Posts Tagged ‘Interviews’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE TASTE FOR RICE FLOWER

A FISH OUT OF WATER 

ONE NIGHT ON THE WHARF

YOUTH 

ASH 

 

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

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

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

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

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

Here is the BFI Line-up:

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CROSSFIRE | FROM FRI 24 NOV

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OKLAHOMA! | DATES AND TIMES IN DECEMBER TBC

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

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

NAKED ALIBI | DATES AND TIMES IN DECEMBER TBC

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

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

DATES AND TIMES IN DECEMBER TBC

Merton of the Movies

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

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

nullODDS AGAINST TOMORROW | DATES AND TIMES IN DECEMBER TBC

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

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

DATES AND TIMES IN DECEMBER STILL TO BE CONFIRMED 

 

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Phantom of the Opera (1925)

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

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

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

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

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

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

LONDON COLISEUM | 8 OCTOBER 2017

Pop-Up Cinema | Summer/Autumn 2017

EUROWINGS  August 

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

Bishops Park in Fulham

Central Park, Greenwich Peninsula

Coram’s Fields, Bloomsbury

Ravenscourt Park, Hammersmith

Manor House Gardens, Hither Green

Kennington Park, Kennington

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

THE BARBICAN 25 -27 AUGUST 2017

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

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

THE NOMAD FESTIVAL

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

THE ROOFTOP FILM CLUB 

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

THE LUNA CINEMA  |  JUNE – OCTOBER 2017

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

CULT SCREENS

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

FILM4 SUMMER SCREEN | at Somerset House

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

MOVIES ON THE RIVER

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

AUTUMN PROGRAMME

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

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

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

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

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

Five Indie Summer Sizzlers

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

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

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

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

images ADRIFT | A DERIVA | Heitor Dhalia  (2009)

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

UnknownUNRELATED | Joanna Hogg (2008)

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

my_summer_of_love_natalie_press_emily_blunt_3MY SUMMER OF LOVE | Pawel Pawlikovski (2004)

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

ALL TITLES AVAILABLE ON AMAZON.CO.COM | BFI.ORG.UK

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CINEMA RITROVATA 25 JUNE -2 JULY IN BOLOGNA

Christopher Nolan Presents | BFI

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

Preview: Dunkirk + intro by director Christopher Nolan

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

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

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

THU 13 JUL 20:15 NFT1

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GREED 

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

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

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

SUNRISE: A Song of Two Humans

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

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

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

ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT

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

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

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

Considering All Quiet on the Western Front

TRT 90min

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

Tickets £6.50

THU 6 JUL 20:40 NFT3

FOREIGN CORRESPONDANT 

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

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

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

 

THE WAGES OF FEAR  Le salaire de la peur

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

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

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

THE BATTLE OF ALGIERS La battaglia di Algeri

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

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

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

RYAN’S DAUGHTER 

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

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

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

ALIEN

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

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

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

CHARIOTS OF FIRE 

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

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

SAT 15 JUL 15:20 NFT3 / SUN 23 JUL 17:40 NFT1

SPEED 

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USA 1994. Dir Jan de Bont. With Keanu Reeves, Sandra Bullock, Dennis Hopper. 116min. 35mm. 15

This blockbuster hit has non-stop, edge of the seat thrills and spills. Reeves turns in a strong performance as the hero, a SWAT cop dealing with a crazed bomber who has wired up a bus to explode if the speed drops below 50mph. Bullock shines as the feisty passenger at the steering wheel. A thoroughly enjoyable roller-coaster ride of a movie.

TUE 25 JUL 20:50 NFT1 / SUN 30 JUL 17:20 NFT3

UNSTOPPABLE

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USA 2010. Dir Tony Scott. With Denzel Washington, Chris Pine, Rosario Dawson. 98min. 35mm. 12A

With the poster tag line reading ‘1 million tonnes of steel, 100,000 lives at stake, 100 minutes to impact’, Tony Scott’s final film as a director is about a runaway freight train, a retired railroad engineer and a rookie conductor who must figure out a way of trying to avert disaster. It’s a well-made, suspenseful thriller that works as a great companion piece to Speed.

SAT 29 JUL 17:50 NFT3 / MON 31 JUL 20:45 NFT1

Five Foodie Films about Love

F&L PackshotFRANK AND LOLA (2016)

What starts out as a seductive love story develops into a peripatetic psychological thriller well served by a witty script and infused with an intriguing menu of subplots that lead us into the bizarre world of the superrich – with lashings of food and property porn.

Shannon’s Frank is the kind of man most women desire: strong and masculine yet sensuous and vulnerable, his desire and protective obsession for Lola resonates in every scene. As Frank bears his soul for Lola without ego or rancour from his romantic past, he channels his masculine jealousy into a passion that ultimately makes him excel in the bedroom – and in the kitchen, as one of Las Vegas’s top chefs. And soon he’s much in demand as his culinary skills give him the edge in a game of intrigue. Poots’ Lola is a flighty and fluffy female who remains an elusive dark horse right until the final denouement, and even then we’re unsure of her motives. Matthew Ross cooks up a set of authentic characters in this exciting and unpredictable feature debut.

Babette's FeastBABETTE’S FEAST (1987)

Based on Karen Blixen’s 1950 short story, originally set in Norway, but transposed here to 19th Century Jutland by Franco-Danish director Gabriel Axel explores the relationship between spirituality and sensuality, in the microcosm of a small, windswept coastal village, governed in totality by a stern Lutheran pastor and father to two beautiful women; the quintessence of stifled austerity.

But Axel’s austere, minimalist, and exquisitely beautiful piece is set in a time and a place where there was little to get excited about- yet the responses and reactions feel real. It’s another film about frustrated lives – and family restrictions, where preparing food becomes both a loving act and an outlet for repressed feelings. Nothing is forced by plot. It all unfolds naturally and unhurriedly, but so juicily until the final denouement.

Like_Water_for_Chocolate_(Book_Cover)LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE (1991)

Frustrated love is also the theme of Alfonso Arau’s romantic drama. Based on Laura Esquivel’s debut novel the film explores how a young girl channels her pent up desire into food. Unable to marry her lover Pedro, due to family pressure, cooking literally becomes a labour of love for a woman unable to escape her emotionally fraught life.

Mexican cinema is unique in melding a quirky supernatural playfulness with burning carnal desire, seen recently in Rocha Minter’s Tenemos La Carne (out next month) and Amat Escalante’s La Region Selvaje (The Untamed). Here Esquivel uses magical realism to suffuse to ordinary with the outlandish in a love story inflamed by painful passion.

TheLUNCHBOX-Photo3THE LUNCHBOX (2014)

After the pent-up passion of LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE Ritesh Batra’s debut feature is a feelgood riff on neglected love. That of a housewife in modern Mumbai, where the well known ‘dabba’ or lunchbox courier system is legendary for its reliability in delivering the midday meal. With echoes of The Go Between, a punka walla’s mistake results in a sweet-hearted romance that ignites when lonely wife Ila’s lunchbox for her husband ends up on another man’s desk. Exploring a range of nuanced emotions, Batra’s elegantly-paced and often humorous narrative unfolds at leisure, suffused with charm and well-observed detail of its contemporary Indian setting. THE LUNCHBOX showcases some of India’s finest contemporary acting talent in delightful performances from Irrfan Khan (Life of Pi) and Nawazuddin Siddiqui (Gangs of Wasseypur) not to mention a luminous Nimrat Kaur.

UnknownI AM LOVE (2010)

Tilda Swinton plays another frustrated housewife – although she’s extravagantly glamorous and elegantly discrete here in Luca Guadagnini’s deliciously sumptuous gastro porn hit I AM LOVE. As Emma, a Russian aristocrat who has married into a family of rich Italian industrialists, she somehow feels like a bystander in a parallel universe of wealthy Milan. Her son Edo (Flavio Parenti) wants to set up a restaurant with Antonio (Edoardo Gabbriellini), a talented young chef. His delicious cuisine reawakens Emma’s senses until she falls for Antonio when he cooks her a delicious al fresco lunch. This is a stylishly sensual romance where Guadagnino employs the same delicious technique in upmarket settings as Matthew Ross in FRANK AND LOLA – trading the slick splendour of contempo Las Vegas for the chic retro charm of Milan.  MT

FRANK AND LOLA IS NOW OUT ON DVD AND DIGITAL DOWNLOAD COURTESY OF UNIVERSAL PICTURES 

 

After the Fall | Cinema in the 1930s

cleopatra-2“The content of the motion picture still was designed for escape, the majority reflecting the tastes of tired or jaded adults seeking a never-never la-Dixton Wector, stories of luxury and melodrama, sex and sentiment.

America in the 1930s was a nation in flux. Ravaged by political turmoil and economic uncertainty of the Great Depression; filmmakers responded to rapid social change with some of the 20th century’s most escapist and outlandish cinema that saw the birth and rise of truly legendary stars, some of whom are still alive today. The early 1930s ushered in the ‘golden age’ of Hollywood’ an era that was to continue well into the 1940s. Despite financial anxiety and unemployment affecting 25 percent of the population, movie theatres across the nation saw almost 70 million Americans stump up their hard-earned cash to get away from the doom and gloom and seek adventure, fantasy, glamour and even horror in their spare time.

After the stock market crash of 1929, the American economy never recovered fully before the USA entered WWII in 1941, when the efforts to win the war guaranteed full employment for the first time in 1942. The worldwide recession had hit the USA the hardest: between 1929 and 1932 unemployment rose by a staggering 607%. But in 1935, Hollywood could breathe easy again: 80 million cinema tickets had been sold, only ten million less than before the depression. The fact that sound technology had been introduced in nearly all cinemas nationwide during this period – and the entrance fee of a mere 15 Cent – had certainly contributed to this trend.

Vampyr - Carl Dreyer 1932The_Mummy_4 copyGenre-wise, gangster films (with some of the late 1930s movies being more than precursor to the Film Noir) were highly popular, and a new sub-genre: the Screwball Comedy. The 1930s also was a heyday for musicals. Often theming hard times, these captured the imagination of depressed audiences and boosted morale with a positive outcome or happy ending. The Silent era was slowly fading replaced by the ‘talkies’ – many classic films were lushly remade and would be re-adapted over and over again – The Prisoner of Zenda and Cleopatra, several times. At the same time the studio system roared into action with the Hay’s Code, an wide scale attempt at organized censorship of Hollywood films. Sensationalist films such as King Kong (1933) and The Invisible Man (1933) were all the rage and the first sound action par b&w film Hell’s Angels (1930) starring Jean Harlow (in her only colour film) was made by Howard Hughes.  The Horror genre was developed with more Dracula films: Bride of Frankenstein (1935) and Dracula’s Daughter (1936), The Mummy (1932), Vampyr (1932) and The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939). Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi are household names whose careers were forged in Horror. And the 1930s also saw the rise to fame of The Marx Brothers, who made their debut at the end of the silent era, in Comedy.

wroth-copyBut the Great Depression did have an impact on Hollywood studios where the public still mattered. In the words of Herbert Gans “The audience is obviously limited by what it is offered but what is offered to it depends a great deal on what it has accepted previously.” Since the industrial boom of the 1890s society saw an increase in commercialism with many people moving from a simple rural existence to the big metropolis, as the population continued to grow – with over three million migrating to the West Coast with the droughts of the Great Plains causing further economic hardship and inspiring John Steinbeck to write The Grapes of Wrath (1939).

HIS GIRL FRIDAYThe choreographer Busby Berkeley directed the dance numbers in classics like Gold Digger, 42nd Street and Top Hat (1935), whilst stars like Judy Garland, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers were positive role models; also the child star Shirley Temple (Our Little Girl), who embodied a new optimism in time of hardship. The Gay Divorce (1934) and Top Hat (1935) were also Screwball comedies, a new sub-genre dominated by director Howard Hawks. But it was Lewis Milestone, who directed the newspaper satire The Front Page in 1931, to start it all – not by accident, it was Howard Hawks who re-made the film as His Girl Friday in 1940 (left). Frank Capra, who later became the chronicler of the “New Deal”, President Roosevelt’s economic recovery plan, followed in 1934 with It Happened One Night. Hawks than directed Bringing Up Baby in 1938: a flop, when it was released, the classic of the genre today. The screwball comedies had to be careful: most of them were set in a very up-market environment – and the cinema audience had an ambiguous relationship with the upper class: one he one hand, there was envy, but since the films often mad fun of the protagonists, they were forgiven. In George Cukor’s Philadelphia Story from 1940, James Stewart’s Mike Connor, an ordinary man, who has ‘fallen’ into high society, embodies this conflict: in the end he is quiet glad, that he is spared a marriage with socialite Catherine Hepburn, who remarries her social equal, the playboy Gary Grant.

UnknownkillersWhilst John Huston’s remake of Roy de Ruth’s The Maltese Falcon from 1931 is the official’ birthday’ of American Film Noir in 1941, throughout the 1930s examples of noir elements infiltrated film, led by German emigrant directors, among them Fritz Land and John Brahm (1893-1982), the latter, like Lang, a re-emigrant, who returned to his homeland for two films in the mid-1950s, only (unlike Lang) to finish his career in Hollywood. Brahm’s Let us Live, wit Henry Fonda, and Rio (with Basil Rathbone), both from 1939, where certainly fully fledged film noirs, as was his Hangover Square from 1945. But there is more than one example for every year of the 1930s for a noirish crime film: City Streets (1931) by Rouben Mamoulian, Scarface (Howard Hawks 1932), Glass Key (Frank Tuttle, 1935), Fury (1936) and You Only Live Once (1937) by Lang. In 1936, William Dieterle, another Berlin director who came to Hollywood, directed Satan Met a Lady with Betty Davis. And there is Angels with Dirty Faces (1938), by Michael Curtiz, a Hungarian émigré. It was left to Robert Siodmak (1900-1973), another ex-UFA director from Berlin (and another re-emigrant), to become the “Prince of the Film Noir”: in 1942 he would direct Fly by Night, a thriller cum screwball comedy, before he made the classic trio of The Spiral Staircase, The Killers and Criss Cross between 1945-1948.

The Man Who Knew Too MuchMeanwhile in France, the 1930s were characterised by the lyrical style of poetic realism particularly pioneered by Jean Renoir, Julien Duvivier and Marcel Carné. Often melancholy or fatalistic in tone, these films were rather stylised and centred on unfortunate characters stuck in the margins of society or disillusioned with life and love. Simon Signoret and Jean Gabin frequently starred in these films with regular scriptwriters Charles Spaak and Jacques Prévert. The style went on to influence Italian Neorealism and eventually the French New Wave. Germany started the 1930s still under the influence by the Weimar Republic which had been going since 1919 but eventually gave way to Nazism which exerted a strong artistic control over German cinema. The dark elements of German Expressionism during the 1920s were eventually taken to America by emigrés such as Robert Siodmak, Fritz Lang and Billy Wilder and Alfred Hitchcock whose style and repertoire had a profound impact on Hollywood particularly as regards film Noir, Horror and the subsequent Monster movies. AS/MT

Inspired by AFTER THE FALL: AMERICAN PAINTING DURING THE DEPRESSION | RA.ORG

 

 

Kinoteka Polish Film Festival 2017 | 17 March – 5 April

KINOTEKA POLISH FILM FESTIVAL is back for its 15th Edition showcasing the latest films from Poland in an enticing programme that includes a tribute to the late and great post-war legend ANDRZEJ WAJDA and a celebration of 70 YEARS OF POLISH ANIMATION

1249182_afterimage_04-h_2016During his impressive career spanning 7 decades and 56 films, Andrzej Wajda achieved international critical acclaim, winning a BAFTA and César Award (for Danton), both a Palme D’Or (Man of Iron) and Jury prize (Kanal) at Cannes, a Fipresci Prize at Venice (Ashes & Diamonds) a silver bear at Berlin for his lifetime contribution to cinema plus multiple lifetime achievement awards including Camerimage and the European Film Awards as well as winning Best Film at the Polish Film Awards (Katyn). He directly influenced a generation of filmmakers including Martin Scorsese, Roman Polanski, Francis Ford Coppola and Agnieszka Holland (who assisted him on Man of Marble). His final film Afterimage (2016) has been chosen as Poland’s official nominee for the Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award, a fitting tribute to the most revered Polish filmmaker (above left).

Ashes and Diamonds. 1958. Dir Andrzej Wajda. KadrThe Barbican Cinema and Close Up Cinema screening two complementary short retrospective seasons of Wajda’s films including rarely screened titles such as A Generation (1955), The Promised Land (1975) and Danton (1983) as well as iconic classics including Ashes and Diamonds (1958) (left) and his late masterpiece Katyn (2007).

IMG_3442In the New Polish Cinema Strand KINOTEKA will show the UK premiere of Marcin Koszalka’s psychological thriller The Red Spider (2015), described in the Karlovy Vary programme as “an intricate story of the fascination with evil that hides in places we would never expect, and there will be an opportunity to see Koszalka’s short documentary films including the autobiographical: Such a Nice Boy I Gave Birth To; about living with his verbally abusive parents. An in-depth exploration of the relationship between a 53 year old man and his mother; Til It Hurts (2008). And a long short documentary User Friendly Death (2007) that examines what actually happens after death, in a Polish funeral parlour and crematorium.

playground-h_2016There will be another chance to see one of the most shocking teenage thriller’s of 2016 Playground that echoes the tragic tale of Jamie Bulger in a rural Poland, and captured critics’ attention at last year’s London Film Festival. Don’t miss Jan P Matuszynski’s Locarno festival debut The Last Family that tells the real-life story of a fractious, dysfunctional family living on a bleak Warsaw housing estate and depicts the physical and emotional claustrophobia of their family dynamic. Michal Rosa’s multi-awarded Happiness of the World, a painterly comedy portrait of a journalist’s experiences in 1940s Silesia (main picture).

In this year’s Polish Masters Rediscovered strand KINOTEKA shines the spotlight on the incredible story of Polish filmmaker Wanda Jakubowska, the first prominent female figure in Polish film history. Jakubowska started her film career in the 1930s, during the war she was arrested in 1942 for being an active member of the Polish Resistance and imprisoned at Auschwitz for the rest of the war. The ICA will screen her landmark 1948 film, The Last Stage, which won the Crystal Globe at Karlovy Vary. Based on her experiences at Auschwitz and in part shot on location, it is considered one of the most harrowing and immediate holocaust films ever made. The retrospective programme will also screen her post-war East German/DEFA production of Encounter at Twilight (1960). An expressionistic drama about a Polish pianist returning to the West German town where she had previously lived as a ‘forced labourer’ after the war, Jakubowska’s film was one of the highlights of the Post-war German Cinema retrospective programme screened this year at Locarno.

Before the Second World War, animated cinema was practically unknown in Poland until Zenon Wasilewski emerged as the pioneer of animated films. Best remembered for the groundbreaking animated puppet film In the Time of King Krakus (1947), now recognised as the first animated film in the history of the Polish School of Animation. KINOTEKA will be celebrating 70 years of Polish Animation with an extra special Closing Night Gala event at the Barbican Hall with a programme of classic films from the Polish School of Animation set to a specially commissioned live score, performed by leftfield indie band British Sea Power who have been previously responsible for a series of acclaimed film scores including Robert J Flaherty’s classic Man of Aran and Penny Woolcock’s From The Sea To The Land Beyond.

KINOTEKA POLISH FILM FESTIVAL | 17 MARCH – 5 APRIL 2017

Bfi Flare Film Festival 2017 | 16-26 March 2017

The 31st Edition of BFI Flare is back on 16th March. This year once again promises to be provocative, playful and politically engaged – appealing to both straight and LGBT audiences – a number of World, International and European Premieres are on offer. BFI Flare is absolutely the place to see the best new LGBT cinema first.”

AGAINST_THE_LAW_still_lovey_on_bench copyOpening with the World Premiere of Fergus O’Brien’s BBC Production AGAINST THE LAW (left) at BFI Southbank. The Festival closes with the International Premiere of Jennifer Reeder’s SIGNATURE MOVE at BFI Southbank. The Centrepiece Screening of the 2017 Festival is the European Premiere of TORREY PINES, a psychedelic stop-motion animation about a child grappling with gender identity and a schizophrenic mother. And there will be two World Premieres on offer as Special Presentations: the new UK web series, DIFFERENT FOR GIRLS, a smart, sassy, sexy multi-layered lesbian drama, directed by award-winning Festival alumni Campbell X and AFTER LOUIE starring Alan Cumming as a New York artist whose life is turned upside down by an encounter with a much younger man.

LGBT still people struggle for basic human rights in many countries, so BFI Flare presents a selection of films and events which explore their experiences around the world.

OUT OF IRAQ (dirs. Eva Orner and Chris McKim) is an outstanding documentary about the forbidden relationship of two Iraqi young soldiers at the height of the Iraq war.

THE PEARL OF AFRICA (dir. Jonny von Wallström) follows the story of Cleopatra Kambugu, the first out transgender woman in Uganda (left).

As part of the UK/INDIA 2017 Sridhar Rangayan, the Director of Kashish Mumbai International Queer Film Festival will attend BFI Flare and take part in an event exploring LGBT film and television culture in India, Once again the festival is divided into a trio of strands for ease of reference

BFI FLARE: LONDON LGBT FILM FESTIVAL, 2017 FULL PROGRAMME

H E A R T S includes films about love, romance and friendship. We recommend:

HANDSOME_DEVIL_2 copyHANDSOME DEVIL, fresh from Sundance comes John Butler’s drama which has Andrew Scott as a witty Irish charmer which charts the unlikely friendship between an isolated gay teen and his hunky rugby playing roommate.

HEARTLAND, Maura Anderson’s elegant and assured debut is a powerful examination of love and loss and tells the tale of Lauren, who is forced to return to live in rural Oklahoma following the death of her girlfriend.

DEAR DAD: (dir. Tanuj Bhramar) in India-set a father and son move closer in a bittersweet road movie.

BEING 17: André Techiné’s powerful and affecting tale of two young boys in their last year of high school, co-written by Celine Sciamma (Tomboy, Girlhood) – review

SEVENTEEN: the pain and heartache of young love is laid bare in Monja Art’s hugely accomplished second feature.

B O D I E S – features stories of sex, identity and transformation.

THE UNTAMED: see review

MILES : Nathan Adloff’s winning gay teen movie.

HANDMAIDEN: Park Chan Wook’s ravishing oriental upstairs/downstairs tale of deception inspired by Sarah Waters’ Fingersmith

BODY_ELECTRIC_1 copyBODY ELECTRIC (left). Marcelo Caetano explores the casual encounters of a handsome young man in contemporary Brazil.

THE ORNITHOLOGIST – see review

BELOW HER MOUTH; an entirely female crew create a no holds-barred depiction of what happens in the first few days of two women falling in love.

RAISING ZOEY; Dante Alencastre’s documentary follows a strong family who demonstrate how open mindedness and love can pave the way for a joyful transition for their 13-year-old Zoey.

IT’S ONLY THE END OF THE WORLD review

THE TRANS LIST; Timothy Greenfield Sanders returns to BFI Flare with The Trans List, in which some of the world’s most prominent transpeople, including Caitlin Jenner and Laverne Cox, tell their stories.

M I N D S  features reflections on art, politics and community.

THE SLIPPERS: Morgan White chronicles the world’s most recognisable pair of shoes in this documentary about Dorothy’s iconic ruby footwear in The Wizard of Oz.

TWO_SOFT_THINGS_2 copyTWO SOFT THINGS, TWO HARD THINGS; Mark Kenneth Woods sensitively observes the complexities of LGBT life in Canada’s remote Arctic Inuit population.

LAST MAN STANDING  (dir. Erin Brethauer) is a beautifully made documentary charting the life of eight long-term survivors who live with AIDS.

THE UNTOLD TALES OF ARMISTEAD MAUPIN: a documentary about the much-loved author of Tales of the City

ORLANDO_1 copyORLANDO: THE QUEER ELEMENT: Sally Potter’s delicious visual feast adapted from Virginia Woolf’s tale of gender identity through the ages

BFI Flare also includes a wide range of events, talks and debates.

And music-wise the BFI Flare joins forces with interactive theatre company Clay & Diamonds for Orlando: The Queer Element, an education event which uses Sally Potter’s film and Virginia Woolf’s text to allow audiences to step inside a world that breaks apart traditional boundaries between science and art and explore notions of gender and sex from the Elizabethans through to 2017.

Tickets NOW ON SALE | 16 -26 MARCH 2017 

In the Mood for Love (2000) |Faa yeung nin wa | Fashion in Film Festival

Dir: Wong Kar-Wai | Tony Leung, Maggie Cheung | Romantic Drama | 98min

Wong Kar-Wai’s subtle (and only) masterpiece is a paean to disillusioned romantics everywhere. The mournfully reflective mood piece riffs movingly on what should have been or what could have been for two loves in 1960s Hong Kong. Tony Leung’s quietly seductive Chow Mo-wan is a journalist who moves into the same cramped apartment building as Maggie Cheung’s elegantly graceful personal assistant, Su Li-zhen. Attraction is mutual but tentatively discrete allowing us to reflect and muse on our own romantic encounters: deception, loneliness, loss and heartache. And as the two tease out the barest details of each other’s existence it emerges that their respective spouses are possibly having an affair. But the overarching theme of the film lies in the suggestive longing of love rather than its lustful consummation.

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Maggie Cheung sashays seductively in beautifully cut cheongsams, her coal black hairdo caressing her high-cut collars. Tony Leung is a dreamy matinee idol with soulfully suggestive eyes and hand tailored suits. Sensuality smoulders as Christopher Doyles’ voyeuristic camera lingers on them longingly in chiaroscuro shadows and hues of crimson, lime and turquoise. Their sylph-like bodies caress the dimly lit corridors yet they glide past each other – oceans apart, their longing palpable. So much is left unsaid in a film that speaks volumes with its cinematic language and its elegaic cello score. And Nat King Cole croons cruelly with his Spanish words “Quizas, quizas, quizas”. Only perhaps.

The support characters are sketched out in deliberate crudeness leaving the central couple cocooned in their unfulfilled desire: the landlady Mrs Suen plays mahjong-mad all afternoon oblivious to Su’s predicament, her boss is occupied with his own affair. Chow’s crass colleague at work Ah Ping is lost in his own troubles. Are they too polite; bound up in old school etiquette – or simply too unsure of each other’s feelings to take things further?.

The Fado-esque finale is both heart-rending and, in part, revealing, as Chow whispers his unexpressed desires and regrets into a stone oracle at Cambodia’s Angkor Wat temple. Sadly, the film’s sequel 2046 fails to develop the narrative in any satisfactory form. MT

CURZON SOHO | FRIDAY 17 MARCH 2017 | FASHION IN FILM FESTIVAL

 

 

Human Rights Watch Film Festival | London 6-17 March 2017

Human Rights Watch Film Festival is thundering back to the BARBICAN, BRITISH MUSEUM and PICTUREHOUSE CENTRAL with a fresh and resonant array of award-winning features and documentaries that showcase shifting attitudes to Human Rights around the world today. In a programme that highlights “courageous resilience in challenging times” we hear from Chinese migrant workers; a teenager from Hong Kong; internet sleuths; the indigenous Mayan population in Guatemala; elderly women revealing historic sexual exploitation; a female squash player from Pakistan. All these films celebrate collective action and revolutionary voices, and activists’ triumph over oppression.

The Festival will open on 9 March at Picturehouse Central with Raoul Peck’s powerful I Am Not Your Negro and close on 17 March at the Barbican, with Zaradasht Ahmed’s immersive and uncompromising Nowhere to Hide, a first person account from a male nurse in one of the world’s most dangerous and inaccessible areas, Jalawla in Iraq.

ivans Ivan is The Good Postman who is running for mayor and campaigning to bring life to his ageing and increasingly deserted Bulgarian village, by welcoming refugees and their families to settle there. With warmth, humour and humanity, the filmmaker Tonislav Hristov’s often surreal documentary, set in a forgotten village on a route for asylum seekers making their way through Europe, provides valuable insight into the evolving discussions that dominate international politics.

With uninhibited access Shimon Dotan’s The Settlers cracks open the world of Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank: their daily lives, their worldviews, and their position within Israel. The film captures the casual zealotry, racism, and untroubled certainty of many settlers in this contentious and controversial space. Dotan lays out the facts with extraordinary care and lucidity, allowing viewers to see the progression of actions and reactions that have led to the current volatile situation.

Shang Jiaojiao_02Two festival titles give pause for thought regarding the human cost of people’s dependence on electronic devices and the Internet. Heather White and Lynn Zhang will present the world premiere of their film Complicit, which follows factory workers harmed by exposure to chemicals in their work as they fight the Chinese electronics giant Foxconn. Led by migrant worker, Yi Yeting, who is struggling to survive his own work-induced leukaemia, he equips and empowers other sick factory workers to try to save lives and improve working conditions for millions of Chinese people, in the process confronting some of the world’s most profitable and recognised brands, among them Apple and Samsung.

BLACK CODEIdeas of citizenship, privacy, and democracy are challenged to the very core in Nicholas de Pencier’s gripping Black Code. Based on Ronald Deibert’s book of the same name, the film follows international cyber stewards from the Toronto-based group Citizen Lab, who have documented how exiled Tibetan monks are attempting to circumvent China’s surveillance apparatus; Syrian citizens have been tortured for Facebook posts; Brazilian activists are using social media to livestream police abuses; and Pakistani activists have opposed online campaigns for violence against women.

Individual and collective voices are heard in three documentaries from Hong Kong, Guatemala and Egypt. Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower, which just won the audience award for World Cinema documentary at Sundance 2017 – follows Hong Kong’s most dissident teenager, Joshua Wong, now 20-years-old. Since 2011, Wong has rallied thousands of students to occupy the streets. Following teargas attacks, multiple arrests and an exhausting 79-day campaign to shut down Hong Kong’s financial district, Joshua moves on to the next phase of the movement – facing down the superpower from inside the government itself.

Irma Alicia Vel·squez NimatujPamela Yates’ gripping 500 Years documents the first trial in the history of the Americas to prosecute the genocide of an indigenous people, in this instance the majority Mayan population of Guatemala. Threatening the powerful and empowering the dispossessed, the trial exposed a world of brutality, entrenched racism and impunity, subverting the historical narrative of Guatemala.

TICKLINGGIANTS_014In Tickling Giants, the director Sara Taksler follows Bassem Youssef (known as “the Egyptian Jon Stewart”) who in the midst of the Egyptian Arab Spring changed his career path from heart surgeon to full-time comedian. In a country where freedom of speech is becoming increasingly restricted with each regime change, Youssef and his courageous staff of young writers develop creative methods to non-violently challenge abuses of power. Enduring physical threats, protests, and legal action, the team members test how far they can take the joke.

TheThreeIn Ben Lear’s powerful documentary They Call Us Monsters, Juan, Jarad and Antonio, ages 14-16, face decades in prison in California, where juveniles older than 14 can be tried as adults for violent crimes. While incarcerated, they sign up for a screenwriting class and collaborate on a short film that collectively fictionalises their lives and dreams, allowing a remarkable insight into their minds and experiences.

We'll be alright - Alexander KuznetsovThe director Alexander Kuznetsov’s photographer’s eye and immense sensitivity for his subjects are beautifully evident in We’ll Be Alright, which reveals life inside Russian care and court systems. Yulia and Katia, now both adults, have lived their entire lives in care institutions in Siberia. Based on reports written when they were children living in orphanages, they had been labelled as unfit for life in the real world. Their dreams are simple – to gain independence and leave the neuropsychiatric institution that has become their prison – but a long and painful bureaucratic process forces them to meet nearly impossibly high standards for release.

5 MS Maria White Headband mediumThe voices of women young and old are cause for celebration, inspiration and admiration in another three festival titles. In Erin Heidenreich’s Girl Unbound, the squash player Maria Toorpakai disguises herself as a boy in defiance of a Taliban law forbidding women to play sport. But when she hits puberty her gender is revealed, forcing her to leave her home after repeated death threats to herself and her family. The film follows Maria over several months as she represents Pakistan on the national team standing firm in her mission to carve her own identity and destiny with the support of her progressive father and family.

In The Apology and Child Mother we hear from the largely unheard voices of elderly women who share hidden stories of past exploitations.

THE APOLOGY 01_Image courtesy Icarus FilmsIn Tiffany Hsiung’s The Apology, the courageous resolve of Grandma Gil in South Korea, Grandma Cao in China, and Grandma Adela in the Philippines moves them to seize their last chance to share with their families and the world their first-hand accounts of the truth about theirs and others sexual exploitation and imprisonment as so-called “comfort women” by the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II. Despite multiple formal apologies from the Japanese government issued since the early 1990s, there has been little justice. These women seize their last chance to share first-hand accounts of the truth to ensure that this horrific chapter of history is neither repeated nor forgotten.

!!! CHILD MOTHER #2In Ronen Zaretzky and Yael Kipper’s Child Mother, conversations between mothers and their families reveal haunting histories of women forced into marriage as young children. Born into Jewish communities in Yemen and Morocco where child marriage was a culturally sanctioned custom, they were married as young as 12 and began to have babies of their own, often working day and night to support growing families and aging husbands. Through their children’s difficult but enlightening questions, the film exposes an aspect of child marriage and trauma that is rarely discussed: the impact on the family as a whole, an open wound passed on to subsequent generations.

HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH FESTIVAL | Tickets go on sale Friday, 10 February 2017 | @hrwfilmfestival

Cinema Made in Italy Festival | 1-5 March 2017

Cinema Made in Italy returns to London’s Ciné Lumière from 1 – 5 March 2017. This seventh edition of the festival brings a brand new array of exciting and inspiring films to the South Kensington cinema. Screenings are followed by Q&A sessions with the film-makers, offering audiences the opportunity to get involved in lively discussions.

This year’s line-up comprises nine new feature films, plus the recently restored version of Gillo Pontecorvo’s 1966 masterpiece THE BATTLE OF ALGIERS (La Battaglia di Algeri), distributed in the UK byCultFilms: www.cultfilms.co.uk. It will be the very first time this restored version is shown on the big screen in the UK.

Opening night film 7 MINUTES (7 Minuti) was selected for the 29th Tokyo International Film Festival Competition, and was in the official selection at the 2016 Rome International Film Festival. The Biennale College Cinema gem EARS (Orecchie) screened at the 2016 Venice International Film Festival, as did Michele Vannucci’s I WAS A DREAMER (Il più grande sogno), Pippo Delbono’s VANGELO, and Irene Dionisio’s PAWN STREETS (Le Ultime Cose).

PERICLES THE BLACK (Pericle il Nero), starring Italy’s much-loved Riccardo Scamarcio, was in the ‘Un Certain Regard’ section at last year’s Cannes International Film Festival. Roberto Andò’s THE CONFESSIONS (Le Confessioni), starring Toni Servillo, Daniel Auteuil and Connie Nielsen, has screened at a multitude of festivals around the world, and was awarded the Ecumenical Jury Prize at the 2016 Karlovy Vary International Film Festival.

CINEMA MADE IN ITALY 1-5 MARCH AT VARIOUS VENUES | LONDON

London Critics Film Awards 2017 | The Mayfair Hotel W1

In an evening glittering with frost and freezing temperatures, the stars turned out to receive well-deserved prizes at the London Critics’ Circle Awards (image courtesy of the London Critics’ Circle).

WINNERS

image3FILM OF THE YEAR
La La Land

FOREIGN-LANGUAGE FILM OF THE YEAR (left)
Toni Erdmann

 

 

fire-at-sea-03DOCUMENTARY OF THE YEAR (right)
Fire at Sea

BRITISH/IRISH FILM OF THE YEAR

I, Daniel Blake

ACTOR OF THE YEAR Casey Affleck – Manchester by the Sea

SonOfSaul_Quad_Art_MH_V 3_smallACTRESS OF THE YEAR presented by Suqqu
Isabelle Huppert – Things to Come

SUPPORTING ACTOR OF THE YEAR (tie)
Mahershala Ali – Moonlight
Tom Bennett – Love & Friendship

SUPPORTING ACTRESS OF THE YEAR presented by Cameo
Naomie Harris – Moonlight

 

DIRECTOR OF THE YEAR
László Nemes – Son of Saul

SCREENWRITER OF THE YEAR
Kenneth Lonergan – Manchester by the Sea

BRITISH/IRISH ACTOR
Andrew Garfield – Hacksaw Ridge, Silence

BRITISH/IRISH ACTRESS
Kate Beckinsale – Love & Friendship

YOUNG BRITISH/IRISH PERFORMER presented by The May Fair Hotel
Lewis MacDougall – A Monster Calls

under-the-shadowBREAKTHROUGH BRITISH/IRISH FILMMAKER
Babak Anvari – Under the Shadow

BRITISH/IRISH SHORT FILM
Sweet Maddie Stone – Brady Hood

TECHNICAL ACHIEVEMENT
Victoria – Sturla Brandth Grovlen, cinematography

DILYS POWELL AWARD FOR EXCELLENCE IN FILM
Isabelle Huppert

THE AWARDS CEREMONY TOOK PLACE AT THE MAYFAIR HOTEL W1

Martin Scorsese: An Alternative Top Five

Martin Scorsese: An Alternative Top Five 

To celebrate the release of Martin Scorsese’s new film, SILENCE and the BFI’s current Retrospective, ALex Barrett explores some of the director’s lesser-known past gems. 

It seems safe to say, without fear of hyperbole or exaggeration, that Martin Scorsese is widely considered to be one of cinema’s greatest directors. And yet, at least in the wider public consciousness, it seems that myths and misunderstandings endure: he still remains known primarily as the maker of sweary, violent gangster films. If The Wolf of Wall Street swaps the violence for comedy, it certainly retains the swearing. The film tells the tale of stockbroker Jordan Belfort, from his days as a wide-eyed novice to drug-addled leader of a ‘wolf-pack’ of traders who work enough deals on the wrong side of the law to catch the attention of the FBI. In this, the film contains a rise and fall arc that closely mirrors those found in GoodFellas and Casino, meaning that Wolf slides unproblematically into the popular conception of Scorsese’s oeuvre – for what are stockbrokers, if not the crooks and money-launderers of today?

906213_577503462319640_1137527566_o copy

If the description outlined above does, unarguably, fit the filmmaker, it’s also true that he is so much more: his oeuvre, one can’t help but feel, is often not given the credit it deserves for the diversity it contains. Even with Wolf, some are calling comedy a new area for Scorsese, thus overlooking his previous foray into the genre with the low-budget cult curio After Hours (1985). Indeed, the lack of wider recognition for the ‘smaller’ pictures means that it now seems possible to posit an ‘alternative’ top five films – those that are loved by some, overlooked by many, and whose greatness, at times, even eclipses that found in the more readily-recognisable work.

1378835_535931909810129_1020908318_nThere are, undoubtedly, recurring themes that run throughout Scorsese’s work, and these themes offer a bridge from his gangster pictures to the work discussed below. Two themes seem especially prevalent: religion and relationships – relationships not only between men and women, but also between friends and family, man and society, and man and money. The latter of these, of course, is the primary concern of Wolf, though it’s also true that, as in GoodFellas et al., there’s a strong exploration into marital relations. More specifically, these films show the strain of relating to someone who wishes to succeed professionally above all else – and this leads us to a third key theme: reflexivity. Scorsese’s films are nothing if not steeped in cinema, and it’s possible to read almost all of his work as being, in some way, about his own obsessive need to create. Looked at in this way, the excess of Wolf becomes readable as autobiography – Scorsese’s past drug use, and his resulting collapse, has been well documented. Is Jordan Belfort’s addiction to money and the market really so different from Scorsese’s addiction to filmmaking?

 In Life Lessons (1989), Scorsese has Nick Nolte’s character verbally express this idea: ‘you make art because you have to – because you have no choice’. But the line is also (surely) a reference to a key exchange between Lermontov (Anton Walbrook) and Victoria (Moira Shearer) in Michael Powell’s The Red Shoes (1948):

1008545_496791743724146_354855668_o copy

Lermontov: Why do you want to dance?

Victoria: Why do you want to live?

Lermontov: Well I don’t know exactly why, but I must.

Victoria: That’s my answer too.

As we shall see, this obsession, and its expression in The Red Shoes, would go on to have a profound impact upon Scorsese’s own work.

5. The Color of Money (1986) 

774476_506498929420094_312042318_o copyIf Scorsese’s career can be understood as operating within a ‘one for me, one for them’ framework, The Color of Money belongs firmly in the ‘one for them’ camp. And yet, despite this, it’s important to remember that Scorsese himself had a strong hand in the construction of the screenplay. His first major Hollywood film, Color came at an uncertain time in the director’s career: following the success of Raging Bull (1980), the 80s had consisted of a high-profile flop (The King of Comedy, 1983) and a failed attempt to make a long-cherished personal project (The Last Temptation of Christ, eventually realised in 1988) – both of which had taken a toll on Scorsese. Dealing as it does with an ageing pool player struggling to stay in the game, it’s hard not to read Color as a reflection upon the mental state the director was in. Scorsese could see that the Hollywood of the 1980s was becoming an increasingly commercial landscape, and that personal auteur cinema was on its way to becoming a thing of the past – something else reflected in the very fabric of Color, through the casting of its two leads: Paul Newman and Tom Cruise. In a sense, the film is about the resistance of one generation in giving way to the next: and this is as true for Scorsese as it is for Newman’s character. Together with After Hours, Color revived Scorsese from the depths of despair and its success allowed him – finally – to get The Last Temptation of Christ made. For that alone, the film would be worthwhile, but there’s much else to enjoy in this sadly neglected masterwork. If only all directors could make films this rich, and this personal, when working for ‘them’.

Kundun34. Kundun (1997)

If, in Color, Scorsese hints that ‘pride causes suffering’, in Kundun, the idea is expressed verbally. A film about the early life of the 14th Dalai Lama, Kundun is, along with The Last Temptation of Christ, Scorsese’s most explicitly spiritual work – and like Scorsese’s Christ, his Dalai Lama must renounce the comforts of secular society in favour of religious calling. In Kundun, this conflict erupts onto the level of politics: how can religion combat communism, and how can violence be reconciled with religious belief? If Scorsese’s gangster pictures can be understood as being, in part, examinations into the ‘problem’ of violence, then so too can Kundun: it is a study of the flipside – the act of nonviolence. It seems almost as if Scorsese is exploring Buddhism, searching for answers to questions raised in his earlier work. Perhaps, Kundun seems to say, if Scorsese’s protagonists are their own worst enemies, Buddhism can offer them salvation.

1375278_532863280116992_332351154_n3. The Age of Innocence (1993)

Where Kundun deals with the repression of violence, The Age of Innocence deals with the repression of feeling. Like both the Dalai Lama and Christ, Age‘s protagonist Newland Archer (Daniel Day-Lewis) must sacrifice a life of pleasure for something higher – though this time, the ‘something higher’ is societal, not spiritual: Archer is engaged to May Welland (Winona Ryder), and the moral standards of 1870s New York force him to honour his commitment to her, despite his love for the smouldering Countess Olenska (Michelle Pfeiffer). Where May represents ‘all that is best’ in Archer’s world, Olenska is all that is fun – at one point, she strides into an evening’s entertainment in a flaming red dress, all the better to set Archer’s world alight amongst the black and white formal wear of the world around him. Emotionally complex and deeply moving, Age allowed Scorsese to expand his stylistic palette and expose a new facet within his on-going explorations into New York life and codified societies (the laws of 1870s society are not so different, it would seem, from those of the 1970s mafia). With its use of voiceover narration and its detailed recreation of the minutiae of a by-gone age, The Age of Innocence surely ranks alongside Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon as one of the greatest literary adaptations ever filmed.

1239945_528445737225413_1300507531_n copy2. The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)

A long-cherished personal project for Scorsese, The Last Temptation of Christ is perhaps the purest expression of an idea that runs throughout his entire oeuvre: the battle between the ‘spirit’ and the ‘flesh’. Indeed, those very words appear on screen at the beginning of Christ, embedded within a scrolling quote that posits the soul as the ‘arena’ in which ‘these two armies have clashed’ in ‘merciless battle’. The quote is from Nikos Kazantzakis’ source novel The Last Temptation, but one feels as though it could have been written by Scorsese himself – indeed, alongside the famous opening words of 1973’s Mean Streets (‘You don’t make up for your sins in church – you do it in the streets‘) it’s possible it provides the key to understanding almost all of Scorsese’s tortured antiheroes. A blistering work of religious and spiritual angst, The Last Temptation courted huge controversy upon release, seemingly for daring to humanise Christ – but it’s this very humanisation that makes the film such a powerful retelling of Christ’s story. If Christ is not human, if he does not share our longings and desires, then his death is no great sacrifice. But even more than this, by exploring Christ’s deep sense of existential conflict, Scorsese allows us to identify with his plight, and to feel his pain – just like we do all of Scorsese’s protagonists.

1. New York, New York (1977)

The gripping story of a saxophonist torn between his love for music and his love for his wife, New York, New York relocates Christ’s dichotomy of spirit versus flesh into a secular setting – this time, our protagonist must choose between family life and his obsessional desire to succeed in his musical career. Seen in this way – as a film about someone whose personal life is torn apart by their love of a performing art – NYNY becomes understandable as The Red Shoes replayed. The Red Shoes, let’s not forget, is the story of a woman whose obsession for ballet leads her away from her husband and towards death – and this self-destructive streak is there tenfold in NYNY’s saxophonist Jimmy Doyle.

NYNY

In portraying Doyle, Robert De Niro gives arguably a career-best performance: one minute he’s exchanging the zingiest one-liners in Scorsese’s entire oeuvre, the next he’s a terrifying ball of rage. But despite all this, the film was a huge flop, and Scorsese collapsed into depression and drug addiction. It was De Niro that saved him, by persuading him to make Raging Bull – a film readable as the story of a man whose personal life falls apart due to his obsessional desire to succeed in a performance sport. Sound familiar? There’s certainly an argument to be made that Scorsese subconsciously reworked his flopped musical project within a genre then more in vogue. But perhaps it was simply a return to The Red Shoes, the film that so fascinated Scorsese as a child (lest we forget, it was Michael Powell himself that suggested Scorsese shoot Raging Bull in black and white). Indeed, even now, with Wolf, it seems Scorsese has not left the shadows of Lermontov and Victoria behind – for Belfort, too, is a performer, and he too is his own worst enemy. Like Jimmy Doyle and Jake LaMotta before him, it is ultimately his own obsessive addiction that leads him down a spiral of (self) destruction.  ALEX BARRETT

SILENCE IS ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 1 JANUARY 2017 | THE SCORSESE SEASON AT THE BFI CONTINUES THROUGH JANUARY 2017

The Hitchcock Years: Bernard Herrmann

BERNHARD HERRMANN: THE HITCHCOCK YEARS

The Hollywood composer Bernhard Herrmann (1911-1975) is mainly remembered for his collaboration with Alfred Hitchcock between 1955 and 1965. Herrmann also scored the music for 17 episodes of the TV series “The Alfred Hitchcock Hour” during this decade. Like his contemporary Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Hermann was educated in Classical music; and shared both strands for the rest of his life. Herrmann’s film music for Hitchcock is particularly remembered for its dissonant and oppressive tonal structure, as well as non-dietic score, even though the composer used these themes as early as 1947 for The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz.

Herrmann, the first (and possible only) music ‘auteur’ in the history of cinema, insisted on artistic freedom when composing, and he also usually conducted the orchestra. Hitchcock, whose Ego was easily matched by Herrmann’s, had enormous respect for the composer: whilst shooting Vertigo, he marked in his sound track notes “We should let all traffic noises fade, because Mr. Herrmann may have something to say here”, and “All of this will naturally depend on what music Mr. Herrmann puts over this sequence.

But they began collaborating with the rather uninspiring The Trouble with Harry (1955). The main theme of this and other Hitchcock/Herrmann movies was “a series of plucked notes from the musicians own double bass, giving a weird feeling that ghastly intangibles are stalking the ‘hero’ into a world of eerie bewilderment and horror”. The most famous scores for Vertigo (1958), North by Northwest (1959) and Psycho (1960) interacted with the main title sequences, designed by Saul Bass.

In the case of Psycho, the music came first and the graphic animation was responding to it. Whilst these “overtures” were quiet common, Herrmann’s music was extremely idiosyncratic. He was a great believer in this form of introductory music, and was aghast, when Brian de Palma later suggested, that Sisters should start without any score. Hermann’s later Hitchcock scores were “relying on ostinato figurations, refusing themselves to be transformed into conventional melodies. They formed a kaleidoscope of musical textures that tread a precarious middle-ground between stability and instability (Vertigo) or reduced to an obsessive degree of insistent economy (Psycho).” In the case of the latter, Hitchcock had not planned any music for the famous shower scene. The harshly recorded “screeching and slithering string glissandi”, which accompanied Janet Leigh into her watery death, made many critics at the time think, that they were electronically generated.

Other critics were induced to describe the scene much more brutally than it actually was, largely due to the music. But the shower scene took the attention away from other Herrmann ideas, like in the scene where Leigh takes off with the money, and “the unobtrusive synchronisation of the doom-laden, pulsating music to the action of windscreen wipers”, as Leigh is driving through the night. But without the music, Leigh might as well have been on her way to do the weekend shopping and feeling stressed and anxious about it. (Actually, Hitchcock had not envisaged any music for this drive scene). In Vertigo, by far the least frenetic of their common films, the long sequences without much talking, invited a doom laden musical score. And in his soundtrack notes, the Hitch wrote: “When Madeleine goes up to Scottie, and we see her face in a close-up, we should have no restaurant background sounds, so as to create a silence which shows that something in Scottie is moved. When Madeleine’s husband is coming into the frame, the background sounds should return, until she leaves the frame. I have no idea, what music Mr. Herrmann would choose, but should he decide not to have any music at all, because it could sound like restaurant music, then it would be preferable to have no music at all so as to mark the moment when Scottie discovers Madeleine, with silence”.

But Herrmann decided, as always, that music was necessary. It is ironic, that the only time Hitchcock insisted on a scene without music – the murder scene in Torn Curtain when the GDR agent Gromek is killed in a very brutal way – it was because Hitchcock wanted to show actually how difficult it is to kill someone. Bernhard Herrmann lost the argument here. But Torn Curtain (1965) was (not even) their swansong. After the box-office failure of Marnie (1964), the studio asked Hitchcock for a more youth-orientated, pop score, for Torn Curtain. (1966/8) Herrmann refused, and Hitchcock ended their relationship – they would only meet once more on the Universal lot.

But Herrmann would have the last laugh: in 1991, when Elmar Bernstein, re-arranged Herrmann’s music for Lee Thompson’s Cape Fear (1962) for Martin Scorsese’s remake of 1991, he used the soundtrack for Gromek’s murder scene. As the Hitchcock epigone Claude Chabrol put it: “Once Hitchcock got rid of Herrmann, Hitchcock’s music was good only when it was imitating Herrmann’ “ Proving the point, Hitchcock refused Henry Mancini’s music score for Frenzy (1972), because it sounded too much like Herrmann and had it replaced by a Ron Goodwin score. Hitchcock had the last word. AS

BERNARD HERRMANN’S FILM SCORES CAN BE HEARD WITH A LIVE ORCHESTRA AT MATTHEW BOURNE’S  RED SHOES | CURRENTLY PLAYING IN SADLERS WELLS LONDON UNTIL 29 JANUARY 2017. 

 

 

 

Bernard Herrmann and The Red Shoes

Katherine Hepburn was once asked what ‘star quality’ was and she replied: “I don’t know but I’ve got it”. This indefinable quality is the premise of Powell and Pressburger’s timeless cinema classic THE RED SHOES (1948), which Sir Matthew Bourne, a fan of classic film, has riotously reimagined for his latest balletic blockbuster, at London’s Sadler’s Wells this holiday season. Bourne’s ballet is also a tribute to the Hollywood composer Bernard Herrmann whose scores oozed star quality, enlivening the films of Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock, François Truffaut and Martin Scorsese, not to mention Ray Harryhausen and Brian De Palma.

the-red-shoes-byBy replacing the film’s original Oscar-winning score with Bernard Herrmann’s music, ardent film fan Bourne intends to raise the profile of a Hollywood legend whose evergreen compositions possess the resonance and star quality that he feels, quite rightly, should be enjoyed by contemporary audiences in a theatrical setting with a live orchestra, not just in the cinema. Lez Brotherston’s imaginative set has a revolving proscenium arch that transports us back to an early 20th-century ballet company, inspired by Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, and the production is saucily tweaked with Bourne’s own brand of irreverent humour. Whisking us effortlessly from a glamorous Monte Beach in summer to the sordid sadness of the East End cabaret, this is a dizzying production that dazzles at every turn with a stunning central peformance from ballerina Ashley Shaw.

THE RED SHOES is a ballet within a ballet and Bourne has cleverly identified three key elements that make Herrmann’s music so suitable: the backstage life of Boris Lermontov’s dance company, the emotional awakening and torment of ballerina Victoria Page and the joie de vivre of the ballet itself.

THE RED SHOESThe Hollywood composer was born Max Herrmann to Jewish parents of Russian origin in New York City 1911. His musical career kicked off in his teens when he won a composition prize at the age of 13, founding the classical New Chamber Orchestra of New York when he was just 20 and studying at the Juilliard School. Herrmann was soon appointed chief conductor of the CBS Symphony Orchestra and his friendship with Orson Welles led to a collaboration with the auteur on the radio series The Orson Welles Show. When Welles joined RKO Herrmann joined him with scores for CITIZEN KANE (1940), THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS  (1942) and Welles starrer JANE EYRE (1943).

THE RED SHOESFor THE RED SHOES ballet Bourne has concentrated on Herrmann’s pre-Hitchcock fare and uncovered some real gems such as his Concerto Macabre from HANGOVER SQUARE (1945) along with the often unacknowledged dance music of CITIZEN KANE (1941) and the bittersweet beats of THE GHOST AND MRS MUIR (1947). But the ballet’s dynamite centrepiece scenes, set against a dramatic background of birds, fleeting clouds and eerily silhouetted buildings are perhaps the most futuristic and inventive thanks to Herrmann’s restless trembling music which features among others Truffaut’s FAHRENHEIT 451perfectly evoking the psychological tension between the love-torn trio of Boris Lermontov, Julian Craster and Victoria Page. Under Terry Davies the New Adventure orchestra makes great use of edgy expressionist electronic strings, the vibraphone and the glockenspiel as well as classic piano and wind to convey the sense of seduction combined with heart-stopping obsession and some cheeky interludes to lighten the tone. The heart-rending finale is quietly devastating as Ashley Shaw’s elegant dancing complements the emotional resonance of Hermann’s orchestral magnificence and his lighter danceable beatsmaking this a memorable and moving addition to Bourne’s ballet bonanza. MT

THE RED SHOES IS AT SADLERS WELLS LONDON UNTIL 29 JANUARY 2017 | OTHER VENUES ON TOUR

 

 

 

 

It’s Vegas Baby! – top spots for cinephiles in Las Vegas

165225_1807628397431_6593811_nGambling isn’t the only reason to visit Nevada’s stunning resort. Also a haven for moviegoers, LAST VEGAS may tempt you to visit the exciting city for the magnificent array of cinemas screening the latest in American cinema: from mainstream to cult classic and art house fare. Urbane cinefiles see the city differently than most: as a cornucopia of historical venues where films were shot over the years.  Fans of cult casino and gangster films, flock to Vegas to visit the iconic places where films have been shot almost en masse in the city of lights and casinos. LAST VEGAS was filmed here but let’s take a look at some other top spots for film fans.

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Circus Circus

For film fans who want to catch a glimpse of one of the most recognizable filming locations in Las Vegas, Circus Circus is an essential stop. The entrance appeared in the James Bond movie, Diamonds are Forever, and an exterior shot appears in Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery. To the dismay of many Hunter S. Thompson fans, the iconic merry-go-round bar at Circus Circus that garnered a spot in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas has closed. To be accurate though, this was not the bar that actually appeared in the film, as Circus Circus did not give permission to film there.Riviera copy

Riviera Hotel and Casino

Since Las Vegas is a popular and exciting location to shoot films, some hotels have turned up in multiple films over the years. Also a location appearing in Austin Powers and Diamonds are Forever, Riviera Hotel and Casino has been seen in Martin Scorsese’s Casino, the 1960 Ocean’s Eleven and the campy 90′s dancer-drama classic Showgirls. The outside of the Riviera Hotel and Casino is a highly recognisable spot for sightseeing film geeks.

Tropicana copyTropicana Las Vegas

The millions of fans who loved cult classic, The Godfather trilogy should recognise the Tropicana in Las Vegas as Michael Corleone’s Las Vegas casino business and the location where many of the Las Vegas scenes in the movie were filmed. The Godfather utilised both the inside and the outside of the hotel extensively, but it was only referenced and not shown in the final versions of the second and third films of the franchise.

The Neon Museum Boneyard

With an ongoing theme of appearing briefly in the background of a multitude of films including, Mars Attacks!, the Neon Museum Boneyard is essentially where the vibrant neon signs of Las Vegas are put out to rest. The museum also appears in the upcoming film LAST VEGAS.  Although the Neon Boneyard is not open to the public, dedicated film buffs can make reservations for the guided tour for only $15.

The Bellagio Resort and Casino  Bellagio copy

The Bellagio, as all movie buffs should know, stars alongside Brad Pitt and George Clooney in the 2001 remake of Ocean’s Eleven. The movie’s casino scenes were shot right on the Bellagio’s casino floor! Although the vault shown in the movie wasn’t the real one, most other scenes purporting the casino are real. If you would like to dine at the table where George and Julie shared a meal in one of the most famous scenes of the movie, it was shot in the Bellagio Picasso restaurant—book table 24 if you want to re-live that experience. The luxury hotel also made an appearance in the 2007 sequel, Ocean’s Thirteen.  The Bellagio has also been the location for romantic comedies such as Lucky You and What Happens in Vegas and made a fleeting appearance in The Hangover.

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MGM Grand Hotel and Casino

Being the second largest hotel in the world by number of rooms and the largest hotel resort complex in the United States, the MGM Grand Last Vegas is featured in a multitude of movies. Film officionados will recognise the casino resort in movies such as Ocean’s Eleven, Vegas Vacation, and The Great White Hype. In addition, the MGM Grand’s Wizard of Oz theme is referenced in the film Swingers. With its Hollywood history, the MGM attracts film buffs worldwide.

The Aria Resort and Casino

Since the opening of the new modern style hotel in 2009, The Aria has been a popular location for films. The resort’s luxury suite is featured in Louis Leterrier’s 2013 film Now You See Me and LAST VEGAS (2013), where it appears as the venue for the bachelor party hosted by Morgan Freeman’s character, Archie. MT

WE FLEW TO LAS VEGAS COURTESY OF VIRGIN AIRLINES

 

 

 

Melancholy in classic cinema – 5 Melancholic Characters

RoccoFratelliPosterMelancholy: deep and impenetrable  sadness – a retrograde state of mind. The unknown and unseen past has swallowed up present and future. The heroes and heroines of melancholic films are  aware of this: from the moment they appear on the screen for the first time, we know it’s all over before a word is said. The ensuing narrative is just there to underline their fate: whilst choosing a new love, a new beginning, they really want to end it all. They are lovers of loss and being lost  – and we love them for it.

Luchino Visconti is a favourite director for one main reason: he was able to make successful movies in the neo-realist tradition (ROCCO AND HIS BROTHERS (1960), as well as operatic masterpieces that were always anchored in the past, like THE LEOPARD (1963).

220px-Senso_PosterI could have easily chosen LUDWIG (1972) or L’innocente (1976) – but I went for SENSO (1954), because Alida Valli’s beautiful Countess Serpieri really wants to destroy herself – throwing everything away for an unscrupulous man – whose true character she knows the moment she sets eyes on him for the first time in a Venice theatre in 1866, whilst Italian patriots, fighting the Austrian occupying forces, throw leaflets from the balconies. In the ensuing fighting, Duke Ussoni, a leader of the rebels, hurts one of the Austrian soldiers, Lt. Franz Mahler (Farley Granger). To save Ussoni, Countess Serpieri, whose husband is fighting for the Austrians at the front, tries to talk Mahler out of making a formal complaint – only to fall madly in love with this most superficial, opportunistic coward. He soon asks the Countess for money, to buy himself out of the army. She obliges, stealing money from the fund of the rebels, which Ussoni had entrusted her with. But Mahler disappears, drinking and whoring the money away. When she finds him with another woman, she goes to the authorities, denounces him and watches his execution – only to go mad, shouting his name in the dark streets.

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In betraying her class and her country, she denounces herself and her past. Since Mahler never tried very hard to conceal his duplicity why does Serpieri want him so much; his good looks can’t be the only reason. The Countess does not love her husband, and sees him as a traitor: he has joined the rebels for romantic, not political reasons, hoping to escape her role in the aristocracy, which does not give her much personal freedom. At the same time, she wants to punish herself for her thoughts, and in eloping with Mahler, she commits the ultimate treason against herself. Alida Valli carries the film, floating through the attractive landscapes and palaces, always on the outlook for death, her death, whilst pretending to free herself via a love, which she only knows too well, does not exist. In the end she is executioner and victim: alive, but in a world by herself.

220px-La_sirène_du_MississippiSuperficially looked at, Francois Truffaut’s MISSISSIPPI MERMAID (LA SIRENE DU MISSISSIPPI) from 1969 is just another B-movie in colour. Based on the novel “Waltz into Darkness” by Cornel Woolrich (aka William Irish), whose “The Bride wore Black” Truffaut had filmed in 1967 with Jeanne Moreau in the title role. MERMAID (dedicated to Renoir) opens in Reunion, where Louis Mahe (J.P. Belmondo), a rich owner of a tobacco plantation, is expecting his mail order bride, Julie Roussel. But the woman who arrives at the pier is anything but the plain, straight Roussel: Marion Bergamo (Catherine Deneuve) is an outstanding beauty – and femme fatale. She and her co-conspirator have killed Roussel on the ship so Bergamo can marry Mahe – and his money. Like Serpieri in Senso, one look for Mahe is enough to fall in love with Marion. Even when she steals his money and disappears to Nice, where he follows her, his love is stronger than his resentment. Marion, whose partner in crime has taken all the money, is working in a bar, hotly pursued by a detective hired by Roussel’s sister. He finds the couple, and Mahe shoots him. On the run through the Swiss Alps, with his money running out, Marion tries to poison Mahe, but he still forgives her. His ‘amour fou’ knows no boundaries, as the couple stumbles through the snow into unknown future.

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Mermaid is a more contemporary version of THE BLUE ANGEL, where the ageing teacher Rath gives everything up for Dietrich’s Lola. But Rath returns in the end to his school, wanting to go back to his past, whilst Belmondo/Mahe takes his self destruction many steps further: he kills for Marion, gives her the rest of his money, is even ready to die by her own hand – he just wants to be with her. Love Colder than Death, ironically the title of Fassbinder’s first feature, is the Leitmotiv of Mermaid. Mahe is also in love with his masochism; he thrives in poverty more than in the splendour of his Reunion home. His loneliness is the key to his downfall: all the material grandeur of his wealth means nothing to him – he wants to be loved, by anyone. And since he has had no experience with women, he falls for the first one he meets. The attraction here again is not so much the attractiveness of the partner, but the way to an end she symbolises. She is ‘Lady Macbeth’, but he is much more than a willing slayer: he wants to die with her all the time, his will to live is much weaker than hers, with infuriates her; but in the end, she seems to capitulate to his meekness and self destructive love.

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220px-The_Soft_Skin_Poster Like with Visconti, there are any number of films by Truffaut I could have chosen to embody this theme. And since a real melancholic film should be in black and white, I have opted for LA PEU DOUCE from 1963. Pierre Lachenay (Jean Desailly) is the publisher of a small literary magazine in Paris. He is married to Franca (Nelly Benedetti), the couple has a daughter. Lachenay is rather self -centred and takes his family for granted, pursuing his career with great eagerness. On a flight to Lisbon he meets the much younger stewardess Nicole (Francoise Dorleac), and falls hopelessly in love with her. But as soon as he has conquered her, he becomes possessive. Nicole soon looses interest in him, his middle-aged seriousness and obsession with cultural niceties does not go well with her more carefree, but sensual personality. He wants to put her into a golden cage, shows her a flat he wants to buy for her. This is the last straw for Nichole, she tells him that she is leaving him. In a parallel montage after this rejection, we see Lachenay trying to phone his wife Franca, wanting to tell her that he will stay with her after all, but she has just left the house, and taken the car to drive to his favourite restaurant, where she shoots him. The last shot shows Franca sitting on the floor, looking up at her dead husband, smiling not ruefully, but rather like the cat who got the cream.

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Lachenay is, unlike Serpieri and Mahe, not hell bent on self-destruction. But he wants a new beginning, on his terms though: he does not want to scarify his bourgeois identity, which means putting his job first and staying in control. But he really loves Nicole, and by offering her a new home, he hopes to receive gratitude for raising her to his own level. But Nichole does not want material gratification, she wants to be loved for herself. Her interaction with the stray kitten in the provincial motel shows her as a pure person, who wants simple harmony and no trappings, materially or status wise. She wants to communicate direct, a free spirit of ’68. Unlike Lachenay, who uses telephones all the time to postpone meetings and decisions. But in spite of all, we feel for Lachenay, see him struggle with his sedateness, not so much like an old man, but like a little boy, aged before his time. In the end he is destroyed between two much stronger women: one young and down to earth, the other more of his own class, but much more decisive than himself. When we see him dead at his table, we feel pity, because the task of reconciling his old personality with his new love was simply too much for him. AS

AVAILABLE ON BLURAY/DVD AT AMAZON.CO.UK

We are Never Alone (2016) | Made in Prague Festival 2016

NIKDY NEJSME SAMI | Director:  Petr Vaclav | Cast: Karel Roden, Lenka Vlasakova, Miroslav Hanus, Zdenek Godla, Klaudia Dudova | Czech Republic/France 116min

Director Petr Vaclav’s latest film is a provincial drama full of passion, violence and mental health issues. The characters could be straight out of a Sartre play and Vaclav certainly asks many existential questions.

Zena (Vlasakova) runs a grocery shop in a small town where he lazy hypochondriac husband is her husband (Roden) is out of work and makes life for Zena and his two sons a living nightmare. He befriends his prison guard neighbour, Zivatem, who is a racist neo-fascist. Driven out of her mind by her husband, Zena falls in love with the local brothel owner (Godla), who himself is obsessed by one of his girls, the pouting Sylva (Dudova) – who in turn is still in love with her husband (and father of her daughter), who is in prison.

To make matters even worse, Zena, after a one-off romp with the brothel owner, decides to become a prostitute herself. The adult characters here are totally out of control and this disturbance filters through to their children: Zena’s oldest son, and Zivatem’s boy (who feeds his father’s paranoia with putting dead animals outside their house). They take great pride in wanting nothing to kill their fathers and discuss this loudly during hikes in the countryside. And when the tension becomes unbearable, violence is the only way out: Zena’s oldest shoots his grandfather, a stingy emotional cripple, and then her husband and his friend Zivatem shoots the brothel owner for having led Zena astray. As a final twist, Zena’s youngest pockets the money from the body of the man his father helped to kill – and sets off on a journey as a blind passenger on a HGV.

We are never Alone is certainly wild and passionate, but the characters are entirely believable: stuck in the middle of nowhere with no love life to speak of, the adults opt for violence, physical and psychologically. And their mostly neglected children follow their ‘role models’. The characters here are always on the move creating a frenetic energy. But they invariably return – even the middle-aged Zena on her Vespa. Whilst Zivatem looks back fondly to communism – he preferred the authoritarian regime to democracy – the other characters – apart from Zena – are totally without any values – apart from wanting to get rich quick. They are soulless materialists, desperate to exploit each other.

DoP Stepan Kucra creates an eerie atmosphere, his images changing regularly from black-and-white to colour and back providing ghoulish world in which the buildings are as decayed as these human souls: the environment mirroring the moribund population, washed-out, bled dry of any colour. The assembled cast is impressive, with Vlasakova’s Zena a towering performance. A brilliant ride on the wild side from the Czech Republic.

UK PREMIER AT THE BARBICAN | 30 NOVEMBER 2016 | Berlinale Review

Erotikon (1929) | Made in Prague Season

erotikon-1Writer-Director: Gustav Machatý

Cast: Ita Rina, Olaf Fjord, Luigi Serventi,Charlotte Susa,Theodor Pištěk, Karel Schleichert.

Czech / Erotic drama / 108min

Gustav Machatý (1901-1963) continues to be remembered today primarily for launching the international career of Hedy Lamarr by exposing her naked charms in Extase (1933). But his earlier EROTIKON is easily the more accomplished film, as was confirmed by its recent screening at the Barbican as part of the Czech Centre’s 20th Made in Prague Festival. EROTIKON was Machatý’s third feature and his last silent, and like Extase earned international notoriety for its nude scene. Stills from this scene identified as Ita Rina have often appeared in books; but it turned out not to be in the print shown at the Barbican. What we are left with is heady enough, however, with director Machatý and his cameraman Václav Vích’s restless camera juggling a rousing brew of lust-crazed close-ups, arty superimpositions and intoxicating Freudian scenes of railway engines in full steam.

Two films were made during the twenties with the title EROTIKON, the first being Mauritz Stiller’s saucy comedy of 1920. Machatý’s film at first resembles Griffith’s Way Down East, with Andrea, the sweet young daughter of a railway gatekeeper ravished by a city slicker named Georg Sydney – who wears more even makeup that she does (especially around the eyes) – and woos her with sophisticated metropolitan blandishments such as an enormous bottle of perfume marked EROTIKON. Having got Andrea pregnant, he returns to his glossy married mistress Gilda back in the big city. As happens in so many movies the baby is conveniently stillborn and when Andrea’s path again crosses that of Georg she has a wealthy new husband on her arm and a sumptuous new wardrobe on her back. Here Griffith-style rural pathos abruptly gives way to Noel Coward-like urban sophistication. The five main players now comprise the original lover, two married women and two husbands, and the fun can really start; including a suggestive chess match between romantic rivals worthy of The Thomas Crown Affair (and which also anticipates Zvonimir Berković’s Rondo [1966]).

Andrea is played by Ita Rina, formerly Miss Slovenia of 1926, the bridge of whose nose appears to join her face somewhere in the middle of her forehead, giving her a profile more dramatic than even those of Myrna Loy or Norma Shearer. (In 1931 she converted from Catholicism to Serbian Orthodoxy in order to marry, and her name became Tamara Đorđević. The same year she received an offer from Hollywood which her new husband vetoed; although she continued to act in Czech films). In Machatý’s hands she does a superlative job of maturing from innocent young waif to worldly, fur-coated society wife. The scene of her arching her back in ecstasy in a quite unprecedented screen depiction of sexual consummation (later echoed in the scene in which she gives birth) is far more energetic than the equivalent sequence in the much better-known Extase. As Andrea’s new husband Jean, Luigi Serventi is plainly a far worthier catch than the unctuous Georg Sydney, played by Olaf Fjord; and Charlotte Susa is a blast as the mistress who doesn’t take her relegation lying down (it’s also probably her – rather than Ita Rina as is always claimed – who did the nude shot). RICHARD CHATTEN

MADE IN PRAGUE SEASON CONTINUES AT THE ICA 

Dracula through the Ages | Halloween

D R A C U L A   T H R O U G H   T H E   A G E S : Leaves from Stoker’s Book 

First published in 1897, Bram Stoker’s DRACULA is now seen as one of the canonical texts of Gothic literature, but it was only long after Stoker’s death that the work took on iconic status – thanks in no small part to the numerous films that proliferated as the Count’s cultural clout increased (there have now been over 200). To explain the appeal, one need only look at a list of possible readings: there have been almost as many interpretations as there have been films. In short, Dracula, as the archetypal vampire, can be made to reflect the fears (and the desires) of every generation.

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It was F.W. Murnau who, in 1922, gave the world its first great onscreen Dracula – even if, in an unsuccessful bid to escape infringing copyright, Murnau changed the Count’s name to Orlok and retitled it Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens. Stoker’s widow saw right through Murnau’s ploy and duly sued, causing the majority of prints to be destroyed. Luckily, one survived.

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Seen today, Murnau’s film has lost none of its power. Murnau shot much of Nosferatu on location, adding a contrasting sense of realism to the film’s expressionistic tropes, thereby creating an ominous, otherworldly foreboding. Right at the start we read that this is ‘a chronicle of the plague of Great Death’: unlike Dracula’s victims, Orlok’s do not become vampires – they die, and Orlok is their death. Murnau strips Stoker’s text of its erotic and religious force: here, Orlok is a metaphysical harbinger of death, an unstoppable force of nature. German cinema of this period is famous for its detailed mise-en-scène, and Nosferatu is no exception, but the film also makes startling use of montage. Not only does Murnau use parallel editing to increase tension, but the moment in which Ellen awakes as Orlok feeds on Hutter, their disparate locations joined together in a single eye-line match, is truly breath-taking filmmaking.

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Stoker’s widow, frustrated by unauthorised adaptations, sold the dramatic rights for Dracula to British playwright Hamilton Deane, whose adaptation was later reworked by John L. Balderston for Broadway. It was this play, rather than Stoker’s novel, that formed the basis for Tod Browning’s stodgy 1931 Dracula, a film that never quite transcends its drawing-room mystery origins – despite begin well shot by cinematographer Karl Freund, who had worked with Murnau back in Germany. The film’s theatricality extends to its hammy, stage-derived special effects, which add little dread to the proceedings. Bela Lugosi had played the role on Broadway, and his version of Dracula remains the most iconic and influential. An invention of Deane’s, this Dracula may be a far cry from Stoker’s heavily-moustached old man, but it’s also the version that has most thoroughly penetrated public consciousness.

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Taking its cue from Deane and Balderston’s play, in which Lucy ‘registers attraction’ to Dracula, Browning’s film has Lucy express her fascination to Mina, who will herself later receive a midnight call from the Count – much to the chagrin of her fiancé. With his thick accent and ponderous pronunciation, Lugosi’s Dracula is every bit the outsider, readable as both the invading immigrant and the suave, sexually appealing ‘other’.

It’s the latter reading that director Terence Fisher brings to the fore in his excellent 1958 adaptation for Hammer. Here, an ill and pale Lucy excitedly removes her crucifix, opens the doors, hikes up her skirt, and lies on her bed expectantly. Dracula is no invader, but a welcome jolt of sexual energy, a manifestation of the Victorian woman’s hidden (and unfulfilled) sexual desires. We are told that the crucifix symbolises good over evil, and that Van Helsing will succeed ‘with God’s help’. Once more, Dracula is the evil other, a force of adultery who needs to be dispatched so (holy) matrimony can be resumed. If the script at times owes little to Stoker’s original narrative trajectory, the film perfectly condenses his sprawling story and captures the spirit, the dread and the disgust of the original text.

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In 1979, Werner Herzog returned to Murnau’s Dracula-as-death symbolism for his dreamlike Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht. As the film’s opening images of mummified bodies help establish, this is cinema as memento mori. Lucy screams and wakes from a nightmare, but the phantom of the night is coming: death is unavoidable and cannot be escaped. A portentous dread hangs in the air, even throughout the later, joyous scenes of revelling plague victims. These scenes suggest that life can be given meaning only when placed under the shadow of death, thus rendering Dracula‘s eternal undead life both joyless and meaningless.

In the book, Mina begs the vampire hunters to feel pity for their prey, and Herzog makes this feeling manifest. Herzog’s ponderous, almost languid tone leads us to feel the profound weight of an endless life without love. Once more, the erotic undertones rise to the surface: Dracula wants love, and his lust for Lucy will ultimately be his undoing. Herzog’s vision is highly romantic, and therefore archly Gothic. Present too is the religious conflict: Lucy declares that ‘God is so far from us in the hour of distress’, and if the later use of the Host in combating Dracula seems to contradict this, it’s worth remembering the line ‘Faith is the faculty of man which enables us to believe things we know to be untrue’. There is no happy ending in Herzog’s godless universe, despite what we try to believe. Lethargic though it sometimes feels, this may well be the most philosophically rich adaptation of the material – and the one with the most monstrously mesmerising portrayal of Dracula himself.

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It’s perhaps significant that Herzog returned to Murnau as his source, given that Gothic derives from a return to – and a fear of – the past. Interestingly, two other significant adaptations have likewise drawn on early cinema for inspiration: Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and Guy Maddin’s 2002 Dracula: Pages from a Virgin’s Diary. In fact, Coppola’s film seems to draw as much on past adaptations as on the novel itself, pulling in shadows from Murnau, dialogue from Browning, bloody gore and bawdy sex from Fisher, and a sense of introspection from Herzog. The film uses a glut of early cinema techniques, resulting in a breathless barrage that feels closer to baroque excess than ornate gothic purity.

Coppola seems to delight in the carnal aspects of the novel, going beyond even Fisher in his uninhibited depictions of violence and sex. In an early scene, Mina studies an explicit illustration in the Arabian Nights. She calls it ‘disgustingly awful’, but can’t take her eyes off it. Here, Dracula is an embodiment of desire and openly represents an exciting alternative to the tedium of puritanical marriage. But with this excitement comes danger: this is the age of both civilisation and syphilisation, and the women will be condemned for their promiscuous exchange of blood. Coppola mines the AIDS metaphor for all its worth, and equates the rise in decadence and sexual liberation with the end of the old (Christian) world. If the film’s excess verges at times on the ridiculous, it nonetheless remains a richly delirious and intoxicating work.

Much like Coppola, Maddin furrows cinematic history to create an erotic work of kinetic excess, but goes one further by making his film silent. His sets are skewed, stylised and symbolic, his Dracula a story of female lust and male jealousy – but also of paranoia and xenophobia (an early title card reads ‘Immigrants – others from other lands’). Dracula is a foreign invader, come to steal our wealth and our women. Maddin reminds us that Dracula ‘has the brain of a child’ and fills his lair with money stolen from England, thus emphasising the racists roots of the novel’s portrayal of the immigrant outsider. Maddin’s film, based on an adaptation by the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, makes literal the novel’s dances of death and attraction. For Maddin, Dracula’s dispatch at the hands of Lucy’s frustrated suitors serves not only as the removal of the alien body, but also as a reassertion of male dominance over female desire.

At the end of the film, the victors open the doors of Castle Dracula and walk towards the light of a new day. Inside, Dracula lies bent backwards, impaled on a phallic spike. Somehow, it seems there may still be life in him yet. After all, some things never die, and Dracula remains the King of the Undead. AB

NOSFERATU THE VAMPYRE (RE-MASTERED) AND NOSFERATU: A SYMPHONY OF HORRORS (HD RESTORATION) IS AVAILABLE COURTESY OF EUREKA, as is NOSERATU THE VAMPYRE

HAMMER’S RE-RELEASE OF DRACULA IS AVAILABLE ON DVD

Dracula (1958) on blu-ray 18 March 2013

 

Nosferatu - Murnau

Picasso | On film and Canvas

fullsizerenderIn life and in death Pablo Ruiz Picasso (1881-1973) was an iconic figure who continues to influence and mesmerise with his potent magnetism, prodigious talent and stylistic versatility as an artist, sculptor, stage designer and playwright. Born in Malaga, Picasso spent most of his adult life in France where he co-founded the innovative Cubist movement at the opening of the 20th century. Surrealism came in the 1920s, and he portrayed the atrocities of the Spanish Civil war in his painting Guernica (1937). And as he changed his style, each phase of his creative output was partnered by a new romantic relationship.

Picasso has also captured the imagination of filmmakers in both drama and documentary features, and his close friendship with Jean Cocteau led to the pair collaborating on a one-set ballet ‘Parade’ for the Ballets Russes, for which he designed the sets and costumes.

imagesIn 1956 Henri-Georges Clousot documented Picasso’s creative process at work in the dialogue-free Le Mystère Picasso. Claude Renoir position the camera behind the canvas so that the artist is simply seen painting and drawing for 75 minutes, without his hands and arms blocking the view (right).

SURVIVING PICASSO, from left: Natascha McElhone, Anthony Hopkins as Pablo Picasso, 1996, © Warner Brothers

SURVIVING PICASSO, from left: Natascha McElhone, Anthony Hopkins as Pablo Picasso, 1996, © Warner Brothers

Picasso gets the James Ivory treatment in the romantic biopic Surviving Picasso (1996) where Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s engaging narrative framework explores his often ferocious cruelty during his two passionate marriages and love affairs with Olga Kokhlowa (Jane Lapotaire), Françoise Gilot (Natascha McElhone); Dora Maar (Julianne Moore) and Marie Therese (Susannah Harker).

Now Malaga born Antonio Banderas is set to play the artist in 33 DIAS which explores Picasso’s emotional turmoil as he worked on the Guernica mural during his relationship with Dora Maar (Gwyneth Paltrow. BAFTA awarded Carlos Saura (Cria Cuervos) will write and direct the drama which should be out later in 2017.

Meanwhile a new exhibition of Picasso’s portraits is currently showing at the National Portrait Gallery until January 2017.

PICASSO PORTRAITS

 

 

Neglected Directors | Mario Zampi

In our occasional series on neglected filmmakers, Richard Chatten looks at the world of Mario Zampi (1903-1963)

There is a scene in Mario Zampi’s Laughter in Paradise (1951) in which Alistair Sim – who for plot purposes needs to spend a month in jail – attempts to get himself arrested by ostentatiously pocketing a necklace in a store; only to have it swiftly lifted by a pickpocket before the store detective has time to apprehend him. A characteristically adroit summing up by Zampi and his screenwriters Jack Davies & Michael Pertwee (son of the playwright Roland Pertwee and elder brother of Jon) of the low-level criminality then rife in postwar austerity Britain; whose move into affluence they lovingly charted in a series of genially satirical popular comedies with which Zampi’s name became synonymous before his relatively early death in 1963 at the age of 60.

zampi_mkj2n0pnza1qeotlhoDescribed by his obituarist in Variety as a “mercurial little man” (Peter Sellers modelled the effusive Italian film director he played in After the Fox on Zampi), Mario Zampi (seen left with Sellers) was born in Sora in Italy on 1 November 1903, entered films as an actor at the age of 17, and had already worked in Italian films in various capacities before moving to Britain with the collapse of the Italian film industry in 1922. By the 1930s he was an editor for Warner Brothers at their Teddington studios, and in 1937 with his compatriot Filippo Del Giudice co-founded the production company Two Cities. The first film he directed was Thirteen Men and a Gun (1938), a First World War drama set on the Austro-Hungarian front starring Arthur Wontner, shot in Italy in both English and Italian versions. His next feature, Spy for a Day (1940), was a vehicle for the North Country comedian Duggie Wakefield also set during the First World War, co-scripted by Emeric Pressburger (who may have been responsible for the touching sequence depicting a mute attempt at communication between Wakefield and a German corporal played by George Hayes). Zampi also produced Two Cities’ first big success – French Without Tears – in 1939; but at this point suffered an ironic setback by himself being interned as an enemy alien for the next four years.

_two_cities_films_Having spent most of Two Cities’ wartime glory years cooling his heels in Canada, he laboriously worked his way back into the business directing three very low budget mystery films: The Phantom Shot (1947), The Fatal Night (1948) and Shadow of the Past (1950), none of which appear to have been seen since they were originally released. But The Fatal Night caused a sensation at the time and those who saw it then still vividly recall how much it scared them as youngsters. Recounting the fate of a man who accepts a bet to spend a night in a haunted house, and with a memorable sting in the tail, it was scary enough to carry an ‘H’ certificate, was described by David Quinlan as “one of the most frightening films ever made, full of horrors not quite or only half-seen”, and reveals a side to Zampi otherwise wholly unsuspected. (The BFI hold material from the film, so we may yet hope to see it resurrected in our lifetimes).

imagesAfter changing tack with a revue film starring Max Wall, Come Dance with Me (1950) (whose acts included Stanley Black and his orchestra, who also scored this and most of his subsequent films), there then came the film that would define the remainder of Zampi’s career as a producer-director. An episodic comedy about four beneficiaries of a notorious practical joker’s will – each obliged to do something extremely humiliating and unpleasant to inherit £50,000 – Laughter in Paradise was the highest-grossing British film of 1951 and Zampi never looked back. Despite his wartime incarceration, Zampi seems to have felt little ill-will towards his adopted homeland – although maybe it gives a slight edge to his gentle mockery of the British character – and he certainly did an exemplary job of capturing our sense of humour in the films that followed. Having taken a shine to George Cole, Zampi commissioned his next screenplay from Davies and Pertwee especifically for him – a Cold War farce called Top Secret (1952) about a sanitary engineer visiting Moscow mistaken for an atomic scientist. Now hitting his stride, on the set of Top Secret Zampi happily acknowledged that he saw his films as collaborative endeavours (including his son Guilio (1923-2003), first as an editor, then as associate producer): “I am standing talking to you now but the work still goes on”, he declared. “My team are worrying more about the picture than I am.”

After a return to Italy to make another light-hearted take on the Cold War, Ho scelto l’amore (1953) – starring Renato Rascel as a junior Russian official accidentally separated from his delegation in Venice – Zampi made the first of his two films in Technicolor, Happy Ever After (1954), a riotous piece of rollicking Irish blarney in which an entire village draws lots to set in motion a series of comically failed attempts to murder an obnoxious new landlord played by David Niven. Also in Technicolor was Now and Forever (1956), adapted by Pertwee and R.F.Delderfield from the latter’s play The Orchard Walls; showcasing Janette Scott’s first adult role as a schoolgirl who elopes to Gretna Green. Ravishingly photographed by Erwin Hiller, it was described by William Everson in Love in the Film (1979) as “a paean of praise to the English countryside, its background of springtime was essential to the story of exuberant young love” of “warm and real humor…Many of the compositions are designed purely to stress beauty, color and youth…Even in 1956, Now and Forever was a complete anachronism, something like a Deanna Durbin musical romance without the music.”

p56126_d_v8_aaBut if anyone thought Zampi was mellowing, the two black & white farces he made next starring Terry-Thomas were to prove vintage Zampi. The Naked Truth (1957) – described by Raymond Durgnat as “the first British film to lift its upper lip and show a satirical fang” – took it’s lead from the salacious magazine Confidential, whose squalid revelations about Hollywood celebrities amounted to a virtual reign of terror during the mid-fifties (and had already been the subject of a Hollywood drama called Slander). As in Happy Ever After, a group of individuals are driven out of desperation to commit murder; in this case a selection of the great and the good threatened with the revelation of their feet of clay by the editor (played by Dennis Price) of a scandal magazine called The Naked Truth. The most spinechilling of these is Peter Sellars as Wee Sonny MacGregor a TV personality, master of disguise and slum landlord decribed by Durgnat as “a loveable homey quiz master really devoured by contempt for the doddering old folk to whom he awards his prizes”.

Too Many Crooks (1959) was to prove the last truly vintage Zampi (based on an idea by Jean Nery & Christiane Rochefort), and prompted Films and Filming’s editor Peter G. Baker to declare “thank goodness the Rank Organisation is associated in distributing a subject in such dubious taste”. The premise of a gang of bungling crooks abducting Terry-Thomas’s wife (and both the gang and the wife’s mortification when he tells them he isn’t interested in paying the ransom) was recycled at least twice by Hollywood over the next thirty years – as The Happening with Anthony Quinn and Ruthless People with Bette Midler – just as the final section in which the gang disguise themselves as undertakers strongly anticipates Joe Orton’s Loot. The climax too of Zampi’s next film, Bottoms Up! (1960) – based on the TV series Whacko! – in which the pupils of Chiselbury School stage an armed uprising against their drunken, corrupt headmaster (Jimmy Edwards) and his ineffectual staff even more strongly antipates Lindsay Anderson’s lf…. (although it’s possible that the makers of both films were taking their lead from Jean Vigo’s Zero de Conduite).

Zampi’s final film was a little-seen Italian-British co-production, Five Golden Hours (1961), filmed on location in Bolzano in Italy in both English and Italian-language versions with a largely British supporting cast. The teaming of Zampi and the sardonic American comedian Ernie Kovacs as a conman certainly sounds promising; but maybe it needed Michael Pertwee to give the script more bite. Kovacs himself, however, said that this was his personal favourite of his own films.

Zampi died in the Italian Hospital, London on 2 December 1963, and it’s hard to say what direction his career might have taken in the volatile climate of the British cinema of the 1960s. But the unsavoury revelations during the Profumo scandal that summer – especially about the thuggish slum landlord Peter Rachman – showed The Naked Truth to have been remarkably prescient; and his films remained popular on TV for another twenty years in those far off days when it was still possible to see black & white films at peak viewing time. RICHARD CHATTEN

Neglected British film directors | Seth Holt

In the first of our series on British filmmakers who deserve another look, Alan Price explores the work of SETH HOLT (1923 -1971)

220px-nowhere_to_go_1958_film_posterThe recent DVD release of Seth Holt’s Nowhere to Go (1958) is a timely reminder of one of England’s most intelligent and original directors. Holt’s first feature has a European noirish energy that’s prescient of ideas to be later fully realised over the Channel. Critics citing the initial feature of the French New wave choose Chabrol’s Le Beau Serge (1958). In December of that same year, Nowhere to Go was released – the last film produced by Ealing Studios and the most un-Ealing of films.

Nowhere to Go has the texture and atmosphere of a Jean Pierre Melville crime movie, displays a smoother sense of narrative expediency (or qausi-jump cuts) just before Godard’s Breathless (1960) and carefully creates a gritty, though stylised, realism comparable to Joseph Losey’s early British productions. It also contains the screen debut of Maggie Smith; revealing that amongst Holt’s many talents was his sensitive direction of women. Susan Strasberg, Carroll Baker and Bette Davis star in later Seth Holt films. Those performances can rank with their very best work.

What most distinguishes Nowhere to Go is the remarkable editing. Holt’s apprenticeship was as an editor on such distinguished films as Mandy, The Lavender Hill Mob and Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. You have only to watch Arthur Seaton (Albert Finney) going through his tedious routine, on the factory lathe, in the opening of Reitz’s Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, to experience cutting of an admirable precision. Finney’s great line, “Don’t let the bastards grind you down.” is memorably overlaid on the soundtrack as he grinds out a never ending line of machine parts.

Holt’s editing of his own films was approached rather differently. In 1982 the magazine Film Dope published an interview Holt had given in 1963, but which had not previously seen the light of day. Here Holt mentioned the word syncopated in relation to editing. “It isn’t quite the same as simply overlaying. You cut away just off where you feel the emphasis should be, and it gives quite an exciting rhythmic texture.”

seth-holt-nowhere-to-go_420In Nowhere to Go we see the beginning of Holt’s concern with rhythm. Essentially the film is a man hunt drama with Paul Gregory (George Nader), an escaped criminal, trying to collect money from the sale of stolen valuable coins kept in a safe deposit box. The fragmentary way Holt employs Dizzy Reece’s excellent jazz score, each time he is thwarted in his efforts to get the money, is suspenseful and slightly out of kilter. The effect of this collision of sound and image reveals Gregory’s isolation and frustration. Holt (pictured above) presents us with scene after scene where all of Gregory’s scheming and effort leads to a desperate nothing. Back to the Film Dope interview. Holt regards Gregory as a central character “who doesn’t seem to feel very sorry for himself.” Kenneth Tynan wrote the script together with Holt and together they tried to break away from the stereotyped image of the British screen criminal. In Nowhere to Go Holt introduces the idea of betrayal and the complexities of deception – a theme of all his subsequent films.

Critics have been rather facile in taking the title Nowhere to Go to describe Holt’s ‘unfulfilled’ career in British cinema. Too often they’ve spoken of the director’s ambition unrealised and/or compromised. David Thompson wrote that Seth Holt produced “six features of unrelenting promise” To which I would add that they are also six features with much that’s unrelentingly successful. Holt’s cinematic rewards greatly compensate for any flaws. And Seth Holt definitely had somewhere to go with his next three films: Taste of Fear, Station Six Sahara and The Nanny.

unknown-2In Taste of Fear Holt pulled off a very atmospheric Hammer film. Its wheel-chaired heroine, Penny (Susan Strasberg) is certainly devoid of any obvious self-pity. The film’s plot is an old and creaky one about the efforts of a stepmother Jayne (Anne Todd) and her chauffeur lover, Bob (Ronald Lewis) to murder daughter Penny and claim a large inheritance. Screenwriter Jimmy Sangster was no Kenneth Tynan. His plot contrivances can appear, after the credits role up, to have seriously undermined things. Yet you are gripped by Holt’s immersive and canny direction, with its subtle framing of scenes (such as wheel- chaired Penny edging towards a swimming pool at night). Of course it’s a Hammer project. But Seth Holt is no Hammer House style director. With its Psycho influenced shock moments, Taste of Fear pushes out into a subtle exploration of character. Unfortunately, Holt’s visual skill at suspense is at variance with Sangster’s obvious solutions. This very good horror film doesn’t quite come off because the characters are just a little too stock to fully come alive. All the film’s excellent acting finally fails to overcome the machinations of the plot.

images-2The case made for Seth Holt’s failure to make his career blossom has been put down to alcoholism, rubbing film industry executives up the wrong way and being landed with projects unworthy of his talents. You can make a case for Holt’s drinking and difficult temperament (even Bette Davis found him a ‘ruthless’ director). However he could work wonders with well worn themes and genre clichés. In The Nanny, Bette Davis delivers, post-Baby Jane, a really chilling performance. Her passive/aggressive response to children and stealthy control of parents is not due solely to her enormous talent but Holt’s skill in getting his great star not to over-act. You only have to compare Davis’s over the top and rather unpleasant performance in The Anniversary, to see that Holt could make his screen women a driving force through powerful understatement. Again it is a Jimmy Sangster script and there are problems. But this is certainly not the “spirited pot-boiler” dubbed by Time Out. For Holt creates a sharp cat and mouse game of rivalry and deceit between Nanny and her ten year old boy (William Dix) just released from a psychiatric hospital.

The Nanny (1965) is a good film, but coming straight after the remarkable Station Six Sahara (1962) an anti-climax. For of all his films, and the reason why Seth Holt should be better known today, Station Six Sahara crackles with great originality and confidence. Perhaps it’s because the film is an English/German co-production, made in the desert and he had more freedom on the shoot. Like Joseph Losey, Holt had an acute sense of hypocrisy, sexual repression and class tensions. Yet he didn’t necessarily need the social setting of England in order to play out such conflicts.

station-six-sahara-poster_420Station Six Sahara is enacted in an oil pumping station in the Sahara desert. The boss is Kramer (Peter van Eyck) a German, ex-military man. Second in command is Macey (Denholm Elliot) another army officer and ex pat. Fletcher (Ian Bannen) a working class Scot, Martin (Hansjorg Felmy) a younger Southern German and Santos (Mario Adorf) make up the rest of the crew. A tense game ensues between the snobbish Macey and the vulgar Fletcher. Macey receives more letters than anyone else. Fletcher buys one letter from Macey with his month’s salary. The undisclosed letter is tauntingly employed as a possible love letter against the arrogant Macey. Though only an important secondary story of Station Six Sahara, it makes for some wonderfully funny scenes of class anger. Denholm Elliot and Ian Bannen give terrific performances and obviously relished Brian Clemens’ and Bryan Forbes’ script.

This sold letter plotline, the clash between the two efficient Germans, and an excitingly directed poker game scene, replete with the hot and sweaty atmosphere of the desert, make up the first third of Station Six Sahara. When Catherine (Carroll Baker) and her ex-husband Jimmy (Biff McGuire) crash their car into the station we are into more interesting sensual and sexual developments. Catherine is no longer in love with Jimmy. She is a free, and importantly for a 1962 movie, a liberated woman. Catherine chooses her men for sex. Kramer cannot control her, neither can any of the other men. She cannot be dominated.

You might feel that at this point Station Six Sahara would fall into some cheesy and steamy melodrama. Yet Holt, and the film’s writing, sends it into other directions.

unknownCarroll Baker’s sexy character manages to be blousy, sultry, calculating and ultimately sad. Holt’s direction sides with Catherine, then criticises her but allows a sympathetic and strong personality to emerge. In no way, does Holt voyeuristically play up the box office appeal of Carroll Baker. The scene where she’s sitting outdoors dressed in a bikini and shorts was obviously meant as a selling point for the film. Catherine is well aware of being sexually provocative, yet she’s even more determined to just sit around in the sun and damm any man who approaches her (Carroll Baker pitches her fine performance with a knowing ambivalence). Kramer rushes over to complain and ‘cover her up’. Catherine makes us positively share her anger at his intervention.

station-six-sahara_420Holt’s interviewer in Film Dope, says of Station Six. “Would you be offended if the film were called pornographic?” To which Holt replies, “I prefer the term erotic.” Indeed it’s the erotic tension of the film that makes for its unpredictability. Though the eroticism is concentrated on Baker, it is also subtly diffused amongst the male relationships. Their macho behaviour has limits. Any instant sexual gratification proves sweet, short and is frustratingly terminated. Without being gay or homoerotic there’s a strong sense of frustrated love for each other arising out of the boredom and routine of an isolated work place. Vulnerability and loneliness is written into their roles. They’re failures and misfits, leftovers from the nationalism and imperialism of WW2 now stuck in the desert. Station Six Sahara creates its own world of intense moods and atmosphere. It feels like the work of an accomplished auteur. And behind his authorship Holt’s ‘syncopated’ editing is strikingly original and intelligent. Holt says he subscribed to Eisenstein and Pudovkin theories, but he never bludgeons us with a Russian dialectical montage. Whenever he employs Ron Grainger’s score and much uncredited African music it is done with aim to unsettle the audience emotionally. These disruptions or ‘omissions’ in the story contain visuals that are personally tuned to each actor. Holt always knows where to place his camera and challenge the viewer. And with Station Six’s desert location and sets, Holt and photographer Gerald Gibbs conjure up a weary, bleached look that beautifully complements the story.

After this near-masterpiece, Holt’s final three films The Nanny, Danger Route, Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb can appear artistically subdued. Yet they have their moments, insights and excitement. Apart from Bette Davis’s presence, The Nanny contains some fine visual framing of her vindictive behaviour. Danger Route (a sub-Bond like thriller) picks up twenty minutes into the film when Holt is obviously enjoying directing Diana Dors. And it picks up even more at the end when Carole Lynley is imaginatively observed and killed by her lover and rival spy played by Richard Johnson.

images-4Sadly Holt died, aged only forty eight, on the set of Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb. This Hammer production was hurriedly finished by Michael Carreras – and it shows despite Holt’s own material achieving an ancient Egyptian strangeness that equals the best films of the Mummy genre, and (like Danger Route) echoing his themes of treacherous behaviour.

Before his death Holt was originally up for producing If… But that was handed over to Michael Medwin and Lindsay Anderson. The rest is sweet film history. Though if Holt had had a go at the public school system I doubt that his and Anderson’s ego would have got on well together.

We are left with so few films. Along with Holt’s four excitingly directed episodes of the TV series Danger Man, and apart from Station Six Sahara, they are easily available on commercial DVD’s (though Danger Route is a bootleg issue). But the absence of an official DVD release of Station Six Sahara is the biggest injustice of all for Seth Holt. You can only buy a DVD bootleg version online. Or watch all of the film on the Vimeo website plus view extracts on YouTube.

Holt has a small and faithful cult following. And Martin Scorsese is reported to be a great admirer of Station Six Sahara. Can you intervene, Martin? Help to have it re-mastered onto BLU-RAY and organise an outing on the big screen of this criminally neglected film, please! Alan Price

 

 

 

A Letter To Three Wives (1949) | Kirk Douglas Season | BFI

Dir.: Joseph L. Mankiewicz

Cast: Jeanne Crain, Linda Darnell, Ann Southern, Kirk Douglas, Paul Douglas, Jeffrey Lynn

USA 1949, 103 min.

It is difficult to understand how Mankiewicz managed to direct four so different films in the span of two years: A Letter To Three Wives and All About Eve (he received Oscars for Best Director and best screenplay in both cases), are the bookends, whilst his two film-noir productions of House of Strangers (1949) and No Way Out (1950) were, in comparison, rather unrecognised, although far more more weighty in their subject-matter.

A Letter to Three Wives is based on the novel ‘Letter to Five Wives’ by John Klempner (which appeared first in ‘Cosmopolitan’); the number of wives had been whittled down by 20th Century Fox boss Darryl F. Zanuck to three. In spite of this, the film feels much longer than 103 minutes – there are simply not enough dramatic turns (unlike in All about Eve) to sustain interest.

When three middle-class wives, Deborah Bishop (Crain), Rita Phipps (Sothern) and Lora Mae Hollingsway (Darnell) enter a pleasure boat to take care of under-privileged children, they receive a message from Addie Ross (voiced by Celeste Holme), that she is going to run away with one of their husbands – leaving them all in suspense as to which husband she had picked. During the boat trip we learn in flash-back about the (rather mundane) marriage problems and get to know the husbands: Brad Bishop (Lynn), George Phipps (K. Douglas) and Porter Hollingsway (P. Douglas). Deborah, who grew up in the countryside, is ill at ease in Brad’s upper-class family, furthermore, everyone in his circle expected him to marry Addie, who is adored by all the men in the film. Rita is a writer of radio plays, and her husband George, a teacher, feels somehow ‘castrated’, since he can’t compete with his wife financially. Finally, Lora Mae grew up poor, and her husband Porter (who owns a chain of nationwide department stores) somehow suspects that she has married him only for the money.

Needless to say, there is a happy ending, and it is unanymously re-affirmed that women cannot live without a husband. Furthermore, the enigmatic and supposedly very attractive Addie is just a cypher, shown only once and from behind. In positioning her as the sexually-alluring femme fatale, who looses out in the end to three insecure, but ‘needy’ women, Mankiewicz re-affirm society’s doctrine of male dominance. There is no attempt to question the hierarchical structure of marriage, and the rather tepid acting and stage-like camera movements combine with the stale narrative in a conservative image of society – as if the war and resulting women’s liberation had not happened. AS

SCREENING AT BFI DURING THE KIRK DOUGLAS SEASON

 

AUB Graduation 2016: the filmmakers of tomorrow

Andre Simonoveisz casts a critical eye on the latest crop of feature and documentary shorts to emerge from Britain’s most respected film schools to reveal a fresh crop of talent in the filmmakers of the future

The Arts University Bournemouth (AUB) is Britain’s Oxbridge of film schools, the students come not only from the UK, but from Europe, Asia and even the USA. All their graduation films are shown every year to a full house at the NFT1. This year’s crop of thirteen films shows an amazing width of talent and it is fair to say that the majority of the productions are certainly not lacking full professional status.

Highlight of the documentary section was ARTIFICIAL SUNSHINE, a portrait of Blackpool, comparing the seaside resort today with the images of the ’60s. Director Conor Rollins and DoP Louis Hollis contrast the family-orientated holiday atmosphere of fifty years ago with the rather seedy and overly commercial aspects of the present. The nightly scenes in garishly lit streets are captured with intensity; the old amusement arcades look very dated in contrast with today’s electronic offerings, ARTIFICIAL SUNSHINE is an astute picture of how radical change has effected the resort – and not for the better.

A special mention should go CRICKLAND, a portrait of the oldest pub in Bournemouth. Director and PoP Rebecca Richards deserves every praise, since her original project, featuring an eccentric gardener in Berlin, was called off at the last minute. CRICKLAND is a very humane and touching study of how the patrons try their very best to overcome adversity as a united force.

The two outstanding feature shorts could not have been more different: SPECTRUM is a minimalist but engrossing study of mental illness, whilst LISTEN UP EMILY tries to emulate Hollywood’s best musicals – on a shoe-string budget. SPECTRUM, directed by Lewis Logan, centres around Chris (John Seward), who is leaving his mother Jackie (Lin Clifton) and sister Charlotte (Francesca Regis) at home to fly to Mars. At least that is what he tells the two women. Whilst his mother occupies herself, watering and pruning her flowers, Charlotte plays a hilarious game with her brother, both pretending to be birds. The surprising finale features the men in white coats arriving and we see him sitting in the car: miles away, he could be really going to Mars. DoP and co-writer Sam Meyer find all the right little nuances to make SPECTRUM a small but shining gem.

LISTEN UP EMILY is a fairy tale in which writer/director Milo Cremer Eindhoven’s heroine Emily (Sarah Swire) escapes her own wedding into the world of ’50s Paris, meeting her own Gene (Dan Burton). We first meet Emily and her father in a house adjacent to the church, where she has fled her own wedding seconds before the fatal ‘Yes’. Talking to her father makes her indecision not better, and she is at first only too happy to literally stumble into a Paris of the ’50s meeting Gene, who dances her off her feet. Quoting Bringing up Baby as well as An American in Paris, the director gives us more than subtle dose of nostalgia, so much so that Emily, miraculously brought back to the church and the altar, has found the courage to say ‘No’ to the puzzled groom – before dancing out of the church. PDs Becky Millward and Lottie Geliot recreate the Paris of the mid 20th century with great imagination, making up for the sparse budget. DoP Leon Pyszora conjures up two different worlds with his imaginative lighting: the huge church is cold and sterile, the faces of the wedding guests white, everything seems frozen. Paris on the other hand, is full of sunny colours, the streetlights giving a particular glow, making Emily into a proper princess on the run. LISTEN UP EMILY is a joyous trip into the cinematographically past.

After such a richness of young talent, we can only hope that it filters through into the productions of tomorrow. AS

Chariots of Fire (1981) | Mohammed Al-Fayed Interview

“In the spotlight” with Mohammed Al-Fayed

Back in 1980, a script was collecting dust in the offices of Goldcrest. Dodi Fayed discovered it, Mohammed al Fayed believed in it and through his funding Chariots Of Fire came into being.  I went along to talk to the man who made this all possible through his unique vision, commitment and fascination with the world of film.

Your first film experience?

When my brothers and I were youngsters in Alexandria, we would often go to the cinema. Egypt had a very vibrant and creative film industry in the 1940’s and 1950’s with many great actors (Faten Hamama, Omar Sharif), and directors (Henry Barakat, Youssef Chahine, Salah Abu Seif). We also enjoyed Hollywood and British fare.  I think that this early experience created my great interest in the motion picture industry. I’m sure Dodi inherited this love of film from me. During his career in the film business, he amassed a fine selection of work and helped to produce several films. At the time of his death, he was in pre-production with a new live action film of “Peter Pan”. Sadly it has never been made but I know it would have redefined J M Barrie’s wonderful story for the 21st Century.

What do you enjoy watching nowadays? 

My taste is wide and varied. I do love films that can appeal to the whole of the family. That is why I enjoy all the James Bond films. I knew Cubby Broccoli very well and liked him immensely. He was a life force. His daughter Barbara, who produces the films in succession, practically grew up with Dodi. She loved him as a brother. Their friendship began on the set of one of the Bond films. Cubby needed an oil tanker, for a scene in which three nuclear submarines, U.S. British and Soviet, disappear and their crews are kidnapped. The submarines end up within the hold of a super tanker. I happened to own the right sort of tanker for the film and was only too pleased to loan it to Cubby for those epic scenes, shot off Sardinia. I cannot tell you which of the Bond films I like best so I shall just say the next 007. Barbara is a wonderful producer and she never creates anything but memorable films with compelling scenes and characters. But there is one other film that I am particularly fond of and it is the Burton and Taylor version of “Cleopatra”. When MGM came to Egypt to shoot the location scenes, I worked with the studio to provide everything they needed, from thousands of extras, to the cars for the stars and busses for the crowd. A great film came out of that monumental endeavour and it is still very entertaining 60 years later. Many of the MGM executives I met then are still my friends today.

Film influences?

I have many close friends in the film industry and I could give you a very star-studded list, but my favourite film actor of all time is Tony Curtis. I miss him more than I can say and he was a loyal friend to me and my family. He started off as a glamour boy, a bit of a pin-up, in the 1950s and his haircut was more famous than he was! But it should never be forgotten that he was a very considerable acting talent. How male actors can claim with confidence that they starred in two of the best films of the 20th Century. Tony did: “Some Like It Hot” and “The Sweet Smell of Success”. And then there are many films, like “The Defiant Ones” that were epoch-making in their own way. There are so many great actresses that that’s a difficult question, I shall restrict myself to saying how much I like and admire Goldie Hawn and Sophia Loren, two women whose screen presence is unmistakable from the very first frame. They are elegant and brilliant stars and that is why I invited them both, at different times, to open the January Sale at Harrods. They both carried off that new and very specific role with elegance and charm, just as you would expect.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What captured your imagination in you backing Chariots of Fire, given that the script had been lying around for so long in the offices of Goldcrest?  

When Dodi brought me the script of “Chariots of Fire”, to see if I would like to invest in the production, he told me frankly that no one would put money into the film. I was shocked. How could people be so blind? Here was the story of two men, both great athletes, who encounter prejudice and insuperable barriers to their success. Harold Abrahams was Jewish and subjected to the worst snobbery and race hatred in his attempt to win the 100 metres at the Paris Olympics. But Abrahams defied them all and won. The other, Eric Liddell, was “The Flying Scotsman”, a man of iron principle whose religious beliefs meant that he could not and would not run on a Sunday. When pressure was applied to convince him to compromise his conscience, he resisted it, switched to another race that was not being run on a Sunday and brought home the Gold Medal anyway. I thought they were both wonderful, inspiring stories. But not many other people did at the time. By the early 1980s, the cinemas were full of films featuring nothing but violence and gratuitous sex, car chases and bad language. In Chariots, there is no violence, no profanity, no nudity and the only chasing is on the running track. Yes, there is a love story but, in keeping with the morality of the 1920s when the story takes place, it is a chaste and decorous one. So I didn’t hesitate when Dodi asked me to finance the production. The result was the only British film, at that time, to be awarded four Academy Awards. It was a British film but, let us be honest, it would not have been made without Egyptian money. I was glad to help. The film came out in the year of the Falklands War and even in Argentina, then at war with Britain, it was a huge hit. When cinema-goers in Buenos Aires had the scene the film the word on the street was “These British people have such strong moral characters and such courage that we may not be able to beat them in this war”.

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That was the effect of “Chariots”. It was the greatest success ever scored by Lord (David) Putnam and his production company, Goldcrest. Dodi was the Associate Producer. I am pleased to see that a re-mastered version of the film is being released in this Olympic year for London. It is one of those films with a back story almost as intriguing as the one that appeared on the screen. The world still loves the film, more than 30 years on. Last year, The Film and Television Sports Foundation of Milan were kind enough to present me with a special award for my role in bringing the story before world audiences. That meant a lot to me, as much as the Oscars and BAFTAS, because it meant that young sports lovers throughout the world had found inspiration in the film that Dodi believed in and helped to produce. I am glad that script did not stay on that dusty shelf. 

Your contribution to the British film industry was celebrated during the 2012 O what would tempt you back into financing another film?

I am happy leave it to other people to finance the films of the future. I have made my contribution. However, if there is a story that cries out to be made, I might be tempted. It would have to be a story where humanity triumphed. The actors and directors need not be famous. Most of the people in “Chariots” were not well known before its production. But the creative team would have to bring their love and their belief and their commitment to the film. Without those magic ingredients, nothing really works in front of the camera. The camera may have only one eye but it has a way of seeing everything.

What drew you to football in the first place?

I loved playing football when I was young. My brothers and I played whenever we had a few moments free from our homework. We played on the beach near our home in Alexandria. My younger brother, Salah, now sadly dead, was a great sportsman with a tremendous talent as a footballer. In fact he was an all-round sportsman. I was not, but I have always admired those who are supreme in their sports and also those who give everything they have got in order to succeed. Talent is the most valuable thing in the world but quite often, persistence wins.

Have you ever been approached to make a film based on your Harrods retail store or Fulham football club?

Several films have been made about Harrods. I remember a particularly good one being made for television by Desmond Wilcox, the late husband of Esther Rantzen. Harrods has featured in many of his films not least in “The Pumpkin Eater” in which Anne Bancroft suffers a memorable mental breakdown in the Food Halls. And it wasn’t because of the prices. No one has come up with a must-be-made film script about Fulham FC, but I admit it is a fascinating story. Of course, we are still living that story on a week-by-week basis so perhaps there is still time. Any script would have to have a wonderful climax. We are awaiting ours. The FA Cup’s next years? Or the Europa League Championship? We live, and we hope so.

If you could star in a movie, which role would you most like to play? 

I have no desire to be a film star. I am in the grandfather business.  If there was a role that meant I could spend every day on the set playing with my granddaughters, I might consider it. But the location and catering would have to be very good to tempt me to accept any role.

It has been said that investing in movies is as high risk as investing in airlines. What advice would you give a prospective investor?

The safe answer is to say “Don’t”. You should only invest in the film industry if you really know what you are doing. I suppose that goes for any sort of commercial endeavour. But in show business it is notoriously easy to make a mistake and mistakes in the film industry are by definition expensive. The best investment you can make is to buy a ticket for a film that really attracts you and then tell people how good it is, if you enjoyed it. Word of mouth is the film industry’s secret weapon. It was personal recommendation that alerted people to the merits of “Chariots of Fire”, because initially it did not have a big budget for publicity and advertising. People talk and thank goodness they do. With regard to the Government, it needs only look as far as Ireland or across the Atlantic to Canada. Both countries have prospered by offering film-makers tax breaks and other incentives. There is a great deal of talent in Britain. The Government should invest in it by creating the conditions in which talent can be creative and prosper. It is not hard to see what needs to be done but this Government seems to prefer taxing the blood out of everyone rather than providing the financial impetus that would do wonders for film and television production. The world is crying out for good content. This country provides a lot of it. But, with the right encouragement, it could do so much more.

How would you like to be remembered in rolling credits?

This question is too difficult. I wish to be remembered by my family as a husband, father and grandfather. I ask nothing else and nothing more. But anyway, I am not even thinking of any “closing credits” of a personal nature. When people come out of the cinema having seen “Chariots of Fire”, or any of the other films with which Dodi was associated (“Breaking Glass”, “Hook”, “FX-Murder By Illusion” Parts 1 & 2, “The Scarlet Letter”) I want them to feel that they have enjoyed themselves in the company of great story-tellers. That is what it is all about. We all love a good story.” Meredith Taylor  ©

Barbican Film | Chariots of Fire + ScreenTalk with Lord David Puttnam and Andy Beckett
Wed 6 July 2016 | barbican.org.uk/film | Box Office 0845 120 7527 | The remastered version of Chariots of Fire (1981) is also available on DVD


7 Reasons To Visit | East End Film Festival 2016 | 23 June – 3 July 2016

UNCLE HOWARD - PREFERRED 2UNCLE HOWARD ****

Dir: Aaron Brookner; Doc with Jim Jarmush, Tom DiCillo, Sara Driver; UK/US 2016, 96 min.

Filmmaker Aaron Brookner (The Silver Goat) rescues his uncle Howard’s most famous documentary Burroughs: The Movie (1983) and makes it into a moving portrait of his relative (who died of Aids at only 34) and a work of extensive research that emerged from “Burrough’s Bunker” at 222 Bowery, a windowless flat in New York, where the writer and provocateur worked until his death in 1997. The place was taken over by his friend, the poet John Giorno who was reluctant to allow Aaron access to the archives (containing positive and negatives of the Burroughs film), but with the help of Jim Jarmush – co-producer of Uncle Howard and sound technician on the Burroughs film – Aaron rescued the doc and shots of its making, from oblivion. Apart from Burroughs and Ginsberg, many of the ‘underground’ artists of the New York scene can be seen in action: Frank Zappa and Andy Warhol amongst them, as well as filmmaker Tom DiCillo, Howard Brookner’s DoP, and director and actor Sara Driver, who also co-produced Uncle Howard. Interviews with the theatre director Robert Wilson, subject of Howard’s second documentary Robert Wilson and the Civil Wars (1987), shed further light on Howard Brookner’s working method and the contract negotiations with Columbia about his first feature film Bloodhounds of Broadway (with Madonna and Matt Dillon) Howard pre-deceased the premiere of Bloodhounds in 1989Uncle Howard visits favourite artist haunts such as the Chelsea Hotel and the St. Vincent hospital in New York, “the Ground Zero” for New York’s Aids victims of the ’80s and ’90s; which today is a luxury apartment block. DoPs Gregg De Domenico and Andre Döbert carefully find styles to show how much the city has changed – and how much it has lost – in the last 25 years. Uncle Howard is a Trauerarbeit, but also a celebration of the life and work of Howard Brookner.

Aloys copyALOYS | Writer|Director: Tobias Nölle | Cast: Georg Friedrich, Tilde von Overbeck | 91min | Drama | Switzerland

Tobias Nölle’s second feature is a coldly rendered exploration of loneliness and isolation made all the more so by its impressive visual style. ALOYS follows the unusual day to day activities of the eponymous central character, a soi-disant private investigator in an unnamed Swiss town. As the film opens, this hard-edged loner is mourning the death of his father, indicated by graphic images of his coffin and wake. Clearly distraught, Aloys has no interest in sharing his grief, preferring to retreat to his spartanly decorated flat to reflect and seemingly gloat on the footage recorded on his video cameo during the day’s investigations. (full review under Aloys)

Abluka 4FRENZY | Director: Emin Alper| Turkey | 98min | Thriller

Mehmet Ozgur played the central role in writer|director Emin Alper’s stunning debut Beyond the Hill. Here he is again as the eldest brother in a family struggling to survive political violence in a dystopian Istanbul. Menacing by the same brooding tone of his first feature, FRENZY (Abluka) is a study in paranoia that transport the threat experienced in the mountains of Beyond the Hill’s Karaman, to an urban setting in the capital. Here the authorities here are losing control, and to achieve a semblance of order, Kadir and his brother Ahmet (Berkey Ates) are working to establish a reasonable living environment by clearing away undesirable elements: stray dogs are mercilessly shot and rubbish is collected and disposed of on a daily basis. But despite these methods of civil control, disorder rears its ugly head. (Full review under Abluka)

A River - PreferredTHE RIVER ***

Directed by Anthony Tombling Jr and narrated by the mellow tones of Michael Sheen (soundtrack by Massive Attack), this informative documentary serves as testament to the past and tribute to contemporary Wales where a river flowing through the Afan Forest Park in Pontrhydyfen has recovered from pollution caused by a century of industrial mining to become a haven for walkers, mountain bikers and fishermen and now faces a future under threat from ‘fracking’. Despite its delicate artistic flourishes – a recurring motif of the river flowing swiftly through woodland – A RIVER plays out rather like a worthy party political broadcast of behalf of the Green Party warning us of a potentially damaging industrial future while also celebrating the return of native flora and fauna – namely the dipper bird, the Red Kite, the buzzard and native salmon to this lush and verdant Welsh valley.

Tales From the Two Puddings - PREFERREDTALES FROM THE TWO PUDDINGS ***

An enjoyable romp through the ’60s life and times of an iconic East End pub. THE TWO PUDDINGS in Stratford has seen many a gangster and a sportman cross its threshold but it gives up its treasures amusingly here courtesy of past and present publicans and customers alike who reminisce over meetings with the Kray Twins, Bobby Charlton and the like, who all downed a pint or two during the hostelry’s illustrious past. Archive footage and black and white photography combine with frank and colourful interviews and a resonant ’60s score of vintage favourites to make this watchable and informative. MT

Desire Will Set You Free - photo1DESIRE WILL SET YOU FREE ** 

Dir.: Yony Leyser; Cast: Yony Leyser, Tim-Fabian, Cloe Griffin | Germany 2015, 92 min.

Writer/director Yoni Leyser (A Man Within) sets his autobiographical comedy romance in the contempo Berlin LGBT scene amongst celebrities such as Nina Hagen, Peaches and Blixa Bergeld (Einstürzende Neubauten). It centres on Ezra (Leyser) a US citizen with Israeli/Palestinian background whose efforts to finish his book are almost derailed by falling in love with Russian hustler Sasha (Hoffmann). Oscillating between comedy and melodrama, Desire tries too hard, often descending into pure parody. Incorporating simulated scenes from the Weimarer Republic, David Bowie and Christopher Isherwood quotes and love-making against the remnants of the Berlin Wall, Ezra/Leyser sums it all up: “I’d rather be a drama queen, than dull”. Indeed.

Love is thicker than waterLOVE IS THICKER THAN WATER | ***

Dir.: Emily Harris, Ate De Jong; Cast: Lydia Wilson, Johnny Flynn, Henry Goodman, Juliet Stevenson, Robert Blythe; UK 2016, 103 min.

A love affair is smothered by the cultural-economic divide in this lively and intricately-scripted romcom from filmmakers Emily Harris (Borges and I) and Ate de Jong (Drop Dead Fred) where Vida, a middle class Jewish professional cellist  (Lydia Wilson) meets Arthur, a bicycle courier and son of a Welsh steelworker. The two are drawn together by a creative appreciation and an active sexual magnetism: Arthur’s talent for animation photography gains him a place at art school with Vida’s help. But the most engaging element here is the authentic portrayal of inter-family strife seen through violent clashes and animosity from Vida’s mother Ethel (Stevenson) a musician, and Arthur’s father George (Blythe). Tragedy is the inevitable outcome in a drama enhanced by Nate Milton’s animated artwork and Zoran Veljkovic’s vivid camerawork of contempo London.

 

EAST END FILM FESTIVAL 23 – JUNE – 3 JULY 2016 | FULL PROGRAMME HERE

 

 

Edinburgh Film Festival 2016 | What’s On?

Edinburgh International Film Festival (EIFF), takes place between the 15th and 26th of June. Celebrating a landmark 70th edition, the Festival this year showcases a total of 22 World premiers from around the World.

BEST OF BRITISH

This year’s strand includes David Blair’s romantic drama AWAY, starring Timothy Spall and Juno Temple as two lost souls seeking solace under the lights of Blackpool while Rita Osei’s debut BLISS!, follows a teenage girl on a rite of passage journey of discovery across Scandinavia and Mercedes Grower’s offbeat debut BRAKES led by Julian Barratt and Noel Fielding. In the theme old age comes János Edelényi’s hilariously poignant THE CARER starring Brian Cox, who will be in attendance at this year’s Festival.

Will Poulter and Cara Delevingne lead a fantastic British ensemble cast in the sumptuous coming-of-age drama KIDS IN LOVE from Chris Foggin and, in a similar vein, Philip John takes us on an anarchic road-trip in MOON DOGS. More death scenes from Wales as twin librarians plan revenge in the quiet section in Euros Lyn’s Welsh-language THE LIBRARY (Y Llyfrgell) and brooding Scottish Icelandic Noirs PALE STAR and A REYKJAVIK PORNO are the latest outings from Scot Graeme Maley

Acclaimed artist Henry Coombes’ SEAT IN SHADOW is a witty and perspective study into the symbiotic relationship between an eccentric, part-time Jung-obsessed psychotherapist and his patient/muse.
Joanne Froggatt plays a woman attempting to keep her family together as her husband endures unimaginable pain in Bill Clark’s STARFISH. Ibiza-set crime thriller WHITE ISLAND from Benjamin Turner. Also in thriller territory, Agyness Deyn stars in dystopian THE WHITE KING from Alex Helfrecht and Jörg Tittel.

IN PERSON

A Celebration of the Films of Cinéma du Look retrospective will welcome legendary filmmaker Nagisa Oshima, the prolific producer of over fifty films, including 1983’s Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence.

AMERICAN DREAMS

Maggies_Plan copyWelcomes the very best in new American independent cinema (left) including Rebecca Miller’s MAGGIE’S PLAN, with Greta Gerwig, Ethan Hawke and Julianne Moore each delivering pitch-perfect performances.
Meg Ryan’s directorial debut ITHACA, an elegant and moving story of a teenager delivering telegrams in World War II. The European Premiere of Rob Burnett’s THE FUNDAMENTALS OF CARING, a charming comedy-drama that pairs Paul Rudd and rising British star Craig Roberts as caregiver and dependent. Paco Cabezas’ MR RIGHT starring Anna Kendrick and Sam Rockwell as an oddball assassin. There will be a chance to see the International Premiere of fan fiction marvel SLASH and Steven Lewis Simpson’s road trip through Lakota country NEITHER WOLF NOR DOG.

THE DIRECTORS’ SHOWCASE

The Commune copyShines a light on the latest work from some of the world’s most highly-respected auteurs, each film offering an insight into perspectives and stories from across the globe. Screening over the course of the Festival are:

Bleak Street, Arturo Ripstein’s black and white tale of a pair of murderous Mexican lucha wrestlers
Dark Danish comedy The Commune (RIGHT) from Thomas Vinterberg
Hans Petter Moland’s gripping police thriller A Conspiracy of Faith
Giuseppe Tornatore’s The Correspondence, starring Jeremy Irons and Olga Kurylenko
Jean-Paul Rappeneau’s elegant Families
Kurdish docu-drama A Flag Without A Country from Bahman Ghobadi
Taika Waititi’s hilarious Hunt for the Wilderpeople, following Sam Neill and newcomer Julian Dennison into the New Zealand bush
Yeon Sang-ho’s vision of zombie apocalypse Seoul Station
Paddy Breathnach’s Viva, set amongst the colourful world of Havana’s drag clubs
Yoga Hosers, the latest madcap adventure from Kevin Smith

EUROPEAN PERSPECTIVES

Saint Amour copyThis year’s strand features a number of much anticipated films making their UK debuts:
Bilall Fallah and Adil El Arbi’s emotive Black, a story of forbidden love set on the streets of Brussels driven by a mesmerizing performance from newcomer Martha Canga Antonio. Florian Gallenberger’s ‘70s- set melodrama The Colony with Emma Watson and Daniel Brühl.
Gérard Depardieu stars in The End from Guillaume Nicloux and Saint Amour (ABOVE) by Benoît Delépine and Gustave Kerven; Jihane Chouaib’s sterling Go Home; Riotous Icelandic incest comedy The Homecoming by Björn Hlynur Haraldsson; Gripping legal drama Kalinka by Vincent Garenq; Kadri Köusaar’s pitch-black Estonian comic gem Mother; San Sabastian winner, a soulful coming-of-age drama  Sparrows by Rúnar Rúnarsson. The strand also boasts a World Premiere of Balazs Juszt’s supernatural thriller The Man Who Was Thursday

WORLD PERSPECTIVES

BrahmanNaman_still1_ChaitanyaVarad_ShashankArora_TanmayDhanania_VaiswathShankar__byTizianaPuleioThe strand delivers a global array of works from emerging and established filmmaking talents which include
India’s leading indie director Q’s coming-of-age comedy (RIGHT) Brahman Naman; Jon Cassar’s stoic western Forsaken, starring father and son Donald and Kiefer Sutherland; Assad Fouladkar’s study of romance in a sharia setting Halal Love (And Sex); Kim Sang-chan’s darkly eccentric Karaoke Crazies

DOCUMENTARIES

EIFF offers highlights in a genre that rightly continues to go from strength to strength. Titles include:
Andreas Johnsen’s challenging and thought-provoking documentary for foodies and environmentalists alike Bugs; Alexandru Belc’s love letter to the big screen Cinema, Mon Amour; Portrait of electro-music star Gary Numan: Android In La La Land by Steve Read and Rob Alexander; Mike Day’s ode to the Faroe Islands The Islands and the Whales; Niam Itani’s timely reflection on the place of refugees in the modern world Twice Upon A Time.

EDINBURGH INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL | 15-26 JUNE 2016

Phaedra(s) | The Barbican

Director: Krzysztof Warlikowski | Dramaturgy Piotr Gruszczynski

Performed by: Isabelle Huppert, Agata Buzek, Andrzej Chyra, Alex Descas, Gael Kamilindi, Norah Krief, Rosalba Torres Guerrero, Gregoire Leaute

220min | Drama | Poland | France

It seems fitting that one of Greek tragedy’s most controversial figures should be played by one of film and stage’s most enigmatic French actors, Isabelle Huppert, who makes a rare London appearance to play three roles (Aphrodite, Phaedra and Elizabeth Costello) in Krzysztof Warlikowski’s radical and visionary French Polish production which bewilders and bewitches despite occasional longueurs.

His PHAEDRA(S) takes the form of three versions of the Greek myth, blending fresh material from Lebanese-Canadian playwright Wajdi Mouawad with the provocative text of Sarah Kane’s brutal ‘Phaedra’s Love’ and extracts from J M Coetzee’s novel ‘Elizabeth Costello’.

In 2010, Warlikowski cast Huppert in his version of A Streetcar Named Desire and this captured his imagination to create her three incarnations here as she morphs seamlessly from the sexually manipulative Aphrodite taking revenge on Hippolytus, then switching to Phaedra and finally to the perverse Elizabeth Costello.

Hot on the heels of her intoxicating performance in Paul Verhoeven’s outré ‘rape comedy’ ELLE, that premiered at Cannes in May, Huppert struts provocatively around the stage in a range of raunchy rigouts from Dior, Hedi Slimane for Saint Laurent and Givenchy during an evening that perpetually teeters on the brink of elegant outrage. During the opening scenes she strips down to her blood-stained undies before girating in angst-ridden love-sickness on a bed, throwing up into a sink and fatally climaxing in the arms of her step-son Hyppolyte 1, a coltishly exotic Gaël Kamilindi who slinks in as a black dog.

In the second and most protracted segment, Andrzej Chyra (In the Name Of) plays Hippolyte as a bored and bloated playboy sulking in a sliding glass enclosure (representing his regal quarters) where he is entertained by the intoxicatingly rhythmic dance routines of Rosalba Torres Guerrero while Hitchcock’s Psycho plays in the background, in the first of the production’s three references to the film world. Jessica Lange’s lobotomy scene in Clifford’s Frances (1982) plays during the final Coetzee segment along with Pasolini’s ’60s allegory Teorema, which cleverly draws a parallel with Silvana Mangano’s chic but sexually frustrated Milanese mother. In final strand Huppert plays conference speaker Elizabeth Costello who disdains Chyra’s intellectually arrogant interviewer during a conference debate that uses Frances, German Romantic poet Höderlin who incorporated Greek tragedy into his 19th century works, and Racine’s 17th century version of Phèdre as its pivotal conversation points. Of the three parts, this is possibly the most amusing but also the most challenging.

In sharp contrast to the starkly elegant stage sets (marbled walls, chrome shower heads and contemporary low level Italian furniture) and haute couture, the cast bravely submits to the full complement of human physical and emotional degradations: crying, pleading, throwing up, bleeding and crawling on all fours with open legs.

Isabelle Huppert’s coruscating emotional intensity ranges from the sarcastically perverse Costello to the proud posturing of Aphrodite and the clipped sardonic diction and soulful sobbing of Phaedra, making us scorn and then pity her characters within minutes. Amusement jostles shock and contempt. Agata Buzet (11 Minutes) is potently feline and as Phaedra’s real daughter Strophe. And there is a dizzying dance from Guerrero. Complimented by Pawel Mykietyn’s arresting atmospheric score this is an often bewildering but ultimately rewarding production. MT

PHAEDRA(S) | BARBICAN THEATRE EC2 | TICKETS AVAILABLE HERE

 

Talking about EVOLUTION with Lucile Hadzihalilovic

French filmmaker Lucile Hadzihalilovic, won the Jury Prize for Best Cinematography at San Sebastian and Stockholm last year 2015 for her marine-based fantasy Horror outing EVOLUTION. Here she talks to Matthew Turner about how teenage appendicitis sparked the original idea for the feature.

Lucile Hadzihalilovic (LH): Well, at the very beginning it was just the boy and his mother and the hospital and this idea that the mother was taking her son, who is beginning to grow up, to kind of get another child. But I think when I think back to where it comes from, I think it’s a very autobiographical film. It really came from my own childhood, I would say, my fears, my expectations and especially, when I was ten or eleven, there was a moment – so I was going to become a teenager and I had appendicitis, so I had to go to the hospital. And it was just a normal experience, like many other children have. But it’s so strange this thing, that you are in this hospital with adults who are touching and opening your body and cutting something out of it and this strange pain in the belly etc. And at the same time, this idea that I was going to have my period very soon and become a teenager, so I think these were different elements that where linked at that time. So I think it’s based on that time and then my life and this fears about metamorphosis, about pregnancy. So this is where the idea comes from.

MJT: In the hospital waiting room, there wasn’t a big aquarium with lots of starfish in it?

LH: Maybe! Maybe there was and I didn’t remember at the time, but I remember through the film. But it’s funny, because the ocean came afterwards – at the beginning it was just the hospital and I thought, okay, it’s in the city. But suddenly I realised that it should be on the seaside. And of course the ocean brings the perfect setting for the story. And then it also gives room to explore deeper feelings, maybe more primitive feelings and of course linked to the mother, to the womb, so they are a kind of lost paradise but at the same time it’s an amazing place but it’s also kind of scary and really mysterious. And the mysterious aspect of it was really very much what I was looking for, for the film. It’s like a subject by itself, in a way, the mystery of the world and all the changing.

MJT: Where were the locations for the film?

LH: We shot the film in the Canary Islands, in one of the Canary Islands, which is called Lanzarote. And when I wrote the script I didn’t know these places, but one of the producers knew them and he thought that it would be a very good place to shoot the film, for budgetary reasons, but also for artistic reasons. And he was totally right because the great thing in this island is this volcanic seaside, very black and very dramatic and at the same time there is the strength of the sea with the wind and the waves. And this village, which is both familiar and a bit strange. I was looking for this ambiguity, this ambivalence and for me it was very important that the place was very attractive but at the same time gives a kind of anxiety, this feeling of isolation – I think it’s very much about also being isolate, about being separated from the world and still kind of being in the realms of motherhood. So i felt that really, in this landscape. we had really very little to do to have this feeling of being in another reality, very close to ours.

EVOLUTION_STILLS_boyMJT: How do you see the film’s relationship to your previous film, Innocence?

LH: I know that it really looks like there are many, many similarities, to the point where people ask me if it’s like a diptych. I really didn’t think about it like that, because it wasn’t like, ‘I’ve done the girls, now I’m going to do the boys’. It wasn’t like that. It was more again, the very beginning of this script was even before Innocence and it was, as I said, a more intimate story with the boy and his mother. And I thought that it was more interesting with a boy, more striking, more nightmarish, more abnormal. And I also felt that I could portray myself as a boy rather than as a girl, in this situation. If it had been a teenager, it wouldn’t have been the same, but as a child, I thought it worked. So it didn’t come from this idea of a group of boys, it was more like Nicolas and his mother and the boy’s fear, and then I developed the idea of this whole community around them and maybe it has been influenced by Innocence, even if I really tried to go somewhere else with more narrative and this one is more of a genre film. So I tried to do something else, but I really see the similarities and also this microcosm, which is both kind of paradise and prison. And also the weird biology elements. Of course, in Evolution, it’s dark, it’s much darker than Innocence, but there’s also a kind of moment of feeling of liberation and joy, like at the end with the nurse under the water that maybe is a bit similar to that moment with the fountain at the end of Innocence, and then also this water element. And again, it’s a coming of age story. That one is more like a disturbed one, but it was not really on purpose, it just came by itself.

MJT: I certainly think Innocence prepares you for EVOLUTION, in a way. So if you’ve seen Innocence, you’re already prepared for the rhythms and moods of EVOLUTION. So you haven’t considered a trilogy then?

LH: But what could it be now, if it’s a trilogy? I guess that with children, what is interesting for me with children is that I can create kind of a new, different universe, because they are still open, quite new in the world, so they don’t know very much, so they make their own links and they are kind of creative, So I guess what would interest me in other films would be maybe to work on some kind of madness that permits also to create a world by itself. I mean to mix dreams and reality. It’s a kind of artificial narration, I guess, to have a character that guide you to this kind of thing. So with children it’s easy for me to do it. Maybe someone else has to deal with madness or so, I don’t know. So in that way, there could be the third chapter.

EVOLUTION_STILLS_sea copyMJT: How much research did you do into the mating rituals of starfish?

LH: In fact, we did a lot. I know we don’t see much in the film, really, but with my co-writer, at some point we really developed much more of the script about this universe, who exactly these women are and what their relationship is with the starfish. And we imagined things like the starfish, at the very beginning because it’s a very familiar motif, like these images of children playing with starfish gives the impression of happiness. Then if you really look at the starfish it’s such a strange animal and very far away from the kind of being we are and it has a lot of interesting characteristics that we had a whole back story for, where they could resist radioactivity, they can regenerate themselves, and also it’s a very, very primitive animal that has been on the Earth since…for a very long time – I don’t remember exactly how long. So yeah, we did a lot of research and it was also very exciting to see how they reproduce and what about the larvae and many of these marine creatures are very fascinating because they are so kind of alien. So this is the kind of research we did to feed ourselves, to feed our imaginations, rather than really being very scientific about it. And then I had to cut a lot of things in the script for budget reasons, so many details disappeared. And a few of those things were about the starfish.

MJT: What kind of things did you have to cut out? Was there anything in particular that you were sorry to see go?

LH: At the end, maybe it’s because I really don’t want to be sorry about what I cut, because it’s how it was, but there is a whole other layer in the film that was including other people, other sets, other scenes, more special effects, also, but it was not like one scene which was too expensive, no, it was really a kind of other narrative layer – probably this layer would have brought more explanation, somehow, not really explanation in the way that – it’s not who are the people that are doing these things, it’s more like there are more links, who these women are. But maybe it’s also an element that we have developed through the years because it has been very difficult to finance the film, so many times we had some reaction from people saying, ‘Oh, we don’t understand, why this, why that?’ So at some point the producer wanted me to make it more explicit, etc. So we developed it a little bit more, but also we thought it was a very dangerous path to go down, because it could have just killed the film to explain it all, because at the end it’s so not logical, it’s more like a dream, like a nightmare, it’s more like elements from the unconscious rather than a sci-fi, very logical explanation, and so it was very difficult to do that. But nevertheless, we had many elements and one at the end we had to cut again because it was too expensive. Probably it was all these additional elements that were easier to cut, because then the heart of the project was not really in these things. So it went back more to something more like a nightmare, like a dream, more oneric, rather than a moral, sci-fi thing. So there was just a little hint of it.

MJT: How important is the colour scheme to the film, the use of colours? Are they symbolic in some way?

LH: No, it was more like feelings. For instance, I very much wanted the film to be very colourful, even if we had just black and white landscape outside of the water and not so much colour in the clothes etc. So I felt the sea should be very colourful because when you see these creatures on the water or in the weeds, they have a lot of colours, very strong colours sometimes, and this is what is so exciting about shooting under the water. So I knew that I could have some colours and some kind of exuberant moment in the film. And then there is this colour of the green of the sea, and then that. should help us in the hospital to get the sea back, in a way. So we had these green walls that bring the feeling of the sea from the colour. And then there was of course the red starfish, and red is always a dramatic colour and a very strong one, especially if you don’t have so many other colours, so we had the green and the red of the starfish and then we needed to continue this red a bit, and so we had this red bathing suit on the child and yeah, it’s a way to underline or to dramatise a few moments but it’s not like a symbol.

MJT: Were there any particular visual influences on the film, in terms of maybe other films, or paintings or anything like that?

LH. Yes. I think probably the main influences visually were more like from paintings, from the surrealism, like Chirico (an Italian painter from the ’20s and ’30s), for this village where the presence of the architecture is very strong, very dramatic, this idea of a sunny place with long, enigmatic shadows or things like that. So Chirico and also painters like Max Ernst, Tanguy or even Dali, because they have painted the seaside a lot as a very alien place, but also very organic and I was really trying to be as organic as possible in this film. So yes, I had these kind of visual references. As for films, I didn’t have many references, consciously, I mean – there was one – Who Can Kill A Child? Again, not for the story but for the mood, like this white village, with empty streets and only children, so it was a bit strange. That was maybe the main conscious influence of a film that I had. And then I think there is another one that was very, very different visually, but it was more about the mood, it was Eraserhead. For instance, I always felt that we really shouldn’t have a creature, but a puppet that looked like a baby. It’s really far from being as great as the one in Eraserhead, but this was the reference, not to have the same thing, but to have a very physical presence that looked real.

MJT: What was the most difficult thing to get right?

LH: Well, it was difficult to structure the story, because I really began with feelings, situations, emotions, visuals, sounds and elements, so at some point we really had to make a story out it, to have these images that happen, so there was a difficulty there and I was very lucky to be able to work with Alante Kavaite, my co-writer – she helped me a lot, in structuring all this material. But probably the main problem was the one I was telling you about, when people were saying, ‘We don’t understand this film, what kind of film is it, is it a genre film, is it something else?’ So we really tried to make them understand. For instance, the ending was also – not for me, because for me it was really like what it is in the film, always – we should arrive at a particular place, but it’s not back to reality or it’s not a happy ending. It’s, okay, he has escaped from the island, but maybe now it’s another cycle. But it was difficult because people thought they wanted a kind of explanation or a definitive ending, ‘So, is it that or is it that? Was it true or was it not true? Where are the facts?’ So it was difficult to deal with these things without destroying the film. So the difficulty was really to try in the script to make people understand what the film was about and give a feel for the nature of the film without giving too much explanation. Like, okay, it’s metaphorical but we can’t really explain it or show you what the metaphor is about. It’s not like someone’s dream and suddenly it’s a boy who is in hospital and he’s dreaming of this island, no. But at one point we were kind of being pushed to do things like that, to be more explicit, so that balance was difficult to achieve.

MJT: Do you have a particular favourite scene or moment in the film?

LH: I guess because it was a shot that I was not there for when it was done – it’s probably the underwater shots made by the diver who was like a second unit. So we said we would like these kinds of things with weeds and so on, but I’m not a diver and neither was the DP, so at some point we had to let him do it by himself and.he came back with these amazing images and this was like, ‘Oh, wow’. They were a great surprise and I was so happy about that – I thought it would really bring a lot to the film and it was really exactly what I was looking for. So yes, it’s the underwater scenes that you see right at the beginning.

MJT: The casting is interesting because you have a couple of well-known actors…

LH: In fact, Julie-Marie Parmentier is well known, because she has done many films now, and Roxane Duran is more at the beginning of her career, but she made The White Ribbon with Michael Haneke. I thought of Julie-Marie straught away, because I think she’s really special – I think she is a very good actress and she has different qualities – she can be very attractive, but also kind of ugly, also mysterious and I think you feel like she has a real inner life. I knew that she could be kind of scary, but in a very minimalistic way and I also think that she’s very charismatic and she doesn’t need to have to read dialogue to create something. And it’s a bit the same with Roxane, the great thing with her is that she’s really sweet and she brings a very kind of human element into this atmosphere that works very well. Before meeting her I had thought that the nurse should have been scarier, in a way but when I met her I thought that it was really interesting to have someone so sweet, even if she’s doing sometimes scary things. And she’s a bit like a child, she has something that’s still very child-like, and I was really happy with them. And I also wanted to have this mood, because it’s not about performance, it’s more about the mood they give and they fit very well to this landscape.

MJT: And was it difficult to find Max Brebant?

LH: It was not really easy, of course because there is this aspect of swimming, that was one thing. And then the story might have been difficult for some parents, rather than for the children. What was very good with Max is that, in fact, he was thirteen years old when we did the film, so I think he had this sometimes more mature expression, but also his very tiny body, so he’s kind of fragile. And I really liked him very much,I found him very charismatic and very sweet, in a way, with his big face and small body – he had a fragility and a sweetness that was very interesting. Before shooting I thought that I was going to maybe try to make him express more fear, but it was really difficult and we had so little time to shoot, so we couldn’t spend a lot of time on each scene, so I decided to play it more like a blank expression, as if he was sleeping with his eyes open or something and that, and I think it works at the end because he’s very charismatic, for me, at least. So we found him quite late in the process of casting but we couldn’t begin the casting too soon, because they change quickly at that age, so we just tried to find them six or seven months before shooting.

MJT: What’s your next project?

LH: My next project, I’m a bit scared now of not choosing the right one, or choosing the one that would be too difficult and would take me too many years to find the financing, so I don’t want to talk about it, really, because I don’t want to jinx it, but I’m working on different things.

EVOLUTION IS ON GENERAL RELEASE AT ARTHOUSE CINEMAS FROM 6 MAY 2016

Kinoteka Polish Film Festival | London 7 – 29 April 2016

THE 14TH KINOTEKA POLISH FILM FESTIVAL CELEBRATES THE CREATIVE GENIUS OF POLAND’S LEADING LIGHTS: JERZY SKOLIMOWSKI, AGNIESZKA HOLLAND & ANDRZEJ ŻUŁAWSKI 
and some edgy new titles | 7 – 29 April 2016

Celebrating seminal works and latest releases from the contemporary Polish Greats. Meet these revered directors on the big screen and in person for a series of Q&As and screentalks.

J e r z y   S k o l i m o w s k i

In London to present his latest film 11 MINUTES, one of Polish cinema’s most iconic figures, Jerzy Skolimowski’s  took Polish cinema to a new era that focused on the individual rather than traditional historic themes and ideas. Pushing boundaries and taking audiences on a bold and innovative journey, his latest is no exception; an adventurous rollercoaster full of motion, emotion and suspense. Featuring an impressive ensemble cast, 11 MINUTES is an inventive metaphor for our modern hectic lives, driven by blind chance. The Barbican Cinema will host a special retrospective of three rarely screened classic Skolimowski titles; BARRIER (1966), MOONLIGHTING  (1982) and THE SHOUT (1978), illustrating his revolutionary approach and unique narrative style.

Here he talks to us about making films during Communism and his latest thriller 11 MINUTES

A g n i e s z k a   H o l l a n d

Europa_Europa_Park_Circus_(3)A former assistant to Andrzej Wajda and Krzysztof Zanussi, Agnieszka Holland has gone on to become one of Poland’s most eminent filmmakers and the most commercially successful Polish-born director since Roman Polański. Throughout her long and celebrated career she has forged a creative path as an internationally acclaimed filmmaker, including the Golden Globe-winning EUROPA EUROPA and Oscar-nominated IN DARKNESS, who has also shown that she is just as comfortable and adept at working in television, directing episodes for US networks including HBO and Netflix, on groundbreaking shows; ‘The Wire’, ‘Treme’, ‘The Killing’ and ‘House of Cards’.

BFI Southbank presents a retrospective season of Holland’s essential films including screenings of PROVINCIAL ACTORS (1979), A WOMAN ALONE(1981), EUROPA EUROPA (1990) and IN DARKNESS (2011) alongside an in-conversation stage event to discuss her craft as well as a forum presenting her television work.

A n d r z e j   Ż u ł a w s k i

01_CosmosRegarded as one of Poland’s most original and controversial directors, who died in February 2016, made his career making films outside of Poland, Andrzej Żuławski’s final film after a 15 year break COSMOS will be screened at the ICA Cinema. Awarded the Best Direction prize at the 2015 Locarno Film Festival, the film, a metaphysical thriller, is a loose adaptation of Witold Gombrowicz’s surreal novel Cosmos. Hilarious, confounding and downright strange (in a good way), Żuławski fans will not be disappointed as the visionary director spins a mysterious web of erotic and psychological intrigue, bringing to mind both his earlier work as well as David Lynch’s INLAND EMPIRE which similarly defies any simple explanation.

As a tribute to Andrzej Żuławski, the ICA will screen a retrospective of the director’s earlier work including a newly digital remastered copy of Żuławski’s Polish production, THE DEVIL (1972) which was a victim of PRL censorship for 16 years, THAT MOST IMPORTANT THING: LOVE (1975) starring Romy Schneider as a struggling actress forced to act in erotic films, and cult body horror POSSESSION (1981) starring Sam Neill and Isabelle Adjani, whose unquestionably brilliant performance as the emotionally disturbed Anna won her both Best Actress at Cannes and a Cesar award.

N E W   P O L I S H   C I N E M A

bodyA selection of recent, critically successful contemporary Polish films from the last year including Małgorzata Szumowska’s thought-provoking BODY, which won the Silver Bear for Best Director at the 2015 Berlin Film Festival and Golden Lion at the Gdynia Film Festival for Best Film, a darkly comic meditation on grief and reconciliation, using the theme of the corporal and ethereal body to weave together the stories of three interconnected but radically different people attempting to deal with the loss of a loved one. One of Poland’s most popular directors, Jacek Bromski returns to the festival with ANATOMY OF EVIL, an engaging thriller about an ageing mafia hit-man released from prison on parole who is assigned a mysterious assassination, but whom is physically unable to complete the task without help. Marcin Wrona’s atmospheric ghost story DEMON, screens as a tribute to the late filmmaker who died suddenly during the Gdynia Film Festival last year. In Dariusz Gajewski’s heart-stirring family drama STRANGE HEAVEN, Basia and Marek are a young immigrant couple living in Sweden. One innocent lie triggers an avalanche and their daughter is placed with a foster family by social services. So begins a dramatic fight with the cruel machine of bureaucracy to get their child back. Inspired by the true story of Tadeusz Szymków, Maciej Migas’s debut feature LIFE MUST GO ON features a phenomenal central performance from Tomasz Kot (Bogowie) as a feckless actor suffering from alcoholism who discovers he has incurable cancer and only three months to live. He decides to turn his life around and most importantly reconnect with his daughter but is three months enough to fix all of life’s mistakes?

Closing Night Gala

This year KINOTEKA will draw to a big band bang with the UK premiere of THE ECCENTRICS. The Sunny Side Of The Street, veteran director Janusz Majewski’s tale of Poland’s swinging 50s. Jazz loving World War Two veteran Fabian returns to Poland from the UK with the unshakeable desire to launch his own swing band. He puts together an unlikely mishmash of players, including a leading lady whose background appears to be as much of a riddle as his own. But will the ‘king and queen of swing’, with their Hollywood lifestyles, handle the reality of 50s Poland and their burning desire to be a part of the West? Inspired by his own love of swing, Majewski’s film was awarded the Silver Lion for Best Director at the Gdynia Film Festival. The screening will be followed by a swing after-party in the nearby building of the Embassy of the Republic of Poland. With professional dance teachers and Polish jazz band Wojtek Mazolewski Quintet (who created the music for the film) playing live this will be a night to remember. MT

KINOTEKA POLISH FILM FESTIVAL | 7 -29 APRIL 2016 

Captured, but not tamed: The cinema of John Krish

Until quite recently John Krish was one of British Cinema’s best kept secrets. But in recognition of his valuable contribution to British cinema that started in the late ’40s, the BFI has raised the profile of the now retired auteur with a series of interviews at their Southbank Centre and the re-issue of his early work on DVD, putting his films back on the cinematic map.

John Krish was born in London in 1923 and started his film career in his early twenties at the Crown Film Unit where he assisted Harry Watt and Humphrey Jennings. And though he later worked for British Transport Films making propaganda films, he later became an individualistic and maverick director. Noted for his offbeat features Unearthly Stranger and The Man Who Had Power over Women, he was best known for his documentary shorts that are vivid, humane and insightful film essays showcasing British life.

hqdefault In films such as They Took Us to the Sea (1961) in which a group of children, funded by the NSSPC, are taken by train to the seaside; The Elephant Never Forgets (1953) – a celebration of the final hours of the last South London tram and I Think They Call Him John (1964) that portraits a day in the life of a pensioner alone in his flat; Krish brought dignity, compassion, humour and acute social observation to his subject matter. There is often a moment in a Krish film that crystallizes the inner life of his characters. His powers of observation were well-developed, enabling his camera to evoke the subtlety of body language and expression.  Such allowance of pathos – but never sentimentality – was probably one of the reasons Krish never felt an affinity with the Free Cinema Movement of the fifties: Reisz, Richardson and Anderson always kept more emotional distance back then. In I Think They Call him John, an old working class man goes through his solitary ritual of cooking; watching TV and washing up – a routine that  has gradually solidified his loneliness. Whist looking out of his window, an unseen motorcyclist roars by. John’s vacant expression conveys so much about the post-war world that has simple passed him by. It is a poignant scene comparable to De Sica’s observations of a retired civil servant in the quietly devastating 1952 film Umberto D.

Still-from-the-NSPCC-commissioned-film-by-John-Krish-They-Took-Us-To-The-SeaAnd the obviously happy faces of children on a train in They Took Us To the Sea (it’s ‘the sea’, not ‘the seaside’ – inferring what is practical over what is pleasurable), are intercut with children who look hurt, puzzled and withdrawn. This is not simply a film about the virtues of NSSPC care, but a nuanced depiction of kids who have missed out on holidays because they can barely comprehend horizons beyond their limited existence in the city.

Krish’s naturalism was always aligned to a quirky and surreal way of seeing. The Elephant Never Forgets has a celebratory joy that recalls the early TV work of Ken Russell: watching it now, it is hard to believe that twenty thousand Londoners could get so involved in the life of a tram, just before it was broken up for the eager scrap merchants. However the repeated use of the music hall song, “Riding Along on the Top of a Car” makes for a gem of a film that moves you to tears. And in Drive Carefully, Darling (1975) we have fantasy experts in white coats operating the brain and senses of a reckless motorist. Yet even such Sci-Fi children’s book illustration is cleverly edited with touching shots of a wife, who won’t see her husband alive again, doing the shopping.

day-in_1759625bYet Krish’s most audacious short has to be The Finishing Line (1977). This is a British Transport film about the dangers for children playing near a railway track. By imagining a school’s sports day (a very British occasion) replete with brass band and summer afternoon teas, Krish transcends his public information remit to produce a deadpan horror film. As the children, aided by teachers and parents, compete in such events as racing across the railway track, throwing stones at a train and walking through a long tunnel; the injuries and deaths pile up in a chilling manner that to this day still shock and haunt. The Finishing Line’s graphic violence is always judiciously understated. Krish maintains a cool moralist’s eye. The film’s a nightmarish deterrent for any child considering having fun on a railway track. Occasionally the film teeters on the edge of subversion. Not in the manner of a Lindsay Anderson, with the public school slaughter seen in If…, but a sense in which the authorities (parents, teachers and ambulance staff) calmly manage the games and administer aid in a massacre of the innocents; all the while hinting at darker, unspoken fears about complicity, safety and adult responsibility for its young. Although such unease is subtly generalised throughout the film, it did not prevent Krish’s powerful short from being withdrawn after its TV screening. British Transport had the film banned for twenty one years.

John-Krishs-remarkable-19-010A ban was also placed on Krish’s military intelligence film Captured (1959). Indeed the film so freaked out the authorities that they viewed it as a bad advertisement for anyone wanting to join the armed services. The few permitted screenings (for recruits only) had to be supervised by a senior officer. Captured documents the British soldiers, during the Korean War, who have been captured by the Chinese. The prisoners undergo a stark re-education in the aims and ideals of Communism. One captive (Alan Dobie) is subjected to brain washing, brutal coercion and torture (the uncomfortable water boarding scenes are brilliantly filmed). The film grips like a vice in a tightly framed film noir. Krish also gives Captured complex characters placed in a strongly dramatic storyline. Stereotypes are avoided. Krish frequently points out the need to keep both a collective and individual resistance to interrogation methods. For a divide and rule approach is what the torturers hope to achieve. Indeed it’s the tension between a prisoner who is almost pushed out of the group for suspected enemy collaboration (both ironically rightly and wrongly so) and the victim/torturer scenes, that make for such a morally engaging film. Captured depicts the painful road to travel in order to learn the correct response towards the real enemy, who is always the Chinese and not your fallible fellow prisoner.

Visually outstanding, Captured has many tight and beautiful compositions. Images of an abandoned prisoner; a group of soldiers confined in a hut where fraught conversations are shot with assurance and rigour. Captured is a long short film (65 minutes) in a drama-documentary style and remains a forceful human story transcending its military education aims.

UnknownKrish’s feature debut, Unearthly Stranger (1960) is also an unqualified success. The film was shot on a shoestring, but none the worse for it. The film’s direction, writing, editing and photography are finely focussed on the story of a female alien, Julie (Gabriella Licudi), who’s married to a scientist (John Neville) working on a space project. The twist in the tale is that the alien has fallen in love with the man she has been sent to kill. Her displays of emotion mean that tears literally burn her skin. In a haunting scene were the alien wife frightens children in a school playground, there is sense that they are recoiling from her, sensing her otherworldliness. This is almost Village of the Dammed material played in dramatic reverse. And the film has more than a hint or two of Siegel’s Invasion of the Bodysnatchers. As in Captured, its ending is uncertain and uncompromising.

dd78eb42e3b5a43bf3f9ace58b3ebf16_ia7f41CXDe7PECaptured was made as an industry calling card to secure John Krish more work as a features director. But the work never materialised and the film was not publically screened till 2003. Krish’s debut feature, Unearthly Stranger was still very short – seventy five minutes, only ten minutes longer than Captured. Both films concern strange hostile forces that want to take over the world. Captured for its Communist ideas, was generally perceived as strange and hostile to Western values. And Unearthly Stranger’s apprehension as to what exists in the stratosphere, beyond our planet. Their Cold War linkage seemed a natural progression for John Krish’s talent, making us long for more Sci-Fi, psychological horror or even thrillers. But Krish was never cut out to work in the style of Hammer Film; he got stuck with material that was not of his own choosing. A handful of features The Wild Affair, Decline and Fall of a Birdwatcher and The Man Who had Power over Women are comedy dramas hampered by clunky scripts and unsure direction. These films have some positive elements: Acute social observation, a surreal touch and incisive editing made his shorts outstanding. He turned the Public Information Film into an art form by stamping his personal signature on the genre. Those works, and his two not quite feature-length films, are his legacy. A concerned humanist with dark energy and vision; John Krish was really quite special. And he is still with us, now aged ninety two. A recent engaging BFI interview with him reveals a feisty and engaging personality. Alan Price©2016

Flare is 30! | LGBT Film Festival 2016 | 17-27 March 2016

FLARE is 30! And to celebrate, the BFI is offering a chance to see the latest films from a flirty selection – appealing to the arthouse crowd and gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender cineastes alike.

summertime-02 Kicking off, quite literally, with the World premiere of THE PASS, Ben A Williams footy-themed drama, stars Russell Tovey and Arinze Kene as Club lovers, in both senses of the word, who come together during an away match thousands of miles from home. And to close, SUMMERTIME  [La Belle Saison], Catherine Corsini’s passionate portrayal of Paris during the ’70s where Cecile de France and Izïa Higelin star as two very different women who fall in love against the feminist street protests in the French capital.

This year screenings benefit from the EASTER BREAK and will continue on the day after this Closing Gala (Easter Sunday 27 March) with a Second Chance Sunday devoted to 2016 Festival best-sellers and a selection of LGBT archive gems from the Festivals’ history. Every ticket on Second Chance Sunday will be offered at the discounted price of £8. As a highlight of the day, the BFI will show the film that tops a brand new critics’ and programmers’ poll of the top 10 global LGBT films of the last 30 years. The result of this BFI poll and all the films screening on Second Chance Sunday will be announced soon.

Mapplethorp - Look at the Pictures  copyBetween 17 – 27 March most screenings will be accompanied by Q&As and a chance to meet and debate with visiting talent including Silas Howard, the first trans director on Emmy and Golden Globe-winning Transparent, who will be in London to regale us with his experiences. Special Presentations include Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures, an in-depth and uncompromising portrait of the life and work of the legendary photographer Robert Mapplethorpe by award-winning World of Wonder duo Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato (Inside Deep Throat); Rebel Dykes, a work-in-progress screening event of Harri Shanahan and Sian Williams’ documentary which explores the forgotten ‘herstory’ of lesbian punk London in the 1980s. Jacques Martineau and Olivier Ducastel (Jeanne and the Perfect Guy, Drôle de Félix) will also be there in the wake of their Berlinale world prem Theo & Hugo, a finely crafted and provocative French drama.

Of the 50 features screenings, be sure not to miss the following Gala Specials, and highlights from the festival strands HEARTS, MINDS and BODIES.

DEPARTURE British director Andrew Stegall’s touching debut about a mother (Juliet Stephenson) and son Alex Lawther (The Imitation Game) struggling with their relationship. Barak and Tomer Heymann’s touching drama WHO’S GONNA LOVE ME NOW? fresh from Berlinale, which explores the family dysfunction of an HIV positive Israeli finding an adoptive second home in London as a member of London Gay Men’s Chorus. And from the Cult Classic strand CALAMITY JANE at the BFI IMAX will celebrate everyone’s favourite cowboy/girl Doris Day with this dazzling new digital restoration presented on the biggest screen in Britain.

from-afar-06H E A R T S  includes films about love, romance and friendship.

FROM AFAR – Lorenzo Vigas’ Golden Lion 2015 winner at Venice Film Festival;

THE GIRL KING – Mika Kaurismäki’s 17th century lesbian costume drama, set at the court of Queen Christina; CAROL Toddy Haynes’ masterful lesbian screen version of Patricia Highsmith’s novel stars Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara; DESERT HEARTS a cult classic lesbian ’80s love story as vibrant as ever, the only lesbian film shown at the 1986 edition; WHOSE GONNA LOVE ME NOW a gay Jewish man’s journey to find acceptance and stability amid the perils of hard drugs and HIV

sworn-virgin-01B O D I E S  features stories of sex, identity and transformation.

THE CHAMBERMAID LYNN – Ingo Haeb’s disturbing German story of a hotel-cleaner who becomes a fetish sexworker; NASTY BABY   a Brooklyn-set adoption story with a tragic twist; SWORN VIRGIN – Laura Bispuri’s startling drama stars Alba Rohrwacher as an Albanian whose transition to living as a man involves complex cultural traditions..

M I N D S    features reflections on art, politics and community

welcome-to-this-house-02THE TRIAL OF SIR ROGER CASEMENT a chance to catch a rare screening starring Peter Wyngarde as a man executed for treason in the ’60s; WELCOME TO THIS HOUSE Barbara Hammer explores the life of Pulitzer prize-winning author and lesbian Elizabeth Bishop; WOMEN HE’S UNDRESSEED a  genius Hollywood costumier’s life is told through the stars he dressed and undressed: Cary Grant, Humphrey Bogart and Marilyn Monroe; KA BODYSCAPES Jayan Cherian’s sophomore drama explores themes of oppression and rebellion in the southern Indian province of Kerala, through the adventures of a young bohemian artist on the cusp of fame

While films and film cultural are at the heart of the BFI, the atmosphere at Southbank brings people from far and wide. This year the hugely popular BFI Flare Club Nights return (Fri 18, Sat 19, Thu 24, Fri 25 and Sat 26) at Benugo Lounge and Riverfront with our favourite DJs and newfound friends including Pitch Slap!, Sadie Lee and Jonathan Kemp, Pink Glove, Club Kali, and for Closing Night Bad Bitches and Unskinny Bop.

www.bfi.org.uk/flare

 

Michel Franco | Interview |Best Script Winner | Chronic | Cannes 2015

imagesJohn Bleasdale talks to CHRONIC director Michel Franco about his latest film: 

In 2010, Michel Franco’s grandmother suffered a stroke and was confined to bed for several months until her eventual death. The nurses brought in to care for the patient caught Franco’s attention and became the inspiration for his new film Chronic, starring Tim Roth as David, a palliative carer whose devotion to his patients sees him cross the line of professional objectivity. The film bagged the Mexican filmmaker the best screenplay prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival where it screened in competition and where I had the opportunity to speak with director and screenwriter Michel Franco.

How did you prepare for the film?

The main research came with my personal experience with my grandmother. There were different nurses working shifts, some got fired, some went away. And so in six months I saw a parade of nurses and that’s when I decided to work on the story. Originally, it was supposed to be a female character in Mexico. Then I met Tim [Roth] and we got along and we started to research the movie together. Changing the gender was easy. It’s almost the same story, nothing changed. Changing it for the States, however, it changed a lot. Things work a little differently there. Society is different but also the medical rules are different, so I spoke to a lot of nurses and Tim did as well. Sometimes, Tim would call me and tell me he’d found something interesting and if it was good I would include it in the script. Sometimes I was about to shoot something and Tim would say no this would be done this way. His hands would be in a certain position and we also had nurses on set to help us keep it realistic.

Tim Roth’s character David is a man with his own problems, we learn.

It was interesting to build this character as deeply as possible. If we didn’t get into his mind or his past the film would only be a series of anecdotes about his patients, rather than a character study. Also when you talk to nurses you also hear these kinds of stories. A question which is not answered in the film is whether or not he started working before or after he had his own problems. It’s important to me for the audience to wonder how the personal life changes the work.

images-1The character doesn’t like talking about what he is doing, especially to the patient’s families.

Most of the nurses I met speak openly about what they do. But it was interesting to draw a line with Tim’s character between how dedicated David is with his own patients and how he doesn’t spare any energy with other people. It is strange to talk about it because then I’ll explain more about the film than I should. Yeah, he has a difficult past, so he likes to escape from himself, so he fantasizes. What is more interesting is how he gets involved with the patients even when he’s not with them, how he’s thinking about them and involved in their worlds. That I did find happened with the nurses. When I spoke with this one nurse, I asked her ‘When you leave the patients and their illness and you go home to your own family, do you forget about it?’ and she said no she was always thinking about it. And she even liked it to some extent. That was strange to discover. These nurses are addicted to this suffering, but it isn’t that they enjoy it, it’s just a strange relationship to suffering.

As in your earlier work, you use a mainly static camera to tell the story. What informed that choice?

I wanted to move the camera but I couldn’t this time. My cinematographer Yves Cape, who works a lot with Dumont and Claire Denis, had a slider on the first week because we were going to do some small, subtle camera movements, mainly because I wanted to change, I wanted to make a different movie, but then I was like ‘fuck it, don’t impose your needs as a director onto the movie. Stop thinking about whether your making the same movie or not and just do what is best for the movie.’ As with my previous films, it’s a way of keeping it simple and pure and giving the audience their space to make their own conclusions. I’m putting the audience in the room.
Why would it need movement? Normally the standard is to move the camera, but in my case, I realized the film needed few camera movements. I want to respect the audience in terms of not manipulating them. Keeping it small, there is no music, little dialogue, no camera movements, we’re not cutting to close ups. It’s as pure as I could do it. And the long takes with the static camera give the actors the opportunity to explore deeply into their interactions. There are actually a lot of Steadicam shots that I am happy haven’t been discussed at all.

97ebc42d-eff1-48c3-98ef-6852349f78df-2060x1236The old and the ill tend to become invisible but you are very bold and honest in the way you show them. Was it difficult to decide what to show and what not to show?

I always try not to show more than is necessary but at the same time if you have to see somebody naked or going through something difficult just show it. Sometimes it’s more interesting to have things off camera. It’s more intuition than a discussion. To know how to play it. Sometimes I had a clear idea how to do it and sometimes I would find it on set. My idea wouldn’t work so I’d try a different approach.

These days you live longer and you die longer. Do you have to prepare or ignore it?

On the one hand it’s better not to think about it, because it’s frightening, but on the other hand I made a movie about it and so… but I mean the fact is it is eventually going to happen. It’s part of life so it is better to embrace it and of course it should be approached with a different perspective.
Some people are luckier than others. Many are forgotten. Rich people are forgotten too. Some have lots of relatives. It’s luck. It’s not an easy subject.

The ending is shocking. No spoilers, but when did it come to you?

When I was writing the script I was surprised that the character did that but it made sense to me totally, it couldn’t finish any other way. And I had material so that I could edit it another way if I wasn’t convinced when I saw it, because it was bold and not a common way to finish, but it would not be fair to finish it in any other way. It takes 90 minutes to get there, but hopefully for the audience maybe after a day thinking about it, it should make sense. When you end the movie easily, it doesn’t stick in the audience’s mind. When you leave the conflict more open and the emotions it makes the audience work harder. There are more angles to it. What is interesting cinematically is that the ending is ambiguous. It isn’t actually ambiguous: if you look at it closely, I think it’s very clear but it’s like in life even if you see things clearly, if we were to watch the same event now we would all have different view points. We’ve been with this character for ninety minutes and then he does that…

And the topic of sexual harassment comes up.

David is dealing with naked people, he’s cleaning them and touching them, and maybe something else happened that isn’t on screen but that is up to every audience member. But even if that happened I wouldn’t judge. David says of his patient, ‘I never harmed him’, and he never did anything wrong, but at the same time if this nurse was working with someone you love and you learn that they’re watching porn and lying here and there, he’s crossing a line. Can you stay professional and not cross the line? I think it’s good that he crosses the line, he’s human that way. It is a hard position to be a care giver. A doctor comes and goes, the care giver lives there for a year or years, sometimes they end up marrying their patients. It happens. When David gets sued, they say you’re manipulating the patient, I didn’t want to go too far, but there is a hint there to what the family might be thinking.

images-2Are they jealous?

Of course they’re jealous. Suddenly the father is crying in this stranger’s arms and is closer to the nurse than the daughter.

Families are seen throughout the film as fairly indifferent or incapable.

I didn’t want to pass a judgement on them, but yes. I’m not blaming it on the relatives. No one knows how to deal with death, but these nurses do and they enjoy it. David isn’t an angel, I’ve tried to make him more than that. And every family he comes across is different. John’s family are so involved and are even trying to tell David how to do his job. They get in the way, which happened a little with my grandmother. My aunts are crazy and they would fight with each other because they were too involved. I had that experience unfortunately, otherwise I would never have made this movie. Why would you think of such a thing?

David’s role of a father. Your previous film After Lucia (2012) also has a grieving father as a main character.

So far it has happened to me every time I shoot a film. I try to do it differently, but one day I got to the set with Tim and I told him ‘Fuck! We’re doing the same film.’ It’s a totally different story and situation but the main relationship is a father and daughter. I don’t know. I’m really worried. Some directors are trying to find their voice and they consciously repeat themselves and it’s bullshit, it should come by itself.

CHRONIC IS ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 19 FEBRUARY 2016

Olive Kitteridge (2014) |DVD RELEASE

Dir.: Lisa Cholodenko

Cast: Frances McDormand, Richard Jenkins, Bill Murray, Peter Mullan, Zoe Kazan

USA (TV series) 2014, 232 min.

Based on the novel of the same name by Elizabeth Strout, HBO’s production of the TV series is carried nearly single-handedly by executive producer Frances McDormand in the title role. Bullying her way through 25 years of recent history in the small seaside town of Crosby in Maine, New England, this is peach of a role for a middle-aged woman who plays her cards close to her chest and whose strength lies in her depiction of a woman who is not weak, tearful or vulnerable.

Olive is a Maths teacher in Middle school, her long-suffering husband Henry (Richard Jenkins, in fine form as a beta male), a pharmacist. Their only son, Christopher, is treated by his mother with the same disdain as the rest of her family in particular – and the rest of Crosby in general. Olive is not able to empathise with any of the other characters – with the possible exception of her teaching college Jim O’Casey (Mullan), a melancholic, caustic, sullen alcoholic, who loves the same nihilistic poems and novels as Olive – and, like her, looks down on everyone. Unfortunately for her, O’Casey commits suicide, before she can declare his love for her: never in the film do we see her nearly as emotionally broken as when she learns about his suicide, camouflaged as an automobile accident.

Henry, owner and proprietor of the local pharmacy, meanwhile seeks solace in the company of his employee, young Denise Thibodeau (Kazan), a kind and shy child woman, whose husband is killed in a hunting accident. For a moment we wonder if Henry will make the break from Olive: he buys Denise a cat to console he, whereon Olive comments that “he bought the mouse a cat”. But Henry is a coward, and lets the opportunity slip by. Her negation of others is nothing but self-negation.Olive manages to fall out with everybody – apart from Henry who is unbelievably stoic in his approach to life with Olive, is this a brilliantly-observed and well-acted ‘soap opera’.

Even though made for TV, OLIVE KITTERIDGE does not cut corners, the character studies are detailed, the analysis of small town life realistic, and always with the right sort of humour. The souls of the American petty-bourgeoisie are looked at with a critical eye, but with warm understanding of their shortcomings. Olive herself is the monster, in spite of her superior intellect. The camera always tries to show life from different angles, and the colour palette, particular in the many autumns we witness, are particular impressive: the beauty of nature, is rather spoiled by many of the Maine denizens – but most of all by Olive. Lisa Cholodenko (The Kinds are Alright) keeps the same rhythm in spite of the four-hour length , which, despite its off-putting title, is grippingly watchable from start to finish. When was the last time, one could say that about a Hollywood film?

NOW ON DVD | REVIEWED AT VENICE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2014 –

 

 

Berlinale 2016 | The Golden Bear is ready to roar | Specials

The list of Competition titles is now complete for Berlinale Film Festival which runs from 11 February until 21 February 2016. The first of the three main festivals in the annual film calendar, the BERLINALE started in July 1951, but since 1978 it has taken place each February in order to steal a march on Cannes Film Festival (in May) and Venice (in August)CR_D16_00011.CR2While Potsdamer Platz is the central hub for press and audience screenings, new films are bought, sold and negotiated at the nearby European Film Market (EFM) which has its home in the magnificent renaissance building Martin-Gropius-Bau, one of Berlin’s premier art museums. (right: Spike Lee’s CHI-RAQ in competition).

Running since 1987, the TEDDY AWARD is the only official LGBTIQ film competition and this year presents its 31st Edition. The other sidebars during the Berlinale are:

BERLINALE SHORTS – innovative styles in domestic and international short films. Films in the category compete for the Golden Bear for the best short film, as well as a jury-nominated Silver Bear.

PANORAMA – new independent and arthouse films that deal with controversial subjects or unconventional aesthetic styles and are often LGBT themed.

FORUM – includes experimental and documentary films from around the world with a particular emphasis on younger filmmakers. There are no format or genre restrictions, and films in the Forum do not compete for awards. FORUM EXPANDED is included in this strand.

GENERATION – short and feature-length films aimed at children and teenagers. Films in the Generation section compete in two sub-categories: Generation Kplus (aimed at those aged four and above) and Generation 14plus (aimed at those aged fourteen and above). Awards in the section are determined by three separate juries – the Children’s Jury, the Youth Jury and an international jury of experts – whose decisions are made independent of one another.

PERSPECTIVE DEUTSCHES KINO– the focus here in on the latest trends in German filmmaking and  emerging filmmakers.

RETROSPECTIVE – classic films previously shown at the Berlinale Competition, Forum, Panorama and Generation categories. Each year, the Retrospective section is dedicated to important themes or filmmakers.

BERLINALE CLASSICS – a series focussing on cult classics with HOMMAGE honouring the life work of directors and actors.

BERLINALE SPECIAL – out of competition films that have a particular resonance or newsworthy theme.

CULINARY CINEMA – films that explore cuisine and food-themed topics.

NATIVe – films dealing specifically with the environment or endangered communities.

T H E   M A I N   C O M P E T I T I O N    S E L E C T I O N

Boris copyBoris sans Béatrice (Boris without Béatrice) | Canada
By Denis Côté (Vic+Flo Saw a Bear)
With James Hyndman, Simone-Elise Girard, Denis Lavant, Isolda Dychauk, Dounia Sichov
World premiere

Genius | United Kingdom / USA
By Michel Grandage
With Colin Firth, Jude Law, Nicole Kidman, Laura Linney, Guy Pearce, Dominic West
World premiere – first feature

Alone in Berlin | Germany / France / United Kingdom
By Vincent Perez (The Secret)
With Brendan Gleeson, Emma Thompson, Daniel Brühl, Mikael Persbrandt
World premiere

MIDNIGHT SPECIALMidnight Special | USA
By Jeff Nichols (Mud, Take Shelter)
With Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst, Adam Driver, Jaedan Lieberher, Sam Shepard
World premiere

Zero Days – documentary | USA
By Alex Gibney (Taxi to the Dark Side)
World premiere

Cartas da guerra (Letters from War) | Portugal
By Ivo M. Ferreira (Na Escama do Dragão)
With Miguel Nunes, Margarida Vila-Nova
World premiere

Ejhdeha Vared Mishavad! (A Dragon Arrives!)  Iran
By Mani Haghighi (Modest Reception, Men at Work)
With Amir Jadidi, Homayoun Ghanizadeh, Ehsan Goudarzi, Kiana Tajammol
International premiere

Fuocoamare copyFuocoammare (Fire at Sea) – documentary | Italy – France
By Gianfranco Rosi (Sacro GRA, El Sicario – Room 164)
World premiere

Hele Sa Hiwagang Hapis (A Lullaby to the Sorrowful Mystery) | Philippines / Singapore
By Lav Diaz (Norte, the End of History, From What Is Before, Melancholia)
With John Lloyd Cruz, Piolo Pascual, Hazel Orencio, Alessandra De Rossi, Joel Saracho, Susan Africa, Sid Lucero, Ely Buendia, Bernardo Bernardo, Angel Aquino, Cherie Gil
World premiere

The Commune copyKollektivet (The Commune) | Denmark / Sweden / Netherlands
By Thomas Vinterberg (The Hunt, Submarino, It’s All About Love)
With Trine Dyrholm, Ulrich Thomsen, Helene Reingaard Neumann, Marta Sofie Wallstrøm Hansen, Lars Ranthe, Fares Fares, Magnus Millang, Anne Gry Henningsen, Julie Agnete Vang
International premiere

L’avenir (Things to Come) | France / Germany
By Mia Hansen-Løve (Eden, Goodbye First Love, Father of My Children)
With Isabelle Huppert, Roman Kolinka, Edith Scob, André Marcon
World premiere

Being 17 copyQuand on a 17 ans (Being 17) | France
By André Téchiné (Les Témoins)
With Sandrine Kiberlain, Kacey Mottet Klein, Corentin Fila, Alexis Loret
World premiere

Smrt u Sarajevu / Mort à Sarajevo (Death in Sarajevo) | France / Bosnia Herzegovina
By Danis Tanović (An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker, No Man’s Land)
With Jacques Weber, Snežana Vidović, Izudin Bajrović, Vedrana Seksan, Muhamed Hadžović, Faketa Salihbegović-Avdagić, Edin Avdagić
World premiere

UNITED g Zjednoczone Stany Miłosci (United States of Love) | Poland / Sweden
By Tomasz Wasilewski (Floating Skyscrapers)
With Julia Kijowska, Magdalena Cielecka, Dorota Kolak, Marta Nieradkiewicz, Łukasz Simlat, Andrzej Chyra, Tomek Tyndyk
World premiere

24 Wochen (24 Weeks)
Germany
By Anne Zohra Berrached (Two Mothers)
With Julia Jentsch, Bjarne Mädel, Johanna Gastdorf, Emilia Pieske
World premiere

Chang Jiang Tu (Crosscurrent)
People’s Republic of China
By Yang Chao (Passages)
With Qin Hao, Xin Zhi Lei
World premiere

Chi-Raq
USA
By Spike Lee (Malcom X, Do the Right Thing)
With Nick Cannon, Wesley Snipes, Teyonah Parris, Jennifer Hudson, Angela Bassett, John Cusack, Samuel L. Jackson
International premiere – Out of competition

News from Planet Earth copyDes nouvelles de la planète Mars (News from planet Mars)
France / Belgium
By Dominik Moll (Lemming, Harry, He’s Here to Help)
With François Damiens, Vincent Macaigne, Veerle Baetens, Jeanne Guittet, Tom Rivoire
World premiere – Out of competiton

Inhebbek Hedi (Hedi)
Tunisia / Belgium / France
By Mohamed Ben Attia
With Majd Mastoura, Rym Ben Messaoud, Sabah Bouzouita, Hakim Boumessoudi, Omnia Ben Ghali
World premiere – First feature

MAHANAMahana (The Patriarch)
New Zealand
By Lee Tamahori (The Devil’s Double, Die Another Day, Once Were Warriors)
With Temuera Morrison, Akuhata Keefe, Nancy Brunning, Jim Moriarty, Regan Taylor, Maria Walker
World premiere – Out of competiton

Saint Amour
France / Belgium
By Benoît Delépine, Gustave Kervern (Mammuth, Le grand soir)
With Gérard Depardieu, Benoît Poelvoorde, Vincent Lacoste, Céline Sallette
World premiere – Out of competiton

Soy Nero
Germany / France / Mexico
By Rafi Pitts (The Hunter, It’s Winter)
With Johnny Ortiz, Rory Cochrane, Aml Ameen, Darell Britt-Gibson, Michael Harney
World premiere

B  E R L I N A L E    S P E C I A L    G A L A S  at the Friedrichstadt-Palast

The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble – documentary | USA
By Morgan Neville (Twenty Feet from Stardom)
European premiere

The Seasons in Quincy: Four Portraits of John Berger – documentary | United Kingdom
By Colin MacCabe, Christopher Roth, Bartek Dziadosz, Tilda Swinton
World premiere

Where To Invade Next – documentary | USA
By Michael Moore (Fahrenheit 9/11, Bowling for Columbine)
European premiere

V63A0084-169 copy.jpg

V63A0084-169 copy.jpg

A Quiet Passion
United Kingdom / Belgium
By Terence Davies (Distant Voices, Still Lives, Sunset Song)
With Cynthia Nixon, Jennifer Ehle, Keith Carradine, Jodhi May, Catherine Bailey, Emma Bell, Duncan Duff
World premiere

Creepy
Japan
By Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Journey to the Shore, Tokyo Sonata)
With Hidetoshi Nishijima, Yuko Takeuchi, Teruyuki Kagawa, Haruna Kawaguchi, Masahiro Higashide
World premiere

The Serious GameDen allvarsamma leken (A Serious Game)
Sweden / Denmark / Norway
By Pernilla August (The Legacy –TV series, Beyond)
With Sverrir Gudnason, Karin Franz Körlof, Liv Mjönes, Michael Nyqvist, Mikkel Boe Følsgaard
World premiere

Miles DavisMiles Ahead
USA
By Don Cheadle
With Ewan McGregor, Don Cheadle, Keith Stanfield, Michael Stuhlbarg, Austin Lyon
International premiere – First feature

Berlinale Special at the Haus der Berliner Festspiele

National Bird – documentary
USA
By Sonia Kennebeck
World premiere

BERLINALE RUNS FROM 11 UNTIL 20 FEBRUARY 2016

Shakespeare Lives at the BFI and Worldwide | April – May 2016

Romeo_and_Juliet_(1968)_1As we celebrate the 400th Birthday of our most famous writer, the BFI presents the biggest ever programme of SHAKESPEARE on film nationwide and in selected countries across the World, courtesy of the British Council.

This will include a number of 4k restorations – Franco Zeffirelli’s ROMEO AND JULIET and Akira Kurosawa’s RAN and re-mastered adaptations from Roman Polanski, Kenneth Branagh and Orson Welles and Laurence Olivier. 18 films will tour 110 countries to share the legendary English works on film with the rest of the World – from Azerbaijan to Zimbabwe, Cuba to India, Russia to the USA and even Iraq. This is the most extensive film programme ever undertaken.

Ran_bfi-00n-93cShakespeare’s works have been successfully translated for the screen under different guises and re-interpretations and there will be a chance to visit them: Baz Luhrman’s ROMEO AND JULIET; Julie Taymor’s TITUS ANDRONICUS; Orson Welles’ CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT, Kurosawa’s THRONE OF BLOOD and RAN, Basil Dearden’s ALL NIGHT LONG (Othello); Gus Van Sant’s MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO (Henry IV part 1 and 2 and Henry V) and most recently Gil Younger’s 10 THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU (The Taming of the Shrew).

Sir Ian McKellen will travel around the world to present and discuss Shakespeare on Film. Ian starred in and co-adapted RICHARD III (1995), directed and co-adapted by Richard Loncraine and co-starring Annette Bening, Maggie Smith, Jim Broadbent, Kristen Scott Thomas, Robert Downey Jr and Dominic West. The film will be simulcast, in partnership with Park Circus, across UK cinemas on 28 April with a special post-film on-stage discussion with Ian McKellen live from BFI Southbank.

Richard_III_(1955)_1With the film set in the 1930s and shot largely on location in London, Ian McKellen will also be hosting public bus tours of the iconic locations in the film, from St Pancras station and Tate Modern to Battersea Power Station and Hackney’s haunting gas holders. RICHARD III is also being screened at BFI Southbank, will be part of the international touring programme and re-released by the BFI in a DVD/Blu-ray Dual Format Edition on 23 May, with brand new additional material, including new audio commentary.

P l a y  O n !  Shakespeare in Silent Cinema

SILENTS_-_THE_MERCHANT_OF_VENICE_(1910)It is believed that around 500 Shakespeare films were made in the silent era and this new film is a playful compilation of scenes from the best surviving adaptations held by the BFI National Archive, including the first ever Shakespeare film KING JOHN (1899) and a rare discovery of a 20-year old John Gielgud’s earliest appearance on film in ROMEO (1922). Other films from the 26 titles sampled include THE TEMPEST (1908), THE MERCHANT OF VENICE (1916) – shot on location in Venice, JULIUS CAESAR (1909), MACBETH(1909) and RICHARD III (1911). The BFI has commissioned the musicians and composers of Shakespeare’s Globe to write a score for the film which will take an innovative approach, marrying a different composer for each of the film’s five acts (see Notes to Editors for credits). The film will premiere at BFI Southbank, play UK-wide in cinemas and on the international tour, and will be available in the summer on BFI DVD and BFI Player.

W O R L D W I D E   C O V E R A G E   A N D   E V E N T S

Hamlet_(1948)_2SLOVENIA: will launch the first official international screenings on 27 January with HENRY V (1944), Polanski’s MACBETH  (1979) Jarman’s THE TEMPEST (1979) and Hickox’s THEATRE OF BLOOD (1973)

BRAZIL is creating ‘Shakespeare House’ at the Paraty International Literary Festival (FLIP) in late June which will showcase the BFI curated films

NEW YORK: The Museum of Modern Art, New York, will be featuring highlights of the programme this autumn.

POLAND will present Play On! Shakespeare in Silent Cinema with local live music accompaniment at an open-air screening as part of Wrocław European Capital of Culture, and the BFI curated films will screen throughout the year

Shakespeare_Wallah_(1965)_posterShakespeare from 29-30 April will feature three films from Indian director Vishal Bhardwaj; MAQBOOL (2003), OMKARA (2006) and HAIDER (2014), based on Macbeth, Othello and Hamlet respectively with Bhardwaj himself discussing the films on stage with the scriptwriters.

My_Own_Private_Idaho_bfi-00m-rlnCinemas and outdoor locations in Iraq, including a refugee camp in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI), will use the universal themes of Shakespeare to highlight the humanitarian situatioN. In East Asia international film festivals including Shanghai, Beijing and Hong Kong will present the programme from April to June
On Midsummer Night (21 June) Russia will present a large scale summer festival dedicated to Shakespeare in one of Moscow’s central parks. Italy will be exploring the rich connection between Shakespeare’s plays and Italian locations by screening films in 20 cities and a series of high profile events
Greece will present ‘Shakespeare in the City’ in partnership with the Athens International Film Festival, including open air screenings in archaeological sites, squares and parks. Plans are being developed in many other countries including India and sub-Saharan Africa

Join in the conversation on Twitter and Facebook via @BFI and facebook.com/BritishFilmInstitute using #ShakespeareLives | SOME TITLES ARE ALSO SCREENING AT THE BARBICAN 

 

Coriolanus | BFI Shakespeare on Film Season

Director: Ralph Fiennes  Screenplay: John Logan

Cast: Ralph Fiennes, Vanessa Redgrave, Brian Cox, Jessica Chastain

UK  122mins

Ralph Fiennes brings this bloody epic bang up to date with a hard-hitting bodyblow of a film. Universal themes of political uncertainty, social upheaval and war were never so relevant as they are today. Fiennes tackles them with skill and assurance in his directorial debut of this overlooked Shakespeare play, skilfully adapted for screen by John Logan. Brian Cox plays a world-weary Menenius,  a belligerent Fiennes swaggers about in combat gear as Coriolanus. His passive wife is the tepid and ubiquitous Jessica Chastain.  But we’re never in any doubt as to who actually wears the trousers: Vanessa Redgrave as his powerfully commanding mother, Volumnia. Meredith Taylor ©

SCREENING AS PART OF THE SHAKESPEARE SEASON | BFI | APRIL-MAY 2016

 

 

 

 

 

Jean Luc Godard Season | BFi January – March 2016

A major season dedicated to one of the godfather’s of the French New Wave, Jean-Luc Godard, is coming up at the BFI from January – March 2016. The season will feature over 100 examples of his vast and varied output, including feature films, short films, self-portraits, experimental TV productions and a number of rarities.

So expect an extended run of LE MÉPRIS from 1 January – introduced by his former wife Anna Karina on 16th January. She will also be there to chat to audiences about her role in VIVRE SA VIE (1962) and BANDE À PART (1964), both on extended run at the Southbank main screen.

LE MÉPRIS | Cast: Brigitte Bardot, Michel Piccoli, Jack Palance, Georgia Moll, Fritz Lang, Jean-Luc Godard | France/Italy 1963, 103 min.

image002 copyFor JL Godard LE MÉPRIS was just ”a film without mystery, an Aristotelian film, freed from appearances [it] proves, in 149 shots, that in the cinema, just as in real life, there is nothing secret…there is nothing to do but live – and film”. His producers, among them Carlo Ponti and Joseph E. Levine, must have been quiet shocked by the austere outcome, they insisted on an additional scene, showing the physical beauty of its star, Brigitte Bardot, only to be outmanoeuvred by the director.

Based on Alberto Moravia’s novel “Il Disprezzo’ (The Ghost at Noon), this film about filmmaking starts with the basics: a dolly on rails follows Georgia Moll’s Francesca Vanini who walks towards the camera, whilst the opening credits are not only shown, but also read out loud. A Bazin quote reminds us, that “film substitutes a world that conforms our desires”. “The follow-up scene of Bardot’s Camille, laying naked on her belly, and her husband Paul (Piccoli), was supposed to entice a mass audience and was shot after the film was finished. But Godard simply subverted the call for any form of eroticism, letting Camille ask Paul which parts of her anatomy he loves the most – the obvious answer is everything – whilst she lies unmoved and statuesque during the long enumeration. Strangely, these are the only happy moments Camille and Paul will have during the whole film. When Paul, a scriptwriter, later meets the American producer Prokosh (Palance) in Rome’s Cinecitta, Camille feels that her husband is pimping her out to the arrogant, misogynist and dictatorial producer who exclaims: “I like Gods, I know exactly how they feel”. In addition, he is treating his well-educated assistant and translator Francesca Vanini (Moll) like a slave girl.

Mepris-Le-bfi-00m-f1yWhilst sitting in a preview theatre with Fritz Lang – as himself, the director of Homer’s ‘Odyssey’, the film being produced, Paul and Camille witness a terrible strop by Prokosh, who, unhappy about the rushes shot by Lang, kicks the film rolls around the room and then has Vanini bent over, to write a check for Paul on her back changing the script into a more populist version. Shouting “When the Nazis heard the word culture, they drew a revolver; I am only writing a check”, Prokosh gives Paul the check: the 10 000 Dollar are supposed to pay the mortgage for Camille’s and Paul’s flat in Rome. When Paul accepts the check, however reluctant, he looses his wife.

In a breath-taking 34 minute sequence in the couple’s flat, Godard follows the unravelling of their relationship with tracking shots which show the growing distance between the couple. These finally unravels in one frame in two different rooms, divided by a wall. Camille is slapped by Paul, she slaps back, he retreats, but it is too late: Camille shouts angrily: “When you were writing crime novels, we were broke, but that was fine with me”.

The flat, which was to cement their relationship, has become the albatross killing their love. Paul still believes he can save his marriage and seems to have learned nothing: when the film crew moves on to Capri, Paul again leaves Camille, against her will, alone with Prokosh, who obviously fancies her. This time Camille retaliates: she kisses the producer in full sight of Paul. Then she packs her bags to leave for Rome, whilst Paul terminates his contract with Prokosh. To humiliate Paul even further, Camille lets Prokosh, whom she despises, drive her to Rome. Their journey ends in a fatal crash, which is not shown, Godard making fun of mainstream movies, just showing the dead bodies in grotesque positions, with the last words of Camille’s good-bye letter to Paul superimposed: “Take Care. Adieu. Camille”.

LE MÉPRIS ends with serene filmmaking in Capri, where Godard acts as Lang’s assistant in shooting the scene when Odysseus returns to Ithaca. As Godard pointed out “the film is shot entirely in real locations, both exteriors and interiors, honest and authentic”. One of them is the gorgeous villa of the Italian author Curzio Malaparte on Capri, designed by Alberto Libera: it lays like a space ship in the sun, in the panorama shots, the film crew with their equipment look like aliens at work. Movie posters of Hitchcock’s Psycho and Nicholas Ray’s Bigger than Life among others, decorate Paul and Camille’s flat; but the main honour goes to Roberto Rossellini: Apart from the poster of his 1961 film Vanina Vanini (sic!), the group visits a cinema to hear a performance of a singer. We notice that Paul and Camille are sitting on the edge of their respective aisles, and after they all leave the cinema, we see Rossellini’s Viaggio in Italia advertised in big letters on the cinema front.

Mepris-Le-webOfficialStill.jpg_rgbRaoul Coutard’s scope camera produces three different sets of colours: in the opening sequence of the couple in bed, soft, warm colours dominate. Then everything changes to cold, icy mages. Lang’s film takes, which he shoots as an actor, are dominated by classic colours, appropriate to the content of the film. Godard employed no less than five future directors for the project: Suzanne Schiffman (Script Supervisor), Charles L. Bitsch (Assistant director), Bertrand Tavernier (Publicity), Luc Moulett, whose book on Fritz Lang Camille reads in the bath and Jacques Rozier, who shot a documentary about the making of LE MÉPRIS.

But there is also a very personal moment in Godard’s LE MÉPRIS: Camille buys herself a black wig making her look just like Anna Karina (Godard’s first choice to play Camille) two years later as Natacha von Braun in the car with Eddie Constantine’s Lemmy Caution at the end of Alphaville: only then it was the begin of a love story, this is the end. George Delerue’s mourning main tune, which accompanies not only this scene, is the haunting voice in this story of money versus art, which ends in the loss of love.
Le Mepris is prove, that Jean-Luc Godard, even though he ended sometimes in a cul-de-sac whilst re-inventing the cinema, is still the most important director of the second half of the 20th century. AS

BANDE À PART Cast: Anna Karina, Sami Frey, Claude Brasseur, Louisa Colpeyn | 95 min | Drama | France

Bande_a_Part_bfi-00m-d5zBANDE À PART, shot in 25 days and based on the pulp novel “Fool’s Gold” by Dolores Hitchins, was project that Godard embarked on to support his marriage with Anna Karina. The pair hadn’t worked together since Vivre sa vie. Godard called his production company “Anouchka”, his pet name for Karina, and he gave the character she played Odile, after his late mother.

At an English language school in Paris, two petty swindlers, Franz (Frey) and Arthur (Brasseur) fall in love with Odile (Karina). Arthur lives with the enigmatic Madame Victoria (Colpeyn) in the suburbs, where a mostly absent Mr. Stolz has a huge amount of cash hidden in his cupboard. Franz and Arthur want nothing more than to bed with Odile – apart from stealing the money. Their clumsy plan backfires, they kill Madame Victoria, and while Franz and Odile escape to South America to start a new life, Arthur and his uncle kill each other in Madame Victoria’s garden before the money, now hidden in a dog’s kennel, is stolen by surprise.

Godard had run out of producers and had asked Columbia, Paramount and UA to give him 100.000 $ to make a picture. All questioned the high figure Godard was asking for and when he explained that this was for the whole production, only Columbia agreed to take him up on the project. Godard gave them a choice of three topics: the first about a woman leftie, the second about a writer and the final topic about the Hitchins crime novel: they obviously picked the latter. With such a small budget,, the studio did not even bother about a script.

The director’s poetic voice-over re-tells the story from the emotional point of view of the three main protagonists, in a narrative full of quotations, references and in-jokes. But instead of being all-knowing, the voice-over soon loses the plot – the characters are coming into their own. It gives the impression that Godard was filming in perpetual motion. Everything and everybody moves in silence: in a scene at the ‘Café Madison’, there is no sound for a minute, followed by the now famous dance scene of the trio, a polonaise copied by many, amongst them Hal Hartley and Quentin Tarantino. The film is symbolised by the three of them racing through the Louvre. The images are rush by: money, pistols, death, Odile’s stockings as masks, Shakespeare and always the leafless trees, set against a dark November sky. Raoul Coutard’s images literally shot on the run, like he had done during the Indochina war.

CHARLOTTE_ET_VýýRONIQUE_OU_TOUS_LES_GARýýONS_S'APPELLENT_PATRICK_bfi-00m-f6hAgain, Godard was in opposition to everything – even though the film turned out to be very much a neo-classical in style: “This movie was made as a reaction against anything that wasn’t done. It was almost pathological and systematic. A wide-angle lens is not normally used for close-ups? Then let’s use it. A handheld camera isn’t normally used for tracking shots? Then let’s try it. It went along with my desire to show that nothing was off limits.” For once, film and reality coincided: during the shooting, Karina and Godard got back together again, moving into a new apartment in the Latin Quarter, Karina admitting “It’s true: the film saved my life. I had no more desire to live. I was doing very, very badly. This film saved my life”.

Watching Bande À Part the for the first time in 1965, as first year students – we all admired the sequences when the actors read colportage stories from newspapers – we thought that it was vey cool. According to Raoul Coutard “there was no real script. Jean-Luc would show up with whatever he had written for the day. We’ve end up filming that. If he hadn’t written anything, we would not have filmed anything.” The newspaper stories, as it turned out, were just paddings, when the master had not written enough…. AS

VIVRE SA VIE | Cast: Anna Karina, Sady Rebbot, Andre S. Labarthe, Brice Parain; France 1962, 85 min. *****

Vivre_sa_Vie_bfi-00o-114VIVRE SA VIE marked a decisive step in the development of film aesthetics – born out of the emotional turmoil between Jean Luc Godard and the leading star, Anna Karina, whose marriage had been very much on the rocks when the cameras started to roll in February 1962 in Paris.

Karina was ten years younger than Godard. She had met the actor Jacques Perrin whilst filming Le Soleil dans l’Oeil on Corsica in September 1961, while celebrating her 21st birthday. During the shooting, Karina decided to leave her husband for Perrin: “I admire Jean-Luc very much. But he’s of another generation. Whereas Jacques is my double”.

On the night of November 21st, Godard destroyed all their belongings in the flat they shared and walked out. Karina, who reportedly had taken barbiturates, was taken to hospital. Godard and Perrin met for a duel with dice, then settled for poker, but when journalists crowded their table, nothing was decided. Whilst the papers reported over the Christmas period that Karina would marry Perrin, Godard and Karina had reconciled by January 1962 and Godard announced he would direct her in Vivre Sa Vie – without a fee – as they were living together.

Godard was a great admirer of Berthold Brecht (Cahiers had run a special edition dedicated to him), and Vivre Sa Vie was to be a tableau of 13 chapters, with the master of ceremony introducing every one. Godard, obviously having Brecht’s ‘Three Penny Opera’ in mind” wanted “to shoot only on location, but without making a film of reportage”. But the director abandoned not only the master of ceremony idea (replaced by inserts about the chapter contents), but also changed the ending: instead of a sardonic ending – Nana becoming a rich luxury prostitute -, she is killed at the end of chapter 12, now the last one. Needless to say, that Karina was furious and the shoot was stopped for a few days.

Alphaville_bfi-00m-culNana (easily deciphered as an anagram of Anna) leaves her husband Paul (Labarthe) and child with the words: “I want to die”. She has dreamt for a long time of becoming a film star, and tells everyone that she has acted in a film with Eddie Constantine. (Karina, Godard and Constantine acted un-credited in Varda’s Cleo). She shouts at Paul: “If we get back together, I will betray you again.” Nana, who works in a record shop, is always broke, she can’t pay her rent and is humiliated by the concierge and her assistant. She slips into prostitution, first as an amateur, then, after meeting the pimp Raoul (Rebbot), as a professional. Her lonely and dreary existence is heart-breaking; waiting in street for a customer in Port Mailliot she is standing under the company sign: Hans-Lucas (Jean-Luc in translation). After meeting a young artist, she falls in love and wants to start a new life, but she is literally sold by Raoul to another pimp in a street.

Raoul Coutard’s triste black and white images achieve, in long takes, what Godard had in mind: “I was thinking – like a painter in a way, confronting my characters head-on – as in the paintings of Matisse or Braque”. Godard seems to circle his environment, like a researcher, but he always returns to Karina: from the back, the front, the side and even in parts. She is his universe, but he can’t decipher her. Still, striving to understand her seems to make him happy. In an experiment in language, Nana is trying to intonate a sentence in different ways; Godard shows, that there is no absolute truth in our words, and he always returns to her vulnerable face with the Louise Brooks haircut.

VIVRE SA VIE won the Special Jury Price and the Critic’s Prize at the Venice Film Festival in 1962. AS 

SCREENING DURING THE GODARD SEASON AT THE BFI FROM JANUARY – MARCH 2016

Polish Masterpieces | Part I | Kinoteka 2015 | Martin Scorsese Selects

Andre Simonoveisz looks at Polish Cinema from 1945 until the 1970 in the first part of our Kinoteka 2015 series curated by Martin Scorsese | MARTIN SCORSESE SELECTS | POLISH MASTERPIECES

During the Second World War years Poland was under German occupation and no Polish films were produced. The film industry’s output between 1945 and 1948 was a meagre four. The foundation of the Lodz Film School in 1948 can therefore be seen as the rebirth of Polish cinema. After the two film schools, one for actors, one for technical crew, were amalgamated in 1958, the standard of Polish films rose dramatically to a level never seen before. Another reason for this aesthetic quality and uniqueness was due to the relaxation of State censorship, after the death of Stalin in 1953.

For ten years, until the Prague Spring of 1968 frightened the cultural bureaucrats back into their burrows, nearly all important directors in Poland had some connection with Lodz Film school. Andrzej Wajda, whose ASHES AND DIAMONDS (1958) straddles the periods of Social Realism and Third Polish Cinema, which was one of ‘Moral Choices;. Apart from Wajda, (whose films dominate these movements), Andrzej Munk (1922-1961), who is represented with EROICA (1957), was one of the main directors to come out of the early years of the Lodz film school. Also prominent were Wojciech J. Has with THE HOUR GLASS SANATORIUM (1973, THE SRAGOSSA MANUSCRIPT, 1964 and Jerzy Kawalerowicz: MOTHER JOAN (1961), AUSTERIA (1982).

The rejection of Social Realism meant that this period of Polish feature films were mainly concerned with psychological and existential questions. Jerzy Skolimowski (1938), was the youngest of these directors with his sixties New Wave outing WALKOVER (1965) and Roman POLANSKI, with KNIFE IN THE WATER (1961) would soon leave Poland to work abroad. They could be seen as a link to the next stage of development, the Cinema of Moral Anxiety, which lasted from 1976 to 1981. This era is mainly represented by Krzysztof Kieslowski (1941 – 1996) with A SHORT FILM ABOUT KILLING (1987) and BLIND CHANCE (1981), and Krzysztof Zanussi (CAMOUFLAGE, 1976, THE CONSTANT FACTOR (1980) and ILLUMINTATION (1972). Also worth noting is Agnieszka Holland, part of the last movement of films between 1948 and 1982 , whose PROVINCIAL ACTORS (1978) is the only film by a woman director in this showcase of Polish masterpieces. AS

Knights_of_the_Black_Cross_1KRZYZACY KNIGHTS OF THE BLACK CROSS, (1960) was one of the most popular movies of its time in Poland. Based on the novel of the Polish author Henryk Sienkiewicz (Quo Vadis), written in 1900, when Poland did not exist as a state; the fervent nationalist tenor of book and film (it was the first Polish book published after WWII) was a major factor in the success of the film. A tragic romantic story, it is set around the battle of Grunwald in 1410 between the then Kingdom of Poland and the Teutonic order. Directed in 1960 by the veteran Aleksander Ford, it showed a small and divided Poland, the German army had occupied Poland since the Crusade of the 12th century, their, not very honest, motivation was to bring Christianity to Poland. In the summer of 1410 the combined forces of Poland and Lithuania defeated the Order and brought an end to German domination in Central Europe.

The eye-patch wearing Knight Jurand stops the Black Cross invaders from imprisoning merchants – as a revenge act, the order kills Jurand’s wife. His daughter Danusia (Grazyna Staniszewska) falls for the poor nobleman Zbyszko (Mieczyslaw Kalenik), who vows to avenge Danusia’s mother’s death. After their engagement, Siegfried de Lowe – who is an allie of the Germans – kidnaps Danusia. The new leader of the Teutonic Kinghts, Ulrich, declares war on Poland and Lithuania, which leads to the battle of Grunwald in 1410. Shortly before, Zbyszko frees Danusia, but she has lost her mind, and dies shortly after. Zbyszko, one of the heroes of the battle, finally marries his childhood girl friend Jagienka.

Ford had a long and unhappy relationship with the authorities in Poland. In 1947, after having set up “Film Polski”, he fell foul of the Soviet censorship. He fled to Prague, but returned, rather opportunistic, to make films in the approved manner of “socialist realism’, being praised by the authorities. At the end of the sixties, he again emigrated, this time to Germany, where he directed a film in 1975. After emigrating once again, this time to the USA, he committed suicide in Florida in 1980.

Eroica. 1957. Dir Andrzej Munk. Kadr.Andrzej Munk’s EROICA (1957) is a thesis on ‘heroism’ in two parts. Part one “Scherzo alla Polacca”, is set before the Warsaw uprising in August 1944. Dzidzius leaves the planning soldiers, and returns to his wife, deciding that he is not cut out to be hero. A Hungarian officer tells him that he and his men are ready to change sides, if the Russians can give them guarantees. Often drunk and full of self pity, Dzidzius tries to broker a pact between the two sides, but the deal falls apart. Left with nothing to show for his efforts Dzidzius returns to the uprising – just to please a friend. Dzidzius is anything but a hero, he is a man without many attributes, who is selfish but too afraid that others might find him out – he cares more for appearances, than his own integrity. Part two of EROICA, ”Ostinato lugubre”, is about a created myth based on false heroism: Lieutenant Zawistowski is hiding in the roof section of the barracks in a prison camp. In order to keep morale up, his fellow prisoners are told that he has successfully escaped while he is really being fed by two friends. But Zawistowski cannot endure the loneliness and kills himself. His friends remove his body secretly from the camp, so as to keep the myth –and the hope of the prisoners – alive. EROICA is very dark, and Munk was not only attacked for “formulism”, but also for “blackening the memory of Polish heroes”. But EROICA is deeply humanistic, showing that nobody is made to be a hero; circumstances dictate our fate much more than the best intentions.

Faraon _02PHARAOH (FARAON) took director Jerzy Kawalerowicz three years to finish, on its premiere in 1966, it was the most expensive Polish film mad with a running time of 175 minutes, which seems, for once, apt, since this is not a spectacle in the DeMille style, but a political excurse, with many parallels to contemporary Poland – if one reads between the lines.
The main struggle is between Ramses XIII (Jerzy Zelnik), a modern ruler, who cares for the whole country – unlike his main opponent, the scheming High Priest Herhor, who wants to manipulate the Pharaoh into wars, he cannot win. Between the two men, Sarah, the Hebrew concubine of Ramses XIII, and mother of his son, is slowly written out of the picture, when Herhor’s oily assistant, tries successfully for the Assyrian princess to seduce Ramses. Simply read Gomolka – Poland’s prime minister of the 50s, who had been imprisoned by the Russians, before they freed him to placate the Polish comrades – for Ramses, and the evil priests for the Stalinist ideologists, and you get the picture.
Shot in Luxor, Cairo and Uzbekistan, PHARAOH has its spectacular moments, but the director never falls into the trap to overload the film with exotica or mass scenes. From the beginning, PHARAOH has a very measured pace, the intellectual and emotional confrontations at court are always the centre peace. Debate rather than battle dominates. Ramses is shown as a sometimes confused ruler, who oscillates between dictating his rights to be the supreme ruler, and his wish for compromise. In the end, he is easy prey for the manipulating priests, who are in tandem with foreign powers. PHARAOH is a reflection on power, and its limits.

Ashes and Diamonds. 1958. Dir Andrzej Wajda. KadrPOPIOL I DIAMNAT (ASHES AND DIAMONDS) directed by Andrzej Wajda in 1958 is undoubtedly a film noir. Not only has Wajda borrowed the angled shadows and the black and white aesthetics from the masters of the genre, but he also has given the film a hero, who is already as good as dead at the beginning of the film. Maciek Chelmicki (Zbigniew Cybulski) and his friend Andrzej are fighters for the Polish Home Army, who fought against the Germans for the Government in Exile in London. Now, on May 8th 1945, their new enemies are the communists. They get the order to kill the party secretary Szczuka. The men fail, and kill two civilians instead. After spending the night with the bar maid Krystyna, Maciek shoots the party secretary the next day, and escapes with Andrzej on a lorry. They meet Drewnowski, a communist functionary, who is working for Home Army, who warns the two. Maciek, who does not know that Drewnowski is on his side, runs away, is shot and dies on a rubbish dump. The greatest irony is, that Wajda’s interpretation of the film differs diametrical from the production studio ‘Kadr’ and indeed the whole Stalinist state apparatus, which obviously saw the two assassins as counter-revolutionaries, coming to an deserved end. For Wajda, and some of the crew and cast, the opposite was true. But even with a pro-communist interpretation, ASHES AND DIAMONDS is a deeply nihilistic film: even though the war is won, the destruction is total, and the future looms grey and unwelcoming. The film was shot in a small town, were nearly everybody knew each other. Nobody trusts their neighbours: be it for collaboration with the Germans, or the competition for a place in the new order – this is a fearful town. The firework, which celebrates the end of the war, and masks the shots fired by Maciek, is anything but a signal for peace. Dark and foreboding, ASHES AND DIAMONDS is not so much the final chapter of WWII, but the first skirmish of an occupation.

Innocent Sorcerers. 1960. Dir Andrzej Wajda. KadrNIEWINNI CZARODZIE (INNOCENT SORCERERS, 1960) is set in contemporary Warsaw. Bazyl (Tadeusz Lomnicki) is a young doctor and plays in a jazz band. He is a dreamer, not really unhappy, but indolent. His fake blond hair is one of he reasons for his popularity with women, but he is unable to commit. At work, where he looks after the boxers of a state run club, he is equally bored. Only music seems to keep him alive, but afterwards he hangs around in the pubs, waiting for something to happen. Bazyl’s friend Edmund (Zbigniew Cybulski) hands out with him during the long nights, hoping in vain, to pick up one of the women who lusts after Bazyl. One evening, the two men set a trap for Edmund to get off with one of the girls, but the young Pelagia (Krystyna Stypolkowska) does not fall for it, and Bazyl – originally against his will – spends the night with her. He leaves Pelagia the next morning, only to find her in his flat on his return: Bazlyl doesn’t want to acknowledge that he has fallen in love with her, neither does he want to show her any signs of affection. When she wants to leave, Bazyl lets her go against his better judgement. Roman Polanski has a vignette playing bass. Although Wajda directed the film, it very much belongs to scripter, Jerzy Skolimowski’s; Bazyl being a prototype of Skolimowski’s hero in Walkover. INNOCENT SORCERERS is full of ironies and alienation. Bazyl and Edmund are running away from a society with which they have nothing in common, but, equally, they are not committed to anything – they are directionless, wasting their time. Hardly surprising, therefore, that Bazyl is no match for Pelagia, who looks through him from the start. Bazyl started out trying to manipulate Pelagia into Edmunds arms, but ends up being her prey. The camera shows melancholic images of a rather nondescript environment, the pubs are are as faceless as Bazyl’s studio flat. The characters seem to live in a void, only music keeping them alive.

Knife_in_the_Water_1Roman Polanski’s debut feature NOZ W WODZIE (KNIFE IN THE WATER) 1962 | is a parable. Andrzej (Leon Niemczyk) plays a successful functionary and heroic ex-partisan. Driving to to his coast for a sailing break, he and his wife, Krystyna ( Jolanta Umecka) pick up a a rough hitch-hiker (Zygmunt Malanowicz). To impress his wife, Andrzej invites the young man to join them on the sailing trip, hoping very much to get the upper hand and show his wife that there there is still something of a hero in him. But the young man turns the tables, and finally Krystyna sleeps with him. But her verdict leaves a bitter taste for the “victor”: “You will end up exactly like him”. On the way home, the trio is mostly in awkward silence. NOZ W WODZIE is a film about the need for male confrontation in private life, and man’s opportunism in the public domain. Andrzej lives in his heroic past, but the present is anything but: he is a public servant, despite his car and sailing boot, the trappings of success in a political system which relies on obedience. His wife looks at him as a “has-been”, and the young man as his younger double. Polanski’s irony becomes apparent in the little story Andrzej tells, which is a parallel to the main narrative: A sailor wants to show off, he shatters a glass bottle, and jumps onto the shards. He bleeds heavily, having forgotten that he used to do this party trick a long time ago, when he was working in the ships engine room, where the hot ash had toughened the soles of his feet. Time had moved on.

Saragossa_Manuscript_4REKOPIS ZNALEZIONY W SARAGOSSIE (THE SARAGOSSA MANUSCRIPT (1965) is one of the most mythical films of Polish cinema. Directed by Wojciech Haas in 1964, SARAGOSSA is based on a novel written between 1813 and 1815 by Jan Potocki. SARAGOSSA is an adventure, told in flashbacks, constructed like a “Russian Doll”: each story opens another surprising new story. During a battle for Saragossa, a Spanish officer discovers an old manuscript, which tells the stories of his ancestor, a certain Van Worden. In a remote inn Van Worden meets two exotic sisters, Emina and Zibelda, who ask him to become the fathers of their children. Van Worden enjoys this adventure, but passes out after getting drunk. He wakes up next morning under the gallows. Here, the real adventure starts: Van Worden gets involved in the gruesome Spanish Inquisition, and flees to a castle of a Cabalist. In the end, the audience learns that all these escapades were just a test of Van Worden’s bravery. He carries on his journey to the King’s Castle, stopping at another inn, where two ladies are introduced to him: Emina and Zibelda… Van Worden flees in panic. SARAGOSSA is a romantic comedy, with stylish aesthetics and a feeling for subtle irony.

Mother Joan of the Angels. 1961. Dir Jerzy Kawalerowicz. KadrMATKA JOANNA OD ANILOW (MOTHER JOAN OF THE ANGELS (1961) is based on real events in Loudon, France around 1730. Jerzy Kawalerowicz has transferred the narrative to Poland, but kept close to events. MOTHER JOAN begins after the first outbreak of devil worship in the Ursuline cloister. Renewed outbreaks of devil worship and sexual transgressions bring Father Suryn (Mieczyslaw Voit) on the plan, to finish the finish the heresy once and for all. But Suryn falls in love with the Mother superior Joanna (Lucyna Winnicka), whilst Sister Margarete (Anna Ciepielewska) even spends a night with a wealthy landowner in the very inn, Suryn is staying. The father has to fight to repress his carnal lust for Joanna; in one of the great scenes, the two are seen in flagellation, both of them half-naked, but far apart, in the attic. Joan cannot overcome her guilt for not achieving Sainthood status, and also wants to be punished for her forbidden lust. Suryn wants to scarify himself, mainly to save Joanna. The dark gloom of the main locations, the inn and the cloister, is often shattered by a glaring white light; the white of the nuns’ robes and the horses’ coat, the latter galloping around a barren landscape, are set like counter points in a medieval painting. Subtle panning shots allow a change of levels from the subjective to the objective. In the end, Joanna and Father Suryn are both the victims of totalitarian demands by the church, which forbids love and drives Suryn into murder. MOTHER JOAN is a rejection of any dogma, and for once, it was the Catholic Church (not the state censors), who wanted a Polish movie banned from being shown in Cannes, where MOTHER JOAN won the “Special Price” of the Jury in 1961. Its impressive, but modest aesthetics, very much in line with Bresson’s formal ascetics, give the film the feeling of an eternal parable. AS

KINOTEKA | RUNS FROM 8 APRIL UNTIL 29 MAY IN LONDON AND NATIONWIDE

 

Berlinale 2016 | Panorama | First films announced

Já, Olga Hepnarová (I, Olga Hepnarová) – Czech Republic / Poland / Slowak Republic / France
By Tomáš Weinreb, Petr Kazda
With Michalina Olszanska, Marta Mazurek, Ondrej Malý
World premiere

Junction 48 – Israel / Germany / USA
By Udi Aloni
With Tamer Nafar, Samar Qupty, Salwa Nakkara, Sameh Zakout, Ayed Fadel
World premiere

Les Premiers, les Derniers (The First, the Last) – France / Belgium
By Bouli Lanners
With Albert Dupontel, Bouli Lanners, Suzanne Clément, Michael Lonsdale, David Murgia
International premiere

Maggies_Plan copyMaggie’s Plan – USA
By Rebecca Miller
With Greta Gerwig, Ethan Hawke, Julianne Moore, Bill Hader, Maya Rudolph
European premiere

Maggie’s plan to have a baby on her own falls apart when she meets John (Ethan Hawke), a married man.

Nakom – Ghana / USA
By Kelly Daniela Norris, TW Pittman
With Jacob Ayanaba, Grace Ayariga, Abdul Aziz, Justina Kulidu, Shetu Musah, Esther Issaka, Thomas Kulidu, James Azudago, Felicia Awinbe, Sumaila Ndaago
World premiere

Theo_et_Hugo_dans_le_meme_bateau copyThéo et Hugo dans le même bateau (Paris 05:59) – France
By Olivier Ducastel, Jacques Martineau
With Geoffrey Couët, François Nambot
World premiere

Remainder – United Kingdom / Germany
By Omer Fast
With Tom Sturridge, Cush Jumbo, Ed Speleers, Arsher Ali, Shaun Prendergast
International premiere

A man is forced to rebuild his life when his memory fails after a tragic accident.

S one strane (On the Other Side) – Croatia / Serbia
By Zrinko Ogresta
With Ksenija Marinković, Lazar Ristovski
World premiere

Starve Your Dog – Morocco
By Hicham Lasri
With Jirari Ben Aissa, Latifa Ahrrare, Fehd Benchemsi
European premiere

Sufat Chol (Sand Storm) – Israel
By Elite Zexer
With Lamis Ammar, Ruba Blal-Asfour, Haitham Omari, Khadija Alakel, Jalal Masarwa
European premiere – debut feature film

the-ones-below-still-1The Ones Below – United Kingdom
By David Farr
With Clémence Poésy, David Morrissey, Stephen Campbell Moore, Laura Birn
European premiere – debut feature film

War on Everyone – United Kingdom
By John Michael McDonagh
With Michael Peña, Alexander Skarsgård, Theo James
World premiere

Panorama Dokumente

Don’t Blink – Robert Frank – USA / France
By Laura Israel
International premiere

Hotel Dallas – Romania / USA
By Livia Ungur, Sherng-Lee Huang
With Patrick Duffy
World premiere – debut feature film

BERLINALE  FILM FESTIVAL | 11 – 21 FEBRUARY 2015 

 

China Craft| What to see this Winter | Film | Dance | Art | from China

London plays host to some of the most exciting Chinese art, dance and cinema, both from mainland China, and its edgy sister Taiwan. Here’s a selection of the best offerings for the Winter season. The common thread throughout is master-craftmanshp: a mind-numbing attention to detail that is intoxicatingly beautiful and unique in its creativity and inventiveness

IMG_3323AI WEI WEI until 13 December 2015 | RA London W1

Major artist and cultural phenomenon Ai Weiwei is known for his powerful, provocative and visionary works and is now one of China’s most influential artists and drawing international attention to the Chinese government’s limitations on individual freedom.

Ai became widely known in Britain after his sunflower seeds installation in Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall in 2010 but the RA is now showcasing the first major exhibition in the UK, bridging over two decades of an extraordinary career highlighting Weiwei’s formal attention to detail and to realism, and the calculated whimsy of his creative vision.

Among his newest works are a number of large-scale installations, as well as works in mixed media from marble and steel to tea and glass. With typical boldness, the chosen works explore a multitude of challenging themes, drawing on his own experience to comment on creative freedom, censorship and human rights, as well as examining contemporary Chinese art and society. What emerges here is not only meticulous and mind-numbing attention to detail – Wei Wei’a art also require a dedicated troupe of highly skilled artisans in its painstaking execution. The centrepiece of utter brilliance is a series of limited addition chrysanthemums: delicately rendering in ice-blue, snow-white and shell pink. The refined exquisiteness of these ethereal baubles justifies their price tag of £14,000 per piece.

CHINA NATIONAL OPERA | SADLERS WELLS Theatre | until 22 November 2015

《杨门女将》朱虹饰穆桂英 copyThe hot ticket of the decade is CHINA PEKING OPERAs visit to the UK this November – The Peking Opera is a unique art form that requires the highest level of performing skill; demanding  lifelong dedication to practising its artistry. In this dance and musical extravaganza, each performer trains from a very tender age at opera school before being an apprentice and learning from the masters. With  spectacular costumes, face painting make-up and stunning stage craft, Peking Opera represents the essence of tradition Chinese values – achievements come through sweat and tears and resistance to material temptation. If there is an identity and unifying force for Chinese nationals, whether from the mainland, Taiwan or Hong Kong; it is the Peking Opera.

In FAREWELL MY CONCUBINE (ticket details) Zhu Hong gives a unique performance as the lover of the Overlord of Chu, Xiang Yu, who is fighting to save the Qin Dynasty. Floating like an exotic flower, her role culminates in a magnificent sword dance that leaves her as composed as a water lily on a tranquil pond. This combination of controlled emotion and highly complex choreography, echoing Wuxia epics such as The Grandmaster and House of Flying Daggers, is what makes this spectacular an unforgettable experience.

The troupe also perform WARRIOR WOMEN OF YANG, a story set during the Song Dynasty (960AD-1279AD) when the Emperor of Mercy, General Yang Zongbao, leads the Song army against the Western Xia and is victorious thanks to his fierce and loyal female soldiers.

In the climate of a largely westernised China, there are still artists who are passionate about the traditional form of Chinese artistic heritage and devote their lives to preserving the century old form of art. It is a dream kept alive by the National Peking Opera Company who continue to pursuit their dream of keeping this ancient Chinese art form alive and sharing its beauty and stagecraft with the world.

Differing only slightly in costume and makeup, all traditional opera forms, including Peking opera, are, strictly speaking, “regional,” in that each is based on the music and dialect of a specific area. Peking opera assumed its present form about two hundred years ago in Beijing, then the capital of the Qing Dynasty, it is usually regarded as a national art form combining singing, dancing and martial arts. Peking opera is the most representative of all Chinese traditional dramatic art forms.

《杨门女将》探谷-4 copyThe music of Peking opera is mainly orchestral music and percussion instruments provide a strongly rhythmical accompaniment. The main percussion instruments are gongs and drums of various sizes and shapes. There are also clappers made of hardwood or bamboo. The main stringed instrument is jinghu (Beijing fiddle), supported by erhu (second fiddle). Plucked stringed instruments include yueqin (moonshaped mandolin), pipa (four-stringed lute) and xianzi (three-stringed lute). Occasionally, suona horn and Chinese flute are also used. The orchestra is led by a drummer, who uses bamboo sticks to create very powerful sounds — sometimes loud, sometimes soft, sometimes strong and exciting, sometimes faint and sentimental — and bring out the emotions of the characters in coordination with the acting of the performers.

The vocal part of Peking opera is both spoken and sung. Spoken dialogue is divided into yunbai (recitative) and jingbai (Beijing colloquial speech), the former employed by serious characters and the latter by young females and clowns. The vocal music consists mainly of erhuang (adapted from folk tunes of Anhui and Hubei) and xipi (from Shaanxi tunes). In addition, Peking opera assimilates the tunes of the much older kunqu opera of the south and some folk arias popular in the north.

The character roles in Peking opera are finely and strictly differentiated into fixed types. Female roles are generally known as dan and male roles as sheng, but male clowns are known as chou. A chou, depicted by a patch of white on the face, is a humorous character. Male characters who are frank and open-minded but rough or those who are crafty and dangerous are known as jing or hualian (painted faces). Peking opera roles are further classified according to the age and personality of the characters. Each different role type has a style and rules of its own. What makes this “opera” unique, is this exotic combination of movement, dance, singing and music that makes it feel literally ‘out of this world’.

CHINESE CINEMA | THE ASSASSIN

ASSASSIN_THE_trees_green copy

Peking opera and its stylistic devices have appeared in many Chinese films. It often was used to signify a unique “Chineseness” in contrast to sense of culture being presented in Japanese films. Fei Mu, a director of the pre-Communist era, used Peking opera in a number of plays, sometimes within “Westernized”, realistic plots. King Hu, a later Chinese film director, used many of the formal norms of Peking opera in his films, such as the parallelism between music, voice, and gesture. In the 1993 film Farewell My Concubine, by Chen Kaige, Peking opera serves as the object of pursuit for the protagonists and a backdrop for their romance. Chen returned to the subject again in 2008 with the Mei Lanfang biopic FOREVER ENTHRALLED. Peking opera is also featured in Peking Opera Blues by Tsui Hark.

Three_Times_9 copyHou Hsiao-Hsien’s sumptuous films epitomise Chinese cinematic artistry and attention to detail. Fabulously meticulous both in execution and narrative, his award-winning dramas are amongst the most beautiful ever committed to celluloid. Born in Mei County, Guangdong province (China) in 1947, Hou and his family fled the Chinese Civil War to Taiwan the following year where he studied at the National Taiwan Academy of the Arts.

Internationally Hou is known for his austere and aesthetically rigorous dramas dealing with the upheavals of Taiwanese (and occasionally larger Chinese) history of the past century seen through the experience of individuals or small groups of characters. A City of Sadness (1989), features a family caught in conflict between the local Taiwanese and the newly arrived Chinese Nationalist government after the Second World War. Groundbreaking for tackling the controversial February 28 Incident and ensuing White Terror, the film became a major critical and commercial success, winning the Golden Lion at Venice in 1989, making it the first Taiwanese film to win the top prize at the oldest international film festival in the World.

hou1 copy copyHis narratives are elliptical and his style marked by extreme long takes with minimal camera movement but intricate choreography of actors and space within the frame. Hou uses extensive improvisation to arrive at the final shape of his scenes and the low-key, naturalistic acting of his performers. Famous for his rigorous austerity, a close collaboration with cinematographer Mark Lee Ping-Bin since the 1990s has brought a sensual beauty to his to his imagery and this is at its most sublime in his most recent Wuxia outing THE ASSASSIN, which won him Best Director at Cannes this year (2015). Since the 1980s, Chu Tien-Wen has been his writing partner notably on Three Times (2005), The Assassin (2015) and Flowers of Shanghai (1998).  He has also cast revered puppeteer Li Tian-lu as an actor in several outings, including The Puppetmaster (1993), based on Li’s life.

THE ASSASSIN IS ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 22 JANUARY 2016

THE CHINA PEKING OPERA | COURTESY OF SINOLINKPRODUCTIONS.COM | SADLERS WELLS 19 -22 NOVEMBER 2015 

AI WEI WEI AT THE ROYAL ACADEMY LONDON W1 UNTIL JANUARY 2016 

 

Tangerine Interview | Mya Taylor and Sean Baker

Stephen Mayne caught up with Mya Taylor and Sean Baker during the UK Premiere of TANGERINE at this BFI London Film Festival 

Capturing the moment is exciting but it comes at a price. That much is evident when I walk into the room at the Mayfair Hotel to meet Sean Baker and Mya Taylor, director/writer and co-star respectively of breakout US indie hit Tangerine. Mya, elegant despite the strain of endless media engagements is commenting on her schedule for the day: “23 interviews, 2 photos shoots and 3 Q&As right?” She turns to Sean, a slender figure dressed in black, for confirmation. He’s on his way out as he answers: “I don’t know but suddenly my bladder is about to burst. Can you start and I’ll be right back?”

With TANGERINE making its bow at the 59th London Film Festival in the evening, I’m the 15th journalist wheeled in front of them already and its only lunchtime. They bear me graciously, even if Mya only acquiesces to Sean’s brief absence on the proviso I don’t ask any dull questions along the lines of how she met him. Incidentally, he discovered her at an LGBT centre around the corner from the notorious Red Light district of the Santa Monica and Highland intersection presented in the film. Not that I asked of course!

11958180_941091032603639_4820777774883847048_o copy

From the streets of LA, she now faces different challenges. Having to work through the same repetitive questions clearly takes a toll for a start. “Journalists ask the same shit over and over and over. Like I just answered this shit, it’s in magazines. Why don’t you just read about it and put it in your interview.” She can turn on the charm when she needs to though. “Actually, you English people are so much cleverer with your questions. You guys are smarter than Americans.”

The furore around TANGERINE is both a surprise and somehow expected given the growing prominence of transgender issues in the mainstream media this year. The film follows two transgender prostitutes, played by Mya and Kitana Kiki Rodriquez, as they wander the streets of LA on Christmas Eve dealing with a collection of quirky characters during the course of the day. Shot on iPhones with a hyper-real feel and an impressive soundtrack, it’s high tempo, energetic madness that proves utterly irresistible. Don’t just take my word for it. Magnolia Pictures who snapped up world distribution rights at Sundance in January are even planning an Oscar push for Mya and Kitana, which would make them the first transgender actresses to receive nominations if all goes to plan.

12095166_950655494980526_4586494691274041898_o copyAcademy award glamour is a far cry from the world presented in the film, as Mya knows only too well after moving to LA at 18. “I used to be in that world. I couldn’t do much with my life even though I was trying. And now I’m an actress and known everywhere and I’m in a totally different life.” She sounds amazed but it has been kind of amazing. She’s also clear her past is a way of life she’s happy to leave behind. “It’s something you want to be away from, I guess because it’s so miserable. There was a time when I was homeless and I had to sleep inside men’s sex clubs. There’s a risk of a man trying to touch you and have sex with you. You’re trying to sleep and there’s loud music playing and people having sex everywhere. It’s nasty.”

Sleeping inside sex clubs isn’t even the worst option. “There was one time that I slept behind a dumpster because I didn’t want to be bothered. I thought the police would probably come if I was on the sidewalk. But it was so uncomfortable that other times I’d stay up all night and walk around and sleep inside the youth centre the next day. I’d get like four or five hours of sleep a day.”

At the mention of youth centres, I wonder whether there are more options now available to help people stuck in Mya’s former situation. The answer is mixed. Mya feels LA offers the most help of anywhere she’s been, but youth centres don’t address all the problems. “Think about this; if I’m up all night and I go to the centre the next day to sleep, my whole day is gone right there. You can’t accomplish anything because you’re trying to sleep. It’s the same cycle every day for a lot of the transgender girls.” Even when they can find somewhere to catch up on sleep, discrimination is never far away. “When transgender girls do actually go interview for jobs they get turned down because they’re trans. I just went to get my ID changed to say my gender is female. It will be finalised next August [we’re in October 2015 now]. Let’s say I go to an interview and have to give them my documentation. If they see I’m trans I won’t get hired. That’s just how it has been. Whether you’re pretty or passable, if that information isn’t changed, or if they just know you’re trans, you won’t get hired. The best thing to try and do is live stealth so nobody knows.”

11947967_934510543261688_5493784347438586322_o copyThere is hope that change is coming at last. Sean seems upbeat over what he’s seen. The 44 year old filmmaker, a stalwart of the indie scene after four previous features and a gloriously odd puppet sitcom Greg the Bunny threw himself into Mya’s old world when developing TANGERINE and still keeps tabs on it. He seems excited that the LGBT centre where he first discovered her now has a department dedicated to transgender people. “I think they’re doing a whole employment thing. It seems with the recent awareness that existing foundations are putting targets in place to help trans people.”

This awareness is partly why TANGERINE has drawn such notice. Aside from being rather good, it’s currently riding a wave of interest in transgender issues. But will it last or are we witnessing a well-meaning flash in the pan? Mya is unequivocal. “It’s the start of something. This something isn’t going to fade.” Sean’s equally adamant. “It’s a movement not a fad. All I know is when I started hearing the general public talking about trans issues and the fact that in the US the most generic mainstream poppy radio stations are talking about it, you know it’s broken into the mainstream. It’s an issue that has reached this point in the zeitgeist where it’s on everybody’s minds. When we set down this road two and a half years ago it must have been brewing. I thought we were the only ones thinking about it but that’s obviously not true.”

Sean credits three major events in the US that have helped to turn the tide. “You have Obama using the word transgender in a presidential address, you have Laverne Cox [star of Orange is the New Black] on the cover of Time, and you have Caitlyn [Jenner], the biggest celebrity to go through a transition publicly.”

Tangerine_still1_SeanBaker__byRadium_2014-11-26_03-37-07PMWith all this in mind, I ask what they expected when they set out on the film in 2013. Surely the excitement generated by TANGERINE must have come as a surprise. For Sean he just saw it as a chance to make another film following the release of Starlet, his fourth feature, in 2012. “I couldn’t get funding for a bigger film and was desperate to make another movie right away. I remember Mark [Duplass, executive producer of TANGERINE and established director /actor in his own right] had offered me this micro-budget thing if I wanted. It was a real step back as usually you want to increase your budget and this was less than half my previous film. It was when we got the thumbs up from Mark and started doing our research that we took it seriously hoping it would be a recognised indie that would travel the world. Getting to Cannes, Venice or Berlin, that’s the whole goal for me anyway.”

For Mya, considering where she came from and where she now is, it’s been so much more. Barring a one-off appearance as a zombie in a small TV series in 2010 this is her acting debut. From the LA of TANGERINE she’s sitting in London just days after Magnolia’s Oscar push announcement. Tired as she is, she’s clearly having a ball. “It’s my first time in London and I love it. I want to move here and get a house. I think I’m going to buy Buckingham Palace.” A note of realism does creep in. “That place is priceless though; I don’t even think Donald Trump could afford it.” I doubt she would want to be responsible for kicking the Queen out anyway. After a constitutional detour we establish Her Majesty’s ceremonial role much to Mya’s amusement. “So the Queen just happens to be very rich and luxurious and gorgeous at an old age? I love her.”

As for what’s next, who knows. Mya is certainly very sanguine about it. “I don’t really put too much expectation on my future; I just go with the flow. That’s all I have to say.” Very much in keeping with the film really.

TANGERINE IS ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 13 NOVEMBER NATIONWIDE

 

Eames: The Architect and Painter (2012) | DVD | Barbican Exhibition

Directed by Jason Cohn, Bill Jersey.  Narrated by James Franco

84mins     Documentary

For nearly four decades 908 Venice Boulevard was one of the most creative places in LA thanks to the architect Charles Eames (1907-78). With his wife and partner Ray, he revolutionised the profession, deconstructing the way architects designed by making the workplace free-moving and communal to facilitate an interchange of ideas and practices. His design maxim was “the best for the most for the least”.

EAMES 06In just over an hour, this absorbing documentary successfully showcases the world of Charles Eames, describing not only his architectural achievements but also showing how he became one of the most influential creative geniuses of 20th century America. Exposing a fascinating array of archival material, Jason Cohn brings to life his unique creative talents and captures the personal love story he shared with his wife and partner Ray.

For most of us, Charles Easmes’ main legacy was the iconic chair in leather and chrome. Time magazine called it the greatest design of 20th century but the chair started out as a failure. He originally started work on the design with the Finnish architect Aero Sarinnen. His goal was to create a comfortable and supportive form-fitting chair without padding.  Although the design was workable on the drawing board and won a competition, it could not be brought into successful production and Aero soon left the project.  At this time Charles was broke. Taking up a teaching post at the Art Academy in Cranbrook Michigan, he met and fell for Ray Kaiser, one of his pupils.  She was to change to course of his life and in 1941 they married and set up a design office in Southern California. With her support he became obsessed with successfully continuing production of the chair.

Charles wanted a world where work, love and art all blended together and Ray embraced the same ideal.  They were the perfect couple embracing a compatible talent and a deepening love for each other. After the devastation of the War years where they turned their talents to designing splints for injured soldiers, they went back to perfecting the chair and realised during trial and error that design should ‘flow from the learning’ of these intervening years.

EAMES 12There was no doubt that Eames tried to inject an ethical element into consumerism of this period.  Although many people in the office collaborated in the designs, the only person who could put his name to them was Charles Eames. Ray would always stand behind Charles but she was undeniably key to the design process in every stage and his creative output would not have been the same without her efforts. Charles depended on her artistic skills and her ability to ‘think outside the box’ and create dynamic shapes in juxtaposition to each other.  He also relied on her for her sense of colour and her unique visual ability and vision. A ‘people person’, Ray’s charm and charisma complemented his retiring and rather prickly nature. They were emerging as the most significant married designers working in post-war America and created a seemless environment for their talents and those of their collaborators.

EAMES 16Now active in a dizzying array of disciplines, they produced exhibitions, toys, books, photograpy, paintings and over 100 films. And although the majority of these films never made it onto general release they contained the most original design ideas of the 20th Century.  Most noteworthy of these were House (1955): In a series of 35mm stills, this illustrated how the house came into being.  The intention was to build a house from recycled materials from the war effort but the initial designs were problematic and took 5 years to eventually come into being.       The Eames house evolved over the years and it was largely prefabricated and became their own artistic playground. Royalties from Herman Miller allowed Eames to go beyond his creation of the iconic chair to set up 901 which was a cornucopia of artistic endeavours including the use of film as a tool – not an art form – to satisfy his own desires and embrace his 24-hour work culture. Charles Eames was not particularly gifted in networking and he didn’t suffer fools or anybody who he took a dislike to.  Nor was he a good verbal communicator and found it impossible to articulate his thoughts cohesively on many occasions.  But in some ways this enabled him to retain his design integrity and work constructively with clients without losing his artistic ideals.

EAMES 02Kruchov and Nixon had their kitchen debate and the American National Exhibition was held in Sokolniki Park Moscow in the summer of 1959.  The Exhibition was sponsored by the American government and featured many displays of the latest mod-cons. It was intended as a tool of cultural diplomacy against the Soviet Communist regime. To endorse this Charles and Ray were commissioned to make a film entitled Glimpses of the USA

People were sent all over the States to take nationalistic images which were then edited. The film spoke from the heart and as a piece of propaganda it sold the USA in a sanitised way ending with an image of forget-me-nots. This film endeavour set Charles and Ray up as communicators in an entirely new arena: they were now communicators with pictures and elevated to the status of cultural ambassadors worldwide and interpreters of the American Dream.

At the time IBM was a computer giant. As visionaries in this new world, Charles and Ray wanted to humanise the computer age. Over two decades they became synonymous with the the idea of using computers to help people in their everyday lives. And as  their reputation as visual communicators grew so did their client list: it now included some of the biggest names in American consumerism.  They didn’t have contracts they had handshakes; and for Charles these gentlemans’ agreements worked both ways. He wasn’t concerned about money so much as about giving clients what they wanted.

Charles and Ray wanted to work for the ‘Googles’ of their era, to further their ideas and have them shape the future of America.  Powers of Ten was the best known of the films they created. This picture looked into the future of audiovisual perception.

But although Ray’s eye for form and function and her talent for colour was an asset, it could also be a burden. She was a perfectionist and in some ways over the years this crippled her. Constantly competing for Charles’s attention in every domain was also starting to take its toll. Charles’s intoxicating charisma attracted women, who were naturally drawn to him.  Handsome, smart and cool: everybody wanted Charles and although emotionally bonded to Ray, he was having affairs while continuing his collaboration with her in the office.

The Franklin and Jefferson Show was their final exhibition. Its failure in New York was perceived as largely due to their inability to edit out the exhibits engagingly. However, when the show moved to Europe in 1975,  it was a resounding success for this very reason. British Vogue reported “The layout and visual impact are staggering: one wants to spend days studying the documents, photographs and artifacts that bring the period vividly to life”.

Eventually Charles became tired of running the show and wanted to escape with his camera and travel, but he did not know what to do about Ray who was by nature a homebody. Then fate intervened. In 1978, Charles died suddenly and Ray became head of the office.  Faced with the mammoth task, she rose to the occasion and went on to manage the team and communicate the design ethic for a while but eventually the output and the clients dwindled. Despite this Ray continued to flourish as an individual and, free from the overpowering figure of Charles, she developed her profile as one of the most influential female artistic figures in post-War America. Jason Cohn’s biopic will fascinate those interested in modern design or American history. Newcomers will sim about the love story of two artists who lived their belief that “eventually everything connects”.  Meredith Taylor ©

ART EXHIBITION | THE WORLD OF CHARLES AND RAY EAMES | The Barbican | 21 October – 14 February 2016 | Courtesy of TERRA FOUNDATION FOR AMERICAN ART

 

 

 

In Conversation with Ian McKellen and Laura Linney | Mr Holmes

11216250_710737925715258_1647195717815497920_n copySherlock Holmes is one of English literature’s best known, and best loved characters. In MR HOLMES an older, retired Sherlock Holmes looks back on his life and grapples with an unsolved case involving a beautiful woman. Carlie Newman met the leads IAN MCKELLEN (Sherlock Holmes) and LAURA LINNEY (Mrs Munro) to talk about the central themes of Bill Condon’s drama:

Laura: What I loved about the movie was that there are many different themes, story content; interesting dynamics, dealt with in a very different way than before. We see things that are not always what one expects – different perceptions.

Ian: There’s a plot and also themes: one of which is very touching: someone (Sherlock Holmes) who we think we know well, someone who we perhaps wouldn’t want to spend much time with, turns out to have a beating heart that he’s trying to catch up with after spending years trying to run away from. And he wants to catch up with his emotional life and he’s a much nicer person than he was at the beginning. And so there’s hope for us all, I suppose.

Haunted by something that feels unfulfilled?

Ian: He doesn’t do things by half; he keeps right on to the end to solve the case. Dr Watson wrote it down as another triumph, but Holmes doesn’t do any other sleuthing for 30 years – is that will power or stupidity? He goes off to Japan to get some kind of elixir to keep the mind going. The result of all this is to discover that he’s living with a woman [Mrs Munro] who genuinely cares for him

Laura: …sexy woman!

Ian: dreadful cook!…and a friendship with a boy who is wiser than his years. And a film that has a happy ending, really.

Are you concerned that you might take some criticism of the way you’ve portrayed Sherlock?

Ian: No. As I said, at the end of the story he’s portrayed as a far more pleasant and sociable person than he has been for the rest of his life. So I think Holmes comes out of this story rather well. It is another play on his earleir character. I like the way that it’s possoble to sit at the film and believe that Conan Doyle had written it. Obviously he hadn’t. I’ve not had any complaints about trampling over Sherlock Holmes. So many actors have…hundreds. And I throw out a challange to you – who was the first actor to ever play Sherlock Holmes on film? He’s an anonymous actor, I think Hungarian, it’s a mystery!

There have been some great Sherlock Holmes; I used to listen to John Gielgud on the radio. John Gielgud played him. Ralph Richardson (another hero of mine) was Dr Watson. Orson Wells played Moriarty! So Sherlock Holmes wasn’t invented even by Jeremy Brett or the more recent successes Benedict and Robert Downey and good luck to us all, I say. Derek Jacobi will be playing Sherlock next!

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Holmes is a mentor to (IAN: 10-year-old Milo). Did you ever have a mentor when you were growing up?

Ian: There was Uncle Cliff – who wasn’t strictly an uncle – who, when I went up to University, offered me £5 if I would never smoke a cigarette. Not a big enough bribe as it turned out. The teachers at school, I shouldn’t forget them: well, those who cast me in plays, I suppose. Frank Green – he taught me that the number one duty of an actor was to be audible and his way of checking this was to walk away from me, out of the doors. Eventually he came back in, “Yes, I heard every word.”

How are you in your own company?

Ian: Well, I live alone.

Laura: There’s a big difference bewteen loneliness and alone. I love alone. I need some alone time; I like to ponder and think, touch on people I’ve known and memories and wishes. Loneliness can be very very hard and loneliness can drive someone crazy. I think Mrs Munro is very lonely and Sherlock has been lonely by choice. And so there’s also the difference between the two – between someone who has exiled themselves [Sherlock] and someone who has been robbed [Mrs Munro]. I like people, I like being around people, but there’s only so much you can take in and I get to the point where I need quiet.

Ian: I am alone but I’m not lonely; that’s a very good distinction. When I’m at home half of me is dying to get out and when I’m out half of me is dying to get home! But working, enforced sociablity I do enjoy. [turning to Laura] I think we had lunch together every single day we were on set together.

Taken that you’ve read some of the Sherlock Holmes tales, did you get inspirtation for the older Mr Holmes from these?

Ian: No. In that I long learnt that if someone has taken the trouble to write a script, any suggestions that I have about omissions from the source material is too late, they’ve thought about all that, my ideas are just likely to be boring, irrelevant, unnecessary. Which does relieve you if you’re playing Hitler – which I have done – from reading enormous biographies of the monster. Of course you want the script to be good, and this one was. This is a peach of a part for any actor and I’m vey very lucky that I knew Bill Condon [director] of old so he thought of me …other actors are now tearing whatever hair they have left!

Laura, you were a fan of Sherlock Holmes?

Laura: Yes, I guess I was a little obsessed with him from the age of 11. My father bought me the book. I loved the movies, I loved Basil Rathbone. When I applied to drama school they asked me on the application form,“who’s your favourite actor.” I wrote “Basil Rathbone.” I love the world, there’s something sexy about the fact that he’s a loner, a drug addict, a musician. He’s brilliant.

Was playing Sherlock Holmes one of your unfulfilled ambitions?

Ian: No. If I ever thought about it I would have considered I was too old. Like everyone else I thought he was a real person. It is exraordinary.

Laura: it is amazing that one character can be picked up through so many decades and be put in so many different contexts: the psychological or the more physical as portrayed by different actors. There are not many charcters that have had such a workout and people are still interested.

Ian: I’ll tell you what continues to be an ambition, it’s a quote from Gods and Monsters, my character, the film director says, “Making movies is the most wonderful thing in the world; working with friends, entertaining people.” This film was that in spades – there was Bill there, Laura (I’ve enjoyed working with her). Then it was like a party at my house: Roger Allam playing the doctor, Frances de la Tour, from Vicious, playing the mad music teacher, Frankie Barber finds her way into the movie, and David Fox who plays the pharmacist; it was so joyful. And the audiences are enjoying it.. That’s a bonus, the raison d’etre.

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What’s Holmes seeking to prove?

Ian: He fell in love over a bee. He followed this woman on a case, he’s being paid, he got intrigued, he fell in love. She offered him a life together, he turns her down. He denies his heart and 30 years in the wilderness, wondering what he did wrong. He was paid to be the observer, then one day, love!

Have you got involved in any of the controversy over the re-invention of Sherlock Holmes?

Ian: I can’t comment on the legal situation, although I note there was no complaint about the novel. It’s not as difficult or puzzling to play a character that so many other people have played as you might think. I played Hamlet – if you started to think about all the people who’ve played Hamlet, you’d never step on to the stage. You do because you know that so many people who’ve played Hamlet have had a success, so don’t deny yourself the possibility. Discovering something within yourself. And that’s true for Romeo and Juliet, King Lear…. And so with Sherlock Holmes. So many famous people have played the part. The difference with this is that my Holmes is a script that nobody else has done and, of course, it’s inspired by Conan Doyle.

Laura: The difference is he wasn’t written to be embodied originally. But the famous parts they’re there to be done. I’m a big proponent of keeping the exploration going, paticularly if it’s a character that will hold the weight of such exploration.

Laura congratulations on your impecable accent. Did you take any momentos from the film?

Laura: It took them a while to decide on what sort of accent they wanted. We landed on Sussex and my fantastic coach worked very hard with me.

Ian: I took my hat! I never knew where she came from but I knew it was incredibly real . The most difficult thing when doing a foreign accent is not to copy someone. Your voice, Laura, came from right inside yourself.

Laura: She probably moved around. It’s a combination of sounds.

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What does Sherlock Holmes mean to you as a character?

Ian: Well, I’ve just turned 76, he’s 93. I think, “Don’t give up. Even right to the end there’s more you can discover about yourself and the world.” That would be a good motto for an old person to have. And old people I know who are keepimg at it are really enjoying their lives, even with all the aches and pains.

Is there one particular accolade that you prize above all others?

Ian: I was up in Wigan where I spent the first 12 years of my life and in the ‘I believe in Wigan’ Square there are a number of stars of people who lived in Wigan and done themselves or the town proud and I’m now one of those stars. And I got a bit weepy because I’d walked over those cobbled stones as a kid every Saturday going to the fair or watching the people selling their stuff in the market. That’s at the forefront of my mind today.

Laura: I won a limbo contest on roller skates.

Did you do research on the dementia side of your character?

Ian: I just went inside myself and I went for the decreptitude of the body and the mind and put all my efforts into trying not to have either. You can read all these manuels but it doesn’t help –it might help your doctor or your shrink or with medication but actually embodying soemeone whose mind and body are beginning to fail – we have intimations of mortality frrom very early on and I’m a bit more alert to them than other people and you feed off that experience I think.

I spoke to Ian McKellen as he waited for the lift. I told him how good the film was and congratulated him on his excellent perfomance. I remarked that it was much better than Vicious on TV.
“That’s like marmite.” he answered, thanking me. Carlie Newman.

READ OUR REVIEW ON MR HOLMES | ON DVD | BLU RELEASE FROM 10 NOVEMBER  2015

 

21 Nights With Pattie (2015) | LFF 2015

Director: Arnaud and Jean-Marie Larrieu

Cast: Isabelle Carre, Andre Dussollier, Denis Lavant, Sergi Lopez, Mathilde Monnier, Karin Viard

110min  Fantasy Drama   France

21 NIGHTS WITH PATTIE is an intriguing title for a film that blends black comedy with fantasy and magic realism. Arnaud and Jean-Marie Larrieu’s provocatively entitled Vingt et Une Nuits Avec Pattie certainly rolls off the tongue better in French, but this is a tricky tale to digest in any language, and after two longs hours and a final act that lets it all hang out, you may well come away wishing the brothers had left it at that: a boozy French drama with a touch of ‘Midsomer Murders’ and a dash of discretion.

Plunging into the bosky hillsides of Languedoc Rousillion, Caroline (Isabelle Carré) arrives at her mother’s bohemian retreat on a blazing hot August day. The two were not close in real life and her mother is now lying ‘in wake’ in the cool stone cottage, and Caroline must arrange her funeral. Despite this morbid event, the tone is light-hearted; almost jubilant and even more so when she meets Pattie (Karin Viard) the caretaker and best described as ‘une femme mûre’, who regales her with explicit tales of her recent sexual conquests with various local lads. Later on the corpse of her mother disappears, leading to a police investigation that drifts into a Savannah-style ghost story and an erotic awakening for the bewildered Parisienne.

Gastronomy is a rich theme that weaves through this distinctly Gallic tale. When Pattie is not getting down and dirty with the likely lads – including Denis Lavant as a lecherous Denis Lavant –  she’s cooking up a delicious rustic supper of cassoulet or venison stew washed down with plenty of Corbières al fresco with the locals, dissolving into nights of dancing in the nearby village. A jazzy soundtrack adds to the initial allure of this party-like piece but the arrival of another outside takes the story into more enigmatic territory when André Dussollier turns up as Mamma’s ex lover and, putatively, a famous writer. And while Caroline skypes her husband Manuel (Sergi Lopez) who is keeping the home fires burning back in Paris, the main vibe here is the female chemistry between Pattie and Caroline, her Parisian protegée for the summer, while she is being groomed for some sexual scenarios by various males (including Pattie’s 18-year-old son Kamil – Jules Ritmanic) in the sylvan seclusion of this picturesque corner of France.

Isabelle Carré is delightful to watch as the prim and proper Parisienne who gradually warms to her raunchy surroundings, despite concerns for her mother’s disappearance and pre-morbid state of mind. It emerges that her mother was somewhat of a foxy femme fatale known as “Zaza” locally, and this adds intrigue to her already conflicted mourning process. And the Police investigation takes on an almost folkloric feel as the local gendarme suspects a necrophage at work.

In these sun-soaked surroundings, Caroline is slowly emboldened and yet addled by wine as nothing seems to matter anymore least of all her mother’s funeral, which gently slips to the back burner of this Midsummer Night’s Dream ,where she imagines herself in the sensual arms of all and sundry. And this is one clever feature of the Larrieu’s script; lulling us into one storyline, before revealing the significance of another, whether wittingly or not. 21 NIGHTS is about Caroline’s spiritual development as a woman rather than conflict resolution between mother and daughter. A shame therefore that it gradually sinks into an unnecessarily explicit dénouement when the story runs out of control. Despite their delicious entrée, the Larrieus may hopefully discover that less is always more, even in France, you should never over-egg the omelette. MT

SCREENING DURING THE LONDON FILM FESTIVAL | 7 -18 OCTOBER 2015

The Kings of Nowhere (2015) | Warsaw Film Festival 2015

Director/Writer: Betzabé García

83min | Mexico | Documentary |

The opening moments of KINGS OF NOWHERE—screening in the documentary competition at Warsaw Film Festival, and the first feature-length doc by 25-year-old Betzabé García—boast an intriguing twist. Though a low-angle shot of a man navigating an empty rundown neighbourhood is a decidedly familiar image, we infer from the way his body moves—or rather, doesn’t move—that he can’t be walking; in fact, as we quickly learn, these streets are flooded, and our subject is steering his way around them on a small boat. Allowing her camera to linger, García focus-pulls, so that the figure becomes blurred and the dilapidated dwellings behind him are sharpened. Here, landscape is as important a concern as any human character.

As shooting locations go, García’s is already halfway to being a readymade film set. In 2006, San Marcos—a virtual ghost town in the coastal state of Sinaloa, northwest Mexico—was flooded, with its population displaced and resettled following the construction of the much-opposed gigantic Picachos Dam, which began in 2006. Formerly host to 300 families, the town is inhabited today by less than ten people, whose daily lives—as García’s film shows—are lived out with a mixture of boredom, resilience, stubbornness, and outright fear of the armed gangs that frequently raid it.

Not that any of this is immediately clear. García is, on this evidence, one of those documentarians who prefers context to gradually emerge from a picture rather than being its framing device. In line with a great lineage of observational documentary makers, her strategy is to simply spend time with her subjects—though of course it’s never a matter of ‘simply’ doing anything when it comes to non-fiction. Indeed, the trick in storytelling terms is to carve one single narrative out of a swamp of material so that it can be a digestible entity which fulfils our received notions of character, setting, dramatic stakes and so on.

Winner of an audience award when it screened at SXSW in March, KINGS OF NOWHERE is a dispatch rather than a polemic. It reserves any on-screen text for a context-lending footnote, revealing the town’s population figures, and some information about Atílano Román Tirado, the radio journalist and leader of the Displaced Persons of Picachos—an activist group seeking compensation on behalf of 800 families in the region—who was murdered last year during a live broadcast. This last explanation gives retroactive gravity to those earlier scenes in which two couples—farmers Jaime and Yoya, and tortilleria owners Pani and Paula—have their porch get-together interrupted one evening by what sounds like distant gunshots. “Fireworks,” one of them remarks, though another can’t help but look over her shoulder into the dark. There’s a menace never far away from this post-apocalyptic locale.

Outside of Venice, the image of someone steering a boat through a half-submerged town is as surreal as something from a 1970s Herzog film. Due to the water that pervades them, the abandoned, eerily mirror-like streets of this rural colonial outpost reflect the skies above—and moments in which the camera floats, boat-bound and onward, sustaining its ineluctable modality without vertical bobs or jerky pans, are not unlike those tranquil river treks in AGUIRRE, WRATH OF GOD. Just like in that film, the key element in KINGS OF NOWHERE—for all the beautiful compositions containing streetlamps, overhead electricity cables and other markers of a civilisation now lost— might be its rich, evocative soundscape. Devoid of people, the town is enlivened by the sounds of lapping water, wood pigeons and the odd crash of thunder—all of which are cloaked by a gentle cacophony comprising cicadas, crickets, cows and cockerels. Here, animals mourn on humanity’s behalf. MICHAEL PATTISON

THE WARSAW FILM FESTIVAL RUNS FROM 9 – 18 OCTOBER 2015 |

Rémi Bezançon | Film Director| Zarafa

*contains spoilers*

Rémi Bezançon was born in Paris in 1971 where he studied film at the École Supérieure de Réalisation Audiovisuelle and the École de Louvre.  After his feature Ma Vie en L’Air, he found success with The First Day of The Rest of Your Life in 2008 which won him Best Director, Best Writer and Best Film at the Césars in 2009.  He followed this with Un Heureux Événement, a frank an intimate exposure of motherhood, which starred Pio Marmaï (Delicacy) and Louise Bourgoin.

We met him and his co-writer, Alexander Abela, for the UK Premiere of his film ZARAFA, a finely wrought and delightfully intelligent animation based on the true story of a Giraffe gifted to French royalty…

AR: First of all, congratulations on Zarafa.. a magical film. It felt like you chose a musical feel of Lawrence of Arabia..?

RB Yes.. and we drew on Omar Sharif for Hasan too, not just the music and Maurice Bejart for the choreography. We wanted a lyrical style of music, an epic, old-fashioned style of adventure music.

AR And the style of the animation…

RB Jean-Christophe Lie has a style more like Chomet (Belleville Rendezvous) a very good style, but I wanted something more like Miyazaki for this film, like Spirited Away, Totoro -Studio Ghibli. I wanted to go more towards that style where you might get a shot of someone’s hair moving.. more descriptive.

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AR It reminded me also of TinTin.

RB Yes, TinTin- in France we sit between Disney and the Japanese… the style is called ‘clear line’, like TinTin all French animation, historically, is based on the clear line, from Hergé onwards.

AR: I was interested whether you were wanting- as a director- to work in different genres, or whether the story dictated the genre.

RB The story always dictates the genre… always. My adult films are ‘poetic-realist’. For this one, I wanted to make it in a way that children would like and also a way that I would have liked to see as a child myself.

AR From what I pick up from your other films, like Women For Sale (Vendue), which concerns the European Mafia trafficking women and prostitution and here again with slavery… do you believe that your films are political?

RB Firstly, I only co-wrote that film and I didn’t direct it.

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AR Understood but, even so…

RB My films aren’t very political and in a way the most political film I have made is Zarafa, because it’s a film that I believe has many resonances with how we live today; colonisation, integration, liberty and relationships between foreigners within society. We are living in countries that are closed, so it’s a film that talks about freedom in a political way.

AT In effect then, that is quite a political statement.. no?

RB Yes.. Strangely, it is more political than any of my live action films. It seems I have to make a children’s film to be able to make a film that has actually a bit more of a political bent.

AT You say you like Kurosawa, Ozu, Spielberg, Scorsese…

RB Yes, how did you know? I love these directors, Spielberg, Ozu, Kurosawa, Scorsese…

AR Do you feel they are influencing your work?

RB Yes, Seven Samurai influenced me with Zarafa, but my films are French, not in the mold of those I like, but I am inspired by them more in the way they tell a story.. but it’s important it’s not just copied, it has to be digested. But my live action films are much more inspired by the Italian films of the Seventies.

AR With this film you chose a very classic three-act structure…

RB Very classic. When you make an animated film, you have to stick to the classic. And it works for children- it works for everyone!

AR Your grandfather made home movies… on a Bolex?

RB Yes, on Bolex..

AR Do you feel this had an influence on you becoming a filmmaker?

RB Yes of course, I found it fascinating to use a little Super 8 camera to make small films of my own when I was very young and then using the first video cameras, when they came out. So I used to line up my model soldiers and film them when I was very little. But I told real stories.

AR Do you still have these films?

RB No, no (unfortunately), nothing.

AR Your next film is Nos Futurs (now out in France) Can you tell me anything of this?

RB It’s a Punk movie.

AR: A punk movie..?

RB A comedy about midlife crisis, starting filming at the end of this year.

AR: Ok. Oh, tell me, who came up with the idea for the solar eclipse (in Zarafa)? I liked that very much.

RB Me. I love the transitions..

AR: This is where you find great creative input…

RB Yes I love these things. Thank you.

ZARAFA IS ON GENERAL RELEASE ON 8 OCTOBER 2015

 

Ixcanul Volcano (2015)| Alfred Bauer Prize Winner Berlin | LFF 2015

Director/Writer: Jayro Bustamante
Cast: María Mercedes Coroy, María Telon, Manuel Antun, Justo Lorenzo

Guatemala/France Drama 91min

Writer-director Jayro Bustamante makes an assured feature debut with IXCANUL VOLCANO, a film as disciplined as it is downbeat in its study of the working routines and local superstitions that make up life at a coffee plantation below a dormant volcano in the midwestern highlands of Guatemala. The film world-premieres in-competition at the 65th Berlin International Film Festival this week, and is not unlike another South American predecessor, THE MILK OF SORROW, which may provide two good omens: that film’s director, Peruvian Claudia Llosa, is on this year’s jury, while the film itself won the top prize upon bowing here in 2009.

17-year-old María (María Mercedes Coroy) is to be married off to Ignacio (Justo Lorenzo), the farm’s significantly older, city-dwelling foreman. Ignacio arrives with a smile that disarms any would-be suspicions on the part of María’s family – all of whom are unilingual, Kaqchikel-speaking indigenous Mayans, whose general lack of education leaves them open to misinformation and exploitation: though not especially zealous in his abuse of power, Ignacio nevertheless demonstrates hesitance in allowing María’s family to speak for themselves when communicating on their behalf to Spanish-speaking authorities – firstly to a health inspector and secondly, much later, to the police.

María and her parents, Juana (María Telón) and Manuel (Manuel Antún), are without electricity and running water, while a snake infestation is a permanent source of danger to the cattle they keep. By way of a central narrative tension, the film comes into its own when María is – inconveniently for her, though a little too conveniently for the purposes of plot – impregnated by local lad Pepe (Marvin Coroy), who is much closer to her own age. Dependent upon spiritual healing rather than actual medicine, an abortion is out of the question, and the film begins to unravel as tensions build around María’s fate.

Bustamante’s film is a largely straightforward affair that benefits from more suggestive currents. Opening with a scene in which María and her mother feed rum to their pigs in order to enable mating, they soon after kill one of the animals to eat. Priming the drink-fuelled sex by which María herself is later impregnated, the pig’s fortune doesn’t bode well for our protagonist (who, alluringly played by non-professional Mercedes Coroy, is on the more sensibly talky and less irritating side of ambiguous arthouse heroine).

Not least among IXCANUL VOLCANO’s symbolic threads is the volcano itself, whose peak is never shown and whose ashen slopes are caught only fleetingly in the background of Luis Armando Arteagas’ deep-focus cinematography – which is rich in jungle greens and earthen hues. Suggesting a kind of latent pit of doom that threatens, like an unwanted baby, to come forth at any moment, the volcano smoulders and grumbles from deep within – as if asking for an outlet by which to air its stress, which the filmmakers fittingly never allow. MICHAEL PATTISON

SILVER BEAR AWARD AT BERLINALE 5-15 FEBRUARY 2015 | NOW SCREENING DURING LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 2015 

New British Films |Toronto International Film Festival 2015 | 10 – 20 September 2015

The ProgramJean Marc Vallée’s DEMOLITION is set to open Canada’s biggest International film festival, which runs from 10 – 20 September this year, hot on the heels of VENICE. Toronto is a massive affair sprawling over the city and featuring many of Cannes, Venice and Sundance top pictures along with a fresh slate of World premieres and Canadian indies which will include Venice hits: Cary Fukunaga’s Beasts of No Nation starring Idris Elba and Black Mass starring Johnny Depp as Whitey Bulger. Also in the various strands and selection will be Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight; Jay Roach’s Trumbo; Roland Emmerich’s Stonewall and Jocelyn Moorehouse’s The Dressmaker. 

Eye in SkyBut for the moment, let’s a look at the slate of new British Films that are set to screen at the Ontario jamboree. Most are literary adaptations, reflecting the British need constantly to reference the past, but Stephen Frears stands out from the crowd, offering The Program, a sporting drama to spice things up with its controversial subject matter: the evidence surrounding Lance Armstrong’s substance abuse. Dustin Hoffman, Ben Foster and Lee Pace star. Another combat-themed premiere is Eye in the Sky, an aviation thriller directed by South African Gavin Hood (Ender’s Game) but the script, written by Guy Hibbert, and cast couldn’t be more British: Helen Mirren, Alan Rickman and Phoebe Fox star in what promises to be a fresh look at the increasing use of remotely piloted aircraft used in warfare. The Man Who Knew Infinity is director Matt Brown’s second feature also featuring a starry British cast. Based on American writer Robert Kanigel’s novel that explores the wartime story of Maths genius Srinivasa Ramanuajan, who rose from poverty-striken Madras to win a scholarship to Cambridge under the tutelage of a (no doubt) gravelly-voiced prof Jeremy Irons. Dev Patel, Toby Jones, Stephen Fry and Jeremy Northam and Kevin McNally also star in what promises to be a worthwhile sortie into Britain’s Colonial past. India is the location for Leena Yadav’s inspiration drama Parched. In a rural Indian village, it explores how four ordinary women begin to throw off the traditions that hold them in servitude.

Sunset Song 1Miss You Already is Catherine Hardwicke’s latest and has Toni Colette and Drew Barrymore as two friends struck by life-limiting illness. Dominic Copper and Paddy Considine also star. We were hoping to get a first look at Terence Davies’ latest drama Sunset Song at Cannes this year. But the drama, based on Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s classic novel, will now have its world premiere as a special presentation in Toronto, with a superb British cast of Peter Mullan, Agyness Deyn, Kevin Guthrie and Douglas Rankine. English novellist, Nick Hornby wrote the screenplay for Brooklyn, adapting from Colm Toibin’s 1950s love story that straddles the Atlantic and stars Saoirse Ronan, Jim Farrell and Julie Walters. Closed Circuit helmer John Crowley directs. Irish filmmaker Lenny Abrahamson came to fame with his remarkable 2012 debut What Richard Did, a coruscating coming-of-ager set during The Troubles. His latest, a literary adaptation simply entitled Room, is an exploration of the unconditional love between mother and child and stars Brie Larson, Megan Park and William H Macy. High Rise is Ben Wheatley’s much anticipated adaptation of JG Ballard’s novel of the same name that has Tom Hiddleston and Jeremy Irons caught in a class war in a London Apartment.

DanishTom Hooper’s The Danish Girl has now premiered at Venice but British title Legend will have its prem at Toronto as a Gala Presentation. Starring Tom Hardy in another powerful role as both Ronnie and Reggie Kray, the vicious ganglands killers who purportedly nailed a rival’s head to a coffee table (if you believe Monty Python). Paul Bettany, David Thewlis and Emily Browning also star. MT

TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL | 10 – 20 SEPTEMBER 2015 | TORONTO CANADA

Here’s the full Toronto low-down.

GALAS
Beeba Boys (dir. Deepa Mehta)
The Dressmaker (dir. Jocelyn Moorhouse)
Eye in the Sky (dir. Gavin Hood)
Forsaken (dir. Jon Cassar)
Freeheld (dir. Peter Sollett)
Hyena Road (dir. Paul Gross)
Lolo (dir. Julie Delpy)
Legend (dir. Brian Hegeland)
The Man Who Knew Infinity (dir. Matt Brown)
The Martian (dir. Ridley Scott)
The Program (dir. Stephen Frears)
Remember (dir. Atom Egoyan)
Septembers of Shiraz (dir. Wayne Blair)
Stonewall (dir. Roland Emmerich)
SPECIAL PRESENTATIONS
Anomalisa (dir. Duke Johnson and Charlie Kaufman)
Beasts of No Nation (dir. Cary Fukunaga)
Black Mass (dir. Scott Cooper)
Brooklyn (dir. John Crowley)
The Club (dir. Pablo Larrain)
Colonia (dir. Florian Gallenberger)
The Danish Girl (dir. Tom Hooper)
The Daughter (dir. Simon Stone)
Desierto (dir. Jonas Cuaron)
Dheepan (dir. Jacques Audiard)
Families (dir. Jean-Paul Rappeneau)
The Family Fang (dir. Jason Bateman)
Guilty (dir. Meghna Gulzar)
I Smile Back (dir. Adam Sulkey)
The Idol (dir. Hany Abu-Assad)
The Lady in the Van (dir. Nicholas Hytner)
Len and Company (dir. Tim Godsall)
The Lobster (dir. Yorgos Lanthimos)
Louder than Bombs (dir. Joachim Trier)
Maggie’s Plan (dir. Rebecca Miller)
Mountains May Depart (dir. Zhangke Jia)
Office (dir. Johnnie To)
Parched (dir. Leena Yadav)
Room (dir. Lenny Abrahamson)
Sicario (dir. Denis Villeneuve)
Son of Saul (dir. Laszlo Nemes)
Spotlight (dir. Tom McCarthy)
Summertime (dir. Catherine Corsini)
Sunset Song (dir.Terence Davis )
Trumbo (dir. Jay Roach)
Un plus une (dir. Claude Lelouch)
Victoria (dir. Sebastian Schipper)
Where to Invade Next (dir. Michael Moore)
Youth (dir. Paolo Sorrentino)

Venice International Film Festival | 72th Edition | 2 – 12 September 2015

2015 is set to be a knock out year as VENICE FILM FESTIVAL claims its position as the oldest major international film festival, now celebrating its 72nd edition and championing a glittering array of independent and arthouse films. Unlike Cannes 2015, that promoted its own actors and filmmakers, Venice has chosen an eclectic mix of international talent drawn from veteran auteurs to sophomore filmmakers. Under festival director, Alberto Barbera and an erudite competition jury lead by Alfonso Cuaron, including such luminaries as Pawel Pawlikowski, Hsaio-hsien Hou, Lynne Ramsay, Elizabeth Banks and Francesco Munzi, the competition line-up sparkles with renewed vigour showcasing independent film talent and stealing a march on Toronto which neatly overlaps the Italian festival by two days, leaving the Canadians to show the blockbusters which will come to Britain very shortly anyway, for those who follow them.

1-11MINUTES-actorWojciechMECWALDOWSKIPresiding over the jury in 2001, Veteran Polish auteur Jerzy Skolimowski will be back in Venice with his long-awaited follow-up to Essential Killing, another thriller called 11 Minutes (left).  This time the setting is Warsaw, with a strong Polish cast led by Richard Dormer, Piotr Glowacki, Andrzej Chyra (In the Name of) and Agata Buzek. Sangue del mio sangue 1

The Italians have four films in the competition line-up this year: Marco Bellocchio presents Sangue del mio Sangue (Blood of my Blood (right) which knowing the director’s strong visual aesthetic with doubtless be a stylish vampire outing, set in the village of Bobbio (Emilia Romagna) and starring the ubiquitous and pallidly delicate Alba Rohrwacher. Giuseppe M Gaudino is not well-known outside his native Italy but his latest film Per Amor Vostro may well change things. Sicilian director, Luca Guadagnino (I Am Love), once again casts Tilda Swinton in crime thriller A Bigger Splash which is set on the volcanic island of Pantelleria (south of Sicily). It has Matthias Schoenaerts, Dakota Johnson and Ralph Fiennes who play an assortment of interconnecting lovers in a game of mystery. Juliette Binoche will be on the Lido as the main star of Piero Messina’s drama The Wait, essentially a two-hander where she gets to know Lou de Laâge (Breathe) who plays her son’s fiance as they both await his arrival at a Sicilian villa. I Ricordi del Fiumi  (Out of Competition) by Gianluca and Massimiliano De Serio is a documentary about the platz, the large shanty town where over a thousand people of different nationalities live on the banks of the Stura river, in Turin. The area was recently the object of a major project to dismantle it and move part of the families into normal homes and the film documents life in this slum during the last few months of its existence, with its anguish, drama, hopes, life.

EQUALS VFF 01 ∏Jaehyuk Lee

Having shot their cinematic bolt at Cannes this year, the French are thin on the ground in competition repped by Xavier Giannoli with Marguerite, a drama starring Catherine Frot (Haute Cuisin) and Christa Théret (Renoir). Christian Vincent (La Séparation) who has cast Sidse Babett Knudsen (The Duke of Burgundy) and Fabrice Luchini in his comedy drama L’Hermine.

From Turkey comes Emin Alper’s second feature, Abluka (Frenzy). The sophomore filmmaker is best known for his striking 2012 widescreen drama Tepenin Ardi (Beyond the Hill) which was outstanding for its atmospheric ambient soundtrack and searingly authentic performances from Mehmet Ozgur and Reha Ozcan.

Heart of a Dog 1

From across the Atlantic, musician and actor Laurie Anderson will be in Venice with her latest drama, Heart of a Dog (right). Cary Fukunaga has cast Idris Elba in his actioner based on the experiences of a child soldier in the civil war of an unnamed African country: Beasts of No Nation. And where would Venice be without an animation title? Duke Johnson and Charlie Kaufman provide this in the shape of Anomalisa which features the voices of Jennifer Jason-Leigh, David Thewlis and Tom Noonon in a stop-motion film about a man crippled by the mundanity of his own life. Drake Doremus (Breathe In) presents Equals (above left) a sci-fi love story set in a futuristic world where emotions have been eradicated. The US crowd-pleaser, it will star none other than Kristen Stewart, Nicholas Hoult and Bel Powley. Veterans Christopher Plummer, Martin Landau and Bruno Ganz lead in Atom Egoyan’s latest thriller Remember that looks back at a dark chapter of the 20th century through a contempo revenge mission. Australian Sue Brooks is the other female director In Competition with her drama Looking for Grace starring Odessa Young (The Daughter/Locarno) in the lead, supported by Radha Mitchell (Man on Fire) and Tom Roxburghe (Van Helsing).

Behimoth1

On the hispanic front, Mexico’s entry is Desde Alli (Out of There), the debut feature of filmmaker Lorenzo Vigas which stars Alfredo Castro (No). Pablo Trapero’s El Clan offers up a gritty slice of Argentine history in a drama that explores the true story of the Puccio Clan, a family who kidnapped and killed in Buenos Aires during the 80s.

Russian director Alexandr Sokurov’s La Francophonie: The Louvre Under Occupation studies the Second World War “from a humanitarian point of view” but the director is unlikely to attend the festival, according to sources. Israel’s Amos Gitai looks to politics for inspiration in his title: Rabin, The Last Day, and China’s Zhao Lang offers us a documentary Behemoth (left) which looks intriguing.

Danish

And last, but never least, Tom Hooper flies the flag for Britain with The Danish Girl, his screen adaptation loosely based on David Ebershoff’s book about the 1920s Danish artist, Gerda Wegener, whose painting of her husband as a female character led him to pursue the first male to female sex-change and become Lili Elbe. Eddie Redmayne leads a starry cast of Alicia Vikander, Ben Wishaw and Matthias Schoenaerts in this Copenhagen-set drama. MT

72TH VENICE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL | 2 -12 SEPTEMBER 2015 | LIDO DE VENEZIA 

Floating Cinemas | Outdoor Screens | Summer 2015

THE FLOATING CINEMA: EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL | Kings Cross | London NW1

A sci-fi film and events programme exploring life beyond earth |Thursday 17th September 2015 – Sunday 20th September 2015 | Space – the final frontier | The Floating Cinema‘s is back at King’s Cross | The Floating Cinema

ROOFTOP CLUB AT THE BUSSEY BUILDING | 133 Rye Lane | SE15 4ST | 1 May – 30 September

Peckham Rye this summer’s series which kicked off with Dirty Dancing on 6th May 2015. The 5,000 square ft terrace with views all over London is the perfect venue to enjoy your starry experience, accompanied by Mexican street food and a fully licensed bar. The programme includes Reservoir Dogs, Trainspotting and The Graduate. Tickets cost £13

DRIVE-IN FILM CLUB

Park up at Pavilion Car Park, Alexandra Palace and enjoy great films from the comfort of your own car. Food is provided by skating staff while modern classics such as The Theory of Everything, Pulp Fiction and Birdman unspool before you.

Alexandra Palace | Wood Green | N22 7AY | 0207 635 5817 | @ExperienceCine

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ROOFTOP FILM CLUB AT QUEEN OF HOXTON

The summer screening series is back after a successful run last year. Reasonably priced at £14 to include headphones, comfy chairs, blankets, drinks and food with cult classics such as Withnail and I and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

The Queen of Hoxton | 1-5 Curtain Road | EC2A 3JX | from 3 May 2015

ROYAL OPERA HOUSE BIG SCREENS 2015

With the trend for Opera migrating to the London’s silver screens, the Royal Opera House is offering a free summer’s entertainment as the BP Big Screen series which opened with La Boheme on 15 June 2015. Don Giovanni follows on 3rd July and ballet lovers will get a chance to see Romeo and Juliet on 22 September 2015.

Trafalgar Square | WC2N 5DS | 10 June until 22 September 2015

KEW GARDENS POP-UP CINEMA

See flowers and films at the Royal Botanical Gardens this summer with a range of films to suite all tastes. Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel,  Casablanca and Back to the Future. Relax under the stars with a picnic and be transported away to somewhere exotic or otherworldly.

LUNA CINEMA | RICHMOND TW9 3AB | 22 July – 4 September

HOTTUB CINEMA | London | Bristol | Birmingham | Manchester

The first ever venue to combine hot tubs and cinema for the public, this is possibly the silliest summer event imaginable. The event has grown since 2012 and now includes 30 hot tubs, two big screens and bespoke surround sound for a your total viewing pleasure. Find out more at Hottub Cinema this summer.

OUTDOOR CINEMA EVENTS FROM MAY UNTIL SEPTEMBER 2015 

 

 

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Venice | International Critics’ Week | SIC Selection 2015

30.SIC-sigla-6Venice International Film Festival has its own version of Cannes’ Semaine de la Critique, entitled, not surprisingly – SETTIMANA DELLA CRITICA. Celebrating its 30 edition, British veteran actor Peter Mullan will be in Venice to open the festival as a guest of honour and will receive the Saturnia Prize 30 Special Award for ORPHANS (1998) for the best debut feature in the entire history of the Venice Film Critics’ Week:  The selection runs in tandem with the competition films from 2 until 6 September at the famous Lido festival hub – all the films are debuts – as follows:

30.SIC-KALO POTHI-2BAHADUR BHAM – KALO POTHI (THE BLACK HEN) right
Nepal, France, Germany, 86′
Khadka Raj Nepali, Sukra Raj Rokaya, Jit Bahadur Malla, Hansha Khadka

MARTIN BUTLER, BENTLEY DEAN – TANNA
Australia, Vanuatu, 104′
Mungau Dain, Marie Wawa, Marceline Rofit, Chief Charlie Kahla, Albi Nangia, Lingai Kowia, Dadwa Mungau, Linette Yowayin, Kapan Cook, Chief Mikum Tainakou

30.SIC-JIA-1ESTHER MAY CAMPBELL – LIGHT YEARS
United Kingdom, 90′
Beth Orton, Muhammet Uzuner, Zamiera Fuller, Sophie Burton, James Stucky

ANTONIO CAPUANO – BAGNOLI JUNGLE [CLOSING FILM – OUT OF COMPETITION SPECIAL EVENT]
Italy, 100′
Antonio Casagrande, Luigi Attrice, Marco Grieco

PETER MULLAN – ORPHANS (1998) [OPENING FILM – OUT OF COMPETITION SPECIAL EVENT]
United Kingdom, 95′
Gary Lewis, Douglas Henshall, Rosemarie Stevenson, Stephen McCole, Frank Gallagher, Alex Norton

30.SIC-TANNA-1JOÃO SALAVIZA – MONTANHA (MOUNTAIN)
Portugal, France, 88′
David Mourato, Rodrigo Perdigão, Cheyenne Domingues, Maria João Pinho

LIU SHUMIN – JIA (THE FAMILY) right
China, Australia, 280′
Deng Shoufang, Liu Lijie, Liu Xiaomin, Jiang Jiangsheng, Chen Erya, Huang Liqin, Liao Zepeng, Liu Xuju

SENEM TÜZEN – ANA YURDU (MOTHERLAND) right
Turkey, Greece, 98′
Esra Bezen Bilgin, Nihal Koldas, Semih Aydin, Fatma Kisa

30.SIC-MOTHERLAND-4ADRIANO VALERIO – BANAT (THE JOURNEY)
Italy, Romania, Bulgaria, Macedonia, 82′
Edoardo Gabriellini, Elena Radonicich, Piera Degli Esposti, Stefan Velniciuc, Ovanes Torosyan

GREEN ZENG – THE RETURN
Singapore, 80′
Chen Tianxiang, Vincent Tee, Tan Beng Chiak, Gary Tang, Evelyn Wang, Wong Kai Tow, Isaiah Lee, Eugene Tan, Shan Rievan

INTERNATIONAL CRITICS’ WEEK | VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2 – 6 SEPTEMBER 2015

London Spanish Film Festival |23 -30 September 2015

Catalan film director Isabel Coixet will be in London to present her latest film LEARNING TO DRIVE at the London Spanish Film Festival which runs from 23 – 30 September 2015. For cinephiles and lovers of all things Spanish, it’s a chance to catch up on the latest dramas and documentaries from Spain and this year features a competition with Charles Dance and Nickolas Grace leading the Jury.

Isabel Coixet’s recent film Nobody Wants The Night opened the Berlinale 2015 to mixed reviews – a sweeping arctic epic that takes Juliette Binoche to the ends of the Earth and back, it’s a drama that’s visually splendorous, if emotionally and intellectually perfunctory. Learning to Drive is a comedy romance starring Ben Kingsley and Patricia Clarkson.

This year’s Festival venues are the Ciné Lumière in South Kensington and the recently re-opened Regent Street Cinema, a cinema full of history at the very heart of London.

LONDON SPANISH FILM FESTIVAL 24 – 30 SEPTEMBER 2015 | CINE LUMIERE SW7 AND REGENT STREET W1

Britain on Film (2015) |Now available on BFIplayer

M&K_-_BRADFORD_TRAMS One of the earliest ‘home movie’ films shows a family paddling on a Sandown beach in 1902. Another records Lerwick’s Old Norse Viking Festival in 1927. Along with over 2,500 others, these films are now accessible online via the BFI Player, as part of a huge project called BRITAIN ON FILM. They include home movies, documentaries and news footage from Victorian times to as recently as 1980.

“We have these extraordinary, vast collections,” said the BFI’s head curator, Robin Baker. “But until these films have been digitised the only chance of anyone ever seeing them are on the occasional screenings.” Researchers have been working for the past two years to unearthed the treasure trove of our national archive. Using the bfiplayer’s search engine, you can tap into your past: the village, or even road, where you were born, grew up or worked – all available at the touch of a button.

Beautifully elegant women glide past in the Chester Regatta in 1901, Glasgow in 1962, capturing the last days of the trams and the gloomy housing estates of the Gorbels. An early 1970s mother and her seven children living in Britain’s worst slums in Birmingham, and Covent Garden Porters balancing their wares in 1929. Sunshine in Soho depicts the exotically diverse community in the 1956 Soho Carnival and Winston Churchill’s visit to Belfast to argue in favour of Home Rule for Ireland; seems prescient in retrospect.

There is even a 1967 film called Paper Fashion that ironically encourages us to buy paper products almost anything idresses, bikinis, jewellery, plates, cups, underwear: “When you’ve used it, just throw it away….and “end up with the 218,000 tonnes of household tissue alone which was added to our waste heaps last year.”

Danny Kaye is seen in a bizarre visit to the Hertfordshire home of George Bernard Shaw in Hertfordshire and an early cat and dog show records the Nation’s pampered pouches and their equally well-dressed owners during 1901.

So get online at BFIplayer: There could be some wonderful surprises and some emotional ones – like discovering something about your family and friends you didn’t know….so have a wander down memory lane and discover your own piece of cinema history. MT

BFI BRITAIN ON FILM IS NOW AVAILABLE ON BFIPLAYER | The films have been digitised thanks to National Lottery money and the aim is to have 10,000 available within three years.

 

 

Ealing Film Studios: A Retrospective

Man In The White Suit Britain’s best-loved, independent cinema organisation, EALING STUDIOS, produced a dazzling array of comedies and noirish dramas during the 1940s and 50s, adding a rich vein of provocative and subversive films to the British film canon, some of them surprisingly radical in their implications.

The Studios has a unique place in the history of British cinema and has become a byword for a certain type of British whimsy and eccentricity but it also pioneered the underdog spirit, producing some tough, cynical and challenging portraits of British life. During the War years, Ealing produced romantic features that roused the British public during the War effort and the studio’s films boasted a surprising variety of characters from all walks of life. Many of these now rank among the undisputed cult classics of British cinema, among them Dead of NightThe Blue LampThe Cruel SeaThe Man in the White Suit and Passport to Pimlico. There are many other worthwhile features that have been unseen or inaccessible for decades.

IT ALWAYS RAINS ON SUNDAY  (1947)  Set over a single 24-hour period in postwar Bethnal Green, Robert Hamer’s noir-ish thriller was Ealing Studios’ first popular success and it widely considered one of the greatest achievements of British Cinema of the last 1940s.

Ealing was presided over by Michael Balcon, a towering figure in British cinema who was an early supporter of Alfred Hitchcock. He gathered around him a band of talented collaborators including the very influential Braziilian Cavalcanti brothers and directors Charles Crichton, Robert Hamer, Basil Dearden and Alexander McKendrick.  Battling against competition and a certain hostility from the major studios of Rank and the American giant Hammer he successfully ran Ealing for more than 20 years.

Today Ealing Studios is the oldest working film studio in the world and the only British studio that produces and distributes feature films as well as providing facilities. It recently joined forces with leading film financier Prescience, co-formed in 2005 by Paul Brett and Tim Smith, to create the new one-stop international sales company ‘Ealing Metro’.  Prescience uniquely positions Ealing Metro as an international sales and distribution company that can deliver an integrated solution for filmmakers.  Through Prescience and its Aegis Film Fund, Ealing Metro works with independent producers to help develop and finance product so that, along with Ealing Studios’ own productions, it can market and sell a unique and growing slate in the international marketplace.

The theme of Ealing: Light & Dark is a rich and revealing one. Even the renowned comedies have a dark side within them: Kind Hearts and Coronets is a wittily immoral tale of a serial killer in pursuit of a dukedom; Whisky Galore! has a mischievous approach to law and order as a Scottish island population attempt to beat the Customs men to the free whisky washed ashore from a shipwreck.  

Part of the enduring appeal of Ealing is its witty challenging of authority in films such as Passport to Pimlico and The Lavender Hill Mob, which touched a nerve with audiences eager for social and political change faced with the austerity of the immediate post-war era.

Beyond the apparent frothy entertainment, Ealing’s darker side dares to show wartime failures, imagine the threat of invasion or to contemplate the unsavoury after-effects of the war in the subtly supernatural The Ship That Died of Shame or the European noir Cage of Gold, in which Jean Simmons is lured by the charms of an homme fatal. Another pan-European story, Secret People (featuring an early appearance for Audrey Hepburn), contemplates the ethics of assassination, while in Frieda, Mai Zetterling faces anti-German prejudice in a small English town.

The posters for Ealing Studios films feature artwork by many of the era’s greatest artists including John Piper, Edward Bawden, Eric Ravilious, Edward Ardizzone and Mervyn Peake, while the acting talent is a roll-call of many of Britain’s greatest performers, among them Alec Guinness, Stanley Holloway, Margaret Rutherford, Joan Greenwood, Dennis Price, Jean Simmons, Googie Withers, Michael Redgave, John Mills, Thora Hird, Diana Dors, James Fox, Virginia McKenna, Herbert Lom, Maggie Smith, Jack Warner, Alastair Sim, Will Hay and many more.

E A L I N G   F I L M   N O I R

NEXT OF KIN

UK 1942. Dir Thorold Dickinson. With Mervyn Johns, Guy Mas, Basil Radford,

Nova Pilbeam, Thora Hird. 102min

Ealing’s first major artistic triumph for the war effort, Next of Kin is a cautionary tale about careless talk and the scourge of fifth columnists at large in the UK. The film’s sober tone marked a change in war propaganda for Ealing, whose earlier blind celebration of military prowess gives way to an authentic depiction of the dangers and sacrifices faced by the wartime nation. Plus All Hands (UK 1941. Dir John Paddy Carstairs. 9min) a MoI short that warns of the dangers of careless talk in the navy.

WENT THE DAY WELL? UK 1942.

Dir Alberto Cavalcanti. With Leslie Banks, Basil Sydney, Frank Lawton, Elizabeth Allan. 93min. PG

In the middle of World War II  Cavalcanti provocatively imagined a postwar England in which the failure of the threatened German invasion could be safely seen in flashback, thanks to the resourceful villagers of Bramley End. Once the ostensibly British troops in their village are revealed as Nazis, and the local squire as a fifth columnist, the community unites and fights back with startling ferocity. A call to arms as persuasive as Powell and Pressburger’s The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp.

DEAD OF NIGHT

UK 1945. Dir Alberto Cavalcanti. With Googie Withers, Mervyn Johns, Michael Ralph, Michael Redgrave. 102min

Straying from more familiar realist fare, Dead of Night was Ealing’s only venture into the horror genre. The film recounts five supernatural tales, held together by a linking story which itself has a creepy conclusion – a forerunner to the anthology films that flourished in the early 1970s. The film’s nightmarish world of haunted mirrors and ghostly hearses lingers long after the closing credits, with Michael Redgrave’s performance as a crazed ventriloquist proving particularly unsettling.

PINK STRING AND SEALING WAX

UK 1945. Dir Robert Hamer. With Googie Withers, Mervyn Johns, Gordon Jackson, Sally Ann Howes. 89min. PG

Two worlds collide in this melodrama set in Victorian Brighton: a repressive household, run by a tyrannical chemist, and a sleazy tavern, presided over by a passionate landlady. The chemist’s son (Jackson) finds himself, understandably enough, in thrall to the landlady (Withers). His naïve passion and rebellious feelings against his father lead him into a murder plot from which he barely escapes, prompting a very equivocal happy ending.

FRIEDA

UK 1947. Dir. Basil Dearden. With David Farrar, Glynis Johns, Mai Zetterling, Flor Robson. 98min. PG

Telling the story of a family trying to make sense of a postwar world, Frieda asks the question, ‘Does a good German exist?’ There isn’t one simple answer but many, represented by the varying reactions of the inhabitants of the English village of Denfield when a German refugee arrives as the wife of one of their war heroes. In her first British film, Zetterling portrays Frieda sympathetically but the film allows the audience to reach its own conclusion over her individual responsibility for the horrors of war.

SARABAND FOR DEAD LOVERS

UK 1948. Dir Basil Dearden. With Joan Greenwood, Stewart Granger, Peter Bull,Flora Robson. 96min. U

In this rare excursion for Ealing into historical drama, Bull and Greenwood are perfectly cast as the dissolute Prince George-Louis and his reluctant bride Sophie-Dorothea. Shooting in colour for the first time allowed the studio to give full rein to the period costumes and sets (the latter were nominated for an Oscar). The design provides an evocative backdrop to the princess’s tragic story. As her lover, Granger shows why he was soon poached by Hollywood, his stature and looks making him the perfect screen hero.

WHISKY GALORE!

UK 1949. With Basil Radford, Joan Greenwood, Wylie Watson, Bruce Seaton,

Gordon Jackson. 82min. PG

Mackendrick’s glorious debut was the second of the trio of 1949 films that defined Ealing Comedy. When the whisky-parched Todday islanders spy salvation in the form of a shipwreck and 50,000 contraband cases, first they must outwit the morally upstanding English home guard Captain Waggett. One in the eye for puritan English priggishness and a joyous salute to the transformative power of a ‘wee dram’ – or ‘the longest unsponsoredadvertisement ever to reach cinema screens the world over,’ as producer Monja Danischewsky put it.

KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS

UK 1949. Dir Robert Hamer. With Dennis Price, Alec Guinness, Joan Greenwood,

Valerie Hobson. 106min. U

Even Hitchcock couldn’t make murder this much fun. Hamer’s ageless classic challenges The Ladykillers for the title of Ealing’s blackest comedy (call it a score draw, though Kind Hearts has the higher body count). Near perfect script and direction are crowned by wondrous performances. History tends to remember Guinness’s virtuoso turn as all seven members of the lofty, aristocratic D’Ascoynes. But it’s really Price’s film: as the D’Ascoynes’ ruthless nemesis Louis he gives us surely the screen’s wittiest and most charming psychopath.

CAGE OF GOLD

UK 1950. Dir Basil Dearden. With Jean Simmons, David Farrer, James Donald,

Herbert Lom. 83min. PG

Simmons’s only film for Ealing is an unfairly neglected slice of Euro-noir, built upon the (apparently) un-Ealing foundations of passion, infidelity and blackmail. Simmons is a nice, middle-class girl with a nice, steady fiancé who is enticed to the dark side by the return of an old flame. The film flits between cosy suburbia and a vivid Parisian demi-monde, and if the conclusion inevitably opts for safety, the alternative is painted with relish, and Farrer, as ever, makes an appealing rogue.

THE MAN IN THE WHITE SUIT

UK 1951. Dir. Alexander McKendrick. With Alec Guinness, Joan Greenwood, Cecil Parker, Michael Gough,Ernest Thesiger. 85min. U

Mackendrick’s plague-on-all-your houses industrial satire may be the most cynical Ealing film of all. Guinness delivers his most complex comic performance as the unworldly genius Sidney, whose invention of an indestructible, dirt-proof fabric terrifies textile barons and trade unions alike. A parable of the inexorability of technological progress and the tyranny of vested interests – with some sly sexual politics thrown in – it’s as acerbic a piece of social commentary as ever escaped from Ealing.

SECRET PEOPLE

UK 1952. Dir Thorold Dickinson. With Valentina Cortese, Serge Reggiani, Charles

Goldner. 96min. PG

An untypical Ealing film, drawing on Dickinson’s own Spanish Civil War experiences. Maria (Cortese), orphaned in London, is a hesitant revolutionary enlisted by her lover to  assassinate her country’s fascist leader, the man responsible for her father’s death. Compelling and strikingly inventive, Secret People upset contemporary critics for its  apparent indecision, but today it seems an intriguing study of a moral dilemma, with engaging performances from its Italian leads and a notable early role for young Audrey Hepburn.

MANDY

UK 1952. With Phyllis Calvert, Jack Hawkins, Terence Morgan, Mandy Miller,

Edward Chapman. 93min. PG

In this rare Ealing tearjerker, Calvert and Morgan play a couple who disagree about how best to help their deaf child; their relationship is strained further when they become pawns in a political situation at a special school. The story is presented largely from the female point of view and Calvert gives an exceptionally moving performance as the mother torn between her husband and her child. Mandy never succumbs to mawkishness, approaching the subject with sensitivity and reason.

THE CRUEL SEA

UK 1952. Dir Charles Frend. With Virginia McKenna, Stanley Baker. 126min

The ‘Battle of the Atlantic’, as experienced by the captain and first

lieutenant of an anti-submarine convoy escort. Based on Nicholas

Monsarrat’s novel, Ealing’s most popular war film celebrates the commitment and bravery of the British naval forces but isn’t afraid to engage with the harsh realities of combat. Jack Hawkins and Donald Sinden lend British grit to the military spectacle and claustrophobic tension, depicting those men shaped and permanently shadowed by the war.

THE MAGGIE

UK 1954. With Paul Douglas, Alex Mackenzie, Abe Barker, Tommy Kearins,

Hubert Gregg. 92min. U

An unsentimental counterpart to Ealing’s The Titfield Thunderbolt, with the latter’s vintage steam train crewed by high-spirited amateurs replaced by a ramshackle ‘puffer’ boat and its gnarly old skipper. The devious MacTaggart cheats his way to the commission to transport a US businessman’s cargo – the first in a series of indignities heaped on his hapless client. The Maggie pits wealth and modernity against heritage and intransigence in a gleeful subversion of Ealing’s ‘small versus big’ convention.

THE SHIP THAT DIED OF SHAME

UK 1955. Dir Basil Dearden. With George Baker, Richard Attenborough, Bill Owen,

Virginia McKenna. 95min

Director Basil Dearden combines sharp thrills with loose social commentary in this tale of Motor Gun Boat 1087 and her once-celebrated officers now turned smugglers. Ealing’s occasional engagement with the supernatural and nostalgia for the war is spun into one of the studio’s darkest and best final films. Richard Attenborough is on form as a crooked chancer making the best out of the bleak social realities of postwar Britain.

 NOWWHERE TO GO

UK 1958. Dir Seth Holt. With George Nader, Maggie Smith, Bernard Lee, Bessie

Love. 97min. U

A rare, late excursion into noir for Ealing Studios, scripted by first-time director Holt and critic Ken Tynan. A good-looking ex-con (Nader) coolly robs an old lady of her coin collection, anticipating prison, but also the later recovery of the proceeds. Nothing proves that simple and he discovers the truth of the film’s title. Stylish low-key cinematography, a jazz score and Maggie Smith’s debut performance add to the pleasure.

EALING DRAMAS 

THERE AIN’T NO JUSTICE

UK 1939. Dir Penrose Tennyson. With James Hanley, Edward Rigby, Edward Chapman, Mary Clare. 81 min

An aspiring boxer hopes to transcend humble origins and build a name for himself, but comes up against the corruption of the sporting establishment. ‘The film that begs to differ’, announced the publicity for this first film by Ealing’s youngest director, the gifted 25-year-old Pen Tennyson, great-grandson of Lord Alfred. It’s a striking departure from the shallow representation of working-class life in 1930s British films, and the first film to set out recognisably Ealing values: decency, courage and an optimistic faith in humanity and community.

CHEER BOYS CHEER

UK 1939. Dir Walter Forde. With Edmund Gwenn, Peter Coke, Nova  Pilbeam,  84 min.

An ‘Ealing comedy’ before its time? Venerable family brewery Greenleaf finds itself under threat from monopolistic industry titan Ironside. But with an unlikely ally in Ironside’s lovelorn scion, plucky little Greenleaf mounts a courageous fightback. Predating Passport to Pimlico and its comic cohort by a decade, this half-forgotten film was an almost uncanny premonition of Ealing delights to come, in its evocation of community, gently progressive values and ‘small v. big’ dynamic. A missing link in the Ealing story, then, but thanks to comedy veteran Forde, a joyous one.

THE BELLS GO DOWN

UK 1943. Dir Basil Dearden. With Philip Friend, Tommy Trinder, James Mason, Mervyn Johns. 90 min.

“In the East End they say London isn’t a town, it’s a group of villages,” begins Dearden’s tribute to the intrepid firefighters confronting the Luftwaffe’s nightly raids. Village London is a very Ealing conception: the vast, anonymous city reduced to a more human scale. But The Bells Go Down is no mere sentimental homily. Its community has its share of divisions, petty squabbles and criminality, but these fade in the face of a common enemy and the stoic endurance of routine tragedy. An inspiring companion piece to Humphrey Jennings’ Fires Were Started.

SAN DEMETRIO LONDON

UK 1943. Dir Charles Frend. With Ralph Michael, Walter Fitzgerald, Robert Beatty, Gordon Jackson. 104 min.

In 1940 the oil tanker San Demetrio, half torn apart by U-boat torpedoes but still somehow afloat, was valiantly rescued by a handful of its crew and steered home through treacherous Atlantic waters. Frend’s admirable second feature takes a true story of wartime heroism and, without sensationalism or triumphalism, shapes it into something approaching national myth (the damaged but defiant ship stands for Britain, the crew a people united by determination, courage and democratic values). It’s Ealing’s most potent and inspiring fusion of propaganda, documentary and people’s war ideals.

THEY CAME TO A CITY

UK 1944. Dir Basil Dearden. With Googie Withers, John Clements, Raymond Huntley, Renée Gadd. 78 min.

This most unusual of Ealing’s features has long been hard to see and is now in a new digital transfer. A fantastical allegory from the pen of J.B. Priestley, it transports nine disparate Britons to a mysterious city. What they find there is, according to their class and disposition, either an earthly paradise of peace and equality or a hell starved of ambition and riches. A film once dismissed as naïve and uncinematic, it has more recently been viewed as a striking expression of its era’s most utopian impulse.

THE BLUE LAMP

UK 1950. Dir Basil Dearden. With Jack Warner, Dirk Bogarde, James Hanley, Peggy Evans. 82 min.

Ealing’s defining contribution to the police procedural genre – with ex-policeman T.E.B. Clarke’s script lending authenticity – sits on the border between the studio’s dark and light sides. There’s tragedy at its core, and a portrait of snarling, lawless youth (a mesmerising young Dirk Bogarde) that’s tough for its time, not least for Ealing. But if it takes us to dark places, its conclusion expresses an irrepressibly optimistic and comforting vision of the ability of society to overcome its most hostile elements.

THE PROUD VALLEY

UK 1940. Dir Pen Tennyson. With Paul Robeson, Simon Lack, Edward Chapman, Janet Johnson. 77 min.

An American seaman is welcomed into a Welsh mining village and bolsters a community facing industrial decline and the tremors of war.  Paul Robeson brings warmth, integrity and powerful bass tones to his role as David Goliath, the figure around whom the struggling miners unite and discover their own proud voices.  Pen Tennyson directs this simple story with compassion, beauty and dignity to make The Proud Valley one of the most satisfying of early Balcon-era Ealing. 

THE HALFWAY HOUSE

UK 1944. Dir Basil Dearden. With Mervyn Johns, Francoise Rosay, Glynis Johns, Esmond Knight. 96 min.

Towards the end of the war, Ealing films took a positive turn and The Halfway House uses a ghostly setting to look towards a future in which wartime problems such as black marketeering, broken relationships and mourning for lost ones are left behind. A disparate group of people find themselves at a remote inn in the Welsh valleys which turns out not to be quite what it seems. A fine ensemble cast balances the film’s humour with its more serious undertones and the supernatural atmosphere is reinforced by a haunting score.

THE OVERLANDERS

UK 1946. Dir Harry Watt. 

With Chips Rafferty, Daphne Campbell, John Fernside, John Nugent Hayward, Peter Pagan. 91 min.

A band of Australian drovers, led by Dan McAlpine (Chips Rafferty), drive 1000 cattle across the harsh Northern Territory to fresh pastures in Brisbane. Ealing’s first Australian production is a stellar tribute to the country’s WWII scorched earth defence against the Japanese.  Rafferty embraces the sprit of defiance that characterised a nation under threat of invasion, while director Harry Watt brings a documentary sensibility that celebrates the sheer ambition and vast achievement of the drive.

HUE AND CRY

UK 1946. Dir Charles Crichton. With Harry Fowler, Jack Warner, Alastair Sim 82 min  Script: T E B Clarke

In the first of the EALING COMEDIES, Harry Fowler leads the ‘Blood and Thunder Boys’, a group of adolescents who discover their favourite boys-own magazine is being used by criminals to plan robberies. Largely acknowledged as the first in Ealing’s cycle of post-war comedies, Hue and Cry gives us a joyfully chaotic of the kind of English eccentrics which would come to characterise the later films.  Alistair Sim and Jack Warner are the old hands whose exaggerated performances lead a cast of mostly newcomers.

SCOTT OF THE ANTARCTIC
UK 1948. Dir Charles Frend. With John Mills, Kenneth More, John Gregson, James Roberston Justice. 109 min.

Michael Balcon’s self-confessed preference was for tales of adventure and derring-do and Scott fits the bill perfectly. The British spirit of endeavour and determination, even to the point of foolhardiness, pervades the film, as Scott’s expedition gets ever closer to failure. Filming in Technicolor was an interesting choice given the bleak locations but the scenery is captured exquisitely and offers a dramatic backdrop to the exploits of the party. Vaughan Williams’ score heightens the drama so poignantly enacted by Mills and the rest of the sterling cast.

PASSPORT TO PIMLICO

UK 1949. Dir Henry Cornelius. With Stanley Holloway, Margaret Rutherford, Jane Hylton, Paul Dupuis. 84 min.

A group of Pimlico residents discover that they are in fact citizens of the Duchy of Burgundy, a change of nationality that offers them the opportunity to dodge post-war strictures. Tearing up their ration books, they embark on self-governance but soon find that, despite all its problems, Blighty is the best place to be. Cornelius’s only directing credit for Ealing (though he went on to success with Genevieve), Passport to Pimlico is perhaps the studio’s most joyous celebration of Britishness.

THE MAGNET

UK 1950. Dir Charles Frend. With William Fox, Stephen Murray, Kay Walsh, Meredith Edwards. 79 min.

James Fox, (credited here as William) plays Johnny, a 10-year-old who tricks a younger boy into giving him a toy magnet.  Feeling guilty over his deception Johnny anonymously offers the magnet to auction, but when it raises raise enough funds to buy a life saving piece of hospital equipment he is nowhere to be found.  A comedy of childhood errors, The Magnet pokes fun at a cosy adult world made insensible by the fantasies of some of its younger  inhabitants.  Ealing regulars Gladys Henson, Thora Hird and a disguised James Robertson Justice provide support. 

 THE LADYKILLERS

UK 1955. With Alec Guinness, Herbert Lom, Cecil Parker, Peter Sellers, Danny

Green, Katie Johnson. 97min. U

Everyone’s favourite knockabout black comedy caper – or a political fable with the ‘ladykillers’ as the incoming post-war Labour government and the little old ladies as the obstacles of Conservative tradition? Beyond any doubt The Ladykillers is the last great Ealing comedy, and the studio’s final production before its sale to the BBC.American screenwriter William Rose apparently dreamed up the plot overnight, but casting, script, production design, and the Technicolor camerawork combine effortlessly for the blackest of farces.

Rivalling Kind Hearts and Coronets for the gleeful blackness of its humour. Posing as an amateur string quintet while planning a robbery at Kings Cross, an ill-assorted group of crooks led by the sinister Professor Marcus (Guinness) rent rooms from a sweet little old lady (Johnson). Despite a few setbacks, the Professor’s plan works superbly. But there’s one factor he hasn’t allowed for… At 77, veteran bit-part player Johnson all but walks off with the film.

THE LAVENDER HILL MOB
 UK 1951. Dir Charles Crichton. With Alec Guinness, Stanley Holloway, Sidney James, Alfie Bass. 78 min.

Ealing’s theme of the ‘little man fighting back’ finds its culmination here, as upstanding citizens Guinness and Holloway turn to crime, hooking up with two small time crooks to form a gang of unlikely gold smugglers. The heroes’ dreams of freeing themselves from wage slavery in a grey, bombed out London have us rooting for them against the inept police pursuit. Writer T. E. B. Clarke’s comic observations are spot on; he creates a postwar Britain in which demure-looking little old ladies devour American detective fiction with relish.

THE TITFIELD THUNDERBOLT

UK 1952. Dir Charles Crichton. With Stanley Holloway, George Relph, John Gregson, Hugh Griffith, Sid James. 87 min.

The commuters of Titfield form an amateur rail company when they discover that their local branch line is to close.  Despite physical opposition from a rival bus company, the train enthusiasts unite behind their eccentric village vicar (Relph) and his affable drunk benefactor (Holloway), to bumble their way to an operators licence.  Perhaps the archetype of ‘Ealing Light’ Crichton’s gentle and nostalgic film was also the studio’s first made in colour.

Many of these films are available on DVD/Blu atand HUE and CRY, THE LADYKILLERS, THE MAGNET are re-released by STUDIO CANAL in June\July 2015

 


The Goob (2014) Interview with Guy Myhill

Here Guy Myhill talks about making THE GOOB, the first of his Norfolk-set trilogy

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AGNÈS VARDA | Honorary Palme d’Or | Cannes 2015

HONORARY PALME D’OR FOR AGNÈS VARDA

The Brussel’s born French filmmaker Agnès Varda became the first woman to be honoured by the Festival in Cannes on 24. May 2015 with an Honorary Palme d’Or, reserved for directors who have not won a Golden Palme, but whose life’s work deserves this recognition.

Born in 1928, Varda studied at the “Écoles des Beaux Arts” and, whilst living in Paris, met her husband Jacques Démy, also a filmmaker; the couple had a son, Mathieu, who is also a director. Rosalie, Varda’s daughter from her relationship with the actor Antoine Bourseilier (who starred in her breakthrough film Cleo from 5 to 7), is a custom designer and worked on Godard’s Passion (1982).

Varda, whilst being part of the Nouvelle Vague, had strong connections with the “Rive Gauche” cinema movement, which was strongly tied to the “Nouveau Roman” group of Robbe-Grillet, Chris Marker, Alain Resnais and Margarete Duras. Resnais would edit Varda’s debut film La Pointe Courte (1954), a mixture of fiction and documentary. Cleo from 5 to 7 (1961), about a singer who undergoes a biopsy for cancer, is about coming to terms with one’s mortality, a common theme in all Varda films.

After winning the “Golden Lion” in Venice 1985 for Vagabond, about a woman tramp, brilliantly acted by Sandrine Bonnaire, Varda spend the last years of the decade with her husband, Démy being struck by a rare illness, caused by cells ageing prematurely, leading to death. Just before Démy’s demise in 1990, Varda finished Jacquot de Nantes, a semi-autobiographical film about her husband’s childhood in Nantes. Her documentary The Beaches of Agnès won the César award in in 2009.

Varda’s strong personality enabled her to survive as the only woman director of the Nouvelle Vague. It is no accident that her feminism would dominate her work, as in La Bonheur (1965). Varda’s photographic background produces often still images in her films, often mixing them with moving images. She is still influenced by writers like Nathalie Sarraute and continues to use the unity of documentation and fiction of her debut La Pointe Courte, which she filmed in a small fishing village, for a terminally ill friend who was unable to visit anymore. MT

AGNES VARDA | 30 May 1928 | HONORARY PALME D’OR | CANNES 2015

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Samantha Fuller | Filmmaker | A Fuller Life (2014)

A FULLER LIFE, is Samantha Fuller’s tribute to her father, the iconoclastic film director Sam Fuller (1912-1997. Matthew Turner met her to discuss her debut film, which she also wrote and produced.

Samantha Fuller: Well it’s a very personal project. My father had me at the age of sixty three and I’m his first born child, and he always led me on to believe he’d live until he was a hundred and we’d have a big party for his centennial. Well he died at the age of eighty five and in 2012, which was the year he was born in 1912, it was the centennial and I thought, ‘Oh this is the year we’d be having the big party he was talking about and I’m going to have one. Well I’m not just going to have friends over for a drink, I’m not going to do a YouTube video. I want to do something really special.’ So, somehow I thought, ‘Oh, I have this wonderful autobiography he left us with’ and I left his beautiful office intact since the day he had passed. Everything is left in place, which makes for a great set and so the idea came to kind of tell his life story along with friends and acquaintances who knew him and to tell his story within his office, since he wouldn’t be present. The closest thing I could get to having him present was to be having his words spoken and film it in his office, and so that’s really how the idea came about.

So it was always going to be that way? You never considered doing a documentary where you interview journalists and film historians as well?

Samantha Fuller: No, but what I did do with the actors is after they did their reading and we had our last take, I kept the camera rolling and asked them to tell me a personal story about my father, which will be on the special features for the DVD. So there’s like a half-hour bonus doc with stories about Sam. But what I did not want to do is do a ‘Sam Praise’ documentary, where everyone’s just talking about their wonderful experience with him and ‘Sam, Sam, Sam’. I really wanted to tell his story – my father was a great story-teller, but I thought this story just as great as the stories he would tell, and he was pretty modest to not want to tell his life himself. Actually, we had to push him to write this autobiography towards the end of his life – he was reluctant to do so because he was always interested in other people’s stories and in doing research, you know, he came from a journalistic background, so he really loved to, like explore other other stories. And his own didn’t really matter to him as much. But to me, it mattered a lot, because after what he had lived through and such a life-span and such a full life, in the sense that many people don’t have these three careers that he had – there’s the journalism and the military and in the film industry – he had such a full life and he had such a positive soul and positive energy, I really wanted to pass that message along. That was my mission, is to kind of share that essence with an audience and to leave it on a very positive tone.

How long was the process of sorting through the archive?

Samantha Fuller: That was really what my mother had warned me when I told her I was going to make this film and I was going to invite our friends to read and keep their narrative, just cut back to them a few times and use all the archive material. She said, ‘You know it’s a lot more complicated than you may imagine but I’m always up for a challenge and I thought, ‘Now’s the time to do it – if I don’t use his archive now, when would it be used?’ I mean, he left me with a tremendous room – what a legacy. It’s so rich, it’s so fun to explore. And I know it won’t be around forever. I’ve been selfishly hanging on to it. The Academy and universities have asked me to donate this material, which I’ll happily do eventually, but for now it’s been, in a way, a shrine for me, to go in that office with the cigar in the tray. It still smells like my father in there and you just feel his spirit alive, that I could not bear to imagine that room empty. Besides, it’s a wonderful hobby to just snoop around in there and pick up a book and, you know… But I never thought of doing this professionally and, yeah, scanning and fact checking to make sure everything’s right. Yeah, it is very time consuming. It took about a year to do and it’s so strange how things happen because during the shoot I was making room for the sound man under the desk and I came across a box that I’d never opened before and in that box were 103 reels of 16mm film that were unlabelled and I brought them down to the Academy and manually wound through them. And what I found on them was just mind blowing, it’s almost like my father said, ‘Oh, so you want to do this now? You’d better be using this material’, because it was the footage he shot during World War Two, it was him on location scouts for films in the ’50s and it was just the perfect, perfect material, fitting to this project. So things just happened like this, and again, it was amazing.

afl_wim_wenders

Was there a point when you called your Mum and you were like, ‘Yeah, you were right, this is taking forever…’>

Samantha Fuller: Actually, I was like, ‘You were right, but I’m loving it and I want to do more’, and actually, at the end of the documentary my mother said, ‘So, when are you doing one about me? [laughs]

You said that the cast were all friends and acquaintances – obviously, they all had connections to Sam – so were they easy to approach then, in that case? Did everybody want to be involved?

Samantha Fuller: Absolutely. Everyone was easy to approach – I mean there were only two that I hadn’t been close to, really – it was the first and the last reader, which is James Franco and Willy Friedkin. But, you know, we have connections to them. They’re both very familiar with my father’s work and they were both very suited to read those certain parts. There was a very subtle casting to it – I can kind of go through a few highlights, which is so, you know, the early years of my father’s life where he’s ready to explore everything and he has such an appetite for life and art in all forms, and that reminded me a lot of James Franco and I knew that James Franco had been up to our house right at the beginning of his career. We had a friend staying with us who had auditioned him to be in a film and he came up to our home and he was very impressed by being at Sam Fuller’s home and he knew all about his life, and knew all about his films and I thought he’d also attract a younger audience appeal, because I do want this message to get through to the younger generation as well. So I thought he was very fitting for the opening part, a young Sam. And then skip through, I mean everyone has a reason. Jennifer Beals, even though she’s a woman, she played a journalist and my father played her editor in a French film called The Madonna and the Dragon, and so I thought she would be great to read the crime reporter dealing with her editor. And everybody could relate to the part that I gave them to read.

I spotted, obviously, the war connection stuff –

Samantha Fuller: With The Big Red One boys reading The Big Red One experience. Tim Roth, he reads D-Day, he departs from England, but also his grandfather was in World War Two, so he had that personal connection. Joe Dante, he’s Italian so he read the Sicilian part [laughs]. You know, it’s very subtle, but it’s there, they could relate to it. Monte Hellman, he had been to the camps, we went to the Czech Republic and visited the camps that my father had been to – Falkenau. We were together in Czech Republic and we visited the camps, so he could really relate to that segment. Obviously, Wim Wenders, for being German, I thought it would be fun for him to read the Marlene Dietrich part. You know, it’s a very subtle casting, nothing straightforward, but it’s there and it made for the readers to enjoy the thing they were reading a lot more.

So how did James Franco and Billy Friedkin get involved, then? Did you approach them?q

Samantha Fuller: Yeah, absolutely. It was Nicholas Ray’s widow, Susan Ray, who put me in touch with James Franco and Billy Friedkin, somehow we had his email. With my mother. And he had just finished writing his autobiography, which is fabulous. The Friedkin Connection is really great and so he could relate to us wanting to do a project based on my father’s autobiography. Plus, he’s such a diverse filmmaker, just like my father in that sense, that he has the best words, I think, to finish off, which is, ‘Let yourselves be heard’. And he has been such a mentor and such an inspiration to filmmakers, like my father, I thought that would be the perfect part for him to read.

Everybody I’ve spoken to that’s seen the film has said the same thing, ‘I must go out and find that book. So everybody’s trawling second-hand bookshops, as we speak.’

Samantha Fuller: Oh yeah, well it’s on Amazon. And I’m really hoping, it’s a project, I would like to do a mini-series, based on his life, because now cable and Netflix, they do these kind of one season series and my father had such an amazing historical background in his life, throughout the Great Depression, prohibition era and World War Two, France in the ’60s, I mean, it’s just a beautiful historical piece.

Has there been any thought to doing a biopic?

Samantha Fuller: No, but I would love to do that. I think it would be a little short to condense it all in a movie. That’s why I think a mini-series would be great, a mini-series would be fantastic. So, yeah, why not? It all starts – you get the man, the book, the doc and then you can do the mini-series. It’s leading there, you know?

Do you have a favourite of your father’s films?

Samantha Fuller: Well, you know, I always, when I get asked that question I can never answer because I feel it would be like discriminating towards a sibling, you know, I always feel like they’re his other children and I love some more on some days and some more on other days. But there are a certain ones that I religiously watch. Of course, The Big Red One is huge in our lives, because it’s directly his autobiography and it’s a way I get to see what he had lived through. I was a child when he made that film and I saw him re-live his war experience and it was very cathartic, but at the same time it was it was very traumatic to re-live through that and, you know, to be raised by a veteran who had to kill in order to live is just very difficult – I really have a strong sensibility towards that film. And by the way, we kept all his weapons – we have his helmet, his M1, and I have his binoculars, I have everything and I can feel it, I can put his pack on and hold his M1 and just to think what he had lived through, it was always mind boggling. And the music, I love everything about The Big Red One. We stayed very close friends with all the actors, we had Big Red One reunions, I mean it’s like that, it’s really close to my heart. But also White Dog is very close to my heart, because, once again, there too, I was part of that production as a child, it changed – it impacted our lives directly…

Are you in it?

afl_james_franco

Samantha Fuller: Yes, I’m in it, I have the one line, actually, which is pretty strong. It’s, ‘Where’s my dog?’ The little girl comes knocking, looking for her dog with her grandpa, and this killer four-legged time bomb belongs to this sweet little girl. And I loved being on that set – we shot it right in our neighborhood and there were a lot of dogs, there were five dogs playing this one dog, so I got to play with all the dogs and I got to go to the shoot every day. It was a great experience, you know? It was really my first strong memories of being on a set – great, great, lovely cast and crew, it was just really a lot of fun and it – you know, the film was very misunderstood – it was not released at the time – you know the story – and it really affected our lives personally because it led us to move to France where my father went on to making several other films and we never came back to the States till the end of his life, so that film literally impacted our family life, in the sense that we just wound up in an apartment in Paris a year later. That was very unexpected. And he was planning to stay in Hollywood after the Big Red One and White Dog and keep making pictures – there’s plenty of scripts piled up in his office. I have a lifetime of work ahead of me, because I’m very blessed – both of my parents are fabulous writers and I have great material and a lot of it has not been made. So I’m on a mission to get them made now.

Oh, fantastic. That was one of the questions I was going to ask. It’s mentioned in the film that there are these piles of unproduced scripts [that he planned to make]. So are you going to make them yourself or are you going to sell them to other directors?

Samantha Fuller: I’m still – I haven’t read them all. You know, I’m not that possessive of them, I just think it’s such a shame to leave them on the shelf, because they’re all wonderful, and their historical contents, they’re all very educational. The dialogue’s tight, they’re very well written and they’re timeless. My father had this notion of making timeless films somehow, that even though they relate to a certain period of history, it’s something that you can make any time. So, absolutely. Absolutely. It’s a matter of just finding the right circuit to get them into.

Is there a particular that you’re thinking of, that you would start with?

Samantha Fuller: Yeah. I’m actually onto one right now, it’s called Snug Harbor. It was the first pick of the litter. For some reason, I was compelled to that one. I’m calling it – my pitch is that ‘It’s The Godfather of C.S.I.’ – it’s the beginning of the forensic in the homicide department in New York in the ’40s.

That would be great! Done as a period thriller, that would be brilliant…

Samantha Fuller: It is, it is. It’s kind of to revive the film noir spirit. It’s very layered. There’s a lot going on in the film and a huge, really fun cast in there and the dialogue is so clever and so tight, I wouldn’t change a period in there. And it’s ready to shoot – when he wrote several of his scripts, he already had the vision and I know it’s not done usually, but you have over-the-shoulder shots, pans, close ups, medium shots – he writes it all in there!

He writes shooting scripts!

Samantha Fuller: So it’s already directed, so I would love to get this one done. It’s really right, it’s really ready to go.

Well, I hope that works – I hope you pull that off.

Samantha Fuller: Yeah. Yeah. And there’s plenty more. There’s two – we have historical pieces, just coming out – he was fascinated by history, so he loved to set his stories in a Civil War context or any kind of historical context, so it’s semi-educational too.

Did you cut anything out that you were sorry to see go?

Samantha Fuller: Yeah, I did. There was a longer version. There are some stories that I had to leave out because then some readers would have been longer than others and I wanted to keep it kind of at an even pace. And it’s done in twelve segments – even though there’s fifteen actors, the four guys from The Big Red One they’re reading one segment and twelve is our lucky number. You know, he was born in 1912, on August 12th, twelve’s nice and even – I don’t know, it felt like I I didn’t want to mess with that number, so I stuck with that. But yeah, I could have made a three hour doc easily, easily. The reason I kept it at 80 minutes is I wanted it to be tight and I wanted to leave people wanting more, I wanted to leave them with wanting to go get that book and read – it’s a six hundred page book – and watch his movies.

Is there a particular thing you did cut out?

Samantha Fuller: Oh yeah. Yeah. It did hurt. One of my favorite parts is in the Bill Duke segment, actually, that ran a little long. He talked about how my father met Al Capone and Cicero and how they had a very close encounter. But I think I’ll put that on the special features on the DVD. And also when we finished reading each segment, we kept the camera rolling and I improvised, I asked every reader to give me a personal story about my father, so that will be another bonus feature on the DVD. and some of them are very funny stories. So it’s really fun, it’s about half an hour.

I really loved the cartoons – I didn’t know he was a cartoonist.

Samantha Fuller: The cartoons, I have a box full of cartoons and all the war correspondence, I mean I have a lifelong mission here to get this cleaned up right. You know, my father did not have a secretary. So the organization is done in his own way – he was organized, but I really want to get this all figured out and it’s really fascinating, I’m enjoying the process. I’m a glass artist by trade, I’ve been doing it for fifteen years, but you know, honestly it’s physically exhausting being a glass artist and I feel carpal tunnel setting in and I think it’s time to do more cerebral job anyways, as I’m getting older! And, you know, being on a set and making films just gives you so much energy and adrenaline, so I feel like it’s the right thing to do.

Do you have a favourite anecdote about your father that’s not in the film, as in you didn’t capture it on film, but it’s something you’ve heard through the years?

Samantha Fuller: An anecdote. There are so many. Which one would I choose? He just has a bunch of great stories, but let me tell you one thing about my dad is that he’d be smoking a big fat cigar right here, like everywhere we went. He managed to finagle a way to light that Stogie and work his way through it. And that was always a challenge. I was just in Finland in the Midnight Sun Festival and they said he was the only one allowed to smoke in the theatres, so I asked if it was a family credit we had. I said, ‘I guess I’ll light one too – this is fun!’ I don’t know how he got away with that. That was always fun. You’ll hear the anecdotes, a lot of the readers tell their personal anecdotes that are really fun.

I met your father in 1991, very briefly, when he came to Sussex University to introduce one of his films. But I also met Budd Boetticher in Madrid and he told me a Sam Fuller story. He said that the two of them – they were friends and they were more or less the same age and they were both making low-budget independent films and they weren’t kind of in the studio system. So they were friends but they were also sort of jealous of each other all the time and he said they used to call each other regularly and scream obscenities at each other. He used to call Sam up and shout, “Fuck The Big Red One!” and slam the phone down.

Samantha Fuller: Oh, that one? Him and John Ford would do that too! On D-Day! June 6th, phone rings. The Fuck The Big Red One Story, yeah. I mean, without the Big Red One, Omaha wouldn’t be what it was. I mean, they did it, they fought through it. I’m actually going to meet a young man in Paris next week, he started the Big Red One Museum. I mean, I was raised with The Big Red One, I feel like I was part of The Big Red One. I think it’s in my DNA, it’s passed on genetically.

The Big Red Two?

Samantha Fuller: Yeah, he had some other great war yarns that I don’t feel like I could relate to so much, because he said, ‘Unless you lived through it, to shoot a good war movie, you’d have to shoot the people in the audience’. That’s a little harsh. But I kind of fought my own war in a sense – when I was a kid, I was very ill and I had to fight my way for my life. And it was my own little war I had to go through, so I feel like I can relate in the sense that I’m a survivor too. Another war, an out of control war, another form of insanity.

What are the release plans so far?

Samantha Fuller: Nothing really, yet. That’s the hard reality of making a film, is the distribution part. The fun part is making the film, it gets pretty ugly when it comes down to the business side and everyone’s in to see what kind of money can be made off of this, and of course it’s not a big audience magnet. You know it’s hard even to get people to see regular feature films these days, unless it’s a blockbuster film. But I’ve been calling theatres up myself, actually [laughs] and I’m working deals out, theatre by theatre and it will have a small theatrical release and I know most of it will be seen on Video On Demand and on DVD. And that’s fine. You know, once again I mean this for personal reasons, but now that it’s out, I do want to show it, you know, I want the world to enjoy it and it’s really about his legacy and keeping his spirit alive. And keeping that message, that positive message that he had – he was such a mentor and such an inspiration to so many filmmakers and even though he’s not around now, I hope the younger generations will still look up and be able to homage him, as other filmmakers did.

Plemya (The Tribe) 2014 – interview with Myroslav Slaboshpitskiy

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Ukrainian director Myroslav Slaboshpitskiy returned to Locarno Film Festival again in 2014 as a jury member overseeing its Pardo di domani competition, having won a Silver Leopard there in 2012 with mid-lengther NUCLEAR WASTE.

After success at Cannes and Locarno in 2014, Slaboshpitskiy’s impressive debut feature THE TRIBE is now on release in London. Daringly deadpan and at times bedazzlingly brutal, the film takes place at a boarding school for deaf mute children, where a new arrival is taken under the wing of a violent group of thugs. Myroslav spoke briefly to Michael Pattison.

Michael Pattison: THE TRIBE is set at a boarding school for deaf mute children. Why did you decide to make a film in that setting?

Myroslav Slaboshpitskiy: I wanted to make a homage to silent film. A lot of films are being made this way, for instance THE ARTIST, a much more famous film. But I didn’t want to make a stylization—a black and white movie or a film from the start of the twentieth century. For this reason, I had only one way to make it. I take deaf people, and they can communicate with each other, but in using sign language, they can be in a modern mute film. I think I had the idea maybe twenty years ago, when I was studying. Very close to my school there was a special boarding school for the deaf. By the way, we shot THE TRIBE in my old school.

So the school you were shooting in wasn’t the deaf boarding school?

No, my school was a normal school. This school hasn’t changed much from the time I studied there.

It’s an incredible setting. You get a vivid sense of a lived-in space, that it’s been there a while. How easy was it to film there?

You have a number of problems, and a number of risks, when you invite amateur actors to take part in your film. You have a special problem when you invite young people, who today are trying to find themselves: today he’s a footballer, tomorrow he’s a rock star, and the next day he’s a movie star. This isn’t the case just for deaf people, I think it’s the case for all people. And of course it’s a risk when you have such a long production because some people can say, “I don’t want to take part in the film anymore,” and then what do you do with them? I don’t know. But, thank god, the actors were good. They were tired because we shot in the winter and we had very long filming days. A lot of rehearsals. They were tired, we were tired. But finally, I think we are happy and we didn’t have any problems.

How did you come to cast the film? Are all the actors deaf mute?

Yes, all of them are deaf mute in real life. In fact in Ukraine and Russia, they do not like it when we call them ‘deaf mute’, because they think it’s politically incorrect. I think they’re just American-influenced because people told me in America it’s ‘deaf and dumb’, but of course that is incorrect. Deaf mute, I’m not sure if it’s incorrect, but okay. We found the actors from everywhere. Kiev’s Institute for the Deaf Society helped us.

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Deaf people comprise less than one per cent of the human population. As well, especially for the young, deaf people need to connect with each other to make a friendship. One of my actors told us in one of his interviews that he thinks the Internet and social networks were created especially for deaf people—[deaf people] are very active users of social networks, because they make it much easier to communicate in real life. We put out information on a lot of special websites. Not on Facebook because we looked for people on the Russian social network—it looks similar to Facebook, they call it VKontakte. And we looked on Vkontakte, and said casting will take place on this day or that day, and then we just waited to see who would come for a part. I think we probably looked at 300 people, from Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. And originally we had most actors from Ukraine, of course, but [some are] from a small Belarusian village and one guy is from Russia.

There seems to be a tension in the film between a community that’s marginalised and yet is also mimicking gangster films and organised crime.

In fact, there was a funny story during casting. We’d ask one guy to do something in the screening room, and then if he interested us we’d take him and a few people to the school, and my DoP [Valentyn Vasyanovych] would take his Canon Mark II and try to shoot some scenes and see how they look together, in the scene and so on. For this reason we always had different casting: some people would come, some people would go. And one of the actors had worked at the Cultural Center of the Ukrainian Deaf People’s Society. He went to the very conservative head of the centre and told him about the script. Now, nobody sees the script, no one, the actors didn’t see the script before we filmed, they’d just have a scene before shooting, and after shooting we’d take it away again. And this conservative guy, who’s head of the Cultural Center of the Ukrainian Deaf People’s Society, said it was a bad film, and the centre stopped working with us—and regretted their membership working with us.

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But anyway, we informed the actors, and they said, “Fuck the Society,” you know, and they took part. Of course, we missed some people in casting after that. But after the filming was finished, it was a strange situation. Of course, the film is fiction. The young people, and a lot of people from the international deaf community, are so proud of the film. I have a lot of deaf friends on Facebook from all around the globe, for example from Egypt or the United States or Bulgaria. And they’re so proud, in fact, that deaf people made a film that won in Cannes. That made them very proud. And I saw deaf people in the screenings at Cannes and at Karlovy Vary, and they said, “Thank you,” that they were impressed, and you know… It’s politically correct for people to want the characters to be cute, but in real life people aren’t so very cute.

READ MICHAEL PATTISON’S REVIEW OF THE TRIBE HERE. THE FILM IS ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 17 MAY

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Pharoah (1966) | Kinoteka 2015 | Polish Film Festival

PHARAOH (FARAON) took director Jerzy Kawalerowicz three years to finish in 1966. It was the most expensive Polish film ever made with a running time of 175 minutes, which seems quite apt since this is not only a spectacle in the DeMille style, but a political excurse, with many parallels to contemporary Poland – if one reads between the lines.

The main struggle is between Ramses XIII (Jerzy Zelnik), a modern ruler, who cares for the whole country – unlike his main opponent, the scheming High Priest Herhor, who wants to manipulate the Pharaoh into wars he cannot win. Between these two men, Sarah, the Hebrew concubine of Ramses XIII and mother of his son, is slowly written out of the picture when Herhor’s oily assistant tries successfully to seduce Ramses. Simply read Gomolka – Poland’s prime minister of the 50s, who had been imprisoned by the Russians, before they freed him to placate the Polish comrades – for Ramses, and the evil priests for the Stalinist ideologists, and you get the picture.

Shot in Luxor, Cairo and Uzbekistan, PHARAOH has its spectacular moments, but the director never falls into the trap of overloading the film with exotica or mass scenes. From the beginning, PHARAOH has a very measured pace, the intellectual and emotional confrontations at court are always the centrepiece. Debate rather than battle dominates. Ramses is shown as a sometimes confused ruler, who oscillates between dictating his rights to be the supreme ruler and his wish for compromise. In the end, he is easy prey for the manipulating priests, who are in tandem with foreign powers. PHARAOH is a reflection on power, and its limits. AS

SHOWING ON 7TH MAY 2015 AT KINOTEKA LONDON | POLISH FILM FESTIVAL | UNTIL 29 MAY 2015 

Viggo Mortensen | Interview | Jauja

FullSizeRender-2FILMUFORIA spoke to Viggo Mortensen about his role in Lisandro Alonso’s existential drama JAUJA, which won the FIPRESCI prize at Cannes 2014.

Viggo Mortensen (VM): JAUJA sounded like a good story and knowing that it would be told by Lisandro Alonso, I knew that it would be very unique. I’d seen some of his movies before accepting the role and I thought that the ingredients of it, at least at the start – a father goes looking in Indian territory for his adolescent daughter – was a classic start to an adventure story. And the fact that it would be shot by Lisandro Alonso and Timo Salminen, the cinematographer, I knew it would have a special look and a very original treatment of the landscape and the people within it. So it just seemed like the kind of movie I’d go and see.

Lisandro said in an interview that he wanted to pull you into a labyrinth that you couldn’t escape from…

VM: I didn’t think of it that way. It’s not so much the landscape or the events that happen – the landscape is the landscape, the things that happen that my character can’t explain or can’t find a logical answer to, the way the movie veers out of linear time, the changes in landscapes, the mystery of where his daughter’s gone, some of the things he hears and sees. I’m drawn to those things, I’m drawn to stories that challenge your way of thinking, that make you wake up in the middle of the night and question everything, your preconceived ideas about how life works, how you behave, what your attitudes are about everything and that’s something that I really enjoyed, just in reading the script but also as we were doing it, I thought that was an important thing and if he’s imprisoned it’s not by exterior things, it’s by his own preconceived notions. You know, he puts on his uniform which always worked in Denmark, let’s say, that’s the way he would deal with the situation and he goes out looking and he’s always – even the first conversation you see him have with this Argentine military officer, he’s asking lots of questions, he wants to know what things are called, what is the sequence of events, when can I expect to see this happen. He has, I guess, a Northern European perspective or world view and he tries to impose that, even if it’s he’s not aware that he’s doing it all the time, he’s imposing that on him, in a place and in situations where it doesn’t really work. But he stubbornly keeps doing it, as we tend to do. ‘There must be a reason for this, I’m going to stubbornly find out.’ So he’s probably imprisoned by his own limitations, not so much by the landscape. The trap is within himself, or within his own mind.

jauja-e1427038551462I understand you were involved with the music in the film? Can you talk about that?

VM: This is Lisandro’s fifth movie and he did a lot of new things here. I mentioned the cinematographer, who looked at the landscape and lit it in a way that was very different from the way the type of Argentine cinematographer Lisandro had worked with before would have done. But it’s also the first time that he worked with professional actors. The script, for him, is sort of wordy – you know there’s not a lot of dialogue in the movie, but there’s more dialogue in this movie probably than there is in all four previous movies put together. Music, he’s never had a conventional music soundtrack before. If you’ve heard any music in his previous movies it would have been because it would have happened organically, coming out of radio or something. It was something that he tried – we were already part way through shooting and he said, ‘I think that that scene is one of the more important ones, I mean there’s a lot of entering and coming out of dreams, a lot of transitions in the movie. It takes seeing it two or three times before you see all of these moments from the first scene where the daughter sort of grabs my arm once I give her the answer she wants about getting a dog. She closes her eyes and never opens them again for the rest of the scene and I think that’s the first dream and by the end of the story you don’t know if we’re being dreamed or if the characters are all dreams or if it’s the dog’s dream or the girl’s dream. In a way, it doesn’t matter, it’s just what it stimulates when you’re watching it. But the music was something that he decided, ‘That transition is important, that night where he falls asleep under the stars, holding the daughter’s toy soldier because the next day he wakes up and the landscape, the weather, everything is changed, everything is different and he doesn’t realize at that point that he starts charging out – maybe he never fully realizes it in this story. But time has changed, also. So he thought it was important to help that transition with music?, which surprised me, because I knew he didn’t usually do that. And I said, ‘Well, what kind of music? I mean we have limitations and we don’t have any budget – what are we going to do?’ He said, ‘Well, it doesn’t have to be period – I’d rather it wasn’t period specific music’, but he described something with guitar, something that was lyrical and had a certain feel. And so I said, ‘Well, I have worked with and known for many years a very good guitar player named Buckethead, he’s a genius really and we’d record a lot of things, sometimes they have a lyrical quality that sounds like what you’re describing, I can send you some of these tracks and see what you think’. I didn’t think any more of it and then he said, ‘Well, I like this one a lot, I want to use this one, it’s perfect in terms of the time it lasts for that section. And then he said, ‘I like this other one too, because it has a circular structure that would work at the end, that would fit, actually, with the credits really well and it would mirror what’s happening with the story’ and I said, ‘Great, fine’. So that’s how that happened, it was unexpected, I would have never imagined I was going to be providing music for a movie – music is something I do for fun. I mean, I take it seriously, but this was never something I would have thought of, especially on a movie like this.

You have a producer credit on the film too. Has that creative influence that you’ve had over the film, affected the way you’ve performed on camera too, or the way you think about the film?

VM: I hope not. I don’t think so. I mean every movie that I do, I always try to do my job. There’s nothing wrong with just preparing your lines, showing up, doing them and leaving and maybe having no interest in what anyone else is doing. But for me, from my way of doing things, I can’t help but be interested in what other people are doing. As a photographer, I’m interested in what the cinematographer does, how he lights, how he frames shots. I’m interested in the director’s point of view. I’m trying to help him get across his vision, basically and I like to work with other actors and see what happens. I’m interested in the costumes, I’m interested in all aspects of it. As a producer I have more of, I guess, an established or a legal right to intercede in the filmmaker’s behalf, to protect his vision, which is what I’m trying to do anyway, I think, as a collaborator. Just practical things like, ‘Well, let’s make sure that the subtitles are correct, and they have to be right, whether it’s in Spanish or French or Danish. The poster – I just want the director to be happy and have the movie he wants, to be able to shoot it the way he wants, to be able to edit it the way he wants, and present it the way he sees it. That’s all that’s about, but it doesn’t really affect the way I perform.

Jauja-300x219 copyWere you involved in the location shooting?

VM: I wasn’t involved with that. Lisandro sent me pictures during his scouting period – he drove thousands and thousands of miles, all over the country, looking for these places and he was very careful about selecting them. It was interesting to see his process, discarding some and finally settling on others. But those were his choices, and good ones, I think.

Did the location shooting present any particular challenges?

VM: I suppose just comfort, but the group of people that made this movie, including me, it wasn’t a big deal to not have internet or not have phone service, or in some cases a hotel or something. It was part of the story and we knew that going in because of the remote areas we were filming in. I mean, logistics, yeah, getting equipment to certain places sometimes was tricky but we travelled light, we had one camera, I guess we had a small crew, so we made it work.

You touched on the multi-lingual nature of the movie previously. I don’t know if American-Danish is something you agree with as a label, but whether you appreciate that sort of cross-cultural mismatch between different people in the film.

VM: Well I was raised in Argentina and some people there mistakenly think I’m an Argentine actor. I guess you could say I’m an Argentine actor – I’ve been in two Argentine movies, speaking Spanish, in this case with a Danish accent. I don’t know – I may be more drawn to stories that have to do with that, but I’m not conscious of it. I don’t look at the budget or the language or the nationality, or even the genre of the movie when I’m looking for work or hoping something finds me. It’s really if it’s a story I think is interesting. you know I mean I was also in a movie that will be coming out soon called Far From Men, which is a movie that was shot in North Africa in French in Arabic and that’s not something I was setting out to do or would have ever expected I’d do but it’s a great story and I want to be part of it.

Can I just quickly ask about Timo (the cinematographer), because I’ve seen you talk about his Finnish sense of humor and some of the jokes that he pulled that you appreciated.

JAUJA_2 copyVM: At the start, I mean Argentines, generally speaking, there’s all kinds of people, just like there are everywhere. And every country in the world these days, especially Europe or almost anywhere is made up of all kinds of sensibilities and languages and points of view and races, even though if you listen to Marie Le Pen or UKIP or something you’d think that wasn’t true, but it is true, whether they like it or not. So generally speaking, I think that the crew, the first few days they were not sure what to make of him and Lisandro even asked me, ‘Is there something wrong with him? I said, No’, he said, ‘Why is he so sad?’ and I said, ‘He’s not sad, he’s just Finnish’. He was just, you know, standing by the sea, looking at the sky. I guess then I looked at it in terms of Argentines would more say what’s on their mind and there’s a different kind of energy and he was very still and very quiet. He didn’t hardly speak at all. He’s very efficient, doing his job, but to me he was just a guy from Finland looking at the sea, waiting for the Argentines to get their shit together so he could shoot the scene. That was all that was going on, there was nothing else going on. And even the first few days, occasionally he would say something and I might be the only person that might laugh, because they wouldn’t even realise he was telling a joke because he was so dry but after a few days they understood each other perfectly and it was great, it was a great combination and it was great to see their interaction and what can happen when you have an open mind. Both on his side and on their side, it was a really good experience for everyone.

What’s your perception of the film, now that it’s on release?

VM: I thought it would be an interesting movie but it turned out better than I could have hoped. And the reception, the reaction to it, particularly from critics who usually would only write about more mainstream type movies, in North America and Europe and elsewhere, has been incredibly positive. I think it’s maybe the best, overall the best reviewed movie I’ve ever been in, including maybe even Lord of the Rings and the Cronenberg movies. It’s incredible. I’m really pleased, but I am, to be honest, surprised. I didn’t expect that. When we showed the movie at Cannes, I felt it would probably go over well there, I didn’t know that the movie would win the Firpresci Prize for Best Movie and all that. In that place I thought, well, yeah, he’s been there before and this is probably a movie that’s a little more accessible and it probably will do well. But beyond that, at the time, I said to him, ‘Well, you know, when it’s shown in North America and Great Britain, other places, you may get savaged by the critics. They may just say, ‘Well, this is nonsense, I don’t know what’s going on here, I don’t understand anything, it’s too slow, etc, etc’. And that’s not been the case. Almost always it’s been well reviewed, by all kinds of newspapers.

Has your own understanding of what the film’s about evolved, from first reading the script to acting in it and now seeing the final film?

VM: I’m still working it out. I’m still working out what the movie’s about [laughs]. And I like those kinds of stories. I like those kinds of directors who tell a story or make something that provokes questions but resists answering the questions. I think Cronenberg is that way as well. I like artists that do that, whether they be poets or painters or musicians or film directors. Each time I’ve seen the movie I’ve seen another layer, usually some other aspect to it. Usually having to do with dreams that start and end with sleep, one dream tying into another until you’re not sure who’s dream it really is. I mean that, you get the first time, but you get it in a more detailed way with each viewing, I find, at least that’s been my experience. I’ve been really pleased – it’s much richer than I expected and I think Lisandrom would say the same thing, that things happen just because he’s was open to allowing them to happen, contributions to be made and chance to play a role. It’s a movie that has a much greater impact and many more layers to it than he would have imagined. I would bet that he would agree with that.

How does working with a director like Lisandro compare with working with Cronenberg?

VM: Not so different. I mean David Cronenberg, on a technical level and a story-telling level is doing something that’s different, but they’re very similar in the sense that they’re calm, friendly presences on the set, they’re not authoritarian, they’re not intolerant. They’re both very secure as people, so that you never get the sense from them that they have this insecure need to make sure everyone is aware at all times, especially in the media, but the crew as well, that every idea, every thing that’s happening is their idea and they control all aspects of the storytelling. They’re more secure than most directors, they’re open to contributions, they’re open to chance playing a role they don’t need to claim authorship of every aspect of what’s going on during the shoot and in the final product. So I find them to be very similar in that regard.

safe_image-1.phpSpeaking of Cronenberg, did you enjoy naked wrestling in Eastern Promises as much certain sections of your audience did?

VM: (Laughs). It was pretty uncomfortable, not just the idea of being naked, it was being thrown around on hard tiles. It would probably have been more comfortable if they could have had it be as warm as it should have been, because otherwise there would have been steam on the camera and we wouldn’t have been able to film very well. But no, it was just a scene that had particular physical challenges just to get through it and do the choreography right and obviously since there wasn’t clothing, you couldn’t wear padding and stuff, that was just the nature of it. So it wasn’t enjoyable in that sense, what what was enjoyable, like with any scene, is if the shots worked, and in that case of that particular scene, it was especially enjoyable if the shot worked, because it meant you don’t have to do it again [laughs]. Normally, I’ll do as many takes as you want, I like the process, but with that it was like, ‘Huh, I’m glad we got that, let’s move on’.

Do you have plans to work with Cronenberg again?

VM: Nothing specific, but we always talk about wanting to, so hopefully something will happen.

Is there a particular part you’ve always wanted to play or a dream project you’ve always wanted to get off the ground?

VM: There’s a couple of stories – I’ve written two scripts, I’m writing a third one now and one of those scripts I hope to some day direct. I have ideas for other stories that I think could make movies, but I don’t have one burning ambition in terms of a story or a particular character or anything like that. The same goes for acting – there isn’t a role that I’ve always wanted to play in the theatre or I’ve always wanted to make a movie about. As I say, I kind of try to see what comes my way and I try to pick things that I think I’d like to see, in part because it’s just more fun and then it’s easier to speak with you guys afterwards if it’s something I like, rather than having to find clever ways to avoid talking about something that I know is not very interesting. And also because it just takes a long time if you do it properly. Whether it’s an independent movie or even a very well planned big budget movie that has a start date and a release date and all things are known beforehand, it still takes a long time to prepare something well, to shoot it well and to promote it, so it might as well be something you really find interesting, you know, that you’re not just trying to convince journalists that you find it interesting, but that you actually like.

So, quoting from the film, what is it that makes life function and move forward?

VM: I don’t know. As my character says, I don’t know. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth asking the question. It’s like saying what makes a perfect movie? Well, there is no way possible to make a perfect movie, it doesn’t exist, there is no such thing as perfect. But striving to make a perfect movie or to even describe what a perfect movie might be – which is also impossible, I think – is worth the effort. It’s like, why do you get out of bed and why do you even bother to brush your teeth or say hello to anyone? And some people opt out, some people commit suicide or otherwise check out, because they don’t feel it’s worthwhile. Why do we read a book? Why do we go to the movies? Why do we ask questions? Why do we answer questions? Because for some reason, we’re curious. We want to know. And some people get very upset when they start to realise as they grow up that there’s a lot of questions, most of them that don’t have definitive answers and that can be very unsettling. But it’s just a process. So I don’t know and I don’t mind not knowing, but I’m still going to keep trying to find out.

Jauja_Lisandro_AlonsoYou mentioned theatre and obviously Brits are very fond of Danish actors. Would you consider returning to the stage?

VM: Yeah, I’d like to. The last thing I did was in Spain, an Ariel Dorfman play, and I enjoyed the sensation. And I’ve also done some poetry readings, I did one recently there, so that the live audience, the fear and overcoming that fear and connecting with a live audience is a really great feeling and I like that so yeah, sure, I’d like to.

You mentioned the Camus adaptation, Far From Men, earlier. Can you say a little more about what drew you to that?

VM: It’s a great story. He’s one of the writers I most admire, for his art, for his writing, but also his ideas and his stance, his humanist stance. I’ve always admired him or I’ve admired him for a long time and this story – it’s a very short story of his that David Oelhoffen, the writer-director expanded on, but in a very clever way and very true to Camus’ spirit. I liked it as an adventure story, as a relationship story, but I also found it valuable in terms of the thoughts it stimulates about what’s happening now, particularly in the Middle East, but everywhere. How do you get past extremism? In the case of this story, two men who seem so different, so much so that you can’t really see any way that they could be friends, an Arab and a man of European descent, and yet somehow, by going through some difficult experiences together, they do – not in some corny movie way but in a very organic, believable way they come to have some understanding. It doesn’t mean it’s unconditional love between them, but there is an understanding, there’s a rapprochement, there’s a coming together that happens emotionally, mentally between these two people that I thought was a really good story, worth telling and an important story for our times. And I think the director did a really good job with it.

You mentioned your poetry reading and it reminded me that on April Fool’s Day in 2006, you released a CD with your son. I was wondering if that was like a tradition in your family? Do you do April Fool’s jokes in your family?

VM: No, not necessarily. Once in a while, prank calls and so forth. April first has two connotations for me and the one that you are probably are not aware of is more important to me than the actual April Fool’s idea. On April first 1908, a football club named San Lorenzo was established in Argentina and that’s the team I grew up with as a child. So April first, that’s what I think of first.

Speaking of football, I gather you’re a big sports fan in general…

VM: I like to watch sports, particularly I like to watch football, hockey too, in the sense that I think there’s something dramatically interesting about what’s going on. What happens when your back is up against the wall, which I think is the foundation of any interesting drama. What happens when ordinary people are put into extraordinary situations. You know, when you see comebacks like what happened in Paris playing against Chelsea recently, that was a great drama. Watching that, if you like football, that was like watching a great dramatic, intense movie. That game, just because Mourinho’s tactic was, ‘No matter what happens, I cannot lose’ – he was playing not to lose and the other team had nothing to lose and they had ten men instead of eleven. It looked like there was no way that they could win it, but there was something compelling about that drama and the opposing tactics, so yeah, the tactical approaches of each coach. they were dramatically interesting and the combination of the two made for great drama. It doesn’t always work out that way, that the team that really is trying to play attractive attacking football wins. You know, life isn’t fair and sports aren’t fair and it doesn’t work that way, but every once in a while a fairy tale happens before your eyes and it’s fun to watch.

Have you considered playing a footballer in a movie?

VM: No, I’m probably too old to do that at this point anyway. I think it’s a difficult thing to make a good movie about, because there’s so much going on. There’s 22 players, 20 of them are moving constantly, and each move they make, each step they take or each change of direction is for some reason, tactically. It’s a really hard thing to make even an interactive video about. To make a movie about outside of playing has been done okay, I thought The Damned United was interesting, it was pretty good. But I think it’s very difficult to make a compelling drama about what you see. If you’re in a stadium, or watching on TV, it’s difficult to make a movie because there’s so much going on, so much being thought of, and if you’re not used to watching it, you don’t see most of that stuff anyway, but if you’re really into it, you see all that going on and how could you possibly film all that? Why does that guy go here? Why does that guy go there? Or why is that guy angry at the other player because he didn’t go there? There’s so much going on, which is why it’s so great to watch. Matthew Turner.

JAUJA IS IN CINEMAS FROM 10 APRIL 2015 | READ OUR CANNES REVIEW HERE

Citizen (2014) | Obywatel | Kinoteka 2015

Dir.: Jerzy Stuhr

Cast: Jerzy Stuhr, Maciej Stuhr, Sonia Bohosiewcz, Jasmina Polak, Violetta Arlak

Poland 2014, 104 min.

CITIZEN, a chronicle of Poland’s history since the end of WWII, is funny, absurd and extremely moving; its central character, Jan Bratek, played by two different adult actors (Majiec Stuhr and his father Jerzy), is peaceful at heart, but always gets caught in machinations not of his making. The film’s overriding merit is that it deals with ordinary anti-Semitism in contemporary Poland, a topic usually avoided in all but a few Polish films. Stuhr tries to open the debate on how Polish people reacted to the mass murder of their own citizens, and what happened to the houses and belongings of the three million murdered Polish Jews, which made up nearly ten percentage of the Polish population.

Told in non-linear flashbacks, CITIZEN is a tour-de-force of emotions, with great ensemble acting and a vigorous camera which shows the narrative out of Jan’s POV: a traumatic rollercoaster ride for an ordinary man, trapped in a society were many layers of deceit create only new lies, stating unequivocally that neither communism nor fervent nationalism will wash away a past, blocked out by the huge majority of Poles for generations.

Little Jan grows up with parents who live in a flat full of the personal affects of murdered Jews, the Silvers. Jan always questions his parents, why so many objects are named “Silver”, but never gets a satisfying answer. One day, Jan and his friends are caught insulting a Jewish stamp dealer, and Jan (who was not the ringleader), is sent by the communist authorities to join a Jewish cultural group for rehabilitation. Here he falls in love with little Anna, a relationship which will dominate all his teenage years, until Anna (Polak) emigrates to Israel. Jan’s mother, a violent anti-Semitic, making sure her son misses a planned farewell at the station. For the rest of his life, Jan will dream of Anna, no other woman will be able to replace her. From then on Jan stumbles onwards in life, always with his mother in tow. He gets arrested at a “Solidarnosc” meeting at a neighbour’s flat, after using the code “I want to borrow salt” in all sincerity. But in prison, he is not trusted by his new comrades, because they believe that he is a snitch for the government. Rescued by a psychologist (Sonia Bohosiewcz), Jan is so grateful, that he marries her – only to find out during an interrupted love making, that she is working for the Secret Police. Whilst delivering milk, Jan (Jerzy Stuhr) falls for the passionate Kazia (Arlak), who turns out to be a member of the same state organ – but resigns and finally joins a convent. After the fall of communism, Jan is offered a leading position in an openly anti-Semitic political party, but declines. His professional adventures lead him to the catholic church, but during a TV interview, he can’t even names six pillars of the catechism; a priest, trying to help him, shows the answers on a placard – alas the wrong way round; and Jan has to resign. Finally, when a big object from the roof of the Polish TV Station station falls on his head, Jan is at the wrong place at the right time: next to the Prime Minister, whose life he is supposed to have saved. His dream to become a hero is realised after all. AS

SCREENS DURING THE KINOTEKA POLISH FILM FESTIVAL IN LONDON AND NATIONAL 8 APRIL – 29 MAY

Vanessa Lapa | Interview | The Decent one

Andre Simonoveisz spoke to Vanessa Lapa about her documentary on Heinrich Himmler.

F: How did the Heinrich Himmler project first come about?

V.L.: Before the film project, I knew no more than the basics about Heinrich Himmler, nothing about his private life. Neither as a filmmaker or a journalist had I had any dealing in any subject specific of Himmler. In 2006 I was informed by Professor Laor, a psychiatrist at Tel Aviv and Yale University, that the private diaries of Heinrich Himmler had been found. We undertook authentication, to make sure the letters and photos were genuine. Letters and photos had been discovered under the bed of a collector, who might have acquired them either on the Brussels flea market, in LA or from a Mexican couple in the early or mid nineteen sixties.

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F: For many years, historians thought, Reinhardt Heydrich was the “brains” behind Himmler, there is even a very interesting book with the title “Himmlers Hirn heisst Heydrich” (Himmler’s brain is called Heydrich). But later, it became clear that Himmler was the real organiser of the Holocaust and other atrocities, and was only answerable to Hitler. Do you agree with that?

V.L.: Yes. Himmler was much more than a “yes-man” he was a thinker. Unlike others, like Eichmann, who “just followed orders”. Himmler gave these orders, well thought them out, and others in the SS were the “processors”.

F.: Do you think, his strict Catholic upbringing had something to do with the political views which he developed very early in his adult life.

V.L.: He was like everybody else, influenced by his upbringing; but he, like everybody else, had choices. But I believe that the cultural influence in Europe at the beginning of the 20th century played they part too. He was a nationalist, dreamer, be believed in myths, not reality. But nothing excuses the choices he made later.

 

F.: Do you believe that he came to his position as the all powerful Reichsführer SS, only by accident, because he was at the right in the right place. After all, when he joined the SS, there were only 290 SS men, but the SA was a much more powerful organisation, with over 2 million members.

V.L.: A good question. I believe, one goes with the other. With the socio-political situation in Germany at that time, it was possible for a man like Hitler to lead the Nazi movement, but Himmler would have had not the abilities to do so. So, yes, Himmler was in the right position at the time – but Hitler did not have to influence him at all, Himmler found Hitler, but equally, Hitler found Himmler. Himmler did not have to be convinced of anything by Hitler, but, without the rise of the Nazi party to power, Himmler would have never become such a powerful man. Himmler hated everything and everybody who was different from him – from an early age onwards. Even as a child, in his diary, we can find the “older” Himmler. He wrote constantly about Germany’s progress in the war. Most boys of fourteen might write about politics a little in their diaries, but mainly about football and girls. But Himmler did not. It did not took much to make Heinrich Himmler feel at home in nationalist politics in the early thirties in Germany.

The Decent One

F.: Do you think that his ability to compartmentalise, which is really a denial, was greater with Himmler than other Nazi leaders?

V.L.: This is a difficult question to ask. I have worked on this film with historians but also psychiatrist; and looking at his writings, there is something in Heinrich Himmler which is evil beyond comprehension. To believe there are decent ways to kill and that there a good reasons to murder people, this I cannot understand. But he is not the only one, neither past nor present. There are a lot of Himmlers around today and under the right circumstances, it could well turn out like in the 1930s and 1940s in Germany. I don’t think that in 1933 or 1935, Hitler or Himmler had any plans for the holocaust, it was a process.

F.: Do you believe that his agricultural studies at university, where they taught him about selection (“Auslese”) of plants and animals, had something to do with his later obsession of “cleansing”?

V.L.: I cannot visualise that his studies had anything to do with the evil he did later. Likewise, to think that so many leading Nazis were vegetarians – even after discussing this with psychiatrists – I am not able to understand this either. How can one mass murder humans, but do not eat meat because not cannot kill an animal? This is a perversion, like Himmler made a perversion of his whole life, being it love, friendship or family. He managed to pervert everything – but I do not think he was Jekyll/Hyde character. Writing to his wife, just before his wedding: “I love you, but there are other things I love more”, and without saying it exactly, he meant killing other humans. This way he deprived his wife and child of love.

F.: But how do you explain that his daughter Gudrun followed her father politically, she was known at the “Nazi Princess” in post war West Germany.

V.L.: I believe, that Gudrun was blinded, and in love with her father, which is normal for a 12 year old, but her decisions as an adult were only her responsibility. Between the ages of 20 and 30, you can form a real picture of your father, still loving him as a father – but, she would have been able, with the help of therapy, perhaps, to see what her father really was and not follow his beliefs as an adult. The problem with Gudrun is that she made choices as an adult. The children of other high-ranking Nazis were also traumatised, but made different choices. Radical choices too, like one of them, who became a Rabbi. This is extreme too, but the children of these parents were psychologically very much damaged.

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F: But this “Nazi” mindset in not exclusively a German phenomenon.

V.L. Not, it has happened in other countries, like Russia, Ukraine; Italy too, they were no angels. But the way of execution was a specific German way. I have to grant that. I don’t know if this is a mind set which was there at the time, or is still existent. But overall, this is for me are more global, human problem.

F.: Do you think that HH’s continuous poor health: migraine and violent stomach cramps, were a sign of his body, telling him that he was doing something wrong? We know, his masseur, Kersten, saved many Jews, by only massaging Himmler, when he promised to release Jews.

V.L.: Heinrich Himmler did not believe for a moment, that what he was doing could be wrong, he was absolutely sure that he was right. But I do believe that he was a coward, because in the end he committed suicide, he did not stand up for his deeds. And before that, he was ready to save Jews, but only to save his own life. In trying to negotiate with the Allies for peace, he was not even loyal to Hitler any more in the end. There are many crazy, vicious men, who go through with their conviction to the end, but Heinrich Himmler did not. He betrayed everything he stood for and expected others to do the same.

F.: So, as a last question, would you agree that he was really a very weak person, who got his strength from his position only, but projected his own inferiority complex on others, Jews and homosexuals.

V.L.: Heinrich Himmler was a weak person, he was just above average intelligence. Mainly, he was a small grey, weak bureaucrat, and that is most frightening.

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F.: So you would agree with Hannah Arendt and her description of the Nazi leadership as “banality of evil”.

V.L.: No, I don’t agree with that. I very much question now Arendt’s thesis. Firstly, there is a great difference between Eichmann and Himmler. For the latter and many others one can say, that there is no banality in the evil they chose. I see only evil in Himmler; and the danger is, that this evil is accepted by society, when the evil ideology becomes common. But to repeat, this does not make Himmler’s evil banal, in no way.

THE DECENT ONE IS OUT ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 3 April 2014 on Curzon Film World

Eskil Vogt | Interview | Blind (2014)

BLIND-Director-EskilVogt (Foto  Magnus Roald Nordstrand 2013) copyEskil Vogt is playing with the essence of cinema. That’s what the slim-looking Norwegian director tells me as we sit for a chat after the London Film Festival screening of his latest, BLIND, which has toured the world since its premiere at the Berlinale 2014. But Vogt also taps into the building-blocks of storytelling in his depiction of blind writer Ingrid, played superbly by Ellen Dorrit Petersen, who toys with our understanding of cinematic narrative as she narrates her own damaged relationship with her husband Morten (Henrik Rafaelsen) after recently losing her sight.

EV: Blindness has a long relationship with stories. Just look at the Western canon’s earliest entrant, Homer, who’s frequently represented as blind. Perhaps without sight, fantasy and imagination can run wild. The way we imagine the origins of storytelling, around the fire surrounded by darkness with the flames flickering – you need the unknown around you for the story to work.

F: There’s something nightmarish in the way you presents blindness in the film – as if you were scared of going blind.

EV: It’s strange, people often ask me whether I’d rather be blind or deaf and immediately I say I’d rather be deaf.  But when asked by a Norwegian radio station if I’d rather be deaf and lose a right arm, or be blind, I still admit, grudgingly: That’d be harder but I’d still let my right arm go.

F: Wouldn’t you miss, say, music?

EV: You’d get isolated, but I can’t imagine myself without visual intuition. Actually what people are afraid of is change. A deaf person might say ‘How could I not see the face of my lover?’ But I’ve met blind people who’ve said they couldn’t imagine never hearing the sound of their child.

F: What do you think of audio-described performances for the visually impaired?

EV: I was very surprised that blind people like to go to the cinema. Some of them listen to the description and some of them not – it’s too much dialogue, but also they want to experience the original feeling in a way.

F: Like, I suppose, their everyday experience?

EV: They miss some important visual cues, but they prefer that to having the movie descriped to them! We managed to be the first film in Norway to have the film audio-described with smartphones with an app. You download the additional soundtrack and there’s a sound at the beginning of the film – which we can’t hear – that syncs with the smartphone and they have this additional audio description.

F: Could we see that in the UK?

EV: It’d be great if they did this abroad, but they’d have to do the dialogue. It’s more expensive!

F: But you didn’t make the film for blind people.

EV: No, it’s a very visual film. But when we did screenings, blind people had really experienced the film. They ‘saw’ visual details in the film that I couldn’t for the life of me explain how they picked them up. I’m a die-hard film fan, a defender of celluloid and projection. I hate when people watch my movie on computer screen or – god forbid – a smartphone. But when a blind person can understand without seeing, I am less afraid of that technology.

F: On some level, BLIND plays out as an offbeat relationship drama, but how you use blindness creates all sorts of subversive narrative connotations – where did the idea originate?

EV: In the beginning, I thought blindness could be kind of interesting, but I didn’t know why. My first hunch was a blank screen with sound – it would be a cheap movie to make, but wouldn’t be seen much! And more than that, it isn’t true to the experience of blindness. BLIND is about someone who has lost her sight, so she has this visual imagination. Blindness is about these mental images.

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F: Blindness can be difficult for sighted people to portray – I’m thinking Audrey Hepburn in Waiting for Dark – how was directing Ellen Petersen?

EV: What was the key to it was the body language. Because Ingrid moves around quite freely, but she has that little inhibition, guarding her body all the time. She tenses up a little, having this extra guesture to check if there’s something, for instance, is on the table before she puts her glass down. What made that sound? Is somebody watching me? Always that gesture just made it believable.

F: And there is somebody watching her – us.

EV: Yeah, I suddenly realised every scene I was filming was about watching and being watched. Even the sexuality of a blind person – still wanting to be desired, wanting to be seen. And that you could see in other films, in very visual films – in Hitchcock. I got the impression I was working with the basic stuff of cinema.

F: I remember Fellini saying that cinema used the language of dreams – with Ingrid’s imagination, were you thinking along those lines?

EV: Definitely. Cinema is also something of reality, of documentary. It’s true, it’s one of the strengths of cinema that you capture the actor at that age, that moment. That’s inarguably cinema. But to say it’s realism, that’s not true. You leave out a lot of stuff if you present this angle or that angle of their face. Reality is without any cuts – but that’s not how you perceive reality. Something of the essence of film is when you put two images next to each other, and something happens. Something more than just two images, something going from ‘this’ moment to ‘that’ moment. That’s when cinema really happens sometimes. That’s less reality and closer to our thoughts and to our dreams. Even though I was so obsessed with blindness, researching, getting to know blind people, I was more interested in how do we think about stuff, perceive things, change our ideas when we get more information. Anxieties inform what we see, so what we see is tainted by what we expect and fear is going to happen. How do we portray it on film? I think my film is about that.

F: There’s a central scene in the film in the aftermath of Anders Breivik’s attacks, were you looking to explore anxieties and feelings of Norway as a society?

EV: A young girl said that in Norway. ‘If one man can do that with hatred, imagine what we can all do with love’, a very beautiful statement, but a very naïve statement, because it unfortunately much easier to have an impact doing evil.
That’s the case with Ingrid and Morten’s broken marriage – their anxieties are stronger than their love. Yes, it’s easier to mess something up than keep something together. It’s harder to have an impact being a loving caring person. But love, some people don’t have that. The character of Einar (Marius Kolbenstvedt) sits around watching porn but is re-engaged into society as Breivik’s attacks. It was my entry point really, it represented that person’s loneliness. A week after the attacks I was supposed to be by my desk and writing, but I had the feeling like many in Norway of, ‘How can I continue with this stupid story’, with this woman, and some jokes and some pornography in it? I felt so futile. I never thought it would be part of the film, but it just felt right.

F: Did you think of Norwegisn people as blind, not expecting these kinds of things to happen to them?

EV: We’re very self-contained people. When the explosion happened in Oslo, everyone thought, ‘Oh we’ve got Muslim terrorists as well.’ And it turned out it was one of our own. And we could have used that to go much deeper in introspection. Instead we said ‘we’re all in this together’ but we were just forgiving ourselves. It was a missed opportunity. Instead we won the world championship in grief that year. Ed Frankl

BLIND IS ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 27 MARCH 2015

Katherine Hepburn | Retrospective | BFI | 2015

Christopher_Strong_1 copyKatherine Hepburn was one of Hollywood’s most charismatic female stars. Her career (1907-2003) stretched over fifty years from her debut film BILL OF DIVORCEMENT (1932), directed by her regular collaborator, George Cukor, who would be in charge of five more of her films and notably, THE PHILADELPHIA STORY (1940). Having spent four successful years in the theatre (where she would return very often), she won her first “Oscar” nomination in 1933 for the role of Eva Lovelace in MORNING GLORY (1933), only her third film. Directed by Lowell Sherman, Hepburn plays a Broadway actress on her way to stardom. Here Hepburn plays the opposite of the scheming title character of All about Eve; attributing her success mainly to hard work despite rather lucky break to help things along. Shot in the same sequence as the script, MORNING GLORY (***) shows Hepburn as a very competent young actress but her wild temperament, which would be so noticeable in further performances, seems to be held in check by the director, who obviously gave the best lines to the two male stars Douglas Fairbanks junior and Adolphe Menjou.

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BRINGING UP BABY (*****) directed in 1938 by Howard Hawks, though a box office disaster (proving again that Hepburn was box-office poison between 1934-40), is still the ultimate film of all screwball comedies of the thirties and forties. Hepburn plays Susan Vance, a scatterbrain heiress who lures the unsuspecting zoologist David Huxley (Cary Grant) into all sort of adventures – mainly to keep her aunt’s pet leopard “Baby” out of trouble. Huxley’s engagement to his cold blooded assistant, and (in the last scene of the film) his life’s work, the reconstruction of a Brontosaurus, all are destroyed in the name of love – even though for most of the film Huxley is very unaware of any positive affections for Ms Vance. BRINGING UP BABY is the quintessential Hepburn film, before her mature period of “Spinsters and Shakespeare”.

Guess_Who's_Coming_To_Dinner_1 copyStanley Kramer’s GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER (****) might not seem very daring today, but when it was released in 1967 interracial marriage was still illegal in 17 (mostly southern) states of the USA. GUESS WHO’S COMING was the ninth and last film starring Hepburn and her long time partner Stacey Tracy, the latter would die 17 days after shooting ended. Their relationship had lasted since 1941, even though they never married – and their relationship was kept silent by the film companies because of Tracy’s marriage. Set in 60s San Francisco Joanna (Katharina Houghton, Hepburn’s niece), invites her black fiancée John (Sidney Poitier) and his parents to meet her own parents (Hepburn and Tracy). She is surprised that her liberal and progressive folks seem not to be overjoyed by the fact that she chose a black man – even though both parents try to camouflage their feelings as well as possible. The delicate subject is treated with some humour, even though harsh words are spoken – Joanna trying to come to terms with the realisation of the massive gulf which exists between her parents general attitude and their reactions to her engagement, so often still the case nowadays.

One year later Hepburn starred as Queen Eleanor in Anthony Harvey’s THE LION IN WINTER (***) together with Peter O’Toole as Henry II and based on a idea by John Goldman. This featured a sparkling debut by Anthony Hopkins as Richard the Lionheart. Whilst Henry II wants his eldest son, the future King John, as his heir Eleanor prefers their oldest surviving son, Richard The Lionheart. Henry locks all his sons in a dungeon, travelling to Rome to have his marriage annulled. He than sentences them to death, only to let them escape. Whilst going in a barge to prison, Eleanor still thinks that she has future life with Henry. Historically incorrect, THE LION IN WINTER is a showcase for the now mature Hepburn, whose performance carried the film, leaving O’Toole’s Henry II in the shade.

ON GOLDEN POND (***1/2) (1981) was to be Hepburn’s last major film, it won her the fourth “Oscar”, opposite Henry Fonda who also won the award for his last film. Ethel (Hepburn) and Norman (Fonda) Thayer are spending a (last) summer at her cottage near a lake called The Golden Pond. Norman, who is very stubborn and cantankerous, does not get on well with his daughter Chelsea (Jane Fonda), or her fiancé Bill. But in spite of their concern, Chelsea and Bill leave his teenage son with the old couple. During fishing trips Norman softens visibly and Billy, who misses his friends, gets used to his new company. At the end of the holiday, Norman suffers a heart attack and decides to die at the lake. Jane Fonda had secured the rights to the play of the same name from Ernest Thompson (who also wrote the screen play), the relationship in the film mirroring that of the two Fondas. Directed by with great sensibility by Mark Rydell, ON GOLDEN POND was the only film to be produced in Hollywood during the screen-writers strike in 1981 – a tribute to Hepburn and Fonda. AS

THE KATHERINE HEPBURN RETROSPECTIVE RUNS FROM 1 February until 19 March 2015 at the BFI Southbank London

André Semenza | Director | Sea Without Shore | Glasgow Film Festival 2015

Matthew Turner spoke to André Semenza, the director of SEA WITHOUT SHORE which has its World premiere at this year’s GLASGOW FILM FESTIVAL 2105

Fragments of theatre, dance, cinema and poetry co-mingle in this unique and ravishing film, tell us more…

André Semenza (AS): It came about through the rehearsal studio. Fernanda Lippi, the choreographer, and I have worked together since 1999 and also with the Director of Photography, Marcus Waterloo. We have a particular way of working which is almost like improvised theatre, where we work in a rehearsal room and explore things with dances and find themes and have visions. It’s a very intuitive and collaborative kind of process where things start taking shape. So there was a relationship between these two women, Fernanda and Livia, the dancer. Clearly something was happening between them and there was some dramatic material emerging and we started piecing that together, like any script, but in a slightly more intuitive manner. And then I had a vision that we should do it in Sweden – my mother was Swedish and I had visions of horses and people draped over horses. So we started location scouting and it was sort of like a quest into the unknown, really, the search for discovery goes all the way through to post-production when we actually review some of the footage and are surprised by some things. Marcus and I both come from a film background where film used to be very precious, so we’re quite efficient, it’s not just like shooting blindly, although we didn’t have a script or a shot list. We were just looking for stuff that is of interest and has potential and often when you’re able to just hang in a little bit longer, something else happens which is often surprising, whether it’s the performer or the actor gives something extra that we didn’t quite expect. It’s quite real and quite raw, so we had great respect for that, creating the space for this to happen.

imagesYou mentioned that you had visions of horses. Where did they come from?

AS: Yes. I was sitting in the rehearsal room with Fernanda and Livia – it was a community centre in London that we were using – and I just had these visions of horses, I started drawing horses that these two women would be draped over. We could have done it in England, we were looking at locations, but I just had this inkling we should do it in Sweden.

How did you find those incredible locations, particularly the house?

AS: So we did location scouting there and the thing just sort of snowballed in a very organic manner. We were actually approached by a Brazilian who lives in Sweden who liked our work, he offered to be our location scout. His girlfriend, her brother had access to these incredible locations, the house where we shot it is a family property, it was called the White House, 19th century, it’s an astonishing place, it’s untouched. So we found records on location that we used in the film, the old 1910 records and the wallpaper, it just completely married with the theme of the film. So when you put your neck out there as a director and a producer and you don’t have location scouts and you actually do that yourself, people engage with you much more, in a different manner. And I also shot in an area in the summer where I have ancestry going back 600 years – I’m a strange European mix – but suddenly people came out of the woodwork who knew my great grandfather or something and things just kind of happened. It’s a different process – you put yourself out there and somehow it pulls you back in, to places that you didn’t expect.

images-3Whereabouts was the house?

AS: It’s on one of the islands outside Stockholm. It’s basically owned by this person who we met briefly through this connection. He was extremely generous – he also took us to his mother’s house and just invited us to stay there for a month, ‘Oh, I’m going to Colombia, here’s the key’ – he’d met us for ten minutes! And then this fella’s uncle became the co-producer in Sweden, he found all these Pagan sites where we wanted to film – we were looking for Pagan circles and things like that where we could work with an agnostic theme of this woman looking for her beloved soul that disappeared. And he was a very, very quiet guy, and he said, ‘Yeah, I know a place’ and there was this place, walking distance, which was a sort of a circle where nothing grows and it’s been a sacred site for thousands of years. He asked the girls to take off their gloves and they were warm! It was minus ten! It was all rather odd, but there is a sense of adventure when you work like that and I think it triggers other people’s imaginations as well. And then of course my job and Fernanda’s job is to hone it, to unify that. Because of course, many ideas that we come up with are rubbish, even my own – you try and cling to your own ideas, but actually you have to drop them and all that. So in the end you have something that’s very organic, where the performances, the bodies, the costumes, the wallpaper, the lighting, everything should be – I don’t want to sound pretentious but the gesamtkunstwerk, the whole sensorial experience, covering all the senses, plus the intellect as well. I’m not really a Wagner fan, but he thought opera was it and then cinema became it, where if you’re open to going on a journey you can really have a very sensorial and an intellectual complete experience.

Who or what were your main influences? My editor felt that your film echoed Hungarian director, Gábor Bódy’s Nárcisz és Psyché…

AS: Really? I don’t know that film. Fernanda and I have a physical theatre company together as well, so I’ve always been interested in Grotowski, the Polish theatre giant, Peter Brook was a huge fan. His stuff was very physical but not in a cathartic way, it’s extremely controlled, but you’d see this quite shocking stuff and every night was the same. Technically phenomenal. So I was always interested in that and Fernanda, coming from Trinity Laban [Conservatoire of Music and Dance], having that experience married very well with these sort of things. And of course I trained, Stanislavsky, whatever, so that’s the performance side of things. And from the cinema point of view, I think my greatest influence perhaps was Tarkovsky, I think that’s one of the most shocking experiences I’ve ever had. And of course Ingmar Bergman, speaking Swedish as well. Especially with this film, the voiceover is in Swedish and there’s definitely a Nordic tempo in it. Many film people probably have a similar list of film cinema influences to mine, the Ozus and the Godards and so on, but I think for this film, Tarkovsky and Bergman would be big influences. Dreyer too, Ordet is devastating stuff. Early Fritz Lang too.

images-1How did co-directing with Fernanda work in practice? Were you responsible for different elements?

AS: Well, we did a film before, Ashes of God, in 2003 and I was the director and she was the choreographer. But we felt in this project, because she conceived so much in the rehearsal room – I’m very much the film side of things, the choice of shots with markers, I also edited and so on, but her influence is a deep understanding of the emotional story, sometimes she would have incredible insights and she was just there from the very beginning when it was just people flopping around in a studio looking rather rubbish and then shooting stuff from the beginning and it still looked very rubbish, but then just like nursing it through and being a real coach to the cast, to Livia and to [Anna Mesquita] in particular and of course doing her own work as well. So it’s a situation where we don’t step on each other’s feet at all – she provides material and I can then give my own guidance or input, but she’s not precious about, ‘Oh, you have to shoot all the choreography’ – if you work with a famous choreographer, you have to cover the whole thing and every dancer has to be in shot, so it’s not really cinema, it’s nothing to do with cinema. So it’s very much surrendering all the material to the camera and what the camera falls in love with, and Marcus, the cameraman, is very intuitive as well, so we have this triangular co-creation, shall we say, going on.

And you also did the editing yourself. What was that process like?

AS: I was very concerned about editing myself, because I’m aware that some directors, when they edit, they get very self-indulgent and stuff just rambles on forever, but what we did was basically, I was editing and then I’d put it on DVD, not look at it for a week and then watch it with Fernanda in a different context. And she would be the “Paramount Pictures person”, she would be the outside view, we would talk about it and she would see stuff that maybe I had missed. And of course, I was able to distance myself and have a new appraisal of it, so I’m actually very happy with the edit. Of course, it requires certain patience, it’s not MTV editing, it’s classical stuff, but when I look at the cuts now, the timing is just right. And it was just a slow, patient process like that.

Were Fernanda and Livia always going to play those roles? Was there a casting process?

AS: Livia had worked with us in other productions before, live productions, and we always wanted to make a film project together. She came from Brazil with us and that was the cast. In Stockholm, we approached a senior dancer for that third role and she was unable to do it, but then the person who was approaching her was actually a young dancer herself and we looked at her and thought, ‘Why don’t we try Anna?’ – she’s half Brazilian, half Swedish. It was a very happy coincidence, in a way. So we didn’t have a proper casting in that sense.

images-2So all the cast members were primarily dancers?

AS: Yes, apart from the lady who works with horses, who is a horse person, really. She used to be a designer, but now she has a farm for horses on their last legs, so to speak, post-career horses. So she was just providing that side of things.

Movement is obviously a very important part of the film – how collaborative was that process? AS you say, Fernanda was the choreographer, but did you work with Fernanda on the movements as the director?

AS: We have very similar taste, Fernanda and I, so we get excited about the same stuff, which is very useful. From my point of view, if I don’t believe something, it’s not going to make it [into the film], it has to be believable, it has to be authentic, even if it’s strange. So that’s always been my filter. I’m not really a contemporary dance person, I don’t really like a lot of contemporary dance, or the vanity, all that nonsense – it’s very much about performance and authenticity and when you capture something it’s a privilege, you feel it’s really tremendous, it’s a unique moment. In terms of editing, as an editor, it’s very much a new choreographic process, shots were slowed down, maybe 80 clips were slowed down, sometimes noticeably, other times not, and the juxtaposition and the breathing, the sense of rhythm is very choreographic, I think, as well. So I’m very much interested in movement. And in terms of the movement of the dance, it should not be a dance film, you know, breaking out in dance, it’s not a musical in that sense – it’s very much an externalisation of these compulsive, almost autistic kind of movements where the person is bereft and at a loss. And I think these movements are quite rooted in this person as well, in Livia, she brought that to the role, so we were able to use some of that material. And so when she dances by herself, it’s a memory, she re-enacts part of what she remembers, and then when she rocks, that’s very much an autistic, kind of lonely thing to do. So I think it should really be, again, not sticking out as ‘Hmm, this is a bit of a dance moment’, but actually being integrated as a whole in the story.

The film presents a narrative of doomed love from a female perspective, but is there a male perspective or is it exclusively female?

AS: Hmm. [long pause] It’s a difficult question, I don’t really know how to [answer that]. For me, I very much identified with that sense of loss. I actually lost my mum in 2005, which was just literally a week after the winter shoot. And of course that grief went into the film. So it’s a feminine film, I think, but also, it’s very hard, because my taste, our live work is quite shocking sometimes, not for the shock value itself, but just because it’s quite visceral. And also, Andrew Mckenzie’s work, the composer, from the beginning, he recorded the dancers’ performance and then created a twenty minute track that was then used in further rehearsals and on location, so they’re using their own sound and it becomes almost esoteric and quite mysterious. His stuff is quite shocking too – shocking is the wrong word, it would silence people, in a good sense. Which I think is what I’ve always loved, when I saw, let’s say Fritz Lang’s M for the first time, I couldn’t speak for two days. You don’t go outside and go, ‘Oh, that was nice’, you’re like [stares, open-mouthed], you want to stay through the credits and that sensation stays with you for some time. And I think Andrew’s music has that effect. As an artist, you always aspire to reach something like that. If you see a Mark Rothko, you feel something beyond just paint and the shapes. Something transcendent, maybe that’s the word.

What was the most challenging aspect of the production? What was the hardest thing to get right?

AS: There were lots of challenges on the shoot, but I see them as adventurous challenges, you know, like getting the boat and the ice-breaker, living in a house with no heating, all huddled together at night, shaking with the cold – all these things were tough, but not in a negative sense, they were part of the experience, of reaching the peak of the mountain, or whatever. But the tough thing really is the editing, when you start putting things together, when you start marrying the summer stuff with the winter stuff, it’s dreadful, you don’t really feel it’s going to work and then suddenly something gives. Editing can be quite a lonely and depressing place, sometimes, but the most difficult part for me, personally, was pushing it through the technological development, because we shot on a format which has now been surpassed, and then getting it through to the DCP, all that process was a real challenge, to be honest. Basically, what we did with Ashes of God, we shot that on digital as well, but went to film and it looked like a film, astonishingly, from DDV cam, it was like 35mm, massively blown up and nobody noticed that it was not film. And all of this was because emulsion is forgiving, but if you don’t have that process and you go from digital through to the final product and you don’t have that emulsion, you will see all the mistakes, all the artefacts, so we worked very hard to minimise that. And that was a long, long process, I’d say two years. Jumping through lots of programs and then you’re losing quality. We ended up doing it in Pinewood with a phenomenal, wonderful grader, who had recently restored lots of BBC films, Martin Greenback and he was just utterly patient and just fantastic. He really saved us.

Did you cut anything out during the editing process that you were sorry to see go?

AS: Well, yes, a lot of the poetry, some of the wonderful lines that we had – [Algernon Charles] Swinburne primarily, but also Katherine Philips, who was a 17th century lesbian poet, and also Renée Vivien. So some of these lines were great, but they just would not stick, or they would be doubling up the message and it would just be a bit too much of a good thing, so they had to go. Sometimes less is more and all that stuff. There were some dance scenes where we actually got a whole bunch of local dancers to dance for us, traditional dance, Midsummer Night’s Dance, wonderful stuff in Sweden, if you think of Miss Julie and all that stuff. And they’re not in the film – it just didn’t look right. We worked very hard to try and make it work, but all we have left is a bit of music in the background.

How did you go about choosing the text for the film and did you write any original text for the film?

AS: Yes, we did. Basically we wrote the stuff which I thought was too on the nose. Fernanda wrote some beautiful stuff which had to do with her sister, in fact. And that was very much of interest. And then I started reading massive anthologies of lesbian literature, from the 1500s onwards, and I came across a lot of interesting people, including Katherine Philips and I stumbled upon Anactoria by Swinburne, which is Sappho speaking to Anactoria and he’s a great poet and it’s wild stuff. And somehow that really reverberated. So it was a collage of fragments that I brought in, about thirty pages. And then I felt that it should be in Swedish, because these women are in Sweden and you could logically justify it in that, for instance, Renée Vivien was English and she was blue-blooded and inherited a massive fortune, and she had a massive fight with her mother, so much so that she left for France and just abandoned her Englishness and spoke French and wrote in French. So it felt like these are clearly not Swedish women, they are South American women in Sweden, looking for a kind of Pagan liberation, perhaps getting away from the macho South American world and so on. So I felt it should be in Swedish, but this was all very intuitive stuff, so I sent it to a great translator that somebody recommended and when I got the translation back, I just burst into laughter with pleasure, because she had actually managed to capture the essence of the poetry and in some cases even improved on it, if I may say so. I hope Swinburne’s not listening! But it was just, ‘Wow, this is great!’ And then, recording this, we had a Chilean Swedish lady doing a lot of the voiceover, with a great voice, and also Fernanda. Fernanda doesn’t speak a word of Swedish, and she didn’t even want to know the meaning of the sentences, and I was coaching her, and I actually felt that it was great that she didn’t know, because she would just deliver it without intention. I felt that was a very interesting way, almost like an Ozu or a Bresson way of approaching acting, where you strip things of meaning and emotion and just get the purity. So Fernanda was just repeating after me, like a parrot, so it had a very hypnotic quality, to me, and, I felt, a musical quality. So there were all kinds of factors, the voiceover script is also a musical score, I feel. It ranges, and it gives the passion, the rage, the loss, the tenderness, all the kind of things that you have in a love relationship, but also, because of the voices and the South American vibrato of the voices, there is a kind of musical quality, it goes into the music track, really.

Do you see it as a lesbian film in particular?

AS: Yes, lesbian, but not with a capital L. It’s very much about human beings, you know, it’s clearly a love story between two women, but we’re not really carrying the flag or something like that. In a lot of my work, sometimes there are gay characters and so on, so it is a lesbian film, yeah, but with a lower case L.

What’s your next project?

AS: I have two films to finish, that we shot in Brazil. They’re smaller films, but they’re dance / physical theatre films. And we have a film that we want to revive, that I raised finance for in the 90s, a great, great project, it was a triangular relationship, a psychological drama, with Lothaire Bluteau, from Jesus of Montreal. So I’m very keen to revive it now, but setting it a century earlier, because we’re very much into this late, decadent poetics kind of thing. We’ve gone to many congresses and become very friendly with these academics and studied these water painters and Oscar Wildes and Swinburnes and it’s just a very, very interesting world where I felt that the late Victorians, these guys really pushed the boat out, they were the punks of the time, so if we put this story in 1890s Britain, I think it would be very interesting. So that will be the next project.

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SEA WITHOUT SHORE | WORLD PREMIERE | GLASGOW FILM FESTIVAL 2015  

 

 

Poland’s Tragic Filmmakers

Perhaps because of its geographical position, between Germany and Russia, the history of Poland has been littered with tragic events that have percolated through the subconscious of its artists and creatives to give lasting legacies in the visuals Arts and particularly cinema.

The image of the doomed Polish underdog, a sad victim of Fascism or Stalinism, litters the screens of the postwar period. These historical tragedies effecting their homeland seem to have left a scar on the collective psyches of these talented artists and filmmakers, often causing them to lose their lives while in full swing.

Andrzej_MunkThe leading example of this must be Andrzej Munk (1921-1961), who died in a car accident, after returning from the concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau where he was shooting part of PASSENGER, ironically a film about an ex-concentration camp inmate who meets one of her former torturers on a ship. The film was finished, partly with stills, by Witold Lesiewicz and premiered on September 20th 1963, the second anniversary of Munk’s death, winning the FIPRESCI award at the Cannes Film Festival1964. Munk, who was Jewish, had to hide in Warsaw, and was part of the uprising in 1944. He started studying law, but later was one of the first students at the soon-to-be world famous Lodz Film School. He graduated in 1951 and begun shooting poetic documentaries, very much against the grain of the ruling dogma of “socialist realism”. Munk had joined the Polish United Workers Party in 1948, but was expelled already in 1952 for “blameworthy behaviour”. His first feature film MAN ON THE TRACKS was the first anti-Stalinist film in Central Europe. Followed by EROICA (1957) and BAD LUCK (1960), (both written by Stefan Stawinsky) Munk had established himself as the leading Polish director of his generation. Returning to Lodz Film School in 1957 as a teacher, Munk’s students included Roman Polanski, Jerzy Skolimowski and Krzysztof Zanussi.

IMG_0978Even though Krzysztof Kieslowski (1941-1996) may have lived a few years longer than the “mythical” limit of 50 attributed to artists having died ‘young’, his life is exemplary for his generation of Polish filmmakers, caught between creativity and Stalinist bureaucracy, which tried to suffocate them. After training to be a fire fighter, Kieslowski is successful, after many failed attempts, to study at Lodz Film School in 1965. He finishes in 1965 and joins TOR a documentary film collective in Warsaw. “From Lodz” (1969) and “Worker 71 – nothing about us, without our participation” (1972) are examples for his critical view of Stalinist repression. But his breakthrough is a feature film: THE AMATEUR FILMMAKER (1979), winner of the “FIPRESCI Price” at the ”Moscow Film Festival” of the same year. The satirical story tells the tale of a worker, who suddenly discovers his love for film making – taking himself too serious, he looses his wife, job and finally sanity. DEKALOG (1989), originally a TV film, is a liberal version of the “10 Commandments”, even though Kieslowski denied any religious intentions. A SHORT FILM ABOUT KILLING and A SHORT FILM ABOUT LOVE, part of the series, are later shown in separate forms in feature film length. His cultural pessimism found its maximal expression in the THREE COLOURS TRILOGY (1991-1994), where loss and alienation win over, in spite of the will for human survival. Even though Kieslowski retired from directing, he wrote two more scripts, ”Hell” and “Paradise”, but died before he can finish his new trilogy after a failed by-pass operation.

negri_pola_030But the list of Polish directors who died long before they could fulfil their potential is much longer, and by no means complete, they don’t deserve to be forgotten. Aleksander Hertz, was a leading Polish director of the silent period. Film production flourished particularly during the war years of 1914–1918; all in all Hertz directed 48 films in his short life. Eight of them featured a certain Barbara Apolonia Chaĺupiec, later known as Pola Negri. She starred in eight popular erotic melodramas, including BESTIA and SLAVE TO HER SENSES (both 1914), before leaving in 1917 for Germany and later Hollywood.

Ryszard_BoleslawskiRichard Boleslawski was born in Warsaw in 1889; after fighting in the Tsarist army in WWI he stayed in Russia, where he directed two films, before returning to Poland in 1917, shooting the same number of films, before emigrating to Hollywood in 1929, where his first great success was RASPUTIN AND THE EMPRESS (1932), featuring no less than three Barrymores: Ethel, John and Lionel. Two years later Greta Garbo starred in Boleslawski’s THE PAINTED VEIL. Then tragedy struck whilst shooting THE GARDEN OF ALLAH with Marlene Dietrich in 1936 in the south western desert. Despite company advice, he drank some local unboiled water and became ill, eventually losing his life half way through his last production THE LAST OF MRS CHENEY (starring Joan Crawford) almost a year later. In tribute to his short but invaluable contribution to cinema, the Americans made him a Star on the famous Walk of Fame (1960) on Hollywood Boulevard.

Mieczysław_Krawicz,Mieczyslaw Krawicz (1893-1944) started out as a set designer and was later assistant to Aleksander Hertz. He directed 19 films between 1929 and 1939. His last work was as producer and DOP for the documentary THE CHRONICLES OF THE BESIEGED WARSAW (1939). He would lose his life five years later during the uprising of the Warsaw ghetto.

220px-Eugeniusz-bodo_795791Eugeniusz Bodo (1899-1943) directed only two films but starred in over thirty productions and was one of the most popular figures in interwar Polish cinema. His father was Swiss and owned a cinema in Lodz, where Eugeniusz grew up. In 1931 Bodo jr. founded the BWB studios, and two years later the “Urania” production company, named after his father’s cinema. After the German invasion, he toured the USSR with a jazz band. He was supposed to be repatriated to Poland, but the USSR claimed that he was not eligible, since he carried a Swiss passport. He starved to death during the journey to the labour camp of Kotlas. The USSR claimed that he was murdered by the Germans, but the truth emerged after 1989. In tribute, Stanislaw Janicki shot a documentary about Bodo’s last years FOR CRIMES NOT COMMITTED in 1997..

Henryk Szaro (Henryk Shapiro) was born in 1900 in Warsaw. He started his artistic career at the Polish National Theatre, later working with famous Russian directors like Meyerhold and Arbatov. Szaro directed his first film ONE OF THE 36 in 1925, it had a Talmudic theme. He would return to this subject again in 1937 with THE VOW, which was shot in Jiddish. Overall Szaro directed eleven films between 1925 and 1939. He founded the Association of Polish Producers in 1927, and nine years later the Association of Polish Filmmakers. After the German invasion he fled to Vilnius, but returned to Warsaw, where he was murdered in the ghetto in 1942.

WojciechWiszniewski1Wojciech Wiszniewski was born in 1946 in Lodz. After his father’s premature death, his mother was forced to rent rooms to students of the Lodz film school, young Wojciech getting to know future film directors like Roman Polanski, Andrezej Kostenko and Heryk Kluba. Between 1965 and 1969 Wiszniewski himself studied at the famous PWSFTvIT in Lodz. He was one of the most gifted students of his year, but suffered from heart problems. After film school, he only managed to direct five short films, six documentary shorts and a TV feature but won five awards. His films showed a rather grim picture of Polish society and did not endear him to the authorities. When he finally got financing to start his first feature film “King Slayers” based on a famous novel by Stefan Stawinski (who wrote the scripts for Munk’s “Eroica” and “Bad Luck”), he died a few days before shooting started in 1981 of a heart attack, a day before his 35th birthday. AS/MT

THE 13TH EDITION OF KINOTEKA: POLISH FILM FESTIVAL WILL BE BACK IN LONDON in APRIL 2015

Interview with Robin Campillo | Director – Eastern Boys (2013)

image002EASTERN BOYS come from all over Eastern Europe to Paris where they hang around the Gare du Nord. Some are as old as 25 but others could still be in their late teens. They might be prostitutes but there’s way of knowing. Fifty-something Daniel Muller (Olivier Rabourdin/Of Gods And Men) meets one of them, Marek (Kirill Emelyanov) who agrees to visit him the next day. But when the doorbell rings, Daniel is unaware that his life is going to change forever.

Meredith Taylor chatted to writer/director, Robin Campillo, about his latest film which won the ORIZZONTI Prize at VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2013. He is a known for THE CLASS (2008), TIME OUT (2001) and THE RETURNED (2004).

MJT: Eastern Boys is a gay love story wrapped up in a migration thriller – where did the idea come from?

RP: The love story comes from a friend of a friend of about 55 who decided to adopt his former boyfriend of 35 or so who came from Poland. And I thought, how can I direct a film where the meaning of love changes?. And that was the challenge; to create the mutation that started with a sort of prostitution, then became more tender and gradually developed into a father and son relationship. And the other thing was that I wanted to create a character who was like ‘Boss’ (Daniil Vorobyov) who was at the same time frightening, enchanting and mesmerising. I love the idea of being afraid of someone but also by being attracted by them. And most of the time I think people are afraid of migration (and immigrants) and I find that exciting too, so I wanted to create a paradoxical situation here.

MJT: Now, in the film the younger man (Marek) attracts the older man (Daniel) by his charismatic gaze – did you intend him to be sexually submissive?

RP: I’m not sure whether Marek was a real prostitute but he uses sex to escape from his life and get what he wants – he wants to be desired by someone, and to re-gain his power (as ‘Boss’ the gang-leader, controls his life in Paris). He has empathy with Daniel and they get on but I don’t know what is going on between them actually. Daniel thinks he’s having a tender affair with Marek but all the time money is involved and he tends to forget that.

MJT: But Marek has sexual control over Daniel when they first meet at the Gare du Nord and that control continues…

RP: Well he’s trying to exert some power over his life and that’s the only way he knows how…maybe he has been taught by Boss how to behave in this situation so that he can get what he wants from Daniel…he (Marek) thinks he has the control because of the sexual power he has over Daniel but once they start their relationship, I think Daniel has the power…

MJT: Yes, and especially at the end…but we won’t reveal what happens there. What was the idea to set part of the film in your own apartment?

RP: It’s a thing about invasion (laughing) sometimes invasion can be positive..being invaded created a lot of things in the world so I like the feeling of being invaded by my own characters in my own film and my own space –  it all felt very weird and very exciting..

MJT: Did that continual spontaneity with the actors lead you to have to keep changing the script and re-writing during filming?

RP: Yes – before we started the shoot I didn’t realise that some of the Russian actors couldn’t speak English so, nine months before the shoot, I asked them to come to the apartment with Olivier Rabourdin and we did improvisations of a lot of the scenes and the party and they collaborated with me. Afterwards I went home and I re-wrote a lot of it..I used to think that directing a film meant being in control of it but I let go of this control and it became very exciting…I abandoned myself during the shooting and I wanted the others to do my film and it was a great idea.

MJT: Did you like that feeling of letting go?

RP: Yes, so much..I was mesmerised by the fact that they could take over the film. Of course, there was some germs (seeds) in my script to begin with but the collaboration then became so much more exciting – we had two cameras during the shooting and played with creating a different atmosphere with each and I found that very inspiring because it’s not like you have a programme when you wake up in the morning. You need to stay flexible and be surprised by what happens. I now have a lot of distance from my film and I love my film because it doesn’t belong to me and I that’s what I mean by being invaded by other people..foreigners… and yet to learn a lot myself.

MJT: Well film is really teamwork and certainly so in this case.

RP: Yes you’re right…and I’ve worked a lot with Laurent Cantet on this idea

MJT: Tell us about that.

RP: Well I’ve known Laurent for about 30 years or so and we are very close and good friends. When we did THE CLASS we were using three cameras and didn’t have a fixed project it mind. So we decided to look to the actors and let them create the characters. It was amazing to create that atmosphere where everyone is a little bit free. And I know now that whatever the story, we need to keep that feeling. It took me time to realise this but it always depends on good casting, so I always use good actors – the actors and the locations are the most important things in the film…for me.

MJT: Marek is amazing – he’s got a particular sense of vulnerability and he’s instinctive – where did you find him?

RP: It took me nine months..I searched all over the internet for my actors and watched them in many Russian films, not very good films I must say, and when you see bad films, and this is important, that’s when you can see who good the actors are…someone tried to tell me in France “you took these guys off the street” so I told him “please…he’s an actor, he’s been acting for years”. And Marek comes from a family of actors; he’s been acting since he was five. And you don’t even see the techniques with him because he’s so good. Between takes, he’s fiddling with his ‘phone but when you say ‘action’ he immediately starts to act. During the film I only told him three things and he’s so quick to learn and he understood everything. I’ve never met an actor like this – you just have to tell him a few things when you want to make some adjustments and he’s knows the character completely – he’s an amazing actor and, as you say he’s instinctive – he never asks you any questions – he just plays the part as you want it or completely differently – if you want that too..

MJT: Olivier’s also well-cast as Daniel. He’s vulnerable but also looks very worn down by life.

RP: Yes that’s right. That’s why I chose him because actors wear their lives on their face – and it’s very important to spend time to find the right casting – you can feel their life from their face without asking them. You don’t have to hear about their sad story with their last relationship. When you chose an actor, you chose a history on his face. That’s what cinema’s about. You don’t have to push things – things exist before you come along, you just have to find them. He has his own story and it’s rich for this character, he has this way of looking..

MJT: He has a world-weariness about him..

RP: Exactly – that’s the word “world-weariness”. You have a lot of expressions for everything…English is great for that!

MJT: Tell us about the look of the film. In the beginning it’s so disorientating…

RP: Yes the world ‘disorientation’ is for me a very important one. I like the idea that I lose myself: the spectator in the middle of nowhere with no compass! Debating what’s happening in this film. I want it to be (a) chaos! Very much like in THE CLASS – then after a moment you realise that there are characters and a relationship between them. You are the spectator and you are creating your own story, and you get lost occasionally and you have to focus a lot to see the fiction appear.

MJT: When you wrote VERS LE SUD (a drama about female sex tourism, starring Charlotte Rampling and directed by Laurent Cantet) it was about older women going with young boys, here you have an older man with a young boy. This oedipal/dominant relationship seems to fascinate you?

LC: Yes – it’s very strange because, I didn’t think a lot about it at the time but I must have a thing about it. I think what we call prostitution, or sex with money, is an important way of talking about domination and especially occidental domination in the world today. It’s a way of thinking about social differences but also about ‘desire’. I think prostitution will become much bigger because of the internet and because of people getting older…and wanting ‘desire’ in their lives. 

MJT: Do you mean older people still wanting to find chemistry ?

RP: Yes chemistry…people want to live more and have more experiences and I think it’s going to be huge. And I don’t mean that’s good or bad…I’m not judging..

MJT: No, you’re just making an observation about what’s actually happening.

RP: What we loved in VERS LE SUD was there were two kinds of minorities – women can be a kind of minority: they can be dominated a lot. So if women were dominated in their own lives they were going there (the Dominican Republic) to gain a little bit of power and desire. These films are about two types of people who were being dominated and now dominate a little bit. We found that fascinating.

MJT: So what’s next?

RP: This time I’m going to make another fantasy film (LES REVENANTS/The Returned was his first) with much more money! (laughing)

ME: So financing is not going to be a problem..

RP: I don’t know – we’ll see – but I want to make a film about women – because this one had a lot of men…

ME: And who would be your fantasy actress?

RP: Well I love Catherine Deneuve – but it’s a fantasy…(laughing)

ME: Well I hope your fantasy comes true. Thanks very much Robin Campillo.

RP: Thank you!

EASTERN BOYS IS ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 5TH DECEMBER 2014

Stations of the Cross (2014) Kreuzweg| Interview with Dietrich Brüggemann

Matthew Turner spoke to Dietrich Brüggemann, director of German indie, STATIONS OF THE CROSS, which won the Berlinale 2014 SILVER BEAR for Best Script

Where did the idea come from, first of all?

Dietrich Brüggemann (DB): Well, basically out of thin air. I had made a film with a lot of long shots earlier on, it was my graduation film that I made at film school. That principle of the long, steady shot had fascinated me and I always wanted to return to that. And first of all, with Catholicism, we had this episode in my childhood where we actually went to church with this very pious community, so we knew those people. And in some way, over the last few years, religion has had this kind of comeback, like everyone talking about it and fundamentalists in America and even those strong, fierce opponents like Richard Dawkins, they’re all about religion. So that was the thin air where the idea just sprang from, one day, I thought, like, ‘There are fourteen stations of the cross, why not shape a film after that? There should be a main character who follows the main path of Jesus, but actually suffers for religion’. So that was how it happened.

What was the biggest challenge you faced in doing the single shot for those fourteen takes?

DB: Obviously it was a huge challenge for the actors to learn their lines, yes – there was more line-learning than on a usual film. On the other hand, for the actors, it was hugely liberating, because it gave them the opportunity to play out those long scenes without splicing it up into lots of set-ups or repetitions. It was a huge gift to the actors. And the main challenge was to get the writing right, to get the script right, because you can’t fix it in the editing, because you don’t have the opportunity to re-edit the scenes that don’t work [on the page]. So the script has to be in pretty good shape and you really have to know your way around what each scene is about. And yes, the whole dialogue thing, I think that was the main challenge, but that’s fun, that’s something I enjoy doing. And also, the technical process of making the film was so rewarding, in a way, because on a normal film, you’re always in a hurry and you’re always late, because you keep setting up shots and breaking them down and moving on, and it was basically very, very different on a film like this.

What was the highest number of retakes you had to do on any single scene?

DB: I think the highest figure on the slate we had was something like 20. Other scenes were more like 15. With the scenes that were so very, very long, we didn’t do that many takes on those, because they were just too long, you’d get exhausted after a few times. And those scenes where the two kids are acting with each other without any other actors, they required a bit more work, because I had to work more technically on them, telling them where to stand and how to do timing, so these typically required a few more takes, but shooting is actually a bit like constant rehearsal, you do it over and over again and you have the camera rolling each time and it’s technically a take, but on the other hand it’s just a rehearsal and each one is a step to perfection and then at some point you get the perfect take, which is very often actually the last one and then you know it and then you can stop.

Am I right in thinking the camera only moves twice in the entire film?

DB: No, actually, it’s three times. It moves from left to right twice and there’s a crane shot that goes up at the end.

I wanted to ask what the significance was of moving the camera from left to right in those two shots?

DB: It could have been from right to left, it was more due to the nature of the locations we shot in. Maybe from left to right is just a more basic way of moving in our culture – it’s the direction we write in, it’s the direction the sun moves in the sky, you always have left-right movements there, so that is the normal way you tend to unfold a story. Like in [inaudible], the character always runs from left to right, so we didn’t want to go against that. Hey, you’ve never seen [inaudible] run from right to left, have you?

Who were your key influences as a director? I’m guessing maybe Dreyer…

DB: Well, Dreyer was an obvious reference for this film. Actually, funnily enough, the films that really influenced me are hugely different from this. So, the one film that really blew me away when I was 20 was Terry Gilliam’s Brazil. That made me want to make films. And then a strong influence for this particular film is the works of Roy Andersson, the Swedish director, who’s not as famous as he deserves to be. I absolutely adore his films, I watch them on my knees and that’s maybe the main tipping point reference for Stations of the Cross. On the other hand, of course, we try to kind of outdo him, by telling an actual story and having even longer shots, you know?

What’s your own relationship with religion?

DB: Well, I’m not really against it. Apart from all the theological stuff and all the voodoo and all the ‘Does God really exist?’ questions, the basic thing I see that are the reasons for people going to church are singing hymns and playing the organ and gathering together, flocking together and supporting each other in a basic, everyday way and what’s wrong with that?

I really liked the complexity of the ending in terms of whether or not you’re religious, the fact that the miracle works, if you like?

DB: Or is it a miracle to start with? I wanted it to be that complex – it’s not even being complex, it’s about encouraging difference and maybe even contradicting expectations.

I wondered if you’d seen a film called Lourdes?

DB: Yeah, I saw that. It’s by Jessica Hausner, an Austrian director. Yeah, of course, I had to watch it before making this one. I didn’t hate it, I didn’t love it, I thought it was okay. I don’t have any strong feelings, at any rate, towards that film.

It just seemed to be playing around in similar ideas with quote-unquote miracles and religious bases for those miracles.

DB: Yeah, it plays around with the same ideas, but it treats its characters in entirely different ways, it’s more like that cold, distant, arthouse stance it takes towards its characters and I’m just not fond of that, you know?

Can we talk briefly about the casting? How did you come to cast Lea van Acken as Maria?

DB: Actually just by following the usual path. When you set out to do a film like this you hear all these stories that people tell you from other films, you know, like, ‘We looked at 5000 people and went to every school in the country’ and I was prepared to do that, of course, but then what you do first is approach the usual agencies and just ask who they have and they had Lea van Acken. She just wanted to act and had left her previous agency and they put her into their files – she hadn’t done anything at that point, it was her first film. And so we ran the first day of casting and we had seven girls to try out that one scene and she was really, really good and she was one of those seven. So in the evening, I was like, ‘This is too easy, now I’m supposed to look at 5000 people and go to every school in the country…’ But it was that easy, actually.

Do you have a favourite scene or moment in the film?

DB: Not really, I like them all. I have a favourite set. All these sets were built on a stage, you know, and my favourite set is the undertaker’s office, because it’s so intimidating. It’s like a nightmare version of an undertaker’s place where all these coffins approach you like the guns of a battleship. And that’s my favourite set and that’s why we didn’t put a picture of that in the publicity stills, because I didn’t want anybody to see that before.

Normally at this point I would ask if you cut anything out that you hated to lose, but I suppose with the structure of the film and the continuous takes, you couldn’t really cut anything out at all?

DB: That undertaker scene I think started maybe two or three lines earlier, there was some kind of exchange that we actually cut and that’s the only cut we made in the film.

What’s your next project?

DB: Oh, well, it’s very very different. It’s probably going to be a comedy about neo-Nazis in Germany. We had this case that went all over the news, maybe not that internationally. It was a huge farce that was going on and someone had to put this in a film. A strong reference for that film is Four Lions, but on the other hand we have a wider scope, so it’s not completely about some neo-Nazi idiots, it’s about a whole country that is too stupid to come to terms with a bunch of stupid neo-Nazis. It’s a bold attempt at doing a 360-degree comedy about all aspects of German society. Well, we’ll try.

And have you left behind the attraction to fixed longshots or will it be similar?

DB: Ah, well, I think I’ll always return to that every once in a while!

STATIONS OF THE CROSS is out on general release on 28 November 2014

Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit – filmmaker

ALEX BARRETT spoke to Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit on his recent visit to London during the Pan-Asia Film Festival 2014.

As I sit opposite Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit, getting ready to interview the young Thai director of 36 and Mary Is Happy, Mary Is Happy, I place my two recording devices onto the table in front of us. One is my BlackBerry phone, but the other is an old Sanyo Microcassette Recorder. Normally, at this point in an interview, I would make a joke about still using an analogue machine – but given the director before me, the combination of old and new technology seems somewhat fitting. As if sensing this, Nawapol comments that ‘analogue is reliable’. And, as 36 has shown us, digital is not. I switch on the recorders, and the interview begins… 

AB: Your first two films, 36 and Mary Is Happy, Mary Is Happy had their London Premieres at the Pan-Asia Film Festival this weekend. Could you tell me a little a bit about them in your own words? 

NT: I think 36 is a love story about people in the digital era. One day I saw my hard drive and I thought ‘that’s a lot of memories’. I think electronic appliances, like hard drives and computers, are quite fragile. You don’t even need to drop it, maybe one day it’s just broken. And we keep pictures and things, as memories, in these fragile containers. People don’t like to print out digital photos, we just keep them like this. This is our era. So I wanted to discuss this topic, but via the love story, not as a serious drama film or something like that.

Mary Is Happy, Mary Is Happy is kind of conceptual, because I use social media quite often, and I love the pacing of posting and reading Tweets. I think it’s quite interesting, because it’s short and fragmented. It’s our new way to communicate with each other, and for me Tweets are like a digital diary, like the diary of the era. It’s not like the old days when we needed to go home and every night write something like ‘Dear Diary, blah blah blah’. Today, when we see something, we just Tweet. When we think something, we just Tweet. So I think it’s like a diary. And if it’s a diary, there must be a story. So I thought it would be fun to adapt that into a film.

AB: The two films feel linked by the theme of life in the digital age, and I was wondering – do you think that life has been affected by digital technology? I don’t mean in a practical or superficial sense, but in a philosophical or ideological sense. 

NT: I think when we have a new technology, it always changes us in some way, or in many ways. Like one day we got mobile phones, and it changed human behaviour and human relationships. Or, it’s like, do you know when you chat, and it says ‘seen’? It’s quite a problem in Thailand. People say ‘you’ve seen it and you don’t answer me!’ And it always happens between a couple: ‘you’ve seen it but you don’t answer me’. This is a new aspect to relationships of humans, so I’m quite interested in this topic, because I think inspiration comes from the new technology. A new way of communicating, or a new way of thinking, always comes from new technology. I think 36 is the product of the digital era, because every part of it, is digital – from shooting to promotion. When I first screened it in Thailand, it wasn’t in cinemas: it was a conference room, and I had no money to make a TV spot or buy the place for the banner or for putting the poster or something like that, so I used digital only. Digital has changed the way of filmmaking too.

AB: You mentioned that you use Twitter a lot, and you also have a blog and other social media pages – do you think any of them are affecting the way that you approach cinema? You said 36 wouldn’t have happened without digital technology – but do you think social media itself has affected your filmmaking and the way you approach storytelling? 

NT: I think so. For the past three or four years, I always think of everything as a fragment – small things. I don’t know if it’s because I watch YouTube a lot or something, because there’s a lot of short video clips and I get used to that rhythm. I think maybe this affected me in some way, my way of thinking.

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AB: Mary Is Happy is based upon 410 consecutive Tweets from Twitter user @marylony (aka Mary Maloney). Could you tell me about her? Who is she, how did you find her, and how did her stream end up becoming your film? 

NT: I chose [Mary] from my followers on Twitter, because I think it’s easy when I go to them to get the permissions, because if they follow me, it means that they know me on some level, so it’s quite easy. I didn’t choose from my friends, or something like that, because I love the concept that we read some Tweets or some Facebook Statuses of someone, and we imagine them in our way, you know? For example, when I read your Status or I read your Tweets, and I’ve never met you before, I have your face in my imagination, or something like that. We have to use our imagination to interpret that, what really happened in their life. So I chose someone that I never met before. I randomly chose from my followers, and I found Mary Maloney. She is a Thai girl, but she only posts her Tweets, she doesn’t reply to anyone and she doesn’t Retweet anything. So if you go to read her timeline, it’s quite in order. It’s quite a good layout, because it’s only her own. So this is one thing which I think appealed to me. And she Tweets what she thinks, not what she sees. So it’s quite broad for me to interpret.

AB: And has she seen the film? Have you been in dialogue with her? 

NT: First, when I wrote the script already, I sent it to her for permission, but I never met her, I just sent an email to her and she gave the permission. And almost a year later, because we go through production and postproduction, I invite her for a press screening, and that’s the first time we met each other. I think it’s like a blind date, because it’s like I know her by the text, by her messages only, and I know her, but actually I don’t know her. So it’s like a blind date. I think it’s interesting when she watched the film, because she’s the owner of the story and she always compared her real life to the film. Something like…there are some Tweets where she plans to go to Paris, and she Tweets that ‘today I’m in Paris’, but actually, she doesn’t go. She hoped to be there, but she didn’t feel sure about it. But in the film, the character Mary is there, in the real Paris. So, I don’t know what you call it. Hyper real or something?

AB: Did Mary like the film? 

NT: She liked it a lot. I think it’s quite personal for her. It’s not like – we can’t say she liked it like a general audience, but I think she liked it because it’s quite personal for her.

AB: Even though both 36 and Mary deal with people’s relationship to technology, stylistically they’re very different: 36 has long static shots, whereas Mary Is Happy is hand held and jump-cut. I was wondering how you decided the style for the films, and was it a conscious decision to make them very different?

NT: I think both of them came from the concept, which is quite different. 36 comes from a film roll, because that is 36 pictures in one film roll. I tried to imitate that still photo – so the shot is quite static, like a photo, something like that. But in Mary it’s like, I wanted it to be fragmented, quick shots, quite quickly cut. It’s about teenagers and I wanted to imitate the quick videos on YouTube. It’s quite unstable, it’s like documentary style. It’s like people who play, fall down or do something bad or funny or something like that. They always use an iPhone camera or something like that, so I tried to imitate that style. So the two films are quite different.

36

AB: Your two films have been produced by Aditya Assarat, who is known to UK audiences for his film Wonderful Town. Could you tell me about how he got involved in your projects, and what influence he had on your work? 

NT: For 36, actually, it’s like my film was self-produced, but when we needed to send it to festivals, I called him to help me, and that’s all for 36. But for Mary he was my producer. He called me to see if I had a new idea, and if he could support the project. But actually, about the style, I think our style is quite different. Because he’s more static than me, and more character based, human behaviour, it’s quite deep in his way, but my [style is more] kind of comedy, my films are a little bit more comedy. And I love to talk, I love to tell stories, so my stories are quite obvious and people can catch something from my story.

AB: In addition to your work as director, you also work as a script consultant and film critic. How do you think these roles have affected your work as director, if at all? 

NT: I think when I write as a critic, I take myself as the audience. I think when we start making films, sometimes we are deep into our projects and we don’t see the problems. But when we move ourselves as the audience, we will see a lot of problems, or something we need to fix. And when I have to write about the films, I have to analyse why I like this film, or why I don’t like this film – and sometimes I get something from analysing [other films] that we use for my films.

AB: Do you think film is very important to you? In Mary you have a lot of reference to filmmakers, such as Wong Kar-wai, Ang Lee and Jean-Luc Godard. 

NT: The film [Mary] is like my world, my subconscious, because I want to give a chance like when people read someone’s Status and they use their subconscious and their imagination to recreate the reality in their head, something like that. So I think it’s possible to bring in my, not my idols, but yeah…I grew up with those films a lot, because when I start to watch independent cinema, it’s Wong Kar-wai or people like Ang Lee or Godard, so I think it’s funny to bring them into this film like, ‘this is my world’. I grew up with Asian cinema, like Wong Kar-wai or Takeshi Kitano, so I think the world in my head must be something like the world in the film.

AB: I think we’re out of time now, but just quickly: what’s next for you? 

NT: My next project is making a film with a studio, a Thai film studio. Because usually I [just] write scripts for them, but this time it’s directorial work. It’s not that mainstream. You know, we understand each other, they know what I do, so it’s kind of low budget, but under a studio. Something like that. I’m okay with it, because I love both narrative film and experimental film, so I think it’s fun we that we can move back and forth between the two.

AB: Great. I look forward to seeing it. 

NT: Thank you.

IMAGES COURTESY OF SONALI JOSHI, DAY FOR NIGHT ©

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Catherine Breillat Interview

ALEX BARRETT MET UP WITH FRENCH PROVOCATEUR CATHERINE BREILLAT TO TALK ABOUT HER LATEST FILM ABUSE OF WEAKNESS WHICH STARS ISABELLE HUPPERT.

Isabelle Huppert plays Maud, a film director who suffers a vicious brain haemorrhage. The stroke leaves Maud partly paralysed, but when she forms a friendship with the con-man she hopes to cast in her next film, questions arise as to who is abusing whose weakness – and who it is who is really in control. For Breillat herself, who underwent a similar situation in her own life, there are no easy answers. ‘Abuse of Weakness’ is a legal term, and although the law may declare Maud a victim, Maud herself may see things differently.

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As Breillat explains: ‘She loves spending time with him. She loves it every time they behave like adolescents. It’s a part of the relationship…an abuse of weakness [can be] pleasant’. But Maud, despite her inner strength, is physically fragile – something she doesn’t want to accept. It’s a sad truth that Breillat herself also has to deal with: ‘When I am alone in my flat and I have to wake up, when I first stand up and find my balance, it’s very complicated and dangerous for me. I need concentration. I never get used to it. I cannot, because if I was to really understand it, I’d have to just sit and be quiet’.

So perhaps, then, Maud’s relationship with con-man Vilko Piran (played by rapper and actor Kool Shen) is in part a bid to escape herself, to forget her own weakness. On set, a director is all powerful, and perhaps Maud forgets that her ability to control what goes on around her may not extend to real life. For Breillat, it’s certainly significant that Maud views Vilko not as an ex-con, but as an actor. ‘Every director has to be interested with an actor’, she says. One senses that perhaps the mistake Maud makes is to relent when Vilko insists she sees him regularly before the shoot – something Breillat is normally against. ‘Even with Isabelle, who I know very very well… when I asked her to play the role, I just gave her the script. I had dinner with her and my producer, and then nothing. I never talked with her. I have no desire before [the shoot]. The first time I saw her was for the costume fitting’.

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If Maud had done the same with Vilko, then perhaps his gentle extortion of Maud’s money could have been avoided. But actors, for directors, are alluring – an object, even, of desire. For Breillat, though, they are also tools: ‘It’s the same for me as a violinist who needs a Stradivarius…It’s a strange relationship. It’s not that you deny them as a human person, but that’s not that what you need for your movie. You need the fantasy of Kool Shen, not what they are. That’s why I don’t want to see them before, because I have to dream and not to have too much material life with them’. Here again, perhaps, is an insight into Maud: she sees the fantasy of Vilko, and his presence in front of her somehow never counters her imagination of him. Directors are, after all, fantasists who spend as much time in a world of their own making as they do in concrete reality.

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But in making the film, Breillat is also confronting her own past – even if she’s keen to point out that this isn’t a biopic. For Breillat, Maud is not a transposition of herself, and Huppert ‘never accepted to interpret’ her, as it would be ‘miserable and without interest’. As she explains: ‘[The audience] don’t care how I am. I have no interest for them. No interest. They want to see a story’. Such an approach allowed Breillat to take an objective stance towards the character, and yet, for all this, the making of the film remained an emotional experience: ‘I can speak of Maud. I can direct Maud. But I cannot see [the film], impossible. Then I cry. But on the set I don’t cry. For the actors, it was more emotional than if it was strict fiction… but the most important emotion is the emotion of the shot for the film’. As this implies, it wasn’t the truthful recreation of the past that Breillat was seeking, but the emotional truth of the given moment happening on screen: ‘If I have emotion as a spectator, I don’t care if it was my emotion when I was in this situation or not. Because, in fact, I cannot ever remember and understand what was my real emotion in this situation…I am a director and my only thought is for my film’.

ABUSE OF WEAKNESS PREVIEWED AT THE BFI LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 2013

ROMANCE (1999) IS NOW OUT ON DVD FROM SECOND SIGHT FILMS

 

Susanne Bier interview | Serena

Susanne Bier and Christopher Kyle were at the London Film Festival with their new film arthouse drama SERENA which stars Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence. Matthew Turner spoke to them:

How did the project come about, first of all?

Christopher Kyle (CK): I read this remarkable novel when it was still in galleys and I really asked my agent to go after it hard and eventually got the job to adapt it. I was really attracted to the dark love story, to see a woman in this crazy macho world of the logging camp, the way they love nature and want to destroy it at the same time, all these big themes were really exciting as a writer to dig into, so I started working on the script, wrote a draft and then a year later, Susanne got involved and we started working on it together.

Susanne, what was the appeal of the project for you?

Susanne Bier (SB): The same. (Laughs). No, I mean, I was attracted by the dark love story and I was attracted by the fact of having this woman who is forceful and who is actually more capable than most of the men and who has a kind of a damaged soul, in a way. I was very attracted by all of those elements. And I still am.

With regards to getting on board with the project, is it right that Darren Aronofsky and Angelina Jolie were originally tied to the project and was there trepidation for you to pick it up after that?

CK: You know, the nature of this business is that people get attached to projects and then unattached to projects – it happens all the time. Darren was involved with the project for six or eight months and then financing came through for Black Swan, so he became unavailable, so we moved on. He did talk to Angelina at one point, I don’t know how far that got, but that’s normal, you talk to actors, you see who’s interested. None of that developed very far before Susanne got involved.

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What had you seen Jennifer Lawrence in at the time that she was cast in Serena?

SB: Winter’s Bone. And that’s it. She had not yet done Hunger Games and she had not worked with Bradley. So she got involved and, actually, at the time, she had only done Winter’s Bone and because she was a clearly very talented, very beautiful, very interesting young actress, but not yet a big star, it was quite difficult financing the movie on the basis of her, so it took a little while. But on our first conversation – I mean, she now claims that it was her idea [to cast] Bradley, but I was also going to talk to her about Bradley, so it was clearly both of us who had the same idea, and then we asked Bradley and he was quite keen to get involved and he was quite keen to portray a kind of slightly troublesome character, someone who is an idealist, but an idealist for reasons that today we don’t really consider particularly proper or particularly wholesome. And I was very fortunate that both of them wanted to be attached, but then it took longer to finance it. And in the interim, Jennifer had then done Hunger Games and they then did Silver Linings, but none of the movies had come out when we shot Serena.

What had Bradley Cooper done when he was cast then? Had he done Limitless?

SB: He’d done Limitless, he’d done The Hangover, he was an established star, which is sort of what made it possible to finance it. And then she became a huge big star in the interim.

You also have so many great British actors in the cast – I’m thinking of Sean Harris, Rhys Ifans, Toby Jones and so on. How did they get involved?

SB: There are Danish stars too! The movie was shot in Prague. It was tempting to partly use a European cast, but also I always felt that Britain has this richness of amazing character actors, character actors who are really distinct and special. And so the script was full of archetypes, like the archetype sheriff and the archetype villain, in a way. And actually, we were pretty much agreed that it would be really interesting having character actors who would not just fit into the archetype and would add something very extra to the characters. So, Rhys Ifans, who has a very gentle way of talking, that just makes him doubly scary when he plays the villain.

Did you have many of those character actors in mind early on in the process then, when you were looking at the script?

SB: It came together quite quickly. Once we started casting out of Britain, it was very joyful and fun to do that, because it left space for slightly unexpected choices.

How was the experience of working together?

SB: Very problematic. (Laughs).

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CK: Susanne’s like a dream for a screenwriter. I mean, she knows what she wants, she can be very clear about what she needs from the script, but she’s also a great collaborator, she listens, she’s willing to entertain other ideas, so you really can’t ask for anything more, as a writer.

SB: That’s very nice of you! I want to say the same thing. But we have a tone between us where the characteristic of the tone is that we don’t pay each other compliments!

CK: We express our fondness through insults, which is unusual.

That’s very British…

SB: Which is quite fun! We’re actually having a lot of fun, I want to say. And it’s actually been really seamless and very creative.

CK: I wish it was always like this!

You mentioned Danish actors. I spotted Kim Bodnia on screen for maybe two or three seconds. So does that mean that you cut quite a lot out that you were sorry to see go?

SB: Yes. I think what happened in the process of the script was – it’s such rich material and the novel was such rich material that the challenge is losing scenes you love. The challenge is not losing things you don’t like, because that’s easy to do. The challenge is losing things you love. And that was true for the script as well as for the editing. And there was possibly a bit too much complexity in the film in the first edit, which is why we actually had to focus on the love story, which is why certain characters became much less prevalent or almost virtually disappeared. So Kim Bodnia was Rachel’s father in the film and he was one of those characters.

Susanne, you tend to explore relationships in your films rather than creating something effects-driven or, say, an action film. Do you find that this is something that you particularly connect with and interests you still?

SB: I am interested in human beings. I am interested in relationships. Basically, that’s the only thing that interests me. However much I theoretically would love to do a real action film, I can’t really see myself engaging for hours and hours about a car chase. The thing is that I really enjoy some of them. I enjoy the ones that still have a human aspect to them or the ones that have a sense of humour, but I am always longing for the car chase to stop and for them to start talking, or kissing, or any other possible human exchanges.

CK: Certain types of movies get so technical that the director spends all their doing everything but work with the actors on the human beings in the story.

SB: It would drive me crazy and I can’t really see anyone who would offer me that type of movie!

You have two films at this festival, Serena and A Second Chance. Will you continue to go back and forth between Hollywood and making films in Europe?

SB: I would love to, but it’s also a little bit about working in different financial scales and that’s probably the major difference.

What are the main pros and cons of both?

SB: The pros (of working in Hollywood) are that you can actually make an epic picture, which is really attractive and satisfying in terms of beauty and the whole cinematic experience. The cons are that it is a more complicated process.

So, is it a case that the reverse is true, where making films in Europe is a more streamlined and simple process but the financing is harder?

SB: Ah, but then when you see a lot of small European films, you wish it were a more complicated process, because there is also that thing of an auteur arrogance in Europe. ‘I’m the director, nobody’s going to say anything, so I’m just going to do the movie I want to make’. Then it’s a three-hour long, incomprehensible and very boring movie. I do actually think there is a kind of healthiness in a bit of an exchange. I don’t think making a movie by committee works either, but I think that a certain relevant questioning is probably healthy.

In the first half of the film we see the start of the relationship between the two central characters. In a lot of the scenes where they are alone together, it just becomes a sex scene. Was that a conscious decision?

SB: Love is a funny thing. I think that we wanted to suggest the character of their love was also a very physical character. I do also think that the trigger for someone like Serena, to make her so crazy, is also a physical love. You’re right, but that was also in the nature of the love affair. Yes, of course, you could have made another sort of love affair, but we didn’t want to do that.

We’re experiencing a strong time for television and, in particular, Scandinavian television. Would either of you ever be tempted to move into that?

SB: For me, television is the most exciting thing. It’s the most exciting place to be right now so, yes, absolutely. I think one has to live in the last century for not recognising where most, but not all, of the… well, it’s also where the best writing is. [Turns to Kyle] Don’t you agree?

CK: It’s so depressing trying to get work as a screenwriter in Hollywood right now, because all the movies are about toys or comic books. Opportunities like Serena are extremely rare and very competitive, because all the writers want those jobs, so where there’s growth, where there’s excitement, is television. Not just in the US, but all over the world. Everybody’s clamouring for these interesting, serious dramas with good writing, good acting and good directing. The production values have exploded. You see something like True Detective. It’s shot like a beautiful eight hour movie, which wasn’t what television was like 5 or 10 years ago at all. A lot of people are excited about television…

SB: I also like watching it! And I want to say, particularly, in writing. You mentioned Scandinavia, because I actually think that the writing in Scandinavian films is still, comparatively, really good, but I think that particularly in America, I think that the writing in television is way better than the writing in films.

Does that mean that it is just a question of you waiting for the right project to come along? Or would you be thinking about producing or developing your own material?

SB: I’d love to do television. Whether it would be me initiating it or doing a project with him [indicates Kyle], I would be very intrigued by that.

CK: I’ve just made a deal to write a pilot for FX, based on a French historical novel called ‘The Cursed King’, it’s about the 14th century and the events that led to the 100 years’ war.

What was the hardest thing to get right in Serena?

SB: The hardest thing was balancing the fact that we’re dealing with two fraught human beings and still rooting for them, because it’s all very well having a clean heroine or a clean hero, but the complexity of what the characters are doing, and yet still being attracted to them; still being fascinated by them; not being repulsed by them. I think that’s probably the trickiest balance of all.

CK: I agree; the tone. It’s very tricky when you place at the centre of a film characters who do things that are objectively offensive. And yet, if you make them compelling, fascinating and complex enough, the audience will go with them. Last night, a young woman at the Q&A was going all the way with Serena to the point where she said she was rooting against Rachel and the baby.

Was something like Macbeth at the forefront in terms of references?

CK: Yes, absolutely, and that starts with the novel. The novelist was inspired by Lady Macbeth and also Medea; these tragedies with strong women at the centre of them, so that was something we were conscious of from the beginning.

Were there any other specific reference points for you when making the film?

SB: There were a number of references. There was a noir reference. A Barbara Stanwyck, noir reference. It was very important for me to give this a contemporary feel, but that there was also a sense of psychology; that she wasn’t just an evil black widow that would just seduce a man, because I don’t feel that a contemporary female audience would respond to that. I feel that a contemporary female audience would respond to someone who might behave in an offensive way, but we still understand her, which is what I was trying to aim at.

Was that perhaps the biggest tussle that you might have had with the original source material, in terms of making sure you walk that delicate tightrope, right between not alienating the audience from the actions these characters are taking, making them sympathetic enough that they can still go with it, was that a challenge?

SB: Yes, a big challenge.

CK: It’s always a challenge with a novel, because novels can tell you what a character’s thinking, but in a film you only get to see what they do and what they say, so it can be more challenging to get that nuance sometimes.

In relation to the locations that you chose, because it’s set in Carolina, but you shot in Prague. Obviously with these Hollywood film stars – well, they weren’t both stars then, but Bradley Cooper was – you had to bring them over. Was it a convenience for you to be in Europe rather than in America?

SB: Because it was way more financially viable. And so it made sense. I mean, one of the things you want to do as a filmmaker is that you want to have the most part of it on screen, so you’ll go to great lengths to secure that. And, as we spoke about, since you don’t automatically just inflate the budget, that would be one of the decisions.

I have to ask a slightly facetious question: what do you have against babies? You have terrible, terrible things happening in A Second Chance…

SB: Stop saying that! I don’t want you to say that! Firstly, here’s the thing: I love babies. I mean, I’m crazy about babies. I’m kind of dangerous, to be honest. And so the truth is that it would be more tempting for me to steal babies than anything else.

So it’s a coincidence that it’s been terrible things happening to babies back to back?

SB: The babies on set had a great time.

CK: All of her children lived to adulthood. She took good care of them.

What’s your next project?

SB: Probably Mary Queen of Scots, with Working Title.

I wanted to ask about your other film in the festival, A Second Chance. How did A Second Chance come about?

SB: Well, it was the result of a collaboration between myself and my other writer, Anders Thomas Jensen, he wrote it. And he’s had four kids in a very brief period of time, so maybe you should ask him about what he thinks of babies.

And the casting for that? How did you get those two involved?

SB: Are you talking about Nicolaj Coster-Waldau? I asked him. He’s, you know, he’s Danish, and I know he comes out, and you know him from Game of Thrones, and we all know that he doesn’t really have a hand. But I’ve been looking, he hasn’t done a Danish film for 10 years or something, and I’ve kind of been looking to find a movie to work with him in. And when we had the first draft of this one, I thought, ‘He’s going to be amazing in it.’

I think Nicolaj Lie Kaas is a really fascinating actor, because he can play heroes and he can play villains, there’s not really very many people who can do both so brilliantly.

SB: It’s crazy, he’s crazily good at both. He’s really amazing.

So was getting him involved an important part of the film? Also, those two actors together, you don’t often see two such big Danish actors together in the same film these days, so was it important to have those two big presences together?

SB: Yes, and also Nicolaj Lie Kaas is probably the most funny person on the planet, so he just needs to be on set so I can laugh.

CK: That’s your number one, yeah?

SB: Do you think I’m getting silly? Do you think I’m being very un-serious there? Because I can feel it, the seriousness slipping out.

In relation to these two films, was there any overlap at all, or has Serena basically sat in the can for a bit longer?

SB: No, there was overlap, that was part of the delay of Serena. We had a delay in editing, and then we realised that the ADR was gonna be a real challenge, because it was shot in Prague, and it was huge on the ADR. And then I had another film, that I was committed to doing, so there was, I did that one while doing post on Serena, so there was a kind of crazy–

That must be really hard.

SB: I don’t know, it wasn’t necessarily hard, but it was crazy in terms of logistics, and planning and actually finishing Serena. But, I now have two films.

Yeah, exactly, that’s true. Do you have a favourite?

SB: That’s exactly what my kids ask me, and I consistently say, you know, when my son asks me I say, ‘Of course I love my daughter much more than I love you.’

Going back to the question of adaptation, I haven’t actually read the book but it’s my understanding that the endings of the book (of Serena) and the film are quite different. What was it that made you want to make the large changes to that in particular?

CK: You know when you adapt a book it ends up taking on its own logic. You start with what you see as the core story of the book, which was this love story, between these two really dark and interesting characters, and then start stripping away and trying to focus on the best parts of that story for the film. And then you have to look at it as the story that you have in the screenplay, and how do you end that story, regardless of how the book, which is tying together all these other plotlines that you’re not really using. So it’s just a process that you get to, and this ending seemed to make the most sense for the story we were telling.

SB: It’s also that sometimes in a movie, making a very long time gap gets complicated. And I think we kind of felt that it suited this move to actually finish within its own world.

 

Cold in July | Interview with Jim Mickle | DVD Blu release

Filmuforia talked to Jim Mickle about his 80s-set noir thriller adapted on the novel by Joe R Lansdale:

Matthew Turner (MJT): How did the project come about, first of all?

Jim Mickle (JM): I read the book – I picked it up at a used book store – I’d been a fan of [author Joe R Lansdale]’s – read it in one night and fell in love and thought, ‘I want to make a movie that makes me feel how this book feels, this sense of discovering this crazy mish-mash of genres, dark tough guy characters – I want to make a movie like this’.

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MJT: I thought the structure of the film was very interesting, in that it starts as one thing, but becomes something else. How much of that is reflected in the book?

JM: Very much. Very, very, very much. We did it in slightly different ways – at times we had to do a slower transition between things or at times do a more abrupt transition, but it was very much that in the book – that was what I fell in love with, I kept hitting moments where you sort of settle into a story. You realise how interactive watching a movie is, in a way, or reading a book – any kind of receiving a story – when you start to settle into something and think, ‘Great, you know, this is cool, this is Cape Fear, sort of revenge thing, cat and mouse, great, I’m into that!’ And then as soon as that shifts into something else, it just sort of changes all expectations. You realise how lazy I think we are as audience members, because you have expectations and you want things to meet those expectations and when something doesn’t or it shifts it becomes this really challenging experience. But I just loved it and that was something we wanted to carry over into a film.

MJT: Are you worried about film reviewers spoiling too much of it?

JM: Yeah. Yeah. I think there’s a way to talk about it that’s sort of like that, you know, that it starts off as Cape Fear and then becomes two or three other films by the time it stops. I like that, in any reviews I read of any movie, I usually read the first part and then skip the synopsis and go to the end, to sort of see what’s going on. So I hope people stick with that, but for the most part, people have been pretty good about being coy about what they talk about. Except the New York Times- the New York Times gave us this shit review that was just – all they did was just summarise the entire movie, plot point for plot point! It was like, ‘How lazy can you be?’ And then offered no opinion about the movie whatsoever. It was like, ‘Great. So you basically just printed a list of spoilers and called it a review of our movie’. So that can be frustrating, you know.

MJT: This is a hell of a role for Don Johnson. Was that all on the page? How much did he bring to it?

JM: The energy of the character was on the page, much of his dialogue was on the page. Much of it was in the book. We transcribed some of that, or tried to find ways to paraphrase stuff, obviously. And he’s a very talkative character, which doesn’t always work in movies, so we had to pare that down. He added a lot on top of that, so there was a lot where he sort of got into that mode. He improvised a lot and I think that was really strong for comedy – I think when that stuff feels natural and not forced it’s good, so we let him improvise a lot. Some of my favourite stuff in there is him, you know, that line about, ‘I need a goddamn drink, I haven’t even had my coffee yet’. Little asides and stuff like that were all Don. That bit with the old phone – we sort of gave him the phone and said ‘Go’ and he came up with all that stuff, so yeah. It was sort of like, once you have him, you sort of need to capture that larger than life persona and not try to keep it in a box.

CIJ_STILL-400-2 copyMJT: How did the cast all get involved? And did you have them in mind for the parts?

JM: No, not at all. I try not to write stuff or be thinking of stuff with certain people in mind, because you fall in love with stuff too easily. I think it’s better to get the script exactly where it needs to be and then start to think, ‘Alright, who could facilitate the script’ rather than – my writing partner Nick a lot of times will think of people and I think that paints you into corners a lot of times. So, no, I always sort of had this idea of sort of like a Texas Everyman, I kept describing him as like McConaughey in Frailty, like a 35 year old, sort of [blue collar worker], could work as a trucker, could work in a field, who knows where. So [Michael C. Hall] we met at a party in Sundance and at that point he had read the script and really liked the script. So we talked about it at Sundance and I had always pictured – I had always had a hard time accepting Dexter, because I always thought of [Michael] as his Six Feet Under character, so it took a while to really buy that and I thought, ‘I’ll never accept him as this guy!’ And the reality was just the opposite – I think he was highly qualified to play an Everyman because he had spent his entire life playing these dark characters with a lot going on. He got to finally play somebody that was very normal. So we met him at Sundance, sort of fell in love there and then the movie, I think we came to the Cannes Film Festival last year, financing happened, we landed in New York the next day, sent the script to [Sam Shepard] and Don and both of them signed on very quickly after that. After years of having a very hard time finding money and actors who would even read it, all of a sudden it was instantly – everything kind of fell into place.

MJT: Did you encourage the actors to read the book?

JM: I did, yes. I did and then I realised it was probably not the greatest idea, because there are a lot of things where we zig left where the book zagged right. And so I think [Vinessa Shaw] read the whole thing, which is great, because I think she was able to – we had to really pare her character down, which sucked, because her character’s a big part of the book and a big part of the journey they go on. And in order to keep it focused on Michael and to really make it a two hour movie instead of a four hour movie, we really pared it down to more his story, but what was great is I think she read it and really got a sense of who her character was and fill in a lot of the gaps and stuff, so that was really great. Don and Sam did not – I remember Don saying, rightly so, that the book is not the script and the script is not the movie and the movie isn’t the movie until you edit it, which I think is very true. And so he was very careful to make sure that he wasn’t – I think it’s easy to say, ‘Well, in the book, this happens!’, you know, and he would say, rightly so – but that’s not reflected in the movie and so it can be very hard to remember what’s what.

MJT: Johnson’s having this kind of amazing late career resurgence that reminds me a bit of William Shatner, making these kind of iconic appearances. How conscious of that was he?

JM: Good question. He has a very strong sense of self and a very strong sense of who his audience is, who his demographic is. He has a very clear, very accurate idea of how he comes off, which is really great.

[Digi-recorder fault meant that interview cut out at that point. Spotted it a few minutes later and resumed].

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MJT: Did you cut anything out that you were sorry to lose?

JM: There was. In the book, there was Vinessa’s character that I was – there was a really strong sense of the husband / wife journey that happened in that book that we really had to boil down to Michael’s sort of discovery as a man. That, I was sorry to see go, but I don’t think it would have worked in the movie. There’s a lot of scenes with Jim-Bob in the book, he gets introduced in a much different way and he comes in earlier, he’s involved in the digging of the grave scene and that kind of stuff, that was great. Miss a lot of that stuff. There’s about twenty minutes of deleted scenes that will be on the DVD and they’re all great scenes but as much as I love them, there’s always a reason why stuff gets cut. So we just watched some of them to do a commentary on them and as I watched, I thought, ‘It’s so funny that anyone ever thought this needed to be in the movie’, but in almost every case, there were scenes that were like, ‘We can not cut that out of the movie, it needs to be there!’ I just find that interesting, that the things that get cut are the things that, usually, on the page, are the things you think you need the most.

MJT: What was the hardest thing to get right, overall?

JM: Good question. I think the rhythms, because even if something works and has a certain energy and pace and rhythm in the book and even though when they work in a script, once you get to the actual movie experience, there is a different way to ingest that. And so that was something that was constantly being shaped the entire time, you know, how long do you spend here, how quickly do you move through things. And it took a long time of back and forth with a lot of test audiences to really get a sense of when there was too much of something. And I still see people that feel like there’s too much of something and not enough of something else, but that is a tough thing. It’s really hard to stay objective to that when you’re editing something and something you know for that long. So that was always a tough thing.

MJT: Had you seen Blue Ruin? I noticed its director [Jeremy Saulnier] had a thank you in the credits.

JM: Yeah. I love that movie. And Jeremy was there at our first screening. He read the script and gave some really great notes at the script stage and then he came and watched the first cut and I just remember him being like, you know, ‘Take a deep breath – it’s going to get there. This movie isn’t it,  but take a deep breath, it’s going to get there.’ We had met on our first movies in 2007, we were at South By Southwest and we kept bumping into each other at festivals with Murder Party and Mulberry St and then last year, We Are What We Are played Director’s Fortnight with Blue Ruin and we sort of rekindled and met back up. He was very helpful and I think we’re a little bit of a support group for each other in many ways.

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MJT: What makes Texas so perfect for Texan Noir? And why are we seeing the rise of it now?

JM: Well, I think it always was there, I mean, I think there’s a lot of – I mean, even like Jim Thompson’s stuff and Cormac McCarthy is a little bit further east of there, but I think there always was that and I think there’s a sense of nostalgia in America, probably that dates to the cowboys, old west sort of vibe that I think a lot of people link to Texas, even though it was happening in a lot of other places. I think there’s still a strong connection to that and I think there is a lot of leftover nostalgia for those kinds of stories and that sense of morality. I think that happens a lot. And I think there’s a big sense of pride in Texas, both self-pride – I’m always amazed that everyone from Texas has a great sense of self-confidence, in a very cool way. And also a confidence and a pride in their state and I think that makes for strong-willed people and strong-willed characters and I think they’re always interesting, when you put them into these kinds of stories. I think there’s a great sense of lawlessness there that, in society, sucks – in society, Texas is like the state that keeps popping up and causing problems and you keep sort of having to [give them a] smack on the head and keep them in line. But in movies, that’s great, that’s a great character to have. It’s very open, it’s gigantic, there’s a million different areas of it, you know, you have the dusty plains of the west and you have the more sort of Bayou country pine tree green luscious spot like East Texas, where our movie is set, so there’s a lot of interesting thematic stuff and then visually, I think it’s just great. You know, Paris, Texas, Sam Shepard, when you need a story about a guy who’s lost in this open world, you go there.

MJT: That was a happy coincidence, casting Shepard, then?

JM: Yeah, it was, it was. Because originally I had always thought of Cold in July as a sort of 1989 western set in the suburbs, so I would always listen to the Paris, Texas soundtrack, Ry Cooder’s steel guitar, I would always listen to that soundtrack every time I’d read the script and just try to dive back into it, get into the head of it and then it’s one of those happy evolutions is, you know, we ended up being nowhere near that, musically, at the end of the day.

MJT: Do you have a favourite Texan noir movie?

Blood Simple. (1984)

JM: Blood Simple.

MJT: What’s your next project?

JM: We’re doing a TV show called Hap and Leonard, which is a continuation of Cold in July in some ways. Joe R. Lansdale, who wrote that novel, it’s a book series he has of two bumbling idiots who crime-solve in the late 80s in East Texas. So we’re working on that right now and there’s two films that I’m working on right now, one a much bigger film and one that’s sort of a quieter, subtler, sort of Hitchcockian thing. Trying to have a couple of different things out there and see what works first, as opposed to what we did with Cold in July, which was fall in love with one idea and fall into depression when we thought it wasn’t going to work.

MJT: Does that mean you’re sort of moving away from horror movies?

JM: I don’t know ‘moving away’ – I don’t have a strong ability to structure things from the outside, you know? So it’s been now a matter of reading a lot of scripts, reading a lot of books, trying to develop my own stuff and with Nick and it’s really hard to control that. So I’ve been responding to just the best material, whether it’s horror or science-fiction or action or whatever. It’s been really focussing on that and also, I think, being in a weird spot where we’ve done – we’re getting a great release here in the UK with Cold in July, which I’m so thankful for and so thankful to Icon for. And in the US we’ve had a great release, but the whole model of distribution there is changing so much, so we came out Memorial Day weekend, against X-Men, you know, and we came out with zero advertising, on a couple of screens. And that was the movie I thought was going to be sort of our breakout film, it was really going to make some noise. So it’s been like a little bit of an existential thing of, like, what do independent filmmakers do anymore? How do you get stuff out there? Part of that is a move towards television, I think, because that’s a place where you can do things that don’t have to be laden with superheroes in order to make it connect with an audience. But it’s tough, it’s really tough, because I think if you do horror, everyone wants it to be really, really cheap horror, so they can turn it around and make gangbuster dollars – you know, unless it’s Paranormal Activity, it’s not successful. And so I feel like every couple of years, when we start to do the rounds with talking to studios or Hollywood executives, it’s always, ‘It’s very much ‘The Conjuring’, that’s what anyone says that just means, ‘Some people go into a house and some supernatural shit happens’, that’s code for that. It used to be, ‘It’s Paranormal Activity-inspired’, which was everyone’s way of saying it’s found footage. So I think in horror, it’s really hard to do anything different, it’s really hard to do anything that’s challenging in any way. There used to be a little more receptiveness, I think to financiers who were willing to back something like that and I think now we have a lot of ideas of things that we want to do like that, but you need a lot of money to do it, and then once you start talking about that, then you shift very quickly out of those movies and fall into fifty million dollar plus summer blockbusters that have to be remakes or sequels or based on previous intellectual property and that sort of thing. So it’s trying to find what’s going to succeed, what’s going to feel like, yes, it was worth spending two years slaving on this, what’s going to feel sustainable and I don’t know what’s sustainable right now in movies other than television.

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Bruno Dumont talks about Camille Claudel 1915 | Interviews

Camille_Claudel_-_003 copyIn his latest feature Camille Claudel 1915, French auteur Bruno Dumont has remained faithful to his somewhat sincere, morbid take on humanity. In this instance we’re delving into the life of Camille Claudel – portrayed by Juliette Binoche – in her later years, when confined to a mental institution following the nervous breakdown that came as a result of her affair with Auguste Rodin. Dumont discusses his influences, how cautious he had to be when handling such a subject matter, the prevalence of patriarchal injustice in the film, and what attracts him to creating such unforgiving, often bleak feature films.

Was the story of Camille Claudel one you knew much about prior to getting involved in this project?

It’s actually quite a well known story in France, she was a famous artist with this tragic destiny, ending up in a mental hospital. So yes, I knew about it before.

This isn’t the first film about Camille Claudel, with the 1980s take, starring Gérard Depardieu. Did you use that at all to inspire you – specifically in relation to Camille’s history with Rodin?

Yes, and because that film had been made, I didn’t need to cover that again, that aspect had been made into a film already. So I decided the next part of the story, which is far more obscure. Also, that moment in Camille’s life suits Juliette much better given her age.

Was delving in to a more obscure time in Camille’s life, allow you more artistic licence?

Yes, exactly. It’s more interesting because it’s more obscure and to study the psychiatry of an artist is very interesting to me.

With close-up shots of Juliette’s face, it reminded me of The Passion of Joan of Arc – was that an influence on this title?

Yes, and there is a relationship between the two women, because in a way they both burn. They’re both prisoners.

Another potential influence I could see is One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – especially in how our protagonist seemed to think that, in her mind, she was perhaps above everybody else there, and yet was unhinged herself. 

Yeah, well the Claudel family are quite odd and very sure of their own genius. They have this superiority and are fully aware of their own genius. It makes them quite annoying, but that’s how they are. But yes, she was unhinged, it’s not a question of whether she is mad or not, it’s the length of time that she spent in there which is terrible. The problem is her brother’s influence in keeping her imprisoned. You have the scene with the doctor saying she’s much better and that she’s calmer and that she can be taken out. But the brother doesn’t. That’s the tension.

When treading on territory such as this, studying mental illness – how cautious do you have to be in order to remain sensitive to the subject matter?

I couldn’t imagine making actors play mad, so I had to be truthful by showing people who are genuinely mentally ill. So I was forced into that decision. Above all, Camille Claudel is writing about how hard it is to live with these women in her letters. So the whole mission of the film was to have this environment like that, with real patients. So I managed to find a psychiatrist who understood the therapeutic value of them being in the film, but you do need somebody to give you authorisation, so I had medical authorisation to do a casting in the hospital. Some people didn’t want to be in it, and some parents didn’t want their children to be in, so I just took people who did want to be in it.

In regards to Camille’s interaction with some of the other patients, we see quite a ruthless, callous side to her. Was it important for you to portray her flaws, to help us understand the character even more?

Yes, she was a hard, tough woman. She has this superiority about her, and she would treat everybody there like a lesser being – including her brother, who she calls ‘Little Paul’. She is pretty arrogant.

Was it ever a challenge to maintain that level of empathy, and yet show her for all of her imperfections?

I wasn’t judging her, I was taking as much as I could from the letters, which is as close as I could get to who the character was, and her relationships with other people. So I wasn’t trying to impose my own judgement on a historic character, you know, they are who they are. It’s the same for Paul, it’s easy to make him unlikeable – but I like him [laughs]. But he’s not a hero. He was a great writer, but he was also a coward. Like a lot of people. We’re all like that in some ways, and that’s the interesting part.

The film is very difficult to watch at times, and can be bleak and unforgiving. Do you get gratification from provoking such an emotional response from the viewer?

The film is difficult to watch because it’s difficult to look at mental illness. The film also takes you on a journey of love, by the end you love these women. In the end you find light. Camille is smiling by the end. In this journey, there is something that comes out that is a positive, in a way. The audience member, when they come out, can be happy, somehow. It’s a difficult journey, but can be a happy one.

This is not the first film of yours to tackle such severe themes – what attracts you to explore the darker, more dramatic side of life as a filmmaker?

In human beings there is lightness, darkness, happiness… I’m just occupied by the heavier side. You have to treat the serious side seriously, and the lighter side lightly. When you read Shakespeare, it’s not necessarily all funny, but in Shakespeare it is beautifully written, and in tragedy there is beauty. There is beauty in tragedy.

Back to Camille Claudel – how prevalent is the theme of patriarchal injustice?

Absolutely vital. It’s absolutely about that – at the beginning on the 20th century when women hadn’t been emancipated. She was ahead of her time, she was the light at the beginning of this century, but it was absolutely torturous, and she was rejected by all the people around her, even her family. It was very torturous. Especially Rodin, who abandoned her. For Rodin, she was a rival that really pissed him off, so she’s emblematic of women’s liberation. Poor Claudel is a kind of masochist, but also representative of his epoch.

At the heart of this tale, is an artist being denied her creativity. As an artist yourself, were you able to relate to the character and put yourself in her shoes, and wonder how you would react in this situation?

Yes, I was filming somebody who is forbidden life, forbidden creativity, forbidden freedom, and yes it’s touching. You touch a contemporary issue of alienation as well.

In regards to the look of the film, it’s a very beautiful aesthetic, creating a very serene atmosphere. Did you enjoying playing on the way that contradicts the inner turmoil?

It’s only through cinema that you can have, through these grimacing faces, the ability to show the beauty behind them. So the directing of the film has to be dignified, in order to show the women’s dignity as well.

In his latest feature Camille Claudel 1915, French auteur Bruno Dumont has remained faithful to his somewhat sincere, morbid take on humanity. In this instance we’re delving into the life of Camille Claudel – portrayed by Juliette Binoche – in her later years, when confined to a mental institution following the nervous breakdown that came as a result of her affair with Auguste Rodin. Dumont discusses his influences, how cautious he had to be when handling such a subject matter, the prevalence of patriarchal injustice in the film, and what attracts him to creating such unforgiving, often bleak feature films.

Was the story of Camille Claudel one you knew much about prior to getting involved in this project?

It’s actually quite a well known story in France, she was a famous artist with this tragic destiny, ending up in a mental hospital. So yes, I knew about it before.

This isn’t the first film about Camille Claudel, with the 1980s take, starring Gérard Depardieu. Did you use that at all to inspire you – specifically in relation to Camille’s history with Rodin?

Yes, and because that film had been made, I didn’t need to cover that again, that aspect had been made into a film already. So I decided the next part of the story, which is far more obscure. Also, that moment in Camille’s life suits Juliette much better given her age.

Was delving in to a more obscure time in Camille’s life, allow you more artistic licence?

Yes, exactly. It’s more interesting because it’s more obscure and to study the psychiatry of an artist is very interesting to me.

With close-up shots of Juliette’s face, it reminded me of The Passion of Joan of Arc – was that an influence on this title?

Yes, and there is a relationship between the two women, because in a way they both burn. They’re both prisoners.

Another potential influence I could see is One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – especially in how our protagonist seemed to think that, in her mind, she was perhaps above everybody else there, and yet was unhinged herself. 

Yeah, well the Claudel family are quite odd and very sure of their own genius. They have this superiority and are fully aware of their own genius. It makes them quite annoying, but that’s how they are. But yes, she was unhinged, it’s not a question of whether she is mad or not, it’s the length of time that she spent in there which is terrible. The problem is her brother’s influence in keeping her imprisoned. You have the scene with the doctor saying she’s much better and that she’s calmer and that she can be taken out. But the brother doesn’t. That’s the tension.

When treading on territory such as this, studying mental illness – how cautious do you have to be in order to remain sensitive to the subject matter?

I couldn’t imagine making actors play mad, so I had to be truthful by showing people who are genuinely mentally ill. So I was forced into that decision. Above all, Camille Claudel is writing about how hard it is to live with these women in her letters. So the whole mission of the film was to have this environment like that, with real patients. So I managed to find a psychiatrist who understood the therapeutic value of them being in the film, but you do need somebody to give you authorisation, so I had medical authorisation to do a casting in the hospital. Some people didn’t want to be in it, and some parents didn’t want their children to be in, so I just took people who did want to be in it.

In regards to Camille’s interaction with some of the other patients, we see quite a ruthless, callous side to her. Was it important for you to portray her flaws, to help us understand the character even more?

Yes, she was a hard, tough woman. She has this superiority about her, and she would treat everybody there like a lesser being – including her brother, who she calls ‘Little Paul’. She is pretty arrogant.

Was it ever a challenge to maintain that level of empathy, and yet show her for all of her imperfections?

I wasn’t judging her, I was taking as much as I could from the letters, which is as close as I could get to who the character was, and her relationships with other people. So I wasn’t trying to impose my own judgement on a historic character, you know, they are who they are. It’s the same for Paul, it’s easy to make him unlikeable – but I like him [laughs]. But he’s not a hero. He was a great writer, but he was also a coward. Like a lot of people. We’re all like that in some ways, and that’s the interesting part.

The film is very difficult to watch at times, and can be bleak and unforgiving. Do you get gratification from provoking such an emotional response from the viewer?

The film is difficult to watch because it’s difficult to look at mental illness. The film also takes you on a journey of love, by the end you love these women. In the end you find light. Camille is smiling by the end. In this journey, there is something that comes out that is a positive, in a way. The audience member, when they come out, can be happy, somehow. It’s a difficult journey, but can be a happy one.

This is not the first film of yours to tackle such severe themes – what attracts you to explore the darker, more dramatic side of life as a filmmaker?

In human beings there is lightness, darkness, happiness… I’m just occupied by the heavier side. You have to treat the serious side seriously, and the lighter side lightly. When you read Shakespeare, it’s not necessarily all funny, but in Shakespeare it is beautifully written, and in tragedy there is beauty. There is beauty in tragedy.

Back to Camille Claudel – how prevalent is the theme of patriarchal injustice?

Absolutely vital. It’s absolutely about that – at the beginning on the 20th century when women hadn’t been emancipated. She was ahead of her time, she was the light at the beginning of this century, but it was absolutely torturous, and she was rejected by all the people around her, even her family. It was very torturous. Especially Rodin, who abandoned her. For Rodin, she was a rival that really pissed him off, so she’s emblematic of women’s liberation. Poor Claudel is a kind of masochist, but also representative of his epoch.

At the heart of this tale, is an artist being denied her creativity. As an artist yourself, were you able to relate to the character and put yourself in her shoes, and wonder how you would react in this situation?

Yes, I was filming somebody who is forbidden life, forbidden creativity, forbidden freedom, and yes it’s touching. You touch a contemporary issue of alienation as well.

In regards to the look of the film, it’s a very beautiful aesthetic, creating a very serene atmosphere. Did you enjoying playing on the way that contradicts the inner turmoil?

It’s only through cinema that you can have, through these grimacing faces, the ability to show the beauty behind them. So the directing of the film has to be dignified, in order to show the women’s dignity as well. STEFAN PAPE

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CAMILLE CLAUDEL 1915 IS NOW ON DVD- BLU RAY

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Interview with Chris Mason Johnson – filmmaker

Alex Barrett spoke to Chris Mason Johnson during his recent visit to London.  His latest film TEST is now out on DVD.

The first thing that strikes me about Chris Mason Johnson is how friendly he is. Conversation strikes up as soon as we meet, and before I’ve even finished turning on my recorders, we’ve already neatly segued into talking about filmmaking, discussing the pros and cons of updating editing software (as well as being a writer/director, Mason Johnson also serves as editor on his films). It comes up that I’m a filmmaker too, stuck in that awkward place between first and second feature. He comments that ‘the time it takes to get another feature up can be…challenging’, saying it in such a way that I feel there’s a story to be told. It’s not where I’d intended to start, but, I decide to ask him about the journey he’s been on since the release of his first feature The New Twenty (2008). He lets out a long, frustrated exhale, and we both laugh – it’s a feeling all filmmakers know only too well. He picks up the story:

Test 1 copyCMJ: After The New Twenty, I launched into a new project – an independent comedy, also with a gay theme, but more mainstream. It had a bigger budget, $3-5 million, and I got caught in that waiting around game in L.A. It was a very frustrating couple of years. It was optioned, it won a prize, it was going to get made, and then it wasn’t and… long story short, I had the feeling as an artist that I’d given all my power away. I was powerless to do anything. I was just waiting for other people. So I flipped 180 degrees and I said ‘I know how to make a film. I’m going to do that now’. So I started writing Test as something very small and personal, something that I knew I could make for the couple of hundred thousand that I felt I could raise. And I did that. It was a great lesson and a great experience, because I remembered that I could make things. I think filmmakers trying to fit into a large, complicated industry, it’s easy to forget that. As a writer or a painter you don’t forget, because you wake up and there’s a canvas or there’s a blank page. But as a filmmaker, it’s very easy to forget that – and I think, as an artist, it’s important not to forget that.

AB: Test is set in 1985, against the backdrop of the first effective HIV-tests. Can you tell me what it was about this time period that interested you? What drew you to it.

CMJ: Well, I was there. I was a very young dancer, a professional at 16-17. I lived through it. So I was drawing on personal history. What interested me, aside from the fact that it was me, was that the AIDS movies that we have seen up to now have mostly been deathbed stories – stories of people getting sick and dying. That’s natural. When you’re dealing with this subject, it’s natural that narratively that’s where it would go. But I wanted to do something different, something that was more hopeful – something lighter that showed somebody coming through and surviving. At the end of The Celluloid Closet, Vito Russo has a necrology of all the different ways gay characters die, and I didn’t want to add to that necrology. I wanted someone to live and be happy. And I think the time was right to tell that story, because the other stories really did need to be told first: they were more important politically and emotionally. But I think enough time has now passed that this other story can be told.

AB: You’ve mentioned that you were there, that you lived through this – that raises the question of how autobiographical the film is.

CMJ: I think anyone, any filmmaker or novelist who draws on their own life for their material, will be very quick to tell you ‘it’s not me’. And I would say the same thing. Yes, I’m drawing on my experience, but also it’s not me. My experience was different in lots of key ways. But I was in a [dance] company. I was in New York, not San Francisco, but I had a lot of real stuff to draw from.

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AB: Aside from your own background, was there something else that made you want to explore the dance world on film?

CMJ: A couple of things. Dance world movies tend to focus on women – from The Red Shoes to The Turning Point to Black Swan, it’s usually a very classical ballerina. And then there’s Billy Elliot, but I don’t think it’s any accident that he’s pre-sexual. I think it’s very difficult to deal seriously with a sexualised – as in adult – male dancer. Because, the ‘men in tights’…it’s actually a subtitle of a Mel Brooks film, Robin Hood: Men in Tights. It’s just automatically a joke. So to treat a character seriously as someone who’s gay and who’s a dancer, who might even wear tights, and to treat that character as a serious person, that was something I wanted to do. And then also…As a former dance who knows the dance world well, and who knows choreography well, dance on film is frankly, in my opinion, cheesy stuff. You know, there’s some great dance on film like DV8, a British group who do short dance films – but they’re not narrative features. So I wanted to put some good dance and choreography on film. So it was those two aspects.

AB: I’ll come back to the choreography in a minute, but something else that struck me about the dance world of Test was the camaraderie. Often when I see films about dance companies, they tend to be about competition, rivalry or obsession, whereas I felt like the characters in Test had a real bond between them. Was that also a deliberate decision on your part – an attempt to do something different? Or was that just what you experienced when you were there?

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CMJ: Well, I guess both. I like the way you focused that question – that is true. I think as a screenwriter I understand that anytime you deal with a given subject, you’re led into certain narrative tropes, and the dance world, as you say, tends to lead towards competition and obsession. The other dance world trope is, of course, ‘the understudy goes on’ – and I did engage with that cliché intentionally. I wanted to disarm it, so to speak, by taking what would be the normal climax of the movie – where the understudy goes on at the end, if it was Black Swan or 42nd Street or Moulin Rouge, or anything else – and put it in the middle, as if to say ‘this isn’t the focus’. He’s a professional, this is what he does: he’s an understudy that goes on. He wakes up and it’s another day, it wasn’t even a big deal [that he went on]. So I did want to disarm that cliché.

In terms of the camaraderie – absolutely. I mean, every experience I had in every dance company was like that. It’s like any band of people doing a difficult job, whether it’s the army or hospital work or theatre or dance… you bond in that work. There’s a tremendous amount of camaraderie in the dance world, and it’s true that’s not really represented very often in film.

AB: To go back to the choreography… The dance sequences were predominantly choreographed by Sidra Bell. Could you tell me about how she got involved, and how you worked together on the film?

CMJ: She’s a very talented New York based choreographer, and her work had actually been influenced by William Forsythe’s work in Frankfurt, which was a company – the Frankfurt Ballet – that I was in way back when. So I liked her aesthetic. I recognised it. And then, we did it very quickly, in two weeks. I was with her as a kind of editor, making suggestions in the studio, that kind of thing.

AB: And at what stage did she get involved? Is this something that was happening during the shoot, or already at script stage?

CMJ: I knew that it was a huge part of the movie because, on our budget, I knew that all the production value and spectacle I was going to have was from the stage. So it was hugely important to get that choreography right. So I brought her in early on. We spent two weeks choreographing it and setting it, immediately prior to the shooting schedule. It was a four week shooting schedule, so the two weeks before that were the choreography.

AB: Scott Marlowe, who plays Frankie, has a background in dance rather than in acting. What sort of challenges did that present you with?

CMJ: Well, that was the thing. You know, Natalie Portman did an amazing job in Black Swan, but when it came to the really technical stuff, like the fouetté, she did have a double. This kind of dance is not something you can fake. It’s what opera singing is to pop music, you know? You can sing a song on camera if you can carry a tune, but you couldn’t sing opera. And this dance is like that – you just can’t do it unless you’re in that field. So I interviewed dancers who had an instinct for acting and seemed natural. Scott seemed natural, and then I worked with him for six months prior to the shoot, work-shopping scenes and teaching him acting technique, which he really loved. He’s gone on to do more. So he’s a real collaborator, a real partner on the film.

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AB: Do you think your own background as a dancer has affected the way your approach cinema or the way you make films?

CMJ: I think so. I mean, there’s a long history of dancers and choreographers making films – from Busby Berkeley in the 30s, through experimental work like Maya Deren, through Herbert Ross Rob Marshall and Bob Fosse… Dancers and choreographers have eyes trained for movement, and cinema is about movement. The difference is that you have movement within the frame, and you have movement between the frames with the cuts – you’re just playing with different ideas of movement. The camera becomes like another moving body. So I think it’s very easy for choreographers and dancers to grasp the kinetic aspects of filmmaking. I think it’s a natural transition.

AB: Saying that, though – and forgive me if you don’t agree – Test doesn’t feel like a film with a lot of camera movement, apart from that amazing moment when Frankie comes up the stairs and walks into the empty apartment.

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CMJ: There’s actually a lot of dolly and handheld. It stays close to him, and it’s a very intimate feel. But it doesn’t call attention to itself, apart from that sequence which you mention – which is maybe why you remember it, as a technical moment with lots of dolly tracks. But throughout the film there’s a lot of handheld that stays close to him and just creates a feeling of intimacy.

AB: So when you approach that, are you choreographing it like you’re choreographing the actors?

CMJ: Absolutely. We blocked it out, choreographed it, and then my DP – who’s a super talented guy named Daniel Marks, who I call the human dolly – he becomes the other body moving through the space.

AB: Right from the start of the film, there’s a great onscreen chemistry between Scott Marlowe and Matthew Risch. It feels like the film places its emphasis elsewhere, but to me it plays as almost like a love story between the two of them. To what extent did you see it in those terms?

CMJ: I do see it in those terms now. It’s not a love story conventionally, because the connection happens very late, but it does have that feeling, yeah. I didn’t set out for it to be that, but it became that in the writing. And then, when I cast it, I knew I had to have chemistry between these guys, so I looked for it and I found it. I have worked with actors who don’t have chemistry before, so I… there’s a reason why there’s something called ‘the chemistry read’ in Hollywood. It’s hugely important because your work is done for you if there’s a spark there. And they definitely had a spark there.

AB: Going back to the era that the film is set in…There’s a sense in the film, for me, that the HIV-test signals the end of an era, and I felt like the film really captures the complexity of that moment: on the one hand, the growing awareness of AIDS is dampening the sense of sexual freedom, but on the other, the test is putting an end to the paranoia and uncertainty that the characters feel. Could you comment on this?

CMJ: The first part I agree with: it put an end to a certain kind of ‘culture of promiscuity’ – I’m not trying to judge it by using that word, but there was definitely a shift there. But the second part…I don’t think that’s exactly right, because for several years there was quite a bit of paranoia about what would be done with the test by the government. There was real fear, real talk, and ACT UP in part was founded to make sure that the government couldn’t keep those records. That went on for several years. Also, the test was a death sentence: there was no treatment, there was nothing anyone could do, so many people opted not to take it, because what was the point? It was to protect other people. So no, I think from ’85 through to the mid-’90s, when the Protease Inhibitors drug treatment came out, it was still a very dark and very uncertain period. In the context of the movie, the tiny era of panic, freak out and total ignorance – can you get it from mosquitos, can you get it from sweat, there’s no test – that sort of micro-era ended, maybe. But it’s a stretch to call it an era, because 85-95 was really a continuation of the horror.

AB: There’s a sense though, in the film – and maybe this is just something that I’m reading into it – of decay: the wooden bowl gets cracked and is replaced by plastic, which almost seems like a metaphor for condoms…

CMJ: [laughs] That’s good, I like that.

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AB: …But all these things – the bowl breaks, the mice are coming in, the phone is tangled, the Walkman breaks down – all these things feel like a sign that things are ending, like doom is approaching.

CMJ: That’s an interesting reading of it. I definitely wanted a sense of morbidity, because disease is about morbidity, doom, fear and the decay of the body. And that’s why the choreography calls on images from Egon Schiele, an artist from Vienna from around the turn of the [twentieth] century… these images of morbidity and twistedness and decay. I wanted sexuality and eroticism to co-exist with that kind of morbidity, because that’s what you’re dealing with in that era. And most movies that deal with that subject sanitise the sex out, because it’s difficult for us to think about disease and sex at the same time – and that’s exactly what I wanted to do: to have this character be sexualised and eroticised, because he’s twenty and he wants to have sex. I didn’t want to vet that out of the story.

AB: I think we have to finish now, but just quickly: what’s next for you?

CMJ: I’m working on two things. One is a TV project which I’m developing, set in the 1970s, and the other is an independent film which I hope to shoot this summer in Berlin.

AB: And do you think you’ll go back to your big budget project, or is that finished with?

CMJ: I may, but it was a comedy about gay marriage – so I’d have to look at it again, because things have changed so quickly. I’d have to see whether I could make it as a period piece [laughs] or really update it.

TEST SCREENED AT THE BFI FLARE FESTIVAL AND IS NOW AVAILABLE ON DVD THROUGH PECCADILLO PICTURES

 

 

New Hungarian Cinema

Despite recent successes for Hungarian indie film – the future looks uncertain – Andre Simonoveisz explores the reasons why:

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Hungarian cinema has been arthouse-orientated since the mid-seventies when the reformist/revisionist Hungarian CP no longer believed that Hungarian fare could compete with Western productions. For directors like Miklos Jansco, Istvan Szabo, Martha Meszaros or Pal Sandor, who dominated the film scene until the fall of communism, this meant co-productions with Germany and France and many prizes at international festivals, whilst the home market was dominated by Hollywood.

safe_image-1.php The next generation – Ildyko Enydi, Gabor Body and Bela Tarr went the same way: success in the West, but no competition for mainstream cinema in Hungary. But since the turn of the Millennium the money from co-productions has dried out largely due to the fact that Hungarian filmmakers, like many others from “liberated” countries, used their new freedom to create films they thought would appeal to wider Western audiences, only to find out that they could not compete with the majors.

Another reason for this was that Western arthouse audiences had loved these filmmakers because they rebelled against the One-Party state. But after 1989, this reason for their support of East European cinema was not given any more and funding for home-made productions in all ex-communist states dried out. The exception was East Germany, were finance was provided generously by the German government.

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Between 2009 and 2012, Hungarian film drifting in the doldrums as hardly any money was made  available to the sector. The foundation of the new Hungarian National Film Fund in 2013 changed all this. Until the end of 2013, 27 films received production grants, 70 grants for script and project development. By the end of the year, 20 films had been completed, most of them Hungarian majority productions. The average Hungarian films had budgets of around 600 000 Euro (200m HUF). The biggest budget was given to Gyorgy Palfi for the upcoming production of TOLDI (1.6b HUF). Fourteen new films are expected to be finished by the close of 2014. TV co-productions have not picked up, since commercial channels prefer comedies, a genre rather neglected by the contemporary directors. Hungarian cinema has already lost one important director to Hollywood, Nimrod Antal, whose KONTROLL (2003) was one of the very few home grown successes in Hungarian cinemas – his recent output also includes blockbuster, PREDATORS (2011).

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The new wave of films, like the ones shown in Karlovy Vary this July, bear witness to the fact that most of the current directors work very much within the traditional style of their predecessors. This goes particularly for Adam Csaszi, whose LAND OF STORMS flies very much in the face of the semi-fascist government of the day, repeating the experiences of subversive filmmakers in their fight against Stalinism. Konrad Mundruczo’s Un Certain Regard Winner (2014) WHITE GOD is another of this year’s success stories along with three films which were premiered in Karlovy Vary: Gabor Reisz’ FOR SOME INEXPLICABLE REASON and UTOELET (Afterlife), by Virag Zomboracz, show the conflict with the authoritarian father-generation, and Palfi’s FREEFALL, for which he won Best Director this year at Karlovy Vary, portrays the rather grim aspects of modern Budapest, when a woman jumps from the sixth floor to her death.

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But the outlook is perhaps not as rosy as many believe: the trend of foreign dominance is difficult to stop- in 2013 over ten million people visited the cinema, but only five (from a total of 135) domestic films were screened. And their attraction remains very weak: OUR WOMEN by Peter Szajki garnered 30,000 admissions, the Berlin “Silver Bear” winner, JUST THE WIND, directed by Benedek Fliegauf, could not do any better. And Janos Szasz’ THE NOTEBOOK, a WWII drama, which won the “Crystal Globe” in Karlovy Vary (2013), did even worse. In Budapest alone, the art house scene has lost seven cinemas since 2009, with attendances steadily declining. AS

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Charlie Siskel – filmmaker – Finding Vivian Maier

10382322_632078006884232_8525305806192225442_o copyMatthew Turner caught up with Charlie Siskel to chat about an amazing discovery which led to his latest documentary

Matthew Turner (MJT): How did the project come about, first of all?

Charlie Siskel (CS): Well, John Maloof made the discovery of Vivian’s work and eventually he mounted a show of her photographs in Chicago and that was reported on by local media and I heard about the story at the time, but there was no documentary yet. That didn’t come until later. And John decided that he wanted to tell this incredible story of a nanny who happened to also be a photographer and certainly took all these photographs. But John was a real estate agent at the time and he was working on a book about the neighbourhood in Chicago, that’s why he acquired the photographs, a bunch of old photographs of the city. But he thought this would make a great documentary and he got in touch with me and not only did he have over 100,000 photographs, but I learned that there were also hours and hours of Super 8 footage that Vivian had shot and then hours and hours of audio recordings that she made as well. And I thought all of that material could be used to tell a really compelling story, which was kind of a detective story, trying to find out who this person was, how she was able to take all these incredible photos while leading what seemed to be a double life. And it was kind of a mystery and then it could be a future documentary. I don’t know, but I think, at the time, maybe they had humbler ambitions for the film, maybe it could be on TV, on public television in the States, something like that, but I thought it could be a really great feature and play in movie theatres where audiences would go and see it with other people and it would be kind of a rollercoaster ride of a story, if we did it right.

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MJT: What was the process of sorting through the footage like?

CS: Well, we had not only all the photos, but also the Super 8 recordings and the audio to go through and then a mountain of material, all this personal stuff that she had collected – articles, news article clippings and mountains of business cards and receipts from places where she bought books and thrift store jewellery that she had acquired and all of these were clues to help us construct a picture of this person, it helped us track down people who knew her in the first place and of course all of those people knew her as a nanny, not as a photographer, so here we were, piecing together a story of this brilliant artist, but no-one knew her as an artist, they knew her as the nanny and the hired help. So we started to do interviews with these people and, of course, they described her as incredibly private – maybe that’s not so surprising, given that she was the baby-sitter, you know, or a maid in some cases, and maybe she wasn’t sharing the most intimate details of her past or her life with her bosses. So that was kind of fascinating, here we were, telling a person’s story, but we were telling it through maybe, in some ways, unreliable narrators, you know? And they gave us a picture of Vivian that was only a partial picture, so we were finding contradictions between what they were saying, some of them described her as having a fake accent, they thought that her accent was fake and someone else thought that her accent was real. And people had strong opinions about Vivian – very strong opinions – and they were conflicting opinions, so we kind of created a portrait of her where the audience has to kind of solve the riddle along with us and judge for themselves who they believe, what they think of the testimony that they’re hearing from these witnesses. They kind of have to act like a jury and judge for themselves.

MJT: I thought the contradictions were really interesting. What was the biggest surprise you discovered? Something that you didn’t know before the filming started?

CS: Well, of course, learning that there were stories about abuse, that at least one person in the film described more abusive behaviour – that was a shock, it was troubling to hear that and it caused a lot of debate for us, a lot of soul-searching, I would say, about how that fit into the story that we were telling and we wrestled with how to treat it in the film. That was the only story that we heard that was an extreme, but there were others that we include in the film that were also troubling that involved Vivian mistreating the kids and some of the kids had some negative memories of her, so suddenly we recognised that our subject, as brilliant an artist as she was, was not a saint and that humanised Vivian further for us, making us realise that this was not going to be an easy task of painting a one-sided picture, we really needed to embrace the complexity of the story and the complexity of trying to make a film about a real, dimensional human being. That was a big surprise and a challenging one, but I think the biggest revelation in making the film was to start out thinking that we were telling the story of a nanny who happened to take a bunch of incredible photographs, almost just by accident or something, and really realising, as we were making the film, that that wasn’t the story at all, that this was a story of a true artist – who Vivian really was was a brilliant artist, that was her true identity, I think nanny was really more of an after-thought. Being a nanny was kind of a means to an end, almost a form of camouflage, even a masquerade, I would say, because sometimes she was literally taking the kids on these field trips, from the wealthy suburbs of Chicago, these very comfortable surroundings, into the grittiest parts of the city, to the slaughterhouses, to Skid Row, to the slums, and you’ve got to wonder, was she taking them on these adventures to broaden their horizons or was she taking them there because she knows that’s where she’s going to get her best photographs? So maybe it’s a little of both, I don’t know, but I imagine the kids just wanted to go to the zoo [laughs], but they ended up going to the worst parts of town.

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MJT: How easy was it to track down all the people that knew her and how willing were they to get involved?

CS: Some easier than others. Once the story got out, some people actually sought us out and contacted us and others were much harder to find. And really pouring through endless documents and shreds of paper and crumpled-up business cards and looking through, almost like an archaeological dig, and that’s kind of the metaphor we used for laying out all of her paper, her belongings, the way an archaeologist creates a grid for sifting through a site where there are dinosaur bones, to create order out of chaos. And so sometimes we would find a business card that would yield a great subject, a great interviewee and also, one family would lead to the next family and we would find people that way. And then the receipts would lead us to stores that she frequented and we found subjects that way. We contacted over ninety different people who knew Vivian, we did not end up interviewing all of them, mostly because we would kind of talk to them on the phone a bit before we would sit down and do an interview and if we found that they had little to say or that what they had to say, we already had many other people telling similar stories, or that side of her, then we didn’t feel the need to double up, in that sense. And so we ended up interviewing about forty or so people and out of that, not all of them are in the film, because even with whittling down to that many subjects, we felt that we had it covered through the people that we ended up including in the film, more than twenty-five people. So that was that selection process and then there are people who did not appear in the film.

MJT: Was there anyone that said no?

CS: At the end of the film, we talk about the family that paid for her apartment and they are the family that are seen early on in the film, there’s Super 8 footage of the children that she took care of, and another person in the film talks about that family. That’s a family named the Gettenbergs – we actually did do an interview with them, but they asked us not to include it, ultimately, in the film, they just felt that by the time – given that the film took more than three and a half years to make – when we first started, they were the first family that we contacted, but they were approached and interviewed by so many other journalists. They didn’t really hide their identities – in fact, the opposite, when there were journalists that wanted to talk about Vivian Maier – this was early on and even before I got involved in the project, John was quite happy to share the information about the people who knew Vivian, because he was interested in getting her story out and having people see her work. I mean, that was why he mounted the show of her work in the first place. And many families came to that show at the Cultural Centre in Chicago and when some of them learned for the first time that she had taken all these incredible photographs – of course, they knew she had a camera, but they didn’t know where she was going or what kind of images she was taking – and they were seeing the photographs, certainly, for the first time and they were happy to talk to reporters early on. But they, over time, got so tired of the phone call and the coverage that they just asked not to be in the film and we respected that request.

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MJT: Do you have a favourite moment in the film?

CS: I have many favourite moments. I love watching the scene where the two men debate Vivian’s accent. It always gets a lot of laughs and there are a lot of funny moments in the film, because Vivian herself was funny and the story, with all of its mystery, is also a funny one. I think, in some ways, Vivian was having a bit of a laugh at all of this, in her own way. She describes herself as a mystery woman in the film and she describes herself as a spy, but I think she does that with a wink and a twinkle in her eye. And in the film, when she calls herself a mystery woman, there’s audio of her saying that to these kids and the kids laugh, because, of course, it was Vivian being funny about her mystique and about her sense of mystery, but I love the debate over her accent because I think it’s funny on some level, but the kind of mental gymnastics that people have done to try to figure Vivian out and to try to get her right and there is something funny and entertaining about this whole endeavour, to pin down Vivian and try to understand her. And because I think, maybe, in the end, the answer isn’t all that complicated – she was a brilliant, brilliant artist and I don’t think she hid her art for some romantic reason, as some have suggested, she kept her art secret because she wanted to create art only for herself and art for art’s sake, that she was somehow too good for publicity, she was too good for the public and her art would be tainted by public view, that’s something that people have suggested. I think the truth is probably much more mundane – I think she probably didn’t show her work because it’s expensive to print it, it’s logistically complex to put together all the resources to do it. And she did, at times, make an effort, we show one such time in the film when she tried to get her work printed in France and that was a bit of a hare-brained idea, the notion that she would have to send her work halfway around the world to a tiny village in France, when here she is in New York or Chicago, places where she could have found very, very good printers, probably really good ones. And so maybe that was a bit of a self-defeating idea that she had and certainly many artists don’t share their work, don’t find a way to publicise their work, some of them are incredibly publicity shy, aren’t good business people, fear rejection as any artist does. So I think these are the reasons why we don’t see much of the great art that’s produced – I think the fact that Vivian’s work has been found makes her an exception. The rule is probably that most great works of art are lost.

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MJT: Why do you think she left so many of her photographs undeveloped?

CS: Again, as I say, in addition to all of the things that I’ve mentioned, the cost, the time, the work involved, I think she also fell into a pattern after years and years of operating in this way where she even stops having the rolls of film developed. I think she fell into a pattern – she could print some of her work, a very small amount, relative to the amount of photographs that she took, and the postcards that she had made with the printer in France, it looks like she may have had a side business at one point, trying to sell postcards. But obviously most of her work, and the great, iconic images that we see today, she didn’t share, but I think mostly it was that, over time, she settled into a pattern of ‘Maybe one day I’ll have this work developed, printed, etc, but not today’. And not this year. And not this decade. But what’s incredible is that in spite of all of those challenges, both external obstacles and internal ones, she never stopped doing the work, she never stopped taking the photographs and that is a real lesson for any artist and the real heroism of her life is that she continued to do the work, year after year, decade after decade. And to me, that story is not a fairy tale story, like the idea of Vivian secretly creating work only for herself, but it’s a much more heroic one, it’s one that I think we can all relate to, which is, ‘Oh, being an artist is actually a lot of work’. If you want to be a great writer, you have to write. If you want to be a great photographer, you have to take pictures. If you want to be a great painter, you have to paint. The idea of Vivian saying to herself in the 1950s, ‘You know what I think I’ll do? I think I’ll take over 100,000 photographs, but I’m only going to do that for myself, it’s going to be private and I’ll do this for the next 50 years’, to me, that strikes me as implausible, nothing I can relate to as a human being.

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MJT: I was just wondering if you had seen Eric Steel’s film, Kiss the Water, about Megan Boyd, who was a similarly reclusive character? Her trade was fly-tying for anglers rather than photography, but it strikes me the film would make a good companion piece.

CS: I have never seen it, but I will seek it out!

MJT: What’s your next project?

CS: I don’t know – I’m always looking for another story, but this will be hard to match. This is a story I think about every day, I’m inspired by Vivian’s example as an artist and I continue to grapple with the scenes in the movie myself and I’ve really enjoyed sharing it with an audience, both in the US and abroad, because people are having the same kind of sense of discovery that I know John had when he first found Vivian’s work and certainly the same reaction that I had when I first got involved. It’s just the more you know, the more you want to know and the more you look at her photos, the more you want to see. So it sets a very high bar, certainly, for whatever’s next.

 

FINDING VIVIAN MAIER IS ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 18TH JULY 2014

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Amat Escalante Interviewed for Heli

Matthew Turner spoke to Amat Escalante, the director of Mexican drama, HELI, which is currently showing in cinemas nationwide:

Matthew Turner (MJT): Where did the idea come from, first of all?

Amat Escalante (AE): I guess with all my movies, an image is the first thing I come up with. Here, the first image was a young man looking for his father in the countryside.That’s the first image that came and also the name, somehow. That was there from the very beginning and maybe had something Biblical about the name, also. Because right away, when I found the name, I looked up what it meant, the son of God or something like that. So there was this thing about father and son that was somehow intriguing and somehow inspiring. And that was the initial seed and then there was the location part of it also, where I was shooting it and what I could tell from that location, which was very near my house, around where I live. And so there’s this car factory there, a General Motors plant that put themselves there about 25 or 30 years ago and it brought a lot of families, a lot of people that work there. And I wanted to make a movie about one of these families and how they were affected by the corruption and the terror that is going on in many parts of Mexico.

MJT: How has the film been received in Mexico?

AE: Very well. It came out in August last year and it was surprisingly refreshing for a Mexican audience to see it and for it to have been very well received by both critics and audiences. That was very satisfying. Usually, my movies – my two other movies – have found a lot of people that like them and a lot of people that don’t like them, so it was always a half-and-half type thing. But now I would say it’s about 75 to 80% liked it or saw what it was supposed to be – they understood it, let’s say – and appreciated it. So we were happy with that.

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MJT: Were there any specific influences on the film?

AE: Well, I was inspired by – like with my last movie, somehow – by westerns, by Sergio Leone westerns a lot. And everything that’s in the movie is what everybody knows in Mexico, it happens, we see it in the newspapers, etc, and I basically made a story out of those things, but searching for the characters and the human side of things. In Mexico, we are used to seeing the images that I show, the images of hangings or beheadings etc, in newspapers and magazines and I wanted to go somehow beyond that, you know. To go through that, show it somehow, but also go beyond that, to see where I could get to if I showed more and to also tell the story of one of these families, out of the 100,000 people that have been killed from the War On Drugs, there are many stories of many families that have been destroyed or affected, you know? So I wanted to make a movie about that, basically.

MJT: You use non-professional actors in the cast. Why did you decide to do that and how did you go about finding them?

AE: Well, my brother, Martin, he does the casting, usually, for my movies. All my movies I have looked [for actors] in the streets, basically. I’m very inspired by people who don’t think they can act, people who don’t look like normal actors, people that you would find in an acting school etc. [So I look for people who] inspire me and then instead of just being inspired by them, I like to put them in the movies. I always look for actors and non-actors equally. In Mexico City we were looking for actors and we found the main actor of the film, he wants to be an actor, Armando Espitia. So we looked at about 300 actors and thousands of non-actors. They don’t read the script, I don’t show them the script, I just give each one of the main people – or anybody, actually – I give them a list of the difficult things they have to do, so ‘You have to be nude’, or ‘They’re going to hit you’ or ‘You have to kiss somebody’. So I give them a list, very detailed, of all the difficult things and they all accept whether they’re going to do it or not. Usually they accept, sometimes they don’t or whatever and then they don’t read the script and every day we go over the scene and I change the dialogue so that it’s the way that they would say it or I hear how they say it and I change it, I ask them ‘How would you say it?’, ‘Do you feel comfortable saying that?’ and it’s very much I don’t really care about the dialogue much, as long as what I want is somewhat communicated. So in that way, I’m very flexible and I adjusted to them. So whoever that person I cast is, the script will become them instead of them trying to become something else, so I find people that will be able to transform and make it interesting and that’s the way I work with non-actors.

MJT: I have to ask, how did you achieve that horrific shot of Beto’s genitals being set on fire?

AE: Well, it’s with digital technology. It’s quite simple, actually! You know, he was there, we put some tracking points, they’re called, and a lighter with a hole in it, so there was no gas at all. And they would fake it as if they were turning it on and then he screams and then later we put everything in there.

MJT: So as you were directing it, you were asking him to imagine his genitals were on fire? What pain did he draw on to scream like that?

AE: Mmhmm. Well, he knew if he didn’t do it right he would have to be hanging there for longer, like much more time. So he did it, actually, he did it good right away, it was surprising. I just told him, you know, ‘Just imagine that’ and he was naked there, he was showing anything. He didn’t care that much about it. I asked him about the kissing scene with the young girl and he said that was much more difficult than the burning for him. He was much more nervous and it was awkward and much more difficult, that scene, than when he was being burned. Actually, all that stuff, it was very difficult to shoot in that small room, but we were all having a good time, trying to have a good time, otherwise it would become too unpleasant, you know? So all that was done with a lot of humour and was a comfortable situation.

MJT: It’s very shocking here to see a 12 year old girl in this kind of relationship. Is it as shocking in Mexican society?

AE: Well, it’s common and you know the baby that is in the film, the six month old baby? The mother had to be on the set and the mother is 14 years old, she had the baby when she was 13. So we all know, once again, in Mexico that it’s something that is common, especially outside of Mexico City. And it’s a shame and it’s part of the problem, also. It’s part of the problem that there is, the violence has to do with very young mothers having babies and these babies growing up without a proper moral compass. And it was important for me to show that side, also, because there’s a reason for things, you know, and I’m trying to explore the reasons of why society is like that, is so undeveloped, society, that it still does things that savage people used to do hundreds of years ago. And not only in Mexico, they’re doing it all over the world, but to see why people get to that point and it has to do with people not being taken care of when they’re educating, when they’re small and when they’re being born. And that’s why it was important for me to put these young people there.

MJT: How would you categorise your relationship with Carlos Reygadas?

AE: Well, he’s a friend, for more than ten years now. I got close to him because I saw Japon, his first movie and I admired it very much and I contacted him from that. I had a script already written, Sangre, and I showed him my script. He believes in what I’m doing and I believe in what he’s doing. I edited Heli in his house, in his studio, sorry, for five months. Somehow we support each other, we’re colleagues, I guess you could say. I’ve only worked on one movie which is not my own and that’s [Reygadas’] Battle in Heaven and that’s the only other thing that I’ve done in the film industry. I didn’t go to film school. By the time I worked with Carlos, in 2003, I was 23 years old. And from the age of 15, I already had it very clear, what I was going to do and from 15 on, I was watching hundreds of movies and being obsessed with Herzog, Robert Bresson, Tarkovsky, Fassbinder, Fritz Lang, all these things. And then by the time I met Carlos, we had a lot of those people in common that we liked, so we were in synch in that way and that was a nice connection that has lasted so far and I hope it lasts longer

MJT: Is there a particular scene in the film that you’re especially proud of?

AE: Yeah, I like when things happen, when we get a certain thing in the sky and with the action, you know? For example, the scene where they leave the house with the military guys in the truck and then they leave into the sunset and it’s kind of going to rain. And then later you see that they drop off the father’s body and it’s raining in the distance. I like that type of stuff that’s not really planned and it turns out better than what you planned just because of nature. That type of stuff excites me, so, for example, when the kid gets up onto the stage in the burning scene, of the drugs, those things that happen there, at the moment, and we capture them, those are inspiring. When you’re shooting the movie, they give you fuel to keep on going the next day, instead of doing whatever the script says. That would be very boring for me, I need things that change everything, you know? And that’s in part why many scenes end up different from in the script, but usually it’s better, they end up better because I think life is much more interesting than my imagination can be, so I’m very open to life when I’m shooting

MJT: What was the hardest thing to get right, overall?

AE: To get right? I guess what I struggled the most with was with trying to tell the story through the actors, you know? Through acting, basically, which was something that in my other movies was much more difficult and I was less worried about, but in this one, I really thought I had to be able to tell the story through the characters, therefore the acting had to be, let’s say lubricated enough so that people would be able to go into the movie. And so I tried to take care of the acting as much as possible, from everybody.

MJT: Did you cut anything out that you were sorry to see go?

AE: Yeah, many things. I like to see gore a lot, gory stuff. I had more than what there is now, but I had much more and some things it was obvious they were too much and they had to be taken out.

MJT: So you shot more gore, you put the actors through it all, but you didn’t use any of it?

AE: No, usually, for example, there’s a scene where they shoot a dog, they shoot him and then Beto, the guy that’s there, the kid, he runs over the body of the dog again [makes squashing sound] and then we see how the tyre smashes the dog’s face and all the eyes come out.

MJT: [makes “Ewwww” face]

AE: Yeah, you see? It’s too much.

MJT: Yeah, that’s too much [laughter].

AE: But I liked it. And we made like this mannequin of a dog, filled with meat inside and things that looked like brains and everything and there was a close-up of the wheel and it went over and exploded and it looked really real, you know? It was like, very close and I had it. It’ll be in the DVD extras. Those types of things, because they’re fun for me and I like gore stuff. So that and many other things, of course, that I had to take out.

MJT: And finally, what’s your next project?

AE: I just did a short that will come out very soon on the internet. They asked me to do it in Mexico, kind of a campaign against violence, different types of violence. And they gave me the subject of human trafficking, of women. I chose women, young prostitutes, etc. It’s something I didn’t want to do so much, because again, it’s the type of subject that I will need to move away from, a little bit – I want to move on from that. But they’re going to show it at schools and it’s for a good purpose, so I did it and that will be on the internet at some point. And soon I’ll write and hopefully film something at the end of this year or next year, if everything goes well.

HELI IS ON GENERAL RELEASE in LONDON AND NATIONWIDE

 

Erik Poppe – Filmmaker – A Thousand Times Goodnight

Matthew Turner met director, producer and cinematographer: Erik Poppe (Hawaii Oslo), to talk about his latest film A Thousand Times Good Night, which he also co-wrote:

Matthew Turner (MJT): How did the project come about, first of all?

Erik Poppe (EP): Basically, it came about because I was working as a photographer, in a lot of conflict zones in war areas in the 1980s. And I did that until the late 80s and then went into film and studied film in Stockholm. So I left that way of thinking and telling stories in order to be a filmmaker. In between, every time I released a feature movie, some of my old colleagues from that time have been asking me, over and over again, ‘Well, when are you going to tell some of those stories?’ And I’d sort of been not keen or interested in doing that yet, because I hadn’t been able to find the right angle. I’d seen a lot of movies made about journalists and photographers being out there, and I’ve always believed, ‘Well, they are entertaining, but they are really not telling the story as I see it’ – I think they’ve been romanticising or making the journalist a hero. But as I was experiencing in the 80s – and as I’ve been starting to experience again now, because for the last six or seven years, in between my features, I’ve been starting going out [to war zones] again, to the Congo, to Somalia, to Afghanistan, to north-west Pakistan – but now with a film camera and doing small stories. And now with kids and my wife, suddenly I’ve found the angle, because the right angle, the honest angle, for me, is to tell the domestic part of being in this position, it’s not to be out there and dramaticising (sic) it. Of course, it’s exciting for people to see, but my only real vision about the film was to tell an honest portrait of how I feel it and how a lot of my friends and colleagues feel it. The hard thing is not to be able to survive being out there – in most of the areas, it’s not a hard thing to survive. The hardest thing is to come back home and survive the mundane daily life, where you realise that people don’t seem to care about what’s going on out there. And also just being out there in situations which are quite close to life and death for the people you are out there for, the victims, you are their only voice. And then coming back home and you have to attend a meeting at the school, parents discussing something about the football field or whatever and they are so passionate about what’s going on and then you have to sit there and count to ten and swallow and swallow and think, ‘I can’t explode, I can’t, I must just behave and sit there, respect them for what they’re doing and try to survive that, without exploding’.

MJT: Given that these are your stories, or based on your own experience, where did the decision to make the protagonist female come from?

EP: Well, basically, from my point of view, the theme or the topic is how you fight with your passion. I wanted to portray passion, but then also the price for that, for you and the people around you, or for me and the people around me. And it’s sort of the price to pay. And for somebody to go out there and do this job, when I’m doing it, as a man, people don’t seem to question it so much, even if I have my wife and two daughters back home. As soon as I switched myself into a woman, a mother with two kids, suddenly, everyone reacted right away and said, ‘Are you crazy? I mean, how many females are out there with small kids?’ And they see that that’s still a very complicated situation. And that’s why, because we are still there, that we don’t accept mothers doing that, but we accept men doing that every day. So that’s basically the reason, as well as most of the story being almost autobiographical, it is taken from all the discussions that have happened within our small family. And I also wanted to nail that situation down in details, so the thing was just to switch the sexes and then also going in to look at some of the female war photographers out there, as I know some of them, and look into their lives and I saw it exactly as it is.

MJT: I was going to say, did you interview any female war photographers in particular? What did you take away from that, that you perhaps weren’t expecting?

EP: Well, basically, that sort of confirmed [what I already had] rather than gave me new material. They confirmed it and of course confirmed the dilemma they feel, that the dilemma is stronger than within men and how I experienced it, because they are mothers going out there, like Lynsey Addario and others. But also, talking to women being out there, I also realised – as I’d been realising for many, many years now – they really do such an important job, because if they were not there, we wouldn’t get those stories back home, because it’s only women who can talk to and get contact with the women in the Muslim areas today. I’m not able to approach them. And even though they’re mothers with small kids, it’s important because with that angle, you see stories that you otherwise wouldn’t see that easily. So I wanted to emphasise the importance of that, actually, that there are women like Rebecca out there, that we need it. Their victims need it. And I was quite convinced that that needed to be the angle.

MJT: How did Juliette Binoche get involved?

EP: I contacted her, her best friend is a friend of mine, a French-Danish female producer in Paris. And she happened to have seen some of my movies and she was curious when she heard about the subject. So I sent her the script, as it was developing and I met her and presented the project. So we sort of found each other in the project, because I insisted that we needed to choose each other, we’re going to do this film together, it’s not like a one man show, it’s something you really need to do. And I wanted, strangely enough, to push her even further, I wanted to make this film as proof of her enormous talent and as an artist, an actor, I wanted to see, can I push her in one direction that I haven’t seen [in other films she’s done] and is there something here she could figure out as an actor. So I wanted this to be one of her strongest performances and it’s for others to judge whether or not we’ve been able to do that, but for Juliette herself, as a person, it was a stunning seven or eight months and at the end, we had no words left when we did it, because it really was a matter of giving what you had. But to be able to work with an actor such as Juliette is a gift.

MJT: She seems to be somebody who throws herself into projects quite passionately, like, I think with other directors, she quite often originates the project and brings the project to them. So did you sense that kind of commitment and passion from her on this?

EP: I feel that she is really investing her time in the directors. She is known for pushing a lot of them, even if they are recognised and have their own body of work, she needs to push and she needs to be pushed back. And she needs to have the answers. She’s not the type who will figure out the answers when they’re not in the script – she needs to have the answers, so if the script’s not there, she’ll push you to nail it and to get it done, because she needs to have that material. She doesn’t like if it’s two answers from a director, she doesn’t like it if a director says, ‘Well, I don’t know, what do you think?’ But that means that when she asks me for direction, I need to give her the direction. But first of all, she likes that we work with a project, we work with everything, we nail it down and then when we are standing there on the set, she wants to show me, before I start talking her down. She’s extremely – I know that there’s a lot [of people] who find her difficult, but I love that way of working, it’s the way I love to work as well. And I love that resistance in the process. I love to allow it to hurt while you’re working.

MJT: If, as you say, she wants the answers to all be in the script, does that mean that she’s happy to stick to the script when you’re shooting, or do you allow her to improvise?

EP: She wants it too look like it’s not a script, like it is going on at that moment, this generic situation going on. But that’s sort of her quality. And it’s a matter, of course, of always allowing things to happen while you’re doing it. If you’re not, then you’re not able to deal with the fact that film is a medium, is an art form where it should happen. But she is sort of taking that responsibility and she shares the responsibility with me and with the rest of the actors and she is really making people good. I can tell you that when I’m taking the shot of the other characters and she’s giving her performance [off camera, but standing opposite her co-stars], it’s similar, exactly similar. It’s still so hard for her, she’s really going all the way in, even if you don’t see her. You should. I don’t use two-camera techniques, I use one, because I feel that’s better. But she gives everything and I can tell you, it helps the other actors. When I did the take in the car with the daughter, when she picks up the camera, that scene took me almost five or six hours, even with a simple set-up, because after every scene, Juliette was totally blown [meaning ‘exhausted’] and she needed fifteen or twenty minutes to reset. And that’s remarkable, And that’s because I can push her and she can push me and we can push each other, because I wanted that. Let’s have a few takes, but really dig in. For every actor to go by themselves and dig and see what you find and then get in position and do it. And I love that, because I think that’s – that’s what I find so interesting about working with actors, whether it’s in a play or in a film, when they want to do that, when they want to have that resistance in their work and do it proper [sic].

MJT: What was the hardest thing to get right in the whole process?

EP: The hardest thing was to shoot in Kabul and shoot in a refugee camp in Kenya, on the border of South Sudan and Uganda. Of course, technically, because of security. For the rest, everything is really hard [laughs], but also, I love it, because getting that resistance, you come up, you flow, it’s like those people out there on wings, you know, you need that to be able to fly out there. And that’s the resistance, that’s the hard thing, everything is hard. And when I asked for everything that Juliette had while we were preparing, I said, ‘We’ll have to skip getting to know each other, we’ll have to start working the first hour by believing that we’ve known each other for 20 years. You can say everything to me and I can say everything to you. We have to be honest and just go straight into the script and the story’. And of course, there’s a moment there where you think to yourself and a glass or a cup of coffee is thrown at you and it’s because she’s so angry! And then, as you look down and you look up and she’s like, ‘Oh, I’m so sorry!’ and you realise, that’s the battle, that’s where you need to go. Some of those moments when I’m leading rehearsals late into the night, I think, ‘Is it worth it?’, because you are totally gone [meaning exhausted], but, no, the hardest thing, of course, is to do something as technically challenging as filming in Kabul, or in those areas in Kenya.

MJT: Do you have a favourite scene in the film?

EP: I want to say the hardest scene, to be the hardest scene. I wanted to sort of show a story about Rebecca and her family. I wanted to avoid that it was a love story between Rebecca and her husband. That was never my intention. And I hope people see that, I would expect them to see that it’s a story about Rebecca and her family. And the family is represented most of all by her daughter, who has the biggest fragility. So there are some of those scenes, but maybe the scene with the camera, but also the scene I love is the scene where she actually leaves her kid in Kenya. Although, it’s sort of – you want to push your protagonist away, you want to throw something at her [reaches for dictaphone]…

MJT: Don’t throw that!

EP: I wanted to achieve that. At that moment you really kind of almost hate your protagonist and I want that complexity in the film. And I like the fact that I was able to work with Nikolaj [Coster-Waldau], who is a muscle guy – everything he does is very hard, tough, rough and macho – and to make him so fragile, like a small, small man. I was working with him a lot, because he came straight from the set of Game of Thrones and I was going up to Dublin to rehearse with him in between, but I realised it was hard, because he was in that world. And then when I got him over, we had just like a small week, a week and a half before we started shooting, two weeks and I just had to push, push, push him right away. But I’m really happy, because I feel – and I know that Nikolaj is really surprised, as well as his agents in the US – they love it a lot, that they saw that person in Nikolaj. Because I saw him on stage, many, many years ago and I saw that potential in that actor, so I want to push him to do more serious stuff. I mean, that type of stuff as well. And then also, it was being able to find Lauryn Canny, the young girl playing the oldest daughter, and being able to work with her and shape her and introduce her to audiences. She’s been in small TV stuff in Ireland before. I’m not proud – she should be proud of her performance, not me – but I’m proud of being able to find her.

MJT: How did Nikolaj get involved in the film?

EP: Just by actually asking him. We met before, some years ago and he expressed that he wanted to be in one of my projects if there was time and if it was the right part. So I knew, from before. So I just had to figure out if this could be the part. And I saw that couple, Juliette and Nikolaj and I thought it was quite interesting. And a believable couple, actually.

MJT: You have a small part for Larry Mullen Jr, the drummer from U2. How did he end up in the film?

EP: Well, realising I had to shoot in Ireland, I didn’t know so much about Ireland, but I knew Beckett, I knew various novels and I thought, ‘Well, what else is Ireland?’, well, it us U2. So I was actually having a bit of fun with the process as well, but to be honest, what could I do to try something quite different, but to try something quite different, but find something that [on the surface] really is not right for the film. And I’ve done that before as well. And I know he’d done one film that he wasn’t happy with – nobody was happy with it – so I know that he’s been doing movies and I felt he was interesting and I just wanted to ask him if he would try and it would help the film’s line-up of actors, people would say, ‘What are you doing?’ And he was really nervous, but he was really happy to be asked and he actually said yes, as long as it’s not too big, as long as it’s like it is. And he really wanted to support the film, because he read the whole script and he didn’t know me, but then he saw the movies and he said, ‘I really want to support this film, so if I can do it in between, as we are preparing the record now, I will’. And he was fun. And such a great guy to have on the set, because he really included everyone. He was going to the second light assistant, whatever, he was playing with everyone. He is so nice. And the funny thing is that Juliette didn’t know this guy. She was like, ‘U2?’ ‘It’s a band, it’s a rock and roll band!’ She didn’t know about it!

MJT: What’s your next project?

EP: I’m trying something quite different, but I want to do it as honestly as I’ve been doing my other movies. I’m doing a really epic piece, it’s a true story about the King of Norway and the hours before the Germans attack Norway in World War II. It’s three days and it’s extremely dramatic.

Ignacio Ferraras – filmmaker

Matthew Turner spoke to Ignacio Ferreras, director of Tokyo Onlypic (2008), How to Cope with Death (2002) about WRINKLES (Arrugas) his latest film:

MJT: I saw the film in San Sebastian in 2011 and absolutely adored it. How did the project come about, first of all? Were you a big fan of Paco Roca’s comic book?

IF: Thanks. I probably should not mention this, but the film was finished right before that first showing at San Sebastian, practically without an hour to spare. It was a very crazy time leading up to that festival, I hope I never have to go through something like that again. I remember the last day of the festival, rolling up my trousers and wading into the sea behind the festival complex to get a moment of peace and quiet and adjust to the fact that after two years of non-stop work the film was finally done.

About Paco’s comic-book, I had not read it when the producer of the film, Manuel Cristobal, approached me with the idea of directing the adaptation. His proposal was in fact a brown envelope with the comic book and a note which said, “Are you interested?” or something like that. And of course I was very interested. So I was very fortunate, the project just came to me out of the blue, it was Manuel that brought us together.

MJT: How closely was Paco Roca involved with the film?

IF: Quite closely, although for the most part we were working in different countries, which is probably why we are still friends. Paco took care of all character design and was also involved in the writing. He gave me lots of additional material that he had accumulated while he was researching the comic-book but which he had not been able to use, and some of that material found its place in the film.

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MJT: The film is very much like watching the comic book come to life. What are the main challenges involved in adapting a comic book into a film? Did you feel pressure to stick closely to the original artwork? How did you set about doing that?

IF: Was there pressure? That’s hard to say. I’d say not; there weren’t any situations where I wanted to introduce changes and I was overruled. For the most part I was left to do whatever I thought was necessary for the film, although of course I was always aware that I needed to remain reasonably close to the original work. It’s a difficult balancing act, on the one hand there’s a danger to just follow the inertia of the comic book and forget you are making a film. And on the other hand there’s the danger to start changing things for the sake of it, just to assert your authority over the film. I think something that was very helpful was the fact that I was working on the animatic in Edinburgh with my wife Rosanna Cecchini and we made a point that she would not read the comic-book but take my work as her starting point, so she could treat it not as an adaptation but as an original work from the start. And we had more or less a year to work on this in relative isolation, although of course we were sending groups of sequences to Paco and Manuel for feedback, but we had that space to develop the film as a film without having to justify why we were changing this or that. It is interesting that you say the film is like watching the comic book come to life because if you watch the film with the book in hand you’ll see that they are actually quite different, even if the film covers the main events in the book. But I think it is true to say that the film feels very close to the book, because it respects the intention and the characters of the book, even if some of the events do change. All too often adaptations completely change the intention and characters of the original work, like for example in Blade Runner; it’s a good film, but I wouldn’t call it an adaptation of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? because it turns the intention of the novel on its head, and I don’t think that’s fair on the original work. So I like Blade Runner as a film but not as an adaptation.

MJT: Were there any particular influences on the film? Did you watch any other films or read any books in preparation?

IF: I’d say that I’m very influenced by the work of Isao Takahata, and although I was not specifically thinking about films like Grave of the Fireflies or Only Yesterday when I was working on Wrinkles, there’s no doubt that Isao Takahata’s work has shaped the way I think about animated films. So I think it is fair to say that Isao Takahata’s work was by far the greatest influence on Wrinkles.1012666_616108041771451_1983009347_n

MJT: Do you have a favourite scene in the film?

IF: Not a particular individual scene. I think I was more concerned with the overall flow of the film and I can’t really think of scenes as separate from each other. To me the film is one big unit, I can’t say that I like one scene more than another… it’s a bit like saying what’s your favourite ingredient in a dish; you either like the dish or you don’t, but it’s hard to say what the best ingredient is, is it the steak or the salt that makes it tasty? It’s easier to say what you don’t like, when something has gone wrong and did not turn out the way you imagined, but I find it impossible to pick a favourite scene.

MJT: What was the hardest thing to get right?

IF: I think it was to get the right balance between being critical and being realistic about the budget and schedule. Animation films can be very dangerous in that way, you can easily become obsessive about the quality but of course the meter is ticking and the budget can evaporate very quickly, so you have to have a very clear idea of what standard of animation you can afford and then be consistent from beginning to end. It’s a question of making the most of what you’ve got. I imagine it is different when you are working with big budgets, but my experience working in European films, which always have a relatively small budget, is that you either have to sacrifice some of the visuals or some of the storytelling. If you spend too much on the visuals you’ll run out of money and you’ll have to start compromising on the storytelling. I decided to compromise on the visuals from the start, in order to not have to compromise on the storytelling later on. I think that was the right thing to do for this kind of story. Quite a few people have said to me that five minutes into the film they forget they are watching animation and they are just engrossed in the story, and that is, for me, the best compliment.

MJT: Did you cut anything out that you were sorry to see go?

IF: No, I didn’t cut anything because of lack of money or time or for any other external pressure, so anything that was cut was cut for the good of the film – I hope. If we had had more money, the film would still have had the same shots; they would have been finished to a better standard and they would been more beautiful to look at, but there wouldn’t be any extra shots or scenes. I cut lots of scenes that I really liked as individual scenes, but somehow they did not feel right in the flow of the film. I think this is perhaps the most important thing for a director: to be absolutely ruthless in your editing. “Kill your darlings” is one of those often repeated clichés, but I think it is right. Of course, when I look at the film now, nearly three years after finishing it, there are some things I would probably change, but that’s different.

How did you approach the casting for the English dub?

IF: I didn’t. The English dub was handled by the distributors and, although I think they have done a very good job, I did not have anything to do with it. I don’t think this is unusual, directors are not normally involved in the dubbing of their films to a foreign language. Of course in this case it so happens that I live in the UK and I speak English but that is just a coincidence. They would not have asked for my opinion if they had dubbed the film into Japanese (which by the way they didn’t, they used subtitles in Japan) so it is not surprising that I wasn’t approached when they dubbed Wrinkles into English. Now that this English language version is coming out I’m getting asked this question a lot, I think this is because dubbing a film into English is quite a rare thing and people are not really aware of how it works, but by the time Wrinkles was dubbed into English my work on the film had finished a long time ago. Generally speaking I don’t like dubbed films, but I think the dub of Wrinkles is much better than usual and the choice of Martin Sheen and George Coe for the main characters was very fortunate.

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MJT: Are there any other animators you admire? Do you have any favourite animated films?

IF: As I mentioned before Isao Takahata is my favourite director, not just my favourite director of animated films but my favourite director-period. I also admire very much the work of Hayao Miyazaki. A list of my favourite animated films is really a list of their films; just look up their filmographies and you will have a complete list of my favourite animated films. And then there’s also the “French New Wave” of animated features, of which Sylvain Chomet’s The Triplets of Belleville is still my favourite exponent and which I think represents the beginning of genuinely distinctive European commercial feature animation – I’m also very interested in these films.

To this, I’d have to add  that I’m as influenced by live-action cinema as I am by animation, by the films of Kubrick, Kurosawa, Ozu and many many others. Although if I had to pick just one favourite film I think it would be Isao Takahata’s Only Yesterday (Omohide Poro Poro).

MJT: What’s your next project?

IF: At the moment I’m working on an animated feature about the life of Danish writer and philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, which is still in the early stages of script development. Yet again, it’s a story which might not seem like an obvious choice for an animated feature, but Kierkegaard was a really fascinating character and I think there’s an amazing film to be made about him – an amazing animated film.

WRINKLES IN ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 18 April 2014

Helene Cattet and Bruno Forzani The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears

On a cold, wet afternoon last October, Alex Barrett sat down with Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani to discuss The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears, on the day of its UK premiere at the London Film Festival.

AB: I was hoping we could begin with you describing The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears in your own words.

BF: For us, it’s like a cinematic experience. We have written the script so that each time you see the movie, you discover new things. There are different layers. We were very influenced in the writing by Satoshi Kon, the Japanese director who made The Perfect Blue. He has [also] inspired blockbusters in America like Inception. You know, it’s a dreamlike narrative. So the film is, for the first or second viewing, a cinematic experience, like a rollercoaster of images and sound, something very visceral. And after the screening maybe there are some things in your head which you begin to construct and begin to link. And that’s how you see it for the second, the third, or fourth time, each time seeing different things. And at the end maybe you will find all the keys. It’s a bit like David Lynch movies, you know? The first time you see them, you are fascinated by them, you don’t get it all but you have seen strong visions, strong visuals and sounds, and after maybe three or four viewings it becomes clear.

AB: In The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears, and also in your first film Amer, there seems to be a real focus on eyes and on ears. I was wondering if you could maybe talk a little bit about what those organs symbolise for you?

BF: Ah, you have seen the ears? Most people see the eyes but not the ears.

HC: They are the organs of perception, and in the movie you are in the perception of the character.

BF: Amer and Strange Colour are not linear storytelling, but circular storytelling. There are lots of circular elements. It’s all about point of view, because we want a lot of ambiguity. An image can say something more than the first look at it [tells you]. It’s all the philosophy of giallo, in fact, and of Blowup, of Antonioni. It’s all about eyes and point of view. We work a lot on close ups and we are very intimate. We try to enter in the intimacy of the character, so we have a lot of the eyes and ears so…

HC: But not only eyes or ears…

BF: Chins!

HC: Everything. But the eye has a lot of meanings, because it can be voyeurism, it can tell about intrusion, the other life…

BF: Desire.

HC: Yes. Each time you give it another meaning.

 

AB: It’s interesting that you say people pick up on the eyes but not the ears, because I think that your films are very auditory. They have a lot going on with the soundtrack, as well as with the visuals. I felt – and maybe this is what you were getting at – that by showing us these eyes and ears you were trying to say to the viewer ‘you need to look and you need to listen’. And by using the close ups, you fracture the screen space, meaning that the viewer has to work harder to piece things together. Would you agree with that? 

BF: Yes.

AB: Would you like to comment further?

BF: Personally, I love the close ups because it breaks the space. And you can introduce that dreamlike atmosphere because the space is totally exploded. And you explore the body as architecture. When you are in close up it’s like the body is very giant and it’s like the gigantism of the houses we shoot in.

HC: Yeah, with the close ups, we want the audience to feel the madness of the character. The close ups erase the space around him.

BF: You don’t have anything to hold onto. And as the film is about loss, about someone who is losing his mind, we want the audience to be lost. So the close up approach is a good one I think.

AB: I think that the use of giallo aesthetic has been discussed a lot within your work, but I’ve read that for your very first short film, it was Bruno who brought in the giallo aesthetic, and that Hélène came in with the aesthetic of Chris Marker. I was hoping you could talk about this a little bit, and I’m particularly interested to hear you talk about the influence of Chris Marker on your work. 

HC: When we began to make short movies we had no money, but we wanted the texture of 35mm grain. So we shot in still frames, like La jetée. It inspired us to have narration and to have a special effect with no money.

BF: And with that element of the photography, we talk about the body as an object of desire. It permits us to refine the body, to make it an object.

AB: I think the pixilation reminded me more of Jan Svankmajer, and I was wondering what kind of influence surrealism has had on your work? There’s an image towards the end of Amer, a close up of Marie Bos’ eyes and the sweat on her face, which reminded me of a Man Ray photograph. So I was interested in whether surrealism, and people like Jan Svankmajer – and actually, also the avant-garde and people like Kenneth Anger and Maya Deren – whether these people are influences, or whether these are just things I’m reading into your work which isn’t intentional? 

BF: We try to work a lot with our subconscious, so the surrealism comes easier. In Belgium there is a big tradition of surrealism. You have Magritte, and we have some early twenties movies, early surrealists. And we try to go back to this culture, which has a little bit disappeared because the Belgium cinema is very realistic. For Amer, there was some stuff from Buñuel, not the eye but the hands that come out from the belly. We love it when you don’t know if it’s a dream or reality. And, it was on purpose to take the surreal approach. Kenneth Anger is more [an influence] on the style and the aesthetic, the form. And the fetishistic approach to certain stuff, like in the detective’s little story about the button [in Strange Colour], you have all the texture of the dress, which reminds me of one of Anger’s shorts [Puce Moment], which focused on the texture of the dress of a Hollywood actress. For Maya Deren, it’s more the dreamlike universe, like in Meshes of the Afternoon which is like a dream. Someone in a loop, you know?

AB: Which reminded me very much of the loop sequence in The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears. 

HC: Yes.

AB: I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about the way your directing relationship works? Often people who work in duos say that one works with the visuals and one works with the actors. But I was wondering about how you two do it? 

HC: When we are writing it’s just like tennis. I make a version, he corrects it and gives me another version, which I correct. Then, when we are preparing the movie, we are discussing and fighting a lot, trying to agree on everything. Because it’s the time to get on the same wavelength. So then, when we are on the set, normally we are okay. We don’t lose time and we don’t fight in front of the crew. The more difficult part is the preparation and the writing.

BF: And the end of the movie, when we have to finalise the sound and the editing, because it’s very subjective, it’s very sensual. And we are very different. It’s like colours. Maybe she prefers blue and I prefer red. And we have to find a balance between our two subjectivities to do something very subjective.

HC: But on the set we are making everything together.

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AB: I read that for Amer you filmed everything first on a digital camera, with you two playing all the parts. Did you do the same for The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears

HC: Yes.

AB: So could you maybe talk to me a little about that process? Do you edit that material? Are you making the whole film in digital? How does that process work for you two? 

BF: In fact, for this one we didn’t have the time to do it all. There are two storyboards. The first one is before we have seen the real locations, so we do an abstract storyboard in our head. And for some sequences it’s easy because it’s on a bed or something like that, so it’s no problem. And after, when we discover the locations and we choose which house we’re going to shoot in, we redo all the storyboards. Because we have seven houses to make one house we do all the editing to see if it all fits, if all the different locations fit together. So we have all the editing ready. And after [the shoot], when we arrive at the editing we review that map, if you want. So the biggest parts [of the edit] are to choose the good shots of the actors, and the rhythm.

AB: I’ve always wondered if shooting a digital test version first takes the fun out of the shoot, because you’ve thought it through so much in advance. Have you found this? I mean, when you come to the set are you just repeating what you’ve already done, or is it still an organic process? 

HC: It’s impossible to repeat the same thing, because it’s really a rough draft. It’s only the two of us. It’s ridiculous. Totally. [Laughs]. But when you do that you’re more prepared if there is something which happens. And you can improve the shot, because you know what you want. Maybe you can have another idea with the light, with the actor, and you’re not stressed – it’s okay, because you know what you want really precisely.

BF: We shoot a lot. But we use it all in the editing. And as we have a lot of shots, we have to be very prepared because we do more shots than the normal film. We have been for The Strange Colour… in houses, or in various locations, which are very labyrinthine. They are so big that you can’t know in a minute what you are going to shoot, because it’s so intense. So we spend three days in the location watching all the points of view and thinking what would be the best for the storytelling for the movie, and how we are going to shoot?  We won’t have the time to do that on the set because we have to be very fast.

HC: Yeah, to shoot in that kind of location, it’s not sensible to come in and improvise.

BF: It’s expensive to shoot in houses like that, so you have to… you have eight hours and you have to do 45 shots, so you have to be like an army [laughs].

AB: Before you made Amer, you trained by making a number of shorts. I read on the DVD of Amer that in 2004 you went off to Madagascar to make a very different type of film, which then fell apart for reasons beyond your control. I was wondering if you could maybe talk a little bit about that project, and speculate on whether, if that film had been finished, the films you’ve made since might have been very different?

BF: Well, we went to Madagascar and it was just after our…We had made four shorts in a universe like Amer and Colour, and we wanted to do something different: more sensual, more about time. We love Abbas Kiarostami, and [we wanted to do] something totally different. In Madagascar there was a special… the time was very special. It was very long and not like when you live in the city, where you are really stressed. The people who work are waiting a lot and it was about a driver, about a guy who was working as a chauffeur, who was always waiting waiting waiting. It was shot on the still frame, black and white. And we began the two day shoot, and there had been like a storm or something like that

HC: There was a cyclone…

BF: A cyclone which sucked away all the location we were supposed to shoot, so it was like carnage, chaos. And the guy who was acting in it left, and we never saw him again. And so maybe it could have been a turn in what we have done now. But yes, it was something totally different. But just after that we made a short film, called Santos Palace, and it was more in that [giallo] mood.

AB: And do you think your next film will be giallo, or something different? 

BF: We have a third part for Amer and Colour, but we don’t think we’re going to do that now. We have to wait, take a breath, because it was eleven years that film, so it’s been a big part of our lives, so we have to take a breath. And at the end our collaboration was like Possession, you know, Zulawski? [Laughs] So we have to reconnect artistically on something that doesn’t come from us, and after we’ll go back to that giallo universe.

AB: Thank you very much. 

BF: You’re welcome.

THE STRANGE COLOUR OF YOUR BODY’S TEARS IS ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 11 APRIL 2014

 

 

 

 

Erik Skjoldbjærg Writer/Director

Erik Skjoldbjærg is best known for his films INSOMNIA and PROZAC NATION. Here he talks to Matthew Turner about the making of the film, which co-wrote and directed:

MT: How did the project come about, first of all? Obviously, it’s based on a true story…

ES: It’s based on true events, but the story, the way we put it together, I would say it’s fictional, the characters are invented, but inspired by the real people. The producer and two screenwriters had this idea whilst they were attending film school in Norway. The producer came to me in 2007 with an idea – it didn’t exist as a script at that point, it was just an idea of making a film about the point when we secured our oil resources and what it required, in terms of human expenses. So that was 2007, I was working on a different film at the time – I think I was doing a TV series and then a feature, so I didn’t start really working on this until 2011. Before that we were working on financing and there was script work to be done, but I worked on it since 2011, quite intensively.

MT: What kind of research did you do?

ES: We went and talked to some of these divers. Quite a few. We talked to the physiologists and a professor of modern oil history and then we started looking through archive material. When we got to that point it got a bit more tricky, because the oil companies, they were sceptical about giving us access. But a lot of this is publicly accessible anyway. And I like doing research – the last film I did was based entirely on research – it was a heist movie called Nokas. It was very popular in Norway, but for some reason didn’t travel that much. And that really gave me an appetite for doing research and I gained a lot from it, in many ways. So we started going into all these materials and it turns out that 99 divers died in the North Sea during the 70s, in various accidents. And quite a few of these accidents, the conclusion, if any, no-one really believes in. So I started looking into that. It’s such a big, complex amount of material that we had to sort of try and make it into a storyline and a coherent character journey, where we sort of blended various real people together into a character. But I’d say a lot of the situations you see are for real, like the experiment at the very start, it took place and they did hallucinate and they did see a bird and they did change the gas, all these things. And also just technically, to fully understand what is beyond actually just mechanically going down there at that level, why is it so dangerous and why is it something no-one’s done before. You know, we’ve had a man on the moon, why can’t we send someone four hundred metres down?

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MT: You very deliberately have that echo of the moon landings, there’s that line about one small step for man. How did you approach the underwater sequences?

ES: In talking to all these divers, they told me this is weather dependent, because of currents and all sorts of stuff, but sometimes you could see, way, way away, far, far, far away and up towards, you could see the light of the boat, like a little dot. The light is really clear – and you’ve got to remember how dark it is, they told me. So at that point I was looking through all these underwater films and I found them not satisfactory, in the sense that they didn’t have any dynamics, they didn’t have proper depth of field, because the waters had turned muddy, which is what happens if you go diving nearly anywhere. So the production went on a quest, to try and find a place to shoot where you could guarantee clear water or infinite visibility. We did sort of think, well, could we do dry-for-wet sort of techniques and stuff, but they’re more Hollywood-based – my feeling was we wouldn’t have the proper resources to do it, so we would get somewhere in the middle and we’d run out of money and it wouldn’t look organic. So we kept pursuing this idea of where we could find clear water.

MT: So you shot them in a real location? You didn’t use a water tank?

ES: No, we went to Iceland and shot all the wide shots in an underwater crevice. It was glacier water, which has been filtered by lava sand for fifteen miles and then it sort of enters this crevice, but it has a current and it’s crystal clear and it’s ice cold. And because of that, we had to have professional divers to stand in some of the wide shots, because the equipment which we had established – the Pioneer diving equipment – we couldn’t use any warm elements or whatever. So it was a Finnish team who sort of experimented on how long you could be in two degrees Celsius water without freezing to death or something or something close to that. And they presented us with the idea we could shoot forty-five minutes twice a night, because we had to shoot at nights with the darkness and all that. So it meant we had to try and do six set-ups in one go, before they came up – I had to plan with the camera and everything, meticulously, what to do before they went down.

MT: So were you underwater for those sequences too?

ES: I experimented with going underwater to get the sense of it, but I didn’t go underwater while we were shooting, because it made no sense – it was better to be looking at the monitor and directing. Well, I’m not comfortable with water anyway, so I mean not for myself, but I like to think that it made more sense, to me, to stand up on top. It was freezing cold there as well and when you see the divers come up and they’re a sort of ash colour and they’re shaking uncontrollably, I didn’t realise that what I would be going through up on top, there’s a whole other level to what it means to freeze, you know?

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MT: How did you approach the casting? Obviously you have both Norwegian actors and American actors, but you also have Stephanie Sigman, from Miss Bala. How did she get involved?

ES: I introduced this idea of a Mexican woman [as a character] – I was sort of inspired by the fact that these divers travelled the world and they were sort of quite ahead of their time. There was an odd community in Mexico, but I guess it’s also a metaphor for what Norway’s kind of gone on to do, when we started moving out in the world. So there was a Mexican character there, but the problem was we couldn’t afford to go to a Mexican casting agency, so I was looking at YouTube and I was looking at Mexican telenovelas [Mexican soap operas] and that was my method of casting, until I came across Miss Bala. There were five short sequences that were put out for promotion and I looked at one of them and I immediately thought there’s a whole different level to her performance. So that’s where I saw her for the first time and then I saw the movie and we got in touch with her.

MT: And the American cast, Wes Bentley and Stephen Lang?

ES: Through an American casting agency, but they did tell us you had to be really calm about this, because no American actors with a name, you know, or within the film community is going to go for a supporting part in a small, small-ish in their term, Scandinavian movie before three weeks in advance, because if there’s a lead that comes up, they don’t want to be tied. So we started looking when there was like a month before shooting and I think Wes Bentley showed a genuine interest early on – I never really talked to him about it, but my impression was that he’d seen some of my earlier work, probably Insomnia or something, so he got on board two or three weeks beforehand. Stephen Lang was probably just like a week before [shooting] and even tighter with Jonathan LaPaglia. So it was nerve-wracking from our point of view – it took all our energy in the last three weeks before shooting.

MT: You were talking about American actors not necessarily wanting to play supporting roles, but also the lead is quite unconventional-looking for a heroic lead-type. I mean, I know Aksel Hennie is a well-known actor, but was that a deliberate decision?

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ES: Yeah. I was insistent – have you seen HEADHUNTERS? I was insistent that he was going to use his own hair, because this is a wet element, you know, so I asked Aksel to grow into his 70s look, which we had a lot of documentary material for. And Aksel, like most really professional, good actors, whatever it takes for the character, they call this the physicality of how you approach the character, it’s very important, I think, for how you mentally grow into your part. But I was talking to Aksel a couple of years before shooting – there was no other candidate.

MT: Did you have to cut anything out that maybe had to go, but that you were sorry to lose?

ES: I tend to forget these things, because film-making is so intense. But we did – there were some sequences that we changed, yeah. For economic reasons and for practical reasons. I don’t think the impact of the story – I find it hard to tell, I must say, because it’s like this process you need to go through and you make your decision and you filter it and eventually you come out with a movie and it feels like, well, that’s the way it had to be made, to become what it is. So there were definitely things I would have wanted to do, but once you put them behind you, I just suppress them from my mind.

MT: What was the hardest thing to get right, overall?

ES: I think probably the most difficult – there were two things: one is, in terms of this vast amount of material and the point in Norwegian history, probably the most important modern historical point, it’s what we base our current wealth on, so to dig into the history and then try and mould a genre piece out of that, the combination of that was a challenge which we were dealing with for quite a while. And then in terms of shooting, it’s the underwater stuff and figuring out how to – I believe in the sense that a film should physically carry you somewhere and preferably somewhere you’ve never been. And for this film it was obvious where I really wanted it to go, but the question was how to achieve it within a Scandinavian version, which wasn’t obvious at all, so that was a push.

MT: I wanted tell you, I’ve had a hearing imbalance in my head for the last week or so, where it feels like my head is half underwater. So Pioneer was pretty much the perfect film to see in that state, because the people on screen were experiencing pretty much what’s been going on in my head for the last ten days. So it seemed quite appropriate.

ES: On that note, I’d like to compliment the sound designer, who was a French guy. He was experimenting, he tried to push – in reality, the voices go much more squeaky and they’re unintelligible, there’s no way you can understand what they’re saying. But we didn’t want it to become like a Disney feel, you know? But they really did, the French sound designer and mixer, they were pushing this sound design, to try and convey that sort of sense of the mental strain and how it influences you. The divers were saying – that was one thing I came away with with doing all the research, I realised to what extent their whole existence was these really tiny, claustrophobic spaces they were sitting in for weeks and then they run into this sort of infinite ocean feel and to try and get that right was part of the challenge.

MT: Do you know what your next project is?

ES: I’m currently working on a TV series, which is based on an idea by the crime author Jo Nesbo, who wrote Headhunters. It’s called OCCUPIED and I’m set to do that.

PIONEER IS ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 11 APRIL 2014 IN CINEMAS NATIONWIDE

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The Borderlands (2014) Interview with Gordon Kennedy

Scottish actor Gordon Kennedy’s appearances have been somewhat few and far between in cinema, his latest endeavour on the silver screen has been something of a critical hit amongst the horror community, with a starring role in Elliot Goldner’s The Borderlands. Kennedy discusses the differences in working in film compared to television, while also letting us in on the fresh challenges that come with the found footage genre. He also explains why his comedic background was beneficial to this piece, and whether or not he believes in the supernatural himself…

Q:So what attracted you to the project?

Well they offered me the job, is my stock reply to that. It’s like nothing I’ve ever done before and I liked the idea of staring in a film, I don’t get offers for big Hollywood movies! I’m not a massive slasher horror fan, but films like The Evil Dead, funny, disgusting horror films, I love that. The humourless stuff that followed that wasn’t of much interest to me. The story in this is interesting, that whole thing of doing a horror film but about the people who are rubbishing, you’re starting from quite a cynical standpoint. I liked that idea.

Q:Your cynical character almost represents the viewer in that regard…

Completely. What I liked about him, and what we pushed quite a lot, was this idea of him losing his faith. The tortured holy man who is beginning to question what he’s sacrificed his life for, which is why he’s very open to the idea of miracles. We talked about that a lot during the film of it.

Q:You mentioned before your joy in doing a film, as most of your previous work has been on television. These days the line between the two mediums is so blurred – did this feel different though, like a movie?

Yeah it felt very different, especially in the bank balance! First of all it was a genuinely low-budget, independent British film, and those tend to be populated by very young, very enthusiastic, incredibly talented people, which is fantastic. I’d never seen that. The world of television tends to be populated by those who have done it for a long time. These guys are girls are coming out of film school. It was a real learning experience to see how these people work. They’ve only grown up in the digital age, they’re wondering around with SD cards all the time, that’s it. It’s an obvious thing, but it belies a huge difference in approach, but incredibly knowledgable about film and characters. They’re big fans of filmmaking right the way through, they can pick out their favourites from any genre and any age – and that’s just really interesting.

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Q:So despite being in the industry a lot longer than Elliot – you still learnt a lot from him as a director?

Completely, I learnt a lot. But not just from Elliot, but all the crew. The D.O.P. Eben Bolter too, who is a really clever guy. Obviously with a found footage film, when one of the cameras is on your ear you get a fairly intimate relationship with the cameraman. I felt like I’d almost been unfaithful by the end of some days. I felt dirty, I had to go and have a shower. As did Eben. Again, that was learning for me because I hadn’t done found footage. I’m not sure if Elliot or Eben had either, but they’d really worked out how they were going to do it. It just brilliant and so interesting to work in that way.

Q:Did shooting a found footage movie bring about some new challenges you hadn’t faced before as an actor?

It’s a completely different environment. You have these head cams so it becomes really important to look at each other, if you look up or down you won’t see anyone. Things like that, there’s a lot more collaboration between camera crews, and lighting and props and actors and director than there might be otherwise. All these practical things are really interesting, but honestly it’s quite liberating. You don’t have to relight, you don’t stop and move the set around – you just film it and keep going, and you can try lots of different things. That was great fun, you really felt like you were part of the process, whereas there’s a danger in bigger films where you feel more like a mannequin. Ewan McGregor was very funny when he did Star Wars, he was so disappointed with the process. He said, ‘I spent six months staring at a green screen, I have no idea what my enemies look like. You’ll know before me’. Whereas this isn’t like that at all. It’s all real, and you’re constantly working with the whole team, and I really like that. I’ve stared in comedy and stuff like that, it’s a team game, not individual.

Q:Found footage films encourage a more naturalistic approach to acting, and provoke improvisation. Did that serve you well as an actor?

Yeah it really did. First of all, Rob [Hill] and I just got on, right from the off. It was one of those weird things, we just had a laugh, we trusted each other. It meant that we could push things, he really could say outrageous stuff and know I would come back, and that helped with us getting to know the characters, as well as each other, and it helped the film. The first 20 minutes could be dull exposition, but we worked on making the characters believable, and you like them and like being around them. Rob will be saying something stupid or I’ll be being grumpy and it works. It also means that when the characters go into jeopardy, the audience are taken along on an emotional level as well. That’s always good. The reaction at screenings is fantastic, I love it, because people are genuinely going ‘oh no!’ and that’s good, because you don’t do that in Saw. You just go ‘oh he’s got his leg cut off, fuck it, I don’t know him, I don’t care’.

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Q:Improvisation serves the horror and comedy genres best I think, and this strikes a nice balance between the two. You’ve got a background in comedy, so I imagine that was pretty beneficial?

Yes it was. Rob is the funny man, but that’s good, I knew I could relax and I knew when to come in, when to shut up and let him get the laughs. Also, horror is very similar to comedy, in a sense that you have an audience reaction. It’s really black and white, and very simply whether you’ve got it right or wrong. In comedy the audience laugh, in horror they scream, and if they don’t scream at that moment you want them to, you’ve done something wrong, it’s not their fault. Same if people don’t get a joke, you’ve written it wrong or delivered it wrong. Those things are very similar, the timing of how you do things. With horror you’ve got the benefit of sound. We don’t have massive CGI, special effects budgets, so sound is so important.

Q:As someone who knows the project inside out, are you still able to get immersed in the film when watching it back? Do you feel tense?

You do, but it’s more from feeling it around the audience. When I’m watching something I’m in, it’s much more to do with the atmosphere, you can feel when the audience are absolutely there, and obviously you get the physical response, when the audience jump up in their seats. But I don’t get completely immersed in it, because I can’t see The Borderlands without seeing me in it. Most of the time I just sit there thinking, ‘Jesus, why did you do that?’ so I tend to concentrate more on the audience – that’s the important thing.

Q:Do you ever get used to seeing yourself on the big screen? Do you scrutinise over it a lot?

Yeah you tend to look at stuff, but I’m terrible. My wife constantly shouts at me when we’re watching something on television, and I’m being cynical. That’s the devil’s pay you have when involved in the business, you can’t look at something as a punter. That’s the sign of a good show – when I watch something completely as a punter. Like Line of Duty recently, I absolutely loved that, it’s fantastic. But with myself, yeah I’m not very good at watching, ‘who’s that handsome hunk in the background?’ is not what I do. I’m not sure many actors do, contrary to popular opinion – I think most hide their head in their hands.

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Q:So do you think this film has an appeal to films fans in general, outside of horror aficionados?

Yeah completely. When this first went out on the festival circuit, for the horror reviewers, the opening lines to so many of their reviews were, ‘this is a found footage film, but…’. We argued about this when making the film, I think it’s a genre, I think there’s enough examples of it being used, and it’s a way to tell a story, that’s all. Perhaps it’s more a style than a genre, it’s a way of telling stories, like shooting a film in black and white. So a lot of people were a bit tired of it because of the success of things like Paranormal Activity, you get Paranormal Activity Four and pay just think, I’ve had enough of this. But in this instance it really works, it’s embedded in the story and there’s a really good plot reason why we’re doing it, so you don’t worry about it. As soon as you’ve done that, and set it up properly, nobody worries about it and it’s fine. That was important, and a good example of how to do something like this. If there’s a good, competent reason why you’re doing it in a certain way, the audience relax

Q: So you think it’s important the audience go in without any preconceptions of this genre?

Yeah absolutely. It’s a horror film and it’s low-budget, but it’s really nicely scripted and there’s some good themes, leading, inevitably, to a really scary end. You’re on a real journey. People who don’t like horror films, well they’ve been ambushed a bit, so they think they’re watching Final Destination or something. This is different, this obeys the laws of film, gives you characters, you like them, and you go on a journey with them.

Was it a challenge for you to find a strand of realism in the role and story, when dressed up in such supernatural surroundings?

No, because the crux of his doubt and his anguish, is whether you’re prepared to take this leap of faith or not, so it’s about that. Which is great, because I could have that inner turmoil, externally. That added a bit to the character, that’s why it’s interesting.

Q:Do you believe in the supernatural yourself?

No. No. I don’t. I was talking to someone the other day, and there was one time we were filming in a haunted house and the camera went from colour to black and white in this haunted room, and everybody was convinced that was a ghost.

Q: You were filming in derelict churches at the dead of night – it must have been quite eerie at times to shoot?

Yeah, and that really helped. Definitely, there were a couple of times when I go back to church a couple of times on my own and when we’re filming that, because it’s wide shots, supposedly the CCTV cameras from the church, nobody could be in there, so it’s 2am, it’s dark, it’s a derelict church and I’m in there on my own, so you can use whatever you can to make the realism a bit more real, and it certainly was a little spooky in there. It definitely helped.

Q: So are a big fan of horror as a genre? What state do you think it’s in at present?

What’s really interesting, is that British independent films and the horror genre, and inextricably linked, because there’s a massive tradition of British horror films, from pre-Hammer to now, with people like Ben Wheatley. It’s great going round to these festivals like FrightFest, where a lot of British filmmakers are cutting their teeth by making a movie in the horror genre, because they know they’re going to get a lot of exposure and it’s good fun. If done well, it can really show your skills off as a filmmaker. So I think it’s pretty good, and every now and again people reinvent the wheel. Like Paranormal Activity just moved found footage to a different level, deliberately setting it in the one place where you think you’re most secure – a bedroom. A sensational thing to pull off, and to pull off like they did. Cloverfield too, that took found footage into a massive, special effects movie and that was really interesting. All of that stuff is great because it broadens the field.

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Q:Not to take anything away from The Borderlands, but have you been surprised at the level of acclaim it’s been receiving so far? Across the world.

Yes, yes I have. It’s been a real positive surprise to me. Partly it’s because it’s an entirely new field so I have no critical compass here. Obviously I’m in it and I want it to be really good and I know how hard everyone worked – so I’m the worst person in the world to look at it in perspective because obviously I’m going to say it’s great. But it’s been really interesting how people, and not particularly horror fans, have loved it. That means there’s something in the script, in the acting and in the characters is obviously working, otherwise that wouldn’t have happened. People my generation are not necessarily horror fans, but they seem to like it and that’s been a heartening process to go through, and it makes me very proud of it and of all the people who worked so hard to make it as good as it is. That’s been fantastic. It’s also really interesting, because there’s a huge amount of positivity in this area I never expected. Because you generally see film critics slagging off Hollywood blockbusters, you feel there’s a spikiness about film criticism and the film world. But what’s been interesting is watching the warmth of other filmmakers and critics to this film, who are saying, ‘this is a low budget film that you should see.’ Empire magazine put it in their top 20 films you should have seen but probably didn’t watch in 2013, and that’s been a real shock to me, but a brilliant one. It shows there’s a proud tradition of filmmaking in this country, and people in charge of bringing that, like you, the critics, are very mindful of the idea that British film is very important, so when you see something worthy of merit, you are looking at something and saying, ‘this is very good’. Not, ‘it hasn’t got Ewan McGregor in it, so fuck off’. Stefan Pape

THE BORDERLANDS IS ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 28 MARCH 2014

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Directors – Christine Molloy and Joe Lawlor

Directing duo Christine Molloy and Joe Lawlor came to prominence under the moniker of the ‘desperate optimists’, with their Civic Life series of short films, made between 2003-2010. In 2008 they struck out to feature film territory with their acclaimed debut Helen. Now, five years later, they return with their follow-up, Mister John, which tells the story of Gerry (Aidan Gillen), who travels to Singapore after the untimely death of his brother John, only to find himself slipping a little too comfortably into John’s old life…

Ahead of the release of the film, Alex Barrett sat down with Christine and Joe to talk to them about the ideas and methodology behind Mister John.

AB: I wanted to start by asking you about one of the key ideas behind Mister John, that of ‘trying on a life that isn’t yours’. It seems to me that this idea can be related back to Helen, and I was wondering how conscious you were of that? Do you see the two films as companion pieces, or is it more a case that this idea interests you, and just happens to be in both works?

JL: No, we don’t see them as companion pieces, but it may well be that they get forced to be such. So, it would be much more of a case that we are really interested in that idea as a premise. We were very conscious of that [idea] as we were embarking on the development ofMister John. It wasn’t that we were thinking about Helen, we are intuitively drawn to framing devices where somebody tries to get out of a wormhole in their life and enter into some other kind of world. I suppose the question of why that interests us…I have no idea why we’re drawn to that. I guess at its root it’s really an interest in, without sounding too literary, moments where the human condition is up against a wall and under great pressure. In that moment, one thing that may well happen is that you become somebody else, or lose a sense of who you are, or some opportunity might present itself. And that’s always a very interesting thing. It may be that it’s a desire, an interest in other films where people are hanging on to their sanity – which is ultimately the greatest sense of losing oneself. And I guess that may be to do with our own family history, where that’s been very much a reality. So if I was on your couch, I might say that it is a childhood thing, that it’s been there ever-present in our lives. But as a theatrical or cinematic device, we’re drawn to that for some reason. MISTER JOHN 2012 - DAY 05 _ 323 copy

CM: And there might be another counter-point to that, which is probably much more banal. We left Ireland in our twenties, and that idea of being an outsider coming into a new environment and that chance to start again has always been something that intrigued us and informed the theatre work that we made when we were in college, and when we subsequently left college. We’re interested in places and worlds where people are afforded that opportunity. The seeds for the idea of Mister John came out of the experience of going to visit Joe’s brother, who had remade his life in Phuket in Thailand where he runs a bar, and being interested in the kind of people who are drawn to a place like Phuket – what kind of man in particular. A lot of them have really complicated stories, and they come to Phuket and it’s almost like they’ve been given a clean sheet of paper, and they can reinvent themselves. Whatever troubles and baggage they have, they’ve left them behind. And they kind of step into another world, because a lot of them have girlfriends, you know? And they pick up the threads of that relationship, and it’s not even a relationship and everybody knows that it isn’t. But they behave and act out as if it is. And I guess those kind of elements do really interest us. That’s the more banal side of it, and then maybe the more psychiatrist couch end…

JL: I was just thinking of one guy, actually, who’s now in jail. He was doing some sort of social welfare claim, he had nine pseudonyms going in Ireland, and he would spend half the year in Thailand. So he had nine identities in Ireland and I think Thailand was the only one where he was living this great life. Anyway, he was eventually caught. But I think that is true. It’s also true that when you go away to another place, I don’t know if it’s the case for everybody, but when you’re alone, I think Simone de Beauvoir has this comment, you become very alive, and when you’re travelling alone in particular. And maybe in those moments people begin to realise things about themselves – things they like and things that they don’t like. Which again, is to do with Mister John: this idea he’s travelled. But maybe in the travelling, in the very nature of travelling, alone and being alone, that sense of loathing about himself might be replaced by wanting to be something that he’s happier with. I think that’s very much present. MISTER JOHN 2012 - DAY 06 _ 346 - 2nd grade copy

AB: Something else I wanted to ask you is related to what we’ve just been talking about: I don’t know if you’d agree with this, but it seems to me that the idea of ‘trying on a life that isn’t yours’ can also be applied to the filmmaking process. Quite obviously with actors, but also with writers and directors, because when you write or direct you have to put yourself into the mind-set of the characters. So I was wondering if you saw any connection between the themes of your work, and the actual creation of your work? Do you and your characters have that in common? You spoke about potentially autobiographical elements, but is there something in you personally that…

JL: Well, I think it’s in all of us. In the lift on the way up here we were talking about our daughter and her cousin, and the various role playing games that they act out. You know, mad ones. And so they play out different kinds of characters, with different accents. As you get older that’s kind of knocked out of you in a way, people become less imaginative about who they are and who they might be. Kids can try out different fashions and different styles, then as you get older you come to be identified with one particular kind of way of being or way of looking, which is not necessarily your nature. You might have suppressed certain things. So consequently, yes it’s true, I do think by writing characters, you can really keep that alive. Actors, obviously, can keep that very much alive, but writers more, I think, than directors, actually. I think writing and acting can keep that sense of transference. If you really wanted to do that, and you wanted to play out certain kind of roles, I think writing and acting would be the way to do it. Directing is probably less a way of applying that. When you’re in the act of directing, in a sense, the moment to really act that out or inhabit someone else’s skin is in the moment of writing rather than the moment of directing, from our experience.MISTER JOHN 2012 - DAY 03 _ 164 - 2nd grade copy copy

CM: Yeah, but directing is a more concentrated job. It’s an interesting thought. You might define yourself as a director, and we don’t necessarily. It’s one of the jobs we do. But it’s the one you do the least of. I mean, we shot Helen in 2007, and then we shot Mister John in 2012, and we made one short film in the intervening years. And so, to call yourself a director when you do it so rarely…I mean, Helen was shot in 14 days, Mister John was shot in 22 days. So you’re not doing much. You have to almost take on a role, and then imagine yourself into it, because it’s not something that you do very often. I remember when we were in college doing theatre degrees, one lecturer who did performance always encouraged us to fake it. If you’re not sure, just fake it. And I think it’s probably a very useful lesson to keep in the back of your mind, that you can fake it by stepping into a role. When we performed ourselves, one of the things that we did in our approach to performance was to almost have on/off buttons, so the idea of stepping into a role and building up a character was never really present. It was ways to switch things on and off, so if you needed a real heightened moment of performance, you just switch that button on and then switch it off. So it was something that you can step into and then step out of very quickly.

JL: To go back to the directing. I remember reading, I don’t know how true it is, that footballers, in an average game, actually have the ball at their feet for something like six seconds. That’s it. So they’re 90 minutes on the pitch, but literally with the ball, it’s only a few seconds. That’s all it ever is. And you’re just hanging around the rest of the time, man marking, getting into position, not getting the ball. But you’re always in the game, aren’t you? You’re always writing, you’re dreaming, you’re fantasising, you’re projecting, you’re fictionalising. It’s really about the mental process, ultimately. How you come to this set or the floor or the scene. Why you’re so clear is because you’ve actually written through this whole process. Now what it would be like if you weren’t the writer of that material, that would be a difficult job, I think. To just step into that. That’s something I wouldn’t do. I can’t imagine that, unless you went through a very intimate journey with the script.

AB: One of the things I really like about your work is that it feels like the product of a distinct vision. Your films, and I means this as a compliment, have a designed look to them. How do you work with the camera? Are you designing it all with pen and paper before the shoot? What’s your process?

JL: No, we don’t storyboard, although I think perhaps there’s a good argument for that in the future [laughs]. Helen was much more distinctive in a way, much more wilful. Each day we just did four shots. I think all the camera crew were just completely bewildered. But it was mad, actually, for them, and Ole [Birkeland, cinematographer on Helen and Mister John] was brilliant because he had never worked like this before either. We pretty much knew how we wanted every shot to go, to function. Mainly, for us, it’s really choosing the right location and hanging out in the location. And imagining the scene in that actual space. We try not to imagine a location. We like to find the locations. Sometimes, in the case of Helen, the writing came after the location. We found a lot of locations, and wrote a story about the locations. And I think the reasons we choose forests a lot is we just love forests, and they’re usually very easy to photograph, and they photography very well with 35mm. So we think about the shots very much as the experience for the audience, and what the scene requires. But we don’t storyboard. I think the locations are really really central to the overall experience.

MISTER JOHN 2012 - DAY 17 _ 899 copy copyCM: It’s trying to create a believable world to preserve the ideas in the film, I think. It’s really central to the way we approach making films. So I guess we’re thinking less about the machinations of plot and narrative, and more about trying to create a world. So obviously the role of the camera and how it’s filmed and framed, and how things operate within the frame, are really central. But yeah, we don’t [storyboard]. We did do this really silly thing in Singapore which drove me mad in the end, where we tried…it was almost like a halfway house to storyboarding, but to me it was a really difficult exercise, because it’s a lot easier to work things out when you’re actually in the location – although there is certain things, certain problems you can pre-empt and work yourself out of, I think, if you’ve maybe used pen and paper a little in advance. But mostly we like to work on location.

JL: If you’re working with design, and somebody had to come up with these designs and not something that we can literally find in a room, or if you’re looking for the right kind of hotel…This was a bit of a problem for us in Singapore. We looked at eighteen or nineteen hotels, minimum, and we never really…The one we got in the end was okay, but we did see one that was better than that, but they didn’t want anyone [to film there]. It was a bit of a dodgy hotel. In those moments, when you can’t find the right kind of hotel, then I suppose you do need something purpose built, and then it’s more difficult to imagine what the shot is, because you can’t actually be in the right location until that design is made. But I think the locations tend to inform the kind of shot that should take place in there, and the kind of words also. Now that we’re in this bedroom, and now that we can see the light the way it is, and we don’t like to use that many lights, it seems to be that this mood would require…you know, we’d say to Aidan, ‘we’ve spent the last few years writing the script, and these are the words for the scene, maybe we don’t need them now, or maybe we only need half of them’. It was the scaffolding to get you to that particular point, because now you’re in this room with these actors, you really need to be alert to what’s required now. You have to be careful about not deviating too much from the script, which we didn’t at all, but you can’t be so compelled by everything that you’ve written, and what the actors say doesn’t have to necessarily happen exactly verbatim right here, right now. But you have to be a bit open to that possibility as well.

AB: I thought the score was really powerful in Mister John. Could you talk about the use of music in the film, and how you worked with your composer, Stephen McKeon? 

JL: It’s a big thing for us. I thought the score for Helen was very strong. But you’re taking a risk, you know? You work very closely with the composer, because it’s the one thing which could really make an emotional mess of things. We had to work with Irish composers because of taxation reasons, and that’s fine – there are lots of great Irish composers. We had this shortlist, and we met a few of them. This particular guy, Stephen, talked about the film in the right way and had one or two things in his catalogue which were sort of heading in the right direction. We just wanted a sense of theatricality about it. We use this word far too liberally, I think, at times, but we do like a sense of theatrically, that it feels real, but ultimately we don’t believe that’s it real real. It’s theatrically real. And we like that. I mean, we like the work of, I don’t know, Miklós Jancsó, for example – it’s got a theatricality to it, which we find quite powerful. And we’re not looking for it to be socially realistic, in that sense, but realistic and effective on other levels. And so we wanted the music, when it happened, to not be one of those plinky-plonky things. We wanted it to be more Hitchockian. Big. It won’t happen that often, but when it would come in, it would be quite strident and it would announce itself quite clearly and it was telling you: this is the music and we’re not trying to seduce you unbeknownst, we’re not trying to manipulate you. It’s very upfront and honest in that level. But we wanted something pretty scored, something quite large and classical. We had a lot of temp tracks from Greig, actually. We listened to a lot of Greig throughout the editing process, and there was a great piece of music that we could never afford. In the end I was glad, and Stephen was thrilled because he wanted just his music in the film, but it was by Carl Orff and it was part of his Schulwerk series, and it was a beautiful little folk ballad, amazing. But it didn’t quite work.

CM: Yeah, it would have been all wrong.

JL: It was like twenty-five grand, or something like that, just for that song. You’re just thinking, get out of here.

CM: But we also wanted to work with somebody who we could have a conversation with, and really collaborate with. It was a really great part of the working process, our dialogue with Stephen. [We wanted] somebody who was up for that, and Stephen was really really up for a dialogue. We got into a lot of detail about how the score was working. Stephen really wanted to see that there was money in the budget to have the music performed live, that we could bring that feel and interpretation to the music. We ended up having the music performed, which I think really worked and was incredibly effective. On some level I think the music kind of charts aspects of Gerry’s journey into his brother’s world, and yes it’s a rupturing, or a real kind of counterpoint to the environment that he’s in, because it’s classical. So it’s kind of at odds.

JL: Yeah, it’s not Asian music. We wanted something Northern European, very much of the European sensibility, and not of the South East Asian one. We’re not musicians, but we do approach things in something of a musical sensibility. So we can talk music to him, about certain phrases and quotes, and ‘could that just go into this, segue into this bit rather than this bit’. So we can get into that level of detail. But I think it was really important that if the composer was just one of those people that said, well look, I will compose something and that will be it, I don’t know if we would…then it would be like ‘well, what if we didn’t like it?’. And so the idea is to have a dialogue, so you would head that off at the pass, so of course you’re going to like it, because any good composer would be listening to the music that we’ve been listening to and would pick up on that. We were fortunate that he’s really great with his job, but he did respond very well and we were very pleased with that music. Alex Barrett.

MISTER JOHN IS ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM FRIDAY, 27TH SEPTEMBER 2013 AT CURZON RENOIR

 

 

 

Tomasz Wasilewski – Filmmaker

Tomasz Wasilewski copyAs the opening credits of Floating Skyscrapers begin to unfold, the sound of water seeps onto the soundtrack, placing us audibly within the enclosed world of an indoor swimming pool. But embedded within the sounds of the waves, another noise becomes discernible: someone is, it would seem, undergoing an act of sexual pleasure. The credits make way, and the sounds continue over a symmetrical widescreen image of the swimming pools’ changing room doors, all closed. Whatever is happening, whatever we are hearing, is taking place inside these doors. But this is not for us to see. Instead, we go to our protagonist, Kuba, as he jogs along, the camera following in a fit of motion. Later, he will go to a party with his girlfriend Sylwia, and there he will meet a young man, Michal, with whom he will develop a love affair. It’s a striking set up for what has been dubbed Poland’s first LGBT film. 

Prior to the film’s release, Alex Barrett spoke to director Tomasz Wasilewski. 

Could you please describe Floating Skyscrapers in your own words? 

It’s a film about love, about finding one’s place in modern reality, about looking for one’s own self and fighting for it, which is never easy.

Can you say something about how the idea for the film originated? AWE_6720 copy

The first stimulus to write the story was a bus station in Warsaw. This place interested me and inspired [me] greatly as a filmmaker, and this is why most of the story took place there. Initially, it was a story about a fifty-year-old woman who worked at the station. The plot focused on her relationship with her daughter and the relationship between the daughter and another girl. I worked on the script for a long time and so it changed a lot. Each new version brought new characters and new solutions and finally, Floating Skyscrapers became a film about a guy, a swimmer who falls in love with another man.

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The characters in the film come across as being very nuanced. How much of this was written into the script, and how much came from the performances? 

It was already written into the script. This is how I construct my characters. Of course, a script is just a story on paper and actors are necessary to make it real. On the set I lead them in such a way that, so to speak, they play it inwards. I like it when actors are very emotional but hide their emotions and feelings all the time. They’re torn apart by them. Thanks to this, they are dramatic characters and such characters interest me most in the cinema. Playing with nuances, this is it!

Could you talk a little more about your approach to working with the actors, and how you direct them? 

Rehearsals for the movie lasted five months. It was very important to me that the actors understand their characters very thoroughly. I wanted them to know their soul and their emotions. For me, human truth is most important in a movie, the truth of the character. When it’s present, the viewer can identify with the characters even when they’re very different to him. I always ask actors not to play their characters but to become them.

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The relationship between Kuba and Sylwia is very messy, and I don’t think we see that kind of reality in cinema very often. Were you deliberately trying to show something not seen in other films, or just doing what felt right for the story? 

I always search for truth in movies. This is what’s most important to me. I never reflect on making a film in a specific way that is supposed to elicit a specific reaction. You can’t make auteur films like this. Characters are made of their emotions, of what they feel inside. This is what directs them and it is this internal state of being broken that is responsible for their decisions. There are no easy and simple situations in life, so there shouldn’t be any in a film either. All in all, a film is life.

During the first ten minutes of Floating Skyscrapers, Michal talks about films and Kuba watches one. Was Floating Skyscrapers intended as a comment on cinema in any way? 

When Kuba and Michał meet for the first time, Michał is talking about The Kid with a Bike, a film by the Dardenne brothers. Personally, I love this movie. When I was constructing this scene, I had just watched it. Of course, the film made a huge impression on me. I like films by the Dardenne brothers in general. It’s my way of paying tribute to them.

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Who else were you influenced by when making the film? 

I love the movies of Urlich Seidl, Michael Haneke, Darren Aronofsky and Steve McQueen. There are many directors whose work I respect – Sophia Coppola, David Fincher, Andrey Zvyagintsev. I watch a lot of movies and often go to the theatre, but I can’t determine how much the works of others influence my own works. I think there aren’t any direct inspirations. I make films my own way, intuitively.

There’s a lot of motion in the film: driving, running, swimming. It seems almost like the characters want to escape – and yet they never really do. Could you talk about what these passages of motion symbolised for you? 

This is exactly what it’s like with us – people. Very often we find ourselves in situations from which we want to escape but we don’t do this. A film needs to be as close to life as possible and characters in it similar to real people. Internally, we’re very complex, often broken and full of contradictions. And it’s the same in the case of the characters in Floating Skyscrapers. Does this carry any symbolic meaning? I don’t know, I haven’t thought about it. I work intuitively. I assume that if something moves me it will also move the viewers. I’m fascinated by characters who are lost, internally broken, who’ve reached a turning point in life. For me as a filmmaker, they’re most important, and such characters are full of contradictions. On the one hand, they want to escape and on the other, stay. Isn’t this what’s most beautiful in human nature?

AWE_6986 copy The film is beautifully shot. Can you talk about how you construct your images? 

I worked on it together with the cameraman, Kuba Kijowski. I asked him to use as many master shots and flat frame shots and as much fluorescent light as possible. These are the things I like in the film language. Besides, I chose places that were mostly built of concrete. During colour grading, Kuba was looking for an appropriate colour for the film and he decided that everything should be in silver. I think it was a brilliant idea. In addition to this, many images are in the colour of water, which is the natural environment for the protagonist. I attach a lot of weight to images in a film. They can’t be random and neither can be the places in which they’re shot.

Floating Skyscrapers has been called the first Polish LGBT film. Why do you think it has taken this long for it to happen, and why now? What’s changed?  

It was difficult, even very difficult, to find money for the film. The producers found a great number of private persons who started functioning as co-producers. It changed slightly after the world premiere at Tribeca IFF in NYC and also when we won East of the West Competition in Karlovy Vary International Film Festival – then we found additional funding. In Floating Skyscrapers, the way in which the homosexual character is portrayed is new. Until now this was quite foreign to the Polish or even post-communist countries cinematography. Homosexual characters were usually in the background and depicted in a mocking way. Floating Skyscrapers portrays [the character] Kuba most of all as a human being; ok, he’s homosexual but it’s not what’s most important about him. Kuba is a son and a swimmer, he has his own dreams and he’s got a girlfriend. His homosexuality is not the most important thing, although it pushes him towards some decisions and sometimes determines his life.

FLOATING SKYSCRAPERS IS ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 6TH DECEMBER 2013 NATIONWIDE

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Gilles Bourdos – Film Director

Andrew Rajan met Gilles Bourdos in London recently to talk about his latest film RENOIR, which is now out on DVD.

AT Obviously, the first question has to be – what inspired you to make this film? You were in a museum?

GB Every time I finish a movie, I love to go to a museum, to walk, to clear my head, without any agenda, just to find peace. They make me feel peaceful. So, I was in NY and I was walking in the Met and was in the French area- Renoir and Cezanne; it was striking for me because right then, I really felt I belonged to this cultural history.
So, maybe I have been making movies now 15-20 years, but this was the first time I had a feeling that I wanted to be a French director of this movie. It was very strange sensation and I started to read around Cezanne, Renoir and I found this specific story of when Andree Heuschling first arrived at Renoir’s house and I found it very fascinating, as we don’t know very much about this moment.
So she was the Perfect link to tell the story, not something intellectual, but something real, with flesh and blood, you know, the relationship between a father and a son, the relationship between cinema and a painting.
So, it was a ‘narrow’ situation, you know, with just a house, with a garden paradise around it and a big wall around that, so I found it to be a perfect set up situation for this film.

AT That being the case, the story is of course about two extraordinarily famous people. Were you at all worried about making a film about two ‘Sacred Cows’?

GB Sacred Cows! [laughs] Yes, yes, you know, that is the reason also I wanted the specific sequence when Andree is breaking the plates and she is saying ‘I am really fed up with the Renoirs’, you know, sometimes I felt the same way too, I needed those plates.. making this movie, it provided me with alot of pleasure to make this sequence too, you know?! [laughs]. So you know, in the beginning when you think about it, at the beginning of starting work, it could be an impressive (intimidating) thing, but after a while you (understand you) are simply working on a story about a father and a son and a girl and a young boy, so for example with (actor) Vincent Rottiers, I would say ‘don’t think so much about Jean Renoir, because then, you act with all of it on your shoulders’. You are back from the War, just try to keep it simple. It could be anyone; you work on a character, but it could just be a worker in a factory. They are birth(right) and race free in cinema.

AT I am interested to know about you; where you were born and your influences…

GB Well, I was born in Nice (1963)..

AT Ah..

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GB Yes, so it makes alot of sense..  I came from a working class background… and when I grew up with paintings everywhere, when I was a kid.. because it is a city -an area- where the (notion) of painting is very important; there was Renoir, Picasso… Cezanne.. Bonnard so many painters from there and around… so you have almost a museum of painting on every corner.

AT So, even as a working class boy…

GB Yes, it’s cool, there were pictures, posters and postcards everywhere, it wasn’t just separate, you know. The idea of the painting, it was everywhere, so it was just normal to have a picture of a Matisse somewhere. So I think it was huge influence on me.

AT Then, going through school, you didn’t decide you were going to become a painter…

GB I don’t know why (I chose what I did).. I didn’t go to (film school) I was looking at photography to begin with, more so than painting. But then I do love cinema too, so it started like that… and then I started to write and I always felt that I could learn what I needed to learn from watching cinema too, learn..

AT …Enough.

GB Enough, exactly –enough to Start something. And make Alot of mistakes. And afterwards, you are learning because you are making mistakes. I just had to make my first 16mm movies.. and make alot of mistakes and… you learn, step by step, you know.

AT Your first films, you just made with friends, or…?

GB Yep. I was in Paris- I moved from Nice to Paris, because unfortunately, if you live in France, you cannot see films anywhere really, unless you live in Paris.

AT So you realised when you were in Nice you needed to move to Paris if you were going to be a filmmaker. And how old were you..?

GB Yes.. I was 24.. 23.

AT Ok, so you go to Paris…

GB …I go Paris and I was with a friend who is a filmmaker too now, a good one and a screenwriter too and we were writing together… actually, we didn’t go to Paris to become filmmakers, to be exact, we didn’t know then.. we went because -it was before the DVD (existed)- we were not able to see enough movies. We wanted to see all the Tarkovski movies, all the Ingmar Bergman movies… and on the Big screen. And the only place to do that was in Paris! We spent maybe two or three years, just going to see films. Paris is the best city to see films. There are so many cinemas there. Every year you have a festival showing All the Bergman films, so that was the most important time in my life for me as a director, you know, but maybe even then, I didn’t know I wanted to be a film director…

AT Even then..

GB Even then, I didn’t know! I was just driven by this desire to see cinema.

AT Who would you say is an influence- you mentioned Bergman, Tarkovski..

GB Different moments of my life I would say different directors, but… Italian directors, really.

AT Such as…

GB Bertolucci. The way that Bertolucci worked with colours, for example. That is something I found myself drawn to, because you see, born in Nice, growing up there we are just so close to the Italian border, you know? I am French but…

AT Very close to the Italian sensibility..

GB Yes, yes, we are very close there to the Italian sensibility. We share the same coast, the water… And I did love Visconti, Fellini, Bertolucci… all those.

AT More than the French..?

GB More than the French, yes, definitely. More than the French.

Renoir (2013)

AT Interesting. So you made a few short films. How did your first feature film get off the ground.. Disparus? (Disappeared).

GB Disparus, yes, (sighs) it was a big fight, because it was set in the Thirties, a kind of political love story.. it was a very ambitious film. Period films are very difficult to do anyway, as you always need more money; it was a kind of thriller. It was based on a true story too. There, the Surrealists and the Trotskyists were very close to each other in Paris before the war (1938), so there was political intrigue and infiltration. It was a big movie, which I also produced.

AT ..The story came from a news article?

GB A book. A novel..

AT Going back to Renoir- you live in New York too, I believe?

GB Yes..

AT When you go to a museum, is it the art that attracts you, or the space?

GB I going for the walk inside… actually, you know what? I think I am going to a museum, as others go to a church. So… it’s the whole thing…

AT A combination..

GB A combination of the place, the art… because what I have found in a museum is that it is a holy place for the ‘genius of humanity’, you know? So I need to talk with the dead. It is a way to talk to the dead artist, you know, it’s a way to say ok, I am the one -following the chain…

AT The thread.

GB The thread. You know that is something very important for me now. Because I am not trying to break everything (that has gone before, in order) to do something new.. Not that. When you are young, it seems like you can do that, you can break every rule and do something Totally new. Now, I love the idea that I belong to a long chain of history..

AT …Continuity.

GB A continuity, of course.

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AT So, what’s next for you now?

GB Yes, I am working on a different possibility in France. It will be a European movie, an 18th Century movie..

AT Ok, a Period piece in France… because I know before, you worked with the Americans and did an American film (Afterwards 2008).. how was that?

GB I like the American landscape. I like the people. The idea of America, it is nice because it is a melting pot; New York, Paris, London, Berlin, they have this and I like it. But I find New York to be more similar to London than it is to Atlanta. Living in a big city, there is a similarity.. Also different (life) experiences.
The Americans are very efficient at working.. and that is good, but there is no flexibility! That is my main problem with them. Because I am working with a Taiwanese DoP (Ping Bin Lee) and this is very different. But he works only with me in the West.. he works in Japan, in China, in Korea. But we work in a very similar way. We try to stay flexible. We work with a small crew; I am extremely precise the details, hair, costume, makeup, everything coming into my frame needs to be checked precisely, but I don’t use storyboards.
Whether I use track and what kind of shot, I decide at the last minute.

AT You like to see what the actors are going to do first..

GB Because you don’t know how an actress is going to move from here to there, so how can you decide months before how you are going to shoot it?! And maybe it is going to be sunny, or cloudy, raining, so how do you know where you are going to position things until you get there? I love to stay flexible.
As a filmmaker I am working with living elements; Weather, human beings. We are not puppets. So I don’t want to be too strict or lock it all down with papers and storyboards. That’s the problems with the Americans!

AT So, over there, the producers are wanting everything just so..
GB Not just the producers, everyone! Even the actors! Everyone in America hates improvisation.. they hate it!

AT The actors? I thought maybe with John Malkovich…

GB Ah, Malkovich, no, he was very good. He is great, he is great..  he understood, but then, he has worked in France alot and lived in France for a while. They don’t like it. They like rules, you know, they need everything to be nailed down. But then, they are very effective, you know, they are very good at what they do. They really need to organise it. They really believe in the system. This is why they made the computer, because they are very good at needing everything organised… with them there is only black and white.

AT There’s no greys…

GB Yes, exactly.

AT Well…. I think we are done.

GB Ok, great!

AT Thank you very much indeed. I didn’t wish to pry too much, but I was interested and you were a total mystery, there is nothing of you online so…

GB No, but it is ok, I am a very private person, you know. But I understand. It is all about the movies, so that is ok.

RENOIR IS NOW OUT ON DVD

Pawel Edelman – Cinematographer

PE: Well I was born in Lodz (Poland), this is the famous city where the film school was founded and all the time when I was a young boy I was remembering that very special place in the city where all the great directors were learning how to make beautiful films so from the very first moment I was thinking about movies.  And then, and this was by accident, my brother gave me a camera and I didn’t think about making stills or even movies at that time, let alone cinematography, but it was such a great pleasure that I decided to go to the film school (which was then funded by the Government) and it all started like that. It you’ve even seen The Promised Land by Wajda, it was filmed in the city of Lodz. It was industrial, full of red brick, dull buildings but the only place that was shining was the film school and that’s why everybody wanted to go there. 

Q: Lódz is not only know for the film school but it’s the only city that has a festival aimed at cinematography, the famous Camerimage Festival that takes place each November. Was it natural that you were always going to study there, rather than some other place? Was it because you wanted to follow in the footsteps of Wajda and Polanski?

PE: Well of course, I never imagined that I would go somewhere else, from the very first moment I knew that this was where a young Polish filmmaker should go.

Q: Tell us about the training there and how you ended up working towards  cinematography?

PE: Well Lódz was a very special film school. Right from the beginning, we started making a black and white film on 35mm and all the films during my training there were only made on 35mm which was very rare because all the other schools during my training were using 16mm, a smaller camera, so that was the first difference about Lodz.  The second was that we had a professional crew; we had gaffers, camera assistants and grips, so from the first year we had to co-operate with those people which was a great training because later on when we started working on professional productions we already had some tricks and knew how to handle the crew, which is one of the most important elements if you’re going to be a good DoP, so we had some great teachers and we made some fantastic friends.  So just after film school I started to shoot features with my colleague directors, which was fantastic.

Q  So let’s move on now to one of the major collaborators of your career, (Roman Polanski), and it’s somebody who I want to come back to later because this was your international breakthrough.

But first, let’s show a clip of the film you made with Andrzej Wajda, that was the starting point to Hollywood:

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ED: Yes, and that’s why I wanted to show you this Pan Tadeusz clip (of the Last Foray in Lithuania (1999)) because it was about the 10th film I did in Poland and probably the one that attracted the attention of Roman Polanski, because after that he called me and asked me to join him in The Pianist (2002) so that was the link between my Polish period of my career and the international one.

Q Before we look at The Pianist I want to find out how exactly you defined your role in the making of all these films.  Where you someone who involved yourself very early on with the script-reading with the director and the actors? How did you start to get a vision for the film?

ED: That was the good thing about Lodz film school, we were working most of the time with the directors. After finishing film school I started working with my friend Wladyslaw Pasikowski, I think we’ve made 8 movies together, and the films we made together were like a stylistic breakthrough in Poland and they were very popular. Wladyslaw was like a star. We were working on the script, talking about the locations, scouting together, collaborating on the writing and that tradition is something very special at that school. Together we made Kroll (1991); Pigs (1992); Psy 2: Ostatnia crew (1994); Bitter-Sweet (1999); Demony wojny wed ug Goi (1998); Operacja Samum (1999); Reich (2001); Poklosie (2012).

Q: And does this make things much easier for you when working on the film?

ED: Of course it does: it’s interesting to be involved as early as possible, to know the main subject and the themes to be a part of the whole machinery of the movie-making process, which makes you (as a DoP) more involved and in the  centre of the process.

Q: So we come to The Pianist, which won you a César and also the Eagle Polish Film Award 2003 for best cinematography and numerous nominations leading to your becoming Hollywood Cinematographer of the Year in 2005.  What were the initial meetings with Polanski like?

ED: Roman is a director who knows exactly what he wants. We didn’t have a long conversation at the beginning, we just met very briefly in Berlin, because that’s where the movie was to be shot, in Berlin and the second part in Warsaw. We were briefly talking about the style of the film and the only thing was said was that it should be as natural and as documentary (in style) as possible and everyday when I went on set I kept in mind that it should be as simple as possible. Because if I can make it like that it will be believable.

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Q:  I mentioned my interest about the relationship between the DoP, the director and the film editor and then tensions between them all.  How much did you and Roman Polanski speak about the way you were going to shoot this scene in terms of how it was going to eventually appear with the close screen shots of the actor in the room and then the camera going outside to the streets below?

PE  Roman’s way of working is always the same.  We don’t know too much about the scenes before we meet with the actors. Every morning there’s a meeting with the DoP, the directors and the actors, we start from scratch with the actors reading the script and he’s (Roman) placing them in the room, in that case. They rehearse the scene over and over again and then after the rehearsals, when everybody knows what they’re doing, we look at the scene created by them and we discuss how to film it.  We don’t know what will happen later ’til after the rehearsals and I just love that type of work because everything goes naturally from the script and from the actors.

Q: And is that the way it worked even from the “documentary-type” style you tried to follow in The Pianist?

PE: Yes, nothing is pre-planned, everything seems to be absolutely natural.

Q: So The Pianist led you into Hollywood and how would say that changed things from the point of view of working style?  Did you find it more enjoyable, or did you find yourself (being) more of a cog in a large wheel?

PE: Definitely there’s a huge difference between making films in Europe and making them in America. Making films in America you become part of the ‘film industry’, making films in Europe is working with friends, and my friend directors.  And this is a totally different type of activity. In the US, you’re part of the big machinery, in Europe you’re working in a creative process with your friends. And that’s always going to be more fun, working with friends.

Q: It’s great that we’ve got two examples of American Film clips to show you and, in a way, you couldn’t get a more different visual style.  We’re going to start with All The King’s Men (2006) by Steven Zaillian and the second is Ray (2004) which you made with Taylor Hackford.

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Q: Ray uses a very soft palette of rich colours, embued with the warm South and reflecting the mellow feel of jazz music but with All The King’s Men you’ve used a very cool steely palate with interesting use of shadow and harsh.  Could you talk about how you and Steven Zaillian created the look of this film?

PE: I think the idea was ‘German Expressionist‘ because we all had this picture in our minds on those beautiful black and white films and that’s why we wanted to go with this feel of going away from colour, being de-saturated, not strong and we wanted to use a harder light intentionally to show the hardness and cruelty of that type of politics.  Things are a little different now and times have changed and I think the audience likes this type of commercial films rather than the artistic, ambitious type of film.

Q: Just taking that point further, do you think that there’s still a very strong visual culture in Poland?  In the UK, I think because we come out of a culture of theatre and writing, there’s a more literary culture but I don’t think there’s ever been a strong visual style here compared to Poland. Is the visual aesthetic still there in contemporary Polish film?

PE: Obviously there’s a huge tradition of classical cinema in Poland and this is Wajda and friends.  I was lucky to meet Andrzej  and have been with him on many films and he is one of the directors who’s thinking more about the visual side and how the movie will look but I can’t say that this tradition is existing in every single section in Poland. It’s sad but it’s gone.  I think that the story has to visible, that’s the most important thing.  I wouldn’t like to be remembered as a guy who did good pictures on bad films, I would rather be remembered for good films with bad pictures and I’m being serious (laughs).  I’m not fighting for something that’s mine, I’m fighting for the characters, I’m fighting for the scenes, that’s why the composition is good because of something, because of the accent you should put on somebody or some element that should be there and very visible in the film.

Q: So to sum up, looking back over your career so far do you think you have a specific visual style or do you feel your imput is ABSOLUTELY dictated by the material you’re working on?

PE: Yes, as I’m getting older I believe that the script gives all the answers: you just take the script and feel script and smell it…that’s how I think of it. The script dictates the solutions.

Q: Moving on, let’s talk about  Roman Polanski and about the very strong story of your second collaboration with him in 2005, Oliver Twist.

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PE: Yes this production had effects that had to be larger than life. We were 90 days shooting this movie in Prague. The costumes were highly exaggerated and we used more make-up on the actors.  To create that special look we made use of candle-light, and locally placed lanterns. There were loads of people dragging hundreds of lanterns and different lights around the set just to give the correct feel to the lighting, it was very intense and special.

Q: And moving on to The Ghost Writer (2010) tell us about the way you created the visual look for that film?

PE: There was clouds, and we were waiting for clouds all the time and there was no sunlight or hard light and my goal was to build a contrast, sometimes quite high levels of contrast using only the soft light and also a de-saturated palette of colours.

Q You go from a very short depth of field to a very wide lens in the scene of Ewan McGregor and Olivier Williams when they’re walking along the beach:

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PE: Well this is a different subject: choice of lenses. Roman is using only two lenses, no more.  Not everybody know this. For each film we were just picking two lenses and just shooting everything with them. This is very rare.

Q: Why does he do that?

PE: Because he feels that if he switches from long lenses to short lenses for the shot, there will be no consistency for the shot, for the look he’s going for, so in The Pianist we were only using 25 and 32.  In Oliver Twist, because of the larger that life idea we were using little lenses like 21 to 25 then for The Ghost Writer we came back to 25 and 32. And nobody else is like that.  I’ve never worked with another director who’s so strict, who picks such a small variety of optics.

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