Bait, Britain 2019

Fri 6th December at 8.50 pm, Sun 8th December at 8.30 pm and  Wed 11th December at 1.30pm and 6.30 pm

This new independent British film returns to the Picture House in a 35mm print. It was shot on a 16mm Bolex and the director, Mark Jenkin, processed the film himself. It seems that he wanted to make the film look like older titles that originated on ‘reel’ film and in the processing added some of the signs of age and usage with scratches and the like. It first circulated on a digital transfer and, to be  honest, the effects that Jenkin aimed at did not translate to that format; they looked artificial. On 35mm the 16mm original should look as intended; so this is a film worth revisiting if you have already seen it.

It is a powerful drama set in a Cornish village. The film, through the use of camera techniques such as large close-ups and a non-linear narrative develops a intense feel  and effect. The village in this film is an old fishing port which has now become a summer venue for holiday-makers. The conflicts generated by these two separate worlds are personalised in two leading characters, brothers born and raised in the village.

The form and the style of the film is at times challenging but always absorbing. It is definitely a stand out film drama from this year’s selection of British film. And, like the earlier and equally fine  Gods Own Country  (2017), finds drama and compelling characters away from the urban settings that are more common in film stories.

It Must Be Heaven, (France/ Qatar/ Germany / Canada/ Turkey / Palestine, 2019)

Monday November 18th at 8.3. p.m. and Wednesday November 20th at 6.30 p.m.

This year’s Festival of Palestinian films launches, as usual, with this title screening during the Leeds International Film Festival, Already screened at the London Film Festival which provided this description:

“The beard is now inflected with grey and the eyelids hang a little lower, but for Elia Suleiman, the deft comic touch and wistful regret for a home just out of reach remain strong in It Must Be Heaven. The Palestinian film-maker fourth feature film – and his first in a decade – revisits similar themes to his earlier work, once again employing himself as the near-mute central character. This time, however, Suleiman transposes much of the action to Paris and New York. The upheaval across the Arab world since 2011 has seen the Palestinian struggle for statehood lose some of the existential urgency it once had to outsiders. Suleiman’s film is a delicious reminder of both the vitality of the cause, and the vibrancy of his artistry.”

His earlier features have been screened at the Hyde Park over the years. His last, the very fine The Time That Remains (2009), was part of an ealier Festival of Palestinian films. This most recent title runs 97 minutes, in colour and in English / French / Arabic / Spanish / Hebrew [English sub-titles, it has an unusually wide ration, 2.66:1.

LIFF 2019 Preview: Retrospective

Verna Fields

The Festival Retrospective this year offers a distinctive programme:                              ‘Mother Cutter Women Who Shaped Film’.

The women shaping film in this case are the editors, an important aspect of film-making which women have often dominated and which for much of the industry history has been one of the few areas where women had similar opportunities to men; another interestingly is scriptwriting.

The retrospective title is that of the nickname of Verna Fields, a long-standing editor in Hollywood. Her work included such disparate titles as Medium Cool {1969) and Jaws (1975). The former, a classic of the counter-culture, is the title screening in the Retrospective.The programme screenings are split between The Victoria at the Town Hall and the Hyde Park Picture House. Note, some titles are screening twice, some only once; so check the Brochure and calendar.

With the exception of the most recent ‘Mad Max’ release all of the titles were produced using photo-chemical film with the appropriate techniques. This means that the editing not only involves viewing, selecting, and arranging the complex tapestry of film shots and sequences in relation to sound tracks; it was physical manipulation,  cutting and splicing reel film, nearly always 35mm. So it is a little disappointing that only four of the titles in the programme are being presented in this format. All screen at the Hyde Park Picture House.

‘Beau travail’

Beau travail (1999.) [Wednesday 13th and Friday 15th November].

This is an adaptation of Herman Melville’s story ‘Billy Budd,Sailor’ by the director Claire Denis with Jean-Pol Fargeau. There have been other film versions of the Melville story but this is the most ambitious, with the narrative moved from a ship-o’-war to a Foreign Legion outpost in North Africa. Two important collaborators on the film were cinematographer Agnès Godard and film editor Nelly Quettier. Both have worked on other important films. Agnès Godard was cinematographer on a fine Italian film Golden Door / Nuovomondo (2006). Nelly Quettier worked on the equally fine and more recent Italian film Happy as Lazzaro / Lazzaro felice (2018).

‘Dancer in the dark’

Dancer in the Dark (Denmark and thirteen other territories, 2000)                                    [Monday 18th and Tuesday 19th November].

This is a post-Dogmé film from Lars von Trier. As you might expect it moves to a harrowing climax. Before that a young immigrant single mother [played by singer Björk) is living in rural USA in 1964. Her world of escape presents musical sequences set in her factory workplace. The film was edited by Molly Malene Stensgaard who had to manipulate DVcam video before its transfer to 35mm film. She has worked on a number of Lars von Trier titles, including the outstanding Melancholia (2011). This film won the prestigious Cannes Palme d’Or.

‘Movern Callar’

Movern Callar (Britain, Canada 2002).                                                                                                        [Tuesday 19th and Wednesday 20th November].

This was the second feature directed by Lynne Ramsay. This, and the earlier Ratcatcher (199),.seem to me better than her later films with US participation. Samantha Morton in the title role plays a grieving young woman who goes on a journey and an odyssey to Spain. The film was edited by Lucia Zucchetti. She also edited Ratcatcher, and, a little later, the highly successful The Queen (2006).

‘The Tempest’

The Tempest (Britain 1979). [Monday 11th and Wednesday 13th November].

The talented and subversive Derek Jarman adapts William Shakespeare: later he added Christopher Marlowe Edward II (1992). ‘Such stuff as dreams are made of …’ in a completely distinctive treatment. The editor Lesley walker, in only her second feature, provided an editing style that matched the unconventional style of Jarman. Her later work includes popular hits like Mama Mia (2013) but also other unconventional titles like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998). The film originated on 16mm.

Esfir Shubb

The Fall of the Romanov Dynasty / Padenie dinastii Romanovykh (USSR 1927),        [Monday 11th November].

This title, originally on 35mm, is screening from a 16mm print; the format used in film societies and by Kino in 1930s, when Soviet films were almost impossible to see in Britain. Directed and edited by Esfir Shubb, this is a pioneer compilation documentary. Shubb worked through thousands of metres of stock footage, short films and newsreels to produce 1500 metres that traced the the developments in Russia from 1913 to the revolutionary year of 1917 and the final dissolution of the Russian ruling class. Shubb could be called the ‘mother cutter’ of Soviet cinema. Many of the famous talents learned from her tutelage, including the young Sergei Eisenstein. The film has no sound track but uses title cards and will have live musical accompaniment by Jonathan Best at the piano.

These five films are the only photo-chemical prints in the Festival. The number seems to go down year by year; so apart from the quality of the films these screenings are also an opportunity to enjoy a’ vanishing prairie’ of reel film.

************************************************************************

Note: a bonus.

Green for Danger  (Black and White, 1946) by Lauder and Gilliat is also a 35mm print, the second screening is on Thursday a,m. This is a murder mystery with a fine performance from Alastair Sim. Edited by Thelma Myers [later Connell]. She learned her craft on films like The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943) and worked on many more titles including the fine black and white drama The Hill (1965).

I can also happily report that the 35mm prints of The Tempest and Green for Danger  were both good and that for Beau Travail was excellent.

 

The Last Tree, Britain 2019

Screening on the coming Saturday, Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday

This is the second feature both written and directed by Shola Amoo. It is fine production, beautifully put together. The cast are good with a fine leading performance by Sam Adewunmi as Femi. The film follows his development as a young boy with a foster-parent, through life with his actual mother up until his late teens. The setting move from rural Lincolnshire to urban inner-city London. Visually and aurally the film is a pleasure. There is fine cinematography by Stil Williams, fine editing by Mdhamiri Á Nkemi and excellent sound design by a team of engineers.

The narrative and representations are less sure. Both the supporting characters and the settings tend towards stereotypes. This is partly because they are undeveloped; for example, we never really get a proper back-story either for the foster-parent or for Femi’s actual mother. Underneath some distinctive settings and plotting there is a fairly conventional narrative.  The music is judicious but I think that it [deliberately] emphasises the conventional aspects of the story.

The script uses a number of extended ellipsis and I think this introduces an element of fragmentation into Femi’s story. This seems to me an example where the director would have benefited from a fellow scriptwriter.

Even so it is an absorbing title and is great to both watch and listen to. And the subject is both interesting with a contemporary relevance. Definitely worth going to see at the cinema as it is in both colour and full widescreen.

Review: Transit, (Germany / France 2018)

This is the latest release by the German film-maker Christian Petzold. He has already had three of his fifteen credits released in Britain; all fine movies. The last, Phoenix  (2014), was a powerful and stylish drama set in Berlin and exploring changes of identity in a story full of noir tropes. This new title has parallels with the earlier one; the question of acquiring an identity, the displacement of war and the impact of a radical new situation for the main characters.

The title refers ‘transit zone’ where people wait for the official papers to leave; they are displaced and where

“here’s no fixed home. Home is basically homelessness.” (Christian Petzold in the Press Notes).

The story comes from a novel by Anna Seghers from 1944. The settings are Paris and then Marseilles. This adaptation treats period ambiguously so we seem neither in the past nor the  present. This can challenge the audience but emphasizes the  situation of the protagonists:

“They’re borderline phantoms, between life and death, yesterday and tomorrow.” (Petzold).

There are a number of key characters but at the centre is a man seeking transit papers  Georg  (Franz Rogowski)  and the wife of a writer Marie (Paula Beer). So there is a love story in the plot but this has to try and work itself out in a world where war has produced chaos, where police are a threat and officialdom is both remote and overwhelmed.

The idea of ‘transit’ has raised parallels with both Casablanca (1942) and Port of ShadowsLe quai des brumes (1938). And there is a reflexive narration which Petzold himself has compared to Barry Lyndon (1975). In both its plot and narration it also reminded me of The Sheltering Sky (1990) with two young US characters adrift in North Africa..

There was a single presentation at the Picture House which was well attended. However, it seems no other cinema in the area has screened the title. The production is distributed by Curzon/Artificial Eye who rely as much on online as theatrical. And the title has not been helped in Sight & Sound where it received a normal review in September 2019 whereas a title I felt was inferior achieved the two-page spread offered to only three releases  an issue. My colleague on ‘The Case for Global Film‘ rates it one of the best new movies of the year and I absolutely agree. Hopefully it may return for another screening at the Picture House; I should certainly like to enjoy it a second time.

Scalarama 2019

The September Festival celebrating all forms of moving image exhibition returns to Leeds. The city is one of the areas which has an extensive and varied selection of titles; in both theatrical and non-theatrical settings. And the programme offers classics, less-known films, documentaries and animation.

‘Animated in Leeds’ on September 7th at Chapel FM Arts Centre offers a selection of some of the short films made by this pioneering Women’s Collective. The Leeds Animation Workshop has high standards of technical accomplishments and the productions invariably address important social issues.

Cutter’s Way (1981) is what is known as a neo-noir. It features many of the characteristics of the classic film noir. There is the world of chaos into which the protagonist is drawn by the siren call of, here, a mystery rather than a mysterious woman. The  film is in colour but offers many sequences shot in chiaroscuro. And, intriguingly, one could argue that the film offers both a seeker and a victim hero; both caught up in triangular relationships. It screens at the HEART in Headingley on September 9th.

A series of events highlight the film work of Bob Fosse, ‘Fosse in film’. Fosse started out as  performer and dancer and took up stage choreography. He then worked on several Hollywood productions and progressed to direction. He directed five features between 1963 (Sweet Charity) and 1983 (Star). The screenings in the Festival are of this three most famous and successful films.

Cabaret (1972) Thu 12 September at Wardrobe, ST. PETER’S SQUARE      One of the great film musicals and the best film version of Christopher Isherwood’s memoir

Lenny (1974) Sat 14 September @ 10:30 pm. Hyde Park Picture House.       Dustin Hoffman is perfectly cast as the scabrous and subversive stand-up comic Lenny Bruce. The film is beautifully shot in black and white by Bruce Surtees. [Unfortunately the Sunday screening is gone!]

All That Jazz (1979) with post film discussion on Bob Fosse and Power & Exploitation     Thu 26 September @ 6:30 pm – 9:00 pm                         Northern School of Contemporary Dance, Riley Theatre, 98 Chapeltown Road. Fosse uses his own life and experiences to present the story of a Broadway director, choreographer and film director (Roy Scheider). The parts are better than the whole with some brilliantly staged sequences.

To celebrate Babylon’s recent U.S. release, and commemorate the Windrush generation, we’re holding a special screening of Franco Rosso’s film, followed by a DJ set …

Babylon(1980) Tue 17 September @ 8:00 pm – 10:00 pm   Square Chapel Arts Centre, 10 Square Road.                                                                                 A seminal film on black culture set in the 1980s. Directed by an Italian film-maker who had already made a documentary about the infamous ‘Mangrove 9’ case. The eye of an outsider brings a distinct sensibility to a world that British cinema had yet to address in a meaningful way.

A series of short films on life and art and music of Palestinians in Palestine and exile today: as their struggle for National Liberation continues.

Films include Colours of Resistance about art and music of Palestinians trying to retain their identity with a country that is being deprived of its right to exist, Palestine Underground showing the music and hip-hop scene in Ramallah and Made  in Palestine.                                                       Tue 24 September @ 8:00 pm – 9:30 pm  LS-Ten Skatepark, Unit 1 Kitson Rd, Leeds.

If you want more information or to check our other parts of the programme visit the Leeds Web Pages.

If you are away from Leeds there maybe Scalarama where you are going, so check out the National Web Pages.

Never Look Away / Werk ohne Autor, Germany, Italy, USA, Czech republic 2019.

Young Kurt with Elizabeth and ‘degenerate art’

This new title had two screenings at the Picture House. I managed the second which had a small but respectable audience.  They all stayed to the end, which was 188 minutes later. In fact the film did not seem three hours to me as the characters and the stories were absorbing.

I write ‘stories’ as there are two narrative strands in the film and I thought one weakness was that they never seemed to completely mesh. The English language title refers to the personal and family drama strand. This starts in 1937 as we see the young Kurt [Cai Cohrs) with his Aunt Elizabeth (Saskia Rosendahl) as they follow a guided tour of the Nazi exhibition of ‘degenerate art’. Kurt already has ambitions to be  a painter. But the emphasis is on the personal. Elizabeth admonishes the young Kurt to

‘never look away’ because ‘everything that is true holds beauty in it’.

But she is soon lost and becomes a victim of the Nazi policies of sterilization and extermination of people deemed physically and mentally ‘unfit’.

After the war Kurt and his family find themselves in the zone liberated by the Soviet armies and then the German Democratic Republic. Kurt goes to art school where the official style is ‘Socialist realism’. He meets and falls in love with another student Elizabeth, ‘Ellie’ (Paula Beer). Her father Carl (Sebastian Koch) is a gynecologist and the audience [but not Kurt or Ellie] know that he has a suspect past from the era of the Third Reich. As this starts to catch up with him he leaves for the West. Now married Kurt and Ellie follow just before the erection of the infamous ‘Wall’.

This latter part of the film is closer to the German title, which translates as ‘Without an Author’. This refers to the film using some of the life story of an actual German artist, Gerhard Richter, whose paintings figure in the film. Kurt enrolls at the Düsseldorf Art Academy, at the time a centre of avant-garde art. Here we see another thinly veiled character from real life, the artist  Joseph Beuys. Now Kurt finds an artistic voice  and critical acclaim.

Adult Kurt with a Socialist Realist portrait and an experimental canvas

Less focused is family life, but Kurt and Ellie have children and happiness. The fate of her father Carl is not revealed but there is a hint that nemesis is closing in.

The cast work well, Tom Schilling and Paula Beer are reasonably good.  Sebastian Koch is excellent with a real sense of malevolence. The stand-out performance is Saskia Rosendahl, though she is only seen in the early part of the film.

The production is extremely well done. The design, cinematography and sound all work well to produce a convincing creation of the places and times. And there are both subtle and less subtle references in the style that draw the characters and their experiences together. The music does this at times, but other sequences have a rather obvious accompaniment, sometimes with a Wagnerian tone. I suspect the film-makers were not confident that all the key moments of development totally worked.

This contributes to the sense of a division in the film. And the personal drama, especially the romantic, is rather conventional in presentation. Whereas the artistic is less so. But I think both maintain the interest of the viewer.

The film  is written and directed  by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck who was responsible for the very fine The Lives of Others  / Das Leben der Anderen (2006). This film lacks the complexity of the earlier title. The treatment of both the German Democratic Republic and of the later Art Academy rely on rather simple motifs.   I think the director’s craft suffered from a trip to the mainstream and a completely forgettable The Tourist (2010). However, this production is vastly superior to that and, in a year where the new releases  of real quality are sparse, stands out. It is in  colour, full widescreen and has English sub-titles;  definitely a movie to be seen in a cinema.

Performance (UK 1970)

Saturday July 27th 5.30 p.m.

This is both a cult movie and a seminal British film. Chas, (James Fox) is an East End gang member who collects protection money. When his methods result in a killing he goes on the run and hides out in Notting Hill Gate basement, where, upstairs there is a ménage à trois. Chas becomes involved in the hedonistic activities at the house and, in particular with an ex-rock musician Turner (Mick Jagger).

The film became infamous for its melee of explicit violence, sex and drug-taking. The 1970s also became infamous for the clash between adventurous film-making and conservative values, embodied in another British film The Devils (1971) and the campaign against it by an organisation called ‘The Festival of Light’.

This film was produced by Warner Brothers, who also were involved in the equally controversial A Clockwork Orange (1971). The studio executives did not know how to manage the film and enforced cuts in the finished property. The British Board of Film Censorship [as it then was] made more cuts. On release it received an ‘X certificate’ whilst in the USA it received an ‘R’ rating. It received similar certificates in other territories and often additional cuts. The USA release suffered the further indignity of having some cockney dialogue being dubbed [re-voiced]; a fate also experienced by the radically different Kes (1969).

Two people received director credits. Donald Cammell, a bona fide maverick, who wrote the screenplay and was also associate producer. He was born in Edinburgh in the ‘Outlook Tower’ later home for a ‘Camera Obscura’; how apt. Cammell started out as a painter, took up script-writing and then Performance. This is his most famous and successful film; later works have a similar combination of the exotic and the erotic, but not the acclaim.

His fellow director was Nicolas Roeg. He was born in London; and also appropriately nearly opposite the old Marylebone Film Studio, used at one point by Hammer Films. He started out as a cinematographer and indeed shot this film. He went onto direct several successful and highly praised films, including Don’t Look Now (1973), screened in a digital version here last week. He had an unconventional style of film photography. One critic, Steve Rose, remarked that his films

“shatter reality into a thousand pieces” .

His film work, as in this title, is always memorable.

The film runs 105 minutes in colour and black and white, and in the European widescreen ratio. This screening presents the restoration by the BFI from 2004 in 35mm.

The background to the film and its handling by the industry and censors will be illuminated in the Q&A that follows with Sanford Lieberson, the producer on the film. His other work includes a number of documentaries including the very fine ‘Brother Can You Spare a Dime (1975). He will be accompanied by Jay Glennie who has produced a book; ‘Performance: 50th Anniversary Book’.

Half a year’s viewing

‘An Elephant Sitting Still’

The following are the films that I most enjoyed and was most impressed by in the first six months of the year.

An Elephant Sitting Still / Da xiang xi di er zuo (China, 2018)

This is a four hour epic in ‘miserabilism’ but a powerful representation of life on the lowest rungs of society. It was the first and only feature directed by Bo Hu.

Ash Is Purest White / Jiang hu er nü (China, France, Japan 2018)

Another fine movie from director Zhangke Jia; he follows his muse Tao Zhao across regions and periods in the manner of the preceding Mountains May Depart / Shan he gu ren (China, France, Japan 2015, not seen in Leeds].

Happy as Lazzaro / Lazzaro felice (Italy, Switzerland, France. Germany 2018)

A ‘holy fool’ is found first in the countryside then in the run-down urban setting. Mixing myth and contemporary exploitation in a fascinating parable.

Rosie (Eire 2018)

This is a powerful drama taken from real life. The screening was also an event in which participants in the film talked about the work.

‘Rosie’

3 Faces / Se rokh (Iran 2018)

Film-maker Jafar Panahi produces another exploration of Iranian culture in typical quirky fashion.

And one archive film,

Rosa Luxemburg (West Germany, Czechoslovakia 1986)

Part of the programme of films directed by Margarethe von Trotta. Whilst the political representation is limited Barbara Sukowa is excellent as the revolutionary heroine.

Sunset / Napszállta (Hungary. France, 2018)

Sunday July 14th at 2.30 p.m.

This is the new film from director László Nemes. His previous film was Son of Saul / Saul fia (Hungary, 2015). This new film also enjoys the fine production work of many of the same team from the earlier film: music László Melis, cinematography Mátyás Erdély, Film Editing Matthieu Taponier and production design by László Rajk. And once again the film is screening at the Picture House in its original format of 35mm.

Son of Saul was a very subjective style narrative and the new film takes a similar approach. But is seems that there are even more ambiguities in the plotting this time. The film opens in Budapest in 1913 when a young woman comes to the city and encounters mysterious and threatening situations. The pre-World War I Austro-Hungarian empire offers a rich palette for such a story; witness the earlier Sunshine (1999) directed by István Szabó.

The film runs for 142 minutes in colour, widescreen with Hungarian and German dialogue with English subtitles. It promises to be less downbeat than the earlier film but likely will need close attention as the story unfolds. The effort should be repaid by the visual pleasure in the screening. The 35mm cinematography relies on random  silver halide grains in the stock that reflect the light and give excellent contrast. Digital copies of 35mm film transfer this to uniform pixels and only rarely reproduce the particular characteristics of film stock. So, the illustrative still at the top of this post does not really give a sense of what we should enjoy viewing.