Elle, 2016

elle-verhoeven
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.”

Review: Eternity and a Day

Friends member Rob Baker reviews Eternity and a Day which screened recently as part of a small season of films in conjunction with Amnesty International Leeds.

1-eternity-and-a-day

After Arrival (2016) we have another film playing with concepts of time. Eternity and a Day (1998) is the second of three screenings at the Picture House organised by the local Amnesty group’s Refugee and Asylum Seeker Sub-Group.

Alexander (Bruno Ganz) is an aging Greek poet who believes he is facing his last day on earth. An unnamed medical intervention is planned for the next day, and he does not expect to recover – we almost get an impression of voluntary euthanasia. He starts the day trying to find a home for the dog he knows he must leave behind.

Alexander time-shifts through the day, re-living encounters with his parents (only his ailing mother now survives), his young wife (deceased), and his daughter both as a child and grown up (bringing us to current time).  With the exception of a couple of scenes showing him as a child, playing on the beach with other children, with his Mother off-screen calling him to come in for dinner, Alexander appears in most of these scenes as his current late middle-aged self. We are even taken back to the mid 19th century with the appearance aboard a Thessaloniki night-bus of a long dead poet, whose key unfinished work  Alexander  has set himself the task of finishing, though of course he hasn’t – “Nothing is finished” he laments.

Powerful symbols of “passing on” intrude on the scene, with buses and ships, even a trio of cyclists in yellow oilskins, hoving into view behind the protagonists. The constant leitmotif of the film is the Aegean shoreline where nearly all the family encounters of the past and present play out. The sea, the final frontier for us all to cross, sparkles in the sunshine.

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The Man Who Filmed the Somme BBC 2016

The Hawthorn Ridge Redoubt mine

The Hawthorn Ridge Redoubt mine

This is a short programme about a key First World War documentary film shot mainly during the battle whose centenary occurs this year. The programme was shown on the BBC News Channel and is currently available on the BBC I-Player, [till the end of July]. Apart from the relevance of the topic itself there are some interesting shots of the Hyde Park Picture House. The cinema was the venue for a screening of the original film to an invited audience.

The Battle of the Somme was a filmed and released in 1916. It was five reels in length and ran for around 70 minutes. The film footage was shot by Geoffrey H. Malins and J. B. McDowell. Both were employed by the Cinematograph Trade Topical Committee, a number of production companies involved in early newsreels, who negotiated with the military authorities for cameramen to film on the front line. The military were initially against letting filmmakers into combat areas, but the needs of wartime propaganda [at which the Germans were especially effective] overrode this. [Effectively these cameramen were official cinematographers and ’embedded’ as the phrase goes].

Malins was to become the most famous wartime cameraman, partly through the success of the Somme film and partly through his book How I Filmed the War (1920). He was already involved in Newsreel filmmaking, having started out in still photography. J. B. McDowell had worked in the film industry in production prior to the war and joined Malins on the Western front. When the film footage was returned to Britain it was edited under the supervision of Charles Urban [an important pioneer producer and filmmaker] with Malins. It seems that it was Urban who proposed that the footage be turned into a feature length film, an unusual event at the time. This feature was released in August 1916, whilst the Battle of the Somme continued. Continue reading

Versus: The Life and Films of Ken Loach UK 2016

Screening On 11th June – 6.45 PM : On 12th June – 3.30 PM Wednesday 15th June 8.50 p.m. 

ken-loach-cannes

This new biopic comes out at a propitious time. Ken Loach has won his second Palme’ d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival for I, Daniel Blake. He joins an elect group of filmmakers, Bille August, Emir Kusterica and Shohei Imamura, who have also won this prestigious award twice since its inception in the current form in 1975. The award confirms Loach’s status as one of the most important of contemporary European filmmakers: though one who has been honoured more on the continent than in his home territory.

The documentary has been produced by Loach regular Rebecca O’Brien, scripted by his colleague Paul Laverty, and directed by Louise Osmond. It also includes many of the people who have worked with Loach, including Tony Garnett, whose output at the BBC is also seminal. My main reservation is that Osmond’s previous film, Dark Horse (2015), was made like a typical television documentary and utilised archive and found footage of rather low quality. But its focus was ordinary working people who are the recurring centre of Loach’s own films.

It was shot in 2.35:1 and that ratio does allow some striking shots by cinematographer Roger Chapman. But it also means that the extracts from Loach’s own films have been re-framed to fit this format. This does not do them any favours, in some frames heads are cut off. The footage of Loach working on I, Daniel Blake is in the same ratio. Some of this is interesting, but often it feels like a ‘making of ….’ treatment.

Where the films scores are the interviews with Ken Loach and Tony Garnett. Loach is unassuming but rigorous in his comments. And Tony Garnett is both intelligent and stimulating. We also get a brief interveiw with Nell Dunn [Up the Junction] and recordings of Jim Allen. The latter was an important collaborator and influence on Loach. And there is an excellent comment by Gabriel Byrne on the suppression of the production of Perdition. It would have been good to have more from other important collaborators like Rebecca O’Brien and Paul Laverty.

The documentary is also strong on the frequently myopic and predjudiced treatment of Loach’s film among British critics. As Derek Malcom remarks, he is much more honoured on the continent. Whilst he has won many awards at the Cannes Film Festival, The Berlin Film Festival and even a French César. None of his films has ever been awarded a BAFTA!

Certainly Loach’s film and television output has deserved this. From the pioneering work in the 1960s, notably Cathy Come Home, made for the BBC with Tony Garnett, to the recent series of annual film releases, his work has been among the best and most interesting produced in the UK. And this film does pay due attention to his early work for the BBC. Whatever its limitations this documentary is worth seeing as a deserved retrospective of his contribution.

Cathy come home

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Review: Arabian Nights Trilogy

Arabian Nights Trilogy

Filipino director, Lav Diaz, once said of his epic, sometime 10+ hr films, is that he likes the idea that audiences could leave the cinema, go to work, then return and carry on watching. That his films just breathe, exist, like we do. Parts of Miguel Gomes’ 6.5 hour Arabian Nights felt like that to me; These ambling, slice of life portraits of modern day Portugal, structured in a style inspired by One Thousand and One Nights, as told by Scheherazade. They show a Portugal in the shadow of austerity, yet plugging on. Breathing, Existing.

For example, the final 90 or so minutes, entitled “The Inebriating Chorus of the Chaffinches”, is about a group of disparate men, some of whom we’ve met already, who engage in the hobby of trapping and training chaffinches for singing competitions. The section, much like the rest of the trilogy, is at once sublime and ridiculous; weaving together their everyday existences, with Scheherazade’s anecdotal, at times bizarre narration, shedding light on their insular world whilst birds tweet and trill constantly in the background.

I hope plenty of people, like the audience at the Picture House today, get to watch the Arabian Nights films as a whole. I think they benefit from being in close proximity with each other, especially the final volume. I also hope audiences go home and watch Gomes’ previous films; The Face You Deserve (which is on Mubi until the 22nd ), the critically lauded Tabu (2012), and the (in my opinion) masterpiece, Our Beloved Month of August (2008), both of which screened at LIFF 26.

Black Mountain Poets UK 2015

On 20th April – 11.00 AM [BYOB]On 20th April – 9.15 PM

BLACK_MOUNTAIN_POETS_6Strictly speaking this is a wry Welsh film comedy. It is uneven but engaging. If you have seen writer and director Jamie Adams’ early films [Benny & Jolene and Christmas Time, 2014)  you will know if it is your sort of comedy. The basic story is set on a weekend rural ‘Poet’s Poetry Society’ event. In fact there is only  a limited amount of poetry, with two complete poems, one in Welsh. The film is really interested in the characters. At the centre are sisters Lisa (Alice Lowe) and Claire (Dolly Wells). They are excellent, as are the supporting cast which includes another pair of sisters. The event and the attending poets are whimsical and slightly absurdist.

The film has an improvised quality, it was shot over five days. The continuity is not so much full of holes as coming and going as the whim takes the film. The editing has a fragmentary quality, it is as if the audience are listening in to the characters as they wander round. But there is a definite trajectory in the relationships over the four days. Bizarrely the poetry event includes camping on the Welsh hills. This provides innumerable settings for very fine widescreen cinematography by Ryan Owen Eddleston.

The film is unconventional and rarely formulaic. There is quite a lot of music on the soundtrack, sometimes unnecessarily so. But the film provides a warm and quietly humorous 85 minutes.

The Pearl Button / El botón de nácar Chile 2016

Wednesday 6th April at 4.00 p.m. and on Thursday 7th April at 6.15 p.m.

the-pearl-button

This is the new film by Patricio Guzman. His most famous work is The Battle of Chile. This epic documentary was made in exile in Cuba in three parts. These are La batalla de Chile: La lucha de un pueblo sin armas – Primera parte: La insurreción de la burguesía 1975: Segunda parte: El golpe de estado 1976: Tercera parte: El poder popular 1979. The last time it was shown locally was five or more years ago in one of the screenings ‘tween’ festivals and then I think only Part 1 and Part 2. There were 35mm prints in the UK [Metro Pictures], if they are still here it would be good to have a fresh opportunity to see what Time Out praised as “among the best documentaries ever made”.

Guzman’s new film is a companion piece to the earlier Nostalgia for Light / Nostalgia de la luz 2010. Both films combine a sort of poetic essay with a documentary treatment. The earlier film was mainly set in Chile’s northern and arid Atacama desert. In part it followed widows and family members of the ‘disappeared’ under the Military Junta looking for traces of their lost ones. The new film is set in the southern Patagonian region and initially addresses the genocidal treatment of the indigenous Indians but then draws parallels with victims of the Junta who perished in the same region. The button of the title is one of the links between these groups.

In both films Guzman uses a physiological and cosmological metaphor to bind the issues together. In this film it is water: bought to earth originally by comets and one of the major features of the Patagonian region: the others are mountains and glaciers. Both films are full of impressive visuals and enjoy distinctive sound designs. I thought the metaphoric aspects worked better in this film. It also has a freer form which allows/demands that the audience think through the interaction.

The film is in standard widescreen and colour with English subtitles. It also uses black and white archival stills and film. My only reservation was that the film follows that increasing and problematic habit of reframing early film: not exactly respectful for the predecessors of today’s’ filmmakers.

The film is showing on Wednesday and Thursday. The Wednesday screening will also offer one of the short films from The Artist Cinema 2016: El Helicóptero, which turns out to have an intriguing link with the feature, [Thursday’s may also screen this short film]. Thursday’s screening is followed by a recording of a Q&A with the film director.

Changing the World One Film at a Time

Friends committee member Bill Walton picks out some highlights from the first week of the 29th Leeds International Film Festival.

What I really like about the Leeds International Film Festival is the sheer variety of  subjects, styles, genres, formats, and cultures. Thus the Festival gives me a glimpse of the world seen through other eyes.

A few examples of films that were both entertaining and thought-provoking are Tangerine (2015): a lively, low budget film set in Los Angeles, which gives food for thought about sexual identity.

Tangerine

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Marshland / La isla minima, Spain 2014.

Screening this Wednesday Sept. 9th and Thursday 10th.

Marshland pic

 

This combines the police procedural genre with that of the serial killer: a common combination these days. This is very much a genre film, and it is easy to detect the influences of earlier film. I was struck by the parallels with True Detective (HBO, 2014). The film is well produced and the detective duo, Pedro (Raúl Arévalo) and Juan (Javier Guttiérrez) are excellent. But what makes the film really interesting is that the story is set back in late 1980. This was the transitional period after the end of the Franco dictatorship and the ushering in of a ‘democratic’ Spain. This was the period following the ‘Pact of Silence’, also known as the ‘Pact of Forgetting’ by those who had opposed and suffered under fascism. And 1981 was the year that saw an attempted military coup against the new Spain. The film references both of these [in the latter case the reactionary military establishment] and intriguingly in the characters of the detectives references both the reactionary and the radical currents about in Spain at that time.

The parallels are carried in both the visual and aural patterns of the film: which also bear the influence of other serial killer films. The director, Alberto Rodriguez, has a penchant for dramatic overhead shots; emphasising the distance of the contemporary audience. The opening such shots also strike an interesting variation of the serial killer labyrinth.

The English title is a variation rather than a direct translation, I suspect the settings in the film have strong resonances in Spain. We are in the province of Andalucía where the events occur. Much of the film takes place in the Doñana National Park and the Guadalquivir marshes: the Park was established under the Franco regime in the 1950s. Whilst the name of the town [fictitious?] is Villafranco!

I did have reservations regarding the gender and the victims and the violence. This is one of the problematic aspects of the serial killer genre: though the best films treat this critically. There are brief but disturbing visual images, and a short but disturbing description of the violence in the dialogue. I wondered once again about the criteria of the British Board of Film Classification. This film has a fifteen certificate, meanwhile the recent The Diary of a Teenage Girl received an 18 certificate. I am sure that Marshland is the more disturbing film: perhaps being a foreign language film the supposed audience differs.

45 Years, UK 2015

Continuing until Thursday September 10th.

Berlin

The film garnered Best Actor Awards for both Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtney at the Berlin Film Festival – serious critical prizes. Both are deserved, but it is Rampling’s character Kate who is the centre of this film. She is a skilled actress with an ability to use extremely subtle expressions and movements. The film is a pleasure to watch as we explore the character and situation of Kate and her husband Geoff (Courtney). And they are well supported by a several fine British actors in minor roles. They are preparing for the forty-fifth wedding anniversary party: the unusual anniversary is something we learn about in the course of the film.

The film is beautifully crafted around these performances. The cinematography by Lol Crawley is especially fine. There is a precision in the use of close-ups and two-shots: and well judged use of long shots and long takes, with the occasional slow forward track. The design, sound and editing all ably support this: and visually and aurally [at a second viewing] I was struck by minor but significant detail. A good example is the opening credits with non-simultaneous sound, which acts as a plant for later in the film. Max, the German Shepherd, the settings in the Norfolk Broads, and a piece of piano music by Liszt, all bring resonances to the story.

Director and writer Andrew Haigh has adapted the film from a short story by David Constantine. Apparently he has shifted the focus of the film to Kate. It is beautifully judged. This is a character study and tale with great complexity. It also [consciously I assume] references a British film tradition of denial. There are subtle parallels with the classic Brief Encounter (1945): more recently The Deep Blue Sea (2011).

It is a film of ambiguities, as with the characters. Inattention can mean you miss an important point: and I think you need the big screen and a clear sound system to take in all its aspects. Whilst it is immensely rewarding I suspect that it will generate different responses, depending what experiences and values audiences bring to the film. After a screening I heard the tail-end comment of a discussion in the foyer:

“I’ve come to see a wonderful film with a bunch of cynics!”