Groundhog Day (USA 1993)

Saturday 2nd February 10:30pm

Phil Connors (Bill Murray): Excuse me, where is everybody going?
Fan on Street: To Gobbler’s Knob. It’s Groundhog Day!

Groundhog Day is a popular annual tradition celebrated in Punxsutawney, western Pennsylvania. Groundhogs hibernate each winter. The superstition is that if the groundhog (Punxsutawney Phil) emerges from his burrow on February 2nd and sees a shadow due to clear weather, he will retreat into his den and winter will persist for six more weeks; and if he does not see his shadow because of cloudiness, spring will arrive early.

TV weather presenter Phil Connors, news producer Rita Hanson (Andie MacDowell) and camera operator Larry (Chris Elliott) have the task of covering the festivities for a Pittsburgh TV station. In Punxsutawney the Pennsylvania Polka is playing. The weather is extremely cold. And clearly a day in the little town of Punxsutawney is not Phil Connors’ idea of fun.

Phil: This is one time where television really fails to capture the true excitement of a large squirrel predicting the weather.

The film Groundhog Day is a popular romantic comedy set in a an attractive small town that is a character in itself (actual location Woodstock, Illinois).

But there’s a lot more to Director Harold Ramis’s film than that.

I expect you know already, so I’ll risk a spoiler. After all the film is largely responsible for popularising the phrase ‘Groundhog Day’ in the UK.

I expect you know already, so I’ll risk a spoiler: Some events in the film “are or appear to be continually repeated”, trapping Phil in a time loop that no one else is aware of.

Phil: What would you do if you were stuck in one place and every day was exactly the same, and nothing that you did mattered?
Ralph (Rick Overton): That about sums it up for me.

Some viewers interpret the film according to their own philosophies, creeds and religions, with enthusiasts ranging from Buddhists, fundamentalist Christians, and Nietzschean nihilists, to transcendental yogis and Hasidic Jews. The film is called “Black Hole of Love’ In South Korea. Whether you’re looking for purgatory, reincarnation, mitzvahs, or karma, you will probably find what you seek.

Other fans may see echoes of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s five stages of grief and loss as Phil Connors struggles to come to terms with his situation.

And some of us will simply sit back with our popcorn to enjoy an excellent cast, a snowy festival, and a little food for thought. After all, if you could live forever, if your actions seemed to have no consequences, how would you change yourself over time? Would you live your life well? Could you find anything to make this seemingly never-ending daily routine stop?

Phil: Well, it’s Groundhog Day… again…

This year Groundhog Day will repeat itself at the Hyde Park Picture House on Saturday February 2nd at 10.30pm.


Bill Walton

Rosa Luxemburg, Germany 1986

Tuesday January 15 at 6 p.m.

This is a welcome screening of one of the fine political dramas written and directed by Margarethe von Trotta. Rosa Luxemburg was one of the outstanding revolutionaries of the early C20th. Along with Lenin and the Bolsheviks and the suffragist Sylvia Pankhurst she adhered to the central platform of Marx and Engels’ position on capitalist war. This was the outcome of years of struggle in her native Poland and in the German Social Democratic Party for ‘Revolution’ against ‘reformism’. Her political activity led to numerous spells of imprisonment and finally her murder after the failed Spartacist uprising in 1919.

[see the recent demonstration in her memory].

Red Rosa now has vanished too. (…)

She told the poor what life is about,

And so the rich have rubbed her out.

May she rest in peace. “[Bertolt Brecht].

Von Trotta’s film opens in prison in 1916 and then takes the viewer back to 1906 and a Polish prison. Cutting in time and space between different periods of Rosa’s life and political action the film presents a complex and dramatic biography. Barbara Sukowa, a long-time collaborator with von Trotta gives a compelling characterisation of this committed and steely woman. The film brings out both the importance of Rosa political activity and the rich but demanding personal life she enjoyed.

The production team includes a number of von Trotta’s regular collaborator. Visually this is a tour de force and the team also manages to capture the look and detail of the years before World War I. When the film moves to the later years of the imperialist war and the post-war failed revolution the judicious use of archive footage integrates the personal life with the seismic social events.

This is a engaging and fascinating biopic and treatment of political events that are as relevant today. Rosa’s own ‘Reform or Revolution’ is as an apt a commentary for 2008 as it was for 1900.

Margarethe von Trotta is one of the outstanding German directors of recent decades. Along with fellow women film-makers she will be part of a retrospective at the forthcoming Berlinale. The Independent Cinema Office are distributing this film [in digital versions] with three other titles: The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum / Die verlorene Ehre der Katharina Blum (1975): The Second Awakening of Christa Klages / Das zweite Erwachen der Christa Klages: The German Sisters / Die bleierne Zeit. Let us hope we are able to see these three as well.

Five 2018 highlights from Hyde Park Picture House

‘Rey’

Selected by Jake:

Rey

The year started really strong with this Chilean curio, a surrealist biography of self proclaimed King of Araucania and Patagonia, Orélie-Antoine de Tounens. Intriguingly, the film was shot on 16mm and the canisters were buried then edited in different stages of decomposition, which gave it a feeling of a past being (literally) unearthed. FFO Andrew Kötting and Alejandro Jodorowsky.

120 BPM

Possibly this year’s most affecting film, which follows AIDS activists in early 90s Paris. The rousing scenes of protest and then the nighttime raves which follow bleed into each other, set to an amazing soundtrack of hypnotic and strangely melancholic House music. I was left reeling.

Zama

Brilliant absurdist pitch-black comedy from celebrated Argentinian filmmaker, Lucrecia Martel. The story follows a colonial officer who’s life becomes a Kafkaesque nightmare as he tries to get a transfer from a desolate outpost somewhere on the Paraguay River.

Leave No Trace

Probably the most striking coming-of-age story I came across this year. A homeless father and daughter are found living illegally in a national park in Oregon, and the film shows them being reintegrated into society. As the narrative continues, we begin to see their paths diverging and it blindsides you with overwhelming poignancy.

Milford Graves: Full Mantis

A music documentary that truly honors its fascinating subject; the pioneering improvisational drummer and polymath, Milford Graves. Directors Jake Meginsky and Neil Young ingeniously mirror the intuitive outlook of a genuine eccentric in the textures and rhythms of their film.

 

2018 at the Hyde Park Picture House.

‘The Wild Pear Tree’

I thought this was a stronger year for new releases than 2017. Two of my favourites screened at the Leeds International Film Festival and then, subsequently, at the Picture House.

Shoplifters / Manbiki kazoku (Japan, 2018). This is a real cinematic treasure. The subject is welcome and a little subversive. The production is excellent in every aspect.

The Wild Pear Tree / Ahlat Agaci, (Turkey | Republic of Macedonia | France / Germany | Bosnia and Herzegovina | Bulgaria | Sweden, 2018. An epic film, certainly in length, but immensely rewarding if you stayed the course.

Then the new titles on general or limited release;

Jupitor’s Moon / Jupiter holdja, (Hungary / Germany / France, 2017). This was a sort of ‘magic realism’ following an illegal migrant trying to survive in an unwelcoming environment.

Sweet Country, (Australia, 2017). A fine ‘outback film’ set in the 1920s. Apart from the excellent characters and plot we had a glimpse a ‘silent film’ screening.

Isle of Dogs, (Germany / USA, 2018). Fine animation and the canine performances of the year.

Zama, (Argentina / Brazil / Spain / Dominican Republic / France / Netherlands / Mexico / Switzerland / USA / Portugal / Lebanon, 2017). I enjoyed this so much that I must find time to read the novel from which it is sourced.

Wajib (Palestine / France / Colombia / Germany / United Arab Emirates / Qatar / Norway, 2017) A master-class in how to make a fascination story out of a drive and delivery of wedding invitations.

‘Wajib’

There were two fine documentaries this year:

The Rape of Recy Taylor, (USA, 2017) Set among African-American women exploited and oppressed in the pre-civil rights era. The use of archive material was so imaginative.

Faces Places / Visages villages (France, 2017) An in idiosyncratic delight.

We also had a lot of classics. The Ida Lupino programme was welcome and mainly on 35mm. High Sierra (USA 1941) and Outrage (USA 1950)stood out.

And we had a good 35mm print of Isaac Julien’s Young Soul Rebels (Britain 1991).

The one serious omission of the year was The Young Karl Marx / Le jeune Karl Marx (France / Belgium / Germany, 2017), a really well done drama of the early years and work of Marx and Friedrich Engels, and with Jenny Marx and Mary Burns.

Friedrich, Jenny, Karl, Mary and family

Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, Spain 1988

New Year’s Eve Double-Bill
Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown & 9 to 5

Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown

QUESTION:Take an intense world of machismo, voiceovers, red gazpacho,  answering machines, love triangles, Arab terrorists, and a mambo taxi driver who puts Uber to shame. To this vivid background add a vibrant cast of women crazed with love, along with a nosey secretary, a Jehovah’s Witness, two policemen and the telephone repair guy. What do you get?

ANSWER: Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar’s smart, funny and touching international breakthrough film. A feast of style, colour, and music. ‘Nervous breakdown’ may not be quite the right translation for the Spanish ‘Ataques de nervios’; but look out for dramatic outpourings of negative emotions, bodily gestures occasional falling to the ground, and fainting, often in response to receiving disturbing news or witnessing or participating in an upsetting event. (Thanks, Wikipedia, for the clarification.)

Ana (Ana Leza) : I’m fed up. I’m gonna get myself some quick cash, buy
myself his bike and split. With a bike, who needs a man?
Pepa (Carmen Maura): Learning mechanics is easier than learning male
psychology. You can figure out a bike, but you can never figure out a man.

Almodóvar’s film doesn’t quite pass the Bechdel test for representation of women in fiction, but it comes pretty damn close. (More than two named women ✔︎; who talk to each other ✔︎; about something besides a man – some of the time).

Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown takes place mostly in a snazzy Madrid penthouse. Pepa wants to know where her lover Iván (Fernando Guillén) is because she has to tell him something, Over a hectic 48 hours. Pepa, her friend Candela (María Barranco), Iván, Lucia (Julieta Serrano), Carlos (Antonio Banderas), Marisa (Rossy de Palma), and Paulina (Kiti Mánver) gradually figure out their relationships to each other. Spoiler alert: expect the unexpected.

Iván: How many men have you had to forget?
Pepa: As many as the women you remember.

Surely you deserve a bit of fun. On New Year’s Eve at 4pm put the trials and tribulations of 2018 behind you; treat yourselves to a beer or glass of wine from the Picture House kiosk; and prepare for the trials and tribulations (and successes) of 2019, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown is being shown as double-bill with 9 to 5 (1980) which features Lily Tomlin, Dolly Parton and Jane Fonda.


Bill Walton

Meet Me in St Louis, USA 1944.

Sunday December 16th at 5.30 p.m. Friends of the HPPH Xmas screening.

This is the Friends’ Christmas movie though technically it is not a seasonal film The plot actually covers the summer of 1903, then autumn, winter and spring. However, the Christmas sequence is one of the most memorable in the film, indeed in all Hollywood. It is full of seasonal tropes and motifs and features the wonderful ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’. The film is a musical and one of the classics produced by the M-G-M Studio.

The plot follows the domestic and romantic developments in the household of Mr Alonzo Smith (Leon Ames) and Mrs Anna Smith (Mary Astor). Their family includes four daughters; Rose (Lucille Bremer), Esther (Judy Garland), Agnes (Joan Carroll and “Tootsie” (Margaret O’Brien). There is a single son, Lon Jr. (Henry H. Daniels, Jr.). There is also a youthful Grandpa (Harry Davenport) and a maid with a tart tongue, Katie (Marjorie Main).

The cast are excellent and one of the great pleasures of the film. Judy Garland, in her nineteenth feature, is in her youthful and vibrant mode rather than the darker and more emotional tone of her later years. Her songs are done with accomplishment, especially my favourite ‘The Trolley Song’. Margaret O’Brien, in her tenth film, is a well-practised scene stealer but always entertaining. The story does tend to sentiment but Marjorie Main’s Katie continually inserts a more caustic note. The beaux of Rose and of Esther are not quite as interesting as the girls [neither in Lon Jr.), but this is [among other things] a woman’s picture.

Much of the film is in bright sunshine and vibrant Technicolor. But autumn introduces a darker tone with some fine chiaroscuro. And winter offers both twilight scenes and plenty of snow. The director, Vincente Minnelli, is a fine craftsman and he is a master of musical genre; he would later direct The Pirate (1948) and An American in Paris (1951). Early in his career he was a production designer and Minnelli makes use of splendid mise en scène and has a preference for fine travelling shots. In this he is aided by the excellent craft personnel of M-G-M. The Art Direction is by Lemuel Ayres, Cedric Gibbons and Jack Martin Smith; the Set Decorations are by Edwin B. Willis with the costumes designed by Sharaff. They all look and meld beautifully. The cinematography is by George Folsey, who had a long and distinguished career. The Technicolor is excellent and the sequence shots are finely smooth; watch the way the camera handles the opening number, ‘Meet Me in St Louis’.

The screenplay was adapted from a series of short stories by Irving Brecher and Fred F. Finklehoff. They have succeeded in blending these into a complete and integrated story. The songs are a medley from many sources including that of the 1904 Great Exhibition with which the film ends. Most of the score was adapted by Roger Edens but clearly also involved Arthur Freed. Freed is the guiding spirit behind the cycle of classic films from M-G-M, of which this is one of the finest.

The film was a major success on release, coming second in the annual box office. It received four nominations in the Academy Awards though it failed to win one. However, since then it has been listed among the American Film Institute’s ‘Greatest American Musicals’ and two of the musical numbers made it into the AFI’s ‘100 years … 100 songs’. It remains a perennial, classic. 113 minutes of pleasure in glorious colour, songs and unrivalled Hollywood production values. Happily the film is screening from a 35mm print so it can be enjoyed in its original format.

Shoplifters / Manbiki kazoku, Japan 2018

From Friday December 7th until Thursday December 13th

This film was the worthy winner of the Palme d’Or at Cannes this year and of the the Asia Pacific Screen Award for Best Feature Film. It came fourth in the Audience voting at the Leeds International Film Festival; to my mind an underestimate. I rate it one of the three or four best films released this year.

The film is was written, directed and edited by Koreeda Hirokazu. His previous films include the very fine Our Little Sister / Umimachi Diary (2015) and I Wish / Kiseki (2011). Like his earlier films this fits into a cycle of titles that explore representations of the family. Koreeda has done this in a variety of genres but the films all fit into a Japanese genre known by scholars as ‘shomin-geki’, the lives of the common or ordinary people. A major influence here, acknowledged by Koreeda, are the films of Naruse Mikio, one of the masters of classical Japanese cinema. Both directors present portraits of people from the petit-bourgeois, working class and, even the lumpen-proletariat.

The title of this new film describes an activity practised by the main characters. But there is much more to the film than this. As in his other films the cast are excellent and the characterizations and the relationships between kith and kin are both fascinating and complex. The film is realist but with elements of melodrama and moments of intense emotion.

The production values are great. Both the cinematography by Kondo Ryuto and the music by Haruomi Hosono are visually and aurally impressive. The title screens from a DCP but was filmed on 35mm and several digital formats, including Arri and Canon cameras. There are particular moments of superimpositions and one very fine overhead shot that recall the recent The Third Murder / Sandome no satsujin (2017) and the earlier Our Little Sister. This film is in colour, standard widescreen and has English subtitles. It runs 121 minutes. I cannot think of a better two hours spent at the moment.

If you have never seen a film by Naruse Mikio the BFI do have a 35mm print of his 1964 title Yearning / Midareru. This not only has a fine narrative but is graced by the presence of the great Japanese star Takamine Hideko. To see this would be a treat and an interesting comparison with the work of Koreeda.

Bill’s Highlights From #LIFF2018

Bill Walton looks back at his highlights of Leeds International Film Festival 2018:

This year I got to 32 screenings, the majority at the Hyde Park Picture House. My choices were nearly all booked in advance from the programme, often with little background knowledge. This can mean missing out on some films that turn out to be very popular, but also means a lot of delightful surprises. Now that the experience has had time to settle, here are the films that stuck in my mind.

Night Train

A lot of my highlights were in the Time Frames section, and were in black and white: Night Train (1959), 12 Angry Men (1957), Odd Man Out (1947), The Docks of New York (1928) with live musical accompaniment, and my festival favourite La Notte (1961) which is just beautiful. I also enjoyed comedies like After Hours (1985) and Happy New Year, Colin Burstead (2018).

Capernaum

One of the things I like about the Festival is the rare chance to see films made in areas of conflict, often in the face of physical danger and on a financial shoestring. I would highlight Capernaum (2018) set in Beirut, The Journey (2017) set in Baghdad, and The Reports on Sarah and Saleem (2018) set in West and East Jerusalem. They were nicely complemented by the thoughtful documentary What is Democracy? (2018).

Tampopo

Then there were delightful films like The Kindergarten Teacher (2018) – another top film for me -; a very funny Japanese food-based comedy Tampopo (1985); In The Aisles (2018) set in a huge German supermarket; and highly original Belgian animations This Magnificent Cake + Oh Willy (2018).

I avoided headline films like Peterloo (2018) and Suspiria (2018) because I know that I’ll soon be able to catch them when they are released more widely. A big thank you to everyone who made LIFF 2018 possible.

 


Bill Walton

1945, Hungary 2017

Tuesday December 4th at 6.20 p.m.

This new title has a very limited release in Britain so this is a rare opportunity to see a very fine film. It is set on August 12th 1945, commencing precisely at 11 a.m.  as a train arrives at the railway station in an unnamed Hungarian village. The location seems to be south of Budapest not far from the Danube river.

The train deposits two figures dressed in black and accompanied by two large boxes. Over the next 85 minutes we watch as their boxes are carted into the village. We also watch the responses of the inhabitants, and occasionally Soviet soldiers, part of the liberating armies in Europe. What gradually emerges is a secret guilt over events that occurred under the Nazi occupation.

The film is happy to only gradually reveal the nature of the events and the rather differing responses of the inhabitants. Unlike in some westerns with similar plots the two visiting protagonists do little and, apart from one scene, do not address the villagers. The resulting slow pace and series of ambiguities contribute to the drama and tension developed in this film.

Beautifully shot in black and white with a minimal but effective accompaniment this production offers excellent characterisations from the cast and a convincing representation of place and period.

This will be a fine screening and possibly the only opportunity to see the film in its proper theatrical form. [A longer review is here].

My #LIFF2018 roundup

The film festival is over for another year and what an amazing two weeks it was. I managed to fit in 47 films with a total running time of 82 hours which I thought was a lot until I saw somebody had made it to 70-something screenings. I think it’s an incredible achievement by everybody involved that it’s possible for somebody to see so many films and find something to like about all of them. There were some films I struggled with (Happy As Lazzaro and Birds of Passage) but I think this was more down to my own tiredness (one of the problems of seeing so many films). Other films such as Genesis 2.0, Killing God, Await Further Instructions and I Feel Good all had great ideas that got a bit lost in the final film.

My favourite films this year were all retrospectives from the brilliant Time Frames series. I’ve always loved the Before films and it was relief to find Before Sunrise was as good as I remembered. I finally got to see 12 Angry Men for the first time and it was every bit as good as I had expected. 12 Angry Men was one of many films that seemed surprisingly relevant for 2018, as was Sidney Lumet’s other film,  Fail-Safe, another first viewing for me and made even more tense by the shadow of Trump hanging over it.

Of the new films it was Anna and The Apocalypse that I enjoyed the most. It’s the best Scottish zombie high school Christmas musical you’re going to see for some time and the soundtrack (out now) is brilliant. The audience for Pond Life seemed to be made up mostly of cast, crew and their friends and I’m not sure how many festival goers saw it or what people not involved with the film thought of it. It’s far from a perfect film but there was something about it that I really loved and I do hope that when it’s released next summer it finds an audience that appreciated it as much as I did.  In Fabric was another new film that completely pulled me in;I can’t begin to explain what it was about but I absolutely loved it.

This year I was also pleasantly surprised by a lot of the more ‘mainstream’ films. One of my few 5 star ratings was for Beautiful Boy and Can You Ever Forgive Me?, Widows, The Kindergarten Teacher and Colette were all much better than I was expecting.

I’ve tried to put all the films I saw in some order over on Letterboxd where you can also find my brief thoughts hastily written between films or at the end of a long day.

It would be great to hear your thoughts on the festival in the comments or if you would like to write a longer blog post (on the festival or anything else) get in touch.