Posts Tagged ‘Interviews’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

THE HEIRESS

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tribute to Christo who died in May 2020

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

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

IMG_4205 copy

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

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

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

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

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

FullSizeRender-1

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

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

Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse

 

 

 

Brief Encounter (1945) | Valentine special

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robert Redford | Conversations with | Marrakech Film Festival 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robert Redford CONVERSATIONS WITH | MARRAKECH FILM FESTIVAL 2019 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Conversation with Harvey Keitel | Marrakech Film Festival 2019

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

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

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

The Dove on the Roof | Die Taube auf dem Dach (1973/2010)

Dir/Wri: Iris Gusner | Cast: Heidemarie Wenzel, Gunter Naumann, Katrin Martin, Heimat Guass | Director of Photography: Roland Gräf | GDR 1973/2010, b/w, DCP, digitally restored version 2010, (35mm), 85 mins. Drama 90’

Iris Gusner’s light and episodic story of a young contruction site manager who has to juggle shortages of building material and her relationships with two very different men was made in a moment of artistic freedom only to be condemned to decades of oblivion when the political climate changed again.

Linda Hinrichs is the manager of a building site in Thuringia in the south of the GDR. New “Plattenbau” (prefabricated) flats are to be erected, and Linda has to move things forward in spite of building material shortages and other problems. As if this was not enough of a challenge, Linda also has to juggle her relationships with two male colleagues she feels attracted to. Daniel is an idealistic and a little crazy student who is seeking some work experience during his summer holidays, while the much older brigade leader Böwe is a restless, sometimes alcohol infused soul who has moved from construction site to site for years. Gusner surrounds this trio with an ensemble of original characters and spins a loose and episodic, sometimes amusing, sometimes melancholic narrative around them. Lightness and a touch of anarchy, the change of location between the construction site and the narrow streets of the medieval town of Arnstadt, references to Palestinian refugees and Angela Davis, as well as a daring opening “cosmic” montage, make this film stand out within the DEFA film production of the time.

Making such a film seemed possible in 1972, when Gusner’s script for this film, her directorial debut, passed the DEFA studio’s assessment.  But by the time the final film was judged by the studio officials in 1973, the mood had changed. Not only was the film criticised as an ‘artistic error’, it was also denounced for its supposedly disrespectful representation of the GDR worker. Though defended by renowned directors such as Konrad Wolf and Kurt Maetzig, the film was never licensed for distribution. It only resurfaced after the film’s camera man Roland Gräf (who also shot Born in ’45 by Jürgen Böttcher) while searching for banned DEFA films. As the print was no longer screenable, a black and white dup-negative was made from which a black and white screening print was struck.The film we are screening is a digital version of a reconstruction made by the DEFA foundation in 2009 on the basis of the mentioned dub-negative. That is why colour film stills of the film circulate, but the film can only be screened in black and white. Review courtesy of Goethe Institute

The Dove on The Roof –  Review courtesy of the Goethe Institute | 30 October 2019

The Goethe Institute will also be screening a Böttcher season this October 2019

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SALON MEXICO | JULY 2019 | BFI SOUTHBANK

Locarno International Film Festival 2019

New artistic director Lili Hinstin unveils her eclectic mix of films for the 72nd Locarno Film Festival which runs from 7 until 17 August in its luxurious lakeside location. Locarno is known for its edgy profile and this year will be no different: Films by established auteurs Koji Fukada, Asif Kapadia, Kiyoshi Kurosawa will screen alongside an inventive array of undiscovered newcomers and sophomore cinema in a selection that embraces traditional stories and more experimental and avantgarde fare.

Hinstin takes over from Carlo Chatrian, who served as artistic director of Locarno since 2013 and now returns to the Berlinale. Hinstin is the 13th artistic director of the Locarno Festival since it was founded in 1946 and is only the event’s second female artistic director following on from Irene Bignardi (2000-5).

The largest open air cinema space in Europe, the Piazza Grande, will welcome up to 8,000 viewers for 19 full-length, 2 short films, and 6 Crazy Midnight, a total 11 world premieres. The magnificent state of the art Grand Rex cinema will pay host to this year’s Retrospective BLACK LIGHT conceived by Greg de Cuir Jr. showcasing international 20th century black cinema with stars such as Pam Grier, Ousmane Sembene, Spike Lee and Euzhan Palcy who will introduce his restored print of Rue Cases-Negres.

There will be another chance to see Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Luebbe DeBoer’s Sundance breakout Greener Grass and Kapadia’s Cannes documentary Maradona, along with the Joseph Gordon-Levitt-starring hijack thriller-drama 7500, Carice Van Houten-starring Instinct, and British comedian Simon Bird’s directorial debut Days Of The Bagnold Summer. Making its world premiere is also the  intriguing Italian horror feature The Nest from Roberto de Feo whose 2010 short film Ice Scream was one of the most awarded worldwide during the year of its launch.

Films in the main competition vying for the Golden Leopard include the latest crop of South American stories: The Fever from Brazilian director Maya Da-Rin sees a disillusioned man hovering between reality and a dreamlike existence; from Argentina Maura Delpero’s Hogar (Home) is set in present day Buenos Aires where two homeless teenagers are bringing up their kids in a religious institution run by Italian nuns. Icelandic director Runar Runarsson (Sparrows) will be there with his latest Echo. The first ever Locarno competition film in Gallego entitled Longa Noite (Endless Night) is a second surreal feature from Spanish director Eloy Enciso; and previous Golden Leopard winner Pedro Costa (Horse Money) is back with a Cape Verdean set drama Vitalina Varela. Activist and award-winning animator Mina Mileva and her Bulgarian co-director Vesela Kazakova have filmed their realist drama Cat in the Wall in Peckham, London. It follows the trials and tribulations of a mother and her daughter.

This year’s Cineasti del Presenti, a sidebar dedicated to original and Avantgarde cinema, includes works from acclaimed actress Jeanne Balibar – Merveilles à Montfermeil, and Elsa Kremser and Levin Peter’s Space Dogs explores the work of Laika, the first canine astronaut. Matjaz Ivanisin’s debut drama Oroslan shows how traditional mourning rituals help to heal the community’s grief in a village in Slovenia. From the magical midsummers of American teenagers in Tyler Taormina’s Ham on Rye to Klaudia Reynicke’s surreal female-centric drama Love me Tender– these are just some of the films in a programme full of daring inventiveness.

The President of the main competition jury will be Catherine Breillat, and she is joined by this year’s guests: Mathieu Amalric, Bi Gan, Bong Joon-ho, Denis Cote, Joseph Gordon Levitt, Maren Ade, Jake Perlin, Bi Gan, Aline Schmid, Alba Rohrwacher, Hilary Swank and Bela Tarr and John Waters whose will receive a Leopard of Honour for his daring, outrageous, often hilarious work: “Somehow I became respectable…What the hell has happened!”

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | 7 -17 AUGUST 2019

 

Vagabond (1985) Bfi Player

Dir Agnès Varda | Cast: Sandrine Bonnaire, Macha Méril, Yolande Moreau | 106′ | France | Drama

Venice Goldenn Lion winner Vagabond is haunting story about loss, loneliness and defiance expressed through its remarkable central character played by one of French cinema’s most intriguing talents, Sandrine Bonnaire, who had made her first appearance in Maurice Pialat’s À nos amours. Here she gives a captivating performance as the freewheeling rebel Mona who spends her days wondering aimlessly through the South of France, her death in the opening scenes of this melancholy human story allowing Varda to explore and us to reflect on society’s preconceptions about women and the disenchfranchised. Despite its 1980s setting, Vagabond feels every as relevant in today’s shifting sociopolitical climate. A simple narrative but one with everlasting appeal and universal resonance.

NOW ON BFI PLAYER

Mountain films during the Weimar years: Beyond your Wildest Dreams

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BEYOND YOUR WILDEST DREAMS | MOUNTAIN FILMS FROM THE WEIMAR ERA 

      

             

   

Stanley Kubrick Retrospective: Art and Film 2019

Stanley Kubrick, one of the greatest film makers of the 20th century, spent most of his later life working in England where he raised a family in the Hertfordshire town of Childwickbury, between St Albans and Harpenden, 35 minutes drive North of London. It was in the Norfolk Broads and Beckton, in the East End that he created the Vietnam scenes for Full Metal Jacket (1987), an orbiting space station for 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), and Dr Strangelove’s war room (1964). 

BFI KUBRICK RETRO  

Throughout April and May 2019 the BFI will present, in partnership with The Design Museum, Kensington, a definitive Stanley Kubrick season at BFI Southbank. The season will offer audiences the opportunity to experience masterpieces such as 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Barry Lyndon (1975) and The Shining (1980) on the big screen as Kubrick intended, with screenings being presented on 35mm wherever possible. The season will also delve deep into the director’s oeuvre with a playful and diverse programme of events, revealing why Kubrick is considered one of the most influential filmmakers of all time, and his style has given rise to the new entry in the Oxford Dictionary: “Kubrickian” meaning painstakingly perfectionist.

Stanley Kubrick was most inventive in his introduction of revolutionary devices to his filmmaking, such as the camera lens designed for NASA to shoot by candlelight. His fascination with all aspects of design and architecture influenced every stage of all his films. He worked with many key designers of his generation, from Hardy Amies to Saul Bass, Eliot Noyes and Ken Adam.

KENSINGTON EXHIBITION 

The exhibition, which has already travelled round Europe, is supported by Kubrick’s brother-in-law and executive producer on many of his films, Jan Harlan. The two first collaborated on Kubrick’s unrealised film project Napoleon in 1969, which has become known as the greatest movie never made, and will shortly form the subject of a made for TV documentary inspired by Steven Spielberg and directed Cary Fukunaga (Bond 2025).

Kubrick was as demanding on his actors as he was on himself. After playing Barry Lyndon’s hapless stepson in the 1975 epic drama English actor Leon Vitali went to work as his assistant for some 30 years and his story is told in Tony Zierra’s informative 2017 documentary Filmworker

The exhibition at Kensington’s Design Museum features scripts, costumes, films and props and provides a fascinating counterpoint to the BFI’s film retrospective, which takes place from April to May what it has called the “definitive Stanley Kubrick season” showing his films in 35mm, using projectors. There will also be a new print of A Clockwork Orange. MT

Kubrick’s feature films:

Fear and Desire (1953)

Killer’s Kiss (1955);

The Killing (1956)

Paths of Glory (1957)

Spartacus (1960)

Lolita (1962)

Dr. Strangelove or: How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

A Clockwork Orange (1971)

Barry Lyndon (1975)

The Shining (1980)

Full Metal Jacket (1987)

Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

Stanley Kubrick: the Exhibition | Kensington Design Museum 26 April-17 September 2019.

Working with Rainer Werner Fassbinder (1945-1982)

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

page1image52502032

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

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

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

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

What was Fassbinder like to work with?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

[Edited for clarity]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Made in Prague | Czech Cinema 100th Anniversary

This October marks the 100th year anniversary of the foundation of Czechoslovakia. The celebrations begin with an opening night gala screening of Jan S. Kolár’s silent epic St Wenceslas from 1929; accompanied by a musical ensemble specialising in medieval polyphony.

The 22nd MADE IN PRAGUE Festival showcases the best of contemporary Czech cinema cherry picked from international film festivals’ circuit. It features Barefoot by the Oscar-winning director Jan “Kolya” Sverak; Insects, the legendary filmmaker Jan Svankmajer’s swansong; the UK premiere of Martin Sulik’s drama The Interpreter starring the Oscar-winning director of Closely Observed Trains Jiri Menzel and German star of Toni Erdmann Peter Simonischek, fresh from the 2018 Berlinale. Also screening will be Olmo Omerzu’s Winter Flies, winner of the 2018 Karlovy Vary International Film Festival Director’s Prize. Complemented by Vit Klusak’s The White World According to Daliborek, a hilarious stylised documentary portrait of a Czech neo-nazi, and Cervena, Olga Sommerova’s portrait of a vivacious 92-year-old world famous opera singer, the mixture of fiction and documentaries with accompanying debates and Q&A showcases the best of Czech cinema mapping the country’s past and current achievements.

MADE IN PRAGUE | Czech Centre London and other venues across the city, including the Barbican, Design Museum, Regent Street Cinema, Tate Modern, UCL, plus others.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Open City Docs Festival | London 4 – 9 September 2018

Open City Documentary Festival is back for the eighth edition of the annual festival celebrating creative documentary and non-fiction filmmakers with a dynamic new programme for 2018. With 30 features and 48 shorts, 2 world premieres, 3 European premieres and 26 UK premieres across shorts and features from more than 30 countries, the festival will take place from the 4th – 9th September in a host of great venues across central London.

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

The Closing Night will be the UK Premiere of The Swing (2018) directed by Cyril Aris. A touching and emotionally rich film about keeping family truths hidden so as not to upset the patriarch. After sixty years of marriage, Antoine and Vivi have lost their most beloved daughter; but no one has dared to tell the bedridden nonagenarian Antoine, lest his heart crack. A simple solution, though everyone else in this densely interconnected family has then to live the same lie, giving no expression to their grief. A deeply affecting, beautifully shot cinematic novella; like all the best stories The Swing is a simple tale, but one that never short-changes its viewers.

For the Emerging International Filmmaker Award the following documentaries have been nominated: Angkar, dir. Neary Adeline Hay (France); Those Who Come, Will Hear, dir. Simon Plouffe (Canada); Home of the Resistance, dir. Ivan Ramljak (Croatia) and The Best Thing You Can Do With Your Life, dir. Zita Erffa (Germany, Mexico). 

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

For the full programme and tickets

 

Tim Robbins | Honoured at Karlovy Vary Film Festival 2018

Oscar-winning Tim Robbins will be celebrated at this year’s Karlovy Vary Film Festival with a Crystal Globe for his Outstanding Contribution to World Cinema as an actor, director, screenwriter, producer and musician. Robbins won his Academy Award for his performance as Best Supporting in Mystic River (2003) and was later nominated for a best director Oscar for Dead Man Walking (1995). 

Tim Robbins grew up surrounded by artists from an early age and began his acting career on the New York stage with the experimental theatre ensemble The Actor’s Gang, which under his guidance earned widespread audience acclaim and more than a hundred critics’ awards. 

This early success led to various roles in TV and a film career that flourished with his performance in Ron Shelton’s popular sports film Bull Durham (1988). Proof of his undeniable talent followed with his role in the drama Jacob ’s Ladder (1990), and Robbins went on to work with legendary indie director Robert Altman – taking the sardonic lead role in Altman’s The Player (1992) which won him a Golden Globe and the Best Actor at the Cannes Film Festival. 

Honing his skills behind the camera, Robbins’ directorial debut was the impressive drama Bob Roberts (1992 left) which he scripted, co-scored (with his brother David), and also appeared in the title role, singing many of the songs himself.  And the following year he was back with Robert Altman to film Short Cuts (1993). The ensemble cast won a Special Golden Globe and also took home the Volpi Cup from the Venice Film Festival. 

There followed appearances in the Coen brothers’ The Hudsucker Proxy (1994), another outing with Robert Altman (the comedy from the world of fashion Prêt-à-Porter, 1994), and his work with Frank Darabont on The Shawshank Redemption (1994), which was nominated for seven Oscars. In 1996 Dead Man Walking earned him an Oscar nomination for best director, while his partner Susan Sarandon won an Oscar for best actress. His next auteur outing, Cradle Will Rock (1999) above, which premiered at Cannes, explored the relationship between the individual artist and society during a tumultuous time in the U.S. though this time in another era. As with Dead Man Walking, Robbins produced, and the music was written by his brother David. 

After Stephen Frears’s romantic comedy High Fidelity (2000) and Michel Gondry’s bizarre Human Nature (2001) – based on a script by Charlie Kaufman – Robbins appeared in one of his most successful roles – in Clint Eastwood’s crime drama Mystic River (2004), for which both Robbins and lead actor Sean Penn won an Oscar and a Golden Globe. Recently Robbins has appeared in Marjorie Prime (2017) and HBOs The Brink (2016) and Here And Now (2018). 

KARLOVY VARY FILM FESTIVAL | 29 JUNE – 7 JULY 2018 | TIM ROBBINS WILL PRESENT BOB ROBERTS and CRADLE WILL ROCK and perform with his ensemble The Rogues Gallery Band. 

Tony Richardson and his New Wave Wonder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Copenhagen Architectural Film Festival 2018 | Home and Belonging

Where better to attend a cinematic celebration of the built environment than Europe’s Architectural design capital Copenhagen which celebrates its 5th edition on May 3rd ­16th, 2018. Copenhagen has repeatedly been ranked as the world’s most liveable city and is famous for its architecture. The festival has developed a programme appealing to professionals as well as ‘amateurs’ and is the biggest of its kind in Scandinavia ­presenting a large public programme of film screenings both in the open air, in cinemas and in private homes, seminars, debates, exhibitions and workshops. all taking place in Copenhagen, Aarhus and Aalborg.

Once again this year the festival maintains a strong focus on the moving image media with a curated film programme, including film premiers, classics and a portrait series on among others starchitects Tadao Ando, Zaha Hadid and Lene Tranberg.

There’s plenty on offer, and the following events are particularly worth attending:

  1. Indian architect Anupama Kundoo ­takes you through a curated film program, several workshops and lectures.
  2. Film screening and Q&A with architect Arno Brandlhuber and filmmaker Christopher Roth, 4) A retrospective on the works of Békà & Lemoine at Louisiana Museum of Modern Art.
  3. Visit the landmarks of Copenhagen by bike together with the city architect.
  4. See the new portrait film on Danish starchitect Lene Tranberg and her studio’s work with the new landmark Axel Towers on­site.

And while you’re there go visit the new BLOX by acclaimed architecture office OMA (Rem Koolhaas) which will open during the festival on the 6th of May 2018.

ARCHITECTURE FESTIVAL 2018
Copenhagen Architecture Festival presents it’s 5th edition in May 3rd ­ 16th, 2018 involving the cities of Copenhagen, Aarhus and Aalborg. The festival is the largest of its kind in Scandinavia.

Additionally to CAFx 2018 events: Opening of BLOX ­ a new innovative hub downtown Copenhagen, designed by the famous Dutch company OMA (Rem Koolhaas).

Canada Now | 3-6 May 2018

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

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

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

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

BLACK COP  | Cory Bowles, 2017 – 91′

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Touring programme only

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

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

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

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

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

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

MARY GOES ROUND  – Molly McGlynn, 2017 – 87′ 

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

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

MEDITATION PARK | Mina Shum, 2017 – 94′

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

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

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

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

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

VENUS | Eisha Marjara, 2017 *

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

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

*Touring programme only

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

London Spanish Film Festival | 13-15 April 2018

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

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

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

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

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

THE BOOKSHOP ***

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

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

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

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

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

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

ABRACADABRA

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

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

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

SUNDAY’S ILLNESS | La enfermedad de los domingos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LONDON SPANISH FILM FESTIVAL | 13-15 APRIL 2018 

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

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

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

 

In 1950s Calcutta, a simple family’s dynamic shifts gradually when the wife and mother takes a job to supplement the family income during a period of social and economic upheaval. In her debut role for the legendary director, Madhabi Mukherjee is quietly appealing and brings a warmth and authenticity to her role as a woman whose primary aim is to be loving and supportive to her son Pintu (Prasenjit Sarkar), husband Subrata (Anil Chatterjee) and his elderly parents. But Subrata’s ego and pride are challenged by Arati’s new-found confidence in the workplace, placing a strain on their homelife and calling into question his status as breadwinner and head of the household. With great subtlety and perception and an atmospheric score, Satyajit Ray tenderly evokes how change can affect the status quo in a marriage, sending ripples of discontent that are capable of causing family breakdown. Arati is a sensitive and unselfish woman, and with her considerable charm Ray illustrates how she cleverly keeps the family together by massaging men’s egos, without rocking the boat. A low-key delight. MT.

from JULY 22 AND SELECTED UK WIDE CINEMAS  BFI SOUTHBANK 

 

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

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

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

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

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

LOOK BACK ANGER in cinemas from 8 APRIL 2018

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

2 Films by Marta Meszaros and Miklos Jancso

Although Bela Tarr is perhaps the most widely known Hungarian film director, arguably the greatest Hungarian filmmakers of all time are Marta Meszaros (Diary for my Children) and Miklos Jancso (My Way Home), who died in 2014. Married between 1958 and 1968, they had three children: one of them, director of photography Nyika Jancso (Jancso’s son from a former marriage), who worked regularly for both directors, and the couple’s granddaughter Anna Jansco, a producer, introduced these two films at a recent screening laid on in London by the Hungarian Cultural Forum.

It was interesting to hear that both Meszaros (*1931) and Jansco (1921-2014), had started out as Newsreel directors, followed by many years as documentary filmmakers before they embarked on features. Meszaros had a particularly hard time getting into film school, and women directors were more or less unheard of in 1950s Hungary. The fact that she had her youth in the USSR worked to her favour, and she was given a place at the prestigious VGIK film academy in Moscow. Diary for my Children (the first part of the trilogy Diary for my Lovers and Diary for my Father and Mother) was finished in 1984, but languished on the back shelf as its harsh critique of Stalinism was deemed not suitable for Hungarian audiences. Luckily, it was screened for the selection committee of the Cannes Festival, were it was shown in competition, winning the Grand Prix (and runner-up to Wenders’ Paris, Texas) in 1984. Meszaros, who had already won the Golden Bear in Berlin 1975 for Adoption, was now, together with her ex-husband Jansco, the new face of Hungarian cinema.

DIARY FOR MY CHILDREN (NAPLO GYERMEKEIMNEK) | Dir.: Marta Meszaros; Cast: Zsuzsa Czinkoczi, Anna Polony, Jan Nowicki, Pal Zolnay; Hungary 1984, 106 min.

With its strong autobiographical undertones Diary for my Children opens with a homecoming: young Juli (Czinkoczi), her ‘aunt’ Magda (Polony) and ‘grandfather’ Nagypapa (Zolnay) land in 1947 Budapest on their return from exile in the USSR. But Juli’s real parents are dead: her father (Nowicki), a well-known sculptor, has vanished in one of Stalin’s purges, her mother has also perished. Somehow Nagypapa and Magda, who is a very committed Stalinist, bought their survival with an oath of silence, but Juli holds Magda responsible for her father’s death. Magda’s friend Janos, also played by Nowicki, has chosen to work in factory, instead of for the Party, a mistake that will cost him dearly. Meanwhile, Juli steals Magda’s cinema pass, and spends her days in the cinema, instead of at school. Janos is finally arrested for not toeing the Party line, and Juli moves out of Magda’s opulent apartment, to look after Janos wheelchair-bound son, working in a factory. Originally, Meszaros had planned to end with a scene from Mikheil Chiaureli’s 1950 propaganda film The Fall of Berlin, (showing Stalin, played by regular ‘Generalissimo’ actor Mikheil Gelivani, as a God-like figure in his white uniform) – but the feature had since been banned, and the authorities did not wanted to be reminded of the situation. Diary is shot in impressive grainy black-and-white by Nyika Jansco, who remembers to this day how nervous he was about doing his best.

MY WAY HOME | Dir.: Miklos Jansco; Cast: Sergei Nikomenko, Andras Kozak; Hungary 1964, 108 min.

Miklos Jansco’s work is usually very symbolic and inaccessible, often getting him into trouble with the censors for the dreaded ‘Formalism’. My Way Home, his third as a director, is one of the most personal features.  Set during the last days of WWII near the Hungarian border, it tells the story of the teenage Hungarian soldier Joska (Kozak) who is captured first by the fleeing Nazis, then the advancing Russians. Whilst serving the Russians as an agricultural worker, he befriends the Soviet soldier Kolja (Nikonenko), who is dying slowly and painfully from a stomach wound. They herd the cows together, but when Kolja starts bleeding internally, Joska is unable to get to a doctor in time due to his being mistaken for a German national. Shot in the black-and-white with a austerity that echoes the work  of Bresson, My Way Home is a reflection on humanity’s capacity for violence as well as forgiving. AS

 

Krzysztof Zanussi | Retrospective | MUBI January -March 2018

Krzysztof Zanussi

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

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

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

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

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

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

F Why did you study Physics?

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

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

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

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

KZ Yes, we studied together.

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

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

F And what did you shoot on?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

F How long is the course?

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

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

KZ Exactly..

F So what did you do?

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

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

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

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

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

F What do you mean?

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

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

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

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

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

F Fear of what?

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

F True..

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

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

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

F Where else have you been with your films?

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

F Oh wow. How did that come about?

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

F It just snapped…?

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

F And..?

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

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

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

F Do you have a favourite film?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Foreign Body_1

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

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

F.; So you were disappointed in global capitalism?

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Magic Flute (1975) ****

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

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

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

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

THE INGMAR BERGMAN RETROSPECTIVE | BFI and BFIPLAYER | MARCH 2018

Academy Awards | European Submissions 2018

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

Chile: A FANTASTIC WOMAN; Sebastian Lelio

Hungary: ON BODY AND SOUL;  Ildikó Enyedi

Russia: LOVELESS; Andrey Zvyagintsev

Sweden: THE SQUARE; Ruben Östlund

Lebanon: THE INSULT; Ziad Doueiri

THE ACADEMY AWARDS | 4 MARCH 2018 |

Cinema Made in Italy Festival 7 -11 March 2018

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

SCREENING PROGRAMME – CINEMA MADE IN ITALY 2018

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

Intro and Q&A with Paolo Taviani (director)

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

Intro and Q&A with Francesca Comencini (director)

HANNAH | 6.30 pm  | 9 March 

Intro and Q&A with Andrea Pallaoro (director)

LOVE AND BULLETS | 8.40 pm  | 9 March 

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

THE INTRUDER | 6.30 pm  | 10 March               

FORTUNATA | 8.40 pm | 10 March 

 

Intro and Q&A with Jasmine Trinca (actress)

A SPECIAL DAY | 2.00 pm | 11 March 

CINDERELLA THE CAT | 4.00 pm | 11 March         

Intro and Q&A with Alessandro Rak (director)

UNA FAMIGLIA | 6.30 pm  | 11 March 

Intro and Q&A with Sebastiano Riso (director)

VENUE AND BOX OFFICE INFORMATION

CINEMA MADE IN ITALY | LONDON 7-11 MARCH 2018 

 

 

 

The Absence of Love | Antonioni Retrospective 2019

Humans are intruders in the film world of Michelangelo Antonioni: they destroy the harmony of nature and society. Only when they act in solidarity with their fellow man do they have a chance to become part of something meaningful.

GENTE DEL PO (1943-47), shot not far from where Visconti was filming Ossessione, this is a short documentary, but in spite of its neo-realistic moorings, it is at the same time a personal statement: an effort to comprehend the world via the moving image. Not the other way round. Antonioni’s realism does not attempt to show anything natural, humane, dramatic, and particularly not anything like an idea, a thesis. Just memory forms the model for his art. Memory as images like photos, paintings, writing – they form the basis of his later work – an adventure, where the audience peels off the many layers, like off an onion: a painting, more than once painted over.

On the face of it Antonioni’s debut feature, Chronaca Du Un Amore (1950) is a film noir, like Visconti’s first opus Ossessione. The dominant feelings that would run through all his films are already in place – emotional neglect, alienation, existential angst and loneliness. Set in the director’s birthplace of Ferrara the drama follows ex-lovers Paola and Guido and their desire to do away with Paola’s rich husband Enrico Fontana. This is no crime of passion, because Paola and Guido are unable to make it as a couple  – but what they can do is profit from Fontana’s death. Life in the city is a reflection of the conspirators state of mind. Their neuroses is felt in the chaotic streets and the frenetic buzz of the cafes. The surreal urban jungle is a one of the main themes of Antonioni’s opus. And he observes his main protagonists when they area lone and in the dramatic scenes, creating an elliptical structure with these two dynamics points: action and echo. As Wenders said: “The strength of American Cinema is a forward focus, European cinema paints ellipses”.

I VINTI (1952) is set in three different countries (Italy, France and the UK), exploring the lives of three young criminals who steal not out of material necessity, but just for fun. But their crimes are and the involvement of the Police is just a backdrop to Antonioni’s main focus: his protagonists’ daily lives. As the crimes recede more and more into the background, the investigations peter out – shades of L’ Avventura and Blow Up.

In LE AMICHE (1955) Antonioni finds the structure for his features, seemingly overpopulated with couples and friends – who are all busy, but play a secondary role to their environment, in this case Turin. Clelia has come to open a designer shop and soon meets up with four other young women, all much wealthier than she is. Their changing couplings with men end tragically. Set between Clelia’s arrival in Turin and her leaving for Rome, LE AMICHE is a kaleidoscope of human frailty, in which the audience is waiting for something to happen, some sort of boy meets girl story, but when something really happens, it takes second place to the main thrust of the narrative and we become as disorientated as the characters themselves. Antonioni does not tell a story with a beginning and an end, he informs us, that the world can exist without stories. Because there is so much more to see in the city of Turin, as there will be in Rome: Clelia is only the messenger, sent out by Antonioni to be a traveller, not a story teller. She is his archetypal heroine.

Aldo, the central protagonist in IL GRIDO (1956/7) is the most untypical of all Antonioni heroes: he has been expelled from paradise, after his wife has left him. Refusing to really let himself go he sticks to his environment, travelling with his daughter in the Po Valley. Leaving his home town and looking back over a life dominated by the factory chimney, it is his past history which has forced him to leave. He becomes more and more marginalised: an outsider. And even when living near the river in a derelict hut, he becomes a victim of the environment – the same landscape, seasons and time he spent there. El Grido ends tragically, because Aldo (unlike most other Antonioni heroes) insists on keeping to his past: he does not want to cross the bridges which are metaphorically there to be crossed. And Aldo’s titular outcry becomes a good-bye, even though he is back home. Il Grido is also Antonioni’s return to neo-realism, another contradiction, because he was never really part of it.

L’AVVENTURA (1960) has four main protagonists, three of are human, but are dwarfed by the third – Liscia Bianca, a rocky island in the Mediterranean See. A group of wealthy Italians visit the island but when they want to lead they discover that one of their Anna is missing. Her boyfriend Sandro starts to look around , but soon becomes more interested in Claudia, Anna’s best friend. When they all leave, without having found Anna, Claudia and Sandro are ready to start a new life together. Antonioni is often compared with Brecht. In common with the German playwright, the characters he refuses to dramatise the narrative. Brecht’s actors do not identify with their roles and the audience is not drawn into the play, but left outside to observe. The same goes for Antonioni. Antonioni’s skill is that he first introduces time scale and environment, before developing the narrative, via the actions and words of the protagonists. The island’s waves provide the feature’s ambient score. The fragility of the emotions comes out in the way the protagonists talk –  but mostly they are at cross-purposes. The overall impression is not that of a modern film with sound, but of a very sad silent movie. At Cannes in 1960, the feature was mercilessly jeered at the premiere, but won the Grand Prix nevertheless – a rare case of the jury being ahead of the public.

In LA NOTTE (1960) allows us to share a day in the company of the writer Giovanni and his wife Lydia. When their friend dies in a hospital, they realise that their own love for each other has also been dead for quite a while. Antonioni uses his characters like figures on a chess board. They are real, but at the same time cyphers. He does not tell their story, but follows their movements from one place to an another. There is no interconnection between them and their environment. They have lost all feeling for themselves, others and the outside world. Their world is cold and threatening. Antonioni offers no irony or pity. He is the surgeon at the operating table, and his view is that of the camera: mostly skewed over-head shots. It is impossible to love La Notte. Whilst Antonioni was the first director of the modern era, he is also its most vicious critic.

When L’ECLISSE (1962) starts in the morning, it feels somehow like a continuation of La Notte. Before Vittoria (Vitti) ends her relationship with Francisco, she arranges a new Stilleben behind an empty picture frame. Next stop is Piero (Delon), a stockbroker. Vittoria is like Wenders’ Alice in the City: a child in a world of grown-ups, repelled by their emotional coldness. Piero, very much a child of this world, is all glib superficiality, his friend’s remark “long live the façade” sums it all up. The lengthy panorama shots show very little empathy with the eternal city, the more silent ones seem to convey a ghost town populated by worker ants, dwarfed by huge buildings. The music only sets in after the half way point of the film. The couple’s last rendezvous is symbolic for everything Antonioni ever wanted to show us: none of the two shows up, we watch the space where they were supposed to meet for several minutes. L’Eclisse will lead without much transition to Deserto Rosso, where Monica Vitti is Guiliana, wandering the streets, getting lost in a fog on a very unlovable planet.

DESERTO ROSSO (1963/4)

Guiliana: “I dreamt, I was laying in my bed, and the bed was moving. And when I looked, I saw that I was sinking in quicksand”. Guiliana’s world is threatening, everything is out of scale, the buildings in a nearby industrial estate are unbelievably tall. The machines in the factories, the steel island in the sea, and the silhouettes of the people around her are all closing in. We travel with her from this industrial quarter of Ravenna to Ferrara. She is never still, and by the end she is in front of a factory gate. In Deserto Rosso objects become blurred, they seem to be alive, making their way independently. The camera never leaves Guiliana during her nightmare, and we experience the world through Guiliana’s eyes: “It is, as if I had tears in my eyes”. 

In her son’s bedroom she sees his toy robot, the eyes alight. She switches it off – but this is the only action she is allowed to master successfully. There is always fog between her and everybody else, even her lover Corrado is “on the other side”.  Roland Barthes called Antonioni “the artist of the body, the opposite of others, who are the priests of art”. For once, Antonioni is at one with the body of his protagonist: Guiliana’s body is not like the many others, she will never get lost.

BLOW UP (1966)

A film to be seen only see once – and never again, in case you suffer the same fate as Thomas’ photos: Blow Up. Antonioni to Moravia: “All my films before this are works of intuition, this one is a work of the head.” Everything is calculated, the incidents are planned, the story is driven by an elaborate design. The drama, which is anything but, is a drama, perfectly executed. Herbie Hancock, the Yardbirds, the beat clubs, the marihuana parties, Big Ben and the sports car with radiophone, the Arabs and the nuns, the beatniks on the streets: everything is like swinging London in the Sixties: a head idea. Blow Up is Antonioni’s most successful feature at the box office – but not one of his best.

ZABRISKIE POINT (1969/70)

Given Cart Blanche by MGM, Antonioni produced a feature in praise of American Cinema. Zabriskie Point sees the birth of American Cinema from Death Valley. Antonioni has to repeat this dream for himself. But he had to invent his own Mount Rushmore, his Monument Valley, to make a film about the country in his own image. A car and a plane meet in the desert. The woman driver and the pilot recognise each other immediately. The copulation scene in the sand is a metaphor for the simultaneousness of the act, when longing and fulfilment, greed and satisfaction are superimposed. Then the unbelievable total destruction: the end of civilisation; Antonioni synchronises both events, a miracle of topography and choreography. This is Antonioni’s dream: the birth of a poem.

The TV feature MISTERO Di OBERWLAD (1979) and  IDENTIFICAZIONE DI UNA DONNA (1982) added nothing to Antonioni’s masterful oeuvre. After a massive stroke in 1985, left him without speech and partly paralysed there was BEYOND THE CLOUDS (1995), a collaboration with Wim Wenders, and Antonioni’s segment of EROS (2004). AS

ANTONIONI RETRO: THE ABSENCE OF LOVE | BFI JANUARY 2019 

 

 

Neglected British Film Directors: Basil Dearden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Human Rights Watch Film Festival 2018 | 7 – 16 March 2018

The 22nd edition of the London Human Rights Watch Film Festival opens in time for International Womens Day, on 8th March. The festival includes 14 award-winning international documentary and feature films, half of them directed by women. The opening night film Naila and the Uprising directed by Julia Bacha shines a light on the role of the women’s leaders of the First Intifada (which took place 30 years ago) who not only led a popular civil resistance campaign for national liberation, they also fought tirelessly for their rights as women. As ever the programme reaches many corners of the globe, from Palestine, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Iran, Qatar to Pakistan, France, USA, Venezuela, Cambodia, Democratic Republic of Congo and the closing night film from Liberia which follows environmental activist Silas Siakor as he empowers local people to fight illegal land grab.  It’s a worthwhile and watchable programme rather than a worthy one we particularly recommend:

THE POETESS 

March 9 | 8.45pm | Barbican | March 10 | 8.30pm | BFI Southbank both with Stefanie Brockhaus Q&A

Saudi poetess Hissa Hilal made headlines around the world as the first woman to reach the finals of the Arab world’s biggest televised poetry competition, “Million’s Poet.” The Poetess is the inspiring story of a woman risking her personal safety and seizing an opportunity, live on TV in front of 75 million viewers, to use her wit and lyricism to critique patriarchal society and religious extremism, and to urge a more peaceful Islam.

THIS IS CONGO

March 7 | 6.15pm RIBA London | Benefit Night screening with Q&A with Dir Daniel McCabe + Fergal Keane (BBC)

A whistleblower, a patriotic military commander, a mineral dealer, and a displaced tailor share a glimpse of life amid Africa’s longest continuing conflict. Over the last two decades, the Democratic Republic of Congo has seen more than 5 million conflict-related deaths, multiple changes of government, and the wholesale impoverishment of its people. This is Congo provides an immersive and unfiltered look at this lush, mineral-rich country, from the rise of Rwandan and Ugandan-backed M23 rebels in the North Kivu region of Congo in 2012 to the present day via four profoundly resilient characters.

WOMEN OF THE VENEZUELAN CHAOS.

March 13 | 8.40pm | Barbican & March 15 | 6.15 Barbican with Q&As on both nights with Dir: Margarita Cadenas

What is going on in Venezuela at the moment? Embodying strength and stoicism, five Venezuelan women from diverse backgrounds each draw a portrait of their country as it suffers under the worst crisis in its history amid extreme food and medicine shortages, a broken justice system, and widespread fear. The women share what life is really like for them and their families as the truth of the country’s difficulties are repeatedly denied by the government. Featuring stunning visuals and creative soundscapes, Women of the Venezuelan Chaos presentsa uniquely beautiful country and people, who remain resilient and resourceful despite the immense challenges they face.

12 DAYS

March 10 | 4.00pm | Barbican | March 11 4.00pm Barbican

Every year in France, 92,000 people are placed under psychiatric care without their consent. By law, the hospital has 12 days to bring each patient before a judge. Relying on little information beyond doctor recommendations, a crucial decision must be made: will the patient be forced to stay or granted the freedom to leave? Focusing primarily on these public hearings, renowned filmmaker and photographer Raymond Depardon captures the raw and vulnerable interactions at the border of justice and psychiatry, humanity and bureaucracy. Absorbing and thought-provoking, 12 Days gives a platform to those whose voices are so rarely considered. Golden Eye Prize, Cannes Film Festival 2017

HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH FILM FESTIVAL 7 – 16 MARCH 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”.

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

The Innocents: Madness and Desire in Gothic cinema

Madness and Desire in The Innocents 

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

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

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

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

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

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

The_Innocents_(1961)_pic_3 copy

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

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

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

Caligari_26_Copyright_Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung_PM copy

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

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

The Shining

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

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

Leaf

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

AVAILABLE THROUGH EUREKA MASTERS OF CINEMA | AMAZON.CO.UK, TALKING PICTURES TV

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.

CURRENTLY IN RETROSPECTIVE AT THE ICA LONDON JANUARY 2018

Five Sensationalist Movies of the 1930s

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


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

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

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

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


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

FILMS AVAILABLE ON AMAZON PRIME; EUREKA MASTERS OF CINEMA, 

Top Ten Indie films of 2017

It’s that time of year again when we take a look back at a year’s worth of indie and arthouse films and remember some we enjoyed most. Meredith Taylor picks her Top Ten releases of 2017.

US DRAMA – CERTAIN WOMEN

The lives of three women intersect is this gracefully understated but convincing drama from US director Kelly Reichardt. Full of subtle insight and lasting resonance. Certain Women Meditates on contemporary life from the female perspective in an utterly enthralling yet low-key, often ambiguous way. Michelle Williams, Kristen Stewart and Laura Dern star

FOREIGN LANGUAGE DRAMA  – TONI ERDMANN

Filmmaker Maren Ade has created one of the most poignant and refreshingly humorous German arthouse comedy dramas of recent memory – it never drags despite its three-hour running time. Picturing the absurd and often awkward nature of family relationships, this is a life-affirming experience not to be missed, especially at Christmas time. After The Forest for the Trees and Everyone Else, Ade is working her way slowly but surely to the top as most of the most refreshing European writer directors around..

HORROR – THE EYES OF MY MOTHER

This sumptuously crafted thriller is compelling, twisted and terrifying in its quiet and light-footed depiction of loneliness and psychopathy. Nicholas Pesce’s debut is deeply enthralling from start to end (main pic).

UNREQUITED LOVE STORY  – SUNTAN 

There’s something sad and awkwardly compulsive about this cautionary tale of a misguided intergenerational liaison between a lonely man and a glib young woman who meet in an island paradise. One of the best recent dramas about delusional love and its grim aftermath that perfectly epitomises the sinking realisation of being ‘over the hill’ on a holiday fling, while still holding on to the dream . Slim and but beautifully scenic and deeply resonant in its evergreen theme.

ANIMATION – MY LIFE AS A COURGETTE

Claude Barras’ impressive stop-motion animation is a tender tale probing life’s saddest moments: not a kid’s film but one that chimes with the kid inside us. Heart-breaking yet uplifting at the same time, Celine Sciamma has cleverly scripted Gilles Paris’ sombre autobiography that is both a sensitive study in grief and an authentic portrait of children growing up, coming to terms with sadness and learning how to look after each other. A real gem.

THRILLER – HOUNDS OF LOVE

Based on a true story, this tortured and claustrophobic character study of evil and human depravity is set in a quiet middle-class Australian backwater. Showcasing the dynamite duo of Emma Booth and Stephen Curry as real life partners Evelyn and John White, this is a stunning debut from writer/director Ben Young.

LGBT DRAMA – CALL ME BY YOUR NAME 

Despite its awkward title, this charming drama was the breakout hit of 2017 for all audiences not just the gay crowd. Beguiling, mysterious and compelling, Sicilian director Luca Guadagnino conveys the claustrophobic August heat of the film’s Po Valley setting and the chemistry between leads Armie Hammer and Timothee Chalamet – who went on the win various awards – permeates every scene. This is Oscar material and deserves to be.

UK DEBUT – LADY MACBETH 

It’s rare that a virago creates mayhem and gets away with it in literature or film. But this is exactly what happens with Florence Pugh’s Katherine in theatre director William Oldroyd’s feature debut, based on classic Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk. In 19th rural England, Pugh plays a young bride sold in marriage who falls desperately in lust with a worker on her impotent husband’s rural estate in North Yorkshire. Oldroyd maintains an unsettling dread throughout in a drama brimming with venomous malcontent.

UK COMEDY – MINDHORN 

If you liked Alan Partridge or Alpha Papa then Mindhorn will appeal. This is a comedy that washes over you like a cloud of laughing gas – if you’re in the right mindset: there are scenes so hilarious it’s impossible to remain dignified; others so cringingly embarassing you will never been seen wearing lycra again – let along tight jeans, or at least in the way Julian Barratt does as the main character Richard Thorncroft in this big screen debut for TV veteran Sean Foley. Thorncroft is a pot-bellied ‘has been’ who lost his acting talent but not his sense of self belief. The Isle of Man is pictured as a rain-soaked backwater full of caravans and twee tearooms.

BEST DOCUMENTARY – WATER AND SUGAR: CARLO DI PALMA, THE COLOURS OF LIFE 

Carlo Di Palma was one of the most influential cinematographers of the 20th century, influencing the careers of Antonioni and Woody Allen with talent, warmth and personal magnetism. His story is told in this memorable documentary that showcases the collaborative nature of filmmaking, showing how Di Palma’s warm approach made everyone he worked with even better.

TOP TURKEY – HAMPSTEAD

Hopkins’ fraud of a film is full of middle-aged cyphers floating around in a fantasy world of the Seventies where they meet for coffee mornings and discuss worthy causes. But in the real place, this lot passed on decades ago to be replaced by the likes of Hugh Skinner’s fundraising nerd or the smiling Romanians touting The Big Issue at every street corner. Robert Festinger’s script teeters from crass to cringeworthy with no laughs to be had, and a score that jars. Hampstead is utterly specious and hollow – even Diane Keaton can’t save it.

BEST CLASSIC BOXSET – FOUR FILM NOIR CLASSICS 

A fantastic box set that brings together dazzling high def print of some of the best films in the crime genre: THE DARK MIRROR (1946) starring Olivia de Havilland; Fritz Lang’s SECRET BEYOND THE DOOR (1947) with Joan Bennett and Michael Redgrave; FORCE OF EVIL (1948) directed by the underrated Abraham Polonsky; and Cornel Joseph H Lewis’ THE BIG COMBO (1955); with its terrific score by David Raksin with dynamite duo Cornel Wilde and Jean Wallace. The dual format edition comes with a hardback book on the films. MT

ALL FILMS NOW AVAILABLE AT AMAZON, EUREKA MASTERS OF CINEMA, ARROW FILMS & VIDEO, ARTIFICIAL EYE and STUDIOCANAL | all films were shown on general release in 2017 

 

Persona (1965) Ingmar Bergman Retrospective January 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10 Indie 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 and classic films 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.  BLACKTOWER3

ARCHITECTURE AND THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT – documentaries

LONDON (1994)

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.

HACKNEYMARSHES56

EAST ONE  | FROM CABLE STREET TO BRICK LANE (2012)

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.

http://dai.ly/x5h8w0m

LONDON SYMPHONY  (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.

Swandown4-e1365336107998SWANDOWN (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.

LONDON and LONDONERS – dramas

FINISTERRE AND TWILIGHT CITY  (2003)

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.

HIDDEN CITY (1987)

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.

A_Clockwork_Orange_14-e1374489957551

A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (1971)

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.

Underground8-842x1024UNDERGROUND  (1928)

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.

IT ALWAYS RAINS ON SUNDAY (1947)

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

AVAILABLE ON AMAZON.CO.UK | VIMEO | YOUTUBE

7 Neo-Realist masterpieces

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

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

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

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

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

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

NOW AVAILABLE THROUGH CRITERON, EUREKA Masters of Cinema and AMAZON.CO.UK.

 

 

Political Thrillers of the 1970s

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

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

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

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

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

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

Special Section (PG) 

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

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

The Mattei Affair

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

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

The Odessa File  (Prime Video)

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

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

Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (18)

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

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

longfriday_thThe Long Good Friday (on Amazon Prime)

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

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

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

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

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

The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum (15)

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

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

Days of ’36 (12) (Meres tou ’36)

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

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

Illustrious Corpses (PG) (Cadaveri eccellenti)

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

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

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

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

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

The Flight (CTBA) (Die Flucht)

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

North by Northwest (1959)

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

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

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

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

NOW SHOWING ON BBC2

 

BFI London Film Festival 2017 | 4 – 15 October 2017

LONDON has its own film festival showcasing the best of this year’s festival circuit and premiering British films and World premieres that are new or recent to the party

O F F I C I A L   C O M P E T I T I O N

jia-nian-huaThe Official Competition recognised inspiring, inventive and distinctive filmmaking and this year is no different with an outstanding competition line-up:

BPM BEATS PER MINUTE Robin Campillo’s relates his own story of campaigning during the 1980s AIDS crisis in this vivacious, fast-moving docudrama that premiered at Cannes 2017 going on to win the Queer Palm, FIPRESCI and Grand Jury Prize. Starring Adele Haneel and Arnaud Valois

ANGELS WEAR WHITE this poignant story (image above) explores the of plight of young women in contemporary China  told through tiny and vulnerable Wen and her schoolfriend who are led astray in a local hotel. Touching performances and luminous camerawork make this feel like a viable contender for a ‘Cute Noir’ subgenre.

BEYOND THE CLOUDS (World Premiere) The Colour of Paradise director Majid Majidi’s latest, a family drama, is set in Mumbai

THE BREADWINNER (European Premiere) An Afghani girl disguises herself as a boy to experience life as the breadwinner in this delightful animated drama from Irish director Nora Twomey (The Secret of Kells).

GOOD MANNERS this beautifully crafted fantasy drama won the Special Jury Award at Locarno 2017 for its female-centric tale that unfolds in the rich and poor neighbourhoods of Sao Paolo where a pregnant woman and her live-in nanny experience extraordinary events with the arrival of a baby son.  Juliana Rojas, Marco Dutra direct.   Xavier Beauvoi

THE GUARDIANS  Xavier Beauvois leads us to surprising places with his First World War story about the women who are left behind to manage the land (European Premiere)

LEAN ON PETE three interweaving stories follow a boy and his horse in Andrew Haigh affecting but flawed film that won its star Best Newcomer at Venice 2017

lean-on-peteLOVELESS Contemporary Russia is dismally drawn by Andrey Zvyagintsev as a place for the greedy, acquisitive and self-seeking in a tale of divorce and child abuse, winning him the Jury Prize at Cannes 2017

THE LOVERS (European Premiere)  Azazel Jacob casts Debra Winger and Tracy Letts as a long-married couple whose love is put to the test despite the odds.

SWEET COUNTRY – this good-looking Aussie Western is predictably politically correct but eminently enjoyable thanks to its cast of Sam Neill and Bryan Brown who play frontier overlords in the wilds of Alice Springs. Warwick Thornton directs with the style and panache of his previous outings Samson & Delilah an The Turning.

THOROUGHBRED (International Premiere) In Connecticut a friendship is rekindled between two teenagers in Cory Finley’s startling thriller that was the final film for Anton Yelchin.

WAJIB another buzzworthy title from Locarno is this rousing Paletinian family drama from Annemarie Jacir, winning her the Youth Award and the Special Prize at this year’s festival.

F I R S T    F E A T U R E    C O M P E T I T I O N

The Sutherland Award goes to outstanding first features recognising imagination and craft in the making

APOSTASY Daniel Kokotajl shows how, once again, religious beliefs can divide rather than unite in this unsettling story of sisterhood.

IMG_3579AVA – Another hit from this year’s Cannes stars a stunning Noee Abita as a young girl losing her sight but not her will to go on.

BEAST UK filmmaker Michael Pearce explores the ties that bind and those that tempt us away when a woman is forced. to choose between her family and a enticing stranger in their small, remote community.

THE CAKEMAKER is a debut that has already garnered awards since its release earlier this year. Ofir Raul Grazier portrays a journey towards acceptance in this evergreen story of love and its healing and transformative powers.

CARGO Martin Freeman is the star of this post-apocolyptic thriller that combines elements of fantasy and horror as a father tries to save his son the Australian outback.

COLUMBUS strangers find themselves drawn together in Kogonada’s debut comedy romance set in the Indiana city.

I AM NOT A WITCH Rungano Nyoni’s drifting debut as director and writer explores an incident which finds a little girl accused of witchcraft in Lusaka, Zambia.

JEUNE FEMME Paris is far from the city of dreams for a young woman struggling to keep mind and body together when her boyfriend ditches her, in this astonishing debut from Léonor Serraille.

MOST BEAUTIFUL ISLAND Spanish filmmaker Ana Asensio won the Grand Jury Award at SXSW for this extraordinary and chilling tale about a woman who tries to survive her tortured past by means of a dangerous game.

SUMMER 1993 Little Ana joins her uncle and his family in the Catalan countryside but finds it hard to adapt to her new life and get over her mother’s sudden death.

962055WINTER BROTHERS this Icelandic feature (left) combines an atmospheric soundtrack with a terrific sense of place in Hlynur Palmason’s unsettling story of brotherhood in disarray.

THE WOUND John Trengrove’s Berlinale standout slowly generates tension in a male initiation story set in the mountains behind Cape Town.

D O C U M E N T A R Y    C O M P E T I T I O N

The Grierson Award in the Documentary Competition category recognises cinematic documentaries withintegrity, originality, and social or cultural significance. This year the Festival is screening:

BEFORE SUMMER ENDS   Maryam Goormaghtigh | Comedy doc that debuted at ACID, Cannes 2017

BOBBI JENE Elvira Lind | Tribeca Winning story about the competitive world of dance

CHAUKA, PLEASE TELL US THE TIME   Arash Kamali Sarvestani,

THE DEAD NATION Radu Jude | Highly recommended doc about racism in wartime Romania

DISTANT CONSTELLATION  Shevaun Mizrahi’s tenderly comic care home documentary

EX LIBRIS – THE NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY, Fred Wiseman’s exploration of a city and its books

IMG_3618FACES, PLACES,   Agnès Varda, JR | A top hit at Cannes sees Varda go travelling through France with JR

GRAY HOUSE,  Austin Lynch, Matthew Booth | a minimalist portrait of the contempo American malaise

JANE (European Premiere) Brett Morgan looks at the life of chimpanzee expert Jane van Lawick

KINGDOM OF US (World Premiere), Lucy Cohen |

MAKALA, Emmanuel Gras | Congo-set farming story

THE PRINCE OF NOTHINGWOOD, Sonia Kronlund | a film about an Afghan filmmaker

OTHER WORLD PREMIERES/REMASTERS

THE BALLAD OF SHIRLEY COLLINSHERE TO BE HEARD: THE STORY OF THE SLITSARCADIA; ANTONIO LOPEZ 1970: SEX, FASHION & DISCOFAITHFULLGHOST STORIESABRACADABRA; THE CLIMB, THE ISLAND; THE FORGIVENA MOTHER BRINGS HER SON TO BE SHOTDEAD THE ENDSLEK AND THE DOGS; TRIPOLI CANCELLEDA BLEMISHED CODEJOURNEY’S ENDPICKUPS;  THE WHITE GIRLFUNNY COW; JABBERWOCKY; A MOMENT IN THE REEDS;  A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH; ANCHOR AND HOPEGOING WEST; SHIRAZ: A ROMANCE OF INDIADARLING; WRATH OF SILENCE; FRANZ FANON: BLACK SKIN, WHITE MASK 

BFI LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 4 – 15 OCTOBER 2017

 

 

Lift to The Scaffold (1959) l’Ascenseur a l’Echafaud | Jeanne Moreau Tribute

Dir.: Louis Malle | Writers: Louis Malle/Roger Nimier | Novel: Noel Calef | Score: Miles Davis | DoP: Henri Decae | Cast: Jeanne Moreau, Maurice Ronet, Lino Ventura, Georges Poujourly, Yori Bertin | France, 92 min     Drama

Unlike the rest of the Nouvelle Vague directors, Louis Malle was a seasoned documentarian (The Silent World), before he made his first feature Lift to the Scaffold based on a book he just happened to pick up in a station in Paris. In the same way, the film’s narrative relies very much on chance.

Lift_to_the_Scaffold_(1958)_pic_3

The historical connections are pivotal: In 1957 the French Indochina war had ended three years previously, and the Algerian War of Independence was entering its third year. There was, as usual, a great amount of money to be made from wars, and arms-dealing was a major factor in the French economy. Both the perpetrator Julien Tavernier (Maurice Ronet/Plein Soleil) and his victim and boss Simon Carala knew each other from their time in the army. Both men have a shady past and an unscrupulous present. Meanwhile Carala runs an outfit that is not altogether straightforward, underlined in a conversation between the men before tragedy strikes.

But the is Jeanne Moreau’s film.  As Florence Carala, and Tavernier’s mistress she really believes in the passion behind the crime passionelle, whispering into her lover’s ear: “We will be free, it has to be” before Julien enters the company premises, giving himself a perfect alibi, before committing his crime. Passing it all off as a suicide, Tavernier forgets a vital element. He goes back into the building but is caught in the lift on his way down.

Lift_to_the_Scaffold_1 copy

Florence spends the whole night wandering through the streets of Paris, intoxicated by despair before her arrest as a prostitute; a second, much younger couple enters the scene: Veronique (Bertin) works in flower shop, and her immature boyfriend Louis (Poujourly) who epitomises the Nouvelle Vague antihero: young, feckless, aimlessly sliding into criminality with his poor choices. While Tavernier is stuck in the lift, he steals his car and sets out with Veronique to a motel in nearby Normandy, where they meet a middle-aged German couple.

After a champagne-fuelled evening, Louis shoots the husband dead, stealing his Mercedes to return to Paris where the two “commit” suicide with sleeping pills. But the romantic gesture leads only to a few hours sleep before Florence turns up, having tracked them down in an attempt to clear Tavernier’s name.

Henry Decae’s grainy black and white photography is understated and hauntingly impressionistic evoking the forthcoming doom.

Merc

When Florence drifts aimlessly through the Paris night, he puts the camera into a pram and follows her from the ground upwards. His ‘Paris’ must have been the Godard’s inspiration for Alphaville. Tavernier’s ‘prison’ in the lift is rendered with shades of Bresson. And in the way Decae pictures the stylish cars he makes it obvious why they are the phallic extensions for men: cleaning capsules of desire, ready to transport away from reality. Miles Davis music score is the most resonant part of this melancholic film – it underscores the loneliness of the two women, and the macho materialism of the males. And to top it all, there is Lino Ventura’s detective, calculating, heartless – an extreme misogynist, who loves trapping people, using modern technology with sadistic glee.

What sets out as a love story with a murder, ends in a bloodbath and a trible murder, shattering illusions, and leaving us with regret. The portrait of a lonely place, where immature men hold sway, and women follow simperingly in their wake, with no place to go in this cruel and hapless Brave, New World.

NOW ON BFIPLAYER

 

 

The Mummy: Gothic Cinema and the Expressionist Stage

Gothic Cinema and the Expressionist Stage 

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

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

The_Cabinet_of_Dr_Caligari_3 copy

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

Golem 1 copy

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


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

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

Nosferatu_(F.W._Murnau)_2 copy

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

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

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

The_Cabinet_of_Dr_Caligari_1 copy

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

All About Almodóvar | Mubi

A retrospective on MUBI looks back at the work and influences of Pedro Almodóvar and forward to his most recent work. 

 

Visionary filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar’s – now in his seventies – is showing no signs of slowing down. Pain and Glory his latest – an intensely personal film – took Best Actor at Cannes 2019 for its star Antonio Banderas, but the Oscar-winning auteur has never yet won the Palme d’Or, ironic considering most of the films are European arthouse in nature, including his Hitchcockian 2016 outing Julieta.

Last Summer’s Venice festival premiered his impressive short film The Human Voice that starred Tilda Swinton in Jean Cocteau’s one-act, one-hander, 2021 will see the release of a full length drama Madres Paralelas a that follows two mothers who give birth on the same day. And Almodovar is already working on the next one based on a novel by Spanish co-writer Lucia Berlin (A Manual for Cleaning Ladies) that will hopefully screen next year.

Inventive and always surprising his work melds comedy with the intensely personal and the mood is generally upbeat. One of his most outrageous films to date  I’m So Excited  was a random comedy but one that was well received by his Spanish audiences and proved that even his more forgettable films have wacky and watchable appeal.

Pedro AlmodovarAlthough, in common with Aki Kaurismäki, Almodóvar is one of the few auteurs never to have won the coveted Cannes main trophy, he is considered amongst many cinephiles as the most accomplished and triumphant Spanish filmmaker of all time. However this illustrious director is still to make an English language film or be tempted by the allure of Hollywood – and yet his work continues to be admired and adored across the globe. So what is it about this remarkable artist that has such worldwide appeal?

Although producing an eclectic range of films, there is something instantly recognisable about Almodóvar’s work, with his unique blend of comedy and melodrama. A consistent, and certainly universal, theme within his pictures is that of sex, as he explores every taboo related to the subject, with sexual identity a consistent issue within his films, expressed provocatively in the likes of All About My Mother, Bad Education and The Skin I Live In. However where Almodóvar stands out, is within his ability to tackle these sensitive subjects in such a surrealistic way, introducing humour into the most complex situations, and vibrantly portraying humanity with all its foibles.

Much of the reason why Almodóvar’s work is so well-received worldwide, is due to his unashamed appreciation of Hollywood, with a brazen-faced admiration of classic cinema, conspicuously referencing films such as All About Eve, A Streetcar Named Desire and Frankenstein. Almodóvar is a storyteller first and foremost, who thrives on the tense nuances inspired by one of his heroes, Alfred Hitchcock, as well as the intertwining romantic narratives and eccentric plot-points, which are certainly a nod in the direction of Woody Allen.

That said, the one divine guidance upon his work is a home-grown talent, as he is evidently influenced by Luis Buñel. He unapologetically references the father of cinematic surrealism in his movies, remaining faithful to his Spanish roots and heritage. In his more recent films Almodóvar has also taken to referencing his own work– with a parody of Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown performed in Broken Embraces.

Almodóvar always manages to bring popular Spanish culture into his productions – even within his latest feature he touches upon the current economic crisis. He isn’t afraid to explore the political implications of the authoritarian dictatorship of Franco either, nor Catholic religious schooling in Bad Education, whilst bullfighting is explored in great depth in both Matador and Talk to Her, being both beatified and vilified in equal measure. As such, Almodóvar has changed our very own perceptions of Spain as a nation; his features are unreservedly intertwined with his homeland, making it impossible to detach ourselves from his unique representation of the country.

Another factor in Almodóvar’s appeal is his incomparable portrayal of women, as they are always shown to be the more powerful of the sexes. The female characters are not only strong-willed, but fervently idolised by their male counterparts, to a quite disturbing extent in films such as Talk to Her or Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! Though his lead roles tend to be disturbed and dark, he somehow manages to humanise them, allowing the audience to empathise with our protagonists, despite them frequently being sexual deviants, rapists and kidnappers. Here is an example of a filmmaker who is approaching cinema as an art first, and an industry second.

There is just something about Pedro Almodóvar. His original, innovative approach to film-making remains unsurpassed, and his immense ability in finding solace and humour within the darker sides of the human brain is miraculous. He will forever continue to apply his twisted, whimsical style to these universal themes, maintaining this definable, idiosyncratic approach which has lasted from the very start of his career until the present day.

Whether he makes the move to Hollywood one day is ultimately a futile question, as regardless of where this director plies his trade, his films will continue to involve and inspire audiences, as a good story is a good story in any language, and here is a director who is majestic at telling them, finding a common ground in the most unlikely of places.

MATADOR  ***

Pedro Almodóvar had once admitted that he considers Matador to be one of his weaker films, and regrettably this surreal allegory of sex and death makes such a statement somewhat easy to agree with.

We delve into the lives of a trio of damaged individuals, where a thin line exists between murder and sexual desire, as a provocative black comedy that explores the darker side of the human mind, with a young Antonio Banderas standing out.

Matador is full of the symbolism and idiosyncrasies that define Almodóvar’s work. Ultimately quite fatuous, this struggles in its tedious story and lack of depth to characters. An early Almodóvar production that ensures it’s only uphill from here on.

WOMEN ON THE VERGE OF A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN  ****

The film that made Almodóvar, and you can see why. An ingenious and fanciful farce that signals the filmmakers move towards the whimsical melodrama of which he has since become renowned.

When Pepa (Carmen Maura) is left by her lover, she confronts his son and partner seeking answers, a matter made complicated with the arrival of her fugitive companion, all taking place in her apartment across one fateful day.

Hitchcockian in parts, Woody Allen in others, this flamboyant and elaborate comedy is surrealistic, detracting from the severity of the distress felt by our protagonists, as a film that cements Almodóvar’s status as one of the most important and promising filmmakers in world cinema – a promise very much fulfilled.

TIE ME UP TIE ME DOWN!  ***

With pointers from Martin Scorsese, influenced by the likes of The King of Comedy and Taxi Driver, this dark and disturbing thriller manages to retain a sweet and somewhat touching sentiment, taking characters you shouldn’t approve of and endears you to them. This is Almodóvar doing rom-com. Sort of.

Ricky (Antonio Banderas), is a deranged opportunist who kidnaps a porn-star and ties her up, not allowing her freedom until she agrees to marry him. Banderas is outstanding, in a tense and beguiling feature that keeps you captivated throughout.

You could be offended by this offering given the questionable sexual politics in one of Almodóvar’s most divisive works – but it all depends on how earnestly you view it.

LIVE FLESH  ***

Almodóvar has received eight nominations for Best Film not in the English Language at the BAFTAs, and Live Flesh – a less celebrated title by the notorious filmmaker, is one of them – exploring the intertwining relationships between five ardent, passionate and proud lovers.

We follow an ex-convict who is determined to make amends with a former fling and prove himself as the world’s greatest love maker, with a supporting Javier Bardem stealing the show.

Conflicting with the tragic themes comes an optimistic political undercurrent, playing against the rejuvenation of Spain following the dictatorship of Francisco Franco. Live Flesh is also witty, allowing for any grave situation to be viewed upon as chic and frivolous, deserving of its BAFTA recognition.

ALL ABOUT MY MOTHER  ****

Almodóvar’s most iconic piece of work, unapologetically influenced by classic Hollywood productions such as All About Eve and A Streetcar Named Desire, while always feeling innovative, with that Almodóvar spirit stamped all over it.

When a distressed mother (Cecilia Roth) loses her son in a car accident, she attempts to track down his father, who has since changed his identity to that of a woman. Combining comedy and tragedy expertly, All About My Mother is intimately moving, despite the exuberant, melodramatic setting.

Every lead is a strong female character – so dominant that even the male protagonists are transvestites. Sexual identity is an important factor in this, dealing with severe themes such existentialism and homosexuality in true Almodóvar fashion.

TALK TO HER  *****

Talk to Her is Almodóvar’s one true masterpiece, as an outstanding drama that is beautifully touching, blended majestically with a dark, harrowing edge.

Epitomised in lead character Marco (Darío Grandinetti), in touch with his emotions and cries consistently – he falls for a bullfighter who is admitted into a coma, where they meet nurse Benigno (Javier Cámara), who has an unhealthy adoration for a patient.

Spanish culture is magnified, beautified and scrutinised in one film – intriguingly witnessed through the eyes of an Argentine, in what is a delicately crafted, unassuming slice of cinema. This is Almodóvar’s most accomplished piece, following a narrative that doesn’t deviate too far from realism, unlike what we have grown accustomed to with his work.

BAD EDUCATION  ****

A fascinating look into how our past can affect our future – particularly in the wake of the Franco era, and the implications his reign has had on Spain and those who have lived through it.

Gael García Bernal plays a man (and woman) who returns to a childhood sweetheart turned filmmaker, to present a screenplay he has written about the sexual abuse they suffered at the hands of priests at their all boys school.

A lurid melodrama combined masterfully with a murder thriller narrative running through the heart of it, Almodóvar leads you down one path before heading down another. The intense themes are contained within a grandiose setup that allows us to explore such issues while avoiding morbidity.

VOLVER ****

After Bad Education and Talk to Her, Almodóvar returns to a female orientated cast, with Penélope Cruz turning in a career defining performance that earned her a much deserved Oscar nomination.

She plays Raimunda, a single mother who returns back home to visit her mother’s grave, only to be told by her auntie that the deceased woman is still alive. Volver is an archetypal crime thriller, well, by Almodóvar’s standards.

The filmmaker comes into his element, with a riveting story that is full of the nuances of the thriller genre, yet combined with his typically theatrical and darkly comic edge. Also working as a hypothetical fantasy, anyone who has ever lost someone can find solace in this absorbing production.

BROKEN EMBRACES  ***

You’d be forgiven for admitting to this one passing you by, as although earning a BAFTA nomination, Broken Embraces has been overlooked somewhat. A surprise given this tells a gripping story, with an engrossing lead performance from Lluís Homar.

He plays Harry Caine, a blind writer who is reluctantly transported back to his past with the arrival of an aspiring filmmaker, coming to him with the idea for a screenplay, yet one that stirs up old memories – recalling the twisted love triangle surrounding the beautiful actress Lena (Penélope Cruz).

Without a palpable wit, Broken Embraces is a more conventional, narrative driven piece, blending together a series of interlinking characters and erotic tales, through a vibrant and glorious aesthetic.

THE SKIN I LIVE IN  ****

Following on from two somewhat conventional thrillers in Volver and Broken Embraces, anyone anticipating a shift in style from Almodóvar – with Hollywood lingering at the back of the mind – were soon put right, as he returns to his dark and disturbing ways with his most deranged picture since Matador.

A self-described horror story, we delve into the twisted world of a plastic surgeon (Antonio Banderas), who creates a synthetic skin that can withstand any burns, using the imprisoned Vera (Elena Anaya) as his guinea pig.

Helped along by a haunting Hitchcockian score, The Skin I Live In is one of Almodóvar’s most erotically intense works, as a psychosexual thriller that sees Banderas put in his finest career performance. SP

PEDRO ALMODOVAR RETROSPECTIVE series now on MUBI 

 

 

 

Rossellini and the War Trilogy

Rossellini’s War – an exploration of a 20th century war trilogy by Alan Price

Rome,_Open_City_pic_7 copy

There are very few war trilogies that dramatise and document a nation’s history throughout the significant stages of a war. The most famous is probably Andrej Wajda’s trilogy: A Generation, Kanal and Ashes and Diamonds chronicling Poland’s occupation. The least well known trilogy is Rossellini’s early fascist war achievement: The White Ship, A Pilot Returns and The Man with the Cross, all set in Italy. For the British we have the Humphrey Jennings’s documentaries, Fires were Started, Listen to Britain and Diary for Timothy. Although not officially regarded as a trilogy, it is possible to make out interesting thematic links. As for the American cinema, Lewis Milestone’s All Quiet on the Western Front, A Walk in the Sun and Pork Chop Hill have been lumped together but they are set in different wars and countries, Germany in WW1, Italy in WW2 and Korea.

When it comes to Rossellini’s Rome, Open City, Paisà and Germany Year Zero; we have two films that deal with Italian Fascism and Nazism’s effects on Italian society plus a third film about the civilian population of post-war Germany. So does the description trilogy really apply here too? Maybe not as a comprehensive war history for the Italians but, perhaps more interestingly, how Rossellini – having established neo-realism along with other hybrid elements – allowed himself to question this label and depart from an obvious neo-realist agenda. The term neo-realist is often misleadingly applied to Rossellini’s films of the 1940s. Certainly his films are very real, acutely placed on the streets and vibrate with his mix of professional actors and ordinary people. Yet consider his style of neo-realism. It embraces moments of Expressionism, heightened naturalism, Brechtian theatricality and an anguished challenge replete with spiritual yearning and existential doubt.

Rome,_Open_City_pic_3 copy

Certain critics of Rossellini once complained that his neo-realist principles were betrayed in Germany Year Zero (1949) and abandoned thereafter. And that Rossellini, the serious filmmaker, was diminished. Surely this criticism can be compared to the early sixties view that Bob Dylan’s renouncing of folk music was an artistic mistake. Did Bob  Dylan ever completely abandon folk: he was always far bigger than just a folk singer. Whilst Rossellini (even more than De Sica) was seen as the godfather of a ‘pure’neo-realism and was, until quite recently, never forgiven for supposedly abandoning his principles, so much of Rome Open City (1945) has a vivid documentary realism, especially in the famous sequence where fascists raid a block of flats as they search for resistance fighters. The photography, editing and camerawork, despite Rossellini’s poor film stock and equipment are very impressive. Later films like The Battle of Algiers (1965) or even Gomorrah (2008) owe much to Rossellini’s staging.

Rome

Yet even the verisimilitude of Rome, Open City is punctured by absurdist comedy. The resistance worker priest, played by Aldo Fabrizi, pretends to reside over the last rites of an old man who is not dying at all. He has been knocked unconscious from a blow to his head by a pan. The soldiers arrive just before weapons have been hid under the man’s bed. After this ‘comic relief’ Rossellini presents us with the tragic death of Pina (Anna Magnani). She is shot running after the truck carrying her lover Francesco (Francesco Grandjacquet). The arbitrary nature of her killing is one of the most iconic depictions of death in cinema history. It is a civilian death amidst the ‘fog of war’ and is heartbreaking. Of course this is quintessential neo-realism. Yet Pina’s death is not only juxtaposed between the humorous (almost Hollywood) business with the priest, but followed by a female informer having a lesbian relationship with an older German woman – this could be seen as a reaction against the middle-class, escapist “white telephone films” of the thirties – and the horrific torture of resistance worker Manfredi (Marcello Pagliero). The later is a scene that is aesthetically in the manner of a Renaissance painting of a crucified Christ. Not forgetting other elements of melodrama that propel the film, Rome, Open City is a hybrid of styles departing from its neo-realist base.

images-1A great disruption of narrative is present in Paisà (1946), most noticeably in its second act: A drunk, black American GI (Joe from Jersey) tries to communicate with a young Italian boy but neither can speak each others’ language. Staged in an almost Brechtian manner; Joe, seated on a pile of rubble, bemoans his lot in the army. Gradually sobering up he says, “I don’t want to go home. Home’s a shack.” and then falls asleep. The young boy steals the GI’s boots. The next day, Joe discovers the boy and forces him back home in order to retrieve his boots. Home turns out to be a desolate network of caves where families are living in dire poverty. Feeling both guilty about war’s destruction and also empathetic – his shack and their caves will still be around a long time after the war –  the GI forgets his shoes, gets back into his jeep and drives away. Such narrative abruptness continues throughout Paisà up to the film’s climax on the River Po, where the resistance fight it out with the German army.

miracolo-a-milano-1951

Rossellini is a master at directing the physical displacement of individuals and the movement of crowds in wartime. Yet his raw, disconcerting documentary-like and awkward breakage of action in Paisà isn’t simply adhering to some neo-realist manifesto for filmmakers, but continues as a prominent force in Rossellini’s post war films with Ingrid Bergman. Here in his controversial film Stromboli, Ingrid Bergman’s flight from the intolerable conditions of the island of Stromboli creates another form of rupture. Her spiritual breakdown asks for some sort of belief in order for her to continue living. Rossellini’s next film Europa 51 sees Bergman depicted as a quasi-martyr/saint/Christ like figure who is adored by a neo-realist crowd of poor people that might have strayed out of De Sica’s Miracle in Milan.(right) 

Film_499w_GermanyYearZero_original

Germany Year Zero (left), the final film of his rough trilogy, is set in post-war Berlin as the city’s population attempts to survive the cities economic and material destruction. At the time his audience and critics were upset and confounded as to why Rossellini had shifted focus to the fate of the former enemy. This was certainly a bold and controversial thing to do. An interesting comparison to make would be with D.W.Griffith’s film Isn’t Life Wonderful (1924, depicting the homelessness and ration queues of Germany after their defeat in WW1). Yet Germany Year Zero’s harsh neo- realism masks a darker psychological tragedy. The devastated cityscape of Berlin has a bleak and often surreal nightmarish look. The film depicts the reality of survival: selling a gramophone record of Hitler’s speeches to British soldiers, an old man goes into hospital to receive more food than can be provided at home, and the slaughtering of a horse by crowd desperate to eat. Yet the film’s most disturbing story is the physical death of a child, alongside of the spiritual death of a boy denied a proper childhood.

imagesThirteen year old boy Edmund (Edmund Meschke) is placed under extreme pressure by his bartering for goods on the black market. He’s an innocent child turned into a hunter/scavenger enduring the impositions and demands of his family and neighbours to supply their needs. The child has become an unwilling ‘father to the man’ in a world where a new man or woman, untainted by Nazism, has not yet been born. Edmund is covertly persuaded by an ex Nazi school teacher and pederast that the weak most perish and the strong survive. At this point the film makes an audacious departure from neo-realism. Without resorting to crude melodrama, Rossellini shows Edmund poisoning his father. Patricide as a release from the burden of care and the strengthening of the family is hardly a prominent concern of neo-realism.

The last twenty minutes of Germany Year Zero (1948) features some of the most sublime scenes ever committed to film. Edmund wanders the ruined streets to his death. His suicide is a devastating critique of a morally bankrupt society. The real poison is not the one he has given to his father (that act is bad enough) but the taint of an ideology that cannot yet allow its children to live as normal children (There are scenes of groups of children conniving on the black market or about to be sexually abused).

images-2Rossellini does not give us a political Marxist analysis of Edmund’s fate. His death is oddly serene (in tone very like the death of the peasant girl Mouchette in Bresson’s Mouchette). Edmund’s suicide is a terrible act of despair, yet not totally bleak, for there’s a hint of spiritual renewal for others after Edmund as a woman in the street holds the boy’s dead body in a religious manner.

The subject of Rossellini’s War Trilogy is certainly War. Yet Rossellini: the Known and Invisible Consequences of War (cumbersome though that sounds) might be a more apt description. How can fighters and civilians move intelligibly through the chaos of war; can the bringing of peace mean authentic renewal? Germany Year Zero, the most disturbing of these three masterpieces, poses that question.

ROME, OPEN CITY is screening at the BFI on 29 January 2022 | introduced by Dr Julia Wagner | Also on BFI Player

 

Four Austrian Films

 

Austrian cinema comes in all shapes and sizes from arthouse to mainstream, documentaries and features covering all the genres, and the success continues

2014 was a stellar year setting a new record for Austrian Film in all the main international festivals: Cannes, Berlin, Venice, Sundance and Toronto showed award-winning titles for Ulrich Seidl (Paradise:Faith); Jessica Hausner (Amour Fou); Hubert Sauper (We Come As Friends); Sudabeh Mortezei (Macondo); Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala (Goodnight Mommy) amongst others. 2015 is still coming up trumps although there will be no outings from Michael Haneke and Ulrich Seidl, the best known boys on the Austrian block.

Goodnight_Mommy_3GOODNIGHT MOMMY (2014) |Director: Veronika Franz/Severin Fiala| Cast: Elias Schwarz, Lukas Schwarz, Susanne Wuest | 99min | Austria

The Austrians are very good at taking ordinary life and turning into horror at Venice this year. In the same vein as Michael Haneke’s FUNNY GAMES (1997), Ulrich Seidl’s (Im Keller) wife and collaborator, Veronika Franz, makes her debut with a vicious and expertly-crafted arthouse piece, set in a slick modern house buried in the Austrian countryside.

In the heat of summer, nine-year-old Elias is enjoying the school hols with his twin brother Lukas. They appear normal boys: swimming, exploring the woods, and keeping giant cockroaches as pets. But in the pristine lakeside home, their TV exec mother has made some draconian changes. Recovering from facial surgery and bandaged up literally like a ‘mummy’, she has banned all friends from visiting the house while her recuperation takes place in total privacy. Nothing wrong with that, but the boys misinterpret her behaviour as a sinister sign and start to wonder whether this is really their mother. The more they question her for re-assurance, the more fractious and distant she becomes. Reacting against her instinctively, they become convinced that she is not their mother but a strange intruder, and decide to take control of the situation.

Franz and Fiala create an atmosphere of mounting suspense with clever editing, minimal dialogue and the use of innocent images that appear more sinister and unsettling when taken out of context. Martin Gschlacht’s cinematography switches between lush landscapes, sterile interiors and suggestive modern art to inculcate a sense of bewilderment and unease. Susanne Wuest is perfectly cast as the icy, skeletal blond matriarch with menace and the innocent boys transformed into everyday low-level psychopaths due to the lack of early maternal love or support, bring to mind those creepy kids from The Innocents, or even Cronenburg’s The Brood. A very clever film which contrasts images of revulsion with those of serene beauty. MT

SuperweltSUPERWELT | Director/Writer: Karl Markovics |Cast: Ulrike Beimpold, Nikolai Gemel, Thomas Mraz, Anglelika Strathser | 90mins Austrian Fantasy Drama Sci-fi

Best known for his performance in THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL, Austrian actor turned writer-director Karl Markovics attempts poetic realism in his quirky second feature, a follow up to the award-winning drama BREATHING.

It has Ulrike Beimpold (The Wall) as a buxom blond suburban housewife who develops an unusual relationship with God. Wittily scripted and visually slick and inventive, SUPERWELT loses its momentum after an amusing and watchable start.

Gabi (Ulrike Beimpold) is happy in her work as a supermarket cashier and runs a tight household for her pot-bellied husband Hannes (Rainer Woss) and screen-based son Ronnie (Nikolai Gemel) in the leafy provincial town of Bruck, surrounded by golden cornfields and wind farms. But life is too good to be true and one day, out of nowhere, she is visited by an invisible and magical force, not similar to that in THE WALL, that rocks her ordinary world, sending her completely off balance emotionally and scampering into the fields, like the demented victim of some kind of religious fanaticism.

Beimpold is exultant as Gabi, her facial expression is off vacant gives a finely judged performance, her face vacant and anxious, but never overplaying Gabi’s beatific bafflement. A cartoonish chorus of minor characters, from intrusive neighbors to fainting Jehovah’s Witnesses, provide plenty of agreeable levity.
But Markovics proves more adept at setting up his divine dramatic puzzle than he does at resolving it. His script runs short on lucidity and momentum in its second half as Gabi wanders the sunlit Austrian landscape, increasingly angry with a Supreme Being she never summoned in the first place. Her spiritual epiphany ends up as a kind of extreme form of relationship therapy, exposing the hidden faultlines in her marriage. “How often have you been happy?” she asks Hannes bitterly. “How did we settle for so little?”
Markovics remains frustratingly opaque about the theological aspects of his story, and some may find the finale a fuzzy-headed anticlimax. All the same, SUPERWELT is consistently sweet and engaging, a warm-hearted celebration of minor earthly miracles as much as the more heavenly kind. MT

Vampire 1 copyTHERAPY FOR A VAMPIRE

Austrian auteur David Ruhm adds a stylish and witty contribution to the blood-bloated canon of the Vampire genre here with a Freudian-themed thirties pastiche THERAPY FOR A VAMPIRE.

In his Viennese consulting rooms in 1911, Dr Sigmund Freud (Karl Fischer) is conducting an early experiment using Art Therapy to explore his patients’ dreams. Naturally, given the title, one of his most illustrious patients is experiencing some challenging ‘issues’. Count Geza von Közsnöm (Tobias Moretti) is suffering from a generalised ennui: having lived for thousands of years, he’s simply tired of life and the sex with his wife, the strikingly sultry Gräffin Elsa (Jeanette Hain) has simply lost its bite. He is also haunted by the premature death, centuries earlier, of his true love, Nabila. When he sees a portrait of a woman painted by Viktor (Dominic Oley), Freud’s inhouse artist, he is struck by a mysterious ‘deja-vu’ between the subject of the painting, Lucy (Viktor’s girlfriend played by Cornelia Ivancan), and his own long lost lover.

Back in their bijoux castle in the wooded suburbs of Vienna, Count Geza enthuses over Viktor’s artistic skills to the emotionally needy and narcissistic Graffin Elsa, who is having serious problems with her image. Unable to see herself in a mirror, she implores Count to commission Viktor to paint her portrait.

Rühm has crafted two very appealing vampires here, who are not only stylish and drôle but also have lost none of their dark weirdness, in echoes of Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston in Only Lovers Left Alive, although this is a far more stylised drama. Drinking blood from transfusions they are able to define the exact profile of their victims – young Virgin, aged Diabetic – and so on – without the inconvenience and mess of blood spurts and uncontrollable haemorrhaging on their beautifully hand-tailored attire. They are endowed with all the traditional Vampire capabilities of bestial transformation, they quail away from crosses, garlic and wooden stakes but they also embody the more playful attributes of irony and self-parody as seen in The Munsters. But it is their obsession with counting objects that is their final downfall.

Beautifully-crafted and sumptuously staged, the success of Rühm’s Gothic horror piece lies in this combination of sinister weirdness and seriously dark humour, and there are some unexpected quirky laugh out loud moments that make this really entertaining. And although it never fully explores the Freudian premise, it pays homage to the legendary therapist in its themes of unrequited love, vanity and sexual obsession. Performances are consistently good: the two female leads are far from pliant, adding a foxy feminist streak to their Gothic horror credentials. Viktor is sensitive and appealing and Count Geza sneeringly wicked and elegantly masculine. MT

Der Letzte Sommer der Reichen copyTHE LAST SUMMER OF THE RICH

Best known for his appearance in Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Despair, Peter Kern came to Berlin this year with his cultish portrait of Austria’s sexually depraved yet privileged jet-set. Styled as a darkly humorous retro LGBT outing, it features nuns and high society louches lesbians, all dressed up in fetish rubberwear. Despite its low-budget credentials, Peter Roehsler’s stylish visuals transform this into a slick story that will leave you with resounding cultural echoes of a bygone era with its lingering echoes of Helmut Newton.

Amira Casar stars as Hanna von Stezewitz  high class intern-abusing financier by day and leatherette lounge-lizard by night. Initially reluctant to care for her Nazi grandfather (Heinz Trixner) she selfishly rises to the occasion when his carer turns out to be an attractive young nun Sarah (Nicole Gerdon) and an unlikely romance blossoms that softens Hanna’s vituperative sadism, although it is too late for redemption. Despite a clunky script and some tonal unevenness where Kern is unclear about whether he is making a caustic 70s satire or is genuinely buys into his Fassbinder-style narrative. THE LAST SUMMER OF THE RICH is a deliciously indulgent throwback to the soft porn decadence of the seventies. MT

REVIEWED AT VENICE, EDINBURGH, BERLIN AND CANNES FILM FESTIVALS  

 

 

 

Krzysztof Kieslowski | Interview | Three Colours Trilogy

Andre Simonoveiscz met Krzysztof Kieslowski back in 1994 and spoke to him about his ideas surrounding the trilogy.

Very few directors are anything like the main characters in their films: more than often they are just the opposite in style and appearance. But Krzysztof Kieslowski, whom I met at the 1994 Cannes Film Festival, where the last part of his trilogy THREE COLOURS RED (1994) was in competition, was exactly like his films, at least his last four, including THE DOUBLE LIFE OF VERONIQUE (1991). He was sophisticated, subtle, moralistic without being judgemental, detail obsessed, reserved to the point of shyness and a little evasive when it came to pragmatic questions about everyday life or anything that could be construed as political or ideological. It was very difficult to imagine this being the same man who worked for a long time as a documentary filmmaker in Poland, where he was greatly influenced by Wajda’s realistic style. After studying at the famous Lodz film school (where he was finally accepted after two rejections) he embarked on a series of documentaries but had to be pushed into making feature films.

543-1233159331-3978

In his DEKALOG (1989/90) films, the last one of which was shot in Poland, Krzysztof Kieslowski had already started to take the position of the observer, letting the narrative develop without any psychological motivations – as just the fly on the wall. “I am only interested in humans, but not in motives, it is not our good intentions which are important, but the most stupid accidents that are interesting.”

In THREE COLOURS, the characters are literally overwhelmed by the aesthetics. The trilogy explores the virtues symbolised by the French Flag: Liberty, Equality and Fraternity – the  trio of stories is also about love and loss and defined the art-house movement of the nineties with their cinematic quality and emblematic humanity that ranged from tragedy through to comedy. The trilogy follows the experiences of a group of loosely interconnected characters the trilogy garnered an impressive array of awards at the major European film festival winning the GOLDEN and SILVER BEARS at Berlin and the GOLDEN LION at Venice culminating in three Academy Award nominations.

Juliet Binoche plays Julie in THREE COLOURS: BLUE losing her famous composer husband and little daughter in a car accident at the beginning of the film (the ball popping out of the car wreck is three coloured: red, blue and white). Later on in the Palais de Justice in Paris, she accidentally drops into a divorce hearing of a Polish/French couple: Karol and Dominique, who we will meet in THREE COLOURS WHITE (1994).

Kieslowski’s obsession with the smallest details is shown in the scene when Olivier (her husband’s assistant, who is in love with her) finally tracks down Julie who ignores him as she toys with her coffee, allowing the sugar cube to soak up the liquid. Deciding that the sugar cube would take precisely five seconds to soak up the liquid, Kieslowski had his assistant director test multiple brands to find one that took exactly the right time.

Julie then abandons all her worldly possessions eventually giving them to her husband’s mistress and unborn child, in an act of profound selflessness – because of the housing crisis at the time. I asked Kieslowski if this generosity seemed bizarre in the scheme of things, he was adamant. “Look, today we are all more or less on the same level, if we need a dentist, we can usually get one, everybody has enough”.

540-1232985341-3978

In THREE COLOURS: WHITE. Karol and Dominique are a married couple in Paris, but Karol has become impotent – the pressure of being with his beautiful and rich wife being too much for him. He re-emigrates to Poland, where he makes a fortune on the black market, invites Dominque to see him, fakes his own death for which she is, as intended, convicted, but falls in love again when visiting her in prison. WHITE, so Kieslowski says, “shows, that there is no possibility of equality ever. But there is a possibility of ‘brotherhood’, which is shown in the final segment of the trilogy THREE COLOURS: RED.

Three Colour Red 2D Blu-ray copy

Fashion model Valentine (Irene Jacob) rescues a dog belonging to a judge (Jean Louis Trintignant), who strangely shows no emotion on being reunited with his pet. He is a man with few close ties although he eavesdrops on neighbours’ and strangers’ conversations. But Valentine somehow manages to get through the armour the judge has built around himself. And the equality here? Well, all the main participants of the trilogy get together, unknown to each other, on an English ferry, which sinks. Only seven are rescued. Needless to say Kieslowski warned not to give away the ending in an atypically pragmatic way: “Don’t tell how the films end. Then nobody will buy a ticket!”

543-1233159314-3978

When asked if the three colours red, white and blue refer to the Freedom, Equality and brotherhood, the ideals of the French revolution, Kieslowski is rather dismissive: “The money for these films came from France, so we thought about the colours of the Tricolore, and the ides of the revolution, for which many people fought and died. But we were very naïve because we imagined the French would still abide by these ideals, like Poles with the Eagle and the blood. But this was not the case. Had money come from Germany, we would have constructed a black-red-gold metaphor.”

Kieslowski is well-known for his meticulous, painstaking hours spend in the editing suite. Asked why, he answered “This is my favourite phase of the filming process. Only whilst editing do I have everything under total control.” Asked if he had difficulty eliminating footage to produce the end film he says “I am trying to take more and more away, so that in the end only the really core of the action is left. But one always thinks that the last version is the best, but if you try again maybe?…” He tried, once, to have 17 different versions of THE DOUBLE LIFE OF VERONIQUE distributed in Paris cinemas – the producer did not take gladly to this idea. Surprising really.

THE THREE COLOURS TRILOGY IS NOW ON NETFLIX

 

 

 

Copyright © 2022 Filmuforia