This Friday the new film directed by Claire Denis, High Life (2018), opens at the Picture House. Claire Denis is undoubtedly one of the really talented and interesting film-makers working in contemporary cinema. In this title she has presented her first film in an English language form; thankfully she has done a better job than a number of her fellow European film-makers. This is a science fiction story that opens on an odd box-like space ship heading far away towards a black hole. Inside we find Monte (Robert Pattinson) whose only companion is a very young child. A series of flashbacks fill in the events prior to this; Monte’s companions have fallen foul of the internal conflicts among the crew. We learn how the baby came to be on the space ship and the unusual social rules that produced the situation. Stylistically the film recalls the Soviet director Andrei Tarkovsky, especially his films Solaris (1971) and Stalker (1979). The plot at times appears to be lifted from the pages of J. G. Ballard and is both violent and a little disturbing: the BBFC have given it an 18 Certificate. The cast, which includes Juliet Binoche, is good. The production, including special effects, is well done. And once more Denis shows her ability to explore social and personal contradictions. The June issue of Sight & Sound has an interview with Claire Denis.
An equally fine film-maker, Zhangke Jia, has directed Ash Is Purest White / Jiang hu er nü (2018). The film covers several decades in the life of Qiao (Tao Zhao). Much of the film is set in Shanxi province in the north of China but at one point Qiao travels south to the Three Gorges in Hubei province [seen in earlier Jia films]. Qiao is involved with a “jianghu” gangster (Fan Liao). The effects of this relationship and the mob violence affect her life but throughout she remains cool and self-possessed. Tao Zhao is impressive as Qiao. She acts a muse for Zhangke Jia, having appeared in his earlier films including the very fine Mountains May Depart / Shan he gu ren (2015). This film has the same epic quality and it happily screens in Leeds, a city that missed out on the earlier title. The production values in all departments are excellent and both the action and the settings fully engage. The language in this title is Mandarin with English sub-titles.
The movie comments on recent and contemporary China; I thought one point referred back to the coup by capitalist-roaders following the death of Mao Zedong. Tony Rayns has an article in the May issue of Sight & Sound which includes comments by the director and explains some of the distinctive Chinese aspects, including the title rendered in English as ‘Sons and Daughters of the Jiangsu, a word appropriated by the underworld and originally referring to “the parallel world in which martial arts fictions is set.”
Growing Pains is a small season of films about “young people, their experiences, and perspectives on the world”. The season started a few weeks ago with Jonah Hill’s directorial debut Mid90s which follows a 13 year old boy as he discovers a group of skateboarders in a Los Angeles suburb and tries to find out where he belongs. It was a film I liked even though it didn’t always seem sure quite what it wanted to be but maybe that was the point.
We’re still in the 1990s this week but much closer to home with Pond Life which is set and was filmed near Doncaster. Nominally about the legend of a giant carp in the nearby ponds it’s really all about a group young people in a small community. The film was previewed at the film festival last November, a full house and an entertaining cast and crew Q&A made it one of my highlights of the festival. Some may say the film is slight but it’s this quietness and nostalgic feeling of endless summers that felt incredibly heartfelt, perhaps it resonated so much with me because I was also a teenager in the 1990s. The film is beautifully made with some really strong performances from the young cast who I am sure will go on to great things (Esme Creed-Miles can also be seen in Amazon’s TV version of the Joe Wright film Hanna). There’s also a great soundtrack from Richard Hawley which mystifyingly doesn’t seem to be available to listen to anywhere yet.
Pond Life is on general release this week and showing at the Picture House daily, it’s a shame that such a small charming film is getting a release at the same time as one of the biggest blockbusters but I do hope people seek it out as it’s really important that films like this get seen in the cinema.
Also on general release this week and coming to Hyde Park from Friday 3rd May is Eighth Grade another fantastic smaller film that will hopefully not get lost in the shadow of the Avengers. We’re very much back in contemporary times as Kayla, brilliantly played by Elsie Fisher, deals with growing up in the modern social media obsessed digital age. Mark Kermode sums it up brilliantly:
Released in America last year, it feels like we’ve had to wait an awful long time to see Eighth Grade in the UK but it’s definitely been worth it. It’s also been a long wait to see Madeline’s Madeline which is screening from the 10th May. I’ve only heard great things about this and the New York Times describe Helen Howard’s debut performance as “one of the great teen performances in film history.” which must be something considering how good the performances have been in the rest of the Growing Pains season.
This movie has received mixed reviews. But Mark Kermode, whose visits to the Picture House have been very popular, was really positive. The drama presented in this title is rather unconventional. The narrative mixes objective scenes [the audience assume we are watching a record of realistic events] and subjective scenes [a character’s internal memories and musings] and it is likely to take time for viewers to be able to clearly distinguish them. The plot also mixes actions by characters with philosophical musings by them.
The latter aspect is exemplified by the opening sequence which commences with the night sky and an astronomer speculating on the cosmos. This would appear to be a homage to the British film masterpiece, ‘A Matter of Life and Death’ (1946). It also sets up a treatment of the characters and their experiences which suggest issues of existential consideration.
On the surface this is a story of a murder investigation shot in a noir manner, with a world of chaos, a ‘seeker’ hero, flashbacks, triangles of relationships and nights and chiaroscuro. The setting is New Orleans and the production makes good use of the varied character of this city, which at times has an exotic tinge. It is though a symbolic city and despite location filming it is not the city seen in contemporary news. Visually the film is treat. The colours are evocative and suggestive, not just the ‘blue’ of the title but a range of tones which match the different facets of the city. The cinematography, in colour and a ratio of 2.35:1, by Conrad Hall is excellent and the title is well served in all production departments.
The other compelling aspect of the film is the performance of Patricia Clarkson as detective Houlihan, the investigator. This is a tour de force. I actually pay little attention to the Academy Awards but this performance deserves a Best Actor trophy. It is also a still rare pleasure to see an older actress with a lead role in a thriller.
This is the latest movie by Carol Morley. Her Dreams of a Life (2011) stood out amongst recent British documentaries. Mark Kermode commented that she was ‘born a film-maker’. I actually think that quality film-makers develop by commitment and hard work, attention to detail and a serious study of cinematic form. Carol Morley seems to have done all of this. And, uncommon among the ‘new auteurs’, she has mastered both the direction of film and script-writing for film.
The film is adapted from a novel by Martin Amis, ‘Night Train’ (1997) though, apparently, changing the tone and the plot. Amis’ novel aimed to be a parody, this is a fairly bleak film noir. It was mainly funded by the BBC and the BFI. This may be part of the reason that it stands out in productions by British directors working on US-based stories. Frequently such films are a disappointment and less satisfying than earlier British-based stories by the same film-maker. Here Carol Morley succeeds with a really effective treatment which also develops some of the themes found in her earlier works.
Definitely a film to see. Mark Kermode suggests it repays seeing more than once; I fully agree. If you do enjoy it there is an article, ‘Under Investigation’, privileging the female protagonist in the April edition of Sight & Sound, and followed by an interview with Carol Morley.
One of the most distinguished and most sympathetic of European film-makers died last week. She enjoyed a film-making career of fifty years and made 54 films including documentary shorts and feature length films. At the revered age of ninety Varda was the doyen of a cinema that harked back to the influential and transforming new waves of the 1960s. Varda was part of what was called ‘the left bank group’ which also concluded Alain Resnais. He edited her first film, La Pointe Courte (1955), screened in a Varda season at the Picture House in 2018. Another colleague was the film essayist Chris Marker. Varda also made film essays and the pair shared a strong affection for cats.
Regulars at the Picture House have had a number of opportunities over the last year to enjoy some of her other films. Cleo from 5 to 7 / Cléo de 5 à 7 (1962) was screened in the Leeds International Film Festival. This film that established Varda’s reputation bought a distinctive content and style to European cinema and remains a film that takes on new aspects when revisited.
The Picture House also screened One Sings, the Other Doesn’t / L’une chante l’autre pas (1977) which dramatises the struggle by French women to win legal access to abortion in that decade. The film demonstrates how Varda’s politics were not just confined to the cinema screen but involved her active participation.
The Beaches of Agnès / Les plages d’Agnès (2008) found Varda in playful mood as she revisited her earlier work and the themes and motifs that really interested her. These included the beaches of the title, cats, mirrors and art works; in the latter area she demonstrated a renaissance style grasp of visual art.
Her most recent film to be screened was Faces Places / Visages villages (2017) in which, with a fellow eccentric artist J. R., she explored rural France through a distinctive form of photography. This also returned her to her first artistic forays in the 1950s when, as a young photographer, she recorded key theatre moments of the decade. The relationships in the film showed Varda’s empathy for ordinary people, something found throughout her long career.
Her final film debuted at the recent Berlinale, Varda by Agnès / Varda par Agnès (2019). The film presents excerpts from a series of illustrated talks that Varda gave about her career. Her talks are intelligent, precise, fascinating and full of charm and occasional irony. The film offers a worthy testament to her impressive career. We can look forward to enjoying this last offering later this year.
You may have already been to an earlier screening or saw the title at the Leeds International Film Festival; however, if you enjoyed it as much as I did you will surely want a second viewing.
Directed by Alice Rohrwacher, one of her earlier films was The Wonders (2014). This film has been described as magic realist. It combines naturalistic observation with a plot that includes references to myth and folk tales, social exploitation and a touch of fantasy. Lazzaro of the title is a sweet natured and apparently simple minded peasant. He is part of a village cut off from modern Italy and involved in some form of share cropping. Later in the film a migration leads members into a lumpen-proletarian existence. The film shares tone and tropes with recent migrant films. It is fascinating and at times moving. Visually Hèléne Louvart’s cinematography is both beautiful and atmospheric and the overall production is excellent. I thought this the best film I saw at the Festival. A friend commented
I greatly admired The Wonders … and this was even better. This tale of a holy fool in a setting which blurs the borders between realism and the fantastic is not, perhaps, for the literal-minded but should delight most of the rest of us.
Many of us vent our life’s frustration by pushing ourselves to a physical limit. Tina, a mother of three, does the same in the film The Fight. Jessica Hynes (Spaced, The Royale Family, W1A) plays the character of Tina, who takes to the boxing ring to deal with her ever-increasing stress levels from dealing with a complex and hectic life as a wife, mother and daughter. This uplifting family film also stars Russell Brand and Anita Dobson.
Jessica Hynes debuts as a director for the film, which is set in her hometown of Folkstone and will be taking part in a Q&A session at our iconic picture house on Friday 29 March at 8.30pm. Tickets are still available.
“Being a true fighter means you’re not afraid to fail. You can’t do anything if you’re worried about losing. That’s the spirit in which I made this film.”
It feels like a very personal film, well acted by the A-list cast that Hynes has assembled: a cathartic meditation on the need to heal, the need to confront those who do wrong and to confront yourself when you’ve done wrong.
Peter’s funeral will take place on Thursday 18 April at 12.15 at Christ Church, Upper Armley. The committal will take place before the service at 11.40 at Cottingley, all are welcome.
This is the fourth of the titles from the Independent Cinema Office programme celebrating the films of Margarethe von Trotta. It was her first solo film as director, following on from The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum / Die verlorene Ehre der Katharina Blum (1975), already screened at the Picture House. Christa (Tina Engel) is involved in an alternative child care centre. Its problems lead her into crime and then having to go on the run. At one point, she and her friend are found working in an agricultural collective in Portugal. This demonstrates how von Trotta’s film do not just address female relationships, which they do powerfully, but the surrounding social and political contradictions. The film references indirectly the confrontational political discourse of 1970s Germany. As always the characters are fascinating, the film is engrossing and von Trotta and her team’s command of cinematic techniques is impressive.
This is a welcome screening of an important German film when titles from that territory are rare in British exhibition. It would be good to follow up the excellent ICO programme with an example of some other aspects of von Trotta’s film work. The British film Institute have a 35mm print of Sheer Madness / Heller Wahn (1983), though it seems it is quite worn. There is also von Trotta’s career in film acting before she took up direction. She worked several times with the great German film director Rainer Werner Fassbinder. The British Film Institute have a 35mm print of his Gods of the Plague / Götter der Pest (1970), a drama about an ex-prisoner with Margarethe von Trotta in a leading role.
Unfortunately we have to share some sad news, Peter Chandley, the Chair of the Friends of the Hyde Park Picture House and a regular at the cinema, passed away late last year.
Peter’s funeral will take place on Thursday 18 April at 12.15 at Christ Church, Upper Armley. The committal will take place before the service at 11.40 at Cottingley.
We are thankful to his cousin, Margaret Francis, for sharing some stories about Peter with us which we have brought together here alongside some thoughts from the Friends of Hyde Park Committee.
Peter was born on July 20th, 1953 and was adopted a month later by Marjorie (Lawrence) and Herbert Chandley. Marjorie owned a small haberdashery shop that also sold children’s clothes before her marriage and Herbert served in the war. He late became a teacher who taught woodworking. Marjorie and Bert lived in a bungalow in Windsor, then moved to a house in Frinton on-sea when Peter came into their lives and they cherished him dearly.
Peter attended Children’s Special Service Mission (CSSM) on the beach every morning during the school summer holidays. This helped build a strong bond with his faith which was important to him throughout his life.
After school Peter went on to attend teachers college and it was this that brought him to Leeds. When his training finished, he came to settle in the city, living around the Armley area for much of his adult life.
We’re not sure when Peter first visited the Picture House but he worked for a time in the Hyde Park Area as a teacher at the Royal Park Primary school on Queens Road. There he touched the lives of many young families in the area and built a relationship with our community which would extend to his active involvement in the Friends of Hyde Park Picture House from its establishment in 1984.
Peter loved trains, especially steam trains and he sought out and enjoyed rising as many as he could in the UK. He also loved horror films, science fiction and fantasy and comic books. He was an avid collector of the latter and enjoyed many of the recent comic book adaptations.
This might seem a contrast to his lifelong commitment to the Church but these lovely dichotomies are one of the wonderful things to remember about Peter who was actively involved in the Christ Church, Upper Armley, in his adult life. It is perhaps this community which will remember him most fondly alongside our own.
Peter was Chair of the Friends since 2008 and was a valuable voice in the group. Always positive, kind and thoughtful, Peter carried with him so much of the cinema’s story. Not just the tale of our bricks and mortar but the people who had been so key to it over the years and the story of the Friends itself which is the story of the saving of the cinema. He was also a keen supporter of other local cinemas, The Hebden Bridge Picture House, the Rex at Elland. By bus and train he would traverse Yorkshire looking for the right film at the right time. Always a cheerful hello and a friendly smile, it’s impossible to know how many people he came to know in these travels.
We are sad beyond words to think of the stories which are lost with Peter’s passing. In the telling of the story of the Picture House he is a chapter we are lucky to be able to cherish.
“So why do we spend all the time we do on the Hyde Park, this one little Cinema. Well because we care about it in the world of multiplexes but we can’t afford to be complacent as I used to go to the Lyric cinema for many years but it closed and few remember it today. We know the Hyde Park is a very special place which provides a unique venue for watching the films from the oldest silent show, the foreign and all the other unusual films which don’t get shown very much anywhere else, to the special shows as well as all the other films. We have something to be very proud of and where would we go to if it wasn’t there.”
Peter Chandley 1953 – 2018
Capernaum was the winner of the Leeds International Film Festival 2018 Best Fiction Feature film award, and was nominated for an Oscar (Academy Awards Best Foreign Language Film 2019).
“I wish my parents had never had me!”
“Capernaum” is often used to mean “chaos” in French literature. It is also the name of an ancient Palestinian city on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee where Jesus Christ is said to have performed miracles. Times are tough for undocumented people who end up in Beirut slums. And I mean tough! Life is about getting by … life surrounded by hunger, petty crime, violence, forced marriage, detention centres, as well as some compassion. If you saw Slumdog Millionaire (2008), that was a bit cosy by comparison. Capernaum shows abject poverty where people have no legal way out.
Without papers you are nothing in the eyes of the authorities. Lebanese director Nadine Labaki understands the brutal reality of life there. Most of the cast are novice actors from the neighbourhood who draw on their personal experience. Zain (Zain al-Rafeea) is a streetwise 12 year old, a survivor who is close to his younger sister Sahar (Haita ‘Cedra’ Izzam). During the story Zain joins forces with an Ethiopian migrant worker Rahil (Yordanos Shiferaw) and her baby son Yonas (Boluwatife Treasure Bankole ).
Don’t let this harsh background put you off seeing a very good film! You will also see humanity, resilience and love amongst the prevailing political, social and economic injustices. Personally I have gained so much from films that offer glimpses into the lives and struggles of people across the world. Just a few examples:
- Taxi Tehran (2015) made despite a ban by the Iranian authorities;
- The Act of Killing (2013) about mass killings in Indonesia;
- Speed Sisters (2017) about Palestine’s all-women racing car team;
- The Journey (2017) about a suicide bomber in Baghdad;
- A Cambodian Spring (2016) popular resistance to forced evictions
- Fukushima, Mon Amour (2016) about people living in the shadow of nuclear meltdown
- Félicité (2017) about a singer in Kinshasa (Democratic Republic of Congo) trying to get medical treatment for her son
- Human Flow (2017) Ai Weiwei’s film gives a global context to the struggles of displaced people
- I, Daniel Blake (2016) reminds us that the UK is not exempt from such dehumanising treatment.
We are indebted to the directors who use their skills to tell such stories, sometimes at great personal risk, and always with the huge challenges of assembling the necessary funding, gathering a film crew, and arranging production and distribution. Fortunately there are growing numbers of them thanks in part to iPhone cameras, drones, and support from international groups. Films like Capernaum contribute in their own way to moves towards an urgent search for meaning and identity across the globe and illustrate results of conflicts, some of which are prosecuted in our names.
Capernaum is showing at the Hyde Park Picture House from Friday March 1st to Thursday March 7th inclusive.