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’.

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.

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.

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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.

A Season in France/Une Saison en France (France, 2017)

Friday 28th June at 6.15 p.m. and Wednesday 3rd July at 6.15 p.m.

This is the new film by Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, a filmmaker from Chad who has lived and partially worked in France since 1982. His new film deals with the important issue of refugees and migrants and dramatizes the experience of an African widower and his children who  are forced to flee to France from Central African Republic.

Several of Haroun’s earlier films have screened at the Picture house. There was Bye Bye Africa (1999), an unconventional docu-drama in which a slightly fictionalized Haroun visits and films his native country of Chad. It is an ironic and occasionally bitter record of Neo-colonialism in Africa. His next film Abouna (France, Chad 2002) follows two young boys who seek their father across Chad, including in the desert regions. A powerful drama which was beautifully filmed by Abraham Haile Biru, it won the prize for cinematography at The Panafrican Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou (Festival panafricain du cinéma et de la télévision de Ouagadougou or FESPACO). This Festival is a major forum for African film.

Daratt  (which translates as ‘Dry Season’, was funded by France, Belgium, Chad and Austria in 2006). The film follows a young boy who has suffered in the Civil War [2005 to 2010] but who finds a new life in a bakery. A Screaming Man  / Un homme qui crie  (France, Belgium, Chad 2010)was once again set in the period of the Civil War as a father and son struggle to cope with the adversities of their situation.  Grigris (Chad, France, Belgium 2013) only received a single screening at the London Film Festival but no British-wide distribution.

Haroun’s film dramatize the ill effects of Colonialism and Neo-colonialism in Africa, especially that region once termed ‘Francophone’. His stories also frequently revolve around fathers and sons, making for powerful and emotional dramas. And he has a fine sense of visual presentation and has worked with really talented craft teams. Now his new film is receiving the release [though limited] his work deserves. But the two screenings at the Picture House are likely to be rare opportunities to see the movie in its proper theatrical setting.

If you want a preview:

Sometimes Always Never (UK, 2018)

Showing 21st-23rd June and 26th JuneSometimes Always Never Poster

A quick recommendation for Sometimes Always Never, the debut feature film from Carl Hunter which is showing this weekend at the Picture House. Scripted by Frank Cottrell-Boyce who has previously collaborated with Danny Boyle (Millions, 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony) and Michael Winterbottom (Welcome to Sarajevo, 24 Hour Party People). It tells the story of a father (Bill Nighy) who is preoccupied by the disappearance of his grown son who stormed out over a Scrabble disagreement years earlier.

When I saw the film at the Keswick Film Festival, Hunter said he wanted to make something that was British but uniquely so and he employs many different techniques to achieve this. It will remind you of other things, for me it was Wes Anderson, but as a whole it is unlike anything else. The strong cast and writing tell a heartfelt and charming story and some great cameos and funny moments provide lots of entertainment.

There’s a great soundtrack by Edwyn Collins as well.

Let the Right One In (Sweden, 2008)

Showing in memory of Peter Chandley as part of our 2019 AGM
Sunday 16th June: AGM 1pm,  Film 3:30pm
Let The Right One In

This work of art is a romance … a love story, but with vampires. The clue is in the title. Vampires must be invited in before they can safely enter someone’s home. But Let the Right One In is not simply a story of vampires, or a fresh take on serial killing. The film opens with Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) exclaiming : “Squeal like a pig. So, squeal.” Our film tells a story of loneliness, of being picked on, of seeking revenge; and also of acceptance, loyalty and friendship.

Our backdrop is a snowy suburb of Stockholm in 1982. The locals cope with the desolation, freezing temperatures and the absence of sunshine through companionship, shots of alcohol, and Swedish humour. Lacke (Peter Carlberg): Thank you again for another evening steeped in merriment and friendship. Let the Right One In is a story told in pictures rather than words. You will discover that not everything is as it seems in the suburb of Blackeberg. Our film is also a story about identity, mortality, and sacrifice. The title’s English translation from the Swedish original is taken from lyrics to the song “Let the Right One Slip In” by Morrissey. And this sentiment applies to both love and dreams. While the film has a wintry backdrop a little red or orange colour creeps into most scenes. Expect surprises!

The central characters are Oskar and Eli (Lina Leandersson). Theirs is a beautifully acted, poignant relationship that seems to raise more questions than answers. We see humour and sensitivity. But underneath, is that a dark and dysfunctional friendship or a demonstration of love and interdependence? Are Oskar and Eli two sides of the same coin? Is there a barrier between them?

The end of Let the Right One In leaves us to ponder the future. Is anything resolved? Have we seen a happy ending? The film gives food for thought. Let the Right One In has won many awards for direction (director Tomas Alfredson), cinematography, acting and screenplay. John Ajvide Lindqvist wrote the screenplay which is adapted from his novel.

The Friends of the Hyde Park Picture House are screening this film in memory of Peter Chandley. Until his death late last year Peter was the Chair of the Friends, and we are indebted to him for the part he played in saving the cinema from closure in the 1980’s. Peter was an enthusiast for films like Let the Right One In. We hope you can join us.

The film forms part of the Annual General Meeting of the Friends of the Hyde Park Picture House on Sunday 16th June and both are free for members. It’s really important that we get at least 70 people to attend in order to be quorate so please try and make it along if you can.


Bill Walton

Red Joan, Britain 2018

Sun 2nd June 3.00 p.m., Wed 5th June 11.00am [BYOBaby] and 1.20pm

This is the story of a fictional character, Joan Stanley, who in the 1940s passed secret information to the Soviet Union. However, it and the novel from which it is adapted, are based on the life of a actual historical character, Melita Norwood. Norwood was exposed publicly in 1999 when information from an ex-Soviet agent and now-defector revealed her past activities.

The film version presents the story in a fairly conventional-style narrative [warning – plot spoilers]. The film opens with the arrest of Joan (Judi Dench) by Special Branch in 1999. Then we view a series of interrogations which are intercut with flashbacks by Joan to the 1930s and 1940s. The interrogations fill out the action in 1999 where information has led to the exposure of a senior Foreign Office official as well as Joan. The flashbacks presents Joan’s personal life and then her spy activities. At Cambridge ‘Young Joan’ (Sophie Cookson) meets glamorous European émigré Sonya Galich (Teresa Srbova) and cousin Leo Galich (Tom Hughes). Both are communist activists.

Continue reading

Two Fine Art Movies

Screening daily from Friday May 17th till Thursday May 23rd.

This Friday the new film directed by Claire Denis, High Life (2018), opens at the Picture House. Claire Denis is undoubtedly one of the really talented and interesting film-makers working in contemporary cinema. In this title she has presented her first film in an English language form; thankfully she has done a better job than a number of her fellow European film-makers. This is a science fiction story that opens on an odd box-like space ship heading far away towards a black hole. Inside we find Monte (Robert Pattinson) whose only companion is a very young child. A series of flashbacks fill in the events prior to this; Monte’s companions have fallen foul of the internal conflicts among the crew. We learn how the baby came to be on the space ship and the unusual social rules that produced the situation. Stylistically the film recalls the Soviet director Andrei Tarkovsky, especially his films Solaris (1971) and Stalker (1979). The plot at times appears to be lifted from the pages of J. G. Ballard and is both violent and a little disturbing: the BBFC have given it an 18 Certificate. The cast, which includes Juliet Binoche, is good. The production, including special effects, is well done. And once more Denis shows her ability to explore social and personal contradictions. The June issue of Sight & Sound has an interview with Claire Denis.

Screening on Saturday, Sunday and Wednesday afternoon this coming week

An equally fine film-maker, Zhangke Jia, has directed Ash Is Purest White / Jiang hu er nü (2018). The film covers several decades in the life of Qiao (Tao Zhao). Much of the film is set in Shanxi province in the north of China but at one point Qiao travels south to the Three Gorges in Hubei province [seen in earlier Jia films]. Qiao is involved with a “jianghu” gangster (Fan Liao). The effects of this relationship and the mob violence affect her life but throughout she remains cool and self-possessed. Tao Zhao is impressive as Qiao. She acts a muse for Zhangke Jia, having appeared in his earlier films including the very fine Mountains May Depart / Shan he gu ren (2015). This film has the same epic quality and it happily screens in Leeds, a city that missed out on the earlier title. The production values in all departments are excellent and both the action and the settings fully engage. The language in this title is Mandarin with English sub-titles.

The movie comments on recent and contemporary China; I thought one point referred back to the coup by capitalist-roaders following the death of Mao Zedong. Tony Rayns has an article in the May issue of Sight & Sound which includes comments by the director and explains some of the distinctive Chinese aspects, including the title rendered in English as ‘Sons and Daughters of the Jiangsu, a word appropriated by the underworld and originally referring to “the parallel world in which martial arts fictions is set.”

Growing Pains

Pond Life – showing daily until Thursday 2nd May

Growing Pains is a small season of films about “young people, their experiences, and perspectives on the world”.  The season started a few weeks ago with Jonah Hill’s directorial debut Mid90s which follows a 13 year old boy as he discovers a group of skateboarders in a Los Angeles suburb and tries to find out where he belongs. It was a film I liked even though it didn’t always seem sure quite what it wanted to be but maybe that was the point.

We’re still in the 1990s this week but much closer to home with Pond Life which is set and was filmed near Doncaster. Nominally about the legend of a giant carp in the nearby ponds it’s really all about a group young people in a small community. The film was previewed at the film festival last November, a full house and an entertaining cast and crew Q&A made it one of my highlights of the festival. Some may say the film is slight but it’s this quietness and nostalgic feeling of endless summers that felt incredibly heartfelt, perhaps it resonated so much with me because I was also a teenager in the 1990s. The film is beautifully made with some really strong performances from the young cast who I am sure will go on to great things (Esme Creed-Miles can also be seen in Amazon’s TV version of the Joe Wright film Hanna).  There’s also a great soundtrack from Richard Hawley which mystifyingly doesn’t seem to be available to listen to anywhere yet.

Pond Life is on general release this week and showing at the Picture House daily, it’s a shame that such a small charming film is getting a release at the same time as one of the biggest blockbusters but I do hope people seek it out as it’s really important that films like this get seen in the cinema.

Also on general release this week and coming to Hyde Park from Friday 3rd May is Eighth Grade another fantastic smaller film that will hopefully not get lost in the shadow of the Avengers. We’re very much back in contemporary times as Kayla, brilliantly played by Elsie Fisher, deals with growing up in the modern social media obsessed digital age. Mark Kermode sums it up brilliantly:

Released in America last year, it feels like we’ve had to wait an awful long time to see Eighth Grade in the UK but it’s definitely been worth it. It’s also been a long wait to see Madeline’s Madeline which is screening from the 10th May. I’ve only heard great things about this and the New York Times describe Helen Howard’s debut performance as  “one of the great teen performances in film history.” which must be something considering how good the performances have been in the rest of the Growing Pains season.