Posts Tagged ‘Viennale’

La Sagrada Familia (2005) Viennale 2023

Wri/Dir: Sebastian Lelio | Cast: Nestor Cantillana, Marco Hernandez, Patricia Lopez, Coca Guazzini, Macarena Teka | Chile, Drama 99’ 2005

Sebastian Lelio’s first film La Sagrada Familia has nothing to do with the cathedral in Barcelona, – a provocative social experiment – it unfolds thousands of miles away in his native Chile, and plays on the passion of Eastertide and its inherent conflicts.

A group of actors were given a script and a beach house to live in for a week on location. The plot focuses on a couple of architects, their grown up son and his girlfriend. What follows is an ingeniously plotted family tragedy complete with resolution, but the process is left open for the actors to improvise bringing their own ideas and interpretation to the table.

An awkward subplot doesn’t quite ring true but serves to counterbalance the central story seen through intimate close-up and widescreen handheld camerawork and picturing Chile’s wild Pacific coastline near the capital Santiago.

Marco (Nestor Cantillana) has always had a competitive relationship with his father (Sergio Hernandez). When his mother goes away for a few days over the Easter holidays leaving the father with Marco with his bohemian girlfriend Sofia (Patricia Lopez), an erotic scenario develops between the three of them in this tension-fuelled constructed reality. MT


Three Sad Tigers (1968) Raul Ruiz Retrospective Viennale 2023

Raúl Ruiz | Drama, Chile 100′

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

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

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



Snow Leopard (2023)

Dir/scr. Pema Tseden. China. 2023. 109mins

The snow leopard is a first-class protected animal in its native Tibet but it represents different things to the local people. 

Pema Tseden, the pioneering founder of Tibetan cinema who died in May at the age of 53, rose to the international stage with his 2019 feature Balloon. With a unique cinematic vision Tseden shows how someTibetans see this legendary leopard as a vicious threat, others a mythical being.

The sharp contrasts between tradition and the present day come to life in a striking story that centres on a family disagreement in the frosty wastelands where the rare beast roams as an increasingly endangered species.

Sheep herder Jinpa and his father are caught in a bitter conflict. Jinpa wants to kill a leopard that has run riot through his sheep enclosure killing nine of his frightened herd, but his father (Losang Choepel) feels this sacred animal should to be set free. 

All this is recorded by a film crew who arrives from Qinghai province in northwest China keen on collecting newsworthy local stories. Lead reporter Dradul (Genden Phuntsok) has been tipped off by the herder’s brother, Nyima (Tseten Tashi), a monk, and the TV journalist is delighted when the situation takes on a ludicrous angle as the conflict deepens

The enraged Jinpa will only back down if he gets compensation from the government. But this entails the endorsement of a government inspector who will have to travel all the way from the administrative capital. So the crew and family hunker down in the cosy yurt for a raucous night of high altitude hospitality. When the inspector finally arrives the conflict takes on a kafkaesque quality that often crackles with caustic comedy.  Spectacular landscapes and mesmerising naturalistic performances, particularly from the leopard itself, makie this particularly memorable. MT.



The Standstill (2023) Viennale 2023

Dir: Nikolaus Geyrhalter | Austria, Doc

The pandemic lockdown still haunts our collective memory and forms the subject matter of this calm and salient reflection from Austrian documentarian Nikolaus Geyrhalter.

The Standstill (Stillstand), premiering at this year’s Dok-Leipzig, offers a chilling insight into those gruelling times of privation and restriction in the filmmaker’s homeland of Austria, with a focus on Vienna.

Since the early 1990s the director, writer and cinematographer has carved out a niche for a particular brand of cinema; his stark, elegant style casting a dispassionate often ironic eye the life on our planet, with multi-award-winning films such as, Our Daily Bread (2005); Robolove (2011); Homo sapiens (2016); Earth (2019) and Matter Out of Place (2022) – rather like his compatriot Michael Glawogger did from the 1980s until his early death in 2014.

There have a been a slew of lockdown film and this is a worthwhile addition to the archive with its restrained, distant approach to a pandemic which threatened to destroy humanity and is now hopefully under control. With an insightful series of interviews with those affected The Standstill will certainly strike a cord with every single one of us, but the intervening years make this more bearable to watch than some of the early Covid-19 offerings.

The Standstill focuses on the human tragedy starting at the very beginning of the European lockdown in March 2020 until December 2021, and Geyrhalter muses on how the Austrian capital was nearly brought to it knees despite its highly advanced medical system and efficient infrastructure.

Nowhere escapes his camera’s gaze as it pans in on shops, restaurants, schools and theatres showing the extraordinary length to which life, as we know it, was brought to a complete halt, the only places that buzzed with a frenzied activity were the hospitals and medical centres.

With his observational approach Geyrhalter once again brings a dash of dark humour to the sombre party as images of a black lorry laden with coffins is juxtaposed with footage of an anti-vax campaigner spreading his views. Geyrhalter leaves us feeling rather despondent. The hope that this period of inspection would somehow bring enlightenment and a desire for more solidarity and understanding across the globe have clearly not materialised given the continuing outbreaks of wars and conflict from East to West. When will we ever learn? @MT

VIENNALE until 31 OCTOBER 2023

The World of Raul Ruiz | Viennale Retrospective 2023

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Nunca abre esa puerta (1952) Never Open that Door | Viennale 2022

Dir: Carlos Hugo Christiansen | Argentina, Noir 85′

Argentine director/co-writer Carlos Hugo Christiansen (1914-1999) was one of the leading lights of Argentine cinema during its “Golden Age” after WWII, and directed 54 feature films that pushed the boundaries of what was considered permissible back in the day. Together with Alejandro Casona, Christiansen – who was of Danish parentage – adapted three short stories written by the “King of Gloom” Cornell Woolrich (Rear Window), another leading proponent of of Film Noir. In 1937 Christiansen decided to let If I Die before I wake stand alone with a running time of 73 minutes, leaving Alguin al telefono and El Pajaro as a well matched duo of darkness under the common title Nunca Abre Esa Puerta.

Both features are set in a domestic environment which somehow heightens the seething atmosphere of terror that gradually seeps into both films, especially as a women are the target of suppressed and confused male emotions of jealousy and revenge. Alguin stars Angel Magaña as Raul Valdez whose sister Luisa (Dumas) is in thrall to a shady old man (Fiorito) who wants her body and the gambling debts she owes him.

Raul’s interest in his sister is more insidious than he cares to admit to himself, but he is also bound by a brotherly desire to defend her honour and avenge her death. Naturally Christiansen had to handle this in a discrete narrative so as not to upset the influential Catholic Church. We see Raul moving around his sister’s neo-modernist apartment like a naughty schoolboy up to no good on the pretence of offering her ‘brotherly protection’. But Raul’s jealousy eventually explodes and he hits Luisa, suspecting her debtor of competing for her affections. Poor Luisa is also being terrorised by mysterious phone-calls causing her to commit suicide. Raul puts two and two together and – quiet wrongly – suspects the culprit is also the old man. But he is in for a surprise. Soon we see him being threatened by the same calls that caused Luisa to take her own life.

El Pajaro features one of Woolrich’s most famous – and recurring villains – the whistler. Each time recidivist criminal Daniel (Roberto Escalada) offends, he can’t help whistling. Once again the focus is the family, and sexual jealousy rears its head with the males in denial of their feelings: this time the trio involves Daniel, his accomplice Raul (Luis Otero) and Maria (Norma Jimenez) who is Daniel’s childhood love and now lives with her blind mother Rosa (Ilde Pirovano). Raul represses his not-so-brotherly love for his sister Maria, and Daniel is arrogant and self-centred, preferring to kill instead of love. Daniel is the proto-type psychopath of the Woolrich oeuvre, a man incapable of love. Chiaroscuro camerawork is a vital element allowing Rosa to tell the difference between night and day (“it’s a different kind of shadow”).

Alguin al telefono and El Pajaro are worlds apart in their social milieux, but they both focus on family dysfunction. Christiansen pictures this languid descent into darkness for both his anti-heroes as their characters implode – a central element of noir cinema – at a time when the sanctity of the family and Church were paramount in Argentina. AS


The Black Vampire | El Vampiro Negro (1953) Viennale 2022

Dir: Roman Vinoly Barreto | Cast: Olga Zubarry, Roberto Escalada, Nathan Pinzon, Nelly Parizza, Mariano Vidal Molino | Argentina, Noir thriller, 90′

A spiral staircase repeatedly signals a descent into doom in this Buenos Aires-set psychological thriller from Roman Vinoly Barreto who restyles Fritz Lang’s M into a shocking noirish melodrama, heightening the detective elements. There are no vampires to speak of – or much blood for that matter – but a child murderer on the loose is enough to strike a pervasive fear into a small community where children are disappearing like ninepins, and mothers are going hysterical.

Barreto and his co-writer and photographer Alberto Etchebehere make startling use of shadow-play, magical realism and surrealist dream sequences to channel all the angst of the turbulent political landscape in Argentina into a story about a marginalised man who becomes a child serial killer after being rejected by school-friends and belittled by women. Nathan Pinzon really brings out the humanity in the pathetic antihero and we feel for him despite his despicable crimes. A pounding score by Juan Ehlert, another emigre from German, ramps up the tension in the film’s incredible finale.

Interestingly, Robert Siodmak, who shared the same birthday as Barreto, and fleed persecution in Nazi-occupied France for Hollywood where his striking noir thriller The Spiral Staircase (1946) also focused on a serial murderer, this time targeting physically flawed women. MT




Native Son (1951) | Viennale 2022

Dir.: Pierre Chenal; Cast: Richard Wright, Gloria Madison, Jean Wallace, Charles Cane, Willa Pearl, Nicholas Joy, Ruth Robert, Gene Michael, George D. Green, Argentina 1951, 104 Min.

After fleeing the Zon-occupied Zone of France in 1942 due to his Jewish origins, Belgian-born French filmmaker Pierre Chenal (1904-1990) settled in Argentina, like many Jews – and even more Nazis after 1945. Argentina was governed by a military junta under Juan Peron who would offer sanctuary to the likes of Dr. Josef Mengele, Auschwitz'”Angel of Death.

Chenal was the first director to adapt James M. Cain’s novel “The Postman always rings Twice” for the screen as Le Derniere Tournant in 1939. Noir cinema flourished in Buenos Aires’ eclectic melting pot of disenfranchised filmmakers whose creative instincts were heightened by their unstable surroundings. Chenal must have found the atmosphere productive, although he would later return to France for good.

Native Son is based on the 1940 novel by Richard Wright who also took on the leading role after the actor originally cast dropped out. Wright and Chenal shared writing credits, with the helmer aiming for a much more realistic version of Carné’s 1939 outing Le Jour Se Leve. There it was class that alienated Jean Gabin’s hero from society, and which led to his death by the police forces. In the case of Native Son, race and class punished the main protagonist Bigger Thomas. But whilst Gabin was a likeable character, Thomas is anything but. The nightmare he finds himself in is very much of his own making, even though society plays a large part in his downfall. His status as a black man was certainly a pre-condition for his eventual fate.

In Chicago, 1940, Bigger Thomas has a dubious past. Living with his mum (Pearl) and sister Nera (Alves) in a one-bedroom flat he is on the lookout for a legal job, but still fraternises with his venal friends. A job as a chauffeur to the wealthy and benevolent Dalton family provides a way out. Henry Dalton (Joy) and his blind wife Helen (Robert) have a daughter, Mary (Wallace) whose boy friend Jan Erione (Michael) is an organiser for race equality, and is keen to rehabilitate black offenders. Thomas is surprised that they treat him as an equal on a night-out on the town where they meet Thomas’ girl friend Bessie (Madison) in her debut as a nightclub singer.

Thomas is jealous of her ‘manager’, who is way too friendly with Bessie. On the way back, the three of them get drunk and Thomas has to carry Mary to her bedroom. When her mother appears, feeling her way through the room, Thomas is well aware of the consequences should he be discovered in her daughter’s room. So he takes a pillow to stop Mary from talking, accidentally suffocating her in the process and then burning the body and coming up with a harebrained kidnapping scheme in the process, trying to extort a ransom from the Daltons for Mary’s return. Bessie becomes involved and soon the police are on the murderer’s tail, along with the local press who, as usual, enjoy finding the most sensational angle of bringing Thomas to justice.

Chicago glowers in DoP A.U. Merayo’s black and white camerawork, casting long shadows in roof-top chase scenes in a world that feels frighteningly real and yet somehow surreal, as the nightmare merges. Chenal shows how prejudice still burns bright between blacks and the authorities which cannot co-exist, and this bitter internecine hatred only goes to intensify the deadly clashes in a film that reflects a society at undeclared war. When it was shown in the USA, the film was butchered by a cut of 30 minutes. Only in 2021 was the American public deemed ‘evolved’ enough to watch the original version. AS



The Bitter Stems | Los Tallos Amargos (1956) Viennale 2022

Dir: Fernando Ayala | Cast: Fernando Cores, Julia Sandoval, Vassili Lambrinos, Gilda Lousek, Pablo Moret | Noir thriller, 90′

Murder, mistrust and suspicion are the classic Noir elements that burn through this stylish psychological thriller from Fernando Ayala one of Argentina’s most revered filmmakers.  

The Bitter Stems/Los Tallos Amargos (1956) sees Buenos Aires-based journalist  Alfredo (Cores) join forces with an unlikely ally – the thrusting Hungarian refugee Liudas (Lambrinos) – in a get-rich scheme that predictably goes wrong. But it’s Alfredo’s flawed character – his lack of self-belief and florid imagination – that ultimately leads to his self-inflicted downfall in a  tense and tightly scripted narrative that still resonates in today’s climate of uncertainty and xenophobia. But there’s a caveat: always beware of someone who has nothing to lose.

Still living with his mother (Romay) and sister (Lousek) in a pleasant Buenos Aires suburb Alfredo has never quite made the grade career-wise despite the encouragement of his loving girlfriend Susana (Sandoval). A chance meeting with a barman Liudas has a distinct touch of Strangers in a Train about it: offering the men an opportunity they have been looking for. Both have something to gain from the arrangement: an illicit but lucrative journalism course capitalising on Alfredo’s journalistic credentials, Liudas having the chutzpah to get the project off the ground and the chance to finance his family’s passage to America with the promise of legal citizenship; and Alfredo can fulfil his financial ambitions, although he stands to lose professional credibility if the scheme backfires. But soon the cheque are piling up and success is within their grasp.

But the plot turns on Alfredo’s lack of trust in his partner, an affable stranger who seems too good to be true but is also a bit of a swindler when the scheme gets underway. And crucially, Alfredo is an upstanding citizen and doubts starts to play on his mind.  And soon suspicion and neurosis rears its ugly head and Alfredo’s doubt start to cramp his style and eat away at his confidence. He starts to look for a way out.

Once again Ayala makes use of surrealist dream sequences and magic realism supported by Ricardo Younis’ striking camerawork. An evocative score by Astor Piazolla creates an atmosphere full of anxiety and suspicion building towards a denouement that is both tragic and unexpected in this stylish and satisfying noir thriller based on a best-selling novel by Adolfo Jasca. MT






Argentine Noir at Viennale 2022

Film noir, a term coined by French critic Nino Frank in 1946, is usually associated with the stylish Hollywood crime dramas of the 1940s and 1950s, Double Indemnity being a classical example. But its roots lie much earlier in the jagged German expressionist cinematography of the early 1920s. Whether a genre or simply a style of filmmaking is a subject for debate, but the elements generally considered attributable to noir cinema are stark lighting effects, intricately-plotted fractured narratives, flawed characters and an underlying sense of doom.

So what better way to describe the films that came out of Argentina during the Peronist  years from 1946-55, a time of civil upheaval and political oppression that led to a generalised sense of superstition and existential gloom, although for some it was a time of nationalist pride. Peronist-style politics continued in Argentina until the 1970s with films depicting the ‘Dirty Years’ now taking on the same sense of foreboding and similar underlying elements but with washed-out aesthetics replacing noirish black and white as seen in Rojo, The Clan and Azor.

Argentine Noir is explored in this year’s Viennale International Film Festival in a series created by Fernando Martín Peña, a film historian known for his research in Latin American archives, and his colleague Roger Koza, who have drawn on the resources of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and the Library of Congress in Washington for their work in preserving and restoring an archive of films that exemplify the tradition of film noir, yet rarely seen outside South America. Sinister protagonists, venal detectives and violence were rife on the streets Buenos Aires during the Peronist years and provided gritty material for the likes of film directors such as Fernando Ayala, Hugo Fregonese, Carlos Hugo Christensen, Román Viñoly Barreto and Pierre Chenal. MT


HARDLY A CRIMINAL | Hugo Fregonese, 1949, 80′

A bank employee commits the perfect crime in this hard-boiled action drama directed by Fregonese before he embarked on a career in Hollywood and Europe that started in 1950 with another noir outing One Way Street starring Dan Duryea and James Mason.

NATIVE SON | Pierre Chenal, 1951, 106′

In 1940s Chicago a young black man takes a job as a chauffeur that ends in tragedy. Pierre Chenal directs from a script based on the novel by Richard Wright who also stars as the fateful driver, alongside Jean Wallace and Gloria Madsen.

THE BEAST MUST DIE, Roman Vinoly Barreto, 1952, 92′

A novel by poet laureate Cecil Day Lewis (aka Nicholas Blake) spawned this haunting noir fantasy with its shimmering cinematography by Alberto Etchebehere (who would go on to co-script The Black Vampire with Vinoly Barreto). A complex thriller with a rather spiritual ending sees a father turn detective to avenge the mysterious death of his son. Claude Chabrol directed his own version in 1969 with This Man Must Die.

DON’T EVER OPEN THAT DOOR, Carlos Hugo Christensen, 1952, 85′

Another family revenge thriller connected by the titular door between good and evil: the first involving a brother and sister (played by Argentine star Renee Dumas, above); the second centres on a whistling criminal. The script was adapted from two Cornell Woolrich stories. Noirish cinematography by Pablo Tabernero.

IF I SHOULD DIE BEFORE I WAKE, Carlos Hugo Christensen, 1952, 73′

A child holds the key to a murder mystery being investigated by his detective father. Lucio Santana is a lovable little boy but can – or should he – keep a secret? A sinister thriller that turns on a moral dilemma from one of Argentina’s most audacious directors, Carlos Hugo Christensen.

THE BLACK VAMPIRE, Roman Vinoly Barreto, 1953, 90′

Fritz Lang provides the source material for this taut and oppressive ‘feminist’  reworking of his classic M. Don’t expect any blood or fangs – the focus here is on the mothers of children stalked by a deranged paedophile known as the ‘Black Vampire’. A passionate Argentine cast is led by award-winning actor Olga Zubarry and Nelly Panizza.

THE BITTER STEMS, Fernando Ayala, 1956, 90′

Never trust a stranger comes to mind in Fernando Ayala’s award-winning classic that draws on ‘the perfect crime’ theme – that naturally goes wrong – when two men conspire together on a ‘get rich’ scheme with disastrous results. Based on the best seller by Adolfo Jasca. Bitter Stems’ finale rivals anything made in Hollywood at the time all primped by Astor Piazzolla’s sinuous score. MT



Cette Maison (2021) Viennale 2022

Dir.: Miryam Charles; Cast: Florence Blain Mbaye, Schelby Jean-Baptiste; Canada 2022, 75 min.

Time, space and identity are disconnected in this enigmatic debut feature that looks at the mysterious death of a fourteen year old Haitian girl. First suicide was suspected, but it soon turns out that Tessa was murdered.

Best known for her award-winning short films This House is a highly personal project for Quebecois Miryam Charles because Tessa was her niece. The two-handed narrative of displacement plays out on three time lines: the past, the present and the future. The first segment sees Tessa (Mbaye) trying to comfort her mother Valeska (Jean-Baptiste) who is still grieving ten years after her daughter’s death. Valeska’s voice-over shifts between her guilt at having taken her daughter to Connecticut – instead of their home in Haiti – and a conversation with Tessa that brings some consolation to both of them.

Valeska glides through the rooms of the titular house where the brutal crime was committed. Intercut are some scenes of the women’s Haitian family who are shown celebrating a victory in the 1995 referendum that would have given independence to Quebec, but was narrowly defeated. Tessa is seen complaining and asking the adults to change channel. Another scene sees Tessa and Valeska sitting at a table groaning with Haitian fare, the mother warning her daughter about the spicy delicacies. Equally down to earth are Tessa’s ruminations about a future she was robbed of, in the lush landscapes of Haiti.

But there are some disturbing scenes: Tessa in her coffin, giving a running commentary while her bereaved family looks down on her body shrouded in white. Deeply affecting is also a scene where social workers ask Valeska how she is coping with her bereavement, and mistaking her apparent composure for complacency. Valeska and Tessa clearly had issues to deal with; the mother’s guilt and the daughter’s ghostly appearance are often at odds with their communication – and even though the teenager tries to console her mother, her anxiety about the future is palpable.

DoP Isabelle Stachtchnko underlines the Proustian atmosphere with hazy visual allure, the light filtering through the Venetian blinds giving the couple an eerie almost ghostly appearance. Some may find the enigmatic treatment annoying, but somehow Charles overcomes this in an otherworldly gem that never outstays its welcome. AS


Viennale Film Festival 2022

One of the world’s longest-running film festivals VIENNALE celebrates its 60th anniversary this year from 20 October until 1 November 2022.

This year’s edition brings together a glittering array of world premieres along with the latest award-winning films and specially curated retrospectives amongst them a special tribute to long time Viennale director and Werner Herzog on his 80th birthday on 28 October 2022.

© Viennale.


With its turbulent 20th century history of violence and insurrection Argentina lends itself particularly well to the film noir genre. A series of recently restored films shot in Buenos Aires by Fernando Ayala, Hugo Fregonese, Carlos Hugo Christensen, Román Viñoly Barreto and Pierre Chenal will highlight the Peron era (1949-1956)


© Viennale.



Paving the way for women in a largely male-dominated industry, the pioneering comedy writer, actor and filmmaker Elaine May (1932-) has certainly made a name for herself in a continuing career now ripe for celebration. This year’s Viennale will be screening her four major works as director A New Leaf (1971), Ishtar (1987), Mikey and Nicky (1976), and The Heartbreak Kid (1972). In 2022 she received an Oscar for her lifetime achievement.

© Viennale.


Mauritanian born producer, actor and director of African cinema Med Hondo (1936-2019) rose to the international stage with an incendiary study of French Colonial conflict in Africa. SARRAOUNIA(1986) was particularly noteworthy for its clever female central character, the titular queen of the Aznas played by Ai Keita. Hondo’s films continued to explore the continent’s cultural and colonial power struggles through documentaries, musicals and crime thrillers up until his death in 2019. The festival will screen nine recently restored works, amongst them Hondo’s directorial debut, SOLEIL Ô; LES BICOTS-NÈGRES VOS VOISINS (1974); WEST INDIES (1979) and crime thriller LUMIÈRE NOIRE (1994).

© Viennale.



Viennale dedicates this year’s retrospective to the Japanese director with twelve rarely shown works on 35mm, organised together with the Austrian Film Museum. Probably best known for A Promise which won the Golden Seashell at San Sebastián in 1986, Kiju was born in Fukui, Japan, in 1933, and moved with his family to Tokyo where he studied for a literary degree before gaining a place at the Shōchiku studio in 1955, founding a film magazine with Ōshima Nagisa, and working as assistant director for Kinoshita Keisuke.

In 1960, Yoshida made his directorial debut with ROKUDENASHI (GOOD FOR NOTHING), a riotous film about disoriented youth. In the powerful melodrama AKITSU ONSEN (AKITSU SPRINGS, 1962), he collaborated for the first time with Mariko Okada, who would become his wife and the protagonist of his films that critically examine Japanese gender relations. With Okada, he also founded the independent production company Gendai Eigasha in 1966. Three years later, he presented EROSU PURASU GYAKUSATSU (EROS + MASSACRE) – which together with RENGOKU EROICA (HEROIC PURGATORY) and KAIGENREI (COUP D’ETAT) forms the trilogy of Japanese radicalism – one of the central works of Japanese New Wave. Although Yoshida himself never particularly liked this term, he is regarded as its most important representative, along with Ōshima and Masahiro Shinoda.

Stylistically daring and always touching on taboos in terms of content, Yoshida’s films explore upheavals in Japanese society, especially in the 1960s. From the mid-1970s onwards, Yoshida directed only a few films. In 1998, he published the book Ozu Yasujirō no han eiga (Ozu’s Anti-Cinema), a widely acclaimed analysis of the work of the great Japanese director. In 2002, Yoshida made KAGAMI NO ONNA-TACHI (WOMEN IN THE MIRROR), his last film to date. © Viennale.


This special anniversary presents six short films by award-winning directors from different traditions and regions of the world, reflecting the diversity and richness of contemporary cinema: Claire Denis, Nina Menkes, Sergei Loznitsa, Ryusuke Hamaguchi and Narcisa Hirsch.


Monica (2022)

Dir.: Andrea Pallaoro; Cast: Tracey Lysette, Patricia Clarkson, Joshua Close; USA/Italy 2022, 110 min.

Writer/director Andrea Pallaoro is back with a Lynchian riddle in the same enigmatic style and eerie atmosphere as his modest but memorable Hannah  starring Charlotte Rampling as a refined woman down on her luck. Once again family rejection is the crux of the storyline. Monica wallows in a seething atmosphere of doom as another downcast heroine who has lost her place in the social pecking order, rejected by her mother on spurious grounds, although she is on reasonable terms with her brother Paul (Close) who talks about the good times they had as children. Buttoned down by its 4:3 format and old fashioned colour system (rather like the 1950s Eastmancolour) this is another melancholy tale you will not forget. AS


Under the Sky Shelter (2022) Viennale

Dir: Diego Acosta | Doc, Chile 68′

The past collides with the future in this provocative pastorale shot in refreshing black and white. It follows Chilean shepherd Don Cucho on a sinuous almost sinister odyssey through the craggy wilds of the Andes mountains to the valley with his herd of over a thousand sheep, and dogs. His journey is as atavistic as the hills and as well-worn, but Acosta’s inventive filming techniques and an edgy ambient soundtrack give this a surreal and unsettling twist that makes the down-to-earth suddenly dangerous and otherworldly in the hostile terrain. Now is the time for the seasonal movement of the animals to pastures new. Once they reach the valley, the animals can graze at their leisure for the rest of the season.

Writer director Diego Acosta works as his own DoP on 16mm often viewing the herd from above as it flows like a remote and rhythmic river of moving objects or shape-shifting creatures surging along in outer space. Others scenes are straggly and fraught as the beasts struggle awkwardly through a rushing stream stumbling as they make their way up the hillside under a sultry sky sparkling with stars.

There are languorous times too in the heat of the midday sun where clouds scud mysteriously into a silent sandstorm. Then winds whistle through the makeshift overhead canopy that protects the shepherd from the searing sun. But the night comes soon with its secrets and shadows and the Don lies down for the small hours til dawn. A clump of flowers takes on an exotic guise in the moonlight, and a reverse flowing waterfall looks magical yet quite frightening – a simple idea but supremely affective in this dreamlike feature full of surprises and unusual juxtapositions, time-lapses, shifting lights and shadow-play. A yearly journey becomes meditative, mysterious and magnificent – yet as old as time. MT



The Deep Blue Sea (2011) Viennale

Wri/Dir: Terence Davies | Cast: Rachel Weisz, Tom Huddleston, Simon Russell Beale | UK Drama 108′

Terence Davies (now in his mid seventies) is not a prolific director, his ‘uncommercial’ style of filmmaking often lacks support on the financing front. But rather like John Schlesinger, he knows how to connect with his audience in a deeply affecting way largely due to clever casting and a feel for dramatic timing and editing, and his judicious choice of music.

Of Time and the City (2008) was a melancholy documentary about the sad decline of his hometown, Liverpool. There followed two literary adaptations of American novels set in different eras: John Kennedy Toole’s The Neon Bible and Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth.

The Deep Blue Sea, is a rather good version of a play by Terence Rattigan, made after Davies went through a fallow period of nearly a decade during which he retreated into Shakespeare and his favourite composer Bruckner. The Browning Version and Separate Tables had already been done, so Davies approached The Deep Blue Sea with some trepidation after so long behind the camera. But luck was on his side on the casting front – Rachel Weisz accepted the project almost immediately and Tom Hiddleston knew just how to create the voice of the 1950s Battle of Britain hero in audition and became a perfect choice to play a rather bumptious young officer feeling at a loose end, like many soldiers after the end of the war. London had suffered devastation and a shortage of housing stock led to many people finding themselves in reduced circumstances in miserable rooms let by unsympathetic landladies. And this is where Lady Collyer (Rachel Weisz) fetches up having left her judge husband Sir William (Simon Russell Beale) for a torrid but doomed affair with the dashing young Freddi Page (Huddleston) .

Rather like Gillian Anderson’s fated young socialite in House of Mirth, Lady Hester Collyer is determined to shoot herself in the foot, claiming love as the reason. And we very soon appreciate her feelings of lust as a hungry woman in her forties falling for the charms of her blue-eyed toyboy but, very soon also realise it ain’t gonna work due to his callousness and puerile state of mind (which partly leads to her suicide attempt by the gas fire). In contrast her judge husband’s sense of decency almost feels appealing, although he readily admits to a lack of emotional intelligence despite his field of work being all about the assessing the human mind. He also has an acerbic and overbearing mother who has somehow emasculated him. Never good for a marriage.

The film is bookended by two minor love affairs: that of the stolid high court judge for his much younger wife, and the landlady’s love for her war-crippled husband (“you we’re always a dish”) she assures him lovingly in a back room. One of the best scenes involves her having a quiet chat with Hester in the hallway after this romantic sadness of her own emerges, and she quickly points out that love isn’t a question of heart-stopping lust but of “wiping their arse and moving on together with dignity” when the time comes.

Once again silence combined with stealthy camera movements creates a perfect meditative balance that opens in the dingy bedsit in a dilapidated stucco-fronted terrace and proceeds almost entirely in domestic surroundings. And although the loving scenes with Weisz and Huddleston are electric, somehow their tantrums feel tiresome. The real emotion lies in the other two scenarios which are spare and dignified. The films ends in the same way as the play, beside the fireplace. But this time the gas is lit – marking Hester’s resignation and acceptance of her future..MT


The Great Freedom (2021) MUBI

Fir: Sebastian Meise | Drama 104’

Franz Rogowski is the dynamite that burns through this outré arthouse portrait of illicit homosexuality in post war Berlin from Austrian filmmaker Sebastian Meise.

Arrested for cottaging in the grubby confines of a public lavatory in the claustrophobic early cine-camera scenes he is Hans Hoffmann, a man who will spend the remainder of the film in prison surrounded by murderers and thieves, before homosexuality was decriminalised in 1969.

Meise makes no attempt to make his characters likeable in this sordid slice of social realism but Rogowski always brings an appealing sense of vulnerability that softens the hard edges of this overlong sober prison drama with its flecks of brilliance. The final scene is a memorable masterstroke.

The narrative unfolds across three interlinking timelines seeing Hans in a series of sexual encounters in the same sordid prison where he often finds himself in solitary confinement for doing so. The touchstones are 1945, 1957 and 1968 where he forms a close relationship with homophobe Viktor (Georg Freidrich) who is serving time for murder but whose sexual yearnings are for women, not men.

But Meise plays on the theme of sexual fluidity here in a story that very much explores sex as a physical release as much as an emotional need in a pivotal part of the storyline that leads to the men’s relationship soon developing into a close bond of friendship and reliance that touches on love but never speaks its name.

Hans dabbles in other affairs in the story’s most poignant scenes and here he gives full throttle to his signatory romantic sensuality in a gutsy performance that carries the film through its rather low-key narrative where tighter writing in the middle act could have made this more intense.

Nevertheless this is a nakedly unflinching look at a time when men weren’t allowed to show their love for each other and a worthwhile warts of all expose of the German prison system of the era. MT


Best Austrian Film, VIENNALE 2021:
GROSSE FREIHEIT (GREAT FREEDOM), Sebastian Meise, Austria/Germany 2021

The Shadow Player | Henrik Galeen – A Film Author of Weimar Cinema – Viennale 2021

This year’s Viennale celebrates the work of Henrik Galeen (1981-1949) with a retrospective entitled The Shadow Player | Henrik Galeen – A Film Author of Weimar Cinema


The writer, director and actor’s name often appeared in accounts of the ‘heroic’ era of the German silent cinema between the wars: it was Galeen, for example, who actually came up with the title for ‘Nosferatu’ in 1921. He still seemed enigmatic enough nearly fifty years ago when David Thompson wrote that if still alive he was then 93 years old (he actually spent the war years in New York, was one of Siegfried Kracauer’s sources when the latter was writing ‘From Caligari to Hitler’ and died in Randolph, Vermont on 30 July 1949). In 2014 German critic Rudiger Suskind made a documentary From Caligari to Hitler 

Born Heinrich Weisenberg to a Jewish family in Lemberg, Galicia on 7 January 1881, formerly an assistant to Max Reinhardt and a stage actor, Galeen first entered films as an actor and then as a scriptwriter from 1913. The following year he co-directed with Paul Wegener the first screen version of The Golem (1915) in which he also appeared as an actor.


After the Great War, Galeen scripted the macabre classics Nosferatu (1922) and Das Wachsfigurenkabinett (1924). Although he played no part in Wegener’s ‘prequel’ to The Golem in 1920, Galeen in 1926 directed an acclaimed remake of Wegener’s film debut Der Student von Prag with Conrad Veidt and Werner Krauss, and was reunited with Wegener himself the following year to make Alraune, from Hans Heinz Ewers’ notorious novel, and made a series of thrillers starring Harry Piel.


The Final Verdict – Image courtesy of Viennale Film Festival


After spending the years 1928-31 in Britain where he filmed After the Verdict (1929), a crime drama adapted by Hitchcock’s wife Alma Reville from a novel by Robert Hichens (the first film to be shot in Wimbledon), he returned to Germany to make his only talkie, a spy thriller called Salon Dora Greene (1933). The rise of Nazism forced Galeen to flee Germany for good, finally settling in the United States. @Richard Chatten


In Front of Your Face (2021)

Dir: Hong Sang-soo | South Korean, Drama

The subtle South Korean director teases us once again with this elegant arthouse gem that follows a day in the life of middle-aged actress Sangok, back from America to visit her sister Jeongok (Cho Yunhee) in their hometown of Seoul. A first walk in the park together reveals their very different personalities. But there’s an enigmatic quality at play and a feeling that Sangok (Lee Hyeyoung, a leading light from the 1980s) is leaving a lot our imagination, until an unexpected tragicomic twist occurs in the final denouement. 

After the walk Sangok agrees to meet for lunch with a lightweight film director called Jaewon (Kwon Haehyo). All this is plays out with Sangok’s voice-over monologues giving us small clues as to her state of mind. Clearly Jaewon is a big fan of the Sangok’s work and he surprises the actress with intense recollections of a particular film she finds it harder to remember, but feigns flattery nevertheless. After she declines an offer to star in his next film, Jaewon quietly dissolves into tears during a cigarette break outside the cafe, clearly deeply affected by her rejection. The two then leave during a sudden thundery downpour, as the camera watches them tentatively sharing another cigarette.

The final reveal comes the following morning when Sangok wakes up to find a mobile message from Jaewon, It makes her laugh out loud. Her upbeat approach is gently philosophical. Clearly the benefits of experience have once again trumped youth: reality is there for all to see. MT 

ON RELEASE from 23 September 2022 | Reviewed at VIENNALE 2021


Benediction (2021)

Dir.: Terence Davies; Cast: Jack Lowden, Kate Phillips, Peter Capaldi, Gemma Jones, Richard Goulding, Simon Russel Beale, Ben Daniel, Geraldine James, Matthew Tennison, Jeremy Irvine, Tom Blyth, Calam Lynch, Lia Williams, Suzanne Bertish UK/US 2021, 137 min.

Terence Davies’ portrait of poet and soldier Siegfried Sassoon (1886-1967) is an ambitious if rather theatrical undertaking, with sumptuous scenes playing out in a two act drama rather than a flowing feature, and with a fine cast of British actors. Jack Lowden plays the gentle yet acerbic young poet, Peter Capaldi his bitter, disillusioned older self, more a ghost of his younger incarnation. There stilted aesthetic approach that has crept into Davies work of late is in tune the Emily Dickinson bio-pic A Quiet Passion there are also moments of poignancy,  particularly in the finale, and the archive footage of the war adds depth and context

The story is elegantly fleshed out: Sassoon’s bravery in the trenches, underlined by the archive material; his protest against the political forces’ prolonging the war unnecessarily, manifesting itself in his “Soldiers’ declaration” of 1917, which could have ended in court martial. Influential friend Robbie Ross (a mellow Russell Beale) saves him from the bitter consequences and Sassoon is sent to a psychiatric unit in Scotland, where understanding Dr. Rivers (Ben Daniel) helps the poet to recover. Sassoon also meets poet Wilfrid Owen (Tennison), the two of them bonding in many ways, in a first coup de gourde.

Back at the front, Sassoon is wounded again, and decorated for bravery. London after the Great War is shown in all its decadence, with cameo appearances by Suzanne Bertish as Lady Ottoline Morell, and Lia Williams’ Edith Sitwell (hilarious and one of the highlights). But the main scenes belong to the men in  Sassoon’s life: the cruel and sneering Ivor Novello (Irvine), and other overly narcissistic friends, Stephen Tenant (Lynch) and Glen Byam Shaw (Blyth). And there is Sassoon’s wife Hester Gatty (Phillips), who “has to redeem his life for him” – which is a bit much to ask.

The break into the late 1940s is radical and supported by a lighting change: instead of colourful glitter there is melancholy gloom and the introduction of grown-up son George (Goulding) and the end of the marriage with a mature Hester (Jones), their relationship having broken down years earlier due to age and sexuality incompatibility. Benediction ends on a sombre note with Sassoon converting to Catholicism and a beautiful reading of Wilfred Owen’s “Disabled”.

Bon mots rule – particularly in the 1920s. But somehow the later scenes needed a less glib approach, with a remark about Sassoon’s conversion feeling tasteless: “You can get permanence from dressage, without the guilt”. Geraldine James’ long suffering mother is underused, her relationship with Siegfried never explained, even though she was one of the keys to his troubled existence

DoP Nicola Daley’s camerawork offers a lively first half, when her images re-creating the bohemian atmosphere of the British version of the roaring Twenties. The gloom and doom which follows gives her little room to express herself. Jack Lowden is very convincing – whilst Capaldi is lost with a mono-script which sometimes degenerates into parody. The overly didactic elements of part two will never coalesce with what has gone before. Sassoon, like many of his generation, suffered a sad and thwarted life and Benediction serves as a tribute to the millions that literally lost their lives and their potential, the dead and the living alike. AS


The Portuguese Woman | A Portuguesa (2019) **** Mubi

Dir.: Rita Azevedo Gomes; Cast: Clara Riedenstein, Marcello Urgeghe, Ingrid Caven, Joao Vicente, Alexandre Alves Costa; Portugal 2018, 136 min.

A languid and painterly reflection on art, feminism and beauty and the latest drama from award-winning filmmaker Rita Azevedo Gomes whose debut A Coleccaio Invisivel was based on a 1924 novella by Robert Musil, a contemporary of Stephen Zweig.

Although the timeframe is ambiguous, the setting is Europe – possibly Sintra – somewhere between the 17th/18th century. The film opens with “Unter den Linden”, sung by Ingrid Caven, who accompanies the narrative like a Brechtian chorus as we meet the recently married Lord Von Hutten (Urgeghe) and his wife, the titular Portuguese woman (Riedenstein) whose year-long honeymoon has been brought to an abrupt end when Von Hutten is called to battle by the rather combative Bishop of Trento (Costa): “War is made of debt, and peace is the conduit of corruption and vice”.

When Von Hutten finally returns to his wife and child, who are living in his decrepit castle, she has been enjoying a lengthy visit from her cousin Dom Pero Loboto (Vicente), whose stay has given rise to local gossip, and murderous jealousy on the part of the conquering soldier.

Lavishly mounted and sumptuously captured by DoP Acacio de Almeida whose intense images bring to mind the paintings by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Gomes cleverly transforms Musil’s mysticism, his metaphors for humankind’s failure to retain traditional values, above all love, into landscapes shrouded in mist where the derelict castle represents a refuge from the outside world of strife. Manoel de Oliveira regular Agustina Bessa-Luis comes up with some brilliant dialogue pieces performed with languorous resonance by a superb ensemble cast. In the style of Oliveira, Gomes draws from literature and the world of art to create intentionally static scenes enriched by transcendental poetic realism in this enchanting and magical drama. MT

NOW ON MUBI | VIENNALE 2019 | 24 October – 26 November 2019



Distant Voices, Still Lives (1988) Tribute to Terence Davies

Dir: Terence Davies | UK Drama | 83′

Davies’s epic, musical celebration of the working class evokes a late 40s to late 50s cultural space. This was  soon to be replaced by more individualist post 1963 space where there existed, in certain areas of Liverpool, communal values and social cohesion.

All that celebration of feeling (Distant Voices, Still Lives is a visceral and passionate work) comes hurtling back with vivid memories of a lost culture. It wasn’t all good, nor that bad, just considerably more honest and trusting. A lot of life was regimented, ordered and repressive yet authority had still managed to resist the effects of intense commercialisation. 

By 1988 we could look back wistfully at the better, and more authentic, aspects of those far distant voices and still lives – with “still” meaning organically centred or fixed by memory – and wonder what the film was saying about us in the present. By the eighties some of us sensed that society had become a hard and rapaciously driven market culture. 

Now in 2018 we can more thoughtfully analyse, to the point of mourning, the family and neighbourhood values that Distant Voices, Still Lives both celebrates and critiques. Those values may be now corroded, or even lost to us (Brexit is looming) but such a deep expression of the communal found perhaps its greatest, and most un-patronising, expression in Terence Davies’s eloquent film. Alongside such British films as Powell’s A Canterbury Tale, Losey’s The Servant and Anderson’s If…it’s a masterpiece and a landmark picture about English identity, class, aspiration, emotion and power. 

There is no linear narrative. The story is simple. A family’s reaction to a tyrannical father (brilliantly played by Pete Postlethwaite.). His death. The mourning. New life for the family as they grow up, marry and have children. The celebration of that fact. Growing old. The vicissitudes of extended family life where patterns of domestic abuse are dolefully repeated. Things forgiven. Put up with. Then, from the women, the fighting back. Whilst the men remain both complacent and shaken.

The film consists of two parts with the Still Lives section being filmed two years after the Distant Lives half. It’s a cyclic memory film indebted to Alain Resnais (minus the cerebral) and with a warmth that we get from Jean Renoir (all the performances of Distant Voices, Still Lives feel more ‘lived’ than acted.) Impressions, fragments, epiphanies, words and gestures are rigorously bonded by two musical soundtracks. 

We have the music of popular culture, such as O Mein Papa, Love is a Many Splendid Thing, blues, classical art and folk song (O Waly Waly) Vaughan Williams’s 3rd symphony, choral music, radio comedy and the shipping forecast amongst others.

That eclectic line-up functions as both counterpoint and relief to the song repertoire of ordinary people at home or in pubs singing their hearts out. Such popular songs as Taking a Chance on Love, I Love the Ladies and Dreamboat. Yet not just hearts but also minds are revealed as Terence Davies skilfully uses song with a dualism to both masquerade and expose his characters’ thoughts. 

Take the moment when actor Angela Walsh sings her solo “I Wanna be Around to pick up the pieces when somebody breaks your heart” it’s especially affecting when you realise she is unhappily married. None of the community singing ever becomes mannered or sentimental. Its pitch-perfect delivery keeps delving into character motivation – raw, soulful and compassionate utterances: collective and individual needs are voiced and move the film’s people on, in time and space, through beautifully shot and composed scenes. (Interestingly the fierce father never gets to sing with a group. His only lone singing moment is when he’s shown cleaning the coat of a pony in a barn, watched by a secret audience – his children when very young.) The musical genres of opera, operetta and the MGM musical (adored by Davies) giving his film the structure of a hybrid, autobiographical ballad. And complementing this extended song (both joyful and heartbreaking) are some masterly tracking shots.

One breathtaking example is one where a daughter weeps for her dead father and the camera moves along into darkness, followed by lit candles and the Catholic family together celebrating Christmas. States of death, belief, innocence and forgiveness are effortlessly trailed in front of you like a cine-poem (Terence Davies greatly admires T. S. Eliot.) Watching it again I thought of the working class voices of the pub scene in The Waste Land and flash forwarded to Davies’s 2008 Liverpool documentary Of Time and The City where Davies himself reads excerpts from Four Quartets as his camera tracks over the waterfront’s Royal Liver building at night.

I return to the year and month the film was released – September 1988. My father died aged 79 in May of that year. I wrote a short film script about him. It was called A Box of Swan and was accepted and broadcast on BBC2 in October 1990. Pete Postlethwaite was cast in the film as the older son having to deal with the funeral arrangements of his father. 

My own real father wasn’t like the violent man portrayed by Postlethwaite in Distant Voices, Still Lives. But when I witnessed the domestic violence depicted in Davies’s film I thought of my long dead Uncle Harry. He was a morbidly religious man and did what the father did in the film – beat his daughter and wife with a broom in the coal cellar. I thought of my poor Aunt Edie. And not just how art, as the cliché goes, imitates life but can tighten your memory’s hold on the cruelty of real actions. 

Yet cinema can also have a powerful redemptive charge. And Davies’s courageous film is of that high order of filmmaking. I don’t know if he knows, along with Eliot, the poetry of W.B.Yeats but the working class rituals and habits of Distant Voices, Still Lives make me think of lines from his poem A Prayer for my Daughter.

 “How but in custom and ceremony 

  Are innocence and beauty born?” 

You don’t have to know any of this poetry to appreciate the film, for it has its moving and cinematic own. And is, without me really needing to say, wonderfully acted by all concerned, a technical triumph (now beautifully re-mastered) very sad, very funny and resolutely affirmative – once seen it’s unforgettable. Alan Price©2018     


A New Leaf (1971) | Viennale Film Festival 2022

Dir/Wri: Elaine May Cast: Walter Matthau, Elaine May Jack, Weston, James Coco, Doris Roberts, George Rose | 107min  Comedy  US

Elaine May, who stars here in her directorial debut, was a one time winner of the Razzie Award for Worst Director (Ishtar).  A fine comic actress  (in Woody Allen’s Small Time Crooks) and director in her own right, she also writes witty screenplays and has served uncredited as a script doctor on Labyrinth, Wolf, Reds and Dick Tracy, amongst other big hits.

She bases this engaging comedy drama on Jack Ritchie’s short story: ‘A Green Leaf’. It’s about marriage, a subject she is familiar with having had four husbands during her 90 years. Walter Matthau plays her co-star Henry Graham, a man who has run through his entire inheritance and appears to have no way of gainfully financing the rest of his life: “I do have skills to the effect that I’m not disabled.” So he hatches a plan with the help of his butler – to marry wealth, in the old-fashioned way.

Taking a short-term loan from his mean-spirited, self-indulgent uncle Harry (an amusing vignette featuring James Coco) who offers him money with the following proviso: he has six weeks to meet a rich woman, get married AND repay the debt; if he fails he must hand over his worldly possessions including his prize vintage (unreliable) Ferrari.

Henry’s foray into dating provides most of the laughs. Rushing around the country he desperately seeks out rich widows – he’s no spring chicken himself – but no one seems appropriate, let alone normal  (“I have found peace in Connecticut, what else is there” says one sparky candidate). Finally, a chance encounter with a wealthy but clumsy heiress (May in fine form) proves to be the answer to his prayers. An attractive botanist, Henrietta Lowell is kind-hearted but socially inept: (“She’s not just primitive, she’s feral” remarks Henry to his butler).

But tie the knot they do and Henry masterminds the honeymoon down to the last detail. In a twin-bedded room, Henrietta’s Grecian style nightie makes for a challenging seduction scene with neither of them being able to fathom out how to get it on or – more importantly – off. Henrietta then insists on taking enormous botanical specimens home and, on arrival at her palatial residence, the housekeeper, Mrs Traggert, gives Henry the glad eye as he proceeds to take charge of the household’s extensive domestic staff. Firing them one by one for being fraudulent, he retains his own butler, Harold (George Rose in a delightful double act with Matthau). Meanwhile, Henry works on how to get rid of his new wife, but doesn’t quite bargain for what happens next.

Walter Matthau is sensational in the lead role, managing to exude humour, style and a wicked charisma as Henry Graham. Elaine May plays Henrietta as a ditzy but appealingly naive woman with her heart in the right place and a cunning twinkle in her eye. MT





Sunset Song (2015) | Viennale 2021

Wri/Director: Terence Davies  Novel: Lewis Grassic Gibbon (novel)Cast: Peter Mullan, Agyness Deyn, Kevin Guthrie, Ian Pirie, Jack Greenlees, Douglas Rankine, Neil Greign Fulton | 135min  | Drama  | UK

Terence Davies follows The Deep Blue Sea with another English literary adaptation, SUNSET SONG, Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s classc tale of womanhood in transition at the turn of the 20th century. Emotionally prurient and brimful with Scottish traditions from the North East, it stars Agyness Deyn in a full-bodied turn that embraces stoicism and tenderness, as the main character Chris Guthrie.

Michael McDonough’s lushly burnished visuals set the scene: a remote Aberdeenshire coastal community on the cusp of the first World War, where blue-stocking Chris is the only girl in a farming family of three boys, her trampled mother Jean and disciplinarian father (Peter Mullan in fine form) doing their best in fraught circumstances, made worse when Jean falls pregnant with twins.

There is a strict religious undertone of vehement Calvinism for this Patriarchal family: in the dour and spartan home the women’s work is never done and they are but slaves to the father’s requirements with regular beatings for elder son Will, and intercourse on demand for poor Jean, whether she likes it or not. Eventually after a bloody, difficult birth, she takes her own life, with the twins and it falls to Chris to look after the family.

Slow-burning, and often ponderous, Terence Davies balances movement with stillness to achieve graceful dramatic tension as the narrative unfolds with unexpected, even positive, twists and turns. Although occasionally SONG strikes a questionable note with his tone and scripting. There are bright moments, echoed through the glorious sun rising through lace curtains, or on the endless billowing cornfields, blue sky overhead. The post War episode feels slightly and underwritten, with no real explanation for the rapid decline into mental illness of Chris’s young husband. Musical choices veer towards the folksy and hymnal; some may argue this misjudges narrative and tone. Davies evokes happiness without being sentimental and his mastery of staging and visual compositions are superb. Bitterness, rancour and bliss, all embodied in one pivotal decade in the magnificent Scottish landscape where Chris discovers life and love as it really is. MT




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