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.
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.
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.
15 Years after its first premiere, notorious bad film, The Room (2003), has continued success with regular screenings all over the world. This success is down to its growing cult fanbase, and in turn, The Disaster Artist, a film based on the making of The Room, is created by those fans.
In August 2010, journalist Tom Bissell wrote a brilliant piece for Harper’s magazine entitled ‘Cinema Crudité’, charting his growing obsession with The Room, which he describes as “…the movie an alien who has never seen a movie might make after having had movies thoroughly explained to him.” His deep dive culminates in an interview with the director/screenwriter/producer/star himself, Tommy Wiseau.
In his interview, Bissell eludes to an article by Clark Collis entitled The Crazy Cult of ‘The Room’, which charts the growing cult success of the film among Hollywood’s comedy elite, including Judd Apatow alumni Jonah Hill and Paul Rudd. Bissell asks Wiseau if he had been approached by any of his celebrity fans, to which he gives a typically left field and cryptic answer, a roundabout way of saying ‘no’. Funnily enough, it would be Bissell, and his book The Disaster Artist (written with Greg Sestero, Wiseau’s friend and co-star), that would finally connect Wiseau with his celebrity fanbase. It was the book that also introduced director/star James Franco to the film, which he is already envisioning as a film of sorts in his 2013 Vice article about it (“The book reads like the combination of two Paul Thomas Anderson film scripts…”).
The film version of The Disaster Artist begins with a prelude of talking heads, including Kristen Bell (who is interviewed in the original Clark Collis article), trying to articulate their complicated relationship with “the Citizen Kane of bad Movies”. The film itself is made up of high profile fans of the film, including all three hosts of the podcast ‘How did that get Made’, who interviewed Sestero before The Disaster Artist book was published (at that point with the working title of ‘Lost inside The Room’)
Richard Brody’s review of The Disaster Artist for The New Yorker, describes the acting style of Tommy Wiseau (played convincingly by Franco) as a “theatre of attention” which is most apparent in a scene played out in a cafe, where Wiseau and Sestero command the attention of bemused patrons. This was an inspiration for producer A24’s viral campaign, an award given to the best scene from The Room acted out in public. This in turn mirrors those early midnight screenings, as it was a staple, to dress up as characters from The Room and act out scenes, in the aisles and in front of the screen, which essentially provides the core of The Disaster Artist. Apparently around 25 minutes of the The Room was recreated shot-for-shot, evidenced in the films closing credits.
There’s a clip on youtube (below) of Tom Bissell before he went to his first midnight screening of the film, the one he wrote about in his piece. In the video he is asked about his favourite scene, one which he calls “incomprehensible”. At that point he had only seen clips online, recently he said he has seen it “More than 100 times”, I wonder if it makes any more sense to him now, or if the delight is still in the incomprehensibility of it all.
“She remembers the roses. Three times that day in Texas they had been greeted with bouquets of yellow roses of Texas. Only, in Dallas they had given her red roses. She remembers thinking, how funny – red roses for me; and then the car was full of blood and red roses.”
This stylised and unconventional film about the experiences of first lady, Jackie Kennedy, in the wake of the assassination of her husband, takes it’s inspiration from a literary/journalistic source; an article written by Theodore H. White for the December 6 1963 edition of Life magazine entitled For President Kennedy, An Epilogue.
The interview White conducts with Jackie Kennedy Onassis at her home in Hyannis Port provides the framing device for the fractured narrative in which we look at the events that took place after the assassination, in particular, the funeral service in Washington D.C. and the changeover of presidency and occupation of the White House to Lyndon B. Johnson.
There are some great stylistic elements at play here. The White House set (filmed in a studio in France) is impressive, and the film was shot on super 16mm by regular Jacques Audiard DP, Stéphane Fontaine. It is also framed in the 1:66 aspect ratio, giving a convincing period feel, which beautifully recreates vintage newsreel footage.
Natalie Portman gives a strikingly un-melodramatic central performance as a self-possessed woman, struggling to appear strong and composed in the public eye, and angry at what she believes is the bad hand her husband had been dealt.
I also have to mention the great orchestral soundtrack, performed by Under the Skin composer, Mica Levi, which swells and threatens to overpower the images in parts.
1. No Home Movie
Belgian artist and film maker, Chantal Akerman, revisits familiar themes here. A tough, yet beautiful piece of documentary self portraiture, that ranks with her greatest work.
2. The Assassin
A rigorous experiment with the themes of classical Chinese Wuxia films. Contemplative, with sparks of blunt aggression. The film Refn’s Drive (2011) wishes it could have been.
3. Fire at Sea
Verité document of Lampedusa (setting of this years La Piscine riff, A Bigger Splash, there couldn’t be a more different film). The cinematography and editing here is top notch, and highlights a fascinating microcosm reflecting larger global issues.
I was completely knocked out by this Mumbai-set absurdist gem. An elderly dissent poet/singer is brought into court on trumped up charges of inciting a sewage worker to commit suicide. The resulting case, and the efforts of both the defence and prosecution to bring it to a conclusion, creates a film that brings to mind the films of Ruben Östlund or possibly Roy Andersson.
5. Cemetery of Splendour
An ex-nurse and young soldier suffering from a mysterious sleeping sickness become friends as he drifts through different states of consciousness. Another wistful and gently funny magical realist masterpiece from Apichatpong Weerasethakul.
… and the rest: 6. Little Men 7. Love and Friendship 8. American Honey 9. The Pearl Button 10. Louder than Bombs
The latest film screening in the Adapting Miss Highsmith season at Hyde Park Picture House, is Michel Deville’s thriller of marital disharmony, Deep Water (Eaux profondes, 1981), adapted from Patricia Highsmith’s novel of the same name.
The season of films, showing on DCPs at select cinemas in the UK, was curated by Edinburgh’s Filmhouse in association Waterstones bookshops (and supported by the BFI) and has a total of 13 films, 12 features and 1 short, that represent the majority of major film adaptations of Patricia Highsmith’s work. Only two of these (Todd Haynes’s Carol and the short, A Mighty Nice Man, directed by Jonathan Dee) were helmed by a director from Highsmith’s home country, suggesting that her popularity was greater in Europe.
Monday’s film, Eaux Profondes was directed by Michel Deville, a lesser known director from the French Nouvelle Vague era. He is a director known primarily for his erotic comedies and dramas, but this film, funnily enough, recalls the psychological thrillers of Claude Chabrol.
The plot concerns a married couple Vic (Jean-louis Trintignant playing a familiar character from Highsmith’s thrillers, a charismatic psychopath) and Melanie (Isabelle Huppert), whose relationship is fraught with jealousy. Vic appears to have secretive affairs, and also does little to stop his much younger wife flirting and possibly sleeping with other men, then when Vic’s jealousy drives him to murder, suspicions towards him create fresh tension in their lives.
Actress and screenwriter, Greta Gerwig is a busy woman! Last year, Gerwig showed up in not one, but two great UK releases. In Mia Hansen-Love’s Eden (2014), she had a scene stealing role as Julia, the former girlfriend of protagonist, Paul. Then later in the year, she co-wrote and starred in Mistress America (2015), a brilliant comedy about the developing friendship between stepsisters-to-be, Brooke and Tracy.
This week, once again, Greta stars in two films; An extra screening of Rebecca Miller’s Screwball-esque comedy of remarriage, Maggie’s Plan, is on Thursday at 8:45pm. Then on Friday Hyde Park Picture House are starting their run of Todd Solondz’s new film Weiner-Dog, where Greta plays a reincarnation of Dawn Weiner, the iconic character from Solondz’s debut, Welcome to the Dollhouse (1995).
After her early collaborations with filmmakers like the Duplass brothers, Joe Swanberg and Mary Bronstein, she decided the Dogme style aesthetic wasn’t for her (“shaky cameras make me sick. I get motion sickness when I look at them. There are some film-makers I love and yet I cannot watch their movies. I threw up during the first half of [Lars von Trier’s] Melancholia.”), and has since really come into her own as a screen presence. She is, in my opinion, responsible for two of Noah Baumbach’s better films, 2013’s Frances-Ha, and the aforementioned Mistress America, and is set to make her solo writing-directing debut next year with Lady Bird. I’m always intrigued about her upcoming projects. Keep them coming, Greta.
Filipino director, Lav Diaz, once said of his epic, sometime 10+ hr films, is that he likes the idea that audiences could leave the cinema, go to work, then return and carry on watching. That his films just breathe, exist, like we do. Parts of Miguel Gomes’ 6.5 hour Arabian Nights felt like that to me; These ambling, slice of life portraits of modern day Portugal, structured in a style inspired by One Thousand and One Nights, as told by Scheherazade. They show a Portugal in the shadow of austerity, yet plugging on. Breathing, Existing.
For example, the final 90 or so minutes, entitled “The Inebriating Chorus of the Chaffinches”, is about a group of disparate men, some of whom we’ve met already, who engage in the hobby of trapping and training chaffinches for singing competitions. The section, much like the rest of the trilogy, is at once sublime and ridiculous; weaving together their everyday existences, with Scheherazade’s anecdotal, at times bizarre narration, shedding light on their insular world whilst birds tweet and trill constantly in the background.
I hope plenty of people, like the audience at the Picture House today, get to watch the Arabian Nights films as a whole. I think they benefit from being in close proximity with each other, especially the final volume. I also hope audiences go home and watch Gomes’ previous films; The Face You Deserve (which is on Mubi until the 22nd ), the critically lauded Tabu (2012), and the (in my opinion) masterpiece, Our Beloved Month of August (2008), both of which screened at LIFF 26.
There have been countless essays written about cinematic representations of the Holocaust; are the Academy Award winning depictions by Steven Spielberg or Roberto Benigni truly important? or just trite exploitation? Is it ever OK to make a fiction film about the awful events that happened in places like Auschwitz-Birkenau and Treblinka?
Son of Saul director, Laszlo Nemes, himself a film school graduate, has made a film that places him into this ongoing conversation, and sees his debut as, among other things, a critique of established popular representations. In an interview with The New York Times, Nemes reveals his antithetical approach “Since the end of the Second World War I’ve seen very clearly that many people more or less consider the Holocaust as a mythical story and approached it probably from a defensive mechanism, as a way to get away from it through survival stories. I don’t think Auschwitz and the extermination of the European Jews was about survival. It was about death. And how Europe killed itself, committed suicide.”
But Son of Saul, now an Oscar winner itself (Best Foreign Language Film 88th Academy Awards) has been met with its own share of criticism. Manohla Dargis for The New York Times called the film “Intellectually repellent”, Michael Koresky in Reverse Shot described it as being “grotesque and exploitative” and Stefan Grissemann in Film Comment similarly sees it as exploitation; writing “In its pursuit of controversy, Son of Saul plumbs unforeseeably new depths of revulsion.”
The film does, however, have a surprising but powerful supporter in Claude Lanzmann, director of the revered holocaust documentary, Shoah (1985). Lanzmann has criticised other films for dramatising the horrors of death camps, yet has given Son of Saul his approval, praising it as an “anti-Schindler’s List”
Son of Saul first played at Hyde Park Picture House as part of the Leeds International Film Festival last November, where it didn’t quite manage to rank in the audience top 10. Yet looking at Twitter, it definitely had its fair share of supporters in the audiences, and although I’m undecided on how I feel about the suspense plotline, I have to recommend it for Géza Röhrig’s central performance, the impressive stark sound design and for the arresting shallow focus cinematography by Mátyás Erdély.
Son of Saul screens daily from Friday 29th of April. The Sunday screening at 5pm will include an introduction by Dr Dominic Williams (University of Leeds), co-author of a recent book about the Sonderkommando as well as a post-film panel discussion with Prof. Griselda Pollock (University of Leeds), Prof. Sue Vice (University of Sheffield) and Gary Spicer (Stockport College).