcap inventor.

Based on the novel by Jose Saramago, Ferrara pictures his hero Nuno (Costa) in the midst of a fuel crisis in contemporary Portugal, selling his revolutionary shoe scanner to everyone who shows a mild interest. He works part time on a hot dog stand, and his long-suffering girl friend Margarida (Carvalho) has to labour full time and look after their two children. Even though Nuno is hellbent on making his device a commercial success customers, nobody has any idea what practical use it could have. Eventually after various trials and tribulations, Nino is sacked from his day job and goes on the hunt for a toy rabbit, to make his daughter Sara (Matos) happy.

Nuno is a loafer par-excellence. Charming and funny, he could be the ideal companion – if he could earn a living. But his obsession with his machine takes over more and more of his life. Made on a shoe string budget, this debut of Ferrara is a labour of love, where crew and cast made up for the lack of budget with much enthusiasm and passion, even. There are some holes in the narrative, but Embargo is fun to watch, without the claim of being anything but light entertainment. AS

http://www.utopiafestival.org.uk

Bertolucci on Bertolucci (2013) Tribute

Dir.: Luca Guadagnino, Walter Fasano

Italy 2013, 105 min  Documentary

This is much more than the sum of over 300 hours of documented interviews with Bernardo Bertolucci, it is an essay on the art of film making itself; and to a certain degree, the history of European filmmaking since the early sixties.

Bertolucci represented much more than Italian cinema. His close links with the French Nouvelle Vague are well-documented not only by his ruptured friendship with Jean-Luc Godard, but his insistence that the art of film making should be discussed in French, the birthplace of the Seventh Art. Needless to say, his French is impeccable; he could pass for a native. Whilst the filmography is handled more or less chronologically, the interviews themselves jump from topic to topic, and we can listen to Bertoluccci’s often changing views on his work, politics and personal life.

To start with, his relationship with his father Attilio was the inspiration for the young Bernardo: we see a scene from a prize-giving for poetry: Attilio is hiding from the camera, not wanting to steal the limelight from his young son. Later on his father says “you are a clever man, you have killed me over and over again, but only on film, so you stayed out of prison”. His relationship with his mother is not mentioned in length, but the discussion about La Luna answers these questions. Early influences were Rossellini and Fellini; after seeing the latter’s La Dolce Vita, BB decided to convert from poetry to film- making. Seeing Fellini’s remarkable skill: the Via Veneto was a boring street where nothing happened until the excitement of Fellini’s film transformed the banal into something magical – Bertolucci was inspired.

The transformation from the bourgeois poet to the Marxist revolutionary is documented by Before the Revolution and BB’s friendship with Pier Paolo Pasolini, whom he met as a friend of his father. (He was assistant to Pasolini for Accatone). Bertolucci is quiet cagey about Maria Schneider’s accusation regarding Last Tango in Paris, but he sees himself more of a victim than a wrong-doer. The scandal seems to have lingered on in Italy. Twenty years later a relative of Giuseppe Verdi tried to kill BB in his car, when the director was filming outside Verdi’s villa, shouting: “You have no right to be here, you are a Marxist pornographer”.

Bernardo Bertolucci at the Cannes Movie Stars Lounge 2012

His masterpiece 1900 was for him also “a poem about the countryside where I grew up”, even though he and others thought at the time that “they had sold the ruling class the rope with which they would hang them”; a reference to  the exorbitant cost for an openly Marxist film financed by a major Hollywood studio. Undoubtedly, Bertolucci has had a full and fascinating innings thus far: Guadagnino almost bites off more than here can chew here: the meeting with the Dalai Lama, his three operations on a slipped disc, which ended with him being unable to use his legs any more, the long creative pause between Dreamers (2003) and his last film Me and You (2012), which he shot from the wheelchair.

Apart from the lack of images showing the director at work, our enjoyment and engagement with the film is somewhat reduced by the interviews being nearly all in French and Italian, making the not so polyglot viewer focus on the subtitles rather than on the images of this extraordinary talent. Andre  Simonoviesz

BERNARDO BERTOLUCCI 1941-2018

 

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

photo-2

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

Book of the Sea (2018) **** Russian Film Week 2018

Dir: Aleksei Vakhrushev | Doc | Russia, 2018 | 88′

Seasoned filmmaker Aleksei Vakhrushev has made some of the best-known Russian documentaries of the past few years. His previous film The Tundra Book (2011) explores the traditions of deer-hunting in Russia’s Northern Chukotka region. His latest – THE BOOK OF THE SEA – is an intense visual experience that follows the daily struggle for survival of the traditional sea hunters of the Bering Strait whose Inuit faith in ancient myths and legends guides their hunting ethos in their ancient Arctic culture.

Although this sounds quite surreal and otherworldly, it’s actually a very sensible way to live sustainably. Respect for nature and the animal kingdom allows them to avoid unnecessary  slaughter while hunting to feed their families – rather than for pleasure.

Their regular hunting expeditions will see them catching sperm whales, seals and walruses and these sections of the film are roughly divided into chapters entitled: The Whale, The Old man and the Sea, and The Walruses. They also rely on auks eggs and reindeer. Along with his skilled cameramen, Vakhrushev follows the hunters and close-quarters as they track their prey. But as soon as a catch is about to happen, the filmmaker cuts away from the slaughter to Edvard Belyaev’s effective animated sequences that illustrate Inuit hunting legends. In this way, the film transcends the blood and gore of the killing experience, enriching the narrative while also adding a historical parable to the stark reality of the eco-documentary.

Hunting with their trusty husky dogs, Inuit and Chukchi hunters still rely for protein and nourishment on large sea mammals that have sustained their people since time immemorial. But today, these hunters are elegantly kitted out in high-performance padded jackets made of down or seal-skin and their precision equipment is specialised and decidedly high-tech.

The contemporary story of elders Alexander and Alexei blends seamlessly with that of “the woman who gave birth to a whale” and other ancient myths, told here in vivid animation, in this ongoing struggle for survival and preservation of a traditional lifestyle in one of the most remote places on earth. A magnificent and visually striking story about the vitality of these Arctic people whose struggle very much connects to a global narrative of survival for small communities all over the World. Judging by the richness of the Bering Strait – which runs from the through to the Arctic ocean’s Chukchi Sea – and the Inuit people’s respect for nature, it looks like they will survive for a good many years to come. MT

SCREENING DURING RUSSIAN FILM WEEK 2018 .

The director is an Inuk, who was born on the Chukchi Peninsula in the Far East of the Russian in 1969. Upon graduating from the Director’s Department of the Russian State Film School (VGIK) in 1996, he launched his career with a documentary entitled The Time When Dreams Are Melting. The film tells the true story of his native Yupik Inuit people of northeastern Russia. His unique insider’s perspective group offered a fresh new look at the lives, challenges, and aspirations of the indigenous peoples living on the Russian side of the Bering Strait. It was the first time their story was ever captured on film.

Asino (2017) ****Russian Film Week 2018

Dir: Anatoly Vasilyev | Doc | Russia | 167′

“I am alone like a tree that grows inside another tree”. 

Celebrated theatre director Anatoly Vasilyev’s sensitive but unsettling documentary really sums up the silent plight of man’s most vital but often unappreciated beast of burden. Dogs are loved as our working companions and pets, and even cuddled by the fireside. Yet at the end of their day of duty the humble donkey is tied up and left alone. This gentle often stubborn creature is surely the unsung hero of man’s rural existence, toiling tirelessly from the time of Greek mythology and Jesus Christ to the modern day, tolerating the grimmest conditions and finally even lending its name to a derogatory adjective: asinine.

Shot in Italy and featuring fifteen named donkeys, ASINO is a melancholy but unsentimental celebration of this subjugated helper’s gruelling existence. Told in 8 chapters, entitled novellas, – each 20 minutes long, it melds documentary form with lowkey allegory and is scored by Giovanni Sollima’s evocative occasional music that often signals sadness or doom.

The first novella is a quiet monochrome observation of the animals at rest in their individual stables in an Italian farm. The second takes on a Bacchus-like twist moving to the glorious summer vineyards of Italy, as a young boy crowned in flowers adds a poetic feel to proceedings, with inter titles from literary sources. In a stunning black and white third novella, a donkey shows his stubbornness and reticence about going to work in a chalk mine. The fourth regales us with the donkey ‘Palio’ a race that’s far more eventful than its Florentine equivalent, due to the donkeys’ mischievousness at competing often refusing to reach the finishing line, unlike their obedient cousin the horse. The fifth focuses on a garlanded donkey seemingly left to its own devices to wander freely grazing in a deserted part of the town. The penultimate chapter sees a reluctant donkey acknowledging its fate with dignity after initially putting up a fight. The camera focuses on the deep well of pitiful acceptance in the beast’s defeated eye as it looks out dejectedly from its concrete pen. This is a simply drawn sequence that speaks volumes and will  move you to tears if you care about animal welfare. Worthwhile but painfully slow-burning at times, this thoughtful exploration of the donkey’s role in Western culture is a meditative and meaningful addition to the animal film archive. MT

SCREENING DURING RUSSIAN FILM WEEK | 25 November – 2 December 2018

Marrakech International Film Festival | 30 November – 8 December 2018

Marrakech International Film Festival (FIFM) is back this year under the artistic control of its newly appointed director Christoph Terhechte. It will run from 30 November until 8 December 2018.

Terhechte comes with considerable arthouse experience and impeccable credentials. He was director of Berlinale’s Forum section from 2001 to 2018 and also a member of the Berlinale Competition selection committee.

This year’s 17th Edition will also honour Robert De Niro, Agnès Varda and Robin Wright along with Moroccan filmmaker Jillali Ferhati. The festival president is James Gray. International stars in the shape of Martin Scorsese, Guillermo del Toro, Cristian Mungiu, and Yousry Nasrallah will also be gracing the Moroccan city and Medina. Along with Cannes luminary Thierry Fremaux.

US director James Gray will head the International Competition jury which includes actress Dakota Johnson (50 shades of Grey, Suspiria), Indian actress Ileana D’Cruz (Barfi!), Lebanese filmmaker and visual artist Joana Hadjithomas (I Want to See), British director Lynne Ramsay (We Need To Talk about Kevin, A Beautiful Day), Moroccan director Tala Hadid (House in the Fields), French director Laurent Cantet (The Class– Palme d’Or 2008), German Actor Daniel Brühl and Mexican director Michel Franco (April’s Daughter).

From November 30th to December 8th, these nine celebrities will select the recipient of L’Étoile d’Or 2018 among the 14 first and second feature films in competition.

The Marrakech International Film Festival has been one of the biggest events devoted to Moroccan cinema and the locality offers favourable conditions for global film production. Since its inception in 2003 the most prestigious names in world cinema have been hosted and celebrated in Marrakech and include Martin Scorsese, Oliver Stone, Marion Cotillard and Johnny Halliday. Back in the day, Winston Churchill and Agatha Christie made Marrakech their winter holiday destination and were hosted at the world famous La Mamounia Hotel.

With its fabulous climate, medieval walled Medina dating back to the Berber Empire, exotic palaces and lush gardens (Yves St Laurent designed the Majorelle), Marrakech is the ideal location for an international winter film festival. MT

30 NOVEMBER-8 DECEMBER 2018 | MARRAKECH | MOROCCO

 

Anna’s War | Voyna Anny ****. | Russian Film Week 2018

Dir.: Aleksey Fedorchenko; Cast: Marta Kozlava; Russia 2018, 74 min.

Marta Kozlava makes a stunning debut as a six-year old Jewish girl hiding from the Nazis in Silent Souls director Aleksey Fedorchenko’s minimalist feature that follows a six-year old Jewish girl hiding from the Nazis.  Despite a limited script, ANNA’S WAR is full of harrowing images and the austere story-telling avoids the emblematic overload of many Holocaust features.

Anna (Kozlava) has to drag herself from under the body of her mother in a mass grave in the Soviet Union in 1941. The German soldiers have installed themselves in village school and this is where Anna eventually fetches but her ordeal is not over. To avoid recapture she has to disappear up the chimney of a disused fireplace in the building. And this is where the story unfolds as the little girl fights for survival amongst the debris, using the Nazi’s recently installed two-way mirror to keep an eye on them even though she is too young to understand their activities. She drinks water from a glass of paint brushes, makes a coat for herself from the fur of a stuffed wolf, and eats the rats she catches in a trap, sharing her food with a friendly cat and watching as the Nazis put pins to identify their newly captured territories on a map.

Anna wanders the whole house at night, stumbling into a Christmas party where the soldiers are celebrating at a table full of food. A German soldier is too drunk to question her appearance, and gives Anna a gingerbread Swastika she takes to her hiding place, but eventually spurns. This is the only tokenistic faux-pas in Fedoschneko’s otherwise realistic treatment. But Anna also finds a revolver, which comes in handy later, when one of Russian clerks is coming up the ladder over the fireplace, to destroy a pigeon nest. Anna points the revolver at him, and he does not give her away. Much later, the murky darkness lightens and Anna takes out the pins on the military map, whilst we listen to the first sounds of music.

ANNA’s WAR will bring to mind The Diary of Anne Frank and Tarkovsky’s war child Ivan. Apart from Kozlava’s remarkable performance, credit should go to DoP Alisher Khamidkhodjaev who creates a hauntingly macabre setting full of frightening images and worthy of German impressionist cinema. Anna is a heroine with a small ‘h’ but her ingenuity and survival instinct in ov