Since Ernest Shackleton’s polar expedition of 1914-16 had a happy ending we don’t get the sense of foreboding that always accompanies footage of Scott.
Much is made in the commentary of the hardships Shackleton and his men endured, but the attractive tints and jaunty score create quite a different mood; while the ever-present snow which devoured the Endeavour must have been chilly to endure but is majestic to behold. (Ironically global warming would make following in his footsteps easier today).
A lot of footage is devoted to quaint scenes of the local wildlife; and it seems rather disingenuous of the makers to lament the lack of a welcome they received from a group of emperor penguins when they happily admitted using seals and sea cows as a source of food.@RichardChatten
IN CINEMAS from 28 JANUARY 2022 WITH A NEW SCORE COMPOSED BY NEIL BRAND
Byron Haskin | Cast: Lisabeth Scott, Don DeFore, Dan Duryea, Arthur Kennedy | US Noir 99’
Don’t expect the tear-jerker the title might lead you to anticipate. To paraphrase Godard, all you need for a film noir is Lizabeth Scott with a gun in her handbag, and that’s what you get here.
Visually the film isn’t actually terribly noirish, since much of the action takes place in the modest but well-lit little apartment occupied by honest working stiff Arthur Kennedy and his wannabe Queen Bee wife Lizabeth Scott. However, since Ms. Scott’s extraordinary face framed by a sleek blonde bob is a prominent visual motif throughout the film, there are enough images of her framed by cameraman William Mellor in a succession of chic high-collared suits to inspire plenty of paintings by Richard Hamilton.
In a narrative that anticipates Sam Raimi’s A Simple Plan, Kennedy and Scott have predictably differing ideas about what to do with a suitcase containing $60,000 in untraceable notes that unexpectedly lands on their car seat. Not long afterwards Dan Duryea at his scariest wearing an obnoxious little bow-tie comes calling wanting his money back, before learning too late – like Tony Perkins in ‘Pretty Poison’ – that he’s in way out of his depth with a true criminal sociopath like Ms. Scott.
There’s a lot of talk; but as scripted by Roy Huggins (who later created ‘The Fugitive’ and ‘The Rockford Files’) it’s good talk, and the interaction and development of the characters builds to a most satisfyingly conclusion to which little clues have been discreetly sown along the way. The characters of the man introducing himself as Kennedy’s former war buddy, and Kennedy’s sister herself who lives across the landing – played by Don Defore and Kristine Miller – don’t at first seem terribly interesting but grow to confound expectations.
All the acting is good, with the possible exception of Ms. Scott herself, who’s a bit one-note, but isn’t really required to do much except look like Lizabeth Scott, which she does to perfection. Aged only 26, she already looks as if she’s had her face lifted about half a dozen times; but on her it looks good @RichardChatten
Dir.: Anastasiya Palchikova; Cast: Polina Gukhman, Anna Chipovskaya; Maksim Sukhanov, Alexander Mizev, Iris Lebedeva; Russia 2020, 86 min.
This first feature from Russian writer/director Anastasiya Palchikova is a thinly veiled critique of the nation post Stalinism, wrapped up as a crime/revenge story. The director takes the forces to task in creating a society riddled with violence where Putin and his oligarchy cronies rule with impunity given the lack of a legitimate opposition.
We meet Masha (Gukhman) just before her thirteenth birthday; she lives in a small Russian town and is the darling of her uncle (Sukhanov), who is a crime lord, involving his sons and other relatives in all his schemes from robbery to murder. Masha, a gifted singer, has the family in thrall – and when school friend Sergey ignores her approaches, she asks Uncle’s sons to beat him up until he relents and offers her the attention she craves. But Sergey has also got mixed up in the family business and will later pay with his life for getting out of his depth.
Uncle is very critical of Masha’s mother Nadya (Lebedeva), who has married outside the clan, and has left her husband while remaining a close friend. Nadya wants to take Masha to a relative in far away Samara, but Uncle does not want to give up control, and asks his son Andrei (Mizev) to burn Nadya’s flat down, killing Nadya’s husband in the process. And he’s not the only one sleeping there.
The end is set in Moscow where a grown-up Masha (Chipovskaya) gets ready for a performance with Uncle, Andrei and other family members are in attendance, getting rich on the spoils of the now legitimate music business. But Masha has not forgotten.
Polina Gukhman carries the feature as Masha the 13 year old whose uncle and sons fulfil her every wish, the big family cushioning her from the big wide world. Violence is the norm for her – but the victims are always the ones fighting Uncle and his clan. Only once is the order disturbed, when one of Uncle’s relatives is killed by a rival gang, having raped an under aged girl. Told from the POV of Masha, for whom Uncle is a sort of God granting her every wish, this is a study of a regressive dog eat dog world, where violence holds sway. In Masha’s infantile understanding of the situation, brutality is just part of getting what you want – just ask Uncle whose soft spot for her (rather like the Kray twins for their mother) contrasts with his harsh treatment of all others, including his wider family. DoP Gleb Filatov’s harsh realism is sometimes hard to bear, but never gratuitous in showing how casually normal this hostile environment is for an adolescent like Masha. But Uncle’s little Princess would grow up one day. AS
MASHA is showing as part of the London Russian Film Festival, currently being held for the first time in the UK – from November 12 to December 10, 2021. New customers can enjoy the festival films as part of an extended Subscription free trial on BFI player using the voucher code RFF21.
A macabre, beguiling, bleak tale that echoes our worst nightmares – being trapped forever in an endless life of hopelessness where self-determinism is taken away. Vaguely erotic but ultimately nauseously claustrophobic this Japanese classic is an Oriental filmic answer to existential philosophers such as Sartre, Camus and Kierkegaard.A school teacher combing the dunes for unusual insects is so involved in his task he misses the last bus home and is offered a bed for the night by a local woman. The billet is at the bottom of a sandy bank reached by a rope ladder but he wakes up the next morning to discover the ladder has disappeared and he is forced to shovel sand out from underneath the house in order to safeguard his resting place. By the end of each day he much start the process again and soon realises he is trapped with the woman and – ultimately by the villagers who appear to be selling the sand to building contractors. It’s the ultimate catch 22 and won the Jury Prize at Cannes in the year of its filming.
We’ve all heard of a dripping tap. Woman of the Dunes is about shifting sands. The sensual beauty of the black and white visuals contrasts with the sheer dreadfulness of the situation as the teacher is slowly driven out of his mind, forced between communing with the woman and his unbearable sense of helplessness in this Kafkaesque hell. MT
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
Dir Agnès Varda | Cast: Sandrine Bonnaire, Macha Méril, Yolande Moreau | 106′ | France | Drama
Venice Goldenn Lion winner Vagabond is haunting story about loss, loneliness and defiance expressed through its remarkable central character played by one of French cinema’s most intriguing talents, Sandrine Bonnaire, who had made her first appearance in Maurice Pialat’s À nos amours. Here she gives a captivating performance as the freewheeling rebel Mona who spends her days wondering aimlessly through the South of France, her death in the opening scenes of this melancholy human story allowing Varda to explore and us to reflect on society’s preconceptions about women and the disenchfranchised. Despite its 1980s setting, Vagabond feels every as relevant in today’s shifting sociopolitical climate. A simple narrative but one with everlasting appeal and universal resonance.
Argentinian film-maker Damián Szifrón’s latest film was also his big hope for the Foreign Languages Oscars in 2015. He didn’t win but WILD TALES is worth watching: a collection of wacky and wonderful stories from contemporary Argentina: a country richly suffused with the feisty Latin temperament of its Spanish forebears and public services that would make even Franz Kafka proud. Exploring a series of nightmarish scenarios and characters on the verge of a nervous breakdown (Almodovar is co-producer), but WILD TALES could be set in any modern European capital making it a drama of universal appeal.
On a plane, a fashion model finds she is next to her nemesis leading to mile-high mayhem; a cook uses her culinary expertees to help her boss avenge an unpleasant diner; a macho driver gets more than he bargained for on a mountain journey, a demolition man (Ricardo Darin) brings the house down over a ill-judged parking ticket; a rich industrialist tries to cover up his son’s mistake and, finally, a Jewish wedding ends in a showcase showdown after the bride pits her wits against her unfaithful groom.
In scenes of spectacular violence, outlandish revenge and powerful poignance the portmanteau fiom travels the length and breadth of the country from the heart of Buenos Aires to the magnificent mountainsides and pampas, Szifrón uses dark humour and subtle gravitas to expose his fellow compatriots’ proud self-belief and unswerving inner-strength: a scene between a bride and a random waiter on a hotel roof-top is almost magical. Performances are gutsy and heartfelt from the ensemble Argentinian cast, WILD TALES offers world class entertainment worthy of any Oscar ceremony. MT