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.

They Live, also I’m out of bubblegum

Showing Saturday 26th May 10:30pm

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They Live, Released in 1988 and directed by John Carpenter, is a cult classic for many reasons, not including the fact that it was directed by John Carpenter (Ghosts of Mars).

We follow the story of ‘unnamed drifter’, or in the credits, ‘John Nada’, who comes to town, who discovers some sinister goings on, and is forced to dish out some justice ( see A Fistful of Dollars to continue your unnamed hero cinema binge).

Inspired by the short story ‘Eight O’Clock in the Morning’ by Ray Nelson, John Carpenter wanted this film to be protest at the state of the United States. Specifically the values of Ronald Reagan’s conservative revolution. Carpenter wanted to “scream out in the middle of the night” , about rampant consumerism and government control overtaking the values he was brought up with. They Live! is the 80’s left wing action film we needed.

It’s awesome.

The audience can see John Nada (played by the great Roddy Piper, RIP), goes on this, Platonic journey (see Allegory of the Cave for details), as he puts on some suspicious sunglasses, he see’s the world for what it truly is. No longer does John Nada have the luxury of mistaking appearance for reality, and he is forced to act as an agent of change (via ass-kicking).

The supporting cast is equally awesome, with Keith David returning to the Carpenter fold (Carpenter liked what he saw of him in The Thing!). K.David, supporting but never in the background, is a great choice of casting, and I encourage readers to see him in other things (Pitch Black, Platoon etc). Most recently he lent his voice to the President of the United States in Rick & Morty.

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Keith David being Keith David.

This is one of my favourite John Carpenter films (although I can’t think of one I dislike, even Ghosts of Mars).

Carpenter takes the time to explore the nature of consumerism, that everything around us, is designed to make us buy something. This important topic is pushed through the kaleidoscope of John Carpenters brain, into a wacky, over the top masterpiece.

Peeling back this thin veil (via trendy shades), we get to see this world through the eyes of working stiff Mr.Nada.

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Trendy shades

This film has everything.

Conspiracy. A WWF wrestler. Paranoia. Reality shattering sunglasses. Keith David.

They live. We sleep.

If you like They Live, you should also check out;

  • Invasion of Body Snatchers (1956 and 1978).
  • Pitch Black (for Keith David).
  • Big Trouble in Little China (1986).

The film will be shown on Saturday night followed by a discussion of its themes and their relationship to situationism and other currents active in 1968. The discussion will be led by Simon Hewitt, who teaches philosophy at the University of Leeds.

Screening as part of Radical Film Network’s 1968 Festival, a programme of screenings and discussions in collaboration with Film Fringe, which celebrate and reflect on the radical uprisings and revolutionary fervour of the events of 1968.

#RFN68


Henry Stocks-Fryer

Isle of Dogs: A Dog-friendly screening 

A dog-friendly screening? Hmm … part of the Cinema’s relentless efforts to build new audiences. What could possibly go wrong? And who could resist writing a review peppered with references to Dog Day Afternoon (1976), K-9 (1989) and Lady and the Tramp (1955)? So, here are my notes:

The Picture House: Auditorium lights on low during the film, film subtitled. Dog blankets and (shh!) treats provided.

The audience: diverse and generally well behaved. A few barks here and there but, as I remarked to Jack (Russell), at least I didn’t see any dogs checking for messages on their phones while the film was running. Certainly popular. Both dog-friendly screenings have been sold out.

The film: The Isle of Dogs was a great choice. Beautiful stop-motion animation and a simple story. Despite it being set in Japan I didn’t notice any Hokkaidos or Kai Kens in the audience.

This screening was a credit to everyone, canine and human: director Wes Anderson and the excellent voice cast; with  special mention for the staff and volunteers at the Hyde Park Picture House; and of course the support of Dogs Trust.

We are promised more dog-friendly films at the Picture House. What next? Watership Down (1978), Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009), or the wonderful Kedi (2016) about the street cats of Istanbul?

Tibbs, the cat who once took up residence in the Picture House foyer, must be turning in their grave.


Bill Walton

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Showing multiple times daily from Friday 12th January

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Misouri

Let’s face it. 2017 was a crap year for most of us. So many outrages, and “the authorities” so slow to act. But wait! Three Billboards gives us a champion. Watch irrepressible Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) use her visceral rage to shame “them” into action. “Them” is the local police or anyone else who gets in her way. Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell and the rest of this superb cast had better watch out!
The issue is that Mildred’s daughter, Angela, was raped and murdered seven months ago. Have the police got any leads? Have they Hell! Maybe a few billboard messages will get them off their fat butts.
Mildred Hayes: What’s the law on what ya can and can’t say on a billboard? I assume it’s ya can’t say nothing defamatory, and ya can’t say, ‘Fuck’ ‘Piss’ or ‘Cunt’. That right?
Red Welby (Caleb Landry Jones): Or… Anus.
Mildred Hayes:  Well I think I’ll be alright then.
This film deservedly won the Audience Award for new feature films at this year’s (2017) Leeds International Film Festival. It’s another triumph for In Bruges (2008) director Martin McDonagh. Ebbing, Missouri is as complex a community as any other. We get to see not only the anger but also the humour, kindness, sadness and violence of small town life. And naturally Ebbing is not exempt from Midwestern prejudices.
Mildred Hayes: So how’s it all going in the nigger-torturing business, Dixon?
Officer Dixon (Sam Rockwell): It’s ‘Persons of color’-torturing business, these days, if you want to know. And I didn’t torture nobody.
And if Mildred Hayes doesn’t like this review, I’m keeping well out of her way …

Bill Walton

The Square, Sweden, France, Germany, Denmark 2017.

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This title opened the 2017 Leeds International Film Festival. It was screened in a fairly packed Victoria auditorium at Leeds Town Hall. This has a large well placed screen for the occasion and the illumination levels are suitably low; though you get extraneous light when people enter or leave during the feature, [now reduced as they have dimmed the lights in the foyers]. The acoustics are less favourable, especially for dialogue. This feature offers Swedish, English and Danish with part sub-titles. Presumably because of the English dialogue the soundtrack was fairly loud but one could manage.

The film itself won the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. I am not totally convinced by the Jury’s choice but I could see why the film received the award. It was written and directed by Ruben Östlund whose Force Majeure was one of the stand-out releases in 2014. The bad news for those who enjoyed the earlier title is that C20th Fox have acquired ‘remake rights’.

The Square is a worthy follow-up and the style and themes of the film are recognisably similar. However, I thought this title lacked the tight focus and some of the subtlety of the predecessor though I found the ending stronger. This is rather like a picaresque novel as it follows the travails of a curator of a museum devoted to contemporary art in Stockholm. One nice touch is that the museum is called ‘X-Royal’ because it is sited alongside and uses part of  the original Royal Palace.

In the course of the narrative we follow Christian (Claes Bang) at work and outside of the museum. And we meet a range of other characters including his managers and colleagues, his children from a separated marriage and the privileged members of the ‘Friends of the Museum’. The Museum and its patrons are the main target in a feature that is predominately satire. The museum elite and the patrons are holders of what French intellectual Pierre Bourdieu termed ‘cultural capital’. And the film draws a contrast between these members or hangers-on of the bourgeoisie and a range of characters from the lower depths of the working class, possessing literally no or minimal cultural capital.

Some powerful and at times sardonic sequences in the film focus on this class conflict. And Christian’s metaphorical journey in the film appears to be designed to accomplish something similar in audiences. So the film veers between almost slapstick humour, sometimes heavy-handed satire and emotive dramatic moments. It is a long film, 140 minutes. I do not think it is too long but in the weaker moments I was conscious of the length. A member of the audience opined that

‘the film tried to include too much’.

I think this is accurate but it is also that the film has too many targets whereas Force Majeure limited itself effectively to gender and family contradictions. The Square reminded me of the 2016 festival entry Tony Erdmann. Both films follow a picaresque form, both are partly satirical partly dramatic; and each critically examines aspects of European political culture. But both are scripted by the director and I think a specialist scriptwriter would have improved the work. It is the sort of film that Jean Claude Carriere would have been good on.

The film is very well produced. The cast are excellent. Even in some of the more bizarre scenes they are completely convincing. The technical aspects are extremely well done in terms of settings, cinematography, sound and editing. The last named technique uses abrupt cuts frequently positioning the audience to fill in an ellipsis and its consequences. The production team are especially good at the use of stairwells, two finely presented settings. The title was shot on the Codex digital system and on Alexa cameras. It is distributed in a 2K DCP which looks fine.

It is a film I think i will see again. It goes on general release via Curzon [who follow somewhat restrictive practices] and there are further screenings in the Victoria and at the Hyde Park Picture House. The film has a couple of genuinely shocking sequences. The BBFC have not released their certification yet but I believe it will receive a ’15’.

Blade Runner: A Study in Humanity

Blade Runner: The Final Cut – Thursday 28th September 6.00 PM
Blade Runner 2049 showing from October 5th

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Blade Runner, released on 25th June 1982.

Its initial run was met by a lukewarm response from critics, but has since grown into a cult film, and essential viewing for most film fans (especially Sci-Fi nerds). Based on Philip K. Dick’s book Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. Blade Runner has formed the building blocks to the genres of neo-noir and cyberpunk, and with the release of the sequel, Blade Runner 2049 (screening from Thursday 5th October), I’m sure it will continue to build on that foundation.

Set in the far flung future of 2019 (which makes the author of this piece wonder if flying cars are just around the corner for us?), the viewer follows Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), a retired cop, brought back in by Gaff (Edward James Olmos) to help “retire” rogue replicants, androids created by Tyrell corporation. Harrison Ford’s performance as the anti-hero, who is forced to question the morality of his work by the femme fatale Rachael (Sean Young) , is one of his best.

Ridley Scott takes the viewer on a journey throughout the world, giving us a glimpse into a cyberpunk dystopia (the concept of ‘high tech, low life’ really rings true), the power of the omnipotent state and the unchecked might of corporations (such a Tyrell).

Alongside this exploration of society, is the emerging humanity we see in the replicants lead by Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer), the Nietzschean Ubermensch of the piece, who really steals the show. We witness their struggle for meaning in their existence and freedom they will kill for.

It’s an existential crisis, but with androids and guns.

I wanted to write about Blade Runner for many reasons, but it was mainly for my love of the cyberpunk genre, and with Philip K.Dick being its spiritual founder, I thought it was quite fitting.

If you like Blade Runner you should also read; Neuromancer by William Gibson, Akira (Manga & Anime) by Katsuhiro Otomo, Ghost in the Shell (manga/film) by Mamoru Oshii, 12 Monkeys (film) and if you really want to get into the Noir side of things,you should check out The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler.

But what you really need to watch is the original Blade Runner:The Final Cut at the HPPH on September 28th and then soon after the sequel (starring the dashing Ryan Gosling) Blade Runner 2049 from October 5th.

I’ve been Henry Stocks-Fryer. You’ve been great. Follow the unicorn.

La Strada, Italy 1954

Showing Sunday 25th June 3:20pm

 

The circus is here. “Zampanò e arrivato!”
La Strada (The Road) is a rich mix of love and loneliness, tenderness and violence, humour and sadness. Director Federico Fellini sets this story in Italy soon after World War Two. As in his other films, great photography makes full use of circus, parades, the sea, the weather, and bleak early morning light. La Strada was filmed on location, with local people and settings adding to the atmosphere.
What characters!
Giulietta Masina’s portrayal of Gelsomina (an impoverished, innocent simpleton, described in the film by her mother as ‘a bit strange’) is brilliant. In fact so brilliant that when she attended a showing of La Strada at the Italian Cinema Festival in London, viewers thought that Fellini had really rescued her from a circus. Out of sympathy they sent scarves, socks, sweaters and shawls to the hotel where she was staying. In reality, at that time, she had had been married to Fellini for over ten years. Charlie Chaplin said that he saw Giulietta as his spiritual daughter.
Actor and former prize-fighter Anthony Quinn gives an inspired performance as Zampanò, a brutish circus performer.  He excels as the volatile and dim-witted outcast, racked with jealousy.
Richard Basehart is very engaging as the exuberant, fun-loving Fool, a high-wire performer and clown. And the Fool can’t resist flirting with Gelsomina …
La Strada has had a huge influence on film making.  And apparently it was also the inspiration for  both Bob Dylan’s ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’ and Kris Kristofferson’s ‘Me and Bobby McGee’.
This story of human frailties and personal rivalries should not be missed!
“It is only when I am doing my work that I feel truly alive”
Federico Fellini

Bill Walton

The Handmaiden/Ah-ga-ssi, South Korea 2016

I have seen the original release of ‘The Handmaiden’ at the Leeds International Film Festival but now the general release offers a choice between that [144 minutes] and the longer ‘Director’s Cut’ [167 minutes]. [Both have featured in the Hyde Park Picture House programme]. I found the original entertaining and at times very funny. It seemed to me that it was a film about pornography rather than being pornographic, though I do think it exploits that genre to a degree.

Basically I found the film full of both irony and with a sardonic treatment. It is beautifully done in all technical departments. The way the film uses voyeurism makes it seem longer than necessary. However, I enjoyed the ending when the two male protagonists have their final confrontation and the two young women their rather different conclusion.

A friend has offered these comments on the Director’s Cut:

“I do not think that the Director’s Cut adds much more than time to the overall story . My bottom was stiff but not sore due to the extra spanking. Also , I think we get a little more explicit sex. Also a few scenes with close ups of symbolic items  are more in line with visual story telling.

Question :How old does one have to be to warrant the title ” male voyeur ? ( imagine Harold Steptoe saying it ). Park Chan-Wook is 53 , that is not the answer .A better question might be what does it take to make one feel like a voyeur?

I have viewed the film twice and not felt too worried on that score . I do wonder what couples feel when they watch side by side ( the trailer does not reveal the girls attraction for each other so much ) , a bit like watching a sexually explicit film at home with your parents ? A group of girls at the front laughed once or twice , I could not tell if it was nervous or really because of the obvious mischievous humour involved. I did not attempt a post film discussion to get the female view.

One of the actors in Blue is The Warmest Colour accused the director of exploitation , the other more experienced actress did not .Again it was a male director and the ‘male gaze’ question crops up. The two girls in The Handmaiden seemed to be having a good time , but perhaps the inscrutability of the Orient hides a multitude of sins ?

This is not a pornographic film obviously , especially considering what young boys can see on the internet . The set up of a costumed virgin telling gothic style tales of ladies jade gates etc would certainly not interest a modern audience , not even the puppet sequence . The two main actresses are beautiful and lively with enough physical difference to cause no confusion and they certainly make bells ring . I have not read ‘Fingersmith’ , the source material for the story and do not intend to even to check what elements of sexual play Park has added.

I believe that I am not a ‘mere voyeur’ , but did enjoy watching the girls dressed and not , But confess that I did not go to see the film for the things that the critics focus on : Japan and Korean politics and social aspirations , the playing parts and constantly shifting allegiances , the costumes and elaborate sets , etc

It is a beautiful film to look at and the girls are part of it . Perhaps the Psychologist in ‘The Dirty Dozen’ has the answer . When showing the Rorshac images to Charles Bronson , he gets sex as the answer each time .You seem to have a one track mind , says the Shrink , You’re the one with the dirty pictures , says Charley .Is it all in the mind or just the ‘male gaze’ (I  must dig out my De Sade )” DILLIPS “

I did think that Blue is the Warmest Colour did exploit female sexuality whereas I did not feel that about The Handmaiden. Of course the two young actors are performing, but the characters they play are meant to enjoy their sexual activity. Where is the border line between act and performance?

As for the ‘male gaze’ it has so many and varied meanings that it is difficult to pin down. I think, rather like Elle, that this film exploits the borderline between art and exploitation cinemas. A very contemporary sensibility.

Elle, 2016

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Bill Walton was impressed by Elle and recommends you catch one of the remaining screenings this week…
Our question today is:
“A woman should never be a victim of male violence. Discuss.”
The answer:
“Male violence is obviously intolerable, no exceptions, the ultimate threat of patriarchy.
Nothing more to say …”
We may know where we stand on this, but is there anything else to say? What if a ‘victim’ doesn’t accept victimhood? Is revenge the answer? What are the impacts on friends and family? Might the resulting feelings get complicated? Elle explores this disturbing territory with style and humour, and not a few very uncomfortable moments. The film works so well because of the great cast, with a standout performance by Isabelle Huppert as Michèle Leblanc, and the edgy direction of Paul Verhoeven.  A whirlwind of thrills, suspense, plot twists, shocking behaviour, and so many funny moments.
Michèle “Shame isn’t a strong enough emotion to stop us doing anything at all. Believe me.”