Jojo Rabbit

Showing daily from Friday 17th January

As kids, many of us had invisible friends drawn from our heroes or storybook characters. Jojo’s invisible friend is Hitler.

Jojo is a boy who’s been indoctrinated; he’s 10 and a member of the Hitler Youth. He likes marching, he likes uniforms and he likes the camaraderie of an extra-militaristic version of Scout camp. Taika Waititi plays Hitler as seen through Jojo’s eyes – a camp and paunchy, child friendly version of the dictator who acts as a confidant and sounding board for Jojo’s thoughts and fears.

After leaving the Hitler Youth through injury, Jojo finds other ways to get stuck in to the war effort, collecting scrap metal and sticking up posters. Away from the marching and training, without any adult supervision he’s left to his own devices, playing with Hitler and exploring the house he shares with his mysteriously busy single mother. Upstairs she’s kept a secret and Jojo’s discovery of Elsa, a Jewish girl hidden in an attic room throws his devotion to the Nazi cause into disarray.

If you’ve seen Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016) or What We Do In The Shadows (2014), Waititi’s off-kilter silliness will be no surprise. In Jojo Rabbit, he handles the heavy themes delicately with on-brand bursts of humour and irreverence that bring levity without ever quite tipping into disrespect. The casting throughout is incredible; Jojo is Roman Griffin Davis’ first role, his mother is played by Scarlett Johansson and Sam Rockwell is the one-eyed Hitler Youth Co-ordinator Captain Klenzendorf. Rebel Wilson, Alfie Allen and Stephen Merchant appear as improbable supporting Nazis.

Jojo Rabbit has been nominated for Best Picture at the 2020 Academy Awards. Scarlett Johansson has been nominated for best supporting actress and four more nominations (for best adapted screenplay, film editing, costume design and production design) bring the total to 6. It’s not just the big awards; audience reception has been rapturous and in 2019 the film won the People’s Choice award at the Toronto Film Festival and the Audience Favourite at LIFF.

Jojo Rabbit will be showing at the Hyde Park from Friday the 17th of January.

Bill's 2019 delectable dozen

In alphabetical order:

  • Beanpole – gripping story of survival in Leningrad after World War 2
  • A Dog Called Money – after seeing this documentary I’m an even bigger PJ Harvey fan
  • The Favourite – Emma Stone, Olivia Colman and Rachel Weisz stretched my imagination in enjoyable ways
  • Foxtrot – a great anti-war film; something goes terribly wrong at an isolated Israeli military checkpoint
  • If Beale Street Could Talk – a beautifully made adaptation of a James Baldwin novel
  • It Must Be Heaven – a fresh angle on what it means to be Palestinian
  • Judy and Punch – Punch and Judy for feminists, a heady mix of anarchy, comedy and violence
  • La Belle Époque – for anyone (like me) who wants to revisit a key time in their life
  • The Lighthouse – what could be better than two lighthouse keepers losing their sanity, especially when they are Willem Defoe and Robert Pattinson?
  • Loro – everything you ever wanted to know about bunga bunga sex parties
  • Marriage Story – breaking up is the hardest thing to do, as Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver show us with sharpness and humanity
  • Shooting the Mafia – documentary about a remarkable Sicilian woman, Letizia Battaglia, who defies the odds by exposing the brutality of the Cosa Nostra

Bill Walton

So Long, My Son / Di jiu tian chang, China 2019

Friday December 27th at 7 p.m., Saturday December 28th at 3 p.m. and Thursday January 2nd at 7 p.m.

Some fortunate Friends enjoyed this film at the beginning of December, courtesy of Curzon Artificial Eye and ‘The Guardian’. It would not surprise me if some of these returned to see again one of the outstanding movies released this year. It is a long title, running 185 minutes. Moreover, it has a challenging narrative which covers the periods from the end of the 1970s until the present. The different periods are presented in a series of flashbacks which are organised, not chronologically, but thematically.  And in the different periods the main protagonists move round Chinese urban areas.

This is a family melodrama centred on the couple, Liu Yaojun (Wang Jingchun) and Wang Liyun (Yong Mei). They have two sons in the story, one adopted but both called Xingxing. Li Haiyan (Al Liya) is a friend of Wang Liyun and an official at a factory where they work. Also at the factory Shen Moli  (Qi Xi) is at first a trainee alongside Liu Yaojun. The latter two women also have sons who are important in the story. These adults age and change their appearance as the pilot develops. Whilst the offsprings appear at different ages played by different actors.  Having noted this the story does gradually fall into place and in the latter stages a viewer can discern the tragic relationships that befall this couple.

One aspect of the tragedy is the ‘one-child’ policy that operated for a long period in China. However, it is the relationships between characters, both in the factory workplace and in the residential blocks and housing, that is most important. Both aspects are afflicted by silences. This is disrupted at the factory when the workers angrily confront the mangers [‘bosses’] as they unveil the new economic [capitalist] policies. And in the family relationships it is the final breaking of another silence that brings some relief to the protagonists.

The director, Wang Xiaoshua, has sixteen previous credits not all of which have been released in Britain. One film that was released, Shanghai Dreams / Qing hong (2005) shared one aspect of the plot in this later release: the policy in the 1970s and 1980s of moving large numbers of workers to new industrial zones. But in this feature the protagonists move from employed workers to self-employed. Another comment on the changing economic  world in China.

I have not found a translation for the original Chinese title, but the director sees this as the first in a trilogy of ‘Homeland’ movies. And he talks of charting the effects of the ‘shattering’ changes in the last three decades in China.

The feature has fine production values. There is excellent cinematography and sound; whilst the editing carefully knits the disparate periods and setting into a dramatic tapestry. It is in colour and standard widescreen with the Mandarin dialogue translated in English sub-titles. Chinese films have been a prominent part of quality cinema this year. Earlier titles like An Elephant Sitting Still / Da xiang xi di er zuo and Ash is the Purest White / Jiang hu er nü offered visual and aural pleasure with complex but fascinating stories. This title offers the same pleasures and three hours is not too long to savour these.

 

Knives Out, USA 2019

Daily from Friday till Monday and again on next Thursday

The drama opens with two German shepherds running across a darkened lawn outside an old and large mansion  in the early hours. The two dogs are not developed as characters but they turn out to be important clues in the solving the question posed in the story. This is a self-conscious exploration and exploitation of the classic  country-house murder mystery. It is a very entertaining presentation of the genre, at times with the air of pastiche. It offers frequent references to both cinematic and literary precedents, especially that of the Agatha Christie oeuvre.

A family patriarch (Christopher Plummer) is dead; the question whether is this suicide or murder? And if the latter, who is the killer? The investigation is in the hands of a gentleman detective (Daniel Craig). Possible suspect include all the members of the family who stand  to inherit a fortune; (Toni Collette, Jamie Lee Curtis, Chris Evans, Michael Shannon and Dom Johnson). They are an unprepossessing group of nouveau riches. The key witness, possibly also a suspect, is the nurse and carer (Marta Cabrera).

The plot is labyrinthine and fairly implausible. But the scripting has created this complicated series of events and exposures with real skill. Moreover there are many witty scenes where the excellent cast exploit the changing aspects of the story to the full. The production values are good. And the characters and unfolding plot hold the attention well; though the film is slightly indulgent and slightly over-long. As the title suggests knives matter and the patriarch’s portrait is a recurring prop.

As well as paying homage to a long-running and successful genre the title updates the premises to skewer some of the foibles of the modern USA. One family member  tells the nurse, who is [possibly and variously] identified as coming from Brazil or Paraguay or Uruguay, that

‘You’re not even an American!’

If this is not a quote from Donald Trump it sounds like one.

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.

Bill’s highlights from #LIFF2019

Bill lists some some personal highlights of Leeds International Film Festival 2019

  • Beanpole (2019) a gripping drama about young women in Leningrad shortly after World War 2
  • The Lighthouse (2019) a powerful Victorian gothic thriller about two lighthouse keepers
  • It Must Be Heaven (2019) an original take on the burden of being born Palestinian
  • La Belle Époque (2019) great fun, an audience favourite (showing at the Hyde Park Picture House on December 15, 18, 19)
  • Judy and Punch (2019) Punch and Judy, a feminist version!
  • Marriage Story (2019) a funny and compassionate account of a divorce (showing at the Hyde Park Picture House Nov 29 – Dec 5)
  • Dancer in the Dark (2000) with an impressive performance by Bjork
  • I Lost My Body (2019) an enjoyable animated feature film
  • Osaka Elegy (1936) a story of a brave woman in a highly patriarchal Japan

I also enjoyed films from the Cinema Versa documentary features section:

  • 143 Sahara Street (2019) portrait of a remarkable woman in her desert tea house
  • A Dog Called Money (2019) great viewing for fans of PJ Harvey about she gets inspiration for her songs from around the world (a Picture House screening is planned)

And two documentaries that show the importance of recording events on film:

  • Shooting the Mafia (2019) about the brave Sicilian photographer Letizia Battaglia (showing at the Picture House on January 21 2020)
  • The Cordillera of Dreams (2019) about Patricio Guzmán’s recording of the violence of Pincochet’s Chile, as s reminder to younger generation

Bill Walton

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.

 

#LIFF2019 Preview: Cinema Versa


Bill Walton selects some films from the Cinema Versa strand of the festival programme:

Last Festival I only managed to see two documentaries (in the Cinema Versa section): Something Left Behind (2018) about the legendary Leeds band The Wedding Present; and What is Democracy? (2018) which highlighted how the very understanding of democracy varies from place to place around the world and over time.

They inspired me to make sure that I see more Cinema Versa films this time. So far on my list are:

So don’t forget to have a good look through the blue section of the programme. You will discover some cinematic gems.


Bill Walton