Bill’s Films of 2018 (so far)

What with the rain finally arriving, various ball game tournaments coming to an end and school terms drawing to a close, it must be the start of the great British summer. What better time to look back over all the films shown so far this year and pick out our favourites. Over the next few weeks our contributors will be posting their highlights, starting with Bill Walton:

  • Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
  • Human Flow
  • A Fantastic Woman
  • Distant Sky – Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds Live in Copenhagen
  • The Shape of Water.
  • The Yorkshire Silent Film Day including Another Fine Mess, The Unknown, and Hamlet

A good list? Feel free to share you feedback and your own highlights of the year so far in the comments below.

Human Flow, 2017

A pay-what-you-can screening Sunday 24th June 2pm

This extraordinary and beautiful documentary is being shown as part of the Hyde Park Picture House contribution to National Refugee Week. ‘Human Flow’ is a deeply human and respectful response to the plight of 65 million people displaced worldwide: a fusion of art, cinema and politics which helps us to develop the empathy and understanding we need when looking for political solutions to the global refugee crisis.

Why is Human Flow so special?

  • Director, Ai Weiwei, himself lived in internal political exile in terrible conditions during the Chinese Cultural Revolution. He later escaped to the United States and then to Germany. Governments tend to think of migration in terms of numbers, of masses of migrants lacking in personal identity. By way of contrast, Ai focuses on intimate portraits of individuals and small groups, introducing us to people with hopes, families, friends, and pets. ‘Human Flow’ takes us into their frightening worlds of border fences and gates, disused railway stations, life jackets and survival blankets, interpreters and mobile phones.
  • We are facing a shifting world order. Displaced people flee the effects of war, poverty, hunger, racism, and climate breakdown which leave them with no hope for their future if they stay. Here are stories of people so desperate that they leave behind their language, homes, habits, friends and communities for life-risking journeys and unknown futures. Ai Weiwei uses technologies ranging from iPhones to drones to take us to 23 countries as far apart as Afghanistan, Greece, Myanmar and Kenya to hear from them directly.
  • Let’s not forget that Ai Weiwei is an artist as well as a human rights activist. His openness and empathy reminds me of performance artist Marina Abramović when she shared a period of silence with each stranger who sat in front of her in the New York Museum of Modern Art for three months (The Artist Is Present, 2010).
  • ‘Human Flow’ is ultimately an expression of solidarity. If someone is hurt, we are all being hurt. That refugee could be my mother, my son, my husband, or my neighbour. We are all citizens of the world. This harrowing global migration is a challenge to our freedom and democracy, for all of us, wherever we live.

Ai Weiwei says that, in the face of global displacement of human populations, resorting to physical borders and walls is like building a dam to stop a flood. It doesn’t solve the issue entirely and may well make matters worse. It is better to make paths which let this human flow continue with as much dignity and respect as possible (for example through implementing policies which match our obligations under international conventions relating to the status of refugees), while at the same time working to tackle the reasons for human displacement at their source.

‘Human Flow’ is screened at 2pm on Sunday June 24th. Entry is pay-as-you feel with proceeds going to support Asylum Seekers in Leeds through Leeds Refugee Forum and Leeds Asylum Seekers Support Network.


Bill Walton

Zama, Argentina, Spain , France, Mexico, The Netherlands, Monaco, Portugal, USA, Lebanon, Britain, Dominican Republic, 2017

Opens today, Friday, and on Sunday and Wednesday 6 p.m.

This is the new film by Argentinian film-maker Lucrecia Martel. Her earlier films, La Ciénaga (2001), The Holy Girl  / La niña santa (2004) and The Headless Woman  / La mujer sin cabeza (2008) were fine examples of C21st Latin-American cinema. These three features were all set in a contemporary world and dramatised some of the contradictions in her home country. This new film is a literary adaptations set in the C18th and part of the Spanish colonial empire. The film was shot on digital formats and critics have rightly praised the visual style and sound design of the film.

The source of this story is a novel from 1956 of the same tiltle by Antonio Di Benedetto, [only translated into English in 2016]. Set in 1790 somehere on  a river dividing Argentina from Paraguay, the protagonist is Don Diego de Zama (Daniel Giménez Cacho) a magistrate [‘corregidor’ government official}. We first see him in the film [as in the poster] staring out across the river, symbolising his frustrated hopes of a move: away and upward socially and economically. The book offered a subjective narrative and the film translates this into a hallucinatory telling that is full of ambiguities. The story takes in three different periods of Zama’s sojourn in this provincial city, best identified by the changing face [i.e. actor] of the governor under whom he serves. The first two periods focus on his recurring requests for a transfer and the contradictions of his work, a sort of C18th ‘Catch 22’. His social position is problematic because he is an ‘Americano’, born in this ‘new world’ where colonial characters from Europe control society and power. His ambiguous status is reflected in his attempt at sexual conquest, both amongst the European and the indigenous women.  These first two thirds of the film have a surreal quality with elliptical editing and moments of bizarre humour when, for examples, animals cross the frontier between the world of nature and that of human society.

The final third  involves Zama enrolled in an expedition to hunt down a local bandit, Vicuňa Porto / Gaspar (Matheus Nachtegaele) who could be as much myth as a criminal disruption. Now the film takes on aspects of horror: something Martell also essayed in her very fine The Headless Woman. The first two thirds of the film have some of the absurdist quality found in ‘magical realism’ There are the recurring and ineffectual social forays of the protagonist; writing by the characters that seems completely fruitless; and odd acts of sexuality and violence that seem totally arbitrary. The last part moves into the world of the exploration: a trope in Latin American fiction and film where the horrors that beset the Europeans and their helpers betoken the ultimate futility of their search.

Martell has scripted and directed the adaptation with genuine skill. Her cinematographer, Rui Poças, has produced a fine range of visual imagery, some in stark brightness, some in a pattern of lights and shadow. And the sound design by Guido Berenblum is really distinctive. using internal and non-simultaneous sound. Both have used digital formats which work well to produce a rather flat colour surface and aural depth that suits the non-realist form.

Her last film, The Headless Woman , was a terrific and successful melodrama dramatising class and corruption. So why have we had to wait nearly a decade for her latest film. Part of the answer lies in the number of territories where she has found funding. Clearly there has not been a rush of investors to support her work; the number of companies involved in the production takes up four columns in the Sight & Sound credits.. One is reminded of the comment of Osmane Sèmbene, comparing putting a film together as like making up a cigarette out of butt ends in the street.

The novel is, apparently, dense but only runs to 200 pages. if you have to wait to read a copy, which sound really worthwhile, then there is a fine review by J. M. Coetzee in ‘The New York Review of Books’ . This sets out the main features of the plot but also, importantly, give a sense of the tone and characterisations of the novel. It seems that Martell has been relatively faithful to the book but some material has been excised and some given greater emphasis.

At least the film is now here. It should be a treat, especially as there is a scarcity [at least in West Yorkshire] of films from this great cinematic continent. Sight and Sound have both a review and a specialised article on the film. There is also a transcript of an interview with Lucrecia Martell, excellent reading.

I found the film challenging at first. It took about half-an-hour before I felt clear about how the narrative worked. But from then on I followed the film fine. This included some colonial Spanish terms retained in the English sub-titles. So there is ‘corregidor’ and also ‘encomienda’ which referred to the practice of awarding control of indigenous people to colonialists.

There is one remaining screening this coming Wednesday [June 20th] and at present no sign of further screenings in the Leeds/Bradford area. Do not miss this film or, at some future date, you will be embarrassed during a discussion of the outstanding Latin-American films from the first two decades of the C21st.

The Rape of Recy Taylor, USA 2017

Wednesday afternoon, Tuesday and Thursday evenings.

 

This is an impressive and important film though at times it offers painful viewing. The film recounts the rape of a young Afro-American woman and mother in 1944 in Alabama by a gang of white men. This was before the period of activism known for ‘The Civil Rights Movement’. Rape of black women, like the lynching of black people, was common in the period dominated by the racist culture called ‘Jim Crow’. Recy’s struggle for justice was supported by National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People [NAACP] and by one of its field officers, Rosa Parks. Parks is famous for her role in the ‘Bus Boycotts’ in the 1950s. But this case was equally important in the development of black resistance to the racism endemic in the USA. The NAACP, committed to constitutional action, was for decades the lead organisation in the struggle for equality for Afro-Americans. In this case the struggle achieved only partial results but it was a seminal step in the struggle.

The film is directed by Nancy Buirski whose previous films include a documentary The Loving Story (2011) and a dramatised treatment Loving (2016) of an inter-racial couple prosecuted for breaking laws against ‘miscegenation’. This films uses a complex mixture of personal film and audio testimonies, commentary and archive material. The latter include clips from feature films.  Most of the clips are from the films of  Oscar Micheaux whose work was a central component of the ‘race cinema’, segregated film production and exhibition in the USA from the 1910s to the 1940s.

The style of the film is excellent with fine work in cinematography, editing and special effects. In particular there are a series of beautifully composed superimpositions and some meaningful montage. The beauty of parts of the film provide a dramatic counterpoint to the agonies of the story. The testimonies from the family and Recy herself both describe the incident and comment upon it. Two contemporary commentators draw out the key position these events and struggle played in the long march of Afro-American resitance. But late in the film comments by white residents demonstrate how the much remains to be achieved.

This is a powerful and stimulating documentary on issues that, as the news constantly reminds us, remains a central problematic in US culture. What would be good would be if we could have a follow-up with a screening of one of Oscar Micheaux’s powerful film dramas: Within Our Gates (1920) is a classic that addresses both the rape of black women and the lynching of black people.

This week you can see …

Tuesday only.

The Girls / Flickorna Sweden, 1968), a classic and rare film offering a variation on  the seminal story of the ‘Lysistrata’ by Aristophanes. Part of the Radical Film Network’s ‘1968’ Festival.

Monday and Thursday.

The Breadwinner (Eire, Canada, Luxembourg 2017), a fine animation set in Afghan under the Taliban regime. The story is conventional, and reminded me of Osama (2003), The animation, which has two styles, one for the film’s present, one for the story told by the heroine, is beautiful to watch.

Monday to Thursday

Chesil Beach (British, 2017) is adapted from a novella b y Ian McEwan. A newly married couple spend an evening in a Dorset Hotel and on the nearby beach. Flashbacks fill in the back-story of their romance. With many aspects well done but I thought it did not quite cohere.

Wednesday only

Redoubtable / Le Redoutable (France, Myanmar, Italy 2017). Some reports found it funny but fans of Jean-Luc are likely to react with dismay. With English sub-titles for the French and Italian dialogue.

Thursday only

Filmworker (USA 2017) is likely to please the fans of Stanley Kubrick who, unlike Godard, has a good June: 2001 later this month.

Opening Friday

Jeunne femme (France 2017) by a new director portraying Paris and a footloose young woman . Comic and dramatic. Sub-titled in English.

The Wound / Inxeba, South Africa, Germany, Netherlands, France , 2017

Tuesday 29th May 6.30 p.m.

This screening offers a rare opportunity to see a film made in Africa. Supported by European funding the film was shot in the mountains of the Eastern Cape in South Africa. The plot concerns a secret initiation ritual, Ulwaluko, among the Xhosa people. [There is information regarding this in the online Press Notes]. The subject of the film, and the inclusion of a gay theme in the film, has made it controversial in its home country. It has been reclassified as 18 there.

Abroad the film has been well received. It made the short list for the Academy Award category of ‘Best Foreign Language Film’ and was voted ‘Best First Feature’ at the London Film Festival. These two awards presumably explain its availability in Britain.

The director, John Trengove, researched the film among men who had experienced and/or were involved in the rituals. He notes that there seemed,

‘something profound about a ritual that shows a young boy his place in the world of men.”

This is an adult them and the film has a 15 certificate, [“strong sex, language, drug misuse”, BBFC]. Reviews suggest that is is well filmed and set in a majestic landscape. And the cast are credited with convincing portrayals. The film was shot digitally in colour and a ratio of 2.35:1: it uses Xhosa/Afrikaans/English with English sub-titles.

The last African film that I saw, Félicité (from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 2017) was the best new title that I viewed at the Leeds International Film Festival. In the 1980s African films were relatively frequent screenings and offered a world of quality and distinctive cinema. Now they are few and far between and deserve a serious effort to see them.

They Live, also I’m out of bubblegum

Showing Saturday 26th May 10:30pm

Image result for they live!

They Live, Released in 1988 and directed by John Carpenter, is a cult classic for many reasons, not including the fact that it was directed by John Carpenter (Ghosts of Mars).

We follow the story of ‘unnamed drifter’, or in the credits, ‘John Nada’, who comes to town, who discovers some sinister goings on, and is forced to dish out some justice ( see A Fistful of Dollars to continue your unnamed hero cinema binge).

Inspired by the short story ‘Eight O’Clock in the Morning’ by Ray Nelson, John Carpenter wanted this film to be protest at the state of the United States. Specifically the values of Ronald Reagan’s conservative revolution. Carpenter wanted to “scream out in the middle of the night” , about rampant consumerism and government control overtaking the values he was brought up with. They Live! is the 80’s left wing action film we needed.

It’s awesome.

The audience can see John Nada (played by the great Roddy Piper, RIP), goes on this, Platonic journey (see Allegory of the Cave for details), as he puts on some suspicious sunglasses, he see’s the world for what it truly is. No longer does John Nada have the luxury of mistaking appearance for reality, and he is forced to act as an agent of change (via ass-kicking).

The supporting cast is equally awesome, with Keith David returning to the Carpenter fold (Carpenter liked what he saw of him in The Thing!). K.David, supporting but never in the background, is a great choice of casting, and I encourage readers to see him in other things (Pitch Black, Platoon etc). Most recently he lent his voice to the President of the United States in Rick & Morty.

Image result for they live keith david

Keith David being Keith David.

This is one of my favourite John Carpenter films (although I can’t think of one I dislike, even Ghosts of Mars).

Carpenter takes the time to explore the nature of consumerism, that everything around us, is designed to make us buy something. This important topic is pushed through the kaleidoscope of John Carpenters brain, into a wacky, over the top masterpiece.

Peeling back this thin veil (via trendy shades), we get to see this world through the eyes of working stiff Mr.Nada.

Image result for they live!

Trendy shades

This film has everything.

Conspiracy. A WWF wrestler. Paranoia. Reality shattering sunglasses. Keith David.

They live. We sleep.

If you like They Live, you should also check out;

  • Invasion of Body Snatchers (1956 and 1978).
  • Pitch Black (for Keith David).
  • Big Trouble in Little China (1986).

The film will be shown on Saturday night followed by a discussion of its themes and their relationship to situationism and other currents active in 1968. The discussion will be led by Simon Hewitt, who teaches philosophy at the University of Leeds.

Screening as part of Radical Film Network’s 1968 Festival, a programme of screenings and discussions in collaboration with Film Fringe, which celebrate and reflect on the radical uprisings and revolutionary fervour of the events of 1968.

#RFN68


Henry Stocks-Fryer

Barbarella: 60’s Space Romp

Creatures of the Night: Saturday 5th May 10:30pm

Barbarella (1968), based on the French comic series of the same name (by Jean-Claude Forest), is a cult classic for a reason. Several reasons really.

We (the audience) follow the beautiful space adventurer Barbarella (Jane Fonda) on her mission to retrieve the scientist Dr. Durand Durand, to stop his super weapon, the positronic ray, falling into the wrong hands.

The opening scene, iconic and eternal,  Barbarella, floating around her ship, undressing. It just gets better and better. The Sci-Fi adventure is a product of its time, Jean-Claude wanted Barbarella to be representative of a free and liberated woman. This was the 60’s, and it was all about free love. Barbarella faces numerous perils in her journey to find Durand Durand, discovering sex and pleasure along the way. One early sequence, Barbarella is taught what “actual” sex is, as opposed to what has developed on earth in the future (taking pills and touching hands), far from the natural way of doing things. You can really see the films influence on future sci-fi film’s tackling of sex ( see Demolition Man).

From start to finish, the film is steeped in eroticism, fashion and far out ideas. To compare it to another cult classic, 2001:A Space Odyssey which came out the same year, a cold realistic view of space and humanities future. Barbarella came out of the psychedelia of  the 1960s, one of the most striking aspects of the film is the bizarre scenery that the titular character crashes into from scene to scene. It’s far out maaaaan.

Dealing with a chaotic, bizarre and weird worlds, we follow Barbarella on her weird journey of her mission to save the universe, and her own personal sexual exploration. Barbarella’s use of sex is inherent to film and its plot.

The film doesn’t feel hemmed in by tropes or rules, and because of this, we get an enjoyable, if not a little chaotic film. Some aspects of it may seem dated, but that comes with any piece of cinema.

If you are in the mood for a weird sci-fi space adventure with erotic overtones, Barbarella is the film for you.

You may also like these non-erotic recommendations;

  • Logan’s Run
  • Demolition Man
  • Flash Gordon

Henry Stocks-Fryer

The Third Murder / Sandome no satsujin, Japan 2017

Screening Sunday April 29th at 12 noon and Thursday May 3rd at 3.10 p.m.

Happily we have two screenings of the new Koreeda Hirokazu film. His earlier titles include the beautifully low-key Our Little Sister (Umimachi Diary, 2015) and the more dramatic but equally complex After the Storm (Umi yori mo mada fukaku, 2016). Koreeda is both a seriously fine film-maker and adept at working across genres. Apart from these two titles his output includes the children’s adventure I Wish (Kiseki, 2011); the Samurai film Hana (Hana yori mo naho, 2006); After Life (Wandafuru raifu, 1998) set in an equivalent of the Christian purgatory.

In this new film Koreeda again rings the changes in what appears on the surface to be a ‘legal thriller’. Misumi (Yakusho Kôji) is under arrest and charged with murder. A previous conviction for a double murder explains the title. Shigemori Tomoaki (Fukuyama Masaharu) is recruited to his defence team. He finds that Misumi’s account of events changes nearly every time he is questioned. He also finds that the family of the murdered victim, the wife Yamanaka Mitsue (Saito Yuki) and daughter Yamanaka Sakie (Hirose Suzu), also offer suspect testimony. The legal plot is not about innocence or guilt but the severity of the charge which may or may not lead to execution.

But if Koreeda works across genres, as an auteur, he is still identifiable by the themes which dominate his films. In this drama three of the main characters are fathers who have failed their families, in particular a daughter. Here the film crosses over with many of the director’s earlier works. Along with those mentioned these include Still Walking (Aruitemo aruitemo, 2008) and Like Father, Like Son (Soshite chichi ni naru, 2013).

There are parallels in the settings as well. The main places are towns close to the Tama River, south of Tokyo; but we also visit the region of Hokkaido in the north, noted for its cold climate.

The style is somewhat faster in rhythm than Koreeda’s other recent films. Here the team are working for the first time in an anamorphic ratio. Cinematographer Takimoto Mikiya makes excellent use of the wide frame. There are some evocative night-time sequences and a stunning use of superimposition late in the film. Koreeda who scripted, also edited this production. And there is an evocative music score by Einaudi Ludovico.

I thought, along with Sweet Country (Australia, 2017), that this is the most impressive new release so far in 2018. The film was shot in a digital format and has transferred very well to DCP. The quality of the visual and aural presentation means that much of the pleasure from the film will be missing on video or download. So this is a title to be seen at the cinema.