Get Your Man (1927)

Dir: Dorothy Arzner | US Drama 63’

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

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

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

Now on YouTube

Artie Shaw: Time is All You’ve Got (1985)

Dir/Wri: Brigitte Berman | Canada | 1985 | 115m | English

An Oscar-winning music documentary about the mercurial clarinetist Artie Shaw returns to the screen after many years in a pristine new restoration.

Shaw (1920-2004) was no ordinary musician: his restless intellectual curiosity and uncompromising nature took him from postwar poverty to stardom in Hollywood where he would tirelessly reinvent himself as a pioneering saxophonist and bandleader, flouting the colour barrier of the time by hiring African Americans like Billie Holiday, Hot Lips Page and Roy Eldridge to play alongside him. Shunning celebrity in the 1940s Shaw would go on to write four bestsellers. His charisma and matinee idol good looks saw him marrying eight times, his wives included Lana Turner, Ava Garner and Evelyn Keyes. He even dated Rita Hayworth.

In Brigitte Berman’s Artie Shaw: Time is All You’ve Got (1985) we join Artie in the privacy of his own home as he talks us through his five-decade career, enlivened by interviews and a treasure trove of photos and archival film footage. Berman refuses to try anything tricksy or complicated with her storyline,  adopting a straightforward chronological structure – and this is one of the plus points of this engrossing Oscar-winning documentary.

She sets the scene with a brief prologue. Artie Shaw (1910-2004) was born Arthur Arshawsky on the Lower East Side, to immigrant parents. An only child, he was teased for being Jewish when his family later moved to Connecticut. Retreating into books and music he taught himself the clarinet, practising eight hours a day, to escape his loneliness: “I just wanted to get up there on the stage in the bright lights with those pretty girls…and get out of where I was living”.

After ‘expelling himself’ from school to focus on music he soon found work as a jobbing clarinetist and saxophonist and headed to New York which was the capital of jazz in 1929. There the best work was to be found on the radio stations and Shaw was well paid. By the end the of the 1930s he would be earning USD 60k a week. From time to time during his career he became disenchanted by the music scene, taking time out to reflect on his second love, writing. In one of these ‘sabatacle’ breaks he bought a farm in Bucks County and hoping to spend the rest of his life there coming to the conclusion eventually that his recalcitrant personality and inability to compromise was better suited to writing than show business which required constant collaboration.

All that said, Shaw would go on to become one of the most popular stars of the 1930s and 40s Swing era – and a friendly rival to “King of Swing” Benny Goodman with his own compositions like “Nightmare”. His big break came in 1938 with a recording of Cole Porter’s “Begin the Beguine”. After that he never looked back as a leading light on the big-band circuit.

But it wasn’t always plain sailing – heading for the West Coast in 1939 to support soldiers during the war effort he fell ill with leukaemia, but was soon back on his feet after a ground-breaking treatment. Here his fame often got in the way of his solidarity with the others in his desire to entertain troops, and be assisted in his efforts to do so. When asked on one occasion: “Who do think you are?” He answered: I know who I am: but who do YOU think I am?”

Tiring of fame during the ‘jitterbug’ era when he literally walked offstage after being hit by a dancer’s heel during a stint as the house bandleader at New York’s Pennsylvania Hotel. The public was offended when Shaw angrily branded the jitterbugger as ‘morons’, for not taking music more seriously. Undeterred, he refused to come back, but of course he would return.

Although he never professed to be an actor, Shaw appeared alongside Fred Astaire and Paulette Goddard in H C Potter’s 1940 outing Second Chorus that sees Artie taking on two competitive college students (Burgess Meredith and Fred Astaire) after hiring their band manager Ellen Miller (Godard). The pair then compete to win Ellen’s heart. 

Berman is an award-winning Canadian film director best known for her 1981 documentary debut BIX: Ain’t none of them play like him yet, which focused on another jazz legend Bix Beiderbecke. Berman shows how Shaw’s restlessness and intellectual curiosity drove him forward to explore his creativity and collaborate with a number of well known stars of the time including vocalist Mel Tormé, drummer Buddy Rich – who give interviews – and actress/ex-wife Evelyn Keyes (Gone With The Wind), whose other ex-husbands included director John Huston. @MeredithTaylor

A tribute to my father Gordon Taylor who was inspired to learn the clarinet by Artie Shaw | Screening at Film Forum from Friday, January 5 to Thursday, January 11 – the New York premiere of a new 4K restoration, supervised by the director.

Cinema Unbound: The Creative Worlds of Powell + Pressburger

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

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

Contraband (1940) Courtesy of BFI

The Spy in Black (1939) Courtesy of BFI

Black Narcissus (1947) Courtesy of BFI

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

Dawn of a New Day (1964) Youssef Chahine Season

Dir: Youssef Chahine | Drama, Egypt

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

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

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

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

Outsiders and Exiles: Jerzy Skolimowski | Bfi


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

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



WatchAUT Festival 2023 | A celebration of Austrian cinema

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

26 March

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

23-26 March 2023, Ciné Lumière, London SW7 2DW

Una Vita Difficile (1961)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Big Freeze

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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





Frames of Mind | Peter Greenaway Retrospective 2022

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


Rebecca (1940)

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

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

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

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


Une Belle Fille Comme Moi (1972)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Better Davis season | August at the BFI, Southbank

Throughout August BFI Southbank will celebrate the legendary BETTE DAVIS, one of the most powerful and confident women in the Hollywood studio system. Rather like Olivia de Havilland, Davis was a contract player for Warner Brothers, where she fought long and hard for actors’ rights at the studio. Although she lost the court case against her employers, better roles soon started to come her way in the shape of Julie Marsden in JEZEBEL (William Wyler, 1938) which won her an Oscar (she would go on to become the first person to secure 10 Academy Award nominations for acting) and Wyler’s THE LITTLE FOXES in which she played the malevolent Southern aristocrat Regina Giddens.

Bette Davis once said: In this business, until you’re known as a monster your’e not star” and she certainly proved it re-inventing herself in her fifties with unlikeable roles in films like HUSH… HUSH, SWEET CHARLOTTE (Robert Aldrich, 1964) and WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? (Robert Aldrich, 1962), that focused on the legendary feud between Davis and her co-star Joan Crawford. The BFI season will include a BFI re-release of NOW, VOYAGER (Irving Rapper, 1942), back in selected cinemas UK-wide from 6 August.  There will also be the chance to see lesser known titles such as DARK VICTORY, THE WHALES OF AUGUST, DEAD RINGER, THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER. OLD ACQUAINTANCE, THE NANNY, THE STAR and Mr SKEFFINGTON



Nashville (1975) Robert Altman Retrospective

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Chinese Cinema Season | February to May 2021

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

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

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

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

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

Double Happiness Limited

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

A Yangtze Landscape

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

Bazzar Jumpers

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

Daughter of Shanghai

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

12 February to 12 May

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

A First Farewell * UK PREMIERE *

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

The Crossing (above)

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

The Silent Holy Stone

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

12 February to 12 May

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

Sheep Without a Shepherd

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


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

The Captain

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

Upcoming Sections

Lou Ye Mini Retrospective

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

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

Focus Hong Kong | February 2021

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


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

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

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

FOCUS Hong Kong 

My French Film Festival | Online festival 2021


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

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


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

As Tears Go By

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

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

Days of Being Wild

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

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

Chungking Express

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

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

Fallen Angels

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

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

Happy Together

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

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


In the Mood for Love

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

The Hand (Extended Cut)

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

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


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

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


My Blueberry Nights

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

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

The Grandmaster

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

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

Ashes of Time Redux (2008)

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

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



Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1961) ****

Dir/Wri: Irwin Allen | Writers: Irwin Allen, Charles Bennett | Cast: Walter Pidgeon, Joan Fontaine, Barbara Eden, Peter Lorre, Robert Sterling, Michael Ansara | US Sci-fi Fantasy, 105’

A feelgood answer to ‘On the Beach’ which owes more to Jules Verne (right down to a fight with a giant squid) than to the Atomic Age, in which the end of the world is averted by the crew of a submarine rather than contemplated by one. Actually rather prescient in predicting global warming, but unlike the same year’s The Day the Earth Caught Fire, detonating a nuclear device at the North Pole averts catastrophe rather than causes it. Enough has already been said on the ‘science’ in this film to fill a book; so I’ll simply confine myself to saying I was most amused by the sight of the North Pole still covered with icebergs despite the sky being tinted red to denote that the Van Allan Belt was ablaze.

I remember the dreary sixties TV series that followed only too well and didn’t learn until much later that there had originally been a film. At $3 million at least the money is there up on the screen; of which $400,000 was spent on the submarine ‘The Seaview’ itself. (The sonic pulses it emitted as it ploughed gracefully through the water remained one of the coolest features of the TV series, and in the film we’re spared those annoying shots of the crew being thrown from side to side that became such a tedious feature of the series.)

Ironically another critic (TheHonestCritic) thought Peter Lorre the only cast member who didn’t look bored, whereas I thought he looked easily the least interested in what was going on around him. Aside from Michael Ansara’s religious fanatic Alvarez (in those days, when a character started quoting the Bible you knew you were in for trouble), the most fascinating performance comes from Joan Fontaine. Still a handsome woman at 43 but washed up as a film star, 1961 began with the finalising of her divorce from producer Collier Young on 3 January, and in November she lost her home in Brentwood to that year’s catastrophic Hollywood Hills fire. Although in her autobiography she dismissed Voyage to the Bottom as “a horrendous film”, wearing high heels, a lab coat and an even more than usually anxious expression on her face she was ripe at the time to play such a neurotic role and gives an electrifying performance. Richard Chatten




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

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

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

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


Let the Sunshine In (2020) **** Mubi

French Filmmaker Claire Denis is one of the most innovative pioneers of independent cinema and fiercely committed to her singular vision. Growing up the daughter of a civil servant in various African countries, she eventually went home to France and fell in love with cinema in the Cinematheque, Paris. Making films seemed inevitable and after studying at the Institute for Advanced Cinematographic Studies (IDHEC) she embarked on a career that would see her working with Jacques Rivette (who became the subject of her 1990 documentary Jacques Rivette, Le Veilleur), Dušan Makavejev, Roberto Enrico and Costa-Gavras and Wim Wenders on Paris, Texas and Wings of Desire. Through the musician John Lurie she met Jim Jarmusch and worked with him  on Down by Law. But it was with her debut feature Chocolat that she made it to the international stage in 1988. The film was selected for Cannes and the César awards, it also got her together with Agnès Godard who became her regular director of photography for all her films.

So far Claire Denis has made six documentaries and no fewer than 17 feature films, such as Nénette et Boni for which she is awarded the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival in 1996. Beau Travail, is one of the most stark and contemplative French films about war, standing alongside Bruno Dumont’s L’Humanite. It was chosen for Venice line-up in 1999. Set amid racial conflict in a Francophone African state, Isabelle Huppert plays a coffee plantation owner desperately trying to save her crop, her family and her life in Denis’ 2009 outing White Material.

Clearly race and post-colonial themes feature heavily in her work, but Denis has also dabbled in genres – Bastards was a thriller, 35 Shots of Rum a fantasy drama about a father and daughter in Paris. Trouble Every Day reflects the emotional anguish of a loved up but warring married coup, starring Béatrice Dalle and Vincent Gallo it screened at Cannes Film Festival in 2001. Denis has also worked several times with Juliette Binoche, most recently in her critically acclaimed sci-fi outing High Life (2018) and previously in her insightfully playful comedy Let the Sunshine In. where she plays a spirited and intelligent woman trying to find love with a series of unedifyingly pompous losers. Robert Pattinson will join Denis for the The Stars at Noon (2021) which follows American traveller (Margaret Qualley) through Nicaragua during the 1980s revolution, based on the novel by American writer Denis Johnson. Her next project Stars at Noon in set in 1980s Nicaragua during the Sandinista Revolution when a mysterious English businessman and a headstrong American journalist strike up a romance as they find themselves involved in a dangerous labyrinth of deceit. MT



High Life, 2018 Un beau soleil intérieur, 2017 Le Camp de Breidjing, 2015 Contact, 2014 Voilà l’enchaînement, 2014 Les Salauds, 2013 Venezia 70: Future Reloaded, 2013 Aller au diable, 2011 White Material, 2010 35 rhums, 2008 Vers Mathilde, 2005 L’Intrus, 2004 Vendredi soir, 2002 Vers Nancy (Segment du film Ten Minutes Older: The Cello), 2002 Trouble Every Day, 2001 Beau travail, 1999 Nénette et Boni, 1996 Nice, very Nice (segment from A propos de Nice, la suite), 1994 J’ai pas sommeil (I Can’t Sleep), 1994 U.S. Go Home (Collection : Tous les garçons et les filles de leur âge), 1994 La Robe à cerceau (from Monologues, with Chantal Akerman), 1993 Keep It for Yourself  + Figaro Story, 1991 Jacques Rivette, le veilleur. Part 1 : la nuit (Cinéaste de notre temps), 1990 S’en fout la mort (No Fear, No Die) 1990 Man No Run, 1989 Chocolat, 1988 Le 15 Mai, 1969

Moscow that Weeps and Laughs (1927) Devushka S Korobkoy

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

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

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

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

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





Marlene Dietrich at Universal 1940-42

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

Seven Sinners

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

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

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


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

The Spoilers

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

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

Flame of Orleans

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

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

Aalto (2020)

Dir: Virpi Suutari | Finland, Doc 103min

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enlivened by family photographs and plentiful archive footage, diagrams and painstaking research, Aalto is a pithy yet concise undertaking that will satisfy professional as well as dilettante appetites. We are left with an impression of the artists as warm, creative and compassionate individuals who would change the face of Finland not just for the few but for the many who continue to celebrate his design legacy all over the world. MT | PREMIERED AT CPH:DOX 2021

John Llewellyn Moxey | Obituary

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

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

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

Christopher Lee in City of the Dead (1960)

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

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

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

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

Darren McGavin in The Night Stalker (1971-2)

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

Klaus Kinski in Circus of Fear (1966)

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

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

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

Notturno (2020) Mubi

Dir: Gianfranco Rosi | Italy, Doc 90′

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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



The Last Full Measure (2018) *** Digital

Dir: Tod Robinson | Action Drama, US 116′

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

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

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

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

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

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




The Lunchbox (2013) – BBC iplayer – Tribute to Irrfan Khan

Director: Ritesh Batra Irrfan Khan, Nimrat Kaur, Nawazuddin Siddiqui 104min  India   Drama

Ritesh Batra’s debut feature is a feelgood riff on the classic bored housewife theme and runs along the lines of an exotic version of The Go-Between.  In Mumbai, the well known ‘dabba’ or lunchbox courier system is legendary for its reliability. But a punka walla’s mistake results in a sweet-hearted romance that springs up when a lonely wife (Nimrat Kaur) midday meal 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 newcomer Nimrat Kaur.


The Assistant (2019) ** Bfi Player

Dir: Kitty Green | Drama, 87′

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

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

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

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

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

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


Jihad Jane (2019) **** Digital release

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Testimony (1987) ***** Streaming

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

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

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

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

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

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



Magic Medicine (2018)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Astronaut (2019) *** Digital release

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

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

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

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

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

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

NOW ON RELEASE via iTunes | 27 April 2020




Sátántangó (1991/3) Bfi Player

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NOW AVAILABLE ON BFI Player | Also on Bluray     


Glasgow Film Festival 2020 | 26 February – 8 March 2020

Glasgow is Scotland’s creative capital. Famed for its Art Nouveau architecture and home to the Scottish Ballet, Scottish Opera and National Theatre of Scotland, the Clyde-side metropolis throbs with artistic vibes and plays host to one of the UK’s leading annual film festivals. Across 12 days GIFF2020 will screen 9 World premieres, 10 European premieres, and 102 UK premieres.

There will be a chance to see World premieres of Sulphur & White, and Flint, Anthony Baxter’s water-themed follow-up to You’ve Been Trumped Too. And fresh from the international film festival circuit is Justin Kurzel’s latest thriller The True History of the Kelly Gang, award-winning Spanish Western Luz, The Flower of Evil, and Igor Tuveri’s stylish 5 is the Perfect Number adapted from his graphic novel and featuring Italian megastar Toni Servillo (The Great Beauty).  

Documentary wise: Ebs Burnough’s The Capote Tapes takes us back through the archives to revisit the iconic American novelist, while Nanni Moretti’s Santiago, Italia (left) explores the Italian role in rescuing exiles out of Chile after Pinochet’s Coup d’Etat.  Michael Paszt tells a story definitely stranger than fiction in his feature documentary Nail in the Coffin: The Fall and Rise of Vampiro, which follows a professional wrestler juggling dual roles of running Lucha Libre AAA in Mexico and parenting his teenage daughter. Meanwhile Billie aims to be the definitive documentary on Lady Day herself, featuring never-before-seen interviews with those who knew one of the world’s greatest jazz singers

Classic films to look out for are Tarkovsky’s sinister masterpiece Stalker (1979) and Richard Fleischer’s cult Sci-fi thriller Soylent Green (1973) starring Charlton Heston and Edward G Robinson. There is also a chance to revisit two classics directed by women: Dorothy Arzner’s 1932 comedy Merrily We Go to Hell and Nietzchka Keene’s Bjork-starring fantasy fable The Juniper Tree (1990). Both shot in luminous black and white.

Women filmmakers will be also championed in Mark Cousins’ 2018 epic homage to the history of female talent: Women Make Film: A New Road Movie Through Cinema. This groundbreaking 14-hour documentary is narrated by Tilda Swinton and Jane Fonda and takes place in five instalments (main pic). And celebrated photographer Susan Wood will talk about her life behind the camera in Susan Wood: A life in Pictures (left).

The festival will open and close with UK premieres of films directed by women – Alice Winocour’s Proxima starring Eva Green as an astronaut preparing for a mission to the International Space Station and Beanie Feldstein’s star turn in the big screen adaptation of Caitlin Moran’s blockbusting memoir How to Build a Girl, directed by Coky Giedroyc.

Glasgow Film Festival closes on International Women’s Day with a celebratory showcase of female talent – with every film screened either directed or written by a woman or starring a female lead.

Glasgow Film Festival | 28 FEBRUARY – 8 MARCH 2020









Top Films of the Decade | 2010 – 2020

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

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

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

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

THE GREAT BEAUTY |  Paolo Sorrentino, Italy (2013)  

The heart and soul of Italy leaps off the screen in all its beauty and decadence in this cornucopia of delights. Paolo Sorrentino’s sensual Italian overload transports us to Rome for a paean to pleasure and pain, gaiety and melancholy seen through the eyes of writer and roué, Jep Gambardella, played exultantly by Sorrentino regular, Toni Servillo (The Consequences of Love). This is possibly Sorrentino’s best film, a satire capturing the essence of his homeland’s beauty and culture with an appealing and bittersweet languor that was first experienced in Fellini’s La Dolce Vita,  and now in the context of the 21st century.

WINTER SLEEP (2014) Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Turkey

Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Palme D’Or Winner is, in spite of its considerable length, a densely discursive and often confrontational portrait of human fallibility. Even though it takes place inside a claustrophobic hotel, the outdoor scenes are riveting, set against the background of the majestic mountains. Men are usually out of touch in all of Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s films, and in WINTER SLEEP, his new anti-hero Aydin (Bilginer) is no exception. An ex-actor, Aydin sees himself as an enlightened feudal lord; spending his days in the hotel where he writes a daily column for the local newspaper. Ceylan pays homage to Bergman and Bresson in the long, vicious arguments between Aydin and his wife and sister, the camera catches the protagonists in shot/contra-shot movement, the close-ups showing the hurt on the faces of the women, who are treated with contempt and often impudence.

UNDER THE SKIN (2014) |  Jonathan Glazer, UK

Glazer developed Under the Skin for over a decade; he and co-screenwriter Walter Campbell pared it back from an elaborate, special effects-heavy concept to a sparse story focusing on an alien perspective of the human world. Most characters were played by non-actors, and many scenes were filmed with hidden cameras. With a total worldwide gross of £5.2 million, Under the Skin was failed at the box office. With its timely themes of migration, sexual politics and safety, it received critical acclaim, particularly for Johansson’s performance, Glazer’s direction, and Mica Levi‘s score. It garnered multiple awards for its groundbreaking visual allure and was named one of 2014’s best films by several publications. It ranks 61st on the BBC’s 100 Greatest Films of the 21st century.

Indiewire ranked it the 2nd best film of the 2010s.

POSTMAN’S WHITE NIGHTS (2014) | Andrey Konchalovsky, USSR

The best work happens in the quieter, contemplative moments of this reflective fable from  Russian master Andrey Konchalovsky. A moving scene captures a village elder’s funeral, where the community talk of the “socialistic romanticism” of her era, a time unlike, apparently, a present Russia in which their humble roles in society seem almost obsolete. Why should Russians pay humble fishermen in rural villages for their fish, rather than modern, faceless dragnet fishing, as one sequence depicts? And as the young Timur is wont to say to Aleksey, “do we need postmen when we can email?” Konchalovksy’s art reveals a beauty to a rustic life that is being lost – as if this is the last chance to witness this kind of small-town life. If it is, Konchalovsky has crafted a beautiful record of this world.

THE ASSASSIN (2015) | Hsiao-hsien Hou, Taiwan

Taiwanese director Hsiao-hsien Hou’s spectacular drama is a graceful and sumptuously composed masterpiece – in the true sense of the word. Hou brings a sense of uncompromising formal brilliance to the wuxia material. THE ASSASSIN is a work of spiritual resonance and historical importance, but it is also exquisite. Set during the Tang dynasty, the story opens as a young girl (played by Shu Qi) undergoes training to be an assassin. But her female sympathies stand in the way of her killing instinct, and after failing an important mission she is sent back to her hometown. Some time later, she is again tasked with killing an important governor (played by Chang Chen) who questions the Emperor’s authority. The task involves a moral twist: not only is the governor her cousin, but also her first love.

EMBRACE OF THE SERPENT (2015) | Ciro Guerra, Colombia

Colombian writer|director Ciro Guerra’s third feature is a visually stunning exploration to a heart of darkness that brings to mind Miguel Gomes’ Tabu or Werner Herzog’s Cobra Verde or even Nicolas Roeg’s Belize-set drama Heart of Darkness (1993).

Serving as a backlash on organised Religion and Colonialism, the film’s slow-burn intensity has a morose and unsettling undercurrent that threatens to submerge you in the sweaty waters of the Amazon River whence its token German explorer, Theodor Koch-Grunberg (Jan Bijvoet) meanders fitfully in search of a rare and exotic flower with restorative powers.

FIRE AT SEA (2016) Gianfranco Rosi, Italy 

Gianfranco Rosi’s spare yet absorbing documentary offers an important and non-judgemental portrait of the immigration crisis facing Southern Italy, where both immigrants and islanders are given ample weight in story of their struggle to survive. Pictures can tell a thousand words and that’s the way Rosi leaves it: we must draw our own impressions and conclusions from this poignant human story.

PHANTOM THREAD (2017) Paul Thomas Anderson, US

This is arthouse drama at its best. Exploring the negative impulses of love, it is a delicately drawn tale about man’s fear of  losing control to a woman. The man in question, a fashion designer played by Daniel Day-Lewis, is captivated by a young woman’s grace and charm but refuses to let her into his business life, which is really his heart and soul. She remains tough but loving – the perfect replica of his beloved mother, tempting him but paradoxically also repulsing him. Day-Lewis remains adamant as the tortured artist, every subtle nuance of his adamance flickers across his face in a subtle display of petulance. Day-Lewis gives another remarkable performance this time as the classic gentleman artist delivered with finesse and his idiosyncratic  allure. His economy of movement is admirable capturing the feline grace of Federer and the innate style and sardonic humour of Cary Grant. When his resistance is lowered by a bout of illness, Reynolds’ reveals a deep weakness for his mother (whose ghost appears to him in her wedding dress) and her power is magically transferred to his assistant Alma, who then gets to wear the trousers – immaculately tailored – of course. MT

BEST INDIE FILMS of the Decade | 2010 – 2020

Psykosia (2019) Undiscovered festival gems

Dir.: Marie Grahto Sorensen | Cast: Lisa Carlehed, Victoria Carmen Sonne, Trine Dyrholm, Bebiane Ivalo Kreutzmann; Denmark/Finland 2019, 87 min.

Danish director/co-writer Marie Grahto had great success with her medium-length films, particularly Teenland. Her first feature film Psykosia, is an enigmatic story set in a psychiatric ward, where the limits of patient/doctor relationships are tested to the full.

When middle-aged Viktoria (Carlehed) enters a psychiatric institution ran by Dr. Anna Klein (Dyrholm) to help with a particular case, we can’t help finding the environment and the relationship between the two odd. The whole place has a distinct mid-twentieth century twist making it feel like a place lost in time.

Viktoria is a researcher specialising in suicide, but she has no clinical experience so it’s surprising that Dr. Klein employs her at all. The only patient Viktoria will look after is a teenage girl, Jenny Lilith (Viktoria Carmen Sonne of Holiday fame), who has a history of suicide attempts, and so far has allowed none of the therapists to come close to her.

Jenny is close to another patient, Zarah (Kreutzmann), the two of them have been hospitalised together on numerous occasions, and they even end up sharing a bath, the water turning red after Jenny slashed her arm. Jenny tells Viktoria “death is purity, in death you are free”. Their therapeutic sessions have also helped the women to bond, but one gets the impression this is due to transference, Viktoria trying to get to Jenny via self-disclosure, mentioning her own strict upbringing.

In a chapel, next to an enormous abandoned church, Viktoria tells Jenny “that psychoanalysis is a form of art, like this chapel. After Viktoria tries to hang herself on several occasions, claiming her thoughts of suicide “can be a comfort, keeping you alive”.

When Zarah commits suicide, Dr. Klein asks Viktoria to tell Jenny the truth, but the former is unwilling, not wanting to risk the therapeutic progress she has made with her patient. Dr. Klein, looking out of the window like a threatening Super-Ego, seems to will Viktoria to make the announcement, just before the denouncement of the mysterious conundrum.

There are many coded clues to what is going on here: Jenny’s full name is Lilith, a wanton woman in Jewish mythology; Anna Klein is an amalgamation of Anna Freud and Melanie Klein, founder and rivals of theories in child development. And certainly the closeness and identification between Viktoria and Jenny is a play on transference, used by analysts to get close to patients – but leaving them often helpless when patients use counter-transference to draw the analyst in.

Subtle and nuanced performances from a strong female cast, DoP Catherine Pattinama Coleman (part of an all-women crew) using her long takes in the institutional corridors to mesmerising effect, recalling the atmosphere in Kubrick’s The Shining. Music by Schubert (Der Leiermann) and the Francoise Hardy song Il est trop loin’ help to create an atmosphere of utter bewilderment, where the borders between reality and spirituality, patients and analysts are not the only things breaking down. Sheer genius. Shame the film is still waiting for a UK release. AS

PREMIERED Venice Film Festival 2019

Beyond your Wildest Dreams: Entertainment cinema during the Weimar years

BFI Southbank and various venues nationwide will mark the centenary of the Weimar Republic with a major two-month season running from Wednesday 1 MaySunday 30 June; BEYOND YOUR WILDEST DREAMS: WEIMAR CINEMA 1919-1933 celebrates a ground-breaking era of German cinema showcasing the extraordinary diversity of styles and genres in Weimar cinema, which conjured surreal visions in the sparkling musicals Heaven on Earth (Reinhold Schünzel, Alfred Schirokauer, 1927) and A Blonde Dream (below, Paul Martin, 1932) and gender-bending farces such as I Don’t Want to Be a Man (Ernst Lubitsch, 1918).

“Ein blonder Traum”
D 1932
Lilian Harvey

In this first foray into the Weimar era we will try to analyse the mainly escapist features of the period, leaving out the prestige projects of Lang and G.W. Pabst, covered in Rudi Suskind’s comprehensive documentary From Caligari to Hitler, and have a look at the B-features which were part and parcel of the growing film industry in Germany, leading to a rapid rise of new cinemas, particularly in the urban centres. Director/producer Joe May, who gave Fritz Lang his big break (before also emigrating to Hollywood) was not only was responsible for mega-productions like Das Indische Grabmal, but, among the 88 features he directed, were small comedies like Veritas Vincit (1918), in which transmigration of the spirit is used, to tell a love story. E.A. Dupont’s Varieté (1925) was a celebration of the music-hall, but was not modern at all: it sounded more like an epilogue than a resume. Karl-Heinz Martin’s From Morning to Midnight (1920) was in contrast a very expressionistic film. Set in Japan, it tells the story of a bank teller, who uses the money he steals on sex-workers, before committing suicide. The Love Letters of the Countess S. (Henrik Galeen, 1924) was typical for a series of films, which dealt with love affairs at aristocratic courts. Comedy of the Heart by Rochus Gliese (1924), also falls in the category ‘scandalous love affairs of the monarchs’. Blitzzug der Liebe (1925) directed by Johannes Gunter might not be well known, but its narrative is very typical for the genre: Fred loves Lizzy, but does not want to marry her. Lizzy makes him jealous, by asking the gigolo Charley to court her. But Charley is in love with the dancer Kitty, who is fancied by Fred. A double wedding solves all problems. Max Reichmann’s Manege (1927) is a sort of minor variation of Varieté , set in the world of the circus. Dupont again is responsible for Moulin Rouge (1928), one of many Varieté  remakes. Ein Walzertraum (1925) by Ludwig Berger and War of the Waltz 1933) by the same director, are, like Two Hearts in Walzertune (1932) by Geza von Bolvary part of many features shot in Vienna, featuring the music of the Strauss family. Karl Grune’s Arabella (1925) is a rather more intriguing endeavour showing the life of the titular horse from its own POV. The Erich Pommer production of Melody of the Heart (Hanns Schwarz, 1929) was one of the first sound features; DoP Karl Hoffmann lamented: “Poor camera! No more of your graceful movements. Chained again”. Even the grim reality of unemployment featured in comedies such as The Three from the Unemployment Office (1932) directed by Eugen Thiele, a plagiarism of his more famous The Three from the Petrol Station (1930). Director Karl Hartl, who would later be a standard bearer of the Nazi regime, showed potential in The countess of Monte Christo (1932), in which a poor film extra (Brigitte Helm) is mistaken for the star, having a great time at a luxury hotel. The final mention should go to Hans Albers, the action man of the German cinema, his career lasting from the Weimar era, via Goebbels and the III. Reich to the post WWII cinema in the Federal Republic: he starred in four Erich Pommer films: FPI Doesn’t Answer, a U-Boot Sci-fi adventure directed by Karl Hartl and scripted by Curt Siodmak and based on his novel of the title; Monte Carlo Madness (Hanns Scharz, 1931), Quick ( 1932, directed by Robert Siodmak, who would soon emigrate) stars Albert as a womanising clown and The Victor (Hans Hinrich/Paul Martin, 1932), where Albers rather ordinary telegraphist develops into a fearless hero. AS



Jonas Mekas (1922-2019) | Spotlight at Bergamo Film Meeting 2019

Bergamo Film Meeting this year celebrates the work of Jonas Mekas, who died aged 96 in January this year. An avant-garde filmmaker in the true sense of the word he was also one of the influential figures in American underground cinema and made his name there in the late 1950s, founding and writing for the film magazine Film Culture. Along with the publication Village Voice there was an interplay between European avant-garde with the US Beat movement of the era and Mekas nurtured the most radical film voices in New York City.

Mekas’ roots were in Lituania where he was born in the village of Semeniškiai. But his film career was to be born out of adversity. During the final years of the Nazi occupation he was taken with his brother Adolfas to a labour camp in Germany whence they escaped into Denmark hiding out until the war ended. The two then spend four years in a refugee camp where their interest in cinema was kindled, watching classic films provided by the US forces. They both realised that their war experiences were of valuable interest and channeled their budding talent into writing scripts and eventually making their own films.

Despite this difficult start in life, Mekas was lucky enough to study at the University of Mainz, quite a privilege back in those days where many lost their studying opportunities due to conscription and the war effort in general. Luck also played a hand in sending Mekas to America with Adolfas, courtesy of the UN. Fetching up in Brooklyn in the late 1940s he bought his first 16mm camera, a Bolex, and started his life’s work. His first 35mm feature, Gun of the Trees (1961), was a politically infused indie drama ‘starring’ Adolfas and exploring the first knockings of Beat through the lives of four characters.

Commercially, his work mostly failed to attracted attention from distributors so he set about co-founding the New American Cinema Group and the Filmmakers’ Cooperative in 1962. Again this was a counter-culture initiative, upping the ante against mainstream cinema which he decried as being “boring”. His films were often screened in venues such as the Bleecker Street cinema in Greenwich Village. While distributors shied away from his work, the authorities did not. In 1964, he found himself charged with obscenity offences for screening Jean Genet’s gay film: Un Chant d’Amour.

His next experimental endeavour was a documentary called The Brig (1964) which looked at life in a Marine corps jail in Japan. By the late 1960s his gaze was also drifting towards a cinematic chronicle entitled Diaries, Notes and Sketches (1969) which featured luminaries such as Nico, Edie Sedgewick, Andy Warhol, Norman Mailer and even John Lennon and the Velvet Underground. Contrary to popular belief, Mekas was not gay himself – well, he may have swung both ways – in 1974 he married and sired a son Sebastian and a daughter Oona, with Hollis Melton.

His next project was an auto-biopic Lost, Lost, Lost (1976) that focused on his early years in America where he felt somewhat of an outsider despite his binding friendships with his fellow arthouse crowd. Paradise Not Yet Lost (1980) followed along similar lines and – some would say – his masterpiece  As I Was Moving Ahead Occasionally I Saw Brief Glimpses of Beauty (2000), was an attempt to engage the audience in a lengthy look into his personal life, very much focusing on the act of film-making as much as the subject matter itself. He emerges a voyeur rather than a director as such. Recording his own life story, and distilling the events onto film, keeping a naturalistic approach at all times. And he was pleased with the results. Out-takes from the Life of a Happy Man (2012) seems to be a testament to contentment. MT

TRIBUTE to Jonas Mekas | Bergamo Film MEETING 2019 

Jonas Mekas at The Internet Saga, an exhibition of his video work in Venice to coincide with the 2015 biennale.


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

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

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

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

Barbara Stanwyck, Adolphe Menjou, Ralph Bellamy, Dorothy Peterson

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


UK Jewish Film Festival 2018

The 22nd edition of the  UK Jewish Film Festival this year runs from 8th-22nd November 2018 at cinemas across London, Manchester, Leeds, Nottingham, Brighton and Glasgow.

The programme features a Philip Roth Retrospective in tribute to the much loved author, with a screening of three cinematic interpretations of his work: Goodbye, Columbus; Human Stain and Portnoy’s Complaint.

Other strands include: The Alan Howard International Documentary Strand, Israeli Cinema, Made in Britain, European Cinema, Education Programme, The Sound of Silence providing a spectacular journey back to the 1920s with beautifully restored classic films, Across the World – from Argentina to Russia in 15 days.

Films in Competition for the Dorfman Best Film Award are: The Accountant of Auschwitz, Foxtrot, 2017/Samuel Maoz); Promise At Dawn (2017/Eric Barbier); Three Identical Strangers (2018/Tim Wardle); The Waldheim Waltz (2018/Ruth Beckermann/Berlinale Doc Winner); and Working Woman (Isha Ovedet/2018).

The jury presided by Michael Kuhn includes Anita Land, Clare Binns, Andrew Pulver, Henry Goodman and Michael Rose.

Best Debut Feature Award contenders are: Closeness (2017/Kantemir Balagov/FIPRESCI prize winner, Un Certain Regard, Cannes 2017); Doubtful (2017/Eliran Elya); Driver, Outdoors (2017/Asaf Saban); Red Cow (2017/Tsivia Barkai) and Winter Hunt.

Claudia Rosencrantz will lead this jury.

Up for Best Screenplay Award is: Budapest Noir (2017/Eva Gardos), Death of a Poetess (2017/Dana Goldberg/Ephrat Mishori), Foxtrot, Promise At Dawn, To Dust (2017/Shawn Snyder) and Winter Hunt. Jury headed by Nik Powell.

The Opening Night Gala on the 8th November at BFI Southbank is the UK Premiere of Working Woman, directed by Michal Aviad and starring Liron Ben Shlush, Menashe Noy and Oshri Cohen. This film has been nominated for the Dorfman Best Film Award. Released in 2018, this cautionary tale could hardly be more appropriate in the current climate, and follows an ambitious career woman who struggles with harassment in the work place.

The Closing Night Gala, Eric Barbier’s Promise At Dawn will take place on 22 November at Curzon Mayfair and stars Pierre Niney with Charlotte Gainsbourg (Best Actress Cesar Nomination) playing the overbearing Jewish mother in a powerful adaptation of Romain Gary’s memoir.

The Centrepiece Gala is the London Premiere of Three Identical Strangers, directed by Tim Wardle won the Special Jury prize at Sundance Film Festival and involves three men raised by their respective adoptive families within a hundred-mile radius of each other. These siblings Robert Shafran, Eddy Galland and David Kellman were oblivious to the fact that each had two identical brothers until a chance meeting brought them together, aged 19, for the first time since birth. MT


Leo comes Alive | Leo McCarey Retrospective

Although Leo McCarey (1898-1969) was feted during his career winning three Oscars and nominated for a further 36 (!), he seems to have fallen out of fashion. Today he is remembered for just three outings: The Marx Brother’s 1933 vehicle Duck Soup (pictured), An Affair to Remember (1957), actually a remake of his superior Love Affair from 1937, and the The Awful Truth. To my knowledge, there are no book-length biographies currently in print, rather odd, if you consider that McCarey directed 23 decent features.

Our critic Richard Chatten remembers first discovering An Affair to Remember back in the seventies when it was dismissed simply as a glossy but inferior Fox remake by McCarey of his own thirties classic. The reputation the more recent film now possesses probably owes more to the title song and to the fact that everyone in You’ve Got Mail – itself a remake of The Shop Around the Corner – encountered by Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan claims to have seen An Affair to Remember and to have loved it, rather than to its intrinsic merits. Due to those anomalies that film history is often prone to, the latter film is now perversely accorded the status of a ‘classic’, with the original now languishing in undeserved obscurity.

After ‘High School’ McCarey actually started out as a prize fighter before bowing to the will of his father and studying law at USC. Enterprisingly he then took over a copper mine, but the venture went bankrupt and his career as a lawyer also faltered. He next turned his hand to song-writing but although he composed over a thousand songs during his lifetime, he would have been unable to make a living from the craft.

In 1919 came his lucky break as assistant to Tod Browning at Universal. Later joining the Hal Roach Studio, he made it from gag man to Vice President. But more importantly, he was to pair Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy in these ventures. McCarey’s checkered life experiences provide rich material for his films: Bing Crosby would play a failed songwriter in Love Affair, there is boxing content both in The Milky Way (1936) and The Bells of St. Mary (1945). Whilst liking “a little bit of the fairy tale” in his films, McCarey became a director of features just as the sound system was launching, giving him the opportunity to work with stars early on in his career. And there was always a steely side of reality imbedded in his escapist endeavours: The Kid from Spain (1932) with Eddie Cantor, Belle of the Nineties (1934) with Mae West, Six of a Kind (1934) with WC Fields and Milky Way with Harold Lloyd.

Often criticised for being ‘a director of great moments’, McCarey made it to the big time as a serious filmmaker in 1935 with Ruggles of Red Cap. Charles Laughton plays a British butler who has to serve two American ‘Nouveau Riche’ social climbers when his master ‘loses’ him in a card game. Ruggles is a blueprint for what would follow: the absurd interactions of protagonists who either try to help or undermine each other, but always with the same result: chaos.

In 1937 McCarey won his first Oscar for The Awful Truth. It stars Irene Dunne and Gary Grant (his first great success; he actually had a cunning resemblance to McCarey), as a separated couple, who try to help each other, finding a new partner, but only succeeding only in sabotaging their best efforts. It says a lot about McCarey, that he “would have rather won for Make Way for Tomorrow, shot in the same year. Make Way is the story of Lucy Cooper (Beulah Bondi) and her husband Barkley (Victor Moore) who find out on the day of their family reunion that their house is foreclosed. They move in with their middle-aged children, but separately: Mum with son George, Barkley with daughter Cora. This is, in spite of the situational humour, a real tragedy, and would inspire the great Japanese director Ozu for his Tokyo Story.

After winning his second and third Oscars for Going my Way (Best Original Script and Best Director), the story of a popular Irish priest Chuck O’Malley (Crosby), who is more interested in boxing and songs than the lecturing; Good Sam in 1948 marked the beginning of his decline. Between 1948 and his death in 1969 McCarey would only direct five more features: alcohol, drugs and illnesses taking their toll. Somehow the humanist got lost in the perfidious way of Un-American-House Committee witch hunts. My Son John (1952) is the sob story of a mother who discovers that her titular son John (Robert Walker, who died before shooting was complete), is a communist. Not much better is The Devil Never Sleeps (aka Satan Never Sleeps), his last feature from 1962 where a native Christian missionary woman in China is raped by a communist soldier who later recants his ideology and helps her to flee the country.

Whilst McCarey’s detractors are entitled to point out that he is by no means an auteur in the sense of Hitchcock or even Capra (with whom he shares many parallels), this was mainly due to the breadth and versatility of his career which started out in slapstick and ended in social commentary. To McCarey images are mostly secondary; rhythm and sound dominate throughout his oeuvre. But the themes and motifs feature throughout make him unique in the canon of the American cinema. @AndreSimonoviesz

A major LEO McCAREY retrospective formed part of LOCARNO Film Festival 2018  

Canada Now | 3-6 May 2018

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

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

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


BLACK COP  | Cory Bowles, 2017 – 91′

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


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

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



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


*Touring programme only

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

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


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

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


MARY GOES ROUND  – Molly McGlynn, 2017 – 87′ 

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


MEDITATION PARK | Mina Shum, 2017 – 94′

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


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

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


VENUS | Eisha Marjara, 2017 *

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


*Touring programme only


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

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

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

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

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

LOOK BACK ANGER in cinemas from 8 APRIL 2018

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

Ingmar Bergman | A Definitive Film Season | January 2018

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

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

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

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

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


Mirror | Tarkovsky Retrospective ICA London

MIRROR is a stream-of-consciousness, totally without any narrative. The narrator, on his deathbed, looks back on his life. The only structure is the time-setting: pre-war, war and post-war. Mirror is the best example of the director’s  “sculpting in time” approach to filmmaking: images and sound (in this case classical music) melt into a memory lane in which the time frames are interchangeable. Sometimes the film is labelled as metaphysical and it is hardly surprising that the USSR censors even tried to ban any export of the film, helping to make it into a legend.


Five Sensationalist Movies of the 1930s

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

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

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

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

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

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


10 Films about Backstreet London

London has been a source of inspiration, influence and curiosity for many filmmakers since the early years of the 20th century. This fascination has produced a multi-faced array of contemporary cult classics and documentaries based the capital city and the concept of psycho-geography, exploring just how we are influenced and affected by the built environment around us. Rather than a series of reviews, this is intended to spark enthusiasm and curiosity to discover more about London’s rich past.



Patrick Keiller’s quirky indie gem chronicles a year in the life of the capital seen through the eyes of “Robinson”, an imaginary character who wanders around reminiscing on his favourite haunts from Brixton Market to Wembley. Why he chose to quote Rimbaud and Baudelaire rather than more apposite London poets such as Keats and John Betjemen remains a mystery. Nevertheless a haunting memoir to the capital, narrated by Paul Scofield.



Documenting urban development in Banglatown and Spitalfields through the lens of filmmakers Phil Maxwell and Hazuan Hashim, This celebrates the physical and cultural changes that have taken place to improve and regenerate vibrant community, while managing to retain its unique identity. The film explores how different communities came together in the 1930s, 1970s and 1990s to challenge racism and intolerance.

THE LONDON NOBODY KNOWS (1969) Who better than the eloquent James Mason to present a unique study of London as it was in the 1960s from the famous Chapel Market to Bedford Theatre in Camden Town, courtesy of filmmaker Norman Cohen. A unique and illuminating trip down memory lane to the days where central London was still quite rough around the edges and far from the slick capital of the 21st century.

  (2017) is a lyrical and poetic monochrome portrait of the capital, unfurling along the lines of Dziga Vertov’s 1929 triumph Man with a Movie Camera that pictured St Petersburg, the film also offers a contemporary twist on the popular 1920s ‘city symphony’ documentary genre or ‘Stummfilm’ that aimed to celebrate and offer insight into everyday urban life such as Walther Ruttmann’s Berlin, Symphony of a Great City (1927) whose 90th anniversary the release commemorates.

SWANDOWN (2012) 

Ian Sinclair and Andrew Kötting’s superbly silly but charmingly poetic travelogue is a tribute to the River Thames, following the pair on their pedalo voyage from seaside Kent to the heart of London through a quintessentially English landscape.



Paul Kelly’s psycho-geographical drama celebrates the seediness and splendour of the city that has long been the muse behind the melancholy music of the band ‘St Etienne’. The score compliments the pop music of the band’s Bob Stanley, Pete Wiggs and Sarah Cracknell.


Starring Charles Dance and Cassie Stuart, Stephen Poliakoff’s overlooked debut paints a potent portrait of the unknown world beneath the streets of London, when the pair become involved in unlocking a secret within a 1940s Government Information Film. Bill Paterson and Richard E. Grant also star. Witold Stock’s visuals conjure up a seamer side of pre-Big Bang London.



Stanley Kubrick’s violent tale of alienation and despair fits perfectly into the dystopian setting of the newly-completed housing development at The Thamesmead Estate.


Anthony Asquith’s 1928 silent film showcases working-class London in a tale of jealousy, murder and unrequited love. The BBC Symphony Orchestra perform the score.


This post-war Ealing noirish drama, set in London’s Bethnal Green, tells of sinister goings-on when a criminal returns home to an East End plagued by racketeering, rationing and domestic tension.

NAKED (1993)

Mike Leigh loves London as much as Fellini loved rome or Jean-Luc Godard, Paris. Here in NAKED, David Thewlis gives an exultant performance as a homeless man and his eventful and often darkly amusing wanderings in the capital city. MT


The State I Am In (2000) | Der Innere Sicherheit

Dir.: Christian Petzold | Cast: Julia Hummer, Barbara Auer, Richy Müller, Bilge Bingul | Germany 2000, 106 min.

Petzold’s debut feature, co-written with the filmmaker Harun Farocki, who was his lecturer at the Berlin Film and TV Academy, already shows a unique style and content, which would make him into one of the few German directors whose films have become cult classics outside Germany. Petzold avoids the ‘thesis’ approach of many of his compatriots, but tells a story from a personal viewpoint, leaving the audience guessing ’til the end.

THE STATE I AM IN could easily have been another dogmatic and sterile film about the anarchists of the Baader-Meinhof group; instead, Petzold shows a teenager struggling with adolescence, living with her parents, who are on the run from the police. Jeanne (Hummer) would love to be an ordinary teenager, but when we meet her for the first time in a costal resort in Portugal (Cascais), she is under constant surveillance from her parents, who are afraid that their daughter might accidentally blow their own cover. When Jeanne meets Hamburger, Heinrich (Bingul), in a café near the beach, she starts to fall in love with him – and his stories. Heinrich tells her that his mother committed suicide in the swimming pool of a villa, which he and his wealthy father abandon after her death. Jeanne’s parents Clara (Auer) and Hans (Müller) are planning to go to Brazil, to start a new life. But thieves rob their apartment and the key to a locker at the train station, where the money for their emigration is stored. The family travels to Hamburg to raise the money for flights to Brazil, meeting ex-members of their gang, who have since made their peace with the authorities. Jeanne leads her parents to Heinrich’s abandoned villa, where they take up resident. But Jeanne meets Heinrich again, by accident, living in a local hostel. Whilst they sees each other secretly, her parents plan to rob a bank. When her father is injured in a shootout, and Clara kills a guard, Jeanne finally tells Heinrich of her predicament, setting the cat amongst the pigeons in a tragic denoument.

In this moody thriller, Petzold engages in the state of mind of his protagonists, delivering a good analysis of the “Red Army Front”. The film successfully unravels an important part of West German history after WWII. Instead of taking sides, Petzold lets the audience discover the parallels between the make-believe world of Clara and Hans on one side of the narrative, and Heinrich on the other: both sides dream of a life in a different reality. Jeanne is caught between these two, unable to make sense of her parent’s bourgeois demands for a good education, and their status as criminals.

One of the most significant scenes of the film is a meeting between Jeanne’s parents and another ex-member of their group, where Jeanne is used as a go-between, carrying a copy of “Moby Dick” (Andreas Baader’s code name in the RAF was ‘Captain Ahab’) as a sign of identification. Here we see the dilemma of the members of the “Red Army Front” of the first and second generation, who usually came from middle class background and were well read’ believing in cultural values. These traits of their upbringing were fatal in their assessment of the political situation: they believed in the fictional world of books and films, and not in realistic power politics. It was a near psychotic delusion, to believe that a handful of middle-class dropouts could overturn a state security system with far superior manpower and technology.

The RAF’s argument – that Germany was still ruled by leading members of the Nazi Party – was absolute valid: Heinrich Erhardt, chancellor of West Germany from 1963-1966, was a member of the SS-Finance Organisation, his direct superior, Ohlendorf, was sentenced to death in Nuremberg; and Erhardt’s successor, Kiesinger, was a high-ranking member of Goebbel’s propaganda ministry – not a mention the huge number of civil servants and policemen of the old regime still in their posts – like the majority of the Berlin police force who beat up demonstrators in West Berlin on a regular basis, having served beforehand in the murderous repression of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising..

But the RAF (and their sympathizers) did not acknowledge that this political status quo could only exist with the consent of the huge majority of the West German population, well-known for hiding war criminals for decades after WWII. The RAF’s failure was to see themselves as city-guerillas, supported by the majority of the population, whilst in reality they were a romantic sprinkling, turning to violence and being met by a much better prepared state force which crushed them to the applause of the huge majority. They left realistic opponents of the West German post-war system in a thankless position where they could defend the deeds of either side. Whilst the RAF’s violence was nothing compared with that of Nazism, the anarchists legitimised those in power in West Germany, who could rightly claim they upheld the peace against the ‘left wing’ perpetrators.

Apart from offering an entry into a wider political discussion there are some solid performances, particularly outstanding is Hummer’s Jeanne as a victim of parental delusions and neglect. Hans Fromm’s camera follows the trio, his shady visuals mirroring their paranoid view of the world, where everything could turn violently against them at any moment. Petzold’s debut is a convincing thriller with a cause, showing the sad state of mind of self-declared ‘liberators’ in this moving German-noir. AS


Altman (2014) BFi Retrospective May 2021

ALTMAN | Dir: Ron Man | Writer: Len Blum | Doc | with Robin Williams, Bruce Willis, Julianne Moore, James Caan, Paul Thomas Anderson

The career of Robert Altman is the subject of Ron Mann’s biopic that kicks off with the a chance meeting that changed the American director’s life. It all seemed so simple in those days, one lucky meeting leads to a career spanning 50 years. But you do need talent, of course; and perseverance, and Altman, we discover, had this in spades along with an ability to inspire and impress, and to re-invent himself in a career that led to prodigious TV work (with Bonanza) before he even started on the big screen.

The only filmmaker to win top prizes at three major European film festivals (Cannes, Berlin, Venice), he was the first to pioneer concurrent dialogue in his films; developing a way of recording that allowed audiences to listen to several conversations, adding reality to his pithy dramas. He also invented the ‘portmanteau’ film (Short Cuts, The Player). Altman was the king of indie directors: The majority of his films were financed independently and box office standout Gosford Park found funding at the last minute through the UK Lottery: ironically it was also made after he received the heart of a young woman, from a transplant. Packed with fascinating detail, Mann’s doc is watchable, entertaining and enlightening. MT


The Killers (1946) | Master of Shadows | April 2015

Dir.: Robert Siodmak

Cast: Burt Lancaster, Ava Gardner, Edmond O’Brien, Albert Dekker, Sam Levene, William Conrad, Charles McGraw

USA 1946, 102 min. (spoilers)

Based on the short story by Ernest Hemingway, THE KILLERS was one of many classic Film Noirs by one of the key Noir craftsman, German born director Robert Siodmak (1900-1973). He was one of the team of filmmakers behind Menschen am Sonntag (1929); his fellow creators and emigrants Edgar G. Ulmer and Billie Wilder would, like him, excel in directing noir-movies in Hollywood, as well as another couple of ex-UFA directors: Fritz Lang and John Brahm. Considering that Robert’s brother Curt Siodmak (1902-2000), who became a busy script-writer in Hollywood, was also involved Noir-films, one can draw the conclusion, that all these emigrant directors transferred the traumatic displacement they had suffered in Nazi-Germany, into their new environment with films, in which everything, from the role of capitalism to gender roles, became questionable.

Robert Siodmak’s list of noir films between 1941 and 1949 is quiet staggering: Flight by Night,  Conflict  Phantom Lady, The Suspect, The Spiral Staircase, The Dark Mirror, Cry of the City, Criss Cross and Thelma Jordan. Apart from being aesthetically original, these productions were often great successes at the box office, and Siodmak had enough clout with the studio bosses, to cast an unknown debutant in the leading role for THE KILLERS: Burt Lancaster.

The film starts with two psychotic killers Max (Conrad) and Al (McGraw) entering the small town of Brentwood in New Jersey at night, going to the local diner and enquiring about Pete Lunn, called “The Swede”. After being told that he has not come for his usual dinner appointment, the killers terrorise owner and personnel of the diner in frustration, before turning their enquiries elsewhere. Finally, they enter the boarding house where Lunn (Lancaster) lives, shooting him in cold blood. Jim Reardon (O’Brien), an insurance inspector, investigating a life-insurance claim (Lunn had a life-insurance policy, a motel maid in Atlantic City being named the beneficiary), is puzzled why Lunn never ran away, even though he was warned by one of the guests in the diner about the arrival of the killers.

With the help of police detective Sam Lubinsky (Levene), who knew Lunn when he was a young boxer and put him behind bars after Lunn took the rap for a jewel theft for his secret love Kitty Collins (Gardner), Reardon tries to uncover the truth behind Lunn’s suicidal behaviour and finds out that Collins was the girl-friend of Big Jim Colfax ((Dekker), who was in charge of a heist, in which Lunn and three other members of the team successfully robbed a payroll worth $250 000. The jealous Colfax wanted to cut Lunn out of the proceeds, but Kitty warned the latter, and Lunn grabbed the loot and disappeared for good, being hunted in vain by the other gang members. But the more Reardon learns, the less sense it makes…

The narrative is told at first as a series of flashbacks portraying Lunn’s life, before the two killers from the opening sequence make another appearance, this time trying to get rid off Lubinsky and Reardon, setting in motion a series of shootouts. The acting is near perfect: Lancaster’s “Swede” is a naïve, emotionally immature man, who does not even know that Lilly is in love with him – she prompotly marries Lubinsky – whilst Lunn just loves the unobtainable Kitty from afar, only confronting the rough Colfax once before the heist. When Lunn meets Gardner, she is tthe ‘little girl lost” in the company of gangsters, begging Lunn to save her, and Lunn is only too happy to oblige, even if it costs him three years of his life. Their meeting in Atlantic City, when Kitty tells him of Colfax treachery, is the high point of the film: one literally feels the burning lust. Dekker’s Colfax is steely and arrogant – Ronald Reagan would play him in Don Siegel’s remake of 1956 – and Conrad and McGraw are truly frightening in their unrestrained violence. DOP Elwood Bredell plays masterly with shadows and light, creating an atmosphere of violence and repressed lust. The male protagonists are all severely damaged, even Lubinsky is just shown as a cop, who easily sells his friend Lunn out, even though he had the chance to save him; whilst Reardon is just a stupid insurance agent, who risks his life to maximise the profits of his company. Siodmak creates a totally corrupt and amoral world in this near perfect film. AS



Derek Jarman Retrospective at the BFI February – March 2014


Two events are celebrating Derek Jarman in London in 2014. “Pandemonium” Exhibition at Somerset House, WC2 and a Retrospective at the BFI 5.2. – 31.3.)

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Derek Jarman died twenty years ago at the age of 52 but was undoubtedly the most innovative director of the British cinema in the second half of the 20th century and arguably the greatest visionary since Michael Powell. His films are always the opposite of the traditional English ‘masterpieces’ featuring the heroes of the past – he turned the glorious history into a macabre sideshow. And he was obsessed with death, from the very beginning. And death never comes easy to Jarman’s heroes: SEBASTIANE, the title hero of his first feature (co-directed by Paul Humfress in 1976), dies a slow, agonising death, bound to face the penetrating arrows of his torturers. Needless to say, that for Jarman, Sebastiane was not a Christian martyr, but a gay anti-hero. Ten years later it is the turn of another title hero, the painter CARAVAGGIO to die a horrible fever death in black and blue. The youthful hero in THE LAST OF ENGLAND (1987) dies a small, dirty little death. And death rules the WAR REQUIEM (1988), this time in glowing pink. Laurence Olivier in a wheelchair, as a war hero in his last film role. And in between shots of bombing raids by Jarman’s pilot-father, which he took with his camera in WWII.

Edward_II_1 copyIn EDWARD II (1991) the title hero perishes with a red hot poker in his rectum – in the arms of his tender murderer, whilst Annie Lennox sings Cole Porter’s “Every time we say goodbye, we die a little”. Jarman always re-mastered the originals of the classics into something demonic, obscene and really evil: He transformed the magic island from Shakespeare’s THE TEMPEST (1979)  into an labyrinth of terror, and the Sonnets of the Bard into a witch’s Sabbath in THE ANGELIC CONVERSATIONS (1985). And he shows contemporary England – JUBILEE (1977 and the aptly titled THE LAST OF ENGLAND – as an island out of hell – just the opposite of what Margaret Thatcher, with her ideas of a strong, back-to-the-Empire orientated country, had in mind. And Jarman’s own death, foretold with BLUE a year before he died, blind from the medications which did not cure Aids, but a peaceful BLUE nevertheless: a final work without pictures, just words. It is the viewer, who projects his pictures on this film – not uncommon for Jarman’s work, since he was always more interested in the creative process than the result: “The end-product is not important, it is only the witness of a creative process”.

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Jarman studied painting at the Slade School in London, but his interest in stage design made him collaborate with the Royal Ballet and the ENO.  His first work for the cinema was the Production Design  for Ken Russell’s THE DEVILS (1970). Then he wandered around London with his ‘Super 8” camera – home movies, but also first documents of the gay community. The difference between fiction and documentation did not exist for Jarman. “Life is Art”, the title of a documentary about Jarman by Andy Klimpton (they met first in the early 80s) is by far the best description of Jarman’s life and work. His garden and wooden cottage near Dungeness was his last refuge, much more than a hobby. Four years after being diagnosed with aids in 1986 THE GARDEN shows a gay couple, being seemingly senseless tortured and murdered, whilst a Madonna (Tilda Swinton) is harassed by paparazzis, Jesus looks on painfully and Judas’ death is exploited as an advertisement for credit cards.

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THE LAST OF ENGLAND is perhaps the best example of Jarman’s work, because it is as personal as it is political. The ‘home movie’ fragments, which his father and grandfather shot, show the small world from which Derek was going to escape. We see innocence, but it is only superficial – the “Kodak” family always smiles. But behind the smiles is the soldier father, who repressed his children. When we see little Derek playing ball, the innocence is undercut by the security fences, and we also hear the noise of the war planes in background. Cut to the scenes in Brixton, where police and demonstrators show a new meaning of war: the total civil war. It is a dark portrait of a nation rotting away. If one thinks of an equivalent in literature, one would choose  Baudrillard’s “Kool killer”. The apocalypse is already here, it is happening before our very eyes. The present as future, Science Fiction as the new reality. As proven in JUBILEE, where Elizabeth I asks her court magician to show her the future of her domain, 400 years on, during the reign of Elizabeth II.

Derek_Jarman_Portrait_1 copyIn DEREK (2008) a homage to Jarman, by Isaac Julien and Bernhard Rose, Jarman’s muse, the actress Tilda Swinton (‘Caravaggio’, The last of England’, War Requiem’, ‘The Garden’, Edward II’ and ‘Blue’) reads her ‘letter’ to Jarman ‘in the sky’. She misses his contra-poison to the disco-light of a culture where everything is for sale. And: “Derek, this is what made you a real artist – you worked from your ‘soup kitchen’, which was your life” And in this ‘soup kitchen’ the private, the intimate and the public life touched each other, present and history. Jarman never wanted to build borders between these spheres. Like the painter Caravaggio, who painted a Madonna like a prostitute, and holy men as rent boys.

Derek Jarman was not only a leading figure of the independent British film but also of the gay movement. He fought energetically against Thatcher’s anti-gay policies, like the Paragraph 28, which forbade any information in schools about homosexuality. He was a creative figure, a dreamer, an eccentric and a militant poet with his brush and his Super 8 camera. He was a minimalist too, his WITTGENSTEIN (1993) was shot against a black background. And it is no accident, that the philosopher Wittgenstein, one of Jarman’s heroes, said “that philosophy ought to be written as if it was poetry.” Derek Jarman’s films were always poems, close to the heart. AS

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Frances Ha (2012) Greta Gerwig Season

Dir/Wri : Noah Baumbach/Greta Gerwig | Cast: Greta Gerwig, Mickey Sumner, Michael Esper, Adam Driver | 85’ US   Drama

A kooky and charming twenty-something New York tale that could have been penned by Hal Hartley or even Woody Allen, Frances Ha is Noah Baumbach’s second collaboration with Gretwig who also stars in a comedy about an awkward girl and her complex passions. It was a critical smash hit for its star and her director.

Typically indie in feel and freshly shot in crisp black and white – with a large dose of chutzpah – it tells the story of a slightly jejune sofa-surfing dancer who is vulnerable yet determined to have fun in her quest for happiness.  As Frances, Greta Gerwig gives a suberb performance that shows she’s much more clever than her friends give her credit for.  It’s a stylish film and well worth a watch for its sharp script, authentic characterisation and sparky performances. MT

Greta Gerwig Season at the BFI 

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Billy Liar (1964) Bfi Player

Dir: John Schlesinger | Wri: Keith Waterhouse, Willis Hall | Cast: Tom Courtenay, Julie Christie, Leonard Rossiter, Rodney Bewes, Helen Fraser, Mona Washbourne, Ethel Griffies, Finlay Currie, Gwendolyn Watts, Wilfred Pickles | UK Drama 98′

A so-called ‘kitchen sink’ drama, this was the second collaboration between Schlesinger and Waterhouse, following the 1962 Alan Bates starrer, A Kind Of Loving. Schlesinger would go on to direct some seminal work, including, Sunday Bloody Sunday, Marathon Man and Midnight Cowboy, for which he won a Best Director Academy Award.

Filmed in Bradford, but depicting a never defined Northern town, Courtenay reprised his stage role, having taken over from Albert Finney, to star in the film adaptation. On the back of The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner, this was to cement Courtenay as a bonafide star, as well as launch Christie’s career, shoehorned in at the last moment when Topsy Jane became too ill to continue filming.

Courtenay plays Billy Fisher, a frustrated 22-year-old small-town man who hasn’t yet managed to shake off the overactive imagination of his childhood. His habit of lying is now forcing him into a corner, socially, work-wise and also with his long suffering family, making him retreat even further into the make-believe land of Ambrosia, where he can be both understood and successful: a triumphant President, War Hero, Band Leader and whatever else takes his flight of fancy.

Judging by his complete self-centredness, Fisher might be an entirely unlikeable character, were it not for his imaginary world and the very real sense that he is totally aware that he has behaved like an idiot, but simply cannot help himself. His frustration with himself as much as those around him is tangible; Courtenay is masterful in his portrayal, flitting with seamless ease through a litany of characters both imaginary and real, to the point where he runs away with himself before he has the sense to censor. It’s wonderful to witness.

Shot in black and white against a backdrop of change, Julie Christie’s character is the one offering a way out of the stifling, blinkered provincial mentality, if he can but see it for what it is, and have faith. The old town is being torn down, demolished, to make way for the Brave, New, modern world being constructed in the wake of the war; old notions and ways being swept aside, much to the wistful chagrin of the older generation.

The supporting cast are wonderful: a young Rodney Bewes plays sparring partner and equal, understanding what Fisher is going through and shares much of his humour in lampooning the old guard. Also, Leonard Rossiter as the pernickety boss and Helen Fraser as the sweet local girl, wanting nothing more than a cottage, kids and the comforts of home. But it’s Mona Washbourne, playing Billy’s mother, who quietly runs away with this beautifully drawn film. The picture of patience and long-suffering, when there really wasn’t alot to brighten up a day. Stories are seldom better than when written from the inside, from someone who knows. It is a testament to great writing also when no one in a film is judged. Just observed. By ‘eck it’s Grand. AT



Husbands (1970) Mubi

Writer/Director John Cassavetes | Cast: Ben Gazzara, Peter Falk, John Cassavetes,Jenny Runacre, Jenny Wright, Noelle Kao |US  Drama 138’

It would be easy to wax lyrical about John Cassavetes and what he means to American film history for the entirety. Let’s leave it choice: he is credited with being the father of American Cinema Vérité, was Oscar nominated as a Writer, a Director and as an Actor and his facsimile graces a US stamp.  Contrary to popular myth, though you could be forgiven for thinking so, his films were never simply just a filmed improvisation but improvised extremely rigorously in rehearsal to produce a finished script which was then filmed.

Regarded by some as his masterpiece, and pre-dating his better known 1976 The Killing of A Chinese Bookie and 1974 A Woman Under The Influence, Husbands is another dark

and unflinching gaze deep into the psyche; in this case, three close friends facing their own mortality through the untimely demise of their fourth musketeer.

There will always be a real sense of truth and spontaneity to Cassavetes films because of his exacting process and the great troupe of truly talented actors who went on to rule the firmament but were never better than when let loose by Cassavetes. Husbands is one such example and it remains at times just plain difficult to watch, so deep is the sense of intrusion into these men who are laid naked to the lens. I find it telling that he only appeared in Hollywood fare to fund his own projects. He died too young in 1989 aged 59, of liver cirrhosis.

Husbands received only a limited release back in the UK in 1971, so for all of you old enough then but missed it and all of you now old enough to appreciate a master at the top of his game, go and be discomfited. There’s no one like him for viewing humanity, in all its mess. AT

Nominated for Best Screenplay – Motion Picture at the 1971 Golden Globes.



Barbara (2012) Mubi

Dirr/Wri: Christian Petzold | Cast: Nina Hoss, Ronald Zehrfeld, Rainer Block | Germany, Drama

In an East Germany of 1980, Nina Hoss gives a stunning performance as Barbara, a cool teutonic blond doctor exiled to a remote Soviet-style cottage hospital by the Stasi, leaving her lover in the West. With a fine line in sexy underwear and a reserved bedside manner that masks her exquisite vulnerability, Barbara is initially immune to her colleague Andre’s cosy but magnetic sexuality and growing interest in her that goes beyond her talents as a pediatrician.

Sumptuously shot in a palate of muted colours with fine attention to period detail by cinematographer Hans Fromm, this is an accomplished piece of cinema. It works on two levels: as a well-detailed social study of the East/West conflict, and a subtle, slow-burning love story that’s desperate to burst out of its clinical strictures but never quite does due to Barbara’s, and our own, uncertainty of Andre’s motives.  Hemmed in by the tense paranoia at being monitored by a Stasi officer (Rainer Block) rifling through her drawers, Barbara escapes for clandestine meetings with her lover in West Berlin until the past and present start to close in around her.  Christian Petzold won best director at Berlin with this Cold War psychodrama of a woman caught between desire and subterfuge.MT

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