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.

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.

The Pavilion Presents Alia Syed.

Monday April 16th, 6.30 p.m. until 8.00 p.m.

This is an evening of films with the voice of the artist. Alia was born in Swansea and she enjoys both Welsh and Indian heritages. She works in film and on exhibitions and also teaches in Further Education. She now has three decades of film-making behind her.

The programme will include:

Points of Departure, 2014, video, 17min

Eating Grass, 2003, 16mm, 24min

Fatima’s Letter, 1992, 16mm, 19min

Alia will be there to talk about the themes and pre-occupations in her work. These include gender, colonialism, the diaspora and borders.

“I am interested in language; we construct ourselves through language; it creates the space where we define ourselves. Film can be a mirror—it can throw things back at us in a way that makes us question the ideas we have about ourselves and through this each other…I [am] interested in what happens when you hold more than one ‘culture’ within you at any given time.” [From a Q&A at an evening in L.A.]

Alia works within the experimental film discourse. You can get a sense of her approach by looking at one of her films [Points of Departure] on BBC Arts OnlinePavilion events are always worth attending; the Hyde Park Picture House has hosted a number; and this promises to be rewarding. It will be at The Swarthmore Centre on this Monday evening.  Swarthmore is quite accessible. From the Picture House walk up through the park, and down Cardigan Road to Woodhouse Square.

Isle of Dogs USA Germany 2018

Screening every day Saturday through till Thursday April 12th

Judging by the sell-out for the preview screening this title is the most eagerly awaited new release this year. Cult director Wes Anderson has produced a digital animation in colour and widescreen. The film is produced by his own Indian Paintbrush but also involving Studio Babelsberg, a partner in the earlier The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014). Babelsberg was once the site where Weimar cinema produced trailblazing special effects in the 1920s. Set in Japan, though with predominantly English dialogue, the film offers a pack of leading canine players voiced by well-known stars. Owners with cinephilic pets can enjoy a special dog-friendly screening on Saturday April 7th: repeated on April 14th. Later on the 7th a rather different canine representation can be seen in Samuel Fuller’s White Dog (1982).

Wes Anderson has experience of both animation and star voicing in Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009). He also used the techniques in the underwater sequences in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004). The plot revolves around a boy’s search for a lost dog. Youthful protagonists, along with dogs, have been seen in several Anderson titles, notably in my personal favourite Moonrise Kingdom (2012). This film also had one finest uses of an established composer [Benjamin Britten] so it will be interesting to see how Anderson and his team handle musical accompaniment.

The film also seems likely to stray close to the style and themes of Japanese anime. Anderson is, like a number of contemporary film-makers, also a film buff. His American Express: My Life. My Card was a brilliant homage to François Truffaut’s own celebratory Day for Night (La nuit américaine 1973). And I think Anderson must have had some involvement in the ‘Isle of Dogs mobile phone warning trailer’ screening at Picturehouse venues. Let us hope audiences have seen the latter.

What seems likely to be new thematically is an apocalyptic narrative. There is though the school drama in Rushmore (1998) which tends a little in that direction. What should be certain, noting Anderson’s existing output and the reviews of his new film, is that it will offer a very entertaining 100 minutes.

PS The film  is brilliantly done with excellent stop motion animation and CGI. The visual and aural quality on the DCP is fine. The canine characters speak English whilst the human characters speak Japanese with aural translation or sub-titles into English.  The soundtrack includes music by ALexandre Desplat, Hayasaka Fumio and  Sergei Prokofiev. The references and homages come thick and fast and it probably takes two viewings to catch them all. However, there are a number for Kurosawa Akira.

Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story, USA 2017

Tuesday March 27th at 6.30 p.m.

Hedy Lamarr was born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler in 1914 in Vienna, then part of the Austria-Hungary Empire which collapsed at the end of World War 1. She worked in Max Reinhardt theatrical company as a stage actress but then moved into the German film industry. Her most famous role was in Ekstase (1933), a Czech/Austrian production in German directed by Gustav Machaty. The film featured erotic scenes and a nude bathing sequence which ensured that it achieved notoriety. The film was screened at the a Leeds International Film Festival along with an earlier silent tile by Machaty, Erotikon (1929),

A failing marriage with a military munitions business man [experience she utilised later] and her Jewish status led Lamarr to leave Germany. She was recruited in Paris by Louis B. Mayer to the M-G-M studio. In Hollywood Lamar became a famed on-screen beauty. However, her roles tended to be based on her physical attributes and tended towards exotic characters. She rarely was cast in roles with strong acting potential.

Hedy Lamarr was with M-G-M from 1939 until 1943. Titles there included White Cargo (1942) in which she played Tondelayo, a black siren who seduces white colonial administrators (Richard Carlson). The story, which also had an earlier British version in 1929, suffered from racist caricature. H.M. Pulham, Esq (1941), adapted from John P Marquand’s novel, was of higher quality and was directed by King Vidor. Lamarr’s Marvin Myles was cast opposite Robert Young’s Harry Pulham.

For several years she worked free-lance, including with Warner Brothers, more titles for M-G-M, two minor Hollywood studios and at RKO. The last was Experiment Perilous (1944), directed by Jacques Torneur, which had her playing Allida Bederaux opposite George Brent and Paul Lukas in a Gothic melodrama.

Then she was at Paramount from 1949 until 1951. Here she played one of her most famous roles as Delilah in Cecil B de Mille’s Sampson and Delilah (1949), opposite Victor Mature playing the Jewish prophet and hairy heavy.

Lamarr’s film career ran out in the 1950s. However, aside from acting her ‘hobbies’ involving inventions give her story a distinctive turn. Hedy Lamarr had picked up some military science know-how from her first husband. During World War II, with support from the mogul Howard Hughes, she helped to develop a ‘radio-hopping’ device which has been utilised in more recent technologies.

Alexandra Dean’s documentary presents both aspects of her story, combining film clips and interviews, including audio tapes of Hedy Lamarr. It should provide a fascinating representation of both the film industry and the unseen other life of a Hollywood star. Hedy Lamarr was one of a select group of female stars described as the ‘world’s most beautiful woman’. More accurately the publicists could have described her as both the ‘most beautiful’ and ‘the smartest’.

Cinephiles’ Health Warning:

The title has archive footage in academy ratio reframed to 1.78:1 [television’s 16:9]. Oddly some television footage [4 by 3] and some 16mm footage [academy] are both in their original ratio.

The Post, USA 2017

From today and on Sunday January 28th at 5.00 p.m. with a Q&A

You can see the Academy Award nominated film and be involved with a Question and Answer session with Granville Williams at this special screening. Granville is an experienced writer on the Newspaper and Media Industries and is the Editor of ‘FreePress’ from the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom.  He writes;

The Post in an honourable addition to Hollywood films (All The Presidents Men (1976), Good Night, and Good Luck (2005), Spotlight (2015)) which portray journalists and journalism in a positive way, as opposed to grubby hacks chasing squalid, sensational headlines .

When I see films like these I wonder why UK film directors haven’t tackled such subjects. Couldn’t the dogged work of Guardian journalist, Nick Davies, as he probed and finally exposed the industrial scale of phone-hacking at Murdoch’s ‘News of the World’, be a suitable subject?

The credits for The Post say it is ‘based on a true story’ and whilst I can quibble with the way the film modifies some of the facts about the way the Washington Post’s publisher, Katharine Graham, finally came to back publication of the Pentagon Papers, I think the film captures perfectly how enmeshed she was in the Washington elite and the political and commercial pressures on her to take an easier route, and not publish the papers.

I will talk more about this in the Q&A session following the 5.00pm showing of the film on Sunday 28 January at the Hyde Park Picture House. Here I just want to develop a couple of points about two aspects of the film.

One is the way that Spielberg focuses on the old hot metal printing press scenes and the workings of the Linotype machines assembling the lines of type for the stories. It’s very evocative.

In 1975 after Watergate there was a ferocious strike by printers which set her and the newspaper on a conservative course. Graham devoted dozens of pages in her autobiography ‘Personal History’ to vilifying Post press operators who went on strike in 1975. She stressed the damage done to printing equipment as the walkout began and “the unforgivable acts of violence throughout the strike.”

John Hanrahan, a Newspaper Guild member at the Post, wouldn’t cross the picket lines and never went back. He pointed out,

“The Washington Post under Katharine Graham pioneered the union-busting ‘replacement worker’ strategy that Ronald Reagan subsequently used against the air-traffic controllers and that corporate America — in the Caterpillar, Bridgestone/Firestone and other strikes — used to throw thousands of workers out of their jobs in the 1980s and the ’90s.”

The other point is on the role of Ben Bagdikian in the film – he’s the journalist who gets access to Daniel Ellsberg and persuades him to hand over 4000 pages for the Post to use. He was national editor on the Post, a man who the editor, Ben Bradlee, in his autobiography, ‘A Good Life’, describes as ‘thorny’. Bagdikian had a big influence on me, and others interested in media reform. He wrote a key book ‘The Media Monopoly’  (1983) which warned about the chilling effects of corporate ownership and mass advertising on US media. Fifty corporations owned most of the US media when he wrote the first edition. By the time he wrote ‘The New Media Monopoly’ (2004) it had dwindled to five.

NB A couple of friends who have already seen the film thought it helps if one is clear about ‘The Pentagon Papers’. You can check this out on Wikipedia.

 

Loving Vincent, UK / Poland 2017

                                                      There is one more screening on Saturday 23rd at 5.15 p.m.           with subtitles for the hard-of-hearing,

 

The last screening of this title was sold out, an uncommon feat at the cinema. It is the recipient of a number of Awards including Best Animated Feature Film Award at the 30th European Film Awards in Berlin. Comments have focused on the sheer visual beauty of the images.

This is an animated feature and it has used a set of distinctive techniques:

“Each of the film’s 65,000 frames is an oil painting on canvas, using the same technique as Van Gogh, created by a team of 115 painters.”

The film also uses live action sequences. These are mainly flashbacks within the narrative.

Van Gogh is one of the most prized [and expensive] painters in European Art and he has a presence in popular culture as well. His personal life and tragic demise have fed into this celebrity. The narrative in this production takes the form of an investigation. A young man, charged with delivering Van Gogh’s final letter, delves into the final days of the artist. Thus the film explores both the personal and the artistic.

The director is a Polish animator Dorota Kobiela with her first feature. Her co-director is Hugh Welchman, who normally works as producer,. The film relied on funding from the Polish Film Institute, an institution with a long and illustrious history.

The production was shot on a digital camera and is in colour and the academy ratio. [IMDB gives 1.33:1 but thus us usually masked to 1.37:1].  The film used a number of ac actors as ‘models’ for the paintings and they also appear in the ‘live action’ sequences. The British release has an English language soundtrack, dubbed by the credited actors and other voices. .

Van Gogh has enjoyed frequent representations on film. There is Lust for Life (USA 1956), directed by Vincente Minnelli with Kirk Douglas playing the artist. Some of the relationships in the film seem a little facile but the artist and his work are well presented. Then there is Vincent and Theo (France, Netherlands, UK, Germany, Italy) a film by Robert Altman with Tim Roth as Van Gogh. Roth makes excellent casting for the tortured artist. And there are several well made documentaries.