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.

Yorkshire Day: Sculpture On Screen

Thursday 1st August 6:15pm

Yorkshire Day

Our Yorkshire Day screening this year is a special programme of films, showing as part of Yorkshire Sculpture International, celebrating some of the regions most famous sculptors.

Tickets are free for all members/friends.

Damien Hirst: Thoughts, Work, Life (2012) was directed and edited by BAFTA award winner Chris King (Senna) and features an exclusive interview with the artist, and rare early archive footage and stills.

Figures in Landscape (1953) is a poetic portrait of sculptor Barbara Hepworth and the otherworldly Cornish landscapes which inspired her.

Henry Moore Recollections of A Yorkshire Childhood (1981) is a documentary, taken from the Yorkshire Film Archive, of Moore looking back at his childhood, aged 83. And a previously unseen clip from Henry Moore on Film (1971) shows the sculptor at work – made available to screen thanks to the Frank & John Farnham Archive and the Henry Moore Foundation.

Review: Support The Girls

Support The Girls

Support the Girls has a great cast. The standouts for me are Regina Hall, Shayna McHayle and Haley Lu Richardson. Their dynamic works really well on screen.

This film shows a day in the life of sports bar Double Whammies’ boss Lisa and the many challenges she faces trying to keep the bar and staff running throughout a busy day. The film starts with Lisa crying in her car before starting work as some girls begin to turn up to be interviewed for a job which requires the female waitresses to wear denim hotpants and crop tops. From that point onwards, Lisa’s day full of issues and confrontations.

There were a lot of interesting characters such as the bar owner Cubby and Lisa’s husband, who I would have liked to see more of and see their backstories. Either way, there were both disappointing figures in Lisa’s life.

As I watched the film unfold, I kept waiting for the main story to kick in and just when I thought it would, it skipped to another scene, which gave the film a slightly disjointed feel. I did enjoy that it was a great observation into the life of someone who just wanted to get by and help others but failed to receive the same amount of support back – apart from two loyal members of staff Maci and Danyelle. There were some distinct laugh out loud moments and it did a good job of showing how hard day-to-day life can be when you’re trying to keep your head above water. I would recommend this film for a rainy afternoon.

Too Late To Die Young/Tarde Para Morir Joven (Chile*, 2018)

Tuesday Wonder 30th July 6:30pm.Children on bikes

The second feature film from Chilean director Dominga Sotomayor Castillo, it was released with great acclaim at Switzerland’s Locarno Film Festival in August 2018 where Sotomayor Castillo was recognised as the  first female winner of the festival’s Best Direction Award.

It’s December 1989, the Pinochet government has recently fallen and Chile is holding its breath through a tinder-box summer. Sofía (Demian Hernández) is a teenager working out her place in her close-knit and newly-established agricultural community that is finding its feet on the cusp of the new year. The heat of the summer and the boil of teenage frustration is tangible as Sofía, her siblings and the adults who surround them attempt to settle into their new lives and prepare for the village’s new year celebrations. We see the families building their homes, raising their animals and testing the political dynamics of their new settlement while their children explore the forest (which holds a spectacular tree house), and their relationships with each other. Village life is largely unhurried and inward-looking and it becomes clear that the adults have as little clue as the teenagers when it comes to making new lives in the countryside. The events following the party force the community to confront their place in nature and face the reality of summer in the wilderness.

In casting, Sotomayor Castillo included a handful of professional actors but sourced the larger part of the cast – including Sofía and all of the children’s roles – from the community where the film was shot. Portions of the dialogue are improvised, giving an authentic tone to the domestic scenes.

Like the Italian summer in Call Me By Your Name (2017), Too Late to Die Young has a definite date but there’s a hazy, languid quality to the piece that means it could be placed in any year of a decade. The director herself has pointed out in interviews that the soundtrack features music audible to the characters that wasn’t released until years after the film is set. The themes of finding one’s place in the world, the unsettling changes of teenager-hood and the contrast of local politics with national turmoil have played out over and again in film, but Too Late To Die Young explores these organically and sensitively, keeping a distance between the viewer and the characters that means we don’t learn their every thought.

This film has to be seen at the cinema for the enormity of the landscape alone. You might think you’ve had enough of the hot weather after the last week, but there’s a certain magic to flooding your senses with a summer viewed from the cool, dark safety of the picture house that you won’t want to miss.

Too Late to Die Young screens at the Picture House at 6:30 on Tuesday, 30th of July.
*Chile/Brazil/Argentina/Netherlands, 2018, 110mins, Cert.15


Hannah Bingle

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’.

One Giant Leap

Screenings celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landingApollo 11

With the 50th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landings this year, filmmakers across the world have been endeavoring to tell their interpretation of the events that led the human race to make one small step for [a] man. First, Damien Chazelle brought us the underwhelming First Man towards the end of 2018. Despite a career defining score from Justin Hurwitz and breathtaking Apollo sequences, the focus on flat character drama drew away from the best elements of the film – the awe, wonder and danger of the missions themselves. For a more gripping take, it may be worth checking out documentary: Armstrong, coming to the picture house this weekend (Sat 3pm, Sun 1:15pm). It’s a must-see film for anyone who wants to look behind the curtain to see the true story of a quiet man’s journey from rural Ohio to taking the first steps on the moon.

There’s one more screening at the Picture House of the unmissable Apollo 11 (Wed 24th 1:20pm) . It’s clear from the start that this is the definitive moon landing film. Using stunning remastered footage from 1969 alongside a score rendered only using techniques from the same decade; Apollo 11 fully transports you back in time. For those familiar with the rhythms and beats of the famous journey already you can rest assured that this film will bring you something new. The film is so effective in its storytelling power that you feel tension and mystery at every moment. Will the eagle make its landing? Of course, it will, we know that. But somehow, I found myself questioning the facts I knew to be true every step of the way. The film is by no means perfect – sometimes overdramatic while at other points slowing down to focus on what feels like trivialities. But by the time that Mother Country starts playing on Buzz Aldrin’s tape deck none of that matters. The USS Hornet comes into view and we know that despite absurd odds, an American dream came true.

Keep a look out for Apollo 11 in the documentary category in awards season. It’s currently the frontrunner in the category with Asif Kapadia’s Diego Maradona just behind.


Callum Isaac

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.

Bill’s Films of 2019

Five films that stick in my mind, in no particular order:

Loro (Them)

A very stylish Italian film directed by Paolo Sorrentino and starring Toni Servillo as Silvio Berlusconi. This is the ultimate cinema-goer’s guide to bunga-bunga parties, ostentation and (alleged … to protect me from the mafia 😎 ) corruption in Italian politics. It’s surely no coincidence that l’oro is Italian for gold.

Foxtrot

Director Samuel Moaz. A powerful anti war film set in a remote military outpost where four soldiers are spending their military service in the Israeli Defence Forces. The film won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2017 Venice Film Festival.

The Favourite

Director Yorgos Lanthimos. Great fun with Olivia Colman, Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz in C18 England. I doubt that Queen Anne would approve. A positive F-rating (highlighting what women contribute to film) for lead characters, and writer Deborah Davis (co-writer with Tony McNamara).

RBG

A documentary about American Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg. What a woman! What a career! Directors Betsy West and Julie Cohen also score highly on the F-rating.

If Beale Street Could Talk

Based on the James Baldwin novel, directed by Barry Jenkins. A well told struggle for life and a struggle for justice in 1970’s New York.

 

So once again the Picture House has offered us a great variety of films from around the world. And I didn’t even mention Burning (South Korea), or Happy as Lazzaro (Italy).


Bill Walton

Sans Soleil/Sunless, France 1983

Friday July 5th at 6.15 p.m.

This film was written, directed and edited by Chris Marker, who also provided the music. If you have not seen a Chris Marker film before it might help to write that two of his friends and cinematic collaborators were Alain Resnais and Agnes Varda. Associated with the nouvelle vague they were actually part of a distinct group of film-maker known as the ‘left-bank group’. Their films were more experimental, more political and more distinctive than the  famous ‘new wave’ films. Marker himself is known for works described as ‘essay films’ and this title is a good example of that approach. Not exactly documentary but addressing the actual world.  Wikipedia defines [informal] written essays as characterised by:

“the personal element (self-revelation, individual tastes and experiences, confidential manner), humour, graceful style, rambling structure, unconventionality or novelty of theme,”

Much of this will be found in the Marker film. As well as his personal involvement in so much of the production of the film Marker also appears in slightly fictionalised versions of himself.

The film’s written component is a series of letters both partly read with comments by a female character. The letters are from a cameraman visiting a variety of places: Japan, Guinea-Bissau, Cape Verde, Iceland, Paris, and San Francisco. The last includes locations used in Alfred Hitchcock’s highly regarded Vertigo (1958), a film that has pre-occupied Marker for years. I actually did the same homage to the film with a French guide and Marker fan.

The original French version of Sans Soleil opens with the following quotation by Jean Racine

“L’éloignement des pays répare en quelque sorte la trop grande proximité des temps.”

(The distance between the countries compensates somewhat for the excessive closeness of the times.)

The English version of the film opens with lines by T. S. Eliot:

“Because I know that time is always time

And place is always and only place”…

The screening today is of the English Language version. Marker shot the film on a 16mm camera in colour and standard European widescreen. There are film footage and stills in colour and black and white academy and some special effects. The film-makers quoted are given in the end credits as is the English language narrator, Alexandra Stewart. Marker recorded the soundtrack in asynchronous manner, thus the sound does not always match the imagery. So this is ‘montage’ in the full sense of the word. The film has been copied onto 35mm so we will enjoy a ‘reel’ film.

Sans Soleil is preceded by a short five minute film, also on 35mm and an introduction. The short film is Black by Anouk De Clercq (2015, Belgium). The double bill is the opening event in a weekend of screenings organised by the Pavilion, ‘Artists’ Moving Image Network Screening Weekend’. There are a series of screenings by artists working on film and moving images, including digital and 16mm projections. There are more events at the Hyde Park Picture House but also at a venue in New Briggate, number 42, sited between the entrances to the Grand Theatre and the Assembly Rooms [pre-booking is advised].

The artists include those based in Yorkshire and from farther afield; Alain Resnais has a title screening. This is an ambitious project which promises to be varied, fascinating and rewarding.

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

Postscript: I apologise; like Rick I was misinformed. Last night we enjoyed the original French language version of Sans Soleil with the letters and comments read by Florence Delay.

Black turned out to be a cinematic meditation on Marker’s use of black leader early in his film. And this 35mm print is a unique artefact, so we were fortunate to see it.